After all Russia’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s & Syrian Govt’s efforts, the USA allows ISIS terrorists to escape into the desert

Secret US-backed deal allowed hundreds of ISIS fighters, with tonnes of weapons and ammunition, to escape Raqqa

Lorry driver Abu Fawzi thought it was going to be just another job.

He drives an 18-wheeler across some of the most dangerous territory in northern Syria. Bombed-out bridges, deep desert sand, even government forces and so-called Islamic State fighters don’t stand in the way of a delivery.

But this time, his load was to be human cargo. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS, wanted him to lead a convoy that would take hundreds of families displaced by fighting from the town of Tabqa on the Euphrates river to a camp further north.

The job would take six hours, maximum – or at least that’s what he was told.

But when he and his fellow drivers assembled their convoy early on 12 October, they realised they had been lied to.

Instead, it would take three days of hard driving, carrying a deadly cargo – hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition.

Abu Fawzi and dozens of other drivers were promised thousands of dollars for the task but it had to remain secret.

The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared.

But it also enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.

Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal.

 

Out of the city

 

In a greasy yard in Tabqa, underneath a date palm, three boys are busy at work rebuilding a lorry engine. They are covered in motor oil. Their hair, black and oily, stands on end.

Near them is a group of drivers. Abu Fawzi is at the centre, conspicuous in his bright red jacket. It matches the colour of his beloved 18-wheeler. He’s clearly the leader, quick to offer tea and cigarettes. At first he says he doesn’t want to speak but soon changes his mind.

He and the rest of the drivers are angry. It’s weeks since they risked their lives for a journey that ruined engines and broke axles but still they haven’t been paid. It was a journey to hell and back, he says.

One of the drivers maps out the route of the convoy

One of the drivers maps out the route of the convoy

“We were scared from the moment we entered Raqqa,” he says. “We were supposed to go in with the SDF, but we went alone. As soon as we entered, we saw IS fighters with their weapons and suicide belts on. They booby-trapped our trucks. If something were to go wrong in the deal, they would bomb the entire convoy. Even their children and women had suicide belts on.”

The Kurdish-led SDF cleared Raqqa of media. Islamic State’s escape from its base would not be televised.

Publicly, the SDF said that only a few dozen fighters had been able to leave, all of them locals.

But one lorry driver tells us that isn’t true.

We took out around 4,000 people including women and children – our vehicle and their vehicles combined. When we entered Raqqa, we thought there were 200 people to collect. In my vehicle alone, I took 112 people.”

Another driver says the convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles.

Footage secretly filmed and passed to us shows lorries towing trailers crammed with armed men. Despite an agreement to take only personal weapons, IS fighters took everything they could carry. Ten trucks were loaded with weapons and ammunition.

The drivers point to a white truck being worked on in the corner of the yard. “Its axle was broken because of the weight of the ammo,” says Abu Fawzi.

This wasn’t so much an evacuation – it was the exodus of so-called Islamic State.

The SDF didn’t want the retreat from Raqqa to look like an escape to victory. No flags or banners would be allowed to be flown from the convoy as it left the city, the deal stipulated.

It was also understood that no foreigners would be allowed to leave Raqqa alive.

Back in May, US Defence Secretary James Mattis described the fight against IS as a war of “annihilation”.“Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to north Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa. We are not going to allow them to do so,” he said on US television.

But foreign fighters – those not from Syria and Iraq – were also able to join the convoy, according to the drivers. One explains:

There was a huge number of foreigners. France, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi, China, Tunisia, Egypt…”

Other drivers chipped in with the names of different nationalities.

In light of the BBC investigation, the coalition now admits the part it played in the deal. Some 250 IS fighters were allowed to leave Raqqa, with 3,500 of their family members.

“We didn’t want anyone to leave,” says Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Western coalition against IS.

“But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations,” he says.

While a Western officer was present for the negotiations, they didn’t take an “active part” in the discussions. Col Dillon maintains, though, that only four foreign fighters left and they are now in SDF custody.

IS family members prepare to leave

IS family members prepare to leave

As it left the city, the convoy would pass through the well-irrigated cotton and wheat fields north of Raqqa. Small villages gave way to desert. The convoy left the main road and took to tracks across the desert. The trucks found it hard going, but it was much harder for the men behind the wheel.

A friend of Abu Fawzi’s rolls up the sleeve of his tunic. Underneath, there are burns on his skin. “Look what they did here,” he says.

According to Abu Fawzi, there were three or four foreigners with each driver. They would beat him and call him names, such as “infidel”, or “pig”.

They might have been helping the fighters escape, but the Arab drivers were abused the entire route, they say. And threatened.

“They said, ‘Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa – we will come back,’” says Abu Fawzi. “They were defiant and didn’t care. They accused us of kicking them out of Raqqa.”

A female foreign fighter threatened him with her AK-47.

 

Into the desert

 

Shopkeeper Mahmoud doesn’t get intimidated by much.

It was about four in the afternoon when an SDF convoy drove through his town, Shanine, and everyone was told to go indoors.

“We were here and an SDF vehicle stopped by to say there was a truce agreement between them and IS,” he says. “They wanted us to clear the area.”

He is no fan of IS, but he couldn’t miss a business opportunity – even if some of the 4,000 surprise customers driving through his village were armed to the teeth.

Mahmoud's shop

Mahmoud’s shop

A small bridge in the village created a bottleneck so the IS fighters got out and went shopping. After months of fighting and taking cover in bunkers, they were pale and hungry. They filed into his shop and, he says, they cleared his shelves.

“A one-eyed Tunisian fighter told me to fear God,” he says. “In a very calm voice, he asked why I had shaved. He said they would come back and enforce Sharia once again. I told him we have no problem with Sharia laws. We’re all Muslims.”

Instant noodles, biscuits and snacks – they bought everything they could get their hands on.

They left their weapons outside the shop. The only trouble he had was when three of the fighters spied some cigarettes – contraband in their eyes – and tore up the boxes.

“They didn’t appropriate anything, nothing at all,” he says.

“Only three of them went rogue. Other IS fighters even chastised them.”

He says IS paid for what they took.

“They hoovered up the shop. I got overwhelmed by their numbers. Many asked me for prices, but I couldn’t answer them because I was busy serving other people. So they left money for me on my desk without me asking.”

Despite the abuse they suffered, the lorry drivers agreed – when it came to money, IS settled its bills.

IS may have been homicidal psychopaths, but they’re always correct with the money.”

Says Abu Fawzi with a smile.

North of the village, it’s a different landscape. A lonely tractor ploughs a field, sending a plume of dust and sand into the air that can be seen for miles. There are fewer villages, and it’s here that the convoy sought to disappear.

In Muhanad’s tiny village, people fled as the convoy approached, fearing for their homes – and their lives.

But suddenly, the vehicles turned right, leaving the main road for a desert track.

“Two Humvees were leading the convoy ahead,” says Muhanad. “They were organising it and wouldn’t let anyone pass them.”

As the convoy disappeared into the haze of the desert, Muhanad felt no immediate relief. Almost everyone we spoke to says IS threatened to return, its fighters running a finger across their throats as they passed by.

“We’ve been living in terror for the past four or five years,” says Muhanad.

It will take us a while to rid ourselves of that psychological fear. We feel that they may be coming back for us, or will send sleeper agents. We’re still not sure that they’ve gone for good.”

Along the route, many people we spoke to said they heard coalition aircraft, sometimes drones, following the convoy.

From the cab of his truck, Abu Fawzi watched as a coalition warplane flew overhead, dropping illumination flares, which lit up the convoy and the road ahead.

When the last of the convoy were about to cross, a US jet flew very low and deployed flares to light up the area. IS fighters shat their pants.”

The coalition now confirms that while it did not have its personnel on the ground, it monitored the convoy from the air.

Past the last SDF checkpoint, inside IS territory – a village between Markada and Al-Souwar – Abu Fawzi reached his destination. His lorry was full of ammunition and IS fighters wanted it hidden.

When he finally made it back to safety, he was asked by the SDF where he’d dumped the goods.

“We showed them the location on the map and he marked it so uncle Trump can bomb it later,” he says.

Raqqa’s freedom was bought with blood, sacrifice and compromise. The deal freed its trapped civilians and ended the fight for the city. No SDF forces would have to die storming the last IS hideout.

But IS didn’t stay put for long. Freed from Raqqa, where they were surrounded, some of the group’s most-wanted members have now spread far and wide across Syria and beyond.

 

 

The Smugglers

The men who cut fences, climb walls and run through the tunnels out of Syria are reporting a big increase in people fleeing. The collapse of the caliphate is good for business.

“In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had lots of families leaving Raqqa and wanting to leave for Turkey. This week alone, I personally oversaw the smuggling of 20 families,” says Imad, a smuggler on the Turkish-Syrian border.

“Most were foreign but there were Syrians as well.”

He now charges $600 (£460) per person and a minimum of $1,500 for a family.

In this business, clients don’t take kindly to inquiries. But Imad says he’s had “French, Europeans, Chechens, Uzbek”.

“Some were talking in French, others in English, others in some foreign language,” he says.

Walid, another smuggler on a different stretch of the Turkish border, tells the same story.

“We had an influx of families over the past few weeks,” he says. “There were some large families crossing. Our job is to smuggle them through. We’ve had a lot of foreign families using our services.”

As Turkey has increased border security, the work has become more difficult.

In some areas we’re using ladders, in others we cross through a river, in other areas we’re using a steep mountainous trail. It’s a miserable situation.”

However, Walid says it’s a different situation for senior IS figures.

“Those highly placed foreigners have their own networks of smugglers. It’s usually the same people who organised their access to Syria. They co-ordinate with one another.”

 

Smuggling didn’t work out for everyone. Abu Musab Huthaifa was one of Raqqa’s most notorious figures. The IS intelligence chief was on the convoy out of the city on 12 October.

But now he is behind bars, and his story reflects the final days of the crumbling caliphate.

Islamic State never negotiates. Uncompromising, murderous – this is an enemy that plays by a different set of rules.

