The tune heard from the American administration and its Envoy Jason Greenblat in the last two weeks, includes two messages which are as follows: Any plan that we present will be for implementation, and not for negotiations. Also if the Palestinians want a capital in Jerusalem then they should go an build it the same as Israel built its Jerusalem.

The first message is clear: We do, and not just saying:In this regard our decision regarding Jerusalem was followed by other acts, such as cutting the support from the UNRWA, and other acts will follow.

The second message, is a call to the Palestinians to design and put in the ground their facts, not only as what Israel is doing, but also as the United States itself is doing as the first message bluntly telling.
The hurdles confronting the Palestinians to create their facts are very huge, and in regard to creating facts in the ground in Jerusalem their hands look to be completely tied. Nevertheless the PLO Central Council took decisions in its 15th of last of January meeting regarding Jerusalem, these were included in article 3:3, with five components that can be translated as follows:
“- Providing with all the requirements for steadfastness to our people in Jerusalem, and develop a comprehensive program to promote This steadfastness in all fields.
- support their struggle against the judaization of the city.
- Increase the national cohesion among the Palestinians in Jerusalem under a one united leadership.
-The creation of a United
- The formation of Amanat Al Quds ( The Palestinian Municipality of Jerusalem) according to an appropriate and nationally agreed upon democratic and representative formula.
- Calling upon the Arab and the Islamic counties to fulfill their obligations in regard to Jerusalem”.
These resolutions are self explanatory. The problem is in implementetion, and the question is if there is a political will to derail Trump decision about Jerusalem, or just it is suffice to battle against it in the international and regional arenas in addition to keep initiating days of rage to express what is called as” Shouting in the history instead of changing it”?

To derail the American decision regarding Jerusalem another way of handling matters will be needed. In this regard we have a time ceiling till the end of 2019 when the American Embassy will be fully moved to Jerusalem. This gives us around two years to work in derailing the step, and in this period a lot can be done within a systematic plan for derailing. Some of the actions that can be done include the implementation of the Palestinian Central Council resolutions regarding Jerusalem, building Palestinian facts in the ground with an international support in East Jerusalem and area C, and rebuilding Gaza in order to show that the Palestinian side is functioning and capable, boycott the Israeli products, the investemets in Israel and the work in the settlements. Conduct creative Palestinian non violent activities to sustain Palestinian villages as it is the example of Al Aqaba village close to Jenin.

Jerusalem wise other key initiatives can be done, starting with building on the international consensus that we have against the President Trump decision about it,and build on that support towards more acheivements to Jerusalem. To be also added parts of those points mentioned above, and others by making the world as a whole the courtyard for the struggle for Jerusalem by doing many things such as going once and again and again without getting tired to each capital in the world asking for recognition of Palestine and Jerusalem as its capital, using the good offices of our Ambassadors , and the Palestinian communities in each country to lobby for that in coopration with the civil society organizations and grassroots movements in the world countries. Besides that go to the UN again and again with new resolutions and propositions, and communicate intensively with the international diplomatic missions to Palestine to influence their countries positions, and to get their suppport to the creation of Palestinian facts in the ground in East Jerusalem, area C, and Gaza Strip.
Work with the key Arab and Islamic countries to coordinate steps in the international arena together, and to bring their support to Jerusalem.
In the United States itself: Make appeals againdt Trump decision to the American courts from Americans, American Jews, and Arabs and Muslims, and also from Americans who are originally from Jerusalem. Communicate intensively with the Republic Party members, the Congress members, and the American think tanks. Address the American people by the American media..etc.

This list above is far from being comprehensive, a lot can be added to it, and it is also can be modified. It is presented only in order to show that there are another way around if the political will to do it is present. Can we?

Article published in Akhbar Al Balad

Photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Pool via AP

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
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 20:02

US national security strategy: facta, non verba

By using a geostrategic approach that combines old rhetoric with the status quo, US President Trump's new "National Security Strategy" (NSS) which was published on December 18, 2017, seems to raise many questions that match the number of answers he provides on how his administration conducts foreign policy especially from the viewpoint of the Great Middle East countries, Russia and China as well as North Korea which are very interested in the new NSS for being decisive for their future. The new NSS hinges on the American National Security Policy for 1940s though the present one focuses more on the economic factor, military power competition compared to pre-Trump administrations. 

The good news is that this view avoids isolationism at a time it seems to correct some impurities and illuminate some of the ambiguities of modern US foreign policy, either by stressing the dangers of China and Russia, by not emphasizing global "good deeds", or by rejecting the idea that the universal triumph of liberal values is inevitable. Thus, Trump’s NSS document explicitly singles out “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence”. 

However, the NSS has not been able to answer some questions:  Is there a global order that contributes more than American interests, it the world order wroth defending it?

