"The Middle Eastern states aren't nations, they're quarrels with borders." (P.J. O'Rourke)

    Once upon a time, the Middle East, or "Near East" (as some historians like to call it), was the commercial and intellectual bridge between Europe and Asia.  It was one of the most cosmopolitan places on Earth, and the birthplace of alphabet, law, commerce, and religion.  The Babylonians and Egyptians were two of the earliest civilizations on the planet.  The Persians (Iranians) came to power around 500 BC until Alexander the Great conquered them, and then the Roman Empire took control, calling the area its Byzantine (Eastern) Holy Roman Empire  The rise of Islam in 510 AD brought Arab rule and two great Muslim dynasties (the Umayyads and Emayyads), which lasted until about 1520 when the area became a battlefield between the Ottoman Empire (Turks), European crusaders, and Arab Muslims.  The Turks won those battles and the Ottoman Empire lasted up to 1918 with Britain and France holding small colonies or protectorates.  After WWI, Britain and France divided the region up.  Following WWII, more dividing up occurred, with Israel being founded in 1948.  Since then, there has been nothing but war and conflict, mostly over territory.  Palestinians primarily want the following territories held by Israel -- the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.  However, the West Bank is what protects Israel from an attack by Jordan and Syria; East Jerusalem has important religious shrines; and whomever possesses the Golan Heights can see a long way into his opponents' lands.

    Economically, the most important resource in the region has been oil.  The Middle East lacked rivers, most transportation was by camel (still is, mostly due to a postmodernist rejection of the wheel), and railways were not built until fairly late in the twentieth century.  American and European investment companies (like Standard, Texaco, Shell, and BP) exploited the region with monopolies.  The foreign-owned monopolies came to a halt with OPEC in 1971 when several Arab states decided to take matters into their own hands and forced an oil crisis in the mid-1970s.  By 1979, and centered in Iran, an Islamic revolution swept the land, and theocratic regimes as well as strict Islamic law became popular, with Iran sponsoring a lot of Palestinian terrorism.  Other states held onto their monarchies, and still others kept a military dictatorship form of government.  Lack of effective political leadership has made the area an isolated, backward region.  Every year, the violence gets worse, or at least the tension.

     Geographically, the Middle East includes the Asian portion of Turkey, the island of Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. The area is not completely settled politically, and 15 nations co-exist in the geographic land bridge region, with 5 more in the northeastern Africa area.  Palestine (named for an ancient coastal people called the Philistines) has never had any precisely defined borders, and in Biblical days was the site of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah; in Roman days was the westernmost province of Syria; in Ottoman days was the Gaza Strip and parts of Lebanon; in the WWI era was part of Jordan (the British Mandate referred to it as Trans-Jordan); and today refers to the PLO/Fatah claim on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (occupied by Israel).  Israel also occupies the Golan Heights, another area with a long, contested history and the only source of water in the area, which is claimed by Syria and Lebanon.  The Gaza Strip consists primarily of refugees and is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with +60% of the people living below the poverty line.  Israel controls all electricity in the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinians control their own telephones and TV. The Islamist group Hamas runs the Gaza Strip, and Fatah runs the West Bank. Every year, Hamas and PIJ operate indoctrination "summer camps" for about 110,000 children and adolescents in the Gaza strip. The Golan Heights is an area of drug, missile, and counterfeit currency production. The West Bank has shootings, stabbings, and bombings.  The following video outlines some of the origins of the Israeli-Arab conflict:             

    The conflict between the Jews of Israel and the Muslim and Christian Palestinians is at the center of Middle East conflict. Peace talks brought Egypt and Jordan into peace treaties with Israel, but violent eruptions and difficult diplomatic questions, including Palestinian statehood, ownership of Jerusalem and the fate of Jewish settlements built on formerly Arab land, continue to prevent a solution. Many Arabs continue to seek Israel’s complete annihilation, and many Israelis reject further compromise with Arab demands. U.S. military and economic aid to Israel (totaling $3 billion a year plus an additional $1 billion thru philanthropy) is construed widely in the Islamic world as a blind bias in favor of the Jewish state. Israel remains in a technical state of war with most of the Arab world, particularly its neighbors Syria and Lebanon.

    Muslim fundamentalism, or the Islamist movement, is rampant throughout the Middle East.  It has always existed in the form of ancient Persian ideology, but came to the forefront with the Iranian Shiite revolution from 1973-1979.  The whole problem stems from the fact that when Prophet Muhammad died in 632 A.D., he left no successor.  His last words were "whomever I am the leader, Ali is the leader."  Some thought this meant one of his followers, Ali, and this group became known as Shi'at-ul-Ali, later known as the Shiite Muslims.  They are the minority in the Arab world.  Most people thought he meant the decision was left to the community to pick a leader.  These people came to be known as the Sunni Muslims, and they are the majority in the Arab world. 

