2018 Global Outlook: Four dangerous dynamics in the Middle East

Syrian government artillery shells Islamic State positions near Deir Ezzor
Syrian army artillery blasts Islamic State positions near Deir Ezzor (source: dpa)
  • Iran’s strategic victory in Syria sets up a possible confrontation with Israel
  • Spillover to Iraq is possible given Arab nationalist resentment at Iranian influence
  • At this tense juncture, Saudi Arabia is embarking on risky domestic reforms
  • Avoiding war may depend on mediation by a resurgent Russia and the U.S.

Early 2018 finds the Middle East at a singular moment in its history. It is hard to recall a period when so many fundamental geopolitical shifts have occurred just as societies, states and alliances in the region were all starting to fall apart.

Four disruptive trends can be identified, any one of which would have sufficed to cause upheaval and regional instability in the not-too-distant past. They include Iran’s expansion into Syria and Lebanon, making it a de facto military neighbor of Israel; an emerging confrontation between Iraqi nationalists and Iranian-backed Shia militias; Saudi Arabia’s increasing domestic instability; and Russia’s overarching regional presence and influence.

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