CIP Calls for Israel-Iran De-escalation; Reiterates Need for Ceasefire in Gaza

In response to last night’s attack by Iran on Israel, Nancy Okail, Center for International Policy (CIP) president and CEO, issued the following statement: 

“CIP condemns Iran’s launching of more than 300 missiles and drones against the State of Israel in retaliation for an Israeli strike near an Iranian diplomatic complex in Syria that killed senior military commanders and several others. Escalatory actions by both countries threaten to fan the flames of conflict throughout the region, endangering the lives of millions.

We appreciate the apparent advance diplomatic efforts by the United States and others behind the scenes — as well US, UK and Jordanian participation in air defense measures — to minimize the impact of Iran’s attack. Prioritizing civilian protection and de-escalation was clearly the right approach and should continue to serve as the international community’s objectives in the critical days and weeks ahead.

Achieving those goals requires not only arresting the escalation of violence between Israel and Iran, but securing a ceasefire in Gaza that halts the killing of civilians, releases the hostages, allows vital humanitarian aid to actually reach those who need it, and lowers tensions in the region. The continued unconditional supply to the Netanyahu government of the arms it is using in Gaza undermines those objectives, as well as US and international law.

Netanyahu’s repeated disregard of US redlines in Gaza, moves to deepen permanent occupation in the Palestinian territory, and escalation with Iran are destabilizing the entire region. With American forces already drawn into hostilities with the Iranian-backed Houthis and actively engaging Iranian missiles and drones, President Biden cannot afford to let the extremist Prime Minister continue to have a harmful, undue influence on the course of events. Hopefully, the president’s efforts have averted a wider regional war with Iran; we urge him to bring that same level of effort to save the people of Gaza.”

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The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine

This week marks six months since the horrific Hamas-led October 7, 2023 attack and atrocities against civilians in southern Israel, followed by the devastating and often indiscriminate Israeli assault on Gaza. At least two-thirds of the more than 30,000 Palestinian dead are civilians, with more than one million people on the brink of a famine that is already starving children to death. In addition to the more than 1,150 Israelis killed in Hamas’ initial attack, some 130 Israeli hostages remain in captivity in Gaza. 

This memo updates our recommended steps for the Biden Administration to take to stop the fighting, end the nightmare faced by Palestinian civilians and Israeli hostages, and ensure the security, rights and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in the longer term.

Continue reading “The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine”

Israel’s Damascus airstrike was a deliberate provocation

Sina Toossi is a senior non-resident fellow at the Center for International Policy

On April 1st, an Israeli airstrike in Damascus dramatically escalated already simmering tensions between Israel and Iran. The operation led to the deaths of seven Iranians, including a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The target, according to Iran, was an official consulate building. However, Israel disputes this claim, which would be a violation of international law. Despite this, many countries and the United Nations have condemned the attacks on grounds that diplomatic facilities were targeted. Notably, even U.S. allies in the region, such as the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, expressed their disapproval.

In response, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has vowed retribution, declaring that those responsible “will be punished by our brave men,” and that they will “regret this crime.” Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, also indicated that Iran had sent an “important message” to the U.S. government, holding it accountable for supporting Israel’s actions. These developments suggest that Iran may be considering a substantial retaliation, which could include renewed actions against American forces in the region.

The Israeli airstrike occurs at a time when Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is grappling with a multitude of internal and external pressures. The war in Gaza has taken a severe toll on Israel’s societal fabric and economy. The military draft has drained the workforce, while the war’s ripple effects have contracted Israel’s GDP by an estimated 20 percent. Additionally, the government, already facing internal strife due to Netanyahu’s legal issues and public discontent, has been further strained by the fallout from failed hostage rescue operations and the loss of numerous hostages due to Israeli bombardments.

Adding to these internal challenges is Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation, exemplified by the UN Security Council’s demand for an immediate halt to military operations in Gaza. This call signifies a notable shift in the Biden administration’s approach, which is increasingly critical of Israel’s conduct.

Against this backdrop, Netanyahu’s decision to green-light the airstrike on Damascus seems to be a calculated act to amplify the hostilities. Such a move sharply contrasts with international appeals for restraint and indicates a deliberate escalation strategy.

Netanyahu seems to be aiming to provoke Iran and intensify the conflict to galvanize domestic and international political support and justify wider military actions, potentially in Rafah and against Hezbollah and Iran. This strategy risks drawing the United States deeper into the conflict, with potentially dire ramifications for regional stability.

