Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

20 October 2021

Shaping US Middle East policy amidst failing states, failed democratization and increased activism

James M. Dorsey

The future of US engagement in the Middle East hangs in the balance.

Two decades of forever war in Afghanistan and continued military engagement in Iraq and elsewhere in the region have prompted debate about what constitutes a US interest in the Middle East. China, and to a lesser degree Russia, loom large in the debate as America’s foremost strategic and geopolitical challenges.

Questions about US interests have also sparked discussion about whether the United States can best achieve its objectives by continued focus on security and military options or whether a greater emphasis on political, diplomatic, economic, and civil society tools may be a more productive approach.

The debate is coloured by a pendulum that swings from one extreme to the other. President Joe Biden has disavowed the notion of nation-building that increasingly framed the United States’ post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan.

19 October 2021

China, Asia, and the Changing Strategic Importance of the Gulf and MENA Region

Anthony H. Cordesman

The shift in America’s strategic focus from fighting terrorism in the Middle East –and its “long wars” in Afghanistan as well as Iraq and Syria – to competition with China has led to a growing level of confrontation and possible wars in Taiwan and the South China Sea. At the same time, the increases in U.S. domestic natural gas and oil production have led many to believe the U.S. has far less need to ensure the smooth flow of energy exports from the Gulf and the MENA region.

There are good reasons to challenge both sets of assumptions. The U.S. has every incentive to avoid a war over Taiwan and the South China Sea as well as to avoid having to confront China largely in an area where China can make most effective use of its military power. The U.S. needs to look beyond the Eastern Pacific and deal with China on a global level – pressuring it to focus on cooperation and peaceful competition rather than confrontation and conflict.

Second, China’s growing dependence on petroleum imports is making it steadily more vulnerable to any interruption or limits to the flow of petroleum exports out of the Gulf and through the Indian Ocean and Strait of Malacca. America’s strategic partnerships in the MENA area – particularly in the Gulf – and the vulnerability of maritime traffic through the Indian Ocean and Strait of Malacca, give the U.S. a key source of strategic leverage that can compensate in part for the geographic advantages China has near Taiwan and the South China Sea as well as provide a key source of stability and security for its partners and in ensuring the stable flow of petroleum to Japan, South Korea, and the global economy.

Why Kurds Fight

Fréderike Geerdink

To enter the mouth of the cave, one must crawl on all fours or slide forward as if imitating an upside-down spider. The orifice opens onto a walkway as if made for an adolescent, forcing anyone taller than 5 feet 2 inches to bow their head until the pathway widens into a cavern that measures about 500 to 650 square feet. It is here that two dozen female fighters for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) live, learn and sleep. In the fall of 2016, I joined them as part of my yearlong research into the group’s workings and philosophy as well as to interview the young women who have left everything behind to join.

The cavern serves as a fully functioning barracks, clean and relatively warm, with colorful plastic carpets covering much of the floor and neatly packed sandbags with pink and yellow sheet cloth draped over them to divide the grotto into makeshift rooms, including a common area, a library and communal bedrooms. The PKK flags and a portrait of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan — who since 1999 has been serving a life sentence in solitary confinement on an island off the Turkish coast — cover the sandbag walls, as do pictures of the fallen. Food could be found stuffed in corners and nooks and crannies, organized alongside weapons and ammunition.

18 October 2021

Low Turnout, High Drama


One conclusion that can be drawn from the early parliamentary elections in Iraq, which were held on October 10, is that while the results of the voting alone cannot determine who will rule the country, they still do matter.

The main story was the low turnout, which Iraq’s Independent Higher Electoral Commission estimated at 41 percent, using a dubious formula that most international and local monitoring organizations rejected. A coalition of these organizations estimated turnout at an even lower 38 percent. Regardless of which number is the more precise, the participation level replicated a pattern visible since 2018, showing that a majority of Iraqis are disenchanted with the political system and have little hope that elections will make a difference.

The elections, which had been seen as a way out of the crisis that followed the mass protests in 2019, were intended to relegitimize the system and allow better conditions for free and fair competition. Yet these conditions have not been fully met. Armed groups have continued to assassinate and intimidate activists, while there are no implementable rules to rein them in, nor to monitor the financing of major political parties. This reality pushed several of the new parties linked to the protest movement to boycott the election.

