30 Jul
ISIS Dominates Eastern Syria, Now Eyes Key Regime Bases | Karen Leigh
The major objectives: to overtake any remaining opposition groups and to start chipping away at areas under the Assad regime, as it began to do earlier this month in an attack on the government-held Shaar gas field.
Since reaping money and military equipment in a June offensive on the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has effectively opened the border between Syria and Iraq and pushed further east through Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hassakeh provinces, becoming the dominant force there over Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups.
Now it has two major objectives: to overtake any remaining opposition groups and to start chipping away at areas under the Assad regime, as it began to do this month in a bloody attack on the government-held Shaar gas field in Hama province.
"Crushing hostile rebel groups thus remains ISIS’s top strategic priority in Syria, and an escalation near Aleppo that coincided with regime gains there could go a long way towards accomplishing that goal," says Noah Bonsey, the Beirut-based senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group.
FULL ARTICLE (Syria Deeply)
Photo: Freedom House/Flickr

ISIS Dominates Eastern Syria, Now Eyes Key Regime Bases | Karen Leigh

The major objectives: to overtake any remaining opposition groups and to start chipping away at areas under the Assad regime, as it began to do earlier this month in an attack on the government-held Shaar gas field.

Since reaping money and military equipment in a June offensive on the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has effectively opened the border between Syria and Iraq and pushed further east through Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hassakeh provinces, becoming the dominant force there over Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups.

Now it has two major objectives: to overtake any remaining opposition groups and to start chipping away at areas under the Assad regime, as it began to do this month in a bloody attack on the government-held Shaar gas field in Hama province.

"Crushing hostile rebel groups thus remains ISIS’s top strategic priority in Syria, and an escalation near Aleppo that coincided with regime gains there could go a long way towards accomplishing that goal," says Noah Bonsey, the Beirut-based senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group.

FULL ARTICLE (Syria Deeply)

Photo: Freedom House/Flickr

Taliban ‘gaining ground’ as Afghan audit drags on | Gabriel Domínguez and Srinivas Mazumdaru
The election audit comes at a critical time for Afghanistan as the international community winds down its combat mission and foreign aid dwindles. The successful completion of the electoral process, which has been marred by allegations of widespread fraud between presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, is therefore key to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in the conflict-ridden country. However, attacks by the Taliban have intensified recently, with dozens of assaults reported last weekend alone.
Moreover, on July 29, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s powerful cousin, a close ally of presidential candidate Ghani, was killed in a suicide bomb attack, deepening political strains. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
In a DW interview, Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), says there is no strong connection, so far, between the electoral crisis in Afghanistan and the rising number of insurgent attacks, but adds that the Taliban’s territorial gains are of symbolic importance as they show the militants’ ability to confront Afghan forces in face-to-face battle.
FULL INTERVIEW (Deutsche Welle)
Photo: U.S. Army/ flickr

Taliban ‘gaining ground’ as Afghan audit drags on | Gabriel Domínguez and Srinivas Mazumdaru

The election audit comes at a critical time for Afghanistan as the international community winds down its combat mission and foreign aid dwindles. The successful completion of the electoral process, which has been marred by allegations of widespread fraud between presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, is therefore key to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in the conflict-ridden country. However, attacks by the Taliban have intensified recently, with dozens of assaults reported last weekend alone.

Moreover, on July 29, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s powerful cousin, a close ally of presidential candidate Ghani, was killed in a suicide bomb attack, deepening political strains. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

In a DW interview, Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), says there is no strong connection, so far, between the electoral crisis in Afghanistan and the rising number of insurgent attacks, but adds that the Taliban’s territorial gains are of symbolic importance as they show the militants’ ability to confront Afghan forces in face-to-face battle.

