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Israel and the war in Syria

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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There is fundamental point which needs to be studied carefully: the war in Syria – after the entry of the Russian Federation into the region – implies a connection between Russia and Iran that is supremely dangerous for Israel. In fact, many of the Russian air raids on the Syrian soil come from the Iranian base of Hamadan, 175 miles south of Tehran – the historical tomb, inter alia, of Esther and Mordechai, the traditional pilgrimage of Iranian Jews.

If Russia really wants to avoid traditional Western powers managing again the equilibriums of the Great Middle East, it must favour the strengthening of a “Shiite crescent” stretching from Iran to the Alawite region in Syria up to the Southern Lebanon of the “Party of God”, namely Hezbollah.

However, if Russia leaves the whole work in the hands of Iranians and their allies, it must rely on a strong Israel enabling it to stay in the game throughout the Syrian territory.

Moreover, Putin wants to block every Western temptation to conduct other “Arab Springs” in the Middle East or riots in the streets that, as the Russian leader knows all too well, would sooner or later be used against his regime within the Russian Federation.

Putin has blocked any possibility of “indirect strategy” on the part of Westerners – and this is already one of his significant victories.

In fact, with Crimea’s annexation on March 18, 2014 and the counter-revolution in Ukraine, Putin has stabilized Russia’s power projection from the South, so as to cover its main networks for the distribution of oil and gas to the West and the Mediterranean.

Russia’s conquest of Syria – hence of the whole Greater Middle East – is the necessary “second circle” of this new security policy.

Russia focuses on countries, while Westerners, and especially Americans, focus on ethnic groups, religious groups and tribal areas.

And this is also a strength for Russia.

This is the reason why the continuous fragmentation of the clash fronts has not led to US hegemony, but to the now definitive US defeat in the Middle East.

Therefore Russia is certainly interested in the new expansion of Iran’s economy and geostrategic influence, but Iran still wants Bashar al-Assad as Syria’s leader.

The Russian Federation, however, still wants Assad to stay in power because this allows the maximum security and safety of its maritime bases in the Syrian Mediterranean.

Conversely Iran intends to keep Assad and the Shiite regime in power because they enable it to have the maximum strategic continuity with Lebanese Hezbollah.

Obviously Israel has no interest in entering the Syrian conflict.

The presence of the Jewish State would catalyze an alliance between Sunnis and Shiites against Jerusalem and would not play into the hands of Russia or Israel itself.

Moreover Israel has provided humanitarian and medical aid to the Syrian wounded people who reached the borders of the Golan Heights and has authorized the passage of humanitarian convoys across its borders.

However, the Israeli armed forces have hit individual targets within the Syrian territory during the conflict and the Jewish State’s military planning assumes that, even with the Russian support, there can never be strategic continuity between Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the Lebanese Shiites’ “Party of God”.

Russia has so far shown interest in the protection of Israeli borders for a number of important reasons.

Firstly, the Jewish State is home to over a million Russian citizens of Jewish religion.

In the Russian orthodox and nationalistic culture Slavophilia applies also to Russian Jews.

Furthermore the economic link between Russia and Israel is of primary interest, also and especially for Russians.

Currently the economic relations between Russia and Israel are worth approximately 4 billion US dollars – a much higher amount than trade between Russia and Egypt.

And this trade regards almost always high-tech goods.

Moreover, currently Putin could be the best broker for serious and final negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Now Obama’s America does no longer want to deal directly with the Middle East and in the United States there is an increasingly tense climate towards Israel, its internal political lobby and its strategic interest in the region, which does not coincide with the US policy of uncontested support for the Gulf monarchies.

Americans have entrusted the Sunnis with the protection of their interest in the Middle East – a risky and dangerous move.

Also in this case, the US decision-making mechanisms have been ambiguous.

While, on the one hand, March 2016 saw the signing of a US-Israel military agreement worth 38 billion US dollars over ten years, with some Israeli political concessions to the Palestinians, on the other hand, never as during Obama’s era there has been steady conflict between Washington and Jerusalem.

Conversely Putin and Netanyahu have reached an agreement for the mutual exchange of strategic information during the war in Syria, which is working well and could be the first step for a stable political-military exchange between the two countries.

Do the Americans want so? And how could they counteract the growth of Russia as Israel’s broker in the Arab and Islamic world?

Moreover, if Israel wants to count in a future redesign of Syria, it is only with Russia that it shall negotiate, considering that Westerners still fiddle with “moderate” jihadists and, although not counting at all on the ground, they want the regionalization of a future pacified Syria.

