Tag Archives: MENA

A New American-Iranian Strategic Algebra Equation? All Options Are Not On The Table………

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“Iran’s supreme leader said Monday there would be neither war nor negotiations with the United States, and that the country’s problems were the result of government mismanagement more than renewed sanctions. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments add to the pressure on President Hassan Rouhani following a collapse in the currency and widespread protests over high prices and corruption. They also appeared to rule out any hope of fresh talks with Washington, which US President Donald Trump had proposed after walking out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions. “Beside sanctions, they are talking about war and negotiations… let me say a few words to the people: THERE WILL BE NO WAR, NOR WILL WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE U.S.,” Khamenei said via his official Twitter account in English…….”

“Khamenei.ir
@khamenei_ir
Aug 13
Recently, U.S. officials have been talking blatantly about us. Beside sanctions, they are talking about war and negotiations. In this regard, let me say a few words to the people: THERE WILL BE NO WAR, NOR WILL WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE U.S….”

So, then: All Options Are Not On the Table, the Iranians are saying…..

A favorite American Middle East policy statement over the past decade or two has been the obvious threat that: “all options are on the table.

Meaning: you, an uncooperative foreign (always Middle Eastern) nation, do what we say OR we have other options to use against you. You agree with us or you get: war, regime change, missiles. That has been the jingoistic policy under George W Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

Now Trump has in effect declared and is waging an economic war of choice against a country that has never attacked the United States. Mainly at the behest of a couple of other influential foreign regimes and the domestic lobbyists of these foreign regimes (rich tail wagging greedy dog).

Yet Ali Khemenai now claims to have unilaterally changed the American policy toward his country, he has unilaterally taken the big “STICK” out of the equation, just as the Trump administration has unilaterally taken the international “CARROT” out of the Nuclear Deal equation by re-imposing and tightening an economic blockade of Iran.

Thus Khamenei has resorted to, nay adopted, another American foreign policy jargon: exceptionalism. Iranian foreign policy exceptionalism now facing American foreign policy exceptionalism.

No fuzzy Math there. You reduce one variable on one side of an algebraic equation, the other side must reduce a variable from the other side of the equation. To maintain the mathematical equilibrium and accuracy.


So: ALL OPTIONS ARE NOT ON THE TABLE
Or so the Iranians think, and hope……

Or so the Arab oil potentates and absolute princes (and the Likudniks) fear…….

One of them can be wrong….

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

ICYMI: Your Friendly Neighborhood Taliban Cutthroats Are Not Terrorists!……

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“U.S. Officials Hold Direct Peace Talks with the Taliban…..U.S. diplomats have held direct peace talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the ongoing 17-year U.S. war in Afghanistan. The New York Times reports the Trump administration is urging U.S.-backed Afghan troops to retreat from rural areas and focus on protecting Kabul and other major cities. The Times also reports this strategy will likely ensure the Taliban remains in control of vast stretches of the countryside, where the majority of Afghans live……”

“To the U.S., the Afghan Taliban is largely an insurgency with control over vast swaths of territory and aspirations to govern the country, while its Pakistani offspring is considered nothing but a terrorist organization. But the real reason the Afghan Taliban is not on the list has more to do with political considerations than whether or not it meets the statutory criteria for a terrorist designation……..”

Interesting. The Taliban were the worst terror organization/group in the Muslim World for years. Until ISIS, an offshoot of their Al Qaeda allies and partners, showed up. They have been responsible for, or cooperated in, killing thousands of Americans (along with their Wahhabi-Salafist allies). More than any other terrorist group ever. They cooperated in direct attacks on the American homeland during 9/11, something nobody else has done, none of the alleged threats like Hezbollah or Hamas or even Gaddi’s Libya or Saddam Hussein. Their Pakistani Taliban branch was designated as a terrorist group, but not the Afghan headquarters which tormented Afghanistan, aided and sheltered Al Qaeda before and during the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The Afghan mother branch is now treated almost like the neighborhood sweet girl-next-door branch.