The crucial issue now is Iran’s potential reaction.  A review of commentary from prominent Iranian analysts from across the Islamic Republic’s political spectrum reveals two prevailing narratives: one perceives Israel’s actions as a deliberate provocation of war that Iran should respond to with restraint, while the other suggests that Israel is capitalizing on Iran’s typically restrained responses and that failing to react proportionately will only invite further escalations. The latter perspective is gaining momentum, with increasing calls for a decisive response to deter future Israeli aggression.

Iran’s potential responses to the Israeli airstrike include a wide range of actions, such as targeting Israeli interests in third countries, reciprocal attacks within Israel’s own borders or the Golan Heights, or escalating cyber warfare attacks. The consequences of Iran’s decision could profoundly affect the Middle East and beyond.

The U.S. response to Netanyahu’s actions is also crucial. President Biden is at a critical juncture where he can exert significant coercive pressure on Netanyahu to prevent an escalation in regional tensions. Despite his hesitations so far, it is more vital than ever that he takes decisive action now. Failure to act could exacerbate the situation, potentially leading to a regional conflict with severe repercussions for U.S. interests and which would inadvertently benefit U.S. great power rivals like Russia and China.

Given the current developments, it is crucial for the U.S. and other global powers to intensify their efforts towards de-escalation. The initial step in this process should involve applying pressure on Netanyahu to cease further military actions. This could be achieved through various means, including halting arms shipments, imposing economic sanctions, or advocating for international legal action against Israel.

The foremost priority in this situation remains securing a ceasefire agreement. Achieving this would require Netanyahu to compromise on what he previously termed as “delusional” demands by Hamas for a hostage exchange and an end to the war. Another vital aspect is preventing escalation along the Lebanon border, especially considering statements from Israeli officials like Defense Minister Yoav Gallant about their intent to increase “firepower” against Hezbollah.

Up until now, Iran has been striving to manage the level of regional violence to avert a full-scale war. Iran and its regional allies have been calibrating their actions to pressure the U.S. and Israel to end the Gaza war. Iran has dissuaded its allied militias in Iraq from firing missiles at American forces in the region, understanding that these are tripwire forces and attacking them would allow for hawks in Washington to push for war.

Nevertheless, Iran holds escalatory dominance, capable of commanding its allies to renew attacks on U.S. forces. The question now is whether the U.S. and Iran can prevent this from escalating into a wider war, which neither side wants but Netanyahu seems bent on for his own political survival. The aftermath of the Damascus strikes will serve as a significant test.

A US Foreign Policy Pathway to Peace for Yemen

Muna Luqman (she/her) is a Yemeni peacebuilder, humanitarian/development expert, and advocate for inclusive diplomacy. She is the founder and chairperson of Food4Humanity and the co-founder of the Women’s Solidarity Network. Diana Duarte (she/her) is the interim Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at MADRE, a global gender justice organization and feminist fund.

For nearly 10 years, Yemen has been divided by a civil war fought between three parties: the internationally recognized government, supported by the US-backed and Saudi-UAE led coalition,  the Houthis, and separatists in the south. A temporary truce was announced in April 2022, but ultimately collapsed after six months. Neither side had fully met the conditions of the truce, and Houthi hardline demands created an impasse. The failed peace process left the future uncertain for Yemeni communities facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and significant aid cutbacks, until a new peace process began to show signs of progress. Under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy’s office, an inclusive peace process began to take root, bringing together Yemeni civil society leaders with Houthis, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Southern separatists. In late December 2023, parties to the conflict had committed to a nationwide ceasefire, measures to improve living conditions, and restarting an intra-Yemeni political process

However, this promising roadmap towards peace was derailed by the retaliatory violence of the US against Houthis blockade attacks in the Red Sea and the expanding effects of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. This deepening violence and the stubborn determination of policymakers to seek collective punitive military and economic responses is further imperiling lives across the region – all while many of these same policymakers justify launching bombs in the name of so-called security.

The experience of Yemeni peacebuilders has shown: there are ways to escape from this spiral of violence. Making that shift requires the international community to prioritize human rights first and to seek security, accountability and an end to conflict through inclusive, community-led processes. This has long been the vision of Yemeni women who have organized and strategized together for peace, while offering concrete proposals to the international policymakers to guide them towards an approach that centers diplomacy, rights and an ethic of care.

