Category Archives: Iran

America Isn’t Going To War With Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 10 May 2019

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

Renewed Rebellion in Southern Syria and Western Failure

Published at The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 April 2019

A young boy rides his bicycle in Deraa // AFP

In military terms, the fall of Daraa, in south-western Syria, to Iranian and regime forces last July eliminated the last insurgent-held pocket not dominated by jihadists. Politically, it had profound effects, demonstrating American disengagement and Israel’s misperceptions of the Syrian landscape, particularly Russia’s role in it.

Recent signs of renewed insurgency in Daraa, however, underline how far from over Syria’s war is and how badly the West has mishandled the crisis. 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

Israel’s Policy in Syria Has Let Iran and Russia Entrench

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 April 2019

As the regime of Bashar Assad appears to be consolidating in Syria, many Israelis have concluded that their government’s handling of the crisis was generally laudable.

The most comprehensive statement of this view was given recently in Haaretz by Anshel Pfeffer (Netanyahu Outfoxed Russia, Iran and ISIS With His Cynical, Ruthless Syria Policy.) Every aspect of this is open to question. Continue reading

The Shah, the Cold War, and the Islamists

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 March 2019

Abbas Milani’s The Shah gives a portrait of Iran’s last monarch, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, and the impact that his downfall forty years ago continues to have in the Middle East, notably the emboldening of the Islamist movement. Continue reading

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 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