Monthly Archives: February 2019

The Establishment of the Qajar Dynasty in Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 February 2019

Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, founder of the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) in Iran [source]

Gavin R.G. Hambly, a Middle East scholar and historian, wrote a paper in 1963 about the establishment of the Qajar dynasty, the second-to-last ruling House in Iran, and particularly about its first monarch, Agha Mohammad Khan. The paper is slightly revisionist about Agha Mohammad, countering the long-standing reputation of him as solely a ruthless despot. The Qajars, for all their faults, prevented the outright colonisation of Iran in the nineteenth century, and imposed an order that held the country together, albeit while losing tracts of territory on the periphery—the Caucasus and Turkmenistan to the Russians in the north, and areas in the east to the British, notably Herat, which was annexed to Afghanistan, and parts of Baluchistan and Sistan to what would later become Pakistan. This resilience of the Iranian state is largely ascribable to Agha Mohammad, argues Hambly, who showed a sense of public spirit he is rarely credited with in consciously making the lives of ordinary Iranians better. Continue reading

The Unravelling of a Guided Islamic State Plot in Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 26 February 2019

Islamic State terrorists responsible for the Danghara attack in Tajikistan, July 2018 [source]

Kommersant reports on the FSB foiling a series of guided plots by the Islamic State (IS) in late 2016. The IS guide in these cases was a Tajik, Tojiddin Nazarov (Abu Usama Noraki). Had IS’s operations been successful, they would have blown up the headquarters of Russian military intelligence (GRU) on the Khoroshevskoye Highway, as well as railway passengers. Continue reading

Islamic State Newsletter Celebrates Guerrilla Campaign, Attacks Saudi Arabia as ‘Stalinist’

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 February 2019

Front page Al-Naba 169

The Islamic State (IS) released the 169th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on 14 February 2019. Al-Naba 169 leads with the attack on the governor of Borno in Nigeria by IS’s branch in that country. In terms of volume, much of the focus remains on the guerrilla campaign in Iraq and Syria, though there is an item on the last stand of the caliphate in Baghuz, the final village in eastern Syria. IS highlights its clashes with al-Qaeda in Yemen. There is a profile of a Russian-speaking atheist-turned-jihadist who was killed in Egypt. And perhaps most notable is an essay on Saudi Arabia, where IS has a terrorist infrastructure that is instructed to be patient. It is a question that likely is unanswerable until it is too late how strong IS is in Saudi Arabia. Continue reading

The Islamic State Newsletter Explains How it Killed American Soldiers in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 February 2019

Al-Naba 165, page 4

In the 165th edition of Al-Naba, the weekly newsletter of the Islamic State (IS), was released on 17 January 2019. Al-Naba 165 contained a description of the suicide bombing at the Qasr al-Omara restaurant in Minbij, northern Syria, on 16 January, which killed four Americans: Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer; Navy Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent; Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) civilian Scott Wirtz; and Pentagon contractor and linguist Ghadir Taher. At least ten other people were killed, eight civilians and two officials from the “Syrian Democratic Forces“ (SDF). The newsletter also contains an interview with an IS official operating in the Minbij area, who explains how the group’s sleeper cells and surveillance apparatus tracked U.S. movements and made prior attempts to attack the U.S. and its allies. Continue reading

The Folly of Trying to Buy Assad’s Loyalty From Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 February 2019

Bashar al-Assad meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Damascus, Syria, 3 September 2018 // SANA handout to REUTERS

The Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad has nearly collapsed twice under pressure from the armed insurrection, in late 2012 and early 2015. On both occasions, Assad was rescued by outside powers, first Iran and then a joint Iranian-Russian operation. It has been a recurring illusion that there is or will be, a strategic split between Russia and Iran. This prospect has continued to tantalise the US and others, and occasional Moscow-Tehran disagreements are presented as evidence that dynamics are shifting this way. Another round of such speculation is currently underway. Continue reading

What Would a Benny Gantz Administration Be Like for Israel?

Published at The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 February 2019

Benny Gantz, Binyamin Netanyahu [image source]

Benny Gantz, a former head of the Israel Defence Forces, opened his campaign for prime minister on January 29 with a speech setting out his programme. Gantz was swiftly denounced by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as a “leftist” but there is no sign of that in what is known of Gantz and for good reason. Continue reading

Can Russia Reconcile Turkey and Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 1 February 2019

American base on the outskirts of Minbij, 26 December 2018. (Photo by Delil souleiman / AFP)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement that U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Syria came with many visible costs. The benefits the anti-Islamic State (ISIS) campaign has delivered to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran, and Russia were made permanent. There is also more space for ISIS and greater instability in northeast Syria as Turkey confronts Syrian Kurdish forces. And there is the political cost to the United States of leaving its Kurdish anti-ISIS partner to face Turkey and the pro-Assad coalition alone. Continue reading