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How to interpret the crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s allies

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The crisis between Qatar and much of the new “Sunni” NATO – as some US media already call it today – consists in a formal series of 13 requests  that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, the Emirates, Bahrain, and even Mauritius, have made – as an ultimatum – to Qatar:

1) to break off any diplomatic and economic relations with Iran; 2) to immediately close the Turkish military base near Doha and, anyway, put an end to military cooperation between Qatar and Turkey; 3) to immediately close Al Jazeera, an old TV created on the ruins of the BBC broadcasting in Arabic and later de facto monopolized by the Muslim Brotherhood; 4) to make the members of the Qatari Royal House no longer fund networks such as Arabi21, RASSD, Araby al-Jadid and Middle East Eye. “Araby al Jadeed” is a brand-new all-news network created in March 2014 and organized by Azmi Bashara, a former member of the Israeli Parliament, broadcasting from London, Beirut and Doha, with 150 employees, while the above stated Middle East Eye is currently led by David Hearst, formerly foreign editor-in-chief of the London Guardian.

The network Middle East Eye has been blocked by the Saudi authorities and by the other Emirates.

The other requests are the following: 5) Saudi Arabia has asked Qatar to stop funding groups or individuals designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAEs), Bahrain and Egypt, as well as providing data and information.

Well done. Some terrorists designated as such by Saudi Arabia are defined in the same way also by the West. It is the case of Hajjaj al Azmi, a Kuwaiti citizen who often lives in Doha. In the list of the 13 requests also the “Benghazi Defense Brigades” are mentioned, namely a militia created in June 2016 to oppose the forces of  Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity.

The Benghazi Defense Brigades cooperated with the ISIS “Caliphate” in its operations at Suq al-Hout and in Sirte.

The Saudi list includes Abdullah Bin Khalid al-Thani, former Interior Minister of the Emirate, linked to the 9/11 jihadist operations.

However, let us be honest and face it. Prince Turki bin Faisal was the leader of Saudi intelligence services for 23 years since 1979 until ten days before the 9/11 attack. Is it by mere coincidence?

According to well-known data, Nawaf bin al-Hamzi and Khalid al-Mindar, who both arrived in the United States for the 9/11 attack, were managed by the Saudi intelligence services.

Al-Bayoumi, selected by the FBI exactly as a Saudi agent, had huge funds in the United States granted by Saudi Arabia through the company Dallah Alco.

Al-Bayoumi was connected with Fahad al-Thumairy, Director of the Saudi Ministry for Islamic Affairs. However, let us not focus on the 29 pages taken from the US report on Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attack.

This would get us very far and would shed light on many facts and events that are currently taking place, not only in the Middle East.

Strategically, the issue of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Islamic terrorism has been long lasting: the jihad – which the West has foolishly favoured – has become the primary geopolitical agent throughout the Greater Middle East and also in the rest of the world.

This was solely Westerners’ fault since they had every chance to force Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Iran, the Lebanon, Iraq and all the other Islamic regional players in the Middle East to be more reasonable and become somewhat milder as to the “sword jihad”.

Nevertheless, Quos Deus perdere vult, dementat.

As things stand now, without a change there is no solution for this situation. We will be confronted with the remote-controlled jihad and later we will ask those maneuvering it for money to be rescued from an economic crisis that is also caused by the crazy geopolitics of the whole West.

Currently Saudi Arabia invests approximately 20 billion US dollars for infrastructure in the United States, as well as six billions for 150 Black Hawk helicopters to be used in the its kingdom.

If all goes well, at the very quick pace recently imparted to reach economic diversification, Saudi Arabia will go ahead according to its program  “Vision 2030” by selling,  at first, Saudi Aramco on the market.

This is another important fact to understand today’s events.

Nevertheless the project “Vision 2030” also proposes measures which may still generate tension, such as the increase in tariffs, rates and taxes, although with a fall in the unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7%.

Furthermore Saudi Arabia envisages primary support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The Saudi public Fund devoted to SMEs, namely Musharakah, has already 4 billion Saudi riyals, equal to approximately 6 billion US dollars.

In short, Saudi Arabia wants to rapidly diversify its oil-dependent economy and grow up to becoming the 15th global economy in 2020.

Special Economic Zones will also be created and foreign direct investment (FDI) will rise from the current 3.8% to 5.7% .

According to Al Saud’s plans, the private sector is expected to reach 65% of GDP as against the current 45%.

If Saudi Arabia does not bring the whole Peninsula and the Sunni world up to speed according to this program, “Project 2020” is clearly doomed to failure. Another rational motivation for the anti-Qatar diktat.

Let us now move to request 6.

Against this background, Saudi Arabia asks Qatar to “break off relations with Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and the “Caliphate”.

Let us analyze data.

