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

26 June 2017

*How Stable Is Saudi Arabia?

 Speculating about the future of Saudi Arabia has become one of the more common guessing games among Middle East experts. Since the onset of the Arab uprisings in 2011, if not before, doubts about the political stability of Saudi Arabia have been raised with almost metronomic frequency. The concern is understandable: Saudi Arabia is a major energy supplier and any sustained interruption caused by internal turmoil would likely roil markets around the world. Serious unrest, moreover, could undermine stability elsewhere in the Middle East and cause profound alarm throughout the Muslim world over the security of holy sites.

Yet for all the confident assertions that it is just a matter of time before the kingdom succumbs to internal unrest and even regime collapse, Saudi Arabia has remained one of the most stable countries in the region. It has weathered a major downturn in global oil prices and reduction of state revenues, managed what could have been a contentious royal succession, and prosecuted a costly military intervention in neighboring Yemen without facing major domestic blowback, all contrary to the expectations of many outside observers. So is Saudi Arabia the proverbial dog that regularly barks but never bites? Or is there only a false sense of calm for now, before the underlying risks of instability suddenly materialize? Put differently, how worried should we be?

25 June 2017

Crisis in the Gulf: Implications for India

Ashok Sajjanhar

The Persian Gulf region was shaken by a massive political earthquake on June 5, 2017 when four Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt – announced that they were severing all political, economic and diplomatic links with Qatar, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The four countries were soon joined by Libya, Yemen and even Maldives. However, Kuwait and Oman, the remaining two members of the GCC, refused to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia in this regard.

Saudi Arabia said that it took the decision because of Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region”, including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and groups supported by Iran. Qatar vehemently denied that it supports terrorism, arguing that it has assisted the United States in the War on Terror and in the ongoing military intervention against ISIS.

While the immediate causes of the drastic action are not clear, problems between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been brewing for some time. Tensions between Qatar and its Arab neighbours have grown in recent years as part of a tussle for regional leadership. Qatar, buoyed by its huge earnings from the production and export of gas, has been trying to carve out a comparatively independent foreign policy that is at variance with the approach of Saudi Arabia and other major Arab nations. Qatar's influential television channel Al Jazeera, which is extensively viewed in the region, often adopts positions that are critical of Saudi Arabia. In April 2017, Qatar was involved in a deal with militants in Iraq and Syria to secure the return of 26 Qatari hostages, including royals. What apparently outraged Saudi Arabia and UAE was the large amount of about USD one billion paid by Qatar to secure the deal. Subsequently, on May 27, Qatar’s Emir called up Iranian president Hasan Rouhani to congratulate him on his re-election. The call was seen as a clear, public, defiance of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to create a united front against Iran, which latter it perceives as an implacable foe.

** Saudi Arabia's 'Mr. Everything' Is Now Crown Prince, Too

After months of speculation and palace intrigue, Saudi King Salman shook up the kingdom's line of succession on June 21 by naming his powerful son, Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and removing all titles from Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince. This is the second time Salman has overhauled the line of successionand the Saudi government since taking the throne in January 2015. The move is a controversial one, considering it cuts large and powerful segments of the royal family out of the succession plan. And should the young bin Salman ascend the throne, it could mean Saudi Arabia will be ruled for six decades by father and son.

Today's announcement has several important implications. But none is as important as the amount of trust being placed in bin Salman, who has already amassed enough power to be dubbed "Mr. Everything" by some Western governments. As bin Salman has concentrated his power, bin Nayef has been increasingly sidelined. Today's reshuffle will only remove him from power even further, ousting him from his position at the head of the Interior Ministry and from all other leadership roles.

The Next King

If bin Salman becomes king, he will be the youngest Saudi ruler in modern history, able to potentially preside over decades of policy and reform in the kingdom. The crown prince is known for spearheading the country's economic reform, an agenda he will likely continue to push, and he may well turn his attention to effecting social change as well.

