The goal of this rubric is to filter and promote the recent scholarship on the Middle East coming from the leading IR and Area Studies journals. The Regional Security Knowledge Hub team periodically refreshes the list, in winter, spring, summer and autumn. If you are interested in getting updates on the new content, please subscribe to our newsletter.
“The ‘New Great Game’ in the Eastern Mediterranean“, by Aylin G. Gürzel Aka, Aslıhan Engin Bozoglu, Isbandiyar Hashimov, and Afet Pulhan, Israel Affairs, 28 (1): 16-27 (2022).
This article examines the vicissitudes in regional affairs in the Eastern Mediterranean and their impact on the geopolitics of energy and geo-cultural realities. Framing the ‘logic of competition’ (energy market realities/geo-economics) and securitisation of energy politics by focusing on different scenarios, it explores the significance of international supply chains; the consequences of the emergence of Israel as a regional gas supplier superpower; Turkey’s uncertain position as an energy barrier or bridge; and the role played by multinational companies (MNCs), the so-called ‘new great gamers’. The scope of the game has expanded and spilled over from the Black Sea region to the Eastern Mediterranean. In this context, Israel’s geopolitical approach is significant in the pursuit of wider economic and security interests.
“The Israeli Navy vs. Hamas and Hezbollah“, by Ehud Eilam, Israel Affairs, 28 (1): 137-144 (2022).
The Israeli navy prepares to confront Arab non-state actors, mostly Hamas and Hezbollah. Hezbollah might attack Israel’s sea lanes in the Mediterranean Sea, while both Hamas and Hezbollah might strike Israel’s natural gas rigs and the Israeli coastline, where most of the Jewish state’s population and infrastructure are located. The Israeli navy will support ground forces by gathering intelligence and by striking targets. Yet, the Israeli navy does not have significant firepower so the IAF will assist in this matter. The Israeli navy also lacks the ability to conduct vast amphibious operations. The IDF can invest in this field since such a manoeuvre can be a game changer.
“Israeli-Iranian Relations: Past Friendship, Current Hostility“, by Marta Furlan, Israel Affairs, 28 (2): 170-183 (2022).
With decades of multilayered close cooperation transformed into outright hostility, Iran and Israel have been trying to strengthen their strategic posture vis-à-vis each other: Israel by attacking Iranian-related targets in Syria and befriending Arab countries; Iran by supporting armed militias and terror organisations and pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. While neither state seems interested in military confrontation, miscalculations can never be fully excluded.In the complex game of wars, peace agreements, and secret diplomacy characterising the Middle East over the past century it is particularly instructive to explore the dynamics between Israel and Iran. Over the past years, a series of developments have inflamed tensions between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic: Iran’s unprecedented expansion across the region in general and its military entrenchment in Syria, in particular; the uncertainties, fears, and debates attending Tehran’s nuclear weapons program; the ascent of President Donald Trump to the White House and his fiercely anti-Iranian rhetoric and foreign policy that was welcomed and encouraged by the Israeli government; and the 2020 peace agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. However, relations between Jerusalem and Tehran have not always followed this antagonistic course: there was a time when the two states were engaged in multifaceted political, economic, and security cooperation, among other fields. Yet this alliance, which sought to advance Israeli-Iranian interests in the face of an implacably hostile Arab world, was ended in one fell swoop in 1979 after the overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of the Islamic Republic with its outright articulation of Israel’s destruction. In what follows, this article reviews the history of Israeli-Iranian relations, analyzes their current status, and attempts to assess their likely progress in the immediate future.
“The Effects of Islamization on Muslim-Christian Relations Within Israel’s Arab Community Before and After the ‘Arab Spring’“, by Ilan Shdema, Ido Zelkovitz, and Moshe Sharabi, Israel Affairs, 28 (2): 208-231 (2022).
This article examines the effects of Islamisation processes among Israeli Muslim Arabs on their intercommunal relations with Christian Arabs before and after the ‘Arab Spring’, based on 45 in-depth interviews held prior to and after this momentous event. The findings show the complex role played by Islamisation in Muslim-Christian relations, causing tensions and distancing at times while promoting intercommunal cooperation on other instances. They also reveal that in addition to the Islamic Movement, three other main socio-religious subsets played a role in Islamisation: secular, traditional and Salafi. Finally, since the onset of the ‘Arab Spring’, the religious identity of Israeli Muslims has remained central but the power of Islamic segments seems to have declined. Under these circumstances, Muslims and Christians tended to grow socially distant from each other, though no substantial tensions were evident.
“The Munich massacre and the proliferation of counterterrorism special operation forces“, by Ronit Berger Hobson, and Ami Pedahzur, Israel Affairs 28 (4): 625-637 (2022).
