Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

25
Apr

It’s probably smart to view yesterday’s deal between the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas—in which the two groups agreed to create a consensus government and hold elections later this year—with some skepticism. Announced with similar fanfare, accords in Cairo in 2011 and in Doha in 2012 went nowhere, with neither side believing it had more to gain than lose from agreeing to share power.

There are reasons to believe this time is different, though. It came after the first delegation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders sent to Gaza since the brutal 2007 Fatah-Hamas civil war. The agreement was signed in Palestine—in Gaza City, to be exact—rather than a foreign capital. What’s more, reconciliation remains hugely popular amongst Palestinians. In March 2011, with anti-government protests spreading across the region, tens of thousands turned out in Gaza and the West Bank to call for an end to the division. An April 2013 poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center found that over 90 percent favored reconciliation between the two factions.

It’s important to recognize the extent to which internal Palestinian political dynamics have driven the move, with both factions under enormous pressure. Amid what its leaders proclaimed an “Islamic Awakening” in the region, Hamas had taken a bullish view of its prospects, assuming it would benefit from the coming wave of Islamist-dominated governments in the region. But it has seen its fortunes turn sharply over the last year. The July 2013 Egyptian coup removed the supportive government of Mohammed Morsi, dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas was founded as the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood). Egypt’s new military government has closed down the majority of the smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border, severely diminishing the blockaded strip’s access to the outside world and removing a key source of revenue for Hamas, which levies taxes on the tunnel trade

With the negotiations with Israel (which he entered against the wishes of the majority of his own party) now on life-support, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clearly sees reconciliation as something to boost his flagging popularity and at a time when he is in a relatively stronger position vis a vis Hamas. One question is whether he sees this move as something to enhance his position in negotiations with Israel, as a substitute for those negotiations, or possibly both—the latter in case, the former completely collapses. Read more…

Matthew Duss is a foreign policy analyst and a contributing writer for the Prospect. Published on April 24 in http://prospect.org

22
Apr

As Afghans await the results of the April 5 presidential election, another historic transition is taking place — the full withdrawal of international coalition forces from the country by Dec. 31, 2014.

That’s when NATO’s combat mission expires, ending 13 years of foreign military presence in Afghanistan since US-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001.

By joint agreement, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) are disengaging from combat activities and handing over security to Afghan forces.

They’re also shipping home over a decade’s accumulation of personnel and equipment. The logistical pull-out — known as a “retrograde” in military terms — is nearly unprecedented in scope. Foreign Policy explains:

“…in raw tonnage, it’s the biggest single military logistical undertaking ever. For size and complexity, think of something in between D-Day and the moon landing.” 

Here’s a look at what’s involved in sending (nearly) everything and everyone home from Afghanistan.

 

THE PROCESS

 

1. Tens of thousands of combat troops must be sent home.


(Vyacheslav Oseledko via AFP/Getty Images)

There are now 51,100 ISAF troops from 48 contributing countries — a huge drop from peak levels in 2011 of 140,000 troops. Today the top five contributors are the United States (33,500), the United Kingdom (5,200), Germany (2,730), Italy (2,019), Jordan (1,066) and Romania (1,021). “The challenge they have now is backward planning so that they are able to retrieve, clean, repair and redeploy all the gear they can — and then redeploy themselves,”reports Stars and Stripes.

 

2. Coalition bases must be closed and transferred to Afghan forces.


Soldiers demolish and haul away structures on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank on March 26, 2014 near Pul-e Alam, Afghanistan. (Getty Images)

For the last two years, coalition forces have been closing forward operating bases and combat outposts and handing them over to the Afghan National Security Forces. The number of bases and outposts has dropped from 850 down to 90. The goal is to get down to 10 to 12 bases by the end of the year, said former ISAF commander General John Allen. Personnel are also“descoping” the bases — emptying them of vehicles, weapons, equipment and other supplies, which are sent to one of several cargo yards for inventory, assessment and processing. Anything deemed “mission essential” is prepared for redistribution to active units. Everything else is transported home, transferred to Afghan forces, sold to “nearby friendly nations” or scrapped locally.  Read more…

 

Written By Sarah Dougherty; Published in the Global Post on 19 April: http://www.globalpost.com

 

11
Apr

 

The self-immolation of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon last month is a harrowing reminder of the desperate circumstances of those who have fled the war. But the hardship extends beyond just Syrians. Today, Lebanon and Jordan provide sanctuary to one million and some 600,000 Syrian refugees, respectively – about 20 and 10 percent of their respective populations – and the social and economic stresses are taking a heavy toll. Worse, the prospect that many of these refugees might never return home threatens the long-term stability of these states.

 

Demography is a central problem for Lebanon. Syrian exiles are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, and the influx has skewed Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. Adding to the religious strains are the ubiquitous complaints about Syrian workers driving down wages, and the burden refugees place on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. According to a recent World Bank report, over the next three years, Lebanon – which had a $4 billion budget deficit in 2013 – will require an additional $2 billion just to provide basic services to its new residents and to “address the expected additional impoverishment of the Lebanese people generated from the Syrian crisis.”

 

Absorbing refugees is also a burden for Jordan. While a fifth of Syrian expatriates currently reside in refugee camps, most live in the kingdom’s cities, where they are driving up rents – by up to 25 percent, the United Nations says – and taking scarce jobs from Jordanians who are already enduring an unofficial unemployment rate estimated at 30 percent. At the same time, despite a substantial budget deficit, Amman is providing free healthcare and education to these Syrians, 63 percent of whom receive monetary assistance from the United Nations.

 

Not surprisingly, the kingdom’s generosity toward its Syrian guests is starting to fuel resentment among the locals. As one Jordanian tribesman complained to me a few months ago, “They are taking the food out of our mouths.”

