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Where Syria’s Government Sends Conquered Terrorists

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On May 8th, Syria’s Government bannered, “6th batch of terrorists leave southern Damascus for northern Syria” and reported that “During the past five days, 218 buses carrying … terrorists with their families exited from the three towns to Jarablos and Idleb under the supervision of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.” Jarablos (or “Jarabulus”) is a town or “District” in the Aleppo Governate; and Idleb (or “Idlib”) is the capital District in the adjoining Governate of Idlib, which Governate is immediately to the west of Aleppo Governate; and both Jarabulus and Idlib border on Turkey to the north. Those two towns in Syria’s far northwest are where captured jihadists are now being sent. The Government is doing that because at this final stage in the 7-year-long war, it wants civilian deaths and additional destruction of buildings to be kept to a minimum, and so is offering jihadists the option of surviving instead of being forced to fight to the death (which would then require Syria’s Government to destroy the entire area that’s occupied by the terrorists); this way, these final clean-up operations against the terrorists won’t necessarily require bombing whole neighborhoods — surrenders thus become likelier, so as to end the war as soon as possible, and to keep destruction and civilian casualties at a minimum.

On May 7th, the Syrian Government headlined “Preparations for evacuating fifth batch of terrorists from Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem towns started”, and reported that, “more than 60 buses entered Beit Sahem town to transport terrorists who reject the settlement [offered by the Government] along with their families from the towns to Jarablos in coincidence with the continuation of the military operation carried out by the army on the northern parts of al-Hajar al-Aswad paving the way for declaring the area of southern Damascus free of terrorism.”

Thousands of conquered jihadists (or “terrorists”) that the U.S. and its allies had been arming and assisting to overthrow and replace Syria’s elected Government, are surrendering in large numbers now, and are being loaded by Syria’s army onto buses and sent northward, mainly to the town of Jarabulus (such as the instances here and here and here and here and here and here) — that being one of the few towns where opposition to Syria’s elected President, Bashar al-Assad, has been favored by a majority of the population, and where Al Qaeda (which in Syria is called al-Nusra and other names) and ISIS (which also is called by additional names) have been more popular than Syria’s secular elected President, Assad. The entire Governate of Idlib is the most pro-jihadist Governate in all of Syria.

Here’s a breakdown of the regions (called “Governates”) of Syria, and showing each one’s support for Syria’s Government, versus their support for the U.S.-and-allied opposition to it (i.e., for the jihadists):

As can be seen there, only 9% of people polled in Idlib (“Idlip”) favored Assad, while 70% of them favored Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria).

Those figures are from a 2014 poll taken by the British polling firm Orb International, in order to assist the U.S. and its allies to overthrow and replace Syria’s Government. That poll was commissioned for a reason — NATO wanted this information:

On 31 May 2013, the non-mainstream news-site, World Tribune, had headlined “NATO data: Assad winning the war for Syrians’ hearts and minds”, and reported that:

After two years of civil war, support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad was said to have sharply increased.

NATO has been studying data that told of a sharp rise in support for Assad. The data, compiled by Western-sponsored activists and organizations, showed that a majority of Syrians were alarmed by the Al Qaida takeover of the Sunni revolt and preferred to return to Assad, Middle East Newsline reported.

“The people are sick of the war and hate the jihadists more than Assad,” a Western source familiar with the data said. “Assad is winning the war mostly because the people are cooperating with him against the rebels.”

The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent of Syrians support the Assad regime. Another 20 percent were deemed neutral and the remaining 10 percent expressed support for the rebels.

The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts.

The data was relayed to NATO as the Western alliance has been divided over whether to intervene in Syria. Britain and France were said to have been preparing to send weapons to the rebels while the United States was focusing on protecting Syria’s southern neighbor Jordan.

A report to NATO said Syrians have undergone a change of heart over the last six months. The change was seen most in the majority Sunni community, which was long thought to have supported the revolt.

