With the fate hanging in the balance of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, prospects for greater security and stability in the Middle East are meagre with or without a deal.
Undoubtedly, the region will be better off with a revival of the accord from which the United States walked away in 2018 than without a US and Iranian recommitment to the deal.
A recommitment could be only days away if European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is right. Adding to the anticipation, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States was also “cautiously optimistic.”
Even so, the impact of a revival is likely to be limited.
It is safe to assume that the covert war between Israel, bitterly opposed to a revival of the agreement, and Iran will continue irrespective of whether Iran and the United States recommit to the deal.
The war is being fought not only on Iranian and Israeli territory and cyberspace but also in other parts of the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and potentially Yemen.
“Most leaders and senior officials in Israel’s current government believe that while Iran’s acquisition of such (nuclear) weapons will pose very serious security challenges, Israel is a regional power possessing a wide range of options for dealing with such challenges. Among these many options is a more explicit deterrence posture, utilizing the country’s alleged ‘nuclear option.’ Thus, in a recent event at Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), (Israeli Prime Minister Yair) Lapid made reference to his country’s ’other capabilities,’ praising the AEC’s ranks and leadership for insuring Israel’s survival,” noted Israel scholar Shai Feldman.
Israel is, so far, the Middle East’s only nuclear state, even though it has never acknowledged its possession of nuclear weapons or signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Gulf states share Israel’s concern that the agreement, at best, slows Iranian progress towards becoming a nuclear power and does nothing to halt Iranian support for allied non-state actors like Hezbollah in Lebanon, pro-Iranian forces in Iraq, Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and Houthi rebels in Yemen or Iran’s ballistic missiles program.
However, Iran has so far refused to discuss those issues. That could change if they were considered part of a holistic discussion of regional security. That, in turn, would have to involve all parties, including Israel and Turkey, and potentially be linked to security in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Caucasus, and South Asia.
Adding to the limited impact of a revival of the nuclear deal is uncertainty about the sustainability of the dialling down of tensions in the Middle East between Israel, Gulf states, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran.
The fragility of some of these relationships is evident in the slow progress of efforts to renew ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran; Turkey and Egypt; and differences and rivalries between various Middle Eastern players, including Turkey, Israel and Iran, and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as they play out in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraqi Kurdistan.
The fragility is evident in the lack of confidence complicating Russian-mediated efforts to achieve a rapprochement between Turkey and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, the Russian attempt reverberates in the Gulf, where Qatar and Saudi Arabia oppose UAE endeavors to return Mr. Al-Assad to the Arab fold, 11 years after Syrian membership in the Arab League was suspended because of the civil war.
Add to that the proxy war between Iran, Turkey, and Israel fought over the backs of Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi-Turkish tensions because of Turkey’s military operations in northern Iraq that target Turkish Kurdish rebels.
Recent rocket attacks on a UAE-owned oil field in northern Iraq persuaded US contractors to abandon the project for a second time. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Mitigating in favour of a firmer grounding of the reduction of regional tension is the fact that it is driven not only by economic factors such as the economic transition in the Gulf and the economic crisis in Turkey, Iran, and Egypt but also by geopolitics.
China and Russia have spelled out that they would only entertain the possibility of greater engagement in regional security if Middle Eastern players take greater responsibility for managing regional conflicts, reducing tensions, and their own defense.
Rhetoric aside, that is not different from what the United States, the provider of the Middle East’ security umbrella, is looking for in its attempts to rejigger its commitment to security in the Gulf.
The implication is that a transition is inevitable in the longer term to a multilateral regional security architecture that could still have the US as its military backbone.
The trend towards multilateralism will be driven as much by the strategic US focus on Asia, the effort to reduce European reliance on Russian energy in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, and, ultimately, Chinese unwillingness to be dependent on a hostile US for its energy security.
The understandings and agreements between all regional states, including those that do not have diplomatic relations, such as Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, needed to introduce a multilateral security arrangement would be paradigm-shifting and tectonic.
The sea change would have to be based on three principles enunciated this week by Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar regarding his country’s relations with China that are equally applicable in the Middle East: mutual sensitivity, mutual respect, and mutual interest.
The understandings and agreements would have to involve credible abandonment of notions of regime change; recognition of the internationally recognized borders of all regional states, including Israel; non-aggression pacts; conflict management and conflict resolution mechanisms; arms control; a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and a nuclear free zone, to name the most difficult and seemingly utopian ones.
Given its ambition to play a more prominent role, India could significantly enhance its influence in the Middle East and set the tone if it were willing to join the admittedly troublednon-proliferation pact.
