Shehab Al Makahleh

Shehab Al Makahleh

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.

The moment his plane landed in Moscow on February 15, Russian media broadcast the king while saying: “I am always very delighted and warmed by the opportunity to see my dear brother, President Putin, as a friend, a dear friend of his as well as a friend of Russia ’, with this statement King Abdullah II started his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The wording is very important at this time as the king expressed the Jordanian fears of a comprehensive regional war with non-conventional weapons which some countries have and would use at certain points and areas if war breaks out.

Some western diplomats frankly expressed their interest in the royal visit to Moscow, saying that the main reason is a Jordanian farsightedness of a comprehensive war in the region that would involve not only regional but rather international powers, adding salt to the Middle Easterners’ wounds. Putin knows that Jordan’s strength is through pre-emptive and tactical upkeep of working diplomatic ties with players across the region. Both Jordanian and Russian leaders know that their mutual interest lies in further cooperation at the highest levels.

The Syrian conflict

King Abdullah has succeeded to maintain affable, and somehow purposeful ties with many countries involved in the Syrian conflict. Amman is the only conduit of collaboration between Washington and Moscow in Syria. However, this has driven Jordan into many challenges starting from balancing out its policies with various regional and international players in the Syrian war.

The king, who was the first to warn against an Iranian or Shi’ite Crescent in the region from Tehran to Beirut in 2004, has tried to persuade the Russian president who has strong ties with Iranian leaders, to contain the escalation by the Jordanian, Syrian and Israeli borders to avoid any future war as this will drag every country in the region to war which can start any moment but no one would be able to put an end if it breaks out.

The king was not only conveying a Jordanian message to Russia to foil all attempts to escalate tension near Jordanian northern borders, but also a regional message that war is in the offing and that the ramifications would be destructive for all parties. Thus, the Jordanian monarch has tried to receive Russian support, as Russia is an effective player in the Syrian conflict.

King Abdullah is sure that Iran would not accept to leave Syria after all its military and financial aid with a perception among Iranian leaders that they were the ones who backed Bashar Al Assad. The drone incident and the downing of the F-16 last week reveals that only Russia can control all players on the ground including Iran.

When King Abdullah has realized what a further escalation means if Iran, Syria and Israel get into war, conducive to major explosion in Syria and turning it into a full-fledged war at the regional level, he listed this new development to his agenda as the visit was prepared few weeks ago.

‘Bang bang’

The Syrian “Big Bang” will turn the region into a state of anarchy. Any war in Syria means that the region will turn into states fighting against each other to delineate the borders, which will cause more bloodshed and mayhem that we do not know when and how it will end.

The historical heritage of Jordan over the holy sites in Jerusalem has made Amman very sensitive to any changes or transformations of the status of the holy city. 

– Shehab Al-Makahleh 

The Jordanian monarch tried to persuade president Putin that it is necessary to convince the Iranians to be involved into indirect negotiations with Israel in order to avoid any regional war that will incur heavy losses on all countries and would lead to instability of the Middle East for decades to come, fueling more fanaticism and terrorism in the region which will be crossing borders to other countries.

The king himself believes that Russia is the only party that can influence Iran because of the Russian military presence in Syria on the one hand and because the missiles used to protect Syrian airspace are Russian-made .Jordan needs Russian cooperation to buttress its own susceptibilities and predispositions.

The predicament of Jerusalem

The Jordanian monarch has sought through this visit to gain momentum and support from Putin who is an advocate for the Jordanian guardianship over the holy sites in East Jerusalem.

On the eve of his trip to Moscow, the king received U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. King Abdullah reiterated the strength of the US-Jordanian ties in spite of the Jordanian rejection of American President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Few days ago, Jordan has secured a five-year American aid pledge.

The historical heritage of Jordan over the holy sites in Jerusalem has made Amman very sensitive to any changes or transformations of the status of the holy city. This is the main reason for the rift with the USA since December 2017.

For Jordan, there was no alternative to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. It is regarded as the only solution for ending the conflict. In this regard, Jordan seeks not only American backing but also a Russian support.

To sum up, Jordan has been playing with its cards to bring about peace to the region through resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and putting an end to the Syrian war, as well as countering terrorism. This cannot be accomplished without a backing from Moscow and Washington as dominant powers in the region as both capitals are the ones that can shape the future of the Middle East. The visit of the king to Moscow has been successful and he has received very positive signals from the Russian leadership to sustain the stability of the kingdom and avoid any endeavors to drag the Middle East into regional war.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/02/18/Did-Jordan-king-visit-Moscow-to-avert-disaster-in-the-region-.html

The Middle East has undergone major vicissitudes following the “Arab Spring” demonstrations. The Mideast is one of the most important regions in the world and the stability of which is mandatory to peace and stability in the world. Since 2011, the Middle East has entered a state of uncertainty with many conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and other states that are apt to witness internal wars.

