The Western Bloc Fights Back

April 16, 2011 at 8:16 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Many in the media have compared the Arab Spring to 1989. If none of the most obvious arguments against such analogy were enough, here is another: unlike the Soviet satellites, America’s are fighting back the revolutionary wave! Of course the socialist bloc was dependent on the unitary leadership of the USSR, the Warsaw Pact was imposed and did not serve the interests of the states in question (except for Russia of course), Gorbachev foolishly hoped eastern Europe to remain neutral and unilaterally decided to remove Moscow’s grip, the revolutionaries were unquestionably pro-western and last but not least the soviet bloc served ideals as much as strategic interests – unlike the strict usefulness of the current pro-western Arab regimes.

  •   You’re either very smart… or incredibly stupid’

What is the Obama Administration doing? No one knows. For all the proud transparency and democratic credentials of the leader of the free world, at times Obama and his team seem to be as Byzantine as a Eurasian regime. Gates says one thing, Clinton another and Obama says more than he does. Is Obama being extremely subtle, arranging behind the scenes deals – Chicago style – with the Arab regimes that will keep them in power while assuaging the young protestors? Or does he actually do what his speeches profess and he pushed for a fully free electoral system based new Egyptian regime without the tutelage of the Army? Was he truly not informed of the GCC’s mobilisation to Bahrain? If he really was not informed that should hardly be seen as something positive: either he is too weak to deserve the respect of his allies or he is consistently undermining them after reassuring them in private.

  • The Shia Crescent and Containment

What is at stake? The geopolitical control of the Middle East is at stake and Bahrain proves as much. Saudi Arabia has rarely intervened in the affairs of its neighbours. Notorious exceptions have been the wars against Israel, the support for Yemeni royals against Nasser, the fight against the shia Houthi rebels in the same country and now Bahrain. He who controls the flow of oil controls the world? At the very least, it helps. Most of all, depending on who controls the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, the world can be made more stable or less. Up to this point the US have controlled the Middle East. They are the only external entity that has the power to do so. The alternative is not the Europeans, or Russians or Chinese; the alternative is Iran. Can Iran be trusted to responsibly manage the region? The answer is unequivocally ‘no’!

Iran is led by a revolutionary regime that is more interested in the millennial narrative and the well being of its leadership than in the national interests of the state it runs. Why intervene in Lebanon? Why deploy its navy to Syria? What are Iran’s interests there?

Tehran also lacks the naval projection ability to control the Arabian and Red seas and its inevitable rivalry with Turkey would never make it an undisputed hegemon. Those who predict a Turko-Iranian condominium might also start by explaining who gets what; because Syria and Lebanon would be very much part of any Turkish sphere and Iran is not handling control of Hezbollah or Damascus to Ankara. No, stability is not what one can expect from the Islamic Republic.

Thus, the Arab powers have strived to contain Iran’s irredentist impulses and they have done so in spite of America’s squandering of the potential of local allies. In 1979, the regional supremacy of the Iranians was endangered by the Islamic revolution: the Iranian intelligentsia was chased out of the country, its military apparatus was purged, its closest patron – the US – shunned and the new regime turned to social endowments to seduce the part of the population it had not intimidated. The Arab leadership didn’t miss a beat and quickly moved to explore Iranian weakness. The jingoistic ambitions of Saddam Hussein suited them well and they financed their proxy’s aggression against Iran. By 1988 both Iraq and Iran were exhausted and Iran’s regional geostrategic hegemony was a thing of the past. Its military might gone, its economic potential kept in check by international sanctions, the shadow of Iranian deployments to the Middle East in case of world war, vanished. With the Arab League led by US allies – KSA, Egypt – the USSR in crisis and Iran isolated, the Arab world reigned supreme and trade between the Arabs and the West flourished.

The XXI century however brought the end of the Arab-American peace. America’s decline, the economic emergence of Russia and Turkey, the strategic rise of Iran (thanks to the War on Terror) and the European stagnation have levelled the playing field. Saudi Arabia and its allies have done their best to prolong the containment of Iran. They have financed the Sunni factions in Iraq’s internal squabbles, tried to do the same in Lebanon and have made sure Israel is undisturbed in the Levant, lest Egypt become distracted with a country which represents no threat to the Arab community. Containment has its limitations though, since Asia represents more and more a vital lifeline of FDI to Iran. China, Japan, Korea, Russia and to some extent India, help keep Iran afloat.

