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 »
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Khan, headlined a session at an economic conference in Riyadh from which many Western politicians and executives had withdrawn.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 »
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 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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
On May 30, Iraqi special forces stormed the southern edge of Falluja under U.S. air cover, launching a new assault to recapture one of the last major Iraqi cities under the control of Islamic State militants.
Iraq’s elite forces who are leading the fight have been trained by U.S. advisers, but many others on the battlefield were trained or supplied by Iran. It’s the latest example of how Washington has looked the other way as Iran deepened its military involvement in Iraq over the past two years.
In recent weeks, thousands of Iraqi soldiers and Shi’ite militia members supported by Iran assembled on the outskirts of Falluja for the expected attack on the Sunni city.… Seguir leyendo »
When a United Nations tribunal began trying those accused of the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, a prosecutor struggled to paint a portrait of the main suspect.
“He has never been issued a passport or a driver’s license. He is not the registered owner of any property in Lebanon. The authorities have no records of him entering or leaving Lebanon,” the prosecutor said in January 2014 of the defendant, Mustafa Badreddine, who was being tried in absentia. “He passes as an unrecognizable and virtually untraceable ghost throughout Lebanon, leaving no footprint.”
Last week, the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah announced that Badreddine, its top military commander, had been killed in a “huge explosion” near the Syrian capital, Damascus.… Seguir leyendo »
On March 5, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister announced that the kingdom would complete a $4 billion arms deal with France, but instead of sending the weapons to Lebanon — as was first planned — the arms would go to the Saudi military.
The kingdom cancelled the grants to arm the Lebanese Army and security forces with French weapons after the Lebanese government failed to condemn an attack in January against the Saudi embassy in Iran. Saudi officials blamed the Shi’ite group Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful militia and political movement, for exerting too much control over the Lebanese government and moving the country closer to Iran.… Seguir leyendo »
On Jan. 16, the United States and Europe lifted sanctions on Tehran after the six-month-old Iran nuclear deal reached its most important milestone: the United Nations verified that Iran has dismantled much of its nuclear infrastructure.
The agreement between Iran and six world powers was a victory for international diplomacy over the threat of war. With the agreement in force, Iran now has the potential to transform itself from a pariah state to a regional power broker. The United States and European nations lifted oil and financial sanctions, and released about $100 billion of Iran’s frozen assets. These steps will pave the way for international companies to invest in Iran, and for Tehran to increase its oil production and access world markets.… Seguir leyendo »
Saudi Arabia’s execution on Jan. 2 of an outspoken Shi’ite cleric who called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family triggered international condemnation and set off protests throughout the Middle East. Demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and set the building on fire. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ratcheted up the rhetoric, declaring: “God’s hand of retaliation will grip the neck of Saudi leaders.” By Jan. 3, the kingdom cut off diplomatic relations with Iran, a move followed by several Saudi allies.
How did the execution of a cleric escalate so quickly into a diplomatic crisis between two regional rivals that have been fighting a cold war for over a decade?… Seguir leyendo »
On Oct. 18, Egypt began the first phase of parliamentary elections, but many voters shunned the balloting and turnout is estimated at a measly 15 percent. Most Egyptians seem to have decided that the election results are a foregone conclusion, with a new parliament that will kowtow to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s iron-fisted regime in the absence of any meaningful opposition.
When Sisi and the Egyptian military ousted the country’s first democratically elected president two years ago, they promised a quick return to democracy and civilian rule. But like much else in Egypt’s modern history, those promises did not materialize. Instead, Sisi has turned into a strongman.… Seguir leyendo »
On August 16, an Iraqi parliamentary report named Iraq’s former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, among dozens of officials responsible for the collapse of security forces and the fall of Mosul to Islamic State militants last summer. In his eight years as premier, corruption thrived and Maliki repeatedly purged the Iraqi security forces of those he suspected of disloyalty.
Iraqis now hope that Maliki and other officials will stand trial and be held to account for why militants were able to capture the northern city with so little resistance. (Maliki dismissed the parliamentary investigation as “worthless,” and he blamed Mosul’s fall on a conspiracy by Turkish and Kurdish leaders.)… Seguir leyendo »
On June 29, Egypt’s top prosecutor was killed in a car bombing as he left his home in Cairo. He was the most senior official to be assassinated since Islamic militants launched an insurgency two years ago after the Egyptian military ousted Mohamed Mursi, the country’s first democratically elected president.
The assassination of the prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, is a tragedy but it’s not surprising. Egypt spiraled into a cycle of state-sanctioned violence, repression and vengeance as soon as the military removed Mursi from power in July 2013. The new military-backed government launched an aggressive campaign to suppress all political opponents, hunt down leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who fled after the coup and undo many of the gains made during the 2011 uprising that toppled then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.… Seguir leyendo »