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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AI and Israel’s Dystopian Promise of War without Responsibility

Khaldoun Khelil is an energy and international security scholar with over 20 years of experience in the oil and gas industry and served as the Energy and Security Scholar at the Middle East Institute. He writes on culture, politics, technology, and games.

As Israel has executed its assault on Gaza, it has turned to new technology to facilitate the selection and ostensible legitimization of targets. The net effect is six months of horrors deployed against the people of Gaza. Among these tools facilitating the slaughter of Palestinians is a constellation of Artificial Intelligence programs that seemingly pick targets with little to no human oversight.

In November 2023, a multitude of publications, including the Guardian, +972 Magazine, and Al Jazeera, reported claims from the Israeli military that ramped up use of Artificial Intelligence facilitated its volume of attacks and destruction in Gaza. The program reported in November carries the grandiose name “the Gospel”; another program reported in April 2024 carries the innocuous name Lavender. The primary function of these algorithmic tools is reportedly to pick targets for Israel to blast apart with its US-supplied munitions. A former Israeli intelligence officer, speaking to +972 Magazine, described the Gospel AI as a “mass assassination factory.” The results can be seen in the incredibly high death toll in Gaza with over 33,000 Palestinians killed and at least 75,000 wounded by Israeli fire.

Prior to the use of AI tools, Israel would take up to a year to identify 50 targets in Gaza. Now with the assistance of the Gospel, Israel claims they produce 100 credible targets a day. Israel’s Lavender AI program reportedly marked an astounding 37,000 Palestinians for death as “suspected militants.”

This exponential leap in targeting is one factor explaining the unprecedented civilian death toll in Gaza inflicted by Israeli forces. Additional automated systems reported in +972, including one perversely called “Where’s Daddy?”, were used specifically to track targeted individuals and carry out bombings when they had entered their family’s residences, basically ensuring mass casualty events. In fact, Israel would purposefully use massive 2000-pound ‘dumb’ bombs on these targets if they were believed to be “junior” militants to cut down on the perceived expenses of using a guided munition. The Israelis were more concerned with the cost in bombs than the cost in civilian lives.

Targeting residences means accepting not just families as collateral damage in the strike, but also destroying residences, making them uninhabitable. Previous reporting also showed that Israeli forces termed high-rise residential buildings and critical infrastructure as “power targets” in the assumption that their destruction would demoralize Palestinian civilians.  As Yuvul Abraham reported regarding Gospel AI, “The bombing of power targets, according to intelligence sources who had first-hand experience with its application in Gaza in the past, is mainly intended to harm Palestinian civil society: to ‘create a shock’ that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and ‘lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas,’ as one source put it.”

As with many other AI systems, Israel’s Gospel and Lavender are seemingly black boxes that spit out irreproducible results drawn from source material of varying reliability. While the same Israeli sources insist that Gospel’s targets are cleared through human hands, that is little comfort considering Gospel produces over 100 targets a day and a human reviewer would have no reliable way to penetrate the system’s black box to ascertain how a target was selected, nor incentive to do so. In Gaza, Israel is relying on AI systems to decide whom to kill, with humans being relegated to “rubber stamps” in the overall process.

The quantity of targets produced by Gospel alone would make any meaningful oversight daunting, but the nature of AI also means that the exact process by which Gospel chooses its targets can never be dissected or reproduced. In the case of Lavender AI, its targeting pronouncements against Palestinians were essentially treated as orders with “no requirement to independently check why the machine made that choice or to examine the raw intelligence data on which it is based.”

One of the few emerging international norms around AI in warfare is the concept of keeping a human at the heart of any decision to take a human life. In short, robots and algorithms should not be making the ultimate decision on whether a living breathing person is annihilated. Israel’s reckless implementation of AI in Gaza is undermining this norm before it has even had the chance to fully establish itself.

Was a target chosen because it best fit current military necessity? Or was it chosen because of a biased input or an unwillingness to uphold civilian protection norms? These questions potentially become unanswerable when Artificial Intelligence is being used so close to the end of a very violent decision tree. Even chat-based AI that has the seemingly straightforward task of parsing out Wikipedia information in conversational paragraphs sometimes “hallucinates,” creating fake facts to flesh out their stories. What assurances are there for commanders, soldiers, policy makers, and humanitarian observers that a targeting AI is not hallucinating the data on which it validates targets?