24 June 2017

*** The Race to the Iraqi Border Begins

By Omar Lamrani

One of the best ways to track Iran's priorities in Syria and Iraq is to follow the movements of one of its highest-ranking military leaders, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In September 2016, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC's) elite Quds Force made an appearance south of Aleppo just before loyalist forces launched the final offensive that led to the critical city's capture. Seven months later, he was spotted in the northern Syrian governorate of Hama as loyalist troops, backed by Iran, geared up for a difficult fight with rebel forces on the outskirts of the provincial capital.

This month, Soleimani is on the move once again. On June 12 the elusive figure paid a visit to Iranian-led militia units on the border between Syria and Iraq, giving prayers of thanks for their recent victories in the area. His presence is telling of the newest phase unfolding in Syria's protracted civil war: the race to the Iraqi border.
The First to the Finish Line

As the Islamic State is slowly being driven out of Syria, its enemies are scrabbling to pick up the territory it leaves behind. Syrian rebels, supported by the U.S.-led coalition, are facing off against the government of President Bashar al Assad, backed by Iran and Russia, to wrest control of the extremist group's remaining positions from its weakened grasp. Yet despite having the same finish line in sight, each participant is driven by its own interests, and is willing to risk colliding with its rivals to secure them.

Israel, the Six Day War and the End of the Two-state Solution

By David Gardner

Donald Trump entered the White House promising to be ‘the most pro-Israel president ever’. This hyperbolic bombast gratified what is certainly the most right-wing Israeli government ever, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s crushing victory over Arab armies in 1967, and half a century of occupation of the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem it has no plans to end.

President Trump, the self-described dealmaker, keeps hinting and tweeting he is on course to do ‘the ultimate deal’ that has eluded his predecessors: never spelt out but assumed to mean an Arab-Israeli peace encompassing a deal for the Palestinians, who have sought in vain the state proffered tantalisingly by the Oslo accords of 1993-95.

This most erratic of US presidents, meeting Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, in February, threw the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Oslo to the winds, saying that the two-state solution, meant to offer security to Israel and justice to the Palestinians, may not be the way to resolve it. ‘I am looking at two-state and one-state [solutions], and I like the one that both parties like,’ Trump said, to nervous chortles from Netanyahu and general bemusement.

Backgrounder: The Six-Day War

With the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War this month, we offer a quick review of work on the subject produced over the years by the Middle East Forum's staff and fellows, and by contributors to its flagship journal, Middle East Quarterly (MEQ).

The basic facts of the Six-Day War aren't really in dispute. In the face of a military buildup by Arab armies, bellicose threats by Arab leaders, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping (an act of war that cut off the Jewish state's access to the Red Sea), and other provocations, Israel struck first on June 5. Catching its enemies by surprise, Israel effectively destroyed Nasser's air force in the first hours, then defeated the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian armies in quick succession. By the end of the war it had captured the entire Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

The conventional wisdom is that the Six-Day War was more or less accidental in that Nasser did not want war. Led astray by Soviet misinformation and egged on by rival Arab leaders, he took the escalation a bridge too far, cornering Israeli leaders into seeing a "preemptive" strike as the only option.

But MEQ editor Efraim Karsh argues in the new Summer 2017 issue of MEQ that whatever specific triggers may have led to war on June 5, 1967, a "second all-out attempt ... to abort the Jewish national revival" was going to happen eventually given the Arab world's unwavering rejection of Jewish statehood, together with Nasser's pan-Arab ambitions and overconfidence.

23 June 2017

Mosul Old City Battle Goes House to House as IS Fighters Defend

by Reuters

Islamic State fighters defended their remaining stronghold in the Old City of Mosul, moving stealthily along narrow back alleys and slipping from house to house through holes in walls as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces slowly advanced.

The intensity of fighting was lower than on Sunday, when Iraqi forces announced the start of the assault on the Old City, a Reuters visuals team reported from near the frontlines.

