A War to Achieve Modernity by Alia Al Ganis • January 2019
HOW US POLICY THROUGHOUT THE MIDDLE EAST IS CHANGING UNDER TRUMP & WAR ON THE ROCKS EXAMINES US AFGHAN POLICY FOR A PULL-OUT
Kenneth Pollack writes: The Middle East is changing. Dramatically so. The political, economic, and cultural systems that the Arab states (and Iran) installed after gaining independence following World War II are breaking down all across the region. Most are financially shaky as a result of a torrid population boom that has outstripped the oil revenues that underpin their rickety economies. – American Enterprise Institute
What Will be the Fate of Trump’s Afghan Campaign? by Aaron O’Connell
Arafat and the Ayatollahs
The PLO’s greatest single contribution to the Iranian Revolution was the formation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but the Palestinian leader’s involvement with Iran didn’t end there.
Forty years ago, Iran’s ruling shah left his nation for the last time and an Islamic Revolution overthrew the vestiges of his caretaker government. The effects of the 1979 revolution, including the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the ensuing hostage crisis, have reverberated through decades of tense relations between Iran and America. Here are the key moments leading up to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage crisis. – Associated Press
On Jan. 16, 1979, Iran’s powerful Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi abandoned his Peacock Throne and left his nation, never to return home, setting the stage for the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution a month later. […]Now, 40 years later, The Associated Press is making its stories about the shah’s departure from Iran available, along with historic photos from that climactic day. The stories have been edited for typographical errors, but maintain the AP style of the day, such as using “Moslem” as opposed to Muslim. – Associated Press
Indian Forces kill top terror commander wanted in Jammu and Kashmir
Posted: 16 Jan 2019 09:50 AM PST
Indian security forces killed a notorious and heavily sought-after bomb-maker and chief commander of the Pakistani-connected Al-Badr organization in the Jammu and Kashmir region. Indian officials and news sources identified the commander as Zeenat-ul-Islam, and illustrated his ties with numerous US-designated foreign terror organizations in the region, including Al-Badr and Hizbul Mujahideen. A second terrorist, […]
New IDF chief faces multiple challenges
Israel’s new IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi faces multiple challenges on nearby fronts, further away and also vis-a-vis his boss, Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Tunisians cautiously optimistic as truth commission delivers final report
After five years of investigating cases of corruption and human rights abuses under former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission is concluding its mandate, though many say there is still much more to do.
Middle East Communities Can Resist Sectarianism
Sectarianism has become a destructive feature of the modern Middle East. But endless bouts of sectarian violence and religious conflict in the region are not inevitable. A new RAND study examines what makes communities resilient to sectarianism. Strong levels of trust, social connections, and physical proximity across sectarian lines are important. These factors help prevent communities from sliding into sectarianism when conflict emerges. Read more »
Ben Fishman and Dana Stroul write: If the 2011 revolutions taught us anything, it is that Arab citizens — specifically Arab youths — want economic opportunity and a certain political liberalization, if not Western-style democracy. Clearly amplifying their voices, while convincingly standing against our collective threats, is the most effective way for the United States to be a force for good in the Middle East. – The Hill
Hifter's forces launch offensive in south Libya
Forces loyal to military strongman Khalifa Hifter launched a military offensive in southern Libya, a spokesman for Hifter’s forces said Tuesday. Ahmed al-Mismari said the offensive aims to “secure and protect the residents from terrorists and criminal groups” and to ensure the security of gas and oil facilities. Clashes between local tribes and armed groups are frequent in southern Libya. Read More
Russia Reacts to U.S. Afghanistan Policy
By Stephen Blank, Eurasia Daily Monitor: "Russia has opposed the United States’ policy in Afghanistan for years. Indeed, Moscow’s own support for the Taliban, in the form of intelligence sharing and arms transfers, goes back to about 2014. Therefore, President Donald Trump’s stated intention to withdraw half of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan, coupled with his suggestion that Russia, Iran and Pakistan do more there to fight terrorism, play directly into Moscow’s hands—and Tehran’s and Islamabad’s as well. "
Albert Wolf writes: America is losing the war in Afghanistan. Neither remaining nor retrenching is a magic solution that can produce a “win” after 17 years of defeats. Both paths are sowed with costs and threats. But it will need to make a choice. – Middle East Institute
A Cold Start to Nuclear War in South Asia
By Aaron Kliegman, The Washington Free Beacon: “South Asia is home to the ongoing rivalry between India and Pakistan, the international dispute most likely to produce, in the near term, a war between two large, powerful countries in which the belligerents use nuclear weapons.”
