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  • Author: Neri Zilber
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Far from disenfranchising certain groups, the pending legislation could spur smaller parties to form new political alliances that would likely favor the center-left opposition in future elections. As the Israeli Knesset prepares to pass a series of electoral reforms under the rubric of a new "Governance Law," one provision has drawn particularly strong criticism: the raising of the threshold required for political parties to obtain seats in the legislature to 3.25% of total votes cast. Media attention has focused on opposition concerns about the measures being "anti-democratic" and potentially disenfranchising Arab Israeli citizens. Yet close analysis of recent electoral results and political realities indicates that the new law could actually help the Israeli center and left.
  • Topic: Mass Media, Governance, Reform
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Jeffrey White
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The regime's recent military successes are by no means sweeping, but its incremental gains in Aleppo and Damascus belie perceptions of stalemate and could shift the war's direction in its favor. The fighting in Syria is frequently described as either a stalemate or a war of attrition -- there are few dramatic movements and no decisive actions, even though both sides repeatedly declare that they are winning and the other side is losing. And some have suggested that there is "no military solution."
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Armed Struggle, Authoritarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Simon Henderson, David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A deal to buy Israeli natural gas can help mitigate the kingdom's energy shortage and steer Amman away from problematic nuclear plans, but it risks stirring domestic opposition. In February, two private Jordanian firms signed a contract with a private U.S.-Israeli consortium to import natural gas from Israel's giant Tamar field, located under the bed of the Mediterranean Sea fifty miles offshore from Haifa. The Arab Potash Company and the Jordan Bromine Company -- both partially owned by the Jordanian government -- will pay Houston-based Noble Energy and its partners $500 million over the course of fifteen years to supply a power plant at Jordanian industrial facilities by the Dead Sea. At just $33 million per year, the deal is not financially significant, but it may set a huge precedent in terms of fostering regional economic cooperation and establishing a framework for Jordanian energy security. The political challenges are significant, however, particularly following the March 10 shooting of a Jordanian man at an Israeli-controlled West Bank crossing point.
  • Topic: Economics, Treaties and Agreements, Bilateral Relations, Natural Resources
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: David Pollock, James F. Jeffrey
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Washington must urgently reestablish the credibility of its military threat, along with other steps, to guard against noncompliance from Tehran.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, Nuclear Power
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, North America
  • Author: Michael Eisenstadt, Alon Paz
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The growing capabilities of Iran's navy will enhance the country's soft power and its peacetime reach, while providing an alternative means of supplying the "axis of resistance" if traditional means of civilian transport become untenable.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Peacekeeping, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Gaza
  • Author: Matthew Levitt
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: There is no guarantee that a peace deal will be reached within the current timeline, but a Palestinian return to armed struggle would be a far greater political, economic, and humanitarian disaster than any short-term frustration with the negotiations. Peace processes are rarely peaceful processes, and the current U.S.-led effort to reach an Israeli-Palestinian "framework agreement" is no exception. As the tempo of negotiations between the main parties picks up speed, more radical actors have reemerged to violently oppose the process, from Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Resistance Committees, to Salafi jihadist groups, to Marxist factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Many observers have focused on the sharp increase in rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in the past few weeks and the prospect of another Gaza war. But that issue, while crucial, has drawn media attention away from two equally troubling trends: the increase in violence across the West Bank, and new signs that some officials from the Palestinian Authority and its leading party, Fatah, may be hedging their bets and preparing for wider violence if the peace process fails.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Terrorism, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East
  • Author: Lori Plotkin Boghardt
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A number of U.S. interests could be served by expanding support to strategic Gulf partners in their efforts to curb Iranian aid to local fighters. On March 6, Bahrain's foreign minister told the UN Human Rights Council that the ongoing violence in his country "is directly supported by elements of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The statement does not accurately explain all political violence in Bahrain, but not every claim of Iranian support for violence should be assumed to represent part of a government propaganda campaign. U.S. intelligence assesses that Iran is in fact providing arms and more to Bahraini and other fighters in the Arabian Peninsula, and Washington should increase support to important Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners to curb it.