The historic district, and a tiny area to its north, are the only parts of the city still under the militants' control. Mosul used to be the Iraqi capital of the group, also known as ISIS.

"This is the final chapter" of the offensive to take Mosul, said Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, senior commander in Mosul of Counter Terrorism Service.

The militants are moving house to house through holes knocked through inner walls, to avoid air surveillance, said Major-General Sami al-Arithi of the Counter Terrorism Service, the elite units spearheading the fighting north of the Old City.

“Now the fighting is going on from house to house inside narrow alleys and this is not an easy task,” he told state TV.

The Iraqi army estimates the number of Islamic State fighters at no more than 300, down from nearly 6,000 in the city when the battle of Mosul started on October 17.

What happens after the Islamic State is defeated in Iraq and Syria?

THE UNITED STATES is committed to defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but as that goal nears realization, another strategic question looms: What security order will replace it, and which of the outside powers enmeshed in the region will stand behind that order? The Trump administration doesn’t appear to have a strategy for that, but others clearly do — which helps to explain the incidents over the weekend in which the United States downed a Syrian government warplane , while Iran fired intermediate-range missiles from its territory at Islamic State targets in eastern Syria. 

Though the two incidents were nominally unrelated, they have a common cause: the drive by Iran and Russia, along with their Syrian and Iraqi Shiite clients, to dominate the space that will be left when the Islamic State is driven from its capital of Raqqa in eastern Syria, which is under assault from U.S.-backed Kurdish and Syrian Arab forces. At stake are both Syria’s oil-producing area to the south of Raqqa and a land corridor between Baghdad and Damascus that Iran aspires to control. Russia, for its part, hopes to drive the United States out of the region. 

22 June 2017

** Turkey Marches Ahead With Its Military Plans in Qatar

Though Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have cut ties with Qatar, touching off a diplomatic crisis in the Middle East, one friend has refused to abandon the small country on the Persian Gulf. Turkey's steadfast support of Qatar has stood out since the dispute began June 5. Not only has Ankara provided diplomatic and trade assistance to Doha, but it also has moved to expedite the deployment of Turkish forces to Qatar, a decision that will fortify the common ground forming between the two countries.
Building Stronger Security Ties

Though Turkey's parliament agreed to the deployment last week, the decision to base Turkish forces in Qatar dates back to a 2014 agreement between the two states. Turkey has already sent a limited number of troops to Qatar; according to several reports, between 100 and 150 troops have been stationed at a Qatari military base since October 2016. But these forces are only the vanguard of what is intended to become a more meaningful and permanent deployment. The Turkish military dispatched a three-person delegation on June 12 to coordinate the arrival of additional forces. The latest available information, however, indicates there are practical issues relating to the facility intended to host the Turkish troops that need to be resolved before they can arrive.

** For the Islamic State, Distraction Is Survival

By Kamran Bokhari

One of the Islamic State’s strengths is its ability to exploit the interests of those trying to defeat it. Sometimes, as they compete and maneuver for position against each other, they make it easy for the Islamic State. Other times, the Islamic State has been able to deepen divisions by staging attacks and compelling certain actors to retaliate, angering other players in the region. It’s one way the Islamic State has been able to frustrate its enemies’ efforts against it.

Two developments in Syria over the weekend illustrate how the competition among these enemies has benefited IS. First, Iran launched ballistic missiles at IS facilities in eastern Syria in response to the IS attacks in Tehran on June 7. Second, the United States shot down a Syrian army warplane that was attacking Kurdish-led forces fighting the Islamic State, the first time the U.S. has downed a Syrian plane since it got involved in the conflict. Russia has since announced it would no longer use the “deconfliction” communication channel that was set up to help Russian and U.S. forces avoid direct conflict in their Syrian operations. Both of these developments need to be unpacked separately.

