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  • Author: Cornelius Adebahr
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The rift between Europe and the United States over Iran is deepening. To regain leverage, the Europeans should engage all eight Gulf states in talks about regional security and nonproliferation. The rift between Europe and the United States over Iran is deepening. Two years of U.S. maximum pressure on Tehran have not yielded the results Washington had hoped for, while the Europeans have failed to put up enough resistance for their transatlantic partner to change course. Worse, the U.S. policy threatens to destabilize the broader Persian Gulf, with direct consequences for Europe. To get ahead of the curve and regain leverage, the European Union (EU), its member states, and the United Kingdom have to look beyond their relations with the Islamic Republic and address wider regional security challenges. The United States’ incipient retreat as a security guarantor and Russia’s increased interest in the region make it necessary for Europe to engage beyond its borders. Despite being barely alive, the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran offers a good starting point. The Europeans should regionalize some of the agreement’s basic provisions to include the nuclear newcomers on the Arab side of the Gulf. Doing so would advance a nonproliferation agenda that is aimed not at a single country but at the region’s broader interests. Similarly, the Europeans should engage Iran, Iraq, and the six Arab nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council in talks about regional security. Rather than suggesting an all-encompassing security framework, for which the time is not yet ripe, they should pursue a step-by-step approach aimed at codifying internationally recognized principles at the regional level.
  • Topic: Security, Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, Nonproliferation
  • Political Geography: Europe, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Robert Springborg, F.C. "Pink" Williams, John Zavage
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The United States, Russia, and Iran have chosen markedly different approaches to security assistance in the Middle East, with dramatic implications for statebuilding and stability. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is the world’s testing ground for the effectiveness of security assistance provided by global and regional powers. That security assistance has contributed to the intensity and frequency of proxy wars—such as those under way or recently wound down in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq—and to the militarization of state and substate actors in the MENA region. Security assistance is at the core of struggles for military, strategic, ideological, and even economic preeminence in the Middle East. Yet despite the broad and growing importance of security assistance for the region and for competition within it between global and regional actors, security assistance has been the subject of relatively little comparative analysis. Efforts to assess relationships between the strategic objectives and operational methods of security assistance providers and their relative impacts on recipients are similarly rare.
  • Topic: Security, Geopolitics, Political stability, State Building
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: For years, Gulf powers have mulled the notion of regional dialogue to calm existing crises and head off new ones. Today, with several active Middle Eastern conflicts, all sensitive to rising U.S.-Iran tensions, it is an idea whose time has come. What’s new?* Middle East tensions spiked in the past year following attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities, the U.S. killing of a senior Iranian commander and Iranian military retaliation. Some of Washington’s allies, losing confidence the U.S. will reliably extend military protection, have started making cautious diplomatic overtures to Iran. Why does it matter? While these tentative steps toward de-escalation are welcome, they risk being inadequate, particularly in the absence of regular, high-level communication channels among potential conflict actors. Existing UN-led mechanisms for resolving individual conflicts, such as Yemen, are worthwhile but insufficient to lessen region-wide tensions. What should be done? Diplomatic efforts are needed to both de-escalate tensions and make progress toward resolving regional conflicts. Gulf actors, supported by external stakeholders, should consider launching an inclusive sub-regional dialogue aimed at reducing the risk of inadvertent conflict by opening new communication channels.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Ehud Eiran
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Israel is still holding to its traditional security maxim. Based on a perception of a hostile region, Israel’s response includes early warning, deterrence and swift – including pre-emptive – military action, coupled with an alliance with a global power, the US. Israel is adjusting these maxims to a changing reality. Overlapping interests – and perhaps the prospect of an even more open conflict with Iran – led to limited relationships between Israel and some Gulf states. These, however, will be constrained until Israel makes progress on the Palestine issue. Israel aligned with Greece and Cyprus around energy and security, which may lead to conflict with Turkey. Russia’s deployment in Syria placed new constraints on Israeli freedom of action there. The US’s retrenchment from the Middle East is not having a direct effect on Israel, while the Trump administration’s support for Israel’s territorial designs in the West Bank may make it easier for Israel to permanently expand there, thus sowing the seeds for future instability in Israel/Palestine. The EU could try and balance against such developments, but, as seen from Israel, is too divided to have a significant impact. Paper produced in the framework of the FEPS-IAI project “Fostering a New Security Architecture in the Middle East”, April 2020.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Gas, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Greece, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, United States of America, Mediterranean
