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Focusing on menacing Middle East geopolitical environments

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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Simmering geopolitical environments in Middle East (ME), characterised by violence and conflicts have posed a challenge as well threat to the security, peace and stability of Western Balkan Region (WBR).

EU also woke up to its surprise when a wave of instability swept across ME and authoritarian governments, considered strong and stable thus far, fell like pack of cards (Arab Spring). “Middle East is the most important geography which can directly affect the EU’s well-being in economic and security aspects. Therefore, the EU ought to redefine and reorganize itself in order to pursue a common policy towards the Middle East for its future.”[1] Weak governance if not absolute corruption, absence of rule of law and justice, nepotism and non adherence to the democratic processes were main collapse-syndromes that many see as possible recurring phenomenon in Western Balkan if these were let to pass by in ME without inferring clues to achieve peace and prosperity in WBR. The proposition, as a rider clause, would be examined in the context of overall EU’s philosophy of affording entire Europe conducive geopolitical environments through an umbrella of peace and prosperity.

WBR, the periphery of Europe, some call it even periphery of the periphery is vital ground that Europe cannot remain oblivious about it. Though it poses no military threat of any significant magnitude, it has the potentials to become a conduit for the threats and challenges that emanate from the Middle East and Sahel-Sahara Region. In other words, not only the brilliant future of WBR, in the realm of peace and security would remain eclipsed because of transnational actors, it would also prevent Europe to achieve disconnect from turbulent past when Balkans were inclined to be gripped by the euphoria of fragmented supremacy, having roots in ethno-religious and imperial incentives of the powers that contested for influence, even territorial expansions. The Balkans historical narrative is not pleasant, particularly for Europe as its reminiscences would only yield a kind of pessimism but if it stays at back of the minds while looking forward, the narrative can become a sort of force multiplier for EU and WBR to push their gigantic energies to crave for peace and stability which, not only is European dream but hugely becoming a global necessity. Though the subject does not offer the opportunity to determine empirical deductions, it does offer the flexibility for a critical enquiry, which would focus on transnational organised crimes likely to plague WBR. Anis H. Bajrektarevic is of the view, “Although visibly evident on the old continent over decades, the issue of Organized Crimes has attracted very little attention at higher politico-economic levels in Europe in the last decades of the 20th century. Simultaneously, the radical changes in CEE/SEE countries of the late 1980s implied growing possibilities for organized crime to carry out trans-frontier operations throughout Europe. Consequently, the criminal markets have become very mobile, more flexible, transnational and transcontinental, highly accumulative and increasingly aggressive.”[2] In other words, expanding dimensions of the threat ought to be perceived.

While going through the arguments, impression would emerge that no mention of the critique has been made from some credible sources about the possible anomalies, EU pursues wittingly or unwittingly. For example, some lament about its ‘tough love’[3] or its status to have become an ‘Alphabets Soup’ and so on. Such notions can lead to a very lively debate about EU’s functional deficit if any and remedial strategies that would make a strong case to examine separately and hence out of the purview of this article. Here threat of main organised crimes to WBR at the hands of international and transnational actors would be dealt with.

Geopolitical Contours and the Regional Primacy

 

Western Balkan Region. Briefly touching on the geography to refresh our focus, WBR includes Croatia, Serbia (and Kosovo), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania. To the east lies Eastern Balkan Region (EBR), comprising Romania and Bulgaria. Greece hugs its territory in the SE. To the north Slovenia and Hungary sit on top of Balkans. To the west, the region has Adriatic Sea that slants from NW to SE. Viewing Balkans as WBR and EBR has been a moot point, as some  scholars contend that Balkan could be logically split as geographical entity like Northern Balkan and Southern Balkan because a prominent mountain range divides the two as it traverses in East-West direction. In the beginning of 19th Century, August Zeune, a German geographer named it ‘Balkan Peninsula’ after the Bulgarian mountains.  Historically it constituted borders between empires, religions and civilizations. Imperial wars and ethnic massacres to achieve homogeneous character by dominant ethnic segments that forced persistent displacements, led to disproportionate ethnic dispersion. A reviewer highlighted the era of revenge and retribution, “The Chapter Five discusses the manner in which atrocities committed by empires can be seen as conspicuously stamped into the culture of those empires in their music, art and literature. Poets and the philosophers were swayed by the desire to portray horror and glorify imperial wars out of an urge to deride the oppressors.”[4] WBR now is like a buffer for the West and in the obtaining paradigm of 21st Century, it thus gains tremendous weight in geopolitics once the West has launched itself in the quest for sustainable peace, a peace that would not recognise earlier points of fissure and proverbial tectonic plates but subdue Balkans thorny issues with promise of respect, equality, security, peace and stability for better ‘tomorrow’ for all and sundry. European Security Strategy also hinges on the premise of enabling its Eastern, South Eastern as well as Mediterranean border countries to become sound and stable governments that is a prerequisite for peace and prosperity of the states. EU is in the forefront to turn such dreams into reality though it faces a usual critique as well.

 

Middle East.  The region has unique geographic connotations. It sits at the junction of Europe, Asia and Africa and thus it dominates strategic approaches, leading to the three continents. Impressed by its geostrategic importance, George Lenczowski remarked in 1952 that still holds the ground, “No intelligent foreign policy today can ignore the Middle East and its impact upon the rest of the world.”[5] However, the impact analysis here pertains to the threats and challenges emanating from ME that confront WBR with strong under currents reaching EU space. ME geography is remarkably simple to grasp but its internal dynamics make it the land of complex scenarios historically as well as in the recent context. The span of Asian territories lying south of erstwhile Soviet Union, west of Pakistan and Egypt included, makes the ME. If referred to by an older term, Near East, which pops up in certain accounts, some geographers tend to include Greece as well as Aegean Sea in ME. Mainly it can be divided into two main zones: the Northern Belt that is ethnically non-Arab and the Southern Belt that constitutes Arabs hard core. ME has two distinctions. The holiest of the places for Jews, Christians and Muslims are located in the ME. In other words, it is the cradle of three divine religions, the people of the books and the largest of oil and gas reserves are found here. In the recent history, Arab-Israel wars, Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi attack on Kuwait and in response US drubbing of Iraqi forces, US war on Iraq and Afghanistan in post-eleven scenario, Israel-Hezbollah conflict, Iran-Israel nuclear tangle, ever festering Palestinian wound and now Syrian cauldron where people of same nationality are killing each other, have reduced ME to a blazing inferno. The unfortunate part is that the severity of conflicts is likely to exacerbate than diminish in full view of plethora of peace restoring institutions, major powers and above all human passion and genius. As a consequence, the adjoining regions, WBR included, have either come to the brink of being sucked in or have been impacted dangerously by the fall out of simmering conflicts, one way or the other. EU effort to douse ME creeping fires, some analysts opine, need even handed as well as sure handed treatment. “…EU policies and their implementation have worked towards preserving the status quo in the Mediterranean despite the declared goal of transforming the region in line with the EU values, such as democracy, human rights and rule of law. This is because in practice the priority has been improving European security and not the needs of the individuals or societies in the region.”[6] History guides us that whenever violence rules, dispensation of justice becomes an unfulfilled dream and writ of the states weakens, then threats and challenges emerge for the host states as well as for the neighbours like a hydra-headed monsters. They not only survive in the same very masses but also draw succour from them and employ them to advance asymmetrical political agenda which is more often diametrically opposed to conventional themes of International Relations, practiced by the comity of nations.

What Makes Two Regions Asymmetric?

