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Russia Squelches Trump’s New Plan to Invade Syria

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On Friday, August 31st, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia has handed to the OPCW (Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), and to the U.N., “proof” that the U.S. Government has been working with Al Qaeda to set up a chemical incident that the U.S. and its allies can then use as a supposed justification for invading Syria as a ‘humanitarian’ response to a chemical attack allegedly by Syria’s Government, but actually done by U.S.-backed forces, to re-ignite the 7-year-old ‘civil war’ between Syria’s Government and U.S.-backed ‘rebels’, who consist almost exclusively of fundamentalist-Sunni jihadists that are trained and led by Al Qaeda in Syria, with U.S. help and Saudi financing.

On August 29th Global Research headlined “Video: US Creates Strike Force to Attack Syria”, and posted an August 28th report from South Front saying:

Reports are appearing that the Syrian Air Defense Forces (SADF) have already started preparing to repel an expected US-led missile strike by deploying additional specialists and air defense systems near the crucial objects of the infrastructure, which they expect may be targeted.

On August 22, US National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed that

“if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons, we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time.”

This was only one of a series of threats to the Syrian government issued by the US, the UK and France. While all these threats are clearly exploiting the chemical weapons narrative, their main goal is to prevent the defeat of the terrorists in Idlib by delaying the Syrian Army operation.

On August 25, a source close to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told the Kurdish news outlet Bas News that the US-led coalition began deploying radar stations at its bases in the governorates of al-Hasakah and Aleppo as part of a new plan to increase its control of Syrian airspace. The report  pointed out the airbases in Kobani and Rmelan as places where the radars were installed.

Also on August 28th, the U.S.-backed Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was informed by reliable sources that negotiations are underway between the Turkish intelligence services and between Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham [Syria’s Al Qaeda branch, formerly called “Al Nusra”], The Islamic Turkestani Party, and other jihadi groups, with the aim of reaching agreement and consensus for these factions to resolve themselves, where these endeavors coincide with accelerated preparations by the regime forces and their loyal fighters for the start of the grand battle of Idlib [the place to which the surrendered jihadists in Syria have been sent], through which the regime forces seek to control the province and other areas in its surroundings of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces, and the continuation of negotiation comes after the conflicted information about reaching consensus on this issue, where Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham and the rest of the groups continue to experience confusion among their leaders and members, as a section of which has agreed to the demands of the Turkish authorities to resolve themselves, while the larger section rejects this process and refuses to approve any of the Turkish terms within the Negotiations. …

[In the] Idlib battle, … Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham controls the largest part of Idlib province, and shares it with other 3 parties: the rebel and Islamic factions, the Islami Turkestani Party, and the regime forces and militiamen loyal to them.

The military operation to be conducted in Idlib province, … the regime forces and their allies have been significantly preparing over the past weeks, by bringing in thousands of members of their forces and loyal gunmen as well as hundreds of faction fighters who have recently joined the “reconciliation”, and hundreds of vehicles, armored vehicles, ammunition, and machinery. …

Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham … is one of the renewed names of al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda Organization in the Levant). …

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the regime forces bringing more vehicles, members, materiel and ammunition, to these lines, and in conjunction with these mobilizations by the regime forces, the SOHR monitored on the 21st of August 2018 the leader of Al-Nusra Front (Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham) Abu Mohammad al-Julani, taking a military tour in the northern mountains of Lattakia, where al-Julani reviewed with a number of the commanders of the first and second rank in Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham, the members of Tahrir Al-Sham and the front lines.

Like other reports by U.S.-allied organizations, Syria’s Government is called “the regime” instead of “the Government,” and the jihadists (except for ISIS) are accepted as being the U.S. alliance’s boots-on-the-ground in Syria to ‘liberate’ the Syrian people from Syria’s Government.

So, the U.S. Government can hardly call this allegation of U.S. working in conjunction with Al Qaeda, ‘Russian propaganda’. However, on that very same day, August 28th, RT bannered “US army accuses RT of ‘ridiculous misinformation’ over Syria, but not UN or NBC”, and reported: “A US Army colonel has accused RT of ‘ridiculous misinformation’ for reporting a Russian government suggestion that Islamic State is operating inside a US-controlled zone in Syria, despite the UN and NBC reporting the same.”

On August 25th, RT had headlined “Terrorists readying chemical attack to frame Damascus & provide pretext for US strikes – Russian MoD”, and reported:

The US and its allies are preparing new airstrikes on Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that militants are poised to stage a chemical weapons attack in order to frame Damascus and provide a pretext for the strikes.

