10 Oct 2010

Cresecent tears Arabs


News Reports:

Shia crescent pierces heart of Arab world - Times

[ Shiites firmly establised in traditional Sunni areas of influence]


The Times - 17 July 2006


Sunni governments are nervously eyeing a militant alliance capable of taking on Israel

By Nicholas Blanford

THE present conflict between Hezbollah and Israel is not just a local quarrel between bitter foes who have been fighting each other in southern Lebanon for a quarter of a century. It is an attempt to redefine the balance of power in the Middle East.

As such it has implications not only for Israel but also for the Western-friendly, Sunni-led Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

The stakes are enormous. By attacking Haifa, Hezbollah has transferred the conflict to Israeli territory, undermining the latter’s longstanding military doctrine of defeating its enemies on foreign soil.

“If the Israeli public begins clamouring for a ceasefire, then the Israeli army will have been neutralised,” Amal SaadGhorayeb, a Lebanese expert on Hezbollah, said. “It will shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility.”

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, appeared on television yesterday to warn Israel that the guerrillas’ military capabilities remained strong and that “we are still at the beginning” of the conflict.

“Our fighters are still there and they love the confrontation,” he said. “They are looking to show the world a new vision of victory.”

Such defiance may dismay Israelis, but it will cause additional unease among Sunni Arab countries who view the conflagration as a naked attempt by Shia-dominated Iran to project itself into the heart of the Arab world. Saudi Arabia hinted at this irritation with Hezbollah and its patron in an unusually frank statement that came after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers last week. It called the operation an “irresponsible action” and blamed elements in Lebanon “and those behind them”.

Recent months have seen the crystallisation of an anti-Western alliance linking Iran, under the hardline President Ahmadinejad, some Shia factions in Iraq, Syria — which is ruled by the Alawites, a Shia splinter group — Hezbollah and the Damascus branch of the Hamas movement.

In December 2004 King Abdullah of Jordan famously described this emerging alliance as a “Shia crescent”, a synonym that outraged Tehran but spoke tellingly of Sunni Arab fears about the ambitions of Iran to become a regional superpower capable of facing up to Israel. Although the inclusion of the Sunni Hamas movement in the alliance weakens the notion of a Shia crescent, the idea is not entirely fanciful.

Emboldened by this partnership, Iran and Syria have refused to yield to intense international pressure to comply with the demands of the West on several issues. Syria stands accused by many of assassinating Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, last year, as well as continuing to support antiIsraeli militants and insurgency groups in Iraq. The Iranians faces possible UN sanctions if they continus to pursue their nuclear ambitions.

But Tehran, Damascus and their Hamas and Hezbollah allies are calculating that the United States, bogged down in the turmoil in Iraq, is unable to back its demands by force, allowing them to play some high-stakes poker, including the current confrontation with Israel. Iran increased the pressure yesterday by raising the spectre of a regional war, saying that Israel would suffer “unimaginable losses” if it attacked Syria. In turn, Mohsen Bilal, the Syrian Information Minister, vowed a “firm and direct response not limited in time or means” if Syria is attacked.

What worries the rulers of Sunni Arab countries is that, as their citizens watch satellite television images of the destruction wrought by Israel on Lebanon, sympathy will grow for Hezbollah, regarded by many Arabs — Sunni and Shia alike — as the only credible political and military force willing to match words with actions by taking on the might of Israel’s military force.

Perhaps that is why President Mubarak of Egypt, who has little taste for Hezbollah, admitted yesterday that “Israel will not be victorious in the current conflict”. He said: “Israel should stop the killing of defenceless Lebanese civilians.”


IRAN 89% Shia 9% Sunni

PALESTINIANS 5% Shia 90% Sunni

IRAQ 65% Shia 20% Sunni

LEBANON 40% Shia 20% Sunni

SYRIA 15% Shia 74% Sunni


Cresecent over Iraq


News Reports:

Iraq, Iran and the New Shiite Crescent - American Chronicle
Arabs Fear Rising Shiite Power in Iraq - FOX NEWS
'Shiite Giant' Extends Its Reach - Washington Post

[ Iraq succumbs to Shiites. Iran influence now extends to other Arab nations.]


AMERICAN CHRONICLE - January 08, 2007


By Greg Reeson

Even before the rise of the post-Saddam government in Iraq, Sunni leaders in Egypt and Jordan warned of a “Shiite Crescent,” a zone of influence and power by Islam’s second largest branch that stretched across the Middle East from Beirut to Tehran. The push for Shiite dominance, which has been led by an increasingly bold and defiant regime in Iran, is making Sunni Arabs in the region gradually more nervous, and with good reason.

Shiites, who represent less than twenty percent of all the world’s Muslims, have long been subject to Sunni dominated regimes throughout most of the Middle East. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran was the only country with a Shiite majority population and a Shiite-led government. With the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni minority dictatorship, Iraq (which is sixty percent Shiite) is now led, albeit tenuously, by a Shiite-dominated unity government that, when combined with an aggressive regional power play by Iran, has emboldened Shiites in Sunni-led countries.

Iran’s Shiite regime has been fomenting unrest in Iraq since the very beginning of the war in early 2003. Wielding significant influence among Iraq’s Shia in the south, Iran has provided weapons, fighters, and training for militias conducting attacks against coalition forces and Sunni insurgents. Iran’s hand can be felt in everything in Iraq from the explosive materials contained in IEDs to the sectarian violence waged by private militaries like Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. The ultimate goal, of course, is to forge an Iraq that is at best completely dominated by Iran, or at worst openly friendly toward Iraq’s former foe.

In Bahrain, which is seventy percent Shiite, a Sunni minority regime has been increasingly under fire from a discontented populace demanding better living conditions and increased representation in government. Iran has close ties to Shiites throughout the region and regularly uses its influence to inflame Shiite passions when it suits Tehran’s needs. The Shiites in Bahrain have witnessed the events unfolding in Iraq and are now moving to make their voices heard.

In Lebanon, which is governed by a coalition of Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians, Hezbollah is leading massive protests that demand Shiite power equivalent to their proportion of the population (with about a third of the population, the Shia are the largest single group in Lebanon). Emboldened by a remarkable performance against the Israeli military during the most recent conflict last summer, Iranian sponsored Hezbollah is waging a proxy war against the Jewish State while increasing its popularity among Lebanon’s Shiites.

And while some include Syria in the Shiite Crescent, Assad’s dictatorship is actually Alawite, a sect of Islam that promotes pan-Arabism and is not ideologically aligned with the Shia. Still, Syria is openly allied with the clerics in Iran and serves as a launch pad for Iranian arms and fighters headed for Lebanon.

With Iranian influence spreading throughout the Middle East, countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, all with strong Shiite minorities, are becoming increasingly nervous at the prospect of rising Shiite power in a region traditionally dominated by Sunni Arabs. They fear tensions with their own Shiite populations and some, like Saudi Arabia, have openly hinted that intervention in Iraq on behalf of Sunnis is a realistic possibility to stop the spread of Iranian influence.

Iran, in its quest to become the most powerful nation in the Middle East, has led the push for increased Shiite influence throughout the region. Shiites in Bahrain and Lebanon have watched the consolidation of power in Iraq and begun to assert themselves politically against governments that are not representative of their populations. Sunnis are nervous, and rightfully so. If Iran succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapon, the fear of a Shiite Crescent will be eclipsed by the reality of a Shiite dominance of the Middle East that will persevere for generations.

Greg Reeson is a Senior Writer for GOPUSA and a Featured Writer for The New Media Journal and The Veteran's Voice. He is the author of the forthcoming "Persistent Conflict: Redefining the War on Terror," due out in 2009.


FOX NEWS - April 24, 2003

Arabs Fear Rising Shiite Power in Iraq

CAIRO, Egypt

The new assertiveness of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority has raised worries elsewhere in the mostly Sunni Muslim Middle East, where governments fear the rise of an Iranian-style theocracy, unrest at home and revived tensions within the family of Islam.

Saudi Arabia, with its own significant Shiite population, may feel among the most threatened by events in Iraq, its neighbor to the north. But even farther afield in places like Egypt, there is concern about what is seen as Shiite restiveness.

"Now the game is how to contain it," Egyptian political scientist Gehad Auda said.

Sunnis are by far the majority of the world's more than 1 billion Muslims, but in Iraq they make up only about a third of the 24 million people. Most of the rest are Shiite.

Saddam Hussein's regime was dominated by Sunnis. Now that his regime has been toppled by U.S. and British forces, Shiites are bursting forth to make clear they expect more say in Iraq's political future.

This week, an annual ritual that was repressed by Saddam's regime became a display of Shiite power as hundreds of thousands made a pilgrimage to the central Iraqi city of Karbala to commemorate the 7th century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein. While performing the ritual, many pilgrims shouted anti-U.S. as well as anti-Saddam slogans.

"The end of Saddam the tyrant has awakened the Shiite giant in Iraq," Saudi political analyst Khaled bin Sulaiman al-Sulaiman said Wednesday.

Auda predicted that nations in Iraq's neighborhood would try to slow political reforms the United States envisions that could result in Iraqi Shiites voting themselves into power.

"Democracy wouldn't serve the purpose of containment," Auda said.

He expects Saudi Arabia to work with countries like Egypt, whose status as the largest Arab country and a key U.S. ally gives it political muscle in the region, to try put its own stamp on Iraq's future.

Egypt's government may feel it has to act to calm Sunni fundamentalists, a growing political force in Egypt, Auda said. Sunni fundamentalists are deeply suspicious of Shiites.

