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Middle East

Abraham Accord, Under The Table

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After Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement regarding any possible shift in the country’s foreign policy towards accepting Israel was repudiated, it has re-affirmed Pakistan’s ancestral ideology. This re-endorsement of Islamabad’s decades-long stance against Israel with its conflict with Palestine came up after the “Geo-Political Earthquake” as mentioned by NY Times, when UAE and Israel formally increased their ties to full normalization. It is noteworthy that UAE had covert security ties way before this Abraham Accord and now the level of tie-up is upgraded to full-scale diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial stage. Moreover, the diplomatic office of Israel was already opened in one of the seven Emirati states, Abu Dhabi in 2015. The sour relations between Arab World and Israel date back to the Jewish migration towards Palestine during the British colonialism which was followed by the division of land and formation of the State of Israel after United Nations Resolution 181. Neighboring Arab states and Muslim World considered it unjust and so, went on war with the newly created state of Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 along with 2 wars waged by Israel on Lebanon in 1982 and 2006. The tensions plotted between Arab states and Israel saw curvatures with Egypt and Jordan making peace with Israel while conflict still remains with Syria and Lebanon. A major shift came with the recent Abraham Accord and its effects on the Palestinian struggle.

The Abraham Accord, followed by series of normalization deals by mainly Arab States and “Deal of the Century”, all are efforts made by the strongest Israeli ally, the United States of America, in an attempt to legitimize Israel. Just like the Peace Deal 2020, the Abraham Accord also faced criticism by the Palestinians. Trump administration’s actions towards Israel from an annual military assistance of worth $3 billion to recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel to the peace attempts, all indicate the good chemistry between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu. Contrary to Obama’s tenure which saw depressions in the US-Israel ties especially after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or more commonly known as Iran Nuclear Deal. A fierce opposition for the US-Israel relation and the ultimate existence of Israel is a bone of contention between the two friends and their common enemy, Iran.

Iran’s contradictions with westernization and the support of Pan-Pro Shiite Islamic ideology along with its military interference in the Middle East adds fuel to fire. Both Iran and Israel impugn each other’s interests. Moreover, Iran’s support to Hamas and Hezbollah which are labelled as terrorist organizations by many western states including USA and Israel, further heightens the discord. Obama, a democrat, saw neutralization of US-Iran tensions by opening a pathway for accepting their nuclear program’s miniaturization in a limited amount. This move was highly criticized by Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, even in the UNGA. Although, Trump has lost elections, yet the recent approval of air space by KSA might be an attempt to leave a legacy for Joe Biden, and his newly nominated vice president, Kamala Harris. Withal, Trump and Jerad’s efforts will eventually sling one’s hook with blemish on the upcoming Biden-Harris foreign policy. It is definite that Tel Aviv might be high on expectation from the Biden regime, in terms of continuation of getting Israel accepted.

Another projection by Bibi for Biden is to build an anti-Iran bloc in the world. This is not just the main policy of Israel and Trump’s America, rather it is a point of agreement between the Gulf states as well, excluding Qatar. The Abraham Accord has paved the path for further strengthening bonds between states having a common foe. Evidence from Oman’s policies also show its divergence towards accepting Israel in the near future, while Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan have already done it. Saudi Arabia after a reasonable silence on this accord, did refute, but has allowed its airspace for Israel. Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is the custodian of holy sites and its recognition of Israel would blow out its image, it does have some extent of clandestine connections with Israel. Israeli assistance is required to accomplish Vision 2030, especially for the technological advancement in the field of cyber security. Along with this, the US support to KSA in Yemen is also a contributing pressure building tactic used by the USA. Saudi Arabia will most probably not accept Israel or develop normalized diplomatic relations any time soon because it shall have to pay a heavy price, but covert connections might remain and flourish.

Although, this deal unites friends against mutual foe, yet the deal can be considered as a day dreamer’s pill. UAE’s new step towards Israel has questioned foreign policy of many, but it has less to do with Palestinian cause. The accord “suspends” annexation with Netanyahu, stating that they will not let go the annexation plan as Benjamin is already facing criticism from infuriated right-wing Israelis. Furthermore, with just suspension of annexation of Jordan Valley and West Bank, Gaza is being bombed, daily, since the accord and also right after normalization with Bahrain was signed. This accord might only help UAE economically and technologically, but shall not help the Palestinians, who already consider it as a stagger on their back. This accord has reversed the order of peace and conflict resolution, proposed in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, of bringing a just solution and creation of Palestinian state which shall be followed by normalization of relations with Israel, of the Arab world.

