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  • Author: Nobumasa Akiyama
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Japan Institute Of International Affairs (JIIA)
  • Abstract: On January 20, 2021, a new administration will take office in the United States. This could lead to changes in US-Iran relations. The Trump administration continued to provoke Iran by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), tightening sanctions, and killing Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. Meanwhile, the incoming president Joe Biden and key members of his diplomatic team are oriented toward a return to the JCPOA. In the midst of all this, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist who is believed to have played a central role in Iran's nuclear development, was murdered. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by saying he would retaliate at an "appropriate" time, and an advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said he would take "decisive" action. Although the US is not believed to have been directly involved in this incident, there are concerns that it will cast a dark shadow on the diplomacy between the US and Iran over the JCPOA. Shortly thereafter, Iran's parliament passed a law that obliges the government to take steps to expand nuclear activities that significantly exceed the JCPOA's limits and to seek the lifting of sanctions. The new US administration will need to be very careful not to overlook either hard or soft signals, to analyze Iran's future course, and to take diplomatic steps to reduce Iran's nuclear and regional security threats.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, JCPOA, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Tommaso Emiliani
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: The killing of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a US drone strike on 3 January 2020, followed by the Iranian retaliation on US military bases in Iraq, left many Europeans wondering how – if at all – the European Union can foster de-escalation in the Middle East. The EU is presently stuck between a deepening strategic rift with its US ally and its inability to advance its independent interests and policies vis-à-vis Iran. It is now clear that Europe cannot protect its relations with Washington while also salvaging the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iranian nuclear deal. Borrowing from an old Persian proverb, Europe cannot have both God and the sugar dates.
  • Topic: Sanctions, Military Affairs, Trade, Transatlantic Relations, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Europe, Iran, Middle East, United States of America, European Union, Gulf Nations
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A survey of how regional media outlets discussed the congressional impeachment process and its potential ramifications on the 2020 presidential election. Across the Middle East, the story of President Trump’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal received secondtier coverage compared to regional or local issues. Many Arabic-language websites and newspapers translated and republished Western articles as opposed to creating their own content on the issue, such as Al Jazeera publishing a translated version of a Guardian editorial. Moreover, the bulk of the articles just explained the facts or process of impeachment rather than expounding on its significance. Some celebrated the idea that there is a mechanism for peaceful removal of a leader. Most commented on the unlikelihood of Trump’s removal and how America is facing unprecedented polarization. Those articles that did offer their own editorial content were split on whether impeachment will help or hurt Trump’s election campaign. Publications in the Gulf states tended to portray impeachment as an act of “political vengeance” by Democrats against Trump, “who won despite their opposition” (Sky News Arabia). Most Gulf papers posited that Trump will ultimately benefit in the 2020 election “after proving his innocence before the Senate” (Al Seyassah). Yet Qatari coverage deviated from the general Gulf trend. For example, one Al Jazeera article asserted that the impeachment case against Trump “is simple, and established not only by officials speaking under oath, but by his own words and actions.” Egyptian newspapers were more split on how impeachment will affect the election. Anti-American outlets in Syria suggested it will hurt him, with Al Baath noting “all data indicate that Trump’s hope for a return to the White House have faded.” Lebanese publications tended to take a more neutral view. The Hezbollah-controlled newspaper Al Akhbar wrote that the prospect of impeachment weakening Trump’s electoral campaign “is similar to that of his potential main rival,” arguing that Joe Biden was also tainted by the process. Most Iranian media tended to copy Western sources, but two themes prevailed among outlets offering original content: portrayal of impeachment as a scandal that has tainted Trump’s presidential legacy, or neutral analysis of how impeachment may or may not harm his reelection chances. A few analytical pieces suggested that he might be able to transform the scandal into an asset for his campaign, since it may “lead to more popularity among the middle class.” While most Iranian articles leaned against Trump, few appeared to praise Democrats. Turkish articles generally depicted impeachment as a “gift” to Trump’s campaign. SETA, a think tank that supports President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed that what “hasn’t killed Trump will make him stronger.” Sabah News, another pro-Erdogan source, wrote that impeachment will “unite Republican senators and members of the House of Representatives around him.”