 

Before attempting to determine the politico-military and socio-economic disparities that constitute the incentive for organised crime from ME to WBR, one would reemphasise that the entire discussion has EU in the frame in ultimate context. Therefore, sometime WBR and EU sound as the interchangeable entities because what is dangerous for WBR would certainly be repugnant to EU as well. Now the relevant asymmetries between the two:

  • EU as Patron. EU has embraced the role of a patron for all its members as well as neighbours where it wishes to introduce peace and prosperity as the means to eliminate historic deficit of mutual harmony among the nations as well as regions. For the EU, WBR is a contiguous stretch of territory that it wants to influence for extending to them an umbrella of peace and prosperity which is the hallmark of EU philosophy. Advancement of Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia towards reconciliation under EU patronage, albeit gradually, suggests that EU is determined in resolve to expand its parameters firmly. The so called footnote or asterisk agreement between Prishtina and Belgrade in February was yet another breakthrough. Not only did it pave Serbia’s way to candidacy and open the gates to Balkan regional bodies to Kosovo, but also it helped the Commission start work on a feasibility study in March…. Such steps will strengthen the EU’s hand while inaugurating a more mature and even relationship with both Kosovo and Bosnia, well beyond crisis management.[7] ME, despite its resources, largely squandered, has not seen any initiative of this kind.
  • No Parallel. Being an economic power house, EU has no parallel. After Maastricht and throughout the rest of the 1990s, the European Union remained what it was once famously compared by Belgian Minister of Stat, Mark Eijskens as an, ‘Economic giant, political mouse and military worm.’[8] One may differ with his statement partially but in spite of colossal fragmentation of the societies within, EU is gradually and consistently expanding its sphere and building the bridges of harmony within and without but seems to draw grudge of the devastated elements from ‘arc of instability’,[9] who attempt to violate international laws and resort to such measures that would undermine EU’s ability to achieve its goal i.e. peaceful and prosperous united Europe including its peripheries.
  • EU Inspires. EU serves as an inspiration for the fence sitters who want to join EU. It has not relented about the values-mark, the candidates have to achieve by laying down conditionalities to abide before they join. Not stopping here it is extending enormous help at the same time to the candidates to qualify for the membership. There is no such model in ME.
  • ME and Youth Bulge. ME is devastated by conflicts or the threat of impending conflicts where poverty is rampant and unemployed ‘youth bulge’ instead of becoming a strategic asset for the states, has shifted allegiance to become strategic asset of the non-state actors. The prospective milieu is also very threatening. A

credible report in the sphere of ‘likely impact’ of untapped ‘youth bulge’ underscores year-2025 scenario, “Opportunity for mass-casualty terrorist attacks using chemical, biological or less likely, nuclear weapons will increase…”.[10] It also highlights that ‘arc of instability’ stretches from Andean Region in Latin America though Sub-Saharan Africa, ME, Caucasus and northern South Asia where unemployed youthful age group and demographic explosion mark the crescent as a threatening scene. On the other side, WBR is relatively more prosperous where humans are now cared about and their youth, in pursuit of life-long objectives are busy to remain an asset for heir states.

  • Non-State Actors. They resort to terror, arms smuggling, loot, plunder, hostage taking, high seas piracy, narcotics and human trafficking as the means to support their minimal expenses. The young adventurous minds of the available youth bulge are readily drawn to them and be the party to their crimes, some becoming the hardened terrorists and gang leaders later. EU is fortunate to be free of such risks except presence of small pockets that may have penetrated from the countries located on the arc of instability. It makes the crux of focus of EU endeavour to deny them such capability.
  • ME Lacks Will. EU worry should be compounded to learn that some poor ME countries have no or at best rudimentary will to rehabilitate the youths and stem out the poverty that needs to be tackled through expanding education base, establishing rule of law to prevent exploitation of the poor masses and affording them equal opportunities for surviving with dignity. Middle East countries, some exceptions apart are marred by poor governance, corruption and squandering of their national wealth in wrong priorities. EU is almost free of such malice and is also inspiring the candidates of WBR to come up to the mark. EU being a vibrant model of peace and prosperity serves as a beacon for them to emulate.
  • ME Statesmanship Not Reconciliatory. In ME the statesmanship, as in Iran, Hezbollah’s and Israel, generally thrives on the conflicts, which the leadership uses as pivots of popularity and maintaining appeal among their masses. EU has turned away from the conflicts, denouncing them out rightly as loathsome phenomena. It affords peace of mind to EU but no such luxury of peace of mind is available in ME. As a result, bitterness is compounding that denies logical thought process to contemporary approaches and hence reactionary, some time, violent discourses are preferred by the belligerent states.
  • EU’s Diplomacy and Politics. Whenever EU came across a road block en-route to peace and harmony, it effectively employed its political and diplomatic muscles to eliminate the hurdles in WBR through UN, NATO, OSCE and Council of Europe options, besides committing its own platform for moving on with consensus among the member states. In ME, other than UN, there exist such apparatuses as Arab League (AL) , Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and an overlap of OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) but the consensus on critical issues among the major ME actors, namely Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia is non-existent.

 

  • No Direct Threat. WBR or the EU has no direct enemy that may consume their efforts and budget for the military spending. In ME, the scenario is bleak when there is perpetual standoff between Israel and Iran, Israel versus other Arab states and Iranian tiff with Gulf countries over territorial disputes. Maintaining large standing armies thus becomes their compulsion, a practice that engulfs their large chunks of GDPs and also creates a lucrative sophisticated weaponry market for the developed countries. Thus the bad news is that with the status quo perpetuating in ME, the people are not likely to witness any lustrous transformation unless the causes that lend longevity to their true and false pretexts of the parties are eliminated. US interventionist strategy, the regime-change mantra, has not only drawn considerable flak but has been challenged by Syria on the grounds of legitimacy when two of the P5 are singing discordant tunes. Among the Muslim world, US neutrality in ME, particularly on Palestinian and the occupied Arab territories issues is ‘monumentally’ suspected. Hence US have lost the lustre of an honest peace broker, a virtue that had characterised Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and even George H. W. Bush era. Tragedy of the time is that there is no hope of recovery. In fact breakdown of Turkish-Israel relations recently, euphemistically speaking, have cast deep shadows on the prospects of restoration of peace in ME. Turkey’s demonstration of military restraint in case of Israel and Syrian provocations has been remarkable that gave boost to the Turkey’s grace and international stature. However Syrian antagonism when seen against Turkey in the NATO’s context is becoming unbearable. Syria’s mighty allies, Russia, China and to an extent, Iran are showing some signs of fatigue. Yet Turkey appears inclined to let the tyrant sink in the predicament of his own follies. Logically ME has emerged as a revealing challenge for the EU which, when some other actors stoke the fury of conflicts, can broker peace. One would hope that ME and the world powers would heed, if no one else, at least to Jesus, revered both by Christians and Muslims, He (Jesus Christ) said to the crowd: ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”[11]

Middle Eastern Threats Profile

 

Threats and Challenges for WBR and EU. After a brief view of the prevailing dynamics of the conflicts in ME, it makes it feasible to assess the threats and challenges as corollaries that confront WBR in specific terms though there appears a consensus that no potent military threat from ME to Balkans and hence to the EU is on the horizon. However, transnational organised crimes, pertaining to some of following areas is a possibility that needs to be taken cognisance of:

  • Illegal Immigrants Traffic It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country

Of origin, transit or destination for victims.[12] In the wake of visa liberalisation for the WBR by EU, there has been tendency of its immigrants to seek better living standard from the relatively poorer to the richer states of WBR or EU. This trend is historic and perhaps manageable by WBR or at least not as risky as the inflow of Asians and Africans who beat the Border Check Points ability to interdict illegal immigrants. Such illegal immigrants may be criminals, potential terrorists or arms and drug smugglers as no record of their credentials is available as compared to those falling in the category of regular immigrants. WBR would certainly be impacted, as the statistics prove, increasing number of them are appearing on Greece-Turkish, Romania-Serbian and Serbian-Macedonian borders. Out of total 7400 detections of irregular traffic in 2011, on nationality basis, Afghans had 28 % share, followed by 25% of Pakistanis. This increase resulted from the combination of increasing flows and more efforts undertaken by the Serbian authorities to detect migrants at their green borders. Consequently, Serbia’s 2011 share in the region’s overall total for illegal border-crossing rose to a massive 40%, up from just 3% during 2010. [13] Yet there appear some deterring arrangements in place that keep WBR somewhat immune from the machinations of the organized crime axis. Therefore, the criminals who facilitate the illegal immigrants from Africa and ME, by employing modes worst than those meted to animals, have not been able to develop WBR as huge market of profit so far that revolves around $ 150 million as compared to illegal immigrants from East, West and North Africa to Europe and from Latin America to North America that fetched them a bonanza of about $ 6.75 billion last year. UNODC plays crucial role to train and built the target states capacity to combat organised crimes. EU in concert with UNODC appears to be mindful of the aspect and the vulnerability that confronts WBR. Remedial improved options have to be exercised, soonest the better.

