Spot Threat Assessment Series: Jerusalem Embassy Move
When President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on 06 DEC 2017, regional heads of state including Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Salman warned that violent reactions would spill over from Israel-Palestine into surrounding countries. Within hours of the announcement, Navanti provided its clients with a street level view detailing possible security threats in the MENA region (click here to sign up for future alerts).
Included below are excerpts from the spot threat assessment series distributed via email to clients over the past two weeks. These reports contain immediate warnings regarding protests and other potential flash points for violence, as well as reactions from across the Arab and Muslim world towards the United States relocating its embassy to Jerusalem. The assessments are based on information from Navanti Researchers (NRs) as well as targeted open-source analysis.
Excerpts from December 6 Threat Assessment
Likely Impact: There will likely be an initial wave of demonstrations, which might become violent, especially toward the day of prayer on Friday, 08 DEC 2017. It is probable that violence will persist beyond Friday in some countries, especially those around Israel where disagreement with the US position is highest. Larger gatherings could turn violent, especially in countries that border Israel and in countries where the populace has reacted violently in response to similar triggers, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Reactions in Lebanon: Since the initial announcement on 05 DEC 17, Navanti Researchers (NRs) report that Palestinian refugee camps across the country, particularly Sabra and Chatila in Beirut and Ain al-Hilweh in Sidon, have witnessed ongoing turmoil and protests condemning the new US policy. On 06 DEC 17, more condemnations emerged from numerous Lebanese leaders, most notably the President, Grand Mufti, and leftist political parties. Larger protests are expected in Beirut, Sidon, and Tripoli. It is worth noting that Hizballah has not yet released any statements as of the publication of this report, however, the Hizballah-affiliated political parliamentary coalition denounced the move and likened it to a revised version of the Balfour Declaration.
Reactions in Turkey: A group of several hundred protesters gathered outside the US Consulate in Istanbul at 2:00am local time on 06 DEC 17, though police barricaded access to the Consulate’s main gates. The protest, along with a smaller gathering outside the US embassy in Ankara, ended around 2:20am local time on 06 DEC 17. Various Turkish Islamist civil groups, including the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), Turkey’s largest humanitarian NGO, pledged further protests later in the week, though none appear to have scheduled these near US diplomatic missions. NRs report that protests are expected to continue.
Excerpts from December 7 Threat Assessment
Likely Impact: US Embassies across the MENA region have reported demonstrations growing near their compounds and it is probable that these demonstrations will continue to grow in both size and potential for violence. It should be noted that US Embassies have previously suffered attacks following Friday demonstrations in Ankara (01 FEB 2013), Beirut (18 APR 1983), Islamabad (21 SEP 1979), Sana’a (14 SEP 2012), and Tunis (14 SEP 2012). Moreover, embassies are well-known positions that are typically a focal point for dissent. Additional locations that are known to be linked to the US, e.g. companies, NGOs, educational facilities and military bases, could present lower-risk targets for demonstrations and/or subsequent attack should the situation escalate.
FRI 08 DEC 17 will be an opportunity to gauge the level of unrest in MENA and provide an indication of the likelihood that the situation may become increasingly violent. The tempo of likely demonstrations or related attacks cannot yet be fully assessed. It is highly recommended that travelers, expats and organizations in the most likely-affected cities maintain a low profile for the foreseeable future and avoid all likely areas of congregation.
Reactions in Syria: NRs report that political discussions across Syria remain focused on the internal crisis, while little attention has been given to President Trump’s recent announcement. However, NRs state that activists and reporters are becoming increasingly vocal on social media. Sermons on FRI 08 DEC 17 may turn into scattered demonstrations in which participants express solidarity with Palestine. As Syrians are preoccupied with the realties of war, it is unlikely that any demonstration or protest will develop into a wide-scale movement.
“What difference does the decision make? Israel bombs the Syrian government more than anyone else these days [note: researcher intends this as a point in Israel’s favor]. To be honest, no one here was surprised, and people’s reactions have been limited to facebook.” SY.58, NGO employee, Idlib province
Reactions in Yemen: NRs in Aden City and Mukalla report that residents are not discussing the US decision, as they are preoccupied with wartime realities. Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Ansar Allah movement, called for a protest to be held between 1:00pm and 3:00pm local time in front of the main gate of the Old City of Sana’a.
Excerpts from December 8 Threat Assessment
Summary: By 11:00am on FRI 08 Dec 2017, thousands of demonstrators were reported in Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey, with smaller crowds reported in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. While effigies as well as US and Israeli flags were burned during some of the demonstrations, they were otherwise comparatively peaceful. The more populated areas of Israel and the West Bank reported higher levels of violence but this was expected based on historic precedent. As there have been calls by local leadership to prolong the ‘day of rage,’ violence will likely continue over at least the next two days.
Reactions in Yemen: Protests occurred in several cities across Yemen following Friday prayers. Demonstrations in Sana’a City — called for by Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Ansar Allah movement, on 07 DEC 17 — were the largest protests that took place in Yemen that day. Demonstrations in other cities appeared much smaller than those in Sana’a City, with an NR in Ta’izz City reporting that only a small group protested. In addition, worshippers that attended Friday prayers at al-Saleh mosque in Sana’a City chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” both of which are signature Houthi slogans. This is notably the first time Houthi chants have been heard inside al-Saleh Mosque.