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Turkey, Iran and the new Middle East equilibria

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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It should never be forgotten that, since the sixth century AD, the displacement of Turkish tribes to Persian territories has generated a Turkish diaspora to Iran, which now accounts for approximately half of the current Iranian population.

Obviously the Turkish Shiites in Iran have always been in favour of a stable peace between the two countries, as early as the “Peace of Zuhab” signed in 1639, which defined the borders between the two countries.

 The stable and continuous relations between modern Iran and Turkey returned to a relative splendor with the rise to power of Erdogan’s AKP in 2002 – a party originated from the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood.

That was the start not only of the neo-Ottoman  foreign policy and the new importance of Central Asia in Turkey’s power projection, but also of the idea of Davutoglu, the Foreign Minister of Erdogan’s first government, who theorized the principle of “no contrast with  neighbours”.

While previously Turkey was projected – in an objectively anomalous way -onto the European West and the Western Mediterranean region, from the Balkans to Italy, Davutoglu’s “moderate Islam” (just to use one of the most well-known nonsense of Western geopolitical jargon) is interested in Asia, in the pan-Turkish reconstruction of a new Turkish influence, going precisely from Iran to China’s borders and beyond, towards the Islamic Xinjiang of Turkish ethnicity.

 Alongside this original commitment to Central Asia, Erdogan uses the new Turkish international prestige to create his own independent actions in the Middle East.

A de facto agreement between Iran and Turkey has been reached in Syria, especially considering the Kurdish claims, which dangerously affect both Turkey and Iran.

While the Iraqi Kurds become independent, consequently Iran witnesses a reduced influence of the Iraqi Shiites. Hence there is also a reduction of the Iranian influence on  Iraq, which has long been an actual enclave of Iran.

 Furthermore, for Turkey, the agreement with Iran and the Russian Federation is a mandatory way for closing the  Kurdish PKK’s leeway in Syria – a party supported, like the other factions of the Kurdish people, mainly by the United States.

 Both Iran and Turkey do not acknowledge and recognize the result of the 2017 Kurdish referendum, which regarded the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan.

 It was precisely in that year that a stable military alliance between Turkey and Iran was designed, with a meeting between the respective Chiefs of Staff.

 An alliance that also regarded possible common actions.

  The two countries also have Islamic opponents. In particular, both Iran and Turkey fear the creation of a new axis between Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Egypt, supported by the USA – an axis that is above all against Turley, considering its interest in the Persian Gulf and Africa (with the Maghreb region) and is certainly also against Iran.

Moreover, while Turkey has made the most of the new space created by the US madness of the Arab Springs, Iran  has correctly analysed the Arab Springs, above all as a threat to itself, to its security and to its interests in the Arab and Islamic world.

It should also be recalled that the beginning of the war in Syria led to a deterioration of the relations between Turkey and Iran: the former openly supported the Sunni insurgency against Bashar al-Assad, even supplying soldiers and weapons to the “rebel” groups, while the latter was, from the beginning, on Bashar’ side.

Currently, however, the strategic calculations are evidently in favour of an alliance between the two countries.

 There is still an economic link between Turkey and Iran, which is not particularly strong: Iran supplies 20% of the natural gas and 30% of the oil used in Turkey.

Nevertheless, non-oil trade between the two countries is still worth less than 10 billion US dollars a year.

Furthermore there is still a not negligible strategic dispute, namely Idlib. It is still in the hands of the Jihadist “rebels”, whom Turkey supports while Iran besieges. Whoever prevails in Idlib – even with Russia’s hegemonic presence – will have a sort of “mortmain” on the rest of Syria in the regional clash between Turkey and Iran.

 In Iraq, Turkey also tends to protect the Sunni minority population, while Iran has now the actual power in the majority Shiite Iraq.

 Turkey has always played many complex roles in Iraq, even before the US victory in the war against Saddam Hussein.

 Turkey, however, has always refused pressure, even from the United States, to tie itself to the Sunni producers of the Gulf, to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. It has always planned strong diversification of its crude oil imports, also with purchases from Iran, which implies an inevitable strategic correlation with Iran.

