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The Coming Long-Planned Middle East War

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Recently, a mounting risk of conflict between Hezbollah and the Zionist enemy, on the northern border with Syria and Lebanon, has given fresh impetus against the axis of resistance by the tri-alliance rhetoric; i.e. the Zionists, the Saudis and the American. Various political and military analysts have concluded that a conflict with the Lebanese resistance; Hezbollah- a key ally fighting against the Takfiris; along with Iran and the Syrian regime, is becoming increasingly likely.

In November 2017, Lebanon’s army Chief Commander General Joseph Aoun said, “Troops should be ready to thwart any attempt to exploit the current circumstances for stirring strife as the exceptional political situation that Lebanon is going through requires you to exercise the highest levels of awareness.” The Zionists frequently threats that Lebanon could be subjected to a huge aerial bombardment in the opening days of a campaign with civilian casualties highly probable. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Zionist prime minister, has threatened that his hostile forces would intervene rather than allowing the resistance to establish its position on the Northern borders.

At a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, on 21 March 2018, War Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented that the possibility of conflict is breaking out. He said that the Zionist soldiers may have to operate deep in Lebanese territory and manoeuvre on the ground on the battlefield if war breaks out, warning about Hezbollah’s attempts to arm itself with precision missiles produced in Lebanon. Lieberman also suggested in October, that the Lebanese military could also be considered an enemy combatant as it had become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.  He stated, “Israeli leaders will want to take care not to find themselves backed into a premature confrontation by the manoeuvres of their allies who sit in Riyadh.”

The Syrian conflict has reached a very advanced phase as Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Hezbollah have proven to be more politically and militarily harmonious than at any time. Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Iran primarily funds resistance movements that aim at dismantling the Zionist illegal entity and its tools, i.e. Takfiri terrorist groups. Unequivocally, the Zionists recognise that Hezbollah has emerged from the Syrian war as a battle-hardened and the most resilient military actor in the Arab region, with highly trained fighters and reservists. Further, its missiles system has been heavily resupplied, in spite of dozens of airstrikes on its convoys and depots.

Amid these threats, the Saudi dirty conspiracies against the Resistance axis has revealed its reckless and heinous policy regarding Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The military commentator of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Amos Harel reported, “If Saudi Arabia is deliberately stoking the flames between the sides [Israel and Hezbollah], this becomes a tangible danger.” Additionally, the former US ambassador to the Zionist entity Dan Shapiro warned, “It is plausible that the Saudis are trying to create the context for a different means of contesting Iran in Lebanon – an Israeli-Hezbollah war.”

Due to the Saudi massive failure in Yemen and the resistance’s great victories, Riyadh has shifted its focus on Lebanon. In one of his influential speeches, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has urged the Saudis to find realistic goals regarding Lebanon. He mocked the Saudi coward threats to eradicate the resistance through encouraging Israel to wage the war. Sayyed Nasrallah has asserted that any future conflict could take place inside the occupied Palestinian territory. He said, “There will be no place that is out of reach of the rockets of the resistance.”

Besides, the possibility that an offensive against Syria and Lebanon might take place would be a direct result of Washington’s failure to oust the brave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Their idiot plan was the fragmentation of Syria, Lebanon and other Arab states into smaller units. In the meantime, the Saudis continue their devastating war on Yemen, backed by Trump’s administration, which is also negotiating an arms deal worth billions to take an aggressive stance towards Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and Iran. Further, the Zionists have expanded their illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, at unprecedented levels.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. essential objective is eliminating the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance. In addition, they aim to re-establish themselves as the hegemonic power in the Middle East, with absolute control over the natural resources including oil, gas and water. They understand that defeating Hezbollah would be unmanageable; therefore, they are scarcely exerting effort to reduce the resistance military capabilities with the possibility that the U.S. troops may coordinate targets with the Zionist War Forces and join the war through Syria.

