February 6, 2018

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Jordanian King Abdullah II’s comments at Davos on Saudi Arabia’s constructive role in curbing Iran’s “meddling in the region” eased bilateral tensions, which were heightened as Iran attempted to forge a partnership with Jordan by offering it economic and security incentives — thus removing it from the Gulf axis.  This thawing of Jordanian-Saudi ties benefits both Jordan and Gulf countries.

– Various media outlets have reported on a recently-released strategic document detailing Israeli army movements, including covert operations, assassinations, and air attacks in Syria.  The document, prepared by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in mid-2015, also explains Israel’s view of region, highlighting both allies and states that threaten its security.

– A new public opinion survey in Palestine shows a drop in support for a two-state solution.  The poll suggests that the situation is becoming increasingly complex in light of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The crisis of ministerial appointments in Morocco was resolved when the royal palace intervened, after the prime minister failed to act. The intervention will likely prevent early elections amidst internal unrest and the challenges of the floating dirham.

Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (Parti de la Justice et du Developement) is declining in performance and popularity, marked by infighting among party leaders; the resignations of a number of key members; the dismissal of its former secretary-general, ‘Abd al-Ilah Ibn Kairan, after failing to form a government; and the erosion of the party’s electoral base.  The situation bolsters the standing of the Popular Movement’s candidate.

Will the tripartite alliance among Iran, Russia, and Turkey last? The immediate interests of these countries have spurred them to strengthen relations despite their historical conflict of interests.  But they have not yet succeeded in creating a strategy to ensure the continuation of this alliance. In the near future, we expect Iran to make a move that runs counter to Ankara’s and Moscow’s interests in Syria, as Turkish military operations in Afrin continue and Russia takes over the reconstruction file in Syria.

– In Iranian domestic affairs, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took advantage of the recent demonstrations to show his ability to garner popular support, making statements in support of the protesters’ demands.  Does this mean Ahmadinejad is beginning a campaign for 2021 presidential elections?

The Iraqi Federal Court confirmed that parliamentary elections will be held on schedule, a move that could disproportionately benefit Shiite parties.  In the absence of clear post-ISIS or reconstruction plans, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are gaining political influence, which could threaten Iraq’s Sunni communities.

– How will the Fatah Alliance fare in Iraqi elections? The coalition is currently led by Hadi al-Amiri, who also heads the Badr Organization, an Iraqi political party strongly aligned with Iran.  It is noteworthy that Fatah tops the list of the three Shiite alliance parties, alongside the Nasr, led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and the Rule of Law Coalition, headed by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

– Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil are rising over the issue of Kirkuk’s oil.  Prime Minister Abadi’s declarations on the sidelines of Davos regarding oil exports through Baghdad provoked Erbil, as the Kurdistan Democratic Party announced the boycott of elections.  A political solution appears elusive for the time being.

– Are turbulence and chaos returning to Egypt’s streets?  The deteriorating economic situation, the perception of a sham election, and the absence of youth participation in the political process all raise concerns about Egypt’s future.  The Muslim Brotherhood could exploit such uncertainty.

German-Turkish relations warmed up after Ankara’s release of a number of Turkish activists holding German citizenship and the agreement on a deal to develop the tank weapon Leopard 2 in Germany. But tensions are now returning in light of the Turkish incursion in Afrin — an operation that could threaten German-Turkish rapprochement.

– President Donald Trump appeared uncharacteristically pragmatic at Davos, raising questions about the future of his position toward the NATO alliance.  Will Trump continue to retreat from his hostile attitudes towards Muslims and African nations?  Some analysts say Trump came to Davos simply as a businessman encouraging investment in his country, but he also came off as more stately.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said the American army will not be the world’s most powerful army, citing the Pentagon’s budget of $521 billion.  Mattis claimed that the budget should be $716 billion in 2019 in preparation for rivalry with China and Russia, sparking criticism from Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, but garnering support from Republican Party hawks, like John McCain (R-AZ).

– Why are Europe and the United States concerned about the growth of Russia? The anxiety is the result of several tensions and provocations: increased Russian involvement in West Asia, specifically in Myanmar and Vietnam; Russia providing China with its S-400 missile system; Russia’s military intervention in the Central African Republic; and the Russian pipeline project to Europe (Nord Stream 2).  In response to these developments, the United States has increased sanctions on Russia’s energy sector.

Dutch intelligence recently announced that Russia influenced the 2016 US elections by penetrating the Russian network of pirates, called “Kozi Bear,” which hacked thousands of emails from top Democratic Party’s officials.  Dutch agencies said the hackers operated under the guidance of Russian intelligence organizations.