 Not to mention the fact that Iran has a great plan at strategic and energy levels, i.e. to permanently avoid the Gulf of Hormuz and make most of the natural gas and oil it extracts transit through the Turkish territory, which would avoid any possible blackmail by Saudi Arabia and its allies, be they Islamic or not.

With specific reference to the relations between Turkey and the United States – the other inevitable factor of the Turkish strategic dilemma – so far the latter has not offset, with its economic power, the damage to Turkey resulting from sanctions against Iran.

Furthermore, noone – apart from the EU and only to a limited extent – has yet provided any support to the Turkish economic and political “effort” of having to manage 3.6 million Syrian refugees who have remained on Turkey’s territory.

 Therefore, the United States absolutely needs to use Turkey – the second NATO military force after the USA – as a bulwark against Iran. Turkey, however, absolutely needs also Iran from the energy viewpoint and for settling  the Kurdish issue between Syria and Iraq.

As already seen, the trade-off between Turkey and Iran is simple: the Shiite Republic supports – with a favourable flow of oil and gas – the Turkish economy, which the USA does not want or can no longer back, while Turkey is now Iran’s only safe passage to avoid the sanctions imposed by the USA on oil and natural gas.

Hence, if the alliance between Iran and Turkey becomes economically relevant, we can no longer imagine scenarios capable of enabling the USAto have a direct and successful contrast with Iran.

 In Syria – the conflict that will determine and distribute the new strategic potentials in the Middle East and in the rest of the world – Turkey endeavoured with Saudi Arabia to create the “rebel” group Jaish Al Fatahin 2015, but the Russian intervention immediately made Saudi Arabia lose any  interest in Syria and forced Turkey to focus  its interest, in Syria, only on the Kurds of the YPG.

Once again, however, we record a gradual divergence of interests between Saudi Arabia and Turkey: while the former started the great exclusion of Qatar – the substantial economic ally of Iran  – in June 2017, also with the US collaboration, the latter immediately supported Qatar.

It did so also with the construction of a new Turkish military base in Qatar.

 Immediately after Turkey’s support for Qatar – also at material level -Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates met at a high level precisely with the leaders of the Kurdish YPG.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia financially supported the Kurds in Raqqa and in the other Syrian areas freed from Isis with the YPG weapons. This is certainly an infra-Islamic clash mainly regarding the freedom of passage towards the European markets, as well as the Turkish or Saudi hegemony in the Maghreb region, made porous, pervious and unstable as a result of the US-sponsored Arab springs or of the insane masochism of some European powers.

Meanwhile, Turkey is trying to expand its influence out of the Middle East, with a view to influencing it from outside.

In this case, the primary focus for Turkey is Pakistan. There was already a “High Level Dialogue” between the military leaders of the two countries, operating since 2003, but Pakistan fully trusts Turkey, one of the very few Islamic countries that did not leave Pakistan alone in the worst of times.

  Also in those times when the US support was lacking.

Turkey has explicitly and, possibly, directly supported the “country of the pure” in its territorial and political claims in Kashmir, in exchange for Pakistan’s technical and intelligence support with regard to the Kurdish issue.

 Also the exchange of weapons between Turkey and Pakistan is remarkable – mainly Turkish heavy weapons, helicopters, aircraft and tanks.

 Also in this case, Turkey has managed to get into a context of bilateral relations between the USA and Pakistan that were very tense, especially after the killing of Osama Bin Laden by the US Special Forces in Abbottabad.

Moreover, Turkey always pursues its commercial aims  by stimulating, at the beginning, the exchange of weapon systems.

 Reverting to the link between Turkey and Iran, as recently said by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the sanctions on Iranian oil, which often transits through the Turkish territory, are worth at least 50 billion US dollars a year, with a sanction-related direct loss of at least 10 billion US dollars.

The US overt aim is to eliminate all Iranian oil exports.

Cui prodest? Firstly, the block of Iranian oil exports greatly favours the North American producers that now sell at least 2,575 barrels a day.

 The USA is currently the major producer of crude oil in the world and it is slightly ahead of both Saudi Arabia and the  Russian Federation.

 Secondly, the sanctions against Iran also favour Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni producers in the Gulf, that would  cover – with their oil – the market previously held by Iran.