    Arab countries still practice a tribal pattern of governance that dates back to Muhammad's time in Saudi Arabia.  It's known as the caliph-sultan-omar system, and requires a specialized group of jurists, or legal scholars, to interpret divine readings and lend legitimacy to a sultan or omar who then delegates day-to-day administrative duties to a caliph.  The sultan swears allegiance to the caliph, and the caliph then approves the sultan's appointment.  The idea of a nation-state is somewhat foreign to Muslim thought.  They believe that Islam is universal, and recognize few borders.  The 57 nations that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have gone on record saying there's no such thing as separation of church and state in a Muslim country.  The fundamentalist position is a belief in the sacred mission of Islam to rule the world by use of the sword if necessary.  Another group accepts cohabitation with other religions as long as Islam is the world's pre-eminent religion.  A third group, the moderates, advocates co-existence primarily because of the economic benefits it brings. 

    This country (also discussed in the Africa lecture) has historically been the home of pirates, and the population consists of a strange mixture of coastal metropolitans and rural nomadic tribes.  It is a long-established oil-producing state and a member of OPEC (95% of its exports are oil, and the nation's oil reserves are still largely unexplored). After freeing itself from French colonial rule during the 1954-1962 Algerian War of Independence under the guise of a socialist revolution headed by the FLN, it declared itself 99% Sunni Muslim, and has been a seedbed of Islamic radicalism ever since, most notably at the hands of the outlaw Islamic political party known as FIS.  The Algerian model of anti-colonialist terrorism has been emulated by many terrorist groups worldwide, particularly Palestinian terrorist groups.  To this day, the country suffers from an endless cycle of violence which impedes efforts to introduce democracy.

    Algerian terrorism tends to export easily.  For example, in 1994, Algerian terrorists tried to hijack a plane and fly it into the Eiffel Tower.  The most virulent group, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), has been linked to plots against the U.S.  Algerian terrorist cells are believed to be active in Canada, the United States, and throughout Europe.  Several Algerian terrorists have been captured with links to al-Qaeda, planning attacks on major sporting events or U.S. airports.  The U.S. has been trying to improve diplomatic relations with Algeria for years, and the country is heavily burdened with foreign debt.  Although 99% Islamic, the country is unique in that women have the right to vote.  Arabic and French are both spoken there.  However, the nation is filled with Islamic fundamentalists who don't think the country is fundamentalist enough.  Anti-U.S. Algerian extremists operate abroad as international fugitives.  American targets have included the Los Angeles airport in 1999, which was thwarted by U.S. intelligence.  The main Algerian terrorist group that the U.S. has to worry about is the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) which has the strongest al-Qaeda links and global reach.  The Jamestown Foundation dossier on GSPC says that this group regards jihad against the U.S. as a continuation of the war of independence against colonial powers with the U.S. perceived as the "great tyrant."  America's worst enemy, al-Qaeda, regularly praises GSPC in its media propaganda.   

    One might characterize this country as a somewhat flawed experiment in democracy that has grown into a modern marvel of a super-security state.  Israel has always enjoyed a close relationship with U.S. intelligence and defense agencies.  The intelligence connection traces back to James Angleton, head of OSS-CIA counterintelligence from 1943-1975 and a legend (Code names: Mother, Gray Ghost, Virginia Slim).  He was influential in developing a close relationship with Israel’s Shin Bet and Mossad.  Israel has always been able to defend itself by effective intelligence-gathering and preemptive strikes.  Prior to the birth of the Israeli nation, Jewish commandos were trained in British-occupied Palestine. This underground Jewish army had an intelligence branch called Shai (for Sherut Yediot – information service), Israel’s first intelligence agency, lasting until 1948 until the establishment of a military intelligence service (Aman – Agaf Modi’in – information wing), and a domestic security service (Shin Bet – Sherut Habitachon Haklali – general security service). In 1951, the Mossad was created, modeled almost exactly after the CIA.
The Shai provided warning intelligence, the Aman military intelligence, and Shin Bet civilian intelligence. The Mossad, along with the Israeli Defense Force, conduct identity checks and surveillance on suspected terrorists as well as track spies and infiltrators. They regularly conduct assassinations (targeted killings) on terrorist leaders, and are known to use sophisticated methods of interrogation.  Shin Bet took responsibility for the failure to prevent the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin.  The Mossad has captured Nazi war criminals hiding in Argentina. The most famous Israeli exploit was a 1976 raid on the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, known as Operation Thunderbolt. Palestinian skyjackers were hit by a Mossad-led strike team which freed all but four of the 97 hostages.

