China Sharpens Tone Against U.S. Policy, Deepening Ties in Syria

Wang Yi, China's Foreign Minister at the Supporting Syria conference (2016).

Wang Yi, China’s Foreign Minister at the Supporting Syria conference (2016).

“…The United States has not stopped looting Syrian local resources…”

Chinese rhetoric toward the U.S. presence in Syria has recently sharpened, signaling a further convergence of narratives with Russia criticizing U.S. involvement in Syria while possibly hinting at greater Chinese involvement in the Levant.  Until recently, China’s criticism had largely been muted and vaguely worded, in contrast to the more direct accusations made by Syrian and Russian government officials and media outlets.  The excerpted article from the Arabic-language version of the Chinese state-run publication The People’s Daily is illustrative, alluding to a U.S. policy of “frantic piracy and resource looting” in Syria and beyond.  The article reinforces statements made by Chinese diplomats and is one of several pieces published in Arabic-language Chinese media highlighting the U.S.-facilitated transfer of oil from Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria across the border into Iraq.  The Chinese emphasis on “looting” echoes a narrative that has been pursued by Russian and Syrian officials for several months, partially in response to the Western emphasis on Russia’s control over Ukrainian resources.  Thus, China’s new approach reflects a narrative convergence with Russia, one that may portend greater coordination between these countries in the Levant.  

Meanwhile, China is working on telecommunications development that would further enable its rhetoric and influence with Syria.  In early 2022, Syria officially signed on to the Belt and Road Initiative, potentially setting the stage for greater Chinese economic involvement in the country.  In late July, the two countries signed a letter of intent for China to furnish $30 million dollars of telecommunications equipment and software for Syria to rebuild its tattered network in war-torn areas of the country.  As portrayed in an article from the pro-regime Syrian daily al-Watan, the agreement is a further landmark of deepening bilateral ties.  An analyst cited by the Qatar-aligned daily al-Araby al-Jadeedascribes security significance to the deal, arguing that it is for “listening and jamming devices,” though no evidence is presented to back this claim.  The deal could indeed be the start of greater Chinese involvement in Syria’s technological sector, though the modest sums involved belie the idea that it is of great consequence.  Nonetheless, media coverage of the deal highlights a growing pattern of magnification of the significance of any Chinese aid or assistance.  A good example of this comes from a recent report by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research, a Syria-focused research consultancy group.  The report notes that even though Syria received more than triple the number of COVID-19 vaccines from the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative than it did from China, Syria’s official news agency published at least 38 articles praising Chinese assistance, and only one reference to the COVAX aid.   


“تعليق: سرقة النفط والقمح من سوريا .. حقيقة سيناريو الديمقراطية وحقوق الانسان الامريكي في الشرق الأوسط 

(Theft of oil and wheat from Syria .. The reality of the American democracy and human rights scenario in the Middle East),” China People’s Daily – Arabic (Chinese daily), 8 August 2022.

In recent years, the United States has engaged in frantic piracy and looting of resources in the Middle East…  The United States has not stopped looting Syrian local resources since it stationed itself by force in the name of “fighting terrorism” in 2015.


“سورية والصين توقعان على مشروع لتوريد تجهيزات خاصة بالاتصالات والبرمجيات بقيمة 30 مليون دولار …  

(China and Syria agree on project to supply communications and software equipment worth $30 million…),” al-Watan (pro-regime Syrian daily), 21 July 2022. 

The Chinese ambassador also revealed that China’s $30 million grant for the supply of telecommunications technology equipment — which was preceded about a month ago by the grant of 100 Chinese buses — will be followed in the coming days by the arrival of a new batch of Chinese food aid, including wheat and rice…  In turn, the head of the Planning and International Cooperation Authority, Fadi Salti Al-Khalil… referred to the memorandum of understanding that was signed with the Chinese side at the beginning of this year for Syria’s accession to the Belt and Road Initiative… 


“الصين تزود النظام السوري بمعدات وبرمجيات اتصالات 

 (China supplies Syrian regime with software and telecommunications equipment),” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari aligned daily), 20 July 2022.  

Meanwhile, economic researcher Younes al-Karim said in an interview with al-Araby al-Jadeed that the Chinese communication equipment announced today is likely to be “military, not civilian.” Al-Karim said that “the agreement is not new, it was revealed a while ago, and it is related to bringing in military listening and jamming devices.

Source: “China in Syria: Aid and Trade Now, Influence and Industry Later?,” Center for Operational Analysis and Research – COAR (Syria-focused research consultancy), 11 July 2022.  

As of February 2022, Syria has received more than 8.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the WHO-supported COVAX facility, while China has committed an estimated 2.6 million vaccine doses.  As of early May 2022, SANA had published no fewer than 38 articles referencing Chinese bilateral support for COVID-related measures, noting that it “has spared no effort” to support Syria throughout the pandemic.  By comparison, SANA had referenced the (largely Western) WHO-supported COVAX facility only once.

