Tag: United Arab Emirates

Peace picks April 24-28

  1. Report Launch: “The Other Side of the World” | Monday, April 24 | 10:30-12 | CSIS | Register Here | China’s growing interests in the Middle East, and the United States’ enduring interests in the Middle East, create challenges for two of the world’s most powerful nations. Should they seek more active collaboration? Are their goals for the future of the Middle East compatible? To discuss the implications of increasingly robust China-Middle East ties for U.S. interests, CSIS invites you to the launch of its new Brzezinski Institute Report: “The Other Side of the World: China, the United States, and the Struggle for Middle East Security,” featuring Anne Gearan, Political Correspondent at the Washington Post; Jon B. Alterman, Senior Vice President and Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director of the Middle East Program at CSIS; Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at CSIS; Matthew P. Goodman, William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy and Senior Adviser for Asian Economics at CSIS; and Christopher K. Johnson, Senior Adviser and Freeman Chair in China Studies.
  2. What is the Future of EU-Turkey Relations? | Monday, April 24 | 2-3:30 | Wilson Center | Register Here | This panel will address a number of questions related to the April 16 Turkish constitutional referendum: Can the European-Turkish migration deal last? How might upcoming national elections in several European countries affect European ties with Turkey? What could cause the EU to freeze or end Turkey’s accession process? Is Erdogan willing to abandon Turkey’s EU membership bid or follow through with his threat to end the migration deal? Can the EU and Turkey find a way forward? Speakers include Michelle Egan, Professor and Jean Monnet Chair ad personam at School of International Service, American University; Aykan Erdemir, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; and Constanze Stelzenmueller, Senior Transatlantic Fellow and Director of Transatlantic Trends at the German Marshall Fund, Berlin and Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
  3. The United Arab Emirates: Power, Politics, and Policy-Making | Tuesday, April 25 | 12-1:30 | AGSIW | Register Here | Led by Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates has become deeply embedded in the contemporary system of international power, politics, and policymaking. Only an independent state since 1971, the seven emirates that constitute the UAE represent not only the most successful Arab federal experiment but also the most durable. However, the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath underscored the continuing imbalance between Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the five northern emirates. Meanwhile, the post-2011 security crackdown revealed the acute sensitivity of officials in Abu Dhabi to social inequalities and economic disparities across the federation. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Baker Institute Fellow for the Middle East at Rice University, charts the various processes of state formation and political and economic development that have enabled the UAE to emerge as a significant regional power and major player in the post-Arab Spring reordering of Middle East and North African politics, as well as the closest partner of the United States in military and security affairs in the region.
  4. New Approaches to Israel-Palestine Peace Efforts: Can Regional Powers Make a Difference? | Wednesday, April 26 | 1-3:30 | MEPC | Register Here | Panelists will discuss whether there are new opportunities to work with regional powers to realize a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Speakers include Chas W. Freeman Jr., Chairman of Projects International Inc., Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Former US Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Former President, MEPC; Hady Amr, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings, Former Deputy Special Envoy, Israeli-Palestinian Relations at the Department of State; and Former Deputy Assistant Administrator, Middle East at USAID; Ian Lustick, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Former President of Politics and History Section of the American Poltical Science Association, and Member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and Riad Khawaji, Founder and CEO of INEGMA, Middle East Bureau Chief at Defense News, and Middle East Correspondent at Jane’s Defense Weekly.
  5. The Syrian Crisis: What Lies Ahead on the Battlefield and in Diplomacy | Wednesday, April 26 | 1:30-5 | MEI | Register Here | The Middle East Institute (MEI) Track II Dialogues Initiative and the National Defense University Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies have convened three rounds of private consultations with Russian counterparts about the Syrian conflict, most recently in February 2017. Participants from those and parallel MEI Track II encounters with Middle Eastern leaders will join with other experts on the military and diplomatic aspects of the conflict in two panel discussions to consider possible ways forward. These panelists include Jennifer Cafarella, Lead Intelligence Planner at the Institute for the Study of War, Charles Lister, Senior Fellow at MEI, Andrew J. Tabler, Martin J. Gross Fellow at WINEP, LTG (ret) Terry A Wolf, Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS at the Department of State, Wa’el Alzayat, CEO at Emerge USA, (ret) Robert S. Ford, Senior Fellow at MEI, Roger Kangas, Academic Dean and Professor, NESA Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, and Randa Slim, Director of Track II Dialogues at MEI.
  6. A Story to Tell: Changing the Narrative of American Muslims with Hena Khan | Wednesday, April 26 | 6-8pm | The Elliott School | Register Here | Join us for a conversation with Elliott School alumna and children’s author Hena Khan about her experiences writing books that represent American Muslims, promote understanding, and build tolerance and compassion. She will share her newest novel, Amina’s Voice, the first publication of Simon & Schuster’s groundbreaking new imprint Salaam Reads, which focuses on books about Muslims. Amina’s Voice recounts the story of a Pakistani-American Muslim girl who struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community.
  7. Tunisia in Transition: Challenges and Prospects | Thursday, April 27 | 2-3:30 | POMED and the Arab Center Washington | Register Here | Tunisia, the birthplace of the “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011, stands today as the only country undertaking a democratic transition. But despite the historic progress, daunting challenges remain, including confronting corruption, bolstering the economy, and reforming the justice sector. What are the most important steps in confronting these challenges? And what role can international actors, including the United States, play in supporting Tunisia’s fragile democracy? Speakers include Amine Ghali, Program Director at Al Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center in Tunis, Leila Hilal, Senior Fellow, International Security Program at New America, Chawki Tabib, President of Tunisia’s National Authority for the Fight Against Corruption, and Sarah Yerkes, Fellow, Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment.
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War, not oil prices, challenge the Gulf