    U.S.-Israeli relations are generally good, but there are times when the relationship is strained.  Numerous treaties and laws exist which bind the two countries together, such as the 1998 Wye Agreement, which ensures a certain amount of three-way intelligence sharing (with the Palestine side as a partner).  However, sometimes Israeli intelligence goes too far and targets American interests, such as with the Jonathan Jay Pollard incident and a late-1990s suspicion that Mossad has a mole, code-named "Mega," in the White House.  Numerous conspiracies abound about U.S.-Israeli matters.  For example, Gordon’s (1999) book suggests that the Israelis were long blackmailing President Clinton with tapes of his steamy affair with Monica Lewinsky. 

    Israel has attempted to keep terrorists out of its main areas by maintaining client states in border regions. This has the effect of isolating and concentrating terrorists, and the thorn in the side of Israel for many years was the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley, home of many terrorist groups. In order to obtain better intelligence, the Israelis have special long-range patrol units composed of volunteers from various Lebanese factions. Israel and Syria regularly hold talks about peace agreements, and Palestinian leaders regularly press for more Palestinian-controlled areas as well as the ultimate of a future Palestinian state, and the status of Jerusalem, which many sides claim as a capital.  In 2003, Israel started bombing suspected terrorist camps in Syria. 

    Most nations in the Middle East have to deal with a refugee problem that runs in the millions. The most refugees consist of Palestinians, Kurds, and Iraqis. Refugee problems also exist in Kuwait and Bahrain. Many Iraqis flee to Jordan which makes them vulnerable to Jordanian intelligence services or involuntary return to Iraq. Refugees fleeing to Turkey are sent back. Iran hosts an extremely large number of Iraqi as well as Afghani refugees. Egypt has a number of Sudanese refugees on their hands.  Israel sometimes accepts refugees.

    Criminal justice systems in the Middle East leave much to be desired. Israeli criminal justice tends to evolve in the opposite direction of Western justice, for example (Friedmann 1998).  Most middle eastern nations have no independent judiciary or bicameral parliament. Independent newspapers and magazines are virtually non-existent, and journalists are often harassed, arrested, or imprisoned. Intellectuals are persecuted as freedom of expression is restricted, even in university systems. In Muslim fundamentalist states like Iran revolutionary courts and special clergy courts are regularly used to deliver verdicts against protesters and reformers. Comprehensive international economic sanctions in place on Iraq have led to extreme hardships for the people there. Workers are ruthlessly exploited by employers in the Middle East, and women ordinarily don't have the right to work. Child labor is allowed, however, as a form of repaying debt. Only Morocco, Kuwait, and Jordan have participated in the Rome Treaty for the establishment of an International Criminal Court. 

    This country has the largest population of any in the Arab world (71 million), and the capital city of Cairo is probably the most westernized.  The country is 94% Muslim (Sunni), and only 3% of the land is arable to grow any crops.  It relies upon rapidly-depleting oil and natural gas reserves, tourism dollars, and is of strategic importance as operator of the Suez Canal.  It is a military state with a strong warrior tradition, the strongest leader having been Gamal Abdel Nassar, who nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 via the Suez Crisis and promoted pan-Arabism ("Nasserism") in the Middle East based on hostility towards Israel and the West.  Both Nassar and his successor, Anwar Sadat, tried for many years to crack down on any and all extremism (against the Coptic Christians, for instance, but it must also be remembered that it was Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood got started in 1928).   Sadat's assassination in 1981 by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ, sometimes called Islamic Jihad, IJ, or IJO) was a pivotal turning point.  It appears that since then, Egypt has became something of a breeding ground for terrorism.  Sadat was succeeded by Hosni Mubarik who regularly flip-flops on his relations with the U.S. and regularly bad mouths the West through the educational system, the media, and the mosques in order to drum up domestic support.  Mubarik has kept the country under martial law (technically a state of emergency) since Sadat's assassination.  Mubarik's son, Gamil, is being groomed to take over the family dictatorship. Egypt receives a lot of military aid from the U.S., and is known for brutal internal security policing.  They will need it because the Muslim Brotherhood is waiting in the wings and the powder keg is driven by overpopulation, high unemployment, low wages, rampant corruption, and nepotism.

