“A Russian wife equals a Russian spy.” This could be a phrase taken from the dialogue of an American Cold War era novel, but actually it is a genuine phrase that was uttered a few days ago at a conference in the US. And this phrase could serve as the perfect illustration of the current status of bilateral relations between the US and Russia.

Having started to deteriorate in 2014, the relationship between the two major powers is getting worse every year. The sanctions war, diplomatic scandals and media wars have all led to a multi-dimensional confrontation that is getting entirely out of control.

Worsening relations between Russia and the US are being fueled by the media on both sides. However, in the US the media is a bit more successful because it is more effective in influencing people. One can argue though that the current crisis has made ordinary Russians more informed about the US political system than any ordinary American citizen is about Russia’s geographical location.

Russians are interested in knowing about their rivals, while Americans prefer just to demonize and create fear. It is even clear in terms of science. In Russia, there are many experts on American policies and studies of the US are growing, attracting young people. However, American specialists are very few and research on Russia is limited. Thus Russia knows the US well — about its weaknesses, policies and approaches — while Russia remains a big question mark for the US, enveloped by fake perceptions, demonization and deep phobias.

But this is not a new Cold War. All that is happening between the two powers now has nothing to do with a clash between a prosperous democracy and its values against bloody dictatorship, it is not about a clash of ideas and doctrines — it is pure geopolitics.

The Middle East is transforming into the battlefield of Moscow and Washington, as a new world order is emerging amid a struggle of two paradigms: Russian and American. One particular trait of this confrontation is that the result is mostly predetermined not by the capacities of the rival states, but by the choices made by the minor players who are the subject of this confrontation.

Worsening US-Russia relationship is not about a clash of ideas and doctrines like during the Cold War — it is pure geopolitics.

– Maria Dubovikova

American policy toward the Middle East has already left a bloody print on the sand as well as growing chaos and instability. With Donald Trump’s arrival into power, the US position has become unpredictable.

The Russian position on Arab revolutions has not been the subject of widespread public interest, except in the case of Syria. Having abstained on Libya, Russia embarked on a vision that distinguishes between the interests of the Syrian regime in actual reforms and the prevention of Western intervention in the country, which would have disastrous consequences not only for the unity of Syria but also for the stability and security of the region. In Syria, the consequences would be far more disastrous than the West’s mission in Libya.

The US trying to kick Russia out of the region complicates the situation and threatens stability, but America is acting with only one purpose: Not to let Russia take the lead. Thus Syria is turning into a battleground between the Russian bear and the American eagle. The entire Arab region, including Syria’s neighbors, will be affected. It is like the African proverb: “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most.”

Confrontation between Moscow and Washington makes the world extremely unsafe, but their bilateral ties drastically lack a positive agenda and grounds for a sustainable dialogue. From the deteriorating American-Russian confrontation, only terrorist groups and organizations are benefiting. A recent exchange of classified information between the CIA and their Russian counterparts reportedly helped Russia prevent a terrorist act on its territory, and that raised hopes for a stabilization of ties. However, such positive moves are rare exceptions to the regular rules.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1211661

Photo credit: Jorge Silva/AP

Published in Tribune
Friday, 15 December 2017 00:10

Trump's Double Toe Loop

The recent decision of President Donald Trump with regard to Jerusalem is just one more surprise in the endless series of surprises in the Middle East. Numerous analysts overlook the fact that there are actually two separate parts to the decision, which has proved fateful for the Middle East. It is a double toe loop. The first part is about recognizing the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while the second is about moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These two points are interrelated. More than this, one seems to logically stem from the other. But, as they say, opinions may differ.

 

While the situation in the White House has been evolving precisely in this direction ever since Trump's election, I must admit that, until the last moment, I did not want to believe that the president would take such a reckless step. There is no doubt that the move was made under the strong influence of a small group of incompetent people who determine Trump’s Middle Eastern Policy (leading U.S. experts specializing in the region that I have had a chance to talk with see them as incompetent). Their names are well known, as is the motivation behind their recommendations to the President of the United States, who quite enjoys surprising everybody. At least three of them are believed to be supporters of radical right-wing forces in Israel. Shibley Telhami, a Washington-based analyst at the Brookings Institution, wrote: “His advisors live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience.” At the same time, polls indicate that 81 per cent of Americans, including 71 per cent of Republicans, would prefer Trump to rely on experts in Middle Eastern diplomacy, not inexperienced members of his family and personal lawyers.