The attack would be used as a pretext for US, UK and French airstrikes on Syrian targets, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov said. USS ‘The Sullivans,’ an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer, was already deployed to the Persian Gulf a couple of days ago, he added.

The destroyer has 56 cruise missiles on board, according to data from the Russian Defence Ministry. A US Rockwell B-1 Lancer, a supersonic bomber equipped with 24 cruise missiles, has also been deployed at the Qatari Al Udeid Airbase. 

On August 24th, RT had headlined “ISIS & Al-Nusra terrorists are hiding in Syrian refugee camp within US-controlled zone – Moscow”, and reported that “Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and the Al-Qaeda proxy group Jabhat al-Nusra found quiet shelter in one of the biggest camps, Rukban, near the Syria-Jordan border. … The same refugee camp was listed in a recent UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team report as one of the sources of IS reemergence. The same document reported that ISIS had been defeated in most of the Syrian Arab Republic during 2017, but ‘rallied in early 2018’ due to ‘loss of momentum’ by forces fighting in the east of Syria, where the US base is located.”

The Wikipedia article on “Rukban” opens by saying that its population is 75,000, and that: “Rukban … is an arid remote area near the extreme northeast of Jordan, close to the joint borders with Syria and Iraq. The area contains a refugee camp lying along the demilitarized berm between Jordan and Syria, a no man’s land.” That would be an ideal place for the U.S. and its allies to be assembling the materials for what will be alleged to be a chemical weapons attack ‘by the Assad regime’. Rukban is located in Jordan, a U.S. ally, and adjoining Syria, of which the U.S. has been an enemy ever since first failing in 1949 to turn Syria into a land controlled by the Saud family, as Obama and now Trump are again trying to do.

I had reported, on August 25th, the history of this sort of operation by the U.S. Government, going back to 1949, and mentioning recent faked ‘chemical attacks’ set up by the U.S. Government working in conjuction with Al Qaeda in Syria. So: with that lengthy history as background, there exists very sound reason for Syria and its allies to be expecting now yet another invasion of Syiria by U.S.-and-allied missiles, to be ‘justified’ on the basis of lies.

The latest of America’s missile-invasions of Syria occurred back on 14 April 2018, allegedly in response to a Syrian Government ‘chemical weapons attack’ in the city of Douma, which had allegedly occurred on April 7th. Russia tried to get the U.N. Security Council to announce that no invasion of Syria should occur until after the OPCW would enter Douma and collect samples and testimony to determine whether any such attack had actually occurred; and, if so, who had done it. The U.S. blocked that proposal, and invaded on the 14th. Despite that, the OPCW rushed in, to examine Douma, even after the invasion. On April 18th, America’s jihadist allies in Douma shot at OPCW inspectors, who courageously continued their work, despite the U.S. Government’s repeated efforts to stop it. The OPCW’s findings have been kept secret, so that the public still doesn’t know what the evidence about that April 7th matter actually showed. Also on April 18th, Turkey’s newspaper Yeni Safak headlined “US to build Arab force in NE Syria as part of new ploy: The US is seeking to amass an Arab force in northeastern Syria comprised of funding and troops from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.” That effort by Trump failed; so, the only path forward for him on Syria now is a U.S. invasion, but this one will have to be much larger than the last one, which was done on April 14th, and in which UK and France also supplied a few of the 100+ missiles. Perhaps, if the U.S. does that, Russia will this time target and maybe destroy some U.S. planes and warships. Then, the question would be whether to go to all-out nuclear war, over the Syrian matter and, of course, over America’s other excuses for its aggressions against Russia and its allies, such as America’s 2014 conquest of Ukraine and turning that country over to nazis.

Perhaps these are the reasons why Russia is announcing clearly, ahead of time, that it won’t simply acquiesce if the U.S. tries this faked accusation against Syria, yet again. Perhaps things won’t be so easy, if there is a “next time” on this particular matter.

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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Israel and Turkey in search of solutions

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Twelve and eleven years have elapsed since the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents, respectively, and Turkey-Israel relations are undergoing intense recovery efforts. They are two important Eastern neighbours and influence regional stability.

Currently, as in the past, relations between the two countries have a structure based on realpolitik, thus pursuing a relationship of balance/interest, and hinge around the Palestinian issue and Israel’s position as the White House’s privileged counterpart. However, let us now briefly summarise the history of Turkish-Jewish relations.

The first important event that comes to mind when mentioning Jews and Turks is that when over 200,000 Jews were expelled by the Spanish Inquisition in 1491, the Ottoman Empire invited them to settle in its territory.

Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel in 1949. Israel’s first diplomatic Mission to Turkey was opened on January 7, 1950 but, following the Suez crisis in 1956, relations were reduced to the level of chargé d’affaires. In the second Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Turkey chose not to get involved and it did not allow relations to break off completely.

The 1990s saw a positive trend and development in terms of bilateral relations. After the second Gulf War in 1991 -which, as you may recall, followed the first Iraqi one of 1980-1988 in which the whole world was against Iran (with the only exception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Libya and the moral support of Enver Hoxha’s Albania) – Turkey was at the centre of security policy in the region. In that context, Turkey-Israel relations were seriously rekindled.

In 1993, Turkey upgraded diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level. The signing of the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel led to closer relations. The 1996 military cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which provided significant logistical and intelligence support to both sides.

In the 2000s, there was a further rapprochement with Israel, due to the “zero problems with neighbours” policy promoted by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party. I still remember issue No. 3/1999 of the Italian review of geopolitics “Limes” entitled “Turkey-Israel, the New Alliance”.

In 2002, an Israeli company undertook the project of modernising twelve M-60 tanks belonging to the Turkish armed forces. In 2004, Turkey agreed to sell water to Israel from the Manavgat River.

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Israel in 2005 was a turning point in terms of mediation between Palestine and Israel and further advancement of bilateral relations. In 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas spoke at the Turkish Grand National Assembly one day apart. High-level visits from Israel continued.

On December 22, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Ankara and met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In that meeting, significant progress was made regarding Turkey’s mediation between Israel and Syria.

Apart from the aforementioned incidents, the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations occurred five days after the above stated meeting, i.e. Operation “Cast Lead” against Gaza on December 27, 2008. After that event, relations between the two sides were never the same as before.

Recently, however, statements of goodwill have been made by both countries to normalise political relations. In December 2020, President Erdoğan stated he wanted to improve relations with Israel and said: “It is not possible for us to accept Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinian territories. This is the point in which we differ from Israel – otherwise, our heart desires to improve our relations with it as well”.

In its relations with Israel, Turkey is posing the Palestinian issue as a condition. When we look at it from the opposite perspective, the Palestinian issue is a vital matter for Israel. It is therefore a severe obstacle to bilateral relations.

On the other hand, many regional issues such as Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and some security issues in the region require the cooperation of these two key countries. For this reason, it is clear that both sides wish at least to end the crisis, reduce rhetoric at leadership level and focus on cooperation and realpolitik areas.

In the coming months, efforts will certainly be made to strike a balance between these intentions and the conditions that make it necessary to restart bilateral relations with Israel on an equal footing. As improved relations with Israel will also positively influence Turkey’s relations with the United States.

Turkey seeks to avoid the USA and the EU imposing sanctions that could go so far as to increase anti-Western neo-Ottoman rhetoric, while improved relations with Israel could offer a positive outcome not only to avoid the aforementioned damage, but also to solve the Turkish issues related to Eastern Mediterranean, territorial waters, Libya and Syria. Turkey has no intention of backing down on such issues that it deems vital. Quite the reverse. It would like to convey positive messages at the level of talks and Summits.

Another important matter of friction between Turkey and Israel is the use of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean reserves between Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus (Nicosia).

This approach is excluding Turkey. The USA and the EU also strongly support the current situation (which we addressed in a previous article) for the additional reason that France has been included in the equation.

The alignment of forces and fronts in these maritime areas were also widely seen during the civil war in Libya, where Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, as well as other players such as Russia, Italy, etc. came into the picture.

Ultimately, a point of contact between Turkey and Israel is the mediation role that the former could play in relations between Iran and Israel, especially after the improvement of Turkish-Iranian relations.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad – which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 -the Turkish Foreign Minister stated that the U.S. action would increase insecurity and instability in the region. He also reported that Turkey was worried about rising tensions between the United States and Iran that could turn Iraq back into an area of conflict to the detriment of peace and stability in the region. There was also a condolence phone call from President Erdoğan to Iranian President Rouhani, urging him to avoid a conflictual escalation with the United States following the airstrike.

Consequently, it is in the Turkish President’s interest to maintain an open channel with Iran, so that he himself can soften the mutual tensions between Israel and Iran, and – in turn – Israeli diplomacy can influence President Biden’s choices, albeit less pro-Israel than Donald Trump’s.

Turkey is known to have many relationship problems with the United States – especially after the attempted coup of July 15-16, 2016 and including the aforementioned oil issue – and realises that only Israel can resolve the situation smoothly.