At least that’s how the myth goes.

Abu Mus’ab

Abu Mus’ab

But in Raqqa, it behaved no differently from any other losing side. Cornered, exhausted and fearful for their families, IS fighters were bombed to the negotiating table on 10 October.

“Air strikes put pressure on us for almost 10 hours. They killed about 500 or 600 people, fighters and families,” says Abu Musab Huthaifa.

Footage of the coalition air strike that hit one neighbourhood of Raqqa on 11 October shows a human catastrophe behind enemy lines. Amid the screams of the women and children, there is chaos among the IS fighters. The bombs appear especially powerful, especially effective. Activists claim that a building housing 35 women and children was destroyed. It was enough to break their resistance.

Contains distressing material

“After 10 hours, negotiations kicked off again. Those who initially rejected the truce changed their minds. And thus we left Raqqa,” says Abu Musab.

There had been three previous attempts to negotiate a peace deal. A team of four, including local Raqqa officials, now led the talks. One brave soul would cross the front lines on his motorbike relaying messages.

“We were only to leave with our personal weapons and leave all heavy weapons behind. But we didn’t have heavy weapons anyway,” Abu Musab says.

Now in jail on the Turkish-Syrian border, he has revealed details of what happened to the convoy when it made it safely to IS territory.

He says the convoy went to the countryside of eastern Syria, not far from the border with Iraq.

Thousands escaped, he says.

Abu Musab’s own attempted escape serves as a warning to the West of the threat from those freed from Raqqa.

How could one of the most notorious of IS chiefs escape through enemy territory and almost evade capture?

“I remained with a group which had set its mind on making its way to Turkey,” Abu Musab says.

Islamic State members were wanted by everyone else outside the group’s shrinking area of control; that meant this small gathering had to pass through swathes of hostile territory.

“We hired a smuggler to navigate us out of SDF-controlled areas,” Abu Musab says.

At first it went well. But smugglers are an unreliable lot. “He abandoned us midway. We were left to fend for ourselves in the midst of SDF areas. From then on, we disbanded and it was every man for himself,” says Abu Musab.

He might have made it to safety if only he’d paid the right person or maybe taken a different route.

The other path is to Idlib, to the west of Raqqa. Countless IS fighters and their families have found a haven there. Foreigners, too, also make it out – including Britons, other Europeans and Central Asians. The costs range from $4,000 (£3,000) per fighter to $20,000 for a large family.

 

 

French fighter

Abu Basir al-Faransy, a young Frenchman, left before the going got really tough in Raqqa. He’s now in Idlib, where he says he wants to stay.

The fighting in Raqqa was intense, even back then, he says.

“We were front-line fighters, waging war almost constantly [against the Kurds], living a hard life. We didn’t know Raqqa was about to be besieged.”

Disillusioned, weary of the constant fighting and fearing for his life, Abu Basir decided to leave for the safety of Idlib. He now lives in the city.

He was part of an almost exclusively French group within IS, and before he left some of his fellow fighters were given a new mission.

There are some French brothers from our group who left for France to carry out attacks in what would be called a ‘day of reckoning.’”

Much is hidden beneath the rubble of Raqqa and the lies around this deal might easily have stayed buried there too.

The numbers leaving were much higher than local tribal elders admitted. At first the coalition refused to admit the extent of the deal.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, somewhat improbably, continue to maintain that no deal was done.

And this may not even have been about freeing civilian hostages. As far as the coalition is concerned, there was no transfer of hostages from IS to coalition or SDF hands.

And despite coalition denials, dozens of foreign fighters, according to eyewitnesses, joined the exodus.

The deal to free IS was about maintaining good relations between the Kurds leading the fight and the Arab communities who surround them.

It was also about minimising casualties. IS was well dug in at the city’s hospital and stadium. Any effort to dislodge it head-on would have been bloody and prolonged.

The war against IS has a twin purpose: first to destroy the so-called caliphate by retaking territory and second, to prevent terror attacks in the world beyond Syria and Iraq.

Raqqa was effectively IS’s capital but it was also a cage – fighters were trapped there.

The deal to save Raqqa may have been worth it.

But it has also meant battle-hardened militants have spread across Syria and further afield – and many of them aren’t done fighting yet.

All names of the people featured in the report have been changed.

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Enough With Russia. What About israeli or U.S. Influence Operations?

Enough With Russia. What About Israeli or U.S. Influence Operations?

Ever since the U.S. government dangled $160 million last December to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation, obscure academics and eager think tanks have been lining up for a shot at the loot, an unseemly rush to profit that is spreading the Russia-gate hysteria beyond the United States to Europe.

Now, it seems that every development, which is unwelcomed by the Establishment—from Brexit to the Catalonia independence referendum—gets blamed on Russia! Russia! Russia!

The methodology of these “studies” is to find some Twitter accounts or Facebook pages somehow “linked” to Russia (although it’s never exactly clear how that is determined) and complain about the “Russian-linked” comments on political developments in the West. The assumption is that the gullible people of the United States, United Kingdom and Catalonia were either waiting for some secret Kremlin guidance to decide how to vote or were easily duped.

Oddly, however, most of this alleged “interference” seems to have come after the event in question. For instance, more than half (56 percent) of the famous $100,000 in Facebook ads in 2015-2017 supposedly to help elect Donald Trump came after last year’s U.S. election (and the total sum compares to Facebook’s annual revenue of $27 billion).

Similarly, a new British study at the University of Edinburgh blaming the Brexit vote on Russia discovered that more than 70 percent of the Brexit-related tweets from allegedly Russian-linked sites came after the referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union. But, hey, don’t let facts and logic get in the way of a useful narrative to suggest that anyone who voted for Trump or favored Brexit or wants independence for Catalonia is Moscow’s “useful idiot”!

This week, British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of seeking to “undermine free societies” and to “sow discord in the West.”

What About Israel?

Yet, another core problem with these “studies” is that they don’t come with any “controls,” i.e., what is used in science to test a hypothesis against some base line to determine if you are finding something unusual or just some normal occurrence.

In this case, for instance, it would be useful to find some other country that, like Russia, has a significant number of English speakers but where English is not the native language—and that has a significant interest in foreign affairs—and then see whether people from that country weigh in on social media with their opinions and perspectives about political events in the U.S., U.K., etc.

Perhaps, the U.S. government could devote some of that $160 million to, say, a study of the Twitter/Facebook behavior of Israelis and whether they jump in on U.S./U.K. controversies that might directly or indirectly affect Israel. We could see how many Twitter/Facebook accounts are “linked” to Israel; we could study whether any Israeli “trolls” harass journalists and news sites that oppose neoconservative policies and politicians in the West; we could check on whether Israel does anything to undermine candidates who are viewed as hostile to Israeli interests; if so, we could calculate how much money these “Israeli-linked” activists and bloggers invest in Facebook ads; and we could track any Twitter bots that might be reinforcing the Israeli-favored message.

No Chance

If we had this Israeli baseline, then perhaps we could judge how unusual it is for Russians to voice their opinions about controversies in the West. It’s true that Israel is a much smaller country with 8.5 million people compared to Russia’s 144 million, but you could adjust for those per capita numbers—and even if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that Israel’s interference in U.S. policymaking still exceeds Russian influence.

It’s also true that Israeli leaders have often advocated policies that have proved disastrous for the United States, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s encouragement of  the Iraq War, which Russia opposed. Indeed, although Russia is now regularly called an American enemy, it’s hard to think of any policy that President Vladimir Putin has pushed on the U.S. that is even a fraction as harmful to U.S. interests as the Iraq War has been.

And, while we’re at it, maybe we could have an accounting of how much “U.S.-linked” entities have spent to influence politics and policies in Russia, Ukraine, Syria and other international hot spots.

But, of course, neither of those things will happen. If you even tried to gauge the role of “Israeli-linked” operations in influencing Western decision-making, you’d be accused of anti-Semitism. And if that didn’t stop you, there would be furious editorials in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the U.S. mainstream media denouncing you as a “conspiracy theorist.” Who could possibly think that Israel would do anything underhanded to shape Western attitudes?

And, if you sought the comparative figures for the West interfering in the affairs of other nations, you’d be faulted for engaging in “false moral equivalence.” After all, whatever the U.S. government and its allies do is good for the world; whereas Russia is the fount of evil.

So, let’s just get back to developing those algorithms to sniff out, isolate and eradicate “Russian propaganda” or other deviant points of view, all the better to make sure that Americans, Britons and Catalonians vote the right way.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

Robert Parry / ConsortiumNews

 

Good advice from Israeli official. “Boycotting our illegal settlements is meaningless, you may as well boycott israel” #BDS

Top Israeli official admits that boycotting just the settlements is meaningless

Ron Brummer, executive director of operations for the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, speaking at Bnai Torah synagogue in Atlanta in 2016.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is huge. A professional Israeli propagandist – Ron Brummer, chief of operations in Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Hasbara, has said recently:

Israel does not have two different economic ecosystems, like, Israel within the green line and Israel over the green line. If you want to divest from the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, you have to divest from Israel, which means you boycott Israel completely.”

Brummer spoke at the Israeli American Council on November 5— an organization funded by Sheldon Adelson– in a panel titled “The Real BDS: Bigotry, Discrimination and Slander.”

Brummer’s affirmation cuts through a discussion that has certainly divided waters.

Last year, Todd Gitlin, Peter Beinart, Kai Bird, Peter Brooks, Michael Walzer, Edward Witten, et al., wrote a letter in the New York Review of Books, titled “For an Economic Boycott and Political Nonrecognition of the Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories”. Whilst promoting a “targeted boycott of all goods and services from all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, and any investments that promote the Occupation”, they nonetheless “oppose an economic, political, or cultural boycott of Israel itself as defined by its June 4, 1967, borders” (and they in fact opened the letter with that statement).

