Authors: Kutluer Karademir, PhD and Mahmut Cengiz, PhD*
The notion that the United States (U.S.) was behind some of the coups carried out in the Middle East during the cold war still persists in the region. The most recent attempt in this regard was seen in Turkey. Although more than five years have elapsed since the highly controversial July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to use it as a political turnkey in accordance with the unfolding of the political conjuncture.Erdogan’s latest attempt to peddle his conspiracy theory came not from the president himself but from his Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu-once a vigorous opponent of Erdogan. During a television program on February 2, 2021, Soylu repeatedly stated that the July 15 coup attempt was not perpetrated by “FETO” (a state-defined name for the Gulen Movement to associate the group with terrorism). Soylu then explained his words to the printed press, saying:
“There is something I said very clearly there [at the T.V. program], I told this many times. Right after the July 15 [coup attempt], even before 24 hours had elapsed . . . I had said that there was America behind this coup. We learned that America was behind the 1960 coup many years later, from the British documents. We understood that America was behind the 1980 coup when they said, “our guys succeeded.” Who was behind the February 28 [forced resign] is obvious [implying the U.S.]. I just wanted to leave a note to the history lest we wait 20-30 years to learn.”
This is an interesting scold, as the government has been blaming the Gulen movement for the coup attempt from the beginning, and anyone who casts doubt on this scenario is summarily imprisoned. Once the bizarre coup attempt was quelled only a few hours after it started, police teams raided the houses of judges and prosecutors who allegedly were linked to the group. Thousands of Turkish citizens—including school teachers, businessmen, academicians, and journalists—were subjected to the same treatment by the government.
Today, more than 150,000 public officials have been dismissed from public service with decree-laws, and more than 200,000 citizens have been subjected to criminal prosecution on spurious terrorism charges. Although the Turkish government’s terrorism reports include thousands of terrorist incidents, international databases have recorded only around 100 terrorist attacks in the country, mostly attributed to the left-wing terrorist organizations. For example, the Global Terrorism Database included 94 terrorist incidents in Turkey in 2018.
Around 60,000, including 20,000 women, more than 2,400 institutions including schools, universities, hospitals and associations that were allegedly linked to the group have been closed down, and all assets of these institutions were confiscated.Moreover,48.5billion Turkish lira(around $7 billion) worth of private assets belonging to businessmen that were allegedly affiliated to the movement were confiscated by the government.This unprecedented witch hunt against the members of the Gulen movement has continued unabated.
The pro-government Turkish media, on the other hand, claimed that the United States was behind the coup attempt. The reports implicated Henri Barkey, a former U.S. State Department employee and then director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., accusing him of being a former CIA officer after Barkey organized a workshop in Istanbul that was held on July 15 and 16. After the coup attempt, Turkish businessman Dogan Kasadoglu publicly denounced the workshop participants for supporting the military uprising. A criminal investigation launched about Barkey regarding his alleged ties to the failed coup attempt, but it was not until 2020 that Barkey was indicted together with Turkish businessman Osman Kavala, the prime suspect in the case against the Gezi Park protesters from 2013. In the indictment,the counter-case filed against the police officers, prosecutors, and judges who had conducted the graft probe against Erdogan on December 17 and 25, 2013 was also merged with the Gezi and Barkey cases. The main reason behind bringing together the names of Barkey and Kavala in the same indictment is interesting because the indictment was prepared in a rush to bypass the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) decision demanding immediate release of Osman Kavala. Turkish regime merged the Gezi case with Barkey’s July 15 case in order to open a new investigation against Kavala and keep him in jail after the ECtHR decision.
The evidence presented in the Barkey indictment was superficial and totally based on the prosecutor’s strained interpretations of Barkey’s actions after the December 17-25 operations and during the coup attempt. For example, the prosecutor alleged—without providing any concrete evidence—that the workshop Barkey organized was a cover for coordinating the coup attempt. Moreover, the prosecutor stated in the indictment that “several coordinated violent incidents and terrorist attacks occurred in Turkey after the December 17/25, 2013 operations and Henri Barkey was in Turkey in that period.” The indictment also referred to certain statements Barkey made to the international media after some terrorist attacks in Turkey, alleging that these statements were evidence of Barkey’s involvement in the attacks. The allegations in the Barkey indictment are typical of types of statements found in other indictments that prosecutors working for the Erdogan regime issued after the coup attempt.