It is true that Trump is not abandoning his policy of seeking a truce between Israel and Palestine. However, if we are to believe a leaked plan allegedly devised by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and submitted by the latter to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salmad Al Saud, handing East Jerusalem over to the Palestinians as the capital of their future state (which appears to be nothing more than a handful of scattered territories). It is hard to imagine any Palestinian leader agreeing to such a plan. There are far more painless and certainly less disgraceful ways to commit suicide. On the other hand, as Steven Simon, former United States National Security Council senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, states in an article for The New York Times International Edition, “For all the talk from successive administrations, a Palestinian-Israeli peace has never been a strategic imperative for Washington”.

Let us list just a few of the possible consequences of Trump’s decisions.

Trump’s decision to bury the already modest results secured by Barack Obama to improve Washington’s relations with the Islamic and Arabic worlds, shape an image of the United States that is not guided by Israel in its foreign policy and set a course that can be defined as neutral with regard to the conflict in the Middle East.

It delivers a deadly blow to the war on terror, and raises the threat of terrorist, extremist and radical religious and nationalist organizations to mobilize new supporters, with terrorists and extremists taking advantage of the desperation of the Palestinians and the fury of Muslims.

It also undermines the reputation of the United Nations, the significance of the UN Security Council’s resolutions (which were passed with the participation of the United States) and, in the broader sense, international law.

It also affects the Middle East Quartet, which was on its last legs as it was, and is now a good as dead. Any attempts to resuscitate the format would be futile. Equally irrecoverable is one of the few channels of constructive foreign political interaction between Russia and the United States. This work needs to be continued, but merely for the sake of the process. There certainly will be no results.

It also undermines the positions of the moderate Palestinian leaders, who are already having a difficult time defending their views before their more radically inclined fellow countrymen.

It also damages the reputation of the allies of the United States around the world and in the Middle East, weakening the United States’ partnership with a number of influential Islamic states – states which had until now been the country’s closest partners. We are talking primarily here about Turkey, a NATO member. The partnership will probably remain, but there will be no more trust. On December 8, Le Figaro published the following headline about Trump’s demarche: “The U.S. President isolates his country in the international arena by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” President of France Emmanuel Macron stated in no uncertain terms that Trump’s decision contravened the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, which does not seem to bother the President of the United States. On the contrary, he appears to derive some kind of pleasure from it. It will be difficult for the Gulf monarchies, which are closely linked to the United States and are now starting to court Israel. Jordan, which is living through difficult times of its own, appears to be in a particularly difficult situation.

Trump’s decision strengthens the positions of Iran, the exact opposite to what the President of the United States wants. We are reminded of 2003, when the United States’ invasion of Iraq made Iran the most influential external force in that country.

 

The decision is ruining the very concept of the Middle Eastern peace process, which contains such issues as refugees, borders and Jerusalem (the most important and difficult issue), all of which lying at the core of the talks on the so-called final status.

The wave of violence caused by Trump’s decision will be difficult to stop, as the U.S. President does not back down from his word. Anti-U.S. sentiments will continue to mount in the Islamic world, which will put the lives of American citizens at risk. The threat does not just come from the Middle East, but also from Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.

Trump is doing a disservice to Israel, which needs peace with Palestine in order to secure a safe and comfortable life for its citizens.

Talking about the possible variants, some of my colleagues, the most authoritative American experts on the region, are attempting to move Trump to rectify the damage that his decision has most definitely done to the interests of the United States. In particular, Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and now a professor at Princeton University, suggested in an article for the New York Daily News that Trump did not have to repeal the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. All he had to do was announce that, in the future, when the plan to create two states in Palestine is implemented, he would also recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Trump might also announce that, following the implementation of this plan, he would open a U.S. embassy to that new state in Jerusalem. It is, however, unlikely that the overconfident President will heed the voices of those naively aiming to “correct” his policy.