Iran and the Taliban: A Tactical Alliance? By Farhad Rezaei, January 15, 2019
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. In 1998, the two sides nearly came to a direct clash when Taliban forces killed Iranian diplomats, though the incident ended without a major conflict. However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.
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FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE DEMOCRACIES LAUNCHES ECONOMIC, FINANCIAL NEWS SITE FOR THE LONG WAR & KURDISH LEADERSHIP AFTER TRUMP'S SYRIAN WITHDRAWL
Farhad Alaaldin writes: Between both changes, and no matter if the leadership is older or younger, one matter remains constant, which is the ongoing political difference between the KDP and the PUK. These differences will linger on for the foreseeable future and with it, Kurdistan will continue to suffer. The people of Kurdistan have had their trust broken with the ruling elite; they expected far more than what they received and it is the duty of the Kurdish leadership to start delivering on the promises made during the elections. – Washington Institute
Ahmed Charai writes: In fact, most of the fighting and dying on behalf of the Afghan government is done not by American forces, but by the vastly larger number of Afghan troops and police whom they train and equip. Thus a tiny sliver of America’s titanous fighting capacity has achieved an impressive multiplier effect by virtue of its local alliances. […]how to gradually wean Afghanistan off any foreign troop dependency, at the heart of the problem lies the difficulty of fostering a government of equity and transparency in Afghanistan and growing public support to defend the state. The U.S. and its allies face a challenge of collaborative institution building, integrity training and cultural engagement. – The Hill
Ronald E. Neumann and Earl Anthony Wayne write: President Trump’s decision to reduce forces may be mitigated or even, for a time, rescinded. But the writing is on the wall. A successful Afghan election leading to a strong government could be a major factor in international belief that support for Afghanistan can succeed. Even if this does not occur, a strong Afghan government would have a chance of rallying the country to stand against its enemies. – The Hill
Tunnel Vision: America and Europe’s distorted view of the Middle East
Clifford D. May, Jonathan Schanzer, Tony Badran — FDD's Foreign Podicy
Iran has a plan. February will be 40 years since Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran to lead what he called an Islamic Revolution, and begin forming a government committed to jihad. By the end of 1979, he was supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. What he and his acolytes intend has been stated clearly and with consistency by Iran’s ruling ayatollahs. They intend to destroy their regional enemies, establish a great new empire and dominate the Middle East. They also intend death to America—that may take longer, but they’re not impatient, and they have friends and family to help. In particular, they have Hezbollah, Iran’s Arab, Shia terrorist proxy. Although based in Lebanon, Hezbollah is willing and able to fight beyond Lebanon’s borders, for example in Syria and, if they can, on Israeli soil—by digging under Israeli soil.... Read more
Israeli Security as the U.S. Leaves Syria
Jonathan Schanzer, Jacob Nagel — RealClearDefense
The Israeli military launched an operation last month to expose and neutralize Hezbollah’s commando tunnels penetrating Israeli territory from Lebanon. According to Israeli officials, the operation is the result of years of precise intelligence collection and the development of cutting-edge technology to pinpoint the tunnels, which were chiseled out of rock deep beneath the ground. The Israeli operation is now reportedly nearing an end, as Israeli military engineers work to fill the tunnels with cement or destroy them. So far, all is calm on the Lebanon border as Israel wraps up its work. But things may not remain calm for long. Tensions are on the rise after President Donald Trump announced by tweet his decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, thereby conveying that Israel will soon be on its own. Israeli defense officials view the president’s decision as a grave mistake. A withdrawal will embolden Iran and its hegemonic designs on the Middle East. Then again, Israel has always operated independently, as seen in the recent Israeli allegedly strikes against Iranian assets in Syria. But without an American presence there, Iran may wrongly seek to exploit the perception of Israeli isolation.... Read more
U.S. Balanced Approach on Libya: A Good Step Forward But Not Enough
By Romany Shaker, RealClearDefense: “For years, the United States has distanced itself from the national reconciliation process in Libya, adopting a more limited role that focuses mainly in fighting the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the oil-producing North African country. This left room for Libyan stakeholders and their foreign backers to fill the void and prolong the country’s instability.”
