Not The Usual Mess In The Middle East


    The recent events in the Middle East at a glance looks like one big mess. One could think that not much in the region  makes any sense anymore. It seems that everyone is fighting everyone and historic alliances have suddenly been broken. Moreover any involvement or prediction by the West, such as the positive effects on Arab countries establishing free democractic regimes have proved to be completely wrong.

    However, if one looks at the events and the background, one could see that it was up until now that things did not make sense and now there is finally a more logical explanation to some of the oddities that were prevalent before.

    The most extreme example would be the alliance between Sunni Hamas, Shia Hezbollah, Shia Iran and Alawaite Syria. The alliance that makes sense is Shia Iran with the Shia group Hezbollah, they share the same values and sect of Islam and Iran has helped set up Hezbollah and has been its main sponsor ever since. It is perhaps slightly less obvious that the Syrian Alawaite regime is also part of this alliance. However, despite the different roots and other fundamental differences the Shias consider that sect to belong to the same stream and therefore sees it as an ally opposing the Sunni sect.

    While those alliances, even if not perfectly, could somehow be explained, what really hasn’t made sense so far has been the alliance between the Sunni group Hamas and the other Shia players. Despite the media’s obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is naive to think that the animosity towards Israel surpasses the age-long Shia-Sunni divide. Considering the longevity (since ancient times), number of people(1.5 billion Muslims with 10%-20% being Shia) and the religious background (fundamental difference in belief). One could be forgiven for thinking that hating Israel is no more than an excuse to rally the Muslim world around a common cause. After all, before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Shias saw themselves as a natural ally to the Jewish state of Israel, in its struggle against the threat of Sunni Muslims.

    In order to understand how this “small-scale” conflict could bring together two major players, it is important to look at the relations between countries in the Middle East leading up to the time.

    Before the Western intervention in the Middle East, the region was divided to tribes.There was no division of “countries”, rather everyone was Arab and there was a belonging to a tribe and/or a group of people. For example the Hashemite’s, which make up Jordan today, the Assyrians, which make up Syria…etc. After World War I, the Western intervention divided the region up and created the basis of the countries today. However, while creating countries, they bundled together some of the groups (Druze, Sunnis, Shia, Kurdish, Christian…etc.) and they did not create democracies. The intervention has left the region with countries with dictators. Over the years there have been “free elections”, however, they have not been real, as control was passed down in the family and even in cases, n which the countries went through the motions of “voting”, it cannot be considered a democracy without the other institutions such as freedom of speech, free press, separation of law and government…etc. .

    While in the West dictators are viewed as a wholly negative feature, in the Middle East there was one noticeable benefit. Since the countries that were formed were not always homogenous, the dictator had the job of keeping the people united. This of course was done via oppression of the masses, however it provided stability to those countries (many would argue it still not worth the price of oppression, however one might look at Iraq and Syria and perhaps not feel quite as strongly about it anymore).

    In many ways the “Arab Spring”  has let the cat out of the bag. The wall of fear between the rulers and the people has been broken, which made the dictators’ job of keeping the stability nearly impossible. The individuals have realized their power and conditions have been so bad that they often feel like they have nothing else to lose and are now couragously fighting for what they believe (in some cases the fighting has been kidnapped by Jihhadist groups, but this is again a matter of convinient alliances to reach a goal). A catalyst for the uprisings has of course been social media and other technical advances, which have contributed to the exposure of the masses to the outside world as well as provided a safer platform to organize and communicate.

    The tensions between the sects have been felt and somewhat exposed in the wikileaks reports. While the authenticity and sincerity in the cables should always be questioned, it was surprising to read statements such as Asad calling Hamas an unwanted guest in his country, or the eagerness the Sunni Arab nations showed in wanting the Iranian nuclear facilities to be bombed. However the events in the Arab world, namely the Arab uprisings since then have confirmed these reports, as Hamas is no longer wanted in Syria and the Sunni countries have increased their oil production to allow the West to execute the sanctions on Iran.

    In the last couple of years the situation in the Middle East changed so much that the false pretence has been broken down and the real dirty politics have come out. The Shia – Sunni conflict is in full swing and  affecting many countries. Ironically all the ethnic groups that were able to play nicely for all these years under an oppressive dictator and sympathize with, what they called, human rights violations of the Palestinians, are now mercilessly slaughtering each other not sparing women and children and seeing millions being displaced. Even Turkey that once declared a zero conflict policy is now bombing Syria as well as trying to manage the internal Kurdish conflict, involving also occasionally bombing areas in North Iraq.

    The group probably worse off from this turn of events is the Palestinians. On the one hand their plight has been pushed aside as a minor issue in light of everything else that is taking place. On the other hand, while the more pragmatic Fatah is losing its place at the top*, Hamas is gaining prestige. The visit to Gaza by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thaniof, the Emir of Qatar just shows how little the Arab countries are interested in a long viable solution in the Middle East and how much this is about alliances and politics (It is almost laughable how a minute after Syria and Iran favour the more radical groups in Gaza over Hamas, Qatar moves in and offers Hamas money and support).

    With the re-election of president Obama it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold. Whereas in his first term Obama was testing the waters and making some junior mistakes as to how to handle Iran and the various revolutions, this time around things might look a little different and every foreign policy decision would no doubt, ripple across the Middle East changing the dynamics between countries and temporary allies.

    It has been said before never to attempt to predict the future in the Middle East. That statement is perhaps more true now than ever.

