The United States portrayed top Iranian commander Major Gen Qassem Soleimani, killed in an air strike, architect of Tehran’s proxy wars in the Middle East. After killing him, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo tweeted Iraqis are celebrating the death of top Iran commander Qasem Soleimani by “dancing in streets”.In the 22-second video which Pompeo shared on Twitter, people are seen running on a road carrying a several meter-long Iraq national flag. He could not see Iraqi processions expressing anguish at the killing.
Shortly, after the USA resumed military cooperation and training programme with Pakistan. Media speculates Pakistan tacitly supports US strike. Asian Lite report dated January4, 2020, based on Pakistan’s foreign-affairs-ministry letter reveals `14 personnel of Pakistan Armed Forces were killed recently by Baloch militants based in Iran, sponsored by Iranian intelligence chief Soleimani against Pakistan’. Pakistan’s mood is conspicuous from its absence from Kuala Lumpur conference, attended, inter alia, by Iran. Riyadh view the moot as a nascent alternative to its protégé Organisation of Islamic Conference.
Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of interfering in their domestic affairs. They blame Iran for the Houthi attack on Saudi oil facilities and the attack on oil tankers near Ras Al Khaimah.
In an attempt to woo India, Trump said, ‘Soleimani plotted terror attacks in India’(Sunday Standard January 4, 2020). He apparently alluded to the February 13, 2012 bomb blast in New Delhi, in which Israeli diplomat Tal Yehoshua Koren was injured. With billions sunken in Chahbahar port construction, India is unlikely to be weaned away so easily.
An act of frustration: The USA could not bring about a regime change in Teheran through sanctions. So, it had the last recourse to blunt rising frustration in Washington’s pro-Israel hawks and to galvanise pro-Trump lobby. The only visible impact of the sanctions was sporadic demonstrations against chicken prices (staple food), bank lootings, and rising unemployment in Iran, . Iran’s exasperating non-cooperation continued despite flurry of warnings, including those from the White House and 10-Downing Street.
Several writers, including John Galtung, Miroslav, Wallensteen, Schlesinger, Hufbauer, Garg, Jefferey Scot, Kimberley Elliot, Nye, and Franklin L. Levin have tried to define, illustrate and classify sanctions. Generally the sanctions are categorized as diplomatic, communicative and economic. But they are complex in their impact. They are useless if they fail to ‘change Iranian regime’ or its behaviour for the `better’.
Iran does not appear to be much vulnerable to economic sanctions in the light of her past history. In response to the seizure and detention of American diplomatic and counselor personnel in Teheran, the USA froze Iranian assets and called upon the allied governments in 1979 to take similar action and halt their trade with Iran. The European industrial powers announced to cooperate. But, one by one, they resumed their commercial ties with Iran. Germany, Italy, Japan and China need Iran oil or gas. Isn’t it eerie that, despite US restrictions, Iran never fell short of parts for her refineries or the American rail track? Several European multi-national banks declined to declare Teheran in default on its financial obligations and thereby mitigated the effect of the American sanctions.
A dormant UNO: Threats of forced regime-changes have made a mockery of the UNO. Wars become inevitable when the world leaders develop hallucinations of diabolical enemy images. Kaiser Wilhelm saw devils in both Russia and England. This perception led him to attack Russia and England.
The UNO should not be used as a rubber stamp. In Korean War, the UNO lost the credibility to act as a true mediator because it merged with the American cause. America’s humanitarian intervention in Viet Nam led to dropping of seven million tons of bombs (eighty times the amount that was dropped on Britain during the World War II, equivalent to over three hundred atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945). In return, the USA also received 55,000 metal caskets, and war costs of $ 150 billion.
Need for peace: If the USA had not plunged into Indo-China, Viet Nam would have emerged as a Titoist nationalist, rather than a Beijing or Moscow satellite. John G. Stoessinger reminds: ‘A victor’s peace, history teaches us, is seldom lasting. Neither is total defeat’ (Why Nations Go to War, p. 217).
Peace with Iran means peace in Hormuz Straits and with hizbollah, as also in Yemen. Let us see whether the US government is able to convince the American mothers to contribute body-packs to Iran? If ‘United States’ means the American people, the answer is ‘no’ _ they are peace-loving, family-oriented people. If the ‘United States’ means the American government then the answer is ‘may be’. Through propaganda the government is trying to mold people (who Chomsky calls a `bewildered herd’) for war against Iran (Noam Chomsky’s Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, Karachi, Vanguard, 2004, p.16). Chomski reminds that Woodrow Wilson wanted to plunge the pacifist American people in war against Germany. He established a government propaganda commission, Creel Commission, which succeeded, within six months, in turning the pacifist population into a hysterical, war mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world.(ibid., page 12). The US government has not been impressed by Chomsky’s suggestions for defusing the Iran crisis (Defusing Iran crisis): (a) The US and Israel should stop threatening Iran so that Iran does not consider nuclear deterrence necessary. (b) All production and processing of weapons-usable material be under international control with ‘assurance that legitimate would-be users could get their supplies’. (c) The 1993 UN resolution for fissile material cut-off treaty should be fully implemented.
Iran’s right: Iran’s right to peaceful enrichment should be respected. It was the USA itself, who during the Shah’s days encouraged Iran to develop a nuclear programme, whether for peaceful or non-peaceful purpose. Europe brought about joint control of Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme. It appears Iran is excessively relying on European Union’s efforts to defuse the crisis. Coercion is unlikely to bring Iran to its knees. Dialogue is the only way out of the Iran impasse. Israel’s hallucinations should not becloud American thinking.
Iran’s options: Iran could target U.S. troops in Iraq, either using mid-range rockets or ballistic missiles. Iran-backed proxies in the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the `popular militia force’ in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen, can carry out on America’s allies.
Soleimani’s assassination may reduce divisions within Iranian politics between moderates and conservatives.
Iran withstood sanctions. A war will by no means, be a walkover. Any major escalation as fallout of Suleiman’s killing will have global repercussions on crude oil prices.
Iran may avoid a direct military confrontation, but it may exercise smorgasbord of options.
Shia proxies may hit US assets in West Asia or use cyber weapons to cripple networks in mainland America.
For the time being, Iran is unlikely to shut down Straits of Hormuz, lest supplies to China are truncated. . A US-Iran escalatory spiral would serve as a strategic boon for China.
After Suleiman’s killing, Trump’s pacific policy, like Obama’s pivot to Asia, could end up mere rhetoric.
Credibility of Iraq regime would be eroded further. It is caught between the U.S. and Iran. At present, America has about 5,000 troops deployed in various parts of Iraq. Most Shia political parties and leaders in Iraq have deep, historical ties with the Iranian regime. The U.S.’s unilateral use of air power within Iraq targeting Iraqi militias without the permission of the government has flabbergasted Baghdad. The Iraqi government had strongly condemned the U.S. air strikes on Kataib Hezbollah; a huge crowd participated in the siege of the American Embassy. Let us see what Iraqi `parliament’ decides.
China-US and the Iran nuclear deal
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province. Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.
A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.
During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.
The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said:
‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’
The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.
During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.
The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC, Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.
In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.
Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.
The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.
Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?
“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!
The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force!
Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.
The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.
Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.
The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.
The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.
The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.
Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility
Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.
Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.
This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.
The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.
IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”
And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.
In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.
IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).
The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.
The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.
Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.
Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).
And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).
There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.
But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions.
Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.
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