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Ed Webb

Italian Fishermen, Caught Amid EU Migrant Politics, Are Being Captured in Libya - 0 views

  • The 180-mile stretch of the Mediterranean sea that separates Sicily from Libya has been a diplomatic battleground in Italian-Libyan relations for years
  • allowed Libya to quietly claim a bigger portion of the Mediterranean: a controversial move that has put the lives and livelihoods of Italian fishermen at greater risk for almost a decade
  • Libyans have continued to treat foreign fishing in that 74-mile stretch as a territorial invasion—and as a theft of their natural resources, to be punished through detention and bail payment
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  • The maritime dispute dates back to the 1970s, when Libya began using force to protect its self-proclaimed fishing waters off the Gulf of Sidra from foreign fishing vessels, 12 miles from its coast. But it worsened in 2005, when then-Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi unilaterally extended the country’s waters from 12 to 74 miles offshore. Those claims were always formally rejected by main EU member states, and according to Stefano Marcuzzi, a Libya analyst at the NATO Defense College Foundation in Rome, many maritime law experts still consider them illegitimate. “Territorial waters can be extended up to 74 miles, according to the 1982 Montego Bay Convention, but that refers to oceans,” Marcuzzi said. “The extension of that principle to the closed waters of the Mediterranean basin is debatable.”
  • The EU has kept prioritizing migration containment by signing agreements with Libya’s coast guard, which is part of Tripoli’s navy, over proper nation-building and regional-stabilization policies—with mixed results
  • about 40 fishermen have been injured and detained in the past 25 years. More than 50 boats have been seized, and the release of each one has cost up to 50,000 euros, a price usually paid by the fishermen themselves.  
  • since civil war broke out in Libya in 2011, Italy and the EU have lost much of their influence in the country.
  • “Our families’ income has depended on fishing for generations. Despite the risks, we have no choice but to keep sailing these troubled waters, because that’s where red prawns live,” said Asaro, who was among the first Sicilian fishermen to experience detention—and a show trial—in Libya. In 1996, around 50 miles off the coast of the city of Misrata, the Libyan coast guard chased Asaro’s vessel for four hours before they began shooting at his crew, who were then jailed in Libya for six months. He’s since been detained twice more, most recently in 2012, near Benghazi, when he was released after eight days on an 8,000-euro bail he paid out of his own pocket.
  • The EU’s inability to see Libya outside the lens of migration has also allowed the country to take control of a bigger portion of the Mediterranean
  • allowing Libyans to assert larger maritime sovereignty has allowed them the opportunity to advance claims over natural resources, such as in the fishing dispute, and given them a base for potential military and trade movements deeper in the Mediterranean Sea
  • Since Rome and Tripoli signed an EU-backed agreement in 2017 to curb migrant flows across the Mediterranean, vessels from the EU have been barred from operating in the 74 miles off the Libyan coast, and Italy has been helping to train and equip the Libyan coast guard—one of the groups that has been detaining its own fishermen
  • “Before 2011, the Italian navy supported us. Now as soon as we are 50 miles from the Libyan coasts, they also tell us to leave. It seems as if they prefer to leave us with a smaller piece of sea to fish rather than irritating Libyans, who could then retaliate through migration deals,” said Roberto Figuccia, another fisherman from Mazara del Vallo who’s been captured by the Libyan coast guard and detained in Libya twice, in 2015 and 2018.
  • the Italian government’s inability to negotiate a fishing agreement with Libya has led Italian captains to forge their own ties with Haftar
  • “If the Mediterranean has become a battleground, it is not only because of migrants,” said Asaro, who recently ran—and lost—in local elections with the Lega party, which is known for its far-right and anti-EU rhetoric. He believes that Lega, unlike Italy’s other political parties, would stand up for Italian citizens’ rights over EU agreements. “I no longer feel as a European citizen. The EU has left us alone.”
Ed Webb

Egyptian officials: Sisi's visit to Djibouti part of East Africa 'charm offensive' | Ma... - 0 views

  • The visit, which is the first by an Egyptian head of state to Djibouti, is part of what two officials in Cairo familiar with the arrangements say is a “charm offensive” in the Horn of Africa, where Egypt has been at loggerheads with Ethiopia over the filling and operation of the mega dam project on the Blue Nile and has been concerned over its relative lack of influence in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, an area it considers its backyard both for potential resource management along the Nile and commercial trade in the waterway leading into the Suez Canal.
  • Cairo’s image in the region took a hit when it sided with ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, according to two Egyptian officials, a move they say in retrospect was a mistake
  • The Djibouti visit comes after a flurry of defense cooperation agreements with Nile Basin countries since the start of the year, including Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Sudan. These build on the framework provided by the Red Sea Council, of which Egypt formally became a member in November. The charter was signed by the foreign ministers of Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen in January 2020. Egypt and Sudan held joint military drills in Khartoum this week.
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  • since 2019, Egypt has become aware that Addis Ababa has been presenting Cairo as a “North African, Arab country” that doesn’t care about the rest of the continent
  • Egypt’s foreign policy in the Horn is also about re-establishing a security presence over the Bab al-Mandeb, the strait leading into the Red Sea and Suez Canal, where Egypt had grown concerned about the increased presence of foreign powers
  • By establishing a presence in East Africa, Egypt will have the opportunity to cooperate with international powers that are trying to expand their presence in the region, including the US, Russia, and China, says one of the Egyptian officials, adding that this cooperation could take the form of trade agreements, combatting “terrorism” or controlling irregular migration
  • Egypt has grown increasingly worried about the role of the Emirates, which has become a major power broker and the principal architect of the security framework in the fiercely competitive Red Sea, with bases in Berbera, Somaliland; Bosaso, Somalia; and several coastal ports in Yemen, where it had fought alongside the Saudi-led coalition since 2015.
  • while Turkey and Egypt have publicized their quiet rapprochement, Turkey has made its own prominent foray into East Africa: signing a military cooperation with Niger last year; being invited by Somalia, to whom Turkey has long provided aid, to explore for oil in its seas; and holding high-level talks with Ethiopian officials.
  • A consultant for the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Africa policy previously told Mada Masr that Turkey’s “developing relations with Ethiopia is a direct answer to Egypt. There are two dimensions. We want to develop our relations with Ethiopia, and we want to develop our relations with an Ethiopia that is stronger against Egypt. A strong Ethiopia against Egypt is something that Turkey wants.”
Ed Webb