Last Tuesday the Middle East Policy Council held their 85th Capitol Hill Conference on “Economic Reform and Political Risk in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).” Speakers were Aasim M. Husain, IMF deputy director of the Middle East and Central Asia; Ford M. Fraker, president of the Middle East Policy Center and former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Edward Burton, CEO and president of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council; and Karen E. Young, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute. Richard Schmierer moderated.

Husain presented data on how different countries of the GCC are adapting to cheaper oil. Prior to the dramatic decline in oil prices in mid-2014, Gulf governments had been raising their spending by expanding energy subsidies, increasing government payrolls, and raising wages. Non-oil sectors were growing at an average of 7 percent throughout the GCC. When oil prices suddenly dropped from $110/barrel to $40/barrel in mid-2014, a GCC average 10% budgetary surplus turned into a 9% deficit overnight. Spending, which had been increasing by an average of 8-10% since 2011, is expected to contract by over 10% in coming years.

Most Gulf states are cutting back their capital spending by starting fewer new projects and slowing and canceling current ones. Many are raising subsidized energy prices—ending the longstanding policy in some countries of providing essentially free energy to their citizens. Some GCC members are also considering a value added tax. Even with these reforms, in the next five years we can continue to expect deficits of 7-10% of GDP. It’s a grim picture, even before you consider how cuts in spending will impact economic growth.

Over the next five years, 2 million youth will enter the workforce across the GCC. Husain predicts that 2/3 of those will find jobs. That optimistic figure relies on the necessity of non-oil sector growth in next five years generating more jobs than in the past.

Fraker emphasized just how dramatic recent changes in Saudi policy have been. He identified the main goals of Vision 2030—diversifying the Saudi economy and eliminating government inefficiency—and added that the biggest change brought about in the months since Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s assumption of the throne has not been any particular economic policy, but rather an “unprecedented” opening of Saudi government.

Decision-making had always happened behind closed doors without transparency or outside input. The rise to prominence of the Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman changed that. He has opened government, for example by putting all government ministers on stage for unprecedented public questioning. Fraker wants the US to welcome these changes. Washington has a strategic interest in a stable Saudi Arabia and should therefore support its allies politically and economically.

