With the very recent meeting held in St. Petersburg on August 8 last between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the only high-level meeting after the attempted coup in Turkey and the attempted murder of the Turkish leader, a coup which Russia first reported to Turkey and then strongly condemned – a new phase of post-Soviet geopolitics has begun.
A new phase has begun also for Turkey, which is ever less visibly linked to NATO, of which it has been a member since 1952, but ever more neo-Ottoman and anti-American, considering that initially the United States have probably supported the coup and still host Fethullah Gulen, the Sunni Imam accused by President Erdogan of having organized the military insurgency.
Nevertheless, nothing is yet certain in the rapprochement between Turkey and the Russian Federation. Certainly the Russian statements are possibilistic and basically deprived of long-term strategic guidelines and indications, but the results reached by Russia are already greatly significant: the weakening of the Southern and Eastern Flank of the Atlantic Alliance and the probable redesign and splitting up of Syria in agreement with Turkey.
In President Erdogan’s mind, this is the right time to define his traditional Panturanic plan, which does not coincide with the Russian plan, but which has certainly nothing to do with the Atlantic Alliance’s prospects in Central Asia.
Shortly before becoming Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2009, Ahmet Davutoglu had explicitly stated: “We are the new Ottomans. We will reconquer what we lost in 1911 and in 1923 and we will find again our brothers between 2011 and 2023”.
Aleppo and Mosul, the Uygurs of Xingkiang to be “moved” to Syria, the Asian Turkmens and part of Iraq are all the pieces of the dominoes that President Erdogan’s AKP wants to build to become a great Turkish, Sunni and neo-Ottoman empire between Anatolia and Central Asia.
Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib will be the 82nd province of Turkey, but this is obviously not convergent with the interest of Russia which, however, accepts the de facto breaking off between Turkey, the United States and NATO, while President Erdogan urges the Americans to choose between him and Fethullah Gulen.
Paradoxically, however, President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman approach has still much to do with the arch-enemy Fethullah Gulen.
They both want to restore the traditional links between the Turkish populations, the use of the Turkish language, the Sunni Islam and the Ottoman Caliphate.
Indeed, this would also explain the ambiguous attitude shown so far by Turkey vis-à-vis the pan-Sunni, though not Turkish, Caliphate of Daesh/Isis.
For many years Gulen and his cemaat (community) of about 3 million members have been an apparently secular missionary movement which, however, wants to re-establish Islam throughout the pan-Turkish region having Sufi roots, as has often happened in Turkish nationalism. It also wants to ultimately superpose the plan of a new Sunni Caliphate on the plan for an expansion of the Turkish national power.
On the contrary, President Erdogan comes from the National Outlook Movement, which is part of the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood, from which he departed after the military coup of 1997 in order to found the AKP with Gulen’s militants.
In essence, President Erdogan wants to recreate a great Panturanic umma from China (the Turkish leader defined China’s behaviour in Xingkiang as a “sort of genocide”) up to Eastern Europe.
Nevertheless President Erdogan mainly wants to “Turkify” the Muslim Brotherhood, which is still one of his tools, and not the quietist mystic Islam of Gulen’s movement, which also fanned the flames of the Ghezi Park rebellion and supported the allegations of corruption regarding the AKP regime.
Turkey spent much to support the folly of the “Arab Springs” and President Erdogan spent very much to keep the Brotherhood in power both in Egypt and the Maghreb region.
Everything becomes clear if we think about the way in which President Erdogan is operating in Syria: using those that the silly West calls “moderates” in public, while de facto supporting the jihadists, who are the current extreme fruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is President Putin’s bet: if Russia proposes an agreement on Syria, will President Erdogan temporarily stop implementing his neo-Ottoman project, thus putting aside his Wahhabi soldiers of the jihad?
Hence if Turkey has a new system available to be connected with its Panturanic world, surrounded by Russia and China, will it cease to invoke the imperial myth, put in place by the bloody ranks of the jihad? No one can yet say so.
Russia (and China), however, have the power to manage and greatly influence this new great game, while certainly the United States, NATO and the now useless European Union have not this power.
It is worth noting that another player of the new link between Turkey and Russia is Iran.
If, in exchange for peace with Russia, Turkey leaves the Sunni jihadist factions to their fate, Iran will tacitly support the Turkish ambitions in Iraq and Syria, through the Russian Federation’s protection.
