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Islamic Republic of Iran and prospects for security in the Middle East

Sajad Abedi

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The regional order of the Middle East has always been challenged and altered, and because of the geopolitical, geocultural and geostrategic position of the region, major and supra-regional powers have intervened in various pretexts in the Middle East. The Middle East region is one of the most critical areas in the world. Militarism and the purchase of weapons, especially from the Gulf States, is one of the highlights of the region. Therefore, the area has always been involved in the security mystery in recent decades. In addition, the presence of foreign governments, especially the US as a dominant power in the international system, is another issue that the region faces. So the Middle East is experiencing one of its most volatile periods, the period of instability, which is largely the product of the activity of terrorist groups in the region. Meanwhile, the civil wars and the power vacuum in the region, the policies of major powers such as the United States, Russia, and the European Union, as well as the competition of regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, have made space more fun than any other terrorist activity. .

The United States is leading a pro-war war against Shiism and discourse through its alignment actor and the centerpiece of reconciliation with the West in the region, Saudi Arabia. One of the main reasons for the formation of proxy wars is the reproduction of religious and ideological components of Wahhabism from the realities of regional conflict. The use of ideological concepts has created the groundwork for the formation of identity conflicts. Each identity conflict requires the involvement of relative actors. In the process of identity conflict, Saudi Arabia is trying to restore its position through identity and mobilization of social groups. That is why, in various historical periods, Wahhabi concepts are based on Salafi and takfiri thoughts. Such an approach shows that Wahhabism is part of the reality of Saudi identity and ideological competition with the Islamic world. Wahhabi condemns all these group acts as heresies, and appreciates the literal interpretation of sacred texts and the Quran and the Sunnah. In their discourse, the Ummah is made up of guilty people who have to be blamed and returned with the sword to the right path. The devilish image of the Arab community has, in the eyes of the Wahhabis, rooted in the desire of this movement to control legitimacy.

The organization of the takfiri groups by Saudi Arabia has created the grounds for radicalization of politics, identity and security in the region. The Takfiri forces organized by Saudi Arabia have pivotal role in countering the ideological and geopolitical goals of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. In general, identity forces have the ability to influence regional competition processes and shape a new geopolitical space. To the extent that the Takfiri forces have more regional role and mobility, it is natural that the context for the West’s strategic plans in the context of the war of war and the war is less intense.

Therefore, Saudi Arabia is under the influence of US strategic policy and goals in the region following the expansion of nomadic wars. The economic capabilities, military capabilities and strategic capabilities of Saudi Arabia show that a significant part of the military capabilities and security role of the country reflect the necessities of the war and the US-backed war of war with the regional power of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Leading wars are based on identity, geopolitical, tactical and strategic realities. Any Saudi commitment to confront the Islamic Republic of Iran is based on the environmental realities of the regions and the imperatives of international politics. Therefore, instead of direct military conflict, the United States uses proxy groups to achieve its military, political and economic goals. In this war, the United States uses handcuff actors as covert operations in order to display military power beyond their borders.

Governments are encouraged to compete among themselves through various factors in order to promote their position in international order. One of the tools the United States government is opposed to Iran is the axis of resistance to terrorism, with no apparent signs of war and military intervention. Therefore, in order to confront the resistance discourse, the United States uses warheads with goals such as the erosion of Iran’s military, political, economic, and ideological power, and the resistance axis. On this route, the United States uses Saudi Arabia as a united Middle East country and organizes and manages terrorist groups to erode the resistance axis. That is why the Arab-led front in the region believes that Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria have formed a Shiite crescent, and are using it against the Syrian government by the ISIL and al-Qaeda groups. Countering the Islamic Republic of Iran can be regarded as the main axis of the Saudi Arabian security strategy in the Middle East. The crisis of relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began on January 2, 2016. Saudi Arabia’s high-profile measures against the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be considered merely as a response to the occupation of its embassy and consulate in Iran. The goal of Saudi Arabia is to wage a comprehensive conflict through a low-intensity war with Iran.

Here, the description of geocaching and geopolitical areas of the resistance axis called “Shiite Crescent”, giving the wrong lessons to the Sunni, is aimed at increasing sectarian tensions, and the hostile actors highlighting Sunni traits, seeking to change the field and rules of the game are. The axis of resistance has declared its main goal to confront the Zionist regime, and if, after inflicting devastating wars on the axis of resistance, the goal of the struggle is shifted, the Zionists will thwart the resistance fighters. For this reason, the implementation of the strategy of creating “identity wars” by the United States, the Zionist regime and regional hostile actors has been seriously pursued. In this regard, the other achievement of this strategy, the creation of traffic and, ultimately, the gap in the resistance axis based on the false identities and the prioritization of the identity preferences among the axis of resistance must also be analyzed. Consequently, rival discourses with the backing of the United States have forged the word “Shiite Crescent” in opposition to the “identity of the resistance”. The resistance front has been threatened by international actors from this time onwards, and rival discourses will begin to launch a comprehensive campaign against it in various areas. Accordingly, the sectarian war, which is the basis of the “anti-discourse of resistance,” is supported by the political forces, the countries of the region and the Western countries through the takfiri groups, in contrast to what is called the “Shiite Crescent”. One of the main areas of identity, ethnic, and religious conflict can be seen in Syria, and Syria must be considered the focal point of opposition to discourse and resistance based on geopolitical and geotactic approaches.

Maintaining Iran’s influence and increasing its regional strength is one of the key factors in the acquisition of weapons and the sensitivity of regional governments in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has made many efforts to form a power bloc in a political or military alliance against Iran. The efforts are have so far been overcome by the pluralistic and sometimes controversial interests of the region’s actors. It can be inferred that for two reasons, direct military confrontation between the countries of the region and Iran is very low. The first reason is affected by the balance of power that exists among rival powers. The second reason is the lack of readiness for regional actors to begin the war. These conditions have raised the cost of war for the parties. Of course, it would be likely that regional powers will use their tactics to achieve their goals or to attack the other side, such as proxy warfare or confrontational encounters. Consequently, the multifaceted presence of the United States in the region, the Saudi action to its desirable order, Saudi Arabia’s wheel toward the Zionist regime toward the anti-Iranian coalition, the reproduction of terrorism, the transformation of the forms of wars into identity warfare, the crisis of anti-resistance actors in the areas under Iran’s influence, the unceasing purchases of weapons by Iran’s rivals in the region, and pro-war and low-intensity wars against Iran are one of the most important challenges facing Iran in the Western order.

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Middle East

The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.

Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.

But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.

The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.

The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.

It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.

The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.

It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.

Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK

Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.

Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.

The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.

If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.

The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.

The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.

The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”

The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.

Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”

Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.

The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey  to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.

A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.

The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.

In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.

Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.

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