That would have to involve Pakistan also joining the NPT on the back of a genuine effort by both countries to resolve their differences and a halt to discriminatory anti-Muslim policies of the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – steps that seem as impossible as the moves that Middle Eastern states would need to make.
The NPT’s shortcomings, beyond the refusal of nuclear states like Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea to join the treaty, were highlighted when signatories disagreed on a review of the 50-year-old pact last month.
Even so, a recent opinion poll in Saudi Arabia showed that India has some way to go in convincing the Middle East of its relevance compared to the United States, Russia, China, and Europe. Only 37 per cent of those surveyed believed ties to India were important to the kingdom.
India signalled its ambition to project power and membership in an elite club of nations with the commissioning this week of its first domestically built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant.
The biggest obstacle to a more stable regional security architecture is the deep-seated hostility and distrust between Israel and Iran against the backdrop of a seemingly inevitable nuclear arms race in which Saudi Arabia and Turkey would strive to obtain capabilities of their own.
That race will be accelerated if efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal fail but will not be definitively thwarted if Iran and the United States recommit to the agreement.
The fact that the fate of Iran’s nuclear program is the switch at a Middle Eastern crossroads underscores the need to tackle sensitive issues head-on rather than kick the can down the road for opportunistic domestic political reasons.
It also highlights the need for a concerted regional and international effort and confidence-building measures inspired by the concessions they would entail. That, in turn, would require the political will to revisit issues without the debilitating lens of ideology, preconception, and prejudice.
Iran’s nuclear program is a case in point.
In the 1980s, Iran’s leaders revived the country’s nuclear program as a result of the Iran-Iraq war. The program was originally initiated in the 1960s by the Shah and initially put on hold in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
However, the war persuaded Iran’s leader that the program could be a deterrence against perceived US efforts to change the regime In Tehran. The conviction that the United States and the Gulf were seeking to topple the Islamic regime was cemented by their support for Iraq’s eight-year war in which Saddam Hussein, a no-less brutal leader than Iran’s revolutionaries, deployed chemical weapons.
The Gulf war also sparked the Islamic republic’s ballistic missile program and its interest in developing a chemical weapons capability. Iranian leaders’ willingness to work with Israelis suggested they were not picky in choosing whom to cooperate with to achieve their goals.
To be sure, the knife cuts both ways. Iran’s declared ambition to export the revolution, coupled with the 444-day occupation in 1979 and 1980 of the US embassy in Tehran, was destined to provoke a response.
Yet, when Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988 swallowed the “poison” of agreeing to a ceasefire with Iraq in a war that Iran had not started, nationalism had largely replaced revolutionary zeal.
The subsequent emergence of pro-Iranian militias in various Arab countries was part of a defense and security strategy designed to take the fight to Iran’s detractors and an effort to ensure Iranian regional influence rather than export the revolution per se.
There is no guarantee that less US, European, and Gulf support for Iraq’s war effort and a more evenhanded approach to the conflict would have set the Islamic republic and the Middle East on a different course. But, by the same token, there is no guarantee that the region would be worse off had the international community attempted to do so.
Whatever the case, the reality is that Iran today is at the very least close to becoming a nuclear threshold state and will be one with or without a revival of the nuclear accord. That does not mean that the agreement has become irrelevant. On the contrary, its fate, no matter how flawed or problematic the agreement may be, will shape regional security in the foreseeable future.
It will determine the environment in which confidence can or cannot be built, and understandings can be achieved on sensitive issues without which any attempted multilateral security architecture will either be impossible to construct or if created, likely to collapse if it is not stillborn from the outset.
A realistic assessment of what is possible could help kickstart a process to create a more sustainable basis for a dialling down of regional tensions.
One such assessment would be a realistic evaluation of military options to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
Respected Israeli national security journalist Yossi Melman argues that Israel lacks the military capabilities to destroy Iran’s decentralised program despite claims to the contrary, partly because the US has not sold its bunker-busting bombs.
“The United States is the only country with a military option against Iran. But…(has) eschewed that route,” Mr. Melman noted.
Similarly, Iran and its detractors risk being blinded by their perceptions of the other, which become a self-fulfilling prophecy reinforced by mutual demonization.
Mr. Melman notes that countries like Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea determined to develop nuclear weapons did so within five to seven years. Iran revived its nuclear program more than three decades ago.
“How can we explain that 35 years after it launched its efforts, Iran still doesn’t have a bomb and hasn’t even passed the nuclear threshold?” Mr. Melman asked in a recent analysis.
Mobilization Won’t Save Russia from the Quagmire
When Moscow waged war against Ukraine in February, few expected Russia to end up in a quagmire. The Russian military failed to achieve its goals, while the Ukrainians fought bravely to defend their nation. The recent pushback in the Kharkiv region further proved that Russia could not achieve its military goals under the current situation.
