A complex strategic game is underway between Russia, Iran, Syria and, consequently, between Assad’ supporters and the other actors of the current Syrian war balance.
Firstly, note must be taken of the statements made by the Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani who, on January 15 last, said that “the fragmentation of regional areas in the Middle East will anyway pave the way for the Takfiri forces (i.e. the “Infidels”) on all Islamic territories”. He also added, with an interesting nuance, that this runs counter to the interests of the whole Islamic world” – and hence Iran.
In other words, Shamkhani, who speaks in the name and on behalf of the Supreme Leadership Authority and Supreme Leader, Rahbar Khamenei, means two things: he means that Iran will fight for the integrity of Syria, and within its old borders, and that Iran is anyway ready to fight against the Takfiri, namely the “apostates”, both in the Shiite and in the Sunni world.
Iran has no interest in setting a “democracy” fire to the Middle East, as conversely was the case for the United States with the notorious “Arab Springs” and the creation of the so-called “Caliphate” between Iraq and Syria.
Furthermore, in Iran, the Shiite fight against the Sunni Takfirism entails some future clash with Saudi Arabia, although Shamkhani has been clear in saying that what he states does not even regard Saudi Arabia’s regime.
Shamkhani added: “The fall of the ruling Saudi Royal Family does not mean that it would be replaced by a new regime better adapted to the needs.” It is better to control and protect, at a very high political cost, rather than creating strategic void conditions which would be uncontrollable.
Once again, the “Arab springs” lesson has been fully understood and learnt by the Middle East powers.
Moreover Iran insists on the fact it does not want to destabilize anyone – and the same holds true for Russia itself, which has even invited Saudi Arabia in the future conference for the New Middle East.
For all those who are winning the war in Syria the essential strategic aim is to maintain the current system, with the United States losing and – hopefully now reluctantly – linked to Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, the Americans still have a lukewarm attitude – as in Obama’s perspective – vis-à-vis Israel, the only right card they were not able to play and which will finally be played by the current Trump Presidency.
And we expect so not just in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, on Monday 15 last, Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Army launched an effective attack on the military emplacements and installations of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the new franchise of the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian group of al-Qaeda operating in the region along with the jihad of Harakat Harar al-Sham, another contentious union of small jihadist groups.
Since yesterday the 42nd Brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division of Assad’s forces has been repeatedly hitting al-Fijah areas, in the Wadi Barada region, in an emplacement that the jihadist forces not signatories to the agreement held and refused to leave, according to the letter of the Treaty signed on December 30, 2016 in Astana.
Wadi had been recently held by the Free Syrian Army, the main operator of the West’s “blind kittens”.
Fateh al-Sham is even supposed of having killed a mediator of the peace treaty.
Looking at the Chiefs of Staff’s maps and documents, Wadi Barada is the point linking Central Syria’s water needs and the closure of the Syrian, Russian and Iranian front on Damascus, of which Wadi is the primary gateway.
Bashar al-Assad’s and the Lebanese Hezb’ollah forces are still at work – liberating Wadi means to ensure the survival of Damascus and to open the way to Idlib.
Meanwhile, Russia and Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Army keep on bombing Isis-Daesh emplacements between Maskanah and the Deir Hafer plain.
We are in Aleppo’s Eastern region, which is also central to put an end to the war. The Russian and Syrian bombings are targeted to destroy the main road for the supplies of the so-called “Caliphate”, going from Raqqa to East Aleppo.
According to internal military sources, Russia even supported and protected the Turkish control area north of Al Bab, by throwing bombs in air raids.
Furthermore, again according to Syrian sources, the Russian Air Force has already created its own fixed structure, which should support and cover the Syrian ground offensive precisely in the Deir Hafer region.
As expected, Russia is using the truce of December 30 last to strengthen its positions in Syria.
Rumours are rife that there is a plan to strengthen the naval base of Tartus, in the Mediterranean, and that the Russian air forces will be increased in the Humaynim base.
