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FROM KUNDUZ TO GAZA: WHO IS STIRRING TROUBLE AND WHY?
by Amir Taheri
Asharq Alawsat
May 25, 2007

Kunduz, northern Afghanistan: a series of suicide attacks against civilians and Nato forces breaks the calm that the city has enjoyed since 2002.

Mandali, eastern Iraq: terrorists dressed in military uniforms go on the rampage, killing dozens of civilians and blowing up a few buildings. This ends the peace that the city had enjoyed since May 2003.

Tripoli, northern Lebanon: a little-known terrorist group called Fatah al-Islam (Victory of Islam) attacks the Lebanese army from a Palestinian refugee camp, breaking the peace that the city has enjoyed since 1990.

Jask Peninsula, the Gulf of Oman: small unidentified boats harass a unit of Task Force 150, the 21-nation flotilla led by the US and charged with a United Nations mission of stopping arms smuggling into the Gulf region.

Gaza, Palestinian territories: unknown gunmen break a ceasefire accord worked out by Saudi Arabia between Hamas and Al-Fatah, triggering what looks like a burgeoning Palestinian civil war. At the smear time, the Islamic Jihad, which was not a party to the Mecca accords, resumes rocket attacks against Israel.

What is interesting in all these incidents is that none involved the usual suspects.

Let's start with Kunduz, the only Pushtun majority city in northern Afghanistan. But the attacks it has seen in recent days did not come from the Taliban that has never had a real base of support there.

So, who was behind the attacks? The answer is: Hizb Islami, a Pushtun radical group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. And where does Hekmatyar operate from? Well, he owns a tracking business in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and has been protected, armed and financed by Tehran since 1992.

What about Mandali? This is a Shi'ite Luri majority city and has enjoyed the reputation of being the calmest place in Iraq since liberation. It is virtually impossible for Al Qaeda or any of the other Sunni terror outfits to enter it without being spotted immediately. So how did the terror unit manage to come, kill and flee? The answer may lie in the fact that Mandali is close to the border with Iran, and it was in that direction that the terrorists escaped after their murderous operation.

As for Tripoli, the stronghold of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community, it is unlikely that the terror group could find a genuine base within the local population. Fath al-Islam, as everyone knows, a recent actor on the Lebanese scene, consists almost exclusively of non-Lebanese Arab fighters. So, how did these men get into Lebanon?

Well, Lebanon has two neighbors: Israel and Syria. So, it is not hard to imagine how these guys got to Tripoli. And is it possible that someone in Damascus would want to push Lebanon towards a new civil war without coordinating with Syria's principal ally, the Islamic Republic in Tehran?

What about the game of cat-and-mouse played by small armed boats against the patrol boats of the multinational force led by the US?

Well, only two navies present in that in that part of the waterway close to the Strait of Hormuz, that of the United States and that of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Would it not be logical to assume that the intimidating boats operate from the Iranian coast and seek shelter there after reach provocative manoeuvre?

The fighting in Gaza is also shrouded by mystery. It is clear that the Hamas government led by Ismail Haniyah did not want it. But it is equally clear that Hamas' "Supreme Guide" Khalid Mishaal, who lives in Damascus and listens to Tehran, believes that a big showdown is coming between the " Infidel" led by the US and the "forces of Islamic revolution" led by Iran and that his movement must put itself on the right side. As for Islamic Jihad, everyone knows that it was created wit Iranian money in the mid-1980s ad has always been Tehran's principal Palestinian client.

All this, of course, may sound like circumstantial evidence at present. But a careful reading of recent statements made by the Khomeinsit leadership in Tehran would show that the Islamic Republic an is regional allies, including Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Hizb Islami and a dozen lesser-known radical outfits have decided to pass on a message.

The message has three themes.

The first is that radical Islam in the region is not controlled solely by Al Qaeda and its allied groups and that the Khomeinist movement and its clients remain as potent as ever. The second theme is that efforts by the US to build a regional alliance against Tehran will provoke Khomeinist counter-attacks across the Middle East. The third theme is that Tehran regards the forthcoming negotiations with Washington as the diplomatic side of its broader campaign to destroy the Bush Doctrine and drive the US out of the Middle East.

Strategists in Tehran appear convinced that the US retreat will take place within the next two years at most. They are also determined not to allow the US to help shape a regional alliance capable of protecting a new balance of power. This will create a vacuum in many parts of the region, notably Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Tehran cannot allow rival radical groups, especially Al Qaeda and the Taliban, to fill that vacuum. It is, therefore, trying to place its allies and clients in strategic positions from which to claim power in Kabul, Baghdad ad Beirut, among other places.

Early signs show that a long hit summer of conflict, perhaps even full-scale war, is ahead of us in the Middle East. The perception that the US is divided and weak has encouraged the most radical elements throughout the region, including Tehran and Damascus. With what was left of the so-called realists and pragmatists on the defensive everywhere, the radical agenda is unchallenged. As Ali Khamenehi, the "Supreme Guide" of the Khomeinist movement said last week Tehran can deploy suicide-martyrdom groups, a weapon "many times stronger than the atomic bombs used in Hiroshima."

 

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