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New Emerging Saudi – Egypt relations

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Syrian crisis has provided significant stimulus for the Saudi kingdom to act quickly to bring all West Asian Muslim powers under one strategic umbrella that, in turn, led to Saudi king to resort to active shuttle diplomacy in the region, shoring up support for a peaceful Mideast. Arab world has been in turmoil for years now, sacrificing millions of Muslims without any real cause.

There have been a series of visits by Saudi leaders, including the king Salman himself, to Turkey and Egypt to expand the Saudi’s diplomatic profile in the region. King Salman’s recent first ever visit to Egypt plays important role in streamlining the Saudi led Mideastern relations in general.

Unlike Turkey which is focused on establishment of Palestine state at the earliest and containing of Israeli arrogance and military aggression with a legal framework, Egypt, supporting Israeli aggression and creating joint terror blockades around Palestine, thereby making the Palestinians feel suffocation, seeks economic assistance from Saudi Arabia.

Turkey pursues friendly policy towards Saudi Arabia and Iran and seeks Egyptian help to make the Mideast tension free and free from illegally nuclearized Israeli aggression.

Royal visit

Saudi Arabia’s King cum PM Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz concluded a five-day visit to Egypt on April 11, before he left for Saudi Arabia. King Salman arrived in Cairo on April 07 on his first official state visit to Egypt since ascending to the Saudi throne in January 2015. Saudi king Salman was greeted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi upon arrival. King Salman met grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highly prestigious Sunni educational institution, on Saturday. The Saudi leader delivered a speech in the Egyptian parliament. Salman previously visited Egypt’s southern Sinai city of Sharm El-Sheikh in March 2015 for an Arab League summit.

During his five-day visit, the king pledged billions of dollars in new investment for the cash-challenged country and the two sides signed four agreements worth roughly 22 billion dollars. As the latest Saudi policy, the Saudi king called for Egyptian cooperation against extremism and terrorism. The visit comes at a time when Egypt is suffering political and economic pressures due to years of domestic political turmoil that led to economic recession and security challenges resulting from regional chaos.

The two sides have signed eight agreements, six memos of understanding and three cooperation programs that covered fields including education, health, housing, agriculture, electricity and marine transportation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing King Salman University in the North Sinai city of Tour. Among the agreements signed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia during the visit are those related to housing projects in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, the establishment of King Salman University in Tur town of South Sinai, the development of Egypt’s largest public hospital Qasr al-Aini, the building of a power station in western Cairo and the formation of a joint investment fund with a capital of 60 billion Saudi riyals -about 16 billion dollars. “All these agreements show the seriousness of the Saudi side to support the Egyptian economy, as there will be capital flow to Egypt which means there will be more employment and economic movement in the country in the near future.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing a land bridge to connect the two countries, visiting King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz said in a joint press conference. “The land bridge will be named after King Salman,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said. Earlier, President al-Sisi has granted the Saudi king, who arrived on Thursday in Cairo for a five-day visit, the Collar of the Nile. The two sides have signed eight agreements, six memos of understanding and three cooperation programs that covered fields including education, health, housing, agriculture, electricity and marine transportation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing King Salman University in the North Sinai city of Tour.

For his part, Sissi transferred to the Saudis sovereignty of two islands in the Straits of Tiran that were contested by both countries. The two uninhabited islands that Sissi gave to the Saudi king are of enormous strategic importance, lying at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba from where it can control access to Jordan’s Port of Aqaba, Israel’s Port of Eilat. Sissi went out on a political limb to gift the two islands to the Saudis, a very unpopular move among Egyptians.