As a matter of fact, Soylu’s boastful statement on his “revelation” of the U.S.participation in the July 15 coup attempt at the very beginning of the coupis based solely on the aforementioned workshop and the conspiracy theory associated with it. This being the case, Soylu’s move pointing to the U.S. as the real culprit of the coup attempt draws attention and entails elaboration with respect to the near future of Turkish-American relations. This article therefore is an attempt to explain why the Turkish minister of Interior, Suleyman Soylu, opened up a new front against the United States five years after the coup attempt. The first question to answer in this regard is: was the United States really behind the July 15coup attempt in Turkey?
What Happened on July 15, 2016?
Before answering this question, we should first put forward whether the July 15 uprising was a real coup attempt, as the Turkish government has claimed. Turkish political history recorded three decennial coups between 1960 and 1980 and a forced resignation in 1998, not to mention several failed coups during the same period. Each of these successful coups were committed in accordance with the hierarchical structure of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). The TAF dominated Turkish politics until the early 2010s when Erdogan politically defeated the secular Kemalist and ultranationalist groups with an amendment to the Turkish constitution. Afterward, the consensus among Turkey experts was that the era of coups had ended for Turkey. Alas, the country would experience the most bizarre coup attempt in its history on July 15, 2016. This coup attempt was bizarrefor several reasons;however, only the featuring discrepancies are included and discussed here:
- Erdogan acted as if he was totally unaware of the coup incident until it started, but that proved to be untrue. In a statement on Al Jazeera TV, Erdogan said that he first learned about the coup from his brother-in-law around 8 p.m. on the day of the coup and that not being informed of it earlier was a clear intelligence gap. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition party leader, contradicted Erdogan, saying that an informant had given Erdogan a list of all the coup plotters three months before the coup attempt was launched.
- The General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces issued a written statement on July 19, 2016, stating that intelligence about the coup had been given to the General Staff at 4 p.m. on July 15,and that a meeting was held at the General Staff headquarters upon that intelligence. All commanders of the armed forces participated in the meeting and, after it ended, the commanders ordered all brigades to stay in their barracks and prohibited fighter jets and tanks from taking any action. The army commanders, however, did not apply the restictions to themselves and instead attended a wedding ceramony in Istanbul that same evening. Worse still, commander of the air force, in his first testimony to investigators about the intelligence information, said that he had learned about plans for a coup from his wife on July 15 at 9:30 p.m.; however, duing his second round of testimony, he said that he had learned about the possibility of a coup at around 7 p.m. when the flight restrictions were issued. Likewise, commander of the navy made contradictory statements about when he learned about the coup attempt.It is obvious that the written statement from the General Staff contradicts both Erdogan’s claims that he had learned about the coup in the evening on July 15 from his brother-in-law and the commanders of the air force and navy. Despite the contradictory statements from the two military commandersand the intelligence failure, Erdogan sacked neither the air force nor the navy commander,nor the chief of intelligence. Instead, they either remained in their positions or were promoted after the coup attempt.
- Around 8,000 soldiers were involved in the coup attempt, but the government detained half of the generals and more than 30,000 military officials who were not involved in the coup attempt. Although some of the detainees were on vacation during the coup attempt, they were arrested and treated as coup plotters.
- The parliament set up an investigation board to determine how the coup plot was allowed to happen, but the board could not take statements from officials most likely to have information about the coup attempt, such as Erdogan’s chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, and the chief of intelligence, Hakan Fidan, because Erdogan had ordered them not to attend the hearings.
- Erdogan said that he had a close call after an abduction team had been dispatched to his hotel in Marmaris to capture him; however, it was revealed later that Erdogan had left the hotel hours before the arrival of the abduction team and had sent an ambush team of his security detail to confront would-be abductors. The confrontation between the abduction team and Erdogan’s security detail led to clashes. In one incident, the room of a British tourist’s family was also accidentally targeted. This family went through an orderal to escape from the hotel, and the members of the family needed psychotherapy to help them overcome the impact of this bad experience. However, when this British family attempted to report the incident to the police, the police refused to record their complaints. The family then sent a letter to then minister of the British Home Office, Boris Johnson, and asked for his support about the situation. Unfortunately, it was not possible to prove that Erdogan was never in danger and that the family had been victimized because the hotel’s CCTV records showing Erdogan’s departure from the hotel and the melees between Erdogan’s security detail and the coup plotters were deleted, and no one dared to ask who was responsible for doing so.