I believe the Taliban were never listed as a terrorist organization/group for two other deeper reasons. You see:

  • They are an offshoot of the Islamist Mujahideen of Afghanistan, created by Saudi money and American weapons in the 1980s to harass the Soviet/Russian forces supporting the secular leftist government in that country. After the Soviets and the secular regime departed, the Mujahideen, including the Taliban, proceeded to destroy Afghanistan. It is effectively a Saudi-Salafi-Western baby, a hometown chicken that came home to roost across the wider Middle East and North Africa and beyond.
  • The Taliban are not Middle Eastern, they are not involved in Middle East politics, so no Petro-Arab/AIPAC lobbyists are after them in the United States, spending money and applying political pressure, buying politicians, pundits, and prominent think-tanks. Unlike other more official organizations in, say Iran or Lebanon or Yemen or Gaza, etc. Who are not so generous, or so accommodating. For example…..

Capisce?

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Iran at a Brezhnev Crossroad: an Aging Revolution, a Younger Unhappy Population, a Sistani Alternative…….

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On the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted this:
” @khamenei_ir
Dear prideful nation of #Iran! The greatness of your gatherings today, which, according to precise calculations, was more populated and morepassionate than previous years, was a resolute response to the enemies and oath-breakers….”
“Relying on their distorted false perceptions of Iran and Iranians, the enemies had spent all their propaganda efforts on trying to turn this year’s revolution celebration frigid or probably anti-revolution. You’ve exhibited the livelihood & dynamism of the revolution in practice…..”
Feb 11, 2018

This year’s anniversary of the last of the great popular revolutions of the twentieth century has been surrounded with interesting domestic developments. We know what happened with the other two revolutions, in Russia and China. In Russia they openly gave up on the ideology; in China they still pretend that the Communist system of Chairman Mao exists, but only as a means to legitimize one-party rule of a new oligarchy. In Iran, Ali Khamenei is trying to keep the flames of the old aging revolution alive. Did I leave out Cuba?

In a nation that is younger and wants more freedoms, more accountability, in an age of spreading social media and access to opinion. What to do?
Violent repression, for example Egyptian Sisi style, will not work anymore in Iran. During the recent protests a few weeks ago, many of the security forces were noticeably sympathetic to the protests. More subtle forms of protest continue. There will be more periodic protests; for years now people have been testing the limits of the freedoms allowed. And these limits have also expanded.

There has been gradual and incremental but unannounced openness by the regime, forced by the people. Giving in more publicly and at once will eventually open the floodgates to more encroachment of the feared global culture, and more demands for more openness and more freedoms.

What to do? Perhaps a Chinese solution? But the Chinese regime is now agnostic: politically Communist in the name of the one ruling party; economically and socially capitalistic and oligarchic to boot.

The Iranian ayatollahs pride themselves on some kind of “purity”, along the model of the old stubborn Soviet regime in the Brezhnev era, when all the revolutionary thrill was gone from the younger generation. But Iran is not a Soviet-style closed system: freedom of travel and emigration has never been curtailed. Social media thrive, as do international satellite television. Expatriate non-political Iranian exiles are freely allowed back into the country. All that has allowed a sort of safety valve but also created demands for more.

Rouhani is trying some short-term solutions. But that would only underline the need for a longer-term deal between the people and their government. The weak point is the position of the Supreme Leader. Chairman Mao is dead in China, but Ayatollah Khamenei is an unelected veto-holder. He is in a way selected by an elected assembly created to gate-keep access to power. But even so, he shares power with various other centers of power: the elected president of the republic (Rouhani), the elected and contentious parliament that takes its powers very seriously, other various senior clerics (more senior than Khamenei).

Then there is the ultimate theological marja’iya (last recourse in Shi’a theological matters) located in Najaf (Iraq). Najaf, where Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani is located, is like the Rome for Shi’a Muslims.

