In a rare accident during my last year’s trip to India, a cobra managed to sneak into a jaguar’s enclosure in one of the country’s oldest and most popular zoo in the southwestern city of Mysuru. As the Jaguar, named Raja saw the cobra, the two pounced at each other.
When the animal keepers got to the scene Raja had already killed the cobra and in the process had taken a few snake bites. The zoo authorities rushed Raja to the Zoo Hospital but the feline succumbed to the snake bites later the same day.
Today’s precarious situation in the Persian Gulf reminds me of this incident at the Mysuru Zoo, with the U.S. being the cobra, Iran as Raja and world powers the zookeeper. In this case, however, the zookeeper is not too late to save the day.
Although the tensions have been going on for years now but the situation got explosive with the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani on January 3.
General Qassem Soleimani frequently visited Iraq, and these visits were hardly a secret and according to the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the U.S. had him under surveillance for a long time. In the past, he had miraculously escaped multiple assassination attempts.
General Soleimani was assassinated alongside and six others following a U.S. air raid at Baghdad’s international airport on January 3.
After funeral processions in Iraqi cities of Kadhimiya, Najaf, and Kerbala, the martyrs were taken to Ahvaz, Mashad, and Tehran where people assembled in hundreds of thousands from the iconic landmarks of Enqelab Square to Azadi Square.
Among the martyrs was also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Front). He was laid to rest in Iraqi holy city of Najaf.
Gen. Soleimani hailed from a modest background in Kerman. He was a child of the revolution. At 13 years of age, he started working to support his family, spending his free time lifting weights and attending sermons by the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini.
Post 1979 Islamic Revolution he began his ascent to the military by receiving just six weeks of tactical training before seeing combat for the first time in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. He fought with distinction as a member of IRGC in the Iran-Iraq war and was from 1998 the founder and commander of its Qods Force, formed for extra-territorial operations.
In 2003 the U.S. invaded Iraq creating the mother of all chaos which eventually saw the end of Saddam Hussain’s Ba’athist government. The power vacuum allowed the rise of the Daesh (ISIS) who terrorized the region for years to come.
General Soleimani (AKA Haj Qassem) was famous for waging effective asymmetric wars enhancing Iranian influence in Arab countries with a significant Shia population such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Untainted by corruption he was popular in all factions of Iranian population, from all walks of life and a wide spectrum of political views.
He emerged a national war hero for the missions he led across Iraq’s border. In 2006 when after the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Zionists, Haj Qassem had a key role when a disciplined Hezbollah surprised Israel with its training, tactics, and weapons.
In 2017, the U.S. indirectly collaborated with Hashd Al-Shabi (PMU) created by General Soleimani in putting an end of Daesh.
Bracing the global impact of Soleimani’s martyrdom
Iran’s response: On January 8 Iranian missiles fell on Erbil and Al-Asad bases housing American troops in Iraq. No Americans were harmed. Obviously no harm was intended.
Trump’s live message: A day after Iranian missiles fell on two U.S. basis Trump backed away from further military against Iran. He said instead that he would ratchet up sanctions on Iran.
UNSC: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had sought to give a speech condemning the U.S. assassination of Gen. Suleimani but the Trump administration has barred Iran’s top diplomat from entering the U.S. to address the January 9 meeting of United Nations Security Council. By doing so the Trump administration violated the terms of a 1947 Host agreement requiring Washington to permit foreign officials into the country to conduct UN business.
JCPOA: On January 5, Iran announced that it
would no longer abide by limits stipulated in the terms of the Nuclear Deal,
formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, putting the final
nail in that coffin. However, Iran has maintained that if the sanctions are
removed it will reverse all the steps taken so far and will return to the
Worth mentioning is that Iran had fully complied with the terms and conditions of this historic nuclear deal and in the future the nuclear deal could have been a platform for other nations wishing to join the nuclear energy club.
Oil prices: Within hours of the January 3 assassination of General Soleimani global oil prices saw a four percent rise due to the “fear premium”. Crude oil prices rose by roughly another four percent on initial reports Tuesday night that Iran had launched missiles on two U.S. basis in Iraq.
Oil prices soared on the news of Iranian revenge attack on American
bases. Prices for Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, jumped above
$70 a barrel in futures markets, a nearly 4 percent rise from a day earlier,
before easing back.
