Since the establishment of the formal diplomatic relationship between Egypt and Russia (previous Soviet Union/USSR) in 1943 the relation between them have gone through multiple stages from the rapprochement to the extent of alliance until the divergence to the extent of severing diplomatic relations, during the 1950s and 1960s -the reign of Nasser- their relationship improved dramatically to the extent of alliance, for example many Soviet experts were sent to help in improving the infrastructure of some cities, establishing factories, and construction of the High Dam as well as the electricity networks…etc. Moreover, Moscow was the first supplier of weapons and military technology to Egypt at that time, and most importantly great cooperation and military agreements have been concluded in 1968 after Nasser’s visit to Moscow, especially with regard to the Air-force and missiles.
After President Nasser’s death in 1970 and President Sadat take over the rule in Egypt a new stage between the two countries has been started, although the signing of the friendship agreement between Egypt and the Soviet Union in 1972, but soon the relations among the two states reached the worst situation ever where Sadat decided to expel the Soviet experts in July 1972, cancel the friendship agreement and even recall the Egyptian ambassador to Moscow, in turn, the USSR also recalled the Soviet ambassador to Cairo.
The relations between the two countries were soon restored after President Mubarak took over the rule of Egypt, while he was keen to maintain close relationship with the US, he also concentrated on keeping a good relations with the Soviet Union; therefore, he invited the Soviet experts to take part in the maintenance process of the High Dam and other projects, signed scientific and cultural cooperation agreement with the USSR in 1983; re-exchange the ambassadors; strengthen the relations with the Russian Federation, the legitimate heir, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; and even the USSR became the second largest trading partner after the US.
Since the outbreak of the January 25th revolution until the June 30th revolution, relations between Egypt and Russia were cautious, given Russia’s opposition to the Arab Spring in general and the Egyptian revolution in particular considered it as an American-model of democratic transformation, as well as fear of the spread of radical political regimes that could affect Russia’s relations with neighboring countries and other factors.
Once the June 30th revolution broke out and overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood regime, the Russian orientation was very clear to support the revolution and consider what happen in Egypt as a correction of the path of the Arab Spring, and stressed that the stability in the Middle East, Arab region and even the Islamic and world level depends heavily on the developments in Egypt; in addition, the Russian diplomacy expressed Moscow’s keenness on maintaining stability and security in Egypt and the region. In other words, Russia has strongly supported Egypt’s return to the regional and international arena, its participation in all regional initiatives, and resisted any attempt to marginalize the Egyptian role.
It seems that the Russians were looking forward to this moment, when the political change is allowing them to strengthen the relations with Egypt; where both of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Russian ministers visited Egypt in November 2013 as known as “2+2” political talks, followed by the Egyptian Foreign Affairs and Defense ministers visit Russia in February 2014, the President Sisi was the Egyptian defense minister at the time.
Since the first days of the Sisi presidency, it has been clear that Egyptian-Russian relations are developing positively; first of all, the Russian position on the Egyptian revolution gave the chance to the new regime to diversify its foreign policy options by strengthening the relations with Russia, In addition, President Sisi wanted to restore and modernize Egypt’s foreign position at the regional and global levels, especially after the difficult historical experiences of recent decades.
In this context, the relations among the two countries could be summarized in political, social, economic and military relations as below:
Political and Social Relations
The Egyptian interim president “Adli Mansour” received a telephone call in November 2013 the Russian President “Vladimir Putin”, through which Putin expressed his and his country’s full support for Egypt and its transitional administration.
A Russian people’s delegation visited Egypt in May 2014 with a group of participants in the construction of the High Dam on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the transformation of the Nile River.
In September 2014 the Egyptian Prime Minister announced the establishment of the “Russian Unit” under the Cabinet to follow up the bilateral relations in various fields, which held its first meeting in the next month with the participation of 9 ministers and other officials.
The Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa “Mikhail Bogdanov” also visited Egypt in November 2014, discussed with the Egyptian Foreign Minister the developments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Egypt’s efforts in this issue. Afterward, in December the Russian Deputy Prime Minister “Arkady Dvorkovich” visited Egypt to meet President Sisi and other officials for further talks.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister visited Russia in February 2015 and met with his Russian counterpart discussing the two countries relations and common interests, and the Libya’s crisis in particular; then during March 2015 many mutual statements, meetings, and visits have been held to further boost the two countries relations such as the President Sisi meeting with the Secretary of the Russian National Security Council “Nikolai Patrushev” in Egypt; and the meeting of the Egyptian Defense Minister “Sedqi Sobhi” with his Russian counterpart “Sergey Shoigu” at the headquarters of the Russian Defense Ministry. Before the end of May 2015 the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Russian Counterpart stressed the importance of intensifying the anti-terrorism efforts and enhance the joint cooperation in various fields; followed by the meeting of the Russian Minister of Industry and Trade “Denis Manturov” with President Sisi in Cairo during which they discussed the establishment of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Customs Union (EAEU). In September 2015 the Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister with a delegation visited Russia and concluded further talks related to the disarmament, non-proliferation, Egypt’s candidacy for membership of the Security Council for the period 2016-2017, and issues on the agenda of UN General Assembly.
The head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom has a meeting with President Sisi in November 2015 during which they inking three agreements between the two countries. Afterward, the Russian Defense Minister also met President Sisi discussing the cooperation between the two countries regarding international and common concerns; followed by some meetings between the Russian delegation from one side and the Egyptian Minister of Defense, Minister of State for Military Production, and other officials from the other side concluding some protocols and agreements.
Throughout 2016 many mutual visits and meetings dealt with issues of coordination on various issues of mutual cooperation and enhancing cooperation between the two sides starting from January when the Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade visited Egypt and met Minister of Defense, followed by the meeting between President Sisi and the Speaker of the Russian State; then the political talks between the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Russian counterpart; and also the visit of the Egyptian delegation headed by the Minister of Civil Aviation to Russia regarding the Russian Aircraft Accident; and later the Egyptian Defense Minister visited Russia in light of the Egyptian-Russian strategic cooperation; finally, during November an Egyptian delegation from the Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Authority visited Russia to discuss the export of Egyptian products, followed by the visit of the Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation to Russia.
In the same context, the year 2017 witnessed a remarkable political cooperation and mutual visits between the two counties, where in March President Sisi received the Russian Deputy Prime Minister for political talks; after three days he received also Chairperson of the Russian Federation Council and her accompanying delegation to discuss the mutual cooperation in all levels; on May the Pope Twadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of St. Mark, visited Russia received by Russian President; then the Russian Defense Minister and Foreign Minister visited Egypt again and held talks with President Sisi; in August another round of discussions between the Foreign Ministers of the two counties in Moscow; in October the Speaker of the Egyptian House of Representatives visited Russia to participate in the 137th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; in November a Russian security delegation visited Egypt and had a meeting with the Minister of Civil Aviation
The cooperation between the two countries continued to grow up during 2018, where in May the 2+2 talks between the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Defense in the two countries held a new round in Russia; followed by another visit for the Minister of Defense to Russia in August to discuss the military cooperation between the two countries with his counterpart; and in September the Foreign Ministers held another meeting on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York discussing various issues including an assessment of the progress made in the bilateral relations between the two countries.
The Russian president, Putin, with a high-level delegation visited Egypt in February 2015 discussed the economic and political relations, the main issues in the Middle East, and concluded some deals and agreements, the most important of which is the establishing of the first Egyptian nuclear plant. In addition, he visited Egypt for the second time in December 2017, during the visit he discussed with President Sisi various issues especially the regional challenges and the political cooperation, witnessed the signing of the agreement to establish the nuclear plant, and stressed the importance of preserving the current status of Jerusalem.
President Sisi also have been visited Russia many times, the first time, as mentioned above, when he was the defense minister in 2014; then during his presidency he visited Russia again in August 2014, only two months after his election and first visit outside of the Arab world, discussing the various issued in the Middle East and agreed for greater global cooperation in the anti-terrorism activities, in addition to the agreement for concluding economic, military, and social deals or agreements; President Sisi also visited Russia in May 2015 to take part in the Russian celebrations of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II; At an invitation of the Russian side, the President Sisi with an official delegation visited Russia in August 2015 held talks with his Russian counterpart about the anti-terrorism efforts, joint cooperation, regional and common concern issues, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Furthermore, as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of starting the relations between the two countries President Sisivisited Russia again in October 2018, during which he concluded the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation agreement together with the Russian President, gave a speech before the upper house of the Russian parliament, as the first foreign leader to do so, in addition to convene some other meetings between the officials of the two countries and many agreements and decisions have been reached during this visit such as the expanding of the military exercises.
The cooperation between the two countries started to reflect in their diplomatic common views in some issues for example on Syria both countries have been calling for preserving the country’s territorial integrity and its national army. In October 2017, the two countries brokered a ceasefire deal in southern Damascus. In Libya, the two countries support the Libyan National Army, which is led by Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya. In addition, the airspace deal with Egypt could bring Russia closer to Libya and raise the likelihood of greater Russian military involvement there.
Since the June 30th revolution broke out the economic cooperation between the two countries have greatly flourished between the two countries for instance:
In February 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed to establish a Russian Industrial Zone (RIZ) in Egypt as the first country in the world where Russia will establish such project outside the Russian mainland, which represents a gateway for Russia to the African continent; in addition to signing some other cooperation agreements and memorandums of understanding to enhance investment cooperation between the two countries and facilitating efforts to establish a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union. Furthermore, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the representatives of the two countries through which Russia will supply 10 civilian aircraft with Financial Leasing System as a first stage, then supply of 20 civilian aircraft as a second stage with the possibility of supplying 20 other aircraft as a third stage after obtaining the necessary approvals to facilitate the direct flights between Egypt and Russia.
The volume of trade between Egypt and Russia rose during the year 2017 to 6.7 billion dollars, where the volume of Russian imports to Egypt reached 6.2 billion dollars (with an increase of 64%) and the volume of Egyptian exports to Russia reached 504.5 million dollars (with an increase of 35%).
It is worth to be mention here that the value of Russian exports to Egypt reached 2.418 billion dollars in the first five months of 2018 (an increase of about 32.3% over the same period in 2017), while the value of Egyptian exports to Russia reached 356 million dollars (an increase of 26.5%); more than 416 Russian companies operate in Egypt with capital of over $ 60 million, trade exchange between Egypt and Russia in the first five months of 2018 reached 2.775 billion dollars (with an increase of about 31.5% from 2017), in August 2018 a contract to buy 180 thousand tons of Russian wheat has been concluded, in September 2018 another contract to produce and supply 1300 new railway vehicles to Egypt has been concluded as the largest deal in the history of the Egyptian railway.
In December 2017 the two presidents signed a document under which they gave the start signal to El-Dabaa nuclear project, where they have signed in 2015 a cooperation agreement to establish this project as the first nuclear plant in Egypt based on a Russian loan, with four reactors and a capacity of five gigawatts, is scheduled for completion by 2029, according to Russia’s state-owned nuclear operator Rosatom, financed by a $25 billion loan from Moscow.
Furthermore, the Russian oil giant Rosneft bought a 30% stake in Egypt’s Zohr gas field for $1.125 billion last year, becoming a key player in developing one of the largest gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, Rosneft and Fleet Energy signed a framework agreement to explore a joint venture for providing gas supplies to Egypt.
After the June 30th revolution, the pace of military visits between Egypt and Russia increased, with several visits by Russian military officials to Cairo to prepare for the start of expanded military talks between Egypt and Russia; for instance the frequent mutual visits of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense between the two countries since 2013 during which the two countries agreed to modernize the Egyptian military arsenal and provide it with Russian weapons, allowing the Egyptian political leadership to achieve its goal to diversify the sources of armament. After President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi takes over the power in Egypt he was keen to raise the combat and training abilities and to provide the armed forces with new types of weapons especially with Russia.
When president Sisi made his first visit to Russia he checked out some military objects, items, and systems which brought during his visit. Since then the military cooperation between Egypt and Russia began to grow significantly, especially in the fields of armament and training; while the armament cooperation was focusing on the development of the air force and the air defense system in particular as below:
Development of air forces
Based on the Egyptian strategy to diversify the sources of arms, the cooperation with Russia concentrated on providing the Egyptian Air Force with new and sophisticated aircraft, therefore, the deals with Russia included various types of armaments, ammunition and the technical needs of aircraft; in addition to buy many Russian fighter aircrafts and advanced MiG-29 and MiG-35, in addition to the Sukhoi Su-35.
A large number of KAMOV 52 helicopters were also contracted combined with all types of missiles, ammunition and technical assistance for aircraft.
Development of air defense
The cooperation with Russia regarding modernizing the air defense system has been concentrated on updating the short-range air defense system to the Tor-M2 system, and the medium-range air defense system to the Buk-M2 system.
Moreover, the addition of the long-range air defense system for the first time within the Egyptian Air Defense Forces, which announced on 26th of August 2015 after receiving the “300-S” Russian system also known as ” Antey 2500″; this system is the strongest in the response to all types of aircraft and missiles.
The Russian gift and the joint exercises
In August 2016 Egypt received a Russian missile vessel so-called Molniya b-32 as a present, which participated in the opening ceremony of the new Suez Canal. It considered as one of the most modern Russian naval vessels because of its high combat capabilities, where it contain a rapid and long-range sea-to-sea missile platform, in addition to advanced technology in military communications and modern defense systems.
The two countries witnessed great cooperation with regard to the joint training; where they have signed protocols of cooperation in joint trainings including sending missions of armed forces and technicians to train on the latest technology in manufacturing, in addition to conducting the joint exercises and maneuvers to improve the combat capabilities of the armed forces.
Accordingly, Egypt hosted the first joint military exercise with the Russian paratroopers so-called “Protectors of Friendship 1” in October of the same year; then the Egyptian and Russian paratroopers carried out the second joint military exercise so-called “Protectors of Friendship 2” held in Russia in September 2017; followed by the third joint exercise so-called “Protectors of Friendship 3” in October 2018, which is hosted by Egypt. The training included various activities and events, including the exchange of training experiences for Special Units, implementation of various forms of atypical shooting, training on the Special Forces fighting and combating terrorism, as well as the dropping of personnel, equipment, and vehicles from both sides.
It’s worth to be mention here that after the last visit of President Sisi to Russia in October 2018 the two sides agreed to invite military observers from 13 countries to observe these anti-terror drills.
Weapon deals, Military exhibitions and other activities
In August 2018 the Egyptian Defense minister participated in the opening ceremony of the Russian International Military-Technical Forum so-called “ARMY-2018”.
On the other side, the Russian participation was the most prominent during the Egypt Defense Expo (EDEX) 2018, where the Russian delegation demonstrated the products of 11 large domestic producers of military hardware and equipment for all military branches. Russia showcased a full-size copy of the Ka-52 reconnaissance and attack helicopter. The display stand of Russia’s state arms seller Rosoboron export featured the mockups of Yak-130 combat trainers, Su-35 fighter jets, MiG-29M/M2 multirole frontline fighters, Mi-17, Mi-28NE, Mi-35, Mi-26, and Ansat helicopters. Russia also demonstrated S-400 Triumf long-range air defense missile systems, Tor-M2E and Buk-M2E surface-to-air missile complexes, the Pantsyr-S1 air defense missile/gun system, and also Igla-S and Verba man-portable missile complexes. In addition to the T-90MS main battle tank, the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle, the Terminator tank support combat vehicle, the BTR-82A armored personnel carrier, Khrizantema-S and Kornet-E anti-tank systems, in addition to small arms and close-in weapons.
In November 2015, the Russian warship “Admiral Vladimirsky” visited the Adabiya port in Suez to express the strengthening of strategic military understanding and cooperation between the Egyptian and Russian Navy.
In November 2017, the two countries agreed to allow the military aircraft of the two countries to exchange airspace and air bases with each other.
