Middle East: 2015 in recap

Saudi Arabia: Operation Decisive Storm

The year commenced with the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 90, and the succession of his half brother King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 80. King Salman inherited a country that was struggling with plummeting oil prices, an increasing threat of the Islamic State’s expansion, and Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony. Moreover, since March, Riyadh has been actively involved in Yemen (historical division of 1962). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia created and led a military coalition of nine Arab states to counter Shiite Houthis supporters of former president Saleh backed by Iran and responsible for overthrowing and forcing current president Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi to flee the country. By the end of the year, Hadi has re-emerged on Yemen’s political arena, however, “the Houthis’ ranks have failed to collapse and, despite continued pressure by resistance fighters, they have maintained a hold in key central provinces. While President Hadi and other officials have trickled back into Aden — and pro-Hadi military forces and scores of allied Gulf soldiers have re-entered Marib, the capital and its surroundings remain in the hands of the Houthis and their allies.” Overall, Saudi Arabia spent around $5.3 billion on the war in 2015.


Photo: Al Arabiya News

So far, this military confrontation fostered an unparalleled humanitarian crisis: “20 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian aid, which makes up at least 80 percent of the population. Thirteen million people are facing food shortages and 9.4 million are having difficulties accessing drinking water.” More than 2 700 civilians were killed in less than 10 months.


On a different note, King Salman has proceeded with King Abdullah’s decision to allow women the right to participate in municipal elections for the first time in history. However, by the end of November, Saudi Arabia had executed at least 150 prisoners, the highest number since 1995.

Iran: Mission Accomplished

On 14th of July, Iran and the six powers – Germany, France, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, have brought to the world a major and finalized nuclear deal. Iran promised to allow inspectors to check its research and developments/testing of the nuclear program, slow down the pace and the amplitude of the program in return for lifting international sanctions that served as key barriers for Iran’s economy.


Such rapprochement not only made Iran to leave the ranks of the isolated countries, but also served as a signal for Saudi Arabia and Israel, that their loyal ally – the United States, might be changing its foreign policy’s focus and have a new stake in allowing Iran to strive for region’s dominance.

Throughout the year, Iran sent its soldiers to help a weakening Iraq regain its major cities – Ramadi and Mosul, from ISIS. Iran’s Shiite fighters successfully prevented the loss of Baghdad from the sunni jihadists.

In Syria, Iran also sent troops to provide military assistance to the forces of Bashar Assad. “Since the early 2000s, Syria had become a proxy of the Iranian government, providing a valuable transit point between the Shiite powerhouse and Lebanon on the Mediterranean coast. However, since the Arab Spring of 2011 looked to topple Assad’s government, Iran covertly sent military advisers to help the Syrian Army. Later in 2012-2013, Iran activated its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah to join the fight. Finally in 2015, the gloves came off and Iranian troops were seen fighting inside Syria. “

It is important to note that Iran and Russia are both supporting pro-Assad forces in its fight against militants, opposition, and ISIS. Although, Russia have its own motives – such as to win back its image of a global player. Since the beginning of Russia’s air strikes in September, a large number of reports claimed that the attacks were targeting the opposition rather than ISIS.

ISIS: Lost 30 percent of its territory in the region

 The year began with Jordan and Egypt starting separate fights against ISIS, Egypt and Libyan airstrikes targeted the extremist group’s training camps and its stockpiles of weapons. Later on, the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany all announced the launch of airstrikes on ISIS’s positions.

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Under such pressure the militants lost Tikrit, Baiji and Ramadi to the Iraqi and Kurdish armed forces. “Taking together Iraq and Syria, they [ISIS] lost 30 percent of the territory they once held,” coalition spokesman US Army Col. Steve Warren told a press briefing in Baghdad.

To all of this, ISIS (Daesh) responded with terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, the militants killed and abducted civilians both Muslim and Christians across the region. The extremist group announced Libya’s city of Sirte as its back up capital (after Raqqa).


  • Former Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to the death penalty and received a life sentence verdict for “killing protesters” during the 2012 protests
  • A Daesh follower killed over 38 tourists on a beach in Tunisia
  • Tunisia’s national dialogue quartet won a Nobel peace prize for the efforts to create a pluralistic democracy
  • 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance
  • 4.3 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria; half are children


Photo: businessinsider.com

Written by Jamilya Nurkanova


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