Volume 17 of Metaculus Mondays: Iran Nuclear Deal; Russo-Ukrainian War; Israel-Gaza Conflict; North Korea ICBM Tests; Xinjiang Camps; and Yemen Civil War.
A month away from your forecasts leaves a lot to update.
How does the victory of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi in Iran’s presidential election impact the likelihood the United States returns to the Iran Nuclear Deal by 2022? New Forecast: 30% likelihood.
What does the Putin-Biden Summit reveal about the future of the Russo-Ukrainian War? Old Forecast: 6% likelihood Putin annexes Ukrainian territory by 2022.
Will the ousting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after twelve years in power affect whether the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza falls apart before 2022? Sort of, but other factors are also in play.
I’ll update our relevant forecasts from past volumes of Metaculus Mondays and examine what the community over at Metaculus is saying to answer these questions and more. I’ll also update our past forecasts on whether North Korea tests an ICBM before 2022, China closes the concentration camps in Xinjiang before 2022, and there is peace in the Yemen Civil War this year. New Forecast: 25% likelihood you read all the updated forecasts.
Volume 17 Summary
Iran Nuclear Deal
Last week, the people of Iran selected Ebrahim Raisi, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Iran, as their next president. Raisi, a hardliner with close ties to the Ayatollah (who’s consolidation of power continues), is currently under sanctions by the US for alleged human rights violations. While Raisi is expected to pivot the country towards Russia and China, he is open to accepting re-imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, however, as the Ayatollah approves the move if it unshackles Iran’s economy from the weight of US sanctions.
Raisi’s election appears to have created a “do-or-die” moment for the United States, Europe, and the other countries involved in curbing Iran’s nuclear program, however the UN’s nuclear chief says a new deal must wait for the Raisi Administration.
Will the US rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal before 2022? | Updated Forecast: 30% 📉-3 (Metaculus Community Median: 45%)
Our Take: It remains unlikelier than not a deal is reached by the end of the year given the time and domestic political restraints. Nevertheless, given Iran’s growing regional strength and geopolitical victories, Raisi might find it wise to (likely temporarily) rejoin the nuclear deal in exchange for the short- and medium-term economic benefits such a move is highly likely to provide.
Nuclear deal must await new Iran gov't -IAEA chief tells paper | Reuters 6/16/21
Ebrahim Raisi wins a rigged election in Iran. What next? | The Economist 6/19/21
Who Is Ebrahim Raisi? Hard-Line Judge Wins Iran’s 2021 Presidential Election | The Wall Street Journal 6/19/21
Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says much work remains | Reuters 6/17/21
Iran nuclear deal still possible after hardliner's election, EU says | Reuters 6/20/21
Since our last update of this forecast, little has changed or emerged from news reports. As a result, one of the biggest drivers behind the updated forecast is the passage of time with just over 6 months left for North Korea to test an ICBM. At the same time, Chairman Kim’s comments during the current party plenum have indicated a more open stance towards dialogue with the United States. Still, as analysts at 38 North have highlighted, Biden needs to engage with North Korea in order to prevent backsliding in US-DPRK relations which would be likely to trigger an ICBM or nuclear test.
Will North Korea launch another intercontinental ballistic missile before 2022? | Updated Forecast: 20% 📉-11 (Metaculus: 55%) Good Judgement Open: 22%
Our Take: It is increasingly unlikelier than not that Kim will test an ICBM this year; however, it would also not be surprising for a test to occur.
Note to President Biden: Talk to Kim Jong Un | 38 North 6/15/21
Kim Carefully Nudges the Dialogue Door Open Wider | 38 North 6/18/21
Updated Forecast: 40% likelihood you read all the updated forecasts.
Last week, Biden and Putin held a summit in Geneva under the backdrop of the recent G7 meeting, Russian troop buildup in the Donbass region, and the imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny. Despite few accomplishments achieved during the summit, we did discover two key signals that will help us forecast how the Russo-Ukrainian War unfolds throughout the rest of the year.
Firstly, as I discussed during last week’s This Week in Geopolitics Podcast episode with AR Global Security, what was notable during the summit was the lack of grandstanding or illusionary aspirations by the US. In many ways, the summit indicated a cold realism about the relationship between the two states. Another notable development last week were the repeated statements downplaying a Ukranian entry into NATO by both President Biden and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. The net result of these two signals is an increased likelihood of Russian aggression against Ukraine by the end of this year.
However, these signals need to be balanced by a key constraint: Winter weather. This time-based constraint leads to an overall result that lowers the risk of intense fighting.
Will Russia annex Ukrainian territory before 2022? | Updated Forecast: 8% 📈+2 (Metaculus: 10%)
Will there be a renewal of intense fighting in the Donbass this summer? | Updated Forecast: 16% 📉-4 (Metaculus: 20%)
Our Take: While Russian aggression against Ukraine remains unlikely for this year, we still increased the forecast on territory annexation because it was too low originally relative to the intense fighting forecast.