Ali Sistani does not support the idea of rule by the clergy, nor do many others, possibly most Shi’as. It is unlikely that this political ideology chasm between Najaf and Tehran/Qom will ever be closed on Tahran’s terms. If there is a closing, it will be Tehran and Qom moving closer to the Najaf school of thought in governing. A largely Islamic but diverse state with elected civilian non-clerical rule. That was the case in Iran under Mossadegh until August 1953, when his overthrow was engineered by Western intelligence agencies (CIA and British intelligence).

Iran has had at least one case of a Gorbachev in the past four decades. Khatami was paralysed by a conservative parliament, and the Supreme Leader. Rouhani may manage things better, but he has only a couple of years left of his presidency.

Meanwhile, the people, especially in the cities, will continue to chip away at the restrictions imposed by the clerics. The trend towards more openness will continue and accelerate; unless Donald Trump is talked by the hawks in the US Senate/Congress and by the Israeli likud and a couple of despotic Arab kings to start a new war. That will immediately lead to consolidation in Tehran. It happened before when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq started the eight-year war. He lost, but so did the people of Iran.

Oh, and forget about the regime change nonsense being peddled by frustrated hawks and chickenhawks in the USA. Remember: the 1953 Western intervention led to the current situation…….

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Image Problem of Arab Regimes: from Incredibly Mediocre to Incredibly Criminal……..

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“DUBAI: An Arab News panel discussion held on Tuesday proposed solutions to the Middle East’s image problem in the West, as new research emerged illustrating the severity of the US “knowledge gap” about the region. The panel, held at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, detailed the importance of cultural diplomacy, effective government communication and the importance of student exchange programs in boosting awareness…….” Arab News (Saudi)

Sometimes I suspect that the ruling Arab oligarchs can never learn. In fact I am convinced that they can never learn about some issues. So many of these media events are staged, all blaming outsiders (the West) for the lousy image Arabs have.
I’ve got news for them, but I suspect they already know: the blame lies squarely with the Arab ruling classes. They are almost uniformly oppressive. At best these ruling classes are incredibly mediocre, at worst they are incredibly criminal (including many regimes perceived as being allies of the West).

So this panel, and many other events before it and after it, all seek ways to to improve the “image” of Arabs in the world. Meaning to improve the image of Arab regimes: the potentates, princes, and dictators. Arab regimes, mostly corrupt and repressive, confuse the image of their countries with their own image.
Such staged media events are part of a “real” and not just perceived Arab problem. The “image” is bad because the “reality” as imposed by the ruling oligarchs is bad. Staged media events or highly-paid lobbyists in Washington and London cannot hide the reality.
Arab regimes and their controlled media want to change the image without changing the reality. Getting rid of the symptom will not cure the illness. Morphine makes the pain go away but only for a while. The disease outlasts the patient if a serious “cure” is not applied.


How about ending the wold-class repression and corruption: that should go a long way towards improving the “image” of Arab oligarchs.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Donald Trump’s Brief Airborne Syrian Fling: My Fatwa for Next Year………

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President Trump has managed to gather some sort of consensus, at least within the media and among politicians, around his brief air-war fling with Syria. As usual in the initial phase of a military action, both parties and the media have managed to praise his action, in some cases for fear of looking unpatriotic or “too outlier” (fear of bullying is not confined to school children).

Soon they will be asking: what next? What? No more? Especially cable media will go through severe withdrawal symptoms, being used to some thirty years of covering (ad nauseam) non-stop foreign wars. Some are already beginning to ask the question. Then the absolute rulers of the allied Muslim countries will push him to support a “democratic” Syria (where power can be shared between the Wahhabi Salafists attached to Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood attached to Turkey’s strongman Erdogan). A claustrophobic democratic experience they would never allow their own peoples to enjoy. Apparently Trump has been listening to the potentates lately, and he seems to be impressed.

My guess? My Fatwa: sometime well before the summer of 2018, Democrats will look back and say that Trump did his Syrian fling in order to divert attention from “other” more pressing “America First” issues he could not handle. The quick disenchantment happened with LBJ, Bush (pere et fils), and perhaps others.