    Previously unknown groups tend to emerge from Egypt, such as al-Wa’ad (The Promise) which were rounded up in 2001 by Egyptian officials and accused them of planning to assassinate key figures and blow up strategic targets.  Well-known groups such as al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG) have long operated in Egypt by targeting police and tourists, but in recent years have had a reversal of ideology and renounced violence (see MEMRI article on Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya Cessation of Violence: An Ideological Reversal).  Egypt’s many terrorist organizations have suffered setbacks following 9/11.  Some Egyptian terrorists captured by the U.S. have been sent back to Egypt for trial.  Egypt itself sometimes imprisons them for a long time, or releases them on the promise they will do no more violence.  Egypt's publishing industry promotes books by terrorists.  For example, fugitive IG leader Rifa’i Ahmad Taha Musa published a book which justifies mass civilian casualties.  The culture and lifestyle of most Egyptians is quite stressful.  Destruction of Egypt’s lucrative tourist industry has been a major objective of domestic terrorists there while exiled Egyptian terrorists (like Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri) carry out international terrorism abroad.  Some of the strongest anti-Americanism in the Arab world can be found in Egypt. There is a tendency among intelligence analysts to over-count the number of terrorist groups in Egypt when there are actually only a small number of loosely-connected, shadowy groups.     

    Persia is the old British name for Iran, derived from the greek "Persis" as cited by Herodot, meaning land of the Pars (an allegedly Siberian tribe who allegedly settled in south central Iran where the state of Fars is right now).  The suffix -ia in latin (which is derived from arabic) is the equivalent of -stan in Farsi, denoting the homeland of whomever's name appears before the suffix.  Iran is a multi-tribal nation, no more Fars than Arab.  Reza Khan officially named the land Iran which literally means the land of the Arian (Aryan), but many conquests later, it appears that the mythical Aryans never existed.  From 1925-1979, Iran was predominantly Western friendly, being ruled by Shah Pahlavi, a close friend of the U.S. and U.K. (some would say a puppet dictator).  The Shah modernized the country but crushed civil liberties.  Khomeini's overthrow of him in 1979 and the Islamic revolution brought Twelver Shiism back into fashion, referring to the twelve descendents of Muhammad's cousin Ali, and the need for theocratic (mullahocratic) rule by Imans, who are believed to be descendants of Ali.  The country plunged into extremism with the Shah's exile and American hostage crisis.  It then fought a war with Iraq from 1980 to 1989 that ended in stalemate, and has since been expressing its lack of fondness for the Saudi Sunni Muslim regime as well as its rampant anti-Americanism.  Within the countryside of Iran are plenty of places that provide safe havens for exiled opposition and terrorist groups.  Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's blog provides interesting insights into Iranian anti-Americanism, which is probably driven mostly by fear of a U.S. invasion.

    Iran has for years provided clandestine arms support for numerous terrorist groups, particularly the Hezbollah terrorist group which operates in Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere to the tune of $20-100 million per year, much of it through bogus religious charitable organizations.  Islamic Jihad and other groups are supported, but the way Iran exports well-trained Hezbollah units practically defines the concept of state-sponsored terrorism.  The size and extent of Hezbollah's capabilities are widely speculated upon, but Iran not only has them to control, but numerous other operatives operating under cover of Iranian diplomatic facilities worldwide, including Mexico City and the United Nations.    Hezbollah's most famous terrorist attacks include the 1983 US Embassy bombing, the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, the 1992 Buenos Aires attack, and the 1994 Buenos Aires attack.  Iran supports terrorism across the board, and at the extreme end, has a special interest in weapons of mass destruction.  They already have the most sophisticated missiles of any Arab country (the Shahab-3), which have an 800-mile range, and the conservative mullahs who run the country frequently make references to blowing Israel off the map with nuclear weapons.  Since 2004, Iran has aggressively pursued development of nuclear weapons.