- Although all 248 causalities of the coup were declared to have been killed by the uprisers, authospsy reports showed that some of them were killed with nonmilitary arsenal; moreover, video footage shows civilians opening fire on other citizens. Although these facts were put forward by the defense during the coup-investigation hearings, the courts did not take them into consideration.
- The government focused its investigation on the coup plotters at the Akincilar Air Base on the night of July 15, saying it was the center of the coup attempt. However, the prosecutor visited the base 40 hours after the coup attempt and did not ask any forensic investigation or take fingerprints of the alleged coup plotters. By the same token, Akin Ozturk, former commander of the air force and the person declared to be the leader of the coup attempt, actually had been dispatched to the Akincilar Air Base, allegedly the headquarters of the coup attempt, by Erdogan’s chief of staff.
- Adil Oksuz, an academician who was well-known by Turkish intelligence officials as the Gulen Movement’s coordinator of the air force personnel affiliated with the group and therefore possibly the strongest link between the Gulen Movement and the coup attempt, was captured nearby the Akincilar Air Base on the day of the coup but then was released by the court and disappeared a couple of days later. Gulenists believe that Oksuz was compromised by Turkish intelligence officials to have certain members of the Gulen Movement participate in the coup attempt. Fethullah Gulen firmly rejected his or his movement’s involvement in the coup attemp and asked for an independent international team to investigate the coup comprehensively. Gulen also said that he would respect any decision to be made by such an international body and would return to Turkey if any link pointing to his participation in the coup were found.
- While the coup attempt was still ongoing, Serdar Coskun,public prosecutor of the Crimes against the Constitutional Order Bureau, signed a report dated July 16, 2016, at 1 a.m. and delivered it to all respective departments to start legal proceedings against the coup plotters.The report, however, features certain incidents that never happened, such as the raid of the MIT headquartersand the bombing of the police intelligence unit by the coup plotters. Furthermore, some of the incidents that took place hours after the report was prepared were mentioned in the document as having occurred before the report was prepared.
Many other suspicious events and circumstances related to the July 15 coup attempt could be addressed, but those presented here cast enough doubt on the official discourse of the Erdogan government. These discrepancies have been put forward by politicians and journalists. For example, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s chief opposition party, the People’s Republican Party (CHP), referred to the July 15 coup attempt as a “controlled military coup.” Likewise, Joe Biden, who was the Vice President of the United States during July 15 coup attempt, said that it seemed like he was watching a video game when he saw video footage of the coup. The leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, said immediately after the July 15 coup that Erdoğan was well-prepared for the coup attempt and positioned himself to benefit from its results. Demirtaş was imprisoned shortly after this speech and remains in jail, despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Demirtaş should be released and finding that his detention violates “the very core of the concept of a democratic society.”Likewise, journalists Muyesser Yildiz and Ece Temelkuran, both of whom questioned the government’s account on the July 15 coup attempt and shed light on the dark points they had uncovered, shared the same fate as Demirtas.
Despite the Erdogan government’s efforts to persuade people to believe its theory, there is only one reality: the July 15 military uprising in the form of an attempted coup was a turning point in Turkey’s history and resulted in the creation of a totalitarian regime. Erdogan used this coup attempt as leverage to transform the entire state body into a Baath-type totalitarian system, dismissing hundreds of thousands well-educated public officials based on the blacklists that had been prepared in the past. The most significant transformation has been experienced by the police and the judiciary, where one third of the former and one half of the latter were replaced by people loyal to Erdogan. The law-enforcement system has been weaponized and used ruthlessly against all dissidents in the country, in defiance of universal human rights and civil liberties.Thus, it is needless to ask whether it really was the United States that plotted the July 15 coup. Based on the course of events over the five years since the sinister event, it is obvious that the coup truly was “a gift from God”—for Erdogan to complete the construction of his authoritarian regime.
Why did Soylu make that move?
The next question, then, is why did Soylu have such a need to accuse the United States of being behind the attempted coup five years after the incident took place?The answer to this question is rather obvious for the followers of Turkish politics. First, it was very risky for Soylu, the hawkish minister of Interior, to make such a claim by himself. At this point, the reaction of Erdogan reveals Soylu’s real motivation for criticizing the United States. Erdogan never hesitates to publicly mortify even his closest henchmen if they do or say anything without his permission or knowledge. In Soylu’s case, Erdogan did not react as would be expected, which clearly shows that Erdogan was using Soylu as a proxy. The next question is: Why did Erdogan make that move?
Unlike what is thought by many of his followers, Erdogan appears to prioritize protecting himself and his family against the risk of losing his position and being investigated because of his corruption network and dark relations with salafi-jihadist terrorist groups in the Middle East. Erdogan is well aware of the fact that he has to remain on power in order to secure his freedom. In this framework, Erdogan wanted to act preemptively in the face of an upcoming conviction verdict from the ongoing Halkbank case tried in New York. The Halkbank case can be seen as a resurrection of the December 17, 2013corruption investigation, which was covered up in Turkey by the judiciary—a judiciary that Erdogan gradually transformed and then ultimately controlled.
The main suspect in the investigation was an Iranian-Turkish businessman, Reza Zarrab, who mediated the illegal oil-for-gold scheme between Turkey and Iran by bribing Turkish ministers, general managers of some public banks,and several other bureaucrats. One of the largest public banks in Turkey, Halkbank, was at the center of this trading scheme. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars in cash were found hidden in shoe boxes when the police raided the home of Suleyman Arslan, who at the time was Halkbank’s general manager, on December 17.The oil-for-gold scheme enabled Iran to flout the U.S. embargo on the country, while the Turkish government was able to narrow its foreign trade deficit. It proved to be a lucrative arrangement, as millions of dollars of bribery money flew into the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.Erdogan was slick enough to avoid and then reverse the shock wave of the December 17 and 25, 2013, corruption investigations by demonizing the Gulen Movement and starting a comprehensive purge campaign against members of the group. Erdogan’s machinations, however, did not end there. Erdogan soon began to replace critical positions in the police and judiciary with individuals who would be loyal to him at any cost, while making several legal and administrative regulations to parry the situation. With the help of other power circles,such as the ultranationalists and leftists whohate Erdogan butat the same time view the Gulen Movement as their primary enemy, Erdogan was able to reverse the situation and cover up the investigations in Turkey by releasing Zarrab and all other suspects of the investigation a few months after their arrest. Nonetheless, two of the key suspects in the December 17 investigation, Zarrab and Hakan Atilla, the former deputy director general of Halkbank, were arrested in the United Statesin March 2016 and March 2017, respectively. Zarrab has cooperated with U.S. authorities and explained the details of his bribery network. Der Spiegel has recently elaborated on the casefile and noted that a $20 billion punishment is on the way for Halkbank.
As far as the ongoing Halkbank case is concerned, it is quite obvious that there are several “unknown knowns” that would be sobering thoughts for Erdogan. Erdogan succeeded in having the Trump administration slow down the trial proceedings but, after Biden won the election, Erdogan’s nightmare has resumed. With Biden as president, Erdogan may find it more difficult to influence the trial now than when Donald Trump was president. According to John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, Trump and Erdogan enjoyed a close friendship. Erdogan exploited that friendship, using every opportunity to ask his friend to end the court case. Erdogan, however, was not concerned about what might happen to the defendants; instead, he was concerned that his own name would be mentioned in the verdict. Thus, Erdogan’s strategy of blaming the United Statesfor the July 15 coup attempt can be interpreted as a preemptive strike before a verdict—possibly a verdict of guilty—was announced in the U.S. court case about a bribery network that implicated Erdogan at least in part by Zarrab’s testimony. If the trial were to result in a guilty verdict, Erdogan and his entourage would start a campaign to trivialize theimpact of the verdict bysaying that the jury’s decision is a continuation of the July 15 coup and that the United States wants to achieve its goal of overturning Erdogan. Despite all the bluster, though, Erdogan and his entourage must be straining every nerve to communicatewith the Biden administration and come to terms regarding the case. The unfolding of U.S.-Turkey relations in the months to come will show whether Erdogan was able to convince the Biden campaign—just as he had done with the Trump administration.