16 October 2021

The Biggest Loser of Iraq’s Election Could Be Iran

Mina Al-Oraibi

On Sunday, Iraq held its fifth national elections since the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with the national parliament’s 329 seats at stake. While final results have yet to be announced, the biggest losers appear to be pro-Iranian militant groups, which have already said they’ll reject the outcome and have issued veiled and not-so-veiled threats of violence.

Another loser of the election is Iraq’s struggling democracy itself. Believing their system to be manipulated, about 60 percent of eligible voters stayed away from the polls. That hasn’t kept the government and election monitors from touting the vote as a success—it went relatively smoothly, there were no incidents of violence, and most voters had easy access to polling stations. Electronic voting and biometric registration cards had been introduced with the promise of eliminating the kind of fraud that undermined the last elections in 2018.

However, the Iraqi government and Independent High Electoral Commission promised to deliver the results within 24 hours of the polls closing, which would have been Monday night. Instead, the results of only 10 provinces were announced on Monday, with Baghdad and eight other provinces still trickling in. When the electoral commission made the initial results public online, its website crashed as Iraqis rushed to see the results. A delay in electronic vote counting meant that some boxes had to be counted manually without external monitors, further undermining Iraqis’ trust.

15 October 2021

How Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan Helped North Korea Get the Bomb

Mike Chinoy

In light of A.Q. Khan’s death on Sunday, the following is an adaptation from the 2008 book Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis.

A.Q. Khan, who died on Oct. 10 of COVID-19 at age 85, is celebrated in Pakistan as a national hero who built the country’s nuclear bomb program. Internationally, though, he became infamous not as a nuclear scientist but as a nuclear smuggler—including playing a key role in boosting North Korea’s weapons program.

As the head of Khan Research Laboratories, A.Q. Khan presided over his own nuclear fiefdom, which in the late 1980s and early ’90s spearheaded Pakistan’s development of highly enriched uranium. In 1998, Pakistan carried out a successful test of a nuclear bomb. Yet, confronted with the nuclear prowess of its neighbor and rival India, Pakistan still urgently needed a missile to deliver its bomb, and it was looking for a shortcut to avoid having to develop one on its own.

The Benefits of Butting Out


Iran and Saudi Arabia—the bitterest rivals in the Middle East, which have supported and armed opposite sides in several of the region’s proxy wars—have held four rounds of diplomatic talks in recent months, and officials say the talks are on “a good path” and have gone a “good distance” toward calming tensions.

One lesson of this development: In certain parts of the world, America’s disengagement from political and military clashes may be a positive force for peace and stability.

This runs contrary to the conventional wisdom, which holds that a U.S. presence is necessary to keep unstable regions together and that a U.S. withdrawal would leave a “power vacuum,” which will only heighten tensions and lead to war.

13 October 2021

Gulf security: It’s not all bad news

James M. Dorsey

They fear that the emerging parameters of a reconfigured US commitment to security in the Middle East threaten to upend a more-than-a-century-old pillar of regional security and leave them with no good alternatives.

The shaky pillar is the Gulf monarchies’ reliance on a powerful external ally that, in the words of Middle East scholar Roby C. Barrett, “shares the strategic, if not dynastic, interests of the Arab States.” The ally was Britain and France in the first half of the 20th century and the United States since then.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the revered founder of the United Arab Emirates, implicitly recognised Gulf states’ need for external support when he noted in a 2001 contribution to a book that the six monarchies that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) “only support the GCC when it suited them.”

What Developing Countries Need to Reach Net Zero


DUBAI – The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the planet will warm by 1.5º Celsius by 2040 unless urgent measures are taken to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions. After the report’s release, UN Secretary-General António Guterres aptly called it “a code red for humanity.” Global warming is becoming an increasingly urgent problem, and all countries have a role to play in combating it. But as government officials from around the world prepare to set sustainability targets at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow next month, they cannot ignore developing countries’ economic distress.

The climate crisis is occurring at a time when governments and businesses in the developing world are wrestling with the impact of COVID-19. As the global economy begins to emerge from the pandemic, it is obvious that developing countries will recover at a slower rate. And the pace of vaccine delivery will complicate the economic situation further. For example, the poorest countries in Africa may not receive enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations before 2023 at the earliest.

11 October 2021

An Iraqi Perspective on Israel

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Growing up in Iraq, my curriculum in Baghdad’s elementary school included a “nationalism class” and required that we read a text by the Governor of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein’s maternal uncle, Khairallah Tulfah. It said that three things should not have been created: “Persians, Jews and flies.”

Most Iraqis are Shiites, who traditionally view Palestine as a Sunni issue. Because of animosity toward the Sunnis, Shiites rarely sympathize with the “Palestinian cause.” In fact, the holiest Islamic spots in Jerusalem, Masgid Omar and the Dome of the Rock, were both constructed by people that Sunnis revere and Shiites hate.

But last month, in the predominantly Kurdish city of Erbil in the north, 312 Iraqis — both Shiite and Sunni — participated in a conference that called for peace with Israel. Some drove to Erbil from the province of Babel, approximately 250 miles to the south.

One of the most prominent voices, Sunni tribal chief Wissam Al-Hardan, wrote that the conference “issued a public demand for Iraq to enter into relations with Israel and its people through Abraham Accords.”

9 October 2021

Saudi Arabia-Bangladesh Relations: Development, Assistance And Economic Ties – OpEd

Pathik Hasan

Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia relations officially began in 1976 when Saudi Arabia recognized Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign country, which gained independence in 1971. At present, the relations between the two countries are fraternal, strong and evolving. Although the Saudi government supported Pakistan during the Great War of Liberation in 1971, that attitude changed over time and Saudi Arabia became a close friend of independent Bangladesh by standing by the side of the people in various crises. In independent Bangladesh, diplomatic relations were first established between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia centered on the Hajj.

In that communication, Saudi Arabia’s response to Bangladesh’s call also paved the way for new relations. Saudi Arabia provided financial assistance for the development of Bangladesh at different times. Saudi Arabia provides financial assistance and loans for the development of Bangladesh Railways, expansion of industrial, educational, scientific and technical knowledge, and development of communication systems. Besides, it plays an effective role in agriculture, flood control, housing construction, improving the living standards of the workers.
Trade relations:

8 October 2021

Concern About Iran Prompts Israel To Weigh Acknowledgement Of Its Own Nuclear Weapons – Analysis

James M. Dorsey

On their way from Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem in 1977 then Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin asked President Anwar Sadat, the first Arab leader to ever officially visit Israel, why the Egyptian military had not moved deeper into the Sinai during the 1973 Middle East war. “You have nuclear arms. Haven’t you heard?” Mr. Sadat replied.

Mr. Sadat’s strategic calculations in the war, the last all-out military confrontation between Israel and Arab states, takes on renewed significance coupled with a recent report that asserts that Iranian nuclear advances are irreversible and have reached a stage at which Iran needs only one month to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb.

The report has sparked public debate in Israel about whether the Jewish state, which is long believed to have multiple nuclear weapons but consistently stopped short of confirming or denying the assertion, should finally do so to lay down a marker for Iran.

3 October 2021

Where Iraq and Syria Meet, Unrest Follows

Harith Hasan

Two years after the eradication of the caliphate claimed by the Islamic State group, the Iraqi-Syrian borderlands continue to be restless. From American and Israeli strikes on the bases of Iranian-linked militias, to Turkish airstrikes and threats, to Iran-backed militias in the region, this border remains a theater for conflicts involving states as well as nonstate and para-state actors.

Some point to this as further testimony that the artificiality of the border is the root cause of ongoing instability in the area. Based on this logic, only by redrawing these borders to create more “natural” units, with greater congruence between the populations’ cultural identities and their political entities, can such restlessness end. Many have highlighted problems that stem from this fabrication of borders in the Middle East, arguing, for example, that the main feature of Arab politics is the incongruence between the Umma (pan-Islamic or pan-Arab nation) and the Dawla (state). This is reflected in the coining of two different translations of the word nationalism in Arabic: Wataniyya (territorial nationalism) and Qawmiyya (ethnic or cultural nationalism).

The Islamic State evoked this narrative of artificiality when it spectacularly announced in 2014 the end of what it wrongly identified as the Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria, hoping to achieve the long-awaited congruence between the Umma and Dawla.

Turkey’s Drones and Proxies are Turning the Tide of War

Will Smith

In the fall of 2020, as Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal war in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, Turkish-made drones and Syrian mercenaries recruited by Turkey supported the Azerbaijani military on the front lines. While the arrival of Syrian fighters in the Caucasus may have been a shocking development, it was emblematic of the new model of hybrid warfare that Turkey has used to influence regional conflicts and advance President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly assertive foreign policy. Through the use of low-cost domestically produced drones and a proxy force of Syrian mercenaries, Turkey has turned the tides of conflicts in Syria, Libya, and the Caucasus and furthered its long-term strategic interests.

