• Discontent Among Assyrians in Syria's Northeast

    Prominent Assyrian Christian writer and dissident Souleman Yusph was in his home in northeastern Syria’s Qamishli last Sunday night when local security personnel reportedly burst in, arrested him, and carried off his laptop and cell phones with them.

    By the following Thursday night, sixty-one year old Yusph—a vocal critic of the majority-Kurdish Self-Administration that controls the vast majority of Hasakah province, as well as parts of neighboring Raqqa and Deir e-Zor provinces—had been released, later seen reuniting at home with tearful family members in photos shared via social media.

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  • The Arc of Crisis in the MENA Region

    On Tuesday, October 9th, the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East held a conference to discuss the nature of foreign involvement in ongoing conflicts in the region as well as the resilience of Jihadism in the post-2011 period. The conference coincided with the launching of a report, “The Arc of Crisis in the MENA Region: Fragmentation, Decentralization, and Islamist Opposition,” which explores a number of trends in governance that have emerged since the Arab Spring.

    Atlantic Council President and CEO, Frederick Kempe, kicked off the conference with opening remarks, followed by the President of the Italian think tank the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), Ambassador Giampiero Massolo, and the Ambassador of Italy to the US, His Excellency Armando Varricchio

    Following the introductory remarks, the Rafik Hariri Center’s senior fellow Karim Mezran led a panel titled “A Great Powers Game,” featuring Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor for Syria and the Middle East and North Africa at the United States Institute of Peace; Ambassador Rend al Rahim, co-founder of The Iraq Foundation, Nabeel Khoury, nonresident senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center, and Federica Saini Fasanotti, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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    Panel I: The Struggle for Regional Hegemony: A Great Powers Game

    The conference continued with a panel titled “The Resilience of Jihadism” featuring: Kim Cragin, senior research fellow at the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies;  Hassan Hassan, senior research fellow at the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism; Frederick Kagan, Director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project; and Arturo Varvelli, co-head of the Middle East and North Africa Centre at ISPI. 

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    Panel II: The Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the Resilience of Jihadism

    Finally, the conference closed with a keynote address by Ambassador Joan Polaschik, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near East Affairs at the US Department of State, followed by a moderated discussion with William Wechsler, Senior Advisory for Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council.

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  • A Case in Context: From the Lebanese Civil War to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

    The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has just heard the closing arguments inAyyash et. al, on September 21, 2018; a case in which prosecutors charged four members or associates of Hezbollah with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Thirteen years after the assassination, judges are in the process of making their judgement. In a series of pieces to be published from now until the judges reach a verdict, Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Faysal Itani and non-resident fellow Anthony Elghossain will consider Hariri’s killing, the context around the case, the evolution in the effort to bring the killers to justice, and the politics of the Levant since 2005.

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  • The Hidden Message of Iran’s Syria Strikes: A View From Israel

    An unusual strategic event took place this week in the Middle East. For the second time in over a year, Iran fired ballistic missiles on targets in Syria, a country that borders Israel.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who never misses an opportunity to respond in the strongest terms—usually within hours—to any Iranian testing of its ballistic missile capabilities, chose a relatively muted response.

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  • Escalating Tensions Between Israel and Hezbollah in Syria

    The Syrian war continues to exacerbate long-simmering tensions between Israel and Hezbollah. The situation is further complicated by recurring Hezbollah and Iranian drone surveillance and targeted air strikes along the Israel-Syria border. Neither Israel nor Hezbollah is willing to enter into a protracted conflict; both sides realize that they’ve reached a point of “mutually assured heavy damage.” Furthermore, Hezbollah’s forces, based in Lebanon, are now overstretched across Syria. Tension between Israel and Hezbollah is unlikely to end, as engaging Israel militarily is a major part of Hezbollah’s doctrine. Its ideological conflict has merely shifted to Syria where—amidst the chaos of international and nonstate actors competing for territorial control—it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

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  • Itani Quoted in Washington Post on Syria and Iran

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  • Lessons Learned? Canada’s Problematic Syrian Resettlement Process

    In late 2015, Canada’s Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau was elected, in part on a promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees. The Liberal Party leveraged the ‘success’ into branding opportunities—championing ‘the Canadian modelat home and abroad. They delivered, but, in their haste, the limitations of Canada’s foreign missions were exposed as problematic with inefficient policies and practices. Without political pressure to learn from these mistakes, it is unclear if Canada’s policies for processing large numbers of refugees will improve.

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  • Three Years Later: The Evolution of Russia’s Military Intervention in Syria

    As it draws closer to the eve of September 30when three years earlier Russian military intervention in Syria first beganit is telling that Russia’s influence in Syria continues to grow on the ground and internationally, particularly through various de-escalation zones, the Astana peace process, and more recently the de-militarized zone in Idlib province.

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  • How the Kurds Navigate Fluid and Convenient Allies: The Syrian Regime and the US

    With reports that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council (SDC)—the political wing of the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—is meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for diplomatic talks, the possibility of greater Kurdish representation, or even autonomy, in Syria has found an unlikely boost. Chances that the Kurds will achieve these goals seem slim, but both sides have allegedly agreed on establishing committees to supervise the implementation of public projects and services in Kurdish areas. While this may be perceived as a step towards Kurdish autonomy, the US State Department has claimed to be committed to the territorial integrity of Syria.

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  • Trump, Mattis, Bolton: On the Same Page?

    Recent remarks by National Security Advisor John Bolton suggesting that the United States will maintain a presence—presumably military—in Syria until the departure of Iranian-led forces from that ruined country have inspired a flurry of media commentary, questioning, and speculation. Only a few months ago US President Trump was calling for a near-term American evacuation of Syria. And Secretary of Defense Mattis has stressed time and again that his military mission—the one for which he has the appropriate authorities—is to defeat ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State). Has Bolton “hijacked” the Syria policy? Is Mattis along for a ride with someone else at the wheel? The view here is that there is less to the story of a Bolton-Mattis disconnect than some in the media would pretend, but that there is an interesting story of presidential policy evolution regarding Syria to be pursued.

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