 And, from the very beginning, China and Turkey have been the harshest opponents of the US sanctions.

 The two largest consumers of Iranian oil and the two countries that are building – with due slowness – two geopolitical areas which are increasingly far from the possible operations and influence of the United States.

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

The secret behind Trump’s moves in eastern Deir ez-Zur

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Trump’s desire for Syrian oil has led observers to consider it as the beginning of occupying oil wells in other countries, including Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states.

The obsession of the U.S. president with money and oil is obvious for everyone and that is why U.S. military commanders have used this temptation by Trump to persuade him to keep some troops in Syria.

On October 28, Trump said, “We are keeping the oil — remember that. Forty-five million dollars a month?  We have secured the oil”.

Last week, news sources reported that the U.S. president has agreed to develop military missions to protect oilfields in eastern Syria.

The Turkish Anadolu Agency reported that the U.S. has established a new military base in the oil-rich parts of Deir ez-Zur in Syria.

In this regard, Trump announced the settlement of some U.S. companies in Syria’s east to invest in and exploit oilfields. It was a move that drew Russian backlash.

Russian opposition to Trump’s oil ambitions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a statement in late October that the Syrian oil is the focus of U.S. attention. In a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Lavrov said it was important to refrain from “steps undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov also said, “This, what Washington is doing now — capturing and maintaining control through the use of arms over oil fields in eastern Syria — that is, to put it simply, international, state-sponsored banditry,” DW reported on October 26.

Konashenkov said tank trucks guarded by U.S. military servicemen and private military companies smuggle oil from fields in eastern Syria to other countries.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin also pointed to U.S. efforts to reinforce its presence in Syrian oil-rich lands, calling it an illegal act by Washington. Vershinin also said that Moscow will never accept the policy that the U.S. is pursuing in Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry in recent weeks has also released satellite images of some areas in Syria showing that U.S. troops have created security guard to smuggle Syria’s oil. Earlier, images of eastern Syria were released documenting oil trucks were traveling across Syria-Turkey borders, an action which reveals the goals of those countries which support terrorism in Syria.

 Syria’s oil reserves

In terms of oil reserves, Syria is in 32nd place after Malaysia and ahead of Argentina, with 2,500,000,000 barrels. Syria’s known oil reserves are mainly in the eastern part of the country in Deir ez-Zor, the second largest Syrian province after Homs. The rest of reserves are in other provinces such as Hama, Ar Raqqah and Homs.

Before the beginning of civil war in 2011, Syria was extracting 385,000 barrels of light crude oil with an approximate value of €3 billion, which were being transferred to Homs via pipeline. 89,000 barrels of the extracted oil were being refined and used for domestic uses. The rest was being exported through port of Baniyas.

Lebanon has uncovered some oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean. Syria can also explore some of these reserves as it has long coasts along the Mediterranean if it invests in its territorial waters.  

U.S. actions in eastern Euphrates

Now that the defeat of terrorists is clear to everyone, the U.S. is seeking to create an economic crisis in Syria by using oil as a tool against Damascus. This is the reason why it is seizing the country’s oil reserves and also pressures Damascus to accept Washington’s conditions.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Middle East

Middle Eastern protests: A tug of war over who has the longer breath

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Mass anti-government protests in several Arab countries are turning into competitions to determine who has the longer breath, the protesters or the government.

In Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq, countries in which the leader was either forced to resign or has agreed to step down, authorities appear to be dragging their feet on handovers of power or agreed transitional power sharing arrangements in the hope that protesters, determined to hold on to their street power until a political transition process is firmly in place, either lose their momentum or are racked by internal differences.

So far, protesters are holding their ground, having learnt the lesson that their achievements are likely to be rolled back if they vacate the street before having cemented an agreement on the rules of the transitional game and process.

Algerians remain on the streets, seven months after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to step down, in demand of a complete change of the political system.

Scores of recent arrests on charges that include “harming national unity” and “undermining the morale of the army” have failed to deter Algerians who refuse to accept the military’s proposed December 12 date for elections.

Lebanon enters its second months of protests with the government going through the motions but ultimately failing to respond to demands for a technocratic government, a new non-sectarian electoral law and early elections.

