Nearly two years ago, the leaders of Lebanon’s March 14 coalition assembled at a rally on the Beirut waterfront to commemorate the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and give their beleaguered political movement the shot in the arm it desperately needed. With its festival atmosphere, the rally was the moment many March 14 supporters had been waiting for. The coalition had formed in the wake of Hariri’s assassination as the first major unified movement against Syria, which had long kept troops in Lebanon and controlled its political life. An unprecedented groundswell of public support after Hariri’s killing thrust […]

Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas’ government in the Gaza Strip. In an email interview, Robert O. Freedman, Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone professor of political science emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, who has written on Russian policy in the Middle East, explained the state of Russia’s ties with Palestine. WPR: What is the status of Russia’s ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza? Robert Freedman: Currently, Russia […]

Recent developments have led some commentators to worry that China and the United States may stumble into a shooting match. Two events in particular have heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington: Last month, China proclaimed an air defense identification zone covering disputed territories in the East China Sea; then, on Dec. 5, a collision was narrowly avoided between the USS Cowpens and a Chinese naval vessel that was accompanying the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, on its maiden excursion into the South China Sea. Aware of the possibility of a clash that neither country wants, Chinese and American spokesmen have […]

Last Sunday night, a Lebanese soldier opened fire, killing a 31-year-old Israeli sergeant who was driving along the Israeli side of the border that separates the two countries. The initial reports of an exchange of fire in that area immediately brought to mind the events of 2006, which started with a cross-border raid and turned into an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah. That conflict started after Hezbollah’s Lebanese Shiite militias cut through the border fence, killing three Israelis and taking two others as hostages into Lebanon. The incident this week, as it quickly became apparent, was not a Hezbollah […]

United Nations peacekeepers have repeatedly been in the headlines through 2013, grappling with crises across Africa. But the year’s single greatest challenge to the U.N.’s strategic credibility—the Syrian military’s large-scale use of chemical weapons in Ghouta in August—took place with no peacekeepers in sight. The best the organization could do in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity was to dispatch chemical weapons inspectors to the scene, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pleaded for time for them to investigate. Yet at the beginning of this year, it appeared quite possible that international peacekeepers would deploy to Syria in the course of […]

Last week the United States government announced that it would suspend nonlethal aid to Syrian rebel groups fighting in the north. This came after the Islamic Front, a collection of Islamist Syrian rebel groups, took over facilities controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the Western-backed rebel alliance. The attack, which resulted in the seizure of nonlethal equipment supplied by the United States, reportedly forced Gen. Salim Idris, commander of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army and one of the main U.S. partners in Syria, to flee. The United States later stated that Idris had been in […]

Conflict settlement is a process rather than a singular act. At its most basic, a peace process comprises three phases: the negotiation, implementation and operation of an agreement meant to enable the conflict parties to resolve their disputes by nonviolent, political means. Yet the successful conclusion of a peace process is by no means a foregone conclusion—they can, and do, fail. Sometimes negotiations break down and no agreements are concluded, leading conflict parties back to violence. In other cases, disagreements about the meaning of particular provisions arise after an agreement has been reached. In the absence of effective dispute resolution […]

The interim nuclear agreement signed by the U.S.-led international coalition known as the P5+1 and Iran appears to be causing a geopolitical earthquake among the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). On one side are GCC states that see the potential for resolving decades-long disputes involving maritime issues, boundaries and trade. On the other are those that do not trust Iran and eye Tehran’s new stature as a result of the interim agreement with alarm. The possibilities for diplomatic breakthroughs are now greater than ever, however, as Tehran clearly wants to “cool” its testy relationships with the GCC states. […]

Does Ban Ki-moon fall prey to the sin of envy when he thinks of Pope Francis? The two men are arguably the leaders of the two most significant global institutions, and idealists have dubbed the secretary-general of the United Nations a “secular pope.” Ban does not subscribe to this grandiloquent self-description. But he may wish he could communicate moral themes as effectively as the new pontiff. Francis impressed even nonbelievers last month with a deeply felt attack on the rising “economy of exclusion and inequality.” Ban, who hopes to forge a new international deal to end extreme poverty by 2030, […]

