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The recent death sentences in Saudi Arabia

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On January 3, 2016 Saudi Arabia sentenced to death, among others, Nimr al Nimr, aged 56, the Shi’ite Imam on its territory, and the Head of Al Qaeda, Faris Al Zahrani.

The condemnation of Nimr al Nimr had been confirmed by the Supreme Court last October for seeking “foreign meddling” in Saudi Arabia, “disobeying” its rulers and “taking up arms against the security forces”.

In 2011 Nimr, the spiritual leader of the two million Shi’ites living in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province – very rich in oil – had asked for the secession of its province from the Wahhabi Kingdom of the Al Saud family and its merger with Bahrain when, at that time, the Emirate was witnessing the insurgency of the Shi’ite majority against the Al Khalifa’ Sunni family, who rules it with a small minority of officials linked to Saudi Arabia.

Most of the 47 convicts executed were members of the core group of Al Qaeda operating in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and were held accountable for acts of terrorism in Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2006.

Among others, an Egyptian citizen and a citizen from Chad were executed.

Nimr Al Nimr’s brother launched an appeal for calm to the Shi’ites of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Eastern provinces and in the other Shi’ite countries of the region.

Before being executed, Nimr had studied in Qom and was the leader of the many Shi’ite militants living in the city of Qatif, but he never condemned the Saudi royal family.

The Imam of the “Party of Ali” had been arrested in 2012 and his trial had been condemned as irregular by many NGOs and most international organizations for human rights.

Everyone expected that King Salman, who rose to power after the death of his half-brother Abdullah in January 2015, wanted to show clemency, but this did not happen. Upon Nimr’s death, Saudi Arabia decreed the end of the “ceasefire” in force since December 15, 2015 in Yemen.

This was obviously a strategic goal: to deprive of morale the Houthi Shi’ite guerrillas in the clash with the pro-Saudi Yemen, which is now the “Vietnam of Saudi Arabia” and, in the event of Shi’ites’ victory, will allow to control the primary strategic and economic area of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Everything becomes clear if we examine the strategic equation of the Wahhabi Kingdom.

Firstly, with this death sentence of the Shi’ite Imam, Saudi Arabia forces the United States to choose between a continuation of the P5 + 1 Agreement with Iran and the strategic and financial connection with the Saudi Kingdom.

The strategic factor is well-known, considering that the US-Saudi alliance is the axis of the American presence in the Middle East, along with the agreement between the United States and Israel.

The financial connection has been operating since the agreement reached after the Yom Kippur War between the US banks and Saudi Arabia for the confidential recycling of petrodollars.

When their amount decreases, as now happens with the fall in the oil barrel price, the Saudi-US agreement loses importance, while, in fact, the United States seem to create a system of balance between the Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni world linked to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is weakening OPEC, for the excellent reason that now the Viennese agency is holding together the oil interests of two mortal enemies, namely the Shi’ites and the Sunnis. It is not unlikely for Saudi Arabia to soon revive the Sunni alliance, within OPEC, called OAPEC, the organization based in Kuwait, which was founded in 1968 by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and, coincidentally, Libya, to avoid political embargos after the “Six-Day War”.

That is a good hypothesis to clarify the future evolution of the still de facto “double” government currently operating in Libya.

Another strategic equation is related to the different configuration of the Shi’ite-Sunni conflict in the Greater Middle East: the significant minorities of the “Party of Ali” are everywhere, but they are in power only in Iran, while in Turkey they account for 20% (and we will soon witness the anti-Shi’ite fight operating in Turkey). In Iran the Shi’ites are 87% of the population; in the Lebanon the Party of Ali accounts for 47% (and the Sunnis account for 24%) and in Syria the true Shiites are 15%, apart from the Alawites who came to power with the Assads that the Imam Mussa Sadr, the founder of the “Amal” Party in the Lebanon, declared to be “true Shi’ites”, before disappearing in Tripoli, Libya, on August 31, 1978.

In Egypt the Shi’ites account for 3%, in Yemen 44%, in Bahrain 73%, in Kuwait 21%, in Qatar 18% and in Oman, the Emirate less prone to follow Saudi orders, the Shi’ites account for 5%.

Aside from the rule of taqiyya, the official denial of one’s own faith in the Imam Ali, which is permitted by the Shi’ite religious rules, the Shi’ites total 121 million people, while Sunnis are 191 million people.