An effort to replace prime minister Saad Hariri with another member of the elite, Mohammad Safadi, a billionaire businessman and former finance minister, was rejected by the protesters.

We are staying here. We don’t know how long – maybe one or two months or one or two years. Maybe it will take 10 years to get the state we are dreaming of, but everything starts with a first step.” said filmmaker Perla Joe Maalouli.

Weeks after agreeing to resign in response to popular pressure, Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mehdi appears to be increasingly firm in his saddle.

Much like what prompted US President George H.W.. Bush to first call in 1991 for a popular revolt against Saddam Hussein and then give the Iraqi strongman the tools to crush the uprising, Mr. Mehdi is holding on to power in the absence of a credible candidate acceptable to the political elite to replace him.

Mr. Mehdi’s position is strengthened by the fact that neither the United States nor Iran wants a power vacuum to emerge in Baghdad.

Backtracking on Mr. Mehdi’s resignation and refraining from appointing a prime minister who credibly holds out the promise of real change is likely to harden the battle lines between the protesters and the government.

The tugs of war highlight the pitfalls protesters and governments need to manoeuvre in what amounts to a complex game with governments seeking to pacify demonstrators by seemingly entertaining their demands yet plotting to maintain fundamental political structures that anti-government activists want to uproot.

The risk of a tug of war is that protests turn violent as happened in Hong Kong or in Lebanon where cars of parliamentarians were attacked as they drove this week towards the assembly.

Meeting protesters’ demands and aspirations that drive the demonstrations and figure across the Middle East and North Africa, irrespective of whether grievances have spilled into streets, is what makes economic and social reform tricky business for the region’s autocrats.

Its where what is needed for sustainable reforms bounces up against ever more repressive security states intent on exercising increasingly tight control.

Sustainable reform requires capable and effective institutions rather than bloated, bureaucratic job banks and decentralisation with greater authorities granted to municipalities and regions.

Altering social contracts by introducing or increasing taxes, reducing subsidies for basic goods and narrowing opportunities for government employment will have to be buffered by greater transparency that provides the public insight into how the government ensures that it benefits from the still evolving new social contract.

To many protesters, Sudan has validated protesters’ resolve to retain street power until transitional arrangements are put in place.

It took five months after the toppling of president Omar al-Bashir and a short-lived security force crackdown in which some 100 people were killed before the military, the protesters and political groups agreed and put in place a transitional power-sharing process.

The process involved the creation of a sovereign council made up of civilians and military officers that is governing the country and managing its democratic transition.

Even so, transitional experiences have yet to prove their mettle. Protesters may have learnt lessons from the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Yet, this time round, protesters lack the broad-based international empathy that 2011 uprisings enjoyed and are up against more than domestic forces backed by conservative Gulf states.

Powers like Russia and China make no bones about their rejection of protest as an expression of popular political will.

So has Iran that has much at stake in Iraq and Lebanon, countries where anti-sectarian sentiment is strong among protesters, even if the Islamic republic was born in one of the 20th century’s epic popular revolts and is confronting protests of its own against fuel price hikes.

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Iran’s next parliamentary election hinges on economic problems, US sanctions effective

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It seems any faction focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections.

The eleventh elections of the Islamic Parliament in Iran will be on Feb 21, 2020 across the country. Seyed Salaman Samani spokesman of Interior Ministry said in an interview that has published on the official website of the ministry.

About 4 months have remained to the elections, but the politicians and parties have started to organize their campaigns and planning for victory.

The current parliament was formed from 41 percent Reformers and Moderates, 29 percent Principlists, 28 percent Independents and 2 percent Minorities, according to the ISNA News Agency.

In Tehran, capital of the country, all seats were gained by the Reformers, but some important cities such as Mashhad as the second city in the country, the Principlists were decisive winners.

But the majority of people and political activists are serious dissatisfactions concerning the function of the parliament, even some experts have emphasized on the famous slogan that says: “Reformer, Principlist, the story is over.”

This situation has formed, while Iran`s Parliament has been under control between two parties in the past years. So, some experts seek up the third faction for improving the country’s position, but so far the third faction has had not a leader and specific structure.