Now Egypt, one of the two pillars of Western-Arab Middle East supremacy, is in danger of falling under the influence of isolationist and/or constructionist elites. This leaves the KSA alone in the leadership of a pro-Western order in the Middle East.

  • From Suez to Syrte

In 1956, France and Britain mobilised to defend the international/European control of the Suez. In the wake of the formation of OPEC and widespread third-world nationalisations of first-world assets, Nasser turned to Egypt’s closest and most profitable European asset: the strategic passage of the Suez Canal. Paris and London wished to draw a line in the sand and determined not to lose any more of their empires, they allied with Israel and seized the Suez by force. The Sèvres Pact was ultimately not to succeed as it posed too great a threat to the new bipolar world order.  Paris and London walked out with different lessons learned. The UK used its anglosphere credentials to build a partnership with the US and was able to salvage some of its influence and assets from the anti-Berlin-Consensus and bipolar driven UN decolonisation process. Paris on the other hand understood the only answer to American-Soviet dominance was to build an alternative Gaullist lead sphere of interests.

  • Falklands, Françafrique

Interestingly, both policies paid off. When Argentina invaded the Falklands, the US looked the other way and abstained from enforcing its Monroe Doctrine mechanisms in favour of the ‘special relationship’. The UK was given free hand to engage the South American political game in its favour and defeat the Argentine military. France on the other hand supported anti non-aligned-movement (NAM) forces and alternative solutions to the decolonisation master narrative. In Biafra and Katanga, the French prerogative of preserving an independent sphere of third-world dependencies was very visible with Portugal, South Africa, Israel and others coming together to crush when possible the UN-NAM canon of colonial border maintenance – an entente the NAM would come to classify as ‘Unholy Alliance’ and which on rare occasions (like Biafra) managed to mutually reinforce itself with the socialist bloc’s own polar offshoot: the Chinese led communist alternative. While the fall of Portugal’s dictatorship, the RSA’s apartheid as well as France’s new found Arab policy prevented further cooperation, Paris went on to keep its own sphere of influence by intervening at will in Chad, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire.

  • The Hyperpower’s Orphan Offshoots

Now it seems that an American empire revamping itself from the War on Terror overstretch, prefers to leave its former allies to themselves. While the European partners may have enough power to defend their own interests, the second and third world ones, if left to fend for themselves, may eventually fall. At the moment the pro-western order in the Middle East is adrift but Saudi Arabia and the Emirates will not suffice to keep it afloat. The French military base in the UAE and the Arab League’s backing of the overthrow of Gaddafi – under Gulf designs no doubt – however seem to indicate that mutual cooperation in the near future is possible in an Euro-Arab understanding of sorts, which might become an adequate counter-weight to looming universalist challengers. The EU may become an obstacle though, just as inconvenient as UN based moral initiatives.

  • Incoherent Alignment translates as Fair Game

When one’s property degrades, one refurbishes. But the preference is for an upgrade, not for a temporary second-hand replacement. The principle of sovereignty, while well grounded, is deficient in the face of polities devoid of strategic coherence. A polity’s interests do not change according to ideology, they are constant. Thus, while sympathetic towards democratic movements throughout the world, any regime change would only be worth it if it entailed the maintenance of the status quo or its improvement. If the only governance alternatives imply a worse situation, they should be fought. Here, intervention is justified. Mubarak’s regime had been eroding for some time and certainly Washington should and could have facilitated a transition earlier. But not to a democratic model since as plainly visible now, the replacements anointed by the masses lack in realism what they over-profess in ideals.

It is important to further state that the burden of normative adaptation falls always upon the new political arrivals. Unlike what one hears from the Arab Street, it is not up to the US to adapt itself to an imperfect change (any support for the current regime may radicalise the opposition) but rather it is up to the revolutionaries to guarantee that Egypt’s strategic paradigm remains unaltered, in order to gain America’s blessing for the revolution. No country – even one as powerful as Egypt – can expect its domestic dynamics to remain undisturbed in the face of foreign policy changes – the world is interdependent. If on the other hand, foreign affairs were independent from domestic political dynamics, foreign intervention would not be legitimate; yet this isn’t the case with Egypt or with the rest of the Islamic world.

A good example can be found in Riyadh’s approach to Bahrain and Libya: in the former political change is objectionable, in the latter it is welcome. It is of little importance what kind of regime is in place so long as it serves the interests of the Kingdom.

A bad model is that of the Obama Administration: in Egypt the problem so far hasn’t been Obama’s inaction but rather – apparently – his wrongful choices. If he truly chose not to intervene that would have to mean abstaining from judging the actions of the government as well as those of the protestors; conversely he did intervene to undermine his allies in Egypt in favour of their (and America’s) rivals. As long as the military regime remains in place though, Obama should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The truth is that any and all polities that fail to solidify a coherent and bipartisan foreign policy orientation, become preferential targets of external intervention. Fortunately, principled multilateralism seems to be an affliction contained in just a few western capitals. Unfortunately additional antibodies to the disease of sympathy/moral ego, are nonetheless very much in need nowadays.


  1. M. Silva said,

    Arab Monarchs Respond to Spreading Revolutions, Jordan, Morocco to join GCC,%20Jordan,%20Morocco%20to%20join%20GCC,%20May%2011,%202011.htm

    Editor’s Note:

    Arab monarchies have responded to the spreading Arab revolutions by getting together in an alliance to protect their regimes against their populations. The alliance intervened to save the Bahraini monarchy by sending GCC troops. Today, the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco have been approached by the GCC monarchy to join the alliance.

    Morocco and Jordan are among the poor Arab states which will benefit financially and economically by joining the alliance. In return, they will be asked to contribute troops in support of the GCC against revolting populations or against intervention from Iran.
    Jordan, Morocco to join GCC

    (Staff Reporter) 11 May 2011, 10:50 AM DUBAI –

    Just 15 days ahead of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s historic 30th anniversary celebrations, the six-nation regional grouping on Tuesday welcomed membership bids by the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco.

    “Leaders of the GCC welcomed the request of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to join the council and instructed the foreign minister to enter into negotiations to complete the procedures,” GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al Zayani said in Riyadh. He said the same procedure would be followed with Morocco.

    Al Zayani was speaking after the 13th Consultative Summit of the leader of the GCC, which groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

    The Arabian Peninsula republic of Yemen has limited observer status in the grouping.

    The leaders met to discuss, among other things, their tense relations with Iran, a stalled transition plan in Yemen and the popular uprisings shaking the Arab world, an official said.

    At the meeting, the GCC urged all sides in Yemen to sign the transition deal aimed at ending months of anti-government unrest in the impoverished nation.

    “The council urged the all parties in Yemen to sign the agreement which is the best way out of the crisis and spare the country further political division and deterioration of security,” the bloc’s leaders said in a joint statement.

    GCC heads of state had discussed the bloc’s mediation efforts in Yemen which stalled in the face of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s refusal to sign up to proposals which would require him to stand down within a month rather than serving out his term until 2013 as he insists.

    Officials had earlier said the summit was also scheduled to discuss their March decision to create a development fund of $20 billion to help Bahrain and Oman.

    The UAE delegation to the summit was headed by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

    He was earlier received at the Royal Hall of the King Khalid Air Base in Riyadh by the Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, other members of the royal family, ministers and senior military and civilian officials.

    Charge d’Affaires at the UAE Embassy in Riyadh Ahmed Mohammed Bushuwirib and other members of the diplomatic mission were also present.

    Shaikh Mohammed was accompanied by a high-level team comprising Lt-General Shaikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior; Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister; Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister for Cabinet Affairs; Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs ; Dr Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, Minister of State for Financial Affairs; and senior officials.

    Gulf countries welcome bid from Jordan, Morocco to join GCC bloc

    Gulf Arab leaders say they have welcomed Jordan’s and Morocco’s requests to join the bloc

    By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief, and AP Published: 10:12 May 11, 2011


    The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) could be the umbrella for all the monarchies in the Arab world after the six-member alliance on Tuesday welcomed bids by the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco to join it, its secretary general Abdul Latif Al Zayani said.

    The foreign ministers of the six countries were tasked to start negotiations with their Jordanian and Moroccan counterparts to complete the required procedures, according to media reports from Riyadh where the leaders of the GCC states held their one-day annual advisory council.

    The summit has no specific agenda, unlike the official annual rotating summit, usually held in December.

    Deep impact

    The membership of Jordan and Morocco would also have a deep political, social, economic, security and defence impact.

    Jordan is geographically linked to Saudi Arabia and both kingdoms share terrestrial borders that stretch more than 700km.

    Yemen has often said since the 1990s that it wanted to join the alliance, but several factors have hampered a positive response to its requests.

    The Gulf Cooperation Council includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

    Bloc of monarchies

    The bloc of monarchies was created in 1981 to coordinate political and economic policies. Following a meeting Tuesday in Riyadh, Gulf Arab leaders welcomed Jordan’s request to join.

    A statement on the Jordanian news agency said Jordan is seeking a free trade agreement with the GCC.

    The six countries are seen as among the most influential of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ members.

    They have relied on their oil wealth to secure political and economic clout. Last month the GCC sent troops into Bahrain, which is facing a rebellion against its monarchy.

  2. M. Silva said,

    Autocrats in the Middle East on the Counter Attack,1518,762861,00.html
    By Alexander Smoltczyk and Volkhard Windfuhr

    According to the “Fundamental Law of Revolution,” regimes fall when those at the bottom are fed up with the status quo and those at the top are no longer capable of remaining in power.

    That was the experience of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
    But difficulties arise when there is one thing those at the top are still quite capable of doing, namely deploying tanks to deal with their opponents — as is the case in Syria and Libya.

    Last week, the Syrian regime sent heavy artillery into the rebel city of Dara’a, while its forces attacked protesting students with clubs in the previously calm city of Aleppo, in Banias on the Mediterranean coast and in the northwestern Syrian town of Homs. According to Amnesty International, by last Tuesday 580 Syrians had died in the unrest. The United Nations human rights office puts the number of deaths at up to 850.

    In Libya, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi is attacking the rebels with snipers and mortars. Supported by NATO air strikes, the rebels did manage to capture the airport in the coastal city of Misurata. Nevertheless, it didn’t feel like the revolutionary leader’s days were numbered, despite rumors that surfaced on Friday evening that Gadhafi had been wounded in a bombing attack and had already left the capital city Tripoli. In a subsequent radio address, Gadhafi informed the “cowardly crusaders” that he was living in a place “where they cannot find and kill me.”

    Revolutions Can Fail

    It becomes even more difficult when many ordinary citizens turn against the revolution, as has been the case in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as Yemen and Oman. As it turns out, it isn’t just the elites most closely associated with autocratic leaders who fear for their benefits, privileges and positions, but also the thousands upon thousands involved in the bloated apparatus of political parties and governments. And the lower their position and income, the more desperately they sometimes cling to the traditional system, particularly because ordinary public servants were not able to line their pockets and open Swiss bank accounts.

    The Arab revolution has come to a standstill, and all signs points to a restoration of the status quo. The new Arab world has reached a point at which many revolutionaries are worn out and those who are still in power refuse to give up control. Influenced by the images of celebration from Tunis, Benghazi and Cairo, many apparently forgot that revolutions could also fail.

    What succeeded in Central and Eastern Europe 20 years ago is not necessarily destined to repeat itself in the Middle East. The Tunisians and Egyptians have undoubtedly made history, but the regimes in the countries to which their revolutionary virus has spread now have no intention of allowing their governments to implode.

    The first act in the revolutionary drama in the Arab world ended when Libyan Colonel Gadhafi refused to go into exile, like Tunisia’s former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, or to retire, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, instead ordering his thugs to shoot at his own people. Gadhafi’s stubbornness has emboldened many autocrats. If the Libyan dictator had followed in former Tunisian President Ben Ali’s footsteps and stepped down, there would be no tanks in the streets or people being herded into football stadiums in Syria.