Given the authoritarian government that Erdogan created in Turkey and a judicial system controlled entirely by him, it will not be possible to conduct an unbiased investigation that could definitively determine the real mastermind of the failed coup on July 15. The Turkish government has presented no solid evidence that links the United States to the coup attempt. The best it has had to offer are the coincidental visits of Henry Barkey toTurkeyat the time of the uprising and indictments filled with the statements of military officials who have been tortured and forced to sign documents prepared by the government’s intelligence officials. While the absurdity of the Turkish government’sposition that the United States was involved in the coup through the visit of a former State Department employee is beyond doubt,experts continue to debate the issue of Russian and Iranian involvement before and during the coup attempt to protect Erdogan from being ousted as Turkey’s ruler. That being said, we will have to wait until the farewell of Erdogan in order for the July 15 coup attempt to be investigated thoroughly.
Although five years have elapsed since the failed coup,an ominous darkness lingers as Erdogan continues in subtle ways to use his “gift from God” to further his political ambitions. On the one hand, several unanswered questions and irrationalities about the coup attempt show that the coup was designed to fail.On the other hand, the ultimate regime change—and the transformation of the political and bureaucratic system of the country into totalitarian nightmare—show that the only winner in the coup attempt was Erdogan. Therefore, asking whether it was the United States that plotted the coup is nothing but flogging a dead horse. The proper question to ask, based on the official statement of the Turkish General Staff, would be:Why did Erdogan feign ignorance about the coup despite the intelligence information he had received earlier that day and pushed millions of unarmed and vulnerable civilians before the coup plotters on that night?
Erdogan is quite adept at skirting domestic and international crises by using his massive entourage of henchmen to manage public perception—but with success only at home and not abroad. Erdogan likely will continue to make such maneuvers as he seeks to influence the Biden administration. After the Trump administration demonstrated its reluctance to support the Halkbank investigation, which pleased Erdogan, Erdogan will not believe that the judiciary system in the United States is independent and that the administration cannot interfere with investigations. Erdogan’s efforts have worked so far, and the bank trial has delayed. However, the Biden administration may be a much tougher sell.
*Dr. Mahmut Cengiz is an Assistant Professor and Research Faculty with Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
Israel and Turkey in search of solutions
Twelve and eleven years have elapsed since the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents, respectively, and Turkey-Israel relations are undergoing intense recovery efforts. They are two important Eastern neighbours and influence regional stability.
Currently, as in the past, relations between the two countries have a structure based on realpolitik, thus pursuing a relationship of balance/interest, and hinge around the Palestinian issue and Israel’s position as the White House’s privileged counterpart. However, let us now briefly summarise the history of Turkish-Jewish relations.
The first important event that comes to mind when mentioning Jews and Turks is that when over 200,000 Jews were expelled by the Spanish Inquisition in 1491, the Ottoman Empire invited them to settle in its territory.
Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel in 1949. Israel’s first diplomatic Mission to Turkey was opened on January 7, 1950 but, following the Suez crisis in 1956, relations were reduced to the level of chargé d’affaires. In the second Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Turkey chose not to get involved and it did not allow relations to break off completely.
The 1990s saw a positive trend and development in terms of bilateral relations. After the second Gulf War in 1991 -which, as you may recall, followed the first Iraqi one of 1980-1988 in which the whole world was against Iran (with the only exception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Libya and the moral support of Enver Hoxha’s Albania) – Turkey was at the centre of security policy in the region. In that context, Turkey-Israel relations were seriously rekindled.
In 1993, Turkey upgraded diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level. The signing of the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel led to closer relations. The 1996 military cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which provided significant logistical and intelligence support to both sides.
In the 2000s, there was a further rapprochement with Israel, due to the “zero problems with neighbours” policy promoted by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party. I still remember issue No. 3/1999 of the Italian review of geopolitics “Limes” entitled “Turkey-Israel, the New Alliance”.