In 2008, the leader of Qatar, Emir al-Thani, held a meeting between all parties present on the Lebanese political scene, by showing clear support for the Shiite movement of the “Party of God” and its allies, especially for the many Iranian foundations operating in Beirut.

It is worth recalling that exactly in 2008, the Sunni Lebanese leader,  Rafik Hariri (whose economic fortune had started in Saudi Arabia), was  killed, probably by a joint operation of some Shiite countries.

Recently the Qatari Emir has also spoken of Hezbollah as a “resistance movement”, adding that it is “not wise” to oppose Iran.

Al-Thani has also said that such news were manipulated, but obviously this just exacerbates the situation.

The issue, however, is not only geopolitical, but also economic.

Qatar is a relatively small, but not irrelevant oil producer, with 620,000 barrels a day. However, it is the first natural gas supplier in the world and – according to 2016 data – it exports 77.2 million tons mainly to the East.

However, why is there no OPEC for natural gas, which would avoid the politicization of the search of market shares between producers?

Meanwhile, the United States is becoming the largest natural gas producer in the world, with a 2016 extraction level equal to 23%, while in 2001 the share of shale gas in North American extraction was a mere 1%.

Hence it is obvious to imagine how prices and market shares will change with this mass of liquid gas in Europe and Asia. It is also easy to imagine how the  economies depending on natural gas in the Middle East would end up if the United States became more aggressive on the global liquid gas markets.

European markets’ net dependence on African and Middle East gas imports and rigid pricing of liquid gas on Asian markets, as well as the huge investment needed for extraction and transport infrastructure, are all factors which – unlike what happened for oil – prevent the creation of a global natural gas market protected by a single producer cartel.

This is why there is no OPEC for gas and this is particularly the reason why the oil exporters floundering in the financial crisis want to back the large gas extracting countries into a corner and later possibly expropriate them.

Hence Saudi Arabia’s and its allies’ current crackdown on Qatar poses a major economic problem for al-Thani’s Emirate, considering that all the ships flying the Qatari flag have been forbidden to dock in the Saudi and Emirates’ oil and gas terminal of Fujariah in the Persian Gulf.

For the time being the Emirate “punished” by Saudi Arabia has reassured its customers, especially the Asian ones and the major one, namely the Japanese Jera buying Qatari gas with long-term contracts, about the regularity of supplies, but nothing prevents delays and additional costs from  occurring,  which will soon affect Italy as well.

Furthermore the oil price fall had created a 98 billion US dollar deficit in Saudi Arabia’s public finances.

In a logic of looting, which Quran rules permit, the easiest solution is to put a strain on the richest opponent.

However, besides creating debt securities, Saudi Arabia will sell significant shareholdings of its oil companies, but above all of Saudi Aramco – and this is a central factor, as already mentioned.

Economic diversification is therefore an immediate need for Saudi Arabia  and this explains most of the current internal conflicts among the “Seven Sudayri” of the Al Saud family, who have been ruling and deciding the fate of much of the Arabian peninsula since the time of the Wahhabi uprising.

However let us continue with the requests made by Saudi Arabia and its  allies to Qatar.

Again to continue the discussion of “request” 5 to Qatar, we are talking about 59 individuals and 12 institutions which, according to Saudi Arabia, support, organize and fund terrorism.

The list of organizations obviously include the charities linked to al-Thani’s family, but there are also Saraya al-Ashtar, an organization of “occasional terrorists” linked to Hezb’ollah in Bahrain; the “February 14 Coalition”, again operating in Bahrain in favor of the Shiite majority in the country; the “Resistance Brigades”, again active in Bahrain; Saraya al-Mukhtar, a Shiite League operating in the al-Khalifa’s kingdom, and finally Harakat Ahrar Bahrain.

Judging from this list, it seems that Daesh-Isis is not a terrorist organization  and the same holds true for al-Qaeda.

That is true, but they are Sunni organizations.

Moreover, a few days ago the British media published very compromising documents on the Saudi leaders’ funding  to all jihadist terrorist organizations.

Again according to the latest data, the money spent by the Saudi ruling class to spread Wahhabism (and Salafism) in the world – both ideological foundations of contemporary jihad – is currently at least 5.2 billion US dollars.

Hence the oil powers are brutally demanding Qatar, the world’s gas leader, to extradite “terrorists” (but only the Shiite ones) and not interfere in domestic affairs or grant citizenship to Saudi, Egyptians and Emirates’ citizens who are wanted in their countries of origin.

These are requests 7 and 8 of the cahier de doleances issued by Saudi Arabia and its allies, also supported  by the short-sightedness of the US intelligence services.

However, it is now well-established that in 1996 the Qatari royal family  hosted and protected Khalid Sheik Mohammed, thus saving him from a US arrest warrant issued against him who is considered one of the “masterminds” of the 9/11 attack.

It has also been ascertained that a member of al-Thani’s family provided a safe cover in Doha to Al Zarkawi, the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, during his many transfers to and from Afghanistan.

