• 2021-03-14

    The dalliance between the Assad family and Iran’s Shia clerics began in the 1970s. But whereas the Syrian leader held leverage in those days predating Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the tables have now been turned. Observers of the decade-long Syria war understand the indispensable role Tehran has played in ensuring the Assad regime’s survival. But they may be less familiar with its stunning breadth—or its historical roots. The dalliance between the Assad family and Iran’s Shia clerics began in the 1970s, when the shah was still in power in Iran and then president Hafiz al-Assad, a member of the marginalized Alawite sect, sought religious legitimacy to lead his majority-Muslim country. But whereas the Syrian leader held leverage in those days predating Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the tables have now been turned. Lately, Tehran’s relationship with Damascus can be described as one of strategic dominance. In this deeply researched Policy Note, analyst Oula Alrifai, a former Syrian asylee, lays bare the extent of Iranian infiltration of Syrian religious and socioeconomic life. She details the spread of Twelver Shia ideology through seminaries, congregation halls, and academic institutions, while demonstrating Iran’s massive economic clout in Syria through initiatives such as the Marota City housing project. For Washington, only a determined effort to blunt Iranian influence can help deliver much-deserved peace for the Syrian people and enduring stability for the region.

  • 2021-03-13

    The WSJ published an exclusive article on covert Israeli targeting of Iranian ships and shipments going to Syria, going back several years. Here is the headline: “WSJ News Exclusive | Israeli Strikes Target Iranian Oil Bound for Syria” To shed some light on the matter and give some broader context to the WSJ exclusive, I produced a draft visual timeline of notable events, of maritime incidents occurring to Iranian ships or those connected to Iran in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, as well as the timeline of some of the highly publicised sabotage attacks in the MEG / Arabian Sea / Gulf of Oman region.  The visual is not a complete list of the incidents but just an outline.

  • 2021-03-09

    By any historical measure, it was a game-changer: the first meeting since the 7th century between a Roman Catholic Pope and a Shiite spiritual leader regarded as a “source of emulation.” It will take a long time to assess the full implications of the immensely intriguing 50-minute face-to-face conversation, with interpreters only, between Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Sistani at his humble home in a Najaf alley near the dazzling Imam Ali shrine. An avowedly imperfect parallel is that for the Shiite community of the faithful, Najaf is as pregnant with meaning as Jerusalem is for Christianity

  • 2021-03-08

    Two years ago, Pope Francis signed in Abu Dhabi, with the Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, a document of "Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” His Holiness the Pope had wanted to sign a similar document with one of the most prominent Shia community representatives globally, the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani, in Najaf. This did not happen for several reasons. How did the Iraqi authority view the Pope’s visit and the role of the representative of more than a billion Christian believers in the world? What would be Sayyed Sistani's message for Pope Francis and the Arab, Islamic and Western worlds now?

  • 2021-03-08

    The spokesman for Yemen’s army says a new missile fired by the country’s armed forces and fighters from Popular Committees has hit a "sensitive" military target at Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport with high precision. 

  • 2021-03-08

    Earlier, media reported that a list of suspects in a low-intensity blast near the Israeli Embassy in Delhi on 29 January was issued by India’s National Investigative Agency, alleging that an Iranian elite force might have been behind the plot. Iran's Embassy in New Delhi has categorically rejected a report claiming the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force was behind the blast in the Indian capital on 29 January 2021. While strongly repudiating “unsubstantiated allegations or irresponsible comments” in this regard, the Iranian Embassy considers these reports as steps towards realising the sinister intentions of the enemies of Iran-India relations. The embassy suspect a third party's role aimed to disrupt the bilateral relations at a juncture when ties are being boosted with visits by high-ranking officials and leaders, including security and defence delegations, in recent months. 

  • 2021-03-07

    Sunday's military maneuver is said to be the seventh mission over the past 6 months. However, it was the first time that the Israeli warplanes were pictured alongside the American bombers. On Sunday, Israeli F-15 fighter jets escorted two American B-52 bombers through Israeli airspace, the Israeli Defense Forces said in a tweet. The military added that the strategical fly-by was "pivotal in maintaining the security of Israeli and Middle Eastern skies." The IDF did not state directly that the maneuver was aimed at Iran, but given the extremely heightened tensions in the region, it is most likely that the fly-by over the region was designed to show force to Tehran. 

  • 2021-03-06

    In recent years, the northern arena has emerged as Israel’s primary military challenge. The entrenchment of the Iranian-led Shi’ite axis in Syria and Lebanon, attempts by Iran and its proxies to make inroads toward Israel’s border with Syria, and Hezbollah’s growing strength in Lebanon are all factors contributing to increased friction and cause for concern regarding the next war in the north. One thing is certain: a war on the northern front will be unlike all previous wars. as the conflict is likely to include the Lebanese arena, Syria, and possibly even western Iraq. This memorandum presents the ­findings of a project conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies with the participation of INSS researchers, military and intelligence experts, and former high-ranking IDF commanders who analyzed the gamut of issues that require consideration in advance of the next war in northern Israel. Taking a long-term perspective, it looks at how threats may emerge and outlines the dilemmas, possible alternatives, and opportunities that exist for Israel in the different scenarios, with the aim of assisting the defense establishment and decision makers in Israel in their strategic and operational planning. The authors do not proclaim that war is nigh, nor do they suggest that war is inevitable. Indeed, the common assumption today is that Iran and Hezbollah do not have an interest in war with Israel in the near future. Nonetheless, it is essential that Israel prepare for the possibility of an escalation of the conflict, whether triggered by a change of circumstances, as the result of a deterioration, or due to an erroneous assessment by any side.

  • 2021-03-05

    The recent U.S. airstrike at the Syrian-Iraqi border and the missile attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq were followed by many examples of bad journalism. […] Securing consent for running a lethal, worldwide empire requires unremitting propaganda: Redacting the historical record and playing the victim are two useful strategies. The dozens of examples in the FAIR piece are telling. FAIR gets one thing wrong though. The attack was not in Syria, as the U.S. claimed, but on the Iraqi side of the border.

  • 2021-03-02

    The Middle East is at the edge of a precipice, and whether the future is peaceful hinges on what course the United States follows. If the Biden administration wants to avoid endless U.S. engagements in the Middle East, it must counterintuitively invest more time and diplomatic resources in the region now. If Washington wants to do less in the Middle East in the future, it has to first do more to achieve a modicum of stability. It has to start by taking a broader view of regional dynamics and making the lessening of new regional power rivalries its priority.