Syria’s three-party strategic system, with the minor addition of the United States and its now remote allies on the field, is undergoing a radical transformation.
This is also due to the clear signs that the United States is sending to everyone that concern, in particular, their quick leaving Syria.
President Trump is not entirely wrongly when he says that Syria “has always been an old friend” of Russia and hence the Syrian issue is in Russia’s traditional area of interest.
This is true but, if we all thought this way, in the mid-nineteenth century China would have been reduced to its coastal regions only.
In geopolitics we do not talk with the logic of a golf club.
However, if the United States does no longer care about Syria, said country and its equilibria will still deal with the United States.
In fact, the United States will soon be bottled up in its CENTCOM of Tampa, which could no longer operate directly and effectively in Northern Africa (with the jihad going on in Central Africa and in Mediterranean Africa),nor in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the play has gone too far with the agreement between the US contingents and the Taliban.
Exactly the Taliban, the Islamic “students” that the Pakistani allies, apparently very loyal to the United States, trained with their excellent intelligence services and sent to fight against the United States.
At the time, however, the United States was a close ally of India and hence prevented Pakistan from having the strategic depth it absolutely needed to oppose the first Indian nuclear salvo and respond to the second one.
And not even the United States could now use the Al Udeid Command located in Qatar, the CAOC that the United States itself has put in difficulty, by following Saudi Arabia against the “terrorist” Qatar and hence – with a great leap in logic – “Iran’s friend “. What about Saudi Arabia?
Hence the Americans have also been bottled up in their beautiful and very recent Al Udeid base, controlled by all the Arab forces on the field as if they were hyperactive children.
Therefore, by now, the game in Syria involves only three countries, namely Iran, Israel and Russia.
While the reborn “Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate” is reconquering some areas around Deir Ezzor and is directly threatening the Kurdish areas and the major Syrian cities of the region.
Another crazy variable, which could bring the United States back into play and prolong the time needed for the stabilization of the Syrian territory, which is exactly what the “Caliphate” wants.
Meanwhile, however, the two Kurdish groups have allied with the Syria led by Bashar al-Assad and now know that the real player of US interests in Syria is Turkey.
Iran, Israel and the Russian Federation. This is the starry sky above Syria. Hence much closer negotiations than in the past on the control of the Syrian territory between Israel and the Russian Federation, the only real regional actors interested in controlling the whole Syrian territory.
Here Iran’s intelligence and security policy comes into play, with good technical knowledge and the ability to play its political weight well.
The weight of Iranian intelligence services is lower than others’ in Syria, but it is certainly not negligible.
Clearly Russia does not care much that Iran takes its continuous line of connection between Iran and the Lebanese Central and Southern coasts.
However, that was an idea of the past. Currently the issue is much more complex. Today the Russian Federation cannot fail to put Israeli interests at the core of its strategic Middle East choices.
Nevertheless, if Iran takes its advanced control network on the border of the Bekaa-Golan Valley – that Israeli re-conquered in 1975 – Russia will no longer hold Syria, which will have an immense territory – covered by Iranian lines southwards – to free itself from the Russian Federation’s control and then fall into Iran’s hands. Exactly what Iran is waiting for.
Iran must not have stable bases or buffer areas in Syria. This is also in Russia’s interest. It would be a trouble for Russia and Israel altogether, if that happened.
Nor should we forget the level of pressure that the Lebanese-Iranian axis over (and inside) the Bekaa-Golan region could exert on the Russian bases of Latakia and Tartus, in the Mediterranean, in addition to Iran’s tension on the Russian facilities of Humeinim, on an airport, and finally on the T4 base (Thiyas) in the Homs Governorate, east of Palmira.
Let us not even forget the Russian base of Sharyat, at the 50th Air Brigade in the Homs area.
The “corridor” – as the Iran’s “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” currently calls it – runs from Iraq to Syria, precisely to DeirEzzor.
It is a real and powerful strategic target for Iran that has not -but absolutely wants-an outlet to the Mediterranean, under its full control and not under the now irrelevant organization of Lebanese security.
It goes up to the Southern Lebanese coasts, obviously passing not only through the capital city, but also through Deir Qanun, Kafra and, finally, the Litani river.
However, with a parallel connection between Beirut and the Hezbollah command of the Litani area.
