Shehab Al Makahleh

Shehab Al Makahleh

The US National Security Strategy document, which was released on December 18, 2017, marks the completion of an important stage in international relations and balance of power in international politics.

Russian military intervention in eastern and southern regions of the Mediterranean after many had started believing that Russia was a marginal power and the resumption of its military and political activities as a mediator in the Middle East has raised alarm bells in the US Congress and the Pentagon.

 The resurgence of Russia

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and decided to intervene in the course of the Syrian war in 2015, it became clear that Kremlin was looking beyond its borders to protect its national interests. However, a new international order is yet to fully take shape, which suggests that there will be no change in the existing order until the Syrian conflict is settled.

The US National Security Strategy document describes the existence of forces in competition with US power, namely China and Russia, which thrived under the Obama administration for Moscow and Beijing believed that the former US president was against direct confrontation with both countries and was an advocate of containment through economic measures alone. In other words, Obama tried to merely inhibit China and Russia from becoming powerful enough to oppose American policies.

In the recent years, Moscow’s expanding alliances and openness in foreign relations along with its military activities and the adoption of collective security theory with its partners has weakened US influence and there appears a shift in the center of gravity with the emergence of Eurasia.

The expanding sphere of Russian influence includes countries that were once important pillars and major allies of the US in the international sphere, such as Turkey and India. Its influence has increased through sale of strategic armaments including sophisticated weaponry. In fact, strategists believe such transactions have multiple implications.

First, Russia (through its military) and China (through its economic might) have decided to play an international role at the expense of US leadership of the world. Second, both countries seem determined to oppose US policies in many theatres, be it in Iran, Syria, and North Korea. 

US Department of Defense has recently published a report stating that the US Congress had asked the Pentagon to prepare a military plan for 2018 that would allow the US to attack Russia and China with nuclear bombs without giving them an opportunity to respond.

 

Russia has many Muslims living in its republics and it fears that if chaos ensues in Iran, it would spread to its borders in so-called ‘Arc of Crisis’ 

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

 

Conflict scenarios 2018

With the ending of terms of agreement in the de-escalation zones and possible reversion to an open-ended war — coming on the heels of the recent Iranian protests, as well as Saint Petersburg bombings (2017) — the military situation in Syria might intensify. 

Things might get further complicated in view of two major events in Russia: The first being the presidential elections in March and the second is the World Cup to be held in that country in the summer. These events might influence Russian response to developments in Syria and Iran or even at its borders with Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Thus, Trump can use these cards to exert more pressure on Moscow.

It is expected that Washington will become more involved in events taking place in Iran, if not at present then at a later stage in order to achieve a set of US goals linked to preventing Russia and China from transforming the international system into a multipolar order, noting that the Sino-Iranian economic partnership in the field of energy and security, specifically in Afghanistan threatens US strategy there.

Iran’s influence in the Middle East has given strategic depth to Russia’s military presence in the eastern Mediterranean. The security of Iran, Iraq and Syria ensures a safe haven for Russia in the Caspian region due to its proximity to the Middle East. Thus, Washington finds in Iran the weakest power among its strategic adversaries, which include North Korea, Russia and China. 

The US can start a process by destabilizing Iran which could then have a cascading effect on its neighbor Russia. If Washington is unsuccessful in its attempt at destabilizing Iran, it would look for other ways to confront Russia and China.

The ‘Arc of Crisis’

During US President Carter’s term in office, George Ball was appointed head of a special White House Iran task force in 1978, which recommended the President to stop supporting the then Shah of Iran in favour of the radical Islamist movement of Ayatollah Khomeini, which would instigate the balkanisation of the region along tribal and religious lines and would cause more chaos.

This explains the commonality of interests between Moscow and Tehran as Russia has many Muslims living in its republics and it fears that if chaos ensues in Iran, it would spread to its borders in the so-called “Arc of Crisis” that is likely to destabilise Muslim regions in the Russian Federation and the same applies to China.

If the year of strategic confrontation between the United States and Russia has begun with the destabilizing events unfolding in Iran, Ukraine, the Baltic and Korea, it is expected that many developments will be witnessed in 2018 on many fronts surrounding China and Russia to affect the political positions of both countries vis-à-vis international affairs.

This entails targeting the bases of Russian action in the Middle East and most importantly Iran and Syria as they both clash with the interests of Washington’s regional ally Israel which has kept raising alarm to Russians and Americans over a confrontation with Iran which is approaching its borders from Syria and Lebanon.