Why does Trump Need This? And Why is he Doing it Now?

Some believe that Trump wants to suck up to Israel’s right wing (even though much seems have already been done in that direction), and to Netanyahu in particular, who might capitalize on this and avoid prosecution. On the other hand, Trump, as people have come to believe, is primarily guided by domestic policy considerations. Polls carried out by the University of Maryland in November 2017 indicate that 59 per cent of Americans would prefer for the president to abstain from taking sides in the Israel–Palestine conflict. In addition, 57 per cent, including a majority of Republicans, believe he is leaning towards Israel. Another survey, conducted by the Brookings Institution, indicates that 63 per cent of those polled, including 44 per cent of Republicans, are against moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Even among the respondents who represent Trump’s main beacon of support in U.S. society, Evangelist Christians, only 53 per cent support the moving of the embassy, with as much as 40 per cent being against the move.

Or does he want to appease the Evangelicals? But we have already seen that not everything is clear-cut with the Evangelicals. Nevertheless, Netanyahu is targeting this segment of U.S. society. According to Steven Simon, Netanyahu believes that the next generation of Americans, or the one after that, will no longer contain liberal Jews, and that Evangelical Christians alongside Orthodox Jews will stand up to counteract America’s pressure on Israel.

 

Or is Trump’s idea to simply shock the international community once again, forcing it to live with any decision that may take his fancy, even the most extravagant ones?

If Netanyahu hopes that the common interest of Israel and Saudi Arabia to restrain Iran will force King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad to reconcile with the fact that all hopes have been lost for retaining Muslim control over at least some part of the third most significant city in the country (after Mecca and Medina), he is obviously wrong. Israel, and the United States in particular, have always underestimated the central place the Jerusalem issue takes in the eyes of Muslims. It is true that the Saudi Arabian rulers currently view Iran as a greater problem for themselves and the region than the Israel–Palestine conflict. However, the Saudi leader cannot possibly lose Jerusalem. James Dorsey, a well-known Singapore-based expert on the Middle East, believes that Mr. Trump’s recognition and any plan to grant Israel full control of Jerusalem would see the genie turning on the kingdom and its ruling family

It appears that the events in the region are giving Russia a window of opportunity just in time to revitalize the country’s weighted and respectful attitude towards all of its Middle Eastern partners and highlight its role as a unique mediator in conflicts.

They say that an experienced figure skater can do a double toe loop easily. Could the same be said of the President of the United States?

Article published in RIAC: http://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/analytics/dvoynoy-tulup-trampa/

Фото: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Published in Tribune

December 9, 2017 was the 30th year anniversary of the first Intifada. So far, the Palestinian responses of yesterday took three tracks: Diplomatic, nonviolent, and violent. Here is a description of each, and I will close with some conclusions.

The diplomatic track included two crucial steps that were taken immediately: One is cutting the relations with the US administration, and the declaration by Azzam Al Ahmad, member of the central committee of Fateh, that President Abbas will not meet Mike Pence on December 19 in Bethlehem as was scheduled. The second was about submitting a complaint to the UN Security Council by the PLO Mission to the UN against the USA. It is said that point 3 of the article number 27 of the UN Security Council does not allow the USA to use the veto right against a complaint submitted against it. It is also said that nevertheless if the veto will be used, then the next step will be about going to the UN General Assembly to make a resolution under the “United for Peace” clause, which will be an obligatory resolution. 

The nonviolent track expressed itself through the hundreds of demonstrations that took place yesterday in East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

At the same time rockets were launched to Israel from Gaza, this time by Al Qaida and ISIS-affiliated groups. Hamas called for an Intifada without defining clearly its tools, while the Islamic Jihad and the PFLP called for struggle against the Israeli occupation by all means. 

These three tracks have the following significance: 

The new diplomatic track of cutting contacts with the Americans, if it continues, will mean the end of counting on negotiations as the path to the Palestinian statehood, and going instead to the path of popular resistance (as it was called by Jibril Rajoub in his recent interview with Al Arabiyya), and motivating the Arab world and the international community to take steps against the Israeli occupation and to pressure the United States by using all the diplomatic and the legal means in that direction.

