The aftermath of an airstrike in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Sept. 24, 2016 (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets photo via AP).

If it is hard to grasp the scale of devastation in rebel-held Aleppo this week, given the past four years of bitter warfare in Syria’s largest city, consider this detail from Liz Sly and Louisa Loveluck’s reporting in The Washington Post. With no electricity, “families huddle together in the dark” at night, when the bombings are the worst, “gathered in one room so that they don’t die alone, listening to the roar of the jets and waiting for the bombs to fall.” Taking shelter on the lower floors of apartment buildings, “entire families sleep in one room, because they prefer […]

This photo released on Feb. 2, 2015 by the Iranian Defense Ministry, claims to show the launching Safir-e Fajr, or Ambassador of Dawn, satellite carrier in an undisclosed location in Iran (AP photo by the Iranian Defense Ministry).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on a range of countries’ space priorities and programs. The head of Iran’s space agency announced plans last month to launch three satellites into orbit within the next year: the Doutsi earth-observation satellite, the Tolou remote sensing satellite and the Aat Sat telecommunications satellite. In an email interview, John B. Sheldon, the chairman and president of ThorGroup GmbH, a Swiss-based consulting company, and publisher and editor of SpaceWatch Middle East, discusses Iran’s space program. WPR: What are Iran’s space capabilities, in terms of its space-industrial complex, and what are […]

Tunisians rally demanding human rights, Tunis, Tunisia, Aug. 31, 2013 (photo by Amine Ghrabi via flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0).

Last week, five Tunisian civil society associations submitted a report to the United Nations, decrying systemic attacks on members of Tunisia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Despite progress in some areas since the popular overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, many say that discrimination against the LGBT community has worsened over the past five years. In May 2015, the Tunisian government authorized the country’s first official LGBT advocacy organization, Shams, making it the only country in the region to legalize such an association. But a smear campaign ensued, propelled by some conservative politicians and religious figures. Abdellatif […]

Kurdish fighters preparing to retake Sinjar from the Islamic State, Iraq, Nov. 13, 2015 (AP photo by Bram Janssen).

The United Nations took a historic step earlier this month, for the first time naming a victim of human trafficking as a goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of such atrocities. Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman who survived months of captivity as a sex slave of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, was appointed to the position at a ceremony at U.N. headquarters in New York. She gives an international voice to the brutalized young women and children of the Yazidi religious minority, the victims of barbarity and sexual enslavement in northern Iraq. Murad’s new role provides some […]

The Oncupinar camp for Syrian refugees near the border town of Kilis in southeastern Turkey, June 20, 2016 (AP photo by Emrah Gurel).

After five years of relentless conflict and human tragedy, the world has begun to sense the permanence of Syria’s refugee crisis. Those who have fled violence are unlikely to return home anytime soon. Instead of seeing the crisis through a purely humanitarian prism, focusing on aid and resettlement, host countries and international donors are now looking more at how to provide sustainable livelihoods and integrate Syrians into their host communities, in particular by bringing them into the workforce. In countries like Turkey, which hosts some 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees, and Jordan, which hosts more than 650,000, creating a legal […]

Nigerian special forces run past Chadian troops in a U.S.-led hostage rescue exercise, Mao, Chad, March 7, 2015 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

In July, Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser officially took over command of the United States Africa Command, known as AFRICOM, from retiring Army Gen. David Rodriguez. Waldhauser inherits an organization that has overcome initial growing pains and turned into an integral player in responding to African security challenges. Although the U.S. maintains only one official base on the continent, as many as 60 smaller facilities sprawl across 34 African nations. These facilities serve as staging areas for a steadily growing array of joint special force operations, military exercises and other security cooperation activities. Under Rodriguez’s three-year tenure, AFRICOM took […]

A Libyan fighter affiliated with the internationally recognized government in Tripoli during clashes against the Islamic State, Sirte, Sept. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Manu Brabo).

In a story that reads like a crime thriller, The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi and Lorenzo Tondo reported last week on new routes for smuggling hashish from Morocco to Europe that raise suspicions about whether the self-proclaimed Islamic State is profiting off the drug trade. The hashish routes wind their way across the eastern Mediterranean through Libya, a roundabout passage that avoids the usual short run—often on small boats and even jet skis—across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. There are two reasons for the new route, Callimachi and Tondo write: more police surveillance along the Spanish coast in […]

A convoy of Islamic State militants, Tel Abyad, Syria, May 4, 2015 (AP photo via militant website).

