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Russian Iranian strains raise spectre of US-Israeli-Russian deal on Syria

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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With Israel set to host an unprecedented meeting of the national security advisors of the United States, Russia and Israel, this week’s efforts by German foreign minister Heiko Maas and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to mediate between the US and Iran could prove to be a sideshow.

The meeting of the national security advisors, against the backdrop of Syrian and Russian forces pummelling the northern region of Idlib, the last major stronghold of Syrian rebels, takes on added significance with strains emerging in relations between Moscow and Tehran.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced in the latest attacks that have not shied away from targeting hospitals and residential areas.

In what may be marching orders for his national security advisor, John Bolton, US President Donald J. Trump tweeted last week: “Hearing word that Russia, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran, are bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria, and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians. The World is watching this butchery. What is the purpose, what will it get you? STOP!”

While few expect the advisors’ meeting this month in Jerusalem to produce immediate results, US and Israeli officials hope that it could prepare the ground for a deal that would further weaken Russian ties to Iran and reduce, if not terminate Iran’s presence in Syria.

Among multiple scenarios being bounced around, some analysts believe that a possible deal could involve Russia pushing Iran out of Syria, a key US and Israeli demand, in exchange for the lifting of at least some American and European sanctions against Russia and US acceptance of the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu rejected a similar Russian proposal last November.

“The fact that the Russians see value in these conversations, that they’re willing to do it publicly, I think is in and of itself quite significant. And so we are hopeful that they’re coming to the meeting with some fresh proposals that will allow us to make progress,” said a senior Trump administration official.

The officials suggest that a recent Russian refusal to sell Iran its most advanced S-400 missile defense system because that could fuel regional tensions and tacit Russian acquiescence to Israeli military strikes against Iranian and Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah targets in Syria opens the door to a potential deal.

Iran has denied wanting to acquire the Russian system while Russia has officially demanded that Israel halt its attacks and respect Syrian sovereignty.

Mr. Bolton’s discussions with Israeli national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and Nikolay Patrushev, head of Russia’s security council, could not come at worse moment for Iran as it struggles to dampen the effect of harsh US sanctions following the Trump administration’s withdrawal last year from the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

Analysts Udi Dekel and Carmit Valensi argued in a report published last month by the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) that despite public statements to the contrary, Russia like Israel, rejects a withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

After initially announcing in February a complete pullback, Mr. Trump agreed to keep several hundred US troops in the country.

Mr. Dekel and Ms. Valensi said that a US withdrawal would strengthen Iran and force Russia to allow Iran to take control of oil fields in the east of the country.

Writing in Haaretz, columnist Zvi Bar’el suggested that Russia and Iran differ over the endgame in Syria. “Russia has no intention of simply returning Syria to Assad’s control,” Mr. Bar’el said. He added that Russia sees Syria as a base to forge closer ties to the Gulf and Egypt.

Iran, by contrast, hopes to capitalize on its massive investment in Syria to maintain its influence in Lebanon, counter Saudi regional ambitions and grant it access to the Mediterranean.

Scores were killed in clashes between pro-Iranian militias and Russian forces in Aleppo and Deir az-Zor in April. Russian forces last month reportedly removed Shiite militias from areas close to the international airports of Aleppo and Damascus.

Ibrahim Al-Badawi, a Syrian columnist identified with Mr. Al-Assad’s regime, reported that Russian and Syrian security forces had arrested pro-Iranian Syrian activists.

Mr. Al-Badawi said further that a recent reshuffle of the upper echelons of the Syrian state security apparatus had been designed to weaken the position of Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother and commander of his Republican Guard as well as the army’s elite Fourth Armoured Division. Maher al-Assad is believed to be close to Iran.

Russia and Iran are “each…striving to strengthen its influence in the Syrian security apparatuses and in the militias fighting on the ground, while weakening the other side’s influence and presence… The [once-]concealed disagreements among Syria’s allies are now out in the open. It is no longer a secret that Russia, in response to a clear demand from the Gulf, aspires to weaken Iran’s influence,” Mr. Al-Badawi wrote.

A possible litmus test of the potential of the talks between the national security advisors may be whether Russia accedes to an Israeli request not to give Syria full control of the S-300 anti-missile system, the equivalent of the US Patriot batteries, that Moscow has already sold and delivered.

Israeli officials have warned their Russian counterparts that once fully controlled by Syrian forces, the S-300 would be a legitimate target.

Israel and Russia agreed four years ago to coordinate military actions over Syria in order to avoid accidentally trading fire.

Israel, however, last year rejected a Russian offer to ensure that Iranian forces would not move within 100 kilometres of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war and recently recognized as Israeli territory by the United States. Accepting the Russian offer would have amounted to tacit acceptance of an Iranian presence in Syria.