 

 

 

* Fatah losing its place is one of the worst things for the Palestinians as it seems that as an act of desperation Abbas will be insisting on getting a UN General Assembly recognition for a Palestinian state, probably in order to leave his mark on history, before he is ousted. While a recognition will do nothing for the Palestinians, other than give them the ability to fight Israel legally in various UN organizations. It will mean an immediate economic collapse as the US will cease any aid and banish their representatives from Washington, as well as Israel potentially withdrawing the Oslo agreements, in which they collect tax money for them, as well allow workers into Israel.

A Hot Autumn in Iran


    An article in one of Israel’s major newspapers (“Yediot Archonot”) claims that Netanyahu the Israeli PM and Barack the Defence Minister have decided to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in the autumn, in order to cause the nuclear weapon program a delay. Furthermore the article suggests that this would be pre-US elections, i.e. most probably without Obama’s backing and against the will of most of the heads of army and security in Israel.

    Since this article claims to give an answer to one of the most asked questions about the Middle East, it is likely to create a lot of discussion both pro and against. In order to anticipate some of the claims and address some of the likely “conspiracy theories” to follow,  here are some of the likely motives behind the decision as well as looking at the winners and losers of each motivation.

Inaccurate Article

    It is not inconceivable that just like many other news stories this one has been put out of context. It wouldn’t be impossible for a reporter to choose part of a an ongoing discussion, for example the attack date, and report on it as if it has been agreed. However, this article was published in a respectable national Israeli newspaper, by two senior and experienced reporters.

    therefore, while  in the short-term the newspaper will probably increase its sales figures and gain credibility, if the article is in fact wrong, the journalists stand to lose some of their reputation (sometime in November, if anyone would still remember).

Self Defence

    It could be that the motivation is genuine self-defence. It is no secret that while reports are showing Iran’s economy in decline, some reports are also showing that after 30 years of sanctions, Iran has gotten very good at avoiding restrictions and is bringing in enough revenue to last until a major milestone in their program is reached, at which point all the rules would have changed (mainly the position of anxious neighbouring Sunni countries). Obama’s people’s recent visits to Israel, were probably in order to convince Israel of American support against Iran’s nuclear program, in order to delay any unilateral attack. It is not unlikely that Israel was not convinced that the US is not willing to do enough and in time to alleviate Israel’s risks.

    However, if the intelligence is the reason, it doesn’t explain why the security heads would oppose an attack ( as reported in the article), since  they would be privileged to the same intelligence reports. The latter reason is more plausible, i.e. American lack of support, since while the security heads may understand the technical military details better, they might not be aware of a political game going on between the US and Israel.

Bluff

    Israel knows that there is one thing the US and Europe don’t want and that is a Middle eastern conflict involving Iran, causing the price of oil to soar and potentially destroying any fragile economic recovery achieved or even throwing the world’s economy into disarray. Economic stability has already been a factor causing Europe and the US to act so slowly until this year (which one could argue brought the world to this junction). Every politician knows that it would be very difficult to show the voters a reason for causing an economic disruption, especially after the failure of finding WMDs in Iraq, Europe and the US are not keen to jump into a conflict with so many unknowns as well as based mainly on intelligence.

    The other players that will lose, from this early announcement, are the Iranian leaders. Preparing for a counter attack is costly. Apart from spending money on its army to prepare, Iran would have to start looking at their allies and no doubt rewarding them financially to ensure that they act in the right manner, when needed. It is especially tricky to do of this, while trying to maintain control on civilians, who are going through an economic crisis.

Strategic: Local

    Israel is going through a wave of demonstrations against the economy. While the new budget and austerity measures are being passed Netanyahu is getting a bashing in the polls. Netanyahu’s coalition is fragile and he knows that his worst nightmare might come true, in which, his automatic support from the economically weak sectors of society, might disappear. Netanyahu has also aligned himself with the Orthodox Jews instead of the secular majority, which guarantees him the Orthodox parties, but cost him a lot of traditional votes.

    Netanyahu knows that an election winning strategy would be a military conflict, as he and Barack are both decorated war heroes and are still seen as the most competent candidates to lead Israel through a future war. Also, one must remember that Israel is different from the Western world in the sense that a war isn’t about preserving ideals and lifestyle thousands of miles away, rather existential, which gains more domestic support.

    This claim however, assumes the worse about Netanyahu, as it suggests that he would drag Israel into a premature war and the world into a major conflict, in exchange for political longevity. The other argument against this claim is that a negative result would bury his political career forever a thing he must have considered.

Strategic: Global

    Netanyahu knows that Obama is not going to support a conflict before the elections. His voters are made of the majority of people, who object the Iraq war and think that the US went to war unnecessarily. However, despite that, it would be very difficult for any US president to turn a blind eye and not support Israel in a time of need (especially if this conflict escalates).

    Romney, who chose to include in his campaign a trip to Israel, is no doubt Israel’s preferred choice for the next US presidency. Therefore going into conflict before the elections may show Obama as incompetent on foreign policy and boost Romney’s support.

Genuine Leak

    It is possible that this was leaked. It could be that someone, who opposed the attack, has decided to bring it to the public domain, in order to prevent Netanyahu and Barack’s plan for a stealth attack in the most unexpected date (just before the US elections).

    If this is a genuine leak, whoever did it would be found out shortly and either removed from office or excluded from further discussions. However, the discussions are held at such senior levels that it is unlikely to have been a leak.

    This article raises more questions than answers, however until a genuine breakthrough release is made, all discussion is pure speculation, since no one can actually get into the heads of the leaders, nor know the full story. Reality is probably made up of a number of the above reasons as well as some unknowns, which might be revealed later in the game. One thing is for sure though, the Iranian’s can’t afford to gamble and ignore this threat, which means that this strategy has already partially worked.

Will Iran be another Iraq?


