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Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which will be noted with anguish by Palestinians and quiet celebration by Israelis. Nov. 2, 1917 was a major turning point for the Middle East, when the then-British foreign secretary expressed in writing his government’s support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. While, a century later, Arab politics and international relations focus on many other challenges, the cause of Palestine retains a gravitational pull for many Arabs, including younger generations. Thoughtful Israelis and Palestinians are still debating how to correct the imbalance between Israel’s success and the Palestinians’ […]

Members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces ride near the main traffic circle in Raqqa, Syria, Oct. 20, 2017 (AP photo by Asmaa Waguih).

The Syrian war has torn the United Nations apart many times over. There is more damage for it to do yet. While Syria may be stumbling toward some sort of peace, the U.N.’s role in assisting this process is likely to be controversial for many years ahead. U.N. peacebuilders are likely to hold a very weak hand when it comes to dealing with the Syrian regime and its international backers. The organization has been accused of kow-towing to human rights abusers in cases such as Sudan and Myanmar, neither of which benefits from as much support. What principles should guide […]

Iran’s army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looks into binoculars as he visits other senior officers from the Iranian military in the Syrian province of Aleppo, Oct. 20, 2017 (Syrian Central Military Media via AP).

After a few years in which the threats to Israel’s security had eased somewhat, recent events have taken a turn for the worse. To its north, Israel faces a joint Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that is growing more powerful and confident, as President Bashar al-Assad re-establishes control in Syria backed by a strong Russian presence. Assad, whose regime has waged a brutal six-year civil war that has killed half a million Syrians and displaced some two-thirds of the country’s population, has successfully withstood all internal and external pressures, including American demands that he step down, and is now securely ensconced in power […]

A Jordanian soldier stands at the northeastern border with Syria, Feb. 14, 2017 (AP photo by Raad Adayleh).

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on the Islamic State after the fall of Raqqa and the outlook for Syria and its neighbors. The defeat last week of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Raqqa, its major base of operations in northern Syria, may prove to be a seminal event in ways the battle’s victors did not intend. While no doubt a major milestone, Raqqa’s fall is far from the conclusion of the broader six-year conflict in Syria, nor the end of the jihadi movement itself. The temptation to claim victory over the Islamic State may […]

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit, days before a U.S.-Russia-Jordan-brokered truce for southern Syria came into effect, Hamburg, Germany,  July 7, 2017 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

The United States has been the pre-eminent external actor in the Middle East since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat expelled his Soviet advisers and benefactors and turned to Washington in the 1970s. But America’s role is contracting, by design and by default. Russia and China insist they do not want to replace the U.S. in the Middle East, but they are still intent on expanding their regional influence. The shifting fortunes among the three global greats—the U.S., Russia and China—are playing out in the Middle East today. The U.S. has indisputably dominated the scene, from its military presence in the Gulf […]

Lebanese demonstrators hold placards calling for the departure of Syrian refugees from Lebanon in Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 14, 2017 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

AMMAN, Jordan—A new humanitarian catastrophe is looming on the horizon as thousands of refugees and internally displaced people return to their homes in Syria, by choice or by force. Changes in the course of Syria’s civil war and developments in fragile peace talks are making return a reality and, in some cases, a nightmare, as conditions inside Syria are still dire. The widespread, premature return of Syrians to their towns and cities could undermine the country’s long-term stability and hinder the hopes of more Syrians coming back. Throughout the war, there has been a constant trickle of refugees returning to […]

United Nations staff and other demonstrators assemble at U.N. headquarters to show their solidarity with the people of Aleppo, New York, Dec. 15, 2016 (AP photo by Seth Wenig).

Who remembers Aleppo? A year ago, the Syrian city appeared tragically central to international diplomacy. Russian and Syrian government forces were in the midst of a brutal final push to drive rebels from eastern Aleppo. This was the last major urban redoubt of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. It was clear that the city’s looming collapse could be a definitive turning point in his battle to cling onto power. Yet the fate of Aleppo seemed liable to have vastly wider effects. The city was a profound source of friction between the U.S. and Russia before and after the November 2016 […]

Federal Iraqi security forces gather outside Alton Kupri, on the outskirts of Irbil, Iraq, Oct. 19, 2017 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

Events in Iraq this week will go down as one of the greatest debacles in the living memory of many Iraqi Kurds. On Monday, the confrontation between the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government of President Masoud Barzani and Iraq’s central government escalated dramatically when Baghdad launched a major military offensive to retake the multiethnic, oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Kurdish forces had seized control of the city in 2014 in the vacuum created by the advance of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and the retreat of Iraqi troops. Less than 15 hours after the start of the Kirkuk offensive, a coalition of regular […]

Iraqi security forces and volunteers celebrate in front of the Governorate Council Building in Kirkuk, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2017 (AP photo by Emad Matti).

