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

2 February 2023

Israel Launched Drone Attack on Iranian Facility, Officials Say

Ronen Bergman, David E. Sanger and Farnaz Fassihi

TEL AVIV — A drone attack on an Iranian military facility that resulted in a large explosion in the center of the city of Isfahan on Saturday was the work of the Mossad, Israel’s premier intelligence agency, according to senior intelligence officials who were familiar with the dialogue between Israel and the United States about the incident.

The facility’s purpose was not clear, and neither was how much damage the strike caused. But Isfahan is a major center of missile production, research and development for Iran, including the assembly of many of its Shahab medium-range missiles, which can reach Israel and beyond.

Weeks ago, American officials publicly identified Iran as the primary supplier of drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, and they said they believed Russia was also trying to obtain Iranian missiles to use in the conflict. But U.S. officials said they believed this strike was prompted by Israel’s concerns about its own security, not the potential for missile exports to Russia.

The strike came just as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was beginning a visit to Israel, his first since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office as prime minister. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William J. Burns, visited Israel last week, though it is not clear anything about the operation in Isfahan was discussed.

American officials quickly sent out word on Sunday morning that the United States was not responsible for the attack. One official confirmed that it had been conducted by Israel but did not have details about the target. Sometimes Israel gives the United States advance warning of an attack or informs American officials as an operation is being launched. It is unclear what happened in this case.

Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan

JON GAMBRELL

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bomb-carrying drones targeted an Iranian defense factory in the central city of Isfahan overnight, authorities said Sunday, causing some damage at the plant amid heightened regional and international tensions engulfing the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian Defense Ministry offered no information on who it suspected carried out the attack, which came as a refinery fire separately broke out in the country’s northwest and a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck nearby, killing three people.

However, Tehran has been targeted in suspected Israeli drone strikes amid a shadow war with its Mideast rival as its nuclear deal with world powers collapsed. Meanwhile, tensions also remain high with neighboring Azerbaijan after a gunman attacked that country’s embassy in Tehran, killing its security chief and wounding two others.

Details on the Isfahan attack, which happened around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, remained scarce. A Defense Ministry statement described three drones being launched at the facility, with two of them successfully shot down. A third apparently made it through to strike the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and wounding no one, the ministry said.

The state-run IRNA news agency later described the drones as “quadcopters equipped with bomblets.” Quadcopters, which get their name from having four rotors, typically operate from short ranges by remote control. Iranian state television later aired footage of debris from the drones, which resembled commercially available quadcopters.

State TV aired mobile phone video apparently showing the moment that drone struck along the busy Imam Khomeini Expressway that heads northwest out of Isfahan, one of several ways for drivers to go to the holy city of Qom and Tehran, Iran’s capital. A small crowd stood gathered, drawn by anti-aircraft fire, watching as an explosion and sparks struck a dark building.

31 January 2023

[Research Reports] Current Status of China-Middle East Relations: What Xi Jinping's Visit to Saudi Arabia Means


Middle East and Africa Study Group FY2022-3

"Research Reports" are compiled by participants in research groups set up at the Japan Institute of International Affairs and are designed to disseminate, in a timely fashion, the content of presentations made at research group meetings or analyses of current affairs. The "Research Reports" represent their authors' views. In addition to these "Research Reports", individual research groups will publish "Research Bulletins" covering the full range of the group's research themes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia from 7 to 10 December 2022 and participated in a series of important summit meetings: a China-Saudi Arabia Summit, a China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit and an inaugural China-Arab States Summit. This is Xi Jinping's third official visit to the Middle East region as head of state, following visits in 2016 (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran) and 2018 (UAE). Many observers have commented on Xi's visit to Saudi Arabia, emphasizing China's growing influence in the Middle East in contrast to that of the US, which is reducing its presence in the region.

Indeed, it is true that the China-US confrontation is one of the important background factors to Xi's visit. However, this interpretation alone may misrepresent the overall picture of China's involvement in the Middle East because China's relations with the Middle East have their own dynamics that in some respects interact with developments in the China-US confrontation. With that perspective in mind, this article will examine the significance of Xi Jinping's visit to Saudi Arabia in three contexts: China-Middle East relations, China's major power diplomacy and the impact of China-US strategic competition.