Thus, Israel and the US want to take the battle to Iran, a major ally of Russia, in order to put pressure both on Tehran and Moscow. Tehran by then would consider pulling out of Syria and Iraq and Russia will be in trouble once Iran retreats because of protests. However, the sphere of public discontent may expand and reach Russian territories.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/01/09/Will-a-new-world-order-start-taking-shape-in-2018-.html

The importance of the Middle East region for the US stems from the fact that it is part of a wider geography which includes Europe and Asia, whose security has been one of the main American concerns since the 1900s.

The Middle East has been considered a source of conflict since the 1948 war between Arabs and Israelis, affecting not only neighboring countries in Asia, Africa and Europe but also countries distant from it, such as the US and Australia. Thus, the importance of the Middle East to the US is an essential element of its global security system.

Washington perceives that failure to resolve conflicts in the region affects its national security as well as the security of its allies. This has been clear when a violent waves of attacks struck the United States and Western Europe in 2017 because the Middle East, though distant from the US in geography, is very influential in its domestic security and stability as well as prosperity.

Many other Middle East crises badly affect American stability and security, ranging from the influx of refugees from Syria, threats ofweapons of mass destruction including chemical weapons. The other issue that Mideast countries cause to the US is energy and oil as the Middle East oil producers either aggravate the performance of the American economy or improve it based on the prices of oil in the global market.

However, Americans believe that Russians won the first round of 2017 in the Middle East by winning the war in Syria, which has strengthened the position of the Kremlin internationally. This could be a very positive justification for the Americans to reconsider their status in the Mideast and how to counter Russia and China which are expanding their influence in the Middle East and Africa.

American concerns are linked to major developments in Syria that took place last year. These developments are also significant for the Kremlin, particularly in view of the forthcoming presidential elections in spring as they are not only linked to the strengthening of Russia’s regional and international influence but also in calming domestic fears that Russia is not slippinginto a new Afghanistan or facing a wide and heated confrontation with the United States.

 

US involvement in Middle East this year will be more than in 2017 as it will try hard to find a new balance of power

Shehab Al-Makahleh

US in the Middle East in 2018

Washington now has a great opportunity to benefit from its security partners in the Middle East region. What is happening in Iran at present is a new development that is not only triggered by burgeoning inflation in the country but more deep-seated resentment among most Iranians towards the country’s domestic and foreign policies. The Americans believe that ‘ordo ab chao’ (out of chaos comes order) should start in Iran so that peace prevails.

US President Donald Trump tweeted a warning against Iranian government regarding its crackdown on protests and demonstrations saying: “The world is watching”. Iran from Trump’s viewpoint can be drawn away from its Russian orbit if it stops sectarian and proxy wars and gives up its plans of having a nuclear weapon.

Thus, the US administration would cement its relations with its traditional allies in the region to enable them to thwart any Iranian misadventures. Trump considers North Korea as the US’ first major threat and Iran as the biggest threat to the stability of the Mideast region, given Tehran’s ambitions to dominate the Middle East as a revolutionary theocracy.

The American strategic plan for the Middle East in 2018 is expected to first scrutinize Iran’s strategy in the region and analyse its capabilities politically, economically, and militarily in order to avoid direct confrontation with Tehran because it is active in many countries in the region unequivocally as in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain and clandestinely in some countries in Africa and in Asia.

As Iran advances its influence in many Mideast countries which have very weak governments, Washington would seek indirect intervention in Iranian affairs. Therefore, Trump’s administration is expected to address its 2017 failure of strategies in the Middle East to neutralise Iranian presence in the Arab states. This will start with enhancing ties with Iraqi government to freeze Iranian influence.

Since US-Iraq relations appear more stable at present, mainly in light of the camaraderie of Trump with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, the commonality of their perspectives along with those of some other Shiite clerics in Iraq who oppose Iranian influence as they favour Iraq regaining its Arab identity, it can be speculated that the Americans would use their utmost to ensure that Abadi wins the coming elections in order to neutralise Iran from intervening in Iraqi affairs.

In 2018, the United States is expected to reinforce ties with Abadi administration and would seek to incorporate Iraq into the regional and international community, mainly with talks about the reconstruction of Iraq. Washington will also push for continuous US military training for Iraqi soldiers to thwart the return of any terrorist group including ISIS to free Iraq from Iranian dependence.

The US policy in Syria

On 5 December 2017 the US Defense Department announced that the American forces in Syria would remain as long as necessary to ensure that ISIS will not return to Iraq and Syria. It is expected that the American presence in Syria would hinge upon the situation in eastern parts of the country as it seeks to stop terrorist factions and to stabilise the liberated areas with no clear timetable for pulling out US troops from Syria. The United States has nearly 2,000 soldiers on the ground in Syria.

The growing involvement of Russia in the Middle East and the American presence in the Mideast would lead to the rise of extremist activities in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Thus, Moscow and Washington will be competing not only in the Middle East region but also in Central Asia.

