The official said the increased weapons flow to Gaza is seen as part of a wider Iranian strategy to prepare for the possibility of a war involving Syria, with particular concern about the prospect of a future Turkish or NATO confrontation with Damascus.
The official said the Egyptian military aided in the attempt to stop some of the Iranian convoys. He said some weapons made it through to Gaza.
The Iranian arming of Islamic Jihad is causing tension between the jihadist group and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
WND previously reported that according to well-placed sources within Hamas speaking to WND, the jihadist group has been asked by the Egyptian military to stay out of any future confrontation between Israel and Iran.
For the first time in recent years, Hamas, feeling confident from major Muslim Brotherhood gains in the region, is considering distancing itself somewhat from Iran, the sources said.
The group may even remain largely neutral if Israel strikes Iran’s suspected nuclear sites, the sources said. The sources added, however, that no decision has been made.
Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood belong to the Sunni stream of Islam while Iran’s leadership espouses fundamentalist Shiite Islam. While Iran has long supported Sunni groups such as Hamas, the major differences in Islamic ideology and practice have always caused unease.
Indeed, one of the most senior Hamas officials, speaking previously to WND on condition of anonymity, once said he would ultimately be pleased if Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear sites, even if it means scaled-back Iranian funding to his group. The Hamas official said he fears Iran would use a nuclear umbrella to enforce a Shiite superpower in the Middle East at the expense of the Sunnis.
According to several Hamas sources, there has been tension between the jihad group and Iran over Hamas’ decision to not aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s battle against an insurgency targeting his regime.
The uprising has been supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria is a major Iranian partner in the region.
Tension between Israel and Syria has been rising in recent days. Yesterday, Syria’s former minister said the country can use its chemical weapons if it faces “external aggression.”
“Syria will never use (chemical weapons) against Syrians no matter what,” Jihad Makdissi added in a news conference aired on state television.
He said that the weapons were guarded by the Syrian army.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consulted the heads of Israel’s security establishment over the tension with Syria.
“We are monitoring the events in Syria closely and are prepared for any development to come,” Netanyahu said.
(left) Deadly Assam riots engulf India in a wave of violence that leaves 22 dead. (Right) 115 die in a wave of sectarian violence across Iraq. A civil war rages in Syria; violence has ravaged Afghanistan. We ask, is the world on the verge of unraveling?
July 24, 2012 – INDIA – Police shot at a roving mob in India’s northeastern state of Assam on Tuesday as security forces struggled to contain ethnic fighting that has killed 22 people and left remote hamlets in flames, forcing tens of thousands from their homes. Rioting between Bodo tribespeople and Muslim settlers has raged for days. Several people suffered bullet wounds and others were injured in a stampede when police fired to disperse a gang of 400 on Tuesday morning, a senior police official said. Soldiers and federal paramilitary troops patrolled Bodo tribe-dominated Kokrajhar town and outlying areas on armored vehicles mounted with machine guns. Locals said more reinforcements were needed to stop the violence that spread to rural areas and neighboring districts overnight, with more hamlets along river banks and in the jungle burned by rival mobs. Some 500 villages have been destroyed. “The security forces were silent spectators when village after village was burnt down,” veteran local politician Urkhao Gwra Brahma told Reuters. “This morning I thought the situation would become normal, but I was wrong. Violence again started. It is really out of control.” Ringed by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, India’s northeast is home to more than 200 ethnic and tribal groups and has been racked by separatist revolts since India’s independence from Britain in 1947. In recent years, Hindu and Christian tribes have vented strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment against Bangladeshi settlers. The latest violence was sparked on Friday night when unidentified men killed four youths in the isolated Kokrajhar district, police and district officials said. In retaliation, armed Bodos attacked Muslims, suspecting them of being behind the killings. Hundreds of men armed with spears, clubs and rocks attacked an express train passing through Kokrajhar on Tuesday, injuring several passengers. Hagrama Mohilary, the leader of the tribal council governing the region, warned that former separatist rebels had joined the violence to protect Bodo villages. He called for the rebels, who are officially observing a ceasefire, to lay down their arms. Bodo tribes shot at Muslim villages close to the border with Bhutan on Monday night, a senior police officer who asked not to be named told Reuters. He said no casualties had been reported. Assam’s chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, told TV network CNN-IBN that he hoped the situation would be under control within two days. He said some 30,000 villagers have fled their homes and taken shelter in relief camps, but local officials said the numbers were at least twice that. –Reuters
