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How the E.U Can Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has almost but disappeared from headlines. Only a bloody war in Gaza or a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv grabs the world’s attention. Supporters of a peace-deal have grown frustrated at the lack of diplomatic progress, both on the ground and internationally.

Since the spectacularly failed effort of U.S. Secretary Kerry in 2013, a somber mood hangs over the conflict. In Israel a surreal status-quo has settled in: life goes on as normal, as if one of the most intractable conflicts was not happening right in their midst. Indeed, peace in the region has never seemed so out of reach.

But this week, Al-Monitor reported that unnamed European officials where busy with a policy review that planned for an eventual E.U. diplomatic push for peace. This would be a first for the Union, who until now has never dared to venture in the region’s politics. One explanation was its utter lack of leverage over Israel, creating an utterly irrelevant mediating position. In the coming weeks, the E.U. will vote on imposing an embargo on Israeli goods coming from settlements, showing a more assertive approach to the Palestinian conflict. But invariably, while creating some sort of leverage, it is a position that chooses sides as well. Meanwhile, expect some diplomatic initiatives coming from the External Action Service. Should and can the E.U. achieve peace? Is it a Mission Impossible doomed from the start? Let us investigate the obstacles to peace the E.U. will face, and how to overcome them.

Assessing Positions of Strength, the Kissinger Way

Henry Kissinger, writing in his seminal ‘Diplomacy’, offers a lucid insight into what makes negotiations fail or succeed: bringing North Vietnam to the negotiating table proved impossible for years as the North Vietnamese had the upper hand on the battlefield, creating a formidable position of strength, which in effect meant that a diplomatic deal for them was utterly meaningless. The ensuing strategy of president Nixon and secretary Nixon was to significantly weaken Hanoi, until the parties were somewhat more equal. Only then could a negotiation work. As Kissinger taught, positions of strength need to be assessed if one does not want a diplomatic effort spectacularly failed from the start.

That is something Mr. Kerry could have taken note of when he started his diplomatic Middle East shuttle in 2012. Israel’s militarily superiority is clear, which is one obvious position of strength: the Palestinians do not pose a credible conventional threat. However, a more important position of strength for Israel is its economic blockade it imposed on Gaza and the West Bank, creating a stranglehold on the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian economy stands or falls with Israel’s approval. There is nothing to balance this position of strength.

And while the state of Israel is a fully functioning one, Palestine is mired in severe underdevelopment, corruption, and nepotism, according to international reports. Israel’s superior infrastructure, its sound economy, its institutional strength, its military superiority and its veto over the Palestinian economy make for the most unequal of state relationships. Israel has strong positions of strength. Another core strength is its political leverage in the United States. No U.S. president has been capable of withstanding the pressures of a powerful pro-Israel lobby excelling in the art of influencing Congress. (As a result, the U.S. can and is not a neutral mediator, even if it is desperate to present itself as such.)

We can be very short on Palestine’s positions of strength. Apart from terrorist threats and rocket attacks, there is no single position of strength. The sole leverage that remains for Palestinians is the framing of the conflict in human rights: their right to self-determination, dignity, an end to occupation. Although largely a successful strategy in Europe, it has only created the occasional PR headache for Israel. Nothing more. It is a framing strategy that has no impact on the ground. As long as Israel feels strong, the argument that a situation is unjust will by itself change nothing.

What does this all mean to the E.U.’s External Action Service? If you want an genuine peace deal that holds, make sure the parties become more equal, or any talks will prove meaningless.

Search For Internal Incentives

However positive or negative the strength assessment, the critical driver for any negotiation is an incentive for both parties to reach a settlement. Let this be clear: we are talking about internal incentives, not a stick-and-carrot approach. Do the parties possess internal incentives that drive them towards finding a solution? Is a deal less costly than the current situation? If so, good news for the E.U.’s mediator: it will not be too difficult to get talks started.

When one visits Israel, one notices how ordinary, calm and efficient everything goes. It could be Switzerland, only hotter. Indeed, today’s status-quo is perfectly livable for Israelis. The Palestinian issue does not hamper its functions as a state; its citizens are able to build a decent life; the economy is doing pretty fine. Best of all for the right-wing government, the Palestinian issue does not figure prominently in the Israeli media. Housing shortages and internal government squabbles do. A recent Al-Monitor report cited a survey that showed Israelis had never been happier. Costs of maintaining the status-quo? Nil, apart from the occasional international condemnation. Political costs of a peace-deal for Israel? Considerable, given the concessions needed. Incentives to answer an invitation for a round of peace talks? None, except courtesy.

