Young Israeli settlers scuffle with border police officers over the demolition of a building at the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank town of Ramallah, Wednesday, July 29, 2015 (AP photo/Tsafrir Abayov).

On Wednesday, Israeli settlers clashed with security forces after the Israeli High Court declared two apartment blocks in the West Bank settlement of Beit El illegal and ordered their demolition, stoking outrage among settlers and right-wing members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Following the ruling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly authorized 300 new construction units in East Jerusalem, reacting to pressure from the Likud and Jewish Home parties. The court had previously rejected an appeal—issued by settlers and backed by the government—to prevent the demolition. Right-wing members of the Knesset were outraged at the court ruling: Moti Yogev of […]

Turkish soldiers patrol near the border with Syria, outside the village of Elbeyli, east of the town of Kilis, southeastern Turkey, July 24, 2015 (AP photo).

When Turkey announced it had decided to join the war against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria, it seemed like a major turning point in the fight against the radical Islamist group. But the actions Ankara has taken in the week since its policy reversal raise serious questions about its true intentions. Twin security operations, combining domestic sweeps with cross-border airstrikes, strongly suggest that the impetus behind the new policy has more to do with pushing back against Kurdish groups than against IS. The government’s domestic anti-terrorist campaign has targeted Kurdish activists more than IS members. Similarly, the airstrikes, […]

Demonstrators support IS in Mosul, Iraq, on June 16, 2014 (AP photo).

The rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has further destabilized a region already in upheaval and dominated U.S. security policy in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Turkey and the U.S. came to a landmark agreement to establish an “Islamic State-free zone” on the Turkish-Syrian border, marking a potential turning point in the multinational effort to fight IS. This report covers the group’s ideology and strategy, its impact on and implications for the Middle East, and the U.S. strategy to combat its spread. All of the articles linked below are free for non-subscribers until Aug. 13. The Islamic State’s Ideology […]

Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and northern Cyprus President Mustafa Akinci shake hands in the northern part of the divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, May 23, 2015 (AP photo by Petros Karadjias).

It has been a busy month in Cyprus, with visits from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And for the first time since the early 2000s, there seems to be real optimism that one of the longest-running conflicts in the world could finally be resolved. This newfound optimism is due in large part to the election of Mustafa Akinci as president of northern Cyprus last April. Akinci came to power on a pledge to reach an agreement on the reunification of Cyprus, which since 1974 has been divided between […]

Congressmen speak together before Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Washington, July 23, 2015 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

Over the next few weeks, as Congress prepares to vote on the Iran nuclear deal, the American people are going to be bombarded with arguments both for and against it. The critics will argue that the United States has given Iran carte blanche to pursue nuclear weapons and destabilize the region; the supporters will say that the deal’s opponents offer no alternative for stopping Iran’s nuclear aspirations. The lobbying, the accusations of bad faith, the references to the Holocaust and the demonizing of critics will be intense. But here are the two dirty little secrets about the Iran deal: Congress […]

The Iran Deal is announced by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015 (European Union External Action Service photo).

Washington is in full gear for an intense 60-day debate over the Iran nuclear deal, and one important feature of the discussion is the contributions made by diverse civil society organizations. It’s one of those moments where information and analysis are in high demand, highlighting the interplay between government and nongovernment actors. Think tanks in particular are playing a prominent role in educating the public and engaging with journalists and congressional offices, whether to amplify, endorse or critique the Obama administration’s position. The decade of on-again, off-again negotiations with Iran in some ways serves as a good illustration of the […]

Syrians gather in a street that was hit by shelling, in the predominantly Christian and Armenian neighborhood of Suleimaniyeh, Aleppo, Syria, April 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Syrian official news agency SANA).

The world has done a dreadful job of managing the civil war in Syria. Could it do any better at rebuilding peace there, if and when hostilities eventually slow down? This prospect still seems sadly remote. The Syrian government indicated last week that it is still not ready for new peace talks led by the United Nations. Yet there are signs that the regime is getting nervous. President Bashar al-Assad admitted this weekend that his army is depleted and has deliberately withdrawn from some battlefronts. In the event of a series of further defeats, the regime could yet conclude that […]

A militiaman allied with the Iraqi security forces dismantles a weapon from a destroyed vehicle belonging to the Islamic State group, southern Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq, July 20, 2015 (AP Photo).

For decades U.S. policy in the Middle East focused on two things: Israel and oil. Helping to keep Israel secure was not hard since the Israelis themselves had it well under control. Making sure that oil flowed was more challenging since most of it was owned by brittle monarchies or dictators, but the United States and its allies found a way. This emphasis on Israel and oil led to an American strategy that was remarkably consistent even when the White House changed hands. Its goal was stability built on partnerships with local states when possible and direct action if necessary. […]

A United Arab Emirates air force F-16E Fighting Falcon aircraft from Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE, takes off for a training mission, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 26, 2009 (U.S. Air Force photo).