In all likelihood, however, Iran will operate for the autonomy of the Amazigh movement, the Berbers in Libya who operate, in the region of Benghazi, against the Islamists and the Lebanese Hezbollah, who already operate in favor of Assad’s forces in Syria.

After the lifting of sanctions, the “sale and spinning” to the naïve West of its ambiguous policies to reduce nuclear weapons, Iran has the opportunity and the political lucidity to mobilize – if not now, in the near future – the significant Shi’ite minorities in all Sunni-ruled nations.

For Iran, too, it is a goal of hegemony over crude oil which works well precisely when the oil barrel price goes down and the geopolitical choices become – for some countries – a matter of life and death.

A struggle for possible hegemony which regards the second strategic factor, namely the “taking” of oil wells of either party, in a war which, for the time being, is a war of attrition (the Houthis in Yemen) and later, if pacification in Syria is in favor of Assad and Russia, it will turn into an overt and “traditional” war.

Russia has a dual interest, which is to maintain its presence in the Mediterranean region and to conquer a global interdiction power in the area that the United States are abandoning, completely bitten by their shale oil bug. Restricting NATO southward, towards its “jugular vein” in the Middle East, and excluding the Atlantic Alliance from the land corridor stretching from Ukraine to Georgia up to Poland. Russia aims at the land and sea lines which seal the Mediterranean region and subject it to the Russian Federation’s command and rule.

The Russian Federation wants the whole Mediterranean region and, in fact, with some sort of dullness and hard-headedness, NATO supports Turkey also after the shooting down of the Russian Sukhoi 24 aircraft which, indeed, was a way to call all the Atlantic Alliance to the war against Russia.

A goal only partially reached, considering that SHAPE – despite all possible naivety – did not follow Turkey in all its options against Russia in favor of its “Turkmen” guerrillas, which are a project of hegemony over the region when the Sunnis, who are a majority in Syria, are free from the Assad family and, hence, when Turkey’s hegemony may encompass all the populations of Turkish origin up to the Xing Kiang.

Nevertheless it shall face China there, which will not allow the presence of a NATO country along its borders – that is precisely the reason why the United States support Turkey.

Israel is still the strategic big winner in the region: it has witnessed a considerable reduction of Syrian pressure on the Golan Heights and it also sees the crisis of the Islamic world. Currently almost all Lebanese Hezbollah are in Syria, some top secret contacts with Saudi Arabia are already operating against Iran, which will launch its first nuclear bomb against what Tehran calls “the Zionist entity”.

All local players are weakening, but I imagine that Israel is arming against whoever of the two will win, even though today it looks as if it is going to be a long and complex war.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

Reigniting Chaos in Syria

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Syria has been the nexus of brutality and terror for almost a decade now; with more than 6 million natives who have already fled and numerous displaced over the territory itself, the region casts a ghastly shade that has only turned grimmer with time. Although the conflict seemingly raved its catastrophic footprint in early 2000, the root cause arguably always ends up to be the infamous ‘Arab Spring’ that actually tuned the Syrians against their very own regime. Something to compare and contrast that communal unity acted in Iraq’s benefit back when USA invaded the territory to avenge the 9/11 Attacks in 2003 while casted a fiasco in Syria when invaded in 2014. Large scale protests and rampaging violence gradually morphed into a series of relentless efforts to first deter Bashar Al-Asad’s efforts to first peacefully and then collaboratively resolving the raging unrest. Some would say it was inspired by the historical besiege of Libya and the subsequent execution of the Libyan prime minister Muammar al-Gaddafi as an ensue of that revolution yet Bashar Al-Asad proved a far more tensile force to overthrow. Such tumultuous turn of events, lead Syria to first economic sanctions followed by severe isolation in the global community opposing and downright rejecting Assad’s actions to curb the political tremors. Yet intermittent interventions, both implicit and explicit, by the western powers and their counter-parts have defined the region more as a battle ground of mercenary motives instead of mere efforts to safeguard human rights and ensuring regional peace.

Since 2011, three core actors have remained active in skirmishes that have more oftener than not transformed into battles of gore and toil and sometimes even full-fledged wars that have not only dismembered the expanse of over an 185,000 kmof land into mounds of dust and rubble with terror now crawling over the lanes but have even shuddered the immediate vicinity. With the downfall and perpetual dissipation of ISIS, losing much of its occupied land to active contenders, Assad’s militia and Kurdish forces remain the helming competitors along with a smattering of other oppositions like Jaish al Fateh and Nusrta Front. The conflict between the Kurdish forces backed by the US regime against ISIS and then eventual betrayal on the Turkish front had been a matter of contentions in the latter part of 2019; Kurds making it abundantly clear to harness the borders they surmise to be rightly theirs while Turkish policies, especially under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been outright fearless and needless of any other inference regarding their austere stance over the issue; claiming their bordering territories and inferring stern response in case of any dissension caused by the Kurds.

