Few days ago, Qatar signed an agreement with Turkey to establish a naval base which will include a training center for maritime patrols and monitoring.

In addition, 60,000 Turkish soldiers will be deployed across four military bases abroad in accordance with a new 2022 military plan set by the Turkish ministry of defense. Two of these bases are in Qatar. What is the purpose of these bases and why Turkey is interested in Qatar at this time?

Moving the base

Though there are some unequivocal political and security extents to Turkish foreign policy in the Gulf region, the overall motivation is economic after Qatar had shown a major challenge against the US. Once Washington started to abandon Doha after the June 2017 political rift, some figured out that the Americans would move their al-Udaid Base in Doha to another country.

This has been the opportunity for Turkey to restore its military presence in the region at the expense of others. The real justification is to protect Qatar from any external threats and to secure economic and investment interests for Turkish companies.

Whether Turkey would survive any political turmoil or near its borders, this is mostly likely based upon a number of factors. The first is if the Kurds in Syria resist the Turkish troops and cooperate with the Syrian army, the Turkish dream to have a foothold in Syria will fail.

The second is the military bases in Qatar, which were announced by both Ankara and Doha. The significance of the bases depends on the developments in the region. When Qatar announced that it has intentions to host World Cup 2022, Turkey announced its military and security presence in Qatar accordingly since 2015.

The reinforcement of Turkish army in Doha is viewed as a means to fill the vacuum of the American army when Washington takes the decision to leave the base

–Shehab Al-Makahleh

In the meantime, American military experts do believe that the US could have already begun to abandon Qatar, close the Air Force base, and started thinking of moving other countries in the Middle East region. Some believe that these countries would be Jordan, Oman or the UAE.

The reinforcement of Turkish army in Doha is viewed as a means to fill the vacuum of the American army when Washington takes the decision to leave the base. That is why the American Army built a military base in Nejev desert last year.

As Turkey has helped the US to expand and strengthen the al-Udaid base, this would facilitate the Turkish mission to replace the Americans when they leave. Since Qatari officials are increasingly cognizant that the US cannot pardon Qatar’s actions, Turkey has started paving the way for its forces to take the lead in Qatar.

Back in 2003, Qatar welcomed the headquarters to al-Udaid Airbase after the US Central Command vacated Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia. Since al-Udaid is deemed the largest American overseas airbase, this justifies the big number of Turkish troops to be deployed in Qatar to replace the Americans as the base has two active runways.

Turkey seeks economic benefits

In November 2017, during his visit to Qatar, Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdogan reiterated his country’s support for Doha militarily, politically and economically including the participation of the Turkish private sector in the implementation of the 2022 World Cup projects in Qatar.

Thus, the main reason behind Turkish military expansion in the region, chiefly the deployment of its troops in Qatar, is to undertake future projects as there are 30 Turkish companies carrying out projects in Doha in the construction sector. Because both Ankara and Doha have been mutually isolated, they are speeding up their bilateral relations, mainly in economic fields.

Turkish companies have won $8.5 billion tenders to construct infrastructural projects for World Cup 2022. Therefore, for the World Cup’s preparations that are under way, Ankara seeks more economic and investment opportunities in Qatar. Its military presence is the only a means that can secure Ankara gains these bids.

 Qatar has earlier announced that Turkish commercial corporations will be given priority for businesses during the World Cup.

However, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has its Plan B if Qatar fails to meet the criteria set by the federation, granting the country the right to organize tournament for three countries that have already applied for hosting the 2026 World Cup, namely the United States, Mexico and Canada. The decision about Plan B is expected to be taken in the end of June or September, according to reports.

In conclusion, the Turkish military presence in Qatar is not for the sake of bolstering bilateral relations, it is partly for fighting "any potential enemies" and also for economic benefits for the Turkish economy which is facing many hardships due to state of isolation of Turkey from many countries.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/03/18/Turkey-cements-economic-ties-with-military-base-in-Qatar.html

Published in Tribune

Will the US move its major airbase in Qatar (al-Udeid) to another in Jordan’s Azraq city and will China replace the US airbase in Doha? A report in the US military’s daily Stars and Stripes claims that the Pentagon wants to pump in $143 million into upgrades at the Muwaffaq Salti Airbase in Azraq, more than any other overseas Air Force operational site, which implies that the US is planning to leave al-Udeid Airbase in Qatar for various considerations.

In February 2015, Washington and Amman had signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding in which the US vowed to pay $1 billion in military aid to Jordan every year until 2018 because it considers Jordan an irreplaceable partner in the Middle East. This US admiration for Jordan dates back to 1957 when Washington regarded Amman’s role as pivotal for ensuring security and stability in the region.

While the US has mainly focused on the military significance of Jordan, the latter’s role in the region will be critical in the coming decade following the recent setback in US relations with Turkey, and the fact that Washington is upset with Qatar’s position on countering terrorism that is one of the factors in its decision to shift its airbase in al-Udeid to Jordan.

In May this year, US President Donald Trump announced his plan to allocate $500 million for upgrading American airbases overseas. The budget of the Defense Department submitted to Congress includes $478 million for Air Force “military construction,” of which $207 million is meant for foreign facilities in the Middle East, including bases in Incirlik Airbase in Turkey and the Muwaffaq Salti Airbase in Jordan that the US uses for operations against the ISIS. The other $271 million is allocated for a number of airbases and airports in NATO member states.


