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04/01/24

The use of deception by Hamas and the 7 October attack

The short piece seeks to highlight the role of deception in Hamas’s ability to successfully create the surprise that enabled its attack on 7 October 2023. As the weaker non-state actor in the asymmetric conflict with Israel, Hamas aimed to conceal its intention to launch an attack and blur the signs indicating its plans, using one of the offensive counterintelligence methods, deception, both strategically and tactically. The main lesson of the article is that policymakers and intelligence personnel need to be acutely aware and consider the possibility that the opposing side is employing deception against them, and do everything in their power to negate this possibility in the intelligence analysis process.

Netanel Flamer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University and senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He is the author of Hamas Intelligence Warfare Against Israel, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. He specialises in intelligence, terrorism and asymmetrical warfare in the Middle East.

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05/10/23

Prospects of rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran

The MENA region has long been marred by geopolitical tensions and conflicts, with the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran standing out as a prominent and enduring source of instability. This article explores the prospects of rapprochement, shedding light on the potential for reconciliation and its implications for regional peace and stability, reviewing the key drivers motivating rapprochement, including economic interests, shared security concerns and the desire for increased regional influence. It also considers the role of external factors, such as the United States and Russia, in facilitating or obstructing potential reconciliation efforts and examines the potential consequences and challenges associated with a thaw in relations. The strained bilateral relationship, characterised by proxy conflicts, religious divides and regional power struggles, has had profound consequences on the region. However, recent developments and shifts in regional dynamics have sparked cautious optimism about the possibility of improved relations between these two influential nations. The implications of a Saudi-Iran rapprochement could be far-reaching, impacting not only the geopolitical landscape of the MENA region but also global energy markets, the resolution of regional conflicts and the broader prospects for peace and stability. In conclusion, the prospects of rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the MENA region present a complex and evolving dynamic with significant implications. By analysing the factors driving this potential reconciliation and assessing the potential outcomes, this article offers insights into a critical issue that has the potential to reshape the future of the MENA region.

Aditya Anshu is an Assistant Professor of International Relations, Dept of International Relations, Abu Dhabi University, UAE. He earned his Ph.D. in international relations from JNU, New Delhi, India. Previously, he has worked with Bennett University and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, India. His rich experience of internships and study includes the Embassy of India in the United States and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea.

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05/10/23

China as an ‘international mediator’ in the context of Saudi-Iran relations

By assuming the role of an international mediator in brokering peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran, China has set a new precedent to its long-held “non-interventionist” foreign policy. This is an outcome of China’s increasing foothold in the Middle East, which is changing the political and security matrix in the region. Against the backdrop of the Saudi-Iranian agreement, it has become essential to assess China’s interest in serving as the mediator as well as Riyadh and Tehran’s desire to embrace Beijing’s good offices.

Amrita Jash is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (Institution of Eminence), India. She holds a PhD in Chinese Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, was a Pavate Fellow at the University of Cambridge and has authored The Concept of Active Defence in China’s Military Strategy (Pentagon Press, 2021). Her research interests are China’s foreign policy, the Chinese military, and security and strategic issues in China-India and China-Japan relations as well as the Indo-Pacific region.

Nadeem Ahmed Moonakal is a research scholar at the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah), Riyadh. He was a Dr. TMA Pai fellow and is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (Institution of Eminence), India. His research largely focuses on strategic and security affairs of the Middle East, India-Middle East relations and regional power struggles in the Middle East, with a special focus on Iran.

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05/10/23

The role of Gulf states in conflict in Sudan

Sudanese engagement with the Arab Gulf states has seen various ups and downs since the country’s independence, yet the relationship encountered serious challenges when the General Omar Hassan al-Bashir-led Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation assumed power after a military coup in 1989, advancing a foreign policy based on the ideological contours developed by the Sudanese Islamist politician Hassan Al-Turabi. The steps taken by the regime soon created tensions with the Arab Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There were three main points of friction that impacted upon the country’s relationship with these Gulf states: Sudan’s support for Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; its close relationship with the revolutionary regime in Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival; and the hosting of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden. This article traces the development of the role of Gulf states in the security environment in Sudan since then and how the Sudanese ruling elites have attempted to develop extensive political, cultural and economic connections with different Arab Gulf states, before and after the security apparatus removed President al-Bashir on 11 April 2019, when he was replaced by the Transitional Military Council as the collective head of state of Sudan.

