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Turkey’s foreign policy reorientation

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Today, Turkey is facing three major problems and though it employs diplomatic skills to cater for the redress of those problems, it has not been able to overcome the obstacles. The three issues the former Ottoman Empire is facing are: one, its EU membership efforts against which many European countries raise opposition, making Istanbul’s entry into the European parliament as a legitimate European state difficult, though the present Brexit move gives hopes for its speedy entry; two, the Kurdish problem, fueled by outside sources which has given a constant headache for the ruling AKP and its leader Erdogan; and three, its effort to lead Islamic world that are spoiled by war in Syria. Turkey’s chances of becoming a veto power depend on the successful handling by the government of these issues.

Turkey is doing a faster burn on the Kurds. Having waged a fierce war against Kurdish separatists in southern Turkey, the Turkish government has taken military action against the Kurds of Iraq and Syria to prevent Kurdish forces from connecting two enclaves — one in Iraq and one in Syria — that could form the geographic beginning of an independent Kurdistan.

Although Turkey has successfully resolved to sort out its issues with Russia and Israel so that it could put at rest the challenges from both these powerfully dictatorial states controlling the wars in Mideast by coordinating their destabilizing operations along with USA.

When it found its assertive diplomacy is not yielding the desired fruits, Turkey has revised its strategy and renewed its ties with both Russia and Israel.

Turkey and Russia

A NATO member Turkey and an anti-NATO Russia do not have close ties and in fact ideally they cannot cooperate in international politics, either. In fact, Turkey joined the NATO very early when it felt the Soviet threat and the NATO used Istanbul in order to assert its ‘traditional” control over Islamic world, including Arab world and Iran. USA and UK and other big powers skillfully divided Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt to deny them a place on the important UNSC veto system and made them fight for just non-veto position on the UNSC for usual two years by rotation. In fact, these top Islamic nations bitterly opposed each other on the UNSC with veto, unlike Russia which fought for China, its communist ally then, on the veto regime. .

Bilateral trade was normal

In the first four months of the year, Turkey’s exports to Russia dropped to $484.6 million, a 61.5 percent decrease compared to the same period of 2015. The head of the Agriculturalists Association of Turkey (TZOB) earlier noted that his sector’s losses had reached $290 million over the year due to the political problems with Russia. “Russia’s share in our fresh fruit and vegetable exports was 39 percent on an amount basis and 42 percent on a value basis. The sector’s exports have been negatively affected since sanctions were imposed by Russia on Jan. 1. While Turkey made around $368.2 million in revenue in exchange for around 530,000 tons of fresh fruit and vegetable exports to Russia in the first five months of 2015, this figure plunged to around $78.2 million of revenue for some 113,000 tons of exports”.

A downturn in relations occasioned by Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet last November especially impacted economic and trade ties. When Turkey developed tension with Russia over the latter’s violation of Turkey’s air space, Israel moved swiftly to win over Russia and Netanyahu became a regular visit to President Putin’s office in Moscow as part of their joint strategy in Syria and West Asia in general. Turkey felt the pinch which was unbearable. Hence Turkey decided to move cautiously and make over with both Russia and Israel, maybe on US advice. Thus Istanbul’s effort to neutralize the badly tensed situation harming its interests has made it a favourite of both countries.

Relations between Russia and Turkey have taken a nosedive over the Syrian civil war, particularly after Turkey shot down a Russian plane. But even before that, Turkey’s support of Sunni jihadist organizations was a thorn in the side of Russia, which still fears Sunni jihad inside southern Russia. Russia has goals in Syria and Israel also has requirements.

After roughly nine months of disagreement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to revive their stalled bilateral relationship in their first direct contact on June 29, fueling hopes about restoring economic and trade ties. According to experts, recent moves to normalize ties between Turkey and Russia will benefit both sides’ economy as well as the region’s economy, particularly in the energy, tourism and trade sectors.

Russian Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev said the trade and investment relations between Turkey and Russia would be rebuilt, according to a TASS report on July 1. An expert from the Energy Markets and Policies Institute (EPPEN) said the improving relations would make the most positive contributions in the energy sector. Russia has heavily invested in Turkey’s energy sector and a possible resolution over gas prices would be significant if both sides can agree. Nigyar Masumova, an academic from the World Economy Department of Moscow State International Relations University, said the normalization in ties was some good news during difficult days for the both countries. Trade and tourism ties will return to the former levels in a short time, while the planned Turkish Stream project could be delayed due to economic problems in Russia. “We believe that the sanctions imposed by Russia on fresh fruit and vegetable imports from Turkey will likely be abolished in the autumn,” she added.

One is not very sure if Turkey shot down the Russian plane on the instructions from Pentagon and that could the reason why Russia did not retaliate because if it did retaliate NATO would attack Russian planes in the region leading to a brief war. . The Middle East total bankruptcy and the only country that Turkey can establish stable relations, start a dialogue and discuss political options with is Israel. Ankara and Tel Aviv’s increasing need to share field intelligence seems to have triggered this normalization. Recently, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen visited Ankara and met with the top brass of the intelligence-security bureaucracy led by Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.

Turkey and Israel

Turkey and Israel had enjoyed a privileged relationship for more than 60 years. Before the flotilla raid, there was truly far-reaching military cooperation between Israel and Turkey that dated back to the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s. With the 1994 Defense Cooperation Agreement and 1996 Military Training Cooperation Agreement, military-security relations between the two became the most intimate in the Middle East. This cooperation was particularly prominent in intelligence sharing, military training and the defense industry. But relations between the two countries went into a deep freeze in 2010, when Israeli commandos attacked a Turkish ship in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

With the 1994 Defense Cooperation Agreement and 1996 Military Training Cooperation Agreement, military-security relations between the two became the most intimate in the Middle East. This cooperation was particularly prominent in intelligence sharing, military training and the defense industry.

In the early 2000s, in return for Israel’s technical and intelligence support to Turkey in combating the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turkey shared with Israel the intelligence on Iran it had collected in Iraq and Turkey. Israel’s combat pilots participated in the annual Anatolian Eagle exercises held at an airfield in Turkey’s central Anatolian province of Konya, where they conducted training over mountainous topography unavailable in Israel. They also conducted regular joint exercises in the eastern Mediterranean until 2010. In return, Turkish pilots received training on surface-to-air missiles in Israel. In the defense industry, the most recent joint projects were the modernization of M60 tanks at a cost of $650 million and F-4E planes for about $1 billion, procurement and operation of armed Heron UAVs for $200 million, electronic reconnaissance and surveillance systems at $200 million, and procurement of missiles and smart ammunition for $150 million.

Israel and Egypt have come to a deep understanding of the sources of instability and insecurity in Sinai, and the relationship between Hamas in Gaza and its primary sponsor, Iran, as well as ISIS.

Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla, the flash point

Turkey and Israel, mediated successfully by the USA and UK, have had excellent relations, including regular joint military exercise, for many years until the Mavi Marmara flotilla of 2010, symbolizing the beginning of a new chapter in the freedom struggle of Palestine.

