Iran’s Foreign Minister, Muhammad Javad Zarif, took part in an oral history project intended for internal use by the clerical dictatorship in February and on 25 April the audio was leaked—so goes the story. There is every reason to think this is a controlled leak, which is to say an information operation or a piece of strategic messaging—more pejoratively, propaganda or disinformation: choose the terminology as you will—intended to assist the Iranian theocracy as it works through its negotiations on the nuclear file with the new American administration of President Joe Biden. Still, there are some insights from this episode, as with an interview Zarif gave—focused on Afghanistan—in December. Continue reading
A year ago, U.S. President Donald Trump gave the order to kill Qassem Soleimani, the de facto deputy leader of Iran. Arash Azizi’s The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the U.S., and Iran’s Global Ambitions is an effort to explain who Soleimani was, how he rose to controlling the lives of millions of people well outside the borders of Iran, and how in the end he was brought down. Continue reading
At 1 AM on 3 January, an American drone strike killed the head of Iran’s Quds Force, the division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) charged with exporting the Islamic revolution, and his Iraqi deputy, Jamal al-Ibrahimi (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis). Sulaymani was the strategic driver of Iran’s expansionist policy in the Middle East, as well as the orchestrator of its terrorism and assassinations further afield. Unlike with the killing of Al-Qaeda’s Usama bin Laden in 2011 or the Islamic State’s Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) in October, where the dynamics shifted little, Sulaymani’s death opens up questions about the direction in which the Middle East will now move. Continue reading
The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.
The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading
Protests broke out against the Iranian government on 27 December, and have achieved a wider geographic spread in the country than even the massive uprising of June 2009, reaching into religiously conservative, working-class towns and districts traditionally regarded as pro-regime. It is likely these demonstrations will be suppressed, but that does not obviate the need for Western policy. To the contrary, the protests exposed several flawed assumptions in recent policy-making, and a course correction is urgently necessary. Continue reading
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the U.S. Department of Treasury, on 20 November, sanctioned “a network of individuals and entities involved in a large-scale scheme to help Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) counterfeit currency to support its destabilizing activities” in Yemen. Continue reading
The leader of the Quds Force, the expeditionary unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qassem Sulaymani, sent a public letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamene’i, on 21 November. Sulaymani’s letter followed the apparent expulsion of the Islamic State from its last urban stronghold in Syria, al-Bukamal, on 19 November, by Quds Force-led troops—foreign Shi’a jihadists and the battered remnants of Bashar al-Asad’s army. Sulaymani informs Khamene’i that in overcoming the Islamic State and its caliphate, a “U.S.-Zionist-made” terrorist entity has been defeated. Sulaymani’s letter is reproduced below, with some noteworthy sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading
Reuters has published a profile of Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba (HHN), sometimes simply called Harakat al-Nujaba, a Shi’a militia made up of Iraqi citizens that is loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i and the revolutionary theocracy’s ideology of absolute wilayat al-faqih (guardianship of the jurist). HHN, which first emerged in the summer of 2013, is one of a web of overlapping Shi’a jihadist groups recruited from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond—as far afield as the Ivory Coast—that have been used to spearhead Tehran’s imperial push into the Arab world, particularly the rescue of Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria that would otherwise have fallen to a popular rebellion. In recent months, Iran has been raising the profile of HHN. Continue reading
The New York Times reported on the growing closeness of relations between the governments in Iran and Russia, and the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, something that became especially salient earlier this year and which has been visible for at least two years. Continue reading
Originally published at The Henry Jackson Society
Earlier this week, The New York Times reported on the “free fall” of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy. While the President had “inherited a messy situation in the region with the war in Iraq … by the time he took office, [President George W.] Bush’s troop surge and Gen. David H. Petraeus’s strategy change had helped turn the war around”. This relative stability has given way:
Today there is no single overarching issue but multiple ones. Syria, Iraq and Yemen are caught up in war. Turkey and Jordan are inundated by refugees. Russia has reasserted itself as a major player in the region. Libya is searching for stability after the fall of its longtime dictator. The Kurds are on the march. Egypt is fighting off a terrorist threat at home. And Saudi Arabia and Iran are waging a profound struggle for the future of the region.
Many of America’s allies disagreed with Bush’s focus on Iraq, considering Iran to be the larger threat, but if they had considered Bush too assertive, they find Obama too timorous, stepping back as the situation spins out of control. Continue reading