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Russian Interference in Syria and Turkey FP in Middle East

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Russia after October 1, aiming to support the Assad regime, is carrying out military operations on ISIS and the other opposition forces. Such a development has created a serious concerning the Middle East from the view point of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

This situation is contrary to Turkey’s Syrian policy based on Assad’s leaving power that it has been carrying on continually for almost four years. The existing circumstance in the area brings Turkey closer to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as it does Moscow, Tehran, Bagdad, Damascus and the Kurdish movements. Such a balance of power complicates the solution of the Syrian problem and had adverse impact on Moscow-Ankara relations especially on October 4-5-6 due to border violations of Russian military planes.

The strategic affiliation Turkey has established since 2012 with Muslim Brothers and Qatar and the policies to design the region accordingly have been altered in 2014 with the new king in Saudi Arabia. The fact that Muslim Brothers lost Egypt and its failure to be effective in Syria have forced Erdogan to seek new cooperation possibilities in the Arab World. Especially following the agreement on nuclear issues between US and Iran, Turkey was forced to ally with the Sunni countries. His several visits to Saudi Arabia prior to Russian interference in Syria and improvement in relations with the Gulf countries, helped Turkey’s convergence policies on the Syrian issue. It is important to perceive Russia’s latest military interference in this context. Namely, Russia was recently uncomfortable about the opposition forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates and Turkey, progressing toward areas under Assad regime’s control. As a result of dialogues between Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, the opposition groups in Syria could merge and gain strength. These developments threatening Russian military presence in Syria have forced Moscow to openly defend Assad. A military move in Syria was essential to counter these proceedings as well as to save Russia from international isolation. Lack of direct intervention from the USA, despite all these developments in the region, helped Moscow take advantage of the gap formed.

It is possible that Russia may be alienated by siding with the Arab countries or with Turkey. In order to prevent being pulled into the regional anti-Sunni equation, Russia is continuing its dialogue with Egypt and is trying hard to get Egypt on his side. But this is not expected to be successful. It could be a very dangerous game for the Egyptian President Sisi, who came to power with a coup. It was Saudi Arabia that provided the greatest support in bringing Sisi to power. Both the US and the EU allowed this to happen. If Sisi gets into this game with Putin, it is a great possibility that he will be toppled by Muslim Brothers and Salafis again.

The Russian military operation seems to proceed in two directions. First is air strikes on the South-Western parts of opposition group in Syria and operations against ISIS to ensure the existence of Assad’s regime. Here we should take into consideration the feeling that there has been an exchange of information between Russia and Turkey prior to these operations. Before the start of operations Erdogan visited Moscow to open a Mosque. According to information infiltrated from these meetings, Russia has informed Turkey on the joint military quarters they had established with Iran, Iraq and the Assad regime against ISIS and proposed Turkey to take part in it. Second is that they have agreed on a transition period under the leadership of Assad. Third is I think that Turkey has been given an important guarantee regarding the Kurdish Issue? This was that there will no Kurdish corridor formed from North to South in Western Syria.

After his visit to Russia, Erdogan stated that a transition period may be possible with Assad. Also the diplomatic sources rendered the fact that a proposal was made by Russia to Turkey to join the military quarters. For this reason, on the first days of the operations Turkey has expressed its discomfort only by diplomatic language. Later when Russia has directed its air attacks against the opposition forces, it became hysterical. It is evident that the Turkish side was not expecting this.

Turkey’s continued presence in Syria depends on the existence of the opposition forces it supports. With Russia’s elimination of these forces, Turkey will be out of the battlefield. A development like this will weaken Turkey’s hand at the table on its cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries related to Syrian issues.

Russian Interference in Syria and Turkey

Turkey’s discomfort on the matter is felt clearly. Such a development would mean a total failure of the Turkish Syrian policy. For Turkey to save its position in the Middle East equation, it has to continue dialogues with the Gulf Emirates and Saudi Arabia as well as maintain its strength on the battlefield. This is also a strong instrument in its negotiations with US and EU on Syrian issues.

