Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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It's Springtime For Mahmoud Abbas

June 21, 2024  •  The National Interest

These are hopeful days for Mahmoud Abbas. Despite his persistent aspirations to be a global statesman, the ailing octogenarian chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has long played a marginal role even in the context of Arab politics, let alone world affairs. But now, against the backdrop of Israel's ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian leader's political fortunes are experiencing a renaissance. This state of affairs is somewhat unexpected since Abbas objectively should be on the political back foot. Now in the nineteenth year of his first four-year elected term, the PA chief-turned-autocrat has presided over a protracted devolution of Palestinian society. This "failure to thrive" has entailed everything from declining GDP to rampant corruption to official sanction for political violence against Israel.

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Washington's Mideast Messaging Needs An Upgrade

June 13, 2024  •  Newsweek

It has become painfully clear that America is losing the information war in the Middle East. For years, the United States has struggled to engage distrustful regional publics and explain often-unpopular policies. U.S messaging to the region—which held considerable sway during the Cold War—has receded in resonance, even as more radical and anti-American voices have risen in volume and appeal amid an explosion of satellite channels and digital media. And since the start of the Israel-Hamas war last fall, this state of affairs has worsened still further as regional discourse has become more heated, more polarized, and more rife with disinformation. That's a massive problem for the United States, which has an enduring interest in remaining competitive in the battle for the "hearts and minds" of regional publics. But where should Washington begin? As policymakers ponder this question, they would do well to focus on three priorities.

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Failed State From The Start: Why A Sovereign Palestine Isn't Happening Any Time Soon

May 31, 2024  •  The Hill

On May 22, the prime ministers of Spain, Norway and Ireland held a joint press conference formally announcing that their governments were poised to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state. The move, though largely symbolic, is fraught with significance, coming amid Israel's war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip (and clearly intended to influence it). As a practical matter, it is also decidedly dangerous — first and foremost, for the Palestinians themselves. Set aside for a moment the moral dimensions of rewarding Hamas's October 7 atrocities with Palestinian sovereignty. The other problem, which does not get nearly enough attention, is the new legal and political status quo that would prevail between Israel and the Palestinians once statehood kicks in.

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Iran's Unexpected Regional Revival

Spring 2024  •  Horizons

On April 13th, the "shadow war" that has raged between Israel and Iran for decades finally broke into the open. That day, Iran's clerical regime fired over 300 drones and missiles at Israeli territory in retaliation for Israel's targeting of a top Iranian military commander in Syria days earlier. The massive Iranian attack, and Israel's limited response days later, has ushered in an ominous new "balance of terror" in the Middle East. Iran's escalation was all the more surprising because, by all accounts, the Iranian regime should be on the strategic back foot, grappling with deeply adverse domestic and international conditions that have cumulatively posed a serious challenge to its legitimacy and longevity. And yet, the Islamic Republic is unquestionably once again on the march in the Middle East.

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A Litmus Test For Biden's Iran Policy

May 3, 2024  •  Newsweek

Back in February, Iran's clerical regime marked the 45th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, the 1979 religious revolt which successfully overthrew the Pahlavi monarchy and installed a radical theocracy in its stead. In commemorative speeches and pronouncements, its officials struck a triumphalist tone. "We see that the system of the Islamic Republic continues to advance with authority and does not recognize any obstacles in its path," Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Feb. 11. Raisi and his colleagues certainly have a great deal to be happy about. Economically, Iran is on dramatically firmer footing than it was just a few short years ago. A recent exposé by The Washington Free Beacon found that, since 2021, the Iranian regime earned $90 billion from illicit oil sales to countries like China and India—replenishing badly depleted state coffers in the process. Regionally, the Iranian regime has been emboldened by a lack of decisive response from Washington to act more assertively—both directly against U.S. allies such as Israel and via proxies against American interests throughout the Middle East. And at home, Iranian regime officials—who not long ago were on the back foot in the face of sustained grassroots protests—have redoubled their domestic repression, launching a sweeping national plan to enforce restrictions on female dress and conduct. What accounts for this reversal of fortune? A great deal can be attributed to permissive American policy. From its first day in office, the Biden administration made a rollback of Trump-era "maximum pressure" against Iran—which had successfully drawn down the Islamic Republic's reserves by more than 95 percent, to a mere $4 billion—a major priority. Instead, following in the footsteps of the Obama administration, Team Biden has doggedly attempted to reengage Iran's ayatollahs in some sort of diplomatic compromise. In the service of that effort, the White House has rolled back enforcement of existing sanctions and turned a blind eye toward the lion's share of Iran's regional rogue behavior. The end result has been what some have termed a policy of "maximum deference" toward Tehran.

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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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