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  • Author: Zaha Hassan, Daniel Levy, Hallaamal Keir, Marwan Muasher
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: A new U.S. approach should prioritize protecting the rights and human security of Palestinians and Israelis over maintaining a peace process and attempting short-term fixes. The authors of this paper identified four overarching areas of focus: (1) prioritize rights and protect people, (2) roll back the Trump administration’s actions and reassert international law, (3) clarify expectations for Palestinians and Israelis, and (4) support new multilateral approaches and accountability.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Peace
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, United States of America
  • Author: Nathalie Tocci, Riccardo Alcaro, Francesca Caruso, Silvia Colombo, Dario Cristiani, Andrea Dessì, Flavio Fusco, Daniela Huber
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Winds of change are blowing in North Africa and the Middle East. They originate from Washington, where the new Biden administration is expected to abandon its predecessor’s zerosum, erratic approach and take steps towards supporting regional balances and cooperation. Effects are visible especially in the Gulf, with the US pondering its options to re-activate nuclear diplomacy with Iran and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates grudgingly agreeing to put their feud with Qatar on ice. One way or another, these winds of change are working their way through the Levant, the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya. Admittedly, they are still feeble and can easily fade out like a morning breeze. Were that to happen, Europeans would be amongst the most affected – aside, of course, from regional populations themselves. It is now high time for the EU and its member states to leave the backseat they have (un)comfortably been sitting in for years, seize the opportunity of a cooperative US administration and work to play a more proactive role in North Africa and the Middle East commensurate with their considerable financial, diplomatic and military resources.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Military Affairs, Finance
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, North Africa, United States of America
  • Author: Anahita Motazed Rad
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: As the Biden and Rouhani administrations’ position to renew diplomatic efforts on the Iranian nuclear file with European support, they face more challenges than their predecessors did in 2015, when the Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was originally signed. Today, domestic, regional and international confrontations have increased; hardliners and conservatives in Tehran and Washington, on the one hand, and in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the other, are now more aligned and coordinated against a diplomatic success than they were in 2015.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Power, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Daniela Huber
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Historically speaking, the European Community and then the European Union have always reacted with paradigm changes in their foreign policies to watershed moments in the Middle East. In response to the two Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973, the European Community actually set up its own foreign policy in the first place and initiated the Euro-Arab Dialogue. After the Camp David Accords, the nine foreign ministers came out with the Venice Declaration in 1980 which reminded its partners in Washington and Tel Aviv that the Palestine question had been ignored and set the parameters for diplomacy in the 1990s. After the Cold War, however, the European Union became absorbed into the so-called Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), resulting in less independent EU agency on Israel/Palestine. This trend has become particularly obvious over the past four years of the Trump presidency, during which time the EU seemed almost paralyzed. While Europeans are now counting on the incoming Biden administration, during the election campaign Joe Biden stated that he will leave the US embassy in Jerusalem and that he is also favourable of the normalization deals between Israel and certain Arab states which President Trump had pushed for. At the same time, the Biden team seems hesitant to return to negotiations.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Human Rights, Territorial Disputes, European Union, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Maria-Louise Clausen
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: Denmark assumed leadership of NATO Mission Iraq in late 2020. The Iraqi people’s perceptions of their personal security and of those who provide it can impact the success of this mission. A recent survey provides new insights. At a time of political turmoil and insecurity in Iraq, NATO has vowed to step up its commitment in the region. This happens at a time of increased resistance to the US presence in Iraq, and a deteriorating security situation due to the escalation of the conflict between the US and Iran taking place on Iraqi soil, as well as signs of an Islamic State resurgence. Security is a major concern in Iraq. When respondents were asked to select their most important concern for the Iraqi government to address, the most common choice was ‘maintaining security and stability’ (30.5%), closely followed by the job situation (27.5%), and corruption (26.2%). This should be read in conjunction with the fact that 71.7% of respondents stated that they experience their personal security as currently either only partially or not at all ensured. This was most pronounced among the surveyed Shias, with only 18.8% indicating that they feel fully or partly secure in contrast to 46.7% of Sunni respondents.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, NATO, Democratization, Diplomacy, International Organization, Non State Actors, Fragile States, Violence, Peace, Police, Justice
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Middle East, Denmark
  • Author: Maria-Louise Clausen, Ekatherina Zhukova