The nonviolent track will be, like it or not, confused with the violent ones. The reasons for this confusion is manifold. In this regard, they are not only about the inability of the Palestinian young people to be fully rational when they are in a mood of rage and anger, but there is something deeper that has to do with the full collapse of trust in the political process of negotiations and its bitter harvest over the last 26 years since the Madrid Conference. Accordingly, it is time for the political leadership to plan and lead a full and continuous nonviolent campaign. 

In order for the leadership to be able to convince its people to do so, it will need international support by giving it some concrete results to present to its people, such as more recognitions for the Palestinian State, building Palestinian facts on the ground in area C and East Jerusalem, rebuilding Gaza, creating free access between Gaza and West Bank, and finally taking care of the dignity of the Palestinian refugees until their right of return issue is solved. The non-achievement of these steps will create the conditions that are conducive to growth of violent extremist groups in both West Bank and Gaza, and the Palestinian refugee camps in the Arab neighbouring countries as well.

Article published in Valdai club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/trump-declaration-and-the-palestinian-response/

Published in Tribune

President Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem represents a crucial change in the American policy. This change can be described as a shift from the previous biased mediator position to the new position of the partner of Israel in its plans towards the Palestinians.

 This shift is not only a violation of the international law and the UN resolutions regarding Jerusalem, but also a violation of the 1993 Declaration of principles, signed in the White House and known as the Oslo Accords. According to that Agreement (Article 5), Jerusalem as a whole, including its East and West parts, will be subject to negotiations between the two sides. The agreement also warned against any procedures to be taken unilatarely in a way that would prejudice against the permanent status issues including Jerusalem. President Trump unilaterally decided to go beyond this Oslo commitment and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel before an agreement about its borders and its division between the two sides. This is a crucial violation.

 

Process-wise, this move to unilateralism goes against the multilateral/international concerted efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As such, it will give the Israeli government additional motives to increase its unilateral steps to change the landscape of Jerusalem in a way that will leave no place and no space for the East Jerusalem Palestinians in the city. They will face more and more ethnic cleansing and forced migration. Different means will be used in this regard such as evacuation of the Bedouin neighborhoods around Jerusalem, ousting Palestinian communities from the city (such as Kufur Aqab, and Shufat Refugee camps), and identity cards confiscation. 

 The response to this American move might take one of two shapes: the first is to give President Trump a chance to develop the “ultimate deal” and present it to the parties in the coming months. Those who adopt such a position say that President Trump referred in his speech to the two-states solution, the preparation for the deal, and that the borders of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem will be decided by negotiations. That is in addition to his call for preservation of the status of the Holy places in Jerusalem.

The second argues that the hopes on the Americans to present a solution is over after 26 years of trial and error in the negotiations since Madrid 1991 conference till today. As such, this response calls for adoption of another path: to get to the Palestinian State in the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. It includes creating a Palestinian nonviolent campaign for independence, establishing Palestinian facts on the ground, especially in area C, Gaza and East Jerusalem, linking Gaza and West Bank together, promoting the Palestinian people’s unity, stuggling for more international recognition of the State of Palestine, and suing occupation in international courts.

The second looks to be a path for the creation of a new momentum towards Palestinian statehood. It advocates that the Palestinians should start this path, and then to ask the international community to support it as a path to their national emancipation.

As such, the second position argues the hit can be transformed into an opportunity for the Palestinians to get their right of self-determination in their independent state.

