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  • Author: Eugene Rumer
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The 2015 Russian military intervention in Syria was a pivotal moment for Moscow’s Middle East policy. Largely absent from the Middle East for the better part of the previous two decades, Russia intervened to save Bashar al-Assad’s regime and reasserted itself as a major player in the region’s power politics. Moscow’s bold use of military power positioned it as an important actor in the Middle East. The intervention took place against the backdrop of a United States pulling back from the Middle East and growing uncertainty about its future role there. The geopolitical realignment and instability caused by the civil wars in Libya and Syria and the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia have opened opportunities for Russia to rebuild some of the old relationships and to build new ones. The most dramatic turnaround in relations in recent years has occurred between Russia and Israel. The new quality of the relationship owes a great deal to the personal diplomacy between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Russia’s emergence as a major presence in Syria has meant that the Israelis now have no choice but to maintain good relations with their new “neighbor.” Some Israeli officials hope that Moscow will help them deal with the biggest threat they face from Syria—Iran and its client Hezbollah. So far, Russia has delivered some, but far from all that Israel wants from it, and there are precious few signs that Russia intends to break with Iran, its partner and key ally in Syria. Russian-Iranian relations have undergone an unusual transformation as a result of the Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war. Their joint victory is likely to lead to a divergence of their interests. Russia is interested in returning Syria to the status quo ante and reaping the benefits of peace and reconstruction. Iran is interested in exploiting Syria as a platform in its campaign against Israel. Russia lacks the military muscle and the diplomatic leverage to influence Iran. That poses a big obstacle to Moscow’s ambitions in the Middle East.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Geopolitics, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The latest tension between Iran and the United States has created an unhealthy debate among local actors in Iraq and the wider Middle East, reflecting minimal insight into Washington or Tehran’s policy environment. This in itself can be extremely detrimental to their own national agenda as well as the overall dynamics. The question here is: where is this US-Iran escalation leading and what policy would be best for the local players in Iraq (and elsewhere) to pursue?
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Imperialism, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Tehran, Washington, D.C.
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: Few recent American foreign policy decisions have been as divisive as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear arms control agreement with Iran. Advocates of the agreement have focused far too exclusively on its potential benefits. Opponents equally exclusively on its potential faults. Both sides tend to forget that any feasible arms control agreement between what are hostile sides tends to be a set of compromises that are an extension of arms races and potential conflicts by other means. As a result, imperfect agreements with uncertain results are the rule, not the exception. President Trump has made it clear that he opposes the agreement and would like to terminate it. His dismissal of Rex Tillerson as Security of State, and his replacement by Mike Pompeo – along with his dismissal of General H.R. McMaster and replacement with John Bolton – indicate that President Trump may well seek to terminate the agreement in the near future – action which might or might not have significant bipartisan support. He faces a May 5th to decide whether to again waive economic sanction against Iran, a decision which comes up for renewal every 120 days.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy, Deterrence, JCPOA
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe, Iran, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The Issue Some U.S. policymakers have argued that the United States should withdraw its military forces from Syria. But the United States has several interests in Syria: Balancing against Iran, including deterring Iranian forces and militias from pushing close to the Israeli border, disrupting Iranian lines of communication through Syria, preventing substantial military escalation between Israel and Iran, and weakening Shia proxy forces. Balancing against Russia, including deterring further Russian expansion in the Middle East from Syrian territory and raising the costs—including political costs—of Russian operations in Syria. Preventing a terrorist resurgence, including targeting Salafi-jihadist groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda that threaten the United States and its allies. Our Recommendations: Based on U.S. interests in Syria, Washington should establish a containment strategy that includes the following components: Retain a small military and intelligence footprint that includes working with—and providing limited training, funding, and equipment to—groups in eastern, northern, and southern Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Coordinate with regional allies such as Jordan and Israel to balance against Iran and Russia and to prevent the resurgence of Salafi-jihadists. Pressure outside states to end support to Salafi-jihadists, including Turkey and several Gulf states. As the war in Syria moves into its seventh year, U.S. policymakers have struggled to agree on a clear Syria strategy. Some U.S. policymakers have argued that the United States needs to withdraw its military forces from Syria. “I want to get out,” President Trump said of the United States’ military engagement in Syria. “I want to bring our troops back home.”1 Others have urged caution, warning that a precipitous withdrawal could contribute to a resurgence of terrorism or allow U.S. competitors like Iran and Russia—along with their proxies—to fill the vacuum.2 In addition, some administration officials have argued that the Islamic State has been decimated in Syria and Iraq. The National Security Strategy notes that “we crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.”3 But between 5,000 and 12,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Syria and continue to conduct guerrilla attacks, along with between 40,000 and 70,000 Salafi-jihadist fighters in Syria overall.4