While fully autonomous fighting platforms are likely still many years off, the reality of AI software that can effectively sift through an avalanche of data to identify threats and opportunities is already here. In the US, the Biden administration has simultaneously released a “Political Declaration on Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy” while allowing the US Army to move forward with Palantir’s Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN). While the declaration is a brief statement that calls upon endorsing nations to have a dialogue about the responsible use of AI, the TITAN project provides over $178 million to Palantir to develop a program that will integrate artificial intelligence with other technology being used by American ground forces. In a jargon-rich press release, TITAN promises to “rapidly process sensor data received from Space, High Altitude, Aerial and Terrestrial layers” and reduce “the sensor-to-shooter timeline.” Judging by the experience of Israel’s AI in target selection, reducing the “sensor-to-shooter” timeline can allow for attacking targets faster, but is absolutely no guarantee of ensuring the target is properly selected, or that the human evaluating target selection is anything more than a rubber stamp.

Israel’s Gospel AI places humans on the wrong end of the targeting process and significantly reduces our ability to judge if a specific bombing or missile strike was justified. We cannot truly peer within the Gospel’s “brain” as it’s a black box, though the datasets used to train AI are likely based on existing targeting data sets, and carry within them additional biases reproduced by machine learning algorithms. By giving these AI systems, such as Gospel and Lavender, the power to choose targets, Israel obscures who should be held to account as civilian deaths mount. Given the many credible accusations of war crimes against the Israeli military, this may be the most compelling feature of AI for them. As an IBM presentation slide succinctly stated in 1979, “A computer can never be held accountable, therefore a computer must never make management decisions.” When the decision to take a human life lies functionally with a computer program, systems like ‘Lavender’ and ‘Gospel’ shift responsibility, and thus accountability, to a machine that can never be meaningfully questioned, judged or punished.

US policymakers would be wise to look at Israel’s AI abetted and indiscriminate onslaught in Gaza as a warning. We may still be a long way off from fully autonomous targeting systems and true Artificial Intelligence making objective choices concerning life or death, but today a more insidious and stark reality already confronts us. The imperfect systems currently labeled as AI cannot be allowed to supplant real living decisionmakers when it comes to matters of life and death, especially when it comes to picking where and how to use some of the world’s deadliest weapons.

In Gaza we see an “indiscriminate” and “over the top” bombing campaign being actively rebranded by Israel as a technological step up, when in actuality there is currently no evidence that their so-called Gospel has produced results qualitatively better than those made by minds of flesh and blood. Instead, Israel’s AI has produced an endless list of targets with a decidedly lower threshold for civilian casualties. Human eyes and intelligence are demoted to rubber stamping a conveyor belt of targets as fast they can be bombed.

It’s a path that the US military and policy makers should not only be wary of treading, but should reject loudly and clearly. In the future we may develop technology worthy of the name Artificial Intelligence, but we are not there yet. Currently the only promise a system such as Gospel AI holds is the power to occlude responsibility, to allow blame to fall on the machine picking the victims instead of the mortals providing the data.

Six Months In, Biden Must Move From Talk to Action in Gaza War

Washington, D.C. – The Biden administration has largely failed to make the substantive policy changes needed to advance human security and uphold U.S. laws in the six months since Hamas’ horrific October 7th attack on Israel and the start of the devastating hostilities in Gaza it triggered, according to a new memo from the Center for International Policy (CIP).

“While the Biden administration has been changing its rhetoric toward the right direction, its actions continue to fuel the very horror and escalation they speak against,” said Nancy Okail, Center for International Policy President and CEO. “It is well past time for the U.S. to use its considerable leverage to end the human catastrophe in Gaza, starting with suspending its massive arms transfers to Israel while it is openly defying U.S. values, laws and interests. Doing so is not only a security and moral necessity – it’s a legal one.”

The memo, The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine, assesses the Biden Administration’s handling of the crisis and outlines five key areas where the United States can better use its influence and statecraft to stop the fighting, end the nightmare for Palestinian civilians and Israeli hostages, and ensure the security, rights and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in the longer term.

“It’s important that the Administration is finally taking steps to enshrine its values in policy memoranda but it’s clearly insufficient,” added Matt Duss, Center for International Policy Executive Vice President. “We continue to urge the administration to end its reliance on an old playbook –providing unconditional support and shielding Israel from any consequences for clear violations of international law – that has proven ineffective.”

Recommendations to the Biden administration:

  1. Press for a bilateral and sustained ceasefire, leveraging the U.S. vote at the UN and arms sales to Israel
  2. Suspend delivery to Israel of the arms it is using in Gaza and facilitate adequate humanitarian aid delivery, in accordance with U.S. law
  3. Refocus away from “arms for peace” bilateral normalization efforts and toward a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the end of occupation
  4. Take meaningful anti-occupation, anti-annexation steps, including consistent consequences for violations
  5. Expand support for the Palestinian people –including for UNRWA and lawful, nonviolent efforts at Palestinian statehood– and for Palestinian leaders who seek peace with Israel

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.

