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Watch List: Feb. 13, 2018

Hamas’ new money, the United Kingdom’s new threats, the Islamic State’s new holdings

|February 13, 2018

The items listed below represent potential emerging issues that our analysts are tracking. These can be long term or short term, but will be updated daily. If an item on our Watch List becomes critical, we will email you a full analysis explaining its significance.

Each Saturday, we will follow up our daily Watch List for each week with our conclusions on these issues.

Israel: An interesting story has emerged in Israel. In January, the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, arrested a Turkish national. On Feb. 12, the Shin Bet said its investigation revealed Hamas had been in direct contact with Turkey, which is funding the Palestinian group. Also arrested was an Arab-Israeli man who allegedly served as the money middleman. This may cut against one of our forecasts for 2018 – that mutual problems with Iran would bring Israel and Turkey closer together. To find out if this is the case, we should uncover the extent to which Turkey supports Hamas, which has traditionally used Saudi Arabia and Iran as its benefactors. Let’s also note Turkey’s reactions to the story.

U.K.: The British defense minister has said that the HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, will sail through the South China Sea next month – just to make it clear that the U.K. reserves the right to do so, even though it has not done so before. The timing is notable: Prime Minister Theresa May recently visited China to boost trade relations – an important facet to the Brexit saga – and it was just last year that the navy was criticized in the British Parliament for falling into disrepair. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has responded by saying it hopes no foreign countries “stir up trouble in the South China Sea.” What are we to make of this? Are we to assume May’s visit went poorly and that this is retaliatory? If so, what would the U.K. gain by threatening China? If the British navy is in such bad shape, would it even be able to pull it off?

Afghanistan: The Islamic State claims to have seized several villages from the Taliban in Alingar, a district east of Kabul near the border with Pakistan. The group also claimed responsibility for attacks there in December but did not actually declare control. The villages are fairly close to the IS stronghold of Nangarhar. There has meanwhile been increased IS activity in Kunar, which borders Pakistan. We need a survey of the Islamic State’s territorial holdings, and we need it yesterday.

Iraq: Iraq’s Sunnis seem to be fed up with the presence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias. There’s always some tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, but it’s worth remembering that the Islamic State exploited this very grievance as it came to power. The questions that need to be answered, then, are: Where are the militias deployed? How many are there? And, most important, exactly how much control does Iran have over them and, by extension, in Iraq?

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have completed the first phase of their joint naval exercises. The second phase will conclude Feb. 17. Riyadh has been quiet lately, especially compared with its regional rival Iran, but now it is engaging Pakistan, which shares a border with Iran to the east and has frequently been considered a potential ally of Riyadh’s. If the exercises resemble operations that would take place in the Persian Gulf, that would tell us an awful lot about Saudi Arabia’s intentions. Let’s find out. A survey of Pakistani-Saudi relations couldn’t hurt either.

Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan: The heads of the Uzbek and Kazakh armies met with Afghanistan’s president in Kabul on Feb. 12. This is one more item on the list of unusual meetings being held in Central Asia. If these countries are involving themselves in Afghanistan, it could denote cooperation with the United States. Central Asian states are, however, acting more independently lately, so the visit might simply mean they are voluntarily inserting themselves into a situation that threatens their interests. Let’s figure out which it is.

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