We are coming closer to the centennial celebration of Atatürk’s establishment of the modern Turkish state while 100 years have already passed since the Ottoman Empire’s sunset. During the last decades, under Recep Tayyp Erdogan’s leadership as prime minister or president, Turkey has continuously grown economically and, in spite of certain domestic divisions (see the aborted coup of July, 2016), succeeded in strengthening an important regional geopolitical position and sought to become a global geopolitical power. Although Ankara denies officially it seeks the restoration of the Ottoman Empire, president Erdogan’s political and military moves prove otherwise.
In an article published at the end of last year by a Turkish journalist specialised in foreign affairs, Atatürk’s principle evoked in his celebrated speech concerning the battle of Sarakaya according to which not only a single line should be defended but an entire area was recalled.
Consequently, Turkey must reconsider presently its defense zone which spreads from Qatar to Libya with Cyprus in the middle.
Assessing this fact, one finds that Turkey’s general policy of the last decades was circumscribed to this purpose and that political, military, economic and of other nature steps were taken to this end. The establishment of Turkey’s military bases abroad starting with the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 until the beginning of 2020,whenthemilitaryinvolvment in Libya was decided (with a number of troops for training and cooperation; certain sources mention the readiness of sending around 2,000 men who fought on the Syrian front)underlines the said policy. In fact, sustaining such a number of troops in Libya generates tough logistical problems for Turkey as it has no efficient means for that yet. The display of a Turkish drone which left the country and reached Libya after landing in Cyprus only is not enough and, on the contrary, highlights the difficulties of securing the logistical support of an important number of troops in Libya.
EstablishingTurkey’smilitarybasesabroadwasdonebyskillfullyusingthe regional political and military developments. The most telling example besides Libya is the Tariq Ibn Ziyad base in Qatar completed in 2019. In Iraq, Turkey has around 20 small-scale military bases predominantly for intelligence gathering. Six bases were established in northern Syria with a publicly unknown number of military assigned there. Most probably each of them are equaling at least an infantry company with additional units of artillery and tanks. The intent of setting up a military base in Georgia did not materialise.
Turkish diplomacy plays an important part in materializing president Erdogan’s geopolitical plans and when Ahmed Davudoglu was minister of foreign affairs (2009-2014) important steps were adopted for expanding the diplomatic component of Turkish foreign policy. It seems that now the diplomatic apparatus put in place by Turkey and its quality represents an efficient support for the foreign policy Ankara is currently promoting.
On the military component which is supposed to play an even more important role in strengthening and preserving the influence area wished for by Ankara leadership, one should mention that although Turkey has one of the strongest armies in the world (NATO’s second and the 19th worldwide, according to Global Fire Power) it is not fully equipped to meet that challenge. After the aborted coup of July 15th, 2016, the management capacity of the army was severely damaged by the arrests, sentencing and dismissals that followed thereafter and even in 2019 (163 generals and admirals – 45% of the army’s total) the effects of which could be offset within around 5-10 years.
President Erdogan (prime minister between 2003-2014, president thereafter and re-elected in 2018) rules with a firm hand the country and, through the constitutional amendments that were adopted, he succeeded in concentrating the executive power in his hands and to compete for a third term in 2023. Hakan Fidan, the powerful head of MIT (National Intelligence Organization)who secures the president’s position played a pivotal role in annihilating the 2016 coup attempt and is considered one of the president’s main proponents.
Notwhistanding the achievements and the long political career, president Erdogan’s regime begins to present some signs of weakness and the most recent and important one was the presidential party AKP loss of Istanbul’s mayorship which was taken over by the candidate of the main opposition party, The People’s Republican Party (CHP)–EkremImamoglu. The latter opposes the Istanbul Channel project, an idea launched by president Erdogan in 2011 and which materialisation the government intends to get started as of 2020.
The current Turkey’s economic condition is relatively healthy although in 2018 the economy contracted shortly and the national currency devaluated by 30%, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development assessed in May 2019 a gradual recovery and an economic growth of 2.5% in 2020.
Turkey, which is dependent on energy imputs, cares about making best use of its geostrategic position by building gas pipelines (Turkish Stream started in 2017 and was commissioned on January 1st, 2020) and seeks favourable conditions for exploiting the Mediterranean Sea resources in spite of the tense situation resulted from delineating the marine economic zones (see the map bellow).
Moreover, in a move intended to make it an unavoidable arbiter in the Mediterranean, Ankara signed with Libya, on November 27th, 2019, a MoU on delineating the continental shelf of the two countries which would practically divide the Mediterranean in two.
The move could hinder the 1,900 km EastMed pipeline to be built by Greece, Cyprus and Israel for which the final decision should be taken by 2022 and to be completed by 2025.
Libya represents an important pole for carrying out Ankara’s plans. The situation in the country is complicated and fluid not only as a result of the domestic developments but also especially due to the conflict between the two powerful groups of prime minister Fayez al-Serraj who heads the Government of National Accord (GNA), recognized by the UN and General Khalifa Haftar who, supported by Russia, France and the United Arab Emirates, controls a great part of the country and who, during the Berlin conference, suspended most exports of Libyan crude in order to have a stronger negotiation position.
Furthermore, in spite of the recent agreement reached in Berlin with provisions prohibiting arms deliveries and foreign intervention in Libya, an important trafic including weapons and ammunition deliveries and foreign ”counselors” was noticed at Tripoli Airport at the end of January. Turkey’s consolidation of its presence and influence in Libya is seen by certain forces as a danger that may lead to the establishment of an Islamist regime in the country given that GNA has the backing of several Islamist groups as well as the well-known support Turkey extended to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It is believed that if there is no international intervention for a cease fire – which I don’t see materialized in the coming future – the most probable result of the Turkish intervention will be the establishment of another Islamist regime in the Mediterranean.
The accomplishment of Turkey’s plan of restoring an important influence area from the Gulf to the Mediterranean, between Doha and Tripoli, seemsdoablegiventheuncertaingeopoliticaldevelopmentsregionallyandglobally. Ankara used to this end the most modern means and international media outlets emphasized that cyberattacks in 2018 and 2019 that would have originated in Turkey against around 50 state and not only institutions in Greece, Cyprus and Iraq were recently exposed.
The latest developments by the end of January 2020 prove once more the fragility and complexity of the situation in the Mediterranean and the inefficiency of the Berlin Agreement: France accuses Turkey of not observing the agreement signed in the German capital and sent to Libya Syrian mercenaries landed off Turkish vessels while Turkey accuses France of supporting Khalifa Haftar in search of benefits in the oil field. Moreover, France decided to dispatch military frigates to the east of the Mediterranean to assist Greece, a decision applauded by the Greek prime minister while visiting Paris.
Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey moves resolved towards maximizing its geopolitical role and position capitalizing on great players’ hesitations (the US, China, Russia).It is difficult to estimate to what extent it will accomplish such plans.
“If you are not fighting for what you want you
deserve what you have”, a renowned American speaker and writer said. How great it would be if this
phrase were put into practice with due regard for all principles and norms of
international law. Unfortunately, the right of force is still stronger than the
force of rule and therefore vae victis.
Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war
After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.
This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies. This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.
A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.
First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib
Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*
The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.
The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.
Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.
As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.
But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.
This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.
To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.
The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.
For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.
Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.
Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.
The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.
Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.
* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
From our partner RIAC
Iran’s Impunity Will Grow if Evidence of Past Crimes is Fully Destroyed
No reasonable person would deny the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But that issue must not be allowed to continue overshadowing Iran’s responsibility for terrorism and systematic human rights violations. These matters represent a much more imminent threat to human life, as well as longstanding denials of justice for those who have suffered from the Iranian regime’s actions in the past.
The Iranian people have risen multiple times in recent years to call for democratic change. In 2017, major uprisings broke out against the regime’s disastrous policies. Although the ruling clerics suppressed those protests, public unrest soon resumed in November 2019. That uprising was even broader in scope and intensity. The regime responded by opening fire on crowds, murdering at least 1,500. Amnesty International has reported on the torture that is still being meted out to participants in the uprising.
Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organizations have continued to repeat longstanding calls for increased attention to some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the regime in previous years.
Last year, Amnesty International praised a “momentous breakthrough” when seven UN human rights experts demanded an end to the ongoing cover-up of a massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.
The killings were ordered by the regime’s previous supreme leader Khomeini, who declared that opponents of the theocracy were “enemies of God” and thus subject to summary executions. In response, prisons throughout Iran convened “death commissions” that were tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views. Those who rejected the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were hanged, often in groups, and their bodies were dumped mostly in mass graves, the locations of which were held secret.
In the end, at least 30,000 political prisoners were massacred. The regime has been trying hard to erase the record of its crimes, including the mass graves. Its cover-up has unfortunately been enabled to some degree by the persistent lack of a coordinated international response to the situation – a failure that was acknowledged in the UN experts’ letter.
The letter noted that although the systematic executions had been referenced in a 1988 UN resolution on Iran’s human rights record, none of the relevant entities within that international body followed up on the case, and the massacre went unpunished and underreported.
For nearly three decades, the regime enforced silence regarding any public discussion of the killings, before this was challenged in 2016 by the leak of an audio recording that featured contemporary officials discussing the 1988 massacre. Regime officials, like then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi, told state media that they were proud of committing the killings.
Today, the main victims of that massacre, the principal opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), are still targets of terrorist plots on Western soil, instigated by the Iranian regime. The most significant of these in recent years was the plot to bomb a gathering organized near Paris in 2018 by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Free Iran rally was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as hundreds of political dignitaries, and if the attack had not been prevented by law enforcement, it would have no doubt been among the worst terrorist attacks in recent European history.
The mastermind of that attack was a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi. He was convicted in a Belgian court alongside three co-conspirators in February. But serious critics of the Iranian regime have insisted that accountability must not stop here.
If Tehran believes it has gotten away with the 1988 massacre, one of the worst crimes against humanity from the late 20th century, it can also get away with threatening the West and killing protesters by the hundreds. The ongoing destruction of mass graves demonstrates the regime’s understanding that it has not truly gotten away with the massacre as long as evidence remains to be exposed.
The evidence of mass graves has been tentatively identified in at least 36 different cities, but a number of those sites have since been covered by pavement and large structures. There are also signs that this development has accelerated in recent years as awareness of the massacre has gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the destruction currently threatens to outpace the campaign for accountability, and it is up to the United Nations and its leading member states to accelerate that campaign and halt the regime’s destruction of evidence.
If this does not happen and the 1988 massacre is consigned to history before anyone has been brought to justice, it will be difficult to compel Tehran into taking its critics seriously about anything, be it more recent human rights violations, ongoing terrorist threats, or even the nuclear program that authorities have been advancing in spite of the Western conciliation that underlay 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
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