 

  • Drug Trafficking. It poses a threat to the entire world but predominantly to the Western Europe that makes lucrative market for the drug traffickers. Annual flow of drugs to global market is to the tune of about 450 tons. Out of this, the statistics for 2008 show, 380 tons of heroin and morphine were produced in Afghanistan only, finding access to Western Europe and Russia through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and WBR that constitute Western Approach as well as through Caspian and Central Asia which is the Northern Approach. There have been sizeable seizures also, conspicuously in Turkey and Iran but the drug barons appear determined to swallow the losses for the sake of Western European market ($ 20 billion) and the Russian Federation market ($13 billion).[14] Along the route, some quantities are sold to the locals that are wreaking havoc on the societies where one finds large number of young addicts with no hope of recovering them. To put simply, when the drug route of western approach from Afghanistan is fairly broad, it converges on WBR that should rightly worry its governments. They are left with no choice but to accept the challenge to eliminate it through operational as well as pre-emptive strategies in concert with EU. In other words, EU is compelled to consider that its stakes are heavy in WBR while confronted by the drugs assault with dangerous consequences. Covering the threat of huge quantities of Cocaine from Colombia is not direct concern here because no significant source is located in ME. However Europe shares a big brunt. In 2008, 470 tons of Cocaine moved to North America, Canada and Europe when 40 % was consumed in North America only, and a quarter of it reached Europe.

 

  • Terrorism. Terrorists have invariably a political agenda, often ambitious. They enjoy universal alliance, though unspoken, with all such elements in any part of the world across all conceivable divides because their mutual interests do not clash. In other words, at least their sympathisers if not abetters are found everywhere that facilitate their clandestine operations of sabotage and destruction. Such vulnerability haunts the WBR because conventionally drugs, illegal human trafficking, arms smuggling and terrorists are traditional allies that move hand in glove and follow common trajectory. In WBR, ordinary crimes have shown decline but strong foot prints of organised crimes have remained indelible. Corruption and crime nexus could not be refuted, particularly when ethnic wars were rampant. In case of Bosnia-Herzegovinian, there has been Middle Eastern militants support though no conclusive evidence has come forth, not necessarily because it did not exist but for the possibility that these groups may have managed clandestine support effectively. This is partly due to difficulties in defining the concepts. But it is also due to the difficulties of identifying the motives of groups operating within a network.[15] Elsewhere, WBR region has remained generally inwardly focused on ethnic roots and, at least for now, has not been enthused by the ideological incentives. Similarly where ethnic division in WBR are settling down in the new found status of states, having common border(s) with previous entity, threat of influx of potential terrorists may be lurking, abetted by erstwhile parent state(s) in their efforts to undermine the fragile governance of the breakaway state(s) through a design of outsourcing the terror that some states are inclined to adopt worldwide as costs of conventional interstate wars have become colossal. WBR remains prone to such threats because of some complexities the budding states have inherited. Of all, Bosnia-Herzegovina is most fractured. Milan Jazbec rightly observes, “It seems that most complex state structure in the sub-region lays at the foundation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Created by the DPA, the country consists of three nations and two entities, numerous local authorities and a three-member state presidency.”[16] What WBR has to strive for is that they got to evolve happy societies through efficient governance because threat of terror tends to emerge from poverty stricken regions and heads for areas where instability and chaos rules. Out of the two components of the threat, the one that is immediately within reach of WBR governments is to focus on the public inspiration and faith in the democratic states as pre-emptive strategy. That is what EU is committed to, for WBR.

 

  • Money Laundering. The organised crimes perpetrators need to funnel money to give it needed legitimacy or stash it at such locations and banks that their wealth remains out of sight because they got to maintain the flexibility of uninterrupted financing of the criminal networks working for them. Bojan Dordevic contends that money laundering involves disguising the source of illicit profits and is achieved through a basic process (although money laundering typologies differ in complexity):
    • Placement – illicit proceeds are placed within the formal banking sector;
    • Layering – illicit proceeds are redistributed through a series of accounts in small amounts so as to disguise the origin of the funds; and
    • Integration – the once-illicit proceeds are now licit and are used to purchase property, stocks and bonds so that they can be deposited legally into client bank accounts.[17]

To afford the states the desired ability to nab these ill-gotten treasures, UNODC has been  assigned the role to enforce laws to combat money laundering and terror financing in shape of Global Programmes against them, employing its unit that was established in 1997. The unit mandate was reinforced by subsequent protocols and legal instruments to enable the states for implementing necessary measures to combat the curse of money laundering. The unit also provides guidance and technical assistance. WBR certainly deserves to seek help from UNODC.

Global Overview of Tangential Threats to EU

Brief reference to the global conflicts away from ME that pose danger to EU may be a pertinent proposition. The destiny of Balkans, more importantly of the WBR is intertwined with the destiny of Europe. Therefore any conflict scenario looming on the horizon worldwide, threatening Europe would be a dire challenge for the Balkans as well. As the globalisation is characterised by the universal interconnectivity through rapid communication means hence long stretch of spaces have shrunk. EU thrust in European as well as adjoining continents is not only to manage the conflicts but to resolve them despite not possessing any integral military might except within the NATO Charter. On the threat perception chapter, some areas can devastate the world peace, being potentially loaded with the risk of turning into a wide spread conflagration. Though the peace is contingent upon reconciliatory strategies but world powers maintain deterrence at the same time for the potential adversaries. The conflict issues in ME, Caucasus, Korean peninsula, Indian Subcontinent and recently in Asia-Pacific can wreck EU efforts to quell eruptions in and around Europe as well as in far flung areas to the East. For instance, in all cases, if diplomacy fails and conflict graph probability picks up a hype; US, India, Japan, Australia, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, North and South Korea, Egypt, Iran and Turkey are likely to be sucked in by any of the imbroglios one way or the other. EU that maintains ideal relations with large spread of countries would be the first casualty by way of resultant traction on Euro-Atlantic alliance directly and on trade volumes indirectly that would tailspin because future conflicts would also be riddled with economic blockades and severing of sea lanes. The point to emphasise here is not to give the probable dimensions of each conflict but to elucidate a point that the EU has on its responsibility card, not only the European continent and ME but the stretch of spaces that could become war arena anywhere in the world. What really emerges from the prevailing strategic and global military orientation is that EU has to be forthcoming to conduct dispassionate critique of its own erring allies as well as others when the friendly and not so friendly powers are suspected to embrace too much of Richelieu Concept and show scant regard for the urge to sustain peace. It also implicitly means that world’s greater expectations for conflicts resolution would seek a major shift from the traditional titans to would-be honest brokers. EU is in unique position to adjust to the emerging global realities.