Image Information:

Image: Wang Yi, China’s Foreign Minister at the Supporting Syria conference (2016).
Source: DFID – UK Department for International Development, Flickr,  
Attribution: CC BY 2.0

Algerian Media Dismissive of Morocco-Israel Security Cooperation

IAI Harop UAV at Paris Air Show 2013.

IAI Harop UAV at Paris Air Show 2013.

“China controls 80 to 90 percent of global capacity. This is an extremely dominant position for a country at a time when everyone is trying to expand.”

Security cooperation between Morocco and Israel has expanded rapidly since the two countries formalized relations as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords.  As reported in the Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, the two militaries will institutionalize regular joint training and education programs.  In addition, Morocco has agreed to purchase Israeli weapons systems, including the BARAK MX Integrated Air & Missile Defense System, Heron unmanned aerial vehicles, and Harop loitering munitions[RG1] .  Seeking to bolster its domestic defense industry with Israeli know-how, Morocco is set to eventually manufacture Harop munitions domestically. 

Against this backdrop, Algerian media outlets have been dismissive of the extent to which deepening Israeli-Moroccan security links will shift the balance of military power in North Africa.  A recent opinion article in the Algerian daily El Chorouk interprets Moroccan outreach to Israel as a sign of desperation and insecurity within Morocco’s ruling elite, due to both regional strategic challenges and uncertainty over royal succession.  In this view, Israel is the only party willing to “rescue Morocco from Algeria’s military power,” something that in the author’s view it will not accomplish.  Algerian pundits may be dismissive of Morocco’s growing power, but Algerian military leaders are undoubtedly paying attention to the challenge of the Israel-Morocco security partnership. 


“كيف يستفيد المغرب من التجربة الإسرائيلية؟ 

(How does Morocco benefit from the Israeli experience?),” al-Sharq al-Awsat (influential Saudi daily), 22 July 2022.

Kochavi’s visit to Morocco resulted in a series of technical and strategic agreements between the two armies and the two governments. At the core of them is cooperation in various security fields, as well as an active and persistent exchange of experiences, including study exchanges and joint training of combat units throughout the year… Morocco also agreed to buy a set of [Harop kamikaze drones] and to start manufacturing them domestically…


“الصهاينة لنجدة المخزن ضدّ قوة الجزائر العسكرية

(Zionism to rescue the Makhzen from Algeria’s military force),” El Chorouk (Algerian daily), 9 August 2022.

As for its dispute with Algeria, it led Morocco to an accelerating arms race in which it was difficult to keep pace with its eastern neighbor, leaving it far behind due to the strength of the latter’s resources, in contrast to the scarcity of Moroccan resources… [Morocco] has found no refuge except in the Zionist entity, which cannot provide what Rabat is looking for.

Image Information:

Image: IAI Harop UAV at Paris Air Show 2013
Source: Julian Herzog,
Attribution: CC 4.0

African Stances on the Russia-Ukraine War Demonstrate Reliance on, Antipathy Toward West

 “The West wants its African partners to share its condemnation of Russia. African states meanwhile cling to their monopoly on victimhood and historical resentment of Western domination in world affairs.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, official reactions from African nations have varied.  For instance, the March 2022 UN vote to condemn Russian aggression showed that 27 African states voted for the resolution, one state (Eritrea) voted against, 17 abstained, and nine more were absent for the vote.  As commentary from the respected Pan-African Institute for Security Studies lays out, the range of African reactions to the war is guided by logics not always appreciated from the outside.

First, and most important, the authors underscore that the continent’s 54 states are in no way a monolithic bloc and would not share a singular, unified viewpoint of the war given their varying goals, positions in international society, and international alliances.  Second, the authors note that African states are not affected by the war in the same ways.  While extreme food shortages were felt in certain states throughout the continent as a result of Russian blockades of grain and fertilizer, for many African countries, these issues “[don’t] compare with the Western aid that enables African countries to function.”  Third, the authors note that the war has been a litmus test bringing to light variations in African states’ interpretations of the international system.  Certain African states seek to maintain the Western “rules-based” order, and thus find more sympathy with Ukraine.  Conversely, other African states, with lingering antipathy to a global order in which they view themselves to be marginalized, are thus more sympathetic with revisionist, non-rule-abiding states like Russia. The authors sum up their assessments, saying: “Western surprise at most African countries’ limited emotion towards Russia’s invasion, and Africa’s neutral stance, point to a self-centeredness on both sides.  The West wants its African partners to share its condemnation of Russia.  African states meanwhile cling to their monopoly on victimhood and historical resentment of Western domination in world affairs.” 


Paul-Simon Handy and Félicité Djilo, “Unpacking Africa’s Divided Stance on the Ukraine War,” Institute for Security Studies (pan-African think tank), 12 August 2022.  