    Many of Iran's most ruthless and highly-sophisticated operatives belong to their intelligence service (the MOIS—Ministry of Intelligence and Security) and the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) with its subordinate Qods Force division.  The Qods Force is an elite unit of the IRGC (also called the Revolutionary Guards) which has long meddled in the affairs of other nations.  Qods Force was founded in 1990 and reports directly to the Supreme Leader.  It is believed to be the umbrella organization for almost all the shadowy Iranian-supported terrorist cells around the world, including within the U.S.  Back when Qods Force was was called the Lebanon Corps, it was responsible for the 1983 US Marine Barracks attack in Beirut.  The Qods Force is believed to have provided escape and safe passage to the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan after the US invasion there.  In Iraq, the Qods Force provides training and millions of dollars of financial support to two main groups:  Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army; and Ansar al-Islam.  The Mahdi Army is a well-armed Shiite militia group that attempts to control all of Iraq through intimidation, and it is considered the most dangerous terrorist organization in Iraq, even more dangerous than Al-Qaeda.  Ansar al-Islam is a Kurdish Sunni group of Saddam Loyalists who operate on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, their job being to provide a porous border so that Iran can send terrorists into Iraq.  The Qods Force also supports roving bands of Shia death squads within Iraq.  Ironically, the main enemies of the Qods Force are a dissident Iranian guerilla group operating out of Iraq known as The People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI aka Mojahedin-e-Khalq or MEK) which is technically designated a terrorist organization but has cooperated with the U.S. in recent years.             

    This country shares a border with Turkey, which is populated by Kurdish minority groups and contains the Tigris River, which flows into Iraq and is the site of controversial Turkish hydro-electric projects. The border once served as the main pipeline route for delivering Iraqi oil to Europe, but NATO member Turkey shut the pipeline down after Iraq’s Kuwait invasion, and remnants of the pipeline have been destroyed by bombing.  Turkey has crossed into northern Iraq on several occasions to pursue Kurdish (PKK) rebels who have called themselves Kongra-Gel since 2003.  The Kurds are more than an Iraqi minority group, and are, in fact, a forsaken people deprived of their own nation, Kurdistan (Meiselas 2008). Turkey fears the well-armed Kurds of northern Iraq, and there are various Kurdish militias in northern Iraq, including another one which has fought side-by-side with U.S. troops called the Peshmerga

    Iraq is a nation of tribes that exist on top of ethnic (Kurd/Arab) and religious (Sunni/Shiite/secular) divisions. There are about 150 major tribes, containing about 2,000 smaller clans. Most major tribes have kinsmen in Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the other Persian Gulf states and Turkey.  Only about 30 tribes play any significant political role, particularly Saddam Hussein's tribe, the Tikritis.  Saddam's Baath Party came to power in 1968 as a secular movement which considered the tribes outdated, but in the 1980s with the war against Iran, Saddam needed the tribes and courted their favors. After the Kuwait war in 1991, Saddam reached out again to tribal leaders, giving them cash, cars, arms, schools and other bounty to assure their loyalty. Although their loyalties can switch overnight, Iraqi tribal leaders are not impoverished, and their strength is great. The US has worked at every level, overt and covert, to infiltrate, isolate, impoverish and influence Iraq, to diminish or overthrow the regime, finally culminating in a U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.  With ongoing re-building efforts, the U.S. hopes to make Iraq a shining example of democracy in the Middle East.

    There are about 50 different Iraqi insurgency groups (see Wikipedia Table at this link; GlobalSecurity's list; or Who Are the Insurgents), with membership estimated to be about 163,300 (see How Big is the Insurgency), and with about a dozen or so being major guerilla groups, the rest being distinctive, smaller cell-based groups.  Nonviolent resistance groups and political parties are not technically counted as part of the insurgency, but militias are, and most militias are funding by foreign powers.  The main insurgent target of the US has been al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group once headed by al-Zarqawi, but now headed by elusive Abu Ayyub al-Masri (aka Abu Hamza al-Muhajer) who had a bounty on his head even before he replaced Zarqawi. 

    Jordan was run for many years by the late King Hussein, who almost lost his throne in 1970 (Black September) when he appeased the Palestinian Liberation Organization and allowed Palestinian paramilitaries to take over the capital city of Amman while the army was ordered to stay out of town. 60% of the 5 million population are Palestinians who hold Jordanian nationality.  In the eight-day civil war of 1970, King Hussein prevailed and Yasser Arafat escaped to Lebanon disguised as a woman.  King Abdullah, who rules the country now, manages a tense situation involving close ties to the United States and a population and military who might rise up against him.

    Jordan has mostly been a moderating force in the region, and Jordanian authorities have foiled numerous attempts by militants to infiltrate Israel from Jordan.  Jordanian authorities have also retrieved various weapons caches concealed along the Jordanian-Iraqi border after having been smuggled from Lebanon.  Jordanian intelligence closely monitors HAMAS and other terror groups.  When Jordan itself spawns terrorist groups, they usually have short-lived lifespans and exotic names like The Honest People of Jordan, The Nobles of Jordan, and Holy Warriors for Ahmad Daqamseh.  In most cases, these are individuals with a gang or crew.  International terrorists often use, exploit, or claim Jordanian citizenship, or dual citizenship, both Jordanian and some other country.