For Palestine, incentives are high: official recognition of a state; a stronger economy; a future for the young; an end to sometimes devastating hostilities. However, the political costs of a peace-deal are high for its leadership: the concessions reached at the table might be too much for a suffering, poor population to bear. What about the right of return for the refugees, a demand certainly to be watered down significantly in viable negotiations? The economy will not boom overnight. Only the next generation of leaders will bear the fruits peace, creating a paradox: while there is every incentive for the Palestinian people to reach a peace deal, there are high costs for its political leadership. Convincing Mr. Abbas that he will enter the history books might be difficult, even for a sympathetic E.U. mediator. Thus, rule number 2 explains Israel’s current inertia. For the E.U. it will be key to raise the cost of a status-quo. A limited economic embargo might create such an internal driver in Israel, although a creative approach will be needed in finding additional drivers.

The Core: At the table, finally

Expect some nice photo-op’s at this stage, with smiling delegates and a beaming E.U. mediator. The though work is finally there: delving into the core issues.

For a starter, negotiators and mediators will need to distinguish between symbolical issues such as the refugee question, and on-the-ground issues such as the territorial definition of a state and of Jerusalem. But a first pitfall presents itself in the guise of a time-table. Should the parties commit to a deadline? The recent Iran negotiations proved that a deadline is self-defeating: parties can use it to exert pressure on the opponent and on the mediator, who does not want to loose his or her face. With other words: drop the timetable.

If the negotiations get serious, expect a good dose of shouting matches, bruised ego’s, threats and manipulations. It will take a seasoned team to wade through one of the most difficult conflicts of modern history, fraught with historical and cultural sensibilities. To the External Action Service: assemble a team of diplomatic wolfs, genre Richard Holbrooke.

A two-layered approach will work best: first design a constitutional framework; secondly, build on that to resolve the real issues such as territory and population.

Easier said than done, of course. First up is the military aspect. Israel will insist, as it has done in the past, that any future state does not have a standing army that can threaten it. As one might imagine, not only a practical but also a symbolical issue for Palestine. A state with no military is in effect at the mercy of its neighbors, or with other words: a surrogate state. A compromise is possible here, one were Israel receives security guarantees, such as a buffer zone between the West Bank and Jordan, patrolled by an international force. There would be limits on what material Palestine can acquire. A most importantly, an explicit and detailed security guarantee from Jordan should be a cornerstone in this approach; Israel needs a defensible Western flank. It is crucial that Jordan participates rather than obstructs this demand. An insightful diplomatic approach will have a team shuttling back and forth between Amman.

The more difficult layer now needs to be applied: the territorial demarcation and application of this new constitutional entity. A phenomenal hurdle exists in the form of the settlements scattered around the West Bank. Currently, these zones are administered by the Israeli authorities, as are its main roads. Israeli law applies here, ordered in three zones (A,B,C). A look at the map makes it clear: if all settlements remain part of Israel, there would not be much left for a Palestinian state, less than 50 percent of the West Bank. That is unacceptable for Palestinians. Land swaps alone will not be sufficient, as the remaining patch-work would make any state unworkable.

A starting point should be roads an entry-points. Free movement should be crucial. While Israel could retain control over the highway bordering the Jordan Valley, it should cede control of all the other highways in the West Bank. It is highly improbable that Israel is willing to cede large settlements such as Ariel – which even has its own university – to the Palestinian Authority. Ehud Olmert’s land-swap proposal of 2011 will be the road to follow: the large settlements along the Green Line (sometimes, as Ariel, a little bit further away from it) would be absorbed by Israel; the smaller settlements in the heart of the West Bank evacuated. That would mean the evacuation of 56.000 settlers; 413.000 could stay in the larger settlements, in 2015 numbers. To make up for the lost territory, there are land swaps, mostly desert. Although politically painful for both leaders – Israeli media will be awash with images of settlers being forcefully evicted, something that almost toppled former PM Sharon when he did just that in Gaza, on a far smaller scale – it is the only way out. It is crucial that the E.U. possesses the same realism and does not press purely legalistic, historical or moral convictions. An absolute impartial mediation is certainly at this point crucial.

