Article by Shehab and Maria Al Makahleh

The coming war against Iran is pushed by some Arab rulers rather than Israelis who are benefiting from the state of rivalry and enmity between a number of Sunni Arab countries against Iran, blaming Tehran for threatening their countries and interfering in their internal affairs. By the same token, US President Donald Trump has announced his country's withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran early May 2018 and he will not accept any amendments to the pact as he insists on changing the whole deal to include Iranian ballistic missiles.

After years of breakneck and ruthless fighting, Syria and Iraq are slowly stabilising after defeating most of the terrorist groups in both countries. However, the international influence in the Middle East brings massive problems to the region: high level of tension between Iran and Israel, hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and stability of oil prices, terrorism, and political rift between old regional allies. Chaos will continue in the region and it will rather escalate with no signs of plummeting as the international and regional powers are not willing to bring veneer of order to the region, which will lead anarchy after stability in some countries which started to breathe a sigh of relief. Will international powers keep fueling Sunni-Shiite infighting? Will Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen be in ruins?

The answers come from the meetings of American administration regarding forming a new alliance against Iran to impose new sanctions on the country and to force the international community to abide by what the US wants. This justifies his recent appointments of the three hawkish officials to his administration: Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, Gina Haspel as CIA director and John Bolton as National Security Adviser. The three of them are against Iran and the nuclear deal as well. Thus, they will seek to implement what Israel wants, represented by its far-right government, which is planning and working hard to prevent Iran from developing its military industries and overthrowing its political regime. Unfortunately, there are Arab countries that  share aggressive intentions of the US and Israel. They  purchased American weaponry for hundreds of billions of dollars, normalising ties, forgetting the Israeli-Arab conflict by labelling it as Israeli-Palestinian issue, ignoring US president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Bringing back Bolton to power poses a high risk as it pushed the US to war edge. The hawkishness of the two other officials will also lead to one or two regional wars in the Middle East.

The US and Israel as well as a handful of Arab states do not hesitate to ally with Israeli government’s expansionist policies. These countries have been behind the destruction of Iraq in the 1990s and they are the ones who highly contributed to the destruction of Syria, Yemen and Libya, neutralizing Egypt and alienating it from national role to confront Arab real enemies overseas.  Since 1973, we have not seen a true Arab battle against Israel. The reason is, that many Arab states, even those which have no normal ties with Tel Aviv, have sought neutrality in the Arab Israeli conflict for their own survival, regardless of the fierce war Iraq had to undergo against Iran and the hundreds of thousands in death toll in both sides and the volume of destruction in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen for these “friendly" to Israel Arab countries  in order to thrive and to avoid any setback on their economies. No one would ever believe that such cities and states would develop without the Iraqi sacrifices against Iran at that time which the Iraqis are paying until now. It is the same countries which push forward for prolonging the war in Syria, Yemen and Libya as well as other places in the Middle East as this serves the economies of those who are lobbying for the “Century Deal” at the expense of Arabs: Christians and Muslims.

For many Arabs, Iran is not the enemy of Arabs; it is the enemy of the minority of Arabs, who are under the influence of the West. Israel believes that Iran is its enemy which Tel Aviv seeks to destroy before Tehran becomes a major power that would threaten Israel’s presence in the region. Why do some Arab rulers conspire against Arabs? Who will benefit from a devastating war in the region? What gains will get the Arabs who will be involved in the battle against Iran or Syria, if pushed to by the West and Israel? What happens if Iran wins the battle?

Observers believe that Arabs will not achieve anything useful from any regional war against Iran and its alliance or Turkey and its coalition. Supposedly, if a war breaks out between Israel, the US and its Arab allies against Iran, the end will be that the Areb countries would be further divided to be better controlled and monitored by Israel and its Western allies, where oil and gas resources will be fully controlled by these countries for decades to come. However, if Iran wins the war, the first victims will be those countries which have taken part in the aggression against Iran and its allies. By then, new demonstrations in the region will arise against Arab rulers who have destroyed their countries’ economies and armies for the sake of foreigners and who mortgaged their states’ wealth and natural resources to their enemies.