1. China-Middle East relations seeing steady progress

The next globalisation


Mark Leonard

Is globalisation coming back to life? That was the big question at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, where WEF founder Klaus Schwab asked whether it is possible to have cooperation in an era of fragmentation.

For the past decade, the steady demise of ‘Davos Man’ – the avatar of global business and cosmopolitanism – was the big story here, owing to the 2008 financial crisis, Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, democratic backsliding around the world, covid-19, and Russia’s war in Ukraine. All were seen as signs that globalisation had gone too far and would be thrown into reverse.

But the mood at this year’s meeting was slightly more optimistic. Despite much concern about conflict and economic strife, the world seems to be doing a little better than global elites expected when they last met in May. The Ukrainians are valiantly resisting the Russian invaders, the West is united, Europe has managed to keep the lights on this winter, and some think we might still avoid a recession.

Moreover, beneath these important short-term developments is a more profound shift toward a new form of globalisation, albeit one that will be quite different from what preceded it. While the globalisation of goods seems to have peaked, services are becoming ever more globalised, owing to the revolution in telework during the pandemic.

There is also an accelerating revolution in energy, driven partly by the war in Ukraine. European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, predict that the widespread adoption of renewables and hydrogen power will be as significant as the industrial revolution of the 19th century. At the same time, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are opening vast new possibilities, while also creating tensions over microchips and renewed fears about joblessness and rogue robots.

30 January 2023

Biden Administration's Total Disregard for Iran's Protestors, Nuclear Threat

Majid Rafizadeh

Iran's mullahs have made significant advances by tripling their nuclear program's capacity to enrich uranium to 60%, a short step away from the 90% purity required to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran is selling Russia drones and other material; is Russia "paying" for them by helping the mullahs complete their nuclear weapons undertaking?

Just last week, the US Department of State declared Iran the "world's leading sponsor of terrorism." This is the same State Department that had allowed the mullahs to brutally crack down on and kill their own people, deliver drones and other deadly weapons to their ally Russia; freely increase their influence in Latin America, and rapidly advance their nuclear weapons program. What will it take for the Biden administration finally to help the young men and women of Iran who have been fighting so hard for their freedom?
Iran's mullahs have made significant advances by tripling their nuclear program's capacity to enrich uranium to 60%, a short step away from the 90% purity required to build a nuclear weapon. (Image source: iStock)

Since the Biden administration assumed office, Iran's ruling mullahs have seized the opportunity to continuously advance their nuclear program, which is currently a short step away from manufacturing nuclear weapons.

Why Saudi Arabia Doesn’t Want Iran’s Regime to Fall

Talal Mohammad

On Sept. 16, 2022, a young Kurdish Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly. Protests have rocked the country ever since. Initially centered on demands to abolish the compulsory hijab and disband the morality police, the popular movement has in recent months broadened its scope to seek minority rights and, in some cases, independent states for Kurdish, Baloch, Azeri, and Arab groups in Iran. Amini’s death gave a common platform to these minorities’ long-festering grievances and led some Iranian opposition groups to call for regime change that could give way to a post-Islamic Republic Iran.

In heavily Kurdish regions of Iran, there have been armed confrontations between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Kurdish separatist groups. Tehran has targeted Kurdish separatist bases in neighboring Iraq and accused these groups of seeking to secede from Iran. The Iranian regime has also accused the Saudi government of influencing, funding, and masterminding separatist activity within Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been archrivals since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled Iran’s monarchy. At the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for exporting the revolution, sending shivers down the Saudi royal family’s spine. Since then, a series of direct and indirect confrontations between Tehran and Riyadh have shaped the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East—and the Gulf in particular. Each power today has numerous proxies that form regional spheres of influence. Most (but not all) Iran-affiliated groups are Shiite, while Saudi-linked groups are Sunni.

The Saudi-Iranian rivalry has forged much of recent Middle Eastern history. Riyadh supported former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in his eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. In 1982, Tehran helped establish, fund, and train the newly created Hezbollah militia, which has exerted increasing control over Lebanese politics ever since. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the downfall of Hussein saw Iran seek to exert Shiite influence over the country in a struggle that has in many ways endured to today. The Saudi-Iranian standoff has also defined post-Arab Spring conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Iran’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Yemen’s Houthis is the cornerstone of the Tehran-Riyadh rivalry today.