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: A priority for NATO Mission Iraq is to further the Women, Peace and Security agenda as one of the mission’s activities. This effort should focus on raising awareness of the operational benefits of equal opportunities and diversity and not just counting the number of women involved. RECOMMENDATIONS: Formulate a clear mandate for WPS functions in the mission that positions the WPS agenda as an integral element of NMI’s other activities. Support awareness-raising programmes and initiatives to transform social norms, including patriarchal gender norms and institutional socio-political constraints on female participation. Support the transparent qualifications-based recruitment and employment of women and prioritize the focus on inclusive work environments, both mentally and physically. Incorporate intersectional and masculinity perspectives in the work on WPS to avoid creating an image of WPS as a foreign-backed agenda that is only of, by and for elite women.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Democratization, Diplomacy, International Organization, Non State Actors, Women, Fragile States, Violence, Peace, Police, Justice
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • 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: 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: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Karabakh War (September 29–November 9) has had a transformative effect on the country. It not only changed the attitudes of its population, whose members now feel themselves to be heroes rather than victims (see EDM, January 21), but also bolstered the diplomatic weight and possibilities of the Azerbaijani government in its dealings with other regional states. In prosecuting a triumphant war against Yerevan, Baku demonstrated its own ability to act. But just as importantly, Azerbaijan has shown to peoples and governments in the Caucasus and Central Asia that it is a force to be reckoned with, in part thanks to its growing links with Turkey. Moreover, that alliance makes possible an appealing path to the outside world for all who join it. That reality is causing countries east of the Caspian to look westward to and through Azerbaijan in their economic planning and political calculations. At the same time, however, these developments are generating concerns in Moscow and Tehran, which oppose east-west trade routes that bypass their countries’ territories and instead favor north-south corridors linking Russia and Iran together. As a result, Azerbaijan’s recent successes in expanding links with Central Asia set the stage for new conflicts between Azerbaijan and its Turkic partners, on the one hand, and Russia and Iran, which have far more significant naval assets in the Caspian, on the other (see EDM, November 27, 2018 and February 20, 2020; Casp-geo.ru, December 24, 2019; Chinalogist.ru, November 21, 2019).
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Conflict, Trade
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Central Asia, Middle East, Azerbaijan
  • Author: Rahim Rahimov
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Iran emerged as a potential loser from the Russia-brokered trilateral truce accords that ended last autumn’s 44-day Second Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan (see EDM January 25). Therefore, Tehran is seeking ways to reposition itself into the new situation in line with its interests. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s five-country regional tour of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey, between January 25 and 28, clearly carried that mission (Tasnim News Agency, January 30). In particular, a top agenda item during this series of foreign visits was the proposal to reactivate a Soviet-era railway connecting Iran and Armenia via Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave, which is wedged between them and Turkey (Twitter.com/JZarif, January 26).
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Infrastructure, Transportation
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Armenia, Azerbaijan
  • Author: Abdullah Al-Arian
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
  • Abstract: Prof. Abdullah Al-Arian discusses how Islamist movements have historically viewed diplomacy as important to their activist missions.
  • Topic: International Relations, Cold War, Diplomacy, Politics, History, Islamism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North America, Egypt, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: This document presents recommendations for initial policy steps that the Biden Administration can take to advance Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. It describes the current state of play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Biden takes office, identifies nine key goals for the new administration in advancing peacemaking, and outlines concrete policy steps for their implementation. These are the goals outlined in the document: (1) Highlighting the importance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; (2) Renewing ties and building trust with the Palestinian leadership; (3) Emphasizing US commitment to the two-state solution and formulating parameters for a final-status agreement; (4) Preserving the feasibility of the two-state solution and drawing red lines; (5) Leading multilateral steps, such as creating a new international mechanism and an incentives package; (6) Leveraging Israeli-Arab normalization to advance the peace process; (7) Improving the situation in Gaza and ending the internal Palestinian divide; (8) Empowering pro-peace Israeli and Palestinian actors, including in civil society; (9) Setting a constructive tone to relations with the Israeli leadership and public.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Conflict, Peace, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, United States of America
  • Author: Kamal Ali-Hassan, Ehud Eiran, Nimrod Goren, Merav Kahana-Dagan, Roee Kibrik, Lior Lehrs, Gabriel Mitchell, Elie Podeh, Ksenia Svetlova, Nadav Tamir, Yonatan Touval
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: This document summarizes recommendations for initial policy steps that the Biden Administration could take to advance Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. It identifies nine key goals for the new administration and outlines concrete policy steps for their implementation.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Peace, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, United States of America
  • Author: Gabriel Mitchell