    Almost a decade after the West’s venture in the Middle East, the world finds itself in a similar position having to consider whether a pre-emptive military strike is the correct approach, in order ensure future global security and stability.

    Ten years following the decision to engage in military action in Iraq, the West’s armies are still committed (although slowly withdrawing) and the controversy is still alive and in many ways has redefined the people’s attitude to war and the trust in government. Therefore, in understanding Iran it is important to first look at the events in Iraq, without the media’s hysteria and sensational headlines (at times on the expense of accuracy).

    The biggest controversy is that fact that weapons of mass destructions have never been found. That claim strengthens the notion that the West was never under any threat and therefore there was no  interest for the West to get involved. The other controversy was that at the time a new UN resolution was not sought after, rather an older resolution was used, which some consider illegal. And finally the latest major point of contention is the aftermath of the war, which has seen about 110,000 deaths from military action, although mainly from sectorial violence, which followed the toppling of Saddam.

    The case to invade Iraq is argued very well in a few resources. Perhaps the most interesting and powerful argument is put forward in Tony Blair’s biographical book, where he dedicates a whole chapter to Iraq. Without repeating the argument, Tony argues that the life in Iraq before the war wasn’t much better than after the war. Different in that instead of suicide bombs and sectorial fighting, children were dying of malnutrition and lack of medicine and ethnic groups were deprived of human rights. Tony goes on to argue against Saddam’s history of violence in attacking Iran, Kuwait and more importantly using chemical warfare against his Kurdish population.

    However, many would find that all the argument against Saddam, still do not amount to a justification for war, especially since the Western world is routinely looking the other way in different regimes committing similar crimes. This then leads to an examination of the intelligence used to justify going to war.

    There is still a notion that Tony Blair lied to the people of Britain, fiddling with the intelligence to justify the move. However, the government has exposed the intelligence that was used and made it public (http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/iraqwmd0903.pdf). Anyone that cares to read the report would probably conclude that it was the intelligence that was wrong, not the British government’s decision. And therefore the big question is how could the intelligence get it so wrong and could it be trusted again?

    There is no reason to crucify and doubt the intelligence, as it is almost on a monthly basis that we hear that terrorist attacks are being foiled (one has to make the base assumption that the media is doing its job finding out information and would expose a situation in which the government is manufacturing these news). Evidently, the various global intelligence services have informants in the right places as well as the ability to intercept messages and collaborate, so what was so different in Iraq?

    This is where the views differ (please note these are ‘views’ not facts). One view is that Saddam saw admitting a lack of capability of WMD as a regional suicide. In a tough neighbourhood such as the Middle East it is important to have a military might, in order to affect regional policies, ensuring survival of the regime as well as economic prosperity (this would explain, why during years of sanctions and population starvation, Saddam still found the money to fund terrorist activity as well as pay bonuses to families of suicide bombers in Israel). The other view was that Saddam truly believed that the programs were progressing, however in effect he lost control of the army, who were feeding him wrong information. A third view is that the US were so eager to attack Iraq that while knowing of chemical and biological capabilities, they forged some of the intelligence on nuclear, in order to win public support. The most crucial case is that of Saddam’s attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, which seems very unreliable after Wilson’s Op-Ed (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/what-i-didn-t-find-in-africa.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm) claiming he was the one that filed the  report confirming the low likelihood of Iraq signing an agreement with Niger to buy ‘Yellow Cake’.

    The war in Iraq was a political disaster to both the US and Britain. Both leaders have been accused of lying to the people. However the blow would have not been so great had it not been for the longevity of the war and the high number of deaths. Had Saddam been toppled and Iraq stabilized within months, criticism would have probably been minimal.

    However, in politics as well as warfare, not only does one not have the benefit of hindsight, but one can’t accurately assess the outcome of the road untaken.  Arguably, the sectorial fighting that took place in Iraq would have taken place today as a result of the Arab Spring. Libya, Egypt and Syria all have a great deal in common with Iraq and are suffering or have suffered a similar consequence. Or even worse, perhaps not toppling Saddam would have meant that the Arab public wouldn’t have risen against their dictators. Furthermore, in defence of the decision to go into Iraq, one should not forget that it is not the army, which is killing civilians en masse, rather ethnic differences and foreign powers, which is dominated by the old Sunni – Shiite conflict.

    So now the world is faced with Iran. Similar to Iraq, Iran has decided not to cooperate with the UN, resulting in crippling sanctions, making their civilians’ lives more difficult than they should be. Furthermore, Iran is not taking any steps towards reassuring the world that their nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and while most information is hidden from the public eye, even the media catches a glimpse every now and then of disconcerting facts, such as Iran hiding the existence of the nuclear facility in Qom, the rejection of the compromise to enrich the fuel outside of Iran, advances in the development of long range missiles and most concerning the change of attitude since El-Baradei has been replaced by Amano as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) representative.

    There is little doubt that unless the world waits for advanced stages of the nuclear program, once again it will be hard to produce a “smoking gun”. However, one would think that the governments would have learned from past mistakes and run a different campaign, if action in a foreign country were to be taken.

Here are some of the mistakes that have not been addressed in Iraq and should be addressed in Iran:

–          The support of terrorism. Saddam was a supporter of terrorism and so is Iran. It should not be difficult to invest in collecting proof that it is Iranian financed or Iran militia fighting in Iraq, Syria, Israel as well as abroad (mainly via Hezbollah)

–            Dictator regimes, while the West cannot take the high ground on intervening with every conflict, there is no reason, why they should not intervene in certain cases. Just as there was an intervention in Kosovo to save the Muslims, purely on a humanitarian basis.

