Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

16 October 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Twitter executive for Middle East is British Army 'psyops' soldier

Ian Cobain
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The senior Twitter executive with editorial responsibility for the Middle East is also a part-time officer in the British Army’s psychological warfare unit, Middle East Eye has established.

Gordon MacMillan, who joined the social media company's UK office six years ago, has for several years also served with the 77th Brigade, a unit formed in 2015 in order to develop “non-lethal” ways of waging war.

The 77th Brigade uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, as well as podcasts, data analysis and audience research to wage what the head of the UK military, General Nick Carter, describes as “information warfare”.

Carter says the 77th Brigade is giving the British military “the capability to compete in the war of narratives at the tactical level”; to shape perceptions of conflict. Some soldiers who have served with the unit say they have been engaged in operations intended to change the behaviour of target audiences.

The Origins of New US-Turkish Relations

By George Friedman 

For several years, there has been a significant shift underway in U.S. strategy toward the Middle East, where Washington has consistently sought to avoid combat. The United States is now compelled to seek accommodation with Turkey, a regional power in its own right, based on terms that are geopolitically necessary for both. Their relationship has been turbulent, and while it may continue to be so for a while, it will decline. Their accommodation has nothing to do with mutual affection but rather with mutual necessity. The Turkish incursion into Syria and the U.S. response are part of this adjustment, one that has global origins and regional consequences.

Similarly, the U.S. decision to step aside as Turkey undertook an incursion in northeastern Syria has a geopolitical and strategic origin. The strategic origin is a clash between elements of the Defense Department and the president. The defense community has been shaped by a war that has been underway since 2001. During what is called the Long War, the U.S. has created an alliance structure of various national and subnational groups. Yet the region is still on uneven footing. The Iranians have extended a sphere of influence westward. Iraq is in chaos. The Yemeni civil war still rages, and the original Syrian war has ended, in a very Middle Eastern fashion, indecisively.

Iranian oil tanker hit off Saudi coast, may have been missiles: Iranian media reports

Parisa Hafezi, Sylvia Westall

DUBAI (Reuters) - An Iranian-owned oil tanker was struck, probably by missiles, in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia’s coast on Friday, Iranian media said, an incident that if confirmed will stoke tension in a region rattled by attacks on tankers and oil sites since May.

An undated picture shows the Iranian-owned Sabiti oil tanker sailing in Red Sea. National Iranian Oil Tanker Company via WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY

The Sabiti was hit in the morning about 60 miles (96 km) from the Saudi port of Jeddah, Iranian media reported. The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) said the ship was damaged but now heading to the Gulf, denying reports it was set ablaze.

The incident, which has yet to be independently confirmed, is the latest involving oil tankers in the Red Sea and Gulf area, and is likely to ratchet up tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, long-time regional foes fighting a proxy war in Yemen, which lies at the southern end of the Red Sea.

The reports offered sometimes diverging accounts. Iranian state-run television, citing the national oil company, said it was hit by missiles while denying a report they came from Saudi Arabia.

How to Save Iraq

By Ranj Alaaldin

Iraqis have had enough. After years of poor governance, the Iraqi people have run out of patience with the failures of their governing elites to deliver basic services or to reduce unemployment and corruption. Tens of thousands have come out in protests in Baghdad and parts of southern Iraq since last week. More than 100 protesters have been killed and thousands have been injured by security forces. Broadcasting stations have been attacked and social media platforms and the internet have been blocked.

The scale and magnitude of the protests is unprecedented, as is the violent reaction from the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has failed to prevent Iraq’s worst crisis since the Islamic State seized Mosul in 2014. He must take responsibility and ensure that the officials responsible for the large scale killings of protesters are prosecuted.

The crisis places Mr. Abdul Mahdi in a precarious position. Protesters want jobs and services, accountability and, in some cases, a complete overhaul of the Iraqi political class. The prime minister has failed to offer concessions — an increase in salaries, a basic wage for poorer families and interest-free housing credit programs — that could placate them. In a televised address, Mr. Abdul Mahdi expressed willingness to respond to the “rightful demands” of the protesters but warned that there was no “magic solution” to Iraq’s problems.

Iran says oil tanker struck by missiles off Saudi Arabia

By: Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Two missiles struck an Iranian tanker traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia on Friday, Iranian officials said, the latest incident in the region amid months of heightened tensions between Tehran and the U.S.

There was no word from Saudi Arabia on the reported attack and Saudi officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Oil prices spiked by 2% on the news.

"This latest incident, if confirmed to be an act of aggression, is highly likely to be part of the wider narrative of deteriorating relations between Saudi and the U.S. and Iran," private maritime security firm Dryad Maritime warned.