Instead, the unconditional pursuit of military primacy, whether by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, or others, has worsened the volatility and violence of armed conflict, and ultimately benefits and proliferates armed actors by creating cycles of violence and radicalization. A policy pathway with any chance of success – real, just and sustainable peace for Yemen – must instead put a different set of priorities first. It must reflect the urgent, expressed demands of local peacebuilders, uplifting the primacy of community security and inclusion in fostering a wider, interconnected national, regional, and global security.

In short, the path to peace is built first on ceasefire and inclusive processes, made possible by the leadership of grassroots women peacebuilders with a bottom-up approach.

Peace from the grassroots

Facing reality, we know the status quo is still lightyears away from this needed shift. The policymaking paradigms of the world’s most powerful governments have embraced a militarized logic that routinely threatens or carries out violence against vulnerable people. By taking steps toward transformation, the US and international community can better support peace processes led by community leaders and human rights defenders at the heart of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

First, the work of women peacebuilders at the grassroots reflects documented best practices that a peace deal won’t last unless everyone is at the table. That means broadening any peace process beyond combatants. Too often, formal peace negotiations are carried out only with the people with guns — and the process in Yemen has been no exception, focusing on the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and the Houthis, with limited involvement from civil society.

Not only has this excluded a host of political actors — tribal leaders, the Southern Transitional Council and other local armed groups — but crucially, it divides and sidelines civil society and feminist leaders, who have tended to be shunted into “parallel” advisory tracks and less likely to be in the room as key negotiators. For many years, those who have been invited were tokenized: excluding a diverse community of civil society leaders whose needs and analysis vary according to their work and geographic region.

Notably, more recent efforts have sought to broaden civil society participation in these talks via a series of consultations with local stakeholders in Yemen and in the regional diaspora. These led to significant steps towards a ceasefire in December 2023, and the renewal of a remarkable truce that largely held despite its expiration over a year ago. In the year leading up to the truce, there had been 40 Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen per week, and the truce’s break in hostilities offered a vital moment of peace and relief for Yemeni families. But the situation remains fragile. All parties will need to continue to work with Yemeni civil society, especially women leaders, to secure a new truce, a monitored ceasefire, and an inclusive, sustainable peace agreement.

Despite existing commitments to localization and inclusion in peace and security, the US and its military actions are endangering peace efforts led by local actors. The US responded to the Houthi blockade of ships in the Red Sea with military force, hitting more than 200 targets in Yemen over the last several weeks. Even as Biden remarkably acknowledged that these attacks were unlikely to affect Houthi behavior, the US has continued to launch airstrikes, promising a trajectory of violence that continues to escalate in Yemen and spread across the region.

Food not bombs

There’s a more sustainable answer to promoting peace and security in Yemen, one rooted in human rights, transitional justice  and effective peacebuilding practice: the US must end its support for Israel’s war on Gaza and demand a ceasefire there, while investing in inclusive peace processes for Yemen led by local peacebuilders, including under the auspices of the United Nations. The US should particularly rely on women and youth peacebuilders, who create real, tangible peace even against unimaginable odds, often under threat of attack by armed groups.

The evidence is clear: when women and civil society meaningfully participate in conflict prevention and resolution, peace agreements are 35% more likely to last at least fifteen years. Peace requires responding to the needs of a wide range of constituencies, and women can often serve as the vital link. The Women Solidarity Network, for example, is the largest women’s network in Yemen, bringing connections to hundreds of community-based organizations across the country. Through their humanitarian work — like delivering food, water, and medicine — women’s groups come to intimately understand people’s needs and build trust among communities that undergirds any successful peace. They create spaces for local communities to identify their urgent needs and to tease out the root causes of conflicts, and they demand channels of inclusion that can funnel this vital information into wider political negotiations,  from post-conflict accountability to the reintegration of fighters to the rights of marginalized groups, like people with disabilities, youth, and minorities.  The Mothers of Abductees Association has negotiated the release of prisoners and detainees, and other leaders have brokered ceasefires locally, and as seen in Yemen, have successfully nurtured the conditions for a nation-wide truce.