However, the outlining threat in the recent time can be perceived at a novel yet a totally realistic stage, where proxy wars no longer remain the ground reality of armed unrest in Syria. This notion has arisen since harsh words were exchanged between Moscow and Ankara; the metropolis’ of the neighbouring giants: Russia and Turkey respectively. A glimpse in the historical scaffolding of the entire Syrian conflict, Russia has always backed Assad’s regime despite its initial block over Syrian policies revolving over strategies to deal with the blooming protests in the early tremors of the Arab Spring who’s effects had started to resonate in the entire Middle East following up on Ground 0, Tunisia. The vantage point of Russia, however, shifted when the political paradigm was drastically nudged by the terror-driven escalation of ISIS after severe US blunders and baffling retreat from Syria that even threatened the sovereignty and security of the region following their besiege of the state of Raqqa, establishing ISIS as a looming concern, thereby aligning the aims of both Russian reign and Assad’s regime, ultimately inciting a continued alliance. Turkey, on the other hand, being the northern neighbour to Syria also contended as a root protagonist in economic isolation of Assad’s government, imposing stringent financial sanctions that tightened the bottlenecks and eventually led to the deterioration of their financial virility that already staggered after sanctions and embargos placed by both EU and USA.

This conflict that permeates in the north-western terrain of Syria lilts an innuendo that a spark may be brewing between the two nations. The besieged province of Idlib exudes the source of the strife; an area that has witnessed countless Turkish troops slain by Assad’s forces in cross-border disputes; close to seven Turkish soldiers were recently killed in a thorough retaliation of Syrian forces in the de-escalation zone, much to Turkey’s dismay. However, the Russian involvement in backing the Syrian government in their dissent in Idlib and heavily bombing of the territory with artillery servers as a link to presumably leading a head-on conflict between Russia and Turkey; hinted by Erdoğan that any effort made in the region will not go answered, clearly warning the Russian forces to avoid any transgression that could cause fatality to their personnel. The people of Syria, blended with the rebels, look in the eye of a dead end; bombardments to deter the tyrants have shredded their innocent bodies similar to the incursions in Eastern Ghouta and with no one on their side but with ulterior incentives, they are left with no choice but to see Turkey as a savior. To any sane mind, however, its not really a complex interface of modes and interests involved. With clash of alliances, historical narrative of both the world wars fought, coherently brings about the model of war despite a never-ending argument at whim. Without contesting any theory by any analyst, its imperative to gauge at the systematic progression of the tensions flowing yet not mitigating. Turkey being stranded from its western allies and Arab assistance in wake of the murder conspiracy and being locked in a bound-to-doom NATO relation with Russia, the outcome of this steady conflict can bring about equal amount of damage yet in lesser of a decade and more pandemic effects.

Recent Israeli airstrikes targeted the Iran-linked elements in Syria. One of the biggest attacks even in at least half a decade period of relative dormancy in the region hint at the start of something gruesome. The attacks pointed Iran-backed sites like Al-Bukamal in intensity, riddling the city that acts as a focal point to Iran’s influence over and beyond the borders of Baghdad and Damascus, as well as paving way to militants from the fore stretch of Lebanon. The attacks reportedly served as an active Israeli position against the Irani militants and revolutionary guards, casting a heavy presence in the core hit areas of the province of Dair al Zor, claiming 57 casualties. The attack assumes a step-up stance of Israel picking up from a cold targeted strike within Iran, months back, eliminating the crucial scientific figure of Iran, that earned promises of retaliation both from the military leads and the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

These attacks nurture an underlying message of Israel following on the shadow war footsteps dictated under the premiership of Mr. Donald Trump. Now, with his nefarious exit from the presidential office following the riots at US Capitol and Mr. Biden’s ascension to power just days away, Israel insinuates its true deterrence of Iran’s growing influence and hostility in the expansive areas of Southern, North-western and Eastern regions of Syria. With US intelligence cultivating the Israeli position in Syria while Iran enriching its plans of Nuclear power along with backing militias under the lead of Lebanese force of Hezbollah, a possibility of another proxy clash is re-emerging in the peripheries of Syria. Now as Israel continues to welcome Arab nations to set camp around Syria to end Tehran’s influence, US faces a tough choice in over a decade to either exit the war before it even flames or repeat their interference regretted since the Arab Spring to jump headfirst into another round of decade long destruction.