Treating Israeli Arms Assurances as Credible Undermines Biden’s Own Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the Biden administration’s comments in a State Department briefing today indicating that it has received written assurances from Israel that, in its view, meets the terms of National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20), Center for International Policy Vice President for Government Affairs Dylan Williams issued the following statement:

“Contrary to a mountain of evidence, the administration’s comments today inexplicably treat Israel’s assurance that it is not restricting U.S. humanitarian aid delivery in Gaza and otherwise adhering to relevant international law in the use of US arms as ‘credible and reliable.’

Treating the assurances received from Israel as sufficient in the face of deepening famine, disproportionate civilian casualties and repeated threats of an offensive in Rafah against U.S. wishes renders NSM-20 an empty gesture in its first outing, and functionally greenlights Israel continuing to use our weapons against U.S. law, interests and values.

In response, U.S. lawmakers should insist that the Biden administration change course and enforce American law and its own policy. U.S. Government complicity in and enabling of this slaughter in violation of our laws and values must end.”

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CIP joins NGO letter urging Biden to comply with 602I in Gaza

Today, more than 25 humanitarian and rights groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to reevaluate unconditional arms transfers and other security assistance to Israel in compliance with existing US law, which prohibits the United States from providing security assistance or arms sales to any country when the President is made aware that the government “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”

“President Biden has rightly made the rule of law and its impartial application central tenets of his administration. He must adhere to the standard he set and follow the law with regard to Israel’s restricting of critical aid to Gaza, rather than continuing to make an exception for it,” urged Dylan Williams, Vice President for Government Affairs at the Center for International Policy.

March 12, 2024

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden,

We write to express our deep concern regarding continued U.S. security assistance to Israel despite Israeli restrictions on humanitarian aid, an apparent violation of U.S. law. We demand that you urgently comply with U.S. law and end U.S. support for catastrophic human suffering in Gaza.

On March 2, the United States began its first airdrops of humanitarian aid into Gaza – a risky, expensive, and ineffective method for assisting civilians that is widely considered an option of last resort. On March 7, your administration announced that it would build a floating pier along the Gaza coast to bring aid to the population. Both efforts are the latest implicit recognition of Israel’s severe restrictions on humanitarian access amid extraordinary human suffering. Your administration has now publicly recognized what humanitarian organizations have reported for months: that the government of Israel is obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians.

Gaza’s health ministry reports that more than 30,000 Palestinians – at least two-thirds of them women and children – have been killed in Gaza and over 70,000 wounded, with thousands more estimated to be buried under the rubble. Over 90 percent of people in Gaza are acutely food insecure, with a growing number of children dying of starvation and dehydration. Over 75 percent of Gaza’s population is already displaced, and the level of damage to shelter and infrastructure means people increasingly have nowhere safe to go nor reliable provisions if and when they move. As civilians face bombardment, disease, and starvation, lifesaving health care is increasingly inaccessible.

The United States is a leading donor of the humanitarian response in Gaza. Secretary Blinken has called on Israel to “maximize every possible means” to get aid to Gazans, noting that “the situation, as it stands, is simply unacceptable.” And you have rightly said you will accept “no more excuses” for continued obstacles to aid. But since October 7, the government of Israel has failed to facilitate the entry of sufficient humanitarian aid, including through additional border crossings into Gaza and northern Gaza in particular; blocked the entry of many humanitarian aid trucks; denied humanitarian access requests; enforced arbitrary customs restrictions on humanitarian goods; and attacked humanitarian workers and their facilities as well as civilians seeking aid. Longtime U.S. implementing partners around the world have come under attack in Gaza, and lifesaving U.S.-funded humanitarian aid has been blocked from entering Gaza. Just last week, hours after your State of the Union address, an Israeli airstrike on a housing complex hosting displaced people killed a humanitarian aid worker employed by a US-based NGO.