  • Topic: Civil War, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Alimar Lazkani
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: There is constant talk of the “soft conflict” between Iran and Russia in Syria. Most research and media reports focus on the areas of influence and control of each party. Without going into the relationship between Iranian and Russian forces on Syrian soil, in which the Iranian of influence weakened following the entry of Russian troops, it is important to distinguish the nature of these two forces to help identify the characteristics of this conflict, which are not limited to areas of influence. In fact, there is a clear difference between Iranian and Russian interests as well as strategy on two major issues. The first is the relationship with Israel. While Russia sees Israel as a strategic ally in the region, Iran gains its regional legitimacy by emphasizing the continuity of conflict with it. The second is the way each party sees the future of Syria, and its own role in it. Iran is not capable of establishing a centralized state in Syria because of its ideological hostility to the Sunni majority there. Therefore, a state based on sectarian militias will be the cornerstone of Iran’s continued presence on Syrian soil as it has the capacity to manage militias with no national project. Russia, on the other hand, has a vision of a centralized state that is based on the fundamental pillar of a disciplined and dutiful army. Thus, the “soft conflict” involves not only the geographical divvying-up of Syria, but also fundamental matters related to the structure of Syria’s security and military system. This paper is the second part of a broader study of Russia’s policy of establishing a military influence in Syria. It will look at the Syrian militias that Iran has fostered and supported, and Russia’s approach in dealing with them on the ground. However, it does not consider non-Syrian militias on Syrian soil brought by the Iranians, such as Hezbollah, the Fatemiyoun, the Zainabiyoun, and other Shia militias because of their close association with Iranian politics and their temporary posting in specific conflict areas, making them a foreign presence on Syrian soil.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Military Intervention, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Michael Elleman, Mark T. Fitzpatrick
  • Publication Date: 02-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Institute for Strategic Studies
  • Abstract: Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic-missile arsenal in the Middle East – could these systems one day be used to launch nuclear weapons? In a new report, IISS analysts Michael Elleman and Mark Fitzpatrick offer a detailed assessment of the design intentions behind each missile within Iran’s inventory. The result is a clear picture as to which platforms the United States and its allies should seek to remove, and which ones can be discounted. The common claim that Iran’s missile development must be stopped altogether because these systems could deliver nuclear weapons in the future rests on broad generalisations. While there is reason for concern, priority attention should be given to those missiles that might realistically be used for such a purpose, if Iran were to go down a perilous nuclear path. The international standard – but not treaty – for determining the inherent nuclear capability of missiles is the threshold developed in 1987 by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which seeks to forestall exports of missile systems able to deliver a 500kg payload a distance of 300km or more. Eight of Iran’s 13 current ballistic missile systems – the largest and most diverse arsenal in the Middle East – exceed this threshold and are thus deemed to be nuclear capable. The other five, all within the Fateh-110 family of missiles, are certainly lethal, especially when shipped to Hizbullah for use against Israel, but they are clearly not intended for nuclear use. Because capability does not equal intent, the MTCR guidelines should be just the first step in an assessment of Iran’s intentions for its missiles. When the United Nations Security Council drafted a new resolution in July 2015 to accompany the Iran nuclear agreement finalised that month, an element of intent was added to previous sanctions resolution language that prohibited launches of Iranian missiles that were ‘capable of delivering nuclear weapons’. The 2015 resolution calls upon Iran not to engage in activity concerning missiles ‘designed to be’ capable of delivering nuclear weapons. What it means ‘to be designed’ is undefined. Judging intent is partly subjective, but technical clues and intelligence information can guide analysis. The soundest approach is to disaggregate Iran’s various missile systems, and to assess design intentions on the basis of the technical capabilities and lineage of the different missiles.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe, Iran, Middle East, Israel, North America
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
  • Abstract: There was general agreement that the JCPOA was a very positive solution to a complex issue, providing a constructive and peaceful way forward for the Middle East in particular, and the non-proliferation regime in general. The deal contained in the JCPOA is working as intended. Iran has been determined by the IAEA on multiple [6] occasions to be in full compliance with its obligations, and now has the most comprehensive safeguards and verification regime in history. World powers have followed through with some sanctions relief thereby aiding the Iranian economy. Furthermore, there have been other positive dimensions, including an effective joint commission process, greater transparency among parties, as well as communications and interactions taking place in a more positive atmosphere. At the same time, it was recognized that the deal is unstable: although the terms of the JCPOA were ring-fenced from the wider geopolitical environment of the Middle East, political manoeuvring can threaten its continued implementation. The spill-over of non-nuclear issues, often labelled under “Iranian behaviour”, should not be allowed to derail the process. It was noted in a positive sense that all the main candidates in the Iranian Presidential campaign have signalled their desire to continue with the JCPOA. However, several participants felt that some of