From a ‘color organization’ to ‘Joker’s mask’
Theories of soft subversion have always been popular around the world, in the form of “symbolization” in social movements and protests.
“Symbol” in protests is a sign that represents a common ideology or concept, and for a group of protesters with the same demands, it has a deeper meaning. This sign is chosen to incite people.
The effect of the symbol is so strong that it can be used as a weapon for years. Many countries try to symbolize and then incite citizens to undermine their rivals.
It should be noted that the symbol does not cause a protest, but it serves as a means to control it.
In recent decades, “color revolutions” have been one of the U.S. tools for interfering in other countries’ affairs, in which the use of symbols has been widely practiced. This type of revolutions are one of soft subversion’s methods that includes a kind of power transformation and displacement, coupled with negative struggle and civil disobedience.
This method was mainly used for the Soviet countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Although the method failed in many cases after its initial success, it worked well in removing barriers by the American hegemony.
On the other hand, a general assessment of using such a method showed that the color revolutions usually failed to complete the subversion project, and the desired result was not achieved, so the Western countries changed their attitude toward the protesters in their rival countries.
Joker is the name of a character formerly known as an anti-hero in the Batman story, and in most of the past stories had an unknown identity, though he was previously known as a “popular criminal” by audience.
Recently, a movie was made about the life if a “Joker” and why he became a criminal, which changed the way that audience connect to this anti-hero.
The “Joker” movie tells the story of a poor man who lives with his mother and has to play the role of a clown for the rest of his life.
Suffering from “pseudobulbar affect” disorder, Joker hopes to become a famous comedian to make people laugh. However, being constant rejection and humiliation, along with the immense corruption of the community he lives in, change his life and eventually turn him into a professional murderer with a tendency to uncontrollable chaos.
He only triggers chaos without any plans and sheds blood without trial. The people of Gotham (his hometown), who are victims of class distinctions and discrimination just like the Joker, follow his lead and take into streets. The rioters rob shops, set public places on fire, commit crimes and kill rulers.
As the movie was opened at the same time as uprisings in the West Asian region, some analysts suggest that the movie aimed at symbolizing and training protesters in these countries. Although this matter does not mean that the Joker movie staged the protests in these countries, the violence accompanied the protests and the killings by the demonstrators suggest that there is a will to derail popular protests against shortcomings and discrimination.
In other words, the Joker’s role here is to “justify” the violence, and it seems that after failing in the peaceful conflicts, this time the enemy’s plan is to agitate and justify the protests by using new symbolization.
For example, the current events in Iraq have in fact risen from symbolism. Protesters who are rightly frustrated by the country’s situation, kill their innocent compatriots and take a photo with his hanging body, describing their tough living conditions as justification for these brutal crimes.
The interesting point is that the protesters used the Joker mask and image, which reveals their identification with the character.
Some experts believe that the potential to lead people in expressing their objections was considered in the characterization of this anti-hero since the Joker was already a popular character and it was predictable that the movie would be welcomed.
Therefore, it appears that the imperialist domination (the hegemony) has reached a model in using different approaches to overthrow the political systems that opposed it, within the framework of soft subversion theories. It assumes that if the model is carried out properly, it can complete other scenarios to transform ruling systems in those countries.
Compared to the previous difficult approaches, if launching soft subversion projects could have made a significant stride in removing obstacles to the U.S. hegemony, in the next step “color” symbol had turned into a “live” symbol.
From our partner Tehran Times
How Beijing take advantage of US’s attempts to get rid of Netanyahu and expel him from power?
What caught my eye most after the success of Netanyahu’s hard-line government in Israel in January 2023 was the same American fear of its hard-line policies against the Palestinians and the region, especially after the Israeli occupation authorities announced an increase and expansion in the number of settlements and settlement units in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem. Indeed, real American signs began to get rid of the Netanyahu government in Israel. In addition to the American fears circulating on the horizon in anticipation of any rapprochement between China and Israel. This was explicitly announced by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Multilateral Affairs and Global China Issues, “Jung H. Pak”, at the China-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership Conference, known as: “SIGNAL”.