Burton elaborated on business opportunities for American investors. Saudi Arabia is the third biggest spender on military equipment in the world.  Mohammed bin Salman’s goal to divert 50% of Saudi military spending to domestic contractors would create major opportunities for job-rich growth. Burton also foresees healthcare as a potential growth sector. Saudi Arabia suffers from high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other health challenges. The Kingdom is the Middle East’s largest information and communications technologies market,  particularly with its growing youth population.

Young analyzed GCC strategies and policies to make ends meet. Across the region, there has been a dramatic rise in bond issues. In the short term, there is no problem. Gulf countries are not heavily indebted and currently have access to the capital they need. Continued reliance on credit for the next five years could get dicey. This oil crisis is different from the 1970s crises. Over the course of the 2003-2014 oil boom, the Gulf invested in building lasting institutions, which enabled Kuwait and the UAE to adapt to the drop in oil price. The GCC is also much more integrated into the MENA region than it was previously. Egypt and Lebanon are dependent on Gulf foreign direct investment. Jordan and Morocco rely on foreign aid from the GCC to balance their budgets.

All the panelists managed to neglect the economic and political ramifications of GCC involvement in two regional conflicts. Husain talked about massive cuts in capital and social spending to ease the sting of deficits, but ignored the continued climb in Saudi defense spending since 2011, starting with Saudi involvement in funding and training opposition fighters in Syria.

Saudi Arabia will be running up against its biggest planned budget deficit in 2016, despite the slight uptick in oil prices and domestic fiscal reforms. GCC members are heavily involved in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, so military spending is continuing to rise at an alarming rate. In 2016, Saudi Arabia surpassed Russia as the third biggest military spender, spending $87.2 billion. Qatar and the UAE have also increased their military spending while drastically cutting other spending.

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The road to Tripoli goes through Cairo

There is multi-dimensional irony in Libya’s recent progress. The militias that have plagued security for years are delivering success against the Islamic State forces in Sirte, at high cost. A country that notoriously resists international intervention has begun to accept a UN-imposed Presidential Council as its highest governing authority. A state notorious for lacking substantial institutions has somehow preserved through years of chaos a precious few vital to delivering future services to its population: the national bank, oil company and investment authority. Some of their divided bureaucracies still need reunification, but they have not been obliterated.

The biggest roadblock in Libya today is General Khalifa Haftar, who has refused to pledge loyalty to the Presidential Council, blocked such a move by the expiring Tobruk-based House of Representatives, and still gets support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and perhaps Western governments. Even that has its ironic side: Haftar has been less effective against the Islamic State than his archenemies the Misrata militia. His resistance won’t last long if his sponsors can be convinced to turn him in the right direction. Western support for Haftar, if it exists, is aimed at defeating the Islamic State and likely won’t outlast that objective.

Egypt’s support for Haftar aims to defeat Islamists in its western neighbor, much as President Sisi has sought to do inside Egypt as well. The Egyptians do not make much distinction among Islamists. It views all of them as threats to the President’s hold on power and therefore terrorists. Russia, which has been flirting with Haftar, has a similar attitude. Haftar reflects this absolutism: he wants to obliterate the Islamists physically, not just marginalize or defeat them politically.

This objective is unachievable. A large portion of the opposition to Qaddafi was Islamist. Islamists won a significant minority of seats in Libya’s first free and relatively well-run elections in July 2012. They continue to have the support of many Libyans as well as armed groups. Even the kind of restored autocracy that Sisi has achieved in Egypt would not eliminate the Islamists in Libya. It would only drive them underground and create the conditions for the kind of terrorist insurgency that Egypt already faces.

The UAE’s position is less absolute than Egypt’s. The Emirates face little or no Islamist threat at home. They want Libya to separate mosque and state in the fashion of secular societies. Western influence is likely strong on the UAE, which would not continue to support Haftar if Egypt stops.

So the Libyan quandary increasingly depends on ending Egyptian support for Haftar and preventing Russia from stepping in to replace it. The Western powers will also need to convince the Misrata and other militias to accept some role for Haftar in a more unified Libyan security force. These are diplomatic and political issues, not military ones. The Americans, who have lost clout in Egypt with the autocratic restoration, have been shy of asking for more than the essentials: military access through and over Egyptian territory as well as maintenance of the peace with Israel. Washington has largely abandoned pressure on human rights issues.

But if Libya is to continue progress in the right direction, the Americans need to do more to block or coopt Haftar and solidify the authority and legitimacy of the Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord it appoints. The road to Tripoli goes through Cairo.

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Peace picks November 9-13

  1. War or Peace? the Gulf States and Russia’s Intervention in Syria | Monday, November 9th | 12:00-1:30 | Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington | REGISTER TO ATTEND  | The war in Syria, now in its fourth year, has killed more than a quarter of a million people, contributed to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, and become a breeding ground for ISIL and other extremist groups that threaten not only the region but much of the rest of the world. In September, Russia began carrying out airstrikes in Syria as part of a coordinated counterattack with Iran and Hezbollah against rebel groups supported by Gulf Arab states, Turkey, and in some cases the U.S.What does Russia hope to accomplish by its intervention in Syria? How have the Arab Gulf states responded, and how is this affecting recently improved GCC-Russian relations? What role are Iran and Hezbollah playing on the ground and likely to play at the negotiating table? Is the Obama administration seriously considering a substantive expansion of American military involvement in Syria, or will it focus primarily on diplomacy? Are the Vienna talks laying the groundwork for serious negotiations and a political settlement? And how does ISIL factor into the Syrian conflict, the trajectory of its development, and its impact on the region?This AGSIW panel will look at all these questions and more arising from Russia’s intervention in Syria and the response of the Gulf Arab states. Speakers include Fahad Nazer, non-resident fellow at AGSIW; Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at George Washington University; and Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. The discussion will be moderated by Hussein Ibish, senior resident fellow at AGSIW.
  2. Demonizing Dissidents: How INTERPOL is being abused by Dictatorships | Monday, November 9th | 4:00-7:00 | Fair Trials & Georgetown Law’s Human Rights Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In recent years, the use of INTERPOL’s “wanted person” alerts has expanded vastly with over 120,000 now circulating across the globe. Unfortunately, as it has become easier for countries to obtain INTERPOL Red Notices, some have been used as an instrument for silencing dissent and exporting repression with devastating consequences. Join us to discuss how INTERPOL is starting to address this problem which has been undermining its reputation as the global “good guys” in the fight against crime, and hear from people whose lives have been turned upside down by Red Notices, including: Sherif Mansour, an Egyptian-American democracy and human rights activist working for the Committee to Protect Journalists; Benny Wenda, a West Papuan tribal leader who leads an international campaign for the people of West Papua; Lutfullo Shamsutdinov, a human rights activist and witness of the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan; and Patricia Poleo, an award-winning anti-corruption journalist and vocal critic of Hugo Chavez, subject to a Red Notice from Venezuela.
  3. Our Walls Bear Witness: Iraqi Minorities in Peril | Monday, November 9th | 6:30-8:00 | US Holocaust Memorial Museum | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Join the Museum for a discussion with experts on the plight of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq who have been targeted by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and are now displaced, not knowing when—or if—they will be able to return home. The discussion will take place on the opening night of FotoWeek DC (November 9–12), for which the Museum will project onto its exterior walls photographs from a recent trip to Iraq.Speakers include Naomi Kikoler, deputy director of the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, who recently returned from northern Iraq; Dakhil Shammo, a Yezidi human rights activist from the region; and Knox Thames, special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia at the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.You can submit questions for the panelists on Twitter using the hashtags #IraqCrisis and #WallsBearWitness.
  4. Turkey with the brakes off: What does Erdoğan’s victory mean? | Wednesday, November 11th | 5:00-7:00 | Central Asia-Caucasus Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Turkey’s ruling AKP restored its majority in parliament on Nov 1. But the election was held after President Erdogan refused to accept the June 7 election’s results, sabotaged efforts to form a coalition government, relaunched war in the country’s southeast -– and after a massive suicide bombing in Ankara.Will this election stabilize Turkey? What does this election mean for Turkey’s regional posture, and what kind of partner will it be for the U.S.?Speakers at this forum will draw from Turkey Transformed, a recently published study in which CACI scholars partnered with the Bipartisan Policy Center to investigate Turkey’s transformation under Erdogan. Speakers include: Eric S. Edelman, Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; Svante E. Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute; Blaise Misztal, Director of Foreign Policy, Bipartisan Policy Center; Alan Makovsky, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; and John Hannah, Senior Advisor, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The discussion will be moderated by Mamuka Tsereteli, Research Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.