"It is likely that the region, have being stable for the last month, will face another period of increasing maritime threats, as the Iranian and Saudi geopolitical stand-off continues," it added.

Trump, Syria, And The Betrayal Of The Kurds – Analysis

By Adrian Ang U-Jin*
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On Sunday October 6, 2019, the White House announced abruptly that the United States would withdraw its forces in northeastern Syria to accommodate a long-threatened Turkish offensive in the region. The Trump administration’s decision must be considered within the context of strained US-Turkish relations.

While this is so, it also threatens America’s strategic interests in Syria, calls into question policy making within the White House, strains the president’s relations with Republican allies at a crucial time for him, and casts doubt about America’s commitments and loyalty to its allies.

Syria, the Kurds, and Strained US-Turkish Relations

The decision to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria is occurring in the midst of US-Turkish relations strained by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s suspicions of American complicity in the 2016 failed military coup; his courting of Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 missiles; the US decision to expel Turkey from the F-35 project in retaliation; and the fight against Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

15 October 2019

The US and Iran: a way out of the impasse?

Although no major breakthroughs to end the current impasse between Tehran and Washington are expected in the short term, Mahsa Rouhi says that tensions could be alleviated by a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani if only to break the ice and show goodwill.

The dangerous diplomatic and military dance between Iran and the United States shows no signs of ending. As recently as two weeks ago, when world leaders met at the UN General Assembly, there had been hopes for talks between the two countries. French President Emmanuel Macron put forward a reported four-point deal to break the current impasse. Under his proposal, Iran would agree to comply with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and remain open to future nuclear negotiations and perhaps even some discussion of Iran’s regional activities, while the US would agree to sanctions relief, including on critical oil exports. Both sides agreed to the terms, but the plan fell through because Washington refused to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s requirement that sanctions be lifted ahead of any meeting.

There are, of course, broader reasons for the current diplomatic frustration. Rouhani needs sanctions relief and a clear framework for negotiation up front to provide him with the political capital required to sell new talks to Iran’s religious leadership and other hardliners in the country. The US wants reasonable assurances of a deal that President Donald Trump can claim is superior to the JCPOA. In this light, middle ground seems elusive.

‘It Didn’t Have to Be This Way’: Just-Retired CENTCOM General


Trump's decision "threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability," writes Joseph Votel, who until March led America's forces in the Mideast.

The abrupt policy decision to seemingly abandon our Kurdish partners could not come at a worse time. The decision was made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us.

In northeastern Syria, we had one of the most successful partnerships. The Islamic State was using Syria as a sanctuary to support its operations in Iraq and globally, including by hosting and training foreign fighters. We had to go after ISIS quickly and effectively. The answer came in the form of a small band of Kurdish forces pinned up against the Turkish border and fighting for their lives against ISIS militants in the Syrian town of Kobane in 2014.

Saudi Arabia Has Room to Maneuver After the Oil Attack


The September 14 2019 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil processing plants were unprecedented. Saudi officials quickly stated that all options for response are on the table. But one option is better than the alternatives: a non-aggression arrangement with Iran. Despite the kingdom’s confrontational rhetoric on Iran, a non-aggression arrangement may be both more likely and more useful than one would expect.

The Saudi crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salman, has said that he “hopes not” to order “a military response” and that “the political and peaceful solution is much better than the military one.” He even welcomed the idea of a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to craft a new deal, saying: “absolutely. This is what we all ask for.” His answer might signal a slight yet promising departure from the usual combative Saudi rhetoric on Iran.

Saudi leaders shouldn’t deny themselves the option of sitting with Iranian leaders to negotiate their own deals. Yet opening a channel with Iran after the attacks bears a political cost for Riyadh. It could be seen as a sign of weakness, not only by Iran, but also by the Saudi regime’s foes and friends, at home and abroad.


14 October 2019

The US played down Turkey’s concerns about Syrian Kurdish forces. That couldn’t last

Amanda Sloat

Amanda Sloat explains that the policy of assisting a faction of Syrian Kurds, the YPG, to fight the Islamic State has been a ticking time bomb since it began under the Obama administration, in 2014. This piece originally appeared in the Washington Post.

Astrikingly bipartisan array of politicians slammed President Trump for his surprise announcement that he would withdraw U.S. forces from Syria’s border with Turkey — removing them from harm’s way before the Turkish military launched an operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have helped the United States battle the Islamic State.

“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back,” tweeted former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the decision “morally repugnant,” while Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) attacked it as “positively sinister.”

To be sure, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) members who fought valiantly against the Islamic State deserve American gratitude, and Trump should have strongly discouraged Turkey from attacking them. But the situation is complicated. The policy of assisting a faction of Syrian Kurds, the YPG, to fight the Islamic State has been a ticking time bomb since it began under the Obama administration, in 2014.