In response, Angela Y. Davis, Chandler Davis, Richard A. Falk, Rashid Khalidi, and Alice Rothchild, et al., published a letter (also in the NYRB), which states that they “welcome the statement’s shattering of the taboo against boycotting Israeli entities that are complicit in—at least selective—violations of Palestinian human rights”, and yet noted the very critical problem they had with the letter:

“Defying common sense, however, the statement calls for boycotting settlements while letting Israel, the state that has illegally built and maintained those settlements for decades, off the hook,” they wrote. They wondered, moreover, “shouldn’t Israeli banks that are not based in settlements but finance their construction be targeted as well?”

Two years ago, I had translated a Hebrew Maariv article on my Facebook page, where Israeli bank officials were warning about a “financial-national tsunami”. The article by Ben Caspit noted that “the banks are in panic following a document produced by the research institute facilitating the EU. According to its recommendations, the union must boycott Israeli banks involved in financial activity in the occupied territories”. The upshot of this was further clarified by officials in the Israeli banking system:

“One way or another… it’s necessary to understand what will happen here on the day that it will be decided to ‘credit mark’. When you mark products it can harm part of the market here and there, but when they mark each credit that the bank gives beyond the Green Line [1967 line] and boycott that bank, the meaning of it is a property confiscation warrant on all the banks. The European banking and credit system is inextricably connected to the Israeli economy, no European bank will accompany projects in Israel, it will not be possible to receive credit in Europe and there is nothing we would be able to do about it”.

All of this completely confirms Brummer’s point about Israel having only one economic system, and it’s all invested in the occupation and the settlements anyway.

It’s important to understand just how much Brummer’s admission is ironic, coming from him. He’s a professional propagandist. He wouldn’t want to strengthen the BDS. But his point is, no doubt inadvertently, making a strong point for it, and for abandonment of ‘selective boycotts’. When I say ‘propagandist’, it’s not just vitriol. Reporter Philip Weiss is being semantically correct in describing Brummer as “the executive director for operations of the Israeli Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy”, but that last part, “public diplomacy”, is literally called Hasbara in Hebrew. In Hebrew, that literally means ‘explaining’, but many around the world have come to know the Hebrew term as synonymous with propaganda, just like with the Russian name ‘Pravda’ for the old Soviet state-outlet.  

Brummer’s boss is Minister Gilad Erdan, who, as minister of propaganda, has staged vile and lowly propaganda campaigns, such as the recent one against Marwan Barghouti during the Palestinian prisoner hunger-strike. Erdan’s office is entrusted with the task of combatting BDS globally, which it does by all sorts of means, many of which are admittedly kept secret and best not exposed. Erdan has claimed that “the message has to be that it’s not worth being a BDS activist” and that “they [BDS activists] should know that there will be a price”.

Indeed, Brummer also pointed out that there will be a price – and that was the headline of this site’s coverage: “Want to boycott Israel? Be my guest, there will be a pricetag”. This is a somewhat chilling, even if indirect, hint to ‘pricetag attacks’ by religious-fundamentalist Israeli settlers against Palestinians, supposedly as an act of revenge. The most notorious of these has been the burning alive of the Dawabshe family in Duma in 2015.

Brummer’s bellicose rhetoric reaches ridiculous levels, like when he talks about the ‘carrot and the stick’ in regards to BDS: “With BDS promoters… You always have to use the stick and carrot theory. First you hit them with the stick then you hit them with the carrot” – so even the carrot is a stick, when it comes to BDS. Perhaps Brummer believes that the only language that the non-violent BDS movement understands is force – or perhaps it is the only language that he himself can speak.

As to the ‘selctive boycott’ strategy, the notion has been championed by intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, whom I have challenged recently on this point. As I wrote: 

“This notion, of seeing the settlements as separate to Israel, touches upon a very central issue, concerning responsibility: Is it not fair to say, that the Israeli state is responsible for this occupation, for these settlements? Historical appraisal shows that it is – and that the enactment and maintenance of the settler project has been supported de facto by Israel from right to left. We can then wonder why criticism of Israel, as a whole, is so contentious. If a thief has stolen some items, is it not the thief who is to be regarded as responsible?”

Israeli-British professor Avi Shlaim has recently stated in an interview for Jadaliyya, that he is “in favour of EU sanctions against Israel because Israel fails to live up to the terms of the association agreement it has with EU. The preamble of this agreement says Israel must respect the human rights of all the people under its rule. Israel systematically violates the human rights of the Palestinians and therefore I think and I hope that the EU would suspend this agreement until Israel lives up to its obligations.” 

Shlaim confirmed in that interview that BDS is not merely a strategy – it is the only valid strategy available to Palestinians:

“BDS is a global grass-roots movement which has been gathering support at a very impressive pace and it has had a large number of successes with major companies divesting from Israel. It has also had considerable impact on public opinion throughout the world, delegitimising the Israeli occupation. The Israelis take it very seriously. They have formed a unit with a budget of GBP 40 million in order to fight BDS by launching personal attacks on individuals and delegitimising them rather than engaging with the arguments of BDS. And it seems to me that there is now hope that western governments will change their policy of support for Israel… So going back to BDS, there is no hope for the Palestinians to bring about the end of occupation through the support of western governments or the UN, the only hope that the Palestinians have is through BDS.”

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy made a similar statement over a year ago: “we have no choice but to recognize that boycott, divestment and sanctions is the only game in town”.  

And now Brummer, top Israeli propagandist, even confirms that there is no such thing as a selective boycott of Israel. Either you’re in or you’re out.

Indeed, time to choose sides – which side of history you’re on. Israel will tell you that boycotting Israel is ‘anti-Semitic’ – aye, even the center-left lawmaker Merav Michaeli recently said that “a lot of the BDS movement is good old anti-Semitism.”

But in the end, you have to sift through this propaganda, and it becomes a very personal moral matter. To protect Apartheid – or to fight for freedom, justice and equality. And it seems quite obvious now, that you can’t really sit on the fence here – nor on the ‘green line’.  

In 2007, israel sold the CIA on a dubious claim about a North Korean nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert

Israel’s Ploy Selling a Syrian Nuke Strike

Exclusive: The Iraq WMD fiasco wasn’t the only time political pressure twisted U.S. intelligence judgments. In 2007, Israel sold the CIA on a dubious claim about a North Korean nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

In September 2007, Israeli warplanes bombed a building in eastern Syria that the Israelis claimed held a covert nuclear reactor that had been built with North Korean assistance. Seven months later, the CIA released an extraordinary 11-minute video and mounted press and Congressional briefings that supported that claim.

Satellite photos of the supposed Syrian nuclear site before and after the Israeli airstrike.

But nothing about that alleged reactor in the Syrian desert turns out to be what it appeared at the time. The evidence now available shows that there was no such nuclear reactor, and that the Israelis had misled George W. Bush’s administration into believing that it was in order to draw the United States into bombing missile storage sites in Syria. Other evidence now suggests, moreover, that the Syrian government had led the Israelis to believe wrongly that it was a key storage site for Hezbollah missiles and rockets.

The International Atomic Agency’s top specialist on North Korean reactors, Egyptian national Yousry Abushady, warned top IAEA officials in 2008 that the published CIA claims about the alleged reactor in the Syrian desert could not possibly have been true. In a series of interviews in Vienna and by phone and e-mail exchanges over several months Abushady detailed the technical evidence that led him to issue that warning and to be even more confident about that judgment later on. And a retired nuclear engineer and research scientist with many years of experience at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has confirmed a crucial element of that technical evidence.

Published revelations by senior Bush administration officials show, moreover, that principal U.S. figures in the story all had their own political motives for supporting the Israeli claim of a Syrian reactor being built with North Korean help.
Vice President Dick Cheney hoped to use the alleged reactor to get President George W. Bush to initiate U.S. airstrikes in Syria in the hope of shaking the Syrian-Iranian alliance. And both Cheney and then CIA Director Michael Hayden also hoped to use the story of a North Korean-built nuclear reactor in Syria to kill a deal that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was negotiating with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program in 2007-08.

Mossad Chief’s Dramatic Evidence

In April 2007 the chief of Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, presented Cheney, Hayden and National Security Adviser Steven Hadley with evidence of what he said was a nuclear reactor being constructed in eastern Syria with the help of the North Koreans. Dagan showed them nearly a hundred hand-held photographs of the site revealing what he described as the preparation for the installation of a North Korean reactor and claimed that it was only a few months from being operational.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

The Israelis made no secret of their desire to have a U.S. airstrike destroy the alleged nuclear facility. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called President Bush immediately after that briefing and said, “George, I’m asking you to bomb the compound,” according to the account in Bush’s memoirs.

Cheney, who was known to be a personal friend of Olmert, wanted to go further. At White House meetings in subsequent weeks, Cheney argued forcefully for a U.S. attack not only on the purported reactor building but on Hezbollah weapons storage depots in Syria. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who participated in those meetings, recalled in his own memoirs that Cheney, who was also looking for an opportunity to provoke a war with Iran, hoped to “rattle Assad sufficiently so as to end his close relationship with Iran” and “send a powerful warning to the Iranians to abandon their nuclear ambitions.”

CIA Director Hayden aligned the agency clearly with Cheney on the issue, not because of Syria or Iran but because of North Korea. In his book, Playing to the Edge, published last year, Hayden recalls that, at a White House meeting to brief President Bush the day after Dagan’s visit, he whispered in Cheney’s ear, “You were right, Mr. Vice-President.”

Hayden was referring to the fierce political struggle within the Bush administration over North Korea policy that had been underway ever since Condoleezza Rice had become Secretary of State in early 2005. Rice had argued that diplomacy was the only realistic way to get Pyongyang to retreat from its nuclear weapons program. But Cheney and his administration allies John Bolton and Robert Joseph (who succeeded Bolton as the key State Department policymaker on North Korea after Bolton become U.N. Ambassador in 2005) were determined to end the diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang.

Cheney was still maneuvering to find a way to prevent the successful completion of the negotiations, and he saw the story of a Syrian nuclear reactor built secretly in the desert with help from the North Koreans as bolstering his case. Cheney reveals in his own memoirs that in January 2008, he sought to sandbag Rice’s North Korea nuclear deal by getting her to agree that a failure by North Korea to “admit they’ve proliferating to the Syrians would be a deal killer.”

