The assassination of Major-General Qassem Soleimani is the most severe escalation of the ongoing tensions between the United States (US) and Iran thus far.
Soleimani has been the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force since 1998, shaping Iranian international military operations and relations to countries in the region and proxy forces. Soleimani was the most important personality within the IRGC and within all the Iranian armed forces.
The assassination took place in Iraq and a prominent military leader for the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was killed as well. The killing highlights a vital aspect of the conflict between the US and Iran, as the countries fight for influence in Iraq. The PMF consists mostly of Iranian-backed militias. In 2018, the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi decided to integrate these forces into the regular Iraqi armed forces. Meanwhile, the US supports the Iraqi government and armed forces with personnel, training and equipment. Iraq is stuck in the middle between the US and Iran. Many attacks from both sides have taken place on Iraqi soil in the past year.
Ever since the US left the Iranian nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018, the tensions between the US and Iran have escalated. Iran has taken numerous steps away from the nuclear deal, while the European signatories have been working to keep the deal intact. Iran has captured, and attacked merchant vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, shot down a US drone, and has been accused of numerous other attacks while Iranian proxies in different countries continuously act out against US forces and allies.
The US has mostly responded with sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy, while Israel has been accused of perpetrating several attacks on both Syrian and Iraqi soil against Iranian forces.
Previously, the most severe escalation happened on the 14th of September 2019 when several Saudi Arabian oil facilities were damaged in an attack by cruise missiles and drones. The Houthi forces of Yemen claimed the attack, but the attack didn't come from the direction of Yemen and both the US and Saudi Arabia quickly pointed their fingers at Iran as the perpetrator of the attack.
The United States has no problem attributing attacks to Iran, despite Iran's attempts to hide their involvement. Iran has been walking a thin line, acting as an aggressor in the region but avoiding armed conflict. All American forces and allies in the area are on high alert, making it practically impossible for Iran to act clandestinely. As the Iranian proxies in the region are well-known any action taken by the Houthi’s in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon or the PMF in Iraq will be attributed to Iran.
The question remaining is what Iran can do in retaliation for one of their most important commanders being killed, while still avoiding a conflict that would mean the end of the regime?
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), when carried out properly, is a client-driven process of finding, analyzing and presenting actionable intelligence based on publicly available sources. The secret to leveraging the full potential of OSINT is that there is no secret. There is no single platform, method or theory that you can rely upon to become a master of your trade.
OSINT as a tradecraft is therefore more than the individual databases, news aggregators or other tools you might use. The key to unleashing the full potential of dispersed information hidden in a variety of open sources is to apply a holistic and multi-pronged approach. Use your imagination, trust your instincts and experiment with different tools you come across. Go offline and remember that people are sources.
OSINT is sometimes referred to as any activity involving gaining access to information in open sources, which covers pretty much what most people do every day (reading a newspaper or listening to your favorite podcast, for example). I argue that OSINT is much more than the rather mindless task of collecting data. OSINT, like other intelligence disciplines if they are properly implemented and integrated, could be dubbed “INTINT”– i. e. “Intellectual Intelligence” – where lateral thinking, creative skills and contextual awareness are more important than the ability to navigate complex do-it-all-platforms.
Another key feature is the ability to transform data into information that clients can use in their decision-making process without having to waste time on interpretation. Which also means that you must know what your client wants and present your findings in a digestible format – the importance of being Client-driven cannot be overstated. To unleash the power of OSINT you will have to review how you work (your process) and what you deliver (your product).
Apart from being client-driven, any practitioners aiming at honing their OSINT skills will need to master the three S’s – Sources, Structure and Summary. This might sound easy enough but hidden within are the challenging tasks of validating sources, maintaining an audit trail, facing your own biases, killing your darlings, etc. Anybody will appreciate the complexity of this in an age of fake news, increasing government interference and information overload, hence the intellectual and introspective nature of the OSINT tradecraft. Which also brings us to the real value of OSINT for corporate and other clients in this day and age – gaining a decision-making advantage by leveraging high-quality, fact-based information provided by a trusted partner.
And finally, a cautionary piece of advice to all OSINT practitioners out there - exploit all available resources to the full, but keep in mind that the most powerful tool at your disposal is your brain. here to edit.
The international system at large is undergoing a transformation, with rising trade barriers fueled by resurgent nationalism and authoritarianism. Seemingly ad hoc unilateral actions disrupt trade without reaping any discernable benefits for the initiating party other than projecting the image of a strong state. Multilateral frameworks are eroding, international agreements weakening and alliances shifting. A case in point is China’s increasingly assertive international posture, challenging American hegemony and extending its global reach by targeting credit-poor countries in Africa and elsewhere.
