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Amid tension in Arab world, Qatar signs $ 12 billion deal to buy F-15 jets from USA

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] F [/yt_dropcap]oreign policy of President Trump is slowly but steadily working to increase its arms sale to the world. The advantages of arms trade for USA without any expenditure on US part are great. Upon his visit to Saudi Arabia that resulted in tensions in the Arab world as Qatar is being targeted by other Arab nations, Trump has got a lump sum trade deal from Qatar to the tune of whopping $ 12 billion. It is a big deal as US regime attempts to navigate an ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar for its support for “terrorism”. Along with severing diplomatic ties, the Riyadh-led blockade was imposed against Doha. Saudi, which shares the only land border with Qatar, shut the crossing and stopped goods being transported to its gas-rich neighbour. Saudi, UAE and Bahrain also closed their airspace to flights to and from Qatar, forcing airlines to remove Doha from their list of destinations.

Deal

President Trump’s first ever recent foreign tour in Middle East, where a fanatically arrogant Israel behaves like the regional superpower with US made illegal nukes plus high precision conventional terror goods, including cluster bombs that are being bought by third world counties across the globe, has cussed ripples among Arab nations, leading to the ouster of Qatar from the Gulf States club. This, as foreseen by Washington, has obviously isolated Qatar to search for alternative routes to secure its security.

Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah and his US counterpart, Jim Mattis, completed the $12 billion agreement in Washington to buy F-15 fighter jets from the USA, according to the Pentagon. The aircraft purchase was completed by Qatari Minister of Defence Khalid Al Attiyah and his US counterpart Jim Mattis in Washington DC on June 14 Wednesday.

The weapon transfer comes just weeks after Trump signed a deal with Saudi Arabia for almost $110bn in US arms. It also comes amid a diplomatic row between a Saudi-led bloc of nations and Qatar. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain and a number of other countries severed relations with Qatar earlier this month, accusing it of supporting armed groups and Iran – allegations Qatar has repeatedly rejected. Riyadh also closed its border with Qatar, the only land border the emirate has. In addition, the closure of Saudi, Bahraini, and Emirati airspace to Qatar-owned flights has caused major import and travel disruptions.

Huge Qatari deal for 36 F-15 jets from the USA is significant as the two countries navigate tensions over President Donald Trump’s backing for a Saudi-led coalition’s move to isolate the country for supporting terrorism.

The deal was completed despite the Gulf country being criticized recently by US President Donald Trump for supporting terrorism. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and representatives from Qatar were all set to meet to seal the agreement for 36 jets. In November, the United States approved possible sale of up to 72 F-15QA aircraft to Qatar for $21.1 billion. Boeing Co is the prime contractor on the fighter jet sale to the Middle East nation. Boeing declined to comment. Trump on Friday accused Qatar of being a “high-level” sponsor of terrorism, potentially hindering the US Department of State’s efforts to ease heightening tensions and a blockade of the Gulf nation by Arab states and others. The sale will increase security cooperation and interoperability between the USA and Qatar, the Pentagon said.

The deal is “yet another step in advancing our strategic and cooperative defence relationship with the United States, and we look forward to continuing our joint military efforts with our partners here in the USA”, said Attiyah. The sale “will give Qatar a state-of-the-art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar”, the Defence Department said in a statement.

Last year, after the State Department approved the jet sale, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency issued a report saying that the proposed sale enhances the foreign policy and national security of the United State by helping to improve the security of a friendly country and strengthening our strategically important relationship. “Qatar is an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region,” the agency said. Good for them and their defense in the long run. The current dispute between us should hopefully be temporary and end soon. The real enemy is and has always been the Persian Iranians on the other side.

