August 23, 2011
Number 08/11 #06
As readers are doubtless aware, Libyan rebels are in the capital, Tripoli, and the fall of the Gaddafi regime now looks imminent. This Update features an article and some good links on the complex question of what might happen next. It also features some material on the ongoing tense situation on Israel’s southern border where rockets continue to be fired into Israel from Gaza despite a supposed new ceasefire (see also here and here) and Egypt and Israel have had a public spat over the cross-border raid on Thursday which killed 8 Israelis, but which also apparently resulted in the death of three Egyptian security officers, possibly from Israeli fire.
First up is a piece by a Reuters reporter in Libya, Michael Georgy, who details the likely difficulty the Libyan rebel group will have in putting together a viable government to succeed Gaddafi. He outlines the various known players in the Libyan rebel leadership, as well as the tangible signs of factionalism and tribalism among the rebel forces. He also consults Kamran Bokhari, Middle East Director at STRATFOR global intelligence firm, who points out that there is no rebel leader who is respected by all factions and predicts that running the country will be tougher for the rebels than taking Tripoli. For this valuable outline of the Libyan post-conflict leadership problem, CLICK HERE.
Some additional reading on the aftermath of Gaddafi’s expected fall includes: David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in the US, Israeli foreign affairs analyst Zvi Barel; Anne Marlowe of the Hudson Institute is optimistic about a democratic future for Libya, while noted Middle East expert Daniel Pipes, currently visiting Australia, prolific Israeli academic commentator Barry Rubin and American analyst Jonathan Schanzer offer more concerned and pessimists views. The US Council on Foreign Relations put together a useful paper on how outside parties can help stabilise a political transition in Libya a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s statement on Libya is here, while US President Obama’s statement is here.
Next up, noted Israeli historian Benny Morris comments on the Israeli-Egyptian tiff over the weekend, and what it portends for the future. He argues that it is the first sign that Israeli-Egyptian peace is starting to unravel and that the Egyptian populace, educated to hate Israel, will demand a policy which feeds this prejudice. He details additional signs that Egypt is going to be problematic for Israel in future, and predicts Israel will have to change its strategic planning to take this into account. For all that he has to say, CLICK HERE. The Jerusalem Post also editorialised on the Egypt-Israel tensions, calling attention particularly to the way in which the whole incident is being portrayed in the Egyptian media as a case of deliberate, unprovoked Israeli aggression against Egyptian soldiers.
Finally, two very knowledgeable commentators, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute and top Israeli Arab Affairs journalist Ehud Yaari explore more fully the details and implications of the cross-border attack on Eilat on Thursday. They note that the timing of the incident was probably driven by internal competition among Palestinian groups. They also take particular note of the potential for escalation along the Gaza borders, which Hamas may have difficulty controlling, as currently seems to be the case. For all of their analysis, CLICK HERE. Israeli intelligence specialist Jonathan Halevi offers some interesting details on the Popular Resistance Committees, the group apparently responsible for the Eilat attack, and their relationship with Hamas. Some additional interesting pieces on the lawlessness of Sinai are here and here.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Israeli journalists Herb Keinon and Evelyn Gordon both note a worrying fact about the Eilat attack aftermath – the Palestinian Authority failed to condemn the initial attack, but did heavily condemn the Israeli response. Keinon also reports that the UN Security Council largely agreed on a statement on the incident, but this was vetoed by Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon.
- A number of American commentators, including Michael Rubin, Jeffrey Goldberg and George Mathis, have noted that the fall of Gaddafi provides an opportunity to revisit the case of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi, who has been living in Libya for the last two years after the British government released him on the ostensible ground that he was dying.
- An assessment of Libya’s economic potential.
- A photo essay on anti-Gaddafi graffiti in Libya.
- Lee Smith on how the fall of Gaddafi might affect the prospects for toppling Syria’s Assad regime.