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Post Trump Palestine

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Al-Walaja, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. Photo: UNRWA/Marwan Baghdadi

The unconditional United States’ political, financial and military support to Israel enabled the latter to occupy the Palestinian territories. The former became involved in Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an arbiter to resolve the issue. But the foreign policy of US has always remained tilt to Israeli interests. From recognizing Israel as sovereign state in 1947 to accepting Jerusalem as capital of Israel has clearly unearthed the biased attitude of US for Israel.

Similarly, Trump also adopted the traditional stance of Washington on Palestine, i.e. outright support for Israel. Trump’s policy regarding Israeli-Palestinian conflict was more aggressive but not in contradiction with his predecessors’. For instance, he brought into reality the law passed by US congress in 1995 that recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, shifted US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closed office of Palestine Liberation Organization PLO in Washington DC in Sept 2018 and closed US consulate in East Jerusalem the area under Palestinian control. His bigotry against Palestinians unveiled more distinctly when he announced defunding of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the UN agency that provides food, education and healthcare to the refugees. Moreover during his regime in November 2018 the state department of US proclaimed that the construction of Israeli settlements in West Bank does not come under the ambit of violation of international humanitarian laws. Certainly, the belligerent policies in last four years of trump era paved the way for the colonization of Palestine by Israel and helped the latter to put unlawful restrictions on Palestinians making them deprived of all civil liberties and peace.

As per world report-2020by Human Rights Watch HRW, Palestinian citizens are restrained from all basic necessities of life such that, education, basic healthcare, clean water and electricity. The movement of people and goods to and from Gaza strip is also inhibited. According to World Health Organization WHO 34 percent of applications by Palestinians, for medical appointments outside Gaza strip, were not addressed by Israeli army. Moreover, HRW report states that the Israeli government destroyed 504 homes of Palestinians in West Bank during 2019 and facilitated 5995 housing settlements for Israelis. The country is trying at utmost to eradicate indigenous Palestinians from their home land. According to United Nations’ Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs UNOCHA, the demolitions of Palestinian homes displaced 642 people in 2019 and 472 in 2018.Moreover, the illicit attacks by Israeli side have killed hundreds of innocent citizens in the same years. According to UNOCHA on November 11, 2020, 71 innocent Palestinian citizens were killed by Israeli forces while 11,453 were lethally injured in a single day. Furthermore, UN secretary general exhorted that Israeli armed forces have infringed the children’s rights during the conflict as in 2018, 56 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli armed forces.

While, other international actors criticized the Israeli annexations of the region and declared it as violation of international humanitarian laws, US supported the Israeli escalations in West Bank. The former also stopped aid support through USAID for Gaza strip where eighty percent of population depends upon aid. Such partial attitude of US has put the country outside the international consensus on the issue. Apparently, US pretend its position as arbiter but her policies accredited the colonization of Palestine by Israel.

Thus, it seems futile to expect any big change in US policies regarding Israeli-Palestinian issue during forthcoming administrations. However, the president-elect Joe Bidden may alter some of the trump’s decisions such as reopening of Palestine Liberation Organization PLO in Washington, resuming funding of UNRWA and reopening of US consulate in East Jerusalem.  But his policies will not contradict the congress’ stance on the issue. As, he and his team have clearly mentioned prior to elections that they will not shift back the US embassy to Tel Aviv as it seems politically and practically insensible to them. Moreover, Blinken, the candidate for secretary of state in Joe’s upcoming regime, made it clear through his controversial statements, that the imminent president will inherit historic US position on Palestine-Israel dispute. Further, Chinese expansionism, Russian intervention in American and European affairs and Iran nuclear deal issue would remain the main concerns of foreign affairs of US during initial period of Joe Biden’s regime. He is likely to favor the status quo in Palestine and remain focused on other foreign interests. In addition to this the inclination of Arabian Gulf to develop relations with Israel will also hinder the adherence for Palestinians from the gulf countries. Subsequently, it will enable Israelis to continue seizing the Palestinian territories into Israel and leave indigenous Palestinians stateless in their own land.

