Rarely a week passes without a grim new article, op-ed or newspaper story warning us that al-Qaida is mounting a comeback. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Jack Keane, for instance, recently declared that al-Qaida is “seeking to take advantage of the opportunities posed by revolutionary change throughout the Middle East” and is “on the rise.” Writing for the Wall Street Journal, the RAND Corporation’s Seth Jones argued that, with the Obama administration turning its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, al-Qaida is pushing into the political vacuum created by the Arab Spring and “riding a resurgent wave as its affiliates engage in […]

In the most recent presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney attempted to tap into a deep-rooted fear among the American public of instability in the Middle East, and in particular the concern that any resulting oil supply disruption would spike oil prices and trigger a recession. The concern is historically based: Past recessions have been caused or accelerated by such crises, including the 1973 oil embargo, the 1979 Iranian revolution and the 1980 outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. Contrary to received wisdom, however, the chance of an oil crisis caused by a hard-to-manage oil disruption has decreased substantially since the […]

Since it was founded in 1982, in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution and in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah has been many things: a terrorist group, a sectarian militia and, most recently, a legitimate political actor in Lebanon. Today, the so-called Party of God faces challenges on all sides. Its archenemy and raison d’être, Israel, is as strong as ever; its Syrian and Iranian patrons are struggling; and a regional Sunni ascendancy threatens its regional popularity and domestic legitimacy. At near-peak strength just a few years ago, Hezbollah now finds itself in dangerously uncertain waters. Hezbollah has […]

When Mitt Romney vowed during the last presidential debate that, if elected president, he would push for an indictment by the International Criminal Court of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, some of the most powerful people in Tehran surely flashed a smile. Romney argued that Ahmadinejad’s long history of provocative statements regarding Israel and the Jews “amount to genocide incitation,” an indictable offense under international conventions. Of course, the Republican presidential nominee was really trying to convince American voters that he would be tougher on Iran than President Barack Obama. The tactic of targeting Ahmadinejad, however, would only please much of […]

A car bomb killed at least eight people Friday in Beirut, Lebanon, including Wissam al-Hassan, the country’s head of police intelligence and one of the more powerful opponents of Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Hassan’s assassination threatens to further polarize a country where tensions were already running high due to the civil war next door. Julien Barnes-Dacey, a senior policy fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Trend Lines that while the Syrian conflict is clearly exacerbating divisions within Lebanon, until now, the country has shown a greater degree of […]

Last week, the naval forces of Turkey and Egypt completed joint military exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, the latest sign of warming ties between the two former rivals, in what the New York Times said could be “a significant geopolitical shift in the Middle East.” Egypt is looking to Turkey as a guide after emerging from authoritarian rule and economic devastation, while Turkey is working to expand its influence in the region after years of pushing for closer ties with Europe. But the big question now, according to Paul J. Sullivan, a Middle East security expert at Georgetown University and […]

A media court in Iran found the Tehran bureau chief of Reuters guilty of propaganda-related crimes late last month. In an email interview, Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St. Andrews University, discussed the climate of dissent in Iran. WPR: What is the current climate for dissent in Iran, in terms of press freedoms and political discourse, and how has this evolved over the past few years? Ali Ansari: The high-water mark of press freedom and activism in Iran occurred during the first Khatami administration, which began in 1997. These freedoms were gradually rolled back starting […]

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s recent address to the Business Executives for National Security conference in New York revisited an old metaphor of the cybersecurity game: a Pearl Harbor-esque surprise attack on the nation’s computer systems. Though the fears that Panetta invoked of a massive cyber attack on the United States may be overblown, there are valid reasons for concern. As Panetta highlighted, foreign powers are increasingly going on the offensive in cyberspace, with two of the world’s most important industries, energy and banking, recently coming under assault. His speech signals that, for the Department of Defense, cyberattacks have likely […]

Benjamin Netanyahu will soon face Israeli voters again. And in a curious coincidence, the Israeli prime minister, who took office just a few weeks after Barack Obama did in the U.S., will see his fate decided at the polls Jan. 22, 2013, exactly two days after the U.S. presidential inauguration in Washington, where Obama may or may not be taking the oath of office again. In contrast with the American election, however, the race in Israel does not look close. The pundits agree that Netanyahu will handily beat his rivals, with his Likud party winning the most seats and his […]

