May 2, 2024
9:00 am - 12:00 pm


In-person | Middle East Institute
1763 N St NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20036 (Map)

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More than six months in, the war in Gaza seems to have no end in sight, even as conditions on the ground for Palestinian civilians have grown catastrophic. Tensions have steadily risen all across the region since Israel invaded the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ horrific Oct. 7 attack. The Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah exchange fire along the Israeli-Lebanese border on a near-daily basis, killing dozens of civilians and raising fears that a northern front could open at any time. In the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the Houthis continue to harass and capture shipping vessels, disrupting one of the most vital arteries of global trade. Even further east, Iran has not sat idly by. The recent strikes launched by Iran and its proxies, along with Israel’s own retaliation, demonstrate that the rules of the game have changed for good.

How can the US and its partners attempt to de-escalate tensions and avoid a regional war? What are the future prospects for Gaza following this horrific conflict? Can the region return to the de-escalatory and integrationist trends that were increasingly defining it prior to Oct. 7? In partnership with Southern Methodist University, the Middle East Institute is proud to host a half-day conference addressing these pressing issues and more.                                                                                       

Session 1

9:15 AM - 10:00 AM | Tackling the Proxy Problem: Mitigating the Threat Posed by Iran's "Axis of Resistance"

The war in Gaza has revealed much about the relationships Iran maintains with its proxy forces across the region, from Lebanon and Syria to Yemen and Iraq. While the various militant groups in the “Axis of Resistance” all receive support from the Islamic Republic, each has its own objectives and strategic focus, a point underlined by the Houthis’ emergence as a key new regional player. The group has fired on commercial ships, attacked military vessels, and shut down maritime traffic on one of the world’s most significant trade arteries. If the situation escalates, Iran-backed groups could unleash far greater havoc, both within the region and well beyond its borders. What steps can the US and its partners take now to ensure that additional Iranian-supported forces do not join the Gaza conflict? And how can Iran’s proxies be deterred from acting to help de-escalate tensions across the region? And what, if anything, can Washington do to change the strategic calculations in Tehran?

Alex Vatanka 
Director of Iran Program, Middle East Institute

Nadwa Al-Dawsari 
Non-Resident Scholar, Middle East Institute

Sabri Ates (Moderator)
Associate Professor, Southern Methodist University

Session 2

10:15 AM - 11:00 AM | Silencing the Guns: Bringing the War in Gaza to a Sustainable End

More than six months on from Hamas’ brutal attack on Oct. 7, the war in Gaza shows few signs of slowing down. In the devastated coastal strip tens of thousands have died, over a million are internally displaced, aid delivery remains exceedingly difficult, and famine is beginning to spread. Meanwhile, other than a brief, two-week pause that expired in December, repeated efforts to negotiate another cease-fire have failed. US, Egyptian, and Qatari diplomats have been hard at work for half a year, but over 130 hostages remain in captivity with no real indication of how many are still alive. Rising tensions between Israel and Iran are only likely to exacerbate the situation, with unpredictable consequences. How can the US and its regional and international partners help bring the war to a sustainable end? What does Washington want the region to look like after the dust settles? And what steps must it take to reach that goal?

Brian Katulis
Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy, Middle East Institute

Khaled Elgindy
Senior Fellow and Director of Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs Program, Middle East Institute

James Hollifield (Moderator)
Professor, Southern Methodist University

Session 3

11:15 AM - 12:00 PM | Avoiding a Second Front: De-escalating Simmering Tensions Between Israel and Hezbollah

Tensions have run red hot on Israel’s northern border since October, as near-daily clashes between the Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah risk the prospect of greater escalation. US diplomatic efforts have focused on preventing a full-scale war from breaking out, while intensified military deployments have sought to deter Iran and its regional proxies. Could the recent escalation in exchanges between Israeli and Hezbollah forces lead to the opening of a second front in Israel’s war? How should we assess US mediation efforts so far? What are Hezbollah's and Israel’s strategic calculations? What would the costs of a wider war be for Lebanon and its already hard-hit population? Finally, what would be the broader regional implications of a full-scale Israeli-Hezbollah conflict

Hanin Ghaddar 
Friedmann Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Paul Salem
President and CEO, Middle East Institute

Patricia Karam
Senior Advisor, American Task Force for Lebanon

James Hollifield (Moderator)
Professor, Southern Methodist University

Detailed Speaker Biographies

Paul Salem is president and CEO of the Middle East Institute. He focuses on issues of political change, transition, and conflict as well as the regional and international relations of the Middle East. Prior to joining MEI, Salem was the founding director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon between 2006 and 2013.   Salem is the author and editor of a number of books and reports including Escaping the Conflict Trap: Toward Ending Civil Wars in the Middle East (ed. with Ross Harrison, MEI 2019) and  Winning the Battle, Losing the War: Addressing the Conditions that Fuel Armed Non State Actors (ed. with Charles Lister, MEI 2019).

Alex Vatanka is the founding Director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute. He specializes in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran. He was formerly a Senior Analyst at Jane’s Information Group in London. Alex is also a Senior Fellow in Middle East Studies at the US Air Force Special Operations School (USAFSOS) at Hurlburt Field and teaches as an Adjunct Professor at DISAS at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He has testified before the US Congress and lectured widely for both governmental and commercial audiences, including the US Departments of State and Defense, US intelligence agencies, and a list of international corporations.

Nadwa Al-Dawsari is a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute. Before joining the institute, she was the Yemen Country Director for Center for Civilians in Conflict, a Senior Non-resident Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy, and a founding Director of Partners Yemen, a local affiliate center of Partners Global.  Earlier in her career, she worked as a senior program manager at the National Democratic Institute in Yemen, managing elections monitoring and tribal conflicts programs. Her publications have been featured by the Middle East Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), among others.

Sabri Ates is an associate professor at Southern Methodist University, with a B.A from the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, M.A. from the University of Ankara, and a PHD from NYU. He specializes in Ottoman-Iranian Relations, Kurdish History, Late Ottoman Empire, Sectarianism in the Middle East, and Borderlands. At present he is working on a project tentatively called: “Sheikh Abdulqadir Nehri and the Pursuit of an Independent Kurdistan.” In this project Ates explores what historical conditions account for how the Kurds became the largest ethnic group without its own nation? Moreover, it studies what role did the Kurds themselves play in making or unmaking a state of their own.

Brian Katulis is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and Senior Advisor to the President at the Middle East Institute. He was formerly a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where he built the Center’s Middle East program and also worked on broader issues related to U.S. national security. He has produced influential studies that have shaped important discussions around regional policy, often providing expert testimony to key congressional committees on his findings. His past experience includes work at the National Security Council and the U.S. Departments of State and Defense.

Khaled Elgindy is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute where he also directs MEI’s Program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs. He is the author of the newly-released book, Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump, published by Brookings Institution Press in April 2019. Elgindy previously served as a fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution from 2010 through 2018. Prior to arriving at Brookings, he served as an adviser to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004 to 2009, and was a key participant in the Annapolis negotiations of 2007-08. Elgindy is also an adjunct instructor in Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

James F. Hollifield is the Ora Nixon Arnold Fellow in International Political Economy, Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Director of the Tower Center at SMU in Dallas, Texas, as well as a member of the New York Council on Foreign Relations and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington D.C. Hollifield has served as an Advisor to various governments in North and South America, Europe, East Asia and the Middle East and Africa, as well as the United Nations, the world Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the OECD, the ILO, the IOM, the EU, and other international organizations

Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Senior Fellow in The Washington Institute's Linda and Tony Rubin Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant.The longtime managing editor of Lebanon's NOW news website, Ghaddar shed light on a broad range of cutting-edge issues, from the evolution of Hezbollah inside Lebanon's fractured political system to Iran's growing influence throughout the Middle East. In addition, she has contributed to a number of U.S.-based magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times and Foreign Policy. Prior to joining NOW in 2007, Ghaddar wrote for the Lebanese newspapers As-Safir, An-Nahar, and Al-Hayat, and also worked as a researcher for the United Nations Development Program regional office.

Patricia Karam is currently Senior Policy Advisor on Iran at Freedom House, where she plays a leading role in crafting Freedom House’s policy agenda and advocacy strategy for promoting democracy and human rights in Iran. She was, most recently, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Director at the International Republican Institute (IRI). Prior to that, as MENA director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute, Karam was responsible for research, advocacy, grant-making, and technical assistance projects aimed at improving natural resource governance, administered through country offices she established in Lebanon, Iraq, Tunis and Libya.

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In collaboration with SMU


Photo source: US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Maxwell Orlosky, collected by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service