Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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Pundicity: Informed Opinion and Review

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Riyadh Turns East

September 14, 2021  •  Newsweek

It's official: Saudi Arabia has begun to seek other suitors. Last month, in a move that passed largely unnoticed amid the unfolding debacle in Afghanistan, the House of Saud signed a new military cooperation agreement with Russia. The deal, inked on the sidelines of the International Military-Technical Forum near Moscow by Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman and his Russian counterpart, Alexander Fomin, is aimed at developing joint military coordination between the two countries. While details of the agreement remain sparse, speculation abounds that it encompasses systems like unmanned aerial vehicles and military helicopters, which Riyadh needs to address its immediate security needs. On a broader level, however, the Saudi-Russian deal reflects a momentous strategic shift, as the kingdom adapts to the changes taking place in America's Mideast policy.

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The Costs Of The Afghan Catastrophe

August 24, 2021  •  Al-Hurra Digital

By now, it's beyond question that the Biden administration's hasty, uncoordinated withdrawal from Afghanistan is nothing short of a debacle. The rapidity with which U.S. forces pulled back in recent weeks helped empower a surge on the part of the Taliban, with dramatic results, while the lack of proper contingency plans to evacuate – or even to protect – vulnerable civilians have led to tragic scenes of mayhem and ongoing disorder. Policymakers in Washington are now frantically scrambling to undo the damage. The measures they are employing – including airlifts of U.S. citizens and Afghan refugees and the coordination of international human rights policies – may end up having some effect. But the long-term consequences of the Administration's miscalculation are sure to reverberate for years to come. And while the true extent of the damage has yet to be tallied, it's already apparent that those costs will be measured in a number of concrete ways.

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America Is Missing Out On Middle East Progress

August 12, 2021  •  Al-Hurra Digital

A year ago this week, Israel and the United Arab Emirates made history when they agreed to formally normalize their diplomatic relations. That breakthrough was followed by others, as Bahrain and Morocco, as well as Sudan, signed on to what has collectively come to be known as the "Abraham Accords." One year on, those connections are growing quickly, with tremendous repercussions for the region – and for the United States.

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Iran's Water Crisis Could Be A Political Earthquake

August 9, 2021  •  The Hill

The Iranians are thirsty. In the past few weeks, thousands have taken to the streets in cities and towns throughout the Islamic Republic to protest the country's deepening hydrological crisis — and the Iranian regime's chronic mishandling of it. Beginning in mid-July in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, protests broke out over water shortages brought about by deepening drought conditions and longstanding governmental mismanagement. Since then, the unrest has spread throughout the country. The protestors have a lot to be angry about. In Khuzestan alone, more than 700 villages are now said to have difficulty accessing water, and many residents are forced to rely on governmental water deliveries by truck. But the problem is bigger still. According to official tallies from the Iranian government, at least 110 cities throughout the country have been forced to implement some form of water rationing or suffered disruptions this summer alone. These conditions are a reflection of a deeper and more longstanding malaise.

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America's Iran Policy Pendulum

August 4, 2021  •  Chapter in Iran In-Between Us (Tactics Institute, August 2021)

For the second time in a half-decade, U.S. policy toward Iran is undergoing a profound redefinition, as the Biden administration abandons the "maximum pressure" of the Trump era in favor of a broad effort to reengage the Islamic Republic. Even before he was elected in November 2020, it was clear that, as president, Joe Biden would pursue a substantially more accommodating approach toward Tehran than his predecessor. For instance, in the spring of 2020, at the start of the global coronavirus outbreak, Biden himself argued that the U.S. government needed to ease sanctions pressure on Iran[1] – even though the Iranian regime had by then repeatedly turned down offers of humanitarian assistance from the Trump administration.[2] In much the same vein, top foreign policy advisor (now Secretary of State) Antony Blinken indicated that a Biden White House would be willing to resuscitate the 2015 deal over Iran's nuclear program known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – including, presumably, reactivating the massive sanctions relief that accompanied the original agreement.[3] Meanwhile, the broad contours of this reengagement was being defined by aligned experts and think tanks, such as the left-leaning Center for a New American Security, which in August of 2020 published what was effectively a blueprint for future talks with Iran.[4] In turn, once it took office in January 2021, reengagement with Iran became a top priority of the Biden administration's foreign policy. Almost immediately, Administration principals (including Secretary of State Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and State Department Special Envoy Rob Malley) embarked upon extensive outreach toward the Iranian government designed to cajole the country's clerical regime into reentering the 2015 nuclear deal and returning to the diplomatic table. As of this writing, that effort has entailed, among other things: renewed proximity talks between Washington and Tehran, a rollback of key sanctions deemed not to be consistent with the spirit of the 2015 nuclear deal, and a relaxation of American enforcement of those punitive economic measures still in place. Administration officials have waxed optimistic that such steps will, over time, pave the way for a "longer and stronger" deal with Tehran.[5] Yet it is also an effort that is fraught with peril. The Biden administration's Iran policy risks undoing the significant leverage that the United States has accumulated vis-à-vis the Iranian regime over the past two years as a result of "maximum pressure." It likewise risks missing a crucial opening within Iran itself, where an increasingly disaffected populace is coalescing around an anti-regime consensus that offers a tantalizing glimpse at a post-theocratic future for one of America's most vexing strategic adversaries.

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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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