Umer Karim is a doctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science and International Studies of the University of Birmingham, focusing on Saudi foreign policy and decision-making, and its implications for the politics and security of the Middle East. His broad research interests also include Middle Eastern politics and international relations as well as peace and conflict studies. Additionally, Umer Karim is Associate Fellow at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies and Fellow at the Sectarianism, Proxies and De-sectarianisation (SEPAD) project, based at Lancaster University’s Richardson Institute.

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05/10/23

Syria’s regional normalisation process: Between opportunities and challenges

This article analyses the political dynamics that have resulted in the return of the Syrian regime to the League of Arab states and progressive process of normalisation on the regional scene. While a potential deepening of the normalisation process would be beneficial to Damascus, an early economic recovery and reconstruction process in the country faces numerous obstacles connected to national and foreign elements.

Joseph Daher is a part-time Affiliate Professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where he works under the aegis of the ‘Syrian Trajectories’ research project in the Middle East Directions Programme. Additionally, he teaches at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and is the author of Hezbollah: Political Economy of the Party of God (Pluto Press, 2016) and Syria After the Uprisings: The Political Economy of State Resilience (Pluto Press 2019), also creating the blog Syria Freedom Forever. He has a Doctorate in Development Studies at SOAS, University of London (2015) and a Doctorate in Political Science at Lausanne University (2018).

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05/10/23

Resolving the Libyan conflict: Twelve years of failure

This article sheds light on the mediation that the international community and the United Nations have been attempting in Libya ever since the Arab spring reached this Arab North African country in 2011, only to be plagued by conflict and episodes of civil war, violence, human rights violations and foreign meddling. The author examines these efforts and assesses the role of the supranational organisation in conflict mediation, drawing lessons and conclusions that are valid for the entire MENA region and beyond. While mediation efforts continue unabated, the Libyan crisis seems to defy resolution. Reasons behind the failure could easily be identified by resorting to cliches that echo the orientalist tradition referring to the crisis and the failures to Libya’s lack of state and national identity. However, this article argues that the various mediation efforts failed because of their inherent deficiencies and the destructive effect of foreign powers’ rivalry, particularly between UNSC permanent members. At both the national and international levels, consensus has most frequently been hindered by conflicting foreign interests.

Youssef Mohammad Sawani is Professor of Politics and International Relations at the Department of Political Science at the University of Tripoli, Libya, where he has been engaged in teaching, research and other academic activities since 1985. For years, he was Director General and Director of Studies at the Center for Arab Unity Studies in Beirut, and was the editor-in-chief of its Al Mustaqbal Al-Arabi monthly journal. Between 2016-2021, he worked as the editor of Contemporary Arab Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal published by University of California Press. He is affiliated to a number of international entities, NGOs and research centres, and works as a consultant for a number of local and international institutions. He has also participated in and organised many seminars and conferences, and frequently publishes in the English and Arabic languages. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.

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05/10/23

Third-party mediation and peace-making processes in Yemen: Issues and challenges

The legacy of third-party mediation and peace-making in Yemen has not succeeded in holding long. Between 2000 and 2023, there have been more than ten third-party mediation initiatives in Yemen, by both regional states and multilateral organisations. None of these third-party mediation efforts, nor ensuing peace or de-escalation agreements, have been durable or contributed to a durable peace agreement lasting longer than three years. The longest surviving deal was the GCC initiative, which lasted for less than three years and delayed the outbreak of full-scale violence in the country due to short-termism, poor management of spoilers, flaws in agreement design and ambitious implementation timelines and regional interference, among other reasons. The fall of each process has contributed to a gradual increase in structural violence and a deepening of grievances and the intensity of regional interference. While the Yemeni government has been key to all processes, the protracted nature of the conflict has expanded the scope of parties, with the rise of regionally-backed new hybrid groups that continue to shape conflict and peace trajectories at a sub-national levels. It is interesting that the overlap of mediation and facilitation efforts pursued by regional states and multilateral organisations have complicated negotiation dynamics, creating greater manoeuvre room for armed groups than for the Yemeni government but also weakening the credibility of the UN when uncoordinated.

