Iraq Control of Terrain Map: February 9, 2016

Patrick Martin, Emily Anagnostos, Rachel Bessette, and ISW Iraq Team
ISW BLOG

Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Sunni Arab tribal fighters backed by Coalition air support recaptured central Ramadi on January 9, the completion of a six-month operation. Iraqi Security Forces entered the city center on December 22, rapidly pushing ISIS eastward as tribal fighters deployed to hold recaptured terrain in the city’s environs. The ISF announced on February 9 that it cleared ISIS from Ramadi’s eastern suburbs and reopened the road between Baghdad and Ramadi, though Inherent Resolve spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren cautioned that the area may remain exposed to attacks and will need to be cleared of IEDs. Anbar Operations Command called for the provincial government to return to Ramadi on January 26, coinciding with the drawdown of the ISF from the Ramadi area. ISW is thus changing downtown Ramadi and its eastern environs from ISIS-held to ISF-held territory.

Peshmerga and Sunni Arab tribal fighters recaptured several villages west of Makhmur district. The U.S.-trained 1st Battalion of the 91st Brigade of the 16th Iraqi Army Division participated in operations with Peshmerga and tribal fighters from the Jubur, Lahib, and Sabawin tribes to recapture villages west of Makhmur. Up to 4,500 ISF members will reportedly deploy to the area, and the ISF are leading the operation. However, multiple reports indicate that Peshmerga and the ISF compose the forces in the area but do not mention tribal fighters, indicating that the role of tribal fighters in the operations may be limited to assist with holding territory after it has already been cleared. ISW is thus changing the area extending west of Makhmur towards Qayyarah to populated areas under ISF control with KDP Peshmerga and Sunni tribal fighters.

Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization continue to clash with ISIS between Samarra and Lake Thar Thar despite previous control over the areas west of Samarra. ISIS has repeatedly attacked Popular Mobilization and the ISF west of Samarra, particularly in Khat al-Layn and the Jazeera desert. ISW has changed the area from an ISF and militia control zone to contested territory.

Iraq Blobby map 09 FEBRUARY 2016 high

SOURCE: ISW BLOG

To Understand Trump, You Have to Understand New York

Daniel Greenfield | Sultan Knish

The conservative consensus around Trump has solidified into, “He’s the devil” or “He’s our savior.” Either Trump is going to destroy the establishment and save us all. Or he’s secretly in league with Hillary Clinton to rig the election. There’s very little room for the middle ground here.

But Trump isn’t either of these things. He’s just Trump.

And it’s important to understand who he is.

Instead of the narratives that the different sides are building around him.

Trump seems exotic in a Republican system dominated by D.C. insiders from northeastern suburbs and filled with southern and western candidates. But local politics in New York is filled with guys who have the same blend of liberal-conservative politics and talk and sound just like him.

Giuliani’s political career really began with him yelling, “He blames it on me! He blames it on you! Bulls__t” at a police rally. The cops then took over City Hall chanting, “No justice, no police.”

Christie’s national rise began with the release of videos in which he berated union members and humiliated questioners. Republicans fell in love, at least until the infamous Obama hug happened. And yet the establishment forgets that some of its key members were begging a guy who has the same personality, attitude and style as Trump to run for president before the last election.

Call it New York values, but some of what Trump’s critics object to is a New York-Jersey-Philly abrasive political style that puts a premium on “telling it like it is” at the expense of civility and sometimes substance. You can catch Bill O’Reilly doing the same thing on FOX News.

It’s disingenuous for the establishment to pretend that Trump is some sort of complete break from civility. It’s not. It’s just New York Values taken to their most obnoxious extreme. If the establishment thought that President Chris “Numbn__s” Christie had enough class, why not Trump?

But the trouble with the common sense tough guy style in urban politics is that it compensates for weakness elsewhere. Giuliani and Christie were very tough in one specific area. In Giuliani’s case that was crime and it was such a major issue for the city that some of his more liberal positions didn’t matter. In national politics, those positions did matter when Giuliani ran for president.

But the positions did matter even in local politics. Giuliani did a great job cleaning up the city, but he didn’t change the system. Today the city is once again wholly run by the left-wing machine. And if you don’t change the system, then all you’re doing is buying a little more time.

That’s arguably the only thing Republicans have really been doing anyway since FDR.

The other thing to understand about this style of politics is that it reactively taps into the frustrations that people have toward the system. It doesn’t offer a political insider critique of it, but a man on the street shout. Sometimes the people doing that understand the issues very well. They’re just pitching it at the level of the angry voter.

But what makes Trump so frustrating is that he actually seems to be reacting. No one really believes that Obama finds out about his scandals from the media. It’s plausible though that Trump arrives at his positions by watching FOX News or clicking through the Drudge Report and reacting to what he sees. If you listen to his explanation for his shift on Syrian migrants, that seems to be what happened.

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The power of the reactive style is that it channels the exact same reactions that people had when hearing about some of the more shocking implications and facts about Syrian migrants, and realizing that another position was not only possible, but made more sense.

The average Republican voter is not a policy expert. Like Trump, he’s often learning about some of these things for the first time. Trump is excellent at capturing that bar/barbershop angry reaction and it may even be completely authentic. His responses are much more relatable than that of the politician or the expert who already understands the issue. But reacting isn’t leadership. Leaders are supposed to understand the issue. And when you can’t know everything, you need to work from firm principles.

Here some conservatives object that Trump channels a conservative outrage machine, rather than conservative principles. And they’re probably right. He isn’t the only candidate in the race doing that. Conservatives won their victories by mobilizing outrage, not through position papers. Conservative candidates in the race have turned to the right because of pressure from the base.

The trouble with Trump though is that he has no positions, only reactions. Beyond the outrage, his actual plans grow vague or backtrack. Obama loves calling his think tank leftist plans “common sense”. Trump’s plans actually are common sense, but they’re a common sense produced by some combination of FOX News, unknown websites and chats with some of his friends.

And they’re liable to change depending on whom he talks to and what he reads and watches.

What are Trump’s plans for health care? The details are vague. But they’re going to be whatever he thinks is a common sense solution. And the same thing is true all the way down the line.

But at the same time dismissing Trump’s political skills is foolish and wrong. Trump has managed to do what no Republican in fifteen years had accomplished.

There’s a simple fact that is key to understanding why Trump is winning. He’s the first Republican presidential candidate since Bush II to lay out a positive, specific and easy to understand plan for making things better. Cruz has plan for eliminating everything Obama did. Rubio has a vague plan for being really positive about America. Jeb Bush can barely articulate a message at all.

Bush II’s compassionate conservatism was a mess. But the point isn’t who is right. The point is what works. Ever since Obama’s victory, I have argued that Republicans desperately need a positive agenda that connects with working class Americans who are worried about the economy.

Whether or not Trump’s plan would work in real life is also not the point. The messaging is.

Trump is labeled as a destructive candidate, yet he’s the only one to have grasped the most basic principle of politics, which is that you have to tell people how you will improve their lives in a way that is easy for them to understand and remember. Trump has done that. His rivals haven’t.

Republican dysfunction and left-wing extremism made Trump’s candidacy happen. And that’s usually how Republicans get ahead in New York. Trump is doing nationally what successful Republican candidates do locally, bypass a broken New York party organization and make their own campaign happen. Giuliani did it. So did Bloomberg, despite having zero conservative credentials.

In New York, the GOP is not going to make your campaign happen. You have to make your campaign happen, often by fighting an apathetic and rotten GOP establishment, while doing everything on your own. Trump is just running the same type of campaign nationally.

Overall, Trump becomes much easier to understand if you understand New York.

Tough talking socially liberal, fiscally conservative, sorta Republican candidates who operate outside the party bubble and push the rhetoric as hard as they can through the other side are the norm here.

New York values recently became a controversy. Even though New Yorkers don’t like Trump (his
negative approval rating is in the seventies), he’s a perfect representative of a particular type that is independent, drifting between parties, that believes in strong leadership, abroad and at home, that wants more social services, but lower taxes, a strong military, but without the nation building, that has no strong religious attachments, but a certain sense of public decency, that sounds working class while running a successful business, and that gets his view of the world from the New York Post and the Daily News morning paper reads. There are contradictions and hypocrisies in that mix, but also a set of values, if not ideas. It’s a Democratic-Republican mix that may sometimes vote for Democrats, but that watches FOX News, because it’s the closest thing to a fit for its worldview.

The rise of Trump is not that baffling if you understand that dysfunction, national, movement and party, has consequences. And in this case, the consequence is that the 2016 election is being dominated by New York candidates and worldviews. New York Values are a difficult thing to describe and boil down. But it does seem as if New York Values will determine this election.

The D.C. establishment has been widely rejected in both parties. Disgust and hatred for the establishment has tainted the capital. Political power centers around cities. We may well be looking at a national election defined by three insurgent New York candidates, Trump, Sanders and Bloomberg.

New York has the money. It’s also a melting pot of ideas. Trump, Sanders and Bloomberg encompass the range of politics in the city, from the radical Socialist left to a man-on-the-street Republican reaction to the technocratic man of the middle ground who promises to split the difference. None of this has worked out too well for New York. Only time will tell how well it will work out for America.