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: For decades, the US operated as the central mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. However, after decades of stalled negotiations, it is likely that future peacemaking efforts will be multilateral, reliant on an orchestra of international actors who can support specific processes that, in concert, could encourage Israelis and Palestinians to reapproach one another. This piece examines the role of Greece and Cyprus, two regional actors whose strategic relationship with Israel has strengthened over the last decade, could help advance peace. Though secondary players in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are concrete ways that both states – if invited by the central parties – could contribute to a more conducive environment for cooperation and dialogue.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Diplomacy, International Affairs, Negotiation, Peace
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Greece, Palestine, Cyprus
  • Author: Einat Levi, Roee Kibrik, Nimrod Goren
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: By dint of its position in the Arab and Muslim arena, Morocco is strongly committed to the Palestinian issue and the safeguarding of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites. Throughout its history, Morocco has served at times as a mediator between Israel and the Arab world and mobilized to help Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking within the framework of the Oslo process. Morocco has adopted a largely neutral foreign policy as a state seeking stability in the Middle East and North Africa and willing to help mediate regional conflicts. These efforts are notable in both the Palestinian arena and in the broader Middle Eastern and North African one. Israel takes a positive view of ties with Morocco, backed by the support of the large Moroccan Jewish diaspora living in Israel. Palestinian views of Morocco’s policy are mixed. Along with a positive perception based on recognition of Morocco’s commitment to the Palestinian issue, measured criticism is also being heard over its decision to advance normalization with Israel. Attitudes toward the normalization process are complex, including both criticism and support for the move. Morocco cannot set in motion and orchestrate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but it can help by providing conciliation and mediation and broad legitimacy for a consensual arrangement on Jerusalem’s holy sites.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Diplomacy, Negotiation, Peace, Normalization
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Morocco
  • Author: Lior Lehrs, Nimrod Goren, Ido Zelkovitz, Nadav Tamir, Merav Kahana-Dagan
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: The latest events in Jerusalem – at Muslim holy sites, the Damascus Gate and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood – have brought tensions in the city to new heights and affect Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians and Arab states. This document compiles initial commentaries by Mitvim Institute experts. Dr. Lior Lehrs explains that restoring calm in Jerusalem requires dealing with structural problems and foresees a role for President Biden in such a process; Former MK Ksenia Svetlova argues that the violence stems from government neglect and could exacerbate tensions with Jordan; Dr. Nimrod Goren argues that the escalation in Jerusalem should convince the political left to demand diplomatic portfolios in the emerging government; Dr. Ido Zelkovitz believes that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are supporting the Jerusalem protests and that Hamas hopes to emerge from them with the upper hand; Former diplomat Nadav Tamir points to violations of human rights and the status quo as the cause of the current round of violence.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Human Rights, Displacement, Violence, Hamas, PLO
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Jerusalem, Arab Countries
  • Author: Roee Kibrik, Nimrod Goren, Merav Kahana-Dagan
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Book
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: Israel’s Relations with Arab Countries: The Unfulfilled Potential examines relations between Israel and seven key Arab states – Egypt. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Morocco and Iraq – against the backdrop of the changes sweeping the Middle East over the past decade. The researchers mapped out the potential for cooperation with each state based on shared interests, challenges and opportunities, and on the abilities, strengths and needs of Israel and those states. The researchers described existing diplomatic, security, economic and civilian cooperation – relying on open source material, their expertise in the arena and interviews they conducted. The studies found that despite progress in cooperation between Israel and Arab countries, and notwithstanding certain growing normalization with specific Middle Eastern countries, the strategic-diplomatic, economic, social, civilian and cultural opportunities are significant and far greater than their current level. There is wide-ranging, unfulfilled potential in Israel’s relations with Arab countries, and it is more evident now than it was in the past. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and absence of significant progress in resolving it constitute the main obstacle to tapping the potential for cooperation between Israel and the Arab world, capping relations with a glass ceiling. In formulating its policy and actions in the region, Israel should learn the lessons of the past. It must take into consideration current realities and limitations, existing interests and processes. Just as important, it must also shape its actions, assessing and choosing from among various alternatives with a view to the future potential and tremendous promise they hold out. We hope this publication helps those interested in sketching the current complex picture and the potential that lies in relations between Israel and major Arab countries, and paves the way to expanded cooperation and normalization between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East. As the studies in this publication indicate, the potential for regional cooperation is great and its realization also depends on progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.
  • Topic: International Relations, Security, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Economy
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Arab Countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, UAE
  • Author: Ksenia Svetlova
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: In the few months that have passed since the signing of the historical Abraham Accords, Israel and the UAE have opened embassies and exchanged ambassadors, launched direct flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, hosted dozens of businesses, cultural and academic delegations (among them a high-ranking Emirati delegation led by the UAE ministers of finance and economy), and facilitated visits of thousands of Israeli tourists to Dubai. Universities and think tanks from both countries have established connections, and news outlets have launched different forms of cooperation. Israel, the UAE, and the US set an investment fund worth 3 billion USD (the fund is not operational yet) and banks on both sides established agreements on financial services. The scope of activity between the two countries is impressive, and it seems that in case of Israel and the UAE, the seeds of peace have fallen on fertile ground, mainly due to high level of economic development and mutual geopolitical interests and concerns, such as the Iranian threat (although both sides evaluate and treat it differently).Today, it is almost impossible to imagine that just a few years ago Israeli athletes were only allowed to compete in the UAE if they agreed to participate without their national flag or national anthem sung at the closing ceremony. Why is it that the peace between Israel and the UAE appears to be such a stark contrast from previous peace agreements that Israel has signed with other Arab countries? Several factors have facilitated the newly established relationship: the positive image of the UAE in Israel; the lack of past hostilities, casualties, and territorial demands between the two countries; the unofficial ties forged long before the official recognition; the many mutual interests that seem to be aligned together; and the right timing that allowed for this bold and important development. Will the parties be able to maintain a similar level of enthusiasm also when the honeymoon stage passes? How will the two countries deal with various regional and international challenges? This paper presents an Israeli perspective on the first months of the relationship between Israel and UAE, and looks at prospects for the near future of these relations.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements, Economy, Peace, Abraham Accords
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, UAE
  • Author: Nimrod Goren, Nickolay Mladenov, Nathalie Tocci, Hesham Youssef, Merav Kahana-Dagan
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: Can Multilateralism Advance Israeli-Palestinian Peace? Mitvim's J Street Panel, April 2021; Speakers: Amb. (ret.) Hesham Youssef Senior Fellow, United States Institute of Peace; Former diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of 'Egypt, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League; H.E. Nickolay Mladenov Former UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process; Former Bulgaria's Minister of Defense and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Dr. Nathalie Tocci Director, Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI, Italy); Special Advisor to EU High Representative and Vice President of the Commission Josep Borrell; Dr. Nimrod Goren Founder and Head, Mitvim - The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies; Teaching Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Moderator: Merav Kahana-Dagan, Deputy Head, Mitvim - The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Multilateralism, Peace
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Japan Institute Of International Affairs (JIIA)
  • Abstract: The year 2020 was characterized by the intensification of US-China confrontation and strategic competition, which had been pointed out in the Strategic Annual Report 2019, in all areas from military and security affairs as well as dominance in advanced technologies and supply chains to narratives on coronavirus responses. Amid this confrontation, the rules-based international order faced even more severe challenges; the multilateral framework established after World War II with the United Nations at its core lost its US leadership and fell into serious dysfunction. While the international community is struggling to cope with the rapidly expanding outbreak of the novel coronavirus, China has been moving to expand its influence through increasingly authoritarian and assertive domestic and international policies on the rule of law and territorial issues, as well as through economic initiatives such as the existing “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) and its responses to the pandemic. The confrontation with the United States is becoming more and more pronounced, and the Indo-Pacific region is turning itself into divided and contested oceans. In this transforming strategic environment, expressions of support for the vision of a rulesbased “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) that Japan has been promoting for the past several years, or announcements of similar visions have followed one after the other. The year 2020 also saw significant strengthening of the cooperative framework among four countries – Japan, the United States, Australia, and India (QUAD) – together with the enhancement of bilateral cooperation between countries in this group. At the same time, progress was also made in a regional cooperation framework that includes China with the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement in East Asia. The Strategic Annual Report 2020 looks back at major international developments since last year’s Report through the end of 2020, focusing on the transformation of the strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific region and the response of the international community.
  • Topic: International Relations, Arms Control and Proliferation, Diplomacy, Science and Technology, Bilateral Relations, Multilateralism, COVID-19, Destabilization
  • Political Geography: Russia, Japan, China, Middle East, United States of America, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: Masaaki Yatsuzuka
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Japan Institute Of International Affairs (JIIA)
  • Abstract: There is no question that China's presence in the Middle East is growing significantly. Will China continue to deepen its involvement in the region and play a role in shaping the regional order, taking the place of the United States? In other words, will China practice major power diplomacy in the Middle East? The view among researchers in China and elsewhere1 over this question is divided. To categorize their arguments into two camps, there is a cautious engagement theory that warns against the risk of getting caught up in the turmoil in the Middle East and recommends (or predicts) that China protect its economic interests while maintaining political neutrality vis-à-vis the Middle East as it has done so far. On the other hand, there is an active engagement theory advocating (or foreseeing) that China deepen its engagement, proactively participate based on the responsibility of a major world power in solving problems in the Middle East, and actively propose its own ideas in order to protect Chinese interests in the Middle East.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Middle East, Asia
  • Author: Nobumasa Akiyama
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Japan Institute Of International Affairs (JIIA)
  • Abstract: On January 20, 2021, a new administration will take office in the United States. This could lead to changes in US-Iran relations. The Trump administration continued to provoke Iran by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), tightening sanctions, and killing Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. Meanwhile, the incoming president Joe Biden and key members of his diplomatic team are oriented toward a return to the JCPOA. In the midst of all this, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist who is believed to have played a central role in Iran's nuclear development, was murdered. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by saying he would retaliate at an "appropriate" time, and an advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said he would take "decisive" action. Although the US is not believed to have been directly involved in this incident, there are concerns that it will cast a dark shadow on the diplomacy between the US and Iran over the JCPOA. Shortly thereafter, Iran's parliament passed a law that obliges the government to take steps to expand nuclear activities that significantly exceed the JCPOA's limits and to seek the lifting of sanctions. The new US administration will need to be very careful not to overlook either hard or soft signals, to analyze Iran's future course, and to take diplomatic steps to reduce Iran's nuclear and regional security threats.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, JCPOA, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Nancy Gallagher, Clay Ramsay, Ebrahim Mohseni
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: This report covers findings from two surveys fielded in September and early October 2020 and late January through early February 2021 to assess how Iranians were faring as the covid-19 pandemic intensified the challenges their country was already facing, what they thought about the parliamentary election in Iran and the presidential election in the United States, and how the inauguration of Joe Biden impacted their attitudes towards nuclear diplomacy and regional security. Iran was one of the earliest countries to be hard-hit by the novel coronavirus, with the country’s first cases confirmed on February 13, 2020, two days before the parliamentary election, senior officials among those soon infected, and high death rates reported. Western reporting depicted widespread government incompetence and cover-ups exacerbating the pandemic’s toll. As in other countries, Iranian officials struggled to decide whether to close schools, curtail economic activities, and restrict religious observances in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread, but cases and deaths remained high through 2020. When we fielded the first survey wave, the daily number of new confirmed covid-19 cases in Iran was starting to climb sharply again after having been relatively flat since May. Some world leaders, including the U.N. Secretary General, called for an easing of sanctions on Iran as part of global efforts to fight the pandemic. The United States, which had withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018, maintained that medicine, personal protective equipment, and other humanitarian supplies were exempt from the steadily increasing sanctions applied as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign. But, the United States’ designation in September 2019 of the Central Bank of Iran as a terrorist organization made most foreign suppliers of humanitarian goods reluctant to sell to Iran. A decision in October 2020 to also designate the few Iranian banks that were not previously subject to secondary sanctions further impeded humanitarian trade, caused another sharp drop in the value of Iran’s currency, and had other negative economic effects. The Trump administration’s stated objective was to keep imposing more sanctions until Iran acquiesced to a long list of U.S. demands articulated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The original twelve points include the types of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that the government rejected during previous negotiations and that the Iranian public has consistently opposed. It also included stopping development of nuclear-capable missiles and ending support for various groups throughout the Middle East.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Public Opinion, International Community
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 08-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: At the conclusion of the fourth round of the strategic dialogue between Baghdad and Washington, US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi signed an agreement officially ending the US combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, more than 18 years after US forces entered Iraq. In return, Baghdad confirmed Iraq's commitment to protecting the international coalition personnel, who provide advisory and training assistance. According to the statements of the Iraqi Foreign Minister, the fourth round of the strategic dialogue between the two countries will be the last. Hence, the understandings that took place between the two sides will form the general framework governing the bilateral relations between the two countries.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, Armed Forces, Dialogue
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Nawar Samad
  • Publication Date: 07-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS)
  • Abstract: A Russian business delegation visited Lebanon in late June 2021 to offer support to the country by cultivating projects in the oil sector, development plans for the energy industry as well as the ports in Beirut and Tripoli. For the past two years, Lebanon, which is going through the worst economic and financial crisis in its history, and has been trying to secure international aid to survive, is now facing the attractive Russian economic bailout offer. Although such an offer is welcomed by Lebanon, the Russian initiative raises concerns across the West, and particularly in the United States, which is in control of Lebanon’s banking system and still has significant influence on the state’s politics and financial sector. The United States believes that it is not possible to dissociate this Russian offer from Moscow’s desire to expand its influence in a region, in which it already established military presence and gained access to the Eastern Mediterranean, where a conflict is underway over investment of newly-discovered gas fields.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Economics, Financial Crisis, Gas
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Michael Knights, Hanin Ghaddar, Nadwa Al-Dawsari, Charles Lister
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East has grown dramatically in the past decade, in large part due to its expanding regional network of militias and their assertion of influence in unstable environments. Through the IRGC’s Quds Force and Iranian allies such as Lebanese Hezbollah, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen, Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony through the removal of Western influence threatens stability. What are the main challenges and threats posed by Iran’s regional network? How best should they be dealt with? Can diplomacy remove the incentive for Iranian proxy aggression? How must the United States and the wider international community respond to Iran’s direct and proxy involvement in conflicts across the Middle East?
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Transnational Actors, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Lebanon
  • Author: Ruba Husari, Samantha Gross, Gerald Feierstein, Jean-Francois Seznec
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: One of President Biden's most ambitious campaign promises is centered around American energy policy. Biden has vowed to shift away from a traditional focus in oil toward investments in renewable energy sources. Meanwhile, the oil industry in the Middle East is already facing severe repercussions from the coronavirus pandemic. States like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon are struggling to replace oil revenue, cutting social benefits and worsening social unrest in the process. Oil has been the economic backbone on which the U.S. and nations in the Middle East have built diplomatic relationships and maintained mutual security interests. How will these crucial bonds be affected by a greener Biden presidency?
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Energy Policy, Oil, Pandemic, Joe Biden
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, United States of America
  • Author: Joey Hood, Elise Labott
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: At the end of Joe Biden’s first 100 days as President of the United States, The Middle East Institute is pleased to host a special event to assess progress on key priorities and set new policy goals in response to newly emerged challenges. With political turmoil in Jordan, upcoming Palestinian elections, and an opportunity to rebalance engagement with Iran and Gulf partners, many questions remain as to the key priorities for the Biden administration’s agenda. Last month, MEI released The Biden Administration and the Middle East: Policy Recommendations for a Sustainable Way Forward on key geopolitical and strategic areas in the MENA region. This event, which will be opened with a keynote conversation with Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood, will convene key authors of the briefing book in a series of panels to reflect on the recommendations and explore opportunities to change course.
  • Topic: International Relations, Diplomacy, American Presidency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa
  • Author: Assal Rad
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ)
  • Institution: Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ)
  • Abstract: The attacks on 11 September 2001 not only shaped the focus of US foreign policy over the last two decades, but also de!ned how a generation of Americans understood the gravity of these policies by bringing the cost and tragedy of con"ict home. For many young Americans, it was the !rst time they became aware of the extent of US interventionism and how it impacts the way other nations and peoples view the United States. But events over the last year in the United States have brought the attitude of US foreign policy—which has long been driven by the idea that problems can be solved exclusively through militarism and force—much closer to home. Images of police violently confronting Black Lives Matter protestors and an insurrection at the Capitol were often likened to images of war zones abroad, the very wars started by the United States.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Peace
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: What’s new? A U.S. resolution seeking to extend UN arms restrictions on Iran beyond their October 2020 expiration failed at the Security Council. Washington has asserted that it will claim the right to unilaterally restore UN sanctions, which were terminated as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Why does it matter? Any U.S. attempt to reimpose sanctions will be controversial, given the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and likely to create deadlock at the Security Council. The administration’s goal is clear: kill the deal or make it that much harder for a successor administration to rejoin it. What should be done? The remaining parties to the deal should be united in resisting Washington’s efforts, as should other Security Council members. They should essentially disregard a U.S. “snapback” – restoring sanctions – as ineffectual, obstruct attempts to implement it and discourage Iran from overreacting to what will end up being a symbolic U.S. move.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, United Nations, Sanctions, UN Security Council
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: For years, Gulf powers have mulled the notion of regional dialogue to calm existing crises and head off new ones. Today, with several active Middle Eastern conflicts, all sensitive to rising U.S.-Iran tensions, it is an idea whose time has come. What’s new?* Middle East tensions spiked in the past year following attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities, the U.S. killing of a senior Iranian commander and Iranian military retaliation. Some of Washington’s allies, losing confidence the U.S. will reliably extend military protection, have started making cautious diplomatic overtures to Iran. Why does it matter? While these tentative steps toward de-escalation are welcome, they risk being inadequate, particularly in the absence of regular, high-level communication channels among potential conflict actors. Existing UN-led mechanisms for resolving individual conflicts, such as Yemen, are worthwhile but insufficient to lessen region-wide tensions. What should be done? Diplomatic efforts are needed to both de-escalate tensions and make progress toward resolving regional conflicts. Gulf actors, supported by external stakeholders, should consider launching an inclusive sub-regional dialogue aimed at reducing the risk of inadvertent conflict by opening new communication channels.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Dario Cristiani
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Russia’s return as a major geostrategic actor in the Mediterranean is one of the most significant trends characterising this area over the past few years. Part of a broader geopolitical pluralization of this space, Russia’s 2015 intervention in Syria marked a new phase in Moscow’s Mediterranean engagement. Based on a stringent logic of intervening where other powers leave strategic vacuums, Russia has succeeded to carve out an increasingly central role in Mediterranean equilibria, despite its limited resources. Russian diplomatic and economic support for the Syrian regime in Damascus had steadily increased since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. Yet, it was Moscow’s direct military intervention in September 2015 that signalled a decisive upgrade in engagement. Moscow’s military involvement shifted the tide of the conflict, proving decisive in avoiding the collapse of the Syrian regime, which is also backed by Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Economy, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Jakob Lindgaard, Moritz Pieper, Cecilie Felicia Stokholm Banke
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: Turkey-NATO relations are still sufficiently strong to keep the relationship from the brink, a new DIIS-report finds. But more dynamics are also gaining strength to render further troubles increasingly likely. The future of Turkey’s NATO membership has been the subject of heated debate of late, from both outside and within Turkey. What ramifications will Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air anti-missile system have for Turkey’s NATO future? Has the Syrian conflict exposed deep strategic differences between Turkey and other key NATO members? In response to such questions, a number of foreign policy practitioners as well as researchers and long-standing Turkey watchers have cautioned that a number of centripetal forces – dynamics that keep member states together - remain sufficiently strong at a structural level to keep Turkey-NATO relations on track. There seems to be widespread agreement on both sides that the alternative is simply worse. At the same time, the report also argues that these centripetal forces are losing their strength, and that centrifugal forces pulling the alliance apart are gaining strength and salience. Barring wild card developments, the net result is that this will increase the likelihood of further troubles ahead for Turkey-NATO relations The report is based on an analysis of the published policy commentary, scholarly literature, as well as a series of semi-structured interviews conducted with practitioners and academic experts during the course of 2019.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, NATO, Diplomacy, International Organization
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Turkey, Middle East, Denmark
  • Author: Tyyne Karjalainen
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The European Union is renewing its Concept on Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacities after more than a decade. The new concept is being launched at a time when international peace mediation is at risk of lagging behind in the face of accelerating power politics. The United Nations Security Council seems to be paralysed, and many peace processes frozen solid. Regional actors, such as the EU, now have a window of opportunity to strengthen their role, albeit amid difficult circumstances, as learnt, for example, in Ukraine and Syria. This Working Paper suggests that the EU has special abilities to build on in peace mediation, including exceptional resources for capacity-building and mediation support. Capable of harnessing the resources of the member states, civil society and private mediation actors alike, the EU can build tailor-made, multi-level processes for resolving conflicts, and make the essential change-makers pull together. However, there is still room for improvement in EU action, for example in the evaluation of mediation, to which end this research sheds light on several concrete steps that the EU can take in order to optimize its efforts.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, United Nations, European Union, Peace
  • Political Geography: Europe, Ukraine, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Teresa Val
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: EastWest Institute
  • Abstract: Terrorism in Afghanistan: A Joint Threat Assessment is intended to serve as an analytical tool for policymakers and an impetus for joint U.S.-Russia action. The report provides an overview of the security situation and peace process in Afghanistan, taking into account U.S. and Russian policies, priorities and interests; surveys the militant terrorist groups in and connected to Afghanistan and explores the security interests of various regional stakeholders vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Challenges relating to border management, arms trafficking and terrorist financing in Afghanistan are also briefly addressed.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Counter-terrorism, Peace
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Russia, United States, Europe, Middle East, North 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Alistair Millar
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Fourth Freedom Forum
  • Abstract: The Trump administration was handed a resounding defeat in the United Nations Security Council at the end of last week when it offered a new resolution to indefinitely extend the UN arms embargo on Iran… Not only is the outcome of this vote embarrassing for the United States, it was the first salvo in a dangerous game of brinksmanship that is likely to be the biggest test of the Security Council’s resolve in the 75-year history of the United Nations.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Diplomacy, United Nations, UN Security Council, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Karol Wasilewski
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Turkey has sent aid to fight the COVID-19 pandemic to more than 20 countries. Although the gesture has a humanitarian dimension, it is also calculated to achieve political and economic benefits in the future. The challenge to these plans is the dynamics of the pandemic in Turkey, which may force the authorities to focus on the internal situation.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Humanitarian Aid, Coronavirus, Pandemic
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Sara Nowacka
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The fight against the spread of the coronavirus in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has forced cooperation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, which were in conflict within the GCC. At the same time, the UAE took advantage of other countries’ need for support in countering COVID-19 to strengthen relations with China, Iran, and Syria, among others. The UAE’s activity emphasizes its ambition for domination of the region, which may lead to a new dispute within the GCC between the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Gulf Cooperation Council, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Michał Wojnarowicz
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The plan announced by U.S. President Donald Trump will not break the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. For all involved parties, the plan will remain a point of reference for political and diplomatic actions in the coming months. The key factors of future developments would be Israel’s decision on the possible annexation of parts of the West Bank and, in the long-run, the outcome of this fall’s U.S. presidential elections.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Politics, Peace, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: I. Aytac Kadioglu
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Turkish Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
  • Institution: Sakarya University (SAU)
  • Abstract: The purpose of this article is to assess international negotiation efforts towards ending the civil war in Syria. Although many peace events have been organised since the beginning of the civil war, the existing literature has paid little attention to the impact of international peace efforts in ending the Syrian war. The article aims to close this gap by assessing major peace efforts between 2011 and 2019; The Arab League Peace Plan, the United Nations peace initiatives, and the Geneva, Vienna and Astana peace talks. It analyses these efforts through official reports and documents published by the UN, US, Republic of Turkey, UN Security Council, and members of peace initiatives. These documents are complemented by newspaper articles showing the official views of the regional and global actors as well as the key agents of the conflict. Therefore, the article reveals the reasons for the failure of these conflict resolution efforts. The Syrian government’s reluctance to end the conflict in a non-violent way, the armed groups’ dream of territorial gains and regional and global powers’ involvement in the conflict prevented the solution of the conflict. It utilises official negotiations and ripeness approaches to investigate the insights and contents of peace efforts. The article argues that the regional and global powers have acted as facilitators instead of mediators in the peace talks. It finds that even though these peace events are viewed as official negotiations, they are only pre-negotiation efforts.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diplomacy, International Cooperation, United Nations, Peace
  • Political Geography: Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Syria
  • Author: Lukasz Jurenczyk, Jildiz Nicharapova
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: AUSTRAL: Brazilian Journal of Strategy International Relations
  • Institution: Postgraduate Program in International Strategic Studies, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul
  • Abstract: The main research question of the article is what attitude present the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Collective Security Treaty Organization towards Afghanistan after 2014? A number of detailed questions were also put to help to answer the main question. The article consists of eight chapters. The first chapter discusses the methodological assumptions of the article. Chapter two covers literature review and theoretical framework of the article. The following chapters include an analysis of the approach to Afghanistan of the three indicated international organizations. The article ends with conclusion that contain the main theses.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, NATO, Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Europe, North Atlantic, Middle East, North America