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  • 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Ghaith al-Omari, Ben Fishman
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the peace treaty, both parties and the United States have strategic interests in upholding and reinforcing the relationship. The optimism that characterized the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty a quarter-century ago has long since dissipated. Today, the peace rests on a strong security foundation but lacks popular support, particularly on the Jordanian side. Nevertheless, there remain important opportunities for strengthening Israel-Jordan relations and preserving that pillar of America’s steadily eroding security architecture in the Middle East. It is critical for Washington to prioritize Jordan on its agenda. This includes urging the still-to-be-formed Israeli government to take responsible action on two fronts: keeping Amman’s interests in mind when formulating policy toward the West Bank, and implementing long-delayed initiatives that would help Jordan’s struggling economy.
  • Topic: Security, Treaties and Agreements, Bilateral Relations, Territorial Disputes, Negotiation, Peace
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Jerusalem, Jordan, United States of America
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although President Rouhani has persuaded the Supreme Leader to adjust the IRGC's economic functions, he has not challenged its role in shaping Iran's nuclear policy. President Hassan Rouhani's relationship with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a central dynamic in the country's politics and economy. As always, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ultimately determines the roles of the president and the IRGC, so Rouhani has sought to pursue his economic imperatives without crossing the Supreme Leader or the military elite on the nuclear issue.
  • Topic: Security, Religion, Nuclear Power
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East