Predictions for 2017 in a nutshell: The Middle East

To say that 2016 was eventful would be an understatement. There probably isn't a word to describe the shenanigans that occurred during this crazy year. With the Brexit, the Italian referendum, the death of Fidel Castro, the brutality of the wars in the Middle East, the migrant crisis in Europe, among others, none compared to the US election.

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States was one of the most unpredictable events ever to take place in our nation. The nation and global affairs will begin to take a dramatic shift from the policies and agenda that occurred under the eight years of the Obama Administration. A shift that is desperately needed, as our current Commander in Chief has done more harm than good on the world stage.

Nearly the entire Middle East and North Africa region is plagued by Islamic terrorism, much of it due to the violent nature of Islam, but a large part is a result of US led interventions under the past two administrations that have overthrown secular dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. In addition to this, the Obama's administration's support for the toppling of the secular regimes of Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen during the Arab Spring further exacerbated the already volatile situation in the region.

The toppling of these dictators have opened a power vacuum that can only be fixed by the reestablishment of strongmen in these nations. Leaders like General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi prevented the Muslim Brotherhood from taking complete control over Egypt and has reestablished secular control over the nation. Donald Trump seems to be more than willing to work with these types of leaders to undo the chaos that has occurred under the Bush and Obama administrations.

The downfall of ISIS is all but inevitable. The caliphate will undoubtedly lose all or nearly all of its territory by the end of next year. As Mosul is being assaulted by Iraqi military, Iranian special forces and Shia militias, as well as US Military and its coalition partners, it’s only a matter of a month or two before the city falls to Iraqi Government hands. Simultaneously, the Kurdish YPG is slowly closing in on Ar-Raqqa, ISIS's self declared capital, while the Assad Regime is decimating the Syrian opposition groups in the western part of the country.       

In Libya, the civil war is as dreadful as ever. The UN backed interim government has been assaulted by the Libyan Dawn Coalition, who once controlled the western half of the country, while General Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan Military control the eastern half of the country. ISIS has been driven back to a few pockets of the city of Sirte, having once controlled a huge swath of land in the central coastal region of the nation in the first quarter of 2016. Libya's war will continue until another strongman (presumably Haftar) takes control in Gaddafi's place.

Iran has been emboldened by the capitulation of the west and the Obama Administration who has lifted economic sanctions on the nation who is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. The Iran Deal says that it will place limitations on nuclear proliferation. However most of the important aspects of the deal only last for 15 years, some only for 10. Iran now has the capability to exert their influence over the region with much more ease than before, when the US and European nations were crippling the Islamic Republic with these sanctions. Trump has said he will overturn the deal and re-implement sanctions. If he follows through with his promise, Iran's emboldenment will be short lived.

Yemen will also prove to be a challenge for regional stability, as the civil war that has torn up the Gulf nation will enter its third year of violent conflict. The Iranian backed Houthis have been in a constant state struggle for territorial control in the northwestern portion of the country. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf National Council allies are continuing air raids on Houthi controlled areas while the Yemeni military battles them on the ground. If crippling sanctions against Iran are enacted by the Trump Administration, the Houthis may begin to lose ground, as their biggest supplier of weapons and training will not have the ability to fund their proxies due to their lack of discretionary spending.
           
Israel has been shunned and neglected by the Obama Administration, who has had nothing but contempt for the world's only Jewish state. The most recent example being the US's abstention to the UN resolution recognizing the Temple Mount as an Islamic heritage site. Trump's position on Israel has gone from neutral during the primaries to staunchly pro-Israel. His appointment of David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel shows that the US will be taking a hard turn away from Obama's disregard towards our greatest ally in the region.

Overall, the Middle East will continue to be be the basket case of the world, as it has always been. However, with a new administration coming into power starting in January, policy in the middle east will take a sharp turn away from Bush's neo-conservatism and Obama's backing off in the region, both of which led to the rise of Islamists and more terrorism.

Presumably, Trump will take a more realist policy approach that advocates for stability. This, in turn, will hopefully allow for a decrease in global Islamic terrorism and allow for more stable governments as there were decades ago. Time will tell, but at this point the situation in the middle east couldn't get much worse than it is now.

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