Source: Sultan Knish Blog

A Disaster Worse Than Libya

obama-assad

Cliff Kincaid | Accuracy in Media

Now that another presidential primary is over, can the media take a few minutes to insist that the candidates address some important issues like the crisis in Aleppo, Syria? Tens of thousands of Syrians are dying or fleeing the Russians and the Iranians, who have invaded the country. President Obama is doing nothing to save them.

The American people should be reminded that Obama lost Libya in a fiasco that cost the lives of four Americans. In that case, he intervened militarily and assisted in overthrowing the regime of Muammar Qaddafi, then pulled back when American facilities were attacked. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says the country is now a haven for terrorists. President Obama is now losing Syria. Rebels opposed to the Bashar al-Assad regime don’t have the weapons to fight Russian planes and tanks.

Veteran diplomat Dennis Ross is the latest observer to note that the policies of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin seem to be the same. “Rather than being opposed to the Russian efforts, we look to be in league with them,” he writes in the Los Angeles Times.

What are those Russian efforts? Vladimir Putin is destroying the anti-Assad opposition forces and leaving the Islamic State largely untouched. In the end, Ross says, Putin intends “on changing the balance of power fundamentally on the ground and sending a message to Arab leaders. Namely: You may not like our support for Assad, but unlike the Americans we stand by our friends. If you want to deal with problems in Syria or in the region, you deal with us.” That means that Sunni countries alarmed by Russian and Iranian aggression in Syria will realize they cannot depend on the United States for support and will cut deals for survival with Putin.

It appears that Russian intentions go far beyond saving the Assad regime and undermining U.S. influence in the region. It is fascinating to note that the far-left in the United States is gearing up for a major campaign to cut off U.S. assistance to Saudi Arabia. This initiative is led by United for Peace and Justice and Progressive Democrats of America. Nothing would please Putin more than for Saudi Arabia to collapse and for the Russian/Iranian alliance to take over the Arabian Peninsula.

These groups held a “conference call on the US-Saudi Alliance” on Tuesday night, where anti-Israel activist Medea Benjamin of Code Pink described a series of events designed to isolate and weaken Saudi Arabia. Her involvement in this campaign is significant. She went to Iran in 2014 to participate in a “New Horizon” conference, also dubbed “The 2nd Annual International Conference of Independent Thinkers & Film Makers.” One of the themes was that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job carried out by the U.S. and Israel. A Holocaust denier also spoke. The first such conference was held in September 2012 and featured Iran’s then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

As part of this new campaign, Code Pink has been protesting Saudi intervention in Yemen against Iranian proxies. A March 5-6 conference is scheduled in Washington, D.C. to unite the left against Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab Muslim countries in the region. The conference is described as being held for people who would like to learn about the roots and spread of Islamic extremism, seek solutions to violence in the Middle East, support a U.S. foreign policy based on respect for human rights, and advocate against global weapons proliferation.

This sounds appealing until you grasp the fact that the organizers are doing the bidding of the Iranian regime.

The campaign co-sponsor, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), says it was founded in 2004 “to transform the Democratic Party and our country.” The advisory board for the group includes Thom Hartmann, described just as a “media host,” who is in fact a paid employee of Putin’s Russia Today propaganda channel. Another board member is Tom Hayden, the “author and activist” who worked for a military victory for the communists in the Vietnam War. PDA has an action fund that promotes Bernie Sanders for president.

Clearly, this anti-Saudi campaign is designed to accelerate Russian and Iranian hegemony in the region. The list of individuals and groups participating in the event is a reminder that the old pro-communist left never died and, in fact, has been resurrected to undermine U.S. policy in another region of the world.

In this case, however, as Dennis Ross and others are pointing out, Obama is abandoning traditional American allies, leaving the region open to more Russian-inspired conflict and expansion. It is safe to assume that Obama is secretly hoping that Medea Benjamin and her comrades succeed. They even have a senator on Capitol Hill leading the charge. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has called for a U.S. arms cutoff to Saudi Arabia. This is great news for Iran, whose propaganda organ Press TV has highlighted the stand against Saudi Arabia taken by this “influential US senator.” Murphy gave a speech to the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) outlining his anti-Saudi views. He says the Saudis support extremism.

He’s right, of course. No regime in the Middle East is completely clean. But it’s Iran and Syria that are on the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Saudi military intervention in Yemen is in response to Iran’s arming of Yemen’s Houthi rebels. It’s Russia and Iran that are now close to taking complete control of Syria and eliminating the anti-Assad rebel groups.

The situation in the Middle East could get much worse. Andrey Illarionov, a former adviser to Putin on economic issues and now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, says Putin may not even wait for the Sunni countries to come begging to Russia. He thinks Russia may be preparing for a military strike against Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Such a move would not only create more instability in the Middle East, but send oil prices soaring, benefiting Russia. Russia would have more money to finance aggression in the Middle East and Europe, and the already weak U.S. economy and markets in the U.S. would probably crash, giving us a replay of the panic of 2008.