In fact, Israel-USA relations are not at their best as they were under President Trump. President Erdoğan seems to be unaware of this fact, but indeed the Turkish President knows that the only voice the White House can hear is Israel’s, and certainly not the voice of the Gulf monarchies, currently at odds with Turkey.

Israel keeps a low profile on the statements made by President Erdoğan with regard to the Palestinians- since it believes them to be consequential – as well as in relation to a series of clearly anti-Zionist attitudes of the Turkish people.

We are certain, however, that President Erdoğan’s declarations of openness and Israeli acquiescence will surely yield concrete results.

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The 25-year China-Iran agreement

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On March 27, 2021, a document entitled “Comprehensive Document of Iran-China Cooperation” was signed by Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, and his Chinese counterpart. The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously called “the agreement between the presidents of Iran and China correct and wise.” However, the Iranian people have widely criticized it as entirely against their national interests. Iranian officials have not even publicized the document’s contents yet probably because it is highly contentious.

In 2019, excerpts from this document were revealed by the Economist Petroleum news site. The details included:

  • China invests $460 billion in Iranian oil and transportation sectors. China will get its investment back from the sale of Iranian crude during the first five years.
  • China buys Iranian petroleum products at least 32% cheaper.
  • The Chinese can decide before other companies whether to participate in completing all or part of a petrochemical project.
  • 50,000 Chinese security personnel will be deployed to protect Chinese projects in Iran.
  • China has the right to delay the repayment of its debts for up to two years in exchange for Iranian products’ purchase.
  • At least one Russian company will be allowed to participate in the Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline design together with the Chinese operator.
  • Every year, 110 senior Revolutionary Guards officers travel to China and Russia for military training. 110 Chinese and Russian advisers will be stationed in Iran to train Revolutionary Guards officers.
  • Development of Iranian military equipment and facilities will be outsourced to China, and Chinese and Russian military aircraft and ships will operate the developed facilities.

Even some circles within the regime have criticized the agreement. The state-run Arman newspaper wrote, “China has a 25-year contract with Iran and is investing $460 billion in Iran. It is somewhat ambiguous. Presently, China is holding the money it owes us and blames it on the U.S. sanctions. How can we trust this country to invest $460 billion in Iran?”

Last year, Iran and China had the lowest trade in the previous 16 years, and according to statistics, by the end of 2020, the volume of trade between Iran and China was about $16 billion, which, including undocumented oil sales, still does not reach $20 billion.

Jalal Mirzaei, a former member of Iran’s parliament, said: “If in the future the tensions between Tehran and Washington are moderated, and we see the lifting of some of the sanctions, China can also provide the basis for implementing the provisions of this document, but if the situation continues like today, Beijing will not make any effort to implement the document, as it is essentially unable to take concrete action on the ground because of the sanctions.”

China’s objectives

Iran is vital to China in two ways, through its geopolitical location and its geo-economic importance. China knows that it does not have enough natural resources and is currently having a hard time supplying them from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supplies its energy needs from oil giant Aramco, half of which is owned by the United States. That is why China is looking for a safe alternative that the United States will not influence, and the only option is Iran. They may also have a two-pronged plan in Iran, which involves using Iran’s profitable market and making Iran into a lever of pressure against the United States for additional concessions.

The Iranian regime’s objectives

The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undermine U.S. efforts to isolate the Iranian regime. While the international dispute over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program has not been resolved, it is unclear how much this agreement could be implemented. The regime intends to make it a bargaining chip in possible future nuclear negotiations. However, some of Iran’s top authorities believe that China and Russia cannot be trusted 100 percent.

Due to the sanctions, the regime has a tough time to continue providing financial support to its proxy militias in the region. The regime also faced two major domestic uprisings in 2017 and 2019. Khamenei’s regime survived the widespread uprisings by committing a massacre, killing 1,500 young protesters in the 2019 uprising alone, according to the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and later confirmed by the Iranian regime’s Interior Ministry officials. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, Khamenei has been able to delay another major uprising.

Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Khamenei must bow to western countries’ demands regarding the nuclear issue, including an end to its regional interventions and its ballistic missile program. Khamenei will struggle to save his regime from s imminent uprisings and a deteriorating economy that will undoubtedly facilitate more protests by the army of the unemployed and the hungry at any moment.

Unlike the 2015 JCPOA, the Iranian regime in 2021 is in a much weaker position. In fact, by many accounts, it is the weakest in its 40-year history. By signing the recent Iran-China agreement and auctioning Iranian resources, Khamenei wants to pressure the United States to surrender and restore the 2015 JCPOA as quickly as possible. But in the end, this pivot will not counteract domestic pressures that target the regime’s very existence.