And it was held immediately after Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli elections, with the announcement of “Jung H. Pak”, that:
“Israel must take more steps to protect its “advanced biotechnologies from the Chinese investment”
The same American fears about the position of the Netanyahu government and its policies regarding China as a strong competitor to Washington in Tel Aviv and the region, occurred at the end of 2019, before the end of the previous term of “Benjamin Netanyahu” in power, when the Israeli government led by “Netanyahu” and under strong and intense pressure from Washington decided to establishing (a consultative mechanism on aspects of national security for foreign investments) and the meaning here is basically China. Therefore, the previous Netanyahu government’s approval of this US policy towards China came as an Israeli attempt mainly to manage obstacles and slowdowns in order to maneuver between US demands and Chinese economic opportunities in Tel Aviv.
And this matter has become applicable to the Israeli government that preceded the current Netanyahu government regarding the exercise of maximum American pressure in the face of the Hebrew state to ease its relations with Beijing. In July 2022, US President “Joe Biden” and former Israeli Prime Minister “Yair Lapid” published a joint declaration on (establishing a strategic dialogue on advanced technologies in Israel) to warn mainly against transferring that advanced Israeli technology with the help of the United States of America to China, and holding this strategic dialogue is mainly between Washington and Tel Aviv, headed by the US and Israeli national security advisors (Jake Sullivan and Eyal Holata). On October 12, 2022, the outgoing Israeli government headed by “Yair Lapid” decided to strengthen the advisory mechanism on foreign investments, especially with China, primarily to satisfy Washington. This is the same as confirmed by the US Ambassador to Israel, “Tom Needs”, when he said, “The US administration has also reached understandings with Israel regarding trade with China, and that it will tighten control over the sale of domestic technology to China, for fear of it falling into the wrong hands”, in an explicit reference to china.
However, after the victory of the Netanyahu government in the January 2023 elections, we were surprised by a severe deterioration in relations between Washington and Tel Aviv, to the extent that planning began in the White House in Washington and the “CIA” to get rid of the Netanyahu government and its hard-line policies in Palestine and the region, in anticipation of embarrassing Washington by all parties in the region and reduce confidence in them. Which made me pause for a long time on this serious issue of the American planning to get rid of Netanyahu’s extremist government, and how can Beijing take advantage of this to strengthen its presence and influence in Israel and the region? Especially after those statements from an American military official, that the United States of America is trying to get rid of Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu” because of its lack of commitment with Washington.
In my opinion, and according to my reading of the scene, it is expected that China will take advantage of this loophole in the tense US-Israeli relations during the current Netanyahu government, to enter as an active and influential party in the peace process in the Middle East. This is what Netanyahu expects even during his previous term, when he expected Beijing to play an important role in (European-American mediation diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians). It also brings me to a previous meeting chaired by “Netanyahu” and attended by Chinese and Israeli diplomats, in which “Netanyahu” told the Chinese directly, saying literally: “I believe we can work together to meet the challenges of achieving peace in the Middle East”. This aroused the anger and fears of the Americans about China’s entry as an active party and a reliable partner for all parties in the region in the peace process and its management between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Hence, China, through its intellectual and research centers and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, began a serious follow-up to the crisis situation between Washington, Tel Aviv, and the hardline Netanyahu government, after the success of “Benjamin Netanyahu” in 2023 to think about the Chinese entry effectively in the line of the flaring crisis between Washington and Tel Aviv to play the role of mediation regionally and internationally in order to lead China’s efforts and the mediation process in the region and between the Palestinians and the Israelis, especially those related to building settlements and settlement units for the extremist Netanyahu government in the West Bank and the occupied Palestinian territories.
