The death of Lebanon’s intelligence tsar

By Bilal Y. Saab – The February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will always be remembered as a seminal event that changed the course of Lebanon’s history. It expelled Syrian troops from Lebanon after occupying the country for three decades and freed Beirut from the shackles of Damascus. While the killing of Lebanese intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan last Friday is not likely to create the political tsunami that Hariri’s murder did seven years ago, it certainly has the potential to cause some powerful shocks to an already shaky Lebanese system. Specifically, Hassan’s assassination could lead to the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the explosion of Sunni-Shiite tensions, the violent mobilization of Lebanon’s Salafists, and if things snowball, the country’s return to civil war. Nobody can speak with confidence to the direction Lebanon will go following this massive security incident but all bets are that things in Lebanon will get much worse before they get any better.


It is hard to miss the irony of Hassan’s fate. Seven years ago, he escaped death miraculously. As Hariri’s closest intelligence advisor and office manager since 1995, he was supposed to be with the former prime minister in his motorcade as it passed by the Saint George hotel, ultimately to get blown up. But he was not accompanying Hariri, later explaining to the Lebanese press that he had to take an exam on that fateful day (an alibi many in Lebanon thought was strange). This time, however, he wasn’t so lucky. Just like his former boss, he perished in a massive car bombing in Beirut that shattered his body into pieces.


Hassan was much more than the head of the information branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) Directorate. He was Lebanon’s spy master, the man who knew all the country’s secrets. Tasked with an impossible mission — protecting a heavily penetrated and deeply polarized country from domestic and foreign enemies — he performed superbly and exceeded expectations in a relatively short period of time. His death is an enormous loss to Lebanon and his absence will surely create a huge hole in an already compromised Lebanese intelligence and security apparatus. “The country is now totally exposed to all sorts of threats, he was Mr. Information,” one of his aides told me in a teary voice over the phone two days after the attack.


No career civil servant in the history of Lebanon has done more than Hassan to promote the wellbeing of the country. He inherited a dilapidated ISF Directorate from the Syrian era and singlehandedly reformed it, bringing life and a sense of purpose to a once impotent security institution. Under Hassan’s leadership, the ISF Directorate became the envy of its peers. His supervisor, ISF Director Ashraf Rifi, mentioned to me in his office not too long ago that Hassan revolutionized the craft of data collection and analysis with so few resources and so many political obstacles. Even Hassan’s fiercest critics in the Lebanese press and political scene including Al-Diyar‘s Charles Ayyoub and Al-Akhbar‘s Ibrahim Al-Amin gave him credit for his unique achievements and unparalleled dedication to his job.


Hassan was somewhat of an oddity in the Lebanese confessional system, refusing to play by its rules and often ignoring the political and security consequences of his work (an attitude that ultimately led to his death). As the Lebanese daily The Daily Star rightly put it, he “didn’t stop at the conventional red lines.” Shortly after Hariri was killed in 2005, Hassan led an investigation into his assassination, covering critical technical information that led him to strongly suspect an operational involvement by Hezbollah. His findings were extremely useful to the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), created in March 2009 to investigate and prosecute those responsible for Hariri’s murder. “Without Al-Hassan’s data, we couldn’t have done anything,” one STL investigator told me in winter 2011.


The past two years marked Hassan’s meteoric rise to prominence. In 2010, he ordered the arrest of former Lebanese Army Brigadier General and Free Patriotic Movement official Fayez Karam for spying for Israel and put him behind bars for two years before his allies secured his release. Two years later on the morning of August 9, in what must have been the boldest covert operation Hassan masterfully orchestrated in his short-lived career, he arrested former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha, a man with close ties to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks throughout the country on direct orders from Bashar. In the not so distant past, such arrests of pro-Syrian individuals were unthinkable in Lebanon and people like Samaha were simply untouchable because of their connections to Damascus.