- A useful guide to facts and figures related to the Arab Spring, as broken down by country.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s new daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Comments on a report that Hamas and Iran have fallen out over the unrest in Syria.
- Some recommended reading on the Israeli tent protest movement.
- Some worrying plans for Jerusalem broadcast on official Palestinian TV.
- A post on the increasing criticism of the Australian Greens for the involvement of elements of the party in the anti-Israel BDS movement.
- AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein and Allon Lee comment on the dangers of the Palestinian quest for unilateral UN recognition.
By Michael Georgy
Reuters, Sun, Aug 21 2011
NALUT, Libya (Reuters) – Libyan rebel Husam Najjair seems more concerned about the possibility of rebels turning on each other when they try to take control of the capital Tripoli than the threat posed by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
“The first thing my brigade will do is set up checkpoints to disarm everyone, including other rebel groups, because otherwise it will be a bloodbath,” said Najjair. “All the rebel groups will want to control Tripoli. Order will be needed.”
His comments pointed to the biggest question that will be asked as the endgame appears to be nearing in Libya — is there one unifying figure who can lead Libya if the rebels take over?
Right now the resounding answer seems to be no.
“There isn’t one rebel leader who is respected by everyone. That’s the problem,” said Kamran Bokhari, Middle East Director at STRATFOR global intelligence firm.
Gaddafi ran the North African oil producing-country like a cult, without state institutions that would make any transition easier for the rebels, who have plenty of spirit but lack a proper chain of command.
They are also weighed down by factionalism and ethnic and tribal divisions.
The most prominent rebel leader is Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), a disparate group of Gaddafi opponents based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
It consists of former government ministers and longstanding opposition members who represent wide-ranging views including Arab nationalism, Islamists, secularists, socialists and businessmen.
A former justice minister, the soft-spoken Abdel Jalil was described as a “fair-minded technocrat” in a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
A mild-mannered consensus builder in his late 50s, he was praised by Human Rights Watch for his work on Libya’s criminal code reform. Abdel Jalil resigned as justice minister in February when violence was used against protestors.
But like other former members of Gaddafi’s inner circle, he will always be viewed with suspicion by some rebels who want completely new faces with no past links to the regime running the country.
The prime minister of the rebels’ shadow government, Mahmoud Jibril, a former top development official under Gaddafi, has extensive foreign contacts and has been the rebels’ roving envoy.
But his travels have frustrated some colleagues and foreign backers so his experience and contact building will have been wasted if he is not part of any new administration.
Another prominent rebel who may play a future leadership role is Ali Tarhouni. THe U.S.-based academic and opposition figure in exile returned to Libya to take charge of economic, financial and oil matters for the rebels.
Tensions between life-long opponents of Gaddafi and his supporters who recently defected to the rebel side may undermine efforts to choose an effective leadership.
If hardliners prevail, Libya could make the same mistake that analysts say was made in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
His Baath Party supporters and army officers were purged en masse, creating a power vacuum that led to instability for years as everyone from his secular backers to al Qaeda waged a violent campaign against Iraq’s new U.S.-backed rulers.
“You cannot make a rule that anyone who worked for Gaddafi cannot work with us. It’s not practical at all,” said Ashour Shamis, a United Kingdom-based Libyan opposition activist.
Such an approach would undermine efforts to bring back capable people to undertake perhaps the most critical task of all — revitalizing the oil industry.
Those who want to put aside animosities for the sake of rebuilding the country’s energy sector may want to turn to its former top official Shokri Ghanem for help.
The Western-educated Ghanem, who defected, has decades of experience in the oil sector and is a former prime minister credited with liberalizing the Libyan economy and accelerating the opening of the country to global petroleum investment.
Bringing people like Ghanem back will depend to a great extent on whether rebels will be willing to put aside their differences and take a practical view of Libya’s future.
Judging by realities on the ground, it won’t be easy.
Take the Western Mountains region, where rebels recently made the most dramatic gains in months.
