Book Review: The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication

The flag of the Lebanese Hizbullah party. Image: Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the LSE Review of Books, hosted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, on 23 March, 2015.

The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication. Lina Khatib, Dina Matar and Atef Alshaer. Oxford University Press. 2014.

In The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, Lina Khatib, Dinar Matar and Atef Alshaer offer a comprehensive analysis of the group’s sophisticated political communication strategy since its inception in 1982. Although they offer no startling insights into the group’s socio-political aims and approaches within Lebanon or its relations with foreign powers, their contribution lies in their detailed analysis of how Hizbullah has continuously sought to legitimise and market itself to domestic and foreign audiences. This is a highly valuable contribution that sheds much needed light on a key causal dimension in the movement’s endurance. » More

Iran’s Beef

U.S.A. embassy

The former US embassy in Teheran, Image: Örlygur Hnefill/Flickr.

This article was originally published by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) on 21 December 2014.

“Where you stand depends on where you sit” is an old maxim of politics. Where Iranians sit is on a lot of history that inclines them to resent and mistrust America and Britain, and mistrust in particular anything that would compromise their freedom of action. It’s a history of which we in the West are barely aware, but which determines in large part Iran’s view of the world.

The current talks between Iran and six other powers about Iran and nuclear weapon potential are mostly about technical capabilities. The history is rarely taken into account by the other participants. Yet it is a factor.

Iranians remember with chagrin that for a long time, outside powers decided what policies they should follow and who be their leader. » More

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Winners and Losers in the Syrian Civil War

Syrian Flag

Photo: Freedom House/flickr.

The Syrian civil war, which has seen a stalemate for nearly three years, shows no signs of a negotiated political solution. The Geneva II peace talks, that opened on 22 January, are highly unlikely to result in a breakthrough, absent a miracle. There is irreconcilable tension between the oppositional Syrian National Coalitions’s (SNC) demand for a future Syria without President Bashar Al-Assad and Al-Assad government’s policy priority to secure international support to fight what it calls rebellious terrorists. That may well leave a military victory, either by the government or the opposition rebels, as the final option to break out of the deadlock.

If this were to happen, three recent developments seem to favor a possible win by Bashar Al-Assad. First, in recent weeks, government troops have recorded some notable military successes by reversing rebel territorial gains in the south and eastern parts of Syria and by stamping them out from areas adjacent to Damascus. Secondly, the continued infightings between rebel groups, particularly between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other moderate Islamist groups are damagingly reducing their fighting capacities against government troops. Thirdly, international support for the rebels is gradually drying out. The SNC agreed to join Geneva II peace negotiations after the US and Britain had threatened to withdraw support for them.[1] A win by President Bashar Al-Assad would, however, inevitably affect the interests and strategic matrices of the regional powers deeply involved in the Syrian civil war – Iran, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This point is explained below by highlighting what drove each of the parties to take sides in the civil war and what they stand to win or lose in Syria if Bashar Al-Assad stays in power. » More

Will Iran’s New Support of Human Rights Go Deeper Than Rhetoric?

Weekly vigil in Trafalgar Square against human rights violations and political executions in Iran.

Weekly vigil in Trafalgar Square against human rights violations and political executions in Iran. Photo: helen.2006/flickr.

It is no secret that Iran has an image problem in the international arena. As part of a comprehensive campaign to regain credibility and improve its reputation on the world stage, the country is adopting a new approach to diplomacy that seems to extend well beyond the nuclear dossier. But President Rouhani’s attempts to remake the country’s foreign policy since his election last June have met with much suspicion, as many outside Iran fear that this leopard can’t change its spots.

Delegates in the UN General Assembly have been noticing a turnaround in the way that the country’s representatives engage with social, humanitarian, and human rights issues. In October, observers were taken aback by the palpable softening of Iran’s tone1 in the delegate’s reaction to the latest report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran. In its statement, the Iranian representative to the Third Committee sounded conciliatory as she declared that “Iran emphasizes the need to use the momentum engendered by this election [of President Rouhani] to adopt a new and constructive approach by all relevant parties towards cooperation and dialogue for the promotion and protection of all human rights” adding that the “government does not claim that the situation of human rights within the country is perfect.” » More

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Bringing the Iran Deal Back Home

Handshake Iran US, courtesy of Zereshk /Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States government’s initial statements on the “first-step agreement on Iran’s nuclear program” have been focused, above all, on the great deal that the US and the West have gotten. Iran has agreed to halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity; neutralize its stockpile of uranium enriched to near 20% purity; stop building its stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium; forswear “next generation centrifuges”; shut down its plutonium reactor; and allow extensive new inspections of its nuclear facilities. In return, Iran will get “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible relief” from international sanctions.

The agreement covers only the next six months, during which both sides will try to reach a final comprehensive agreement. For now, as President Barack Obama put it, the burden remains, from the US point of view, “on Iran to prove to the world that its nuclear program will be exclusively for peaceful purposes.” » More

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