The move from al-Udeid and Incirlik to Jordan may not be an easy transition for the US as it may entail enormous logistical hassles

Shehab Al-Makahleh

The Muwaffaq Salti Airbase is 55 kilometer from Amman (35 miles south of the Syrian border) and close to Iraqi borders as well. It has been used for military air operations. The earmarked amount will be used for paving the airfields, building shelters for aircraft and dormitories for pilots and crew.

Military reports from Jordan reveal that the aforementioned airbase has been used by Americans for flying US-built MQ-9 Reaper drones to strike targets in Syria and Iraq. The airbase, also known as H4, houses various platforms which belong to Royal Jordanian Airforce.

Since al-Udeid is host to a forward HQs of United States Central Command (CENTCOM, the HQs of the United States Air Forces Central Command - USAF), No. 83 Expeditionary Air Group RAF, and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the USAF, shifting to the Jordanian airbase may not happen soon. It is noteworthy that the number of US soldiers at al-Udeid Airbase is more than 10,000.

Meanwhile, work is ongoing at the Muwaffaq al-Salti Airbase for the so-called a Life Support Area (LSA), which include supporting facilities and new infrastructure. The Jordanian airbase will undergo speedy expansion of storage facilities to enable the military to support cargo and personnel recovery operations at the base.

On July 12, US President Donald Trump said that the US was ready to relocate from al-Udeid, and that “If we (the US) ever had to leave, we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one (airbase), believe me, and they will pay for it”.

German troops

Meanwhile, Germany has been negotiating with Jordan for months over pull its troops out of Turkey to the Muwaffaq al-Salti Airbase. The decision of German military to move its troops from Incirlik to Muwaffaq al-Salti Airbase comes in the wake of political and diplomatic squabbles between Turkey and Germany over a number of issues, including differences over the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe and the Turkish government’s support for Islamists in Germany.

Even NATO is now considering moving out of Turkey as Ankara has moved closer to Moscow and the US is also said to have almost taken the decision of giving up its airbases in Incirlik and to gradually shift base to Jordan. Will China replace the US in Doha?

Meanwhile, Chinese Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun and Qatari Major General Sa’ad al-Khulaifi met on 27 September at the INTERPOL summit in Beijing, where they discussed cooperation on combating terrorism and signed a deal to increase their coordination in this regard.

Given the fact that Doha-Beijing ties have been strengthening in various spheres recently (such as in the fields of energy, banking, security and military), China has started considering Qatar as an attractive destination for cooperation in the area of defense. China is a major importer of Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG). Thus, Beijing seeks to secure this source of energy which is very important for Chinese industries development and expansion.

It is reported that China’s military is eyeing Qatar’s al-Udeid base as the US plans to ultimately vacate it. To China, Qatar is important because it is the only Arab country that is connected to Islamist non-state actors and the fact that Doha can negotiate with them easily, especially with East Turkestan Islamic Movement of Xinjiang. Thus, China considers Qatar as a useful partner in the Arab world.

The move from al-Udeid and Incirlik to Jordan may not prove to be an easy transition for the US as it may entail enormous logistical hassles and infrastructure development.

However, the Americans as well as NATO member states have started rethinking the role of Ankara and Doha in the region, especially after a Turkish military base is being set up in Doha. However, if Americans leave al-Udeid, China seems to be ready to fill in the void.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/12/01/If-US-shifts-airbase-to-Jordan-can-China-fill-the-void-for-Doha-.html

Published in Tribune

Following the Pentagon’s June 14, 2017 statement on a military deal regarding a squadron of 35 F-15 jets delivery to Doha, expectations are ramping up for a cluster of tranquility in the Gulf diplomatic mess which could have paved the way for a military confrontation between four countries against Qatar, as they blame Doha for funding and supporting terrorism in the region.

The total amount of the deal is not just US$ 12 billion – the price of the announced 36 jets, as additional 36 jets are to be agreed upon later on – making the deal worth more than US$24 billion.

Jets manufacturer Boeing in a statement on its website said: “This is a very important deal for preserving the production of this sort of planes and creating 60,000 job opportunities in 42 American states.” This means that the money acquired through the Qatar deal helps Americans proceed with their business as the production of the jets was at risk due to lack of demand.

The American president has fuelled the threats against Doha by his strongly-worded warning, where he accused Qatar of being a “funder of terrorism… at a very high level,” calling on Qatari government to “stop immediately supporting terrorism”.

Shortly after the deal was closed, the President Trump’s tweets of a few days earlier in which he said that “Qatar has a history of backing terrorism at a very high level, and must be punished” as well as other in which he insisted that “the isolation of Qatar is the beginning of the end for terrorism”, the tweets have completely disappeared from his Twitter account. Moreover, they were succeeded by other statements praising Qatar as a strong US ally, while stressing that the warplanes deal represents a big step towards ‘consolidating’ strategic and security cooperation between the two countries.

Earlier, US president Trump has expressed Washington’s support for Bahraini, Egyptian, Saudi and Emirati anti-Qatar coalition. This has been made clear during recent White House press conference when he announced that along with “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals, and military people”, he decided [that] “the time has come to call on Qatar to end its funding”.

