Friday, November 20, 2015

What are the implications of Russia's intervention for Hizballah? Here you will find some interesting answers:

Hezbollah’s New Ally In Syria 
by Nour Samaha, Newsweek Middle East
Russia’s involvement has also seen an increase of Hezbollah fighters on the ground. Sources close to the party confirm that approximately 2,000 fighters have been added to the battlefield, specifically in the areas around Aleppo and Idlib, in the immediate aftermath of Russian airstrikes, adding more foot soldiers to the thousands already present there. 
“For example, before Russia’s [involvement] there were around 200 fighters in Aleppo and Idlib, predominantly advisors,” said one source. “Now there are between 1,500 and 2,000.”(…)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hizballah is not alone in Beirut's southern suburbs

I have a problem every time read that Beirut's southern suburbs are something like "Hizballah territory". Of course this is true to some extend in a way that the southern suburbs is their power base and there Hizballah is in a league of its own. However, neither are all inhabitants (of whom many are not Shia) followers of the "Party of God" nor are they the only powerful party here. The so far 43 victims of the bombing last Friday in Burj al-Barajna deserve a more nuanced approach.

Here you can clearly see the funeral of a supporter of the  Amal-party. The corpse is covered by a green (the color of Amal) flag and the funeral procession is guarded by uniformed Amal-militiamen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Who is Israel's jailed Druze politician Saʿid Naffaʿ?

Former Druze Knesset member Saʿid Naffaʿ began his one year long prison term on Sunday (see here for a video of the rally in front of the prison). He was senteced for illigally visiting Syria in 2007 along with 282 Druze clerics and meeting the deputy head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) - a terrorist group according (not only) to Israeli law.

in Syria 2007

The details of the affair, which has led to the conviction of Naffaʿ and to none of the 282 clerics, are well known but this is also an opportunity to shine some light on his career and the political tendencies inside the Israeli-Druze community he represents. Naffaʿ is the most profiled politician the non-Zionist Druze faction has produced so far. 

Saʿid Naffaʿ

Saʿid Naffaʿ was born in the all Druze Upper Galileein village of Bait Jann in 1953. Mandatory conscription was introduced for all male Druze except the religious ʿuqqal in 1956 and a year later the Druze became recognized as a distinct sect separate from Sunni Islam. His relative Muhammad Naffaʿ, until recently secretary general of the Israeli Communist Party, was one of the first conscientious objectors and tried to rally like minded Druze (another early objector was Samih al-Qasim). Saʿid Naffaʿ joined the Communist Party at a young age in the 1960's, when the party was the primarily opportunity for Arabs in Israel to voice political opposition. With the Six Day War Arab nationalism was on the rise - also inside Israel's Druze community. While Naffaʿ was jailed for refusing conscription in 1972, the Druze Initiative Council (DIC) was founded on initiative of religious leader sheikh Farhud Farhud. Even though the committee had a strong religious component, it's members were mainly members of the Communist Party. Saʿid Naffaʿ joined the DIC after his release and became one of its leading activists.

In 1977 the DIC joined the newly established HADASH gathering, which is until today heavily dominated by the Communist Party. Later, in the 1980's, Naffaʿ became involved in Bait Jann's communal politics, serving as mayor during the 1990's. Bait Jann, the Druze village with the highest percentage of confiscated land in Israel, was a receptive ground for agitation against the status quo.

During the 1990s, Naffaʿ, like other prominent Druze dissidents e.g. writer Salman Natur, left the Communist Party and the DIC, citing interference by the party in the committee's tasks as a main reason. Naffaʿ founded the Liberal Arab Druze Assembly in 2001, which is competing with the DIC for the same followers. When I visited some veteran Druze activists in 2011, I was assured, that Naffaʿ had more followers than the DIC. Naffaʿ joined the secular Arab nationalist BALAD party led by Christian intellectual ʿAzmi Bishara in 1999 and helped the party to gain a foothold in the Druze community. The relative popularity of Naffaʿ and Bishara among the Druze was partly founded on their ability to organize travel permissions to Syria (Bishara had a good relationship with the Barak government then). The Times of Israel estimates the number of permissions organized by Naffaʿ and Bishara at 10.000, among them 1.000 Druze. Even though these numbers seem way too high to me, there can be little doubt that many Arab Israeli citizens had visited Syria since the year 2000. Even sheikh Muwaffaq Tarif, the head of Israel's Druze religious council, was reportedly planning a trip to Syria shortly before the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011. The exchange between the Druze in Israel and their coreligionists in Syria and Lebanon was a task Naffaʿ tried to stimulate also with the Druze Liaison Council, an organization founded by Druze clerics and himself in 2003.

When in 2007 Bishara left Israel in the light of being accused of spying for Hizballah (although never officially found guilty), it was Naffaʿ who replaced him in the Knesset. He was reelected in 2009 and stayed in the Knesset until the end of the period in 2013. However, in 2010 his political career suffered a serious setback after being thrown out of BALAD. The reason was a meeting with Lebanese Druze leader Walid Junblat, of which he had not informed the party.

More recently he had voiced his support for Bashar al-Assad (like his relative Muhammad Naffaʿ) and also appeared at HADASH-rallies. I don't know if he was fully admitted back into HADASH but current chairman Ayman ʿUda was one of several Arab politicians who accomied him to prison. However, with Naffaʿ serving his term in prison and ʿAbdallah Maʿruf representing the non-Zionist Druze as a Knesset member of the Joint List, Israel's most prominent Druze dissident politician has an uncertain political future.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Prominent proponents of the Eastern Orthodox church in Lebanon come out in strong opposition against the declaration of the military intervention of Russia as a 'holy war' by the Russian Orthodox church. Good, but remember the seat of the patriarch of Antioch is Damascus, not Beirut.

