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The New Middle East during the ISIS defeat

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he Iraqi Security Forces, the “Golden Eagles” have pushed deeply into eastern Mosul, while the same Shiite Iraqi Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters operate both in the East and, especially, in the South of the peripheral area of the city.

The operations of both corps take place after the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and the Ninth Division of the Iraqi Forces “cleaning” particularly eastern Mosul, the ancient Kurdish capital city.

ISIS responds to these operations with several snipers, many suicide bombings and, in some areas, heavy artillery so as to secure the centre of Mosul and react to the Iraqi and Peshmerga attacks.

The city, however, has been encircled while the Kurdish Peshmerga have reconquered Bashiqa, precisely when ISIS has attacked Shirqat and, meanwhile, the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces have been operating to conquer Raqqa, the “capital city” of Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate, after its encirclement.

But nothing prevents ISIS from reconnecting with the city of Qaim – still held by the Caliph’s followers – starting from Dair El-Zour.

This could lead to a partial encirclement of the Kurdish and Iraqi troops.

Hence the United States must confine themselves to supporting the operations against ISIS beyond Mosul, in the valley beyond the Euphrates river.

Now the Caliphate could lock itself into very small safe areas and launch operations from there designed to recreate a cover area and a new “Caliphate” near Turkey and well inside Iraq.

This brief summary of the operations on the ground provides us the whole picture of the Middle East after the end of the operations against the Caliph.

Moreover the United States operate closely with Turkey, with which – as maintained by the Joint Chief of Staff, General Dunford – they “will conquer and rule Raqqa”.

In other words, in close connection with the United States, Turkey will control most of the former ISIS territory which, however, has been reconquered by the Kurdish and Iraqi militants and fighters.

Hence we may think of a new Kurdistan between Syria and Iraq, clearly separated from the Kurdish Anatolian region, in the former Syrian territory of which Turkey will be stationed.

Hence the increasingly likely splitting up of Syria, with north-east areas controlled by Turkey, the coastal “Alawistan” protected by Russia, the autonomous Sunni centre, obviously without Bashar al-Assad’s minority government and a “small Syria” on Iran’s borders, possibly always under Assad’s rule and command.

It seems a rational solution, but it is fraught with great dangers.

Turkey will use the areas conquered with the United States in the old “Caliphate” to join forces with the Turkish-born populations in Central Asia, thus intersecting and possibly hindering the interests of Iran and the Russian Federation.

On the other side, in the North East, there are the Syrian and Russian forces that are penetrating the Raqqa area, and there may be a clash between the Syrian “Democratic” forces, Turkey and the United States and the Russian and Syrian forces of Bashar el-Assad’s regime.

Hence the border between the two “worlds”, Russia and the United States, with their proxies and their various forces on the ground, will pass through Northern Syria.

Furthermore the United States are likely to do their utmost to replace the “Caliphate” with an autonomous government of the “Syrian Democratic Forces”, basically the new jihadists supporting the United States.

Therefore it would not be unreasonable to think of an autonomous entity, in the former ISIS region, made up of these strange “democratic” forces which, by managing the territory against Russia, the Iraqi Kurds, the Turks and especially Assad’s Syrians, would permanently break the unity of the old Alawites’s Syria, which is the legacy of the careful French colonialism.

The jihadists, ISIS “bad” residues, would flee to the West and to China, in the future – as they have already partially done – for their new jihad of “lone wolves”.

Conversely, the Russian Federation is paying its attention primarily Damascus and Aleppo.

In mid-November the aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” will reach Syria’s Mediterranean coast with new Su-33 and MiG 29 jet fighters equipped with high precision ammunition and Ka-52 attack helicopters.

In addition to this aircraft carrier, there is a squadron with at least three submarines equipped with very powerful and high-precision Kalibr missiles, those previously used in Syria by the Russian ships of the Caspian Sea.

As we have already noted, these weapons will support Assad’s Syrian forces again in Aleppo and Damascus, but Russia now doubts that the Syrian war is a way to impose Russia’s global presence or that it can anyway provide the possibility of a stable coalition with Westerners.

The Russian aircraft carrier will support Assad in his fight against jihadist forces, even the pro-US ones around Aleppo, after having partially slowed down the air missions in relation to the US and EU sanctions.

If tension in Aleppo and Damascus mounts, Russia will start again to systematically bomb the jihadists’ areas, even outside the above mentioned cities.

Furthermore both Putin and Bashar el-Assad are increasingly sure of their victory in the “central” region of the old Syria.

Hence, with a view to simplifying and summarizing, during and after the Syrian conflict the United States will penetrate the Middle East terrestrial system so as to control Russia, the Alawite Syria, Iran and the Kurdish region.

