One of the most obvious results of the current stabilization of operations in Syria is the next and predictable equality of offensive potentials on the ground.
The United States, however, thinks it shall no longer deal with Syria, considering that the ultimate goal of the War on Terror is to avoid jihadist attacks on its territory or on its bases.
As often happens, psychopolitics for internal use that pretends to be global strategy, which is indeed wrong.
Clearly, too little as US political goal. Nevertheless we have now already entered the classic overstretch cycle – “let us go back home soon” -that characterizes the American cyclical history of strategic burn and burst of US geopolitics, which works as the boom and bust cycles of financial economy, but anyway also old and Jeffersonian.
We could define it as “geopolitics of the altered states of consciousness”.
In other papers we have already analysed the issue of the US- Free Syrian Army base in Al Tanf, which is essential to protect Jordan and avoid encirclement on the Euphrates by the Caliphate jihad. Currently, however, this base is an uncertain bivouac of terrorists, although “moderate” and connected to the Free Syrian Army.
The Free Syrian Army was the first US operation in Syria. From the very beginning it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, but it was born during the 2011 “Arab Springs”.
If President Trump really decides to withdraw from Syria, the only highly probable future variable will be Turkey’s open invasion of the Northern and Western Kurdish areas.
Hence, as already happened, the Kurdish Rojava will immediately head for Damascus, as it has already done, thus creating a new internal front within Syria, a harbinger of future and severe dangers.
Obviously, the hasty and strategically undefined US withdrawal is also a great and unique missed opportunity for Iran.
Iran, however, has already reached an agreement with Turkey: the stable tripartition of the areas of influence in Syria, already fully foreshadowed by the “de-escalation zones” of 2017.
Russia will certainly claim to be the strategic winner in Syria, which is what it wanted, but excluding particularly the USA and the EU from that area (certainly an easy success to be achieved).
Iran, however, will have reached its goal anyway, i.e. changing and turning to its advantage the configuration of its strategic potentials along the Syrian border with Israel and reaching up to its new Mediterranean with the maximum political-military destabilizing power.
Once won its fight for Syria, Turkey will be in a position to afford a new area of protection and control against the unification of the Kurdish world, but will particularly ensure the smooth and undisturbed passage from Anatolia to Central Asia.
Therefore, we will have in Syria the S-300s and other advanced technologies of the Russian Defence, which will remain there in Bashar al-Assad’s hands. Nevertheless we will also have as many as 11 types of air superiority fighters in various bases (Palmyra, T4, Humaynim and two other dedicated and confidential ones), but also all the highly-advanced set of C3 active war-control networks and of sensors, directly connected to Russia’s Central Command.
Israel finally reaches an agreement with Russia that could even allow a new arrangement of its operations in Southern Syria or even a full agreement with the Russian Federation on the bipartite control of the Bekaa-Golan-Southern Lebanon axis, where both countries have potentially converging interests.
Moreover Iran has reached its true strategic result, the Iraqi-Lebanese “corridor”, which is modest at technological level, apart from some thefts of Russian and Turkish material, but is very effective in enabling Iran to wage its asymmetric war against Israel on a broader front, and above all new compared to the old positions.
Israel’s Kurdish friends could control this network from the North.
The Shiite Republic certainly wants to eliminate the “Zionist entity” – as Israel is called in Iran – or make it irrelevant, but it wants above all to play a primary role on the Mediterranean shores. This will have endless repercussions on the Shiite oil trade and on the different arrangement of defence potentials around the Saudi axis, of which Iran wants to destabilize all its vast Shite areas, one after the other.
It will then be the turn of Bahrain and other Emirates, while the Shiite Egyptian, Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian communities will move radially.
Considering that, for the time being, light and stable missile bases on the “corridor” are not available – although there are signs of rooting-technologically Iran’s policy line is to make every point of its “corridor” an element of mobile and variable guerrilla warfare against Israel, so as to finally set fire to the whole line and block the North of the Jewish State.
With a certain, connected and subsequent attack from the Gaza Strip and, in all likelihood, even from the areas already arranged on Israel’s Eastern border.
Hence the quick and full deprivation of every strategic asset for the Jewish State.
Nevertheless, so far the military potentials are still asymmetric for Iran.
The missiles it has granted to Hezbollah are manifold and sufficiently advanced, but small and mainly suited to saturate Israel’s defences, so as to later propose to the Islamic world an internal and concentric attack on Israel.
Hence Israel would become a mere small terrestrial power, inevitably devoid of its technological, air, sea and signal intelligence strengths.
As already seen, however, Iran does not even trust Russia, which has no interest in permanently protecting its “corridor” northwards.
Certainly Russia does not even trust its “proxy agents” left in Syria that it wants to control permanently so as to avoid precisely what Iran wants: the clash between Russia and Israel.
A struggle that would extend ad infinitum the destructive effect of its own guerrilla warfare and of its small missiles, which today, however, are certainly much more advanced than the “toys” it supplied to Hezbollah until a few years ago.
However, the Iranian variable to command and control the phases following the outbreak of a war north of Israel is currently technological and resolves the dispute between Iran and Russia at its root.
