Mohamad Bazzi

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A Typhoon takes off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to to take part in airstrikes against military targets in Yemen. Photograph: Sgt Lee Goddard/MoD/AFP/Getty Images

Early on Friday, the US and Britain launched military strikes against more than a dozen targets in Yemen controlled by the Houthi militia. The strikes were in response to more than 25 attacks by the Houthis on shipping in the Red Sea since November – a campaign instigated by the militia after Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Western leaders, and especially the US president, Joe Biden, insist that they want to reduce the risk of the war in Gaza spreading to other parts of the Middle East. But the US-led air and naval strikes on Yemen are the most significant expansion of the conflict since Israel launched its devastating assault on Gaza after the 7 October attacks by Hamas.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Galaxy Leader cargo ship, which is partly owned by an Israeli businessman, was hijacked by Houthi militia in November. Photograph: Houthi Military Media/Reuters

Since Israel launched its devastating assault and invasion of Gaza after the 7 October attacks by Hamas militants, the world has been anxious about the war spreading into a wider conflict that consumes the Middle East. In recent weeks, the threat of an expanding conflict has centred on an unlikely place: the poorest country in the region, Yemen, which has suffered years of civil war.

In late October, the Houthi militia in Yemen began firing missiles and drones towards Israel and then moved to seize commercial ships sailing in the Red Sea. The Houthis claimed they would prevent Israeli ships – or those registered to Israeli owners – from passing through the channel until Israel stopped its attack on Gaza.…  Seguir leyendo »

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Photograph: Amr Alfiky/Reuters

One of the lesser noted aspects of the weeklong truce between Israel and Hamas, which collapsed at the beginning of this month, was the country that made it possible: not the US, nor the EU, but Qatar. Even though the ceasefire faltered and the Israeli military has resumed its devastating attack on Gaza, the negotiations helped cement Qatar’s role as a global mediator. But why Qatar – and what do its rulers really want?

A tiny emirate in the Persian Gulf that is rich in natural gas, Qatar seems an unlikely centre for high-stakes geopolitical negotiations. Yet the country’s leaders have built a muscular foreign policy based on keeping channels open between enemies: in recent years, Qatar has hosted peace negotiations between the US and Taliban leaders, and indirect talks that led to a prisoner exchange between Iran and Washington.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Mohammed bin Salman – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, who, according to US intelligence officials, approved Khashoggi’s assassination – has managed a near complete rehabilitation of his increasingly autocratic regime.’ Photograph: Bandar Aljaloud/AP

Five years ago, Jamal Khashoggi walked into Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul to pick up a document he needed in order to marry his Turkish fiancée. The journalist never walked out. Inside the consulate, he was ambushed by a 15-member Saudi hit team, who suffocated him and dismembered his body with a bone saw. The death squad then slipped out of Turkey on two charter planes owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Since then, Mohammed bin Salman – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, who, according to US intelligence officials, approved Khashoggi’s assassination – has managed a near complete rehabilitation of his increasingly autocratic regime.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Thanks to the Biden administration’s immunity decision, Prince Mohammed now has a level of protection from US legal actions.’ Photograph: Rex/Shuttersto

The Biden administration told a US judge last week that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, should be granted immunity in a civil lawsuit over his role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That decision effectively ends one of the last efforts to hold the prince accountable for Khashoggi’s assassination by a Saudi hit team inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

It is an act of weakness and political cowardice by Joe Biden’s administration, which staked its reputation on holding Khashoggi’s killers accountable and centering its foreign policy on human rights, rather than accommodating autocrats.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘The Saudi prince has inflicted political damage on the Biden administration a month before the US midterm elections.’ Photograph: Saudi Royal Court/Reuters

In July, Joe Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia and shared a fist bump with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. As a presidential candidate, Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for its human rights abuses and its seven-year war against Yemen. But a devastating global pandemic and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine forced him to set these concerns aside in favor of realpolitik. Biden needed the Saudis to increase oil production in order to lower gasoline prices for American consumers, so he swallowed his pride and treated the crown prince as the world leader he aspires to be.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi populist leader Muqtada al-Sadr delivering a speech in Najaf, Iraq, August 2022. Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters

On August 29, the Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he would withdraw from politics after months of failed attempts to form a new government. Thousands of supporters of the nationalist leader, who has emerged as a staunch opponent of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, surged into the streets in anger, clashing with Iraqi security forces, breaching concrete barriers around Baghdad’s Green Zone, and storming the seat of government. After dozens of people were killed, Sadr went on television and instructed his supporters to go home, easing—for the moment, at least—a political crisis that has paralyzed Iraq’s caretaker government for months.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lebanese army soldiers are seen through the bullet-riddled window of a car after deadly clashes erupted in Beirut on Oct. 14. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Armed clashes that suddenly broke out on Thursday between rival militias in Beirut evoked memories of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war: Snipers perched on rooftops fired on protesters, masked gunmen armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades suddenly filled the streets, and young children cowered in the hallways of their schools.

The battle quickly took on sectarian undertones as Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim militia backed by Iran and the most powerful faction in Lebanon, and its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement, blamed the Lebanese Forces, a right-wing Maronite Christian party, for instigating the fighting by using snipers. All three groups were major players in the civil war, which ended in 1990.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, last week after the creation of a new government. Credit Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

On Jan. 21, Lebanese leaders agreed to form a new government.

It had been a long time coming: The previous government, led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the country’s top Sunni politician, resigned in October. That was two weeks after protests erupted across the country, seeking to topple the corrupt, sectarian elite that has ruled since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in 1990. The protesters demanded a new cabinet, led by specialists.

After dragging its feet, the Lebanese political establishment has at last offered one. Though a coalition of Western-leaning groups, including Mr. Hariri’s Future Movement, decided not to participate, the new government is hardly a break from the old: Some of its technocratic members are connected to parties allied with Hezbollah.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Donald Trump has consistently increased tensions and courted confrontation with Iran.’ Iranians burn a US flag in Tehran on Friday. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

The Trump administration’s assassination on Thursday of General Qassem Suleimani could turn out to be its biggest foreign policy blunder. The killing could lead to a war with Iranian proxies across the Middle East, belying Trump’s supposed desire to extricate the US from its endless conflicts. But its most likely immediate effect will be to ratchet up pressure on the Iraqi government to expel US troops from Iraq. And that would mean Iran extending its already substantial influence over Iraqi government and society.

The Trump administration was quick to portray the assassination as a pre-emptive strike, saying Suleimani had been “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”…  Seguir leyendo »

On Oct. 23, three days after Saudi Arabia admitted that its agents had killed the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, headlined a session at an economic conference in Riyadh from which many Western politicians and executives had withdrawn.

In September, when Mr. Khan visited Saudi Arabia seeking aid for his battered economy, he left empty-handed. But last week, as global outrage intensified over Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called Mr. Khan, asking him to attend the conference. Mr. Khan accepted and returned with $6 billion in financial support from the kingdom.

Since Prince Mohammed’s rise to power, the Saudis have pursued a more aggressive and militarized foreign policy, but they have also fallen back on a tactic honed over decades — wielding their oil wealth to buy loyalty in the Arab world and beyond.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hezbollah and its allies won a slight majority of seats in Sunday’s parliamentary election in Lebanon. Credit Joseph Eid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the parliamentary elections on Sunday in Lebanon is that they were held at all after years of delay and political inertia, corruption, economic stagnation and foreign meddling.

Lebanon suffers from multiple crises that lead to a perpetual state of paralysis: more than one million Syrian refugees are straining social services; public debt stands at $79 billion, or 150 percent of gross domestic product; the government fails to provide basic services like electricity and garbage collection; and there are fears of a new war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shiite party and dominant military force in Lebanon.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lebanon was stunned when Prime Minister Saad Hariri, speaking from Saudi Arabia, announced his resignation. Credit Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

Lebanon was stunned on Nov. 4 when its prime minister, Saad Hariri, speaking from Saudi Arabia, delivered a halting resignation speech. Mr. Hariri said he left Beirut because he feared assassination. He placed the blamed for his long-distance resignation on Iran and its main ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

In the days since, Saudi Arabia has accused Hezbollah of plotting against the kingdom and ordered Saudi citizens to leave Lebanon. Threats from top Saudi officials are causing new turmoil in a tiny country with complicated sectarian politics, failed power-sharing arrangements and a long history of foreign meddling.