Coexistence, Sectarianism and Racism - An Interview with Ussama Makdisi - MERIP - 0 views

  • What is the ecumenical frame and how does it revise Orientalist understandings of sectarianism?
  • My book seeks to offer a critical and empathetic story of coexistence without defensiveness—that is, to write a history that neither glorifies the Arab past nor denigrates the present and that explores the grim significance of sectarian tensions in the modern Middle East without being seduced by their sensationalism
  • I wanted to understand how they sought to imagine and build a world greater than the sum of their religious or ethnic parts—commitments that remain evident, if one is prepared to recognize them, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and beyond. I call this modern iteration of coexistence the “ecumenical frame” to underscore the modern active attempt on the part of individuals and communities in the region to both recognize the salience of religious pluralism and yet also to try and transcend sectarian difference into a secular, unifying political community
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  • a project of modern coexistence that not only had to be imagined and designed, but also built
  • to trace how an extraordinary idea of Muslim and Christian and Jewish civic and political community rooted in secular equality went from unimaginability to ubiquity in the course of a single century, and nowhere more so than in the Arab East after 1860
  • subject to conflicting interpretations that valorized “real” religion and demonized sectarianism, often in contradictory and conservative modes, but also in more liberal and even radical ways
  • The Orientalist view of sectarianism frequently analogizes sect as “like race” and, furthermore, it assumes that sectarian differences are inherent cultural and political differences similar to race. What do you think is the relationship of sect to race?  How should race figure in the story of coexistence you relate?
  • the Orientalists idealize the West in order to Orientalize the East. Second, as you suggest, this view transforms religious pluralism in the Middle East into a structure of age-old monolithic antagonistic communities so that one can speak of medieval and modern Maronites, Jews, Muslims and so on as if these have been unchanging communities and as if all ideological diversity in the Middle East ultimately is reducible to religion and religious community
  • The religious sect is conflated with the political sect; the secular is understood to be a thin veneer that conceals the allegedly “real” and unchanging religious essence of the Middle East. This view is dangerous, misleading and tendentious.
  • both race and sect urgently need to be historicized and contextualized—race belongs to US (and Western) political vocabulary; sect to Arab political vocabulary. Both the notion of age-old sects and that of immutable races are ideological fictions that have been manipulated to serve power
  • US scholars Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields have suggested we think of “racecraft” rather than “race relations” to underscore the ideological fundament of racist thinking that appears totally natural to its proponents. As I allude to in my book, so too might we think of “sectcraft” rather than sectarian or communal relations, both to underscore the ideological aspect of sectarianism and to emphasize the amount of work that goes into making sectarianism appear to be inherent, inevitable and unchangeable
  • the colonial dimension is crucial, and it clearly separates the US and the European period of nationalization from that of the colonized Middle East
  • many scholars gravitate toward using categories and experiences that emerge in the US context and apply them, sometimes indiscriminately and often very problematically, to other parts of the world. I think it is important at some level to respect the fact that in the modern Middle East, progressive scholars and laypeople, men and women belonging to different religious communities, have throughout the twentieth century typically described and conceptualized their struggles against injustice and tyranny as struggles against sectarianism and colonialism, but not necessarily as a struggle against racism.
  • the national polities of the post-Ottoman period in the Arab East were established by European colonial powers. These European powers massively distorted the ecumenical trajectory evident in the late Ottoman Arab East. First, they broke up the region into dependent and weak states, and second, they divided the region along explicitly sectarian lines
  • Tribalism, communalism and sectarianism all refer to parallel formations in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East respectively that assume an unchanging essence that separates members of a single sovereignty or putative sovereignty. They are all static ideological interpretations of pluralism, and have all, to a greater or lesser degree, been massively influenced and even in many ways formally classified and invented by Western colonial powers
  • why the investment in and privileging of certain epistemic categories of domination as opposed to others? The question of migrant labor illustrates how race and class and geography and history are intertwined in very specific ways—the Middle Eastern cases (whether the Gulf or in Lebanon) are indeed different from that of the history of migrant labor in the United States, which has always been implicated in settler colonialism.
  • One key difference, of course, between modern Western colonialism and early modern Islamic empires is that the latter, like their early modern Christian counterparts, did not pretend to uphold liberal representation, political equality or self-determination. So, temporality is one essential difference: ethnic, racist or sectarian discrimination in the Islamic empires was not justified or imagined as a benevolent burden to uplift others into an ostensibly equal level of civilization. There was no pretense of a colonial tutelage to help natives achieve independence in the fullness of time
  • In the Ottoman Islamic empire, there were indeed professions of Islamic superiority, notions of ethnic, tribal and religious discrimination, forms of bondage and slavery, and myriad chauvinisms and prejudices tied to kinship, geography, language, culture and ethnicity and so on, but not a notion of biological racism or the obsession with racial segregation and miscegenation that has been the hallmark of modern Western colonialism
  • a new and distinctive defensiveness among leading Muslim Arab intellectuals—that is, their need to defend Islam and Islamic society from missionary and colonial assault whilst also embracing or reconciling themselves to compatriotship with Arab Christians and Jews. This defensiveness persists
  • the great problem of scholars and governments in the West who have long instrumentalized and Orientalized discrimination against non-Muslims to suggest that there is some peculiar problem with Islam and Muslims
  • I think that scholars of gender and women’s history have a lot to teach us in this regard: that is Arab, Turkish, Iranian and other scholars who have explored the long history of gender discrimination—who have defied the fundamentalists—without succumbing to racist Orientalism or self-loathing
  • really historicize! It really is an effective antidote in the face of those who peddle in chauvinism, racism, sectarianism, tribalism and communalism
Ed Webb

Analysis: Has the Gulf reconciled after the Qatar blockade? | GCC | Al Jazeera - 0 views