Confusion, mistakes and misfires on the battlefield are hardly unusual. To the contrary, they are a common occurrence in warfare. But last Saturday, after U.S. warplanes launching airstrikes in Syria against the so-called Islamic State struck instead a group of Syrian army forces, what followed was, if not unusual, informative. The aftermath of the incident highlighted the Middle East’s propensity to find murky motives behind easily explainable events, exacerbated by the widespread confusion about the strategic objectives of the war’s combatants, notably the United States. As soon as news emerged of the U.S. airstrikes in Deir el-Zour, which Russian officials […]

An anti-government rebel sits with an anti-aircraft weapon in front an oil refinery, Ras Lanouf, Libya, March 5, 2011 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

Libya’s crude oil production has increased by more than 70 percent since August, to 450,000 barrels per day, as several oil fields resumed output and the port of Ras Lanuf reopened for the first time since 2014. In an email interview, Matthew Reed, the vice president of Foreign Reports, Inc., a Washington-based consulting firm focused on Middle East politics and world oil markets, discusses Libya’s oil industry. WPR: What is the state of Libya’s oil industry and its infrastructure? Matthew Reed: Libya’s oil sector is making a tenuous comeback. Production jumped to 450,000 barrels per day following the reopening of […]

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Washington, Nov. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

In the waning months of the Obama administration, the drama of U.S.-Israeli relations driven by personal and policy frictions between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dimmed. The two leaders’ lack of rapport has become irrelevant, as Obama works to demonstrate an unstinting American commitment to Israel’s security. What remains to be seen is to what extent he will emphasize the unfinished business of Palestinian statehood in his remaining time in office. This month, U.S.-Israeli relations have been back in the news, after being largely absent from the national security preoccupations of the presidential candidates and the […]

An Iranian oil worker at a refinery south of Tehran, Dec. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Since August, there have been growing rumors about an oil production freeze by major oil producers. The deal might be concluded on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum in Algeria from Sept. 26 to 28, where the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will hold an informal gathering along with other producer countries, such as Russia. Seasoned oil market watchers will have a strong feeling of déjà vu. Back in April, members of OPEC and Russia failed to hammer out an agreement to limit oil production at a meeting in Doha. The talks collapsed at the 11th hour after […]

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at a summit in Athens, Dec. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Thanassis Stavrakis).

In recent years, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus have all discovered huge natural gas fields off their coasts, raising export potential and perhaps the prospects for better political ties in the region through new energy partnerships. At least this is the scenario that the United States is hoping for. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s envoy on energy affairs, Amos Hochstein, told Bloomberg that “we’re just beginning to open the spigots of what is the potential for the broader region.” That is already evident in the improved ties between Israel and Turkey after their June rapprochement, motivated by gas […]

A soldier loyal to the Houthis stands guard during a pro-Houthi rally, Sanaa, Yemen, July 18, 2016 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

With the warring parties in Yemen locked in a stalemate on the ground, the battle for the Arab world’s poorest country is moving to a new front: the economy. The government-in-exile of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi is planning to shut down the Central Bank of Yemen in the capital, Sanaa—a city that Houthi rebels have controlled for two years—and establish a new bank in the southern port city of Aden. Hadi hopes to cut off financing to the alliance of Houthi rebels and military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, which control Yemen’s northwestern highlands and western […]

An employee of Doctors Without Borders stands inside the charred remains of their hospital after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike, Kunduz, Afghanistan, Oct. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Najim Rahim).

Once taboo, the targeting of hospitals and health care providers in wartime has become such a frequent occurrence in today’s conflict zones that Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian aid organization that goes by its French acronym MSF, now calls it the new normal. Attacks that previously seemed to occur unintentionally or sporadically now appear to be a deliberate strategy of war. This is particularly the case in Syria and Yemen, where hospitals and doctors are targeted so often that medical care now has to be provided in places such as caves and chicken coops in order to avoid detection by […]

Walking through a devastated part of town in Palmyra, Syria, April 14, 2016 (AP Photo by Hassan Ammar).

As the Syrian people suffer the unspeakable horror and deprivation of war, it must seem to them that the violence will never end. Every week brings new brutality, whether the use of barrel bombs and chlorine gas by an evil regime or the up-close barbarity of the so-called Islamic State. It is hard to overstate how shocking this has been: In 2011, almost no one foresaw that protests demanding democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners by President Bashar al-Assad would devolve into a protracted humanitarian disaster that would devastate Syria, destabilize its region, and fuel the rise of […]

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 7, 2016 (AP photo by Nariman El-Mofty).

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is not exactly known for his subtlety. But even by Khamenei’s standards, his latest verbal onslaught against Iran’s principal rival state, Saudi Arabia, was little short of startling. It all but ensures that sectarian reconciliation in the Middle East will remain out of reach for the foreseeable future. As Muslim pilgrims from around the world prepared for the annual Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that begins on Sept. 11 this year, Khamenei unleashed a fury of invective against the Saudi rulers. He accused them, among other things, of murder, and exhorted “the world of […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and Saudi King Salman at Erga Palace, Riyadh, April 20, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

President Barack Obama has often been more upfront than past American presidents on what he thinks about the nature of ties with Saudi Arabia. Years before he came into office, he referred to Riyadh as one of America’s “so-called allies” in the Middle East. Last year, when asked by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull if the Saudis were America’s friends, Obama reportedly replied, “It’s complicated.” And he does little to hide his frustrations with the kingdom, whether over its export of Wahhabism around the world or its treatment of women at home, in interviews, as was the case with The […]

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