Search

You searched for: Publishing Institution The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Remove constraint Publishing Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Publication Year within 3 Years Remove constraint Publication Year: within 3 Years Publication Year within 1 Year Remove constraint Publication Year: within 1 Year Publication Year within 10 Years Remove constraint Publication Year: within 10 Years
Number of results to display per page

Search Results

  • Author: Matthew Levitt
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In the sixth in a series of TRANSITION 2021 memos examining the Middle East and North Africa, Matthew Levitt reimagines the U.S. counterterrorism enterprise with a view to its long-term sustainability. Since the September 11 attacks, Washington has poured funding into a largely military-led response to terrorism, but today both Democrats and Republicans stress the need to end “forever” wars, focus limited resources on protecting the homeland, and lean more on foreign partners to address terrorism in their neighborhoods. Yet any shift in posture must seek a maximum return on the twenty-year U.S. investment in counterter­rorism while also keeping up with terrorists’ exploitation of new technologies, from drones to encrypted communication to social media. This will require finding areas of policy overlap between counterterrorism and Great Power competition, and disentangling U.S. counterterrorism budgets from the military budgets on which they have been grafted over the past two decades. More broadly, the author explains, “convincing partners to share more of the counterterrorism burden will require that Washington repair its damaged credibility and demonstrate the staying power to meet its alliance commitments.” 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, Military Affairs, Counter-terrorism, Military Spending, 9/11
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • 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: Robert Satloff, Sarah Feuer
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Modest invest­ments of U.S. diplomatic capital, economic aid, and security assistance can help these three countries and advance American interests. In the third in a series of TRANSITION 2021 memos examining the Middle East and North Africa, Robert Satloff and Sarah Feuer look at the U.S. relationship with Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. All three countries are facing sharp challenges, from economic strains exacerbated by the pandemic to potential instability arising from the conflicts in Western Sahara and Libya. But this far corner of the region also offers strategic opportunities for the Biden administration to help these countries and, in turn, advance a range of key U.S. interests. “In contrast to many other areas of the Middle East, northwest Africa offers a realm in which relatively modest invest­ments of American diplomatic capital, economic aid, and security assistance can yield substantial returns, and the point of departure for the incoming administration’s bilateral engagement will, for the most part, be not one of tension but rather of opportunity,” write the authors. 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, Diplomacy, Foreign Aid, Economy, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Algeria, North Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, 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: Dennis Ross, Robert Satloff
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A revamped approach to the alliance should stay focused on shared goals, from ensuring a stable oil market to promoting a more tolerant version of Islam at home and abroad. In the fourth in a series of TRANSITION 2021 memos examining the Middle East and North Africa, Dennis Ross and Robert Satloff discuss the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Over the past four years, the Trump administration embraced Riyadh almost unconditionally, looking the other way even after outrages such as the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But now, the Biden administration has vowed to “reassess” the alliance, adopting a posture informed by American interests and values alike. A more balanced approach makes sense, the authors contend, recognizing the fundamental U.S. interest in the direction of social and economic reform underway in the kingdom. Such a policy should stay focused on shared goals, from ensuring a stable oil market to pushing back against Iran, promoting Arab-Israel normalization, preventing nuclear proliferation, countering terrorism, reducing or ending regional conflicts, and encouraging a more tolerant version of Islam at home and abroad. The authors add that “while there is a role for punitive steps in response to outrageous actions, measures implemented out of appropriate context or imposed in a way to cause public embarrassment have the potential to trigger a backlash within the kingdom that could diminish U.S. influence, slow the pace of reform, or both.” 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: Diplomacy, Oil, Alliance, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Saudi Arabia, North America, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • 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: Matthew Levitt
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The administration's achievements were counterbalanced by a striking lack of alignment among three U.S. national security strategies and the discouraging rapid rise of far-right extremism at home. The Trump administration has a mixed record on counterterrorism, overshadowed by troubling trends. On the positive side, it continued the Obama administration’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State on the battlefield while pressuring other jihadist groups in Syria and aggressively pushing back on Iran and its terrorist proxies. But these achievements were counterbalanced by a striking lack of alignment among the U.S. National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Counterterrorism Strategy, hobbling effective policy execution. Still more discouraging has been the rapid rise of far-right extremism at home, a development President Trump has refused to denounce and even stoked. The ninth volume of The Washington Institute’s Counterterrorism Lecture Series, edited by Matthew Levitt, covers the period November 2018 to March 2020. Its pages include the assessments of officials and experts seeking to understand the full scope of the CT challenge and develop sophisticated methods to address it.
  • Topic: National Security, Counter-terrorism, Donald Trump, Non-Traditional Threats
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: David Makovsky
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In the second in a series of TRANSITION 2021 memos examining policy challenges across the Middle East, expert David Makovsky explores how the Biden administration can use progress in Arab-Israel normalization to reenergize dormant ties between the United States and the Palestinian Authority, and between Jerusalem and Ramallah. After urging the administration to invest in strengthening and expanding normalization with Arab states, he argues for gradualism on the Palestinian issue, rooted in mutual efforts on several fronts, including preventing the slide to a one-state reality, taking a differentiated approach to Jewish settlements, and encouraging a range of trust-building exercises. “The gradualist approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking is not one of grand declarations, high-profile White House announcements, or flag-waving signing ceremonies,” explains Makovsky. “To the contrary, if it succeeds, it will emerge from hours of intensive consultation with Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors, as well as the coordinated input and support of key Arab, European, and international partners.” 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, Peace, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Israel, Palestine, 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
  • Author: Lilian Tauber
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: By committing to long-term investments in Jordan’s communities through support for social enterprises, the United States can contribute to the country’s stability and economic growth. In Jordan, one of the United States’ most reliable allies in the Middle East, economic volatility is a major threat to stability and has led to recurrent protests since 2011. High youth unemployment rates and a large refugee population contribute to its economic woes and political tensions, all of which are now exacerbated in the Covid-19 pandemic. The United States can support Jordan’s recovery from the pandemic through long-term investment in social entrepreneurship. The country’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is in a developing stage, with most resources focused on short-term funding and training, so a shift in U.S. aid to longer-term support can make a significant difference. Increasing funds and providing multi-year mentorship and operational support to select social enterprises (SEs) will allow them to become powerful forces for positive change and civic engagement in their communities.
  • Topic: Development, Foreign Aid, Economy, Investment
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Jordan, United States of America
  • Author: Chiraz Arbi, Maurizio Geri
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Gridlock and economic stagnation are testing the Arab world's only functioning democracy. On January 14, 2021, Tunisia celebrated the 10th anniversary of the end of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime, the result of a revolution that led to a firm commitment to a process of democratization in the country. And while the revolution has meant significant change and positive development for Tunisian democracy, the Tunisian people are currently losing faith in the direction of their government as Tunisia’s democratic institutions are struggling to endure parliamentary gridlock and economic malaise—as evidenced by the recent street protests over the past few days. Consecutive Riots and demonstrations in the Capital and in several cities across the country came to defy the government’s nationwide lockdown and curfew due to Covid-19 and to symbolize the youth’s overall disenchantment. While the Prime Minister assured that this anger was “legitimate”, protests were faced by police violence and led to more than 600 arrests of protestors aged between 14 and 25.
  • Topic: Democracy, Economy, Arab Spring
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Tunisia
  • Author: Hazem Albassam, Coline Ferrant
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A recent poll gauges Egyptians' lasting impressions of their chapter in the Arab Spring. In 2011, after just eighteen days, from January 25 to February 11, the Egyptian public overthrew the 30-year-long dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. A decade afterwards, we sought to have Egyptians reflect on the collective memory of those days. What fueled the revolution? Was it successful? Did it lose its way? Attempts to explain the Revolution in public discourse point to inequality, economic stagnation, poverty, unemployment, and corruption. Reflecting on these indicators, we compare them to Egyptians’ own recollections through the analysis of an exploratory survey conducted in November 2020.
