What’s Next in the Middle East in 2019

• ISIS, which is loosing its last stronghold in Syria, probably realizes that controlling new territory is not sustainable in the short term. ISIS will seek to exploit Sunni grievances, societal instability, and stretched security forces to regain territory in Iraq and Syria in the long term. At some point, ISIS will likely resume external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western countries.

• Iran will attempt to translate battlefield gains in Iraq and Syria into long-term political, security, social, and economic influence while continuing to press Saudi Arabia and the UAE by supporting the Houthis in Yemen.

• Iran/Israel tensions will continue to grow, especially ahead of ISL elections. This can result in potential clashes (air-strikes and retaliation) between the two countries but on Syrian territory. Russia will be the power broker to avoid Syria becoming a new battle ground between Iran/Hezbollah and Israel.

• Israel will continue to reinforce its position regionally and will seek to increase diplomatic ties with Gulf countries. With elections ahead, rhetoric against Iran will remain strong but direct confrontation will be avoided. The US peace plan can open a new front of tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and groups, but the status quo other Gaza will certainly be seek by all parties.

• Iraq is facing an increasingly disenchanted public. The underlying political and economic factors that facilitated the rise of ISIS persist, and Iraqi Shia militias’ attempts to further entrench their role in the state will be pursued. The same militias will continue to push for a US withdrawal from the country through their political representation in Baghdad.

• In Syria, the regime and its allies will focus on taking control of the remaining rebel-held territory and reestablishing control of eastern Syria, consolidating gains, rebuilding regime-loyal areas, and increasing its diplomatic ties (Arab League) while seeking to avoid conflicts with Israel and Turkey. While the Government of Syria will regain control of territory asymmetrical warfare incidents will increase throughout the country. Russia and Iran probably will attempt to further entrench themselves in Syria.

• The Houthi movement in Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition, which supports the Yemeni Government, remain far apart in negotiating an end to the conflict, and neither side seems prepared for the kind of compromise needed to end the fighting, suggesting the humanitarian crisis will continue. Further tensions within the coalition (KSA/UAE) and tensions between the UAE and the groups it supports should be expected. Fragmentation in the south is highly probable.

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