In this regard – and on a personal academic level – I am reminded of what I wrote about an analysis published several years ago, specifically on June 2, 2014, entitled:
“The impact of Chinese labor in Israel on Arab national security”
This aroused the Israelis’ ire and anger at me, with my extensive analysis and my talk about Chinese labor in Israel, especially in the construction sector, which is estimated at more than 23,000 Chinese workers in Israel, which the Israeli occupation authorities are trying to benefit from in the process of building Israeli settlements and settlement units, especially that illegal Chinese labor, which entered Israel through illegal ways, so the Israeli occupation authorities are trying to take advantage of it in illegal actions affecting the construction of Israeli settlements, and this has become the most issue that causes and continues to strain relations between China and Israel. This is what I wrote about specifically, personally and academically, in June 2014, by emphasizing that this issue of Chinese labor in Tel Aviv, specifically those working in the construction sector, has become the most threatening file for Chinese-Israeli relations, with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs objecting several times to its Israeli counterpart by seeking their help in Illegal actions related to the construction of Israeli settlements and the Chinese demand to expel them and not seek help from them, and my candid statement in my analysis referred to and published in 2014, that this issue of Chinese labor in Israel, specifically in the construction sector, did not occur to any Egyptian or Arab researcher unless he lived He went to China himself, listened to all opinions, and analyzed them.
I mentioned in my previous analysis, published on June 2, 2014, regarding (Chinese labor in Israel, especially in the construction sector), which is a permanent source, and perhaps also unheard and uncirculated in our Arab region and Palestine, despite its extreme danger in studying the file of relations between China and Israel. In general, it is difficult for any researcher in the joint Israeli-Chinese political affairs to access these data and statistics, especially those related to the availability and access to necessary data, information and details about Chinese labor in Israel, or Israeli labor in China. Israel constitute a few separate groups, including small groups of Chinese students studying in Israeli universities, businessmen, merchants, workers and Chinese investors in the construction sector in Israel, and they are the majority in the business community and workers in Tel Aviv.
It remains a noteworthy note for me in this context, which is China’s keenness to increase the number of its citizens working in ”Israel”, which number approximately 20 thousand workers, and who transfer 330 million dollars annually to Beijing.
My analysis, referred to and publicly published on June 2, 2014, came as a result of the recent increase in joint Chinese-Israeli studies to establish a system for the employment of migrant labor between China and Israel. Under this project, the focus is on Chinese immigrants who were recruited to work in Israel under legal contracts. It was found that many of these immigrants face a state of illegality within the framework of their presence in the State of Israel. The operating system seeks to integrate these Chinese immigrants as well as mediators in the field of work and employers, from both the Chinese and Israeli sides, and to achieve a joint Chinese-Israeli benefit – especially in the informal Chinese-Israeli business sector, represented in preserving illegal Chinese labor, especially in the building and construction sector, amounting to 23 thousand workers – through the availability of many special Israeli facilities for them in the residency and work system in Tel Aviv.
In my research, published on June 2, 2014, I warned of the seriousness of the Israeli government’s policies in using those illegal Chinese workers in the construction sector in building Israeli settlements – which itself is a source of tension between China and Israel – especially with the Israeli government adopting several policies to encourage Chinese and foreign labor in general and expatriates to work in Israel, including expelling Palestinian workers from their jobs and fighting them for their livelihood, and replacing them with cheap Chinese labor. And by analyzing the impact of Chinese labor coming to Israel on our Arab national security, we will notice that more than half a million immigrants from the developing world, especially China, have flocked to Israel, since the first Palestinian uprising in the early nineties of the last century, to replace the Palestinian workers who were the main source of labor in Israel, which I have analyzed and referred to academically and in research, has increased the concern of some, considering that the expulsion and disposal of Palestinian labor comes within the framework of a long and systematic Israeli plan to build new settlements within the occupied Palestinian territories, which infers from it that the replacement of This Palestinian employment with Chinese and others comes within the framework of gaining international sympathy from the countries of these nationalities to turn a blind eye to such Zionist moves, and it is an analysis that deserves study and analysis, even if it is far-reaching.
