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.
Turkey and the time bomb in Syria
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
The Turkish Gambit
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
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
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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