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Alternative Futures for Syria: Regional Implications and Challenges for the United States

October 29, 2014 Comments off

Alternative Futures for Syria: Regional Implications and Challenges for the United States
Source: RAND Corporation

The civil war in Syria poses a thorny problem for U.S. policymakers. The conflict has morphed from a popular uprising against an autocratic regime into a multi-sided battle involving government forces, pro-government militias, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, secular/moderate rebels, Kurdish separatists, traditional Islamist rebels, nationalist Salafi-jihadist rebels, and the transnational Salafi-jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) movement. Most neighboring states and several Persian Gulf states have sent arms and money to one or more of the factions in this war. Iran and Russia have consistently supported the Assad regime, including providing advanced weaponry, since the onset of the conflict. The outcome of the conflict will affect Middle East stability and regional political dynamics for years — perhaps decades — and could exacerbate a wider Shi’a-versus-Sunni sectarian conflict in the region.

Momentum has shifted several times during the course of the conflict. Defections from the Syrian army, rapidly growing rebel ranks, and the regime’s loss of key ground convinced many observers early on that the Assad’s demise was only a matter of time. The Assad regime has exploited rebel weaknesses and its own superior weaponry and external support to shift the momentum once again in its favor. The lineup of antagonists is complex and confused. While still seeing the Assad regime as an adversary based on its patron-client relationship with Iran and its implacable hostility toward Israel, U.S. decisionmakers are also dealing with the threats caused by the dramatic recent gains made in Iraq by ISIS and the influence it wields within the Syrian rebel movement. To examine these challenges, this perspective draws on a December 2013 RAND workshop to assess four possible future scenarios for the conflict in Syria: prolonged conflict, regime victory, regime collapse, and negotiated settlement. The authors update and reassess these scenarios based on developments in Syria and Iraq through August 2014 and explore the implications that each has for Syria, the region, and the United States.

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CRS — The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy (September 25, 2014)

October 28, 2014 Comments off

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The UAE has been a significant U.S. partner in Gulf security for more than two decades, and the alliance is extending to the U.S.-led effort against the Islamic State organization. A 1994 U.S.- UAE defense cooperation agreement (DCA) provides for U.S. military use of several UAE facilities, and about 5,000 U.S. military personnel are in the UAE at those facilities. The UAE was the first Gulf state to order the most sophisticated missile defense system sold by the United States, demonstrating support for U.S. efforts to assemble a regional missile defense network against Iran. The UAE has helped pressure Iran by implementing financial and economic sanctions against it, while avoiding antagonizing that large neighbor by maintaining trade and commercial ties with it. The UAE has sought to use a relaxation of tensions produced by ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the international community to try to resolve a territorial dispute with Iran. Yet, suggesting continued wariness of Iranian ambitions in the Gulf, the UAE has sought U.S. assurances that the United States will maintain its commitment to Gulf security.

New From the GAO

October 21, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Combating Terrorism: Strategy to Counter Iran in the Western Hemisphere Has Gaps That State Department Should Address. GAO-14-834, September 29.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-834
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666199.pdf

2. Federal Paid Administrative Leave: Additional Guidance Needed to Improve OPM Data. GAO-15-79, October 17.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-79
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666565.pdf

Country Analysis Brief: Yemen

October 21, 2014 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Yemen
Source: Energy Information Administration

Yemen’s energy sector is in a state of flux. Declining oil production and frequent attacks on Yemen’s energy infrastructure have offset positive developments in the country’s natural gas sector since 2009. Yemen’s difficult security environment complicates the exploration, production, and transport of energy resources in the country, and could undermine the country’s emerging liquefied natural gas (LNG) export sector.

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Progress and Continuing Challenges, CRS Insights (October 1, 2014)

October 8, 2014 Comments off

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Progress and Continuing Challenges, CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

On August 18, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the complete destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons (CW). Despite this significant achievement, serious challenges relating to Syrian CW remain. In early September, the Syrian regime announced previously undeclared chemical weapons research facilities, raising questions about what else it might be concealing. Repeated reports have alleged chlorine gas attacks by the Assad regime. Moreover, press reports speculate that insecure chemical weapons stocks in Syria and Iraq may have gotten into the hands of the Islamic State (ISIL). Most of these questions cannot yet be answered definitively, but the fate of Syria’s CW capabilities warrants continued attention.

Israel’s Iron Dome Anti-Rocket System: U.S. Assistance and Coproduction, CRS Insights (September 30, 2014)

October 8, 2014 Comments off

Israel’s Iron Dome Anti-Rocket System: U.S. Assistance and Coproduction, CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system—along with other Israeli measures such as an early-warning and sheltering system—has been widely credited with protecting the country’s civilian population from projectiles fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. During the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other Gaza-based militants (which Israel refers to as Operation Protective Edge), many lawmakers praised the performance of Iron Dome. On August 1, Congress passed H.J.Res. 76, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Resolution, 2014 (P.L. 113-145), which appropriated an additional $225 million in FY2014 funds for Iron Dome. This brings total U.S. defense appropriations for Iron Dome since FY2011 to $929.3 million. For more information on Iron Dome, see CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel; and CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations.

CRS — Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (October 1, 2014)

October 8, 2014 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, a priority of U.S. policy has been to reduce the perceived threat posed by Iran to a broad range of U.S. interests. However, a common enemy has emerged in the form of the Islamic State organization, reducing gaps in U.S. and Iranian interests somewhat.

During the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. officials identified Iran’s support for militant Middle East groups as a significant threat to U.S. interests and allies. A perceived potential threat from Iran’s nuclear program came to the fore in 2002, and the United States orchestrated broad international economic pressure on Iran to try to compel it to verifiably confine that program to purely peaceful purposes. The pressure has harmed Iran’s economy and might have contributed to the June 2013 election as president of Iran of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned as an advocate of ending Iran’s international isolation. Subsequent multilateral talks with Iran produced an interim agreement (“Joint Plan of Action,” JPA) that halted the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. In advance of a November 24, 2014 deadline for the JPA to expire, the search for a “comprehensive solution” on the nuclear issue remains impeded by substantial differences over Iran’s long-term capacity to enrich uranium Talks to try to finalize a comprehensive deal began September 18 and will continue until that deadline.

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