It is a missile, namely Hoveizeh, which has been tested for the first time this February.
It is not by chance that is named after a city in South-Western Iran that bravely resisted Iraq in the Shiite “war of necessity” when the USA armed Saddam Hussein and later left him to his own destiny.
And the symbolism of the “war of necessity” comes to the fore today, on the forty-year anniversary of the Shiite revolution.
Symbols always have essential strategic power.
Hoveizeh is a surface-to-surface missile with an average range of 1,350 kilometres, always flying at a low altitude. It needs a very short time for its preparedness and armament.
As has long been the case in Iranian arsenals, it has a fully autonomous and “national” technology.
Hence it is hard to be tracked.
The Hoveyzeh missile, however, is Iran’s direct response to the success of the recent Israeli-US Arrow (orHetz) 3missile.
Said Israeli-US missile had been tested on January 22 last.
It is an exoatmospheric anti-ballistic missile for intercepting enemy missiles which, however, can also be an attack weapon.
The Arrow 3 structure also consists of a hypersonic missile interceptor missile, also equipped with an ELM-2080 Green Pine produced by Elta, which is an AESA early warning radar, finally connected to a C3 centre and to the network of Israeli air industries known as Hazelnut.
Nevertheless it is a system that has already been declared operational in 2000.
Only the third part of the Arrow 3 system, however, has been declared fully operative in 2017.
Arrow 3 can also be used as an anti-satellite weapon, but the Israeli Forces still do not fully like it since they have always preferred the strategy of preventive attacks and deterrence. Another very problematic aspect is the high cost of this system.
Is it better to have many and possibly inexpensive missiles, with scarce but efficient technology, or very few and expensive ones, probably even insufficient and inadequate to oppose a salvo intended to saturate the Dome?
Iran has already made its choice.
It would be interesting, however, to see Israel’s final choice in the field of the so-called “mass” missile weapons, which could also be suitable for strategies where the central point still consists in the advanced weapon, that determines in a moment the attacker’ superiority.
Also the attacker, however, must be saturated quickly.
Coincidentally, however, Arrow 3 was tested just two days after Hoveizeh, at the base of Palmachim, Israel, but there will soon be further tests on the island of Kodjak, Alaska.
Arrow 3 was tested after an Iranian missile, launched from the Syrian skies on January 28 last, had been intercepted by the Israeli structure.
However, over the last few days, a significant number of Iranian carriers has been launched onto Israel: a Fajr 5 (with a 35-kilometre range) on December 29 last, and a Fatteh 100 (with a 300-kilometre range) onto the Golan on January 21 last, which was also intercepted.
Many other smaller ones were fired.
Hence, while Israel and the United States are developing hypersonic missiles capable of striking outside the atmosphere, Iran is following exactly the opposite policy, i.e. manufacturing fully traditional missiles, albeit capable of long flying at a low altitude, since so far no one can define valid interception techniques before the missile has actually been launched.
Israel has also recently used missiles (such as the Delilah, with a 250-kilometre range) that have not been intercepted by Russia or Syria. The United States still has the old Tomahawk missiles in the Middle East and Russia uses its most recent Kalibr, but they are all controllable only after being launched, if all goes well.
A solution to the problem is the missiles fired by ships which, however, can be useful only if they operate in an area already full of sensors and radars.
Even in this case, these operations are traceable only for large sea and land areas and for the main launches only. This tactic is essentially useless to counteract surface missiles at a low altitude.
Hence Israel currently operates with a high-tech strategy, which strikes selectively and in the best of times, with a view to weakening the Iranian enemy and making its mass attack with small surface warheads useless.
But will it be enough? I do not believe so.
It should, however, be possible for Israel to respond quickly with equal and opposite saturation so as to avoid the temporary blindness of sensors and the excess cost of very “American-style” technologies, which are extremely top range but often of little effect.
Before leaving Syria, however, also the United States carried out attacks there. Just on February 3 last, an attack was launched between Abu Kamal and Deir Ezzour, with probable collateral damage to the Syrian artillery.
On February 2 last, three Iranian missiles were ready to be put into action at the US base of Ain Al Assad in Anbar, but they were not activated only thanks to the Iraqi intelligence services.
This means that Iran wants the United States not only out of Syria, but also out of Iraq.
Without this preventive “cleansing” of the territory, which primarily regards the stabilization of Iranian missile forces, all the variables of command, direction and response against Iranian missiles – anyway large and numerous – are too dangerous for the Shiite Republic itself.
Probably, however, the missile bases that the USA hit on February 3 last were those of the Pasdaran’s Al Qods Force.
In that region there are also the bases of an Iraqi Shiite militia under the Al Quds’ command, namely the Kataib Hezbollah that serves as a line of communication between the Iranian forces in Iraq and those in the Lebanon.
An essential axis of the “corridor”.
From this viewpoint, President Erdogan’s new anti-Semitic policy is certainly functional to the new Syrian stability. In fact, Erdogan has recently had Dawud Baghestani – the Secretary of the Israeli-Kurdish Friendship Association, who is also the editor of the official Kurdish-Israeli magazine – arrested.
Therefore President Trump has completely abandoned both Israel and the Kurds in Syria. Hence it is obvious that now Turkey wants to control the whole Kurdish area, thus putting in serious difficulty even Israel, which is now the only organizational, financial and military point of reference for Rojava.
The United States will certainly leave both Al Tanf- although we do not know yet how – but also the area of Al Bukhamal, on the Iraqi borders, the last stretch of Western protection between the Iranian area and the Syrian world.
This is precisely the point that is still missing to close the well-known “corridor”.
President Erdogan’s political aim is to demonstrate that there is still a link between US and Israeli intelligence services and the Kurds, which would be the greatest possible justification for a final takeover of Rojava.
Hence it is a matter of concealing – with an alleged operation of the Turkish intelligence services – Turkey’s willingness to take and control the whole of Northern Syria where there is a Kurdish majority.
Here the war of words between Israel and Turkey is always very clear in its strategic aims.
In fact, two years ago Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Israel considered the PKK a “terrorist group”, unlike what Turkey had always said about Hamas.
Again on that occasion, however, the Israeli Prime Minister stated that one thing was to combat terrorism, even the Kurdish one, while another thing was to accept the free claim of the Kurdish people to have their right to freedom and autonomy, which Israel supported.
In other words, if the United States leaves and Turkey continues to avoid any opening to the autonomy of the Kurdish territories in Syria, without anyway putting them in communication with the Turkish-Anatolian territories, Rojavawill become the preferential target of Israel’s attention and designs.
Israel will take advantage of its old excellent relations with the Kurds to use them both against the Iranian-Lebanese “corridor” and to avoid Iranian, Syrian or other pressure on the Northern borders between Israel and Syria.
As well as to deal – possibly from an indirect position of strength – even with Russia which, however, has no interest in using the Kurdish area against Iran or Turkey.
Obviously Putin has already announced he will never accept a Turkish invasion of Syria for the Kurdish territories, nor the Turkish control of the YGP-controlled Kurdish areas.
Hence a new structure and organisation of central Syria: Israel plays the Kurdish card, knowing that Turkey cannot take it due to its relations with Russia, which would block any Turkish interest in Syria.
Therefore any agreement between Russia and Israel envisages a possible control zone of the “corridor”, well before the 80 kilometres set by Israel, as well as a new positioning of Syria within the Russian sphere of influence.
This means that Russia could also tolerate the line between Iran and the Lebanon, but it would certainly put the former in a position to accept pressing remote or direct systematic checks on the corridor.
As well as additional security on the Lebanese coasts by Hezbollah that now operates near the Russian military ports of Latakia and Tartus.
This could also reduce the mass of missiles deployed by Iran and Hezbollah in the Bekaa-Golan region, although always remaining well beyond the threshold of lethality and, above all, of saturation of the attack areas in Israel’s metropolitan territory, which is the true target of Iran and its regional allies.
Therefore Turkey shall place itself at the edges of the Kurdish region, albeit with all the possible operations of intelligence and strategic harassment.
Israel could control the “corridor” also from the North, even in partial autonomy from Russia.
Russia shall keep control of central Syria (the Sunni area, in particular), but in a stable and non-adverse relationship with the Kurds.
Moreover Iran shall fight with some not fully opposed factions of the Kurdish world on the Iraqi borders. However, under these conditions, Bashar al-Assad’ Syria will hence have the possibility to filter all the funds for reconstruction, but with the Russian-Chinese permission.
Nevertheless, once again the real political issue is to manage the Lebanese chaos, which is largely agreed among the real leaders of the region.
For obvious reasons, these leaders do no longer include Bashar al-Assad. However, Saudi Arabia counts very much, with its current policies for enslaving the old political-business classes of the coastal area.
And if Saudi Arabia decides to play a role, it mainly plays its own and, only residually and on the sidelines, it plays the Turkish role.
As is well-known, after nine months, Saad Hariri – the former expensive “guest” of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh – had to leave in Saudi Arabia much of the funds he held abroad, but not directly in the Lebanon.
The construction company Saudi Oger had a 3.5 billion debt with the Saudi banks – a debt promptly repaid mainly thanks to Mohammed Bin Salman’s prompt favours.
Now freed from his severe outstanding accounts and matters in the Saudi Kingdom, Saad Hariri is still and again President of the Lebanese Council.
However, at a price which is certainly not good even for Mohammed bin Salman.
The price of forming a government basically in Hezbollah’s hands.
The Shiite militia was given three Ministries, including Health, a Ministry that is worth one fourth of government spending.
Hariri’s government should above all manage to release a share of foreign funding to the Lebanon of at least 84 billion, equivalent to 150% of the local GDP, with a view to solving many problems, including unemployment which is around 36%.
All money fuelling Hezbollah, which uses a lot of public money for organizing its militias and managing its charitable activities and institutions, which are also guerrilla warfare, coverage and training structures, where necessary.
Probably only Hezbollah will solve the electricity crisis, which is structural in the Lebanon, thus creating a further basis of support and militancy to cover military operations or even to develop an attack strategy from Southern Lebanon.
