The Sectarian Divide in the Middle East

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July 7, 2017 Transnational issues like religion and ethnicity have long bedeviled the countries of the modern Middle East. Major Arab states like Egypt, Syria and Iraq began to flirt with pan-Arabism – a secular, left-leaning ideology that sought political unity of the Arab world – not long after they were founded. Continue reading

Obama’s Passive Acceptance of Iranian Provocations Helps Fuel Rising Iranian-Saudi Tensions

Escalating tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab gulf states will further polarize the Middle East along sectarian lines, stoke the proxy wars waged by Tehran and Riyadh, and reduce the already low chances of forging diplomatic agreements to defuse civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been bitter rivals competing for regional dominance since the 1979 Iranian revolution injected an ideological hostility into a relationship already strained by competing nationalisms (Arab vs. Persian) and sectarian differences (Sunni Saudi Arabia vs. Shiite Iran). Continue reading

Vlad and Yuri: How Putin is applying the lessons of Afghanistan to Syria

Vladimir Putin is following in the footsteps of his old KGB boss Yuri Andropov, who took the Soviet Union into Afghanistan in 1979 to shore up a failing client in Kabul. To succeed where Andropov failed, Putin will need to devote considerable resources and manpower to save Bashar al-Assad. But there are also significant differences in the challenges the two faced that favor Putin. Saudi Arabia will be his constant enemy, just as it was Andropov’s.

In the fall of 1979, Andropov was the principal advocate in the Kremlin of a Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan to keep the communist Afghan government in power. The Marxist Afghan party was rapidly losing control of the country to the mujahedeen, and KGB chief Andropov warned defeat in Afghanistan would destabilize all of Soviet Central Asia. Andropov convinced an ailing Leonid Brezhnev that it would be an easy and cheap victory. In 1956, Andropov had been the Soviet ambassador in Hungary who called for Soviet intervention there, which had kept Budapest in the Warsaw Pact. Continue reading

Iran: ‘We Will Trample Upon America’

Friday prayers take anti-American turn

A senior Iranian cleric delivered Friday prayers in Tehran while standing behind a podium that declared, “We Will Trample Upon America,” according to photos released by Iran’s state-controlled media.

Iranian cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, who was handpicked by the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader to deliver the prayers, delivered a message of hostility toward the United States in the first official remarks since a final nuclear deal was signed between Iran and world powers in Vienna last week. Continue reading