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  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: While the threat of an immediate escalation between Israel and Hizballah appears to have subsided after deadly tit-for-tat attacks, the trend lines suggest greater conflict ahead In an important and ominous speech on January 30, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah created, in effect, one long front against Israel that now includes Syria and the Golan Heights as well as Lebanon, increasing the potential for conflict with Israel Iran is no longer moving in the shadows but rather is openly coordinating strategy with its proxy Hizballah as the two seek to strengthen and expand 'the resistance' against Israel All parties involved have specific reasons to avoid a near-term conflict-the upcoming Israeli elections, ongoing Iranian nuclear negotiations, Hizballah's commitments in Syria-but shifting regional power dynamics will only increase the likelihood of serious fighting between them.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The still-unresolved hostage situation involving Jordan, Japan, and the Islamic State is unlike any of the group's previous kidnappings Jordan is in a precarious position, as it seeks the release of one of its citizens-a national hero who comes from a prominent tribe-while not wanting to free one of the perpetrators of the worst terrorist attack in the country's history By demanding the release of failed suicide-bomber Sajida al-Rishawi from Jordanian custody, the Islamic State is trying to elevate itself to the status of negotiating nation-state, and weaken and embarrass a vital member of the coalition seeking its destruction In a striking difference with previous Islamic State hostage situations, current circumstances provide a chance for the group to bolster its standing in the vital Iraqi province of al-Anbar-where al-Rishawi is from-and perhaps slightly lessen tribal pressure on the group The issue is causing tensions between the Iraqi-born leadership of the Islamic State, who want to make the exchange, and a small faction of primarily Saudi fighters, who want to execute the Jordanian pilot for bombing the group.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Japan, Middle East, Arab Countries, Jordan
  • Author: Jonathan Rynhold
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On February 23, Jonathan Rynhold and Elliott Abrams addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Rynhold is a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), director of the Argov Center for the Study of Israel and the Jewish People, and author of the just-released book The Arab-Israel Conflict in American Political Culture (Cambridge University Press). Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and former deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration. The following is a rapporteur's summary of their remarks.
  • Political Geography: United States, America, Washington, Middle East, Israel, Arabia
  • Author: Robert Rabil
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On February 13, Robert Rabil addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Dr. Rabil is a professor of Middle East studies in Florida Atlantic University's Department of Political Science and the Lifelong Learning Society (LLS) Distinguished Professor of Current Events. He is the author of Salafism in Lebanon (Georgetown University Press, October 2014). The following is a rapporteur's summary of his remarks.
  • Political Geography: Washington, Middle East, Lebanon, Florida
  • Author: David Makovsky
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Israeli parties are placing a premium on capturing marginal votes within their blocs rather than competing across the left-right spectrum, and this status quo is working to Netanyahu's benefit. Israeli election polls have been fairly stagnant in the lead-up to the March 17 parliamentary vote, despite a plethora of campaign tactics to shake up the race. Some fluidity has been seen within the wider political blocs, but little if any between them. Socioeconomics, geography, and ethnicity have reinforced the current blocs, making wild swings unlikely. Typically, Israel's upper-middle-class, secular Ashkenazi (European origin) voters tend to focus on the high cost of living and concerns about the country's potential isolation in Europe, making them more likely to vote center-left. In contrast, Sephardic (Middle East origin) voters with more traditional and humble socioeconomic roots tend to focus on security threats and are therefore more likely to vote right. The clear segmentation of the political spectrum has led to a variety of mini-races rather than one overarching race.
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Liora Halperin
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: One of the key forces in shaping the history of Palestine was the Zionist movement. This movement emerged from and is rooted in political developments in Europe, but it changed and developed as it evolved from a political movement in Europe to a settlement and nation-building project in Palestine. Thus, we need to step outside the physical context of the Middle East to understand a force that ultimately changed the Middle East.
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Palestine
  • Author: Michael Knights, Phillip Smyth, P.J. Dermer
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On February 6, 2015, Michael Knights, Phillip Smyth, and P.J. Dermer addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Knights is an Institute Lafer Fellow and author of the Institute study The Long Haul: Rebooting U.S. Security Cooperation in Iraq. Smyth is a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the Institute study The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects. Dermer is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served multiple tours in the Middle East, including two in Iraq. The following is a rapporteur's summary of their remarks.
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: There hasn't been a lasting and successful end to an armed conflict in the Middle East in decades, and the newest fighting in Yemen can be seen through a lens of deep regional frustration over countless issues that seem to defy solutions The entire region is frustrated with the worsening status quo, but the consensus and creativity to meaningfully address the challenges is lacking, even with the newly announced Arab 'rapid response force' to an extremist problem that has been openly growing for a decade The only actors not frustrated are non-state actors, who fill the ever-widening chasm between what regional governments can deliver and what their populations demand.
  • Topic: Economics, Government
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Algeria
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Outside of its own borders, Iran now has significant proxy presence and influence in four countries encompassing 1.1 million square kilometers and 82 million people, in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon It has done this by leveraging tactical decisions made by other countries into its own strategic expansion; from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, Iran is taking advantage of the short-term actions of others in its long-term plan The complete collapse of the U.S.-aided Yemeni president and the associated counterterrorism and military support is just the latest example of measures intended to address immediate pressures, which ultimately benefit Iran-all while U.S. airstrikes support Iraqi and Iranian militias in Tikrit against the immediate threat of the Islamic State It's not that Iranian leaders are all-knowing, masterful chess players but rather that the Middle East has for decades been a battlefield of ad hoc stability measures by numerous countries that have enabled Iran to steadily project power, to the extreme concern of countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has now launched airstrikes in Yemen.
