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Peace Deal in the Middle East and addressing the Iranian factor

Vishal Sengupta

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

On August of 13th 2020, the world applauded a wonderful initiative of the United States of America, Israel, and UAE to bring stability in the region by signing what is now called  Abraham Accord which made UAE be the third country after Egypt and Jordan to normalize the relationship with Israel. The peace process didn’t just stop with Abraham accord, the United States of America initiated another peace agreement on 11th September 2020 which put Bahrain and Israel on a peace table with the signing of what they officially called Abraham Accords: Declaration of peace, cooperation, and constructive diplomatic and friendly relations.  Now the question arises is Abraham peace accord enough to stabilize or bring peace in the middle east with rising of Iranian insecurity?

The process of peace is nothing new in the middle east, especially with the Israelis. This is not the first time that Israel and Arab nations had signed a peace agreement or went for peace in the region. The Arab – Israel peace process can be traced back to the year of 1948 when Folke Bernadotte was sent by the United Nations to break a truce between the Arabs and the Israeli, however, the proposal didn’t turn out to be a great success among the Jewish citizens, as according to the plan Palestine was supposed to become a union between the Jewish and the Arabs, the plan leads to a huge outcry among the Israeli population and this anger leads to the assassination of Folke Bernadotte by an Israeli underground group Stern Gang. The Folke Bernadotte plan was a just a proposal, Israel and neighboring Arabs (Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon) in 1949 signed an Armistice agreement which kind of put a temporary cessation to the hostility between the parties however it was a temporary arrangement between the groups till they come up with a proper peace process. However, the peace and ceasefire didn’t last long as both Arabs and Israeli’s went for a bloody war in 1967 which put both the parties in a deadlock and to break the deadlock another attempt was made by the American Secretary of State William Rogers whose plan was later known as the Roger plan however this plan was also not a great success in the middle east. Despite all animosity between the Arabs and Israelis, they both were able to come up in peace term maybe not unitedly but with individual agreements and it started with Egypt and Israel extending their friendship hands by signing the famous Camp David Accord of 1978 under the US president Jimmy Carter which make Egypt be the first country with Arab identity to sign a peace with Israelis which put an end to a thirty-one year of hostility between the two, this memorable agreement sets up a mark for the Arab world as Jordan in 1994 followed the same path to end the hostility and signed what was known as the Treaty of Peace between the State of Israel and The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and this peace has a lot to do with the infamous 1993 Oslo Accords which put the Israelis and the PLOs on the peace table. Despite small border issues so far it is almost forty Years now that Israel and neighboring Arabs had fought against each other. This shows history can be put back and new relations can be created, however, the difficulty arises when your enemy is insecure about your presence and also lacks a proper ally in the region for survival.

Iran factor

In the current geopolitical scenario, it is very hard to deny the importance of Iran in bringing an overall peace in the region. As Iran controls many strategic locations or rather can be called as major chokepoints one of the examples is the Strait of Hormuz, the strait that controls world’s most important oil transit route which almost allows world 20 % of the oil ship transit and secondly due to its insecurity and Ayatollahs dream of becoming the leader in the middle east has made their presence in the majority of the conflicts by using its proxies and thirdly the insecurity between the Israel and Iran due to the nuclear arsenal is another important issue to address.

Due to Israel’s strategic position, Iran finds it tough to attack Israel directly however, for long now Iran is having been providing weapons, arms, and money to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah who in turns with their proxy war troubles Israel. The creation of Hezbollah itself was an example of how Iran wanted to trouble Israel. Hezbollah is notorious for attacking many Israeli places one of the examples is the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Not only this Hezbollah is believed to have a huge arsenal of rockets which they use against Israelis from the Lebanese border and interestingly all these weapons were provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran as per the report provided by Missile Threat, CSIS Missile Defence Project. Hezbollah also holds near about 7000- 8000 107 mm Katyush rockets and Iran is the primary supplier of this Soviet-era rockets to the Hezbollah. To destabilize Israel Iran as Matthew Levitt in his policy Analysis Hezbollah Finance he mentioned that Iran provides at least $100 million a year to Hezbollah and with time the amount is increasing.

Hezbollah and Iran also massively supports the Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hamas and Iran ties can be dated back to 1992 when during a conference in Tehran, Iranian decided to support Hamas with finance and in the same year, the relation between the two became stronger as Israel deported as many as hundreds of Palestinians to Marj Al- Zahour Lebanon. Out of those few deportees belong to the Hamas faction and this gave an advantage to Iranian to train this faction and run a proxy against the Israeli’s.  It was estimated that Hezbollah receives an addition of $22 million form the Iranian intelligence to support Palestinian terror organizations. As Hamas is getting dried up due to the peace between Israelis and the Arabs with Egypt destroying the smuggling tunnels and Qatar providing conditional financial support Hamas continuous relies upon Iranian money and Iran as Iran also getting dried up due to Sanctions and continuous rise of Iranian insecurity in the region it is right time to create a truce and put a fulltime hold on the Hamas and Hezbollah issue as well set middle east for temporary peace.

Is truce possible between the two?

Unlike Arabs, Iran and Israel did have a great friendship in the 1950s when David Ben Gurion under his Periphery doctrine decided to bring Iran on a friendship table however everything changed after the Iranian revolution of 1979 when Ayatollah declared USA as “The Great Satan” and Israel the “Little Satan” and till date no proper efforts have been put to normalize the Israel and Iran relationship and with continuous rise of insecurity between the two because of their nuclear arsenal and Ayatollah’s continuous fear from Israel ” it is hard to say that any diplomatic relations will be establishing in the near future however the only possibility of making or at least appeal for the truce is through soft power and people to people connection as already the common citizens of Iran are demanding a change in the regime as world saw during the latest 2020 Iranian protest so Israel can actually tap this opportunity and through common citizens and cultural exchange they can actually come on common ground for a larger peace as recently a group of Jerusalem artist opened first unofficial Iranian ‘Embassy of Culture’.

Conclusion

Well with the rising tension in the middle east because of Iran, the peace initiative of US, Israel, UAE, and Bahrain cannot be overlooked, however, it is not the Arabs anymore who threaten Israel’s existence in the region rather it is the Ayatollah’s Iran that threatens the existence and peace in the region and for a larger peace it should have been Iran on the peace table as Iran not just only has an animosity and conflict with the Arabs it does have a conflict and insecurity with  Israel and to destabilize Israel, Iran is funding, training and promoting anti-Israeli forces like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

With Israel and Arabs moving towards peace by forgetting their past it is high time that both Israel and Iran should also do the same. As of now due to Iranian insecurity, Iran is sponsoring a lot of proxies in the region and by extending the hand of peace Israel can put an end to the conflict of the middle east as Israel did with Jordan and Egypt.  Iran should also agree to put back its past and come for a peace dialogue so that an overall peace can be secure in the region for further development.

Author is a Postgraduate in International Studies from Christ (Deemed to be University). His research Interest includes South Asia, Middle East, Security, and Terrorism.

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Middle East

Turkish Strengthened Parliamentary System

Muratcan Isildak

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“Corrected” or “enhanced” system of parliamentary debate, thoroughly sat on Turkey’s agenda in recent days. There are two reasons for this. First, it is unclear what, all from a single source power is collected, brought Turkey no balance-point of the current regime where there is no monitoring mechanism. Of democracy, of freedom, which abolished the rule of law, both inside and outside the war which, as all institutions of workers pouring connected to a single person, the economy of bottoming out, which is a record level of unemployment, inequality of well increase as a Turkey. Undoubtedly, the first step to get out of this darkness and tidy up the wreckage is to get rid of the one-man regime called the “Presidential Government System”. The question then arises of what kind of management system to replace. The second reason is the increasing signs that the MHP-backed AKP government is about to end. A transition period will begin after the end of AKP rule. But where is the transition? This question should be discussed and an answer should be sought.

The parliamentary system has led to the domination of the majority over the minority in Turkey. Since there are no mechanisms to prevent the executive from dominating the legislature, the power is meeting in the hands of the prime minister, who is the head of the ruling majority party. The end of the independence of the judiciary, the silencing of the press, the pressure on the opposition, the arbitrary administration all took place in the parliamentary system.