American terror base

Qatar has long been accused of funneling money to the Muslim Brotherhood — which has officially forsworn violence but is still accused of terrorism by some countries — as well as to radical groups in Syria, Libya and other Arab nations. But it is also home to two major American command posts, including a $60 million center from which the United States and its allies conduct their air war on Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Qatar hosts the biggest US military base in the Middle East with US 11,000 troops and coalition service members deployed to or assigned to Al-Udeid Air Base in the desert outside the Qatari capital of Doha. More than 100 aircraft operate from there. The Al Udeid U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) military base in Qatar was set up in 2003 after it was moved from the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. The base, which boasts a long runway of 12,500 feet, is an important facility for the U.S. as it can accommodate up to 120 aircrafts. The base in Qatar serves as logistics, command and basing hubs for the U.S. CENTCOM area of operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

In another development, two US Navy vessels arrived in Doha for a joint exercise with Qatar’s fleet. The American boats arrived at Hamad Port south of Doha “to participate in a joint exercise with the Qatari Emiri Navy,” according to a Ministry of Defence statement posted on QNA. The crews of the two vessels were received by Qatari navy officers. It was unclear if the arrival of the two warships was planned before the Gulf rift or if it was a sign of support from the Pentagon.

Saudi led GCC wants USA to shift its airbase from Qatar. The US military lauded Qatar for its “enduring commitment to regional security” and said U.S. flights out of Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar were unaffected by the Gulf diplomatic crisis and also said that it has “no plans to change our posture in Qatar”..

Trump accused Qatar of being a “high-level” sponsor of terrorism, potentially hindering the US Department of State’s efforts to ease heightening tensions and a blockade of the Gulf nation by Arab states and others. Officials at White House said Trump was not trying to cause a rupture among Sunni Muslim nations in the Middle East. A US diplomat noted that Russia had much to gain from divisions among Iran’s rivals in the region, particularly if they made it more difficult for the United States to use Qatar as a major base. “For sure, this is an attempt at regime change”

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Qatar needed to end its support for Hamas before ties with other Arab Gulf states could be restored. Hamas responded to the statements saying they “constitute a shock for our Palestinian people and the Arab and Islamic nations”, and that the remarks gave Israel an excuse “to carry out more violations against the Palestinian people”.

Gulf Arab states and Egypt have long resented Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Egyptian-based Muslim brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy. The coordinated move, with the Maldives and Libya’s eastern-based government joining in later, created a dramatic rift among the Arab nations, many of which are in OPEC. Announcing the closure of transport ties with Qatar, the three Gulf States gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave. Qatar was also expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

Turkey’s presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said on June 14 that the crisis surrounding Qatar is damaging for the Islamic world and Turkey is working to help resolve the issue through diplomacy. Speaking at a press conference, Kalın said Ankara was sending food assistance to Qatar after neighboring Gulf Arab states severed ties with Doha and imposed sanctions saying it supports terrorism and courts regional rival Iran. Kalın also said a Turkish military base in Qatar, set up before the regional spat, was established to ensure the security of the whole region and did not have an aim of any military action against any country.

Zionist poison

The current Qatar-Gulf crisis has offered Israel a golden opportunity to normalize its presence in the region, undermine the Palestinian cause and deliver a diplomatic blow to the Islamic Resistance movement, Hamas. Under the pretext of fighting “terrorism”, the anti-Hamas, anti-political Islam coalition seems to be emerging with the Saudi-led bloc and Israel at its heart. Israel’s rapid adoption of the Saudi position confirms that the two countries share Israel’s vision on regional developments and the Palestinian cause.

Israel, which has only signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, stands to benefit most from the Qatar-Gulf crisis. The Gulf crisis “will serve to undermine Hamas and redraw regional policies in accordance with the Israeli visions as Israel seeks to normalize its relations with the Arab states while isolating the Palestinian question”. Following the crisis, Israeli officials’ repeated statements centered on fighting “terrorism” and hopes for “cooperation” with the Gulf States on security concerns. “There can be no doubt that this opens many opportunities for cooperation in the war against terror. The state of Israel is more than open to such cooperation. The ball is now in their court,” said Avigdor Lieberman, the Zionist illegal settlers’ leader and Israeli military minister, at the Israeli parliament on June 6.

Israel is in need of Qatar’s mediation to deal with some of the pricklier issues in the Hamas-administered Gaza Strip, such as funds for reconstruction. The Gaza Strip, a small enclave that is home to about two million residents, has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade. It has witnessed three Israeli assaults that have resulted in the destruction of essential infrastructure and the impoverishment of its residents. In the face of the Israeli siege and its occupation of Gaza, Qatar has been one of the biggest financial contributors to the strip’s reconstruction.