The Russian government takes a new procedure. President Putin has called for partial mobilization, commissioning the reserved forces and those previously served. Meanwhile, the Russian government has decided to launch referendums for the occupied areas to join Russia. Any attacks on those territories in the future could be considered total war and potentially trigger nuclear weapon use.
It is vital to notice this is only a partial mobilization, only recalling reservists. However, many Russian politicians and nationalists have called for total mobilization. Yet, a mobilization, whether partial or complete, is not a prescription to improve Moscow’s performance on the battlefield. The mobilization, in reality, could further drag Russia into a quagmire.
Russia does not have the political leverage it had before, home and abroad. Total mobilization will not change Russia’s diplomatic stalemate. The war united European countries quickly. While Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to join NATO, Finland and Sweden have applied to become NATO members, bringing NATO close to Saint Petersburg. A total mobilization is unlikely to threaten Europe and forces it to change its policy. Instead, it will further push the European countries to unite in facing Russian aggression.
Even the countries with which Russia has a closer relationship have different opinions. Indian prime minister Modi has told President Putin to take the path of peace and stop the war in a recent meeting. India has a close relationship with Russia, and Modi’s criticism is a significant blow to Putin. Even Central Asia countries have also expressed no interest in Putin’s aggression. Kazakhstan has clearly stated that it will neither send its military to fight in Ukraine nor recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. A total mobilization and an escalation of the war will further alienate Russia and its allies.
Domestically, a mobilization could further drag Putin down with his popularity. Chechnyan president Kadyrov, one of Putin’s close allies, has criticized the war’s progress, reflecting the contrary opinions among Russian elites. On the everyday citizen level, Putin has also become unpopular. Immediately after the mobilization was introduced, Russian anti-war groups called for national protests.
Militarily, the Russian war machine is not the Soviet Union military that the world trembles. The Russian army has needed a significant upgrade since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis has dramatically weakened the Russian armed forces. The failure in the two Chechnyan Wars is the most obvious evidence. Putin managed to upgrade a portion of the military equipment and provided a better salary to the personnel. The Russian military still performed decently during its operation in Syria.
Yet, the scale of upgrade it needs is far from what Kremlin has offered, and the war further dragged the Russian military capacity. Before the war, Russia chose not to produce and deploy the most advanced tanks because of the lack of money, and the T-14 tank ended up being a showpiece in the military parade. The corruption within the Russian military is still a problem, leading to the lack of resources directed for military upgrades.
That’s why Russia still uses the Soviet military legacy in combat. The Russian armored forces now have to use T-64 tanks from their storage because of the significant loss at the initial stage of the war. The recruits this summer were only trained for a month before being sent to the frontline. As for the newly mobilized forces, despite the previously served reservists, it still takes time and equipment to prepare them for operation. Russia has neither of those, let alone the conscripts are also a part of the reserved forces, making them even more ineffective on the battlefield.
Moscow’s financial situation to sustain a mobilization remains a big question. Despite the excellent performance of the Russian Ruble in the currency market, Russia’s economy will still face severe challenges. Teachers are now required to donate to the war effort, a sign that the war effort is far from successful. As the announcement of mobilization comes, Moscow’s stock index drops dramatically. While the sanctions did not work as expected, the Russian economy suffered from the effects. The banks also reported significant losses in the year’s first half.
The international price of natural gas and oil has also come down from its peak since European countries finished stacking up their supply earlier. Meanwhile, UAE and Kuwait are planning to expand their production capacity of natural gas and oil. Russia’s source of income is far from stable as prices drop and exports and production decline for Russia.
War is a costly activity. In previous operations in Syria, Russia’s daily cost is around 2.4 to 4 million US dollars. That was a minor operation with mainly air force participation. With all forces in action and the war dragging on for more than 200 days, the expenses mounted. It is believed that the first week of war alone cost Russia 7 billion dollars. The Kremlin’s decree says that the newly assembled forces will be paid corresponding to the existing personnel. With that high expense, how will Russia be able to pay for the new troops? How will Russia be able to replace the equipment and supply its forces?
Moscow believed that by sheer force and lightning warfare, Kyiv would bow down to Moscow. However, this dream ended with a valiant effort from the Ukrainians to defend the country. Further mobilization may provide the short-term manpower that Russia needs, but it will not save Russia from the predicament. The bleak reality in politics, the military, and the economy has made mobilization anything but a save.