Although this approach may be an effective tool as far as the Turkish government is concerned, it has had brutal consequences for those directly impacted. From exploiting the impoverished Syrians it recruited—by lying about their salaries and how dangerous their duties would be—to slaughtering civilians with drone strikes, Turkey’s recent interventions have left a trail of suffering in their wake. Unfortunately, this model will only be used more frequently as Turkey attempts to expand its regional influence and the Turkish domestic defense industry becomes more self-sufficient.

1 October 2021

Iranian Membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Motivations and Implications

Nicole Grajewski

On September 16, Iran’s newly inaugurated President Ebrahim Raisi will embark on his first foreign trip to attend the twentieth-anniversary summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tajikistan. Russian special envoy for SCO affairs Bakhtiyor Khakimov has indicated that a major item on the agenda will be moving forward with Tehran’s longstanding application for full membership—an initiative that may proceed despite the notable absence of leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, both of whom are isolating due to COVID-19. Although the direct benefits of this decision would be modest for Iran, the news still represents a major diplomatic victory for Raisi at a time when his government faces pressing questions over stalled nuclear talks in Vienna, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and the perpetual challenge of regime survival.

Iran’s Long Road to Membership

The SCO grew out of the “Shanghai Five” format, which involved a series of meetings in 1996-1997 over border issues between China and its neighboring Soviet successor states Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. In 2001, Uzbekistan joined them to formally establish the SCO, broadening the bloc’s scope to encompass economic, cultural, and security cooperation aimed at combating what Beijing describes as the “three evils”: terrorism, separatism, and extremism.

30 September 2021

Turkey’s Role in Syria: A Prototype of its Regional Policy in the Middle East

Shaimaa Magued

Turkish policy toward Syria has gone through different phases since the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1924. Yet, Syria has always been the main sphere of Turkey’s regional role in the Middle East. Geographical proximity, shared history, and common security issues have shaped the evolution of bilateral relations and Turkish regional conduct toward either conciliation and rapprochement or tension and military encroachment. By sharing common borders of nearly 900 km, Turkey and Syria have engaged in permanent interactions that influenced the balance of power in bilateral relations and the security dilemma in the Middle East.

Historical Background on Turkish-Syrian Relations

Not only had Turkey the balance of power in its favor throughout the Cold War period and the 1990s but also regional dynamics were dominated by power politics, notably antagonist military alliances involving Western countries and Israel vis-à-vis Arab countries. Although the Turkish-Syrian difference was instigated by bilateral conflicts over the region of Hatay/Iskenderun, the repartition of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and the Kurdish issue, Arab countries expressed solidarity toward Syria on the bilateral level and within regional instances such as the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference. Egypt alongside Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Gulf countries have always condemned Turkish policy toward Syria and limited cooperation with Turkey to the economic level.

UAE-Israel relations risk being built on questionable assumptions

James M. Dorsey

A year of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel has proven to be mutually beneficial. The question is whether the assumptions underlying the UAE’s initiative that led three other Arab countries to also formalise their relations with the Jewish state will prove to be correct in the medium and long term.

UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed laid out the strategic assumptions underlying his establishment of diplomatic relations, as well as its timing, in a conversation with Joel C. Rosenberg, an American-Israeli evangelical author and activist, 18 months before the announcement.

Mr. Rosenberg’s recounting of that conversation in a just-published book, Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East, constitutes a rare first-hand public account of the Emirati leader’s thinking.

Mr. Rosenberg’s reporting on his conversation with Prince Mohammed is largely paraphrased by the author rather than backed up with quotes. The UAE’s interest in building good relations with American Evangelicals as part of its effort to garner soft power in the United States and project itself as an icon of religious tolerance, and Mr. Rosenberg’s willingness to serve that purpose, add credibility to the author’s disclosures.