With the accord, overriding and back-pedaling the Arab Peace Initiative it did pose questions about where Pakistan stands as one of those countries who has had a firm stance of non-acceptance towards Israel. Pakistan did mention its stance would be in accordance with the Palestinians and this is re-assured by the Prime Minister’s statement despite immense pressure from the United States of America, especially after KSA has allowed her airspace to Israel, as an aftermath of Kushner’s visit. Turning pages of history, Pakistan and Israel share many commonalities, from both being created months after the other, both had been under British rule, majority of both states was formerly a minority and both are ideology-based states. However, most important of these mutual characteristics is that both states are contesting for land, though the way of contestation is different between both. Pakistan is struggling, to what was meant to be its part, Kashmir, while Israel is occupying which is not its part under international law. Former abides by the United Nations resolutions and international laws while the latter refutes them time and again. The former holds high the banner of persecuted Kashmiris while the latter persecutes the Palestinians. And, so giving up on the Palestinian cause by accepting Israel would axe out its struggle for Kashmiris in the Indian Occupied Kashmir.

Mentioning India and its occupation in Kashmir, Pakistan’s neighbor also shares mutual features of brutality, annexation and violation of human rights just like Israel. And, it is no doubt that these quotidian actions of both make them a close ally, especially against Pakistan. Since 1950, not just are they both friends at diplomatic level but have boosted it to strategic partnership in 2017. The strategic partnership, apart from agricultural and technological exchange, also includes military assistance by Israel to India. This military assistance adds on to its deterrence with Pakistan. One of the most evident proof of this joint action of both Israel and India against Pakistan is their mutual attempt to blow out Pakistan’s nuclear program in Kahuta in 1982, which failed due to the efficacy of Pakistani intelligence.

Quoting more events from history, Pakistan and Israel rarely saw some room to come towards table talks, it was either due to US pressure in Liaqat Ali Khan’s time when he responded firmly by raising the both Palestinian and Kashmir cause in United Nations. When during his tenure, Pakistan was incentivized economically and militarily by US in return of recognizing Israel, Liaqat Ali Khan, then Prime Minister of a newly born state, Pakistan boldly replied in a polite yet affecting tone: “Gentleman! Our soul is not for sale.” This was the same year when Pakistan’s pernicious enemy, India recognized Israel. The years and leaders followed by founding fathers, from Quaid-i-Azam to Bhutto to Imran Khan, all stick to this solid stance of not accepting Israel as a state despite its technological advancements and a close alliance with the US. Although some room for negotiations showed up during the Musharraf regime but it did face criticism at home. After all, Israel’s sweet talks and bitter actions towards Pakistan are not to be forgotten. It is likely enough that Pakistan will not let go Palestinian cause until justice is served. Yet, implications of non-acceptance for Pakistan and acceptance by the Arab World are to be witnessed. Will the recent wave of acceptance of Israel really make room for some solution to Palestinian cause? or is it just fake and short-lived solace for the oppressed?

Fatima is an under-graduate student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad, Pakistan. She has keen interest in global politics, diplomatic relations, shifts in foreign policies, international conflicts and their changing dynamics.

Middle East

Reigniting Chaos in Syria

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Syria has been the nexus of brutality and terror for almost a decade now; with more than 6 million natives who have already fled and numerous displaced over the territory itself, the region casts a ghastly shade that has only turned grimmer with time. Although the conflict seemingly raved its catastrophic footprint in early 2000, the root cause arguably always ends up to be the infamous ‘Arab Spring’ that actually tuned the Syrians against their very own regime. Something to compare and contrast that communal unity acted in Iraq’s benefit back when USA invaded the territory to avenge the 9/11 Attacks in 2003 while casted a fiasco in Syria when invaded in 2014. Large scale protests and rampaging violence gradually morphed into a series of relentless efforts to first deter Bashar Al-Asad’s efforts to first peacefully and then collaboratively resolving the raging unrest. Some would say it was inspired by the historical besiege of Libya and the subsequent execution of the Libyan prime minister Muammar al-Gaddafi as an ensue of that revolution yet Bashar Al-Asad proved a far more tensile force to overthrow. Such tumultuous turn of events, lead Syria to first economic sanctions followed by severe isolation in the global community opposing and downright rejecting Assad’s actions to curb the political tremors. Yet intermittent interventions, both implicit and explicit, by the western powers and their counter-parts have defined the region more as a battle ground of mercenary motives instead of mere efforts to safeguard human rights and ensuring regional peace.