    This country tends to be a place where random acts of violence occur, but is nonetheless a parliamentary democracy with an elected president and a constitution.  Lebanese politics is quite complex, with Christian parties, Muslim parties, and Socialist (Druze) parties, to name a few.  No fewer than nine political parties were involved in the series of demonstrations, bombings, and assassinations in early 2005, called the Cedar Revolution, which led to the withdrawal of Syrian troups who had been there since 1976.  Hezbollah is a political party in Lebanon, and several other organizations operate there to establish a respectable presence, including the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS), the Palestine Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and several other extremist organizations.  The civilian arm of Hezbollah maintains hospitals, schools, orphanages, and other good projects, and for many years, the militant arm of Hezbollah housed most of its training camps in the Bekaa Valley, a region east of Beirut and bordering with Syria (see map).

   Lebanon, and especially the Bekaa Valley, is a good place for terrorists to hide, since Lebanese law (based on Napoleonic Code) prohibits the extradition of fugitives, and the government does not take adequate steps to pursue cases in Lebanese courts, often claiming the individuals are not in Lebanon or that it does not know their whereabouts.  The Lebanese government also disagrees with U.S.-related definitions of terrorism, and is one of the world's foremost advocates of "freedom fighting" as a term describing terrorism.  A strong number of Syrian troops occupied Bekaa Valley up until 2005, and their presence was legitimized by the Arab League as well as the Ta'if Accord.  A relatively lawless area rife with cannabis production and human trafficking, the Bekaa Valley is also a mysterious place regarded as a "Land of the Gods" with ancient Roman temples, pyramids, and Noah's tomb.  It is also a beautiful, fertile area that once housed the vacation homes of wealthy Arabs.  Parts of Lebanon are bombed out nowadays, consisting of ghost towns and the residue of posters and billboards praising the cause of freedom fighting (terrorism) around the world.         

    Technically, a country within a country (Israel), Palestine consists mainly of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although in some quarters the word "Palestine" refers to anyone anyplace who identifies with the Palestinian cause.  It was ruled for many years by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassar Arafat, who exercised lax management, but occasionally made arrests of some activists.  Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) attacks against Israel are similar to those of Hamas, and include car bombings, shooting attacks, and suicide bombings. In general, PIJ operations are significantly less lethal than those of Hamas, the latter being more supportive of al-Qaeda.  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has recently raised its profile, and despite a lot of morphing in ideology over the years, the PFLP has always been a Marxist-oriented, Che-worshipping group.  Another group, the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) seems to be decreasing in profile, probably because it's hard to outdo itself given its reputation for spectacular things like hangglider shooting attacks and massive smuggling operations.  Some experts say the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is the most dangerous, however, since they are comprised of younger members and have the Yassar Arafat pedigree.  

    Turkey has been suffering from terrorism for at least 50 years, and regular emergency conditions in that country have prevented it from flowering as the parliamentary democracy it should be.  They were the first country in the Middle East to recognize the importance of an independent judiciary and secularized Islam.  Turkey is 98% Muslim (predominantly Sunni), but also has a large Kurdish minority (20%), found primarily in the southeast along the Iraqi and Syrian borders.  Shi'a Muslims, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jews, Catholics, and Protestants can also be found in Turkey.  The Kurds are not really a religious group, but an ethnic group -- the largest ethnic group in the world without a state.  A bloody insurgency has long raged since the 1970s along the Iraq/Turkey border involving the leftist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which since 2003 has called itself Kongra-Gel.  Brutality has been common on both sides. Turkey largely defeated the PKK in the late 1990s, but guerrillas continue to infiltrate the country from the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, and much PKK/Kongra-Gel activity also involves drug smuggling. As NATO’s only Muslim state, Turkey often finds itself isolated in the Islamic world.  It is usually on good relations with Israel and the United States.  Another major terrorist group operating in Turkey is the Turkish Hezbollah (no relation to the Hezbollah in Lebanon), a group of Kurdish Sunni Muslims who attack businessmen, journalists, and policemen throughout the region.  Their trademark is burying their victims in cement, and their fundamentalism involves designating people as either good or evil.

