Europe is in the crosshairs of international terrorism once more. Just days after an attack in Nice, France another attack has taken place on the continent. Tonight in Vienna two people were killed and over fifteen wounded in a series of shootings in central Vienna. Austrian police and government spokesmen confirmed that a group of gunmen launched the attacks in six different locations across the capital city. The first shootings took place near the Seitenstettengasse synagogue although it is unclear if the synagogue was an intended target.
Information coming out at present is somewhat fluid. Austrian media claims a manhunt for the suspects is still underway. According to police as many as six shooters might’ve been involved and at least one is dead. Reports from outside of Austria claim one of the shooters was a Chechen with ties to ISIS. Other reports from firearm experts suggest the weapons used were likely an AK type rifle and an M57 Tokarev. Authorities believe the number of casualties will likely increase in the coming hours.
News of the attack has arrived as the last day of campaigning in the 2020 US Presidential Election enters its final hours. Neither candidate has made mention of the attack yet, but as more information becomes available both Donald Trump and Joe Biden will likely release statements.
I’ll touch on the attack a bit tomorrow and then Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning I’ll post about India and China.
President Trump made the right decision in ordering the airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general officer and commander of the Quds force. He was a legitimate target, a man responsible for previous attacks against US interests in the region. The US government was current on Soleimani’s activities, and keenly aware of the reasons for Soleimani’s presence in Baghdad Even more significant than his status as a legitimate target, is the fact that Soleimani was a terrorist responsible for the deaths of Americans. To not take advantage of the opportunity to neutralize him would’ve been irresponsible at the very least. The Trump administration’s handling of Iran has been strikingly different from how the Obama administration dealt with Iran. It’s more than fair to say President Trump’s approach has been far more effective. In this case, the president wasted no time, took decisive action, and dealt a considerable blow to Iran’s Quds force, and to Tehran’s shadowy activities across the region.
Having said all of that, we are going to see an Iranian response and possibly soon. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wasted little time in vowing revenge for the killing of Soleimani. This morning has seen much speculation in media circles as to what form Iranian retaliation will take. This matter has also been analyzed at length on this side of the fence by the US intelligence community, Pentagon, and outside advisers brought in to consult.
In short, the conclusion drawn is that the coming Iranian action will not adversely affect the calculus in the Persian Gulf area for US forces, or national interests. In all likelihood, the response will follow along the same lines of previous action, meaning attacks against US embassies, rocket strikes on bases where US troops are stationed, and perhaps a resumption of strikes against oil tankers operating in the Strait of Hormuz and Red Sea. Iran may also seek to punish US allies in the region for what Tehran views as their complicity in the killing of Soleimani. The coming 24-36 hours will reveal much about the direction Iran has chosen.
In any event, it did not take long for 2020 to produce its first geopolitical crisis.
A military parade in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz earlier today has resulted in the deaths of at least twenty-four people. The attackers, who were wearing military uniforms, opened fire on the military procession from a nearby park with small arms. Soldiers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) appear to have been the intended targets. Eight members are among the dead. Two of the gunmen were killed, and another pair taken into custody by security forces.
The Iranian government wasted no time in labeling the incident a terror attack launched by Iran’s Arab minority. And of course, included in the first salvo of statements from Tehran, was a less than subtle suggestion that the United States had orchestrated the attack. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated: “Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable.” In the past, Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of supporting separatist groups in Iran’s Arab minority. The government claims these groups have been becoming very active in Ahvaz, and other sections of southwestern Iran in recent months.
Ahvaz holds another less than stellar distinction. The city has been the site of many anti-government protests since last year. This fact leaves open the possibility that today’s attack was more of a political statement than a random attack aimed at sewing confusion, and chaos. The fact that IRGC soldiers were targeted speaks volumes. In Iranian society, the IRGC is the sword and shield of the government, serving in a role similar to that of the KGB of the former Soviet Union. A direct attack against them is nothing short of an attack against the regime, and might indicate a new round of domestic unrest is on the horizon.