Furthermore, in another crucial point of the war in Syria, reliable Russian sources inform us that Bashar al-Assad’s forces are advancing in East Ghouta, in the region of Damascus, and hitting jihadist positions in Autaya and Nashabiyan, areas where Jaysh al-Islam operated.
Bashar al-Assad’ Syrians had the support of some agents of the Iranian intelligence services and, above all, of a hit squad of Free Palestine Movement which, in the current Syrian war, is usually armed precisely by Iran.
Another battle that helps to understand the war is the one in Deir Ezzor, where Daesh-Isis is operating massively.
Obviously if the “Caliphate” loses Deir Ezzor, Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Russia will have all clear way to Raqqa.
For the time being, Bashar al-Assad’ Syrians are taking back some significant military positions and installations, such as the helicopter fields that Daesh/Isis had previously regained, while the so-called “Caliphate” definitely wants to keep Deir Ezzor airport, which is the axis of Isis jihadists’ territorial resilience to protect Raqqa, which is still their “capital city”.
In essence, the crisis points of the current war in Syria are the offensives of Assad’s Damascus forces towards Deir Ezzor and Palmyra, as well as the “Caliphate” response in the Deir Ezzor region.
Among other things, there is also the already mentioned issue of Wadi Barada and Ghouta East. If the operations in Wadi Barada are successful for the Syrian forces, the way to Beit Jinín, the crucial area running between Damascus and the Golan Heights, will be open for Assad’s Army.
This is an essential point for Israel’s involvement in the war that no one wants and is definitely not in Israel’s plans.
In the coming days, the role played by Turkey in East Aleppo will be very decisive, because the Turkish forces should conquer Al Bab, the current lowest point of the “Islamic State” military force and possibly the key for breaking it up and destroying it definitely.
These are the forces on the ground but, at cultural and political levels, we are witnessing a new and largely unexpected phenomenon.
One of today’s active forces is what we could define new totalitarian Islamism, which obviously include the so-called “Islamic State”, but also all the jihadism operating in the Middle East, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s old network, which is at the origin of the current chaos.
These are forces which, apart from the so-called “Caliphate”, are fighting for greater and more decisive political presence in all their Sunni or non-Sunni penetration areas.
Furthermore there is Iran, which does not want to create the all too familiar “Shiite camp” and is not interested in doing so, but supports its interests in Syria, Yemen, the Unites Arab Emirates and the wide minorities of “the Party of Ali” throughout the Fertile Crescent.
As stated by the Iranian leader mentioned at the beginning of this article, for the time being Iran does not want to wage war, but the Shiite Iran is seeking stability so as to later negotiate with the existing powers in the region from a position of strength.
We are reminded of the recent statement made by a commander of the Pasdaran, namely the Iranian “Revolutionary Guards”, informing us of the fact that his army structure already controlled four Arab capital cities, namely Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a.
Hence Turkey is basically distant from NATO policies in the Middle East – if it were ever close to them – and Russia has gained, on the ground, the decisive support of the Atlantic Alliance’ second military force.
Iran will continue to play its “Shiite International” card, but without abrupt or dangerous operations, which could isolate it from Russia, its inevitable global ally, and from the “Sunni camp”, which has a vested interest in bringing the conflict with Iran closer.
Up to a certain extent, however.
No one, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, wants military confrontation with Iran, considering that their Shiite minorities are now active on their own territory.
As Shamkhani said, the very resilience of their States would be in danger.
Furthermore Russia will remain in Syria until three key strategic goals are reached: the elimination of every US jihadist or non-jihadist proxy; the creation of a series of alliances, also with Donald Trump’s United States, so as to monitor truces and Syria’s internal stability under Bashar al-Assad; finally, the agreement with Turkey for its areas of interest in the Syrian and Iraqi territory.
Furthermore there is also the control of Iran’s ambitions and designs which, in Russia’s opinion, must only be regional and designed to protect its borders.
Russia does not want to build its Shiite “Saudi Arabia” to which it should be linked in a region where strategic autonomy is the essential factor for those who know how to wage war and hence how to make peace.
