On 17 December 2014, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, a UAE security official, announced that “security in the Gulf will continue to be immune to the events surrounding it”. Despite this reassurance, two recent instances of terrorism in Saudi Arabia and the UAE suggest that the threat of jihadist violence is now spreading to parts of the Middle East which are usually considered stable. Furthermore, what is especially notable is that Westerners seem to have been the victims of both of these attacks. These two examples suggest that expats and visitors from the West face a distinct exposure to this kind of risk, from groups of people with clear links to established terror organisations, as well as apparently lone operators acting on the inspiration of jihadist beliefs.read more
The price of benchmark Brent crude dropped to below US$65 a barrel on 10 December 2014, the lowest in five years after the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said it expected global demand for its crude next year to fall to its lowest level in more than a decade, far below the current output. Prices falling below US$100 a barrel, nearer a benchmark of US$80 in November 2014 was expected to see OPEC act to stabilise the market. The lack of impetus is a recognition that OPEC can’t be the swing producer, a role taken by the US and as a result it has decided that it will not cut production and will rely on nation states, oil buyers and consumers to attempt to rationalise the market and bring prices up themselves. Moreover, it is likely that the market will be oversupplied for the coming six to eighteen month period and crucially that the oil price will be lower for longer.
The Islamic State (IS) continues to dominate Western media discourse regarding the Syrian conflict, and it remains true that they are the preeminent, and most deadly extremist force in much of the north and east of the country. However, the incessant focus on IS has overshadowed the threat posed to local and regional stability by other militant groups involved in the war in Syria. These include Jabhat al Nusra (JaN), which is one of the most successful, well-trained and well-equipped of the myriad rebel groups that have sprung up during the conflict. JaN is arguably the primary armed movement in a number of key Syrian regions, including the north-western Idlib province, the mountainous Qalamoun area along the frontier with Lebanon, and the Quneitra/Deraa zone to the immediate east of the Golan. While sharing an almost identical and uncompromising extremist ideology with the IS (although with an arguably more limited focus), JaN is a very different animal, as it combines an ability to adjust its activities to local realities and power structures, with an willingness to work with others. This brief analysis will seek to outline the group’s genesis and growth, and to identify what it is that makes JaN so dangerous, particularly, its pragmatism and its efforts to remain receptive to other Syrian rebel organisations, on occasion even with its dire enemies. First, it is worth examining just how the extremist movement evolved out of the maelstrom of the Iraq war to become such a major player in Syria.read more
On 16 November 2014, a recording which presents itself as the latest execution video produced by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group surfaced on the Internet. As well as showing what appears to be the murder of a number of captives in graphic detail, the video also contains a direct threat to many of its viewers. In his London accent, the host tells the camera that “the Islamic State will soon, like your puppet David Cameron said, begin to slaughter your people in your streets”. During the video, the masked executioner gesticulates with a knife clutched in his hand, the fresh blood on its blade emphasising the apparent sincerity of the threat he makes. These latest words from the man beneath the black cloth mark a noteworthy new entry in a debate which has been taking place for some years.read more
The Islamic State (IS) has made headlines for many reasons – its ability to seize and control territory, its brutal tactics, its rapid expansion that has even brought it near the borders of states such as Turkey and Jordan. However, one of the fundamental factors that has allowed the IS to make such gains has been its ability to recruit foreign fighters from around the world. Recent US intelligence reportedly suggests that as many as 15,000 individuals from around the world have enlisted to fight with the IS in Iraq and Syria. Central to the recruitment of these individuals has been the Islamic State’s technologically-savvy and advanced use of a wide variety of media tools, including social networking sites, recruitment videos and the creation of its own glossy magazine and media centre. The IS is certainly not the first radical Islamist organisation to employ such tactics – Hezbollah is particularly known for its impressive command of media propaganda – however, the IS seems to have the most sophisticated command of such media tools compared to any other widely-recognised terrorist organisation.read more
As the body count continues to rise in Baghdad, the troubled security situation is causing great concern that the darkest days of sectarian mayhem – as witnessed throughout 2006 and 2007 – have returned. Shi’ite militias appear to be responsible for much of the bloodshed in the city, and are largely operating with impunity, employing many of the same tactics as the terrorist group that they are ostensibly fighting. These militias, which are strongly backed by Iran, have become one of the main fighting forces of the Baghdad Government, and are now believed to consist of well over 100,000 troops. Despite having played a key role in the campaign against the Islamic State (IS), the resurgence of the Shi’ite paramilitary forces is having a severe and negative impact on the stability of Iraq, particularly on its capital city.read more