“African votes in the United Nations (UN) on the war revealed sharp divisions between countries… The high number of abstentions was widely interpreted as a sign of Russian influence or evidence of the growing anti-Westernism of African governments and citizens.  This view wrongly assumes that Africa is a political monolith.  It also suggests an underlying expectation by the West that states on the continent should align with them because of the West’s pre-eminence in development and humanitarian aid, and their shared historical past. 

Western surprise at most African countries’ limited emotion towards Russia’s invasion, and Africa’s neutral stance, point to a self-centredness on both sides.  The West wants its African partners to share its condemnation of Russia. African states meanwhile cling to their monopoly on victimhood and historical resentment of Western domination in world affairs. 

How do African states benefit from proclaiming non-alignment?  Although the conflict reveals the extent of the continent’s dependence on grain and fertiliser from Ukraine and Russia, it doesn’t compare with the Western aid that enables African countries to function.  The increasing price of hydrocarbons is affecting Africa’s most fragile states.  While European countries imposed sanctions against Russia despite the costs to their energy supplies, many African countries feel less able to adopt a principled and values-based foreign policy. 

The divide, however, runs deeper – extending to perceptions about the international order itself.  Western states defend a rules-based system in which they are pre-eminent.  African states have a more cynical view of a global order whose rules seem to be determined by the West.  This difference in outlook may explain Africa’s leniency towards Russia, even though the latter has violated a cardinal AU principle on territorial integrity. 

African states’ position is not without contradictions – which isn’t surprising given the many norms and values on a continent of 54 states.  They aspire to an international order based on rules, not force, while at the same time sympathizing with Russia and China, which challenge this order for different reasons.”  

Venezuela Plays Host to China, Russia, and Iran in International Military Games

Venezuelan tanks during a military parade.

Venezuelan tanks during a military parade.

 “This week, Venezuela will become the first country in the Americas to host military competitions organized by Russia, known as the Army Games.” 

For the first time, the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela played host to Russia’s International Army Games.  The event, held in the city of Barquisimeto in Lara state, was a kind of “Olympics” of war games, according to an article in U.S. government-operated Spanish- language Voz de América.  While the Venezuelan armed forces have participated six times in Russia’s International Army Games, the list of participating countries coupled with the location in the Western Hemisphere presents a direct challenge to the United States, according to the article.  Furthermore, an article in left-leaning Argentine daily Clarín notes that the International Army Games began just one day after annual military exercises sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command.  The newspaper highlights Russia’s traditional role as a security provider to Venezuela, as well as its desire to show strength in the Western Hemisphere.  The International Army Games demonstrate Venezuela’s continuing desire to be considered a serious power and U.S. adversary in the Western Hemisphere.  They also demonstrate Russia’s enduring interest in projecting power in Latin America and the Caribbean and to blunt diplomatic isolation on the world stage.  Lastly, these military exercises are likely to further the interoperability of participating militaries with principal adversaries such as Russia, China, and Iran.  


“Olimpíadas de la Guerra’ en Venezuela pueden  generar ‘celo y vigilancia’ en la region (War Olympics’ in Venezuela can generate ‘zeal and vigilance’ in the region),” Voz de América (the Spanish-language version of the state-owned media outlet), 9 August 2022.   

This week, Venezuela will become the first country in the Americas to host military competitions organized by Russia, known as the Army Games… The Russian Ministry of Defense… has organized these military sports annually since August 2015.  They usually last a couple of weeks and spokesmen close to the Kremlin refer them as the “Olympics of War”…The Army Games 2022 are being held in a context of worldwide condemnation of the Vladimir Putin government for its armed attack on Ukraine. 

Source“Rusia, China e Irán lanzan sus ‘juegos de guerra’ para desafiar a Estados Unidos en Venezuela (Russia, China and Iran launch their ‘war games’ to challenge the United States in Venezuela),” Clarín (left leaning daily in Argentina), 10 August 2022.  

The war and hunger games come together in Venezuela.  Live and direct military competitions with Russia, China, and Iran will be held from August 13 to 27 to challenge the United States in the city of Barquisimeto, Lara state, in the northwest of the country, while the streets have been heating up with the protests of the teachers affected by “starvation wages”…Vladimir Putin, whose armed invasion of Ukraine is in its sixth month, aims to demonstrate Russia’s military strength in the Latin America and Caribbean area.  

Image Information:

Image caption:  Venezuelan tanks during a military parade 
Source:[RG1] _VEN.jpg 
Attribution: CCA-SA 2.0

India Draws Lessons on Cyber and Electronic Effects From the War in Ukraine 

GSLV-Mk III-D1 being moved from Vehicle Assembly Building to second launch pad.

GSLV-Mk III-D1 being moved from Vehicle Assembly Building to second launch pad.