  • From beginning to end, the blockade of Qatar was a textbook study of a regional crisis in the age of US President Donald Trump and the weakening of the rules-based international order. What amounted to a power play designed to isolate Qatar politically and economically began with the hacking of the Qatar News Agency and the planting of a fake news story purporting to report incendiary comments by Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. This made the chain of events that followed a real-world manifestation of a crisis rooted in the notion of “alternative facts”
  • a series of interactions seemingly intent on appealing to the transactional and unconventional style of decision-making in the White House by creating and amplifying an influence campaign portraying Qatar as a negative actor in regional affairs.
  • By September 2017, the blockade had settled into a holding pattern that lasted for the remainder of Trump’s turbulent presidency
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  • a recognition of flexibility that relations between Qatar and the four blockading states will not all proceed at the same speed or depth. Already, there are signs that ties have improved fastest and farthest with Saudi Arabia and (to a lesser extent) Egypt, which likely reflects the fact that much of the original animosity behind the blockade did not originate in Riyadh or in Cairo
  • hardly surprising that the transition from Trump to Biden also saw the ending of a blockade that would likely never have happened under any other president
  • The failure of the Trump administration to respond to the series of attacks on maritime and energy targets in and around Saudi Arabia and the UAE culminated in Trump publicly distinguishing between US and Saudi interests in the aftermath of the missile and drone attacks against Saudi oil facilities. The 2019 attacks, linked to Iran, punctured the regional assertiveness of Saudi and Emirati policymaking as well as the assumption, particularly when it came to anything to do with Iran, that their interests and US interests were effectively one and the same
  • The blockade of Qatar was the longest rift in the history of the GCC, which marked its 40th anniversary on May 25, and, unlike previous periods of tension, its effect was not restricted to the level of leaders and policymaking elites but encompassed whole nations. Damage done to the social fabric of the “Gulf house” may take longer to repair and memories of the bitterness and rancour on media and social media platforms could linger. For the time being and the foreseeable future, though, all parties to the blockade are likely to establish a modus vivendi at least until the regional or international context changes again
Ed Webb

Italy Caused Chaos in Libya by Mismanaging Migration Policy - 0 views

  • Over three days in May 2017, the Italian secret service—masquerading as a humanitarian nongovernmental organization—summoned to Rome two dozen delegates from the southern edge of the Sahara desert. The pretext was to promote a peace deal for their war-torn region; the real goal was to bring them on board with an Italian plan to curb migration.
  • the pitfalls of a foreign policy that conflates peace and development with migration control
  • The Tuareg, the Tebu, and the Awlad Suleiman—the groups represented at the summit—are the gatekeepers of the desert crossed by those hoping to reach the Libyan coast to embark on a sea journey to Europe.
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  • Migration, however, was never much of a concern for the inhabitants of the Sahara. For the most part, they move freely across borders, and their economies depend heavily on the transit of people and goods.
  • What was meant to be “A dialogue on peace, development, security and human rights in the trans-border regions of Libya, Chad, and Niger,” according to the government’s agenda, became a failed attempt to co-opt some of the poorest people on the planet in a fight against migration from which they had little to gain.
  • The interior ministers of the three countries attended the gathering, as well as one vice president of the GNA—hardly a typical NGO summit. The summit was ostensibly organized by the Ara Pacis Initiative, a group that claims to be an “international not for profit organization based in Rome, dedicated to the human dimension of peace.” Its peculiar inspiration, according to its website, is the altar of peace built in Rome by emperor Augustus. The founder and sole active member of Ara Pacis is Maria Nicoletta Gaida, an Italian American former actress with little background in the humanitarian sector
  • The mysterious man with the ponytail started off with an offer meant to capture the goodwill of his audience: “We will ask for Italy’s commitment to immediately establish cultural identity centers for the trans-border tribes,” he said. Italy would staff these centers with teachers “that will keep alive the history and the culture of these great people.” He also promised health clinics connected via webcam to Italian hospitals. “These are small things,” he said, “for the seed from which the plant grows is always small.”
  • “After peace,” he said, “comes security and development.” The delegates should “deal with the issue of immigration and terrorism through border control mechanisms based on the optimization of reception centers that already exist in your countries.”
  • “My minister is ready to support any of your requests,” he said at one point. In return, he asked for the tribes’ backing in curbing migration: That would “give him the strength to go to Europe and defeat our enemies,” he said, without clarifying who those enemies might be.
  • At roughly the same time as the meeting near Rome, the Italian intelligence services reportedly brokered a multimillion-euro payment to Libyan militias involved in trafficking to enlist them as a coast guard force, a claim that Italy denies.
  • The International Organization for Migration manages one key pillar of the EU’s migration policy in Libya, namely the so-called voluntary repatriation of stranded migrants.
  • these agencies have repeatedly proved useless when it comes to defending the human rights of migrants in Libya. Indeed, the Associated Press revealed last month that the EU’s humanitarian spending has often been diverted to militias and traffickers—sometimes with the knowledge of U.N. officials.
  • Sergio De Caprio, known by the public as Capitano Ultimo, became a legend in Italy after arresting the godfather of the Sicilian mafia Totò Riina in 1993. His exploits inspired novels and a TV series. In 2016 and 2017, he was transferred to the secret service. While his anti-mafia record is legendary, his foreign-policy credentials are unknown. His appointment affirmed the Italian government’s belief that migration is essentially a criminal problem, and that smuggling rings can be fought in the same way as mafia organizations.
  • “The social components of southern Libya are many more than just Awlad Suleiman, Tebu, and Tuaregs,” he argued. Moreover, he said, “their representatives know their identity and history well and are perfectly able to preserve their traditions.”
  • “Rather than cultural centers,” he said, “let’s open factories, so that the youth can have a hope, an alternative to joining criminal gangs.”
  • Although the south of the Sahara is rich in oil, gold, and uranium, local populations suffer abject poverty. The Saharan delegates laid out their priorities: Negotiating peace was their main aim—and supposedly the reason they had flown all the way to Rome. They saw Italy as having a European mandate to mediate peace in Libya by virtue of its old colonial ties. But still the war raged on
  • if a border force was what Europe really wanted, the tribes could welcome military equipment. The United Arab Emirates, the Tuareg leader reminded De Caprio, had lent their helicopters and pilots for border patrol after just one meeting, and this was already their fifth visit to Italy.
  • There is no accountability for Europe’s multibillion-euro spending spree on projects to curb migration. In vast regions such as southern Libya that are inaccessible to diplomatic missions, let alone humanitarian agencies, officials are able to pocket the money for themselves. Migration spending thus ends up fostering corruption, rather than development.
  • when the Libyans sought ambitious development projects they were offered handicraft workshops instead
  • Humanitarian catastrophe looms over the wider Sahara region as Islamist insurgencies in the bordering Sahel region displace 4.2 million people. The Libyan war has escalated into an international conflict
  • The parties in the Libyan conflict store weapons “in close proximity” to migrant detention centers, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, so these become a target of the bombing
  • Italy and Europe’s credibility has been severely undermined by their single-minded pursuit of migration control when dealing with Libya and other African countries
  • At least 36,000 people have been returned to Libya as they attempted to leave the country since 2017 by a Libyan coast guard that Europe funded and equipped. Unsurprisingly, given the way they were recruited, coast guard officers have been found to be involved in such crimes as detaining and extorting ransoms from migrants, whipping shipwreck survivors, shooting migrants, sinking their dinghies, and ignoring distress calls
  • For several years the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic organization of which Giro is a prominent member, had been mediating peace among the Saharan peoples. The association is involved in several conflict resolution initiatives around the world and has been credited with ending a bloody civil war in Mozambique in 1992.
  • Europe’s “migration obsession … a sickness that has infected all 28 EU countries
  • Mogherini’s tenure as EU foreign-policy chief will be remembered for its unprecedented callousness toward the plight of migrants and refugees; she now co-chairs a newly formed U.N. High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement
  • “Do you realize what it would mean if Libya fell into Turkish and Russian hands, at the expense of Europe? We would lose everything.” What would we lose? I asked him. “Everything! Control over migration, political control, economic control, the oil. … Eventually, we would lose it all.”
Ed Webb