  • Topic: Public Opinion, Arab Spring, Memory, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Egypt
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Last year’s Washington Institute forum on post-Soleimani succession suggested that the IRGC would lose a unique coordinating capability and its most important totem once he left the scene. Last April, The Washington Institute held a closed-door roundtable to discuss the potential impact if Qassem Soleimani no longer commanded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. Governed by the Chatham House rule, participants discussed how succession might work in the Qods Force and what Iran would lose if Soleimani became permanently unavailable, reaching consensus on many key issues. Now that the commander is indeed gone, their conclusions can help policymakers navigate the stormy seas ahead, though some aspects of his importance remain a matter of heated debate.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Conflict, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: David Makovksy
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although Benny Gantz’s party lost the head-to-head battle, Avigdor Liberman’s favorable influence on the coalition math has left the general in a stronger position—and taken some diplomatic weight off the Trump administration’s shoulders. Israel’s third round of elections last week seemed inconclusive at first, but the deadlock may now be broken. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did better this time than in September’s round two, but his gains were insufficient to form a new government. Potential kingmaker Avigdor Liberman jettisoned his previous idea of getting the two top parties to join forces; instead, personal antipathy and policy differences have led him to definitely state that he will not join any government Netanyahu leads. Thus, while centrist Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz may have options to shape a new government, Netanyahu has no pathway on his own. In theory, the center-left bloc has the requisite number of seats for a bare majority in the 120-member Knesset, since anti-Netanyahu forces won 62 seats. In reality, the situation is more complex.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Government, Politics, Elections
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, North America, United States of America
  • 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: Ben Fishman
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: After the fall of Sirte, Erdogan and Putin’s desired ceasefire can only be achieved with Washington’s support. Over the past week, regional and European actors have increased their diplomatic activity around Libya in response to intensifying violence in the nine-month-old civil war. On January 8, less than a week after the Turkish parliament approved sending forces to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met in Istanbul and called for a Libya ceasefire to begin on January 12. Whether or not Moscow and Ankara manage to pause the violence temporarily, their growing influence in Libya represents an epic failure of Western attempts to resolve the conflict diplomatically. The longer-term effort to jumpstart Libya’s political transition requires a wider international effort at peace and reconciliation—something Russia and Turkey can support but not lead. Putin and Erdogan seemed to acknowledge that fact at their summit, endorsing a long-planned multilateral conference in Berlin aimed at recommitting all relevant actors to support an end to hostilities and respect the UN Security Council’s mandatory but widely ignored arms embargo. Even assuming Putin is serious and withdraws Russian mercenaries from the frontlines, a full, lasting ceasefire cannot transpire until the other actors who support Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) agree to withdraw their equipment and personnel for a fixed period while negotiations are launched—especially the United Arab Emirates, which provides the LNA with critical air superiority. At the same time, Turkey would have to take commensurate de-escalatory steps of its own. The United States is the only actor that holds enough weight with all the foreign parties to bring about an authentic ceasefire. Despite being consumed with crises in Iran and Iraq, Washington should expend the diplomatic effort required to pursue durable stability in Libya before the country slips further toward endemic chaos.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, United Nations, Conflict, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Libya, North Africa, United States of America
  • Author: Elena DeLozier
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Sultan Haitham will now be free to put his own stamp on the country's government and foreign policy, and a recent dust-up on the Yemeni border could provide the first indicator of his approach. On February 20, Oman will begin its next era in earnest. The new sultan, Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, was officially sworn in on January 11, but he has remained quiet and mostly out of sight during the forty-day mourning period that followed the death of his cousin, Sultan Qaboos. Now that this period is drawing to a close, he is free to put his stamp on Omani policy. Notably, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will lead the first international delegation to see Sultan Haitham in the post-mourning period. When the meeting was first scheduled, the secretary likely saw it as a chance to get to know the new leader, and also as a symbolic visit to make up for sending such a low-level delegation to offer condolences. Yet the two may have more to talk about now. Earlier this week, a flare-up occurred between Saudi forces and Omani-backed locals in the Yemeni border province of al-Mahra. The confrontation may be Sultan Haitham’s first regional test, and identifying the actors who help him get through it could help Washington discern future power centers within Oman’s often opaque government.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Government
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Oman, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: David Makovsky
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: If the latest U.S. effort winds up backing the Palestinians into a territorial corner from the outset, then Washington may not be able to move the process any closer to direct negotiations. The newly released U.S. peace plan marks a very significant shift in favor of the current Israeli government’s view, especially when compared to three past U.S. initiatives: (1) the Clinton Parameters of December 2000, (2) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “Annapolis Process” of 2007-2008, and (3) Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2013-2014 initiative. The message is clear: the Trump administration will no longer keep sweetening the deal with every Palestinian refusal, a criticism some have aimed at previous U.S. efforts. Yet the new plan raises worrisome questions of its own. Will its provisions prove so disadvantageous to the proposed Palestinian state that they cannot serve as the basis for further negotiations? And would such overreach enable Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to sway Arab states who have signaled that they want to give the proposal a chance, convincing them to oppose it instead? If so, the plan may wind up perpetuating the current diplomatic impasse and setting the stage for a one-state reality that runs counter to Israel’s identity as a Jewish, democratic state. This two-part PolicyWatch will address these questions by examining how the Trump plan compares to past U.S. initiatives when it comes to the conflict’s five core final-status issues. Part 1 focuses on two of these issues: borders and Jerusalem. Part 2 examines security, refugees, and narrative issues.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Borders, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Ghaith al-Omari
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: By granting Israel much more say over the sovereignty of a future Palestinian state and its ability to absorb refugees, the document may undermine the administration’s ability to build an international coalition behind its policies. President Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan was presented as a departure from previous approaches—a notion that invited praise from its supporters (who saw it as a recognition of reality) and criticism from its opponents (who saw it as an abandonment of valued principles). The plan does in fact diverge from past efforts in fundamental respects, yet there are also some areas of continuity, and ultimately, the extent to which it gains traction will be subject to many different political and diplomatic variables. Even so, the initial substance of the plan document itself will play a large part in determining how it is viewed by various stakeholders, especially those passages that veer away from the traditional path on core issues. Part 1 of this PolicyWatch assessed what the plan says about two such issues: borders and Jerusalem. This second installment discusses security, refugee, and narrative issues.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Refugees, Peace
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The surest way to counter Iran’s malign influence is to proactively focus on human rights issues that the new prime minister can actually affect, such as organizing free elections and preventing further violence against protestors. On February 1, a plurality of Iraqi parliamentary factions gave President Barham Salih the go-ahead to nominate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as the new prime minister-designate. The mild-mannered Shia Islamist nominee will now attempt to form and ratify his cabinet in the next thirty days. As he does so, political blocs will probably rally behind him while limiting his mandate to organizing early elections next year, having struggled through a long and fractious process to replace resigned prime minister Adil Abdulmahdi. For the first time since the dramatic events of the past two months, Iraqis and U.S. policymakers alike can catch their breath and consider their medium-term options.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Elections, Domestic politics, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Turkey, Russia, and Washington have compelling reasons to welcome a new ceasefire agreement, however imperfect, but they still need to address the longer-term dangers posed by the Assad regime’s murderously maximalist strategy. Recent fighting between Turkish and Syrian regime forces in Idlib province has seemingly wiped away the last vestiges of the September 2018 Sochi agreement, brokered by Russian president Vladimir Putin as a way of pausing hostilities and dividing control over the country’s last rebel-held province. Beginning last December, renewed Russian and Syrian attacks against civilians sent a million residents fleeing toward the Turkish border, creating another humanitarian disaster. Then, on February 27, thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed when their unit was attacked in Idlib—Ankara’s largest single-day loss in Syria thus far. Turkey initially blamed Bashar al-Assad for the deaths, but eyes soon turned to his Russian patron as the more likely culprit, elevating tensions between Ankara and Moscow to a level not seen since Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. Meanwhile, the Turkish military and its local partner forces launched a string of attacks against the Syrian regime and its Iranian-backed militia allies. On March 5, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Putin in Moscow to discuss these rising tensions. If the two leaders reach another ceasefire deal, will it last any longer than the short-lived Sochi agreement? More important, what effect might it have on the latest refugee crisis threatening to wash over Turkey and Europe?
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements, Syrian War, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Idlib
  • Author: Charles Thépaut, Elena DeLozier
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: By triggering the nuclear deal’s dispute resolution mechanism, Britain, France, and Germany are opening diplomatic space that could help the United States and Iran return to the negotiating table. In a press conference following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, President Trump reaffirmed his administration’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran and asked, once again, for European countries to leave the nuclear deal. Meanwhile, Tehran announced what it called a “fifth and final remedial step” away from its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In response, the British, French, and German foreign ministers stated on January 14 that they would trigger the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism (DRM). At the same time, however, the E3 clarified that they are not joining the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign, which has steadily intensified ever since the United States withdrew from the JCPOA and reimposed unilateral sanctions in 2018. Contrary to U.S. claims, the European decision will not immediately provoke “snapback” UN sanctions on Iran (though that scenario could unfold later if the E3 plan fails and Iran’s violations go before the UN Security Council). Instead, Europe is maintaining its evenhanded position somewhere between Washington and Tehran in order to preserve the possibility of new negotiations, on both the nuclear program and other regional issues.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, Nuclear Power, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Europe, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: During the war years in Syria, the northwest, specifically Idlib, has become a site of heavy internal displacement. Observers on the ground recognize the green buses traveling to Idlib carrying migrants who have refused reconciliation agreements with the Damascus regime. Since around 2014, a range of jihadist, Islamist, and Salafi actors have wielded control in the area, the most recent being the al-Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has ruled—ineffectively and brutally—through its so-called Syrian Salvation Government. But the group's reign is unlikely to last long if current trends persist. The regime's recent move against the town of Maarat al-Numan suggests plans for a broader takeover in the northwest, aided by Russian firepower and other allies such as Iran. In this Policy Note filled with local insights, jihadism expert Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi presents the current scene in and around Idlib province, the last Syrian outpost still run by independent rebels. Absent an intervention by Turkey, the Assad regime will likely prevail in a campaign that quashes the insurgency at a high humanitarian cost.
