ISRAEL: The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC)
- On September 9, 2016, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that they had achieved an arrangement for the cessation of hostilities in Syria.In the first stage of the arrangement, hostilities are expected to cease as of September 12, and humanitarian aid will be delivered to besieged places, with emphasis on the city of Aleppo. If the first stage is implemented, seven days later a joint American-Russian implementation center (JIC) will be set up. It will include experts who will distinguish between “terrorists” and the “moderate opposition,” in order to make it easier to carry out coordinated attacks against them. The Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah were quick to express their support for the arrangement, while the Fateh al-Sham Front, the Free Syrian Army and other rebel organizations strongly condemned it.
- The arrangement came into effect on September 12 (the start of the Moslem festival of Eid al-Adha) at 19:00. In the first hours after it came into effect, Syrian airstrikes on Aleppo and Hama were reported, as well as clashes in several other places. However, the fighting subsequently decreased in intensity, and no significant violations were reported (updated on September 14). On September 13, the UN began to transfer humanitarian aid to Aleppo, and Russian transport planes dropped aid to the besieged neighborhoods in the city of Deir al-Zor.
- Even if the agreement leads to a break in the fighting, and the entry of humanitarian aid into Aleppo and elsewhere, in the ITIC’s assessment, it is very doubtful whether it will lead to a stable and sustainable ceasefire able to serve as a basis for political negotiations. In the background, there are the complex rivalries between fighting forces, the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism, the difficulty of differentiating between the Fateh al-Sham Front (Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria) and the “moderate rebel organizations,” and the problematic implementation of the arrangement in the city of Aleppo and its environs.
- On September 10, several rebel organizations operating in the Syrian Golan Heights, including the Fateh al-Sham Front, announced the opening of a major military campaign against the Syrian Army in the rural area of Quneitra. In the days that followed, there were battles between rebels and the Syrian forces in the northern Golan Heights, in the area between the city of Quneitra and the Druze village of Hader (in the northern Golan Heights). The fighting continued also on September 13 (after the ceasefire went into effect). During the fighting, several mortar shells fell in the Israeli Golan Heights, apparently stray cross-border fire from the battles in Syria. The IDF responded with airstrikes against Syrian Army artillery targets since Israel holds the Syrian government responsible for any firing into its territory.
US-Russian agreement for the cessation of hostilities in Syria
- On September 9, 2016, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that their talks had resulted in an arrangement for the cessation of hostilities in Syria. In the first stage of the arrangement, the hostilities were supposed to cease as of September 12 at 19:00 (the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha begins on September 12). With the cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid will be delivered to besieged places, including the city of Aleppo. Two supply routes will be opened from the north (Castello Road) and the south (the road that runs in through the Al-Ramousah neighborhood).
- If the hostilities cease for a period of seven days, the United States and Russia will set up a Joint Implementation Center (JIC) which will employ experts from both sides who willdelineate the areas controlled by the Fateh al-Sham Front (formerly the Al-Nusra Front)and by the rebel organizations in the various battle zones.This is in order to distinguish between “terrorists” and the “moderate opposition,” which will make it possible to carry out coordinated airstrikes in order to isolate and defeat the terrorist organizations and later progress towards a political solution.
- The Assad regime, Iran, and Hezbollah were quick to express their support for the arrangement, which is perceived by them as serving their interests. Conversely, the Fateh al-Sham Front, the Free Syrian Army, and other rebel organizations have expressed their vehement opposition to the agreement which they feel places them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the Syrian regime. That being the case, it is to be expected that the various rebel organizations will be interested in the erosion of the arrangement, especially in the city of Aleppo (where the Syrian regime managed once again to tighten the siege on the city during the period preceding the announcement of the arrangement).
- In the ITIC’s assessment, this arrangement, like its predecessor, will not lead to a stable and sustainable ceasefire, able to serve as a basis for effective negotiations to end the civil war in Syria. In the background, there are the complex rivalries and conflicts between the many countries and organizations taking part in the fighting. Fighting between the opposing forces is still ongoing in the various regions, and no one is capable of enforcing the ceasefire. In the ITIC’s assessment, the ability of the United States and Russia to influence the situation on the ground is limited, certainly in such a complex battle zone as the city of Aleppo. To this one must add the US-Russian conflicts of interest and different perceptions regarding the future of the Syrian regime, although they were not manifested in the arrangement (a detailed analysis of the implications of the arrangement and the reactions of the various parties has been distributed in a separate document by the ITIC and is available on its website).