The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit to Cairo as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.” In a show of support for President General Abdel-Fatteh Al-Sissi, the king pledged billions of dollars in new investment for the cash-challenged country. For his part, Sissi transferred sovereignty to the Saudis of two islands in the Straits of Tiran that were contested by both countries. The Saudi king called for cooperation against extremism and terrorism.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also agreed on establishing a land bridge to connect the two countries, visiting King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz said in a joint press conference. “The land bridge will be named after King Salman,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said. Earlier, President al-Sisi has granted the Saudi king, who arrived in Cairo for a five-day visit, the Collar of the Nile. (Such honors have become a customary phenomenon in bilateral visits as a sign of willingness on the part of the host nation for future ties)

The Saudi investors show awareness that their investment in Egypt today is investment in the future, because politically Egypt represents a political weight and strategic depth for the Gulf region, and economically investments in Egypt are promising and fruitful.

However, Saudi investment in Egypt is nothing new, as Saudi business tycoons have been investing in the country over the past few decades. Today, it is the Saudi government that pumps investments into Egypt, which is a new and positive aspect and an indicator of the soundness and healthiness of the investment environment in Egypt, Saleh explained.

Sisi in Riyadh

Before taking over power in Cairo, Sissi had illegally toppled the first ever elected president of Egypt Mohammad Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood in a bloodless coup and established his residency with support from Saudi Arabia and USA, among others.

The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit to Cairo as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.” Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of US dollars to help revive the country’s economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Earlier, Egyptian President Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had visited the kingdom in 2015 for economic support. On 02 March 2015, visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held in-depth talks in Riyadh over the thorny regional issues before discussing the economic package for Egypt. The two leaders highlighted the current crisis in the Middle East and reviewed aspects of bilateral cooperation. They emphasized the depth of strategic relations between the two countries. The meeting also addressed the security conditions following the growing political chaos in Yemen. During a TV interview, Sisi said the two countries need to coordinate considering the “difficult condition” in the Arab region. Sisi’s visit was the latest in a series of meetings in Riyadh between Salman and top officials from his Gulf neighbors and Jordan.

Since late March, Egypt has joined a Saudi-led military coalition that has been launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen, who have seized several cities in the country since September 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and have recently forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Egypt is currently providing naval support to the coalition, which has been airdropping weapons and equipment supplies to pro-Hadi tribal militia in Aden to fight against the Houthi militants. Despite Russia’s abstaining, the UN Security Council voted in favor of an arms embargo against the Houthis and the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution also imposed sanctions on the Shiite group, demanding its withdrawal from the Yemeni areas it has previously seized.

Later, on 15 April 2015, during a Saudi minister’s visit to Cairo, Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to carry out a major strategic military maneuver in the latter’s territory, which is to be joined by other Gulf and Arab states, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement. The statement came after a meeting between al-Sisi and visiting Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, who had also held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sedqi Sobhi. “Egypt represents one of the main and effective forces to achieve security and stability in the Middle East region,” the Saudi defense minister said.

Egyptian revolution

During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Saudi King Abdullah expressed support for Hosni Mubarak. “No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred. As they condemn this, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people and government declares it stands with all its resources with the government of Egypt and its people.” He condemned the “people who tried to destabilize the security and stability of Egypt.

On 10 May 2012, ambassador Kattan announced that the kingdom agreed to provide US$500 million in aid to Egypt and will deposit an additional US$1 billion at the country’s central bank as part of the $2.7 billion support package they had agreed in 2011. Saudi Arabia will also export $250 million worth of butane to Egypt, which has faced ongoing shortages of the fuel, as well as US$200 million to help small and mid-sized firms. The donation was part of a move by multiple Gulf States to send a large aid package to Egypt.

Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s first official visit was to Saudi Arabia in July 2012, although his views are not fully aligned with those of the Saudi government. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi stated that Saudi Arabia is a pragmatic country and that whoever the president of Egypt is, Saudi government is aware of the fact that it has to maintain good relations with this country.

Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of US dollars to help revive the country’s economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. On 10 May 2012, the Saudi kingdom agreed to provide US$500 million in aid to Egypt and will deposit an additional US$1 billion at the country’s central bank as part of the $2.7 billion support package they had agreed in 2011. Saudi Arabia also exports $250 million worth of butane to Egypt, which has faced ongoing shortages of the fuel, as well as US$200 million to help small and mid-sized firms. The donation was part of a move by multiple Gulf States to send a large aid package to Egypt.

