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Iran, USA and Israel

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When considering the direct connection between Iran and the Jewish State, we should never forget the issue of the border between the Golan Heights and Southern Lebanon.

 Nevertheless, while the Islamic Republic of Iran is increasingly interested in a periodic military confrontation with the United States – as it seems currently evident – it is so, also in this case, in an ever more indirect and unconventional way.

 Obviously this regards also the Israeli engagement to defend the country against the missile attacks of Iran, the Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad.

 The various types of overt military clash between Iran and Israel could be: a) a small-scale war on the Litani river border, but much more relevant than the one in 2006.

Or, b) a direct war between Israel and Iran, on the Syrian border and also an autonomous clash with Hezbollah on the Litani river – mainly a missile one –  in connection with the movements of the Shiite forces on the Golan border.

 Finally, c) a war could be possible on two borders between Israel and Iran: the Hezbollah, Iran and probably Syria would simultaneously fight a war against the Jewish State.

 The trigger could be a US, and possibly even Israeli, bombing of an Iranian nuclear site or the continued interdiction of the sea transit of Iranian oil cargo ships or anyway of freighters carrying Iranian oil or natural gas.

 In this context, decisive variables are the behaviour of Russia, which is now Syria’s master and has no interest in an Iranian-Israeli war, as well the behaviour of the United States itself, which could favour an action to support Israel but, probably, not long enough as it would be needed.

 The US political cycle often does not coincide with the necessary length of strategic operations.

 In this scenario there is still a possible danger for Israel, i.e.  a Russia that seeks to mediate or prevent the deployment of all the military options at stake, including the Israeli one. There is still the probable limitedness of the US intervention, as well as the structural inefficiency of international organizations to mediate and achieve peace.

 Hence, if- in the contrast within the US-Israeli-Iranian triangle, we head to a “long war”, an Israeli limited success will be more likely. Conversely, if all parties think of a “short war”, the Jewish State’s chances of success will rise. Finally, if the option is an asymmetrical war, for the time being the variables cannot be calculated.

 Moreover, a strategic need for Israel is to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from spreading the attack into several hotbeds, with a view to weakening their own defence forces.

 As is well-known, Hezbollah has about 100,000 missiles available from the Lebanon, but Iran has many more missiles, although only a few of them can reach the Israeli territory.

 Hence, if Hezbollah does not want to destroy its logistical base on the Litani river and its hegemonic relationship with the current Lebanese government – as a result of the Israeli counterattack in the Lebanon – the Shiite group must think of another possible operation, i.e. the already implemented operation to train its proxies from Iraq and Syria, with Iran’s clear support, so as to create a significant attack force on the Golan Heights.

 So far we have considered only the land warfare. In this three-country context, however, we must also think about the naval confrontation.

 Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar have long been at odds to acquire hegemony in the Western Indian Ocean and hence in the Persian Gulf.

 Here we also need to consider the Chinese maritime Silk Road, which is essential for the future equilibria, not just in the Middle East.

 However, there is the “eastward direction” of the Indian Ocean (and the Gulf itself), which will become increasingly important in the future. This is the direction of the major powers using Middle East oil and gas, as well as the direction of Saudi and UAE economies’ diversification, and finally the direction of Iran’s exit from the sanction regime.

Competition between ports will increase, including between the approximately sixteen ports of the Persian Gulf, while Saudi Arabia is already focusing on the Red Sea ports and the Emirates can currently invest directly only in Saudi infrastructure.

 We also need to consider the new and the old chokepoints: the Strait of Bab-el Mandeb, obviously, but also the Suez Canal.

 Also the militarization of the Red Sea (an anti-Iranian variable in the aforementioned war regions) underlines an already noted trend: Turkey, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran are carving out a strategic niche in the region for their power projections.

 The Emirates’ military bases in Eritrea and Somaliland are designed to ensure safe navigation in the Strait of Bab-El-Mandeb.

 There is also the Saudi military base in Djibouti, parallel to the Chinese and the US base, an essential military control point for the whole Middle East. Finally, in 2017, Turkey obtained the temporary control of Suakin in Sudan.

 Nevertheless, Iran’s Navy is currently the most present one throughout the Red Sea for “anti-piracy operations” – as it calls them.