A one-week apparent success (meaning no American casualties) while his foes’ knives are being temporarily hidden. Foreign action trumps domestic failure, but only for a while (just ask George H W Bush who presided over the end of the Soviet Union and a swift American victory in the Persian Gulf War).
The infrastructure will still need to be dealt with, and Trump may soon have some Obama-style stonewalling by the Republican Congress on the required spending. Then there is Healthcare, then a mechanism to keep and create jobs inside the USA, then a mechanism to encourage young people to enroll in STEM education (preferably within the excellent traditional mode of a broad American undergraduate college education that we all enjoyed).

The risk is that America First may become America Later. Looks like George Dubya Bush was right: being US president is a hard job……

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

America and the Saudis: Current ‘Operations’ in Yemen and Syria to Become the Next Endless War………

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“Yemen is a war inside a war inside another war, right next to & overlapping several other wars”  Me

“The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQ) is stronger than it has ever been. As the country’s civil war has escalated and become regionalised, its local franchise, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy. Reversing this trend requires ending the conflict that set it in motion. This means securing an overarching political settlement that has buy-in from the country’s diverse constituencies, including Sunni Islamists. As this will take time, steps must be taken now to contain AQAP’s growth……..” Crisis Group

“The attack (in Aden) struck troops loyal to the airport’s chief of security, who had refused to accept a government order that he be replaced. The incident was yet another sign of the inability of Yemen’s internationally recognized government to enforce order. But it was the first time its allies, the coalition of mostly Gulf Arab states, had intervened militarily in power struggles within the Yemeni armed forces. The Saudi-led coalition has launched thousands of air strikes against the government’s foes, the Iran-allied Houthis, in a campaign to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. It helped wrest Aden from the Houthis, who control the capital, Sanaa, in the summer of 2015……….” Reuters

During his first week on the job White House spokesman Sean Spicer claimed that Iranian forces had fired missile at the US Navy from Yemen on the Red Sea. An un-truth, since there are no Iranian forces in Yemen: the only foreign forces in Yemen are with the Saudi coalition. Actually the Yemeni Houthis who control the capital and North Yemen had fired a missile (or was it a Yemeni drone that fired) at a Saudi warship that had been shelling their coastal towns. The Saudis claimed it was a suicide attack against one of their ‘peaceful warships’ (you don’t need to read Orwell to speak Orwellian).

This week, on Monday, President Trump had a lunch meeting with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. He is the king’s son and widely expected future king, if his dad can swing it before he dies. He is also the minister of defense and architecture of the War on Yemen, a quagmire which just entered its third year. The Yemen war has enabled AQAP to expand in spite of American drone attacks. The war also introduced Islamic State (Daesh/ISIS) into Southern Arabia.

It is likely the Prince may have talked Trump into a more vigorous America role in the Saudi war on Yemen. Perhaps a more direct US role, this time not against the Jihadis, but against the coalition ruling most of Yemen. Which would be an act of desperation, since the Saudis have some of the best and most lethal American and British weapons and could not defeat the lightly armed Houthis and their allies ruling Sanaa. It would be just another never-ending Muslim war. Another twilight war.

The announcement indicated the Saudis will invest $ 200 billion in the United States (presumably new money). The prince also is quoted as having said that he supports the Muslim Travel Ban and that “Trump is a true friend of Muslims“. Such shameless groveling may indicate they got something from Trump: perhaps a promise to inch closer to the Mother of All Muslim Wars, a war of choice against Iran. That should be a doozy: it will certainly last through Trump’s tenure and will define his so-far unpromising legacy. The Prince may have gotten promises related to Syria, particularly Eastern Syria, or Iraq or Lebanon: risky promises the inexperienced Trump could have made in the absence of his secretaries of State and Defense.