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Media, News Analysis, Domestic politics, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Arab Countries, North America, United States of America
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Hudson Institute
  • Abstract: It is not the caliphate that the world’s Muslim powerhouses are fighting about. Instead, they are engaged in a deepening religious soft power struggle for geopolitical influence and dominance. This battle for the soul of Islam pits rival Middle Eastern and Asian powers against one another: Turkey, seat of the Islamic world’s last true caliphate; Saudi Arabia, home to the faith’s holy cities; the United Arab Emirates, propagator of a militantly statist interpretation of Islam; Qatar with its less strict version of Wahhabism and penchant for political Islam; Indonesia, promoting a humanitarian, pluralistic notion of Islam that reaches out to other faiths as well as non-Muslim centre-right forces across the globe; Morocco which uses religion as a way to position itself as the face of moderate Islam; and Shia Iran with its derailed revolution. In the ultimate analysis, no clear winner may emerge. Yet, the course of the battle could determine the degree to which Islam will be defined by either one or more competing stripes of ultra-conservativism—statist forms of the faith that preach absolute obedience to political rulers and/or reduce religious establishments to pawns of the state.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Islam, Politics, Ideology
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, United Arab Emirates
  • Author: Hassan Mneimneh
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Hudson Institute
  • Abstract: In 2020, Lebanon should be celebrating its centenary. It is not. Instead, it is close to terminal collapse as a polity, an economy, and even as a society. Lebanon is under Iranian occupation, although ascertaining this condition may demand some attentive consideration from the uninitiated. Iran’s proponents assess it as a confirmation of the “Axis of Resistance” against imperialism and Zionism; its detractors ascribe it to a deliberate plan of Iranian expansion across the region. However, the Iranian occupation of Lebanon may be rooted in Lebanon’s own tumultuous history rather than in Tehran’s designs. Iran in Lebanon may be more an artifact of history than a product of strategy. In fact, the outcome of Lebanon’s present course may not yield Iran any tangible advantage. And it certainly seems to be on the verge of destroying Lebanon.
  • Topic: International Relations, Corruption, Terrorism, Non State Actors, Radicalization, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Roie Yellinek
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: China and Iran have a close relationship, but Beijing’s influence over Tehran is questionable. Its response to the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani offers clues to its view of its own role in the Middle East.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Economy, Political stability, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Middle East, Asia, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: The Conservative Fundamentalist movement in Iran, directly linked to the Republic’s Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is apparently heading towards achieving a significant win in the parliamentary elections due to take place on February 21, 2020. This will play a pivotal role in mapping out political forces within the country before the presidential elections of next year, which the Conservatives might also seize from the moderate stream. The Conservatives are trying to take advantage of the heated political dynamics by using the current escalation with the US, after the murder of Qassem Soleimani, leader of ‘the Quds Force’, the rising possibilities of the failure of the nuclear agreement, and the referral of the Iranian case back to the Security Council, all for the sake of boosting their chances of taking control over the Regime’s center of authority.
  • Topic: Government, Reform, Elections, Conservatism
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: The utilization of mercenaries has become one of the key predicaments in the Middle East, particularly in the hotbeds of armed conflict, including Libya, Yemen and Syria. Such militia are usually transferred through the use of civil flights, crossing land borders or smuggling through organized crime networks. This has been reflected by numerous evidence including the escalating tensions between the international powers such as ‘France’ and regional ones such as ‘Turkey’, even affecting the mutual hostility between the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ and Ankara, and the latter's policy aiming at disturbing Libya's neighboring countries. In the case of Yemen, the Houthi militia and Islah party have also used African mercenaries. It is further evident in the warning given by the Yemeni government to ‘Tehran Mercenaries’ against turning Yemen into a battlefield after the murder of Qassem Soleimani.
  • Topic: War, Non State Actors, Houthis, Militias, Mercenaries
  • Political Geography: Iran, Turkey, Middle East, France, Libya, Yemen, North Africa, Syria
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: The attacks on some Iraqi demonstrators on February 3, 2020, on account of which a number of so-called "blue hats" were indicted, imply the persistence of the Iraqi political crisis, despite the appointment of Muhammed Tawfiq Allawi as head of the new government. Allawi, who was the former Minister of Communications, was officially appointed by President Barham Saleh at the beginning of February 2020. The announcement comes two months after the House of Representative accepted the resignation of Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the former Prime Minister of the Caretaker Government. However, according to the Iraqi constitution, the appointment of a new prime minister should have been selected from the ‘largest bloc’ within the Parliament and should have taken place within a maximum period of 15 days, following the resignation. What is worth noticing here is that the mechanism by which Allawi was nominated for Prime Minister resembles that of Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Identifying the largest bloc within the parliament was also overlooked, because of the consensus between the various political forces, particularly between the two the coalitions, Saairun ‘Alliance Towards Reforms’and the Fatah ‘Conquest Alliance’, which are occupying the largest number of seats in Parliament. This is actually contrary to what is affirmed by the Iraqi constitution in Article 76 thereof, which states that “the President of the Republic shall charge the nominee of the largest Council of Representatives bloc with the formation of the Council of Ministers…".
  • Topic: Government, Constitution, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Paul Rivlin
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies
  • Abstract: In this issue of Iqtisadi Paul Rivlin analyses the underlying factors in the economic problems facing Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and highlights losses in personal income among the populations in these countries that have added fuel to social protests in recent months.
