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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

“Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”

Eric Zuesse

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On August 17th, an anonymous German intelligence analyst who has perhaps the world’s best track-record of publicly identifying and announcing historical turning-points, and who is therefore also a great investigative journalist regarding international relations (especially military matters, which are his specialty) headlined at his “Moon of Alabama” blog, “Long Range Attack On Saudi Oil Field Ends War On Yemen”, and he opened:

Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen. It has no defenses against new weapons the Houthis in Yemen acquired. These weapons threaten the Saudis economic lifelines. This today was the decisive attack:

Drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil and gas field deep inside Saudi Arabia’s sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a “limited fire” in the second such recent attack on its crucial energy industry.  …

The Saudi acknowledgement of the attack came hours after Yahia Sarie, a military spokesman for the Houthis, issued a video statement claiming the rebels launched 10 bomb-laden drones targeting the field in their “biggest-ever” operation. He threatened more attacks would be coming. 

New drones and missiles displayed in July 2019 by Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces

Today’s attack is a check-mate move against the Saudis. Shaybah is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Houthi-controlled territory. There are many more important economic targets within that range.  …

The attack conclusively demonstrates that the most important assets of the Saudis are now under threat. This economic threat comes on top of a seven percent budget deficit the IMF predicts for Saudi Arabia. Further Saudi bombing against the Houthi will now have very significant additional cost that might even endanger the viability of the Saudi state. The Houthi have clown prince Mohammad bin Salman by the balls and can squeeze those at will.

He went on to say that the drones aren’t from Iran but are copies from Iran’s, “assembled in Yemen with the help of Hizbullah experts from Lebanon.”

He has been predicting for a long time that this war couldn’t be won by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MbS). In the present report, he says:

The war on Yemen that MbS started in March 2015 long proved to be unwinnable. Now it is definitely lost. Neither the U.S. nor the Europeans will come to the Saudis help. There are no technological means to reasonably protect against such attacks. Poor Yemen defeated rich Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi side will have to agree to political peace negotiations. The Yemeni demand for reparation payments will be eye watering. But the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand.

The UAE was smart to pull out of Yemen during the last months.

If he is correct (and I have never yet found a prediction from him turn out to have been wrong), then this will be an enormous blow to the foreign markets for U.S.-made weapons, since the Sauds are the world’s largest foreign purchasers of those, and have spent profusely on them — and also on U.S. personnel to train their soldiers how to use them. So (and this is my prediction, not his), August 19th might be a good time to sell short U.S. armament-makers such as Lockheed Martin.

However: his prediction that “the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand” seems to me to be the first one from him that could turn out to have been wrong. If the Sauds have perpetrated, say, $200 billion of physical damage to Yemen, but refuse to pay more than $100 billion in reparations, and the Housis then hit and take out a major Saudi oil well, isn’t it possible that the Sauds would stand firm? But if they do, then mightn’t it be wrong to say, at the present time, that: “Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”? He has gone out on limbs before, and I can’t yet think of any that broke under him. Maybe this one will be the first? I wouldn’t bet on that. But this one seems to me to be a particularly long limb. We’ll see!

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The message behind the release of Iranian oil tanker

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Gibraltar court ordered the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 to be released. The tanker was seized by the British Royal Marines about a month ago. 

This verdict was the ending of an elaborate game designed by John Bolton National Security Advisor of the United States and Mike Pompeo, carried out by the Britain government. 

With seizing the tanker, Bolton was trying to put psychological and political pressures on Iran and force other countries to form a consensus against Iran, but he couldn’t fulfill any of these goals. 

Iran’s firm, logical and wise answer to the seizure of Grace 1 (like making solid legal arguments) and the seriousness of our country’s armed forces in giving a proper response to Britain’s contemptuous act, made the White House lose the lead on reaching its ends. 

Washington imagined that the seizure of Grace 1 will become Trump’s winning card against Iran, but the release of the tanker (despite disagreement of the U.S.) became another failure for the White House in dealing with Iran.  

Obviously, London was also a total loser in this game. It is worth noting that U.S. was so persistent about keeping the oil tanker in custody that John Bolton traveled to London and insisted on British officials to continue the seizure of the ship. Their failure, however, clearly shows that the White House and its traditional ally, Britain, have lost a big part of their power in their relations with Iran. 

Clearly, the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker by Britain proceeded by the seizure of a British tanker by Iran and the following interactions between the two countries is not the whole story and there is more to it that will be revealed in coming days. 

What we know for sure is that London has to pay for its recent anti-Iran plot in order to satisfy Washington; the smallest of these consequences was that Britain lost some of its legal credibility in international arena as it illegally captured an Iranian oil tanker. 

The order of the Gibraltarian court revealed that London had no legal right to seize the Iranian oil tanker and nobody can defend this unlawful action. Surely, Iran will take all necessary legal actions to further pursue the matter.  

In this situation, the Islamic Republic of Iran is firm on its position that it doesn’t have to follow the sanctions imposed by the European Union on other countries (including Syria). 

No entity can undermine this argument as it is based on legal terms; therefore, Iran will keep supporting Syrian nation and government to fight terrorism. This is the strategic policy of the Islamic Republic and will not be changed under the pressure or influence of any other third country. 