Hassan made no secret of his vehement opposition to the Syrian regime and his loyalty to the Hariri family, but unlike other Lebanese intelligence and security chiefs who are hired to exclusively serve the interests of their communal leaders, he never let sectarian politics dictate his work or stand in the way of his goals. And his record proves it. From 2006 to 2010, he dismantled 36 Israeli spy rings, thwarted 24 bomb plots, and broke several Salafist jihadist cells. That is not the resume of someone who is firmly locked in one political camp against the other. Indeed, whether the threat came from Israel, Syria, al Qaeda, or any other source, Hassan made no distinctions.


Hassan also never hesitated to make politically costly and unpopular calls. In May 2008, he counseled then Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora not to issue an order to shut down Hezbollah’s underground telecommunications network and fire airport security chief Walid Choucair, an ally to the Shiite group, because he knew full well the repercussions of such a decision. And he was right. As it turned out, Hezbollah reacted violently to Siniora’s directives by taking over the western part of Beirut (a move viewed as nothing less than a coup by its political rivals) and following talks in Doha forced the creation of a new government in which it secured veto powers. During Hezbollah’s seizure, it was Hassan who calmed tensions on the ground and coordinated closely with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to stop the bloodshed and extinguish the fires of Sunni-Shiite strife.


But to his opponents, it almost didn’t matter that Hassan was a consummate professional and a true patriot, and it seemed to make no difference what he did or did not do. Because of the unforgiving nature of Lebanon’s sectarian and divisive politics, he was always perceived and treated by his political adversaries — primarily Hezbollah — as a major security operator in the March 14 coalition. In fact, he was viewed as its ultimate guardian, which made him a prime target. That Hassan was close to the Hariris and Saudi Arabia obviously did not help erase this perception. Throughout his career, he established cooperative relations with Arab and Western intelligence services but developed an especially good rapport with Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Riyadh’s spy chief and architect of its national security strategy and foreign policy toward Iran and Syria. Bandar relied on no other person or institution in Lebanon but Hassan for sensitive information and analytical reports. “Riyadh has just lost its eyes in Beirut,” one Qatari diplomat told me over the phone hours after news that Hassan’s assassination was confirmed.


It is almost pointless to ask who killed Hassan. Most Lebanese are convinced that the Syrian government eliminated him because he supported the Syrian opposition, chased down Assad’s cronies in Lebanon, and knew too much about the string of assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese individuals that have rocked Lebanon since 2005. That this accusation and others before it may never be proven is irrelevant at this point (the closest to a smoking gun was held by Hassan himself, which might explain why his enemies wanted him dead). The more relevant questions are what political consequences this heinous crime will usher and whether Lebanon will completely lose its delicate balance.


Much will depend on the reaction of the leadership of the March 14 coalition and more importantly their regional allies, including Saudi Arabia. There have been strong condemnations, protests across the country, clashes in Tripoli, anger in the streets of Beirut, and even attempts to storm the governmental palace, but things could have been much worse, and behind this relative restraint on the part of Lebanon’s Sunni community are arguably Riyadh’s own rational calculations for Lebanon. In short, Saudi Arabia has no interest in starting an open war with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which will most likely lead to a widespread Sunni-Shiite conflict, an outcome that will benefit the Syrian regime. The kingdom is hurt by the loss of a crucial ally in Hassan, but it will most likely bite the bullet (as it did with the killing of Hariri) and focus on working with its regional allies to take on the Syrian regime by continuing to sponsor elements in the Syrian opposition.


Saudi Arabia’s wishes and interests notwithstanding, there is an X-factor in Lebanon that could turn things upside down and alter Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy designs, and that is the popular Sunni sentiment in the country, led today by a furious Salafist community. Hariri’s presence outside Lebanon for personal safety reasons has created a leadership void in Sunni politics over the years which the Salafists have tried to fill, with more successes than failures. While still disorganized, small, and lacking heavy arms, the Salafists, especially their more radical and militant figures that have links to al Qaeda, can stir the pot by igniting confrontations with Hezbollah. To compensate for their military weaknesses, they can form alliances with Syrian rebels operating in Lebanon. The goal would not be to disarm Hezbollah but to provoke the Shiite group enough to react militarily and cause an armed clash that might push regional players including Saudi Arabia to intervene. This would be an ambitious feat, but one that outraged Salafists who see this struggle as an existential one might pursue nonetheless.