Saudi Arabia dreams to remain a vassal state with unconventional political leverage over its neighbours. However, if it foolishly decides to wage an attack against Iran, the tyrant rulers of Bani Saud will inevitably collapse [Bani Saud as the Arabic use of ‘Al’ is an honourable title of a legitimate dynasty, such as the household of Prophet Mohammad (PBU’em); Al-Hashem]. Earlier this year, the Saudis have abruptly cut economical aids to the Lebanese government merely because it had refused to condemn ‘attacks’ on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Indeed, the Saudis spearheaded efforts to get the Persian Gulf states and the Arab League to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The brutal conspiracy against Syria has so far resulted in nearly half a million dead, six million internally displaced, and over five million refugees, an overwhelming percentage of whom have now spent years in neighbouring countries. The event of 10 February 2018 underscored the resistance axis military capabilities, as when the Syrian antiaircraft fire downed an Israeli F-16, the first Zionist fighter to be shot down in decades. Hezbollah has greatly enhanced its deterrence capabilities and fighting skills, for this reason, the Zionists would only fight a war to weaken Hezbollah, which is seemingly feasible.

Obviously, the war is predictable but inevitably, it is not going to be imminent. The enemy is aware that Hezbollah is part of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards; an army of 200,000 fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Further, Hezbollah has gained advanced weapons and experienced fighters and has access to 150,000 rockets; compared to the 33,000 in 2006. In addition, the resistance has stockpiled quality weapons and has built factories that can convert rockets to missiles, which could seriously make any war very costly.

It is worthy to mention that Hezbollah keenly understands that the Zionist enemy is not the same as it was in 2006. The Zionists’ so-called ‘Iron Dome’ air defence network is more sophisticated. This too means that the efficiency of the resistance rockets is questionable and need to be more advanced. Besides, the sectarian rifts and political conflicts in the region would make it difficult for the resistance masses to seek refuge in other countries, particularly Syria, whenever a war would kick off. During the previous wars, nearly 1 million Lebanese fled the country. Meanwhile, Lebanon hosts 2 million Syrian refugees, giving the country the highest per capita refugee count in the world, according to a New York Times report. An influx of additional refugees would be quite serious as the current regional status-quo is problematic.

Hezbollah has grown considerably stronger since the 2006 Second Lebanon hostile War. Following the battle of Qusayr, in Syria, the resistance has changed its strategies from insurgency to counterinsurgency in order to weaken the Saudi backed terrorists. Per its doctrine and as Sayyed Nasrallah frequently maintains, “As long as there is a missile that is fired from Lebanon and targets the Zionists, as long as there is one fighter who fires his rifle, as long as there is someone who plants a bomb against the Israelis.”

For their part, the Zionists have made it clear that their intentions are to hit the resistance “in the most muscular way possible.” The enemy seeks to invade the Lebanese territories in order to damage its political and military infrastructure, which is by no means unprecedented. Historically speaking, the aggressive invasion of southern Lebanon, in 1982; aimed at demolishing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), provides a complete failure and had transformed it into a regular army. During the Lebanese civil war, the PLO established a visible force that fielded heavy weaponry and artillery; however, its forces lacked the mobility that Hezbollah has demonstrated in the subsequent four decades.

In frustration at Hezbollah’s victorious during the 1980s, the Zionist enemy lashed out against the resistance twice. In 1993’s ‘Operation Accountability’ and 1996’s ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’, the enemy attacked Lebanon with an overwhelming air and artillery power. These aggressive wars wrought considerable damage; however, they barely harmed the resistance. The resistance’s heroic elusiveness ensured that the Zionist enemy made no battlefield gains, and Hezbollah continued to fire Katyusha rockets until the thorough victory on 25 May 2000.

In 2006, the enemy Air Forces struck at Hezbollah headquarters and command facilities and bombed Lebanese infrastructure to force the Lebanese government to pressure the resistance into returning their detained soldiers. Three minutes after a missile struck the Zionist naval vessel INS Hanit, which was patrolling off the coast of Beirut, on 14 July 2006, Sayyed Nasrallah announced, “The surprises which I promised you will begin now. Right now, in the midst of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli military warship, which aggressed against our infrastructure and against the houses of the people and civilians. Watch it burn. It will sink and with it dozens of Israeli Zionist soldiers.”

The 1982 invasion aimed at eliminating the PLO; however, it has resulted in the establishment of Hezbollah. Therefore, the reckless Zionists, Americans and Saudi mercenaries should expect that any coming aggression would equivocally bear similar advanced fruit. Hezbollah, after 2006 experience, has been stockpiling hundreds of thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortars capable of reaching not just border areas but deep into the enemy’s terrains. The resistance arsenal includes hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads as well as substantial conventional explosives.