Such a new democracy changes the focus of politics. The subject of politics, political parties cease to be party heads, but become the people themselves. However, in order to create a grassroots popular movement, people need to unite within the framework of a project and not be a “mass”, but turn into a “people” that decide their future. Such “people” make decisions about their own problems and demand that governments implement these decisions. Such a people does not leave their future to the rulers, they take control of their future. Such a people becomes the engine of change in society, creates a libertarian, egalitarian, new society.

One of the most important features of participatory democracy is that it is based on equality. Equality in income distribution as well as in participation can be achieved in this way. We have seen the concrete application of this in the example of Porto Allegre in Brazil.

There are many different models of participatory democracy. These models cover a wide spectrum, from the budgeting powers of local units to different decision-making platforms. It is necessary to discuss these and, according to the results, the construction of local democratic institutions. 

However, no matter what model is adopted, participatory democracy has some unchangeable basic principles:

Participation is open to all who live in that place.

Participatory democracy institutions are independent from the state. The aim of the system is to realize a power sharing between representative democracy institutions and local democracy institutions. Representative democracy institutions will lose their power as they will transfer some of their powers to local institutions. 

But considering that representative democracy is not working well anyway, this weakening is not a loss for democracy.

Informing the public correctly. For this, there is a need for effective use of social media as well as the prevalence of freedom of expression and press in the country.

Participatory democracy leads to deepening democracy and creating a culture of participation. However, the main problem here is that the people adopt this culture with an active citizenship awareness. Successful pilot project implementations are required for this.

Let’s not forget that my imagination of the future determines what we will do now.

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The Battle for Jerusalem: Turkey’s Erdogan stakes his claim

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t mince his words at this month’s opening of parliament. In his first assertion of a claim to a lost non-Turkic part of the Ottoman empire, Mr. Erdogan declared that Jerusalem is Turkish.

“In this city, which we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So Jerusalem is our city, a city from us,” Mr. Erdogan said.

He went on to say that “the current appearance of the Old City, which is the heart of Jerusalem, was built by Suleiman the Magnificent, with its walls, bazaar, and many buildings. Our ancestors showed their respect for centuries by keeping this city in high esteem.”

Mr. Erdogan was referring to the 16th century Ottoman sultan, a sponsor of monumental architectural development, who is widely viewed as having protected his Jewish subjects.

In July, Mr. Erdogan described that month’s return of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a sixth century Orthodox-church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, to the status of a Muslim house of worship as paving the way for the “liberation” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.

Mr. Erdogan’s office released a month later a four-minute video clip suggesting that Turkey’s quest for leadership of the Islamic world was as much a military and nationalist endeavor as it was a religious drive. Laced with martial music, the clip meshed religious and Ottoman symbolism.  Entitled Golden Apple, the clip ended with a panorama view of Al-Aqsa.

The president, who embeds his often raw nationalism in a religious mantle, can have no illusion that Jerusalem would return to Turkish rule.

Yet, by putting forward his claim, Mr. Erdogan hopes to put his quest for leadership of the Muslim world on par with that of one Turkey’s staunchest rivals, Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is home to Islam’s two most sacred cities, Mecca and Medina.

Rather than seeking to regain lost Ottoman territory, Mr. Erdogan is staking a claim to custodianship of Jerusalem’s Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount and Al Aqsa mosque compound that currently rests with a Jordanian-controlled religious endowment known as the Waqf.

The president escalated his rhetoric at a moment that the Palestine Authority has reached out to Turkey as well as Qatar in the wake of the normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and a series of statements by prominent Saudi and other Gulf leaders taking President Mahmoud Abbas’ administration to task for squandering opportunities for peace with the Jewish state.

Mr. Erdogan’s claim adds to Jordan’s worries that Israel, in the wake of the formalization of its ties to Gulf states, could support Saudi ambitions to join the Hashemite kingdom, if not replace it, as the holy site’s administrator.

Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely read newspaper that is supportive of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, quoted an unidentified Arab diplomat as saying that Saudi funds were needed to counter Turkish influence in Jerusalem.

“If the Jordanians allow the Turks to operate unhindered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, within a matter of years their special status in charge of the Waqf and Muslim holy sites would be relegated to being strictly ‘on paper,’” the diplomat was quoted as saying in June.