The attack on members of the Israeli team during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, was a critical juncture in the understanding of terrorism as theatre and in the fusion between counterterrorism and special operation forces. It created a path dependency in the way the terrorist threat is perceived and handled. For Israel, the attack was one in an ever increasing and constantly changing terrorist threat that helped shape its security apparatus and led to the proliferation of special operation forces units within the military, police and border police. Globally, the attack led to a spur in the establishment of special operation units with specific counterterrorism and hostage rescuing expertise. Overall, the media coverage of the Munich massacre and the failure of the German security forces in handling the crisis contributed to the survivability of special operation forces units. These units specialised in counterterrorism operations and later-on appropriated other types of missions and responsibilities while tightening their political ties and enhancing their public image. Most notably of these was the Israeli Sayeret Matkal. In recent decades, governments around the world have come to perceive terrorism as a military challenge. The war on terror that the United States and its allies declared in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks is the most prominent example of this perspective. Not surprisingly, the architects of the war on terror have placed Special Operations Forces (SOF), the most proficient combat military units of their respective armed forces, at the forefront of the campaign. Assuming a historical-institutionalist perspective, this article argues that the attack on the Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympic Games was both an Israeli and a global critical juncture. It brought terrorism to the top of the agenda of policymakers around the world and framed it as a military threat. Moreover, in the absence of previous experience with such a phenomenon, let alone available units that specialise in hostage rescue missions, western countries adopted the model that Israel set several months earlier during the successful rescue of the passengers on board Sabena Flight 571. In the months following the Munich Massacre, many countries established special hostage rescue units within the armed forces, gendarmerie, or police. The remainder of this article will proceed as follows. It begins with the rise of media oriented international terrorism, and discusses the hijacking of Sabena Flight 571 and the rescue of the hostages by Sayeret Matkal. It then analyses the Munich Olympic Massacre and frames it as a critical juncture. It proceeds to discuss the rise of hostage rescue units in response to the Munich massacre and delves into the Israeli case in more detail to present the ever-expanding role of counterterrorism operations within the Israeli SOF community and the costs of this trajectory. The article concludes with a summary of the main theoretical and empirical lessons learned.
“The Regional-Supremacy Trap: Disorder in the Middle East”, by Seyed Masoud Mousavi Shafaee, Vali Golmohammadi“Middle East Policy, 29 (1): 61-73 (2022).
This article analyzes the logic of recent instability and disorder in the Middle East. It offers two interrelated arguments. First, the region has turned into a battle zone in the aftermath of US retrenchment. The United States and other external powers refrained from direct engagement in shaping Middle Eastern order and, therefore, aspirant regional powers were prompted to redesign that order. Second, what makes instability and disorder a geopolitical feature of the Middle East is the “regional-supremacy trap,” the seduction of a power vacuum and a desire for regional hegemony, a trap that draws all influential actors into a series of endless and cumulative conflicts. According to our findings, there is a meaningful relationship between the instability and the regional power struggle for supremacy in the post-American Middle East. As there is no sign of cooperative mechanisms for shaping the regional order by the major Middle Eastern actors, the syndrome of disorder will continue for the foreseeable future.
“Iran’s Water Security: An Emerging Challenge“, by Robert Czulda, Middle East Policy, 29 (2): 113-123 (2022).
Water and water management are no longer related to environmental studies. There is a very strong link between water and a state’s security, as well as its survival and development. A decline in water availability may lead to a collapse or even the extinction of a whole civilization. Sometimes referred to as a “water-bankrupt” state, Iran is a case that underlines the close relation between water and security, from the perspective of survival and opportunities for development. Without a doubt, the Islamic Republic of Iran is among those countries that are the most affected by climate change and low water levels. The main goal of this paper is to analyze challenges related to water in Iran, including the political, security, economic, and social dimensions.
“Weaponizing Interdependence in the Middle East“, by Ariel I. Ahram, Middle East Policy, 29 (3): 43-47 (2022).
Global interdependence was supposed to herald a new age of peaceful cooperation. America’s global leadership in many ways derives from its ability to maintain, augment, and protect mutually advantageous interactions. Yet the United States has also tried to use its dominance in networks of finance, trade, and communications as a tool of coercion. No region has been more affected by such weaponized interdependence (WI) than the Middle East. But WI, enacted through various forms of direct and indirect sanctions and embargoes, has a spotty record of success. WI is typically coupled with military force and usually targeted against isolated and weak opponents. WI has contributed to several of the region’s gravest humanitarian crises, including Iraq in the 1990s and Yemen since 2014. This has cost the United States support from regional states and from the proverbial “street.” Moreover, targets often find ways to upgrade and deepen their repression as they adapt to network restrictions. The United States must be prudent in selecting targets for WI sanctions, broader in recruiting allies for its WI campaigns, and transparent about the humanitarian costs that WI imposes.