Peace with Russia and the agreement with Iran mean Turkey’s future participation in the recent “triple alliance” reached in Baku on August 8 last between Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan for the new economic corridor between India and Russia.
And this is promised to Turkey in addition to the opening of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, having a capacity of 30 million cubic meters, and the building of the nuclear power station in Akkuyu, Turkey, with Russian technology.
Russia must absolutely have an energy line avoiding transiting through Ukraine. Turkey cannot survive without Russian gas, which accounts for 50% of its consumption. Furthermore the issue of migrants, with whom President Erdogan blackmails the naïve EU, is now in the hands of Russia, which can provide alternative areas and ways.
President Erdogan also needs a new area of economic, geopolitical (and identity) expansion in Central Asia, provided that it does not officially annex the Turkmen communities that are numerous, but very divided in that region.
In addition, President Putin can cool down and ease the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani area with an Armenian majority.
Certainly Armenians do not talk with Turkey. Armenia has also called for Russia’s protection to recognize its independence internationally, but Turkey has not yet many relations with the pro-Turkish Azerbaijan.
Russia does not want to unleash the struggle between the Azeri-Turkish and Armenian peoples, which would probably trigger off a new destabilizing jihad in the Caucasus, while Turkey equally needs to quell tensions but has no relations with Armenia.
Once again, in this case, both the United States and the EU play the second fiddle.
As is well-known, in Syria Russia supports Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites, but Russia will not be in a position to afford the material and political costs of this commitment much longer.
The Russian commitment in Syria costs at least 3-4 million dollars a day, which we have to multiply by all the days from September 30, 2015 – when the Russian air raids started – to date.
Russia, which has a military budget of 50 billion dollars a year, can certainly afford it, but not with the prospect of low oil prices and the danger of a new hotbed of tensions in addition to the Syrian one.
Furthermore if Russia does not reduce military spending by 5% – as President Putin has decided to do for 2016 – the prospects for Russian economic growth become grimmer.
Moreover, since the beginning of the Inherent Resolve operation in August 2015, the United States have spent in Syria 11.5 millions per day.
Obviously Russia cannot afford this cost for a long period of time, considering that the real strategic gain is only the protection of Latakia and the other Russian bases in the Mediterranean.
Furthermore Turkey, which is de facto allied with Daesh/Isis and the other groups of the Syrian jihad, does not succeed in annexing Aleppo and the other Turkmen areas in the South, which is the real target of the Syrian war for Turkey.
On top of it, President Erdogan can do nothing against the Kurds, who are supported by the United States.
And the Turkish leader can swallow the bitter pill of a Kurdish quasi-State only if there is the annexation of the Syrian Turkmen territories and the creation of a strategic buffer between Turkey and the new Kurdistan, which President Putin might possibly guarantee to him.
In the meeting held on August 9 with the Turkish leader, President Putting hinted at the fact that he wanted Assad to quickly take Aleppo by storm so as to unilaterally declare a cease-fire and call a conference to define the new borders and the new areas of influence in Syria.
Today no one wages and fights the war in Syria thinking about a united country, not even Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites.
The old plan of the Franciscan tertiary and Shiite mystic Louis Massignon, after the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, is really over. That plan envisaged to hold Syria together by ceding it to the small coastal Alawite sect so as to avoid the Sunni dominance which, sooner or later, was bound to incorporate the “French” Syria into the British system (Iraq) or into Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi system.
It is also worth recalling that Turkey wants the Turkmen area around Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo so that it can act as a counterbalance to the Kurdish area.
On the other hand, also in view of its internal peace, Turkey must also recover the level of trade with Russia which, after the sanctions imposed as a result of the shooting down of the Sukhoi24M aircraft in November 2015, fell to 6 million US dollars between January and May 2016, while the flow of Russian tourists in Turkey has plunged by as much as 93%.
Therefore the agreement between Russia and Turkey is designed to a division of the Middle East and Central Asia.
Turkey will have the opportunity of managing the new relations with the various Turkmen and Ottoman communities, while Russia (and Iran) will have the possibility of creating a large Asian economic community, which is designed to replace the symbiotic relationship between Europe and the United States.