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China-Arab Relations: From Silk to Friendship

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China and the Arabs have a long and rich economic and cultural history, and this distinguished relationship still exists today, with a promising future. This bilateral relationship between the two nations is based on the principles of respect and non-interference in internal affairs or foreign policies. Therefore, China’s relationship with the Arabs as well as with other nations is unique and a model to be followed. If you meet a Chinese person, the first phrase will be “Alabo” or an Arab in Mandarin, and he/she will welcome you. The Chinese state’s dealings with its counterparts can be measured based on the model of this Chinese citizen. China deals with the Arabs on the basis of friendship and historical ties.

The history of Sino-Arab relations goes back to the Tang Dynasty, and these relations developed with the flourishing of trade between the two nations. Since China was famous for its high quality silk, this trade route was called the “Silk Road”. Baron Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, better known in English as Baron von Richthofen, was a German traveller, geographer, and scientist. He is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road” or “Silk Route” in 1877.

Chinese-Arab relations have developed in contemporary history. In 1930, China established official relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A library in China was named the “Fouad Islamic Library”, after the late Egyptian king, “Fuad the First”. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cut ties with China and established relations with the Communist People’s Republic of China and inaugurated an embassy in Egypt. In the same year, the Arab League established relations with the People’s Republic of China. By the year 1990, all Arab countries cut their relations with the Republic of China and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

In 2004, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established, and today it is considered a milestone for the Sino-Arab relationship. At its inauguration, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing delivered a speech stating:“The Arab world is an important force on the international scene, and that China and the Arab countries have enjoyed a long friendship. Our similar history, our common goals and our broad interests have been credited with enhancing cooperation between the two sides; no matter how the international situation changes, China has always been the sincere friend of the Arab world”. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was officially established during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the headquarters of the League of Arab States in January of 2004.

Hu Jintao indicated at that time that the formation of the forum is a continuation of the traditional friendship between China and the Arab world. The Chinese president said at the time, “The establishment of the forum is conducive to expanding mutual cooperation in a variety of fields. He added that China had made four proposals; First, maintaining mutual respect, fair treatment and sincere cooperation at the political level. Second, strengthening economic and trade relations through cooperation in the fields of investment and trade, contracted projects, labor services, energy, transportation, communications, agriculture, environmental protection and information. Third, expand cultural exchanges. Finally, conducting training for the employees.”

During the second session of the forum in Beijing in 2006, China showed its sympathy for the issues of the Arab world and its interest in the peace process between Palestine and Israel, since China is a peace-loving country; it presented the idea of “a nuclear-free Middle East”. China is the best friend of the Arab countries today. Although some Arab countries have strong relations with the West whose policy does not match the Chinese policy, but all Arab countries agree on friendly and good relations with the People’s Republic of China.

The Arab citizen is not interested today in the foreign policy of the US, the deadly weapons of the US and Russia, or European culture, but rather the livelihood and economy, and this is what China provides through its wise economic policy. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road, which will restore glow to China-Arab relations; as the Arab world is in a strategic location on the initiative map. Thus, the Arab countries are an important partner for China in the initiative. Although the volume of trade exchanges between China and the Arab countries exceeded 200 billion US dollars, which increased 10 times over the past decade, there was no commercial and institutional arrangement to facilitate trade between the two sides.

China, as a peaceful and non-invasive country, aims to promote economic cooperation with Arab region on an equal basis because it considers the Arab world a historic partner. The historical experience of the Arabs with the Chinese through the Silk Road has confirmed that China differs from the nations of colonialism and imperialism, which consider the Arab region a place rich in natural resources only. In his historic speech at the Arab League, Chinese President Xi stressed that China will not seek to extend influence and search for proxies in the Middle East. The Chinese initiatives will contribute to establishing security and stability through economic development and improving the people’s livelihood, in line with the post-2015 development agenda and the aspirations of the Arab people for a better life, as the Chinese experience proves that development is the key to digging out the roots of conflicts and extremism in all its forms.

China is a neutral country and does not favor the use of violence. During the Syrian crisis, for example, the Chinese envoy to the Security Council raised his hand three times, meaning that China, with its wise diplomacy, supported the Syrian regime without entering the military war. During the recent Chinese military parade, Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed some Chinese military capabilities and thus sent a message to the enemies that China will always be ready if a war is imposed on it, and a message of support to China’s allies. The Arab region today needs a real partner who possesses economic and military power and international political influence, such as China; to ensure the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to consolidate the China-Arab relations and raise it to the level of a strategic alliance.

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