Later the Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Maliki, openly accused Qatar of backing al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate.

However, why is Qatar supposed to support Daesh-Isis, mainly funded by its Saudi arch-enemy?

Simply because the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate perpetrated at least three attacks on the Saudi territory in 2015, 2016 and 2017, for which it duly claimed responsibility.

As to request 9, Saudi Arabia and its allies – supported by the United States that found out that the country organizing terrorists is only the Shiite Iran – oblige Qatar to suspend any aid to their internal political enemies hosted by the Qatari Emirate and immediately inform the Sunni authorities (indeed Qatar, too, is strictly Sunni).

Moreover, Saudi Arabia and its allies ask Qatar to align itself with Saudi Arabia and with the other signatories of the diktat list at “economic, political, social and military” levels, following the indications of the Treaty reached between Qatar and Saudi Arabia in 2014.

In particular, the above mentioned Treaty regards Qatar’s end of money and weapon supplies, as well as logistical support, to groups and individuals hostile to Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Egypt and in the various Gulf Countries, obviously including Saudi Arabia.

The 2013 and 2014 agreements were secret agreements, but the topic is primarily the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now secretly operating in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Gulf – and listens on al- Jazeera the sermons of Shaykh al-Qaradawi, the most authoritative theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is worth recalling that it was exactly a Saudi university professor of the Muslim Brotherhood who radicalized Osama bin Laden who, until then, had been a cheerful Westernized young Saudi tycoon.

The list of the thirteen requests ends with two recommendations: firstly, to undergo monthly supervision during the first year and, for the following ten years, to be monitored, again on a yearly-basis, and anyway decide on  the list of the thirteen requests within ten days.

Obviously Qatar, which so far has not accepted the thirteen requests – has  immediately turned to Turkey, governed by the AKP, a party born from a rib of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to Iran.

As is well-known, the United States initially supported the Saudi requests – although it later remembered that its central command for the whole Middle East was in Qatar, at the al-Udayd base.

If Qatar loses its tug-of-war with Saudi Arabia and its allies, its large  financial reserves will be hoarded by Saudi Arabia to back its project for stabilizing State budgets and rapidly achieving economic diversification, which is at the core of  the new King Muhammad al-Salman’s policy line.

Qatar has a sovereign fund of 355 billion US dollars and owns 30 billions worth of securities and shares, as well as an unknown, but definitely huge amount of other investments outside the Emirate.

Moreover, the Saudi royal family pays a high price – with a public debt that would have forced Saudi Arabia into default by 2018 – for the huge funds and loans granted to terrorist organizations in Syria, Yemen and  Iraq – all jihadist militias now out of the new balance of power and obviously defeated by the new connection between Russia, Iran, Syria and, in the future, Turkey.

Furthermore, in an already problematic situation, the bloody suicide rush to forcedly reduce oil prices – mainly targeted against the US shale oil – has depleted the public finances and the private incomes of the Wahhabi Kingdom.

Hence, with his victory, President Trump – who played many of his electoral cards precisely on the North American economic recovery to be funded with “unconventional oil and gas” – as shale is officially called – has unintentionally triggered off a tough internal power struggle within  the Al Saud family.

The first faction wants to rebuild an effective relationship with Russia and China, so as to stabilize prices and, in the long run, stop pegging the Saudi oil to the US dollar, which will shortly be only the financial instrument of the globalization of North American shale oil – a direct competitor of the Saudi one.

On the contrary, the opposite faction wants to preserve the already strong relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, so as to use the US economy as a carrier for the increasingly necessary and quick diversification of the Saudi economy, which is still heavily oil-dependent.

A factor linked to this new US-Saudi bilateralism is also the Saudi pressure against the New Silk Road of China, which is currently the number one enemy of US geopolitics and that the pro-American Saudis want to drive away from all the Gulf countries.

Conversely, it is almost useless to note that Iran has always been an essential passage point of the One Belt and One Road initiative (OBOR) designed by China.

It is also worth recalling it was Qatar, jointly with Iran, to open the first yuan “exchange centre” throughout the Middle East on April 14, 2015.

In addition to the above-mentioned monetary exchange and clearing centre for the Chinese and Middle East currencies – and it should be noted that yuan-denominated oil contracts between China and Iran are already in place – the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China also operates in Qatar.

If the yuan (and the ruble) became the new benchmark for gas and oil, the US dollar good days would be over since it could no longer lay onto the US-dollar denominated international trade the imbalances and asymmetries of public debt (which, including households’ and companies’ debt, accounts for 345% of the US GDP) and of its trade deficit.

“The dollar is our currency, but your problem” as a FED Governor said to his European counterparts.

Meanwhile, the new Saudi king, Muhammad bin Salman, is planning and designing a new 2 trillion US dollar sovereign fund, with a view to putting an end to the Saudi oil-dependence “within the next twenty years.”