Syria's 'holy war' by Sami Nader, Al Monitor

Sunday, October 25, 2015

New leader of Druze dignity movement announced

Likewise rumors have been circulating for a while but it was officially announced earlier this week: Sheikh Rafat al-Bal'us (Abu Yusuf) is the successor of his assassinated brother Wahid as leader of the autonomous minded Syrian Druze dignity movement. Sheikh Rafat, who was wounded at the bomb attack in September, is obviously still not in best shape. However, the movement is alive despite the elimination of most of its leadership. Even the formation of a new unit, bayraq al-maqdad, was announced. On the same occasion Fahad, the oldest son of Wahid al-Bal'us, also gave a speech in full combat dress, indicating that he might play a leading role in the future.


Rafat al-Bal'us speech

bayraq al-maqdad insignia 

Druze figure takes up assassinated brother’s mantle, Now

BEIRUT – Rafaat Balaous has taken over the leadership of Suweida’s Druze Sheikhs of Dignity movement, issuing a fiery statement blaming the Bashar al-Assad regime for the assassination of his brother Waheed.
“This cowardly operation that targeted one of the symbols of the homeland was carried out with intelligence agency planning at the highest of levels,” Rafaat Balaous said in reference to the September 4 car bombing that killed Waheed. (...)
Despite the accusations he leveled against the Syrian regime, Rafaat Balaous stressed that the Sheikhs of Dignity movement is independent and not on the side of the opposition.
“We are not [regime] supporters or opposition. We are Arab nationalist patriots. Or rather, we are humanitarians,” the preamble of his statement said.

“We forbid transgressions by us and we forbid transgressions against us. This was the plan of our pious ancestors,” he added.

Balaous also stressed that his movement was “not a secessionist project.”

The Druze figure, who is younger than his slain brother, also touched on the issue of young men from Suweida joining the Syrian army.  
“Signing up with the army is a voluntary action and is not mandatory because the fighting in Syria is between the Syrians themselves,” he said. (...)
Edit: In the meanwhile Aymenn al-Tamimi published a very good analysis at Syria Comment (I'm briefly cited as well). Aymenn clears up some points and additionally translated the statement by Rafat al-Bal'us.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New chapter in Kurdish-Israel relations

A new chapter in the (not so) clandestine relationship between Iraqi Kurdistan and Israel. Keep in mind, that there are tens of thousand Kurdish Jews living in Israel today, who might still feel attached to their Kurdish heritage.

A Land With No Jews Names Jewish Affairs Rep
by Judit Neurin, Haaretz

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Some comments regarding an article about Israeli Druze in the Huffington Post

An article titled "The Druze of Israel: Hope for Arab-Jewish Collaboration" by Jonathan Adelman appeared in the Huffungton Post on October 8. Adelman, a professor for International Studies at the University of Denver and frequent contributor to the Huff Post, argues that the Druze should serve as a role model for coexistence with the Jewish state. To some who are familiar with the actual situation of the Druze in Israel this might be a controversial point of view, but everyone is entitled to his/her opinion and it is a valid approach. The article is not problematic because of its line of argumentation or a certain bias, the problem is the accumulation of errors.

The Druze of Israel: Hope for Arab-Jewish Collaboration
by Jonathan Adelman, Huffington Post
In the war-torn Middle East, it is rare to find two groups with different religions, nationalities and histories working together and developing a flourishing relationship. Yet, in Israel the strong relationship between Arab Druze and Israeli Jews shows hope for the future of the Middle East.
It's remarkable even that the 130,000 Israeli Druze, neither Muslims nor Christians, have survived in the Middle East, avoiding the often gruesome fate of other minorities like Christians, Yazidis and Shiites
The Arabic and Hebrew-speaking Druze of Israel have a strong community with their own schools and religious courts. A study showed that 94 percent of Druze youth identified themselves as "Druze-Israelis" loyal to Israel. They live predominantly in northern Israel in mountainous villages with some villages mixed with other Arabs.
Somehow the Druze are not mentioned in the Ynet article linked above...
When a small element of Syrian Druze attacked Israel recently on the Golan Heights, they were condemned by Israeli Druze. In turn,  the Israelis warned the Islamists to stay away from Syrian Druze villages. The 17,000 Druze living on the Golan Heights have been loyal to the Syrian regime but now are increasingly resigned, and probably even relieved, that they are in Israel rather than war-torn Syria.
A small element of Syrian Druze attacked Israel? This is far from reality. On June 23 2015 an Israeli ambulance carrying Syrians, alleged rebel fighters, was attacked on the Golan Heights by residents of nearby Majdal Shams (who are mostly not Israeli citizens). The attack was clearly aimed at the alleged rebels, of whom one was lynched and one nearly beaten to death. However, the paramedics have not been harmed, so this was hardly an attack aimed at the state of Israel. Also the number given of the Druze on the Golan Heights is wrong - according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics over 20,400 in 2009 (1).
  A secret religious group  founded in the 11th century, the Druzes are unique in a number of ways. They revere Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, as their chief prophet and the Tomb of Jethro is located in Israel near Tiberias. Their prophets are Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. They haven't proselytized since the middle of the 11th century. The Druze function as a separate monotheistic religion with a belief in reincarnation. They believe in the unity of G-d and reject iconography. They have no set of rituals and ceremonies.
Only a qualified elite (less than 10 percent of the population) have access to sacred scriptures and read Druze religious literature. There is no clergy and they do not smoke, eat pork or drink alcohol. The women who are widowed or divorced are not allowed to remarry. Unlike Arab women, the majority of Druze women work outside the home.
In fact Israel's Druze community is generally speaking a very conservative society, where most women stay at home. In the words of Ruth Halperin-Kaddari from Bar-Ilan University "(Druze) Woman are generally expected to remain at home, not to study or work outside, and religious leaders have repeatedly ruled that women should not be allowed to drive."(2) Of course nuances do exist and times are changing - also among the Druze. The employment rate of female Druze was estimenated at 22 per cent in 2002 (3), which is higher than in the Muslim community but pretty far from a majority.
Their often mountainous villages provide some protection for the Druze. Having fought the Israelis in the 1948 War of Independence, they switched sides and since 1956 have accepted compulsory military service. They were influenced by persecution before 1948 by Arab nationalists who tried to seize their most sacred tomb, that of Jethro on the sea of Galilee. (...)
To put it short and simple: overall the local Druze did not fight Israel in 1948. On the contrary, a Druze dominated unit of the IDF was sworn in the same year. It is safe to say, that some Druze have actively collaborated with the IDF in 1948, while the majority remained neutral and only individual cases of resistance against the IDF are documented (with the exception of the village of Yanuh). This is almost a  consensus among historians, which can be read in the works of Kais Firro (4) and Leila Parsons (5) - who are merely influenced of the so called "New Historians" - or "classic" Israeli historian Yoav Gelber (6). While they might disagree on many topics, none of them portrays the Druze as "Having fought the Israelis in the 1948 War" - this is simply too far-fetched.


