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President Trump’s Middle East Plan

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Considering what reported in the media, President Trump’s Middle East Plan – not yet fully outlined – is based, according to his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, on four basic principles: freedom of religion, freedom in life and professional opportunities, freedom of movement and freedom of political opinions.

 There are also Opportunities, i.e. the possibility for young people not to be carried away by the conflicts that have ruined their fathers’ lives, as well as Safety and Security – in life and work – for all Middle East citizens.

 Finally, in the Middle East Plan there is Respect among people and Respect for Religions, Parties and ethnic groups. Protestant ethic and business – the classic pair of US foreign policy. Almost a reminder of Max Weber’s book “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”.

 In economic and operational terms, Trump’s Plan focuses on infrastructure, especially in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

 This is the central idea in Trump’s Plan, i.e. diluting, dissolving and finally eliminating the conflict between Israel and its neighbouring Arab States through a vast mass of investment.

 This can create the best climate for a stable peace between the Jewish State and the Islamic (but also secular) universe surrounding it.

 There is no precise data on the investment connected to President Trump’s new Middle East Plan, but the most authoritative and reliable sources mention a total amount of 25 billion US dollars for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to be provided over ten years, in addition to an investment of 40 billion US dollars in Egypt, Jordan and, probably, the Lebanon. Said investment shall be made conditional upon  a series of intermediate results to be assessed. Also in these cases, the investment will be made over a decade.

 Currently this is the most certain data available, but there is also news about an investment for the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the rest of the Arab countries of at least additional 30-40 billion dollars, especially in infrastructure.

 From whom does the money come? Mostly from the “rich” Arab countries, but also the USA will contribute to said investment, although we do not yet know to what extent.

 Between February and March, Jared Kushner visited the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain. He met Turkish President Erdogan and then paid a visit to Saudi Arabia -where Kushner has an excellent personal relationship with Mohammad bin Salman – and finally to Qatar.

 Kushner, the soul of President Trump’s Middle East policy, clarified that, in addition to investment, the Plan regards  the borders between the different regions.

  Indeed, Kushner, rather than thinking of new borders, imagines a Middle East “without borders”.

 The usual post-modern myth of no borders, according to which all the borders that separate States are artificial, dangerous, unnatural and always lead to wars.

 Indeed, the opposite is true: wars break out because there are not enough borders.

 According to Kushner, the idea of no borders is associated with an increase in trade and movement of people and, hopefully, with an increase in “opportunities”. It is not true that the countries trading among themselves do not wage wars: just think about the USA and the Third Reich in the Second World War or about the endless British actions in Central Asia and India. Quite the reverse. The more countries trade one another, the more there are reasons to distort or establish strategic hegemony.

 The opportunities mentioned by Kushner are the same  which currently apply to Central African migrants, leaving their countries (which are not “at war”, as European leaders  believe) to reach the EU, or to the refugees of the war in Syria, moving to Turkey, the Balkans and Central Europe. Opportunities without realism. Not even a Hollywood film can turn the tragedy of migration into a market of very easy “opportunities”.

 Obviously the elimination of borders also means the evaporation of the “Palestinian State”.

 Indeed, it will be difficult for the Arab countries to fund  economic reconstruction with Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia does not even want to completely lose the Palestinian strategic asset, just now that Iran is penetrating the political and military system of the Gaza Strip and the PNA’s territories.

 However, even Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is de facto ruling Saudi Arabia, still wants “onesingle  and independent Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital city”.

 It is hard to believe that Saudi Arabia and Israel think like Kushner, the young man in favour of no borders.

 This is exactly the core of the issue.

 If the United States must directly take care of the support for Palestinians, in a context of very delicate intra-Arab and Arab-Israeli equilibria, problems will certainly arise and not only at legal level.

 For example, since March 2018 the Taylor Force Act has laid down that the United States will no longer be in a position to financially support the Palestinian National Authority, since it helps the jihadist terrorists currently detained in Israeli prisons.

 The Act also sets strong limits on financial support for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

 A significant legal impediment for the Middle East “no borders” actions of the current US Presidency.

 Furthermore, the Gulf States are not very happy to fund, almost completely, President Trump’s Middle East Plan and would like a much stronger US financial commitment than the one currently envisaged.

 The Gulf countries and the other Arab countries included in the Trump Plan want to see how much money the USA will make available to its Plan, and only later, where necessary, they will pay their own share.

  President Trump has also organised an “economic workshop” in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25-26, in  which also businessmen and entrepreneurs from Europe will be invited, but above all from Asia and the Middle East.

 The format of the Conference organized in Bahrain has already been decided: Trump’s Administration will invite only Finance Ministers and not the European, Asian and Middle East Foreign Ministers.

 There will also be many and very important leaders of large global companies, from around the world, to discuss mainly investment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

 President Trump’s Plan, however, was discussed confidentially with 25 of the most important managers of international companies at the Milken Conference held in Los Angeles on April 29-30 last.

 On that occasion, President Trump’s potential counterparts for his Middle East Plan were certainly Ibrahim Ajami,  responsible for the venture capital of Mubadala Abu Dhabi’s largest investment vehicle; Joussef Al Otaiba, the Emirates’ Ambassador to the USA; Khalid al-Rumaihi, the CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Fund; Ibrahim Salaad Almojel, General Manager of the Saudi Arabia Industrial Development Fund; Deloitte Director Margaret Anderson; Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araùjo and many other managers of investment funds and companies.

