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

16 December 2019

Don't Expect a Thaw in Iran

by Ariane M. Tabatabai
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At midnight on Friday, Nov. 15, the Iranian government attempted to quietly overturn years of policy by revoking long-standing gasoline subsidies. It didn't work. When Iranians woke at dawn and found that gas prices had risen by 50 percent, thousands of people in 100 cities and towns took to the streets in protest. Surprised by the intensity of the backlash, the regime quickly responded with force, unleashing security forces and cracking down on demonstrators. The next day, the regime shut down the internet. When service was restored days later, reports of brutal killings and arrests came to light. In a matter of days in November, thousands had been arrested and hundreds killed. Regime officials denied responsibility. Rather than showing a united front, they quickly turned on one another.

Iran's protests—coupled with a surprise prisoner exchange with the United States over the weekend—could mark the beginning of a new chapter in Iran's domestic politics. The recent demonstrations were more widespread and the response to them much more swift and violent than in previous decades. In fact, the regime's legitimacy has not been challenged this forcefully since the 2009 Green Movement—and the implications for Iran's domestic politics are many. Whatever happens inside the country, though, it will not likely change Iran's foreign policy, which means that there is little hope that a period of constructive engagement between the two countries will follow the chaos as Americans prepare to enter an election year.

15 December 2019

Iranian Missiles in Iraq

Iran-backed militias within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have acquired short-range ballistic missiles from Tehran, supplementing their existing arsenal of unguided rockets.

These militias’ small, harassing rocket attacks targeting U.S. facilities in Iraq have already disrupted American diplomatic and business activities in the country.

Israeli airstrikes on PMF missile depots have killed and injured dozens of Iraqis , straining relations among the United States, Iraq, and Israel.

Further Iranian missile proliferation in Iraq could increase the number of potential rocket launch sites, impede the attribution of Iranian missile attacks, and locate launch sites closer to U.S. and allied forces in the region.

In discussions of Iran’s regional missile proliferation, Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels tend to dominate the conversation. This focus is for good reason: Hezbollah today possesses an estimated 130,000 rockets and short-range missiles, and the Houthis have fired over 250 projectiles into Saudi Arabia since 2015.1 Yet Iran’s strategy of arming proxies with rockets to harass, distract, and deter its regional adversaries has expanded to include factions of a third group. Collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, these militias have taken on increasing importance.

Iran’s Regional Influence Campaign Is Starting to Flop

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As a new wave of demonstrations engulfs the Middle East, one common factor connects the protests from Baghdad to Beirut: a deep and widespread feeling of antipathy toward the Iranian regime. This is especially true in the bloodied towns and cities of Iraq—a country Iran’s leaders have regarded as theirs since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Since the outbreak of the protests in early October, various security forces, including Iranian-backed Shiite militias, have killed more than 400 Iraqis and wounded some 20,000 others. Not only is there good reason to believe that much of the brutality has taken place at the behest of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassem Suleimani, the notorious commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, but the available evidence seems to confirm it.

Aware of the anti-Iranian mood on the Iraqi streets—exemplified by protesters beating their shoes against portraits of Khamenei, just as they had done with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003—an unnerved Khamenei did not hesitate to intervene.

Will Protests in France Force Macron to Back Down on Reforms?

Judah Grunstein 

The transportation strikes and labor protests that have paralyzed France for the past week are proof once again of the gap between President Emmanuel Macron’s lofty international reputation and his domestic fall from grace. Lionized abroad as a young, dynamic outsider, courageous reformer and liberal champion, Macron is decried at home for his tone-deaf arrogance, illiberal imperiousness and seeming disregard for France’s less fortunate and most vulnerable citizens.

The strikes and demonstrations are just the beginning of what promises to be a lengthy fight over Macron’s plans to reform France’s pension system. Two years ago, Macron faced down the unions to push through labor market reforms. Now, he is trying to tackle the crown jewel of France’s social safety net, which is also the third rail of French politics: the generous but unwieldy collection of over 40 job- and sector-specific pension plans that vary in everything from payouts and retirement age to years of required work activity. ...

