In the perennial effort to deduce the likely evolution of the tumultuous relationship between the United States and Iran, all eyes today seem to be trained on Washington. This is understandable; after all, the election of Donald Trump appears to be generating a marked shift away from the Obama Administration’s ...

As the Islamic Republic readies itself for another presidential election in May 2017, now is a good time to size up the state of affairs in Iranian political leadership.  Many of the leading figures in the Islamic Republic have been major players on a national level since the 1979 revolution ...

“America has lost.” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte used this phrase last October when announcing his split from the United States and his country’s realignment toward China. The fate of the United States in the Philippines mirrors its foreign engagements over the last eight years, particularly in the Middle East. The ...

The United States and the oil-rich Gulf Arab states have long been traditional allies. But now the Gulf states – collectively known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – are shifting some focus to the east and firming up ties with Moscow. It started with Syria. “One reason the GCC ...

Many U.S. policymakers have concluded that the Iranian government is an implacable enemy of the U.S. and that regime change is the only way to ultimately resolve our governments' hostility. However, developing a strategy that balances deterrence with constructive diplomacy could lead to a new, more effective path forward in ...

President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order on Monday, temporarily halting entry into the country for people without valid visas from six predominantly Muslim countries and suspending the United States’ refugee program. This is a somewhat narrower version of the travel ban the President signed just a week after ...

U.S. President Donald Trump and his Administration have been quick to use forceful rhetoric when discussing U.S. policy towards Iran during their first five weeks in office. However, whether a strong-armed approach to Iran is in fact the most effective direction for U.S.-Iranian relations is an open question. Early on ...

U.S.-Iran tensions are likely to rise in the coming months. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany) has been roundly criticized by President Donald Trump and others, including some lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The U.S. ...

Like it or not, the Trump Administration will have to pay attention to Iran.  The President’s pre­de­cessors, beginning in 1979, have taken multiple paths, usually with few results beyond frustration.  Unable to ignore the Islamic Republic, they tried contain­ment, regime change, and engagement.  Nothing much worked, and – with a ...

A number of trends now seem to be accepted truths after nearly 16 years of fighting against jihadi terrorism. We have achieved concrete victories in the last two decades – killing Osama bin Laden, downgrading core al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and beating back the Islamic State (ISIS) in ...

After a 30 day review, the Department of Defense has delivered to the White House a preliminary plan to defeat ISIS.  While this is an admirable goal, defeating ISIS will only be a short-term fix to the problem of Islamic terrorism, just as defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) only ...

For Saudi Arabia, Yemen is a vital security interest. The Saudis have long claimed a dominant role in shaping Yemen’s domestic politics. Yemen’s desert border with Saudi Arabia is a source of anxiety for the Kingdom’s leaders. Yemenis are poor, Yemen’s large population is still growing, and the Yemeni state ...

President Donald Trump and his cabinet are pondering an executive order to add the Muslim Brotherhood to the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organization list. Yet such a designation would appear to have one critical flaw: it is hard to explain what the term “Muslim Brotherhood” precisely means. In Egypt, for ...

Last Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi appeared on Iraqi television to announce “a new phase in the operation” to retake Mosul. “We are coming to Nineveh,” he said, “to liberate [the] western side of Mosul” from the grasp of ISIS. This is welcome news. The fight to liberate ...

Last October, I published a summary of the coalition battle to liberate Mosul from ISIS in The Cipher Brief, stressing that inside the one battle there were six “campaigns” – military or political in nature – that would shape Middle Eastern and counter-terrorism developments. This piece updates that analysis in ...

The Trump Administration has inherited a complex set of problems in Iraq. Most pressing among them is the ongoing campaign to recapture Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, from ISIS. The operation to liberate Mosul has met fierce resistance, but Iraqi forces – with coalition aid – control the eastern half of ...