This is what is happening, while the European Union pretends to exist and the widest regime change of our time is taking place not in Syria, but in the United States.
The Muslim world’s changing dynamics: Pakistan struggles to retain its footing
Increasing strains between Pakistan and its traditional Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is about more than Gulf states opportunistically targeting India’s far more lucrative market.
At the heart of the tensions, that potentially complicate Pakistan’s economic recovery, is also India’s ability to enhance Gulf states’ capacity to hedge their bets amid uncertainty about the continued US commitment to regional security.
India is a key member of the Quad that also includes the United States, Australia and Japan and could play a role in a future more multilateral regional security architecture in the Gulf.
Designed as the backbone of an Indo-Pacific strategy intended to counter China across a swath of maritime Asia, Gulf states are unlikely to pick sides but remain keen on ensuring that they maintain close ties with both sides of the widening divide.
The mounting strains with Pakistan are also the latest iteration of a global battle for Muslim religious soft power that pits Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Turkey, Iran, and Asian players like Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Islamic movement.
A combination of geo- and domestic politics is complicating efforts by major Muslim-majority states in Asia to walk a middle line. Pakistan, home to the world’s largest Shiite Muslim minority, has reached out to Turkey while seeking to balance relations with its neighbour, Iran.
The pressure on Pakistan is multi-fold.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan charged recently that the United States and one other unidentified country were pressing him to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
Pakistani and Israeli media named Saudi Arabia as the unidentified country. Representing the world’s second most populous Muslim nation, Pakistani recognition, following in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain, would be significant.
Pakistan twice in the last year signalled a widening rift with the kingdom.
Mr. Khan had planned to participate a year ago in an Islamic summit hosted by Malaysia and attended by Saudi Arabia’s detractors, Turkey, Iran and Qatar, but not the kingdom and a majority of Muslim states. The Pakistani prime minister cancelled his participation at the last moment under Saudi pressure.
More recently, Pakistan again challenged Saudi leadership of the Muslim world when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi complained about lack of support of the Saudi-dominated Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for Pakistan in its conflict with India over Kashmir. The OIC groups the world’s 57 Muslim-majority nations. Mr. Qureshi suggested that his country would seek to rally support beyond the realm of the kingdom.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to Pakistan earlier this year, made a point of repeatedly reiterating his country’s support for Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute.
By openly challenging the kingdom, Mr. Qureshi was hitting Saudi Arabia where it hurts most as it seeks to repair its image tarnished by allegations of abuse of human rights, manoeuvres to get off on the right foot with incoming US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, and fends off challenges to its leadership of the Muslim world.
Pakistan has not helped itself by recently failing to ensure that it would be removed from the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force, an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, despite progress in the country’s legal infrastructure and enforcement.
Grey listing causes reputational damage and makes foreign investors and international banks more cautious in their dealings with countries that have not been granted a clean bill of health.
Responding to Mr. Qureshi’s challenge, Saudi Arabia demanded that Pakistan repay a US$1 billion loan extended to help the South Asian nation ease its financial crisis. The kingdom has also dragged its feet on renewing a US$3.2 billion oil credit facility that expired in May.
In what Pakistan will interpret as UAE support for Saudi Arabia, the Emirates last week included Pakistan on its version of US President Donald J. Trump’s Muslim travel ban.
Inclusion on the list of 13 Muslim countries whose nationals will no longer be issued visas for travel to the UAE increases pressure on Pakistan, which relies heavily on exporting labour to generate remittances and alleviate unemployment.
Some Pakistanis fear that a potential improvement in Saudi-Turkish relations could see their country fall through geopolitical cracks.
In the first face-to-face meeting between senior Saudi and Turkish officials since the October 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, the two countries’ foreign ministers, Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Mevlut Cavusoglu, held bilateral talks this weekend, on the sidelines of an OIC conference in the African state of Niger.
“A strong Turkey-Saudi partnership benefits not only our countries but the whole region,” Mr. Cavusoglu tweeted after the meeting.
