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Opponent terrorists, lack of communication, a war in the making

Mehdi Dehnavi

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The Islamic Revolution and Iran’s efforts to participate actively in the region through the Revolutionary Guards

The Iranian revolution was always the source of major changes in the Middle East‏. One of the main goals of this revolution and its leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was to spread this revolution across other Middle Eastern countries, with the purpose of establishing other Islamic and non-dictatorial regimes in the region.

A goal, which formed the basis for inviting the Iraqi people and army to revolt against Saddam Hussein‏. Thus, not only did it spark fears in the Middle East, Arab countries and their oligarchic governments, but it also persuaded them to equip themselves against a potential insurgency of their people against their own governments and the newly established Islamic State in Iran.

One of their actions was aimed at gaining a closer approach to the United States, which, following the Iran hostage crisis‏, it was now fully in line with the Arab dictatorial regimes in confronting the Iranian regime. By enabling the US to have many military bases across their territories, they provided the conditions for a wider US military presence in the region‏. Meanwhile, Iran was also expanding its influence across some countries of the region, using the potential of the Shiite populations and Pro-revolutionary groups.

The emergence of serious regional tensions of the IRGC with the Americans

The starting point of the game, being Iran opposing the presence of the Americans in the Middle East, ultimately led to regional tensions between Iran and the United States, therefore, IRGC, in addition to the task of guarding the achievements of the Islamic Revolution and, of course, the destruction of the State of Israel, was now obliged to export that revolution to other countries in the region and to be at the forefront of confronting US forces.

For instance, the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, which killed more than 200 officers and soldiers from the US and French military forces, were believed to be an attack traceable to Hezbollah, according to the Americans, which is a militant and political group originated in Lebanon in 1982 and established by IRGC.

Other examples include the establishment, political, financial and logistical support of groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestine Liberation Organization, Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Popular Mobilization Forces, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Badr Organization, Liwa Fatemiyoun, Liwa Zainebiyoun and etc., which operate in Iraq and Syria and act against the US and its allies in the region, as well as the confrontation of the IRGC’s speedboats with the American warships in the Persian Gulf.  It is worth remembering the 2016 U.S. – Iran naval incident. These confrontations, forty years after the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the establishment of the IRGC, were not always hostile. There have been numerous instances of secret relations with the Americans, namely, the Iran-Contra affair, Indirect cooperation with the Americans in support of Bosnian Muslims in the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995, direct cooperation during the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Indirect cooperation in Iraq against ISIS, especially in the Battle of Mosul (2016-2017), etc., all appearing in the work of this revolutionary institution.

Designating IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)

Given all of the above, as well as the changing political situation in the region, especially during the post-ISIS era, which we are currently witnessing with the defeat of radical Sunni Islamist groups as ISIS; it is understandably challenging for America and its regional allies to tolerate and accept a radical Shiite force that wants to control all Middle Eastern developments, supporter of Shiite movements in the Sunni kingdoms of the region, creator of several political-military groups in the latter, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc., provider of political, financial and logistical support, and sensitive to the presence of the United States and its western allies in the region, and for this purpose, if necessary, even cooperates with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and assassins leaders of internal opposition groups outside Iran, as the Iranian-Kurdish opposition leaders of the PDKI, assassinated at the Mykonos Greek restaurant in Berlin (The Mykonos restaurant assassinations). Therefore, United States for the first time, by designating the name of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the list of foreign terrorist organizations, in addition to ignoring the sovereignty of the Iranian regime, it is trying to convey the message that the Iranian government and its military arm abroad (Quds Force), are actively involved in terrorist activities.

Increasing the risk of occurrence of war in the region

What is your first anticipation of a confrontation between the two enemy troops regarding each other as a terrorist? Truth, it is likely to be a direct or proxy war, particularly in those areas where we are able to witness a military presence of both countries and no communication channels have been considered for preventing a war. No doubt, the prediction of war is not so simple, as, in previous years, Iran has always preferred silence to retaliation and counterattack against Israeli bombings across its bases in Syria. Tehran’s leaders may go to the extent of using this strategic silence against any potential American attacks. The reason for this would be the very low social capital of the Iranian regime inside the country. However, no government can fight both the foreign enemy and its people. However, it can be argued that if Tehran wants to counteract it, it has several options in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. For example, if Tehran decides to have a military response to this designation, thousands of the United States military forces in the region, especially in Iraq and Syria, near the militias organized by the IRGC or its main personnel, could be targeted. At the same time, it is likely that the US will reciprocate. For the reason already mentioned, it is very difficult to control a cycle of action without any communication channels.

