The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center for Research, puts innocent lives at risk by “infiltration” visit to Damascus

Jonathan Spyer, who served in the Israeli army, callously put all of the people he joined as part of a delegation to Syria at risk. The group itself seems to have been composed of some individuals and viewpoints that I find variously objectionable and/or misguided, but this does nothing to minimize the threat that Speyer brought to their lives and their future activities by infiltrating the visit. Of course the group itself should also have checked his background (apparently they did not even google his name).

Written by nickbiddlenoe

May 11, 2017 at 4:26 pm

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Al-Mayadeen on & The Exchange

My appearance with Zeinab Al-Saffar on Al-Mayadeen last week discussing our more than ten years of work on as well as our direct engagement research conferences in the Middle East and North Africa:

Written by nickbiddlenoe

May 10, 2017 at 9:16 pm

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First Yemen Exchange Conference Closes in Beirut

Our First Yemen Exchange, in partnership with the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies (, has now wrapped up! Congratulations to Adam Baron, Farea Al-muslimi and Aisha Jamal for bringing more than two dozen speakers representing a range of different perspectives to meet our participants. Stay tuned for the Second Yemen Exchange this Fall.

A partial list only of some of the speakers during the five days in Beirut:

Farea Al-Muslimi & Adam Baron, “Overview/Introduction”

Mansour Rageh, “Overview of Yemen’s economy two years after the war”

Maged Al-Madhaji, “Overview of Yemen’s politics”

Mustapha Noman, “Regional politics in Yemen”

Yasser Al-Roaini, “National Dialogue Conference outcomes”

Ali Ashal, “The past, present and future of the Islah Party”

Abdulkarim Makdishi, “Tribes and future roles in Yemen”

Yezid Saygh, “A regional overview and policy approaches”

Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, “Saleh and the General People’s Congress Party”

Zaid al-Thari, “The Houthi/GPC alliance”

Maysaa Shujaa Al-Deen, “Regional complexities in Yemen/Sectarianism”

Khaldoun Bakuhail, “Hadramawt”

Ammar al-Aulaqi, “Aden overview/Aulaqi tribes/youth”

Bilquis al-Lahabi, “The Yemeni women’s rights movement”

Ramon Blecua, “Europe and Yemen”

Tawfeek Al-Ganad, “A History of modern Yemen”

Abdulrahman al-Saqqaf, “The Socialist Party vision for Yemen and the South”

Ghaida Al-Rashidi, “The Southern Issue”





Written by nickbiddlenoe

April 27, 2017 at 11:23 am

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ICG’s Joost Hiltermann laments letting Syria war go on too long; Forgets 2011 “Slow-motion Suicide” report

Anne Barnard quotes Crisis Group’s Joost Hiltermann in her recent piece on Syria as saying: “We’ve thrown values by the wayside, but also not been able to act in our own interests, because we let things go too long,” said Joost Hiltermann, a Dutch citizen who is the Middle East director for the International Crisis Group…”

Unfortunately there is no reference to Crisis Group’s key, 2011 report entitled “The Syrian Regime’s Slow-motion Suicide” (imagine, this was the title in the early months of the revolt) which helped prepare the ground for precisely that which Joost is now lamenting.

Indeed, the Slow-motion Suicide report, authored by Peter Harling, staked out a morally and strategically deficient vision of the gathering Syria conflict (especially for a conflict mitigation NGO) – saying there was little the international community could do.. in the summer of 2011. This position ultimately paved the way for Noah Bonsey’s 2015 Crisis Group report calling for an acceleration of the armed conflict through US military-led intervention.

I wrote about both of these turns by ICG in 2015, but also wrote a NY Times op-ed along similar lines in February 2012 where I specifically took out reference to Crisis Group after a series of back and forth discussions with Rob Malley and Peter. By 2015, however, in my view ICG needed to come in for specific criticism.…/when-ngos-call-for-interven…

In July 2011, a mere four months into the Syria revolt, the venerable, Brussels-based conflict-mitigation NGO, International Crisis Group (ICG), released a lengthy report with the provocative title, “The Syrian Regime’s Slow-motion Suicide.”

“The situation has reached an apparent stalemate,” the report’s authors declared, “but it would be wrong to bet on the status quo enduring. Economic conditions are worsening; should they reach breaking point the regime could well collapse. Predominantly Allawite security forces are overworked, underpaid and increasingly worried. They could conclude that the regime is unsalvageable and defect, precipitating its end.”

By projecting such certainty that the regime was essentially in its death-throes, and then ignoring any serious discussion about how Russia, Iran or Lebanon’s Hezbollah might possibly intervene to change the calculus (the trio are barely mentioned in the report), ICG laid an important intellectual plank for the erroneous assumption that was then gathering steam in so many world capitals: It was just a matter of time before the regime led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad imploded.

Regrettably, ICG’s overconfidence in regime suicide not only encouraged the premature and disastrous rejection of diplomacy that has helped prolong the Syria war. It also essentially abdicated the main role for which peace, promotion, and conflict mitigation NGOs exist in the first place: Advocating for strong international engagement and negotiated solutions that regard the safety of civilian populations as paramount.

