Mideast Security and Policy Studies

Mideast Security and Policy Studies serve as a forum for publication or re-publication of research conducted by BESA Center research associates.

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Iran’s President Rouhani: Part of the Problem, Not Part of the Solution

| July 26, 2018

The controversy surrounding the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) epitomizes the ongoing debate between two contending approaches on the best way to bring about a positive change in Tehran’s Islamist regime and its policies.

Many, including in Israel, identify the (supposedly) moderate President Hassan Rouhani as the best hope for such a change, warning that the
collapse of the nuclear agreement and the reintroduction of international sanctions will play into the hands of the hardliners and weaken Rouhani and the “reformist camp” more generally.

While intriguing, such views are not only unfounded but detrimental to the efforts to pressure Iran to end its domestic repression and external aggression. For one thing, it is international sanctions, not friendly persuasion, that brought Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place. For another, as shown by the popular protests across Iran since early 2018, sustained economic pressure does not weaken the internal Iranian demand for change but rather reinforces it.

While Rouhani’s rhetoric may well sound more moderate than that of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his political record, ideological worldview, and actual conduct over the past decades clearly show him to be cut from the same cloth: an unreconstructed revolutionary Islamist. As such, he constitutes a major barrier to real change in both Iran’s domestic situation and its hegemonic foreign policy ambitions.

Worse: due to his seemingly moderate image, Rouhani has succeeded in alleviating international pressure on Tehran at a time when its aggressive activities throughout the region – from terrorism to subversion to military intervention in neighboring states – have only accelerated during his tenure as president.

In Memoriam: Per Ahlmark

| June 25, 2018

Per Ahlmark (January 15, 1939-June 8, 2018), a poet and essayist, was former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, former President of the Swedish Liberal Party, and founder of the Swedish Committee against anti-Semitism. He was one of the greatest friends of Israel in years when very few European leaders – let alone Scandinavian ones – were willing to identify with the country.

The Israel Defense Forces, 1948-2017

| May 28, 2018

This study explores the evolution of the order of battle, material holdings and capability of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) since their establishment seventy years ago. During this period, the IDF has transitioned from an ill-equipped and low-quality militia to a dominant regional military power. Recent cutbacks in the IDF’s order of battle notwithstanding, Israel can still deploy ground forces equipped with the world’s largest concentration of operational armored vehicles. It has an exceedingly advanced tactical air force capable of generating nearly 2,000 daily fast-jet combat sorties, and is protected by the world’s most advanced and dense national air defense system. It has an effective coastal navy that deploys exceptionally well-armed, advanced small combatants and attack submarines; it has a significant strategic and tactical nuclear capability; and it likely maintains the world’s third-largest inventory of nuclear weapons.

The Privileged Palestinian “Refugees”

| May 15, 2018

The “Palestine refugees” have been exceptionally indulged by the international community for seventy long years. This ranged from their very recognition as refugees though most of them fail to satisfy the basic criteria for such status, to the unprecedented benefit of a relief agency created exclusively for their welfare (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA), to the unique privilege of passing on “refugee” status to future generations.

Sudan’s Policy in the Era of Arab Upheaval: For Good or for Evil?

| April 13, 2018

Starting in the mid-1970s, the Sudanese identity that initially was molded by the ruling elite as an Arab and Middle Eastern one was transformed into a radical Islamic-Sunni one. The attitude towards Israel – as evidenced, for example, in the pan-Arab “three no’s” of the 1967 Khartoum summit conference – evolved into Islamic hostility towards the Jewish state. Along with other major changes, the removal of Hassan al-Turabi from the political arena (and his death) has led the leadership to consider establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Water, Trump, and Israel’s National Security

| March 29, 2018

Access to potable water is critical for Israel’s future, yet the country depends more and more on its desalination plants, aquifers, and water from outside its borders. Pollution and other factors may jeopardize water supplies as Israel extracts oil and natural gas on and off its coast. American oil and natural gas firms, with the assistance of the Trump administration, may pressure the Israeli government to allow the extraction of these resources in exchange for additional assistance. Jerusalem must put access to potable water at the forefront of its national security goals.

Reframing the Middle Eastern and Palestinian Refugee Crises

and | March 13, 2018

There are two Middle Eastern refugee crises currently vying for resources and attention. One is nominally focused on Syria but in fact extends from Libya to Afghanistan. The other crisis is Palestinian and has supposedly been going on since 1948. A closer look at the causes of these crises shows the former to be primarily the result of the collapsing Arab state system and the rise of militant Islam, while the latter cannot be considered a crisis at all.

Militant Islam’s War Against the West

| March 8, 2018

For more than 30 years, an ideological movement called Islamism has been at war with the West. This paper presents a long-term perspective on the nature of this war, alternative Western reactions to the attack, possible future developments, and the likely outcome.

Surviving Donald Trump: Israel’s Strategic Options

| February 2, 2018

While Israel has always been determinedly self-reliant on core matters of national security, this posture needs to become even more explicit in the disjointed “Trump Era.” In correctly acknowledging the unpredictability and possible incoherence of Trump’s developing policies towards the Middle East, Jerusalem will need to direct special attention towards growing prospects for “Cold War II,” and certain incrementally needed revisions of Israeli nuclear strategy.

Russia’s Strategic Advantage in the Baltics: A Challenge to NATO?

| January 19, 2018

Because nations have complex histories that mold or mar them, what geopolitical lessons and historical lessons can we draw from Russia’s previous military interventions? Has the historical relationship of Russia with the Baltic states been conditioned by a clash of civilizations as claimed by some Baltic thinkers? If so, how does this factor into the present tensions? What role does the sizable minority of Russians in the Baltic states play in the Kremlin’s policy-making? How can strategic military savvy and diplomacy aid in preventing the escalation of present tensions in the Baltics into full-scale war?