28 January 2023

Iran is still in the Holocaust denial biz – big time


On January 20, 2022, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that condemned the denial and distortion of the Holocaust. To no one’s surprise, the Islamic Republic of Iran chose to be the only country in the world that condemned and rejected this resolution.

The UN passed the resolution one month after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi cast doubt on the Holocaust during an interview on CBS News’s 60 Minutes.

One year later, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the eyes of the world are on the sustained protests on the streets of Iran, and the global community must continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its systemic denial of the Holocaust and the disrespecting of its victims.

To date, on three occasions, the Iranian regime has held Holocaust cartoon competitions. The first one was held in 2006, soon after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the presidential office. For the second one held in 2016, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sent a personal message of praise to the organizers. On New Year’s Day in 2021, Iranian officials, acting with the support of Khamenei, released the full results of Iran’s third major collection of political cartoons aimed at promoting Holocaust denial.

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime continues to cynically use the Holocaust to attack the West. It does so by stating that claims of freedom of speech in Western countries are lies because Western governments disallow and punish Holocaust denial.

This was evident recently, soon after the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published caricatures of Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Basra’s stampede is a metaphor for Iraq’s governance failure

Ahmed Twaij

Iraqi soccer fans try to enter the Basra International Stadium in Basra, Iraq, Thursday, January 19, 2023. A stampede outside the stadium killed at least four people and injured many more. (Anmar Khalil/AP Photo)

It was meant to be the icing on the cake. The crowning of Iraq as champions of the Arabian Gulf was supposed to bring to a conclusion a tournament that had welcomed Iraq back into the international scene.

Celebrations, however, were overshadowed by the reported deaths of at least four from a stampede which also injured dozens of others ahead of the tournament’s final on January 19. Poor crowd control, awful security protocols and mismanagement resulted in the fatal chaos.

Instead of the focus being placed on sport, the failure of the security forces and resulting tragedy at the final became a metaphor for the gross ineptitude of the Iraqi government and burst the bubble of the two-week high that had been the Arabian Gulf Cup.

With hours to go before kick-off it was clear Iraqi government officials were not in control of the tens of thousands of fans who had descended on Basra’s ‘Palm Trunk’ stadium. Government officials quickly began discussing the possibilities of postponing the final of the tournament or even having it transferred to another neutral country as news of causalities began to spread.

Yet the government should have anticipated such crowds and been much better prepared. It was known the match was sold out and it was expected that those without tickets would attempt to crash the match.

Just two weeks earlier, after having attended the opening ceremony in Basra myself, I had written about how badly organised the crowd control was. It was a disaster waiting to happen as tens of thousands were shepherded through bottlenecked gates.

The Kingdom and the Power

F. Gregory Gause III

In October 2022, Saudi Arabia announced that OPEC+, a group of oil-exporting countries, would cut oil production targets substantially: by two million barrels per day. As the world’s top exporter of oil, the Saudis have always taken the lead in the group’s efforts to manage the world oil market. The move had an immediate if relatively modest impact on oil prices, which rose from a low for the year of around $76 per barrel before the announcement to a range of about $82 to $91 by mid-November. The shock felt by Americans was more geopolitical than economic: the Biden administration had asked

26 January 2023

“BY, WITH, AND THROUGH” WILL NOT SAVE US FORCES FROM DIRECT COMBAT: AMERICAN GROUND FORCE CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST ISIS

Jeff Martini, Sean Zeigler and Gian Gentile 

In 2016, as it was pushing ISIS from its Euphrates valley strongholds in Iraq, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS weighed how best to speed up the military campaign. The coalition ultimately chose to expand its military involvement in support of Iraqi forces, introducing what were described as “enablers” and “accelerants” that would, indeed, prove crucial in dislodging ISIS from Mosul the following year. These contributions are the subject of our newly released operational history of Operation Inherent Resolve. By focusing on US ground forces, the report sheds light on a less appreciated dimension of the fight to defeat ISIS in Iraq. In doing so we challenge the narrative that the concept known as “by, with, and through”—the US military’s reliance on local allies to prosecute ground fighting—does not entail combat by US forces.

