The past two weeks have brought major political and strategic changes to the Middle East, particularly in Israel, which saw a military confrontation with Hamas-ruled Gaza as well as a feverish pace of political activity in advance of upcoming parliamentary elections. Developments in Israel on both the military and political front have implications for the prospects of a much-discussed war with Iran. The question is whether the changes on the ground make a war with Iran more or less likely. The war with Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza pitted Israel against groups linked and partly armed by the […]

In 2006, after Israeli forces performed poorly in combat against Hezbollah’s hybrid asymmetric-conventional tactics, some observers wondered whether Israel had lost its deterrent power against its enemy in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s subsequent tacit apology to the Lebanese people for the destructiveness of the month-long conflict should have offered a clue that such a conclusion was erroneous. “Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it,” he said in a television interview following the fighting. The initial proof of Israel’s renewed deterrent came two years later, […]

All roads in the conflict between Iran and the United States may not lead to war, but the one both sides are currently on certainly does. The two are at loggerheads, their relationship ossified into a zero-sum strategy that leaves almost no room to maneuver. Since Israel’s security, as the Israelis define it, shapes U.S. strategy toward Iran as much as America’s direct security does, there are rigid limits on what Washington can do or even propose. It is hard enough to reconcile the vital interests of two nations, much less three. Compounding the problem, the United States does not […]

The most alarming development cited in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest quarterly report (.pdf) on Iran’s nuclear program is that Tehran is preparing to double the number of high-intensity centrifuges in operation at its Fordow fuel enrichment plant from the current 700 to 1,400. The situation at Fordow, which has been the focus of the past year’s international nuclear talks with Iran, has created a two-fold nuclear breakout problem. First, having learned how to increase the concentration of enriched uranium to 20 percent, Iran’s nuclear workers can more easily manufacture weapons-grade uranium, which involves further enriching the uranium to […]

For a man who regularly receives disturbing reports from war zones, last week was a particularly bad one for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. As fighting escalated in Gaza and rebel forces launched new offensives in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo — where U.N. peacekeepers are on the front line — Ban also had to manage the fallout from an internal report (.pdf) on the U.N.’s performance during the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. The report tells an appalling story. U.N. officials in Sri Lanka, the report shows, avoided confronting the government over the fierce […]

Commentary on generational conflict and the radicalism of youth goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks — from the tragedies of Oedipus to the comedies of Aristophanes, we find the younger generation contesting the power and morals of their elders. Such conflict is probably always present to some degree in every family and every generation. Yet the coalescence of individual youthful impatience with the ways of the older generation into social movements of rebellion or revolution is something that happens more rarely and only when certain economic, political and social conditions prevail. It is far too simple, […]

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Following days of rocket attacks into southern Israel, Israel launched a series of deadly airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari amid a broader military campaign. Coming against the backdrop of warming relations between Hamas and other regional powers, the offensive is testing Israel’s relations with key U.S. allies such as Egypt, which promptly recalled its ambassador to Israel. Mouin Rabbani, an independent Middle East analyst based in Jordan, and Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the Middle East program of the International Crisis Group based in Israel, both told Trend Lines in email interviews […]

British Prime Minister David Cameron traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last week in an effort to promote sales of the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet. In an email interview, Rosemary Hollis, a professor of Middle East policy studies at City University London, discussed relations between the U.K. and the Persian Gulf states. WPR: What is the state of diplomatic and economic relations between the U.K. and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states? Rosemary Hollis: British economic and diplomatic relations with the GCC states are intertwined. Fully aware of this, British Prime Minister David Cameron recently visited the […]

Over the past 20 months, the world has watched the conflict in Syria with concern, even horror, but without taking meaningful action to intervene in the continuing carnage. Now, however, as the Syrian civil war draws exchanges of fire across the borders with Israel, Turkey and other neighboring countries, the conflict is approaching a crucial line. This tipping point, once reached, is likely to spur a much more urgent and determined international effort to push the crisis toward a resolution that brings an end to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Western nations have condemned the bloodshed, provided humanitarian […]

In one of the largest single-day movements of refugees since the Syrian crisis began, 11,000 Syrians fled into neighboring countries Friday, with 9,000 of them entering Turkey, according to the United Nations. The number of registered refugees who have fled from Syria to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq now totals 408,000, as reported by the New York Times, and many of them remain within the border areas, where links and tensions among Sunnis, Shiites and other groups are driving security concerns. Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Trend Lines that the influx […]

While Japan has backpedaled on its initial post-Fukushima plan to phase out nuclear energy entirely by 2040, it remains on the path to wean itself off atomic power in direct response to last year’s nuclear disaster. With public anti-nuclear fervor showing little sign of abating since March 2011, policymakers continue to be under attack for not moving aggressively enough to shut down reactors more quickly and permanently. Yet even the gradual phase-out of nuclear power could be fatal to Japan’s economic as well as political future, as the country grapples with regaining its foothold in the global economy. One major […]

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In the aftermath of the U.S. elections, a central question regarding the West’s standoff with Iran remains crucial: How serious are U.S. and Israeli leaders who assert their determination to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? The looming question, hovering for years over the diplomatic impasse, is whether the U.S. and Israel have been bluffing when they suggest they might attack Iran if it does not desist from its nuclear ambitions. Is the mantra “all options are on the table” coming from Washington an effort to exert psychological pressure on the Iranian regime, or is it a statement of […]

The emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, recently became the first head of state to visit Gaza since it came under the control of Hamas in 2007. In an email interview, Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, discussed the Qatari leader’s visit. WPR: What was the emir of Qatar hoping to achieve by the visit? Simon Henderson: It is not clear. Officially, Sheik Hamad was showing support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Unofficially, his principal motives seem to have been to project Qatar’s growing […]

Sudan’s role in the Iran-Israel conflict made headlines over the past week after a suspected Israeli airstrike on a munitions factory in Khartoum, Sudan was closely followed by a visit from two Iranian warships to Port Sudan. Katherine Zimmerman, the Gulf of Aden team leader for the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, told Trend Lines that Sudan plays a key role in Iran’s regional strategy, and the relationship is mutually beneficial. “Sudan has served as Iran’s toehold on the African continent and has provided sanctuary to Iranian proxy groups, as well as al-Qaida operatives, and serves as a key […]

No matter who wins the U.S. presidential election next week, the man who governs from January 2013 to January 2017 will face several challenges during his term in office. While we don’t know who the next American president will be, we do know what items will be appearing on his agenda. In 2014, Scottish voters will go to the polls to determine whether they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom or secede as an independent nation. With separatist sentiment also on display in other key regions of Europe, especially in Flanders (in Belgium) and Catalonia (in Spain), the […]

On Monday, Musallam al-Barrak, a prominent opposition leader in Kuwait, was arrested after making comments critical of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, ruler of the Persian Gulf state. The arrest comes against a backdrop of heightened tensions in Kuwait. The Arab Spring uprisings have worsened relations between Kuwait’s ruling family and the elected parliament, and in recent weeks a set of electoral reforms expected to diminish the power of the opposition has been met with violent protests. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow and Kuwait expert at the London School of Economics, told Trend Lines that al-Barrak’s arrest threatens to […]

In recent years, democratic legitimacy has become a requirement for wielding power in an increasing number of countries. Populations that endured years of dictatorship now demand the right to elect their leaders. In a growing number of cases, however, politicians with authoritarian tendencies have found a way to game the system, extending their rule, seemingly indefinitely, while technically preserving their claim to democratic and constitutional lawfulness. The most remarkable aspect of this new trend is how well it works, and how much it seems to be spreading. Politicians in places as different and distant as Venezuela and Russia have successfully […]