Faysal Itani

  • The Long War in Idlib

    A Syrian regime offensive on Idlib province has been avoided for now, through a Russian-Turkish agreement. This is a much-needed reprieve for the beleaguered people of Idlib. Turkey, Russia, and the United States are likely relieved as well. There is speculation that a new US policy in Syria compelled Russia to make concessions and agree to a deal, but it is more likely a result of Russian-Turkish convergence on key issues. This alignment of interests bodes relatively well for the deal (given the dismal standards of deals in this war). Yet some of Turkey’s obligations are unrealistic and the regime remains undeterred long term, making this an inherently fragile arrangement.

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  • Assad Still Standing in Syria: What Went Wrong?

    Seven years after the first protests against Bashar al-Assad, the dictator in Damascus is not only still standing, but is reconsolidating control over most of Syria. The war has killed hundreds of thousands, sent millions of refugees streaming into neighboring countries and as far as Europe and the United States, and spun-off proxy wars that have pit the United States against regional powers and strained Washington’s relations with its allies.

    Although the United States is winding down its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in one of the many offshoots of the current conflict, Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Faysal Itani and Nate Rosenblatt argue that Syria represents a resounding defeat for Washington, not a victory. While other actors within and outside of Syria certainly deserve much of the blame for the conflict’s brutality and duration, “the United States was the international actor with the greatest capacity to alter events in Syria, deliberately or not, and its actions deserve special scrutiny,” Itani and Rosenblatt write in a new issue brief for the Atlantic Council, “US Policy in Syria: A Seven-Year Reckoning,” released on September 11.

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  • US Policy in Syria: A Seven-year Reckoning

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    Seven years from the Syrian revolution, the conflict in Syria has altered the course of history for the generation coming of age in the region. It has killed, wounded, or displaced millions of Syrians, worsened regional sectarianism, raised the risk of war between Israel and Iran, generated the worst refugee crisis since World War II, and created a new and more pernicious wave of violent radicals. Its effects extend beyond the region, shaping the outcome of politics around the world.

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  • The War in Syria: Idlib in the Crosshairs

    Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime, backed by Russia, appears to be preparing for a major offensive on Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold located along Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey.

    The population in Idlib has almost doubled to around three million as tens of thousands of Syrians trapped in other parts of the war-ravaged country were evacuated there under various ceasefire agreements with the Assad regime. An assault on Idlib would trigger an even greater humanitarian catastrophe as there are few safe spaces inside Syria to which civilians can be evacuated.

    Here’s a look at the warning signs leading up to a possible offensive.

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  • Itani Quoted in the Washington Post on Assad and the War in Syria


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  • What Exactly is the US Policy Toward Iran?

    On July 22, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed an audience that included many members of the Iranian diaspora. The speech focused on the Iranian regime as a danger to its own people and to US interests—kleptocratic, terroristic, and totalitarian. The accusations were specific and the language was strong which could indicate a harsh new anti-Iran policy, especially given the broader context of the US administration’s belligerence toward Iran. Secretary Pompeo’s speech was followed shortly by US President Donald Trump’s social media threats directed at the Iranian leadership.

    Given this harsh rhetoric on Iran and the demands that it withdraw from Syria and end support for Hezbollah among other capitulations, it is unclear whether this language is meant to deter. It could also signal the start of a meaningful anti-Iranian pushback after eight years of de-escalation under the Obama Administration. However, this approach does not meet the criteria for effective deterrence, and there is no sign of a robust rollback strategy. Instead, it just looks confusing.

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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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  • Experts Analysis: Macron's visit to Washington and the Potential Impact on the US-Syria Policy

    As France’s President Emmanuel Macron begins a three-day state visit with US President Donald Trump, their discussions are likely to focus on differences of opinion relating to Syria and Iran’s involvement in the conflict.  

    Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East experts weigh in on the upcoming meeting between Macron and Trump, their differing views on Syria, and the potential impact of the visit.

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  • Itani Quoted in Vox on Trump's Plan for Syria


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  • Syria: Mission Accomplished?

    The morning after US, French, and British jets targeted chemical weapons facilities in Syria, US President Donald J. Trump took to Twitter to declare “Mission Accomplished.”

    That declaration—the two words that former US President George W. Bush came to regret—has left many scratching their heads.

    “I found the comment itself puzzling because I don’t know what exactly the president (or the briefers at the Pentagon press conference) mean by it,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “They seemed to pitch it as meaning ‘successful operation.’”

    Itani said there was no doubt that the strikes hit their targets without any loss of US lives or equipment. “But if ‘Mission Accomplished’ is supposed to mean that Bashar Assad has been deterred from using chemical weapons, the most that I can say is ‘maybe,’” he said.

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