Featured Commentary

RAND researchers often write commentaries for publications on a variety of topics. This page lists recent commentaries and op-eds about the Middle East. For a complete list of commentaries and op-eds by RAND staff, visit the RAND Blog.

  • People carry banners and Algerian national flags during a protest calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, in Algiers, Algeria, March 22, 2019, photo by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

    African Dictators Have Been Losing Power—Some to Democratic Governments. Militaries Can Tip the Scales Toward Democracy

    Sep 16, 2019

    Africa's security forces most often make headlines when they commit atrocities, crack down on protesters, or seize power in coups. But Africa's troops can also contribute to democracy and peace when they lay down their arms or refuse orders to turn their guns against the people.

  • An Israeli soldier stands guard under an Israeli national flag in the Jordan Valley near the Jewish settlement of Maale Efrayim, January 2, 2014, photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

    Israel’s War with Iran May Be Going Too Far

    Sep 16, 2019

    Israel has a right to defend itself from Iranian threats to its country. American leaders should consider balancing support for Israel's efforts to counter Iran with firm redlines about activities negatively impacting American interests.

  • A member of Iran's Revolutionary guards sits in front of a picture of a soldier at a war exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in southern Tehran, September 26, 2007, photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters

    Syria Changed the Iranian Way of War

    Aug 16, 2019

    To get a sense of the playbook that Tehran might consult in any future conflict with the United States, Washington should pay close attention to what the Iranians have learned in Syria.

  • Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a working lunch at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan, on Friday, June 28, 2019, photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Reuters

    Japan's Hormuz Dilemma

    Aug 16, 2019

    Japan is a staunch U.S. ally in the Indo-Pacific. But any decision to support a coalition against Iran in the Middle East is likely to put Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a tough position.

  • An Egyptian military vehicle on the highway in northern Sinai, Egypt, May 25, 2015, photo by Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

    Making Headway Against the Sinai Insurgency

    Aug 12, 2019

    Since 2013, Egypt has been engaged in the Sinai Peninsula against a deadly ISIS-affiliated insurgency. To make headway, the Egyptian government could focus on providing services in the region and repairing its relationship with citizens.

  • Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a news conference in Tehran, Iran, August 5, 2019, photo by Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA/Reuters

    Iran's Cooperation with the Taliban Could Affect Talks on U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

    Aug 9, 2019

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has acknowledged that his country has some level of cooperation with the Taliban. How did Iran's relationship with the Taliban come about? And how might it affect the future of U.S.-Taliban talks?

  • White House senior adviser Jared Kushner arrives for the U.S.-hosted “Peace to Prosperity” conference, in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019, photo by Matt Spetalnick/Reuters

    Development with No Political Framework Is a Car Without an Engine

    Jul 9, 2019

    Pushing an economic development plan for the Middle East without addressing the political issues specific to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like trying to sell a car without an engine. Why? Because an economic strategy that doesn't address core political issues would have no governing entity to put it into effect.

  • The purported wreckage of an American drone is seen displayed by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in Tehran, Iran, June 21, 2019, photo by Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency via Reuters

    The Flawed Logic of Proportionality

    Jul 1, 2019

    President Trump halted a retaliatory strike against Iran on the basis that it would have claimed many Iranian lives and was not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. There are many good reasons to avoid attacking Iran, but if Washington must resort to force in the future, it should avoid the flawed logic of proportionality.

  • Bomb blasts and artillery fire thundered across Baghdad as U.S. forces tightened their grip on the capital's fringes and brought up more troops, April 6, 2003, photo by Faleh Kheiber/Reuters

    Changing the Way America Goes to War

    Jun 25, 2019

    America's vast power, and the weakness of most of its enemies, has allowed it to get away with a striking absence of deliberative judgment when deciding on war, as the Iraq case makes clear. But that free pass is coming to an end. It's time for the United States to rethink the way it decides on wars of choice.

  • The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2019, photo by Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

    A Post-2020 U.S. Return to the Iran Nuclear Deal?

    Jun 20, 2019

    Now that the United States is out of the Iran nuclear deal, signing back on will not be as simple or as practical as some may hope. Too much has happened since it was first inked in 2015. With the political landscape in Tehran and Washington still taking shape, those who want to return to some kind of deal should start planning.

  • Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, June 14, 2019, photo by Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters

    The Costs of Confrontation with Iran Are Mounting

    Jun 17, 2019

    Even if the United States and Iran avoid a direct military clash, recent escalation and the U.S. maximum pressure campaign are exacting long-term costs for U.S. interests and regional stability in ways that may be difficult if not impossible to reverse.

  • Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader holding pictures of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Beirut, Lebanon, October 11, 2016, photo by Aziz Taher/Reuters

    Iran's Network of Fighters in the Middle East Aren't Always Loyal to Iran

    May 21, 2019

    Iran's nonstate partners are emerging as central players in the escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, and may be a driver of further escalation. But how involved is Iran with these proxy groups?

  • Iran's President Hassan Rouhani listens during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 26, 2018, photo by Brendan McDermid

    The U.S. and Iran: Beyond the Rhetoric

    May 17, 2019

    Since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran, tensions between the two countries have increased. Washington has stepped up pressure on Tehran in the hopes of reopening negotiations or ushering in the regime's collapse, while inside Iran, President Rouhani is facing pressure to retaliate.

