What Our Analysts Are Reading — 2/25

Navanti’s data collection and analysis are based on networks of on-the-ground researchers from all walks of life: journalists, academics, and humanitarian workers, to name a few. But our analysts also keep abreast of open source reports to inform their work. Below, Navanti analysts have summarized and contextualized the most important articles they read over the past month.



After the international community threatened the Houthi government with massive cuts to aid programs, the Houthi Supreme Council for the Management and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (SCMCHA) rolled back a two percent tax on aid operations across Houthi territory. The aid community’s attention, however, has focused on other extortionate Houthi practices, and both the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) and global NGOs are pressuring the UN to establish stricter oversight measures for aid flowing into Yemen’s north. — AP News

On 9 February 2019, the USS Normandy seized a shipment of Iranian-made weapons in the Arabian Sea that appeared to be headed towards Yemen. The interdiction comes roughly three months after a similar operation intercepted another shipment of Iranian arms off the coast of Yemen. The discovery of surface-to-air missiles among the seized weapons has raised concerns that technological transfers and material aid from Iran may allow the Houthis to upgrade their aerial denial capabilities and deter Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes. — France24

Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula officially acknowledged the death of former Emir Qassem al-Raymi and designated former Emir of Mukalla Khaled Batarfi as his replacement. Batarfi has extensive experience as a media operations specialist within the organization, and his appointment may represent the organization’s intent to intensify their recruitment campaigns and increase their media footprint both inside Yemen and out. — Al-Mashad al-Yemeni (Arabic)



Syrian government-affiliated forces, backed by Russian air power, continue to advance in Syria’s northwest Idlib province. Aside from precipitating a massive humanitarian catastrophe, this offensive also carries a symbolic dimension: one of the villages recently recaptured by the government is Kafr Nubl, a revolutionary stronghold. Protests broke out in that village at the beginning of the Syrian civil war, in April 2011, and Kafr Nubl became famous for its demonstrations featuring residents carrying revolutionary slogans, often written in English. — Al-Modon (Arabic)

Israeli warplanes struck Iranian targets near the Damascus airport, and in Kisweh, killing four members of the IRGC including two high-ranking commanders. These strikes came a month after Israeli attacks targeting the T4 airport in central Syria. Russia’s ambassador in Syria characterized the strikes as “provocative,” while a western diplomatic source told al-Sharq al-Awsat that Tel Aviv is growing less confident in Russia’s ability to reign in Iranian ambitions in Syria. — Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Arabic)



On February 23, an Iranian member of parliament for the religious city of Qom claimed that Coronavirus infections had so far killed 50 city residents, suggesting a cover up by the Ministry of Health, which categorically denies that such a large number of residents have died. Clergy in Qom want to keep religious ceremonies running and holy sites open, and have urged people to use prayer to ward off the Coronavirus. Meanwhile, Qom province’s security council banned collective prayers in certain shrines, while “most of the doctors in Qom have taken flight,” reported Qom News. — IranWire

High-end private schools (so called “luxury schools”) are a point of contention among Iranians, many of whom view these educational institutions as one of the many causes for social inequality in university acceptances and job acquisitions. A recent article in Iran’s state-owned IRNA news agency acknowledges the inequalities that may occur as a result of luxury schools, even as it defends the legal right to build and operate them, as Iran’s constitution does not explicitly have a provision regarding their existence. The IRNA article claims the biggest problem with luxury schools is their extremely high tuition, and calls for the government to regulate tuition and expenses for extracurricular activities. – IRNA (Farsi)


Eastern Europe and the Balkans

The Munich Security Conference’s annual report highlights what it calls growing “Westlessness” — showing how the globe is becoming untethered from US and EU influence as countries wrestle with domestic populism, increasing Chinese economic influence, and unpredictable technological change. These trends are reflected in turn within the US and EU, the report suggests, as leaders like Trump, Macron, and Orban each have strikingly different visions for the world’s trajectory. — Munich Security Conference

Over the past few years, far-right nationalist groups have grown significantly in number and size in Western democracies. This report centers on the rise of such groups in Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia, and their impact on their respective countries of operation. Freedom House tracks the growth of far-right movements in their birth, adolescence, and maturity while presenting methods on how to best counter them. — Freedom House

Russia’s campaign of assassinations and attempted assassinations against Russian dissidents across Europe serves to illustrate the reach of Moscow’s power. Many of these attacks have been tied to a GRU unit tasked with “disruptive operations” abroad. In January, Bulgaria announced indictments for three GRU officers, including an official diplomat, who were present in the country during a poisoning attack. Bellingcat tracks the nodes of Russian killing, culminating a series of reports on Russian GRU activity in Europe. — Bellingcat


West Africa

Faced with a rapidly spreading insurgency and ill-equipped security forces, Burkina Faso’s National Assembly approved a recent measure that will attempt to fill in security gaps through recruitment of volunteer troops. Many worry the stop-gap measure of putting minimally trained civilians up against VEOs could further expose these northern Burkinabé communities to VEO reprisals. Others fear that arming civilians could increase the risk of interethnic violence and extrajudicial killings, further weakening the state. — Le Monde (French)

The number of VEO attacks in Burkina Faso have accelerated greatly, reaching 360 attacks in 2019 alone out of 550 total attacks since 2015. Facilitating the spread of VEOs was the 2014 popular uprising that ousted Burkina Faso’s elites, causing local governments to essentially dissolve for much of the country’s 71% rural population, thus allowing ethnic militias and VEOs to simultaneously fill the void, and further erode these institutions. The Burkinabé central government has also underestimated the VEO threat as a Libyan or Malian problem, and despite most fighters being Burkinabé, authorities still blame the problem on “invisible hands,” a reference often alluding to foreign entities. — Monde Afrique (French)