Ctrl + Shift + Delete: The GDPR’s Influence on National Security Posture

Lexie N. Johnson 
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The European Union (EU) shook the information technology and business worlds when implementing its 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In the effort to take data privacy rights to the internet, the new GDPR enacts several provisions that return the powers of data discretion and consent to EU citizens. One of its more notable provisions lies in Article 17, or more commonly known as “the right to be forgotten”—a modern fundamental right that highlights the legal tension between human rights and security measures. In the case of Article 17, the balance falls in favor of human rights.

While human rights activists rejoice with the expansion of data privacy rights, Article 17 complicates intelligence agencies’ efforts by removing data relating to an identifiable person who can be discretely discerned by referencing data such as: name, identification number, location data, online identifier, or specifics of a person’s physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, social, or cultural identity. This information collected by private companies in social media, telecommunications, medical information, banking, and academia was previously accessible to government agencies without restriction or with a warrant, subpoena, or court order. Due to this data access and pressure to be more transparent in their collection methods, European intelligence agencies like Europol and INTCEN have further budgeted and bolstered their open-source intelligence (OSINT) capabilities. Yet, these agencies may find their OSINT efforts legally encumbered as EU data subjects exercise their newfound Article 17 rights.

Anti-ISIS Operations In Syria Cease Amid Turkish Assault

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Military operations against ISIS in Syria have effectively ground to a halt since the Turkish military crossed the border to launch an assault on the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Wednesday.

“The SDF is clearly focused on the northern border to protect their forces,” a defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity told Defense One, saying that as a result, the fight against the terror group is “paused.” 

After trying unsuccessfully to start a counter-ISIS force of local fighters in Syria and Iraq from scratch, the U.S. military backed the mainly-Kurdish SDF in the fight against ISIS in Syria beginning in 2016. Those Kurdish militants became “the backbone of the fighting force against ISIS,” the recently-retired U.S. Central Command commander, Gen. Joseph Votel, wrote in an op-ed this week. “Without it, President Donald Trump could not have declared the complete defeat of ISIS.”

Turkey’s Endgame in Syria What Erdogan Wants

By Gonul Tol 

In a stunning announcement on Sunday, the Trump administration gave the nod to a Turkish military incursion into northeastern Syria, an operation that would entail clashes with Washington’s Kurdish allies in the area. The U.S. military, which has around 1,000 troops in Syria, would not “support or be involved in the operation.” But the White House said it would pull back U.S. forces stationed near the Syrian-Turkish border to clear the way for Ankara’s troops.

Facing an intense backlash even among Republicans, Trump seemed to backpedal on Monday. But Turkish army units stand ready at the Syrian border, and Washington’s exhortations are unlikely to keep Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from giving them the green light. This is because Turkey’s strategy is more than an exercise in geopolitics—for Erdogan, the war touches on his very political survival.

Responding to the Saudi Oil Attack: A Challenge for U.S. Policy

Suzanne Maloney, Norman Roule, and Michael Singh

Three experts discuss Washington’s potential reaction, which will have powerful implications not only in the Gulf states, but everywhere that America and its allies face off against Iran and its proxies, from Iraq to Lebanon to Gaza.

On September 27, Suzanne Maloney, Norman Roule, and Michael Singh addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Maloney is deputy director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Roule, a veteran of the CIA, is a senior advisor to the Counter Extremism Project and United Against Nuclear Iran. Singh is the Institute’s Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and managing director. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.

Iran’s actions in the past four months are the predictable consequences of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy. When the president exited the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018, many observers made cataclysmic predictions about Iran’s likely reaction. In the year following that decision, the regime chose to act with relative restraint, reflecting its desire to see how the U.S. pressure campaign would play out, how Europe would respond to it, and whether businesses would comply with unilateral sanctions.

How to Present Evidence of Iranian Involvement in the Saudi Attack

Michael Knights and Tim Michetti

By working effectively with the UN, Washington and Riyadh can help foster global consensus on Iran’s culpability, creating a firm basis for multilateral censure that could induce caution in Tehran.

On September 23, Britain, France, and Germany issued a joint statement on the strike against Saudi oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais, noting, “It is clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack. There is no other plausible explanation.” Tehran continues to deny its involvement, however, so the international community will need to see convincing evidence before taking concerted diplomatic action. A multilateral forensic investigation appears to be in the works, potentially involving the UN and a range of member states. To achieve broad-based consensus, this investigation must be viewed as professional and impartial, balancing the need for quick results against a comprehensive and clear statement of the facts by neutral parties.


Washington’s incorrect 2002 assessment regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has cast a long shadow over subsequent U.S. efforts to present evidence to a skeptical international community, including the current situation. Many officials are also nervous about giving the Trump administration a de facto green light for punitive actions that could lead to a regional conflict or deepen the Iranian nuclear problem.

