We know that the effects of climate change are worse on developing nations. Drought and water shortages curtail food supplies, make formerly well-populated landscapes uninhabitable, and force inhabitants to migrate due to increasingly unsustainable environments. The long-standing water crisis in Iraq is an example of what can result from a changing environment—and how a poorly administered water policy can make the lives of millions of people worse. 



Where civilization may go to die 



Climate change, in the words of a lengthy April 2022 Washington Post survey, is turning “the cradle of civilization” into a “grave.” In Iraq, yearly temperature averages are rising at a rate close to double that of the global average. 



Long years of unusually intense heat waves and inadequate rainfall have resulted in ever greater dependence on the water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. But those waters, which supply more than 90 percent of Iraq’s water, are also running dry. Experts note that projections show both rivers potentially drying up within the next few decades unless the world takes definitive action.  



So different, not so long ago 



Between these rivers, toward the south of Iraq, lies the historic and environmentally rich land of marshes that once covered about 7,000 square miles. These lands were once crisscrossed by deep waterways and wetlands and covered in thick growths of reeds. The whole area teemed with wildlife, including flocks of herons and other wading birds, as well as numerous songbirds. Some scholars believe that the marshes were the inspiration for descriptions of the Garden of Eden in the Bible. 



For thousands of years, this abundance has supported tribal societies where people lived much as their ancestors did centuries ago, and where they were relatively isolated from the rest of the world until very recently.  



British explorer Wilfred Thesiger loved this region. He spent years during the decade of the 1950s living among the Marsh Arabs, as Westerners traditionally called the local people. Thesiger’s classic 1964 non-fiction book The Marsh Arabs is based on his experiences. As he traveled the waterways and marshes by canoe and gained the trust of the inhabitants, they introduced him to their way of life on the small islands spread across the landscape.  



Thesiger described these lands as “great swamps of bamboos and bullrushes,” and documented everything with sharply etched black-and-white photographs from his Leica camera. 



A rude awakening to crisis 



The landscape of these fabled lands has changed drastically even in the half-century since Thesiger’s time. Many women and children have moved to nearby metropolitan areas, while their men try to maintain their way of life in the marshes, even as fish become increasingly scarce and water buffalo herds die out. To make economic matters worse, the area’s once-thriving industry of buffalo milk production and export has been affected by the poor quality of the grass the animals feed on. 



“There are no fish, no reeds, no life,” a local fisherman told journalists in 2021. If you go far across what remains of those once-fertile lands now, you quickly run up against the stark reality of baked ground and dried-up grasses and reeds. 



Additional human-caused misery 



It isn’t only climate change, though.  



Because the Marsh Arabs are mostly Shi’a Muslims, and because they rebelled against the Sunni-dominated government of Saddam Hussein (in power from 1979 to 2003), they suffered persecution, oppression, torture, and execution during his regime. As a form of punishment, Hussein drained the marshes and built dikes to block the rivers from flowing into the wetlands, all of which helped prompt the exodus to the cities.  



After Hussein fell from power, Iraq worked to restore the marshes and managed to build them back to about 75 percent of their pre-Hussein levels. But by 2015, the severe shortage of water flowing from the Tigris and Euphrates, along with the hotter climate overall, pushed the wetlands down to about 50 percent of what they once were.  



Additionally, the construction of new dams in Turkey (where the Tigris and Euphrates originate) and Iran (which shares the large multi-river floodplain with Iraq and other countries) has been responsible for a reduction of about 60 percent in the rivers’ volume of water. All of the environmental factors discussed here lead scientists to conclude that the marshes will never regain their former lush, wild beauty or their ability to support a population of any size.  



There’s also the fact that post-Hussein Iraq has shown little to no ability to systematically deliver adequate supplies of clean water to its people. Corruption, inattention, and failure to apply established engineering and public health protocols have led to situations like that in Basra, which came to a head in 2018.  More than 100,000 people exhibited severe gastrointestinal symptoms traced to poor water sanitation. Yet the health ministry denied the problem and delayed acting in the public interest.  



Dominoes stacked to fall 



What does all this mean in the realm of international affairs? For one thing, Iraq is among the Middle Eastern countries whose food production systems are most fragile in terms of vulnerability to climate change, and therefore closest to collapse. Add in factors such as poor central governance, a burgeoning youth population, and continued pandemic-related stagnation, and you have a recipe for armed conflict over natural resources, increased migration, the formation of extremist paramilitary organizations, and the growth of terrorist movements—all already problems in Iraq.  



As numerous policy experts have pointed out, climate change consistently raises the probability of war and political instability. This means that, like it or not, any real effort we put into solving Iraq’s water supply problems redounds to the benefit of everyone, everywhere.  

In the hours leading up to Passover 2022, Israeli police responded with tear gas and stun grenades to groups of Palestinians throwing rocks while barricaded at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Police took the unusual step of entering the mosque to make arrests, resulting in further attacks and response. At least four police were wounded in the incident, while some 150 Palestinians sustained injuries. The following Sunday, about 20 more people were wounded in a subsequent confrontation in the Al-Aqsa compound. 

It was just such an incident at the Al-Aqsa Mosque that set off an eleven-day war between Israel and Gaza in May 2021, the fourth such war since 2008. The mosque has historically been at the epicenter of outbreaks of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, as was the case in the Second Palestinian intifada of 2000 to 2005. During those five years of militant conflict, thousands of Israelis and Palestinians were killed. 


These incidents also don’t bode well for the continued functioning of Israel’s multiparty governing coalition. That Sunday, the Israeli Arab party Raam “suspended” its participation in the coalition because of the violence. 


With the Islamic sacred month of Ramadan coinciding that week with Passover and the Christian celebration of Easter, tensions in Jerusalem were already high, and Israeli authorities had prepared for potential escalation. Recent deadly attacks on Jewish Israelis by Arab militants inside the borders of Israel had brought those tensions even closer to the edge. 


What happened? 


International media reports love using the term “clash” to describe violent encounters between Israeli soldiers and police and Palestinian militants. But these “clashes” flow from the actions of determined groups of Palestinians who hurl rocks or otherwise provoke police attention.  


