Sources of instability in the Middle East 

Brian M Downing  The Middle East has been unstable for most of the past hundred years, but it’s more so today. Some reasons are long-term, others more recent. Long-term reasons include hostilities between the Shia and Sunni sects, artificial boundaries drawn by Britain and France after the Great War, the Read More …

Netanyahu sets sights on Hisbollah and Iran 

Brian M Downing Israeli spokesmen are pointing out unacceptable actions by Hisbollah and IRGC. Iran is building underground missile plants in Lebanon, digging tunnels from southern Lebanon into Galilee, and assembling troops near the Syrian-Israeli border, thereby threatening Israel with a “two-front war”. How Shia troops propping up Assad pose Read More …

The United States and Israel take aim at detente in the Gulf

Brian M Downing  The march toward war in the Gulf has slowed in recent weeks. The Saudis, dispirited by stalemate in Yemen, and Iran, concerned by greater Sunni wealth and allies, may soon enter into talks. Both sides see the potential for mutual ruin with little to gain, except for Read More …

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: cohesion and disintegration at home 

Brian M Downing  See also my “The Sunni-Shia conflict: correlation of power.” Total war sets into motion certain forces tending to unify the nation under the stress of external threat to its existence, although their total net effect is probably less important than those forces making for the interruption of Read More …

The Trump administration’s options for Afghanistan

Brian M Downing Armies have come and gone from Afghanistan over the centuries. Alexander came through, saw no reason to stay, then wheeled south into the Indus valley, which he mistook for the Nile. A British army under WGK Elphinstone was annihilated in 1842 as it retreated from Kabul toward 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 coming struggle for Iraq

Brian M Downing  The Entente of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States is determined to weaken Iranian-Shia influence. The effort has theaters in Syria, Yemen, Qatar, and Iraq. At times it will entail diplomacy and sanctions, other times military operations will be the rule. Both will be used in 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 …

American risks and rewards in the anti-Iran coalition

Brian M Downing The United States has entered into a portentous strategic partnership with Israel and a host of Sunni powers led by Saudi Arabia. The new Triple Entente was nominally formed to fight terrorism but actually to weaken Iranian-Shia influence from Lebanon and Syria to Iran. An initial move was Read More …