Rather, the report demonstrates that defeating ISIS hinged on a ground fight, requiring the grueling liberation of territory kilometer by kilometer. And while Iraqi surrogate forces bore the brunt of frontline fighting, US forces were also engaged in on-the-ground combat operations that hastened the defeat of ISIS. Appreciating such contributions will be necessary to distill the right lessons from an operation like Inherent Resolve, so that we might correctly apply those lessons to future irregular warfare.

A Less than Propitious Start

Beginning in August 2014, through early 2015, the coalition focused on defending Baghdad from ISIS’s advance by generating sufficient Iraqi forces to produce a counterattack. During this early phase of the campaign, coalition forces won back scant ground. Indeed, it took nearly two years from the coalition’s initial military intervention for Iraqi forces to liberate Fallujah, in mid-2016. The slow turning of the tide added to already prevalent doubts that victories in the Euphrates River valley would culminate in a broader expulsion of ISIS from Iraq.

25 January 2023

Drone Havoc In Ukraine Puts Iran’s Asymmetric Warfare Advantage Into Sharp Relief – Analysis

Oubai Shahbandar

The distinctive sound of an approaching wave of loitering munitions, commonly known as kamikaze drones, has become all too familiar over the cities of Ukraine since Iran began supplying the Russian military with its domestically designed and manufactured Shahed-136.

With its roughly 2,000 km range and 30 kg explosive payload, these destructive, swarming drones have become an almost daily terror for civilians in the capital Kyiv since September, routinely striking apartment buildings and energy infrastructure.

“The Russian purchase and deployment of Iranian drones has allowed Russia to attack the broad range of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” David DesRoches, a military expert at the US National Defense University, told Arab News.

Designed and built by an Iranian defense manufacturer closely linked to the regime’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Shahed is low-tech compared with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems developed by other nations.

However, their strategic utility lies in the fact that they can be mass produced at a relatively low cost. According to Ukrainian officials, the Russian military has ordered more than 2,000 of these drones and has been in talks to establish a joint manufacturing facility on Russian soil.

A recent report by the Washington Institute also claims the Kremlin has expressed interest in purchasing more advanced Iranian drones, such as the Arash, which has a longer range and can carry a larger explosive payload than the Shahed.

But before Iran’s drones made their debut in the largest and most significant conflict on the European continent since the Second World War, they were battle-tested across multiple fronts in the Middle East where the IRGC and its proxies are active.

Iran has been able to trial its drone technology against US-built air defenses stationed in Iraq and the Arabian Gulf, including the Patriot surface-to-air missile system. Now that know-how is proving invaluable to the Russian military against the Western-backed Ukrainians.

Water Wars: The Geopolitics of Resource Conflict in the Middle East

Alp Sevimlisoy

Across the Euphrates lies one of the most precious commodities, not a dark viscous liquid that we formally refer to as Petroleum or a shimmering precious metal such as gold, but rather a translucent substance that is imperative to our lives, simply called, water. The Euphrates Dam has been the site of many historical conquests ranging from the Akkadian Empire to the Seleucids and subsequently the Romans and the Ottomans. In more recent history it led to a standoff between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian Republic when, during the 1990s, water disruptions led the Atatürk Dam in Southeast Turkey to be prioritized by the country’s national security apparatus, with an ultimatum being delivered that any obstructions would lead to Turkish troops entering Syria to restore order. Following the statement, the Arab Republic of Syria met Turkish demands and an agreement was made to ensure unobstructed flows of water across the Euphrates River across their shared border.

The Turkish Armed Forces conducted operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 to achieve a foothold in the area and clear out Marxist and religious fundamentalist groups; however, a secondary objective was to take control of water flows from the Euphrates. Many policy makers have been discussing diminishing oil reserves to be the main facet of resource-based conflicts, yet water – an imperative day-to-day commodity – is often overlooked and is in reality a major asset that is sought to be secured as a vital state interest.

