Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East

  • The Slaughter of Eastern Ghouta

    Just five days ago, in this blog, this writer assessed the possibility of Russia playing a positive role in ending Syria’s armed conflict. The following words proposed the test:

    If the mass murder of Syrian civilians continues—and especially if Russian pilots participate in it—Washington and its partners may safely conclude with respect to Russian benign intentions in Syria what Gertrude Stein saw in Oakland, California: ‘There’s no there there.’ Moscow knows quite well that civilized discussions over constitutional clauses cannot take place while the constituents of one party are being terrorized, vaporized, and scattered to the winds by the warplanes and artillery of the other. Will it stop the mass murder? Can it? We shall see.”

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  • Assad’s Forces Are Killing Dozens of Children in a Damascus Suburb

    Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces have unleashed an unrelenting bombardment of the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta that has killed hundreds—many of the victims are women and children—over the past few days.

    The United Nations (UN) has warned that the situation is “spiraling out of control.” The Assad regime has reportedly not even spared hospitals and schools. Targeted attacks on these locations could be tantamount to war crimes.

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  • Deir Ezzor: An Unbalanced Equation in the Syrian Conflict

    Deir Ezzor today is a complex variable in the Syrian equation, particularly since the opposition wrested control of the province from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2013 followed by Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) control in 2014. Deir Ezzor now contends with several forces trying to control it: Russia works to manage its conflict with the United States through Syria, legitimizing its presence through the Assad regime in cooperation with Iran and to some extent with Turkey; meanwhile the United States works to advance its agenda in the region by supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In addition to these geopolitical dynamics, on the domestic side ISIS enclaves continue to infiltrate and destabilize the area.

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  • Syrian Refugees: The Right to Return, But Not the Wrong Way

    Since September 2017, the agreed upon "de-escalation deal”  seemed to mark the final chapter of the Syrian civil war; entering into its eighth year. The goal of the Astana talks in 2017 was to sustain the de-escalation deal, in order to minimize violence, secure more aid, and consequently make it “safe” for Syrian refugees to return.

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  • Stein Quoted in Foreign Policy on U.S.-Turkey relations


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  • Itani Testifies Before House Foreign Affairs Committee on "Syria: Which Way Forward?"


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  • Timeline: How Libya’s Revolution Came Undone

    An unusual protest erupted in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi on February 15, 2011. Enraged by the arrest of a human rights activist, protestors clashed with police and supporters of Libya’s longtime ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, who responded with brute force. Two days later, activists called for a “day of rage.”

    The protests spread like wildfire across Libya, whose neighborhood was already being buffeted by the so-called Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings. Longtime leaders, including Gadhafi, were ousted in the Arab Spring revolutions. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and millions were displaced from their homes.

    Seven years later, Libya is mired in chaos.

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  • The United States and Turkey: NATO Allies at an Impasse

    The US military continues to support a Kurdish militia in Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization, and Ankara has had enough.

    Now, as the Turkish military threatens to advance on Manbij, a town in northeastern Syria held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that includes the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), Ankara is “going to try to force a showdown to gain concessions from the United States,” said Aaron Stein, a resident fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

    However, he added, “I just don’t see a willingness from the United States to give the types of concessions that Turkey wants.”

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  • What Turkey’s Afrin Operation Says about Options for the United States

    The recent downturn in US-Turkish relations following the Turkish military’s cross-border military operation in Kurdish-held Afrin, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, should prompt a re-evaluation of American interests in Syria. Afrin is an enclave under the control of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). The PYD is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group active in Turkey since the early 1980s. The YPG is also the main-militia in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the multi-ethnic grouping of militias that has done the bulk of the fighting against Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) east of the Euphrates River.

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  • Russia: Is Syria’s Fate Libya’s Future?

    On February 17th, Libyans will celebrate the anniversary of a revolt that ultimately toppled and killed Muammar Qaddafi, ending his forty-two-year oppressive rule. This anniversary and others in the region are regrettable reminders of how the expectations in the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring compare to the reality on the ground seven years later. Many countries that sought to depose a tyrannical leader now find themselves in worse circumstances. Libya and Syria in particular have faced extreme violence since 2011. In both states, the political and security vacuums from internal fractures allowed the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) to rise and thrive. In Syria, this same vacuum allowed Russia to gain military influence and involvement in the conflict. Russia is likely to use current unstable conditions in Libya today for its own interests, much as it has done in Syria, beginning over two years ago.

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