The Turkish-owned ship Mavi Marmara took part in a 2010 “Gaza flotilla” attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. After the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla Turkey made three demands of Israel: an Israeli apology for the deaths of Turkish activists; a financial settlement; and lifting the Gaza blockade, which Turkey claimed was illegal. In 2011, however, the UN Palmer Commission Report, produced as per the US-Israel demands, found the Zionist terror blockade of Gaza — jointly perpetrated with Egypt — to be legal, and said Israel owed Turkey neither an apology nor compensation.

In 2013, at the urging of President Obama and to move the conversation off the impasse, PM Netanyahu did apologize for the loss of life and agree to discuss compensation. While Obama was pleased, Turkish President Erdogan repaid the gesture by denigrating Israel on Turkish television and announcing he would force the end of the blockade. Israel’s condition — that the office of Hamas in Ankara be closed — was ignored for the simple reason that Turkey Is not occupying Gaza Strip. .

Nevertheless, in February 2014, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish television that Israel and Turkey were “closer than ever” to normalizing relations.” And in February 2016, there was yet another announcement of imminent restoration of government-to-government ties. In March, Kurdish sources said Turkey was already demanding weapons from Israel, but that Israel wanted to ensure that Turkey would not use them against Kurdish forces.

Alongside mending ties with Israel, Turkey began repairing relations with Turkey as well because restoring full relations between Israel and Turkey would irritate Russia, with which Israel has good trade and political relations, and understandings regarding Syria. Israel’s relations with the Kurds are also at issue.

Most of illegal settlers in Palestine are of Russian origin and are a powerful group in the parliament and close links with Russia. And hence Israeli leaders like Netanyahu enjoy free lunch at Putin’s official palace In Moscow. .

Assertive diplomacy

Turkey’s assertive diplomacy got revealed when in 2010 Turkey sent the Mavi Marmara aidship with humanitarian assistance to breach the Israeli blockades around Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish activists and one American from IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation were killed during an Israeli commando terror raid on the Mavi Marmara cruise ship and blocked humanitarian help for the Gaza Strip. Turkey broke off the bilateral ties forthwith.

On Nov. 24, 2015, Turkish F-16s shot down a Syrian-based Russian bomber that had allegedly strayed into its airspace. This triggered a confrontation between Ankara and Moscow, and especially between the two presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. The Russian ambassador was recalled, harsh and damaging economic sanctions were applied, and there were even threats of war.

The war of words and military muscle flexing in Syria, the Caucasus, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean continued all through the first half of 2016. Turkey requested a stronger NATO presence in the Black Sea to help protect it against a more assertive Russia.

On the credit side of the ledger, Turkey has given shelter to almost 3 million refugees from Syria – many of whom eventually began to move on to Europe. As it gathered in strength, this exodus produced a paradigm shift in the European Union’s attitude. Suddenly, Turkish help was needed to contain the migrant stream.

Brussels responded by offering Ankara money and halfhearted concessions – some of them long overdue, like visa-free travel

Problem of assertive diplomacy

History has shown that only the USA can effectively pursue assertive diplomacy and so far even Russian has not be able to achieve it without US help as it is happening in Syria.

Without being a superpower, Turkey faced serious opposition to its assertive diplomacy because its punitive measures against Israel and Russia threatened to cause damages to Turkey in the short term at least.

USA which shields the Zionist crimes against humanity has made overtones to collaborate with Russia in Syria and Mideast East. So, Istanbul sensed danger because Russia and Israel jointly begin a containment approach towards Turkey.

After the Mavi Marmara incident, intelligence sharing between the two countries came to an end, followed by cancelations in military training and cooperation.. After the downgrading of ties with Turkey, Israel conducted a series of military exercises with the air, sea and ground forces of Greece and the Greek Cypriots with which Turkey has problems.

After pursuing an assertive diplomacy for a few years, Turkey has now reverted to back to a big power policy format that, as before, would not only get back to US-Israeli orbit but also realign its relations with Russia with which it developed a serious conflictual situation.

The reason for the former Ottoman Empire to revise its policy in favor of Israel seems to be that it knew the e level of influence over USA and many other countries that also began a negative approach to Turkey after the Israeli –Turkish clash over breaching of Israeli terror blockade to Gaza Strip. Turkey helps all big powers in selling their terror goods to third world, including India. .

Though isolated internationally no-account of its illegal colonies and genocides in Palestine, Israel still calls all shots in Mideast with its arms and triclomatic arsenals. Selling terror goods to third world and receiving aid from USA and EU, Israel has generally good economic and political relations with Russia and Turkey while Russia and Turkey are doing a slow burn.

Islamic world’s bilateral trade with Turkey is not impressive. Most Muslim nations have been purchasing terror goods from USA, Europe, Israel and Russia while Turkey has not made any serious effort to build up its economic relations with Islamic world. Antagonism with Israel only harmed turkey as Islamic world has not come for economic ties with Istanbul in order to assure it their support.

True, for too long Turkey rejected Israeli moves to restart the diplomatic and military relations. But since 2014, therefore, Turkey has been searching to renew ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s tensions with Iran and the USA after the West-Iran nuclear deal in 2015 have encouraged Saudi rapprochement with Israel. Turkey followed the suit accepting the new reality and realignment with Israel was found to be “profitable” option. In fact, this is part of a new regional reality, where those countries, along with Qatar and Jordan, fear spillover from Syria and Iraq.

Vision

Turkey learns that it cannot pursue any assertive foreign policy in order to advance its legitimate interests globally without the help of USA and with Israel opposing it as a counter force, especially when USA and Israel operate jointly.

Turley has begun to take sharp turns in its foreign policy. Following a statement by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that Turkey will pursue a more realistic foreign policy to decrease enemies and increase friends, the first major turn has appeared in Israel-Turkey relations after May 31, 2010, when the Israeli military raided a Turkish flotilla that was trying to break through the Israeli blockade and deliver humanitarian relief supplies to Gaza. 10 Turkish nationals and an American aid worker were among those killed by Israeli military attack. While Turkey strained its ties with arrogant and fascist Israel, USA did not consider the killing of its citizen by Israeli military as a crime at all because he was not killed by Islamic terrorists.

Over the past two weeks, three remarkable things happened. On June 26, Israel and Turkey agreed to restore normal diplomatic relations, potentially unlocking the development of huge offshore natural gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. The next day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that Erdogan had apologized for the downing of the Russian warplane in a letter to Putin. Russia lifted its ban on package tours to Turkey the same week, and relations began to normalize.

An important reason for the revision of foreign policy in relations with Israel is the Turkish armed forces that pressured the government about their needs and projects the AKP government could not ignore the demand of military. Also, because of its disturbing isolation in the region and with inadequate support from the USA and NATO, had no choice to but turn back to Israel for regional military-security cooperation. The growing profile of Iran, the regionalization of the PKK threat and regional developments around Hamas, the Islamic State (IS), Iraq and Syria have laid the ground for Ankara and Tel Aviv to cooperate

Today, Israel is the country closest to the US and Russia. That is why Israel can play a middle role in preserving Ankara’s relations with the US at an appropriate level and also help normalize relations with Russia.