Furthermore, in Syria, the United States and Europe will be completely wiped out by this new agreement, which envisages that the design of this new “Eurasian entente” be started right from the Syrian territory.
In the meeting held with President Putin in St. Petersburg, following up an idea already proposed in 2013, President Erdogan reiterated that Turkey could be ready to drop its request to join the EU if he were given the opportunity to adhere to the Eurasian institutions and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in particular.
Nothing, however, prevents Turkey from also walking out of NATO in the future, if the appeal of the Eurasian system were to become irresistible.
We must not even forget, however, that currently 44% of Turkish exports is still to the EU – a ridiculous strategic dwarf – and that, also as a result of sanctions, a mere 4% is to Russia.
Moreover, it is not even likely for Turkey to have access to the most advanced technologies through Russia, apart from the military ones, or that opening to Russia may be the only means for Turkey to access world markets.
Nevertheless we cannot rule out that the establishment of a real, solid Eurasian unity may definitely attract Turkey to the Russian and Chinese project of the economic and strategic autonomy of a new and united Central Asia. And in this case Turkey would be very useful, because it would provide the necessary connection with the Mediterranean.
As already noted, Russia mainly wants to destabilize NATO eastwards and certainly the rift between Turkey and the Atlantic Alliance is certainly an opportunity not to be missed.
Furthermore Turkey does no longer trust the United States which host and help Fethullah Gulen. It wants to create its specific, neo-Ottoman and nationalistic political Islam, thus closing the door both to the EU, which has not yet realized it, and to NATO itself, which is now a useless alliance for the Turkish Panturanic and Eurasian project.
NATO, however, is still necessary to maintain the geoeconomic relationship with the EU and the United States, which is valid as long as Turkey does not replace it with the one with Russia, China and Central Asia.
Hence if Donald Trump wins the US presidential elections, the Russian project of Turkish integration into its geopolitical system will continue, while if the winner is Hillary Clinton, who is obsessed by the future US contrast with Russia, NATO will resume its action in the Middle East. This is the reason why it is extremely useful for President Putin to allure Turkey.
At geoeconomic level, Russia can no longer afford a system of low oil prices – and, in the future, levelling off at around 40 US dollars per barrel – unless a major increase is recorded at the end of 2016, as some analysts predict.
This is the reason why it wants to sell a lot of gas to Europe through Turkey and it is opposed to the military and jihadist designs of Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States.
Hence currently the jihad is a substitute for the oil economic war which can be no longer waged and fought.
In fact, the energy world has changed: the United States are no longer the largest oil importer; the euro price of the oil barrel is higher than the one denominated in US dollars and the 40 US dollars per barrel are the tentative scenario for the Russian decision-makers.
Hence, Russia shall come to terms with this tight budget in the Middle East and Syria.
Moreover the cheap oil of the new Iranian exports – all directed to the East, would favour the Russian aims and designs in Central Asia also at geopolitical level.
And it would also favour its potential for selling the Turkish Stream gas in Europe.
Hence, if the Russian Federation opens to Turkey, it will be in a position to reach both the goal of the expansion of its oil market in the West and the goal of the maximum separation of Turkey from NATO.
It is a “win-win” game for Russia, which could ultimately quell tensions in Syria, which also block Turkey’s plans.
Therefore it is a “win-win” game also for Turkey.
For Israel, which has recently renewed its relations with Turkey and can no longer fully trust Russia, which must support Iran and the Hezb’ollah in Syria and the Lebanon, the new Putin’s and Erdogan’s Syrian plan can be useful to mitigate tensions on the Golan Heights and use the Turkish Panturanism for the anti-jihadist stabilization of the Middle East.
But even this is a project to be checked and verified in the future.
Landing in Riyadh: Geopolitics work in Putin’s favour
When Russian President Vladimir Putin lands in Riyadh this week for the second time in 12 years, his call for endorsement of his proposal to replace the US defense umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security architecture is likely to rank high on his agenda.
So is Mr. Putin’s push for Saudi Arabia to finalize the acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system in the wake of the failure of US weaponry to intercept drones and missiles that last month struck key Saudi oil installations.
“We are ready to help Saudi Arabia protect their people. They need to make clever decisions…by deciding to buy the most advanced S-400 air-defence systems. These kinds of systems are capable of defending any kind of infrastructure in Saudi Arabia from any kind of attack,” Mr. Putin said immediately after the attacks.