    Three Different Approaches

    The second act of the so-called “Arab spring” smells more of gunpowder smoke and burned-out churches than of jasmine. In the light of early summer, some things look different than they did only eight weeks ago. In many cases, the status quo seems so entrenched that a Facebook revolution alone is no longer capable of suddenly transforming it into images of people dancing in the streets.

    Despots frequently rely on a broad cross-section of businesspeople, party officials, civil servants and military officers who have nothing more to lose than their chains. For decades, rulers like Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, the Assad family in Syria and the Khalifa clan in Bahrain have managed to build a network of patronage and play off individual clans and old-boy networks against one another.

    In the harsh light of recent weeks, three approaches have emerged with which the anciens régimes are addressing the crisis.

    The first is the path chosen by China’s leadership on Tiananmen Square in 1989 — brutally overpowering all resistance. The regimes in Libya, Syria and Yemen are currently trying out this approach to see if it works. Bahrain already seems to have employed it successfully.
    The second is the method used by the Turkish military after its coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980 — an uneasy but expandable democracy controlled by the military. This is the scenario that is unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt.

    And then there is a third, narrow path of reforms directed from above. The monarchs in Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, as well as Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, know that the younger generation is demanding more participation and will not be satisfied in the long run with being placated in an autocratic manner. These rulers seem to be trying to hold onto power by making small concessions.

    ‘Choose Us, or Chaos’

    The Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters most closely resembles the Chinese approach. Bouthaina Shaaban, the confidante and spokeswoman for President Bashar Assad, allowed a single Western journalist into the country last week, the Middle East correspondent for the New York Times. In a conversation with the reporter, Shaaban said that the rebellion was the work of a “combination of fundamentalists, extremists, smugglers, people who are ex-convicts and are being used to make trouble.” The end of the protests was near, she added, insisting that the regime had already survived the worst of the unrest, and that it was time to start a “national dialogue.”

    Meanwhile, the government struck back against the protesters even more forcefully than before. Several cities in southern Syria are completely shut off from the outside world. According to the trickle of information coming from Dara’a, the electricity and water supply have been cut off, hardly any food is reaching the city and the shooting continues. Syrian human rights activists reported 13 dead last Wednesday alone, and noted that one of those killed was an eight-year-old boy.

    Syria’s security apparatus has also disabled mobile telephone service, reportedly using software and hardware provided to the regime by Iran. Tehran denies this, and yet it remains one of the few allies still supporting the secular Baath Party regime in Damascus.

    The regime justifies its actions with the same arguments it has always used to defend its police state. “If there is no stability here, there will never be stability in Israel,” said Assad’s cousin, businessman Rami Makhlouf. The message: Choose us or chaos.

    Syria has also been accused of inciting violence on May 16 along the Israeli border, where Israeli soldiers shot and killed some 15 Palestinians taking part in an annual march there to mark the “nabka,” or “catastrophe” of their displacement after Israel’s founding in 1948. Washington alleged that the Syrian government encouraged unprecedented participation, with people coming from Lebanon, Gaza and Syria, to overwhelm the Israelis and spark an incident to distract from the crackdown on protestors and prove that the delicate stability in the region could only be maintained if Assad stays in power.

    Assad would hardly be taking such a brutal approach if he weren’t convinced that officials in Washington, Ankara, some European capitals and even Jerusalem were quietly relieved that his country hasn’t been divided yet, like post-revolutionary Libya, and hasn’t descended into a religious civil war, either, like Iraq did a few years ago. For those practicing realpolitik in his neighborhood and in the West, Assad remains a predictable dictator. By last Friday evening, the British press had not commented on the fact that his wife, who grew up in Great Britain, and their three small children had flown to London.

    Honoring the Counterrevolution

    Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh seems to be making similar calculations, as he coolly rides out a revolt that has been seething for four months and defies all attempts by his neighbors to convince him to make an honorable exit. He occasionally suggests the possibility of stepping down, and occasionally he makes threats, as he did last Friday, when he said: “We will counter every challenge with our own challenge.”

    The protesters fear that the man who has run the country for more than 30 years could succeed in stalling them. “With each additional day he remains in office, he weakens the youth revolution,” they say. On Wednesday, snipers fired at a group of marching protesters once again, injuring dozens and killing a young man.