Expect endless nightly sessions to be the new norm by now. Next issue up: Jerusalem. No other issue mixes all controversial ingredients of the conflict as the old capital. Territory, religion, right to exist, statehood and history all come together. Enough to overwhelm any mediator. The essentials: have in mind how Israelis feel about Jerusalem. That is, apart from the Western Wall, not very special (‘To see the past, you go to Jerusalem; to see the future, you go to Tel Aviv’ as once an Israeli remarked to the author). Then, new Jerusalem, built by Israel, is not the same as the Old City, which since ancient times has always been shared, and is not East Jerusalem either, which is mainly Arab. Designating the latter as the capital of Palestine should not be too difficult, with compromise in the wording. The Old City will be neither from Israel or Palestine; it will have a special statute. Joint patrols, assisted by an international peacekeeping force, are the only way out here. The current situation in which Israeli soldiers rule the Old City is unworkable in any peace agreement. The mediator will have to take care of constructing a thorough statute for Jerusalem, with a good conflict-resolution mechanism. (Note that Israel will have to cede sovereignty here; diplomatic leverage will be essential).

Two thorny issues remain, each on its own formidable, but certainly not unexpected. Does a Palestinian state have to state explicitly Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? Every right-wing government has insisted on it; only a left-wing government will be able to drop the ‘Jewish’ before ‘state’ thus avoiding an explicit betrayal by Palestine of its Arab co-citizens who possess Israeli nationality. Don’t expect Netanyahu to make a concession on this; and neither expect the Palestine leadership to be able to swallow such a bitter bill. A mediator who would insist on just that would be creating a catastrophic failure. Therefore, the mediator needs a very clear picture of Israeli politics: it is up to them to concede on this point, political timing (read: a left-wing government) will be the main guide in this effort.

Next concession up, this time for the Palestinian leadership: the right of refugees to return. There are according to UNWRA around 5 million Palestinian refugees, displaced in 1948 and 1967. The majority live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Two million live in the West Bank and Gaza. Letting 3 million refugees return to homes that are now in Israel will be impossible. A compromise will need to be worked out: refugees can return back to the state of Palestine, but not to Israel. All of them would receive a financial compensation from Israel. Those who left behind property receive extra compensation. That is a deal that makes sense; but one that for the Palestinian leadership will be a though sell, as it goes to the heart of the Palestinian struggle. It will be essential that Palestinian refugees in third countries do not feel betrayed by this compromise; they should be encouraged to return, enjoy full citizenship, and be able to count on support. (note that the plight of these refugees has been a very sad one: for over 50 years they have been in essence stateless, as the host-countries do not award them any nationality, and as a result, often cannot find employment).

Yes, now is the time to finally uncork that bottle of Champagne, if it hasn’t yet been emptied in a previous, despairing moment. Celebrations ensue, with signing ceremonies in Brussels.

The last act: implementation

While the External Action Service heaves a sigh of relief and Europe has scored a diplomatic triumph, now the real work starts: implementation. The good news first: media attention will fade, bringing some much-needed respite. The bad news: left to each other, the parties are wholly incapable of implementing a deal; tension would immediately rise, as neither party would move first.

International oversight will be crucial, with a peacekeeping force. A large troop commitment by nations is not needed; rather, a small, capable, understanding force that can navigate subtle cultural sensibilities. They would jointly patrol buffer zones such as the security zone in the Jordan valley; they would assist in keeping the calm in the Old City of Jerusalem; in the first years the force would man the border crossings between Israel and Palestine; and provide for accessible roads throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The OESO could have a role in overseeing democratic elections in Palestine, while the World Bank and the U.N. would assist in strengthening principles of good governance in the new state. An international oversight committee would meet on a regular basis, with a special representative submitting yearly reports on progress. A note of caution though: it should not become a second Bosnia and Herzegovina: there should be a clear date when the international oversight would end. Political elites in Palestine would then need to take full ownership. That will be the primary task of the international community. Donor aid should be in proportion to GDP, so as not to inflate the Palestine economy and create an unsustainable dependency.

Europe’s Finest Hour

It is doubtful that the European Union has the capacity to lead one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations imaginable. The External Action Service has too often seemed to be the External Inaction Service. A united diplomatic front amongst all E.U. leaders will be difficult to maintain. And for the time being, it does not look as if the European Council is ready to give the High Representative a broad, authoritative mandate. Too many times, history has judged the E.U. harshly for inertia, and for a lack of vision and courage. The Balkan Wars are tragic examples; the current response to the refugee crisis does not give much hope. If the E.U. can achieve a Israeli-Palestinian deal, it will be truly Europe’s finest hour and worthy of a Noble Prize. Let’s hope Brussels knows what it is getting into. Peace is both urgent; arduous; and possible.