The Euphrates Dam in Syria is currently in the hands of the aforementioned internationally outlawed groups whereby prior to this it was held by religious extremists, a point to outline with regard to many illegal groups seeing it as a base from which to ‘leverage’ their demands across the region. The liberation of the dam and a restoration to a mutual management of the Euphrates River via both the Atatürk Dam in Turkey and the Euphrates Dam in Syria is only possible via the cooperation of the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian Army in synchronicity with the National Iraqi forces also. Only via the control of nation states which have a proven track record of the successful upkeep and flow of water resources regionally can we ensure that proxy conflicts do not occur as a result of potential resource ‘blackmailing.’

Opinion – The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Russia’s Exit Cue from South Caucasus?

Vahagn Avedian

Since the 2020 war and its trilateral ceasefire agreement on November 9th, Russia’s future in South Caucasus seems to be intertwined with the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. The way Moscow demonstratively chose not to aid its military ally Armenia in the face of the joint Azerbaijani-Turkish assault on Nagorno-Karabakh or to put a stop to it as it had done previously, aggravated an already existing public distrust and bitterness among Armenians towards Russia. The recent developments, with Nagorno-Karabakh left isolated and practically under siege by Azerbaijan while the Russian peacekeepers seem to be incapable of resolving the situation, have further fomented that criticism.

The developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict are perhaps the most pivotal in recent times regarding Russia’s presence in the South Caucasus (consisting of the three republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), often labelled as the “backyard of Russia.” Since long ago, Georgia has been on bad terms with Russia. This was accentuated by a brief war in August 2008, and by Tbilisi’s recent move to officially apply for EU membership in the wake of the Ukraine War.

As for Azerbaijan, there is no secret that ever since the dissolution of the Romanov Empire in 1917, the Muslim population of Caucasus (Azerbaijan did not exist until May 1918) yearned to be “liberated” by their Turkish “brothers,” at the time at war with the Russian Empire. This was overtly visible when the Muslims, in the wake of the Russian Army’s abandonment of the Caucasian front in the midst of the ongoing WWI due to the Bolshevik Revolution, not only refused to continue to fight against the advancing Ottoman Army, but even started sabotaging and attacking the Armenian armed forces who were left on their own to defend the front (Georgia had by May 1918 signed a friendship treaty with Germany and changed side).

24 January 2023

The West Must Act to Avert War in Nagorno-Karabakh


Lara Setrakian

A woman in a crowd of protesters clutched a lifeless dove in her hand, its head flopping back and forth as she waved her arm in the air. The bird had apparently been squeezed to death while she spoke into a megaphone, delivering an impassioned speech honoring Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in the 2020 war for Nagorno-Karabakh.

With dark humor, the strangled dove came to embody the broken peace process in the South Caucasus. The bird and its human handler were part of a show of political force by Azerbaijan in the Lachin corridor, the sole road connecting Armenians in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh to the outside world. Since Dec. 12, Azerbaijani protesters have blocked the road with crowds of people and tent encampments, halting the normal movement of people and goods in or out of the enclave. The protests began with specific complaints around the mining of natural resources in areas held by ethnic Armenians. They grew into a broader nationalistic grievance, challenging the role of Russian peacekeepers and pressing for greater controls over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The resulting melee has choked off incoming cargo, cutting food, fuel, and medical supplies for 120,000 ethnic Armenians, according to population figures from local leaders. The U.S. State Department called on Azerbaijan to open the road and made a statement at the U.N. Security Council calling for the same. Samantha Power, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s administrator, warned the closure could “cause a significant humanitarian crisis.” Gas supplies to Armenian-populated areas were cut for three days, leaving people without heat in winter weather.

Iranian Drone Exports to the Balkans and Its Geopolitical Repercussions


Sine Ozkarasahin

Iranian military activity in Europe’s neighborhood is not limited to supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. Transforming itself from a net arms importer into a burgeoning arms exporter, Tehran is engaged in opportunistic behavior across conflict zones, ranging from Ukraine to tense, fragile regions, like the Balkans. Eyeing the Balkan weapons market, Tehran has focused on the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sector. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the main military actor involved in the proliferation of Iran’s indigenous drone program; as such, Tehran’s entry to the Balkan region’s drone industry opens the door to IRGC involvement across NATO’s southeastern flank.