    In Bahrain, the Sunni royal family has already completely stifled the protests by Shiites and reformers. The leaders of the movement have been arrested, the activists fired from their jobs and the press gagged. In the capital Manama, Pearl Square, the center of the protests, has been paved over and redesigned. It is now being referred to in the media as “Gulf Cooperation Council Square,” in honor of the troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that helped quell the revolt there on March 14. Now even the Arab counterrevolution has its heroic square.

    The United States, whose Fifth Fleet is stationed only a few kilometers away, has been silent on the incidents in Bahrain.

    The governments in Manama, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi know that Washington is more interested in maintaining stable conditions in the Gulf and Syria than in North Africa. As a result, they have ignored their large ally and pursued their own “Yes, we can” policies without Washington.

    Obstacles Ahead

    The generals running the show in Tunis and Cairo since their governments were overthrown do not dare looking to the future with such confidence. If their statements are to be believed, they imagine a transition from dictatorial to democratic conditions based on the Turkish model. To achieve this, however, they must depend on support from the West to overcome powerful adversaries.

    In Tunisia, the new government must contend with holdovers from the Ben Ali regime who have retained their positions in the interior ministry and in business.

    In Egypt, it is the many criminals that were released or escaped from prison in the last days of the Mubarak regime, as well as the radical forces of political Islam who are testing the new freedoms. The threat that continues to emanate from these militants was reflected in the arson attack on the St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo’s Imbaba neighborhood two weekends ago, in which 12 people died. The sectarian violence flared up there again on May 15, when clashes between the two sides left at least 55 injured.

    While these incidents are still no proof of a religious war, like the Turkish model, they do show that the road to pluralism and democracy is full of obstacles.

    The situation in Cairo is currently changing “from bad to even worse,” warns the Egyptian Nobel laureate and possible presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei. “I’m more concerned about the Salafists than the Muslim Brotherhood.” It was Salafists, members of a fundamentalist movement that invokes what it calls the original Islam, who assassinated former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. They dream of the Middle Ages, demand the reintroduction of a special tax for non-Muslims not assessed since the 7th century, and prayed — in a mosque next to the Coptic cathedral in Cairo — for the soul of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden after he was killed.

    Islamists were also present during the large demonstrations on Tahrir Square at the beginning of the year. At the time, the protestors, who relied heavily on Facebook to spread their message, managed to maintain the secular character of their revolution. But it remains to be seen how secular the Arab Republic of Egypt will be after the parliamentary elections scheduled for September. The Turkish Islamists had decades to prepare for democratic processes. Their Egyptian counterparts have seven months.

    Preventative Measures

    Meanwhile, the Arab nations that have been spared major unrest until now are trying out yet another approach: the path of preventive counterrevolution.

    More and more surveillance cameras are now being installed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, citizens are being asked to report any sign of extremist thought to the police. In both countries, as well as in Oman and Algeria, the government has announced costly housing construction and job creation programs.

    The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an increasingly powerful self-help group of six concerned monarchs, has developed into the center of this enlightened counterrevolution in recent weeks.

    At its meeting in Riyadh last week, the council approved aid programs for Oman and Bahrain, battered after protests, and accepted the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s application for membership, as well as proposing membership to the Kingdom of Morocco.

    This could have far-reaching consequences and split the Arab world into new camps — the influential, elite club of Arab monarchies, and the countries in which young democracy movements have already replaced or are still trying to replace corrupt dictatorships.

    Power Built on Sand?

    Morocco is more than 5,000 kilometers (3,125 miles) away from the shores of the Persian Gulf. By accepting this kingdom as a new member, the GCC is snubbing two much closer nations with central importance: the 24 million Yemenis, who are far more dependent on economic and political support than the Moroccans; and the 85 million Egyptians, of which at least two million guest workers are earning their money in the Gulf monarchies today, reducing the burden on the chronically strained Egyptian economy.

    The formation of new blocs downgrades the Arab League, which will exacerbate the political confrontation with poor, densely populated countries, which have either shaken off their anciens régimes (like Tunisia and Egypt) or are still trying to shake them off (Syria, Yemen), but in either case face an uncertain future.