The meeting came days after Saudi King Salman telephoned Mr. Erdogan on the eve of a virtual summit hosted by the kingdom of the Group of 20 (G20) that brings together the world’s largest economies.
“The Muslim world is changing and alliances are shifting and entering new, unchartered territories,” said analyst Sahar Khan.
Added Imtiaz Ali, another analyst: “In the short term, Riyadh will continue exploiting Islamabad’s economic vulnerabilities… But in the longer term, Riyadh cannot ignore the rise of India in the region, and the two countries may become close allies – something that will mostly likely increase the strain on Pakistan-Saudi relations.”
Assassination of top Iranian Nuclear Scientist: A big Tragedy
On the sad incident of the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, the UN spokesman said, “We urge restraint and the need to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions in the region.” Turkey termed the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as an ‘act of terrorism’ while the EU calls it ‘criminal’ and urges ‘maximum restraint.’ Anger can be seen in Iran and the region. The whole region is worried and mourning.
Masses are demanding to investigate the assassination act thoroughly and punish the responsibles. It is a straight forward criminal act and a direct threat to Iran’s sovereignty. The whole world is upset and can not forgive.
It was well-known that the US assassinated General Qasim Sulymani in Baghdad just a few ago. The retaliation from Iran was just appropriate, and the US could not digest it yet. Top nuclear Scientist’s assassination is not accepted under any circumstances, and any retaliation will be justice.
Iran has the capability and will to retaliate. Although we all – peace-loving people request Iran to cool down and observe restrains, at the same time, we understand, if the aggressors are not checked, it will happen again and again, and maybe in more intensity and frequency. If the retaliation is severe, then the aggressor may not dare to attempt again in the future. A minimum level of deterrence is required to maintain. Otherwise, further assassinations are encouraged.
The ruthless assassination of Dr. Fakhrizadeh on Friday 27 November is not just ‘another’ routine incident—it’s causality is more significant than it’s aftermath. The Western world engaged Iran under JCPOA in October 2015. Things were smooth, and Iran was in full compliance with the deal. Internation Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was regularly monitoring Iran’s nuclear facilities and confirmed the fullcompliance. All the signatories of JCPOA were also satisfied, except President Trump. Even his administration has not noticed any deviation from Iran, but after having a close presentation from the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, President scrapped the JCPOA in 2018. The unilateral withdrawal of President Trump from the nuclear deal was widely criticized but was celebrated by Israel. Since then, Iran was under immense pressure from the US as well as Israel.
Highly classified speculations are that the final decision to eliminate Fakhrizadeh was perhaps taken last Sunday 22 November, in a semi-secretive meeting in the Saudi coastal resort of Neom—attended by Mike Pompeo, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yossi Cohen, and Prince MBS.
There are other views that Fakhrizadeh’s assassination is another big conspiracy to destabilize global peace and stability, which might hinder the transition of power to newly elect-president Joe Biden. As a result, President Trump remains in control. Strong possibilities are that the outgoing President Trump will make the most of the power transfer transition period—taking big decisions to please his external partners/friends (Isreal and anti-Iran Arab states). Some say this killing will reduce Iran’s negotiating powers—should Joe Biden/Tony Blinken revive the JCPOA. Some global security pundits comment, this assassination was aimed at infuriating Iran, instigating it to react with military force against Israel, prompting the US and its regional allies (Israel, KSA, UAE, and Bahrain) to declare an all-out direct war on Iran.
It is relatively early to say something precisely, that what happen? How happened? And What will happen next? All are view points, and no authentic opinion is concluded. But one thing is very much clear, the region is a cooked volcano and may burst any moment.
It may destabilize the whole region; the oil-rich region may halt oil supply to the Western world. The Oil prices may shoot up; Industrial growth may be harmed, inflation may hike up, the global economy may suffer adversely.
It is also possible that the Arab and non-Arab Muslim world be divided visibly and further harm the Muslim world. Irrespective of any country or nation, or religion, humankind will suffer at the end of the day. Irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, we must urge the safety of human lives.
