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Category: Middle East & North Africa

Russian cooperation with Iran and Iraq has broader consequences than saving Assad

Written by Nader Habibi and Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee.

The sudden launch of Russia’s military operations in Syria late last month caught the United States and regional players by surprise.

It began with an announcement that defined the primary objective of the mission as a confrontation with the Islamic State (ISIS) in cooperation with the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.

The strategy involves three components. First, Russia is expanding its military facilities in Syria. Second, Russia remains committed to the survival of Assad’s regime and its fight against ISIS in Syria. Third, Russia announced an intelligence sharing and flight corridor agreement with Iran and Iraq.

Why defeating ISIS with military might is starry eyed idealism

Written by David Alpher.

This past weekend, US-led coalition aircraft targeted the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. It was one of the “largest deliberate engagements to date,” said a coalition spokesman, and it was executed “to deny [ISIS] the ability to move military capabilities throughout Syria and into Iraq.” The scale of these responses gives a hint both to how concerned we are about such groups–and to how badly we misunderstand how to deal with them.

ISIS–the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”–is the monster of our times, our Grendel. Every pundit, commentator, armchair warrior and presidential candidate, declared and otherwise, claims to have a strategy to defeat them. A steady stream of political statements offering answers to “what do we do about them?” have gotten progressively more hawkish.

Jerusalem: an intifada by any other name is just as dangerous

Written by Luisa Gandolfo.

The next visit of the Middle East Quartet to Jerusalem and Ramallah will take place against a backdrop of serious unrest. The violence re-emerged last month and clashes have become a daily occurrence in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, resulting in the deaths of 24 Palestinians and four Israelis.

This has been fuelled by an array of issues, among them restrictions on movement around the Old City and al-Aqsa mosque compound; tensions at the checkpoints; the sustained construction of illegal settlements; attacks by settlers on Palestinians and vice versa; home demolitions and peace talks that have yet to effectively promote a higher, equal price on life on the ground.

In response to the unrest, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, advised gun-owning civilians to carry their weapons at all times “like military reserve duty”. While carrying arms is a common sight around the settlements, the call for residents of Jerusalem to do likewise is a negative development. The addition of more arms will not hasten the end of the conflict, but rather its escalation.

Fighting Dirty: Assessing the Threat of ISIS Engaging in Radiological Terrorism

Written by Bryan R. Early.

Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria will intensify the fighting taking place within the country and increase the pressure on ISIS to defend its territories.  Backed into a corner, ISIS may be driven to pursue new tactics that could turn the tide of the conflict back in its favor and create the perception that it is once again on the offensive. One of those tactics could be the use of radiological terrorism.  ISIS has already used mustard gas in attacks against the Kurds and it possesses the organizational capacity, materials, and likely willingness to engage in radiological terrorism if sufficiently incentivized.  As the conflict between Russian-backed Syrian forces and ISIS intensifies, the threat that ISIS might resort to using radiological materials in attacks is a lot higher that previous analyses have suggested.

Forbidden Friends, Delivered to your Enemies: Proscription, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State

Written by Lee Jarvis and Tim Legrand.

The precise point at which Islamic State – or ISIS, or Daesh, or simply IS – emerged as an organisation in its own right presents a complicated yet important question. Although its backstory is frequently traced to 2003 and the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq, the moment at which Islamic State definitively split from its apparent progenitor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, is often less precisely drawn. This is understandable: human institutions and organisations seldom have a single, uncontested, point of origins to which their existence might be traced.

Questions such as these are undoubtedly important to historians and others with an interest in the rise and decline of so-called ‘terrorist’ groups. Indeed, the temporal or historical rhythms of terrorism have become a productive research area within scholarship on terrorism in recent years: witness the pervasiveness of claims around terrorism’s ‘waves’, ‘cycles’ or ‘old’ and ‘new’ manifestations.

These questions also matter, however, in a very real and immediate sense to those tasked with arresting the terrorist threat.

Just how dangerous are the skies over Syria?

Written by David J Galbreath.

Washington greeted reports of the Russian air force’s first wave of airstrikes on September 30 with fierce rhetoric. Moscow, said defence secretary Ash Carter, was “pouring gasoline on the fire” in Syria.

The strikes reportedly hit rebels fighting pro-government forces in various towns including Hama, Homs and Jisr al-Shughour in the west of the country, a long way from areas further east where Islamic State holds sway. Kremlin spokesmen claimed that their airstrikes attacked 12 IS targets – but this has been disputed by people on the ground in Syria who posted video of the explosions on social media.

Russia’s decision to join the bombing party in Syria follows a summer of fruitless and inconsequential diplomacy and raises important questions about who is bombing who and what these campaigns aim to achieve.

Why Putin ended up gambling on airstrikes in Syria – and what might come next

Written by Scott Lucas.

For those watching closely, the signal for Russia’s first airstrikes came in a statement early on September 30 by Kremlin spokesman Sergei Ivanov, just after the upper house of the parliament authorised military operations:

To observe international law, one of two conditions has to be met – either a UN Security Council resolution or a request by a country, on the territory of which an airstrike is delivered, about military assistance.

In this respect, I want to inform you that the president of the Syrian Arab Republic has addressed the leadership of our country with a request of military assistance.

Within hours, witnesses were reporting that Russian jet fighters were bombing parts of Hama and Homs Provinces in western Syria. Activists said scores of people – almost all civilians – had been killed, disseminating videos and photographs of slain or injured children.

How Turkey began the slide towards civil war

Written by Cengiz Gunes.

The speed with which Turkey has became engulfed in violence since the Suruç massacre on July 20 2015 is causing mass anxiety.

While public discussion has largely focused on questions of whose fault it is and why the country has suddenly descended into violence, one thing everyone agrees is that the country is passing through an extraordinary period in its history. While the current crisis has much deeper roots, the developments of the past year provide us sufficient clues about why the spiral of violence is likely to continue.