Military conflicts have caused huge death toll and enormous economic, military, environmental, social and political losses for Arabs since 1948.

With more than 2 million death toll, Arab economies, mainly Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan and North Africa countries have lost up to $11 trillion since 1948. The first losses were a result of Arab-Israeli wars, the second was the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and the third was the Arab Spring.

Such conflicts have affected not only the countries per se but rather they have extended to neighboring countries, turning the entire region into a flaming ball, destructing trade, industry, tourism, and investment. This has led to massive exodus of citizens from rural areas to cities, resulting in ecological predicaments, desertification and drought.

For many years, the Middle East has been the scene of conflict, the worst conflicts in the world. This has been accompanied by arms race to purchase weapons.

That has been the case with the Middle East, where many countries sought to acquire the state-of-the art weaponry. Some recent studies estimated military spending in the Middle East for 2017 at $120 billion, an increase of 6 percent over 2016. Such papers indicate that the region accounts for an increase in the volume of military spending by 6 percent.

Balance of power

The balance of power in international politics is a highly complex and multifaceted concept, but there is an agreement on the broad lines theoretically and practically in the course of events. At present, the world has generally complex or multipolar balances; simple or binary poises.

The composite balance depends on multiple poles in each party, including states and blocs as it is dominated by the logic of competition and deterrence, and often avoids war, leading to stagnation and stability.

The current international conflict, although oriented toward a bilateral balance, is flexible due to absence of argumentative ideological factors

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

The simple balance is the most precarious as the blocs and alliances clash sharply leading to war and the period of stability is an impermanent period, which is the preparation for war and a test of how powerful such an alliance is.

Since the conflict is between two main blocs, each of which is controlled by a major nucleus state that makes the conflict look like an encounter between two major states. The same applies to regional balances but a regional power plays a dual role: an internal in the region and an external in international conflicts, where international engagements and developments depend on regional wars and balances.

Regional conflict for international wars

Given the gravity of major world wars because of nuclear deterrence, regional confrontations are the direct alternative, with each bloc supporting its allies in the region to gain a foothold and increase balance internationally.

The characteristics and nature of equilibrium are divided into rigid and elastic, where the rigid expresses a balance between heterogeneous and contradictory blocs while the flexible expresses a balance between relatively homogenous clusters of civilization, culture and ideology.

This explains why the Middle East and poor countries are witnessing non-stop wars since early 20th century. Given the current international and regional situation, one can say that since the collapse of the Berlin Wall as a sign of the end of the Cold War and the transformation of the world into unipolarity, balances have been constantly being shaped to counterbalance this imbalanced status. International and regional alliances have been formed to counter the Western bloc led by the US.

Due to multiple factors, coalitions have until recently formed balances of pluralistic, flexible and resilient types. Despite US President Donald Trump’s policies against many countries, including his allies in the West, power balance is flexible because Russia tends to be a nucleus power as well at the international level within its own bloc, using regional allies.

The source of flexibility is that the ideological factors are no longer the same as before, and a war like the Second World War which broke out in 1939 was to counter Nazism-Fascism ideologies. The demise of the Soviet Union and the offense against the USSR have broken out because of communist ideologies.

Bilateral balance

Thus, the current international conflict, although oriented toward a bilateral balance, is flexible due to absence of argumentative ideological factors. The two camps: Russia and its orbit on one hand and the US and its orbit on the other are pragmatic, and this will avert the two blocs from getting involved in another world war. Thus, a regional war is much more likely to happen.

However, the risks for the Middle East region are quite vibrant. Unlike the international community which is pragmatic, the Mideast regional balance comes from furthering ideological cognitive calculations into existential, which would lead to war anytime where each of the two blocs tests its policies, diplomacy and weaponry.

For Israel to launch a war, this is impossible to target any country except Syria, Lebanon and Iran. However, this necessitates that Tel Aviv seizes a rare regional moment that the whole region is undergoing to act. This cannot be achieved without a political and media cover. Right now, we are witnessing these two covers for Israel more than before.

Any future war could sweep through the entire region and undermine regional and international interests for years to come. Besides, countless implications on the people of the Middle East are projected. However, the Mideast is still an area where the major international blocs are testing their policies and state-of-the-art weaponry regardless of any Middle Easterners’ reaps that meet their aspirations and ambitions.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/07/27/The-cost-of-Middle-East-wars-11-trillion-and-rising.html

Published in Tribune

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

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

President Mahmoud Abbas seems to be on his way out as the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Who will take his place? 