In 2002, an Israeli company undertook the project of modernising twelve M-60 tanks belonging to the Turkish armed forces. In 2004, Turkey agreed to sell water to Israel from the Manavgat River.
Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Israel in 2005 was a turning point in terms of mediation between Palestine and Israel and further advancement of bilateral relations. In 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas spoke at the Turkish Grand National Assembly one day apart. High-level visits from Israel continued.
On December 22, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Ankara and met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In that meeting, significant progress was made regarding Turkey’s mediation between Israel and Syria.
Apart from the aforementioned incidents, the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations occurred five days after the above stated meeting, i.e. Operation “Cast Lead” against Gaza on December 27, 2008. After that event, relations between the two sides were never the same as before.
Recently, however, statements of goodwill have been made by both countries to normalise political relations. In December 2020, President Erdoğan stated he wanted to improve relations with Israel and said: “It is not possible for us to accept Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinian territories. This is the point in which we differ from Israel – otherwise, our heart desires to improve our relations with it as well”.
In its relations with Israel, Turkey is posing the Palestinian issue as a condition. When we look at it from the opposite perspective, the Palestinian issue is a vital matter for Israel. It is therefore a severe obstacle to bilateral relations.
On the other hand, many regional issues such as Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and some security issues in the region require the cooperation of these two key countries. For this reason, it is clear that both sides wish at least to end the crisis, reduce rhetoric at leadership level and focus on cooperation and realpolitik areas.
In the coming months, efforts will certainly be made to strike a balance between these intentions and the conditions that make it necessary to restart bilateral relations with Israel on an equal footing. As improved relations with Israel will also positively influence Turkey’s relations with the United States.
Turkey seeks to avoid the USA and the EU imposing sanctions that could go so far as to increase anti-Western neo-Ottoman rhetoric, while improved relations with Israel could offer a positive outcome not only to avoid the aforementioned damage, but also to solve the Turkish issues related to Eastern Mediterranean, territorial waters, Libya and Syria. Turkey has no intention of backing down on such issues that it deems vital. Quite the reverse. It would like to convey positive messages at the level of talks and Summits.
Another important matter of friction between Turkey and Israel is the use of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean reserves between Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus (Nicosia).
This approach is excluding Turkey. The USA and the EU also strongly support the current situation (which we addressed in a previous article) for the additional reason that France has been included in the equation.
The alignment of forces and fronts in these maritime areas were also widely seen during the civil war in Libya, where Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, as well as other players such as Russia, Italy, etc. came into the picture.
Ultimately, a point of contact between Turkey and Israel is the mediation role that the former could play in relations between Iran and Israel, especially after the improvement of Turkish-Iranian relations.
Indeed, in the aftermath of the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad – which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 -the Turkish Foreign Minister stated that the U.S. action would increase insecurity and instability in the region. He also reported that Turkey was worried about rising tensions between the United States and Iran that could turn Iraq back into an area of conflict to the detriment of peace and stability in the region. There was also a condolence phone call from President Erdoğan to Iranian President Rouhani, urging him to avoid a conflictual escalation with the United States following the airstrike.
Consequently, it is in the Turkish President’s interest to maintain an open channel with Iran, so that he himself can soften the mutual tensions between Israel and Iran, and – in turn – Israeli diplomacy can influence President Biden’s choices, albeit less pro-Israel than Donald Trump’s.
Turkey is known to have many relationship problems with the United States – especially after the attempted coup of July 15-16, 2016 and including the aforementioned oil issue – and realises that only Israel can resolve the situation smoothly.
In fact, Israel-USA relations are not at their best as they were under President Trump. President Erdoğan seems to be unaware of this fact, but indeed the Turkish President knows that the only voice the White House can hear is Israel’s, and certainly not the voice of the Gulf monarchies, currently at odds with Turkey.
Israel keeps a low profile on the statements made by President Erdoğan with regard to the Palestinians- since it believes them to be consequential – as well as in relation to a series of clearly anti-Zionist attitudes of the Turkish people.
We are certain, however, that President Erdoğan’s declarations of openness and Israeli acquiescence will surely yield concrete results.