Israel is hoping to make political gains from the Gulf crisis and the blockade on Qatar by weakening Hamas and undermining its influence in the Gaza Strip, and demonizing it in the Arab world under the pretext of “terrorism”. The Saudi attack on Hamas and its portrayal of the movement as a “terrorist organisation” serves the Israeli agenda and is consistent with Israel’s goal to eliminate the Palestinian cause.

The purpose behind Israel isolating Qatar was to pressure it to withdraw its support for Hamas and to pressure it to fall back in line with Saudi policies, or what Israel describes as the “moderate” Arab camp.

Playing on regional rifts in the Arab world, with the divide between the Gulf States and Iran, Israeli officials and analysts often speak of an unofficial “moderate axis” of Arab countries that are purportedly working behind the scenes with the Israeli government.  In this “alliance”, Western-backed countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and several of the Gulf states, as well as Jordan and Morocco, are said to be pitted against their “common enemies” such as Syria, Iran, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.

These are longstanding tensions that have been bubbling under the surface but with the reported comment from Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani last week where he was alleged to have said positive things about Iran and negative things about other states was seen as an opportunity for the other powerful Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to actually clamp down on Qatar.

Notorious credit

The US stance amid the Gulf’s diplomatic rift was thrown into further confusion when Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia to ease the blockade on Qatar. The US’ top diplomat has since attempted to mediate between the two sides, and on Tuesday the State Department said efforts to resolve the crisis were “trending in a positive direction”.

Meanwhile, President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute, taking credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, and rattling his national security staff by upending a critical American strategic relationship. In a series of tweets, Trump said his call for an end to the financing of radical groups had prompted Saudi Arabia and four other countries to act this week against Qatar, a tiny, energy-rich emirate that is arguably America’s most important military outpost in the Middle East. “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” he said, pointing to Qatar — look!” The president also appeared to be trying to ease tensions. In a call with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Trump said that unity among gulf nations was “critical to defeating terrorism and promoting regional stability,” according to a White House statement.

Trump during his visit focused his attention on Saudi Arabia and the UAE perhaps ignoring Qatar suggesting Trump’s policies are directed towards the two countries at the expense of Qatar and other weaker states in the region. But the current standoff between GCC nations and Qatar has put the U.S. in a tough spot for a number of reasons. US Defense Secretary James Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered US support in brokering a solution between the feuding nations.

The Pentagon military has been eager to avoid political quarrels with the Qataris, a goal reflected in statements by its spokesmen. “The United States and the coalition are grateful to the Qataris for their longstanding support of our presence and their enduring commitment to regional security”. An American diplomat in Doha said that Qatar’s relationship with the United States was “strong” and that it had made strides: prosecuting people suspected of funding terrorist groups, freezing assets and putting stringent controls on its banks.

Tension and confusion

Thanks to US interference and Israeli mishcief, Arab world is not undergoing a phase of continued tension and unavoidable confusion.

Everyone wants USA on their side and hence the Qatari deals with it in a hurry as Qatar knows only arms deals and pumping of money into USA can make USA be in good humors.

Saudi Arabia is just doing the monkey’s job of doing exactly what is told by the Super power. Saudi Arabia might feel elated that it has done a great favor to the new US President so that he would ask the NATO to attack Iran, thereby appeasing the Saudis.

Everybody and every nation are free to day dream. Riyadh also can do that but cannot expect the USA to listen to it just like American leaders obey Israel with which it conducts secret destabilizing operations globally, especially in West Asia. Here the winner is obviously the USA-Israel fascist twins- and not Saudi Arabia that managed the Arab show as the leader of Sunni world by gathering all other Arab nations to slam and boycott Qatar.

Perhaps, Arab world is destined to become and stay destabilized. There could be widespread instability in the region if the situation between Riyadh and Doha deteriorates further. Meanwhile, Israel also fears that if the Gaza crisis escalates, causing major splits and disputes within the Hamas movement, which could lead to an armed confrontation between the movement and Israel. But if the Saudi and Egyptian pressure leads Qatar to stop supporting Hamas, this could worsen the economic distress in Gaza as well as the military tension with Israel.

Religion is an important factor but this is a political struggle between the Saudis and the Iranians and of course the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt all fall in line with this. Arab leaders think exactly as US leaders want.

The danger in besieging Qatar lies in the potential adoption of a new tone governing diplomacy between Arab countries, which could have negative repercussions on the Palestinian cause.