    This is a police state dominated by a socialist, Ba'ath party and a family dictatorship.  Syrian Ba'athism is more pervasive than Iraq's Ba'athism was, incorporating intellectuals, the police, and military corps.  Party security is tightly maintained.  The Al-Assad family has ruled Syria since 1971, and come from a small, mystical Shi'ite tribe called the Alawites, who believe, like the Iranians, that the twelfth Iman (the Mahdi) will come out of hiding on the day of judgment when there will be a destruction/flattening of the Earth.  With few exceptions, Syria does not favor Western policies or interests in the Middle East, and during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria took a number of hostile actions toward coalition forces, such as allowing military equipment, foreign fighters, and evidence of weapons of mass destruction to flow across the border from Iraq.  Syria is Russia's main ally in the Middle East.  Syria is essentially a catalyst for radical Islamic anger in the Middle East and represents the biggest obstacle toward any progress toward democracy.  It has long been supportive of the six anti-PLO Rejectionist Front groups (PFLP, ALF, As-Sa'iqa, Abu Nidal, PPSF, PFLP-GC, DFLP), and it has taken the lead among Arab attacks against Israel since 1948.  Syria occupied Lebanon from 1976-2005, and despite complaints about it, actually did a fairly good job of stabilizing Lebanon.  One of their gripes with Israel has to do with a land grab involving a mountainous region known as the Golan Heights.  Israel and the U.S. regard Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism for their support, along with Iran, of the three radical (anti-Oslo Accord) Palestinian groups (HAMAS, PFLP-GC, PIJ) as well as Hezbollah (which is used by Syria as a surrogate for its terrorism abroad), but the group that Syria controls the most is As-Sa'iqa (also known colloquially as the "Eagles") who have been implicated in a number of terrorist incidents worldwide, including as far away as Austria.  Total count of the terrorist groups supported, minus overlap between anti-Oslo and anti-PLO categories, equals ten (10). 

    Syria's longstanding desire to obtain weapons of mass destruction causes fear throughout the region, and this, along with the safehaven and material support for terrorist groups places them in conflict with most U.S. and Western interests.  There is a lot of spin, disinformation, and misperception about Syria, so it is difficult to characterize this country in an unbiased fashion, but Prof. Landis at the Univ. of OK Syria-Islam page tries and maintains some good links for beginning research.  It is also not unexpected that the Arab Spring phenomena would eventually hit Syria, as it did with the Syrian uprising (2011-present) 

    This country originated in a 1918 revolt carried out by a fundamentalist sheikh named Ibn Saud who exercised power in a part of the interior known as Arabia Deserta.  Today, the country is ruled by the many descendants of Ibn Saud, a 30,000-person royal family (al-Saud) which essentially dominates the OPEC oil cartel and has great influence in the Islamic world because of its stewardship of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam.  Devout Muslims resent any American (indeed, any Christian) presence in Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis export anti-Christian and anti-Jewish textbooks around the world, fund the preaching of hate (creeping jihadism) in Sunni madrassas and mosques, and carry out public executions against Christians, openly gay men, and women who dare to adorn themselves too much.  The kind of terrorism that Saudi Arabia supports is cultural (creeping jihadism or pseudo-terrorism), and involves a clever war of attrition, like quietly trying to get a worldwide law against blasphemy passed (in the U.N.), paying Muslim female college students (in Europe and elsewhere) to wear burqas, and building mosques in places around the U.S. (like near Ground Zero) in order to stir up protest which they then complain is Islamophobia.  Privately, they regard themselves as the vanguard for Muslim global domination while publically, they state they are only interested in peaceful co-existence.     

    Saudi Arabia sits on the world's largest supply of crude oil. During the 1973 oil crisis, they controlled 25% of oil consumed by Americans.  Today, that number is closer to 8%, and OPEC rate hikes of 70% or more are mainly a thing of the past.  In recent years, the Saudi economy hasn't been doing too well, as birth and poverty rates are increasing.  Saudi investment in American corporations is high, as is it's consumption of U.S. goods.  The Saudis tolerate a fundamentalist religious regime, Wahhabism, which quite despises women.  Wahhabism is based on descendants of an 18th century cleric Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, who was fanatically hostile toward any kind of modernization.  If Wahhabism had its way, daily life would be regulated by religious clerics, women would be forbidden to drive and/or wear female clothing, dancing and movies would be outlawed, men and women would not mix in public, and religious police would roam the shopping malls, telling stores to close if anything offensive is found, and ordering bystanders to report to a mosque.  There is an amount of anti-Americanism in the educational and religious institutions, as well as certain amounts of intolerance and dogma deeply rooted among the masses, but all fairness, it depends on which standards you apply.  Saudi Arabia is a complicated society.  Visit any one of the State Dept. Religious Freedom reports for attempts to apply standards, or visit CrossroadsArabia for more perspective.  Since 9/11, given that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabians, and the royal family has balked at US counterterrorism initiatives since then, speculation exists among many Americans about whether Saudi Arabia really supports the war on terror or is, perhaps, a financial supporter of terrorist groups under the guise of humanitarian aid (see A Second Look at the Saudis).  