Is the IDF Ready for All-Out War?
By Yaakov Lappin, January 10, 2019
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Israeli military’s state of readiness has dramatically improved, but it has a lot more catching up to do. It has spent years neglecting the ground forces – and those forces will be essential if enemies like Hezbollah are to be decisively defeated.
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The Birth of Israel: U.S. Envoy McDonald's Tireless Efforts
by Shlomo Slonim
Middle East Quarterly
The clash between Trump and his generals
(Military Times) A prominent retired four-star admiral says that several former generals have left President Donald Trump’s administration because their advice and many years of military experience did not make a difference in swaying the White House on key national security issues.
Mattis, Kelly marched to the establishment beat. Trump was right to fire them
(Fox News) What is it with these generals? Imagine their reaction if someone under their command behaved like they did with President Trump.
Trump's Instincts Are Correct On Syria, If Not His Haste
by Thomas H. Henriksen via The Hill
President Trump’s abrupt announcement last month to yank U.S. military forces from their fight against the Islamic State in Syria plunged the American foreign policy establishment into near-hysteria. Now, it seems that the White House is having second thoughts about a hasty withdrawal after all.
Gary Schmitt notes that while Trump was decisive, he was also irresponsible. As every member of his national security team has explained, ISIS is not defeated, Iran’s sway in the Levant will only grow if the US leaves, and abandoning the Syrian Kurds will be another example of Washington’s lack of seriousness when it comes to backing partners and allies. Read more here.
President Trump has presented Americans with a clarifying moment. Should the United States retreat into an "America First" isolationist shell, or should it remain engaged with the world? In a Hill op-ed, Fred Kagan argues that those on both sides of the political aisle who see the dangers of the Syria withdrawal must unite to recreate a world in which the US and its ideals can once again be safe and ultimately thrive. By uniting, the US has every hope of succeeding. If it does not, the US is doomed. Finish here.
Up until his decision to draw down troops from Syria, President Trump had been the anti-Obama — talking a foolish game that masked a serious policy, writes Danielle Pletka for AEIdeas. However, by pulling out of Syria, Trump has ensured a continued threat to US interests and a victory for Iran and terrorists. Continue the piece here.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Marc Thiessen points out that Iran, Russia, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and ISIS are all celebrating Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria. A US withdrawal not only removes pressure on ISIS, but also creates a vacuum to be filled by the world’s worst actors. Al Qaeda will have a haven. Iran and its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, will establish forward operating bases. Turkey will go after US-trained Kurdish fighters. And the Assad regime will resume its campaign of atrocities against Syrian citizens. When your enemies are cheering, you have made a mistake. Learn more here.
The Islamic State is not defeated in Syria. Or anywhere else. In an AEIdeas blog, Critical Threats Project Senior Analyst Emily Estelle explains that ISIS is alive and well in both Syria and Africa. The conditions that permitted the group’s rise remain, and the Salafi-jihadi threat will grow if the US convinces itself that the Islamic State is “defeated.” Read the full blog here and watch Estelle discuss ISIS in Syria on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” here.
The diminished economic role of the United States in the Middle East allows regional powers and China to redirect the future of economic development in the region, writes Karen Young for Lawfare. The Sino-Arab Gulf visions share a strong belief in the state’s role in economic growth and the ability to direct state resources for political goals and domestic economic stability. What is absent, however, is a standard framework of development finance on shared international norms of multilateral institutions. Read more about the Sino-Arab Gulf visions of economic development here.
What will Iran’s looming civil war look like? In a National Interest op-ed Michael Rubinexplains that there are ample signs that Iranian security forces are beginning to lose their grip. Not only do the economic protests that began nearly a year ago continue sporadically, but in recent months, terrorists and insurgents have grown increasingly bold along Iran’s periphery. As the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s health waivers, the central government’s control appears increasingly weak. Continue here.
In an AEIdeas blog, Karen Young explains that there are now two kinds of intra–Gulf Cooperation Council rivalries. First is the long-standing “boys with toys” competition that plays out in the accumulation of professional sports events from Formula 1 races to hosting the World Cup — a soft power projection of brand association. The second arena of competition, however, is much more impactful and long-standing: the Gulf States are engaged in a battle of economic intervention. Learn more about the rivalries here.