Arabs are a nation plagued by some failed rulers who cannot read the international developments and threats correctly, and who prefer to cooperate and ally with the enemies of the nation. The greatest enemies of the Arabs are some Arabs who conspire against their peoples for the sake of their enemies who have no morals and who do not respect their promises.

In Munich Security Conference which was held February 2018, most Arab governments have demonised Iran and considered Tehran a greater enemy; their behind-the-scenes collaboration with Israelis against Iran has become an uncluttered secret. The West including the US along with Israel are aligning with some Arab because oil is a crucial concern and a top priority. Thus, demonising Iran or any other country other than Israel at this time is very fruitful as this will be a credit for the Americans and their allies in the West to abuse the Arabs and abuse their resources to the last single penny.

Is it likely that the Middle East will be redrawn, but this would happen in the coming ten years with the creation of an independent Kurdistan state even if Turkey and Iran fight against that tooth and nail. The next era will witness not only partition of countries that witness infighting, but also those which will witness chaos in the coming years dividing countries whose areas are millions of square kilometers into various states. The Arab world will continue cracking further and Arabs will be seeking shelter in other countries in waves of immigrants.

Article published by Valdai club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/the-21st-century-more-cracks-in-arab-countries/

Photo credit: Felipe Dana/AP

Published in Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

Balance of power

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

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

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

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

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

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

No peace deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Tribune

Few days ago, Qatar signed an agreement with Turkey to establish a naval base which will include a training center for maritime patrols and monitoring.

In addition, 60,000 Turkish soldiers will be deployed across four military bases abroad in accordance with a new 2022 military plan set by the Turkish ministry of defense. Two of these bases are in Qatar. What is the purpose of these bases and why Turkey is interested in Qatar at this time?

Moving the base

Though there are some unequivocal political and security extents to Turkish foreign policy in the Gulf region, the overall motivation is economic after Qatar had shown a major challenge against the US. Once Washington started to abandon Doha after the June 2017 political rift, some figured out that the Americans would move their al-Udaid Base in Doha to another country.

This has been the opportunity for Turkey to restore its military presence in the region at the expense of others. The real justification is to protect Qatar from any external threats and to secure economic and investment interests for Turkish companies.

Whether Turkey would survive any political turmoil or near its borders, this is mostly likely based upon a number of factors. The first is if the Kurds in Syria resist the Turkish troops and cooperate with the Syrian army, the Turkish dream to have a foothold in Syria will fail.

The second is the military bases in Qatar, which were announced by both Ankara and Doha. The significance of the bases depends on the developments in the region. When Qatar announced that it has intentions to host World Cup 2022, Turkey announced its military and security presence in Qatar accordingly since 2015.

The reinforcement of Turkish army in Doha is viewed as a means to fill the vacuum of the American army when Washington takes the decision to leave the base

–Shehab Al-Makahleh

In the meantime, American military experts do believe that the US could have already begun to abandon Qatar, close the Air Force base, and started thinking of moving other countries in the Middle East region. Some believe that these countries would be Jordan, Oman or the UAE.

The reinforcement of Turkish army in Doha is viewed as a means to fill the vacuum of the American army when Washington takes the decision to leave the base. That is why the American Army built a military base in Nejev desert last year.

As Turkey has helped the US to expand and strengthen the al-Udaid base, this would facilitate the Turkish mission to replace the Americans when they leave. Since Qatari officials are increasingly cognizant that the US cannot pardon Qatar’s actions, Turkey has started paving the way for its forces to take the lead in Qatar.

Back in 2003, Qatar welcomed the headquarters to al-Udaid Airbase after the US Central Command vacated Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia. Since al-Udaid is deemed the largest American overseas airbase, this justifies the big number of Turkish troops to be deployed in Qatar to replace the Americans as the base has two active runways.

Turkey seeks economic benefits

In November 2017, during his visit to Qatar, Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdogan reiterated his country’s support for Doha militarily, politically and economically including the participation of the Turkish private sector in the implementation of the 2022 World Cup projects in Qatar.

