There is momentum to try and revive the peace talks; this is reflected in the appointment of a new UN envoy for Syria, the ceasefire—albeit fragile—in Idlib, and the Istanbul summit. However, to advance a credible political process in Syria while avoiding the same long-standing obstacles, it would behoove the principal actors to consider five key policies: 1) reach a permanent and sustainable ceasefire in Idlib; 2) renew direct US-Russian talks on Syria between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; 3) remove the issue of Assad’s fate from talks, at this point, to help launch the process and ensure confidence-building measures; 4) include the United States and Iran in a new group on Syria that can discuss how to advance this process; and 5) clarify the mandate of the constitutional committee and place it within a defined political framework. Most importantly, without a clear and committed US policy, the Syrian conflict will continue to evolve in the same pattern, and this might very well lead to further hostilities down the road. Click here to read my latest policy analysis.
On September 17,
Four months after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was designated to lead a national unity government on May 24, there appears to be no end in sight for the process of forming the next cabinet. There are several internal and external factors behind a stalemate that seems to be a blessing in disguise because it is delaying a looming political confrontation between the country’s ruling elites about several domestic and regional issues. Click here read my latest policy analysis.
If the United States is serious about saving Idlib, policy steps are required beyond rhetoric, including mending fences with Turkey and engaging Russia on Syria. While the Pentagon is clearly linking the presence of US forces in Syria to advancing a UN-sponsored political process, this approach does not seem widely shared by officials in the Trump Administration since it would most likely require engaging Moscow. In return, Russian officials aim to seize control of Idlib in the quickest way possible—they are not interested in a protracted offensive. Washington is making this task more difficult but not impossible. Click here to read my latest policy analysis.
The defense budget also disregards the fact that the United States now has more foes and fewer allies in the Middle East because of the Trump Administration’s approach. The lack of international support for the renewed US sanctions on Iran and the emergence of a Russian-Turkish-Iranian alliance complicate Washington’s ability to confront Iran diplomatically. What masks this reluctance to deter Iran effectively is the unprecedented American support for Israel. Further, the FY 2019 defense budget entrusts the Pentagon to come up with an Iran strategy that seems no different from the current US approach to the Middle East. Click here to read my latest policy analysis.
After nearly seven years of unrest in Syria, Israel’s policy toward its next-door neighbor is coming full circle and the repeated idiom of “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know” has officially materialized. Israel opted to coexist with the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and to return to the established stability in the occupied Golan Heights, which has continued for over four decades. This time, however, Israel is enforcing its own rules of engagement and Russia is replacing the United States as the guarantor to keep Iran and its proxies away from southwestern Syria. Click here to read my latest policy analysis.
The imminent opening of Nasib could revitalize commercial trade activities in the Levant. However, the end of the Syrian war should not mean a return to business as usual. The Syrian regime is not taking concrete steps that reflect a tangible change of behavior. The United States and Europe can use the leverage of their sanctions on the Syrian regime to urge Moscow to pressure Assad. However, the regional dynamics might force a new reality as Syria’s neighbors are eager to restore trade and provide relief for their economies. Click here to read my latest analysis.
Lebanon is ahead of the curve in the process of returning Syrian refugees because the question of who controls the border area has been resolved, but there are logistical and political challenges ahead. Jordan could either face a new refugee crisis or see a swift return of refugees if the outcome in southwestern Syria serves Jordanian interests. No matter what happens in the coming months, a large-scale return is unlikely in either Jordan or Lebanon. The return process will not be completed overnight and will take years. Click here to read my latest policy analysis.
On May 6, Lebanon will hold its first legislative elections since 2009 that will rearrange the country’s political landscape. Under new rules and gerrymandering, these general elections will merely redraw the representation of powers of the same ruling class. They are expected to reinforce the alliances of the 2016 deal that elected General Michel Aoun President following nearly two and a half years of vacuum at the top of the executive branch. Click here to read my latest policy analysis.