 The Sunni monarchies’ policy is therefore competition between ports.

  Finally, India is increasingly connected to Oman and will soon build its own military base in Seychelles.

 In the future Saudi Arabia will enter Sinai permanently, in continuity with its future bases in the Red Sea.

 This will greatly change the Israeli Southern security dimension.

 Conversely, the Emirates will increasingly head to the Mediterranean or to Cyprus, Libya, Spain and France.

 Hence, as can easily be guessed, the Sunni maritime powers’ closure to Iran’s “long-arm” operations will be almost complete.

 At terrestrial level, there is already the “Arab alliance” against Iran, a project of President Trump’s Administration and of Israel.

 The problem is 2020, precisely the year in which the United Nations will put an end to the embargo against Iran, in keeping with Resolution No. 2231.

 Furthermore, the “alliance” also proposes to Israel the Arab Peace Initiative, the old regulatory framework of 2002, which is anyway already overtaken by events.

 According to The Economist, Saudi Arabia would even buy 100 billion of defence equipment from Israel.

 In short, Israel’s remote defence area is not 100% sure, but anyway reliable, at least until the first signs of a clash.

 We still wonder, however, how could a conflict between Iran and the USA develop.

 Probably Iran would directly hit the US military structures, without anyway hitting Saudi Arabia and the other US allies in the region.

 Moreover, as already stated by a Pasdaran leader, if the USA sent troops to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, Iran would hit the US cargo ships with missiles or “new top secret weapons”.

 In all likelihood, there would also be sabotage operations against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates – very similar to those recently occurred in the Gulf- so as to prevent the US and Israeli friendly powers from immediately entering the conflict between Iran and the United States (as well as Israel).

 Furthermore, considering that Saudi Arabia has always carefully hit the Iranian oil and gas export routes, for years there will be attacks on Saudi and Emirates’ freighters by the Houthi insurgency in Yemen and by other Shiite minorities armed by Iran.

 Iran will have no qualms about using its missile sector to drive away the military troops arriving in the Gulf and to harshly hit the US bases in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The war between Iran and the United States will be fought on Israeli territory alone.

 In this case, Iran could use both Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Southern Israel.

  The Syrian military organizations that are now trained by the Pasdaran in Syria itself will also be involved.

 The same holds true for the Shiite networks -again armed by Iran – already operating in Iraq.

 For the United States, the area of confrontation with Iran could go from the Euphrates area to its base in Tanf, on the border between Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

 Another Iranian target is the US military bases in Iraq.

 From Iraq, Iran’s direct point of contact with the United States is the Gulf of Oman.

 From the Gulf of Oman to Yemen there is the above mentioned Houthi insurgency. Hence we can see that Iran has a continuity between land and sea that other countries in the region have not.

 We also need to consider Iran’s recently reactivated enrichment of uranium.

 According to some analysts of the RAND Corporation, if it were relevant for the manufacturing of a new series of nuclear weapons – as cannot certainly be ruled out – the chances of a war between the USA and Iran (and hence Israel) would rise by approximately 35%.

 Furthermore, if we witnessed a military clash between the United States, Israel and Iran, the oil barrel price should reach approximately 150 US dollars, but there could also be a share of US oil and natural gas entering again the global market, which would significantly lower the oil barrel price.

 This is unlikely, at least until the next presidential election in 2020.

 Moreover, scientists believe that – considering the current 4.5% rate of uranium enrichment – the nuclear risk of bombing Iran is such that there is no danger of radiation outside the borders.

 What about Russia?

  For Russia Iran is a major bulwark to stop and curb the US power in the Middle East and to influence – from the United States – the world cycle of oil and gas prices, thus indirectly determining Russia’s economy cycles.

 Russia, however, wants to avoid confrontation with the USA in the Middle East.

 Another factor to consider are the sales of the very efficient Russian S-400 anti-missile system, which is already in the Turkish arsenals and will soon be in the Qatari ones.

 Moreover,Russia wants the EU to implement the INSTEX system that can make the European companies avoid the US sanction regime against Iran.

Russia also wants a powerful, autonomous and secular Syrian regime.

 It also wants any possible de-escalation between Iran and Israel.

 This is the system of forces in the field, with all the related variables.