Three months after defeating the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the horrific battle for Mosul, Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militias and Iranian special forces attacked Iraqi Kurds, retaking control of the vital city of Kirkuk and nearby oil fields from the semiautonomous Kurdish Regional Government. While the offensive was sparked by a Kurdish independence referendum three weeks ago, it may signal a new, dangerous phase in Iraq’s interminable internal conflict. The United States so far has failed to head this off, despite its efforts. Washington opposed the Kurdish independence vote but could not prevent it. Nor could it halt […]

An Algerian paratrooper jumps by a flag showing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika during a military show, Algiers, July 5, 2017 (AP photo by Anis Belghoul).

When Algeria’s newly appointed prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, addressed parliament last month, he ominously declared that his government would be insolvent by November. Three years of low oil prices had rapidly expanded the country’s budget deficit and eroded its reserves, leaving it with little cash to pay public sector employees or invest in the type of projects that would keep the private sector afloat. Ouyahia’s startling admission provided the pretext for unveiling a new, unconventional monetary policy that he argued would buy Algeria some more time to fix its finances and execute reforms. Ouyahia’s policy—known popularly by economists as “helicopter […]

Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 29, 2014 (AP photo by Hasam Jamali).

The royal decree permitting Saudi women to apply for driver’s licenses in June 2018, issued late last month, was a highly visible statement of intent from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that his plans to modernize and reform Saudi Arabia remain on track. Uncertainty over the viability of the crown prince’s much-vaunted plans to transform the Saudi economy had mounted after the partial reversal of austerity measures last April and reports in September that the National Transformation Program, a series of economic reforms with a target date of 2020, was being revised. Slower than expected progress on restructuring Saudi Aramco, […]

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a signing ceremony after their talks at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Oct. 5, 2017 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

When U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia last May, making it the first stop in his first foreign trip as president, he unleashed a wave of euphoria in the kingdom. The Saudis viewed Trump as a like-minded leader, whose ascent augured a future of closely coordinated foreign policy and firm advances for a U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian agenda in the Middle East. But five months later, in a twist few could have anticipated, Saudi King Salman landed in Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, signaling that Trump’s embrace of the kingdom has proved less fruitful than the Saudis […]

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir casts his ballot for presidential and legislative elections, Khartoum, Sudan, April 27, 2015 (AP photo by Mosa'ab Elshamy).

After several false starts over the past decade, the United States finally lifted sanctions it first levied against Sudan nearly two decades ago. The decision came late last week, after the Trump administration had extended its deadline over the summer on whether to make the Obama administration’s easing of sanctions permanent. The sanctions relief for Sudan was one of former President Barack Obama’s final, surprising foreign policy moves in office. The U.S. has imposed the financial restrictions since the 1990s in response to the Sudanese regime’s penchant for harboring terrorists and for the atrocities it has committed, including the genocide […]

Mourners take the coffin of former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani during his funeral procession, Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, Oct. 6, 2017 (AP photo).

Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader and former president of Iraq, died earlier this month, five years after being incapacitated by a stroke and days after a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence. His life and legacy offer insights into the complex mix of leadership and identity in Kurdistan and Iraq—or, for that matter, in Catalonia and other places where identity does not align easily with the borders of a nation state. Talabani was a towering figure in both Kurdish and Iraqi politics, and moved easily between these two magnetic poles. No one could doubt his devotion to Kurdish rights and the […]

Members of the Islamic Movement in Israel, a political movement for Arab Muslims inside Israel, protest Myanmar’s treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority, Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 11, 2017 (AP photo by Oded Balilty).

YANGON, Myanmar—As Israel’s High Court weighs a ban on weapons sales to Myanmar, where the United Nations’ top human rights official has denounced a military campaign as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” Israel’s Defense Ministry—no stranger to isolation—is unrepentant. In the latest outburst of violence in Myanmar’s volatile Rakhine state, the military’s blistering crackdown in response to attacks in August from Rohingya insurgents has triggered an unprecedented exodus. More than 500,000 Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, have fled into Bangladesh. International condemnation has been swift, with rights groups exerting pressure on Western nations to cut military-to-military engagement. The United […]

Qatari special operations personnel conduct a military free-fall Friendship Jump over Qatar, Aug. 21, 2017 (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride via AP).

In recent months, the tiny Gulf state of Qatar has gone on a military spending spree, buying aircraft from the United States, France and, most recently, the United Kingdom. At the same time, Qatar has been increasingly isolated by its neighbors and fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which launched an economic blockade of Qatar in June with the help of Bahrain and Egypt. In an email interview, Camille Pecastaing, academic director and senior associate professor of Middle East studies at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), explains what’s […]

Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, left, and the head of its political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, welcome members of Egypt’s intelligence security delegation, Gaza City, Oct. 3, 2017 (AP photo by Khalil Hamra).

There are few things more important to average Palestinians than seeing reconciliation between their two main political factions, Fatah and Hamas. For a decade, the Palestinian political system has been divided between them, with Fatah governing in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. While the split has suited the parochial interests of both factions, which have been able to manage affairs in their respective enclaves uncontested by the other, it has been disastrous to Palestinians as a whole and to the national interest of ending Israel’s military occupation. Last week, Fatah and Hamas embarked on a new […]

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