The creation of the government was compulsory: the World Bank had threatened to immediately transfer to Jordan the 4 billion US dollars of funding previously envisaged for the Lebanon, if the country had not decided to form a government soon.
Corruption is always very widespread in the Lebanon, which is one of the twenty most corrupt countries in the world.
Hence the State does not exist there.
Now, however, at the core of the Lebanese power system there is the Head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, whose primary ally is Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian closely linked to Iran and Syria. There is also Foreign Minister Gebrane Bassile, son-in-law of President Aoun, but also very close- personally – to Hezbollah.
As is now well-known, Israel’s policy line has always been to preliminary destroy the Hezbollah tunnels in its territory and elsewhere.
On November 3 last, Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear that those operations would continue and should also be provided some coverage from the United States and even from the irrelevant EU.
At this juncture, however, there is a clear link between the US withdrawal from Syria and the persistent Israeli operations in the Lebanon.
In particular, this clearly means that the United States will no longer be in a position to put pressure on Aoun and the new Lebanese government, with a view to marginalizing Hezbollah.
Hence Israel has currently no support from the United States for its actions against the Hezbollah tunnels, which are still located in some Caliphate’s pockets on the border between Syria and the Lebanon.
The US leaders have already said to the Lebanon that the Hezbollah leaders shall not use government funds to wage war against Israel.
Good intentions, especially in foreign policy, are welcome because they make us smile and relax.
Exactly the opposite happened in the division of Lebanese Ministries.
The Treasury Minister is Hassan Khalil, a man of the old Shite movement “Amal”. Elias Bou Saab, a businessman very close to Aoun, was appointed Defence Minister. The Health Ministry, a traditional focus of Hezbollah, was assigned to Jamil Jabak, a Shiite doctor who is very well known in the local scientific community but is, above all, a man very close to Iran.
Westerners – who are real geniuses – support Hariri, but not much of his government.
The squared circle of geopolitics.
The Interior Ministry was assigned to Raja al-Hassan, an important woman linked to Hariri’s party, but in excellent relations also with Iran and, indirectly, with Hezbollah.
Thus, in the Lebanon, there will be an officially “pro-Western” government, albeit with a wide para-Iranian majority, which will lead the country to support any Hezbollah actions in Israel.
Politics by Other Means: A Case Study of the 1991 Gulf War
War has been around since the dawn of man and is spawned by innate human characteristics. Often, when efforts at resolving conflicts fail diplomatically (be it at the nation or international level), war is what follows and seemingly the only other option. As Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military commander and military theorist, once said, “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce” and, despite the horror and destruction of war, war is necessary for the conduct of foreign policy. War and physical combat allows for resolutions that cannot come about from any other way, once all legitimate foreign policy tactics have been exhausted. With the U.S. there are an abundant amount of examples showing how direct military conflict has solved a foreign policy problem. The 1991 Gulf War is a prime example.
The Gulf War began in August of 1990, when Iraqi tanks rolled over the Iraqi-Kuwait border, claiming vast oil reserves and annexing the country. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had just come out of the Iran-Iraq War, an almost eight-year, prolonged war of attrition which ended with, “an estimated quarter of a million dead…over 60,000 Iraqis [as] prisoners of war…[and] had run up a debt of over $80 billion…[with] the collapse of world prices meant that Iraq’s oil revenues in 1988 amounted to $11 billion, less than half its 1980 revenue”. Not only this, but Iraq had been fighting what was essentially a civil war in Iraqi Kurdistan, which involved the use of chemical weapons against civilians. The hundred year plus dispute between Iraq and Kuwait about sections of the border with essential waterways leading to the Gulf, the economic hardships and falling price of oil, the U.S. severing ties with the Middle Eastern nation due to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the fear of decreasing power and influence in the region, and the desire to attain the funding for nuclear weapons programs were all central factors in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
International outcry was swift and critical of Saddam’s actions. This was largely due to the fact that Iraq was now closer to Saudi Arabia and the threat of him and Iraq controlling a substantial portion of the world’s oil reserves was very real. Richard Kohn, a professor of military history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, discussed this with NPR, stating, “The stakes in 1990 and ’91 were really rather enormous. Had Saddam Hussein gotten control of the Saudi oil fields, he would have had the world economy by the throat. That was immediately recognized by capitals around the world”. Immediately following the invasion, on August 03, the United Nations Security Council demanded that Iraq withdraw from the country and, when Iraq did not abide by this demand, the UN “imposed a worldwide ban on trade with Iraq (The Iraqi government responded by formally annexing Kuwait on August 8)”. The U.S. too engaged and tried to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait by placing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, utilizing this military presence as a deterrent.
Despite such action by the most powerful international foreign policy and diplomatic body in the globe, and diplomatic action on the part of the U.S. and other foreign nations, war still occurred in January of 1991, which eventually pushed Saddam out of Kuwait via aerial and naval bombardment and, by February, had armor and infantry troops rolling towards Baghdad. The question that remains is, was the war necessary to solving the situation in Iraq and did such military action further international foreign policy goals of the United States?
