Category: Khulood Fahim
In his opening remarks at the Atlantic Council’s “Pushback: Exposing and Countering Iran” event on Thursday, September 14, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad addressed an American audience on the importance of paying close attention to Iran and its activity in the Middle East. He emphasized that a future in which Iran dominates the Middle East is not in the interest of the United States and that the United States should adopt certain approaches to decreasing the threat that Iran poses. The event included two panels, each discussing a report published by the Atlantic Council. The first panel assessed and described Iran’s activity in the region, and the second made practical recommendations directed towards the US administration.
To contextualize the issue, the first panel, based on the report “Revolution Unveiled: A Closer Look at Iran’s Presence and Influence in the Middle East,” began by examining evidence pointing to Iran’s increasing influence across the Middle East and identified some ways in which it maintains and increases that influence. Phillip Smyth of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (one of the authors of the report) and Tim Michetti of Conflict Armament Research explored Iran’s use of networks of loyal groups and militias and its role in arming these militias as two tactics that Iran has been using.
According to Smyth, Iran is actively expanding its list of primarily Shi’a groups and militias loyal to Tehran, using them as proxies in conflict zones such as Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, and financing them in an effort to become known as protectors of Shi’a groups. The importance of these groups lies not only in their number and the amount of territory which they span (Smyth mentioned mapping at least 40 groups aligned with Iran in Syria alone), but also in the image that they are able to convey of Iran’s strength and importance.
The appearance of these groups with weapons acquired through Iran is one significant way in which Iran accomplishes its goals. To demonstrate, Smyth referred to an image of a militia fighter carrying an AM-50 (Sayyad-2) rifle. The rifle, he explained, tends to appear with groups thought to be financed by Iran and in areas in which Iran possesses influence, and the wide circulation of the image serves as a possible announcement of Iran’s strengths.
Tim Michetti of Conflict Armament Research continued to demonstrate Iran’s apparent influence through weaponry, referring to two cases in particular. The first was the seizing of dhows in the Arabian Gulf that were headed from Iran to Somalia in 2016. The dhows contained Iranian and Russian rifles and weapons, labeled and in serial order, normally indicative of their belonging to a state. This indicated that Iran was sending weapons from its stockpile to armed groups. The second case involved the shipment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Houthi rebels in Yemen. The UAVs received resembled those manufactured by Iran, suggesting once again that Iran is supplying Shi’a forces with weapons across the region.
While Smyth and Michetti presented a picture of an Iran growing in power by the minute, Elisabeth Kendall of the Atlantic Council warned against overestimating Iran’s power. Kendall assessed that much of Iran’s influence is solely in appearance. She referred to the case of Yemen, where, through publicizing its alignment with the Houthis, Iran “antagonized” Saudi Arabia into joining the war, after which it significantly decreased its involvement, switching over instead into the role of peacemaker and leaving Saudi Arabia as the instigator of war in the country, diminishing its credibility. In this way, Iran has been able to “talk up” its involvement, spending less money than it appears to on rebel fighters while still increasing its influence and challenging its regional rivals.
Melissa Dalton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies contributed to this analysis by suggesting that Iran’s main strengths include its creativity and adaptability, traits that it has had to learn over time due to the isolation that it has experienced. Its tendency to use unconventional methods, however, has entrapped it in what Dalton described as a “vicious cycle,” in which the international community responds to Iran’s actions by increasing punishments, causing Iran to once again resort to “asymmetric” retaliation.
While a discussion on practical solutions was reserved for the upcoming panel, the panelists offered some suggestions, primarily related to the US’s outlook on the issue. Kendall’s comment offers an applicable piece of advice, as she urged the audience to approach Iran’s actions with a “healthy skepticism,” avoiding the polarization that often occurs when talking about Iran. Instead of suggesting, as some do, that Iran has a hand in all that occurs in the region, or inferring that it is completely uninvolved, Kendall suggested that one should instead adopt a middle path. A more rational approach to the challenge that Iran poses to the United States, backed with concrete evidence and that allows for a measured response, would be best.
- A Conversation With UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein | Monday, September 18 | 10:00 – 11:00 am | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | Join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for the launch of the Morton and Sheppie Abramowitz Lecture featuring UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Carnegie President William J. Burns will join the high commissioner for a conversation on the global state of human rights.
- Weighing Bad Options: Past Diplomacy With North Korea and Alliance Options Today | Monday, September 18 | 2:00 – 3:30 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | The Trump administration and its allies are trying to apply maximum pressure on North Korea so that it will accept diplomatic talks predicated on its eventual denuclearization. It has been over a decade since such active hard and soft diplomatic measures have been applied to this policy challenge, even as regional circumstances have changed dramatically. Two veteran diplomats deeply involved with the last set of intense negotiations with North Korea will discuss their experiences and consider options in light of today’s dynamics and will be joined by both U.S. and Japanese experts. Carnegie’s Jim Schoff will moderate. Panelists include Christopher Hill of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at The University of Denver, Mitoji Yabunaka of Ritsumeikan University and Osaka University, Keiji Nakatsuji of Ritsumeikan University, and Douglas H. Paal and James L. Schoff of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This event is co-sponsored by the U.S.-Japan Research Institute.