Three months later, the CIA released its unprecedented 11-minute video supporting the entire Israeli case for a North-Korean-style nuclear reactor that was nearly completed. Hayden recalls that his decision to release the video on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor in April 2008 was “to avoid a North Korean nuclear deal being sold to a Congress and a public ignorant of this very pertinent and very recent episode.”

The video, complete with computer reconstructions of the building and photographs from the Israelis made a big splash in the news media. But one specialist on nuclear reactors who examined the video closely found abundant reason to conclude that the CIA’s case was not based on real evidence.

Technical Evidence against a Reactor

Egyptian national Yousry Abushady was a PhD in nuclear engineering and 23-year veteran of the IAEA who had been promoted to section head for Western Europe in the operations division of agency’s Safeguards Department, meaning that he was in charge of all inspections of nuclear facilities in the region. He had been a trusted adviser to Bruno Pellaud, IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards from 1993 to 1999, who told this writer in an interview that he had “relied on Abushady frequently.”

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Map of Syria.

Abushady recalled in an interview that, after spending many hours reviewing the video released by the CIA in April 2008 frame by frame, he was certain that the CIA case for a nuclear reactor at al-Kibar in the desert in eastern Syria was not plausible for multiple technical reasons. The Israelis and the CIA had claimed the alleged reactor was modeled on the type of reactor the North Koreans had installed at Yongbyon called a gas-cooled graphite-moderated (GCGM) reactor.

But Abushady knew that kind of reactor better than anyone else at the IAEA. He had designed a GCGM reactor for his doctoral student in nuclear engineering, had begun evaluating the Yongbyon reactor in 1993, and from 1999 to 2003 had headed the Safeguards Department unit responsible for North Korea.

Abushady had traveled to North Korea 15 times and conducted extensive technical discussions with the North Korean nuclear engineers who had designed and operated the Yongbyon reactor. And the evidence he saw in the video convinced him that no such reactor could have been under construction at al-Kibar.

On April 26, 2008, Abushady sent a “preliminary technical assessment” of the video to IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen, with a copy to Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. Abushady observed in his memorandum that the person responsible for assembling the CIA video was obviously unfamiliar with either the North Korean reactor or with GCGM reactors in general.

The first thing that struck Abushady about the CIA’s claims was that the building was too short to hold a reactor like the one in Yongbyon, North Korea.

“It is obvious,” he wrote in his “technical assessment” memo to Heinonen, “that the Syrian building with no UG [underground] construction, can not hold a [reactor] similar [to] NK GCR [North Korean gas-cooled reactor].”
Abushady estimated the height of the North Korean reactor building in Yongbyon at a 50 meters (165 feet) and estimated that the building at al-Kibar at a little more than a third as tall.

Abushady also found the observable characteristics of the al-Kibar site inconsistent with the most basic technical requirements for a GCGM reactor. He pointed out that the Yongbyon reactor had no less than 20 supporting buildings on the site, whereas the satellite imagery shows that the Syrian site did not have a single significant supporting structure.

The most telling indication of all for Abushady that the building could not have been a GCGM reactor was the absence of a cooling tower to reduce the temperature of the carbon dioxide gas coolant in such a reactor.
“How can you work a gas-cooled reactor in a desert without a cooling tower?” Abushady asked in an interview.

IAEA Deputy Director Heinonen claimed in an IAEA report that the site had sufficient pumping power to get river water from a pump house on the nearby Euphrates River to the site. But Abushady recalls asking Heinonen, “How could this water be transferred for about 1,000 meters and continue to the heat exchangers for cooling with the same power?”

Robert Kelley, a former head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Remote Sensing Laboratory and former senior IAEA inspector in Iraq, noticed another fundamental problem with Heinonen’s claim: the site had no facility for treating the river water before it reached the alleged reactor building.

“That river water would have been carrying debris and silt into the reactor heat exchangers,” Kelley said in an interview, making it highly questionable that a reactor could have operated there.

Yet another critical piece that Abushady found missing from the site was a cooling pond facility for spent fuel. The CIA had theorized that the reactor building itself contained a “spent fuel pond,” based on nothing more than an ambiguous shape in an aerial photograph of the bombed building.

But the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon and all 28 other GCGM reactors that had been built in the world all have the spent fuel pond in a separate building, Abushady said. The reason, he explained, was that the magnox cladding surrounding the fuel rods would react to any contact with moisture to produce hydrogen that could explode.

But the definitive and irrefutable proof that no GCGM reactor had been present at al-Kibar came from the environmental samples taken by the IAEA at the site in June 2008. Such a reactor would have contained nuclear-grade graphite, Abushady explained, and if the Israelis had actually bombed a GCGM reactor, it would have spread particles of nuclear-grade graphite all over the site.

Behrad Nakhai, a nuclear engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for many years, confirmed Abshuady’s observation in an interview. “You would have had hundreds of tons of nuclear-grade graphite scattered around the site,” he said, “and it would have been impossible to clean it up.”

IAEA reports remained silent for more than two years about what the samples showed about nuclear-grade graphite, then claimed in a May 2011 report that the graphite particles were “too small to permit an analysis of the purity compared to that normally required for use in a reactor.” But given the tools available to laboratories, the IAEA claim that they couldn’t determine whether the particles were nuclear grade or not “doesn’t make sense,” Nakhai said.

Hayden acknowledged in his 2016 account that “key components” of a nuclear reactor site for nuclear weapons were “still missing.” The CIA had tried to find evidence of a reprocessing facility in Syria that could be used to obtain the plutonium for a nuclear bomb but had been unable to find any trace of one.

The CIA also had found no evidence of a fuel fabrication facility, without which a reactor could not have gotten the fuel rods to be reprocessed. Syria could not have gotten them from North Korea, because the fuel fabrication plant at Yongbyon had produced no fuel rods since 1994 and was known to have fallen into serious disrepair after the regime had agreed to scrap its own plutonium reactor program.

Manipulated and Misleading Photographs

Hayden’s account shows that he was ready to give the CIA’s stamp of approval to the Israeli photographs even before the agency’s analysts had even begun analyzing them. He admits that when he met Dagan face-to-face he didn’t ask how and when Mossad had obtained the photographs, citing “espionage protocol” among cooperating intelligence partners. Such a protocol would hardly apply, however, to a government sharing intelligence in order to get the United States to carry out an act of war on its behalf.

CIA seal in lobby of the spy agency’s headquarters. (U.S. government photo)

The CIA video relied heavily on the photographs that Mossad had given to Bush administration in making its case. Hayden writes that it was “pretty convincing stuff, if we could be confident that the pictures hadn’t been altered.”
But by his own account Hayden knew Mossad had engaged in at least one deception. He writes that when CIA experts reviewed the photographs from Mossad, they found that one of them had been photo-shopped to remove the writing on the side of a truck.

Hayden professes to have had no concern about that photo-shopped picture. But after this writer asked how CIA analysts interpreted Mossad’s photo shopping of the picture as one of the questions his staff requested in advance of a possible interview with Hayden, he declined the interview.

Abushady points out that the main issues with the photographs the CIA released publicly are whether they were actually taken at the al-Kibar site and whether they were consistent with a GCGM reactor. One of the photographs showed what the CIA video called “the steel liner for the reinforced-concrete reactor vessel before it was installed.” Abushady noticed immediately, however, that nothing in the picture links the steel liner to the al-Kibar site.

Both the video and CIA’s press briefing explained that the network of small pipes on the outside of the structure was for “cooling water to protect the concrete against the reactor’s intense heat and radiation.”
But Abushady, who specializes in such technology, pointed out that the structure in the picture bore no resemblance to a Gas-Cooled Reactor vessel. “This vessel cannot be for a Gas-Cooled Reactor,” Abushady explained, “based on its dimensions, it thickness and the pipes shown on the side of the vessel.”

The CIA video’s explanation that the network of pipes was necessary for “cooling water” made no sense, Abushady said, because gas-cooled reactors use only carbon dioxide gas — not water — as a coolant. Any contact between water and the Magnox-cladding used in that type of reactor, Abushady explained, could cause an explosion.

A second Mossad photograph showed what the CIA said were the “exit points” for the reactor’s control rods and fuel rods. The CIA juxtaposed that photograph with a photograph of the tops of the control rods and fuel rods of the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon and claimed a “very close resemblance” between the two.

Abushady found major differences between the two pictures, however. The North Korean reactor had a total of 97 ports, but the picture allegedly taken at al-Kibar shows only 52 ports. Abushady was certain that the reactor shown in the photograph could not have been based on the Yongbyon reactor. He also noted that the picture had a pronounced sepia tone, suggesting that it was taken quite a few years earlier.
Abushady warned Heinonen and ElBaradei in his initial assessment that the photo presented as taken from inside the reactor building appeared to an old photo of a small gas-cooled reactor, most likely an early such reactor built in the U.K.

A Double Deception

Many observers have suggested that Syria’s failure to protest the strike in the desert loudly suggests that it was indeed a reactor. Information provided by a former Syrian air force major who defected to an anti-Assad military command in Aleppo and by the head of Syria’s atomic energy program helps unlock the mystery of what was really in the building at al-Kibar.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian major, “Abu Mohammed,” told The Guardian in February 2013 that he was serving in the air defense station at Deir Azzor, the city nearest to al-Kibar, when he got a phone call from a Brigadier General at the Strategic Air Command in Damascus just after midnight on Sept. 6, 2007. Enemy planes were approaching his area, the general said, but “you are to do nothing.”

The major was confused. He wondered why the Syrian command would want to let Israeli fighter planes approach Deir Azzor unhindered. The only logical reason for such an otherwise inexplicable order would be that, instead of wanting to keep the Israelis away from the building at al-Kibar, the Syrian government actually wanted the Israelis to attack it. In the aftermath of the strike, the Damascus issued only an opaque statement claiming that the Israeli jets had been driven away and remaining silent on the airstrike at al-Kibar.