The already complex Gulf crisis was further complicated with the subsequent US fighter jets deal with Qatar and the ensuing joint US-Qatari military exercise that have together sent counter-signals to the four-state alliance, effectively contradicting the US Secretary of State’s conciliatory request delivered in a calming tone to the countries directly involved in the rift.

Though the American Secretary of State is preparing a meeting for the Saudi, Qatari and Emirati officials in Washington, Trump seemed angry with the Qatari officials, mainly the country’s Emir Sheikh Tamim, for turning down an invitation to visit the US, under suspicion that the invitation was a trap similar to the one his grandfather fell into, when while on a visit in Egypt and the UAE, his son Hamad carried a coup that dethroned him.

Was then the American Qatari multi-billion jet deal a placebo or a relaxant to the belligerency against Doha from its neighbors?

As the deal is still to be considered by the Americans and their officers since the jets won’t be instantly handed over to Qatar, the deal is said to be absorption of the American anger as the US has about 10,000 troops in Al Udaid base in Doha, which would act as a springboard spearheading any coup schemata.

With the UAE ambassador to Washington statements that there would be no military intervention in Doha, this has double meaning from diplomatic and political viewpoints as history has proved it a long time ago. When diplomats speak about something, the opposite takes place.

It was evident from the outset of this crisis that it would get increasingly serious amidst expectations for further escalation, especially after a number of GCC officials started paying visits to the UK and Russia. The latter being under radar to gauge whether Russia would side with the four-states’ alliance or Doha, due to the huge economic benefits it would gain through yet unannounced agreements with Qatar.

It is speculated that Russia is considering taking control over the world natural gas industry. Once Russia wins over Qatar, as it has already done with Iran, more than 80 per cent of world gas production would be at its disposal. Was this recent rapprochement between Moscow and Doha the real reason for the uproar between Doha and its Arab brethren rather than ‘funding and supporting terrorism’? Will this crisis set the Middle East region partially or wholly ablaze?

The Qataris are now playing politics, as far as the F-15 deal is concerned. The deal has helped the American administration secure an additional US$ 12 billion injection into its military industry. It remains to be seen whether it will help Doha to disentangle itself from the brotherly ambush.

These are all chess pieces moved around adeptly by the superpowers, at the suitable time, especially after the 55 Arab and Islamic states alliance meet up in Riyadh Summit last month. As to who will make the check mate move to end the game is anybody’s guess at this point.

Article published in Geostrategic Media: http://geostrategicmedia.com/2017/06/the-future-of-the-gcc-ignited-brouhaha-in-the-region-between-the-us-and-russia/

Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN /Getty Images

Published in Tribune

The recent visit to Moscow of Mohammed bin Salman, the deputy crown prince and defense minister of Saudi Arabia, didn't make many headlines. However, given the current developments in the Gulf with Qatar, the visit has acquired new significance. 

Until recently, "America's hand" was seen behind virtually all events in the Middle East. Now that Moscow has raised its regional profile, “Russia's hand" is seen here and there: No sooner had the Qatar crisis erupted June 5 than some suggested the prince had discussed with the Kremlin the Saudis’ decision to shun Qatar — which is very unlikely.

President Vladimir Putin gave his guest a hearty welcome when the prince arrived May 30. Their public statements struck a particularly friendly note, as is usually the case at the meetings of high-ranking officials. Putin praised their rapidly expanding ties, stressing that since early 2017, economic cooperation has increased by 130%, according to state-owned Tass news agency.

As he touched on political and military contacts, Putin reminded journalists that the two states are searching for ways to resolve complicated situations, “particularly in Syria,” and that “energy agreements are very important for our countries.”

Salman also stressed energy cooperation with Russia, saying, “The main point is that we are building a solid foundation for stabilizing the oil market and energy prices and this is creating good opportunities for building our strategic future.” He also described the current stage in the bilateral relations as “one of the best.” 

Indeed, today’s relationship contrasts sharply with the once virtually nonexistent economic ties, which were inhibited in the 1990s and 2000s. Both countries’ economies are driven largely by oil production and there wasn’t much opportunity for collaboration at that time.

Also, Russian Muslims hold the Saudi royal house in high esteem. The renewed emphasis on religion in Russia makes the reverence particularly significant. It is noteworthy that authorities from Russia's Muslim-majority regions pay regular visits to Saudi Arabia and meet with the country’s top officials in a bid to grow their stature in Russia’s Muslim community.

Yet the resulting state-to-state interactions have been somewhat bizarre in recent years. The friendly relations are underpinned by numerous agreements, but few of those have been implemented. Both countries aim to build trust, which they deem absolutely necessary. Moscow and Riyadh have had different perspectives on the international landscape and until recently, they found themselves on opposite sides of most regional issues.

However, the situation has changed, as life is teaching the two countries to be clear eyed about current developments. While Russia and Saudi Arabia continue to maintain opposing views on the Syrian peace process and Iran’s regional role, they have managed to find some common ground. Moscow toned down its rhetoric about Yemen and Bahrain, and it promotes cordial relations with Saudi-allied Egypt and cooperation with the kingdom on the ruptured Libyan government. Finally, both Russia and Saudi Arabia have faced similar economic problems caused by the oil price plunge, which prepared the ground for their rapprochement and a potentially promising “oil alliance.” 