- The Roller Coaster of Turkey-Russia Relations | Tuesday, September 19 | 3:00 – 4:30 pm | Brookings Institution | Register Here | The history of Turkish-Russian relations is replete with sudden outbursts of anger and unexpected rapprochements. Even in just the past couple of years, Moscow and Ankara swung from conflict to reconciliation with startling speed. Fewer than six months after Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet near Syria in November 2015, the two countries concluded deals on a gas pipeline and a nuclear plant. Following the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara in December 2016, they collaborated on a framework to stop the fighting in Syria. Moving forward, fluctuations will likely continue to characterize this ever-uncertain relationship. In the latest Turkey Project Policy Paper, “An ambiguous partnership: The serpentine trajectory of Turkish-Russian relations in the era of Erdoğan and Putin,” Pavel K. Baev and Kemal Kirişci explore the main areas of interaction between Ankara and Moscow. They discuss the implications of these shifting dynamics on Turkey’s relations with its trans-Atlantic allies, particularly the United States and the European Union. On September 19, 2017, the Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) will host a panel discussion on the conclusions from this latest Turkey Project Policy Paper. The authors Baev and Kirişci will be joined by Evren Balta, Fulbright visiting scholar at New York University, and Naz Durakoğlu, senior policy advisor to Senator Jeanne Shaheen at the U.S. Senate. The discussion will be moderated by Torrey Taussig, post-doctoral research fellow at Brookings.
- Saudi Arabia Looks Forward: Vision 2030 and Mohammed Bin Salman | Wednesday, September 20 | 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm | Brookings Institution | Register Here | In a new paper titled “Saudi Arabia in Transition,” Karen Elliott House, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who has visited Saudi Arabia for nearly 40 years and a current senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, analyzes the progress the Saudis have made and the challenges they face in implementing Vision 2030 amidst the recent changes in leadership. On September 20, the Brookings Intelligence project will host Elliott House for a discussion on her findings, the Trump administration’s Saudi Arabia policy, and Iran’s activities in the region. Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project and a senior fellow, will moderate the discussion. Following their remarks, Elliott House and Riedel will take questions from the audience.
- Restoring Stability in a Turbulent Middle East: A Perspective from the League of Arab States | Friday, September 22 | 3:30 pm | Center on Foreign Relations | Register Here | Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit discusses the state of affairs in the Middle East, including the conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, countering the threat of terrorism in the region, the impact of the recent intra-gulf crisis, and how the Arab League operates within this complex climate.
- Sixteen Years After 9/11: Assessing the Terrorist Threat | Monday, September 11 | 12:15 pm – 1:45 pm | New America | Register Here | Sixteen years have passed since the attacks of 9/11, and three presidents have now wrestled with calibrating an effective American response to the threat of jihadist terrorism. Where does the terrorist threat stand today? How effective has the Trump administration been in confronting the threat? What will the threat look like tomorrow? To address these questions, New America welcomes Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and CEO of Valens Global, a private firm focused on the challenge posed by violent non-state actors; Joshua Geltzer, a fellow in New America’s International Security program, who served from 2015 to 2017 as senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council staff, having served previously as deputy legal advisor to the National Security Council and as counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice; and Nadia Oweidat, a Middle East fellow at New America, who holds a D.Phil. in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford, and who is currently working on a book on social media and positive change among Arabic speakers.
- Unclear Physics: Why Iraq and Libya Failed to Build Nuclear Weapons | Wednesday, September 13 | 3:30 – 5:00 pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | Many authoritarian leaders want nuclear weapons, but few manage to acquire them. Autocrats seeking nuclear weapons fail in different ways and to varying degrees—Iraq almost managed it; Libya did not come close. In this seminar, Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer compares the two failed nuclear weapons programs, arguing that state capacity played a crucial role in the trajectory and outcomes of both projects. This analysis is based on a rich set of new primary sources, collected during years of research in archives, fieldwork across the Middle East, and interviews with scientists and decision makers from both states. The analysis reveals contemporary perspectives from scientists and regime officials on the opportunities and challenges facing each project. Many of the findings challenge the conventional wisdom about clandestine weapons programs in closed authoritarian states, particularly the level of oversight and control by regime officials, and offers novel arguments about their prospects of success or failure.
- America’s Role in the World – Global Threats, Global Perspectives | Thursday, September 14 | 5:00 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The day’s discussion will explore the results of Pew Research Center’s survey, which focused on global perspectives on the greatest risks facing the world today, from national security concerns to broader global issues such as climate change, and the economy, and included thirty-eight countries. Does the existential threat of ISIS affect people outside of the Middle East and Europe? Where are worries of the influence of the United States, Russia, or China most acute? Following a short presentation of the report, the panelists will evaluate the circumstances and tenuous relationships that may account for the findings. The conversation will feature Jacob Poushter of the Pew Research Center, Ellen Laipson of the Stimson Center, David Anderson of Zurich North America, and Mathew Burrows of the Atlantic Council. The panel will be moderated by Kate Brannen, the Deputy Managing Editor at Just Security.
- Pushback: Exposing and Countering Iran | Thursday, September 14 | 12:00 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | Much is said about Iran’s “destabilizing activities” throughout the Middle East, but often without fully describing the activities, tools, and methods Iran uses to wield influence in neighboring states. What do we really know about Iran’s activities in the region? What are the primary factors driving Iran’s foreign policy? These are the questions the Atlantic Council seeks to answer through a new project entitled Pushback: Exposing and Countering Iran. This series examines the drivers, prospects, and constraints underpinning Iran’s efforts to undermine US policy in the Middle East and restructure the regional order to its liking. Drawing on new digital forensic evidence and expert analysis, this effort offers strategic and policy recommendations to address the growing challenge Iran poses to stability in the Middle East. Center for Strategic and International Studies senior fellow and deputy director Melissa Dalton, Atlantic Council nonresident fellow Elisabeth Kendall, Conflict Armament Research’s Tim Michetti, and Shia militia group researcher Phillip Smyth will discuss Iran’s regional tactics, while Middle East Institute director and senior fellow Bilal Y. Saab, American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Ken Pollack, Johns Hopkins SAIS’s Mara Karlin, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Peninsula Affairs Susan Ziadeh, and New York Times Washington correspondent David Sanger, will discuss the United States’ strategic options for countering Iran’s influence.