For example, the local women-led organization Food4Humanity mediated between two communities in Yemen who had been fighting over scarce water resources. They identified and fixed the source of the problem – a broken water station that led to conflict over scarce water sources. After repairing that station, they then brought together community representatives to sign a peace agreement and commit to maintaining the water pump. As a result, the fighting stopped. Moreover, because water is available, women do not need to walk hours to fetch water, and girls can attend school, decreasing child marriage and empowering young girls.

Local organizations like Food4Humanity also invest in local relationships that serve as entry points to negotiate with factions of armed groups to reach vulnerable populations that international organizations may lack the connections to support. When these communities are reached by local trusted actors, they help identify root causes of the conflict and barriers to address those root causes that would otherwise prevent or spoil the implementation of peace agreements. Inclusion is not pursued just for the sake of representation: it is a tested and required step for effective diplomacy and sustainable security.

Too often, powerful voices around negotiating tables dismiss these kinds of local examples as too small to be relevant to official peace processes. But it is exactly this granular attention to detail, combined with a wider, principled political vision and community networking power, that makes women peacebuilders so effective. This is just one example of the kinds of peacebuilding solutions we need: women leaders have the local connections to play a critical role in monitoring local ceasefires and ensuring that peace holds. In this way, women’s grassroots work repairs broken bonds among communities, enhancing community safety and fostering systems of care, setting the stage for post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. The Feminist Peace Roadmap, developed by Peace Track Initiative and members of the Women’s Solidarity Network including Food4Humanity, recognizes that peace cannot be secured from the top down. Sustainable peace flows from the grassroots up and is rooted in meeting the urgent security and livelihood needs of communities at high risk of radicalization.

Instead of prioritizing the involvement of grassroots women-led peacebuilders and civil society actors including tribal leaders and local mediators, the old-school approach of negotiations by the internationally-led peace process prioritizes warring parties responsible for mass human rights violations. Additionally, in Yemen, the US focus on military responses, at the expense of sustainable community-driven security, has created an elite-driven peace process that has allowed warring parties to repeatedly create stalemates while consolidating, or recalibrating, their positions, all while receiving luxurious treatment from international and regional partners, who have also been parties to the conflict. At the same time, the focus on meeting the needs of elites has sidelined the well-documented political priorities of grassroots community leaders in Yemen, including Yemeni women peacebuilders.

Despite their expertise and trusted relationships with local actors, grassroots women peacebuilders and political experts have little access to shape US policymaking that impacts their own communities. They experience firsthand the effects of foreign policy decisions made in distant conference rooms, with little recourse to influence those decisions. Yet, when communities most directly impacted can play a pivotal role in shaping policy, they bring expertise, urgency, and community to even the most dire and complex policy debates. The conflicts that seem intractable can only be met with a set of tools that US policymakers must admit they lack: trust and accountability, which is held exclusively by local peacebuilders, who have already proven that they can bring together what war has torn apart. Rather than military interventions, Yemenis need locally-rooted peace policies that resource priorities and programs designed by grassroots leaders to de-escalate tensions and prevent further violence.

Deeper diplomacy

A current strategy initiated by the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, in partnership with UN Women, aims at expanding inclusivity in Yemen and involves conducting targeted consultations with Yemenis. These consultations aim to identify the root causes of conflict, foster leadership skills for inclusive peacebuilding, and develop a bottom-up approach for an all-inclusive peace process. This recognizes that lasting peace can only be achieved through the active participation of all stakeholders. By leveraging the collective knowledge and experience of Yemenis, the approach seeks to develop a sustainable peace process that reflects the diverse needs and interests of the Yemeni people. However, this requires true commitment, political will and genuine support by the international community and an enabling environment.

To create space for the voices and leadership of Yemeni women, youth, and civil society, international civil society allies can also serve a key role, building bridges between local communities, global peace movements and policymaking spaces. For instance, groups like international women’s rights organization MADRE — who work in long-term partnership with women on the frontlines of conflict in Yemen and war-affected regions globally — are positioned to demand that feminist analysis and women peacebuilders’ solutions guide US policymaking and to demand accountability for the actions of US leadership. They can bring policymakers — from Congress to the Biden administration — into direct conversation with Yemeni women and youth experts who are poised to identify ways forward for peace, justice, and human rights that outside actors simply cannot see.

The international community must prioritize peace in Yemen, and a ceasefire in Gaza, in order to meet urgent humanitarian needs of communities across the region and end a rapid spiral into deeper instability and bloodshed.