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. “

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Middle East

Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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Powershift in Knesset: A Paradigm of Israel’s Political Instability

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The dynamics of the Middle East are changing faster than anyone ever expected. For instance, no sage mind ever expected Iran to undergo a series of talks with the US and European nations to negotiate sanctions and curb its nuclear potential. And certainly, no political pundit could have predicted a normalization of diplomacy between Israel and a handful of Arab countries. The shocker apparently doesn’t end there. The recent shift in Israeli politics is a historic turnaround; a peculiar outcome of the 11-day clash. To probe, early June, a pack of eight opposition parties reached a coalition agreement to establish Israel’s 36th government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. While the political impasse has partly subsided, neither the 12-year prime minister is feeble nor is the fragile opposition strong enough to uphold an equilibrium.

Mr. Netanyahu currently serves as the caretaker prime minister of Israel. While the charges of corruption inhibited his drive in the office, he was responsible to bring notable achievements for Israel in the global diplomatic missions. Mr. Netanyahu, since assuming office in 2009, has bagged several diplomatic victories; primarily in reference to the long-standing conflict with Palestine and by extension, the Arab world. He managed to persuade former US President Donald J. Trump to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the contentious city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he managed to strike off the Palestinian mission in Washington whilst gaining success in severing US from the nuclear agreement with Iran. To the right-wing political gurus, Mr. Netanyahu stood as a symbolic figure to project the aspirations of the entire rightest fraction.

However, the pegs turned when Mr. Netanyahu refused to leave the office while facing a corruption trial. What he deemed as a ‘Backdoor Coup Attempt’ was rather criticized by his own base as a ruse of denial. By denying the charges and desecrating the judges hearing his case, Mr. Netanyahu started to undercut the supremacy of law. While he still had enough support to float above water, he lost the whelming support of the rightest faction which resulted in the most unstable government and four inconclusive elections in the past two years.

While Mr. Netanyahu was given the baton earlier by President Reuven Rivlin, he failed to convince his bedfellow politicians to join the rightest agenda. Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu probably hoped to regain support by inciting a head-on collision with the Palestinians. The scheme backfired as along with the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the tremors overtook Israel’s own Arab-Jewish cities resulting in mass chaos. The burning of Mosques and local Synagogues was hardly the expectation. Thus, both the raucous sentiment pervading the streets of Israel as well as the unstable nature of the Netanyahu-government led the rightest parties to switch sides.

As Mr. Netanyahu failed to convince a coalition government, the task was handed to Mr. Yair Lapid, a centrist politician. While the ideologies conflicted in the coalition he tried to forge, his counterparts, much like him, preferred to sideline the disputes in favor of dethroning Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid joined hands with a pool of political ideologies, the odd one being the conservative Yamina party led by the veteran politician, Mr. Naftali Bennett. While Mr. Lapid has been a standard-bearer for secular Israelis, Mr. Bennett has been a stout nationalist, being the standard-bearer for the rightest strata. To add oil to the fire, the 8-party coalition also includes an Arab Islamist party, Raam. A major conflict of beliefs and motivations.

Although the coalition has agreed to focus on technocratic issues and compromise on the ideological facets, for the time being, both the rightest and the leftish parties would be under scrutiny to justify the actions of the coalition as a whole. Mr. Bennett would be enquired about his take on the annexation of occupied West Bank, an agenda vocalized by him during his alliance with Mr. Netanyahu. However, as much as he opposes the legitimacy of the Palestinian state, he would have to dim his narrative to avoid a fissure in the already fragile coalition. Similarly, while the first independent Arab group is likely to assume decision-making in the government for the first time, the mere idea of infuriating Mr. Bennett strikes off any hope of representation and voice of the Arabs in Israel.

Now Mr. Netanyahu faces a choice to defer the imminent vote of confidence in Knesset whilst actively persuading the rightest politicians to abandon the coalition camp. His drive has already picked momentum as he recently deemed the election as the ‘Biggest Fraud in the History of Israeli Politics’. Furthermore, he warned the conservatives of a forthcoming leftist regime, taking a hit on Naftali colluding with a wide array of leftist ideologies. The coalition is indeed fragile, yet survival of coalition would put an end to Netanyahu and his legacy while putting Naftali and then Lapid in the office. However, the irony of the situation is quite obvious – a move from one rightest to the other. A move from one unstable government to a lasting political instability in Israel.