Summing up, it is significant for Palestinians to continue their struggle for the homeland and seek support from other international actors to marginalize Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territories. As well as, the peace accord of 1993 signed in between both nations, to share the holy land, should also be revoked by both countries.  Both nations should try to resolve the issue on equitable grounds by negotiations so that either side could not be deprived of its interests.

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An Enemy Among Us

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The upcoming talks regarding the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, that are due to take place on January 25, should not disillusion us from the dangers of Turkey’s unilateral aggression on all fronts. Erdogan has made no real efforts to improve ties with the EU, except for the occasional vain promise of turning over a new leaf. Since October, he has urged the Muslim world to boycott French products, continued gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, blatantly ignored the arms embargo in Libya and has aided Azerbaijan in committing war crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Despite the numerous warnings issued by the EU and the many failed attempts at resolving the crisis in the East Med diplomatically, the latest EU summit concluded with an anti-climactic promise to sanction certain Turkish officials regarding the East Med. This minimally symbolic promise could only be described as a mere slap on the wrist that will prove unsuccessful in deterring Turkey’s belligerent tendencies. Turkey’s increasingly hostile attitude, its callous use of the refugee crisis and its clear violation of international law in the East Med, Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh represent a danger to European values, identity and security.

We are witnessing before our eyes a dictator in the making who dreams of a return of the Ottoman empire and seeks to destroy the democratic and secular legacy of Atatürk. He is a fervent supporter of political islam – particularly the muslim brotherhood – and he relentlessly accuses the West of wanting to ‘relaunch the crusades’ against Islam. In fact, since 2014, Erdogan and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) have continuously facilitated cross-border movement into Syria and shipped illegal arms to a number of radical jihadist groups. The Turkish government also uses SADAT Defense, an islamist paramilitary group loyal to Erdogan, to aid groups that can be considered as terrorist organizations such as Sultan Murad Division and Ahrar al-Sham in Northern Syria and use their jihadi fighters to send to Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and, most recently, Kashmir in order to bolster Turkey’s foreign policy.

Erdogan uses a mixture of islamism and nationalism to expand Turkey’s influence around the world and to consolidate power within. The two most influential factions in Turkey are the radical islamists and secular neo-nationalists, who despise each other but share a deep disdain for the west. Courtesy of neo-nationalist and former Maoist terrorist leader Dogu Perinçek, the NATO member has also enjoyed warmer ties with Russia and China over the past 5 years. As a result of these shifts in alliances and growing anti-western sentiments, Turkey is becoming increasingly at odds with the West. 

Furthermore, the growing discontent at home pushes him to adopt more aggressive tactics, divisive policies and his behavior mirrors that of a panicked authoritarian leader. Erdogan is desperately looking for a conflict to distract the Turkish population from the fall of the lira, the spread and mishandling of COVID-19, and the overall declining economy that predates the pandemic. Turkey’s future will most likely be determined by the upcoming general election that is set to take place within the next three years. If Erdogan wins the next election, it will solidify his power and bring him one step closer in turning Turkey into a dictatorship. During his stay in power, he has already conducted a series of purges to weaken and silence dissidents. Turkey now has the most imprisoned journalists in the world. 

Yet, the loss of Istanbul and Ankara in the last municipal election of 2019 demonstrate his declining popularity, and offer a glimmer of hope for the opposition. Political figures like the new mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, or the new mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, represent a brighter future for Turkey. Erdogan currently finds himself in a position of weakness, which represents a rare window of opportunity for the EU to strike. Unfortunately, the EU remains deeply divided on how to handle a situation that continues to deteriorate. It seems that some member states, particularly Germany, are holding on to the naive belief that Erdogan can still be reasoned with. 

Our reluctance to impose the slightest sanctions against Turkey demonstrates our division and weakness, which emboldens the neo-sultan. A strong and united response from the European Union is the only way to curb Erdogan’s expansionist agenda. This should include renegotiating the migrant pact, imposing targeted sanctions against SADAT Defense and its leader Adnan Tanrıverdi, imposing an arms embargo, suspending the EU-Turkey customs union and finally suspending Turkey’s membership in NATO. 

Ultimately, Erdogan’s bellicose foreign policy and his contentious nationalist-islamist rhetoric makes it impossible to consider Erdogan’s Turkey as our ally. As the EU reaches out yet another olive branch, Erdogan has his eye on the wars to come. 

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