Palestinian politics today is undergoing a change as President Mahmoud Abbas’ health condition deteriorates. With no clear heir to ensure a landslide victory, the question over who will replace Abbas remains unanswered. The possible successors are a source of argument among the Palestinians and the international community. Currently, speculation centers around four names.

Among them is Mahmoud al-Aloul, the first vice president of Fatah. Abbas himself supports Aloul to be his successor to lead the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, Aloul is not a welcome choice for some Arab countries because he is hawkish and opposes the two-state solution. Sources have stated that Fatah’s General Councildecided in March to change the party’s internal constitution in order to appoint Aloul as the acting leader for three months if Abbas’ health affects his ability to rule. Israel is also concerned about the succession, as a PA power vacuum could lead to further violence.

The second candidate in the race is Jibril Rajoub, a former West Bank security chief and a senior Fatah figure. He served as head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank until 2002, after which then-PA President Yasser Arafat appointed Rajoub as his national security adviser in 2003. Rajoub believes he is the most suitable candidate to lead the PA after Abbas.

The third candidate is Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security mastermind who was forced to flee Ramallah in 2011 following allegations of corruption and an attempted coup against Abbas. It is said that Elliot Abrams, a National Security Council adviser during the George W. Bush administration, nominated Dahlan to lead the PA mission against Hamas in Gaza in 2007, which earned him the warlord moniker. While in exile in the United Arab Emirates, Dahlan was accused of sending money to some Fatah members in Gaza to undermine Abbas’ authority in Ramallah, the headquarters of the PA. Dahlan had always opposed Islamist movements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, and is waiting for the right moment to return to the West Bank as president.

The fourth candidate is Nasser al-Kidwa, the nephew of Yasser Arafat and senior Fatah official. Kidwa has served as the Palestinian foreign minister and envoy to the United Nations. He is the most likely candidate to win the presidential race as he is supported by the Arab Quartet that includes Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Possible Scenarios

There are three possible scenarios in the coming months to replace the aging Abbas, as per NPR. The first option, if Abbas is no longer able to uphold his office, is that the speaker of the Palestinian National Council, Aziz Dweik (who is a member of Hamas but is based in the West Bank) would replace Abbas for 60 days until elections are held. The second is for Abbas himself to select a temporary replacement until the elections. The third is to set a date for elections where the four candidates would nominate themselves, unless a tectonic change takes place at the very last moment, such as a new intifada in Gaza and the West Bank.

The first option is unlikely to happen because Dweik is a member of Hamas. Abbas will not cede power to a rival organization due to internal and regional complications and ramifications. Thus, Dweik could not take over the Palestinian leadership unless the US, Israel and other regional powers suddenly back Hamas, which Washington, Tel Aviv and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization.

As for the second alternative, Abbas would select a person close to the PA leadership to rule for a transition period before the election date is set. The selected leader will also have a chance to nominate himself as leader of the PA in the presidential elections. This would be Arafat’s nephew, as he was backed by regional and international powers, including the US and Israel, when he served as foreign minister. This can lead to the third scenario in which the temporary president of the PA could become a candidate and winner in the presidential elections.

Since 2016, Arab leaders have looked for an alternative to Abbas. That same year, they spoke to Abbas personally on his 81st birthday when they congratulated him and wished him good health. At the time, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi were in charge of an Arab initiative to seek out a successor. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, had sent their representatives to Ramallah to discuss the issue directly with Abbas, as the leaders of both nations did not want to see a power vacuum in the political arena of the PA.

Critical Time

In December 2017, after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Kidwa said that any protests by Palestinians should be conducted “in a peaceful and an unarmed, sustainable way, so that would lead to serving the Palestinian national cause in this regard.” His moderate stance toward the American decision is one reason why he is favored by many countries, unlike his rivals who call for escalation.

The move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14 is deemed critical to the coming Palestinian leadership, whoever the candidate will be. However, the tough rivalry among the candidates, mainly between Rajoub and Dahlan, will only increase in the coming months, preventing both from heading the PA.

With the start of Ramadan, it is expected that Palestinians will try to raise the question of Jerusalem as a core issue not only for them, but for Muslims and Christians as well. Thus, we might witness a kick-off of a new uprising in Gaza and the West Bank, of which the violence against Palestinian protesters on the border with Gaza on May 14 could become a tragic preview. This could lead to either Aloul or Kidwa winning the race for the PA presidency based on their wide national support.

The PA presidential race is critical. The next president will be accountable for establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, while ensuring its peoples’ right to self-determination. The president will be working with Arab and Muslim leaders to secure the status of the holy shrines in East Jerusalem as part of the capital of an independent Palestinian state, without offending Jewish holy sites in the city. That is why the best solution for the issue of Jerusalem is to divide it into West and East capitals, for Israel and Palestine respectively, to avoid any future regional war.

Article published in Fair Observer: https://www.fairobserver.com/politics/palestinian-authority-succession-fatah-mahmoud-abbas-gaza-west-bank-middle-east-news-76251/

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

Campaigning began on Saturday ahead of the Iraqi parliamentary elections, which will be held on May 12. Some 7,000 candidates have registered to stand and will compete for 329 parliamentary seats. But how will the elections affect Iraq’s relations with its Arab neighbors?

For the first time since the rise of Daesh, Iraqis across the country will be able to cast their votes at the ballot box. Voters will elect the representatives they want to guide the country out of its political, economic and security quagmire. Many candidates hope to return Iraq to its pre-1991 era, when the country led the Arab world in various fields. And with many countries in the Middle East supporting different candidates and blocs, regional players will be hoping for a result that best serves their interests.

After the US intervention in Iraq in 2003, many Arab countries chose a state of non-interference in Iraqi affairs, but they may have paid a heavy price for this policy of self-restraint, as it allowed Iran to extend its influence in Iraq. In spite of this, key regional players like Saudi Arabia are now seeking to reactivate the relationship between the two countries in an effort to achieve common political, security and economic goals. 

Iraq’s Arab neighbors are possibly seeking to take advantage of the opportunity brought about by strained US-Iranian relations under the Trump administration in order to restore the days when they had a presence in Iraqi politics. They hope to regain influence in Iraq to protect their interests and security, since the country has become an almost exclusive arena for Iranian influence.

In security terms, Iraq is now ruled by opponents of the regime of Saddam Hussein, most of whom have returned from exile in Iran. The country’s neighbors may now seek to strengthen their relations with the Iraqi government in order to protect their borders and to limit Iran’s ability to influence factions against their interests.

Many candidates hope to return Iraq to its pre-1991 era, when the country led the Arab world in various fields.

– Maria Dubovikova

The Iraqi governments since 2003 have disrupted their relations with neighboring Arab countries in favor of Iran. Iraq has suffered a lot through sectarian wars, the proliferation of violence and terrorism, and the conflict between its rival political camps, depriving the country of stability and development. Now, Iraqi leaders believe that a development of the relationships with its neighbors will positively affect Iraq and pave the way for it to regain its status among Arab countries.

The Iraqi government is almost entirely isolated in the Arab world because of the Iranian influence in its politics and military. Therefore, Baghdad hopes to develop bilateral relationships to obtain an effective regional presence. Prime Minister Haider Abadi, in particular, is seeking gains to reflect positively on his future and against his rivals.

Iraq is also suffering from the negative effects on its economy of the continued restrictions on its borders with Saudi Arabia and Syria. Iraq’s poor infrastructure and the deterioration of its economic conditions have impacted the social stability of its citizens and their relationship with the government. The more stable Iraq is, the more economic benefits its people will gain from open borders with their direct neighbors.

But challenges may hinder the development of Iraq’s relations with its Arab neighbors, some of which may be constrained by the negative image created during the recent past that Iraq is under the influence of non-state actors and Iran. The presence of armed militias loyal to Tehran is a major challenge.

Relations between Iraq and the rest of the Arab world are still in the process of normalization, reconciliation and the resolution of problems. Confidence-building measures would be welcome, as well as developing and strengthening their cooperation. The development of Iraqi-Arab relations depends largely on Baghdad’s post-election desire to develop these ties and reduce the influence of Iran within its borders.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1287166

Published in Tribune

The thesis of this short column, can be summarized in the message that the leaders of the underdog party in a protracted and intractable conflict cannot be expected to act all the time rationally( as versus to emotions as the term is unusually used in the political discourses), regardless of the context and its history. And also regardless of the General and the overall positions of those leaders.

On this basis, one can look to the last statement of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the opening of the Palestinian National Council of the PLO ( The PNC) in the 30th of last April considering the “ Jewish usuary” as the reason for their hate and therefore the successive killings in Europe.

This statement was reviewed and received as separate from the context( The status of the conflict), the personality of Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace who also presented his last peace plan to the UN General Assembly In the fall of last year, followed by presenting it in his speech to the EU in Brussels last January this year, then to the Arab Summit in Dhahran of Saudi Arabia in 15th of April, and last but not least in the PNC meeting few days ago.

His plan included a call for an international conference to be held under the international legitimacy and run by an international collective mechanism to reach a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

The plan was strongly welcomed by the EU, Russia, China, Brazil, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, most of the non- aligned countries, and finally it was adopted by the Arab last Summit, and last PNC Conference, and became part of their resolutions.

The only two countries who strongly reject Abbas peace plan are the United States, and Israel.
Obviously all know the answer of why is that?. Briefly both of them do not have a peace plan that is capable to achieve peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The details are known and were discused through an immense number of articles written by many observers.

The writer of this column has his reservation on Abbas peace plan, based on the fact that instead of just demanding the world for it’s implementation, we should first create our comprehensive and continuous Non- Violent Intifada in order to make the world adopting the plan. Nevertheless the striking question for this column is: Why Abbas “ irrational” statement was stripped from its links to the history of the conflict, its context today, and also from the personality and the history of Abbas himself as a man of peace?.

This question is two-fold: In one hand, why this “ Stripping” process came out as a consensus among the world major powers?. Why as a result there were a series of strong statements against Abbas without mentioning( at least by those that supported his peace plan), even that he is a man of peace, and putting his “ mistake” Within this overall “ evaluation” of him?.

The answer for these questions, goes to the Western conceptualization of “ who is the moderate” among the underdogs in the conflicts, presented all the time as the person who is completely rational, and as a one that is not expected to do even any single “mistake” of following his/her emotions. If he or she did that mistake, even once, it will be then enough to start the process of his/ her Politicide by legitimizing him among his/her people and internationally.

This takes us to the second part of this question, which is why the two former charismatic leaders of the Palestinians were deligitimized at the end?. These two are The Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini, the head of the Pre- 1948 Arab High Commitee( and later the Arab High Commission), and the second is Yaser Arafat.

The first escaped detention by the British in the 1930’s due to his role in the 1936 revolution in Palestine by escaping to Iraq, and then to Iran when the British Forces were back to Iraq during the World War Two, and finally he found himself escaping from Iran to Berlin the capital of the Nazi Germany when the British occupied Iran. He found a shelter in the Nazi Germany but all the respectful and non demagogic studies will tell that he did not become an advocate to the Nazi ideology. So why he was deligitimized?. The same goes to Yaser Arafat the signatory of Oslo Declaration of Principles of 1993, and the man of peace together with Yitzhak Rabin. After his rejection of 2000 Camp David American offered deal, he found himself imprisond in his compound in Ramallah by the Israeli right wing Government , till he died.

One to think of these two cases, and then speculating: Are the Palestinian leadrs are expected to follow all the time to line of the great power, and to expect punishemt and ousting from the “ moderation” category when they do not do? Are we accordingly witnessing the process of delegitimizing now Mahmoud Abbas after he showed his objection to the American” Ultimate plan” that do not solve any of the issues of refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, and others?. Is this a formula to move him out of the “ moderation” category? Is it the fate of the Palestinians to continue having an ethnocide combined with a politicide of their political leadership through all their modern history?. Will be there a real peace plan to be implemented so this fate to be transformed?.

In the same Line: Are the statements against Abbas stripped from all what mentioned helpful in path to prevent the delegitimization of Abbas? are they rational by themselves, or just reactions of anger by some , and instruments to deligitimize Abbas by others? what are the level of “ tolerance” given to the underdog in a conflict by those who are” stereotyping” him/ her?, and when the patronizing part of this stereotyping will be removed?. Finally how these condemnations to Abbas will not objectively leads to the strengthening of the Israeli settler colonial project on the expense of the Palestinians?

Special to Akhbar Elbalad

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
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