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  • Author: Saud Al-Sharafat
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The pandemic has not ended terrorism in Jordan, and ISIS is still a significant threat. Last year’s abnormally low terrorist activity in Jordan could be interpreted as an indication that the threat of ISIS in the country has diminished significantly. Unfortunately, this is not the case; while there are several explanations for the low occurrence of terrorist attacks in Jordan in 2020, none of them point to a future in which ISIS does not continue to pose a threat to Jordanian security. On the contrary, the decrease in ISIS activity in Jordan last year was primarily a result of effective counterterrorism efforts, not the special circumstances of the pandemic or any other factor. Accordingly, Jordanian anti-terror institutions should not relax their guard. Rather, they should capitalize on their successes, expanding cooperation with their partners and enhancing their resources in combatting extremism. Jordanian security forces should be especially concerned with activities along their borders. There have been several recent international and UN reports that confirmed the rising activities of terrorist groups in countries that border Jordan. Iraq in particular has seen a recent rise in terrorist attacks, including two suicide bombings in Baghdad on January 21, 2021 that killed 32 people and injured 110 others. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. In turn, ISIS's mounting activities in Iraq have led to increased terrorist activity in the Badia al-Sham region and the Jordanian Syrian-Iraqi border triangle, where terrorist militants move in small, highly mobile groups. This increase in activity has prompted Jordanian security forces to strengthen their presence on the borders with Iraq and Syria. Following a Russian air campaign in the Badia region in late February, in which Russian planes launched at least 130 air strikes in one day against terrorist groups in the area, Jordan started to strengthen and tightened its security presence on the borders to prevent infiltration of ISIS elements into Jordan. Russian strikes were especially targeted at ISIS, which extends between the governorates of Homs and Deir al-Zour at the border with Iraq.
  • Topic: Security, Counter-terrorism, Peace, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Jordan
  • Author: Oula A. Alrifai
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The dalliance between the Assad family and Iran’s Shia clerics began in the 1970s. But whereas the Syrian leader held leverage in those days predating Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the tables have now been turned. Observers of the decade-long Syria war understand the indispensable role Tehran has played in ensuring the Assad regime’s survival. But they may be less familiar with its stunning breadth—or its historical roots. The dalliance between the Assad family and Iran’s Shia clerics began in the 1970s, when the shah was still in power in Iran and then president Hafiz al-Assad, a member of the marginalized Alawite sect, sought religious legitimacy to lead his majority-Muslim country. But whereas the Syrian leader held leverage in those days predating Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the tables have now been turned. Lately, Tehran’s relationship with Damascus can be described as one of strategic dominance. In this deeply researched Policy Note, analyst Oula Alrifai, a former Syrian asylee, lays bare the extent of Iranian infiltration of Syrian religious and socioeconomic life. She details the spread of Twelver Shia ideology through seminaries, congregation halls, and academic institutions, while demonstrating Iran’s massive economic clout in Syria through initiatives such as the Marota City housing project. For Washington, only a determined effort to blunt Iranian influence can help deliver much-deserved peace for the Syrian people and enduring stability for the region.
  • Topic: Religion, History, Authoritarianism, Ideology, Syrian War, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: U.S. concerns center on Turkey’s democratic backslide and deepening ties between Erdogan and Putin—but the Turkish president also wants to develop a rapport with Joe Biden and fortify his country’s weakened economy. In the seventh in a series of TRANSITION 2021 memos examining the Middle East and North Africa, Soner Cagaptay offers guidelines for reinforcing the strained U.S.-Turkey relationship. Principal causes for unease involve U.S. concerns about Turkey’s democratic backslide and deepening ties between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, particularly Ankara’s decision to purchase the S-400 missile defense system from Moscow. Yet Erdogan also wants to develop a rapport with President Biden and fortify his country’s weakened economy. Further, Ankara and Washington can find many areas for tactical cooperation in places such as Syria, Libya, and China’s Xinjiang province, where the government is carrying out a genocide against the Muslim Uyghur population “Erdogan needs to reverse the current dynamic by advancing the narrative that he is getting along just fine with Washington,” the author explains. “Thus, in this early phase of the U.S. administration, Biden would appear to have a brief window of leverage over his Turkish counterpart.” In the coming weeks, TRANSITION 2021 memos by Washington Institute experts will address the broad array of issues facing the Biden-Harris administration in the Middle East. These range from thematic issues, such as the region’s strategic position in the context of Great Power competition and how to most effectively elevate human rights and democracy in Middle East policy, to more discrete topics, from Arab-Israel peace diplomacy to Red Sea security to challenges and opportunities in northwest Africa. Taken as a whole, this series of memos will present a comprehensive approach for advancing U.S. interests in security and peace in this vital but volatile region.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Even as U.S. policymakers must stay focused on the Assad regime’s culpability, they also face a complex web of power dynamics in which Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and other actors are attempting to secure their various interests. After a decade of civil war in Syria, the core antagonist remains the Assad regime, which in 2011 ruthlessly suppressed peaceful protestors and has since tortured and executed tens of thousands of detainees. The regime also bears responsibility for fostering the growth of the Islamic State, in part by releasing Syrian jihadists at the start of the war. Yet even as U.S. policymakers must stay focused on Assad’s culpability, they also face a highly complex web of power dynamics in which Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and other actors are attempting to secure their various interests. In this Policy Note, expert Aaron Zelin details how the world’s counterterrorism and Great Power challenges converge in Syria, and how they must be addressed holistically. To this end, he proposes policies on the diplomatic, humanitarian, legal, economic, and military fronts that can calm the fears of U.S. allies such as Israel, Jordan, and Turkey, and perhaps inspire a more robust opposition, backed by a diverse set of local and diaspora activists.