Since 2011, three core actors have remained active in skirmishes that have more oftener than not transformed into battles of gore and toil and sometimes even full-fledged wars that have not only dismembered the expanse of over an 185,000 kmof land into mounds of dust and rubble with terror now crawling over the lanes but have even shuddered the immediate vicinity. With the downfall and perpetual dissipation of ISIS, losing much of its occupied land to active contenders, Assad’s militia and Kurdish forces remain the helming competitors along with a smattering of other oppositions like Jaish al Fateh and Nusrta Front. The conflict between the Kurdish forces backed by the US regime against ISIS and then eventual betrayal on the Turkish front had been a matter of contentions in the latter part of 2019; Kurds making it abundantly clear to harness the borders they surmise to be rightly theirs while Turkish policies, especially under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been outright fearless and needless of any other inference regarding their austere stance over the issue; claiming their bordering territories and inferring stern response in case of any dissension caused by the Kurds.

However, the outlining threat in the recent time can be perceived at a novel yet a totally realistic stage, where proxy wars no longer remain the ground reality of armed unrest in Syria. This notion has arisen since harsh words were exchanged between Moscow and Ankara; the metropolis’ of the neighbouring giants: Russia and Turkey respectively. A glimpse in the historical scaffolding of the entire Syrian conflict, Russia has always backed Assad’s regime despite its initial block over Syrian policies revolving over strategies to deal with the blooming protests in the early tremors of the Arab Spring who’s effects had started to resonate in the entire Middle East following up on Ground 0, Tunisia. The vantage point of Russia, however, shifted when the political paradigm was drastically nudged by the terror-driven escalation of ISIS after severe US blunders and baffling retreat from Syria that even threatened the sovereignty and security of the region following their besiege of the state of Raqqa, establishing ISIS as a looming concern, thereby aligning the aims of both Russian reign and Assad’s regime, ultimately inciting a continued alliance. Turkey, on the other hand, being the northern neighbour to Syria also contended as a root protagonist in economic isolation of Assad’s government, imposing stringent financial sanctions that tightened the bottlenecks and eventually led to the deterioration of their financial virility that already staggered after sanctions and embargos placed by both EU and USA.

This conflict that permeates in the north-western terrain of Syria lilts an innuendo that a spark may be brewing between the two nations. The besieged province of Idlib exudes the source of the strife; an area that has witnessed countless Turkish troops slain by Assad’s forces in cross-border disputes; close to seven Turkish soldiers were recently killed in a thorough retaliation of Syrian forces in the de-escalation zone, much to Turkey’s dismay. However, the Russian involvement in backing the Syrian government in their dissent in Idlib and heavily bombing of the territory with artillery servers as a link to presumably leading a head-on conflict between Russia and Turkey; hinted by Erdoğan that any effort made in the region will not go answered, clearly warning the Russian forces to avoid any transgression that could cause fatality to their personnel. The people of Syria, blended with the rebels, look in the eye of a dead end; bombardments to deter the tyrants have shredded their innocent bodies similar to the incursions in Eastern Ghouta and with no one on their side but with ulterior incentives, they are left with no choice but to see Turkey as a savior. To any sane mind, however, its not really a complex interface of modes and interests involved. With clash of alliances, historical narrative of both the world wars fought, coherently brings about the model of war despite a never-ending argument at whim. Without contesting any theory by any analyst, its imperative to gauge at the systematic progression of the tensions flowing yet not mitigating. Turkey being stranded from its western allies and Arab assistance in wake of the murder conspiracy and being locked in a bound-to-doom NATO relation with Russia, the outcome of this steady conflict can bring about equal amount of damage yet in lesser of a decade and more pandemic effects.

Recent Israeli airstrikes targeted the Iran-linked elements in Syria. One of the biggest attacks even in at least half a decade period of relative dormancy in the region hint at the start of something gruesome. The attacks pointed Iran-backed sites like Al-Bukamal in intensity, riddling the city that acts as a focal point to Iran’s influence over and beyond the borders of Baghdad and Damascus, as well as paving way to militants from the fore stretch of Lebanon. The attacks reportedly served as an active Israeli position against the Irani militants and revolutionary guards, casting a heavy presence in the core hit areas of the province of Dair al Zor, claiming 57 casualties. The attack assumes a step-up stance of Israel picking up from a cold targeted strike within Iran, months back, eliminating the crucial scientific figure of Iran, that earned promises of retaliation both from the military leads and the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

These attacks nurture an underlying message of Israel following on the shadow war footsteps dictated under the premiership of Mr. Donald Trump. Now, with his nefarious exit from the presidential office following the riots at US Capitol and Mr. Biden’s ascension to power just days away, Israel insinuates its true deterrence of Iran’s growing influence and hostility in the expansive areas of Southern, North-western and Eastern regions of Syria. With US intelligence cultivating the Israeli position in Syria while Iran enriching its plans of Nuclear power along with backing militias under the lead of Lebanese force of Hezbollah, a possibility of another proxy clash is re-emerging in the peripheries of Syria. Now as Israel continues to welcome Arab nations to set camp around Syria to end Tehran’s influence, US faces a tough choice in over a decade to either exit the war before it even flames or repeat their interference regretted since the Arab Spring to jump headfirst into another round of decade long destruction.

