Tag Archives: intelligence analysis

Strategic Analysis: Curbing the rise of Kurdistan

On July 27, thousands of Iraqi troops, tanks, and artillery set out to seize the FishKhabur border crossing with Syria in Iraq’s northern Zumar district. But the days when Iraq could impose its will over the scrappy and restive Kurdish north are over. Blocking them were some 3,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, along with artillery – intent on proving that Baghdad’s supremacy is no more.  A tense standoff between the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga ensued, only to alleviate with American pressure and a fragile agreement between the two sides. The standoff reflected the situation at large: Iraqi Kurdistan is determined to rid itself of Baghdad, establish itself as a regional player, and use its burgeoning clout to serve as the protector of Kurds throughout the region. Most importantly, attempts by rival states to thwart Kurdish ambitions threaten to ignite a new round of Kurdish wars in a region already in flames.

Peshmerga fighters train in Iraqi Kurdistan

This border area is disputed by the Shiite-led Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). FishKhabur has been under Kurdish military control for years, which Iraq claims is illegal and violates the country’s constitution. The KRG disputes this and is determined not to forfeit their only border crossing with Syria, nor to allow Baghdad to reestablish its influence in an area already “Arabized” and largely depopulated of ethnic Kurds.  Despite Baghdad’s official protestations, the reality is much more strategic. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Curbing the rise of Kurdistan

Political Analysis: Israel Looking East

In 1992, Israel broadly expanded its international relations, taking advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain. Notwithstanding, improving ties with the eastern powerhouses of China and India was not a primary focus up until few years ago. Recently, Israeli leaders have made successive high profile visits to China, while engaging in considerable public diplomacy efforts vis-à-vis the Chinese people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even greeted the Chinese people in their native Mandarin during their New Year’s Festival.

The growing cooperation with China is based on bilateral agreements in the fields of technology, green energy, agriculture, and water conservation. Enhancing relations with China in these fields is exactly how Minister of Trade and Labor Shalom Simchon planned for Israel to become one of the world’s top-15 economies. Simchon underlined that a Free Trade Agreement with China is currently on the agenda and is expected to be agreed upon in the foreseeable future.

India makes for a natural ally of Israel given joint challenges

Continue reading Political Analysis: Israel Looking East

Iran’s religious gateway into Iraq

Iran has long sought to spread its Islamic revolution into neighboring Iraq. With Saddam and the US out and Shiites in control, Iraq’s leaders are now intent on rebuilding their country as a regional Shiite power. But first, they must pacify radical Sunni elements and unite its various Shiite sects who remain divided over various issues. Those divides, however, have opened the door for Iran’s long-awaited ascendancy in Iraq. In doing so, Iranian revolutionary Shi’ite Islam – arguably above anything else –  has become the Islamic Republic’s foremost strategy of attaining influence in Iraq.

As is the case with most religious groups, Shiites are not monolithic and there are notable ideological and political differences among them. For centuries, Iraq has historically been the premier source for Shiite ideology, much of it stemming from the southern city of Najaf. However, Saddam’s secular dictatorship systematically targeted leading Shiite clergymen, thereby forcing many into exile in neighboring Iran. That said, the return of thousands of Iraqi Shiites and clergymen – many now learned in Iranian dogma – have become a major catalyst for spreading Tehran’s religious message throughout Iraq. With their return, Iran has sought to supplant or push aside the traditional Shiite leaders from the “quietist” religious school in Najaf with revolutionary Islamic teachers who have trained and studied revolutionary Islam in Qom, Iran.

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Assad’s Military Gains and the Western-Sunni Setback in Syria

 

The Alawite regime in Syria has by and large won a series of impressive tactical victories. Fighting is not yet over, however mere mop-up operations and rebel raids remain. The war has been costly, as bloodshed has already claimed more than 10,000 lives in Syria. To that point, the existing sectarian tensions and the asymmetrical nature of the conflict, mean that Syria is likely to endure a prolonged low-level insurgency for some time. With Assad no longer clinging to power, his military successes’ highlight the regime’s overall mastery of sectarian divisions, and the premier factor for his sect’s ability to rule Syria for over four decades. Needless to say, without mastering those divisions – mainly the ethnic and religious minorities against the Sunni Arab majority – Syrian military gains and continued Alawite rule would have been impossible.

Furthermore, Assad agreed to a recent UN-brokered ceasefire after he and his advisers likely calculated that they could officially declare an end to the fighting with the upper hand, which could theoretically offer him greater leverage in post-conflict negotiations. However, those negotiations are unlikely to happen any time soon, as militants within Syria and their supporters abroad are unlikely to recognize any peace deals with Damascus in the near future. Simply, their intransigence towards negotiating will serve to show that the Assad regime is an illegitimate ruler of Syria.

