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“Privatized Violence:” Pro-Regime Militias and the State in Syria

Going into its 6th year with no end in sight, the Syrian civil war has dramatically impacted state institutions, as well as the army. High casualty and desertion rates with a concomitant growth in the geographic scale and intensity of the fighting have seriously weakened the army. This untenable situation compelled the Syrian regime to[…]

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Jabhat Fateh al-Sham: Al-Qaeda’s Ace in Syria Rebranded

On July 28, 2016 Jabhat al-Nusra declared that it was rebranding itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. This maneuver was announced by the group’s commander Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, who in a spirit of apparent transparency revealed his identity after years of anonymity, dressed as and quoting Osama bin Laden. The decision is a significant shake up within the Syrian[…]

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On the Contradictions of Liberalism (and how to address them)

It is a well-worn criticism that despite their ostensive commitments to pluralism, respect, autonomy, etc. political liberals often find themselves incapable of accommodating or productively engaging those who reject central theses of their ideology. As Alain Badiou aptly put it: “Our suspicions are first aroused when we see that the self-declared apostles of ethics and[…]

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Turkish State and Society in Precarious Position

The attempted coup d’etat against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came as little surprise to some observers of Turkey. And apparently, it was not a surprise to Erdogan himself. E.U. officials have suggested that prior to the recent unrest, the Turkish government had already drawn out a list of those it wanted to purge after any attempted coup. This does not signify a false[…]

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ISIS’ Reversion into an Insurgency: 4 Reasons Why it Doesn’t Really Matter

On May 21st, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani stated in a much hyped message that the much heralded Islamic State “does not fight to keep territory.” Initially one might be tempted to say that this sort of statement undermines the movement’s own message, strategy and heralds the beginning of the end. The Iraqi Army and[…]

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Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra: “Nice and Respectable” Jihadism

“So it looks like gold. It looks beautiful from the outside, but on the inside, it is nothing.” – “Gold Plated Attraction”  (Al-Qaeda’s view of ISIS)   J.M Berger’s recent article in the Atlantic, ISIS Is Not Winning the War of Ideas, correctly asserts that Islamic State ideology does not have mass appeal. If it[…]

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Killing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

It’s hard to believe that Saudi Arabia, currently heading up the UN Human Rights Commission, started 2016 with the beheading of 47 prisoners. When was the last time the head of a global human rights commission executed 47 people in one day? The crude symbolism of who was executed and who wasn’t was supposed to[…]

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How to Make a Yemen Peace Process Stick

Six months into the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the situation inside the southwestern Arabian peninsula country remains as fluid as it is deadly.  Pro-government forces allied to Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi — thanks in large measure to the willingness of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar to deploy[…]

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Sure, Talk with ISIL. Just Choose the Right Topic

Terrorists At The Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace received a glowing review from Fareed Zakaria. In his latest Washington Post column he distilled the book’s thesis as follows: “Terrorism is a reflection of an underlying political problem that almost always needs to be addressed politically.”  He went on to argue that the so-called Islamic State in Iraq[…]

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The U.N. Needs a New Framework for Yemen

Three months into a Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthi militia and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Republican Guard, Yemen has degenerated into a terrible cycle of misery, fratricidal violence, and nationwide suffering.  Already the poorest country in the Arab world before the Houthis captured the Yemeni capital of Sanaa last September, air operations by[…]

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ISIL’s Adaptive, Evolving Tactics: Regional & Global Implications

The triple attacks at a chemical plant in France, a beachside resort in Tunisia and a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait, happened as Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani as-Shami implored ISIL sympathizers to perform jihad during Ramadan. ISIL fighters also re entered the outskirts of the town of Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) and reportedly massacred over two hundred[…]

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Is Lebanon Prepared to Repel the Islamic State?

On June 9th, Hezbollah met the “Islamic State” on the battlefield and for the first time ever the clash took place on Lebanese soil. Both Dae’sh and Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) have a presence in the Qalamoun region along the Lebanon-Syria border—and have long aspired to make inroads into Lebanon in order to attack[…]

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How to Truly Defeat ISIL

In 2011, it was widely assumed that the so-called “Arab Spring” would render groups like al-Qaeda irrelevant, as dissidents would find that they could achieve their goals for reformation through the ballot box rather than needing to rely on violence. I was one of the early and consistent cynics of this thesis. It seemed clear[…]

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Israel Takes Aim at the Laws of war

  Unnamed Israeli officials have recently indicated that a future war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is inevitable, and that large numbers of civilians will likely die in such a conflict. Israeli officials argued in a recent New York Times piece that Hezbollah, like Hamas, commits double war crimes by targeting Israeli civilians and militarizing[…]

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Shia Militias, Sectarianism & Sovereignty in Iraq

In recent months there has been an important shift in American strategic thinking about Iraq, with key government officials and analysts arguing that Shiite militias are displacing the Islamic State as the most serious threat to Iraqi stability. In January 2015, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that increased Iranian influence[…]

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National Security Strategy: From South Park, Colorado to Washington D.C.

In the Comedy Central television series South Park, the boys discover a cartel of gnomes who steal people’s underwear. Over the course of the episode it’s revealed that these seizures are part of their business plan which goes:   Step 1: Collect Underpants → Step 2: ? → Step 3: Profit   The punchline, of course, is[…]

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Meet the New Israeli Government

After more than a month of negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to cobble together a coalition government in the final hour, with commentators describing the process as embarrassing and circus-like. The stability of Netanyahu’s new Likud-led government is questionable – it has the slimmest coalition majority possible with only 61 of 120 seats,[…]

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Don’t Write Off the GCC Camp David Summit Yet

When the King of Saudi Arabia comes to Washington to visit the President of the United States, it’s always a big deal.  But when the top princes and sheikhs of all six Gulf Arab powers make the trip at the same exact time, the news dominates the front pages of the western and Arab newspapers[…]

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Al-Baghdadi’s Manufactured Miracles

There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again. – George W. Bush   On April 21st, The Guardian reported that the leader of Dae’sh or Islamic State, was allegedly seriously injured in air-strikes which[…]

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It’s Time For Politics in Yemen

Highly concerned that the security situation inside Yemen was no longer possible to ignore, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud made a decision that was highly uncharacteristic of Saudi behavior over the past decade: he went beyond the traditional option of funding acceptable proxies by assembling a Sunni Arab military coalition for conventional operations in Yemen.[…]

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Maintaining the Status Quo ≠ Advancing U.S. National Interests

In the wake of the nuclear parameters framework agreement, the Obama administration is facing criticism for mishandling American relations with countries in the Arab world. As David Rothkopf argues in Foreign Policy, “although [Obama] raised hopes of a new, better era in regional relations…ultimately, his only real efforts to change relations ‘for the better’ in[…]

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ISIS Losing Ground in Iraq–But What Would a True Victory Look Like?

As SISMEC has previously explored, Dae’sh was able to gain so much territory in Iraq and Syria by targeting areas which were extremely vulnerable. They have so far performed extremely poorly in direct combat with well trained, equipped and prepared armed forces. In fact, Dae’sh armies in Iraq may be getting stretched thin by the[…]