Bilal Saab

About the Founding Director

Bilal Y. Saab

Bilal Y. Saab is a political-military analyst on the Middle East and U.S. policy toward the region. He specializes in the Levant and the Gulf and focuses on security cooperation between the United States and its regional partners, and national security and defense processes in Arab partner countries. He is the author of Rebuilding Arab Defense: U.S. Security Cooperation in the Middle East (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, May 2022)

At the Middle East Institute (MEI), Saab is currently Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense and Security Program. In addition, he is an Independent Contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton, providing advisory services on on defense governance and institutional capacity building in the Middle East, as well as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service, teaching graduate courses on U.S. defense policy in the Middle East and international security studies. Prior to MEI, Saab served as Senior Advisor for Security Cooperation (SC) in the Pentagon’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, with oversight responsibilities for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). In his capacity as the Department of Defense’s lead on security cooperation in the broader Middle East, Saab supported the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy’s responsibility for SC oversight by leading prioritization and strategic integration of SC resources and activities for the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility.

Full Biography

Advisory Council

Saeid A. Alzahrani

Dongyoun "Dana" Cho

Kevin Donegan

Ayham Kamel

Niamh McBurney

Mike Nagata

Magnus Schöldtz

Karin Von Hippel

Gen. (ret.) Joseph Votel




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Defense and Security Program Event

About the Program

The Defense and Security program focuses on four lines of effort:

  1. New U.S. security cooperation and defense institution building in the Middle East

  2. The future of the Abraham Accords and Arab-Israeli security relations

  3. The role of technology and innovation in CENTCOM’s strategy for renewed partnerships in the region

  4. U.S. strategies for strategic competition with China and Russia in the Middle East

MEI-CENTCOM Conference

The MEI-CENTCOM Annual Conference is a flagship event of the Defense and Security Program

It convenes top CENTCOM leadership and staff as well as some of the world’s leading Middle East scholars and practitioners to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the United States and its regional partners. Unique in the U.S. public policy and think tank communities, this two-day conference features speeches by CENTCOM leaders in addition to multiple policy-relevant panels on a range of strategic, political, military, and economic issues in the region.

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Click here to see a recap of the 2022 conference.

Defense Leadership Series

Hosted by MEI's Defense and Security Program, the Defense Leadership Series is a speakers' forum for high-level military and defense leaders from both the United States and the Middle East to discuss the most important policy issues facing the two sides.

The Series formalizes the Defense and Security Program’s long-term commitment to engaging with the national security communities in Washington and the region. It will host one-on-one conversations with senior personnel from the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and all four U.S. military services, as well as with senior officials and officers serving in the armed forces and ministries of defense of the region. The Series was inaugurated in June 2020 with a conversation with U.S. Marine Corps General and Commander of CENTCOM Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr.

Defense and Security Program Experts