Even so, immediately after the fragile agreement was being announced, Assad’s forces stormed the population centers of al-Mazareb, Khirbet Ghazale, Homs, Latame, and Saraqeb, showing once again that it is on the offensive and reaffirmed that it has the upper hand. Although the ceasefire is by and large holding, it remains unlikely that it will last in the near term, given that there still exists fighting on both sides throughout Syria and the opposition’s reluctance to re-accept Alawite rule. 

On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently warned Sunni Arab and Western states against continuing to arm Syrian rebels by saying, even if they were “armed to the teeth”, they will still lose. Russia’s warning shows that Moscow is indeed confident that Assad’s regime will stay put. But most importantly for the Kremlin, Russia has been successful, along with other powers, in deterring its Western rivals from taking more aggressive action in Syria.

At present, Assad and his army have by and large defeated the potency of Sunni militants in Syria. The current low-level insurgency does not pose an existential threat to the regime in Damascus for the near future and desperate calls for intervention are unlikely to bear fruit any time soon. In addition, after regaining greater stability within Syria, Assad’s regime will likely seek retaliation against those entities that increased their meddling in the country. Chiefly, Assad could use his sectarian allies, such as the Kurdish PKK – a new ally, the Alevis in Turkey, Hezbollah, and minority Shiites across the Middle East to punish those actors who acted against him, mainly Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Assad’s victories have shown that the era of dictatorial rule is indeed not over and the forces which promoted the ousting of Qaddafi in Libya and Mubarak in Egypt, are losing the current battle in Syria. Moreover, those who predicted Assad’s demise soon after protests broke out over a year ago- spoke to soon. For his continued rule highlights that despite claims that the new era of the “Arab Spring” would bring sweeping democracy throughout the Middle East, sectarianism prevails.

For up to date analysis on the Syrian conflict, click here.

Iraq’s rising Shia fundamentalism

As a conservative Muslim nation, Iraq, is by and large opposed to Western ideals and movements deemed contrary or heretical to Islam. One Western export, the “emo” subculture – an American-born hardcore punk music movement – is considered almost synonymous with being gay in Iraq, a label that carries severe risksin the Muslim world. While the targeting of “emos” throughout the world and especially in Iraq is not new, the intensity and brazenness with which Iraqi Shiite militias are currently eliminating them is telling of a broader development – the increasing aspirations to violently enforce an autocratic and fundamentalist Shiite state in Iraq.

Over the past few weeks, a surge in brutal extra-judicial killings of Iraqi youth suspected of being affiliated with the “emo” subculture has shocked human rights groups in the country and around the world. The withdrawal of American troops in December and overall support coming from a sympathetic Shiite government in Baghdad have facilitated an upsurge in vigilante violence against the aforementioned subculture. The security vacuum left by America’s troop withdrawal, along with an increase in religious fundamentalism, have created a climate of fear for anyone who is suspected to be involved or affiliated with the group.

Continue reading Iraq’s rising Shia fundamentalism

Israeli attack on Iran: Unlikely in the near term

By Ron G.

Throughout the last few months and even more so in the past few weeks, discussions of a possible Israeli strike on Iran has come to the forefront of the agenda for many politicians, security analysts, and entities with interests in the region. Despite the increased rhetoric on all sides of this issue, which has been enhanced with the coverage of a frenzied media, the reality is that the probability of such an attack against Iran likely remains low for the near term.

Iranian uranium conversion facility outside of Isfahan (AP)

The increased chatter regarding an Israeli strike  on Iran’s nuclear facilities is a direct result of decisions by both the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The decision to enforce such sanctions by the aforementioned powers likely arose due to three primary factors: the understanding that negotiations with Iran surrounding its nuclear program are futile, persistent pressure from leadership within the United States’ security and political leadership, and the over-implied threats by Israel that the military option is ‘on the table’.

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The Tuareg Factor

One tribe’s cooperation with various militant groups will continue to challenge stability in some of Africa’s most vital nations

By Jay R.

Since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya early last year, weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East and North Africa is on the rise and of primary concern. It is now widely known that masses of Libyan weaponry have made their way into the hands of such militant groups as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Libyan weaponry has traveled as far as the Gaza Strip and appeared in hand of militant groups there.

Tuareg militants en route to Libya from Mali (Sahara Times)

With the recent unrest in Somalia and Nigeria, the above-mentioned groups have been deeply reported on. However, one tribe, heavily active in Africa’s Sahel desert region is operating under the radar in comparison. The Tuareg tribe, composed of 1.2 million people, is historically nomadic. They have long roamed northwest Africa, primarily through the nations of Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Niger. Today, the group has become sedentary, the result of which has seen the Tuaregs actively engage such countries, particularly the Malian government, for stakes in power sharing and wealth benefits from the country’s natural resources.

The ongoing battle for the Tuareg’s perceived rights most recently manifested in the two-year Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and Niger from 2007-2009. This rebellion was ended through a series of peace talks and amnesty allowances; however, the conflict persists to this day as the Malian government regularly takes on the Tuareg militants along the Nigerian border.

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Israel-Cyprus relations: Revolutionary alliance or negotiating tactic?

