THE BLOG
01/08/2010 03:36 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Foreign Affairs Roundup

This Week's Top Stories on Foreign Affairs:
The State of Yemen
SI Analysis: In light of recent international scrutiny following the thwarted Christmas bomb attempt on the Detroit-bound Northwest flight, every one -- from the US, UK and Saudi governments to the Yemeni security forces -- is scrambling to crack down on radical political Islamists operating in Yemen, including members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, the situation as many are discovering is far more challenging than it may first appear. There are two ongoing rebellions in Yemen, the Shia al-Houthis in the north and Sunni tribes in the South. There is also a disperate Sunni insurgency aimed at toppling both the Saana government and the Saudi Royal family. This movement was greatly strengthened after a 2006 prison break where key movement leaders escaped. What's worse is that Yemen"s President Saleh has often used radical Salafi mercenaries and leaders to fight the Shia rebellion in the north. And there is strong evidence that up to this point, certain security forces and political factions have left AQAP leaders alone to do their bidding safely within the country. As Yemen gains international attention, it will become a site for international recruitment just as Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. How best to address the problems that Yemen has no simple or fast fix.

How to Address the Iranian Nuclear Program
SI Analysis: The world seemed upside down this week when Iran issued an ultimatum to the West saying that the foreign powers have one week to accept the proposal to export its enriched uranium on its own terms, or it will unequivocally continue to enrich uranium regardless of world opinion. The permanent members of the UN Security Council (UK, US, France, Russia and China) plus Germany will likely impose more difficult financial sanctions on Iran to coerce into operation. Some suggest that sanctions coupled with the fledgling opposition movement, will weaken the Ahmadinejad government and the Khamenei Regime and its nuclear policy. However, this is to misunderstand the opposition movement who has no issue with Iranian nuclear policy. The reality is that Iran continues to enrich uranium with relative impunity, it is building even more nuclear infrastructure deep in its mountains and it is aggressively pursuing engagement of Central Asian powers with enticing energy deals to ensure its long term independence from the West. There still remains the possibility that Israel may strike Iran preemptively to slow the progression of its nuclear program.

War Stories:

Iraq
The big story is that Iran is preparing for its elections on 7 March, where large turnover in elected officials is expected. Whether factional divides will endure or cross-ethnic and inter-faith alliances will prevail is the most pressing and interesting question as it dictates whether Iraq is moving towards a unified or divided future. In any case, many expect radical political Islamists to attempt to thwart the elections with targeted bombings.

Afghanistan and Pakistan Retaliatory strikes from the Pakistani Taliban -- including a deadly blast in a village on the border with South Waziristan that killed over 89 people and pointed attacks against Pakistani Shias -- continue in Pakistan, despite the fact that the government claims to have made great gains in its offensives against the group and the US claims its drones killed key leadership over the holidays. Meanwhile, Karzai struggles to form a government that will gain the respect both domestically and internationally. More focus is turned to the tough task of building up the Afghan national security forces as well as the ongoing need for international aid.

Analysis in Brief :

Hamas v. Jihadists
This recent development is of particular curiosity and is very telling of Palestinians' lack of civil society and political unity. Back in 2007, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces. They brandished their weapons in the name of jihad and won popular support among a population under siege by Israeli forces. Western analysts, for the most part, lamented this development as indicative of the increased radicalization of the Palestinian population and as a gigantic victory for radical Islamist. Now, radical Islamists are challenging Hamas. Why is this? Hamas, not surprisingly, has proved to be largely ineffective in improving the lives of Gazans. Salafist elements such as Jaish al-Islam and Jaish al-Umma have developed factions opposed to Hamas. What's more, these Salafist groups are opposed to shia Iranian support of Hamas, and find more allegiance with Arab regimes in the Gulf. If conflict escalates between Hamas and Salafist factions, we could witness yet another proxy battle on the border of Israel.

Russia's not-so-soft power war in Eastern Europe
Remember this time last year? In January 2009 Eastern Europe was freezing as gas supplies from Russia were cut off in a row with Ukraine. Well, energy pipelines are the name of the game again, only this time, fortunately for the citizens of Romania, Hungary and other nations, no one is left without their normal supply of heat. This year the dispute was with Belarus, which cut off gas supplies for several days in a dispute with Russia over tariffs. After Prime Minister Putin flew in to Minsk, the dispute was resolved and shipments resumed. After last year's crisis, the EU and Russia had implemented an early crisis warning system with Russia. Despite the row with Belarus, no warnings were given from Moscow to Brussels. Meanwhile, Ukraine has raised gas transit charges by 58% due to an increase in prices from Russian' gas giant Gazprom. It's not just gas that is controversial. Steel has also become a debated commodity. An "unnamed" Russian group is attempting to buy the recession-hit steel giant ISD Corporation, thereby extending Russian influence into its former satellites. This could lead to further tensions between Kiev and Moscow.

Dagestan - Russia's Yemen
The conflict in the north Caucasus between Russian forces and Muslim separatists is nothing new for sure. Ever since the fall of communism, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan have been contentious regions with an active Muslim population with questionable funding. Russia has spent millions on stifling dissent there. This week's al-Qaeda-linked bombing in Dagestan was a stark reminder of the Islamist terror network's global reach, which seeks to target not just American interests.

You can read this roundup on the Simple Intelligence Site and on the Huffington Post World Page.