While national R&D is focused in this field, the Indian Army is closely watching the advancements made by our adversaries, to ensure that these vital capabilities are inducted into our armed forces well ahead of times

The Indian Army has been focused on a possible conflict with China since the border incidents on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2017 and 2020.  While Indian officials have been improving the army’s combat and logistic capabilities on the LAC, the accompanying excerpted article reports on an Indian Army exercise involving satellite communications that drew lessons from the war in Ukraine and that officials are hoping will guide further development of army capabilities.  The article from the independent English-language newspaper The Hindu reports on the scenario of the exercise, which involved using all satellite communications in the Indian Army in different technical and operational situations.  The article notes that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) also took part in the exercise and that it included the eastern regions and northern border areas of India, which includes the LAC.  The articles go on to mention how the Indian Army has been studying electronic warfare in the war in Ukraine at multiple levels and that India believes this further established the importance of satellite communications.  The article notes that the army is currently using ISRO satellites but is set to have its own by December 2025 as India’s Acquisition Council approved the new satellite back in March during the early weeks of the war in Ukraine.  It is also points out that the Indian Army is closely watching the advancements made by its adversaries and that this is an effort to stay ahead of them.  Overall, the exercise and satellite acquisition show how India continues to respond to China and that it is closely watching what is happening in Ukraine.  


Dinakar Peri, “Indian Army conducts Exercise Skylight to test resilience of its satellite communications,” The Hindu (independent English-language newspaper), 6 August 2022.

To test the operational readiness of satellite systems and personnel manning them, the Indian Army last week carried out Exercise Skylight validating and showcasing the resilience of its communication capabilities in case terrestrial connectivity is disrupted in future conflicts, officials in the security establishment said. 

“During the two-week long exercise, all satellite communication assets in the Army were activated and various technical and operational scenarios in space domain were simulated.  Various agencies responsible for space and ground segments, as also the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) participated in the exercise,” a source in the security establishment said.  This includes over 200 static platforms and over 80 vehicle based and man portable systems that were incorporated… 

“…the exercise covered the eastern part of the country, northern borders and the island territories. “This will be done regularly,” the source said. 

The Army has carried out detailed studies of cyber and electromagnetic effects in the war in Ukraine. Electronic warfare has played a major role in Ukraine, sources said, “We had multiple iterations on how this conflict has panned out, at various levels.”  

The studies established efficacy of reliable satellite communication like the one afforded by ‘Starlink’, officials said…(the) Indian Army is utilizing the services of a number of ISRO satellites as it does not have a dedicated satellite.  In March, The Defence Acquisition Council cleared a proposal for a GSAT-7B communications satellite.  The army is on course to get its own satellite by December 2025. 

…To train its personnel on all aspects of satellite communication, the Army recently published Request for Information for its own student satellite, for training engineering students in Military College of Telecommunication Engineering on satellite technology. 

…While national R&D is focused in this field, the Indian Army is closely watching the advancements made by our adversaries, to ensure that these vital capabilities are inducted into our armed forces well ahead of times, officials added. 

Image Information:

Image: GSLV-Mk III-D1 being moved from Vehicle Assembly Building to second launch pad 
Attribution: Government Open Data License – India (GODL)

Global Reactions Vary After Death of Al-Qaeda LeaderAl-Zawahiri

The announcement on 1 August 2022 that the United States had killed the longtime leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, as he stood on a balcony in Kabul, Afghanistan, was celebrated around the world.  While U.S.-based scholars and analysts have debated what the killing of Zawahiri means for Al-Qaeda, the international Salafi-jihadist movement, and the U.S. role in the world, so too have commentators from around the world offered their own, local perspectives on the implications of Zawahiri’s death.  These range from assessing the ongoing strength of Al-Qaeda to lamenting the empowerment of brutal indigenous leaders and governments.

Writers hailing from more powerful global states have shown broadly similar concerns as U.S. commentators.  In France, noted analyst Wassim Nasr stated in the private, left-leaning French outlet L’Opinion that from his perspective, even after Zawahiri’s death, “Al-Qaeda Central is now more powerful than during the Bin Laden era.”  Similarly, in Australia, commentary from the centrist Australian Institute of International Affairs argued that the death of Zawahiri in no way significantly weakened Al-Qaeda. The author likewise cautioned that as the world begins to give attention to right-wing extremism, the threats posed by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State remain real and should not be ignored.  In contrast, in India, a writer in the Hindi-language daily Dainik Jagran argued that Zawahiri’s death was a “huge setback” for Al-Qaeda, especially in its attempts to grow its presence in the subcontinent.  However, he worried that disenchanted members of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, might drift towards the Islamic State in Khorasan province.  

