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The New Middle East during the ISIS defeat

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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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 "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. 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 of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Middle East

Gulf countries pivot towards Israel: Can Arab recognition be foresighted?

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The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Oman surprised the entire world and delivered a message of smoothening of relations between Oman and Israel. This event has marked the first ever visit by any Israeli leader to Oman in 22 years. The Israeli Prime Minister and the Sultan discussed ‘Ways to enhance the peace process in the Middle East’ as well as other issues of ‘joint interest’. For Netanyahu, a milestone was achieved in the form of Oman recognition of Israel as normalizing relations with fellow regional states is one of the important clause of Netanyahu’s policy. Moreover, an Israeli Minister Yisrael Katz attended an International Transport Conference in Oman and proposed a railway link to connect Persian Gulf with the Mediterranean Sea. However, the railway link isn’t confirmed yet, it was just proposed in the conference. In parallel, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev attended Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2018 in United Arab Emirates, where for the first time in history the national anthem of Israel was played. Similar approach was adopted by Israel towards Qatar. These changing dynamics can foresight the future of Gulf politics, that is, gulf countries can align with Israel to counter the influence of Iran in the region and for this purpose gulf countries may recognize Israel.

An important thing to notice is that the countries smoothening their relations with Israel are members of GCC, where Saudi Arabia is at the top of hierarchy- the major decision maker in Middle East- which means without Saudi Arabia’s willingness and its interests, GCC countries cannot take such a big decision. Now here a question arises, why would Saudi Arabia allow this approach?

The main reasons are; firstly, the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman have cordial relations with Israel’s top leadership and he(MBS) is seen as a potential ally by Israel in Middle East, the major reason why Israel demanded US to side by Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi murder case. Second, it would be very difficult for Saudi Arabia- the self-proclaimed leader of the Sunni Muslim world- to recognize Israel while other states in the region still oppose the existence of a Jewish state in Middle East. Recognition of Israel by other GCC countries would make it far easier for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel or at least to melt ice. Lastly, the Khashoggi murder case have already deteriorated the international image of Saudi Arabia, at this point of time the country cannot afford to bear another blame as Muslim countries think it would be injustice to Palestinians if Israel is recognized.

So will Saudi Arabia follow the suit and recognize Israel? The question still remains ambiguous, but since Saudi Arabia haven’t opposed these action of GCC countries and a continuous diplomatic support from Israel to Saudi Arabia have been visible although both countries do not have diplomatic relations, it can be predicted that something is going on, between both of these states which they have chosen  not to disclose now. Coming to Qatar, since Qatar is also involved in this process of developing diplomatic relations with Israel, it can prove to be a catalyst in the troubled Saudi/Qatar relations as helping Saudi Arabia to develop relations with Israel while other Arab states are doing the same can lift up the entire blame from Saudi Arabia. Maybe the sanctions over Qatar will be lifted or just become less intensified. Qatar sees it as an opportunity to regain the similar status in the region as well as to reconstruct relations with the other Arab countries.

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Turkish Newspaper Implicates UAE’s Crown Prince in Covering Up Murder of Khashoggi

Eric Zuesse

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud, and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, are close friends and allies, who jointly lead the war against Houthi-led Yemen. On Sunday afternoon, November 18th, a leading Turkish newspaper, Yeni Şafak, reported the two leaders to have also collaborated in hiding the murder on October 2nd in Istanbul of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Yeni Şafak headlined “Dahlan ‘cover-up team’ from Lebanon helps hide traces of Khashoggi murder” and reported that on October 2nd, “A second team that arrived in Istanbul to help cover-up the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was dispatched by Muhammed Dahlan, UAE Crown Prince Muhammed bin Zayed’s chief hitman in the region, … according to an informed source who spoke to Yeni Şafak daily on the condition of anonymity.”

On November 16th, the Washington Post had headlined “CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination”.

Bin Salman and bin Zayed are U.S. President Donald Trump’s closest foreign allies other than, possibly, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. All four men are determined that there be regime-change in Shiite Iran. This anti-Shia position bonds them also against the Houthis, who are Shiites, in Yemen, where bin Salman and bin Zayed lead the war, and the United States provides the training, logistics, and weapons. Both bin Salman and bin Zayed are fundamentalist Sunnis who are against Shia Muslims. Israel and the United States are allied with these two princes. Saudi Arabia’s royal family have been committed against Shia Muslims ever since 1744 when the Saud family made a pact with the fundamentalist Sunni preacher Mohammed ibn Wahhab, who hated Shia Muslims. Thus, Saudi Arabia is actually Saudi-Wahhabi Arabia, with Sauds running the aristocracy, and Wahhabists running the clergy.

In 2017, in Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh, Trump sold, to the Saudi Crown Prince, initially, $350 billion of U.S.-made weapons over a ten-year period (the largest weapons-sale in world history), and $110 billion in just the first year. That deal was soon increased to $404 billion. For Trump publicly to acknowledge that Salman had “ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination” would jeopardize this entire deal, and, perhaps, jeopardize the consequent boom in America’s economy. It also would jeopardize the U.S. alliance’s war against Shiites in Yemen.