At first glance, the United Arab Emirates might look like it is Saudi Arabia’s wingman when it comes to regional security. After all, the UAE has joined Saudi Arabia in a number of regional ventures in recent years. Together, they intervened to stabilize the monarchy in Bahrain after popular protests erupted in 2011, and have spent billions of dollars backing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government since 2013. Most recently, the UAE joined the ongoing Saudi coalition intervening against the Houthis in Yemen. But appearances are deceiving. Despite having joined these Saudi-led initiatives around the Middle East since the start […]

Protestors gather during an anti-extremism march, Tunis, Tunisia, March 29, 2015 (AP photo by Hichem Jouini).

On Thursday, Tunisia’s parliament adopted a series of articles in a new counterterrorism bill to replace its authoritarian 2003 law, part of the government’s efforts to bolster security in response to rising domestic and regional threats. Amid outcry from human rights groups, deputies overwhelmingly voted in favor of three provisions authorizing the death penalty for acts of terrorism, despite a de facto moratorium on executions that Tunisia has observed since 1991. Critics argue that the bill, which was issued following the March 26 attack on the Bardo museum that left 22 dead, falls short of international rights standards—notably in its […]

Khaled Mashaal, leader of the Palestinian organization Hamas, gives a speech, Doha, Qatar, Aug. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Osama Faisal).

Just days after Iran and world powers signed an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, another geopolitical tremor was felt across the region. It was no earthquake, not yet, but it was a new measure of the vast seismic shift that the nuclear deal is unleashing throughout the Middle East. Last Friday, the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, traveled to Saudi Arabia from his home in Qatar, ending several years of deep chill in the relations between the Saudi kingdom and the radical Palestinian group that rules Gaza. Hamas officials described the visit, Mashaal’s first in three years, as […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech after a nuclear agreement was announced in Vienna, Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

As the debate over the Iran nuclear deal begins in Congress, many of the arguments against the agreement reached by the U.S. and its P5+1 partners—France, the U.K., Russia, China and Germany—and Iran have taken on the appearance of theological opposition, where nothing short of full capitulation by the Iranians would satisfy critics. Other critiques have exaggerated the deal’s likely impact on the region or portrayed it in a distinctly one-sided manner. Furthermore, almost all of the deal’s critics have ignored the geopolitical impact it will have beyond the region, thereby overlooking a key benefit that advances U.S. interests—namely vis-a-vis […]

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech upon his arrival at Houari Boumediene airport in Algiers, Algeria, June 15, 2015 (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

Ever since the end of the colonial period, in 1956 for Morocco and in 1962 for Algeria, France has had a complex and often ambivalent relationship with the two former colonies that formed the core of its North African empire. Social and economic ties have drawn all three countries closer together, but diplomatic tensions, usually involving Algeria, remain. In a recent reversal, however, Morocco has aired resentments over its colonial past after a series of recent spats with Paris, while Algeria has a newfound preference for closer French trade and security ties. French relations with Algiers were strained for many […]

President Barack Obama answers questions about the Iran nuclear deal during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Washington, July 15, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

In trying to make sense of the recent nuclear deal with Iran and what it says about U.S. policy in the Middle East, the penultimate scene in “The Godfather” comes to mind. In it, the new godfather, Michael Corleone, wipes out his criminal rivals, the heads of New York’s five Mafia families and casino magnate Moe Greene. In recounting the day’s bloodletting, Michael subsequently says, “Today I settled all family business,” as he prepares to move the Corleone family to Nevada. This, minus the gangland shootings, is largely what the United States is trying to do with the Iran deal. […]

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015) on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program, U.N. Headquarters, New York, July 20, 2015 (U.N. photo).

Yesterday, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2231, which confirmed key provisions of the nuclear deal—officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—adopted last week by Iran and its P5+1 negotiating partners, comprising the U.S., France, the U.K., Russia, China and Germany. In her speech marking the resolution’s enactment, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, drew several lessons from the lengthy efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear aspirations. These included the requirement for vigorous enforcement of global nonproliferation norms, the value of “tough, principled diplomacy,” the need for effective implementation of negotiated agreements and the imperative […]

The Royal Saudi Navy frigate Al Dammam maneuvers into position, with a AS565 SA Dauphin helicopter circling overhead, during exercise "Eager Lion 2014," Gulf of Aden, May 28, 2014 (U.S. Navy photo).

A temporary truce between Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition against them, designed to allow humanitarian aid past Saudi Arabia’s naval blockade, was broken within hours earlier this month. In an email interview, Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed Saudi Arabia’s naval capabilities. WPR: What are Saudi Arabia’s naval capabilities in terms of its fleet, its priorities and its operational readiness? Anthony Cordesman: The Saudi navy is the largest of the Gulf Arab states with up to 15,000 men and 3,000 marines. It has three destroyers, […]

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki waits to give an interview outside the International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands, June 25, 2015 (AP photo by Peter Dejong).

Can international legal mechanisms defuse tensions among the West, Russia and China? Last week, U.S. and European officials praised their Chinese and Russian counterparts for helping seal the nuclear deal with Iran. Yet there were warning signs of new spats with Beijing and Moscow over the South China Sea and Ukraine. These tensions concern not only the countries’ core national interests, but also their readiness to submit these interests to legal reviews. China and Russia seem determined to ensure that, as great powers, they cannot be contained through international law. In The Hague, the low-profile but august Permanent Court of […]

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