Amidst an escalating arms race and existing political tensions, Iran’s entry to the region would be a wildcard that could lead to increased geopolitical volatility.

On the one hand, Tehran is already disrupting the security environment in the region by carrying out cyberattacks against some of NATO’s regional allies, such as Albania (kryeministria.com, September 7, 2022). In tandem with this, Iran is strengthening its relations with Serbia. The most recent and noticeable example in this regard is the visit of the Iranian foreign minister to the Serbian president on December 4 (mfa.ir, December 5).

On the other hand, besides politics, religion also remains a commonality upon which Tehran can capitalize. Although the majority of the Balkan Muslims are Sunni, some heterodox religious communities, such as the Bekhtasis and Alevis (Kizilbash), remain open to Iranian influence. In the past, the IRGC had allegedly sent tons of arms and ammunition to back Bosnian government forces (Iranwire, November 14, 2020). These examples show that the Balkan region is not immune to Iranian influence, and that Tehran is ready to exploit any vulnerability, including through expanding its UAV program to the Balkans.

Tehran Exploits the Ongoing Arms Race in the Balkans

23 January 2023

Europe Needs a New Iran Strategy

CORNELIUS ADEBAHR

The new year began in Iran as the old one ended: with executions. 2023 promises to be even more consequential than 2022, which has already shaken the foundations of the Islamic Republic. It’s time for Europe to change course in response.

Adebahr is a nonresident fellow at Carnegie Europe. His research focuses on foreign and security policy, in particular regarding Iran and the Persian Gulf, on European and transatlantic affairs, and on citizens’ engagement.

Two men were hanged on January 7, 2023, after sham trials found them guilty of killing a member of the Basij militia during street protests in Karaj, a city near Tehran, two months earlier. Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini, a karate champion and a volunteer children’s coach, respectively, suffered the same fate as Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard, who were hanged in December 2022 for an alleged similar offense.

The goal of such state-sanctioned revenge killings is clear: to intimidate the protesters into submission. And while actual demonstrations have somewhat ebbed due to the regime’s brutal crackdown, the clocks cannot be turned back. What is uncertain is whether the country will experience the positive change people have clamored—and died—for, or whether there will be even more unrest.

Three news bits from the past days illustrate what has already changed in Iran—and why this is relevant for Europe and the rest of the world.

For one, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been quoted as saying that women should not be ostracized for failing to properly cover their hair, as religious rules and the laws of the Islamic Republic demand. This only goes to show how removed Iran’s leaders are from their people: after four months of revolt caused by the slaying of Mahsa Jina Amini for what Khamenei would now call “weak hijab,” this concession is found wanting.

22 January 2023

Turnaround Bundeswehr: What Money Cannot Buy


Imke Magdalena Kügele studied law in Bonn, Rotterdam and Konstanz. She has worked as a civil servant for the Bundeswehr since 2009. From August 2021 till August 2022, Imke Kügele was a visiting scholar at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey (CA) at the department of National Security Affairs. She is also chairperson of the board of BundeswehrGrün, which is an association that aims to foster civil military interaction between the Bundeswehr and civil society.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the Bundeswehr, the Federal Ministry of Defence, or the Federal Government of Germany.

The war in Ukraine has shifted the focus of politics in every European state. In the case of Germany, this shift was almost a complete turnaround, or as Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his historic speech on February 27, “eine Zeitenwende”. Chancellor Scholz explained in his speech that this was the time to show, “whether power is allowed to prevail over the law. Whether we permit Putin to turn back the clock to the nineteenth century and the age of the great powers. Or, whether we have it in us to keep warmongers like Putin in check.” The Chancellor described the consequences he would draw from that question. He acknowledged the necessity to increase the national budget for the German armed forces. He also confirmed a clear commitment to NATO criteria for the future. The corresponding bill to establish the increased funding for defence was adopted by the German Parliament on June 3rd, 2022.

But money alone will not make the German armed forces better.

This article will point out that the increased funding must be accompanied by an improvement of civil-military interaction between military leadership and political decision makers. In addition, the understanding of each soldier as an active player in civil-military relations on the level of society must be reinforced.