However, it is unlikely that Turkey-Israel relations will be restored to 1990s levels anytime soon but this may help the shaping of a new geopolitical equation for the eastern Mediterranean and facilitate their counterbalancing of Iran in the region.

Naturally, the PKK, Hamas, Iran, the Syrian regime, ISIS and Russia won’t be happy about rewinding of bilateral ties. Israel wants Turkey to help play a more active role in NATO. In ore rot take Russia on board to reduce tensions, Turkey has made up with Russia as well.

Notwithstanding the benefit both parties, rapprochement between Israel and Turkey is likely to be much more expensive for Turkey.

Zionist criminal mindset: Politics of convenience?

Turkey and Israel are reported to have reestablished full diplomatic ties after more than half a decade. The history of how Israel and Turkey had such a deep falling out goes back seven years. In January 2009, at a World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, members of an international panel were waiting to wrap up and get to dinner when then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded to respond to Israel’s President Shimon Peres. Taking off his simultaneous translation earphones, he told Peres, “Maybe you are feeling guilty and that is why you are so strong in your words. You killed people. I remember the children who were killed on beaches.”

Not only has the US ally Israel killed Palestinians, it, having assumed as a super power, also killed Turkish people. A little over a year later, on May 31, 2010, nine Turkish activists from IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation were killed during an Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara cruise ship that was trying to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Erdoğan ordered the Turkish ambassador to leave the Jewish state immediately, claiming the raid was contrary to international law and tantamount to “inhumane state terrorism.”

Relations between the two countries cooled severely. Given Turkey’s relationship with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, it seemed to be growing closer to groups that were traditionally hostile to Israel. Israel fought three wars against the ruling Hamas in Gaza since 2009, and Turkey has demanded Israel lift its blockade of the small strip.

Last year, things have taken a dramatic turn. Returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan said that Turkey “needs” Israel (gas and terror goods) and asserted that Israel needed Turkey, “a fact of the region.”

The normalization agreement was supposed to include long-term Turkish demands at compensation for the deaths in 2010, as well as a decision about Gaza. B. Netanyahu had consented to another Turkish demand in 2013 by issuing an apology of sorts in a phone conversation with Erdoğan. US President B. Obama was reported to have a close role in encouraging the conversation to take place.

The rise of the AKP in Turkey’s 2002 elections changed the diplomatic playing field. New faces in Ankara were less interested in Israel and more interested in a new regional paradigm that would see rising Turkish influence. Turkey sought to mediate between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights in 2009. Erdoğan was shocked by fascist PM Ehud Olmert, who mercilessly killed even children to win the general poll, visiting him in 2009 and then going to war in Gaza, rather than concluding a deal with Syria. Israel’s military minister Ehud Barak said Israel did “teach the Turks a lesson”.

Erdoğan was “personally offended” and felt humiliated by Israel as USA watched the terror show on sea by Zionist military using US terror goods. . It was in this context that Erdoğan sat with Peres at Davos and accused him of killing Gazans. The resulting deaths irrevocably harmed relations.

In March of 2016, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz met Erdoğan in Washington and discussed the war in Syria, Iran’s presence there, terrorism—and natural gas. Reuters claimed that the issue of Israeli exports of natural gas to Turkey was an essential piece of the puzzle because Turkey has been weaned of Russian gas since their relations strained over Syria.

Implications of realignment

The implications of this policy shift are enormous. It will integrate the refugees into Turkey’s economy, which is likely to accelerate growth – especially since many of the Syrians are highly qualified professionals. It also strengthens Mr. Erdogan’s political base, giving him a new cohort of likely supporters.

The realignment process will have implications for the Syrian conflict, natural gas exports and Saudi-Israeli relations. Israel has always sought to maintain good relations with the Turks, and the two countries had enjoyed relatively warm relations since the 1950s. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel. As a powerful non-Arab state in the region and NATO member, Turkey was aligned with Israel during the Cold War. Several founders of the state of Israel were educated in Istanbul, and there was an affinity between the two country’s national movements.

The larger picture is the regional chaos that has unfolded since the break in relations in 2010. The Arab Spring in 2011 brought Morsi to power in Egypt. And when rebellion broke out in Syria, Turkey hoped that the Syrian rebels, whose more Sunni Islamic ideology tended to meld well with Turkey’s own AKP, would push Bashar al-Assad from power. But the rebels faltered, Islamic State took over part of Syria, and the United States and UK decided not to bomb Assad in 2013. Turkey continues to support Syria’s rebels, but it knows Assad will not fall. Morsi was pushed from power in 2013 in what Turkey considers a coup.

As Turkish renewal move was taking place Saudi Arabia and Egypt also began closer relationship. Recently, Egypt and Saudi Arabia upgraded relations with Egypt ceding back to the Saudis two islands that Saudi Arabia had given Egypt in 1950 to help Egypt fight Israel in the Red Sea. An Egyptian court however, has struck down the Egypt-Saudi islands deal. The Egyptian government informed Israel of the parameters of the deal, noting that Riyadh would be obligated to honor all of Egypt’s commitments in the peace treaty with Israel, including the presence of international peacekeepers on the islands and freedom of maritime movement in the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel approved the deal “on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the peace agreement.”

In sum, these moves transform Turkey’s position. Europe will have to reconsider its hypocritically superior attitude toward a country that is an indispensible regional partner, and which has also done much more for Syrian refugees than the EU itself.

What is most encouraging about these developments is their common denominator: pragmatism. This may bode well for resolving Turkey’s worst predicament, the Kurdish conflict, which has degenerated into a near-civil war raging in the country’s southeast.

Pragmatic leadership in Ankara, dealing from a position of strength, may find ways to accommodate Kurdish interests within the Turkish republic. This solution could even prove attractive for the Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which might become Turkey’s close associate. Turkey opposes the Kurdish movement for a soverign state. Maybe, Turkey thought Russia and Israel could openly support the Kurdish movement for a separate state.

Perhaps the most important development of the past two weeks is President Erdogan’s offer to grant Turkish citizenship to Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Turkey is now back as a leading regional power in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Mutual security

USA knows Israel’s security is tied with that of Palestine and Israel cannot ensure security of its lands and people if they don’t allow security and freedom to Palestinians. .

Turkey insists Israel breaks all terror blockades around Gaza strip and let the Palestinians have some freedoms. To meet Turkey’s condition, Israel would have to abandon the terror based security arrangement it shares with Egypt against Palestine, which has increased Israel’s own imagined security and pay regional dividends. Israelis are cleaver people who know its security is linked with the security of Palestinians and with intermittent terror attacks on Gaza, Israel cannot ensure its security.

Even when Israeli military keeps attacking Palestinians in Gaza Strip, killing even women and children, in 2011, the UN Palmer Commission Report found the blockade of Gaza — jointly administered with Egypt — to be legal, and said Israel owed Turkey neither an apology nor compensation. It argued that lifting the Israel/Egypt embargo on Gaza would empower Gaza rulers Hamas, and thereby the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and ISIS — which would seem an enormous risk for no gain.