“A Shared Vision: Security Convergence between the Gulf and Israel“, by Elham Fakhro and Tareq Baconi, Journal of Palestine Studies 51 (3): 50-55 (2022).
This essay provides an overview of the growing convergence of interests between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, the joint signatories to the 2020 Abraham Accords. It argues that the two Gulf states increasingly view Israel as an attractive model to emulate in terms of the management of internal dissent and external security. It details how both sides are seeking to develop a joint regional security architecture that mitigates their shared concerns around a possible return by the United States to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), as well as the Gulf states’ specific anxiety about a broader US drawdown in the region. The analysis highlights how this new framework built around a common securitized approach is also intended to further the objectives of the two Gulf monarchies to lead the course of regional affairs.
“Rethinking Armed Groups and Order: Syria and the Rise of Militiatocracies“, by Yaniv Voller, International Affairs, 98 (3): 853–871 (2022).
In recent years, the relations between weak central governments and armed groups in the periphery have attracted great attention. Rebels, warlords and other actors have not only undermined the authorities’ grip on power, but gradually come to shape the nature of governance and political system in their countries. Warlordism, rebelocracies and aliocracies are just a few of the political systems identified by students of conflict and armed groups. However, the literature has generally overlooked one category of armed groups and their implications on political order: pro-government militias (PGMs). As PGMs have become ubiquitous in civil wars, this article identifies a new political order emerging in countries where central governments have become reliant on PGMs in counter-insurgency operations. The article defines this order as a militiatocracy. Unlike armed groups in other political orders, PGMs do not seek to overthrow, undermine or replace the central government. Instead, in militiatocracies, PGMs and central governments develop symbiotic relations, which on the one hand help the government to survive an insurgency, but on the other allow militia leaders to secure an increasing presence in politics. The article illustrates the emergence and nature of militiatocracies by employing the case of Syria during the civil war.
“UN Peacekeeping Missions in the Middle East: A Twenty-First Century Review“, by Zachary Myers, and Walter Dorn, International Peacekeeping, 29 (3): 413-435 (2022).
While new ‘multidimensional’ peacekeeping missions emerged at the end of the Cold War, more ‘traditional’ monitoring missions continue to operate. This work reviews the three current peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, with mandates to monitor buffer lines or zones between Israel and its previously warring neighbours: the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). We provide an overview of these three missions, their mandates, the circumstances from which they emerged and evolved. We then consider causal factors that have contributed to their effectiveness over the years and examine how such factors apply in the current state of these missions. Finally, noting that the region evolves and so must the missions, we offer recommendations for how they could remain effective into the future by investing in new technological capabilities and maintaining the integration between their analysis units.
“Foreign sponsorship of pro-government militias fighting Syria’s insurgency: Whither proxy wars?“, by Reinoud Leenders, and Antonio Giustozzi, Mediterranean Politics, 27(5): 614-643 (2022).
Exploring the role of foreign-sponsored pro-government militias in counter-insurgency efforts, this article shows how the proxy war concept maps onto the Syrian conflict as we demonstrate both its contributions and limitations. Drawing on rare access to Syrian and foreign security actors inside Syria, we argue that the Syrian war, while rightly labelled a proxy war, sits uneasily with and at times even contradicts a set of scholarly assumptions and emphases on proxy wars when looked at from a counter-insurgency perspective. Accordingly, proxies were relevant not just as rebels but also as counter-insurgents. Sponsors included state and non-state actors alike, were manifold, and did not necessarily have exclusive relations to their proxies. They were also much more intensely involved with their proxies than generally expected from a war at arm’s length. Principal–agent relations this way ceased to be dyadic and hierarchical. What emerged was a heterarchical order, with parallel hierarchies tying proxies to their sponsors fiercely in competition with one another. This allowed and encouraged proxies to carve out leverage and agency of their own just as it fed into the Syrian regime’s resilience in averting a ‘double crisis of sovereignty’. Given the scale and success of its counter-insurgency efforts, the Syrian case calls for reconsidering proxy wars of the past while it may constitute a watershed development for how proxy wars are to be waged in the future.
“Entrusted norms: security, trust, and betrayal in the Gulf Cooperation Council crisis”, by Vincent Charles Keating, Lucy M Abbott, European Journal of International Relations, published online 14 September 2021.