The “stand down” order at Benghazi resulted in four Americans dying, a U.S. withdrawal, and a failed state that is attracting various terrorist groups. It appears that another “stand down’ order has been sent by the Obama administration in regard to the Russian/Iranian advance in Syria. In fact, U.S. policy is looking increasingly like a welcome mat for foreign aggression.

So what will Donald Trump do if Putin bombs the Saudi oil fields? What does Bernie Sanders propose to do about Iranian terrorism and Russian aggression?

Isn’t this topic worth at least one question in the next debate?

Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at cliff.kincaid@aim.org

 

Turkey’s Haunted Border With Syria

Burak Bekdil | Gatestone Institute

  • Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, are now paying the price for their miscalculated Islamist aspirations to install a Muslim Brotherhood type of Sunni regime in Syria in place of the non-Sunni Assad regime. Assad, with Russia’s help, has become somewhat untouchable, and has never been so safe and secure since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. By contrast, the Turks now face a multitude of threats on both sides of an apocalyptic border.
  • “With the Middle East ravaged by religious radicalism and sectarianism, the European Union and the United States can’t afford the Turkish government’s brutal military efforts against the Kurds or its undemocratic war on academics and journalists. Only a secular, democratic Turkey that can provide a regional bulwark against radical groups will bring stability to both the Middle East and Europe. As Mr. Erdogan seeks to eliminate all opposition and create a single-party regime, the European Union and the United States must cease their policy of appeasement and ineffectual disapproval and frankly inform him that this is a dead end.” — Behlul Ozkan, assistant professor at Istanbul’s Marmara University, writing in the New York Times.

Six years ago, Turkey’s official narrative over its leaders’ Kodak-moment exchanges of pleasantries with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus promised the creation of a Muslim bloc resembling the European Union. Border controls would disappear, trade would flourish, armies would carry out joint exercises, and Turks and Syrians on both sides of the border would live happily ever after. Instead, six years later, blood is flowing on both sides of the 900 kilometer border.

Inside Turkey, clashes between security forces and members of the youth wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have been taking place for weeks. Many towns and neighborhoods have turned into ghost-towns, as strict curfews are now in place. As a result, tens of thousands of Kurds have been forced to flee their homes, seeking refuge in safer parts of the country. While the Turkish army struggles to diffuse the latest Kurdish urban rebellion, hundreds of Kurdish militants and members of Turkey’s security forces have lost their lives.

Worse, the conflict has the potential to trigger further violence in Turkey’s non-eastern regions, where there is a vast Kurdish population spread across large cities.

Already in Istanbul, violence erupted on February 2, 2016, when unidentified gunmen opened fire on the campus of an Islamic association; they killed one man and wounded three others. In a second incident in a suburb of Istanbul, two people were killed and seven wounded after armed assailants fired on a tea-house.

Across the border in northern Syria, Turkey’s “Kurdish problem” is equally pressing. The PKK’s Syrian faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has been successfully fighting on the front-lines alongside the Western alliance that is waging war on the Islamic State (IS), and making itself highly regarded by the alliance, thereby further angering Ankara.

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Left: A Russian Su-24 bomber explodes as it is hit by a missile fired from a Turkish F-16 fighter, on Nov. 24, 2015. Right: A Russian Su-34 fighter jet. On Jan. 29, 2016, a Russian Su-34 violated Turkish airspace and was not shot down, despite earlier pledges that “all foreign aircraft violating Turkish airspace would be shot down.”

Turkey, which views the PYD as a terrorist organization like the PKK, fears that the Syrian Kurds’ fight against IS could, in the near future, earn the PYD international legitimacy.

On February 1, Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition against IS, visited a part of Kurdish-controlled northern Syria. On his visit, McGurk posed in front of cameras with a PYD commander — all smiles — while receiving an honorary plaque. The ceremony lent further legitimacy to the PYD. McGurk’s actions greatly angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a statement directed towards Washington, Erdogan asked: “How will we trust [you]? Am I your partner or are the terrorists in Kobane [the Kurdish town in northern Syria]?”

Ironically, Syrian Kurds are not only backed by the U.S., but also by Russia, which became another Turkish nightmare. On November 24, 2015, two Turkish F-16 jets shot down a Russian Su-24 military jet flying along Turkey’s border with Syria. Turkey justified its actions against Russia, citing a violation of Turkish airspace. Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to punish Turkey by means “other than” a slew of severe commercial sanctions.