As we have observed on Geneva I. and II. told, Russia always by-passes Turkey, as much as it can, when negotiating Syrian issues with USA. This time because it has no direct relation with US and EU, Russia is by-passing Turkey on the battlefield in order to strongly pressure Ankara into accepting his own conditions.

Turkey, in order to by-pass Russia and actually prevent Russia’s emergence from international isolation on Syrian issues, has to change its attitude toward Moscow this time. This means that Turkey ends the cooperation among the two countries regarding the Turkish Stream Project and the power plants and must join the policies followed by US and EU on Crimean issues. Actually Turkey didn’t take part in the economic sanctions of the western countries against Russia. As a matter of fact its wish was to penetrate the Russian markets more deeply. It is known that the Turkish companies’ investment in Russia is over 10 billion US dollars. We can say that in the first 7 months of 2015, the total trading volume between the two countries has decreased by 21,5% and dropped to 14,4 billion US dollars.

According to some, the reason why the Turkish Stream treaty has not been signed yet is the failure of Russia’s signing the promised %10.25 price reduction agreement. Since reaching an agreement on gas prices transmitted by the South Stream Project, Turkey wishes the Turkish Stream treaty to be evaluated separately. Russia, however, favors discussing the 10.25 percent reduction in gas prices to be paired with the Turkish Stream Project. The aim of Turkey, in this case, is to bring different terms to the negotiation table concerning the new line. Turkey wants guarantees not to relive the stress of “buy or pay” articles of previous gas agreements with this new pipeline project. However, the Turkish side has already reached an agreement within the scope of the Turkish Stream Project, with Russia, upon two of the total of four pipelines crossing underneath the Black Sea. The four pipelines together have a total export capacity of 63 billion cubic meters of gas. The capacity of the permitted two pipelines is 15.75 billion cubic meters. The aim is to utilize the gas from these lines mainly in the Turkish domestic market.

After all these developments, on October 6, the yearly capacity of the Turkish Stream gas line has been diminished from 63 billion cubic meters to 32 billion cubic meters by the decision of Russian energy company, Gazprom. It has been noted that with this decision the Russian-Turkish relations have declined even more. Actually Turkey is not in a position to risk its economic relations with Russia and both energy and economic relations with Moscow are of great importance for Turkey.

Therefore it is not possible for Turkey to take any harsh measures against Russia at present, since any such action can also seriously affect the November 1st general elections. The vulnerability of the Turkish Lira against the US dollar can increase. Due to all this, the prediction is that without support from USA, Turkey’s hand will grow weaker in Syrian policies and it will be left out of the field.

It is expected that Erdogan will continue his convergence policy with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries as before the Russian operations in Syria. As the leader of the Sunni bloke in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia together with Turkey wants them to stop soon. Keeping in mind the fact that the decisions on Turkish foreign policy are taken not by Erdogan but the National Security Council, after November 1 elections, in case of a CHP (Republican People’s Party)-AKP (Justice and Development Party) coalition there is a possibility of improvement in Turkish-Egyptian relations. That is why we can say this is one of the greatest expectations after November 1. elections. A CHP-AKP coalition is also expected to smooth out relations with Israel. Turkey, not getting the full support of US regarding Middle East policies, wants to adjust the political balance on his side by taking part in building the Sunni bloke and concurrently improving relations with Israel. So as a result, we can witness Russia’s super activity in the area together with Turkey settling relations with Israel and Egypt. Actually, my opinion is that Israel will have the priority.

In case of AKP getting enough votes to come to power alone, the expectation is a Middle East policy based on close relations with the Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The unfavorable relations between Turkey and Israel is expected to continue as it is. The relations with Egypt might be established again if the most important issue Morsi, the leader of Muslim Brothers, is freed.

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Middle East

Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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Middle East

Powershift in Knesset: A Paradigm of Israel’s Political Instability

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The dynamics of the Middle East are changing faster than anyone ever expected. For instance, no sage mind ever expected Iran to undergo a series of talks with the US and European nations to negotiate sanctions and curb its nuclear potential. And certainly, no political pundit could have predicted a normalization of diplomacy between Israel and a handful of Arab countries. The shocker apparently doesn’t end there. The recent shift in Israeli politics is a historic turnaround; a peculiar outcome of the 11-day clash. To probe, early June, a pack of eight opposition parties reached a coalition agreement to establish Israel’s 36th government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. While the political impasse has partly subsided, neither the 12-year prime minister is feeble nor is the fragile opposition strong enough to uphold an equilibrium.