Distrust and Imagined Stability
Non-state conflict and terrorist activity is on the rise, while trust for media and politicians is waning. Grass root movements and populist parties demand radical change in places we previously thought of as stable democracies. The Brexit debacle in the UK, the Gilets jaunes in France, the unrest in Hong Kong and Barcelona, coupled with a sense of rising crime levels in urban centers across Western Europe has shaken our preconceptions.
Alongside these real or imagined threats to the powers that be in some parts of the world, other regions have seen a dramatic increase in defense procurement and militarization, often coupled with authoritarian and/or autocratic rule being further entrenched. The tension in the Persian Gulf is a case in point, threatening the world’s supply of vital energy resources, putting existing alliances to the test and creating new ones previously regarded as unthinkable.
Overstretched Inter dependencies
Equally, a long period of globalization has created long supply chains involving several entities in multiple jurisdictions, with numerous subsidiaries, affiliates and partners all part of the indirect sphere of influence while also being potential sources of reputational risk and conflict of interest/ disloyalty issues.
No wonder corporate decision makers have a hard time identifying who’s who in the “family”. No wonder compliance departments feel their ability to assess counterparty risk is limited.
WEAKENING RULE OF LAW
The resurgence of authoritarianism in the Middle East and elsewhere has brought increasingly hostile legislative and other measures to curb press freedom and other universal human rights. One example is the use of so-called cyber laws to track and punish dissent. The lack of transparency, the weakening of rule of law and increasing government interference also carries the risk of overestimation of a local market’s economic potential, apart from more “classic” risks of expropriation, unrest, forced abandonment and official corruption. If economic theory is anything to go by, the world’s negative slide toward weakening rule of law will discourage investments.
EVOLVING CYBER THREATS
While the risk of information security breaches perpetrated by hackers and organized crime groups is constantly highlighted in various threat assessments, state actors have increasingly deployed their cyber capabilities to conduct asymmetric warfare. State actors can inflict massive disruption while maintaining plausible deniability. Both the US and Iran have deployed these assets against each other, while China has exploited vulnerabilities to conduct industrial espionage for commercial gain. Sometime state actors and non-state actors collaborate, with criminal networks acting as subcontractors for government agencies.
Both Chinese and Russian IT companies have been denied market access due to allegations of their software being used to further non-commercial geopolitical interests. Extended supply chains also pose cybersecurity risks as third-party suppliers have access to the company’s network and might be exploited as weak links.
RESURGENT PUBLIC ACTIVISM
The role of social media is disputed. The allegedly destructive role in fomenting opinion polarization has been contested by those who say it provides the only viable communication channels for endangered human rights activists and reporters. Either way, social media has undoubtedly been instrumental in the recent resurgence in public activism, addressing issues including but not limited to climate change, gender equality, job security and immigration. Thanks to the technological development, full-scale PR campaigns can now be deployed in no time while minor incidents can be amplified and cause massive reputational damage.
The increased public scrutiny of corporate behavior also holds true for government agencies and other watchdogs who have stepped up their efforts to make companies comply not only with regulatory requirements such as sanctions and anti-money laundering legislation, but also norms and standards including gender equality, environmental accountability and social responsibilities. A case in point is the increased focus on so-called “corporate tax transparency”, i.e. multinational corporations disclosing their numbers and refraining from previous tax minimizing schemes.
IS CSR THE ANSWER?
Companies have responded to above challenges by creating ethical guidelines within a general framework of corporate social responsibility and have also taken steps to clean up their act under the banner of sustainability. However, commendable as they may be, corporate efforts to improve society do not address key challenges in terms of how companies deal with risks, especially if CSR efforts are primarily intended for public consumption.
Today’s world is multipolar and volatile, with waning trust, resurgent authoritarianism and rising public activism as well as non-state conflict. Companies are beset by multiple sources of interdependent risk categories which defy existing modelling strategies and management practices. Simultaneously, companies must balance diverse compliance requirements against their own ambitious growth targets. External pressure also comes from a growing set of stakeholders including climate activists, international watchdogs, US law enforcement agencies (anti-bribery), the European Union (tax evasion), human rights organizations, etc.