Again according to the pro-American faction of the al-Saud family, the new sovereign fund is expected to invest half of its capital abroad, obviously without ever affecting Aramco, the world’s first oil producer and second holder of world reserves.

Said faction does not show any particular problem with oil price fluctuations, as has already demonstrated by trying – in vain – to push the US shale oil out of the market.

If the oil price increases, there will be more money available to Saudi Arabia for stepping up economic diversification. Even if the oil price  decreases there would be no problem: the Saudi oil has the lowest unit extraction cost and the country will always be in a position to sell its products on the fastest-growing and most liquid market in the world, which is currently the Asian one.

Once again Qatar’s primary role in the Japanese and Chinese energy system is very annoying for Saudi Arabia.

Everything will change in the Middle East when, at the end of hostilities in Syria, Israel shall face a number one enemy, namely Iran, which is currently strengthened by the new balance of power prevailing in Syria (and in the Lebanon) and shall also come to terms with what is increasingly becoming the “lesser evil”, namely Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism.

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

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Politics by Other Means: A Case Study of the 1991 Gulf War

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War has been around since the dawn of man and is spawned by innate human characteristics. Often, when efforts at resolving conflicts fail diplomatically (be it at the nation or international level), war is what follows and seemingly the only other option. As Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military commander and military theorist, once said, “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce” and, despite the horror and destruction of war, war is necessary for the conduct of foreign policy. War and physical combat allows for resolutions that cannot come about from any other way, once all legitimate foreign policy tactics have been exhausted. With the U.S. there are an abundant amount of examples showing how direct military conflict has solved a foreign policy problem. The 1991 Gulf War is a prime example.

               The Gulf War began in August of 1990, when Iraqi tanks rolled over the Iraqi-Kuwait border, claiming vast oil reserves and annexing the country. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had just come out of the Iran-Iraq War, an almost eight-year, prolonged war of attrition which ended with, “an estimated quarter of a million dead…over 60,000 Iraqis [as] prisoners of war…[and] had run up a debt of over $80 billion…[with] the collapse of world prices meant that Iraq’s oil revenues in 1988 amounted to $11 billion, less than half its 1980 revenue”. Not only this, but Iraq had been fighting what was essentially a civil war in Iraqi Kurdistan, which involved the use of chemical weapons against civilians. The hundred year plus dispute between Iraq and Kuwait about sections of the border with essential waterways leading to the Gulf, the economic hardships and falling price of oil, the U.S. severing ties with the Middle Eastern nation due to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the fear of decreasing power and influence in the region, and the desire to attain the funding for nuclear weapons programs were all central factors in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

               International outcry was swift and critical of Saddam’s actions. This was largely due to the fact that Iraq was now closer to Saudi Arabia and the threat of him and Iraq controlling a substantial portion of the world’s oil reserves was very real. Richard Kohn, a professor of military history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, discussed this with NPR, stating, “The stakes in 1990 and ’91 were really rather enormous. Had Saddam Hussein gotten control of the Saudi oil fields, he would have had the world economy by the throat. That was immediately recognized by capitals around the world”. Immediately following the invasion, on August 03, the United Nations Security Council demanded that Iraq withdraw from the country and, when Iraq did not abide by this demand, the UN “imposed a worldwide ban on trade with Iraq (The Iraqi government responded by formally annexing Kuwait on August 8)”. The U.S. too engaged and tried to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait by placing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, utilizing this military presence as a deterrent.

Despite such action by the most powerful international foreign policy and diplomatic body in the globe, and diplomatic action on the part of the U.S. and other foreign nations, war still occurred in January of 1991, which eventually pushed Saddam out of Kuwait via aerial and naval bombardment and, by February, had armor and infantry troops rolling towards Baghdad. The question that remains is, was the war necessary to solving the situation in Iraq and did such military action further international foreign policy goals of the United States?

               War was the only other option that the United States could take when dealing with Saddam. The United Nations, the Arab League, and the United States had all vitriolically and openly opposed Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. When Iraq tried to open diplomatic channels to resolve the crisis (while not complying with the UN’s order and keeping troops in Kuwait), the U.S. requested that the Iraqis comply with the decree and pull out of Kuwait, following Margaret Thatcher and Britain’s line of thought that concessions to a dictator would strengthen the Iraqi influence and desire for more power.

               While the fact that the United States did not try to pursue a diplomatic avenue with Iraq in this matter is certainly an interesting method, it is also understandable. Giving in to Iraq’s desires and granting them concessions when they had flagrantly disregarded international law and violated the sovereignty of a fellow nation state (in addition to committing horrendous crimes against their own population), capitulating to the Iraqi government would have been a mistake. It would have solidified their power and their influence within the region and would have seemingly legitimized their standpoint.

