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Islamic State and al-Qaeda Are Still Formidable Enemies

Feb. 23 2018

According to the National Defense Strategy released by the Pentagon in January, “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” Thomas Joscelyn does not disagree. He cautions, however, that Islamic State (IS)—despite suffering major territorial losses in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan over the past two years—is far from vanquished. Neither is al-Qaeda, which in many places waits in the wings to recruit IS fighters who have survived the organization’s defeats. Joscelyn writes:

Consider the situation in Egypt. In November 2014, an al-Qaeda-linked group known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis swore its fealty to the IS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The group was then rebranded Wilayat Sinai, or the Sinai Province (of the caliphate), and pledged to fight for the caliphate’s cause. Wilayat Sinai remains a security threat to the Egyptian state. Its members blew up a Russian airliner in October 2015, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.

The bombing was the jihadists’ first successful attack on commercial aviation since the 9/11 hijackings. Wilayat Sinai has assassinated Egyptian officials, harassed locals, and conducted a series of bombings against mosques, tribesmen, and Christians. At times, the IS branch has been strong enough to capture Egyptian checkpoints and overrun security facilities. IS also spawned a terror network in mainland Egypt that has dispatched suicide bombers to strike Coptic churches, including on Palm Sunday last year.

The Sinai jihadists are so fierce that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s men haven’t been able to contain them on their own. Earlier this month, the New York Times confirmed a thinly veiled secret—Israel has been helping the Egyptians hunt down IS leaders and commanders in the northern part of the Sinai since 2015. Despite this assistance from Israel’s expert terror-hunters, Wilayat Sinai hasn’t been eradicated. . . .

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, IS loyalists fight their foes nearly every day. . . . Some claim that outfits such as Wilayat Khorasan [as its major Afghan branch is called] have merely adopted the caliphate brand and lack meaningful connections to Baghdadi’s enterprise. This is not so. The U.S. military has discovered connective tissue. General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has explained that . . . the first head of Wilayat Khorasan “went through the application process” and the group has received “advice,” “publicity,” and “some financial support” from IS [in Syria]. . . . [Meanwhile], the Taliban, [which remains closely linked to al-Qaeda], contest or control more than 40 percent of Afghanistan’s districts.

Joscelyn also mentions the two groups’ presence throughout Africa, as well as in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Egypt, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Sinai Peninsula, U.S. Foreign policy

The Future of a Free Iran May Lie with a Restoration of the Shah

June 25 2018

Examining the recent waves of protest and political unrest in the Islamic Republic—from women shunning the hijab to truckers going out on strike—Sohrab Ahmari considers what would happen in the event of an actual collapse of the regime. Through an analysis of Iranian history, he concludes that the country would best be served by placing Reza Pahlavi, the son and heir of its last shah, at the head of a constitutional monarchy:

The end of Islamist rule in Iran would be a world-historical event and an unalloyed good for the country and its neighbors, marking a return to normalcy four decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini founded his regime. . . . But what exactly is that normalcy? . . .

First, Iranian political culture demands a living source of authority to embody the will of the nation and stand above a fractious and ethnically heterogenous society. Put another way, Iranians need a “shah” of some sort. They have never lived collectively without one, and their political imagination has always been directed toward a throne. The constitutionalist experiment of the early 20th century coexisted (badly) with monarchic authority, and the current Islamic Republic has a supreme leader—which is to say, a shah by another name. It is the height of utopianism to imagine that a 2,500-year-old tradition can be wiped away. The presence of a shah, [however], needn’t mean the absence of rule of law, deliberative politics, or any of the other elements of ordered liberty that the West cherishes in its own systems. . . .

Second, Iranian political culture demands a source of continuity with Persian history. The anxieties associated with modernity and centuries of historical discontinuity drove Iranians into the arms of Khomeini and his bearded minions, who promised a connection to Shiite tradition. Khomeinism turned out to be a bloody failure, but there is scant reason to imagine the thirst for continuity has been quenched. . . . Iranian nationalism . . . could be the answer, and, to judge by the nationalist tone of the current upheaval, it is the one the people have already hit upon.

When protestors chant “We Will Die to Get Iran Back,” “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My Life Only for Iran,” and “Let Syria Be, Do Something for Me,” they are expressing a positive vision of Iranian nationhood: no longer do they wish to pay the price for the regime’s Shiite hegemonic ambitions. Iranian blood should be spilled for Iran, not Gaza, which for most Iranians is little more than a geographical abstraction. It is precisely its nationalist dimension that makes the current revolt the most potent the mullahs have yet faced. Nationalism, after all, is a much stronger force and in Iran the longing for historical continuity runs much deeper than liberal-democratic aspiration. Westerners who wish to see a replay of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 in today’s Iran will find the lessons of Iranian history hard and distasteful, but Iranians and their friends who wish to see past the Islamic Republic must pay heed.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Nationalism, Politics & Current Affairs, Shah