America's Forever Wars Have Come Back Home - 0 views

  • there are several obvious ways in which America’s recent conduct abroad has led to greater insecurity, paranoia, loss of trust, and division within the United States
  • Whatever Americans’ intentions may have been, U.S. actions have sometimes caused enormous suffering in other countries—through sanctions, covert action, support for thuggish dictators, and a remarkable ability to turn a blind eye to the brutal conduct of close allies—not to mention America’s own far-flung military activities. Given the countries the United States has invaded, the bombs it’s dropped, and the drone strikes it’s conducted, it is any wonder that some people in other places wish Americans ill?
  • there is a mountain of evidence—including the official 9/11 Commission Report—showing that what drove anti-American extremism was opposition to U.S. policy
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  • the vast sums Americans have spent trying to nation-build, spread democracy, or defeat all “terrorists of global reach” inevitably left fewer resources available to help Americans at home (including the veterans of the country’s protracted wars)
  • the over $6 trillion spent on what Bush dubbed the “war on terror”—including the money spent on unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—could surely have been spent helping Americans live more comfortable and secure lives at home (or merely left in taxpayers’ pockets). Add to the list the decisions to promote rapid globalization and financial deregulation, which did significant harm to some sectors of the economy and led to the 2008 financial crisis, and you begin to see why confidence in the elite has taken a hit.
  • running an ambitious and highly interventionist foreign policy—and, in particular, one that tries to manipulate, manage, and ultimately shape the internal politics of foreign countries—requires a lot of deception. To sustain public support for it, elites have to spend a lot of time inflating threats, exaggerating benefits, acting in secret, and manipulating what the public is told
  • the architects of failure are rarely, if ever, held accountable
  • Once back in office, they are free to repeat their previous mistakes, backed by a chorus of pundits whose recommendations never change no matter how often they’ve failed.
  • The United States set out to remake the world in its image, and when some parts of that world pushed back, it reacted the way that most societies do when they are attacked. Americans got scared, lashed out even more, stopped thinking clearly and strategically, and looked around for someone to blame
  • the Republican Party’s decision to pin its political future on gerrymandering, voter suppression, and mobilizing a shrinking base and not on trying to appeal to the median voter is surely part of the problem, too, along with the twisted soul of Trump himself
  • Endless campaigns abroad unleash a host of political forces—militarism, secrecy, enhanced executive authority, xenophobia, faux patriotism, demagoguery, etc.—all of them contrary to the civic virtues on which a healthy democracy depends
Ed Webb

The U.S. Army Is Using the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict to Study Drone Warfare - 1 views

  • When Azerbaijan took over the skies in its fight with Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh last fall, winning the air war with commercial Turkish and kamikaze drones, one thing started to become clear to U.S. Army strategists: It’s becoming easier to hunt and kill troops than ever before—and to do so on the cheap. With inexpensive, combat-ready drones proliferating on battlefields all over the world, in the not-too-distant future unsuspecting soldiers might get killed just by getting out of their positions for a moment to go to the bathroom.
  • poorer nations can buy themselves a respectable air force mostly off the shelf
  • Azerbaijan deployed Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones and loitering munitions, many of them Israeli-made, to shrink the battlefield and chip away at Armenia’s armored forces as well as the logistical tail that hadn’t even reached the front lines.
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  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev even touted a laundry list of Armenian equipment purportedly destroyed or captured, including nearly 250 tanks, 50 infantry fighting vehicles, and four Russian-made S-300 missile defense systems, as well as 198 trucks and 17 self-propelled artillery units. In mid-October, Aliyev credited Turkish drones with helping his military to destroy more than $1 billion worth of Armenian equipment.
  • the tremendous amount of disinformation flying around on open-source networks made it difficult to figure out everything that happened in real time.
  • Automation is likely to move beyond the skies, too. Shaw, an infantry officer by training, sees weaker militaries following the U.S. lead by deploying unmanned ground and sea vehicles
  • unmanned aerial vehicles are becoming more lethal
  • Even communication over FM radio, which was standard operating procedure for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two decades, will need to be rethought as countries like Russia are getting much more skilled at locating—and striking—units that are careless about staying unmasked on the electromagnetic spectrum
  • The Army, which has long enjoyed a firepower advantage in static positions, will have to think about reinventing the wheel to be a constantly mobile force, avoiding detection and incoming fire. “If survivability moves are constant, that increases your rate of consumption for food, water, fuel. People have to sleep,” Shaw said. “We’re going to have to have leaders who are comfortable operating under the uncomfortable.”
Ed Webb