               Not only would negotiating on such terms have legitimized their view and stance, but it effectively would have been negotiating with a terrorist. The former Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 1989 to 1991, Joseph C. Wilson, (who would later play a key role in the Plame Affair during the Iraq War), discussed how, “several hundred hostages were held by Saddam, 150 Americans as well as another 70 in our care to keep them out of Iraqi hands…There is no doubt that our personnel and our families were at risk, in considerable danger in fact,”. Hussein’s motivation for holding these Americans and others of varying nationalities (notably British) was most probably to utilize them as a deterrent to an attack from the West. Engaging in capitulation and trying to negotiate with someone who was essentially a terrorist (utilizing terror and violence, or the threat of such action, to attain a political goal) was not something that the United States nor the United Kingdom was willing to do under any circumstances.

               The United States, in this instance, was dealing with a terrorist and a dictator, a megalomaniac who was determined to reclaim what he believed was rightfully Iraqi territory and gain access to further wealth through illegal means. The potential of his army in securing what were important and essential global financial centers in the Middle East was serious and it is possible he was planning to invade Saudi Arabia at some point. Saad al-Bazzaz, the former head of both the Iraqi News Agency and the Iraqi Radio and Television Establishment in addition to being an aide to Saddam, alleged in 1996 that, “the Iraqi leader ordered the elite Republican Guard to be ready to launch an offensive…nine days after the invasion of Kuwait…The invasion plans called for four divisions, or 120,000 troops, to thrust into the desert to capture oil fields more than 180 miles away”. The fact that Iraqi troops also, in January of 1991, after the initial aerial bombardment, captured the small, Saudi Arabian coastal city of Khafji, lends credence to the idea that Saddam may have been planning something larger. al-Bazzaz also alleged that Saddam again began planning an invasion of Saudi Arabia while the Battle of Khafji was ongoing, but resorted to defense when it was apparent he would lose Kuwait.

               Upon the conclusion of the Gulf War, what did the U.S. gain? One of the most significant achievements in the aftermath of the conflict was that the United States was able to create a coalition of military forces (including those from Middle Eastern nations like Syria and Egypt) to side with other nations (former colonizers like France and the United Kingdom) who are often opposed to their conduct of foreign policy or have fraught relationships. As well, the State Department’s Office of the Historian notes, “Although Russia did not commit troops, it joined the United States in condemning Iraq, its long-time client state”. The Office goes on to describe how Secretary of State Baker and his staff went about gathering allies and were instrumental in assisting in diplomatic and coordination efforts for the eventual air and ground campaign. The U.S. gained improved relationships that bonded by the pursuit of an enemy and the removal of a foreign power from a sovereign nation and were further solidified in the UN’s policing of Iraqi airspace and nuclear deproliferation programs.

               Often, wars can be prevented and all out avoided through the use of diplomacy and foreign policy. The Vietnam War, the 1898 Spanish-American War, and the Chaco War of the 1930’s between Bolivia and Paraguay are prime examples of when diplomacy should have been utilized to the fullest effect and in which foreign policy officials and avenues for conflict resolution were not fully considered or utilized. However, in this instance, war was the only viable option for removing Saddam from Kuwait and returning the country to its rightful citizens. Negotiating or trying to work with the Iraqi government on the terms they had decided (meaning working with them in a foreign territory they have illegally acquired) would have given their actions an aura of legitimacy and possibly emboldened Saddam to further push the boundaries of international law. By giving Saddam an ultimatum and proceeding with physical combat and engaging in a war, war with Iraq was the correct decision when considering the person and government being dealt with.

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Middle Eastern interventionism galore: Neither US nor Chinese policies alleviate

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A recent analysis of Middle Eastern states’ interventionist policies suggests that misguided big power approaches have fueled a vicious cycle of interference and instability over the last decade.

Those approaches are abetted, if not encouraged by US and Chinese strategies that are similar, if not essentially the same, just labelled differently. The United States has long opted for regime stability in the Middle East rather than political reform, an approach China adopts under the mum of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.

As a result, both the United States and China de facto signal autocrats that they will not be held accountable for their actions. This week’s US response and Chinese silence about the suspension of democracy in Tunisia illustrates the point.

The policies of the two powers diverge, however, on one key approach: The US, unlike China, frequently identifies one or more regimes, most notably Iran, as a threat to regional security. In doing so, US policy is often shaped by the narrow lens of a frequently demonized ‘enemy’ or hostile power.

The problem with that approach is that it encourages policies that are based on a distorted picture of reality. The Obama administration’s negotiation of a 2015 international nuclear agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program proved that amending those policies constitutes a gargantuan task, albeit one that is gaining traction with more critical trends emerging in both the Democratic Party and among Evangelists.

The recent study, ‘No Clean Hands: The Interventions of Middle Eastern Powers, 2010-2020,’ published by the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, suggests by implication that China has at the vey least allowed instability to fester in the Middle East that is fueled as much by destabilizing Iranian interventions as by similar actions of various US allies.