–          The UN has proved to be affected by small time international politics, a campaign needs to be done to expose such countries playing international politics rather than fulfilling their humanitarian duties (such as currently China and Russia in the case of Syria)

–          Securing the parameters, if an action is taking place in Iran, the countries have to anticipate and address the involvement of foreign powers (such as limiting across the border movements from neighbouring countries)

    Experience has shown that Iran has already decided to sacrifice its people for the bigger purpose of continuing with their plan. For example sending two war ships through the Suez Canal to Syria is another way to show defiance and give a “Business As Usual” feeling both domestically and overseas.

    The timing is crucial, since the US is going to elections in November and is therefore reluctant to commit to another war, while Israel has hinted towards a ‘point of no return’, which is said to be this spring, in which if there is no evidence of the program stopping, they will attack, not allowing Iran to secure the nuclear facilities deep in the ground.

    In the meantime, Israel is practicing warplane manoeuvres as well as drills simulating rockets hitting the center of the country and there is much talk about who is behind the mysterious killings of personnel involved in the missile and nuclear program in Iran. On the other hand, Iran’s economy is suffering with the Rial, Iran’s currency, dropping by half (the unofficial rate, which is not regulated by the government), the sanctions on oil and commerce, which will see their export revenue declining and cost of commerce increasing and the most recent blow, disconnecting them from SWIFT, the international money transfer system.

    Only time will tell whether an attack will take place and if so whether this conflict would be perceived as justified or another Iraq. However one thing is almost certain, which is the Iranians will suffer like the Iraqis did, because of their dictatorship government’s reluctance to drop their last century aggressive mentality.

UN Games: Iran, Russia, China and the Rest


This article was written nearly a month ago. It was not completed on time, so I decided not to post it. Having just re-read it, little progress has been made and it is still as relevant as always. So please disregard the time-bound events and hope you enjoy my analysis   

 

    This week Britain has seen some of the most horrific accidents on its roads. Slowly the news of a 34 car pileup with at least 7 dead started hitting the global news. From the initial reports it was hard to understand what had actually happened, however with this number of casualties, it did not matter, as this was already a tragedy.  From reports later it was assumed that the large scale accident was caused by a combination of heavy rain, poor visibility and a nearby firework display, which blew smoke onto the road.  Whether someone will actually be accused of negligence is yet to be seen, but it was through an apparently indirect event that this tragedy has happened and it is too late to undo it.

    In world politics and especially the Middle East, this chain of events is often observed. Almost always in politics a team of people could be found sitting in a back room running scenarios of cause-and-effect to ensure that decisions that are taken would serve certain interests, provided time allowing of course. However, despite this fact every now then an event transpires that sets off another. The Arab Spring is a great example of minor events taking place shaping others. The massive arms smuggled into Gaza from Libya, as a result of the instability of the Gaddafi regime is one. The severed Iran and Hamas relationship as a result of Syrian uprisings is another. Not only do those events destabilize the region with their unpredictability, but it is often hard to understand when they have finished, which makes an analysis impossible to do.

    While there are many of these indirect events taking place, there is currently one, which is possibly the most substantial. As expected, the most substantial event involve the most influential country in the Middle East, which in many respects is Iran. On the other side of this events are NATO countries headed by Israel and the USA. The surprising element (surprising to anyone who does not follow the events in the UN) is that the indirect cause of this major event is the actions of China and Russia.

    The background for this event has been in the headlines for some time, so it is no secret that Israel has been, somewhat unusually, trying out their long range missiles, running massive evacuation drills preparing for a missile attack as well as simulating, in Italy, fuelling in midair and attacking distant targets. To add to these events there has been much debate regarding whether attacking the nuclear plant in Iran should take place. The local reports in Israel give the impression of the government being in favour, while the previous heads of the Mossad and other security organization are against this assignment. Those who would have thought that the strong opposition of the security heads to this operation would mean this is a ‘no go’, should be reminded that a similar situation occurred in 1981, which resulted in the government pushing ahead and approving the execution of the bombing of the nuclear facility in Iraq.

    There are many sceptics doubting Israel’s true intention to attack. These sceptics are claiming that this is clever politics intended to bring the Iranian situation back to the center of the Middle East, after a long break, in which the Arab Spring and the struggling regimes have taken center stage, allowing Iran to continue work away from the spotlight. This theory goes on to couple this event with the low status of Iran following the exposed assassination plot. It is worth mentioning that some suspect a conspiracy theory, concocted by Israel and the USA, which puts the entire authenticity of the assassination plot in question*.

    On the other side of the sceptics, there are some opinions warning of the window of opportunity closing on a military action taken against Iran. Some reports indicate that Iran is more advanced than previously believed. There are analyses indicating that the stuxnet virus released in the nuclear facility has not significantly damaged Iran’s capability. Other speculations are that Iran has made progress developing missiles to mount and launch an atomic bomb. Once you factor in the possibility of Iran moving their sensitive facilities into safer locations (underground facilities carved under mountains), add to that the potential of the weather during winter delaying any actions and the window of opportunities does seem to close rather quickly. Some of these speculations have been confirmed by the damning IAEA report released this week, which has been doubt showed that Iran’s intentions are anything but pure.

    Needless to say that any attack on Iran could quickly escalate into a full blown regional conflict, or as former CIA analyst, Riedel, put it “attack on Iran would ignite regional conflict from Gaza to Afghanistan ….”  Therefore as stated before by most Western players, it is generally believed that an attack should be the last option used. The other option available to the Western world is tougher sanctions, which would suffocate Iran economically, leading to either a rebellion within, toppling the government, or draining the funds used for the nuclear program. In fact, this option is also the favourite option by the heads of the military mentioned previously. This method is less risky and if military action has to be taken later, it would be easier to fight an economically weak Iran.