Iran Strikes in Syria

On June 18, Tehran fired six Zolfaghar ballistic missiles at IS facilities in the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen. This is the first time Iran has fired missiles into Syria. Iran last conducted missile strikes in 2001 in Iraq, where it targeted a rebel group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. A spokesman for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which runs the country’s ballistic missile program, told state TV that while these missiles targeted IS they were also designed to send a message to others, namely the Saudis and the Americans.

21 June 2017

** How Muslim Extremists Exploit European Liberalism

Robert G. Rabil

Coming on the heels of the Manchester terror attack targeting British youth, the recent terrorist act in London is the last in a series of attacks across Europe that displayed the eerie savagery of violence carried out in the name of Islam. The Islamic State claimed credit and proclaimed that a detachment of its fighters carried out the terror attack. British prime minister Theresa May condemned the attack and assertively declared that “enough is enough.” She vowed to undertake a sweeping review of Great Britain’s counterterrorism strategy, even though the British security apparatus has formidable surveillance and security laws. This provoked a national debate about balancing civil liberties and security.

The problem, however, goes beyond fending off terror acts or revising counterterrorism strategies. The problem is about how to reverse decades-long policies of promoting unbridled multiculturalism that allowed the ideologies of Islamism and Salafism to permeate an inchoate European Muslim society, thereby militating against the creation of an European Islam free from the ideological baggage exported by conservative and Islamist individuals, groups and governments. The extent to which this problem has been difficult to gauge lies squarely in the haughty—yet self-loathing—contemporary thought of the West, which has prevented a civilized and honest critique of Islam’s inability to reform its perversions.



Dear Readers:

You may be aware that the Syria War entered a new stage in the past week or so. Things are looking up for the combined forces of the Syrian Army, with assistance from the Russian armed forces and also Hezbollah. Syrian tanks made a Rommel-like “lightning move” eastward all the way to the Iraqi border, cutting off ISIS/Daesh units from their Iraqi supplies. While this was going on, the pro-American so-called “coalition forces” entered Raqqa. Like the wiki says, Raqqa, a strategic Syrian city located on the Northeast bank of the Euphrates River, was captured by ISIS in 2013 and became the capital of their Islamic State.

The Headchoppers had their day in the sun, but now their time is almost up. It’s not an issue of “if”, but of “when” and “who”. And the race is on: the Americans seeking to gain some advantage and carve up the Syrian carcass to their own advantage. On the other side: the Syrian government and their Russian allies seeking to keep Syria together in one piece, while making some internal adjustments to benefit, for example, the Kurds.

To help explain the highly fluid military situation, I have this piece from VZGLIAD, by military/intelligence reporter Evgeny Krutikov. The headline reads:

The Battle for ISIS Capital City will Prove a Tough Slog for the Americans

The lede paragraph translates thusly:

The Syrian Opposition, with the assistance of the U.S., hastily entered Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, in an attempt to overtake the pro-government Syrian forces. For the Americans it is a matter of principle to overtake Assad’s forces and to not allow the Shiites to gain control over the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic. The question now is: Will they succeed? It is not excluded that the Americans will find an unpleasant surprise waiting for them.

Countries That Could Work With Iran For Developing Chabahar: India, China And Japan Competing For Investment – OpEd

By Madjid Raoufi

Although the first Indian vessel, which set out from the country’s Kandla port, has already berthed at Iran’s Chabahar port, Indians have not worked fast enough to develop the Iranian oceanic port. China, which is now focused on developing Pakistan’s Gwadar port, also has an eye on Chabahar and Iran’s presence in Beijing’s “One Belt and One Road” initiative. Japan is another serious actor, who is openly interested in taking part in development of Chabahar. The question is which one of these three countries will be of priority to Iran for cooperation in development of Chabahar port and the country’s eastern rail routes?