Other commentators writing from less powerful states around the world underscored the link between Zawahiri’s killing and their own local political and security situations.  For instance, in Nigeria, an article in the major newspaper Daily Trust quotes a former Nigerian Minister of Aviation as lamenting: “The Americans killed Osama Bin Laden, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and now Ayman Al Zawahiri. Kudos!  In Nigeria we do not kill terrorists: we beg them, pay them, appease them, reward them, bow before them, and give them chieftaincy titles.”  In Rwanda’s private but state-supportive New Times, authors critiqued the current U.S. Secretary of State for hailing the death of Zawahiri while also recently criticizing Rwanda’s detention of U.S. citizen Paul Rusesabagina, who has been convicted by Rwandan courts as being a terrorist.  As they wrote: “If the US has the right to kill a foreign national using ‘transnational repression,’ then Rwanda… has the right to bring to justice to Rusesabagina, a Rwandan citizen.”  In sum, whether interpreted globally or more locally, the impact of Zawahiri’s death has elicited concerns regarding the continuation of Al-Qaeda and the empowerment of brutality by individual leaders and governments.


Pascal Airault, “Al-Qaïda est plus forte qu’à l’epoque de Ben Laden (Al-Qaeda is stronger than in Bin Laden’s era),” L’Opinion (private French daily), 2 August 2022.  

Al-Qaeda central is stronger than in the era of Bin Laden. It’s difficult to evaluate the number of its member even if certain experts talk of tens of thousands of them.  The organization is well-anchored in Afghanistan, with the ability to raise money, give directives, and assure international communications.  

Source: Michael Zekulin, “Al-Zawahiri’s Death and its Impact on the Future of Al-Qaeda,” Australian Institute of International Affairs (Australian think tank), 11 August 2022. 

News that a US drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri created a myriad of reactions… But what should we make of this event?  Is it as consequential as some believe?  One thing we know for certain is it would be a mistake to believe this is the death knell of al-Qaeda… 

Is this the end of al-Qaeda?   This is highly unlikely.  In addition to what the group has become, we must also remember that more than anything, these are belief communities which persist despite the loss of any one member, ever senior leadership.  The group survived Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011… Despite the current resurgence and focus on right-wing-inspired extremism and terrorism, the West should not neglect the threat posed by Islamist-inspired terrorism. 

Source: Aalok Sensharma, “How Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s Death with Will Impact Al-Qaeda in India Explained,” Jagran English (private Indian daily), 3 August 2022.  

Al-Zawahiri’s death is a huge setback for Qaeda, which has been trying to establish itself following the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). His death will also impact the group’s position in India, where it has been trying to spread its wings…. His killing will affect the morale of Qaeda supporters and cadres in India… An imminent concern for India is the fact that disenchanted Al-Qaeda cadres must shift their allegiance to the Islamic State and its regional affiliate Islamic State – Khorasan (ISKP).  

Source: Adedamola Quasiam, “Nigeria Rewards Terrorists Instead of Killing Them, Fani-Kayode Reacts to Death of Al-Qaeda Leader,” Daily Trust (private Nigerian daily), 2 August 2022. 

A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, has reacted to the killing of Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, by a United States drone strike.  However, he alleged that terror kingpins in Nigeria are rewarded instead of being killed. 

“The Americans killed Osama Bin Ladin, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi & now Ayman Al Zawahiri. Kudos!  In Nigeria we do not kill terrorists: we beg them, pay them, appease them, reward them, bow before them, give them chieftaincy titles & let them break into prison to free their brothers,” he tweeted. 

Source: James Karuhanga, “Open Letter to Blinken: Scholars call for partnerships ‘free of condescending positions’,” New Times (private Rwandan English language daily), 9 August 2022.  

When announcing his visit to Rwanda, the signatories remind Blinken that he referred to “the wrongful detention of the U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident Paul Rusesabagina.” 

Rusesabagina created the National Liberation Front (FLN), a criminal organization that served as an armed wing of his Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRDC). On September 20, 2021, the High Court Chamber for International and Cross Border Crimes handed a 25-year sentence to Rusesabagina, for terrorism.  The FLN orchestrated murders in south-western Rwanda between 2018 and 2019.  

The authors of the open letter note that on August 2, Blinken celebrated the death of Al-Zawahiri with the following words: “We have delivered on our commitment to act against terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan.  The world is safer following the death of al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.  The U.S. will continue to act against those who threaten our country, our people, or our allies.”  

If the US has the right to kill a foreign national using “transnational repression,” then Rwanda certainly has the right to bring to justice Rusesabagina, a Rwandan citizen, at the root of an armed group responsible for the deaths of Rwandan civilians in Rwanda, they pointed out.  

Colombia’s Leftist President Seeks To Resume Negotiations With National Liberation Army

Members of Colombia’s ELN stand at attention.

Members of Colombia’s ELN stand at attention.

“For the first time, the National Liberation Army has a leftist government as its counterpart.  The last active guerrilla in Colombia will return to a peace negotiation, but in a completely different scenario.” 

Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s recently inaugurated president, represents a radical departure from the country’s traditional political establishment.  Petro campaigned on a restart to negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last active guerrilla group in Colombia.  As Spanish daily El País reports, Petro began the long process of negotiating with the ELN just days after his inauguration.  The article states that this is the first contact between the Colombian government and the ELN in years, since former president Iván Duque suspended negotiations following an ELN attack on a police academy that killed 20 cadets.  According to the article, Cuba will once again play host to negotiations between Colombia and its guerrilla groups, reprising a role it played in previous negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  According to leading Colombian weekly Semana, Petro intends to pursue “total peace,” by which he means no confrontations with either leftwing guerrilla groups or drug trafficking organizations.  Furthermore, Petro says that he intends to finish implementing the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC.  Negotiations with the ELN could have significant impact in the Western Hemisphere.  Once again, negotiations would serve as a diplomatic boost for Cuba, even as they place a spotlight on Havana’s ongoing support for violent left-wing guerrilla groups.  In the past, the ELN has wielded violence as a form of negotiating with the government, a tactic it could revive against the Petro administration.  Lastly, the ELN has been growing at a rapid pace, partly thanks to the safehaven in neighboring Venezuela, and any attempt to broker peace could fracture the organization between those in favor of a negotiating process and those against it. 


“La apuesta de Gustavo Petro para la paz con el ELN: un gobierno de izquierda en el poder y Cuba como sede (Gustavo Petro’s bet on peace with the ELN: a leftist government in power and Cuba as its headquarters),” El País (Spanish daily with excellent coverage in Latin America), 13 August 2022.  

For the first time, the National Liberation Army has a leftist government as its counterpart.  The last active guerrilla in Colombia will return to a peace negotiation, but in a completely different scenario…Before setting the table, Colombia must revoke the arrest warrants against the guerrilla leaders who are in Cuba so that they can leave there and enter a period of consultation with the leadership that is in Colombian territory.  It must also name the new delegation and build and agree on a mechanism that allows for a bilateral ceasefire. 

Source“Este es el plan de Gustavo Petro para lograr una ‘paz total:’ así van los acercamientos con el ELN y el Clan del Golfo (This is Gustavo Petro’s plan to achieve ‘total peace:’ this is how the rapprochements with the ELN and the Clan del Golfo will go),” Semana (a leading Colombian weekly), 30 July 2022.  

In these dialogues, protocols for negotiation were discussed, a ceasefire that the ELN would put in place, and a six-point discussion agenda: participation of society in the construction of peace; democracy for peace; transformation for peace and victims; end of the armed conflict; and, implementation.  In any case, it will be difficult to talk immediately about a possible bilateral ceasefire.  A source from the new government…said that a ceasefire cannot be demanded of the ELN when its main enemy are the dissidents of the FARC and the Clan del Golfo, with whom it is waging a war to the death over drug trafficking routes and territorial control. 

Image Information:

Image:  Members of Colombia’s ELN stand at attention. 
Attribution: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Mexican Cartels Display Their Post-Pandemic Power With Orchestrated Violence  

Burned cars and roadblocks established by cartels in Mexico.

Burned cars and roadblocks established by cartels in Mexico. 

“For the first time, the National Liberation Army has a leftist government as its counterpart.  The last active guerrilla in Colombia will return to a peace negotiation, but in a completely different scenario.” 

Mexico’s cartel violence flared once again in August.  In just one week, more than 250 people died in cartel violence.  The cartels burned cars, established roadblocks, and enforced curfews in typically bustling urban centers.  Allegedly, Sinaloa Cartel leaders want to display their power and avenge the arrest of kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, according to French international news service Agence France-Presse. Caro Quintero, a wanted fugitive known for the torture and killing of Drug Enforcement Agency agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, was captured in an operation by the Mexican Navy with the assistance of intelligence provided by the United States.  Not to be outdone, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel also contributed to the shutdown of major urban areas, such as Tijuana and Guanajuato, according to British government-run Spanish-language BBC News Mundo.  The Jalisco New Generation Cartel purportedly wants to push back against the attempted arrest of a cartel leader.  This orchestrated cartel violence in Mexico reveals that Mexican drug cartels vastly expanded their territory during the COVID-19 pandemic and instill fear to control and govern that territory.  Additionally, the latest round of violence shows Mexico’s cartels have become so powerful that they pose a major threat to the Mexican state, operating more on the level of criminal insurgencies than transnational organized crime outfits.  


“Ola de violencia de los carteles lleva al gobierno mexicano a desplegar el ejército en varias ciudades (Wave of cartel violence leads the Mexican government to deploy the army in several cities),” BBC News Mundo (Spanish-language version of the popular state-owned media company), 14 August 2022.  