 Israel has been invited to the workshop in Bahrain, probably with Finance Minister Moshe Kalon – or others, if there are developments in Israel’s political crisis.

 It should be noted, however, that Israel and Bahrain have no diplomatic relations and this mission would be a strong spur for regularizing relations between the two countries.

 Nevertheless also the PNA is boycotting Trump’s Administration and his Middle East Plan, but the White House has already invited a large group of Palestinian businessmen, who could participate in Manama’s Conference only in a personal capacity.

 The old EU ruling class has reacted to Trump’s Plan in a fully predictable way. It still supports the “two States” solution for Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) – something reminding us of the old Cold War – with a panel of over 35 European leaders, including Massimo D’Alema, Franco Frattini, Ana Palacio and Willi Claes, the former NATO Secretary General.

 In fact, apart from the PNA’s resentment against President Trump’s Administration, in the Plan – albeit only generically outlined – there is no specific rejection of the “two States” solution.

 To tell the truth, currently – as in the past -the survival of the Palestinian State – in its present form – is often prevented by the Arab countries themselves, which are more interested in a stable watchdog on the Israeli border than in a stable country and solution for the Palestinian people.

In the United States, the Democrats’ criticism against President Trump’s Middle East Plan, is focused on three principles. Firstly, Democrats do not accept the “reality on the field”, including Israel’s foreseen annexation of part of the West Bank. Secondly, they reject the ethnic or religious division lines. Thirdly, they refuse to accept Israel’s permanent control of the occupied territories.

 Diminutio capitis for Israel and, according to some analysts, everything will go well. And if the exact opposite were true?

 Nevertheless, at strategic level, even without the occupied territories, the possibility of an attack on Israel from the  East – even hetero-directed – increases vertically.

 Moreover, this has long been happening alsoin the Gaza Strip.

  The opposition to Trump is essentially punitive only vis-à-vis Israel, while it considers the Palestinian region  irrelevant from the military and strategic viewpoints.

 Throughout 2018, as many as 17 rocket launches were carried out on the Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip alone, all of them with multiple carriers – in addition to other military operations from the Palestinian National Authority’s territory in the West Bank, and from there against Israel.

  President Trump, however, can also rely on the fact that the relationship between the Arab countries and Israel has changed radically over the last 50 years.

 Currently four Arab States, namely Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have great ascendancy – also at material level – over the Palestinian organizations, although the strategic interest of a certain Arab world in the PNA and its territories is now minimal.

 Furthermore, unlike the past of the Cold War, both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates currently have ongoing good relations with Israel – albeit inevitably covertly.

 Therefore both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates can currently  exert significant political influence on both Israel and the Palestinians.

 Hence a structural crisis of the US presence in the Middle East, while both Saudi Arabia and Jordan – despite the war in Syria-have never wanted to check the US willingness to hold its positions in the Middle East.

 If the USA leaves the Middle East, Saudi Arabia could play its card for peace with the Jewish State, while the other Arab and Islamic countries interested in the region, namely Egypt, the Emirates and possibly even Turkey, could also play the game of expanding their area of influence, with or without the agreement with Israel – which, however, would be finally inevitable.

 Certainly there is considerable disillusionment of the Arab world with the Palestinians and their “cause”.

 The PNA is a state, economic and strategic failure of  very great relevance. The Saudi Arab world and the Emirates do not want to maintain pressure on Israel indefinitely, right now that the Jewish State- after correctly analysing the new Middle East strategy – has good relations with the Gulf oil powers.

 The Palestinian region could be an inevitable and decisive asset against the Shiite region dominated by Iran.

 In this new system, Israel has the possibility of being less isolated regionally, but also of bearing less Arab pressure for solving the problem of the Gaza Strip, as well as less Palestinians’ international defence.

 In fact, Saudi Arabia and the other allies, including Egypt and Jordan, no longer bet on the Palestinians, given the break between Hamas (which is an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, as also Al Sisi’s Egypt knows all too well) and Fatah in the Territories.

 The fragmentation of Palestinians stultifies the strategic advantage they can offer to the rest of the Arab world.

 With a view to preventing other countries, especially Turkey and Iran, from being given credit for championing the Palestinian cause, Saudi Arabia and its allies still support the PNA by mouth.

 Hence either a new Middle East Peace Plan, different from the usual one, is devised, or we will fail miserably.

 As usual, the European Union is at least ten years behind, with its “Cold War-style” support for the Palestinians. As if we were still in the period of the Kippur War.

 The United States can solve the Palestinian issue by defusing it, as well as asking the Arab allies to have a different relationship with Hamas and eliminating the new Iranian presence in the region on the border with Israel – apart from Hezbollah, which is another issue.

 Moreover, the no borders myth must be avoided. The region must be well controlled precisely because it will become a place for major investment.

 Finally, it should be established that Israel can expand eastwards, but only in the framework of a new international agreement on the Middle East, which will apply also to  borders, areas of influence, division of international work and investment – also at military level.

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

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Middle East

Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Middle East

Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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