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Reconstruction in Syria

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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From the beginning, for Turkey the war in Syria has been a “domestic” problem- albeit not entirely so.

 For the West, it has been an opportunity to hurt a Russian ally, but it has failed, thus also making Syria become one of the areas for the strategic expansion of Shiite Iran. Giving ground to the enemy is a fundamental strategic mistake.

 Incidentally it seems that the Global Strategy is lost memory for the West – more or less like political economy is completely forgotten, faced with market fluctuations and Stock Exchange algorithms.

 On the one hand, however, at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Erdogan aroused the pride of his nationalist voters while, on the other, he justified the increase in domestic prices and inflation with the vast Turkish operation in Syria.

 Two propaganda solutions for the same problem, i.e. the Turkish hegemony in Central Asia.

 Obviously, the primary goal of the Turkey led by the AKP – a party born of an old Muslim Brotherhood network – was to enter Syria to eliminate Assad’s Baathist power, with a view to replacing it with a clearly pro-Turkish regime.

 To this end, Turkey accepted the presence of “terrorists” and the Turkish military support for the Syrian jihad, and even the hidden support for the so-called “Caliphate”, with a view to stopping the expansion of Syrian-Iraqi Kurds and their connection – also at territorial level – to the Anatolian Kurds.

 That was the aim of the Operation “Olive Branch” that the Turkish Armed Forces carried out in early 2018.

 In that case, it was a matter of blocking the Kurdish administration of Afrin to prevent the Kurdish YPG from creating its own strategic and territorial continuity in Northern Syria, up to coming into contact with the Anatolian Kurds.

  The Turkish forces also moved many Turks to the area.

 Currently Turkey has three goals: the agreement with Russia for the future of Syria; the maintenance of Iran’s neutrality in Syria and in the rest of the region and even the internal stability of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

 Erdogan would also like to have good relations with the United States, which is acting in Syria with ideas that are still very vague.

 Unfortunately, this currently holds true for many strategic players in Syria.

 After eight years of war, the World Bank has calculated that only material damage to houses and infrastructure is worth no less than 197 billion US dollars.

 A quarter of all Syrian houses has been destroyed, but it is estimated that the cost for returning to the status quo ante ranges between 300-400 billion dollars. The most pessimistic ones estimate it at 450 billion US dollars.

 We believe that currently the real cost is equal to 400 billion dollars. Assad’ Syrian forces and Syria’s inhabitants keep on discovering unknown disasters.

 Considering the amount of money needed, however, the only two external supporters of Assad’s regime, namely Russia and Iran, are not in a position to contribute to the Syrian reconstruction.

 Furthermore, the USA and the EU are not interested in funding Syria’s return to pre-conflict economic conditions, unless there is a “political transition”, i.e. unless Bashar al- Assad leaves power.

 The problem is that he has won with the help of Russia and Iran, while the West – with its infinite coalition – has lost. Who can send away who?

 Indeed, the US and European economic sanctions against Syria have become stricter in early 2019, and the country has a population of 13 million inhabitants, who urgently need support, aid, medicines and food.

 Hence the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, but both the USA and Germany, in particular, are only interested in ousting the “tyrant” Assad – possibly for recreating the jihadist void that Syria has just overcome and that the West would not know how to manage, regardless its being for or against.

 Currently the US sanctions impose a block on all exports to Syria or on any financial transactions involving Syrian entities.

 80% of those who need serious hospital care cannot be treated. There is a lack of doctors, drugs and hospitals.

 The sanctions also concern drugs and medical technologies, as well as all electrical, electronic, industrial and oil components.

 Even the simplest electrical devices and their spare parts are affected by sanctions.

 Given the new EU political configuration, however, Syria may receive some abstract political support, but certainly not tangible aid.

Here we can think of the Assembly of Hungarian nobles, to whom Marie Therese of Austria asked to support her war against Frederick II of Prussia who had invaded Silesia.

 “We will give our lives for the Queen, but not the oats for horses”.

China could certainly be a solution.

 To date, China has not shown particular interest in the matter, but it anyway participated in the meeting between 70 countries and international institutions, held in April 2017 for the reconstruction of Syria.

 However, China has not provided direct support to the  “tyrant” Assad, who anyway rescued his people and the West itself from the “sword jihad” which, from Syria, would spread everywhere in the Middle East and probably also to Eastern Europe.

 Meanwhile, between 2018 and 2019 China has already granted 2 billion to be invested in the Syrian industry.

  For 2019 and beyond, there are additional 23 billion granted by China through the Cooperation Forum between China and the Arab States.

 Obviously China does not want to be involved in the Middle East chaos. It has no interest in it.

 Syria, however, plays a significant role in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

 Tripoli in the Lebanon has already been planned to be a BRI Special Economic Zone, considering that the Lebanese Tripoli port will be the basis for BRI transport to the whole East-Mediterranean region.

 In order to revitalize this port, China plans to build the Tripoli-Homs railway, while in October 2018 China already donated as many as 800 electricity generators to the city of Latakia.

 Another fundamental Syrian port.

 Back in 2017, China hosted the “First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects”, with the two aforementioned billion for Syrian companies and, above all, the tangible aid  for the reconstruction of over 150 Syrian companies.

 China is interested in the local Syrian companies that deal with steel and energy. Moreover, the China National Petroleum Corporation is already present in the shareholding structure of two of the largest Syrian oil companies, namely the Syrian Petroleum Company and Al Furat Petroleum.

 There is also a Chinese project for technological and training support to the Syrian Armed Forces.

  Furthermore, there is the Chinese automotive sector – a market that China shares with Iran.

 With a shrewd exchange between arable land and technology, Iran has already provided Syria with its mobile telephone network, as well as the management of some phosphate mines.

 All Iranian economic operations are made by leaders of the Revolutionary Guard and probably the Iranian military will call upon Chinese companies at the right time.

  One option for Assad could be the support – not yet politically mature, but certainly not impossible – of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

 The two powers of the Arabian peninsula are above all interested in limiting the power projection of Turkey and Qatar – the two main supporters of the opposition (and the jihad) against Bashar al-Assad – while they consider Iran’s control over Syria scarcely relevant from the economic viewpoint. At least for the time being.

 In late 2018, however, embassies were reopened in Syria, Bahrain and the Emirates.

 Furthermore, as can be easily imagined, manpower is lacking throughout Syria.

 Many people have migrated to the Lebanon, Jordan or Europe.

 Nevertheless, there is still a shortage of capital, which also leads to manpower shortage.

 From this viewpoint, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has developed a model of public-private partnership (PPP), which is almost the sole legal criterion for reconstruction.

 Decree No. 19,issued by President Assad in May 2015, lays down that the various administrative units, including governorates and municipalities, can establish their autonomous investment companies.

 In January 2016, Assad’s government enacted the Law on Public-Private Partnerships, which allows private companies to manage and develop all the public assets they hold or control.

 For example, the Governor of Damascus is the President of the company that is investing in the real estate sector of Basateem al-Razi, a district of the Syrian capital city.

Obviously the recourse to private individuals is not enough. The PPP systems are based mainly on bank loans. Nevertheless, certainly also the banks have not all the capital available for reconstruction at their disposal.

 According to the latest calculations, all Syrian banks have a reserve of 1.7 trillion Syrian pounds, equivalent to 3.5 billion US dollars. Hence the primary role will inevitably be played by donors, particularly the foreign ones.

 Obviously Russia, China and Iran, but there are also North Korea, Brazil and India – and we will soon see them at work.

 What about Iran, in particular? Iran has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of as many as 200,000 houses for civilian use in Damascus.

 Considering the US and EU policies, many transactions will be made outside the SWIFT system.

 The aforementioned system has two processors – one in the Netherlands and the other one in the USA – that work independently. Often the transactions will not take place in US dollars.

 Iran also wants to build a power plant in Latakia, while the Ayatollah regime still supports Bashar al-Assad with as many as 6 billion US dollars a year.

 If economic and military support are considered together, some analysts maintain that Iran’s transfers to Syria range between 15 to 20 billion US dollars a year.

  Furthermore, if there are credible links between Iran’s investments and Syria’s political attitudes, Iranian money will continue to flow.

 The Russian Federation has also carried out a strong lobbying activity for Syrian reconstruction, with a direct intervention by Chief of Staff Gerasimov vis-à-vis the United States.

 The response has been almost immediate: the political “transition”, i.e. Assad’s quick leaving the scene, is the prerequisite for funding.

