At the end of November, the European Union approved the launch of free trade talks with Morocco as part of an effort to upgrade existing agreements with southern Mediterranean countries. In an email interview, Susi Dennison, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, discussed the EU’s economic relationship with its southern neighbors. WPR: What is driving the EU to seek upgraded free trade agreements with Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt? Susi Dennison: After the revolutions in North Africa in early 2011, and the ensuing criticism of the EU’s failure to challenge the previous autocratic regimes, the EU […]

A wise and experienced Israeli friend still quite active in Israel’s public life once quipped that an Israeli politician can be just dead, or dead and buried. The former allows for rehabilitation and even rebirth — see Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. The latter suggests a more permanent demise, such as Ehud Barak’s ambitions to become prime minister again. Nowhere is this notion, and the differentiation it allows, more apt than in considering the fate of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of all the prospective outcomes to the knotty problem of the much-too-promised land, the idea of two […]

As the Israeli general election of Jan. 22, 2013 draws near, the major question in Israeli politics is whether the campaign will be dominated by foreign policy and security concerns or domestic issues. Because of the recent history of Israel’s conflicts in Gaza and southern Lebanon, as well as recent shift in the regional landscape, an emphasis on security issues would help the incumbent government headed by Likud leader and prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On the other hand, a focus on domestic issues, such as rising prices, an increase in income inequality, the unfairly shared burden of military service and […]

As Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s recent eight-day campaign in Gaza, drew to a close, it seemed to many Israelis that their worst fears about the Arab uprisings had come to pass. An emboldened Hamas and its allies in Gaza launched an unprecedented number of mortars and missiles farther than ever before, putting more than half of Israel under fire. Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi and other Arab officials openly proclaimed solidarity with Israel’s enemy. While the final tally of Israeli casualties was fairly limited — six dead and more than 240 wounded — the panic was not. The cease-fire declaration, […]

Although social diversity is the norm, rather than the exception, in the world today, there are few societies that are as diverse and fractious as Israel’s. Israeli society appears to be a hodgepodge of different groups constantly bickering with each other. Israelis disagree on almost every conceivable issue from the most momentous, such as the location of the country’s final borders and the relationship between religion and the state, to the most mundane, such as what days of the week the weekend should fall on and when clocks should be changed from summertime to wintertime. Israeli politics is hostage to […]

Managing defeat well is one of the greatest skills a diplomat can have. Historians have a special admiration for statesmen who have extracted their countries from failed wars. These diplomatic heroes include Talleyrand, who brilliantly defended French interests after the fall of Napoleon, and Henry Kissinger, who devised America’s exit from Vietnam. As Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, reflects on the challenges ahead in 2013, he may wonder if he will be able to manage the consequences of a lost war. For Lavrov, that lost war is the Syrian conflict. Although it has now claimed more than 40,000 lives, the […]

Syrian government forces have resorted to firing Scud ballistic missiles against rebel forces in recent weeks, according to media reports. In an email interview, Sean O’Connor, a contributor to IHS Jane’s and an expert in air defenses and strategic warfare, discussed Syria’s missile arsenal. WPR: What is the extent of Syria’s current missile arsenal, and what are its capabilities in terms of range and accuracy? Sean O’Connor: Prior to the beginning of hostilities within its borders, Syria maintained a well-stocked, if technologically limited, missile force. Syria obtained its first Scud-B missiles from the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s. At present, […]

RAS AL-AYN, Syria — The fighting between Syrian Arab rebels and a Kurdish militia that broke out in November in the northeastern Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn threatens to open up a chasm beneath a rebellion already charged with sectarian and ethnic overtones. The violence in Ras al-Ayn started when two Islamist groups attacked Syrian government forces in this small town on the Turkish border. Quickly defeated, the regime responded with airstrikes that sent the town’s entire population fleeing into Turkey. It is unclear who started the next phase of the battle, but in the following week dozens of militants […]

Recent developments in Syria are evidence that the U.S. and the West allowed too much time to pass before using their influence to affect the outcome of the conflict. The choices were never easy, and the possibility that Western efforts could make the situation worse always existed. But the recent scramble to sort out the good from the bad among the rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shows just how dangerous the conflict has become from the point of view of Washington and Europe, to say nothing of Syrians who wish for a future free […]

After several weeks of intense and occasionally violent protests, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Saturday finally rescinded a decree that had given him extrajudicial powers. Protesters had filled Tahrir Square in response to the decree, with some carrying banners equating Morsi with his dictatorial predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. But by caving in to the protesters, Morsi showed that his main failing is incompetence rather than authoritarianism. In fact, this is the second time in two months that Morsi has felt compelled to reverse a major policy announcement in the face of public opposition. In early October, the president announced a plan […]

Editor’s note: Richard Gowan will be writing the Continentalist column for the month of December. Does Lakhdar Brahimi have any good options for ending the Syrian war? Brahimi has served as the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria for more than three months, having been chosen to replace Kofi Annan in August. Unlike Annan, who tried to mediate a resolution to the conflict under constant media scrutiny, Brahimi has adopted a low profile. But like Annan, he has struggled to find a way to bring the regime and rebels together. Brahimi’s sole significant public initiative to date was an effort […]

Amid concerns that North Korea might conduct a long-range ballistic missile test as early as this week, reports have surfaced indicating that Iran has permanently stationed staff in the East Asian country since October as part of a recent cooperation agreement with Pyongyang. According to the reports, the staff is comprised of four experts from Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) as well as private firms. Some analysts speculate that the mission might be based near Sino-ri, a complex located near North Korea’s western coast and the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, commonly known as Tongchang-ri, where this […]

The recent Gaza conflict and the negotiations that eventually led to a cease-fire on Nov. 21 highlight some of the shifts currently taking place in the Middle East, particularly in Hamas’ relations with Qatar, Turkey and Egypt. These shifts represent a considerable challenge for the U.S. as it attempts to facilitate democratic transitions in the region while maintaining long-standing partnerships. In early November, Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took over the territory in a short but violent 2007 civil war with its rival Fatah. But if al-Thani’s […]

In 2006, the United Nations created the Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights. Among the numerous mechanisms the U.N. gave the council to promote and protect human rights is the ability to call ad-hoc special sessions when needed. These special sessions, when used against states, are an important tool for “naming and shaming” perpetrators of human rights violations and may, on occasion, precipitate movement at the Security Council. Through the first five years of its existence, the council held 18 special sessions, or almost four per year. That pace slowed down in 2012, however, during […]

There is practically no space left on the Middle East’s geopolitical plate for another conflict. Like it or not, however, the long-simmering animosity between Iraq’s central government and the country’s Kurdish minority is reaching a boiling point. The conflict has recently heated up dangerously, and it shows no sign of cooling down. Like so many other crises in the region, the tensions between Iraq’s Arabs and its Kurdish population find echoes in the complicated political realities of neighboring countries. Syria, home to a large Kurdish minority, is engulfed by an all-out civil war. Meanwhile, Turkey is grappling with its own […]

Israel is not backing down from a settlement expansion plan, announced following the United Nations vote providing Palestine with nonvoting observer-state status, despite a loud protest over the plan from five European Union countries. On Monday, the U.K., France, Sweden, Denmark and Spain all summoned Israel’s ambassadors to their countries in protest of Israel’s decision to construct 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to begin planning for a long-frozen development project in a particularly sensitive area of the West Bank known as E1.* Sharon Pardo, Jean Monnet Chair in European Studies and a senior […]