In Egypt, where Shiite traditions are largely unknown, bloody television and newspaper images this week of Iraqi Shiites slashing their bodies and crying out in a stylized display of mourning for Hussein were viewed by many with baffled distaste.

Shiites are more visible in Saudi Arabia, making up 10 to 15 percent of the kingdom's roughly 19 million people, but they complain of restrictions on their freedom of expression, inability to advance in government jobs and other discrimination. The divide is deepened by a puritanical Sunni code in Saudi Arabia that shuns not only other religions but also other Muslim sects.

In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia was convinced that mostly Shiite Iran planned to spread its 1979 Islamic revolution and exploit the complaints of Saudi Shiites. The kingdom and other Arab states supported Saddam in his 1980-88 war with Iran.

In 1988, Saudi Arabia broke relations with Iran, accusing it of supporting terrorism and subversion. Relations were restored shortly after the 1991 Gulf War, but suspicions are being revived now that Iran is seen as meddling in Iraq, its neighbor to the west.

Islam has been divided into the orthodox Sunni and minority Shiite sects since soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. Sunnis accepted Abu Bakr, a respected contemporary of the prophet, to lead what was then an international political as well as spiritual empire.

A small group, the "shi'at Ali," or party of Ali, followed the much younger Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-and-law.

In one 7th century battle rooted in the dispute, Hussein, Ali's son, was killed by Sunni rivals on the plains of Karbala in what is now Iraq.

The bloodshed has continued even in modern times.

Sunni, Shiite and Christian militias all fought each other during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. In the Gulf state of Bahrain, where Shiites are a slight majority but the ruling family is Sunni, Shiites staged a violent campaign for political reform in the 1990s, triggering a government crackdown.

Lebanon's war ended when a power-sharing deal was struck under which the president is always Maronite Catholic, the prime minister Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament Shiite Muslim. Calm came to Bahrain when the emir bowed to demands for more democracy that gave Shiites a say in politics.

The Bahraini and Lebanese examples showed that the Sunni-Shiite rivalry can be peacefully resolved. Ali Fakhro, a former Bahraini minister of education and a Sunni, said he believed all Iraqis understand that if they fought each other, the U.S. and British troops that ousted Saddam would linger, denying Iraq its independence.

"I think both Sunnis and Shiites realize these cards should not be given to the American occupiers for the exploitation of Iraq," he said. "I have great faith in the Iraqi people and I think its time they are allowed to decide their own fate and live united."


Iraq's Rising Power

'Shiite Giant' Extends Its Reach

THE WASHINGTON POST - August 24, 2006

Sadr's Armed Movement Becomes Pivotal Force in Fractured Country

KUFA, Iraq.

Pumping their fists in the air, the men and boys inside the colonnaded mosque shouted their loyalty to Shiite Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr. "Hasten the coming of the Mahdi!" thousands chanted in the baking sun of the open-air mosque, summoning the central religious figure of Sadr's movement. "And curse his enemies!"

Booming loudspeakers outside the mosque echoed the devotion of Sadr's followers converging for Friday prayers last month in Kufa, the cleric's spiritual base outside the Shiite holy city of Najaf. "Moqtada! Moqtada!" martial male voices intoned over the loudspeakers in rhythmic cadence with the footsteps of the gathering worshipers. "Even the child in the mother's cradle cries: 'Moqtada! Moqtada!' "

Sadr's followers answer as one when his movement calls them, and his organization of social, religious, political and military programs -- as well as the young clerics, politicians and fighters around him -- has become the most pivotal force in Iraq after the United States.

Millions of Sadr's supporters turned out in December elections to give his movement the largest bloc in parliament, which in turn put him in control of four government ministries. Thousands of male followers abandoned their homes and jobs when a bomb destroyed a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22, rallying at Sadr headquarters on a night and day of retaliatory bloodletting that plunged Iraq into sectarian war.

While opposition to the U.S. military presence in Iraq remains one of its core tenets, the Sadr movement's militia, called the Mahdi Army, took heavy casualties in two military uprisings against better-armed, better-trained U.S. forces in 2004. Today, according to Sadr leaders and outside analysts, the movement is husbanding its strength and waiting for American troops to go.

Sadr "clearly is the most potent political figure, and the most popular one," in Iraq, said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "Unless directly provoked, Sadrists will lay low, because they know the Americans' time in Iraq is coming to an end," he said. "Why would they risk another major loss of fighters if it's not necessary? Americans in their eyes are already defeated -- they're going to leave."

In the plainly furnished front room of his simple house in Najaf, one of Sadr's top aides agreed.

"The first time the Sadr trend fought them, it was forced on us," said Riyadh al-Nouri, a brother-in-law of Sadr's, reflecting the movement's belief that American military and civilian leaders provoked the confrontations with the cleric's followers in 2004. "We had no choice. Sayyid Moqtada didn't want to fight," Nouri said, using a religious honorific for Sadr. "This time, it might be the people who are mad and upset who would do this again. But as of now, in terms of orders from the Sadr trend, it doesn't call for these things."

"Until now, the Shiite giant has not begun to move. But if things come to a dead end," Nouri added, Shiite religious authorities "could take a decision to move him. It depends on them."

"Until now, they have patience," Nouri said.

Building a Movement

The movement that Sadr now leads took shape in the seminaries of Najaf, a theological center of the Shiite world, as clerics in the second half of the 20th century sought to counter what were then growing secular and nationalist movements in the Arab world. Sadr's own work since the U.S.-led invasion builds upon the social and health programs for Shiite poor begun by his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, in the 1990s. Sadr's father died with two of his sons in 1999, in an assassination believed to have been ordered by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The Sadr movement's ultimate goal is a "united Islamic state," Bahaa al-Araji, a senior lawmaker in the Sadr political bloc, said in an interview. In Baghdad's Sadr City and other areas under Sadr's control, women uniformly cover their hair with scarves in the style of conservative Muslims. Islamic scholars operating with Sadr's office help arbitrate divorces, inheritances and other social matters in accordance with religious law. And fighters claiming to be part of Sadr's Mahdi Army -- named for a figure some Muslims believe will usher in an era of justice and true belief just before the end of time -- enforce a stringent Islamic code that includes the prohibition of alcohol and help enforce the orders of extrajudicial Islamic courts.

The movement is highly structured, largely along the lines of the Lebanese Hezbollah organization, building for its followers a state within a state while also acquiring a share of power in Iraq's formal government. Sadr, like Hezbollah, built popularity in part by providing social services such as health care. Because he controls the Health Ministry, and with it the hospitals and clinics of Iraq, his followers bear their children in public hospitals decorated with posters of the young cleric. They go to their graves washed by workers of a Sadr charity at a sprawling Shiite cemetery in Najaf, at a cost of 5,000 dinars, about $3.40, one-fifteenth of what grieving families outside Sadr's network pay. Sadr also sponsors the God's Martyr Foundation, which supports veterans and the families of fighters who are killed.

Under a tithing system followed by Sadr's movement and many other mainstream Shiite groups, those who are financially capable give one-fifth of their income, capital investments or both to their religious leaders.

At Sadr's busy headquarters in Najaf last month, a steady stream of men poured in to sign up for a Sadr recruitment drive in the name of rebuilding the Samarra shrine. Younger men offered their labor. Other followers offered cash, including a proud grandfather who prodded forward a toddling grandson clutching two crisp U.S. $5 bills.

Describing the method of building Sadr's organization, Araji said, "We now see resistance should be political, and not military."

Avoiding Confrontation

Sadr's relationship with the occupying U.S. forces has been hostile, and at times violent. In early 2004, L. Paul Bremer, then the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, declared Sadr an "outlaw." Bremer's spokesmen announced a murder warrant accusing Sadr in the stabbing death of a fellow Shiite cleric. Sadr's forces battled against the U.S. military in Sadr City, Najaf and across the south that year. But in elections in 2005, Sadr's movement participated in the political process and, along with other Shiite parties, claimed power and became part of the government.

Today, Sadr's movement remains wary of the U.S. forces now trying to impose order on chaotic Baghdad. Mahdi Army fighters openly operate checkpoints in Sadr City and elsewhere, standing at intersections and positioning themselves between two lanes of traffic on Sadr turf, scanning each car for strangers. They have sometimes taken Sunni Arab men away for detention or execution, according to Sunni witnesses. But they hide their weapons from American eyes, tucking pistols in waistbands under their shirts or hiding automatic rifles behind doorways.

When U.S. patrols roll into Sadr City, Mahdi Army patrols melt away. Last month, as Capt. Troy Wayman, one of the commanders of the tiny U.S. force overseeing training of the Iraqi army unit in Sadr City, led one of the small daily U.S. convoys through the district's streets, Mahdi Army fighters faded from view.

A Mahdi Army member in civilian clothes, standing in Sadr City 's main road at an informal checkpoint, caught sight of Wayman's approaching Humvees and scuttled out of sight, disappearing into the crowds of men watching the Americans.

As Wayman visited what were supposed to be Iraqi army checkpoints in Sadr City that morning, the first stop showed not a single soldier of Iraq's regular army at his post monitoring passing cars for bombs, kidnappers and the like.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks, but both Sadr and U.S. commanders have so far avoided the kind of open challenge that could lead to another confrontation. As sectarian violence intensified last month, U.S. forces again began moving against specific targets in Sadr City and elsewhere. U.S. commanders were careful to say they were targeting only "criminals" behind suspected death squads, not renewing a fight against the Mahdi Army.