At a time that several Middle Eastern nations are plagued with civil strife, the Gulf Cooperation Council is a beacon of unity that has contributed to security and stability in the Arabian Gulf and beyond. “Gulf security is our security,” declared UK Prime Minister Theresa May during the GCC’s 37th ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with Marcelle Wahba, President of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, to discuss internal dynamics within the Gulf Cooperation Council. According to Wahba, GCC countries view Iran as their “main international security challenge, but pursue ...

The Cipher Brief sat down the Former U.S. Ambassador to Oman, Gary Grappo, to discuss the current state of affairs in the Gulf Cooperation Council. According to Grappo, many GCC policies have been driven by the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran over regional leadership, and that tension between the ...

With no firm commitment to a two-state solution, U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled a potential shift in U.S. policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was the first meeting between the two leaders since Trump took office. "I'm looking at two states and one state,” ...

The Middle East that the Trump Administration must now come to grips with is not the one Barack Obama envisioned leaving his successor when he took office eight years ago. Shortly after Obama entered office in 2009, the new U.S. president visited Cairo to give a landmark address to the Muslim ...

At first glance, it would appear that the Middle East President Donald J. Trump now faces is far different than the region which confronted President Barack Obama in 2009. The Arab uprisings of 2011 swept away the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya. Civil war has rent apart and depopulated Syria, ...

The Middle East went through maelstrom developments during the Obama Administration. Some of these were put into motion by the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. Others, such as the Arab Spring, were the direct result of corrupt and brittle authoritarian regimes no longer capable of responding to their citizens’ aspirations ...

The Muslim Brotherhood preaches a violent, exclusivist ideology.  Its websites and social media accounts are chock-full of anti-Christian and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.  Its affiliated networks in Istanbul have threatened foreign nationals in Egypt.  Its leading figures and platforms have embraced violence and martyrdom explicitly. And its motto – which concludes with “jihad is our way, death for the sake of Allah ...

The Trump Administration is considering whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood – a movement that espouses a doctrine of political Islam and has millions of supporters across the Middle East – as a terrorist organization. But experts caution about the potential for unintended consequences, backlash, and legal challenges to such ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with Michele Dunne, Director and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Center, to discuss the potential implications of the U.S. State Department designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. According to Dunne, such a move may actually backfire and ...

Six years after Egyptians rose up against the political authoritarianism and economic incompetence of the Mubarak regime, the potential transfer of two strategic islands to Saudi Arabia serves as a bitter reminder that, since the heady days of 2011, things have only gotten worse. Since Egyptians woke up on 8 ...

When Donald Trump was elected as the 45th U.S. President, there was reason for some comfort amongst the United States’ traditional Arab allies in the Middle East, with hopes of a stronger stand against their adversary Iran. “They’ve been measuredly optimistic about the Trump administration, in part because of the ...

On Sunday, U.S. Special Forces SEAL Team 6, killed Abdul Raouf al-Dhahab, a mid-level al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) commander, and two of his lieutenants in a joint air and ground assault in the central Yemeni governorate of al-Bayda. The special operations raid occurred against the backdrop of ...

Some of the most significant challenges the Trump administration will face are in the Middle East.  These include the threat of salafi-Jihadist terrorism, Iran’s efforts to create a “Shiite crescent” spanning the region, and a resurgent Russian role. In the Middle East, President Donald Trump, like his last five predecessors, ...

Among his numerous campaign promises, U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem continues to reverberate across domestic and international politics. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem, and we will send a clear signal that ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with Aaron David Miller, Former advisor to Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State on Arab-Israeli negotiations to discuss the potential for reviving Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the Trump Administration. According to Miller, “The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, can’t be much deader than it is now” and we ...

As has been the case for every one of his predecessors, Donald Trump will attempt to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some resisted for a while, i.e., George W. Bush, while others jumped into the fray fresh after inauguration, such as Barack Obama. Each eventually tried and failed, President Obama most ...