  • Damaged artifacts inside the museum of the historic city of Palmyra, Syria, March 27, 2016, photo by SANA/Reuters

    We're Just Beginning to Grasp the Toll of the Islamic State's Archaeological Looting in Syria

    May 15, 2019

    During the Islamic State's rise, looted artifacts were said to be a significant source of income for the group. But no one had identified the value, using empirical data and systematic calculations, of the artifacts that were known to exist in Syria's archaeological sites. Until now.

  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq March 11, 2019, photo by Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters

    Can Anyone Save the Iran Nuclear Deal Now?

    May 10, 2019

    Europe faces mounting pressure from both Tehran and Washington regarding the Iran nuclear deal. European countries could take steps to signal their commitment to upholding the deal, but doing so may alienate the United States.

  • The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln conducts a replenishment-at-sea operation with other carrier group ships. The carrier group is now in the Red Sea earlier than planned at the direction of the White House, photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Sherman/U.S. Navy photo

    U.S., Iran Must Both Tread Lightly with Tensions Running So High

    May 9, 2019

    Tensions between the United States and Iran have increased, raising concerns that they may be headed for war. But conflict is not inevitable. The United States and Iran could seek to re-establish communications channels, as well as look for available off-ramps to de-escalate tensions and keep the slightest misstep from spiraling into an all-out conflict.

  • A Syrian refugee girl stands near luggage of Syrian refugees returning to Syria, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2018, photo by Jamal Saidi/Reuters

    Syrian Refugees Won't Be Going Home Any Time Soon

    Apr 19, 2019

    Active fighting in Syria is dwindling. But Syria remains divided in a frozen conflict and empty peace, unstable and unlikely to attract the investment in reconstruction, public institutions, job creation, and local reconciliation efforts needed to motivate Syrians in large numbers to return home.

  • Children walk as they hold stacks of bread at al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria, April 2, 2019, photo by Ali Hashisho/Reuters

    When Are Economic Sanctions Worthwhile?

    Apr 15, 2019

    For American policymakers, economic sanctions are too often the soft choice between doing nothing and taking effective but risky or expensive action. Yet, before they inflict years, perhaps decades of impoverishment and worse on entire populations, they should ask if their efforts are likely to succeed and are worth punishing an entire people to do so.

  • Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy march during a parade in Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2011, photo by Stringer Iran/Reuters

    The U.S. Designated the Revolutionary Guards as a Terrorist Group. What Happens Next?

    Apr 11, 2019

    The U.S. designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization was meant to serve America's interests by isolating Iran. Instead, it may increase the likelihood of a tit-for-tat escalation that will require significant resources to avoid a broader regional conflagration.

  • Men work on a damaged building in the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria, December 27, 2014, photo by Mahmoud Hebbo/Reuters

    The Syrian Civil War Is Coming to an End

    Apr 8, 2019

    Coalition forces have driven ISIS from its final patch of territory in Syria. But the bigger challenge will be ending the ongoing civil war and rebuilding Syria to bring home millions of refugees and internally displaced people. This means creating a state that can provide safety, security, and opportunity that forestalls further rebellion and devastation.

  • Khalifa Haftar salutes as he participates in the General Security conference, in Benghazi, Libya, October 14, 2017, photo by Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters

    Is an Escalation Imminent in Western Libya?

    Mar 27, 2019

    The Libyan Civil War has largely been contained to pockets of violence. Prolonged battles decimated cities such as Benghazi, Derna, and Sirte, but the majority of the country has been spared large-scale destruction. However, that could change soon.

  • A Syrian refugee man works at a bakery in Gaziantep, Turkey, May 16, 2016, photo by Umit Bektas/Reuters

    Economic Burden or Opportunity? How Syrian Refugees Can Contribute to Local Economies

    Mar 25, 2019

    The influx of refugees escaping the war in Syria has placed an enormous economic burden on the countries that host them. Despite the challenges, host countries have an opportunity to capitalize on the presence of refugees to grow their own economies for the mutual benefit of all.

  • Syrian refugee metal shop trainees work at one of the vocational training centres near Al Azraq city, Jordan, June 27, 2016

    Jobs Can Improve the Lives of Syrian Refugees and Their Host Communities

    Mar 11, 2019

    Host governments, international development agencies, and donor countries like the United States could take several steps to improve Syrian refugee employment. This would increase self-reliance among Syrian refugees and ease pressures on host communities.

  • U.S. President Donald Trump announces his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, DC, May 8, 2018, photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Can the U.S. Attain Foreign Policy Goals with 'Maximum Pressure' Campaigns?

    Mar 6, 2019

    The Trump administration's record in two of today's most pressing nuclear nonproliferation challenges, North Korea and Iran, highlights the potential dangers of a “maximum pressure” strategy.

  • Um Akram, a Syrian refugee, creates soap under Jasmine, a project which hires and trains Syrian refugee women to create handicrafts, in Amman, Jordan, July 11, 2016

    As Refugees, Syrian Women Find Liberation in Working

    Feb 19, 2019

    Syrian refugee women in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan want opportunities to work. But there are multiple barriers and challenges that limit them. Improving the chances of safe and dignified work opportunities for Syrian women in these countries could yield broad positive social benefits for both the refugee and host communities.