Middle East and North Africa: Russia changes the battlefield; The campaign against ISIS; The Iraqi Army; The war in Yemen; Yemen and GCC military cooperation; Regional capabilities increase; Defence Economics; Macroeconomics; Defence spending and procurement; Defence industry; Emirates Defence Industries Company
Saudi Arabia: Defence policy; The armed forces; Defence and security cooperation and coalitions; Operations in Yemen; Defence economics and industry

Four major conflicts raged in the Middle East in late 2016, in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Conflict resolution appeared distant in each, although of the four, the campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Iraq and Syria seemed to be gaining the most traction, with the jihadi group losing significant territory and personnel. In contrast, the Syrian civil war continued to defy UN and international diplomatic efforts and appeared too complex for immediate resolution. The slow retreat by ISIS in Iraq and Syria was balanced by the emergence of volatile post-ISIS fault lines, illustrated most notably by Turkey’s intervention in northern Syria to contain Kurdish ambitions.

The crisis in Yemen also challenged regional diplomacy. The Saudi-led coalition struggled to translate military advances into political gains at the failed peace talks in Kuwait and faced the task of fighting a hardened enemy while containing a jihadi threat. In Libya, a UN-backed government struggled to impose its authority in the face of militarily superior armed factions, demonstrating that international consensus was not enough to re-establish state control in fractured societies.

These wars and their related human, economic and security costs cast a long shadow across the region. Competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia, jihadi activity across the region, a sense of retrenchment by the United States and concern about further instability created anxiety. As a result, there was further investment in the region’s defence and security sectors. In recent years, military service made a return in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates; these nations, with Saudi Arabia, remain involved in active military operations. The sense of regional military and strategic extroversion seen since 2011 continues, with these states now willing to take military action not just as part of a Western-led coalition, but as part of regional coalitions organised in pursuit of their own security interests.

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