As for Yemen, it is not “a” war, it  is a complex set of parallel and intersecting wars. I once called it “a war inside a war inside another war, right next to & overlapping several other wars”. Now even the Saudi proxies (mostly Islah Muslim Brotherhood and allies) and the UAE proxies are fighting each other. You get into Yemen, you get involved in all these wars and sub-wars. You can’t pick and choose in such a battlefield.

And you get stuck, losing soldiers and money, a lot of money, just like the Saudis have for more than two years, so far. Like Afghanistan all over again, only a fiercer war.

Back to the promise of $200 billion Saudi investments. I am not sure they can afford this when they are cutting back on their domestic spending. Maybe by moving funds from their sovereign fund that SAMA manages. And can you imagine Donald Trump touting it in, say Tennessee or Alabama, bragging to his Muslim-challenged ‘base’ they he’s gotten Muslims (and Wahhabis at that) to pay out hundreds of billions?

Interesting times coming soon to a war theater far away from you.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

IDEX and MAGA in MENA: How Arab Regimes Buy More Weapons to Kill Other Arabs……

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Arab kids in IDEX candy store…

“The world’s largest military fair is wrapping up in the United Arab Emirates. The IDEX exhibition attracts mainly African, Arab and Asian officials who are shopping for weapons. For defence companies at the fair, it’s a highly lucrative market. Never since the end of the Cold War have countries spent so much on defence, with deals worth a total of 100 billion dollars signed worldwide last year. Our correspondents report from Abu Dhabi…….”

They call it IDEX (the International Defense Exhibition), but much of it is not defensive. It is a new form of Newspeak. Most of those Arabs who buy the weapons have not been attacked by anyone in recent history, at least not in a quarter century. Those few who have been directly attacked were attacked by other Arab regimes (let’s leave Israel out of the equation here: these weapons are aimed at other Muslim/Arab states). Many of the rich Arab buyers are actively involved in wars in other poorer Arab countries. Some of these oligarchies are also stockpiling weapons to help repress their own people’s aspirations. Western weapons bought by Arabs from foreign “friends” to kill other Arabs.

Sometimes the local potentates get “commissions” from weapons deals (an important consideration). In some cases the weapons purchases are used to exert political influence on the exporting Western governments (British governments have been easy targets for such blackmail, and occasionally the French as well).

As Donald Trump would say or tweet (but he won’t in this case): Sad! So Sad! …….While he runs to the bank.

According to SIPRI data:
Saudi Arabia ‘s share was second largest world weapons importer: 7% of total international arms imports in 2011-2015 (compared to 2.1% in 2006-2010). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) share was fourth largest weapons importer: 4.6% in 2011-2015 (compared to 3.9% in 2006-2010). Each imported more than much bigger countries. But then one of these two Arab states (Saudi Arabia) has been engaged in indirect wars in Syria and Iraq and both are engaged directly in Yemen (active air and land war against local Yemeni forces). Saudis were the largest importers of total American arms exports (9.7% in 2011-2015), while the UAE were the second largest (9.1%).

Some of these Arab-bought weapons find their way into the killing fields of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Possibly other places as well. In an era when revenues are declining and poverty expands even in petroleum-producing countries. Helping Make Arabia Great Again.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

 

Bibi and Donald and Adele and Forcible Dates: Is the Thrill Gone Already?…………..

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Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu is coming to Washington this week. Meetings of world leaders with Netanyahu remind me of younger days and dating days. Sometimes the thrill is gone from the get go, from the first time. Sometimes afterwards she (usually) or he realizes they would not want a repeat.
In world politics it is that way too, except that these diplomatic dates are almost like “forcible dates”. If one lasts eight years as a leader he/she would have to keep on dating him or her often.

George W Bush kept his meetings with Netanyahu to a minimum: he already knew exactly what his date would say. Which always takes the thrill out of any date. Clearly Obama did not want a repeat after his first date with Netanyahu, but he had no choice: eight years in office is a long time. I doubt any world leader ever looks forward to meeting him. (American Congressmen and Senators are not world leaders, they are more like star-struck Bibi-groupies. Or maybe they can’t get another date with so many resources).