Quartet should have worried about mutual security for both Palestine and Israel as a two state solution is looming large to enable both Palestine and Israel exist side by side. However, like Israel and USA, the Quartet is also interested in Zionist expansionism and one state idea of Jews.

Observation

Turkey’s decision to renew ties with both Russia and Israel is timely as it did not want to precipitate the conflict further and that move welcomed even by intentional community wanting peace.

The EU issue of Turkey remains intact, though the recent Brexit move gives hopes for its speedy entry. The Kurdish problem, being accelerated by the war in Syria and ISIS attacks is not easy to solve but by realigning with both Russia and Israel, the problem cannot wire explosive. With a shift assertive diplomacy in favor of peaceful one, Ankara can now try to shoulder leadership of the Islamic world along with Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu has publicly supported the establishment of a Kurdish state. Even at the peak of Israeli-Turkish relations, Israel’s support of the Kurds has been a relatively open political secret. Although the Israeli government consistently denies providing weapons, reputable sources suggest, at a minimum, training for Kurdish forces. Most recently, Israel acknowledged buying oil from Kurdish sources in Northern Iraq, and IsraAid, an Israeli humanitarian organization, provided assistance to Kurdish refugees fleeing ISIS.

Turkey’s problems with Israel, Russia and Egypt are based purely on principles because they wronged with Turkey by taking undue advantage of the US led NATO war on Islam (terror war). Turkey’s prompt action as a soverign Muslim nation having regard for Islam led to deterioration of relations with all these three powers.

The Arab Spring and NATO terror wars on Islam for energy resources, the US attacks on Libya and Syria, followed by Russian military intervention on behalf of an adamant Assad, among other factors, made Israeli fascist occupation and crimes against humanity fairly easier as it also claims legitimacy for its crimes and occupational settlements.

For Israel to trade its increasingly important relations with Russia, with Egypt — and thereby with Saudi Arabia — and with the Kurds for Turkish political approval and a promise to buy Israeli natural gas would seem to be a good idea for future deals.

The new developments taking pace with Turkey playing active reconciliation role are likely to give benefit to Mideast and Israel by negating and ending the Israel-Egypt terror blockades of Gaza.

In order to conduct smooth foreign policy globally, especially in Europe and West Asia, Israel needs to lift the Israel/Egypt embargo on Gaza by removing all terror blockades without unnecessarily wasting brains if the action would empower Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood or Iran or ISIS because maintaining the blockades would never let Israel gain credible security, though Palestinians would continue to suffer and continue to fight for survival and sovereignty. By giving defacto status the UN has already declared Palestine state a reality.

Time is over for Israel, UN, ICJ and Quartet to consider seriously about a soverign Palestine state and peace in West Asia. If the ICJ and ICC think no peace is possible in Mideast unless Israeli criminals are punished, then they should first punish them. US leaders who have promoted the criminal Zionist regime in Mideast must also deserve punishments for their deliberate crimes, including misuse of the veto to shield the Zionist crimes against humanity.

With Turkey’s shift in foreign policy structuring, will Russia and Israel become true allies of Turkey?

This trillion dollar question deserves a definite answer if one is forthcoming.

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Middle East

The Middle East Rush to Bury Hatchets: Is it sustainable?

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How sustainable is Middle Eastern détente? That is the $64,000 question. The answer is probably not.

It’s not for lack of trying. Gulf states and Egypt have ended their debilitating 3.5-year-long economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar. The UAE has moved at lightning speed to establish formal ties with Israel and repair relations with Iran and Turkey. Saudi Arabia is moving in the same direction, albeit in a more plodding manner. Meanwhile, Turkey is also seeking to repair its long-strained relations with Egypt and Israel.

Recently, Saudi Arabia granted visas to three Iranian diplomats to represent the Islamic Republic at the Jeddah-based, 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In 2016, Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after its embassy in Tehran was attacked in protest against the execution of Saudi Shia activist and cleric Nimr al. Nimr. The recent granting of visas is expected to be followed by visits by officials to the two countries’ shuttered embassies.

Despite this, Ali Shihabi, an analyst with close ties to the Saudi leadership, said: “I understand that no real progress has been made, so there’s no need to read too much into this. It was a goodwill Saudi gesture, particularly since the OIC is a multilateral organisation and they will (be) accredited to OIC, not Saudi.”

To be sure, Middle Eastern states need a dialling down of tensions to be able to focus on reform, diversification, and growth of their economies. To achieve that, they need to project an environment of regional stability conducive to domestic and foreign investment.

Lack of confidence

An equally, if not more critical driver, is uncertainty and fear about the United States’ future commitment to Middle East security, with no obvious replacement for the region’s long-standing guarantor. The uncertainty is compounded by a fundamentally unchanged regional insistence on the need for a foreign security underwriter. The Gulf states lack confidence in their own capabilities and fear that a strong military could threaten the survival of dynastic regimes, giving countries like Turkey and Iran a strategic advantage.

“Those regimes do not necessarily want very robust and very capable armies and militaries that become centres of power,” said Middle East scholar Yasmine Farouk.

If history is any indicator, Gulf uncertainty about US intentions may be exaggerated. A review of the last 50 years suggests that the Middle East has been there before, and nothing much has changed.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan brings to mind the American withdrawal from Vietnam, after which South-east Asia and the Middle East fretted about the possibility of the United States walking away from its commitments. Similarly, the toppling in 1979 of the Shah of Iran, an icon of regional US power, caused heartburn in autocratic Gulf regimes – much like the popular Arab revolts in 2011, which toppled US allies such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as Washington kept its distance.

To be sure, that was then, and this is now.

When America was defeated in Vietnam, and the Shah was overthrown, the Cold War had long settled in as a fact of life, unlike today’s US-China rivalry, which has yet to find its moorings and guardrails.

In some ways, what has changed is positive. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and China sought to weaken and undermine US allies in the Middle East and supplant it as the dominant regional power. Today, they seek cooperation and share the goal of lowering tensions and introducing some degree of stability. The competition is economic, focussing on technology, arms sales, oil, and investment. There is little interest – if any – in Beijing and Moscow to go much beyond that.

Like the United States, neither China nor Russia wants to see a nuclear arms race in the region. ‘”The only player who can be effective and bring about progress in the Vienna debates is the only player we do not hear his position on the Iranian issue, and that is China… China’s influence on Iran’s policy is probably the biggest influence a foreign power has over Iran. At no point in history did China (have the opportunity to) make such a contribution to world stability as it has today in Vienna,” said Efraim Levy, the former head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service. He was referring to talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.

Détente in the Middle East would be fortified in an environment where the United States and China find common ground in their regional approaches. “There is considerable divergence between Chinese and US approaches to the Gulf, but the interests of the two powers are largely compatible. Both want a stable region that supports their strategic and economic concerns. Given their deep cooperation with the Gulf monarchies and China’s influence in Iran, there is an opening for Washington and Beijing to coordinate their policies in working toward a less turbulent Gulf region,” said China-Gulf scholar Jonathan Fulton, writing in Middle East Policy.