Notwithstanding their contrasting approaches to regional matters, Russia’s military campaign in Syria won Riyadh’s respect. Thus, the kingdom started to view Moscow in some ways as a potential alternative to Washington, which had proved unreliable under the administration of President Barack Obama.

In this context, the frequent encounters of the Saudi prince with Putin have special importance.

Even though Syria was officially the key item on the meeting’s agenda, no formal arrangements were finalized. What is more important, though, was the two sides refrained from rebuking each other. 

Salman, according to some informed sources in Moscow who spoke with Al-Monitor, was supposed to spend far more time in Russia’s capital. Today, however, it is clear that the dramatic developments brewing in the Gulf regarding Qatar most likely led him to shorten his stay.

As the meeting failed to produce any serious deal, it allows for some speculation about the prince’s real agenda regarding Moscow. It seems quite evident that Salman intentionally arrived in Moscow soon after US President Donald Trump’s trip to the Saudi kingdom May 20-21. Even the red carpet welcome the Saudis gave Trump couldn’t close the credibility gap between them. Riyadh doesn’t completely trust Washington. Given the uncertain future of Trump’s presidency and his still-vague Middle Eastern strategy, putting all of the kingdom’s eggs into one basket would be an ill-conceived step, to say the least. 

That’s where Egypt comes into this speculative scenario.

Some experts in Moscow assume the Egyptian government needs Russia’s weapons but is unable to pay the bill. However, Riyadh, capable of backing Egypt, is becoming involved in establishing security zones in Syria, which could emerge as a way to constrain Iran’s ambitions for control in Syria. Yet Saudi Arabia, a militarily weak state mired in the Yemeni war, would rather entrust a reliable ally, presumably Egypt, with a peacekeeping role in the security zones. This would give Egypt a chance to strengthen its regional stature and bolster popular confidence in its government, which is grappling with severe economic problems. 

This interpretation fits current developments in the Gulf.

Russia is on good terms with Qatar and Iran — Saudi Arabia’s sworn enemy. Qatar’s alleged ties to terrorism and Iran are the reasons it is being ostracized in the Gulf. Judging by statements from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow is not willing to interfere in the crisis engulfing Qatar — which suits Riyadh but that in no way means Russia’s support for Iran is waning. What this could mean is that Russia wants to see Saudi Arabia as a leading representative of Arab Gulf monarchies’ interests — in which case Russia must satisfy the Saudis’ legitimate interests in the region.

Article published in Al Monitor: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/06/russia-saudi-arabia-gcc-alliances-qatar-middle-east.html

Photo credit: REUTERS/Pavel Golovkin

Published in Tribune

Few days ago Russian president Putin stated Russia’s readiness to supply Turkey with advanced S-400 air defense systems. Turkey’s spat with the EU and growing discord with the NATO may be reason behind Turkey’s demand for Russian weapons. For its Arab neighbors the key question is whether this move is aimed against the newly proposed ‘Arab NATO’ or just a Turkish self-defense response following Washington’s arming of Syrian Kurds.

Erdogan may fear meeting the fate of his neighbors in Iraq and Libya, both former US allies, and preparing for the plan B ― turning eastward.

A number of factors, including its growing alliance with Russia and Iran, may have forced Turkey to look to boost its defenses independent from its traditional Western, NATO allies. Diplomatic spat with Germany over refugee deal, strained military relations over Incirlik base, last year’s failed coup, recent American arming of the Syrian Kurds ― all are seen by Turkey as Western moves against its sovereignty. Disliked as he is in the West, with current set of circumstances surrounding his country, Turkish president is wise to strengthen ties with Russia, a country with which the country shares borders and many interests, and most importantly, a reliable ally as witness in Syria and Iran. This is especially important considering that despite Turkey’s being an extremely important Western ally, Erdogan himself is considered a political persona non grata in the US ― the fact that only pushes him further into Russian arms.

While some Arabs may consider the move as targeting the recently announced ‘Arab NATO’, the move actually has different aim. The Arab NATO for now exists only on the paper, and even on the paper not all its signatories are in agreement on all of its stated goals. Moreover, the actual formation timeline is questionable and depends on the pace that Trump administration and Pentagon would take to deliver the weapons they have just sold to the Saudis, and the internal dynamics of the alliance in the making, and its individual members that have widely different military capabilities. As the NATO itself seems to be in disarray, the formation of its Arab equivalent is even more quizzical ― especially as a Trump project.

Erdogan is buying Russian S-400 because he fears that should the war in Syria and Iraq escalate, and the US pushes for the Kurdish state, Turkey itself would be subject to territorial loss. The shifting alliances and abandoning of allies is not a novelty in the American foreign policy, on the contrary ― it is something of a rule rather than the exception, and Erdogan seems to have grasped the possibility of this scenario being replayed with him at the helm of Turkey, and is trying to avoid ill fate of his neighbors.

At this stage Turkish president probably fears the destiny of Iraq’s long time ruler Saddam Hussein whom America first supported against Iran, then labeled dictator and finally deposed in the most gruesome way.

Erdogan has been already widely described in the Western media as a villain and a dictator. There was an attempted military coup last year, which he believes was directed (and likely aided) by the US. From this vantage point, Erdogan is justifiably cautious.

Doğu Perinçek, leader of the Turkey’s Patriotic Party (Vatan), believes that the Erdogan “got caught on the hook” by Washington.