Hence, the Russian strategic thinking is currently simple: to prevent Iran’s further expansion to Syria, as well as to mainly avoid the persistence of the conflict in that area, and to maintain good relations with Israel.
In fact – and this is particularly interesting to us – the Russian Federation has partially deactivated its S-300 missile defenses that operate in Syria and will also do so in the future.
The S-300s are a sequence of long-range surface-to-air missiles manufactured by Russia.
As clearly seen in Syria, they operate very effectively against aircraft, cruise ships and ballistic missiles.
Its radars are capable of chasing over 100 targets simultaneously, since they can engage in battle 24-36 of them at the same time.
The missile range of the S-300sis between 150 and 200 kilometers, with fully automatic operation.
Hence what does Iran want?
Firstly, it wants Russia not to selectively deprive the S-300 systems in the case of aircraft, missiles and carriers arriving in the corridor or the Bekaa-Golan region from Israel.
In addition, some experts of the Iranian intelligence services have noted a strong correlation between the organization of the Israeli attack forces and the timing and positions of the new Hezbollah and Pasdaran launching points.
In fact, in mid-January, Russia announced that the training of Syrian troops for using the S-300s would be completed in March, when the S-300 batteries should become operational.
But they will probably be “operated” selectively and, in any case, always under the immediate and active control of the Russian Supreme Command.
Iran, however, hopes for a miracle, i.e. that the weapons of a quasi-ally of Israel – namely Russia that is currently in Syria – become the best defense against Israel’s attacks on the Iranian-Lebanese “corridor”.
For Iran, the optimal target would be the dual and simultaneous attack between the Bekaa-Golan region and the Litani river, coordinated by actions south of the Israeli border supported by the Palestinian Islamic jihad.
We will talk about it later.
In fact, we should not forget the many small organizations of the radical Palestinian universe, which can no longer be connected with the Sunni axis that, indeed, does no longer wants to annoy Israel.
This happens precisely against Iran. It is a broad political-military axis mainly orphan of Hamas, which is now a criminal-business organization still devoted to raise funds among the most gullible and naïve Western “democrats”.
Or even worse.
Two Islamist Norths and a South, with a new master, namely Iran, simultaneously allied against the Jewish State.
This is the strategic dream of the Shiite Republic of Iran.
Russia, however, still wants to carry out joint actions with Iran, but always outside Syria.
Moreover, since the beginning of the Russian conflict in Syria, in 2015, it has been openly recognizing the central role played by Israel.
In fact, Russia wants its cake (the common interests with Iran, especially in the oil sector) and eat it, too (the full and reliable alliance with Israel).
Russia still wants to do much business with Iran in Venezuela, where both actors operate with great care.
Russia, however, also wants to collaborate with Iran for the Arab League’s recent and future peace initiatives, which should create a new climate of stability throughout the Greater Middle East.
It would be nice to believe it.
Conversely, also based on the official documents of the meetings with Russia, Iran immediately wants to use the “corridor” for a diagonal attack against Israel and later acquire Syria as large part of a Shiite territory. It also wants to operate as an ally of Russia – only and always in oil terms – between Qatar, Bahrain and the Emirates, which are areas in which the Russian Federation has been working very well in recent years. Iran, however, is working worse there.
Hence Iran could strengthen its positions in Syria, especially to force Russia to surrender there, as well as to also force it into a harsher position towards Israel.
Nevertheless, should Iran do so, it could lead to the strong tendency – in agreement between Russia and Israel – to immediately and harshly close the “corridor” and quickly get rid of the massive presence of Pasdaran and Hezbollah.
Hence, also Iran must consider its strategic equation well.
Moreover, reverting to the positions on the ground, Russia is taking additional five months to train the Syrians to use the S-300s.
With ongoing connections of the equipment both with the Humeinym base in Syria, but above all with the Russian Central Air Command in Moscow.
Putin will leave not even his field knife uncontrolled on the Syrian territory.
We have already seen the results of Russia’s very strict tactical and operational control of the Syrian forces, which would have certainly not achieved these excellent and quick results if they had not had patient and constant guardians from Moscow.
Obviously Russia does not want any relationship between its weapons on the Syrian territory and any attack against Israeli targets.
This implies that Russia wants to be absolutely sure that no Syrian and Iranian force, whether airborne or not, can use the S-300s against the Jewish State.
This approach has always been part of the Russian “Grand Strategy”, unlike the relationship between Russia and Iran that has been cold and only technical throughout the development of the Syrian wars.
Who knows what could happen if the Hezbollah bases on the Mediterranean were to prevent or harm the Russian operations between Latakia and Tartus.
Russia knows all too well it cannot trust Iran, but it will still try to make it carry out operations outside its great unitarian and Mediterranean Shiite dream-although this will certainly be very difficult.
What would happen if the Israeli aircraft, searching for Iranian targets on the Galilee-Bekaa-Golan line, bombed an S-300 or something else and created a severe dispute with Russia?
What would happen if all this could also trigger a short-term struggle between Shiite powers, in the North, in addition to local Syrian populations, also hit by the “Zionist entity”?
This, too, would be the incident preferred by the Shiite Republic of Iran, which is now trying to unleash a great all-out clash, on Syrian Southern borders, to lay all the blame on Israel. This would make Hezbollah and Pasdaran shift from the guerrilla warfare phase to the “people’s war” phase, which is more suitable for them.
Or we could also think of a mediation in which the bases of the precision-guided missiles brought from the “corridor” to Northern Lebanon and the Bekaa region are destroyed by Israel’s quick operations, which eliminate them all, while the S-300s around Damascus are still silent.
Clearly time is pressing.
Everything still depends on Russia’s ability to blackmail Iran, which – indeed -is fading ever more.
A possible solution could be a strong demonstration action by Israel on the skies of the advanced Hezbollah missile positions, not envisaging the use of S-300s, thus also allowing to reduce risks significantly.
While the “corridor” – which annoys both Russia and Israel – would be well closed in the meantime.
All this can only be done by the end of March.
Another option could be a bilateral operation between the North and the South, between Russia and Israel, but only on the “corridor”, which isolates the batteries of Hezbollah missiles and makes it clear to the “Party of God” that the missiles are no longer needed. It should also make clear that the missiles will not be repaired or “fueled” and that their communications with Iran will be very problematic.
Obviously if the United States does not fully leave Syria, there will be no argument that will make Iran go away from Bashar al-Assad’ Syria.
It is their favourite counterargument.
Like two blind people, lost in their dream of the great Shiite region or the even greater Middle East “democracy”, Iran and the United States justify each other, but without being able to do much any longer.
Furthermore, in a few choice words, Russia asked Netanyahu to use his influence on President Trump to immediately make the remaining US troops – that are there without a precise strategic idea – withdraw from Syria.
Inter alia, the demand to the Israeli Prime Minister implied the Russian request to make the American soldiers withdraw also from the Al Tanf base.
It is a large base located on the border between Syria and Iraq, in the Homs Governorate.
Clearly for the Russians who operate much in that area, the Al Tanf base – the old headquarters of a “coalition against terrorism” organized by the United States and later left to the “Free Syrian Army”, which is now an umbrella of terrorist groups that is currently self-named “Revolutionary Commando Army” – is a constant danger.
It is also obvious that this old base is only a remnant – however currently jihadist, albeit certainly “moderate” – of an old set of US forces in Syria.
The request for Netanyahu to put pressure on President Trump, with a view to putting an end to these two issues, had been made to Israel about six months ago, in late September, but without results. Clearly Israel does not fully trust Russia yet. And Russia does not want other “godfathers” for Israel in the global world, since the United States has now been “branded” or blocked outside the Middle East.
Also upon Russia’s explicit direct requests, President Trump has not yet clarified the issue of the Al Tanf base, thus being vague about its possible future use, although associating the timing for its closure with that of the now certain evacuation of all US troops from Syria.
Both Israel and Jordan, however, have made an explicit request to the United States to keep the Al Tanf base open.
Simply because this position is excellent to prevent Russia (and probably also Iran) from closing a base where also Jordanian illegal forces operate, since Al Tanf is right on Jordan’s border.
Israel does not want to be sealed in that important region by a base in Russian hands, with dangerous friends, while it does not even want to deprive its friendly country, namely Jordan, of a very useful base for possible bilateral operations.
Nevertheless, if Israel were to accept Russian pressure for the Al Tanf base – which is only an annoying mirage for it -Russia could make a nice gift to Israel.
In fact, it could prevent pro-Iran forces from slipping between the Jordanian and Israeli borders, thus recreating, elsewhere, another more artisanal and less sophisticated “corridor”.
Hence, Israel will ask Putin for some things before scrapping the Al Tanf base: firstly, to create an effective, controllable and real distance of at least 80 kilometers between the Iranian and pro-Shiite lines and Israel’s Northern borders.
How? Currently the control systems are manifold and very accurate, but the point is that we must be able to react before the start of the operation and 80 kilometers are always too few.
However, if the Russian Federation could guarantee an effective and armed line of control between its Iranian allies and the Israeli border, the negotiations could be made. Basically, it would be convenient also for Russia.
Hence, how can we convince Putin? Reminding him that being fooled by an ally is certainly not the best way to become the hegemonic country of the Greater Middle East.
Others did the same and we saw how they ended up.
Israel’ second request to Russia is to stop arms trafficking, by air, from Iran to Syria and Hezbollah.
So far Russia has never accepted this.
It must also be made clear, however, that if Russia does notget carried away by Iran in Syria, there could be a successful diarchy between Israel and the Russian Federation in the future, with all the allies they have in common in the Gulf, and no power outside the region could bother them.
For Russia the message could also be persuasive – and even credible.
Finally Israel wants the factories near the Syrian-Iranian bases on the Syrian territory, which usually produce precision materials for Hezbollah missile launches, to be completely and permanently scrapped.
Easier said than done. Iran could re-establish them elsewhere, in Jordan or in the Lebanon, or even in Iraq.
In that case, however, they could easily be checked in due time, even for a future targeted attack.
Here, probably, an agreement could easily be reached.
Not even Russia likes this production of weapons, which it cannot fully control.
And here comes Russia’s trump card: if no global negotiations with Iran are made, there will be no military operation on the Syrian skies that will enable Israel to have peace.
This is true – but it is also true that the Israeli air operations give Russia the strong power to be credible with Iran.
There is no way out. Either we make Iran understand that its “corridor” does not work or cannot work – and hence it can only give few and not even effective missiles to the Shiite Lebanese – or nothing can be done about it.
This is a possible agreement of convenience between Israel and Russia.
Furthermore, in any case, the missile operations of the Lebanese Shiites could be used not only for a real war, but above all to terrorize, change and distort the behaviour of the Israeli population and government.
As already mentioned, the leaders of the Palestinian Resistance Committees, operating south of the Israeli border, were cheerfully hosted by Hezbollah in Beirut on January 30 last.
Hence the issue here would be to have -from the Palestinian Resistance Committees and before the elections scheduled in Israel on April 9 – a series of missile attacks, especially in the Gaza Strip, a perfect point for the real attack, but also for distracting Israel in relation to a strong action from the North.
The timing gap between the two is essential for the success of the Iranian-Shiite-Palestinian operation.
Furthermore, the Palestinian Resistance Committees are small organizations in Hamas’ hands.
This means that Hamas has become Hezbollah’s direct counterpart in the South.
In this case, the issue lies in avoiding – with the usual intelligence operations – mass missile attacks, which should take place about three weeks before the elections. The right psychopolitical timing.
We could also envisage, however, a quick and surgical attack by Israel on Hamas before their operations, with a view to belittling them vis-à-vis their funders and associate the fate of Hamas with that of these new pro-Shiite groups.
A New Era in US-Jordan Relations
King Abdullah of Jordan is the first Arab leader who met American President Joe Biden at the White House. The visit has reaffirmed the strong and long-standing Jordan-US strategic partnership and reinvigorated the bilateral engagement for working together on security issues, and economic development on the basis of shared values and priorities. The King’s visit to Washington reaffirmed Jordan’s value as a reliable ally who plays a critical role for stability in a highly volatile region.