To stop this snowballing effect and any attempts by the Lebanese Sunni street to force its hand, Saudi Arabia will urge Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati to step down (Mikati has already expressed his intent to do so but President Michel Suleiman asked him to postpone his decision to prevent total political collapse and deal with immediate security needs on the ground). Other regional and international powers that have a vested interest in preventing further chaos in the region and keeping Lebanon in one piece including Qatar, Turkey, the United States, and even Iran will most likely come up with a negotiated arrangement that creates a relatively neutral government in Beirut until parliamentary elections in 2013. Iran will probably not object to this proposal simply because it does not cause major harm to Hezbollah. Indeed, so long as the next government is not totally anti-Syrian, Hezbollah can live with a technocratic government for the next few months. Furthermore, Hezbollah has every interest in containing Sunni wrath in the streets and in avoiding conflict with a community that has been on the rise in the region since the start of the Arab uprisings, and one way to do that is by agreeing to bring the Sunnis back to government. While it will not be easy to find a “neither March 14 nor Hezbollah” prime ministerial candidate in such heated and polarized political times (ironically Mikati was supposed to be that person), one likely contender is Tamam Salam, a former parliamentarian and minister of culture who hails from an old Lebanese political family that produced his father, Saeb Salam, a politician who served six times as prime minister between 1952 and 1973.


So long as Syria is burning, there will always be a risk that civil war will return to Lebanon. Yet civil war requires that at least two sides have the manpower, will, money, and arms to fight. Hezbollah has all those things, but Lebanon’s Sunnis have little of each, unless they form alliances with other groups and decide to take on the Shiite party. Their regional sponsors also have no appetite in starting a war they cannot finish and might open the gates of hell in the entire Middle East. Because of the mess in Syria and the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, the situation in the region is extremely combustible. Cooler heads will most likely prevail in Riyadh and instruct their allies in Beirut to remain calm. The Saudi (and Qatari) focus shall remain on Syria, the real prize whose fate will change the entire security architecture of the Middle East. Lebanon will be asked to keep absorbing hits until the chips fall in Syria. But how much more Lebanon can take without completely breaking is anybody’s guess.


This article first appeared in Foreign Policy on October 22, 2012 and is being re-posted here.


2012 MEWMDFZ Conference: to participate or not to participate, why is it even a question?

By Chen Kane – One of the main questions the organizers of the 2012 conference on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (MEWMDFZ) are struggling with is whether two major players, Israel and Iran, will attend the meeting in December (if it takes place). The Iranian position on the conference is somewhat of a mystery (I invite my Iranian friends and colleagues who specialize in Iranian affairs to give us their take on Tehran’s stance on the conference); Israel’s, on the other hand, is arguably clearer. Below, I elaborate on Israel’s position on the conference and offer my own perspective on how to move things forward.


A good starting point for understanding Israel’s position is the statement last month by Dr. Shaul Chorev, the Head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, to the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Shimon Stein and Emily Landau’s recent article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is another useful source.


Despite various claims to the contrary, Israel has not officially announced whether it will participate in the conference in Helsinki. That said, Israel has serious issues with the mandate of the conference, as agreed to during the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon).


Let me make this clear: Israel is not opposed to participating in a regional process that has the ultimate objective of ridding the Middle East of all WMD. In fact, Israel participated in such talks from 1991 to 1995 under the framework of the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) working group. However, according to Israel: (1) such a process needs to be regional, rather than international; (2) it should reflect both the current regional realities and threat perceptions of regional states; and (3) it should be neither part of nor tied to the overall NPT process.


The first two concerns were addressed in the 2010 NPT RevCon decision to convene in 2012 a Middle East conference for the establishment of a “Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction”. The third issue remains unresolved.


Some believe that the conference is not an NPT gathering and that it is outside the scope of the NPT. But Israel points out that since the decision to convene the meeting took place during the NPT RevCon, it was agreed to as part of the implementation of the NPT 1995 Middle East resolution, the conveners of the conference are the three depositories of the 1995 Middle East Resolution (the UN Secretary General was added to mitigate this direct linkage), and the facilitator of the Middle East conference, the Finnish Ambassador Laayava, will report to the 2015 NPT RevCon on the progress in implementing the 1995 resolution, thereby making the connection between the regional process and the NPT very clear.


