Iran, Hezbollah, Building Syria Militias

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Today’s Top Stories

1. Beitar Jerusalem was in the news when the soccer team’s first ever Muslim player took the field, despite the opposition of some of the club’s more hard core, racist fans. (On Friday, arsonists torched the team’s offices, destroying trophies and club memorabilia.)

Last night’s match, against Bnei Sakhnin, ended in a 2-2 draw; Although most fans applauded when Chechen-born Gabriel Kadiev took the field, 70 fans were kicked out of the stadium during the course of the evening. Take your pick of AP, Sydney Morning Herald or AFP coverage.

Gabriel Kadiev

Gabriel Kadiev gets last minute instructions before entering the game.

2. Iran and Hezbollah are building militias “to preserve and protect their interests” for the inevitable day after Assad is toppled. Not something Israel will like next door. The Washington Post got the scoop:

The militias are fighting alongside Syrian government forces to keep Assad in power. But officials think Iran’s long-term goal is to have reliable operatives in Syria in case the country fractures into ethnic and sectarian enclaves . . .

In a divided Syria, Iran’s natural allies would include Shiites and Alawites concentrated in provinces near Syria’s border with Lebanon and in the key port city of Latakia. Under the most likely scenarios, analysts say, remnants of Assad’s government — with or without Assad — would seek to establish a coastal enclave closely tied to Tehran, dependent on the Iranians for survival while helping Iran to retain its link to Hezbollah and thereby its leverage against Israel.

Experts said that Iran is less interested in preserving Assad in power than in maintaining levers of power, including transport hubs inside Syria. As long as Tehran could maintain control of an airport or seaport, it could also maintain a Hezbollah-controlled supply route into Lebanon and continue to manipulate Lebanese politics.

3. Things always get convoluted when Israeli reporters interview Syrian opposition leaders. It was the same old-same old when Ronen Bergman interviewed Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib. The Sheik ended the interview when he realized he was talking to an Israeli.

According to Bergman, the Sheik didn’t say anything exciting, but pro-Assad media misrepresented the remarks for its own purposes. The NY Times writes:

Yet the episode appeared to have been more than a simple misunderstanding. Syria’s conflict is not only a shooting war but also a propaganda war. Pro-government media apparently could not resist the chance to bolster their contention that the rebellion had been promoted by Israel and the West . . .

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza tunnel diggers to Haaretz: The Egyptian army’s flooding our tunnels. But the BBC’s Jon Donnison tweeted his skepticism.

Jon Donnison

The Famagusta Gazette slams the Cypriot government’s decision to upgrade the Palestinian mission to “embassy” status.

Mark your calendars: Arafat forensic inquiry to report in June.

Xinhua: Hamas is complaining that the Egyptians are imposing travel restrictions on Gazans. Tsk.

For more commentary/analysis, see The Guardian (staff-ed).

On the next page:

  • Hezbollah provides cheap housing; just don’t touch the rocket launchers in your basement.
  • Mideast angles on Pope Benedict’s resignation.
  • What’s an unemployed journo to do when Al-Jazeera’s the only US news service hiring?

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