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Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Shiraz Maher, & Edwin Bakker at van Lynden lecture panel

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — a deep look into IS / Daesh from Amsterdam ]
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This video contains some of the most fine-grained analysis of IS / Daesh and the situation in Iraq / Syria that I have seen so far:

  • Eye-witness report from the frontline by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad [0:7:00]
  • Discussion on the appeal of IS to foreign fighters by Shiraz Maher [0:22:15]
  • Implications for Western foreign policy by prof. Edwin Bakker [0:37:36]
  • Panel discussion on Western foreign policy, moderated by Ernesto Braam [0:53:15]
  • Audience Q&A moderated by Ernesto Braam [1:02:40]
  • The detailed description of the mix of local interests present in IS / Daesh provided by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in his initial presentation is very impressive indeed, as are his comments around 1.32.30 about the fifty or so factions working under the IS / Daesh name and umbrella..

    On another tack, one particular phrase he used [0.16.45] caught my attention:

    This is a new breed of militias .. the Shia al-Qaida.

    I recommend the entire 2 hour presentation.

    **

    A few further comments…

    To my ear, this was one of the key remarks from Ghaith Abdul-Ahad during the Q&A:

    The more you bomb, the more you radicalize.

    His remarks from abound the 1.08.00 minute mark up to that quote less than a minute later are chilling in the extreme.

    There’s an interesting question raised from the gallery at about the 1.16.30 mark, asking how US or European citizens volunteering to fight with the IDF differ from citizens of the same nations volunteering to fight in one branch or other of the jihad. Aren’t both of them instances of youth traveling to the Middle East to fight?

    Dr Bakker responds to this question at around 1.29.20 with a story about an uncle of his who fought in the Spanish Civil War. FWIW I imagine that this is an extremely touchy question, and would welcome ZP comments..

    And here’s a key Q&A remark from Shiraz Maher around 1.22.30:

    What should a de-rad program look like? … Some kind of deal needs to be struck: some form of pardon, in return for cooperation, cooperation that leads to active intelligenve, that leads to us gaining a better insight about the threat…

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    I’m particularly interested in this video because I hold a high opinion of Dr Edwin Bakker of Leiden University, having followed his Terrorism and CT Coursera course three times now, the last two times as a TA.

    I recommend his comments here, his analytic work in general, and his Coursera class in particular.

    Interestingly enough for my own purposes, Dr Bakker’s final slide juxtaposed these two images, one from Zhitomar in the Ukraine, the other drom IS / Daesh in Syria, to good effect — in what regular readers here will recognise is essentially a DoubleQuote in the Wild:

    Zhitomir, Ukraine

    and

    Iraq_bodies

    **

    All in all, a most enlightening panel.

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    Infinity Journal on the Strategy of Operation Protective Edge

    Thursday, September 18th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Infinity Journal has an exclusive review up of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge campaign against HAMAS by LTC Ron Tira. Colonel Tira is the author of The Nature of War: Conflicting Paradigms and Israeli Military Effectiveness.

    Operation Protective Edge: Ends, Ways, Means and the Distinctive Context  (Free registration required)

    ….Much of Hamas’ history has been spent under Iranian foster parenthood, even though Iranians are Shiites and Hamas is a member of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. But, in 2011, the outbreak of the civil war in Syria presented the relations with an impossible test: Iran backed the Alawite (non-Sunni) Syrian regime in its bloody war against the rebels – many of whom are theological and ethnic brothers of Hamas. Hamas had to break ties with the Shiites.

    Luckily for Hamas, in November 2011 the Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s parliamentary elections and, subsequently, Egypt elected a Muslim Brotherhood president. An improved replacement for Iran was found. But on July 2013, the Egyptian army ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government. The new military rulers of Egypt regard the Muslim Brotherhood as their archenemy – Hamas included.

    Running out of options, Hamas looked to its nemesis Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a last financial and political resort. After years of disengagement – following the brutal killing of Fatah personnel in Gaza in 2007-8, the Hamas take-over of Gaza and divorce from the PA-run West Bank – Hamas eventually approached the PA and in April 2014 signed the Palestinian Unity Agreement. “Show me the money” demanded Hamas as the ink dried; yet the PA declined to finance Hamas-run Gaza.