Mr. Dekel and Ms. Valensi noted in their report that Israeli forces had reduced the number of attacks on Iranian targets in Syria in a bid to improve chances of exploiting Russian-Iranian strains.

“There is a window of opportunity that allows Israel to try…with Russia and the United States…to formulate and achieve shared interests that it has with the two superpowers, most importantly increasing stability in Syria and instituting governmental reforms in Syria, along with reducing Iranian influence there,” Mr. Dekel and Ms. Valensi said.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Behind the Arab Spring: New Predications in 2020

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To a certain extent, the Arab-Middle East experts, and politicians are truly aware of popular Arab uprisings and circumstances in making new interpretations analysis. After the “Arab Spring ”, now holds the term “Arab-trap”. The International society acknowledges that Arab public protestations have extended source of social changes in current days to several Arab states like Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, mostly ten months after they broke out in Sudan and Algeria.

Currently, Iran, which has a strong implication of the convergence of inner and external political factors. When the invoke of public uprisings diffuses to sixty percent of cities, the Iranian government expedient to use force, coercion, and imprisonment, restricting internet accesses, and distending the conspiracy theory. The Iranian government appears to be in a state of intensive upheaval and anxiety after groups of police forces seized the University of Tehran and captured fifty students without any reason. Yet, Amnesty International convicted the killing of at least 100 protesters due to the irresponsible behavior of the police forces. The paradox is that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls demonstrators to provide video recordings as evidence of the crackdown from Iranian forces, and promises that the United States will “reveal those illegal violations and punish those responsible.”

In this case, the spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards states that several leaders of the demonstrations have “dual citizenship”. Rather, the semi-official Fars News Agency went to mention that whoever flamed to some shops in the purlieus of Tehran gains $ 60 for every firing place. Contrarily, President Rouhani is trying to drop the scope of maintaining order and stability to an upheaval situation, and he declares that the Iranian government eradicated what he analyzed as instigating overseas countries. Thought, this is a reaction that simulates what the Mubarak regime did during the demonstration of the situation in Tahrir Square in January 2011, but there are significant implications of the solidity of the Iranian demonstrations, as the spokesman of Shiraz districts pointed out that conflicts between the Iranian forces and demonstrators were fuming, and that the main access transportation infrastructure was stopped in four important provinces.

At the conclusion of their boiling and societal dissatisfaction over the political elite of its conservatives and liberalistic in Tehran, more than it was during the uprisings of summer 2009, and also the crisis’s of 2018; and if the discontent implications continue to increase between the high cost of fuel and other daily life materials, the increase in the unemployment rate, the failure of public governmental policies, and the fall in the performance of the religious speech, in widening the gap between the state and society, additionally the state of promise over Iran’s reopening to the West after President Trump’s decentralization from the nuclear agreement, the failure of French mediation and the Japanese accepted it.

Accordingly, the situation in Iraq and Lebanon is not very different from the Iranian scenario. We may say that the motives behind the crisis are political and financial corruption for most Iraqi government officials, such as some of them receiving monthly salaries from Tehran, and others were involved in contacts with Washington. During five weeks, more than 200,000 Iraqis took public demonstration against the government in Baghdad, and people of Sadr City, which are more prestigious, joined the uprisings and clashes that knocked off more than 320 citizens, and ended in the injury of more than 15,000 others, according to the statistics of the United Nations Office in Baghdad.

True, The hot circumstances in Lebanon is also the outcome of accumulations of the political, financial irresponsibility and societal mismanagement of politics, whether the public disrepute of Saad Hariri, the prime minister, who dedicated 16 million dollars to one of the fashion foundations of South Africa, or the decline of Hezbollah image because of its support for the Assad regime, the dilemma of sectarianism or the dissimilarities between Shiites and Sunnis orientation and other ideological identity in Lebanon and Iraq.

There is a cliché that existed among Arab Middle East Scholars that the Iranian smuggled the revolution to Iraq within forty years and that Iraq reacted into it in less than forty days. Simply speaking. In such articulated changes in the process of state development, the blaze of demonstrations and uprisings always starts with the depreciation of the cost of living at home when the protesters reach discontent and frustration with the state’s failures socially, economically and politically for its lack of effective social development.

Recently, Some scholars of Security and Middle East issues acknowledged that we observe a changeable interval of state and intrastate conflicts versus the departure of external armed conflicts between states and therefore these conflicts related to the existence and role of the state, in governance, and in social groups and their status within states.

In short, they are societal conflicts against the central government in Iran, as in Iraq and Lebanon, and before them in Algeria and Sudan this year. For instance, there are other states in the Middle East or Maghreb region that coexist with an accumulation of ineffective development policies and an enhance in citizens’ dissatisfaction, and similar events will appear at the beginning of 2020. The internal social and political predictions in these states no longer work according to the logic of exception of each country separately, or security containment strategy, or moving over the will of the extravagant demonstrations.