Reports of the Friday incident describe a group of mostly young Palestinian males who positioned themselves against part of the mosque as they began their rocks-and-fireworks attacks. Israel’s national security minister additionally mentioned that officers were attacked with metal bars. 


Israeli authorities stated that, before the violence that Friday, they had held talks with local Muslim leaders in an attempt to deescalate. Hours after they arrested suspects and cleared the area of violent behavior, police reopened the mosque in time for afternoon prayers. Police also say they only entered the Al-Aqsa compound the following Sunday to facilitate entry of Jews to the Western Wall in the face of Palestinian stockpiling of weapons in the mosque. But for Palestinians, any substantial presence of Israeli police in the Al-Aqsa compound is viewed as a provocation.  


Israeli officials released video taken at the scene that shows the Palestinian actions that precipitated the encounter: throwing the fireworks and rocks toward the Western Wall. The Western Wall, like the mosque, is located on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in the world for Jews. Muslims call the Temple Mount complex the Haram al-Sharif, the “Noble Sanctuary,” and the two groups share the space in an uneasy coexistence. 


Israeli journalist David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, noted that some among the young militants gathered inside and near the mosque that Friday carried the flag of Hamas, the terror organization currently in power in Gaza. Horovitz additionally offered video footage that appeared to show that the militants were still wearing their shoes, in disrespect of Islamic tradition that worshippers remove their shoes when entering the holy space of the mosque. They had come for a fight.  


The day before the violence at the mosque broke out, a small group of 20-something Jewish religious extremists were arrested for planning to recreate the ancient ritual of sacrificing a goat on the Temple Mount in the presence of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Their group, Returning to the Mount, even put out flyers offering a cash prize to anyone who conducted such a sacrifice. Earlier in the week, information about the plan reached Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza, who announced their own plans to thwart the Jewish group’s goals with violence. 


A site replete with historical associations 


The Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated at one of the world’s most historically and culturally important crossroads, in the Old City of Jerusalem at the southern side of the Temple Mount. It is the second-oldest mosque in the world, and is cherished by Muslims as the third-holiest site in their faith, after the cities of Mecca and Medina.  


Muslims believe the mosque stands at the end point of the Prophet Muhammad’s journey to what is now Israel. The Quran relates that Muhammad experienced a miraculous transportation from Mecca to exactly this spot, where he then conducted ritual prayer in the presence of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others among those whom Muslims consider “messengers” of monotheistic faith. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad later that night was lifted up to heaven from the nearby Dome of the Rock. The name of the mosque means “the farthest,” denoting that it was built at the farthest point on Muhammad’s Night Journey. 


Caliph Abd al-Malik of the Umayyad dynasty had the Al-Aqsa Mosque constructed in the early years of the 8th century CE, so its architecture is typical of the early Islamic style. Although the building was several times demolished by earthquakes over the years, it was continually rebuilt. Visitors are able to reach the mosque from the Western Wall plaza.  


Foreign governments condemn, Israel asks for restoration of peace 


The international response to the Israeli police action came swiftly, and predictably. Jordan, which is a designated custodian of Muslim holy sites at the Temple Mount, requested that the United Nations Security Council meet to discuss the matter, and the Council met on Tuesday, April 19. Jordan’s government has become increasingly vocal over what it terms Israel’s failure to follow through on agreements about managing the area.  


Meanwhile, Turkey issued a condemnation of Israel’s “intervention on worshippers” and the United Arab Emirates summoned the Israeli ambassador. The UAE, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020, claims that Israel’s response at Al-Aqsa endangered civilian lives and interfered with Palestinians’ ability to worship according to the tenets of their faith. 


A representative for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in this situation as “a dangerous escalation.” Meanwhile, in an event dripping with irony, Vladimir Putin told Abbas that he, too, condemned Israel’s actions at the mosque. The call between Putin and Abbas took place the Monday following the incidents, but also less than two weeks after Israel joined 92 other nations in voting to suspend Russia’s membership on the UN Human Rights Council for unprovoked war against Ukraine. 


Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, told American Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Israel’s actions were a responsible way to address rioting and extremists’ distribution of falsehoods about the situation. Lapid asked for the global community’s support in helping restore peace to Jerusalem. 

After eight years of bloody encounters on the battlefield, the horrific use of chemical weapons, and an estimated half a million dead on both sides, the Iran-Iraq war ended in an effective stalemate in 1988. In addition to those killed, an estimated 1 million more were injured, and the total material losses rose well over $1 trillion.  



The conflict was among the longest and largest-scale conventional military confrontations between two neighboring countries since the Korean War in the 1950s. And, just as in the case of Korea, the repercussions of the Iran-Iraq war went on for years, playing a big role in determining the state of not only the combatants themselves but the wider Middle East and the world today.  



On September 22, 1980, war broke out with Iraq’s massive incursion over its western border with Iran. The Iraqis claimed that the actual start of the conflict took place earlier in September, when Iranian soldiers shelled its border outposts.  



An unsettled region 



After the departure of Great Britain in the 1960s from its position of hegemony over the Persian Gulf, the resulting geopolitical reshuffling left Shia-majority Iran facing off against Shia-majority but Sunni-dominated Iraq. Disputes over territory fueled tensions into the 1970s. 



By 1980, both nations were brutal dictatorships with an abiding mutual hatred for Israel and distrust of the United States. President Saddam Hussain, at the head of the violently controlling Ba’ath Party in Iraq, had assumed power in 1979. That same year, the repressive fundamentalist Islamist regime led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took over via revolution in Iran.   



Shifting alliances 



In its isolation under its fanatical Islamist regime, Iran found only two allies in its war with Iraq: Libya and Syria. On the other hand, Iraq found tacit support from both the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as financial and other types of support from Saudi Arabia, tiny neighboring Kuwait, and other Arab nations. 



