Category Archives: Lebanon

Fragile States Index 2016

The Fragile States Index 2016 was just mentioned on beBee and I saw a nice dataset to visualize in Tableau. Here is the original high resolution image:

2016fragilestates

And here is the image that resulted from my very simple import of the data into a Tableau workbook:

FragileStates2016Tableau.png

The states of the Mideast, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa have been an interest of mine for the past several years. Here’s a nit with Tableau, but it’s probably a deficit on my part – the only way I could make Syria visible would be to suppress the appearance of Lebanon. Tableau also treats Western Sahara as Terra Nullius, when it’s an ongoing problem between Morocco which administers it and Algeria which hosts many refugees.

MENAFragileStates.png

Here are the grimmest of the grim, seven states with fragility scores in excess of 110. Iraq is one bad summer away from joining them.

FragileStatesWorst.png

I’ve made a copy of the Fragile States 2016 workbook available. I really should start pulling in other data, but what I want here would be food and water security information, and that’s often scattered and dated.

Lebanon’s Record Drought

Lebanon faces water crisis after record winter drought contains grim details about water supplies in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s meteorological service says the country has had just 431 mm (17 inches) of precipitation since September, less than half last year’s 905.8 mm and far below the yearly average of 812 mm.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR warned in February that the presence of more than a million Syrian refugees alongside four million Lebanese would seriously deplete the country’s renewable water resources.

What does half the normal rain and a 25% population increase due to refugees mean in a country that remains stable only due to a delicate balancing act among the various ethnic and sectarian groups?

Lebanon Ethnic & Religious Groups

Lebanon Ethnic & Religious Groups

Stepping back just a bit, Lebanon and the Syrian coastal region are the same patchwork, a record of thousands of years of invasion and migration through a strategic region.

Syrian Alawite Area & Lebanon Ethnic Groups

Syrian Alawite Area & Lebanon Ethnic Groups

Prior to 1943 Lebanon was Syria, or more correctly they were both part of the French Syrian Mandate, an artifact of the partition of the dying Ottoman Empire by England and France after World War I.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

Syria itself is facing a ruinous drought in the northeast. Eighteen months ago I published Syrian Wheat Outlook and Syrian Wheat Becomes Strategic eleven months ago. A drought in the northeast is the worst possible case … because that is where the bulk of the production occurs.

Syria Wheat 2012

Like the French Syrian Mandate, Syria itself isn’t coherent any more. Consider the map promoted by the Islamic State of Iraq and ash Sham, the de facto government of a large swath of Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State of Iraq & ash Sham

Islamic State of Iraq & ash Sham

Syria has broken along ethnic and sectarian lines. Who got the food production?

Kurdistan With Population By Country

Kurdistan With Population By Country

Can you predict what is going to happen next here? Wheat is a staple and it makes a pretty good proxy for overall food security if you don’t have the resources to track a more inclusive market basket. Wheat got scarce in 2010 thanks directly to Russian fires and indirectly due to Pakistani floods nipping their summer production of other grains. Six months later Arab Spring started in Tunisia and roiled the whole region.

Arab Spring

Arab Spring

Arab Spring was about reform – at a very fundamental level an adjustment of misallocation of resources for society. If those resources become more scarce reforms might still help. If someone could crack the whip in Lebanon and get the whole country moving on their irrigation infrastructure reducing the 50% now lost would make a tremendous difference. Syria’s infrastructure was almost as leaky prior to the civil war and now what would be difficult in Lebanon is an impossible task in their war torn neighbor until the shooting stops. Given the sectarian divides and geographic distribution of natural resources that might not happen until there are a lot less people competing for those resources.

Africa is subject to periodic famine, but the rest of the world, with the exception of central planning disasters during the Cold War, is not familiar with population corrections. What are the political consequences if the five million people crowded into Lebanon are on a patch of land that is only going to carry two million? We can’t know the specifics but we can sum it up easily: grim.

Lesser Syria, Greater Kurdistan, Armenia’s Mt. Olympus

Here in America it’s somewhat notable to meet up with someone who can identify all fifty of our states if presented with a national map that doesn’t have a legend. European weapons and European diseases made quick work of the native population and there are only a few areas where there is any political friction from the survivors, mostly remote places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

The ethnic, sectarian, and historical divisions of the Mideast are obscure and puzzling to us in general, and they remain puzzling to our policy makers. This is about expectations – the U.S. civil war was an anomaly. We had defined nation states, uniformed armies, a clear cut beginning, a fairly clean end, and while the meme has never died there hasn’t been any large scale violence since the cessation of the conflict, nearly 150 years ago. The Mideast is full and there are always tensions the likes of which we never experience here.