Iraq is the second-larger producer in OPEC after Saudi Arabia, and its oil fields have been largely unaffected. Iraq’s exports around four percent of world supplies and any disruptions could drastically propel global oil prices.
So far there is no talk of closing down the Strait of Hormuz, through
which around 18 million barrels a day of oil is transported. Occupying the
eastern side of the narrow strait, Iran can easily temper with oil flow and
global oil supplies.
The downward pressure on prices due to unprecedented rise in U.S. oil production over the last decade to more than 13 million barrels a day, making U.S. the world’s biggest producer. It imports about four million fewer barrels of oil a day than in 2008 because of the production surge and greater use of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
White House internal tensions: The unease was laid bare on as Mark Esper, defense secretary, contradicted Trump’s call to target culturally significant sites in response to any retaliation from Tehran. Esper confirmed that U.S. would abide by the laws of armed conflict – which prohibits targeting such sites.
When Trump initially talked about targeting Iranian cultural sites it reminded me about the incident in 2001, when Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar ordered the destruction of the monumental Buddha statues by dynamite over several weeks. The event was televised live.
For the time being news of an imminent Iran-U.S. war in the Persian Gulf has mellowed down. But let’s not forget that a war would be a disaster for the world in general and no winners are expected out of it. The worst case scenario I can imagine is Trump using nuclear weapons to make “a short and decisive victory.”
From our partner Tehran Times
The rapport between Iran and Turkey over Syria: Liaisons or tussle?
The two powers of Iran and Turkey constitute a crucial feature on the map of the Middle East. The influence of the dyadic interactions exceeds sometimes the meanings of any bilateral ties, transcending the political borders to impact the geographical proximity of surrounding states. However, more evident their influences upon the Arab Sphere were at the aftermath of what so-called the Arab Spring, particularly in Syria that became the most prominent playground for their regional competition became.
Syrian tragic conflict has, indeed, a multi-scalar interaction with different players, each of which is driven by complex and contradictory motivations. In the same vein, Turkey and Iran have several aims for intervening into Syria militarily. Nonetheless, the explicit objective for Turkey is to create a ‘buffer zone’; thus, it might drive out the Kurdish presence along its border with Syria and address the Syrian refugee issue there. On the other side, the strategic partner for Syria, Iran, is seeking to bolster Assad’s government, as it used to work as a safety valve for the regime in Damascus.
In order to prop up Bashar al Assad’s regime, Tehran developed close ties with Russia that changed the equation in Syria. But, Moscow founded the rapports with the strategical foes of Tehran; Saudi Arabia and Israel. Likewise, the “marriage of convenience” brought Turkey with Russia, which, subsequently, facilitates carving up northern Syria between them by Sochi agreement, in October 2019.
Although it worked on the opposite front to Turkey’s, nevertheless, Iran attempts always to maintain warm and unruffled relationships with it. Tehran has overtly been competing, just as it covertly cooperating with Ankara in Syria for managing the dynamic variables of the surrounding area. Subsequently, the unsatisfactory with Turkey’s presence in the torn-war Syria doesn’t mean by any means a full conflictual; neither means otherwise, a comprehensive cooperation and peace. After all, seems, Iran needs Turkey shortly both in Syria and beyond.
Upon the US withdrawal from the Kurdish-held zone of northern Syria the dispute between the two-peer regional powers, Iran and Turkey, has surfaced off considerably off. Tehran has continuously been preserving a secret connection with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units which backed by the US. It was gaining a margin of leverage by occasionally working as a covert conduit bridging the differences between the Kurdish movement and the al-Assad’s regime.
Nonetheless, Iran’s substantial concern was a repercussion which might spill over its Kurdish regions if Turkey fulfils its intent to fill the expected power vacuum in the north of Syria.Thus, it was not surprising, once Turkey uncovered its intention by interfering the north-eastern Syria militarily, Iran announced the military exercises under the slogan “one goal … one bullet” in the area barely 20 miles from the Turkish border. Its maneuver, however, implied two-edges; on the one hand, it was against any potential Kurdish movement in its territory.