 Assad, although having won against the jihad- often organized by Western allies – is now only guilty of having remained in power, instead of leaving Syria in the hands of Islamic terrorists, whom the West claimed it wanted to fight.

 It is strange that some worshipers of democracy stoop to this type of blackmail.

 After being contacted by Vladimir Putin in August 2018, Chancellor Merkel said she wanted to avoid a “humanitarian disaster” that has already been in place for some time. She also said, however, she didn’t want to participate in a reconstruction process in Syria led – like it or not – by the Syrian winner, namely Bashar al-Assad.

 The same was said by the French leaders. Good old days when, in a heavily-indebted Germany, Hjalmar Schacht, known as “Hitler’s banker” – a Jew and a Freemason, but anyway still free – created an investment bank in Munich to help the Middle East and Africa.

 Again in August 2018, Russia also put new pressure on Saudi Arabia, although the latter has certainly never been friendly to the Alawite and pro-Iranian regime in Syria.

 Certainly, even now Saudi Arabia does not want to bear the cost for Syria’s reconstruction.

 Obviously, the Saudi regime may see investments in Syria as an antidote to the Iranian presence, although nothing has been decided yet.

 Nevertheless, the forces within Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle are not entirely opposed to a serious and heavy financial operation in Syria to definitively drive Iran away.

 A balance of threats and signals could make – possibly with the military protection of Russia, which certainly does not want a Shiite hegemony over Syria – part of Saudi funds reach Syria – not exclusive, but also alien to the West, which sees nothing else that the naive escape of the “tyrant”.

 The Libyan disaster was not enough for Westerners, who now want the escape of the Alawite and Baathist Syrian leader, although he has won.

What will happen later? Either the jihadist chaos, of which they believe they can take advantage to the detriment of Iran, or the Chinese penetration, which will certainly not be friendly to Western business.

 As already seen, the other financial option for Syria is China.

  China, however, will really take no action until the US troops move permanently from the Syrian region to the Far East.

 In January 2018 Russia signed a contract enabling its companies in the sector to exclusively exploit oil and gas fields under the direct control of Assad’s forces.

 The Syrian oil and gas reserves are, above all, in the North-Eastern regions, in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces in the hands of the YPG Kurds.

 Other Russian projects are the following: electricity generation in the Homs district; a new railway line connecting Damascus International Airport to the city centre and a series of manufacturing industries.

 The Russian entrepreneurial zeal has not even failed to upset Iran: Russia has “snatched” from Iran a fifty-year contract for the use of phosphates.

 Hence, for the time being, the Russian Federation has won the struggle for Syrian reconstruction, but then there will inevitably be also China. Later, if the West remains deaf – and maybe even silly – there will be nothing left for Syria, which will recreate the conditions for a new regional war that the West will certainly lose again.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Middle East

Israeli contrasts: Likud’s favoured soccer teams veers left as Bibi turns further right

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The contrast could not be starker. As Israel plays a dangerous game of US politics by restricting or banning visits by controversial Democratic members of Congress to seemingly please President Donald J. Trump’s prejudiced electoral instincts, the owner of a notorious Jerusalem soccer club draws a line in the sand in confronting his racist fan base.

The contrast takes on added significance as prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu woes Israel’s far-right in advance of elections on September 17 given that storied club Beitar Jerusalem has long been seen as a stronghold for his Likud party.

Mr. Netanyahu’s barring of Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar was as much a response to Mr. Trump’s tweeted suggestion that they should not be allowed to visit Israel as it was catering to his right-wing base that includes Beitar’s fans.

Beitar is the only Israeli squad to have never hired a Palestinian player. Its fans, famous for their racist slogans and bullying tactics, have made life impossible for the few Muslim players that the club contracted in its history.

Messrs. Netanyahu and Moshe Hogeg, the Beitar owner and tech entrepreneur who founded social mobile photo and video sharing website Mobli and crypto transactions platform Sirin Labs, are both treading on slippery ground.

Mr. Netanyahu, who initially raised out of respect for the US Congress no objection to the planned visit by Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar, has ensured that Israel for the first time in decades can no longer be sure of bi-partisan support in the Congress and beyond and is likely to become a partisan issue in the run-up to next year’s US presidential election.

His pandering to Mr. Trump sparked rare criticism from the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s most powerful and influential lobby in the United States even though AIPAC agrees that Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Ilham support the Boycott, Diversification and Sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel.