War was the only other option that the United States could take when dealing with Saddam. The United Nations, the Arab League, and the United States had all vitriolically and openly opposed Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. When Iraq tried to open diplomatic channels to resolve the crisis (while not complying with the UN’s order and keeping troops in Kuwait), the U.S. requested that the Iraqis comply with the decree and pull out of Kuwait, following Margaret Thatcher and Britain’s line of thought that concessions to a dictator would strengthen the Iraqi influence and desire for more power.
While the fact that the United States did not try to pursue a diplomatic avenue with Iraq in this matter is certainly an interesting method, it is also understandable. Giving in to Iraq’s desires and granting them concessions when they had flagrantly disregarded international law and violated the sovereignty of a fellow nation state (in addition to committing horrendous crimes against their own population), capitulating to the Iraqi government would have been a mistake. It would have solidified their power and their influence within the region and would have seemingly legitimized their standpoint.
Not only would negotiating on such terms have legitimized their view and stance, but it effectively would have been negotiating with a terrorist. The former Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 1989 to 1991, Joseph C. Wilson, (who would later play a key role in the Plame Affair during the Iraq War), discussed how, “several hundred hostages were held by Saddam, 150 Americans as well as another 70 in our care to keep them out of Iraqi hands…There is no doubt that our personnel and our families were at risk, in considerable danger in fact,”. Hussein’s motivation for holding these Americans and others of varying nationalities (notably British) was most probably to utilize them as a deterrent to an attack from the West. Engaging in capitulation and trying to negotiate with someone who was essentially a terrorist (utilizing terror and violence, or the threat of such action, to attain a political goal) was not something that the United States nor the United Kingdom was willing to do under any circumstances.
The United States, in this instance, was dealing with a terrorist and a dictator, a megalomaniac who was determined to reclaim what he believed was rightfully Iraqi territory and gain access to further wealth through illegal means. The potential of his army in securing what were important and essential global financial centers in the Middle East was serious and it is possible he was planning to invade Saudi Arabia at some point. Saad al-Bazzaz, the former head of both the Iraqi News Agency and the Iraqi Radio and Television Establishment in addition to being an aide to Saddam, alleged in 1996 that, “the Iraqi leader ordered the elite Republican Guard to be ready to launch an offensive…nine days after the invasion of Kuwait…The invasion plans called for four divisions, or 120,000 troops, to thrust into the desert to capture oil fields more than 180 miles away”. The fact that Iraqi troops also, in January of 1991, after the initial aerial bombardment, captured the small, Saudi Arabian coastal city of Khafji, lends credence to the idea that Saddam may have been planning something larger. al-Bazzaz also alleged that Saddam again began planning an invasion of Saudi Arabia while the Battle of Khafji was ongoing, but resorted to defense when it was apparent he would lose Kuwait.
Upon the conclusion of the Gulf War, what did the U.S. gain? One of the most significant achievements in the aftermath of the conflict was that the United States was able to create a coalition of military forces (including those from Middle Eastern nations like Syria and Egypt) to side with other nations (former colonizers like France and the United Kingdom) who are often opposed to their conduct of foreign policy or have fraught relationships. As well, the State Department’s Office of the Historian notes, “Although Russia did not commit troops, it joined the United States in condemning Iraq, its long-time client state”. The Office goes on to describe how Secretary of State Baker and his staff went about gathering allies and were instrumental in assisting in diplomatic and coordination efforts for the eventual air and ground campaign. The U.S. gained improved relationships that bonded by the pursuit of an enemy and the removal of a foreign power from a sovereign nation and were further solidified in the UN’s policing of Iraqi airspace and nuclear deproliferation programs.
Often, wars can be prevented and all out avoided through the use of diplomacy and foreign policy. The Vietnam War, the 1898 Spanish-American War, and the Chaco War of the 1930’s between Bolivia and Paraguay are prime examples of when diplomacy should have been utilized to the fullest effect and in which foreign policy officials and avenues for conflict resolution were not fully considered or utilized. However, in this instance, war was the only viable option for removing Saddam from Kuwait and returning the country to its rightful citizens. Negotiating or trying to work with the Iraqi government on the terms they had decided (meaning working with them in a foreign territory they have illegally acquired) would have given their actions an aura of legitimacy and possibly emboldened Saddam to further push the boundaries of international law. By giving Saddam an ultimatum and proceeding with physical combat and engaging in a war, war with Iraq was the correct decision when considering the person and government being dealt with.
Middle Eastern interventionism galore: Neither US nor Chinese policies alleviate
A recent analysis of Middle Eastern states’ interventionist policies suggests that misguided big power approaches have fueled a vicious cycle of interference and instability over the last decade.
Those approaches are abetted, if not encouraged by US and Chinese strategies that are similar, if not essentially the same, just labelled differently. The United States has long opted for regime stability in the Middle East rather than political reform, an approach China adopts under the mum of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.
As a result, both the United States and China de facto signal autocrats that they will not be held accountable for their actions. This week’s US response and Chinese silence about the suspension of democracy in Tunisia illustrates the point.