It some sort of alliance between Russia and Turkey is possible, where Turkey feels isolated by the old EU system, the United States will then propose a bilateral alliance to Turkey so as to “keep” the Middle East, also beyond NATO obligations, which are valid only for those who believes in them.

Hence Russia will keep the Mediterranean coast of Syria for itself, with the maximum Syrian land to be granted to its ally Bashar el-Assad, that will serve as area protecting the Russian presence.

Russia wants to massively return to the Middle East region, which is Europe’s key region and the Northern axis of oil and gas passage, while Russia holds also the Southern one, with Crimea and Ukraine.

The United States, too, want to have a certain presence in the same region, which should primarily be an alternative to the alliance with Israel.

Although minimally participating to the air strikes against “terrorist” Syria and Assad’s Shiite Syria, Great Britain knows that the Syrian Free Soldiers, who the United States even estimate to be 70,000, are a US umbrella of jihadist groups dissolved years ago.

Therefore Great Britain could propose itself as a mediator for substantial peace between the many national groups operating in the Syrian war, possibly ceasing to follow the American ally’s advice.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with a substantial Turkish contribution, have created the Army of Conquest in Syria, by mainly taking jihadists from the Al Nusra Front, the Qaedist area of Syria. Great Britain, however, is recreating – especially through China – a climate suitable for serious negotiations on Syria, based on the fact that it has scarcely contributed to every Western action in Syria.

What about Israel? The Jewish State has always regarded Syria’s presence on the Golan Heights and its support for the Lebanese Hezbollah as an immediate and primary danger.

Hence the crisis of Bashar el-Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war has led to some sort of tranquillity for Israel on the Golan front, also enhanced by the new relationship that Israel has experienced with Putin’s Russia.

Nevertheless the presence of Iran and of the Lebanese “Party of God” in the Syrian context is a further factor of danger for the Israeli armed forces.

The variable is the new relationship with Russia, which regards both the exchange of military intelligence and, probably, Russia’s interest in separating the contenders in the Syrian quagmire and its immediate borders – by ultimately replacing the United States as primary partner of the Jewish State.

Hence Syria’s destabilization unless, in a not too distant future, a true peace conference is organized, will be the way in which – unlike what happened in the past – the stupid European Union will be in direct contact with the “permanent sword jihad”, having only a thin Russian-Alawite line on the Syrian Mediterranean coast as defence.

Quos Deus perdere vult, dementat.

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

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Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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Getting Away With Murder: The New U.S. Intelligence Report on the Khashoggi Affair

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It was October 2, 2018 when a man walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate to collect some documents he needed for his impending marriage.  He had been there earlier on September 28, and had been told to allow a few days for them to prepare the needed proof of divorce from an earlier marriage.

So there he was.  His Turkish fiancée had accompanied him and he asked her to wait outside as it would only take a minute or two.  She waited and waited and… waited.  Jamal Khashoggi never came out.

What went on inside is a matter of dispute but US intelligence prepared a report which should have been released but was illegally blocked by the Trump administration.  Mr. Trump is no doubt grateful for the help he has had over two decades from various Saudi royals in addition to the business thrown his way at his various properties.  “I love the Saudis,” says Donald Trump and he had kept the report under wraps.  It has now been released by the new Biden administration.      

All the same, grisly details of the killing including dismemberment soon emerged because in this tragic episode, with an element of farce, it was soon evident that the Turks had bugged the consulate.  There is speculation as to how the perpetrators dispersed of the corpse but they themselves have been identified.  Turkish officials also claim to know that they acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.  They arrived on a private jet and left just as abruptly.

The egregious killing led to the UN appointing a Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard.  She concluded it to be an “extra-judicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”  She added, there was “credible evidence”  implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials.  

Now the US report.  Intelligence agencies conclude Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad under the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  They add that the latter has had unitary control over Saudi security and intelligence organizations and thus it was “highly unlikely” an operation of this nature would have been possible without Prince Mohammed’s authorization.

Mr. Biden’s reaction is plain.  Although the Crown Prince is the de facto ruler with his father the King’s acquiescence, Mr. Biden has not talked to him.  He called the king and emphasized the importance placed on human rights and the rule of law in the US.

President Biden is also re-evaluating US arms sales to the Kingdom with a view to limiting them to defensive weapons — a difficult task as many can be used for both, a fighter-bomber for example.

There are also calls for sanctions against the Crown Prince directly but Biden has ruled that out.  Saudi Arabia is after all the strongest ally of the US in the region, and no president wants to jeopardize that relationship.  Moreover, the US has done the same sort of thing often enough; the last prominent assassination being that of the senior Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani,  by the Trump administration.  

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US intelligence report leaves Saudi Arabia with no good geopolitical choices

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The Biden administration’s publication of a US intelligence report that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi creates a fundamental challenge to the kingdom’s geopolitical ambitions.