The study was authored by researcher Matthew Petti and Trita Parsi, the Institute’s  co-founder and executive vice president and founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council.

To be sure China may not have been able to influence all interventionist decisions, including the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but potentially could have at times tempered the interventionist inklings of regional players with a more assertive approach rather than remaining aloof and focusing exclusively on economic opportunity.

China demonstrated its willingness and ability to ensure that regional players dance to its tune when it made certain that Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries refrained from criticizing Beijing’s brutal attempt to alter the ethnic and religious identity of its Turkic Muslim population in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

Taking Syria as an example, Li Shaoxian, a former vice president at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, articulated China’s approach in 2016 as Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first visit to the Middle East. “China doesn’t really care who takes the presidency…in the future—as long as that person could stabilize and develop the country, we would agree,” Mr. Li said.

To be fair, the Quincy Institute study focuses on the interventionist policies of Middle Eastern states and recommendations for US policy rather than on China even if the report by implication has consequences for China too.

A key conclusion of the study is that the fallacy of US policy was not only to continue to attempt to batter Iran into submission despite evidence that pressure was not persuading the Islamic republic to buckle under.

It was also a failure to acknowledge that Middle Eastern instability was fueled by interventionist policies of not just one state, Iran, but of six states, five of which are US allies: Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The US allies, with the exception of Turkey and to a lesser degree Qatar, are perceived as supporters of the regional status quo.

On the other hand, the United States and its allies have long held that Iran’s use of militant proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen; its intervention in Syria and support of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip; and its armament policies, including its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, destabilize the Middle East and pose the greatest threat to regional security.

They assert that Iran continues to want to export its revolution. It is an argument that is supported by Iran’s own rhetoric and need to maintain a revolutionary façade.

Middle East scholar Danny Postel challenges the argument in a second paper published this month by the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies that seems to bolster the Quincy Institute’s analysis.

“The view of Iran as a ‘revolutionary’ state has been dead for quite some time yet somehow stumbles along and blinds us to what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East. A brief look at the role Iran has played over the last decade in three countries — Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria — reveals a very different picture: not one of a revolutionary but rather of a counter-revolutionary force,” Mr. Postel argues.

The scholar noted that Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon, and pro-Iranian armed groups in Iraq responded in similar ways to mass anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020 in Lebanese and Iraqi cities that transcended sectarian divisions and identified the Iran-aligned factions with widespread corruption that was dragging their countries down.

They attacked the protesters in an attempt to salvage a failed system that served their purpose and suppress what amounted to popular uprisings.

Do they really think that we would hand over a state, an economy, one that we have built over 15 years? That they can just casually come and take it? Impossible! This is a state that was built with blood,” said an Iraqi official with links to the pro-Iranian militias. A Hezbollah official speaking about Lebanon probably could not have said it better.

Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal suppression of a popular revolt is no less counter-revolutionary and illustrative of the length to which Iran is willing to go to protect its interests.

“Indeed, for all the talk of Iran’s ‘disruptive’ role in the region, what the cases of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon reveal is instead an Islamic Republic hell-bent on keeping entrenched political establishments and ruling classes in power while helping them quell popular movements for social justice, democratic rights, and human dignity,” Mr. Postel concludes.

“The idea that Iran is a revolutionary power while Saudi Arabia is a counter-revolutionary power in the region is a stale binary. Both the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom play counter-revolutionary roles in the Middle East. They are competing counter-revolutionary powers, each pursuing its counter-revolutionary agenda in its respective sphere of influence within the region,” Mr. Postel goes on to say.

Counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt appeared to contradict Mr. Postel in a paper published this week that asserted that Hezbollah remained a revolutionary pro-Iranian force in its regional posture beyond Lebanon.

“Hezbollah’s regional adventurism is most pronounced in its expeditionary forces deployed in Syria and elsewhere in the region, but no less important are the group’s advanced training regimen for other Shi’a militias aligned with Iran, its expansive illicit financing activities across the region, and its procurement, intelligence, cyber, and disinformation activities,” Mr. Levitt said.

Mr. Postel’s analysis in various ways bolsters the Quincy Institute report’s observation that tactics employed by Iran are not uniquely Iranian but have been adopted at various times by all interventionist players in the Middle East.

The Quincy Institute study suggests further that a significant number of instances in the last decade in which Middle Eastern states projected military power beyond their borders involved Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar on battlefields that were as much related to competition for regional influence among US allies or the countering of popular movements as they were to rivalry with Iran.

“Iran is highly interventionist, but not an outlier. The other major powers in the region are often as interventionist as the Islamic Republic – and at times even more so. Indeed, the UAE and Turkey have surpassed in recent years,” the report said.

The report’s publication coincided with the indictment of billionaire Thomas  J. Barrack, a one-time advisor and close associate of former US President Donald J. Trump, on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for the UAE, widely seen as another case and form of intervention by a Middle Eastern state.