Rise in mercenary forces trigger ‘rampant’ human rights violations
Human rights violations committed by mercenaries and private security companies create grave challenges for victims seeking justice and redress, UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Tuesday.
Presenting its new report to the Human Rights Council 51st session, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries said that this was due to the particularity of the perpetrators and the way they operate.
They also noted that the proliferation of mercenaries, contractors operating as soldiers for hire and private security companies in conflict, post-conflict and peacetime settings, has increased the number of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
“Deplorable gaps in accountability, access to justice, and remedies for victims of violations perpetrated by such actors are rampant,” said Sorcha MacLeod, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group, who presented the report to the Council.
The experts explained that, in the contexts in which they operate, the impacts of their actions are of grave concern.
Persons in vulnerable situations, women, children, migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, LGBTI+ persons, older persons, minorities, human rights defenders and journalists, are experiencing particularly negative impacts, the experts highlighted.
“Given this bleak situation, a holistic and victim-centred approach is imperative to ensure victims’ effective access to justice and remedy,” Ms. MacLeod said.
Investigate and punish offenders
The report highlights a lack of accountability and the common challenges faced by victims in accessing justice and effective remedies to overcome the damage mercenaries leave in their wake.
It drew specific attention to the secrecy and opacity surrounding the activities of mercenaries, military contractors hired to kill, and private security companies; their complex business and corporate structures, issues related to jurisdiction; and gaps in national and international regulation.
“States have obligations under international human rights law to prevent, investigate, and punish violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and to provide effective remedies and reparation to victims of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies,” the experts said.
They concluded by urging States to adopt national legislation to “regulate the activities of these actors, punish perpetrators, and provide redress for victims are part of these implementation efforts”.
A New Strategic Shifts and A New Strategic Concept of NATO
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, in Madrid at the end of last June, was not just an ordinary summit resembling its predecessors. It looked so different that it might be thought that it might constitute an important turning point in the path of the Alliance.
This summit was held four months after the start of the war that Russia launched against Ukraine. And because it is a war that posed an unprecedented challenge to NATO, due to the exposure of one of the European states nominated for its membership to a direct Russian military invasion, for the first time since the end of World War II, and therefore in the history of the alliance, it is natural that any summit held after that will turn into something like a thermometer that does not only measure the degree of the alliance’s cohesion in facing a challenge of this magnitude, but also the extent of its readiness to respond to it, and to all similar and potential challenges in the future.
Its contract coincided with a time when the Alliance had to issue a new document outlining its strategic concept for the next ten years. Because the last document of this type was issued in 2010, it was assumed that 2020 would be the date of the issuance of the document covering the third era of the twenty-first century, which did not happen due to the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic, which disrupted the convening of the summit during 2020 and 2021. Thus, fate decided that the date of a summit with the task of formulating a new strategic vision for the alliance coincided with the outbreak of a major crisis, some of whom do not rule out that it would be the starting point in a third world war, which added to the ‘strategic concept’ document signed by NATO leaders on June 29 the past for the period up to 2030 is doubly important and exceptional.
The 2022 document, which is 11 pages in length, includes 49 items distributed on three axes: objectives and principles, the strategic environment, and the main tasks of the alliance (deterrence and defense, prevention and crisis management, cooperative security) a vision that clearly emphasizes that the strategic concept of NATO has undergone fundamental changes, especially if compared to the concept contained in the document issued in 2010. This is from multiple angles: it reflects, first, a clear change in the alliance’s vision of the sources of threats to its security, because the previous document issued in 2010, which reflected the strategic concept of the alliance for the period up to 2020, Terrorism was placed at the top of the list of sources of threat to peace and security at various levels, while this source took steps backward in the 2022 document, and is no longer seen as the main source of threat to the security and stability of the Alliance.
The Russian Federation advanced to occupy the top position on this list. This document spoke of the Russian Federation as ‘the biggest and most direct threat to the security of the Alliance and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region… because it aims to destabilize the countries of our east and south, in the far north.’
Here, it notes the extent of the direct impact of the war in Ukraine on changing the alliance’s vision to the sources of threats to its security and stability. It is also noted that the alliance no longer views Russia as a potential or indirect threat, but rather as a direct military threat. ‘The Russian Federation’s ability to disrupt Allied reinforcements and freedom of navigation across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge to it, and Moscow’s military buildup, including in the Baltic, Black Sea, and Mediterranean regions, along with its military integration with Belarus, challenges our security and interests,’ the document says.