Yemeni women-led civil society is also taking the long view, and ultimately, they know that a peace agreement will be signed. When that happens, if people’s voices are not sufficiently included, the resulting peace will be fragile, and the likelihood of violent escalation and civil war will loom large. Yet, there are proven ways to avert this outcome, by centering justice and accountability, prioritizing inclusion, and meeting communities’ needs for humanitarian aid and development.

To pivot towards peace, we must seize the opportunity to democratize the process, drawing on the expertise of Yemeni women and local experts to generate momentum for policy shifts — including pushing parties to halt attacks and negotiate for peace, increasing humanitarian aid to grassroots, women-led groups, and advancing international accountability for war crimes. We do not need to go back to the drawing board: Yemeni women peacebuilders and civil society organizations have already organized political demands for sustainable peace into guiding frameworks, including the Feminist Roadmap for Peace and the Yemen Declaration for Justice and Reconciliation.

Yemen is currently facing a number of serious issues, including food insecurity and escalating conflicts in the Red Sea. It is crucial to restore the country’s security and judicial institutions, in order to promote stability and human rights, and to combat extremism. This requires an inclusive peace process involving private sector leaders, civil society leaders, and Southerners. Community-based peacebuilding initiatives have proven to be an effective tool in addressing security and governance issues, and preventing violence. Such initiatives have enabled local communities to repair divisions, address grievances, build trust, identify issues, initiate dialogues, and take action to resolve conflicts and build sustainable mechanisms for peace.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen must receive support and strengthen efforts to enhance an inclusive peace process that prevents further escalation and is not a symbolic box-ticking exercise.

It’s time for the Biden administration to adhere to its national and international commitments and ensure that Yemeni women-led civil society are at the table in meaningful and power-wielding roles, and that their priorities are centered and resourced, to shape a more inclusive and successful peace process.

Extend the Cease-Fire in Gaza—but Don’t Stop There

Recent days have seen the first good news out of Gaza in a long time. As part of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that began last Friday and will expire tomorrow, Hamas has released dozens of the more than 200 people it took hostage during its October 7 attack on Israel; those released include many of the children whom the group took captive. For its part, Israel has released 150 Palestinian prisoners, paused its bombardment of Gaza, and allowed more humanitarian supplies into the territory, providing a brief respite to the millions of civilians there who have suffered immensely for weeks.

As CIP president and CEO Nancy Okail and executive vice president Matt Duss write in Foreign Affairs:

An extended cease-fire could facilitate the return of more Israeli hostages and reduce the risk of deepening the humanitarian catastrophe among Gaza’s civilians. It could also help calm tensions in the West Bank and reduce the risk that the war could escalate by drawing in outside actors, such as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its patron, Iran.

But extending the cease-fire should be just the first step in a larger process that would require intensive U.S.-backed regional diplomacy—and an overhaul of American policy. When Biden took office in 2021, he was determined not to spend his time and energy on fruitless efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the war in Gaza has shown that the issue cannot be ignored. To make good on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s November 8 statement that there can be no return to a manifestly unsustainable status quo ante, the United States must change its overall approach and commit to a broad-based diplomatic process that can finally resolve the conflict and prioritize rights and dignity for people in the region.

Read Okail and Duss’s full piece here.

Q&A with Matt Duss: ‘We’ve Been Shaken Out of This Fantasy’: How the Left Sees the War in Israel

To understand how progressive foreign policy thinkers are processing these events, POLITICO Magazine spoke with Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy. A former top foreign policy aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Duss has been an outspoken critic of many traditional Democratic Party security policies, including those governing the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Duss tells POLITICO’s Alex Burns:

“On the progressive left, you have a recognition and a respect for the rights of all people to live in security and dignity. That includes Israelis and Palestinians. I think the statements you see from most U.S. officials, including from the White House, are overwhelmingly focused on one side. It is of course quite true that Israel has the right to defend itself. Its people have a right to live in peace and security. The Palestinians have that right as well. The Center for International Policy put out a statement responding to the events of the last few days, making this point — that what Hamas has done is awful. We condemn it unequivocally. We also note that Palestinians have continued to suffer under an occupation and blockade that is decades old. That is absolutely necessary context. That does not excuse what Hamas has done. There is no excuse for that. But there is an important context of understanding where this violence grows from.”

Read the full interview here.