By Dan R.

The discovery of natural gas off the shores of Cyprus and Israel in the eastern Mediterranean has marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Middle East conflict. Reports began to surface last week, claiming that Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will discuss the stationing of Israeli fighter jets at a Cypriot airbase on his visit to the island nation on February 16. If such reports prove to be accurate, the event has the potential to be a revolutionary strategic alliance. However, the aforementioned discussions may in fact be purely an Israeli negotiating tactic in an effort to bridge the rift between it and its former ally Turkey.

The Middle East is widely known as the staging ground for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet, there is a lesser known conflict, greatly overshadowed by that between Israel and her Arab neighbors – that which involves Turkey and Cyprus. The conflict between Turkey and Cyprus, like the Arab-Israeli, also has a history of bloody confrontation on religion, ethnicity, territory and recognition. However, the aspect that reaches headlines above all others is the ongoing dispute over natural gas deposits that lay off the Cypriot southern coast. The discovery launched a thus far rhetorical battle over drilling rights between Greek Cyprus and Turkey as the patron of the Greek Republic’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot counterpart.

American-operated natural gas exploration site Noble Ferrington

Israel has developed and maintained several natural gas drilling and pumping platforms in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in its Exclusive Economic Zone. Moreover, Israeli companies, such as Delek, own a significant share of drilling platforms in Cyprus. Israel thus, likely sees the natural gas reserves as a strategic asset that is vital to ensure Israel’s economic and energy independence.

Israel is well known for its determination and dedication with regard to the protection of its interests positioned outside its borders. That said, the stationing of a permanent air force operation base on foreign soil would essentially be a revolution in Israeli military affairs. If the reports are true, this will be the first time that Israel will deploy IDF airmen outside the borders of Israel (not including Palestinian territories), a step that would likely require legislative action.

When examining the tactical, operational, and strategic military benefits for a deployment of fighter jets in Cyprus, one would have to assess the constant parameters, like the distance from drilling and pumping platforms, coupled with reaction and flight time. Upon their inspection, one would discover that the distance to such drilling installations from either the Cypriot or Israeli air bases is negligible. The similar distances thus make the disproportion in reaction and flight time only a matter of a few seconds, and therefore, providing no significant tactical, operational, or strategic benefits. Continue reading Israel-Cyprus relations: Revolutionary alliance or negotiating tactic?

Jos: The Window into a Nigerian Civil War

By Jay R.

The collapse of Africa’s most populous nation into civil war may hinge on the stability of one unsuspecting middle belt city

Nigeria’s Middle Belt region is where the country’s Christian south and Muslim north come to a head. This convergence of religion manifests in the capital Abuja, where the equally represented populations are generally tolerant of one another. In the nearby city of Jos whose societal make up is starkly similar to the capital, religious intolerance is brewing tension to a dangerous boiling point.

Security forces rush to intervene in sectarian clashes in Jos

Over the last twenty years, Jos has been plagued by sectarian violence which has claimed thousands of lives while displacing many others. In 2010, week-long riots resulted in the death of hundreds of locals and the destruction of churches and mosques alike. This steady campaign of attacks against places of worship has made chances of reconciling these populations a seemingly insurmountable feat. The people of Jos may not yet be cognizant of this fact, but the deteriorating security situation in the rest of Nigeria may have a far more tragic impact in a place with a deeply rooted history of intolerance.

Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north has become increasingly engulfed in a violent campaign by fundamentalist violence. On January 20, Nigeria’s second city of Kano was devastated by a wave of bombings by Boko Haram Jihadists against military, police, and government installations, killing upwards of 250 people. Continuous attacks like these, along with a previous Boko Haram warning for all Christians to leave the northern states, have incited nearly 35,000 people to flee southward thus far.

These newly created refugees, who are leaving with such panic and haste that they are not bothering to bring their most valuable of possessions with them, are making way for Jos. Positioned just outside of the Muslim north, Jos provides a convenient safe haven for Christian refugees as they journey towards the friendlier south. As many of those refugees opt to remain in Jos, they threaten to alter the delicate sectarian balance in the city, paving the way for shattering the city’s hard-won peace. Continue reading Jos: The Window into a Nigerian Civil War

The Kremlin’s Syrian Gambit

By Yagil B. and Danny B.

Russia’s continued support for Syria is no more than a coldly calculated move meant to bolster its position as global super power.

Russia sent a strong message to the West earlier this month when its aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kutznetsov, docked in the Syrian port of Tartus amidst much bravado. Since that time, the Kremlin has unabatedly remained steadfast in its diplomatic support for the embattled regime by threatening to block any punishing UN Security Council resolutions, drawing the ire of the Sunni Arab world. on January 27, Moscow said a UN draft that condemned Bashar al-Assad and called for his ouster, failed to address Russia’s interests. Like Iran, Russia continues to demonstrate its loyalty to the embattled Alawite-led Assad regime, even as it becomes ever more isolated within the Arab League and the international community.
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