Shehab Al Makahleh

Shehab Al Makahleh

US President Donald Trump’s pullout declaration from the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran is tantamount to a declaration of war in the Middle East, which would lead to the change of the regime in Tehran. However, the EU-American rift over the deal would weaken the sanctions on Iran if imposed.

But why are American allies in the EU opposing deal pulling? It can be attributed to changing political alignments in the Middle East region after the 2011 Arab Spring, and the Western drive to reach a deal that serves EU interests as many of the European states have been undergoing rigid economic conditions. These factors prompted the EU to sign the deal alongside China and Russia in 2015.

However, the agreement has not changed Iran’s behavior and that former US President Barrack Obama’s administration was pathetic in signing such a deal along with the UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany.

The Americans have sought to ignite fire under Iranian feet by pushing the government into new negotiations with new rules and conditions while Europeans have sought to keep the agreement and to add some amendments to the deal. The EU has repeatedly declared support for the deal, rejecting American pugnaciousness and confrontational attitude.

The EU advocacy for the deal stems from economic and commercial factors as Europeans fear unexpected hindrances and obstacles to affect their penetration to the Iranian market. Thus, the EU states give priority to economic interests in the Iranian market to secure more commercial contracts. However, political, security and human rights files, are less important to them compared to Americans.

If there is no win-win formula for the EU, it is not expected that the EU would ever accept any amendments to the deal

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

Geopolitical factor

While Washington focuses on keeping the geopolitical factor in the Middle East unchanged, rejecting Iranian expansionist policies, opposing Iranian hiking influence in the region which threatens stability of the Middle East, and countering Tehran’s support for armed movements and militias in Arab countries, the EU turns deaf ear to this risk.

Thus, Trump’s administration calls on Tehran to set aside its expansionist agendas before talking about any economic openness. At the same time, the US urges the EU to follow the American approach when opening dialogue with the Iranian government; in other words, not to prioritise their economic and commercial requirements to political and military ones.

The EU sounds not interested in the Middle East issues and concerns are only restricted to economic regardless of the repercussions and ramifications to the Middle East region.

To date, Trump seems to have achieved a partial victory; however, this can be a double edge weapon that can backfire against American interests any moment. He has been able to move the European rhetoric machine against Iran at some point vis-à-vis Tehran’s political and military interventions in the Middle East and with regard to Iranian ballistic missiles.

The question remains whether American pullout of the nuclear agreement cause rift between the US and the EU? It has been clear that since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's presentation of documents related to Iranian nuclear program about Tehran’s breach of the nuclear agreement, Trump and his hawkish administration have taken their decision to cancel the deal and started to discuss scenarios of imposing sanctions on Iran.

Some experts believe that Trump has given a precious gift to the Supreme Leader of Iran and the hawks of the Iranian government because he ended the power of the reformers and the Iranian opposition. Both the hawks and the hardliners in Iran have been awarded a golden opportunity and would have in the near future the upper hand to Hassan Rouhani and his reformist wing.

Trump’s decision was not a surprise as he previously announced that the multilateral deal was an unmitigated disaster which has not taken into consideration the Iranian ballistic missile and its other military capabilities.

The rift between the EU and the US over the deal is that any sanctions on the Iranian economy will harm the European markets, which have won many contracts in Iran after the 2015 deal. Thus, Trump's declaration could harm investor’s confidence in Iran and freak out larger businesses to get out of Iranian volatile market.

Apparently, Tehran and Washington have no economic or commercial ties at present; however, this is not the case with the European partners as they seek to maintain Iranian economy vibrant and buoyant. 

Why the EU, China and Russia support the deal?

Trump has pulled out of the deal leaving the EU, Russia, China and the UK at stake to negotiate a new deal that better serves their interests in Iran. Statistics show that trade exchange between the EU and Iran reached $9.5 billion in 2015, hiked to $17 billion in 2016. In 2017, trade exchange recorded $25 billion.

The major companies benefitting from Iran are French, Dutch and German including Total, Airbus, Renault and Shell amongst others. China, on the other hand, is deemed the largest trade partner to Iran. In 2017, trade turnover between Iran and China stood at US$38 billion, accounting 23 per cent of Iran’s total trade. Russian Iranian total trade amounted to US$1.8 billion in 2017.

If there is no win-win formula for the EU, it is not expected that the EU would ever accept any amendments to the deal.

However, China and Russia will gain more from the pullout of the Americans from the multilateral nuclear deal as this will give both Moscow and Beijing diplomatic leverage over Washington’s as both capitals would present themselves as the credible mediator to fill the vacuum of the US in the Middle East.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/05/25/Reasons-behind-US-EU-rift-over-Iran-nuclear-deal.html

President Mahmoud Abbas seems to be on his way out as the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Who will take his place? 

Palestinian politics today is undergoing a change as President Mahmoud Abbas’ health condition deteriorates. With no clear heir to ensure a landslide victory, the question over who will replace Abbas remains unanswered. The possible successors are a source of argument among the Palestinians and the international community. Currently, speculation centers around four names.

Among them is Mahmoud al-Aloul, the first vice president of Fatah. Abbas himself supports Aloul to be his successor to lead the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, Aloul is not a welcome choice for some Arab countries because he is hawkish and opposes the two-state solution. Sources have stated that Fatah’s General Councildecided in March to change the party’s internal constitution in order to appoint Aloul as the acting leader for three months if Abbas’ health affects his ability to rule. Israel is also concerned about the succession, as a PA power vacuum could lead to further violence.

The second candidate in the race is Jibril Rajoub, a former West Bank security chief and a senior Fatah figure. He served as head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank until 2002, after which then-PA President Yasser Arafat appointed Rajoub as his national security adviser in 2003. Rajoub believes he is the most suitable candidate to lead the PA after Abbas.