One year after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Iran and signed a “historic” deal for development of Iran’s Chabahar port, he paid a visit to Gujarat province saying that Iran and India would soon be connected through a marine route from Kandla to Chabahar. A few days later, the first container ship, which had set out from Kandla in India, berthed at Shahid Kalantari port of Chabahar. However, the outlook delineated in past years for development of Chabahar and a transport corridor from Chabahar to Afghanistan, Central Asia, Caucasus, Russia and Europe, as part of the North-South Transportation Corridor, goes far beyond this historic and symbolic development.

20 June 2017

** After Raqqa, How the US Must Adapt to ISIS


What to do when ISIS goes underground, and other things to worry about after the caliphate falls. 

The last bastions of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria – Mosul and Raqqa –could be liberated within months. But they will remain perilous places, and in some respects, the fall of Raqqa will complicate the conflicts that swirl through the region.

How might the U.S. have to adapt to ISIS after Raqqa?

ISIS GOING UNDERGROUND: Military analysts have already warned that the elimination of the Islamic State as a territory governed by ISIS will not end the group’s armed struggle. Its leaders spent years underground and can revert to a covert terrorist campaign. Even while pummeled and pushed back by Iraqi, Kurdish, and other ground forces backed by coalition air power, ISIS demonstrated its capability to simultaneously carry out terrorist operations in Baghdad and Damascus as well as in neighboring countries. That will continue and may escalate.

GCC crisis: How to resolve the diplomatic rift

Beverley Milton-Edwards

A week earlier, Gulf media—including social media—had erupted amid reports that Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, made critical remarks against America in a speech, as well as offered support for Iran and backing to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatari officials denied the reports and countered that state media had been hacked. As that crisis quickly turned into a rift with Qatar’s Gulf and Arab neighbors, the need for serious mediation to head off further trouble became obvious.

2014 REDUX? 

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), like other regional organizations, has seen its share of splits and disagreements. Past differences have blown up over border demarcation, energy exploitation, and foreig policy approaches. The present crisis, however, is by far the worst and most threatening in terms of politics, security and economy. In 2014, a diplomatic rift broke out between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain on one side, and Qatar on the other. Like the current dispute, that too centered on allegations about Qatari foreign policy, with a GCC statement charging that Qatar failed to “implement a November 2013 agreement not to back anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals—via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media.” In the spring of 2014, the three GCC states ordered their ambassadors out of Doha.

19 June 2017

*** Hezbollah Watches and Waits

By Ben West

For Hezbollah, revenge seems to be a dish best served cold. After an explosive device concealed in a vehicle killed the Lebanese militant group's leader, Imad Mugniyah, on Feb. 12, 2008, reprisal attacks looked all but certain. Hezbollah, after all, could hardly let such a high-level assassination go unanswered. Then on June 8 of this year, nearly a decade after Mugniyah's death, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had arrested two Hezbollah operatives in New York and Michigan. One of the suspects, Ali Kourani, appears to have played a part in planning the long-awaited retaliatory strike. The criminal complaint against him accuses Kourani of conducting surveillance against various targets, including individuals connected to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), in preparation for an attack avenging Mugniyah. Though the attack never materialized, the information Kourani passed back to Lebanon in the course of his surveillance operations could provide the basis for a future act of terrorism. The case, moreover, offers insight into Hezbollah's workings and highlights the distinctions between its tactics and those of its peers in the world of Islamist militancy.

US military warns of Shabaab resurgence, strikes ‘command and logistics node’


While announcing an airstrike that targeted a Shabaab “command and logistics node” in southern Somalia, the US military warned of al Qaeda’s resurgence in the country and said it has “taken advantage of safe haven.” The strike is the first announced by the US military since the Trump administration declared that it would expand operations against al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia.

US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, announced that it targeted a “command and logistics node at a camp located approximately 185 miles southwest of Mogadishu in a stronghold for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab organization” in an airstrike. AFRICOM assessed that eight Shabaab operatives were killed.