This is what prompts me to declare, for the first time internationally, that I am trying to obtain official Israeli data from the Ministry of Immigration and Foreign Workers in Israel, pertaining to and affecting my academic work, to know the number of Chinese workers in Tel Aviv in an accurate academic and statistical way, but my request was completely rejected by Israel because that affects Israeli national security. This Israeli refusal to accurately disclose the number of Chinese workers – legal and illegal – in the Hebrew state, came when I wrote my internationally published book in English and classified as one of the most important books in the world, on:
“The impact of Jewish minorities and Israeli think tanks in China on Arab national security”
It is the book that caused a strong international uproar, to the extent that Harvard University, ranked first in the United States and internationally, bought copies of it, in addition to purchasing copies of it from major American and international universities, which placed them in their libraries for public viewing, as well as mentioning, referring, and introducing me to the official American university websites globally to introduce me to American students and researchers, and I published with him (a biography introducing me) on the official websites of these universities, so it was the largest American university that bought and presented my book, on: “The Influence of Jewish Minorities and Israeli Think Tanks in China on Arab National Security”. These are: Universities (Harvard, Washington, Stanford, Ohio, Columbia, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Yale), and other American and international universities.
The danger of my book, American, Israeli, and international, comes from my reference for the first time internationally about (the impact of recruiting Chinese Judaizers into the Israel Defense Forces on Arab national security in the future, and the impact of Chinese labor in Israel on Arab national security as a whole), and even on the strained relations between China and Israel at the same time. This is in the wake of the official Chinese demands from their Israeli counterparts to expel those illegal Chinese immigrant workers, mainly from building Israeli settlements, in violation of United Nations resolutions and international legitimacy, and the Israeli governments’ negligence of those Chinese claims, regarding the failure to use Chinese workers, especially illegal ones, in building Israeli settlements and demanding their expulsion. immediately with the Israeli non-compliance with that decision. And as I indicated, the Israeli side rejected any attempts by me to circumvent in order to obtain those accurate percentages and statistics about the numbers of formal, unofficial or illegal immigrant Chinese workers, especially those working in building Israeli settlements and settlement units illegally, with the Chinese government constantly objecting to those Israeli steps in using them to embarrass the Beijing government mainly in Palestine and the countries of the region, which is what Israel aims primarily for in the future, such as their use of Judaized Chinese to fight the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied Palestinian territories in the Israeli Defense Forces. This is what I strongly warned in my book referred to because of its seriousness.
On the American side, the continuation of the extremist Netanyahu government in building settlements and settlement units has become what arouses Washington’s anger and fears the most, like the Chinese as well, and threatens the continued survival of Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu” at the helm of power in Israel, with what has been observed of desperate American attempts to get rid of immediately and remove him from power. There are several fundamental reasons that prompted Washington to take this decision to get rid of “Netanyahu” now, even though it was his biggest supporter, to describe the new government led by “Netanyahu” as “the most right-wing” in the history of Israel. Also, the new Netanyahu government is the most religious and strict in the history of Israel, due to its composition and composition of several ultra-Orthodox parties, an extremist religious faction, and the far-right Likud party, in addition to the assistance of several other figures in forming the Netanyahu government, which is considered controversial, due to its hardline stances towards the Palestinians, the Palestinian cause, and the Arab region completely that Israeli government, with its new components, will undermine the potential of the Palestinians to obtain their legitimate rights through the expansion of the settlement and Judaization policy, and its complete lack of respect for international law, through its frank and direct announcement of its approved plan and policy to expand the settlement units in the West Bank and on the occupied Palestinian territories. With the presence of a severe American warning to establish new settlements in the northern West Bank, with the increasing American criticism in the face of the extremist Netanyahu government, regarding the law of separation or disengagement, which was signed in 2005, and related to the construction of Israeli settlements.