Conclusion

 

To conclude, one would briefly emphasise on two aspects. First, WBR deserves break from violence and chaos. Any effort by EU to help WBR emerge as peaceful, secure and prosperous entity would draw a loud applause internationally. Award of Nobel Peace Prize to EU is not only the recent manifestation but also an acknowledgement of its peacemaking efforts within and beyond Europe. Secondly, efforts should be made while emulating EU to seek prosperous societies across the continents that are sinking in the quagmire, largely of their own making. The advanced world owes much to humanity in this context for addressing their miseries that are heaped on large swaths of Afro-Asian territories. Simple deduction establishes the wisdom that mode and manoeuvres notwithstanding, fires in the neighbourhood and afar would always remain a challenge as well as a threat. Therefore, desirability to quell these fires needs no arguments.



[1] . Kenan Dagci, “The EU’s Middle East Policy and its Implications to the Region”, ‘ALTERNATIVES: Turkish Journal of International Relations’, Volume 6, Number 1&2, Spring & Summer 2007, p. 177

[2] . Anis H. Bajrektarevic, “The Justice-Home Affairs Diplomacy”, International Institute for Middle East and Balkans Studies, Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU, pp.4-5, accessed on www.ifimes.org, on 29 October 2012.

[3] . The aspect inspired Steven Blockmans to write a book, “Tough Love: The European Union’s Relations with the Western Balkans”, (T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague, Netherlands-2007).

[4] . Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi,   (Book Review of) Cathie Carmichael’s ‘Genocide Before the Holocaust’ ‘Europe-Asia Studies Journal’, Volume 63, Number 2 (University of Glasgow/Routledge:Taylor & Francis Group, March 2011) p. 347

[5] . George Lenczowski, ‘The Middle East in World Affairs’, 3rd, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York-1962) p.xxv

[6]. Zerin Torun, ‘The European Union and Change in the Middle East and North Africa: Is the EU Closing its Theory-Practice Gap?”, ‘Middle East Studies, Journal of Politics and International Relations’ Volume 4/Issue 1, July 2012. P. 83.

[7] . Dimitar Bechev, “The Periphery of the Periphery: The Western Balkans and the Euro Crises”, ‘Policy Brief’, European Council of Foreign Relations, p.2, accessed at www.ecfr.eu on 10 September 2012.

[8] . Steven Blockmans, “Tough Love: The European Union’s Relations with the Western Balkans”, (T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague, Netherlands-2007), p.1

[9] . See the text following foot note 10 for the description of ‘arc of instability’.

[10] . National Intelligence Council, US DoD document, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World”, (US Government Printing Office, 2008), p. iv

[11] . Luke; 12:54-57.

[12] . UNODC: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, report, “Transnational Organized Crimes: Let’s put them out of business”, accessed at www.unodc.org/unodc.en/human-trafficking, on 2 October 2012.

[13].  “Western Balkans: Annual Risk Analysis 2012”, (Report), FRONTEX: European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, Warsaw, Poland, April 2012, accessed at www.frontex,europa.eu on 10 October 2012.

[14] . UNODC Drug Report-2010, accessed at www.unodc.org/unodc.en/drugs on 29 September 2012.

[15] . “Organized Crimes and Corruption Threaten Human Security in the Western Balkans”, accessed at www.scoopproject.org.uk/incorporating, on 6 October 2012.

[16] . Milan Jazbec, “Security and Diplomacy in the Western Balkans”,  International Institute for Middle East and Balkans Studies, Ljubljana,2007, p.84

[17] . Bojan Dordevic, “Underground Banking: Legitimate Network or Money Laundering System”, in Claude Berthomieu and Srdjan Redzepagic (eds), “Financial System Integration of Balkan Countries in the European Financial System”, Institute of Economic Sciences, Znaj Jovina, Belgrade, Republic of Serbia, 2008, p.33

* An abridged version of the article was presented by the author at Crans Montana Forum’s 14th International Annual Summit (cmf.ch) in Geneva, Switzerland on 19 October 2012 as a part of IFIMES International Institute’s (www.ifimes.org) panel proceedings. Director of IFIMES, Zijad Bećirović, Slovenia,  received ‘Gold Medal’ for the Institute, conferred upon it by Crans Montana Forum, graciously recognizing its contributions in exploring and charting Balkan’s path to peace, security and stability in concert with EU.

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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Middle East

Turkey Will Get a Chunk of Syria: An Advantage of Being in NATO

Eric Zuesse

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The success of Turkey’s takeover of Syria’s most pro-jihadist province, Idlib, is making less and less likely that Syria will be able to continue maintaining Idlib as being a part of Syria. (This is something I had predicted, back on 14 September 2018, to be possible or even likely, and now it is actually happening.) On July 10th, Reuters headlined “Assad hits a wall in Syrian war as front lines harden”, and reported that, “More than two months of Russian-backed operations in and around Idlib province have yielded little or nothing for Assad’s side. It marks a rare case of a military campaign that has not gone his way since Russia intervened in 2015. While resisting government attacks, the insurgents have managed to carve out small advances of their own, drawing on ample stocks of guided anti-tank missiles that opposition and diplomatic sources say have been supplied by Turkey.” It continues:

Moscow has appeared keen to preserve its ties with Ankara even as its air force bombs in support of Assad: Turkey says Russia has intervened to stop attacks on Turkish forces from Syrian government-held territory. … The Idlib area is dominated by Tahrir al-Sham, the jihadists formerly known as the Nusra Front. [And before that, they were called Al Qaeda in Syria, but Western news-agencies, such as Reuters, prefer not to mention that fact, especially because the U.S. used_Nusra to train ‘our’ proxy boots-on-the-ground ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria to bring down Syria’s Government. Elsewhere, the Reuters article calls them ‘insurgents’.] Some 300,000 people fleeing bombardment have moved toward the Turkish border since April, prompting the United Nations to warn that Idlib was on the brink of a “humanitarian nightmare”.

For Ankara, the Syrian opposition’s last major state sponsor, preventing another major influx of Syrian refugees is of paramount importance: Turkey already hosts 3.6 million of them. …

A Russian private military contractor who was based near Idlib province told Reuters that rebel fighters there are far more professional and motivated than their adversary. Pro-government forces cannot win the battle for Idlib unless Moscow helps them on the ground, he said. …

“Of course the regime [that’s the legitimate Government, but Western ‘news’-agencies such as Reuters call it ‘the regime’, and most of their audience don’t even recognize that their own intelligence has just been insulted by Reuters when it calls Syria’s Government a ‘regime’, which only the invading countries actually are] has the desire to recover Idlib by force [as if the sovereign Government of Syria doesn’t have this right — it’s Syrian territory, after all, but Reuters doesn’t care about that fact], but … without the Russians it can’t [tsk, tsk: those ‘nasty’ Russians are defending Syria from the supposedly ‘kindly’ U.S.-Saud-backed proxy-armies that are led mostly by Al Qaeda in Syria, and which invaders have actually destroyed Syria], because there are many militants and the Russians are completely committed to the Turks,” the source said.

Reuters, naturally, quotes enemies, not defenders, of Syria. Western mainstream ‘news’-media are constantly insulting the intelligence of their audiences, as if their audiences cannot distinguish propaganda from honest news-reporting. Unfortunately, however, their assumption on that might be right.

Syria’s Government is fighting hard against jihadist forces in Idlib who meet Turkey’s standard of being ‘moderate rebels’ against Syria’s Government, but unless Russian forces there — which were invited in by Syria’s Government, instead of being invaders there like Turkey and the United States are — will commit far more forces for the defense of Syria (which seems increasingly unlikely), Turkey will win Idlib as being a part of Turkey. 