  • Topic: Al Qaeda, Displacement, Military Intervention, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The general’s peerless domestic stature would have served a crucial mediatory role during the eventual transition to Khamenei’s successor, so his death brings significant uncertainty to that process. Following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, much attention has been focused on the foreign operations conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force. Yet his organization also played a major role at home, one whose future is now unclear. In particular, Soleimani himself was well positioned to be a unifying, steadying figure once Iran faced the challenge of determining a successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
  • Topic: Politics, Military Affairs, Authoritarianism, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Ben Fishman, Charles Thépaut
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: If the latest conference is to succeed, the principal actors stoking the civil war must endorse a genuine ceasefire and a return to Libyan internal dialogue. On January 19, international leaders will convene in Berlin to discuss a way out of the nine-month civil war between the so-called “Libyan National Army” led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. The Germans led several months of preparatory efforts at the request of UN envoy Ghassan Salame, but had been reluctant to choose a specific date until they were assured that the event stood a reasonable chance of producing practical steps to improve the situation on the ground and jumpstart the UN’s stalled negotiation efforts between the LNA and GNA. Chancellor Angela Merkel finally took that step after several key developments unfolded earlier this month, including a January 8 ceasefire proposal by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Putin’s subsequent failed attempt to have each side sign a more permanent ceasefire agreement in Moscow on January 13 (the GNA signed but Haftar balked, though most of the fighting has paused for the moment). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been averse to engage on Libya during his tenure, but he is expected to attend the Berlin conference alongside National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. Accordingly, the event gives the United States a chance to play a much-needed role on several fronts: namely, pressuring the foreign actors who have perpetuated the war and violated the arms embargo; working with Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia to codify a ceasefire at the UN Security Council; and backing Salame’s efforts to reinvigorate the Libyan national dialogue, which Haftar preempted by attacking Tripoli last April despite European support to Salame. Since 2011, Libya has struggled to establish a legitimate transitional government despite three national elections and the creation of at least four legislative bodies. Challenges to the 2014 election results eventually led to rival governments in the east and west, and the division solidified when Haftar started the first civil war with support from his allies Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. That war halted in 2015, but several years’ worth of domestic and international efforts failed to bring Sarraj and Haftar to an enduring resolution.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, United Nations, Conflict, Negotiation, Conference
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Libya, Germany, North Africa, United Arab Emirates, Berlin, United States of America
  • Author: David Pollock
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A host of crucial multilateral interests are baked into the U.S. presence, from keeping the Islamic State down, to protecting vulnerable regional allies, to preventing Iran from taking Iraq's oil revenues. The assassination of Qasem Soleimani has brought the tensions in U.S.-Iraqi relations to a boil, with militia factions strong-arming a parliamentary resolution on American troop withdrawal and various European allies contemplating departures of their own. Before they sign the divorce papers, however, officials in Baghdad and Washington should consider the many reasons why staying together is best for both them and the Middle East.
  • Topic: Oil, Bilateral Relations, Islamic State, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Jordan, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: By the time IS came to the fore in Iraq and Syria, many of its themes and activities were already second nature to Tunisian jihadis who had heard similar messaging at home. There are a number of reasons why Tunisians joined the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. One underappreciated aspect of this is the way Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s (AST) messaging primed members of the group and others in society that were exposed to, attended, or followed online AST activities and events. In my new book, Your Sons Are at Your Service: Tunisia’s Missionaries of Jihad, I describe this process, which I will examine in brief here. In particular, I will explore AST’s motivational framing, which “functions as prods to action.” The major themes AST crafted in its narrative were related to brotherhood, the defense of Islam, the creation of an Islamic state, and “remaining” as an entity.
  • Topic: Islam, Non State Actors, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Khamenei and other regime officials have been quick to swear revenge, but for now they may focus more on stoking patriotic and militaristic sentiment at home. A few hours after Iran confirmed that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani had been killed in Iraq, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a statement describing those who shed his blood as “the most wretched of humankind.” Calling Soleimani the international symbol of “resistance,” he then announced three days of public mourning in Iran. He also declared that “severe revenge awaits the criminals” who killed Soleimani—an act that the United States had claimed credit for by the time he spoke. Other highranking officials echoed this sentiment, including President Hassan Rouhani, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, and Defense Minister Amir Hatami, who explicitly promised “revenge” on “all those” involved in the assassination. Despite this rhetoric, however, and despite Soleimani’s unmatched role in carrying out Iran’s regional policy of adventurism and asymmetric warfare, the regime may avoid major, immediate retaliation if it sees such a move as too costly or as a potential trigger for serious military conflict with the United States. On January 1, amid escalating tensions in Iraq but before Soleimani’s assassination, Khamenei stated, “We would not take the country to war...but if others want to impose something on this country, we will stand before them forcefully.” In response to President Trump’s assertion that Iran played a role in the December 31 riot at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Khamenei told listeners he had two messages for Washington: “First, how dare you! This has nothing to do with Iran. Second, you should be reasonable and understand what is the main cause for these problems. But of course they are not [reasonable].”
  • Topic: Politics, Qassem Soleimani, Assassination
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Hanin Ghaddar
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Unless Washington and its allies respond to the protestors’ legitimate demands for reform, the group will survive through measures such as expanding its smuggling activity, promoting its financial institutions, and selectively scapegoating corrupt politicians. When IMF officials visited Lebanon late last month amid its accelerating economic freefall, many wondered whether these developments might alter the behavior of Hezbollah, the designated terrorist group that has a deep financial stake in the country’s public and private sectors. During a previous funding crisis—the increase in U.S. sanctions against the group’s chief underwriter, Iran—the “Party of God” and its foreign sponsors formulated a new strategy to evade these measures and create alternative sources of funding. Such sources allowed Hezbollah to make further inroads into government agencies following the 2018 parliamentary elections. For example, the group’s leaders insisted on controlling the Health Ministry, which commands Lebanon’s fourth-largest budget at $338 million per year; they also gained more access to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the Agriculture Ministry, and the Ministry of Energy and Water, whose assistance was used to fund their affiliated projects and businesses. That worked until Lebanon’s own economy began its current nosedive. Unemployment has hit a record high of 40 percent, and the lira has slumped by about 60 percent on the parallel market, hiking inflation. Officially pegged to the dollar, the currency has plummeted 40 percent on the black market as local banks ration dollars necessary for imports of food, medicine, and other essential goods. Meanwhile, Lebanon has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world (over 150 percent) and may not be able to pay $1.2 billion in Eurobonds this month. As with the Iran sanctions, however, Hezbollah has a strategy to survive this domestic pressure, at least in the near term.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Corruption, Debt, Politics, Protests, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Enhancing deterrence and protecting Americans in Iraq and Syria requires a more formalized system for rationing out retaliatory strikes at the proper intensity, time, and place. When U.S. airstrikes targeted Kataib Hezbollah militia personnel and senior Iranian military figures on December 29 and January 3, they were releasing long-pent-up retaliation for a range of provocations by Iraqi militias. Yet while these powerful blows may have injected some caution into enemy calculations, such deterrence is likely to be a wasting asset. The most proximal trigger for the strikes—the killing of an American civilian contractor during Kataib Hezbollah’s December 27 rocket attack on the K-1 base in Kirkuk—was just one in a series of increasingly risky militia operations against U.S. facilities. Only good fortune has prevented more Americans from dying in attacks conducted since then, including January 8 (when Iranian ballistic missiles struck the U.S. portion of al-Asad Air Base, causing more than a hundred nonlethal traumatic brain injuries), January 26 (mortar strike on the dining hall at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad), January 31 (rockets fired at the U.S. site at Qayyarah West), February 10 (explosive device thrown at a U.S. logistical convoy south of Baghdad), and February 13 (rocket attack on U.S. site at Kirkuk). The United States has seemingly communicated to Tehran that it will strike Iraqi militias and Iranian targets if any Americans are killed, but this redline has opened up a dangerous gray zone in which Iran and its proxies are emboldened to continue their nonlethal attacks. Besides the fact that such high-risk attacks are destined to result in more American deaths at some point, they will also produce many more injuries if permitted to continue, as seen in the January 8 strike. More broadly, they will limit U.S. freedom of movement in Iraq and Syria, undermining the point of being there in the first place. This situation is unacceptable—the United States needs a way to deter such behavior even when attacks fall short of killing Americans. When faced with similar challenges in past decades, the U.S. military established reckoning systems that matched the punishment to the crime, with useful levels of predictability, proportionality, and accountability.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Assassination, No-Fly Zones
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Fabrice Balanche
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Various displacement scenarios may unfold as the fighting escalates, each carrying a high risk of negative humanitarian and economic consequences even if the parties live up to their promises. The battle for Idlib province, the last stronghold of Syrian rebel forces, is heating up again. As Turkish troops clash with Assad regime forces and displaced civilians continue piling up along the border, various foreign and domestic players are considering moves that could send hundreds of thousands of refugees to other parts of Syria, northern Iraq, or Europe.