The IDF's Unlawful Attack on Al Jalaa Tower - 2 views

  • On May 15, 2021, early in the afternoon, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) informed residents of the Al Jalaa tower that it planned to destroy their building. The building had 11 floors, around 60 residential apartments, and offices for doctors, lawyers, and journalists including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. Residents grabbed what belongings they could carry and ran down the stairs. Children and the elderly took turns using the single working elevator. An hour later, the IDF levelled the building and crushed everything inside. The now-former residents joined more than 77,000 Gazans displaced from their homes amidst ongoing airstrikes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Initially, the IDF claimed that the building “contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organization.” Later, the IDF tweeted that Hamas members took “items” out of the building before it was destroyed. The IDF said it was “willing to pay that price to not harm any civilians.” Officials who were involved in the decision reportedly now “completely regret” it. Hamas operatives simply moved their computers out, leaving only empty offices behind.
  • Given the sheer scale of destruction, suffering, and death, any starting point for legal analysis may seem arbitrary. But the IDF, a former IDF legal adviser, and one leading scholar publicly defended the legality of the airstrike on Al Jalaa tower. Their legal claims call for a response. The IDF also destroyed four other residential towers, and hundreds of other residential units across Gaza. Examining the attack on Al Jalaa tower may shed light on these other attacks as well.
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  • the tower was not a military objective (a “lawful target”) at the time of the airstrike. The expected harm to civilians and civilian objects was also excessive (or “disproportionate”) in relation to the military advantage anticipated from destroying any equipment Hamas may have left behind
  • International law prohibits attacks on civilian objects. Civilian objects are all objects which are not military objectives. Military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage. According to the IDF and subsequent reports, Hamas members left with their equipment before the airstrike. They were not using the building or any part of it when it was destroyed. No one suggests that the tower made any effective contribution to military action by its nature or location.
  • If attacking forces are allowed to level any building their adversary might intend to use in the future, then the principle of distinction will lose much of its meaning and legal effect in urban warfare.
  • Based on IDF statements as well as video of the attack, it appears that the attack was directed at the building’s base, not at particular offices or their contents. Since the building was a civilian object at the time of the attack, it was unlawful to make the building as such the object of attack
  • The expected harm to civilians and civilian objects was excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. The IDF and its defenders do not argue otherwise. They do not deny that the destruction of dozens of civilian homes and offices would be excessive in relation to the destruction of whatever military equipment may have been left in the building. They argue that the civilian homes and offices were not civilian objects at all.
  • the IDF’s reported position that, if members of an armed group use any part of a civilian building for military activities, then the entire building—including all the civilian apartments inside—becomes a military objective. Since the proportionality rule only protects civilian objects, the IDF argues that expected damage to civilian apartments inside such a building carries no weight in determining the proportionality of an attack. This view is grotesque.
  • To my knowledge, no one thinks it is morally acceptable to destroy dozens of civilian apartments to obtain a minor or uncertain military advantage by destroying military equipment that the adversary has abandoned but may retrieve. The IDF may think it has found a loophole in the law. It hasn’t. But it is worth remembering that basic moral principles have no loopholes.
  • No part of Al Jalaa tower, let alone all of it, was a military objective at the time of the attack
  • The IDF emphasized that it notified the civilian residents that it planned to attack. The IDF may have thought that the tower, or part of it, was a military objective at the time of the notification and therefore it must remain a military objective at the time of the attack. This inference is obviously invalid. Attacking forces do not acquire a legal right to carry out an attack at one moment in time, which they then retain even if circumstances change. The law of armed conflict applies at all times, but never more than at the moment an attack is carried out.
  • It was an unlawful attack. One of many, and not the worst, I suspect.
Ed Webb

A Thousand Hezbollahs: Iraq's Emerging Militia State - Newlines Institute - 1 views

  • This intelligence briefing provides extensive, never before reported details on how Iran-linked Iraqi militias are creating a new order to dominate a strategic region of the country that connects Iraq and Syria. Iranian-linked militia groups are taking advantage of the vacuum caused by the collapse of ISIS’s caliphate to begin building security, social, political, and economic structures to dominate this strategic area of Iraq.
  • Local and provincial politicians cooperate with some of the militias
  • get their preferred academics put in charge of some of the more important colleges
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  • demographic engineering
  • Militia fighters from central and southern Iraq have registered as residents of Ninewa Plain and Mosul in order to legitimize the seizure of property there
  • took control of more than 72 oil fields in the Qayyarah area south of Mosul that ISIS had previously controlled, and the factions pilfer around 100 tanker trucks of crude oil daily
  • hundreds of thousands of dollars every day through extortion at illegal checkpoints they have set up across the country.
  • The January 2020 U.S. decision to assassinate a top leader of the PMF, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, along with the top Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani – the architect of the Iran’s Iraqi Shiite proxy network – did strike a major blow to these militias but also emboldened them, and as a result they remain deeply rooted in the country. 
  • infiltration into police and security forces has allowed militias to control Iraqi citizens’ movements, trade, occupation, and other aspects of private life
  • context for future conflict and disorder
  • Iran moved to cultivate Shiite militias as a key instrument through which it could transform a state that represented a threat into a one that is weak and subordinate to its wishes
  • Through the critical role it played in the dismantling of the ISIS caliphate in Iraq, the Shiite militia coalition known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) established itself as a major force. By 2017, and as a consequence of its heavy involvement in the liberation of areas that had been taken over by ISIS, the Shiite militia alliance emerged as a power center rivaling Baghdad and a threat to human security in the country
  • this report shows how these nonstate actors have become a parallel state by creating their own political economy, which is riddled with corruption. Additionally, these Shiite militias have coerced their way into Iraq’s national security apparatus and have been recipients of official state funds
  • Frictions have escalated among the militias: between the militias loyal to Iran and those loyal to the Iraqi shrines, and between the Shiite militias and the Sunni and tribal militias, who receive fewer positions of authority and less effective weaponry and equipment than their Shiite counterparts
  • these militias have also begun to threaten Turkish forces trying to project influence into northern Iraq
  • consolidating their grip in northwestern Iraq and are enabling Iran’s broader regional strategy extending through the Levant to the Mediterranean
Ed Webb