Mehdi Dehnavi is a UK based Middle Eastern affairs analyst with a focus on Iranian Political Development, Kurdish Issue, Islamic Fundamentalism, Terrorism & Counterterrorism, US Politics, NPT, Disarmament and Arms Control. His articles have been published by several journals and news agencies including Sputnik International, The Diplomatist, Diplomacy & Beyond Plus and The Russian International Affairs Council.

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Middle East

Turkey and the time bomb in Syria

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Turkish attack on northern Syria has provided conditions for ISIS militants held in camps in the region to escape and revitalize themselves.

Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday October 9, claiming to end the presence of terrorists near its borders in northern Syria. Some countries condemned this illegal action of violation of the Syrian sovereignty.

The military attack has exacerbated the Syrian people’s living condition who live in these areas. On the other hand, it has also allowed ISIS forces to escape and prepare themselves to resume their actions in Syria. Before Turkish incursion into northern Syria, There were many warnings that the incursion would prepare the ground for ISIS resurgence. But ignoring the warning, Turkey launched its military attacks.

Currently, about 11,000 ISIS prisoners are held in Syria. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for two attacks on Qamishli and Hasakah since the beginning of Turkish attacks.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that Turkey and the Kurds must stop ISIS prisoners from fleeing. He urged European countries to take back their citizens who have joined ISIS.

It should be noted that the U.S. is trying to prove that ISIS has become stronger since the U.S. troops pulled out before the Turkish invasion, and to show that Syria is not able to manage the situation. But this fact cannot be ignored that ISIS militants’ escape and revival were an important consequence of the Turkish attack.

Turkish troops has approached an important city in the northeast and clashed with Syrian forces. These events provided the chance for hundreds of ISIS members to escape from a camp in Ayn Issa near a U.S.-led coalition base.

 The camp is located 35 kilometers on the south of Syria-Turkey border, and about 12,000 ISIS members, including children and women, are settled there. The Kurdish forces are said to be in charge of controlling these prisoners.

Media reports about the ISIS resurgence in Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold, cannot be ignored, as dozens of terrorists have shot Kurdish police forces in this city. The terrorists aimed to occupy the headquarters of the Kurdish-Syrian security forces in the center of Raqqa.  One of the eyewitnesses said the attack was coordinated, organized and carried out by several suicide bombers, but failed.

In response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the Kurds have repeatedly warned that the attack will lead to release of ISIS elements in the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan denied the reports about the escape of ISIS prisoners and called them “lies”.

European officials fear that ISIS prisoners with European nationality, who have fled camps, will come back to their countries.

Kurdish forces are making any effort to confront Turkish troops in border areas, so their presence and patrol in Raqqa have been reduced.

Interestingly, the Turkish military bombarded one of temporary prisons and caused ISIS prisoners escaping. It seems that ISIS-affiliated covert groups have started their activities to seize the control of Raqqa. These groups are seeking to rebuild their so-called caliphate, as Kurdish and Syrian forces are fighting to counter the invading Turkish troops. Families affiliated with ISIS are held in Al-Hol camp, under the control of Kurdish forces. At the current situation, the camp has turned into a time bomb that could explode at any moment. Under normal circumstances, there have been several conflicts between ISIS families in the camp, but the current situation is far worse than before.

There are more than 3,000 ISIS families in the camp and their women are calling for establishment of the ISIS caliphate. Some of SDF forces have abandoned their positions, and decreased their watch on the camp.

The danger of the return of ISIS elements is so serious, since they are so pleased with the Turkish attack and consider it as an opportunity to regain their power. There are pictures of ISIS wives in a camp in northern Syria, under watch of Kurdish militias, showing how happy they are about the Turkish invasion.

In any case, the Turkish attack, in addition to all the military, political and human consequences, holds Ankara responsible for the escape of ISIS militants and preparing the ground for their resurgence.

Currently, the camps holding ISIS and their families are like time bombs that will explode if they all escape. Covert groups affiliated with the terrorist organization are seeking to revive the ISIS caliphate and take further actions if the Turkish attacks continue. These attacks have created new conflicts in Syria and undermined Kurdish and Syrian power to fight ISIS.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Middle East

The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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