On the other hand, it gesticulated an external dimensional message, mainly to Turkey. In parallel to this combatant stand, Iran attempted to show, at least rhetorically, its alignment with and understanding of, Turkey’s anxieties. As the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated in an amicable expression: “We are calling on our friendly and brotherly neighbor Turkey to act with more patience and restraint and to revise its decision and chosen path” of military invasion. Further, Tehran urged Ankara alternatively to work inline with the Adana agreement.
The Adana agreement of 1998 was signed between Turkey and Syria to address the border differences. The broker of the deal, along with the other Arab countries, was Iran, and the primary aim of the agreement was at expelling the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from Syria.
A complex of causes makes Iran avoid Turkey’s dissatisfaction. The latter was always supportive of the Iranian regime in challenging times. Turkey, whether during the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s or international sanctions that intensified on Tehran in 2012, opened its borders with Iran to allow the trade that reached Europe. Similarly and lately, it helped Tehran to circumvent the US suffocating sanctions to a large extent.
As well, Turkey attempted to exploit the tensions between Tehran and Riyadh after the attacks on Aramco’s oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia last September, by denying Tehran’s involvement in the attacks. In an interview with Fox News, Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan said: “I don’t think it would be the right thing to blame Iran.”A few days later, when the architect of Iranian expansion in the Middle East the Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani was assassinated, Erdogan offered condolences to him, though didn’t use ‘martyr’ to describe him.
Notwithstanding, the chapter of persuasive confrontation between Iran and Turkey manifested when the Syrian airstrike hit the Turkish-backed forces in Idlib province on 27 January 2020. That resulted in killing 33 Turkish combatants. While Russia accused the Turkish soldiers of being “operating alongside jihadist fighters” when they had been struck, conversely and simultaneously, Iran emphasized on deescalating and restraining the tension in Idlib. It, further, called for all parties resort to decisions that had been taken by the presidents of Astana Process.
Although the Iranian President and his Turkish counterpart conducted a discussion on the phone regarding the tension over Idlib province, Turkey carried on the retaliation by launching a dozen air and missiles attack against the Syrian troops. The offence begot causalities of the Syrian military as well as several deaths of Iranian-backed forces in the northwest of Syria. As per the official Iranian media reported eight fighters of Hezbollah, and at least 21 militants affiliated with Fatemiyoun and Zaibayoun brigades were among the deaths.
Concurrently, Ankara opened the borders for the influx of the Syrian refugees to head for Europe. By so doing, it attempted to force its allies of the NATO states to pressurize Russia in order to alter its policy in Syria. Again and as always, Russian condemned the Turkish raids, but, its pragmatic rapprochements with Turkey outweigh the differences. Therefore, it is no wondering to see Russian assistance to Damascus minimized notably. Further, a deal will be reached to reduce the tension in Idlib when the Turkish President met his Russian counterpart in Moscow on March 2020.
On the other side, Iran and its affiliates warned Turkey by referring that its troops were within their “fire range”. Tehran, however, tried to shun from escalating the situation, and instead, it was accusing the US of getting Ankara into Syrian trap. Meanwhile, it was calling Ankara for holding a new summit for Iran, Russia, and Turkey within the Astana summit framework.
By devoting immense political and financial potentialities to safeguard the Ba’ath regime, Iran was not ready to cede its clout there. So convinced too, it prefers a political triumph over martial achievements. Perhaps, for that reason, it worked to boost connections with the major players in Syria, including Turkey. However, Iran shares Turkey several issues not merely in Syrian circle, but expand to the regional level sometimes. In addition to their shared economic and commercial benefits, they both have a fear of Kurdish ambitions to establish of own state, as they both stood firmly with the government of Baghdad against the Kurdish referendum in the north of Iraq in 2017. Second: Although, Turkey’s differences with Washington are mostly temporary; it meets with Iran in several issues that troubled their relations with the US.And thirdly: They were mutually pro-Qatar stand against Saudi and its allies. Qatar’s flights switched to the “Iranian airspace and Turkey upped the ante on its military presence in the country as a sign of strength and commitment”.
Teething Troubles for Pakistan in Mediating the Saudi-Iran Tension
Imran Khan’s visit to America, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia carries much importance concerning the unity of the Muslim community and solution of their long-standing differences and enmities particularly Saudi-Iran Tension. Moreover, these visits are not only very significant for the relations of Tehran and Jeddah but also for Pakistan, being one of the neighbors of Iran. As for as the visit of PM Imran Khan to China is concerned, Beijing, being a rising power and an economic giant, could play a very effective and decisive role in normalizing the relations between Iran and Saudi along with Pakistan because of its economic interests. Islamabad has been experiencing many changes in the national, regional and global dynamics. In this regard, Pakistan wants to balance its side by engaging with China and tries to mediate between Iran and Saudi to end the long-standing conflict between both the Muslim nations.
However, it is not easy to lessen the tensions between both the rival nations as perceived by a large portion of societies because America never allows this to happen smoothly while it will try vigorously to counter this activity because of its long-standing problems with Iran. Particularly looking over the policies and actions of the United States against Iran such as when the whole world is suffering from a fatal disease known as COVID-19/Corona Virus, America imposed more sanctions on Iran which is against humanity. Besides, the killing of Iran’s top bras general QasimSulemani in an attack by the US and the scrapping nuclear deal with Iran are condemnable acts. There can be many reasons for opposition from the United States for instance, it never wants China to engage with various nations throughout the globe mainly Iran. Because it creates the environment of friendship and engagement for China with other nations which pose threat and fear for the dominant position of Washington.
Moreover, America considers Iran as one of the staunch opposite nations of the world therefore the conflict between the US and Iran has been continued for very long. In this regard, America has imposed numerous sanctions upon Iran which creates more hardships for Tehran to smoothly run its affairs. While Iran considers it the violation of international and humanitarian laws that should not be bearable for any well-educated, sophisticated and sincere nation of the world. According to Iran, the US has been practicing inhuman and illegal policies throughout the world, especially the Muslim World. In this regard, Iran in the UN General Assembly strongly condemned the policies and actions by Washington in which Iran is on top of the list. On the other side, Saudi Arabia is one of the closest and reliable allies of America because of its economic interests.
Rationally looking over the US-Saudi bond, Washington keeps much influence concerning the economic, political and financial policies of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this regard, attacks on the oil fields of Saudi Arabia created insecurity for it therefore Saudi King called MBS requested more American forces to protect the security of his country. There are multiple perspectives regarding the control, influence and creating the warlike environment in the oil-rich Muslim nations of the Middle East. For instance, it is considered by a huge portion of the population within the Muslim world that these all issues and conflicts which have generated the deaths, destruction, fear, and insecurity all over the region are created by America to gain its interests mainly economic benefits.
This is the reason for which America intervenes within these countries rich in natural resources in the pretext of saving humanity and the US being a savior of human rights violations all over the world. While within the Western nations it is considered that terrorism and other multiple kinds of evils are generating from this region because of the undemocratic structure of these states. In this regard, the US should intervene to eliminate all evils from the region for protecting the peace and progress of the world. Therefore, Pakistan can play a very significant role through normalizing Saudi-Iran relations though it is very difficult because of sectarian division between both nations. Recent condemnation and opposition by PM Imran Khan about the new sanctions on Iran by the US is a good and positive sign. Besides, it is also considered by a huge population within the Muslim world that they are under the serious threat of Western Powers beneath different agendas so Pakistan being the only nuclear power state within the Muslim countries should seriously take the issue towards a peaceful solution. Though it is also in the interest of Islamabad because in case the spiraling tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are not solved and turn into the escalation of the conflict, Pakistan because of Iran’s neighbor will face direct impact which could be sectarian violence and increasing oil prices.
Ten years on Syria is still deep in wars
Having barely risen from the menacing impact of Bashar al Assad’s poor economic policies during the drought from 2007 to 2010, that brought more poverty, unemployment and social distress, a spiral of conflict, in 201, took Syria from one warring episode to another. Ten years on, with most of the country in the rubble, there was little respite even in the news in 2018 that the US would reduce its footprints in Syria.
The nature of the beast is now more local than foreign.
It began when exercising their democratic rights, the disgruntled Syrians took to the street, in 2011, to demand economic and political reforms. They also wanted freedom of expression, in the political sphere. This movement to democracy was one of the many strains Syria had attracted from the Arab-spring that had erupted in the neighboring countries.
Not used to disagreements, the Syrian government, headed by the Assads for the last four decades then, responded angrily. On March 18, 2011, the Syrian Army opened fire on the demonstrator killing four people with many more arrested. Shocked by the treatment of the government, more people came out on streets in different parts of the country. Instead of repositioning its responses, the administration used more force to control the damage. In retaliation, a group of defected soldiers and army officers formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to protect the protesting civilians. The group would in no time become powerful on the back of other anti-government forces. No sooner Syria descended into a full-blown civil war.
A war that began between Syrians and their government escalated into varying wars each with its own protagonist and agenda. Supported by its Sunni allies in the Middle East, the US demanded regime change. Taking a leaf from Iraq where the end of Saddam Hussain’s government had brought more misery than relief, Iran and Russia defied the US demand and thwarted it militarily. With this outside involvement, the war is no longer Syrian. It has become regional and even international, with an overtone of sectarian crisis.
Today, Syria is battling three wars: Coalition efforts to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); violence between the Syrian government and opposition forces, and military operations against Syrian Kurds by Turkish forces.
The US-led regime-change wars have wrought havoc with the Middle East. Each regime change from Iraq to Libya to Syria was masked as a rescue operation to liberate people from the humanitarian crises unleashed by the bloodthirsty dictators. Not that it was the first of its kind of crises the US had perpetrated. A long list of countries stands witness to the interventionist policies of the US that would always bring more suffering then relief.
With the end of the cold war and democracy becoming the only ideology that promised salvation from all kinds of bounds and fetters, scholars started seeing the world come of its age. What other bigger event could unfold—Europe was unified and its eastern part had come out of the Russian shadow, the Central Asian states were free to form the Bolshevik yoke, colonialism had almost tapered off, proliferation of nuclear weapon had been controlled through various treaties, and with the rise of Asia the world was heading towards a more equitable survival.
This, however, proved a ‘purpose-built façade’ with little tenacity to hold itself out for too long. The slide was rather quick. Just as the communist propelled the social system was being defeated, a new disintegrative system—terrorism—was pushed through the US military establishment to justify interventions for regime change.
This enemy on the gate was there for a long haul. It would no more be a straightforward rivalry. An enemy in one war theatre would be a friend in another. If in Afghanistan Al Qaeda was a threat to homeland security, it joined hands with the same militant organization in Syria. Lent to multiplication and manipulation the Jihadi proxies would later consolidate into a broader percept—the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Contrary to its overriding mission of reincarnating Caliphate, the ISIS instead obliterated Iraq and Syria—the two iconic cultural sites of Islamic heritage. Today the ISIS has its fangs spread to every country, but not without casting a negative effect on the west, though. Bred on the anti-Muslim hysteria a significant number of voters in Europe have grown against the Muslim migrants. In reaction, they voted to power the ultranationalist parties to cleanse Europe of the outsiders. Trump and Brexit owe their success to the Islamophobia industry that grew dramatically after the 9/11 attack.
The Syrian war unfolded some of the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. The United Nations had put the Syrian death toll to 400,000 in 2016. As the war becomes more complex, diffused and with no sign of abatement, international monitoring groups, even the UN have stopped counting causalities. Saying: “it is virtually impossible to verify how many died.”
According to the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees, over 5.6 million Syrian have registered as refugees. The majority of these refugees moved into neighboring countries. Not only did these migrating people brought an economic burden to the host countries, but they also opened a new ethnic fault- lines concerning Kurds. Soon doors were being closed down on the migrating refugees, with European countries appearing cruelest. It was not until the pictures of drowning children in the Mediterranean Sea, and refugees living in dilapidated conditions in makeshift camps on borders hit the social media, picking on the European conscience, did the European leadership start showing its moral side.
Everything has changed in Syria in these ten years, except its political structure. Ten years is a long period for the civil war of such ferocity triggering a huge transformation. The World Bank has assessed the damage to be at $200bn, while according to the United Nation Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, in order to restore Syria to its 2010 condition, almost $ 400 bn would be needed.
The question is: has the Syrian government started wrapping its head around the reconstructing options, that includes finding investors to foot the bills, or will Syria become another Afghanistan for proxy war among regional and global powers.
From our partner Tehran Times
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