Abushady told this writer he learned from meetings with Syrian officials during his final year at the IAEA that the Syrian government had indeed originally built the structure at al-Kibar for the storage of missiles as well as for a fixed firing position for them. And he said Ibrahim Othman, the head of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission, had confirmed that point in a private meeting with him in Vienna in September 2015.

Othman also confirmed Abushady’s suspicion from viewing satellite photographs that the roof over the central room in the building had been made with two movable light plates that could be opened to allow the firing of a missile. And he told Abushady that he had been correct in believing that what had appeared in a satellite image immediately after the bombing to be two semi-circular shapes was what had remained of the original concrete launching silo for missiles.

In the wake of the Israel’s 2006 invasion of Southern Lebanon, the Israelis were searching intensively for Hezbollah missiles and rockets that could reach Israel and they believed many of those Hezbollah weapons were being stored in Syria. If they wished to draw the attention of the Israelis away from actual missile storage sites, the Syrians would have had good reason to want to convince the Israelis that this was one of their major storage sites.

Othman told Abushady that the building had been abandoned in 2002, after the construction had been completed. The Israelis had acquired ground-level pictures from 2001-02 showing the construction of outer walls that would hide the central hall of the building. The Israelis and the CIA both insisted in 2007-08 that this new construction indicated that it had to be a reactor building, but it is equally consistent with a building designed to hide missile storage and a missile-firing position.

Although Mossad went to great lengths to convince the Bush administration that the site was a nuclear reactor, what the Israelis really wanted was for the Bush administration to launch U.S. airstrikes against Hezbollah and Syrian missile storage sites. Senior officials of the Bush administration didn’t buy the Israeli bid to get the United States do the bombing, but none of them ever raised questions about the Israeli ruse.

So both the Assad regime and the Israeli government appear to have succeeded in carrying out their own parts in a double deception in the Syrian desert.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian on U.S. national security policy and the recipient of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. His most recent book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, published in 2014.

The USA refuses to comply with International Law in Syria

US won’t be constrained by UN Security Council in Syria: Haley

Press TV – November 18, 2017

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a meeting of the UN Security Council at the United Nations headquarters in New York on November 17, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a meeting of the UN Security Council at the United Nations headquarters in New York on November 17, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

The United States does not consider itself constrained by the UN Security Council and may seek “justice” in Syria on its own terms, says the US representative to the UN, Nikki Haley.

Haley said on Friday that with or without unity of the council, Washington “will continue to fight for justice and accountability in Syria.”

She made the remarks after Russia vetoed a UN resolution that sought to extend the mandate of the international investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria.

The mandate for the US-drafted resolution, known as Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), expired on Friday. This was the third time in a month Russia vetoed attempts at the UN to extend the inquiry.

The council’s permanent member, Russia agreed to the creation of the investigation two years ago, but it has consistently questioned its work and conclusions. It has repeatedly cited flaws in the work on instigators.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Friday that the investigation could only be extended if “fundamental flaws in its work” were fixed. He said that for the past two year the investigators had “rubber-stamped baseless accusations against Syria.”

They accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of using chemical weapons against his own people. Syria, however, has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Haley further said that Russia in recent weeks, has been trying “to delay, to distract and ultimately to defeat the effort to secure accountability for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.”

“Russia is wasting our time,” she argued.

Her remarks provoked an angry response from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accused her of having engaged in a “fake diplomacy.”

“It seems we are witnessing a new phenomenon in international relations, as now, apart from fake news, there is also fake diplomacy,” Lavrov said.

The US has long history of taking actions in Middle Eastern countries with no mandate from the United Nations. Back in August 2014, Washington along with some of its allies launched a campaign of airstrikes against what are said to be Daesh positions inside Iraq.

The coalition expanded its campaign to Syria in 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed on Monday that “the UN said that … basically we can go after ISIS (Daesh). And we’re there to take them out.”

Lavrov, however, rejected his remarks on Thursday, saying the US presence in Syria “is illegitimate because it does not rely either on the decision of the UN Security Council or on the invitation of the legitimate government.” He said that there was no Security Council resolution that allowed US troops on the Syrian territory.

The us airstrikes have on many occasions–both in Iraq and Syria– resulted in civilian casualties and failed to fulfill their declared aim of countering terrorism.

HEZBOLLAH – CAPABILITIES AND ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST (FULL DOCUMENTARY)

South Front

Hezbollah is a social and political movement with a strong armed wing. It was formed in 1980s. Hezbollah’s creation was conditioned by the aspiration of the Shia population of Lebanon to meet the challenges of Israeli expansion and Western “new-style” colonialism.

The Hezbollah (“Party of God”) movement was formed in 1982 in Lebanon by a segment of the Shia community displeased with the secular, in their view, nature of the Amal moderate Shia party. There were also disagreements concerning whether Israel should be confronted using new organizational forms and methods of warfare. According to its General Secretary Hasan Nasrallah, since its formation, Hezbollah was a purely intra-Lebanese creation, relying on the support and aid from the Palestinian and Lebanese parties, while the support from Iran and Syria came later.

Since the very beginning, Hezbollah’s activities have been based on three principles. First, Islam is declared an ideological, doctrinal, and practical basis for the organization’s functions. Secondly, its main aim is the struggle against Israeli occupation of Lebanon and Palestine and against Zionist domination. Third, it recognizes the Iranian Shia thesis concerning the necessity of Vilayat-e-Fakih. This Shia doctrine asserts that during the era of the 12thGreat Reappearance of Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi the leadership over the Shia is transferred to high-ranking Shia clerics.

Structure and Decision Making

Hezbollah, as an organization, has a structure based on certain ideological principles and exists within the framework of a state, that has no actual influence on the movement’s activities. The party is led by the Shura Council consisting of 7 members (six spiritual leaders—ulemas—and one secular leader). The members are elected by the Central Council (Al-Majlis al-Markazis), consisting of the 200 most authoritative members of the movement. Shura Council elections consist of three phases. The first is the candidate selection (usually 70-80), both clerics and secular individuals who satisfy the criteria set by the top leaders. Those who pass this stage have the right to participate in the second stage. In other words, they become candidates for the Shura Council. As a rule, 10-15 people make it to the second round. The final phase consists of the direct election of the 7 Shura Council members.

Council decisions are final and religiously binding for all party members. They are adopted either unanimously or by the majority of votes. If there is a deadlock or a split within Shura Council, issues are decided by the party leader, whose decisions are final and obligatory on all administrative institutions, and cannot be challenged. This is how the principle of Vilayat-e-Fakih is observed and splits within the ruling elite are averted.

The actual operations of the party are conducted by the administrative executive apparatus, known as Shura Tanfiz. It consists of five councils:

  1. Executive Council (oversight over political and organizational matters, including social, cultural, and educational activities);
  2. Politburo (addresses intra-movement matters);
  3. Parliamentary Council (concerns itself with Hezbollah activities in the Lebanese legislature);
  4. Judicial Council (issues religious resolutions and carries out arbitration on matters of disagreement, relying on Islamic law); and
  5. Jihad Council (directs the movement, including oversight, recruitment, training, equipment, security).

Each council is usually headed by a Shura Council member.

The movement General Secretary is Hasan Nasrallah, who is also the supreme commander of its armed formations. Leadership also includes his deputy, a spiritual leader who is also the supreme judge, some Lebanese legislators, the military formation commander for Southern Lebanon, and regional leaders of the organization. The Executive Council has various departments responsible for specific areas of activity: welfare, healthcare, information, press, finance, external communications, coordination.

Armed Formations and Their Peculiarities

Assessments of Hezbollah’s armed strength vary. Iran’s FARS news agency data from October 2016 put Hezbollah’s armed strength at no less than 65,000 troops, including reserves. Of them, 21,000 are professional soldiers with constant training. According to the 2017 Military Balance, currently 5-8 thousand Hezbollah troops are fighting in Syria.

Bekaa Valley: the commander’s responsibilities include control over arms shipments from Iran through Syria for the “Sheikh Abdallah” military camp that’s under joint command by the Hezbollah and the Syrian army. According to various sources, this region’s forces consist of at least 7 infantry battalions with 252 people each. Three of them are motorized.

South Beirut: according to various sources, this region includes at least two battalions of 252 troops, one of them motorized.

South Lebanon: after the Taif treaty of 1989, Hezbollah formations were reorganized and placed under a unified command. The current commander is responsible for Hezbollah military and Special Security formations and may also command Lebanese Army units in South Lebanon. This region includes at least 7 battalions of 252 troops each, five of them motorized.

Moreover, one should note the nontrivial fact of the existence of a full-scale, by Iranian, NATO, and Russian measures, tank regiment. In November 2016, near the city of al-Quiseir (Homs province, Syria), there was an inspection of Hezbollah equipment. The photos showed T-55, T-62, and some T-72 tanks, some 2S1 Gvozdika howitzers, BMP-1, and -2, M113 APCs with 14.5mm machine-guns, ZSU-57-2 SPAA. Most of this equipment apparently came from SAA arsenals and was obtained from the Lebanese Army and possibly Iran.

Of most interest are the hybrids assembled using Kvadrat (SA-6) SAM tracked chassis and Soviet-era KS-12 85mm and Ks-19 100mm AA guns. While their effectiveness against modern aircraft and drones is doubtful, they are useful as direct fire support against land targets. Other interesting weapons are the modern Kornet ATGMs mounted on quadricycles. These self-propelled ATGMs are able to effectively fight any modern tank, including Israeli.

By all appearances, this unit was formed to prosecute the war in Syria, where thousands of Hezbollah fighters are constantly on the front lines. The absence of direct fire support such as tanks and artillery undermines the success of operations. Therefore it’s logical to assume that Hezbollah decided to assemble an arsenal of its own armor and accompanying artillery to ensure battlefield success.