Immediately after the November 24th incident, in a clear signal to Turkey, Moscow began to reinforce its military deployments in Syria and on the eastern Mediterranean. These included installations of S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense batteries, lying in wait for the first Turkish plane to fly over Syrian skies, in order to shoot it down in front of the cameras. Russia’s scare tactics worked. The Turks halted their airstrikes against IS strongholds in Syria.

On January 29, 2016, another Russian jet, this time a Su-34, violated Turkish airspace and was not shot down. The Turks, already uneasy over tensions with Russia, did not pull the trigger. Most observers agree that the second violation and Turkey’s failure to shoot, despite earlier pledges that “all foreign aircraft violating Turkish airspace would be shot down,” was a major humiliation on the part of Ankara.

Much to Turkey’s discomfort, the Russians are playing a tough game in Syria. Most recently, the Russian military deployed at least four advanced Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E aircraft to Syria; the move — shortly after the January violation of Turkish airspace by the Su-34 — further augmented its air superiority and boldly challenging Ankara.

“Starting from last week, super-maneuverable Su-35S fighter jets started performing combat missions at Khmeimim airbase,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told the TASS news agency on February 1. But a more humiliating move by Moscow was to come: Russian forces in Syria bombed “moderate” anti-Assad Islamist groups, as well as Turkmen (ethnic Turks) in northwestern Syria.

Russian airstrikes have reinforced Assad’s forces that now encircle Aleppo, a strategic city in the north. More than 70,000 Syrians, mostly Turkmen, fled from their villages to the Turkish border to seek refuge inside Turkey, and potentially add to the country’s refugee problem. Turkey is home to more than 2.5 million Syrians who have fled the civil war. It is estimated that at least one million more would flee to Turkey if Aleppo fell to Assad’s forces.

Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, are now paying the price for their miscalculated Islamist aspirations to install a Muslim Brotherhood type of Sunni regime in Syria in place of the non-Sunni Assad regime. Assad, with Russia’s help, has become somewhat untouchable ,and has never been so safe and secure since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. By contrast, the Turks now face a multitude of threats on both sides of an apocalyptic border.

As Behlul Ozkan, an assistant professor at Istanbul’s Marmara University, warned in a recent article in the New York Times:

“With the Middle East ravaged by religious radicalism and sectarianism, the European Union and the United States can’t afford the Turkish government’s brutal military efforts against the Kurds or its undemocratic war on academics and journalists. Only a secular, democratic Turkey that can provide a regional bulwark against radical groups will bring stability to both the Middle East and Europe. As Mr. Erdogan seeks to eliminate all opposition and create a single-party regime, the European Union and the United States must cease their policy of appeasement and ineffectual disapproval and frankly inform him that this is a dead end.”

Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Source: GATESTONE

Hizbullah’s International Drug Network Preoccupies Europe

By: E.B. Picali and H. Varulkar*
Introduction

On February 1, 2016, four Hizbullah foreign security operatives were arrested in France for running an international network that used millions in drug money to fund the organization’s military activity in Syria. According to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) official, the Hizbullah division was “a revenue and weapons stream… responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world” and that additional arrests were likely in the case. Seven countries, including France, Germany, Italy, and Belgium, were involved in the investigation and arrests. It was also reported that the Hizbullah operatives could face extradition to the U.S.

The case is similar to an earlier case, that began with the April 2014 Prague arrest, on similar charges, of three Lebanese nationals, continued with the kidnapping of five Czech nationals in Lebanon in July 2015, and concluded recently with a secret deal between the Czech government and the Lebanese elements behind the kidnapping, under which both the kidnapped Czechs and the Lebanese held in Prague were freed.

This report will shed light on both cases, and examine their similarities and a possible connection between them.

January 2016: Following U.S. Request, France Arrests Hizbullah Operatives For Drug Trafficking, Funding Terrorism

On February 1, 2016, the DEA announced the arrest of a number of Hizbullah foreign security operatives for running an international network trafficking in millions of dollars’ worth of drugs, laundering the profits, and using the funds to purchase weapons for Hizbullah’s military operations in Syria. The operatives, part of a European Hizbullah cell, included Mohamad Noureddine, a Lebanese money launderer who worked with Hizbullah’s financial apparatus and funneled its funds through a Lebanese company that he owns, and who maintained direct ties with Hizbullah commercial and terrorism elements in Lebanon and Iraq. According to the DEA, the network was established by ‘Imad Mughniyah, Hizbullah’s chief operations officer who was killed in Damascus in 2008, and is now operated by Hizbullah’s representative in Tehran, Abdallah Safieddine, and by businessman Adham Tabaja, a Hizbullah official who was recently named as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the U.S. Hizbullah worked with South American drug cartels providing cocaine to U.S. and European markets. Also according to the DEA, the investigation, which began last February, uncovered a sophisticated network of money couriers bringing millions of euros in drug profits back to the Middle East, with much of these funds passing through Lebanon. According to the DEA, “this ongoing investigation spans the globe… and once again highlights the dangerous global nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism.”[1]

While the DEA announcement did not specify how many people were arrested and where the arrests took place, the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar reported that four Lebanese citizens were arrested in France in late January 2016, one of them Noureddine who was apprehended as he disembarked from a flight into France.[2] The report also stated that this cell had operated in the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan, in Belgium, and in Latin America, with Paris as a money transfer point. Al-Nahar’s sources said that the detainees could be extradited to the U.S.

