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  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: King Salman has confirmed his reputation as a religious conservative through the reappointment of traditionalist clerics However he has also made some effort to streamline the Saudi government Recent changes have given considerable power to two men from the next generation: King Salman's son and his nephew The result may be good for hard security measures, but less certain for the soft measures necessary for Saudi Arabia to weather the storm.
  • Topic: Security, Development, Economics, Islam, Political Economy, Governance
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Islamic State's murder of Jordanian hostage Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh was both a message to the group's fighters that it can counter the coalition's relentless airstrikes as well as an offensive move designed to provoke a high-profile overreaction The air campaign against the Islamic State has been relentless while at the same time has receded from the headlines-a double blow to the group in that it suffers the losses but doesn't benefit from the attendant spectacle The drawn-out 'negotiations' over this past month-while the hostage was already dead-were likely intended to sow division and tension in Jordan, and draw attention to the issue as long as possible before the gruesome finale While Jordan is understandably enraged and will have to strike back, the most effective response might be an escalation that continues to kill the group's fighters away from the headlines.
  • Topic: Security, Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Like a page out of the 2004 extremist manifesto "Management of Savagery," the Islamic State has tried to goad the international community into near-sighted reactions without long-term approaches by highlighting the barbarity of its executions of hostages This tactic has thus far failed to ignite the overreaction (outside of press reporting) of Western powers, leaving the group without an important recruitment and incitement tool The Islamic State needs consistent replenishment of fear to overcome its inherently terrible local governance, and so it depends on shocking savagery to serve as both its recruitment magnet and opposition suppression As the group encounters less and less Westerners, given the danger of their presence in the region, it will find increasingly fewer ways to incite the 'us-versus-them' battle it needs to survive.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: While the threat of an immediate escalation between Israel and Hizballah appears to have subsided after deadly tit-for-tat attacks, the trend lines suggest greater conflict ahead In an important and ominous speech on January 30, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah created, in effect, one long front against Israel that now includes Syria and the Golan Heights as well as Lebanon, increasing the potential for conflict with Israel Iran is no longer moving in the shadows but rather is openly coordinating strategy with its proxy Hizballah as the two seek to strengthen and expand 'the resistance' against Israel All parties involved have specific reasons to avoid a near-term conflict-the upcoming Israeli elections, ongoing Iranian nuclear negotiations, Hizballah's commitments in Syria-but shifting regional power dynamics will only increase the likelihood of serious fighting between them.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The still-unresolved hostage situation involving Jordan, Japan, and the Islamic State is unlike any of the group's previous kidnappings Jordan is in a precarious position, as it seeks the release of one of its citizens-a national hero who comes from a prominent tribe-while not wanting to free one of the perpetrators of the worst terrorist attack in the country's history By demanding the release of failed suicide-bomber Sajida al-Rishawi from Jordanian custody, the Islamic State is trying to elevate itself to the status of negotiating nation-state, and weaken and embarrass a vital member of the coalition seeking its destruction In a striking difference with previous Islamic State hostage situations, current circumstances provide a chance for the group to bolster its standing in the vital Iraqi province of al-Anbar-where al-Rishawi is from-and perhaps slightly lessen tribal pressure on the group The issue is causing tensions between the Iraqi-born leadership of the Islamic State, who want to make the exchange, and a small faction of primarily Saudi fighters, who want to execute the Jordanian pilot for bombing the group.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Japan, Middle East, Arab Countries, Jordan
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: There hasn't been a lasting and successful end to an armed conflict in the Middle East in decades, and the newest fighting in Yemen can be seen through a lens of deep regional frustration over countless issues that seem to defy solutions The entire region is frustrated with the worsening status quo, but the consensus and creativity to meaningfully address the challenges is lacking, even with the newly announced Arab 'rapid response force' to an extremist problem that has been openly growing for a decade The only actors not frustrated are non-state actors, who fill the ever-widening chasm between what regional governments can deliver and what their populations demand.
  • Topic: Economics, Government
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Algeria
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Outside of its own borders, Iran now has significant proxy presence and influence in four countries encompassing 1.1 million square kilometers and 82 million people, in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon It has done this by leveraging tactical decisions made by other countries into its own strategic expansion; from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, Iran is taking advantage of the short-term actions of others in its long-term plan The complete collapse of the U.S.-aided Yemeni president and the associated counterterrorism and military support is just the latest example of measures intended to address immediate pressures, which ultimately benefit Iran-all while U.S. airstrikes support Iraqi and Iranian militias in Tikrit against the immediate threat of the Islamic State It's not that Iranian leaders are all-knowing, masterful chess players but rather that the Middle East has for decades been a battlefield of ad hoc stability measures by numerous countries that have enabled Iran to steadily project power, to the extreme concern of countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has now launched airstrikes in Yemen.
  • Topic: Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have more in common than sets them apart, as both groups embrace 'bin Ladinism' even as their leaderships differ on tactics and priorities As the fortunes of the two groups wax and wane, their shared characteristics are likely to become more pronounced and their rivalries less so For the moment, the competition between them weakens their appeal and blunts their impact; any trend towards reconciliation or partnership could magnify the threat they pose across the Arab world.
  • Topic: Islam
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Despite the vast resources of other states in the Middle East, the two powers that matter most are Iran and Turkey Iran is currently ascendant in the region and takes every opportunity to wield its influence Saudi Arabia is trying to build a Sunni alliance that might challenge Iran's dominance-even if it is not clear how Efforts to bring Turkey on board the Sunni alliance may founder on differing interests-not least Turkey's own ambitions.
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Richard Barrett
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Over 12,000 fighters from at least 81 countries have joined the civil war in Syria, and the numbers continue to grow. Around 2,500 are from Western countries, including most members of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There are also several hundred from Russia. But the great majority are from the Arab World. Most are fighting with rebel groups, and increasingly with the most extreme among them; but many are also fighting with the Government, or with ethnic or faith communities that are trying to protect themselves from both sides. A lot are young, often teenagers, and a fair percentage of those arriving from non-Muslim majority countries are converts to Islam. These and others who share their faith commonly express their motivation as a religious obligation to protect fellow Muslims from attack. This sense of duty is captured by their loose use of the word 'jihad'.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, International Security
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Europe, Middle East, Canada, Arabia, Australia, Syria, New Zealand