Academic and former Lebanese culture minister and United Nations negotiator Ghassan Salameh argues that “America cannot leave the Middle East only because it concentrates on China… Paradoxically…you need to be in the Middle East if you want to concentrate on China as a strategic rival, because if you look at where oil and gas is going, it’s going East.”

Inevitable arms race

Nevertheless, Beijing’s efforts to moderate Iran’s tougher negotiating stance since hardline President Ebrahim Raisi took office have not stopped it from enabling a ballistic arms race in the Middle East, in what Chinese scholars have described as a calibrated effort to maintain a regional balance of power. Iran has rejected US, Saudi, and Israeli demands to expand talks in Vienna to include ballistic missiles. US intelligence believes that recent satellite images show Saudi Arabia manufacturing ballistic missiles at a site constructed with the help of China.

Saudi officials said the Kingdom had built the manufacturing facility with the assistance of the Chinese military’s missile branch, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force. China has insisted that “cooperation in the field of military trade” did not violate international law or involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” The United States has long refused to sell ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia.

Iran described the test-firing of 16 ballistic missiles of different classes during a military exercise in late December as a message to Israel. It was a response to Israeli threats to strike at Iranian nuclear facilities if the Vienna talks fail or produce a result that Israel deems sufficiently unsatisfactory to justify unilateral action. “Sixteen missiles aimed and annihilated the chosen target. In this exercise, part of the hundreds of Iranian missiles capable of destroying a country that dared to attack Iran were deployed,” said armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri.

Beyond ballistic missiles, a breakdown in the Vienna talks with Iran could also ignite a nuclear arms race. Already, Israel has begun to imagine a Middle East inhabited by a nuclear Iran. “Even if global powers manage to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, diplomacy may only delay the inevitable… Given how resilient the Islamic Republic has proven to be, it seems that the world may eventually have to tolerate an Iranian nuclear bomb, just as it has learned to live with the Indian and Pakistani arsenals,” said former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has left no doubt that the Kingdom would develop a nuclear weapons capability if Iran did the same. Media reports last year suggested that Saudi Arabia had constructed, with the help of China, a facility for extracting uranium yellowcake from uranium. Saudi Arabia denied the reports, but insisted that mining its uranium reserves was part of its economic diversification strategy. The Saudi energy ministry said it cooperated with China in unspecified aspects of uranium exploration.

Cooperation on nuclear energy was one of 14 agreements worth US$65 billion signed during Saudi King Salman’s 2017 visit to China. The nuclear-related deals involved a feasibility study to construct high-temperature gas-cooled (HTGR) nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia,  cooperation in intellectual property, and the development of a domestic industrial supply chain for HTGRs to be built in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has signed similar agreements with France, the United States, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, and Argentina.

To advance its pre-pandemic goal of constructing 16 nuclear reactors by 2030, Saudi Arabia established the King Abdullah Atomic and Renewable Energy City, which is devoted to research and application of nuclear technology.

Concern about Saudi intentions has been fuelled by Riyadh’s hesitancy in agreeing to US safeguards that would require it  to sign the Additional Protocol of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), even though it has not ruled it out, among other things.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted that it is unacceptable that nuclear-armed countries are preventing his nation from developing nuclear weapons.

The odds are stacked against avoiding a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. To do so would require agreement on a regional nuclear-free zone. For that to happen, Israel would have to acknowledge its possession of nuclear weapons, something it has refused to do.

While some Israelis have suggested that the reality of a nuclear Iran could persuade Israel to change course, there is no indication that the government is seriously considering doing so. A nuclear-free zone would also demand a restructuring of security arrangements in the Middle East to include a security pact that would include all parties, as well as an arms control regime. So far, that looks more like wishful thinking than anything parties would be willing to contemplate genuinely.

More likely, countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Tukey will continue developing their domestic defence industries briskly. Moreover, any revival of the Iran nuclear accord would likely lift the ban on Iran’s acquisition of conventional weapons, which in turn would accelerate the arms race as the Islamic Republic rushes to modernise and upgrade its military capabilities, which harsh sanctions have long hampered.

Analysts and policymakers have so far focused on Gulf states’ efforts to diversify their sources for arms acquisition, but largely overlooked their endeavour to expand the number of countries with bases in the region. So far, that has been limited to French, British, and Turkish bases, and a Chinese facility in Djibouti.

In a potential setback, Sudan’s military chief, General Mohamed Othman al-Hussein, has said his country was reviewing an agreement to host a Russian naval base on its Red Sea coast. Meanwhile, various Gulf states are quietly looking at Asian countries like India, South Korea, and Japan to establish a more active presence in the region.

Some analysts suggest that a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran could alter the dynamic of a Middle East in which Israel has diplomatic relations with the Gulf and other Arab states. These analysts argue that Israel may see the détente as a threat to its emerging role as an anti-Iranian bulwark that would allow it to expand military and intelligence operations in countries from which it was either barred or limited in the deployment of its capabilities.

“While (former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin) Netanyahu used the notion of ‘containing Iran’ as a primary justification for the Abraham Accords, the simultaneous warming of ties between Iran and Gulf states will ultimately dilute Israel’s role, undermining its argument that Iran is a rogue state and regional destabiliser,” said scholars Mahjoub Zweiri and Lakshmi Venugopal Menon.

Walking a tightrope

The UAE has sought to counter the potential threat of Iran disrupting the Emirates’ rapprochement with Israel by pledging that it would not allow the Jewish state to build security-related installations on its territory.

The Emirati pledge, in a suggestion that some elements of Middle East détente may be more sustainable than others, did not stop UAE air force commander General Ibrahim Nasser al-Alawi from visiting Israel, or the Emirati navy from participating in a joint naval exercise with Israeli, Bahraini, and US vessels.

Similarly, speaking at a conference in November 2021, Major General Amikam Norkin, the commander of the Israeli Air Force, suggested, in reference to the UAE and Bahrain, the possibility of cooperation in anti-drone and ballistic missile defence. Israel could “become a key player and asset for the countries that are under threat of Iranian drones, along with developing needed strategic depth in the continuing campaign against Iran,” Major-General Norkin said. He appeared to be proposing the deployment of Israeli detection systems in the Gulf that would also work against ballistic missiles.

Also, the UAE pledge did not disrupt UAE-Israeli cooperation to counter alleged Iranian hacking. ClearSky, a cybersecurity company, reported that a cyber group operated by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon, had hacked the Emirates’ Etisalat telecommunications company, as well as companies in Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United States, and Britain.

Nevertheless, Emirati nationalists and surrogates for the government painted the UAE’s suspension of talks to acquire the F-35, America’s most advanced fighter jet, because of conditions the Biden Administration wants to impose on the sale as evidence of their country’s newly-gained clout and an assertion of sovereignty.

Buried under the bravado was the fact that close relations with Israel apparently did not exempt the UAE from a US-Israeli understanding to maintain the Jewish state’s qualitative military edge. The administration’s conditions reflected Israeli suggestions designed to prevent the sale from putting the Jewish state’s edge at risk.

At the same time, closer ties with Israel potentially complicate not only the UAE’s burgeoning improved relations with Iran but also its long-standing partnership with Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom fears that the relationship could give the UAE an edge and a degree of greater independence from Saudi Arabia and enhance its ability to play one off against the other. 