Jordan’s value is multi-dimensional and ranges from bilateral military cooperation, intelligence sharing and joint global counterterrorism operations including as a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve to deployment of almost three thousand (3,000) American troops to Jordan as part of the ongoing campaign to combat regional terrorism. The US has expanded military footprint to Jordan after Washington’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria and reduce military presence in the Turkish airbase of Incirlik. In addition, the kingdom’s geopolitical position in the heart of the Middle East provides a viable alternative for logistical support to the American military taking into consideration the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and close three bases in Qatar. Notably, the remaining supplies from the three Qatari bases along with the Support Mission have been transferred to Jordan and have become part of the Area Support Group-Jordan that operates as the Base Operations Support Integrator to back contingency operations and military-to-military engagements within the US Army Central Command’s area of responsibility.
Jordan’s value also stems from its critical role in addressing the overwhelming humanitarian needs created by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as well as in hosting almost two million registered Palestinian refugees.
Support of Two-state Solution
The fact that Jordan remains at peace with Israel and is a key interlocutor with the Palestinians adds to the kingdom’s reliability to mediate and advance initiatives that support the two-state solution. This presupposes the resetting of Jordan-Israel relations. Washington is well-placed to offer its good offices and help restore trust between the two neighboring countries. The twenty-seventh year Jordan-Israel peace treaty shows not only the possibilities for coordination and co-existence but also the ceilings to peace with Israel in the absence of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A “cold peace” and quiet, limited cooperation are currently the maximum possibilities vis-a-vis a “warm peace” that will unlock Jordan-Israel cooperation and potential.
It is nevertheless noteworthy that the last five years have been discerned by the previous American administration’s lack of appreciation of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Trump peace proposal, known as “the Vision”, not only undermined the long-established aim of a two-state solution but also reinforced discussions over alternatives including a one state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; different measures of annexation, such as Israeli annexation of Area C in the West Bank; “exotic options” such as a federation in which Israel and Palestine share certain aspects of sovereignty; potential unilateral Israeli initiatives with most prevailing a Jordanian model, in which Jordan takes control of the West Bank and Palestinians are given Jordanian citizenship; and, reinforcement of the notion that “Jordan is “Palestine””.
Practically, Jordan can serve as honest broker in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but as the late King Hussein stated in an interview with The New York Times in 1991 “Jordan should not be, cannot be, will not be a substitute for the Palestinians themselves as the major aggrieved party on the Arab side in a process that leads to peace”. The cited statement is fully embraced by Jordan’s current leadership.
Acknowledgment of Jordan’s Custodianship
The public acknowledgement by the American President of the kingdom’s special role as custodian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem is translated into a vote of confidence and a commendation for Jordan’s efficient safeguarding of religious sites for decades. As known, Amman pays the salaries of more than one thousand (1,000) employees of the Jerusalem Waqf Department and its custodianship role is carried out on behalf of all Islamic nations. The kingdom holds the exclusive authority of the Jordanian-appointed council, the Waqf, over the Temple Mount/ Haram Al Sharif and has spent over 1 billion dollars since 1924 for the administration and renovation of Al Aqsa mosque.
Jordan has admittedly served at multiple occasions as credible intermediary for Israel and the Palestinians to suspend tensions in the old city of Jerusalem, particularly at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif and pursues a successful administration of religious funded schools favoring moderate religious education and religious tourism. Jordanian moderation has guaranteed co-existence of the three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem at a time when on the contrary, counties like Turkey funnel millions of dollars in charity projects in Jerusalem promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Overall, Jordan’s custodianship has proved to be successful in maintaining delicate arrangements for the benefit of all religions and parties involved.
American Loan Guarantees
The King’s discussions with the American President also centered on the economic challenges exacerbated by the effect of the pandemic and the enhancement of bilateral economic cooperation. Admittedly, Jordan showed strong leadership and governance with early actions that reduced the coronavirus pandemic pressure on the kingdom’s health system. The Jordanian government imposed a nationwide lockdown and severe social distancing measures at a much earlier stage of the pandemic than other Middle East countries.
Jordan withstood the pandemic’s impact with minimal loss of life but with a significant cost to its economy. As of June 2020, most restrictions on economic activity were lifted turning Jordan into one of the first Arab countries to reopen. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has contracted in 2020 by 3.5 percent after growing 2 percent in 2019 due to losses in state revenues because of fewer remittances and a weakened tourism market.