The resistance would unquestionably hit Tel Aviv’s military bases and airports. Sayyed Nasrallah has stressed that the resistance fighters would be reinforced by hundreds of thousands of fighters from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The numbers of missiles, including anti-ship cruise missiles, would dwarf previous Hezbollah salvos and, including upgraded versions of the ubiquitous Scud, could be launched from deep within Lebanon at targets deep within the Zionist occupied territories. The enemy may clearly face attacks launched from the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, which it has not faced since the 1973 war.

However, we should admit that the Zionists are preparing to wage this new war in a more deliberate and calculated manner, in contrast to previous decades when war decisions were a disproportionate response and collective punishment, more whimsical and hardly ever planned for in an educated manner. As far as the Zionists are concerned, their fundamental objective is that Hezbollah will be eliminated forever; just as the resistance aims at eliminating the Zionist occupation and liberating the occupied territories. For this reason, the enemies are precisely studying and postponing the war as any coming conflict may jeopardise the Zionist and American dreams in the region. On the other hand, meanwhile, Hezbollah is seemingly interested in establishing the great victory against the Saudi backed terrorist in Syria.

Clearly, the Zionist objectives are undermining Hezbollah’s war paradigm and reducing the Iranian influence, which is explicitly impossible because of the Russian presence in the region. The enemy’s infrastructure is not resilient to even a limited missile attack from Hezbollah. The next war will immensely affect the Zionist economy will shrink within a short-time period, which may cause long-term devastating damage to the enemy’s reputation as a key player in the global economy.

Hezbollah is a deeply rooted Lebanese political movement that has significant support in the country. It has gradually become Lebanon’s strongest political and military force, possessing veto power in Lebanon’s cabinet and playing the decisive role in getting President Michel Aoun elected. As Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has long reminded its enemies that the resistance’s supporters will standstill and fight for their country. In case of an urgent incident on the borders, both sides will regard it as a game-changing or an equation breaking. The Zionist foe would not be able to collectively bear the dislocation resulting from the resistance’s land, sea and air strikes, whether it is going to be entitled as the ‘Third Lebanon War’ or the ‘First Israeli-Iranian War.’

The U.S. policymakers have long declared their intention to resolve resistance movements. In contrast to Obama’s, Trump’s administration considers Iran the main strategic enemy in the region and has already signal led that it will pursue a more aggressive and confrontational policy and that there will be an unprecedented American support for Israel in any conflict, no matter how such a war is conducted. The Zionists, U.S. and Saudi Arabia might intervene expeditiously and intelligently to address the root causes of conflict against Hezbollah and the Iranian targets.

The reckless Zionist-desired Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman appears willing to take up the fight. This Saudi Zionist boy has persistently asserted that Saudi Arabia’s modernisation requires an embrace of “moderate Islam,” i.e. an American Islam. As far as bin Salman is concerned, Iran is a major threat and the only way to surpass the dispute in the Middle East is through openly normalising harmonious ties with the Zionist enemy. Military analysts have assessed that the Palestinian resistance would likewise partake in the confrontation. Along with Hezbollah, the duo major Palestinian resistance organisations; Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement, funded and backed by Iran, are estimated to have thousands of fighters, significant stockpiles of rockets, mortar shells, and attack tunnels, some of which reach the occupied terrains and others that are designed for warfare inside the coastal enclave.

Sondoss Al Asaad is a Lebanese freelance journalist, political analyst and translator; based in Beirut, Lebanon. Al Asaad writes on issues of the Arabs and Muslims world, with special focus on the Bahraini uprising.

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Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again

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Eventually the ice-cold relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to melt. The two countries sat at the negotiating table shortly after Biden came to power. The results of that discussion are finally being seen. Trade relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already begun to move. Although there has been no diplomatic relationship between the two countries since 2016, trade relations have been tense. But trade between Iran and the two countries was zero from last fiscal year until March 20 this year. Iran recently released a report on trade with neighboring countries over the past six months. The report also mentions the name of Saudi Arabia. This means that the rivalry between the two countries is slowly normalizing.

Historically, Shia-dominated Iran was opposed to the Ottoman Empire. The Safavids of Persia have been at war with the Ottomans for a long time, However, after the fall of the Ottomans, when the Middle East was divided like monkey bread, the newly created Saudi Arabia did not have much of a problem with Iran. Business trade between the two countries was normal. This is because the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Iran at the time were Western-backed. That is why there was not much of a problem between them. But when a revolution was organized in Iran in 1979 and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established by overthrowing the Shah, Iran’s relations with the West as well as with Saudi Arabia deteriorated. During the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the ouster of Western-backed rulers from the Middle East. After this announcement, naturally the Arab rulers went against Iran.