Raed Daana, a former director of preaching and guidance at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Directorate, said in 2018, in the wake of US President Donald J. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that Saudi Arabia had secretly invited Palestinian Muslim dignitaries in a bid to garner support for a Saudi role in the Waqf.

Mr. Daana attributed the secrecy in part to a refusal to accept the invitation by a number of Palestinian religious figures.

Jordan last year increased the number of members of the Waqf from 11 to 18 in a bid to give it a more a more Muslim rather than exclusively Jordanian  flavour and to fend off attempts by regional powers to muscle their way into the body.

The new members included officials of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority as well as figures with links to Turkey and Gulf states like Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem and Holocaust denier who has defended Mr. Erdogan’s militancy regarding Jerusalem; and Mr. Sabri’s successor, Muhammad Hussein, who had close ties to the United Arab Emirates until he last month barred Emiratis from visiting Al Aqsa in protest against the UAE’s recognition of Israel.

Mr. Erdogan has in recent years been laying the groundwork for his claim with millions of dollars in donations to local Islamic organizations as well as Turkish religious activists and pilgrims in Jerusalem whom Israel has accused of instigating Palestinian protests.

Turkey’s Directorate General for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), that is part of Mr. Erdogan’s office, lists Al-Aqsa as a site for the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage.

Israeli sources say Turkey’s cultural center in Jerusalem as well as a Turkish renovated coffeeshop two minutes from the city’s Western Wall that is adorned with Turkish and Palestinians flags as well as portraits of Mr. Erdogan and Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II serve as a meeting point for activists and pilgrims.

“Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods. It is encouraging welfare-religious (dawa) activities…aimed at drawing the Palestinian public toward the Turkish-Islamic heritage and at weakening Israel’s hold on the Old City and east Jerusalem,” said conservative Israeli journalist and analyst Nadav Shragai.

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Middle East

Kingdom’s journey from ultra-conservatism to ultra-modernism

Abdul Rasool Syed

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Saudi Arabia, currently, is undergoing a phenomenal metamorphosis; a country widely known for its ultra-conservative posture is now gradually moving towards liberalism. It is witnessing a remarkable transformation in its socio-economic-cultural contours. The kingdom, once influenced and controlled by orthodox clergy, did not let women come out of their domestic confines but, now, the situation has diametrically changed. It has allowed the womenfolk incredible latitude to not only come out of home but also to travel abroad independently. They are, thus, supposed to contribute to country’s socio-economic development by working shoulder to shoulder with men. Economy, too, is being diversified; the kingdom is jettisoning its chronic dependence on oil revenues and is moving towards rapid Industrialization. Acculturation, once regarded as taboo by Saudi society is now, being appreciated bit by bit.

The man, who masterminded this movement of colossal change, is none other than Crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS); He is the real catalyst that is working devotedly and diligently to improve his country’s image nationally and internationally. His ideology is described as nationalist and populist, with conservative attitude towards politics and a liberal stance on economic and social issues.

However, His style of governance came under severe stricture by journalistic community. He has been dubbed as “extremely brutal” by journalist Rula Jabrael and “authoritarian” by Late Jamal khashoggi. On contrary, his move to reform the country has been widely lauded and supported by Saudi populace.

Prince Mohammad is of opinion that his country has been severely harmed by traditional clergy that considered any reformative move as a sin and hence, has kept the country stagnant economically and socially. He emphatically stated at one occasion: “we are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.” He later added that Saudi Arabia “will remain committed to the principles “of Islam, “the religion of tolerance and moderation”. The kingdom “will keep on fighting against extremism and terrorism”—a message directly meant to counter the outrageous edicts released by leading clerics against anything they perceived a threat to Saudi society.

The crown Prince took the clergy as a great hurdle in the way of kingdom’s socio-economic development. He, therefore, trimmed its wings of power by stripping it of its policing powers. Instead, the government took the reins into its hands to guide the society. Now, with the passive and emaciated clergy, Prince is aggressively pursuing his agenda of reforms.

“Vision 2030” is the bedrock of Prince Mohammad’s scheme of socio-economic change. Under this vision, he is going to transform country’s economic physiognomy. Vision 2030 aims at steering Saudi’s economy towards more diversified and privatized structure. It expounds goals and measures in various fields, from developing non-oil revenue and privatization of the economy to e-government and sustainable development.