Being a fully-fledged political and military organization, Hezbollah understands that it is surrounded by enemies such as Israel and radical Sunni Islamists. Therefore having a tank regiment with experienced crews is of vital importance, as the unit represents a serious force by the standards of Lebanon and the adjacent countries. The prolonged civil war in Lebanon, the permanent stand-off with Israel, and now also the struggle against Sunni Islamists, in other words, the constant balancing on the edge between war and peace, makes the movement flexible in its command arrangements and able to quickly and appropriately react to emerging problems.

One can also draw the conclusion that the paramilitary wing of the Hezbollah, in spite of external attributes of a partisan movement, which it was 20-30 years ago, is gradually becoming a fully-fledged army with a training establishment, a command structure, and a logistical segment.

Cadre Selection and Training

The preparation of a future fighter starts at a very young age. Kids aged 6 are involved in discussions and as they grow, they receive more advanced political and religious preparation. A sample training regimen includes: Studying Koran, A day at the mosque, I love my country, How to run a household, Summer camp, I submit to my leader. Younger kids’ uniform, as a rule, includes blue shirts with epaulettes, white scarves, and pins with the image of Khomeini.

Older boys spend several weeks during the summer in camps in the south and in Bekaa Valley, where they train and acquire survival skills while obtaining more in-depth religious preparation and studying their native language and culture.

Then they transfer to the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts. One of the scouts’ missions is helping the poor. According to the Scouts head, if kids who lost their father or their brothers were left to their fate, they would withdraw inwardly and develop psychological problems such as aggression.

At the age of 17, those who excelled at the Scouts become members of Taabia, or the reserves.

At the same time, education does not seek to promote absolute hatred toward Israel, despite what Western journalists love to depict. The education system is first and foremost based on developing a national and religious identity, the context in which the Shia community of Lebanon exists.

In an interview provided by a Hezbollah fighter, it was noted that those who choose political independence become social pariahs. Such people can’t even visit their villages, given that the family and the society hate them.

Cadre troops are focused on combat training, and each receives a specialty such as an ATGM gunner, a sniper, or demolitions. Regular Hezbollah fighters undergo training in specialized camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran (under IRGC officer leadership). They conduct training for the rank and file and select outstanding individuals for special units. Some of them become commanders, others are selected for the Special Security Apparatus.

Taabia reservists are engaged in protecting villages and are selected from the Scouts. Cadre fighters and reservists undergo service in one of the districts: Israel-Lebanon border and the Litania river area—Nasr Brigade, north of Litania—Badr Brigade, Bekaa Valley—Haidar Brigade.

Each Hezbollah brigade in south Lebanon has a sector in northern Israel that it is supposed to occupy. Combat and special training in each brigade take into account local geography. One should also note that border terrain is fortified: there is a large-scale network of tunnels, bunkers, minefields. Using the tunnels, Hezbollah can concentrate large number of troops on the needed attack sector without being spotted and attacked from the air

Due to fighting in Syria, Hezbollah opted to conduct training courses with reservists lasting 60-90 days. Commanders are also sent to the battle zone to obtain experience. Intensive operations and unavoidable losses have forced commanders and troops to remain in the war zone (murabata) for longer than their rotation periods. For the reservists, it was 15 days a year. Before the Syrian war, the border with Israel was considered such a zone. Currently, the rotation period in the Syrian war zone is 20 days and may be increased if the situation demands it. This is considered optimum, as it allows for having trained and rested troops available in case of any escalation on Israel border, and in Syria.

Here’s an example of a news report regarding deployment of Hezbollah units from May 20, 2017. The Radwan special unit and others were fully withdrawn from Syria and replaced by the Badr Brigade which is stationed in the eastern and northern part of the Aleppo province. Aziz Brigade was withdrawn from the outskirts of Palmyra and al-Qaem Brigade temporarily replaced it there.

Moreover, the Radwan unit was brought to an elevated alert level and sent to south Lebanon (Litania river and Shebaa farms on Israel border). Al-Jalil Brigade, intended for operations in Galilee in case of war with Israel, remained on its permanent positions in south Lebanon. Nasr Brigade, which is directly under Hasan Nasrallah, remained in reserve.

The Radwan unit was named after the head of Special Security department Imad Mugniyeh (pseudonym al-Hadja Radwan) who was killed in 2008. The unit has much experience in raids and is the most prepared for urban warfare, which makes it irreplaceable in Syria. If there is a new war between Hezbollah and Syria, it will be in the first line of attack.

Military Doctrine. Specifics of Fighting in Syria

Hezbollah leadership reviewed its concept of operations after the start of the Syria war. Before the war, the emphasis was placed on defensive ops in built-up areas with small units to inflict maximum troop and equipment losses on the IDF while simultaneously shelling Israel using large numbers of short- and medium-range rockets.

In Syria, Hezbollah realized that it had to wage offensive ops in cities. Therefore it reconsidered its training system, increased its rocket arsenal, and provided more heavy weapons and recon systems.

The first operation where Hezbollah took offensive using large units was the battle for el-Quseyr in April-June 2013. Some 1200-1700 best-trained Hezbollah troops took part in the battle. They were divided into 17 detachments, with later division into teams of 3-5 troops. Prior to the attack, the command performed recon of the city and its approaches, then divided the city into 16 sectors, one for each detachment. Each region had its codename. During the battle, this allowed for command of forces using open channels of communication without the enemy being able to take any countermeasures. Hezbollah command undertook the direction of SAA tank and artillery units near the city. Considering that the city was in the Islamist hands for over a year and was well-fortified, the ratio of losses was nevertheless 5:1 in favor of Hezbollah. The battle showed that with proper organization, a fortified city can be effectively attacked by a small force.

As far as the military direction of Hezbollah units in Syria by Iran is concerned, it seems probable that Iran directs Hezbollah units down to battalion level (sometimes down to company) using IRGC specialists from the al-Quds Force. It can’t be ruled out that IRGC specialists coordinate Hezbollah and local self-defense forces like the Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Units smaller than a battalion don’t warrant the provision of specialists. There is a need for a large number of trained cadres able to command and provide assistance. One of the factors influencing cooperation in this instance is the language barrier—Arabic in Lebanon, versus Farsi in Iran.

Hezbollah became one of the factors which allowed to turn around the war in Syria, since its troops were able to fight in cities. The SAA, in 2011-12 was organized along 1970-80 lines to fight combined arms battles mainly against Israel. New realities have shown that this army was unable to fight as small units in the cities. Moreover, the SAA has not fought for a long time. Its last significant operations took place in 1982. Therefore it had no commanders with urban warfare experience. Hezbollah, on the other hand, has constantly fought Israel since the moment of its creation. Generations of commanders have honed their skills in the years of clashes and battles with the IDF, causing it serious losses during the 2006 war. Israel was forced to retreat from south Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s reputation has risen to unprecedented heights.

Israel’s military command is worried about Hezbollah’s operations in Syria, since its paramilitary wing will now be able to wage offensive ops using heavy weapons and a huge number of short-, medium-, and long-range rockets.

The fact that Hezbollah has become akin to a regular army is confirmed by IDF’s rethinking of its approach to the fight against it. First, IDF is preparing for fighting big formations, up to a brigade, whose task will be invading Israel and capturing villages or military bases. Second, it is paying special attention to combating tunnels, including technical and psychological preparation of its troops to fight in tunnels.

Rocket Arsenal

The movement’s distinguishing characteristic is the enormous rocket arsenal which, by various estimates, contains between 50 thousand and 120 thousand weapons. And not merely an arsenal, but a whole system, from rocket part and fuel factories to storage facilities and camouflaged launch sites.

The existing land-based arsenal includes various short-range ballistic missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and multiple rocket launchers.

The existing land-based arsenal is reflected by the following table:

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* –depending on the specific variant.

MRL – multiple rocket launcher

SSM – surface-to-surface missile

SRBM – short-range ballistic missile

Most of the weapons come from Iran and Syria. The possession of Scud-Ds is doubted, including doubts of the Western media. This system requires qualified personnel and specialized equipment, since the rocket uses liquid fuel.

To assess Hezbollah’s effectiveness, let’s look at the shelling of Israel in 2005. At the start, according to Nasrallah, there were over 12 thousand rockets. Official Israeli police reports noted 3770 rocket strikes on the country, including 901 strikes in the cities. Thanks to civil defense, only 44 were killed and 1384 were wounded. One is also tempted to note that Hezbollah mostly used rockets with ranges under 100km and small warheads, as no SRBM strikes were noted. This was due the small number of SRBMs and Israeli effort to destroy them, which was partly successful. Hits by 600-980kg SRBM warheads would have had catastrophic consequences on cities. The presence of SSMs proved a surprise for Israel. On July 14, 2006, Israeli corvette Hanit was hit by a Chinese-made C-802 SSM launched from the short. The ship’s air defense was turned off since nobody expected an SSM attack. 4 sailors were killed and the corvette was incapacitated for 3 weeks. The 165kg warhead most likely failed to explode, otherwise, the corvette would have sunk.

Having a large rocket arsenal made in Iran, PRC, and Syria, raises the question of whether Hezbollah has its own factories of rockets. If it does, they manufacture certain numbers. It’s been a long time since the last war with Israel. Launching a rocket after lengthy storage could be dangerous to its launch crew. It would seem that the war in Syria is being used to use up old Russian and Chinese rockets of which it has large numbers. The situation is more complex with SRBMs. They are very expensive to make. It would make no sense to establish their production on territory which at any moment could be bombed by Israel. With proper servicing, such rockets can be stored for up to decades. It’s likely that some assistance here is provided by Iranian civil and military specialists.

Building a rocket plant on the territory of another country is a whole different matter. In August 2017, Israeli media reported that Iranians are building a ballistic missile plant in north-west Syria. It is built near the coastal city of Banias, tens of kilometers from Tartus where the Russian base is located, and south of Hmeimim where Russian aircraft are based, protected by S-300 and S-400. Therefore the factory can be protected against Israeli strikes. According to experts, the plant will produce Fateh-110 rockets for the SAA and, possibly, Hezbollah.