  • Topic: Refugees, Displacement, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Instead of focusing on Iran's missile retaliation or future threats, the Supreme Leader used his latest speech to extoll the virtues of public unity behind the regime’s revolutionary goals. On January 8, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered his first public speech since the U.S. assassination of Qasem Soleimani and the subsequent Iranian missile strike on Iraqi bases housing American forces. As part of an address that touched on regional solidarity against the United States and other notable subjects, he spent considerable time claiming that Soleimani symbolized the Iranian people’s continued commitment to the revolution. In doing so, he indicated that popular support for the regime remains a crucial objective for Iran’s leaders, perhaps more so than issuing or acting on further military threats.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Domestic politics, Qassem Soleimani, Assassination
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Alex Almeida, Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: To keep recent rebel victories from cascading into a wider military collapse, Washington must urge the Gulf coalition to firm up the government’s forces and move more quickly on peace talks. On March 2, Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized the capital of al-Jawf province in the latest phase of a forty-five-day campaign along multiple fronts. Stemming from shifts in the country’s increasingly fragile military balance since last fall, the offensives show that Saudi Arabia is providing insufficient frontline support to the internationally recognized government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and its allies, while also failing to complete backchannel peace talks with the Houthis. Unless talks reach fruition or the Houthis are checked militarily, rebel forces will continue to use their ever-widening array of advanced Iranian weapons to exploit the government’s weakness with more offensives.
  • Topic: Conflict, Negotiation, Peace, Houthis
  • Political Geography: Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Even as their lack of transparency worsens the public health crisis, the Supreme Leader and other officials have systematically gutted any civil society elements capable of organizing substantial opposition to such policies. Iran’s ongoing coronavirus epidemic has left the people with less reason than ever to trust the information and directives issued by their leaders. Part 1 of this PolicyWatch discussed the clergy’s role in aggravating this problem, but the state’s mistakes and deceptions have been legion as well. They include scandalous discrepancies between official reports after a period of denial that the virus had entered the country; a health system that was unprepared to deal with such a disease promptly and properly; and official resistance to implementing internationally recommended precautionary measures, such as canceling flights from China and quarantining the center of the outbreak. These decisions have sown widespread confusion about facts and fictions related to the virus, the most effective medically proven ways to control it, and the degree to which it is spreading throughout the country. As a result, an already restive population has become increasingly panicked about the future and angry at the state. Yet can the coronavirus actually bring down the regime? The harsh reality is that the state has left little space for opposition to organize around health issues, or any issues for that matter. Instead, it has sought to confuse the people and redirect their anger toward external enemies, even as its own policies contribute to the crisis.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Civil Society, Health, Public Health, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: David Makovsky
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Whether they reveal a detailed plan or merely preview an aspirational document, U.S. officials still need to clarify their goals at a time when elections are looming and Palestinian participation seems highly unlikely. In a dramatic move, President Trump has announced that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his leading rival, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, will visit the White House on January 28 to be briefed on the administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan. Trump told reporters that the plan would likely be released before the summit. Predictably, no invitation was extended to the Palestinian Authority, which severed relations with Washington after the U.S. embassy was moved to Jerusalem in 2017.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements, Negotiation, Peace, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, United States of America
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The clergy’s ambitions for global Shia revolution made the city of Qom uniquely vulnerable to the disease, and their resistance to modern medical science weakened the state’s ability to combat its spread. On February 19, two days before the Iranian government officially announced the arrival of coronavirus, an infected businessman who had recently returned from China to Qom passed away. The location and timing of his death illustrate how the Shia holy city and the religious leaders and institutions who call it home have played an outsize role in the disease’s disproportionately rapid spread inside Iran compared to other countries. How did this situation come to pass, and what does it say about the current state of the clerical establishment, its relationship with the regime, and its alienation from large swaths of Iranian society? (Part 2 of this PolicyWatch discusses the regime's role in the outbreak and its resiliency to such crises.)
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Health, Religion, Shia, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Middle East, Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Oula A. Alrifai
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Besides highlighting Assad’s financial mismanagement, the recent unrest gives the international community a genuine opportunity to push for transition while bolstering the more prosperous local administration in the northeast. Since mid-January, shop owners, government employees, students, and even children have been gathering in the streets of various Syrian communities to express their frustration with the Assad regime’s economic policies and untruths. Although the protests remain small for now, the fact that they have persistently carried on in the middle of regime-controlled territory highlights Bashar al-Assad’s potential vulnerability on these issues. In Suwayda, a Druze-majority province in the south, residents have protested the sharp drop in the value of the Syrian pound/lira and the deteriorating economic situation in general. In the central-western town of Salamiya, protestors were seen chanting “we want to live.” And in the Suwayda town of Shahba, demonstrators raised loaves of bread in the air while openly criticizing Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s political and media advisor. The latter protest was partly spurred by a recent interview on the pro-Assad television network al-Mayadeen, where Shaaban not only claimed that the country’s current economy is “fifty times better than what it was in 2011,” but also declared that “Syrians are self-sufficient in everything.” In response, protestors sarcastically noted that her comments referred to her own household’s economy, not Syria’s. Elsewhere, former agriculture minister Nour al-Din Manna described Shaaban’s remarks about the war-torn country as “hard to believe,” and a closer look at the country’s finances supports this disbelief.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Economics, Syrian War, Currency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Ali Alfoneh
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Given the IRGC’s recent restructuring, the Qods Force will likely see more continuity than change under Qaani, though his bureaucratic background is a far cry from Soleimani’s brand of charismatic, risky leadership. On January 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani as chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, just hours after his predecessor, Qasem Soleimani, was killed by a U.S. drone strike. The new commander’s background and military activities are not nearly as well known as Soleimani’s, so taking a closer look at them can help determine whether and how the IRGC’s main extraterritorial branch might change under his leadership.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Qassem Soleimani, Assassination
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A week after Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei played coy, remarking, “I have no judgment on the American election...[Both parties have been] naughty toward us.” Of course, his true reaction was far more complex. On one hand, he saw in the president-elect—who had spoken much of disentangling U.S. forces from the Middle East—a prospect of decreased military pressure on his country. On the other, he heard Trump’s raw vitriol directed at Iran’s leadership and the nuclear deal crafted by President Obama. The eventual U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA demonstrated that the new president could back up his talk with punishing action. In this close analysis of statements by Khamenei and other Iranian leaders, former seminarian Mehdi Khalaji lays out the regime’s current views on President Trump and the United States. He shows that even after the American assassination of Qods Force chief Qasem Soleimani, Iranian leaders could be open to negotiating with Washington if they believe the regime’s existence depends on it.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Elections, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Anna Borshchevskaya
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: As in other conflict zones, Moscow cares little about reaching a peace deal so long as it can outmaneuver the West strategically while securing port and energy access—with private contractors playing an increasingly important role. The Kremlin is now openly treating Libya as another focal point of its Middle East activities. After years of U.S. neglect, the country has turned into a proxy war playground, and President Vladimir Putin is vying to become the chief power broker. Earlier this month, he tried (but failed) to get Khalifa Haftar to sign a ceasefire agreement in Moscow with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). Putin also participated in the January 19 Berlin conference aimed at getting the parties back on the path toward a political solution. And though the prospects for such a deal remain uncertain, Moscow’s involvement in Libya will continue either way.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Civil War, Geopolitics, Negotiation, Peace
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Libya, North Africa
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: To ensure that new protests, new sanctions, and new political leadership wind up helping rather than hindering Iraqi sovereignty, Washington must handle upcoming developments with great care. In the coming weeks, Iraq’s parliament may appoint a replacement for Prime Minister Adil Abdulmahdi. This is a very positive development, since the country’s sundry Iranian-backed militias would like nothing better than to keep the discredited leader under their thumb as an open-ended caretaker premier following his November resignation. In contrast, a new leader with a new mandate could get the government moving again, pass a budget, bring the criminals responsible for killing protestors to justice, and assuage angry protestors by making visible preparations for early, free, and fair elections—thereby remedying the results of the widely disparaged 2018 vote. Such is the political space that has opened up since the deaths of Iranian Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis earlier this month. For the United States, the challenge is how to support these changes without disrupting positive local dynamics.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Sovereignty, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Fewer attacks and more prosecutions suggest the country’s integrated approach could eventually become a model for the region. For the first time since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia is not on the defensive in its battle with the Islamic State and al- Qaeda. Data from 2019, paired with a more holistic approach to combating jihadists, bears out this claim. Specifically, Tunis is expanding its toolkit beyond a purely military or law enforcement approach. Because of these advances, which have developed over the past few years, Tunis and Washington will have widened opportunities to engage on more complex aspects of reform that could make Tunisia a regional and global model. Both internal and external challenges remain, such as from foreign fighters dwelling abroad, an overcrowded prison system, and the threat of resurgent jihadism next door in Libya, but these need not diminish the accomplishments. Moreover, Tunisia can now build on its achievements, continuing the process of reform after decades of authoritarian rule.
  • Topic: Law Enforcement, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Simon Henderson
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The latest crackdown appears to have targeted senior defense and interior officials, spurring speculation that they are linked to previously detained princes rumored to be plotting a coup. On March 15, Saudi Arabia announced that 298 individuals have been arrested for bribery, embezzlement, wasting public funds, and other corruption offenses. Although none of the detainees has been named, they reportedly include high-ranking officers in the Defense and Interior Ministries, adding to rumors that recent royal crackdowns may be related to a planned coup.
  • Topic: Corruption, Reform, Domestic politics, Monarchy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Patrick Clawson
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Total U.S. production from all sources will remain the world’s largest no matter how low prices go, leaving Washington (and Texas) with considerable room to help domestic companies and press Riyadh and Moscow on stabilizing prices. Five years ago, U.S. shale production costs were so high that whenever oil prices dropped, the impact was felt first and foremost by American producers. Many commentators and media sources assume that is still the case, but the situation has changed dramatically. A recent IMF report with the dry title “The Future of Oil and Fiscal Sustainability in the GCC Region” listed the “breakeven price” for various sources of crude. Naturally, Gulf oil had the lowest cost at $18 per barrel, but the shocker was that U.S. shale came in second place at $22—50 percent below the average deepwater project, 80 percent below Canadian oil sands, and 90 percent below Russian onshore projects. Since costs vary widely, some projects presumably have a much lower breakeven price and some much higher, but the general findings are nonetheless striking. If the IMF is correct, then U.S. production should not be counted out, since the cost fundamentals are on its side. To be sure, the current market structure is not on U.S. shale’s side. Small U.S. producers have to raise money on financial markets and cannot rely on the deep government pockets available to producers in Russia and OPEC states. As a result, many are staring at a very dire situation.
  • Topic: Oil, Natural Resources, Global Markets, Business , Domestic politics
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay, Reilly Barry
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Challengers to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are proliferating, with two breakaway parties drawing particular notice. In December 2019, Ahmet Davutoglu, who served under Erdogan as foreign minister and then prime minister, formed Gelecek (Future) in an attempt to resurrect a gentler version of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). And this past March, former finance minister Ali Babacan, credited with masterminding the country’s “economic miracle” in the early Erdogan years, established the Democracy and Progress Party as another right-leaning alternative to the AKP. The remaining aspirants include the Peoples’ Democratic Party, whose capable leader remains imprisoned for allegedly supporting Kurdish militants. This Policy Note, by Soner Cagaptay and Reilly Barry, examines the political identities of Turkey’s opposition parties as compared to the AKP and allied Nationalist Action Party. It does so through an unconventional method: analyzing voter outreach through Twitter, a medium widely used by Turks. The results reveal striking trends in how these parties view Turkey’s republican (and imperial) past, and what these views suggest about the country’s political future.
  • Topic: Government, Domestic politics, AKP
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Allison Jacobs Anderson
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Low women's employment in Jordan is perplexing given the kingdom's middle-class attributes. Creativity in U.S. development initiatives could deliver lasting gains. In Jordan, a mere 14 percent of women are formally employed, compared to the global average of 51 percent. This outcome is somewhat perplexing given the Hashemite Kingdom’s relatively high education levels for women, declining fertility rates, high average marriage age, and other attributes of a middle-class society. Jordan watchers have therefore searched for a cause. One common explanation centers on cultural constraints, including pressure to stay home, families disapproving of vocational jobs, and concerns about women working in mixed-gender environments. But an alternative view suggests these concerns may be overstated, in part owing to recognition of the essential role women can play in a fragile economy. In this new Policy Note, Dr. Allison Jacobs Anderson, an expert on gender and development, makes the case for encouraging greater women’s economic participation in Jordan. She outlines the many associated personal and societal benefits, and shows how a creative approach by U.S. development entities could deliver lasting gains.
  • Topic: Economics, Labor Issues, Women, Participation
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Jordan
  • Author: Saeid Golkar
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Since its formation in 1979, the Islamic Republic has seen multiple cycles of unrest, from ethnic movements in the early 1980s to urban riots in the early 1990s, student protests spanning 1999-2003, the Green Movement response to the 2009 election, and the December 2017-January 2018 upheaval in smaller cities and urban fringes. The most recent instance, sparked in November 2019 by a gas tax hike, spread to as many as one hundred municipalities and still reverberates today. The hardline Iranian regime has successfully put down all challenges to its authority thus far, causing numerous injuries and deaths in the process. State agents are also known to have perpetrated torture in prisons. But as Saeid Golkar contends in this prescient Policy Note, a climate of coercion has undermined Tehran’s legitimacy and its ability to coopt various social classes. Future protests, if they continue to grow in volume and violence, could exhaust even the regime’s multilayered security forces.
  • Topic: Security, History, Social Movement, Protests, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Sirwan Kajjo
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In October 2019, the U.S. troop withdrawal and subsequent Turkish invasion of northern Syria upended Kurdish plans in the region. But a year later, the major Syrian Kurdish rivals—the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC)—are coming together after a lengthy estrangement. This past June, representatives from the two blocs announced a new understanding to govern Syria’s northeast, in talks mediated by the Syrian Democratic Forces. The negotiations are aimed at creating a representative Kurdish-led leadership that could prevent further Turkish military interventions while also reducing Syrian-regime and Russian influence. But the PYD and KNC’s differing approaches to governance, as well as divergent alliances, pose serious challenges. In situating this timely Policy Note, Sirwan Kajjo offers a revealing history of Kurdish politics in Syria, especially in the post-Arab Spring period. Despite the uncertain outcome of the talks, for which activity resumed in late summer, both sides assert that a positive course can only be ensured by a strong U.S role.
  • Topic: Military Intervention, Syrian War, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan, United States of America
  • Author: Matthew Levitt
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In this study, counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt explores the history and current status of Hezbollah operations against French interests, and details how a change in Paris's longstanding opposition to designating the group could bolster French efforts to stabilize Lebanon. Lebanon’s corrupt political system needs major reforms, but Hezbollah has indicated, unsurprisingly, that it will reject any changes that diminish its political status. Specifically, the group insisted in late September that it maintain control of key ministries in any future government. This demand cut against the work of French authorities seeking to help stabilize the country following the devastating port blast in early August. In his response, President Emmanuel Macron signaled a break from typical French passivity toward Hezbollah. He denounced the group’s attempts to pose as a legitimate political party while engaging in militant activity independent of the Lebanese state. In this Policy Note, counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt shares the little-known story of Hezbollah’s targeting of French interests, dating to the early 1980s. He then shows how the group poses a unique and growing set of challenges to France, both at home and abroad, and argues that Paris should reconsider its longtime opposition to designating Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. Such a policy change, he contends, would bolster Macron’s efforts to stabilize Lebanon while mitigating threats within French territory.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Counter-terrorism, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, France, Lebanon
  • Author: Charles Thépaut
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: U.S.-European cooperation in the Middle East may not rank high in American voters’ minds, but the issue will demand close policy attention in the months ahead. If Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump, European leaders should not allow their undoubted relief to lapse into complacency. And if Trump prevails, they should continue seeking opportunities to deepen the partnership in areas such as counterproliferation and defining the operational contours of Great Power competition. Either way, the dynamic requires a full reset. As one continental diplomat lamented, “Under Bush, Europeans agreed less with the U.S. but were more consulted. Under Obama, they agreed more but were less consulted. Under Trump, they disagree and are barely consulted.” In this new Policy Note, Charles Thepaut deftly assesses the transatlantic dilemma explaining why the post-election period will call for a strategic reckoning between European capitals and Washington. From shared priorities, a fresh approach can emerge in the Middle East, coupled with the pursuit of achievable goals and rooted in a more thoughtful division of military and political tasks.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Transatlantic Relations, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Farzin Nadimi
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In April 2020, the IRGC launched its first domestically made satellite, the Nour-1, into orbit. The launch showed the risks of lifting arms restrictions on Iran, a move supported by potential weapons trade partners Russia and China but vehemently opposed by the United States. Ending the embargo could facilitate Tehran’s unhindered access to dual-use materials employed to produce satellites with military or even terrorist applications. The launch also showcased an expanding IRGC solid-fuel capability that, together with other technologies, could transform Iran’s future ballistic missile designs. In this Policy Note, military expert Farzin Nadimi explores the consequences of the regime’s latest space achievement. The study’s rich technical detail—on missile types, motors, and “tumbling webcams” known as CubeSats—is complemented by images and framed in a strategic context. The United States and its partners, the author concludes, must respond to these advances by curtailing Tehran’s access to relevant technologies and preventing it from using space initiatives as a cover for illicit military activity.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Weapons , Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), Satellite
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Saeid Golkar
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In 2008, the IRGC established a new branch that remains little known or studied today: the Provincial Guard. Operating in all of Iran's thirty-one provinces plus Tehran city, the IRGC-PG carries out the regime's revolutionary aims at the local level, inculcating conservative religious values, shaping educational curricula, and even sponsoring sports activities. It also delivers military might and security through its Imam Hussein infantry battalions and anti-riot Imam Ali battalions. This pathbreaking Policy Note, written by expert Saeid Golkar, casts the Provincial Guard as a rising actor in Iran's national narrative. If Tehran has its way, the organization will succeed in finally enshrining Iran as an "Islamic society." But domestic precedent suggests this bid will meet more than a little resistance, especially given a regime dealing with economic weakness, a coronavirus pandemic, and a restive, increasingly secularist public emboldened by last year's mass protests.
  • Topic: Islam, Military Affairs, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Robert Satloff
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: As soon as next month, Israel’s new government could approve plans to annex a substantial portion of the West Bank. The trigger for this comes from Washington—a shift by the Trump administration to recognize Israel’s new self-declared borders. But that still doesn’t explain why. What might Israel gain by discarding a reasonably tolerable, surprisingly sustainable status quo for a step that virtually the entire world considers a violation of law and reason? And what costs might Israel incur—strategically, diplomatically, politically, and otherwise—for carrying out annexation? In this Policy Note, Washington Institute executive director Robert Satloff looks at annexation through the prism of its advocates and finds their arguments sadly defeatist and surprisingly indifferent to the dangers the move could produce. The impact, he notes, will reach America too, given that this example of U.S.-Israel cooperation risks undermining the edifice of the bilateral relationship. But the worst outcome is by no means certain, and numerous actors are capable of dissuading Israel from taking this fateful step. All the same, the idea of annexation has now been legitimized in Israel and will surely reemerge. Ultimately, the threat annexation poses to shared U.S. and Israeli interests will only dissipate when U.S. policy no longer incentivizes it.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Territorial Disputes, Annexation
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, United States of America
  • Author: Simon Henderson
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Qatar's break with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors remains unresolved, and rumors circulate of bids to replace Tamim bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar’s forty-year-old emir, with one of his historically marginalized rivals. 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, twelfth in the series, explores Qatar, known historically as a refuge for “banished leaders, fleeing criminals, exiled religious figures, and other waifs and strays.” But the Gulf nation’s neighbors have long bridled at its independent streak, as shown by the 2017 rift with Saudi Arabia and three other regional states. The break—spurred by a perception of Qatari support for terrorism, closeness to Iran, and a range of other complaints—remains unresolved today, and rumors circulate of bids to replace Tamim bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar’s forty-year-old emir, with one of his historically marginalized rivals.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Regional Cooperation
  • Political Geography: Qatar, Gulf Nations
  • Author: David Pollock
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Recently, much attention has focused on Israel’s drift away from a two-state solution and toward annexation of the West Bank. But hard data shows that the Palestinian public has also clearly moved away from the classic compromise peace deal with its neighbors. When the Trump peace plan was announced in January, it met with wide Palestinian condemnation. More troubling, majorities of Palestinians now oppose a two-state resolution to the conflict, a reversal from previous years. They also say that even if an agreement is reached, unlikely though that may be, it should not end the conflict. Still, surveys show Palestinian pragmatism on a range of short-term issues, from economic cooperation with Israel to compromising on the “right of return” for refugees. In this Policy Focus, filled with informative charts, polling expert David Pollock explores a decade’s worth of Palestinian views on everything from Jerusalem archaeological digs to West Bank annexation. The opinions illuminate dynamics far beyond the stalled peace process, while also hinting at openings where that process could begin anew.
  • Topic: Territorial Disputes, Conflict, Peace, Annexation
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Matthew Levitt, Samantha Stern
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In this illuminating Policy Note -- complete with detailed maps and satellite imagery -- Matthew Levitt and Samantha Stern tell the story of the Lebanese NGO Green Without Borders and explain why the mandate for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon must be reworked. According to its blog, the Lebanese NGO Green Without Borders plants trees, creates public parks, and fights forest fires. But the benignly named outfit also has another mission. Working with Hezbollah's construction arm Jihad al-Binaa and with the militant group's allies inside and outside the government, GWB openly seeks to advance the "southern Green resistance" against Israel. To this end, it provides direct cover for Hezbollah's operational activities, from harassing UN patrols, to carrying out missile attacks on Israel, to obstructing UN cameras at the border with deliberately placed trees. In this illuminating Policy Note -- complete with detailed border maps and satellite imagery -- Matthew Levitt and Samantha Stern tell the story of GWB and explain why the mandate for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon must be reworked after the secretary-general's next report in July. The sovereignty of an economically battered Lebanon and the stability of the wider region depend on a renewed effort to address all facets of Hezbollah aggression.
  • Topic: Environment, Non State Actors, Borders, Hezbollah, NGOs
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Assaf Orion, Denis Thompson
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: For almost four decades, the Multinational Force & Observers has protected Israel-Egypt peace and anchored stability in the Sinai Peninsula, but a new Pentagon initiative could end the American contribution by late next year. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has indicated that all military endeavors must now fall within a National Defense Strategy focused on Great Power competition. Look closer, though, and America’s MFO role does just that. Both Russia and China have recently sought deeper involvement in Egypt’s development, nuclear energy, arms acquisition, and broader economy, so staying in Sinai means staying relevant. This timely Policy Note is authored by two decorated military officers, Assaf Orion, a brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, and Denis Thompson, a Canadian Army major general who led the MFO from 2014 to 2017. They contend that the grand-strategic benefits of the force—now populated by 1,156 troops from thirteen nations—easily justify its low cost. An American exit would likely unravel the entire MFO, putting Israel-Egypt peace and regional stability at needless risk.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: North Africa, North America, Egypt, Sinai Peninsula, United States of America
  • Author: Ghaith al-Omari, Ehud Yaari
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Throughout his tenure as leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas has studiously avoided grooming a successor, instead consolidating his control over numerous Palestinian entities and sidelining officials he perceived as threatening to his rule. When he eventually exits the scene, Abbas will leave many leadership roles to be filled—including in the PLO, Fatah movement, and national security agencies. 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, eleventh in the series, looks at the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas since 2005. Throughout his tenure, Abbas has studiously avoided grooming a successor, instead consolidating his control over numerous Palestinian entities and sidelining officials he perceived as threatening to his rule. When he eventually exits the scene, Abbas will leave many leadership roles to be filled—including in the PLO, Fatah movement, and national security agencies. The coronavirus pandemic appears to have altered the political dynamic somewhat, elevating Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who has earned strong reviews for his management of the crisis.
  • Topic: National Security, Politics, Mahmoud Abbas
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Palestine
  • Author: Farzin Nadimi
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In an April 22 tweet, President Trump spoke of instructing the U.S. Navy to destroy any Iranian gunboats that "harass our ships at sea." Aside from whether it departed from existing U.S. rules of engagement, the statement highlighted a persistent reality: the military threat posed by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf. Months before the coronavirus pandemic seized the world's attention, these forces were already reasserting themselves through bold actions against U.S., Saudi, and wider Gulf interests. In this impressively detailed Policy Focus -- an updated version of his 2008 volume -- military expert Farzin Nadimi offers historical context and specifics on Iran's naval activities in the Gulf. The study, which includes maps, tables, and other graphics, covers everything from submarines to sea mines, while also distinguishing between the roles of the revolutionary navy (IRGCN) and the conventional one (IRIN). Most important, it offers a sober take on Iran's capabilities and intentions during a perilously unstable time.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Navy
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Persian Gulf, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In this detailed Policy Focus, meant as a primer for Iraqi and international agencies, leading scholars examine the current status of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces. Hastily raised when the Islamic State was knocking at the gates of Baghdad, the state-backed Iraqi militia network al-Hashd al-Shabi has swollen into a 160,000-strong armed force with an annual budget exceeding $2 billion. But more than five years after its formation, the Hashd -- also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces -- still lacks defined roles and has largely fallen under the sway of Kataib Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed factions. Now that Iranian Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis are no longer on the scene, observers are asking what comes next for the Hashd. In this highly detailed Policy Focus, meant as a primer for Iraqi and international agencies, analysts Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi lay out the PMF’s current status, offering a novel look at its functions, structure, and activities as a military institution. The study identifies achievable security-sector reforms while exploring longer-term options around which consensus must first be built. Although demobilization is not a realistic goal in the near term, Iraq and its partners can take practical steps to honor Hashd units for their sacrifices while also containing them in the interests of national sovereignty and stability.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Militias, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Nick Danforth
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Over nearly two decades, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has managed to strengthen his hold on power despite numerous political reconfigurations. With the next presidential election scheduled for 2023, many figures within his camp are already maneuvering for leverage while the opposition mulls how to defeat him. Among his potential rivals are Selahattin Demirtas, head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party; Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul who bested Erdogan’s pick for that post; and Ahmet Davutoglu, the country’s former prime minister and Erdogan’s former ally. In this Policy Note, analyst Nick Danforth assesses current dynamics in Turkish democracy, including rifts within the leading Justice and Development Party and potential alliances in the opposition. He also discusses factors such as the fragile Turkish economy, which is sure to be destabilized further by the coronavirus pandemic. However Turkey emerges from the crisis, an Erdogan triumph in the next presidential vote would likely seal the country’s trajectory away from liberalism and the West for a generation.
  • Topic: Elections, Democracy, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Charles Thépaut
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: If Biden wants to create additional leverage before attempting difficult negotiations with Russia, he will need to display strategic patience by partnering with allies on ten preliminary issues. The Syria policy of President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration remains relatively mysterious. Five contradictory factors may frame it. First, Syria has never really been a U.S. policy priority in the Middle East, and renewing the international framework to halt Iran’s nuclear program seems to be Biden’s top regional goal. In addition, the repeated pledge to “end endless wars” has created broad American consensus against a bigger footprint abroad, and the coronavirus pandemic will further reduce the White House’s bandwidth for Syria. Second, the United States has lost significant leverage in Syria due to the policies of the Obama and Trump administrations. For instance, when faced with a Turkish cross-border operation in the northeast late last year, U.S. troops partially withdrew, thus blurring the previously stable frontlines between Russian, Turkish, and American forces. Third, Biden has praised the light U.S. force posture in northeast Syria. Contrary to other prominent Democrats, he argues that the “by, with, and through” strategy employed against the Islamic State remains a good model for American military action in the Middle East. This may indicate a willingness to keep a small contingent on the ground to support local partners. Fourth, key figures in Biden’s campaign—including Tony Blinken, his current nominee for secretary of state, and Jake Sullivan, his nominee for national security advisor—have publicly reflected on mistakes made in Syria during the Obama administration. Notably, Blinken has stated that he cannot imagine a policy of reengaging with Bashar al-Assad. Fifth, when U.S. legislators passed the Caesar Act last year, they built in mechanisms that were intended to resist change by future administrations. Therefore, economic sanctions targeting the Assad regime are likely here to stay. At first glance, these factors do not seem to leave much room for a particularly new Syria strategy, suggesting that the status quo policy will persist. Yet Washington has more leverage than it realizes, so long as it is willing to abandon the self-defeating logic of recent years.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diplomacy, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Baraa Sabri
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: This snapshot of reactions should inform leadership in Washington to focus on increasing its commitment to supporting allies and punishing adversaries. While Syrians all closely watched the U.S. elections, there was no single, homogeneous view among them about the outcome of a Biden victory versus a Trump one. Many Syrians’ views differ depending on their geographic location and the entity that governs their region in the fractured country. Given this fractured public reaction, a better understanding of Syria’s future in relation to the new U.S. administration requires analysis of Syrian reactions from four different blocs: the regime in Damascus, the Kurdish bloc east of the Euphrates, Islamist militias in northwestern Syria, and ISIS.
  • Topic: Public Opinion, Elections, Syrian War, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Hamdi Malik
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The Iraq-based Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) is diligently and meticulously working to achieve hegemony among Iran-backed 'resistance' militias in Iraq. The group is positioning itself as the 'true resistance' faction and obliging other Iran-backed groups to follow its lead. In order to achieve this goal, KH is operating on military and non-military fronts. KH is stepping up its non-military vigilante activities, drawing heavily on its youth movements that have been developing in the past decade. These organizations serve to promote the most radical version of the anti-U.S. Shia Islamist ideology promulgated by the ‘axis of resistance’, and they work to squash opposing views in Iraqi society. These efforts work in tandem with the group’s military front, where KH has managed to lead attacks against U.S. interests following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. While details of KH’s military wing have been covered in my piece “ The Still Growing Threat of Iran’s Chosen Proxy in Iraq’’ and Michael Knights’s Back into the Shadows? The Future of Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iran’s Other Proxies in Iraq,” it is worth examining the group’s growing non-military activities as well.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Violence, Militias, Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH)
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Hanin Ghadder
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: To contain corrupt actors and facilitate reform, the international community must provide alternatives to Hezbollah pharmaceutical and food programs while filling gaps that the group is unable to address. Despite Lebanon’s deteriorating financial and economic situation, the country’s political elite have made clear that they will not implement reforms laid out by the international community as prerequisites for a bailout. In their view, the changes specified by the IMF, the World Bank, and the French-sponsored aid framework CEDRE would mean the eventual collapse of their political class, whose corruption and illegal business dealings are protected and encouraged by Hezbollah. Indeed, the emergence of a more independent secular political class that reflects the October 2019 protests is a serious concern for the militia and its allies in government, so they have chosen to manage the crisis rather than resolve it. Thus far, Hezbollah’s crisis-management efforts have far surpassed those of every other political party, civil society organization, and foreign assistance channel. The group’s military structure, organizational expertise, and access to alternative sources are enabling it to pursue temporary strategies for surviving the current crisis, while also retaining independence from state institutions, preserving a measure of support from its core Shia community, and discouraging Shia from joining any further rounds of public unrest. In the longer term, Hezbollah seems to be hoping that a transformative regional development—perhaps a new U.S.-Iranian nuclear agreement or a favorable U.S.-European partnership on Lebanon—will allow it to resolve its own financial crisis and regain access to hard currency, either from the Iranian regime or through international assistance mechanisms. Yet even if Hezbollah seems fairly well-positioned to weather the storm, the Lebanese people—including the group’s support base—are not. According to a new World Bank report, half the population is living below the poverty line, and more will soon join them if the Central Bank stops subsidizing medicine, fuel, wheat, and other essentials two months from now as projected.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Finance, Economy, Crisis Management, Hezbollah, Welfare, Militias
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Michael Singh, Ehud Yaari
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Jakarta’s domestic politics make normalization unlikely despite years of positive signals, but the United States should nevertheless urge it to consider incremental, mutually beneficial steps toward rapprochement with Jerusalem. On October 29, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will briefly visit Jakarta for discussions with Indonesian president Joko Widodo—popularly known as Jokowi—and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Topping Pompeo’s agenda will undoubtedly be the U.S. effort to organize Asian allies around resisting China’s increasing assertiveness in and beyond the region. But Jakarta is also relevant to another Trump administration foreign policy priority, one that has taken on an increasingly high profile in the run-up to the U.S. election—normalization with Israel. Indonesia is one of thirty countries worldwide that do not recognize the state of Israel, and one of three in Southeast Asia. But unlike Malaysia, whose leaders have espoused virulent anti-Semitism, and tiny Brunei, Indonesia has a history of positive (albeit inconsistent) signals toward Israel, raising hopes that movement toward normalization may be possible even if it is not imminent.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Politics, Normalization
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Israel, Palestine, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Kenneth R. Rosen
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: It is possible to conflate the development of an autonomous region of northern Iraq with one in northeastern Syria; as a colleague on this forum noted recently, the Kurds in northeastern Syria have suffered, and continue to suffer, greatly. But while they are allies who “by, with, and through” have helped to bring ISIS down to a regional crumb in an ever-growing platter of fractured groups, what the United States owes or can offer the Syrian Kurds is much different than what was secured in the early days of the 1990s in Iraq, in the midst Saddam's massacres of Kurds.