Consequently, Turkey is already starting to build infrastructure even immediately to the north and east of Idlib in order to stake its claim to a yet larger portion of Syria than just Idlib. This might not have been part of the deal that was worked out by Russia’s Putin, Iran’s Rouhani, and Turkey’s Erdogan, in Tehran, on 9 September 2018, which agreement allowed Turkey only to take over — and only on a temporary basis — Idlib province, which is by far the most pro-jihadist (and the most anti-Assad) of Syria’s 14 provinces. Turkey was instead supposed to hold it only temporarily, but the exact terms of the Turkey-Russia-Iran agreement have never been publicly disclosed.

Until that 9 September 2018 Tehran conference, Idlib had been the province to which Syria’s Government was busing defeated jihadists who had surrendered instead of choosing to stay and die where they were. Syria’s Government had given its surrounded jihadists this final option, in order to reduce as much as possible the numbers of jihadists’ civilian hostages who would also likely be killed in an all-out bombing campaign there. So, the existing population of Idlib, which was already the most pro-jihadist in Syria, was now starting to overflow with the additional thousands of defeated jihadists who had chosen to surrender instead of to be immediately killed.

At that time, just prior to the Tehran conference — and this was actually the reason why the conference was held — the U.S. and its allies, and the U.N., were demanding that an all-out invasion of Idlib, which had been planned by the Governments of Syria and of Russia, must not take place, for ‘humanitarian’ reasons. There was all that ‘humanitarian’ concern (led by the United States) for the world’s biggest concentration of Nusra and Nusra-led jihadists — and for Syria’s most jihadist-supporting civilian population. So much ‘kindness’, such ‘admirable’ ‘humanitarianism’. Furthermore the U.S. Government was threatening to greatly increase its forces against Syria if that invasion by Syria and by Russia into Idlib (which is, after all, part of Syria — so, what business is it, even of the U.N., at all?) were to be carried out. The Tehran conference was meeting in order to resolve that emergency situation (mainly America’s threats of a possible war against Russia), so as to forestall this attack.

However, now that it’s clear that Erdogan will not  follow through on his generally understood promise that this would be only a temporary military occupation of Idlib, the question is: what can Syria and Russia and Iran do to keep Idlib inside Syria, and whether they even want to do so. If Syria loses those jihadists, then not only will it lose the perhaps hundred thousand surviving jihadists there — many of whom came from other countries in order to fight against Syria’s secular Government — but also will lose some of those Idlib natives, who were always against Syria’s secular Government. Since those people would no longer be voting against Bashar al-Assad, because they would become Turks, this would actually be a Syrian political advantage for Assad. Yet, he has been resisting it, in order to hold Syria together. He has always been committed to holding Syria together.

Turkey’s negotiating position is exceptionally strong, because Turkey now is riding the fence between the U.S. alliance, NATO (of which Turkey has been the only predominantly Muslim member ever since it joined in 1952), versus Russia. According to a major report in English from Iran’s Fars News Agency — which had translated from published Arab sources in many countries and which report hasn’t been denied by any of them — Russia had saved Erdogan’s life on 15 June 2016, when there was a coup-attempt to get rid of him. Headlining on 20 July, just five days after the failed coup, “Erdogan Warned of Incoming Coup by Russian Alert”, Fars said that, 

Several Arab media outlets, including Rai Alyoum, quoted diplomatic sources in Ankara as saying that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known locally as the MIT, received intel from its Russian counterpart that warned of an impending coup in the Muslim state.

The unnamed diplomats said the Russian army in the region had intercepted highly sensitive army exchanges and encoded radio messages showing that the Turkish army was readying to stage a coup against the administration in Ankara.

The exchanges included dispatch of several army choppers to President Erdogan’s resort hotel to arrest or kill the president. 

The standard treatment of this matter in U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media was to ignore the coup and to downplay any U.S. role in it, but other news-media haven’t been so dismissive — for examples: On 29 July 2016, Erdogan tactfully suggested that “US general is on side of coup plotters: Erdoğan”, as one Turkish newspaper headlined it. On 2 August 2016, the New York Times bannered “Turks Can Agree on One Thing: U.S. Was Behind Failed Coup”. On 18 August 2016, I headlined at Strategic Culture Foundation, “What Was Behind the Turkish Coup-Attempt?” and provided some of the reasons why the U.S. regime almost certainly was. On 8 July 2019, Michel Chossudovsly, at his Global Research, headlined “A Major Conventional War Against Iran Is an Impossibility. Crisis within the US Command Structure” and he said, “Turkey’s exit from NATO is almost de facto. America can no longer rely on its staunchest allies.” He even said “Turkey is now aligned with Russia and Iran.” However, his article didn’t so much as even mention the coup — nor any other possible reason for this shocking switch.

In any case, after that event, Turkey’s foreign policies definitely switched away from being clearly U.S.-allied, to being on the fence and calculated purely to serve Turkey’s advantage, no longer tied, at all, to NATO or the U.S., and, in many important respects, very much contrary to the U.S. regime. In fact, Erdogan has been emphatic that this coup had been led by Fethullah Gulen, a billionaire Muslim cleric, formerly allied with Erdogan, who since moving to the U.S. in 1999 has been his bitter enemy. In fact, some of NATO’s forces in Turkey were participating in the attempted coup. However, Erdogan holds on tenaciously to that NATO membership, because it gives Turkey enormous leverage it can use in order to grab territory from Syria, which the U.S. regime wants Turkey to do

Here is how Erdogan has clearlly committed Turkey to taking at least parts of Syria’s northeast:

On 6 June 2018, Reuters headlined “Turkish university to open campus in northern Syria” and reported that, “Turkey’s Harran University, in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa [Turkey], said it is preparing to open a faculty in Al-Bab [Syria] for students in towns under Turkish control. … The Turkish cabinet has also approved opening a vocational high school in Jarablus [Syria] affiliated with Gaziantep University, Turkey’s official gazette said on Tuesday.”

On 30 July 2018, Syria.LiveuaMap headlined “Turkey start[s] to build highways starting from Cobanbey-al-Bab to Jarablus-Manbij in Syria” — all of which is in the parts of Syria’s north that Turkey controls.

On 23 May 2019, Gaziantep University posted an announcement of “The Global Syrian Refugee Crisis” conference to be held in Gaziantep, Turkey, on 14-18 October 2019, and also announced that: “The medium of instruction of our university is entirely English in %80 of faculties and Turkish in some faculties. However, after the ferocious civil war in Syria, we opened four departments (Engineering, Architecture, Administration and Theology) that teach in Arabic language. This was achieved by hiring Syrian academic staff in these programs which created opportunities for refugee students who want to continue their studies in Arabic.” So, it does seem to be Erdogan’s intention that directly across the border in Syria, this part of what has, until recently, been a part of Syria, is to be instead a part of Turkey. This would be the chief favorable outcome for the U.S. regime resulting from the Syrian portion of the CIA-planted “Arab Spring” rebellions in 2011.

On 27 May 2019, the Daily Sabah headlined “Turkey to Build New Faculties to Promote Higher Education in Northern Syria” and reported that

Gaziantep University, located in southern Turkey close to the Syrian border, decided to offer education for Syrians living in the northern part of the war-torn country, the areas that were liberated by Turkey’s two cross-border operations. … 

The university applied to Turkish education officials to set up four faculties in northern Syria’s al-Bab, Azaz and Mare districts, which is planned to focus on economics, business, teaching and engineering; some 2,700 prospective students have already taken proficiency exams. The faculties will be the second move by Gaziantep University as it previously opened a vocational school last year in Aleppo’s Jarablus district. While vocational education currently continues in five departments, the university is planning to expand it with four more and to provide education for 500 students.