With all this pressure piling up, companies need to reconsider their existing risk management systems and, in many cases, replace them with more holistic systems which will enable them to navigate more efficiently in this vast ocean of pitfalls and threats. They need systems which not only consider political and geographic risks but integrate them into the decision-making process. By applying a geostrategic perspective, companies will not only mitigate risks but also identify new opportunities and reveal hidden growth potential across countries and continents.
However, many companies face numerous internal obstacles to efficiently manage risks such as siloed risk functions, biases in terms of age-old loyalties, vested interests, etc., reliance on incomplete third-party data, and finally the pressure to simultaneously meet both growth and compliance requirements. The traditional check-the-box mindset is a cultural obstacle, with static red-flag categorization in terms of political exposure, corruption and high-risk jurisdictions. This needs to be reevaluated and reinvented, as companies must increasingly enhance their understanding of the world and strive for more than just minimal regulatory adherence and short-term loss avoidance.
Counter-party risk is a key risk that needs to be managed in today’s globalized environment. Now more than ever, companies need to familiarize themselves with their counter-parties and the countries and regions where they perform their business operations. Corporate decision-makers must consider human rights records, environmental policies, cyber security vulnerabilities and the potential reputational fallout of working too close with a regime seen as repressive, while also having to deal with traditional issues of concern such as economic swings, currency exchange fluctuations and infrastructure quality issues.
All in all, there is a strong case to be made for geostrategic risk management as the world order is increasingly interconnected and multipolar. However, making risk management a strategic priority is not enough. The company’s capabilities must be embedded throughout the organization and age-old mindsets need to be replaced by contextual risk awareness to optimize performance across countries, functions and departments. In this regard, language skills, expat experience, familiarity with different political systems and other “brainware” capabilities will become increasingly important to harvest and interpret information in a global business environment.
New technologies should be embraced, but exclusively relying on automated data collection will not address existing risk management flaws and deficiencies. Rather than setting their hopes on artificial intelligence and machine learning to solve all risk-related issues in the future, companies must act now to achieve a higher level of risk resilience. In times of fake news and waning public trust, there is a greater need than ever for old-fashioned investigative techniques such as independently verifying facts in primary sources rather than relying on fragmented and incomplete data collection.
It is a plain fact that many government agencies both in the U.S. and around the world restrict their employees from visiting social networking sites (SNS) through the use of a firewall filter. This is also true for many major corporations. While some employees honor their organization's policy, many are turning to free proxy services in order to get their daily social networking fix on Twitter, Facebook,YouTube, etc.
It is a widely accepted belief from OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) practitioners that these kind of restrictions ultimate effect, will be to further isolate the intelligence agencies from the "real" or unclassified world. In our daily operations, we use professional and social network sites to identify and reach out to individuals who may ultimately offer, and be willing to share their expertise, working knowledge and potential network in a collaborative manner to facilitate, promote and share other resources for potential opportunities or joint ventures. Doing it “old school “ would require massive investments in time, money and OpSec (Operational Security) which may ultimately yield very little usable information and/or contacts.
Yes, we do understand the problem and risk associated with intelligence officers that use secret compartmentalized and classified information which may prove to trigger things on the internet; however, it is our belief that these errors and mistakes are caused by lack of training and education in the new cyber operating environment and do not represent a new phenomenon. Examples of this date all the way back to the early 90's when seasoned intelligence officers took information from classified material and performed searches on the early day search engines like AltaVista, commercial databases like Dialog and the now defunct Reuters Business Briefing (predecessor to Factiva) We also saw examples of how news from wire services were wiped clean from source and time stamps and then marked as classified; a practice which is still common today in many intelligence services.
BETTER AND SMARTER TRAINING IN REAL OSINT, not the cut and paste and Googlification that we see in so many places. OSINT is NOT how to search the Internet or creating search strings in digital oceans. That is just a small piece of the trade craft.
Government agencies could learn a lot from the commercial intelligence activities, since they live an breath publicly and legally obtainable information that is coined "OSINT" by the intelligence agencies.
And we are all humans 3.0 with the same drive and desire to stay connected and be up to speed with our friends, family and colleagues. This human drive, coupled with today's social media networking sites (SNS) provides for a better quality of life and will exponentially promote our evolution as active participants in today's global society. The end result of this employer restriction and control is and will always be human adaptation to overcome this control. People are now turning to free proxy services to reach their Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds. Employees are routinely using their private smartphones to communicate via social networking inside the workplace to avoid detection and recourse from their employers and these social media networking sites keep log files.
So what is the answer? The answer lies in education, training and employer implemented policy which adapts to new social media phenomena versus waging an expensive and futile effort to control this phenomena.
