M.K. Bhadrakumar's article on Vitaliy Naumkin's interview to Izvestiya

In an interview with the influential Russian daily Izvestiya, the well-known “Orientalist” scholar and establishment figure, Vitaly Naumkin, has floated the startling idea that Moscow must play a role in resolving the Palestinian problem. He said, “Moscow has long urged for [organizing] a top-level meeting between Palestinians and Israelis in Russia, on a Moscow platform. It is necessary to turn Moscow into a venue for such talks.”

Naumkin explains that Moscow has unique credentials to kickstart peace talks, since it is a veto-holding member of the UN Security Council with an obligation to pursue the implementation of relevant UN resolutions on Palestine and is also a member of the Middle East Quartet. Alas, US obduracy has stalled the Quartet, while Washington is stonewalling by casting its veto in the Security Council. He lamented that the US is hobnobbing with extreme right-wing elements in Israel who are not even representative of Israeli opinion.

The idea of Russia acting as a mediator in talks on the Palestinian problem dates back to the Soviet era. It’s been a non-starter due to the West’s dogged determination to keep the Soviets out of the strategic Middle East region. But although Cold War has ended, any Russian attempt to highlight the Palestine problem as the core issue in the Middle East will run into strong headwinds from Tel Aviv and Washington.

So, why is Naumkin, a top establishment pundit (who heads the Russian Academy of Science’s hallowed Institute of Oriental Studies), wading into the whirlpool? In a manner of speaking, he is actually using an “objective co-relative” to clarify the real state of play in the Russian-Israeli ties.

In the interview, Naumkin dispels any notion that Russia and Israel are in any “strategic alliance.” He prefers to call it a “normal trust-based relationship,” which enables the two countries to “fight terror together” and maintain excellent economic ties. Period. Quintessentially, as he puts it, the two countries “no longer see each other as enemies.”

Naumkin points out that Israel’s stance on Ukraine is helpful insofar as it refuses to join western sanctions against Russia, and, secondly, Israel is in harmony with Russia as regards attitudes toward World War II and fascism. But does it mean that Moscow and Tel Aviv have identical stance on everything under the sun? For heaven’s sake, no!

What makes Naumkin’s remarks very interesting is not only his subtlety of mind but that he belongs to the great Soviet tradition of scholar-diplomats who are on the frontline of Russian foreign policy. Quite obviously, Naumkin has marked some distance between Russia and Israel at a complicated juncture when the self-serving western narrative would be that the two countries have struck a deal at the highest level of leadership regarding the future of Syria, leaving Iran out in the cold.

Moscow feels that poison is being injected into Russia’s complex equations with Tehran and Damascus

Moscow feels that poison is being injected into Russia’s complex equations with Tehran and Damascus. Who else but Naumkin could provide the perfect antidote? The heart of the matter is that Russia has substantially improved relations with most countries in the Middle East in recent years after a decade of limited cooperation through the first decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian diplomacy has shaken off the Soviet-era ideological baggage and is highly pragmatic. Thus, although Saudi Arabia and the UAE significantly contributed to the bleeding of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s and had covertly fostered “jihadism” in Chechnya in the 1990s, the Kremlin today is eager to build relations with them. In fact, Saudi Arabia is Moscow’s strategic partner in the so-called “OPEC+ deal” aimed at stabilizing the world oil market.

Again, Qatar, which has been called the “Club Med for terrorists” and was a latent ally of Chechen rebels, is currently negotiating the purchase of Russia’s advanced S-400 missile defence system.

Moscow’s diplomacy aims to convey the impression to its Middle Eastern interlocutors – be it Israel, Jordan, Iran or Saudi Arabia – that Russia keeps its end of a mutually beneficial bargain. But if anyone adds mystique to the bargain and elevates it to a Faustian deal, Moscow may be left with no option but to bring it down to terra firma.

Plainly put, Naumkin, (who, interestingly enough, also happens to be Russia’s advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria Steffan de Mistura) knows perfectly well what Russia is attempting in southern Syria – namely, to eliminate the remaining strongholds of terrorist groups ensconced in that region bordering Jordan and Israel. Indeed, if Israel could persuade Washington to shut down the base in Al-Tanf (which makes no sense from a military point of view anyway), it will help the overall Russian efforts. On the other hand, Israel has no reason to worry, because Iran does not intend to participate in the liberation of the provinces of Daara and Quneitra that straddle the Golan Heights.

Besides, it is no secret that Russia has nothing to do with Iran’s policy of resistance against Israel. But then, to put two and two together to shout and dance in jubilation that Russia is muzzling Iran is completely unnecessary – and can turn out to be counterproductive. Of course, if anyone tries to create confusion, Moscow will clarify. That is what Naumkin has ably done.

Article published in Asia Times: http://www.atimes.com/top-russian-pundit-calls-for-palestine-talks-in-moscow/

Photo credit: Vesti.ru

 

Published in Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

Geopolitical factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the EU, China and Russia support the deal?

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Tribune

Since 1948, Russia has been an advocate of the two-state solution and has been pushing both Arabs and Israelis to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in accordance with this plan, leaving Jerusalem for the final talks. Recently, Russia has started to exert more pressure on Israel to cease building new settlements in the occupied West Bank. This has been clear from the many statements issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry expressing deep concern at the deteriorating situation when it comes to Israel’s settlement projects.

Why Moscow is pushing for the two-state solution and for the procrastination of the status of Jerusalem can be explained by Russian fears that a lack of progress in the peace process could result in unilateral steps that would undermine the prospects of resolving the conflict. In other words, Russia is concerned about the liquidation of the Palestinian cause.

If the superpowers of the US and Russia do not have the sincere will to reach a solution, it would lead either to seriously harming the Palestinian cause or to the spreading of extremism in the region. Russia seeks to achieve a win-win deal for both Israelis and Palestinians rather than a win for one party at the expense of the other.

The announcements by the US of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving its embassy there were deemed by Russia as a blow to all peace attempts, driving the whole region toward a direct clash.

With the increased tension between Iran and Israel in Syria and the failure so far to eradicate terrorism from Syria and Iraq, as well as other countries in the region, there is great potential for further conflict if the stalemate in the peace process continues and if new settlements continue to be built. The Israeli government has, in the past few months, approved plans to build 1,100 new units in 20 settlements in the West Bank. This not only undermines the whole peace process, but it is also a blatant attempt to wipe out Palestinian identity.

Why has the Russian position toward Israel changed in the past few years? It is a result of the shifting Israeli perspective on the peace process, which was supposed to solve the conflict and declare an independent Palestinian state many years ago. 

Russia alone cannot solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — it needs regional cooperation and support from the EU and of course, the US.

– Maria Dubovikova

When the region’s leaders make official visits to Moscow, their meetings with President Vladimir Putin touch on bilateral relations. However, Putin also insists on discussing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which, if it remains unresolved, will lead to further skirmishes throughout the Middle East.

During his trip to Moscow this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was told by Putin that the issue of Jerusalem should only be determined in final status talks and that the two-state solution is the best way to avoid any spillover to neighboring countries.

As Russia adheres to the UN resolutions on the principles of a peaceful settlement, including the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state, Moscow seeks the leeway to bring both sides together in a conference similar to that in Sochi for Syria. It is hoped these direct negotiations would help the two parties reach appropriate agreements.

But clearly, Russia alone cannot solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — it needs regional cooperation and support from the EU and of course, the US. Only concerted efforts can bring peace to the region and solve the complicated conflict in a manner that leads to co-existence in two states where both peoples respect each other and cooperate for the betterment of their nations.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1307581

Published in Tribune
Thursday, 10 May 2018 18:09

Russia makes a play for the Middle East

Article by Shehab and Maria Al Makahleh

The competition between the United States and Russia in the MENA region will be determined after the end of the Syrian conflict.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is caught between the hammer of the US and the anvil of Russia. Russian-American competition has re-emerged in the region ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin turned his country into a global player in the 21st century. The show of power started with Ukraine in 2014 and Syria in 2015 and has since expanded.

It is difficult to predict the relationship between Moscow and Washington vis-à-vis the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya, and the rift between Sunni Arab states and Iran. The trajectories of each conflict are the factors that will determine the relationship between Arabs and Moscow on one hand, and Arabs and Washington on the other. 

The presence of international powers in MENA is nothing new. Both Russia and the US have been in the region as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries during the time of the Ottoman Empire. In the Gulf, the Americans cemented their relations with Oman in 1833, which led to the inauguration of the American Consulate in Muscat in 1838. However, the US affiliation with the Middle East is different from that of the Russians. Americans entered the region before there was turmoil, while the Russians arrived shortly after. Yet both countries have tried to exploit the current situation of unprecedented sectarianism and discernible regional and international competition. The Russians, however, know that America’s influence is far stronger.