The challenge lies in whether and how Saudi Arabia will seek to further diversify its alliances with other world powers in response to the report and US human rights pressure.

Saudi and United Arab Emirates options are limited by that fact that they cannot fully replace the United States as a mainstay of their defence as well as their quest for regional hegemony, even if the report revives perceptions of the US as unreliable and at odds with their policies.

As Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed contemplate their options, including strengthening relations with external players such as China and Russia, they may find that reliance on these forces could prove riskier than the pitfalls of the kingdom’s ties with the United States.

Core to Saudi as well as UAE considerations is likely to be the shaping of the ultimate balance of power between the kingdom and Iran in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia’s border with China.

US officials privately suggest that regional jockeying in an environment in which world power is being rebalanced to create a new world order was the key driver of Saudi and UAE as well as Israeli opposition from day one to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that the United States together with Europe, China, and Russia negotiated. That remains the driver of criticism of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the agreement.

“If forced to choose, Riyadh preferred an isolated Iran with a nuclear bomb to an internationally accepted Iran unarmed with the weapons of doom,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and founder of the National Iranian American Council. Mr. Parsi was summing up Saudi and Emirati attitudes based on interviews with officials involved in the negotiations at a time that Mr. Biden was vice-president.

As a result, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel appear to remain determined to either foil a return of the United States to the accord, from which Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew, or ensure that it imposes conditions on Iran that would severely undermine its claim to regional hegemony.

In the ultimate analysis, the Gulf states and Israel share US objectives that include not only restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also limiting its ballistic missiles program and ending support for non-state actors like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemen’s Houthis. The Middle Eastern states differ with the Biden administration on how to achieve those objectives and the sequencing of their pursuit.

Even so, the Gulf states are likely to realize as Saudi Arabia contemplates its next steps what Israel already knows: China and Russia’s commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia or Israel are unlikely to match that of the United States given that they view an Iran unfettered by sanctions and international isolation as strategic in ways that only Turkey rather than other Middle Eastern states can match.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE will also have to recognize that they can attempt to influence US policies with the help of Israel’s powerful Washington lobby and influential US lobbying and public relations companies in ways that they are not able to do in autocratic China or authoritarian Russia.

No doubt, China and Russia will seek to exploit opportunities created by the United States’ recalibration of its relations with Saudi Arabia with arms sales as well as increased trade and investment.

But that will not alter the two countries’ long-term view of Iran as a country, albeit problematic, with attributes that the Gulf states cannot match even if it is momentarily in economic and political disrepair.

Those attributes include Iran’s geography as a gateway at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; ethnic, cultural, and religious ties with Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of history and empire; a deep-seated identity rooted in empire; some of the world’s foremost oil and gas reserves; a large, highly educated population of 83 million that constitutes a huge domestic market; a fundamentally diversified economy; and a battle-hardened military.

Iran also shares Chinese and Russian ambitions to contain US influence even if its aspirations at times clash with those of China and Russia.

“China’s BRI will on paper finance additional transit options for the transfer of goods from ports in southern to northern Iran and beyond to Turkey, Russia, or Europe. China has a number of transit options available to it, but Iranian territory is difficult to avoid for any south-north or east-west links,” said Iran scholar Alex Vatanka referring to Beijing’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.

Compared to an unfettered Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE primarily offer geography related to some of the most strategic waterways through which much of the world’s oil and gas flows as well their positioning opposite the Horn of Africa and their energy reserves.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s position as a religious leader in the Muslim world built on its custodianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, potentially could be challenged as the kingdom competes for leadership with other Middle Eastern and Asian Muslim-majority states.

On the principle of better the enemy that you know than the devil that you don’t, Saudi leaders may find that they are, in the best of scenarios, in response to changing US policies able to rattle cages by reaching out to China and Russia in ways that they have not until now, but that at the end of the day they are deprived of good choices.

That conclusion may be reinforced by the realization that the United States has signalled by not sanctioning Prince Mohammed that it does not wish to cut its umbilical cord with the kingdom. That message was also contained in the Biden administration’s earlier decision to halt the sale of weapons that Saudi Arabia could you for offensive operations in Yemen but not arms that it needs to defend its territory from external attack.

At the bottom line, Saudi Arabia’s best option to counter an Iran that poses a threat to the kingdom’s ambitions irrespective of whatever regime is in power would be to work with its allies to develop the kind of economic and social policies as well as governance that would enable it to capitalize on its assets to effectively compete. Containment of Iran is a short-term tactic that eventually will run its course.

Warned former British diplomat and Royal Dutch Shell executive Ian McCredie: “When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1922, it created a vacuum which a series of powers have attempted to fill ever since. None has succeeded, and the result has been a century of wars, coups, and instability. Iran ruled all these lands before the Arab and Ottoman conquests. It could do so again.”

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