On the other hand, it is noted that the 2010 document avoided looking at China as a source of threat to the alliance, only referring to it as an ambitious competitor seeking to enhance its position at the regional and global levels by increasing its economic, scientific, and technological capabilities. As for the 2022 document, it is not only looking at China as an honorable competitor but as a source of threat no less dangerous than Russia. It is true that it does not see China as a direct military threat to the alliance, as is the case with Russia, but it sees, at the same time, that ‘the declared ambitions of the People’s Republic of China, and its adoption of a wide range of political, economic and military tools to increase its global presence and demonstrate strength, and its use of malicious methods it aims to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, strategic materials, and supply chains, and use its economic influence to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence, etc., which constitute a direct threat to the interests, security, and values of the Alliance.
The most interesting point is that this document considers that ‘the deepening of the strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutual attempts to undermine the rules-based international order is incompatible with our values and interests,’ and therefore should be confronted with due firmness.
Secondly, it reflects a clear change in the Alliance’s vision of how to confront sources of threats to its security and stability. After the Alliance, in its previous documents, focused on ‘cooperation, building partnerships, and networking with others,’ as effective means of confronting various sources of threat, we find it focusing on the current document focuses on ‘building our own capabilities, mobilizing resources, and increasing military expenditures.’ It is true that the document clearly stressed that the alliance ‘does not seek to confront Russia, and does not want to be a source of threat to it,’ but at the same time, it was keen to highlight ‘the alliance’s determination to strengthen the deterrent and defensive capabilities of all its members and that it will respond to threats in a unified and responsible manner.’ And it will keep it’s channels of communication open with the Russians to prevent escalation.
On the other hand, it is noted that the document did not recognize any role of the NATO states or the ruling regime in Ukraine in provoking Russia, and pushing it to use force in Ukraine, under the pretext of ensuring the protection of citizens of Russian origin, nor did it refer, from near or far, to feelings of concern. President Putin, after Ukraine, signed a strategic partnership agreement with the United States on November 10, nor to the demands contained in his message to NATO member states, in response to this agreement, which included: A pledge that Ukraine would not join the alliance NATO, not placing offensive weapons on Russia’s borders, and withdrawing NATO forces from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, demands that the United States refused to even discuss, which eventually led to the outbreak of war. Instead, the document proceeded to affirm the right of all countries in the region, especially Eastern European countries, to determine their fate and future, including joining NATO and the European Union and rejecting any interference by the Russian Federation in the internal affairs of these countries.
If we link what was stated in this document and the path taken by the ongoing war in the Ukrainian arena, we will reach a set of conclusions: The first, regarding how to slip into the currently raging military confrontation in the Ukrainian arena, it is not at all unlikely that the United States, through Its organs and institutions that express the thought and orientations of the deep state, have deliberately lured Russia into a confrontation on the Ukrainian arena, and it has been seriously preparing for this confrontation since Russia occupied the Crimea in 2014.
The second: Relates to the essence of the current conflict in this arena. All the parties involved in it realize that its main goal revolves around putting an end to the unilateral Western hegemony over the current world order and establishing a multi-polar world order or, at least, a tri-polar system in which Russia and China participate, which is rejected by the West led by the United States, and explains the return of NATO cohesion After he was threatened with collapse, he explains, at the same time, the West’s insistence on inflicting a military defeat on Russia in the Ukrainian arena, because its victory means, immediately, the collapse of the unipolar international system.
The third: Is related to the tools used in this conflict, as Western countries realize that Russia is the first nuclear power in the world, forcing it not to engage directly in the ongoing conflict with it in the Ukrainian arena, and then to limit itself to the weapon of comprehensive sanctions against Russia, on the one hand, and to submit The maximum possible military, political and economic support for Ukraine, to enable it to win the war, on the other hand.
Fourth: Concerning the future of this conflict. The path taken indicates, on the one hand, that the economic sanctions have not yielded the desired results, and that Russia may be on its way to winning this round of conflict, but it indicates, on the other hand, that the support provided to Ukraine It not only enabled it to hold out and prevent Russia from achieving a quick and decisive victory, but also to recover the many lands it had lost, and to begin to liberate what remained of them, including Crimea. Because it is impossible to imagine that a nuclear Russia would accept a military defeat in Ukraine, escalation and the use of tactical nuclear weapons are no longer excluded, especially since the events of recent months have proven that the United States has harnessed all its technological and intelligence capabilities in the service of Ukraine, which Moscow may interpret as direct American involvement in the conflict.
So I think the whole world may be about to go into a dark tunnel in the next few months. Unless all of its leaders realize that all of humanity, not just Russia or NATO, faces many sources of threat, not the least of which are climatic changes and infectious diseases, and therefore is in dire need of a new world order that confronts all sources of threats to its common security, it will not be able to Anyone surviving the specter of nuclear war is slowly getting closer.
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