Saudi Arabia unsuccessfully sought the cancellation of a UAE-brokered energy and water deal between Israel and Jordan, the largest cooperation agreement between the two countries since they signed a peace treaty in 1994, last November. Riyadh wanted to replace the deal with one that would include it while excluding Israel.

Defiance and dissent

A burgeoning arms race and concerns that a failure by the United States, Europe, China, Russia, and Iran to agree in Vienna could significantly heighten regional tensions and provoke a military conflagration are just two of the powder kegs that could make Middle Eastern détente falter.

In a review of 2021, Middle East scholar Ross Harrison noted that wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen have created “security dilemmas and conflict traps that made the hurdles to getting to cooperation insuperable, even for actors who might be predisposed to cooperate… Transitioning from where Syria is today to a more stable, inclusive, and de-militarised country free of outside actors seems years, if not decades, away.” Mr. Harrison noted that two decades after ripping itself apart, Lebanon risked slipping back into civil war.

The years from 2011 to 2021 and the civil strife they witnessed were shaped by revolution and counterrevolution. Leaders of eight of the Arab League’s 22 member states – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Sudan – were toppled by popular uprisings. Possible political change was reversed or stymied in most if not all of the initially successful revolts by counter-revolutions.

The counter-revolutions were often supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt after general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in a military coup in 2013 backed by the two Gulf states. While the bloody civil wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen were the most extreme consequence, there is no suggestion that détente in the coming decade would give the counter-revolution pause.

Add to that Palestine’s grey swan. Israel may believe that it has successfully pushed the resolution of the Palestinian problem to the margins with the help of the UAE and Bahrain. But the question is not whether but when Palestinian aspirations will come to haunt Israel and push themselves higher up the Arab and Muslim agenda.

The question is how Israel will deal with the facts that occupation is unsustainable, demographics are certain to threaten the Jewish character of the state, and civil unrest stretching beyond the West Bank into pre-1967 borders remain a constant possibility. How Israel responds to these issues is likely to influence Arab and Muslim public opinion. So far, public opinion has been one reason for Saudi Arabia and others not to follow the UAE in recognising Israel, even if the public expression of critical sentiments is severely curtailed, if not harshly repressed.

Nevertheless, the quest for detente has not prevented countries that do not have diplomatic relations from being more overt in their contacts with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks in Neom, his US$500 billion pet project for a futuristic city, with Mr Netanyahu when he was still prime minister despite the Kingdom’s refusal to recognise Israel.

Qatar, which already helps Israel fund public salaries and relief operations in the blockaded Gaza Strip, concluded a diamond trade agreement with the Jewish state. The deal enables Qatar to join a select group of countries authorised to trade in diamonds. In return, it will allow Israeli diamond merchants to travel to the Gulf state even though the two countries have no formal relations.

The deal took on added significance because of UAE acquiescence. The Emirates have cooperated with Israel on diamonds for several years, and long opposed Qatari attempts to join the exclusive gemstone club.

Meanwhile, differences in attitude towards popular revolts, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is widely held responsible for war crimes that cost half a million lives, lie just under the surface despite the lifting in January 2021 of a 3.5-year-long economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar. Doha has quietly asked members of the Brotherhood who live there to relocate, but has not further tweaked its support for Islamists.

A potential watershed could occur when the ageing Egyptian Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is based in Qatar, passes on. Mr. Al-Qaradawi, 95, has been a major influence in shaping Qatari policies since the country’s independence in 1971, including the advocacy of greater rights for others that are not necessarily recognised at home. An autocracy, Qatar has supported the aspirations of protesters across the Middle East and North Africa and opposed the return of President Al-Assad to the Arab fold in the hope that it would encourage Russia to help roll back Iranian influence in the country. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 at a time that Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia all funded groups opposed to the Syrian regime.

There is no indication that those hopes have any base in reality. Iranian ground forces in Syria, together with Hezbollah fighters and Foreign Legion-type units populated by Pakistani and Afghan Shiites, have ensured that the Russian intervention has so far been possible without inserting large numbers of regular troops. It has made the Russian intervention relatively risk-free and low cost.

For now, détente in the Middle East appears to have shifted rather than removed the battlefield on which regional rivalries play out. The UAE, widely seen as a leader in reducing tensions, has adopted a selective approach towards rapprochement.

The UAE’s diplomatic initiatives focused on Iran, Turkey, and Syria targets countries with which the risk of escalation outstrips the cost of reconciliation. Yet, plans by Emirati companies to invest in energy projects in Iran and Syria threaten to violate US sanctions. Detente has not persuaded the UAE to stop supporting insurgents in Yemen, surrogates in Libya, or supplying arms to Ethiopia in its war against Tigray.

Shaky ground

The long and short of it is that the rush to dial down tensions in the Middle East and North Africa rests on shaky ground. Except for Iran, which sees the frenzy of diplomatic and economic outreach as reaffirming its position as a major regional power, Middle Eastern states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are driven by uncertainty and fear. Their moves are efforts to buy time to put their house in order and be prepared for a potential next round of differences not an attempt to craft a baseline standard for a shared vision of the region’s future.

The moves are also aimed at keeping the United States engaged, and an attempt at navigating the risky waters of big-power competition that is necessarily ad hoc and short-term and risks turbocharging a regional arms race with no underlying realistic long-term strategy. Saudi Arabia and the UAE see detente as a hedge to limit the fallout of a potential failure of the Vienna talks and a possible military confrontation between Iran and/or Israel and the United States.

Gulf hedging reflects a failure to recognise that perceptions of the US commitment rested on a misreading of the 1980 Carter Doctrine that successive US administrations opportunistically allowed to fester. The doctrine committed the US to defending the region against attack by an external power, read the Soviet Union. That threat fell by the wayside with the demise of the Soviet Union. In the minds of several Gulf states, post-revolutionary Iran replaced the Soviet Union as an existential threat. The perception was reinforced by mounting hostility between the US and the Islamic Republic; US, Israeli, and Gulf opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme; and Israel’s changing threat perception, which viewed Iran rather than the Palestinians and the Arabs as its foremost existential challenge.

The current situation is also a result of the US’ failure to couple its security presence with policies to address the issues faced by the region’s population – education, income distribution, public health, climate change, and basic rights. The frenzy to reduce tension offers the United States a second chance to broaden its security and stability outreach to address issues that concern broad swaths of Middle Eastern populations and have forced themselves onto the agenda in recent years.

Is the US getting it right?

Summing up the US policy dilemma in the Middle East in the words of the English punk band, The Clash – “if I stay there will be trouble, if I go there will be double” – Middle East scholar Jon Alterman suggested that the United States’ failure to ensure that the Gulf States had realistic expectations and did not misread the Carter Doctrine encouraged them to act more aggressively and take bigger risks in the false belief that Washington would have their backs.

The misperceptions persuaded the Gulf states to misread the Carter Doctrine as a guarantee that the United States would ensure the survival of their regimes and protect them against Iran unconditionally. Multiple US actions, or lack thereof, put paid to this interpretation, rattled the Gulf states, and persuaded them to become reckless at times.