“The Sunnis have no love for Assad, but the great majority of the community is withdrawing from the revolt,” the source said. “What is left is the foreign fighters who are sponsored by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They are seen by the Sunnis as far worse than Assad.”

And, if this is the way that Sunnis felt about Assad, and about his opposition the ‘rebels’ (that the U.S. supported), then obviously Shia (including Alawite) Syrians were even more supportive of him, and so too were Christian Syrians.

So, this British polling firm became commissioned to obtain more-reliable figures, and those figures confirmed the earlier estimates.

On 12 April 2018, three days after U.S. and its allies alleged a Syrian chemical attack in Douma in East Ghouta, Russia’s Sputnik News bannered “E Ghouta Mop-up: Militants Surrender Another Haul of Israeli, European-Made Arms” and reported that, “3,792 people, including 1,384 militants and members of their families, are being evacuated from Douma and taken to the town of Jarabulus in northeastern Aleppo, northern Syria on 85 buses.” Then, on the night of April 13th, the U.S. and some allies launched a missile-invasion against Syria based on charging Syria’s Government as having been the alleged source of the alleged chemical attack that had allegedly occurred in Douma.

Now that the U.S. alliance has failed to conquer Syria, the U.S. is trying to break off the northern third of the country, and is trying to include, in that U.S.-allied area, as much of Syria’s oil-producing region, around Deir Ezzor, as possible, so as to steal from Syrians as much of Syria’s oil as possible — oil that until recently was being stolen instead by ISIS.

None of the news-reports indicate why Jarabulus and Idlib were chosen by Syria’s Government, as the places in which to concentrate the jihadists; but, presumably, a sympathetic population exists there, to receive them. Perhaps, since they’re on the border with Turkey — which, like the U.S., has been trying to overthrow Assad — Syria’s Government is also hoping to make the jihadists become Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s problem to deal with, and not only Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s problem. Maybe doing that would reduce some of Erdogan’s ardor for regime-change in Syria.

Most of Syria’s ‘rebels’ are not Syrians, but instead are jihadists from around the world, fundamentalist Sunnis who have been recruited, with funding provided mainly by the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia, and by the Thanis who own Qatar, and by the six royal families who own UAE. All of these royal families are themselves fundamentalist Sunnis, and virtually all jihadists except the ones that attack Israel are Sunnis. America’s Presidents lie about “radical Islamic terrorism” by saying that Shiite Iran is the “top state-sponsor of terrorism,”

and even that Iran caused 9/11; but none of that is at all true. Israel gets attacked both by Sunni terrorists and by Shiite terrorists — and Shiite terrorism is exclusively against Israel. By contrast, Sunni terrorism is against U.S., EU, Japan, and virtually every non-Islamic country. Israel is allied with the Sauds, who hate Shiites and have hated them since 1744. And U.S.-allied ‘news’media hide all of these essential facts, from their respective publics, so as to redirect The West’s anti-terrorist anger against Iran as the villain, and away from the Sauds and their friends as the villains. This lie protects the fundamentalist Sunni Governments of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and America’s other Middle Eastern allies — the very countries that are behind the Islamic terrorism that plagues the U.S. and Europe. Syria is instead allied with Iran — not with the Sauds, who are Iran’s sworn enemies. The U.S. Government is allied with Sunni terrorists now, just as it was in 1979 when it worked with the Sauds to create Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

On 21 December 2015, the U.S.-allied British think-tank Center on Religion and Politics, issued a research-report “Ideology and Objectives of the Syrian Rebellion”, and opened: “At least 65,000 militants in Syria share key parts of the ideology of ISIS, with 15 of its rivals ready to take its place if it is defeated. They reported:

Key Findings

Sixty per cent of major Syrian rebel groups are Islamist extremists

Our study of 48 rebel factions in Syria revealed that 33 per cent – nearly 100,000 fighters – have the same ideological objectives as ISIS. If you take into account Islamist groups (those who want a state governed by their interpretation of Islamic law), this figure jumps to 60 per cent.