In 2016, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield and cleared about 2,000 kilometers of area in northern Syria, which was once dragged into darkness by the Daesh terrorist organization.

This seems to reflect Syria’s actual capitulation to Turkey, which henceforth is to control that area — permanently. The only question now is how large the seized area will turn out to be.

The first person, it seems, who recognized quickly the significance of this takeover was the tweeter “domihol” who on 28 May 2019 posted 

Turkey is also throwing serious money at its seemingly permanent slice of Syria.

You don’t build universities just so Damascus can take it over soon.

Right below that is his:

I’m sorry to say – my prediction for Syria’s near and possibly medium term future still holds …

Dominic | دومينيك added,

[15 December 2018]  prediction:

TRUMP gets the oil & gas

ERDOGAN gets the water

PUTIN gets the “mission accomplished” moment …

9:49 AM – 28 May 2019

However, his predictions there (as is routine for tweets, which are good for communicating only bumper-stickers) are unsupported by anything. For example: Where is Turkey’s oil and gas? Is it actually anywhere near to the Turkish border? Here’s a map which shows where it is, and that’s certainly not near the Turkish border. 

In addition, the U.S. regime is evidently preparing to assist Turkey’s takeover of parts of Syria, but focuses it specifically against Iran. On 24 May 2019, the U.S. State Department advertised a “Grant Opportunity” for NGOs to be “Supporting Local Governance and Civil Society in Syria” and are offering up to $75 million to each, in order to “Counter extremism and disinformation perpetuated by Iranian forces” and “End the presence of Iranian forces and proxies in Syria” and otherwise support America’s war against Iran. Perhaps the U.S. and Turkey have agreed that U.S. operations against Syria will continue in the Turk-seized areas after the U.S. occupation of the remaining parts of Syria has ended.

If Assad were to give a press conference now, the first question to ask would be: “Is Syria going to allow Turkish universities and highways to be built on Turk-seized Syrian territory?” Because, if the answer to that is anything like yes, then not only would it seem that Turkey has won against Syria and Russia and Iran, but so too has the U.S., whose fall-back position, ever since it first tried a coup in Syria in 1949, has been to at least break off a piece of Syria, when and if it failed to take the whole thing. The construction of a Turkish university, highway, and/or etc., in Syria, would be a huge apparent win for Donald Trump, but an even bigger apparent victory for Tayyip Erdogan, who now seems to be, yet again, a member of America’s alliance against Russia. (And Iran, too, would seem to be endangered by Syria’s apparent defeat in that part of Syria. But maybe not: is Turkey going to end altogether its alliance with the U.S.?)

Usually, successful aggression is impossible without allies, and the U.S., again, seems to have Turkey as one — and as an extremely important one (more important, perhaps, than ever before).

The U.S. Government wants to remove land from Syria’s Government. The Turkish Government wants to be the Government that actually takes it. So, U.S. and Turkey seem to have made a deal. Turkey took Syrian territory while promising (as the Qatar regime’s Al Jazeera headlined on 5 June 2018 — “YPG confirms withdrawal from Syria’s Manbij after Turkey-US deal”). Al Jazeera reported there that, “The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) said its military advisers would leave the town of Manbij a day after Turkey and the United States said they reached an agreement on the armed group’s withdrawal.” Those two foreign invaders against Syria (Turkey and U.S.) came to this agreement in Washington DC, regarding their respective invasions: Turkish forces won’t conquer YPG (separatist-Kurd) forces in any part of Syria unless and until that part has already become instead a part of Turkey — swallowed-up by Turkey. The U.S. will be protecting those Kurds until the U.S. ends its military occupation of Syria. After that, those Kurds will be on their own.

Back on 10 January 2018, Elijah J. Magnier had commented, “Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad also considers Turkey to be another occupying force in northern Syria. He would like to liberate the entire Syrian territory, which is not the case with Russia, which would prefer to end the war as soon as possible and undertake the work at the negotiating table.” Magnier seems to have been correct: Russia appears not to be objecting to Turkey’s land-seizures in Syria. Therefore, Turkey is a “middle-man” between both U.S. and Russia — strategizing with both.

On 19 January 2018, Tony Cartalucci commented, “The Syrian government with support from its Russian, Iranian, and Lebanese allies has embarked on a major military operation to retake parts of Syria’s northern governorate of Idlib. As it does so, the US and its regional allies are rushing to position themselves to ensure the permanent partition of Syria is achieved.” He continued (all of which has likewise subsequently been borne out):

It should be noted that Afrin is located between [Idlib and] territory Turkey is currently occupying. Turkish troops, should they seize Afrin

[which they soon did]

, would effectively have expanded Turkey’s “Euphrates Shield” by 30 miles (53 km) and present an opportunity for its troops to link up with troops of Turkey’s “Idlib Shield.” This would create a large, singular buffer zone within which US-NATO forces could harbor militants driven back by Syria’s most recent offensive.

Depending on Turkey’s success, the zone could be expanded even further, even as far as including Idlib city itself [which happened in September of that year] – thus granting the US an opportunity to present it as a second Syrian “capital” much in the way Benghazi was used in Libya during US-led regime change there. There remains, however, the fact that Idlib is openly occupied and administered by Al Qaeda, making the proposal of transforming it into an “opposition capital” particularly dubious.

Meanwhile, the US itself continues its own uninvited, illegal occupation of Syrian territory east of the Euphrates, having previously justified the invasion and occupation of Syrian territory under the guise of fighting the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). …

The US occupation of Syrian territory will be difficult for Damascus and its allies to contest without being drawn into a direct military confrontation. Turkey’s occupation may be easier to confound, but if sufficient political will exists to maintain it along with US backing, it could effectively result in a Golan Heights-style occupation of Syrian territory [by Turkey] that provides a long-term geopolitical pressure point versus Damascus for years to come.

And while US efforts to destroy Syria have fallen short, the US now permanently occupies territory within one of Iran’s closest and most important regional allies. Like a splinter under the skin turning septic, the US occupation will remain a constant potential source of wider infection both for Syria and the rest of the region.

Perhaps Cartalucci was the first person publicly to recognize what has been happening here.

On 8 February 2018, Russia’s RT bannered, “US-led coalition conducts ‘defensive’ airstrikes against Syrian forces”, and reported, “The US-led coalition has also firmly stressed its ‘non-negotiable right to act in self-defense,’ since its service members are embedded with the [anti-Syrian] ‘partners’ on ground in Syria. … ‘It’s very likely that the Americans have taken a course of dividing the country. They just gave up their assurances, given to us, that the only goal of their presence in Syria – without an invitation of the legitimate government – was to defeat Islamic State and the terrorists,’ Lavrov said.

All of this, likewise, has since been borne out. Key was the September 2018 Tehran summit of Erdogan, Putin and Rouhani (Syria not even being represented there), to decide how to handle Syria’s most pro-jihadist province: Idlib. (It’s even more jihadist than Raqqah, where ISIS was headquartered, and which is the second-most-jihadist.)

On 9 September 2018, the Turkish-Government-controlled (and this also means anti-Syrian) Daily Sabah newspaper bannered “The outcome of the Tehran summit” and reported that:

We know for a fact that Erdoğan’s goal was to prevent the Russians and the Assad regime from carrying out a comprehensive operation in Idlib. In this sense, he got what he wanted. At the joint press conference, the Russian president announced that the three countries, at the request of President Erdoğan, urged all parties to lay down their arms. As such, it became possible to prevent another humanitarian disaster, a new influx of refugees, the collapse of the Astana process [which Putin had established to replace the U.N.’s U.S.-approved peace process immediately after Obama bombed on 17 September 2016 Syria’s Army at Deir Ezzor — which bombing by the U.S. violated the ceasefire agreement that Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry had just signed with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on 9 September 2016] and the radicalization of moderate opposition, who would have moved closer to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) [Al Qaeda in Syria]. At the same time, a clear distinction was made between ‘terrorists’ and opposition groups. At the same time, there is no doubt that the Iranian president’s proposal to remove the United States from the east of the Euphrates river was in line with Erdoğan’s own agenda.