The world community must proactively play a positive role in saving humankind and the loss of precious lives. Bloodshed is not permissible in any religion, society, or law, especially because we claim to be a civilized world and should act as civilized.
Libya: Lights and shadows of the peace process
After six days of intense closed-door talks between the 75 delegates of the various Libyan factions summoned to Tunis by the Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG), Stephanie Williams, the first round of negotiations that ended on November 15 confirmed the “ceasefire”, but failed to reach an agreement on the mechanisms and criteria for selecting the candidates for a new “national unity” government.
Acting SRSG Stephanie Williams has decided to reconvene in the coming days – via video conference – a second round of what has been called the “Libyan Political Dialogue Forum” (LPDF), with the ambition of succeeding in forming a government able to manage the national elections scheduled for December 24, 2021.
While admitting the partial failure of the Tunis talks, the U.S. diplomat declared frankly that it was not “realistically possible to find solutions to a ten-year conflict in a simple round of negotiations”. Nevertheless, Acting SRSG Stephanie Williams has stressed that “there seems to be the possibility of an agreement on three important sensitive aspects of the negotiation, i.e. the tasks and duties of the new government; the criteria for appointing those who will take up the government posts and the roadmap for the peace process.
She added that “Libyan politicians now have the opportunity to effectively occupy centre stage or end up going extinct as dinosaurs”.
Tough words that convey the disappointment for a negotiation that sees the parties involved (the Tripoli government led by Fayez al-Sarraj; the Tobruk faction commanded by General Khalifa Haftar and the Fezzan independent tribes) willing to respect the armed truce, but little inclined to make political concessions to their counterparts.
Certainly it was not easy to make the Libyan stakeholders – who, until last summer, had been fighting one another in open field -converge on a political dialogue path
It was not easy also due to the behind-the-scenes activism of the international sponsors of the opposing factions: Turkey and Qatar in favour of al-Sarraj; Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt and Russia supporting the “Libyan National Army” led by General Haftar, while President Macron’s France is openly siding with the Fezzan tribes.
During the Tunis talks, all delegates systematically leaked to the press fake drafts of possible agreements, in view of thwarting the proposals of their counterparts.
According to “Agenzia Nova”, apparently official documents were circulated containing references to the topics actually under discussion, “polluted” by totally invented parts: “real poisoned drafts received from Libyan sources close to General Haftar”.
Malicious rumours have also spread about the possible corruption of some delegates, bribed with many dollars to favour the appointment of Abdullh al-Dabaiba -the powerful “warlord” of Misrata and founder of the “Future for Libya” movement – to the new government. It should be recalled that, thanks to Turkish weapons and Islamist mercenaries brought by President Erdogan to Libya from Syria, Misrata’s militias rescued al-Sarraj’s government from collapse when last April General Haftar’s militias had arrived at Tripoli’s gates.
However, despite the difficulties, in her report to the UN Security Council, Acting SRSG Stephanie Williams also highlighted some positive aspects of the situation on the ground.
First of all, the military truce is holding out: there are no significant violations of the “ceasefire”, while “the exchange of prisoners continues, facilitated by the Council of Elders, with the support of the Joint Military Commission.
Another important result has been achieved in the oil sector: with the agreement of all the parties involved, the National Oil Company has resumed oil production in full swing, which has quickly returned to last year’s level of 1.2 million. However, the transparent distribution of oil revenues must be postponed until an agreement is reached between all the parties involved, pending which the National Oil Company shall set aside the proceeds from oil sale in a special UN-controlled account.
This is a sensitive aspect regarding directly Italy: the resumption of crude oil extraction means much for ENI which – albeit left alone by national institutions to operate in the dangerous situation of tension between the opposing Libyan factions – has managed to establish itself as a credible and reliable counterpart and to maintain its extraction, production and refining activities in Libya.