This being said, I am now going to put up a bunch of maps and engage in a bit of wild speculation about some things that aren’t all that likely to happen, but if they did … well … game changers.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

I’ve written about the Ottoman empire enough that it has its own category here, so I won’t gum up this post with excessive maps. This is the French Syrian Mandate, created after World War I. Syria lost the Sanjak of Alexandretta, Lebanon, the Golan Heights, and it isn’t that much of a stretch to imagine the Kurds of Syria seeking freedom, which I wrote about in Funding The Syrian Insurgency.

Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading and The Syrian Conflict Spreads contain grim news from credible sources, and the conflict is Spilling Into Lebanon.

Could the end result of Lesser Syria be Greater Kurdistan?

Kurdistan With Population By Country

Kurdistan With Population By Country

Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey all thwart the ambitions of the Kurds. But the Iraqi Kurds are in a position to tax an extractive industry, and that’s all that is needed to fuel an insurgency.

Iraqi Kurds & Oil Fields

Iraqi Kurds & Oil Fields

Even more touchy than oil is the subject of water. The Kurds dominate the mountainous part of eastern Turkey where both the Tigris and Euphrates originate. Control of the last onshore supergiant oil field in the world and the two largest rivers in the region? I think it is not a question of if, it’s a question of when things change for the Kurds.

Tigris Euphrates Watershed

Tigris Euphrates Watershed

Speaking of mountains …

Ararat

Ararat

Mount Ararat is a potent symbol for Armenian nationalists and a constant goad, visible from the capitol of Yerevan, but under control of Turkey. The Armenians do not forget the Ottoman genocide that wiped out a million of their people as ethnic Turks sought to maximize their territory in their empire’s final few years.

Armenia Genocide 1915 to 1923

Here’s the Google map of the region. The red letter A marks Ararat, the circular green dot nearby is Little Ararat, and there are a lot of lines on this map. The borders of Armenia, Azerbijan, Iran, and Turkey meet just to the east of the smaller mountain, and there are other, more serious territorial problems than the missing sacred mountain.

Ararat, Nakchivan & Nargorno Karabakh

Ararat, Nakchivan & Nargorno Karabakh

This map should make things a bit clearer. Armenia contains the ethnic Azerbijani enclave of Nakchivan, while Azerbijan contains the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nakchivan & Nagorno-Karabakh

Nakchivan & Nagorno-Karabakh

That map might make a bit more sense if you see how Nakchivan lines up against the ethnic makeup of northwest Iran.

Northwest Iran

Northwest Iran

We have had 365 years of Westphalian sovereignty, but the nation state is on the skids. Corporations are the obvious successors when the state’s grip slips in the west, but there are many parts of the world where ethnic and tribal loyalties have never faded. Afghanistan and Somalia are countries not due to their internal cohesion, but due to the boundaries their neighbors keep with them.

Syria and Iraq are already in trouble. Turkey is feeling the heat from the conflict next door. If there is some ill advised adventure by Israel and/or the U.S. against Iran, that would leave three of four Kurdish populations in an unsupervised condition. I lack the wisdom to do more than speculate here, but if the Turks can keep it together and provide a path to European markets for Kurdish oil, what are the odds we might see a coalition type regional power form between the two parties?

And if this does come to pass, could the Armenians get their sacred mountain back as part of the redrawing of maps??

Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading

UN envoy: Iraq and Syrian conflicts are merging

That headline appeared in my inbox earlier and I have been dreading it. The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon, it’s encroaching on Turkey’s territory, and it’s set off troubles in neighboring Iraq, which are now merging into an end to end regional threat.

Let’s take a look at how things got this way. The Ottoman empire laid claim to Syria and Iraq between 1512 and 1566.

Ottoman Empire 1300 1683

And they lost control of the area as a result of picking the wrong side during World War I.

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

The territory was divided between the English and French via the Sykes-Picot Agreement, with approval from the Russians.

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

The French Syrian Mandate broke up with the loss of the Sanjak of Alexandretta back to Turkey in 1939 and the independence of Lebanon in 1943.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

The British Mandate of Mesopotamia became Iraq, an independent monarchy in 1932 and a republic in 1958. Today’s ethnic map is consistent with the boundaries of the original territory. Yellow is for Sunni Arabs, green is Shia Arabs, and the Kurds are in blue.

Iraq Ethnic Groups

Iraq Ethnic Groups

I have written quite a bit about Syria’s patchwork of ethnic and religious groups. Summarizing – yellow are Sunni Arabs in the interior the dun colored areas are Kurds. The coastal region of Syria and Lebanon are very diverse and intermingled.

Syrian Ethnic Groups - Detailed Map

Syrian Ethnic Groups – Detailed Map

The Syrian conflict triggered the troubles in Iraq and the U.N. envoy now reports the two conflicts are merging. I noted that this conflict was also Spilling Into Lebanon. Refugee flows are a big part of that, as they put a support load on their neighbors.