Furthermore, without the Western allies present in the Syrian region, Israel cannot avoid dealing with the only credible non-Islamic power, namely Russia.

Moreover, if we see how the crisis points of the Israeli deployment of forces have changed, we realize that the war in Syria has made the Lebanon very dangerous and the Gaza Strip even more unstable, but it has completely changed the military and political structure of the Golan Heights.

For over 40 years, the Golan Heights – conquered by the Syrians during the 1967 War – have been the quietest Israeli border.

UNDOF, the UN peacekeeping force in the region, collaborates in stabilizing the border, along with Israeli and Syrian forces located in the rear.

However, the Druze and the Israelis living in the Golan Heights are over 40,000.

The front between Israel and Syria is very dynamic and it has already witnessed Daesh/Isis operations and attacks on the Golan Heights areas closer to Jordan.

Assad has no interest in awakening Israel’s lion; the jihadists do not want to pay the price of very harsh reactions by the Israeli forces and in no way Israel wants to be involved in the Shiite-Sunni conflict.

There are two real strategic dangers: a Shiite or Sunni action going deep only into the Golan Heights or a correlation of forces between the front of the Golan Heights, the Southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

In fact, before the outbreak of war in Syria, the strategic debate among the Israeli decision-makers was simple: it would be good for Israel if Sunnis defeated Assad’s forces, which would break the link between the Syrian regime’s Alawites and Iran.

Or would the Sunnis build a strategic corridor from Turkey to the Golan Heights, with the support of Qatar and Saudi Arabia?

A prospect which would bring Daesh or the various jihadist “fronts” on Israel’s borders.

Better “the devil we already know” or a new form of the same dangerous presence?

Moreover, Assad, who is a shrewd man, has never directly attacked the Israeli forces on the Golan Heights, for fear of the predictable and powerful response actions. However he has smuggled Iranian arms to Hezbollah by using his Southern border with Israel.

For the time being the Jewish State’s rejection to follow one of two options, so as to manage a favourable equilibrium with the Russian winner, has proved to be the right choice.

Hence it must avoid exciting and rousing both the Turks and the Russians in the region, even though – pending the Syrian war – Israel has decided to support some Sunni groups on its Syrian border to prevent the stabilization of Hezbollah positions immediately behind its own defence lines.

Sunni groups that, however, are supported by Saudi Arabia and not by Turkey, always in front of the Golan Heights.

As from January 2015 to date, the Israeli attacks have always been tough and accurate and targeted to the Iranian officials and the leaders of the Lebanese “Party of God” operating on the Golan border.

The Lebanese Shiites’ activities, however, have become more difficult since Russia supplied Syria with its advanced radar and anti-aircraft missiles S-400.

In fact, at that juncture, the agreement between Israel and Russia was immediate, thus showing the relevance that the Jewish State has for Russia.

Iran could not supply Hezbollah with advanced weapons and, if it had done so, Israel would have been entitled to immediately respond militarily in Syria.

Always referring to the debate among the Israeli strategic decision-makers, there are many signs that Israel is allegedly changing its assessment of the clashes in Syria.

If the conflict continues – as everything currently make us predict – the Syrian forces will be a mere shadow of what they were, while the Lebanese “Party of God” must strongly support its ally, Assad, thus reducing its pressure on Israeli targets.

Therefore, for many Israeli analysts, a war definitely exhausting all the Jewish State’s Northern enemies is the optimal strategic equation.

On the other hand, there is the danger that, with a view to preventing the victory of Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites, supported by Russia, Israel may have a sort of US-style “conditioned reflex”, thus starting to support – against Assad – Iran and Hezb’ollah, the famous Sunni “rebels” so dear to the Western strategic foolishness.

The latter, after having received support, would turn immediately against those who have protected them.

Does the story of Daesh/Isis foundation teach us nothing?

A rational alternative for the Jewish State would be to support the Kurds or, in a wider perspective, the splitting up of the Syrian State, namely its “cantonization”.

Nevertheless we can also think of the great geopolitical opportunities that the Russian intervention opens up for Israel.

For Russia, rescuing Assad means marginalizing the United States in the whole Middle East and becoming a global strategic actor.

Furthermore, the secondary objective of this Russian operation is to maintain the key ally in the region, namely Assad, but above all to eliminate any possibility of radical Islamization of the Sunni areas and, hence, prevent Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – three powers close to the United States – from having a marked presence in Syria.