The policies of the two powers diverge, however, on one key approach: The US, unlike China, frequently identifies one or more regimes, most notably Iran, as a threat to regional security. In doing so, US policy is often shaped by the narrow lens of a frequently demonized ‘enemy’ or hostile power.
The problem with that approach is that it encourages policies that are based on a distorted picture of reality. The Obama administration’s negotiation of a 2015 international nuclear agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program proved that amending those policies constitutes a gargantuan task, albeit one that is gaining traction with more critical trends emerging in both the Democratic Party and among Evangelists.
The recent study, ‘No Clean Hands: The Interventions of Middle Eastern Powers, 2010-2020,’ published by the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, suggests by implication that China has at the vey least allowed instability to fester in the Middle East that is fueled as much by destabilizing Iranian interventions as by similar actions of various US allies.
The study was authored by researcher Matthew Petti and Trita Parsi, the Institute’s co-founder and executive vice president and founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council.
To be sure China may not have been able to influence all interventionist decisions, including the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but potentially could have at times tempered the interventionist inklings of regional players with a more assertive approach rather than remaining aloof and focusing exclusively on economic opportunity.
China demonstrated its willingness and ability to ensure that regional players dance to its tune when it made certain that Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries refrained from criticizing Beijing’s brutal attempt to alter the ethnic and religious identity of its Turkic Muslim population in the north-western province of Xinjiang.
Taking Syria as an example, Li Shaoxian, a former vice president at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, articulated China’s approach in 2016 as Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first visit to the Middle East. “China doesn’t really care who takes the presidency…in the future—as long as that person could stabilize and develop the country, we would agree,” Mr. Li said.
To be fair, the Quincy Institute study focuses on the interventionist policies of Middle Eastern states and recommendations for US policy rather than on China even if the report by implication has consequences for China too.
A key conclusion of the study is that the fallacy of US policy was not only to continue to attempt to batter Iran into submission despite evidence that pressure was not persuading the Islamic republic to buckle under.
It was also a failure to acknowledge that Middle Eastern instability was fueled by interventionist policies of not just one state, Iran, but of six states, five of which are US allies: Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The US allies, with the exception of Turkey and to a lesser degree Qatar, are perceived as supporters of the regional status quo.
On the other hand, the United States and its allies have long held that Iran’s use of militant proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen; its intervention in Syria and support of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip; and its armament policies, including its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, destabilize the Middle East and pose the greatest threat to regional security.
They assert that Iran continues to want to export its revolution. It is an argument that is supported by Iran’s own rhetoric and need to maintain a revolutionary façade.
Middle East scholar Danny Postel challenges the argument in a second paper published this month by the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies that seems to bolster the Quincy Institute’s analysis.
“The view of Iran as a ‘revolutionary’ state has been dead for quite some time yet somehow stumbles along and blinds us to what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East. A brief look at the role Iran has played over the last decade in three countries — Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria — reveals a very different picture: not one of a revolutionary but rather of a counter-revolutionary force,” Mr. Postel argues.
The scholar noted that Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon, and pro-Iranian armed groups in Iraq responded in similar ways to mass anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020 in Lebanese and Iraqi cities that transcended sectarian divisions and identified the Iran-aligned factions with widespread corruption that was dragging their countries down.
They attacked the protesters in an attempt to salvage a failed system that served their purpose and suppress what amounted to popular uprisings.
“Do they really think that we would hand over a state, an economy, one that we have built over 15 years? That they can just casually come and take it? Impossible! This is a state that was built with blood,” said an Iraqi official with links to the pro-Iranian militias. A Hezbollah official speaking about Lebanon probably could not have said it better.
Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal suppression of a popular revolt is no less counter-revolutionary and illustrative of the length to which Iran is willing to go to protect its interests.
“Indeed, for all the talk of Iran’s ‘disruptive’ role in the region, what the cases of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon reveal is instead an Islamic Republic hell-bent on keeping entrenched political establishments and ruling classes in power while helping them quell popular movements for social justice, democratic rights, and human dignity,” Mr. Postel concludes.
“The idea that Iran is a revolutionary power while Saudi Arabia is a counter-revolutionary power in the region is a stale binary. Both the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom play counter-revolutionary roles in the Middle East. They are competing counter-revolutionary powers, each pursuing its counter-revolutionary agenda in its respective sphere of influence within the region,” Mr. Postel goes on to say.
Counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt appeared to contradict Mr. Postel in a paper published this week that asserted that Hezbollah remained a revolutionary pro-Iranian force in its regional posture beyond Lebanon.
“Hezbollah’s regional adventurism is most pronounced in its expeditionary forces deployed in Syria and elsewhere in the region, but no less important are the group’s advanced training regimen for other Shi’a militias aligned with Iran, its expansive illicit financing activities across the region, and its procurement, intelligence, cyber, and disinformation activities,” Mr. Levitt said.
Mr. Postel’s analysis in various ways bolsters the Quincy Institute report’s observation that tactics employed by Iran are not uniquely Iranian but have been adopted at various times by all interventionist players in the Middle East.