  5. The ISIS Scorecard: Assessing the State of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy | Thursday, November 12th | 9:30-12:30 | American Foreign Policy Council | RSVP: events@afpc.org | The Honorable Newt Gingrich will give a keynote address. Speakers at this Capitol Hill conference include: Amb. Alberto Fernandez, Vice President of Middle East Media Research Institute and Former State Department Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications; Sebastian Gorka, Major General Matthew C. Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory, Marine Corps University; Celina Realuyo, Professor of Practice, William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, National Defense University; and James S. Robbins, Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs, American Foreign Policy Council.
  6. The Transatlantic Forum on Russia | Thursday, November 12th | 8:30-2:30 | Center for Strategic and International Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Please join us for the fourth joint conference of CSIS and the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding (CPRDU). Since 2012 CSIS and CPRDU have partnered to examine the impact of Polish-Russian reconciliation and its wider regional and transatlantic implications. Significant structural cracks in Europe’s security architecture – crafted at the end of the Second World War and refined by the Helsinki Final Act – have appeared since Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea and its incursions into eastern Ukraine. As a result, the principal challenge to the transatlantic community is to formulate a new foreign policy approach towards Russia. Our expert panelists will discuss the nature and scope of this new policy while considering historical relations between Russia and the West. See here for the full agenda and the featured experts.
  7. Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence | Thursday, November 12th | 2:00-3:30 | Brookings Institution | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In his new book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks examines the recent phenomenon of violent extremism by exploring the origins of violence and its relationship to religion. Rabbi Sacks challenges the assertion that religion is an intrinsic source of violence and describes how theology can be central to combating religious violence and extremism. Through analysis of biblical texts tied to the three Abrahamic faiths, Rabbi Sacks illustrates how religiously-inspired violence stems from a critical misreading of these texts.  Governance Studies at Brookings will host a discussion addressing Rabbi Sacks’ book and other important issues related to the roots of religious violence. This event is part of the long-running Governing Ideas book series, which is hosted by William A. Galston. E.J. Dionne, Jr. will also join the discussion.After the discussion, panelists will take audience questions. Books will be available for sale before and after the event.
  8. Migration, Asylum, and the Role of the State: Defining Borders, Redefining Boundaries | Thursday, November 12th | 4:00-5:30 | The Kluge Center at the Library of Congress | No registration necessary | Issues around immigration, migration, and asylum are pressing political, social and cultural concerns in the United States and Europe today. Three Fellows at the Kluge Center will discuss the role of the state in establishing geographic, technological and bureaucratic controls over the flow of peoples, cultures and beliefs across borders, and examine how the notions of national borders and state boundaries have evolved over the 20th and 21st century and how migrants and immigrants continue to challenge state-defined categories. Speakers include: Iván Chaar-López, researching databases, computers, and drones as instruments of border and migration control along the southern border (Digital Studies Fellow, University of Michigan); Katherine Luongo, researching witchcraft and spiritual beliefs among African asylum-seekers in Europe, Canada and Australia (Kluge Fellow, Northeastern University); and Julia Young, researching early 20th century Mexican immigration to the U.S. (Kluge Fellow, Catholic University).
  9. The Syrian Refugee Crisis & the U.S.: What is our responsibility? | Thursday, November 12th | 7:00-9:00 | Institute for Policy Studies | No registration necessary | Three experts on the Syrian crisis will address the issues faced by refugees, the need for ending the war to end the refugee crisis, the role of the U.S. in creating and its obligations for solving this crisis, and what the U.S. should do to assist and welcome Syrian refugees—and prevent similar crises in the future.Speakers include Pam Bailey, human rights activist and journalist; Phyllis Bennis, IPS fellow and author of numerous books and articles on U.S. policy in the Middle East; and Rafif Jouejati, Syrian activist and director of FREE-Syria. The forum will be moderated by Andy Shallal, activist and owner of Busboys and Poets. The event will be held at Busboys and Poets.
  10. The Search for Stability and Opportunity: The Middle East in 2016 | Friday, November 13th | 9:00-5:00 | The Middle East Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Middle East Institute will host its 69th Annual Conference at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. The event will bring together prominent Middle Eastern and American experts and foreign policy practitioners to delve into the many questions and challenges that face the region during this period of unprecedented change. Experts from across the region and the U.S. will examine Middle Eastern states’ pursuit of security out of the current disorder, the policy imperatives that will confront the next U.S. president, strategies for empowerment, inclusion, and equity in Arab societies, and the trends and channels in which youth are challenging the societal and political order. See here for the full agenda and featured experts.
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A nervous region wary of the nuclear deal