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Middle East

Post Trump Palestine

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Al-Walaja, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. Photo: UNRWA/Marwan Baghdadi

The unconditional United States’ political, financial and military support to Israel enabled the latter to occupy the Palestinian territories. The former became involved in Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an arbiter to resolve the issue. But the foreign policy of US has always remained tilt to Israeli interests. From recognizing Israel as sovereign state in 1947 to accepting Jerusalem as capital of Israel has clearly unearthed the biased attitude of US for Israel.

Similarly, Trump also adopted the traditional stance of Washington on Palestine, i.e. outright support for Israel. Trump’s policy regarding Israeli-Palestinian conflict was more aggressive but not in contradiction with his predecessors’. For instance, he brought into reality the law passed by US congress in 1995 that recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, shifted US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closed office of Palestine Liberation Organization PLO in Washington DC in Sept 2018 and closed US consulate in East Jerusalem the area under Palestinian control. His bigotry against Palestinians unveiled more distinctly when he announced defunding of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the UN agency that provides food, education and healthcare to the refugees. Moreover during his regime in November 2018 the state department of US proclaimed that the construction of Israeli settlements in West Bank does not come under the ambit of violation of international humanitarian laws. Certainly, the belligerent policies in last four years of trump era paved the way for the colonization of Palestine by Israel and helped the latter to put unlawful restrictions on Palestinians making them deprived of all civil liberties and peace.

As per world report-2020by Human Rights Watch HRW, Palestinian citizens are restrained from all basic necessities of life such that, education, basic healthcare, clean water and electricity. The movement of people and goods to and from Gaza strip is also inhibited. According to World Health Organization WHO 34 percent of applications by Palestinians, for medical appointments outside Gaza strip, were not addressed by Israeli army. Moreover, HRW report states that the Israeli government destroyed 504 homes of Palestinians in West Bank during 2019 and facilitated 5995 housing settlements for Israelis. The country is trying at utmost to eradicate indigenous Palestinians from their home land. According to United Nations’ Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs UNOCHA, the demolitions of Palestinian homes displaced 642 people in 2019 and 472 in 2018.Moreover, the illicit attacks by Israeli side have killed hundreds of innocent citizens in the same years. According to UNOCHA on November 11, 2020, 71 innocent Palestinian citizens were killed by Israeli forces while 11,453 were lethally injured in a single day. Furthermore, UN secretary general exhorted that Israeli armed forces have infringed the children’s rights during the conflict as in 2018, 56 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli armed forces.

While, other international actors criticized the Israeli annexations of the region and declared it as violation of international humanitarian laws, US supported the Israeli escalations in West Bank. The former also stopped aid support through USAID for Gaza strip where eighty percent of population depends upon aid. Such partial attitude of US has put the country outside the international consensus on the issue. Apparently, US pretend its position as arbiter but her policies accredited the colonization of Palestine by Israel.

Thus, it seems futile to expect any big change in US policies regarding Israeli-Palestinian issue during forthcoming administrations. However, the president-elect Joe Bidden may alter some of the trump’s decisions such as reopening of Palestine Liberation Organization PLO in Washington, resuming funding of UNRWA and reopening of US consulate in East Jerusalem.  But his policies will not contradict the congress’ stance on the issue. As, he and his team have clearly mentioned prior to elections that they will not shift back the US embassy to Tel Aviv as it seems politically and practically insensible to them. Moreover, Blinken, the candidate for secretary of state in Joe’s upcoming regime, made it clear through his controversial statements, that the imminent president will inherit historic US position on Palestine-Israel dispute. Further, Chinese expansionism, Russian intervention in American and European affairs and Iran nuclear deal issue would remain the main concerns of foreign affairs of US during initial period of Joe Biden’s regime. He is likely to favor the status quo in Palestine and remain focused on other foreign interests. In addition to this the inclination of Arabian Gulf to develop relations with Israel will also hinder the adherence for Palestinians from the gulf countries. Subsequently, it will enable Israelis to continue seizing the Palestinian territories into Israel and leave indigenous Palestinians stateless in their own land.

