Middle East

  • The Afrin Incursion: Will Turkey and the US Come to Blows?

    The decision of Turkey to mount air and ground operations in the Afrin district of northwestern Syria entails dangers that transcend even the potentially dire consequences for civilians of yet another Syrian combat zone swallowing lives and property. Despite the flamboyant anti-Turkish threats of its Syrian client, Russia has gingerly stepped aside in this corner of Aleppo Province, moving its ground forces and vacating the airspace to accommodate the Turkish operation. For Russian President, Vladimir Putin, nothing—not even the full political ascendancy of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad—would top Turkey and the United States coming to military blows over Syria.

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  • Mike Pence Just Said that the United States Will Open an Embassy in Jerusalem in 2019. Can That Happen?

    US Vice President Mike Pence made news in his address to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on January 22 when he declared that the Trump administration would open the US Embassy in Jerusalem before the end of 2019.

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  • Considering a US Protectorate in Syria

    On January 18, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered some long-awaited clarity on US policy in post-ISIS Syria. As recently as a few weeks ago some observers (including this author) did not believe the United States would stay in Syria at all after defeating the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh). Secretary Tillerson presented an ambitious US policy to be advanced by an indefinite US military deployment in areas of Syria taken from ISIS, supporting tens of thousands of local militia fighters dominated by its Kurdish partners against ISIS, the PYD.

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  • Energy Cooperation Should Be a Catalyst for Cyprus Peace Talks

    Presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus, the southern Greek side of the divided island, on January 28 could provide an opportunity to restart reunification talks that collapsed last year. The very real prospect of energy cooperation should serve as a catalyst for those talks.

    The two sides have missed past opportunities to come to a political understanding based on mutual energy needs. They must not do so again.

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  • The Conditions and Implications for the Afrin Attack

    The first substantial evidence of a US plan for stabilization in post-ISIS Syria was revealed this week—and it didn’t go well. On Sunday, spokesmen from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) announced intentions to build a “border security” force of around 30,000 troops; made up primarily of veteran SDF fighters. The plan illuminates Turkey’s summoning of the US charge d’affaires last week: Turkey is enraged by the proposal, and Erdogan vowed on Monday to “drown this army of terror before it is born.” SDF fighters, who would make up about half of the border force, are dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and therefore terrorists.

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  • Raqqa: As Terrorism Fades, A Return to Everyday Life Awaits Local Consensus

    In a country that has seen war, destruction, and widespread war crimes committed by the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), the city of Raqqa is witnessing relative calm and a new rebirth with the slow return of its people. Local and foreign institutions intervened to focus on reconstruction and dispatching task forces to remove land mines planted by ISIS. Hundreds of people, mostly women and children, have benefitted from these efforts.

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  • Saudi Crown Prince's Power Consolidation Puts Vision 2030 Back on Track

    The face of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is changing dramatically, due in no small part to the changes driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) as he works to consolidate power.

    While using unconventional means, the recent developments are part of a clear and well-thought-out strategy put in motion by MbS and his followers, necessary for making important changes to several of the Kingdom’s critical sectors. The elevation of MbS to crown prince, while also reshuffling key posts in the defense forces and ministries, was necessary to increase his political capital and subsequent ability to implement Saudi Vision 2030.

    MbS is not only shaking up Saudi Arabian leadership, but is also behind changes to Saudi society and global markets, including social reforms alongside the Vision 2030 economic diversification plan and the possible Saudi Aramco IPO (initial public offering).

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  • Fate of Iran Nuclear Deal Hangs in the Balance

    This article is part of a series reflecting on the first year of the Trump administration.

    US President Donald J. Trump has threatened to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal unless the United States’ European allies and the US Congress fix what he believes to be a “disastrously flawed” agreement.

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  • Trump Recognized Jerusalem. Then What?

    This article is part of a series that reflects on the first year of the Trump administration.

    Although Trump recognized Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, he didn’t describe it as the undivided capital of Israel. Why does this matter?

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  • The New Strategy—Good Enough?

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Stanford University “Remarks on the Way Forward for the United States Regarding Syria” depict a major improvement in the American approach to the crisis in Syria, one consistent in many respects with recommendations offered here over the past five years. Officially gone is President Barack Obama’s disastrously erroneous view—opposed by many officials in his administration—that Iran would have to be appeased in Syria to obtain Tehran’s signature to a nuclear deal. In its place is something immeasurably better, but something requiring sustained heavy lifting by an undermanned diplomatic team and several upgrades in some critical areas.

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