The Palestinian issue returned to the top of regional issues in past few weeks and it will be so in 2018 after Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Jerusalem issue will be a key factor in reshaping American ties in the Middle East in 2018. Turkish President, RecepTayyip Erdogan, countered Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem by hosting a meeting for the Organisation of Islamic Conference in Istanbul December 12, 2017.

It is expected that Americans would try to mend fences with the Turkish government, especially after news of a meeting between Syrian opposition and pro- government representatives will be held in Sochi in January 29-30 after Russians have mediated talks between Syrian Kurds and the Turkish government for Kurdish representatives to attend the upcoming Sochi conference.

Thus, American involvement in the Middle East in 2018 is likely to be much more active than it was in 2017 and Washington will try hard to find a new balance of power and more countries will join its alliances in order to neutralize Iranian presence in Arab countries and to defuse any wars by focusing on Central Asia and Afghanistan which are closer to China and Russia, the arch rivals of the USA, to keep them away from the Mideast region.

Article published in Al-Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/01/02/Trajectories-of-2018-American-policy-in-the-Middle-East.html

Photo credit: Getty images

Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, appeared in a video broadcast by al-Qaeda’s ‘al-Sahab’ media channel in which he criticized Saudi Arabia and its alliance with the United States. This video raises many questions about the timing, the motives and future developments, as Hamza may be in the process of being groomed for a senior role.

Hamza bin Laden seems to be emerging in circumstances similar to those in which his father came to prominence, following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 after he escaped from house arrest in Saudi Arabia and reached Sudan to raise ‘Arab Mujahideen’ for his new terrorist group later known as al-Qaeda.

Hamza bin Laden, who the American security authorities have designated a ‘global terrorist’ in January 2017, would succeed his father and has already become the poster boy for the terror network’s media campaigns and propaganda.

Chip off the old block

He was the closest to his father and to al-Qaeda’s ideology among his other siblings. Hamza followed Osama in many of his tours and movements. Born in 1989, he represents the new generation of al-Qaeda.

The broadcast of Hamza’s video is not for the sake of local consumption among the group’s members, but conveys a message to the world and mainly to the West that al-Qaeda is making a comeback. The young bin Laden is regarded by many experts as the figure who could potentially reunite the global jihadist movement. 

Hamza bin Laden, who the American security authorities have designated a ‘global terrorist’ in January 2017, would succeed his father and has already become the poster boy for the terror network’s media campaigns and propaganda.

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

 The nature of the ideological concepts adopted by Hamza bin Laden is still not clear, whether it is identical to his father’s convictions and beliefs or not. It is important to note that al-Qaeda does not believe in fomenting sectarian wars but is mainly in war against Muslim regimes ostensibly for the sake of Islam.

As Hamza grew up in Sudan and Afghanistan, where Osama was given refuge by the Taliban, he often appeared in propaganda videos with his father when he was still a child. The recent video sends out the message that al-Qaeda will act harshly against Western targets around the world, mainly in the Middle East, especially after the US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel.

Few years ago, Hamza tried to enter Pakistan to reunite with his father in the battlefield: “What truly makes me sad is that Mujahideen legions have marched and I have not joined them”. This is an indication that the young man was very keen on joining the group and on leading them to achieve what his father sought.

The ‘lone wolf’ threat

In 2015, al-Qaeda aired an audiotape of Hamza in which he lauded the Boston Marathon bombing, and called on supporters to take to the “battlefield from Kabul, Baghdad, and Gaza to Washington, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv”. This time he also called his on followers to take to the battlefield that would serve al-Qaeda’s interests.

Since Osama bin Laden’s death in May 2011, al-Qaida has remained in the wilderness. The war against terrorism over the past few years in Iraq and Syria has given al-Qaeda in Afghanistan the chance to rebuild its capacities.

As ISIS’ political project of building an ‘Islamic Caliphate’ and of overthrowing regimes in the Middle East failed, al-Qaeda took the initiative to regroup and may accept erstwhile ISIS members into its ranks. As ISIS adopted some techniques of warfare from al-Qaeda; the latter has also benefited from the mistakes of ISIS’ tactics, which al-Qaeda will avoid in the coming period.

The appearance of Hamza bin Laden is not a mere coincidence, but a confirmation of his rise as leader of the group. A new chapter may commence with a new phase in lone wolf attacks in the West especially on occasions like the New Year and Christmas. The new targets of al-Qaeda may also be Arab countries, which it may seek to destabilize and overthrow its governments. How the world would stand up to this new challenge remains to be seen.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/12/16/Hamza-bin-Laden-likely-groomed-for-a-senior-al-Qaeda-role.html

There is growing interest in knowing the future of the Middle East with the emergence of new crises that may ravage the entire region. There is no global peace and prosperity without the stability and security of the Middle East. This cannot be achieved in 2018 in the event of turmoil and uncertainty after the incidents of the Arab Spring. Several countries resort to protect their strategic interests with dismantling existing brotherly alliances, replacing them with an association of interests, which may shift and end quickly once the end of the interest.

