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New Sanctions on Iran and Options for Regional Cooperation in Middle East

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United States has imposed new economic sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program. United States accuses Iran of providing support and funds to terrorist’s organizations in the Middle East, destabilizing the Middle East region and supporting the regime of Assad in Syria.

These new sanctions will target the Iranian individuals and companies that are considered to be involved in supporting Iran’ Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or supporting Iranian ballistic missile program. The important thing to notice is that the sanctions have been imposed one day after USA certifies Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The news of economic sanctions depicts the contradictory behavior of the United States towards Iran that is unhappy with the activities of Iran of destabilizing the region. By imposing economic sanctions while at the same time recertifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal depicts that USA wants to put more pressure on Iran while keeping in place nuclear deal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran nuclear deal was an agreement reached in 2015 between Iran, the permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (USA, UK, Russia, France, China), Germany and European Union to curb nuclear program of Iran in return for lifting economic sanctions on Iran. Although this is the second certification by the State Department since Trump took office, the certification came at the last minute that shows reluctance and the bitterness of Trump towards the deal that was negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama. However, the United States cannot pull out of the nuclear deal as it will be the violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution and would offer a platform to Iran to continue with its nuclear program.

Is Iran violating the nuclear deal? And what is the ultimate purpose of the sanctions? The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which holds a key part in monitoring Iran’s commitments towards the implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), stated positively in May 2017 that Iran is working towards implementing every provision of the deal. However, the JCPOA deals with Iran’s nuclear related measures and not with the Iran’s support of rebels and terrorist organizations in Middle East. This depicts that although Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, but in absence of any deal with respect to Iran’s role in destabilizing Middle East, the country may hold up any activity that does not come under the nuclear deal. This has resulted in mistrust between Iran, United States and Gulf countries and that is why it has to face sanctions from USA and its diplomats in Kuwait have been asked to leave the country within 45 days over the court case that accused Iranian diplomats to have been working for spying and terrorism in Kuwait. The new sanctions by United States on Iran are aimed to target groups and individuals who have supported Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), would freeze their assets in USA, and would prohibit USA citizens from doing business with them. Hence, the ultimate aim of these sanctions is to curb procurement of military equipment by Iran that may be used for terrorist activities in the region.

What have been the repercussions of sanctions imposed on Iran? In the words of Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarif, sanctions have become ‘a bad habit’ with the United States. The sanctions have affected Iranian economy and they have been imposed in order to curb Iran’s power to wage war in the region. They have affected oil exports of the country. However, the effects of sanctions on Iranian economy have not been transferred to its political movements. Although the sanctions have been imposed with the aim to change Iran’s regional politics but these sanctions could create hostility among the Iranians who could blame the West for their hardships in the form of inflation and poor economy. Moreover, due to the sanctions imposed on Iran, China and Russia are both vary of including Iran as a full member to Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran has long exhibited a substantial interest to join as a full member in order to withstand pressure from the United States but this may take some years till it can prove that it is not involved in any armed conflict or facing any UN sanctions.

With recent developments, what are the options to deal with the increasing tensions with the Iran, Gulf States and United States? Iran is in dire need to build up a trustworthy relationship with the world, at least with its neighbors. For that, it needs to change its approach towards Houthi rebels in Yemen, Assad regime in Syria and Bahrain. There is conflict of interests between Iran and Gulf States in the wars and unrest in the Middle East that demands both sides to sit together and discuss the core of conflict. Since all fingers are pointing towards Iran at this time, Iran needs to take initiative and show to the world that it is willing to come to the table to discuss the concerns and is willing to change its approach towards region. The gas pipelines projects between Iran and Oman and Iran and Pakistan are examples of projects that could create incentives for regional cooperation and trust building. But this does not spare Saudi Arabia from playing its role; Saudi Arabia needs to create a welcoming atmosphere towards Iran and needs to focus more on the repercussions that the disputed in the region will have rather concerning about the export of Iranian revolution. Issuing visas for Iranian Hajj pilgrims and allowing Iran to cap its oil production at a higher level than other OPEC members in a negotiation over OPEC production are some of the good moves taken by the Saudi Arabia towards Iran but the attitude such as laying an anti-Iran platform by inviting Muslim leaders during Trump visit to Saudi Arabia, exacerbated the tensions. On the other hand, Trump needs to show more maturity while dealing with Iran unlike when he harshly criticized and accused Iran for sectarian conflicts and terrorism in front of leaders of Muslim nations during his visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017. Such apparent alliance policy towards Arab autocrats also questions the United States stand for democracy and human rights. Moreover, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) needs to mend fences with Iran so that the region could focus on its economic development rather sectarian divides. 

Amnah Amjad has done BSc (Honours) in Political Science from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Pakistan. She has keen interest in international relations, counter-terrorism strategies and peace studies. She can be reached at amnah.amjad[at]gmail.com

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Middle East

Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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Middle East

North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

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In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.

In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.

Tensions for decades

Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.

With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.

Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.

But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.

What happened?

Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.

It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.

The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.

In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!

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Middle East

Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.

A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.

In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.

Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.

The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.

This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.

1 or 2 country solution

Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.

Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the idea of ​​a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.

This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.

Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.

Fundamental thing

To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.

But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?

In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.

At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.

So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.

And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.

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