Mr Putin’s push for a multilateral security approach is helped by changing realities in the Gulf as a result of President Donald J. Trump’s repeated recent demonstrations of his unreliability as an ally.
Doubts about Mr. Trump have been fuelled by his reluctance to respond more forcefully to perceived Iranian provocations, including the downing of a US drone in June and the September attacks on the Saudi facilities as well as his distancing himself from Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu following last month’s elections, and most recently, the president’s leaving the Kurds to their own devices as they confront a Turkish invasion in Syria.
Framed in transactional terms in which Saudi Arabia pays for a service, Mr. Trump’s decision this week to send up to 3,000 troops and additional air defences to the kingdom is likely to do little to enhance confidence in his reliability.
By comparison, Mr. Putin, with the backing of Chinese president Xi Jinping, seems a much more reliable partner even if Riyadh differs with Moscow and Beijing on key issues, including Iran, Syria and Turkey.
“While Russia is a reliable ally, the US is not. Many in the Middle East may not approve of Moscow supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but they respect Vladimir Putin for sticking by Russia’s beleaguered ally in Syria,” said Middle East scholar and commentator Mark N. Katz.
In a twist of irony, Mr. Trump’s unreliability coupled with an Iran’s strategy of gradual escalation in response to the president’s imposition of harsh economic sanctions in a bid to force the Islamic republic to the negotiating table appear to have moderated what was perceived as a largely disastrous assertive and robust go-it alone Saudi foreign and defense policy posture in recent years.
While everyone would benefit from a dialling down of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Mr. Trump’s overall performance as the guarantor of security in the Gulf could in the longer term pave the way for a more multilateral approach to the region’s security architecture.
In the latest sign of Saudi willingness to step back from the brink, Saudi Arabia is holding back channel talks for the first time in two years with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The talks began after both sides declared partial ceasefires in the more than four year-long Yemeni war.
The talks potentially open the door to a broader Russian-sponsored deal in the context of some understanding about non-aggression between the kingdom and Iran, in which Saudi Arabia would re-establish diplomatic relations with Syria in exchange for the Islamic republic dropping its support for the Houthis.
Restoring diplomatic relations and reversing the Arab League’s suspension of Syrian membership because of the civil war would constitute a victory for Mr. Al-Assad’s main backers, Russia and Iran. It would grant greater legitimacy to a leader viewed by significant segments of the international community as a pariah.
A Saudi-Iranian swap of Syria for Yemen could also facilitate Saudi financial contributions to the reconstruction of war-ravaged Syria. Saudi Arabia was conspicuously absent at last month’s Rebuild Syria Expo in Damascus.
Mr. Putin is likely to further leverage his enhanced credibility as well as Saudi-Russian cooperation in curtailing oil production to boost prices to persuade Saudi Arabia to follow through on promises to invest in Russia.
Saudi Arabia had agreed to take a stake in Russia’s Novatek Arctic-2 liquefied natural gas complex, acquire Sibur, Russia’s largest petrochemical facility, and invest an additional US$6 billion in future projects.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak predicted that “about 30 agreements and contracts will be signed during President Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia. We are working on it. These are investment projects, and the sum in question is billions of dollars.”
In anticipation of Mr. Putin’s visit, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said it was opening its first overseas office in Riyadh.
RDIF and the kingdom’s counterpart, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), are believed to be looking at some US$2.5 billion in investment in technology, medicine, infrastructure, transport and industrial production.
The Russian fund is also discussing with Aramco, the Saudi state-owned oil company, US$3 billion in investments in oil services and oil and gas conversion projects.
Saudi interest in economic cooperation with Russia goes beyond economics. Ensuring that world powers have an increasing stake in the kingdom’s security is one pillar of a more multilateral regional approach
Said Russian Middle East expert Alexey Khlebnikov: “Clearly, the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities have changed many security calculations throughout the region.”
No peace for Kurds: Rojava still under attack
The Amazon is still on fire. The “lungs of the Earth” are hardly breathing while the flames are threatening people and nature reserves. As long as we do not see with our own eyes the burnt trees, the endangered species and the indigenous tribes fighting to save their dying forest, we seem incapable to understand the actual consequences.