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Even as their lack of transparency worsens the public health crisis, the Supreme Leader and other officials have systematically gutted any civil society elements capable of organizing substantial opposition to such policies. Iran’s ongoing coronavirus epidemic has left the people with less reason than ever to trust the information and directives issued by their leaders. Part 1 of this PolicyWatch discussed the clergy’s role in aggravating this problem, but the state’s mistakes and deceptions have been legion as well. They include scandalous discrepancies between official reports after a period of denial that the virus had entered the country; a health system that was unprepared to deal with such a disease promptly and properly; and official resistance to implementing internationally recommended precautionary measures, such as canceling flights from China and quarantining the center of the outbreak. These decisions have sown widespread confusion about facts and fictions related to the virus, the most effective medically proven ways to control it, and the degree to which it is spreading throughout the country. As a result, an already restive population has become increasingly panicked about the future and angry at the state. Yet can the coronavirus actually bring down the regime? The harsh reality is that the state has left little space for opposition to organize around health issues, or any issues for that matter. Instead, it has sought to confuse the people and redirect their anger toward external enemies, even as its own policies contribute to the crisis.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Civil Society, Health, Public Health, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: James M Dorsey, Raffaello Pantucci, Bilveer Singh, Noor Huda Ismail
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The high-profile assassination of General Qassim Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (QF), on January 3 in Baghdad marked the lowest point in US-Iran relations in recent times. It triggered a new spell of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East with far-reaching consequences for South and Southeast Asia. Soleimani’s killing has also coincided with the potential rejuvenation of the Islamic State (IS), and ongoing anti-government protests in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Soleimani’s killing was bound to have reverberations beyond the Middle East. Muslim-majority states in South and Southeast Asia, where both Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in sectarian proxy wars by funding and influencing the Sunni and Shia segments of the population. While states in both regions have condemned Soleimani’s killing, they have stayed largely neutral to avoid getting sucked into rising geopolitical tensions. Against this backdrop, the March issue of the Counter Terrorists Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features three articles that explore different dimensions of Soleimani’s death and their geopolitical implications. In the first article, James M. Dorsey argues that as US-Iran tensions have eased in recent months, Iranian hardliners, emboldened by a sweeping mandate earned in recent domestic elections, remain committed to a well-honed strategy of escalating asymmetric warfare. According to the author, this raises the prospects for a full-scale war, with the United States also still pursuing a maximum pressure campaign on Iran that has to date, yet to produce tangible results. In the second article, Raffaello Pantucci reasons that despite a general consensus that the US-Iran rupture will ease pressure on transnational jihadist groups in the Middle East theatre, it remains unclear how Soleimani’s killing will shape their future behaviour. On the one hand, Iran-backed Shia militias are likely to step up their operations, which will exacerbate sectarian fault-lines in the region and feed into IS’ self-portrayal as the saviours of Sunnis. Conversely, pragmatism continues to define interactions between Tehran and Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, who appear happy to cooperate to ensure broader strategic goals. Next, Bilveer Singh examines the implications of Soleimani’s assassination for South and Southeast Asia. regions where both Iran and Saudi Arabia enjoy ideological influence among the Muslim-majority states. Sunni Malaysia and Indonesia have reservations about Tehran, but domestic political pressures are likely to endear Iran to them more than the US. The impact in South Asia could be more varied, mostly affecting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran through its Shia militant proxies can undermine US interests in Afghanistan. The QF has also recruited significant Shia militias in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively for operations in Syria. Moreover, Pakistan has to walk a tight rope given Iran has an inside track to its significant Shia population. Besides cross and intra-regional assessments of Soleimani’s assassination within the broader US-Iran fissures, the threat landscapes in Indonesia and West Africa, both long-time hotbeds for terrorist activity in their respective regions, are also examined in this issue. Firstly, Noor Huda Ismail takes a closer