The fighters showed far more discipline as they swept through towns and villages in the plains and eventually reached Zawiyah, about a 30 minute drive from Tripoli.
Beneath the surface, the rebels were torn apart by divisions and factionalism. Berber and Arab villages look at each other with disdain.
Rebels refer to themselves as the fighters from village x or village y, not the rebels of Libya. When journalists want to reach frontlines, they are told to get written permission from whichever rebel is in charge of a specific area.
Najjair, an Irish-Libyan who left behind his life as a building contractor to take up arms against Gaddafi, constantly went on about how his Tripoli Brigade was the best-suited to seize the capital because its members were all from Tripoli.
“We are the most organized. But we get the least help from the other rebel groups,” was his constant complaint.
As the rebels close in on Tripoli, the common cause of fighting Gaddafi could ease divisions.
A hint of what could be in store is the still unexplained July 28 killing of the rebels’ military commander, Abdel Fattah Younes, a former top Gaddafi security official, after he was taken into custody by his own side for questioning.
The killing has raised fears that the NTC is too weak and fractured to halt a slide into bloodshed as rival factions, including Islamists, bid for power.
An increasing number of fighters in the Western Mountains, for instance, are growing long, thick beards, the trademark of Islamists who are likely to reject close ties with the West in a new Libya, while others cry out for foreign investment.
They may also argue that the rebels from the Western Mountains and the city of Misrata should be given the most powerful positions in any new government since they did most of the fighting while the ones in Benghazi dealt with administration.
The bitterness was palpable on the frontlines along the desert plains in the West, even though different rebel groups took part in the advance.
The rebels from Benghazi were portrayed as outsiders who were often late in delivering weapons and other supplies to their counterparts.
Rebels in the leadership structure will have to figure out ways to defuse tensions among their ranks while trying to run Libya.
“Talking over Tripoli will be very complex and trying. Just organizing the feeding of the rebels and getting supplies in will be tough, especially since Gaddafi’s people have been busy digging trenches to prepare,” said Bokhari.
“But running the country will be much tougher for the rebels. Finding people who everyone accepts will be the challenge.”
(Additional reporting by William Maclean in London and Christian Lowe in Algiers; editing by Maria Golovnina)
(Reporting By Maria Golovnina)
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The National Interest
August 22, 2011
The head of Israel’s opposition, Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni, had it right when she said last Friday that Israel’s southern border with Egypt was “no longer a border of peace.” She was referring at once to the complex attack across the Sinai border the day before by Palestinian terrorists, which left eight Israelis dead (six of them civilians, including two middle-aged sisters) and two dozen wounded, and to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty of 1979. The purport of Livni’s statement was underlined by Egypt’s announcement Saturday withdrawing its ambassador from Tel Aviv and demanding an Israeli apology for the death of three of its soldiers as a result of Israel’s responses to the terrorist attack. (The Egyptians, under U.S. pressure, subsequently withdrew their threat to recall the ambassador, but are insisting on an Israeli apology and on compensation for the families of the Egyptian dead—though they have said nothing about compensation for the families of Israel’s dead, due to their own negligence.) The Egyptians were also miffed at Israeli criticism of Egypt’s negligence in allowing the terrorist raid, launched from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, to take place.
The raid, mounted by 10–15 Palestinian fighters from the Gaza Strip’s Resistance Committees, led to a flurry of Israeli counterstrikes against terrorists in Gaza and Sinai, and then to terrorist rocket attacks against Israel’s southern cities, including Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Placing the weekend’s events along the Sinai-Israel border in a wider regional context, it can be seen that the popular uprising half a year ago in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria which ousted the 30-year-old regime of President Hosni Mubarak is steadily, perhaps inexorably, leading to the unraveling of the peaceful, if very formal, relations that have reigned between the two countries since Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signed the treaty on the White House lawn. Such an unraveling bodes ill for the future of Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Muslim relations more generally.