While concluding her briefing to the UN Security Council, Acting SRSG Stephanie Williams underlined: “Seventy-five Libyans came together in Tunis …in a good faith effort to start the process of healing their nation’s wounds. …they extended their hands, if not their hearts, to each other”.
“Not their hearts”: this is the deepest shadow hanging over the Tunis talks, casting uncertainty over a peace process in which the role of the national players is often influenced and manipulated by the various international sponsors – and the sponsors certainly do not act for “heart” reasons.
On the Tripoli government’s front, the two key allies are President Erdogan’s Turkey and Qatar ruled by young Emir Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani.
Despite the accession of the former to NATO and of the latter to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the two countries have embraced the cause of Muslim extremism by more or less openly supporting jihadist militias during the civil conflicts in Syria, Iraq and, most recently, Libya.
At the side of these awkward travel companions, in a quiet and secluded corner, we can find Italy which, in 2016, with an undoubtedly politically correct move, followed the United Nations, which imposed a neo-colonialist governmental solution on Libya, by establishing al-Sarraj’s “Government of National Accord” (GNA), at first in Tunis and later in Tripoli. A “neo-colonialist” solution because the GNA has not been recognised by any of Tripoli’s and Tobruk’s Parliaments and has never been legitimized by elections or supported by the people.
Over the last four years, while al-Sarraj barely controlled the capital, the Italian diplomacy has not seemed able to find a clear policy and line of action, in a region of vital importance for the country, other than that of “respect for UN resolutions”, a formal pretext used also by the European Union to justify its inaction.
As said above, faced with Turkey’s and Qatar’s political and military commitment to support al-Sarraj, but above all the Islamist militias of Tripoli and Misrata, the Gulf States have broken diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing its Emir of an adventurous conduct in favour of the “Muslim Brotherhood” throughout the region.
Furthermore, together with Egypt, France and Russia, the Gulf States have actually established an alliance to protect two of the three Libyan political-military components, i.e. General Haftar’s”Libya Liberation Army” and the militias linked to the Fezzan tribes with whom France has established an almost exclusive partnership.
While the diplomacies interested in the Middle East are playing on several tables – just think of the new relations between the Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and above all Saudi Arabia, with Israel-Italy and Europe – probably also because of the pandemic – seem to be immobilized and bogged down into passive positions of principle on the positive aspects of “multilateralism”.
Indeed. the other countries are taking action also in view of possible political and economic dividends in the future, while Italy and Europe, with their wait-and-see attitude, remain on the sidelines to watch – as mere spectators – the development of events that will have a decisive impact on the new Mediterranean equilibria of the near future.
Nevertheless, there seem to be no good news about U.S. international commitments in the “after-Trump era”.
The new President, Joe Biden, has appointed Antony Blinken as the new Secretary of State.
Despite his being an educated, cosmopolitan and polite person, we cannot forget that, during Obama’s Presidencies, Blinken was a close aide of Hillary Clinton, at first, and of John Kerry, later, i.e. two negative protagonists of international relations and foreign policy who, with their naïve support for the fake “Arab Springs”, contributed to upset North Africa and the Middle East in the name of a mirage that saw an unattainable goal of Western democracy for the countries experiencing Islamist civil uprisings and unrest.
After having fomented and militarily supported the revolt against Colonel Gaddafi, the U.S. Department of State led by Hillary Clinton, had to face the sacrifice of its ambassador in Libya, Chris Stevens, who was killed on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, where he had been sent for a confused and botched negotiation with the Islamists of Ansar Al Sharia.
Under Kerry’s leadership, with Blinken at his side as Deputy Secretary of State, the United States managed the Syrian crisis in a politically and militarily unwise manner, thus finally leaving the field open to Russia and Turkey.
Against this backcloth, the prospects for a return to action of U.S. diplomacy (partly put to rest by Donald Trump) are not particularly fascinating, in an area such as Libya where Italy, in its own small way, is not even able to sketch out a credible negotiation for the release of the eighteen fishermen from Mazara del Vallo, kidnapped by General Haftar’s forces for over two months.
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