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The Importance of Ending the Arms Embargo: What Is Iran’s Plan?

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Lifting or extending the UN arms embargo on Iran, which according to SC Resolution 2231 is supposed to be ended in October 2020, has led to a new confrontation between Tehran and Washington. The US has circulated a draft UN resolution that would extend the embargo, and Secretary Pompeo vowed to use all means available to do so. In case of failure, Washington has threatened to trigger the so-called “snapback” mechanism deal to return all UN sanctions on Iran. At the same time, most of the US House urges more diplomacy to renew the Iran arms embargo.

According to Washington, lifting the embargo will lead to arms competition and instability in the Middle East. Denying this charge, Iran, under Resolution 2231, considers it its right to lift the embargo and blames the US as the leading cause of instability in the region. Iran’s FM, Mohammad Javad Zarif, emphasizes that “the US has long been the world’s top military spender, arms seller, war initiator and instigator, as well as conflict profiteer. Yet Secretary Pompeo is apparently so worried about Iran that it’s stationing weapons all over the globe.”

In this regard, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned of Iran’s “crushing response”. Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Ali Shamkhani, warned that the nuclear deal would “die forever” should the arms embargo be further extended. The chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Mojtaba Zolnoori, declared that such a situation could lead to a series of consequences, including the collapse of the JCPOA, stopping the implementation of the Additional Protocol, or even the withdrawal from NPT.

Iranian authorities’ harsh response shows that Iran’s goals and the decision to lift the country’s arms embargo go beyond the scope of buying or selling weapons. The first goal is political, namely, to thwart the Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy. Iran’s containment and an embargo extension are also to be considered as part of the US strategy. In this regard, the US’s success in extending the embargo would also mean the success of that strategy, while its failure would demonstrate the weakening of the latter. Accordingly, Iran is to use the opportunity to strengthen its political position and weaken the “maximum pressure” strategy by delegitimating US efforts to extend the embargo.

The second goal is economical and relates to breaking the sanctions’ structure. If the arms embargo is not extended, there will be a rift in the sanctions’ structure. Consequently, Iran will enter a new era of reducing restrictions and will possibly be able to reap more benefits from JCPOA. In this case, lifting restrictions in the next stages in 2023, 2025, and 2030 will be done more efficiently. Buying and selling weapons will facilitate trade in other areas too.

The third goal is linked to the military, which is to strengthen balance and deterrence by providing advanced weapons and developing military cooperation. Although Iran has improved its military capabilities in recent years, especially in the field of missiles and drones, there is still an urgent need for development.

The fourth goal aims to develop, through arms interactions, military-political cooperation with countries such as Russia, China, as well as others in the region. Iran, Russia, and China held joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman late last year. Furthermore, Iran-Russia military cooperation in Syria and Iran’s security-military cooperation with Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan are additional examples of military cooperation, which can be improved through arms interactions.

The fifth goal is to develop Iran’s regional influence through the support of its proxies, relying on advanced weapons bought, and selling its own weapons. In general, improving Iran’s military capabilities and deterrence by new weapons and military technologies will be effective in strengthening its regional position and its proxies and allies’ position in the region.

Naturally, Iran needs international political and arms support to achieve these goals and thwart US efforts to extend the arms embargo. Russia and China are two powers that Iran is counting on, and it will not be easy for the US to take on these two countries together with Iran. Meanwhile, for various reasons, Russia can be more helpful for Iran than any other country.

Firstly, politically, Russia, and Russian officials, from FM Lavrov to Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov and Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Director Vladimir Ermakov, have repeatedly opposed US pressure on Iran and its plan to extend arms embargo. The opposition also echoed in the Russian Foreign Ministry statement on March 3, stressing that there is no reason to raise the issue of extending Iran’s arms embargo to the Security Council.

Secondly, Iran and Russia have a history of arms-military cooperation. Iran has previously received various Russian weapons, such as S-300 systems, and the two countries have also worked closely in Syria. They have different security and military agreements, including countering terrorism and regional cooperation and have held joint drills in the Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. This collaboration shows their willingness to develop relations.

Thirdly, Iran and Russia’s geopolitical views on regional stability and security, as well as the need to strengthen balance and deterrence against the US, are consistent. As an anti-US force in the region and on Russia’s southern borders, Iran serves Moscow’s interests. Therefore, helping Iran, through supplying weapons to stand up to the US, is, in fact, an aid to Russia’s interests.

Finally, Iran has repeatedly stated its interest in acquiring Russian weapons, and Russia wants to take advantage of Iran’s need for military modernization. Buying weapons will increase Iran’s dependence on Russia while, at the same time, economically benefit Russia greatly. Additionally, Russia, the world’s second-largest arms exporter, could use the opportunity to improve its position in the world arms market by taking advantage of Iran’s significant arms needs.

On the other hand, although China has provided assistance to Iran several times in relation to sanctions pressure, the country has, at the same time, shown its reluctancy to take risks. For example, China has recently reduced trade and oil purchases from Iran following US pressure. It is thus likely, for Beijing, to repeat this behavior, especially when it comes to sensitive areas, such that of selling military equipment to Iran. Accordingly, although China is more inclined to oppose the US politically, it is still quite unlikely for the country to enter major arms trade with Iran. Conversely, though, Iran’s vast arms market could be tempting for Beijing, improving its position among the world’s arms exporters.