Biden says it 'remains to be seen' whether Ukraine will be admitted to NATO | NBC News 6/14/21
‘We need more’ before Ukraine can join NATO, says Stoltenberg | Defense News 6/15/21
Israel - Palestine Conflict
The situation between Israel and Palestine (and more specifically, Israel and Gaza) remains complicated to parse. Although you will see an upward tick to most of our forecasts, it is somewhat likely that these changes will be reversed.
As of right now, the situation seems very unclear. On one hand, the ceasefire is a very fragile one. In the history of Israel-Hamas ceasefires post-significant violence, most have held fairly well for months after their implementation. This has not been the case in 2021, with at least 24 incendiary balloons being fired at Israel from Gaza (we are not sure whether or not these should count for positive resolution with respect to # of rockets, mortars, and missiles fired at Israel; however, I am counting them for now). Moreover, both Israel and Gaza have talked tough to one another, taking seemingly hardline stances. At the same time, the domestic political situation is also fragile. Benjamin Netanyahu has gone from Prime Minister to (vocal) opposition leader, while Bennet has ascended to power under a broad, new, and slim coalition and is faced with a new hardline president in Iran while the US is also trying to return to the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Nevertheless, there have been some positive signals such as the de-escalation after the fire balloon attacks and subsequent Israeli response, as well as the easing of restrictions in Gaza by Israel.
Will more than 400 Palestinians in 2021 be killed in the Israel-Palestinian conflict? | Updated: 38% Likelihood 📈+5 (Metaculus: 40%)
Will more than 1,000? | Updated: 20% 📈+2 (Metaculus: 18%)
Will more than 2,500? | Updated: 12% 📈+2 (Metaculus: 8%)
Will more than 10,000? | Updated: 3% ⚖️+/- (Metaculus: 4%)
Will more than 4,500 explosives be fired at Israel in 2021? | Updated: 92% 📉-2 (Metaculus: 63%)
Will more than 10,000? | Updated: 43% 📈+10 (Metaculus: 17%)
Our Take: Our original forecast for 4,500 explosives was too high, while we feel our other forecasts were too low. As a result, many of the increases seem larger than they are in response to the news. This will likely remain our most-updated forecast given the complexity of the situation and the seeming difficulty there is in defining the Israel-Gaza conflict trajectory.
Israel allows export of goods from Gaza, partially reopens Kerem Shalom | The Jerusalem Post 6/20/21
Israel and Hamas Scale Down the Conflict, Avoiding Another War | The New York Times | 6/16/21
Hamas's Sinwar to Israel: Transfer $30m from Qatar or face escalation | The Jerusalem Post 6/21/21
IDF hits targets across Gaza after arson attacks, readies for renewed fighting | The Times of Israel 6/17/21
Islamic Jihad: We’ll hit back if Israel continues Gaza strikes | The Times of Israel 6/19/21
Bennett warns Hamas: ‘Our patience has run out’ | The Times of Israel 6/20/21
Bennett: Iran ‘regime of executioners’ can’t get the bomb | The Jerusalem Post 6/20/21
Updated Forecast: 80% likelihood you read all the updated forecasts.
While there has been no substantive reporting or news around the concentration camps in Xinjiang except for the general human rights condemnation by the G7 of China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, I still feel the need to update this forecast. While the largest factor is again the passage of time, there are a few other factors in play:
- What incentive does China have to close the camps except for positive Western PR?
- What more evidence could the Western populace want in order to create a demand for their governments to put adequate pressure on China to close the camps? There are existing allegations of organ harvesting and countries have called China’s actions genocide and crimes against humanity?
- The Biden - Putin Summit revealed the growing limits of US influence and pressure, and so it is increasingly unlikely for the US to be able to force China’s hand here unilaterally.
Will China's internment camps for Uyghurs remain open on 2022-01-01? | Updated: 95% 📈+2 (Metaculus: 97%)
Our Take: I considered updating the forecast to 98%, however there is still an outside chance China achieves their stated goals for the camps and closes them by the end of year.
Yemen Civil War
Finally, I turn our attention to the ongoing civil war in Yemen where fighting has been taking place for nearly seven years with over 200,000 dead. While Saudi air raids have been halted in the recent past to boost the peace efforts, this otherwise signal is overshadowed by the foundation of the peace talks. As pointed out by a recent Foreign Policy article, the terms of the peace treaty proposed by both the US and Saudi Arabia are unfavorable to the Houthis despite their clear dominance and victory in the civil war. The result is that fighting is likely to continue unless either the US and Saudi Arabia rapidly change their approach to the peace process or the Houthis outright win the civil war by the end of the year.
Will there be a cease-fire or peace agreement in the Yemeni Civil War by 2022-01-01? | Updated: 11% 📈+2 (Metaculus: 27%)
Our Take: These conflicting narratives have created two different forecasts for whether there will be peace or a ceasefire in Yemen this year. One lowers the forecast to 8%, the other raises it to 14%. For now, the two forecasts will be averaged but if you have insight into which narrative is more likely to win please let me know in the comments.
Yemeni officials say battle for key city intensifies | Associated Press via Yahoo! News 6/20/21
Yemen air raids halted to boost peace efforts: Saudi-led forces | Al Jazeera 6/10/21