Actually, however, the truthfulness of that last sentence is still very much in doubt.

The ultra-reliable Al Masdar News reported on 10 September 2018 that “Russia and Iran have already informed Turkey that they will not accept any jihadist factions inside of Idlib; however, the latter is attempting to convince Moscow and Tehran to avoid carrying out the attack in favor of Ankara clearing these groups.” Putin and Rouhani accepted Erdogan’s promise there (of “Ankara clearing those groups”), and consequently allowed Turkey’s troops to handle Idlib. But, evidently, Erdogan had been lying about that. He didn’t eliminate the jihadists — he has instead been protecting them (except that his forces attack the Kurdish-independence forces against Syria’s Government, the anti-Assad fighters whom Erdogan authentically has been obsessed to kill).

The very next day, on September 11th, Paul Mansfield at Syria News headlined “Erdogan Buys Time for Terrorists at the Tehran Summit” and he observed that

The Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah released the components of Turkey’s plan for Idlib. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out it effectively means annexing Syrian territory, entrenching Turkish proxy Free Syrian Army forces, while falsely legitimizing their presence through a trilateral agreement, one made (it should be mentioned) without the presence of the country it concerns: Syria.

On 18 September 2018, another of the Turkish regime’s major newspapers, Yeni Safak, headlined “Turkey tells 50,000 FSA fighters to be ready for deployment as tensions rise in Idlib” and reported that, “As the Assad regime and Russian warplanes viciously attack the last opposition-held stronghold of Syria’s Idlib, Turkey ramped up its military reinforcements in northern Syria and instructed over 50,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) [that being the Turkish-led anti-Assad] fighters stationed in Afrin, Azaz, Jarabulus, al-Bab and al-Rai to ‘be ready for military deployment.’”

This anti-Syrian report continued, “The Bashar al-Assad regime recently announced plans to launch a major military offensive in Idlib, which is controlled by various armed opposition groups.” It didn’t mention that those “armed opposition groups” were the members of Al Qaeda-led forces defeated elsewhere in Syria who had chosen to be bused by the Syrian Government into the most pro-jihadist Syrian province, Idlib, instead of to be outright shot to death on-the-spot by Syrian troops, where they had been fighting. Such crucial information was left out of Western news-reports. 

It went on: “An attack on Syria’s Idlib, the last opposition-held stronghold, would be a massacre,” and (since this newspaper reflected Erdogan’s anti-Assad, meaning anti-Syrian, viewpoint) it alleged that “Russia and Assad regime target civilians” instead of try to exterminate jihadists — especially now in Idlib itself, to which Syria’s Government had, indeed, been busing the surviving defeated jihadists. (As was previously noted, the only alternative that Syria’s Government had had regarding those hold-out fighters would have been simply to go in and slaughter not only them but the human shields behind whom they were fighting, which would have enormously increased the civilian casualties, which the ‘barbaric’ Assad-led Government was always trying to avoid doing. So: that’s how and why so many of the Al Qaeda-led forces came to be collected inside Idlib to begin with.)

NOTE: 

Erdogan might be a double-agent here. But how could Turkey be building infrastructure in Syria and not be permanently taking that land? All of those “seems to be” could be wrong, but it’s hard to see how Syria’s Government could accept any such blatant grab of land away from their nation. I had written on 14 September 2018 about Erdogan’s duplicity, headlining “U.S. Protects Al Qaeda in Syria, Proven”:

Erdogan is in both camps — America’s and Russia’s — and playing each side against the other, for what he wants. But he could turn out to be the biggest loser from ‘his’ success here.

If he exterminates Idlib’s jihadists, then the U.S. side will condemn him for it. But if he instead frees those jihadists to return to their home-countries, then both sides will condemn him for having done so.

The biggest apparent ‘winner’ from all this, Erdogan, could thus turn out to be the biggest real loser from it. And the biggest apparent ‘loser’ from it, Assad, could turn out to be the biggest real winner from it.

Then, three days later, on September 17th, I argued that the big winners from this will probably be Putin, Erdogan, Rouhani, and Assad. The headline of that was “Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ as I Recommended”, and the basic case was presented that this would turn out to be only a feint on Erdogan’s part, and that he and Putin and Rouhani (and Assad) would all benefit from this feint by Erdogan, and take home the win. It still could be that. But only Erdogan himself probably knows. And who can read his mind? The main sign I would look at is whether Putin and Rouhani just ignore, as much as possible, Turkey’s ‘seizures’ of Idlib and of the most-jihadist parts of Aleppo province bordering Idlib to Idlib’s immediate east. (For example, this fundamentalist-Sunni family from Sweida — which is perhaps the most pro-jihadist southern province — migrated during the war to Al-Bab, which is Turk-controlled.) If Putin and Rouhani ignore Turkey’s solidification of its control over those areas of northern Syria, then this is how the U.S. side and proxy forces — jihadists and Kurdish fanatics — might lose in Syria, and be forced out of there. This Turkish ‘win’ would entail a loss for both the U.S. and its proxy-forces, especially the Kurds. But it would also entail Syria’s loss of the areas that were always the greatest thorn in Assad’s side. In that case, America’s former proxy-forces in northwest Syria — Al Qaeda’s surviving Syrian forces, plus the separatist Kurdish forces — would henceforth be under Erdogan’s control. If Putin, Rouhani and Assad won’t object to that, then the main loser could be the U.S. regime, which would cede to Erdogan not only America’s last holdout in Syria but also all of its proxy-forces in Syria, henceforth to be totally subject to whatever Erdogan has in mind for them. However, the biggest losers could still be the Turkish and the American regimes. But that would be true only if the surrounded U.S. forces in Syria’s northeast become forced out. If the U.S. occupation stays in Syria, then the U.S. and Turkey will have taken all of northern Syria. But no oil or gas is there, either. (It’s south of there.) What, consequently, is this war even about, any longer? Is it about contending national leaders who refuse to acknowledge defeat? Is that now the only real reason for all of this ongoing death, and destruction? Is it just pure ego?

If Turkey quits NATO, then the biggest loser from the end-part of the Syrian war would be the U.S. and its allies. But, of course, the biggest losers from the entire war are the Syrian people. There’s no doubt, whatsoever, about that. 

Author’s note: first posted at The Saker

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Where is the end of Iran Nuclear Crisis?

Sultana Yesmin

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Following the years of tension over Iran’s alleged efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, a long-term deal called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia – plus Germany, known as P5+1— was reached on July 14, 2015. Based on these developments, the UNSC Resolution 2231 endorsed the nuclear deal among these parties, adopted on July 20, 2015.

As per the deal, the IAEA remains under the charge to verify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear-related provisions of the JCPOA set forth in the agreement. Iran started providing the IAEA with necessary information to complete its investigation on the past records of its nuclear activities. The IAEA inaugurated increased monitoring and confirmed Iran’s adoption of numerous actions and key steps towards the limitation of its nuclear program.

Under the 2015 accord, Iran was allowed to enrich uranium only up to a 3.67 percent concentration, to stockpile no more than 300kg of the material, and to operate no more than 5,060 centrifuges. Iran also agreed to limit the size of its stockpile of enriched uranium, used to make both reactor fuel and nuclear weapons for 15 years – until 2031 and the number of centrifuges installed to enrich uranium for 10 years -until 2026.

These developments triggered the relief of sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union (EU), and the United Nations (UN) on Iran. The former US President, Barack Obama, referred to the deal as the significant step towards building “more hopeful world” and “opportunity to move in a new direction”.