“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel first hand,” AIPAC tweeted.

A breakdown of bi-partisan support for Israel may not be what Mr. Netanyahu wants, but it may be, in a twist of irony, what Israel needs. It would spark a debate in the United States with a potential fallout in Israel about whether Mr. Netanyahu’s annexationist policy and hard-line approach towards Palestinian aspirations serves Israel’s longer-term best interests.

Israel’s toughening stand was evident on Tuesday when police broke up an annual soccer tournament among Palestinian families in East Jerusalem on assertions that it was sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, which is barred from organizing events in the city. The tournament’s organizer denied any association with the Authority.

In a dismissive statement, Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan’s office scoffed: “We’re talking about scofflaws who lie and blame the agency that enforces the law when they know full well that the Palestinian Authority is involved in the event that Minister Erdan ordered halted.”

The incident was emblematic of an environment that prompted columnist and scholar Peter Beinart, writing in The Forward, a more than 100-year old, left-wing Jewish weekly, to argue that “the United States has a national interest in ensuring that Israel does not make permanent its brutal occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip.

By taking on La Familia, a militant Beitar Jerusalem fan group that has driven the club’s discriminatory policy, Mr. Hogeg is going not only against Mr. Netanyahu’s policies that emphasize Israeli Jewish nationalism at the expense of the rights of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as well as those subject to occupation.

He is also challenging a global trend spearheaded by civilizational leaders like Indian prime minister Narendra Modi who, two weeks after depriving Kashmiri Muslims of their autonomy, is planning to build detention camps for millions of predominantly Muslim Indians suspected of being foreign migrants, Victor Orban who envisions a Muslim-free Hungary, and Xi Jinping who has launched in China’s troubled, north-western province of Xinjiang the most frontal assault on Islam in recent history

The degree of polarization and alienation that civilizational policies like those of Messrs Netanyahu, Modi, Xi and Orban is highlighted by the fact that Mr. Hogeg’s battle with his fans is over a name.

Ali Mohammed is Beitar Jerusalem’s latest acquisition. The only Muslim thing about him is his name. Mr. Mohammed is a Nigerian Christian.

That wasn’t good enough for the fans who demand that he change his name. During Mr. Mohammed’s first training session fans chanted “Mohamed is dead” and “Ali is dead.”

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Hogeg seems unwilling to back down. He has threatened to sue the fans for tarnishing Beitar’s already battered reputation and demand up to US$500,000 in damages. Lawyers for Mr. Hogeg have written to fans demanding an apology.

“They are very good fans; they are very loyal. They love the club and what it represents … but they’re racist and that’s a big problem,” Mr. Hogeg said.

Convinced that the militants are a minority that imposes its will on the majority of Beitar fans, Mr. Hogeg takes the high road at a time that the likes of him threaten to become an endangered species.

“I was surprised to find that Mohamed is not Muslim, but I don’t care. Why should it matter? He’s a very good player. As long as the player that comes respects the city, respects what he represents, respects Israel, can help the team and wants to play then the door will be open. If those radical fans will fight against it, they will lose. They will simply lose,” Mr. Hogeg said.

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Middle East

“Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”

Eric Zuesse

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On August 17th, an anonymous German intelligence analyst who has perhaps the world’s best track-record of publicly identifying and announcing historical turning-points, and who is therefore also a great investigative journalist regarding international relations (especially military matters, which are his specialty) headlined at his “Moon of Alabama” blog, “Long Range Attack On Saudi Oil Field Ends War On Yemen”, and he opened:

Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen. It has no defenses against new weapons the Houthis in Yemen acquired. These weapons threaten the Saudis economic lifelines. This today was the decisive attack:

Drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil and gas field deep inside Saudi Arabia’s sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a “limited fire” in the second such recent attack on its crucial energy industry.  …

The Saudi acknowledgement of the attack came hours after Yahia Sarie, a military spokesman for the Houthis, issued a video statement claiming the rebels launched 10 bomb-laden drones targeting the field in their “biggest-ever” operation. He threatened more attacks would be coming. 