Saudi Arabia has been the key backer of al-Sisi since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 after mass protests against his one-year rule. It has pumped billions of dollars to help and invest into Egypt’s battered economy. King Salman met grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highly prestigious Sunni educational institution; the Saudi leader also delivered a speech in the Egyptian parliament. Sisi’s visit was the latest in a series of meetings in Riyadh between Salman and top officials from his Gulf neighbors and Jordan.

According to Saudi Press Agency, on 02 March 2015, the visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held in-depth talks in Riyadh over the thorny regional issues. The two leaders highlighted the current crisis in the Middle East and reviewed aspects of bilateral cooperation. They emphasized the depth of strategic relations between the two countries. The meeting also addressed the security conditions following the growing political chaos in Yemen. During a TV interview, Sisi said the two countries need to coordinate considering the “difficult condition” in the Arab region.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia on 15 April 2015 agreed to carry out a major strategic military maneuver in the latter’s territory, which is to be joined by other Gulf and Arab states, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement. The statement came after a meeting between al-Sisi and visiting Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, who had also held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sedqi Sobhi. “Egypt represents one of the main and effective forces to achieve security and stability in the Middle East region,” the Saudi defense minister said.

Since late March, Egypt has joined a Saudi-led military coalition that has been launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen, who have seized several cities in the country since September 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and have recently forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. In return for economic aid, Egypt is currently providing naval support to the Saudi led coalition, which has been airdropping weapons and equipment supplies to pro-Hadi tribal militia in Aden to fight against the Houthi militants.

Despite Russia’s abstaining, the UN Security Council voted in favor of an arms embargo against the Houthis and the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution also imposed sanctions on the Shiite group, demanding its withdrawal from the Yemeni areas it has previously seized.

Past

In the years immediately after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia were cordial, though driven by mutual suspicion of the Hashemites reigning in Jordan and especially Iraq at the time, and continuing from an anti-Hashemite alliance formed by King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, King Farouk of Egypt and President Shukri al-Quwatli of Syria after the foundation of the Arab League in 1945. Subsequently President Gamal Abdel Nasser and King Saud of Saudi Arabia co-operated to limit the reach of the Baghdad Pact, which they felt was designed to increase the influence of Hashemite Iraq. As a result, the two countries signed a bilateral military pact in 1955, and worked to successfully prevent Jordan from joining the Baghdad Pact.

Egypt came to have extensive involvement in the Saudi army, economy and education system. However the alliance was undermined by Saudi anxieties about the Egyptian government’s promotion of anti-monarchical forces in the Arab World, including the uncovering of an Egyptian-style Saudi Free Officers Movement and increasing labor unrest, Egypt’s increasing shift towards the Soviet Union, and efforts by Iraq and its western allies including the United States to drive a wedge between the two countries.

Under President Nasser, Egypt, backed by the Soviet Union, came to represent the Non-Aligned Movement and pan-Arabism, and was a nominal advocate of secularism and republicanism. The Saudis by contrast were strong supporters of absolute monarchy and Islamist theocracy, and were generally close to the governments of the United Kingdom and USA.

By 1958 this deterioration in the relationship apparently had led to King Saud offering a bribe of £1.9 million to Abdel Hamid al-Sarraj, the head of Syrian intelligence at the time and later Vice-President of the United Arab Republic, to secure the assassination of Nasser. An era of tension between Egypt and Saudi Arabia set in, negatively impacting the pan Arab nationalism.