Iran’s regional policies could undermine this, risking a negative reaction from the US and other states. Some argued that given Iran’s disputed compliance history with IAEA safeguards agreements (which even two years later remains heated) and, in general, the uneasy relations in the past between Iran and IAEA, it is important that Iran continue to strictly comply to the letter of the JCPOA. The US domestic context provides perhaps the greatest potential risk to the sustainability of the JCPOA. It was noted that President Trump may not, after all, ‘tear up’ the deal. The possibility was raised that, because many in his national security team were seen as hostile to Iran, any minor safeguards violation may be seized upon to terminate the deal. Such a hard-line approach could isolate the US from a global consensus and weaken its hand in other relevant matters. There is further danger that Congress could act alone in enacting a bill (of which many are on the table) that would be in contravention of the JCPOA. This possibility was considered unrealistic by some participants. Some details of Security Council resolution 2231 were seen as problematic in a number of ways: the explicit provisions on ballistic missiles were viewed as an unnecessarily punitive measure unrelated to the main goals of the JCPOA; equally, some of the inquiry and resolution mechanisms were seen by some as unbalanced. The JCPOA should in any case be understood as a temporary solution. Even though continuing to implement it effectively would build more confidence, ultimately trust between Iran and some Western states will likely never be high. However, the deal does hold the potential for transformative progress in Iran-US relations, pending further steps to de-escalate and normalize relations. Many of Iran’s neighbours worry that the remaining latent nuclear capacity has only delayed the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran down the road; at the same time, many regional states are also pursuing nuclear fuel cycle programs. The JCPOA should also offer the international community an opportunity to consider how to extend some measures indefinitely and extend them to other countries. Regional stability and non-proliferation could be enhanced by extending some of the JPCOA provisions to the Middle East and beyond it. As such, Pugwash should make efforts to convene and organize meetings to explore far-reaching initiatives that are in the spirit of the agreement; for example: initiatives to discuss ‘internationalizing’ the nuclear fuel cycle; forward-looking regional agreements, such as a threshold of uranium enrichment, a ban on plutonium reprocessing, or limits on stockpiles of LEU; innovative safeguards measures, such as advanced monitoring technology, enhanced access to centrifuge production facilities, or explicitly set times for snap inspections; further multilateral scientific and technical cooperation, such as the SESAME project.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Nuclear Power, Nonproliferation
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Nikolay Kozhanov
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Transatlantic Relations
  • Abstract: This paper is part of CTR's Working Paper Series: "Russia and the West: Reality Check." The current level of Russian presence in the Middle East is unprecedented for the region since the fall of the Soviet Union. Records of diplomatic and political contacts show increased exchange of multilevel delegations between Russia and the main regional countries. After 2012, Moscow has attempted to cultivate deeper involvement in regional issues and to establish contacts with forces in the Middle East which it considers as legitimate. Moreover, on September 30, 2015, Russia launched air strikes against Syrian groupings fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Before that time, Russia had tried to avoid any fully-fledged involvement in the military conflicts in the region. It was also the first time when it adopted an American military strategy by putting the main accent on the use of air power instead of ground forces. Under these circumstances, the turmoil in the Middle East, which poses a political and security challenge to the EU and United States, makes it crucial to know whether Russia could be a reliable partner in helping the West to stabilize the region or whether, on the contrary, Moscow will play the role of a troublemaker.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, United States of America, European Union, Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: Academic interest in Gulf security has continued to focus on traditional notions of zero-sum security threats emanating from Iran or Iraq, or the role of the United States. There has been limited exploration of the deeper, structural issues that threaten the region. In line with this, in the 2014-2015 academic year, CIRS launched a research initiative on “The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf.” The purpose of this project is to scrutinize the ways in which domestic security threats in the region are evolving, and how newer challenges related to human security are being reinforced by—and in some ways actually replacing—military threats emanating from regional and outside actors. This project brings together a number of distinguished scholars to examine a variety of relevant topics, which resulted in original research chapters published in an edited volume titled, The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2017), edited by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen.
  • Topic: Security, Military Strategy, Political structure
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: The Red Star and the Crescent (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2018) provides an in-depth and multi-disciplinary analysis of the evolving relationship between China and the Middle East. Despite its increasing importance, very few studies have examined this dynamic, deepening, and multi-faceted nexus. James Reardon-Anderson has sought to fill this critical gap. The volume examines the ‘big picture’ of international relations, then zooms in on case studies and probes the underlying domestic factors on each side. Reardon-Anderson tackles topics as diverse as China’s security strategy in the Middle East, its military relations with the states of the region, its role in the Iran nuclear negotiations, the Uyghur question, and the significance and consequences of the Silk Road strategy.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Middle East, Asia