Unlike former NSS, there is a conviction that the new "strategy" emanates from the president himself, making it far more important than those documents that have been issued irregularly. Trump had repeatedly raised questions about the essential content of American involvement in international affairs. Each national security strategy must answer two key questions: What is the central vision of American role in the world? What tools and policies should be used to strengthen this vision? This NSS reflects more nationalist view as it poses “America first” compared to previous policy documents with less national tone. Trump’s NSS plainly stresses the conventional American role and reaction to vital US interests and those of the international community. 

The answer to these questions lies in what Trump refrained from commenting on. Previous American President Barack Obama’s administration has issued two different documents on the NSS in 2010 and 2015; however, it has maintained the following language to describe American main national interests which is “an international norm-based system provided by the US leadership to promote peace, security and opportunity through stronger cooperation to address global challenges”. This does not exist in Trump’s policy document.

Thus, the organizational vision of the new NSS does not appear to be a global but rather a view from the 19th century which represents the view of one of the Great Powers in that epoch. In other words, the new NSS is based on the 19th century mentality to compete for power as a fundamental continuity for the USA to be a leading country. This way of thinking sounds which suggests more globalization appears to be in one of the four pillars of the document: to "push the US influence forward," “to turn the American influence in the world as a positive force for the sake of achieving peace, prosperity and society progress, “to establish partnerships with those who share aspirations for freedom and prosperity with the USA” and “to ally with those whom the US considers a great force and a positive addition to its policy worldwide”.

As per analysis and prognosis of the NSS, the present American policy shows that America will be facing 3 key rivals in the world: First, military and economic rivals: Russia and China, second the “rogue states: Iran and North Korea, and transnational groups and organisations represented by extremist, terrorist and jihadist factions which are all competing to terrify the Americans and their allies and gain more at the expense of the Americans. Moreover, the political conflicts between those who favor repressive regimes and those who favor free societies are also on the priorities of Trump in his NSS document.

Thus, what is required of countries in the Greater Middle East? Those who are US allies such as some Arab states are benefitting from the NSS new document while those who are not benefitting from it such as Iran and its advocates in the Greater Middle East are not content with what Trump is seeking to achieve. 

In Trump’s NSS the Middle East has been allotted one short section covering Iranian expansionism, the collapse of states and regimes in the Middle East, jihadist ideology, social stability, economic stagnation and terrorism without giving any way out of the Middle East conflict but leaving the space wide open for further interventions and misconceptions.

“North Korea seeks the capability to kill millions of Americans with nuclear weapons. Iran supports terrorist groups and openly calls for our destruction. Jihadist terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida are determined to attack the United States and radicalize Americans with their hateful ideology. Non-state actors undermine social order through drug and human trafficking networks, which they use to commit violent crimes and kill thousands of American each year”. 

From the perspective of North Korea and Iran, the obvious answer is that these states do not challenge the United States as much as they challenge the fake world order which has been unilateral for decades, and which has been facing a geopolitical gap since 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Americans have to form an alliance to liberate Kuwait from Iraq at that time which has led to Iranian military intervention in Iraq to safeguard its national interest. The NSS document scored the following as stated in page 49 of the document against Iran:

“Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, has taken advantage of instability to expand its influence through partners and proxies, weapon proliferation, and funding. It continues to develop more capable ballistic missiles and intelligence capabilities, and it undertakes malicious cyber activities. These activities have continued unabated since the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran continues to perpetuate the cycle of violence in the region, causing grievous harm to civilian populations. Rival states are filling vacuums created by state collapse and prolonged regional conflict”. 

As for North Korea, it has considered itself under the threat from the South Korean government where a huge American base is located. North Korea’s communist regime has responded to Trump’s (NSS) with a statement from its foreign ministry condemning the document as “a typical outcome of the Yankee-style arrogance” and dismissing all of America as “a corpse.”

To address Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programmes, the NSS said Washington will augment its ballistic missile defence efforts and seek new methods to stop missiles before they are launched. On the other hand, .North Korean foreign ministry accused “previous U.S. administrations” of throwing “all the agreements reached with us into a garbage can like waste paper” and rejected the use of the term “rogue state” against them.

“For U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, the NSS suggests the strategic importance this region has for the United States. For instance, the NSS signals that this administration considers the Indo-Pacific region the most strategically important geographical area by referring to the region at the top of the section devoted to discussing the regional implications of its “America First National Security Strategy.” The Indo-Pacific appears ahead of the Middle East, which has dominated past U.S. administrations’ strategic attention”. 

The most important conclusion to be drawn from this new NSS is that Trump administration officially declares its position and supports two apparently contradictory matters: The pivotal vision that largely deviates from the emphasis of the "world order" and the group of values that this NSS should serve at the international level.