Arrival of Mubarak as Egyptian leader tried to put the bilateral ties with Saudi back to normal footing. Unlike the situation at the time of Nasser, Mubarak’s Egypt – a conservative dictatorship closely allied with Washington – no longer represented an ideological or political polar opposite to Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, there remained mutual suspicion and a rivalry between the two countries, both aspiring to preeminence in the Arab World in general and among the Arab allies of the US in particular. Saudi’s preeminence remained intact, however.

Present

Egypt has been in need of the economic push because the country is suffering declining foreign currency reserves, shortage of US dollars and low investment growth rates. All these investments will have a very positive effect on Egypt and it needs them at least until the end of 2016 to evaluate the investments based on how much funds will have been pumped into Egypt, what investments will have been initiated, etc.

After the 2011 turmoil, the economic growth was as low as 1.5 percent and it gradually increased until it reached 4.5 percent in the current fiscal year and is expected to reach 5.5 percent in the coming fiscal year as the government stated, which shows that Egypt is on the rise economically,” the political economy professor illustrated. Over the past five years, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves declined from 36 billion US dollars in 2011 to 16.5 billion dollars as of end of March 2016, and the government is currently struggling to reduce an ongoing budget deficit of about 36 billion dollars.

The Saudi Egypt rivalry manifested itself, for example, when President Barack Obama made a major tour of the Middle East in 2009, soon after assuming power. The Saudis resented Obama’s choice of Cairo as the venue for making a key policy speech, and State Department officials made an effort to mollify the Saudi leadership by following up the Cairo speech with a high-profile Presidential visit to the Saudi capital.

The USA views Mideast with Israel playing the central role. Obama also shamelessly continued the traditional US policy for essentially fascist Israeli, though in a low key. He also visited Israel and enjoyed life with Jewish criminals, invited them to White House for “talks’. The democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is wooing the strong Jewish lobbyists in USA and Israeli regime as well to support her candidature.

Egypt has been facing Western political pressure, particularly from Italy, after the recent death of an Italian young student Giulio Regeni in Cairo and Italy’s suspicion of the involvement of the Egyptian police in the tragedy, to the point that the Western country recalled its ambassador to Cairo for consultations. Saudi King’s visit has a political dimension, as it indicates a sort of support to Egypt amid some political challenges, including the case of Italian Giulio Regeni’s death in Cairo.

Egypt has conducted feasibility studies for these Saudi projects to ensure their benefit to the Egyptian economy. When the Saudi funds are transferred to Egypt, they will positively affect the value of the US dollar compared to the Egyptian pound as they will increase the currency reserves at the Egyptian central bank, and if they do not devaluate the dollar, they will at least stop the current deterioration of the Egyptian pound.

Observation

The just concluded five-day visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Egypt represents Riyadh’s willingness for political and economic support for Cairo to overcome its current challenges. The visit saw the signing of agreements of Saudi investments in Egypt worth about 25 billion US dollars, and joint projects.

Saudi investments in Egypt may lead to more Gulf investments in Egypt, since the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are greatly interrelated politically and economically. However, Saudi Arabia has to focus on a very important issue- establishment of Palestine in Mideast. True, so long as Israel is in Mideast, it won’t allow Palestine to get UN recognition as a full state, though it has won defacto recognition in the UN general assembly against the will of US-Israeli twins.

Saudi Arabia has been strenuously making efforts to free Palestine from Israeli terror regime but without any success. Israel and Egypt are jointly causing existential problems with terror blockades from both sides for the besieged Palestinians and Gaza Strip where the Hamas rules is the prime target of Israeli military, attacking it regularly on fictitious pretexts. Even turkey’s efforts to breach the blockades to free Gaza Strip have ended in Israeli military attacks on the Turkish aidships.

It is a fact that Israeli aggression on Palestine territories continue with its military using US terror goods and Pentagon services. Israel and its major terror ally USA very conveniently use the Hamas-Fatah conflict to divide the Palestinians and create obstacles for the establishment of much delayed Palestine state.

Saudi kingdom could use its new friendship with Egyptian regime to remove the blockade from its side so that Palestinians could begin to live human life. Giving justice to the Palestinians should be the key objective of new Saudi Egyptian relations.