Thousands of miles away from this environmental catastrophe, a different kind of tragedy is waiting to happen. Rojava-Northern Syria Federation — the self-declared autonomous region that Kurdish people managed to carve out in northeastern Syria during the Civil war — is burning again.
On September 24, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a controversial speech to the United Nations General Assembly and proposed to create a “safe zone” in the north of Syria, in order to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees. He is hoping to establish a peace corridor with a depth of 32 kilometers and a length of 480 kilometers, which would easily turn the area into the world’s largest refugee camp. Despite the seemingly humanitarian purposes, this might represent the umpteenth attempt to destroy the Kurdish dream of an independent democratic enclave.
It is undeniably clear, in fact, how Turkey could take advantage of the situation: Erdoğan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has already claimed that Ankara’s aim is also to clear the borders from “terrorist elements.”
The People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), which — along with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — played a key role in the fought against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are the official army of Rojava but currently designated as terrorist organizations. These armed groups, in fact, are considered as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the far-left militant and political organization founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan and often involved in armed clashes with Turkish security forces.
Kurdish people are about to be left alone once again and the recent decisions of the White House trigger alarm in the whole Middle East.
On October 7, president Donald Trump announced that the United States — so far the main financer, trainer and supporter of Kurds — would start pulling troops out of those territories, although it would not constitute a full withdrawal.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that “The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the president — that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria,” and that “The US Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation.”
Mazlum Kobanê, the commander in chief of the SDF, announced that they will protect Syrian’s borders and fight back against Ankara’s army. Since the majority of Kurdish cities are located in this area, it is not difficult to understand how potentially devasting this ongoing operation could be.
Turkish assault is going to begin from the city of Gire Spi/Tell Abyad, once controlled by the so-called Caliphate and captured in 2015 by the YPG during the Tell Abyad offensive. The cities of Qamishli, Derek/Al Malikiya, Tell Tamer and Kobanê/Ayn al Arab are next to become target of air strikes and artillery fire as well.
It is no coincidence that shortly after the siege of Kobanê, Kurdish forces directed their efforts towards Tell Abyad, being such a strategic site for ISIL militias. The city, in fact, was better known in the West as the “Jihadi Highway”, a de-facto corridor for foreign fighters. In the chaos caused by the fighting, jihadists would surely try to regain strength and Turkish move is serving the cause.
At the Al-Hol camp — a huge detention female camp near Al-Hasakah — numerous riots have occurred in the past few weeks, and the managers of the structure believe that the women held in the prison — former jihadi brides — might be the vehicle for renewed forms of radicalization.
In view of the fact that US officials confirmed that they will not intervene nor will they seize control of those prisons, Kurdish forces called Washington’s move “a stab in the back”. Meanwhile in Raqqa, ISIL militants are still carrying out suicide bombing attacks against SDF positions.
Shervan Derwish, official spokesman of the Mambij Military Council, has expressed his concern with a very touching message on Twitter.
The YPG and YPJhave fought in many historical battles and their solitary resistance during the last Turkish Afrin offensive in January 2018 became a symbol of their resilience.
On the other hand, Turkey’s army will be backed by their well-known rebel allies: “The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly, “wrote Fahrettin Altun — Turkey’s communications director — in a Washington Post column. Numerous military groups are active in the region and, although their nature is still debated, there are evidence of many connections with jihadi-inspired organizations.
Working in cooperation with the SDF, Rojava’s cantons are ready to resist and defend their independence, but Trump’s decision sounds like a betrayal.
If forests are burning, so will be democracy in Syria. The Rojava project is in imminent danger, and this time there will be no mountains for the Kurds to seek refuge in. Here in the West we are blessed not to directly witness the destruction of both tragedies, but it is still up to us whether to look those flames in the eye or remember them as the unique environments they actually were.
In loving memory of Mehmet Aksoy, who dedicated his life to the Kurdish cause.