Historians credit President Ronald Reagan’s intervention on behalf of Saddam Hussain’s Iraq with ultimately giving the bigger advantage to that country, with American forces involved in violent—but unacknowledged—military confrontations with the Islamic Republic at sea and in the air. Although American interests hinged on maintaining a balance of power and petroleum-trading capacities between Iraq and Iran, as Iran seemed to gain the upper hand in the conflict, Washington saw no alternative to making its bed with Iraq.  



That choice was made less unpalatable by the fact that, at the start of the war, Iran still held dozens of the American hostages it had taken in Tehran when the Islamists came to power in 1979. 



But as the war progressed, the Reagan administration sent arms to Iran in the mistaken hope it would help them free American hostages held in Lebanon, part of the larger scandal of the Iran-Contra Affair. When that plan collapsed, the US tilted back toward Iraq. 



The scourge of chemical weapons  



By the early 1980s, as later-declassified American government documents show, Iraq had begun deploying mustard gas against Iran, which, in turn, began to develop its own chemical weapons program. Tens of thousands of Iranians likely lost their lives to Iraq’s chemical weapons, which later included nerve agents. Many more Iranians suffer the effects of their exposure to this day.  



American documents also show that Iran was likely successful in the limited use of cyanide and mustard gas against the Iraqis by 1987. And in the last year of the war, thousands died in a Kurdish village in Northern Iraq, possibly as a result of being caught in the crossfire of chemical weapons used by both Iraq and Iran.  



All for nothing 



The parties agreed to abide by a UN-facilitated cease-fire in 1988, though tragically, their respective borders at the end of the war were scarcely different than they had been at the beginning. 



Iran and Iraq did not finalize an official peace treaty or resume normalized relations until August 1990. That was the same month that Saddam Hussain ordered his troops to invade Kuwait, drawing the US and the region into the Persian Gulf War that would culminate in the rout of the Iraqis the following February.  



Farther along this trajectory came the Iraq War (also known as the Second Persian Gulf War), which began with a quick Anglo-American victory and the trial and death of Hussain in 2003. This conflict, of course, deteriorated into the long slog of the US-led occupation and the bloody Iraqi insurgency that lasted until 2011. 






Toward the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war, Hussain unleashed a genocidal campaign against Iraq’s Kurds using chemical weapons, even as Khomeini in Iran tightened his grip on power and stepped up the imprisonment and execution of dissidents, further entrenching his country in the vice of Islamist theocracy.  



As a consequence of American actions in the Iran-Iraq war, both those nations came to believe that the US had played them for its own ends.  



By the end of the 1980s, Iraq viewed the US as a major threat despite the masses of strategic intelligence the Americans had provided it. To Iranians, the conflict became known as the “Imposed War” because they believed the US was behind it. 



The Iranians continue to believe that the Americans were orchestrating events at major points of their conflict with Iraq and that the US was behind the global turn in favor of Iraq. This is easier for Iranians to believe when they correctly remember that the UN did not condemn Iraq’s initiation of the war at the time. Iran’s view of itself as a smaller power threatened by the Americans further helped the ayatollah consolidate his regime’s power over the country after the war’s end.  



And that war, with its aftermath of deep mistrust of Western powers, was the formative historical event in the lives of subsequent Iranian leaders, including current president Ebrahim Raisi and religious Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. As young men, both played notable roles during the war, with Raisi long associated with a line of politically motivated executions in Iran at the war’s end. 

On April 5, 2022, Kuwait saw the collective resignation of its third government in 18 months after critically needed reforms failed to move forward. The resignation came ahead of a vote of no confidence in the prime minister scheduled for later in the week. The deepening political crisis in the small Persian Gulf nation caps a long history of uncertainty. 



Small but strategic 



The largely Sunni Muslim emirate of Kuwait, nestled between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, is located in the midst of one of the most deserted land spaces on earth. But it also curves around the strategically important harbor depths of Kuwait Bay.  



The name Kuwait comes from an Arabic variation on the Hindustani word kūt, which means “fort,” harkening back to an 18th-century trading post established in the country. Ever since then, Kuwait’s fortunes have been linked to foreign trade.  



In 1756 the Al Sabah dynasty officially created an autonomous sheikhdom on the territory that is now Kuwait. Today’s Kuwait City, the sole major population center, is among the world’s most densely urbanized nations with almost 250 people per square kilometer.  



Kuwait came into its own as a self-governing center of commerce in the 19th century. Sheikh ʿAbd Allāh II, whose 26-year rule began in 1866, turned Kuwait away from its previous neutrality, tilting its foreign policy toward building close ties with the Ottoman Empire. ʿAbd Allāh was assassinated by his brother, Mubārak the Great, who set his sights on an alliance with the British after the Ottomans began rumbling about annexation. In 1899 Mubārak gave the direction of foreign policy over to Great Britain. 



British domination, Iraqi pretensions 



As the First World War was tearing Europe apart, Kuwait officially became a British protectorate. Britain subsequently handled the negotiations that led to a reconfiguration of the borders with Saudi Arabia and Iraq. 



Long before the memorable Mideast conflicts of our time, Iraq laid the first of its dubious claims to Kuwait. In 1938 oil was discovered beneath Kuwaiti soil, so it’s little wonder that Iraq—only six years after its independence from British protection— suddenly discovered a “historical” claim to Kuwait, one that had never surfaced before, either on the part of Iraq or the Ottoman Empire of which it remained a part until World War I. In particular, Iraq emphasized its supposed claims to two strategically situated islands off Kuwait’s coast. 



It was also in 1938 that Iraq lent verbal support to the Majlis Movement, an uprising against the emir of Kuwait. 



Independence and fragility 



In 1961 Kuwait and the British Empire agreed to end the Anglo-Kuwaiti Treaty of 1899, giving Kuwait its independence from Britain. Recognition by the US and other nations soon followed, but it was not until 1987 that the US-Kuwaiti strategic relationship fully developed. In that year, Kuwait granted freedom of navigation through the Persian Gulf to Kuwaiti tanker ships reflagged with American markings.  



But it was in the fateful summer of 1990, when invading Iraqi forces prepared to cross the border, that the partnership between the US and Kuwait came to full fruition. 



