Middle East

Turkey’s strikes in Syria

“Chest X-rays, 3D Image of lungs, Sagital Plane Image” by Praisaeng at freedigitalphotos.net

With the COVID-19 pandemic rampant, it’s easy to forget that other world events are still taking place, and with good reason. No other events now matter as much. Even so, after 33 of its soldiers were killed by the Syrian military (or perhaps by a Russian airstrike) last month, the Turkish government launched a devastating counterstrike against the Syrian military on February 27, 2020. The use of drones and other technology simply overwhelmed the Syrian armed forces, and let to the destruction of even the most sophisticated Russian equipment, such as the Pantsir anti-air systems. As usual, the Oryx blog has the best information. The list of destroyed military equipment on this website is striking. For example, the Syrians likely lost 32 tanks, which they could ill afford, and eight aircraft (mostly helicopters). …

Iran, COVID-19 and a pandemic

新型冠状病毒

Sign to SARS memorial in Hong Kong

Canadian health authorities have announced a positive test for SARS-2-COV in a returning traveler from Iran. Yesterday, Iranian authorities announced two deaths from COVID-19. There are eighteen confirmed cases, which are spread across the country, and include a case in Tehran. It would seem plausible based on a the death count so far, and a case fatality rate of two percent, that there are over a hundred cases circulating in Iran. It is telling that one of the Iranian cases is a doctor, which suggests transmission within the health care system. Given that a case has appeared in Canada, which likely has fewer travelers than Iran’s neighbors such as Iraq, we can expect that health authorities will announce  new cases in these nations in coming days. Unfortunately, two of Iran’s neighbors -Afghanistan and Syria- are in the midst of civil wars, and have damaged health care systems. Sadly, the cases in these countries will likely first be detected in critical cases, which will make it unlikely that these countries can control community transmission. …

Iran, history and War

Last Thursday, June 13, 2019, two tankers traveling in the Gulf of Oman were struck by explosions. The crews of both ships were quickly evacuated, and there was no loss of life onboard. The United States’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quickly announced that Iran was responsible for these strikes. The U.S. government released military footage that it said showed an Iranian ship removing a limpet mine from the side of one of the tankers. There had been an attack on four other tankers within the last month. The U.S. alleged that Iran was carrying out these assaults because of U.S. pressure regarding the nuclear deal. …

Shane Harris, @ War

An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5) via Wikimedia Commons.

With the constant media attention to the alleged Russian involvement in the last American election, there is perhaps more media attention to the issue of cyber-warfare than ever before. In this context, Shane Harris’ book, @ War: the Rise of the Military-Internet Complex is provides a sweeping overview of how the U.S. government and its corporate allies have sought to respond and use cyber tools for espionage and war.

Harris has a background as a journalist, and he has extensively interviewed people in both the U.S. federal government and industry. His work provides a deep understanding of how these actors view cyber-conflict. The book is particularly good at showing how corporations are intricately connected the armed forces in cyber-warfare: “Without the cooperation of the companies, the United States couldn’t fight cyber wars. In that respect, the new military-Internet complex is the same as the industrial one before it” (Harris, p. xxiii).

At the same time, this book views this issue through an American lens, and at times has an unreflective view of technology’s role in war. Ever since the Vietnam War, the United States has relied on technology to win wars, while not similarly prioritizing cultural, strategic and historical awareness. One can see this issue in the opening section of the book, which examines U.S. efforts to use cyber-espionage to target ISIS in Iraq, in what he describes as a triumph: “Indeed, cyber warfare -the combination of spying and attack- was instrumental to the American victory in Iraq in 2007, in ways that have never been fully explained or appreciated” (Harris, p. xxii). Even though his description of U.S. operations in Iraq is fascinating, this part of the work has not aged well, and confronts the reader with technology’s limitations more than its capabilities. …

Canada, Saudi Arabia and the CBC

As one of my colleagues often states, there is no escaping media studies in International and Global Studies, because the news media is how most of us receive information about global issues, even in an era of Twitter and blogs (OK news on the U.S. Presidency might be an exception). It’s interesting, therefore, to look at how different publications cover the news. As Colin Dwyer described in an article on the NPR website, Canadian diplomats denounced Saudi Arabia’s arrest of multiple human rights activists. Dwyer details how Saudi Arabia responded to the statements by denouncing Canada’s actions as meddling, recalling its ambassador, and freezing all new trade investments. Now Saudi Arabia has announced that it is withdrawing students from Canadian universities. …

Flu, Protest and Iran

While many factors are driving the current protests in Iran, Michael Coston has pointed out that a significant outbreak of avian influenza in that country has driven up the cost of poultry and eggs, which has likely contributed to peoples’ food insecurity. His blog post is an interesting attempt to tie influenza to economic factors, which in turn may be connected to politics.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