Since the Arab uprisings in 2011, Lebanon has largely avoided the conflicts sweeping the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »

Free Syrian Army fighters gesture as Turkish military vehicles drive in the Syrian rebel-held town of al-Rai while heading towards the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

For years, as an insurgency raged against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey turned a blind eye while rebels groups, including Islamic extremists, moved weapons and fighters across the Syrian-Turkish border. Jihadist groups like Islamic State established strong networks in Turkish towns to smuggle recruits and supplies into Syria.

Despite pleas from Western allies concerned about militant plots emanating from the border areas, the Turkish government felt that it could contain the jihadists and saw the toppling of Assad’s regime as its priority. But after Turkey was targeted with a series of bombings in mid-2015 linked to Islamic State, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began cracking down along the southern border and granted the United States access to military bases that would be used for air strikes against jihadist groups in Syria.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Dec. 19, the United Nations Security Council unanimously called for U.N. officials to observe the stalled evacuation of thousands of residents and fighters from the last rebel-held districts in the city of Aleppo, a process that began four days earlier. With President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its allies regaining full control over Syria’s largest city, the nearly six-year-old Syrian civil war is entering a new phase.

Assad and his allies – including Russia, Iran and various Shi’ite militias from Lebanon and Iraq – had imposed a long siege, including air strikes and intensive shelling, on the rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the early hours of November 3, Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, released his first statement in nearly a year – a defiant message that the group will not fade away quietly, even as Iraqi special forces breached the outskirts of Mosul, the last major city in Iraq under Islamic State’s control.

Baghdadi tried to project confidence that his jihadists would beat back the Iraqi government’s advance. “This total war and the great jihad that the Islamic State is fighting today only increases … our conviction that all of this is a prelude to victory,” he said in a 31-minute audio recording, his first since December.…  Seguir leyendo »

Four days after Iraqi government forces and allied Kurdish troops began advancing on the city of Mosul, Islamic State militants launched a surprising counterattack nearly 100 miles away. Dozens of fighters besieged the oil-rich city of Kirkuk before dawn on Oct. 21, setting off gun battles, suicide bombings and sniper attacks.

After two days of fighting, most of the assailants were killed, captured or had blown themselves up. Nearly 100 others were also killed, most of them members of the Kurdish security forces. As the militants went on their rampage throughout Kirkuk, they broadcast a message from the loudspeakers of a local mosque: “Islamic State has taken over.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Mourners carry the coffin of Abdul Qader Helal, the mayor of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, who was killed by an apparent Saudi-led air strike that ripped through a wake attended by some of the country's top political and security officials in Sanaa, October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

In the early hours of Oct. 13, the American military carried out its first direct action against Houthi targets in Yemen, firing cruise missiles that destroyed three coastal radar sites. The strike was retaliation for two failed missile attacks on a U.S. Navy destroyer days earlier.

The Houthis presumably targeted the United States because of its support for Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen since March 2015.

Tensions in the region, already high, had been escalating for nearly a week. On Oct. 8, warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition bombed a funeral gathering in Yemen’s capital, killing at least 140 people and wounding hundreds of others in the deadliest attack since the start of the war.…  Seguir leyendo »

A member of Iraqi army stands near weapons that belonged to Islamic State militants, at an Iraqi army base in Camp Tariq near Falluja, Iraq, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily

By many measures, Islamic State is a weakened and demoralized force. After months of U.S.-led bombing and defeats by local troops in Iraq and Syria, the group lost thousands of its fighters, was forced to relinquish significant territory and has been cut off from routes it used to move weapons and reinforcements.

But the group remains a potent threat in other ways, especially in its ability to inspire self-radicalized militants to carry out attacks in the West and elsewhere.

The man accused of carrying out a bombing in New York on Sept. 17 appears to have been inspired – if not directed – by the leaders and ideologues of al Qaeda and Islamic State.…  Seguir leyendo »

On June 12, a gunman stormed a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others. During the massacre and ensuing three-hour standoff with police, the shooter, Omar Mateen, called 911 and declared his allegiance to Islamic State. The group claimed responsibility the next day, proclaiming Mateen “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America.”

But U.S. officials cautioned that even if Mateen was inspired by Islamic State to undertake the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, there was still no evidence he had a direct link to the group – that he had been trained or instructed by its terror planners.…  Seguir leyendo »