Options for the U.S. Middle East Strategic Alliance
By Colby Connelly, Divergent Options: “How to approach Iranian influence is one issue among others that has contributed to the ongoing boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt since 2017. The Trump Administration has encouraged a settlement to the dispute but has made little headway."
Israel’s regional cooperation minister said Israel is ready to move ahead with a multibillion dollar project with Jordan to pipe water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, an idea that’s been on the drawing board for years. – Bloomberg
David Makovsky and Dennis Ross write: With the Russians now adopting a tougher policy toward Israel’s freedom of action in Syria and Lebanon, how do Netanyahu and other candidates propose to deal with them? The challenge is especially acute because the Trump administration with its withdrawal from Syria is signaling to everyone, including the Russians, that it sees no interests in Syria regardless of whether Israel and Jordan are likely to face Iranian-backed threats from there. – Ynet
D.C. HAS A PROBEM: SHIA OF IRAQ, PROPAGANDA OF A RE-EMERGING ISLAMIC STATE & SAUDI RESHUFFLE AT THE PALACE
Seth J. Frantzman writes: Washington has a problem. It has thought that investing in a strong central government in Baghdad would reduce Iran’s role. That has not happened yet – instead US investment may have inadvertently benefited Iran. The US is also concerned about showing too much support for the Kurdish region, thinking that it has to balance Baghdad and Erbil in the Kurdish region, as opposed to simply embracing its allies in northern Iraq. – Jerusalem Post
Tom Rogan writes: Why is ISIS willing to sacrifice its fighters for a video? Simple: Priceless propaganda. […]ISIS is no longer focused on the holding of territory but on the expanded holding of minds. With time, ISIS believes its physical caliphate will rise again. But it also knows that such an outcome requires human servants. Hence, the priority of propaganda. Expect more videos such as this one, and others, in the vein of the 2014-2015 video executions. – Washington Examiner
Simon Henderson writes: On December 27, Saudi Arabia announced new appointments in the name of King Salman that substantially alter the makeup of the Political and Security Affairs Council[…]. In terms of foreign policy, the changes do not suggest any immediate shift in Riyadh’s views on Iran, the Yemen war, or the ongoing diplomatic spat with Qatar. The kingdom is certainly concerned about President Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, but the new appointments were likely being prepared before that change in American policy. – Washington Institute
India’s options and the Pashtun factor
(The Hindu) In fashioning its Afghan policy, India has to take into account a resurgent Taliban
India has formally taken over operations at Iran’s strategic Chabahar Port, a move that could have significant geopolitical ramifications in the region. The port on the Indian Ocean, inaugurated last year, is being built largely by India and is expected to provide a key supply route for Afghanistan while allowing India to bypass rival Pakistan to trade with Central Asia. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
It’s practically an axiom of Israeli politics that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is invincible because he doesn’t have any serious challengers. But what if the fragmented center-left opposition joined forces? Talk of a united front against Netanyahu percolated this week as polls showed him handily winning a fifth term in early elections, his popularity undented by a string of corruption allegations that threaten to land him in court. The Knesset formally voted Wednesday night to dissolve itself and hold elections April 9. – Bloomberg
For Benjamin Netanyahu, 2019 could be the year he surpasses founding father David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. It could also be the year he’s forced to step down to fight the legal battle of his life. The Israeli parliament’s decision to trigger early elections April 9 means that Netanyahu will be running for re-election even as the attorney general mulls whether to indict the prime minister in a sprawling corruption investigation. – Bloomberg
Luke Coffey, James Jay Carafano, Thomas Spoehr, and Walter Lohman write: There is a huge space between victory and defeat and that is where the U.S. is today in Afghanistan and that is where the U.S. is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. Until there is a genuine peace settlement between all Afghans, and until Pakistan stops providing succor to the Taliban, we should accept that this is as good as it is going to get. This is not defeat. This is reality.- Heritage Foundation
At a time when the conventional Afghan military and police forces are being killed in record numbers across the country, the regional forces overseen by the C.I.A. have managed to hold the line against the most brutal militant groups[…]. But the units have also operated unconstrained by battlefield rules designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture and killings with near impunity, in a covert campaign that some Afghan and American officials say is undermining the wider American effort to strengthen Afghan institutions. – New York Times
The Truth About the Soviet War in Afghanistan
// Gregory Feifer
Trump mischaracterized it in an attempt to justify his own disastrous policy in the region.