The Middle East is undergoing instability which will last for many years. An unpredictable American administration with other international opportunistic countries including Russia and China as well as some regional powers which try to cover their own internal fallacies and loopholes by instigating troubles away from their borders, this would aggravate insecurity in the Middle East and North Africa region, as long as the inter and intra-relations amongst nations has turned out to be based on energy, economic and security needs rather than on brotherly relations which was the case in the Arab region. A number of countries in the Middle East which seek to satisfy their the superpowers in the West and East through back channels are using the so-called soft power, which means using money, media and lobbies to pressure countries to achieve a policy or to pass specific papers to influence the shape of the map of the region, which is currently being done by some Arab countries in the United States and other countries through the race for influence and satisfaction to the White House and the Kremlin and “Downing Street.”

The next phase will witness the formation of an Arab alliance which would group countries that are interested in naturalising ties with Israel as a de facto without any terms and conditions to open a new page between Arabs and Israelis at the expense of other Arabs who, in spite of having peace agreements with Israel, have not transgressed and trespassed the borders of naturalisation at the expense of other Arabs including Jerusalem issues.

This would lead to further pressure on Arabs from both sides to accept or not to accept the American-Israeli terms and conditions or to be isolated in the coming few years as there are other resources that can provide Europe and the US with since the dependence on hydrocarbon energy is declining.

The coming year will witness a confrontation regarding the 5 permanent member states arms race to have bases in the Middle East including China and France: China in Syria and France in Lebanon while Russia in Syria and the USA in the Gulf and Jordan.

The Iraqi and Syrian wars on terrorism are almost over and the reconstruction process would start any time next year. this would lead to a conflict among countries as the stagnation and recession in some regional key powers would drive them to either contribute to reconstruction of both Iraq and Syria or would contribute to further conflicts to lubricate the regional powers economies. The upcoming presidential elections and predicted victory of Bashar al-Assad to be the coming president of Syria, some Arab countries which were against him will be find themselves isolated as they are the ones who were opposing a ceasefire in the country and because he will not accept any naturalization of ties with any of these states in the near future. Syria will accept Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon to open their borders to start trade and reconstruction process without giving any other countries any role in the building process except for those who supported Syria in its ordeal. No ties with the Gulf states is going to be the feature of the coming few years not only because Al Assad does not want it, but because the Syrian people at home will not accept relations with the Gulf states, some of which contributed to the war that displaced more than half the population of Syria, destroyed its economy and wiped out more than 400,000 of its people.

In 2018, Syria will have a Middle East affair in which everyone takes into consideration. The main reason for the war was oil in Syria which has been discovered by the Russians and Chinese in large quantities and the gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea and in Qara in the outskirts of Damascus which was most controlled by armed opposition.

With the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and to recognise it as the capital of Israel, the chances of having extremist and terrorist activities are slated to rise and that new forms of terrorists would be established.

Alliances are expected to change in the region with Jordan getting closer to Iran and Turkey as both countries have recognised the Jordanian right to be the custodian and guardian of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

For decades to come, the region will witness a state of insecurity and instability with some regional key players benefitting from this scenario, instigating sectarian wars and conflicts to export their own internal issues to other countries. Raising the issue of the minorities in some countries will be the main headings in the western and some regional media coverages, igniting wars in the name of saving the minorities fueled by regional economic deterioration, fiscal austerity, high joblessness and political corruption.

In short, the Middle East is in a whirlpool that would live in in the few years to come the “big bang” theory which many countries breaking down into smaller states.

Since the population of the Arab world is almost 380 million and the young generation is more than 75 per cent in most of these countries, constituting almost 300 million. According to the International Labor Organisation’s statistics, the Middle East and North Africa regions continue to show by far the highest youth unemployment rates – 28.2 and 30.5 per cent, respectively and rates have continued to worsen since 2012, particularly for young women.

In a number of countries in the Middle East, the youth have lost their identity and they would be a source of insecurity to their communities as they have nothing to lose more with new job opening, low salaries, low purchase power, high inflation rates, nepotism, misrepresentation in the parliament and in the government which have led to the state of “statelessness” among the youth to their countries and that they would be ready to put their hands in the hands of their enemies to destruct their communities. In other words, they can be easily attracted to the camps which are opposing their countries via media. Many countries in the region are suffering huge deficits in their budgets that would lead to a social uproar regardless whether these countries are royalties or republics as the gap between the rich and the poor is getter wider.

Expected scenarios for the Middle East:

In the aftermath of the demise of Daesh in both Iraq and Syria, some of the terrorist factions’ leaders (Al-Qaeda and Daesh) have been moved from their headquarters in both countries to other countries in the region to start a new war game that would turn the region into chaos for years to come. This time the international intelligence services and the establishment of camps in the desert areas in the MENA are aimed to use these leaders to have new targets, namely the Gulf States.

The attrition of some Arab armies would neutralise them in any coming war regionally and would lead to the mushrooming of terrorist factions in neighboring countries that would serve as a springboard to take action against targets in countries where some international players are not satisfied with their regimes.

Despite the American hostility to Iran and its warning to Tehran of the consequences of continuing its program to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, there is a preliminary agreement between the two countries that politics is not militarism; reciprocity of announcement on both sides against each other and the escalation is just for domestic and regional purposes. Neither Washington nor Tehran is serious about military warnings.  The USA seeks to loot the money from its Arab allies and Iran is benefitting from this situation by expanding in the Arab region at a time it is seeking alliances with Turkey, Syria, Russia, China and Qatar.

The return of Syria and Iraq to the regional arena means the sharpening of nails of those who have manipulated in the two countries’ security and stability for many years under the pretext of sectarian wars. This means the transfer of sedition to the heart of those countries that are suffering from internal social and political disorder.

This will be supported by the slow growth of these economies of the region due to security risks, terrorist threats and lack of investor confidence in the future of the region as a whole, which means more unemployment and more social and political pressures on governments that if they continue their austerity policies on the majority of the people while they proceed further with their extravagant expenditures on a less than 1 per cent of the population and even they started their strict policies against other Arab allies who have been serving their interests.

For this year, at best, the best growth rate expected in the region will not exceed 2% with a decline in the wheel of production compared to 2010 before the Arab Spring, as the growth rate of the economy in a number of countries recorded 3-4.6%.

Therefore, the Arab arena is expected to witness the following:

First: A game changer which means that countries that have been affected by terrorism will move to a new stage of reconstruction and peace as terrorism moves to hit other countries in the region.

Second: The spread of sectarianism is the most dangerous scenario. The recent sectarian tensions in the region, especially in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, increase the chances of a full-scale war between the Sunni and Shiite forces, and may divide the new Middle East into self-governing groups on a sectarian basis in accordance with its political orientations and interests in the region.

Third: The new authoritarianism and oligarchy in the MENA means the decline of the support of the middle class, which would lead to lack of balance in society in light of the rise of regimes which are new dictatorships as they play on the contradictions of religious, political and social society.

Fourth, countries in the Middle East will witness a severe shortage of economic and financial resources, resulting in huge financial deficits due to military and security tensions in the region that will make oil prices higher than $85.

Fifth: The security threats will divide Arab societies between the pro-government and pro-Islamic groups, including the organization of the “Muslim Brotherhood”, and in light of the previous economic factors, sectarian affiliations and government entities as well as terrorist and extremist groups. This split will create the incumbent hub for further deterioration in stability.

Jordanian perspectives of the Syrian conflict, ISIS, Hezbollah, Assad regime and any prospects of a confrontation and the US strategy regarding some regional conflicts which have led to extremism and terrorism.

The kingdom of Jordan, a pro-Western monarchy lying on Syria’s southern flank, has been less beset by political violence than Lebanon or Turkey. The effectiveness of the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate – the country’s primary military intelligence service – at identifying and neutralising security threats is well above the regional average.

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 later on the Iraqi-Iranian war in 1980-1988, Jordan started new strategies to deal with the regional developments which have been undergoing many political and economic transformations that drove the late King Hussein to seek balanced policies with the East and the West to avert his country the consequences of any miscalculation. In the past we had ups and downs with Syria for many years until the Iraqi-Iranian war ended in 1988. Relations started to get back to normal because of the tribes on the borders of each and because of common interest for both governments.

When the so-called Arab Spring erupted in the Middle East and North Africa causing chaos, destruction of cities and economies, displacement of millions, of people and the death of hundreds of thousands of people, Syria was the last to be affected by these demonstrations; however, it was the first in terms of death toll and in the number of displaced whose numbers reached 12 million and the refugees’ figures amounted to 5 million in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries.

Jordanian Syrian ties since 2000 were quite normal until demonstrations broke out in all provinces of Syria, forming high risk on Jordan due to the presence and influence of Iran on the Syrian government and the interference of regional powers in the country’s internal affairs: Arab and non-Arab. Thus, the Jordanian leadership decided to close the borders and to the presence of foreign forces in Syria.  Jordan feared that any spillover from Syria's crisis, the kingdom will be the first to be affected. A public opinion poll in Jordan was conducted in late August through early September 2017. The poll was based on personal interviews with a random, geographic probability national sample of 1,000 Jordanian adult respondents. The sample is fully representative of the overall population: 98 percent Muslim, 61 percent with less than a high school diploma, 55 percent in the 18 to 34 age cohort. The statistical margin of error is approximately plus or minus 3.5 percent.

The poll shows that 86 percent of Jordanians hold a negative view of Hezbollah. Somewhat lower proportions, though still a solid majority, see its role as significant in both causing conflict in Syria (74 percent) and broader extremist strife (64 percent).

Jordanians see no "good guys" in Syria today: the Syrian regime, its outside supporters, and its main internal enemy all receive highly unfavorable ratings. Asked their view of each player "considering their recent policies," Jordanians rated Syria's government at 91 percent "fairly negative" or "very negative."

After Friday prayers April 14, 2017Jordanians gathered in the northern city of Mafraq and they burnt Iranian flags and pictures of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei while demanding the expulsion of Iran’s ambassador from the Hashemite Kingdom.

The demonstrations came in response to a war of words between senior Jordanian and Iranian officials. In a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post on April 6, 2017 King Abdullah II addressed the challenge of growing Israeli settlement construction while trying to fight terrorism.

In 2004, the Jordanian monarch was the first Arab leader to warn against the so-called Shiite Crescent in the region from Tehran to the Mediterranean through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The king said talked about terrorism reasons and factions and he entailed Iran with them saying:   “These issues give ammunition to the Iranians, to [Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi and ISIS [Daesh].”

The remarks of Jordan's monarch stunned many in Tehran because he seemed to equate the Iranian government with Daesh. The response from Iran was swift, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi blasting King Abdullah’s comments as “silly and careless,” reflecting his “ignorance and superficial” view.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry promptly summoned the Iranian ambassador in Amman, Mojtaba Ferdosipour, rebuking the Iranian envoy for his country’s verbal assault. Ghassemi’s words stung as Jordanians expect that those who oppose the country’s policies will criticize the government, not taunt the king himself, which is considered a red line in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Beyond the rhetorical insults, the latest spat between Amman and Tehran reflects a genuine policy divide that is unlikely to disappear in the short term. Abdullah warned in the Post interview about Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps forces operating only 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Jordan's borders, adding that non-state actors approaching Jordan will not be “tolerated.”

Jordan is geographically far away from Iran. Iranian forces have no business to be on by the Jordanian Syrian borders at all. The only conclusion that Jordan can reach is that they are there to threaten and pressure Jordan.

Iran views the Syrian civil war as a conflict mainly aimed toward undermining the Islamic Republic. Given Syria’s historically close ties to Iran and its important geostrategic position on the Mediterranean — including its proximity to Hezbollah — the Iranians will never give up Syria willingly. Iran views outside incursions into Syria — including from Jordan’s borders — as unacceptable and will work to secure the border area.

Iranian or Hezbollah forces' approaching Jordanian sovereign territory could be especially destabilizing for Amman. Iran and Hezbollah have previously tried to carry out attacks inside Jordan.

In other words, Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are viewed negatively in Jordan.

Iranian policies a major problem but not Iran as a state

Similarly, when asked about Iran's recent policies, Jordanians overwhelmingly characterize them very negatively (50 percent) or fairly negatively (43 percent). The recent P 5+1 nuclear deal with Iran is also seen as problematic: just one-third of those polled classified the agreement as a good deal, compared with the plurality (45 percent), who call it bad; one-fifth say they don't know enough to judge.

Looking ahead, only 13 percent of Jordanians expect Arab-Iranian relations to improve; a narrow majority (53 percent) say those relations will get worse, while 29 percent predict they will remain about the same. More unexpectedly, given a list of six regional conflicts including Syria, Yemen, Israel-Palestine, and ISIS, a plurality of Jordanians say top priority should be either "the conflict between Iran and Arab countries (15 percent) or "the conflict between sects or movements of Islam" (13 percent).

Jordan's and Iran's Last Tango": "Relations between countries are like a tango. They require two parties, and cannot develop unilaterally... Over the years, and perhaps throughout the last four decades, Jordan's relations with Iran were based on two main criteria, from the Jordanian perspective: first, on whether Jordan's relations with the Gulf [states] were [characterized by] crisis or by normalization, and second, [on the state of] the relations between Tehran and Washington. As a matter of principle, Jordan cannot disregard her two main allies, Washington and Riyadh.

"Every time Jordan wanted to convey a message of good will to Iran, it was met with a cold shoulder and with a blow. Amman's and Tehran's last tango occurred last night, when a Lebanese friend of mine asked me about Brigade 313 of [Iran's] Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is [reportedly] being formed in southern Syria and is headquartered in the town of Izra in the Deraa Governorate. This is happening even though Tehran – one of the guarantors in the track of the Astana talks [on Syria] – is well aware of the Jordanian position which firmly demands that the 'sectarian militias' [i.e., the Iranian forces and their affiliated Shi'ite militias] maintain a buffer zone between themselves and the Syria-Jordan border. Moreover, these reports arrive when the region is on the brink of the abyss, and it takes only a small push or some accidental unfortunate incident to [make it] slide to the bottom.

Jordan, the first to warn against a Shiite Crescent

When Jordan feared the establishment of Shiite crescent that supposed to be extending from Iraq to Lebanon, Jordan was right and precautions were taken against the expected crescent.

Jordan adopted a very strong foreign policy to prevent any militia’s presence on its border .When the preliminary results of the Syrian’s revolution has become against Jordanian vision and it serves the interests of Russia and Iran, Jordan tried with the U.S to avoid the circumstances resulted from the collapse of the Syrian opposition, thus, the American foreign policy towards the Middle East began to be very clear in the region. As a strong competitor to the U.S, Russia wants to play a big role in Syria to pave the road to an economical gate to Europe and to find foothold along the Mediterranean coast.

In order to study American foreign policy in the Middle East, I would like to introduce the priorities of U.S policy:

Israel’s security: whether the Syrian opposition won the war or not, it doesn't make a sense to Israel, the most important Israeli priority in the region is to restrain Iranian nuclear plant and to disrupt Hezbollah's operations that affiliated to Iran functioning on Syrian soil, therefore, the bombardment of Hezbollah’s positions by Israeli warplanes reflects Israel's concern over Iran's nuclear program, and it is important to realize that Israel has bombed weapons and ammunition sites belong to Hezbollah’s militia and it didn’t bomb one single site belongs to Syrian regime. As has been noted, Americans try to adopt a long-term political program to secure Israel as a very strong ally in the region.

When talking about the US strategy, then the Iranian nuclear file and its repercussions on Israel should be mentioned. For me personally, the Iranian nuclear file is the most active factor that shapes American strategy in Syria as well as the presence of Russian forces in the Middle East. Some analysts do not pay attentions to this file and link America's procrastination policy towards Syrian crises to Russian intervention in the region, although this linkage has its political value, but the Iranian nuclear program factor was present and strongly has calculations in the US strategic plan on the long-term, overwhelmingly, U.S supported the Syrian opposition tactically and logistically to see what will be the next step in the future.

Iranian or Hezbollah forces' approaching Jordanian sovereign territory could be especially destabilizing for Amman. Iran and Hezbollah have previously tried to carry out attacks inside Jordan.

In 2015, Jordan’s military court sentenced 8 Hezbollah suspects — seven Jordanians of Palestinian origin and one Syrian — for conspiring to launch a terrorist attack against American and Israeli targets inside Jordan using machine guns and homemade explosives, while recruiting members to join the Lebanese militant organization. Jordanian security forces also foiled an attack in 2015 by the Iranian-sponsored Bayt al Maqdis group with 45 kilograms (99 pounds) of powerful explosives found in the suspect’s possession.

Jordan’s view of a US role

Given five options for their most desired action from the United States, Jordanians are most inclined to opt for "more economic or technological assistance," with 35 percent picking this option as their first choice and 33 percent as their second choice. The second most listed choice is "more weapons and training for Arab countries to defend themselves." Only in third place is "more diplomatic support to solve regional conflicts."

Surprisingly, "more opportunities to study, travel, or live in America" comes last, with just 13 percent choosing this option as their top priority. Even more surprising is that a mere 3 percent say they want "none of the above" from the United States -- although the large majority have either a fairly negative (33 percent) or very negative (52 percent) view of recent U.S. policies.

These findings suggest that when weighing risks to Jordan's stability, it is unlikely that either Daesh or Iran and its allies could gain enough popular support to cause serious unrest. Moreover, King Abdullah's policy toward Syria seems well calculated to keep him out of trouble.

On the other hand, outside pressure to increase Jordan's role in Syria would probably be so unpopular that it might create a significant social backlash. Instead, Jordan's public would be much more receptive to increased U.S. economic and military support -- with the aim of keeping Jordan insulated from rather than more involved in the conflicts raging just across its borders.

Conclusion

The Jordanian perception of Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS is somehow the same as they are destabilising factors of the region. As there are Iranian troops by the borders with Jordan, the Jordanian government asked many times both Russia and the USA to keep the Iranian and its militias away from Jordanian borders to activate the de-escalation zones agreed on in Astana conference. It sounds that the Russians are now increasing their political and military influence in the Greater Middle East. And this includes Jordan.

On December 5, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, announced that provincial and parliamentary elections will be held on May 12, 2018; yet, many domestic events and regional developments would delay the elections as the Iraqi community is undergoing many societal and economic as well as political hardships.

As the date of Provincial Councils and the House of Representatives elections is approaching, some Iraqi leaders started to call for further procrastination due to two reasons: The first is the bad financial situation in the country, and the second is the that more than four million displaced Iraqis have been sheltered in various places of Iraq which are not part of their original constituencies. They will not be able to return to their homes in the coming few months. That would force the government to announce the postponement.

However, the pace of political events in Iraq is at present accelerating especially after the defeat of ISIS at a time the activities and movements of political blocs and parties started to set up the platform for the upcoming elections. Though the year is closing its final chapter with many turbulent incidents in North Africa, the Levant, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraqis are highly affected by the regional powers, steering the outcome of the political scene in Iraq for the coming years.

Despite the lack of an appropriate environment to hold such elections due to logistic and technical hardships, the political conflict has intensified in recent weeks and reached unprecedented levels, with some visits of shuttle tours of some politicians to the provinces where they announced they would start their electoral campaigns.

Corruption and terrorism

Some politicians resort to the public to gain political support and others resort to blaming other political figures for the failure of Iraqi economy and its political achievements. In Iraq, the process of forming blocs and electoral lists is supported by regional players. After his success in liberating Iraq, al-Abadi, started to gain more confidence and people started to trust him more. The war on ISIS has lasted three years, but the war on corruption needs more than that to liberate the state and purge it because corruption is not only political, but administrative and financial. Thus, war on corruption is more difficult than the war on a terrorism. And any political figure who will have these slogans on his election campaign would gain many votes that help him form the government.

Whether the elections will be held on the scheduled date or not, Abadi, depending on his victory over ISIS and his attempts to counter corruption, will be able to free Iraq of uni-polarity and dominance of one party.

Shehab Al-Makahleh

Iraq is now a relatively in a good security situation compared to previous years, which has been culminated with opening its borders with Jordan and the resumption of flights to Iraq from various countries. Abadi's visits to some neighboring Arab countries has helped Iraq regain its stability and its security amidst calls that Iraq restores its pre-1991 status at the regional level, which has been in the orbit of the Arab countries rather than Iran. Under al-Abadi, Iraqi is regaining its Arab identity; yet, there should be many changes at the political spectrum in order for Iraq to be off Iranian control which includes amongst other things a new block that entails both Sunnis and non-Sunnis including Shiites and Christians as well as other minorities in order to change the Iraqi political map.

The Iraqi political parties are holding their conferences in preparation for the electoral process. The question here is: Are political figures quitting major Iraqi blocs or defecting due to their dismay over old blocs’ performances. Are the new political figures going to succeed in convincing the Iraqis at the ballots?

Iraq's Sunnis have been badly affected in the past few years and at present many of them are facing challenges, stemming from strained ties with Baghdad and the sectarian tensions caused by the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Front. To many observers, Sunni population are detached from Sunni leaders in Baghdad, granting Abadi a better chance to win in the coming elections as he is regarded by many Sunnis and Shiites as a compromise between various blocs.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki finds himself isolated from the rest of Iraq's political blocs. Badr bloc has recently announced it will run as one independent party. Representatives of the Popular Mobilization Front, known as “Al Hashd Al Sha’abi”, are running for the elections as well. Badr, Iraq's largest militia group which is led by Hadi Al Amiri, is establishing a political coalition to take part in 2018 elections.

The early preparation of these blocs and political lists is a clear tough competition between political parties and blocs with the opportunities of al-Abadi to win for the second term as he is supported by Arab and other countries against his rival leader former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other opponents. The competition between all these forces will be reflected on the nature of political life in Iraq. The coming government of Iraq will get rid of the concept of hegemony and control of Iraqi political decision, paving the way for building the new Iraq without any foreign interventions into its domestic affairs.

Whether the elections will be held on the scheduled date or not, Abadi, depending on his victory over ISIS and his attempts to counter corruption, will be able to free Iraq of uni-polarity and dominance of one party, opening the door wide open for other parties and blocs to joint in efforts to build Iraq.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/12/09/Will-Iraq-s-upcoming-elections-be-dead-on-arrival-.html

Photo credit: Johan Spanner for The New York Times

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

 

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

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

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/

 

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