Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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Pundicity: Informed Opinion and Review

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The Kremlin Needs To Address Russia's Demographic Crisis

June 13, 2017  •  The Moscow Times

The latest numbers are in, and the forecast for Russia's demographic health is bleak. According to official figures released by the country's state statistics agency, Rosstat, in late May, Russia had 70,000 fewer births during the first four months of 2017 than it did a year earlier. These statistics run against the Kremlin's triumphalist narrative, in which strong leadership and shrewd investments allowed Russia to decisively turn a demographic corner. Instead, as one analysis of the Rosstat figures puts it, the "extinction" of Russia's population is accelerating, as the adverse demographic trends that have long affected the country continue to rage unabated.

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Saudi Arabia Has Backed Qatar Into A Corner

June 8, 2017  •  The National Interest

To say that this has been a bad week for Qatar would be an understatement. Over the weekend, five separate Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) cut their ties to the Gulf kingdom, citing as causes its extensive support for Islamic extremist groups and its cozy relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The rupture takes the form of a cessation of air travel, a closure of borders, and a call those countries' citizens and businesses to vacate the country. Since then, what might have remained a mere regional rift has exploded into a more serious diplomatic crisis, with a number of other nations moving to reevaluate their own ties to the oil-rich emirate. The Kingdom of Jordan has downgraded its diplomatic relations with Qatar, while the North African nation of Mauritania has opted to sever them completely. The Kingdom of Morocco, meanwhile, has cancelled air travel via the Qatari capital, at least temporarily. Even Senegal has recalled its envoy to Doha, throwing its weight behind the Arab bid to isolate Qatar. As a result, Qatari officials are now staring down the barrel at what could very well become a full-blown international boycott in the not-too-distant future. For its part, Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the current campaign, is pressing its advantage. Riyadh has levied a number of onerous demands on Qatar, including the complete cessation of ties with Iran, the expulsion of all leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, from its soil, and the shuttering of its controversial state-controlled broadcast channel, Al Jazeera. What can Doha do next? In the early going, officials in the kingdom were slow to recognize the severity of their predicament. Now that they do, they are discovering that their country has precious few strategic options for reducing its deepening isolation.

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Qatar Was A Double Agent In War On Terror

June 6, 2017  •  USA Today

Just weeks after the President Trump's inaugural tour of the Middle East, which included significant pressure on the Arab Gulf states to build a regional security architecture to combat the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) and counterbalance Iran, the prospects for such a construct appear more distant than ever, at least at first glance. Over the weekend, five separate Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain—all formally severed their diplomatic ties to the Emirate of Qatar over the latter's support of Islamic extremism in various forms.

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The Danger Of Qatar's Duality

May 15, 2017  •  U.S. News & World Report

Can Qatar truly be considered an ally in the "war on terror"? Over the past decade and a half, the oil-rich Gulf emirate has emerged as a key player in U.S. counterterrorism efforts – and a major part of America's military posture in the Middle East. Washington's military partnership with Doha dates back to the mid-1990s, when the country agreed to pre-position equipment for a brigade of the U.S. Army, as well as to play host to an expeditionary wing of the U.S. Air Force. That presence was vastly expanded in the years that followed with the construction of a permanent air base at al-Udeid at a cost of more than $1 billion (a sum shouldered by the kingdom itself). Following the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Udeid's vast capabilities – including the longest runway in the Persian Gulf, and the capacity to accommodate almost 100 combat aircraft – made it a natural destination for the surge of forces that accompanied the George W. Bush administration's response to al-Qaida. Subsequently, the shift of U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia greatly expanded Qatar's importance to American military strategy. So, too, did the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which cemented the kingdom's role as a key logistics and basing hub for coalition operations against the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. So it has remained. Qatar currently serves as the forward operating headquarters for the U.S. Central Command, with al-Udeid now hosting over 10,000 U.S. military personnel, including the entirety of the Air Force's 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. And with the start of coalition operations against the Islamic State terrorist group over the past year, the kingdom has become a key command and control node for the air campaign being waged against the group by Washington and its political allies. But Qatar's positive role in Mideast security is counterbalanced by a decidedly more sinister one. While it has deepened its strategic partnership with the United States, the Gulf kingdom has also served as a key sponsor of a bevy of Islamist groups deeply hostile to U.S. interests.

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How Qatar Helped Hamas Get Its Groove Back

May 2, 2017  •  The National Interest

On Monday, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot that rules the Gaza Strip, thrust itself back into the international spotlight when it formally unveiled a new organizational charter. The long-discussed and much-debated document - launched with great fanfare by Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal at the upscale Sheraton Hotel in the Qatari capital of Doha - represents a new bid for relevance by the world's premier Palestinian Islamist movement. Hamas is in sore need of just such a facelift. In the past several years, because of strategic missteps as well as regional geopolitical changes, the organization has found itself isolated economically and neutered politically. Back in 2013, Hamas famously fell out with its major sponsor, Iran, when the two took opposing sides in the Syrian Civil War, leading Tehran to slash its funding for the group. (They have since reconciled). Relations between Hamas and Egypt have also soured significantly since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government in 2013. Morsi's successor, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has launched a major crackdown on the Brotherhood, seeing it as both a political and security threat - a perception that extends to the group's Palestinian branch as well. Tensions between Hamas and Saudi Arabia likewise remain high, due to Riyadh's long-standing hatred of the Brotherhood as well as its worries over Hamas's on-again, off-again dalliance with Shia Iran. Naturally, Hamas officials are working overtime to reverse these trends and improve their strategic position. Hamas's new charter is simply the most recent part of that process. But it is hardly a sign of newfound moderation, as many have been quick to assume. Despite some tactical changes in the text (most notably, the replacement of "Jews" with "occupiers" as the principal target of its animus), Hamas's long-standing objective of annihilating Israel is still very much in effect. Thus, the original Hamas covenant - released publicly in 1988 - called the creation of an Islamic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, a formulation that precluded any sort of compromise with Israel. Similarly, the new charter notes that the group "rejects any alternative to completely liberating Palestine from the river to the sea." Hamas's efforts to destroy the Jewish state, in other words, can be expected to continue unabated. The real reason Hamas is now poised for a political comeback, however, has everything to do with Qatar. Over the past several years, amid deepening international isolation, the oil-rich Gulf kingdom has become a prominent political safe haven and a vital economic lifeline for the movement.

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Books by Ilan Berman

Cover of Iran's Deadly Ambition Cover of Implosion Cover of Winning the Long War Cover of Tehran Rising

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