  • Topic: GDP, Economy, Coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Ophir Falk
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: American Diplomacy
  • Abstract: On January 3, 2020, American drone-launched missiles killed Major General Qassem Soleimani shortly after his landing at Baghdad International Airport in what may turn out to be the most significant targeted killing of the 21st century to date.[i] While it is too early to determine the long-term implications and effectiveness of this operation, there is no question that the US action showed it will hold Iran accountable for terrorist actions.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Qassem Soleimani, Assassination
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Peter Krause, Tyler B. Parker
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Political Violence @ A Glance
  • Abstract: Five years ago today, Yemen became a new front in the “Middle East Cold War” when a Saudi-led coalition intervened to restore President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. Hadi, who took over the presidency after longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced out during the Arab Spring, had fled to Saudi Arabia in late March 2015 following a months-long takeover of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a by Ansar Allah, a Shia militia supported by Iran and known widely as the Houthis.
  • Topic: Proxy War, Armed Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Yemen
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Political Violence @ A Glance
  • Abstract: On January 3, 2020, an American drone strike killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, and one of the most influential military and political figures in Iran. It is an extraordinary event—former American army general and director of the CIA David Petraeus called it “more consequential” than the killing of Osama bin Laden—with potentially profound implications for US-Iranian relations, and the entire Middle East. Here, international relations experts from UC San Diego discuss why the Trump administration killed Soleimani; what might come next; and the implications for US domestic politics. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
  • Topic: International Law, Military Intervention, Assassination, Armed Conflict
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran
  • Author: Djavad Salehi-Isfahani
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The Islamic Republic of Iran marks its 40th anniversary this week. But, with the country beset by a severe economic crisis, the question on everyone’s lips –within Iran and the diaspora alike – seems to be whether the Islamic Revolution has actually improved Iranians’ lives.
  • Topic: International Political Economy, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Iran
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: Iran quickly supported the advance of the Syrian regular forces towards the Kurdish militias-controlled town of Manbij on 28 December 2018, albeit some parties denied that, which indicate that it has begun to re-calibrate its strategies to deal with the new realities after the decision of the US president Donald Trump to withdraw his military forces from Syria on the 19th of the same month.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Conflict, Syrian War, Kurds, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: India has recently exempted Iranian oil payments from taxes and fees, in a move aimed at fostering its relations with Tehran, in the wake of the US temporary waivers, in November, to India along with seven other countries from the sanctions on Iranian oil imports, in order to be able to develop the Iranian port of Chabahar. The US waivers have allowed India to resume trade and investment relations with Iran, albeit in a limited manner. However, despite the expected gains, economic relations between India and Iran will hinge on the extent to which the US administration will renew the waivers granted to the eight countries, to continue buying Iranian oil after the current grace period expires.
  • Topic: International Relations, Oil, Sanctions, Tax Systems
  • Political Geography: Iran, South Asia, Middle East, India, North America, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: The decision taken by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, on December 30, 2018, to appoint the head of the judiciary, Sadeq Amoli Larijani, a head of the Expediency Council, to replace Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who died about a week earlier, was not a surprise to the political forces and movements in Iran for several reasons. The most important of them are the regime’s commitments to rotate key positions over the past four decades, coupled with the changes in political power balances ensuing from the internal political crises, which are exacerbated by US sanctions and pressures. These are set to re-entrench the influence of the fundamentalist conservatives close to the Supreme Leader’s establishment, which suggests that the coming period may see further steps aimed at broadening the influence of this movement on the political decision-making process.
  • Topic: Government, Politics, Hassan Rouhani
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Tehran
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: Remnants of the past have become one of the drivers of the region’s interactions in 2019, via various forms, such as the call to restore membership of some organizations after it has been on a freeze for years, sending messages of resistance through arts and music, eruption of student protests over the policies of the existing governments, and betting on the networking of economic interests at times of international sanctions and wars.
  • Topic: History, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria, Jordan
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: Iran is currently making unremitting efforts to further its relations with the Afghan Taliban. Although these attempts are not new, as there have always been unannounced channels of communication between the two parties, Iran is keen to uncover the presence of these channels and its efforts to foster relations with the movement. This was evident in the recent statements of Iranian officials such as its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security Ali Shamkhani. This is, without a doubt, inseparable from the Iranian attempts to pave the Afghan arena for the return of elements of the Fatimid militia, and perhaps prepare in advance for a possible and sudden US withdrawal from the country, like the recent US decision to withdraw from Syria.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Taliban, Conflict, Militias
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iran, South Asia, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: Following the announcement of hosting an international summit on February 13 and 14, 2019, Iran has launched a diplomatic offensive against Poland, where one of the conference main elements will be how to respond to the Iranian interventions in the region. In addition, Iran has also begun to take preemptive moves both to send messages to the powers concerned with the repercussions of those interventions and to tout its ability to contain the pressures of US policy. These moves include attempts to pivot to the East, particularly towards some neighboring countries, and hints at its ability to withdraw from the nuclear deal and resume its suspicious program again.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, European Union, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Europe, Iran, Middle East, Poland, North America, United States of America