Main developments in Syria
The area of Aleppo
The situation in the Aleppo area remains unchanged. The Syrian forces have surrounded the city and the rebel organizations have lost the logistics corridor leading to Aleppo from the south. Hence the US-Russian arrangement was achieved from a starting point of an achievement on the ground for the Syrian regime in the important battle zone of Aleppo. The arrangement stipulates the opening of humanitarian supply routes to the northern part of the city of Aleppo (Castello Road) and the south (the Al-Ramousah neighborhood), but preserving the supply routes over time is potentially difficult in view of the conflicting interests of the rival sides and the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism.
Senior Fateh al-Sham Front commander killed
- On September 9, 2016, the Fateh al-Sham Front (formerly the Al-Nusra Front), issued an announcement on the death of a senior officer in its ranks, the head of Jaysh al-Fateh (an umbrella framework of rebel organizations in which the Fateh al-Sham Front plays a dominant role). The announcement states that the Jaysh al-Fateh commander, Abu Omar Saraqib, was killed in a coalition airstrike in the airspace of Aleppo on September 8, while he was in the operations room of the rebel organizations that had been set up for the liberation of Aleppo. The US Department of Defense spokesman denied any involvement in the killing.
- Abu Omar Saraqib was a longtimejihadi operative who fought in Iraq against the American forces since 2004. After the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, he joined the Al-Nusra Front and took part in many battles in northern Syria as commander of Jaysh al-Fateh. Among other things, he headed the forces that took over the city of Idlib and the surrounding areas, currently the stronghold of the Fateh al-Sham Front.
The northern Syrian Golan Heights
- The rebel organizations that comprise the attacking force issued an announcement on the commencement of a military campaign in the northern rural area of Quneitra, called the South Qadisiyyah Operation. According to reports, the participants in the force are the Ahrar al-Sham movement, the Fateh al-Sham Front, Jama’at Beit al-Maqdis, and other organizations affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (Twitter, September 10, 2016).
- On September 10, the Fateh al-Sham Front released photos showing its operatives searching a Syrian Army outpost in Al-Hamriya, a farm south of Hader. The photos show Syrian Army soldiers fleeing from the outpost and its surroundings. The photos also show the preparations made by the fighters before leaving for the battle to take over Syrian Army positions north of Quneitra (Twitter account of the Fateh al-Sham Front, September 10, 2016).
Main developments in Iraq
ISIS continues its terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare
- The main attacks this week occurred in the city of Baghdad:
- On September 9, 2016, a double suicide bombing attack was carried out on Palestine Street in central Baghdad. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who activated his explosive belt and another suicide bomber who detonated a car bomb. According to an announcement by ISIS, the attack was carried out among a crowd of Shiites. A total of 57 people were killed and dozens were wounded (Al-Arabiya, September 10, 2016).
- On September 9, 2016, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt was shot dead in northern Baghdad. The terrorist was shot by Iraqi policemen (Al-Sumaria, September 9, 2016).
- On September 10, 2016, five terrorist attacks were carried out in the city of Baghdad.The most prominent attack was in the southern suburbs of Baghdad (4 dead). Other attacks included an IED explosion near a military base in the north of the city (3 civilians killed) and a suicide bombing attack carried out with an explosive belt in central Baghdad (two civilians killed).
- On September 11, 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack carried out by a suicide bomber with an explosive belt in central Baghdad. According to ISIS’s announcement, the attack was directed against Iraqi intelligence officials. At least 15 of them were killed and wounded (Aamaq, September 11, 2016).
- In addition, ISIS claimed responsibility for other attacks throughout Iraq: an attack on Iraqi Army positions and camps in the area of Qayyarah; suicide bombing attacks against Iraqi Army positions around the city of Al-Sharbat (south of Qayyarah); rocket fire at Peshmerga camps in the area of Tel Asqaf, north of Mosul; an attack on Iraqi Army campsnear the Baiji-Haditha highway; small arms fire and mortar shells fired at the Kurdish forces east of Sinjar, in northern Iraq.