To cope with the direct negative effects of the pandemic on its state budget, the Kingdom received $396 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The amount of finance has specifically helped address the country’s balance of payments needs and allowed for higher spending on healthcare, and assistance to households and companies most affected by the pandemic. Despite that the IMF provided in March 2020 another multi-year $1.3 billion loan package to Jordan, the pandemic has caused a $1.5 billion shortfall in its balance of payments.
This complex economic reality along with Jordan’s moderation in the Arab world justify continued robust annual American economic assistance to the kingdom in the form of budgetary support (cash transfer), USAID programs in Jordan, and loan guarantees. US cash assistance should increase in the coming years taking into consideration that it is directed to refugee support and to segments of the economy that are mostly affected by the pandemic like foreign debt payments and fuel import costs. Overall, a pledge should be made for Jordan in American congress for the authorization of moreUS sovereign loan guarantees that will help the kingdom weather the pandemic’s adverse medium-to-long-term effects on its economy. US sovereign loan guarantees will allow Jordan to issue debt securities that are fully guaranteed by the American government in capital markets, effectively subsidizing the cost for the Jordanian government to access financing.
It is also noticeable that in a genuine effort to help the kingdom contain the pandemic and safeguard public health, the American administration proceeded with the delivery of over 500 thousand covid-19 vaccines to Jordan highlighting American commitment to international vaccination programs including that of the kingdom.
US-Jordan Defense Partnership
The strategic US-Jordan defense relationship was reflected in the discussions that were conducted between the Jordanian King and the American President. American support for the modernization of Jordan’s F-16 fighter jets has been at the forefront of the agenda with the aim of achieving greater interoperability and effectiveness for the Jordanian Armed Forces. The American President recognized Jordan’s contribution to the successful international campaign to defeat ISIS and honored as an example of heroism the memory of captain Muath al-Kasasbeh who was executed in 2015 by the terrorist organization’s militants.
Jordan has suffered avowedly from terrorism throughout the years and works collectively at regional and international levels to eliminate all its forms. The kingdom lost two prime ministers, Haza’a Al-Majali and Wasfi Al-Tal, as victims of terrorism and experienced a series of terrorist attacks like the simultaneous suicide bombings against three hotels in Amman in November 2005 that led to the loss of life of American, Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian nationals.
In effect, Jordan is the third-largest recipient of annual American foreign aid globally, after Afghanistan and Israel. A Memorandum of Understanding on American foreign assistance to Jordan commits the United States to providing $1.275 billion per year over a five-year period for a total of $6.375 billion (FY2018-FY2022). Renegotiations on the next such agreement for FY2023-FY2027 is estimated that will aim at increasing the American commitment to Jordan, a key ally in the fight against international terrorism whose military should be in position to procure and maintain conventional weapons systems.
On the whole, Jordan is a steadfast security partner of the United States in the Middle East whose moderation and pragmatism helped the kingdom weather regional and world challenges. As 2021 and past years have showed, Jordan’s position as a bridge between the Levant and the Persian Gulf provides it a unique geopolitical standing, in a way that nowadays Amman is granted with a significant security, diplomatic and humanitarian role that signals a new era in US-Jordan relations.
Chinese FM Wraps Up his Visit to Egypt
Wang Yi, the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, visited Egypt on July 18, 2021, in El Alamein City, northwest Egypt. The Chinese Foreign Minister is the first foreign official to visit this strategic city.
Wang Yi met with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, during his visit to Egypt, and they discussed bilateral relations between the two countries. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Egypt and China. Egypt is the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with China and the first African country to do so. In the Arab world, the Islamic world, Africa, and developing countries, Egypt has long been one of China’s most important strategic partners. At the international level, the two countries mutually support one another. The meeting between Egypt’s Foreign Minister and China’s Foreign Minister focused on three main issues: the Covid-19 vaccine, the One Belt One Road Initiative, and international and regional issues such as Palestine and Syria
Both Egypt and China have a long history of cooperation and friendship. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19, the two countries’ relations were based on economic and trade cooperation, with China being Egypt’s first trading partner for the eighth year in a row since 2013, and the volume of trade exchange between the two countries exceeding $14.5 billion in 2020. However, as the outbreak Covid-19, cooperation between the two countries expanded to include medical cooperation. Egypt and China worked together to combat the virus. Egypt sent medical supplies to China, and China sent medical supplies and Chinese vaccine to Egypt. In addition, in December 2020, the two sides signed a cooperation agreement on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and China dispatched technical teams to Egypt to assist in the vaccine’s local manufacture. As a result, Egypt is considered Africa’s first vaccine manufacturer.