look at pro-IS terrorist networks in Indonesia, a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. By examining the background, tactics and modus operandi of local terrorist groups, both online and offline, and comparing their legacy with those of previous militant Islamist movements, the author believes important learning lessons can be drawn to help mitigate future security threats. Finally, Atta Barkindo analyses the jihadist threat in the Sahel region, where a landscape conducive to terrorist activities provides the fertile ground for IS and Al-Qaeda to grow by linking up with local militant networks. The tactical sophistication exhibited in terrorist attacks by Sahelian jihadist groups, particularly in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, testifies to a growing footprint of global jihadism. Sahel provides an arterial life-line through the region, by facilitating the movement of goods and people between the Mediterranean and West Africa, which has been enormously beneficial to terrorist groups involved in organised criminal enterprises. Moreover, desertification and environmental degradation have also created a conducive environment for criminal activities and terrorism.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Bilateral Relations, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Marcin Andrzej Piotrowski
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Iran’s official figures on cases and deaths from COVID-19 (the disease resulting from coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2) do not reflect the real scale of the pandemic in that country, which might be among the hardest hit in the world. The pandemic will deepen the economic crisis and disfunction of the state, becoming a challenge to Iran’s ruling elite. The regime might survive thanks to the security apparatus and, in parallel, continue its support of Shia militias in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and the Syrian government. Only the succession of power after Ali Khamenei will be the real test of the coherence of the Iranian elite, and in case of disruption, it might result in the collapse of Iran’s theocracy.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Economics, Government, Health, Coronavirus, Pandemic, Elites
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Lebanon, Syrian Arab Republic
  • Author: JD Work, Richard Harknett
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Reported Iranian intrusions against Israeli critical infrastructure networks and alleged Israeli actions against Iranian proliferation-associated targets pose substantial new challenges to understanding ongoing competition and conflict in the Middle East. These cyber exchanges may be interpreted through two distinct lenses: as the struggle to achieve deterrence using the instrument of cyber operations, or as the contest for initiative in order to establish conditions for relative security advantage in a cyber-persistent environment. Either way, these ongoing incidents are best understood not as “bolt out of the blue” attacks, but rather fleeting glimpses of continuing cyber campaigns leveraging previously disclosed and newly developed capabilities as each side grapples to anticipate cyber vulnerability and shape the conditions of exploitation. The opaque nature of these interactions is further complicated by potential bureaucratic politics and interservice rivalries, as well as unknown dynamics of a counter-proliferation campaign to slow, disrupt and potentially destroy Iranian nuclear capacity. In the end, observed cyber actions may not represent reflections of accurate strategic calculation, and even if aligned to the operational environment they may not lead to intended outcomes. Continuous failure to deter, or inability to manage persistent interactions, may lead to greater dangers.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Cybersecurity, Non-Traditional Threats
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Uzi Rubin
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning on the emergent Yemen-originating missile threat corresponds to Iran’s modus operandi of surrounding its foes with missile “rings of fire” and will enable Tehran to complete the missile encirclement of the Jewish state as a step toward its eventual demise. Israel must do its utmost to confront this new strategic threat by establishing an alert system and defense capabilities against Yemen-originating cruise and ballistic missiles, whatever the cost.
  • Topic: Security, Military Affairs, Geopolitics, Weapons
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, Yemen
  • Author: Przemysław Osiewicz, Alex Vatanka, Suzanne Kianpour
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The relationship between the European Union and the Middle East is facing a critical period of change, given the changing leadership in key European Union bodies, rising tensions with regard to Iran, and increasing confrontation between the United States and Iran. The Middle East Institute is pleased to invite you to a conversation with MEI scholar Przemysław Osiewicz, who will discuss his recently released paper series on the impact of leadership changes in key EU bodies such as the EU high representative for foreign and security policy, the European Commission, and the European Council on EU-MENA relations. He will be joined by MEI Senior Fellow Alex Vatanka and moderator Suzanne Kianpour to explore divergences between the United States and the EU approaches in their policies toward Iran, internal divisions within the EU on engagement with Iran, the role of economic factors, and the future of the JCPOA.
  • Topic: International Relations, Security, Foreign Policy, Politics, Geopolitics, Leadership
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America, European Union