FULL INTERVIEW (Deutsche Welle)

Photo: U.S. Army/ flickr

The Man Who Haunts Israel | Michael Crowley
Khaled Mashaal lay dying in a hospital bed as poison flowed through his bloodstream, slowly shutting down his respiratory system. With a machine pumping air into his lungs, he had, at best, a few days to live. An antidote could save the Hamas leader’s life. But the only person who could provide it was the very man who had tried to kill him: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
As the clock ticked down over four days in late September 1997, with Mashaal unconscious and steadily deteriorating, Netanyahu faced an excruciating choice. The Mossad agents who had sprayed poison into the Palestinian’s ear on a street in Amman, Jordan — in retribution for a series of suicide attacks within Israel — had been captured while fleeing. Jordan’s King Hussein vowed to put the Israelis on trial if Mashaal expired. The agents would likely face execution if convicted. Desperate to avert an international crisis that would derail his efforts to broker peace deals between Israel and its Arab enemies, President Bill Clinton intervened, insisting that Netanyahu, then serving the first of his two tenures as Israel’s prime minister, provide the antidote. The Israeli leader grudgingly complied, even traveling to Amman to issue a personal apology to the King. Mashaal was revived, his stature forever enhanced as “the living martyr.” Instead of killing one of Israel’s most despised enemies, Netanyahu had resurrected him.
Fifteen years later, in December 2012, Mashaal, in his trademark western suit and trim salt-and-pepper beard, stepped out of a giant replica of an M75 rocket in the heart of Gaza City to address a crowd of cheering Palestinians. “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he thundered, as the green missile — among the models Hamas is currently firing into Israel by the thousands — towered several stories over his head. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”
FULL ARTICLE (TIME)
Photo: Trango/Wikimedia Commons

The Man Who Haunts Israel | Michael Crowley

Khaled Mashaal lay dying in a hospital bed as poison flowed through his bloodstream, slowly shutting down his respiratory system. With a machine pumping air into his lungs, he had, at best, a few days to live. An antidote could save the Hamas leader’s life. But the only person who could provide it was the very man who had tried to kill him: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

As the clock ticked down over four days in late September 1997, with Mashaal unconscious and steadily deteriorating, Netanyahu faced an excruciating choice. The Mossad agents who had sprayed poison into the Palestinian’s ear on a street in Amman, Jordan — in retribution for a series of suicide attacks within Israel — had been captured while fleeing. Jordan’s King Hussein vowed to put the Israelis on trial if Mashaal expired. The agents would likely face execution if convicted. Desperate to avert an international crisis that would derail his efforts to broker peace deals between Israel and its Arab enemies, President Bill Clinton intervened, insisting that Netanyahu, then serving the first of his two tenures as Israel’s prime minister, provide the antidote. The Israeli leader grudgingly complied, even traveling to Amman to issue a personal apology to the King. Mashaal was revived, his stature forever enhanced as “the living martyr.” Instead of killing one of Israel’s most despised enemies, Netanyahu had resurrected him.

Fifteen years later, in December 2012, Mashaal, in his trademark western suit and trim salt-and-pepper beard, stepped out of a giant replica of an M75 rocket in the heart of Gaza City to address a crowd of cheering Palestinians. “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he thundered, as the green missile — among the models Hamas is currently firing into Israel by the thousands — towered several stories over his head. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”

FULL ARTICLE (TIME)

Photo: Trango/Wikimedia Commons

29 Jul
American aid to Israel doesn’t seem to buy any leverage. Why? | Zack Beauchamp 
It’s been a bad year for US diplomacy in Israel-Palestine. Both major pushes by Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate some kind of deal — first the Palestinian Authority-Israel peace framework negotiations in mid-2014, then a Hamas-Israel ceasefire this weekend — have failed. About 24 hours after Kerry’s proposed cease fire fell apart, Kerry was still defending his approach from fierce Israeli and Palestinian criticism.
The US, it turns out, does not have quite as much ability to nudge its Israeli allies as you might think. The United States failed to get a permanent settlement freeze in 2009, couldn’t get Israelis to agree to a framework for peace negotiations the Palestinians would accept (and vice versa), and hasn’t made any headway on the “immediate ceasefire" in Gaza that President Obama has repeatedly called for. This all seems strange on the surface: the US is a superpower, provides about $3 billion in aid to Israel every year, and uses its veto to protect Israel at the United Nations when no one else will. So why hasn’t the US been able to force Israel to see things its way? Why does it appear to have so little leverage?
FULL ARTICLE (VOX)
Photo: Matty Ster/flickr