An official of Sadr's movement who identified himself as Abu Hassan al-Thahabi said last month that leaders of the organization had generally ordered restraint. He spoke to a reporter after a bombing that killed at least 66 people on a crowded street in Sadr City. His hands still black with soot and grease from pulling out dead and wounded after the bombing, Thahabi said: "If the leadership says fight, we will fight. If they say no, we will not fight."

Rivals and Allies

At the time of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Sadr's militia did not exist. Today, his army numbers tens of thousands. In 2004, Bremer issued a vague order aimed at the Mahdi Army stipulating that militias should be disbanded at some unspecified date. The order set rules under which militias could keep working in the meantime.

The militias rapidly infiltrated key government agencies. Sadr's movement was not alone; it worked in parallel with another Shiite movement, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, headed by Abdul Aziz Hakim.

Hakim's militia is known as the Badr Brigade. Its members largely took control of the Interior Ministry after the 2005 elections, building commando and other police forces. They are better organized and better armed than the Mahdi Army, thanks to decades of Iranian backing when it opposed Hussein. The Mahdi Army tended to supply the rank and file among Iraq's new police forces, rather than commanders. Together, the two Shiite militias infiltrated into Iraq's security forces thousands of people whose loyalty is to the religious parties rather than the national unity government.

In addition, Sadr's four ministries control 70,000 uniformed, armed men who are part of a government agency known as the Facilities Protection Service, according to the Interior Ministry. U.S. military commanders acknowledge that the agency has mushroomed to more than 140,000, largely outside American notice. A top former U.S. military commander has said militia fighters under the Facilities Protection Service are tied to kidnappings, execution-style killings and other crimes.

Both movements can also field thousands of armed civilian men in a matter of hours. Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council, boasted to his followers in December that he could muster 200,000 militia fighters.

The Sadr movement claims more. "All Iraq is Mahdi Army," said Thamara al-Fetlawi, a civilian leader of the God's Martyrs Foundation, which cares for the families of slain and wounded Sadr militiamen as well as offering broader social services to followers of Sadr.

Fetlawi, like some other Sadr officials, rejected the definition of the Mahdi Army as a militia, apparently as a tactical move against any future efforts to disband the militias. Instead, he called it "the people's army," suggesting ordinary men who spontaneously grab their own weapons and respond when need and Shiite clerics call. The weapons seen by Washington Post reporters in Sadr City on the night of the Feb. 22 Samarra bombing included grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.

Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Supreme Council's Badr Brigade -- rivals that fought deadly battles in power struggles in the predominantly Shiite south last year -- cooperate when their interests overlap. In the turbulent days after the Samarra bombing, Sadr and Badr militiamen marched openly in a Shiite neighborhood of central Baghdad, each carrying banners declaring their battalion and brigade designations within their militias.

American officials have called the Shiite militias a danger to the Iraqi state. But the United States has yet to tackle what it and the Iraqi government say is their goal of dismantling the militias. In a congressionally mandated report last month, the State Department said that "a plan is being developed to assist Iraqi leaders" in breaking up the militias of the governing Shiite religious parties.

A more ominous warning came recently from the departing British ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, in a cable that was leaked. "If we are to avoid a descent into civil war and anarchy, then preventing the Jaish al-Mahdi from developing into a state within a state, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon, will be a priority," Patey wrote, using the Arabic term for Mahdi Army.

'Claiming to Be the Mahdi Army'

Top U.S. officials and leaders of the Sadr movement both say many of the gunmen claiming to be in the Mahdi Army are increasingly operating outside Sadr's control. Nouri, Sadr's brother-in-law, and others blamed rogue elements and impostors for escalating killings and kidnappings since the Samarra bombing. Many of the attacks since July have focused on driving Sunnis from predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad.

"I will say that evil exists in every sect and every place," Nouri said in the interview at his home in Najaf. "And also good exists. Just like with the Jews and the Christians, it is so in Islam.

"They might be gangs claiming to be the Mahdi Army and doing these bad things. But they don't believe in the doctrine, they only do what they want and wear clothes of the Mahdi Army. They do not follow the guidance of the leaders," Nouri said. "They are exposed when there are orders from the high command to sit and do nothing and still they do their acts. Anyone who is not following such orders from the Sadr office is not a member of the Mahdi Army."

"After the Samarra bombing, it seems there were major reprisals organized for large part in Sadr circles," said Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group. "Moqtada himself was very clear no revenge should be taken. It's not clear whether he was simply not listened to, or was giving a double message -- one to the outside world, one to followers."

Unable to figure out Sadr's militia or approach him on political terms, Americans have been frustrated in their hopes of reining in the Mahdi Army, as well as the Badr Brigade.

"It would be a whole lot easier if these armed illegal groups had a coordinated structure with a clear headquarters," a Western diplomat in Baghdad said last month in response to questions about why no progress had been made on U.S. and Iraqi pledges to disband the militias. Ultimately, Hiltermann said, the Mahdi Army, as well as the Supreme Council and both groups' Sunni rivals, need only bide their time, until growing opposition to the war among the American public brings U.S. troops home.

"Then, the real struggle begins," Hiltermann said.


Crescent unsettles Sunnis

Crescent unsettles Sunnis
New Reports:

Shiite ascent unsettles Iraq’s Sunni neighbors - MSNBC

[ Sunnis affraid of rise of Shia power in the Middle East. ]


MSNBC - 29 January 2005


Sunni Arabs concerned over a 'Shiite crescent' of power in Mideast

While the United States waits with optimism for Iraq’s elections, neighboring Arab nations are nervous. They fear the vote could signal the rise of Shiite Muslims in their Sunni-dominated region, embolden their own Shiite communities and perhaps strengthen Iraq’s ties with Iran.

Arab nations long have been wary of non-Arab, Shiite Iran and worry that an alliance with a Shiite-ruled Iraq would shift the balance of power in a region dominated for centuries by Sunni Muslims. The largely Sunni Muslim regimes also fear such an alliance would inspire unrest among their Shiite populations, which have long complained of discrimination.

“This is really historically unprecedented,” said Farid el-Khazen, chairman of the political studies department at the American University of Beirut. “For the first time in the history of the modern state, Shiites have a share in ruling a country such as Iraq.”

'A Shiite crescent'

Jordan’s King Abdullah II told The Washington Post in December that Iran was seeking to create “a Shiite crescent” in the Middle East that would include Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The comments angered Iran, and the king later said he was not opposed to Shiites.

Still, the words exposed the barely hidden fears about Shiite power.

Lebanon’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, said Friday that concerns of a Shiite takeover in Iraq “are unfounded.”

“Shiites are not seeking to take control of the government in Iraq,” he told The Associated Press after Friday prayers in south Beirut.


Shiite Takeover


News Reports:

Are the Shias on the brink of taking over the Middle East? - Observer
Nasrallah denies Iran is seeking 'Shiite crescent' in Middle East - Haaretz

[ Threats of Shia takeoever premature. ]



Jason Burke - The Observer, 23 July 2006

This weekend, as bombing in Lebanon and rocketing in Israel continue and the diplomacy finally gets under way, intelligence analysts from Washington to New Delhi are embarking on a gigantic game of 'join the dots'. Some of the questions they are trying to answer are familiar - what is the true nature of the links between Hizbollah and Damascus and Tehran? What involvement do the Iranians have in Gaza or the West Bank? But another question is of greater significance: Are we witnessing a profound shift in the power balance of the Middle East that will determine the geopolitics of the region for decades to come?

Answers are, like most analysis of the Middle East, a mixture of hunch, experience, prejudice and fact, but it seems clear there is a new phenomenon in the region that can be described as, at the very least, 'a Shia resurgence'.

Ten or 15 per cent of the world's 1.4bn Muslims are Shia. The differences with the majority Sunnis are doctrinal, cultural and often political, and date back to a schism over who would succeed the Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago. For much of that time Shias were a persecuted minority, creating a powerful culture of martyrdom. However, there have been several episodes when the Shia, despite their smaller numbers, have been more dominant - most recently in 1979 when the Iranian revolution and the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini inspired hundreds of millions of Muslims of all denominations worldwide, promoting a re-energised political Islam. For a short period, all eyes turned to the Shia. In the intervening years their star waned. Now, it is shining bright again.

Five major elements underpin the new Shia revival. The first is the sudden militancy of Iran, which has been led aggressively onto the world stage by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This new Iranian confidence is itself based on internal developments but also three main external factors: the removal of the Taliban from its eastern border in 2001; the removal of Saddam (a chauvinist Sunni) from its border; and vastly increased oil revenues.

The second major element of 'the Shia comeback' is the new power of Iraq's Shia who, though 65 per cent of the population, had been ruled by the Sunni minority for at least 400 years. Now the 'National Unity government' of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad is dominated by Shia friends of Iran.

Iran has profited enormously from chaos in Iraq. A recent report for the American Institute of Peace, a Washington think-tank, pointed out that Iran's leaders meet with Iraq's most influential personality, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who will not meet Americans. The report continued: 'Iraq's leaders visit to Tehran to negotiate on substantive issues such as border security and joint energy projects. Iranian businessmen are investing heavily in Iraq's overwhelmingly Shia southern regions, and Iran's intelligence operatives are embedded throughout Iraq's nascent security forces and within the Shia militias that have tremendous street power in the south, especially in the city of Basra.'

This is reinforced by British and US military sources in Iraq. 'The Iranians were there before we arrived,' said a British intelligence officer. 'I have no doubt they will be there when we leave.'