Russia, Iran and Turkey on Tuesday pledged to jointly enforce the fragile ceasefire in Syria, wrapping up two days of peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. The countries wrote in a statement that they will “seek, through concrete steps and using their influence over the parties, consolidation of the ceasefire” and ...

Syrian opposition officials are meeting in the Kazakh capital of Astana to begin talks on a final peace agreement. Representatives from Russia and Turkey are expected to lead the negotiations with support from Iranian diplomats. A ceasefire deal – brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran – went into effect Dec. ...

The agreement between Turkey and Russia stipulates a halt to the fighting throughout Syrian territory from midnight on December 29, with the exception of areas with a Fatah al-Sham (formerly the al-Nusra Front) or Islamic State presence. In addition, the agreement provides for President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power ...

The December 30 ceasefire in Syria, brokered by Russia and Turkey, has for the most held throughout the country, despite violence undermining the pact.  This ceasefire is the third of its kind attempted within the space of a year. But with backing from Russia and Turkey, as well as seals ...

As 2016 comes to a close, Russia and Turkey have cobbled together a ceasefire in Syria, paving the way for peace talks to end the more than five-year long war that has destroyed the country and torn asunder its social fabric.  Though past initiatives failed to silence the guns, the ...

Iran is doing enough damage in the Middle East through unconventional methods without requiring a robust navy. That is why an idea floated by a key Iranian military leader to build naval bases in Yemen and Syria makes absolutely no sense. Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of Iran’s armed forces general ...

Though January will see a major transition in American power, the global threat of terrorism will remain. As the Obama Administration enters its final weeks in office and Washington prepares for a changing of the guard, there is much uncertainty about how the incoming administration will approach counterterrorism. How can ...

As the calendar approaches January 21st and President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, the Cipher Brief sat down with Patrick Skinner of the Soufan Group to discuss the successes and failures of the Obama Administration’s counterterrorism policy and how the next administration might approach the same issues. According to ...

The Cipher Brief spoke with network member and former Acting Director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, about the current U.S. counterterrorism strategy, as well as what to expect from the terrorist threat in the coming year. According to McLaughlin, under President Barack Obama, the U.S. has been “highly successful” at ...

The Cipher Brief spoke with Network Member Rob Richer, former Associate Deputy Director for Operations at the CIA, about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a ceasefire in Syria that went into effect on Thursday night. Richer explained that just as previous ceasefire agreements fell apart, it is unlikely that ...

As ISIS incurs the firepower of the international community, al Qaeda has quietly rebuilt its resources, rebranded itself, and “rehabilitated its image” explains terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman. In an October interview with The Cipher Brief, Hoffman said al Qaeda has been “maneuvering to affect some kind of a forced merger ...

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that a nationwide ceasefire in Syria would begin at midnight on Thursday night. This is the third such agreement this year – all other negotiated ceasefires have failed – but this deal will be enforced by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the largest international ...

After the fall of Aleppo, few would deny the influence that Russian President Vladimir Putin now wields in Syria and the Middle East - but this was not always the case. This February 18 article from the Former Head of Security at Goldman Sachs, Rob Dannenberg, offers a glimpse into ...

A two-state solution is the only way to secure Israeli-Palestinian peace, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday as he defended the Obama administration's approach to the conflict and decision not to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlement policies. That two-state solution, however, is "in serious jeopardy," Kerry, ...

In a surprising move last week, Egypt postponed a UN Security Council vote on a resolution it had proposed demanding an end to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. Although the resolution eventually passed, the event provided another of example of the increasingly close cooperation between Egypt and Israel. ...

The attempted military coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is perhaps the most important political event in Turkey of the past 16 years, and has fundamentally changed the country's internal politics and external priorities. Ambassador James Jeffrey's article, written for The Cipher Brief on July 19, explores some of ...

Editor’s Note: Over the coming days, The Cipher Brief presents some of our most incisive coverage on key issues of 2016 and a look ahead at what is yet to come in 2017. 2016 has been a year of fundamental change for Turkey. In Syria, the threat of ISIS and ...