After the Mideast ceasefire: Keep moving the Overton Window - Responsible Statecraft - 1 views

  • Hamas is a symptom, not a cause. Hamas should be criticized not only for firing unguided rockets at civilian areas and for the casualties that causes, but also for making itself and its rockets a center of attention and thereby playing into the hands of those seeking to deflect attention from the root causes of the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Hamas ceased to exist tomorrow, some other group would rise to take its place and fill a similar role in the Palestinian resistance. And the cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence would continue.
  • The vast majority of Palestinians obviously don’t want to continue with the oppression, detentions, demolished homes, blockades, and other miserable features of Israeli occupation and domination. It is not Palestinians who are resisting change from the status quo. Israel is the side with overwhelming military and economic power. It is the side capable of moving away from the violent status quo, but enough Israelis are sufficiently comfortable with that status quo to lack the will to do so.
  • the United States has much leverage, in the form of billions of hitherto unconditional subsidies and much diplomatic cover, that could be used to induce Israeli policymakers onto a more constructive path — if there were the will to use such leverage.
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  • Biden evidently has calculated that the prospects for meaningful progress during his term of office toward anything that could legitimately be considered an Israel-Palestinian peace are dim enough for the necessarily large expenditure of political capital not to be worthwhile. It probably is unrealistic to expect Biden to make a major recalculation about this.
  • The Overton Window of acceptable American discourse about Israel has shifted, and shifted in a positive direction.
  • When Netanyahu and other leaders on the Israeli right — which now includes most of the Israeli political spectrum — say anything about a two-state solution, it has been to hold out a false promise and to keep would-be mediators and negotiators occupied while Israeli actions on the ground push such a solution ever further out of reach.
  • The administration does not need to spin reality. It is quite obvious that Palestinians and Israelis have grossly unequal degrees of freedom, prosperity, and democracy. With open and honest acknowledgement of those realities, and sufficient attention given to them, the president can have a beneficial effect on American discourse on the subject even without spending a lot of political capital on any new Middle East initiative. In so doing, he can increase the chance that at least under a future president, U.S. policies will change in ways that in turn elicit a change in Israeli policy that will make future wars in Gaza less likely.
Ed Webb

Implications of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's New Leadership - Newlines Institute - 1 views

  • While al Qaeda does not recognize national borders or flags, AQIM recently has increasingly involved itself in local Algerian and Malian dynamics, with leaders appearing in front of national flags and publicly endorsing local causes
  • Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), the group that united several jihadist factions under the banner of AQIM to operate in Mali and the Sahel in 2017.
  • the recruitment reach of jihadist groups in the Sahel, which now goes beyond the ethnic Arab, Tuareg, and Fulani communities that mostly make up JNIM
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  • The sole survivor of the French raid is the driver, Boubacar Diallo (aka Abu Bakr al-Fulani), whose name was on the handwritten list of the prisoners whom JNIM demanded be released in return for the liberation of hostages Soumaïla Cissé and Sophie Pétronin. The list indicates that Diallo was in Malian intelligence services’ custody. (The author has confirmed that he was released.) That Diallo was driving the AQIM leader and JNIM’s media boss in the same car, and that he was on JNIM’s prisoner swap list, emphasizes the tight organizational and subordination links between JNIM and AQIM.
  • the group’s strategy of entrenching itself in local Malian politics appears to have borne fruit, exemplified by the ascension of Ag Ghali to head JNIM in 2017. Before becoming a jihadist, Ag Ghali was a respected political figure and Tuareg independence advocate in northern Mali. He has inspired respect among locals who see him as one of them, and his presence has helped JNIM (and thus AQIM) entrench itself in local Malian dynamics and gain the upper hand in its ongoing conflict against Islamic State militants in the region
  • the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) splintering off from the GIA in 1998. Less than a decade later, this group would vow allegiance to al Qaeda and rebrand itself as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The man who made that 2007 announcement was al-Annabi. Three years later, in 2010, al-Annabi was heading the Council of Notables, the most senior assembly that answers to and advises AQIM leadership. And three years after that, he was calling for jihad against France after French military involvement in northern Mali.
  • In early 2019, the author sent al-Annabi 12 questions, which he answered in a 52-minute-long audio compilation. It is a rare occasion for a senior al Qaeda representative to answer questions from Western media, indicating that al-Annabi is portraying himself as more of a political figure than an operational commander.
  • The first two questions were about the Algerian protest movement that began in February 2019, and al-Annabi dedicated more than half of the time answering them. He said the protests are “a natural continuation of the military struggle of AQIM,” which is in accordance with al Qaeda’s support for popular uprisings in the Arab world, such as Egypt and Tunisia. AQIM itself has halted operations in Algeria since the protests began, “to avoid undermining the uprising.”
  • Al-Annabi, whose birth name is Yazid M’barek, was born in 1969 in Annaba, a coastal town in eastern Algeria, according to his Interpol file. Though he has been designated as a terrorist by U.S. and European authorities since 2015, AQIM says he “joined jihad” in 1992 or 1993.It is improbable that he participated in the Afghan jihad or visited Afghanistan or Pakistan in those early years. Instead, he likely joined one of the many small, local groups active in his native region that orbited around the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), which claimed responsibility for several attacks, including hijacking an Air France commercial flight in 1994 and bombing the Saint Michel train station in Paris in 1995.
  • “JNIM is a non-dissociable part of AQIM, which in its turn is an non-dissociable part of al-Qaeda central. … Regarding the geographical reality and the military pressure on its leaders and commanders, al Qaeda had to adapt with flexible command and control, therefore giving general and strategic guidelines, and then tactically it is up to each branch to reach toward achieving those guidelines depending on their realities. … AQIM follows the same process of leadership regarding its activity in different African countries.”
  • “Our objectives are clear, fighting intruders and occupiers are legitimate in heavenly and earthly laws, so those who stay neutral will be spared.”
  • Mauritania, which kept open channels with AQIM and in return has not been attacked by AQIM since February 2011 despite being part of the G5 Sahel
  • The French campaign has weakened JNIM’s grip on Mali’s border region with Burkina Faso and Niger and prompted an Islamic State “comeback” offensive that resulted in the death of a JNIM field commander and led to a bloody confrontation between the militant groups in December. JNIM prevailed for the second time in that conflict, but a combination of pressure from Islamic State and French forces have left its manpower depleted.
  • Locals caught in the middle of the conflict between the Islamic State and JNIM are increasingly being forced to choose a side between local actors, all of which are committing human rights abuses. The Islamic State lacks significant local acceptance or political experience, while JNIM’s continued presence and the balance of fear it has imposed with government forces,  militias, and now the Islamic State in central Mali has made it a more palatable choice. The French strategy of seeking out high-value targets has contributed to disruptions in negotiations between the Islamic State and JNIM, contributing to the inflammation of the war between militant groups in the Sahel.
  • The growing influence of JNIM and AQIM in Mali has been the cause of France’s renewed efforts, but the French strategy could put its forces more at odds with locals in northern Mali who prefer JNIM to the Islamic State.
  • The French military and officials have maintained that France will not negotiate with terrorists, but they recently indicated they would not obstruct negotiations when led by local parties. 
  • in Niger, where some border-area communities are seeking the Islamic State’s help with local problems, including some within the same community, leading to bloody “conflict resolution.”
  • Today, a majority of Malians approve of talks with JNIM.
  • AQIM’s willingness to overlook personal and ethnic grievances to coalesce several distinct local groups under the JNIM banner has given it flexibility and resistance to military pressure, and the strategy has garnered praise from al Qaeda central – the same leadership that criticized Droukdel a decade earlier for being too compromising. We are witnessing a shift away from never-ending battles toward foreseeable political objectives in order to avoid repeating failed governing experiences in Somalia, Yemen, or even Syria. As the group shifted its focus from Algeria in order to survive, it also began to expand and can now be seen as a player in Western Africa. This shift happened under Droukdel with al-Annabi’s influence; it likely will continue now that al-Annabi is AQIM’s leader.
Ed Webb