Plugging the Gaps in Saudi Arabia’s Air Defenses

Michael Knights and Conor Hiney

The kingdom already has much of the equipment needed to intercept Iranian air attacks, but it needs Washington’s help on reacting more quickly, deterring Tehran, and establishing joint defense networks with other Gulf states.

The reasons why Saudi Arabia failed to intercept the recent attack on Abqaiq and Khurais are no mystery: its air defenses were overstretched, badly coordinated, and not operated on a wartime footing. This failure does not mean that Iranian cruise missile and drone strikes will succeed every time, but it does underline the need to offer practical defensive assistance from abroad, and to restore deterrence by imposing costs on Iran.


13 October 2019

Sorry, Lindsey Graham: America Can't Kick Turkey Out of NATO Unilaterally

by Daniel R. DePetris

President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate U.S. forces away from the Syria-Turkish border in anticipation of a Turkish military offensive in the area has been greeted by a collective groan from the foreign policy establishment on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Lawmakers from Sens. Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham to Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Warren have condemned Trump’s move as a strategically shortsighted, humanitarian abomination. In a joint statement issued on October 7, Romney and Murphy wrote that the redeployment was a “betrayal” of the very same Syrian Kurdish fighters that served as the main ground component in the U.S. anti-Islamic State campaign. The order, in the senators' words, "will have grave humanitarian and national security consequences.” 

Defense Department officials received no advance warning about the redeployment and were therefore surprised to learn about it last night. One National Security Council official told Newsweek on condition of anonymity that Trump was out-negotiated by Turkish President Recep Erdogan during his latest phone call. There is a rising degree of anger and indignation percolating throughout the national security bureaucracy, much of which was outright opposed to removing the U.S. presence in northeast Syria and indeed viewed U.S. troops as a deterrent to a Turkish offensive against Kurdish armed formations. 

The Myth of the Remote-Controlled Car Bomb

Hugo Kaaman

The car bomb is an incredibly powerful and versatile weapon. Depending on how it’s designed, it can be used to cause unfathomable destruction in all sorts of environments, against targets of varying nature. Car bombs, also known as Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs), are some of the most popular weapons employed by non-state actors. Traditionally speaking, the most commonly used type of car bomb has been the parked VBIED.

With this method, civilian vehicles are usually rigged with explosives, and then parked at their targets before being detonated. The driver ferrying the vehicle to its intended location thus has ample time to slip away, leaving behind what is basically a larger, concealed IED. Alternatively, the VBIED can be driven to the target and detonated by a driver. During the latter half of the past decade, the use of such Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIEDs) has skyrocketed, with the Islamic State (IS) as the main culprit. In 2016 and 2017 alone, IS claimed to have used a total of 1,383 SVBIEDs, most of them up-armored, as part of their prolonged military campaigns in Syria and Iraq.

Is an ISIS Resurgence Underway?

Anu Adewole

Earlier this month, self-proclaimed ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi directed followers to break former ISIS members out of prisons and camps.

Northeast Syria, controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), holds the largest number of prisoners and displaced people, including relatives of ISIS fighters. An estimated at the al-Hawl camp for civilians lived under ISIS rule. A staggering 70,000 people in the al-Hawl Camp greatly outnumber the U.S. backed SDF. Currently, the camp is guarded by about 400 SDF troops.

Recently, there have been signs of growing radicalization and extremist behaviors in the camp, led by women. There have been reports of women stabbing multiple numbers of SDF guards, and other occupants of the camp have been murdered.

Many women and children who lived under ISIS occupation have shown unwavering support for the terror group.

Confusion reigns as Trump authorizes troop withdrawal from Turkish-Syrian border towns

Amberin Zaman 

US forces began withdrawing today from two Kurdish-controlled towns in northern Syria to make way for the entry of Turkish troops in what the Kurds are calling “a historic betrayal” by the United States, but rather seems like just more confusion enveloping the Donald Trump administration’s Syria policy.

“US forces are vacating their positions in Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ain,” a senior official for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. He called the move “utterly unexpected” and said it was not in keeping with US pledges to keep Turkish troops out of the Kurds' self-administered zone. “If Turkey invades, the Kurds will fight back,” the SDF official vowed.

As Al-Monitor went to press, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement suggesting it would cross into northern Syria. "At this stage, the promises of the US military authorities have not been kept. In the process, the US security establishment increased its engagement with the PYD/YPG instead of ending it, an approach contrary to the current allied relationship with our country.” The statement continued that Turkey would rid the area east of the Euphrates from "terrorists," and that Erdogan had made this clear in his telephone conversation with Trump.