14 December 2019

What Fox News Hasn't Told You about Qatar and Iran

Irina Tsukerman

A recent Fox News story provided a conclusion of an intelligence report, which explained that Qatar likely had advance knowledge of Iran attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in May, but failed to share that information that could have prevented these attacks. If accurate this episode would not be the first time when Qatar is alleged to have had early warning of terrorist attacks but kept silent, advancing its own foreign policy agenda. Former Al Jazeera reporter Mohamed Fahmy had extensively discussed alleged contacts between Al Jazeera, a state-funded mouthpiece that closely reflects Qatar's foreign policy in its coverage, and that it has followed Iran's lead in using the media as a tool of foreign policy, masquerading as press. Qatar has openly supported the IRGC, Hezbullah, Hamas, and other Iran-funded terrorist organizations in its news coverage, as well as by giving platform to operatives and spokespeople from these groups on Al Jazeera.

Fahmy also pointed out that Qatar and Iran are close political allies. " “Iran and Qatar are allies, in fact, that have similar regional agendas — with the goal of destabilizing regimes allied with the US being chief among them. Qatar for years has sided with Iran in one proxy fight after another, whether in Bahrain, Yemen or in backing Hamas terror against Israelis and Palestinians.” (Mohamed Fahmy, Op-Ed, “Al Jazeera: Qatar’s Criminal Mouthpiece,” Arab News, 12/5/17) Fahmy further noted that "“Even when Qatar officially joined GCC positions against Iran, its real foreign policy — the so-called news pumped out by my former employer Al Jazeera — was on full display to anyone with a satellite dish or Internet, showing unquestionably that the emirate was firmly aligned with the mullahs, not with its Arab neighbors or the US.” (id.) Qatar also has a record of aiding and abetting Iran-backed terrorist organization terrorist attacks & acts of war not only through sympathetic coverage but by giving realtime information useful to launching more precise missile attacks aimed at civilians.

Japan’s Iran Dilemma

By Kazuto Suzuki

The situation in the Middle East remains extremely unstable. Since May 2019, when Iran declared that it was suspending some of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Saudi Arabian and Norwegian registered oil tankers have been attacked around the Straits of Hormuz, and a Japanese oil tanker was attacked while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was actually visiting Iran. September brought a strike on a Saudi Arabian oil facility, knocking out 5 percent of global oil production, albeit temporarily. For Japan, relying as it does on the Middle East for its supply of crude oil and natural gas, the frequent occurrence of such dangerous situations poses a major problem for domestic energy security.

Moreover, the facts and intentions pertaining to these incidents are not clear. Iran is suspected of involvement in the May and June oil tanker attacks and the September attack on the oil facility, but denies any such involvement. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also hinted at Iran’s involvement, but did not hold Iran to account for the damage sustained. The United States has meanwhile pointed the finger directly at Iran. However, Washington’s existing policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran leaves little scope for sanctions. Even if additional sanctions were to be imposed, it would not significantly change the situation.

13 December 2019


By Craig Whitlock
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Aconfidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.

All the King’s Consultants

By Calvert W. Jones 

“Does a Lebanese kid from Harvard know more about the streets of Riyadh than I do?” a Saudi business developer asked me in 2016, bemoaning the scores of highly paid foreign consultants whispering into the ears of his country’s leaders. The phenomenon isn’t unique to Saudi Arabia, and neither are the complaints. “All their eyes are on our money,” an Emirati adviser said in an interview. “Too many strategies, not enough getting done.”

Experts play valuable and highly visible roles advising leaders in wealthy liberal democracies and international institutions. But far less is known about what they do—and to what effect—for authoritarian regimes and developing countries. That’s a problem, because autocratic leaders from China to Saudi Arabia increasingly rely on experts, especially from top consulting firms, universities, and think tanks in the West. In 2017, the consulting market in the Gulf monarchies topped $2.8 billion, with Saudi Arabia accounting for almost half of that amount, according to Source Global Research. Experts and the institutions they work for have sometimes appeared unprepared to handle the potential pitfalls of operating in authoritarian contexts. In recent months, experts who assist regimes associated with human rights violations, corruption, and other wrongdoing—and often charge hefty fees—have provoked growing public criticism, both in the United States, where many are based, and in the countries where they operate.

