Tag Archives: Gulf States

Qassem Sulaymani and the Future of Iran’s Imperial Project

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 January 2020

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

British Strategy in the Gulf as Iranian Aggression Escalates

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) and Rob Clark (@RobertClark87) on 26 July 2019

A speedboat and a helicopter of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy move around a British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, 21 July 2019. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP)

The series of provocations in the Gulf by the Islamic Republic of Iran, beginning with the sabotage of four vessels in mid-May, culminated last Friday in the illegal seizure by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) of the British-flagged and operated Stena Impero oil tanker, followed shortly thereafter by the seizure of the Liberian-flagged, British operated MV Mesdar in the Strait of Hormuz. Only the Mesdar has been released. This episode has served to demonstrate the serious defence issues confronting Boris Johnson, the incoming United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister, which have to be dealt with immediately and cannot be pushed off into the future when the domestic turbulence over Brexit has abated. 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

Al-Qaeda and Global Terror

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 April 2019

Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani) [image source]

Several years ago, Al-Qaeda made a strategic decision to refrain from foreign terrorist operations, refocusing away from these global spectaculars towards integrating more closely into local conflicts. The 2014 rampage across Iraq and Syria by Al-Qaeda’s rebellious former Iraqi branch, the Islamic State (ISIS), provided both the opportunity and additional incentive for a long-mediated rebranding effort. However, there have recently been signs of a shift back towards external terror operations, just as ISIS undergoes a setback and Al-Qaeda has a chance to reassert its dominance over the jihadi scene. 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

Israel Returns to Africa

Published at The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 27 January 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Chadian President Idriss Deby meeting in N’Djamena, 20 January 2019 [AFP]

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Chad have been restored after a half century of separation. This was a symbolic breakthrough with a Muslim-majority African country, albeit one in the works for some time. It is an illumination of Israel’s changed geopolitical circumstances, some aspects sustainable, some more wishful and illusory.
Continue reading

The Consequences of American Withdrawal from Syria

A version of this article was published at CapX

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 December 2018

President Trump in a Twitter video saying fallen soldiers agree with his plan to withdraw from Syria, 19 December 2018 [image source]

“We have won against ISIS”, declared President Donald Trump in a Twitter video on Wednesday night. “We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.” After a day of reporting that the United States has decided on a rapid, total withdrawal from Syria, here was the confirmation. It is a policy course fraught with danger and very likely to lead to outcomes unfavourable to Western interests, whether defined in humanitarian or strategic terms.
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What Is Trump Thinking About Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 18 April 2018

Egyptian ruler Abdelfattah al-Sisi, Saudi King Salman, and President Donald Trump in Riyadh on 22 May 2017 (image source)

Two days ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that President Donald Trump has been exploring plans to replace American troops in the areas of Syria held by the Coalition partner force, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), with troops from the Arab states. The problems with this proposal, even in the rudimentary form it is presented, are manifold. It also feeds into the broader problem of Trump’s inconsistent messaging about Syria—or, more precisely, his failed efforts to balance domestic messaging, which calls for what was once referred to as “nation building … at home”, and his foreign messaging that needs to emphasise U.S. constancy to see through the mission to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by, among other things, stabilising and reconstructing Syria. Continue reading

The Gulf Crisis and British Interests

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 4 December 2017

The decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt to impose a boycott on Qatar this summer was an out-of-character development for the Gulf, where all too much politics is conducted behind closed doors between the ruling families and elites. To go public, the schism between Qatar and the so-called Quartet must have been very serious.

It was the end-point of a dispute that began in the 1990s about Qatar’s foreign policy, which at that point became independent of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and indeed actively competitive with Saudi interests. Doha wanted to alter the Saudi-oriented status quo and did so by empowering groups—almost invariably Islamists—in its cause. Those Islamists not only had agendas running counter to the other Gulf states’ conception of regional order, but which the Quartet regarded as threatening to their internal security. Continue reading