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Middle East

Kavala Case as a Cause for Dıplomatıc Crısıs

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Image source: Wikipedia

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement about the Osman Kavala declaration of the envoys of 10 countries has been dominating both domestic and foreign policy agenda. Erdoğan  on October  25 slammed the envoys of 10 countries over their statement on the ongoing case of businessman Osman Kavala.

Osman Kavala was arrested on  November 1, 2017. Businessman Osman Kavala who was arrested as part of the investigation of the Gezi Park events, the 17-25 December plots of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and the July 15 coup attempt is accused of being the manager and organizer of the Gezi Park events. Kavala is still in prison. Besides his businessman identity, Kavala is also known as a critical human rights activist.

 It is known that, the European Court of Human Rights requested that Kavala be released. This request has been ignored by Turkey, and can be seen as one of the reasons leading to recent diplomatic crisis. Previously, Kavala has been tied to billionaire George Soros after he helped to found the Turkish branch of Soros’ Open Society Foundations. That branch ceased operations in 2018 after Erdogan accused Soros of attempting to undermine the Turkish government.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and the Strasbourg Court found that Osman Kavala’s extended detention had an “ulterior purpose, namely to reduce him to silence as an NGO activist and human rights defender, to dissuade other persons from engaging in such activities and to paralyse civil society in the country” .

Not only European Court of Human Rights, but also American officials addressed Kavala imprisonment as well.  The United States State Department spokesman Ned Price in February 2021 stated that “The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy.”

According to Kavala’s attorneys, the courts’ actions during the process of merging have been intended to keep Kavala in prison.  Kavala was kept in prison despite the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) earlier decision stating that he should be released immediately. In such an environment, the ambassadors of 10 countries — US, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, and France – issued a statement about Kavala’s imprisonment. After the statement, President Erdoğan noted that Turkey must declare the ambassadors, as “persona non grata” According to Erdoğan no nation can interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs. Erdoğan said: “I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done. These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately.” After Erdoğan’s remarks, explanations were made by these countries. While the US, Canada, New Zealand and Netherlands embassies made a statement on their Twitter accounts that they would comply with the 41st article of the Vienna Convention, which includes the principle of “non-interference in internal affairs”, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland retweeted the US Embassy’s statement.

Kavala Case has been an issue of human rights debate in Turkey. Most of the information about Kavala focuses on his alleged involvement in the Gezi Park protests and his involvement in the 2016 military coup attempt.  The European Court required Turkey to release Kavala and noted that any continuation of his detention would prolong the violations of the Convention. Despite these developments, the statement of the ten ambassadors cannot be accepted because this move is a direct action of the interference in internal affairs. Erdoğan’s decisive stance about this issue has made the countries retreat, however Kavala issue still stands as one of the critical issues that has the potential to shape Turkey’s position in international relations.

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Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again

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Eventually the ice-cold relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to melt. The two countries sat at the negotiating table shortly after Biden came to power. The results of that discussion are finally being seen. Trade relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already begun to move. Although there has been no diplomatic relationship between the two countries since 2016, trade relations have been tense. But trade between Iran and the two countries was zero from last fiscal year until March 20 this year. Iran recently released a report on trade with neighboring countries over the past six months. The report also mentions the name of Saudi Arabia. This means that the rivalry between the two countries is slowly normalizing.

Historically, Shia-dominated Iran was opposed to the Ottoman Empire. The Safavids of Persia have been at war with the Ottomans for a long time, However, after the fall of the Ottomans, when the Middle East was divided like monkey bread, the newly created Saudi Arabia did not have much of a problem with Iran. Business trade between the two countries was normal. This is because the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Iran at the time were Western-backed. That is why there was not much of a problem between them. But when a revolution was organized in Iran in 1979 and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established by overthrowing the Shah, Iran’s relations with the West as well as with Saudi Arabia deteriorated. During the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the ouster of Western-backed rulers from the Middle East. After this announcement, naturally the Arab rulers went against Iran.

Saddam Hussein later invaded Iran with US support and Saudi financial support. After that, as long as Khomeini was alive, Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran were bad. After Khomeini’s death, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatemi tried to mend fences again. But they didn’t get much of an advantage.

When the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s influence in Shiite-majority Iraq continued to grow. Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Iran’s influence in the region has grown. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in a series of shadow wars to reduce its influence. It can be said that Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Cold War just like the United States and the Soviet Union. Behind that war was a conflict of religious ideology and political interests. Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a complete standstill in 2016. Iranians attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran after executing Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimar al-Nimar.  Since then, the two countries have not had diplomatic relations.