The Egyptian populace, much of it supportive of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic Islamist parties, has been educated to hate Israel since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, as much by the propeace regimes of Sadat and Mubarak as by its Nasserist and monarchical predecessors, and it was only natural that the clamor for the ouster of the dictator in the Arab spring would be accompanied by a rise in anti-Israeli agitation, including a call to tear up thae peace treaty.
Hence the weekend demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, which included the burning of Israeli flags and demands for the severance of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. This followed announcements by senior Egyptian officials that three Egyptian security personnel had been killed in the Israeli helicopter strikes in Sinai that followed Thursday’s ambushes of Israeli buses and cars on Route 12, just north of the southern port city of Eilat. The Israelis were targeting the gunmen, who had fled back into Sinai and who allegedly belonged to the Resistance Committees, an ally of the fundamentalist Hamas organization that rules the Gaza Strip. The two groups have in the past jointly attacked Israeli targets, including in the famous crossborder raid in which the Palestinians took Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit hostage four years ago. It is unclear whether Hamas in any way aided the Resistance Committee raid, but Israeli observers noted that such a large, complex attack could not have been prepared without Hamas at least knowing what was in the works.
In one of Thursday’s counterstrikes in Gaza, the Israeli Air Force managed to kill the leaders of the Resistance Committees, including the head of its military wing, Abu Awad a-Neirab; in other raids, Hamas was targeted. The Israeli counterstrikes also triggered stone throwing by Palestinian youngsters in East Jerusale which may presage the violence many anticipate when the Palestinian leaders are expected to announce Palestinian “independence” next month.
But the killing of the Egyptian soldiers, who apparently were standing next to several of the Resistance Committee terrorists, may prove more significant. The Egyptians reject the Israeli argument of “hot pursuit.”
The fact is that following the fall of Mubarak, Egyptian rule in the Sinai Peninsula has disintegrated. Egyptians seemingly no longer assiduously block clandestine Iranian shipments of arms into the Gaza Strip through the tunnel system, and the native beduin tribes of the peninsula, traditional smugglers of goods and people (mainly drugs and illegal emigrants from Sudan and Eritrea) into Israel, have prospered. A largely destitute Sudanese-Eritrean community now populates a part of southern Tel Aviv, where it is a source of crime and social unrest.
But more directly threatening to Israel has been the upsurge in Sinai in direct anti-Israeli activities by Islamist and Palestinian groups, some of them backed by Iran, such as the repeated sabotage during the past few months of the pipeline running the length of the peninsula through which Egypt exported gas to Israel (this gas constituted some 50 percent of the fuel that ran the turbines that supply Israel’s electrcity grid. The gas disruption, which the Egyptian government has been unable or unwilling to halt, has meant that Israel has suffered economically and has had to access alternative supplies of gas and coal from elsewhere. One of the charges against Mubarak in the ongoing Cairo trial of the ex-dictator and his family and cronies is that they benefited financially from the gas deals). The interim Egyptian military regime has been extremely sensitive to Israeli criticism of its loss of control in Sinai.
Then came the Thursday attack in which the Palestinian gunmen made their way from Gaza through the Rafah-area tunnels into Sinai and then traveled south, ultimately crossing into Israel just north of Eilat, the Egyptian military in the area aware of what was happening and doing nothing to halt the terrorists. Israel suspects that the Egyptian soldiers may have helped the gunmen, either out of sympathy or for financial gain. Some Israeli survivors of the attack said that the terrorists were dressed in Egyptian army fatigues.
The irony is that a few days earlier, Israel had allowed the Egyptians—by mutual agreement breaching the Sinai demilitarization clause of the peace treaty—to send into Sinai three battalions of troops, with armored personnel carriers, to help restore Egyptian sovereignty and to curb the bedouin and Palestinian militancy. But the Egyptians, as had happened with the gas pipeline, either lacked the will or the competence, and the Resistance Committees’ raid went on effectively and, apparently, on schedule.