In other words, Trump’s NSS vision lacks realistic perspective to deal with critical matters and issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, terrorism, how to counter terrorism and democratisation without leading to the sudden surprising collapse of regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world that would lead to total anarchy and mass killing of innocent people and displacement of millions of citizens.

Article published in Valdai Club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/us-national-security-strategy-facta-non-verba/

Photo credit: Virginia Mayo/AP

Published in Tribune
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 19:57

What is in 2018’s Pandora's box?

Hardly ever the international community has been looking in the new year with more anxiety than ever in the past decades. Challenges are growing. The ways to counter them are stagnating getting irrelevant to the changing realities. The West living in the imaginary world it got created in its perceptions to serve certain domestic problems is keeping a blind eye on the real dramas that are ready to break out on the streets of its cities. The logic of the international relations is collapsing to realpolitik while the major powers are struggling for their status: Some are striving to keep the status quo of «plural unipolarity», others are going for multipolarity with several dominant powers, setting the limits to the US influence and expansion.

So what to wait from the stormy 2018?

Before proceeding with expectations it has to be clarified that developments of 2018 will be mostly predetermined by the movements of the US which will echo with the reactions and counteractions of the players of the global stage, shaping the agenda for the international community and geopolitical climate map for the whole year.

The US with Donald Trump, unlike the president’s expectations, will not meet support for the American international initiatives and policies, facing more and more discordance and counteraction. Trump having get used to manage business is trying to apply the business models to the global stage, which do not work in global politics. Not everything can be bought and not everything can be sold. With Trump administration, it has become quite clear that the last months of 2017, the US Aid and other forms of US «assistance» programs are considered by the White House as a way of «purchasing» and managing national policies of certain states. This approach is perceived as humiliating and unacceptable. Since the announcement of the decision of Washington on Jerusalem, and vote in the UN and pursuant comments from the US administration there was no space left to illusions.

Promises to «take names»of countries which have voted against the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel and that the US has made very huge contributions to the UN over the past years reflects that Washington combines business with politics. Trump’s threatening words that he would withhold billions of dollars in aid for countries that voted against the US, saying “Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.” All of those threats did not work, but clearly unveiled the new strategy of the US on the world stage and its international approaches.

Not surprisingly King Abdullah II of Jordan during one of the recent meetings, gave a strong indirect message to the «countries» expecting to rule Jordan from out through the mechanism of financial aid, saying that Jordan will not bargain its political will and its inalienable rights in Jerusalem as a custodian of Christian and Muslim sites under any pressure by any power. «If any country would extend assistance to Jordan with 1 hundred billion dollars in exchange of Jordanian political concessions, we will decline this offer,» the king said.

But clearly the US will continue to take the course to rule the world through money, trying to buy or to sue those who reject its will through cutting the financial aid and with no doubt using the weak points of those countries fueling deconstructive forces in these states.

The world will get more unstable, especially taking into account new National Security Strategy «NSS» that can already be named the most awkward and worrisome one in history. The new NSS is provoking the two major powers of the East - namely Russia and China - on counteractions and growing mistrust. Taking into account that China is changing its foreign policy, getting from the regional power with global business ambitions to the global power with concrete geopolitical ambitions, the clash of the US-China relations will rise, creating new lines of tensions on the global map. Russia will continue strengthening its ties with China, Turkey, Iran following the US policies, forming an axe of counteraction, uniting around them those, opposing Washington. The US further steps may be considered as aggressive, as sanction policies, as this would ignite hostile reactions of other countries and will further deteriorate the political atmosphere.

Following the same new American policy the Middle East will find itself on the brink of extreme challenges, that may change the regional map and regional balance of powers with declines of ones and emergence of new ones. The process will start the upcoming year with open date of its final shaping. Will the USA enable certain actors to play more active role in the Middle East region?

If the game of war between the two super powers with the involvement of China, France and the UK continues in the region with terrorist activities on the rise that means 2018 will witness too much chaos that is promising to last for many years to come as the war on terrorism cannot be ceased when one party decides to end this political game but rather it is a game where two major powers have their say together to put an end to such a risk to humanity. Afghanistan, becoming new Mecca for the terrorists fleeing Iraq and Syria, will heat up collapsing in the battles of the rivaling terrorist groups. Situation in Afghanistan will influence the climate in the whole Central Asia that will face further fast radicalization of the local population, that will have really dramatic consequences for Russia and other neighboring countries in the short and mid-term perspective.