Arab nations with their own foolishness have time and again proven that they are indeed the root cause of Hamas-Fatah inner fight and confrontation that directly helps Israel and USA.

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Saudi religious moderation: the world’s foremost publisher of Qur’ans has yet to get the message

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When the religious affairs minister of Guinea-Conakry visited Jeddah last week, his Saudi counterpart gifted him 50,000 Qur’ans.

Saudi Islamic affairs minister Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh offered the holy books as part of his ministry’s efforts to print and distribute them and spread their teachings.

The Qur’ans were produced by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, which annually distributes millions of copies. Scholar Nora Derbal asserts that the Qur’ans “perpetuate a distinct Wahhabi reading of the scripture.”

Similarly, Saudi Arabia distributed in Afghanistan in the last years of the US-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani thousands of Qur’ans produced by the printing complex, according to Mr. Ghani’s former education minister, Mirwais Balkhi. Mr. Balkhi indicated that the Qur’ans were identical to those distributed by the kingdom for decades.

Mr. Ghani and Mr. Balkhi fled Afghanistan last year as US troops withdrew from the country and the Taliban took over.

Human Rights Watch and Impact-se, an education-focused Israeli research group, reported last year that Saudi Arabia, pressured for some two decades post-9/11 by the United States and others to remove supremacist references to Jews, Christian, and Shiites in its schoolbooks, had recently made significant progress in doing so.

However, the two groups noted that Saudi Arabia had kept in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam.

The same appears true for the world’s largest printer and distributor of Qur’ans, the King Fahd Complex.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since his rise in 2015, been primarily focussed on social and economic rather than religious reform.

Mr. Bin Salman significantly enhanced professional and personal opportunities for women, including lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening gender segregation and enabled the emergence of a Western-style entertainment sector in the once austere kingdom.

Nevertheless, Saudi Islam scholar Besnik Sinani suggests that “state pressure on Salafism in Saudi Arabia will primarily focus on social aspects of Salafi teaching, while doctrinal aspects will probably receive less attention.”

The continued production and distribution of Qur’ans that included unaltered ultra-conservative interpretations sits uneasily with Mr. Bin Salman’s effort to emphasize nationalism rather than religion as the core of Saudi identity and project a more moderate and tolerant image of the kingdom’s Islam.

The Saudi spin is not in the Arabic text of the Qur’an that is identical irrespective of who prints it, but in parenthetical additions, primarily in translated versions, that modify the meaning of specific Qur’anic passages.

Commenting in 2005 on the King Fahd Complex’s English translation, the most widely disseminated Qur’an in the English-speaking world, the late Islam scholar Khaleel Mohammed asserted that it “reads more like a supremacist Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian polemic than a rendition of the Islamic scripture.”

Religion scholar Peter Mandaville noted in a recently published book on decades of Saudi export of ultra-conservative Islam that “it is the kingdom’s outsized role in the printing and distribution of the Qur’an as rendered in other languages that becomes relevant in the present context.”

Ms. Derbal, Mr. Sinani and this author contributed chapters to Mr. Mandaville’s edited volume.

The King Fahd Complex said that it had produced 18 million copies of its various publications in 2017/18 in multiple languages in its most recent production figures. Earlier it reported that it had printed and distributed 127 million copies of the Qur’an in the 22 years between 1985 and 2007. The Complex did not respond to emailed queries on whether parenthetical texts have been recently changed.

The apparent absence of revisions of parenthetical texts reinforces suggestions that Mr. Bin Salman is more concerned about socio-political considerations, regime survival, and the projection of the kingdom as countering extremism and jihadism than he is about reforming Saudi Islam.

It also spotlights the tension between the role Saudi Arabia envisions as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, and the needs of a modern state that wants to attract foreign investment to help ween its economy off dependency on oil exports.

Finally, the continued distribution of Qur’ans with seemingly unaltered commentary speaks to the balance Mr. Bin Salman may still need to strike with the country’s once-powerful religious establishment despite subjugating the clergy to his will.

The continued global distribution of unaltered Qur’an commentary calls into question the sincerity of the Saudi moderation campaign, particularly when juxtaposed with rival efforts by other major Muslim countries to project themselves as beacons of a moderate form of Islam.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League convened some 100 Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders to “establish a set of values common to all major world religions and a vision for enhancing understanding, cooperation, and solidarity amongst world religions.”