(1) The smallest Golan Druze village, 'Ain Qiniya
, is not mentioned in this table. I used the 1,700 cited in an older CBS-statistic from 2003 - the actual number might therefore be higher.
(2) Halperin-Kaddari, Ruth (2003): Women in Israel: A State of Their Own,  Philadelphia: University Of Pennsylvania Press, p. 284.
(3) See Khattab, Nabil (2002): Ethnicity and Female Labour Market Participation: a New Look at the Palestinian Enclave in Israel, p. 100, in: Work Employment & Society Vol 16, No. 1 (March 2002) pp. 91-110.
(4) See Firro, Kais M. (1999): The Druzes in the Jewish State: A Brief History, Leiden: Brill, p. 36-70.
(5) See Parsons, Laila (2000): The Druze Between Palestine and Israel, 1947-49, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
(6) See Gelber, Yoav (1995): Druze and Jews in the War of 1948, in: Middle Eastern Studies Vol. 31, No. 2 (April 1995), pp. 229-252 .

Thursday, September 24, 2015

French Syria expert Fabrice Balanche published a very informative paper about demographics in the province of Latakia including a couple of great maps via the Washington Institute:

Latakia Is Assad's Achilles Heel by Fabrice Balanche

Extensive piece about situation of Druze in Suwaida pre Bal'us assassination

Mazen Ezzi, editor of the Beirut-based Al Modon online newspaper and author of a series about the early days of the revolution in Suwaida, provides a full length analysis about the situation of the Druze community in Syria. The Arabic version has already been published in July, so the assassination of recently emerged Druze leader sheikh Wahid al-Bal'us (Abu Fahd) is not featured. Nevertheless, Ezzi provides some  interesting points especially regarding Bal'us and his "men/sheikhs of dignity" movement, making it more plausible why the regime might have perceived him as a threat.

The Druze of Suwayda: The Embers of Dissent
by Mazen Ezzi, Al-Jumhuriya English
(...)Al-Balaous accused the Syrian regime of betraying the Druze and then he continued, talking about al-Assad, “If he cannot protect us, we do not want him. We will go to the presidential palace to topple him down.”
A few days later, a statement by the three Sheikhs was issued, excommunicating al-Balaous and his followers on the background of “repeated breaches against religion and the ethics, and religious norms.” (....)
The “Committee of Muslim Unitarian Druze Scholars”, which is under the supervision of the “House of Worship and Culture” in Suwayda Governorate issued a statement refusing the Sheikhdom’s decision against Balaous and describing it as illegitimate religiously speking. The “Committee” stated that the decisions of the Sheikhdom are “quite similar. They have a patriotic appearance but in essence, they are politically profiteering. As for the religious factor, it does not play any role their formation.” The committee declared that it will not implement the excommunication decision, and called everyone not to implement this decision because the reason that incurred this punishment is political, not religious. It aggravated the situation when it declared that the Sheikhdom is not qualified to issue an excommunication because it is “not legitimate nor elected. It does not draw its legitimacy from the sect or its creed.” (...)
Sheikh Wahid Balaous called for religious reform and a council to regulate the affairs of the sect with elected sheikhs on the basis of religious rank and without intervention from others. This call to form a religious council to run the affairs of the sect surfaced for the first time after a great section of the religious body called for it in 1995. The regime, however, continuously refused it; approval was related to a special office that answers to the Presidency. The sect council takes some authority from the mundane side of the Sheikhs’. The Sheikh is left to follow up religious affairs and represents the sect with the government, as in Lebanon.
The remarkable fact about Dignity Sheikhs movement, led by Sheikh Wahid Balaous, is that it was not restricted to religious Druze, which indicates a return of active popular activity, against the will of the regime even though it is not directed completely against the regime itself. The fact that members of the National Defense Militia joined the Dignity Sheikhs movement indicated the strength and continuity of the Druze social contract despite the regime’s attempts to form other parallel bodies throughout the reign of the Baath regime. 
By the way in the same context I also recommend Aymenn Al-Tamimi's great work at Syria Comment on the newly established Druze militias including those affiliated with Bal'us.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