Thus, the main reason behind Turkish military expansion in the region, chiefly the deployment of its troops in Qatar, is to undertake future projects as there are 30 Turkish companies carrying out projects in Doha in the construction sector. Because both Ankara and Doha have been mutually isolated, they are speeding up their bilateral relations, mainly in economic fields.

Turkish companies have won $8.5 billion tenders to construct infrastructural projects for World Cup 2022. Therefore, for the World Cup’s preparations that are under way, Ankara seeks more economic and investment opportunities in Qatar. Its military presence is the only a means that can secure Ankara gains these bids.

 Qatar has earlier announced that Turkish commercial corporations will be given priority for businesses during the World Cup.

However, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has its Plan B if Qatar fails to meet the criteria set by the federation, granting the country the right to organize tournament for three countries that have already applied for hosting the 2026 World Cup, namely the United States, Mexico and Canada. The decision about Plan B is expected to be taken in the end of June or September, according to reports.

In conclusion, the Turkish military presence in Qatar is not for the sake of bolstering bilateral relations, it is partly for fighting "any potential enemies" and also for economic benefits for the Turkish economy which is facing many hardships due to state of isolation of Turkey from many countries.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/03/18/Turkey-cements-economic-ties-with-military-base-in-Qatar.html

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

The situation in Syria is heating up, as the international powers play an expanding geopolitical game on the Syrian chessboard. The sequence and timings of recent events raise many questions. The situation in Eastern Ghouta is developing in the same way it has for the past several months without attracting much attention from the international community. However, following continuous violations of the de-escalation zone by militants, targeting residential neighborhoods in Damascus, both Russia and Syria have intensified operations in the area.

The situation is aggravated by the presence of Al-Qaeda-linked groups and militants using civilians as human shields; a common tactic in civil wars.

The media reaction was started by activists on the ground, reporting through text messages and WhatsApp about the calamitous situation in Eastern Ghouta. However, it seems nobody was paying attention to the fact that Damascus is also populated by civilians, and the constant shelling of the city is causing death and destruction. It seems as if not all lives matter to the international community.

The international coverage of Eastern Ghouta shows how biased and subjective media coverage is compared to what Afrin is undergoing at present; just because Turkey, a Western ally and a NATO member, is acting against the Kurds, whom Ankara labels as terrorists. Thus, it is apparent that the West needs Ankara right now more than Turkey needs the West. This justifies why the latter does not denounce what the Turkish army is doing in Afrin, while blaming the Russian and Syrian armies for their role in Ghouta. Turkey looks the potential winner in the tug-of-war between Russia and the West, as both need Ankara in the war against terrorism. The losers here are the Kurdish people, as they appear to be mere pawns in the geopolitical game.

The entire international community bears responsibility for the conflict as, instead of solving the crisis, all the players prefer to engage in geopolitical games using their pawns on the ground.

– Maria Dubovikova

After long debates at the United Nations Security Council, the members unanimously voted for a resolution requesting a one-month armistice in Syria. As expected, the armistice is not working. The international media reported a probable chemical attack in the suburbs, after which the UK threatened to strike Damascus, as if Western powers have the right to strike any country they want. When the British and Americans invaded Iraq in 2003 after suspecting that Iraqis were producing biological and chemical weapons and long-range missiles, the reports were proven to be false. Launching such strikes on Syria now could bring about the same result.

The UK and the US are picky in their reporting. They forget how many people have been killed in Iraq or how many were killed recently in Deir Ezzor. They channel their news coverage to serve their own interests by distorting the image of other nations.

Attempts to ease the humanitarian status have been disrupted by militants. It is common knowledge that Ghouta is suffering from starvation and illnesses, and civilians, spending most of their time in basements, want to get out from the suburb. However, the militants do not let them out, forcing families (who reach the checkpoints, seeking to leave Ghouta for safety) to return. The rebels are using the civilians in their own media game and abuse them as human shields.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson laid responsibility for the disastrous situation in Syria on Russia. His tone was clear, and the direction everything is now moving is becoming clear as well. It seems that American procrastination over a political settlement in Syria is aimed at partitioning the country. This violates the US-Russian agreement and thus Moscow will be forced to counter US efforts to divide Syria and will play the game until the end, including not allowing the Americans to have a base there.

Meanwhile, the risk of a clash between the US and Russia over Syria is on the rise. The consequences of such a scenario are hard to calculate, but Russia is undertaking diplomatic measures to avoid such risky developments. Moscow is calling on the Western powers to use their influence on the rebel groups. Russian demands are simple: Once the rebels stop shelling the city, the strikes will be stopped. The terrorist groups should also leave the area, as there is no way they will be accepted as a part of cease-fire talks or any agreement. Had this been achieved already, humanitarian missions could have gained access to the affected areas sooner. All of this can be achieved through international cooperation and the proper exercise of pressure on the militants on the ground.

The entire international community bears responsibility for the Syrian war, as all countries prefer to play geopolitical games instead of solving the crisis, using their pawns on the ground regardless of how many people are killed. All countries should stop being Machiavellian in their deeds and decline the motto “the end justifies the means.”

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1263946

Published in Tribune

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

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

 Agreement equals access

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

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

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

Gas exploration

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

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

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

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

– Shehab Al Makahleh

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

Why war is shimmering in the Mediterranean? 

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

What do Ankara and Cairo want?

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

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

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

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

Published in Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

Two political tremors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Tribune

It is hard to believe that Western powers could ever have expected the invitation extended by Moscow to concerned parties to attend the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Sochi has become the hottest topic for Syrians and regional powers, along with the Astana conference and the UN-led Geneva gathering, both of which are of equal importance in the view of Russia.

However, suspicion has marred most Russian attempts to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict. That is, in great part, due to the negative influence of Western media reports on Russia’s role in Syria and the wider Middle East, often accusing Moscow of attempts to destabilize the region.

Even now, the US State Department describes Sochi as “a one-time solution,” and it is close to impossible to predict the outcome of the talks.

More than 1,600 delegates will attend the Sochi congress, each calculating the risks and benefits of this ongoing, multiplayer geopolitical chess game.

That game, of course, includes Turkey’s current military operation in Syria's Afrin — which Turkey has named “Olive Branch.”

Russia, US and other regional players are concerned now with the post-Daesh and Al-Nusra era, and with the threat of global extremism expanding from Syria and Iraq. The Afrin operation prompts all parties to offer a clearer definition of the division of areas of influence and control in Syria in order to implement a realistic plan that goes beyond strategic and idealistic ambitions to determine the future of Syria.

“Operation Olive Branch” could not have been launched without the approval of Russia, which controls Afrin’s airspace. The operation shows how deep the rift between Turkey and its ally, America, has become, as Turkey has effectively engaged in a battle with US-backed Kurdish militias.

Through “Operation Olive Branch,” Turkey is sending a message to the Americans and Russians that it will not allow any threat along its borders. The military action is complicating an already tense and unpredictable situation. Regiments of the Free Syrian Army, who receive military aid from the US but are supportive of Turkey, are now reportedly threatening to combat US forces in Afrin. The more awkward that situation becomes, the more it benefits the Damascus regime and its allies.

Russia — or Vladimir Putin’s Russia as it effectively is now as one man holds the strings of the country’s military and political institutions — is not, as some Western media depict it, “playing both sides.” It is, like all the players in Syria, trying to see how best to serve its national interest, fearing that if the Americans support the Kurds in Syria and play on existing ethnic tensions there, Washington will then use the Kurds to oppose Russian interests in Syria.

Moscow is seizing every opportunity to strengthen its position and role in the Middle East.

– Maria Dubovikova

Russia’s alliance with the Syrian state and the Syrian army is strategic; Moscow will do its utmost to deny any country any influence on this relationship.

In politics, there are no ethics, no honesty and no sincerity; just interests. That is true of all countries in Syria.

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, recently said that the US and Russia currently “perhaps” share “tactical symmetry for a convenient moment, but not a strategic alliance.”

What Ryan meant is that Washington and Russia have very different aims in Syria. America’s goal, simply, is to finish off Daesh and retain alliances with other militias in order to combat Iranian influence in Syria. He made that clear when he later added: “What matters most to us in Syria is defeating (Daesh) and preventing Iran from having a land bridge and Hezbollah a foothold.”

Tension between Ankara and Washington has escalated in the past few days: Turkey has threatened to extend “Operation Olive Branch” as far as Manbij, which is located north of Aleppo and lies between Afrin and the Kurdish autonomous region, home to a regiment of American soldiers advising the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF). US President Donald Trump’s call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did little to calm the situation.

Trump warned Erdogan of the “growing risk of conflict” between the two nations and reportedly promised to stop supporting the Kurds. Once given, the promise was almost immediately broken. Besides, it seems neither promise nor threat will dissuade Turkey from its course in Afrin.

This plays into Russia’s hands. Russia is seizing every opportunity to strengthen its position and role in the region. Russian tactics permit Moscow to stay above controversies in which Washington and even Turkey have become embroiled, enabling Russia to take the initiative in a number of activities in Syria.

The Afrin issue, then, could shape Syria’s future and the future of Turkish-American relations.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1234711

Published in Tribune

The Turkish military operation in Afrin in northwestern Syria has started, and future military operations are likely in Manbij and as far as the borders of Iraq as Turkey strives to expel the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers this organization to actually be the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), regardless of the name it is given by the Americans. 

Following the US announcement that it would form a border force of 30,000 fighters led by the Kurds — which was swiftly retracted — Turkey accused Washington of trying to protect the Kurdish people in order to divide Syria. Ankara viewed this number of fighters, which were to be led by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, as an existential threat to its security and stability and a step toward a future Kurdish state. 

Russia temporarily benefited from the US-Turkey conflict over the Kurds, as it had from the differences between Ankara and Moscow over the Syrian government, when Russia continued supporting the regime while Turkey backed the opposition. After the downing of the Russian jet fighter in 2015, Russia successfully used the Kurdish card against Erdogan to acquire more political concessions. 

There are two likely scenarios for the war in Afrin and the rest of the Syrian territory that the Turkish army is eyeing up: The first is a large-scale operation aimed at undermining the Kurdish control of Afrin. This would be similar to Operation Euphrates Shield in terms of preparation, assault and the participation of several departments of the Turkish army, as well as Free Syrian Army fighters.

The second is a limited operation aimed at taking certain areas from the hands of the PKK in order to keep its fighters away from the Turkish border. This requires isolating the Kurds, cutting their communication with the eastern cantons and preventing them from accessing the Mediterranean. 

International players are making their final moves on the country’s chessboard as Turkey aims to oust US-backed Kurdish fighters from northwestern region.

– Maria Dubovikova

There are many challenges facing the proposed Turkish plan. The first is the difference in Afrin’s terrain from the areas taken during Euphrates Shield, making this campaign more difficult and complicated. Moreover, Ankara is not satisfied with the long-term positions of Moscow and Washington. Ultimately this is a Turkish battle — or rather a battle for Turkey itself — but it will also affect the course of events in Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that US “provocations” are a key factor that have complicated the situation in northwestern Syria and prompted Turkey to launch its military operation in Afrin. Russia labeled the US as irresponsible and said its actions would pose a threat to the peace process in Syria.

The Kurds blame Russia for betraying them, but they were trying to milk two cows at once as their relationship with the US threatened Russian interests and its project for the stabilization of Syria. US policies towards the Kurds are also a direct threat to Turkish national interests, with Kurdish separatism a cause of deep concern in Ankara. Additionally, Kurdish ambitions, fueled by the US, have become a threat to the integrity of Syria and the process of reconciliation. Thus Moscow found itself on the same side as Ankara. Before the Afrin operation, Russia and Syria both expressed their concerns, but now it is clear that the move was silently approved by Damascus and Moscow from the beginning. 

On Tuesday evening, Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone with Erdogan to discuss the situation. The sides expressed a solidarity and common vision, vowing to continue working to resolve the crisis based on the principles of preservation of territorial integrity and respect for the sovereignty of Syria. 

The situation in Afrin is changing not only the regional framework, but also the global one. The move by Turkey — a NATO member with close ties to Western nations — against a group backed, equipped and financially supported by the US takes them a huge step away from their former allies. This demonstrates Ankara's independence and alters their former path towards integration with the West. The ongoing situation will bring Moscow and Ankara closer to each other, pushing them to forge a more solid alliance. The West is unlikely to be able to stop Turkey from realizing its plans in the region, as any confrontation would definitely not play into their hands.

Despite claims the assault on Afrin may harm Syria, Turkey insists its operation is limited and will not affect the integrity of its neighboring country. However, the numerous interventions from various regional and international players have complicated the political and military scene in Syria after a glimmer of hope had started to appear at the end of a long, dark tunnel. The international players are now making their final moves on the Syrian chessboard ahead of any peace talks aimed at discussing a political settlement, draft constitution and interim government.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1232356

Published in Tribune

The Kurds after their setbacks in the aftermath of their independence referendum of 25th of September in 2017 in Iraq are facing another tragedy, but this time in Afrin in the western part of Kurdistan called Rojava. In reaction of a news that the United States intends to create a regular army or border guards strong of (30,000) soldiers in Syria, half of them from PYD forces to protect the border with Syria and Iraq from returning of Da’esh (ISIS) to Syria, led the Turkish troop movements.

On Sunday, January 21, the Turkish army’s land operations backed by pro-Turkish Free Syrian Army (estimated to be 25,000 soldiers declared by SFA) are participating in the operations and together control 4 Kurdish villages in Afrin and confirming that they have entered Afrin. The YPG stated that they have pushed back these forces in some districts and stopped their advancement into Afrin. Media sources are talking about Syrian government forces agreed YPG forces from “Sheikh Maqsoud” neighbourhood in Aleppo to pass through their controlled areas to Afrin. The Turkish Prime Minister announced that Turkey is aiming to create a “Security Zone” 30km depth in Afrin. Erdoğan declared that his goal is also to return back 3.5 million Syrian refugees to Syria through this operation.

All this is happening under a relative silence and acceptance of major players in Syria. Kurds believe that their friends have been “disloyal” to them, they gave a “green light” to Turkey and turned their back to Afrin and allowed the civilian population to be terrorized by Turkish bombardments. Despite non-stop bombardments of Afrin, still the Kurds are resisting. General Joseph Votel, the head of the Central Command of the US army declared that Afrin is not in the framework of their operations and is not of a great importance to them. Russia withdraw its forces from Afrin. There is a Turkish, Russian and Iranian understanding on these operations. Turkey has proven throughout the history its hostility to any Kurdish aspirations in Syria, in Turkey and elsewhere. Turkey does not want the emergence of a Kurdish federal entity on their border sympathetic or an extension to Turkish Kurds and Russia and Iran are concerned that an intensive arming of the Kurds are compatible with the new strategy of President Trump against the regime of Bashar Al Assad.

US Secretary Tillerson and Pentagon officials declared that they take into consideration the Turkish concerns and they do not support PKK. The Turkish- American relations are at its worst. There is a serious tension in relations between Turkey and several European countries such as Germany, France, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Cyprus, Greece, UK, etc. The deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations and the antipathy between Erdoğan and Netanyahu also has additional implications on Turkey’s regional and international policies.

Diverse statements came out from Moscow; Russian Ministry of Defence considers Washington for being irresponsible in undermining the peace process in Syria in which Kurds are part of it and that US provoked Turkey by creating an army for the Kurds and armed them in violation to the unity and sovereignty of Syria which led to a violent reaction from Turkey and started its operations in Afrin. 

The Kurds do not see any justification for the Turkish aggression on Afrin and the Kurds of Syria. The (PYD) officials reiterated that they had not attacked Turkey, but in contrary Turkey since more than five years has been attacking the Kurds of Syria including the localities and orchards of Afrin. The Kurdish National Council of Syria (ENKS) a rival political formation to PYD regrouping several political parties and organisations of Syria, also strongly condemned the Turkish shelling of Afrin and other Kurdish areas and asks PYD for Kurdish unity, political reforms in Rojava, and calls the international community to act urgently to stop the Turkish aggression in Afrin and protect the civilian population, who will become the victims of such an aggression.

Observers believe that PYD has made ditches and tunnels and would use the Bosnian methods of city wars as PKK did it in Diyarbakir, Cizire, and Širnax in Kurdish cities of Turkey. On the other hand, Turkey seems to have chosen the Sri Lankan way of dealing with “Tamil Tigers”, to crash utterly its Kurdish opponents of PYD in Syria and PKK in Turkey, and refuses the Spanish-Basque, or Northern Ireland or Colombia-FARC peaceful approach to solve the Kurdish problem be it in Turkey or Syria. Kurds of Syria repeatedly reiterated its intention of good neighbourly relations with Turkey and that they have suffered from historical injustices in Syria and have no plans to carry out any hostile activities against Turkish territories, but Turkey considers them more as an offspring of PKK.

The Turkish attacks are widening in its scope in targeting both the Syrian Democratic forces and the civilians in Afrin, Kobani and beyond; meanwhile, the Turkish army is massing more of its troops with its tanks, artillery and another heavy armament on border areas of Afrin. the Turkish army has been shelling and bombing by artillery, mortars, and rockets a score of Kurdish villages and districts in Afrin and even some towns of Kobani as well as the triangle area between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq in Malikiya district in recent days. 

Afrin is inhabited by almost million people and it is a beautiful fertile and touristic Kurdish city, some 35-45km faraway from the Mediterranean sea, which gives it a special strategic position that makes Turkey nervous about Kurds to get one day a border with the Mediterranean sea providing the possibility of exporting Kurdish oil through the sea and might be used not only as a transport way for Syrian Kurdish oil but also Iraqi Kurdish oil and gas replacing the importance of Ceyhan pipelines. Syrians in general and the population in Afrin are fearful that their region’s demography will be changed and becomes another “Askandaruna” occupied by Turkey since 1930s.

Turks have sent (20,000) soldiers with heavy armament to the borders of Afrin from the north in addition to the Euphrates shield of (22,000) from the West composed mainly of pro-Turkish Syrian Free Army. 13 military formations among them Forces of Sultan Murad, Muhammad Al Fatih and the army of Al Nasr, etc...are ready to participate in the battle of Afrin. 

The attack on Afrin is to separate Afrin from Qamishlo/Hassakah and Kobani, but also to take over the oil fields, the fertile area of Eastern Euphrates and the Tabqa Dam of strategic importance. At least half of the oil fields of Syria are located in Kurdish areas and controlled by PYD administered cantons. On another hand, Turkey tries to separate the Kurds from border cities of Northern Kurdistan (South East of Turkey) which are situated along the border with Syria from Sirnax (Shirnakh) province to Shanli Urfa populated by a Kurdish majority and looks at Afrin and these border areas as a possible logistical way for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). 

The coalition forces and many others do not share the Turkish opinion that Kurds of Afrin or of Syria have been a national security threat to Turkey. US armed and trained the PYD and SDF. The Kurds are the most reliable and efficient allies on the ground for the US in Syria. Lately, US expressed even more openly political support for the participation of the Kurds in Geneva meetings. Turkey used its veto against the PYD participation and accepted the ENKS delegates in both Geneva and Astana meetings. ENKS has had relatively good and accepted relations with Turkey and the Syrian Coalition of the Syrian opposition, but not without problems.

Kurds have had historically good relations with Russia and stood with Russians in many of its wars with the Ottomans. No doubt that Kurds are the weakest militarily in the equation but their long-time longing for their freedom is unbeatable, and they are very resilient despite all historical injustices, denial policies and genocides. Over 40 million Kurds in this world also have right to have a place under the sun and a corridor to live in it in peace and harmony with their neighbours. Kurds can be an element of stability and prosperity in the Middle East. Unitary states have failed. One hundred years of Sykes Picot’s forcible nation statehoods failed. Today almost the entire region is in a turmoil wasting their natural and human resources in unnecessary proxy and exhaustion wars.

Article published in Valdai club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/un-security-council-should-stop-a-bloodbath/

Image credit: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Published in Tribune
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