Once a major Saudi vehicle for the global propagation of Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, the League has been turned into Mr. Bin Salman’s megaphone. It issues lofty statements and organises high-profile conferences that project Saudi Arabia as a leader of moderation and an example of tolerance.

The League, under the leadership of former justice minister Mohammed al-Issa, has emphasised its outreach to Jewish leaders and communities. Mr. Al-Issa led a delegation of Muslim religious leaders in 2020 on a ground-breaking visit to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi extermination camp in Poland.

However, there is little evidence, beyond Mr. Al-Issa’s gestures, statements, and engagement with Jewish leaders, that the League has joined in a practical way the fight against anti-Semitism that, like Islamophobia, is on the rise.

Similarly, Saudi moderation has not meant that the kingdom has lifted its ban on building non-Muslim houses of worship on its territory.

The Riyadh conference followed Nahdlatul Ulama’s footsteps, the world’s largest Muslim civil society movement with 90 million followers in the world’s largest Muslim majority country and most populous democracy. Nahdlatul Ulama leader Yahya Cholil Staquf spoke at the conference.

In recent years, the Indonesian group has forged alliances with Evangelical entities like the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Jewish organisations and religious leaders, and various Muslim groups across the globe. Nahdlatul Ulama sees the alliances as a way to establish common ground based on shared humanitarian values that would enable them to counter discrimination and religion-driven prejudice, bigotry, and violence.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of Humanitarian Islam advocates reform of what it deems “obsolete” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including those that encourage segregation, discrimination, and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be a non-Muslim. It further accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, unlike the Saudis, without reservations.

The unrestricted embrace of the UN declaration by Indonesia and its largest Muslim movement has meant that conversion, considered to be apostasy under Islamic law, is legal in the Southeast Asian nation. As a result, Indonesia, unlike Middle Eastern states where Christian communities have dwindled due to conflict, wars, and targeted attacks, has witnessed significant growth of its Christian communities.

Christians account for ten percent of Indonesia’s population. Researchers Duane Alexander Miller and Patrick Johnstone reported in 2015 that 6.5 million Indonesian had converted to Christianity since 1960.

That is not to say that Christians and other non-Muslim minorities have not endured attacks on churches, suicide bombings, and various forms of discrimination. The attacks have prompted Nahdlatul Ulama’s five million-strong militia to protect churches in vulnerable areas during holidays such as Christmas. The militia has also trained Christians to enable them to watch over their houses of worship.

Putting its money where its mouth is, a gathering of 20,000 Nahdlatul Ulama religious scholars issued in 2019 a fatwa or religious opinion eliminating the Muslim legal concept of the kafir or infidel.

Twelve years earlier, the group’s then spiritual leader and former Indonesian president Abdurahman Wahid, together with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, organised a conference in the archipelago state to acknowledge the Holocaust and denounce denial of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. The meeting came on the heels of a gathering in Tehran convened by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that denied the existence of the Holocaust.

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Iran Gives Russia Two and a Half Cheers

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Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Moscow, March 15 2022. Credit: @Amirabdolahian via Twitter.

Iran’s rulers enthusiastically seek to destroy the liberal world order and therefore support Russia’s aggression. But they can’t manage full-throated support.

For Iran, the invasion of Ukraine is closely related to the very essence of the present world order. Much like Russia, Iran has been voicing its discontent at the way the international system has operated since the end of the Cold War. More broadly, Iran and Russia see the world through strikingly similar lenses. Both keenly anticipate the end of the multipolar world and the end of the West’s geopolitical preponderance.

Iran had its reasons to think this way. The US unipolar moment after 1991 provoked a deep fear of imminent encirclement, with American bases in Afghanistan and Iraq cited as evidence. Like Russia, the Islamic Republic views itself as a separate civilization that needs to be not only acknowledged by outside players, but also to be given ana suitable geopolitical space to project influence.

Both Russia and Iran are very clear about their respective spheres of influence. For Russia, it is the territories that once constituted the Soviet empire. For Iran, it is the contiguous states reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean — Iraq, Syria, Lebanon — plus Yemen. When the two former imperial powers have overlapping strategic interests such as, for instance, in the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, they apply the concept of regionalism. This implies the blocking out of non-regional powers from exercising outsize economic and military influence, and mostly revolves around an order dominated by the powers which border on a region.