Hence the summoning of Israel’s ambassador to Washington, “Mike Herzog” in the US State Department, following the background of the cancellation of a number of articles of the Secession Law in the Israeli Knesset, in which members of Parliament, the “Israeli Knesset”, canceled a number of provisions of the Separation Law, which prohibited Jews from living In the northern regions of the West Bank, however, hard-line members of the Knesset formed a strong bloc to cancel several articles of the Separation Law to expand their right to settlement, claiming that the lands of the West Bank in Palestine are part of their historical homeland, as well as the Israeli claim that expanding settlement construction will help in Fighting what they called terrorism and developing the land of Israel according to their claim, which Washington, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, all countries in the region and the international community completely reject. This is what the US State Department itself officially described as a “provocative step” that violates promises. With the American warning to Netanyahu’s hardline government, that the plan to cancel a number of articles of the (Separation Act) to expand settlements in the northern West Bank constitutes an obstacle to American-Israeli peace in Palestine and the Middle East region, and impedes American plans to expand the circle of peace and agreements with the countries of the region and Israel. Hence the US administration’s warning to the Netanyahu government that the Knesset’s decision to annul some articles of the 2005 disengagement or separation law, related to the northern West Bank, is counterproductive to calm efforts, and hinders the possibility of pursuing confidence-building measures and creating any political horizon for dialogue.
And the most dangerous thing remains for me, according to my reading and analysis of the scene, is the possibility of displacing the Palestinians from their lands by the extremist government of Netanyahu, which has already been monitored, through the Israeli occupation authorities taking several steps to expel the Palestinians in (Silwan neighborhood) in the West Bank in preparation for the establishment and establishment of new settlements, and thus with the expansion of the process of forced displacement of the Palestinians from their lands, we will be facing ethnic cleansing operations, and confrontations will occur that must be dealt with inevitably. And with the placement of Islamic and religious sanctities under the Hashemite tutelage and King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the stern warning by King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein of Jordan came to warn against crossing the “Israeli red lines” in the city of Jerusalem, with direct confirmation by King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein With his personal readiness for conflict in the face of the Netanyahu government and its extremist policies, if the status of the holy places in Palestine changes. There is also widespread Jordanian concern about those who are trying to pressure Israel and Netanyahu’s extremist government to introduce changes in his guardianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem, and this is what King Abdullah bin Al Hussein warned of that he has “red lines” that Israel must pay attention to, and not to go beyond it at all, which Washington fears of wider regional unrest with the Netanyahu government and its hard-line policies towards the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab region, especially Egypt and Jordan.
Netanyahu’s hard-line government has also caused an escalation of American, international, and regional concerns about the possible development of Israeli-Palestinian violence, and questions about the future of Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors and Western allies themselves, especially since this year has already been the bloodiest for the Palestinians and Israelis, which brings to mind the specter of a new Palestinian uprising, and this is what Washington and the “Joe Biden” administration fear most in the region.
Hence the US administration’s endeavor to get rid of the Netanyahu government, despite its confidence in the Israeli Knesset, due to a state of fears and warnings, whether Western or Arab, against forming a government that relies on the extreme right led by “Benjamin Netanyahu”, with the increasing American accusations against the new government of Israel, describing it as the most strict and extremist in the history of Tel Aviv, with the Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu” relying in its formation on a group of the most extremists within the occupied entity, amid expectations of an intensification of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and fears of the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising. New because of his government’s policies against the Palestinians, especially after the Netanyahu government announced its new agenda regarding settlement expansion in the West Bank, and its disrespect for the decisions of Washington, the international community and the neighboring Arab region in particular, which arouses the anger and fears of the Americans and all neighboring parties, for fear of Situations ignite. This is after the decision to expand settlements and settlement units of the Netanyahu government violated all resolutions of international legitimacy, most notably Resolution No. (2334) issued by the UN Security Council, which confirmed that settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and contrary to United Nations resolutions and international legitimacy. Hence, the expansion of Israeli settlements during the Netanyahu era ignites the Palestinian front and the entire region, and makes resistance and unity a first priority for the Palestinian people in the face of the priorities of the new Israeli government led by “Netanyahu” by escalating the resistance, expanding its area, and applying pressure with all available means to uproot and expel the Jewish settlers.
The United States of America expressed its concern about the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new settlement policies, coinciding with Washington’s opposition to any measure that contradicts the principle of the two-state solution. Therefore, American calls increased for Netanyahu to meet with Biden to discuss peace opportunities with the Palestinians, especially after approval The Knesset over the Netanyahu government in January 2023. Here, the administration of US President Joe Biden finds it difficult to deal with the Netanyahu government, especially since most of it is from the extreme right, especially Itamar Ben Gvir, the Israeli Minister of National Security. Hence, the United States of America sought to find a way to deal with members of the extreme right in the Netanyahu government, in order to avoid problems with its close ally, Israel. Especially with the Netanyahu government’s hard-line orientations regarding the settlement expansion plan in the West Bank at the top of its list of priorities, as well as building more settlement units, and this was explicitly announced by Netanyahu’s Likud Party, with its emphasis on “development and expansion of settlements throughout the land of Israel, specifically in The cities of Galilee, the Negev, the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria,” which are biblical names for the West Bank.
On the other hand, hard-line members of the Israeli Knesset responded to US criticism of the Netanyahu government regarding the expansion of settlement construction, by warning the US administration not to interfere in Israel’s security policy in the West Bank. Rather, the Israeli justification came to Washington through a number of Knesset members and the extremist Israeli government, that the allegations about building settlements in Area “C” will increase tensions between Israelis and Palestinians is a fundamental error from the Israeli point of view, warning of the increasing pressure of the US government on the issue of canceling the separation law in North of the West Bank, because Washington’s pressure on Israel in this context constitutes damage to Israel’s security, according to the current Israeli perception. This constituted fundamental and strong reasons for Washington to try to completely get rid of the provocations of the Netanyahu government and its strict policies towards the Palestinians and the region, and its non-compliance with any previous decisions reached regarding the settlements and the Jordanian Hashemite guardianship over religious sanctities in East Jerusalem, and others.
On the other hand, the American concern has become about the relationship between China and Israel during the era of the “Benjamin Netanyahu” government, in light of the role that Tel Aviv played in transferring some advanced Western military technologies to Beijing. The most numerous plane in China is the (J-10), whose design is believed to have been based initially on the Israeli plane project “Lavi”, which Tel Aviv secretly presented to Beijing during the eighties, noting that the Israeli plane, in turn, is influenced by the design of the American “F-16”. And that was after Washington had provided some of its information and technologies to the Israeli project, meaning that American technology had infiltrated Beijing through Tel Aviv.
Hence, we arrive at a conclusive and final analysis that states the extent to which the Chinese are able to benefit from the strained relations between Washington and Tel Aviv to achieve their interests, either by pressuring the hard-line Netanyahu government to expel illegal Chinese workers from the Israeli settlement lands, or by obtaining advanced Israeli advantages and technologies provided to them mainly from Washington. It is the same thing that threatens US national security in terms of fear of growing relations between China and Israel, especially during the Netanyahu era, which ultimately leads to the success of the Chinese in exploiting those tense relations between the United States of America and Israel The current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is at the helm of power in the Jewish state. This is what makes Tel Aviv very angry with Washington in favor of rapprochement with the Chinese, who – in my opinion – have read the scene well and planned for it to achieve their interests at the expense of the Americans, and to enter as a reliable mediator and sponsor of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict on the one hand, and to plan for a China obtains advanced American technologies from the Netanyahu government, whose relationship is already tense with Washington, in light of the United States’ efforts to expel “Netanyahu” from the Israeli authority, and also to create increasing Chinese pressure on the Netanyahu government to renew its request to expel illegal Chinese workers, mainly from working in the construction sector. And construction in Israeli settlements and settlement units. In my belief and my final analysis, China is the primary beneficiary in all circumstances and circumstances from the strained relations between Washington and Tel Aviv.
China Gains Political Clout in the Middle East at the expense of the US’s Indispensability
There is yet another détente in the Middle East, but it is neither between Israel and Arabs nor has the United States of America (USA) played an intermediary. For a change, Saudi Arabia and its archrival across the Persian Gulf, Iran, have agreed to resume bilateral ties severed since the 2016 attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and in a rather surprising first, the peacemaker happens to be China. Auspiciously for Beijing, it was uniquely placed to broker a detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran given its cordial relations with both countries — a feature that the “indispensable” USA lacked owing to its longstanding animosity with Iran.