Mr. Netanyahu currently serves as the caretaker prime minister of Israel. While the charges of corruption inhibited his drive in the office, he was responsible to bring notable achievements for Israel in the global diplomatic missions. Mr. Netanyahu, since assuming office in 2009, has bagged several diplomatic victories; primarily in reference to the long-standing conflict with Palestine and by extension, the Arab world. He managed to persuade former US President Donald J. Trump to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the contentious city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he managed to strike off the Palestinian mission in Washington whilst gaining success in severing US from the nuclear agreement with Iran. To the right-wing political gurus, Mr. Netanyahu stood as a symbolic figure to project the aspirations of the entire rightest fraction.

However, the pegs turned when Mr. Netanyahu refused to leave the office while facing a corruption trial. What he deemed as a ‘Backdoor Coup Attempt’ was rather criticized by his own base as a ruse of denial. By denying the charges and desecrating the judges hearing his case, Mr. Netanyahu started to undercut the supremacy of law. While he still had enough support to float above water, he lost the whelming support of the rightest faction which resulted in the most unstable government and four inconclusive elections in the past two years.

While Mr. Netanyahu was given the baton earlier by President Reuven Rivlin, he failed to convince his bedfellow politicians to join the rightest agenda. Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu probably hoped to regain support by inciting a head-on collision with the Palestinians. The scheme backfired as along with the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the tremors overtook Israel’s own Arab-Jewish cities resulting in mass chaos. The burning of Mosques and local Synagogues was hardly the expectation. Thus, both the raucous sentiment pervading the streets of Israel as well as the unstable nature of the Netanyahu-government led the rightest parties to switch sides.

As Mr. Netanyahu failed to convince a coalition government, the task was handed to Mr. Yair Lapid, a centrist politician. While the ideologies conflicted in the coalition he tried to forge, his counterparts, much like him, preferred to sideline the disputes in favor of dethroning Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid joined hands with a pool of political ideologies, the odd one being the conservative Yamina party led by the veteran politician, Mr. Naftali Bennett. While Mr. Lapid has been a standard-bearer for secular Israelis, Mr. Bennett has been a stout nationalist, being the standard-bearer for the rightest strata. To add oil to the fire, the 8-party coalition also includes an Arab Islamist party, Raam. A major conflict of beliefs and motivations.

Although the coalition has agreed to focus on technocratic issues and compromise on the ideological facets, for the time being, both the rightest and the leftish parties would be under scrutiny to justify the actions of the coalition as a whole. Mr. Bennett would be enquired about his take on the annexation of occupied West Bank, an agenda vocalized by him during his alliance with Mr. Netanyahu. However, as much as he opposes the legitimacy of the Palestinian state, he would have to dim his narrative to avoid a fissure in the already fragile coalition. Similarly, while the first independent Arab group is likely to assume decision-making in the government for the first time, the mere idea of infuriating Mr. Bennett strikes off any hope of representation and voice of the Arabs in Israel.

Now Mr. Netanyahu faces a choice to defer the imminent vote of confidence in Knesset whilst actively persuading the rightest politicians to abandon the coalition camp. His drive has already picked momentum as he recently deemed the election as the ‘Biggest Fraud in the History of Israeli Politics’. Furthermore, he warned the conservatives of a forthcoming leftist regime, taking a hit on Naftali colluding with a wide array of leftist ideologies. The coalition is indeed fragile, yet survival of coalition would put an end to Netanyahu and his legacy while putting Naftali and then Lapid in the office. However, the irony of the situation is quite obvious – a move from one rightest to the other. A move from one unstable government to a lasting political instability in Israel.