 

These could be snapshots from an Iranian bazaar, but they were all taken at Shuk Levinsky, a largely Persian market in Tel Aviv.  PC: Eddie Grove
These Iranian bazaar snapshots were actually taken at Tel Aviv’s mainly Persian Shuk Levinsky. PC: Eddie Grove

On Wednesday, the Conflict Management Program at SAIS and MEI hosted a talk entitled After the Deal: A Veteran Journalist’s View from Tehran.  Speakers included Roy Gutman, McClatchy Middle East bureau chief, and Joyce Karam, Washington bureau chief for Al-Hayat. Daniel Serwer of both SAIS and MEI moderated.  Both speakers emphasized the dynamics that caused regional players to be wary of Iran.

 

Early last Spring, Gutman traveled to Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.

 

Mount Hermon, on the border of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Lebanon and Syria.  A couple of weeks after the author skied there, the ski resort was evacuated after a nearby IDF vehicle was struck by an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah. PC: Eddie Grove
Mount Hermon, on the border of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Lebanon and Syria. A couple of weeks after the author skied there, the ski resort was evacuated after a nearby IDF vehicle was struck by an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah. PC: Eddie Grove

In Israel, he observed that the major national security concern wasn’t the Iranian nuclear program, but rather Iran’s conventional threat through the buildup of Hezbollah forces.  Israelis were disappointed that the US was leaving a security vacuum in Syria for Iran to fill.  The Israeli position on the Iran deal is difficult to understand; Israeli politicians oppose it, but Israel’s foreign policy elite considers Iranian conventional forces a larger threat.

Jordanian officials also worried about regional chaos and Iranian influence.  They were baffled by the half-hearted US response to Assad, as well as its airstrike-only response to ISIS.

Jordanian flag flying at the always windy Ajloun Castle.  PC: Eddie Grove
Jordanian flag flying at the always windy Ajloun Castle. PC: Eddie Grove

Egypt is preoccupied by terrorism and the upheaval in Libya, but Egyptian officials are also concerned about Iran’s growing influence and US inaction.

A view of Taba, Egypt from Mount Tzefahot, Eilat, Israel. PC: Eddie Grove
A view of Taba, Egypt from Mount Tzefahot, Eilat, Israel. PC: Eddie Grove

Officials in every government (aside from Turkey’s) spoke of collusion between Turkey and extremists. The Turks think the Iranians know that the US is not a determined counterpart.  They believe the US is appeasing Iran.

Gutman then traveled to Tehran to gauge the mood there.  Iran has come in from the cold after 36 years, but Tehran resents the last 36 years of US policy.  Change in Iran won’t happen fast.  Khamenei has said that Iran’s policy towards the “arrogant” US government won’t change and that Iran will keep supporting its regional allies.

Rosh HaNikra, Israel on the border with Lebanon.  PC: Eddie Grove
Rosh HaNikra, Israel on the border with Lebanon. PC: Eddie Grove

Israel views Hezbollah’s buildup as a direct threat, but Iranian officials told Gutman that the Tehran holds the trigger on Hezbollah’s weapons and won’t pull it unless Israel threatens Lebanon or Iran.  However, a former Iranian diplomat admitted that Iran has no vital interest in Lebanon or the Palestinians.  Iran also appears to have no vital interest in Yemen, but likes seeing Saudi Arabia embroiled in an unwinnable war.  Iran is unalterably opposed to the breakup of Iraq into three states.

The Maronite village of Al-Jish in Israel near the Lebanese border could be seen as a pocket of Lebanese culture inside Israel.  It contains a Maronite church (top right), and a Lebanese restaurant (top left) with delicious Lebanese food (bottom).  PC: Eddie Grove
The Maronite village of Al-Jish, Israel near the Lebanese border could be seen as a pocket of Lebanese culture inside Israel. It contains a Maronite church (top right) and a Lebanese restaurant (top left) with delicious Lebanese food (bottom). PC: Eddie Grove

Iranian officials don’t think the deal is perfect, but still see it as a win-win for both sides.  They view themselves as MENA’s most powerful and stable state.  They are glad that US has accepted them as a regional player and negotiating partner.

After the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Iran filled the vacuum. The Iraqi Army collapsed on Iran’s watch.  Iran does not acknowledge its responsibility for this and ascribes the rise of ISIS to others.  They also believe that foreign forces fought in Deraa and refused to acknowledge Assad’s role in fomenting terrorism by releasing terrorists from prison.  Iranian officials also stated that all sectors of Lebanese society back Hezbollah’s deployment in Syria.  Iran needs a reality check.

Joyce Karam (left), Dr. Daniel Serwer (center), and roy Gutman (right). PC: Eddie Grove
Joyce Karam (left), Dr. Daniel Serwer (center), and roy Gutman (right). PC: Eddie Grove

Iran opposes the creation of a safe zone/no-fly zone in Iraq and has threatened to send basijis into Syria if this happens. Iranians don’t understand the scope of Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe or Iran’s role in it.  There are too many disagreements between the US and Iran to form a regional security agreement now.  The US needs a policy for Syria; if we don’t have a policy, others will fill the vacuum.  The US also needs an official version of what happened in Syria to counter the Iranian invented view of history.

The souq in Muscat, Oman.  Oman helped mediate between Iran and the P5+1 and has good trade relations with Iran.  It welcomed the deal.
The souq in Muscat, Oman. Oman helped mediate between Iran and the P5+1 and has good trade relations with Iran. It welcomed the deal.

Karam noted that the Arab response to the deal is less monolithic than Israel’s, but the GCC and Israel view Iran’s regional behavior similarly.  The UAE, Oman, and Turkey quickly welcomed the deal because they have good trade relations with Iran.  Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar were more cautious.  The Saudis don’t view the deal as US abandonment, but they fear increased Iranian regional meddling.  Arab public opinion has shifted drastically since 2008, when 80% of Arabs viewed Iran positively.  Now only 12% do.  The Arab street is suspicious of the deal.  The US explained the deal to Arab governments, but not to their people.  The Arab street wonders whether the money Iran will gain from sanctions relief will go to funding Iranian students, or to Qassem Suleimani and more chlorine gas, barrel bombs, and Hezbollah fighters for Assad.  Assad is a costly budget item for Iran.  When will Iran realize that Assad can’t win? Nevertheless, Hezbollah keeps getting more involved in Syria.

Karam stated that the Gulf countries obtain commitments from the US at talks like Camp David, but then nothing gets done.  The US is four years behind on Syria and needs an official policy.

Serwer noted in conclusion that the regional issues would be far worse if Iran had, or were about to get, nuclear weapons.

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Nuance in regional reactions to the Iran deal

On Wednesday, the Wilson Center hosted a panel on  “The Iran Nuclear Deal: The View from the Region.” Speakers included Muath Al Wari, Senior Policy Analyst at Center for American Progress, Deborah Amos, International Correspondent for NPR, Shlomo Brom, Visiting Fellow at Center for American Progress and Fahad Nazer, Political Analyst at JTG Inc. The event was moderated by Henri J. Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Al Wari analyzed the UAE response to the nuclear deal. He claimed the UAE concern is less about the nuclear aspect and more about the fact that Iran ran a clandestine program under the authority of a state that is willing to undermine other governments in the region. However, Emiratis have decided to look towards the future, believing President Obama secured the best deal possible. The UAE is now looking at what the deal means for future Iranian encroachment in the region and what the US and other P5 countries will do to constrain Iran. The UAE hopes that Iran will normalize its regional behavior. In the coming days, the Emiratis will study the outcomes of King Salman’s visit to the US.

Al Wari criticized the sectarian portrayal of the nuclear deal. Regional concerns about the deal are linked to the geopolitical security competition. Sectarianism is exacerbated by the competition and contributes to it. His belief is that the deal is an American tool to prevent escalation in the Middle East—the agreement is a formal check on Iranian hegemony and encroachment.

Amos explained that the deal so far is unsurprisingly irrelevant to daily life, but the consequences of the agreement will be tested on the ground. She reiterated Al Wari’s words—the Gulf States want to know if attention will be paid to non-nuclear developments that are heating up. That said, the deal unlocks significant trade potential regionally (especially for the UAE and Oman) and globally. The calculus of power has already shifted, with Europeans sending trade delegations and major American companies, such as Apple, preparing to tap into the Iranian consumer market.

Brom delved into the nuances of the Israeli stance on the nuclear deal. For Israel, Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of it acquiring nuclear weapons has always been a central issue. Indeed, Iran’s nuclear program is the centerpiece of Netanyahu’s foreign policy. He believes he won the elections because of his strong security agenda and perceives Iran as an existential threat. Many Israelis think the combination of a religious and ideological regime with nuclear weapons could lead to Iran striking Israel. However, Netanyahu’s opinion isn’t representative of all Israelis. Many dissenters coming from the Israeli security and foreign policy community, including Brom, believe the agreement is not perfect, but still better than no agreement. A better agreement would have been unlikely.

Like Brom, Nazer also cautioned against making generalizations about regional players. He thinks it is too simplistic to assume that all Saudis think the nuclear deal will usher in an Iranian hegemony with American blessings. Instead, he thinks the Saudi position has shifted slightly. The Saudis are no longer committed to preventing the deal from being implemented. The Saudis support any agreement that prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and guarantees the reinstatement of sanctions if Iran doesn’t comply. After Saudi Foreign Minister Al Jubeir’s visit to Washingon, he openly commended the robust inspection of the verification regime and provision of “snapback” sanctions.

At the same time, the Saudis are maintaining a wary position on the deal. Saudi Arabia is not depending on the US and hoping for the best. High-level Saudi officials have had meetings with Russians, Europeans and other key leaders. Prince Faisal has also said Saudis will expect the same nuclear standards for themselves and should be permitted at least the same levels of uranium enrichment capability as Iran. Prince Bandar has compared the Iran agreement to the nuclear agreement President Clinton signed with North Korea. He feels President Obama is not keeping the lessons of Korea in mind.

The US and Saudi Arabia also have differing threat perceptions. President Obama thinks Saudis need to worry less about an external threat from Iran and focus on the internal implosion stemming from a generation of youths with few hopes for the future. Conversely, the prevailing sentiment in Saudi Arabia is that Iran constitutes a serious threat. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been on polar opposite ends in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. Nazer believes there is a serious credibility gap between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which could lead the Saudis to take matters into their own hands, as they have done in Yemen.

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