28 September 2021

The Secret Behind the French Interest in Iraq: A Geostrategic Analysis

Munqith Dagher

The Emeritus Chair at CSIS is presenting a commentary by an affiliate of the organization. Dr. Munqith Dagher is an Iraqi expert and a Senior Associate with CSIS, whose biography is summarized below.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Iraq twice in the span of one year from 2020-2021. The first visit was on September 3, 2020, when he declared his intention to support Iraqi sovereignty.1 His visit demonstrated a clear message about the significance of Iraq to France, especially as it immediately followed his important trip to Lebanon. The second trip was on August 27, 2021, to attend the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership. There, he reiterated the same message as well as represented a commitment to strategic partnership, indicating a pronounced shift in the French approach toward Iraq and the rest of the region, which had so far only mirrored that of the United States.2

There were four key points communicated during the second visit. The first was on the geostrategic level, as France was the only non-regional participant in the Baghdad Conference as well as the only participant that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

27 September 2021

The Battle for the Soul of Islam: Will the real reformer of the faith stand up?

James M. Dorsey

Saudi and Emirati efforts to define ‘moderate’ Islam as socially more liberal while being subservient to an autocratic ruler is as much an endeavour to ensure regime survival and bolster aspirations to lead the Muslim world as it is an attempt to fend off challenges rooted in diverse strands of religious ultra-conservatism.

The Saudi and Emirati efforts to garner religious soft power have much in common even though the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates build their respective campaigns on historically different forms of Islam. The two Gulf states are, moreover, rivals in the battle for the soul of Islam, a struggle to define what strand or strands will dominate the faith in the 21st century.

The battle takes on added significance at a time that Middle Eastern rivals are attempting to dial down regional tensions by managing their disputes and conflicts rather than resolving them. The efforts put a greater emphasis on soft power rivalry rather than hard power confrontation often involving proxies.

Iran Joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Bradley Bowman

Members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) unanimously agreed on Friday to elevate Iran to full membership. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s entry into the SCO strengthens Tehran’s relationships with China and Russia and demonstrates the need for more unity among Israel, the United States, and its Arab partners about the challenges coming from China.

The SCO was formed in 2001 as an intergovernmental organization dedicated to addressing political, economic, and security issues across Eurasia. China and Russia dominate the SCO, whose member states also include India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Diverse security priorities and tensions among members, exacerbated by the addition of India and Pakistan in 2017, mean that the SCO functions more like a diplomatic forum than a unified security bloc.

Despite these limitations, Iran’s SCO membership underscores Tehran’s desire to build a deep and comprehensive partnership with the People’s Republic of China. Under Iran’s “Look to the East” foreign policy, Tehran sees China as its main long-term partner. Earlier this year, Iran and China signed a 25-year strategic partnership that will see China invest several hundred million dollars in Iranian projects, including nuclear power, energy development, and infrastructure. A leaked draft of the partnership agreement called for combined Chinese-Iranian military exercises, weapons development, and intelligence sharing. The final terms of the agreement remain secret.

The Islamic Republic has also been improving its relationship with the SCO’s other key power, Russia. Tehran has agreed to hold joint military exercises with Moscow and Beijing in late 2021 or early 2022, building on trilateral naval exercises in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman in late 2019.

Although it could take approximately two years to finalize the legal process of Iranian accession to the SCO, Iran’s acceptance by the body’s members reinforces the importance of enhanced cooperation between the United States and its allies and partners in the Middle East.

In particular, the growing political, military, and economic ties between Tehran and Beijing should ring multiple alarm bells in Washington, Jerusalem, and a number of Arab capitals.

Some Americans have wittingly or unwittingly consoled themselves with the vague notion that great power competition happens only in Europe and East Asia, allowing the United States to ignore the Middle East. As Iran’s SCO membership shows, China and Russia compete in the Middle East, too.

They have a better grasp of the region’s continuing importance.

That reality must inform Washington’s thinking when it comes to the U.S. military posture in the region. It may just be a matter of time until Iran builds or acquires (with Beijing’s or Moscow’s help) some of the same formidable anti-access and area-denial weapons that China and Russia are already fielding. The partnership could provide Tehran, for example, more advanced air defense, missile, cyber, anti-satellite, and electronic warfare capabilities.

The growing military and economic integration between Beijing and Tehran also forces Jerusalem, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and others to assume that technology shared with China may find its way to Tehran. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should be more sympathetic to concerns regarding their own growing arms purchases from Beijing. The increasingly close economic and military links between China and Iran should also help solidify a growing consensus between Washington and Jerusalem regarding the potency of the Chinese military-civil fusion threat and the need to protect shared technology that may have military applications.