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 →
President Barack Obama meeting President-elect Donald Trump, 10 November 2016 [image source]
October 2019 may well remain in the popular memory as the inflection point marking the collapse of America’s — and by extension, the West’s — position in at least the northern Middle East. Having been thwarted twice before in efforts to leave Syria, in March and December 2018, President Donald Trump made one more try. For many, ‘Trump betrayed the Kurds’ will be the summary of the events that followed as Turkey made a swift move into the vacuum. The reality is a lot more complicated, and in truth the amount of blame that Trump can take for the events of the last month is rather limited. This catastrophe was baked into the policy of Barack Obama, and Trump’s main fault is to have followed the policy track laid down by his predecessor. Continue reading →
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 →
At the beginning of September, New America published a paper, based on recovered al-Qaeda documents, which concluded that there was “no evidence of cooperation” between the terrorist group and the Islamic Republic of Iran. New America’s study lauds itself for taking an approach that “avoids much of the challenge of politicization” in the discussion of Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda. This is, to put it mildly, questionable.
A narrative gained currency in certain parts of the foreign policy community during the days of the Iraq war, and gained traction since the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, that Iran can be a partner in the region, at least against (Sunni) terrorism, since Tehran shares this goal with the West. Under President Barack Obama, this notion became policy: the US moved to bring Iran’s revolutionary government in from the cold, to integrate it into the international system. Continue reading →
Syrian rebels in eastern Aleppo, November 2016 (image source)
Operation TIMBER SYCAMORE, the formally-covert program run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has, since approximately 2012, ostensibly provided support to vetted Syrian rebel units fighting against Bashar al-Asad’s regime. This program, begun by President Barack Obama, was never raised to a level that could alter the course of Syria’s conflict in favour of the opposition, and indeed one of its most concrete effects was denying certain categories of heavy weapons to the rebellion. While providing subsistence to some rebels, the program was mostly a political instrument, shielding Obama from criticism as he tilted U.S. policy in Asad’s favour by empowering his patron, Iran. President Donald Trump abandoned even this fig-leaf of opposition to Asad in July 2017, announcing the end of the program, a termination that went into effect last month. Continue reading →
Protests in Tehran, Iran, 30 December 2017. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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 →
A widely reported, 15,000-word article by Josh Meyer in Politico on Sunday moves us another step closer to finding out the actual terms of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Though the Obama administration sold the Iran deal on the narrowest possible terms as an arms control agreement, the reality was that this agreement was intended to facilitate a strategic tilt in Iran’s favour—against traditional allies—that left a regional balance requiring less American commitment.
Because the administration wanted the paper agreement, Iran had the leverage to threaten to walk away, and was therefore appeased on multiple fronts ostensibly unrelated to the nuclear issue. Continue reading →
The United States and Iran are seemingly days from signing an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that has been brought about by a series of American concessions. If the deal is signed on the present terms it will effectively dismantle the sanctions against Iran and the international legal regime that recognizes the Iranian regime as an outlaw, will leave Iran on the threshold of nuclear weapons, and will provide legitimacy for, and billions of dollars toward, Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.
The key thing to understand about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear accord announced on April 2 between the P5+1 and Iran, is that it does not exist. The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said at one point, “We envisage being able to deliver a narrative,” adding that this might not be written and—these being forgiving times—Iran’s narrative need not match the West’s. In other words, nothing was signed or agreed to. This is the reason for the wild discrepancies between the American and Iranian JCPOA “factsheets”: both are drawing from a rolling text that is ostensibly to lead to a “final” or “comprehensive” deal and spinning it to their own respective advantage. The administration has as much as said so with its mantra that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.