Russians have always looked for access to warm waters. This has been their dream since Peter the Great in the 17th century. On the other hand, the Americans have military bases in the Middle East, mainly in the Gulf region. For example, the US Navy base in Juffair, Bahrain, was established in 1971 and was the first American installation in the region. 

At the time, the Soviet Union had fallen far behind in the Middle East as it was focused on consolidating its gains in Eastern Europe and on rebuilding its empire following World War II. When Western countries established NATO in 1949 to ensure their security, the Soviets established the Warsaw Pact in 1955 for the Eastern Bloc. Soon after, the Americans helped form the Baghdad Pact in 1955 in attempts to thwart the Soviet influence in the Middle East. Since then, the Americans have dominated the region.

Putin Puts Russia on the Global Stage

The return of Russia as a global power is largely attributed to Putin. To achieve this goal, he had to vie for Russian interests and to challenge the American presence in the Middle East. Former US President Barack Obama tried to take a step back from the turmoil in the region as he shifted US foreign policy to focus on Asia. Putin exploited this by consolidating Russian interests in the MENA region because of its proximity to the Russian frontier.

Starting with the “counterterrorism operation” in 1999, Putin regained control over Chechnya. Then he had to confront NATO on Georgia in 2008. These situations were a warning to Washington and its allies: Moscow is back on track to become a global power, and Putin is different from former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Accordingly, Putin’s decision to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad came after he considered the collapse of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime under a NATO-backed civil war in 2011. Known for taking action, Putin came to the military support of Assad in 2015 as retaliation for the West’s role over unrest in Ukraine the year before.

Rivalry in the Middle East

Putin has pledged to challenge Western interests in the Middle East. Many countries in the region have started to regard Russia as an ascending power that can play a pivotal role in resolving regional issues. Recent visits to Moscow by the Jordanian monarch, the Saudi king and the Qatari emir, among others, are a clear signal that Russia is back on the block.

While Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has visited the US on recent occasions for talks on arms deals, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani took a trip to Moscow in February where discussions included military cooperation. Many from the Middle East are heading to the Kremlin to buy Russian weaponry, including the S-400 air missile systems.

All of this is a sign of Russia’s influence. Russian ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council have also progressed significantly in spite of the diplomatic crisis over Qatar. The rivalry between Iran and some Sunni Arab states has pushed Russia into the driver’s seat as the Americans negotiate mega arms deals — mainly with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The American-Russian rivalry over the Middle East chessboard will be determined shortly after the end of the Syrian conflict. By then, there will be one of two scenarios: Either the Americans will have regained the influence they once had or it will be the Russians who take over.

Article published in Fair Observer: 

Published in Tribune

The 21st century presents Arabs with many challenges that affect their existence and identity for many years to come. Many scholars are now concerned about how to maintain their  cultural identity without being dependent on the West who have the upper hand in terms of influence regarding educational and media systems due to the pervading globalisation which cannot be stopped or controlled.

Though many Arab intelligentsias have written many articles and books about the need for independence in the face of the West’s superiority; however, the risks of westernisation of Arab and Islamic culture are uncontrollable and the influence will be directed against Arab-Islamic heritage and national cultural identity. Though globalisation can be viewed as positive, many scholars consider it negative as a sign of colonialism and cultural invasion, which threatens people’s identity and cultural individuality. Thus, the creation of Daesh in Iraq and Syria as well as al-Qaeda aimed not only to destroy the two countries’ armies but rather to destroy their cultural and historical heritage which leads to deconstructing national identity as well. Why Daesh has destroyed historical sites in Iraq and Syria?

The Arabs and Muslims are living in the middle of the world. Thus, they are under the influence of power polarisation or polarity. One would notice that Arabs at present are living in a state of displaced, intellectual dispersion, cultural disparity or a state of cultural reliance.

Nowadays, the youth are thinking of recreating the old glory and dignity of the caliphate era as they consider they have lost their identity in the so-called “conflict of civilisations”. They wanted to reconstruct a new state which unify them all under the slogan of Islam. This has been the trap for many of them by Daesh and al-Qaeda which have netted a web that misled the youth who fold-blindly followed the path of radicalism to revive the era of the caliphate.