Why does Israel view this as a problem? First, an international body, in which Israel has no say (Israel is not a signatory to the treaty and as such does not participate in any meetings associated with its implementation), makes decisions that have direct implications for its national security. This arrangement also ties the regional process to the NPT PrepComs and RevCons timetables (the RevCon takes place every five years, while their preparatory meetings take place the three years prior to the RevCon). That means that an international body that meets almost every year will have decision-making authority and influence on the regional process. It conflates extraneous, NPT-related issues with the regional security process, which also stands in marked contrast to the creation of the other existing nuclear weapons-free zones around the world. Traditionally, such nuclear weapons-free zones are negotiated by the states in each region, at their own initiative and without outside supervision, pressure, or intervention.


Israel doubts that tying the regional process to the NPT fit the historic and current nature of relations between peoples and states in the Middle East given the fact that four out of the five states that have ever violated the NPT are in the Middle East. Given that subscribing to and compliance with international legal commitments is not seen as a strong suit of most Middle East states, Israel would contend, perhaps a different kind of agreement is needed to be workable and ensure adherence in the region.


Second, Israel has issues with the mandate, objectives, and modalities of the conference as envisioned by the 2010 NPT RevCon. As a country that is not party to the NPT, Israel did not attend the NPT RevCon nor was it party to the negotiation of these terms (there was a junior Israeli diplomat outside of the 2010 NPT RevCon negotiation room who was informed about the decisions, but ultimately was not part of the negotiations). Israeli concerns were addressed the day after the conference closed, through statements made by then U.S. national security advisor, General James L. Jones, and President Barack Obama.


The expressed U.S. position on the conference states the following: (1) in order to be effective, such a gathering must include all countries of the Middle East and other relevant countries; (2) the meeting mandate should come from the countries in the region; (3) the conference is aimed at exchanging views on a broad agenda, to include regional security issues, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction and systems for their delivery; (4) the conference should operate only by consensus of the regional countries, including the condition that any further discussions or follow-up actions would only take place with the consent of all the regional countries; (5) the conference cannot jeopardize Israel’s national security, or single out Israel; and, finally (6) a comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations were identified as essential precursors for the establishment of such a zone, which in itself is a long-term goal.


The U.S. statements crystallize Israel’s main concerns. Namely, that Israel might be subjected to isolation, singled out, or dragged into a process that it has no influence over if majority rule will apply; as a lone Jewish state among many Arab states, it is outnumbered. Moreover, while Iran’s nuclear program is Israel’s top concern, given the behavior of Arab states in other international and regional forums, Israel does not believe regional states will be willing to use the conference (or the follow-up process) to address this immediate threat, or the risk of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.


Third, while Israel respects the priority the United States places on consensus decision-making at the NPT RevCon, it is also wary and concerned about the role Washington played during the 2010 NPT RevCon. Promises made to Israel by U.S. officials about the nature and character of the conference were not fulfilled. Israel feels that its American ally was actually motivated to try and buy Egyptian and Iranian support at Israel’s expense in order to secure consensus for the 2010 NPT Final Document. Moreover, Israel has no doubt that regardless of its participation in the conference Egypt will come to the 2015 NPT RevCon with additional demands to create mechanisms to implement the NPT 1995 and 2010 resolutions. Why does this matter? In Israel’s view, the way in which the 2010 NPT RevCon final document singled out Israel while failing to mention Iran, and the decision to hold a regional conference without the consent of all regional states were just the dress rehearsal before the real show. That Egypt and other Arab states want to isolate Israel.


Israel fears the United States may do the same in 2015. For the United States, reassuring or pressuring Israel about the Middle East conference and the 2015 RevCon has been difficult, given the 2010 experience, the personal animosity and mistrust between the leaders of the two countries, and the fact that Washington is busy with a presidential election.


In conclusion, Egypt is the driving force for convening the WMDFZ conference set for December 2012. If indeed Egypt wants to start a regional process, Cairo should make a phone call to Jerusalem to discuss and negotiate directly on how such a gathering could benefit all sides concerned. Without dialogue and pre-agreement, it seems countries in the Middle East are not truly committed to direct negotiations with each other just yet.