The third candidate is Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security mastermind who was forced to flee Ramallah in 2011 following allegations of corruption and an attempted coup against Abbas. It is said that Elliot Abrams, a National Security Council adviser during the George W. Bush administration, nominated Dahlan to lead the PA mission against Hamas in Gaza in 2007, which earned him the warlord moniker. While in exile in the United Arab Emirates, Dahlan was accused of sending money to some Fatah members in Gaza to undermine Abbas’ authority in Ramallah, the headquarters of the PA. Dahlan had always opposed Islamist movements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, and is waiting for the right moment to return to the West Bank as president.

The fourth candidate is Nasser al-Kidwa, the nephew of Yasser Arafat and senior Fatah official. Kidwa has served as the Palestinian foreign minister and envoy to the United Nations. He is the most likely candidate to win the presidential race as he is supported by the Arab Quartet that includes Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Possible Scenarios

There are three possible scenarios in the coming months to replace the aging Abbas, as per NPR. The first option, if Abbas is no longer able to uphold his office, is that the speaker of the Palestinian National Council, Aziz Dweik (who is a member of Hamas but is based in the West Bank) would replace Abbas for 60 days until elections are held. The second is for Abbas himself to select a temporary replacement until the elections. The third is to set a date for elections where the four candidates would nominate themselves, unless a tectonic change takes place at the very last moment, such as a new intifada in Gaza and the West Bank.

The first option is unlikely to happen because Dweik is a member of Hamas. Abbas will not cede power to a rival organization due to internal and regional complications and ramifications. Thus, Dweik could not take over the Palestinian leadership unless the US, Israel and other regional powers suddenly back Hamas, which Washington, Tel Aviv and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization.

As for the second alternative, Abbas would select a person close to the PA leadership to rule for a transition period before the election date is set. The selected leader will also have a chance to nominate himself as leader of the PA in the presidential elections. This would be Arafat’s nephew, as he was backed by regional and international powers, including the US and Israel, when he served as foreign minister. This can lead to the third scenario in which the temporary president of the PA could become a candidate and winner in the presidential elections.

Since 2016, Arab leaders have looked for an alternative to Abbas. That same year, they spoke to Abbas personally on his 81st birthday when they congratulated him and wished him good health. At the time, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi were in charge of an Arab initiative to seek out a successor. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, had sent their representatives to Ramallah to discuss the issue directly with Abbas, as the leaders of both nations did not want to see a power vacuum in the political arena of the PA.

Critical Time

In December 2017, after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Kidwa said that any protests by Palestinians should be conducted “in a peaceful and an unarmed, sustainable way, so that would lead to serving the Palestinian national cause in this regard.” His moderate stance toward the American decision is one reason why he is favored by many countries, unlike his rivals who call for escalation.

The move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14 is deemed critical to the coming Palestinian leadership, whoever the candidate will be. However, the tough rivalry among the candidates, mainly between Rajoub and Dahlan, will only increase in the coming months, preventing both from heading the PA.

With the start of Ramadan, it is expected that Palestinians will try to raise the question of Jerusalem as a core issue not only for them, but for Muslims and Christians as well. Thus, we might witness a kick-off of a new uprising in Gaza and the West Bank, of which the violence against Palestinian protesters on the border with Gaza on May 14 could become a tragic preview. This could lead to either Aloul or Kidwa winning the race for the PA presidency based on their wide national support.

The PA presidential race is critical. The next president will be accountable for establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, while ensuring its peoples’ right to self-determination. The president will be working with Arab and Muslim leaders to secure the status of the holy shrines in East Jerusalem as part of the capital of an independent Palestinian state, without offending Jewish holy sites in the city. That is why the best solution for the issue of Jerusalem is to divide it into West and East capitals, for Israel and Palestine respectively, to avoid any future regional war.

Article published in Fair Observer: https://www.fairobserver.com/politics/palestinian-authority-succession-fatah-mahmoud-abbas-gaza-west-bank-middle-east-news-76251/

Disputes in the Middle East cannot be resolved unilaterally. They can only be tackled collectively, through integrated regional and international cooperation. This applies to challenges such as the Palestinian cause, terrorism, Arab-Iranian conflict and other lesser predicaments.

Some political observers believe that the Arab-Iranian dispute should be addressed even before the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Since 1967, the Middle East has been a hub for the worst military conflicts and wars.

About 22 percent of world’s conflicts have been concentrated in the region during the past three decades. When the eight-year Iraqi-Iranian went on from 1980 to 1988, both countries lost more than 2 million soldiers.

UN statistics reveal that about 40 percent of the total number of those killed in armed conflicts have fallen in the Middle East since 1980 until the end of 2017. Such conflicts have complicated the political scene and have led to further chaos when the Arab Spring erupted in some Arab republics.

Up to 72 percent of world war toll and military conflict fatalities have been reported in the Middle East. Moreover, the Middle East has the highest levels of terrorist attacks since 2003. Incidents of terrorism increased by 50 percent, leaving many countries behind owing to their impact on economies.

Iran and Arab states are heading toward direct regional conflict that would drive Israel to intervene by targeting some strategic sites in Iran to turn balance of power

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

Balance of power

Many states harbor a strong belief that their main enemy is Iran as it tampers with the stability of Arab countries. This started with Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. Since no conflict can take place without the pretext, if the root cause is to be resolved then changing the balance of power and the regime in Iran are a must.

As Iran was eying Iraq since 1980s, after regime had changed in Tehran in 1979, a conflict broke out which saw in the Iranian expansionist policies a strategy to rule over the whole region.

The first Iranian step was to control Iraq after American pullout because Iraq is in the north of the Gulf and Iran is located to the east of the Gulf States. 

This is likely to pose a major threat to Gulf states as Iraq is geographically and strategically located between three major powers: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Turkey and Iran.

Iranians have sought to play the Iraq card first before moving to play other cards which include sectarianism, the cards of Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Iran believes that an Arab-Iranian model can be created through the Iraqi gate, with the support of others – such as Russia, Syria – without reaching a compromise between Arabs and Iranians in such a conflict.

