Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a video statement on 20 February 2018, entitled, “Oh Our Brothers in Syria, Reconcile Amongst Yourselves”. The speech continued themes Dr. al-Zawahiri has hit on many times before, notably encouraging the Syrian insurgency to avoid allying with the West or other foreign states, to unite behind al-Qaeda since all outside actors are conspiring against the Syrian opposition, and to refuse all compromise in imposing the shari’a. Simultaneously, al-Zawahiri suggests that his adherents avoid trying for quick results and “cling[ing] to ground”, an echo of the advice given in the summer of 2016 that al-Qaeda’s operatives and the Syrian insurgents they can co-opt should prepare for a long war focused on guerrilla tactics, rather than holding territory. An English translation of al-Zawahiri’s speech was made by As-Sahab Media, disseminated by pro-al-Qaeda Telegram channels, and is reproduced below with some editions for syntax and transliteration. Continue reading
Published at TRT World
There was a serious escalation between Israel and Iran in Syria last week. This has been a long-time coming, an inevitable part of the contest for regional order that was obscured, and fuelled, by the narrow focus on the Islamic State (Daesh) and the war against its “caliphate”, particularly over the last year. Continue reading
Published at The Arab Weekly
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the Trump administration’s vision for Syria, making clear that, contrary to the expectations of many, the United States will stay in Syria beyond the collapse of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) self-proclaimed caliphate, holding the jihadists at bay and establishing an order compatible with US interests.
Crucially, Tillerson—in a sharp break with US President Donald Trump’s predecessor—specified that countering Iranian influence within Syria was a central US objective. The problem with the strategy is that it seems to rely on repurposing the United States’ anti-ISIS Kurdish militia allies against the Iranian revolution. Continue reading
Film review of The Final Year (2018)
The Final Year, a new documentary film directed by Greg Barker, tracks the closing stages of the administration of President Barack Obama in 2016. Senior officials are followed and interviewed, and the White House is watched as it tries to react to daily events. Much of the substance contained in the film was knowable in real time, but it is very useful to have these officials on record—on video, no less—explaining the assumptions and thought processes they were operating with as they made decisions that led to a series of such intense disasters around the world. This is especially interesting since the ripple effects from these catastrophes ultimately set the conditions for the election of Donald Trump and dismantling of much of the Obama legacy. Continue reading
The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.
The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading
Protests broke out against the Iranian government on 27 December, and have achieved a wider geographic spread in the country than even the massive uprising of June 2009, reaching into religiously conservative, working-class towns and districts traditionally regarded as pro-regime. It is likely these demonstrations will be suppressed, but that does not obviate the need for Western policy. To the contrary, the protests exposed several flawed assumptions in recent policy-making, and a course correction is urgently necessary. Continue reading