A resident of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk carries a box of humanitarian supplies distributed by UNRWA, in Damascus, Syria. Feb. 24, 2014 (AP Photo by UNRWA).

In mid-July, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to allow humanitarian aid delivery to Syrians in rebel-held areas without Syrian government consent, through four border crossings from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. In an email interview, Dr. Hannah Vaughan-Lee, a humanitarian practitioner and academic, discussed the challenges ahead for the cross-border aid operation. WPR: Besides ongoing fighting, what obstacles do convoys face bringing aid to rebel-held areas in Syria? Hannah Vaughan-Lee: Crossing the border into Syria is only the first in a series of steps for delivering assistance to conflict-affected populations in rebel-held areas. One immediate and ongoing challenge will be […]

For human health, war is hell. One could pick any past or present conflict to illustrate how war damages health. Armed conflicts kill, injure and traumatize people; wreck health infrastructure and services; and expose populations to diseases. People flee war’s dangers, often only to live a desperate, destitute existence. This parade of health horribles appears once again in the ongoing Syrian conflict, widely recognized as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The Syrian case demonstrates many common responses to health crises spawned by war: identifying civilian death and suffering; providing humanitarian assistance; emphasizing respect for human rights and civilian […]

An often neglected but fundamentally important victim of conflict is the physical manifestations of a community, a people, a nation—their heritage. The cultural heritage of France and Belgium was utterly devastated during World War I, epitomized by the burning of the medieval library at Leuven and destruction of the cathedral of Rheims. A century later conflicts in states such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria continue to be characterized by the destruction of cultural heritage. So how far have we come in protecting cultural heritage from the devastating effects of war? Over the past century, surprisingly far, and at the same […]

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski visits with Sheikh Ali Salman, head of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, in Manama, Bahrain, July 6, 2014 (AP Photo/Al Wifaq).

The fallout from Bahrain’s expulsion of Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, illustrates the continuing political impasse in this deeply polarized U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf. While the danger to the ruling Al Khalifa family posed by the 2011 popular uprising has long passed, positions on all sides have hardened, with little prospect of any political settlement to Bahrain’s deep-rooted inequalities. A fragile stasis has instead developed between a Bahraini government unwilling to make meaningful political concessions and a fragmented opposition unable to mount a serious challenge to the status quo. […]

French police officers detain a suspected jihadists during a raid in Strasbourg, France, May 13, 2014 (AP photo by Jean Francois Badias).

Europe’s strategic situation is simultaneously precarious and curiously comfortable. From eastern Ukraine to northern Africa, conflicts crowd in on the European Union (EU). Yet the bloc’s security may actually benefit from the ongoing instability in cases such as Ukraine, Mali and even Syria. The longer these conflicts absorb the energies of potential foes, ranging from Russian President Vladimir Putin to various Islamist radical groups, the less likely they are to menace the EU directly. Europeans have little or no appetite to get involved in these wars, leading critics to grumble that they refuse to fight for their interests. But it […]

President Barack Obama speaks about escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine at the White House in Washington, July 16, 2014 (AP photo by Charles Dharapak).

It is axiomatic that almost any foreign policy action taken by President Barack Obama will be reflexively criticized by the Republican opposition. What is striking is how, in recent months, congressional Democrats and former Obama administration officials have been more willing to publicly voice their own critiques of the president’s performance. Even his first-term secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, now positioning herself for a possible 2016 run to succeed him as chief executive, has begun to lay out her differences with Obama on how he has handled the national security portfolio. Most of the critiques follow a common narrative: that […]

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad al-Malki listens to a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini).

As the death toll in Gaza rises to over 730 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers, legal definitions of what is permissible in war have been bitterly contested. International law defines war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, but in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though both sides are guilty of violations, the classifications are difficult to apply. The exceedingly high and disproportionate number of civilian casualties in Gaza has prompted Palestinian calls to seek redress from the International Criminal Court (ICC). But legally, proportionality is not determined by a comparison of the number of casualties […]

Israeli soldiers work on a tank near the Israel and Gaza border, July 24, 2014 (AP photo by Dusan Vranic).

The ultimate domestic political repercussions of a military conflict don’t become clear until the fighting stops, the smoke clears and emotions begin to cool. But political tremors don’t wait for a cease-fire. In Israel, the outbreak of the current confrontation with Hamas in the Gaza Strip has fractured a major political alliance and caused at least one sudden high-level personnel change. But so far there is no indication that Israel’s internal political landscape will be dramatically transformed by the latest traumatic and controversial chapter in the country’s history. Much will depend, of course, on how the fighting ends, but so […]

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in the city of Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan, July 9, 2014 (AP photo by Allauddin Khan).

