The new sanctions slapped on Iran (and Russia and North Korea) last week by the U.S. Congress—and the sanctions placed the previous week on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by the U.S. Treasury, State, and Justice departments—threaten to make the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA - aka the ...

Next week, on August 2, is the 27th anniversary of the day Saddam’s forces stormed across Iraq’s southern border with the goal of annexing their small neighbor, Kuwait. It took only two days to seize the entire country. During the seven-month occupation, Iraqi soldiers tortured and killed hundreds of civilians, and ...

The ongoing diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and four Arab nations – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt – has exacerbated regional tensions and created a deep rift within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), one of the most important organizations in the Middle East. As part of the ...

With the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors nearing the two-month mark with no resolution in sight, Kuwait has stepped in as a mediator in an effort to resolve the conflict. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Richard LeBaron, former U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, to discuss why Kuwait ...

The use of cyber capabilities to influence geopolitical confrontations has become more and more common. Even those countries who are not major global powers are turning to digital avenues to engage in information warfare and covert influence. The Cipher Brief’s Levi Maxey spoke with Rhea Siers, the former Deputy Associate Director ...

In addition to ethnic divisions and poor governance, the power projection of neighboring countries inside Afghanistan will continue to be a key factor in determining whether the U.S. and our allies will be successful in Afghanistan. The primary mission for the U.S. in Afghanistan continues to be denying ISIS and al ...

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department issued a memorandum stating that foreign countries are required to provide increased information and data about their citizens who are seeking to travel to the U.S. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Rob Richer, former Associate Deputy Director for Operations at ...

President Trump has decided to end the CIA-sponsored program to arm Syrian anti-Assad rebels, according to a Washington Post report on Wednesday. The newspaper quotes U.S. officials as saying the decision to wind down the Obama-era program was made almost one month ago after a meeting in the Oval Office ...

The Trump Administration is ending the covert program to support Syrian rebels fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to the Washington Post. This CIA program, in place since 2013, armed and trained the moderate rebels in the war-torn country, a dynamic disliked by Assad’s main backer – ...

President Donald Trump’s administration slapped fresh sanctions on Iran on Tuesday, shortly after certifying the country is technically complying with the nuclear deal — a move that experts say is a key part of the White House’s approach until the comprehensive review of Iran policy is completed. The Treasury Department ...

More mixed signals have emerged on the rift between Qatar and some of its Arab neighbors, as a new report citing U.S. intelligence officials says the United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari websites to post false information that spurred the region’s diplomatic crisis. Qatar has said its state ...

May was a huge success for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. He was re-elected with a landslide majority (57 percent) in the presidential elections, defeating his hardline competitor, Ebrahim Raisi, and helping his faction win most of the municipal elections in Iran. In most presidential democracies, a popular mandate like this ...

The crisis between an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one side, and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar on the other, shows no signs of abating. Qatar has responded to the list of 13 demands presented to Doha last month. At a meeting ...

The territorial battle against ISIS is nearing its final stages in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has already declared that the ISIS caliphate has fallen and, in Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are pushing deep into the ISIS "capital" of Raqqa. However, as victory looms, new and ...

Nearly three years ago, the Islamic State (ISIS) catapulted to the top of the news worldwide after the group seized vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, used Mosul’s revered Great Mosque of al-Nuri to announce the creation of an Islamic caliphate, executed tens of thousands of civilians, and committed genocide ...

There are two schools of thought about the nature of the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Some experts say the group is nearly vanquished as it struggles to hold on to Mosul, Iraq, and prepares for the inevitable fight for its capital in Raqqa, ...

The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Michael W.S. Ryan, Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, to discuss ISIS’ recent battlefield losses, the group’s current level of influence, and what to expect from ISIS in coming months. The Cipher Brief: Today, ISIS controls significantly less territory than it did ...

Israel faces a vast array of terrorist threats from groups such as Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and ISIS in Syria and the Sinai, as well as from lone-wolf attackers. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Dr. Anat Berko, counterterrorism expert and current member of the ...

The tense standoff between Qatar and a group of Middle East countries that includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates is nearing the one-month mark with no resolution in sight. Events began to unfold on June 4 when the Arab nations abruptly severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, ...

Last Friday, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt provided Qatar with a list of 13 harsh demands that Qatar must meet within 10 days in order to have sanctions lifted, some of which include shutting down the Al Jazeera network, severing all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, reducing ties ...

The dispute between Qatar and its Arab neighbors has now entered its fourth week, causing an uptick in tension throughout the Middle East. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel spoke with Marcelle Wahba, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, about the reasons behind Qatar’s isolation as well as why ...

The White House late Monday night released a statement warning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against launching another chemical weapons attack. The Trump administration said the United States has identified “potential preparations” for an attack that “would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.” “The activities ...

The U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria appears to be nearing its end. In Mosul, Iraqi military forces are now pushing into ISIS’s last pocket of resistance in the Old City as allied militias cut off ISIS forces near Tal Afar. In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces ...

The territorial battle against ISIS is nearing its final stages in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, U.S. coalition-backed Iraqi forces have trapped the remaining ISIS defenders in one tiny pocket of Mosul, and in Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are pushing deep into the ISIS "capital" of Raqqa. However, as ...

The Iraq-Syria border has emerged in recent months as the hottest piece of real estate in the multi-sided struggle between the Islamic State (ISIS), anti-ISIS fighters, and Iran’s militia proxies. Why is this? I’ve stood on the Iraq-Syrian border many times and it is not much to look at. Empty ...

On Friday, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and a number of allied Arab states provided Qatar with a list of 13 steep demands that Doha must meet within 10 days in order to have ruinous sanctions lifted against the tiny Gulf state. Some of these demands include shutting down ...