In fairness, almost all other Middle East leaders are also like Bibi in that respect: they all think others are thrilled to hear them whine out their wisdom.

I suspect, as some comments in the media have noted this week, that Donald and Bibi will start taking many bathroom breaks during their very first date this week. A real date is not like a long-distance post-election telephone date, you don’t see and hear the warts (a rude person would add that you don’t use your olfactory faculties).

Mr. Netanyahu is at a bigger disadvantage here when he meets Trump this week. He really has no new case to make anymore. The US Congress, both houses and almost both parties, have been making the case for him for several years. The Senators and Congressmen have made his visit to Washington redundant, just a cosmetic thing. A photo-op. Sort of like watching Beyonce and Adele walk and pause on the Red Carpet: it has nothing to do with the prize…..

But eye candy is much more pleasing to look at than older men plotting to step into the next military quagmire……

Cheers

M H Ghuloum

Advice Netanyahu Can Give President Trump: on Healthcare, Funding Free Abortion, and War……

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Forget about waging new wars against more Muslim nations or sanctioning more Muslim countries. That will surely be on Mr. Benyamin Netanyahu’s agenda as well when he arrives in Washington  next month, part of the snake-oil he has been trying to sell for years. The Bushes and Obama thwarted him. They looked into his eyes and saw the weasel that members of Congress could not see. What else could they see?

But that was then.
The Republican Party, post-Bush, is now effectively a sub-branch of the Likud alliance in Israel. Netanyahu is the new prophet of the American right. But at home, in domestic Israeli policy, he is further to the left of many American Democrats. Especially in matters of public healthcare and funding abortion (almost certainly with some funds voted by the rabidly pro-life American Congress).

Mr. Netanyahu can do the American people and President Trump a great service in other ways, all based on the Israeli experience. Like explain the benefits of the “right” of every Israeli to public Healthcare. Like the public funding of abortion (free abortion partly funded by American money). Republicans and the likes of Joe Lieberman consider that public health policy socialistic even though all industrial countries in Europe have that as well. The much-cited European right would never dream of taking away the public healthcare option: in that it is to the left of many U.S Democrats.

Among other useful examples of how Netanyahu can be useful to a US president, for once in his life.

In addition to the expected inevitable attempt of pushing a new stupid war against a new Muslim country.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Post-Mosul Future of MENA Wars: Our Week of Escalated Bombings in Islamistan….

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Recent events of this past week point to the possible future of political developments in the Middle East and North Africa:

  • In Turkey, we saw Yet another huge terrorist bombing in the largest historic city of the country. More fallout from Mr. Erdogan’s Syrian and Iraqi adventures. Another terrorist bombing in Istanbul: at least 39 dead, many more wounded.
  • In Egypt, the terror campaign has dramatically escalated, and well beyond the Sinai Peninsula. First a group of security officers were bombed yesterday. Then today, Sunday, a new first: the largest Church of the country, the Orthodox Coptic headquarters of their Pope was bombed, killing more than 25, wounding more. A serious and dangerous escalation in a country on the brink of confessional and sectarian breakdown. Just imagine a Syria or an Iraq with three times the population.
  • In Yemen, a terrorist bombing attack in Aden reportedly killed at least 50. Reportedly the “victims” mostly soldiers and security of the deposed Hadi regime.
  • In Syria and Iraq the killing just goes on. Daily bombings of civilian targets in Iraqi towns continue. Mostly Shi’a targets, but not exclusively so (twin bombings in mostly-Sunni Fallujah today). Thus feeding the Salafist Wahhabi goal of fanning sectarian flames.

Further away from the MENA region: More killings in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Pakistan.

This seems like a harbinger of an escalation of acts of terrorism well beyond Iraq and Syria and Sinai. Now almost any Muslim country is a target. Possibly an indication of a strategic shift among Jihadis from holding territory back to more spectacular violent acts of terrorism. A sign of a post-Mosul and post-Raqqa strategy of the Jihadis?
Very likly….
Cheers

M Haider Ghuloum