What Our Analysts Are Reading – October, 2022

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. Our analysts also keep abreast of open source reports to inform their work. Below, these analysts have summarized and contextualized the most important pieces they have read and listened to over the past month.


Recent Iranian aggression towards Albania has brought renewed attention to the presence of the Mujahedin Khalq (MEK) in the Balkan nation. A piece by Emerging Europe examines how a radical Iranian opposition group went from having a crucial role in the 1979 revolution to holing up a compound in rural Albania. The group had been one of the most zealous and violent opponents to the Shah’s rule, yet ran afoul of Khomeni’s faction in the wake of the revolution, resulting in a vicious crackdown that drove the MEK from Iran. They landed in Iraq and while they did not flourish, the group persisted until the US invasion, when they caught the attention of a certain kind of hawk who saw the MEK as a wedge to be used to destabilized the Islamic Republic. However, the spiraling violence within Iraq proved a threat to the faction and they had to find a new base; no country would take them save Albania. Many have questioned the wisdom of taking in the MEK: what could make it worth making Albania a target for Iran’s ire, or more precisely, Iran’s drones?


One consequence of Libya’s fragmentation since 2011 has been the country’s emergence as a central hub in the North African migration crisis. Many thousands of people, after enduring abuses from human smugglers in Libya, have drowned in the central Mediterranean over this period as they attempt to cross from North Africa to Europe. Those who survive are most often intercepted and returned to Libya, where they face ransom, extortion, forced work without pay, and torture while in the custody of European Union-funded militias. Drawing on hundreds of interviews with the victims in My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge On the World’s Deadliest Migration Route, investigative journalist Sally Hayden tells the stories of the people suffering in this humanitarian crisis, providing both human perspectives on their plight and an in-depth look into the structures of human smuggling in Libya and the failures of international multilateral actors to assist migrants. 


Russia has intensified the use of drone and missile strikes in its war in Ukraine, which have been used to strike critical civilian infrastructure in an attempt to undermine Ukrainians’ resiliency. Strikes are causing water and electricity shortages. On this backdrop, investigative journalist group Bellingcat released the results of a six-month investigation by it and its investigative partners The Insider and Der Spiegal into the military engineers who program the flight paths of Russia’s cruise missiles. Using methods similar to those previously utilized to trace those involved in the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, the investigation maps out the Russian Armed Forces’ shadowy Main Computation Centre and the young military academy graduates that it is largely composed of.

Furthermore, as Russia increases its offensive against Ukrainian energy infrastructure, it has utilized an arsenal of Iranian-made kamikaze drones as its cruise missile stocks are depleted. The drones, which include the Shahed-136 drones (which Russian forces have rebranded as the Geran-2), have allegedly been produced in Tajikistan. On 18 October 2022, Sergei Danilov, Middle Eastern pundit for Ukrainian-based outlet Hromadske, claimed that Tajikistan has been building the Iranian drones, citing the visit of chief of staff Iran’s armed forces to Tajikistan in May 2022 for the opening of a factory which reportedly produces a different unmanned suicide drone. Tajikistan has denied the allegation, saying it does not send military equipment to “third countries.”


This Identity, Mind, Emotions and Perceptions (IMEP) analysis seeks to understand Al Shabaab’s (AS) motivations and reasoning behind the group’s goals, in order to best address the challenges brought on by the conflict. The study found that AS is a Somali-centric organization, in which Muslim and clan identities are deeply entrenched. Its goals remain focused on expelling foreign forces from Somalia and establishing an Islamic state in Somalia, resonating with its core identities. In its journey to achieve those goals, the study found that AS understands its adversaries and their own motivations better than its adversaries understand AS, giving it the upper hand in the conflict. Given these circumstances, the study asserted that it is unlikely that AS would engage in negotiations to resolve the conflict, given AS’s upper hand and the Somali government’s weakness and lack of credibility. However, the group is not fundamentally opposed to peaceful dialogue.


In its second installment in the “Life under Occupation” series, the Center for Information Resilience (CIR)’s analyzes the current power structure of the Russia-backed occupying administration in Kherson oblast, Ukraine. This report reveals many of the collaborators and defectors who have enabled and promoted the occupation both from within the oblast and from Moscow. The report also dives into the role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in Kherson oblast and the role pro-Kremlin clergy have played in the occupation.

Women, Gender, and Daesh Radicalization

The authors of the publicationWomen, Gender, and Daesh Radicalization,” use semi-structured qualitative interviews in five countries where the Islamic State (IS) has been known to recruit in order to explore the different pathways to radicalization for men and women joining the Islamic State. They find that gender impacts the enabling factors, mechanisms, and locations of radicalization, as well as outside perceptions of this radicalization. The authors also discuss the importance of female empowerment in IS recruitment messaging, challenging assumptions that women who join IS are passive and/or coerced.


Navanti is intrigued by a possible new trend of increased domestic wheat production in Yemen. Reuters reports that rising prices on imported wheat have unexpectedly reached the point where Yemeni farmers are increasingly turning to wheat production. Domestically grown wheat – usually more expensive on the market than imported wheat due to high cost of irrigation and other inputs – has has low consumer demand due to its high prices, and therefore normally less of an incentive for farmers to grow compared to other crops. As an interviewed farmer noted, people who had never previously engaged in farming may be joining these new ranks of wheat farmers. It remains to be seen to what extent this domestic wheat production can improve food security by making the major staple of wheat more affordable to consumers, giving households new livelihoods, and strengthening existing farming livelihoods.

Furthermore, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point feature article “The Houthi Jihad Council: Command and Control in the Other Hezbollah,” by Michael Knights, Adnan al-Gabarni, and Casey Coombs provide a “fuller understanding of the Houthi political-military leadership, its core motivations, and the nature and extent of Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah influence within the movement.” The publication argues that “the Houthi movement is now more centralized and cohesive than ever, in part due to close mentoring from Lebanese Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” The authors conclude that “the Houthi Jihad Council is emerging as a remarkable partner for Iran and the Houthi-Iran relationship and should no longer be viewed as a relationship of necessity, but rather a strong, deep-rooted alliance that is underpinned by tight ideological affinity and geopolitical alignment. The emergence of a ‘southern Hezbollah’ is arguably now a fact on the ground.”