Abstract: Combining scholarship on norms and trust in International Relations, this article puts forward the concept of entrusted norms as a novel means to understand certain dynamics of cooperation and conflict in international politics. Entrusted norms differ from non-entrusted norms both in the manner that they are policed and in the reaction to their infringement. In the first case, there are few formal hedging mechanisms taken against potential defection. In the second case, when broken, they result in a betrayal reaction where a return to the behavioral status quo is insufficient to return to the political status quo. We illustrate the analytical usefulness of entrusted norms through an examination of the established norms of diplomacy within the Gulf Cooperation Council, paying particular attention to interactions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the post-Arab Spring period. We argue that the perception of Qatar’s defection from an entrusted norm, the preservation of individual and collective dignity, contributed to the 2014 diplomatic rupture between these two states and set in motion a betrayal/attempted reconciliation cycle, where even Qatar’s attempts to move back to the behavioral status quo prior to the fallout have been insufficient to fully repair the relationship. In addition to providing a novel interpretation to this case, this paper highlights the need for further theoretical consideration of the severity and duration of punishment after norm transgression within social constructivism, reinforces the theoretical connection between social structures and emotions, and advocates for an expansion in the domains of trust that we study.
“Desert Shield of the Republic? A Realist Case for Abandoning the Middle East”, by David Blagden, Patrick Porter, Security Studies 30 (1): 5–48, 2021.
Abstract: Political realists disagree on what America should “do” and “be” in the Middle East. All are skeptical toward extravagant geopolitical projects to transform the region. Yet they differ over whether hegemony in the Gulf and its wider environs are worth the substantial investment of blood and treasure. Hegemonic “primacy realism” finds the commitment effective and affordable, and that Washington should stay to stabilize the region to ensure a favorable concentration of power. There is an alternative “shield of the republic” realism, however, which views the pursuit of armed supremacy in the Middle East as harming political order at home, reducing security more than generating it, and costing too much for too little gain. It involves interests that are either manageable from a remove or largely generated by being there in the first place. In this article, we lay out the latter position, arguing that the unruly Gulf is increasingly peripheral to US national interests. The region is losing its salience grand strategically, entanglement and continuous war damage republican liberties, and the calculus of whether continued hegemony is “worth it” has shifted decisively toward the downside. The time for abandonment has come.
“Europe and the ‘New’ Middle East: Geopolitical shifts and strategic choices”, by Silvia Colombo, Eduard Soler i Lecha, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 23 (3): 403–422, 2021.
Abstract: The Middle East has witnessed major geopolitical shifts since 2011 that range from the growing influence of the Gulf states, the pivot to Africa of many of the region’s countries and the new dynamics of global penetration, to the proliferation of regional cleavages and intra-state conflicts, as well as more volatile alliances and rivalries. This article assesses the implications of those shifts for the European Union and its capacity to shape or adapt to new realities. In the past continuities have tended to prevail in the EU’s strategies, policies and toolbox vis-à-vis the region. The intensity of the transformations the Middle East is going through as well as their impact on Europe itself may oblige the EU to make a move now. Europe’s leverage and credibility are at stake.
“China and New Middle East”, by Bingbing Wu, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 23 (3): 443–457, 2021.
Abstract: A New Middle East is emerging, which is shaped by the result of geo-strategic competitions in the region among key state actors. The power structure of the new Middle East can be summarized as a weakened and divided Arab world facing more powerful non-Arab actors, which has conditioned the emergence of three significant camps in the region. Major regional state actors and some sub-state armed actors are playing an increasing role in the geo-strategic competitions in the focal point countries of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Libya. China has important interests in the Middle East, and key elements of its policy are taking shape. Institutional mechanisms of cooperation have been created and a network of partnerships with some regional countries has been established. The Belt and Road Initiative remains the key framework for China’s cooperation with the region.
“Russia and the New Middle East”, by Leonid Issaev, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 23 (3): 423–442, 2021.
Abstract: Russian policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has undergone significant changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow’s actions in the region have began to acquire a less ideologically driving and more pragmatic character. However, the Arab Spring and conflict in Ukraine have underscored a more aggressive policy on the part of Russia, the quintessence of which was military intervention in an armed conflict far from its borders, in Syria. Largely Russian intervention to Syria was a tool for Kremlin to resolve internal problems, and a bargaining chip in relations with global and regional actors. At the same time the declining in public interest in foreign policy, as well as the high costs of military presence in the Middle East, in the short term will force the Kremlin to respond to demands from domestic audiences. The resolution of this problem will define the future of Russia in the MENA region. It will either be an ‘honest broker’ in regional conflicts, or have to be content with the role of ‘junior partner’ to Washington, Beijing or other actors.
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