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Eurasia Security Watch - No. 284

Edited by Jeff Smith and Jacob Goldstein
April 15, 2013

Iran has reportedly been training pro-government Syrian militia groups at a secret base inside Iranian borders. It is allegedly an “open secret” within the Syrian government that the Iranians are helping train at least 50,000 militiamen, although both governments have denied the allegations. A member of one of the pro-Assad militias said of the training that “it’s the same course Hezbollah operatives normally do…the course teaches you the important elements of guerrilla warfare, like several different ways to carry a rifle and shoot, and the best methods to prepare against surprise attacks.” Irregular militia groups have recently played a prominent role in the Syrian conflict; they have branded themselves the “National Defense Army” and operate throughout the country with impunity. (Reuters, April 4, 2013)

Spokesmen for the Syrian opposition have indicated that about 3,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers are being trained to use surface-to-air missiles and artillery by U.S. and Jordanian instructors at a military base in Jordan. An FSA officer told reporters “The Free Syrian Army will be expected and ready to control and administer Syria’s liberated zones…We have been told not to count on international forces or even a no-fly zone.” However, the Obama administration has expressed concerns that some of the 20,000 man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) in Syria may have come from Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals in Libya. Even though the U.S. supports the concept of the FSA establishing a buffer zone along Syria’s southern border, it is unsettled about the possibility of the MANPADS being used against Israel. (The Washington Post, April 2, 2013)

Israeli officials have sharply critiqued the U.N.’s handling of its mandate to assist the Lebanese government in keeping Hezbollah assets out of southern Lebanon. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror, wondered aloud if “Hezbollah [has] avoided bringing any kind of rocket, missile or other arms into southern Lebanon because UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] is there?" He went on to say that because “under their (UNIFIL) mandate, they cannot stop Hezbollah and confiscate its arms, but they can write a report. There has been no UNIFIL report about any weapon of any Hezbollah person since UNIFIL has existed,” he said. Therefore, Israel should take a more assertive and unilateral role in advancing its national security interests. The U.N. responded to Israeli statements by saying that since 2006, the UNFIL has not witnessed any weapons entering southern Lebanon. (Reuters, April 5, 2013)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the possibility of future terrorist activity in the Western Sahara during his meeting with the Polisario Front. The Polisario Front, which represents the Saharawi people, expressed their concern that the wide ungoverned swaths of the Saharan desert might become bases for militant groups. A report to the Security Council stated that “Possible armed infiltrations, gaps in regional security coordination and resource shortages for effective border controls expose military observers to risk,” in the disputed territory. Several European governments have ruled out sending troops to Western Sahara, but are backing a military training force. (Reuters, April 9, 2013)

Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, the head of the Syrian-based al-Nusra Front, has released a statement proclaiming the group’s loyalty to al-Qaeda and “Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri.” Al-Nusra, which the U.S. has already designated as a terrorist organization, said that their behavior in Syria would not change as a result of the merger. The leade-r of the Islamic State in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also announced that his group will join with al-Nusra under the name The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Although the Free Syrian Army has admitted to cooperating with al-Nusra on several operations, it issued a statement saying “We don't support the ideology of al-Nusra.” Observers view al-Nusra as attempting to balance its desire to win the goodwill of opposition groups like the FSA with those groups’ desire to distance themselves from al-Qaeda. (BBC News, April 10, 2013)

Related Categories: Middle East; Iran; Israel

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