American aid to Israel doesn’t seem to buy any leverage. Why? | Zack Beauchamp 

It’s been a bad year for US diplomacy in Israel-Palestine. Both major pushes by Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate some kind of deal — first the Palestinian Authority-Israel peace framework negotiations in mid-2014, then a Hamas-Israel ceasefire this weekend — have failed. About 24 hours after Kerry’s proposed cease fire fell apart, Kerry was still defending his approach from fierce Israeli and Palestinian criticism.

The US, it turns out, does not have quite as much ability to nudge its Israeli allies as you might think. The United States failed to get a permanent settlement freeze in 2009, couldn’t get Israelis to agree to a framework for peace negotiations the Palestinians would accept (and vice versa), and hasn’t made any headway on the “immediate ceasefire" in Gaza that President Obama has repeatedly called for. This all seems strange on the surface: the US is a superpower, provides about $3 billion in aid to Israel every year, and uses its veto to protect Israel at the United Nations when no one else will. So why hasn’t the US been able to force Israel to see things its way? Why does it appear to have so little leverage?

FULL ARTICLE (VOX)

Photo: Matty Ster/flickr

Civilian Casualties in Gaza Slated to Rise as Israel, Hamas Intensify Fighting | David Stout
Any semblance of a possible ceasefire in the restive Palestinian coastal strip withered as fighting intensified throughout Monday night and into Tuesday morning
Chances of peace in the Gaza Strip looked very remote Tuesday morning, as Hamas militants penetrated Israel, and Israeli forces ratcheted up their military offensive in the Palestinian coastal territory.
Israeli aircraft, artillery and ground troops continued to pummel the conflict-ridden enclave after a raft of proposed humanitarian truces discussed over the weekend ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr ultimately failed to take root.
Live feeds broadcasted online throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday provided outsiders with a glimpse of the grim reality of life inside the besieged territory, as Operation Protective Edge entered its third week. Drones hummed out of sight and illumination flares cast an eerie light over Gaza’s skyline, while explosions rumbled in the darkness.
FULL ARTICLE (TIME)
Photo: Mohammed Al Baba/Flickr

Civilian Casualties in Gaza Slated to Rise as Israel, Hamas Intensify Fighting | David Stout

Any semblance of a possible ceasefire in the restive Palestinian coastal strip withered as fighting intensified throughout Monday night and into Tuesday morning

Chances of peace in the Gaza Strip looked very remote Tuesday morning, as Hamas militants penetrated Israel, and Israeli forces ratcheted up their military offensive in the Palestinian coastal territory.

Israeli aircraft, artillery and ground troops continued to pummel the conflict-ridden enclave after a raft of proposed humanitarian truces discussed over the weekend ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr ultimately failed to take root.

Live feeds broadcasted online throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday provided outsiders with a glimpse of the grim reality of life inside the besieged territory, as Operation Protective Edge entered its third week. Drones hummed out of sight and illumination flares cast an eerie light over Gaza’s skyline, while explosions rumbled in the darkness.

FULL ARTICLE (TIME)

Photo: Mohammed Al Baba/Flickr

Still Torn by Factional Fighting, Post-Revolt Libya Is Coming Undone | Kareem Fahim
CAIRO — For weeks, rival Libyan militias had been pounding one another’s positions with artillery, mortar rounds and rockets in a desperate fight to control the international airport in the capital, Tripoli. Then suddenly, early Saturday morning, the fighting just stopped.
The pause came as United States military warplanes circled overhead, providing air cover for a predawn evacuation of the American Embassy’s staff. Apparently fearing the planes, the militias held their fire just long enough for the ambassador and her staff to reach the Tunisian border — a reminder to Libyans of how even their most powerful allies were incapable of putting out their incendiary feuds.
FULL ARTICLE (The New York Times)
Photo: Kadir Aksoy/flickr

Still Torn by Factional Fighting, Post-Revolt Libya Is Coming Undone | Kareem Fahim

CAIRO — For weeks, rival Libyan militias had been pounding one another’s positions with artillery, mortar rounds and rockets in a desperate fight to control the international airport in the capital, Tripoli. Then suddenly, early Saturday morning, the fighting just stopped.

The pause came as United States military warplanes circled overhead, providing air cover for a predawn evacuation of the American Embassy’s staff. Apparently fearing the planes, the militias held their fire just long enough for the ambassador and her staff to reach the Tunisian border — a reminder to Libyans of how even their most powerful allies were incapable of putting out their incendiary feuds.

FULL ARTICLE (The New York Times)

Photo: Kadir Aksoy/flickr

Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, debunks 11 myths about Gaza, Hamas, and Israel, with some information from our Gaza/Israel briefing.
Read more at Huffington Post UK.
Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/Flickr

Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, debunks 11 myths about Gaza, Hamas, and Israel, with some information from our Gaza/Israel briefing.

Read more at Huffington Post UK.

Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/Flickr

No Such Thing as a Free Ride? ROK Missile Defence, Regional Missile Defence and OPCON Transfer | Daniel Pinkston
Daniel Pinkston is Crisis Group’s North East Asia Project Deputy Director.
In a previous post, we examined South Korean intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as they relate to larger alliance dynamics and the issue of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) military and wartime operational control (OPCON). South Korea also seeks to improve its missile defense (MD) capabilities. While ISR and MD are interrelated, the latter presents its own distinct set of regional and alliance-based issues.
"The U.S. has been keen to deploy more MD assets to the region given North Korea’s apparent determination to increase the quality, quantity and ranges of its missiles."
On 3 June, General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK), recommended the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missiles to South Korea. These were the first public remarks by the U.S. military regarding such a deployment, following previous reports of U.S. defence officials stating that it was being considered. The THAAD system reportedly would serve as a more advanced missile-defense system to counter North Korean missile capabilities, which were most recently demonstrated by flight tests of the road-mobile Rodong missile, with a range of more than 1,000km.
While Washington has made no formal proposal to deploy THAAD to the ROK, the U.S. has begun an initial review and carried out site surveys of possible locations. The potential deployment of such a system highlights several ongoing issues that are both technical and highly political in nature. These include upgrading MD capabilities in response to an evolving North Korean threat; the potential expansion of the U.S.-led regional missile defence system, which is part of the U.S. rebalancing strategy in the region; and the ROK’s efforts to upgrade its own MD capabilities while simultaneously balancing its longstanding alliance with the U.S. and its deepening economic and political ties with China.
FULL ARTICLE (In Pursuit of Peace)
Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency

No Such Thing as a Free Ride? ROK Missile Defence, Regional Missile Defence and OPCON Transfer | Daniel Pinkston

Daniel Pinkston is Crisis Group’s North East Asia Project Deputy Director.

In a previous post, we examined South Korean intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as they relate to larger alliance dynamics and the issue of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) military and wartime operational control (OPCON). South Korea also seeks to improve its missile defense (MD) capabilities. While ISR and MD are interrelated, the latter presents its own distinct set of regional and alliance-based issues.

"The U.S. has been keen to deploy more MD assets to the region given North Korea’s apparent determination to increase the quality, quantity and ranges of its missiles."