While the world’s attention this week was focused on Gaza and Ukraine, security remained precarious in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two lynchpins of America’s conflict with transnational terrorism. The recent elections in Afghanistan offered a glimmer of optimism, but neither the Taliban’s ability nor its willingness to launch terrorist attacks has abated. There is no sign that the Afghan security forces will someday be able to defeat the movement. Meanwhile, the Iraqi military cannot reverse the advances of ISIS extremists, and there is no sign that a competent, inclusive government will emerge in Baghdad. Iraq and Afghanistan remain stark reminders […]

Editor’s note: This report was written before the outbreak of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014, and was subsequently updated to reflect developments as of publication.Israel’s threat environment has changed dramatically in recent years, so much so that the change can be characterized as transformative if not revolutionary. This is especially the case when compared to the regional environment Israel faced during its first decades, the 1950s and 1960s, when its defense doctrine was first articulated and its force structure was first conceived. This report will discuss these dramatic changes, identify the new challenges Israel […]

A woman walks at the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014 (AP photo by Dmitry Lovetsky).

Last week, I observed that the most striking feature of the Ukrainian crisis was “just how limited it remains to date.” This proved to be a grotesquely untimely remark. My basic point remains valid: Although Russia seemed ready to mount a full-scale incursion into eastern Ukraine as early as April, it avoided such an open challenge to the West. The U.S. and Europe reciprocated by limiting sanctions against Moscow in the second quarter of this year. But these signs of restraint have given way to chaos. Since roughly one week ago, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have responded increasingly aggressively […]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks after closed-door nuclear talks, Vienna, Austria, July 15, 2014 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).

The original July 20 deadline for the P5+1 countries to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran has come and gone. The negotiating parties have given themselves four more months to address what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday called “very real gaps in some areas.” The extension includes allowing Iran to access $2.8 billion of its restricted assets. Kerry, however, stressed that “the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible” and the United States will “continue to vigorously enforce the sanctions that remain in place.” That has many in Washington debating the effect of […]

Iraqi Shiite fighters with the "Peace Brigades" patrol during a sand storm in Samarra, Iraq, July 12, 2014 (AP Photo/File).

Since the Sunni militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control of Mosul last month, Iraq has also seen an increase in clashes between Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces. In an email interview, Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland, discussed the growing threat of Shiite militias in Iraq. WPR: What are the major Shiite militias in Iraq today, and what differentiates them from one another? Phillip Smyth: Major Shiite militias in Iraq can be split into a number of different categories and groups. First among them are the Iranian proxy organizations: Asa’ib […]

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As Turkey prepares for its first direct presidential election, its two main secular opposition parties, the People’s Republican Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have jointly nominated Ekmelledin Ihsanoglu, the former secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as their candidate. Ihsanoglu, a religious conservative, will run against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the heavy favorite from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party, a political party with links to the Kurdish-dominated Peace and Democracy Party. Ihsanoglu appears to have been chosen to compete with Erdogan in […]

A woman walks at the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014 (AP photo by Dmitry Lovetsky).

Yesterday’s downing of Malaysian commercial airliner MH17 near Donetsk, killing 298 civilian passengers and crewmen, marks a shocking turn in the ongoing conflict over eastern Ukraine. New information is still coming out, but as of this writing we know that some of the passengers were researchers and activists heading to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne.* At least nine nationalities were represented on board, ranging from the Netherlands to the Philippines, and possibly, though the State Department has yet to confirm, some number of Americans. While nothing has been conclusively proven, all signs point to a surface-to-air missile launched by […]

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, July 15, 2014 (AP photo by Adel Hana).

World attention is riveted by the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas. After the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and a retribution killing of a Palestinian youth, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza were followed by Hamas rocket barrages that reached as far as Tel Aviv. The two desperate enemies continue to pummel each other, seemingly seeking revenge rather than discernible political objectives. “The damage is already gruesome,” as Natan Sachs put it, “and bound to get worse.” Calls have arisen for a new Intifada across the Palestinian Territories on one side, and an Israeli ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled […]

Fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during a parade in Raqqa, Syria, undated photo (AP photo by Raqqa Media Center).

Helicopters and expanded patrols now monitor Saudi Arabia’s 500-mile long northern border with Iraq. In early July, Riyadh sent 30,000 troops there, apparently steeling itself against the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which now calls itself the Islamic State. To many observers, it was a sign of Saudi Arabia reaping what it had sown. Private financial support to jihadi groups in Syria such as ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra—al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate—and others has been widely reported during Syria’s civil war. Funds coming from Saudis and Kuwaitis to the most hardline rebels in the conflict often underscored the […]

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