The US’ refusal in 2011 to prevent the toppling of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak; secret negotiations that led to the 2015 international Iranian nuclear agreement; President Barack Obama’s notion of a Middle East that Saudi Arabia and Iran would share as hegemons; and the failure of the US to respond in 2019 to Iranian attacks on shipping in the UAE and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, were among the markers that were laid down. President Donald Trump’s description of the 2019 strike against Abqaiq’s oil facilities as “an attack on Saudi Arabia and (not) an attack on us” constituted a wake-up call.

Many analysts suggest that the Biden administration’s refusal to spell out an unambiguous Middle East policy has had a positive effect. It produced the rush to dial down regional tensions. “From an administration standpoint, this is a sign that US strategy is actually working,” Mr. Alterman said.

That may be true in the short term. However, the United States will have to spell out an unambiguous, clearly articulated policy that outlines what commitments it envisions sooner rather than later. A clear policy could help Middle Eastern rivals manage their differences and focus on economic cooperation and trade. While the debate over US policy continues to rage in Washington, common ground is starting to emerge between proponents of the current US military posture and advocates of a withdrawal from the region.

In the words of Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow with the Arab Gulf States in Washington (AGSIW) think tank, this common ground involves a “rethink (of) the distribution of (US) assets to make them more effective  and, where appropriate, smaller, leaner and more flexible, while at the same time recognising that long-term deployments of US forces in the Gulf region remain essential to the interests of the United States, and those of its regional and global partners, and for regional security and stability.”

Placing a bet

Mitigating in favour of détente in the Middle East is the fact that it was not just uncertainty about the US commitment that prompted Saudi Arabia and the UAE to adopt a more conciliatory approach. The fact of the matter is that assertiveness, with few exceptions, such as the 2013 coup in Egypt, backfired. The UAE was forced to recognise that its ability to project military power beyond its borders was limited.

A cost-benefit analysis produced a clear verdict. Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent the UAE, are trapped in a disastrous war in Yemen that has dragged on for almost seven years. Syria’s Mr. Al-Assad has the upper hand in a decade-long brutal civil war. Iran is encountering headwinds in Iraq, but remains a force there. The same is true for its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Moreover, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon have demonstrated Iran’s ability to achieve its objectives militarily rather than diplomatically with the help of non-state actors, despite international isolation and harsh US sanctions.

There is also a question mark over the sustainability of efforts to reduce tensions, since Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the weaker parties in negotiations with Iran. Perceptions of US unreliability and suspicions that Washington may turn its back on the Middle East further weaken their position. This is compounded by the fact that Saudi and Emirati officials fundamentally do not believe that real accommodation with Iran is possible, “There’s a keen sense in the Gulf that the Iran problem never goes away. It’s not about the Islamic Republic; it’s about Iran,” Mr. Alterman said.

Furthermore, dialogue has yet to produce more than a temporary lull at best, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran. “This pattern of dialogue has been underway for two years, or we’ve been leading up to it for two years. And yet it has not created anything meaningful in terms of outcome,” said Iran scholar Sanim Vakil. “The underlying and fundamental tensions between Iran and the Gulf Arab states, and that between Iran and its external actors in the region, remain unresolved.”

The Saudi and UAE strategy amounts to a bet that detente, against the backdrop of sustained social unrest in Iran driven by economic hardship, will spark a policy change in Tehran. They are also hoping that Iran will accept that regime survival cannot be ensured via stepped-up security and repression x exclusively.

“What we’re hoping for is regime moderation…where we’re dealing with Iran as another state that we can deal with, and through which they can benefit from.  So, if they need leverage, they can get leverage, but it doesn’t have to be through the military aspects… That’s the type of change that has not been explored a lot,” said Mohammed Baharoon, Director-General of b’huth, a public policy research centre..

Conclusion

Efforts by Middle Eastern rivals to dial down tensions and manage rather than resolve conflicts are fragile at best. Moreover, they raise the question of what the end goal is. For now, that appears to be primarily an endeavour to buy time, put their own houses in order, diversify their economies, and ensure that they remain competitive in the 21st century.

The sustainability of détente in the Middle East will ultimately depend on support from the United States and other major powers, including China, Russia, Europe, India, Japan, and South Korea. It will also be contingent on economic cooperation and trade, raising the cost of a return to conflict to the point that it outstrips the benefits of confrontation.

Author’s note: A version of this article was published by the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore

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Ukraine crisis could produce an unexpected winner: Iran

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 Iran potentially could emerge as an unintended winner in the escalating crisis over Ukraine. That is, if Russian troops cross the Ukrainian border and talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement fail.

An imposition of tough US and European sanctions in response to any Russian incursion in Ukraine could likely make Russia more inclined to ignore the fallout of violating US sanctions n its dealings with Iran.

By the same token, a failure of the talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, the European Union, France, Germany, and Britain to revive the accord that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program would drive Iran closer to Russia and China in its effort to offset crippling US sanctions.

US and European officials have warned that time is running out on the possibility of reviving the agreement from which the United States under then-President Donald J. Trump withdrew in 2018.

The officials said Iran was weeks away from acquiring the know-how and capability to produce enough nuclear fuel for a bomb quickly. That, officials suggested, would mean that a new agreement would have to be negotiated, something Iran has rejected.

No doubt, that was in the back of the minds of Russian and Iranian leaders when they met last week during a visit to Moscow by Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi. It was the first meeting between the leaders of Russia and Iran in five years.

To be sure, the road to increased Russian trade, energy cooperation, and military sales would open with harsh newly imposed US sanctions against Russia even if restrictions on Iran would remain in place.

That does not mean that the road would be obstacle-free. Mr. Putin would still have to balance relations with Iran with Russia’s ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

If anything, Russia’s balancing act, like that of China, has become more complicated without the Ukraine and Vienna variables as Iranian-backed Houthis expand the seven-year-long Yemen war with drone and missile strikes against targets in the UAE.

The Houthis struck as the Russian, Chinese and Iranian navies started their third joint exercises since 2019 in the northern Indian Ocean. The two events were not related.

“The purpose of this drill is to strengthen security and its foundations in the region, and to expand multilateral cooperation between the three countries to jointly support world peace, maritime security and create a maritime community with a common future,” Iranian Rear Admiral Mostafa Tajoldini told state tv.

US dithering over its commitments to security in the Gulf has persuaded Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE to hedge their bets and diversify the nature of their relations with major external powers.

However, a Russia and potentially a China that no longer are worried about the fallout of violating US sanctions against Iran could put Riyadh and Abu Dhabi on notice that the two US rivals may not be more reliable or committed to ensuring security in the Gulf. So far, neither Russia nor China have indicated an interest in stepping into US shoes.

This leaves Saudi Arabia and the UAE with few good choices if Russia feels that US sanctions are no longer an obstacle in its dealings with Iran.

Russia is believed to want the Vienna talks to succeed but at the same time has supported Iranian demands for guarantees that the United States would not walk away from a revived deal like it did in 2018.

