Monday 27 November, 2017 Update: Sinai Strife

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In the aftermath of the mosque attack in the Sinai last week, Egypt’s allies and neighbors are expressing surprise, frustration, and grave doubts about the ability of Cairo’s security forces to effectively combat the Wilayat Sinai affiliate of ISIS. The mosque attack was one of the deadliest acts of terror in Egypt’s history with over 300 dead and appears to have completely blindsided Egyptian security services. This is the second major failure by security forces in the past month. In late October 50 Egyptian policemen were killed in a botched raid against a Muslim Brotherhood hideout west of Cairo. After battling the Muslim Brotherhood and Wilayat Sinai militants for years now it is hard to comprehend exactly how these groups are carrying out such murderous attacks with ease.

For Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the mosque attack is a challenge that needs to be met swiftly and with decisive force. Sisi came to power promising security, stability, and prosperous times for Egyptians in exchange for nearly-complete political control of the country. He has failed to deliver on any of the three promises, mainly due to his inability to stamp out the insurgency going on in the Sinai. Even before Sisi entered the political realm, the Sinai was a hotbed of terrorism. It’s the modern day equivalent of the Wild West in many respects. Wilayat Sinai, Al-Qaeda, and numerous other Islamist groups are active on the peninsula. Following the 2013 coup that saw former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi ousted from power, the level of violence skyrocketed.

The United States is growing frustrated with Egypt’s lack of progress in battling the insurgency. Israel is concerned because an unstable Sinai is a threat to its security. Saudi Arabia is watching the situation closely, worried that Iran’s next venture could very well be increased support for the Sinai militants if the Egyptian military and security forces fail to get the upper hand. These are  three of the many good reasons why the Sinai situation should be watched closely in the coming months.

Monday 5 June, 2017 Update: Saudi Arabia Severs Ties With Qatar

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The fissure between Qatar and its Gulf State neighbors and allies appears to be widening even more this morning. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt have severed ties with Qatar. This potentially volatile diplomatic crisis has been a long time in the making. For years the Saudis, Egypt and other nations in the region have been wary of Qatar’s support for Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which the Saudis and Egyptians particularly regard as a dangerous terror organization. Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups, some of which are backed by Iran, that are operating in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

SPA, the Saudi state news agency released the following statement summarily explaining Riyadh’s justification for its actions. “(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly.”

The severing of diplomatic ties is apparently not enough to satisfy Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt. Qatari troops are being removed from the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. The four are also making moves to cut off Qatar’s land, sea, and air routes to the outside world. Saudi Arabia has closed its border with Qatar. The tiny emirate receives 40% of its food from overland routes. Food trucks are now lining up on the border, unable to cross.

Iran, not surprisingly, has taken the opportunity to blame the rift on the United States. Tehran has identified President Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh, and the allegedly hawkish tone of his speech to the Muslim world as reasons why this crisis is developing. The Iranian government has also called for a peaceful resolution, and has hinted that it would be open to transporting food and other needed goods to Qatar should this situation continue.

The United States is urging the Gulf nations to negotiate a settlement to their differences. For now, Washington does not appear eager to make a statement or take action that could be perceived by supporting one side over the other.

 

7-9 April, 2017 Weekend Update: Syria and the Palm Sunday Terror Attacks

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7-9 April, 2016 has been an active weekend in a number of ways and on a host of fronts around the world. Venezuela is heating up as protesters and security forces clashed on Saturday amid large protests against the government of President Maduro. In the Middle East, last week’s use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government led to US military action on the morning of 7 April. The TLAM strike against the airbase which housed the aircraft responsible for delivering the chemical agents has given the Syrian conflict new significance and set it in a direction few predicted. Meanwhile, in Egypt and northern Europe terrorism has reared its ugly head. ISIS bombings against Coptic Christian churches in Egypt have shattered the peace and sanctity of Palm Sunday leaving over 40 dead. The final possible flashpoint is in northeast Asia where the USS Carl Vinson and her battlegroup have been ordered back to the Sea of Japan to operate in close proximity to North Korea in the coming days.

This update will focus on Syria and the terror attacks in Egypt. Tomorrow the weekend’s developments in northwest Asia, and the protests in Venezuela will be looked at.

 

Syria

All eyes are on Damascus and Moscow as the world waits anxiously to see what transpires next after the US cruise missile strike on Friday morning. Russia’s response was predictably negative. In a series of statements from a diverse crowd of government officials in Moscow and beyond Russia denounced the US actions, announced it plans to upgrade Syria’s air defenses, and warned that it will respond with force if the US uses its military option against Syria once more. Beyond dialogue, released statements, and a minimal move on the military chess board concerning the movement of a Russian destroyer into the Eastern Med, Moscow’s reaction has been muted.

There was likely a great deal of surprise in Moscow about the fashion in which President Trump and the United States responded to the chemical attack last week. Now, in the midst of a growing crisis Putin finds himself having to adjust his strategy in Syria. The stakes have grown larger over the past week. The US has acted against Bashir al-Assad, the world is condemning his use of chemical weapons on civilians, and talk about Syria’s future minus Assad is increasing.