  • Topic: Security, Human Rights, Terrorism, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Washington, Middle East, United Nations
  • Author: Gilad Wenig
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A closer look at how the supreme military council will operate now that Field Marshal Sisi has thrown his hat into the presidential ring, including a chart illustrating the SCAF's likely new membership. Today, following months of speculation, Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announced his resignation as Egypt's defense minister and his candidacy for president. Sedki Sobhi, former chief of staff under Sisi, has been promoted to colonel general -- one rank below field marshal -- and appointed as the new defense minister, while Mahmoud Hegazy, former director of military intelligence, has been promoted to lieutenant general and will be the new army chief of staff. The resultant restructuring of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will likely put some of Sisi's closest allies in key positions and should provide him with a strong base of military support and influence once he wins the presidency as expected.
  • Topic: Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Egypt
  • Author: Simon Henderson, Olli Heinonen
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although Iran's nuclear potential will likely dominate talks between President Obama and King Abdullah on March 29, Riyadh's own nuclear plans should also be part of the discussion. A major probable consequence of Iran achieving a nuclear weapons capability is that Saudi Arabia will seek to match it. With President Obama currently rating the chances of diplomatic success as 50-50 and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei giving a "zero" probability, this weekend's U.S.-Saudi summit will be an opportunity to check whether Saudi planning can help the diplomacy rather than hinder it.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Vish Sakthivel
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Secretary Kerry's visit comes amid Morocco's efforts to expand its regional influence and an upcoming vote in Algeria. Next week, Secretary of State John Kerry will head to Rabat and Algiers to reconvene the Strategic Dialogues that were postponed in November when he had to travel to Geneva for urgent Iran negotiations. While the broader themes to be discussed remain the same, certain developments in the two countries' diplomatic positioning will likewise inform the talks.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Morocco
  • Author: David Pollock
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A closer look at Palestinian views on prisoner releases, the Jewish state question, economic needs, and other issues suggests diplomatic openings are far from exhausted. As the United States works to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza is more prepared to accept various diplomatic compromises than official positions or elite attitudes would suggest. A number of new polls by different Palestinian pollsters, and in-depth discussions with Palestinian scholars and others in late March, indicate that Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas has greater latitude to make a deal than is often supposed. The polls cited here are from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) and Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD), both based in Ramallah, and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), based in Bethlehem.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, North America
  • Author: Robert Satloff
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks is buffeted by a series of profound global and regional challenges, including Ukraine, Iran, and Syria, among others. In the immediate arena, while Israel and the Palestinian Authority may have dysfunctional political and diplomatic relations, they also have reasonably effective security cooperation and economic coordination. Therefore, a principal challenge for U.S. policy and for local leaders is to find ways to preserve, even enhance, the latter even as disagreement over the former worsens.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Ukraine, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Syria, North America
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Washington has rightfully avoided backing a candidate in next week's elections, but it should still use counterterrorism assistance and other levers to push Baghdad on pluralism and KRG oil revenue sharing during the presumably lengthy transition period. On April 30, the Iraqi public will vote in national parliamentary elections, establishing the next four-year term of the 328-seat Council of Representatives. Thereafter, an equally consequential bargaining process will commence, taking the formation of the next government out of the public's hands and cloistering it behind closed doors. The United States has repeatedly prodded Baghdad to ensure that the vote is held on time, in all districts, and in a free and fair manner. Washington's role in the government formation process could be equally constructive, but it presents a far trickier challenge. Indeed, how the U.S. government acts during the postelection process could set the tone for bilateral relations throughout the next government's term.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Washington, Middle East
  • Author: Ehud Yaari, Neri Zilber