Civil society engagement in Middle East arms control

By Ala’ A. Alrababa’h and Naomi Egel – This article serves as an overview of civil society organizations (CSOs) currently involved in arms control, regional security, and nonproliferation issues in the Middle East. The importance of the role of regional CSOs in such areas cannot be overstated and will continue to grow given the deadlock in multilateral negotiations at the official level.



The CSOs


The Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS)[i] emphasizes capacity-building and disseminating information to a broad audience. MESIS focuses primarily on promoting energy, environmental and border security using science and technology, but much of its work in these areas is connected to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). MESIS has conducted several workshops and meetings for government officials and scientific and technological experts. These workshops attempt to develop the technical capabilities necessary to implement a WMD-free zone. MESIS’ Radiation Measurements Cross-Calibration Project focuses on improving and standardizing nuclear monitoring and measuring capabilities and, to this end, MESIS held six workshops between 2004 and 2010 to develop a set of internationally recognized standards for laboratory radiation. MESIS also held a workshop entitled ‘Practical Concepts for Safe Disposal of Low-Level Radioactive Waste in Arid Settings’ in 2008 in conjunction with the IAEA.[ii] The workshop was designed for waste management professionals from Iraq and Jordan, but a representative of the Iraqi Prime Minister also attended the workshop. Other MESIS projects have included technology demonstrations and emergency preparedness meetings.


Other CSOs, like the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support (SCWVS)[iii] and the Organisation for Defending Victims of Chemical Weapons (ODVCW)[iv], focus on publicizing the human cost of WMD. These two CSOs, both based in Iran, seek to publicize the damage done by the use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. In 2008, SCWVS presented a display at the Second Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (the only CSO to do so). ODVCW holds an annual general meeting for its members. Also, ODVCW often meets with Iranian government officials as well as with other organizations that focus on chemical weapons Additionally, they frequently release statements and reports which detail the effects of chemical weapons use through personal anecdotes and hold memorials for victims of chemical warfare.

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)[v] has several affiliates in the Middle East. Palestinian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War focuses on raising awareness regarding the dangers of nuclear war and of Israel’s nuclear program, while Physicians for Peace and Preservation of the Environment (Israel) tries to encourage Israel to join disarmament agreements. It also supports all regional peace talks, WMD-related or not, as steps towards creating a WMDFZ in the Middle East. Physicians for Social Responsibility- Iran, partners with the Tehran Peace Museum to create a network of doctors, medical students, health workers, and concerned citizens. They try to promote a culture of peace by raising awareness of the consequences of WMD. They host seminars, meetings and exhibitions, and use the media to publicize their message. They also work to create an international network of physicians and scientists to help survivors of chemical weapons attacks. In addition, like other Iranian CSOs listed previously, they promote knowledge and education related to the connection between war and public health, and highlight the effects of chemical weapons use during the Iran-Iraq war.


The Israeli Disarmament Movement[vi] began as a Greenpeace project in 2007, but exists independently today. It works primarily as an advocacy group, promoting anti-nuclear discourse in Israel as well as Israeli participation in disarmament and nonproliferation negotiations and discussions at the international level. Led by Sharon Dolev, it runs an independent radio program in Israel that focuses on WMD, missiles and disarmament. On August 6, 2012, the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, the Israeli Disarmament Movement held a protest against an Israeli strike on Iran.


The Center for International and Regional Studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar[vii] conducted a research project entitled “The Nuclear Question in the Middle East” from May 2010 to January 2011, and published its conclusions in a report issued in 2012. Members of the working group were affiliated with a variety of universities and think tanks in several Gulf states, as well as Egypt, France, Australia and the USA. The Center also focuses on educational outreach to students: it hosts presentations by regional experts on WMD and in March 2012 conducted a WMD awareness workshop for university students.