So why is this option not being pursued?

    This is where the indirect effect comes into play. There have currently been three rounds of sanctions past in the UN against Iran. Those sanctions have been proposed by the US and significantly watered down by China and Russia in exchange for not vetoing them in the Security Council. So while these sanctions were passed, their scope has been very limited, targeting only specific organizations whose link to the nuclear program has been established. This did not exclude China from trading with Iran in other areas, mainly oil, which has been keeping it afloat. In the next round of proposed sanctions the USA wishes to tighten the rope and disallow any trading with Iran’s central bank, which would essentially stop all foreign trading with Iran. If these sanctions are passed, it is very likely that any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be abated, however, if those sanctions are watered down again and become ineffective, the current threat would remain on the cards.

    In the Middle East often things are said in the heat of the moment and are not followed through. For example, during the Palmer report leak and Israel’s refusal to apologize Erdogan made some game changing statements such as that Turkey would pursue to hound Israel down every UN route as well as send armed Turkish ships for any future flotilla heading to Gaza. So far there has been no significant impact in the UN and the 2 ships Flotilla, which arrived last week near the Israeli shore was not escorted and stopped as per the Navy procedure Israel said it would follow. Therefore, it is not unlikely to believe that Iran itself does not want a conflict and perhaps has now found itself in a difficult position. The Iranian regime could possibly be hoping to turn time back to a couple of years ago, when they had the option to accept the deal the US and Euro proposed, in which they would achieve their nuclear power aspirations by allowing the Uranium to be enriched in a different country. However that window has passed and perhaps explaining to their people that the dire economic situation in the past two years has been as a result of a badly calculated risk and could have been avoided all together, would have a worse impact on the longevity of the current regime than a well calculated military response.

     If Iran was indeed bluffing and would be looking to avoid an escalation of the situation, it should also lament the missed opportunity of the Obama administration’s initial policy revolving around reaching out and settling the differences, which for all intent and purposes has been rejected by Iran, by refusing to reach an agreement and continuing to advance its nuclear plan. It is clear that whichever way Iran chooses to take at this juncture would be harder than before and would require clever tactics as well as an element of risk taking.

    For the sake of the Iranian people it might be the lesser evil of two to have the Security Council impose tougher sanctions, as it might force the regime to do a complete policy change in regards to its nuclear program and make this whole episode go away until the conditions are in Iran’s favour again.

    Only time will tell whether Israel is serious regarding its intention to attack the Iranian nuclear sites, or whether Iran is willing to let this conflict escalate. Currently the most critical factor standing between a physical attack or not is the Russian and Chinese vote in the Security Council in the next few weeks. Hopefully the media will find the sense to dedicate enough attention to this event and therefore hold the entire Security Council and in particular China and Russia accountable for their vote and its direct and indirect consequences.

 

 

*I normally, do not include my own opinion in my blogs, however, it is worth mentioning that while I fully believe that timing is not a coincidence and governments are known to sit on bits of information until the right time to release them, I find it too farfetched that Israel and the USA would have this level of cooperation or that the US would fake an incident on this scale only to aide Israel, especially when Netanyahu’s government has not exactly been playing ball with the Obama administration.

Attack on Iran


    Every single person in the Western world should be somewhat concerned about the latest exchanges between Israel and Iran, as it might change things as we know them.  Now that military action in Libya is finished and the Arab League has managed to engage in some level of dialogue with Syria, the world attention is back to Iran and its nuclear program.  The timing or the decision of turning back to Iran is not a coincidence, rather, after every big change (i.e. change of government in Egypt, Libya, Syria) a vacuum is created and if the big players are not managed, they could move to fill this vacuum, in this case the fear is that Iran would advance on the newly formed regimes.

    What is surprising about the timing of the pressure being applied is that while one would expect more diplomatic pressure, it seems unusual to opt for a military strike, unless there is new information about the imminence of a threat. So far no new information has been provided or leaked to the public domain about Iran making a breakthrough in its nuclear capabilities, in fact reports suggest otherwise. It is assumed that the computer virus attack damaging the centrifuges, as well as the recent assassinations of key scientists and the economic sanctions are all slowing down Iran’s nuclear program.   

However, one must accept that not everything is in the public domain and not everything gets leaked. For example, the Western nations’ intelligence were sitting on information of Iran’s secret nuclear plan for months and it wasn’t until Iran realized that they have been found out that they “volunteered” that information. Another example is the bombing of the Syrian nuclear plant by Israel in 2007. There was no warning before, outside of the intelligence community, and it took time until the reports came through of what has actually taken place and why. So following that logic, it could be that Iran has decided to accelerate their nuclear plan. Perhaps it decided to make the nuclear breakthrough, in which Uranium is enriched to higher levels needed for a nuclear bomb in a relatively short amount of time. Possibly develop appropriate war heads to be able to mount a nuclear bomb on missiles. Or even just buy key components from other countries, which would provide immediate capabilities.

    Whatever is happening in the background, there are already symptoms showing on the ground. There have been reports of Israeli planes practicing manoeuvres in Italy, in which they bomb a distant location. As well as that air practice, Israel has launched a test missile today and has stepped up its drills to deal with the consequences of a massive missile attack to the heart of Israel.  It has also been reported that the US and British military are preparing for a possible attack by moving their navy vessels to strategic positions. On the other side, Iran has been quite defiant in its statements to the West, threatening a retaliation for any attack. The difference noted about these statements is that they were made by the head of the army, who has a direct reporting line to the superior leader. The controversial exposed plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat and carry out a terror attack, are also signs of Iran stepping up the pressure.