Yet the other elements of the new 'Shia revival' are less certain. The 'Shia axis' depicted by Israeli, US and some European commentators and by Sunni regional powers links Syria, Hizbollah and finally Sunni Palestinian organisations such as Hamas. While rulers like King Abdullah of Jordan or Egypt's Hosni Mubarak have obvious reasons to fear a resurgent Shia bloc, the broad coalition of 'neo-conservative' analysts seek to minimise local social, economic and political factors behind radical movements in favour of all-encompassing explanations that finger individual people or states. The latter insist the overt indications of co-operation - such as the fact that Hizbollah's local leadership shares an office in Tehran with Hamas - are 'the tip of the iceberg' of close co-ordination. 'Hizbollah is an Iranian creation,' said Ilan Berman, of the American Foreign Policy Council.

Yet, despite the claims, there are many who are wary of such analyses. 'It is almost too easy to believe in the "Shia crescent",' said Professor Jean-Francois Seznec, of Columbia University's Middle East Institute. 'If you look at the map it seems to make a lot of sense but, though there is to an extent a revival, it is a bit far-fetched to go from that to a conspiracy to take over the region.'

Beyond the countries where they are majorities, Seznec said, the Shia position is complicated. In Saudi Arabia, the substantial Shia minority is not moving closer to Iran, not least because the ruling royal family has offered them substantial political concessions. Elsewhere, there are also complicated issues of ethnicity and nationalism that militate against loyalty to Tehran. There are millions of Shias in the Gulf, Afghanistan and Pakistan whose political allegiances are determined by local factors rather than pretensions of distant regimes. Even in Iraq, there are vicious splits between clerical factions led by maverick cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and those loyal to the far more senior Ali Sistani. Al-Sadr's challenge to the older leader has its roots in the myriad arguments that fissure the international Shia clerical community.

There is also ethnicity. Alexis Debat, an analyst at The Nixon Centre, stressed the profound animosity that has pitted Arabs against those, dominant in and around Iran, of Persian descent. 'I do not buy the "Shia axis" argument at all,' he said. 'A lot of people put it in those terms for political reasons, but Shias are too diverse, there are too many factions, too many conflicting allegiances.'

There are religious and cultural ties between Shia that become important in specific situations. Minor details, such as the fact that Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah studied both in Iraq and Iran, take on a far greater significance. When men like Nasrallah look at the political landscape it is with two frames of reference, one secular, the other religious.

All analysts agree Iran has gained a huge amount of influence - 'soft' power - by saying openly what the majority, Arabs and Persians, Shia and Sunni, in the Middle Eastern 'street' say privately. 'The [Iranian] discourse is pan-Islamist and plays the chord of anti-imperialism, Arab nationalism and anti-Zionism,' said Olivier Roy, the director of the National Scientific Research Centre in Paris.

What Tehran says is also exactly what rulers like King Abdullah, Mubarak or the House of al-Saud cannot say for fear of angering Western allies. And though such regimes can buy off local discontent for a period with increased expenditure on social services and finely calibrated political concessions, the anger in the bazaars and the mosques cannot be contained for ever. It needs an outlet. Tehran, Hizbollah and others have understood this. In the great game of Middle Eastern politics, Western analysts are not the only ones joining the dots.

The day at a glance

· Israeli forces carry out 'limited' incursions inside southern Lebanon. Up to 1,500 soldiers are thought to have crossed the border.

· US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go to the Middle East today.

· Israeli army says it attacked more than 150 targets in the past 24 hours. War planes launched raids on the town of al-Khiam and near the port of Tyre

· Evacuation of foreign nationals from Lebanon to Cyprus now tops 25,000.

· Militant groups in the Gaza Strip agreed to stop firing at Israel last night, senior Palestinian officials said.

· At least 345 civilians and a handful of Hizbollah fighters have been killed in Lebanon. Nineteen Israeli soldiers and 15 civilians have died.

· The Bush administration is rushing precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the shipment last week.


29 January 2009


Hezbollah leader says accusations Iran is trying to form Shiite bloc in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are 'baseless.'

LEBANON - Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah in a speech on Monday evening defended Iran and said Tehran is not planning to implement a "Shiite crescent" in the Middle East.

"Iran is far from this plot of transforming Sunnis into Shiites or forming a Shiite Crescent in the region, such accusations are baseless," Nasrallah told a religious ceremony in Beirut's southern suburbs.

In December, Jordan's King Abdullah II told the Washington Post that Iran was seeking to create "a Shiite crescent" in the Middle East that would include Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. The comments angered Iran.

"Shiites are not seeking to take control of the region, and we do not pose a threat to everyone," Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah has been accused by the anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon of acting as Iran's proxy in Lebanon and stirring Sunni-Shiite tensions.

At least three people were killed and 152 injured last Tuesday in clashes between Sunni and Shiite Muslims apparently triggered by a row inside the campus of the Beirut Arab University between government supporters and the opposition led by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and the formation of a new national unity government which will give the opposition power of veto.


Morocco ditches Iran


News Reports:

Morocco cuts diplomatic ties with Iran - F24
Morocco severs relations with Iran - Al Jazeera
Morocco cuts relations with Iran - BBC

[ Shiites converting Sunnis in Morocco]


FRANCE 24 - March 3, 2009


The Moroccan Foreign Ministry has announced it is severing its diplomatic relations with Iran. Sunni-dominated Morocco has expressed concern for what it sees as Iran’s efforts to convert Sunni Muslims to Shi’ism.

Morocco has cut diplomatic links with Iran, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said on Friday, in the wake of an outcry in the Sunni Muslim world over a statement by an Iranian official questioning Sunni Bahrain’s sovereignty.

Rabat also criticised Iran for its efforts to spread its Shi’ite brand of Islam in Morocco, a move the ministry said it saw as threat to the North African country’s moderate Sunni religious identity.

“The Kingdom of Morocco has decided to break its diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran beginning this Friday,” the ministry said.

Sunni scholars in Morocco and elsewhere have denounced what they see as Iran’s efforts to convert Sunni Muslims to Shi’ism, arguing the drive would create strife similar to the often bloody Shi’ite-Sunni divides in Iraq and Pakistan.

According to media reports, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said last month Shi’ite-ruled Iran had sovereignty over Bahrain.

In response Morocco’s King Mohammed sent the Bahraini monarch, King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, a message of support, calling the Iranian remarks “absurd” and a contradiction of international law.

On Feb. 25, Rabat recalled its envoy to Iran to protest what Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri said was “inappropriate language” directed against Morocco in a communique reported by the Iranian news agency IRNA.

Morocco had asked Teheran for an explanation as to why it had singled out Rabat in the statement but Iran ignored the request made one week ago, the ministry added in a statement.

The foreign ministry said this was “unacceptable” and accused Iranian representatives in Morocco of seeking to alter “the kingdom’s religious fundamentals,” it said in reference to Iran’s alleged state-backed drive to expand Shi’ism in Morocco.


Religion a highly sensitive issue in Morocco because King Mohamed is the only Islamic leader who jointly holds the title of Amir al Mouminine (Commander of the Faithful) and head of the state.

The ministry said efforts by Iran to spread the Shi’ite version of Islam threatened Morocco’s Islamic unity and its identity built from the foundations of the moderate Sunni Malekite faith. It said:

“This kind of organised and sustained actions constitute an intolerable interference in the kingdom’s domestic affairs and are contrary to the rules and ethics of diplomatic action.”

Morocco, which enjoyed warm ties with Iran under the Shah until he was deposed in 1979, only normalised its relations with Iran by exchanging envoys in the late 1990s.

The government has always been concerned of Iran’s role in the Sunni world since its Shi’ite Islamic revolution toppled the monarchy in Tehran.

Religious figures have warned of what they call the menace against the country’s spiritual security by the Shi’ite conversion among Morocco’s 30 million people.

Political sources in Morocco say Shi’ite activists numbered several hundreds but they were making steady progress because of the popularity of radical Islamic groups backed


AL JAZEERA - 8 March 2009


Rabat accuses Iranian ambassador of seeking to spread Shia Islam in the Sunni kingdom.

The foreign ministry equated proselytising with challenging Morocco's monarchy

Morocco has severed diplomatic relations with Iran, accusing the Iranian diplomatic mission in Rabat of seeking to spread Shia Islam in the predominantly Sunni Muslim kingdom.

A statement from Morocco's foreign ministry on Friday accused the Iranian embassy of "intolerable interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom", and of engaging in activities which threatened the religious unity of the country.

"The Kingdom of Morocco has decided to break its diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran beginning this Friday," the ministry said.

Monouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, said Morocco's decision was unexpected.

"The action by the Morocco government is surprising and questionable," Mottaki told reporters.

Bahrain controversy

Moroccan local media has repeatedly accused Iran of proselytising in recent years, claims rejected by the Iranian ambassador.

The controversy was fuelled recently by comments attributed to an adviser of Iran's supreme leader which questioned the sovereignty of Bahrain, a Gulf Arab state which has a majority Shia population but is ruled by Sunnis.

Morocco, however, has no official Shia population, with 99 per cent of the country being Sunni Muslim, and the rest either Jews or Christians.

Sunni scholars in Morocco have denounced what they say is an effort to convert people to Shia Islam, arguing that such a practice could ultimately lead to sectarian strife similar to that witnessed in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003.

Furthermore, as Mohamed VI, Morocco's king, is the country's official religious leader, any attempt to convert Sunni Muslims has been equated to an attack on the monarchy, the foreign ministry said.

Morocco and Iran have had rocky ties since the Iranian revolution in 1979. The two normalised relations only in the late 1990s.


