Volatility is rising across the Middle East as local, regional and international conflicts increasingly intertwine and amplify each other. Four Crisis Group analysts give a 360-degree view of the new risks of overlapping conflicts that involve Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon and Israel.
President Rouhani and Turkish President Erdoğan 4 Oct met in Tehran and pledged to preserve borders in region in light of Iraqi Kurdistan’s 25 Sept independence referendum. U.S. President Trump 13 Oct failed to reissue congressionally-mandated certification of Iran’s compliance with July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); Congress has until 14 Dec to decide whether to restore sanctions waived under JCPOA. Supreme Leader Khamenei 18 Oct said govt would remain committed to agreement until other signatories withdraw. U.S. Treasury 13 Oct blacklisted Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” organisation for supporting its expeditionary Quds Force; in response, IRGC said U.S. military bases within 2,000km missile range were at risk and that Iran would consider U.S. army “ISIS around the world”. Quds Force Commander Soleimani reportedly facilitated Iraqi govt forces’ 16 Oct takeover of Kurdish-held Kirkuk city by convincing Kurdish peshmerga commanders not to fight back (see Iraq).
Four years after plunging into Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has achieved its core aim of preserving the Assad regime. Yet with no clear exit strategy, the Lebanese “Party of God” faces ever greater costs unless it can lower the sectarian flames, open dialogue with non-jihadist rebel groups and help pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
The one-year-old Iran nuclear deal has succeeded in its goal of blocking nuclear proliferation and opening the door to Iranian economic recovery. But it remains in jeopardy unless both Washington and Tehran defend and extend the spirit as well as the letter of the accord.
New frictions in Iraq and Syria threaten Ankara and Tehran’s usually peaceful management of their Middle East rivalries. To rebuild trust and avert open conflict, they should coordinate de-escalation, exchange intelligence and designate representatives to open a new channel between their leaders.
Some in the West hope the nuclear deal with Iran will empower the country’s moderates. But playing Iranian domestic politics directly could backfire. The West should recognise that any change will be gradual, best supported by implementing the nuclear accord, resuming trade, and diplomacy that balances Iranian and Arab interests in the Middle East.
When twelve months of intense negotiations between Iran and the P5+1/EU3+3 ended with yet another extension, sceptics saw this as confirmation that the talks are doomed. But it would be as grave a mistake to underestimate the real progress as to overstate the chances of ultimate success. A landmark agreement is still within reach if both sides adopt more flexible postures on enrichment capacity and sanctions relief.
November’s deadline could be the last chance to avoid a breakdown in the Iran and the P5+1 nuclear talks. Compromise on Iran’s enrichment capacity is key to ending the impasse, requiring both sides to walk back from maximalist positions and focus on realistic solutions.
[Iran's abolition of death penalty for some drug crimes] is a volte-face. The government would surely welcome any measure that could counter the broad campaign by Iran's adversaries to further demonize it.
Hariri as [Lebanon's] Prime Minister created the impression that coexistence with Hezbollah and by extension with Iran was possible; his departure is designed to erase any doubt.
Israel possesses far greater ability to inflict pain, but Hezbollah possesses far greater capacity to absorb it, which means that any large-scale Israeli operation runs the risk of being open-ended.
For months now, [Israel] has been sounding alarm bells about Hezbollah’s and Iran’s growing footprint in Syria, and about the Lebanese capacity to produce precision-guided missiles.
[It is not] plausible to assume [Lebanese Prime Minister] Hariri’s resignation would compel Hezbollah to change its ways. No government can be formed without its consent.
There are now those in the [Middle East] who would like Israel to go to war with Hezbollah and fight a Saudi war to the last Israeli. There is no interest in that here.
President Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear deal is a blow to this multi-national accord, but need not be fatal. The U.S. Congress, Iran and the European co-signatories can still do much to save one of the great diplomatic achievements of the past decade.
Originally published in The New York Times
Doha has become a casualty of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ fights with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. But don’t expect a war.
Originally published in The New York Review of Books