“The international community’s options remain limited,” the report concluded. “The world’s cautious attitude has been a source of deep frustration and even anger for the protesters. That is entirely understandable, yet such caution might well be a blessing in disguise. The regime is unlikely to respond to international pressures, regardless of their provenance. Ultimately, the burden lies with the protesters…”

Should a leading NGO dedicated to active, international involvement in crises simply throw up its hands and say there isn’t much outside actors can do other than watch? And might not good-faith diplomacy — instead of a false choice between military intervention or passivity — offer the best way to minimize any fallout if the regime doesn’t end up committing suicide?… Read on at HuffPost

“In Syria, We Need to Bargain with the Devil”/New York Times, February 2012…/in-syria-we-need-to-bargain-with-t…

Written by nickbiddlenoe

April 25, 2017 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Hezbollah Media tour demonstrates less deterrence on Israeli side, not more

Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea has made the case that the Hezbollah press tour on the border the other day was a “strategic mistake.” He may be onto something when it comes to two points: 1) Contrary to the Hezbollah commander on the tour, the border defences do NOT demonstrate that Israel has somehow changed, for the “first time,” to a defensive fighting posture. Indeed, the enhanced doming of the border and airspace is precisely meant to work symbiotically by freeing Israel’s massive offensive firepower. 2) This enhanced “doming” – The Great Dome of Israel – does not therefore show Israel is somehow “deterred.” In fact, it demonstrates that Israel is actively trying to degrade Hezbollah’s ability to project offensive power and that it’s leadership likely feels much more confident about this effort (whether the confidence is borne out in the next war is a different question). This means that Israel is LESS likely to be deterred in the future.

In my view, the Media Office tour – which also played into their opponent’s hands by displaying arms in violation of UNSCR 1701 – will not enhance deterrence on the Israeli side (not least because it didn’t demonstrate any added Hezbollah ability) and in fact will probably raise greater alarm on the Lebanese side since it makes more visible all of the impressive Israeli actions that the state has taken to better protect their populations. This is in fact a key political, strategic and moral failure on the side of all Lebanese political parties and the Lebanese state – a state that Hezbollah is an intricate part of and partially responsible to/for in the coming period.

“…Hezbollah, which is fully immersed in the Syrian war and has lost more than 1,000 of its fighters there, clearly has no appetite for a fight. But Salem Zahran, a Hezbollah-aligned analyst on the tour, said another war between the two was inevitable and was tied to the Syrian conflict, where there have been flare-ups with Israel in the Golan area south of Damascus.

The next war will not take place only on Lebanese territory, but also in Syria and “inside occupied Palestine,” Zahran said.

He said Hezbollah wanted to send a message through the tour, in case Israel was preparing for war. “The message is I see you, and I have another scenario for you.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

April 21, 2017 at 10:19 am

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Yemen Exchange Note: Assaulting Main Yemeni Port Would Likely Lead to Disaster

We are waiting to hear from the Houthi and pro-Saleh leaders later in the program, but one major takeaway thus far from our First Yemen Exchange – for me at least – is that the effort to take the port is likely to fail and even if it were to be taken… will just lead to greater tactical and strategic problems on the battlefield. Not to mention the humanitarian situation which this Economist piece mentions:
“The war in Yemen: Starving the people
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by Western nations, which sides with the president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is finalising plans to invade and take Hodeida, Yemen’s main trading port. If the attack fails, the coalition will be humiliated. It may even unravel. A successful assault might see it wrest control of the western coast. But it would also hamper the delivery of food aid and could worsen Yemen’s humanitarian crisis…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

April 13, 2017 at 6:45 pm

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Critical Information Left Out Of NYT Reporting on Syria

It is indeed mystifying how the New York Times does not mention the “Rafik Hariri” name of the Atlantic Center – and all of the implications which this funding and affiliation obviously brings – when The Times itself published a long investigation about… the foreign funding and biases of the whole DC think tank circuit only a few years ago:…/foreign-powers-buy-influence-at-think-tanks.html

Strangely Ben Hubbard mentions that the analyst is from Saudi Arabia – signifying that he can somehow speak for Arabs – but doesn’t mention the affiliation beyond what will seem like a neutral think tank to most readers.

Later on Noah Bonsey is quoted without reference to his vigorous support for a US-led military intervention/bombing campaign in Syria… only ICG is mentioned, which similarly does not help to inform the reader about who they are hearing from as analysts.

“A lot of this is an emotional response, but nothing about this strike suggests that the fundamentals of the Syria conflict have shifted,” said Noah Bonsey, a Syria analyst with the International Crisis Group.

I wrote a response to Noah’s ICG paper which called for US Intervention here:

“When NGOs Call For Military Intervention in Syria: The Case of the International Crisis Group”/Huffington Post, September 2015

Written by nickbiddlenoe

April 11, 2017 at 10:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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