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

Published in Tribune

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

Published in Tribune
Sunday, 24 December 2017 04:46

Russia ready to fill Middle East void

US President Donald Trump, who next month celebrates his first year in office, has formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He has ended decades of American diplomacy by ordering the State Department to prepare for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, drawing anger and despair from people and leaders throughout the world, who now expect a possible third uprising in the Occupied Territories, the collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts, the strengthening of extremists and an effect on the standing of the US in the world, mainly in the Middle East.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was one of his presidential campaign promises, but hardly anyone imagined it would be among those he kept.

Last week’s announcement turned Washington into a dishonest broker in any future talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, opening the door wide for Arabs to seek Russian, Chinese and European support.

Though Trump received many warnings from Arab and European leaders and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he insisted on his decision to move the embassy.

The Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which were signed in 1993 in the White House by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, with the attendance of then-President Bill Clinton, stated that the final status of Jerusalem had to be settled by negotiations.

The dominant majority of the international community has condemned this decision and called on the White House to revise it.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterised it as “defying common sense”, while President Vladimir Putin shared his deep concerns. Putin phoned his Turkish counterpart following Trump’s announcement, calling for the Palestinians and Israelis to “hold back” and to renew talks. 

Putin had a short trip to the Middle East on Monday, paying an unexpected visit to Syria, notably the Khmeimim air base, where he met Bashar Assad and ordered Russian troops’ partial withdrawal from Syria. After that, he held talks with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. The issue of Jerusalem and the future of the peace talks were among the important topics that were discussed.

Putin’s surprise visit boosts country’s standing in the region amid fallout from US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

– Maria Dubovikova

The current situation gives great opportunities to Russia to strengthen its position in the Arab world. Russia has proved to be an honest peace broker in Israeli-Palestinian talks for years — its position is unbiased and unchangeable. The US manoeuver permits Russia to fill the void, attracting the region’s countries into its network of cooperation. 

Putin is seizing these opportunities with his brief Middle Eastern tour. Turkey, which is also gaining power in the region, is becoming a key partner for Russia. After the collapse of their bilateral relations following the downing of a Russian jet on the Syria-Turkey border two years ago, their relationship has been fully restored, and has even reached new levels. At the same time, Turkey is one of the few countries which permits itself to use tough rhetoric against the West, and it expressed in a threatening way its disagreement with the White House’s decision on Jerusalem. Russia stands by the side of President Erdogan and other leaders in the region, thus getting into an advantageous position.

The US is deeply involved in all Arab countries politically, militarily, economically and financially, but it arguably has a track record in sowing instability with notorious regime-change policies. Taking this into account, the Arabs are now grappling with the mistakes they made in previous decades.

The issue of moving the embassy dates back to 1995, when the US Congress passed a bill recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But that bill includes an item that allows US presidents to effectively postpone the transfer decision for six months to protect American national security interests. US presidents have been postponing this decision ever since.

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is merely symbolic, but it is an adequate reason for possible further chaos in the Middle East.

Palestinians feel they have been negotiating for peace for more than 20 years and have ended up with zero result. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process ended irreversibly with the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — it is a bizarre decision, but how can the Arab world reverse it?

Published in Tribune

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

Published in Tribune

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.

Published in Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Maria Dubovikova

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Jorge Silva/AP

Published in Tribune
Friday, 15 December 2017 00:10

Trump's Double Toe Loop

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Фото: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Published in Tribune

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

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

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

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

These three tracks have the following significance: 

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

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

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

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

Published in Tribune

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Mohammed Zaatari/AP

Published in Tribune

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

 

 

Photo credit: Renewer/Fotolia

 

Published in Commentaries
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