With the new issue of Middle East Quarterly set to formally launch September 5, we're placing the content online now to give readers an advance look at the articles.

The Vatican Joins the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Throughout most of Israel's history, the Vatican abided strictly by its obligation under the 1929 Lateran treaty to remain outside of temporal conflicts, focusing its attention mainly on protecting its property interests and holy sites in Israel. Since the 2013 ascension of Pope Francis, however, the Vatican "is proving a more engaged political actor, tackling such issues as climate change, migration, refugees, and homosexuality," writes Leonard Hammer, a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Rothberg International School.

Whereas in 1993 the Vatican had used the term "disputed territories and unsettled borders" to describe contested areas under Israeli control (not unlike language used by Israel's foreign ministry), in 2015 the Vatican abandoned neutrality by recognizing the non-existent "State of Palestine" and calling Israel's reunification of Jerusalem "unacceptable." The intent "seems to be a desire by the Vatican to wrest Christian holy sites from the control of Muslim and Jewish governing authorities with a view toward internationalization."

The Islamic State's Virtual Caliphate

Although the territorial collapse of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria is now a foregone conclusion, the group is likely to persist as a global terror threat for years to come, argues Mina Hamblet, an international relations student at the University of Virginia. ISIS has become "the foremost purveyor of jihadist indoctrination in the West," creating what she calls a "virtual caliphate" that is easily accessible and attractive to diverse audiences "in a manner al-Qaeda was never able to achieve."

Are Returning Jihadists a Major Threat?

As the ISIS Caliphate in Syria and Iraq crumbles, the group's surviving foreign fighters (tens of thousands joined) are desperately seeking to escape, many to return home. Thomas R. McCabe, a retired U.S. Air Force reserve lieutenant colonel and former Defense Department analyst, argues that most of the returnees, having "willingly joined an openly murderous organization," cannot be rehabilitated into society. Governments should therefore prevent their return by suspending their passports and, where possible, revoking their citizenship. Unfortunately, he says, they haven't done enough to identify and build profiles on citizens who travelled to the Middle East to fight with ISIS.

Is the Western Wall Judaism's Holiest Site?

F. M. Loewenberg, a professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University, examines the history of the Western Wall's sacredness in Judaism, a "relatively late development" dating back to the capture of the Jerusalem by Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent in 1517. While the Temple Mount itself was widely venerated by Jews for centuries, there is little mention of the Western Wall as a sacred site in the historical record until Suleiman announced that Jews had the right to pray there. Thereafter it became a focus of Jewish pilgrimages. While "there is no ancient Jewish tradition that designates the Western Wall as a sacred site," concludes Loewenberg, "it has become sanctified over time as Jews have increasingly utilized it for prayer."

Brief Reviews

Seven reviews of new books about the Middle East and related topics.