The Middle East in 2020

Benny Gantz will become Israeli Prime Minister, the Israel-Iran conflict will intensify and there could be a military coup in Iraq. These are some of the predictions in The Middle East in 2020, a new report published today by BICOM with our predictions of the major events, conflicts and political change that will take place across the region.

Britain enters the new year after an election that delivered a decisive victory for the Conservative party with a large majority in Parliament but with continued focus and debate over Brexit and a review of security and foreign policy. Whatever the outcome, the UK has very significant security and economic interests in the Middle East including ensuring energy security, fighting terrorism, expanding trade, and encouraging investment.

Key predictions for 2020 include:

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to end his time as Prime Minister after a poor election result in March. The country’s political stalemate will be broken when Benny Gantz emerges as the leader of the largest party, leading to the establishment of a grand coalition government with Netanyahu’s successor at the helm of the Likud party.

The US will tighten sanctions on Iran as part of its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against the Islamic Republic. Yet Iran will likely refuse talks until after the November US election, preferring to try and wait out the Trump administration.

As part of its review of foreign policy, the new UK Government may take a much tougher approach towards Iran, initiating action at the UN against its missile programme and banning the IRGC Quds force as a terrorist organisation.

The ongoing conflict between Iran and Israel will intensify in Syria and Iraq but will stop short of a wider direct conflict. Lebanon’s financial system could collapse initiating a period of major political reform and uncertainty, although it is unlikely that Hezbollah escalates into a war with Israel.

The fate of Islamic State detainees will become an urgent international concern as ISIS fighters break out of detention facilities and rejoin the simmering insurgencies in Syria and Iraq. Russia will continue to shape the post-conflict settlement in Syria, helping the Assad regime to restore its sovereignty across the country

An Iraqi army coup d’etat in Baghdad supported by nationalist forces is possible in light of the extent of political turmoil. Militias under the rubric of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) – pro-Iranian and heavily armed – will fight to maintain the primacy of the existing government. The Sunni tribes in Anbar province will also mobilise, dividing loyalties between pro-Iran and pro-nationalist sides. The chaos will provide space for the re-emergence of the Islamic State in north west Iraq.

The Gulf States will strengthen trade and security ties with Israel, but stop short of establishing formal relations due to lack of progress in resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The Trump plan for Israel and the Palestinian talks will be shelved.

Palestinian politics will continue to be divided between the West Bank and Gaza, elections will be discussed but delayed due to irreconcilable differences between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

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