The main Islamist rebel groups in Aleppo on Nov. 19 rejected the newly formed Syrian opposition bloc, saying they want an Islamic state. "We, the fighting squads of Aleppo city and province, unanimously reject the conspiratorial project called the National Coalition and announce our consensus to establish an Islamic state" in Syria, a spokesman announced in an Internet video. "We reject any external coalitions or councils imposed on us at home from any party whatsoever." The unidentified speaker, sitting at the head of a long table with some 30 other men and a black Islamist flag on the wall, named 14 armed groups as signatories to the statement, including al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid. Ahrar al-Sham rejected the proclamation on its official webpage, however, saying that its leadership did not endorse the statement.
Pretty funny. CIA director David Petraeus, responsible for countless civilian deaths in his lawless drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal territories, resigns in contrition saying, "I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair." (NYT, Nov. 9) After reading numerous accounts, we still can't figure out exactly how this came to light, but it seems to have originated in an FBI investigation of harassing e-mails apparently sent to an unnamed third party by Petraeus' paramour and biographer Paula Broadwell. After the Benghazi blow-out in the presidential debate last month, we were left wondering how the CIA could not have known for two weeks after the fact that the consulate attack was an armed ("terrorist") attack and not just a rowdy demonstration. Now we are left wondering how the director of the CI goddam A could not have known that the FBI was reading his e-mail. And it appears that, at least in the minds of the paranoid, there may be a link between these two apparent lapses...
A top Lebanese security official who was bitterly opposed to Syrian leader Bashar Assad was killed Oct. 19 in a car bomb in Beirut that also claimed the lives of seven others and left 80 more wounded. Gen. Wissam Hasan, head of the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces, was one of eight killed in the mid-afternoon attack in the Christian district of Ashrafieh. The blast was the first car bombing in Beirut since 2008. Hasan led the investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the 2005 killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, and he had also been a close aide to Hariri. Al-Jazeera reported that he was believed to be involved in organizing support for the Syrian insurgents. The opposition March 14 coalition accused Damascus of being behind the attack. "Assad has repeatedly threatened to set fire to the region if the noose tightened on him," March 14 leader Fares Souaid told a television station. (Reuters, Lebanon Daily Star, Daily Star, Al-Jazeera, Oct. 19)
After last week's terror blasts in Aleppo, we noted a report in the New York Times to the effect that the US is pressuring Saudi Arabia and Qatar to hold back their support to the Syrian rebels for fear the arms could fall into jihadist hands. Now, the Times runs another story informing us that a "jihadist insurgent group" called the Nusra Front for the People of the Levant has claimed responsibility for last night's suicide attack on an intelligence compound on the outskirts of Damascus—and that the same group also took credit (on a "Qaeda-affiliated Web site") for the Aleppo blasts.
Calm returned to central Tehran on Oct. 4, a day after it was rocked by unprecedented protests over Iran's plunging currency. All money-changers and most shops were closed, and the Grand Bazaar—the normally bustling commercial heart of the city—was mostly shuttered, with only a few streetside shops open. In the nearby traditional money-changing district, police patrolled past closed exchange outlets. The previous day, hundreds of police and security personnel flooded central Tehran, arresting unlicensed money changers—part of efforts by authorities to halt the dive of the rial, which is at an all-time low against the dollar. Scuffles broke out with stone-throwing men, and trash dumpsters were set alight. Opposition website Kaleme.com said slogans included "Allahu akbar!" (God is great, associated with the 1979 revolution) and "Leave Syria alone, instead think of us!" (Middle East Online, World Bulletin, Turkey, Oct. 4)
Turkey's parliament in an emergency session on Oct. 4 authorized military action against Syria following deadly cross-border fire—while insisting it was not a war mandate. The vote came as Turkey retaliated for shelling that killed five Turkish nationals. An artillery shell fired from Syria during the clashes between government forces and the Free Syrian Army there landed on a house in the district of Akçakale in the southeastern province of Urfa; a mother and her four children lost their lives, and another 13 people were injured. Although shells have fallen across the border before, it marked the first time that Turkish citizens were killed by Syrian fire. Although Damascus issued an apology, Turkish retaliatory fire continues, killing several Syrian soldiers. An evacuation of Akçakale has been ordered.
We have long been skeptical about incessant predictions from the Chicken Little crowd of an imminent US or Israeli attack on Iran. We've heard these predictions for years, and it still hasn't happened—yet none of those making the predictions ever seem to eat crow. And there has been plenty of evidence that the whole thing is a game of brinkmanship aimed at keeping Iran intimidated. But in recent weeks we have started to fear that the new circumstances in the Middle East may indeed be compelling the West towards war with Iran. Now, with two US warships headed for Libya, 25 nations led by the US are converging on the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz for naval maneuvers on an unprecedented scale. The idea seems to be to prevent Iran from closing off the strait in the event of war. Prominent partners in the 12-day exercise are the UK, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. (The Telegraph, Sept. 15)
We've been waiting for the other shoe to drop in Mali ever since April, when Tuareg rebels seized power in the north, only to be shortly overthrown themselves by an alliance of jihadist militias. Yeah, this is the middle of the Sahara, but how long is the "international community" going to allow an unrecognized extremist-controlled rogue state the size of France to persist? The jihadists continue to up the proverbial ante. Over the weekend, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) advanced into Mopti region, south of rebel-held Timbuktu, seizing the town of Douentza. (See map.) Unbelievably, it appears that this border zone on the edge of the vast rebel territory has been abandoned by the government, and the town was defended only by a local militia, the Ganda Iso (Sons of the Land)—one of several that the region's residents have been organizing autonomously to defend against jihadist aggression or (much more ambitiously) to eventually take back the north. MUJAO also made good on their threat to put to death an Algerian vice consul they had abducted. Mali's government this week reportedly made a formal request for military intervention to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but is apparently refusing to confirm this to its own people, making no mention of it in state media. (AP, Sept. 7; Middle East Online, Sept. 3; MEO, Sept. 2; AFP, Aug. 31)