We know, from years of experience, that smart clients and companies use external consultancies and advisers as proxys. This is a better and smarter way, but it also poses a question: Should Government agencies that deal with HUMINT and SIGINT deal with OSINT? Would it not be better to outsource this to companies that live and breathe in this kind of environment and may have 50+ commercial clients that actually act as a super proxy, making it impossible for anyone to figure out which client is asking for what and ultimately promotes complete anonymity and operational security?
Big consultancies such as McKinsey & Company and Strategy+, in addition to smaller outfits such as ourselves, Infosphere AB, enable and promote environments where you always stay in touch with people and experts around the globe in a dynamic collaborative setup that encourages and feeds an openness. This concept of an environment and culture of openness is not well nurtured in the government intelligence agencies, nor in big international companies internal intelligence operations. True implementation of this concept will require a shift in the "old school" thought process and belief that more classification and over classification is good for the advancement and safety of society as a whole.
The days of a Googlish Cut & Paste report does not make a business decision maker nor a military operative happy anymore.
Just more frustrated.
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION COULD REACH MBS
Unnamed sources say Saud al-Qahtani, one of the key Saudi officials who have been officially held responsible by Saudi Arabia for the incident at the consulate in Istanbul, oversaw the interrogation of Khashoggi at the diplomatic mission, communicating via a Skype link. According to the sources, al-Qahtani ordered the killing of Khashoggi as a response to the latter´s defiance during the interrogation. The sources further say al-Qahtani ever since 2015 has been instrumental
in pressuring high-profile individuals, physically confronting them in interrogation-like environments, including detainees at the Ritz Carlton and the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Al-Qahtani had also reportedly for some time tried to lure Khashoggi back to the kingdom, an offer the late journalist declined out of fear that he would be detained.
The United States is reportedly concerned that Turkey will reveal details implicating HRH Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud (MBS), amid growing international distrust of the official Saudi narrative of what happened to Khashoggi. The concern and skepticism were also reportedly the reasons why the Director of the United States (US) Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on 22 October 2018 left for Turkey.
As for domestic US politics, there are reports of increasing pressure on the US president Donald Trump to take the lead in punishing Saudi Arabia, to avoid the US Congress initiating potentially more long-lasting and damaging responses such as cancelling arms sales to the kingdom. Furthermore, the US Congress could also pass a law allowing Khashoggi’s family to sue the Saudi state, on par with the lawsuit against the kingdom over the 9/11 attacks. Setting various types of civil litigation aside, MBS and his confidants might also face criminal courts in several countries for alleged crimes related to the Khashoggi case. Prosecutors could bring criminal charges, based on international law, including violations of international laws such as a law to protect the individual from torture and forced disappearance. One possible legal avenue which could be pursued is the United Nations (UN) Convention against Torture, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory. Regardless of whether MBS had advance knowledge of Khashoggi´s killing or not, he could still be held accountable under international law because he had command responsibility over the killers.
MEDIA ATTENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD
The prolonged international media attention to the Khashoggi case has resulted in a review of Saudi Arabia´s human rights record in general, as well as its alleged role in funding terrorism. Major Western media outlets increasingly describe the kingdom´s human rights record as appalling, citing the alleged support by Saudi individuals for the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists, its online and offline censorship, war crimes in Yemen, intimidation and coercion of dissidents, secret and unlawful detentions, legally sanctioned corporal punishment and beheadings and seizing of funds of accused individuals without due legal process.
Furthermore, with the global spotlight now zooming in on Saudi Arabia, all the above is being connected to the current Crown Prince as the kingdom´s de facto ruler and figurehead of a regime which is increasingly seen as repressive rather than reformative. The timing is bad, coinciding with the flagship conference Future Investment Initiative which was to suppose showcase the modernizing efforts of the Crown prince.