Revisiting Saudi-Iranian Rivalry: From A Cold War Perspective
Middle East considered the “bridge between the East and West” has long grabbed attention of great power policy makers due to its geostrategic and geopolitical significance. After the discovery of oil in the early part of 20th Century, Iran and Saudi Arabia had gained a prominent position at the global international arena. The defining moment in their relation was the year 1968, when the British government announced its withdrawal from the “Persian Gulf,” threatening thereby the balance brought to an equilibrium by more than 150 years of English security guarantees to the sheikdoms. The international community largely sees the conflict in terms of sectarian and on religious grounds which is an inadequate approach and one that rules out other detrimental factor. There have been little analysis and studies undertaken on the conflict from a “Cold war” perspective, which can significantly help other states in maintaining a viable balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The conflict dubbed as the “New Middle East Cold War” or “Saudi-Iranian Cold War” is not the first event termed as “Cold war” in the Middle Eastern history. Malcolm Kerr writing in his acclaimed book Arab Cold War 1958-67 termed the growing rivalry and quest for leadership in the Middle East at the aftermath of British and French withdrawal between Republican Egypt and conservative Arab monarchies as a regional equivalent of Cold war. The present relations of Saudi Arabia and Iran are short of war, a condition where although the contenders do not engage in open battlefields face to face, it is a ‘battle’ nevertheless fought on different fronts including the media. Daniel Serwer of John Hopkins writes that Saudi-Iran conflict is regional equivalent of20th century US-Soviet Cold war.
Characteristics of Cold War
The term ‘cold war’ had been in use before 1945 to describe period of extreme tensions between states that were just short of war. In the year 1893, German socialist Eduard Bernstein described the arms race between Germany and its neighbors as a kind of ‘cold war’ where “there is no shooting but bleeding.” The term rapidly came back into use when United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) faced each other eyeball to eyeball. British writer George Orwell remarked on the significance of the moment foreseeing “a peace that is no peace” where the two mighty powers were to be “unconquerable and in a permanent state of cold war.”Anders Stephanson has defined the essence of a Cold War as consisting of characteristics whereby both sides deny each other the legitimacy as a regime, attempting to attack each other by all means short of war. This is in the view of the author, followed by an intense military buildup with a prolonged arms race.
Cold War since then has exclusively referred to as the ‘sustained state of political and military tensions’ between the 20th century superpowers. Although the rivalry had ceased with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the term and subject-matter has remained ever relevant to an extent that the study of grand strategy and security is considered incomplete without the former’s inclusion. Saudi Arabia and Iran, in order to contain conflict and to ensure; that it ends up being short and as shallow as possible, need to revitalize the lessons of the ‘original Cold War.’ United States and Soviet Union despite their sustained rivalry developed a variety of mechanism for escalation and risk management. This was undertaken without foregoing their core national interests and ideologies. The leadership understood that there was ‘wisdom in engaging’ rather than isolating the other. The approach is more relevant today in the era of globalization than it was in those years. “Geo-economics must replace geopolitics” as the focal Saudi-Iranian approach in order to reach a ‘non-zero sum situation.’
Religious and political ideology plays an important role in the foreign policy between Riyadh and Tehran. The two offer competing ideologies and political model with a strong desire for strategic and geopolitical supremacy. The standoff, experts believe is also the result of the desire and aspirations of the two, for political leadership in the Islamic world. The conflict is not the result of alleged schism between Shia and Sunni school of Islam, but is rather a byproduct of centuries’ political and religious contestation that existed between empires and is now manifested into politics of these modern states.
Diplomacy is integral to the Middle East cold war. Since establishing relations in 1929, the two have had their ups and downs. In the years of the Shah, relations began to take the turn for worse when Shah’s ‘hegemonic desires’ and Saudi Arabia’s desire not to accept Iran predominant role in the Gulf and beyond. Nevertheless, relations remained intact at least diplomatically despite severity of incidents such as Gunboat coercion and the oil wars.
Wars have recognizable beginnings and they comprise of direct fighting between the adversaries with armistices and peace treaties as their conclusive ends. However, a Cold war has none of these characteristics, in words of Walter Lippman, “it brings neither peace nor honour to those who wage it.” The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia has “spillover effects” and repercussions beyond the region. States such as those in the West, and Pakistan in particular close in proximity to the two have had a tough time “balancing” their relations. A careful, delicate and pragmatic approach needs to be adopted on part of statesmen, taking into account the opportunities and challenges arising from a “Cold War” need to be taken into account. Media on both sides has an important role to play in patching up the hostilities by upholding ethical standards and avoiding propagandist contest to avoid further aggravation of the conflict.
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