The Sunni-Shia conflict: the aims of belligerents

Brian M Downing  The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran did not begin by the happenstance of a border dispute or the sinking of a passenger liner. It came about by international diplomacy as surely as a multinational trade agreement. As murderous and chaotic as wars are, they have a Read More …

The Sunni-Shia conflict: correlation of power

Brian M Downing  Hostility between the Sunni and Shia sects began in the seventh century as a fight over succession to leadership of the Islamic world. Was it to be descendants of the Prophet or his generals? The issue was settled, more or less, when the generals defeated Ali’s forces Read More …

The call of ISIL after Mosul and Raqqa

Brian M Downing Mosul and Raqqa will soon fall, leaving ISIL with no major cities, only a few towns in the thinly-populated expanses of eastern Syria and western Iraq. Its bold claim to be an ever-victorious army conquering vast lands across the Middle East for the new caliphate is becoming Read More …

The Entente faces down the Muslim Brotherhood

Brian M Downing  The Muslim Brotherhood began in 1920s Egypt and over the years has spread throughout the Islamic world. In places it operates as an underground network, elsewhere as an open part of government. Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States have formed an Entente which opposes terrorism and Read More …

The potential for escalation in eastern Syria

Brian M Downing The war in Syria seemed to settle after Damascus’s troops retook Aleppo early this year. Backed by Russian air power, government forces overwhelmed the determined but overmatched rebels and fighting declined. Meaningful negotiations did not follow. The war is now shifting to the east where the American-backed Read More …

Rethinking the Muslim Brotherhood 

Brian M Downing  The new administration has taken several bold steps regarding the Middle East. The executive order on immigration from seven Muslim countries caused an uproar, though that’s far less important than its imprecision and questionable constitutionality. The plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem Read More …

Netanyahu builds up his majority – and the “iron wall”?

Netanyahu builds up his majority – and the “iron wall”? Brian M Downing Last week Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu replaced his defense minister with Avigdor Lieberman – a conservative who has found a niche to the right of the PM. Lieberman’s public support is in the Russian immigrant community and Read More …

The House of Saud tries to modernize (at last)

The House of Saud tries to modernize (at last) Brian M Downing Saudi Arabia has announced bold economic moves. Weeks ago Riyadh floated the idea of selling shares in its oil industry to shore up cash reserves, and more recently it announced an ambitious program of building an industrial base. This, the Read More …