On 3 June, General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK), recommended the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missiles to South Korea. These were the first public remarks by the U.S. military regarding such a deployment, following previous reports of U.S. defence officials stating that it was being considered. The THAAD system reportedly would serve as a more advanced missile-defense system to counter North Korean missile capabilities, which were most recently demonstrated by flight tests of the road-mobile Rodong missile, with a range of more than 1,000km.

While Washington has made no formal proposal to deploy THAAD to the ROK, the U.S. has begun an initial review and carried out site surveys of possible locations. The potential deployment of such a system highlights several ongoing issues that are both technical and highly political in nature. These include upgrading MD capabilities in response to an evolving North Korean threat; the potential expansion of the U.S.-led regional missile defence system, which is part of the U.S. rebalancing strategy in the region; and the ROK’s efforts to upgrade its own MD capabilities while simultaneously balancing its longstanding alliance with the U.S. and its deepening economic and political ties with China.

FULL ARTICLE (In Pursuit of Peace)

Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency

28 Jul
Africa’s jihadists, on their way
Boko Haram thrives on the weakness of governments in the region of Lake Chad
SQUINT a little and the region skirting Lake Chad in central Africa resembles Mosul and Tikrit in northern Iraq: dried-out canals, scrubby plains, ragtag bands of Islamists with guns beneath an unrelenting sun. Thanks to satellite television, the long-suffering residents around the lake, which abutted Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria until it began to dry up and shrink over the past few decades (see map), have a rough understanding of what has happened recently in Iraq. They can imagine only too well being overrun by insurgents. Many see parallels between the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the savage group that has captured a string of Iraqi towns, and Boko Haram, the equally murderous Nigerian outfit that is striving to expand its base beyond its original area south-west of Lake Chad. The question everyone in the region is asking is whether the Nigerian bunch of beheaders can replicate the audacious territorial conquest of their Arab-led counterparts.
Strolling along what used to be the shoreline before it receded, Habib Yaba, a Chadian politician from Massakory, north-east of N’Djamena, the capital, points to a white pick-up truck of unknown provenance driving across the flat lake-bed from the west. The border there is unmarked. “Look how easy it is for anyone to roam around,” he says, and goes on to describe local Islamists as increasingly numerous, well-armed and ambitious. “They rely on religious as well as ethnic links that cross the lake. And they tap into the frustrations of our people.”
Gloomy youths standing in the shade of a nearby petrol station sound ambivalent towards Boko Haram. Most would rather have jobs than become religious marauders, but given the chance they may be tempted to join a group that is evidently successful. “Not many other winners here,” says one. Their parents, sitting in cement buildings littered across a treeless expanse, say they worry that their children will be receptive to recruitment drives by Boko Haram. They also report an increase in night-time traffic, which they blame on insurgent movements.
Regional governments are fully aware of the threat and have tried to counter it. Chad is sending ever more troops to the border. Checkpoints and military vehicles are visible on the roads outside N’Djamena, which is close to the lake. A sweating colonel wearing full battledress in the midday sun swears loudly while inspecting traffic near Bongor, a town close to the border with Cameroon, 200km (125 miles) south of N’Djamena.
Oil-rich Chad has one of the fiercest armies on the continent. It has deployed peacekeepers in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). Earlier this year its air force took delivery of three MIG-29 jets from Ukraine, an unusually sophisticated weapon by the standards of the region. Chad also has a batch of Russian-supplied combat helicopters.
But neighbouring countries are quite a bit feebler. Nigeria’s armed forces are plagued with corruption; its rates of desertion are high. Niger is poor even by regional standards and militarily unable to cope. The weakest link in the region, however, is Cameroon.
Nigeria closed its border with it in February and has called its government negligent. Unlike Chad and Niger, it does not allow troops from neighbouring countries the right of hot pursuit across its border. That may be partly because Cameroon and Nigeria lack an agreed frontier due to a long-running territorial dispute; the UN’s attempt to mark the 2,100km boundary, which cuts across mountains and deserts, may be the biggest project of its kind in the world. In May Cameroon at last deployed a thousand troops to the border region. Within weeks they had killed 40 fighters apparently allied to Boko Haram in Kousseri, on the border with Chad. More firefights have since taken place.
In May regional heads of state met in France in an attempt to boost military and intelligence co-operation. They are backed by other Western powers. Yet old animosities, linguistic differences between Anglo- and Francophone troops, and rampant theft and incompetence mean this will have a limited effect. A glum Western diplomat says, “If the Iraqi army, aided by America and Iran, cannot stop marauding Islamists, then…”
The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based lobby, warned in April about Boko Haram activity in “weak countries poorly equipped to combat a radical Islamist armed group tapping into real governance, corruption, impunity and underdevelopment grievances shared by most people in the region.”
In May Boko Haram fighters attacked a camp of Chinese workers near Waza, in northern Cameroon, taking ten of them hostage. This was the group’s biggest operation across the border so far. Its fighters methodically cut off the electricity supply to the camp, then besieged it for five hours before overwhelming its armed guards. Sure enough, the Cameroonian cavalry failed to turn up.
FULL COMMENTARY (The Economist)
Photo: International Organization for Migration/flickr