The Arab Institute for Security Studies (ACSIS)[viii] in Amman, Jordan works with local, regional and international organizations to analyze and disseminate information related to nuclear weapons and regional security. ACSIS has held several conferences and workshops, including a regional biosecurity conference in 2008, a conference on “Nuclear Energy Proliferation and Security in the Middle East” in 2009, a workshop entitled “Beyond the 2010 Review Conference: Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Security” in 2010 and a workshop on “Laying the Grounds for 2012: Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Security” in 2011. These conferences and workshops have brought together governmental and non-governmental participants both from the region and internationally. ACSIS also hosts a radioactive detection facility which monitors gamma radiation and has labs for chemical analysis. In addition, ACSIS started the Amman Framework to facilitate the establishment of the 2012 Conference on a WMDFZ in the Middle East. The Amman Framework created a “State of the Resolution Framework” mechanism to monitor the status of implementation of the 1995 NPT Review Conference Resolution on the Middle East and to support the outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Currently, ACSIS hosts a blog[ix] on the 2012 Middle East WMDFZ which publishes analyses by both ACSIS members and other nonproliferation and disarmament experts on this topic. Unfortunately, the blog does not seem to have been updated since 2011.


The Protection of Armaments and Consequences Organisation (PACO)[x] is based in Cairo, Egypt. The organization’s goal is to protect civilians against landmines and provide aid to victims of these weapons.[xi] Moreover, the organization works on banning weapons that can be used against civilians, including weapons of mass destruction. In 2005, it organized a workshop in Bahrain on the Mine Ban Treaty.[xii] The workshop was attended by journalists from the 5 GCC countries that have not ratified the treaty (only Qatar had ratified the treaty then, although Kuwait acceded to the treaty two years later). They also try to encourage Arab governments to abide by international laws related to the weapons use, and to accede to various treaties related to arms control. Additionally, PACO  translated to Arabic some of those international treaties.[xiii]



Future steps to be taken by CSOs


There are a number of concrete steps that CSOs can take to facilitate the process of creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. A key step for CSOs is organization: forming coalitions and creating ties between different CSOs working on these issues. Since civil society engagement in disarmament matters is underdeveloped in the region as a whole, existing CSOs should focus on strengthening partnerships in order to stress to states parties and other stakeholders in the international community that CSO can play an effective role. Additionally, many CSOs work on similar projects and could learn from one another through joint capacity-building exercises, or could combine their resources for joint projects and public-awareness campaigns. A CSO coalition should begin by meeting regularly to discuss issues that are of paramount concern to civil society, in order to have topics ready to bring to the 2012 conference on a WMDFZ in the Middle East (especially since an agenda has not yet been set). Even if such a coalition or organization is not formed before this conference is held, it can still help CSOs identify issues to be put on the agenda at future conferences. CSOs like the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which played a key role in garnering public support for the Mine Ban Treaty and drafting the actual text of the treaty itself, have been coalitions of many different CSOs under an umbrella name. Regional CSOs can also learn from the experience of Control Arms[xiv], a coalition of global CSOs that has been a main force behind the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This type of organization within CSOs shows states parties that CSOs are capable, dependable actors worth engaging with.


CSOs should also hold workshops and expert meetings to discuss the technical verification and disposal methods necessary to create a WMDFZ. The Middle East is different from the various NWFZ that have been established. Israel has nuclear weapons, Iran’s nuclear program is controversial, Syria possesses a large arsenal of chemical weapons, and several states in the region have not signed major WMD treaties (including the NPT, CWC, BWC and CTBT). The goal of these technical discussions and workshops should be to identify and subsequently establish the technical capabilities necessary to implement a WMDFZ, so that once the political capabilities are in place, technical challenges will not hinder the implementation of a WMDFZ. The CTBTO serves as an excellent example: while the CTBT still needs to overcome significant political obstacles before entering into force, the CTBTO has the technical abilities to verify any nuclear testing. The technical tools produced by the CTBTO have also been used for several other purposes in the meantime. Moreover, the technical readiness of the CTBTO has strengthened the CTBT, even though it has not entered into force, in the eyes of the international community. CSOs like MESIS and the Amman Institute, which already conduct workshops and trainings for technical experts, could establish programs to work specifically on verification issues.