Arabs and Muslims, mainly the youth, due to the high levels of unemployment, are thinking crystallising an ideological and intellectual project that accommodates them to revive their ancient glories. This message would overlap between Arabs and Muslims in terms of originality and modernity because many of the youth, if asked, would say that the past of the Arabs and Muslims was much better than the present era as they were influential and had a say and now they are influenced and have to obey what other nations dictate on them. Thus, they believe the way out is by getting back to the foundations of Islamic religion, though it is restricted by many conditions and determinants in our today’s world to better shape their political and economic future.

In other words, Muslims and Arabs are torn apart between Islamic identity and modern identity. They seek to follow the Islamic teachings and no to relinquish modern civilisation’s blessings. The principle of Islamic identity is one of the Islamic principles. It has enabled the nation's prosperity. Thus, to understand how the young seek extremism, one should know why they follow the teachings of Jihadist leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere.

In Samuel. P. Huntington's thesis “The Clash of Civilizations”, the West will try to rule the world by permeating their notions and morals in other countries.  Thus, the rejection to these plans comes from the young generation in the Arab and Muslim worlds as they are not bound to adhere to Western soul and ethics. Such rejection leads to a state of radicalism and a state of counter-acting against the interests of the west in the Arab and Islamic worlds or anywhere else. What turns the young Arabs and Muslims to be extremists then terrorist is the conflict between the West and their civilization in various terms including culture, economy, military, political and educational systems, values, beliefs, norms and traditions in addition to religion. Such difference are conducive to counteractions which would drive them to act against interests of the West, to insulate their communities from being penetrated by other civilizations not only the West, and to work on producing arms and weaponry that would create a deterrent power against any external threat such as the case with Daesh and al-Qaeda which both have their tactics and techniques to produce local-made arms.

Thus, linking historical identity with national interests is very significant to determine the moral perspective of extremists’ strategies and their way of thinking. Though political relations of conflicts, alliances and understandings between nations in the 21st century are important, Daesh and its affiliates as well as al-Qaeda and its affiliates do not consider this very important as long as they believe in unity of destiny and beliefs.

What Arabs and Muslims are facing now is their cultural identity issue at the global level. Jihadists realised that the main source of conflict in the next new world will not be political ideology or economics alone but also cultural. That is why they destroy all the ancient sites in the countries they take over. Therefore, the major conflicts will take place, according to the beliefs of these fanatic groups, between nations and groups belonging to different civilizations. It is a battle of civilizations to draw the new borders.

The outbreak of the so-called "revolutions" of the Arab Spring, which erupted in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, and the resulting identity struggle in an unprecedented manner, have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the migration of millions of citizens from their countries of origin to Europe, fleeing the inferno of “searching for an identity”, which none of those fighting for has a clear understanding what he is fighting for or who is he fighting.  Syria may be a model for the bloody identity struggle, exacerbated by the battles of the superpowers and their deep rivalry over political influence.

In the end, there are social, cognitive and religious situations that may remain in the structure of a society and culture, and may provoke some clashes from time to time. However, at a historical moment and for multiple reasons, it could lead to a sudden abrupt transition from a state of equilibrium to a situation of bloody conflict between multiple parties in a bid to search for an identity.

Extended version of the article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1295386

Published in Tribune

Who benefits from a chemical attack such as the one reported to have taken place in Douma last weekend? Is it Russia or Syria? Hardly. It was already clear that any such attack would provoke a tough response from the US and its allies — direct military involvement in Syria with the aim of punishing Bashar Assad, his forces and allies, and ultimately toppling the regime.

The alleged attack raises many questions, the most important being the timing; there was no reason for the Assad regime to carry it out. The Syrian and Russian armies had recaptured most of Eastern Ghouta. Russia was in talks with the militant group Jaish Al-Islam over a deal to allow their fighters to leave Ghouta for Idlib. Civilians trapped in Ghouta had been released. 

Videos reporting the supposed attack do not stand up to scrutiny. One shows a reporter filming as he goes down into the shelter where it took place, but without taking any precautions or wearing any protection. Later, another White Helmet appears with a mask, and says the place is full of gas. Is this logical? Then the White Helmet puts on a mask, but with his bare hands, in ordinary clothes and with his neck uncovered. If there was a chemical attack, how is this possible? 

The White Helmets also reported that most of the victims of the attack were in an underground shelter. But Assad was accused of dropping barrel bombs filled with toxic gas. If this were true, most of the victims would have been at ground level. In addition, Russian military personnel in Douma were not affected by any kind of chemical poisoning, and an investigation by the Russians found no traces of chemical weapons. 

