BICOM today published its third annual forecast “The Middle East in 2018”. Based on interviews with current and former security and diplomatic officials in Britain and Israel, it provides a strategic overview of the region and where the potential trigger points for renewed conflict may emerge.
The report highlights the risk that if the US and international partners such as the UK cannot fix perceived shortcomings, US President Donald Trump will leave the Iran nuclear agreement.
BICOM CEO James Sorene said: “2018 will be the moment of truth for the Iran nuclear deal. If President Trump isn’t able to improve it to his liking, he will walk away. He wants the UK and France to support his efforts to crack down on Iran’s ballistic missile programme and they will try in return to keep the US in the deal.”
On Syria, the report believes the Assad regime will conquer areas in Southern Syria, putting Shia militias and Iranian forces close to Israel’s border, increasing tensions and opening a dangerous new phase in the struggle between Israel and Iran.
BICOM also assesses that Israel’s 70th anniversary year is likely to be an election year, especially if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is indicted for corruption. Whether replaced by another government made up of right-wing parties, or a centre-left alternative, 2018 could see the end of Netanyahu’s nine years at the top of Israeli politics, the report says.
The report concludes that Saudi Arabia will need to rethink its failed foreign policy in 2018 and could put economic pressure on Lebanon, ease the blockade in Yemen and expand its secret alliance with Israel.
Sorene said that “Saudi Arabia surprised everyone in 2017 with the pace and range of change. Most of its foreign policy projects were unsuccessful. It needs to rethink in 2018 and apply the energy of its young leadership more effectively, while managing the risks involved with its ambitious domestic and economic reforms”.
The report lists key questions for British policy makers in 2018 including how to respond to Iran’s ballistic missile programme and proliferation of weapons in the region whilst working to prevent the US from leaving the Iran nuclear agreement, and the challenge of 300 foreign fighters potentially returning from conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa region.
On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Sorene said that “no progress is likely this year,” as the Palestinians “have frozen relations with the US after the Jerusalem announcement and it will take some time to resume substantive discussions, leaving a vacuum that could increase tensions”.
You can read the full report here.