by Nour Samaha, Al Jazeera English
On September 5, Balous, a popular anti-government Druze leader, had just finished eating lunch in a village in Syria's southern Sweida governorate. A short time later, an explosion hit the convoy Balous was travelling in - killing him, his right-hand man, and several others. 
As the victims were arriving at the government hospital, there was another blast at the hospital's entrance. More than 25 people were killed and several dozen more were wounded in both bomb explosions. According to SANA, a Syrian state news agency, someone has since confessed to being responsible for the explosions and to belonging to the Nusra Front, one of the rebel groups fighting to end the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.(...) 
According to Tobias Long, a researcher and analyst on minorities in the Middle East, the Druze have limited options moving forward. "It's too early to tell how the situation will play out; the relationship between the Druze and the government won't improve after this because most will accuse the regime of being behind the assassination," he told Al Jazeera. "But on the other hand, there is no other real choice for the Druze of Sweida." 
This view was echoed by the Sweida residents with whom Al Jazeera spoke. "It doesn't matter how the opposition tries to paint the government," one resident said. "It's not out of love for the government that Sweida residents are behind it; it is out of complete fear of the opposition."

Antoine Lahad 1927-2015

General Antoine Lahad, the former head of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), died already a few days ago in his Paris exile. A retired Maronite general of the Lebanese army from Southern Lebanon, he took over the command of the SLA in 1984 following Major Saad Haddad's death from cancer.
The SLA was for the most time of its existence widely perceived as nothing more than a proxy of Israel and even disliked by many members of the rightist Christian Kataeb and Lebanese Forces. During Lahad's command the secterian composition of the SLA changed from mostly Christian to a more diverse membership with many - often forcibly conscripted - Shiites and Druze within its ranks but the leadership remained mostly Christian. The SLA also operated the prison facility of Khiam, which was notorious for heavy torture. The most famous prisoner was Souha Bechara, who committed an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Lahad in 1988. Lahad was sentenced to death in absentia for murder and torture by a Lebanese court.

South Lebanon Army Commander Antoine Lahad Dies in Paris at 88
by Jack Khoury, Haaretz
Lahad graduated from the Lebanese Army Military Academy in 1952 and served in the Lebanese army. He was close to President Camille Chamoun. In 1989 he was badly injured in an assassination attempt carried by Souha Bechara, a young woman in the Lebanese Communist Party, which supported the Palestinian struggle and opposed Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon. 
Lahad recovered from his injuries but did not regain full functioning, even though he remained the nominal commander of the SLA. In practice he was replaced by Col. Akl Hachem, who was assassinated by Hezbollah in January 2000, an incident that marked the beginning of the SLA’s dissolution.
Not being present during the collapse of the Israeli "security zone" in 2000, General Hummus, as he was nicknamed in Israel, opened a Lebanese restaurant in Tel Aviv and published his memories in Hebrew. Later he moved to France where he died.

Interview with Lahad from 2007 by Israeli online paper Y-Net

In the meanwhile a controversy arose in Lebanon, whether Lahad should be allowed to be buried in his Lebanese home village, the chances are not good...

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The current crisis in the light of Alawite history

Leon T. Goldsmith from the Sultan Qaboos Unuversity in Oman is the author of a recently published monograph on the Alawites of Syria (I've ordered already). A worth reading piece by him about the current crisis of the Alawites in the light of history can be found on the publishing house's homepage.

Is Alawite Solidarity Finally Breaking?
by Leon T. Goldsmith
On 8 August 2015 large crowds of Alawites demonstrated in Latakia in western Syria, with many demanding the execution of Suleiman Hilal al-Asad, a relative of Bashar al-Asad who murdered—mafia style—the Alawi Colonel Hassan al-Sheikh during an apparent road rage incident. While the regime ordered the arrest of Suleiman, who at the time of writing remains defiant and at large, this incident reflects rising Alawite discontentment with the narrow Asad clique which has been at the centre of Syrian and Alawi power since 1970. Alawites have paid a heavy price in lives in the struggle to preserve Asad rule, and they have become increasingly frustrated at the inability of the regime to make good on its promises to defeat so-called foreign-backed ‘terrorists’—a blanket term in regime discourse that encapsulates the moderate opposition and more extremist groups. Back in July 2012 the regime rallied its loyal forces for a mass assault on rebels in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub, promising that this would be ‘the last battle waged by the Syrian army to crush the terrorists and after that Syria will emerge from the crisis.’ (Al-Watan, Damascus, 26 July 2012) This promise proved hollow and the sect’s frustration was shown in Alawite protests following a brutal massacre of mainly Alawite soldiers by ISIS fighters at Taqba airbase in Raqqa province in August 2014. Alawites protested in Homs after a suicide bomber targeted a school in an Alawite neighbourhood in October 2014 killing around forty-one children.
Nonetheless, four-and-a-half years into the Syrian conflagration Alawite solidarity has largely remained intact in support of the Asad regime. Fear of majoritarian Sunni revanchism—perceived or real—has welded the community to the regime and seemingly intertwined their fates. But while many observers rarely differentiate greatly between the 1000-year-old Shi’a-derived Alawite sect and the fifty-two-year-old Ba’athist regime, the picture is not so simple. To suggest that the conflict is a zero sum game between the opposition groups and the Alawites (alongside other minorities) ignores much of historical reality. History would in fact suggest that a turning point could emerge in the near to medium term where Alawites may look to extricate their interests from those of Bashar al-Asad and his inner core. Rather than a turn to the opposition this would actually reflect a narrowing of Alawite interests and an impulse to activate longstanding pragmatic methods of communal survival. (...)
After giving a historical overview of Alawite survival strategies the author presents his main argument, namely that the Alawites might get rid of Assad to prevent further extential harm to the community.
Since 2012 Alawites have been relocating out of the cities of the Syrian interior and heading for the relative safety of the coast and mountains of north-west Syria. This retreat may prove to be only a temporary reprieve, however. If Bashar al-Asad loses control of Damascus and retreats back to Latakia or the Asad clan’s home village of Qurdaha the various opposition factions, including those extremist groups bent on extinguishing the ‘heretic’ Alawites from Syria, will bear down on the coastal region. For Alawites, their chances of finding a secure place in a new Syria could be enhanced if they sought separate accommodation with the moderate Syrian opposition—including the remaining Free Syrian Army forces in the north and the Southern Front opposition formations in the south—and distanced themselves from Bashar al-Asad similarly to the way that Alawites gave up Ismail Khayr Bey to the Ottomans in the 1850s. Many Alawites have no love for Asad and would be happy to make the transaction. The previously influential Kana’an clan from B’hamra, for example, have never forgiven him for the thinly veiled ‘suicides’ in 2005 of their patriarch Ghazi Kana’an and his brother ‘Ali—Ghazi was found dead in his interior ministry office and Ali on a railway line.
It's a valid point of view but also very optimistic regarding an alternative to Assad i.e. the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The latter has proven to be very weak compared to Islamist militias - especially in the north. In fact in many parts of the country the FSA-allied militias are hardly decisive. Even more important is the fact that so far the FSA has  failed to present itself as a credible alternative and to reach out to the Alawites.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I'm cited in the leading French daily Le Monde about the situation in Suweida:

Le dilemme de la minorité druze de Syrie
Par Laure Stephan et Piotr Smolar
Mais pour le journaliste et opposant Fadi Dahouk, réfugié à Beyrouth, cet alignement sur le régime pourrait changer, avec l’essor des Cheikhs de la dignité, une autre milice, formée en 2014 par un religieux druze, cheikh Ouadih Al-Bal’ous. « Nous sommes contre tous ceux qui nous attaquent. (…) Si l’Etat nous attaque, il sera notre ennemi », affirme le cheikh, qui a pourtant combattu aux côtés du pouvoir. A Soueida, il a obtenu le retrait de points de contrôle militaires. Il a aussi réclamé le retour de prisonniers. « Le fait qu’il ait eu gain de cause et qu’il puisse ouvertement critiquer la corruption ou les services de renseignements indique qu’il a acquis une certaine notoriété, et que le régime ne veut pas se mettre à dos les forces druzes », analyse le politologue Tobias Lang, basé en Autriche.(...)

RIP Wladimir Glasman alias Leverrier Ignace

Wladimir Glasman, one of France's leading Syria-experts passend away. A former diplomat born in Rabat, he was a devoted and outspoken researcher with a strong passion for the Syrian people. Over the last year he occasionally used to sent me links of videos via Twitter, which I later featured on this blog. To a wider audiance he was propably best known for his great Syria blog on Le Monde using the alias of Leverrier Ignace. May he rest in peace. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I'm cited in a report about the Druze in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights featured on Qantara.de, the great online magazine run by Germany's international broadcaster.

Squeezed between occupation and civil war 
Ylenia Gostoli, Qantara.de
(...)Apart from the protest mentioned above, however, most Golanese Druze have distanced themselves from the position of their co-religionists inside Israel.
"Over the last decades, the relationships between the Druze in Israel and those in the Golan has been very cold and distant," said Tobias Lang, a political scientist who wrote a book about the Druze minority (...) "The majority of the Druze in Israel serve in the army and accepted a particularistic Israeli-Druze identity, whilst Golani Druze stayed loyal to the motherland."
"We don't share most of their demands," said Salman Fakhr Edeen, a resident and researcher at a local human rights NGO. "I myself am against the war. To increase killing on the other side, that's not a peaceful position. We are talking about our families, our people."
"It's cynical to talk about economic issues when you compare it to the lives lost," adds Fakhr Edeen, "but it's true that we [in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights] had a lot of benefits from Syrian government, and the regime is losing its influence."
For many years, 400 to 500 young people from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights would cross into Syria to attend university there, encouraged by the fact that there were no fees and that the Syrian government even provided a small monthly stipend. Security concerns have now left students with two choices: enrolling at universities in Israel or going abroad.(...)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Supplement to the 2015 Knesset election

The Knesset election took place already five month ago, but the traditional paper about the Arab voting behaviour from Tel Aviv University's Konrad Adenauer Center is a welcome opportunity for a supplement. The great thing about the paper is, that you don't have to compile the data of Arab villages from the election commission yourself (not fun at all if you are not literate in Hebrew).

Bayan-The Arabs in Israel Issue no. 5, June 2015 (ed. by Itamar Radai & Arik Rudnizky)

Let me just highlight a few numbers:

The Joint (Arab) List led by Aymen Odeh reached 82.4% in the whole so called Arab sector (i.e. Arab villages and towns including Druze and Circassians - mixed cities with Jewish majority like Haifa or Akko not counted). If we add the 0.8% of the minor Arab parties who were not part of the Joint List, the Arab parties achieved 83.2% in the Arab sector. This is a rise of 5% compared to the 2013 election. If we have a comparative look at the 2009 election, when the Arab parties had gained 82.1%, it becomes clear that the 2015 election was hardly a historical triumph for the Arab parties - but rather a good, commendable result.

Druze

The relationship between the Druze in Israel and their Sunni or Christian neighbors has reached an all time low last year, however this is not reflected in the voting pattern. The share of the Joint List nearly remained the same compared to the combined result of the Arab parties in 2013. In fact the share of the Arab parties rose insignificantly to 19.1%, which indicates that their support base in the villages remains stable (even though among the Druze it might be below 19.1% because a share of this voters comes from the Christian and Muslim minorities in some of the villages).