Iran has little hope that European powers will prove themselves to be helpful. On the one hand, EU members are concerned about Iran’s regional activities and Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, and on the other, Brussels appears to be dissatisfied with Trump’s unilateral policies. Iran’s previous experience in negotiations with European powers to save JCPOA, lift sanctions, and the INSTEX suggests for them to be on the US’s side eventually. The only thing that can bring Europe closer to Iran is the fear of JCPOA’s death, but it seems that even this critical issue will not change Europe’s behavior. Thus the answer to Shamkhani’s question about whether or not Europe should “save dignity and support multilateralism or accept humiliation and help unilateralism?” is clear to Iran.

Regarding arms purchases, if the embargo is lifted, it should be noted that although Russia is Iran’s primary option, it will try to meet its arms needs from various countries, like China, to prevent becoming too heavily dependent on Russia. Iran’s primary need is to strengthen its air force, air defense systems, naval defense, and radar and electronic warfare systems. Due to the concern of countries/companies exporting weapons about sanctions and the secrecy of arms trades, accurate information about Iran’s requested weapons is not available.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Iran is seeking to purchase Sukhoi fighters (35, 30SM and 27SM-3 models), MiG fighters, air defense systems such as S-400, Bastion Coastal Defense Missile System and the T-90 tank from Russia. Iran has also reportedly held talks with China to buy the G-10C fighter, the FD-2000 air defense missile systems, the LY-80 systems, and the automatic air defense system.

According to Iran, Russia and China will be cautious about arms sales, as well as quite reluctant to confront the US. Moscow and Beijing know that the US is sensitive to this issue, and even if the arms embargo is lifted, the US will apply unilateral sanctions. Violating these sanctions, thus, would be highly costly for Russia and China. Therefore, they will not jeopardize their interests by engaging with Iran and confronting the US. Simultaneously, some interests, including strengthening of balance, increasing chips’ bargaining against the US, and taking advantage of Iran’s arms market, are likely to keep their motivation alive to sell arms to Tehran. One thing they can do is sign arms deals with Iran but postpone their delivery.

In addition to the US variable, other variables, including Iran’s regional competitors’ reaction, are essential for Moscow and Beijing. They have political, economic, and military ties with Arab countries as well as with Israel. The large sale of weapons to Iran could jeopardize their relations. On the other hand, the regional balance of power in the Middle East is essential for Russia and China, and they do not want to upset the existing balance by providing advanced weapons to Iran. These considerations make them more cautious.

Iran appears to be considering buying weapons from other countries, such as Pakistan or North Korea. It should be noted that this strategy has little to do with lifting or extending the embargo because, in any case, buying must be carried out without US knowledge.

It should also be noted that Iran will be particularly cautious about buying weapons, hence why the assumption that the country will make extensive purchases if the embargo is lifted doesn’t appear to be correct. Iran views the lifting of the embargo as a turning point in easing sanctions and delegitimating US policy. The reason lies in the fact that Iran is committed to making it clear to the international community that its goal only relates to the strengthening of balance and deterrence, and that the US’ view of Iranophobia is a lie. Iran is, at the same time, aware that radical behavior can put the international community against it.

Iran is also aware that Trump’s main goal is to force it to withdraw from JCPOA (in reaction to a possible extension of arms embargo), in order to put various powers, like Russia and China, on its side, against Iran. With this in mind, Iran is unlikely to engage in radical behavior, even if the embargo is extended.

While financing new arms purchases in the face of declining oil revenues due to sanctions and the global coronavirus clampdown seems difficult, Iran’s experience in circumventing sanctions and advancing its military plans under pressure shows that it can fix the problem.

In recent years, improving Iran’s military capabilities under sanctions in missiles and drones fields and electronic warfare, which were reflected in Iran’s attack on Ain al-Assad base, the downing of US drones and military action in Syria show that this process will continue, whether the embargo is lifted or not.

From our partner RIAC

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Middle East

What is the public sphere today in Turkey?

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The concept of public sphere, which was started to be examined in Europe in the 1960s, has different meanings according to different perspectives, as a definite definition cannot be made today, and this situation creates important discussion topics about the use of such spaces.

Long debated the definition of public space in Europe, in Turkey also began to affect 1980”l year. After the 1980 coup, some communities, which were kept out of sight, fearing that the Republic project would be harmed, demanded the recognition of their ethnic and cultural identities. Thus the concept of the public sphere in Turkey, especially since the early 1990s to be addressed in various academic publications, use and began to discuss political issues.

Especially in the past years, the public sphere debates on the headscarf issue were discussed from various angles. The debate started with Prime Minister Erdogan’s criticism of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who did not invite his wife to a NATO dinner, saying “Dolmabahçe is not a public space”, and the President of the Council of Higher Education, Prof.Dr. Erdoğan Teziç; He responded by emphasizing that the public sphere is not a “ geographical definition ” but a functional concept.

Before defining the public sphere, the understanding that shows that the definition of space in the Ottoman Empire was shaped as less private, private, very private and very very private is still one of the biggest reasons for the definition of the public sphere. While expressing, it reminds that he entered the Ottoman literature in a different way in the 19th century. Thinkers who indicate the association of the public sphere with the state in general express it as the sphere that is related to the state, not the “public”. “When you say ‘public’, the state comes to mind immediately; We mean something like government administration, its organs, organizations, officials, or activities, an official domain that is owned or run under state control. However, as Habermas said, the public sphere is above all the sphere in which the public opinion is formed in our social life ”.

As citizens of the city, we observe that some projects have spread to the spaces defined as public space due to the fact that today’s public space and public space concepts have not been defined precisely and construction activities have increased due to the anxiety of rent.

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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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Middle East

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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