Since the exponential rise in the significance of the Middle East owing to the discovery of oil, the USA has been an “indispensable” power player in the region. However, discernably fatigued by the decades-long military engagements in the region and adapting to a transformed global geostrategic environment, Washington underwent retrenchment from the Middle East in a bid to reorient its priorities to Asia-Pacific to counter China’s growing clout and recently towards Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On top of that, thanks to their lofty economic and technological ambitions, the gulf countries have been making overtures to China to further expand their already multifaceted relationship — a trend expedited by the frosty relations between the Biden Administration and some of the Arab monarchs.
During the past few decades, China made steady inroads into the Middle East under the garb of geo-economics. Beijing is the largest trading and investment partner of the Middle Eastern nations and buys more oil from the region than any other country. Furthermore, almost all the Middle Eastern countries have signed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and as the Arab Monarchs aim to diversify their economies away from dependence on oil revenues, they are heavily counting on China for crucial investments and technological upgradations.
The growing economic influence did yield China significant political clout in the Middle East but until recently, Beijing has been cautiously reticent to publicly venture into the political arena. Nevertheless, it has gradually been propounding itself as a standard-bearer of United Nations (UN) principles and a proponent of win-win cooperation with reiterated stress on “dialogue and diplomacy” to settle disputes. The mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the first employment of “dialogue and diplomacy” entirely sponsored by China. Reportedly, Saudis — skeptical of Iran — only accepted the deal after China signed as a guarantor, and economically debilitated Iran participated in the dialogue without preconditions after being granted immediate financial concessions besides the previous pledge of grandiose economic partnership. Needless to mention that Beijing is leveraging its economic clout to influence political happenings and more importantly, is no longer doing it behind closed doors; rather is advertising it as a momentous achievement of its diplomacy.
In the larger Chinese scheme of geo-economics outlined via BRI, the Middle East is among the most important geographical spheres, wherein it eyes grand investments in infrastructure, energy and technology. The acrimonious Saudi-Iran rivalry undermined China’s economic ambitions in the region and by brokering the détente, China aims to achieve not only its economic goals but has also announced itself as an influential political player in the region — an alternative to the “indispensable” USA.
Even though American officials welcomed the Saudi-Iran détente and have reportedly scoffed at the suggestion that the US influence in the Middle East is declining, in a zero-sum interplay between great powers, one side’s gain is always the loss of the other side. With the USA already engaged in bitter competition with China in economic, technological, and military spheres, diplomacy is just another frontline where Washington faces a supercharged Beijing vying to carve out its share of international diplomacy — previously dominated by the USA. Saudi Arabia and Iran resuming ties at Chinese mediation — while the “indispensable” USA spectated from the sidelines — bears evidence to the scale of Beijing’s political influence over Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular and all over the Middle East in general.
In addition, the diplomatic coup provides a clue about China’s political ambitions, which are not confined just to the Middle East. China — with frequent references to the UN charter and stress on diplomacy — has been trying to pitch itself as a peacemaker in various troubled zones. Just weeks before the Saudi-Iran mediation, China rolled out a 12-point position paper to bring an end to the hostilities in Ukraine. Although the plan did not receive a warm reception in the West, the message from Beijing couldn’t be less ambiguous: China is no longer reticent to shoulder political responsibilities and seeks to play a global political role by applying “Chinese wisdom”.
The bid to play as a mediator in conflicts stems from the view in Beijing that in contrast to the USA — involved directly or indirectly in conflicts, such as in the Middle East and Ukraine — China has stayed neutral and is, therefore, best suited to play the role of an intermediary. It is yet to be seen how successful Beijing’s push to field itself as a global peacemaker proves in the long haul; nevertheless, the USA’s indispensability, lately circumscribed to the diplomatic arena, has essentially been dispensed with.