Many weapon deals have been concluded between the two countries for instance the two countries signed a $3.5 billion arms deal in 2014;50 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets were purchased from Russia in 2014 and delivery started late 2017; Egypt also purchased 46 of a naval version of the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator helicopter, intended for the two French Mistral helicopter carriers that Cairo bought from Paris in September 2015; in addition to the initiate to buy the T-90 tanks.
Moreover, Egypt launched an observation satellite, called EgyptSat-A, by Russian rocket, called Soyuz-2.1b, on 21st of Feb 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan; the satellite will be used to gather imagery of the Egyptian territory and surrounding regions for digital mapping, assessments of mineral, water and other resources, environmental monitoring, vegetation monitoring, studies of the headwaters of the Nile, and disaster management.
The relations between the two countries have witnessed various stages of prosperity, the breaking of diplomatic relations, gradual growth, a period of caution and prosperity once again after the June 30th revolution; which some interpreted as historic recurrence; while others interpreted the recent boom as a political choice to approaching the East at the expense of the West due to the surrounding political and international events or interactions.
In fact, the rapprochement and prosperity of the relations between Egypt and Russia since the June 30th revolution depends mainly on the nature of the interests between them. Both countries share many common interests; both are strategic and influential countries in their regions, globally, and at various international organizations as well.
Consequently, the fact that history repeats itself is a natural phenomenon in international relations, but this repetition itself is a result of interaction, interests and political choices between states. That is the case between Egypt and Russia where the events between the past and the present have resembled, but this resembling or repetition is a result of the changeable Social interaction and mutual interests of both countries that constitute their decisions and political choices.
The national interests are the main reason for Russia to support the political transition in Egypt and June 30th revolution, while it opposes the Arab Spring in general and even oppose the January 25th revolution in Egypt itself only two years earlier, and for Egypt to further strengthen its relations with Russia; where the Russian leaders admitted in many occasions the significant importance of Egypt in the Arab, African, Middle East, and Muslim circles, the Russian perception about the radical political regimes in the region, their perspective about the Arab Spring and fears of the revolution infection and their relation with neighboring countries, and the Russian position in some issues such as the Syrian, Libyan, and Crimea crises; all of these factors shows the great interests for Russia to strengthen its relation with Egypt.
On the other hand, Egypt also was in urgent need for Russian support after the revolution for gaining the international legitimacy of its ruling regime especially after the American position on the revolution, to diversify and balance its foreign options, to face the domestic pressure and popular rejection of the dependence on the US, and for the Economic, Social, Political, and military cooperation and assistance; all of these interests, and more, make it rational for both sides to seek more cooperation.
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
Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City Reveals Five of the City’s Hidden Gems
The Concierge team at Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City, members of the Les Clefs d’Or international association, invites you to...
Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?
Half a century ago, the then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing in the hope of seeking China’s alliance...
The Indo-US bonhomie: A challenge to China in the IOR
The oceans have long been recognized as one of the world’s valuable natural resources, and our well-being is tied to...
The day France fustigated Big Tech: How Google ended up in the crosshair and what will follow
At the beginning of April 2019, the European Parliament approved the EU’s unified regulation on copyright and related rights. Since...
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...
The Monetary Policy of Pakistan: SBP Maintains the Policy Rate
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced its bi-monthly monetary policy yesterday, 27th July 2021. Pakistan’s Central bank retained the...
China and Russia’s infiltration of the American Jewish and Israeli lobbies
– First: The reasons for the registration of (Communist Lobbyists in the Middle East in the United States of America)...
Environment2 days ago
No pathway to reach the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C goal without the G20
South Asia3 days ago
Examining the impacts of Globalization: A Case study of Afghanistan
Green Planet3 days ago
Floods in Europe, Turkey, China and India
Defense3 days ago
The Nuclear future of East Asia
Economy2 days ago
Reforms Key to Romania’s Resilient Recovery
Health & Wellness3 days ago
COVAX and World Bank to Accelerate Vaccine Access for Developing Countries
Americas2 days ago
Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer
Europe2 days ago
EU: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China