Also according to Al-Nahar, several weeks earlier, French authorities had arrested the son of a prominent Lebanese “figure,” also for drug trafficking and laundering funds for “a terror organization.” According to this report, U.S. authorities requested extradition as part of the customary cooperation among the countries in such cases, but the young man’s father was trying very hard to get his son released and cleared of all charges against him even though upon his arrest he was found to be in possession of a large sum of money.[3]

A Similar Case: Hizbullah Associates’ Arrest For Drug Trafficking In Czech Republic – Leads To Kidnapping Of Czech Nationals In Lebanon

This recent arrest of Hizbullah operatives in France, and the effort to obtain the release of one of them before he could face extradition to the U.S., are reminiscent of another case that began in the Czech Republic two years ago and concluded only recently in Lebanon.

In April 2014, at the U.S.’s request, Czech authorities arrested three Lebanese nationals, ‘Ali Fayad, Faouzi Jaber, and Khaled Marabi, in Prague for suspected drug and arms trafficking with FARC, the Colombian organization named by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). According to Arab and Lebanese media reports, Fayad is an Hizbullah associate[4] who is also a citizen of Ukraine; at the time of his arrest he was Middle East affairs advisor in the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and was involved in arms deals with various Arab countries.[5]

Then, in July 2015, five Czech nationals were abducted in Lebanon’s Western Beqaa Valley, along with their Lebanese driver who had picked them up at the Beirut airport. The driver was later revealed to be none other than Saib Fayad, the brother of ‘Ali Fayad, one of the Lebanese arrested by the Czechs in Prague. The kidnapped Czechs included two journalists, apparently in Lebanon to cover the ‘Ali Fayad story; an interpreter; Fayad’s attorney; and a Czech military intelligence officer.

Ali Fayad and Czech nationals
Left: ‘Ali Fayad during his 2014 arrest in Prague (source: Alarabiya.net, July 21, 2015); right, the five abducted Czech nationals (source: Al-Nahar, Lebanon, February 2, 2016)

Was The Abduction Of The Czechs Staged, With The Aim Of Obtaining Fayad’s Release?

The Lebanese daily Al-Safir reported that the abduction of the Czechs came just as the Czech Republic was about to extradite ‘Ali Fayad and the two other Lebanese nationals to the U.S. According to reports in Lebanese media, Lebanese security forces quickly realized that this was a kidnapping not for ransom, but for a different purpose – to lead to a deal with the Czech Republic under which the Czechs would be released in exchange for ‘Ali Fayad.[6] Other Lebanese media reported that the abduction was staged, with Fayad’s brother the driver, Fayad’s attorney, and the Czech intelligence officer as accomplices, with the aim of opening negotiations with the Czech Republic for Fayad’s release. A diplomatic source even told Al-Safir that Fayad’s attorney had been well paid for his participation in the events.[7]

A Lebanese security official assessed that “a Lebanese political element” with ties to Fayad had organized the abduction of the Czechs; it appeared that he was attempting to hint that Hizbullah was behind the events.[8]

Secret Negotiations Via Hizbullah Associate Led To Prisoner Exchange Deal

Indeed, following the Czechs’ abduction, a Czech intelligence delegation arrived in Lebanon for talks with Lebanese General Directorate of General Security head Abbas Ibrahim, who was in contact with the kidnappers.[9] Ibrahim, it should be noted, is known for his good relations with Hizbullah, and the General Directorate of General Security is considered to be close to it.

According to Lebanese media reports, the talks to release the Czechs in return for Fayad were absolutely secret and involved international elements;[10] they concluded after the Czechs guaranteed that Fayad would not be extradited to the U.S.[11]

The affair wound down earlier this month, when the Czechs were brought to Ibrahim, who transferred them to Beirut so that they could be returned to the Czech Republic. At the same time, Czech authorities released Fayad, and he arrived in Lebanon shortly thereafter. Another Prague detainee, Khaled Marabi, was also released.[12] Several days later, Czech authorities announced that they would release Faouzi Jaber, the third Lebanese national.[13]

As soon as they arrived in Lebanon, on February 4, 2016, Fayad and Marabi were arrested and interrogated by Lebanese security forces.[14] Two days previously, on February 2, 2016, U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Jim O’Brien arrived in Lebanon, for reasons unspecified.[15]

The Czechs after their release, with Czech Ambassador to Lebanon Svatopluk Cumba and Abbas Ibrahim
Left to right: The Czechs after their release, with Czech Ambassador to Lebanon Svatopluk Cumba (center left) and Abbas Ibrahim (center right) (Source: Al-Safir, Lebanon, February 5, 2016)

Conclusions

It was very apparent that the Lebanese state itself had little or nothing to do with the case. No Lebanese official – not Prime Minister Tammam Salam, not Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, nor any other government official – ever mentioned the events, the deal, or the release of either the Czech nationals or the return of Fayad and Marabi. While there were reports in the Lebanese media that Ibrahim had kept PM Salam, Interior Minister Nohad Al-Machnouk, and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri updated regarding the deal, it appears that the negotiations were conducted by Ibrahim himself.[16]

These events also raise a number of questions: In light of the reports that Fayad is close to Hizbullah, was Hizbullah the Lebanese political element behind the Czechs’ abduction? What was the role of Czech intelligence in the affair, in light of reports that one of the men abducted was a Czech intelligence officer?

The similarity between this affair and the arrest this month of Hizbullah operatives in France for drug trafficking and financing terrorism gives rise to the question of whether this same unidentified Lebanese element will use the same modus operandi in this case as well – that is, will French citizens be abducted to secure the release of the Hizbullah activists arrested in France at the request of the U.S.?

*E.B. Picali is a Research Fellow at MEMRI; H. Varulkar is Director of Research at MEMRI.

SOURCE: MEMRI

©  The Middle East Media Research Institute All Rights Reserved

Endnotes:

[1] Dea.gov/divisions/hq/2016/hq020116.shtml, February 1, 2015. The DEA announcement also noted that several days earlier, the U.S. Treasury Department had announced sanctions targeting Hizbullah’s financial support network by designating Hizbullah-affiliated money launderers Noureddine and Hamdi Zaher El Dine, for providing financial services to or in support of Hizbullah, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

[2] The report also states that one of the four was released several days later because he could not be connected to the events.

[3] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), February 2, 2016.

[4] Lebanondebate.com, July 15, 2015; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (Lebanon), February 3, 2016.

[5] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 2, 2016.

[6] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 18, 2015, August 5, 2015.

[7] Al-Safir (Lebanon), August 5, 2015; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 2, 2016.

[8] Al-Safir (Lebanon), August 5, 2015.

[9] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 2, 2016.

[10] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 2, 2016.

[11] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 2, 2016.

[12] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 2 2016; Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 4-5, 2016.

[13] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 5, 2016.

[14] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 5, 2016.

[15] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 3, 2016.

[16] In September 2015, Fayad’s family said that Abbas Ibrahim had agreed to take charge of the affair as per the family’s request, and that he was the only official element handing the matter. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 9, 2015. It should also be mentioned that Al-Nahar criticized the state’s handling of the affair, arguing that it is reminiscent of previous abduction cases in Lebanon – not one of which Lebanese security forces ever solved even though the names of the kidnappers and the locations of the hostages were well known. The daily added, “This is probably not the last [such case].” Al-Safir, Al-Nahar (Lebanon), February 2, 2016.

How Iran Took Obama Hostage

IRAN UPDATE RIGHT SIDE NEWS3 600

Daniel Greenfield | Sultan Knish Blog

Obama and his political allies seek normalization with Iran. They are unconcerned with Iran’s nuclear weapons programs or its support for terrorism and they are willing to provide fig leaves for these and other threats by the Shiite terror state to the United States and to the rest of the free world.

Iran, however, is looking to escalate its conflict with the United States. Perversely, normalization is the best strategy for escalating a conflict with the United States while extracting maximum benefit from it.

Without normalization, Iran has few options for escalating its conflict with America. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) generals are fanatics, but they know that they cannot win a major military conflict with the United States. Instead, the IRGC terror hub seeks to carry out attacks that hurt the United States, but in ways that fall short of summoning up a full American military reprisal.

Under Obama, Iran has more options than ever because the United States is now willing to tolerate what it would not have tolerated in the past. But excessive escalation would still risk a scenario in which even a pro-Iranian administration would be left with no choice but to strike back at Iran. And Iran remembers the lessons of Operation Praying Mantis all too well. It has nothing to gain by losing billions in precious military equipment while the United States demonstrates its superior firepower.

Iran’s terror attacks have traditionally depended on a degree of plausible deniability. Shiite militias backed by the IRGC, from Hezbollah to the latest kidnappers of Americans in Baghdad, do the dirty work. Iran would supply IEDs to terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan killing 500 Americans. It would provide a certain degree of training and aid to Al Qaeda, but without direct involvement in its attacks.