Mohammed bin Salman Is Having a Fire Sale of His Political Power

by Steven A. Cook
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If not for protests in Iraq and Lebanon and the still unfolding drama in northeastern Syria, Saudi Aramco’s pending initial public offering (IPO) would be by far the biggest story in the Middle East. Perhaps history will still remember it as such.

The two most important facts about Aramco are now directly in tension with one another. It has been central to the power of the House of Saud precisely because the royal family has had it under tight control. At the same time, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made it central to his plan to transform the country, known as Vision 2030, by promising to sell shares of the company to investors—thus giving them greater control over it.

So how to make sense of Mohammed bin Salman’s decision? The easy answer is money. Despite its reputation for vast wealth, Saudi Arabia needs more cash. But there is something else going on here: the political rehabilitation of the crown prince. His supporters will argue that he does not need to be rehabilitated because he has always enjoyed broad support in Saudi Arabia. That may be true, but to pull off Vision 2030, Mohammed bin Salman needs some of the international good will he enjoyed until mid-2017. There’s just one problem: The Aramco IPO is far riskier than the Saudis are letting on.

Turkey’s military drones: an export product that’s disrupting NATO

By Dan Gettinger

Just over a decade ago, the prototype of an unmanned aircraft that would become the Bayraktar TB2 took off for its maiden flight at Sinop Airport on the Black Sea. There were few signs then that the mid-sized, twin-boom aircraft would become Turkey’s first indigenously produced armed drone and the backbone of its unmanned air force. At the time, domestic drone manufacturers struggled against technical difficulties and foreign competition. Ten years on, however, the situation is radically different: Ankara’s drone program has morphed into a successful industry that’s already exporting products. It’s also a potent military force that’s further straining the NATO alliance.

Turkey is wielding its new arsenal in a military campaign against Kurdish fighters in Syria, part of a long-standing conflict that has taken on new significance since US President Donald Trump announced a controversial decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria this fall, opening up allied Syrian Kurds to Turkish attacks. The president of France, another NATO ally of Turkey’s, recently accused Turkey of “fighting against those who fight with us.” Turkey’s drones have enabled a conflict in an already volatile region; more worrisome, Ankara’s successful drone program is an example that several other countries hope to emulate.

Iran’s Protests Are Not Just About Gas Prices

By Mohammad Ali Kadivar, Saber Khani, and Abolfazl Sotoudeh 

Awave of protest swept across Iran last week. The government had abruptly hiked gas prices in order to offset its budget deficit at a time of high inflation and negative economic growth. Angry protesters clashed with security forces, set government buildings and banks on fire, and blocked roads. The government responded with an iron fist, killing more than 200 protesters, arresting thousands, and shutting down the Internet across the country for about a week.

In a country where anti-government demonstrations are not allowed, widespread protests with an explicit anti-regime tone are significant. But to understand the meaning of these protests—to know what motivated protesters and why—is exceedingly difficult, given the restrictions on free expression and international communication that currently prevail in Iran. The identities and agendas of the protesters matter for their own sake. They also matter because Iran is a country eternally in the spotlight and often misunderstood.

12 December 2019

Adm. James Stavridis: ‘Buckle Up’ on NKorea, Iran

by Eric Mack
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“Bottom line, in both parts of the world, buckle up,” Stavridis told Sunday’s “The Cats Roundtable” host John Catsimatidis on 970 AM-N.Y. “Because both of these criminal regimes, both North Korea and Iran, are going to want to step out. They also, I’m close to this, John, recognize the turbulence in Washington right now, the distraction.

“The reality is that [impeachment] ties down the executive branch and makes the executive branch less capable of responding quickly to these kinds of crises when they develop,” he added.

Stavridis expects Iran and Kim Jong Un to act up “over the holidays and into the early part of the new year.”

“So, unfortunately, I predict he’s going to revert to bad behavior,” Stavridis said of Kim, who has made no progress talks with the U.S. as he seeks sanctions relief and rejects calls for denuclearization. “What I think we’re going to see is a pretty long-range ballistic missile.

11 December 2019

Terrorism Returns To London – OpEd

By Duncan Bartlett

A dark atmosphere has descended on Britain’s capital city following the latest terror attack on London Bridge.