The results of the Druze majority villages:

Zionist Camp 21.8%
Joint List 18.8%
Kulanu 17.9 %
Yisrael Beitenu 16.6%
Shas 7.5%
Likud 6.6%
Yesh Atid 3.6%
Meretz 2.2%
Jewish Home 0.8%.
  • First and foremost this is a disaster for Likud-MK Ayoob Kara, who quite impressively forced himself into the cabinet after the elections. In 2013 the joint Likud-Beitenu ticked had reached 23.2% in the Druze majority villages. It really seems like that even though he is the Druze link to the ruling party and a former cabinet member, he has no pulling power in his own community. Why? We can only speculate at this point. As far as I understand, Kara is often accused of not using his position enough on behalf of his fellow Druze regarding economic issues or disputes with the authorities.
  • The second remarkable fact, is the comeback of Labor which ran jointly with Hatnua as the Zionist Camp. In 2013 Labor had reached an all time low in the Druze villages of 8.2%, even weaker than Hatnua (8.8%). While in 2013 then Labor chairwoman Shelly Yachaimovic had abolished the slot reserved for a Druze candidate, this time a Druze was likely to be elected (he never made it though). Since there was no Druze on a Hatnua ticket on the list and former vice minister Majali Wahabe was also not supported by Livni, I assume that the result of the Zionist Camp has more to do with Labor than with Hatnua.
  • The formidable result of Kulanu isn't a huge surprise, since the party was represented among the Dzuze by ex-MK Akram Hasun. Hasun is the former mayor of Daliat al-Karmal (biggest Druze town in Israel) and for a brief period was also the last head of the Kadima party. In 2013 Kadima had gained 17% among the Druze, so nothing has really changed here apart from the party's name (in 2013 Kadima was only able to re-enter the Knesset due its strong results in some Druze villages).
  • Yisrael Beitenu with Druze MK Hamad 'Amar, who is quite popular with his "less talk more action image", showed clearly that they - and not the Likud - are the preferred Druze choice on the right.
  • Sephardi-Orthodox Shas (2013 at increadible 12.2%) lost nearly half of its share among the Druze but still is a local player in the Druze sector and stronger than the Likud.
Christians

Over the last two years the efforts to recruit the Arab-Christian community into military service have been increased by the former government and "Aramean" as a new national category separate from "Arab" was introduced. In Christian villages we see a trend of decline for the Arab parties. While in 2009 their share had been at roughly 78%, it dropped to 72.2% in 2013 and 70.1% this year.

Here are the results for the four (mainly) Christian villages:


Joint List 69.7%
Zionist Camp 10.3%
Meretz 9.7%
Yisrael Baytenu 2.9%
Shas 2.4%
Kulanu 2.1%
Likud 1.3%
  • We have to keep in mind, that this result only represents the voters of four villages which are entirely Christian or have a Christian majority. The vast majority of the Christians in Israels lives nevertheless in mixed Arab villages or cities. Therefore this result might not be a representative sample of the Christian Arab voter.
  • Is the trend of the decline of Arab parties among the Christians connected to the new government policies? This question is hard to answer but I would assume NO. First, this is a trend which was already occurring in 2013 before the de-Arabization of the Christians got steam. Second, the Zionist parties which gained the most votes among the Christians are the Zionist Union and Meretz. Both are not associated in any way to the latest de-Arabization campaign. The result of the Likud, which was the driving force behind the conscription efforts and the introduction of the Aramean nationality, is extremely low (only 1.3%) and even slightly behind the average of the whole Arab sector.
  • The voting rate (66.0%) of the Christian villages is again the highest among all groups in the Arab sector, we can assume this is connected to the relatively high level of education.
See here for the 2013 results.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Miscellaneous


Syrian Druze:

A Druze Divided: Can Walid Jumblatt Hold the Group Together?
by Noam Raydan, Foreign Affairs

The Syrian Druze at a Crossroads
by Ibrahim al-Assil and Randa Slim, Middle East Institute

Ismailis:

by Haid N. Haid & Bente Scheller, Qantara.de

Maj.-Gen. Muhammad Nassif 1937-2015:

Who Was Mohammad Nasif?
By Mohammad D., Syria Comment


Mohammad Nassif: The Shadow Man of the Syria-Iran Axis 
by Mohammad Ataie, Syria Comment

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Round Up: Tobias Lang on Syrian Druze & Israel

Last week I was cited by a couple of media about the current situation between Israel and the Syrian Druze (in English, French & German):

Syrian Druze plight tests Israel’s policy of avoiding involvement in civil war
Sean Savage, Jewish News Service
“The Druze in Idlib and in the Golan/Hermon-region are in a very precarious situation and such a possibility [of massacres] exists, especially in Idlib. Here the Druze are totally at the mercy of Nusra, even though they have already twice declared their conversion to Islam,” Tobias Lang, an Austria-based political analyst and author of the book “Die Drusen in Libanon und Israel” (“The Druze in Lebanon and Israel”), told JNS.org.(...) 
“With the recent dynamic [of the] the massacre in Idlib, the growing Islamic State activity in eastern Sweida, the pushing of other rebels towards Sweida from the west, and the siege of the Druze town of Hader [in the Golan Heights], the Israeli Druze started to get involved on all fronts,” Lang said. “They are lobbying strongly with their own government, Jordan, and the U.S., collecting funds, and have staged impressive protests in all Druze villages in Israel.” (...)