21 January 2023

The Arab World at an Inflection Point

Jon B. Alterman

Over the holidays, I had lunch with one of the eminences of Arab politics. A former revolutionary, he had spent decades working with Arab leaders and their non-Arab counterparts. He remains sharp, but he has turned reflective. And over lunch, he had a stark admission: “All the strategic choices the Arabs made were wrong.”

He went through a list. Arab economies have proven durably weak. Newly independent governments quickly turned repressive. The constant hostility toward Israel proved an expensive distraction. The region became uniquely enmeshed in warfare and terrorism, while other regions moved on. His generation’s legacy to his children is this: a region whose struggles he had expected to be overcome decades ago, yet which seem even more daunting today. After all, he rose in his career amid a burst of optimism. His generation expected the postcolonial world would produce freedom and prosperity, power, and respect. It did not do much of any of those things. And with Arab populations growing swiftly, the energy transition looming, and the rubble of the Arab Spring’s failures still smoldering, the region’s medium-term outlook is even more daunting.

It would be a mistake, though, to gloss over the fact that the Arab world is once again at an inflection point. The region’s leaderships are making a set of strategic choices as consequential as the ones their predecessors made earlier in this statesman’s career. The region has an opportunity to make much better strategic choices than it made in the past, and there are signs it is beginning to do so—but not in every case.

20 January 2023

Has Turkey Become an American Foe?

Robert Ellis

At the virtual Munich Security Conference in February 2021, newly elected U.S. president Joe Biden declared that “America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back.” In a pre-election pitch, Biden also made clear that NATO is at the very heart of U.S. national security and is the bulwark of the liberal democratic ideal.

To date, Biden has held firm on his promise and revitalized NATO in its stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The same applies to Europe, which has abandoned its lethargy and also taken a firm stand.

Biden also made it clear that the United States would withdraw the vast majority of its troops from the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, narrowly defining America’s mission as defeating Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). This shift focused on America’s most cost-effective operation, where 2,000 special forces troops and intelligence assets allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria to defeat the Islamic State.

In October 2019, then-President Donald Trump reversed U.S. policy when he, in a telephone call with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, greenlighted a third Turkish incursion into Syria and ordered the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from the area. Trump considered the move “strategically brilliant,” although Brett McGurk, once Trump’s special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, panned it as “strategically backward.” Nevertheless, U.S. special forces have maintained a foothold in the region.

Consequently, U.S. support for the SDF and its backbone, the Kurdish YPG militia, remains a bone of contention between the United States and its supposed Turkish ally. This week, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is visiting Washington in an attempt to iron out disagreements with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. These issues include a plan to sell forty F-16 fighter jets and nearly eighty modernization kits to Turkey and Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air-defense system.

19 January 2023

Turkey plays a tough balancing act as it strengthens ties with Russia


While the West has cut off much of its business with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, NATO member Turkey has increased its trade with Russia for political and economic reasons.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As the U.S. and other Western countries imposed sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, one ally has kept business going. Turkey, which is a member of NATO, has more than doubled its trade with Russia in 2022, compared to the year before, and that has created breathing room for Russia's squeezed economy. NPR's Fatma Tanis reports on what Turkey has gotten out of it.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: To understand modern Turkish-Russian economic ties, one has to go back 30 years to the fall of the Soviet Union, says Turkey's former trade attache to Moscow, Aydin Sezer.

AYDIN SEZER: (Speaking Turkish) - shuttle trade.

TANIS: That's when an informal exchange of goods known as shuttle trade began. Travelers would carry goods back and forth and sell them on the streets. But the relationship took another huge leap since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkish businesses swooped in to fill the void left by Western companies setting new trade records. Today, Turkey is in the top three of Russia's global trade partners. It's kept a neutral stance in the war or you could say plays both sides. It supplies Ukraine with drones, weapons, armored vehicles but keeps doing business with Russia.

IBRAHIM KALIN: Imposing sanctions on Russia at this point will penalize Turkish economy rather than the Russian economy because of gas dependency that we have with them.

TANIS: That's Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There are other economic ties as well. Millions of travelers from Russia visit Turkey's Mediterranean beaches every year, bringing significant cash flow. The war has also changed the dynamics between the leaders of the two countries, says former Turkish trade attache Aydin Sezer.

SEZER: (Speaking Turkish).