Summing up, it is significant for Palestinians to continue their struggle for the homeland and seek support from other international actors to marginalize Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territories. As well as, the peace accord of 1993 signed in between both nations, to share the holy land, should also be revoked by both countries.  Both nations should try to resolve the issue on equitable grounds by negotiations so that either side could not be deprived of its interests.

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Middle East

An Enemy Among Us

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The upcoming talks regarding the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, that are due to take place on January 25, should not disillusion us from the dangers of Turkey’s unilateral aggression on all fronts. Erdogan has made no real efforts to improve ties with the EU, except for the occasional vain promise of turning over a new leaf. Since October, he has urged the Muslim world to boycott French products, continued gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, blatantly ignored the arms embargo in Libya and has aided Azerbaijan in committing war crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Despite the numerous warnings issued by the EU and the many failed attempts at resolving the crisis in the East Med diplomatically, the latest EU summit concluded with an anti-climactic promise to sanction certain Turkish officials regarding the East Med. This minimally symbolic promise could only be described as a mere slap on the wrist that will prove unsuccessful in deterring Turkey’s belligerent tendencies. Turkey’s increasingly hostile attitude, its callous use of the refugee crisis and its clear violation of international law in the East Med, Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh represent a danger to European values, identity and security.

We are witnessing before our eyes a dictator in the making who dreams of a return of the Ottoman empire and seeks to destroy the democratic and secular legacy of Atatürk. He is a fervent supporter of political islam – particularly the muslim brotherhood – and he relentlessly accuses the West of wanting to ‘relaunch the crusades’ against Islam. In fact, since 2014, Erdogan and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) have continuously facilitated cross-border movement into Syria and shipped illegal arms to a number of radical jihadist groups. The Turkish government also uses SADAT Defense, an islamist paramilitary group loyal to Erdogan, to aid groups that can be considered as terrorist organizations such as Sultan Murad Division and Ahrar al-Sham in Northern Syria and use their jihadi fighters to send to Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and, most recently, Kashmir in order to bolster Turkey’s foreign policy.

Erdogan uses a mixture of islamism and nationalism to expand Turkey’s influence around the world and to consolidate power within. The two most influential factions in Turkey are the radical islamists and secular neo-nationalists, who despise each other but share a deep disdain for the west. Courtesy of neo-nationalist and former Maoist terrorist leader Dogu Perinçek, the NATO member has also enjoyed warmer ties with Russia and China over the past 5 years. As a result of these shifts in alliances and growing anti-western sentiments, Turkey is becoming increasingly at odds with the West. 

Furthermore, the growing discontent at home pushes him to adopt more aggressive tactics, divisive policies and his behavior mirrors that of a panicked authoritarian leader. Erdogan is desperately looking for a conflict to distract the Turkish population from the fall of the lira, the spread and mishandling of COVID-19, and the overall declining economy that predates the pandemic. Turkey’s future will most likely be determined by the upcoming general election that is set to take place within the next three years. If Erdogan wins the next election, it will solidify his power and bring him one step closer in turning Turkey into a dictatorship. During his stay in power, he has already conducted a series of purges to weaken and silence dissidents. Turkey now has the most imprisoned journalists in the world. 

Yet, the loss of Istanbul and Ankara in the last municipal election of 2019 demonstrate his declining popularity, and offer a glimmer of hope for the opposition. Political figures like the new mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, or the new mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, represent a brighter future for Turkey. Erdogan currently finds himself in a position of weakness, which represents a rare window of opportunity for the EU to strike. Unfortunately, the EU remains deeply divided on how to handle a situation that continues to deteriorate. It seems that some member states, particularly Germany, are holding on to the naive belief that Erdogan can still be reasoned with. 

Our reluctance to impose the slightest sanctions against Turkey demonstrates our division and weakness, which emboldens the neo-sultan. A strong and united response from the European Union is the only way to curb Erdogan’s expansionist agenda. This should include renegotiating the migrant pact, imposing targeted sanctions against SADAT Defense and its leader Adnan Tanrıverdi, imposing an arms embargo, suspending the EU-Turkey customs union and finally suspending Turkey’s membership in NATO. 

Ultimately, Erdogan’s bellicose foreign policy and his contentious nationalist-islamist rhetoric makes it impossible to consider Erdogan’s Turkey as our ally. As the EU reaches out yet another olive branch, Erdogan has his eye on the wars to come. 

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