Tag Archives: Yemen

Spywar and Strategy: The Israel-Iran Contest in the Middle East

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 29 June 2021

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, at a memorial in Gaza, 31 January 2017. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib, Flash90.

The May 2021 round of fighting in Gaza brought with it the upending of the unspoken understanding between Israel and Hamas and a level of intercommunal violence within Israel that has not been seen in quite some time. The scale of the rocket attacks on the Jewish state must also be counted among the unusual elements of this latest flare-up, with Iran clearly identifiable as the enabling state behind Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the two primary factions behind these attacks. Continue reading

Gaza is Just One Front in Iran’s Regional War

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 27 May 2021

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system [left] activates over southern Israel against incoming HAMAS rockets [right], 14 May 2021

Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary-general of Hizballah, the Lebanese division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), gave an interesting interview to Hizballah’s Al-Nour radio station on 22 May, explaining IRGC/Hizballah’s vision for what it had achieved with the recent war in Gaza. Qassem added to a large body of evidence about Iran’s extensive role in the war, a lot of it supplied directly by the combatant parties themselves. Not only did the clerical regime in Iran supply the material basis for the Islamists’ war against Israel this month; they provided much of the ideological framework, too. Continue reading

What Can We Learn From Iran’s Foreign Minister?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 May 2021

Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, December 2020, during an interview with Lotfullah Najafizada of TOLO News

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

Islamic State Eulogy for a Military Commander in Yemen

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 April 2021

Al-Naba 273, p. 10

The Islamic State (IS) released issue 273 of its weekly magazine, Al-Naba, on 11 February 2021. On pages 10 and 11 (out of 12) it contained a eulogy for Abu al-Hassan al-Adeni, who was IS’s military commander in Al-Bayda area in Yemen. Continue reading

Losing in Yemen, Winning in Afghanistan, Islamic State Weighs in on Arab-Israeli Peace

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 August 2020

Al-Naba 248

The Islamic State (IS) produced the 248th edition of Al-Naba, its newsletter, on 20 August. The front page was devoted to recent events in Yemen, which had not gone well for IS—although one could easily miss that fact when reading a story that a focuses almost entirely on enemy casualties and the failures of others. IS is, of course, not pleased about the Israeli normalisation of relations with the United Arab Emirates, but Al-Naba makes clear that it is more perturbed that Muslims should believe Turkey or Qatar are any better than the U.A.E., despite their different approach to Islamists. Al-Naba 248 documents IS’s continuing advances in Afghanistan—and, indeed, Iraq, Syria, Africa (the Sahel), and Egypt. There is also a report of insurgent activity in the Philippines. Continue reading

Islamic State, Afghanistan, and Replenishment Through Prison Breaks

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 August 2020

Al-Naba 246, front page, 6 August 2020

The Islamic State (IS) published the 246th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on 6 August, which highlighted the 2-3 August prison break in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, a massive IS operation lasting twenty-plus hours, and proclaimed that freeing IS jihadists from prisons will now be a priority for the group. In 2012, shortly after the American withdrawal from Iraq, IS announced Operation BREAKING THE WALLS, which went on for a year, breaking open Iraqi prisons. The narrative of the IS’s “defeat” by the Surge and Awakening of 2007-08 is problematic in some of its fundamentals, but among the reasons it proved to be so fleeting in practice was this prison-break campaign that restored to the battlefield key IS operatives who planned the caliphate project in 2014. It is, therefore, alarming to see the arrival of such a campaign in Afghanistan at the moment the U.S. is headed, heedlessly, for the exit. Continue reading

Islamic State Celebrates the Murderer of Sikhs in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 June 2020

Al-Naba 239, page 9

The Islamic State (IS) released the 239th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on 18 June. Pages 9 and 10 of this twelve-page document were given over to a profile of Abu Khaled al-Hindi, the jihadist elsewhere named as Mohammad Sajid Kuthirummal who massacred twenty-five worshippers at a Sikh gurdwara or temple in Kabul three months ago, on 25 March 2020, during an hours-long siege. The details of Abu Khaled’s life—finding IS after being repelled by “nationalist” jihadist groups, fighting while injured, his obedience to IS’s leaders, and thirst for “martyrdom”—are relatively standard hagiography from IS. What is really worth noting is that such an extensive focus on him, and through him on Afghanistan, underlines the importance IS has placed on its Afghan branch, Wilayat Khorasan. Continue reading

Tunisia and Jihadism

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 26 May 2020

Early in his new book, Your Sons Are At Your Service: Tunisia’s Missionaries of Jihad, The Washington Institute’s Aaron Zelin quotes a pair of sociologists who note that ‘where theories are plentiful … ideas are vacuous’. The book is in many ways the antithesis of this approach. It is not without theoretical content; where social movement theory arises as a means of understanding jihadism, say, the author gives an overview of the literature to contextualise it for the reader. But the general approach is historical, empirical, and detail-rich, so that by the time Zelin summarises his findings in the various sections there can be no doubt about the evidentiary basis. Continue reading

The Memoir of a British Spy in Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 July 2019

The main issue with that Nine Lives has to overcome is the one that has attended Aimen Dean (a pseudonym) since he went public in March 2015 with an interview he gave to the BBC, claiming he had been a British spy within Al-Qaeda between 1998 and 2006. That issue is overcoming the doubts about his story. Nine Lives goes a long way to solving this by bringing in Paul Cruickshank, the editor-in-chief of CTC Sentinel, one of the premier academic resources in the terrorism field, and Tim Lister, a terrorism-focused journalist with CNN, as co-authors. As well as helping structure the book from Dean’s memories, the two co-authors note they had been able to “corroborate key details” that convinced them: “In the years immediately leading up to and following 9/11, Aimen Dean was by far the most important spy the West had inside al-Qaeda”. Continue reading

Israel is Losing Ground to the Iran-Russia Axis

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 18 April 2019

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