Exactly one year ago, Egyptian liberals took the streets driven by anguish and anger. The first elected government since the Tahrir Square uprising was stealing the revolution from them. In the dead of night, the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly had approved a draft that many viewed as laying the path to an Islamist state. One year later, with the Islamists out of power and the military firmly in control, a new panel has approved major changes to that constitution. Just as the old constitution revealed the Islamists’ ambitions, the new document offers a window into the long-term aspirations of those holding […]

Often overlooked by some Western policymakers engaged with the Mideast peace process, water-sharing arrangements have served as a significant driver of regional tensions dating back to Israel’s founding in 1948. Control of water resources—vital to all manner of economic development, food production and basic human security—has loomed just beneath the surface of many of the region’s headline-earning events of the past 50 years. For example, one of the myriad outcomes of Israel’s triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War—Israeli control of the Golan Heights—brought control of key sections of the Jordan River watershed, one of the few reliable freshwater sources in […]

The Middle East has played such a pivotal role in U.S. national security over the past few decades that it’s easy to forget this is a recent phenomenon. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that America’s growing dependence on Middle Eastern oil, concern about expanding Soviet military power and an intensification of the U.S. relationship with Israel elevated the region to the first tier of American security concerns. With the end of the Cold War, the Middle East became paramount in America’s global strategy. Now, in a shift of potentially historic impact, that may be coming to an end. The coming […]

The interim deal between Iran and the U.S.-led coalition of world powers has opened the possibility of Iran’s return as a regional power with normalized diplomatic and economic relations. This WPR special report examines the implications of Iran’s return to the club of nations. The Nuclear Issue Iran Nuclear Deal a Welcome First StepBy Judah GrunsteinNov. 25, 2013 In Congress, Obama Administration Faces Uphill Battle on Iran SanctionsBy Eric AunerNov. 15, 2013 The Evolution of Economic Coercion: From Sanctions to Targeted Financial MeasuresBy Javier SerratNov. 8, 2011 Can Risk-Averse EU Break Its Own Inertia on Iran Nuclear Talks?By Rouzbeh ParsiNov. […]

Last week, OPEC decided to leave its production ceiling unchanged at 30 million barrels per day (bpd), the target it set two years ago. On the face of it, this decision seems to reflect the self-proclaimed oil cartel’s satisfaction with current high oil prices. Over the past three years, OPEC has thrived with Brent crude averaging above $100 a barrel, boosting members’ revenues to record highs. High prices have even allowed the Vienna-based organization to become sloppy: OPEC stopped publishing individual country quotas five years ago, and most cartel members are producing all the oil they can; meanwhile, Saudi Arabia […]

The differing reactions in Israel and India to the recent six-power agreement with Iran highlight the only point of strategic divergence between the two long-time partners: the nature of engagement with a potentially nuclearizing Iran. While Israel has condemned the preliminary agreement and the potentially broader international rapprochement with Iran it signals, India has welcomed it with cautious optimism. More generally, while Israel perceives Iran’s nuclear posture as an existential threat, India sees it more as a geopolitical hindrance to increasing New Delhi’s strategic profile in Tehran. In recent years India and Israel seemingly agreed to compartmentalize these divergences, as […]

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It took just a few days after the agreement between Iran and world powers was announced in Geneva before evidence started to emerge of a significant strengthening of Iran’s position against its rivals. The interim agreement has not gone into effect yet, but the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East is already changing. The so-called Joint Plan of Action, signed on Nov. 24, is meant as a temporary measure, ostensibly freezing conditions in place for six months while negotiators hammer out a permanent deal over Iran’s nuclear program. And yet, the very fact that Iran […]

Throughout the Syrian civil war, Moscow has refused to turn its back on one of its few remaining allies in the Middle East, despite the tensions this stubborn support for Damascus has caused with Turkey, some Arab states and the West. The Syrian civil war has presented Moscow with two major challenges. First, the collapse of the Assad regime would likely result in a sharp decline of Russian influence in Damascus, as Syrian opposition leaders have warned that, if they come to power, they will punish Russia and other foreign governments that stood by President Bashar al-Assad. A change of […]

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