  • Topic: Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have more in common than sets them apart, as both groups embrace 'bin Ladinism' even as their leaderships differ on tactics and priorities As the fortunes of the two groups wax and wane, their shared characteristics are likely to become more pronounced and their rivalries less so For the moment, the competition between them weakens their appeal and blunts their impact; any trend towards reconciliation or partnership could magnify the threat they pose across the Arab world.
  • Topic: Islam
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Arabia
  • Author: Amy Hawthorne, Frances G. Burwell, Danya Greenfield
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: A new Atlantic Council report warns against the tendency of Europe and the United States to sideline political and economic reform in the Middle East while they pursue urgent security priorities in this turbulent region. Instead, the transatlantic partners should forge a shared strategy to encourage political systems that can protect Arab citizens' basic rights, provide security, deliver broad prosperity, and mitigate violent extremism.
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe, Middle East
  • Author: Danya Greenfield, Faysal Itani
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: To cling to current short-sighted policies and to help sustain dysfunctional states in the Middle East for the sake of short-term security would condemn the region to poverty and further instability, which threaten to have negative consequences for US interests.
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East
  • Author: Bilal Y. Saab, Michael S. Tyson
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: In September 2014, Bilal Y. Saab, Resident Senior Fellow for Middle East Security at the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft on International Security, and Michael S. Tyson, Marine Corps Senior Fellow at the Scowcroft Center, predicted in a simulation exercise (for results, see "ISIS War Game: The Coming Stalemate") conducted at the Scowcroft Center's Middle East Peace and Security Initiative that the most likely scenario was a military stalemate. They also realized that such a stalemate was not stable. Since the conclusion of the first war game, ISIS's regional attacks have increased in scope, lethality, and level of sophistication, as evidenced by its military and terrorist operations in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon.
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Despite the vast resources of other states in the Middle East, the two powers that matter most are Iran and Turkey Iran is currently ascendant in the region and takes every opportunity to wield its influence Saudi Arabia is trying to build a Sunni alliance that might challenge Iran's dominance-even if it is not clear how Efforts to bring Turkey on board the Sunni alliance may founder on differing interests-not least Turkey's own ambitions.
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Daniel Gorevan, Martin Hartberg, Dominic Bowen
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Oxfam Publishing
  • Abstract: The unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2139 (UNSCR 2139) at the end of February 2014 brought with it much needed hope for people in Syria and across the Middle East. In the resolution, the UN Security Council (UNSC) – the body responsible for international peace and security – called for an urgent increase in access to humanitarian aid in Syria and demanded that all parties immediately cease attacks against civilians, end arbitrary detention, kidnapping and torture, and lift sieges of populated areas.
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Bilal Y. Saab
  • Publication Date: 12-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: September 2015 marked the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's speech outlining the administration's strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Yet, ISIS celebrated in June its own first-year anniversary of setting up a state by conducting three nearly simultaneous terrorist operations in three different countries—France, Tunisia, and Kuwait. Just this past month, ISIS also shocked the world with its attacks in Paris and Beirut and its downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt, killing more than 400 people combined and injuring hundreds more. While nobody expected the destruction of a resilient and agile foe such as ISIS within a couple of years, it is deeply troubling that the coalition is having such a hard time even disrupting its activities.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, War, Counterinsurgency, Fragile/Failed State, ISIS
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Aaron Rock-Singer
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Religion was a pillar of pre-modern political identity in the Middle East, arising out of Muslims’ understanding of Islam’s foundational moment and state institutions that developed with the spread of Islamic Empire. Beginning at the turn of the 19th century, European colonial powers and indigenous reformers questioned the centrality of religious identity; instead, it was to be the nation that defined the political community. Since then, the nationalist project has permeated 20th century ideological conflicts in the region, equally shaping the claims of secularists and Islamists. Today, advocates of religious change refer back to early Islamic history as they seek to place religious over national identity, yet they, like their competitors, are unmistakably shaped by the secular nationalist project.
  • Topic: Islam, Nationalism, Post Colonialism, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Lev Weitz
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The majority of the Middle East’s population today is Muslim, as it has been for centuries. However, as the place of origin of a range of world religions – including Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and many lesser-known faiths – it remains a region of remarkable religious diversity. This article considers the place of religious minorities in the modern Middle East from three angles: their distinctive religious and communal identities, their place in the major transformations of the region’s political landscape from the nineteenth century to the post-World War I era, and the challenges of contemporary political conditions.
  • Topic: Demographics, Islam, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 10-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: We live in an age of identity politics. We define ourselves by one or more objective measures: measures of race, ethnicity, gender, politics, religion, sexual orientation, to name just a few. Those measures then define who we are to others. They determine our place in society, the communities with which we identify, our attitudes towards others and other communities. The politics of identity are fraught, and they interact in ways that both liberate and confine. On the one hand we prize diversity. On the whole, this is a good thing, since it reflects a larger transformation in American life. Like it or not, the fact is that we are becoming, have become, a “multi-cultural society.” No matter what terms we use to define diversity—racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, gender, whatever—we are more diverse now than we have ever been, and we are destined to grow more so. Multi-culturalism is not an option; it is the future. The only question is how, and how well, we are going to deal with it.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Michele Flournoy, Richard Fontaine
  • Publication Date: 08-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: In the 11 months since President Barack Obama committed the United States to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), the group has expanded its international reach, metastasized to form offshoots across multiple regions, and increased its perceived momentum. Although U.S. government officials cite a reduction in the overall size of the group’s sanctuary in Iraq and Syria and the killing of thousands of ISIS fighters, the fall of Ramadi and much of Anbar province to the Islamic State served as a wakeup call that current efforts to counter ISIS are not adequate to the task.2 Meanwhile, the threat posed by the terrorist group to Americans at home and abroad appears to be growing as ISIS-inspired individuals conduct attacks targeting Westerners around the globe, including here in the United States.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Civil War, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries