The Middle East will witness a series of significant challenges and opportunities in the next two years for which the international community and the region itself appear little prepared.  Looking beyond last night’s headlines, this presentation will consider a series of strategic issues and trends underway within the region and discuss how intelligence analytic and collection priorities should be focused in order to prepare policy makers to best respond during this period as well as to meet unexpected challenges and opportunities.

National redefinition and regional reassertion continue to be themes which will shape regional stability in the Middle East in positive and negative ways.  Primary drivers within this dynamic will include the Saudi modernization campaign, the international response to post-conflict Iraq, Libya, and Syria; the management of the Yemen conflict, and the challenge of Iran and its employment of hybrid warfare within its near abroad.  The region also continues to grapple with an aging leadership; growing authoritarianism; a large, often unemployed, and youthful population; and unprecedented ecological challenges exacerbated by global climate change.

But the region will likely continue to benefit from a series of positive trends.  The UAE-Saudi partnership offers an unprecedented prospect of new regional political and economic growth.  Sunni states and Israel continue to improve relations.  The role of women in the region is expanding, and social media is connecting increasingly-better educated populations previously fragmented by national ideologies.  Economic reforms are underway in many states and the region – while still dependent on hydrocarbon production – is aggressively looking to broaden economies.  Although the threat of terrorism remains, ISIS has been defeated as a strategic threat.  Along these same lines, while it is likely that the war criminal Bashar al-Assad will continue to rule Syria, the bloody Syrian civil war is moving into its final stages and this should reduce the violence endured by its people.  Situated in the context of national and regional transformation, these positive trends must be considered in terms of how they impact intelligence priorities.

Norman T. Roule served for 34-years in the Central Intelligence Agency, managing significant programs relating to the Middle East. Mr. Roule’s service in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations included roles as Division Chief, Deputy Division Chief and Chief of Station. He has held multiple senior assignments in Washington as well as during more than 15 years of overseas work.

He served as the National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from November 2008 until September 2017. As NIM-I, he was the principal Intelligence Community (IC) official responsible for overseeing national intelligence policy and activities related to Iran and Iran-related issues, to include IC engagement on these topics with senior policymakers in the National Security Council, the Department of State and Congress. Mr. Roule received multiple awards during his career.

Mr. Roule works as a business consultant on Middle East-related political, security, economic, telecommunications, and energy issues. He also serves as Senior Adviser to the Counter Extremism Project, United Against Nuclear Iran, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and as a member of the Advisory Board of the Arabia Foundation.