New drones and missiles displayed in July 2019 by Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces

Today’s attack is a check-mate move against the Saudis. Shaybah is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Houthi-controlled territory. There are many more important economic targets within that range.  …

The attack conclusively demonstrates that the most important assets of the Saudis are now under threat. This economic threat comes on top of a seven percent budget deficit the IMF predicts for Saudi Arabia. Further Saudi bombing against the Houthi will now have very significant additional cost that might even endanger the viability of the Saudi state. The Houthi have clown prince Mohammad bin Salman by the balls and can squeeze those at will.

He went on to say that the drones aren’t from Iran but are copies from Iran’s, “assembled in Yemen with the help of Hizbullah experts from Lebanon.”

He has been predicting for a long time that this war couldn’t be won by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MbS). In the present report, he says:

The war on Yemen that MbS started in March 2015 long proved to be unwinnable. Now it is definitely lost. Neither the U.S. nor the Europeans will come to the Saudis help. There are no technological means to reasonably protect against such attacks. Poor Yemen defeated rich Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi side will have to agree to political peace negotiations. The Yemeni demand for reparation payments will be eye watering. But the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand.

The UAE was smart to pull out of Yemen during the last months.

If he is correct (and I have never yet found a prediction from him turn out to have been wrong), then this will be an enormous blow to the foreign markets for U.S.-made weapons, since the Sauds are the world’s largest foreign purchasers of those, and have spent profusely on them — and also on U.S. personnel to train their soldiers how to use them. So (and this is my prediction, not his), August 19th might be a good time to sell short U.S. armament-makers such as Lockheed Martin.

However: his prediction that “the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand” seems to me to be the first one from him that could turn out to have been wrong. If the Sauds have perpetrated, say, $200 billion of physical damage to Yemen, but refuse to pay more than $100 billion in reparations, and the Housis then hit and take out a major Saudi oil well, isn’t it possible that the Sauds would stand firm? But if they do, then mightn’t it be wrong to say, at the present time, that: “Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”? He has gone out on limbs before, and I can’t yet think of any that broke under him. Maybe this one will be the first? I wouldn’t bet on that. But this one seems to me to be a particularly long limb. We’ll see!

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Middle East

The message behind the release of Iranian oil tanker

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Gibraltar court ordered the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 to be released. The tanker was seized by the British Royal Marines about a month ago. 

This verdict was the ending of an elaborate game designed by John Bolton National Security Advisor of the United States and Mike Pompeo, carried out by the Britain government. 

With seizing the tanker, Bolton was trying to put psychological and political pressures on Iran and force other countries to form a consensus against Iran, but he couldn’t fulfill any of these goals. 

Iran’s firm, logical and wise answer to the seizure of Grace 1 (like making solid legal arguments) and the seriousness of our country’s armed forces in giving a proper response to Britain’s contemptuous act, made the White House lose the lead on reaching its ends. 

Washington imagined that the seizure of Grace 1 will become Trump’s winning card against Iran, but the release of the tanker (despite disagreement of the U.S.) became another failure for the White House in dealing with Iran.  

Obviously, London was also a total loser in this game. It is worth noting that U.S. was so persistent about keeping the oil tanker in custody that John Bolton traveled to London and insisted on British officials to continue the seizure of the ship. Their failure, however, clearly shows that the White House and its traditional ally, Britain, have lost a big part of their power in their relations with Iran. 

Clearly, the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker by Britain proceeded by the seizure of a British tanker by Iran and the following interactions between the two countries is not the whole story and there is more to it that will be revealed in coming days. 

What we know for sure is that London has to pay for its recent anti-Iran plot in order to satisfy Washington; the smallest of these consequences was that Britain lost some of its legal credibility in international arena as it illegally captured an Iranian oil tanker. 

The order of the Gibraltarian court revealed that London had no legal right to seize the Iranian oil tanker and nobody can defend this unlawful action. Surely, Iran will take all necessary legal actions to further pursue the matter.  

In this situation, the Islamic Republic of Iran is firm on its position that it doesn’t have to follow the sanctions imposed by the European Union on other countries (including Syria). 

No entity can undermine this argument as it is based on legal terms; therefore, Iran will keep supporting Syrian nation and government to fight terrorism. This is the strategic policy of the Islamic Republic and will not be changed under the pressure or influence of any other third country. 

Finally, it should be noted that the release of Grace 1 oil tanker was not only a legal and political failure for Washington and London and their allies but it was also a strategic failure. Undoubtedly, the vast consequences of this failure will be revealed in near future. 

From our partner Tehran Times

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