Even after Kuwaiti independence, Iraq had continued to press its claim on the offshore islands, only to be met with resistance from the nations of the Arab League, as well as from Britain. 



In the 1980s, the region was dominated by intense conflict between Iraq and Iran. The repercussions touched Kuwait, which saw no alternative but to ally with Iraq to counter the menace from Iran. The emirate gave logistical and monetary support to Iraq, resulting in Iranian acts of sabotage in Kuwait and an attempt on the life of its ruling sheik. After the Iran-Iraq War drew to a close later in the decade, relations with Iraq soured.  



In 1981 Kuwait joined Saudi Arabia and other neighbors in establishing the Gulf Cooperation Council to enhance mutual security and commerce. After Iran launched attacks against Kuwaiti tankers operating in the Gulf, Kuwait sought assistance from both the US and the Soviet Union.  



A pawn of war 



Then came Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, despite the vociferous anti-Iraq sentiments of the Kuwaiti people. The Iraqi invasion followed on August 2, 1990. The Iraqis under President Saddam Hussain gave the same old specious arguments for their claims on Kuwait, but the real reasons boiled down to a few: the strategic and commercial advantage of a position in the Gulf, a desire to achieve a position of power and influence among the Arab states, and a means of awakening positive feelings among Iraqis after the heavy losses sustained in the war with Iran.  



Iraq’s takeover of Kuwait provoked the Persian Gulf War, with the UN Security Council, as well as the US Congress, authorizing the use of force to remove Iraq from the country. The year 1991 began with US attacks on Iraqi positions in both Kuwait and Iraq as part of Operation Desert Storm.  



American and coalition forces quickly gained supremacy in the air, even as Kuwait’s oil wells were on fire below. A ground invasion in February 1991 put the coalition in command of the war, which quickly ended with a cease-fire in the space of 100 hours. The fighting left tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties, with only a few hundred on the coalition side.  



Post-war problems 



After its liberation from Iraqi control, the damage to Kuwait in terms of looting, population displacement, and infrastructure damage became a matter of urgent concern. More than 50 percent of all Kuwaitis had fled due to the war, although most eventually returned. Intra-Kuwait clashes divided people based on the degree to which they called for political liberalization and whether they had left the country or stayed behind to fight.  



The immediate post-war years saw the imposition of martial law, followed by new elections that ushered in a large number of politicians representing Islamic parties. UN-supervised border revisions went largely in Kuwait’s favor, bringing former Iraqi-controlled oil fields into its possession.  



Rising tensions with Hussain’s Iraq led to Kuwait being used as a military base for American and British troops invading Iraq in 2003. But the Anglo-American victory that followed, along with the death of Hussain and his regime, led to new problems, particularly as some Kuwaitis were pulled into terrorist activities. 



Then, beginning in 2011, Kuwait saw stepped-up public dissent and rebellions against corruption as part of the waves of activism during the Arab Spring.  



In 2020 plummeting oil prices as a result of pandemic lockdowns meant that Kuwait’s finances were on the line. Meanwhile, the problems of succession and policy that ensued following the death of the 91-year-old emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, contributed greatly to the current recurring crises of government. 

In his first official trip to Morocco as Secretary of State, on March 29, 2022, Antony Blinken met in Rabat with the country’s foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, only days after the two men joined a group of six nations for a high-level summit in Israel’s Negev Desert.  



The so-called “Negev Summit” over the last week of March brought together Israel, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE, Bahrain, and the US to discuss the problem of Iran’s nuclear program and other common concerns. The Arab-majority nations participating have either long-standing (in the case of Egypt) or recent (in the case of Morocco, the UAE, and Bahrain) peace and normalization agreements with Israel. 



When Blinken met separately with Bourita and other top Moroccan officials in Rabat, he called for an expansion of the positive diplomatic trends shaping up across the Mideast, forming new economic and political alliances among Israel and some of its former enemies, and turning generations-old notions of realpolitik on their heads.  



A controversial plan for Western Sahara 



Blinken and Bourita also discussed terrorism and regional security issues specific to Morocco, particularly those surrounding its contested control of neighboring Western Sahara. The US, according to Blinken’s remarks published on the State Department’s website, continues to regard Morocco’s projected autonomy plan for Western Sahara as a “credible” alternative, although the Biden administration has stopped short of full endorsement.  



Morocco’s plan would grant semi-autonomy to Western Sahara, providing it accedes to ongoing Moroccan control. Spain has also expressed confidence in this plan, likely as a bid toward securing greater Moroccan control of immigration from Africa across Spain’s borders. 



Western Sahara has been on the United Nations’ list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1963, and the UN does not recognize Morocco’s control. Other countries with a stake in the discussion have also expressed opposition to Morocco’s designs on the territory. In particular, Morocco’s continuing rule there is deepening a rift with Algeria.  



A desert land in contention 



Since achieving independence from Spain and then immediately being annexed by Morocco five decades ago, Western Sahara has experienced the devastation of militant conflict and terrorism. It has also been the prize fought over in a fierce game of one-upmanship between Morocco and Algeria as those two nations vie for control of their weaker, smaller neighbor.  



With a population of only a little more than half a million, Western Sahara sits toward the far western edge of the African continent, hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Morocco on the north, Mauritania to the south and east, and a very tiny eastern border that connects it to Algeria.  



Much of Western Sahara is uninhabited desert, but in addition to the plentiful fishing grounds off its coast and its large deposits of phosphate, many experts believe it has previously untapped offshore oil deposits. 



In diplomatic limbo 



In 1991 the UN facilitated a truce between warring factions in Western Sahara, but a guaranteed referendum on independence has still not been held. Today, a Moroccan-created buffer zone fortified with landmines runs along the border of territory disputed between Morocco and the separatist, ethnic Sahrawi rebels known as the Polisario Front.  



The western part of Western Sahara, which includes the Atlantic coastline, is still under the administrative control of Morocco. The Algeria-supported Polisario Front controls a smaller and less-populous portion of land to the east.  