Instead, the event has been mired in controversy as many Western business and political executives has dropped out over the Khashoggi affair. Adding injury to insult, the official website of the conference was hacked on 22 October 2018, with hackers displaying imagery displaying Khashoggi and messages urging sanctions against the kingdom.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini, the Editor-in-Chief of the digital platforms of major Saudi media outlet Al Arabiya News Channel, on 22 October 2018 adhered to the official Saudi version and attacked those behind what he called a media campaign designed to tarnish the reputation of Saudi Arabia in an op-ed article. Almuhaini further said the kingdom has never pursued well-known opposition figures, who in his view are granted space via satellite channels and on the internet to insult and incite against Saudi Arabia. According to the editor-in-chief, Saudi Arabia is targeted because it is at the forefront in a war against a dangerous mix of extremist organizations and rogue regimes, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Iran. The Khashoggi case, he contends, is being fully exploited to hurt Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Council of Ministers held a meeting under the chairmanship of the King on 23 October 2018, during which it was reiterated that the kingdom is seeking the truth in the matter and strives to bring those responsible to justice. The meeting also highlighted the restructuring and modernization of the General Intelligence Presidency by a ministerial committee headed by the Crown Prince MBS.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted several infographics displaying the kingdom´s measures to bring clarity in the case, stressing that the Crown Prince was unaware of the incident and that those responsible will be brought to justice.
The exiled Saudi opposition activist Yahya Assiri has said that the Crown Prince immoral, inexperienced and prone to rash decision-making without thinking of the consequences.
TURKISH PRESIDENT ERDOGAN´S SPEECH
Below is a summary of the speech the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave 23 October 2018:
Turkish media has continuously released what it says is evidence of high-level Saudi complicity in the alleged murder of Khashoggi. Among recent examples of leaks from purported Turkish officials with insight into the investigation, a major newspaper said the attaché of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, whom they named as Ahmad Abdullah al-Muzaini, was the main orchestrator of the murder. Al-Muzaini reportedly was at the consulate when Khashoggi visited it on 28 September 2018 and then flew to Riyadh where he met with the deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, Ahmad Asiri. He returned to Istanbul on 01 October 2018 to carry out the assassination the next day.
Based on media comments as well as official announcements such as president Erdogan´s speech, the Saudi narrative of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul has not been accepted as corresponding to the actual circumstances of 02 October 2018. Other Saudi narratives of a Muslim Brotherhood-led campaign against the kingdom have not been convincing either, appearing almost farcical as more facts are released daily pointing to a premeditated murder.
While speculations on a future civil or criminal lawsuit against the Crown Prince or his henchmen might seem farfetched, the reputational damage has been done, in particular regarding the role of the de facto ruler´s perhaps closest associate, Saud al-Qahtani, who has often portrayed himself as a loyal soldier serving his country and boss. Furthermore, his aggressive stance on Qatar as well as social media campaigns targeting domestic adversaries will no doubt reflect badly on MBS over the Khashoggi affair.
The Saudi Crown Prince is thus beset on all sides, with Western pressure over human rights abuses as well as possible criminal conduct in the Khashoggi case, Turkish demands to extradite Saudi suspects to stand trial in Turkey, and a tarnished reputation not only for himself as the great reformist but also for Saudi Arabia whose image of a changing youthful nation has been replaced by a repressive monarchy ruled by a brutal dictator.
In a more long-term perspective, the increased Western unease of doing business with Saudi Arabia over its treatment of dissidents and other human rights issues, will open the door to Russian, Chinese and other non-western countries, where those concerns are a non-issue. The list of participants of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh 23-25 October 2018, boycotted by many high-level Western attendees, contained Chinese and Russian delegations eagerly looking for investment opportunities in the kingdom.
In his first major public speech as U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo outlined the new strategy towards Iran after the American withdrawal from the JCPOA-deal.
Much hyped beforehand, it turned out to be not so new, or to contain much novel strategic thinking on Iran. Tough new sanctions and harsh wording about the Iranian regime, should it not acquiesce to the new demands, couldn’t hide the fact that without solid support from Europeans (which is not forthcoming) and others, these new policy-options may not yield the results hoped for in Washington.
Second-tiered or indirect sanctions will have an impact; French energy-giant Total and Danish Maersk have for example stated they will leave Iran, fearing sanctions. But that may not hurt Iran per se, since others are prepared to step into the breach (such as Russia and China) and keep buying Iranian crude.
It’s obviously too early to assess the long-term implications of these U.S. moves, but there is a clear risk that it may hurt U.S. ties with Europe as much as it will hurt Iran.
As for the European signatories (France, the UK and Germany), continued negotiations with Iran will be on-going, trying to salvage the deal. Whether that will seriously alter anything remains to be seen as well, but it does give Iranian President Rouhani – who has stated his support for staying in the deal – a good chance of widening the already frayed U.S.-European relations. On the other hand, Rouhani’s domestic foes within the IRGC and the circles around supreme leader Khamenei (many who have been against the JCPOA-deal from the start), can point to the current crisis and accuse the present government of failing to deliver after agreeing to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions. True or not, the current crisis will add to Iran’s domestic problems, but it will not necessarily lead to a change of Iranian regional policies, despite Pompeo’s tough stance.