BBC - Friday, 6 March 2009

Morocco cuts relations with Iran

Morocco has cut diplomatic links with Iran, amid a row over comments made by an Iranian politician last week.

Iran's former interior minister Ali Akbar Nateq Nuri said Bahrain used to be Iran's 14th province, and that it still had a seat in Iran's parliament.

Rabat led a chorus of disapproval from Arab states, who interpreted the remark as a claim of sovereignty over Bahrain.

Tehran issued an apology, claiming Mr Ali's comments had been misunderstood and saying it made no claim to Bahrain.

Mr Ali said he was merely making a comparison between the current system of government in Iran and previous systems.

Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni elite, but most of its population is Shia and many have close ties to predominantly Shia Iran.


US disgraced since 1979


Shia Crescent always exposed colors of American Presidents.

Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979 has been repeatedly slapping the White House.

CNN had put this report on its website, but later removed it.


Iran Has Knack for Humiliating Presidents

By GEORGE GEDDA - Associated Press Writer. Wednesday 18 June 2003

In debating what to do about Iran, President Bush might consider the outcome of attempts by two predecessors to deal with that country. For both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the results were, if not ruinous, something close to it.

Iran might seem like a fitting candidate for the administration to apply its doctrine of pre-emptive action: Iran is thought to be developing nuclear weapons, has an advanced missile program, maintains ties to terrorist groups, possibly including al-Qaida, and is run by conservative mullas who are deeply hostile toward the United States.

The Bush administration is banking on diplomatic pressure to encourage Iran to rethink its nuclear program. It is confident the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, meeting this week, will find Iran to be in violation of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a step that could put the issue before the U.N. Security Council. Recent disclosures about the Iranian nuclear program seem to have brought Russia and the European Union closer to Washington's position.

It is not clear what the administration has in mind for Iran beyond providing moral support for its broad-based reform movement, weary of a generation of Islamic fundamentalist rule. As some in the administration see it, a hands-off policy is not feasible because, according to estimates, Iran could have nuclear weapons by 2006. This, in, turn, could induce countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to join the nuclear club.

For its part, Iran denies that it has nuclear weapons ambitions. It maintains that its nuclear program is designed solely to generate electricity, thus freeing its oil and gas reserves for export. Few here buy that explanation.

After a generation as a pro-American bulwark in the Persian Gulf, Iran's shift to enemy status following the 1979 revolution may have been the most serious strategic setback for the United States since World War II.

For Carter, Iran was a nightmarish problem from the time the American hostages were taken in Iran on Nov. 4, 1979, until he left office 14 months later. His inability to bring the hostages home cost him dearly in the November 1980 elections. He won six states.

For Carter the low point occurred in April 1980, barely a year after being praised for bringing Israel and Egypt together in a peace treaty. With the hostage crisis in Iran in its sixth month, Carter ordered a rescue operation to be carried out by Delta Force commandoes.

Bad weather at a rendezvous point in Iran called Desert One forced two helicopters to drop out. A third helicopter collided with a fuel-laden C-130 transport plane, killing eight men. The mission was aborted.

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said it was a ``harebrained'' scheme to begin with and resigned, sparing him the need to defend the operation in the aftermath. As superpower misadventures go, this one ranked with the Bay of Pigs.

Reagan had his own Iran-related disaster. During his second term, he approved the sale of arms to Iran in hopes it would lead to the release of seven American hostages held by Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon. Indeed, three hostages were released, only to be replaced by three others.

It was the darkest period of Reagan's presidency. He had violated not only an embargo on arms sales to Iran but also a promise not to negotiate with terrorists.

Public indignation over the fiasco was compounded when it was disclosed that proceeds from the arms sales were diverted to Nicaraguan anti-communist rebels in violation of a law barring such support.

Unlike Carter, Reagan managed to ride out his Iran-induced headaches, his popularity rebounding before his second term ended in 1989. Now, the question arises: Have the mullahs finally met their match in President Bush? Or will they be able to humiliate yet another American president?


Shia Full Moon


News Reports:

[ Influence of the Iranian Revoltion accelerating across the Middle East]

Fear of a Shia full moon - The Guardian


The Guardian - 26 January 2007


Events are proving that the king of Jordan was right to warn of a 'Shia crescent' across the Middle East - even though the phrase was a tad undiplomatic, writes Ian Black

By Ian Black

Late in 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan coined a controversial phrase that still resonates powerfully in the Middle East: there was, he argued, a "Shia crescent" that went from Damascus to Tehran, passing through Baghdad, where a Shia-dominated government had taken power and was dictating a sectarian brand of politics that was radiating outwards from Iraq across the whole region.

The king's words were certainly prescient: the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims looks like being one of the big themes of 2007 as both come to terms with the apparently unstoppable chaos in Iraq, the rise of Iran as a regional power, and the fear of new and catastrophic consequences if the US and/or Israel enter into armed confrontation with the Islamic republic.

Now some scholars are even talking of a new "30 years' war" between the two branches of Islam - something akin to the struggle between Protestants and Catholics in 16th-century Europe.

Some of this deepening anxiety has been evident in comments by the Jordanian monarch in recent days. A journalist from the London-based Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reminded him that officials in Iran were "looking forward to a full Shia moon, not just a Shia crescent." The king responded by stressing that he had never used the word Shia in a sectarian sense - "let's not delve into these labels," he insisted - but rather was referring to "political alignments".

His "Shia crescent" tag went down badly because it was simply too frank; it was simplistic, too, smoothing over local factors of ethnicity and nationalism to provide a single, overarching explanation. In a region where political discourse is often coded, it was highly unusual to hear such blunt language.

But pro-western Jordan is a small, vulnerable, Sunni country, and it has real concerns about the disintegration of Iraq next door. It is already sheltering an estimated 1 million Iraqi refugees and fears many more will flood across the borders if "ethnic cleansing" escalates further.

Protests from Iraq itsellf and from Lebanon were predictable. But there was nervousness in the Gulf, too, where Bahrain has a Shia majority and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (in its oil-rich eastern province) sizeable Shia minorities.

"It's true to talk of a Shia crescent, but the phrase didn't have a good ring to it," concedes a Jordanian official. The gossip on the diplomatic circuit is that the chief of the country's powerful Mukhabarat intelligence agency, who thought it up, was later sacked because of these adverse reactions.

Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have good reason to be anxious. Iran, flaunting its nuclear ambitions, has emerged as the biggest winner of the war in Iraq, and it has a strategic ally in Lebanon's Shia organisation Hizbullah, which triggered last summer's war with Israel. Tehran is also now an influential player in the Palestine question, having forged close ties with the ruling Islamist movement, Hamas.

"Iran should stop seeking to destabilise Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq or any other country so that we can build constructive relations," King Abdullah said. As he put it in another interview, with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz: "Through Hamas, Iran has been able to buy itself a seat at the table in talking about the Palestinian issue."

Jordan, perennially caught in the crossfire, is a good vantage point from which to view these multiple and intersecting crises. Until 1958, Iraq was also ruled by the Hashemite dynasty, and the late King Hussein managed to maintain good relations with Saddam Hussein, though he angered his US and British backers by supporting the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The kingdom's long exposure to, and involvement in, the Palestinian question has given it a good feel for the intricacies of the conflict with Israel - its own position enhanced by the (domestically unpopular) peace treaty it signed with the Jewish state in 1994.

Jordanians say, wearily, that they do not believe Iran really cares for the fate of the Palestinians, but rather is exploiting the issue for its own ends, complicating the already difficult search for a negotiated solution. The semi-official media has been encouraged to snipe at Tehran along these lines, especially since the execution of Saddam, which was widely seen in Jordan and elsewhere in the Sunni world as an act of pure sectarian vengeance; 22 Jordanian MPs called for a severing of diplomatic relations with Iran.

Iran's assertiveness has reawakened dormant historical resentment. Sunnis now talk routinely of the Safawis - the Arabic name for the Shia Persian Safavid dynasty, which fought the Sunni Ottomans for control of Iraq in the 16th and 17th centuries.

"The current order in Iraq has contributed to opening sectarian wounds throughout the region that most of us thought had been consigned to the past, " commented the Egyptian analyst Amr Elchobaki.

It is natural enough that Jordanians worry about the immediate repercussions of a disintegrating Iraq. But the problem is much bigger than their own immediate neighbourhood.

"We knew that Iraq would be just as complex as it is proving today for the Americans and British, though we are not in the business of saying 'I told you so,'" said a senior Jordanian government figure.

"If the Americans succeed, we will be able to regain Iraq. The extremists want to defeat the Americans at the expense of losing Iraq. If Iraq is divided into two sectarian states, they will be magnets for sectarian war across the Muslim world."

King Abdullah again put it surprisingly bluntly: "If sectarianism deepens and spreads, its destructive effect will reflect on everyone. It will foster division, polarisation and isolationism. Our region will drown in a conflict whose outcome cannot be foreseen."


Moon over Gaza


News Reports:

[ Shiite Iran now impacting the future of Palestinians]

Clinton says Iran continues to 'undermine' Palestinian Authority - F24
Hamas police open fire at Fatah rally: six dead - Telegraph
Gazans Pray Outside, Defying Warnings by Hamas - NYT
Arabs turn against 'megalomaniac' Hamas - The Australian


FRANCE 24 - Television News Network in Paris.

March 4, 2009


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of interference by urging Muslims to join the Palestinian "resistance" against Israel.

She said Khamanei's remarks were "clear interference in the internal affairs of the Palestinian people, continuing efforts on the part of the Iranians to undermine the Palestinian Authority."

