Weekend long read

Our weekly round-up of Middle East related background reading.

1) At the INSS Carmit Valensi, Neta Nave and Ofek Mushkat discuss ‘The Fight for Idlib’.

“Idlib province in northwest Syria remains the last significant stronghold of the rebellion against the Assad regime. The campaign that was revived recently in this area is marked by traits of the civil war now entering its tenth year: cruel and indiscriminate regime fighting backed by Russia and Iranian-run Shiite militias; a humanitarian crisis, manifested inter alia in displacement and potential refugees; a Russian effort, so far fruitless, to mediate between the sides; a danger of the situation deteriorating – militarily and diplomatically – given the multiple actors in the field. However, the campaign in the Idlib area reflects two significant changes in the balance of power between the sides: first, unusual military confrontations between Turkey and Assad regime forces, which so far have led to the downing of two Syrian military helicopters and fatalities on both sides. The second is linked to Iran’s decision to send its proxies into the fight after previously abstaining from involvement in this war theater. These developments are shaking up the already fragile balance of power among the various involved actors.”

2) Also at the INSS, Dr Raz Zimmt analyses ‘Parliamentary Elections in Iran: The Predicted Conservative Victory’.

“Official though not yet final results of the parliamentary elections held in Iran on February 21, 2020 show a landslide victory by the conservative right (200 out of 290 seats, versus under 20 seats won by reformist candidates). This victory was expected in view of the sweeping disqualification by the authorities of most of the reformist candidates. The low voter turnout (slightly over 40 percent) reflects the ongoing erosion of public trust in the political system. Over time this erosion could undermine the legitimacy of the regime, which to a large extent depends on its ability to maintain at least the appearance of popular representation in state institutions. The return of absolute control of the Majlis to the conservatives could create even more difficulties for President Hassan Rouhani in his last year of office, and is a possible preliminary sign regarding the next presidential elections, expected to be held in the summer of 2021.”

3) The Henry Jackson Society has published a report by Dr Simon Waldman titled ‘UNRWA’s Future Reconsidered’.

“UNRWA, the UN aid body established to support Palestinians, has been dogged by repeated allegations of mismanagement which led to the USA withdrawing all funding in 2018.  Following further allegations of misconduct in 2019; Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands froze funding to the body.  In contrast, the UK increased its annual contribution by over $25 million between 2017 and 2018.

Despite the UK’s continued support for UNRWA, allegations that educational materials provided by the body include extremism have dogged the organisation.  UNRWA blames the disturbing material within its schools on the local authorities whose educational ministries determine curricula within their respective jurisdictions. While UNRWA claims to routinely review its materials, the report argues that the problem is longstanding and measures to end the problem have been subsequently reversed.”

4) The ITIC reports on the Hizballah linked Lebanese organisation ‘Green Without Borders’.

“Green Without Borders is a Lebanese environmental organization dealing mostly with forestation. It operates in areas populated mainly by Hezbollah-controlled Shi’ites in south Lebanon and the Beqa’a Valley. An examination conducted by the ITIC revealed that the organization collaborates with Hezbollah’s civilian institutions, especially the Jihad al-Bina (the “construction foundation”) and the Hezbollah Association for Municipal Activity. Green Without Borders participates in Hezbollah’s campaign to glorify its shaheeds and turn them into role models for Lebanese youth. To that end Green Without Borders plants trees, some of them near the Israeli border, named for Hezbollah shaheeds, in collaboration with Hezbollah institutions and operatives. Green Without Borders’ chairman, Hajj Zuhair Nahle, a Shi’ite from Nabatieh in south Lebanon, is affiliated with Hezbollah. In his Facebook profile he refers to his loyalty to Iranian leader Ali Khamenei.”

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