In an interview with Russian Sputnik Turkey, he said “An attempt to divide Syria or Iraq would mean an attempt to divide Turkey. Moreover, this is also an attack aimed to shatter Erdogan’s power. Washington’s tactic is to isolate Erdogan in the international arena”. The only way for Turkey to “avoid a territorial division” is to “develop cooperation with Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran,” he believes.

The pressing question then is, if Turkey is seriously reconsidering its alliance with the West and turning towards Russia and Iran led regional block, what is the future of NATO Incirlik base? What role would Turkish base in Qatar play? What with the US base in Qatar, should Qatar too change priorities and form alliances with Russia and Iran?

Amidst a serious and deepening rift between GCC countries and Qatar, Turkey’s key ally in the Gulf, there’s a possibility that the announced purchase of Russian systems might end up in the Gulf peninsula nation should the US decide to move its base, and Turkey decides to fill the void, as it already has a military base in the country.

International isolation and campaign of demonizing both Turkey and Qatar seem to have counter-effects. Instead of pushing them apart this strategy is pushing two once major Western allies firmly and inevitably into the Russian embrace.

Trump’s truly big (arms) deal with the Saudis has so far only managed to divide the Arab Gulf states. The security the deal promised to deliver seems further now than ever. Was it a genuine mistake by the inexperienced Trump administration, lack of strategic forethought or something more sinister, and who are the real villains in the Middle East?

Article published in Geostrategic Media: http://geostrategicmedia.com/2017/06/russia-ready-to-supply-turkey-with-s-400-but-why-does-turkey-need-it/

Photo credit AFP

Published in Tribune


Maria Dubovikova: I would like to start our conversation with the question we ask all the IMESClub experts: How would you characterize this decade for the Middle East?

Irina Zviagelskaya: Decade? If you tell me at what time the countdown begins?.. 

M.D. From 2003!

I.Z.: From 2003... Basically, it depends on what we are talking about. There is a number of problems, which, unfortunately, have remained unsolved, and have turned into a kind of Middle Eastern routine. I mean, first of all, the Arab-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately this conflict has not undergone any major positive changes. And we still say that it is necessary for the Palestinians to make a deal with Israel, for Israel  - to be more attentive to the Arab Peace Initiative, and for the members of the "Quartet" - to be more active in this direction. But what happens... From time to time, as we know, the Israelis and the Palestinians gather and talk, and even now there are ongoing negotiations. But, unfortunately, the result is very negative, just as expected. And I fear that the conflict will continue for some time. 

As far as the overall situation in the Middle East is concerned, I believe that the changes are rather serious. First of all, they are connected with the change of regimes. These regimes were leaving for different reasons and on different occasions. In  2003, the U.S. and the allied forces invaded Iraq and the dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown, which, unfortunately, has not led to a complete stabilization of the situation in Iraq, but to the radical  change of  interconfessional ratio in the political system. And I must say that general Saddam Hussein’s leave has marked the beginning of the leave of other leaders who had spent a long time at their places, and to whom we have accustomed. If Saddam Hussein’s leave was due to the external factor, other leaders, as we know, began leaving under the influence of the internal factors. Although I do not rule out the external pressure, which also took place. The update of the political face of the Arab world is quite a significant result of this decade.


M.D.: The Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar are beginning to play one of the key roles in the Middle East now. Due to huge financial resources they have potential influence and ability to push certain initiatives that will be in their geopolitical interests. From your point of view, is their influence on the development of the Middle East positive or negative?

I.Z.: Well, I would not put the question this way, as, if you say that they have a certain influence, pursuing their own interests, then it means that there may be some tactical changes in their position, because the interests are also changing, as well as the idea of what is required in the very moment, and what will be required in the future. But I would like to focus on another issue. First of all, this concerns Qatar. Saudi Arabia has been playing a rather important role in the region for a long time. But Qatar would like to be perceived as a new powerful player, especially in the context of the Arab awakening. A country that has vast financial resources, was able to increase its influence not only using traditional methods, such as arms shipments, aid to the forces solving the problems important for Qatar, and the direct military actions, as it was in Libya, but also by the means of a huge media resource. It is an amazing thing. Because a small Qatar has managed to create such media resource, that puts it in line with the most advanced nations of the world. And I believe that this is an achievement. And I want to focus attention on this. The leverage is changing. And that is very important. Even a small country that we all considered quite a traditional state from a purely formal point of view, basing on its political system, is able to use such instruments. This very traditional state easily manipulates and uses modern methods to influence the minds.


M.D.: Let's go a bit back to the beginning of our interview. You have already mentioned the Arab-Israeli conflict. How has the current situation in the region influenced it? How much have the Arab Spring, the Syrian problem affected the opportunity to resolve the conflict?

I.Z.: There is an opinion, and it is essentially possible to agree with, that as a result of all those violent processes taking place in the Middle East and the Arab world, the Arab-Israeli and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, has faded into the insignificance. It is not insistent anymore. The world community has focused its attention entirely on other countries and processes. But while acknowledging the validity of this conclusion, I still believe that we cannot say that what is happening in the Arab world has just finally put an end to the possibility of a settlement. It was always something not too certain, and it did not change. I would not dramatize the situation too much in this case. It is bad in itself. But you can look at it in a different way. On the one hand, of course, in the current circumstances Israel is not particularly interested in returning the territories, in taking some steps, quite painful for the country, that are, moreover, difficult to explain to a large part of the Israeli population. But on the other hand, in the face of large-scale uncertainty that rules over the whole region, any kind of certainty in its relations with Palestine would be to its advantage. So I'm not sure that everything is lost. But I am not optimistic. I think that a lot of effort will be required to solve this problem.


