Fabrice Balanche

Visiting Fellow
Biography: 

Fabrice Balanche, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a political geographer specializing in the Middle East. He was previously the director of the Urban Observatory at the French Institute of the Near East in Beirut from 2003 to 2007, the director of GREMMO (Research Group on the Mediterranean and the Middle East) at the University of Lyon from 2010 to 2015, and a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy from 2015 to 2017. He is also an associate professor and the research director at the University of Lyon in his native France. Balanche received a doctorate in political geography from the University of Tours in 2000 and accreditation to supervise research from the University of Lyon in 2013.

He spent ten years in Lebanon and Syria, his main areas of study, since first engaging in fieldwork in the region in 1990. He was one of the first academics and observers who accurately predicted the evolution of the Syrian crisis, thanks to his deep knowledge of the Syrian society and his method of analysis. Fabrice Balanche tries to understand political power by studying territory through a multidisciplinary approach that combines quantitative and qualitative methods, GIS, and direct field surveys. Mapping is an important part of his research.

His publications include Geopolitics of the Middle East (2014, in French), Atlas of the Near East (2012, in English, French, and Arabic), the book version of his thesis, The Alawite Region and Syrian Power (2006, in French), and many articles on Syria and Middle East. His next book, Sectarianism in the Syrian Civil War (in English), will be published in fall 2017.

Fabrice Balanche speaks French, English, Arabic, and Spanish. He is frequently called on as an expert consultant on Middle East development issues and the Syrian crisis.

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Recent Commentary

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The United States in Northeastern Syria

by Fabrice Balanche via Analysis
Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The presence of the United States in northeastern Syria after the defeat of the Islamic State is justified in the context of the confrontation with Iran and Russia in the Middle East. However, by relying primarily on the YPG (People's Protection Units), an outshoot of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), Washington creates an existential threat to Ankara and pushes Turkey into the arms of enemies of the United States. The inversion of local power to the benefit of the Kurds and the disastrous economic situation strikes the Arab populations, who are turning to Damascus. That calls into question all the calculations made by strategists who are not interested in the deep reality of the territory that must support their actions.

Featured AnalysisAnalysis and Commentary

US Military In Syria Must Rely On Political Determination And A Marshall Plan

by Fabrice Balanche via The Caravan
Tuesday, March 20, 2018

In January 2018, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described American strategy in Syria as including maintaining a troop presence in the region until at least 2021 while building a Kurdish-Arab force of 30,000 men, both with the ultimate objective of blocking Iranian influence. As laudable as that goal is, achieving it will require addressing a complex nexus of interrelated issues.

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Sectarianism In Syria's Civil War

by Fabrice Balanche via Books by Hoover Fellows
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Syria's sectarian fragmentation was not created when the war began in 2011; it had its genesis in an inherited Ottoman millet system whose traits were accentuated by the "divide to reign" policies of Hafiz al-Assad. The war has compelled Syrians to cling to their sectarian identities more tightly, whether out of socioeconomic self-interest or simply to survive. Examining these identities is therefore crucial to answering the most fundamental questions about the ongoing upheaval. In many ways, the Syrian conflict has been taken out of the hands of Syrians themselves, becoming a proxy war between regional and international forces that often exploit the country's divided society for their own benefit. This geopolitical study, illustrated with 70 original maps and graphics, is intended to foster a deeper understanding of the role that sectarianism has played in Syria's war.

Analysis and Commentary

Analysis: What Lies Ahead For Syria In 2018

by Fabrice Balanche via News Deeply
Friday, January 5, 2018

The coming year in Syria will likely be marked by reconciliation deals, partial economic recovery and, ultimately, Assad continuing to hold power in the country.

Featured AnalysisAnalysis and Commentary

Iran Thrives In The Levant On Weakened States Threatened By Sunni Radicalism

by Fabrice Balanche via The Caravan
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The announced defeat of the Syrian rebellion and the Islamic State is favoring the extension of Iranian influence in the Levant. The Iranian corridor between Beirut and Tehran via Baghdad and Damascus is now a reality. Territorial continuity was achieved symbolically at the end of May 2017, when Iranian-funded Shia militias joined on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border north of al-Tanf. In Iraq, Iranian allies Syria and Lebanon dominate; people support them out of fear, default, or sympathy. If the West wants to fight against the Islamic Republic's influence in the Levant, it must understand the root causes pushing more and more Lebanese Christians, Iraqi Shiites, and Syrian Sunni Arabs into the Iranian camp.

Analysis and Commentary

‘A Truly Gordian Knot’ Awaits Trump

by Fabrice Balanche via The Cipher Brief
Friday, October 13, 2017

The end of the Islamic state puts the United States in an uncomfortable geopolitical situation. When it comes, the United States will enter a new phase of the conflict. The Syrian regime is back in full force in the east of the country, and the Iranian corridor from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon through Syria is now becoming a reality. The United States therefore faces a cruel dilemma and has the obligation to urgently define a post-IS strategy.

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Syria-Iraq: Limiting Iranian Influence Implies Returning To Realpolitik

by Fabrice Balanche via Analysis
Thursday, October 5, 2017

Destroying the Islamic State (IS) and limiting the influence of Iran is a difficult project. The United States has more capabilities in Syria than in Iraq to destroy IS and limit Iran. The Sunni Arab tribes of the Euphrates Valley no longer support the Islamic State and are ready to join those who will liberate them, which explains the effectiveness of the Syrian Democratic Forces (Kurdish-Arab) against IS. Thus the liberation of Raqqa could thus take place in fall 2017, provided Turkey does not launch an offensive against the Syrian Kurds.

The End of the CIA Program in Syria

by Fabrice Balanche
Wednesday, August 2, 2017

On July 19, The Washington Post reported that the CIA was ending its covert support for rebels fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The program, which started four years ago, had backed forces affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that the U.S. government considered politically moderate—that is, non-Islamist. It had benefited roughly 20,000 fighters, including such groups as Division 13 and the Hamza Battalion in Syria’s northwest and south and the Eastern Lions in its southwest. 

Atlas of the Near East

by Fabrice Balanche
Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Atlas of the Near East offers an in-depth examination of the economic, social, and demographic dynamics of the Arab Near East, defined here as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, in the period from 1918 to 2010. It discusses the central problem of aridity, the effects of foreign domination, Arab nationalism, Baʿathism, and communitarianism. It addresses the makeup of the population, the region’s development, economic issues, cities, and urban areas. It assesses the partition of Palestine and the geography of the Occupied Territories, and concludes with a chapter on the geopolitics of the Near East. With numerous maps, charts, and data published for the first time, it is key to a comprehensive understanding of the region.

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France Refuses To See Islamism As A Cultural Problem

by Fabrice Balanche via The Caravan
Thursday, May 5, 2016

Despite the terrorist attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris, the French government refuses to acknowledge the link between terrorism in France, the crisis in the Middle East, and the complacency towards the threat of political Islam on the domestic scene. The truth is that the jihadists who  hit Paris and then Brussels on March 22, 2016, had been indoctrinated in the Salafi ideology sponsored by Saudi funded mosques, indirectly financed by private donors in the Gulf, and tolerated by Turkey - the country through which they pass to Europe. 

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