    It is possible that once again this is just a show of strength of both sides, which in reality would not be allowed to spill over. In fact, since this is already in the media, suggests that it is not genuine, as such an attack would undoubtedly benefit from the element of surprise. However, no reasonable person could look at the facts and claim that the threat of a conflict is not on the cards.

    If a strike does take place, there could be different outcomes. Due to Wikileaks, it is a known fact that some Arab countries around Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai are in favour of an attack. It is also known that the West has stepped up the pressure and no doubt that Israel is very much in favour of ridding Iran of nuclear power. Therefore, it is almost of little difference, who actually launches the attack as it is supported by most and the result would undoubtedly be the same, regardless of who pulls the trigger.

    If Iranian targets are attacked, it is assumed that it would rely on its proxies around the Middle East to launch an attack on American and Israeli targets. It is almost a given that Hezbollah and militant groups in Gaza would launch missiles into central cities in Israel (following the recent rift between Hamas and Iran, it would be interesting to see whether Hamas would launch missiles itself, look the other way, while the Islamic Jihad and other smaller groups do so, or distance itself from Iran and ensure the rocket fire is merely symbolic). Syria, which is Iran’s biggest ally in the region, normally does its military work via Hezbollah in Lebanon, however, it is not unlikely that due to the dire condition the government is in, would try to gain political power by positioning itself as a Muslim opposition to the attacks by the West and engage in the conflict in some capacity.

    Israel will clearly be impacted the most by this situation, however, this is a risk it is willing to take, as it knows that once Iran achieves nuclear weapon capabilities, it would be much worse off. Also, with the right level of cooperation of the attack, Israel would be able to take steps to protect itself from the proxies’ attacks and reduce the loss of life and property.

    The risks to this type of operation are plenty. The first risk is that the intelligence is not reliable enough. The Iraq war has taught the West that they do get it wrong sometimes and it is enough to underestimate Iran’s current capabilities or even to miss an important element of the program, which would be used following an attack to undermine the whole effort. The second risk could be a failure to execute the mission, from human error to uncalculated risks, if an attack is launched, but is not successful, this would carry a very heavy price. Another risk would be the conflict escalating. Although, no doubt that there will be a massive diplomatic effort along with the strike, it is not impossible that support for Iran would gather momentum in other Arab countries as well as perhaps inside European countries. The West would hope that at most only Shia Muslims may identify with Iran, which would reduce the risk to part of Iraq, which is already in turmoil or Bahrain and Azerbaijan, which do not really pose a threat. However, experience has shown that this could be seen as an East Vs. West or Christian/Jewish Vs. Muslim conflict and draw into it new stakeholders. Such a development might land another Iraq or Afghanistan, whereby the military battle is won, but constant insurgency is taking place (this time potentially on Western soil).

    It should be fair to say that the West is wary of war. The political agenda in most European countries is anti war. In all countries including the US there is a very strong leftist movement, which includes in its ranks high profile academics, artists, politicians and human rights activists, who continuously campaign against interference in the Middle East. Therefore any military action would include a political backlash. The timing is problematic also in the sense that the Western world and Europe, in particular, are going through an economic crisis. The current voter is a tough crowd to convince to invest what little money is available into a potential military conflict, when the threat is not so obvious and visible, especially, when the case put forward for Iraq in 2003 is still fresh and has a big negative impact.    

    Whether this attack will take place or not is still to be seen. Whether this attack is the right answer would become apparent, although possibly not immediately and possibly not conclusively. What is almost absolute is that this is not going to be a walk in the park. Even if executed perfectly, it is likely that the planning takes into consideration an attack on Israel as well as a backlash in the West. There is also no doubt that many in the West will criticize this action and offer many sinister interpretations as to why it has taken place. On the other hand, if the attack is to take place, it would potentially change the rules of the game. It is not unlikely that Iran would lose clout or even have a regime change. Also without Iran financing terror in the Middle East, Hamas might fall back to its less radical allies (Muslim Brotherhood), or that Syria and Hezbollah would become insignificant players. Or perhaps a new player would rise up to fill the void in the axis of evil. The West will no doubt go through some troubling economic times, as the oil price and availability would destabilize the markets.

      However, unless concrete foul motives behind the attack are revealed with time, one can safely assume that the people elected to lead, know more than they are telling and have decided that there is a threat great enough, which justifies an attack, in order to guarantee our security and way of life.

Turkey and Syria – A Short Lived Alliance


    There are a few major events happening in the Middle East, which are to shape the region politically and economically for the foreseeable future. The first event is the revolution in Egypt, which despite the removal and humiliation of Mubarak has not been completely put out. The second event is the revolution in Libya, which is currently unfolding as rebels assisted by the ally forces are drawing closer to toppling Gaddafi. The third and perhaps most interesting development is the Turkey – Syria relationship, in light of the violent depression of the Syrian revolution.

    The mainstream media has, as usual, focused on the death toll and key developments in the conflict as they unfold. However there is a much more interesting story behind the developments, which has a more serious impact on the West and was started in 2009.

    Following ‘Cast Lead’ operation in Gaza at the end of December 2008, Turkey’s government expressed its indignation at the operation and their dismay at the stealth move by Israel, while they were mediating the negotiations between Israel and Syria. One of the most famous public displays was Erdogan storming off the stage in a conference in Davos after accusing Israeli President Shimon Peres of killing civilians.

    The Davos display was followed by a few more public criticism of Israel, however at the time, many interpreters explained the situation as the AKPs winning strategy for the elections as well as an attempt to establish their status as political leaders in the region, especially after getting nowhere with their application to join the EU. Israel, which still has diplomatic ties with Turkey, saw this as a hurdle in the relationship, partly due to Erdogan’s Islamic nature and partly due to a power game between Turkey, the EU and the US, however other signals such as the fact that Turkey did not withdraw their ambassador to Israel or demand that Israel do the same, gave Israel assurance that things are still at hand.