  • Topic: Politics, Syrian War, Autonomy, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan, Rojava
  • Author: Danny Citrinowicz
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Given past developments, the UAE’s and Israel’s recent announcement of normalization in exchange for shelving annexation plans should come as no great surprise, even if the timing was unexpected. There remains, however, frequently understated differences between one aspect of this relationship often assumed to be a common denominator: Jerusalem’s and Abu Dhabi’s perspectives on Iran. Understanding and accommodating these differences will be critical issue for a lasting relationship between the two countries, with the Israeli government in particular needing to acknowledge the differences as well as similarities between the two sides. It is no secret that Israel and the UAE see Iran as a common enemy; both countries have worked together covertly for years to prevent Iranian hegemony in the Gulf and Middle East at large. Since the beginning of their unofficial relationship several decades ago, the two countries have improved their intelligence-sharing and military relations, strengthened their diplomatic ties behind the scenes, and worked to improve their readiness for Iranian threats across the board. President Trump’s recent decisions to withdraw troops from parts of the Middle East region and the world at large have further catalyzed development of Israel-UAE relations in anticipation of weakened direct support from the United States.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Gulf Nations
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, United Arab Emirates
  • Author: Baraa Sabri
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Over the last four years, Kurds in Iran have watched Kurdish communities in Syria and Iraq continue to suffer losses at the hands of hostile forces, disoriented by the turbulent shifts in Washington’s decision-making. It once seemed that the United States would support change in Iran beneficial to the country’s Kurds, but now a series of decisions by American leadership in Syria and Iraq have left many Kurdish political leaders in Iran afraid and discontented with U.S. policy in the region. Two moments during the Trump presidency particularly have soured and confused perceptions of the United States among Kurds in Iran. First, Iranian Kurds watched as the Trump administration allowed Shia militias hostile to Iraqi Kurds to take the city of Kirkuk in October 2017. Two years later, Kurds watched again as the Trump administration allowed the Turkish forces to invade northeastern Syria, driving local Kurds to flee their homes. These two moments pushed Iranian Kurds to doubt Washington’s potential contributions to the improvement of Kurdish rights in Iran. There now exists a political rift between U.S. and Iranian Kurdish leadership that may force Iranian Kurds to re-think their diplomatic position. Unfortunately for both groups, it seems that no one will benefit from such a rift—except for the Iranian government.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Minorities
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan, United States of America
  • Author: Saleh Machnouk, Hanin Ghaddar, Matthew Levitt, Charles Thépaut
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Four experts discuss the deadly Beirut explosion as it relates to the Lebanese political system, Hezbollah hegemony, and foreign aid. On August 13, The Washington Institute held a virtual Policy Forum with Saleh Machnouk, Hanin Ghaddar, Matthew Levitt, and Charles Thepaut. Machnouk is a columnist at the Lebanese daily an-Nahar and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge. Ghaddar is the Institute's Friedmann Fellow and a former journalist with the Lebanese media. Levitt is the Institute’s Fromer-Wexler Fellow, director of its Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, and creator of its newly released Hezbollah Select Worldwide Activity Interactive Map and Timeline. Thepaut, a French career diplomat, is a resident visiting fellow at the Institute. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Foreign Aid, Hezbollah, Disaster Management
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Anas El Gomati, Ben Fishman
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Publicly committing to a ceasefire is a positive development, but many details still need to be resolved with active U.S. support, especially security arrangements in central Libya and the speedy resumption of oil exports. On August 21, the political leaders of the two main factions in Libya’s civil war—Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Speaker Aguila Saleh of the eastern-based House of Representatives—issued separate statements declaring a ceasefire and a freeze in military positions around Sirte and al-Jufrah. The move followed extensive diplomatic efforts by Germany, the United States, and the UN. Many of the deal’s terms will require further negotiation, but so far they entail establishing a demilitarized zone in central Libya and lifting the oil blockade that has cost the country $8 billion to date. Saleh also called for reformatting the Presidential Council and moving it from Tripoli to Sirte, while Sarraj called for holding national elections next March. The announcements grew out of the stalemate that set in after GNA-aligned forces pushed to the outskirts of Sirte in June. Since then, Egypt and Turkey have escalated their threats of direct military action, spurring intensified Western diplomacy to stave off a regional war. Of particular significance is Saleh replacing eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar in the negotiations. The latter’s sponsors in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt lost confidence in him after his fourteen-month offensive against Tripoli collapsed this May. In response to the new ceasefire, Haftar’s spokesman in the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) dismissed Sarraj’s statement, vowed to remain in Sirte, and completely ignored Saleh’s parallel statement, indicating deep divisions in east Libya and raising questions about who has authority over the LNA’s fighting forces. Saleh has not been a reliable diplomatic interlocutor in the past and remains under U.S. sanctions for obstructing the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. Thus, while Haftar is politically marginalized for now, he or other eastern commanders could still undermine the ceasefire.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Oil, Conflict, Proxy War, Ceasefire
  • Political Geography: Libya, North Africa
  • Author: Sardar Aziz
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: When I moved into new accommodations in the centre of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, the lift announcements in the apartment tower were in Chinese, followed by Kurdish, Arabic and English. This multilingualism was surprising but positive; it was a clear sign of the dawn of a new era. If in the past, Kurdish was the local language, Arabic regional, and English global, the addition of Chinese signified the plurality of global language and, potentially, of global power. These days, there is a regional focus on Iran’s newly announced 25 year deal with China, which has resulted in a lot of noise both inside and outside Iran. It is not surprising that Sino–Iranian relations are continuing to develop as both countries are hoping for a different world order. Though not so scrutinized, Iraq has seen its own growing ties with China, with the two countries having signed a number of agreements last year. Former Iraqi PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi, once a Maoist himself, stated in his visit to Beijing ‘we belong to Asia and we want to be a part of its emergence.’ The large Iraqi delegation accompanying him—as told to me by one member of the delegation—all noted and admired what they saw as China’s shift from a poor country to a global power. The deal agreed upon during that meeting, in remaining secret, has created fertile ground for conspiracy and speculations inside Iraq.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Iraq, Middle East, Asia, Kurdistan
  • Author: Katherine Bauer, Kevin Mathieson
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Tehran is pressing Seoul regarding the billions in Iranian oil revenues held by South Korean banks, creating an opportunity to expand the U.S. humanitarian trade mechanism. On July 21, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Iranian ambassador to lodge a complaint over Tehran’s heightened rhetoric regarding access to funds frozen in South Korea. The week before, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson had accused Seoul of having a “master-servant relationship” with Washington, while the governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) had previously threatened legal action to access the funds, which Tehran says it plans to use for humanitarian purchases. Although the U.S. government authorized use of the funds for such purposes in February, South Korean banks appear hesitant to move forward without additional U.S. assurances—a reluctance compounded by the $86 million fine that U.S. regulators levied on the Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) in April for failing to identify large-scale Iranian money laundering. With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in the Islamic Republic, Washington should work with Seoul to ensure that trade for medicine, equipment, and other humanitarian items moves forward—albeit with strict oversight.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Government, Trade
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Asia, South Korea, United States of America
  • Author: Mohamed Abdelaziz, Shaina Katz
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Aglobalized world has meant that international media reactions to a policeman’s brutal killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, and the subsequent protests have been swift and comprehensive. Responses within the Arab media have shifted between attempts to explain to readers sociological fault lines and structural racism in the United States and pointed takes on what these protests might mean for the upcoming election—with the underlying question of what it might mean for the region. From a political perspective, images of protests are also shaped by the Arab governments’ responses to the Arab spring, when pro-democracy protests were crushed in many Arab states. Notably, and in contrast to media responses, there has been a shortage of statements from government officials, with Palestinian officials being the exception. While this silence can in part be attributed to the fact that the current protests in the United States are purely a domestic issue, it is also important to note that numerous state-aligned media outlets have offered characteristic viewpoints of their respective countries, suggesting an interest in indirect messaging on the protests without explicit comment.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Public Opinion, Media, News Analysis, Protests, Police, Racism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Three experts examine one of the most sensitive problems facing Iraq's new prime minister: the future of militias that were mobilized to fight the Islamic State but have since balked at subsuming themselves to the government's authority. On May 20, The Washington Institute held a virtual Policy Forum with Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, coauthors of the recent study Honored, Not Contained: The Future of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces. Knights is a senior fellow with the Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program. Malik is a London-based Middle East analyst at IITV. Tamimi is an independent analyst and a doctoral candidate at Swansea University. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.
  • Topic: Government, Non State Actors, Islamic State, Militias, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Kevjin Lim
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Beijing has steadily become Tehran’s economic ventilator, diplomatic prop, and military enabler, and the Iranians need this backstop now more than ever. When the coronavirus spun out of control in Wuhan this January, Iran ignored the example of many other countries and continued to maintain direct flights and open borders with China. Even after President Hassan Rouhani’s government suspended all such flights on January 31, Mahan Air—a company affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—kept flying between Tehran and four first-tier Chinese cities, leading many to allege that the airline was instrumental in introducing or at least exacerbating Iran’s raging epidemic. Whatever the truth behind these allegations, Mahan’s policy is symptomatic of a larger geopolitical reality: Tehran has become profoundly, disproportionately, and perhaps irretrievably dependent on Beijing, despite its own revolutionary opposition to reliance on foreign powers. Where diplomatic and economic sanctions have fallen short, the pandemic has succeeded in isolating the Islamic Republic like never before, compelling it to keep its borders to China open. COVID-19 has also dispelled the notion that Iran’s heavily-sanctioned “resistance economy” still suffices to keep the country solvent. The government has conceded that staying afloat would be impossible if it curtailed cross-border trade, shut down industries, and quarantined entire cities. The crisis is so severe that Iran’s Central Bank has for the first time in decades requested billions of U.S. dollars in assistance from the IMF. Indeed, according to Deputy Health Minister Reza Malekzadeh, whenever his colleagues questioned why China flights continue, bilateral economic relations were among the reasons given. Two days after the government’s ban on such flights, Chinese ambassador Chang Hua tweeted that Mahan CEO Hamid Arabnejad wanted to continue cooperating with Beijing. Neither man specified exactly what this meant, but the implied message to Tehran was clear given China’s resentment of travel bans. Meanwhile, the Iranian Students News Agency, Tabnak, and other domestic media criticized Mahan for prioritizing profit margins over public health.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations, Sanctions, Geopolitics, Economy, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Middle East, Asia