The rocket arsenal has been modernized and expanded. At the start of the next war, Hezbollah will be able to launch 1500 rockets a day, instead of 200 in 2006, covering the whole territory of Israel and not only the border regions. There are reports that Hezbollah has Russian Yakhont SSMs obtained from Syria, instead of the unreliable C-802.

Therefore Hezbollah rocket arsenal is not a network of warehouses full of artisanal rockets, dangerous to own crews. It’s a whole range of industrially produced weapons capable of destroying land and naval targets at various ranges.

All of the above does not mean Hezbollah seeks war with Israel, whose leadership should be aware that if there is another war in south Lebanon, Israel’s civilians will face unprecedented threats.

Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence

Hezbollah’s Special Security department is responsible for both intel and counter-intel, and implements several missions, one of the most important being professionally carried out operations abroad at the behest of Shura Council. Imad Fayez Mughniyeh was a head of Special Security department until 2008 when he died in a car bomb blast in Kafr Sousa neighborhood of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Responsibilities of the department’s head in Shura include overseeing the following departments:

  1. National preventive security apparatus, which provides personal security to high-level spiritual leaders.
  2. Internal security and intelligence apparatus, which tracks political and religious reliability of the Hezbollah members.
  3. National central security apparatus, which observes, tracks, infiltrates, and if necessary eliminates military or political individuals or groups seeking to interfere with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
  4. Foreign combat cells and intel apparatus. This department partly overlaps with the central security council, depending on types of requests received by cell leaders.

Imad Mugniyeh is the individual who made this department one of the most powerful secret services in the world. He was born in 1962 in the Tayr Debba village in south Lebanon. He started his career in the mid-1970s in the FATH organization. In 1977-82 he was a member of its intelligence and special units (Force 17, Unified Security Directorate, etc.). After an advanced course under IRGC instructors at the Imam Ali base in Bekaa province, he headed the personal security team for prominent Shia cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah.

Before 2005, Hezbollah was to a large extent integrated into Lebanese intel services, including Amn al-Amn Main Directorate for Common Security which expanded its ability to carry out intelligence and counter-intelligence ops. After Hezbollah was accused of being complicit in the death of former Lebanese PM, Rafik Hariri in February 2005, Hezbollah members were forced to leave Lebanese secret services, which affects the movement’s intel work.

The Special Security department studies Iranian and Israeli experience. According to Israeli intel members, Hezbollah has a large agent network in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and AMAN military intelligence. This opinion is supported by the presence of limited access Israeli MOD maps, manuals, and documents on captured Hezbollah members.

The movement’s intel successes are largely based on exploiting familial and criminal ties between Israeli and Lebanese Arabs, and the well-oiled cooperation between Hezbollah intel and Palestinian Authority armed formations. Moreover, Hezbollah intelligence often uses interrogations of captured officers and soldiers, and data obtained through recruitment of senior Israeli officers. For example, Hezbollah was able to recruit IDF Lt. Col. Omar el-Haiba, a Bedouin. This officer occupied a high post in the Western district HQ. He was one of the most capable Bedouin officers in the IDF. After a serious wound, he was disabled but nevertheless returned to the IDF and earned awards for his agitation among the Bedouins. This officer was arrested on suspicion of giving Hezbollah secret information on IDF forces on Lebanon border and the schedule of patrols. On June 18, 2006 a court martial sentenced him to 15 years in prison for espionage, contact with enemy agents, and drug trade.

Due to the secrecy regime in Special Security Apparatus, little is known about foreign terrorist and intel cells. As a rule, they become known only after major events. Hezbollah selects people for special ops from among its own special units. These people are believed to be well trained and prepared to die for the sake of the mission. Some of them are from Arab and Islamic organizations that have ceased to exist. All of Hezbollah’s special ops are handled by Special Security apparatus, with support from Iranian and Syrian intel and special ops forces, and from the IRGC.

Members of the overseas cells are thoroughly trained. They have knowledge and information about the country where they work. They speak the language of the country. This attracts less attention from civil and military authorities.
Infiltration unit equipment in includes Israeli or other military uniforms, depending on the mission. Units infiltrating Israel speak Hebrew, use Israeli weapons and equipment as camouflage, and are familiar with all types of weapons used in the region. Members of special infiltration units and members of the suicide units differ, among other things, by their uniforms. For example, Jihad Detachments wear green or black clothing, carry Semtex, C-4, or C-9 charges, and usually wear masks on operations.

The following Jihad Detachments are known:

  1. Islambula Brigade: assassination of political activists.
  2. Al-Quds Brigade: two units of suicide bombers consisting of 56 each, the Fathi Shkaki Company and the Ihye Ayasha Company.

On Imad Mugniye’s initiative, in the early ‘90s a special unit of Hebrew-speaking Lebanese Palestinians was formed. It had the task of eavesdropping on IDF army frequencies. Later, SSA sought to improve their language and professional skills at the Center of Islamic Science and Culture and its branches in Iran, Cyria, and Lebanon.

One should note that the Hezbollah units and controlled territories are targets of Israeli human intelligence efforts. Israeli Border Police (MAGAV) includes the YAMAS unit which camouflages its members to look like Arabs. During the 2006 war, Hezbollah counterintelligence located and destroyed an Israeli agent network in south Lebanon and Beirut. The network conducted espionage in Hezbollah HQ and transmitted this data to the IDF. Agents from among local population set up equipment to monitor Hezbollah military installations and used GPS devices to guide munitions, spread glow-in-the-dark powder around buildings and command centers, rocket warehouses and launch sites. Still, IDF and Israeli intel was not able to kill or capture a single senior Hezbollah official or destroy the command system, since the shelling of Israel continued no matter what.

The Media: Agitation and Propaganda

Hezbollah places particular importance on the media. It owns a satellite TV channel (al-Manar), four radio stations, and five newspapers. Without any doubt, Hezbollah’s image was to a large extent formed by al-Manar, which has been broadcasting since June 1991, and has gone satellite in 2000. It has become Hezbollah’s face to the world. The channel is unique, before its existence Arab media consisted of newspapers and radio stations. Experts believe its audience is second only to al-Jazeera. Al-Manar became the official channel of the movement, demonstrating accomplishments, particularly in the realm of fighting Israel. Its broadcasts consist mainly of news and political programs, broadcasts dedicated to the memory of martyrs, informational and entertainment shows. It is also unique in that it broadcasts in Hebrew for the Israeli population. While Western media depict the al-Manar as propaganda for a terror group, the channel does not broadcast any information on making bombs, executions of Israeli soldiers, blowing up of checkpoints, and other forms of cruelty.

Hezbollah radio stations al-Nour and al-Iman broadcast from southern Beirut. Al-Islam broadcasts in south Lebanon, and Sawt al-Mustad’afin broadcasts in the area of Bekaa river valley. There are also newspapers: Al-Bilad, al-Ahd, al-Muntalaq, al-Sabil, and Baquitou Allah.

The movement has a website, www.moqawama.org. Its content includes the most important news from Lebanon and the world, video addresses by movement leader, respecting the memory of martyrs, opinion polls, and memorable dates in the movement’s history. Agitation video broadcast by TV and web channels are of high artistic and directorial quality and take into consideration the preference of the audience and Arab mentality not only in Lebanon but the world.

Social Work

Even though the Hezbollah is known in Western media as a terror organization, it defies that label by the multifaceted aspect of its activities. Apart from fighting in Syria and against Israel, it is part of Lebanon’s legislature, provides education and medical services to the Lebanese. In 2000-2010 Hezbollah spent several billion dollars on humanitarian efforts in Lebanon. The organization builds kindergartens and schools, hospitals and clinics, and even supermarkets. Its fighters and their family members can take advantage of many services with major discounts. Education in Hezbollah-built schools is cheaper than in public schools. The poor obtain stipends. Of course, the education focuses on the Arabic language, Islam, and Shia traditions. But English language and physical sciences are also taught. These schools provide a very high level of instruction by ME standards.

The media also focus on those who fell for the freedom and independence of Lebanon. As a sign of respect for the martyrs, which is how Shia community views them, the funerals are attended by senior officials. They also participate in any funerals of people who perished in battle or in other circumstances. This is apparently due to Hasan Nasrallah’s having suffered a personal loss. His eldest son Hadi became a martyr during fighting in south Lebanon.

If the killed fighter had children, they are taken under care, receive education or jobs. In spite of financial problems, providing money for cadre soldiers and for the families of the dead is the top priority.

Mu’assasat Jihad al-Bina’ or the Fund for Sacred Struggle was founded by the Hezbollah in 1988. It quickly became one of the most visible NGOs in Lebanon. Although it is autonomous, its activities fall under the purview of the social services department of the movement. Its main aim is to “lessen the burdens faced by the poor families by relying on God’s aid in fulfilling their moral and Islamic obligations.” The Fund operates in southern districts of Beirut, Bekaa Valley, and south Lebanon. The fund provides more than half of population of those regions with water, helps farmers with procuring livestock, fertilizers, fuel. It carries out electrification of the most backward villages.

Mu’assasat al-Shahid, or the Martyrs’ Fund, supports the children of killed or captured fighters and civilians. It provides housing, jobs, and support for widows and runs a job placement office for the youth.

Lujnat Imdad al-Khomeini, or the Khomeini Support Committee, was formed right after Israeli aggression of 1982. It helps poor families, particularly those which suffered from Israeli occupation. The aid includes monthly benefits, food parcels, basic necessities, clothing, health services, and education. The committee provides medical assistance, including through medications, diagnoses, surgeries, and rehabilitation, to tens of thousands of patients a year. The financial and technical incapacity of the Lebanese government, particularly the Ministry of Health, forced the movement to take under the control of the Islamic Health Unit the hospitals of south Lebanon.

Hezbollah education department is headed by an office titled al-Ta‘bia’ al-Tarbawiyya, or the Education Directorate. It provides financial aid to needy Hezbollah members. Its expenditures are extremely important to the movement, because public schools suffer from lack of funds for construction and education technology.

The education department also provides needy students higher education in applied sciences, and religious studies in various institutions such as Technical Institute of the Great Prophet, the Technical Institutes of Sayyid Abbas al-Musawi, the Institute of Sayydat al-Zahra’, the Institute of Shaykh Raghib Harb, and the Islamic Shari’ah Institute.

Other types of aid include paying for textbooks and school materials, and part of the tuition in public and private schools.

Economic and Financial Activities

A variety of sources of funding—donations, business, and Iran’s support—ensure the party’s independence and economic stability. Its assets are held in the Saderat Bank of Iran or in other banks in accounts of front individuals, to prevent the US and the West from freezing its assets. The party is a huge corporation whose assets belong to the whole party, not just specific individuals.

The main sources of funding are:

  • Direct subsidies from Iran, no more than $100 million per year, though $200 million before the fall of oil prices.
  • Contributions by Shia community in and outside of Lebanon
  • Profits from economic and banking activity.

Income from smuggling, illegal sale of weapons and drugs, are not taken into consideration in this context

According to Pew Research Center and the World Factbook (CIA), Shia Muslims represent a high percentage in about 25 countries.

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Total: approx. 200 million worldwide.

One should keep in mind that Pew data have often been criticized by Western experts and Shia diasporas for underestimating Shia numbers.

According to World Labor Organization, average salaries in these countries in 2016 were:

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The Islamic concept of Zakat states that when it comes to deeds performed in God’s name, including supporting warriors waging jihad, the poor, or people propagating Islam, the average worker should contribute 2.5% of theirsalary.

Considering the multi-child families which are the rule in Muslim countries (one does not consider non-working wives and children), zakat may be paid by up to 10% of the community.

In this case, contributions by country look as follows:

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Thus, the Shia diaspora may contribute no more than 1/5, or 120 million USD, for financing Hezbollah.

This calculation does not include income tax, since each country has a different tax law. One should also keep in mind that not all Shia in the West and Persian Gulf are supportive of Hezbollah’s military aid to Syria. For example, NGO surveys of Shia in the Persian Gulf states in the second half of 2013 suggests that the percentage of supporters fell to 30-50%. This is apparently due to the Hezbollah being given an image of the aggressor by the media of these countries, which can’t help but influence financing. After IS was proclaimed in 2014, India’s Shia issued a statement proclaiming readiness to send 30,000 volunteers to Iraq to fight radical Islam. There is no information concerning the Shia of India or neighboring countries providing aid for Syria.

More than 100,000 Lebanese have permanent residence in African countries, including 60,000 in Cote d’Ivoire, 25,000 each in Senegal and Sierra Leone, 16,000 in Nigeria, 6,000 in DRC, 5,000 each in Gabon and Cameroun. The majority of Lebanese in Africa are not Christians but Shia. They have concentrated control of much profitable business, which allows them not only live well but support their historical motherland. In 2008 alone, money transfers from African Lebanese exceeded $1 billion. It is difficult to assess Lebanese Shia affluence in Africa due to the never-ending financial crisis. Since it is Hezbollah that runs active social programs in Lebanon, one can assume the majority of remittances ends up on the organization’s accounts.

Overall, the movement collects no more than $500 million a year. It’s not much, considering it is waging a war in Syria and is financing the social sector of the whole country.

Why Hezbollah became a Middle East powerhouse and its transition to a quasi-state

After the IDF withdrawal from most of Lebanon in 1985, Hezbollah with active support from the IRGC began to create its own weapons arsenals, and the January 1989 Damascus-Tehran agreement allowed Hezbollah to restore its military infrastructure and resume operations in south Lebanon. Thus by 1991 Hezbollah became the leading Lebanese resistance force, operating in the country’s south against the IDF.

Starting in early ‘90s, Hezbollah began a transition away from being a purely paramilitary formation. In the summer of ’92, Iran’s leaders recommended Hezbollah transform itself from an openly extremist organization into an active Lebanese political force. Hezbollah reached an internal compromise between the “moderates” and “radicals”, established a ceasefire with Amal, and began active preparation for parliamentary elections. Hezbollah today acts as the leading political force in Lebanon and as a major Shia social and humanitarian organization (Lebanon has an estimated 2.5 million Shia out of 6.2 million total population). IDF withdraw from south Lebanon in 2006 was a huge victory in the eyes of the Arab world. Hezbollah has truly become a significant regional factor. Growing its influence in Lebanon and Syria and the region with Iran’s help, Hezbollah has become a base for recruitment, training, and preparation of volunteers for battling Israel and radical Sunni organizations. Hezbollah units often fight like regular army nits.

One of the reasons for the rise of Hezbollah’s regional influence is the strategic coordination between the Lebanese and Iraqi Shia, and also Syrian Alawites due to the continuous war in the Middle East. It’s important to note that the organization has proved its worth even in the darkest hours of Lebanon’s history, such as the many years of almost uninterrupted slaughter, but also during the perennial clashes with its external adversaries, even dangerous ones like Israel.

Opinions of Iran’s influence vary. Some experts claim Iran’s aid is so important that it fully affects all aspects of Hezbollah’s decision making process. Naturally, Iran’s authority as the leader of the Shia around the world is near-absolute. It also provides Hezbollah with tremendous military aid. Moreover, the movement has suffered losses in Syria, it’s most professional and best trained fighters have perished there, which weakens the organization. Therefore Hezbollah leaders have to show more flexibility and care in its dealings with Iran if differences of opinion arise.

The most likely explanation is that Hezbollah maintains considerable independence due to its exceptional political standing in the country, and of its nature as a strike force against Israel and Syria’s Sunni. Since the start of conflicts in Syria in 2011, Nasrallah tried to maintain neutrality. Hezbollah became involved only in 2013 when the situation grew out of control and there was a danger of combat spreading to Lebanon. Nasrallah stated in one of his announcements that” Iran should be viewed as the center of strategic influence in the region, as the model of a sovereign state which supports nations in their search for independence and as a force which helps countries and nations of the Middle East become stronger. Syria and Iran can’t force Hezbollah to act against its own plans. They can only argue with us and try to convince us.”

Since its independence, Lebanese government paid little attention to the problems of the southern parts of the country. Therefore Hezbollah has assumed the role of helping the poor and developing infrastructure not for self-promotion, but because it was an objective necessity. Practically since birth, a Lebanese Shia is under Hezbollah’s care. Kindergartens, clinics, schools, and institutions—all of that has been built and is financed by the movement. So it’s no surprise that the movement is hugely popular and service within its ranks is considered honorable.

One should especially note that today Hezbollah is more than a movement. Even though it has not declared sovereignty over part of the country, it has every attribute of a state. It has legislative, executive, judicial authority, institutions for the collection and distribution of taxes, its own education system, a military, intelligence and counter-intelligence, media—all of that exists and functions within the movement’s framework. Moreover, it has control over its subjects, the totality of information about them and, most importantly, it relies on their good will to work with the movement in some form. The concept of citizenship is not after all defined by a passport but by the individual’s willingness to associate to a state or a movement and be loyal to it.

Here’s what is written about it by one of Hezbollah’s ideologues and the deputy general secretary, sheikh Naim Kassem: “From the theoretical point of view, we are calling for an Islamic state, we are drawing others into that process, since only an Islamic state may facilitate the maximum of human happiness. But on the practical level this question depends on the free human choice, in addition to the Quran Ayat 2.257: There is no compulsion in religion. The correct way is quite separate from the false one. Whoever does not believe in idol worship but believes in God, has found a reliable foundation which cannot be crumbled. Verily, God is all-hearing and all-knowing.”

The victory of radical Sunni groups in Syria would mean the possibility of merciless annihilation of all other religious groups, following the Iraq scenario. After the US invasion of Iraq triggered a civil war and later the appearance of ISIS, which proved unspeakably cruel toward all other beliefs, it sent the message that in these conditions of ethnic and religious warfare, only paramilitary organizations like the Hezbollah can ensure their own survival.

Conclusion

Hezbollah’s popularity among Lebanese Shia is based on several factors: its military campaign against Israel, its wholly Lebanese nature, its role as a defender of the historically repressed Shia community, its religious nature and its wide range of social services.

Hezbollah has done more for the Shia community in Lebanon than the official government. Since the very start of its involvement in the war in Syria, the movement leaders that its fighters are defending Lebanon, Lebanese Shia, and Shia holy sites from the spread of extremist Sunni Islam, represented first and foremost by Jabhat al-Nusra and IS. According to Nasrallah, this was not a war of choice but of necessity.

Lebanese NGOs which carried out a survey in 2015 noted that 57% of respondents view the threat of radical Islam to Lebanon as real, and 80% view Hezbollah as making the life in Lebanon calmer. Lebanon today, just as the Middle East as a whole, is experiencing renewed inter-religious and inter-communal slaughter.  People living in unstable and unpredictable countries are trying to find protection and support among their own national or religious community. Therefore it is no surprise that Hezbollah enjoys such unconditional support among the Shia of Lebanon and Syria, even if they don’t fully support the movement’s aims and mission.

“Saudi Attempted to Expose Lebanon to Israeli Attack by Excluding Hariri”

Source

November 18, 2017

Former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin

Former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said Saudi Arabia attempted to expose Lebanon to an Israeli attack through excluding Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri.

In an interview with Israeli Channel 12, Yaldin praised what he called an alliance between the Zionist entity and Saudi, stressing that Riyadh “can go far away” with Tel Aviv.

Yaldin was hailing the Saudi decision to say it clearly that Riyadh enjoys good relations with the Zionist entity.

“The most important event that took place this week is not the interview which Israeli military chief gave to Saudi media, but rather the Saudi decision to publish it,” Yaldin said referring to the interview Saudi-owned Elaph online newspaper conducted with Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot.

The Israeli ex-intelligence chief meanwhile, disclosed that he meets from time to another Saudi princes in Europe and the United States.

Saudi officials “say it clearly: Iran is the enemy; they kill us but you no. Absolutely there is an alliance between us,” Yaldin said referring to relations between Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia.

 

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