Article published in Valdai Club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/trump-s-decision-on-jerusalem/

Photo credit: Mohammed Zaatari/AP

Published in Tribune

In today’s speech president Trump announced his decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem without giving details about to which part of Jerusalem, but it is expected to be moved to East Jerusalem. His declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel will have a very negative effect on the peace process, and may even freeze it for the time being, opening the gates for extremists and radicals who will start working underground and even openly. They will be having hubs and will be harbored by many people. In the past they were working secretly and now they will be overtly operating against American and Israeli interests throughout the world. This deal between the Americans and Israel could not happen without an Arab approval of what is called the “Big Deal”, which means that the Palestinians would be having their own capital in Abu Dis, which is located near Jerusalem city. This could not have happened without this kind of deal, without some Arabs. The Palestinians will not be having their own independent state, which they were dreaming of in 1995 when they signed Oslo agreement. Back then the White House already believed that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, even though the other presidents of the US did not have the courage to announce it since then. But Donald Trump announced it without even thinking of any consequences and repercussions that would happen. That is why before he announced it, he asked the military, American Marines, to be ready for any outcome that would take place in the Middle East or anywhere in the world.

 

 

Photo credit: Renewer/Fotolia

 

Published in Commentaries

Trump occupies his post for already a year and during this time his Middle-Eastern politics has become an object of heated criticism from active and retired diplomats, Middle-Eastern experts and political scientists. There is even an opinion that Trump, unfortunately, listens more to his relatives, so it is unclear where the White House ends and where Trump’s family begins. He listens more to the opinions of unqualified people on the Middle East, than to the experienced diplomats. Moreover, the situation in the Department of State remains rather volatile. Despite one year has already passed, many offices remain unoccupied and Tillerson prefers a rather authoritarian mode of management, without listening to the Middle-Eastern specialists. At the same time there are several points of disagreement between Tillerson and Trump on the Middle East, which have become public.

Speaking about this very decision, now I can say that there is absolutely no logic in it. Even from the point of view of the US national interests in the region. There is an opinion that many of Trump’s advisers have planted in his mind an idea that now the situation in the Arab world has changed so much that the Arab states do not pay attention to the Palestinian issue and that his decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize this city as Israel’s capital will not provoke backlash in the Arab world. He thinks that maybe Arabs will have some minor protests, but not like in the 50ies and 60ies. Probably, such thoughts made Trump pass such decision. But there is absolutely not logic in it, and the reaction of Arab states, even of Saudi Arabia that now established special relations with Israel, of Iraq, Egypt, of European states like France, is naturally negative and will complicate the resolution of many other regional issues. This will hamper Trumps policy not only in the Palestinian-Israeli dimension, but also in Europe and in the Islamic world as a whole.

Photo credit Mandel Ngan/AFP

Published in Commentaries

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

It looks like that the international community has taken the final decision to put to an end the seven-year war in Syria with intensive conferences in the pipeline in November and December to reach a political settlement that secure the return of refugees to their homeland. However, both superpowers are right now strategically making counter moves, as Russia regards Iranian troops in Syria supportive and ancillary to the Russian forces and the Syrian army while the US considers Iranian troops, particularly those close to Jordan and Israel an existential threat to both countries.

Upcoming conferences in Astana, Riyadh, Sochi and Geneva prove the two superpowers had agreed on the final formula of the Syrian conflict. Albeit this could not have been achieved without the coordination of Moscow and Washington on the means to end the bloodshed and to silence the cannons, mainly with the Americans confirming that the future of Bashar Al Assad will be discussed after the transition period, while Russians insist on the principle that only Syrians have the right to select their leadership.

The forces involved in the Syrian conflict are now more aware that the war in Syria will be determined by the battle in Southern parts of Syria for its strategic importance today. The talk between Putin and Trump about the political agreement in Syria without prejudice to the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad means that there is a complete change in the American and Arab position regarding the terms of the future negotiation between all parties.

The expansion of the “de-escalation zone” in the south of Syria means that there is a tendency to resolve the Syrian crisis for fear of its repercussions on neighbors - Jordan and Israel - who are concerned about the expansion of Iranian forces and its factions along the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

 

Competition and enmity between Russia and the United States still exist in spite of some breakthrough politically in some areas. The United States is opposed to the fundamentalist presence in power, supporting the opposition, trying to impose economic sanctions on the regime, trying to drain the regime and its capabilities in the crisis, as well as isolating and exhausting Russia and seeing the Syrian crisis as a quagmire that will trap Russian forces

Shehab Al Makahleh



Jordan has asked both the United States and Russia to pay more attention to its security concerns. This was raised by King Abdullah II in an interview with the Washington Post in April 2017. He was also the first to warn in 2004 of a Shiite crescent extending from Tehran to the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria.