CSOs should also focus heavily on public engagement; coalition-building of a different nature than the organizational goals described above. This type of coalition-building should involve religious and community leaders, academia and government officials, amongst many other parties. Stronger coalitions would then create a greater impetus within states to engage in negotiations on the proposed zone and to work diligently towards achieving that goal. To this end, CSOs should hold workshops and conferences, preferably on a transnational scale, to raise awareness about WMD in the region and the negotiations for a WMDFZ. Due to their less formal nature, Track 1.5 and Track 2 diplomacy initiatives can often lead to action and change when more traditional Track 1 diplomacy fails to do so. These workshops should educate leaders in a variety of fields, who can then take their knowledge back to their respective communities and disseminate it to broader audiences. Holding these workshops on a transnational scale would allow for stakeholders to create new networks. This is especially true when certain actors cannot meet each other directly due to political tensions between their respective states. Political tensions between states may limit the variety of actors who would be permitted to attend these workshops and conferences in reality. Nonetheless, including many actors from a variety of states in the region must be stressed as a key goal in public engagement and building support. Despite the potential political challenges that might prevent participants from attending, it is important that workshops and conferences on this topic are held in region. After all, this is a regional issue that requires regional actors to resolve it. Holding events in Middle Eastern states will allow a greater number of participants to attend (due to financial and logistical issues) to attend than conferences held at traditional disarmament and nonproliferation venues in New York, Geneva or Vienna would allow. CSOs could also engage the broader public through holding workshops to educate citizens about various issues related to disarmament and arms control. This would start a culture of nonproliferation in the Middle East. Moreover, this would make it possible to hold petitions and public polls that show the demands of regular citizens to encourage arms control in the region. This could be used as a tool to lobby governments to engage in the process of arms control. The Arab uprisings have refocused attention on public opinion in governance and CSOs can play a key role in facilitating public engagement in negotiations and decision-making.



 Ala’ A. Alrababa’h and Naomi Egel attend Dartmouth College and University of California at Berkeley, respectively. Egel and Alrababa’h completed research internships at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies during Summer 2012.
















Axis of resistance: Syrian uprising threatens Hizbullah’s strategic alliances

By Bilal Y. Saab – I re-post this September 2012 analysis, entitled Axis of Resistance: Syrian Uprising Threatens Hizbullah’s Strategic Alliances, with the permission of IHS Defense, Risk, and Security Consulting.




As the conflict in Syria intensifies and the government continues to lose control over its territory due to the increasing strength and size of the armed opposition, scenarios of regime collapse are no longer distant. The question is no longer whether the Syrian regime will collapse, but rather a matter of how long that collapse will take. Regardless of its timing and nature, the fall of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad carries major strategic implications for the future of the Middle East. One actor that will stand to lose tremendously from the increasingly likely departure of Assad and his government’s support is Hizbullah.


Since its establishment in the early-1980s in opposition to Israel’s invasion in southern Lebanon, Hizbullah has received support from two primary benefactors – Syria and Iran. Collectively, the trio have made up the so-called “axis of resistance”, working together to thwart Israeli and Western ambitions in the region. Over time, the relationship between Hizbullah with its chief sponsors has evolved. Initially, Syria took a lead role in developing Hizbullah’s political direction due to the large presence of its soldiers and intelligence officers inside Lebanon during the 1990s. At present, Syria serves more as a key logistics hub and safe haven allowing Iran to transfer critical resources – including weapons and funding – to Hizbullah operatives. This facilitation network presents a threat to Israel’s security, especially if Hizbullah were to start moving strategic weapons across the border into Lebanon.


A rupture in this bond will make life increasingly difficult for Hizbullah. With opposition forces reportedly gathering strength and targeting key Syrian cities including Damascus and Aleppo, Hizbullah is likely to be feeling increased pressure to remove its strategic assets from the country. While there are no reports in the open source confirming such action, another prevailing concern is whether Syrian officials would transfer chemical weapons to Hizbullah if the regime’s fall becomes imminent.