  • Topic: Counter-terrorism, Syrian War, Strategic Competition, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Albert B. Wolf
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Whoever wins, the result will intimate deeper trends in Iranian society, such as public support for the regime and the Supreme Leader’s intentions for the country’s future. The Washington Institute has been sponsoring a series of discussions about sudden succession in the Middle East. Each session focuses on scenarios that might unfold if a specific ruler or leader departed the scene tomorrow. Questions include these: Would the sudden change lead to different policies? Would it affect the stability of the respective countries involved, or the region as a whole? What would be the impact on U.S. interests? Would the manner of a leader’s departure make a difference? The discussions also probe how the U.S. government might adjust to the new situation or influence outcomes. This essay, thirteenth in the series, assesses the situation in Iran, where a June election will determine the successor to President Hassan Rouhani. An IRGC-backed candidate such as Majlis speaker Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf or former defense minister Hossein Dehghan could ultimately prevail—but a history of election surprises in the Islamic Republic suggests no outcome is certain. Whoever wins, the result will offer clues about deeper trends in Iranian society, such as public support for the regime and the Supreme Leader’s intentions for the country’s future.
  • Topic: International Relations, Government, Elections, Domestic politics
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Eisenstadt, David Pollock
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Areas for especially timely U.S.-Israel cooperation include climate resilience, agtech, and medical research, as well as longstanding work in the military and security arenas. In the fifth in a series of TRANSITION 2021 memos examining the Middle East and North Africa, Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock assess the multifaceted strengths of the U.S.-Israel partnership and its prospects for growth under the Biden administration. Areas for especially timely cooperation include climate resilience, agtech, and medical research, as well as longstanding work in the military and security arenas. Israel’s recent normalization deals with several Arab states only further widen the horizon. “Israel is a world-class innovator in technologies that will be critical to meeting future challenges, including artificial intelligence, information technology, and cybersecurity; sustainable water, food, and energy solutions; and high-tech medicine,” explain the authors. “All these areas are supportive of America’s foreign policy priorities.” In the coming weeks, TRANSITION 2021 memos by Washington Institute experts will address the broad array of issues facing the Biden-Harris administration in the Middle East. These range from thematic issues, such as the region’s strategic position in the context of Great Power competition and how to most effectively elevate human rights and democracy in Middle East policy, to more discrete topics, from Arab-Israel peace diplomacy to Red Sea security to challenges and opportunities in northwest Africa. Taken as a whole, this series of memos will present a comprehensive approach for advancing U.S. interests in security and peace in this vital but volatile region.