Editor’s note: WPR’s editor-in-chief, Judah Grunstein, was quoted by the Associated Press in the run-up to French President François Hollande’s trip to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, this weekend to attend the Francophonie Summit. The following is the full, lightly edited version of his emailed comments.Almost every French president enters office promising to reset relations with Africa, and in particular to put an end to the historical postcolonial system based on corruption and clientelism, with little regard to democracy and human rights. Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, declared the same thing, and actually managed to update most of the defense […]

Earlier this month, King Abdullah of Jordan dissolved parliament and called early elections, prompting large-scale protests with demonstrators calling for changes to the country’s newly enacted electoral law. In an email interview, Sean Yom, an assistant professor of political science at Temple University, discussed protests and reform in Jordan. WPR: What is at stake in the dispute over Jordan’s electoral law? Sean Yom: The dispute over the electoral law implicates the very future of democratization in Jordan. Unfairness at the core of the current system rankles almost all members of the opposition, from the Islamist establishment to secular youth movements. […]

During a visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to Moscow earlier this week, the two sides announced that Iraq has signed contracts to purchase up to $4.2 billion worth of Russian weaponry. The news was quickly followed by a diplomatic contretemps between Russia and Turkey, when a Syrian Airlines plane that had departed Moscow for Damascus was forced to land in Ankara. The Turkish government subsequently announced that the ostensibly civilian flight had been carrying military equipment. Combined with the news that a visit by President Vladimir Putin to Turkey scheduled for this coming Monday had been postponed, it […]

As the civil war in Syria becomes more acute, the United States must reassess its strategy toward that key Middle Eastern state, in particular, its stance on the role that Saudi Arabia has been playing in the Syrian conflict. Continued Saudi influence in Syria will only further destabilize the situation on the ground, undermine U.S. interests in the region and dim the prospects for a future democratic Syria. In the wake of the Bush administration’s interventions in Afghanistan and, more disastrously, in Iraq, the Obama administration has been circumspect in its involvement in the Middle East. It has lent rhetorical […]

AL BAB, Syria — There is clearly something improvised about the courtroom scene: The prison guard wears civilian clothes and holds an assault rifle. He and a prisoner pose with a wide grin for a visiting photographer. The court sits in a simple office room, in a building whose courtyard has been partially damaged by bombardment. Yet this is very much government in action. With a 48-member council, a “council manager” (elected for a one-month term by council vote) and a criminal court, civic government is reasserting itself in this northern Syrian city of about 180,000 people after rebel fighters […]

Sudanese First Vice President Omar Ali Osman Taha traveled to Turkey recently to participate in the ruling Justice and Development Party’s annual congress. In an email interview, David Shinn, an adjunct professor of international relations at George Washington University and a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, discussed Turkish-Sudanese relations. WPR: How have Turkey-Sudan relations evolved over the past decade, and what is driving ties on both sides? David Shinn: Turkey has historical ties with Sudan that date back to the Ottoman period. Ankara recognized the government in Khartoum after its independence in 1956 and soon established an […]

A day after a deadly mortar attack from Syria killed five civilians in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, the Turkish Parliament on Thursday authorized further military action against Syria, with a measure allowing for crossborder raids. Media coverage of the motion, which authorizes strikes on Syrian targets, has warned that Turkish military involvement could turn this civil war into a regional conflict that would inevitably draw in the international community. But while today marks the second day of Turkish shelling within Syria, Turkish government officials have insisted that the new legislation is not a mandate for war, but rather […]

With global attention fixated on Iran’s nuclear program, an equally significant development for Iran’s strategic outlook is being overlooked. The Shiite Crescent that began to take shape in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq has effectively receded. Regardless of the outcome of the nuclear issue, Iran poses a much smaller threat to the region than it did just a few short years ago. A number of events have converged to put Iran back in the box it now finds itself in. The most obvious and consequential of these are the onset of the Arab Spring and the […]

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