Iran would indirectly kill hundreds and even thousands of Americans, but with enough distance that it did not have to fear Americans bombers flying over Tehran. Under the same strategic logic, it may pass on nuclear materials to terrorists to use against the United States as long as it doesn’t fear retaliation.

Normalization, however, allows Iran to take its war against the United States to the next level.

In the deadlier phase of plausible deniability, the victims of Iranian terror have been so compromised that the affected governments themselves treasonously lead the cover-up of Iranian terror attacks.

A classic example of this, the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, an attack which everyone knows that Iran is responsible for, but which the local authorities were motivated to cover up because of their entanglement with Iran. Twenty years later, the cover-up led to the murder of a prosecutor who was investigating his own government’s complicity in covering up the attack.

This is what normalization accomplishes. Like the former Argentinean government, the Democrats have been compromised by their support for the Iran deal. The process began earlier when they decided to turn against the Iraq War and make outreach to the enemy into their foreign policy. Obama and other Senate Democrats refused to brand the IRGC a terrorist organization despite its role in the mass murder of American soldiers. Now they have to excuse the IRGC’s abuse of captured American sailors and any other attacks by the Shiite terror state to protect their act of collaboration in the dirty deal with Iran.

Normalization is more properly named collaboration. The collaborator is a traitor who has to excuse his treason by rationalizing the atrocities of the enemy. Iran’s Democratic Party collaborators have to explain how “nice” Iran is being by releasing American hostages. Like all collaborators, the traitors emphasize the benevolence of the enemy while overlooking the crime that benevolence is based on. They trumpet their success in getting special favors from the enemy as proof that collaboration works.

Kerry rushed to thank Iran for freeing the hostages without ever addressing the fact that taking the hostages was itself a crime. Instead of dealing with the original crime, the Democrats, like all traitors, rush to accuse opponents of being extremists who seek conflict over diplomacy. This was the same exact argument that Communist collaborators with Hitler during the era of the Soviet-Nazi pact directed at the West. It was the same argument that British anti-war activists aimed at domestic opponents of Hitler.

Democrats believe that they are engaged in a process of normalization with Iran. Senator Bernie Sanders called for Obama to “move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran”. But Iran is interested in normalization only as leverage for entangling the United States in further crises. So Iran might allow the reopening an embassy in Tehran, but only because it would give it more hostages.

While the left seeks to normalize relations with Iran, the Shiite terror state seeks to manufacture a steady stream of crises that interrupt normalization, but which it will be rewarded for resolving.

Sometimes this means literally taking hostages. But it always means taking the process of normalization hostage by creating a crisis. This crisis might be a deliberate violation of an agreement, a weapons test or even an attack. The diplomats rush for their calfskin briefcases and the latest crisis is resolved. Iran gets what it wants and leftist diplomats claim that the end of the latest crisis is proof diplomacy works.

They carefully avoid the question of why the latest crisis occurred or why there are so many of them.

This is the diplomatic version of an abusive relationship. Iran slaps around Obama, but when the cops arrive, Obama curses out the cops and yells that everything is fine. When the cops take Obama aside, he explains that it’s the hardliner IRGC side of Iran that is abusive, but that he’s in a relationship with the loving moderate side of Iran that doesn’t really mean it when it shouts “Death to America.”

It’s not just an episode of COPS. It’s also what the Democratic Party’s foreign policy looks like now.

If you think normalization with Iran is bad now, imagine an Iranian terror attack on American soil that kills 85 people and leads to a cover-up of such massive proportions that it includes the murder of a top prosecutor. It happened in Argentina. It would be foolish to imagine that it couldn’t happen here.

Ever since the nuclear deal, Iran has been escalating its provocations. The IRGC is confident enough to imprison and humiliate American sailors. How long will it take until it’s confident enough to carry out a major terrorist attack in the United States? If “normalization” continues, we may find out.

Normalization creates more opportunities for Iran to manufacture crises of every size. Every American in Iran or in territory controlled by IRGC militias, such as Baghdad, is a potential hostage. Every American vessel, civilian or military, is a potential target. But the biggest hostage is the diplomatic process.

Iran’s biggest hostage is the wishful thinking of Western traitors. No amount of human hostages could possibly give the terror state as much leverage as being able to fulfill or deny their diplomatic dreams.

As long as Democrats and Eurocrats continue to focus on the impossible objective of full normalization with a Jihadist state that literally believes they are the devil, they will ignore almost any Iranian provocation or attack as just another bump on the road to diplomatic utopia.

This is how normalization becomes collaboration. It’s how diplomacy turns into treason.

Source: Sultan Knish Blog