Syrian Refugee Flows

Syrian Refugee Flows

Immediately outside the troubled trio of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, are three regional powers vying for influence – Turkey, Iran, and the money men of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I wrote about the underlying details in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle.

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Beyond the bounds of the regional players there are global concerns which include:

  • Israel’s ill advised obsession with Iran, somewhat backed by the U.S.
  • Russia’s longstanding relationship with Syria
  • Turkey’s membership in both the European Union and NATO
  • China and Russia’s disapproval of extreme sanctions against Iran
Mideast Regional Map

Mideast Regional Map

Let’s take stock of troubles in the region:

  • Egypt – military coup against Muslim Brotherhood, supported by democratic forces
  • Yemen – outright civil war
  • Bahrain – simmering discontent, sometimes violent
  • Syria – outright civil war
  • Lebanon – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Iraq – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Turkey – massive protests
  • Greece – bank crash, economic implosion
  • Cyprus – bank crash, U.N. brokered peace between Greeks & Turks
  • North Caucasus – long running insurgency, Chechen jihadis turning up in Syria
  • Iran – brand new government, same ol’ impossible sanctions

What, if anything, will the United States do about this?

The U.S. left Patriot missile batteries, F-16s, and 700 troops behind in Jordan this year after the annual Eager Lion exercise.

We seem to have just one aircraft carrier with its attendant carrier strike group in the region.

Information on the disposition of Expeditionary Strike Groups, which contain helicopter carriers, amphibious assault craft, and marines are not as readily available. I believe there is one on station at or near the 5th Fleet HQ in Bahrain and another active in the Mediterranean due to threats to diplomatic posts across North Africa.

We already have Bipartisan Opposition To Syrian Intervention. Today I saw further news to the effect that even the belated announcement we were going to arm the rebels faces Congressional disapproval.

President Obama is facing criticism for having an unclear strategy to resolve the Syrian conflict. Having spent the last ten years field testing neoconservative theories in the Mideast rather than applying pragmatic diplomacy, the White House’s apparent lack of strategy may be in and of itself a strategy. That last map and conflict list looks a bit like the Balkans a century ago, right before World War I engulfed Europe. Given our history in the region anything we attempt is liable to backfire badly.

The three regional powers I described in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle each have a vision of what qualifies as good governance and only Turkey’s thinking would be vaguely familiar to American voters. “Bringing Democracy To Country X” sounds just grand, but in this part of the world we might want to substitute “a majoritarian blood bath” for the word democracy, and then see how palatable our plans sound. It’s time we listened to those who are there regarding what will and will not work.

Spilling Into Lebanon

Monitoring The Golan Heights, which included information on the withdrawal of about three hundred Austrian observers, was the first report here on Syria’s troubles spilling into neighboring areas. A non-lethal problem – the kidnapping of observers – in an already disputed area, is what triggered the withdrawal.

Hezbollah fighters report killing Syrians in fierce battle in Lebanon’s Sidon (6/24/2013) turned up earlier today and the report could not be any more different. The battle occurred in Abra, near Sidon, fifty miles west of Damascus on the Lebanese coast.

Lebanon Ethnic Detail

Lebanon Ethnic Detail

As the map shows, the small yellow pocket of Sidon contains Sunni Arabs, while the surrounding area contains Arabic speaking Christians, Arabic speaking Druze Muslim, and Arabic speaking members of the Ismali sub-sect of Shia Islam. Casualties numbered into the forties.

At least 18 Lebanese soldiers died in the fighting, which began Sunday. At least four Hezbollah fighters died and at least 20 gunmen from the other side were killed.

The other side in this case was supporters of Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad al Assir. The depth of Syrians rebel involvement was accidentally revealed when one of the Hezbollah fighters mentioned that a sniper they had killed was from the Syrian city of Aleppo, over two hundred miles to the north of Sidon.

“That sniper we just killed had a Syrian ID card,” he called out to his commander, without noticing that two Western journalists were seated nearby. “It said he was from Aleppo.”

One man from Aleppo could be explained in a variety of ways – perhaps he had family in Sidon, or perhaps he is a refugee from Syria’s coastal region. I want to err on the side of caution here, but this does fit other broad reports of Syrian irregulars being involved in troubles in Lebanon. The caution is warranted; a portion of the efforts, particularly from the Syrian rebels, involves small groups slipping into otherwise secure areas, staging scenes as if they have won a battle, then releasing video. Any information on the conflict must be checked for consistency and that which could be a fabrication should be treated as such unless corroborating information is available.

This map, taken from Post Assad Syria: Turkey’s Perspective, shows the sort of refugee related stresses the Syrian conflict is placing on its neighbors. New readers seeking additional information might also like Stratfor: Detailed Syrian Conflict Internals.