Africa’s jihadists, on their way

Boko Haram thrives on the weakness of governments in the region of Lake Chad

SQUINT a little and the region skirting Lake Chad in central Africa resembles Mosul and Tikrit in northern Iraq: dried-out canals, scrubby plains, ragtag bands of Islamists with guns beneath an unrelenting sun. Thanks to satellite television, the long-suffering residents around the lake, which abutted Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria until it began to dry up and shrink over the past few decades (see map), have a rough understanding of what has happened recently in Iraq. They can imagine only too well being overrun by insurgents. Many see parallels between the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the savage group that has captured a string of Iraqi towns, and Boko Haram, the equally murderous Nigerian outfit that is striving to expand its base beyond its original area south-west of Lake Chad. The question everyone in the region is asking is whether the Nigerian bunch of beheaders can replicate the audacious territorial conquest of their Arab-led counterparts.

Strolling along what used to be the shoreline before it receded, Habib Yaba, a Chadian politician from Massakory, north-east of N’Djamena, the capital, points to a white pick-up truck of unknown provenance driving across the flat lake-bed from the west. The border there is unmarked. “Look how easy it is for anyone to roam around,” he says, and goes on to describe local Islamists as increasingly numerous, well-armed and ambitious. “They rely on religious as well as ethnic links that cross the lake. And they tap into the frustrations of our people.”

Gloomy youths standing in the shade of a nearby petrol station sound ambivalent towards Boko Haram. Most would rather have jobs than become religious marauders, but given the chance they may be tempted to join a group that is evidently successful. “Not many other winners here,” says one. Their parents, sitting in cement buildings littered across a treeless expanse, say they worry that their children will be receptive to recruitment drives by Boko Haram. They also report an increase in night-time traffic, which they blame on insurgent movements.

Regional governments are fully aware of the threat and have tried to counter it. Chad is sending ever more troops to the border. Checkpoints and military vehicles are visible on the roads outside N’Djamena, which is close to the lake. A sweating colonel wearing full battledress in the midday sun swears loudly while inspecting traffic near Bongor, a town close to the border with Cameroon, 200km (125 miles) south of N’Djamena.

Oil-rich Chad has one of the fiercest armies on the continent. It has deployed peacekeepers in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). Earlier this year its air force took delivery of three MIG-29 jets from Ukraine, an unusually sophisticated weapon by the standards of the region. Chad also has a batch of Russian-supplied combat helicopters.

But neighbouring countries are quite a bit feebler. Nigeria’s armed forces are plagued with corruption; its rates of desertion are high. Niger is poor even by regional standards and militarily unable to cope. The weakest link in the region, however, is Cameroon.