Due to the Reformers supporting of President Hassan Rouhani in the last presidential elections and lack of his rhetoric realization, the position of the Reformers has weakened increasingly. For example, Rouhani said during the contests of the presidential elections about 2 years ago in Iran television that If Iranians reelect me, all sanctions even non-nuclear sanctions will be lifted. But now, the sanctions against Iran have increased and the economic situation of the people has hurt extremely.

But recently, many celebrities of Iran have regretted concerning supporting Rouhani like Ali Karimi the former football player and Reza Sadeghi the famous singer, they demonstrated their regret on social media. So, some suggested that the victory of Principlists in the elections is certain.

“The Principlists need not do anything; they are comfortably the winner of the next parliamentary elections.” Sadegh Zibakalam, an Iranian academic reformist said in an interview with Shargh Newspaper.

“We have no chance for parliamentary elections and next presidential elections unless a miracle happens,” he added.

The Iranian Principlists are closer to Iran`s supreme leader and guard corps than the Reformers. A political face in the right-wing like, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf with the slogans “New Parliament ” and “Neo-Principlism ” has recalled young people to receive their ability to provide the elections list. Ghalibaf launched his third presidential campaign for the Iranian presidency on April 15, 2017, but on May 15, 2017, Ghalibaf withdrew, but he supported Ebrahim Raisi who is the current chief of Iran`s judiciary.

Another face is the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. Some experts say Ahmadinezhad has a great plan for the next elections but so far he has not spoken about it. Recently he criticized toughly from the government of Rouhani and Iran’s Judiciary. Recently, some of his close activists arrested by Iran’s Judiciary, and they are in Evin Prison now. Some analyzers say Ahmadinezhad has high popularity, just as the people have welcomed warmly lately on his travels across the country.

JAMNA or “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces” is another chance for Principlists in the next elections. JAMNA founded in late 2016 by ten figures from different spectrum of conservative factions, in the end, the party elected Ebrahim Raisi as a candidate for the presidential election but Raeisi defeated.

But Reformers are not hopeless, Mohammad Khatami as the leader of the Reformers, who served as the fifth President of Iran from 1997 to 2005 has said statements recently. He has wanted from the government to qualify the Reformers candidates for participation in the political event.

One of the Reformer’s big problems in the history of Iran `s elections has been the disqualification by the Guardian Council. According to Iran constitution, all candidates of parliamentary or presidential elections, as well as candidates for the Assembly of Experts, have to be qualified by the Guardian Council to run in the elections.

Some Reformers in reformist newspapers state that they will take part in the parliament elections on this condition the majority of Reformers’ candidates will be qualified by the Guardian Council.

Some analysts said the Iran parliament has not enough power in order to improve the country’s situation. Just as the parliament has approved the bill of “United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime” by a 126 vote in last year, but the Guardian Council has disagreed with it and its fate shall determine by Expediency Discernment Council, while the government has frequently emphasized on the bill. The government believes the approving the bill will cause to reducing the bans about the economic transaction with the world.

Generally, Iran`s economic position is very critical currently, tough sanctions by Trump administration and the defeat of the nuclear deal (JCPOA) has caused that Iranians to be under serious problems. The stuff prices and inflation are at the highest level since Iran`s revolution in 1979. So, it seems any faction that focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections. Also, the more important issue is the participation rate of people. If dissatisfactions about economic problems will be continued, hope and joy between people would reduce the rate of Participation in the next elections. Some experts say based on experiences in Iran, when the rate of participation in the elections is reduced, the Principlists has a more chance for the victory, because the gray spectrum that is not black or white, usually has a willing to the Reformers. the spectrum includes younger people even teenagers in the urban society.

Some political observers say the gray spectrum has not very willing to participate in the next elections. Some suggested that the future situation, especially in the economic field is very important to make the willingness about the gray spectrum to participate.

Analysts said the winner of the presidential elections 2 years later is the winner of the parliamentary elections on Feb 21, 2020. The majority of the next parliament will affect the political space across the country. This procedure in Iran has precedent. Like the victory of the Reformers in the last parliamentary elections that it caused the Rouhani victory about 2 years ago.

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