Ibrahim Galal Fakirah is a Non-Resident Scholar with the Middle East Institute’s (MEI) Arabian Peninsula Program and a senior consultant. He has worked with donors and international organisations such as the United Nations, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Sussex University’s Institute of Development Studies in research and advisory capacities, occasionally briefing audiences – including think tanks, diplomatic corps, UN officials, the private sector and humanitarian organisations – and taking part in Track II events related to Yemen and the MENA region. His research examines third-party-led peace and dialogue processes in Yemen, the proliferation of armed non-state actors and their implications for the implementation of peace agreements, post-war security orders and stabilisation efforts, the politics of social assistance in fragile and conflict-affected states, violent extremism and the foreign and defence policies of the Gulf and Western states in Yemen. Prior to joining MEI, Ibrahim was a Visiting Scholar at Macquarie University’s Department of Security Studies and Criminology in Australia.

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05/10/23

Saudi Arabia, Iran and the complexity of conflict mediation

In early March 2023, years of back-channel diplomatic efforts reached a zenith as Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to normalise relations with each other. Seven years after relations were suspended following the fallout from the execution of the Saudi Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr, the normalisation agreement set out a process of re-opening diplomatic missions and create the conditions for greater collaboration.1 Reached after years of track II efforts, the agreement was heralded as a major step towards building peace across the Middle East. Yet it is not a panacea for conflict, but rather is a necessary part of a portfolio of moves to improve regional relations. In this short essay I reflect on the ways in which the normalisation agreement may contribute towards peace-building and mediation efforts across the Middle East.

Simon Mabon is Professor of International Politics at Lancaster University, where he directs SEPAD (Sectarianism, Proxies and Desectarianization Project). He is the author and editor of 12 books including The Struggle for Supremacy in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran (Cambridge University Press, 2023); Houses built on sand: Sectarianism, revolution and violence in the Middle East (Manchester University Press, 2020); British Foreign Policy Since WWII (Routledge, 2016); The Origins of ISIS (IB Tauris, 2016); and Saudi Arabia and Iran: Soft Power Rivalry in the Middle East (IB Tauris, 2013). He has published 45 articles and book chapters in a range of Middle East and International Relations journals, including: Review of International StudiesMiddle East JournalMiddle East PolicyBritish Journal of Middle East StudiesPolitics, Religion and Ideology; and Third World Quarterly. From 2016 to 2017, he served as academic advisor to the House of Lords International Relations committee report into the UK’s relations with the Middle East. He regularly consults with governmental agencies and for international news outlets, including the BBC, CNN, CNBC, Sky, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiyya, France 24 and Deutsche Welle.

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05/10/23

Orient IV 2023: Conflict mediation and rapprochement across the MENA region

Simon Mabon
Saudi Arabia, Iran and the complexity of conflict mediation

Ibrahim Galal Fakirah
Third-party mediation and peace-making processes in Yemen: Issues and challenges

Youssef Mohammad Sawani
Resolving the Libyan conflict: Twelve years of failure

Joseph Daher
Syria’s regional normalisation process: Between opportunities and challenges

Umer Karim
The role of Gulf states in conflict in Sudan

Amrita Jash and Nadeem Ahmed Moonakal
China as an ‘international mediator’ in the context of Saudi-Iran relations

Aditya Anshu
Prospects of rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran

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07/07/23

Political economy of modernisation in Iraq: Challenges and consequences

Post-Saddam American modernisation in Iraq, which was supposed to implement an example of a new Middle East based on the liberal democracy model in this country, effectively led to the establishment of a weak elected government against anti-modernisation forces after 2003. The formation of this government and the cessation of modernisation led to the tendency of socially disillusioned Iraqi forces to experience the defeat of Iraqi democracy facing with discourse of ISIS or the victory of pro-traditional forces (Al-Ketletol Sadriyah) in 2021 elections. The answer to the main question of this article, which is the reason for the failure of American nation-building in Iraq, should be found in three factors: “the nature of the fundamental history of Iraq in the modern order,” “the historical nature of American nation-building policy after World War II,” and “the hybrid nature of the Islamic religious state or traditional classes discourse, which was able to establish itself as a liberating force among the disenfranchised social forces in post-2003 Iraq.” The result of this process was the cessation of modernisation and modern nation-building in Iraq. This article examines the reasons for the failure of these projects in Iraq by examining three models of modernisation: “modernisation from above or British colonial modernisation” in monarchial regimes; “army-centred” modernisation, which resulted from a military coup and the Ba’ath party; and “American liberal democracy modernisation”.