M.D.: And how does the changes in the US policy, in the US attitude to the conflict, to Israel and current establishing of bridges with Iran, with the new president Rouhani, influence the process of conflict resolution?

I.Z.: The U.S. attempts to enter into a real dialogue with Rouhani respond primarily to American interests. And I'm not sure if it leads to deterioration in US-Israeli relations. Of course, Israel can perceive it rather negatively. But it seems to me that, however, this will not have any effect on Israel. It all depends on what will be the outcome of these negotiations. At the same time, there is a slight possibility that Iran will completely renounce its nuclear program. I do not believe in it, there are too many objects that will obviously continue to work. So, since there is uncertainty, the desire of Israel to consider Iran as an existential threat will remain. Even if the United States conduct negotiations with Iran, this threat will persist, because Israel is looking at Iran from its own point of view. There is a red line for Israel about which it is constantly talking. Actually this red line was first mentioned in the General Assembly by Netanyahu. Israel will consider the possibility of its own unilateral action. Clearly this shows the desire to chill the US willingness to establish a dialogue with Iran. We'll see what happens. In general, while there are changes, some things in the Middle East remain constant. I am not sure whether it is fortunate or not. And in particular, I am not sure that the arrival of a new president can radically change Iranian policy in the region and make it give up the nuclear program.


M.D. From your point of view, will the Syrian civil war play a positive or a negative role in the relations between Russia and the United States, particularly in regard to all the Middle East problems?

I.Z.: I have always been thinking that, unfortunately, Syria has recently become a rather sharp issue dividing Russia and the United States due to a number of circumstances. And this is a dangerous trend. In the end, it's clear that our relations with the U.S. are very important as any relations between two great powers, influencing the development of world. It causes real anxiety when such a question as Syrian, which, despite its significance is still not ranked first in the United States and Russia priorities, becomes a bone of contention, and contributes to the deterioration of relations not only in the Middle East, but also beyond its boundaries. I consider positive what happened as a result of the initiative to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons. And not only because our diplomacy has shown its professionalism in this case. I think that the main positive part is just the fact that it was a compromise situation. That both the U.S. and Russia were able to find common ground on this issue, were able to feel how important this question is for the future joint steps for a political settlement of the situation. In this case, it's clear that the destruction of chemical weapons does not affect the civil war and the opposition parties per se. But this reveals a very important point. The fact is that in current situation Assad becomes a partner in certain activities and negotiations. In these circumstances it is not possible to ignore him. Anyway, his willingness to destroy weapons and to participate in this process enhances his legitimacy. Therefore, in my opinion, all the useless suggestions that “he should go away first, and then we'll talk”, become irrelevant. There are various ways to treat Al Assad. But the fact remains certain. The agreement on the national reconciliation will be impossible without his participation. He may not personally take part in negotiations, but it will still involve people that are part of his entourage, who are from his government. In my opinion this is the starting point. The opposition requirements are unrealistic. But this just affirms that the US and Russia should act together. Although I believe their ability to influence the rivals is still limited, however, given the United States and its allies, and given the position of Russia, we can hope that eventually, maybe not now, we will still be able to induce the parties to sit down at the negotiating table.


M.D. Do you think Geneva-2 will eventually take place? Chances that it won’t take place are still rather strong. And if it never takes place, what are the consequences of such a failure for states, both regional and extra-regional, in particular, such as the U.S., Russia, say, France?

I.Z.: Well, I can say that, of course, there is very little hope that it will be held in the near future. And this is connected, first of all, as we all know, with a very fragmented opposition. Various organizations within the opposition hold different opinions, always the hard ones. The director of our institute Vitaly Naumkin even said that it is better not to try to create a single delegation of the opposition, but to let them form three or four delegations, and make each put its own signature. This option is also theoretically possible. It is extremely difficult to imagine how they can be gathered under one roof, though some attempts have already been made. Lets suppose, that despite all the efforts the Geneva-2 will not take place. I think it will bode ill. Firstly, it will show an absolute weakness of the international community. Its inability to solve such problem as a termination of a bloody conflict, civil war in a relatively small Middle Eastern country. Secondly, I believe, it will show a very low level of interaction between the global and regional international actors, which is also a very negative factor. And basically, I think, if no political decisions are taken, no one knows for how long people will continue to suffer and die in Syria. We must do everything to stop this process.

Published in Interviews

IMESClub: Comment pourriez-vous caractériser la décennie passée pour le Moyen Orient?

Mansouria Mokhefi: La décennie de l’impasse du soi-disant processus de paix.

La décennie de la croissance lente mais déterminée de colère et de désespoir parmi la jeunesse arabe.

Une décennie où les femmes ont connu une émancipation et une augmentation de leur rôle considérables à la suite de la croissance de l'éducation des femmes.

La décennie de polarisation entre les islamistes et non-islamistes, les extrémistes et les modérés..