Wave of sectarian violence explodes in Iraq: A series of roadside bombings, exploding cars and gun battles have killed at least 115 people and injured more than 200 across Iraq in the deadliest day of violence in more than two years. The coordinated attacks on Monday come after al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, warned the militant network was returning to strongholds from which it was driven before US troops left the country in December. “The majority of the Sunnis in Iraq support al Qaeda and are waiting for its return,” he said in a statement last week. The bombings and shootings all took place within a few hours of each other, shattering a two-week lull in violence in the run-up to the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which started in Iraq on Saturday. Sectarian violence peaked in Iraq in 2006-2007, but deadly attacks have persisted while political tensions among Iraq’s main Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions have mounted since the American military withdrawal. No group has claimed responsibility for the latest wave of assaults, but a senior Iraqi security official blamed the local wing of al Qaeda, made up of Sunni Muslim militants hostile to the Shi’ite-led government. “Recent attacks are a clear message that al Qaeda in Iraq is determined to spark a bloody sectarian war,” the official said, asking not to be named. “With what’s going on in Syria, these attacks should be taken seriously as a potential threat to our country. Al Qaeda is trying to push Iraq to the verge of Shi’ite-Sunni war,’ he said. “They want things to be as bad as in Syria,” he added. –Sky News
July 23, 2012 – 100 Dead and 300 Wounded in Bloodiest Iraq Carnage of 2012: A barrage of bombings and attacks targeting civilians and members of the Iraqi armed forces killed and wounded scores of people in nearly two dozen towns and cities across Iraq on Monday after a statement attributed to an al Qaeda-linked militant group threatened Baghdad’s Shiite-led government.
At least 91 people were killed and 318 wounded in the latest spasm of violence, according to accounts late Monday from the Ministry of Interior and security officials around the country. The Associated Press reported that at least 103 people had died.
The bloodshed coincided with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, a period of daylight fasting and prayers that started Saturday for most adherents of the Shiite branch of Islam, which accounts for the majority of Iraq’s population. For most Sunni Muslims around the world, including in Iraq, the first day of Ramadan was Friday.
The bloodiest attacks in Iraq on Monday were aimed at predominantly Shiite areas, in Baghdad and elsewhere, and at army and police units in oil-rich areas north of the capital that have been roiled by sectarian and ethnic tensions for years.
Several parked car bombs were detonated in markets packed with Ramadan shoppers in predominantly Shiite areas such as Baghdad’s congested Sadr City district, the town of Taji northwest of the capital and the city of Diwaniya to the south, killing and wounding dozens, according to a Ministry of Interior official.
In the most brazen series of assaults against Iraqi security forces in more than a year, gunmen in several vehicles used rocket launchers and grenades in a dawn attack on two military outposts for the Iraqi army’s Fourth Division. The outposts are located in a desert area known as al-Udhaim between Baghdad and the northern oil city of Kirkuk, security officials said. Click on the link below, for the complete story from the Wall Street Journal.
The Master of Disaster
By Elad Benari
“We have been informed about this situation. He is here,” Hollande was quoted by the news agency as having said at a news conference with his Tunisian counterpart, Moncef Marzouki.
In an unauthenticated statement emailed to Reuters earlier on Tuesday and signed by General Tlas in Paris, he is quoted as saying he wants a “constructive transition that guarantees Syria’s unity, stability and security as well as the legitimate aspirations of its people.”
“I can only express my anger and pain to see the army forced to fight a battle against its own principles. It is a battle being led by security forces in which the people and ordinary soldiers are the victims,” the statement said.
Tlas is quoted as saying that he had refused to take part in the security crackdown and as a result had been isolated and accused of being a traitor.
“My conscience and convictions drove me to oppose and distance myself from this destructive crackdown,” he said.