Therefore Russia may want three different things – and we do not know yet what Russia will choose.

A very small and united Syria – an Alawistan to protect the Russian military zones on the Mediterranean – a less little Syria with Assad reigning over Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Damascus or, finally, a greater Syria without Assad.

For Israel, the alternatives could be those of silently supporting the Russian actions in Syria and simultaneously resume relations between the Jewish State and some Sunni countries, so as to make them oppose Iran’s hegemonic expansion between Iran and Southern Lebanon.

Or Israel could negotiate directly with Russia a deployment of forces in Syria which would substantially allow to defuse and avert the Iranian-Shiite danger in the Golan Heights.

But what will be the bargaining chip with Russia and the other regional players, considering that the United States are no longer present in that region?

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

Saudi Arabia’s Entertainment Plans: Soft Power at Work?

Dr. Theodore Karasik

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Saudi Arabia recently broke ground on its ambitious “entertainment city” known as Qiddiya, near Riyadh. The splashy launch, attended by 300 dignitaries from around the world, highlights a frequently overlooked aspect of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan: the entertainment industry as a growing economic sector. As the kingdom diversifies its economy away from reliance on petro fuels, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been keen to showcase the increasing openness of his country, promoting festivals, concerts and sports events and ending the country’s 35-year ban on cinemas.

These projects are partially intended to bolster the economy and attract FDI—but not only. Saudi Arabia is also playing catch-up with other regional actors, such as Qatar and the UAE, in terms of cultural output and cultural participation. With Qiddiya and the other cultural projects in the works, Saudi is now carving out a road for itself to become a regional culture hub.

Thefirst phase of Qiddiya, which includes high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area, is expected to be completed in 2022.  Saudi officials hope the park will draw in foreign investment and attract 17 million visitors by 2030; the final phase of the project is expected to be completed in 2035, by which point the entertainment resort will be the largest in the world, dwarfing Florida’s Walt Disney World.

Beyond these financial incentives, however, the Qiddiya project is Saudi Arabia’s answer to events like the Dubai Expo 2020 or the Qatar World Cup 2022 and suggests that the kingdom is trying to position itself as the next big destination for lucrative events – which also add to the idea that entertainment, culture, and innovation are key to Saudi Arabia’s economic vision and success.

Vision 2030’s emphasis on entertainment raises a key question: is Riyadh attempting to increase its soft power across the region in a constructive and proactive way?  The answer to that question is yes.

In the immediate future, Qatar and the UAE will remain the region’s foremost entertainment and cultural hubs.  From Qatar’s Islamic Museum of Art, which famous architect I.M. Pei came out of retirement to design, to Dubai’s theme parks, including a $1 billion behemoth which is the world’s largest indoor theme park, these two Gulf states are demonstrating their prowess to develop an arts and culture scene.  In Doha, Qatar is exemplifying its unique outlook towards world affairs by emphasizing humanitarianism and fourteen centuries of history.  Qatar is also hosting the World Cup in 2022, intended to bring Doha center-stage in the sports world. Abu Dhabi’s Louvre has been referred to as “one of the world’s most ambitious cultural projects”, while advertisements throughout the emirate insist that the museum will cause its visitors to “see humanity in a new light”.

Despite these Gulf states’ head start on developing vibrant entertainment sectors, there is still room for Saudi Arabia to offer something new. For one thing, some of its neighbors are dealing with trouble in paradise: Qatar’s once-strong economy is under increasing strain as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt boycott it; meanwhile, the company which owns many of Dubai’s largest theme parks lost $302 million in 2017.

The Qiddiya project also represents a particular vision that’s distinct from neighboring countries’ cultural programs. Qiddiya is designed to mix desert heritage and the ethos of the past with the technological advances of the future. The intended result is to be a fusion between aspirations and building on those achievements from desert to post-modernity, on a colossal scale.

The project is crafted both to satisfy domestic demand—it includes plans to build 11,000 homes to serve as vacation homes for Riyadh residents— and to compete directly against Saudi Arabia’s neighbors in the Gulf. With two-thirds of the Saudi population under the age of 35, building a thriving entertainment sector is particularly important.