Riyadh is hosting a meeting for about 140 members of the Syrian opposition on November 22-24 at a time when the United Nations prepares to convene a new round of Geneva meetings between Syrian opposition and the government on November 28, and Russia announcing the postponement of the Sochi meeting from mid-November to December. All these are indicators that regional and international powers are striving to reach a settlement as the Middle East cannot stand another bloody year due to so many sectarian grudges that would be aggravating regional stability.  

Riyadh meet crucial 

The coming Riyadh meeting is very important as it will help pick about 80 members to represent the Syrian opposition to the coming Geneva meeting or to Sochi. A unified opposition will be stronger and will help better negotiate the future of Syria.

The 8th round of the UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva will focus on the next phase of Syria as the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said at the end of October that the “talks had reached a moment of truth”.

Turkey and Russia have agreed to focus on a political solution in Syria underlining the close coordination between the two countries that have played key roles in the Syrian conflict. That was clear in a joint statement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Teyyep Erdogan in Sochi on November 13, 2017. Moreover, the American President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart agreed during the Asia-Pacific Summit in Vietnam that “there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria,” calling on all parties to take part in the Geneva process.

It is known that the three countries now are arranging the next scenario for Syria, as they are the three guarantor countries which brokered a ceasefire in Syria.

The recent expansion of the de-escalation zones in Southern Syria by the Jordanian borders aims to pave the way for a political transition and the announcement of a new draft constitution before Jordan and Syria sit to discuss opening the two crossing points: Jaber- Naseeb and Ramtha-Dera’a which have been a lifelinefor both countries.

The Russians started to defend Syria to keep it unified and to keep the Syrian government in full control of the whole territories to avoid any regional spillover.

Competition and enmity between Russia and the United States still exist in spite of some breakthrough politically in some areas. The United States is opposed to the fundamentalist presence in power, supporting the opposition, trying to impose economic sanctions on the regime, trying to drain the regime and its capabilities in the crisis, as well as isolating and exhausting Russia and seeing the Syrian crisis as a quagmire that will trap Russian forces.

Russia has expressed its concern that Assad will become a playing card for Iran, which has become a major knot for the Russians and a card in the conflict in Syria. Moscow has realized that Tehran was sharing Russian interests in the region, which emerged, especially after the Russian call for the integration of Iranian militias into the regular Assad forces. However, Iran also cooperated with Turkey in this context, which contributed to the Iranian-Turkish rapprochement, enhanced by mutual visits and the development of economic relations in the field of gas.

When Turkish Prime Minister said that: “Turkey is Iran;s gateway to Europe, and Tehran is our gateway to Asia, and this guarantees us exceptional possibilities in the field of transport and logistical support,” by then the concerned regional and international powers had to take such statements into consideration that both countries will be joining efforts to have their joint agendas at the expense of other regional countries.

The question that arises is: Are we witnessing a solution for the Syrian conflict by year-end, or will this process last longer? The answer is in the coming three conferences which will be held before the end of the year and only a political solution will be suitable for the coming era.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/11/17/The-Syrian-conflict-between-the-American-anvil-and-the-Russian-hammer.html

Photo credit: REUTERS/ Omar Sanadiki

Published in Tribune

Article by Maria Al Makahleh Dubovikova and Shehab Al-Makahleh

Russia is finding it difficult to gain a foothold in the Middle East.

At a time when tensions between Moscow and Washington are on the rise, Russia is determined to have a greater say in global affairs, particularly in the tumultuous Middle East. At present, Russia considers itself as a major serious, honest and active player in the region and blames the United States for the chaos unfolding in the Middle East. Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to recreate the former Soviet Union in a new form on the world stage, particularly in the Middle East due to its proximity to Russia.

On the other hand, Washington is committed to Gulf states’ security as well as Israel’s stability and full protection from any aggression. Yet Russia has strong relationships with Middle Eastern and North African states that could function as a springboard for future influence. Indeed, Russia has become a magnet for Middle Eastern leaders who seek a new balance of power, as illustrated by the Jordanian and Saudi monarchs’ planned visits to Moscow in October.