By implication, the study raises the question whether compartmentalizing security issues like the nuclear question and framing them exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than discussing them in relation to diverging security concerns of all regional players, including Iran, will lead to a sustainable regional security architecture.

There is little indication that thinking in Washington is paying heed to the Quincy Institute study or Mr. Postel’s analysis even though their publication came at an inflection point in negotiations with Iran suspended until President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in mid-August.

That was evident in a proposal put forward this month by former US Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross on how to respond to Iran’s refusal to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support of armed proxies  as well as Mr. Al-Assad as part of the nuclear negotiation. Mr. Ross suggested that the United States sell to Israel the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound mountain-buster capable of destroying hardened underground nuclear facilities.

Members of Congress last year offered legislation that would authorize the sale as a way to maintain Israel’s military edge as the United States moves to reward the UAE for its establishment of diplomatic reltions with Israel by selling it top-of-the-line F-35 fighter jets.

The administration is expected to move ahead with the sale of the jets after putting it on hold for review when Joe Biden took office In January.

The Quincy Institute and Mr. Postel’s calls for a paradigm shift in thinking about the Middle East and/or Iran take on added significance in the light of debates about the sustainability of the Iranian clerical regime.

Contrary to suggestions that the regime is teetering on the brink of collapse as the result of sanctions and domestic discontent, most recently evidenced in this month’s protests sparked by water shortages, widely respected Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour argues that the Iranian regime could have a shelf life of at least another generation.

Mr. Sadjadpour draws a comparison to the Soviet Union. “Post-Soviet Russia… didn’t transition from the Soviet Union to a democratic Russia, but it essentially became a new form of authoritarianism which took Communism and replaced it with grievance driven Russia nationalism—led by someone from the ancient regime and a product of the KGB, Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Sadjadpour argues.

“Likewise, if I had to make a prediction in Iran, I think that the next prominent leader is less likely to be an aging cleric—like an Ayatollah Khamenei or Ibrahim Raisi—and more likely to be someone who is a product of either the Revolutionary Guards or Iran’s intelligence services. Instead of espousing Shiite nationalism, they will substitute that with Iranian nationalism—or Persian nationalism,” he goes on to say.

An Iranian nationalist regime potentially could contribute to regional stability. It would likely remove the threats of Iranian meddling in the domestic affairs of various Arab countries by empowering Shiite Muslim groups as well as support for political Islam. Iranian nationalism would turn aid to groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen into a liability rather than an asset.

Mr. Sadjadpour’s prognosis coupled with the Quincy Institute report suggests that the Biden administration has an opportunity to reframe its Middle East policy in the long-term interests of the United States as well as the region and the international community.

The nuclear talks are one potential entry point to what would amount to the equivalent of turning a supertanker around in the Suez Canal – a gradual process at best rather than an overnight change. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan may be another.

Concern in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran about the fallout of the withdrawal suggests that stabilizing the greater Middle East in ways that conflicts can be sustainably managed if not resolved creates grounds for China, Russia and the United States to cooperate on what should be a common interest: securing the free flow of oil and gas as well as trade.

China, Russia, and Iran may be bracing themselves for worst case scenarios as the Taliban advance militarily, but the potential for some form of big power cooperation remains.

China scholars Haiyun Ma and I-wei Jennifer Chang note that in the case of Afghanistan “despite the Taliban’s advancement on the ground and its call for Chinese investment, the current military situation and the political process have not yet manifested a power vacuum created by the US retreat, which makes Chinese entry and gains…largely symbolic in nature.”

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Middle East

The Russian bear in Lebanon

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It turned out that the Biden-Putin summit on May 16 has established a wider effect than anyone would expect.

It exceeded by far political analysis, especially in Lebanon. The summit almost coincided with the Russian economic delegation’s visit to Beirut on the 18th of the same month and the announcement of its study results to initiate investments projects in Lebanon.

The results revealed the Russian delegation’s future plans in rebuilding the oil refineries in Zahrani and Tripoli and rehabilitating the latter’s port. Regardless of the projects, the Russian companies intend to deal with, if they are approved and encouraged by good signs changes can be relied upon. It means that Lebanon has taken an important leap in its economic policies by gradually moving towards the East.

Naturally, Lebanon’s orientation towards the East “if it happens” will not be absolute and definitive, but rather principled and partial. This is an important matter by itself. It is marked as a qualitative leap that may minimize the private companies’ monopolization of energy imports, which will be directly reflected, firstly, in electricity production in Lebanon, and secondly in facilitating the provision of petroleum products in Lebanon. Such projects became a necessity, in particular, after the collapse of the Lebanese lira against the American dollar.    