La décennie qui vient de s’écouler a vu l’idée de démocratie faire son chemin même si elle n’a pas réussi à trouver sa voie. La démocratisation de l’enseignement, l’accès aux nouvelles technologies, la chute de la natalité et le recul de l’âge du mariage ont favorisé l’émancipation des femmes et leur accès à des professions qui se sont d’ailleurs largement féminisées.

Sur le plan politique, la désaffection à l’égard des chefs d’Etat accrochés au pouvoir, l’ampleur de la corruption et l’installation du népotisme ont accentué la manque de confiance des populations à l’égard de leurs  dirigeants et institutions créant ce qui fut considéré comme un véritable divorce entre le peuple et le Pouvoir.

L’absence de perspectives, la médiocrité de la formation ainsi que le chômage  ont  acculé la plus grande partie de la population de ces pays, notamment la jeunesse, à un désespoir qui a pris différentes formes. Il s`agit de laradicalisation et de l`extrémisme, de la survie dans l’illégalité (l’économie informelle a connu un énorme développement ces dernières années) et de l`émigration, quel qu’en soit le moyen.

La décennie qui vient de s’écouler a confirmé l’échec politique et économique des pays du Moyen Orient, un échec qui ne pouvait déboucher que sur l’explosion.


IMESCLub: Quelles fautes ont été commises par acteurs intérieurs, ainsi que par les acteurs extérieursq au niveau régional?

Mansouria Mokhefi: Le déficit démocratique, la recherche de la croissance sans le développement, aussi bien que la montée des radicalismes religieux sont les produits de la mauvaise gouvernance qui a trop longtemps régné dans ces pays. Les alignements sur les politiques occidentales (économie, énergies, immigrations, luttes contre le terrorisme) n’ont pas eu raison du profond anti américanisme  qui parcourt ces sociétés et qui s’est considérablement étendu ces dernières années, suite aux guerres menées par les Etats-Unis dans la région. La recherche de la paix avec Israël ou du maintien du statu quo n’ont pas été accompagnés par la lutte contre des sentiments et contre des discours antisémites. Pourtant, il s`agit des sentiments et des discours antisémites dans des sociétés qui, même si elles sont de plus en plus concernées prioritairement par leurs conditions sociales et leurs problèmes intérieurs, continuent néanmoins de considérer Israël comme étant á l’origine de tous les malheurs du monde arabe.

Par leur politique pro-israélienne (soutien militaire, économique et financier ; acceptation de l’expansion des  colonies) , par les guerres qui ont été menées en Irak et en Afghanistan, ainsi que par  leurs promesses non tenues ( démocratie, liberté, état palestinien),  les Etats-Unis ont fini par être perçus comme les ennemis des Arabes et des Musulmans.  Ce n’est pas une erreur, mais une suite d’erreurs tragiques de la part des Etats-Unis qui explique la faiblesse de leur voix, de leur crédibilité etde leur influence aujourd’hui.

Au niveau de la résolution du conflit israélo-palestinien, l’intransigeance d’Israël d’un coté et l’impuissance des Palestiniens ( divisés, manquant de soutien populaire) de l’autre  ont gelé toutes les discussions/ négociations possibles sans toutefois geler la poursuite des colonisations .


Quel est le rôle des pays du Golfe dans la stabilisation et dans le développement de la région après le Printemps arabe et après les bouleversements ? Est-ce ce rôle positif ou négatif?

Mansouria Mokhefi : Les pays du Golfe, l`Arabie Saoudite y compris, sont obsédés par leur sécurité et la stabilité dans la région du Golfe d’abord. Toute leur politique régionale est dictée par ce besoin de sécurité et de stabilité, que ce soit en s’opposant á l’Iran perçu comme une très grave menace, en facilitant l’arrivée au pouvoir de mouvements islamistes susceptibles de favoriser la mise en place du plus grand espace sunnite et de les préserver de toute contestation á l’intérieur, en offrant l`accueil et l`hébergement aux bases militaires américaines, la protection américaine demeurant l’ultime garantie de cette stabilité. 

Mais aucune stabilisation de la région ne sera garantie ni par les Américains, ni par toute autre puissance occidentale (la France a signé des accords de défense avec le Qatar)  tant que le rôle de l’Iran comme puissance régionale ne sera pas admis et reconnu de tous.

Le printemps arabe a divisé dans un premier temps les pays du Golfe (le Qatar et l`Arabie Saoudite notamment) mais ils se sont tous retrouvés unis pour soutenir Bahreïn dans la répression du soulèvement de la majorité chiite du royaume, stabilité oblige, suprématie du sunnisme dans la région oblige !  Les pays du Golfe n’ont peut-être pas introduit la division entre shiites et sunnites  mais ils ont créé et ont nourri une guerre entre le chiisme et le sunnisme n’a pas fini de ravager la région

 L’Arabie saoudite  qui s’est toujours montrée hostile aux mouvements du Printemps arabe a finalement été en mesure de siffler la fin de la partie en Egypte en ouvrant á la chute de Morsi et au retour de « l’état profond ».Cela est cependant loin d ‘assurer le retour au calme et á la stabilité dans la région surtout quand, par ailleurs et dans le même temps, dans le cadre de son opposition á  l’Iran, elle soutient en armes et finances l’opposition au régime de Damas - une opposition qui, aggraverait le chaos de la région, si elle parvenait au pouvoir.