    With almost no allies and a financial inability to run Gaza or pay salaries, Hamas was at the brink of collapse. From its perspective, it experienced a near-existential threat. From Hamas’ side of the hill, it had no alternative but to fight its way out of the corner. This hardly resembled the context of the earlier Operation Pillar of Defense.

    Israel’s lack of clarity regarding this unique context was followed by a lack of clarity in defining the enemy. Was it Hamas’ military wing, its exiled political leadership, the organization as a whole, or the Gaza Strip as a de facto state? And in this distinct context, what were the relevant centers of gravity? Hamas’ offensive capabilities, its center of combatant mass and leadership in the inner neighborhoods of Gaza City, the nod between Gaza’s military leadership and Hamas’ political leadership in Qatar, or the popular support of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants? 

    Read the rest here.

    Tira has an astute appreciation for the disadvantages HAMAS labors under as a 4GW/Hybrid/Irregular/Whatever entity also trying to assume the panoply of prerogatives and obligations of a legitimate state.

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    Of visionary rings, chariots — and tanks

    Monday, March 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — responding to Steve Engel‘s comment on my post Purim, or Israel vs Iran redux? ]
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    Steve picked up on the image of the Merkabah, Ezekiel‘s visionary chariot as five wheels with wings in his comment today:

    noting their resemblance to the Olympic rings. Such patterns have fascinated artists and symbolic thinkers across the centuries.

    Thus the Abbot Joachim of Fiore portrayed the three “ages” of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as interlinked rings in his celebrated Liber Figurarum:

    Cosimo de Medici, in the Renaissance, used the symbol of three interlocking “Borromean” rings on a medallion:

    and indeed, Botticelli paints Pallas wearing the Medici triple rings in his painting, Pallas and the Centaur:

    Jan Valentin Saether favors the Vesica Piscis formed where two circles overlap as the visionary aperture in the ninth image of his Viloshin Letters:

    And the Olympic rings, as befits a logo heavily associated with advertising, might be the most banal of them all — had it not been redeemed one night by the gracious moon hanging low under London Bridge:

    **

    But let us return to Ezekiel’s angelic wheels, which are related to early Jewish “mysticism of the Chariot” or Merkabah:

    The Merkabah…

    Can we find some echo of those wheels, perhaps, in the roadwheels of the IDF Armored Corps’s Merkava IV tank? Pictured here is the Mark I, from 1979.

    Production of the Mark IV continues…

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    Furnish: the Dome of the Rock or the Iron Dome?

    Monday, December 16th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — introducing a significant post by Tim Furnish re Israel’s safety, Iran and more ]
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    The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (Picturesque Palestine, 1881, left) and the Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (contemporary, right)

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    Our occasional guest-blogger and friend Dr Timothy Furnish has a new post up at his MahdiWatch blog that I’d like to bring to your attention.

    Here’s his closing paragraph, containing (a) an observation comparing the “end times” significance of Syria and Jerusalem vs Mecca and Medina, (b) a corresponding hint to security analysts, and (c) the implication that Iranian nukes would likely not be used against Jerusalem, since the Noble Sanctuary / Temple Mount with its two great mosques is altogether too important in Islamic eschatological terms to be put at risk…

    Muslim eschatological fervor is boiling over in nearby Syria, as I analyzed on this site in September, 2013. The extent to which Muslims in Israel are aware of, and inflamed by, this is unknown; what is known is that Damascus and Jersualem are much more prominent in Islamic traditions (both Sunni and Shi`i) about the coming of the Mahdi and the subsequent eschatological events than are Mecca and Medina. Therefore, it would behoove Western geopolitical and intelligence analysts—both in and out of government—to put some effort into studying this topic, rather than relegating it to the theater of the absurd or myopically obsessing over what Evangelical Christians think about the end of the world. I would also add that the historical eschatological significance of Jersualem to Muslims is a major argument against the thesis that the Iranian regime wants nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel (I have already argued at length elsewhere that this charge little accords with Twelver Shi`i doctrines): Islam’s third-holiest site is that religion’s most important eschatological locale, and no one is more respectful of such traditions than the ayatollahs in Qom and Tehran. Thus, if al-Quds is nuked or even contaminated with fall-out from a bomb on Tel Aviv, the Mahdi and Allah will not only be displeased but unable to stage the eschatological denouement. The presence of the Domes of the Rock and Chain in Jerusalem is thus, in my studied opinion, an even greater deterrent to Islamic nuclear attack on that city than is Israel’s more prosaic Iron Dome anti-missile system.