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Middle East

The Gaza War

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Destruction in Gaza following an Israeli strike in May 2021. UNOCHA/Mohammad Libed

On May 22, 2021, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei’s website, posted a congratulatory message from one of the Hamas group’s leaders, Ziad Nakhaleh. In his message, Ziad Nakhaleh addresses Khamenei and says, “Qasem Soleimani’s friends and brothers, especially Ismail Ghani (Iran’s IRGC commander) and his colleagues, led this battle and were present with us during our recent conflict with Israel. … We pray for the preservation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its brave soldiers.”

Since the regime’s establishment 42 years ago, Iran has been instrumental in inflicting war and chaos regionally. When Iran finds itself cornered and entangled with its internal problems or facing an impasse, a war or bloody conflict gets ignited by the regime to divert the Iranian people’s attention. This undeclared policy of the Iranian regime frees itself from the most pressing internal issues, even temporarily.

Today’s Iranian society is like a barrel of gunpowder ready to ignite. Last year, the Iranian parliament declared that more than 60 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. According to the media close to the regime, close to 80% of the population below the poverty line this year. It is worth mentioning that Iran is one of the top 10 wealthiest countries globally, despite the challenges of the current sanctions.

This poverty is mainly the result of rampant institutionalized government corruption. According to Qalibaf, the current speaker of Iran’s parliament, only 4 percent of the population is prosperous, and the rest are poor and hungry. The two uprisings of 2017 and mid-November 2019 that surprised the regime were caused mainly by extreme poverty and high inflation. The regime survived the above widespread uprisings by opening direct fire at the innocent protestors, killing more than 1500 people. There is no longer any legitimacy for the regime domestically and internationally.

The explosive barrel of the Iranian discontent is about to burst at any given moment. To delay such social eruption, Khamenei banned the import of COVID-19 vaccines from the US, Britain, and France, hoping the people will be occupied with the virus and forget about their miserable living conditions.

On the other hand, the Iranian regime is in the midst of new negotiations with the western countries regarding its nuclear program. These negotiations may force the regime to abandon its nuclear plans that have cost billions of dollars, its terrorist activities in the region, and its ballistic missiles stockpile. This retreat will inevitably facilitate the growth and spread of the uprisings and social unrest across Iran.

The Deadlock of the Regime

The regime is facing an election that could ignite the barrel of gunpowder of the Iranian society. In 1988, when Khamenei wanted to announce Ahmadinejad as the winner of the presidential ballot boxes but faced opposition from former Prime Minister Mousavi. Widespread demonstrations were ignited. The same scenario is repeating itself in this year’s presidential election, where Khamenei intends to announce Raisi as the next president of Iran. There is a legitimate fear that demonstrations will ignite once again.

To avoid the happening of the same experience, Khamenei is forced to make an important decision. Like any other dictator, he pursues a policy of contraction during these challenging and crucial times, deciding to favor those loyal to him and his policies. Khamenei needs a uniform and decisive government to exert maximum repression on the Iranian people.

By disqualifying the former president (Ahmadinejad), the current vice president (Jahangiri), and most importantly, his current adviser and speaker of the two parliaments (Larijani), he has cut loose a large part of his regime. One way or another, Khamenei’s contraction policy is going to weaken his grip on power.

On the other hand, the Iranian regime must comply with the West’s demand for nuclear talks. In 2021, the political landscape is entirely different from 2015 in the balance of regional and global forces. The regime’s regional influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria has been severely weakened.

There is an explosive situation inside Iran. The resistance units spread throughout Iran after the 2019 uprising and have rapidly increased in recent months. They are spreading the message of separation of religion from the government, plus equality between men and women in a society where women do not have the right to be elected as president or a minister. The resistance units call themselves supporters of Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian regime’s sworn enemy. These units can direct a massive flood of people’s anger towards the Supreme Leader’s establishments with every spark and explosion.

Khamenei wanted to force the West to lift all sanctions and demonstrate a show of force within Iran and the region by initiating the Gaza war. The Gaza war was intended to divert the attention from Khamenei’s decisions on Iran’s presidential election. In this situation, the regime wanted to break its presidential deadlock by firing rockets through Hamas and carrying out a massacre in Israel and Palestine.

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