These restrictions are not isolated instances but the policy of the government of Israel: as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated clearly on October 18, “We will not allow humanitarian assistance in the form of food and medicines from our territory to the Gaza Strip.” While Israel has subsequently allowed some aid into Gaza, it remains far from sufficient – a fact that Netanyahu confirmed when he stated in January that Israel was only allowing a “minimum” amount of relief into Gaza. During your own State of the Union address, you implicitly acknowledged that Israel was using humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip. Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have determined that the Israeli government is committing a war crime by using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to provide Israel with unconditional arms transfers and other security assistance. This not only facilitates Israel’s harmful conduct, but also appears to violate Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act (22 U.S.C. § 2378–1), which prohibits the United States from providing security assistance or arms sales to any country when the President is made aware that the government “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”

U.S. weapons, security assistance, and blanket political support have contributed to an unparalleled humanitarian crisis and possible war crimes in Gaza. We demand that you urgently comply with U.S. law, end U.S. support for catastrophic human suffering in Gaza, and use your leverage to protect civilians and ensure the impartial provision of humanitarian assistance.

Signed,

Airwars
American Friends Service Committee
Amnesty International USA
Anera
Arms Control Association
Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
Center for International Policy
Charity & Security Network
Demand Progress Education Fund
Foreign Policy for America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Human Rights Watch
Humanity & Inclusion
MADRE
Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC)
MPower Change
Norwegian Refugee Council USA
Oxfam America
PAX
Peace Action
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Refugees International
U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights Action (USCPR Action)
Win Without War
Zomia Center

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.

Exiled Iranian monarchists align with Israel’s hardliners

When Iranians drove out the Shah in 1979, a revolution that ultimately ended with the Islamic Republic, supporters of monarchy were driven into exile or underground. In the decades since, these monarchists waiting for a restoration of the Pahlavi throne have found themselves part of the opposition to the present government of Iran, but sitting uncomfortably alongside other opposition movements, especially ones that dream and fight for a democratic Iran. This tension is reflected not just in how the separate opposition movements protest in the country, but in how they position the role of Iran in the world. Notably, Reza Pahlavi, claimant to the overthrown throne, has aligned Iranian monarchists with Israel, leading monarchists to wave the pre-revolution flag at rallies in support of Israel’s war on Gaza.

As Sina Toosi, senior non-resident fellow at CIP, writes for Al-Jazeera:

“…since the outbreak of the Gaza war, the Iranian monarchist movement has shown strong support for Israel online and at pro-Israel rallies in Europe and the United States. Their often-aggressive tactics have concerned many pro-Palestinian activists, with pro-Pahlavi lobbying groups in Washington, DC, such as the National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), seeking to intimidate pro-Palestinians activists who have been critical of Iranian-American supporters of Israel, labelling them “supporters of Palestinian terrorist groups”.”

This hard-line is a break from the last Shah’s actual foreign policy, which balanced US alignment, security cooperation with Israel, and vocal support for Palestine. Out of power and in exile, Iranian monarchists have not had to make concessions required even of autocrats. Instead, they’ve aligned with the hard right in the US and in Israel, supporting intervention, sanctions, and confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

This, Toosi writes, is in sharp contrast to the human rights-aligned pro-democracy movement within Iran:

“Other government critics and activists believe the Iranian monarchists’ support from Israel and its right-wing allies in the US – evident in their close ties with pro-Israel lobbies in Washington and their reliance on media support from Israeli-government-aligned outlets and influencers – is not a benefit, but baggage. It has exposed their lack of legitimacy and credibility, and their disregard for the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations.”

While hardliners may have found common cause with monarchists longing for a restoration of past glories, these are forces aligned in a cynical disregard for the democratic aspirations of people in their own countries, and abroad. Read Toosi’s full piece here.

The Biden Administration Cannot Avoid Scrutiny of Arms to Israel

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to reports that the Biden Administration sought to bypass congressional review and accompanying public scrutiny of massive arms transfers to Israel by dividing them into more than 100 smaller deliveries that individually fell under the threshold for mandatory notification to Congress under U.S. law, Ari Tolany, the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor (SAM) director, issued the following statement:

“This doesn’t just seem like an attempt to avoid technical compliance with U.S. arms export law, it’s an extremely troubling way to avoid transparency and accountability on a high-profile issue.

“These arms laws and notification requirements exist precisely so that American lawmakers and taxpayers can evaluate the appropriateness of transferring U.S. weapons systems to a context like the devastating conflict in Gaza. Providing assistance to an active conflict should raise our standards of transparency and accountability, not diminish them. The fact that this glut of deadly arms has enabled massive civilian suffering in a bombardment that President Biden has himself called ‘indiscriminate,’ and that these transfers have continued despite the administration’s acknowledgement that Israel is blocking U.S. humanitarian aid, makes this move all the more disturbing.”

“Congress needs to step in immediately and demand a suspension in arms transfers to Israel until it can be sure such transfers can be conducted in full compliance with all relevant U.S. law – as well as our related obligations under international humanitarian law.”