The start of Russian intervention in the region dates back to the fall of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, with whom Moscow had historically enjoyed warm ties and mutual cooperation. The collapse of the Gaddafi regime happened as a result of non-involvement as Russia refrained from voting against the 2011 United Nations Security Council resolution against Gaddafi. This had been a wake-up call for Russia, driving it to re-engage in the region and to take a stronger stance on Syria.

Today, Russia bets on the end of the Syrian conflict before the year’s end. The Amman-based Military Operations Center (MOC) that was established by the US and its allies to monitor and train armed opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army and the Tribes Army, has finally been shut down. With the return of the Syrian Army to the south of the country, near the crossing point with Jordan, there are mounting signs that the conflict is drawing to a close, especially given that America is no longer backing the opposition, which now finds itself in disarray.

As a result, Moscow is driven to focus more on Libya, where it plans to build a strong presence and establish a base from which to control North Africa. To emphasize Tripoli’s renewed importance, Moscow is giving due concern to the country and its affairs. Indeed, on August 13, the Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow. Because Russia supports both Haftar and the Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who along with his government is recognized by the UN, the visit to Moscow appears aimed to broker a peace agreement to end the conflict in Libya, which has become a source of high risk to many countries in North Africa and Southern Europe.

This is the second time Russia received the two Libyan leaders in Moscow in 2017. Such meetings serve as a backdrop for Putin, who seeks to exert more pressure on the West to get more concessions regarding Ukraine and Syria.

Though Moscow wants to establish stable ties with many countries in the Middle East, it is difficult for Russia to find a strong foothold in the region, especially compared to that enjoyed by the US. This is because other players are trying to distract Russia by involving it in conflicts near its borders such as in Georgia and Ukraine. However, the Russian government has been planning, since the beginning of the Arab Spring, to build a presence in the Middle East at the expense of the Americans, the British and the French, benefitting from its impressive arms sales to the region in recent years.

Russia is not only affecting politics in Syria, Iraq and North Africa, but also those in the Arabian Peninsula, such as the crisis between Qatar and the other Gulf Cooperation Council members and the war in Yemen. Moscow tries to balance its policy toward Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain with non-interference. On the other hand, Moscow considers Tehran as a key player in the region and a main pillar of its stability. Russians view Iran as being influential in the Gulf, in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. Thus, this qualifies Russia to play the role of a mediator between Riyadh and Tehran to solve their regional dispute. In 2015, a meeting was held for Arab leaders in Morocco that set the stage for the UAE to align with Moscow, while Saudi Arabia would align with Washington.

In sum, Moscow has started to change the anti-Russian sentiment in the Middle East through its political, economic and media influence by partnerships, economic assistance, military assistance and strategic cooperation. Russia learned from previous lessons in Yemen, Iraq, Algeria and Afghanistan that, in order to be effective, it needs to be symbolically present without being extensively involved in these Middle Eastern affairs, as long as there are representatives or proxies that can help achieve the objectives with fewer harmful repercussions for Moscow.

Article published in Fair Observer: https://www.fairobserver.com/region/middle_east_north_africa/russia-role-middle-east-politics-syria-yemen-gulf-latest-news-16531/

Photo Credit: capitanoseye / Shutterstock.com

Published in Tribune

The agreement between the Syrian government and the armed opposition to cease hostilities in certain locations in Syria is seen as a principled success of the deal reached late June, that went into effect in July, on establishment of de-escalation zones in Eastern Ghouta and South Eastern Syria aimed to help end up the six-year war in the Arab country.

The new de-escalation deal would cover North Homs, Eastern Ghouta and South East regions of Syria by the Jordanian-Iraqi borders is slated for signing by the end of August–mid September 2017, and would pave the way for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

On August 2, 2017, Syrian government forces and armed opposition leaders have agreed to a ceasefire north of the city of Homs. The de-escalation zone created there will be monitored by Russian troops, and is the third of four planned “safe” areas.

Moscow is now in direct contact with the Americans, following series of meetings in Europe between security and military officials from both sides, to expand the “de-escalation zones” in Syria under the Astana agreement to include Northern Homs and Eastern Ghouta as well as Syrian desert between Iraq and Jordan – the areas which are deemed important by both the Syrian government and the Russians.

Experts from the United States and Russia are holding consultations on the expansion of the umbrella of de-escalation zones in four regions in Syria.  The truce on Homs, Al Waer neighborhood, has been announced August 2, 2017 after intense talks in a European capital between both Russians and Americans while the third truce will be announce later this month after Astana meetings. The expected date of the third truce will be around mid-September and will cover Eastern Ghouta. Syrian armed opposition factions have begun evacuating the last district they control in the city of Homs under a ceasefire deal reached with the government.

The Russians have already completed negotiations with Jordan on the monitoring of the recently established de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria, and on the Amman Declaration which is on its final stages before being announced this month in Astana.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov commented on American President Donald Trump’s statements on the efforts to reach a “second truce” in Syria, saying: “The Russian side is in contact with American partners about setting up de-escalation zones in Syria, and other topics for discussion in the context of Astana peace negotiations on Syria.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Jordan’s King Abdullah II late July had a phone conversation which covered many regional issues including the means to address the Jordanian concerns regarding settlement of the Syrian conflict.  Both leaders have discussed the measures taken by Russia so far to monitor the de-escalation zone in Southern Western parts of Syria and the Jordanian role to bring about a cease-fire in the war torn country, especially in the context of the implementation of the memorandum signed by the representatives of Russia, Jordan and the United States on 7 July, 2017 giving due importance to territorial integrity of Syria without calling for a regime change in pursuance with provisions of UN Resolution 2254.

The deal of ceasefire in northern Homs would not have been reached without a major Syrian army ground offensive to the north of the city backed by Russian air strikes.

The two sides of conflict: the Syrian army and the armed opposition have reached a dead-end in their in futile war, and now there is a there is a rising will amongst both sides to calm down the situation,  particularly in places where it is clear that one party has the upper hand over the other. In this context, the Syrian army has the upper hand and the general mood in general is that no one is winning in Syria.

The northern part of Homs is known as “Al Waer” which was a thorny neighborhood for the Syrian government for more than 6 years and it is known as the cradle of the Syrian demonstration against the regime.

However, the warring sides seem to be interpreting other details differently nowadays, especially with the withdrawal of Al Nusra fighters from the borders with Lebanon to Idlib and the withdrawal of Al Waer fighters to Idlib as well, turning Idlib into a center of extremists and armed opposition by the borders of Turkey.

As per the recent agreement on the withdrawal of the armed opposition from Al Waer, this neighborhood will return to state control, cleared of weapons, and fighters who chose to stay will have their legal status settled.

For Jordan, such an agreement is very important to support a political solution to the Syrian crisis and eradicate terrorism, ensuring border security and the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland as Syria’s security and stability are of strategic interest for the region. However, the new ceasefire in Al Waer is another test and a challenge to Russia and the USA, mulled as a turning point and a precedent that the two countries are seeking to build on to resolve the Syrian conflict.

The Astana meeting between the opposition and the Syrian government was concluded in May 2017 with recommendations to set up four de-escalation zones in Syria to help solved the Syrian conflict.

More than 2.5 million people are believed to be living in the general area of the four zones which span the southern provinces of Dara’a, Quneitra and Sweida.

A meeting of leaders of the Southern Front militias was held with American, Russian and Jordanian experts in the Jordanian capital Amman end of July to discuss a truce in southwestern Syria. Another meeting was held also at the sidelines of the Russian-American meetings between Syrian opposition leaders in Riyadh to discuss the next step that lead to a transition government.

Iran, Russia and Turkey have agreed to resume the next round of Syrian peace talks in Astana in late August following their decision to continue discussions on creating four de-escalation zones in Syria.

Article published in Geostrategic Media: http://geostrategicmedia.com/2017/08/new-important-deal-looming-for-eastern-ghouta-and-south-east-syria-by-jordanian-iraqi-syrian-borders/

 

Published in Tribune
Page 4 of 6