In 1976 the Polisario Front declared the existence of a new state, which its leaders named the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, or SADR. A number of countries, most of them in the developing world, have officially recognized the SADR, although some have revoked that recognition. 



Whither US policy? 



Late in 2020, under the former Trump administration, the US recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. That decision was linked to Morocco’s support for the Abraham Accords that cemented the North African country’s ties to Israel.  



In a rare move, the Biden administration has elected to continue this Trump-era policy. But the US remains the only country to accord Morocco this recognition, a step that has drawn sharp criticism from the diplomatic community.  



No angels in this desert 



Critics point to Morocco’s harsh military rule over the Sahrawi people. According to the nonprofit democracy advocacy group Freedom House, Morocco severely limits civil liberties and expressions of independence in Western Sahara, although the territory it controls maintains representation in Morocco’s legislature. 



The Polisario Front, whose leadership remains in exile in refugee camps and military bases across the border in Algeria, is, of course, not on board with this direction. Algeria continues to provide extensive practical support for the rebels.  



In 2020 the Polisario Front obstructed an essential trade route between Morocco and nearby Mauritania, heightening tensions further. The Polisario Front has also been accused of acts of terrorism and human rights violations, particularly against women, in its camps in Algeria. And the group’s leaders have been accused of war crimes—including torture and murder—by human rights organizations.  



Morocco-Algeria friction likely to continue 



Algeria and Morocco have had a fraught relationship since the days when France maintained colonial governments in both countries. The French protectorate in Morocco ended in 1956. After a bloody conflict, Algeria won independence from France in 1962.  



The two nations have long jockeyed for power and influence in their region, and early in 2021, Algeria announced the severing of their diplomatic relationship. The ostensible reason was Morocco’s alleged “spying” in Algeria and the lack of progress in the fate of Western Sahara. Subsequent border disputes and a deadly drone attack on Algeria attributed to Morocco haven’t helped.  



Whether Biden ultimately rescinds his predecessor’s endorsement of Morocco’s claims on Western Sahara remains to be seen. As he concluded his North Africa trip, Blinken called on Algeria to curtail its alliances with Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s continuing presence in Syria. He also called for reconciliation between Algeria and Morocco. Given the situation on the ground in Western Sahara, none of these pleas seem likely to be answered any time soon. 

On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog flew to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II. Officials timed the visit to give Herzog and the Hashemite ruler a chance at smoothing over simmering tensions just ahead of Ramadan.  



The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, although in its essence a time to celebrate peace, charity, and repentance, has recently seen an escalation in the number and intensity of terroristic attacks on Jews in Israel and around the world. This year, Ramadan, Easter, and Passover fall at the same time of year, potentially heightening both religious observance and historic tensions. 



Herzog’s visit marked the first time an Israeli president had visited Jordan in an official capacity. It followed a trip to Amman by Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz and a rare visit to Ramallah in the West Bank by King Abdullah. 



It also comes after one of the deadliest strings of terror attacks to take place in Israel in years.  



Bnei Brak, Hadera, and Beersheba suffer unspeakable tragedy 



On March 29, 2022, a Palestinian gunman illegally in Israel from the West Bank used an M-16 assault rifle to slaughter five people in the space of about 10 minutes in the city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv. The victims were random individuals—two Ukrainian nationals at a neighborhood grocery store, a parent trying to protect a baby in a stroller, a man who stopped his car to intervene in the violence, and a police officer—tragically shot as they were going about their everyday lives and work. 



These murders came on the heels of two other attacks within a week by Israeli Arabs against Israeli Jews, with the death toll for the three closely spaced but apparently separate assaults standing at 11. In the earlier two cases, in the cities of Beersheba and Hadera, the assailants were allegedly linked to or inspired by the Islamic State terror group (ISIS). In all three deadly events, the terrorists were shot dead by law enforcement or civilians.  



At the funeral of one of the Beersheba victims, the victim’s husband said that the attackers had chosen to kill his wife “for no reason,” solely “because she was Jewish.” 



Campaigns of viciousness 



Although Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took the unusual step of publicly condemning the killing sprees, members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad celebrated in the streets. Survey after survey has shown that numerous everyday Palestinians view such civilian murders as equivalent to the deaths of enemy combatants.  



These are life-changing tragedies for the families who have lost their loved ones, but they are also folded into the diplomatic narrative of the Middle East. The militant branch of the Palestinian Fatah movement known as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the killings, declaring that the attacks were a “clear message written in blood” as a reply to a high-profile meeting held that same week in the Negev desert.  



Diplomacy amid horror 



At that meeting, Israel hosted top-level diplomats from the United States and four Muslim-majority nations (Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates), with which it has concluded normalization agreements. Without concluding official documents, the participants nevertheless pledged greater cooperation with one another in diplomatic and economic efforts. The issue of what to do about Iran and its nuclear program loomed large over the summit, with all the participants to one degree or another coalescing into a de facto “stop Iran” bloc.  



US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he saw the meeting as a means of cementing a growing trend toward normalization between Israel and its neighbors that is becoming the “new normal” in the Mideast. It was at this Negev Summit that Blinken, who is Jewish, made a historic visit to the grave of Israel’s founding prime minister in the company of Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid. 



Many foreign analysts heralded the summit as a powerful statement about the strength of the US-Israel relationship and the developing alliances of both nations with more moderate Arab governments amid fragile negotiations with a nuclear Iran and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For yet-undetermined goods or ills, all these developments point to a rapid reconfiguring of the geopolitical order that has not been seen in this generation. 



Blinken also met with Palestinian leaders, who have felt increasingly sidelined by the recent cooperative and trade agreements between Israel and its Arab partners. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drawing renewed attention by the tragic spate of killings, also loomed large over the summit.  



As the Jerusalem Post has pointed out, most Christians did not participate in the hateful violence directed at European Jews over the centuries during Easter Holy Week, and most Muslims aren’t going to murder Jews in the name of Ramadan. The problem is, it only takes one person poisoned by the worst and most inhumane aspects of religious fervor to end the lives of strangers in a minute.