The Quincy Institute study suggests further that a significant number of instances in the last decade in which Middle Eastern states projected military power beyond their borders involved Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar on battlefields that were as much related to competition for regional influence among US allies or the countering of popular movements as they were to rivalry with Iran.
“Iran is highly interventionist, but not an outlier. The other major powers in the region are often as interventionist as the Islamic Republic – and at times even more so. Indeed, the UAE and Turkey have surpassed in recent years,” the report said.
The report’s publication coincided with the indictment of billionaire Thomas J. Barrack, a one-time advisor and close associate of former US President Donald J. Trump, on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for the UAE, widely seen as another case and form of intervention by a Middle Eastern state.
By implication, the study raises the question whether compartmentalizing security issues like the nuclear question and framing them exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than discussing them in relation to diverging security concerns of all regional players, including Iran, will lead to a sustainable regional security architecture.
There is little indication that thinking in Washington is paying heed to the Quincy Institute study or Mr. Postel’s analysis even though their publication came at an inflection point in negotiations with Iran suspended until President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in mid-August.
That was evident in a proposal put forward this month by former US Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross on how to respond to Iran’s refusal to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support of armed proxies as well as Mr. Al-Assad as part of the nuclear negotiation. Mr. Ross suggested that the United States sell to Israel the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound mountain-buster capable of destroying hardened underground nuclear facilities.
Members of Congress last year offered legislation that would authorize the sale as a way to maintain Israel’s military edge as the United States moves to reward the UAE for its establishment of diplomatic reltions with Israel by selling it top-of-the-line F-35 fighter jets.
The administration is expected to move ahead with the sale of the jets after putting it on hold for review when Joe Biden took office In January.
The Quincy Institute and Mr. Postel’s calls for a paradigm shift in thinking about the Middle East and/or Iran take on added significance in the light of debates about the sustainability of the Iranian clerical regime.
Contrary to suggestions that the regime is teetering on the brink of collapse as the result of sanctions and domestic discontent, most recently evidenced in this month’s protests sparked by water shortages, widely respected Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour argues that the Iranian regime could have a shelf life of at least another generation.
Mr. Sadjadpour draws a comparison to the Soviet Union. “Post-Soviet Russia… didn’t transition from the Soviet Union to a democratic Russia, but it essentially became a new form of authoritarianism which took Communism and replaced it with grievance driven Russia nationalism—led by someone from the ancient regime and a product of the KGB, Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Sadjadpour argues.
“Likewise, if I had to make a prediction in Iran, I think that the next prominent leader is less likely to be an aging cleric—like an Ayatollah Khamenei or Ibrahim Raisi—and more likely to be someone who is a product of either the Revolutionary Guards or Iran’s intelligence services. Instead of espousing Shiite nationalism, they will substitute that with Iranian nationalism—or Persian nationalism,” he goes on to say.
An Iranian nationalist regime potentially could contribute to regional stability. It would likely remove the threats of Iranian meddling in the domestic affairs of various Arab countries by empowering Shiite Muslim groups as well as support for political Islam. Iranian nationalism would turn aid to groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen into a liability rather than an asset.
Mr. Sadjadpour’s prognosis coupled with the Quincy Institute report suggests that the Biden administration has an opportunity to reframe its Middle East policy in the long-term interests of the United States as well as the region and the international community.
The nuclear talks are one potential entry point to what would amount to the equivalent of turning a supertanker around in the Suez Canal – a gradual process at best rather than an overnight change. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan may be another.
Concern in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran about the fallout of the withdrawal suggests that stabilizing the greater Middle East in ways that conflicts can be sustainably managed if not resolved creates grounds for China, Russia and the United States to cooperate on what should be a common interest: securing the free flow of oil and gas as well as trade.
China, Russia, and Iran may be bracing themselves for worst case scenarios as the Taliban advance militarily, but the potential for some form of big power cooperation remains.
China scholars Haiyun Ma and I-wei Jennifer Chang note that in the case of Afghanistan “despite the Taliban’s advancement on the ground and its call for Chinese investment, the current military situation and the political process have not yet manifested a power vacuum created by the US retreat, which makes Chinese entry and gains…largely symbolic in nature.”
The Russian bear in Lebanon
It turned out that the Biden-Putin summit on May 16 has established a wider effect than anyone would expect.
It exceeded by far political analysis, especially in Lebanon. The summit almost coincided with the Russian economic delegation’s visit to Beirut on the 18th of the same month and the announcement of its study results to initiate investments projects in Lebanon.
The results revealed the Russian delegation’s future plans in rebuilding the oil refineries in Zahrani and Tripoli and rehabilitating the latter’s port. Regardless of the projects, the Russian companies intend to deal with, if they are approved and encouraged by good signs changes can be relied upon. It means that Lebanon has taken an important leap in its economic policies by gradually moving towards the East.
Naturally, Lebanon’s orientation towards the East “if it happens” will not be absolute and definitive, but rather principled and partial. This is an important matter by itself. It is marked as a qualitative leap that may minimize the private companies’ monopolization of energy imports, which will be directly reflected, firstly, in electricity production in Lebanon, and secondly in facilitating the provision of petroleum products in Lebanon. Such projects became a necessity, in particular, after the collapse of the Lebanese lira against the American dollar.
