Middle East Security Initiative

  • Yemen’s Never-Ending War

    The assault by the United Arab Emirates’ forces and their local allies in a Saudi-led coalition on the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah that began last week and remains underway rightly raised concerns once again about the potential humanitarian consequences of Yemen’s ongoing war. Hudaydah is one of the impoverished country’s most important ports, the channel through which most international aid and imports reach Yemeni families in dire need of food, medicine, and fuel. But the discussion surrounding humanitarian aid in the Yemen war has become badly entangled in geopolitics, and it has become difficult to separate posturing on the part of the belligerent parties and wishful thinking on the part of international powers from the actual needs on the ground.

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  • The Art of the (Russian-Israeli) Deal

    On June 1, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya told the press that he “believes” that his country and Israel reached an agreement regarding “certain disengagement in the southwest of Syria.” Other sources reported that the agreement will include the withdrawal of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from the Syrian-Israeli border in return for implicit Israeli acceptance of the Syrian forces’ redeployment there. More speculative reports even suggested that Russia promised to look the other way during future Israeli attacks in Syria, as long as Jerusalem commits not to target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

    The Russian ambassador’s statement was the only formal recognition that such an agreement was reached.

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  • Political Football: The World Cup’s Middle East Challengers

    The author and political thinker George Orwell was many things, but a soccer fan he was not.

    In an essay titled “The Sporting Spirit,” written in 1945 during then-Soviet soccer club Dynamo Moscow’s Cold War British tour, Orwell called soccer “a game in which everyone gets hurt and every nation has its own style of play which seems unfair to foreigners.”

    He then extrapolated that sport “is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” Orwell recognized the political symbolism inherent in sport and resented it for being one of many drivers of the nationalism fueling international rivalry.

    Today’s fans might disagree with Orwell’s joyless characterization of sport as “an unfailing cause of ill-will,” but there is no denying that this World Cup, set in Vladimir...

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  • Why Internet Freedom in Iran is More Important Than Ever

    A female truck driver in a burgundy headscarf stood on the side of a highway to Mashhad, explaining in a video sent to Voice of America Persian that she was joining a truck driver strike. It wasn’t long before the video and others like it caught the attention of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). ITF posted a statement on its Twitter account saying it stood in solidarity “with the truck drivers across Iran who are on strike calling for better pay, lower fees, basic workers’ rights, and safer roads.”

    Social media has played an important role in spreading images and footage of the striking drivers as they parked their trucks in port cities and the Esfahan and Kermanshah provinces. Since the truck drivers’ strike commenced on May 22, drivers have heavily relied on social media platforms accessed...

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  • Sanctions or Self-Sabotage? The Story of Iran’s Oil Industry

    Following the lifting of international sanctions in January 2016, there was a great deal of optimism for Iran’s oil economy. Even though the global oil industry was a year into a price collapse, many companies were eager to explore investment opportunities in Iran’s neglected oil and gas assets. The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Iran’s oil ministry were also enthusiastic about revitalizing Iran’s oil and gas fields and bringing new discoveries online with the help of foreign investment and expertise. 

    However, in the nearly two and half years between the end of international sanctions and President Trump’s May 2018 decision to reinstate US sanctions, Iran accomplished...

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  • Great Power Competition in Iran as the US Exits the Arena

    US President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, and thus re-impose broad sanctions against the Islamic Republic, sends a clear signal that Washington has reverted to a full containment policy against Tehran. But, lacking a clear overarching Middle East strategy, US policymakers do not appear to be weighing the merits of this pursuit in the context of the United States’ long-term rivalries with China and Russia. While Tehran’s contentious relations with its neighbors to the west are the subject of intense focus, inadequate attention is being paid to the geostrategic implications of transformations to Iran’s east. A new “Great Game” for political and economic dominance is being waged in Eurasia that will impact the lives of almost...
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  • Lebanon’s Elections: Hezbollah in the Driver’s Seat?

    Hezbollah’s emergence as the strongest political faction during the Lebanese May elections confirms Iran’s sway over Lebanon, with the party now capable of securing an unchallenged veto at the parliamentary level and an absolute majority if it secures the right alliances. The recent electoral results also underline Hezbollah’s continued grip over its community despite ongoing governance challenges, and could herald instability for the Land of the Cedar amid escalating regional tensions.

    The May 6 Lebanese elections granted Hezbollah a comfortable majority. “Hezbollah’s block is unwavering since 2009, with thirteen seats for the organization. The main difference is that now, with allies such as the Syrian Nationalist Progressive Party, Amal, the Baathist movement, and the Marada’s advances in parliament (included in the hard March 8 core), the coalition...

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  • Trump’s Plan B for Iran

    Several years ago, Henry Kissinger famously stated that Iran must decide if it wants to be a country or a cause. On May 21, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo re-articulated this question, offering Iran a sharp choice: to be welcomed back into the community of nations if it abandons its destabilizing security policies or be subjected to an unrelenting US-led pressure campaign if not.

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  • The Regional Consequences of Trump’s Decision to Ditch the Iran Nuclear Deal

    Though Iran has thus far remained in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the US decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal could be the first domino to fall, setting off a chain of escalatory events throughout the region.

    “This change is US policy is happening at a time when the region is really combustible,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, president of Gryphon Partners and an Atlantic Council board director. Ultimately, the regional impact of US President Donald J. Trump’s May 8 decision to withdraw from the JCPOA will depend on Tehran, and what it decides to do next: play nice on the world stage, or retaliate in its own backyard. 

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  • Can the European Union’s Sanctions Blocking Regulation Save the Iran Nuclear Deal?

    The European Union (EU) on May 18 announced that it was beginning the process to activate its proposed blocking regulation, initially proposed in 1996 to try to counteract what the EU saw as the extraterritorial reach under the United States’ Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) and Cuba sanctions program. Those disagreements were settled politically with the Clinton administration, but there has been renewed interest in the draft regulation in the wake of US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and reimpose US secondary sanctions on Iran.  

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