Saddam Hussein later invaded Iran with US support and Saudi financial support. After that, as long as Khomeini was alive, Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran were bad. After Khomeini’s death, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatemi tried to mend fences again. But they didn’t get much of an advantage.

When the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s influence in Shiite-majority Iraq continued to grow. Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Iran’s influence in the region has grown. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in a series of shadow wars to reduce its influence. It can be said that Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Cold War just like the United States and the Soviet Union. Behind that war was a conflict of religious ideology and political interests. Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a complete standstill in 2016. Iranians attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran after executing Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimar al-Nimar.  Since then, the two countries have not had diplomatic relations.

Finally, in April this year, representatives of the two countries met behind closed doors in Baghdad. And through this, the two countries started the process of normalizing diplomatic relations again. The last direct meeting between the two countries was held on September 21.

Now why are these two countries interested in normalizing relations? At one point, Mohammed bin Salman said they had no chance of negotiating with Iran. And Khomeini, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, called Mohammed bin Salman the new Hitler. But there is no such thing as a permanent enemy ally in politics or foreign policy. That is why it has brought Saudi Arabia and Iran back to the negotiating table. Prince Salman once refused to negotiate with Iran, but now he says Iran is our neighbor, we all want good and special relations with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has realized that its Western allies are short-lived. But Iran is their permanent neighbor. They have to live with Iran. The United States will not return to fight against Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia. That is why it is logical for Iran and Saudi Arabia to have their ideological differences and different interests at the negotiating table. Saudi Arabia has been at the negotiating table with Iran for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its oil dependence. Prince Salman has announced Vision 2030. In order to implement Vision 2030 and get out of the oil dependent economy, we need to have good relations with our neighbors. It is not possible to achieve such goals without regional stability, He said.

Saudi Arabia also wants to emerge from the ongoing shadow war with Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon to achieve regional stability. The war in Yemen in particular is now a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are unable to get out of this war, nor are they able to achieve the desired goal. Saudi Arabia must normalize relations with Iran if it is to emerge from the war in Yemen. Without a mutual understanding with Iran, Yemen will not be able to end the war. That is why Saudi Arabia wants to end the war through a peace deal with the Houthis by improving relations with Iran.

Drone strikes could also have an impact on the Saudi Aramco oil field to bring Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. Because after the drone attack, the oil supply was cut in half. The Saudis do not want Aramco to be attacked again. Also, since the Biden administration has no eye on the Middle East, it would be wise to improve relations with Iran in its own interests.

Iran will benefit the most if relations with Saudi Arabia improve. Their economy has been shaken by long-standing US sanctions on Iran. As Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful country in the Middle East, Iran has the potential to benefit politically as well as economically if relations with them are normal.

While Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Iran, its allies will also improve relations with Iran. As a result, Iran’s political and trade relations with all the countries of the Saudi alliance will be better. This will give them a chance to turn their economy around again. The development of Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia will also send a positive message to the Biden administration. It could lead to a renewed nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Iran.

Another reason is that when Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, it will receive formal recognition of Iran’s power in the Middle East. The message will be conveyed that it is not possible to turn the stick in the Middle East by bypassing Iran. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be normalized for peace and stability in the Middle East.

But in this case, the United Arab Emirates and Israel may be an obstacle. The closeness that Saudi Arabia had with the UAE will no longer exist. The UAE now relies much more on Israel. There will also be some conflict of interest between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Prince Salman wants to turn Saudi into a full-fledged tourism and business hub that could pose a major threat to the UAE’s economy and make the two countries compete.

Furthermore, in order to sell arms to the Middle East, Iran must show something special. Why would Middle Eastern countries buy weapons if the Iranian offensive was stopped? During the Cold War, arms dealers forced NATO allies to buy large quantities of weapons out of fear of the Soviet Union. So it is in the Middle East. But if the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is normal, it will be positive for the Muslim world, but it will lead to a recession in the arms market.

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Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.

The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.

Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.

In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr.  Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.

FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets,  and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.

Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.

In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.

A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”

Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.

In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.

One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.

With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”

He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

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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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