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 →
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 →
U.S. forces and members of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) patrol Al-Darbasiya in northeastern Syria, 4 November 2018. (AFP)
Despite the change of rhetoric between US Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the United States has continued to lose influence, political and military, in the Middle East to the Iran-Russia axis. 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 →
An Israeli solider hands out water on a bus, during the Syria Civil Defence extraction from the Golan Heights // 22 July 2018, provided by Israeli Army to Reuters
The collapse of the opposition in southern Syria is the final destruction of the originally constituted rebellion against President Bashar Assad. It is also a demonstration that the United States under President Donald Trump is no more invested in shaping the outcome in Syria than his predecessor, and marks the potential end of the diplomatic pact that had allowed Turkey to retain some sphere of influence unmolested by the pro-Syrian government coalition. Continue reading →
Carter Malkasian sets out in Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State to upend the conventional understanding of the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) movement, known at the time as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), in Anbar province of western Iraq. Continue reading →
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i meeting in Tehran, Iran, 1 Nov. 2017 // Picture via Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader
There have been renewed claims that Russia and Iran, while both supporting Bashar Assad’s regime, have such differences in vision and interest in Syria that there is a schism Western policymakers can take advantage of.
The basic notion is to work with Moscow, which has a less maximalist position, to limit the influence of Iran, a more disruptive power that could draw in worried regional countries to a wider war. This idea is not new and remains illusory. Russia is powerless—even if it were willing—to restrain Iran, the dominant force driving the regime coalition’s war. Continue reading →
This week marks the seventh anniversary of the Syrian revolution. A movement that began with peaceful street protests calling for reform and—after the government responded with lethal violence—the downfall of the dictator, descended into war that has to this point cost the lives of at least 500,000 people and displaced nearly twelve million others—more than half of Syria’s pre-war population.
In any strategic sense the rebellion has been defeated—it is not able to overthrow Bashar al-Assad by force on its own—and its political cause is increasingly strained as the remnants of the armed opposition are increasingly co-opted by external actors, state and non-state. Continue reading →
Last night, The New York Timesreported and Reutersconfirmed that two British Islamic State (IS) jihadists, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, both of them designated terrorists by the United States, have been arrested in Syria. Kotey and Elsheikh, along with the late Mohammed Emwazi (Abu Muharib al-Muhajir) and Aine Davis, formed a four-man cell that has become known as “The Beatles”—hence Emwazi being near-universally known as “Jihadi John”—that guarded, abused, and murdered hostages for IS from before the “caliphate” was founded in 2014. Continue reading →