    This poorest country in the Middle East has long been envious of its prosperous neighbor to the north, Saudi Arabia, and more than a vast desert separates the two countries.  It has better relations with (and a lot more similarities to) Somalia.  An old country with a high birth rate (the average woman marries at age 15 and bears seven children), Yemen pretends to be a democracy but struggles with near-constant instability, fighting three ongoing insurgencies at the same time: a secessionist movement in the South; northern rebels; and an al-Qaeda affiliate.  The modern republic (unified Yemen) was born in 1990 when traditionalist Northerners and Marxist Southerners merged after years of border wars and skirmishes.  President Ali Abdallah Salih has long ruled the country with tribal muscle and patronage.  The bombing of the USS destroyer Cole in Aden harbor in 2000 should have driven home the Yemeni connection to terrorism (if not Yemen siding with Iraq during the Gulf War), but is seems most of the world is willing to give this curious country multiple second chances.  One of the best sources of information on the latest going-ons in Yemen is the excellent Yemen-dedicated blog by Jane Novak, called Armies of Liberation.
 Several terrorist organizations maintain a presence in Yemen, often legally, with open offices you can walk into and pick up literature; e.g. HAMAS, Palestine Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Libyan opposition groups, and Algerian groups.  Yemen, with its many mosques and study centers, likes to think of itself as a beacon of scholarship for fundamentalist Islam, but in fact, it could just as easily be said that Yemen deserves its reputation as a haven for Islamic miltant groups.

    The militancy problem may be due, in part, to the role of Yemeni tribal custom.  There are many tribes (e.g., Sanhan, Mareb, and Jahm, to name a few), and pretty much any rich, powerful person can give themselves the title of "sheikh" (as Osama bin Laden did).  A tribe in Yemen is part of the state.  For much of ancient times to the present, tribes legitimately ran the state, based on some kind of legitimacy theory about the country's inhabitants being descendants of Noah, and that's how Noah said God wanted it).  Tribes in Yemen make up the dominant systems of cultural meaning.  Tribal values infuse the state’s political structure and decision-making.  Political parties are heavily tribalized and the whole system of sultans, sheiks, chieftans, and princes gives the country a semi-feudal character.  Political patronage abounds, and leaders often exploit the tribal system for their own personal gain or rise to power.  This, then, causes disgruntled tribesmen to not infrequently kidnap journalists or visitors in retaliation for betrayal by their own leaders or because of some dispute with another tribe.  There is probably no other place on the planet (with the possible exception of Afghanistan) where more drama plays out in the 21st century battle between tribalism and modernity.  In sum, Yemen remains an enigma to anthropologists and political scientists.  It is impossible to answer the question, Who rules Yemen - the state, the tribe or both?

Is Yemen al-Qaeda's Safest Haven?

     There is an al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Yemen called al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQIY) which is a part of the larger Arabian Peninsula group (or AQAP). It is led by a Yemeni named Nassir al Wahishi who was once a close aide to Osama bin Laden. His seconds in command are a couple of former prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, who were released to Saudi custody in 2007. The group is several hundred strong, and mostly hidden among tribes in the eastern provinces. They are well funded, but probably the least trained, and they don't have the best talent, although they have started to gain strength since late 2009. They are known for tactical innovations and surprise attacks such as the anal cavity explosive device they tried to use inside a phony repentant terrorist sent to meet with a Saudi prince, as well as the "underwear bomber" attack against the U.S. of Christmas day, 2009.  Yemen has also provided safe haven to wanted fugitive Anwar Awlaki (who mentored the Ft. Hood murderer) until Awlaki was killed by airstrike in Sept. 2011.

ABC International News
Articles and Reports about the Iraqi Insurgency
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies

Carnegie Middle East
CIA World Factbook
Discrimination Against Arab Americans
Electronic Embassy

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Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies

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Middle East Policy Council
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State Department Travel Advisories

The Arab Gateway: News of the Arab World
Univ. of TX Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Washington Institute for Near East Policy

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Last updated: Nov. 18, 2012
Not an official webpage of APSU, copyright restrictions apply, see Megalinks in Criminal Justice
O'Connor, T.  (2012). "Middle East Area Studies," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/areas/middleeast.htm.