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MENA Intelligence Report #1: 09/07/2024



MENA JULY 9 REPORT
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Understanding our Risk Rubric

Global Weekly’s intelligence reports make use of a risk rubric to prove a structured methodology for assessing and measuring risks associated with emerging geopolitical events. When analysing a geopolitical event we assign a score to the following risk factors: political, governance,  security, and crime. Each factor is graded from 1-10, with 1 representing the lowest risk and 10 representing the highest risk. These are some of the following factors when considered:


  • Political: risk of armed conflict, durability of state institutions, level of food and water security, predictability of government-decision making

  • Governance: level of corruption, transparency in policy-making, standard of legal and regulatory frameworks, extent of human rights practices

  • Security: threat from domestic tensions, existence of terrorist organisations, capacity of military forces, hostility to foreign investments 

  • Crime: level of organised crime, threat of violent crime, threat of sexual abuse, capacity of law enforcement agencies.


West Bank settlements: Escalating violence and implications for Palestinian rights


Executive Summary

  • Escalations in West Bank settlements have increasingly heightened the risk of human rights, border disputes, government and regional stability.

  • ACLED reports that Israeli settlers take the war on Gaza as an opportunity to force Palestinians from their homes.

  • Increased settlement has led to a rise in violent incidents, which is highly likely to increase the risks to Palestinian civilians, including a surge in civilian deaths and injuries.

  • NGOs have been actively documenting and monitoring the risks faced by Palestinian civilians; however, the violence continues.


Context

Following the escalation of the conflict in October 2023, there has been a severe increase in settler violence in the West Bank. ACLED has recorded 5,350 violent incidents involving settlers in the West Bank since 2016. The type of settlers include: individual armed settlers, quasi-military ‘settlement emergency squads’ that have regional authority, settler soldiers in the defense battalions, IDF units with high concentrations of settler soldiers. After the Hamas attack,

the IDF deployed the regional defense battalions in the West Bank by hastening the selection of more than 5,500 reservist settlers. In 2023 alone, Al-Haq recorded 150 instances of Israelis using violence against Palestinians. These episodes, which can involve anything from physical assaults to property destruction, frequently happen with little to no help from the authorities.


B’Tselem reports that this has exacerbated critical risk factors. Human rights violations have resulted from Israel’s immediate and strong military responses, with widespread bombs resulting in the deaths of civilians, their displacement, and the destruction of infrastructure. The region is at high risk because of this instability.


Analysis

Despite the efforts by NGOs such as Peace Now and ACLED, which monitor violence, Palestinian civilians continue to face significant risks. Farmers and residents in the West Bank report living in constant fear due to the ongoing violence from Israeli settlers. Since October 2023, there have been 535 recorded violent incidents, resulting in the highest quarterly till date. Israeli settlers have carried out at least 200 acts of violence using firearms against Palestinians, resulting in nine unarmed Palestinians being killed by settlers and IDF forces. According to Peace Now, settlers have breached 18 new highways crossing Palestinian territory and nature reserves by creating and re-establishing 10 outposts in the West Bank. This has made it possible to seize large new territories. Palestinian citizens are consequently subject to limitations on their freedom of movement on “settler-only” roadways. 


International law is violated time and again because of the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, posing a high risk to regional stability and peace. B’Tselem reports more than 680,000 settlers currently residing in the occupied territories - including East Jerusalem - these settlements have had a significant impact on the West Bank’s land and population. This does not merely violate Palestinian rights and means of subsistence but also undermines the viability of a Palestinian state that is contiguous. The settlement enterprise successfully develops a system of territorial fragmentation and control that extends well beyond the 2% of the land that is officially built upon through resource appropriation, distinct road networks, and substantial land allocation.


Furthermore, the expansion of settlements is highly likely to correlate with increased violence against Palestinians, leading to a rise in incidents involving both Israeli security forces and settlers attacking Palestinians. The recent escalation, resulting in numerous civilian casualties, underscores the severe impact on the Palestinian population. Although the US has imposed sanctions on Israeli right-wing politicians including Ben Gvir to curb settlement activities, the effectiveness of these measures remains highly questionable. 


Sanctions aim to pressure the Israeli government to halt settlement expansion and violence, but the persistent conflict suggests these steps may be insufficient. It allows Israeli politicians to push for more settlements and increase violence in the West Bank without being questioned. The relational dynamics between Israeli right-wing politicians and the US raise questions about the true incentives behind US actions and their commitment to ending the violence.


Forecast

Foreseeing the future of the region, there are significant effects on civilians because of the increasing settlement activity. As settlements grow, many Palestinians are forcibly driven away from their homes, and the ensuing violence has claimed many lives and injured many more, mostly civilians. The populations that are impacted have long-term psychological repercussions from constant exposure to violence and instability. Based on the present situation, Palestinian rights and regional stability will continue to be seriously threatened by settler violence and expansion. The effectiveness of US sanctions to deter violence is debatable due to the factors of human rights and border disputes because of the violence at play. As a result, instability and violence are likely to continue for a longer period of time. This will have serious effects on civilian populations and have wider geopolitical ramifications.


