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The clash between Iran and the United States after Soleimani’s death

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“Operation Martyr Soleimani” began on the night of January 8. The leader of the Pasdaran Al Quds Brigade had died on the night of January 3.

 Some Iranian missiles hit two Iraqi bases, Ayan al-Asad and Erbil, in the Kurdish region. In Erbil there were also Italian troops, who hid in a bunker.

The Kurds are targets for Iran since they are allies of the United States and – at least initially- enemies of Assad’s regime.

 Iranian sources reported a number of U.S. victims of at least 80 people, a toll denied – at first – by the United States and later by the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, who subsequently stated that the Iranian Government did not know the number of enemy’s victims.

Indeed – as an important sign of psywar-Minister Zarif himself said he did not know what nationality the victims of the Iranian missile attack were.

 The attack was carried out after midnight so as to replicate the time and ways of Qasem Soleimani’s targeted assassination – an essential theme in the Shiite war theory.

Iran, however, launched at least twelve short-to-medium range ballistic missiles against groups of US soldiers, according to the rule of Qisas, i.e. “life for life”, which follows verse 178-179 of the Sura Al-Baqarah: “the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female”. This means blood for blood, possibly in the same way and form as the first offense.

According to the Iranian leaders, the missile attack is a “measure proportionate” to the U.S. action against Soleimani. Hence, again according to them, Operation “Martyr Soleimani” is expected to be concluded today but, not by chance, for other sources from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the so-called Pasdaran, there are still as many as 104 possible targets in the United States, Europe and the Sunni countries.

Hence targets in the United States and in the territories of the U.S. European allies that are under the Iranian scrutiny and can be hit at any time.

Therefore, it is the probable beginning of an asymmetric war between Iran and the United States, which will polarize much of the Middle East and will become increasingly uncontrollable as the current U.S. demilitarization of the Greater Middle East proceeds.

 Furthermore, this operation designed to avenge Qasem Soleimani’s targeted assassination – according to the principle of Qisas- entailed the use of only a small part of the Iranian missile apparata. In Iran’s mind, this implies triggering a response against increasingly virulent and ever less proportionate U.S. attacks.

If the U.S. attacks are progressive and significant, Iran will have a base of popular support throughout the Middle East, from which – at that time – the United States will be out. Hence there will possibly be a real regional war between Iran and U.S. Arab and Jewish allies, i.e.the dream of Ayatollah Khomeini who saw the final clash between the “two Satans” and “sacred” Iran.

Furthermore, after the missile attack, Imam Khamenei spoke of a “slap on the face” for the United States, considering that the primary aim – despite President Trump’s temptations to walk out – is to force the United States to a quickly and complete withdrawal from the whole Middle East region. Currently, however, there are 5,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, in addition to further 10,000 on the way.

Now, in the likely prospect of an open clash between the United States and Shiite Iran, there are some technical-military factors to be considered.

 The United States can annihilate the Iranian Navy and Air Force within 48 hours.

 A real all-out conflict is no good to either of the two strategic players. The United States would certainly hit primary targets within the Iranian territory, thus causing incalculable damage, but it is certain that also the U.S. soldiers would have great difficulty in penetrating the Iranian territory, with rapidly unsustainable losses.

 It is obvious that this policy of attrition between Iran and the United States has a worldwide geopolitical value.

The U.S. primary interest is to defuse Iran as a regional player and fully weaken the “Shiite crescent” between Iran, Yemen, the Lebanon and Syria, thus directly favouring the Sunni countries, which are not necessarily more pro-USA than the others.

 Obviously in the U.S. strategists’ minds, hitting Iran also means hitting the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, for which Iran is the most reliable and important ally in the Middle East, not to mention Iranian oil transfers to China or military cooperation between Iran and Russia.

 The beginning of this new configuration of the confrontation between the pro-American and the pro-Russian and pro-Chinese blocs can be seen in Iran’s reaction to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2019.

Conversely the EU did not react at all to President Trump’s new sequence of sanctions against Iran, imposed after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear agreement in which also the EU participated.

 The EU is the so-called “stone guest” of any agreement.

 The new U.S. sanctions hit Iran by reducing oil exports by at least 300,000 barrels/day, with a series of trade restrictions that are particularly damaging to the EU. However, as often happens to teenagers, Europe’s childish love for the United States is such as to tolerate any offense.

Iran decided to respond to this new geopolitical and economic order with a de facto alliance with Russia and China, but without direct military implications, as well as with a calculated tension with the Sunni petro-monarchies.

Allegedly the current reserves of the Iranian Central Bank amount to 110 billion US dollars, of which just over 50% “cash”.

 This allows at least two years of State-funded imports and this is the time horizon in which the Iranian strategic and military operations must be considered.

 Another variable that Iran is waiting to calculate is 2020, the year of the U.S. presidential elections.

The ability to destabilize the Middle East – the real factor on which Iran can count in the clash with the United States – is Iran’s real asset.

The network of proxies to systematically harm Israel, such as Hamas (the network of the Muslim Brotherhood, currently in Iran’s pay),Hezbollah, the Shiite organization created on Ayatollah Khomeini’s direct orders, and finally the Islamic Jihad, another Sunni organization now shifted under Iran’s umbrella.

Hence a strategy of irony, which has dissimulation as its original meaning.

Also cyberwarfare must be considered: the first Iranian cyberattack against the United States was against a U.S. government website, just the day after Soleimani’s death.

Later the Iranian cyberattacks hit the Federal Depository Library Program website, as well as other targets.

 In an all-out attack on the United States, certainly Iran will operate at first with cyberwarfare.

 The potential of Iran’s new cyberwarfare probably began in 2010, with the discovery of Stuxnet.

In all likelihood, it was an attack of Israeli origin, since the Stuxnet computer virus came from there.

 That was the time when Iran really brought itself up to date in cyberwarfare.

 From that moment on, the Iranian Shamoon viruses appeared, which in 2017 severely infected the computer network of the Aramco refineries in Saudi Arabia. Later, in November 2019, Iran knocked out the personal and corporate networks of some Saudi Aramco’s operators.

Hence Iran has developed a specific cyber-ability to hit critical infrastructure, financial institutions, major manufacturing companies and universities.

Iran can also change-forge air and maritime GPS.

 In the hierarchy of States capable of launching cyberattacks, the United States, Russia and China rank first, followed by Iran and North Korea.

With specific reference to proxies’ war, however, Iran has two major strongholds: the Lebanon, with Hezbollah’s fragmented power, and Syria.

Nevertheless, another future area of tension between Iran and its Sunni or Western enemies will be the Strait of Hormuz. Probably the Iranian Armed Forces’ future attacks in that area will take place simultaneously with cyberattacks.

 Russia, however, does not want any clash – even indirect – between the United States and Iran.

Furthermore, for Saudi Arabia, Soleimani’s assassination is obviously good news, albeit with some “ifs”.

Meanwhile a conflict – even an indirect one – between Iran and the United States could block the great G20 Meeting scheduled in Riyadh for late 2020.

Furthermore, in case of a war between Iran and the United States, the Saudi Defence would be obliged to use many of the resources otherwise devoted to the Vision 2030 project, which is number one in Mohammed bin Salman’s mind.

Finally, the financial insecurities already triggered by Soleimani’s assassination could harshly hit both the national and international interests of Saudi Arabia.

 As can be easily imagined, so far insecurity has led to a sharp increase in insurance premiums for all oil and gas transfers. This refers to a total value of transported oil and gas of at least 1.2 trillion US dollars.

 It should be noted, however, that 80% of all Gulf States’ GDP depends on oil.

Nevertheless, oil and gas account for only 30% of Iran’s GDP.

 Saudi Arabia exports approximately 6.5 million barrels/day, which leave from the ports of Ras Tamura and Ju’aymah and from King Fahd Industrial Port in Jubail.

 All targets which can be easily reached by Iranian operations.

 Iraq, the second largest exporter in the Middle East and Italy’s second or sometimes first supplier, exports 3.8 million barrels/day, accounting for 90% of Iraq’s public revenue.

 It exports through Basra and the Kawr Al’Amiya terminals. Once again, it is extremely easy to hit these targets from the Iranian bases.

Bypassing the above mentioned ports, Saudi Arabia’s, Iraq’s and other minor producers’ alternative options can be the Rabigh terminals, on the east coast of the Red Sea, or the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline.

Hence this will be the general framework of a probable military conflict between Iran and the United States, although certainly not planned by Iran.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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