The Egyptians are now demanding that Israel apologize and investigate the death of its soldiers. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of recent Pakistani castigation of the United States for killing Osama bin Laden and for hitting Taliban havens within Pakistan in drone attacks.
The difference, of course, is that the peace treaty with Egypt is, or at least was, a mainstay of Israel’s strategic position, whereby it could rely on a safe and peaceful southern border as it confronted Palestinian, Lebanese Islamist and, potentially, Syrian and Iranian threats to the east and north. What with Sinai turning into a lawless center of Islamist militancy and Egypt itself moving steadily towards governance, or partial governance, by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization of the Gazan Hamas, this secure southern border is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhu has now promised to speed up the construction of a sophisticated fence along the border (akin to the existing fence along Israel’s border with the West Bank, often mistaken called by anti-Israeli propagandists the “wall”), scheduled for the end of 2012. Originally, the idea was conceived to stem the flow of the illegal immigrants, most of them Muslims, into Israel. But it is now primarily seen as a means of keeping out terrorists, just like the West Bank fence. And, no doubt, Israeli strategic planners are already mulling over a more general reassessment, which may involve redeploying major IDF combat formations to the south.
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By Jeffrey White and Ehud Yaari
August 19, 2011
The terrorist attack in the Negev threatens to escalate into both a wider Israel-Gaza conflict and an Egyptian-Israeli diplomatic crisis.
The August 18 Palestinian terrorist attack in Israel’s southern Negev Desert is the most serious such incident since 2008. The Israeli casualty toll was nearly forty, including eight dead. Seven of the terrorists were killed as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded and the fighting extended into the night.
The violence represents a major break in the relative calm on Israel’s southern border, with major implications for both the situation in Gaza and Israel’s relationship with Egypt. The focus of military action has now shifted to the Gaza area, and another Gaza escalation cycle may be underway, with an uncertain outcome. Furthermore, the incident is seriously aggravating Israeli-Egyptian relations, with Cairo claiming Israel killed and wounded Egyptian soldiers in the course of the incident.
The terrorist attack was conducted by elements of the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), an organization with close operational ties to Hamas. It was controlled from Gaza and mounted via the so-called “U-route,” by which Palestinian operatives attempt to move from Gaza to the Sinai and then into Israel. The attack itself was carried out along a strip of the Israel-Egypt border north of Eilat along Israeli Route 12, where the road runs very close to the boundary in an area frequently used for illegal immigration and smuggling.
As many as twenty terrorists were involved, apparently divided into several groups acting in concert. They used various weapons, including at least one rocket-propelled grenade, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), explosive vests, and a mortar. Their targets included two civilian buses and several cars, and they used IEDs against IDF units responding to the action. The scope and complexity of the operation suggests careful planning and intelligence collection, significant logistics preparation, and determined execution.
The Israeli death toll included one IDF soldier and one counterterrorism police commando. Six Egyptian soldiers were also reportedly killed, and although the circumstances of their deaths are unclear, Egypt is claiming that some of them were killed by Israeli fire.
The IDF reportedly had general warning of a potential Sinai-based terrorist attack some days before the event, but not specifics regarding time and place. Special combat forces from the Golani Infantry Brigade and the police counterterrorism unit were deployed as a result of the warning and responded quickly to the incident. Some Israeli troops reportedly crossed the border briefly and shallowly to engage terrorists there.
After identifying the PRC as the group responsible, Israel retaliated directly against its leadership in Rafah with airstrikes. PRC leader Kamal Nairab (alias Abu Awad) and four of his lieutenants were killed, including military commander Imad Hamad, who Israeli intelligence believes planned the attack.
More broadly, the incident highlights the challenge Israel faces in responding to threats from the Sinai. Because of the peace treaty with Egypt, Israeli forces cannot operate in the area and must rely on Egyptian authorities to control criminal and terrorist activity there. Even if the IDF has warning of an attack, it cannot do much more than increase its state of alert, reinforce its side of the border, and pass the warning to Egypt. In 2010, Israel began construction of a security barrier along the Sinai border and is reportedly about 20 percent finished. Completion of this project will help but not eliminate the problem.