Russia’s unprovoked war of choice on Ukraine is having consequences that extend far beyond Eastern Europe—even to the Middle East. Since the Russian invasion began on February 24, 2022, the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region has seen its already food-insecure countries running short on products they regularly import from both Ukraine and Russia.  


Breaks in the food supply chain 


According to officials at the United Nations World Food Programme, millions of people across the Mideast could be driven deeper into food insecurity due to the devastation being wrought on Ukraine.  


Ukraine’s government, understandably desperate to protect the food supply for its own war-ravaged population, has put a ban on exports of vital crops like grains. Even if Russia were to withdraw immediately, there would still be a long lag between withdrawal and the return of farmers forced to flee their lands. It would also take time to replace agricultural equipment and infrastructure after so much has been destroyed. And war and its after-shocks are massive disruptions to the spring planting season and autumn harvest.  


Ukraine and Russia are among the major providers of farm products to the Middle East, where by mid-March the war had caused rising prices for bread and other necessities to increase still further. The wheat, other grains, and vegetable oil exported from Eastern Europe support affordable traditional diets across the MENA region.  


When bread is life 


In Egypt, bread is known as “aish”—“life.” The world’s largest importer of wheat, this country of more than 100 million people has in recent years sourced about 70 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, which together account for about a quarter of the world’s supply. Egypt is also dependent on Ukrainian exports for more than 50 percent of its supply of sunflower oil.  


Egypt is an example of a country that must recalculate how to feed its own people in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. The nation is taking what the Financial Times called “drastic” means to prop up the subsidized bread program that feeds almost three-quarters of its population.  


Damaged infrastructure means food insecurity 


At least 60 percent of Lebanon’s imports of wheat also originate in Ukraine or Russia. What’s more, after a mid-2020 explosion in Beirut that destroyed grain silos, the country has lost much of its ability to warehouse food reserves. Only about a month’s worth of grain can even be stored near the port.  


All this means that middle-class professionals in Lebanon are discovering that they can’t find flour on grocery store shelves. They’re also seeing merchants charging higher prices. In the face of the soaring cost of bread, many people in Lebanon have watched as their wages plummet amid the country’s ongoing financial crisis. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value over the past few years alone.  


While Lebanon, given its already fragile economy, is an extreme case, the growing shortages are affecting people throughout the Mideast, sharpening existing anxieties about maintaining food security and social and political stability. Experts point out that the people around the world who are already on the brink of food insecurity—like those in dozens of MENA nations—will be the most affected, although richer countries can also expect shortages and higher prices. 


Violence affects food supplies 


Countries like Syria and Yemen, where there are preexisting conditions of civil war, population displacement, and damaged or destroyed infrastructure are in an equally dire situation. Yemen’s people, already struggling with widespread famine, get more than half their daily calories from bread. More than one-third of the country’s supply comes from lands around the Black Sea.  


“The world’s breadbasket” 


According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Ukraine contains within its borders about one-third of the most fertile soil on earth. The Black Sea region in and around Ukraine is responsible for about 12 percent of the world’s food exports.  


Ukraine in particular is known for its “black earth,” the highly arable lands that have earned it the designation as “the world’s breadbasket.” Farmers use this rich soil to produce an abundance of cereal crops like corn and barley, in addition to wheat. Sunflower oil and other oilseeds also grow particularly well in Ukraine, and the country serves as a major source of poultry.  


The situation is made even more critical due to the fact that much of Ukraine’s wheatfields are located in the east, which as of mid-March were bearing the brunt of Russia’s onslaught. 


New visions for food independence 


As a means of shoring up political stability, many Middle Eastern leaders are calling for increased support for domestic agriculture to provide independent food supplies for their countries. Noting that dependence on foreign imports makes their societies especially subject to soaring prices and the instability that comes with them in times of shortages, civil society leaders from a number of Arab countries have long argued in favor of crop production for domestic consumption rather than export. 


Given that the climate in the Middle East hangs in the balance between temperature and weather extremes and is highly sensitive to water scarcity, achieving full food self-sufficiency may be a tall order.  


Greater regional investments in technology to better manage land and water resources, and to give the greatest boost possible to agricultural production, will be necessary. Israel’s advanced techniques for irrigation, desalination, and crop production have already drawn the attention of its neighbors, and some collaborative cross-border projects have taken place. Given all that, it might no longer be unrealistic to think that global crises like the one in Ukraine might boost Arab-Israeli cooperation in ways that promote the well-being of all the region’s peoples.

The United States has serious issues with its international allies, primarily Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While Russia’s attempted conquest of Ukraine increased in brutality daily, President Joe Biden also had to deal with the problem of keeping oil prices in the US manageable as Western sanctions on Russian oil took effect. And for that, he needed the support of traditional US allies like the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates. Only this time, they were not taking the US president’s calls. 



The Gulf states have, over the past few decades, served as more or less reliable partners for the US, in terms of both oil supplies and strategic concerns. Given the numerous vast differences in culture, values, and ideas about human rights and the rule of law, the economic and security ties between the American democracy and these ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim kingdoms have proven remarkably resilient. 



However, in the first week of March 2022, the White House admitted that the Saudis and the Emiratis had refused to schedule calls with Biden to discuss the American president’s desire to see them step up their pumping of oil. According to the Wall Street Journal, multiple sources in both the US and the Mideast report that the leaders of the two Persian Gulf nations have not made themselves available to Biden as they likely would have in the past.  



The oil superpowers can certainly fill the gap that was left when the West put the brakes on Russian supplies. Yet OPEC+, of which Russia is a member, elected not to boost production in the face of the Ukraine-Russia crisis and Biden’s decision to ban all Russian oil imports. Thanks to both the ban and the oil producers’ intransigence, in early March oil prices in the US soared higher than they had in the previous 14 years. 



Bones of contention – Yemen and Iran 



This seems to indicate that, unless Washington does more to support them in finding palatable solutions to both the war in Yemen and their security concerns amid Western attempts to negotiate with Iran on its nuclear program, these Gulf monarchies are tired of playing the same old game. US officials, on the other hand, said they are continuing to work with the Saudis and the Emiratis in solving security concerns and disagreements on the Iran negotiations. 