  • Topic: Security, Climate Change, International Cooperation, Alliance
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Dennis Ross
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A reimagined approach to Iran nuclear talks could extend the country’s breakout time, preserve U.S. negotiating leverage, and strengthen American alliances in Europe and across the Middle East. In the first in a series of TRANSITION 2021 memos examining policy challenges across the Middle East, esteemed diplomat and policymaker Dennis Ross provides an innovative approach to reengaging Iran in nuclear diplomacy. His ideas have the potential to extend Iran’s breakout time, preserve U.S. negotiating leverage, and strengthen U.S. alliances in Europe and across the Middle East. Ross explains: “If regime change is not a realistic or advisable goal, the objective must be one of changing the Islamic Republic’s behavior. While this would be difficult, history shows that the regime will make tactical adjustments with strategic consequences when it considers the price of its policies to be too high.” In the coming weeks, TRANSITION 2021 memos by Washington Institute experts will address the broad array of issues facing the Biden-Harris administration in the Middle East. These range from thematic issues, such as the region’s strategic position in the context of Great Power competition and how to most effectively elevate human rights and democracy in Middle East policy, to more discrete topics, from Arab-Israel peace diplomacy to Red Sea security to challenges and opportunities in northwest Africa. Taken as a whole, this series of memos will present a comprehensive approach for advancing U.S. interests in security and peace in this vital but volatile region.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Nuclear Power, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Europe, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Maged Atef
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Turkey is making overtures for rapprochement with Egypt. How will Sisi respond? In a surprising development, Turkey-based media channels opposed to the Egyptian regime announced the suspension of all political programs attacking President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and his regime, based on directives from the Turkish government. Supporters of the Egyptian regime met the news with happiness and approval, counting it as a victory for Sisi. Yet the Egyptian regime itself refrained from showing enthusiasm towards this paradigm shift, contenting itself with a remark by Minister of Information Osama Heikal in which the minister said the move represented a “good gesture from Turkey.” Meanwhile, Egyptian Islamists residing in Turkey were struck by concerns that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could be contemplating handing them over to Cairo. Looking ahead, despite the importance of Erdogan’s gesture, any response from Sisi is still unclear
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Muslim Brotherhood
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Egypt
  • Author: Michael Knights, Pierre Morcos, Charles Thépaut
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: NATO stands ready to increase its commitment in a slow and steady manner consistent with Baghdad’s needs, but careful communication will be crucial, as will a more strategic discussion on how to combine different assistance efforts. On February 18, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced a decision to increase the size of NATO Mission Iraq (NMI) from 500 personnel to as many as 4,000. Although he noted that such deployments would be “conditions-based,” “incremental,” and subject to Baghdad’s authorization, the troop numbers were the only element of his announcement widely reported inside Iraq, resulting in swift political pressure on the government to explain the seemingly steep increase. In fact, there is no imminent NATO “surge” planned in Iraq, but rather a greater openness and general intent to gradually provide more advisors capable of assisting local authorities with security sector reform (SSR). When handled appropriately and combined with other efforts, this initiative can create good opportunities for quiet, persistent security cooperation that helps strengthen the Iraqi state, evolve multinational military relations beyond the campaign against the Islamic State (IS), and spread the burden of support more broadly among U.S. allies.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, NATO, Military Strategy, Reform
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Kenneth R. Rosen
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Interviews reveal how Syrian officials are extorting their people. It is sometimes difficult to conceptualize what the dire situation of Syria’s economy means for those who live there. Some 100 tankers of fuel flow across Lebanon’s border into Syria, but the persistent lack of gas limits families' ability to heat their homes, which, in regime-held areas, already face large-scale electricity blackouts that last for hours. Likewise, hot water is a commodity afforded only to those with financial means and connections, and it is a luxury to take a hot shower in many parts of Syria. Meanwhile, on Facebook, a UNHCR tarp is for sale and women are selling their hair to feed their families—just two examples of the type of entrepreneurship needed to weather abounding hardships in a country that has known only war for the last decade. Over the summer, the Syrian pound collapsed as U.S. sanctions continue to deter international support for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has likewise furthered the collapse of the country’s economic infrastructure. As Syrians search for means of generating income, officials employed by the regime have gained access to funds through extortion. A common form of this extortion is the forced detention of individuals whose families must then bribe officials for either visitation rights or the release of their loved ones. A report from January underscores the scale of such extortion operations, which have remained a staple in regime tactics for years, though they are especially prevalent now given the country’s ongoing war and collapsed economy. The report—produced by the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison—surveyed more than 1,200 prisoners and families. Respondents said that bribes rose as high as nearly $3 million at one jail, though the range varied. Visitation or release fees were usually a few thousand dollars or less, but bribes would be increased for families living outside of Syria, averaging about $30,000. The report underscored how these payments—far greater than the average public sector annual salary of roughly $150 per month, according to Qassioun, a Syrian newspaper —could feed the country’s security apparatus and the regime through guards, judges, military personnel, and middlemen who facilitate the negotiations. “The Syrian Arab Army is the primary party that is responsible for these types of arrests,” says to the report.
  • Topic: Crime, Economy, Syrian War, Abductions
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria