Connect with us

Middle East

Iran: Coronavirus, economy and politics

Published

on

The coronavirus known under the official name of Covid-19 has been raging across Europe for nearly four months. The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a pandemic.

According to data on the morning of March 16, the total number of Covid-19 infections in 146 countries amounted to 162687 people, 76% of which registered in four countries – China, Italy, South Korea and Iran. According to the latest data from the Iranian Ministry of Health, on March 16, the number of coronavirus infections in the country reached almost 14,000 people, 4,590 of whom recovered. The death toll amounted to 724 people.

Here are charts that demonstrate the situation for 14 – 15 March.

Mortality rate from coronavirus per 1 mln. for 14 March 2020.

Country Number of deaths per 1 mln. residents
1 San-Marino 147.3
2 Italy 23.8
3 Iran 7.3
4 Spain 4.1
5 China 2.2
6 Luxemurg 1.6
7 Switzerland 1.5
8 Korea, Republic 1.4
9 Guyana 1.3
10 France 1.2
11 World 0.7

The mortality rate among those diagnosed with coronavirus varies widely. If we consider countries with the number of 15 cases or more, mortality rate as of March 14, 2020, range from 0.1% in Norway to 9.9% in Iraq. In comparison, a seasonal flu usually kills less than 1% of those infected.

Mortality rate in percentage points among those infected for 14 March 2020.

Country Mortality (% of deaths in relation to infected) Number of infected (official reports)
1 Iraq 9.90 101
2 Philippines 8.16 98
3 Algeria 8.11 37
4 Italy 6.81 21 157
5 Azerbaijan 6.67 15
6 Argentina 6.45 31
7 Bulgaria 6.45 31
8 San Marino 6.25 80
9 Ecuador 5.88 17
10 Indonesia 5.21 96
11  Iran 5.20 13 938
12  China 3.80 8 1003
13  World 3.72 16 2687
14  All countries except China 3.65 81 684

Iran is among the main victims to Covid-19. Of course, not being an epidemiologist, an infectious disease specialist, a virologist, a bacteriologist, a specialist in the field of sanitation, it is difficult to ascertain why some countries are more exposed to coronavirus, others less, regardless of geographical location or distance from the original source of the epidemic – in this case, China.

Iran demonstrates a very high mortality rate from this virus – 5.2%. Another feature of the pandemic in Iran is that many government officials have succumbed to it. According to Iranian MP Abdulrez Mesri, at least 23 deputies of the Majlis have been infected with Covid-19. The first Vice President of Iran, Eskhak Jahangiri, Iranian Vice President Masume Ebtekar, Ali Akbar Velayati – adviser to the spiritual leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mohammad Sadr, member of the Council for determining the appropriateness of decisions,  Minister of Tourism, Cultural Heritage and Crafts Ali Asgar Munesan, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Mines Reza Rahmani. In addition to them, among the afflicted is Deputy Minister of Health, who led the government coronavirus group, Iraj Harirchi, and the head of the emergency medical service, Pirhossein Kulivand.

Perhaps no other country has reported so many fatalities from Covid-19 among senior officials and politicians as Iran. In the weeks during which the coronavirus raged in Iran, it unfortunately took the lives of such statesmen as: member of the Council on Expediency Mohammad Mirmohammadi, former Iranian Ambassador to the Vatican and Deputy of the Mfjlis Hadi Khosroshahi, former Iranian Ambassador to Syria and adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hossein Sheikh al-Eslam, former adviser to the head of the Foreign Ministry, Ahmad Toiserkani – adviser to the head of the judiciary of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, Farzad Tazari – deputy head of the political affairs department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), General IRGC Nasser Shaabani, who served in the Corps for 37 years, Mohammad Khoja Abolkasemi – an important person in the intelligence and power circles, Mohammad Reza Rahchamani – a prominent politician of the liberal reform wing, Fateme Rahbar, a radically conservative woman politician who was re-elected to the Majlis in the February 21 elections, Mohammad Ali Ramezani, who was also re-elected to the new parliament. In addition, in recent days, three high-ranking officers of the IRGC died from coronavirus in Iran.

The coronavirus epidemic began in Iran in late January – early February. The epicenter of the epidemic was the holy city of Qum – the ideological capital and spiritual center of Shiite Muslims around the world, “the nest of the Prophet and his family,” as believers say. Why, – many observers and political scientists are wondering. After all, Qum is not a multi-million-dollar capital like Tehran, where life buzzes churning a myriad of visitors from different countries thereby contributing to the fast spread of the virus. Qum is not the most popular tourist center in Iran – it is located in a desert, it is populated mostly by Shiite clerics, or Shiite supporters, and it has a variety of religious communities with their own customs and traditions. However, Qum is a popular destination for Shiite pilgrims from all over the world.

Political analysts tend to believe that Qum became the center of Covid-19 epidemic because it has a fairly large concentration of Chinese per area. One of Iran’s major spiritual and educational centers – International University “Al-Mustafa” – has more than 40,000 undergraduates, more than 700 of them come  from China.

Significantly, there are about 40 million Muslims in China, about four million of them are Shiites (mainly Ismaelites). Tehran, without encroaching upon the sovereignty of China, has been pursuing a cautious purpose-oriented policy among the Chinese Muslims, creating an Iran-friendly public environment, including through holding religious and ideological training in Islamic centers in Qum. Some Chinese nationals return home as pro-Iranian missionaries.

What is interesting to learn is that in 2014  Qum’s religious centers began to teach Chinese and Chinese language programs were introduced in seminaries in Esfahan and other cities.

Speaking about the rising number of Chinese in Iran we must remember that trade and economic relations between the two countries have been developing at fast pace despite the US sanctions.  According to the results of the year 2018, trade between Beijing and Tehran increased by 12% to 42 billion dollars.

In September 2019 Iran and China signed a package of agreements which envisages China’s 400 billion dollar worth investments in Iranian economy within the next 25 years. Namely: 280 billion will go to the oil, gas and  petrochemical industries of Iran, another 120 billion will be channeled to upgrade the transport and production infrastructure in Iran. Given that plans to modernize the infrastructure and industrial facilities in Iran fully match the Chinese One Belt, One Road initiative, the loan program and the construction project went into operation and Chinese experts headed to Iran.

The agreement signed provides for the deployment of up to 5,000 Chinese security employees in Iran in order to protect Chinese projects. In addition, according to Iranian sources, the parties concerned are looking into the possibility of attracting extra forces for the protection of transit supplies of oil and gas to China via the  Persian Gulf.

China is skillfully finding its way into Iranian business. In the conditions of anti-Iranian sanctions China occupies niches vacated by US-dependent companies and businesses. (This was the case during the 2012-2015 sanction period, this is the case now). The Chinese privately run small and medium-sized businesses have been  particularly active.

Chairman of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Massoud Khansari underscored as he visited Beijing in November 2019 that private sector plays a great role in the development of economic ties between the two countries. Interestingly, the cooperation agreement was signed between the Iranian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the private sector of China and Iranians living in the north of China.

Overall, hundreds of Chinese companies and organizations employing thousands of Chinese nationals are operating in Iran. Chinese businessmen are present in Qum too.

Although the presence of Chinese (as we now know, they are potential coronavirus carriers) in Iran was not the only cause of such a fast spread  of the disease, but on February 19, two days before the Iranian government announced a coronavirus epidemic, a businessman who had returned from China died in Qum.

Several factors contributed to Iran turning into one of the Covid-19 epidemic centers.

Firstly, the Iranian authorities delayed the official announcement of the epidemic for fear of a low turnout at the February 21 Majlis elections, even though every day, every hour the disease claimed more victims.

Secondly, Qum’s clergy came out against medical recommendations issued by the Ministry of Health, including introduction of quarantine, in a belief that “the invisible hand of the enemy was behind the emergency recommendations from health officials”.

The Mullahs insisted that the holy city of Qum was immune to all disease. They urged residents to visit the local shrine – Fatima Masumeh sepulcher – to pray for the sick in order to secure a miraculous recovery for themselves. 

When the officials suggested quarantine for the Fatima Masumeh mosque, Khamenei’s chief representative in Qum Mohammad Saidi agreed with the majority of the Qum clergy that the mosque should not be closed. Mohammad Saidi announced on February 22 that “no one would let the enemy portray Qum as a dangerous place; that defeat of Qum was the dream of crafty Trump and his  mercenaries but that dream would never come true, even in their graves”….

The same scenario was observed nearly all over the country. Thousands of believers gathered in mosques to pray for health. This led to a dramatic increase in the number of people infected and considerable delays in taking anti-virus measures.

Thirdly, the political situation in Iran of late has been tense. The epidemic struck Iran right after a number of crisis events: mass protests against rising petrol prices in November 2019 which transformed from economic to political; the killing of General Soleimani and the aggravation of Iranian-American relations; the mistaken shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner with Iranian nationals on board. This distrust in the authorities on the part of the public led to people ignoring the recommendations of health officials in the first weeks of the epidemic. This had a negative effect on the anti-virus effort as well.

Fourthly, the healthcare system in Iran, even though it has been progressing in recent years, is far from the level needed to address a pandemic. Though, in general, the health service in the country is better and much more effective than in most countries of the Middle East.

Undoubtedly, what delayed the modernization of Iranian healthcare system was austere international sanctions which were imposed against  Iran in 2012-2016, and  the US sanctions introduced in 2018. Iran was de facto deprived of the opportunity to purchase modern medical equipment, medicaments, research materials and other kinds of medical and sanitation produce in required quantities. All this is the result of the restriction of trade with Iran and a fall in Iranian incomes.

However, despite the difficulties, Iran has achieved impressive progress in biotechnology, which will likely serve as a scientific foundation for a decisive attack on Covid-19.

Here is a comparative analysis of the healthcare status in different countries. The table is based on information from the Knoema website (https://knoema.ru/atlas/). The data is for 2015 – 2018 

Country Spending on healthcare
 % to GDP
Spending on healthcare per capita ($) Number of doctors per  1000 residents Number of beds per 1000 residents
Iran 8.1 415 1,1 1,5
Russia 5.3 469 4,0 8,2
Germany   8,2 4714 4,2 8,3
Israel 7,3 2837 3,2 3,1
USA 17,1 9870 2,6 2,9

Having evaluated the situation and the scope of the epidemic with concern, the Iranian authorities stepped up effort to mobilize the population to combat the coronavirus.

On March 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called on citizens to step up the fight against coronavirus across the country. He also urged Iranians to “follow directives and guidelines issued by health officials.”

Emphasizing that the population should heed the recommendations of health officials regarding coronavirus control and its non-proliferation, Ayatollah Khamenei added: “These recommendations should not be ignored, because God obliged us to answer for our health and the health of others. Therefore, all steps that contribute to improving the health of society and lead to non-proliferation of this disease is the right act, whereas what contributes to its spread is the wrong act. ”

A little later, the Supreme Leader described what was happening in the country as a disaster adding that though the IRI knew much more serious troubles, it no case should play down the danger.

In turn, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on March 4 that the authorities will try to overcome the coronavirus crisis in the shortest possible time and with minimal losses. He acknowledged that the Covid-19 affected almost all the provinces of Iran.

In accordance with instruction by the authorities, the National Headquarters for the Control of Coronavirus and Disease Prevention was set up, headed by the Minister of Health.

Involved in the anti-virus effort is the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Army’s ground forces. Rear Admiral Ali Fadawi, deputy commander of the IRGC, said that the Corps has established a permanent center, Shafa, to combat the coronavirus infection. The IRGC base is working in cooperation with the “National Headquarters for Control of Coronavirus and Disease Prevention.”

Corps spokesman General Ramezan Sharif said the IRGC had mobilized 100,000 of its members, as well as the Basij Resistance Force (IRGC), to help the government and people to stop the epidemic.

“The extensive IRGC system, including personnel and special-purpose facilities, as well as stationary and field hospitals, care camps, medical centers, and basic necessities and sanitary equipment, which belong to the IRGC and Basij, are available for the specific conditions of the country in the fight against coronavirus” “General Sharif said.

General Behzad Moamen, who is in charge of the Iranian Army’s medical department, said all 28 military field hospitals are ready to assist the Iranian Ministry of Health in treating patients diagnosed with Covid-19.

Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, said on March 13 that the Committee on Security and Law Enforcement, in tandem with the Ministry of the Interior and the governors, would begin to take measures to clear shops, streets and avenues from visitors and passers-by in order to preclude crowding. He added that over the next 10 days, the condition of all Iranian citizens will be checked via the Internet, by telephone and, if necessary, in person.

Iran’s Health Minister Said Namaki announced in early March that a new national mobilization plan will be in effect across the country to combat the coronavirus epidemic and better treat patients. The plan envisages special training for all 17,000 medical centers and 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages. The number of medical laboratories for testing coronavirus infection has already reached 22, and will increase to 40 in the near future. Also, the plan provides for the widespread introduction of home quarantine.

The government has imposed restrictions on travel within the country, especially to the north of Iran, which is part of the red zone. The country has also adopted stringent digital medical control procedures at airports and transport terminals to detect possible infections. Air traffic with epidemic epicenters inside the country and abroad has been suspended.

The authorities have launched decisive action. Disinfection  vehicles have appeared in the streets of Tehran, spraying disinfectants, public transport is   disinfected on a regular basis.

All schools, universities, theaters, cinemas, and Shiite shrines are closed. Mass events, including Friday prayers, have been canceled. Where possible, quarantine is in effect. All resorts are under quarantine. Institutions have switched to on-line work. Internet traffic is up 40% as Iranians work from home. Shopping centers stand  nearly empty.

The head of the Iranian judiciary, Khojatoleslam Ebragim Raisi, said that about 70,000 prisoners across the country have gone on leave after the outbreak of coronavirus.

There are special matchsticks next to ATMs and elevator doors, offering Iranians the option to press buttons without touching the metal surfaces which are potentially infected with coronavirus. In public, some men no longer shake hands and do not kiss in greeting – instead, they touch each other with their boots.

The second round of parliamentary elections in Iran, scheduled for April 17, has been postponed on account of the epidemic. The celebration of Nourouz – the Iranian New Year, which begins on March 21, is under question. In Iran, the New Year holiday lasts until the beginning of April.

Slowly, the Iranians are coming to terms with the situation. There is no shortage of essential goods, daily use products and food.

However, the emergency measures caused by the epidemic have had a negative effect on the economy and, accordingly, on the social sphere. In the first two weeks of the coronavirus crisis, the Tehran Stock Exchange collapsed by 3.44%, while the national currency, which had already suffered significantly at the sanctions, fell by 19%.

According to the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, daily losses from the closure of enterprises and large commercial facilities throughout the country amount to $ 164 million. In addition, there have been cases of bankruptcy of small shops, cafes, hairdressers, car service stations, and taxi drivers.

Undoubtedly, the forced closure of land and air borders with neighbors and partners has struck an extra blow on the Iranian economy, tightening the blockade that the United States imposed in 2018.

Iran has found itself in plight. The American sanctions, a dramatic decrease in oil prices on the world market, the detrimental effect of the coronavirus epidemic  on the physical and psychological health of people, and also on the economy, amid the difficult political situation in the country, may herald grave socio-political upheavals.

From our partner International Affairs

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

Shaping Palestinian politics: The UAE has a leg up on Turkey

Dr. James M. Dorsey

Published

on

The United Arab Emirates may have the upper hand in its competition with Turkey in efforts to shape Palestinian politics. Similarly, the UAE’s recognition of the Jewish state gives it a leg up in ensuring that its voice is heard in Israel and Washington irrespective of who wins the November US election.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t miss a beat during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, insisting that he, unlike the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, would not accept a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not endorsed by the Palestinians.

Mr. Erdogan’s solemn pledge may earn him brownie points with large segments of Middle Eastern and Muslim public opinion critical of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the two Gulf states but does not strengthen his weak hand.

The UAE, with whom Mr. Erdogan is at loggerheads over Libya, Syria, and the future of political Islam, may have less clout than it thinks in bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but has, for now, more cards to play.

What those cards are worth will only emerge over time.

The UAE is betting that a combination of soft power garnered through recognition of Israel and close security, economic and technological cooperation will enable it to convince the Israeli government that an independent Palestinian state is in Israel’s interest.

While there is little reason to believe that the UAE will succeed where others have failed in recent decades, Emirati leaders, in contrast to Turkey, potentially could in cooperation with Israel also try to impose an unpopular Palestinian figure who has close ties to the US, Emirati and Israeli leadership.

The move would be designed to install a leader who would be  more conducive to engaging in peace talks on terms that hold out little hope of meeting long-standing Palestinian aspirations.

It is a scenario that 84-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be taking seriously and appears to be trying to pre-empt.

The Democratic Reform Bloc, a political group headed by Mohammed Dahlan, a controversial Abu Dhabi-based former Palestinian security chief believed to be close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto ruler, said dozens of his supporters had been arrested or summoned for questioning by Palestinian security forces in recent days.

Mr. Dahlan appeared to be walking a fine line when he recently denied any role in mediating relations between the UAE and Israel.

Mr. Abbas’ suspicions stem from an unsuccessful effort last year by the UAE to engineer a deal in which Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, would share power with Mr. Dahlan.

Mr. Dahlan went into exile in the UAE in 2007 after Hamas defeated his US-backed efforts to thwart the group’s control of Gaza. US President George W. Bush described Mr. Dahlan at the time as “our boy.”

He has since been indicted by Mr. Abbas’ Palestine Authority on corruption charges.

UAE recognition of Israel constituted an acknowledgment that the 18-year old Arab peace plan that offered Israel diplomatic relations in exchange for land and a Palestinian state had produced naught.

In its rivalry with Turkey, whose assertive support for the Palestinian cause has likewise failed to produce results so far, the UAE is banking on the expectation that it has the upper hand in getting not only Israeli but also the attention of Washington that under US President Donald J. Trump has disregarded Palestinian rights.

The UAE assumes that it will be able to capitalize on the fact that Emirati recognition of Israel has further complicated Turkey’s relations with its NATO ally, the United States.

Turkey’s relations with the US are already troubled by US support for Syrian Kurds; Turkish military backing of the Libyan government in Tripoli; tensions between Turkey and Greece, another NATO ally, in the Eastern Mediterranean; and Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system.

The Trump administration hopes to finalize by December the sale of F-35 fighter planes to the UAE in the wake of the deal with Israel.  Earlier, it cancelled Turkey’s acquisition of the same plane in response to the country’s S-400 deal with Russia.

For now, Turkey can look at appreciation by important segments of Arab and Muslim public opinion as an upside of its  strident support for the Palestinians.

Seeking to capitalize on its Palestinian goodwill, Turkey has been attempting to end the rift between Mr. Abbas’ Al Fatah movement and Hamas in a bid to get the Palestinians to agree on elections and the formation of a joint government.

The two groups, agreed during  talks in Istanbul this week to work together and hold long overdue elections in the next six months.

The joker in Turkish-Emirati differences over Israel and Palestine is the upcoming US presidential election in November.

Irrespective of who wins, Turkey has lost to the UAE the beneficial mantle of being Israel’s best Muslim friend.

Nonetheless, an electoral victory by Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who is expected to be more critical of arms purchases by the UAE and other Gulf states and take them to task on human rights issues, could put both Turkey and the Emirates on the back foot.

A Biden victory would be for Turkey a lost opportunity. The very issues that are at the core of its strained relations with the UAE are likely to complicate its relations with a Democratic administration.

Recent media reports reminded Mr. Erdogan that Mr. Biden had described him in a conversation with The New York Times early this year as an “autocrat.” The Democratic candidate suggested that the US. should “embolden” his opponents to defeat him in elections.

In the conversation, Mr. Biden mentioned other issues, including the Kurds, Syria, and tension in the Eastern Mediterranean that do not bode well for US-Turkish relations should the Democrat occupy the White House. Mr. Biden is expected to be also critical of the UAE’s interventions in Yemen and Libya.

Nonetheless, the UAE, despite its own issues with the US, is likely to still find itself in a better place in Washington no matter who emerges victorious from the November election.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Arabs-Israeli Peace must be Well-Anchored, not Neatly Fantasized

Mohammed Nosseir

Published

on

Watching a few Emirati and Israeli citizens dance in Chabad House, Dubai to celebrate normalization may give the impression that these nations have realized a genuine peace; a false assumption that disregards the facts that the peace treaty between Israel and two Arab Nations is meant to serve Donald Trump in his upcoming presidential election, values the “ground reality” that clearly favors Israel over United Nations resolutions upholding the “land for peace” principle, and advances western politicians’ view that peace can be imposed top-down, seconded by autocratic Arab rulers.

As an Egyptian, I highly value the peace treaty between my country and Israel that was based on regaining occupied Egyptian land, the Sinai Peninsula. The treaty has helped to alter Egyptians’ views of Israel fundamentally; no longer seen as a permanent enemy, Israel is presently perceived as a “cooperative” neighbor that has offered us millions of tourists and a few sound investments – solid pillars for normalization. Meanwhile, the clear majority of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims continue to sympathize with the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation – a crisis that can only be resolved by pursuing the same path towards peace as that of Egypt.

For years, the United States has been trying to impose a peace treaty between the Arab nations and Israel based on the concept that Arabs should accept Israeli territorial expansion in return for the injection of substantial U.S.  funds to boost the Palestinian economy, a proposition strengthened by Israel’s military power and Arab rulers’ injudicious, hasty attitude towards the crisis. Underneath this reality lurks the further empowerment of the political Islamist proposition that places Israel as a permanent enemy, which could easily drag our region into additional, unpredicted violence. 

Arabs societies generally appear to lead a “double life”. On the one hand is the reality that 60% are either poor citizens or citizens who are vulnerable to poverty, an unemployment rate of roughly 11%, the lack of basic freedoms and living under autocratic rule; a sad status that has become even more dramatic with the advent of Covid-19. These factors combined intensify Arab youth’s anger and frustration towards their rulers and towards the United States, seen as a solid supporter of those rulers. Obviously, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation rule have an extra challenge to deal with.

On the other hand is the fantasy life constituted of GDP growth and the implementation of a few mega projects that Arab rulers like to exhibit and that western politicians and scholars tend to recognize as a sign of success – completely overlooking the fact that these projects are often awarded to the rulers’ cronies and that the unequal distribution of wealth will keep large portions of Arabs living in poverty for generations to come, making them more vulnerable to violence. Likewise, expanding trade deals between Arab nations and Israel or receiving economic incentives from the United States have proven to benefit only the same cronies.

Moreover, the present rumour that the United States is building a block of Arab nations and Israel meant to potentially engage in a war with Iran is a catastrophic approach. Should it happen, it will thrust the entire region into a state of intense violence and enduring war that could well lead to the collapse of many of the signed treaties. Furthermore, a peace treaty between Israel and two Arab nations, who are not in conflict with Israel, will not help to resolve either the Palestinian crisis or the Iranian conflict – Bahraini and the Emirati citizens will never validate such a treaty, if it is presented to them fairly.

There is a huge difference between a peace treaty concluded between two mature, democratic nations whose respective governments truly represent their citizens, and an agreement that is imposed on nations whose citizens are – to put it mildly – in disharmony with their rulers. Arab citizens, often accused of engaging in violence and declining to peacefully settle with Israel, are in fact caught between two fires: their autocratic rulers, who deliberately offer them undignified living conditions and Islamic extremists, who promise them eternal salvation as a reward for engaging in violence and terrorism.

Permanent Arab-Israeli peace can only be achieved through a bottom-up approach that is designed to last, which entails keeping away from western pragmatism and enforcement, both of no value to this crisis. Israel is continually working to enhance its security, an absolute necessity for its citizens. It needs to offer Palestinians the opportunity to live a dignified life based, first, on regaining their occupied land and establishing a state of their own, followed by advancing their economic status. Offering the later at the expense of the former will keep us in this vicious circle of violence for decades to come.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Untangling Survival Intersections: Israel, Chaos and the Pandemic

Prof. Louis René Beres

Published

on

MUNCH, Edvard The Scream (detail) 1893 Oil, tempera & pastel on cardboard, 91 × 73.5 cm The National Gallery, Oslo

Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”-Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (1951)

INTRODUCTION TO THE ANALYSIS:  Day by day, traditional global anarchy (with discernible roots in the seventeenth century Peace of Westphalia) is being supplanted by chaos. This exponential replacement has very substantial implications for (1) comprehensive global stability; (2) regional stability in the Middle East; and (3) Israeli national stability. Because the replacement  is taking place alongside a still-expanding global pandemic, variously resultant forms of chaos must be considered as multi-layered, tangled and synergistic.

 What next? Among others, Israel’s senior strategists and policy-makers will have to examine these dissembling expressions of chaos by proceeding with continuously capable scholarship.  Accordingly apt emphases in  Jerusalem and Tel Aviv should soon be placed upon plausible alterations to decisional rationality (both Israeli and adversarial) and on prospective nuclear competitions oriented to achieving intra-crisis “escalation dominance.” In the worst case scenario, such analyses would pertain to certain potential instances of nuclear war-fighting, a sobering narrative that reinforces Israel’s unceasing imperative to seek nuclear deterrence ex ante, and not revenge ex post.

There is more. The article that follows is self-consciously conceptual/theoretical. By design, it is unlike other more usual essays that concern global/ regional stability in world politics.

This article can be useful to military practitioners and national security planners because it could lead them well beyond any orthodox or narrowly “current events” focus on applicable strategic thought. By explaining this historically unprecedented transition from anarchy to chaos, it can also point serious readers toward a new corpus of pertinent strategic theory. “Theory is a net,” we all learned earlier from Karl Popper’s classic The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), “only those who cast, can catch.”

—————–

As Chair of “Project Daniel,” a special policy task force assembled to analyze the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel two decades ago,[1] the author is not new to analytic assessments of complex geo-strategic hazards, including existential ones. Still, twenty years back, when Daniel sprang from a private conversation he was having in Tel-Aviv with two-time Israeli Ambassador to the United States Zalman Shoval,[2] overriding security perils were being examined as part of some presumptively coherent world order. This is not meant to suggest that the post-Westphalia[3] order was ever reassuringly stable or satisfactory, but only that the classical  balance-of-power regime had not yet become entirely unpredictable.

               That was then. Today, all serious scholarly assessments, irrespective of  specific country particularity, must be undertaken with a starkly different view. This updated perspective assumes, inter alia, that the world order system is no longer “merely” anarchic,[4] but is also chaotic. Now, a crucial part of this dissembling context is worldwide disease pandemic, a devastating plague that only renders an already unstable global structure even worse.[5]

               In essence, an incremental metamorphosis of system-wide anarchy into chaos has been underway for some time, but the sudden and sweeping comprehensiveness of Covid19 has produced a quantum jump in this already-significant transformation.

               Though a decidedly  global issue, some states will be affected more than others by any spreading chaos. In the specific case of Israel, our focus here, the prospective impacts of certain ongoing change patterns are apt to be considerable. This is because of that country’s conspicuously small size, its still-multiple enemies and its correspondingly unique dependence (for deterrence,[6] not war-fighting)[7] upon nuclear weapons and strategy.[8]

               Looking ahead, the challenging security tasks for Israel need not be regrettable or without any tangible benefits. There do exist sound and science-based reasons to acknowledge advancing chaos as a  security positive for Israel, at least in part. While distinctly counter-intuitive, such compelling reasons ought now be more closely and capably examined.

               These reasons should not be casually minimized or disregarded.

                As drawn from its core meanings in classical philosophy and mythology, chaos represents the literal beginning of everything, the good as well as the bad.

               This “positive”  concept of chaos now warrants very serious and meticulous scholarly assessment. This is not the same thing as suggesting, more prosaically, that scholars and policy makers should try to make better analytic sense of assorted security threats and circumstances, e.g., the Iran nuclear threat or the Palestinian terror threat (neither of which has in any way been diminished by the new Israel-UAE agreement). What is being urged here is the more self-conscious construction of pertinent theories, a painstaking process that must inevitably be contingent upon an antecedent and more refined conceptual understanding.

               Analysts may begin such epistemological processes at their most proverbial beginnings. To wit, Jewish theology discovers its primal roots in Genesis, an observation to be generally viewed with favor in a Jewish State. Whether in the Old Testament or in more-or-less synchronous Greek and Roman thought, chaos can be understood as an intellectual tabula rasa, a blank slate which, when thoughtfully completed, can best prepare the world for all things, both sacred and profane.

               Most significantly, chaos can represent that inchoate place from which absolutely all civilizational opportunitymust credibly originate.

                With such unorthodox thinking, chaos is never just a repellant “predator” that swallows everything whole; callously, indiscriminately, and without purpose. Here, instead, it is more usefully considered as an auspicious “openness,” that is, as a protean realm within which entirely new kinds of human opportunity may be suitably revealed or gleaned.  For Israel, this means that any advancing chaos in the Middle East need not necessarily be interpreted by the country’s senior military planners as a portentous harbinger of regional violence and instability, but rather, in at least some respects, as a potentially gainful condition for critically improving national security.

                There is more. By extrapolation, this same caveat should be extended to include any discernible elements of chaos in certain other regions of the world, though the intellectual or analytic arguments would then be based upon determinably other underlying conditions or outcomes.

               The next question arises. How best to harness such a radical re-conceptualization of chaos in Jerusalem (politics) and Tel Aviv (military strategy)? This is a manifestly difficult, subtle and many-sided question. Still, it would be better answered imperfectly than be wholly disregarded. Such an answer should suggest the following: Israel’s authoritative decision-makers must more intentionally stray beyond ordinary or usual national security assessments,[9] and then venture more wittingly in the direction of illuminating avant garde analyses.[10]

               To be sure, any such venture would have its detractors. “Whenever the new muses present themselves,” warned Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset in The Dehumanization of Art, “the masses bristle.

               Among these studies would be scholarly examinations that hypothesize various radical redistributions of power in the Middle East, including some never-before considered alignments. Such unexpected alignments, born of a now palpably expanding regional chaos, could include not only assorted state-state relationships (e.g., Israel-Egypt; Israel-Jordan; Israel-Saudi Arabia; Israel-UAE; Israel-Russia), but also state-sub state or “hybrid” connections (e.g., Hezbollah-Iran; Hezbollah-Russia). Just as with certain state-state relationships, relevant intersections could sometime be synergistic. In these potentially most worrisome cases, the “whole” of any specific intersection would exceed the simple sum of its constituent “parts.” Of course, for Israel, not every expected synergy would necessarily be harmful or “bad.” Some of these intersections could be determinably auspicious or “good.”

               As an example of positive synergistic outcome for Israel, scholars and planners could consider alignments that would favor directly Israeli goals or objectives, and alignments that would be presumptively harmful or injurious to that country’s acknowledged foes.

               Similarly unprecedented but also worth considering would be steps taken toward alleviating the more expressly structural conditions of chaos in the Middle East region, including certain specific forms of cooperation that could move incrementally toward assorted forms of regional governance. Such  forms would have to be tentative, and also very partial, but they could nonetheless provide a generally welcome start toward greater area order than area chaos.[11] In specifically Hobbesian terms, these forms of governance would be intended to supplant the generally corrosive “war of all against all”[12] in the Middle East with some designated “common power.”[13]

                Recalling English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the core objective here would be to keep all state and sub-state parties “in awe.”[14]

               Ironically, a unique opportunity for regional movements toward greater area collective security would have been made possible by decision-maker perceptions of a more general revulsion with anarchy or chaos. This opportunity will have been born of a growing existential desperation, that is, of a sense that “business as usual” in Middle East peacemaking can no longer suffice. Of course, it is altogether possible that this particular sense of opportunity could sometime be mistaken or misunderstood, in which case any presumed benefits of chaos might turn out to be a double-edged sword.

               There is more. With regard to any such injurious inversions of opportunity for Israel, Jerusalem need only be reminded of its unchanging obligation to avoid taking existential risks wherever possible.[15] Ultimately, this fixed and immutable obligation can be fulfilled only by assessing all risks and opportunities according to well-established and optimally rigorous intellectual standards. Among other things, even when chaos might beckon seductively to Israel as an unanticipated font of future strategic opportunity, there could be no adequate substitute for capable scholarly or intellectual analysis.

               Reciprocally, however, any such diligent analysis must eschew “seat of the pants” determinations, and rely instead upon an amply-refined strategic theory. Always, theory is a “net.” Only those who “cast” such an indispensable net can ever expect to “catch.”

               What else? When “casting,” Israel’s strategic planners should pay especially rapt attention to any discernible links between a prevailing or still-anticipated chaos, and the expected rationality of its relevant adversaries.[16] What might first appear as an unwittingly promising source of improved national safety could be reversed promptly by those enemies who would value certain normally subsidiary preferences in world politics more highly than national or collective survival.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

               Such “absurd” enemies are not historically unknown in world politics.[17]

               Not at all.

               At this moment, the most compelling threat of such enemy irrationality appears to come from a seemingly still-nuclearzing Iran. Significantly, there is no way for Israel’s decision makers to systematically or scientifically evaluate the authentic probabilities of any such uniquely formidable threat.[18] This is because (a) any truly accurate assessments of event probability must be based upon the determinable frequency of pertinent past events; and (b) there have been no pertinent past events (i.e., no nuclear war).

               All the same, an eventual Iranian nuclear threat to Israel remains plausible; it should thus suggest certain worrisome prospects for a “final” sort of regional chaos. To make reassuringly positive or at least gainful use of this vision, Israel ought soon to focus explicitly and meticulously on its still-tacit “bomb in the basement” nuclear strategy.  Preparing to move beyond the prospectively lethal limits of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity,” Jerusalem would need to (1) rank-order identifiable thresholds of enemy nuclear peril as tangible “triggers” for its incremental nuclear disclosures; and (2) prepare for rank-ordered release some very specifically limited sets of information concerning the invulnerability and penetration-capability of its own nuclear forces.

               These sets would include selected facts on nuclear targeting doctrine; number; range; and yield.

               As Israel can learn from certain intimations of some impending chaos, the country’s national security might be better served by reduced nuclear ambiguity than by any more traditional commitments to complete strategic secrecy. This seemingly counter-intuitive argument is rooted in the altogether reasonable presumption that Israel’s continued survival must depend very considerably on successfully sustained nuclear deterrence.

               When 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche initially explained chaos as something contained deeply within each individual human being,[19] he did not intend this to represent a distressingly negative portent. On the contrary, like the German poet Hölderlin,[20] with whose work he was intimately familiar, Nietzsche understood that even from apparent formlessness can emerge things of great or even inestimable value. Accordingly, at this currently precarious moment in its contemporary history, Israel’s leadership would be well advised (a) to think seriously and inventively about such challenging conceptual opportunities; and (b) to fashion strategic theories that begin but do not end with conspicuous portents of the apocalyptic  “abyss.”

               This would not be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted, or for those who are constitutionally unable to recognize promising strategic “muses”[21] But the security payoff for Israel’s national defense could still prove overwhelmingly gainful. It follows that such a task would be determinably “cost-effective.”

               One last point in this broad argument now bears repeating. It is that Israel has absolutely no choice about either welcoming or rejecting chaos. Incontestably, this condition is not something that Israel can in any way push aside, negotiate, forestall or prevent. Because chaos in some form will inexorably emerge from a traditional global anarchy, Jerusalem must do whatever it can (as soon as it can) to reconcile and optimize its pertinent security strategies with chaos. A full acknowledgment of this unavoidable imperative could represent the acme of Israel’s decisional acumen and decisional rationality.[22]

               In the months and years ahead, Israel’s overriding obligation remains plain and obvious. To best meet this evident security imperative of collective survival, that nation’s strategic analysts and planners will first have to better understand the relevant policy correlates of any expanding chaos, and to accomplish this goal by means of a markedly advanced conceptual scholarship. At a particularly fragile moment in contemporary history when biology could prove even more fundamentally worrisome than capable enemy armies, this scholarship will need to take special note of our current and still-expanding Corona virus pandemic. 

               This “plague,” though “merely” biological, will likely produce certain unanticipated and hard to remediate forms of  social and political disintegration, both expressly regional (Middle East) and worldwide. At the same time, should Israel and its relevant area foes sometime recognize this viral pandemic as an exceptional menace that is nonetheless common to all –  one best diminished by some generally shared strategies of cooperation –  it could conceivably become a welcome agent of a more genuine Middle East peace.[23] Though ironic and more-or-less implausible,  microbial assault could represent just the right agent for enhanced geopolitical vision, for shaping a tabula rasa from which more promisingly audacious national security opportunities could sometime be born.

               If this novel opportunity for embracing chaos were sufficiently acknowledged, it could be a “beginning” that “draws near,” not an “end.”


[1] Our formal report, “Israel’s Strategic Future,” was discussed widely in global media and delivered by hand to PM Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem on January 16, 2003. http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[2] Ambassador Shoval has been Professor Beres’ several times co-author on vital matters of Israeli security and international law. Most recently, see Louis René Beres and Zalman Shoval, West Point (Pentagon) https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[3] The historic Peace of Westphalia (1648) concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the “Peace of Westphalia.”

[4] Hobbes, the 17th- century English philosopher, argues that anarchy in the “state of nations” is the only true “state of nature.” In Chapter XIII of Leviathan (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery”),  Hobbes explains famously: “But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of war, one against the other, yet in all times, kings and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independence, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbors, which is a posture of war.”

[5] With chaos, but not anarchy, even the usual mainstays of decentralized world politics (e.g., deterrence and balance of power processes) are replaced by more eccentric or idiosyncratic factors of national decision  making.

[6] As emphasized at Israel’s Strategic Future: The Final Report of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003): “The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.”

[7]See, for example: Louis René Beres, https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2018/5/29/israels-nuclear-strategy-enhancing-deterrence-in-the-new-cold-war-part-i; Louis René Beres, INSS Israel, https://www.inss.org.il/publication/changing-direction-updating-israels-nuclear-doctrine/

and, at Harvard Law School, Louis René Beres: https://harvardnsj.org/2014/06/staying-strong-enhancing-israels-essential-strategic-options-2/

[8] See,  by Professor Beres, https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[9] Such proposed “straying,” which might range anywhere from an eleventh-hour preemption to much greater commitments to regional collective security, could still be in more-or-less complete accord with pertinent international law. In this connection, a core or jus cogens principle of international law remains the unambiguous imperative: “Where the ordinary remedy fails, recourse must be had to an extraordinary one.” (Ubi cessat remedium ordinarium, ibi decurritur ad extraordinarium.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1520 – 6th ed., 1990).

[10] In his 1927 preface to Oxford Poetry, W.H. Auden wrote: “All genuine poetry is in a sense the formation of private spheres out of public chaos….” Looking ahead with an appropriately avant-garde orientation, Israeli strategists must essentially seek to carve out livable national spheres from a steadily expanding global chaos. Ultimately, of course, following Nietzsche, they must understand that such chaos originally lies within each individual human being, but – at least for the moment of their present strategic deliberations – they must focus upon collective survival in a true Hobbesian “state of nature.” This is a condition wherein “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest,” normally possible only where individual human beings coexist in nature, but possible also in world politics wherever there exists nuclear proliferation. Accordingly, the German legal philosopher Samuel Pufendorf reasoned, like Hobbes, that the state of nations “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” Similarly, said Baruch Spinoza: “A commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” (See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works: Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295).

[11] Back at Princeton in the late 1960s, I spent two full years in the University library, reading everything available about world order. The initial result was published in my early book The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver, 1973) and two years later, in Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (University of Denver, 1975).

[12] This Hobbes-described orientation represents the explicit underpinning of US President Donald Trump’s announced foreign policy, and stands in direct opposition to the core jurisprudential assumption (i.e., international law) of imperative solidarity between all states. This immutable or jus cogens assumption was already mentioned in Justinian’s Digest (533 CE); Hugo Grotius’ Law of War and Peace (1625); and Vattel’s The Law of Nations, or the Principles of Natural Law (1758). According to General McMaster, Mr. Trump’s earlier National Security Advisor, this policy is an expression of “pragmatic realism.” Historically, this term is essentially a self-reinforcing falsehood, as no forms of “realism” or “Realpolitik” have ever worked for long. For Israel, the best “lesson” to be extracted from this egregious US policy error is to think of the erroneous Trump-era posture as one of “naive realism,” and to draw upon certain expectations of advancing chaos to inspire more promising forms of both national strategy and international cooperation.

[13] Following the recently negotiated Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain agreements, it could be assumed or alleged that this “corrosive” condition has been correspondingly modified or reduced. Nonetheless, Israel’s principal security challenges have never come from these Gulf states; it is also arguable that the threat of renewed Palestinian terrorism has actually been increased by these US-brokered pacts.

[14] See Hobbes, Leviathan, especially Chapter XVII, “Of Commonwealth.” More generally, the presumed obligation to use force in a world of international anarchy forms the central argument of Realpolitik from the Melian Dialogues of Thucydides and the Letters of Cicero to Machiavelli, Locke, Spykman and Kissinger. “For what can be done against force without force?’ inquires Cicero. Nonetheless, the sort of chaos that Israel could confront shortly is much different from traditional anarchy or simply decentralized global authority. In essence, it is conceivably more primordial, more primal, self-propelled and potentially even self-rewarding.

[15] Such a primary warning is the central motif of Yehoshafat Harkabi’s The Bar Kokhba Syndrome: Risk and Realism in International Politics,” (New York: Rossel Books, 1983).

[16] See, by Professor Beres: https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/516-Israeli-Security-and-Enemy-Rationality-Beres-Author-approved-version.pdf

[17] See Sigmund Freud in Civilization and its Discontents: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind….usually they have wreaked havoc.”

[18] Regarding also the expected consequences or “disutilites” of a nuclear war, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, SURVIVING AMID CHAOS: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016/2018); Louis René Beres,  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres,  MIMICKING SISYPHUS: AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U S FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984);  and Louis René Beres, ed.,  SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[19] “I tell you,” says Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “ye have still chaos in you.”

[20] In philosophy, Hölderin, Nietzsche and Heidegger struggled with the fundamentally same ontological problems of existence, or “being,”

[21] Once again, “Whenever the new muses present themselves,” cautions Spanish existentialist José Ortega y’ Gassett in The Dehumanization of Art, “the masses bristle.”

[22] Reciprocally, a rational state enemy of Israel will always accept or reject a particular option by comparing the costs and benefits of each alternative. Wherever the expected costs of striking first are taken to exceed expected gains, this enemy will be deterred. But where these expected costs are believed to be exceeded by expected gains, deterrence will fail. Here, whatever the prevailing levels of order or chaos, Israel would be faced with an enemy attack, either as a “bolt-from-the-blue” or as an outcome of anticipated or unanticipated crisis-escalation. In this connection, too, Israeli planners will want to stay abreast of each side’s ongoing search for “escalation dominance.”

[23] More generally, see by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Jurist:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/louis-beres-trump-empathy/ To be sure, the recent US-brokered Israel agreements with UAE and Bahrain are actually net-negative for Middle East Peace because they provide no per se Israeli advantages with these Gulf states, and because they exacerbate Israel’s much more essential relationships with Iran, the Palestinians and Hezbollah.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

South Asia1 hour ago

An Indian perspective on Afghan peace-process

Afghanistan is staring at a massive political uncertainty with the United States preparing to exit the war-torn nation by 2021....

Terrorism3 hours ago

Why FATF treats India as a protégé and Pakistan as a bête noire?

Indian media is never tired of describing Pakistan as hub of money laundering and terror financing in the world.  Indian...

New Social Compact5 hours ago

Women During Covid Era

Authors: Priyanka Singh and Sujeet Singh* No Country is cent percent successful in providing safe haven to its Women, her...

Energy News8 hours ago

Renewable Energy Jobs Continue Growth to 11.5 Million Worldwide

Renewable energy continues to bring socio-economic benefits by creating numerous jobs worldwide, according to the latest figures released by the...

Europe9 hours ago

From Prince to Duce: An in depth study about Machiavellianism in the Fascist Doctrine

Although both philosophies of Machiavellianism and Fascism are almost 400 years apart, there is no doubt that the theories of...

Energy News11 hours ago

Pakistan Making Shift to Clean Power Production and Lower Energy Costs

Today, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved $450 million in financing to support Pakistan’s transition to renewable energy...

Defense13 hours ago

Evolution of Indian Nuclear Doctrine: From NFU to Preemption

India’s obscure nuclear doctrine of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) had evolved over the years since it was first declared in...

Trending