After a coalition supporting the regime of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad conquered the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State (IS) in late March, suggestions were made that this demonstrated the efficacy of the pro-Assad coalition in fighting IS, and doubtless the same will be said if and when the pro-regime forces conquer Tabqa. It isn’t true. From the time of Russia’s direct intervention in Syria on 30 September 2015 to Moscow’s announcement on 14 March 2016 that it was withdrawing “the main part” of its “military” from Syria, IS was almost untouched and al-Qaeda was barely damaged, while the Assad regime was bolstered and the moderate opposition, particularly those components supported by the West, were gravely weakened.
Despite Moscow’s claims that its mission was fighting IS or “terrorism,” Russia’s real goals can be summarized as three:
Rescue the Assad regime, which was assessed to be in mortal peril
Damage the mainstream armed opposition, especially those elements supported by the West, in order that Russia can …
Rehabilitate the Assad regime internationally by inter alia leaving only extremists as its opponents, depriving the international community of credible interlocutors, and therefore strengthening the Russian hand to make peace talks an instrument for re-legitimizing Assad, rather than removing him
In recent days, this basic war strategy has been seen again in southern Syria. Continue reading →
Qassem Suleimani and Jamal Ebrahimi (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis) touring a battlefront in Fallujah
The Iraqi government announced an operation to clear the Islamic State (IS) out of Fallujah on the evening of 22 May. In the intervening three weeks, IS have lost numerous villages and towns around Fallujah and Iraqi counterterrorism forces are said to have entered Fallujah proper in the south.
As the first major city IS took on its way to proclaiming a caliphate in June 2014, the pace of the operation is not the most troubling element. What is disturbing—and what may ultimately undo any military success against IS—is the overtly sectarian nature of the offensive, led not by professional troops loyal to Baghdad, but by militias loyal to Iran and the extremist ideology of Tehran’s clerical regime. Continue reading →
Hizballah’s military commander (2008-2015) Mustafa Amine Badreddine
Mustafa Badreddine, the military commander of Hizballah, was announced killed in Syria on 13 May. This is the third major casualty of the founding generation: Imad Mughniyeh, Badreddine’s predecessor and also his cousin and brother-in-law (Mughniyeh married Saada, Badreddine’s sister), was killed in February 2008 in Damascus in an operation led by MOSSAD and supported by the CIA, and Hassan al-Laqqis, who had become one of the Party of God’s military officials in Syria, was gunned down outside his home in Beirut in December 2013. For all the speculation about “Ahrar al-Sunna Baalbek Brigade” and its links to Kataib Abdullah Azzam and al-Qaeda—or Saudi intelligence, as Hassan Nasrallah had it—the likeliest suspect was never in doubt. Hizballah has also lost other senior and propagandistically important men like Samir Kuntar, who was killed in an explosion in Damascus in December 2015. Again, however, there seemed little doubt—even from Hizballah—that Israel had done this. Continue reading →
Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest interview with President Obama was published. There have been numerous worthwhile takes on what is a very revealing conversation, such as Max Boot and Nibras Kazimi, and it is very difficult to quarrel with the conclusion of David Frum that “the dominant theme of these interviews is that we, all of us, have grievously let down the president,” who has exactly one self-criticism: “Obama admits he does not make sufficient allowances for how unreasonable other people are.” What I think deserves most attention is that the President has finally aligned his rhetoric, especially on Iran, with his actual foreign policy. Continue reading →
In the last few days, the international sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program were lifted, which will allow Tehran access to $30 billion immediately and more than $100 billion will become available in short order. There are many fears about the uses Iran will put this money to, whether on the nuclear program itself, in aiding Iran’s imperial policy in the region, now proceeding with assistance from Russia, or perhaps exporting terrorism further abroad. An under-examined potential use of this money, highlighted by new sanctions the United States applied to Iran over its ballistic missile program, is to purchase weapons from North Korea. Pyongyang has already conducted what it claims is a hydrogen bomb test this year; fuelled by Iranian money the Hermit Kingdom might yet make more trouble for its neighbours and beyond. Continue reading →
Aftermath of a Russian airstrike against U.S.-supported moderate rebels in Talbiseh, Homs (AP)
The situation in Syria could hardly get more desperate. With more than half the population displaced and 300,000 people dead, the civil war in Syria is the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time. But Syria is also a profound challenge to the American-underwritten geopolitical order that aspires toward free institutions and representative rule. As a direct consequence of policies pursued by the Obama administration, Iran and Russia, two enemies of this order, have taken their chance to assert their dominance. Continue reading →
A year into the campaign against the Islamic State, the American-led coalition has precious little to show for it. Tactical victories in Kobani, Tikrit and Tel Abyad have been more than offset not only by the negative long-term side-effects of those victories but by direct I.S. military gains in the present—notably the capture of a third provincial capital in Ramadi, the capture of Palmyra and a push into Homs and southern Syria; as well as increasing I.S. infiltration of Idlib, an area cleared entirely of I.S. by a rebel offensive in early 2014. Continue reading →