Just before 2pm on Friday, Usman Khan appeared wielding knives and claimed that he had a bomb strapped to his chest. Within a few minutes he had killed two young graduates, 23-year-old Saskia Jones and her friend Jack Merrit, 25.

A small group of people, later praised for their bravery by the Queen, used a fire extinguisher, a whale’s tusk and even their bare fists to try to prevent further bloodshed, before armed police arrived and shot Khan dead.

Those who stepped into the fray included some men who had previously served time in prison for various offences, including murder. They had attended a meeting called to help rehabilitate offenders. Khan had been invited to take part in one of the workshops. The event brought together ex-offenders, prison reform campaigners, academics, and graduates.

10 December 2019

Saudi Aramco raises $25.6 billion in the world's biggest IPO

By Julia Horowitz and John Defterios
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London/Vienna (CNN Business)Saudi Arabia has just pulled off the biggest initial public offering in history, raising $25.6 billion by selling shares in its giant state-owned oil monopolySaudi Aramco sold 3 billion shares at 32 riyals ($8.53) each in its IPO, the company said Thursday. That means the deal raised more than China's Alibaba (BABA) in its 2014 public debut. The IPO values Aramco at roughly $1.7 trillion, making it the most valuable publicly traded company in the world ahead of Apple (AAPL), which is worth about $1.15 trillion. Saudi Aramco said last month that it was aiming to sell about 1.5% of its 200 billion shares. The size of the deal could yet rise to $29.4 billion, if an option to sell more shares is exercised.

While setting a new record, the IPO still falls well short of Saudi Arabia's initial lofty expectations.

First touted in 2016, the company's partial privatization was supposed to usher in a new era of economic liberalization in Saudi Arabia.

US Mulls Sending Several Thousand More Troops To Middle East To Counter Iran

(RFE/RL) — The United States says it is considering sending thousands of additional troops to the Middle East over concerns about Iranian actions in the region.

John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told Congress on December 5 that Washington was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”

Rood did not specify the number of troops being considered, but he denied during his testimony a report in The Wall Street that the Pentagon was considering sending some 14,000 new forces to the region.

Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said Defense chief David Esper had also denied that figure.

One official told U.S. media that the number would likely be in the range of 5,000 to 7,000 troops. That would be on top of the 14,000 troops deployed to the region since May.

The official did not say where the troops would be deployed or what the time frame would be but told AFP that recent attacks on U.S. assets by Iranian-linked groups had prompted the troop-level review.

ISIS is taking a beating in Afghanistan setting the stage for potential US troop withdrawal

By: Shawn Snow 

Sustained U.S. and Afghan operations combating the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State has led to a near-collapse of the jihadist group in eastern Afghanistan — helping clear a hurdle for an American withdrawal from the country.

President Donald Trump touted success of recent operations against the Islamic extremist group during a Thanksgiving Day surprise visit to American troops at Bagram Airfield detailing that U.S. forces were “wiping” out ISIS militants “left and right.”

“There’s almost nothing left in this area. And al-Qaida, the same thing. And tremendous progress,” Trump told U.S. troops during the visit. “And we — we’ve got them down to very low numbers. We’ll have that totally taken care of in a very short period of time.”

The New York Times, citing a Western official, reported that the number of ISIS militants had dwindled down to roughly 300 from previous estimates that claimed the group was fielding several thousand fighters.

November 2019 Issue


This past summer, the United Nations Monitoring Team charged with tracking the global terrorist threat assessed that “the immediate global threat posed by Al-Qaida remains unclear, with [Ayman] al-Zawahiri reported to be in poor health and doubts as to how the group will manage the succession.” In our feature article, Ali Soufan profiles the veteran Egyptian jihadi operative Abu Muhammad al-Masri and outlines why he appears to be next in line to lead al-Qa`ida. Soufan writes: “Abu Muhammad has long played a critical role in al-Qa`ida, both as an operational commander and as a member of the governing shura council. Yet despite his importance to the organization, Abu Muhammad remains a shadowy figure. Little is known about his early life or his current activities. Unlike most al-Qa`ida Central figures, he is based not in northern Pakistan but in Iran, where he was previously imprisoned and now resides under a murky arrangement by which he is apparently allowed a great deal of freedom while still being barred from leaving the country.”