There is a firm belief that the Iranian regime should be changed in order for the country’s policies to be changed accordingly. Hence, changing the regime of the Vilayat al-Faqih may be considered a regional and international necessity before the possibility of confluence of Iraq and the other Gulf states in the form of an alliance or to form a new regional system.

No peace deal

But why all previous wars have ended with no peace deal or surrender agreement? The Iran-Iraqi war ended on August 8, 1988 with a truce but without a peace or surrender agreement being signed. The same applies to the two wars against Iraq.

Thus, the answer is simply tacit which bears the seeds of a war that would erupt any moment. Should this happen, Iran will be forced to leave Iraq and Syria to protect its borders.

Iran looks at Arabs, whether Sunni or Shiite, from a heritage perspective. It considers the GCC a springboard backed by the West to besiege Iranian revolution.

On the other hand, Gulf Arabs regard the Iranian revolution as an existential threat. This was exemplified by Khomeini who called on Arabs in the Gulf to stir up revolution.

Iran and Arab states are heading toward direct regional conflict that would drive Israel to intervene by targeting some strategic sites in Iran to turn balance of power. The month of May is very critical where the future of the Middle East region will be at stake. 

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/05/11/Disputes-over-Iraq-and-Syria-Strategies-and-ramifications.html

From March 25 to 28, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid a sudden visit which surprised the world; however, some world leaders and heads of states have lauded the visit as a step towards defusing tension between North Korea and the US. The United Nations hailed the trip: “The latest positive developments are the beginning of a longer process of sincere dialogue, leading to sustainable peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, while the White House said: “We’re going to be cautiously optimistic, but we feel like things are moving in the right direction.”

Whether the trip was a signal to the Americans or not, the coming few weeks will reveal that North Korea will not talk about its ballistic capabilities and nuclear powers at a time Washington imposes new taxes on China. The talks are mere political to give the US a signal not to tamper with the current trade status between Washington and Beijing as the key to Kim is in China and not in the US. The general picture of Chinese-North Korean leaders’ talks have left no qualm that Beijing has mediated between Pyongyang and Washington.

 Signals of Kim-Xi meeting

Observers do believe that the talks between Kim and the Chinese President People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping aimed to give Washington a signal that only Beijing’s efforts can bring peace to the Korean Peninsula as China has the upper hand for the projected meetings with the leaders of South Korea (end of April) and the US (in May).

Regardless of the North Korean desire for denuclearization, the Chinese have benefitted from the timing of the visit to give various messages to the US and to the West that only China can have an influence on Kim and that whoever seeks to negotiate with him should first talk to China. The visit has helped China to have a leverage in a sense on the North Korean issue. This is clear when Xi proposed talks about some points during his meeting with Kim to settle the issue on the Korean Peninsula.

The first point which was proposed by Xi was that diplomacy is the breakthrough of the American-North Korean conflict. Beijing has been insisting to bring all talks under the United Nations Security Council’s umbrella and to bring the parties concerned to the negotiations table. As both considered this option, the pivotal role China is playing regarding the denuclearisation is based on what Kim has pledged if the Americans and South Koreans respond positively to his initiative with good will.

The second is that China and North Korea agreed to resume their long-time traditional relationship, including state-to-state and party-to-party ties, giving American side that the Chinese can proceed further to cement their ties with the North Korean if the US fails to accept the Chinese proposal to settle the issue peacefully. To improve the Sino-U.S. relations, Beijing finds a way to solve the issue between Washington and Pyongyang in peaceful means and to disarm North Korea from its nuclear technology.

Though the Americans did not copiously appreciate what the Chinese are doing as they don’t like others to twist their arm, especially Beijing which attributes to itself the laurels of convincing Kim to reconsider peace talks with South Korea and with the Americans to avoid any nuclear escalation in the region, the Chinese are cautiously addressing means to exercise excessive pressure on North Korea, which Beijing uses as a card against Washington, Japan and other enemies in the region.

The visit of the North Korean leader comes at a time the American President Donald Trump reshuffled some leading positions at his administration which included the appointments of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton to reinforce the hawkish stance against China and Russia. The Xi-Kim meeting demonstrates that China is forming stronger ties with North Korea, demonstrating that any meeting between Trump and Kim will be a meeting with a North Korean president backed by China.

In other words, the US will not be able to deprive Pyongyang of its most lethal weaponries because both Pyongyang and Beijing will ask for serious guarantees that the Americans will not deceive them. Thus, both will ask for concessions from the American administration first and after that they will consider disarming North Korea from its strategic weapons gradually. Russia, of course, backs China and North Korea in their demands.

The impact of Pyongyang-Washington scenario on Tehran

The North Korean status quo would have also an impact on the Iranian weaponry and ballistic missiles as well. Iran is expecting that Trump will rip up the nuclear deal in May; the North Koreans are also watching closely to see how the Americans are dealing with their deals with other countries and how this would affect any future deal between Pyongyang and Washington to settle the military threat North Korea poses on other countries.

Despite the fact that the Americans are still a key player in the Pacific Ocean, the Chinese are the only ones who can have the big say on Kim to dissuade him from his nuclear ambitions by militarily securing North Korea from external threats. What applies to North Korea applies to Iran. The only guarantor to the security and stability of Iran will be its allies: Russia and China. Thus, the talk about another deal with Iran goes through Moscow and Beijing before it goes to Tehran.

The issue of North Korea is its proximity to the American territory and its Pacific fleet at a time China considers North Korea as one of its provinces. Iran is deemed another threat as it has the North Korean ambitions which are a source of threat to the stability of the Greater Middle East. In both cases, China has a big say.

