With increasingly confusing statements and actions from the White House and the Pentagon on U.S. policy toward Syria, The Cipher Brief presented a live briefing from Amman, Jordan with Cipher Brief Expert and former CIA Chief of Middle East operations, Robert Richer during the 2018 Threat Conference.  Richer talked about ...

As Iran and Israel trade accusations over Iran’s nuclear program, and the U.S. sends indicators that it may pull out of the JCPOA agreement, The Cipher Brief talked with Norm Roule—the former National Intelligence Manager for Iran at ODNI and a Cipher Brief Expert —at The Cipher Brief’s Annual Threat ...

Just last month, the long-simmering Israeli-Iranian conflict came out of the shadows when Iran sent a drone across the Jordanian border into Israel, and Israel retaliated with air strikes on several targets including the Iranian drone operators at a Syrian base in Palmyra, northeast of Damascus. The two sides appear ...

February 15, 2018, will mark the seventh anniversary of the Benghazi rallies, in which Libyans took to the streets to protest the arrest of a human rights lawyer. Fueled by the success of demonstrators in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, the crowds also demanded the release of political prisoners and an ...

Bottom Line: As the ongoing dispute between Qatar and Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates enters its eighth month, the U.S. has been forced to strike a delicate balance in its dealings with critical allies in the Middle East. At the same time, the ...

For this last week of 2017, we asked our experts to look ahead at key national security issues. Intelligence veteran and Iran hand Norman Roule sketches out where we are now in the Mideast and Gulf region, and what he sees ahead for Tehran. On the state of the Middle ...

For this last week of 2017, we asked our experts to look back on key topics for this year, and predict what they see for the year ahead. CIA veteran and Middle East hand Rob Richer offered his take. On the fate of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, now that the ...

The whirlwind Middle East trip last week by Trump son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner and his team working to restart Israel-Palestinian talks highlighted the fallout from earlier policy missteps related to the Middle East. Take the still bubbling situation with Qatar. After almost three months, Qatar still faces an ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Today’s diplomatic chaos pitting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Egypt, and other Sunni states against Qatar, can be partly blamed on Trump’s ill thought out utterances and his administration’s resultant mixed messaging in the controversy. Perhaps as important, U.S. response to the Qatar situation also raises questions ...

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 ...

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 ...

Despite former President Barack Obama’s efforts to cut U.S. military commitments in the Middle East, events quickly drew his Administration back into the region. Civil war in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and, particularly, ISIS’s 2014 expansion into Iraq combined to keep Washington militarily involved the region. However, the nature of this ...

U.S. special operations forces are widely considered to be some of the most highly trained and effective military units in the world and, as a result, they have played a critical role in America’s wars. Nowhere is that truer than in the Middle East and North Africa, where the U.S. ...

The role of U.S. special operations forces (SOF) in the Middle East has expanded steadily since the inception of the counter-ISIS campaign in 2014. In part, this expansion is due to the metastasis of ISIS into Libya, Yemen, and other countries beyond its major land-holding presence in Iraq and Syria. But ...

President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, traveled to the White House on Wednesday for his first meeting with President Donald Trump. In brief comments after the meeting, both leaders expressed their hope for a future peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, with Trump promising to act as “mediator, an ...

With one of the most complex systems of governance in the world, Iran finds itself at perhaps its most daunting political crossroads since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The 77-year old Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reportedly is in declining health and possibly nearing the end of his tenure, and several ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 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 ...

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 ...

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, ...

Cyber is emerging as Iran’s weapon of choice for dealing with both domestic and foreign opponents. For more than a decade, the Islamic Republic has waged a relentless cyber­spying campaign against Iranian dissidents. Following its discovery of the Stuxnet cyberattacks on its nuclear program in 2010 and the imposition of ...

Cybersecurity is often discussed in relation to the major global powers: China’s economic espionage, Russian influence operations, and U.S. dragnet global surveillance to thwart terrorism. However, as other countries move to digitize their economies, cybercriminals are zeroing in on these new and lucrative targets while regional players are quickly incorporating ...

Recent years have witnessed a series of increasingly audacious and unprecedented cyber attacks, leading up to the recent accusations of Russian hacking throughout last year’s U.S. presidential election season. In the Middle East, the Gulf region has also experienced its fair share of the threat from cyberspace. In fact, proportional ...

Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis since the second world war, with a large number of refugees coming from the Middle East, particularly Syria and Afghanistan. In September, the Cipher Brief spoke with Robert McKenzie – an expert on the Middle East and North Africa and refugee issues – ...

When the Arab Spring reached Egypt in January 2011, sparking unprecedented mass protests in Tahrir Square and across the country, calls for democratic reform and liberation from authoritarian rule seemed to dominate the revolutionary movement. However, it was not just political demands that brought millions to the street to protest ...

The Arab world woke up to a new U.S. President-elect after an election race many had closely followed. The Cipher Brief’s Executive Editor, Fionnuala Sweeney spoke to network member Rob Richer, the CIA’S former Associate Deputy Director of Operations, to ask about government reaction in the Arab world and what ...

Water scarcity is potentially a very stressful issue in Middle East, the most water-contested region in the world.  According to World Resources Institute (WRI) rankings, most water scarce countries are in the Middle East, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, Palestine, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Lebanon. The ...

Since oil prices plummeted in the last quarter of 2014, oil-producing countries have struggled to adapt to the new low-price environment. From reforms to slashed budgets, producers have found ways to cope and yet, for years, they failed to reach an agreement to reduce production, which could boost flagging oil ...

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) came to a surprise agreement at informal talks this September to reduce global oil production by between 200,000 and 750,000 barrels. However, final negotiations will not be held until the official OPEC meeting in November and many wonder if regional rivals, Saudi Arabia ...

From Syria, to climate change, North Korea, and the largest global refugee flows in history, the next President will face a uniquely challenging set of national security threats when she or he takes office. The Cipher Brief spoke with former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and current ...

Fighting in Aleppo has intensified with a Russian-backed government offensive to capture the rebel-held sector of Syria’s largest city. The United States and its allies accuse Russia of deliberately targeting civilians. Moscow and Damascus say they only target terrorists. Russia joined the war a year ago, backing up its ally ...

Instability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is at its worst in recent memory. While political volatility has been something of a constant in the region for much of the past century, threats to regional security – and to the nation-state system itself (for example, powerful terrorist groups ...

This July was the hottest month on record, that is, since the late 1800s (when recording keeping began), according to NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA), and Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). It is likely 2016 will be the hottest year on ...