Earlier Wednesday, Khamenei said in an address to open a two-day global summit Tehran organised in aid of Gaza and the Palestinians that "the only way to save Palestine is resistance.

"Support and help to Palestinians is a mandatory duty of all Muslims. I now tell all Muslim brothers and sisters to join forces and break the immunity of the Zionist criminals."

Photo: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of continuing to "undermine the Palestinian Authority," by calling Muslims to join the "resistance" against Israel.


[Fath and Hamas clash among accusations that Gaza is turning Iranwards.]

Telegraph - 12 November 2007

Hamas police open fire at Fatah rally: six dead

Six people were killed after Hamas-controlled police opened fire on a Fatah rally in Gaza City today in some of the worst violence seen since the Islamist movement took control of the Gaza Strip five months ago.

While the Fatah leadership in Gaza was routed back in June the movement was still able to mobilise tens of thousands for a rally to mark the third anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.

But the sight of a yelling mob waving posters depicting the Fatah founder and shouting insults against Hamas was always going to risk provoking the heavily armed members of Hamas's "executive force" who were recently renamed as police.

At one point the crowd began to shout "Shi'ite, Shi'ite" as an insult against Hamas which enjoys strong links with the Shia Islamic republic in Iran. Palestinians belong to the rival Sunni sect of Islam.

It is not clear if they were fired on first from inside the crowd but it is known that six members of the crowd died and at least 130 were wounded, mostly from injuries suffered in the resulting stampede.

Palestinian television showed groups of protesters and armed men running through the streets and police beating a Fatah supporter with wooden batons.

The killings plunged relations between Fatah and Hamas to new depths with the leader of the Fatah parliamentary bloc saying there would be no renewal of negotiations between the rivals.

"There will be no dialogue and no discussions with the killers and coup-makers of Hamas, no dialogue with those who do not believe in dialogue but only understand the language of blood and murder," Azzam Ahmed said.

"I am convinced the Palestinian people will purge them from their ranks and that the blood of today's martyrs will be fuel for the resistance against them."

In a statement issued by Hamas the movement claimed Fatah gunmen fired at the demonstrators, but people at the rally said they saw no evidence of this. Instead, they said it appeared the Hamas police simply opened fire.

Palestinians across the occupied territories are now more divided now than at any point in their history with Fatah in control of only a few pockets of the West Bank ceded to them by agreements brokered with Israel in the 1990s.

Gaza remains firmly in the hands of Hamas.

The deaths marred a long weekend of events to commemorate Arafat's death on Nov 11 2004.

On Saturday a mausoleum and mosque were opened at the site of his grave in the West Bank town of Ramallah although Palestinians from across the political spectrum said they hope one day he is reinterred in Jerusalem.


THE NEW YORK TIMES - 1 September 2007

Gazans Pray Outside, Defying Warnings by Hamas


Defying warnings from Hamas, several thousand Gazans prayed outside mosques on Friday in a Fatah-inspired protest.

As Hamas police officers and gunmen watched, a large crowd prayed in a large public square in Gaza City during Friday Prayer, responding to a call from Fatah to stay out of the mosques. In a statement, Fatah accused Hamas of ''exploiting mosques to inflame tensions and provocations among factions.'' Israel, similarly, regularly accuses Hamas of using Friday Prayer to incite hatred of Israel and Jews.

Dozens of young men shouted ''Shiites, Shiites,'' a common insult to Hamas, which receives some support from Shiite-dominated Iran. Palestinians are mostly Sunni Muslims.

After prayers, there was an organized anti-Hamas march and clashes with uniformed Hamas gunmen, some of whom tried to disperse the crowd by firing in the air and beating some people with sticks. About 10 protesters were lightly wounded, some when a stun grenade detonated in the crowd. The grenade also wounded a French journalist in the hand.

A similar demonstration was held in the southern town of Rafah, where as many as 5,000 people attended outdoor prayers. There, stones were thrown at the home of a prominent Hamas figure, and Hamas police officers used stun grenades and fired into the air.

This week Hamas sent text messages to a number of cellphones. The message said, according to Agence France-Presse: ''Attending prayers with Fatah will cause you a lot of problems and we advise you to pray elsewhere. You don't deserve to be hit, arrested or killed for a corrupt gang that you know well.''

Fatah, which Hamas drove from power in Gaza in fierce fighting in June, has been trying to organize its supporters there and has clearly focused on Friday Prayer. Hamas has cracked down on Fatah-affiliated newspapers and news media outlets in Gaza, as Fatah has cracked down on Hamas-affiliated news media in the West Bank. This week, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced that the offices of 103 charitable organizations, mostly affiliated with Hamas, would be shut down for violating the law; Hamas has protested.

The Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said that weekly prayers were being exploited for political ends and accused protesters of ''defiling the sanctity of worship,'' but Fahmi al-Zahrir, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, said the protests would continue.

Also on Friday, the Israeli military said that three children killed on Wednesday in northern Gaza by Israeli fire were not retrieving a rocket launcher, as first announced, but were simply playing tag nearby. The three young cousins -- Mahmoud Ghazal, 10; Sara Ghazal, 10; and Yehiya Ghazal, 12 -- became targets when they were seen near the empty launcher and touching it, the army said in a statement.

It said that ''at the very last second it was apparent that they were children, but it was impossible to stop the explosion.'' The statement did not say whether they had been shot from the air or the ground.

The army expressed regret, after first accusing Palestinian militants of using the children to retrieve the empty launchers. On Friday, it blamed the militants for having fired rockets from civilian areas.

In Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, the army also shot and badly wounded a gunman from Fatah's Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.

Also on Friday, off Haifa, Israeli divers retrieved the bodies of two sailors, a Ukrainian and the Indonesian captain, from their sunken cargo ship after it was rammed accidentally Thursday night by a Cypriot passenger liner, Salamis Glory, carrying 700 passengers and crew members. Eleven crew members escaped the Israeli-owned cargo ship, which was anchored two miles from the Israeli coast when it was hit. There was little damage to the liner.


The Australian - 1 January 2009

Arabs turn against 'megalomaniac' Hamas


THE bitter Israel-Hamas conflict has touched off Arab-Arab conflicts almost as bitter.

Responsibility for the war in Gaza, and for the Palestinian fatalities there, was placed squarely on Hamas by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We called the leaders of Hamas and told them, 'Please, do not end the truce'," he said. Hamas ended a six-month truce with Israel two weeks before the Israeli attack.

An Abbas aide, Nimr Hammad, termed the rocket fire into Israel reckless. "The one responsible for the massacre is Hamas," he said. "Hamas should not have given the Israelis a pretext."

Bassam Abu-Sumayyah, a columnist for the daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, accused Hamas of megalomania and said it had acted without even a little bit of political and security sense. It had behaved like a superpower.

"They thought they have a number of missiles and can therefore prevail in a war of such size," he wrote.

A columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, Abdallah Awwad, said that Hamas had made a major mistake in trying to be both a government operating in the open and a resistance organisation that operated underground. "We are paying the price of stupidity and the maniacal

love of being rulers," he said.

Beyond intra-Palestinian disputes, the eruption in Gaza has widened the rift between Egypt, supported by other moderate Arab states, and the Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alignment.

Cairo has long feared the radical influence of Hamas on its own Islamist parties. It regards Hamas as a proxy for Iran, which it sees attempting to wrest Muslim leadership in the Middle East from Egypt, even though Iran is not an Arab country.

However, Egypt attempted to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that would permit a leadership acceptable to all Palestinians to emerge in new elections. Hamas derailed the proposal, to Egypt's fury.

Egypt, in turn, refused to open the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to Gaza residents, even during the Israeli attack when many Gazans were clamouring to get out. This infuriated Hamas and caused anti-Egyptian protests in much of the Arab world.

For Egypt, the most annoying criticism came from Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the formidable leader of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Addressing Egyptian citizens, particularly army officers, Nasrallah called on them to protest at Cairo's lack of response to the Israeli attack.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said of Nasrallah's speech: "(He) practically declared war on us." As for Nasrallah's appeal to Egyptian officers, Mr Gheit said of Egypt's army: "They will also protect Egypt against people like you."


Arc or Crescent


Shia Iran scares Tony Blair

News Reports:

[ UK warns about Iran, and urges world leaders to take on Tehran. Britian calls for a new coalition of West and the Sunni Arabs to prevent the rise of Iranian power.]

Blair warns of 'arc of extremism' - BBC
The 'arc of extremism' - Telegraph
Arc of extremism - Times


BBC - 2 August 2006


Tony Blair has warned that an "arc of extremism" is stretching across the Middle East and said "an alliance of moderation" was needed to defeat it.

Mr Blair also told the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles that Syria and Iran had to stop supporting terrorism or they would "be confronted".

His speech was planned some weeks ago but he said the Lebanon crisis had "brought it into sharp relief".

He said there was now a war "of a completely unconventional kind".

The prime minister said: "There is an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East and touching countries far outside that region."

He said in Iraq, Syria had allowed al-Qaeda operatives to "cross the border" while Iran had supported extremist Shia.

"The purpose of the terrorism in Iraq is absolutely simple - carnage, causing sectarian hatred, leading to civil war," he said.

'Export of instability'

Mr Blair added: "We need to make clear to Syria and Iran that there is a choice: come in to the international community and play by the same rules as the rest of us; or be confronted.

"Their support of terrorism, their deliberate export of instability, their desire to see wrecked the democratic prospect in Iraq, is utterly unjustifiable, dangerous and wrong.

"If they keep raising the stakes, they will find they have miscalculated."

Mr Blair also spoke about the conflict between Israel and Lebanon and said that the "purpose of the provocation" that began it "was clear".

"It was to create chaos, division and bloodshed, to provoke retaliation by Israel that would lead to Arab and Muslim opinion being inflamed, not against those who started the aggression but against those who responded to it," he said.

However, he said it was still possible to come out of the crisis "with a better long-term prospect for the cause of moderation in the Middle East succeeding".

He added: "But it would be absurd not to face up to the immediate damage to that cause which has been done."

Mr Blair said all would be done to try to halt the hostilities in the conflict.

"But once that has happened we must commit ourselves to a complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those that threaten us," he said.

'Alliance of moderation'

Mr Blair spoke of how he believed "global extremism" should be tackled.

"To defeat it will need an alliance of moderation that paints a different future in which Muslim, Jew and Christian, Arab and Western, wealthy and developing nations can make progress in peace and harmony.

"We will not win the battle against this global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force, unless we show we are even-handed, fair and just in our application of those values to the world."

He said this "unconventional" war must be won through these values.

"This war can't be won in a conventional way, it can only be won by showing that our values are stronger, better and more just, more fair than the alternatives," he said.

'Values change'

However, he said this required a dramatic change in strategy.

The prime minister told his 2,000-strong audience there was now an "elemental struggle" about values that was set to shape the world's future.

He said it was a part of struggle between what he called reactionary Islam and moderate mainstream Islam.

And in Iraq and Afghanistan he said "the banner was not actually regime change it was values change".

"What we have done therefore in intervening in this way, is probably far more momentous than we appreciated at the time," he said


TELEGRAPH - 17 Jul 2006



"The Party of God", drawing support from Lebanon's poor Shias, emerged after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It pioneered the use of suicide bombings to attack the US embassy, the US Marines, French and Israeli troops, and took several westerners hostage in the 1980s. It drove Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000. It won 23 out of 128 seats in the Lebanese election of 2005 and has two cabinet ministers.


Founded in the Gaza Strip at the outset of the 1987 Palestinian uprising against Israel. It is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt. The movement at first concentrated on social works but turned to "resistance" and led the fight against Israel in the second uprising of 2000. Hamas adopted suicide bombings in 1994 and claimed its actions forced Israel to withdraw from Gaza unilaterally last year. It won last January's parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, prompting Israel and western donors sharply to cut back aid until it recognises Israel, gives up violence and accepts past peace agreements.


Traditionally the most ardent Arab opponent of Israel, Syria has long provided sanctuary for the leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian factions. Its rivalry with Iraq drove it into an alliance with Iran in the 1980s. This has been strengthened since the Iraq war in 2003. Its troops entered Lebanon in 1976, at first supporting Christian factions in the civil war and then their opponents. Damascus was given free rein by the US to assert control in return for support in the Gulf War. It is accused of helping Sunni insurgents in Iraq.


Virulently anti-western since the 1979 Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah. Its Revolutionary Guards helped create Hizbollah and provide arms and funds to the group. Iran sponsors Palestinian extremist factions. It tacitly co-operated with the West in overthrowing the Taliban and stood back in the US-led invasion of Iraq. It has close links to many of Iraq's leaders, but Iranian bomb expertise has made its way to both Sunni and Shia insurgents. It has pushed ahead with uranium enrichment, which the West believes is intended to make nuclear bombs.


The Times - 5 August 2006


The shifting alliances and rivalries within fanatical Islam

Tony Blair’s decision to defer his holidays is a matter more of symbolism than substance. The Prime Minister is perfectly capable of making telephone calls from the beach but the picture of him there while conflict in Lebanon and Israel rages may not have been a comfortable one. Mr Blair is right to stay put until it becomes clear whether and when a UN resolution on this Middle East crisis is likely to be adopted.

There is, nonetheless, little chance of the politics of this region returning precisely to what Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, described as the “status quo ante”. There is, as Mr Blair put it in Los Angeles this week, an “arc of extremism” emerging across the Middle East. How to counter it and to promote, in the Prime Minister’s words, an alternative “arc of moderation” will be the principal question in foreign policy long after Mr Blair has disappeared from No 10. And, at first sight at least, it appears that the confrontation in and around Lebanon has reinforced and emboldened the leadership of the arc of extremism.

The divisions between fanatics of Sunni and Shia Islam seem to have been partially set aside in the present situation. While most outsiders might regard Hamas, Hezbollah or al-Qaeda as local variations on a similar theme, the truth is different. Al-Qaeda is a militantly Sunni sect dedicated to restoring the character and the boundaries of the Caliphate of 500 years ago. Hamas, although Sunni and dogmatic, has been shaped by the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and has a strong nationalist streak to it. Hezbollah, by contrast, is zealously Shia in the model of its major sponsor, Iran, and thus is heretical in the eyes of Sunni opinion.

This helps to explain why the original response of governments and religious leaders in Egypt, Jordan and, especially, Saudi Arabia to events in Lebanon was muted. There may be no love lost for Israel there, but the Jewish state does not represent the challenge to majority Islam that the Shia bid for political and spiritual leadership constitutes. Out on the Arab street, though, Hezbollah propaganda has been effective, with every misguided (in both senses of that term) Israeli bomb being exploited. Further death and damage of the type witnessed yesterday in Lebanon will surely boost Hezbollah and might derail the diplomatic initiative.

Shia and Sunni terrorist groups cannot, however, agree on a permanant alliance while their militias are slaughtering each other in parts of Iraq, notably in Baghdad. As the Shia-led coalition administration there assumes military control of further provinces, it will be harder for Sunnis to portray its members as allies of the United States rather than fellow Muslims. Hezbollah may be gaining a form of credit in Lebanon and beyond for being capable of firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns but the mercifully modest casualties it is inflicting suggest that it is far better at launching missiles than at targeting them accurately. In but a few weeks’ time, Hezbollah’s weaknesses may be apparent.

There is still a risk that the dictum of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” may take hold, despite the well-established trend for conflict within radical Islam. If that “unity” takes root, the task of supporting moderates who have benefited from the splits in the extremist camps will become harder. What is truly a battle within Islam will be disguised as what it is not, a contest between all Muslims and the democracies. Mr Blair will have much to ponder when finally he begins his holiday.


The Times - August 5, 2006

Arc of extremism

The shifting alliances and rivalries within fanatical Islam

Tony Blair’s decision to defer his holidays is a matter more of symbolism than substance. The Prime Minister is perfectly capable of making telephone calls from the beach but the picture of him there while conflict in Lebanon and Israel rages may not have been a comfortable one. Mr Blair is right to stay put until it becomes clear whether and when a UN resolution on this Middle East crisis is likely to be adopted.

There is, nonetheless, little chance of the politics of this region returning precisely to what Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, described as the “status quo ante”. There is, as Mr Blair put it in Los Angeles this week, an “arc of extremism” emerging across the Middle East. How to counter it and to promote, in the Prime Minister’s words, an alternative “arc of moderation” will be the principal question in foreign policy long after Mr Blair has disappeared from No 10. And, at first sight at least, it appears that the confrontation in and around Lebanon has reinforced and emboldened the leadership of the arc of extremism.

The divisions between fanatics of Sunni and Shia Islam seem to have been partially set aside in the present situation. While most outsiders might regard Hamas, Hezbollah or al-Qaeda as local variations on a similar theme, the truth is different. Al-Qaeda is a militantly Sunni sect dedicated to restoring the character and the boundaries of the Caliphate of 500 years ago. Hamas, although Sunni and dogmatic, has been shaped by the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and has a strong nationalist streak to it. Hezbollah, by contrast, is zealously Shia in the model of its major sponsor, Iran, and thus is heretical in the eyes of Sunni opinion.

This helps to explain why the original response of governments and religious leaders in Egypt, Jordan and, especially, Saudi Arabia to events in Lebanon was muted. There may be no love lost for Israel there, but the Jewish state does not represent the challenge to majority Islam that the Shia bid for political and spiritual leadership constitutes. Out on the Arab street, though, Hezbollah propaganda has been effective, with every misguided (in both senses of that term) Israeli bomb being exploited. Further death and damage of the type witnessed yesterday in Lebanon will surely boost Hezbollah and might derail the diplomatic initiative.

Shia and Sunni terrorist groups cannot, however, agree on a permanant alliance while their militias are slaughtering each other in parts of Iraq, notably in Baghdad. As the Shia-led coalition administration there assumes military control of further provinces, it will be harder for Sunnis to portray its members as allies of the United States rather than fellow Muslims. Hezbollah may be gaining a form of credit in Lebanon and beyond for being capable of firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns but the mercifully modest casualties it is inflicting suggest that it is far better at launching missiles than at targeting them accurately. In but a few weeks’ time, Hezbollah’s weaknesses may be apparent.

There is still a risk that the dictum of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” may take hold, despite the well-established trend for conflict within radical Islam. If that “unity” takes root, the task of supporting moderates who have benefited from the splits in the extremist camps will become harder. What is truly a battle within Islam will be disguised as what it is not, a contest between all Muslims and the democracies. Mr Blair will have much to ponder when finally he begins his holiday.


Israel to end Iran


Israel is being used to take on iran

News Reports:

[ Iranian version of Shia Islam seen as threat to West and Arabs allies in the Middle East. President George Bush gives green light to Israel to use military means to finish Iranian power - Hezbollah - from Lebanon. West was set to destroy the 'Shia Crescent' before it makes waves in the oil rich region.]

Israel fights West's cause against radical Islam - Telegraph
Bush wants the pounding of Hizbollah to be felt in Iran - Telegraph
Saudi Arabia gives Israel clear skies to attack Iranian nuclear sites - Times


TELEGRAPH - 17 July 2006


By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor


It is an axiom of Israeli military operation that its armed forces must hurry to achieve victory before international pressure forces them to stop.

Yet after bombarding Lebanon for five days, and causing pain to ordinary civilians unseen since the civil war ended 15 years ago, the international outcry is surprisingly muted. If anything, as the conflict has intensified and the regional stakes have risen, Israel has found a degree of international sympathy, or at least understanding.

Lebanon has become the battleground between pro-western and radical Islamic forces. Few governments, even Arab states, want to see Hizbollah win the contest.

America's strategic position in the Middle East - and by extension that of the West - has grown increasingly precarious.

The United States is on the defensive in Iraq, Afghanistan is becoming more unstable, Iran's nuclear programme has not been stopped and the radical Hamas movement has come to power in the Palestinian territories in democratic elections encouraged by America. The last thing Washington needs is for Syria and Iran to win a proxy victory in Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader who had been a strong foe of Israel during the civil war but then became a powerful critic of Syria, summed up the situation as follows: "The war is no longer Lebanon's … it is an Iranian war. Iran is telling the United States: You want to fight me in the Gulf and destroy my nuclear programme? I will hit you at home, in Israel."

Tony Blair yesterday spoke of the need to confront "an arc of extremism" stretching from the Gaza Strip to Iraq.

There is certainly more evidence for the existence of such an alliance - encompassing the Palestinian Hamas movement, Hizbollah, Iraqi insurgents, Syria and Iran - than there ever was for George W Bush's original "axis of evil" of Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

One may debate how strongly the extremist elements co-ordinate their actions, but they certainly feed and support each other.

The latest crisis began three weeks ago with the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, during an attack by Hamas on an army base close to the Gaza Strip.

As the Israelis pounded the Gaza Strip, Hizbollah last week opened up a second front in the north with similar tactics: a cross-border raid that killed Israeli soldiers and captured two of them.

It is no secret that Hizbollah was created, financed and armed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and that its operations are facilitated by Syria. Indeed, Hizbollah was the only militia that Lebanon's Syrian overlords allowed to operate after the end of the civil war. It won widespread admiration for driving the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2000, but was the largest obstacle to the "Cedar Revolution" that forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon last year.

Syria has long been under pressure from the US, which accuses it of sheltering Iraqi insurgents, and from evidence gathered by United Nations investigators of its role in the assassination of the former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri.

This week, as America and Israel denounced Damascus, Iran joined the fray. "We hope the Zionist regime does not make the mistake of attacking Syria, because extending the front would definitely make the Zionist regime face unimaginable losses," said Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi. Iran may be facing the threat of UN sanctions in the coming months because of growing fears that it is trying to make nuclear weapons. But its confidence has been boosted by the failure of America and Britain to bring stability to neighbouring Iraq.

Experts will debate whether Hizbollah's attack on Israel was co-ordinated with Hamas or was carried out opportunistically to catch the wave of sympathy for the plight of Palestinians.

But the effect has been of benefit to the whole "arc of extremism". It has given Hamas a boost, diverted international attention away from Iran's nuclear programme and may have strengthened the position of Syria as envoys plead with it to help restrain Hizbollah. The militant group, an Iranian ally, may gain most of all in the region. It has taken up the great Arab cause of standing up to Israel.

The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, on Friday defended the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure by saying: "If we succeed it will be Lebanon that benefits."

The crucial question is how the war will affect the internal balance of power in Lebanon. Will Hizbollah be seen as the only group brave and organised enough to stand up to Israel? Or will it incur the wrath of the Lebanese for dragging the country into a war it did not want?

The outcome of that debate may determine who wins the war, and decide the course of the Middle East for years to come.

Photograph: A copy of the Koran burns amid the debris in Beirut


Bush wants Iran to feel pounding of Hizbollah

TELEGRAPH - 17 JulY 2006


The US ruled out the idea of calling for a ceasefire

By Alec Russell in St Petersburg

The Bush administration made clear yesterday that it saw the crisis in the Middle East as an opportunity for the world to deal once and for all with Hizbollah and to rein in its sponsors, Iran and Syria.

As the conflict moved into its fifth day it became increasingly apparent that Washington was willing to give Israel its head in its military campaign in the hope that it would finally extinguish the threat posed by America's old enemy, the Iranian-backed Shia group.

In an attempt to counter the charge that America had been too uncritical of Israel's military action, President George W Bush's aides yesterday stressed their concern for civilian casualties and worries over damage to infrastructure.

But they ruled out the idea of calling for a ceasefire, arguing that it would be a short-term measure that would only be followed by more attacks by Hizbollah.

Rather the time was ripe for a long-term solution, with the keys being the disarmament of the radical Shia group and unspecified consequences for two of America's oldest Middle Eastern foes, Teheran and Damascus. In short, they say, it is time "to drain the regional swamp of extremism".

"This is a complex time, a worrying time, a time of great concern about the toll on civilians," said Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state.

"It is also a time when we have an opportunity to lay a foundation … for a permanent cessation of violence."

The unofficial US strategy seems to be to rely on a combination of "muscular diplomacy" and Israeli military might.

The Bush administration bolsters its argument by citing the need finally to realise the outstanding goals of UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disbanding of regional militias. White House aides say that several key regional leaders have the same aspiration, born of the desire to rein in Iran's regional network.

One of the principal difficulties for the US is that the Israeli forces will, as so often before, be so heavy-handed that they hand a diplomatic victory to their opponents.

Ms Rice said US officials had stressed to Israel the need for restraint and also the risk of undermining the fledgling democratic government in Lebanon. But she refused to be drawn when asked if America had a "tipping point" at which civilian casualties would no longer be acceptable.

Reprising the Bush regional philosophy, she sought to present the crisis as the fruit of years of international failure to rein in "extremists".

"We are at an important juncture right now because extremists have showed their hand. And they've showed that their sponsors are in Teheran and in Damascus. Things are clarified right now."

Administration hawks see this as a key moment in the protracted showdown with Iran. Officials in Washington have been growing frustrated at the failure of diplomatic efforts to quash Iran's nuclear ambitions.

With 130,000 American troops bogged down on Iran's border, and America's motives in the region regarded with huge suspicion following its push for the war in Iraq, Ms Rice has persuaded Mr Bush that the US hawks have to be held in check.

But now, the Bush administration sees a dual opportunity to intensify the pressure on Iran.

Last night it appeared that America was winning support in its bid to use "muscular diplomacy" backed up by Israeli might to punish Hizbollah. France, a traditional powerbroker in Lebanon, also cited the need to realise Resolution 1559.

But securing support to punish Damascus and Teheran will be far harder, as was clear in the G8 summit statement on the crisis last night. There was no explicit reference to Syria or Iran. It cited only the threat posed by "those that support" extremist elements.


The Times - 12 June 2010

Saudi Arabia gives Israel clear skies to attack Iranian nuclear sites

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.

In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert.

“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defence source in the area. “They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department.”

Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing,” said one.

The four main targets for any raid on Iran would be the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the gas storage development at Isfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Secondary targets include the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium when complete.

The targets lie as far as 1,400 miles (2,250km) from Israel; the outer limits of their bombers’ range, even with aerial refuelling. An open corridor across northern Saudi Arabia would significantly shorten the distance. An airstrike would involve multiple waves of bombers, possibly crossing Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Aircraft attacking Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, could swing beneath Kuwait to strike from the southwest.

Passing over Iraq would require at least tacit agreement to the raid from Washington. So far, the Obama Administration has refused to give its approval as it pursues a diplomatic solution to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Military analysts say Israel has held back only because of this failure to secure consensus from America and Arab states. Military analysts doubt that an airstrike alone would be sufficient to knock out the key nuclear facilities, which are heavily fortified and deep underground or within mountains. However, if the latest sanctions prove ineffective the pressure from the Israelis on Washington to approve military action will intensify. Iran vowed to continue enriching uranium after the UN Security Council imposed its toughest sanctions yet in an effort to halt the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme, which Tehran claims is intended for civil energy purposes only. President Ahmadinejad has described the UN resolution as “a used
handkerchief, which should be thrown in the dustbin”.

Israeli officials refused to comment yesterday on details for a raid on Iran, which the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to rule out. Questioned on the option of a Saudi flight path for Israeli bombers, Aharaon Zeevi Farkash, who headed military intelligence until 2006 and has been involved in war games simulating a strike on Iran, said: “I know that Saudi Arabia is even more afraid than Israel of an Iranian nuclear capacity.”

In 2007 Israel was reported to have used Turkish air space to attack a suspected nuclear reactor being built by Iran’s main regional ally, Syria. Although Turkey publicly protested against the “violation” of its air space, it is thought to have turned a blind eye in what many saw as a dry run for a strike on Iran’s far more substantial — and better-defended — nuclear sites.

Israeli intelligence experts say that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are at least as worried as themselves and the West about an Iranian nuclear arsenal.Israel has sent missile-class warships and at least one submarine capable of launching a nuclear warhead through the Suez Canal for deployment in the Red Sea within the past year, as both a warning to Iran and in anticipation of a possible strike. Israeli newspapers reported last year that high-ranking officials, including the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have met their Saudi Arabian counterparts to discuss the Iranian issue. It was also reported that Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, met Saudi intelligence officials last year to gain assurances that Riyadh would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets violating Saudi airspace during the bombing run. Both governments have denied the reports.