Egypt seeks to bypass Turkish presence in Senegal - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle... - 0 views

  • 2020 witnessed intensive activities on the part of Turkey to consolidate its ties with West African countries, namely Senegal, by providing humanitarian aid and concluding cooperation agreements in various economic, political and social fields
  • “Turkey’s increased moves in this direction have raised the concerns of some countries, such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, about Ankara’s ambitions in the region. Cairo and Abu Dhabi will try to block the road on Turkey’s attempts to have a foothold in West Africa,”
  • On Dec. 23, 2020, Dubai Ports (DP) World announced that it had signed an agreement with the Senegalese government to establish a seaport in deep waters in the Ndayane area, with investments amounting to $1.127 billion in two phases:
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  • the volume of trade exchange between Senegal and Turkey increased from $15 million in 2008 to $250 million in 2019.
Ed Webb

The Death of the Palestinian Cause Has Been Greatly Exaggerated | Newlines Magazine - 1 views

  • For the last 10 years, Western (and even Arab) pundits have repeatedly questioned the place of Palestine in the pan-Arab psyche. They surmised that the Arab Spring had refocused Arab minds on their problems at home. They assumed that battling tyrannical regimes and their security apparatuses, reforming corrupt polities and decrepit health care and education systems, combating terrorism and religious extremism, whittling back the power of the military, and overcoming economic challenges like corruption and unemployment would take precedence over an unsolved and apparently unsolvable cause.
  • reforming the Arab world’s political systems and the security and patronage networks that keep them in power and allow them to dominate their populations appears to be just as arduous a task as resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • The difference now is not that Arab populaces have abandoned Palestine. Western and regional observers say the muted outrage over affronts like American support for the annexation of the Golan Heights or recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or even the Abraham Accords and the subsequent sycophantic embrace of Israel in the Gulf is an indicator of Arab public opinion, that it signals a loss of interest in the cause.It is not. Arabs are of course not of a single mind on any particular issue, nor is it possible to gauge public opinion under tyrannical regimes. But it is indicative of the fact that these authoritarians no longer see the pan-Arab Palestinian cause and supporting it as vital to their survival. They have discovered that inward-looking, nationalistic pride is the key to enduring in perpetuity. It is the final step in the dismantling of pan-Arabism as a political force, one that will shape the region’s fortunes and its states’ alliances in the years and decades to come.
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  • Nowhere is this shift in attitude more abjectly transparent than in the Gulf states’ media outlets, which hew closely to the state line and even go beyond it in an attempt to out-hawk official policy, which by comparison appears reasonable and measured.
  • few Arab leaders have ever actually done anything for the Palestinians beyond rhetorical support for the cause, but they were happy to use the prospect of Palestine to keep their populations in check. The late former President Hafez al-Assad imposed a multi-decade state of emergency and mobilization to justify his tyrannical hold over Syria while awaiting the mother of all battles with the enemy, all without firing a single shot across the border since 1973. The leader of the beating heart of Arabism intervened in Lebanon’s civil war and had no qualms massacring pan-Arab nationalists and their Palestinian allies, or to recruit his Amal militia allies to starve Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. His son and successor, President Bashar al-Assad, negotiated with Israel via intermediaries, ready to sell out his allies in Iran and Hezbollah, even as he declared his fealty to the resistance.
  • Jordan violently suppressed demonstrators protesting the attacks on Gaza, who apparently did not receive the memo that 27 years should have been enough time to accept Israel’s position on the conflict. In Egypt, despite its testy relationship with Hamas and its participation in the blockade of Gaza, it is still political and social suicide to publicly embrace normalization as a concept.
  • There was great presumption and folly in the grandiose naming of a convenient political deal between unelected monarchs and a premier accused of bribery and corruption, which was brokered by an American president who paid hush money to a porn star, after the patriarch of the prophets of Israel and Islam.
  • an obvious and transparent outgrowth of the Gulf states’ normalization deals with Israel, though it is curious to me why they feel the need to amplify Israel’s narrative of the conflict if they did not think public opinion was already on the side of normalization
  • The Gulf states have long had backchannels and secret dealings with the Israelis and developed a penchant for Israeli digital surveillance tools. Egypt needed Israel to destroy extremist militants in Sinai. And Morocco, Oman, and Qatar all had different levels of diplomatic ties.
  • We don’t know broadly whether a majority of Arabs care about Palestine or not, though every indicator points to the fact that they still do
  • Riyadh’s media outlets have taken on a prominent role in expressing public sympathy for Israel and its positions
  • In Saudi Arabia, a monumental shift is underway to neuter the power of the clerical establishment in favor of a more nationalistic vision of progress that gives primacy to Saudi identity. According to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, in a recent interview, this identity derives from religious heritage but also from cultural and historic traditions. MBS has defanged the hated Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, introduced social reforms that dismantle some of the restrictions on women, detained numerous clerics who criticized his policies, both foreign and domestic, and has been elevated by his surrogates into an almost messianic figure sent to renew the faith and empower Saudi identity through KPI-infused economic progress initiatives like Vision 2030. He has also, of course, arrested those who sought to pursue activism and reform and those who criticized the pace and manner of his revolution.
  • where nationalist pride is intermingled with the quality of life and performance metrics of a technocratic capitalist state, albeit one where the reins are held by only a handful of families
Ed Webb