Due to what we are seeing in the entire Arab region, with some special case in the Middle East, is the fall of the central state’s efficiency and the susceptibilities of its political capital and legitimacy in the peoples due to its entrenchment within the box of security “solutions”, imprisonment, and punishment of activists like Egypt. These failed policies and inadequate effective solutions of demonstration that struck the governments of power when it was found to be an existential struggle after being challenged by the youth of the demonstrations during the events of 2011. In one word, it is a societal discontent that creates outrageous action in the street on a political elite that stumbled into the square of reaction.

Now the question is why Arab Spring is going to act a “responsible role” in the Arab state’s issue?

Actually, much of the debate on “Arab-trap” or Arab Spring to the third world countries have been misplaced or even wrongly implemented, simply because little or no specific attention has been given to the origin and purpose of Arab people demand regionally.

Some scholars like Mohammed Cherkaoui Professor of International Conflict and Arab Middle East Issue at George Mason University in Washington pointed out that Arab Spring does not consider it as the second wave for three reasons that revolve around the dual context and the outcome of these protest outcomes. First, during 2011 Arab people were calling for reform and change, as its protests covered around the phrase “Leave”, and this “transit” phenomenon became a concept that reflected in 982 cities that seen similar protests across the globe, but main demands did not determine the level of this movement. Most of the protesters interpreted the phrase “The Army and the People… One Hand …!”, And some demonstrators involved in the uprisings not for social change but just to server other politician’s agenda or swift out the Arab Spring rationality of evaluation and planning into proxy conflicts, like the scene of Mubarak’s removal, or the burning of Ali Saleh, and the killing of Qaddafi, and before them Ben Ali fled from Tunisia. And behind all these “Arab Trap” incidences, Arabs are going to heal for this historic moment, which is a symbolic wave for meaningful change in Arab countries’ context.

Thus, the problem here is about two basic dilemmas, the first of which is that the Arab street showed activists of heavy committed to change the old regimes and reform political status. Secondly, there were no Arab intellectuals predicting carefully the future of new generation capabilities in changing political status under the so-called ” Smart revolution”, and also are able to hear their voices not regionally but internationally with the help of new technologies such as world web and social media.

This is one of the indications of the historical movement in weaving the supposed linkage between the true relationship between politics and society and the intersection of the path in the intellectual context between society and politics. In a short term, most of the intellectuals were absent-minded in participating for a better change . Frankly speaking, let’s see the scene of Qais Saeed’s victory, carrying hopes of change and reform to the presidential deck in Carthage. Many sought the way towards a Tunisian Enlightenment movement as a model that could be best achieved in whole Arab Maghreb, as well as more than two hundred revolutions that took place during the past two decades invigorated the thought of the lights that carried the torch of Emmanuel Kant and other philosophers of modernity in Germany, before its sound spread to the rest of Europe and the world.

Secondly, this year’s demonstrations are not a continuation of the 2011 world as much as a reformatory movement, and it initiates on overcoming strategic mistakes and traps that 2011 activists did not notice. More than this, the demonstrators in Algeria were keen not to swift along the line that Egypt’s developments followed, both in terms of commitment and consistency for more than forty weeks in the conduct of weekly demonstrations in Algiers, or tactics of negotiating with the Algerian forces or adhering to the formation of a pure civilian government.

Third, the so-called political science writing is no longer the meeting point of  “transitology “that several academics have adapted and adjusts a theoretical framework for what happened between 2011 and 2019. As Mohammed Cherkaoui noted, for instance, Stephen Heinemann’s conviction of a new concept “transformation” as a process of change without focusing on a feature or a form of contextual-democracy. therefore, We are facing an Arab setting in which there is a great deal of political flexibility and an inability to anticipate the outcome of this transformation.

Conclusion. The extension of Arab Spring or “Arab Trap” it appears that Arab youth no longer accept the continued dominance of the corrupted mind and the unchanged of authoritarianism in a variety of contexts, but rather demand reform, and establishing the dignity of social citizenship based on democratic principles, whether at the level of daily living or moral consideration. Yet, Arab people their demands that are in accordance with the passion of all European revolutions from the French Revolution in 1789 until the integration of the civil transformation with the spring of European peoples in 1848 and on the same line in many of the outbreaks and revolts that took place in the past two decades.

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Ex-PM Tebboune wins race to succeed deposed Bouteflika

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After two decades of Abdelaziz Bouteflika rule, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister, has been elected Algeria’s new president, after a crucial vote the authorities hope will serve as a way-out to the political deadlock the Algerian nation has been going through since the outbreak of the fierce pro-democracy popular protests in February, toppling his long-time predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Tebboune, 74, was elected with 58.15% of the vote in the oil-rich North African nation, ahead of his closest rival, former tourism minister and the head of Elbinaa Islamist party, Abdelkader Bengrine, who claimed 17.38% of the vote, followed by former premier and president of Talaie El Houriyet party Ali Benflis with 10.55 percent, and former culture minister and interim Secretary General of the National Democratic Rally party (RND),  Azzeddine Mihoubi with 7.26 percent, while president of Al-Moustakbel Front party Abdelaziz Belaid came fifth with 6.66 percent, according to the preliminary results announced by the head of the National Independent Electoral Authority, Mohamed Charfi, on Friday. 

