For about two months, it has seemed that an offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Iran, and Russia into Idlib was imminent, with disastrous humanitarian and strategic consequences. On Monday, an agreement was reached between Turkey and Russia that put a halt to this prospect, at least for now. There is good reason to think the pro-Assad forces are delaying, rather than cancelling, their plans to reconquer Idlib, but the extra time gives space to Turkey to alter the terms politically. Continue reading →
The United States has launched at least five raids into Syria to date, all of them against the Islamic State (IS). The second such raid, on 15 May 2015, killed Fathi al-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi), who oversaw critical revenue-generating criminal schemes for the group. Al-Tunisi was primarily responsible for the oil industry in eastern Syria, in which capacity he collaborated with Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and he worked as head of the Antiquities Division of IS Diwan al-Rikaz, which translates literally as the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground”, usually given as the “Department of Natural Resources”. Al-Tunisi was what is sometimes termed a “middle manager”: the connective tissue between the most senior levels of the leadership and local administrators, ensuring smooth coordination between the two by inter alia keeping the books. In short, the kind of terrorist operative that keeps an organisation going. Continue reading →
The leader of the Islamic State (IS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), released a nearly 55-minute audio statement today, his first statement for eleven months, which in turn came eleven months after the prior speech. This is al-Badri’s thirteenth speech since he became leader of the IS movement in May 2010 and the eighth since IS declared the restoration of the caliphate in June 2014. The title of today’s speech, “Give Glad Tidings to the Patient”, is drawn from a verse of the Qur’an that promises “glad [or good] tidings” in Paradise to those who remain steadfast on the path of faith in life, which is very much the theme al-Badri sticks to. Continue reading →
Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations between 1997 and 2006, died yesterday aged 80. Annan and the U.N. received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, and he was credited with “bringing new life to the organization” and emphasising “its obligations with regard to human rights”. The reality was quite different, and Annan’s disastrous record was hardly confined to his time at the helm. Both before (as head of the U.N. peacekeeping department) and after (as U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria), Annan presided over some of the institution’s worst catastrophes. Continue reading →
America’s imposition of sanctions on Turkey brings the relationship to its lowest ebb in more than forty years. Almost as soon as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, came into office in 2002 there have been tensions in the relationship. These manageable differences escalated considerably during the time of President Barack Obama, primarily because of his Syria policy, and now threaten to boil over. The chances to soothe a vital strategic partnership appear to be slipping. Continue reading →
An Israeli Merkava tank patrols on the border between Israel and Syria, on 20 July 2018. (AFP)
Israel has been conflicted on the Syrian rebellion: some saw Bashar al-Assad’s reliance on Iran and thus favoured his departure; some, especially once the uprising militarized and jihadi-Salafists made their appearance among the insurgents, favoured a let-them-both-lose policy; and some saw the risk of chaos and jihadists and preferred to stick with what they knew.
The official Israeli policy, stated in the early months of the protests, was to side with the people “demonstrating for freedoms” since “the devil we know in Syria [i.e. Assad] is worse than the devil we don’t”. Continue reading →