This Distant Damascus
For the last 12 years, the war in Syria has been raging on. March 15, 2011 is considered to be the starting date of the conflict. At that time, the Syrian Republic was overwhelmed by mass protests following the havoc brought by the Arab Spring. As a result, a political crisis escalated into violent clashes, bringing external forces into the mix. Turkey, in particular, has been supporting the Syrian opposition. Initially, it was also supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Despite the cessation of large-scale hostilities, we cannot say that the Syrian conflict is frozen. There are still some clashes in the country, including those involving foreign countries.
The Syrian government now controls approximately 65% of the territory. Most of the northeastern governorates of Raqqa, Al-Hasakah, and the northern parts of Deir ez-Zor are controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), consisting mainly of Kurdish militias. Part of Idlib is occupied by the radical Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham movement (outlawed in the Russian Federation). A number of areas in Aleppo, Raqqa, Al-Hasakah and Idlib are under the de facto protectorate of Ankara, which was established as a result of Turkish military operations: “Euphrates Shield”, “Olive Branch” and “Source of Peace”.
Syria is still a hotbed of terrorism. The posing extremist threat reached its peak in 2015, when ISIS (outlawed in the Russian Federation) seized numerous major cities. Although the organization’s main forces have been defeated, there are still sleeper cells in the Syrian desert. According to the UN, there are between 6,000 and 10,000 ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq, not counting the present representatives from other organizations. Additionally, there are thousands of terrorists in Syrian prisons (including those controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces), which are becoming breeding grounds for jihadist ideas.
Moreover, the risk of escalation between individual countries still remains. There is a U.S. military base, Al-Tanf, in the southeastern province of Homs, along the Iraq-Jordan-Syria border. Syria can also be described as a Russian stronghold in the Middle East. In 2015, Russia launched a military operation against ISIS after Damascus appealed to Moscow for help. The Russian Hemeimeem air base and the Russian Tartus naval base are both located in Syria. Iran also has significantly increased its presence in recent years. Turkey constantly warns about the possibility of launching another military operation in northern Syria against Kurdish militias.
With all things considered, the risk that tensions between Moscow and Washington may spillover into Syria remains high. However, the Syrian crisis may also demonstrate that Russia and the United States can find common ground even amid the difficult situation over Ukraine.
Another problem is Syria’s severe humanitarian crisis. According to the UN, 90% of Syrians live below the poverty line. In 2022, the international organization allocated only 47% of the amount needed to implement humanitarian programs. Fuel shortages and high food prices are only exacerbating the existing humanitarian problems. This situation is further compounded by even more serious economic difficulties. The conflict is encouraging the expanding informal economy to play a major role in Syria due to high levels of corruption. The country’s civilian infrastructure has not yet been restored, and the sanctions imposed on Damascus by the United States and the EU in particular are hampering economic recovery.
Until 2022, a number of Russian companies were reasonably worried about doing business in Syria because of the risk of Western sanctions. However, now that many of the concerned organizations have fallen under the same sanctions themselves, the importance of this factor has diminished and Russia can expand its presence in Syria. This would allow Syria, a key ally of Russia in the Middle East, to manage its difficulties better.
The war in Syria has shown that a military solution to the conflict is doomed to fail, and establishing political peace seems almost the only probable way to resolve the conflict. However, the unresolved Kurdish issue remains one of the main stumbling blocks to a real settlement. The northeastern parts of Syria controlled by the SDF are demanding greater political and economic autonomy.
No progress can be made without an agreement between the government in Damascus and the Syrian Kurds on the post-war settlement of the country. The government’s willingness to find a compromise that takes into account the interests of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria could help resolve the crisis. The experience of Iraq, where the Kurds have been granted fairly extensive autonomy, could serve as an example of a successful solution to a similar problem.
Russia could act as a mediator between the Syrian government and the Kurds. Also, Moscow can guarantee the implementation of political agreements between the Syrian government and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. However, much of this will depend on Damascus’ flexibility and the Syrian political system’s desire for reforms.
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