An investigation should be carried out first by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and other independent international bodies. The stakes are enormous because for Assad to carry out such such an attack would be to commit suicide. He is surely not naive enough to fall into this trap.

There are genuine concerns about what happens next. Any military retaliation without a detailed investigation, on the sole basis of reports from the White Helmets, would be an attempt to change the course of recent developments in Syria, and deprive Russia and Turkey of their achievements on the ground.

The ramifications are enormous, and the price of military intervention may be too much to bear. The examples are clear: The military intervention in Iraq cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and led to the emergence of Daesh. The operations to liberate Mosul and Raqqa also cost thousands of civilian lives. We can hardly calculate how many lives would be sacrificed if the West’s aggressive declarations were followed through, or how long that road to hell would be. 

A full-scale attack, as was the case with Libya, would lead to terrorist and extremist gangs spreading all over Syria and the region, leading to chaos and anarchy. Furthermore, we would stand on the brink of a direct confrontation between two nuclear powers, Russia and the US. Nobody would be able to count the innocent victims of such a confrontation.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1283061

Photo credit: Anadolu

Published in Tribune

Sino-Russian relations have been historically quite close, as the countries have shared the same vision of the need for multipolarity and diversity while looking to counter US dominance. Facing increasing competition from the US, China considers promoting regional economic partnerships as a key strategic priority. Moreover, the improvement of China’s recent ties with its regional partners has added extra assets to its economic integration. Meanwhile, Russia is also looking to counter US dominance by constructing a multipolar world of equals and fair play. And here the two countries have “found” each other.

China’s proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is aimed at further opening up to other countries and speeding up domestic reforms, is deemed an effective approach to integrating into the global economy. The partnership with the 10 ASEAN countries — Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — as well as India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand would give China the flexibility to counter the American trade measures against its economy.

China views the American shift toward the Pacific region — as Washington increases its influence through economic activities and through military and political cooperation, in addition to a rise in anti-China rhetoric — as a major threat to its sovereignty.

The history of China’s dreams of ending US dominance started in the late 1990s with a book, “Unrestricted Warfare,” written by Chinese generals Liang Qiao and Wang Xiangsui. The main idea is that China can defeat the US, despite it being technologically superior and a more developed country, by avoiding traditional means of warfare. It proposed a variety of means that could be used to defeat the US, including lawfare, economic warfare, and network warfare. The book had a big impact in the US and, nearly 20 years after its publication, we can see that America and its Western allies have adopted many ideas of unrestricted warfare, developing them in accordance with new opportunities, technological breakthroughs and the peculiarities of the modern world.

The trade war launched by the Trump administration is being used as leverage and an instrument of exercising power, rather than for protectionism of the American economy. The aggressive rhetoric against China and exchange of tariff hikes on certain products and goods are raising the heat in bilateral relations between Beijing and Washington. The US is officially considering China a threat to its national interests. In keeping with Asian traditions, China is keeping its door open for talks until the very last moment, but it is unlikely this generosity will be appreciated by the US. 

Taking into account that the two powers have the same perceptions of how the world must be shaped, their alliance is promising to be fruitful and will cause many headaches in Washington.

– Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova) 

Understanding that the US has practically declared war on China using non-military means will bring Russia and China closer together. Taking into account that the two powers have the same perceptions of how the world must be shaped, their alliance is promising to be fruitful and will cause many headaches in Washington. Both China and Russia have repeatedly declared that they are trying not to mix politics and economics, but are trying to form a new kind of relations. There is therefore an urgent need to reset relations and establish permanent channels of communication based on the interests of both countries.

Russia and China have in recent years demonstrated agreement in the UN on many issues, including Syria, to the great disappointment of the US. But Sino-Russian cooperation in Syria goes far beyond the hall of the UN Security Council, as they successfully cooperate on the ground. China has deployed its limited special forces contingency to back the Syrian army and is active on many fields nowadays without the need for pompous announcements on its philosophy and foreign policy approaches.

China and Russia oppose the deployment of the US missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula, as it is deemed to be jeopardizing their national security and damaging the strategic balance in the region. The decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is part of the global anti-missile shield that Washington wants to serve US superiority. The move, which was said to be for protecting South Korea from North Korea, is undoubtedly directed against both China and Russia. At the same time, Russia and China have merged their satellite tracking systems into one global navigation giant.