Logically, changing the reality of the production of electricity will reveal immediate results. It will be reflected in the change in the rehabilitation of the economic infrastructure fields in Lebanon. It will also positively reflect in other vital areas, such as determining the prices of food commodities, which became outrageously high. 

Accordingly, one of the most important reasons for the obscene rise in food prices is related to the high costs of transportation in the last month alone. It is almost above the purchasing power of the Lebanese. For example, the prices of vegetables and fruits, a non-imported commodity, which is not supervised by government support, remained within reasonable prices; however, once the diesel prices started rising, it directly affected the prices of the seasonal vegetables and fruits.

In addition, there are unseen accomplishments that will go with the entry of Russian companies, which is creating new job opportunities in Lebanon. Lately, it was reported that unemployment in Lebanon will reach 41.4% this year. It is a huge rate, which the Lebanese media, in general, use to provoke people against the current resigned government. However, it neglects to shed the light on the importance of the Russian investment in creating new job opportunities, which will affect all social groups, whether they were transporters, building workers, porters, cleaners, or university graduates.

The companies coming to Lebanon are directly supported by the Russian state. However, they are private companies, a fact that has its advantages. They are familiarized with dealing with other Western international companies. Russian companies have previously coordinated with French and Italian companies in Lebanon, through contracts concluded for the extraction of gas in Lebanese fields and in other fields outside Lebanon. Russian- European coordination process is also recognized in rebuilding Beirut’s harbor. A German company will rebuild the docks, while the French will rebuild the containers or depots, and the Russian companies will rebuild the wheat silos.

It seems that the process is closely related to the future of Lebanon and the future of the Chinese project, the New Silk Road, [One Road, and One Belt]. However, it is not clear yet whether the Russian companies will be investing in Tripoli’s refinery and in regenerating and expanding its port or it will be invested by the Chinese companies. If this achievement is accomplished, then Tripoli will restore its navigating glorious history. Tripoli was one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean. Additionally, there is a need for the Russian and the Chinese to expand on the warm shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Secondly, the project will boost Tripoli and its surroundings from the current low economic situation to a prosperous economic one, if the real intentions are there. The results in Tripoli will be read as soon as the projects set foot in the city. Of course, this will establish another Sino-Russian victory in the world of economy and trade, if not in politics as well.

The entry of the Russians and the Chinese into the Lebanese field of commerce has international implications. It will come within international and global agreements or understanding. Nevertheless, it is a sign that the Americans are actually losing their grip on Lebanon. This entry will stop the imposition of a limited number of European-oriented Lebanese monopolizing companies, which have dominated the major Lebanese trade of oil and its products. Dominance is protected with the “illusion” of meaningless international resolution. It is true that the Americans are still maneuvering in several places; however, this is evident to the arbitrariness of decisions making in the U.S. today. It is the confusion resulting from ramifications of the “Sword of Jerusalem” operation in Palestine; it seems that they do not have a clear plan towards policies in the region, other than supporting “Israel”.

If the above is put into action, and the Russian companies start working within a guarantee agreement with the Lebanese state. This means a set of important issues on the international and regional levels. And it also means that the Americans would certainly prefer the Russians to any Chinese or Iranian economic direct cooperation in Lebanon.

Firstly, it is clear that in their meeting Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin reached a kind of consent to activate stability in the region. Two years ago, the Americans had a different plan. According to an established source, the Americans actually intended to strike internal stability in Lebanon and ignite another civil war round, before finalizing stability in Syria. This assertion tunes with David Hale’s, an American envoy to Lebanon, a declaration about the American anger over the $10 billion spent in Lebanon to change the political reality and overthrow Hezbollah from the government. Consequently, the American project is behind us now. Russia and China need to invest in the stability of Lebanon, in order to secure their investments in the process of rebuilding Syria.

Secondly, the Lebanese state guarantee, which the Russians require, is directly related to the lack of confidence in the Lebanese banking policies, which have lost their powers as a guarantor for investments after the role they played since November 17, 2019 till today. It proved the inefficiency of the financial policies of the Lebanese banks, which was based on the principle of usury since the nineties of the last century. In addition, a state guarantee will enable the Russian companies to surpass the American sanctions. 
The state guarantee increases the value and importance of the Lebanese state as an entity in the region, and this can be understood from Macron’s statements after the explosion of Beirut port last August when he said that Lebanon’s role in the region as we know it must change. 

Thirdly, if we consider the history of international unions in the world, including the European Union, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and others, they started as economic alliances before they end as political alliances. Therefore, at this historical stage and in order to work on the economic recovery of Lebanon, which needs more investments instead of falling under the burden of more debts. Lebanon needs to head East towards economic unity with Syria. In cooperating with two superpowers, Lebanon and Syria can form an economic bloc on the Mediterranean shores, a bloc that can get Lebanon out of the vortex of Western absurdity and expand its alliances and horizons to be a real economic and cultural forum where the East and the West can meet.

From our partner Tehran Times

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