Finally, in April this year, representatives of the two countries met behind closed doors in Baghdad. And through this, the two countries started the process of normalizing diplomatic relations again. The last direct meeting between the two countries was held on September 21.

Now why are these two countries interested in normalizing relations? At one point, Mohammed bin Salman said they had no chance of negotiating with Iran. And Khomeini, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, called Mohammed bin Salman the new Hitler. But there is no such thing as a permanent enemy ally in politics or foreign policy. That is why it has brought Saudi Arabia and Iran back to the negotiating table. Prince Salman once refused to negotiate with Iran, but now he says Iran is our neighbor, we all want good and special relations with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has realized that its Western allies are short-lived. But Iran is their permanent neighbor. They have to live with Iran. The United States will not return to fight against Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia. That is why it is logical for Iran and Saudi Arabia to have their ideological differences and different interests at the negotiating table. Saudi Arabia has been at the negotiating table with Iran for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its oil dependence. Prince Salman has announced Vision 2030. In order to implement Vision 2030 and get out of the oil dependent economy, we need to have good relations with our neighbors. It is not possible to achieve such goals without regional stability, He said.

Saudi Arabia also wants to emerge from the ongoing shadow war with Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon to achieve regional stability. The war in Yemen in particular is now a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are unable to get out of this war, nor are they able to achieve the desired goal. Saudi Arabia must normalize relations with Iran if it is to emerge from the war in Yemen. Without a mutual understanding with Iran, Yemen will not be able to end the war. That is why Saudi Arabia wants to end the war through a peace deal with the Houthis by improving relations with Iran.

Drone strikes could also have an impact on the Saudi Aramco oil field to bring Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. Because after the drone attack, the oil supply was cut in half. The Saudis do not want Aramco to be attacked again. Also, since the Biden administration has no eye on the Middle East, it would be wise to improve relations with Iran in its own interests.

Iran will benefit the most if relations with Saudi Arabia improve. Their economy has been shaken by long-standing US sanctions on Iran. As Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful country in the Middle East, Iran has the potential to benefit politically as well as economically if relations with them are normal.

While Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Iran, its allies will also improve relations with Iran. As a result, Iran’s political and trade relations with all the countries of the Saudi alliance will be better. This will give them a chance to turn their economy around again. The development of Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia will also send a positive message to the Biden administration. It could lead to a renewed nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Iran.

Another reason is that when Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, it will receive formal recognition of Iran’s power in the Middle East. The message will be conveyed that it is not possible to turn the stick in the Middle East by bypassing Iran. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be normalized for peace and stability in the Middle East.

But in this case, the United Arab Emirates and Israel may be an obstacle. The closeness that Saudi Arabia had with the UAE will no longer exist. The UAE now relies much more on Israel. There will also be some conflict of interest between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Prince Salman wants to turn Saudi into a full-fledged tourism and business hub that could pose a major threat to the UAE’s economy and make the two countries compete.

Furthermore, in order to sell arms to the Middle East, Iran must show something special. Why would Middle Eastern countries buy weapons if the Iranian offensive was stopped? During the Cold War, arms dealers forced NATO allies to buy large quantities of weapons out of fear of the Soviet Union. So it is in the Middle East. But if the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is normal, it will be positive for the Muslim world, but it will lead to a recession in the arms market.

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Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.

The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.

Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.

In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr.  Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.

FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets,  and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.

Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.

In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.

A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”

Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.

In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.

One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.

With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”

He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

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In around eighteen countries of the world, for e.g. Bolivia, Iran, Qatar, Sudan and Syria, men can legally stop women...

International Law7 hours ago

Time for a Consolidated Russian-Chinese Approach to Modernize and Reform UN

When it comes to reforms of the United Nations, it is indispensable for China and Russia, as long-time UN champions...

Middle East9 hours ago

Kavala Case as a Cause for Dıplomatıc Crısıs

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement about the Osman Kavala declaration of the envoys of 10 countries has been...

South Asia11 hours ago

The pendulum gradually swings towards international engagement with the Taliban

The Taliban and Pakistan, both viewed warily by the West and others in the international community, appear to be benefitting...

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Reports17 hours ago

Global Wealth Has Grown, But at the Expense of Future Prosperity

Global wealth has grown overall—but at the expense of future prosperity and by exacerbating inequalities, according to the World Bank’s...

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