The kingdom is hoping to use its idea of mixing the past with the future in Qiddiya to significantly alter the flow of tourist revenues in the Gulf. The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain rely on tourists from the Gulf and beyond for essential cash inflows—including the $30 billion a year Saudis spend on tourism abroad every year. By providing new entertainment options in-country for Saudi Arabia’s citizens and residents, who pay more than any other country’s citizens while on vacation, Riyadh aims to redirect some of this overseas tourism spending back into the kingdom. It’s set up concrete goals to this effect, hoping to increase domestic spending on culture and entertainment from about three percent of household income to six percent. Saudi Arabia also likely hopes that Qiddiya will attract significant international tourism as well—one senior official tied the park’s creation to the goal of making Riyadh one of the top 100 cities in the world to live.

Of course, it is likely to be a long wait before the kingdom itself starts producing the cultural output that will make it a real entertainment hub; after all, Saudi public schools still do not teach music, dance and theater, and the kingdom lacks music and film academies. But by taking the first steps of embracing the vast economic potential of the entertainment sector, the kingdom may well be on its way there.

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Israel, Ukraine, and U.S. Crack Down Against Press

Eric Zuesse

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On Wednesday, May 16th, Russian Television reported recent crackdowns against the press, on the part of both Ukraine’s Government and Israel’s Government. One headline story, “9 journalists injured by Israeli gunfire in Gaza ‘massacre’, total now over 20”, reported that Israel had shot dead two journalists:

“Yaser Murtaja, 31, a cameraman for Palestinian Ain Media agency, died on April 7 after he was shot by Israeli forces the previous day while covering a protest south of the Gaza Strip. He wore a blue protective vest marked ‘PRESS’.”

And:

“Ahmad Abu Hussein, 24, was shot by Israeli forces during a protest in the Gaza strip on April 13. He died from his injuries on April 25. He was also wearing a protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ at the time.”

The other 18 instances were only injuries, not murders, but Israel has now made clear that any journalist who reports from the Palestinian side is fair game for Israel’s army snipers — that when Palestinians demonstrate against their being blockaded into the vast Gaza prison, and journalists then report from amongst the demonstrators instead of from the side of the snipers, those journalists are fair game by the snipers, along with those demonstrators.

Some of the surviving 18 journalists are still in critical condition and could die from Israel’s bullets, so the deaths to journalists might be higher than just those two.

Later in the day, RT bannered “Fist-size gunshot wounds, pulverized bones, inadmissible use of force by Israel in Gaza – HRW to RT” and presented a damning interview with the Israel & Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch.

The other crackdown has been by Ukraine. After the U.S. Obama Administration perpetrated a very bloody coup in Ukraine during February of 2014, that country has plunged by every numerical measure, and has carried out raids against newsmedia that have reported unfavorably on the installed regime. The latest such incident was reported on May 16th by Russian Television, under the headline, “US endorses Kiev’s raid on Russian news agency amid international condemnation”. An official of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) stated there: “I reiterate my call on the authorities to refrain from imposing unnecessary limitations on the work of foreign journalists, which affects the free flow of information and freedom of the media.” An official of the CPJ (Committee to Protect journalists) stated: “We call on Ukrainian authorities to disclose the charges and evidence they have against Vyshinsky or release him without delay. … We also call on Ukrainian authorities to stop harassing and obstructing Russian media operating in Ukraine. The criminalization of alternative news and views has no place in a democratic Ukraine.” However, as reported by RT, Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General called the editorial policy of the anti-regime RIA Ukraine “anti-Ukrainian” in nature, amounting to “state treason.” So, the prosecutor is threatening to categorize and prosecute critical press under Ukraine’s treason law.

The U.S. regime is not condemning either of its client-regimes for their crackdowns. (It cites Ukraine’s supposed victimhood from “Russian propaganda” as having caused Ukraine’s action, and justifies Israel’s gunning-down of demonstrators and of journalists as having beeen necessary for Israel’s self-defense against terrorism.) In neither instance is the U.S. dictatorship saying that this is unacceptable behavior for a government that receives large U.S. taxpayers funds. Of course, in the U.S., the mainstream press aren’t allowed to report that either Israel or today’s Ukraine is a dictatorship, so they don’t report this, though Israel clearly is an apartheid racist-fascist (or ideologically nazi, but in their case not against Jews) regime, and Ukraine is clearly also a racist-fascist, or nazi, regime, which engages in ethnic cleansing to get rid of voters for the previous — the pre-coup — Ukrainian government. People who are selected individually by the installed regime, get driven to a big ditch, shot, with the corpses piling up there, and then the whole thing gets covered over. This is America’s client-‘democracy’ in Ukraine, not its client-‘democracy’ in Israel.