Nowadays, tension is on the rise between Turkey and Egypt on energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, relations between Ankara and Cairo after Egyptian foreign ministry’s statement regarding Turkish rejection of the agreement signed between Cyprus and Egypt in 2013 rings an alarm bell. Egyptian statement reads: "Any attempt to prejudice or undermine Egypt's sovereign rights in its economic zones in the Middle East is rejected and will be countered.”

 Agreement equals access

The Egyptians believe that the agreement signed with Greek Cypriots gives Cairo access to an area in East Mediterranean that is of particular interest for hydrocarbon companies since the discovery of the huge Zohr gas fields in 2015, while Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Çavusoglu contested the deal, declaring that Turkish Cypriots had been unfairly prevented from claiming their “inalienable rights to the natural resources” around the island, and revealed Turkish plans to begin exploration in the area.

As long as Ankara does not recognize the demarcation of the border signed between Egypt and Cyprus in 2013, describing it as illegal, the region is once again turning towards a new approach of belligerence and rivalry. And the reason is gas politics. The same applies to the gas fields between Israel and Lebanon.

Such a sudden escalation of tension between Egypt and Turkey is a sign of a blow to the efforts to abate any militarization of the Mediterranean Sea as this would be the ignition for other regional and international wars.

Gas exploration

On February 5, 2017 the Turkish Foreign Minister announced that his country plans to start oil and gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean soon in the areas at the continental shelf at latitudes 32, 16 and 18 degrees. The Turkish minister issued an implicit message to both Cairo and Nicosia, saying: “No foreign entity, company or even ship can carry out any illegal scientific research or exploration for oil and gas in the continental shelf of Turkey and the maritime region.” On the other hand, the Egyptian side sees its full right to defend its interests according to the agreement it deems perfectly legal. The Turkish government believes that the Greek Cypriot cannot unilaterally adopt laws regarding the exploitation of natural resources on behalf of the whole Cypriots.

The Eastern Mediterranean is expected to witness wars on gas and oil between Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and Greece in territorial waters. In July 2017, Ankara reacted strongly to the Greek Cypriots when they started to drill for gas. As a result, the Turkish army dispatched a frigate in the Eastern Mediterranean to monitor a drilling ship that is believed to have begun searching for oil and gas off in spite of Turkish government’s rejection, considering it as a hostile act.

When Egyptian president Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi paid a visit last November to Cyprus, he had talks with Greek Cypriot officials on gas and oil resources in the region. Tensions since then started to amount, with both Turkey and Egypt blaming each other of interfering in the other’s internal affairs. 

It is expected that Ankara would resort to legal proceedings to nullify the agreement because of what it called “violation” of the continental shelf. 

– Shehab Al Makahleh

 Nowadays, a drill ship is exploring for oil and gas in the region. Turkey sounds unhappy with the agreement between Italy, Greece and Israel to construct a gas pipeline from East Mediterranean to Europe at a cost of US$6 billion. This would ignite another tension, with Italy being party of it.

Why war is shimmering in the Mediterranean? 

Political differences are the preponderant factor determining relations between countries and intimidating to bring about instability and chaos to the region with acts of hostilities caused by race toward gas and oil reserves. The Eastern Mediterranean basin is one of the most affluent areas with natural resources, the most important of which is natural gas. An American study conducted in 2010 shows the gas reserves in this region are estimated at 345 trillion cubic feet. The region also contains 3.4 billion barrel of oil reserves. As long as there is no mutual cooperation between the countries concerned due to demarcation issue, any war would break out any moment and the region is becoming a time bomb.

What do Ankara and Cairo want?

It is expected that Ankara would resort to legal proceedings to nullify the agreement because of what it called “violation” of the continental shelf. The Turkish moves are likely to disrupt the efforts of Egypt and Greece to conclude a maritime demarcation agreement.

With regard to the economic crisis facing Egypt since 2011, Cairo is prudent to finish the demarcation issue with Greece and Cyprus in order to avoid any rift with Turkey. Since Cyprus has also signed another agreement with Israel, the ghost of war is chasing the countries in the Middle East. In the past, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was procrastinating to discuss the issue of gas and oil agreements with Greece and Cyprus until the dispute between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus is over as he was considering this conflict a “political headache.”

Gas diplomacy might seem germane regarding Israel’s ties with Arab neighbours. The state of suspicion between Israel and Arab neighbors would lead to skirmishes on this basin as it could be a strategic alternative to Russian Liquefied Natural Gas which is exported to Europe. This justifies why China and Russia are playing a pivotal role in Syria today which has a huge natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey are flaunting their emerging energy dexterity as a prospective weapon as each of them draws a plan to have the upper hand in the region and play a pivotal role in shaping the Middle East’s political scene.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/02/10/Gas-and-oil-diplomacy-in-Eastern-Mediterranean-prelude-to-regional-war.html

ey has sought to exploit the Qatar dispute with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to grab a historic opportunity in the region. The dreams of a strong, regional Turkey necessitates great financial capabilities that cannot be achieved in light of the decline of the Turkish economy and its suffering from several crises, especially with its strained relations with the USA. Thus, Turkish President Erdogan found his relations with Qatar and Russia a decisive solution to Ankara’s financial problems.

Turkey has maintained its footprint in the region and has expanded its influence in 2011, principally with the historical opportunity of the so-called "Arab Spring" in the Middle East, which was exploited by many countries including Turkey and Iran. As for Turkey, the Arab Spring has enabled political Islam Movements (Muslim Brotherhood) to jump to power in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and Ankara has become the major supporter of these movements. On the other hand, Iran has benefitted from the demonstrations in the Arab World to have a say in the region and to expand its influence as well.

Turkey has intervened vigorously in many regional crises in order to achieve its objectives and interests in the beginning with full support from the United States of America with which it has strategic relations until both Washington and Ankara had taken a new approach after Turkey had chosen to form its foreign policy that serve its own interests, deviating away from the course that was drawn for the country for many years.

Turkey's involvement in the Middle East has increased due to its effective use of soft power, such as the public debate between Erdogan and the then Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos a few years ago, the flotilla incident, and Turkey's support for some Arab demonstrations, including those of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as well as Syria.

The Cold War has largely defined Turkey's strategic perspective vis-à-vis the Middle East in general and the Arab world in particular. Ankara's strategic perspective to limit the influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East has been shaped. The Arab Nationalist trend was also a means of supporting the influence of the Soviet Union in the region. This view was formed according to the perspective of the Western Camp to ensure the flow of oil from the Middle East region in a safe way to world markets. At that stage, Turkey has adopted a Western Camp stand.

Two political tremors

Since the end of the 1980s, changes in Turkish politics have been clear as there have been international and regional transformation as well which had driven Ankara to change its foreign policy. This has affected Turkey's view of the Middle East after the end of the bipolar world in the aftermath of the Cold War. There were two political tremors that have affected the Middle East since 1980-1990s: The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Gulf crisis.

Turkey was deeply affected by these tremors, and the Gulf War increased Turkey's interest in the Middle East. Everyone is aware of the importance of the region; mainly Iraq and Syria for Turkey. The Turkish government has started to consider how to develop a new vision that better serves its interests in the Middle East.

Turkey has abandoned its defense policy after 2011, years after the adoption of "zero problems" policy. The godfather of this policy is Ahmet Davutoglu, former Turkish prime minister. Turkey is no longer waiting for the problems of the region to come to its borders, but rather it is acting to defend itself as the Turkish foreign policy stipulates. Davutoglu said on October 19, 2016: "As of now we will not wait for problems, we will not wait for the terrorist organizations to attack us, but we will attack the areas where these organizations are hiding, and we will destroy their bases over their heads and we will uproots of all parties supporting them."

That is the policy adopted for their attack on Afrin and even beyond Afrin that would take them to Idlib and east to the Iraqi borders. Turkey saw the attack as the best way to defend itself and contribute to the formulation of new maps instead of being imposed on Ankara, especially after the attempted coup d'état in mid-July 2016. This has been the justification for the Turkish parliament to approve military operations outside Turkish borders, chiefly in Syria and Iraq for an additional year.

The Turkish moves in the context of the Turkish foreign defense policy, which Ankara has adopted recently to protect its national interests, are based on its belief that soft power is no longer effective to achieve its external ambitions, especially in light of the competition between regional and international powers. Therefore, Turkey has incepted to activate its military tools for several reasons as follows:

First, the desire to open up new markets for Turkish weapons. Turkish military industries rose in 2015 to reach $4.3 billion, of which $ 1.3 billion was exported. Second, the new military tool aims to strengthen its presence in the Arab region and Africa by controlling the international crossings to protect its economic interests and national security interests from any regional or international interventions or sanctions that would be imposed in the future on Turkey as a result of its foreign policies. Third, the other motive is the desire to participate in the international coalition against terrorism not only to counter the threat of terrorists near its borders, but to stop the expansion of Kurdish movements in Iraq and Syria for fear of independence.

Moreover, Turkey has the intention to besiege its enemies in their areas of influence and to cut off all logistic support for them that some regional and international powers are extending. Besides, Turkey is keeping abreast regional and international moves towards the region in order to limit its future negative repercussions on Turkish power, particularly in light of mounting Iranian and Russian dominance.

These Turkish accounts would put Ankara in the circle of friction with Russia and the US at a time the world is passing through a new type of Cold War and the Middle East is passing through its Cold War as well with many alliances and axes being formed. On the issue of the Kurds, Turkey has a spat with Washington regarding the future of the Kurds in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. While Ankara is moving to prevent the Kurds from strengthening their power and influence, especially in the areas near Turkish borders, Washington regards them as a key ally in its strategy to counter extremism and terrorism; this justifies why the Americans provide the Kurds with weapons and help train them.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/02/03/Turkish-foreign-policy-From-defensive-to-offensive.html

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