This is a guide for policy makers to the Middle East in 2018 based on interviews with current and former security officials and diplomats in Britain and Israel.
- 2018 will be a moment of truth for the Iran nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). If the US and international partners such as the UK cannot fix perceived shortcomings, US President Donald Trump will leave the JCPOA.
- As ISIS wanes and political discussions on a “solution” in Syria continue, the UK and international community will face several challenges: preventing ISIS re-emerging; Iranian entrenchment and the risk of a clash with Israel; Russian domination and the status of other foreign forces; Jordan’s fears of Shi’ite militias along its border; and tension between Turkey and the Kurdish forces in the north.
- Iranian efforts to fill the vacuum left by ISIS significantly raises the potential for miscalculation, error and rapid escalation between Israel, Iran and its allies. The return of the Assad regime to southern Syria will pose additional dilemmas for Israel and potentially Jordan, while the return to Lebanon of Hezbollah forces will allow it to shore up its domestic support and refocus on Israel.
- While the British government has emphasised Jordan’s security, stability and economic sustainability as “central to a peaceful future in the Middle East,” the country continues to face significant domestic challenges from jihadism, a stuttering economy, and the inflow of refugees from the Syrian civil war.
- NATO member Turkey will continue to pose a challenge for Western policy makers with the recent deal to purchase Russian S-400 surface–to-air missiles and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan advancing a pro-Islamist ideology. A clash between Turkey and Kurdish forces also remains a real possibility.
- Newly appointed Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman (MBS) is expected to continue his determined efforts to position his country as the leader of a more assertive Sunni Arab camp seeking to contain the influence of Iran and its proxies. The Kingdom will have to manage mounting foreign policy challenges relating to its participation in the war in Yemen, its interventions in Lebanese domestic politics, and its confrontation with Qatar, whilst pursuing major domestic reforms which carry the risk of internal friction.
- In the Israeli-Palestinian arena, chances are waning that 2018 will be the year for a Trump administration peace initiative – certainly one accepted by both sides – and the newly revealed Palestinian internationalisation strategy may pose dilemmas for the UK government, which has already voted against the US twice in the UN in recent weeks. While the political process seems stalled, a Palestinian reconciliation agreement is stumbling and Gaza continues to suffer from a humanitarian crisis which shortens the fuse for a renewed conflict with Israel. Thereis also a high chance of elections in Israel.
- Egypt’s is another country to watch, due to its socio-economic and security challenges, combined with a forthcoming Presidential election.
The full forecast is available as a PDF below.