This week will see some serious conflagrations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Three events are happening within the scope of a few days. Today (Monday) it’s the official move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, a move severely criticized by not only the Palestinians. Since the move was announced, demonstrations have been on-going by the Gaza-border, and Hamas has upped the ante with the goal of massing demonstrations this week. Maps have been distributed throughout Gaza pointing out the nearest points to reach the border and the closets Israeli towns and Kibbutzim should the border be breached. The aim is to destroy (by setting fire to) fields and houses on the Israeli side.
New and violent demonstrations aimed at breaching the Gaza-Israeli border could potentially lead to even more casualties. This fear is that this is going to take a turn for the worse starting Tuesday May 15 when the Palestinians commemorate Nakba-day, the “catastrophe” when Israel gained independence in 1948. This is also the start of Ramadan, which on many occasions has been used by various more radical elements to instigate violence.
At the same time, tensions between Iran and Israel have been lowered with neither Israel nor Iran interested in escalating. The long-term conflict remains however, with Iran (and especially the IRGC) trying to establish facts on the ground in Syria and Israel just as determined to prevent this.
Expectations are that demonstrations will occur both on the West Bank, in Jerusalem and, most critically, along the Gaza-border, and that those demonstrations will continue for several days. The IDF is expecting tensions on more than 20 points along the border with tens of thousands of Palestinians participating.
With Hamas determined to break into Israel and the Israelis just as determined to prevent this, this week can be expected to see more violence and, as a result, pushing any chances of a renewed peace-process further away than it already is.
In a recent report top Middle East journalist and expert Jonathan Speyer take a closer look on Turkey’s use of Syrian militias in its war with the Kurds and the combination of political and military muscle as the key to succeed in today’s fragmented Middle East.
In the article, Speyer argues that in order to wield influence and gain advantages in today’s Middle East, it’s paramount to combine those military and political forces in the field. “Political soldiering” is most vividly displayed by the Iranian IRGC, which is not loyal to the Iranian state as much as to the present regime and its overall strategic goals (watch the ongoing conflict between President Rouhani and the IRGC/Khamenei leadership).
The IRGC is important in this new way of conducting foreign policy, and its model is being used by other actors, such as Turkey. The big advantage of the IRGC-structure is that it can be used by Teheran in everything from assassinating Kurds in Europe, to conduct terror-attacks on Jewish targets across the globe (like in Buenos Aires and Burgos) and to create proxy-forces loyal to it to project power in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This political party-like militia has the advantage of informality and deniability compared to conventional forces and gives Teheran the chance of still being invited into the diplomatic salons.
The Turkish iteration into this way of doing business is called the SADAT Defence Consultancy and is headed by a former Brigadier General, Adnan Tanriverdi. He was expelled from the army in 1997 because of his Islamist leanings and his ties to Erdogan go back a long time. In 2016 he was appointed Chief Military Advisor to the President.
Other countries are using this model too: Russia used irregular “volunteers” to foment disturbances in Lugansk and Donetsk provinces in eastern Ukraine and military contractors connected to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Company, has played a key-role in Russian interference in Syria.
The SADAT consultancy’s own website is clear about the Islamist goals and the Company’s mission is explained as: “establish a Defensive Collaboration and Defensive Industrial Cooperation among Islamic Countries to help Islamic World take the place where it merits among Super Powers by providing Consultancy and Training Services.” And just to make things even clearer it goes on to call Western states “crusader” and “imperialist” countries.
After the failed coup-attempt in July 2016, Erdogan’s Islamist project took on a new and more aggressive stance with re-instating hundreds of officers dismissed or expelled for Islamist leanings. And SADAT was set up in order to facilitate training and equipping forces outside of the regular Turkish army to help expand Turkish aims in Syria. It’s noteworthy that those aims very often put Turkey on a collision-course with its NATO-allies.
In Syria, Turkey’s main creation is the so called Free Syrian Army, whose Sunni recruits have been trained and equipped by SADAT. And even though it’s the Syrian Kurds that has been the focus of FSA, allegations that SADAT is training militias to use on Turkish political opposition have surfaced from time to time.
Erdogan’s long-term project to destroy the secular republic of Kemal Ataturk and create an Islamic republic instead, is greatly helped by institutions such as SADAT, combining external power-projection with providing muscles to help Erdogan’s repressive politics at home.