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 →
The first quarter of 2020 saw a serious escalation of combat in Syria, albeit without much alteration in the political trends, and the arrival of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has exacerbated a fraught situation. 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 →
To mark the eighteenth anniversary of the 9/11 massacre, Al-Qaeda’s Al-Sahab media department released a video, “And They Shall Continue to Fight You”. The video, which ran over a half-hour, featured a speech by the group’s emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, interspersed with other leadership figures.
Much attention has been given to Dr. Al-Zawahiri encouraging attacks on America, his contention that the U.S. has enabled the spread of Iranian power by providing its vicious sectarian militias in Iraq, Syria, and beyond with direct support as part of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), and his use of the issue of Palestine. There are some indications Al-Qaeda is looking abroad again with its terrorism campaign, but the primary purpose of re-emphasising the justice of attacks on the West seems to be to meet the ideological challenge from ISIS. Behind the veneer of the “far enemy” rhetoric in this speech, Al-Zawahiri was in fact very defensive—particularly about 9/11, Al-Qaeda’s greatest “success”, where he seems stung by the accusation Al-Qaeda murdered innocents—and “near enemy” (regionally) focused. Even the call to attack America suggested attacks on military installations in the Middle East, rather than in America itself. Such attacks would also avoid the issue of civilian casualties, Al-Zawahiri noted.
An English translation was put out of the video of Al-Zawahiri’s speech and a transcript is reproduced below. Continue reading →
President Donald Trump speaks as John Bolton stands by in the Oval Office, 22 May 2018. OLIVER CONTRERAS-POOL/GETTY IMAGES
As tensions flared between the United States and Iran over the last ten days, a number of Washington’s Western allies have signalled their distance from the U.S. view, most dramatically in the case of Major-General Chris Ghika, Britain’s top commander in the coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), who dismissed the U.S. intelligence assessment of an increased threat from Iran. This has since been walked back, but the fissures in the Western alliance over how to deal with Iran are real, and this has been compounded by differences within the U.S. government and the highly irregular nature of the Donald Trump administration, particularly its decision-making processes and public messaging. Continue reading →
Israeli opinion generally regards the country’s efforts to contain Iran, especially in Syria, as having been successful. In fact, the trendline runs the other way: Iran is constraining Israel, entrenching all around the Jewish state. Continue reading →
Large black flag with the words “Oh, Husayn” flies near the Lebanon-Israel border (5 December, AFP)
Israel announced an operation to “destroy the threat of the terror tunnels” into northern Israel from Hezbollah, the Levantine branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in southern Lebanon. Continue reading →
U.S. forces and members of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) patrol Al-Darbasiya in northeastern Syria, 4 November 2018. (AFP)
Despite the change of rhetoric between US Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the United States has continued to lose influence, political and military, in the Middle East to the Iran-Russia axis. Continue reading →