This largely explains why Iran sees the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity that, if successful, could hasten the end of the liberal world order. This is why it has largely toed the Russian line and explained what it describes as legitimate motives behind the invasion. Thus the expansion of NATO into eastern Europe was cited as having provoked Russian moves. “The root of the crisis in Ukraine is the US policies that create the crisis, and Ukraine is one victim of these policies,” argued Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei following the invasion.

To a certain degree, Iran’s approach to Ukraine has been also influenced by mishaps in bilateral relations which largely began with the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian surface-to-air missiles in January 2020, killing 176 people. The regime first denied responsibility, and later blamed human error.

Iran, like several other of Russia’s friends and defenders,  the ideal scenario would have been a quick war in which the Kremlin achieved its major goals.

Protracted war, however, sends a bad signal. It signals that the liberal order was not in such steep decline after all, and that Russia’s calls for a new era in international relations have been far from realistic. The unsuccessful war also shows Iran that the collective West still has very significant power and — despite well-aired differences — an ability to rapidly coalesce to defend the existing rules-based order. Worse, for these countries, the sanctions imposed on Russia go further; demonstrating the West’s ability to make significant economic sacrifices to make its anger felt. In other words, Russia’s failure in Ukraine actually strengthened the West and made it more united than at any point since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.

A reinvigorated liberal order is the last thing that Iran wants, given its own troubled relations with the collective West. The continuing negotiations on a revived nuclear deal will be heavily impacted by how Russia’s war proceeds, and how the US and EU continue to respond to the aggression. Iran fears that a defeated Russia might be so angered as to use its critical position to endanger the talks, vital to the lifting of the West’s crippling sanctions.

And despite rhetorical support for Russia, Iran has been careful not to overestimate Russia’s power. It is now far from clear that the Kremlin has achieved its long-term goal of “safeguarding” its western frontier. Indeed, the Putin regime may have done the opposite now that it has driven Finland and Sweden into the NATO fold. Western sanctions on Russia are likely to remain for a long time, threatening long-term Russian economic (and possible regime) stability.

Moreover, Russia’s fostering of separatist entities (following the recognition of the so called Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” and other breakaway entities in Georgia and Moldova) is a highly polarizing subject in Iran. True there has been a shift toward embracing Russia’s position over Ukraine, but Iran remains deeply committed to the “Westphalian principles” of non-intervention in the affairs of other states and territorial integrity. This is hardly surprising given its own struggles against potential separatism in the peripheries of the country.

Many Iranians also sympathize with Ukraine’s plight, which for some evokes Iran’s defeats in the early 19th century wars when Qajars had to cede the eastern part of the South Caucasus to Russia. This forms part of a historically deeply rooted, anti-imperialist sentiment in Iran.

Iran is therefore likely to largely abstain from endorsing Russia’s separatist ambitions in Eastern Ukraine. It will also eschew, where possible, support for Russia in international forums. Emblematic of this policy was the March 2 meeting in the United Nations General Assembly when Iran, rather than siding with Russia, abstained from the vote which condemned the invasion.

Russia’s poor military performance, and the West’s ability to act unanimously, serve as a warning for the Islamic Republic that it may one day have to soak up even more Western pressure if Europe, the US, and other democracies act in union.

In the meantime, like China, Iran will hope to benefit from the magnetic pull of the Ukraine war. With so much governmental, military and diplomatic attention demanded by the conflict, it will for the time being serve as a distraction from Iran’s ambitions elsewhere. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Ignoring the Middle East at one’s peril: Turkey plays games in NATO

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Image source: NATO

Amid speculation about a reduced US military commitment to security in the Middle East, Turkey has spotlighted the region’s ability to act as a disruptive force if its interests are neglected.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set off alarm bells this week, declaring that he was not “positive” about possible Finnish and Swedish applications for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO membership is contingent on a unanimous vote in favour by the organisation’s 30 members. Turkey has NATO’s second-largest standing army. 

The vast majority of NATO members appear to endorse Finnish and Swedish membership. NATO members hope to approve the applications at a summit next month.

A potential Turkish veto would complicate efforts to maintain trans-Atlantic unity in the face of the Russian invasion.