Nigeria closed its border with it in February and has called its government negligent. Unlike Chad and Niger, it does not allow troops from neighbouring countries the right of hot pursuit across its border. That may be partly because Cameroon and Nigeria lack an agreed frontier due to a long-running territorial dispute; the UN’s attempt to mark the 2,100km boundary, which cuts across mountains and deserts, may be the biggest project of its kind in the world. In May Cameroon at last deployed a thousand troops to the border region. Within weeks they had killed 40 fighters apparently allied to Boko Haram in Kousseri, on the border with Chad. More firefights have since taken place.

In May regional heads of state met in France in an attempt to boost military and intelligence co-operation. They are backed by other Western powers. Yet old animosities, linguistic differences between Anglo- and Francophone troops, and rampant theft and incompetence mean this will have a limited effect. A glum Western diplomat says, “If the Iraqi army, aided by America and Iran, cannot stop marauding Islamists, then…”

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based lobby, warned in April about Boko Haram activity in “weak countries poorly equipped to combat a radical Islamist armed group tapping into real governance, corruption, impunity and underdevelopment grievances shared by most people in the region.”

In May Boko Haram fighters attacked a camp of Chinese workers near Waza, in northern Cameroon, taking ten of them hostage. This was the group’s biggest operation across the border so far. Its fighters methodically cut off the electricity supply to the camp, then besieged it for five hours before overwhelming its armed guards. Sure enough, the Cameroonian cavalry failed to turn up.

FULL COMMENTARY (The Economist)

Photo: International Organization for Migration/flickr

25 Jul
Why overtime in nuclear talks with Iran is better than game over | Ali Vaez
Ali Vaez is Crisis Group’s Senior Iran Analyst.
After nearly three weeks of round-the-clock negotiations to achieve a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States, joined by its major allies Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China — the P5+1 — chose to extend the current agreement for four months and continue negotiations.
Skeptics in both the U.S. and Iran have already started accusing each other of negotiating in bad faith and seeking only to buy time. Some in the U.S. Congress are even trying to pass legislation that will torpedo the diplomatic process.
They are wrong. There are many reasons it was a wiser choice to extend these talks rather than quit and go home.
First, the talks were deadlocked mostly as a result of brinkmanship that stemmed from the looming July 20 deadline. Each party had put out maximalist opening gambits, dug its heels in and hoped that the other side would budge at the 11th hour. Each also incorrectly assumed that the other was desperate for a deal. Thus, no one blinked. With that miscalculation behind them, the parties can now pursue a more realistic, clear-eyed approach.
Second, the U.S. and Iran were smart not to be pressured into quickly concluding a bad deal, because ultimately only a good deal will be sustainable in the long run. It is preferable that negotiators take time to work through an accord’s complicated technical and political aspects and ensure that its implementation be as smooth as possible. It is better to continue negotiating than for a deal to ultimately collapse because the parties were rushed by an arbitrary deadline.
In addition, more time could help the main stakeholders, Iran and the U.S., prepare their people for a compromise. In the past few weeks, both sides publicly postured in order to strengthen their hand at the negotiating table. But with no agreement achieved, they only diminished their room for maneuvering. They must now walk back from the less realistic positions they took during their brinksmanship — lest domestic politics trump their national interests and nonproliferation norms. 
The fact that the process continues despite such major obstacles testifies to the parties’ desire to reach agreement. But while political will is essential, it is not enough. If Iran continues to insist that it wants to retain and eventually increase its enrichment capacity and the P5+1 insist that Tehran should roll back and constrain its program for decades, talks will go nowhere. Iran should show more flexibility on reducing its enrichment program in the agreement’s early phases, when its fuel needs would still be minimal, in return for flexibility on allowing the program’s gradual growth. Increases could be pegged to objective measures, such as the amount of time that the United Nations nuclear watchdog requires to give Iran’s nuclear program a clean bill of health. Instead of trying to force the other side to agree with their fixed positions, negotiators should strive to broaden available options, a process that needs time.
Finally, extending the talks is much better than the alternatives: a return to an escalating cycle of more sanctions and more centrifuges, an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran. At the very least, a breakdown now would reduce the chance of success later, as it would erode trust, discredit politicians who are deeply invested in diplomacy and harden positions.
The region and the world are better off thanks to the interim agreement that Iran and the world powers signed last year. The parties, despite the extra time added to the clock, might not be able to reach a compromise that protects everyone’s core interests, contains Iran’s nuclear program and rehabilitates the country’s economy and international standing. But with the costs of failure and the benefits of success so high, they should stay on the field. 
ORIGINAL COMMENTARY (Al Jazeera)
Photo: European External Action Service/flickr