The West Bank’s settlement activity greatly increases the likelihood of confrontation and civilian casualties. Global Weekly forecasts that the current measures, including US sanctions and NGO interventions, appear unlikely to diminish the violence to achieve regional peace and stability. It is imperative to reevaluate policies, which may include more all-encompassing measures, to tackle the conflict's underlying causes and safeguard civilian lives.


Risk: 8774


2024 U.S. Presidential Elections and Middle East conflict dynamics: Trump’s return would make the intensification of regional tensions in the Middle East more likely


Executive Summary

  • The outcome of the 2024 U.S. presidential election remains unpredictable, as national polls indicate no significant gap between Biden and Trump.

  • Washington’s generally supportive position towards Israel will remain unchanged, regardless of the election results.

  • Regional tensions in the Middle East are more likely to intensify if Trump is re-elected.


Context

The Middle East has remained a top priority in U.S. foreign policy for the past century. Especially since 1980, the region has remained strategically crucial for the U.S. to counter Soviet hegemony during the Cold War. Furthermore, securing access to the region’s oil production has also remained a top priority for the U.S. due to its large oil demands and the disparity with its domestic production. For decades, the U.S. has undeniably influenced political dynamics in the Middle East, making it the dominant external power in the region.


The upcoming U.S. presidential election will take place on 5 November 2024. The two main candidates are former President Donald Trump (Republican Party) and incumbent President Joe Biden (Democratic Party). According to the latest national polls, Trump (41.1%) has a narrow lead over Biden (40.9%). 


Analysis

A change in the U.S. administration would likely result in a median-extent shift in the country’s Middle East foreign policies. Biden has adhered to Trump’s strategies to a certain degree, upholding Trump’s recognition of Israel’s claimed sovereignty over the Golan Heights and maintaining the location of the U.S. embassy in Israel in Jerusalem. However, the two candidates also diverge in other aspects of the two leaders’ Middle East approaches. While both have supported Israel, Trump has adopted the “one-sided” approach, giving “near-absolute and unconditional support” to the Netanyahu administration. Conversely, Biden has sought to position the U.S. as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, offering limited support to Palestinians and reversing some of Trump’s policies towards Israeli settlements in the West Bank. 

Such divergences also emerge in their strategies towards  Iran’s nuclear programme. The U.S. under the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. Biden called this action a “gigantic mistake” in a 2022 interview, despite having no discernable policy on Iran and its nuclear development so far. 


The two presidential candidates also took distinct measures in response to China’s presence in the Middle East. The Trump administration announced the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) in 2017, with the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Egypt and Jordan. This proposal indeed focused on security that seeks to enhance the interoperability of member states’ defense systems, whilst Biden has adopted a less provocative approach. The Biden administration primarily relied on diplomatic engagement and economic initiatives to reinforce Washington’s traditional influence in the region, with the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor being an example.


Forecast

The U.S.’s generally supportive stance towards Israel will remain unchanged even with a possible change in its administration. Nonetheless, with Trump returning to office, regional tensions in the Middle East are more likely to intensify. His one-sided support for Israel is highly likely to provoke further clashes between the Arab and Jewish populations. In contrast to Biden’s de-escalation approach to Iran and diplomatic strategies to consolidate Washington’s dominant status in the region, Trump’s provocativeness towards both Iran and Beijing is very likely to harden regional divisions in the Middle East, as security affairs are more sensitive than those in other fields that could further intensify regional rivalries. This would eventually lead to greater uncertainties and an increased risk of conflict escalation. 


Risk: 3233


Libya’s 2024 elections: international drive to form a unified government.


Executive Summary

  • The last time Libya participated in a parliamentary or presidential election was in 2014 when a contested vote led to divided rule and conflict.

  • UNSMIL’s mandate in Libya ends in October 2024, creating urgency to form a unified government and end a decade-long stalemate.

  • Current leaders will likely continue to reject proposals for a democratic vote/unified government.

  • Foreign states have taken an interest in Libya, with Egypt, Saudia Arabia, the UAE, France and Russia backing Haftar’s LNA and Turkey, Qatar and Italy supporting the UN-backed GNA.


Context

The political landscape in Libya has been rife with instability and fragmentation since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 - with competing governments, militias, and foreign interventions. Efforts were made in 2021 to hold national elections, which were subsequently thwarted by political divisions and security concerns. This led to delays and extended periods of negotiations among the governing factions. As the country approaches its 2024 elections, the situation remains complex with two rival administrations competing for control in Libya: the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU), led by Abdelhamid Dabeiba, and the Government of National Stability (GNS), established by the eastern Tobruk-based parliament, the House of Representatives.


Analysis

The international community has played a significant role in supporting Libya’s elections. The United Nations, through the UN Support Missions in Libya (UNSMIL), has been crucial in mediating political dialogue and pushing for an inclusive electoral process. Special Representative Abdoulaye Bathily has been active in engaging with Libyan leaders to resolve the deadlock and promote a framework conducive to free and fair elections. 