May 16th also was the day when the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10 to 5 to approve as the next CIA Director, Gina Haspel, the person who had headed torture at the CIA’s black site in Thailand where Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and blinded in one eye in order to get him to say that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks; and, since then, Zubaydah, who has never been in court, has been held incommunicado at Guantanamo, so that he can’t testify in court or communicate with the press in any way. “The U.S. Government has never charged Zubaydah with any crime.” And the person who had ordered and overseen his torture will soon head the agency for which she worked, the CIA.

Whether the U.S. regime will soon start similarly to treat its own critical press as “traitors” isn’t clear, except that ever since at least the Obama Administration, and continuing now under Trump, the U.S. Government has made clear that it wants to seize and prosecute both Edward Snowden and Julian Assange for their journalistic whistleblowing, violations of “state secrets,” those being anything that the regime wants to hide from the public — including things that are simply extremely embarrassing for the existing rulers. Therefore, the journalistic-lockdown step, from either Israel, or Ukraine, to U.S., would be small, for the United States itself to take, if it hasn’t yet already been taken in perhaps secret ways. But at least, the Senate Intelligence Committee is strongly supportive of what the U.S. Government has been doing, and wants more of it to be done.

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JCPOA in Post-US Exit: Consequences and Repercussions

Nisar Ahmed Khan

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The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal signed by the P 5+1 in 2015 was widely hailed as a landmark achievement made possible by sincere dialogue and diplomacy. Indeed, the agreement is to a greater extent an achievement of the nuclear non-proliferation regime that helped checked the increasingly disturbing power symmetry in the Middle East which in return has managed to contain the transformation of low intensity conflicts into all out wars. A relative stability is the hallmark which resulted from JCPOA in the Middle East which is extremely volatile region of the world. A vital question is: how these achievements are going to be affected by the US withdrawal from it?

The US withdrawal from JCPOA will adversely affect the aforementioned three areas of its accumulative achievement with variant degree. First, it has negative consequences for the norm that negotiated settlements in international arenas has the potential and lasting credibility to minimize violence or other coercive means led by war. The momentum and confidence the diplomatic means have garnered in post- JCPOA scenario will come to the crushing halt. The sealed and mutually agreed upon agreements in international arena especially in which the US is the potential party, will come under extreme scrutiny leading to an environment of gross trust deficit. Therefore, on the first instance this withdrawal has negative lasting consequences for the diplomatic norms in itself.

Secondly, US exist from the deal does not augur well for the nascent nuclear non-proliferation regime. This regime has a dearth of good precedents like the JCPOA which has deterred a nation from acquiring and operationalizing nuclear weapons as is the case with Iran. Keeping in view this backdrop of this institution, JCPOA has been its glaring example wherein it has managed to successfully convince a nation to not pursue the path which leads towards the nuclear weapons. Therefore, the US withdrawal has shaken the confidence of the non-proliferation regime to its core. It has engendered a split among the leading nations who were acting as sort of de facto executive to enforce the agreements on the nuclear ambitious states. Therefore, this US withdrawal has undoubtedly far reaching repercussions for the non-proliferation as an institution. This development may affect the nature and its future development as an institutional mechanism to deter the recalcitrant states to change their course regarding the nuclear weapons.

Thirdly, in relation to the above mentioned negative consequences on diplomacy and nuclear non-proliferation regime, the US withdrawal from the deal has far serious security ramifications for the volatile and conflict ridden Middle East. It has multiplied the prospects of all-out war between Iran and its regional rivals on one hand and Iran and Israel on the other hand. Just tonight the announcement of Trump exiting JCPOA and the Israeli aggression on Syrian military bases substantiates the assertion that there exists a correlation between this US withdrawal and the Zionist regime`s regional hegemonic designs. It has extremely positive message for the Saudi Arabia. The impulsive and overambitious Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) went on extended tours in the US and Europe to convince Western leadership that Iran should be contained.  Therefore, element of stability in the region – contained low intensity conflicts – got serious motivation to turn into all-out-wars  with non-exclusion of nuclear options at the disposal of Zionist regime in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern region with this exit of the US is going to observe substantial turmoil in the months to come which will have some extra regional ramifications.

As a conclusion it could be argued that the US exit has some far reaching repercussions for the diplomatic norms, non-proliferation regime and above all for the volatile Middle Eastern region. All these ramifications resulted from the US withdrawal will also in return have some serious consequences internally and externally. The status of the US as the sole super power of the world will be diminished with this decision. It will create an unbridgeable gap in the West. Henceforth, the EU foreign will be more autonomous, integrated and autonomous in her conduct.

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