Russia now awaits a visit by the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, who postponed a trip to Moscow last week. In the framework of the growing US-China tensions, this visit will boost Sino-Russian cooperation. The agenda promises to be huge and will cover most fields of bilateral and global interest. China’s new Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe is already in Moscow and has declared that the visit by the Chinese delegation is aimed at showing the US the strength of bilateral ties and cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. He explained that he made Russia his first port of call in his new role to demonstrate China’s will to deepen the strategic cooperation between the two countries’ militaries. Wei also stressed that China is ready to show full-scale agreement with Russia on most of the issues on the global agenda.

Russia and China, despite their differences, are now moving closer together to counter the US and reshape the world.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1279186/columns

Published in Tribune

The recent series of firings and appointments in the American administration have come quicker than expected. After the sudden dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US President Donald Trump appointed conservative politician and hardliner John Bolton as national security adviser, triggering mixed reactions. Bolton’s appointment as successor to H.R. McMaster has created an earth-shaking outcome worldwide, especially as the US government was already heading in a hawkish direction with the appointment of Mike Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement.

From the beginning of the Trump era, Bolton was named as a candidate for foreign affairs or national security. Although he was previously ruled out by Trump, the president had many times voiced his appreciation of Bolton’s approach to Iran and North Korea. While Trump’s foreign policy remains motivated by his “America First” motto, Bolton’s appointment came after Pompeo had already bolstered the hawkish pro-war neocon camp in the White House.

Are these appointments indicating a strike against North Korea? Are they a signal for ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran? Both Bolton and Pompeo favor a hard line approach to Pyongyang, possibly even a pre-emptive strike, and are for cancelling rather than amending the Iran deal.

The selection of Bolton means that the US is probably seeking to impose more sanctions on Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s election victory. Pompeo, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Bolton are all similar in their attitude toward Iran. They call on ending the pact with Tehran and even toppling the regime as they see no prospect of reforming the nuclear deal, which is deemed a strategic disaster for the US. 

Thus, the three recent changes in the American administration — including the appointment of Gina Haspel as Pompeo’s successor as director of the CIA — means three hawkish officials will be dealing with North Korea and Iran in a harsh manner. All of this means the serious rise in tensions between Moscow and Washington in the Middle East and globally will continue. The three partisans all support US military involvement in conflicts, adopting regime change in rival countries, and the use of hawkish rhetoric.

It is important to remember that Bolton served as under secretary of state under George W. Bush, was the US ambassador to the United Nations between 2005 and 2006, and was one of the signatories to a letter sent to Bush shortly after 9/11, which publicly called for the US to launch a unilateral war to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Despite the disastrous outcome of that intervention, Bolton continues to boast that the Iraq War a right step.

With neocon hawks such as Bolton and Pompeo in place, the White House will be far less careful in its foreign policy decisions, potentially endangering the world by escalating conflicts and further destabilizing war zones.

– Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova)

Both Pompeo and Bolton reject the nuclear deal with Iran. Last August, Bolton presented a plan to rip up the agreement and to blacklist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its terrorist activities. Thus, the three new appointments will support Iranian opposition forces in bringing about regime change, and will back imposing comprehensive sanctions that cripple the Iranian economy.

The views from Iran about these appointments are that the US seeks to humiliate an arch-enemy. However, this may have negative repercussions if Iran seeks Russian and Chinese support, leading to limited regional clashes that could lead to international involvement in the region on a larger scale.

The American appointments are considered an enhancement of its security approach, with Washington set to become more extreme and less rational. With the new White House team, there is a growing belief that the administration will not endorse the Iran agreement and will renew all US sanctions on Tehran, meaning Iran will likely act on its threat to resume the production of highly enriched uranium within five days of the deal being revoked. This will drive the whole region to a nuclear arms race.

Britain, France and Germany had proposed new EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and its role in the Syrian war in order to ensure the US will not revoke the nuclear deal or impose any further sanctions. This means further concessions from Iran, which Tehran will not accept.

The scene is generally viewed as being set for further tension. The US announced last December that it was working to build an international coalition to counter Iran’s behavior, calling on all countries to join it in facing down the Iranian threat and indicating that the international community should act before Iran becomes like North Korea.

Surprisingly, Russian reaction to the appointment of these hawkish figures in the White House has been quite reserved, with Moscow asserting that it is ready for constructive dialogue. Furthermore, during a question and answer session on an official visit in Hanoi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shared his personal views regarding the personality of Bolton. Lavrov characterized him as “a professional” and “a tough diplomat and politician.” Lavrov added that “after he resigned (as ambassador to the UN), he remained active in politics and we called each other from time to time.”

Russia continues to hope that the US might start constructive dialogue with Moscow on the burning issues of the international agenda, but current trends show that the process is moving in the opposite direction. With neocon hawks such as Bolton and Pompeo in place, the White House will be far less careful in its foreign policy decisions, endangering the world by escalating conflicts and further destabilizing war zones. The chances of a Russia-US confrontation will increase significantly as the issues surrounding Syria, Iran and North Korea are less likely to be settled though dialogue as the US administration closes the door on talks.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1274436

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty

Published in Tribune

The paradoxes between the strategic priorities of global and regional powers are an inherent trait of Middle Eastern conflicts. This was clear when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi said last month: “The priorities of Western countries are contrary to those of the countries of the region. Therefore, the process of finding solutions to the crises of the region has not been possible; the clear examples are the Syrian, Libyan and Yemeni crises.”

It is well known that the West, led by the United States, is serious in its fight against terrorism in Syria and Iraq. However, Western countries build their alliances not with governments but with specific groups, ethnicities or minorities — this prolongs the war on terrorism. On the other hand, the priority of some European and Middle East states, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is to remove the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence. On the contrary, Sudan, Turkey and Qatar support the group. This conflict of priorities has led to the escalation of crises and prolonged regional wars.

The changes that have taken place within Western countries, mainly after the rise of populist trends in America and Europe, have led to radical shifts in their policies toward the Middle East. For instance, shortly after US President Donald Trump was sworn in, he changed American foreign policy regarding the Middle East, ending the approach of former President Barack Obama, who preferred a state of non-interference.

The last seven years have witnessed an expansion of the influence of regional forces threatening Western powers’ interests. This has been a result of erroneous policies adopted by Western countries, such as the change of the political system in Iraq and the support extended to the Arab Spring, which has led to security and political vacuums in some countries, allowing terrorist organizations to emerge. The priorities of the international community have turned from changing political regimes to fighting terrorism. Though the terrorist threat has not yet ended, but has rather cloned into other forms, the focus has moved to how to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East. 

Only Middle Easterners should have a say in solving their issues and avoiding sectarian wars — the international players should just monitor and help the Arab world achieve a positive solution.

– Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova)

The contradictory agendas of international and regional powers will not lead to a solution to the conflicts in the Middle East but rather will lead to complicating them, helping them reach a state of deadlock; causing further arms races, more bloodshed and anarchy. The Middle East is currently witnessing rapid change, with zero-sum outcome wars and inevitable conflicts between several international and regional actors. What people in the Middle East ignore or pretend is not true is that the world at present is not the world before 2011. The foundations of the global political and military systems have changed within a structure that enshrines control and exclusivity of power within the US, Russia and China, who delegate some regional powers to act on their behalf. History does not repeat itself, but events are the same.

The most important outcome of this game is to build the foundations of an era of collective security. All means are available in this risky game because the most important thing is a Middle East with no sectarian war. Iran is a major political influence in the region and it is also a military power, so much so that even superpowers make careful considerations before taking action against its army. Where would a regional war take place? Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, or anywhere else in the region?

Are we in the midst of a new Marshall Plan for rebuilding the Middle East? The inevitable outcome of this game is a comprehensive peace that will be followed by strategic and psychological variables that will allow Middle Eastern countries to develop political stability and peace with more moderate and open cultural and political concepts.

In the 20th century, the “sick man” was the Ottoman Empire, and in the 21st century it is the turn of the Arab world. Arab interests are at stake because of structural weakness and disintegration, which comes as a result of the fall of Iraq in 2003 under the US-led invasion. Since then, the Arabs have lost their compass and can’t find their way.

Middle Eastern political actors are striving to have a say in the future of the region, to have a seat for the journey and to turn from being paradigms into effective models. For this purpose, it is important to note that China is pushing to achieve its One Belt One Road Initiative at the same time as the Century Deal led by Washington and Riyadh. To what extent these two projects will succeed without colliding or clashing, only the next few months will reveal.

The chaos the Middle East is undergoing will lead to more losses. Only Middle Easterners should have a say in solving their issues and avoiding any sectarian wars that could destroy everything. The international powers should just monitor and harmonize the players to reach a positive solution and avert any destructive repercussions.

Article published in Arab News: 

Published in Tribune
Thursday, 15 March 2018 23:16

Major powers step up battle for Africa

Rex Tillerson’s final overseas visit before Donald Trump fired him as US Secretary of State was to Africa, where many global and regional powers are coming into direct competition. Tillerson’s trip came within the framework of the American administration’s bid to secure its influence in Africa following the humiliation caused by President Donald Trump’s alleged comments, which badly affected Africa-US relations. Tillerson’s visit was also to compete with the Chinese and Russian influence in Africa, as the continent becomes like a tart that should be divided among these powers and some other less-developed regional players such as Turkey, Iran and some Middle Eastern countries.

Visits to the continent by Tillerson, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov all came just a few weeks before the African Union announces the huge Continental Free Trade Area, which is expected in April and will make the African economy and its markets a global economic bloc that all countries should take into consideration. The continent’s Gross Domestic Product will amount to about $3.5 trillion annually and the population is estimated to reach 1.3 billion by the end of 2018. Many African countries are also working hard to counter terrorism and eradicate corruption.

Statistics issued by the World Bank forecast that Africans will make up 40 percent of the world’s population and 30 percent of its workforce by 2100. Africa will also continue to be a major natural resources and raw materials reserve. Economic and political experts believe that whoever controls Africa controls the world — after all, Africa is the bridge between America, Europe and Asia.

The visits of Russian, American, Turkish and Chinese officials to Africa stem from their readiness to help African states fight terrorism. This is one of the pillars Tillerson relied on in his tour. He wanted first to beautify the image and reputation of the US in Africa and to neutralize Russia and China on the continent, as many governments are geared toward enhancing economic as well as trade ties with Moscow and Beijing. This explains why Tillerson warned African governments not to ink arms deals with China or approve any military assistance from Moscow. 

Conflict and political rifts between the US, China and Russia are shifting to the fast-growing continent, where many new geopolitical and economic opportunities are available.

– Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova)

Tillerson also tried during his tour to erase, which was cut short by a day so he could return to Washington and face the music, to erase the tensions caused by Trump’s alleged remarks on African countries two months ago. He voiced his country’s commitment to supporting development and democracy, and to building bridges of trade and investment relations with the continent.

Over 30 percent of Chinese firms in Africa are in industrial fields, compared to only a small fraction of the American businesses operating there. However, 90 percent of American businesses in Africa are oil-related.

China has supported development in Africa without enforcing terms and conditions that would turn Beijing into a political dictator or an economic authoritarian. In short, the Chinese have adopted an approach that focuses on the establishment and development of infrastructure and transport projects across the continent. China’s projects include funding a $3.2 billion railway network in Kenya, which was inaugurated last year, and the construction of the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital. This was fully built by the Chinese and handed over to the AU as a gift in 2012.

It is not only Ethiopia that the three great powers fight over, it is also Djibouti, where China has built a 750-kilometer railway connecting the coast with Addis Ababa. Security-wise, China has begun to expand its military presence in the Horn of Africa, specifically in Djibouti, to support anti-piracy efforts in East African waters. Beijing has also deployed 3,000 peacekeepers in Africa under the flags of the UN and the AU.

China’s growing presence in Africa prompted the now-fired Secretary of State to warn African leaders during his tour that, while welcome to accept Beijing’s assistance, they should “not forfeit any elements of your sovereignty as you enter into such arrangements with China.”

Turkey has also regarded Africa as an area open to expanding its interests, which are ambitious, but not up to the level of Chinese, American and Russian dreams. Turkey’s attitude toward Africa has been palpable in meetings between the sides since 2011, and has been crystallized in a military base in Somalia. Since 2003, Erdogan has undertaken many trips to Africa, the most recent of which last month saw him take in four major countries: Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, and Algeria. Turkey has greatly increased its embassies in Africa, while Turkish Airlines reaches nearly 50 destinations on the continent. Significantly, at the end of 2017, Ankara and Khartoum announced cooperation to rehabilitate the Sudanese island of Suakin — a former Ottoman era base on the Red Sea.

For Russia, Africa is a buffer zone against America's expansionist policies. Last week, Lavrov made a state visit to Zimbabwe as Moscow searches for an African foothold following the overthrow of former President Robert Mugabe. Lavrov began his African tour on March 6, Tillerson two days later. The Russian minister’s schedule included five sub-Saharan countries — Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Ethiopia — while the American took in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Nigeria, and Chad.

It seems that conflict and political rifts between the three major world powers is shifting to Africa, and that new geopolitical and economic interests are on the rise. This may ultimately ignite a new world war, but this time on the African chessboard.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1266261

Published in Tribune
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