Logically, changing the reality of the production of electricity will reveal immediate results. It will be reflected in the change in the rehabilitation of the economic infrastructure fields in Lebanon. It will also positively reflect in other vital areas, such as determining the prices of food commodities, which became outrageously high.
Accordingly, one of the most important reasons for the obscene rise in food prices is related to the high costs of transportation in the last month alone. It is almost above the purchasing power of the Lebanese. For example, the prices of vegetables and fruits, a non-imported commodity, which is not supervised by government support, remained within reasonable prices; however, once the diesel prices started rising, it directly affected the prices of the seasonal vegetables and fruits.
In addition, there are unseen accomplishments that will go with the entry of Russian companies, which is creating new job opportunities in Lebanon. Lately, it was reported that unemployment in Lebanon will reach 41.4% this year. It is a huge rate, which the Lebanese media, in general, use to provoke people against the current resigned government. However, it neglects to shed the light on the importance of the Russian investment in creating new job opportunities, which will affect all social groups, whether they were transporters, building workers, porters, cleaners, or university graduates.
The companies coming to Lebanon are directly supported by the Russian state. However, they are private companies, a fact that has its advantages. They are familiarized with dealing with other Western international companies. Russian companies have previously coordinated with French and Italian companies in Lebanon, through contracts concluded for the extraction of gas in Lebanese fields and in other fields outside Lebanon. Russian- European coordination process is also recognized in rebuilding Beirut’s harbor. A German company will rebuild the docks, while the French will rebuild the containers or depots, and the Russian companies will rebuild the wheat silos.
It seems that the process is closely related to the future of Lebanon and the future of the Chinese project, the New Silk Road, [One Road, and One Belt]. However, it is not clear yet whether the Russian companies will be investing in Tripoli’s refinery and in regenerating and expanding its port or it will be invested by the Chinese companies. If this achievement is accomplished, then Tripoli will restore its navigating glorious history. Tripoli was one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean. Additionally, there is a need for the Russian and the Chinese to expand on the warm shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Secondly, the project will boost Tripoli and its surroundings from the current low economic situation to a prosperous economic one, if the real intentions are there. The results in Tripoli will be read as soon as the projects set foot in the city. Of course, this will establish another Sino-Russian victory in the world of economy and trade, if not in politics as well.
The entry of the Russians and the Chinese into the Lebanese field of commerce has international implications. It will come within international and global agreements or understanding. Nevertheless, it is a sign that the Americans are actually losing their grip on Lebanon. This entry will stop the imposition of a limited number of European-oriented Lebanese monopolizing companies, which have dominated the major Lebanese trade of oil and its products. Dominance is protected with the “illusion” of meaningless international resolution. It is true that the Americans are still maneuvering in several places; however, this is evident to the arbitrariness of decisions making in the U.S. today. It is the confusion resulting from ramifications of the “Sword of Jerusalem” operation in Palestine; it seems that they do not have a clear plan towards policies in the region, other than supporting “Israel”.
If the above is put into action, and the Russian companies start working within a guarantee agreement with the Lebanese state. This means a set of important issues on the international and regional levels. And it also means that the Americans would certainly prefer the Russians to any Chinese or Iranian economic direct cooperation in Lebanon.
Firstly, it is clear that in their meeting Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin reached a kind of consent to activate stability in the region. Two years ago, the Americans had a different plan. According to an established source, the Americans actually intended to strike internal stability in Lebanon and ignite another civil war round, before finalizing stability in Syria. This assertion tunes with David Hale’s, an American envoy to Lebanon, a declaration about the American anger over the $10 billion spent in Lebanon to change the political reality and overthrow Hezbollah from the government. Consequently, the American project is behind us now. Russia and China need to invest in the stability of Lebanon, in order to secure their investments in the process of rebuilding Syria.
Secondly, the Lebanese state guarantee, which the Russians require, is directly related to the lack of confidence in the Lebanese banking policies, which have lost their powers as a guarantor for investments after the role they played since November 17, 2019 till today. It proved the inefficiency of the financial policies of the Lebanese banks, which was based on the principle of usury since the nineties of the last century. In addition, a state guarantee will enable the Russian companies to surpass the American sanctions.
The state guarantee increases the value and importance of the Lebanese state as an entity in the region, and this can be understood from Macron’s statements after the explosion of Beirut port last August when he said that Lebanon’s role in the region as we know it must change.
Thirdly, if we consider the history of international unions in the world, including the European Union, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and others, they started as economic alliances before they end as political alliances. Therefore, at this historical stage and in order to work on the economic recovery of Lebanon, which needs more investments instead of falling under the burden of more debts. Lebanon needs to head East towards economic unity with Syria. In cooperating with two superpowers, Lebanon and Syria can form an economic bloc on the Mediterranean shores, a bloc that can get Lebanon out of the vortex of Western absurdity and expand its alliances and horizons to be a real economic and cultural forum where the East and the West can meet.
From our partner Tehran Times
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