Another possibility, admittedly more cynical but not outside the realm of possibility for Tehran, is that today’s attack was orchestrated by the government and will be used as justification for a nationwide crackdown. The sting from US economic sanctions, and failed Iranian economic policies are bringing on discontent among Iran’s people. Instead of standing by idly and waiting for a new round of protests and riots to break out, Tehran could be moving to nip it in the bud. If so, expect there to be more incidents similar to the attack in Ahvaz occurring around Iran in the coming weeks.
Today’s events in Barcelona serve as a grim reminder that the problems Europe faced in 2016 are still alive and well in 2017 despite individual and collective efforts by EU member-states to create the illusion of improving conditions across the continent. Since President Trump was inaugurated in January he has served as a scapegoat for all ailments European. In the aftermath of the populist tsunami last year, EU leaders have countered by portraying Trump and his seemingly anti-EU positions as the common enemy to be challenged. The true challenges facing Europe like terror, and the renewed refugee influx, have been minimized by pro-EU politicians and the media. Non-starter issues such as the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Trump’s tweets, and European diplomatic forays into non-European matters have replaced them.
Although the number of refugees arriving in southern Europe is increasing once again, little is mentioned of it by pro-EU politicians and the European media. The same held true for terrorism until today. Apparent terror incidents in Germany are systematically ruled to be otherwise with astonishing speed. The same European media outlets which covered last year’s incidents with intense focus have downgraded their level of coverage, as was seen with the most recent car attack in Paris. Then came today’s Barcelona attack. As of the time of writing, thirteen deaths and over 80 wounded bystanders have been confirmed. Two men are in custody and a manhunt is underway across Spain for a third man, as anti-terror operations take place at various points around the country.
As much as the EU, and many Europeans try to pretend otherwise, terrorism is no less of a problem today compared to last year. If anything, terror is becoming an even greater security threat. ISIS and other Islamic terror organizations have an infinite pool of potential attackers to select from, and the EU, for fear of appearing politically incorrect for lack of a better term, is dragging its heels in monitoring the people who are potentially serious threats.
Today should serve as a wakeup call for Europe. The threats and problems which the EU have tried to keep hidden in the background still remain front and center. The responsibility for the Barcelona attack falls at least partly on Brussels which prefers to keep the collective EU head buried in the sand rather than confront terror as the danger that it is.
Kuwait’s attempt to mediate the regional crisis involving Qatar and some of its neighbors is bearing fruit. Today, Kuwait announced that Qatar is ready to sit down and listen to the grievances and claims of its fellow Gulf States, and Egypt. The crisis began when several Arab nations announced they are severing diplomatic ties with the tiny emirate over Qatar’s alleged support of select terrorist groups, some of which are backed by Iran. Saudi Arabia, the leader of the effort, closed its border with Qatar and sealed off air, sea, and land contact, essentially isolating the smaller nation. Since last Monday, Qatar has begun to feel the pinch of the imposed isolation. The Qatari stock market has fallen 8% on fears of food, medicine, and other goods shortages coming in the near future if the crisis continues. Qatari Airlines, the largest air carrier in the region has suspended flights to Saudi Arabia and other nations that have taken similar actions against it.
As last week went on, the rift appeared to deepen. Qatar remained defiant, refuting the Saudi claims and not making any moves which could be construed as admitting guilt. From outside the region, a number of nations urged caution and offered to serve as mediators to bring both sides to the table. It is best, however, that Kuwait’s offer is the one being acted upon. This dispute is largely ‘in-house’ and should be resolved by the Gulf states. Kuwait’s first attempt at mediation last week failed. However, with the crisis showing no signs of ending in the near future, Qatar is using Kuwait’s second attempt to gain some breathing room. The fact that it is willing to sit down and hold discussions is a step towards an eventual reconciling the broken relationship with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and other nations.
The world has taken notice of the situation and concern is growing. The consensus is that a swift end to the situation is beneficial for all involved parties, especially before an outside nation attempts to use the crisis to its own benefit. Iran is the first nation that comes to mind. However, Turkey is another nation that has made alarming moves, especially its very vocal support of Qatar. If the second Kuwaiti mediation falls apart, do not be surprised if Turkish support becomes more substantial in the coming days.