En bref, le rôle des pays du Golf,  loin de constituer une garantie de la stabilité de la région, risque de prolonger et aggraver les risques d`instabilité dans toute la région.


IMESClub: Les révoltes arabes: Qui sont les perdants et les gagnants à l'Est et à l'Ouest?

Mansouria Mokhefi: D’abord  à l’intérieur des sociétés qui ont connu le Printemps arabe, les perdants sont incontestablement et en premier lieu les jeunes. Cette jeunesse qui est descendue dans les rues pour réclamer une meilleure gouvernance et plus de droits, s’est retrouvée, dans le cadre d’économies qui se sont effondrées,  avec un chômage accru, et des problèmes d’éducation et de formation non résolus. Représentant la plus grande partie de la population, elle est néanmoins exclue des nouvelles institutions, des instances du pouvoir qui sont encore entre les mains de « vieux ». Les Jeunes sont donc les premiers perdants de ces révolutions.

Ensuite viennent les femmes : elles sont descendues dans les rues  pour exiger une meilleure reconnaissance de leurs droits et  un plus grand accès a la liberté.  Aujourd’hui non seulement le degré de représentativité n’a guère évolué, mais les femmes, du fait de la préséance de l’islamisme, ont toutes les raisons de penser que leurs droits ne constituent guère une priorité pour les nouveaux gouvernements, que les islamistes ne leur reconnaissent aucune autre place dans la société que celle qui les confine à la maison.

De plus la violence qui s’exprime de diverses façons  (politique avec l’assassinat en Tunisie de deux leaders de gauche ; confessionnelle avec les attentats contre des chrétiens et les incendies d’églises, religieuse et sectaire avec la destruction de mausolées et autres marabouts- Tunisie, Mauritanie, Mali-  et la lapidation de Chiites – Egypte) s’est aussi exprimée contre les femmes : depuis l’exigence de porter le voile, jusqu'à la recrudescence des viols .

A l’extérieur des pays concernés, les gagnants du Printemps arabe  sont pour le moment la Turquie qui a su profiter de son aura (le modèle turc) et de sa politique étrangère pro arabe ( soutien palestinien) pour se positionner en faveur du printemps arabe.  Même si les dérives autoritaires sont dénoncées en occident, elles ne remettent pas en cause le statut de la Turquie qui continue d’apparaître aux pays arabes comme le seul pays musulman ayant pu concilier développement économique, éducation, et démocratie et libertés.   Apres la Turquie, on peut dire que l’autre pays gagnant c`est la Russie : retour sur la scène moyen orientale, affirmation d une posture solide et intraitable, retour au tête á tête avec les Etats-Unis etc….’

L’autre gagnant  est Israël : d’abord complètement surpris puis débordé par les changements dans la région , Israël ne peut que se féliciter de voir la situation en Egypte revenir aux mains de l’armée. Israël peut aussi d’ores et déjà se féliciter de l’isolement du Hamas (le grand perdant dans cette nouvelles configuration régionale) et espère dans  la chute du régime de Assad, l’affaiblissement de l`Iran et la fin du Hizbollah. 

Outre le Hamas, les grands perdants sont incontestablement les pays européens qui n’ont eu ni compréhension de la situation, ni vison ou stratégie commune en réponse aux divers bouleversements.


IMESCLub: Quelles sont les perspectives de l'intensification des interdépendances entre le continent africain et le Moyen-Orient (l'Afrique du Nord, en particulier) à travers les filets et les réseaux islamiques? Quelles conséquences apporte-t-elle, cette intensification, au système régional et à la sécurité mondiale.

Mansouria Mokhefi: Il n’y a pas de système régional efficace et performant, capable de lutter contre les risques de déstabilisation qui demeurent très élevés malgré l’intervention de la France au Mali.

 Aujourd’hui, face à la recrudescence des trafics, de la violence et des extrémismes, une réponse maghrébine commune (tous les pays maghrébins sont concernés, même le Maroc qui a longtemps cru constituer une exception) s’impose plus que jamais  même si les moyens des uns et des autres diffèrent grandement.

Au cœur d`une réponse maghrébine, la stratégie et les moyens de l’Algérie seront déterminants car seule l’Algérie a une armée puissante et  l’expérience de la lutte anti- terroriste. L’Algérie qui, avant le chaos, engendré par l’effondrement de la Libye avait contribué au développement des groupes terroristes dans la région en repoussant vers le Sud (en facilitant les « couloirs ») les terroristes qui se trouvaient sur le territoire algérien. Si elle a pu fermer les yeux sur ce qui se passait au delà de ses frontières, le Sahel étant devenu une région poreuse et dangereuse, l’attaque contre le site gazier en janvier prouvant que  les frontières n’avaient pas le même sens pour les uns et les autres, l’Algérie ne peut plus ignorer ce qui se passe au delà de ses frontières. Sa coopération (soutien, encadrement) avec l armée tunisienne dans l’incapacité de rétablir et garantir l’ordre à la frontière algéro-tunisienne montre que le rôle de l’Algérie est incontournable au niveau régional et fondamental dans la lutte contre tous ces fléaux. Les deux régions Afrique et Maghreb qui se sont longtemps ignorés sont plus que jamais liés aujourd’hui  face á des menaces identiques. 

Published in Interviews