Saudi-Egyptian ties are bound to grow in strength and depth with increasing number of mutual visits from both sides at high levels. Economic and security ties will gather momentum.

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*

The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.

Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.

As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.

But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.

This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.

To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.

The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.

For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.

Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.

Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.

The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.

Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.

* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

From our partner RIAC

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Iran’s Impunity Will Grow if Evidence of Past Crimes is Fully Destroyed

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No reasonable person would deny the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But that issue must not be allowed to continue overshadowing Iran’s responsibility for terrorism and systematic human rights violations. These matters represent a much more imminent threat to human life, as well as longstanding denials of justice for those who have suffered from the Iranian regime’s actions in the past.

The Iranian people have risen multiple times in recent years to call for democratic change. In 2017, major uprisings broke out against the regime’s disastrous policies. Although the ruling clerics suppressed those protests, public unrest soon resumed in November 2019. That uprising was even broader in scope and intensity. The regime responded by opening fire on crowds, murdering at least 1,500. Amnesty International has reported on the torture that is still being meted out to participants in the uprising.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organizations have continued to repeat longstanding calls for increased attention to some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the regime in previous years.

Last year, Amnesty International praised a “momentous breakthrough” when seven UN human rights experts demanded an end to the ongoing cover-up of a massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

The killings were ordered by the regime’s previous supreme leader Khomeini, who declared that opponents of the theocracy were “enemies of God” and thus subject to summary executions. In response, prisons throughout Iran convened “death commissions” that were tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views. Those who rejected the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were hanged, often in groups, and their bodies were dumped mostly in mass graves, the locations of which were held secret.

In the end, at least 30,000 political prisoners were massacred. The regime has been trying hard to erase the record of its crimes, including the mass graves. Its cover-up has unfortunately been enabled to some degree by the persistent lack of a coordinated international response to the situation – a failure that was acknowledged in the UN experts’ letter.

The letter noted that although the systematic executions had been referenced in a 1988 UN resolution on Iran’s human rights record, none of the relevant entities within that international body followed up on the case, and the massacre went unpunished and underreported.

For nearly three decades, the regime enforced silence regarding any public discussion of the killings, before this was challenged in 2016 by the leak of an audio recording that featured contemporary officials discussing the 1988 massacre. Regime officials, like then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi, told state media that they were proud of committing the killings.

Today, the main victims of that massacre, the principal opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), are still targets of terrorist plots on Western soil, instigated by the Iranian regime. The most significant of these in recent years was the plot to bomb a gathering organized near Paris in 2018 by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Free Iran rally was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as hundreds of political dignitaries, and if the attack had not been prevented by law enforcement, it would have no doubt been among the worst terrorist attacks in recent European history.

The mastermind of that attack was a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi. He was convicted in a Belgian court alongside three co-conspirators in February. But serious critics of the Iranian regime have insisted that accountability must not stop here.

If Tehran believes it has gotten away with the 1988 massacre, one of the worst crimes against humanity from the late 20th century, it can also get away with threatening the West and killing protesters by the hundreds. The ongoing destruction of mass graves demonstrates the regime’s understanding that it has not truly gotten away with the massacre as long as evidence remains to be exposed.

The evidence of mass graves has been tentatively identified in at least 36 different cities, but a number of those sites have since been covered by pavement and large structures. There are also signs that this development has accelerated in recent years as awareness of the massacre has gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the destruction currently threatens to outpace the campaign for accountability, and it is up to the United Nations and its leading member states to accelerate that campaign and halt the regime’s destruction of evidence.

If this does not happen and the 1988 massacre is consigned to history before anyone has been brought to justice, it will be difficult to compel Tehran into taking its critics seriously about anything, be it more recent human rights violations, ongoing terrorist threats, or even the nuclear program that authorities have been advancing in spite of the Western conciliation that underlay 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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