The secret deal in Raqqa

Destroyed neighborhood in Raqqa. By Mahmoud Bali (VOA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
By the summer of 2017, the city of Raqqa in eastern Syria was the last remaining stronghold of ISIL in the Middle East. The U.S. backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) launched a major attack on the city beginning in June. On October 17, 2017, these forces announced the fall of the city and the utter defeat of ISIL. The BBC, however, had reporters on the ground, who reported a shocking twist to the story of the city’s fall. Members of the attacking forces had cut a deal to allow hundreds -perhaps thousands- of fighters to escape from the city. In a video titled, “Fall of Raqqa: The secret deal,” the BBC reporters traced the convoy’s path as far as Turkey, where they interviewed smugglers who took ISIL members across the border. Amongst the people who escaped were many foreign fighters, who threaten their own country’s security when they return. France, in particular, seems to be a target. …

The Dogs of War

Image of the Persian Gulf from the CIA World Factbook

Recently, there have been a series of articles pointing to the signs of war in the Middle East. Of course, given the ongoing civil war in Syria, the chaotic situation in Libya, and the current blockade of Yemen, it’s also true that war is already ravaging the region. Still, many observers are pointing to the real risk that the region might slide into the equivalent to World War One. The long-standing tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia pushes the region towards unrestricted and massive warfare.

Of all the articles on this topic, I particularly like Michael Coren’s on the CBC News website, “Ominous signs that the next war in the Middle East is coming, and it won’t be pretty.” Coren points to particular signs that suggest that a conflict may be impending. What struck me in particular was the fact that 2,245 people had commented on this piece, which suggests that many people were as impressed by this brief analysis as I was. Highly recommended.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

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The Syrian conflict

“Members of the XI International Brigade of the Republican International Brigades at the Battle of Belchite ride on a Soviet T-26 tank.” Испанская_11_интербригада_в_бою_под_Бельчите._1937-edit

The Syrian Civil War (2011-present) has been a test of our current world order, much in the same manner that the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was before World War Two. In both cases, diplomacy and the international organizations proved unable to stem the violence. The two conflicts are also similar in that each has revealed the fissures of the modern global era, and quickly devolved into a proxy conflict. In both cases foreign fighters flocked to the battlefront for ideological reasons. The international volunteers in Republican Spain’s International Brigades (as well as the mostly Communists and anarchists in the POUM militias) have their Islamist parallels in the Syrian civl war. While their ideologies were completely different, in each case you saw young people streaming to the battlefield not because they had been sent by a state, but rather because they felt a sense of duty to a cause. In Spain, the nationalist leader Franco welcomed foreign units from France, Germany, Italy and Morocco, which perhaps parallels how states such as Iran and Russia have sent support to Bashar al Assad in modern Syria.

Of course there are differences in the two wars. After the Spanish Civil War most foreign combatants were welcomed home. Perhaps the key difference, however, in the struggle has been that in Syria a major non-state actor -Hezbollah- has proven to be a key and unified power on the battlefield. Still, even a cursory comparison of the two conflicts leads to a strange feeling of deja vu.

This similarity extends to the realm of military affairs. Much like the Spanish civil war, the Syrian conflict has also proved to be a test of modern military equipment and tactics. In both conflicts external actors lent aid not only to support their allies, but also to test their systems. In the 1930s it was Germany that drew the key lessons from the battles in Spain, particularly regarding the role of close-air support. Western democracies did not pay similar attention to how technology had changed warfare (especially Britain and France), which proved to be a major mistake. In the case of Syria, Hezbollah has made immense progress in urban warfare tactics, while Russia has used the conflict to display its naval and air capabilities. Together with the Iranians, the Russian intervention has changed the course of the war. There can be little question now that the momentum now is with the Syrian regime to such an extent that President Assad can aspire to reclaim control over the entire nation, with the possible exception of the Kurdish region. This is a dramatic change from the state of affairs even two years ago. …

Academic Freedom and Fear in Turkey

Turkey is an emerging global power, with a rich history, key geographical location, and significant economic strengths. At the same time, the country is now experiencing a major political crisis. After the attempted coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has launched a wide-ranging purge of its political opponents in academia, the police, the military, and education. More than 100,000 people have been purged from their jobs. This issue has become so serious that the E.U. has temporarily ceased its accession talks, which has led to a powerful backlash from Turkey. In response to the EU’s decisions, Erdoğan has threatened to abandon a Turkish deal with the EU regarding refugees.

Certainly, the coup was a horrifying event, in which over 300 people died. The coup plotters sought to overthrow a democracy through violence, and the government had to respond. Nonetheless, the extent of the current repression has attracted criticism from academic and human rights organizations, nation-states, and the European Union. Today the International Studies Association (ISA) sent an email to all ISA members regarding the case of Dr Sedat Laciner, Professor of International Relations and Rector of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. Dr. Laciner is currently imprisoned on terrorism charges that he denies. The ISA email shared his statement, “I don’t know how long they will keep me in prison,” which conveys his version of why he was arrested. Similarly, novelists, magazine editors, and journalists have been swept up in the arrests and purge. In this context, the ISA has issued a statement regarding Academic Freedom in Turkey, where academics now face restrictions on travel and professional work, as well as the fear of arrest.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

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