International terrorism will get new tactics and techniques. The «Lone Wolves» are likely to strike everywhere in the world, mainly in the West whom the terrorist consider as easy targets due to the great number of immigrants and proven failure of multiculturalism and integration policies along with malfunction of countering terrorist acts. The challenge to be faced is that the «lone wolf» terrorism is mostly impossible to be traced and countered. They may act wherever they are with minimum of instruments. Cars, buses, trucks have already proven to be «perfect killers» in the hands of terrorists. The new terrorist - this «lone wolf» is more targeted to sow panic and make people feel unsafe wherever they are rather than on numerous casualties.

Terrorism is benefiting from the rivalry of the great powers, as it can be properly countered only through inclusive cooperation and elaboration of joint strategy to be implemented globally, of all the powers and all the camps.

Conflict between the US and Russia is in a dangerous state where the contradictions are continuously growing without being discusses and the space left is only for the issues on which the countries have interdependent vital national interests. If this situation remain with no change, the contradictions are risking to gain a critical mass, so that a war will become the only solution. Eruption of the open conflict between the US and Russia is unlikely in 2018, but if the contradictions will continue raising heating up tensions with no detente  initiated from both sides, the prognosis of war to erupt for 2019 or 2020 will be more than realistic.

Thus, considering all the trends 2018 will be predictably boiling. Hopefully the international leaders will demonstrate enough sanity to take it away from the dangerous brink through cooperation and dialogue. However it has to be unfortunately admitted that the words «cooperation» and «dialogue» are drastically missing in the lexicon of the current US administration. But hope is that Old Europe will recall itself that it still has its own voice and weight. 

Article published in Valdai club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/what-is-in-2018-s-pandora-s-box/

Photo credit: Sputnik/Yevgeny Kolotev

Published in Tribune

The US National Security Strategy document, which was released on December 18, 2017, marks the completion of an important stage in international relations and balance of power in international politics.

Russian military intervention in eastern and southern regions of the Mediterranean after many had started believing that Russia was a marginal power and the resumption of its military and political activities as a mediator in the Middle East has raised alarm bells in the US Congress and the Pentagon.

 The resurgence of Russia

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and decided to intervene in the course of the Syrian war in 2015, it became clear that Kremlin was looking beyond its borders to protect its national interests. However, a new international order is yet to fully take shape, which suggests that there will be no change in the existing order until the Syrian conflict is settled.

The US National Security Strategy document describes the existence of forces in competition with US power, namely China and Russia, which thrived under the Obama administration for Moscow and Beijing believed that the former US president was against direct confrontation with both countries and was an advocate of containment through economic measures alone. In other words, Obama tried to merely inhibit China and Russia from becoming powerful enough to oppose American policies.

In the recent years, Moscow’s expanding alliances and openness in foreign relations along with its military activities and the adoption of collective security theory with its partners has weakened US influence and there appears a shift in the center of gravity with the emergence of Eurasia.

The expanding sphere of Russian influence includes countries that were once important pillars and major allies of the US in the international sphere, such as Turkey and India. Its influence has increased through sale of strategic armaments including sophisticated weaponry. In fact, strategists believe such transactions have multiple implications.

First, Russia (through its military) and China (through its economic might) have decided to play an international role at the expense of US leadership of the world. Second, both countries seem determined to oppose US policies in many theatres, be it in Iran, Syria, and North Korea. 

US Department of Defense has recently published a report stating that the US Congress had asked the Pentagon to prepare a military plan for 2018 that would allow the US to attack Russia and China with nuclear bombs without giving them an opportunity to respond.

 

Russia has many Muslims living in its republics and it fears that if chaos ensues in Iran, it would spread to its borders in so-called ‘Arc of Crisis’ 

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

 

Conflict scenarios 2018

With the ending of terms of agreement in the de-escalation zones and possible reversion to an open-ended war — coming on the heels of the recent Iranian protests, as well as Saint Petersburg bombings (2017) — the military situation in Syria might intensify. 

Things might get further complicated in view of two major events in Russia: The first being the presidential elections in March and the second is the World Cup to be held in that country in the summer. These events might influence Russian response to developments in Syria and Iran or even at its borders with Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Thus, Trump can use these cards to exert more pressure on Moscow.

It is expected that Washington will become more involved in events taking place in Iran, if not at present then at a later stage in order to achieve a set of US goals linked to preventing Russia and China from transforming the international system into a multipolar order, noting that the Sino-Iranian economic partnership in the field of energy and security, specifically in Afghanistan threatens US strategy there.

Iran’s influence in the Middle East has given strategic depth to Russia’s military presence in the eastern Mediterranean. The security of Iran, Iraq and Syria ensures a safe haven for Russia in the Caspian region due to its proximity to the Middle East. Thus, Washington finds in Iran the weakest power among its strategic adversaries, which include North Korea, Russia and China. 

The US can start a process by destabilizing Iran which could then have a cascading effect on its neighbor Russia. If Washington is unsuccessful in its attempt at destabilizing Iran, it would look for other ways to confront Russia and China.

The ‘Arc of Crisis’

During US President Carter’s term in office, George Ball was appointed head of a special White House Iran task force in 1978, which recommended the President to stop supporting the then Shah of Iran in favour of the radical Islamist movement of Ayatollah Khomeini, which would instigate the balkanisation of the region along tribal and religious lines and would cause more chaos.

This explains the commonality of interests between Moscow and Tehran as Russia has many Muslims living in its republics and it fears that if chaos ensues in Iran, it would spread to its borders in the so-called “Arc of Crisis” that is likely to destabilise Muslim regions in the Russian Federation and the same applies to China.

If the year of strategic confrontation between the United States and Russia has begun with the destabilizing events unfolding in Iran, Ukraine, the Baltic and Korea, it is expected that many developments will be witnessed in 2018 on many fronts surrounding China and Russia to affect the political positions of both countries vis-à-vis international affairs.

This entails targeting the bases of Russian action in the Middle East and most importantly Iran and Syria as they both clash with the interests of Washington’s regional ally Israel which has kept raising alarm to Russians and Americans over a confrontation with Iran which is approaching its borders from Syria and Lebanon.

Thus, Israel and the US want to take the battle to Iran, a major ally of Russia, in order to put pressure both on Tehran and Moscow. Tehran by then would consider pulling out of Syria and Iraq and Russia will be in trouble once Iran retreats because of protests. However, the sphere of public discontent may expand and reach Russian territories.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/01/09/Will-a-new-world-order-start-taking-shape-in-2018-.html

Published in Tribune

The importance of the Middle East region for the US stems from the fact that it is part of a wider geography which includes Europe and Asia, whose security has been one of the main American concerns since the 1900s.

The Middle East has been considered a source of conflict since the 1948 war between Arabs and Israelis, affecting not only neighboring countries in Asia, Africa and Europe but also countries distant from it, such as the US and Australia. Thus, the importance of the Middle East to the US is an essential element of its global security system.

Washington perceives that failure to resolve conflicts in the region affects its national security as well as the security of its allies. This has been clear when a violent waves of attacks struck the United States and Western Europe in 2017 because the Middle East, though distant from the US in geography, is very influential in its domestic security and stability as well as prosperity.

Many other Middle East crises badly affect American stability and security, ranging from the influx of refugees from Syria, threats ofweapons of mass destruction including chemical weapons. The other issue that Mideast countries cause to the US is energy and oil as the Middle East oil producers either aggravate the performance of the American economy or improve it based on the prices of oil in the global market.

However, Americans believe that Russians won the first round of 2017 in the Middle East by winning the war in Syria, which has strengthened the position of the Kremlin internationally. This could be a very positive justification for the Americans to reconsider their status in the Mideast and how to counter Russia and China which are expanding their influence in the Middle East and Africa.

American concerns are linked to major developments in Syria that took place last year. These developments are also significant for the Kremlin, particularly in view of the forthcoming presidential elections in spring as they are not only linked to the strengthening of Russia’s regional and international influence but also in calming domestic fears that Russia is not slippinginto a new Afghanistan or facing a wide and heated confrontation with the United States.

 

US involvement in Middle East this year will be more than in 2017 as it will try hard to find a new balance of power

Shehab Al-Makahleh

US in the Middle East in 2018

Washington now has a great opportunity to benefit from its security partners in the Middle East region. What is happening in Iran at present is a new development that is not only triggered by burgeoning inflation in the country but more deep-seated resentment among most Iranians towards the country’s domestic and foreign policies. The Americans believe that ‘ordo ab chao’ (out of chaos comes order) should start in Iran so that peace prevails.

US President Donald Trump tweeted a warning against Iranian government regarding its crackdown on protests and demonstrations saying: “The world is watching”. Iran from Trump’s viewpoint can be drawn away from its Russian orbit if it stops sectarian and proxy wars and gives up its plans of having a nuclear weapon.

Thus, the US administration would cement its relations with its traditional allies in the region to enable them to thwart any Iranian misadventures. Trump considers North Korea as the US’ first major threat and Iran as the biggest threat to the stability of the Mideast region, given Tehran’s ambitions to dominate the Middle East as a revolutionary theocracy.

The American strategic plan for the Middle East in 2018 is expected to first scrutinize Iran’s strategy in the region and analyse its capabilities politically, economically, and militarily in order to avoid direct confrontation with Tehran because it is active in many countries in the region unequivocally as in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain and clandestinely in some countries in Africa and in Asia.

As Iran advances its influence in many Mideast countries which have very weak governments, Washington would seek indirect intervention in Iranian affairs. Therefore, Trump’s administration is expected to address its 2017 failure of strategies in the Middle East to neutralise Iranian presence in the Arab states. This will start with enhancing ties with Iraqi government to freeze Iranian influence.

Since US-Iraq relations appear more stable at present, mainly in light of the camaraderie of Trump with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, the commonality of their perspectives along with those of some other Shiite clerics in Iraq who oppose Iranian influence as they favour Iraq regaining its Arab identity, it can be speculated that the Americans would use their utmost to ensure that Abadi wins the coming elections in order to neutralise Iran from intervening in Iraqi affairs.

In 2018, the United States is expected to reinforce ties with Abadi administration and would seek to incorporate Iraq into the regional and international community, mainly with talks about the reconstruction of Iraq. Washington will also push for continuous US military training for Iraqi soldiers to thwart the return of any terrorist group including ISIS to free Iraq from Iranian dependence.

The US policy in Syria

On 5 December 2017 the US Defense Department announced that the American forces in Syria would remain as long as necessary to ensure that ISIS will not return to Iraq and Syria. It is expected that the American presence in Syria would hinge upon the situation in eastern parts of the country as it seeks to stop terrorist factions and to stabilise the liberated areas with no clear timetable for pulling out US troops from Syria. The United States has nearly 2,000 soldiers on the ground in Syria.

The growing involvement of Russia in the Middle East and the American presence in the Mideast would lead to the rise of extremist activities in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Thus, Moscow and Washington will be competing not only in the Middle East region but also in Central Asia.

The Palestinian issue returned to the top of regional issues in past few weeks and it will be so in 2018 after Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Jerusalem issue will be a key factor in reshaping American ties in the Middle East in 2018. Turkish President, RecepTayyip Erdogan, countered Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem by hosting a meeting for the Organisation of Islamic Conference in Istanbul December 12, 2017.

It is expected that Americans would try to mend fences with the Turkish government, especially after news of a meeting between Syrian opposition and pro- government representatives will be held in Sochi in January 29-30 after Russians have mediated talks between Syrian Kurds and the Turkish government for Kurdish representatives to attend the upcoming Sochi conference.

Thus, American involvement in the Middle East in 2018 is likely to be much more active than it was in 2017 and Washington will try hard to find a new balance of power and more countries will join its alliances in order to neutralize Iranian presence in Arab countries and to defuse any wars by focusing on Central Asia and Afghanistan which are closer to China and Russia, the arch rivals of the USA, to keep them away from the Mideast region.

Article published in Al-Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/01/02/Trajectories-of-2018-American-policy-in-the-Middle-East.html

Photo credit: Getty images

Published in Tribune
Sunday, 24 December 2017 04:46

Russia ready to fill Middle East void

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Maria Dubovikova

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Tribune

Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, appeared in a video broadcast by al-Qaeda’s ‘al-Sahab’ media channel in which he criticized Saudi Arabia and its alliance with the United States. This video raises many questions about the timing, the motives and future developments, as Hamza may be in the process of being groomed for a senior role.

Hamza bin Laden seems to be emerging in circumstances similar to those in which his father came to prominence, following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 after he escaped from house arrest in Saudi Arabia and reached Sudan to raise ‘Arab Mujahideen’ for his new terrorist group later known as al-Qaeda.

Hamza bin Laden, who the American security authorities have designated a ‘global terrorist’ in January 2017, would succeed his father and has already become the poster boy for the terror network’s media campaigns and propaganda.

Chip off the old block

He was the closest to his father and to al-Qaeda’s ideology among his other siblings. Hamza followed Osama in many of his tours and movements. Born in 1989, he represents the new generation of al-Qaeda.

The broadcast of Hamza’s video is not for the sake of local consumption among the group’s members, but conveys a message to the world and mainly to the West that al-Qaeda is making a comeback. The young bin Laden is regarded by many experts as the figure who could potentially reunite the global jihadist movement. 

Hamza bin Laden, who the American security authorities have designated a ‘global terrorist’ in January 2017, would succeed his father and has already become the poster boy for the terror network’s media campaigns and propaganda.

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

 The nature of the ideological concepts adopted by Hamza bin Laden is still not clear, whether it is identical to his father’s convictions and beliefs or not. It is important to note that al-Qaeda does not believe in fomenting sectarian wars but is mainly in war against Muslim regimes ostensibly for the sake of Islam.

As Hamza grew up in Sudan and Afghanistan, where Osama was given refuge by the Taliban, he often appeared in propaganda videos with his father when he was still a child. The recent video sends out the message that al-Qaeda will act harshly against Western targets around the world, mainly in the Middle East, especially after the US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel.

Few years ago, Hamza tried to enter Pakistan to reunite with his father in the battlefield: “What truly makes me sad is that Mujahideen legions have marched and I have not joined them”. This is an indication that the young man was very keen on joining the group and on leading them to achieve what his father sought.

The ‘lone wolf’ threat

In 2015, al-Qaeda aired an audiotape of Hamza in which he lauded the Boston Marathon bombing, and called on supporters to take to the “battlefield from Kabul, Baghdad, and Gaza to Washington, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv”. This time he also called his on followers to take to the battlefield that would serve al-Qaeda’s interests.

Since Osama bin Laden’s death in May 2011, al-Qaida has remained in the wilderness. The war against terrorism over the past few years in Iraq and Syria has given al-Qaeda in Afghanistan the chance to rebuild its capacities.

As ISIS’ political project of building an ‘Islamic Caliphate’ and of overthrowing regimes in the Middle East failed, al-Qaeda took the initiative to regroup and may accept erstwhile ISIS members into its ranks. As ISIS adopted some techniques of warfare from al-Qaeda; the latter has also benefited from the mistakes of ISIS’ tactics, which al-Qaeda will avoid in the coming period.

The appearance of Hamza bin Laden is not a mere coincidence, but a confirmation of his rise as leader of the group. A new chapter may commence with a new phase in lone wolf attacks in the West especially on occasions like the New Year and Christmas. The new targets of al-Qaeda may also be Arab countries, which it may seek to destabilize and overthrow its governments. How the world would stand up to this new challenge remains to be seen.

Article published in Al Arabiya: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/12/16/Hamza-bin-Laden-likely-groomed-for-a-senior-al-Qaeda-role.html

Published in Tribune

There is growing interest in knowing the future of the Middle East with the emergence of new crises that may ravage the entire region. There is no global peace and prosperity without the stability and security of the Middle East. This cannot be achieved in 2018 in the event of turmoil and uncertainty after the incidents of the Arab Spring. Several countries resort to protect their strategic interests with dismantling existing brotherly alliances, replacing them with an association of interests, which may shift and end quickly once the end of the interest.

The Middle East is undergoing instability which will last for many years. An unpredictable American administration with other international opportunistic countries including Russia and China as well as some regional powers which try to cover their own internal fallacies and loopholes by instigating troubles away from their borders, this would aggravate insecurity in the Middle East and North Africa region, as long as the inter and intra-relations amongst nations has turned out to be based on energy, economic and security needs rather than on brotherly relations which was the case in the Arab region. A number of countries in the Middle East which seek to satisfy their the superpowers in the West and East through back channels are using the so-called soft power, which means using money, media and lobbies to pressure countries to achieve a policy or to pass specific papers to influence the shape of the map of the region, which is currently being done by some Arab countries in the United States and other countries through the race for influence and satisfaction to the White House and the Kremlin and “Downing Street.”

The next phase will witness the formation of an Arab alliance which would group countries that are interested in naturalising ties with Israel as a de facto without any terms and conditions to open a new page between Arabs and Israelis at the expense of other Arabs who, in spite of having peace agreements with Israel, have not transgressed and trespassed the borders of naturalisation at the expense of other Arabs including Jerusalem issues.

This would lead to further pressure on Arabs from both sides to accept or not to accept the American-Israeli terms and conditions or to be isolated in the coming few years as there are other resources that can provide Europe and the US with since the dependence on hydrocarbon energy is declining.

The coming year will witness a confrontation regarding the 5 permanent member states arms race to have bases in the Middle East including China and France: China in Syria and France in Lebanon while Russia in Syria and the USA in the Gulf and Jordan.

The Iraqi and Syrian wars on terrorism are almost over and the reconstruction process would start any time next year. this would lead to a conflict among countries as the stagnation and recession in some regional key powers would drive them to either contribute to reconstruction of both Iraq and Syria or would contribute to further conflicts to lubricate the regional powers economies. The upcoming presidential elections and predicted victory of Bashar al-Assad to be the coming president of Syria, some Arab countries which were against him will be find themselves isolated as they are the ones who were opposing a ceasefire in the country and because he will not accept any naturalization of ties with any of these states in the near future. Syria will accept Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon to open their borders to start trade and reconstruction process without giving any other countries any role in the building process except for those who supported Syria in its ordeal. No ties with the Gulf states is going to be the feature of the coming few years not only because Al Assad does not want it, but because the Syrian people at home will not accept relations with the Gulf states, some of which contributed to the war that displaced more than half the population of Syria, destroyed its economy and wiped out more than 400,000 of its people.

In 2018, Syria will have a Middle East affair in which everyone takes into consideration. The main reason for the war was oil in Syria which has been discovered by the Russians and Chinese in large quantities and the gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea and in Qara in the outskirts of Damascus which was most controlled by armed opposition.

With the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and to recognise it as the capital of Israel, the chances of having extremist and terrorist activities are slated to rise and that new forms of terrorists would be established.

Alliances are expected to change in the region with Jordan getting closer to Iran and Turkey as both countries have recognised the Jordanian right to be the custodian and guardian of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

For decades to come, the region will witness a state of insecurity and instability with some regional key players benefitting from this scenario, instigating sectarian wars and conflicts to export their own internal issues to other countries. Raising the issue of the minorities in some countries will be the main headings in the western and some regional media coverages, igniting wars in the name of saving the minorities fueled by regional economic deterioration, fiscal austerity, high joblessness and political corruption.

In short, the Middle East is in a whirlpool that would live in in the few years to come the “big bang” theory which many countries breaking down into smaller states.

Since the population of the Arab world is almost 380 million and the young generation is more than 75 per cent in most of these countries, constituting almost 300 million. According to the International Labor Organisation’s statistics, the Middle East and North Africa regions continue to show by far the highest youth unemployment rates – 28.2 and 30.5 per cent, respectively and rates have continued to worsen since 2012, particularly for young women.

In a number of countries in the Middle East, the youth have lost their identity and they would be a source of insecurity to their communities as they have nothing to lose more with new job opening, low salaries, low purchase power, high inflation rates, nepotism, misrepresentation in the parliament and in the government which have led to the state of “statelessness” among the youth to their countries and that they would be ready to put their hands in the hands of their enemies to destruct their communities. In other words, they can be easily attracted to the camps which are opposing their countries via media. Many countries in the region are suffering huge deficits in their budgets that would lead to a social uproar regardless whether these countries are royalties or republics as the gap between the rich and the poor is getter wider.

Expected scenarios for the Middle East:

In the aftermath of the demise of Daesh in both Iraq and Syria, some of the terrorist factions’ leaders (Al-Qaeda and Daesh) have been moved from their headquarters in both countries to other countries in the region to start a new war game that would turn the region into chaos for years to come. This time the international intelligence services and the establishment of camps in the desert areas in the MENA are aimed to use these leaders to have new targets, namely the Gulf States.

The attrition of some Arab armies would neutralise them in any coming war regionally and would lead to the mushrooming of terrorist factions in neighboring countries that would serve as a springboard to take action against targets in countries where some international players are not satisfied with their regimes.

Despite the American hostility to Iran and its warning to Tehran of the consequences of continuing its program to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, there is a preliminary agreement between the two countries that politics is not militarism; reciprocity of announcement on both sides against each other and the escalation is just for domestic and regional purposes. Neither Washington nor Tehran is serious about military warnings.  The USA seeks to loot the money from its Arab allies and Iran is benefitting from this situation by expanding in the Arab region at a time it is seeking alliances with Turkey, Syria, Russia, China and Qatar.

The return of Syria and Iraq to the regional arena means the sharpening of nails of those who have manipulated in the two countries’ security and stability for many years under the pretext of sectarian wars. This means the transfer of sedition to the heart of those countries that are suffering from internal social and political disorder.

This will be supported by the slow growth of these economies of the region due to security risks, terrorist threats and lack of investor confidence in the future of the region as a whole, which means more unemployment and more social and political pressures on governments that if they continue their austerity policies on the majority of the people while they proceed further with their extravagant expenditures on a less than 1 per cent of the population and even they started their strict policies against other Arab allies who have been serving their interests.

For this year, at best, the best growth rate expected in the region will not exceed 2% with a decline in the wheel of production compared to 2010 before the Arab Spring, as the growth rate of the economy in a number of countries recorded 3-4.6%.

Therefore, the Arab arena is expected to witness the following:

First: A game changer which means that countries that have been affected by terrorism will move to a new stage of reconstruction and peace as terrorism moves to hit other countries in the region.

Second: The spread of sectarianism is the most dangerous scenario. The recent sectarian tensions in the region, especially in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, increase the chances of a full-scale war between the Sunni and Shiite forces, and may divide the new Middle East into self-governing groups on a sectarian basis in accordance with its political orientations and interests in the region.

Third: The new authoritarianism and oligarchy in the MENA means the decline of the support of the middle class, which would lead to lack of balance in society in light of the rise of regimes which are new dictatorships as they play on the contradictions of religious, political and social society.

Fourth, countries in the Middle East will witness a severe shortage of economic and financial resources, resulting in huge financial deficits due to military and security tensions in the region that will make oil prices higher than $85.

Fifth: The security threats will divide Arab societies between the pro-government and pro-Islamic groups, including the organization of the “Muslim Brotherhood”, and in light of the previous economic factors, sectarian affiliations and government entities as well as terrorist and extremist groups. This split will create the incumbent hub for further deterioration in stability.

Published in Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Maria Dubovikova

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Jorge Silva/AP

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