The 25-year China-Iran agreement
On March 27, 2021, a document entitled “Comprehensive Document of Iran-China Cooperation” was signed by Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, and his Chinese counterpart. The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously called “the agreement between the presidents of Iran and China correct and wise.” However, the Iranian people have widely criticized it as entirely against their national interests. Iranian officials have not even publicized the document’s contents yet probably because it is highly contentious.
In 2019, excerpts from this document were revealed by the Economist Petroleum news site. The details included:
- China invests $460 billion in Iranian oil and transportation sectors. China will get its investment back from the sale of Iranian crude during the first five years.
- China buys Iranian petroleum products at least 32% cheaper.
- The Chinese can decide before other companies whether to participate in completing all or part of a petrochemical project.
- 50,000 Chinese security personnel will be deployed to protect Chinese projects in Iran.
- China has the right to delay the repayment of its debts for up to two years in exchange for Iranian products’ purchase.
- At least one Russian company will be allowed to participate in the Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline design together with the Chinese operator.
- Every year, 110 senior Revolutionary Guards officers travel to China and Russia for military training. 110 Chinese and Russian advisers will be stationed in Iran to train Revolutionary Guards officers.
- Development of Iranian military equipment and facilities will be outsourced to China, and Chinese and Russian military aircraft and ships will operate the developed facilities.
Even some circles within the regime have criticized the agreement. The state-run Arman newspaper wrote, “China has a 25-year contract with Iran and is investing $460 billion in Iran. It is somewhat ambiguous. Presently, China is holding the money it owes us and blames it on the U.S. sanctions. How can we trust this country to invest $460 billion in Iran?”
Last year, Iran and China had the lowest trade in the previous 16 years, and according to statistics, by the end of 2020, the volume of trade between Iran and China was about $16 billion, which, including undocumented oil sales, still does not reach $20 billion.
Jalal Mirzaei, a former member of Iran’s parliament, said: “If in the future the tensions between Tehran and Washington are moderated, and we see the lifting of some of the sanctions, China can also provide the basis for implementing the provisions of this document, but if the situation continues like today, Beijing will not make any effort to implement the document, as it is essentially unable to take concrete action on the ground because of the sanctions.”
Iran is vital to China in two ways, through its geopolitical location and its geo-economic importance. China knows that it does not have enough natural resources and is currently having a hard time supplying them from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supplies its energy needs from oil giant Aramco, half of which is owned by the United States. That is why China is looking for a safe alternative that the United States will not influence, and the only option is Iran. They may also have a two-pronged plan in Iran, which involves using Iran’s profitable market and making Iran into a lever of pressure against the United States for additional concessions.
The Iranian regime’s objectives
The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undermine U.S. efforts to isolate the Iranian regime. While the international dispute over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program has not been resolved, it is unclear how much this agreement could be implemented. The regime intends to make it a bargaining chip in possible future nuclear negotiations. However, some of Iran’s top authorities believe that China and Russia cannot be trusted 100 percent.
Due to the sanctions, the regime has a tough time to continue providing financial support to its proxy militias in the region. The regime also faced two major domestic uprisings in 2017 and 2019. Khamenei’s regime survived the widespread uprisings by committing a massacre, killing 1,500 young protesters in the 2019 uprising alone, according to the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and later confirmed by the Iranian regime’s Interior Ministry officials. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, Khamenei has been able to delay another major uprising.
Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Khamenei must bow to western countries’ demands regarding the nuclear issue, including an end to its regional interventions and its ballistic missile program. Khamenei will struggle to save his regime from s imminent uprisings and a deteriorating economy that will undoubtedly facilitate more protests by the army of the unemployed and the hungry at any moment.
Unlike the 2015 JCPOA, the Iranian regime in 2021 is in a much weaker position. In fact, by many accounts, it is the weakest in its 40-year history. By signing the recent Iran-China agreement and auctioning Iranian resources, Khamenei wants to pressure the United States to surrender and restore the 2015 JCPOA as quickly as possible. But in the end, this pivot will not counteract domestic pressures that target the regime’s very existence.
China-Arab Relations: From Silk to Friendship
China and the Arabs have a long and rich economic and cultural history, and this distinguished relationship still exists today, with a promising future. This bilateral relationship between the two nations is based on the principles of respect and non-interference in internal affairs or foreign policies. Therefore, China’s relationship with the Arabs as well as with other nations is unique and a model to be followed. If you meet a Chinese person, the first phrase will be “Alabo” or an Arab in Mandarin, and he/she will welcome you. The Chinese state’s dealings with its counterparts can be measured based on the model of this Chinese citizen. China deals with the Arabs on the basis of friendship and historical ties.