While the fall of the Assad regime will curtail Hizbullah’s involvement in Syria, its ties to Iran will likely remain intact, though the relationship will have to adapt to its changing environment. Iran is the chief provider of weapons, training and funding to Hizbullah, all activities which are largely conducted inside Syria. Without Syria as a key facilitation hub, Iran will be forced to identify a new location – one where it has a good relationship with the government, offers multiple transit routes and is in close proximity to Lebanon. In the short-term, the relationship between Hizbullah and Iran may recede as they seek to re-establish the support network outside Syria; however, their shared opposition to Israel is a common bond that ensures these two groups will continue working together.


Hizbullah’s evolving relationships


The links between Hizbullah and Syria are rooted in the strategic alliance between Syria and Iran – a relationship that has endured for over three decades. From the early-1980s(when Hizbullah was created) to the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, Iran and Syria have collaborated closely as well as competed, sometimes violently, for control over Hizbullah. This tension was largely a result of their differing objectives – Iran was set on spreading the Islamic revolution and projecting its power in the Arab world using its trusted surrogate Hizbullah, while Syria was focused on dominating Lebanese politics and regaining the Golan Heights, which it lost to Israel in the 1967 War. During these years, Syria carried more influence when it came to Lebanese politics and the armed struggle against Israel in southern Lebanon, largely due to its presence inside the country. After signing the Taif agreement on 22 October 1989, which provided the basis for ending the Lebanese civil war, Syrian forces remained in Lebanon to “keep the fragile peace”. Syria was also able to leverage its continued presence to influence Hizbullah activities; in particular, the scope and pace of its participation in Lebanese politics. The Syrians stayed on long after Lebanon’s civil war ended, effectively becoming the political master of its tiny neighbor.


Since 1992 (when Hizbullah participated in parliamentary elections for the first time), Hizbullah’s success in parliamentary elections has seemingly adhered to Syrian preferences of divide-and-rule in Lebanon and making sure no political actor becomes too powerful. In addition to influencing Lebanese politics, Syria placed constraints on the timing and intensity of Hizbullah’s armed resistance against Israeli forces in the south. Syria was able to exercise such control because it had thousands of stationed soldiers and an extensive network of intelligence officers working inside Lebanon. While Syria supported Hizbullah attacks against Israeli targets in southern Lebanon, it did not want to risk a conflict with Israel. Iran’s involvement in Hizbullah’s development during this period centered primarily on religious indoctrination, weapons training, and occasional transfers of finances and weapons.


A central focus of Iran’s foreign policy strategy was to develop a non-Iranian surrogate to execute terrorist attacks on its behalf. The terrorist bombings in Argentina in 1992 and 1994 and the 1996 Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia are just a few examples where Iran leveraged its relationship with Hizbullah to execute terrorism abroad. Syria leaves Lebanon In April 2005, Syria announced that its armed forces had left Lebanon in accordance with United Nations Resolution 1559 (adopted on 2 September 2004), which directed Lebanon to establish its sovereignty over all of its territory and called upon “foreign forces” (Israel and Syria) to withdraw from the country and cease intervening in its internal politics. The resolution also called on all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to disband and declared support for a “free and fair electoral process”. The UN resolution, however, was not the sole factor that forced Syria to end its 29-year stay in Lebanon. The catalyst that ultimately led to Syria’s departure occurred on 14 February 2005 when the motorcade carrying Lebanon’s ex-premier Rafik Hariri (1992-1998, 2000-2004) was bombed in Beirut, killing the former Lebanese official and 21 others. Immediately after the attack, a number of reports pointed to Syria’s involvement. This led to a public uprising in Lebanon on 14 March 2005, known as the Cedar Revolution, made up of one million Lebanese people calling for Syria to leave. The Syrian departure resulted in significant changes to the relationship, although the axis of resistance remained relatively intact. First, Hizbullah regained freedom of action in Lebanese politics and consequently expanded its influence with continued Iranian military and financial sponsorship. At this time, Iran became Hizbullah’s undisputed caretaker, providing the majority of weapons, finances and training. While Syria was able to retain some influence over Hizbullah, its importance to the “Axis” has been as a weapons supplier and central facilitation hub for people and illicit materials transiting to Lebanon.



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“This article was originally published in an IHS Defense, Risk and Security Consulting study on Hizbullah in September 2012. Reposted with permission. Copyright © IHS Global Limited. All rights reserved.”