Ebrahim Abbassi is Associate Professor in political sciences at Shiraz University. He holds a BA (1998), an MA (2001) and a PhD (2009) in Political Science from University of Tehran. He has been Director of the Persian Gulf Center for Strategic Studies (2013-2016) and Dean of the School of law and Political Sciences at Shiraz University (2018-2022). His current research interests include political and social developments in Iran, Persian Gulf studies and terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Adel Nemati is a PhD student. in Political Sciences at Shiraz University. His research focuses on the history of Iran and the Middle East.

Mohsen Shokri is a PhD student in Political Sciences at Shiraz University. His research focuses on the political economy of the Middle East.

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07/07/23

Re-imagining Babylon: Epistemic violence and Iraqi discourse

For two decades, White people have been dominating English-language literature and discourse on Iraq, Orientalising, dehistoricising and sectarianising it. White men in government, non-government think-tanks and academia expect to lead the conversation instead of humbling themselves to pluralistic Iraqi voices. Despite effort by some Iraqis in the diaspora to guide the conversation, it is geared back to a dominating West-centric perspective. Iraqis are marginalised and Iraqi women are tokenised. Iraqi women academics are especially excluded from the conversation. So much so that a nascent Iraqi Women Academics Network now draws attention to the pluralistic voices and experiences of Iraqi women scholars. When Iraq’s October Spring emerged in 2019, I was part of a small network of Iraqi bloggers who shared instant, verified news of the protests to foreign journalists to ensure Iraqis’ voices and stories reached a global audience. Western media covered the protest movement and focused on Iraqi voices. Within a year, those journalists became Iraq experts, invited to speak on think tank panels discussing Iraq. The only Iraqi women invited to speak were presumed to represent a monolithic idea of what Iraqi women think. Iraqi women experts of minoritised ethnoconfessional backgrounds continue to be overlooked. While European and Western subjectivities are often interpreted as global objectivity, this has become more obvious in the Iraqi context. Two decades after the invasion, Western journalists and analysts continue to discuss Iraqis’ stories on their behalf, and their experiences are deemed objective reflections on Iraqis’ lived experiences. In my paper, I discuss my experience and analyse what went wrong by discussing how White Ignorance has been useful in upholding the epistemic violence that sits at the core of media coverage and policy analysis of Iraq. I also borrow from the counterfactual method to expose “blind spots” and contingencies in Iraq epistemology that extend the Iraq invasion’s violence. This paper invites the reader to imagine how different things could have been and how much richer Iraq discourse would have been had it included Iraqi women academics’ pluralistic voices and scholarly contributions.

Ruba Ali Al-Hassani is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at lancaster University’s Department of Politics, Philosophy & Religion, and a Research Consultant with King’s College london. An interdisciplinary sociologist, she focuses on state-society relations & social movements in Iraq, law & social control, and transitional justice & collective trauma. She co-founded the Canadian Association for Muslim Women in law and the Iraqi Women Academics Network, and has taught at York University and Trent University, Canada. Ruba holds a B.Sc. in Psychology & Sociology, a M.A. in Criminology, an ll.M. in transitional justice, and a forthcoming PhD in law.

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07/07/23

Dawn of a new beginning: Iraq looks East in the post-Saddam era

Following the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Iraqis did not possess enough capital and technology to reconstruct their war-torn country. Since Iraq also did not receive much-needed support promised previously in different forms by Western leaders, it was left with little option but to approach resourceful Eastern countries in order to rebuild its shattered vital infrastructure and secure a great deal of its economic and technological requirements. For their part, almost all rich and influential Asian countries gave a positive response to the new Iraqi looking-East orientation by rekindling their political-diplomatic, economic and even military relationship with the post-Saddam Iraq.

Shirzad Azad is Associate Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. His previous works have been published by several peer-reviewed journals, including Middle East Policy, The International Spectator, Asian Affairs, Contemporary Arab Affairs, Asian Politics & Policy, Contemporary Review of the Middle East, and East Asia: An International Quarterly.

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