However, the first crisis over landmark nuclear deal arose soon after the announcement of the US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018. In light of Trump’s decision, the US took actions to re-impose all sanctions on August 6, 2018 that were lifted in connection with the JCPOA.

President Trump denounced the Obama-era nuclear agreement with Iran as “defective, decaying, and rotten” as well as “one-sided deal”. He also accused that the accord only restricted Iran’s nuclear activities for a fixed period that failed to stop Iran from the development of its ballistic missiles and to facilitate real, comprehensive, and lasting solution of the nuclear crisis.

President Trump also raised the concern of the continuation of Iran’s aggression and malign activities under the cover of the JCPOA to threaten the US and its allies as well as to exploit the international financial system and support terrorism and foreign proxies in favor of its withdrawal from the deal. Iran responded the US withdrawal from the JCPOA with its further preparation for the restoration of uranium enrichment required for both nuclear energy and weapons on an industrial level without any limitations.

The second tension over Iranian nuclear crisis emerged from Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order imposing “hard-hitting” new sanctions on Iran on June 24, 2019 in response to the downing of an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone in international airspace by Iranian surface-to-air missile one week ago of the same month. Donald Trump also reaffirmed Washington’s stand of continuing pressure on Tehran until latter’s complete abandonment from nuclear activities.

It elevated tensions and worsened relations between the US and Iran. The confrontation was about to turn into military dimension though finally it did not happen thanks to Trump’s swift repeal of its decision of launching military strikes against Iran.

The third and most recent crisis generated from Iran’s announcement on boosting its uranium enrichment above the limit set by 2015 nuclear deal has drawn attention to international community in general and the involved global powers in particular, mostly the US, UK, and France. In the first week of July 2019, Iran declared to resume enriching uranium to higher levels, up to 5 percent concentration, to provide fuel required for its Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Iran also threatened to abandon more commitments under 2015 nuclear deal unless practical and tangible steps from the European powers are taken to implement European mechanism, known as, Instrument In Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) in order to facilitate trade and circumvent US sanctions on Iran.

Iran argued for the decision of its uranium enrichment as a step against the Trump administration’s unilateral exit from the 2015 nuclear deal and the re-imposition of multilateral sanctions in Iranian regime. Iran also accused that the world powers had failed to abide by their commitments. Since the beginning, Iran has been averring the development of its missile program as entirely peaceful and defensive in nature with the compliance of the principles verified by the IAEA.

In response, the US confirmed its policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran acknowledged by the Trump administration referring to Iran’s infringement to the limit as “playing with fire”. The rest world powers such as the UK and Germany urged Iran for reversing its decision. France, Germany, and Britain expressed concerns over Iran’s new announcement in the wake of heightening tensions certainly condemning Iran’s decision as a “violation” of the nuclear pact.

The IAEA arranged an urgent nuclear agency meeting on July 10, 2019 requested by the US soon after Iran’s confirmation of exceeding the stockpile of enriched uranium permitted under JCPOA. The rest concerned powers, Germany, France and the UK confirmed their supports for the JCPOA only after Iran’s full compliance with its commitments. The closed-door meeting however ended without any unified stance.

However, China mentioned the US “unilateral bullying”, e.g. the maximum pressure exerted by the US on Iran, as the major cause behind Tehran’s announcement of breaching its uranium enrichment cap and the escalating Iranian nuclear crisis. China also expressed “regret” on Tehran’s decision for further enrichment of its nuclear activities.

The re-imposition of the US sanctions and Iran’s announcement of uranium enrichment have already generated high tension not only in US-Iran relations but also for global security. Iran’s threat to enrich uranium beyond the limit has become a major issue of concern for the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Middle Eastern region. The peaceful solution of Iran nuclear crisis has thus become uncertain. The strategic rivalry among great powers, lack of mutual trust between the US and Iran, and absence of the fulfillment of commitments under the nuclear deal have been posing severe challenges to the durable solution of the nuclear crisis.

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Is Iran safe for Americans to visit?

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The matter of security in Iran is essentially considered as a complex question for any U.S. citizen willing to visit the Islamic Republic.

In this regard, Skift Inc., a New York City headquartered media company that provides news, research, and marketing services for the travel industry, has tried to answer the question from two different points of view; one from the U.S. government and the other by U.S. travel agents and tour operators.

On a Monday article, the media outlet noticed a hint of a “perception problem” deemed to be fueled by the Trump administration’s rhetoric toward Iran.

Official answers to the query comes from the U.S. State Department, which has had a travel advisory against Iran since 1979, citing “the risk of kidnapping, arrest and detention of U.S. citizens.” On the other hand, tour operators who spoke with Skift strongly disagree, maintaining that Iran has proven to be a safe and remarkably hospitable place for travelers, including Americans.

The dilemma arises when an antagonism intensifies between the Trump administration and Iran that makes some American tourists rethinking plans to visit the country though nearly all tour operators say Iran is a safe and hospitable destination even for U.S. visitors.

“It is a country that is often portrayed as unwelcoming, but the reality is quite the opposite,” said Jenny Gray, the global product and operations manager of the Australia-based Intrepid Travel.

“Iranians are warm, friendly and eager to show off their country to foreigners. The feedback from our travelers is a testament to this.”

“Once they [Iranian authorities] have been approved for entry [issuing visas], people are welcomed warmly—we’ve never encountered a problem or even a cold shoulder,” said Robin Pollak, the president of Journeys International, which is offering Iran tours since 2015.

 “People in Iran are very curious about visitors from a culture that is off-limits to them. They understand that American visitors do not reflect the way America is portrayed to them by their government,” she added.

Janet Moore, owner of Distant Horizons, which has offered customized tours to Iran for over 20 years, says “We’re used to getting questions on politics and safety, but this time frame seems more serious than what we’ve been through before.”

“People are worried about the rhetoric from (President) Trump and (national security advisor John) Bolton. They don’t want to be anywhere where there’s military activity.”

With an Iran tour scheduled for September, Moore said she’s uncertain whether the trip will actually go forward.

“People have really started to get skittish,” she said. “We’re not getting new sign-ups and most of our American travelers have pulled out and are making alternative plans. While people feel Iran is probably still safe, they also feel it’s something they can do later when things calm down.”

Reverting to foreign arrivals, Skift reports that Journeys International has seen interest fall off sharply among its clientele, which is primarily from the U.S., during the past month.

G Adventures, which offers a 14-day Iran itinerary, says that bookings among American travelers has fallen by 14 percent this year, said communications director Kim McCabe. At the same time, she noted that bookings from non-U.S. travelers increased by about that same amount.

“Global visitor interest in Iran seems to be modestly growing,” Kim said.

“Demand for Iran has been a real up and down situation,” Moore said. “Four years ago it was at a high point. Then we ran into problems in 2017 when Trump announced the travel ban on Muslims. Some people cancelled travel plans to Iran because they feared Iran would stop issuing visas or that they would be met with antagonism.”

Skift concludes that despite setbacks, the tour operators are optimistic about long-term growth in tourism to Iran, which in recent years has stepped up efforts to increase international visitation and has the stated goal of attracting 20 million annual visitors by 2025.

Last December, Ashely Duncan, an American fashion psychologist who accidentally landed in Iran, announced that her perception of the country was “totally different” from what mainstream Western media outlets portray.

Duncan told IRNA in an interview that “As an American, I did have a pleasant experience. I did not allow the politics and the diplomatic relationship to taint my view of Iran’s people.”

Iran hosts some of the world’s oldest cultural monuments including bazaars, museums, mosques, bridges, bathhouses, madrasas, gardens, rich natural, rural landscapes as well as 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

From our partner Tehran Times

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