Finally, it should be noted that the release of Grace 1 oil tanker was not only a legal and political failure for Washington and London and their allies but it was also a strategic failure. Undoubtedly, the vast consequences of this failure will be revealed in near future. 

From our partner Tehran Times

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Middle East

Business and boxing: two sides of the same coin

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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What do a planned US$15 billion Saudi investment in petroleum-related Indian businesses and a controversial boxing championship have in common?

Both reflect a world in which power and economics drive policy, politics and business at the expense of fundamental rights.

And both underscore an emerging new world order in which might is right, a jungle in which dissenters, minorities and all other others are increasingly cornered and repressed.

Rather than furthering stability by building inclusive, cohesive societies both support trends likely to produce an evermore unstable and insecure world marked by societal strife, mass migration, radicalization and violence.

A world in which business capitalizes on decisions by a critical mass of world leaders who share autocratic, authoritarian and illiberal principles of governance and often reward each other with lucrative business deals for policies that potentially aggravate rather than reduce conflict.

No doubt, the planned acquisition by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned national oil company Aramco of 20 percent of the petroleum-related businesses of Reliance Industries, one of India’s biggest companies, makes commercial and strategic economic and business sense.

Yet, there is equally little doubt that the announcement of the acquisition will be read by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, days after he scrapped the autonomous status of the troubled, majority Muslim region of Kashmir, as a license to pursue his Hindu nationalist policies that discriminate against Muslims and other minorities and fuel tensions with Pakistan, the subcontinent’s other nuclear power.

The ultimate cost of the fallout of policies and business deals that contribute or give license to exclusion rather than inclusion of all segments of a population and aggravate regional conflict could be far higher than the benefits accrued by the parties to a deal.

Underscoring the risk of exclusionary policies and unilateral moves, cross border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces erupted this week along the Kashmiri frontier in which at least five people were killed.

The timing of the announcement of the Aramco Reliance deal in a global environment in which various forms of racism and prejudice, including Islamophobia, are on the rise, assures Indian political and business leaders that they are unlikely to pay an immediate price for policies that sow discord and risk loss of life.

Like in the case of Saudi and Muslim acquiescence in China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled, north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang, the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history, the announcement risks convincing embattled Muslim minorities like the Uighurs, the Kashmiris or Myanmar’s Rohingya who are lingering in refugee camps in Bangladesh that they are being hung out to dry.

To be sure, Kashmiris can count on the support of Pakistan but that is likely to be little more than emotional, verbal and political.

Pakistan is unlikely to risk blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, at its next scheduled meeting in October by unleashing its anti-Indian militants.

Anthony Joshua’s controversial fight with Andy Ruiz scheduled for December in Saudi Arabia, the first boxing championship to be held in the Middle East, pales in terms of its geopolitical or societal impact compared to the Saudi Indian business deal.

Fact is that Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the championship has provoked the ire of activists rather than significant population groups. The fight is furthermore likely to be seen as evidence and a strengthening of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s selective efforts to socially liberalize the once austere kingdom.

Nonetheless, it also reinforces Prince Mohammed’s justified perception that Saudi Arabia can get away with imprisoning activists who argued in favour of his reforms as well as the lack of transparency on judicial proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia insists the killing was perpetrated by rogue operatives.

What Saudi investment in India and the scheduled boxing championship in the kingdom have in common is that both confirm the norms of a world in which ‘humane authority,’ a concept developed by prominent Chinese international relations scholar Yan Xuetong, is a rare quantity.

Mr. Yan employs the concept to argue without referring to President Xi Jinping, Xinjiang, China’s aggressive approach towards the South China Sea or its policy towards Taiwan and Hong Kong that China lacks the humane authority to capitalize on US President Donald J. Trump’s undermining of US leadership.

Mr. Yan defines a state that has humane authority as maintaining strategic credibility and defending the international order by becoming an example through adherence to international norms, rewarding states that live up to those norms and punishing states that violate them. Garnering humane authority enables a state to win allies and build a stable international order.

Mr. Yan’s analysis is as applicable to India and Saudi Arabia as it is to China and others that tend towards civilizational policies like the United States, Russia, Hungary and Turkey.

It is equally true for men like Anthony Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn and business leaders in general.

To be sure, Aramco is state-owned and subject to government policy. Nonetheless, as it prepares for what is likely to be the world’s largest initial public offering, even Aramco has to take factors beyond pure economic and financial criteria into account.

At the end of the day, the consequence of Mr. Yan’s theory is that leadership, whether geopolitical, economic or business, is defined as much by power and opportunity as it is by degrees of morality and ethics.

Failure to embrace some notion of humane authority and reducing leadership and business decisions to exploiting opportunity with disregard for consequences or the environment in which they are taken is likely to ultimately haunt political and business leaders alike.

Said Mr. Yan: “Since the leadership of a humane authority is able to rectify those states that disturb the international order, the order based on its leadership can durably be maintained.”

What is true for political leaders is also true for business leaders even if they refuse to acknowledge that their decisions have as much political as economic impact.

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