“[The current situation] reminds me of the early 1980s, when Israeli Druze lobbied quite successful on behalf the Lebanese Druze,” Lang said, referring to the Israeli involvement in the Lebanese civil war of that decade. “Nevertheless, I am not fully convinced that the current leadership around [MK] Ayoub Kara and [Druze spiritual leader] Sheikh Muwaffaq Tarif has the capacity to act in the same independent and rigid manner towards the government of Israel as some Druze leaders did in the 80s.”  (...)

Josh Wood, The National
According to observers of the Druze in Syria, it is the group’s isolated communities in Idlib and the Golan Heights who face the greatest risk at present.
After the killings in Idlib, Jabhat Al Nusra publicly apologised for the incident, but fears remained that similar atrocities could be committed against the sect.
“They have no possible allies there, they are completely alone in a rebel-held area,” said Tobias Lang, an Austria-based political scientist who has written a book about the Druze in Lebanon and Israel. (...)
During Lebanon’s violent civil war, the Druze maintained their security and survival through shrewd diplomacy, timely deal-making and at times brutal military tactics to crush their enemies.
But Mr Jumblatt, the man responsible for maintaining that balance, believes that in today’s Syria fighting will only further endanger the Druze.
“They are totally surrounded by their neighbours, this is why they should reconcile,” he said. “It’s a totally different situation from Lebanon [during the war].” (...)
Stefan Binder, DerStandard.at
Ihr Versuch, möglichst neutral zu bleiben, hat die Drusen in eine Situation manövriert, in der sie zwischen allen Stühlen sitzen. Viele Drusen im benachbarten Israel hoffen daher auf eine Intervention ihrer Regierung zugunsten der Glaubensbrüder in Syrien. Mehrere Entwicklungen, die nicht alle zusammenhängen, hätten dazu geführt, meint Lang: das Massaker in Idlib, die steigende IS-Aktivität in Suweida, wo die meisten Drusen leben, großer Druck durch verschiedene Rebellengruppen auf die Region und die prekäre Lage des von Rebellen eingeschlossenen Dorfes Hadhar, das in Sichtweite Israels liegt.
Weiter angeheizt wird die Situation dadurch, dass einige Drusen in Israel ihre Regierung verdächtigen, mit "Jabhat an-Nusra" zu kooperieren. Dafür, so Lang, habe er noch keine Beweise gesehen. "Dass Israel mit Rebellengruppen entlang der Waffenstillstandszone kooperiert, halte ich aber für erwiesen." Israel versorge syrische Rebellen medizinisch in einem Feldspital aber auch in normalen Krankenhäusern.(...)
Israël interviendra-t-il en faveur des druzes syriens ?
Samia Medawar, L'Orient-Le Jour 
Est-ce à dire que la pression de la communauté druze israélienne pour plus d'implication de l'État hébreu révèle un esprit communautaire prévalant sur le sentiment nationaliste ? Si, pour certains, comme Tobias Lang, politologue, blogueur et auteur, les actions des druzes israéliens ne sont « qu'un élan de pure solidarité (...) similaire à ce qui s'est passé au début des années 1980, lors de la guerre civile libanaise », d'autres vont plus loin. Une « politique identitaire » émergente est en train d'apparaître dans tous les pays de la région, constate M. Abou Zeid. Les différentes identités confessionnelles et sectaires sont en train d'écraser les sentiments nationalistes qui subsistent encore. En Syrie, comme en Irak, ce phénomène n'est pas seulement visible au sein de la communauté druze, mais dans toutes les communautés et leurs différentes branches : chrétienne, kurde, sunnite, chiite, etc. Cette tendance dépasse les frontières et tout ce qui importe demeure l'unité de la communauté. 
En attendant, la possibilité d'une implication israélienne pour soutenir la communauté druze à la frontière est de plus en plus évoquée par une frange de l'opinion publique israélienne et certains médias. « Une intervention israélienne très limitée pourrait, peut-être, avoir lieu dans les environs du village de Hadar, qui se trouve directement sur la ligne de démarcation », avance M. Lang, précisant qu'une telle éventualité ne se ferait que dans le respect de l'entente officieuse entre l'État hébreu et les rebelles syriens, dont certains sont soignés dans les hôpitaux israéliens depuis le début du conflit.(...)
Druze residents in Israel denounce its Syria policy
Nour Samaha, Al Jazeera English
Although Israel has always maintained that it does not interfere in the conflict in neighbouring Syria, many claim otherwise.

Until his arrest in February, Sidqi Maqt, a Druze living in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, spent three years documenting meetings between Israeli army personnel and Syrian opposition fighters, including Nusra Front.
In fact, Nusra's presence along the north is so prominent that, according to one report, Israeli soldiers half-jokingly call the Quneitra Crossing - one of the crossing points between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria - the "Nusra crossing". (...)
According to Tobias Lang, a researcher on religious minorities in the region, Israel has never had a strong interest in helping the Druze of Syria.
"The Israelis have worked out a clandestine or tacit relationship with the opposition groups in order to keep the northern front quiet," he told Al Jazeera. "But the Druze in Israel want the government to help their brethren in Syria, and the government doesn't want further unrest inside the country, especially since the media has sided with the Druze."
"They're only doing it now because of the immense public pressure and media campaign," Lang claimed. "The situation of the Druze in the Golan Heights has been bad for the last two years, especially Hadar, and the Israelis have been watching it unfold and did nothing."(...)


Sunday, June 21, 2015

The current crisis of the Syrian Druze: recommended reading

The news are allover: The Druze in Syria are said to face an existential crisis. This is of course not fully true but it is undeniable that during the last weeks some extremely worrying developments have occurred:

1. ISIS has increased its activity in the East of Suwaida’. They attacked the village of Huquf on May 15, killing six inhabitants including 18 years old Mariana as-Sman. True or not, on Druze social media massive allegations circulated blaming the regime for allowing ISIS into the province. Later ISIS entered the Lajah area between Suwaida’ and Dar‘a and started to fight against rebel forces.