Our interview is with General (Ret) Joseph Votel who retired as the Commander of U.S. Central Command earlier this year after leading a 79-member coalition that successfully liberated Iraq and Syria from the Islamic State caliphate. He is now the Class of 1987 Senior Fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center.

9 December 2019

Is US Deterrence Against Iran Doomed to Fail?


Pentagon officials are warning that Iran continues to pose a threat to U.S. forces in the region, despite the additional 14,000 troops deployed there in the last six months. 

“We also continue to see indications, and for obvious reasons I won’t go into the details, that potential Iranian aggression could occur,” John Rood, the Pentagon’s number-three official, told reporters on Wednesday morning. 

Rood spoke in the wake of a recent report from the Defense Intelligence Agency that warned that Tehran is producing “increasingly capable ballistic and cruise missiles” with better accuracy, lethality and range. 

Those warnings come just days after Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the leader of U.S. Central Command, told reporters traveling with him that even if the additional troops, jets, and defensive missiles were enough to deter Iran from attacking American targets, he did not expect them to stop Iran from attacking allied Gulf nations. 

“My judgment is that it is very possible they will attack again,” McKenzie said.

All this has revived a question raised by a series of Iranian attacks over the summer: Is U.S. deterrence against Iranian aggression in the region “working”?

“I’m not disagreeing with Gen. McKenzie, but I think there’s more to the response than saying they are deterred or they are not deterred,” Rood said Wednesday. 

The Arab World Needs a Brexit Debate


BARCELONA – For the last three years, a bewildered world has watched the countdown to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, better known as Brexit. Leaving the EU will likely affect the British economy severely. Yet, from an Arab perspective, the UK’s prolonged Brexit debate is not a sign of political breakdown. On the contrary, only a country with the UK’s deeply embedded political maturity could even hope to withstand such a vast rupture in legal, commercial, and even social relationships that have been built up over the last half-century.

The Arab world, by contrast, has witnessed at least one big Brexit-like event every decade since 1948 – and these political, economic, and social ruptures never seem to heal. The first such episode was the establishment of Israel and the resulting Palestinian “Brexit” from the territory that became the Jewish State. Much of historic Palestine was abandoned, and its people were destined to live in refugee camps for decades to come. An entire Arab economy disappeared, and Israel was boycotted by its Arab neighbors.

Then, from 1952 until 1970, Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser embarked on an economic nationalization experiment that championed import substitution and greatly weakened the country’s commercial ties to the rest of the region. And when Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Arab countries punished Egypt with an economic and political boycott.

8 December 2019

Can NATO Shift Its Mission from Deterring Russia to Tackling Terrorism?

by Daniel R. DePetris 
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When asked to cite NATO’s top security priority today, most point to the Russian Bear in the east. This isn’t without precedent; the transatlantic alliance was literally established in 1949 to defend the Euro-Atlantic area from Soviet aggression. 70 years later, NATO’s strategic direction is still very much oriented towards Moscow, which remains a formidable power despite its economic difficulties and frosty diplomatic relations with the West.

French President Emmanuel Macron, however, has a different opinion about how NATO should concentrate its resources and attention. Russia and China are not the enemies of NATO, Macron said days before the French leader flew to London for a one-day meeting of the alliance. “Our common enemy today is terrorism, which has hit each of our countries,” the French leader asserted. After all, Moscow and Beijing are rational actors that can be deterred and reasoned with; terrorist groups are a whole different animal.

Macron wasn’t absolving Russia of responsibility as much as he was trying to shift the conversation. It escapes no one that despite the ritualistic recitations within the halls of NATO about unity, solidarity, and values, member states have conflicting views on what security concern the alliance should be spending most of its time on. Poland and the Baltic States remain terrified of a Russian neighbor that has annexed the Crimean Peninsula, stirred up a rebellion in Eastern Ukraine, invaded Georgia more than a decade ago, and intervened in European politics with ever more refined disinformation operations. To the south, Italy has been pleading for NATO to focus on illegal migration. There are also significant differences within the alliance on whether diplomatic outreach to the Kremlin is appropriate, how strongly NATO should increase its deterrent in the eastern flank, and whether a common position on China should be adopted.