AFRICOM’s worrying assessment of Shabaab’s revival in Somalia is an admission that efforts by the US, African Union, and Somali government to contain and defeat the group over the past several years have failed. The US Department of Defense admitted as much in late March, when it announced that the Trump administration approved “additional precision fires” to target Shabaab throughout Somalia.

GCC businesses are facing a major cybersecurity deficit

Amar Diwakar

As the WannaCry ransomware spread across 150 countries last month, the Middle East held its breath. While Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) denied that the virus had affected its systems, it was another stark reminder of cyber security risks that loom large over the region, and the GCC in particular.

After all, the GCC represents an emerging information environment with accompanying economic, social, and security promises and challenges. With cyberattacks being increasingly wielded as asymmetric weapons of war, robust and proactive cybersecurity structures will undoubtedly be an essential component for securing both regional influence and stability.

Bullets in cyberspace 

The Gulf is a lively cyber conflict zone. According to Symantec's annual Internet Security Threat Report, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the two most targeted MENA countries for ransomware attacks – in which cyber criminals steal and encrypt files until a ransom is paid.

ISIS drones are attacking U.S. troops and disrupting airstrikes in Raqqa, officials say

by Thomas Gibbons-Neff

Islamic State drones are attacking U.S. Special Operations forces located around the group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa in Syria, U.S. officials and Syrian fighters said, sometimes disrupting the ability of American troops to call in airstrikes.

The Pentagon, in response, is looking to send additional anti-drone equipment and troops into Syria, according to one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning.

Unlike in Mosul, where U.S. forces have deployed an array of drone-stopping systems, U.S. troops on the ground in Raqqa are operating with fewer resources and have a limited ability to defend against the small, hard-to-spot aircraft, the official said. The off-the-shelf drones, sometimes used in swarms by the extremist group, are often rigged to drop small 40mm grenade-sized munitions with a relatively high degree of accuracy.

In Raqqa, the Islamic State has been attacking U.S. targeting teams working alongside the coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF, the official said. The teams — usually operating from a vehicle with radios and a computer synced to communicate with the aircraft overhead — often have a spotter looking for incoming drones. In recent days, according to one SDF fighter, the Americans were preparing for a set of strikes after receiving coordinates from their Syrian counterparts when they had to move position because of a drone.

18 June 2017

6 Questions About U.S. Strategy in the Middle East

By Frederick W. Kagan

ISIS ramps up calls for attacks during holy month of Ramadan

The media is abuzz with questions for President Trump, former FBI Director James Comey, and others about various scandals and investigations. Those questions are important and require answers, but our domestic preoccupations are distracting us from other questions of equal import. 

The U.S. is at war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere with ISIS, al Qaeda, and other Salafi-Jihadi groups. Our strategy in that war, particularly in Syria, is incoherent and internally contradictory, however. As people demand answers to questions about domestic scandals, we must also demand answers to six key questions about how America can secure its people and interests against the large and growing threats from the Middle East. 

How will we defeat ISIS? The U.S. military has been briefing steady progress in the war against ISIS. It highlights ground retaken by Iraqi forces in Mosul and by Kurds in Syria. It suggests that ISIS will basically collapse once it has lost Mosul and Raqqa, in Syria. Assessments by the Institute for the Study of War contradict that view. ISIS still controls Deir ez-Zour, a sizable city southeast of Raqqa, to which it has already relocated leadership and resources. Our Kurdish partners cannot drive that far south through Arab lands. Our reliance on Kurds and refusal to fight the regime of Bashar al Assad have severely hindered the formation of an indigenous Arab force against ISIS in Syria, moreover. How does the U.S. imagine that success against Raqqa will lead to clearing the rest of the Euphrates River Valley? And even if the U.S. finds partners to retake the cities, ISIS is already reverting back to the insurgent-terrorist mode it used before it had seized them. What is the plan to continue the pressure on ISIS to stop it from continuing in this mode while preparing its next comeback?