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
As tensions flared between the United States and Iran over the last ten days, a number of Washington’s Western allies have signalled their distance from the U.S. view, most dramatically in the case of Major-General Chris Ghika, Britain’s top commander in the coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), who dismissed the U.S. intelligence assessment of an increased threat from Iran. This has since been walked back, but the fissures in the Western alliance over how to deal with Iran are real, and this has been compounded by differences within the U.S. government and the highly irregular nature of the Donald Trump administration, particularly its decision-making processes and public messaging. Continue reading
Published at The Arab Weekly
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
Eight years ago, peaceful protests began against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Since then, outside powers — the Iran-Russia axis, the United States and Turkey — have become dominant in Syria.
The Iranians and Russians keeping Assad’s regime alive are clearly going nowhere. The Americans’ indecision on the point is apparently final. So, what of Turkey, which is the custodian of the remnants of the armed opposition? Continue reading
The United States’ policy in Syria has been, as James Jeffrey, the Special Representative for Syria Engagement, explained recently, focused on “one mission”: the destruction of the Islamic State (Daesh).
The US attempted to pursue this counter-terrorism mission in isolation from the politics of the broader Syrian war. This failed, as it was bound to do, and it has laid the ground for a series of sub-conflicts, another of which might be about to erupt. Continue reading
Al-Qaeda released a document on 23 October, “The Love Story Between Salman al-Saud and the Pirate Trump: A Reading of the Symptoms of Begging and the Significance of Wrong and Extortion”, by Shaykh Awab Bin Hasan al-Hasni. Al-Qaeda’s Al-Sahab Foundation released an English translation of Al-Hasani’s essay on 26 November, which is reprinted below with some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading
The United States has taken steps Syria in recent months that suggest a shift towards reconciliation with Turkey. Even if this is so, however, there is still such a deep divide over strategic outlook that these steps could be easily reversed, opening a new round of uncertainty in northern Syria as 2018 draws to a close. Continue reading
The Turkish government’s recent record in foreign policy is hardly a success story. It is therefore noteworthy that, so far, Ankara has handled the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with a singular deftness. Whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can see this through is now the key question. Continue reading
Al-Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a half-hour video speech today, entitled, “How to Confront America”. Al-Zawahiri’s speech mentions in passing the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but this—and the increasing relations of the Gulf states with the Jewish state—are held to be mere examples of the rot spread by America. Despite the lessening of Christian belief in the West, says Al-Zawahiri, the inhabitants of what was once called Christendom remain “Crusaders” at heart, with a fierce hatred for Islam and Muslims. Perhaps worse than any physical attack on the jihadists, however, is the ideological challenge of America’s secularism, Al-Zawahiri adds. An English transcript of the speech was released by As-Sahab Media and is reprinted below. Continue reading
America’s imposition of sanctions on Turkey brings the relationship to its lowest ebb in more than forty years. Almost as soon as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, came into office in 2002 there have been tensions in the relationship. These manageable differences escalated considerably during the time of President Barack Obama, primarily because of his Syria policy, and now threaten to boil over. The chances to soothe a vital strategic partnership appear to be slipping. Continue reading