    The biggest turning point in the equation wasn’t when Turkey cancelled the regular military drill it holds with Israel, rather, when they decided to hold the drill with Syria. Israel could not ignore this move, as Turkey has been a partner in economic trade but more important a recipient of advanced Israeli military capabilities. Israel was involved in updating the Turkish air fleet as well as providing them with advance tank arming technologies, rockets and surveillance equipment. Transferring these capabilities to countries Israel is in conflict with, would put Israel in a great disadvantage and Israel couldn’t ignore this risk and the impact in its potential future conflicts.

    In 2010 by the time the first flotilla incident happened, in which a group of ships sailed to Israel from Turkey with the blessing of the Turkish government to break the naval blockade on Gaza, it was obvious that the relationship between the two countries was in fast decline and was not about to improve. One of the ships in the flotilla was the Mavi Marmara, which later proved to contain a group of men prepared for violence, ending in the death of 9 Turkish citizens as a result of resistance to the Israeli commando takeover.

    Turkey’s change in foreign policy broke two unofficial core rules. The first rule is the move away from the West, despite being mainly Muslim Turkey has always managed to stay secular and West-facing . The second rule was to openly criticize Israel over the treatment of the Palestinian, indirectly opening the door to criticism about its own treatment of ethnic groups such as the Kurds. Considering the two norms in place and their repercussions on Turkey, it is reasonable to believe that this shift in behaviour is not a reflection of one man ideals or a different management style, rather a government’s new foreign policy strategy.

    Part of the new foreign policy was also to take a more lenient line towards Iran and establish closer ties to Syria. So far the latter part has already blown up in Turkey’s face, as Syria was also infected by the Arab Spring and the only way Asad could protect his throne is by violently killing the demonstrators in the hope that the rebel leaders would be removed from the equation and the rest would prefer not to risk their lives. Under the bloody circumstances, Turkey could not be seen to support the killing of so many civilians (over 1500 civilians have already been killed a number that far exceeds for example the number of civilians killed in the 3 weeks Gaza war). Nor does Turkey see kindly the thousands of Syrians fleeing into its borders, which is causing a humanitarian crisis or even worse inflaming Turkey’s own ethnic groups seeking a change of government. There have also been reports about Turkey making it very clear to Asad that cross-border operations, targeting the opposition forming on the Turkish side, would not be tolerated and could prompt military retaliation. The worst part, however, has been the Turkish realization that they still have limited influence in the region and with the EU sanctions on Syria, they may need to change their economic strategy.

    The other part of the changed foreign policy was the leniency towards Iran, this has already damaged the Turkish American relationship, however, not enough to have a major impact yet. Turkey should not ignore this development though, as all the intelligence reports are indicating that Iran is using the turmoil in the Middle East to quietly get on with their nuclear plan, hence the increased rate of dead nuclear scientists bodies turning up in the Iranian morgue. Apparently Iran is not far from making the nuclear breakthrough (increasing the uranium enhancing rate, essentially creating enough raw material for a nuclear bomb). There is no doubt that if Iran achieves its purpose, this development would become common knowledge shortly after and cause a complete shift of power and alliance in the region and possibly the world.

    Turkey’s government has been playing a very dangerous game, turning its back on old friends and agreements and seeking new ones, which do not have the best reputation. One gamble has already proved wrong and another doesn’t look too promising either. The question is whether the government would be able to find ways to sustain the economic growth, which would secure it another win and prevent a coup. No doubt the Turkish government should be following every toppled regime in the Middle East and recalculating their strategy accordingly.

How Do We Choose a Villain?


 There has been harsh criticism of the US’s foreign policy even before it was apparent that no weapons of mass destruction were going to be found in Iraq.

    To this day many polemists, perhaps the most famous one is Noam Chomsky are quick to point out the double standards or hypocrisy of the past and present US governments. Although it is not only the US that is accused of hypocrisy, since it is the largest economy and has the most powerful army, it is usually the one leading the world strategy and bearing the brunt of being chastised.

    A blog is probably not the right platform to recount all of the US’s past “mistakes”, but it is worth looking at the motivation behind events in the last 10 years.

    One of the biggest criticisms is the reason for actions against foreign countries. For example, sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear plan, sanctions against Iran’s nuclear plan, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, intervention in Libya and more importantly not enough intervention in other countries such as Darfur, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Congo …etc.

    Many criticizers point out that it is absurd for the US to go against nuclear ambitions of some countries, while having nuclear itself or the reluctance to put Israel through the same scrutiny. It is also absurd to arm a certain group or topple a certain dictator in the name of democracy and human rights, but happily accept and work alongside a “friendly” dictator, which tramples on the same human rights.

    Theoretically all these criticisms are valid. Looked at academically and independently, they would be hard to defend and plenty of scholars and politicians have gained fame and money pointing that out.

    However in my opinion this is where the subtle difference lays.

    There is no doubt that the Western world has become very wary of war and more liberal in its political orientation (although we are seeing this slowly changing in parts of Europe such as Finland, Netherland..etc.). At least in the intellectual communities and on the street there is still a sense of guilt because of Europe’s past, which involves years of colonization and all the negative things that come with it. South Africa is possibly the most recent example and has the biggest impact, as in its case, the wound is still bleeding as black Africans are still striving for economic freedom and Nelson Mandela is around to tell us about the horrors of Apartheid first hand. However South Africa is only one amongst many. Anyone who has the privilege to travel to exotic places such as the Caribbean, India, Australia, Africa…etc., doesn’t have to look very deep to see the marks left by the Western world. Evidence of oppressed indigenous cultures and exploitation could be found in abundance. 

    The liberal orientation manifests itself in the public being very suspicious about any political intervention in foreign countries. Any efforts to “build a country” are often seen as attempts in modern colonization in the sense of making money on the expense of another, while exploiting their natural reserves and taking advantage of their less advanced infrastructure and/or naivety. Many conflicts are seen as bullying regimes into playing ball and removing any obstacles to trade.

    While one could interpret the data in this way and conclude that this is the true motivation, there is a more convincing explanation that stands the test of reality better. The claim that it is all about the money is only half right. It would be more correct to say it is all about the money and the balance of power.  The US’s actions have always been about preserving the status quo of the world’s power balance, which in return secures its economy.

    For example, 9/11 was an event that shook America and threatened to destabilize the US economy. The US knew before 9/11 about the Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, but they never acted upon this, since it didn’t pose a real threat to the world’s power balance, just the same as they never addressed militant activity in other parts of the Middle East. However when 9/11 cut through right to the heart of America’s conscious and economy the US decided to change the regime and stop the support, which they believed would end up in further attacks on the same scale.

    In Iraq the first Gulf War in 1990 was not about the weapons of mass destruction. Rather it was about an unpredictable Arab leader, Saddam Hussein, invading another country and threatening the world economy by trying to change the terms of the game, which would affect commerce amongst other things. The next time around in 2003 it was the same unpredictable leader raising his head again and this time aiding terrorists and expressing aspirations of attaining weapons that could change world powers.

    North Korea is another example of a regime intent of changing the power balance in the world. In the Korean War in 1950, North Korea was backed by China, while South Korea was backed by the US. North Korea winning the war would have changed the balance of power and in a similar way today, a powerful North Korea still poses a risk to the world’s power balance. Moreover, the fact that the Korean leader is an unpredictable character, who the US believes is capable of using nuclear power, puts him even more as a threat to the US economy and a loose force that has to be neutralized in order to maintain the status quo.

    Iran is probably one of the most interesting out of all the examples. Apart from the extreme religious views of the regime, which is a threat in itself to the Western way of life, if ever vigorously exported to Europe and the US. Iran poses another threat to the US, since nuclear capabilities would make it the super power amongst the Arab countries in the region, some of these Arab nations have close economic ties with the US. A new power order could change trade trends as well as make the region much more flammable, which could potentially cause the US economy to ground to a halt. Therefore it is essential for the US that Iran does not obtain this advantage. However on the other hand, stopping Iran by force would not be easy and is also a path that might affect the economy and ignite a bigger conflict. This is why so far, the US has only been using sanctions, which in essence are a way to control the flames around that conflict. While keeping the conflict on a low heat for now, the US is doing something, but reserving the choice to turn up the flames to a full military operation, which is what I believe they would do, when all options have been exhausted and time would run out.

    When Iran’s nuclear aspirations are mentioned it is often compared with Israel’s ambiguous nuclear capabilities, which the US and EU seem tolerant of. This is a somewhat strange situation, since in Israel’s case the nuclear capability is already part of the equation, therefore taking it away could disrupt the balance. Israel has never confirmed their nuclear capability nor signed the non-proliferation treaty, its official stance on nuclear weapon has always been that whether it really has it or not, is not important, rather, the deterrence it creates, which helps preserve a ceasefire with its neighbouring countries. The US and much of the Western world, seem to subscribe to this claim.

    Unlike the conflicts mentioned, other conflicts which are taking place in the world have not had a response from the US or alternatively the EU. The reason for it is probably because war is a very expensive venture and when there is no significant gain or loss predicted or a successful outcome projected, governments would rather run a mile from it. It is hard for any government to justify taking much needed money and instead of investing it in the country, investing it in an over-sea operation. As justified as it may be, this would put any government in a huge disadvantage in the following elections. This probably why there has not been much intervention in massacres in African or Asia Pacific countries, where the leaders have been just as ruthless and the death toll has been much higher than in the most discussed conflicts in the Middle East. Why the UN has not led an action against these atrocities is a completely different discussion, which could be summarised as “short term politics over global values”

    As mentioned before war is a very expensive venture and governments’ goal is essentially to be re-elected, this often leads to the country that has led the war to be the first to act, in order to gain economically from the new situation. This manifests itself with establishing new economic ties with the country, bringing in workforce from home to undertake work in the country and so on. This aspect has also been criticized, sometimes unjustifiably distorted to imply that this was the motivation for an intervention in the first place.

    The one aspect which has not been adequately dealt with is why governments cannot be open about their motivation for going to war. Why did the US and EU base their military effort in Iraq mainly on the assumptions that there are weapons of mass destruction. The only reasons I could find for this is the liberal orientation of the public, which as mentioned earlier, the public is already suspicious and does not tend to support military action easily. Another reason could be the level of engagement of the public. The governments and their PR advisors are under the impression that people cannot follow complex theories and only relate to situations where they can clearly see how they would be affected, so the governments need to focus on the main points rather than try to push a complex theory. Also, in order to maintain advantage the government can make limited usage of information they have, in order to sway public opinion. For example, the US knew about the secret nuclear plant in Iran long before Iran went public, however the US never thought to “out” them and use it as part of a PR campaign.

    It is important to mention that sometimes governments get it wrong, they align with the wrong side or underestimate an event. We should judge the quality of the government on its ability to predict and act correctly in these situations (unfortunately it takes time to be able to asses a situation correctly) and it seems that we are going to have many opportunities to do so, as there is a very strong force of change sweeping the middle East and Africa.