Thousands of federal soldiers were deployed in several Mexican border cities after a week of street violence generated by drug cartels…President Andrés Manuel López Obrador blamed the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel for the chaos…Earlier this week, drug cartel gunmen burned down vehicles and businesses in the western states of Jalisco and Guanajuato, after authorities tried to arrest a Jalisco cartel leader.  A gang riot at a prison in the border city of Ciudad Juárez also quickly spread to the streets, killing 11 people. 

Source:  “Ola de violencia en México: autoridades apuntan a cárteles como responsables (Wave of violence in Mexico: authorities point to cartels as responsible),” Agence France-Presse (private French company with government access and long-time regional reporting), 14 August 2022.  

The Government of Baja California attributed the events that occurred…to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).  The wave of violence was caused by more than twenty criminal acts in five of the seven municipalities of the state…The Secretary of National Defense said that it happened due to the arrest of a criminal entity in another part of the country…Cargo trucks, passenger buses, private vehicles, among others, were burned in five municipalities.  The violence caused the closure of markets and shops, mainly in the tourist area, in addition to the suspension of public transport, which generated problems for the mobility of passers-by. 

Image Information:

Image:  Burned cars and roadblocks established by cartels in Mexico 
Attribution: CCA-SA 4-0 International

Iran’s Flawed Statistics and Growing Drug Addiction

Iranian police display Afghan opium seized inside Iran.

Iranian police display Afghan opium seized inside Iran.

“This means a human capital disaster in the country.” 

Iran has dealt with a long history of drug addiction.  For centuries, Iranians openly cultivated opium and used it both medicinally and recreationally.  In the first decade of the 20th century, Iran participated in a number of international opium conferences to try to reduce and regulate the opium trade.  Because addiction was so great, however, it sought to slowly devolve access rather than end it precipitously.  In the years immediately prior to the revolution, clerics pointed to the prevalence of opium addiction to societal corruption under the shah and promised a new, cleaner order. 

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the clerical leadership took Draconian measures to end drug addiction.  Imprisonment and public execution of addicts and traffickers became commonplace.   It did not work.  Opium cultivation exploded in Afghanistan against the backdrop of the Soviet invasion, civil war, and state failure.  Iran became both a transit and consumer country as Afghan drug smugglers struck deals with corrupt Iranian clerics and security officials.  Ultimately, the Ministry of Health formed a counternarcotics headquarters and the high-level Expediency Council established the Independent Committee against Drugs and Narcotics to combat addiction.

In the excerpted interview from prominent reformist newspaper Aftab-e Yazd, Ali Hashemi, the former chairman of the Independent Committee, discusses the latest statistics on addiction and abuse.  His assessment is that the Islamic Republic’s ninth government, which correlates to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second term, corrupted statistics.  In the article, Hashemi shows that, contrary to the Ahmadinejad-era claims, the rate of addiction has increased steadily.  Unstated but underlying his interview is technocratic disdain for the denial of reality inside the Islamic Republic under hardline administrations.  While he references the lack of current statistics, he omits mention that the current Iranian administration of Ebrahim Raisi is rooted, like Ahmadinejad’s, more in the camp of hardliners.  Regardless, Iranian government efforts to stamp out addiction have clearly failed.  Hashemi expresses special concern that the recent increase in drug addiction is among the young.  This has profound implications both for society and the military. It both suggests that many young Iranians have given up hope for their future, suggests problems with both crime and health loom, and can affect military readiness (see “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards To Expand Drug Treatment Center,” OE Watch, Issue 8, 2022).


“Faz-e Jadid Markaz-e Daman-e Shahid Ziadian bezudi Ahdas Mishavad (The Old Wound of Addiction in Iran and the 800 Million Rial Cost Per Addict Each Year),” Aftab-e Yazd (prominent reformist newspaper published in Yasd), 31 July 2022.زخم-کهنه-اعتیاد-در-ایران-و-خسارت–۸۰۰-میلیونی-هر-معتاد-به-کشور-در-سال.html 

[Former chairman of the Expediency Council’s Independent Committee against Drugs and Narcotics] Ali Hashemi, while examining the status of addiction in the country and Iran’s performance in the field of countering narcotics and reducing the rate of addiction, says, “In the strategic study of addiction status in the country… there are two basic indicators based on the prevalence rate of addiction and the incidence rate of addiction, according to which we can comment on the performance of the country, the current situation and future approaches in the field of addiction.”  

In this regard, he provides statistical indicators of the state of addiction in the country and adds, “In the year 1987-88, there were two million drug users in the country.  In 2004-2005, an addiction study was carried out in coordination with the cooperation of the Headquarters of the Fight against Narcotics and the Ministry of Health.  This study placed the number of users at 3.76 million. 

The Drug Control Headquarters of the ninth government [2012-2016] placed the prevalence of addiction in the country at 800,000 drug users, but because the statistics were not correct, they had to correct these statistics and, two years later, the Drug Control Headquarters announced there were 1.2 million consumers in the country.  This too was wrong and based on manipulated statistics but, in 2015, the then-Secretary General of the Headquarters was forced to announce the statistics so that the total number of consumers was 4.4 million. 