However, Biden has received harsh international criticism for his approach in Yemen.  

Supported by Iran and Hezbollah, for the past seven years Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been taking over increasing swaths of territory in the already crisis-beset small nation, expelling its internationally recognized official government. The Saudis lead the coalition battling the Houthis to maintain both regional stability and their own security. The fact that the UAE also backs foreign militias operating in its interest in Yemen further complicates matters, as has its pursuit of policies in contrast with those of its allies. In early 2022, the Houthis launched missile and drone attacks across the border with the UAE and made incursions into Saudi territory.  



In the first foreign policy speech of his presidency, Biden promised to backtrack some of his immediate predecessors’ decisions on Yemen, stressing a more diplomacy-focused approach. Yet, while continuing US support of the Saudi blockade of Yemen and other Gulf state-driven measures, he has tended toward less active US engagement on the issue.  



That approach, and Biden’s withdrawal of a prior foreign terror designation for the Houthis, have so far borne little productive fruit. It’s small wonder if the Saudis and the Emiratis feel unsupported by their ally.  



Strained friendships 



Ever since the official founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, and the discovery of oil from a well owned by the American company Standard Oil in 1938, the country has maintained ties with the US. The relationship was cemented the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with the dynasty’s founder, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, on board a US Navy destroyer in 1945. During the Second World War, the officially neutral kingdom elected to permit Allied forces to fly over its airspace. 



The American interest in keeping up those ties has weathered major crises, such as the Saudis’ 1973 oil embargo against the US due to American support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War and the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 (15 out of the 19 hijackers of the US aircraft that struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that day were Saudi nationals).  



The US has built a strong presence as a military advisor in the kingdom over the decades, and the Saudis remain the Americans’ largest customer for foreign arms sales. The UAE, prompted by the US, signed onto the historic Abraham Accords in 2020, formally recognizing Israel and beginning an open and robust relationship with the Jewish State. 



During the Obama Administration, tensions between the US and its Saudi allies soured over the Kingdom’s refusal to do what the Americans felt was its part in creating a deal with Iran. And then, as now, the Saudis’ lack of response to humanitarian concerns in their own country and Yemen roil the bilateral relationship. Today, the one issue around which Saudi Arabia and the US likely agree upon is the need to contain Iran and conclude a nuclear agreement that can curb its ambitions.  



The US has maintained friendly relations with the UAE since 1971 when several sheikhdoms formed a common government as they achieved independence from the United Kingdom. Both the Saudis and the UAE allied with the US-led multi-national coalition in the First Persian Gulf War against the forces invading Kuwait from Saddam Hussain’s Iraq. Additionally, the Saudis provided a refuge for the Kuwaiti government and a base for close to a quarter-million US troops.  



So not agreeing to talk to Biden is a serious sign of an issue, possibly symptomatic of the present reshuffling of diplomatic and strategic relationships across the Middle East and the globe. This was already going on before Russia’s full-on invasion of Ukraine, but it seems like the dominoes have begun falling faster and faster since. 

Israel continues to operate under the Begin Doctrine, which states that Israel will always do its utmost to prevent the development of nuclear weapons on the part of any other state that poses an existential threat to its people’s existence. 


Menachem Begin’s lifelong championship of Israel 


Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1913 – 1992, in office 1977 – 1983) defended Israel in numerous ways. Born in what is now Belarus, he led a Polish youth group working in the 1930s to create a Jewish state. He lost his parents and brother to the Nazis, but managed himself to escape to Lithuania. He suffered in a Siberian prison camp after the Soviet Union took him prisoner in 1940, but after being freed a year later, went to pre-state Palestine with the Polish fighting forces in exile. 


Begin commanded the militant Irgun fighting force from 1943 up to the year of statehood, in 1948. He went on to lead the Irgun’s political movement as an opposition party in the Knesset. In 1977, as head of the Likud (“Unity”) right-of-center coalition party, he formed a government as prime minister. His landmark negotiations with his Egyptian counterpart, President Anwar el-Sadat, led to the Camp David Accords and the lasting peace treaty between the two nations. The two men were jointly honored with the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.  


Far from being the “reluctant peacemaker” he was often portrayed as in American media, Begin knew exactly which lands conquered in war he believed could safely be given back to Egypt, and which could not. He made a bold move for peace while retaining the areas he thought essential to protecting the state. 


And it was Begin who laid the foundations for the modernized, well-resourced, high-precision security establishment that continues to work toward national security goals with tireless dedication. Numerous analysts credit Begin with planting the seeds that have grown into trees that now protect every man, woman, and child in the State of Israel. 


Operation Opera 


The Israeli Air Force (IAF) first put the Begin Doctrine to the test in 1981, after Saddam Hussein in Iraq developed the Osirak nuclear reactor. On June 7, after years of strategizing, a group of Israeli fighter jets—in what was known as Operation Opera—flew to Baghdad and did what no one in human history ever had before: They bombed a nuclear reactor. 


The Israeli F-15s and F-16s took only a minute and a half to drop multiple charges on the reactor, destroying it completely, before making their successful exit toward home. Their action prevented Hussein—a brutal authoritarian and bitterly anti-Semitic leader then at the height of his power—from developing the nuclear weapons with which he could well have annihilated the Jewish State. The 1980s was the same decade in which Iraq also showed no compunction in using chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, and poison gas against the Kurds. 


Colonel Ilan Ramon flew in the IAF mission against Osirak. He later recalled how his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz, inspired him to risk his life in the daring mission. Knowing firsthand what had happened to the Jews of Europe, he did not want the world’s only sure Jewish safe haven to be destroyed. Ramon, of course, is now remembered as the Israeli astronaut tragically killed aboard the Columbia Space Shuttle in 2003. 