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Middle East

The Gaza War

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Destruction in Gaza following an Israeli strike in May 2021. UNOCHA/Mohammad Libed

On May 22, 2021, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei’s website, posted a congratulatory message from one of the Hamas group’s leaders, Ziad Nakhaleh. In his message, Ziad Nakhaleh addresses Khamenei and says, “Qasem Soleimani’s friends and brothers, especially Ismail Ghani (Iran’s IRGC commander) and his colleagues, led this battle and were present with us during our recent conflict with Israel. … We pray for the preservation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its brave soldiers.”

Since the regime’s establishment 42 years ago, Iran has been instrumental in inflicting war and chaos regionally. When Iran finds itself cornered and entangled with its internal problems or facing an impasse, a war or bloody conflict gets ignited by the regime to divert the Iranian people’s attention. This undeclared policy of the Iranian regime frees itself from the most pressing internal issues, even temporarily.

Today’s Iranian society is like a barrel of gunpowder ready to ignite. Last year, the Iranian parliament declared that more than 60 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. According to the media close to the regime, close to 80% of the population below the poverty line this year. It is worth mentioning that Iran is one of the top 10 wealthiest countries globally, despite the challenges of the current sanctions.

This poverty is mainly the result of rampant institutionalized government corruption. According to Qalibaf, the current speaker of Iran’s parliament, only 4 percent of the population is prosperous, and the rest are poor and hungry. The two uprisings of 2017 and mid-November 2019 that surprised the regime were caused mainly by extreme poverty and high inflation. The regime survived the above widespread uprisings by opening direct fire at the innocent protestors, killing more than 1500 people. There is no longer any legitimacy for the regime domestically and internationally.

The explosive barrel of the Iranian discontent is about to burst at any given moment. To delay such social eruption, Khamenei banned the import of COVID-19 vaccines from the US, Britain, and France, hoping the people will be occupied with the virus and forget about their miserable living conditions.

On the other hand, the Iranian regime is in the midst of new negotiations with the western countries regarding its nuclear program. These negotiations may force the regime to abandon its nuclear plans that have cost billions of dollars, its terrorist activities in the region, and its ballistic missiles stockpile. This retreat will inevitably facilitate the growth and spread of the uprisings and social unrest across Iran.

The Deadlock of the Regime

The regime is facing an election that could ignite the barrel of gunpowder of the Iranian society. In 1988, when Khamenei wanted to announce Ahmadinejad as the winner of the presidential ballot boxes but faced opposition from former Prime Minister Mousavi. Widespread demonstrations were ignited. The same scenario is repeating itself in this year’s presidential election, where Khamenei intends to announce Raisi as the next president of Iran. There is a legitimate fear that demonstrations will ignite once again.

To avoid the happening of the same experience, Khamenei is forced to make an important decision. Like any other dictator, he pursues a policy of contraction during these challenging and crucial times, deciding to favor those loyal to him and his policies. Khamenei needs a uniform and decisive government to exert maximum repression on the Iranian people.

By disqualifying the former president (Ahmadinejad), the current vice president (Jahangiri), and most importantly, his current adviser and speaker of the two parliaments (Larijani), he has cut loose a large part of his regime. One way or another, Khamenei’s contraction policy is going to weaken his grip on power.

On the other hand, the Iranian regime must comply with the West’s demand for nuclear talks. In 2021, the political landscape is entirely different from 2015 in the balance of regional and global forces. The regime’s regional influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria has been severely weakened.

There is an explosive situation inside Iran. The resistance units spread throughout Iran after the 2019 uprising and have rapidly increased in recent months. They are spreading the message of separation of religion from the government, plus equality between men and women in a society where women do not have the right to be elected as president or a minister. The resistance units call themselves supporters of Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian regime’s sworn enemy. These units can direct a massive flood of people’s anger towards the Supreme Leader’s establishments with every spark and explosion.

Khamenei wanted to force the West to lift all sanctions and demonstrate a show of force within Iran and the region by initiating the Gaza war. The Gaza war was intended to divert the attention from Khamenei’s decisions on Iran’s presidential election. In this situation, the regime wanted to break its presidential deadlock by firing rockets through Hamas and carrying out a massacre in Israel and Palestine.

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