Article published in Geostrategic media: http://geostrategicmedia.com/2018/04/05/the-impact-of-pyongyang-washington-talks-on-tehran/

The 29th Arab League Summit which will be held in Riyadh on April 15th is taking place at volatile Arab and international atmospheres, amid sharp Arab divisions and disagreements. In the midst of various dangers the Arab countries are facing due to the repercussions of the so-called “Arab Spring” in some Arab countries and political rifts regarding some regional issues, the summit is slated to draw a “road map” for the coming era.

The summit in Riyadh, which will be preceded by several preparatory meetings due as of April 9, would be different as it comes after the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman concludes his visit to the US, where Saudi Arabia is trying to push the American administration to fill the vacuum that was deepened by the failure of its previous pull-out strategy from the region. The Arab summit will be held at very delicate conditions, amid great regional and international challenges, with internal threats of some groups that are supported by foreign countries which would pose a major threat to all Arabs. In the midst of the repercussions of incidents in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt, Arab leaders will have to find a way out to end their schism that hampers the solution of many pending issues.

The most important topic will be the Palestinian issue and the frantic attempts to liquidate it by some foreign powers proposing risky projects, ending the dream of Palestinians of a state with Jerusalem as its capital. This means the abolition of the right of return to Palestinians that would lead to Judaization of Jerusalem with all its religious and spiritual significance to Muslims and Christians.

The performance of the Arab League is on the table of Arab leaders as it has become a must to develop the performance to meet the aspirations of Arabs since the league has mostly failed to solve many Arab issues since its establishment on March 22, 1945.

The timing of the summit is important as it comes in the aftermath of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to the US and his meetings with American officials. Such a summit will pay dividends in regime gaps between Arab countries and USA regarding some regional issues to rally around against Iran.

The delay of the summit from March to April is attributed for two major reasons: Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to the US and the presidential elections in Egypt (March 26-28), 2018. Thus, since Egypt has witnessed presidential elections, it has been important to wait and see the outcome to determine the new regional approach towards many regional issues and conflicts.

After the return of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to Riyadh, many deliberations will start among Arab states, which would be conducive to a proposal of a different creature of the Arab League. The question is: Will there be a unified stand towards some regional issues and conflicts starting from Syria, Yemen, Libya, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? What is the trajectory of the Arab League towards Iran?

It is not expected that Arabs will be united on all issues, especially Syria and Iran, However, the trajectory of the league coalescing around an anti-Iranian platform is growing after American President Donald Trump’s decision to re-address the nuclear deal with Iran by either adding new items that prevent Iran from producing ballistic missiles or by ripping up the deal by May 2018, with proposals to impose new sanctions on Iran for interfering in Arab affairs and posing threats to its neighbors.

The outcome of Riyadh Summit will be a continuum of the previous one held in Amman in March 2018, calling for restarting of stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians on a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with a focus on the Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Capital of Israel.

The coming summit is critical as the focus will be on means to counter terrorism, and to tackle political, economic, social issues of concern to Arab states. Beyond the veneer of sanguine statements, it is projected that the summit will bring closer the Arab countries at first hand, then bring them closer to the US to proceed with the coming regional transformation process of their societies in a bid to jointly confront extremism and terrorism and Iranians expansionism despite the fact that some Arab states would be conservative when dealing with Iran.

The leaders will advocate regional and international security. They will also focus on the hostile positions of the Iranian regime and the continued interference in Arab internal affairs in flagrant violation of international law and the principles of good-neighborliness, warning of the risk of Iranian ballistic missiles on the stability of the Middle East region. They will be calling for a joint action to protect regional waters and to combat piracy which adversely affect the commercial movement and economic growth of the region, with a call for combatting organised crime and drug smuggling

The Riyadh Summit will be an enhancement of the former Arab-Muslim-American Summit which was held May 21, 2017 in Saudi Arabia to further build a close partnership between Arab and Muslim countries and the US to achieve peace, stability and development regionally and internationally.

Observers here in Washington believe that the summit will draw up a “road map” for the leaders to consolidate relations and joint action on issues of common interest.  The summit will recommend promoting coexistence and constructive tolerance among different nations, religions and cultures, with clear rejection of any attempt to link terrorism with any religion, culture or race.

Will we witness a new form of Arab League to be formed after the coming summit to better serve Arab interests and causes? Will we see a new coalition against Iran supported by the US? These questions are almost the part of the mission of the Saudi Crown Prince in the US.

Article published in Geostrategic Media: http://geostrategicmedia.com/2018/04/03/april-arab-summit-decisive-and-at-critical-time/

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

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense’s visit to the US is very indicative at this time as it is the first for him as crown prince and it paves the way for proceeding ahead with economic plans in pursuance of Vision 2030.

The crown prince arrives in Washington DC with five agendas: economic, political, military, technology transfer and financial investments. He will tour New York, Washington DC, Seattle, California’s Silicon Valley, Houston and Boston with the aim of improving Saudi-American relations.

Investment cooperation

The United States and Saudi Arabia have a common vision on international issues. Given the changing geopolitical scene, the two countries have utmost interest to maintain strong ties and sustain friendly relations. The Crown Prince’s US tour will include a planned meeting with US President Donald Trump and his advisers.

He will pay visits to Wall Street in New York and to the Silicon Valley in California and Seattle for heavy industries. He is expected to tour Houston for gas and oil talks and in Boston for higher education cooperation. This is their first meeting since last May 21, 2017 when Trump visited Riyadh.

The Crown Prince is also set to hold talks with Apple and Amazon executives to open outlets and data centers in Saudi Arabia, in a bid to redirect the Saudi economy to be knowledge-oriented and technology-based, benefitting from American expertise to turbo-charge his plans to turn the kingdom into a new Silicon Valley Hub in the Middle East. There is a historic alteration in the nature of economic relations between Washington and Riyadh, from oil to economic development and financial and technological investments.