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Even as the deal offers short-term political benefits for both sides, it fails to resolve key issues separating them. The April 23 Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement announced in the Gaza Strip is the latest in a long line of attempts to bridge the intra-Palestinian divide. The timing of the agreement amid U.S.-brokered peace talks, as well as both parties' internal weaknesses, points to more serious intent than past efforts. However, the deal fails to address the most sensitive issues separating the two sides and likely can be explained by the political boost it offers to both leaderships. The only certainty is that the reconciliation deal severely complicates efforts to extend Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations past their April 29 deadline.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The thorny parliamentary process of selecting a new president could rekindle violence if it results in substantial delays or further sectarian friction. Last week, Lebanon's parliament convened for the first round of balloting to elect a new president. While Samir Geagea -- who leads the Christian "Lebanese Forces" party, which is aligned with the pro-Western March 14 coalition -- received the most votes, he failed to secure the requisite two-thirds parliamentary support. In the coming weeks, legislators are slated to continue meeting until a president is selected. Unlike last week's session, in which the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc did not challenge Geagea's candidacy, the voting promises to become increasingly contentious in subsequent rounds. Perennial sectarian tensions exacerbated by the war next door in Syria have complicated the historically wrought and arcane election process. Should a compromise candidate not emerge by May 25, the term of current president Michel Suleiman will expire, leaving the post vacant. In the past, the presidency -- which by law must be held by a Christian -- was the dominant office in Lebanon's government. But the 1989 Taif Accord effectively stripped the position of its powers, delegating them to the prime minister, who must hail from the Sunni Muslim constituency. Given the post's largely symbolic nature, some might argue that the tense selection process is much ado about nothing. Yet the presidency remains an emotionally evocative issue for Lebanese Christians, and both the March 8 and March 14 blocs see a sympathetic chief executive as an important advantage worth fighting for.
  • Topic: Religion, Power Politics, Regime Change, Public Opinion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Haroon Ullah, Eric Trager, Vish Sakthivel
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A senior State Department advisor and two Washington Institute scholars discuss what lessons can -- and cannot -- be drawn from the Islamist political experience in Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, and other countries.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Political Activism
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Middle East, Arabia, Egypt, Morocco
  • Author: Lori Plotkin Boghardt
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Washington should look for small changes in Kuwait and Qatar's political and security calculus that could provide opportunities to support counter-terrorist financing measures there. On April 30, the U.S. State Department noted that private donations from Persian Gulf countries were "a major source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups, particularly...in Syria," calling the problem one of the most important counterterrorism issues during the previous calendar year. Groups such as al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), previously known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, are believed to be frequent recipients of some of the hundreds of millions of dollars that wealthy citizens and others in the Gulf peninsula have been donating during the Syrian conflict.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Border Control
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Washington, Middle East, Kuwait, Arabia, Syria, Qatar
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The longer the war in Syria continues, the greater the threat these fighters will likely pose. Last week, ten Jordanian Islamists who were apprehended while attempting to join the jihad in Syria were sentenced by the State Security Court to five years of hard labor. And last month, Jordanian F-16 fighter jets destroyed a convoy purportedly carrying al-Qaeda-affiliated anti-Assad-regime rebels traversing the border from Syria. These "spillover" incidents are only the latest in a disturbing trend. Over the past year, reports of Jordanian Salafi jihadists have become routine, raising the specter of terrorism returning to the kingdom.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Border Control
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Jordan
  • Author: Ehud Yaari, Michael Morell
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A CIA veteran and an Israeli security expert discuss the growing presence of al-Qaeda affiliates in Sinai and Syria.
  • Topic: Terrorism, International Security, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Security crackdowns will not be enough to eradicate jihadist networks in Tunisia and Libya, which have the patience and ideological conviction to weather drastic reorganization. Eight months ago, the Tunisian government officially designated Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) as a terrorist organization. Since then, Tunis has cracked down on the group's activities, going after both its dawa campaign (i.e., proselytization and social-welfare efforts) and any links members have to terrorist plots. On the whole, AST's public response has been to keep relatively quiet. Yet recent developments indicate that the group may be rebranding itself as Shabab al-Tawhid (ST; the Youth of Pure Monotheism), a shift that would have important implications for efforts to counter Tunisian jihadists and their associates in Libya.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Border Control
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Libya, Arabia, Tunisia