To this end, Bin Salman, in October 2017, at the inaugural conference of Future investment initiative in Riyadh, announced the plan for the creation of NEOM, a $ 500 billion economic zone to cover an area of 26000 sq km on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea cost, extending into Japan and Egypt.  NEOM aims at attracting investment in sectors of renewable energy, biotechnology, robotics and advanced manufacturing.

 A project to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor was also announced by Prince Mohammad in November 2018. The kingdom aspires to build 16 nuclear facilities over the next 20 years. Efforts to diversify Saudi energy sector also include wind and solar energy.

Apart from this, a much awaited high-speed railway line connecting two holiest cities of Islam Mecca and Medina was inaugurated by Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in last week of September 2018. The Harmain Express is 450 km line travelling up to 300 km/h that can transport around 60 million passengers annually.

In addition, before the outbreak of corona virus, in order to boost tourism industry, the kingdom started issuing e-visas to tourists. It  opened up its borders to fans of live sport, music and culture for the first time with the launch of a new online visa process dedicated to welcoming international tourists.

Moreover, in 2016, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) shared the idea for “Green cards” for non-Saudi foreigners with Al-Arabia Journalist Turki Al-Dakhil. In 2019, Saudi cabinet approved a new residency scheme “Premium Residency” for foreigners. The scheme will enable expatriates to permanently reside, own property and invest in the kingdom.

Prince MBS is staunch proponent of women emancipation. He contends that dream of progress and sustainable development cannot be realized unless women become part and parcel of workforce. He, therefore, has brought about many reforms pertaining to the status of women in Saudi society.

For this very purpose, he allowed women to drive in the kingdom. Driving licenses are, therefore, being issued to women at a very fast pace; the number of women drivers on the road, according to Saudi officials, is expected to grow to 3 million by 2020. Further, Saudi women may now attend soccer matches and sporting events. Gyms and fitness centers for women are being established. They can also join the military and intelligence services. They are allowed to open their own business without male’s permission and to travel abroad independently without male guardian. In this very spirit, Saudi Arabia appointed its first woman to head Saudi stock exchange.

On entertainment side, Saudi government has established an entertainment authority that began hosting comedy shows, professional wrestling, live music concerts and monster truck rallies.

In April 2017, Prince MBS announced a project to build one of worlds largest cultural, sports and entertainment cities in AL-Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh. The plan includes a safari and a six flags theme park.

Additionally, cultural transformation of the kingdom is also underway. It held its first public concert by female singer in December 2017. And in January 2018, a sport stadium in Jeddah became the first in the kingdom to admit women. In April 2018, the first public cinema opened in Saudi Arabia after a ban of 35 years, with plans to have more than 2000 screens running by 2030.

This all became possible, when clerical hold over the kingdom was eviscerated. The orthodox clergy with its antiquated and rigid doctrines was the biggest obstacle in the way of progress and development of the kingdom. Addressing this issue, Prince MBS said that he aimed to have Saudi Arabia start “Returning to what we were before—a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” He told the country’s clerics that the deal the royal family struck with them after the 1979 siege of Grand Mosque in Mecca was to be re-negotiated.

The crown prince believes that industrialization and wahhabism are mutually exclusive. The wahhabies are committed to fixed social and gender relationships. These are consistent with an economy built on oil sales, but industrialization requires a dynamic culture with social relations constantly shifting.

 Inter alia, Ayaan Haris Ali, a celebrated author and human rights activist claimed that if MBS “succeeds in his modernization efforts, Saudis will benefit from new opportunities and freedoms, and the world will benefit from curtailing Wahhabi radicalization agenda. A decade from now, the kingdom could look more like the UAE, its prosperous and relatively forward looking neighbor”.

In the end, I would like to quote Prince Mohammad bin Salman who while addressing to packed audience at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh said that Middle East can be the “New Europe” and that he would like to see the economic transformation of the region happen within his life time. He said: “his ‘war’ was restoring the Middle East to its past glory. “I believe that the new Europe is the Middle East”. “Saudi Arabia in five years, he added,” will be completely different”.

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