Thursday, August 12, 2010

Israel, Jordan Rocket Attacks Raise Specter of Renewed Sinai Violence

James M. Dorsey | 12 Aug 2010

World Politics Review

A recent rocket attack on the twin Red Sea resorts of Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan raises the specter of renewed Bedouin violence in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, where security forces are struggling to fight crime, illegal immigration and terrorist threats, as well as to protect oil and gas pipelines.

In the wake of the attacks, an Egyptian security operation aimed at uprooting militant Palestinian and Bedouin groups as well as jihadist elements confirmed Israeli and Jordanian claims that the rockets had been launched from Sinai. It was the second such attack in four months. Security forces discovered evidence of a misfired Grad-type rocket during the operation that focused on the mountains near the resort of Taba as well as areas near Sinai's border with Gaza that have been declared off limits to foreigners. Days before the attacks, security forces reportedly arrested three men in a bomb-laden vehicle they intended to explode in the resort of Sharm el Sheikh.

Egypt has long had difficulty maintaining law and order in the Sinai, crucial to the country's tourism industry. Bedouin tribesmen operate an extensive smuggling network that tunnels supplies into the beleaguered Gaza Strip and sneaks African migrants across the border into Israel. Tribesmen assisted in a spate of bombings of tourism resorts in the Sinai between 2004 and 2006 in which 145 people were killed. A group believed to be linked to al-Qaida claimed responsibility in 2005 for rocket launched from Sinai at U.S. war ships docked in the port of Aqaba, and Egypt has since announced various arrests of Palestinians seeking to launch projectiles from the peninsula.

Authorities in Egypt and Israel fear that the rocket attacks signal an increase in jihadist activity in the Sinai and radicalization of Bedouin groups. The rocket attacks add to mounting tension on Israel's borders in the wake of the first clash between Israeli and Lebanese forces since Israel attacked the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah in 2006 and as Arab states seek to ensure that the imminent announcement of the results of an international inquiry into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri does not plunge Lebanon into renewed civil strife. The inquiry is expected to conclude that Hezbollah operatives were involved in the assassination.

The rocket attacks were likely designed to maintain pressure on the Egyptian government to make good on promises to address Bedouin grievances and to reassert the Bedouin's role as suppliers to the Gaza Strip at a moment that their business is threatened by Israel's decision to significantly loosen its blockade of Gaza. Bedouin militancy stems from racial discrimination as well as a sense that the government has failed to follow through on promises to invest in economic and social development. Of the $22 billion pledged in 1994 by the government for Sinai development, only $2 billion has so far been invested, primarily in the construction of tourism facilities in the south and in securing the border with Gaza. The Bedouin say they have benefited little from those investments. Tourism is a $10.8 billion business that accounts for one in eight jobs in Egypt.

The rockets were fired barely two weeks after Egyptian Interior Minister Habib Adli met with tribal leaders in a bid to ease tension and fend off Bedouin threats to sabotage oil and gas pipelines, including a natural-gas line that supplies Israel. Adli agreed to release scores of detained Bedouins, including prominent activist and blogger Mossad Abu Fajr. Some 370 Bedouin activists are believed to be lingering in Egyptian jails. Adli also promised to rollback repressive measures and initiate development projects that would create jobs in the Sinai in return for Bedouin cooperation in apprehending terrorists and fugitive Bedouin militants.

In support of Adli's promises, the Egyptian oil ministry announced that it was establishing an oil services company in the Sinai that would create jobs by drilling wells, laying pipelines and building storage tanks across the peninsula. The ministry said half of the company's employees would be local hires. Nonetheless, more radical Bedouin leaders denounced the meeting with Adli, charging that the tribal leaders he met were government appointees who did not represent the local population.

The meeting with Adli followed an ambush of police forces in which tribesmen freed Bedouin leader Salim Lafy. Two policemen were killed in the incident. Lafy and some 30 other tribesmen remain at large and have threatened to attack government installations if security forces continue to raid their homes. The tribesmen also attacked a Gaza-bound humanitarian convoy, set fire to tires near a natural gas pipeline that supplies Syria and Jordan and disrupted trade along the border with Israel.