Syrian Refugee Flows

Syrian Refugee Flows

UPDATE: Per NightWatch June 24th, 2013

Lebanon: For a second day, on 24 June Lebanese army units fought followers of a hardline Sunni cleric holed up in a mosque complex in Sidon, in southern Lebanon. Official sources said at least 16 soldiers have been killed.

A spokesman for the security cabinet said after a meeting on Monday, “The army has a duty… to continue its operations until it finishes with the armed men, brings Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir’s headquarters under control, and arrests the army’s attackers.”

Comment: This is the same Sunni cleric who stirred up attacks against the small Shiite community in Sidon last week. The Syrian fighting has come to Lebanon and the Lebanese Army cannot cope.

Per NightWatch June 25th, 2013

Lebanon: Update. Today, Lebanese soldiers in Sidon secured the mosque complex of Sunni cleric Ahmad al Assir, whose supporters fought gun battles with the army for two days. Al Assir had ordered the small Shiite community in Sidon to depart or be killed and fought gun battles with them last week.

The Keys To The Kingdom

When NATO undertook the job of providing air support for Libyan rebels one of the actions they were tacitly supporting was the demolition of the Libyan state security apparatus. A hated tool of repression, those employed in it were slaughtered where ever they were found, offices were looted, files were burned, and systems destroyed. The effort to stabilize the country now involves their former colonial masters, the Italians, helping to rebuild this government function. Rebuilding the Libyan Intelligence provides a decent read with Italian to English translation.

Consider what must be shaping up in Syria right now:

Syrian Ethnic Groups - Detailed Map

Syrian Ethnic Groups – Detailed Map

The country is 70% Sunni Arab, the far northeast is ethnic Kurdish. The coast from the Turkish province of Hatay, which was part of the French Syrian Mandate before being annexed, to northern Israel is a patchwork of sects and ethnic groups.

The Alawite and Druze, both sects derived from Shia Islam, make up 16% of the populace, the remaining 10% are mostly Christian. Power has been concentrated in the hands of the Alawite; the Assad family are members of this group. This concentration means Sunni lieutenants and captains, but Alawite colonels and generals. The same holds true for the intelligence service – authority and duties fall to those who have good reason to be loyal to the current regime.

Syrian Alawite Region Ethnic Detail

Syrian Alawite Region Ethnic Detail

The U.S. has taken another baby step towards supporting the Sunni majority rebels, with some hope that there will be an inclusive government after the fall of Assad. This is perceived as being wishful thinking after two years of bloodletting. The Iranians don’t want to lose an ally, Hezbollah in Lebanon don’t want to lose their patron, and the Russians don’t want to lose their naval supply station at Tartus. The presence of Russian weapons and Lebanese and Iranian troops appears to be propping up the regime for the moment, but long term the prospects do not look good. My personal assessment is that Syria could end up a bigger, badder, bloodier version of what Lebanon was in the 1980s.

The U.S. has thrown in with, but can not hope control the Sunni majority rebels. Their other support comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar – both of which drive not only Islamist, but extreme agendas. If (read: when) successful they are going to purge the government of anyone involved in the Political Security Directorate, the General Security Directorate, or any other part of the internal security apparatus. No matter who ends up in charge the new Syrian government will lose the institutional memory and skills needed to balance the competing ethnic groups, even if it has the will to attempt to do so.

And with an administration that lacks the skills and records to keep Syria in balance, even if they had the willingness to do so, the already fragile balance in Lebanon would be the next obvious domino to topple.

Lebanon Ethnic & Religious Groups

Lebanon Ethnic & Religious Groups

Syria & Lebanon’s Patchwork

The ethnic and sectarian divides in Syria are fueling their civil war, and they have a long history of intervention in the affairs of Lebanon. These maps show with increasing focus the ethnic and religious groups that inhabit the region.

I have taken liberties with M. Izady’s fine map of the area, which is available in 7649 x 5577 pixels, creating the detailed combined view of the Syrian Alawite region and Lebanon, and the Alawite area alone. If the Sunni Syrian rebels prevail against the Assad regime, which seems very likely, the Alawite area will likely be the scene of events similar to those in Bosnia and Kosovo after the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

Levantine Ethnic Groups

Levantine Ethnic Groups

Syrian Ethnic Groups - Detailed Map

Syrian Ethnic Groups – Detailed Map

Syrian Alawite Area & Lebanon Ethnic Groups

Syrian Alawite Area & Lebanon Ethnic Groups

Alawite Area Ethnic Detail

Alawite Area Ethnic Detail

Lebanon Ethnic Detail

Lebanon Ethnic Detail

Southern Lebanon & Northern Israel

Southern Lebanon & Northern Israel