 

As refugees continue to flow into Lebanon and Jordan, tensions are mounting. Until now, incidents of violence between Syrians and host country nationals have been relatively limited. The worst attack occurred in December, when residents of a Lebanese village in the Beqa Valley reportedly torched a makeshift refugee encampment, leaving hundreds without shelter. To date, the incidents have been isolated, but a more concerted and sustained popular backlash is likely to materialize if the Syrian refugee crisis persists.

 

Alas, there is good reason to believe the problem will endure for some time. Syria’s nominally Shiite al-Assad regime is currently in no danger of imminent collapse. Meanwhile, the largely Sunni Muslim opposition is divided as secular fighters battle not only the regime, but rival Islamist militias, many of which are affiliated with al Qaeda. And even if al-Assad falls, Syria seems destined to face a lengthy and bloody struggle between ideologically opposed Sunni militias for the future of the state. At any rate, with an estimated one-third of all Syrian housing destroyed, there is little to which the refugees can return. Read more…

David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.   Published on April 10 in http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

 

7
Apr

seminar 4

On Friday 4 April, the IE School of International Relations in cooperation with the LSE enterprise and Citpax,  hosted  Dr. Fawaz Gerges , Professor of International Relations at the Middle East  Centre of the London School of Economics and Dr. Peter Jones, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. In this very interesting seminar both academics addressed the complicated issue of Iran’s relations with Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

According to the Dr. Gerges, in order to understand these complex relationships, one has to acknowledge the deep rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region. This rivalry is considered to be “the Cold War in the Middle East” and has been ongoing for decades. The sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites is central but it is not the only cause of the rift between the two countries. According to Dr. Gerges the geostrategic struggle between the two nations is even more important. This would explain Iran’s current role in the Syrian conflict. In order to consolidate and deepen its influence in the region, Iran has made a critical commitment to prop up the Assad regime in Syria at any cost. They have been sending weapons and combatants from Hezbollah in order to uphold the regime. It is in large part because of the Hezbollah forces fighting on his side that Assad is still in power almost three years into the conflict. This investment in Syria comes at great cost for Iran but for them the cost is offset by the benefits of influence in Syria and the direct access it gives the country to Israel.

One of the clear costs of Hezbollah’s role in Syria is reflected in its diminished influence in Lebanon. Until now Hezbollah represented a movement that was even more important and influential than the formal state in Lebanon. Their role propping up a dictatorship that is killing civilians has greatly undermined Hezbollah’s legitimacy (and hence Iran’s standing) in Lebanon. The sectarian fault line between Sunnis and Shiites that we see in Syria is spreading to Lebanon and to Iraq and could polarize the entire region. Saudi Arabia is adding fuel to the sectarian divide.

Finally, according to Dr. Gerges, Iran also plays an instrumental role in Iraq today and assists the government in battling Sunni minorities and in controlling the Shiite majority. Iran funnels its weapons and assistance to Syria through Iraq. It could not do so without the approval of the Iraqi government.

To Dr. Gerges, Iran’s strategy is one of defensive realism. It does not want to invade or attack its neighbors but it does wish to consolidate its influence. Dr. Peter Jones in his comments agreed with almost all of Dr. Gerges’ remarks but did disagree in one thing. According to him, Iran does not have a clear strategy. It has a defensive set of activities. It is only reacting to events, such as the Arab Spring, as they unfold, always two steps behind.

The audience had many questions for both speakers, but perhaps the most heartfelt one came from one of the IE students who asked: what about the humanitarian catastrophe that is currently occurring in Syria? What can we do to stop it? Both speakers were very pessimistic about the prospects of the Syrian conflict ending any time soon. For Dr. Peter Jones, the only glimmer of hope came from the possibility of a nuclear agreement between the US and Iran. Only then would Iran lose interest in having access to Israel and hence might no longer prop up Assad. But the possibility is quite low indeed.

25
Mar

 

International Relations

IE School of International Relations is pleased to invite you to “Iran & the Conflicts in Syria, Lebanon and Irak: Troubled Waters or Room for a Conversation” with Dr. Fawaz Gerges and Dr. Peter Jones

Iran’s relations with the Arab world are complex and at first sight, seemingly contradictory. Today, as negotiations between the West and Iran advance on the nuclear file and new regional alignments are in play, the repercussions of Iran´s relations with Iraq, Syria and Lebanon may become more important than ever. Dr. Gerges will address these themes and the importance of these countries for Iran.  Dr. Peter Jones will comment from his perspective.

Dr. Fawaz Gerges is Professor of International Relations in the Middle East  Centre of the London School of Economics, and holds the Emirates Chair in Contemporary Middle East Studies. His special interests include Islam and the political process, social movements, including mainstream Islamist movements and jihadist groups, Arab politics and Muslim politics in the 20th century, the international relations of the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, state and society in the Middle East, American foreign policy towards the Muslim world, the modern history of the Middle East, history of conflict, diplomacy and foreign policy, and historical sociology. His most recent book, “The New Middle East” is published by Cambridge University Press. Dr. Gerges is also a regular commentator on CNN.

Dr. Peter Jones is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. He is also an Annenberg distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Before joining the University of Ottawa, he served as a senior analyst for the Security and Intelligence Secretariat of the Privy Council of Canada. Previously, he held various positions related to international affairs and security at the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Privy Council Office, and the Department of Defence (Canada). An expert on security in the Middle East and track-two diplomacy, he led the Middle East Security and Arms Control Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden in the 1990s. He is presently leading several Track Two initiatives in South Asia and the Middle East, and is also widely published on Iran.

The event will take place on Friday 4 April at 16.30h in Room 402 (Maria de Molina 31)

Please kindly confirm attendance to International.Relations@ie.edu

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