In a letter last month to an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Masry Al-Youm, fugitive Bedouin leader Moussa el-Dalah blamed the smuggling and violence on the government's treatment of the tribesmen as a security problem rather than as full-fledged citizens with economic and social grievances. "Bedouins are compelled to use violence to show that the use of excessive force to quell us will not work. The government has to find another way to deal with us if it genuinely believes we are part of a single nation with one common destiny," El-Dalah wrote. "We hear about social and economic development, but we hardly see meaning to it here in Sinai. . . . We are forced to use illicit methods to secure a livelihood for the government has left us with no alternative. Instead, it has chosen to shape our communities by handpicking our tribal chiefs and recruiting our younger men as undercover agents."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pakistan Floods Provide Political Boon to Islamic Militants

James M. Dorsey | 11 Aug 2010

World Politics Review

Pakistan's worst flooding in almost a century may well be remembered as much for the magnitude of the disaster as for the fact that it constituted a major setback in the government's efforts -- backed by its Western and Muslim allies -- to defeat Islamist militants allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban.

There is a long list of natural and man-made disasters in Islamic countries in which militant Islamists have garnered popularity by quickly and effectively responding with relief and emergency aid, in stark contrast to governments that were slow to react and unable to provide services to victims. By launching immediate and effective aid operations, the militants bolster their contention that governments perceived as corrupt, authoritarian and heavily dependent on foreign aid cannot be trusted to serve the people. Past disasters in Pakistan itself as well as in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Indonesia and Bangladesh demonstrate that such crises provide an opportunity for militants to build political capital.

This history is repeating itself with the Pakistani floods. In areas where the Pakistani government is competing with militants for control, militant Islamist charities, some associated with groups designated by the United Nations or the United States as terrorist organizations, provided aid to thousands displaced and made homeless by the floods days before government and foreign aid started to arrive. Meanwhile, rather than staying at home to coordinate relief efforts, already unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari visited France and Britain during the floods.

Charities like Falah-e-Insaniyat (Foundation for the Welfare of Humanity), the charity arm of Lashkar-e-Taibe, widely suspected of being responsible for the Mumbai attacks in 2008, have for the second time in five years emerged as the most effective providers of relief in disaster-stricken areas of Pakistan. The charities' performance emulates their success in the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir where their immediate and efficient relief efforts served as a recruitment tool for their militant backers. The 2005 experience did not translate into votes for religious parties in Pakistan's 2008 elections, but the Islamists' latest success with the floods and widespread criticism of the government threatens to undermine popular support for the U.S.-backed government's military campaign against al-Qaida and homegrown Taliban militants in the northwest of the country.

The lesson to be learned from the floods and past disasters is that economic competition with militant Islamists is as important a component in the struggle to defeat faith-inspired political violence as is military strength and law enforcement. An examination of the world's most sustainable and lethal faith-based terrorist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taibe, Palestine' s Hamas, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Taliban in Afghanistan, shows that economic competition may hold the key to substantially weakening, if not defeating these groups.

These groups are effective at providing such aid because they trace their origins to being faith-based service providers. Eli Berman, a former member of the Israeli military's elite Golani brigade who is now a University of California economist, calls such groups "economic clubs." Only at a later stage of their development, and sometimes only reluctantly, did they bolt a military apparatus onto their civil activity.

"The government may defeat the insurgent military cadre, but, with few exceptions, insurgencies do not end until case-specific root causes are addressed: The kind of grassroots support necessary to build and sustain an insurgency is fed on social, economic, and political discontent," concludes a recently published Rand Corporation study on how insurgencies end.

The problem for Western governments and their allies is translating from theory into practice the realization that they need to compete economically, not only militarily with militants. As is evident with the Pakistani floods, the cost-benefit analysis of that realization and the organizational implications it has for U.S. and other Western militaries has yet to sink in. Adapting the organization of armed forces so that they can effectively incorporate economic competition in their strategy is a slow process that contrasts starkly with the speed in which militants like Lashkar-e-Taibe are able to demonstrate institutional flexibility. Western military officials and U.N. and other aid workers grapple in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, with the fact that the military is structured as a fighting machine rather than a development agency and aid organizations are not geared to defending themselves -- a combination of skills and ability inherent to successful militant groups.

Yet, the sooner the United States and its allies like Pakistan are able to adapt to a comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency strategy that involves economic competition, the sooner they will likely produce sustainable rather than immediate but perishable results and the more prepared they will be when disaster strikes next. "Concentrating on capturing or killing every last terrorist (or buying off some warlord to do so) can probably only succeed in the short run, since the underlying conditions of weak governance and/or weak service provision will likely continue to generate new terrorist clubs," Berman argues. "The challenge is then to find a way to sustainably stabilize allied governments in countries currently generating terrorism, not by merely improving their coercive capability but by also enhancing the ability of local government to provide basic services that replace those provided by clubs."