Reuters noted that neither Tlas’ brother Firas nor Syrian opposition members in Pariswere able to confirm the statement’s veracity. A statement claiming to be from Tlas in the immediate aftermath of his defection on July 6 proved to be fake.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels battled government forces backed by air power and artillery on Tuesday in the fiercest fighting to hit Damascus since the revolt against Assad erupted more than 16 months ago.
A rebel commander told Reuters the rebels will intensify attacks inside the capital and target sensitive security installations in what they call an operation to “liberate Damascus.”
The United Nations Security Council is due to vote on Wednesday on a Western-backed resolution that threatens Syrian authorities with sanctions if they do not stop using heavy weapons in towns, but Russia has said it will block the move.
By Reva Bhalla and Kamran Bokhari
The Tlass family formed the main pillar of Sunni support for the minority Alawite regime. The patriarch of the family, former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, had a strategic, brotherly bond with late Syrian President Hafez al Assad. The two military men served as members of the ruling Baath Party in Cairo from 1958 to 1961 when Syria and Egypt existed under the Nasserite vision of the United Arab Republic. The failure of that project brought them back home, where together they helped bring the Baath Party to power in 1963 and sustained a violent period of coups, purges and countercoups through the 1960s.
With Tlass standing quietly by his side, Hafez mounted a bloodless coup and appointed Tlass as his defense minister in 1970. Since then, Tlass has been the symbol of Syria’s old guard regime. Without Tlass’ godfather-like backing, it is questionable whether Bashar al Assad, then a political novice, would have been able to consolidate his grip over the regime in 2000 when his father passed away. Through the Tlass family’s extensive military and business connections, the Sunni-Alawite bond endured for decades at the highest echelons of the regime.
But blood still runs thick in clan politics, and as Sunni blood was spilling into Syria’s streets in the current uprising, the Tlass family likely felt growing pressure to side with its fellow Sunnis. Perhaps more critical, the Tlass family assessed it was time to make a move before it paid a price for its allegiance to the regime. Whatever the primary motivation of the decision, the Tlass’ choice to break a decadeslong pact with the al Assad family has now increased pressure on other elite members of the military and business communities to pick a side.
As one astute observer of the Syrian conflict explained, the al Assad regime is like a melting block of ice. The Alawite core of the block is frozen intact because the minorities fear the consequences of losing power to a Sunni majority. We have not yet seen the mass defections and breakdown in command and control within the military that would suggest that large chunks of this block are breaking off. But the Sunni patronage networks around that core that keep the state machinery running are slowly starting to melt. The more this block melts, the more fragile it becomes and the more likely we are to see cracks form closer and closer to the center. At that point, the al Assad regime will become highly prone to a palace coup scenario.
Syria’s Eventual Return to Sunni Rule
The al Assad regime has not cracked yet, but this is a useful moment to step back and think seriously about the regional implications should Syria return to Sunni hands. In particular, we would like to examine what such a scenario would mean for Iran’s position in the region.
Let’s first recall why Syria is up for grabs. Human rights interests alone do not come close to explaining why this particular uprising has received a substantial amount of attention and foreign backing over the past year. The past decade enabled Iran to wrest Baghdad out of Sunni hands and bring Mesopotamia under Shiite control. There is little question now that Iraq, as fractured as it is, sits in the Iranian sphere of influence while Iraqi Sunnis have been pushed to the margins. Iran’s gains in Baghdad shifted the regional balance of power, creating a Shiite crescent stretching from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean coast.
This disturbance in the regional balance of power has aggravated a number of regional stakeholders. With U.S. backing, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have banded together to lead a countercoalition to Iran. Iraq may have been reluctantly conceded to Iran, but the uprising in Syria offered a new opportunity to undercut Iran’s Mediterranean outlet in the Levant. Saudi Arabia has been trying to manage simmering Shiite unrest on the Arabian Peninsula, while Turkey is looking to lay a Sunni foundation for its regional resurgence. As a result, increased amounts of money, supplies, weaponry, training and intelligence support have made their way to the Syrian rebels through covert channels. The hope was that a covert campaign would obviate the need for a costly foreign military intervention and lead to the collapse of the regime from within. In theory, the plan sounds reasonable. In practice, it’s a lot more complicated.
A Complicated Transition
A transition to Sunni rule in Syria is bound to be messy. Syria’s Alawites have become well established in Damascus and in other key urban centers across the country. The heterodox community has also dominated the most elite units of the military, security and intelligence apparatus and will be carrying those skills with it should it be sidelined from power. Even though the Alawites and fellow minorities are outnumbered, it is unlikely that they will be easily pushed back to the hilly coastal lands of their forefathers in the northwest.
Instead, the Alawites, with Iranian backing, could be expected to mount a militant resistance against Turkish- and Arab-backed Sunnis. The Alawites, who currently dominate Syria’s ruling Baath Party, observed the rapidity with which the (Sunni-dominated) Iraqi Baathist military crumbled after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the now marginalized status of Iraq’s former Baathists. The Alawites will be fighting an existential crisis to avoid a similar fate in the face of a proxy war, while Iran will be reinforcing the Alawites to try to maintain a foothold in the region. This conflict will inevitably spill over into Lebanon, a state whose existence has been defined by this broader sectarian struggle and that will continue to serve as a battleground for proxy interests.
Transnational jihadists would also play a large role in a post-al Assad Syria. The Syrian rebellion contains a growing assortment of Sunni Islamists, Salafist jihadists and transnational al Qaeda-style jihadists. Foreign fighters belonging to the latter two categories are believed to be making their way into Syria from Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
For many years, Syrian intelligence ran an elaborate jihadist supply chain, funneling militants into both Lebanon and Iraq to serve its foreign policy purposes. Saudi Arabia is now believed to be using those very same channels against Damascus to funnel militants into the Syrian theater. From past experience, Riyadh is wary of transnational jihadists’ gaining ground in Syria and causing more problems down the line. But Saudi Arabia’s concerns over Iran and its Shiite supporters appear to be outweighing those reservations. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has been promoting what it has defined as legitimate jihad against the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Shiite supporters.
The Saudis cannot wage their jihad and stem jihadism at the same time. Inserting religiously motivated fighters into a theater is the easy part; controlling them will be difficult, especially once common interests against Iran and the Shia dissolve into an ideologically driven agenda of transnational jihadism.
A Revival of the Mesopotamian Battleground?
It is safe to assume that Syria, between the fall of the Alawite regime and the turbulent emergence of a new, Sunni-empowered regime, would experience an interregnum defined by considerable chaos. Amid the sectarian disorder, a generation would remain of battle-hardened and ideologically driven militants belonging to Sunni nationalist and transnational jihadist camps who in the past decade have fought against regimes in Baghdad and Damascus. These jihadists harbor expectations that they will be able to aid their struggling allies in Iraq if they gain enough operating space in Syria. Under these circumstances, it is easy to imagine a revived militant flow into Iraq, and this time under much looser control.
Thus, the regional campaign against Iran is unlikely to end in Syria. Should Sunnis gain the upper hand in Syria, the Shiite-led bloc in Lebanon (led by Hezbollah and its allies) will likely lose its dominant status. Turkish, Saudi and Qatari backing for Sunnis in the Levant and the rise of Islamists in the Arab states will be focused on creating a more formidable bulwark against Iran and its Arab Shiite allies.
The most important battleground to watch in this regard will be Iraq. There are a number of regional stakeholders who are not satisfied with Baghdad’s Iranian-backed Shiite government. There also likely will be a healthy Sunni militant flow to draw from the Syrian crisis. These militants will not only need to be kept occupied so that they do not return home to cause trouble, but they can also serve a strategic purpose in reviving the campaign of marginalized Sunnis against Shiite domination. Iran may feel comfortable in Iraq now, but the domino effect from Syria could place Iran back on the defensive in Iraq, which has the potential to re-emerge as the main arena for the broader Arab Sunni versus Persian Shiite struggle for regional influence. These trends will take time to develop, and the pace of Sunni empowerment in Syria remains in question, especially as the Alawite core of the regime is so far enduring. That said, it doesn’t hurt to look ahead.