Zarif's Beefs | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • three hours and 11 minutes of Zarif’s supposedly confidential interview was published by the London-based and Saudi-linked satellite outlet Iran International. Millions were shocked to hear Iran’s top diplomat speak more openly than he ever has and admit to what many had long suspected: that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the powerful and elite military force, controls all major aspects of Iranian foreign policy; that its slain Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani, ran his own show when it came to the Iranian intervention in Syria; and that Soleimani went as far as colluding with Russia to disrupt the implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015.
  • very little in the interview was completely unexpected to those who closely follow Iran
  • We not only learn that Zarif is not in charge of Iran’s embassies in the region (not news) but also that the IRGC didn’t even bother to inform him and other cabinet ministers of their major decisions
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  • When the nuclear negotiations that led to the 2015 deal were going on, Zarif’s team faced a propaganda campaign of opposition from the IRGC and its long tentacles in Iranian media. Despite Zarif’s personal loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the latter’s continued open support for him and for the talks, the IRGC constantly attacked Zarif. It has long been axiomatic that the Guards’ interest lies in closer ties with Russia and China and avoiding Iran’s integration in the global economy.But in the interview, Zarif gives details as to how the IRGC actively worked to sabotage the deal’s implementation after it was reached. According to him, Soleimani’s celebrated trip to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin in July 2015, was done on the initiative of Moscow with the expressed aim of “destroying” the nuclear deal.
  • Zarif’s sharp words against Russia are not news for those who know him. He has long emphasized the need for Iran to have better relations with the West. In the interview, he also says what many on the Iranian street have long believed (although this is sometimes mocked by certain pundits as unsophisticated thinking): If Iran relies too much on Russia and China, to the detriment of its ties with the West, they will take advantage of Iran.
  • Ironically, Zarif is, in a sense, more of a true believer than many in the IRGC. He genuinely appears to be under the illusion that the ideals of the Islamic Republic still have popular support and that Iran should rely on them instead of brute force. Few in the IRGC think so, and many seem to be aware of how widely discredited these ideals are among average Iranians.
  • The manner of the audio file’s leak and its source has been a source of incessant chatter in the Iranian public sphere. Some Zarif supporters (including the Rouhani administration itself) have claimed it was a treacherous act aimed at undermining him as a credible diplomat. On the other side, “Akhbar o Tahlilha,” the public bulletin of the IRGC’s Political Department, attacked Zarif, defended Soleimani, and mockingly asked the foreign minister: “Why should a Foreign Ministry that is incapable of keeping a voice file confidential be trusted with secret military information?”
  • the hard-liners’ favorite moderate for a reason. He has never wavered from supporting the first principles of Khomeinism and has repeatedly defended its support for groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah or the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
  • Speaking for the entire Iranian regime on the world stage has been at the heart of Zarif’s lifelong ambition. His experience and knowledge of America’s culture and political system have kept him at the top of that portfolio for decades, making him, in essence, too valuable to get rid of. Even prior ructions with the IRGC couldn’t sink him. For instance, following the Iran-Iraq War negotiation debacle in 1988, many of the New York Boys were marginalized or even driven to exile. Not Zarif, who got promoted and served for 10 years as Iran’s deputy foreign minister. Following the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election to the presidency in 2005, Zarif also stayed on as Iran’s envoy to the U.N. — at the insistence of Khamenei.
  • Zarif’s own account shows the degree to which he is used by the IRGC and the military establishment, without him ever being allowed to play a role outside their plans. It hardly inspires confidence. In fact, his account seems to confirm that the process of the IRGC’s domination of Iranian politics is much more advanced than previously imagined
  • the next supreme leader is likely to be a pliant figure, controlled by the IRGC. Iran will thus turn into a military dictatorship, akin to Egypt or Algeria
  • Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, has launched his own, long-shot candidacy, with the promise that he will “drive back the IRGC to the barracks” and abolish the position of Supreme Leader. Even if he is somehow allowed to run for the presidency (and that is very unlikely), he will have an uphill task in convincing people that he has what it takes to confront Khamenei and the IRGC.
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