Unless Assad goes, the Syrian war will go on and spread further

Despite the conflicting ideologies of the rebel groups, 90 per cent of the groups studied hold the defeat of Assad’s regime as a principal objective. Sixty-eight per cent seek the establishment of Islamic law in Syria. In contrast, only 38 per cent have the defeat of ISIS as a stated goal.

Nonetheless, they insisted on overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, based on the incredible claim: “Unless Assad goes, the Syrian war will go on and spread further.” They obviously think that the public — the readers of their report — are extremely stupid. Furthermore, their report ignored that all of these terrorist groups are fundamentalist-Sunni, and that all of the non-ISIS groups are led by Nusra — Syria’s Al Qaeda. The intent there to deceive is clear, but their report that “nearly 100,000 fighters have the same ideological objectives as ISIS” (which likewise is a fundamentalist-Sunni group) was probably true.

If the devil incarnate ruled the U.S. and its allies, then how would they be any different from this? What does “evil” even mean? Syria is trying to rid itself of jihadists, but the U.S. and its allies rely upon the jihadists as the U.S. alliance’s proxy-forces or “boots on the ground” to attain their goal of stealing Syria’s oil and so forth. That’s bad, but The West’s hypocrisy about these matters makes its evil even worse than that, like evil-squared — evil compounded by lies about itself.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Kavala Case as a Cause for Dıplomatıc Crısıs

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Image source: Wikipedia

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement about the Osman Kavala declaration of the envoys of 10 countries has been dominating both domestic and foreign policy agenda. Erdoğan  on October  25 slammed the envoys of 10 countries over their statement on the ongoing case of businessman Osman Kavala.

Osman Kavala was arrested on  November 1, 2017. Businessman Osman Kavala who was arrested as part of the investigation of the Gezi Park events, the 17-25 December plots of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and the July 15 coup attempt is accused of being the manager and organizer of the Gezi Park events. Kavala is still in prison. Besides his businessman identity, Kavala is also known as a critical human rights activist.

 It is known that, the European Court of Human Rights requested that Kavala be released. This request has been ignored by Turkey, and can be seen as one of the reasons leading to recent diplomatic crisis. Previously, Kavala has been tied to billionaire George Soros after he helped to found the Turkish branch of Soros’ Open Society Foundations. That branch ceased operations in 2018 after Erdogan accused Soros of attempting to undermine the Turkish government.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and the Strasbourg Court found that Osman Kavala’s extended detention had an “ulterior purpose, namely to reduce him to silence as an NGO activist and human rights defender, to dissuade other persons from engaging in such activities and to paralyse civil society in the country” .

Not only European Court of Human Rights, but also American officials addressed Kavala imprisonment as well.  The United States State Department spokesman Ned Price in February 2021 stated that “The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy.”

According to Kavala’s attorneys, the courts’ actions during the process of merging have been intended to keep Kavala in prison.  Kavala was kept in prison despite the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) earlier decision stating that he should be released immediately. In such an environment, the ambassadors of 10 countries — US, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, and France – issued a statement about Kavala’s imprisonment. After the statement, President Erdoğan noted that Turkey must declare the ambassadors, as “persona non grata” According to Erdoğan no nation can interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs. Erdoğan said: “I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done. These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately.” After Erdoğan’s remarks, explanations were made by these countries. While the US, Canada, New Zealand and Netherlands embassies made a statement on their Twitter accounts that they would comply with the 41st article of the Vienna Convention, which includes the principle of “non-interference in internal affairs”, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland retweeted the US Embassy’s statement.

Kavala Case has been an issue of human rights debate in Turkey. Most of the information about Kavala focuses on his alleged involvement in the Gezi Park protests and his involvement in the 2016 military coup attempt.  The European Court required Turkey to release Kavala and noted that any continuation of his detention would prolong the violations of the Convention. Despite these developments, the statement of the ten ambassadors cannot be accepted because this move is a direct action of the interference in internal affairs. Erdoğan’s decisive stance about this issue has made the countries retreat, however Kavala issue still stands as one of the critical issues that has the potential to shape Turkey’s position in international relations.

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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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