According to the body’s Chairman, Tebboune snatched victory without the need for a second-round runoff, to become the 8th president of the North African nation since gaining independence from France in 1962. In this vein, the Constitutional Council will announce the final results of the presidential election during the period between 16 and 25 December.

Tebboune served briefly as prime minister in 2017 under former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, before being dismissed few months later.  He previously served as Minister of Housing from 2001 to 2002 and again from 2012 to 2017.

The voter turnout at the closing of the polling stations reached 41.13 %, announced the election body’s Chief. This turnout is lower compares to the nearly 52% turnout in 2014, which approved Bouteflika’s final mandate.

“The turnout is satisfying and it will give the new president enough backing to implement his reforms,” said Ahmed Mizab, a commentator on state television.

The number of voters, thus, reached 9,692,077 out of more than 24 million electors, including 914,308 registered at the diplomatic and consular centers abroad.

The election was marred by attacks on polling stations in some regions. The opponents had gathered especially in Kabylie, storming the polling stations to prevent elections’ supporters from casting their votes. They demanded the total dismantling of the system before the organization of any ballot, slamming this election as a charade to keep the ruling elite in power. A video had been circulating on social media, showing ballot boxes being seized and ballots scattered on the ground. However, state media, on the other hand, cast the participation as a high enough turnout to vindicate the decision to hold the poll in spite of the boycott.

The Algerian authorities have created an inclusive body in an attempt at transparency in a nation where leaders were thought to be chosen in advance. 

Algerians hope that this vote will chart a new era for the country where the highest office has stood vacant for eight months. The Speaker of the Council of the Nation, Abdelkader Bensalah was named an interim leader to replace former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned under pressure from a pro-democracy protest movement that won the army’s backing. The polls were originally planned for July 4. However, they were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates.

Tebboune, for his part, promised, during the electoral campaign, to address the problems of development, create economic wealth and curb unemployment. For him,  “the first step in the change lies in amending the current Constitution, which proved its ineffectiveness and being inappropriate for the current stage,” urging the adoption of a new Constitution which would “really separate the prerogatives of State institutions and reinforce control to end eras of single decision-making circle power.”

A previous poll set for July was scrapped for lack of viable candidates and interim president Abdelkader Bensalah’s term has been extended.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Elections, participation and national security

Mohammad Ghaderi

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Democratic establishments in the entire political structures worldwide have been founded based the people’s votes and views. It is for these reasons that people are considered the most main component in political, social, economic and cultural developments.

Normally, the most important component in analyzing the degree of a political establishment’s admissibility and legitimacy can be drawn based on the percentage of the people’s participation in elections to determine their own fate and set the path for future by voting for their own favored candidates. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran, which was established based on the people’s will following the victory of the Islamic Revolution and overthrow of the despotic Pahlavi regime in 1979, is not an exception. The entire affairs in the ruling system in Iran have been founded based to religious democracy. 

According to the Principle 6 of the constitution, the country’s affairs must be handled in accordance to the public votes (election or referendum), based on which the people’s vote plays a pivotal role in how to manage the country. 

In other words, according to an affirmation by the constitution, ballot boxes, as a national covenant is the only way towards materialization of proposed objectives which can meet the people’s demands in all areas. This is the point that has clearly demonstrated its effectiveness over the last 40 years. 

Based on the abovementioned issue, it can be understood that involving people in Iran in managing affairs is of high importance at least from two aspects:

*The people’s active role in envisioning their future and meeting their demands;

*Admissibility of the political establishment and symbol of unity and national solidarity. 

The importance of these two issues will be more obvious when we realize that the concept of national security in a democratic establishment is highly dependent on public participation. It is because these components that guarantee and reinvigorate the national security rely on the confidence principle as the most prominent pillar of the social wealth in any political establishment whose main sign is the percentage of public participation.   

The people’s involvement is only one side of a coin in democratic establishments. The other side of the coin is the role of the ruling system and political structure. The system, in coordination with the people, is tasked to fulfill its role properly.   

Accordingly, as the people’s role in this regard is vital, the role of ruling system is even more vital. 

It should be mentioned that proper fulfillment of roles by a ruling system’s pillars in legislating, supervising and executing affairs are essential in order to meet the people’s demands in the best way possible. In turn, this will ease living conditions, meet the people’s social and economic demands, and prevent spread of corruption and will ultimately bring about social justice.    

From our partner Tehran Times

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