A horrific suicide bombing in Manchester has put a spotlight on Libya—the North African nation where the chaos that has prevailed for the better part of the past six years has become a fertile breeding ground for a mélange of terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

“What Manchester shows is that it is possible for a radicalized kid to go to Libya and potentially receive the kind of training that would allow him to return to his home country and commit an act of terrorism,” said Karim Mezran, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

On May 22, a bomber identified by British authorities as Salman Abedi, the twenty-two-year-old British-born son of Libyan immigrants, detonated explosives at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena, killing himself and twenty-two other people. Fifty-nine people were wounded. Abedi had earlier traveled to Libya to see his parents who have moved back; he also visited Syria. The British government on May 23 put the entire country on the highest level of alert—a sign that another attack “may be imminent.”

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Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, formerly One Belt, One Road) is an economic integration project that will allow the often-overlooked Kazakhstan to capitalize on its unique geographic location to leverage geopolitical benefits from the initiative.

The infrastructure project is designed to expand China’s influence beyond its immediate neighborhood with economic soft power, achieving goals on its geopolitical agenda, namely, providing BRI nations a truly competitive alternative to Western, US-led partnerships.

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The election of Emmanuel Macron as France’s president on May 7 is a welcome boost for “third way” politics, a centrist political philosophy that broadly advocates a combination of right-wing economic and left-wing social policies. For the first time since the 1970s, France has elected a president that does not belong to either of the two major parties. In doing so, they chose a pragmatic vision for the future.

With the European Union’s (EU) existence under threat after years of underachievement and a morale-sapping Brexit referendum, the renewed impetus brought about by the election of the profoundly pro-European Macron is an opportunity to define a new practical vision for the rejuvenation of the European project.

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Iranians celebrated in the streets of their cities this past weekend out of relief that the most capable candidate on offer won the presidential election held on May 19.

Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani’s solid victory over a younger and more hardline cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, was a triumph of competence over ideology and of openness over isolationism.

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A creative solution to a quarrel over maritime borders could serve the interests of Lebanon and Israel


Recent oil and gas developments in the eastern Mediterranean have brought back into the spotlight the issue of an ongoing maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon that has created uncertainty among prospective foreign investors over the potential for a new conflagration in an already unstable region. 

The disagreement centers on an 854-square kilometer stretch of sea both countries claim as part of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Years of international mediation efforts, led by the United States, to resolve the dispute have yet to bear fruit. 

These tensions have been revived as Lebanon and Israel move forward with the development of their oil and gas sectors in the eastern Mediterranean.

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US President Donald J. Trump signaled through his meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in Washington on May 15 his administration’s commitment to working closely with the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to counter Iran’s expanding influence in the Arab world and fight al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

On May 19, Trump travels to Saudi Arabia where he will meet King Salman and up to twenty heads of state of Muslim-majority countries. MbZ’s visit to Washington has, in part, helped Trump prepare for his engagements in Saudi Arabia.

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During US President Donald J. Trump’s upcoming trip to Riyadh, Gulf leaders will seek to portray themselves as capable partners for the United States in countering common threats, namely violent extremism and Iranian aggression, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

Throughout the summit, leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will “want to make it clear that they have become more capable partners,” said Bilal Y. Saab, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Peace and Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council. He said they will try to communicate to Trump: “Rely on us more. Trust us more. We are happy to devote sufficient resources to common fights including counter-terrorism and countering Iran.”

“I think they will push that message more aggressively now, because this is what Trump wants to hear,” Saab added. Regarded as a “transactional” president and self-proclaimed dealmaker, Trump emphasized throughout his campaign that the fight against terrorism would top his foreign policy agenda. “He said during the campaign that he is looking for partners who are more willing to contribute, share the burden, and spend more money on defense,” said Saab, adding that US partners in the Gulf will seek to meet this need.

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The outcome of its presidential election on May 19 will determine whether Iran is the next nation to succumb to a populist candidate seeking to upend the normative world order, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.   

“This is going to be the next test in that wave,” following the election of US President Donald J. Trump and the defeat of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, said Amir Handjani, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Iran’s upcoming election will have tremendous implications for both the future of Iran and the US-Iranian relationship. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, widely recognized as a moderate proponent of a rules-based world order, will face off against conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, generally considered the preferred candidate of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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The ransomware attack that shut down a number of hospitals in the United Kingdom (UK) on May 12 should serve as a wake-up call to defend critical infrastructure against cyberterrorism, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“I was never worried that ransomware was going to deliberately kill someone,” said Joshua Corman, director of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative. Referring to hacking groups that identify as part of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), he added, “I was worried about adversaries like Cyber Caliphate extremist groups who have the means, motive, and opportunity to take life.”

In a cyber security environment in which low-capability actors can access tools in the public domain to launch a widespread cyberattack, “there are no technical barriers to a sustained attack on any or all hospitals globally,” Corman said.

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The Washington Post reported on May 15 that US President Donald J. Trump disclosed highly classified information to two Russian officials—Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak—in their White House meeting on May 10.

“The information the president relayed had been provided by a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government,” the Post reported, citing unidentified current and former US officials.

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