Putin and Russia do not need a way out of this situation. What is desperately needed is a fresh take on a political solution.  Syria’s government can remain in power and an ally of Russia without Assad at the helm. He is becoming more toxic by the day. Russia could do much to help itself by searching for an alternative to Assad in Damascus. As time moves on, the chances of an anti-Assad coalition forming will increase.

For the United States, the way forward has to be decided upon and shaped. In many respects the new US policy on Syria is going to be the foundation for President Trump’s foreign policy and, if the situation allows, the formation of a Trump doctrine. The greatest unknown is whether Assad will defy Trump and use chemical weapons again. If the possibility becomes reality it will ratchet up the level of tension greatly. The US could be forced to response, despite the warnings from Moscow that it will not allow further military action to go unpunished.

 

Palm Sunday Attacks

Palm Sunday is one of the most significant days on the Christian calendar, when the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is celebrated This morning in Egypt, two suicide bombings in Coptic Christian churches killed 44 people and wounded 126. This was the single deadliest day for Christians in decades. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks and there is a strong possibility that more suicide bombings will be coming in the near future as Holy Week is now upon us.

The attacks come at a delicate time for Egyptian President Fattah el-Sisi and threatens to undermine his promise of increased security. Egypt is wrestling with a deteriorating economy and political malaise. Increased acts of sectarian violence by Islamic militants will only serve to make his political position less tenable. The timing of the attacks should be considered too. Yes, it is a Christian holiday, but el-Sisi has recently returned from a trip to Washington DC and the prospect of a renewed US-Egyptian relationship could have been a motivating factor for ISIS in launching these attacks. The message, as well as the action, then have to be analyzed in the proper context.

 

 

November 2nd Update: ISIS Claims Responsibility For Downing Flight 9268 & The Upcoming Month For This Blog

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The hot button topic at the moment is the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt over the weekend. An executive from Kogalymavia Airline suspects the cause of the crash had to do with ‘external influences.’ Over the weekend, ISIS claimed responsibility for the crash and produced a video that purportedly showed 9268 being struck by a missile and crashing. The quality of the video is questionable at best and does appear to have been edited. No concrete evidence has been presented to suggest that the aircraft was shot down. With Russian involvement in Syria as the backdrop, the investigation is going to be under close scrutiny. The crash was a tragedy regardless of what the cause was. Our thoughts and prayers need to be with the family members of the victims.

As we move into November there are a growing number of hot spots around the world that have to be monitored carefully. Syria and the South China Sea are nestles at the top of the list. However, Eastern Europe and North Korea are also two areas still worthy of attention. As usual, this blog will produce updates on situations around the world throughout the month of November. We will also continue to provide in depth reports on defense and IR topics.

For November, the comprehensive focus is going to be on US strategic forces. A four part series will begin tomorrow with an introduction. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that if you are a fan of nuclear weapons and apocalyptic scenarios, this four part series is for you.

Today’s DIRT will also begin reviewing books and game software that are International Relations and/or defense-centric. For November we will be reviewing Command: Modern Air & Naval Operations. CMANO is a monster of a game that covers all conflicts from 1945 to the present. If you were a fan of Harpoon, this is a game you should seriously consider looking into.

The Next Phase Of The Egyptian Democracy Experiment Is Underway

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Last month the Egyptian people were forced to make a choice. Challenge the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi and disrupt democracy in Egypt while still in its infancy. Or, remain inactive as Morsi’s hold on power became more absolute. The citizens of Egypt opted to challenge Morsi and the military stood beside the people for the second time in two years. This battle between secularists and Islamists in Egypt has been won and lost. The war, however, continues on.

Whether or not the military was justified in its handling of the crisis depends on perspectives. Many western observers quickly labeled the toppling of Morsi as a classic example of a coup d’état. An elected president was removed from office by the military. For the average Egyptian citizen, Morsi was an unpopular president who was making fundamental changes to many facets of Egyptian life. The average person’s life has not improved in the past year. In fact, things have become more difficult for Egyptians since Morsi’s election in 2012. The military may have moved to save the nation from dissolving into chaos and civil war.

The coming days and weeks will determine whether or not the military’s intervention was successful. The quicker Egypt returns to civilian rule, the better. Interim President Adly Mansour cannot afford another ‘massacre’ like the one that the Muslim Brotherhood claims happened outside of Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo yesterday. A large number of Morsi supporters were allegedly killed by security forces and police.  The Muslim Brotherhood claims the ‘massacre’ took place during prayer time. Other reports are that the demonstrators shot first when they tried to storm the headquarters building where Morsi is being held. Details are scarce and what really happened may never be determined.

So far, the democratic experiment in Egypt has not brought forth the stability most people were hoping it would. But the path to democracy is a marathon course, not a 100 yd sprint. Something to keep in mind.