Mr. Erdogan’s pressure tactics mirror the maneuvers of his fellow strongman, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban. Mr. Orban threatens European Union unity by resisting a bloc-wide boycott of Russian energy.

Earlier, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia rejected US requests to raise oil production in an effort to lower prices and help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian energy.

The two Gulf states appear to have since sought to quietly backtrack on their refusal.

In late April, France’s TotalEnergies chartered a tanker to load Abu Dhabi crude in early May for Europe, the first such shipment in two years.

Saudi Arabia has quietly used its regional pricing mechanisms to redirect from Asia to Europe Arab “medium,” the Saudi crude that is the closest substitute for the main Russian export blend, Urals, for which European refineries are configured.

Mr. Erdogan linked his NATO objection to alleged Finnish and Swedish support for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States, and the EU.

The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeast Turkey in support of Kurds’ national, ethnic, and cultural rights. Kurds account for up to 20 per cent of the country’s 84 million population.

Turkey has recently pounded PKK positions in northern Iraq in a military operation named Operation Claw Lock

Turkey is at odds with the United States over American support for Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey asserts that America’s Syrian Kurdish allies are aligned with the PKK.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Turkey opposes a US decision this week to exempt from sanctions against Syria regions controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“This is a selective and discriminatory move,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, noting that the exemption did not include Kurdish areas of Syria controlled by Turkey and its Syrian proxies.

Referring to the NATO membership applications, Mr. Erdogan charged that “Scandinavian countries are like some kind of guest house for terrorist organisations. They’re even in parliament.”

Mr. Erdogan’s objections relate primarily to Sweden, with Finland risking becoming collateral damage.

Sweden is home to a significant Kurdish community and hosts Europe’s top Kurdish soccer team that empathises with the PKK and Turkish Kurdish aspirations. In addition, six Swedish members of parliament are ethnic Kurds.

Turkey scholar Howard Eissenstat suggested that Turkey’s NATO objection may be a turning point. “Much of Turkey’s strategic flexibility has come from the fact that its priorities are seen as peripheral issues for its most important Western allies. Finnish and Swedish entry into NATO, in the current context, absolutely not peripheral,” Mr. Eissenstat tweeted.

The Turkish objection demonstrates the Middle East’s potential to derail US and European policy in other parts of the world.

Middle Eastern states walk a fine line when using their potential to disrupt to achieve political goals of their own. The cautious backtracking on Ukraine-related oil supplies demonstrates the limits and/or risks of Middle Eastern brinkmanship.

So does the fact that Ukraine has moved NATO’s center of gravity to northern Europe and away from its southern flank, which Turkey anchors.

Moreover, Turkey risks endangering significant improvements in its long-strained relations with the United States.

Turkish mediation in the Ukraine crisis and military support for Ukraine prompted US President Joe Biden to move ahead with plans to upgrade Turkey’s fleet of F-16 fighter planes and discuss selling it newer, advanced  F-16 models even though Turkey has neither condemned Russia nor imposed sanctions.

Some analysts suggest Turkey may use its objection to regain access to the United States’ F-35 fighter jet program. The US cancelled in 2019 a sale of the jet to Turkey after the NATO member acquired Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defence system.

Mr. Erdogan has “done this kind of tactic before. He will use it as leverage to get a good deal for Turkey,” said retired US Navy Admiral James Foggo, dean of the Center for Maritime Strategy.

A top aide to Mr. Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, appeared to confirm Mr. Foggo’s analysis.

“We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey,” Mr. Kalin said, referring to the Turkish leader’s NATO remarks. “Of course, we want to have a discussion, a negotiation with Swedish counterparts.”

Spelling out Turkish demands, Mr. Kalin went on to say that “what needs to be done is clear: they have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence to…exist in those countries.”

Mr. Erdogan’s brinkmanship may have its limits, but it illustrates that one ignores the Middle East at one’s peril.

However, engaging Middle Eastern autocrats does not necessarily mean ignoring their rampant violations of human rights and repression of freedoms.

For the United States and Europe, the trick will be developing a policy that balances accommodating autocrats’, at times, disruptive demands, often aimed at ensuring regime survival, with the need to remain loyal to democratic values amid a struggle over whose values will underwrite a 21st-century world order.

However, that would require a degree of creative policymaking and diplomacy that seems to be a rare commodity.

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