Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East

  • Trump’s Support for Israeli Sovereignty Over the Golan Heights May Hurt Israel

    In a departure from longstanding US policy, US President Donald J. Trump on March 21 tweeted that it was time the United States recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in 1967.


    While there is perhaps more than a touch of politics behind the timing of the tweet—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, is up for re-election on April 9—an actual shift in US policy on this sensitive issue could have serious consequences.


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  • The ‘Caliphate:’ Gone by Tonight or With Us for Decades?

    US President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh) “will be gone by tonight” is welcome news.  An important battle in Syria has been won.  But the war will continue.  It will rage throughout the Muslim world until political legitimacy fills vacuums of governance that Islamist extremists will continue to contest; legitimacy that can only come about through the voluntary consent of the governed.  This is a war for the hearts and minds of Sunni Muslims; not buildings and trackless desert.
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  • Supreme Leader Shuffles Friday Prayer Leaders in Iran

    On March 13, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed a young cleric, Habibollah ShabanI Mowathaqi, as the Friday Prayer leader of Hamadan, west-central Iran. Mowathaqi, 41, replaces prominent Ayatollah Ghiyath al-Din Taha Muhammadi, who is 73. 

    The change was the latest in a series that started about two years ago. The most important so far has been the appointment of Muhammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari as the Friday imam of Tehran in December 2018. Haj Ali Akbari had been chosen as the chief of the “Imams of Friday Prayer Policy Council” a year earlier. The organization is an umbrella body that manages Friday prayers in Iran and nominates prayer leaders to the Supreme Leader, who makes the appointments. Under the auspices of this body,...

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  • The Unsaid Threat to Iran During Netanyahu’s Navy Cadet Speech

    The Israeli elections are well underway and the Iranian issue is taking a central part in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral campaign. Putting Iran on the agenda helps the prime minister maintain a never-ending security tension. Thus, the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has become a regular feature in Netanyahu’s speeches against his political rivals.  

    Moreover, Netanyahu’s role as defense minister also promotes his security agenda while he makes regular appearances at military bases as part of his electoral campaign. Netanyahu’s March 6 speech at the graduation ceremony of the Haifa naval cadets, contrary to what Hebrew language press reported, was not without controversy.

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  • Iran Should Reach Out to Labor Leaders, Not Prosecute Them

    There’s not much good news to share in Iran as Nowruz, the Iranian new year, approaches. The economic situation that played a role in nationwide protests during December 2017 and January 2018 is still difficult as millions of Iranians struggle to live a decent life. Inflation and perceptions of widespread corruption further fuel popular frustration, prompting dozens of labor groups—including truck drivers, steel workers, and teachers—to lead protests against the Iranian government’s economic policies over the past year.

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  • Hellyer in The Guardian: The Islamophobia that led to the Christchurch shooting must be confronted


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  • A Photo Op in Najaf Reveals an Iran That Could Be

    As far as photographs go, it’s a rather inartful moment. Three aging men dressed in dark clothes sit in a spartan room with small glasses of heavily-brewed tea and a tissue box resting before them, as they engage in conversation.  

    But to Iranians and Iran-watchers the March 13 meeting marked a historical moment. The image of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani seated with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif graced the front pages of almost every Iranian newspaper the next day.

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  • Passage of SJR 7, Better Late Than Never

    The passage of Senate Joint Resolution 7 is a fresh rebuke for the Trump administration, that its support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen is unauthorized, illegal, and an immoral assault on the Yemeni people. To boot, the war, already in its fifth year, does nothing to enhance US national security interests according to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and other sponsors of the bill.


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  • Lipner quoted in Times of Israel on rocket fire on Tel Aviv


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  • The Horrors Inflicted on Idlib: Ongoing Ceasefire Violations

    The de-escalation zone in Syria encompassing Northern Hama and Idlib Provinces is witnessing ongoing and large-scale cease-fire violations by multiple parties. Recent escalations last night showed the first use of incendiaryphosphorous attacks—a flammable chemical weapon—in almost a year and targeting the towns ofal-Tamanah,Sarmin, and...
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