One Belt One Road Initiative
Egypt is an important strategic partner in building the Belt and Road Initiative. According to CGTN, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, stated that:” Egypt supports the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI).” He added that Egypt is ready to strengthen cooperation with China in the fields of economy, trade, industry, science and technology, and expand human exchanges within the framework of the “Belt and Road Initiative.” One Belt and One Road Initiative is one of the most important initiatives of the twenty-first century, announced by President Xi Jinping during official visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013. Egypt was one of the first countries to participate in this initiative. In 2014, Egyptian President al-Sisi expressed in an interview that China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative was an “opportunity” for cooperation between China and Egypt. Egypt was willing to participate in it actively.
International and Regional Issues
Regarding the international and regional issues, the two sides exchanged views and coordinated positions on some issues as Palestine, Syria issues. It’s worth mentioning that Wang Yi paid a visit to Syria the day before his trip to Egypt, marking him the first Chinese official to visit Syria since the country’s civil war began. China supports the Syrian sovereignty and rejects foreign interference in Syria, and also rejects the regime change. The Egyptian Minister Sameh Shoukry also discussed with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the GERD issue. According to Sky News, Shoukry explained Egypt and Sudan’s positions as two downstream countries, the importance of preserving the interests of all parties and not jeopardizing the downstream countries’ water security, and the importance of engaging in intensified negotiations under the auspices of the African Union presidency. The two sides signed an agreement on the Egyptian-Sino Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee at the end of their meeting.
Greater Middle East may force China to project military power sooner rather than later
China may have no short-term interest in contributing to guaranteeing security in parts of a swath of land stretching from Central Asia to the East coast of Africa, but that does not prevent the People’s Republic from preparing for a time when it may wish to build on long-standing political and military relationships in various parts of the world to project power and maintain an economic advantage.
Determined to exploit the principle of allegedly win-win relationships that are underwritten by economics, trade, and investment as the solution to problems, China has so far delayed if not avoided bilateral or unilateral political and military engagement in conflicts beyond its borders.
The question is how long it can continue to do so.
China took a first baby step towards greater power projection with the creation in 2017 of its first overseas military base in the East African state of Djibouti, a rent-a-base nation that hosts multiple military facilities for among others the United States, France, and Japan and potentially Saudi Arabia. The base signals the importance China attributes to regions like the Gulf and the Horn of Africa.
A recent article in a Chinese military publication sheds further light on Chinese preparations for a day when it may have to project military might in different parts of the world. The article laid out Chinese thinking about the virtues of offering Middle Eastern, Asian, and African militaries and political elites training and educational opportunities.
“Students who can study in China are mostly local military and political elites or descendants of notable families. After they have studied and returned to their country, they have a high probability of becoming the top military and political leaders of the local country. This is very beneficial for China to expand its overseas influence and corresponding armaments exports,” the publication, Military Express, said.
The publication asserted that Chinese military academies were more attractive than their Western counterparts that impose “political conditions,” a reference to students having to hail from countries aligned with the West.
“Chinese military academy does a better job in this regard. There are no political conditions attached here. Foreign military students here learn Chinese strategies and tactics and learn to operate Chinese weaponry by themselves,” the publication said.
The publication failed to mention that China unlike Western producers also refrains from attaching political conditions to its arms sales like adherence to human rights.
Recent months have not been necessarily kind to Chinese aspirations of remaining aloof to conflict beyond its borders, suggesting that reality on the ground could complicate China’s strategic calculations.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan threatens to put an ultra-conservative religious regime in power on the border with Xinjiang, the north-western province where China is attempting to brutally Sinicize Turkic ethnic and religious identity.
Recent Taliban military advances have already bolstered ultra-conservative religious sentiment in neighbouring Pakistan that celebrates the group as heroes whose success enhances the chances for austere religious rule in the world’s second-most populous Muslim-majority state.
“Our jihadis will be emboldened. They will say that ‘if America can be beaten, what is the Pakistan army to stand in our way?’” said a senior Pakistani official.