The global jihad in other countries
- The city of Sirte has been quiet for the past few days. ISIS operatives have reportedly barricaded themselves in their last outpost in the “marine neighborhood,” located near the seashore. US aircraft occasionally attack ISIS targets in the area. According to a spokesman for the Libyan government, the final takeover of the city has been delayed due to the presence of civilians, family members of ISIS operatives, and because of the desire to complete the cleansing of the city of Sirte and its suburbs from the presence of ISIS operatives and to remove the mines and IEDs that they planted (Middle East Eye, September 11, 2016; The Libya Observer, September 8, 2016; Anatolia News Agency, September 10, 2016).
- On September 8, 2016, two car bombs exploded in the city of Tripoli within a few minutes of each other. The first car exploded behind the Foreign Ministry building, and the other near the naval base in Tripoli, the former seat of the Government of National Accord. The explosions did not result in casualties, but property was damaged. On September 12, ISIS’s Aamaq News Agency reported that ISIS operatives had carried out the attack (France24 TV, September 8, 2016; Aamaq, September 12, 2016).
France: terrorist attacks foiled in Paris
- On the night of September 3-4, 2016, a car with gas canisters was found in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, near Notre Dame Cathedral. Two women were apparently supposed to blow up the car but failed to do so because they thought (wrongly) that they had spotted an undercover policeman nearby.
- After an interrogation by the security forces that lasted for several days, charges were filed against one of the women this week. She is Ornella Gilligman, 29-year-old Frenchwoman who converted to Islam in 2009 after marrying a Muslim. She operated in collaboration with another woman named Inès Madani, 19, daughter of the owner of the car where the gas cylinders were found. A letter in which she pledged allegiance to the Islamic Statewas found in Madani’s possession. The investigators also identified two additional accomplices in the attempted terrorist attack, Sarah Hervouët, 23,and Amel Sakaou, 39, who hid the terrorists in her home.
- According to French prosecutor François Molins, one of the women who were arrested had been engaged to two French terrorists who carried out attacks in 2016 (the murder of a policeman and his spouse in the town of Magnanville and slitting the throat of a French priest in Normandy).According to the investigators, the women’s network was handled by Rashid Kassim, 29, a French jihadist apparently living in Syria or Iraq. According to the French media, Rashid Kassim used the Telegram messaging app to instruct the women on how to use the gas canisters to carry out the attack.
The battle for hearts and minds
- On September 6, 2016, ISIS began to publish a new Internet magazine called Rumiyah, published by its Al-Hayat media foundation. The magazine is published in 9 languages: English, Arabic, Russian, French, Turkish, German, Indonesian, Uighur (the language of the Muslim minority in China) and Pashto (the language spoken in Afghanistan). Rumiyah is the Arabic word for Rome, the capital of Christianity.
- The first issue of the magazine Rumiyah includes the story of Abu Mansour Al-Muhajer,an Australian of Lebanese descent who emigrated from Melbourne to ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and was killed in Manbij. Immediately afterwards, the magazine calls on ISIS’s supporters around the world, and especially those who live in Australia, to carry out attacks against Australians by stabbing, shooting, poisoning and running over. The following locations are mentioned as examples of crowded sites where attacks should be carried out: Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), Bondi Beach and Sydney Opera House.
- On September 10, 2016, possibly as a result of the call to carry out attacks in Australia, a 22-year-old Muslim youth from Sydney repeatedly stabbed a 59-year-old man who was walking in the park in Minto, a suburb of Sydney. The victim was seriously wounded. The youth also attacked a policeman who arrived on the scene. On September 11, 2016, the terrorist was charged with carrying out a terrorist attack and attempted murder. According to the Australian police, this was apparently an ISIS-inspired attack(Reuters, September 11, 2016). The next day, on September 11, 2016, it was reported that an 18-year-old Muslim youth had been arrested on September 9, 2016, after voicing “radical threats” in front of Sydney Opera House (Al-Hayat, September 11, 2016).
The Battle of Qadisiyyah took place in 635 AD between the Muslims and the Persians. The battle ended with a victory for the Muslims and led them to the conquest of Iraq and Persia.
An initial overview based on the French media.