Operation Outside the Box 


On September 6, 2007, the Israelis put the Begin Doctrine into practice once again with Operation Outside the Box. This time, they took out a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert at Deir ez-Zur, this one built to serve another authoritarian, virulently anti-Israel dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Like Hussein, Assad has deployed chemical weapons, in this case against his own people. 


The Israelis had discovered the possible existence of the Syrian reactor a year before. Knowing Syria’s secretive collaboration with North Korea, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence directorate shared their suspicions with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Mossad director Meir Dagan, on the other hand, didn’t think Syria had the technological sophistication to build a reactor. But after Israel hacked the computer of a Syrian official, it was clear that Assad was constructing a reactor modeled on the North Koreans’ installation at Yongbyon. 


Once again, Israel was staring a threat to its very existence in the face. And, as was the case in Iraq, Syria’s possession of nuclear capabilities threatened the stability of the entire Mideast. 


Destroying a nuclear reactor isn’t for the faint-hearted. These types of preemptive attacks can go wrong at so many points: operationally, strategically, politically, holding the potential to escalate tensions across the region and result in severe blowback on Israel. The Israelis consulted their allies, and at first asked Washington to undertake the mission. President George W. Bush refused, but told Israel he would not stand in its way. 


The IAF fighters took off for Syria in the dead of night. The 17 tons of explosives they delivered to the reactor obliterated it. 


21st century tactics against Iran 


Over the course of more than a decade, Israel has been linked to a dozen or more (some sources say as many as 20) attacks on Iran’s nuclear program. These include delivery of the Stuxnet virus and other cyberattacks, as well as a mysterious explosion at Iran’s advanced uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in 2020. The Natanz strike, the result of a painstakingly planned and daring strategy, did serious damage to Iran’s nuclear program. 

There are a number of other publications that can help you gain a broader perspective on world events, particularly in volatile regions such as the Middle East. This will help increase readers’ familiarity with the full range of dialogue taking place in scholarly, diplomatic, policy-focused, and humanitarian circles today.  



Although each of the following often offers granular detail and a high level of discussion, they are also accessible to the generally educated reader with a basic understanding of Mideast history and politics. Here are just a few of the best-known and most influential news sources for this region: 



  1. The Middle East Forum



The Middle East Forum (online at MEForum.org) is well-known for its solid news and opinion pieces about this crucial part of the world. The MEF’s website offers deeply researched articles on a wide range of domestic and international issues as they play out across the region.  



Its focus is on promoting Western values of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. It also takes a strong position in support of Israel, emphasizes the case for Palestinian and global acceptance of the Jewish State, and promotes constructive engagement on containing the nuclear threat posed by Iran and countering the world-wide problem of Islamist terrorism.  



  1. 2. The Middle East Journal



The Middle East Journal (MEI.edu), published by the Middle East Institute, is the oldest currently published, peer-reviewed publication covering post-World War II developments throughout the region. Ever since 1947, the Journal has offered original research accompanied by incisive analysis and citations to additional sources.  



Contributors include area experts, experienced foreign policy hands, and scholars with international reputations. The Journal’s book reviews—although often covering extremely specialized, even niche, topics—are worth regular perusal, acquainting readers with more detailed treatments of the topics discussed in its articles.  



There’s a problem with the Journal, though, and it has to do with the fact that the funding sources of the Institute automatically call its objectivity into question. The United Arab Emirates has contributed tens of millions of dollars in recent years, and Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar are other major donors.  



Although its leadership has publicly committed to the value of editorial independence—and although the MEI bills itself as “non-partisan”—expect a viewpoint often more in line with a traditional “Arabist” outlook, or with the current interests of large donor nations.  



  1. 3. Foreign Affairs



Foreign Affairs, published since 1922 and available online at ForeignAffairs.com, promotes itself as “not just a magazine, an education.” Its editors work to provide readers with a one-stop shop with comprehensive views of current and historical events. The focus is global, with a heavy emphasis on Middle East coverage, simply because of the importance of the region.  



The magazine is a product of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which promotes itself as a non-partisan, independent think tank. Over the generations, this magazine has served as one of the leading watering holes for both conservative and liberal establishment policy influencers. Multiple United States Secretaries of State have written for Foreign Affairs, as have luminaries like the late Colin Powell and, several generations ago, W. E. B. DuBois.  



Recent articles have dealt with the rise in sectarianism in the wake of American withdrawal from the Mideast; the machinations of strongman leaders like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; and the historic lessons we can draw from Henry Kissinger’s Middle East policy.  



  1. 4. Foreign Policy



Foreign Policy (ForeignPolicy.com) magazine can be considered somewhat akin him to Foreign Affairs. Founded in 1970 and published by The FP Group (a division of a holding company formerly known as The Washington Post Company), this magazine got its start as a deliberate alternative to the mainstream foreign policy press during the tense times of the Vietnam War.  



The co-founders were wealthy financier Warren Demian Manshel and political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, author of the influential—and controversial—1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. (Ironically, Foreign Affairs magazine published Huntington’s original statement of his Clash of Civilizations thesis.) 



Like Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy states that its aim is to offer comprehensive news and commentary on geopolitics and international relations. Its recent Mideast sections have included articles on how Russia’s attack on Ukraine affects Middle Eastern affairs; how economic devastation in Lebanon is driving people to join jihadi groups; and an analysis of the election debacle in Libya.  



  1. 5. The Jerusalem Post



Looking at media actually based in the Middle East, the Jerusalem Post (JPost.com) stands out among newspapers for its high degree of professionalism and its thorough coverage of regional and global affairs. Founded in pre-State Israel in 1932, the Post works to adhere to a rational centrist worldview, with a focus on exposing political corruption. Today, it’s Israel’s oldest—and largest-circulation—daily paper, read by political, economic, and cultural leaders worldwide.  



Recent articles have closely followed developments in Iran’s nuclear program, offering interviews with, and op-eds by, individuals at the top levels of Israeli government. Another focus has been on Israel’s fraught relationship with Russia in regard to Syria, and yet another on concerns surrounding the Taliban’s renewed power in Afghanistan.  



If it affects Israel, you’ll read about it in the Post.