Nine Chinese nationals were killed last week in an explosion on a bus transporting Chinese workers to the construction site of a dam in the northern mountains of Pakistan, a region more prone to attacks by religious militants than Baloch nationalists, who operate from the province of Balochistan and are responsible for the bulk of attacks on Chinese targets in the South Asian nation.
It was the highest loss of life of Chinese citizens in recent years in Pakistan, the largest recipient of Chinese Belt and Road-related infrastructure and energy investments. China’s sees Pakistan as a key to the economic development of Xinjiang and part of its effort to Sinicize the region.
Indicating Chinese concern, China last month advised its citizens to leave Afghanistan and last week evacuated 210 Chinese nationals on a chartered flight. China last week delayed the signing of a framework agreement on industrial cooperation that would have accelerated implementation of projects that are part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Complicating Chinese calculations is the fact that both Russia and Turkey are maneuvering for different reasons to strengthen Turkic identity in the Caucasus that potentially would be more sympathetic to the plight of the Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.
Turkey moreover may see Afghanistan as another stepping stone towards recreating a Turkic world. Turkey has reportedly asked Azerbaijan, whom Ankara supported in last year’s Caucasus war against Armenia, to contribute forces to a Turkish contingent that would remain in Afghanistan after the US and NATO withdrawal to secure Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Turkish influence among Afghanistan’s Turkic minorities has been bolstered by the operation of Turkish schools, an increased number of Turkish scholarships, training of Afghan military and police personnel, the popularity of Turkish movies and television series, and efforts to mediate an end to conflict in the country.
The Taliban have rejected the continuation of a Turkish military presence that for the past six years was part of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission. The Taliban insisted that Turkish soldiers were “occupiers in Afghanistan” who should leave with NATO and US forces even if they were also representatives of a “great Islamic nation.”
In anticipation of a threatening development in Afghanistan, China quietly established a small military post in 2019 in the highlands of Tajikistan, a stone’s throw from where Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor meets Xinjiang.
More recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Ji advised his interlocutors during a visit last week to Central Asia that going forward Chinese private military companies would play a greater role in securing Belt and Road-related strategic infrastructure projects.
Some analysts suggested that the Chinese companies would also be employed to train Central Asian militaries – a domain that was until now largely a Russian preserve.
In a similar vein, France’s withdrawal of its forces from West Africa steps up pressure on China to defend its overseas nationals and interests. Three Chinese construction workers were among five foreigners kidnapped by gunmen this weekend in southern Mali. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
All of this leaves aside the question of how long China will feel that it can rely on the US defence umbrella in the Gulf to secure the flow of energy and much of its trade against the backdrop of a reconfigured US regional commitment and increasingly strained relations between Washington and Beijing.
It also does not consider China’s ability to manage expectations of the People’s Republic’s willingness to engage, in some cases not only politically or militarily, but also economically.
That was evident during Mr. Wang’s most recent visit to the region, and particularly Syria, which for much of its civil war was home to Uighur jihadists who distinguished themselves in battle.
It was Mr. Wang’s second visit to the Middle East and North Africa in four months. Furthermore, Mr. Wang last week discussed Afghanistan and Gulf security with his Saudi counterpart on the sideline of a regional cooperation meeting in Uzbekistan.
Syrian officials have for domestic and foreign policy reasons long touted China as the imaginary white knight that would come to the rescue in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.
“China is far less interested in Syria than Syria is in China… Syria has never been a priority in China’s economy-driven approach to the Middle East,” noted scholars Andrea Ghiselli and Mohammed Al-Sudairi.
The scholars cautioned however that “the significant potential impact of narratives created by local actors in the context of international politics,” a reference to Syria’s projection of China as its saviour, cannot be ignored.
Implicit in the scholars’ conclusion is the notion that Chinese policy may in future increasingly be shaped as much by decision-making in Beijing as developments on the ground in a world in which powers compete to secure their interest and place in a new world order.
Ultimately, the fundamental question underlying all these push factors is, according to Financial Times columnist Gideon Rahman, whether China has not only the capability and aspiration to become a superpower but also the will.
“If China is unwilling or unable to achieve a global military presence that rivals that of the US, it may have to find a new way of being a superpower – or give up on the ambition,” Mr. Rahman argues.
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