The history of Sino-Arab relations goes back to the Tang Dynasty, and these relations developed with the flourishing of trade between the two nations. Since China was famous for its high quality silk, this trade route was called the “Silk Road”. Baron Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, better known in English as Baron von Richthofen, was a German traveller, geographer, and scientist. He is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road” or “Silk Route” in 1877.
Chinese-Arab relations have developed in contemporary history. In 1930, China established official relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A library in China was named the “Fouad Islamic Library”, after the late Egyptian king, “Fuad the First”. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cut ties with China and established relations with the Communist People’s Republic of China and inaugurated an embassy in Egypt. In the same year, the Arab League established relations with the People’s Republic of China. By the year 1990, all Arab countries cut their relations with the Republic of China and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
In 2004, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established, and today it is considered a milestone for the Sino-Arab relationship. At its inauguration, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing delivered a speech stating:“The Arab world is an important force on the international scene, and that China and the Arab countries have enjoyed a long friendship. Our similar history, our common goals and our broad interests have been credited with enhancing cooperation between the two sides; no matter how the international situation changes, China has always been the sincere friend of the Arab world”. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was officially established during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the headquarters of the League of Arab States in January of 2004.
Hu Jintao indicated at that time that the formation of the forum is a continuation of the traditional friendship between China and the Arab world. The Chinese president said at the time, “The establishment of the forum is conducive to expanding mutual cooperation in a variety of fields. He added that China had made four proposals; First, maintaining mutual respect, fair treatment and sincere cooperation at the political level. Second, strengthening economic and trade relations through cooperation in the fields of investment and trade, contracted projects, labor services, energy, transportation, communications, agriculture, environmental protection and information. Third, expand cultural exchanges. Finally, conducting training for the employees.”
During the second session of the forum in Beijing in 2006, China showed its sympathy for the issues of the Arab world and its interest in the peace process between Palestine and Israel, since China is a peace-loving country; it presented the idea of “a nuclear-free Middle East”. China is the best friend of the Arab countries today. Although some Arab countries have strong relations with the West whose policy does not match the Chinese policy, but all Arab countries agree on friendly and good relations with the People’s Republic of China.
The Arab citizen is not interested today in the foreign policy of the US, the deadly weapons of the US and Russia, or European culture, but rather the livelihood and economy, and this is what China provides through its wise economic policy. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road, which will restore glow to China-Arab relations; as the Arab world is in a strategic location on the initiative map. Thus, the Arab countries are an important partner for China in the initiative. Although the volume of trade exchanges between China and the Arab countries exceeded 200 billion US dollars, which increased 10 times over the past decade, there was no commercial and institutional arrangement to facilitate trade between the two sides.
China, as a peaceful and non-invasive country, aims to promote economic cooperation with Arab region on an equal basis because it considers the Arab world a historic partner. The historical experience of the Arabs with the Chinese through the Silk Road has confirmed that China differs from the nations of colonialism and imperialism, which consider the Arab region a place rich in natural resources only. In his historic speech at the Arab League, Chinese President Xi stressed that China will not seek to extend influence and search for proxies in the Middle East. The Chinese initiatives will contribute to establishing security and stability through economic development and improving the people’s livelihood, in line with the post-2015 development agenda and the aspirations of the Arab people for a better life, as the Chinese experience proves that development is the key to digging out the roots of conflicts and extremism in all its forms.
China is a neutral country and does not favor the use of violence. During the Syrian crisis, for example, the Chinese envoy to the Security Council raised his hand three times, meaning that China, with its wise diplomacy, supported the Syrian regime without entering the military war. During the recent Chinese military parade, Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed some Chinese military capabilities and thus sent a message to the enemies that China will always be ready if a war is imposed on it, and a message of support to China’s allies. The Arab region today needs a real partner who possesses economic and military power and international political influence, such as China; to ensure the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to consolidate the China-Arab relations and raise it to the level of a strategic alliance.
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