Why overtime in nuclear talks with Iran is better than game over | Ali Vaez

Ali Vaez is Crisis Group’s Senior Iran Analyst.

After nearly three weeks of round-the-clock negotiations to achieve a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States, joined by its major allies Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China — the P5+1 — chose to extend the current agreement for four months and continue negotiations.

Skeptics in both the U.S. and Iran have already started accusing each other of negotiating in bad faith and seeking only to buy time. Some in the U.S. Congress are even trying to pass legislation that will torpedo the diplomatic process.

They are wrong. There are many reasons it was a wiser choice to extend these talks rather than quit and go home.

First, the talks were deadlocked mostly as a result of brinkmanship that stemmed from the looming July 20 deadline. Each party had put out maximalist opening gambits, dug its heels in and hoped that the other side would budge at the 11th hour. Each also incorrectly assumed that the other was desperate for a deal. Thus, no one blinked. With that miscalculation behind them, the parties can now pursue a more realistic, clear-eyed approach.

Second, the U.S. and Iran were smart not to be pressured into quickly concluding a bad deal, because ultimately only a good deal will be sustainable in the long run. It is preferable that negotiators take time to work through an accord’s complicated technical and political aspects and ensure that its implementation be as smooth as possible. It is better to continue negotiating than for a deal to ultimately collapse because the parties were rushed by an arbitrary deadline.

In addition, more time could help the main stakeholders, Iran and the U.S., prepare their people for a compromise. In the past few weeks, both sides publicly postured in order to strengthen their hand at the negotiating table. But with no agreement achieved, they only diminished their room for maneuvering. They must now walk back from the less realistic positions they took during their brinksmanship — lest domestic politics trump their national interests and nonproliferation norms. 

The fact that the process continues despite such major obstacles testifies to the parties’ desire to reach agreement. But while political will is essential, it is not enough. If Iran continues to insist that it wants to retain and eventually increase its enrichment capacity and the P5+1 insist that Tehran should roll back and constrain its program for decades, talks will go nowhere. Iran should show more flexibility on reducing its enrichment program in the agreement’s early phases, when its fuel needs would still be minimal, in return for flexibility on allowing the program’s gradual growth. Increases could be pegged to objective measures, such as the amount of time that the United Nations nuclear watchdog requires to give Iran’s nuclear program a clean bill of health. Instead of trying to force the other side to agree with their fixed positions, negotiators should strive to broaden available options, a process that needs time.

Finally, extending the talks is much better than the alternatives: a return to an escalating cycle of more sanctions and more centrifuges, an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran. At the very least, a breakdown now would reduce the chance of success later, as it would erode trust, discredit politicians who are deeply invested in diplomacy and harden positions.

The region and the world are better off thanks to the interim agreement that Iran and the world powers signed last year. The parties, despite the extra time added to the clock, might not be able to reach a compromise that protects everyone’s core interests, contains Iran’s nuclear program and rehabilitates the country’s economy and international standing. But with the costs of failure and the benefits of success so high, they should stay on the field. 

ORIGINAL COMMENTARY (Al Jazeera)

Photo: European External Action Service/flickr