Saudi Arabia is eager to cement political, economic and military ties with the US through major deals that would change the nature of cooperation into win-win equation

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

The slated agreements to be signed will shape the nature of future economic partnership between both countries as the pacts will enhance investments through joint ventures, through American backing of investments in Saudi Arabia or through supporting Saudi investments in the US treasuries or through offering Aramco shares the New York Stock Exchange as Trump is vying with London to host the stock market listing of Aramco which is estimated at $1.5 trillion.

Since last May, such huge agreements which are expected to be signed in the US could not have been achieved without a colossal modification in the nature of Saudi economy that albeit determines the relationship between Riyadh and Washington as the latter has pushed Saudi for more modernization for full capacity of cooperation to support Saudi Vision 2030.

The Crown Prince’s visit is promising to launch a new era of relations between the two countries with qualitative changes in strategic relations for a long term strategic and economic partnership through diversification of the kingdom’s economy.

Thus, the visit does not stand at the traditional basis, and is different from previous Saudi officials’ visits to the US because it opens the door to major financial and investment firms and corporations in the US and in Saudi Arabia to launch joint ventures and investments after an American greenlight for domestic foundations to set up projects in Saudi Arabia.

The visit sends a series of messages to key players at the regional and international levels. According to some experts, the visit is slated to witness a greater inflow of international investments into the Saudi economy, mainly in technological fields. The Crown Prince seeks from his tour to New York to gain further support of Riyadh as a global industrial and financial center in the Middle East through new qualitative partnerships with leading American companies.

Political synchronization

Both Saudi and US leaders have sharp anti-Iran positions, which brings the current US administration closer to Riyadh. The Obama administration had seen unbridled rigidity and uninhibited pressure in the relationship between the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) because the former president ignored Iran’s orientations and actions in the region at the expense of Arab Gulf state’s interests.

This was part of the process of restructuring US foreign policy toward the Middle East and rapprochement with Iran, with the aim of strengthening what Obama considered moderate wing in Tehran, leading to 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia last year was aimed to restore these relations and build on them for a sustainable peace in the Middle East.

The upcoming visit of the Crown Prince aims to rebalance US policy toward the region as former American administration has adopted policies against the region’s interests, which allowed Russia and China to return to the region as key players by formulating alliances, mainly with Iran and Turkey.

Among the topics on the Crown Prince’s visit are combating terrorism and extremist factions as well as efforts to counter Iranian interference in Arab affairs. The two sides are also likely to discuss the war in Yemen and Syria, mainly the current developments in Eastern Ghouta.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is on top of the agenda of the Crown Prince as his visit comes few days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington and his talks with American officials regarding the final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Crown Prince will try to convince Trump to postpone moving the American embassy to Jerusalem until final settlement is reached.

Nuclear deals

Trump will open talks with the Crown Prince on a potentially lucrative nuclear power agreement, indivisibly connected to an Obama-era atomic agreement with Iran, with promises of billions of dollars in contracts for American firms. Saudi sources believe that Riyadh, in less than a month, will unveil the names of companies winning the tender for the construction of two nuclear power reactors, scheduled to start at the end of this year 2018, in a move Riyadh aims to enter the nuclear club for the first time in its history.

Under the framework of the Saudi National Atomic Energy Project, Saudi Arabia aims to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20-25 years, which are to be under the supervision of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and are aimed at enabling the country to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear power.

The idea to construct nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia is not new; however, it has gathered momentum in the past two years. New motives for Riyadh have crystallized to proceed with the construction of nuclear reactors, particularly in the aftermath of the pact signed with Iran during Obama’s administration, which hampered negotiations between Riyadh and Washington. Some analysts in the White House believe that the deal with Iran “made it difficult to force Saudi Arabia to abide by Law 123.”

Trump knows that American companies are competing with Korean, Chinese and Russian. If he seeks to support the American companies in this deal, he has to give green light when he talks to the Crown Prince. Thus, Trump has to abandon certain controls that restrict nuclear proliferation. Therefore, if Saudis reach agreement without any restrictions, it would be a remarkable shift in US nuclear policy since 50 years.

Saudi Arabia is eager to cement political, economic and military ties with the US through major deals that would change the nature of cooperation into win-win equation. Major focus, however, will also be on the “Century Deal” to end the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/03/13/Denotations-of-Saudi-Crown-Prince-s-visit-to-the-US.html

On March 18, Russians will go through the process of (re)electing their president Vladimir Putin for a fourth term as recent polls forecast. This foreseeable victory is not only affecting Russia but rather the world including the Middle East region which is close geographically to Russia.

Russian-Arab relations are one of the most important pillars of the Kremlin’s foreign policy which hinges on political, economic and military instruments. The Middle East has become the base from which the rules of the new world order will be launched pursuant to the major powers’ interests, and the race between these supremacies to play the most prominent role in the Arab region will shape the Russian coming role in the next six years.

To achieve Russian goals in the region, the Kremlin will focus on strategically exhausting Washington in the Middle East by dragging it into proxy wars and demonstrations in various places that affect its world reputation. Though Moscow realizes that the Americans regard the Russian army as second in power to their forces; nevertheless, Russia refuses to remain a second class world force and insists on the necessity to reshape the world’s balance of power.

Russian presidential elections, unlike US elections, do not receive wide attention at the official and popular levels in the Arab world. This can be understood in light of the concerns of Arab peoples in general as most of the Middle East countries are western-oriented.

However, the Russian elections are very important for the rest of the world as the winner in the coming elections will shape the relations not only between Moscow and Washington but also between Russia and other regional powers including China.

At present, the Kremlin is giving due importance to the Middle East as it gives to Europe, the US and China in terms of foreign policy. Moscow’s pullout from the Middle East in 1991 marked the demise of the Soviet Union, as a superpower, which has taken Putin more than a decade to restore political and military status of his country back on track.

Russia’s comeback as a pivotal player in the Middle East will target restoring Moscow’s position as a prodigious supremacy coming to the region which the Mideast has already witnessed with Russian army’s intervention in Syria in September 2015. When the Arab Spring erupted, the region has become a testing ground for Russia to return to the global arena through the Middle East gate.

Thus, the coming victory of Putin will help establish Russian influence outside the Russian frontiers to extend to the world’s most capricious regions. The Kremlin will proceed with containing and diminishing extremism and fanaticism in the Middle East that would, had Russia not intervened, expand into its territories and even to former republics in Central Asia and in the Caucasus.

Middle East has become the base from which the rules of the new world order will be launched pursuant to the major powers’ interests

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

Cementing partnerships with the Middle East

The Kremlin again views Russia as a great power on a global scale, and as such it cannot ignore a region so close geographically, so rich in hydrocarbons, and so insecure socially and politically as the Middle East.

The new Russian tactic will be to support friendly regimes in the region and set up long-term geopolitical coalitions with endeavours to have a military presence in the region with new bases that would include Lebanon, Algeria, Mauritania and Sudan.

The strategy of Russia in the coming era will boost the sales of conventional arms, nuclear agreements for peaceful purposes, and oil and gas deals. Moscow will strive to attract foreign investments from China and the Middle East.

Russia between 2018-2024

Unlike the Soviet era in which Moscow was in support of all revolutions and national liberation movements in the world, Russia did not openly support the revolutions and the revolutionaries in any Arab country. Moscow has remained silent about the Arab Spring until the political scene has become clear. By then, Russia has expressed support for the Syrian regime after four years of civil war.

However, the Kremlin has been keen to maintain open channels of communication with the rebels in a bid to achieve the greatest possible balance, voicing concern for the internal and regional stability of the Arab states. In the coming era, Putin will engineer a Syrian peace deal, expand relations with Tehran and bolster ties with Iraq, Qatar, Oman, Sudan, Algeria, Mauritania, and Tunisia. 

However, Moscow will also benefit from its rapprochement with Turkey and Iran and build on its strong ties with Jordan as a key player to the Syrian conflict. The Kremlin will improve relations with Egypt and the Kurds to craft an alignment of partners vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia.

In 2011, the Gulf states and a number of other Arab countries welcomed the Russian stand regarding the Arab Spring. The differences in perspectives with Russians were only in the Syrian case where the Arab and Russian positions differed in light of Russian support for the Assad regime. In all cases, there was no official Arab condemnation of the Russian stand as Russia has been rejecting external interference in Syrian internal affairs.

Over the terms of Putin’s presidency, he is slated to re-launch new forms of cooperation with Moscow’s traditional partners in the Arab world on new bases, and the forefront of these countries will be Syria, Iraq and Lebanon as they are very close to Russian boundaries. Furthermore, he will set up plans to improve conditional Russian-Gulf relations.

Traditionally Russia hasn’t had a special policy toward the Gulf states. The main determinant has been the strategic interest and the pragmatic approach because the Russian influence in the Gulf is determined by American impact in the same region as the Kremlin deals with the Gulf States separately, without considering them as one bloc.

The Russian approach in the Arab region is not restricted to political gains or to play a security or military roles to compete with the Americans, but rather Moscow is seeking strategic economic and technical partnership that secures direct economic returns to Russia in fields such as energy sector and military cooperation. The Russian president seeks to guarantee a minimum price for oil and gas and to increase sales of Russian arms to the Middle East.

The Russian political administration would seek to open up to various countries, especially the countries of the Middle East to boost its trilateral axis (Russia, China, India) with a new diplomacy based on enhancing its role as a mediator acceptable to all parties in resolving international and regional conflicts and crises.

Because the Middle East represents a belt that surrounds the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus, which Russia considers a vital area, Kremlin has been driven to do the utmost to prevent any threat from the Mideast region by launching preventive measures and pre-emptive procedures.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2018/03/01/What-the-Middle-East-expects-from-Russia-s-Putin.html

While the world’s attention remains focused on the nuclear brinkmanship and missile launches on the Korean peninsula, the Middle Eastern arms race, pitting Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates against Iran has been slowly heating up and could soon reach a boiling point.

The spending boom among the gulf states, the Saudis and Emiratis chief among them, has accelerated in recent years but is not a wholly new phenomenon.  Careful observation can discern that increases in Saudi military spending appear to be linked to moments when the House of Saud feels threatened by the growing power of its Persian neighbor.  Following the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979—a moment that also coincided with the takeover of the Great Mosque in Mecca by extremists and Saudi financial involvement in repelling the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—the Saudis embarked on a spending spree, buying sophisticated weapons from Western countries in the billions.

Saudi Arabia has long feared that its leading position in the Muslim world would be threatened after the clerics took power in Iran. Between 1978 and 1982, Saudi Arabia doubled its military expenditures. Again, in 2003, after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq and signs that it would be replaced by a Shia-led government far friendlier to Iran, Riyadh again boosted its arms purchases.  Between 2003 and 2015, the Saudis quadrupled their military budget, persisting in large outlays despite the effect that depressed petroleum prices have had on other areas of the government’s budget.

With Saudi Arabia feeling new pressures from Iran in recent years, particularly in Yemen, it’s no surprise that its leaders have once again opened the coffers to acquire the latest in military hardware. Last May’s deal between the Saudis and the United States, in which the Americans would supply a package of arms, maintenance, ships, air missile defense, and maritime security totaling an astronomical $100 billion, was followed only months later by a deal between Riyadh and Moscow for the Saudis to purchase Russian-made S-400 air defense systems.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Saudi Arabia has spent more than 10% of its GDP on weapons purchases in each of the past three years.  For the sake of comparison, the United States has spent, on average, 3.3% of GDP during the same time period while the United Kingdom has spent 1.9%.  The UAE regularly spends more than twice as much on military hardware and arms as Iran despite having a population approximately one-tenth the size of Iran’s.

Shiite Crescent

Saudi Arabia remains convinced that its nightmare, a “Shiite Crescent” stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean, passing through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, remains a real possibility if Iran is left unchecked. Both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi lobbied extensively, and unsuccessfully, against the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that the Obama administration negotiated with Tehran.  Both the Saudis and Emiratis have a fundamental distrust of Iran and suspect that eventually their Persian rivals will renege on the commitments made in the agreement.

On the other hand, Saudi and Emirati doubts about the credibility of the United States of America as a strategic ally have risen, especially following the conclusion of the Iranian nuclear agreement and the lifting of the economic sanctions against Tehran.  The Obama administration’s decision to refrain from enforcing its red lines on Syria also caused a shift in thinking, with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi convinced they may have to rely on themselves in the event of a conflict with Iran.

During the 2012-2016 period, Saudi Arabia ranked second and the UAE third in global imports of weaponry (India, which buys largely from Russia, was first).  That four-year period marked a 212% increase in Saudi military spending compared to 2007-2011.

Winning Western countries’ loyalty

There is a secondary reason as well for the large military outlays by the Saudis and Emiratis. Gulf countries seek to win the support—and in some sense, the loyalty–of Western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany through huge arms deals worth billions of dollars. The Gulf states hope that should their cold war with Iran ever turn hot, their close ties with Western powers—achieved, in part, by decades of weapons deals—will translate into tangible military and diplomatic backing.

Yet the alliance between the Gulf states has been marked my mutual mistrust and internecine disputes. During the Obama years, Washington encouraged the Gulf states to build a join missile defense shield against a potential Iranian attack, but the GCC countries could not resolve their disagreements about how and where to do so.  Fundamental differences over the Muslim Brotherhood and several conflicts in the region further undermined the alliance, as did the drop in petroleum prices in 2014, which has strained budgets and nerves.  While the Yemen war has showcased the close working relationship between the Saudis and Emiratis, it has also revealed the depth of disagreement within the bloc, with Oman and Kuwait declining to participate in the war while Qatar, which originally made a modest commitment of troops, has now decided to withdraw its forces against the backdrop of its dispute with Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Manama.

The Gulf states are also well aware that before Yemen, they lacked military experience, unlike Iran which fought a long war against Iraq during the 1980s, sent paramilitary forces to Iraq after the fall of Saddam, and has been deeply involved in Syria since 2011.

Although Iran has more modest financial resources than its rivals across the Persian Gulf, it too is working to strengthen its military arsenal. In 2017, the Iranian parliament passed a resolution to raise military spending to 5 percent of GDP. In the meantime, Tehran has indicated no halt to its development of long-range missiles, armed drones, and cyber warfare capabilities.

In recent years, Iranian arms imports have declined, from nearly $14 billion in 2010 to just above $10 billion the last several years (though it did see an uptick to $12.3 billion in 2016). In the past, Iran has equipped its armed forces with Russian and Chinese weaponry in addition to developing its own indigenous capabilities. Despite its lower spending, most military analysts in the region believe that Iran would remain competitive with its Gulf rivals in any conflict as a result of its more-developed tactical capabilities.

As Saudi Arabia and its allies invest their money in acquiring the latest fighter aircraft, tanks, and Western missile defense systems, Iran continues to develop its missile program and its aims of expanding its political and military influence in the region show no signs of abating. Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces maintain a presence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and possibly even Yemen, all of which fuel the fears of Saudi Arabia and its allies over the spread of Iranian influence in the region.

Despite the continuation of the economic embargo and the recent street protests over corruption and economic conditions, Iran maintains sufficient financial resources to fund its military and paramilitary influence in a number of the Middle East’s hot spots. The Saudis suspect that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have not been eliminated, only postponed.  And thus, the buildup of military capability, and the overall arms race, continues to grow hotter and more dangerous by the day.

Article published by Foreign Policy Association: https://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2018/02/27/saudi-arabia-uae-heat-arms-race-iran/

Monday, 26 February 2018 22:12

Atomic derby in the Middle East

The Middle East has entered the nuclear age. The existing strategic equilibrium in the Middle East is shifting as the region seeks a new balance, an equipoise which has been in perpetual flux over the past 30 years. The Arab-Israeli and the Iranian-Arab conventional weapons race began in earnest in the mid-1980s. Some countries plunged into nuclear others into biological, chemical and ballistic missile systems. Since then, the new strategic dimensions have become part and parcel of imbalance ever since. Many atomic states are on a hair trigger in the Middle East, which is the most capricious and volatile region which has been witnessing gigantic political transformations in the past two decades.

When American president Donald Trump said that he would revise the nuclear deal with Iran if he wins in the elections, the Middle East has started to change. Many countries started to think of means to get nuclear plants for energy. The question is which countries are making nuclear arms or which countries have the ability to produce them in the Middle East? Two countries for sure: Iran and Israel.

Since 2000s, Middle Eastern countries have voiced their interest to have their own peaceful atomic nuclear programs, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East states have announced their atomic energy plans in response to Iran’s stagy progress towards nuclear supremacy. The reason behind the deal with Iran was to thwart any bids by Tehran to have a bomb which would lead to a nuclear race in the Middle East. 

Doctrinal Shifts

Arab countries’ fears are not far-fetched. They have started changing their military doctrine since1991. Arabs, mainly in the Gulf region, started looking for tactical and strategic non-conventional weapons to make a balance of power with Iran by securing clear inclination for technological advances and institutional torpor and apathy to proceed at their own impetus. The Middle East states, after the gradual pullout of the American troops from the region, have been undergoing a state of transition at all levels — strategic, political and economic, militarily structural to reach the point of “balance of terror” with their enemy: Iran.

Debate over Iran’s nuclear program has heated up since the beginning of 2000s. Even after Tehran reached a nuclear deal with the international community, the USA and other countries still accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear arms. Tehran for its part denies these accusations and says Iranian reactors are for peaceful purposes to produce energy.

Though Israel and other Arab countries tried hard to foil the attempts to sign the nuclear deal with Iran, Middle East countries are heading towards atomic arms race, fueled by fear of Iranian expansionism and resurgence, mainly from Saudis and Emiratis.

Both Israel and the Arab countries have at present one enemy: Iran. Israeli and Arab fears from Iran are much bigger than having a nuclear bomb but rather an existential threat that can turn Tehran into an independent atomic capability.

Proxies ignite nuclear race

Sunnis in the Gulf, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, view Iran as a religious risk, fueling proxies and threatening the stability of the Arab world through Tehran’s endeavours to revive Shiite states in the heartland of the Middle East region.  Since Iran is regarded as a political rival since 1979 Revolution, which has been threatening the Arab monarchies, Arabs started to think of having a deterrent weapon that can curb Iran from continuously interfering in their internal affairs and intimidating their people.

In 2016, Al-Riyadh daily commended Saudi Arabia to start preparing an atomic program for peaceful purposes” to have the first Saudi nuclear reactor operational by 2030. Though there are rumors that Riyadh has purchased “off-the-shelf” atomic bomb from Pakistan, this has not been confirmed by either of the two countries. Thus, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East has also dragged other countries.

Middle Eastern states may have genuine reasons and authentic motives to invest in nuclear power. For example, Jordan has almost few quantities of oil and gas; this has prompted the government to ask the Russians to help set up a nuclear power plant to produce energy. However, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have colossal crude reserves. Turkey also imports huge amounts of oil and gas to produce energy. Thus, it is in dire need of nuclear plants for this purpose.

Saudi nuclear plants

Within less than a month, Saudi Arabia will unveil the names of companies winning the tender for the construction of two nuclear power reactors, scheduled to start at the end of this year 2018, in a move Riyadh aims to enter the nuclear club for the first time in its history.

Under the framework of the National Atomic Energy Project, Saudi Arabia aims to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20-25 years, which are to be under the supervision of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and are aimed at enabling the country to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear power.

Washington’s approval for the Saudi move remains one of the main dilemmas facing Riyadh, and it is expected that it will top the agenda of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the United States early March which will take him to other states as well.  Donald Trump’s administration faces a critical position in this regard as negotiations between Saudis and Americans on nuclear energy had reached a deadlock.

The idea to construct nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia is not new; however, the pace accelerated more during the past two years. New motives for Riyadh have crystallised to proceed with the construction of nuclear reactors, particularly in the aftermath of the agreement signed with Iran during Obama’s administration, which hampered negotiations between Riyadh and Washington. Some analysts in the White House believe that the deal with Iran “made it difficult to force Saudi Arabia to abide by law 123.”

Trump’s two options

Trump knows that American companies are competing with Korean, Chinese and Russian. If he seeks to support the American companies in this deal, he has to give the green light when Prince Mohammad bin Salman visits Washington in March 2018. With this he has to abandon certain controls that restrict nuclear proliferation. Thus, if Saudis reach agreement without any restrictions, it would be a remarkable shift in US nuclear policy since 50 years. Analysts view this case as a new test for Trump’s negotiating skill as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner who visited Riyadh several times.

It seems that Kushner has prepared well in anticipation of the upcoming visit of Mohammed bin Salman to Washington to conclude the deal in favor of “Westinghouse” company.

Russian, American and Korean rivalry

November 2017, Russia’s energy minister, Alexander Novak, expressed Rosatom’s interest to be involved in building nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia.

The company presented its offer during the meeting of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz with Novak, and discussed ways to strengthen and develop bilateral cooperation in the fields of energy.

The Russian company has applied to participate in the construction of two nuclear reactors in the Kingdom. In mid-December 2017, Moscow and Riyadh signed a roadmap for cooperation in the field of “peaceful nuclear energy” to promote cooperation in the field of atomic power.

The signing of the road map has coincided with Riyadh’s announcement that it intends to build 16 hydroelectric reactors over a period of 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, as well as other small desalination plants.

On the other hand, a Saudi-Korean meeting revealed several months ago the completion of more than 20% of the engineering designs of the SMART reactor and the completion of the success of the first and second stages of the human development program for Saudi engineers participating in the project.

Nuclear power in Jordan 

Jordan imports over 95 per cent of its power requirements, at a cost of about 20 per cent of its GDP. In 2007, Jordan set out a program for atomic energy to provide 30 per cent of electricity by 2030. In 2015, Jordan signed a US$10 billion agreement with Russia to construct the first nuclear power plant in the kingdom with two reactors to produce 1,000 megawatt power. The construct is expected to finish by 2022. According to the agreement, Jordan will buy fuel from Rosatom for both reactors for 10 years.

UAE first nuclear plant to open summer 2018

The UAE is due launch the Arab world’s first nuclear power station in summer 2018; the other three plants will be commissioned by 2020. Once the four nuclear power plants are fully operational, they will produce 25 per cent of the country’s electricity demand. By 2050, The Barakah nuclear plant will deliver up 50 percent of the country’s power requirements. The UAE has committed not to enrich uranium itself and not to reprocess spent fuel.

Egyptian nuclear program

Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Cairo on December 11, 2017 with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi where a delegation from both countries signed an agreement to launch Egypt’s atomic energy plant at El -Dabaa. Rosatom has announced that construction work on the El-Dabaa plant, which is located west of Alexandria, had started end of December. The Russian company will service the plant’s four reactors for 60 years.

To sum up, the major countries surrounding Israel and Iran are setting out plans to have their nuclear power plants. If Sunni Arabs become nuclear-armed or even just nuclear-capable, the strategic advantage Israel has enjoyed for more than 40 years will disappear and the ballistic missile technology that Iran prides itself with will vanish. Though the Israelis know that the Arab target is Tehran not Tel Aviv, will the Israelis approve the nuclear trend of the Middle East? Failure to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement or a settlement to the current Arab-Iranian conflict would lead to further escalation and tension, a prelude to armed conflict or external intervention.

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