The Egyptian Dimension
The attack also highlights Cairo’s growing Sinai problem. The vast Sinai Peninsula and 170-mile border with Israel have always proven difficult for Egyptian governments to control, including the Mubarak regime. But the situation has become more chaotic since the revolution, with smuggling, crime, and violence increasing significantly, including several attacks on gas pipelines and a recent assault by some 200 jihadists and Bedouins on an Egyptian police station at al-Arish in the northern Sinai.
Indeed, conditions in the area have been exacerbated by the government’s traditionally poor relationship with the Bedouin population. Cairo has put most of its effort into policing the Sinai’s northeast corner, where its ongoing “Operation Eagle” aims to disrupt criminal and jihadist activity. Yet this focus has left the central area more vulnerable to such problems.
The attack was most likely spurred by internal pressures among Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist groups to strike at Israel. Some group leaders may have believed that such an operation could relieve the pressure while avoiding full-scale Israeli retaliation, given that the attack was not conducted directly from Gaza.
Israeli sources indicate that the operation was also intended as a kidnapping action based on the Hizballah model: that is, a border attack coupled with the seizure of military personnel or civilians. Israeli civilian vehicles using this road are certainly vulnerable to such tactics, though no Israelis were taken in this instance. Moreover, Hamas has never really given up on kidnapping as a strategy, and the PRC aided the group in the 2006 seizure of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The incident, which became a prolonged engagement, has very serious implications. Most immediate is the potential for escalation. Rocket fire from Gaza has already resumed in earnest, with more than twenty launches into southern Israel, several of them hitting populated areas. For its part, the Israeli Air Force has struck multiple PRC and other terrorist-associated facilities in Gaza, in response to both yesterday’s attack and the rocket strikes.
Israel did not immediately strike Hamas-associated targets, however, and the group has not joined directly in the attacks on Israel. Should those conditions change, the cycle of retaliation could expand in intensity and scope.
In addition, the incident has seriously aggravated Israeli-Egyptian tensions. Cairo has officially protested what it claims was the killing of its forces by Israeli troops, demanded an investigation of the incident, and closed the Nitzana cargo border crossing with Israel. The Egyptian chief of staff has gone to the Sinai, and anti-Israel demonstrations have occurred in Cairo and Alexandria. Contacts between the IDF and the Egyptian military continue, however.
Looking ahead, the IDF will need to focus more attention on the Sinai. This is not to say that Israel has done nothing up to now: the barrier project, changes in southern force structure, the issuing of periodic Sinai terrorist warnings, and the agreement to allow Egypt to deploy 2,000 additional troops into the peninsula for Operation Eagle all show that Israel has not been ignoring the problems. But it will now likely devote even more attention to the area. That means more money, more intelligence assets, more rapid construction of the barrier, and probably more forces in the south.
Yesterday’s attack has triggered a strong reaction from Israel, as its perpetrators undoubtedly expected. The situation now threatens to escalate into both a wider Israel-Gaza conflict and an Egyptian-Israeli diplomatic crisis. Controlling this escalation will require careful responses from Hamas, Egypt, and Israel.
Specifically, Hamas must curb any surge in rocket fire by its own military wing and other armed elements. This will not be easy even if the organization actually wishes to do so. Egypt needs to prevent the emotions of the moment from producing a breach in relations with Israel and demonstrate that it is capable of maintaining security in the Sinai. And Israel must weigh carefully the scope and nature of its response. An overly harsh or broad Israeli retaliation could spur further escalation both in Gaza and in tensions with Egypt.
Jeffrey White is a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in military and security affairs. Ehud Yaari, a distinguished Israeli journalist and author, is a Lafer international fellow with the Institute.