The former secretary general of the country’s drug control headquarters, citing the existing statistics on the incidence of addiction, continues, “Currently, the official statistics are that 4.4 million Iranians use drugs, among whom 2.8 million are addicts and the others occasional recreational users. Of course, we don’t have the statistics from 2015 to the present, however. Still, the statistics show that in just one decade, from 2005 to 2015, the number of drug used increased by 630,000 people. 

Hashemi notes, “Unfortunately, so far, scientific research has not been conducted in a comprehensive way at the national level but, what is known, is that according to official statistics, from 2005 to 2015, the number of consumers has increased from 3.76 million to 4.40 million people, which means that the number of new people came from the “young” stratum.  This means a human capital disaster in the country…. 

Hashemi continues, “If we want to consider only this one indicator [arrests], it shows the depth of its tragedy, i.e. in the last 43 years, of the approximately 19 million people arrested, 65 percent of them were directly and indirectly (including repeat offenders) related to drug offenses.” 

Image Information:

Image: Iranian police display Afghan opium seized inside Iran 
Source: Islamic Republic News Agency (Government)
Attribution: Public Domain

Iran Unveils Stealth Speedboats 

The IRGC displays speedboats it alleges have stealth capability.

The IRGC displays speedboats it alleges have stealth capability.

“Our Navy is a complete strategic force.” 

The excerpted article from Serat News, an outlet associated with the state-run, hardline Kayhan newspaper, reports on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Navy (IRGC-N)’s unveiling of new, supposed stealth speedboats at the Malik Ashtar festival held just outside Iran’s main Persian Gulf port Bandar Abbas. The IRGC often names exhibitions, exercises, units, and festivals after either religious figures or religious artifacts as part of an effort to imbue the Guards with a religious patina.

That the IRGC-N would mass produce speedboats is consistent with long-held tactics and strategy.  The chief lesson the IRGC learned in the wake of their clash with the U.S. Navy during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988 is that they could not confront the U.S. Navy directly given the superiority of American ships.  They then turned to small speedboats to harass slower, larger shipping.  Speedboats are cheaper and quicker to manufacture than large ships.  Should the IRGC-N load these speedboats with explosives and conduct suicide strikes against larger ships, they hope they can do enough damage both to cripple a ship and to cause enough casualties to get the American domestic audience to question the U.S. Navy’s presence in the region.  The drawback of the IRGC-N speedboats is their range.  They might be able to operate throughout the relatively narrow and shallow Persian Gulf, but they are of little value in the northern Indian Ocean or Arabian Sea.  This, alongside the IRGC’s financial interest in the security of Iran’s offshore gas and oil infrastructure, explains why the IRGC-N claims the entirety of the Persian Gulf as its area of operation while the regular Iranian Navy operates outside the Gulf.  In practice, this makes the Persian Gulf more harrowing for international shipping.  Commercial shipping, Arab militaries, and the U.S. Navy report more professional communications and de-confliction with the regular Iranian Navy than with the IRGC-N. 


“Qayeqha-ye Tondaru Sepah Radar Gariz Shod (IRGC Stealth Speedboats Evaded Radar),” Serat News (media outlet associated with the state-run hardline Kayhan newspaper), 25 July 2022. 

Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Navy [IRGC-N],said on the sidelines of the Malik Ashtar Festival that based on the orders of the Supreme Leader…we have been witnessing the festival for 12 years.  He stated that additions have been made to this [IRGC-N] force: Over the past three years, we have had eight additions.  Generally, these were of domestic equipment provided to our warriors and by God’s grace, we will witness such happy events again in the future. 

Tangsiri remarked that it was one of the honors of the Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be able to use domestic knowledge and products developed by Iranian scientists.  He continued: “We have everything from tanks to amphibious tanks to fixed-wing aircraft and drones….” Tangsiri stated, “We in the Navy are proud that our equipment is made by knowledge-based companies. Some of the drones and quadcoptors that we use are actually from our knowledge-based companies, and we have put the order of the Supreme Leader, who said to use our knowledge-based companies, intro practice. And we are proud that the Navy has done this for years.  

The commander of the IRGC-N also spoke about the new radar-evading speedboats: We have made the hulls of our boats radar evasive and we are trying to use domestically made hulls.  Emphasizing that the extent and quality of our presence in the region has caused the enemy to flee from the Persian Gulf, he said, “We have always told the countries of the region that we can establish security ourselves and, by the grace of God, with the departure of the Americans, more security has been established in this sensitive and strategic region.” 

Image Information:

Image: The IRGC displays speedboats it alleges have stealth capability  
Source: Tasnim News 
Attribution: CC SA 4.0