Countries such as Germany, along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), have provided substantial financial and technical support. Germany has committed around 7 million USD to the UNDP’s Promoting Elections for the People (PEPOL) project. Furthermore, the European Union have expressed their support, emphasizing the importance of a stable and democratic Libya for regional security and highlighting the international community’s commitment to ensuring an inclusive electoral process.


Despite continued efforts, significant challenges persist. The dual government in Libya complicates the unification process, with the GNU and GNS continuing to look for legitimacy, making it more difficult to achieve a cohesive electoral framework. Additionally, security concerns, including the presence of foreign fighters and militias, pose significant threats to the electoral process – the UN and international actors have called for the withdrawal of these forces to stabilize the country and end foreign interference.


The elections will occur against a backdrop of human rights abuses documented by various organisations such as Human Rights Watch, which have highlighted alarming violations. These include crackdowns on civic work, indefinite detention in inhumane and degrading conditions, forced labour and torture, often perpetuated by militia groups with total impunity, as well as pushback of thousands of migrants by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard. The international community has urged Libyan authorities to ensure the safety of these groups and the necessity of creating an environment where democratic participation can flourish. 


Forecast

Looking ahead, the path to successful elections in Libya is one with several challenges. The political divisions and security concerns must be addressed to create a conducive environment for voting. All Libyan leaders have agreed to an amendment of the 2017 draft laws (a draft of a constitution for Libya prepared by the Constitution Drafting Assembly of 60 elected officials) which presented a presidential system of government. Therefore, the international community’s ongoing efforts to mediate between the rival factions and achieve a consensus on the electoral framework will be crucial as it is highly likely there will be further postponements. 


Moreover, the withdrawal of foreign fighters and the disarmament of militias will be a key component of stabilizing the country. International pressure and support for these measures will likely lead to the creation of a secure environment for voting. In addition, the protection of human rights and the participation of civil society will be critical in legitimising the electoral process and ensuring broad-based support among Libyans. 


Despite the road to the 2024 elections being challenging, with it being almost certain that more disruptions will occur, the continued efforts of the international community, along with genuine political will from Libyan factions, can pave the way for a successful electoral process. This, in turn, can help restore legitimacy to Libya’s institutions and allow for long-term political stability and development.


Risk: 7764


Hezbollah-Israel confrontation escalates; threat of full-blown conflict and international economic deterioration likely


Executive Summary

  • Rocket attacks between Israel and Hezbollah since the onset of the Gaza war have escalated in recent weeks.

  • There are serious risks of an escalation in the conflict, which is not likely to de-escalate while the war in Gaza continues. 

  • There is likely to be further humanitarian devastation in Lebanon and Israel.

  • Disruptions in each domestic economic system as well as international commodities markets are very likely.


Context

Hamas’ attacks on Israel on 7 October 2023 precipitated a steady exchange of missiles and bombs between Hezbollah, a paramilitary organisation dominant within Lebanese politics, and Israel. For months these ‘tit-for-tat’ retaliations have caused devastation in Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon, with over 150,000 Lebanese and Israeli citizens displaced and hundreds killed. In recent weeks, the severity of attacks has escalated, as each side pushes the line between deterrence and triggering a war. 


There are concerns amongst US intelligence officials that a large-scale confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah is likely to break out should peace negotiations between Hamas and Israel fail. Hamas and Hezbollah are both funded and supported by Iran, where a new loyalist President will be elected on Friday following the death of President Raisi.


Analysis

The US has sought to propose diplomatic solutions but rhetoric is escalating on both sides of the conflict. Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned that Hezbollah would be destroyed in the event of a total war, and Hezbollah’s General Secretary Hasan Nasrallah said that nowhere in Israel would be safe. Both sides have developed battle plans in preparation for a large-scale conflict. 


Domestic political difficulties for Israel’s government and the slow progress of the IDF in defeating Hamas and releasing hostages are very likely to make Israel’s political and military leadership more eager to confront Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Hezbollah says that it will not end hostilities until there is a ceasefire in the Gaza war, which looks highly unlikely in the short term. 


Both Hezbollah and Hamas form part of Iran’s network of proxies and friendly paramilitary groups across the Middle East, which Iran uses to advance its interests to the detriment of the US and Israel. The new Iranian President, Pezeshkian, is unlikely to soften this stance, although Iran has so far tried to avoid a full-blown regional war.


Forecast

There is a realistic possibility that the current hostilities escalate into a more developed military conflict between the two sides. Increased humanitarian devastation on both sides is almost certain and international criticism of Israeli military actions will intensify, whilst diplomatic and material support from allies such as the US is likely to be maintained.


Lebanon’s economy will continue to deteriorate and Hezbollah is likely to increase its hold on domestic political institutions, with further political disorder highly likely. International economic risks such as volatility in energy markets and disruption to shipping through the Red and Mediterranean Seas are highly probable, with accordant knock-on effects on global commodity prices, inflation and subsequent political upheavals likely. 


Risk: 87108



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