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Revisiting the Qatari crisis

Ahmed Genidy

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In 2017 the dispute between Qatar and a number of its neighbours Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Oman has considered as the most serious crisis since years and could escalate in the future to destabilise an already turbulent region. The Qatari support to the extremist parties and terrorist entities in the region is the apparent reason, however, conflicting of interest between Qatar and the other states about the Iranian relations, the political Islam and the competition over the regional leadership are the main reasons. Egypt, Oman and the UAE with the leadership of Saudi Arabia withdrawing diplomats, closing borders, announcing a number of Qatari citizens as terrorist supporters and place an embargo on Qatar and most of its interests and businesses in the region.

The primary reason for the Saudi’s camp blockade is the Qatari politically and financially support for violent extremist groups often affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood which considers as a real threat for the other GCC states in particular because of the ability of these group to create a secretive organisation with extreme religious behaviour. However, Qatar is relatively weaker in terms of politically and militarily than the Saudi’s camp, but it has continued to support its Islamist allies for many reasons: ideological sympathy; a believe that political Islam could reflect into Qatar’s influence in the region; a desire to challenge the traditional regional influence especially Saudi Arabia and its followers. In addition, Qatar has used its owned media tool the Aljazeera channel to magnify the Muslim Brotherhood influence and to criticise leaders in Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi which has been the major thorn in the relations.

The Qatari-Iranian close tie is the second source of tension which seen by other GCC states as a threat to the stability and even the existence of the Sunni majority states in the Gulf. The growing Qatari Iranian relation is evident in many occasions such as the Qatari voting against the UNSC resolution that calling on Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment project and the signing of Qatari Iranian agreement in counterterrorism cooperation which is a Qatar approach to benefit from the Iranian forces due to the modest Qatari military capability. Moreover, the Amir of Qatar called the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and congratulated him on his re-election on April 2017. Finally, Qatar paid the amount of $700 for Kataab Hezbollah Iraq (Iranian baked militia) for the exchange of a member of the Qatari royal family who has been a hostage in Iraq, (probably falsely) was the act that irritated most of the GCC states and triggering the crisis.

The Trump’s administration policy in the region gives Riyad, Cairo and Abu Dhabi the green light to punish Qatar for its support to the Islamic movement. Trump expressed a passive acceptance to the Saudi and its allies in an attempt to contain the greedy Iranian strategy in the region and to confront the rising of the radical Islam. However, it seems that Saudi and its allies are unqualified for such a containment scheme to Iran the giant regional power. Trump also took credit on Twitter and describe the Qatari Amir as “high-level founder of terrorism.” Thus, the blockade can see as an attempt from the Saudi’s camp to push Qatar back to the line, an opportunity to satisfy their allies in Washington and to shift the public opinion to the Qatari issues instead of many internal issues and shortcoming.

The crisis involved a number of unpredictable stakeholders with huge interests in the region which could turn the situation into uncontrollable in many ways. The blockade camp clearly desires that Qatar recognise how serious they are, rapidly back to the line and admit unambiguously their list of demands which include shutting down Aljazeera, end the cooperating with Iran, stop supporting the Islamic parties and recognise the Saudi leadership in the GCC region. On the other hand, Qatar with its relatively small population 300,000 citizens and fund over $300 billion ensures the state will never face a serious financial issue in the future. Moreover, Qatar is the home of the U.S. air base Al-Udeid which is a critical component of the U.S. campaign in the Middle East. Therefore, Qatar knows that the U.S. has an immediate interest in emphasising the stability and the security in Qatar in particular while the U.S. does not have an alternative to Al-Udeid base to support its strategy in the Middle East. The Saudi’s camp is unlikely to abandon their demands. The crisis shows how much the GCC leaders are threatening and in a confusing situation toward support specific radical Islam movements and relation with Iran. In addition, the blockade camp can maintain the sanctions for a long time rather than take a military action due to its economic cost and the lack of suitable capabilities to conduct such a war. For instance, the Saudi campaign in Yemen now and after three years, shows a significant failure to achieve its strategic goals.

The current situations for both sides show that the crisis could easily continue for more years which is a critical concern to all the stakeholders in the region. Now Iran and Turkey are playing a significant role in supporting Qatar needs of foods and goods to minimise the inconvenient of the embargo. Also, Ankara is considering enhancing its military presence in Qatar which seen as a direct threat to Saudi Arabia the major regional compotator for the Turkish influence. That also shows a high possibility of an Iranian Turkish large-scale involvement in case of a military confrontation.

The U.S. mission should focus on balancing the support to the Gulf States and their core interests as well as supporting the stability by avoiding encouraging them from adopting a risky diplomatic offensives options that can backfire into the whole region. It seems that the U.S. should adopt nuanced diplomacy to end the crisis which is not that simple for the current U.S. administration. Since the conflicting parties of this crisis will not likely find a comprehensive solution on their own, the U.S. should make it a priority to help them do so before the costs of the dispute continue to escalate in unpredictable ways.

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