    To read the whole thing, go to Domes of the Rock and Chain v. A Dome of Iron: Which Best Protects Israel from Islamic Attack?

    Clever title, that — and a must-read post.

    **

    As a mild reinforcement to Tim Furnish’s point, I’m going to drop in here a part of an earlier ZP post of mine, including two quotes on the close kinship between the Kaaba in Mecca and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, as constituting in some sense the book-ends both of world history and of the history of Islam considered as the final revelation.

    **

    As I’ve noted before, al-Aqsa isn’t just the focal point of the Palestinian / Israeli question, nor it is only the place at which the Prophet alighted from his steed, Buraq, and ascended to receive the divine instructions for prayer in the Miraj — it is also the destination of the Mahdi‘s victorious army in the Khorasan strand of ahadith.

    Indeed, it has been suggested that the Pierced Rock of the Dome of the Rock in al-Aqsa is closely related to the Black Stone of the Kaaba. Kanan Makiya, in his part-fictional part-documentary book, The Rock, quotes Charles Matthews‘ translation of Burhan al-Din ibn Firka al-Fazari‘s Kitab Ba’ith al-Nufus ila Ziyarat al-Quds al-Mahrus (The Book of Arousing Souls to Visit Jerusalem’s Holy Walls) from Matthews’ Palestine: Mohammedan Holy Land:

    Verily, the Kaaba is in an equivalent position to the Frequented House in the Seventh Heaven, to which the angels of Allah make pilgrimage. And if rocks fell from it, they would have fallen on the place of the Rock of the Temple of Mecca [i.e. the Black Stone]. And indeed, Paradise is in the Seventh Heaven in an equivalent position to the Holy Temple (in Jerusalem) and the Rock; and if a rock had fallen from it, it would have fallen upon the place of the Rock there. And for this case the city is called Urushalim, and Paradise is called Dar al-Salam, the House of Peace.

    Indeed, David Roxburgh mentions all these matters, writing in Salma Khadra Jayyusi et al., The city in the Islamic world, vol. 1. p 756:

    This movement corresponded to other efforts — before, during, and after the Crusades — to establish “geo-theological” connections between Jerusalem and Mecca, whose preeminent sanctity was inviolable up until the end of days. Examples linking Mecca to Jerusalem include the Prophet Muhammad’s nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem (isra) and his ascension from Jerusalem to the throne of God (miraj); the underground joining of the waters of Zamzam to Silwan (var. Siloam) during the “feast of the sacrifice” (id al-adha); and the transfer of the Kaba and its black stone from Mecca to Jerusalem during the last days. these various traditions linked Jerusalem to Mecca, sometimes by sets of doubled features, in a near symmetry and in a calendar that will culminate during the end of days.

    So there’s an eschatological dimension to all these parallelisms, too…

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    Fireworks: guns as dual-purpose devices?

    Friday, March 15th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — the merest trifle — concerning things that go flash and bang, with potentially lethal consequences ]
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    It’s exuberance, exhilaration, it’s celebration, it’s party time. It’s dangerous and stupid like the man says, and it’s unfortunate when your neighbors just happen to bear the brunt of it. It’s also pretty much human nature, in some places it’s how you celebrate your daughter’s wedding…

    For your contemplative consideration:

    **

    here’s the video to which the tweet in the upper panel above refers:

    **

    The quote in the lower panel comes from a New York Times Magazine article today, Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?

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