Last Sunday, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E fighter jet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 bomber in the U.S. military’s first air-to-air kill involving manned aircraft since the 1999 Kosovo campaign. In response, the Russian Ministry of Defense has condemned the incident as “a cynical violation of the sovereignty of the ...

On June 18, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter bomber near the town of al-Tabqa in eastern Syria.  According to coalition sources, the Syrian aircraft had bombed anti-Assad militias fighting Islamic State forces in the region and was shot down as part ...

The only surprising thing about the leadership shakeup ordered on Wednesday by King Salman of Saudi Arabia was the timing. It has long been apparent that the king, 81, was grooming his favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, to succeed him. The young prince was already one of the most ...

After a U.S. Navy F/A-18E shot down a Syrian SU-22 bomber on Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly condemned the action, announced that a military hotline between U.S.-led coalition and Russian forces had been shut down, and declared that any U.S. jets flying west of the Euphrates river ...

Moscow ratcheted up its war of words against the U.S.-led coalition in Syria, after the Pentagon said it downed a Syrian military plane for the first time. That came as Tehran took an unprecedented step of firing ballistic missiles into eastern Syria, against what it called ISIS targets, over the ...

Russia’s Defense Ministry released a statement Friday that it is investigating whether it had killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, along with several other senior ISIS officials, in a May 28 airstrike that targeted a senior ISIS leadership meeting in a suburb of the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, ...

China, for some time, has performed a delicate balancing act in the Middle East. As a major importer of oil from two archrivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Beijing has managed to pursue its economic ambitions despite divisive regional politics. However, after Qatar was ostracized by its Gulf neighbors earlier this ...

Saudi-China bilateral relations took a notable upswing this March after Saudi King Salman and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed landmark economic deals worth approximately $65 billion. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel spoke with Gary Grappo, former U.S. Ambassador to Oman, about Saudi Arabia’s and China’s economic strategies as well as ...

As a major importer of oil from both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and with expanding economic interests in the Middle East, China has a stake in maintaining stability in the volatile region. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Simon Henderson, Director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program ...

Jordan finds itself at a precarious strategic position. The Hashemite Kingdom is located at the heart of a degenerating region and has absorbed millions of refugees despite a floundering economy. This state of affairs has led Jordan to increase economic cooperation with Israel, as it attempts to offset some of ...

Early last month, Russia put forward a “de-escalation” plan for Syria under which major opposition-held territories in western parts of the country, including northwestern Idlib province, northern Homs countryside, the eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus, and parts of southern Syria, would become safe zones and fall under ceasefires to be ...

Rather than take a hard look at past failures and where to go from here, Middle East “experts” are using the Six-Day War’s 50th anniversary to regurgitate old talking points, cast blame on predictably ideological lines and propose meaningless paths back to the negotiating table. In reality, there will be ...

The terrorist attacks on the Iranian Parliament building and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, marked the first time ISIS has been behind a major attack waged inside Iran and appeared to catch authorities by surprise.  At least 12 people were killed and more ...

On Wednesday morning, assailants entered the Iranian Parliament building and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini – founder of the Islamic Republic – armed with assault rifles and explosive vests. Iranian authorities report that both sites have now been retaken and the attackers killed, but the assault has left at least ...

Monday morning, several Middle Eastern countries, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Yemen, Libya's eastern-based government, and the Maldives, announced their intentions to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar within 48 hours. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain gave Qatari citizens two weeks to leave their territory ...

After eight months of grinding conflict, Iraqi commanders are now confident that the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS is in its final phase. Pushing across the Tigris River, Iraqi Security Forces have liberated nearly all of western Mosul and, although defeating ISIS’ last stand in the densely packed urban ...

The battle for the strategic Iraqi city of Mosul has reached its final stage as Iraqi forces close in on the Islamic State’s last stronghold in Mosul’s Old City. The liberation of Mosul, the second-largest Iraqi city and the capital of oil-rich Nineveh province, would mark a watershed moment in ...

After almost eight months of fighting, the battle to liberate Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, from ISIS is nearing its end. The Iraqi army has taken over 90 percent of the city and, although resistance will be fierce in the last remaining pocket of ISIS resistance in the Old City, the ...

During last week’s Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud strongly condemned Iranian support for terrorist groups and militants throughout the Middle East.   “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist ...

Iran’s leaders probably view the idea of an Arab NATO to confront Tehran as a U.S.-directed and Israeli-supported Sunni Muslim alliance against Shia Iran.   Yet the Islamic Republic’s leaders most likely will be thinking, “So what else is new?” And their next thought probably will be, “Why should we ...

The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Emad Kiyaei, Policy Advisor at the American Iranian Council to discuss Iran’s recent elections, U.S. President Donald Trump’s trip to the Middle East, and how Iran could react to the establishment of an “Arab NATO.” The Cipher Brief: Leading up to the ...

President Donald Trump's first overseas visit was "Trumpist" in its ambitions, ambiance, and expanse: the three monotheistic religions, NATO, EU, and G-7 gatherings; a whirlwind of cultural experiences; and "finally Make America Great Again" with commercial and arms sales, investments, and gestures. But the core of the visit was reassurance ...

On the surface, the Iranian election was an impressive display of hope trumping cynicism. Over 70 percent of the population turned out with more than half saying yes to President Hasan Rouhani’s moderate policies and giving a strong rebuke to hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the preferred candidate of Iranian Supreme Leader ...

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington last week to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump. Despite budding tensions over the Trump administration’s decision to arm the Kurdish YPG (Peoples’ Protection Units) militia in Syria, which Erdogan considers to be a terrorist organization, the meeting largely went off without a ...