2. This brings us to the next hot spot, the West of Suwaida’ which is currently penetrated by different rebel groups including Jabhat an-Nusra. Especially around the Thula-airbase a fierce battle is fought. Here Druze militiamen are also involved, who had refused to fight in Dar‘a during rebel-offensive earlier this year.

3. The massacre of 23 Druze villagers by Jabhat an-Nusra in the village of Qalb Lawza last week (frequent readers of this blog might remember my earlier analysis on the Idlib Druze).

4. The situation in the Golan-Hermon region, which has been bad for the Druze villages since nearly two years and was only eased in the meantime due to a presence of on the region. Now Hizballah has enough to do in the Qalamun and the Druze are more or less on their own. The village of Hadar (situated directly on the 1973 ceasefire line with Israel) is encircled and subject to heavy shelling. In Israel the public pressure on the government to intervene in favour of the Druze is enormous.


Since I don't have time to present you a proper analysis of the current situation myself (and much is written of disputable quality about Syria's Druze these days), I recommend four articles which stand out in one way or the other:

by Aymenn al-Tamimi, Syria Comment
Al-Tamimi provides a detailed account of the events in Qalb Lawza but also a  analysis of Nusra's policies - its his best work on the Druze so far.
by Makram Rabah, Middle East Eye
A historian and frequent contributor to Lebanese pro-March 14 outlet Now, Rabah gives a sober overview of the current situation and advocates Walid Junblats pragmatic line regarding the Syrian Druze.
by Eyad Abu Shakra, Asharq al-Awsat
In the pan-Arab Saudi-owned daily Asharq al-Awsat veteran Lebanese-British  journalist Eyad Abu Shakra, who is an expert on Druze politics, has an opinion piece discussing the implications of the Qalb Lawza massacre from the viewpoint of the Syrian opposition.

Syria’s Druze: Waging peace in times of war
Hezbollah and Israel's common interest in Syria
by Yossi Melman, The Jerusalem Post
Melman, the leading Israeli journalist regarding intelligence-issues, gives an account from an (Israeli) viewpoint of his metier and is telling some very interesting details I have found nowhere else.
Syria’s Druze: Waging peace in times of war

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Former Syrian-Druze rebel leader dies in Austria

Former Druze rebel dies in car accident 
The Daily Star
A former Druze rebel commander in the suburbs of Damascus was killed in a car accident this weekend in Austria, his friends said. They said Hussam Dib was en route to Germany when the accident occurred. Supporters of the uprising against the Syrian regime praised Dib as the founder of the Bani Maarouf Commandos militia, which attracted rebel fighters from the Druze community as well as other sectarian affiliations in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital. However, Dib’s group, which later changed its name to the Youssef al-Azmeh Brigade, was unable to continue fighting due to funding problems and pressure from Islamist militias. (...)
Hussam Dib announcing the establishmen of the Bani Ma'ruf Commando in late 2012
Swedish Journalist Carl Drott provides a fascinating account of the Dawronoye, a Christian guerrilla force, operating in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Read all about its roots in the Turkish far left of the 1980s, its relationship with the Kurdish PKK and how its caders helped to set up the Syriac Military Council. Noteworthy is how the fighters interviewed were annoyed by the ongoing argument in the diaspora, whether they should call themselves Syriacs, Assyrian or Aramean.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ismaili militia formed in Hama province

Syrian Ismaili town rejects regime militia
by Now

BEIRUT – An Ismaili-populated town that lies on the edge of the Syrian Desert has rejected the presence of the pro-regime National Defense Force (NDF) amid the growing threat of an ISIS attack.

A pro-government militiaman in Aqarib al-Safia, which is located some 45 kilometers east of Hama, said that residents had formed a self-defense unit “after [locals] lost faith in the National Defense Force.”

“They lost faith in [the NDF’s] intentions after [the militia’s] transgressions and acts of theft against civilians in the village increased,” he told Alaraby Aljadeed in an article published Wednesday.

“The regime offered to fund us [and provide] weapons on the condition that the unit was led by a person who was a commander in the NDF,” the militiaman added.

“He is known for his bad conduct and aggression, so we refused the offer.”

“We accepted armament by the regime as long as the self-defense unit is not led by anyone from the NDF.” (...) 
Aqarib al-Safia—which has just under 4000 residents, mostly of the Ismaili faith—lies some 15 kilometers east of ISIS front lines on the edge of the Syrian Desert. (...) 
This seems to be the first Ismaili militia formed in the ongoing civil war. However, no similar activities have been reported so far from nearby city of Salamiya, the center of Syrian Ismailism.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fabrice Blanche from the University of Lyon and one of the leading French experts on Syria published a great overview about The Alawite Community and the Syria Crisis explaining also the basics of the Alawite religion. 

The author has done extensive in-deph research on Syrian Alawites see e.g. his book La région alaouite et le pouvoir syrien.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

During a talk show on Qatari channel Al Jazeera the host Faisal al-Qasim asked the suggestive question, whether if it's permissible to kill Alawite civilians. The irony: al-Qasim himself is not Sunni, he is a Druze native of Suwaida'.



On the same subject (but a bit more suffisticated) read an interesting posting by Sam Heller at Jihadology.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mein Buch "Die Drusen in Libanon und Israel" wurde in der April Ausgabe (Band 110, Heft 2) der Orientalistischen Literaturzeitung von Dimitry Sevruk (Uni Bamberg) besprochen: