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Watch List: Feb. 7, 2018

Turkey vs. Iran, Israel vs. everyone, the Balkans vs. the Balkans

|February 7, 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.

  • Iran, Turkey: A Turkish military outpost in Syria’s Idlib province was reportedly attacked, leaving one soldier dead and five injured. Some reports suggest Iranian-backed militias are responsible. Meanwhile, Syrian Kurds, whom the Turks oppose, are believed to have arrived in Afrin after reaching an agreement with the Syrian government, an Iranian ally. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has criticized Turkey publicly, calling it “unprincipled and fruitless.” We did not expect Iran and Turkey to clash directly in 2018. Should we reconsider? Before we do, we need to verify the above reports.
  • Israel: It’s time to think about Israel again. Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank on Feb. 7. At least one person was killed. The executive committee of the Palestinian Authority has decided to create a plan to “disengage” from Israel, and reportedly some of the options under consideration are a new Palestinian currency and downgrading security ties. Israeli media are rife with headlines like “a violent storm is brewing.” And then, of course, there is the general discontent with Washington’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. The question here is simple, if difficult to answer: Is this a prelude to a third intifada?
  • The Balkans: A lot is going on here. The European Commission has launched a new enlargement strategy aimed at the western Balkans but says accession requires all conflicts to be solved and several reforms to be made. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s defense minister has said she expects the NATO Membership Action Plan to be launched this year. Serbia’s defense minister has said Albania’s “Greater Albania” ambitions must be stopped. Macedonia’s defense minister has said Macedonia would increase military cooperation with the United States. Notably, however, major powers with interests in the Balkans, including Russia and Turkey, have been relatively quiet. We need to make sense of this.
  • Afghanistan: The United States is reportedly moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, where the Islamic State has supposedly made inroads. Iran has accused the U.S. of all sorts of nefarious things in Afghanistan, and some Afghan officials have accused Iran and Pakistan of trying to destabilize the country. Let’s take a step back and map out a new picture of the Afghan battlespace. Once we understand who controls what, we will have a better idea how big of a threat the Islamic State really is, and if the rhetoric is anything more than rhetoric.
  • Maldives: Most media agencies are talking about the political crisis in the Maldives. Should we? Yes, some opposition figures have called for Indian intervention. Yes, Chinese media reacted negatively to this proposition. But so far, the reactions from both sides have been measured, and this is important only if they intervene. It’s worth monitoring for signs of intervention.
  • North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister will visit South Korea for the Winter Olympics. That’s a high-level – and unprecedented – visit, so we should see if there is more than meets the eye. Why send her? Is she important? And does it tell us anything about what Pyongyang wants?

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