Against the backdrop of talk about a proposed 20-year cooperation agreement between the two countries, Russia appears to want to negotiate a free trade agreement between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union that groups Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, alongside Russia.

Iran has signed a similar 25-year cooperation agreement with China that largely remains a statement of intent at best rather than an action plan that is being implemented.

Like in the case of China, the draft agreement with Russia appears to have been an Iranian rather than a Russian initiative. It would demonstrate that Iran is less isolated than the United States would like it to be and that the impact of US sanctions can be softened.

“We have a document on bilateral strategic cooperation, which may determine our future relations for the next 20 years. At any rate, it can explain our prospects,” Mr. Raisi said as he went into his talks with Mr. Putin.

For now, Mr. Raisi’s discussions in Moscow appear to have produced more lofty prospects than concrete deals.

Media speculation that Russia would be willing to sell Iran up to US10 billion in arms, including Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 anti-missile defense systems, appear to have remained just that, speculation. Saudi Arabia and the UAE would view the sale to Iran of such weapons as particularly troublesome.

By the same token, Iranian officials, including Finance Minister Ehsan Khanduzi and Oil Minister Javad Owji, spoke of agreements signed during the Moscow visit that would revive a US$5 billion Russian credit line that has been in the pipeline for years and produce unspecified energy projects.

It’s unclear if these are new projects or ones that have been previously discussed and even agreed to, such as the one Lukoil stopped working on in 2018 after the US pulled out… Lukoil was concerned about being targeted by US sanctions,” said international affairs scholar Mark N. Katz.

Theoretically, the dynamics of the Ukraine crisis and the prospects of failed Vienna talks could mean that a long-term Russian Iranian cooperation agreement could get legs quicker than its Chinese Iranian counterpart.

Negotiating with a Russia heavily sanctioned by the United States and Europe in an escalated crisis in Ukraine could level the playing field as both parties, rather than just Iran, would be hampered by Western punitive measures.

Tehran-based Iranian scholar and political analyst Sadegh Zibakalam suggested that it was time for the regime to retire the 43-year-old Iranian revolution’s slogan of “neither East nor West.” The slogan is commemorated in a plaque at the Foreign Ministry.

Asserting that Iran has long not adhered to the motto, Mr. Zibakalam suggested that the plaque be removed and stored in the basement of a hardline Tehran newspaper. “It has not been used for a long time and should be taken down,” he tweeted.

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Unified Libya will come only via ballot box, ‘not the gun’-UNSC

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A boy runs in the ruins of the Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli, Libya. © UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti

Libya is at a “delicate and fragile juncture in its path to unity and stability”, the UN Political Affairs chief told the Security Council on Monday, urging the international community to remain united in supporting national elections postponed last month. 

In welcoming positive developments across three different tracks of intra-Libyan dialogue, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, also recognized the challenges that must be overcome.  

“So many Libyans have told us, the way towards a stable and united Libya is through the ballot box, not the gun”, she said. “We must stand with them”. 

Postponed elections 

Growing polarization among political actors, and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process, led to the postponement of long anticipated elections on 24 December.  

The High National Commission for Elections (HNEC) cited shortcomings in the legal framework along with political and security concerns. To address this, the House of Representatives has established a Roadmap Committee to chart a new political path that defines an elections timetable and process. 

New Special Adviser 

Last month, Stephanie Williams was appointed Special Adviser on Libya, having served as acting Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission, UNSMIL, last year.  

To date, she has undertaken wide-ranging consultations, including with members of the Government of National Unity (GNU), the High National Election Commission, the House of Representatives, and candidates for presidential and parliamentary elections.  

Oil-rich Libya has descended into multiple crises since the overthrow of former rule Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, which in recent years saw the country divided between rival administrations – a UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli, and that of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar.  

Ms. Williams has reiterated that the focus of the political process now, should remain on holding “free, fair, inclusive and credible national elections” in the shortest possible timeframe. 

“In all her meetings, the Special Adviser highlighted the 2.8 million Libyans who have registered to vote”, said Ms. DiCarlo, adding that she also called on everyone to respect the will of the Libyan people and to adhere to the timeline agreed to in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) roadmap, which was endorsed by the Security Council

Welcomed developments 

The UN political affairs chief said ongoing dialogue among political, security and economic actors from across the country was key. 

“We have seen reports of consultations between the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the High State Council, as well as among presidential candidates from western and eastern Libya”, she said.  

On the security track, there have been meetings among various armed groups, as well as the Chief of General Staff of the Western Military Forces under the GNU and the acting General Commander of the rival LNA, with the participation of military chiefs and heads of military departments from both sides.  

Turning to the economy, further steps have been taken to reunify the Central Bank of Libya.  

Moreover, renewed efforts continue to advance national reconciliation based on the principles of transitional justice.  

Security situation 

While the ceasefire has continued to hold, “political uncertainty in the run up to the elections has negatively impacted the overall security situation”, the political chief informed the Council, including in Tripoli. 

It has resulted in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates, she added. 

Similarly, unfulfilled demands made to the GNU by the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) in western Libya resulted in the shutdown of oil production, causing the National Oil Corporation to declare in December, force majeure – a clause that removes liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes. 

Following negotiations between the PFG and the GNU, Oil production was restored on 9 January. 

To implement the ceasefire agreement, last month military representatives from opposing sides, called the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission (JMC), discussed with Turkish and Russian authorities, an Action Plan to gradually withdrawal mercenaries and foreign fighters from the country.     

At the same time, despite serious logistical and security challenges, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continued its work to establish a ceasefire monitoring hub in Sirte, pending the GNU’s approval on accommodation and office facilities. 

Human rights concerns 

“The human rights situation in Libya remains very worrying”, said Ms. DiCarlo, noting “documented incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation”, which she described as obstacles toward a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections. 

“We are particularly concerned that women and men working to protect and promote women’s rights continued to be targeted by hate speech, defamation and incitement to violence”, she stated. “Some of the disturbing social media posts that posed a threat to the safety and security of these persons were removed after UNSMIL brought them to the attention of social media platforms”.  

Meanwhile, arbitrary detention by State and non-State actors continued across the country, with many detainees subjected to serious rights abuses. 

Migration management  

The situation of migrants and refugees is also highly concerning.  

“Large numbers of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea and returned to Libya continue to be detained in inhumane and degrading conditions with restricted humanitarian assistance. Thousands are unaccounted for”, the UN official said.  

Ms. DiCarlo pointed out that hundreds of foreign nationals were expelled from Libya’s eastern and southern borders without due process, with some “placed in extremely vulnerable situations across remote stretches of the Sahara Desert without sufficient food, water, safety and medical care”. 

“The United Nations remains ready to work with Libyan authorities on a long-term national response to migration and refugee management in line with international law to include addressing human rights concerns”, she assured. 

Accountability  

To ensure political progress, Elham Saudi, Co-founder and Director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya, said that all who commit abuses must be held accountable, including mercenaries. 

She noted that without law, revenge would be the only winner.  

Ms. Saudi also maintained the importance of an enabling environment for all rights advocates, especially women, and expressed hopes for a human-rights based approach in how Libya is governed, going forward. 

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