    The House of Saud and the ruling families in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, at any rate, are determined to distribute power to the people only in homeopathic doses, if at all.

    In Dubai, known for its cosmopolitanism, five human rights activists are in prison for having dared to sign a petition demanding a greater say in political affairs.

    This alone is suspect to the sheikhs and emirs. They fear Egyptian conditions and, according to commentator Sultan al-Qasimi of the Emirate of Sharjah, sense a “temporary marriage of convenience” taking shape between Islamists and liberal forces.

    The images from the squares in Tunis, Cairo, Manama and Sana’a have the rulers along the Gulf scared stiff. They sense that their power could be built on sand and that not all protesters can be placated with strict surveillance and money.

    There is a great deal of nervousness in the Arab world. Another clever comment on revolutionary progressions doesn’t come from Lenin but from the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville. In 1856, he wrote: “The most dangerous moment for a bad government usually comes when it begins to reform itself.”

  3. M. Silva said,

    Saudi Arabia Scrambles to Limit Region’s Upheaval
    in The New York Times

    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia is flexing its financial and diplomatic might across the Middle East in a wide-ranging bid to contain the tide of change, shield other monarchies from popular discontent and avert the overthrow of any more leaders struggling to calm turbulent nations.

    From Egypt, where the Saudis dispensed $4 billion in aid last week to shore up the ruling military council, to Yemen, where it is trying to ease out the president, to the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, which it has invited to join a union of Persian Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia is scrambling to forestall more radical change and block Iran’s influence.

    The kingdom is aggressively emphasizing the relative stability of monarchies, part of an effort to avert any drastic shift from the authoritarian model, which would generate uncomfortable questions about the pace of political and social change at home.

    Saudi Arabia’s proposal to include Jordan and Morocco in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council — which authorized the Saudis to send in troops to quell a largely Shiite Muslim rebellion in the Sunni Muslim monarchy of Bahrain — is intended to create a kind of “Club of Kings.” The idea is to signal to Shiite Iran that the Sunni Arab monarchs will defend their interests, analysts said.

    “We’re sending a message that monarchies are not where this is happening,” Prince Waleed bin Talal al-Saud, a businessman and high-profile member of the habitually reticent royal family, told the editorial board of The New York Times last week, referring to the unrest. “We are not trying to get our way by force, but to safeguard our interests.”

    The range of the Saudi intervention is extraordinary as the unrest pushes Riyadh’s hand to forge what some commentators, in Egypt and elsewhere, brand a “counterrevolution.” Some Saudi and foreign analysts find the term too sweeping for the steps the Saudis have actually taken, though they appear unparalleled in the region and beyond as the kingdom reaches out to ally with non-Arab Muslim states as well.

    “I am sure that the Saudis do not like this revolutionary wave — they were really scared,” said Khalid Dakhil, a Saudi political analyst and columnist. “But they are realistic here.”

    In Egypt, where the revolution has already toppled a close Saudi ally in Hosni Mubarak, the Saudis are dispensing aid and mending ties in part to help head off a good showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in the coming parliamentary elections. The Saudis worry that an empowered Muslim Brotherhood could damage Saudi legitimacy by presenting a model of Islamic law different from the Wahhabi tradition of an absolute monarch.

    “If another model of Shariah says that you have to resist, this will create a deep difficulty,” said Abdulaziz Algasim, a Saudi lawyer.

    Saudi officials are also concerned that Egypt’s foreign policy is shifting, with its outreach to the Islamist group Hamas and plans to restore ties with Iran. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, also retains a personal interest in protecting Mr. Mubarak, analysts believe.

    The Arab Spring began to unravel an alliance of so-called moderate Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which were willing to work closely with the United States and promote peace with Israel. American support for the Arab uprisings also strained relations, prompting Saudi Arabia to split from Washington on some issues while questioning its longstanding reliance on the United States to protect its interests.

    The strained Saudi posture toward Washington was outlined in a recent opinion article by Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi analyst, in The Washington Post that suggested Riyadh was ready to go it alone because the United States had become an “unreliable partner.”

    But that seems at least partly a display of Saudi pique, since the oil-for-military aid arrangement that has defined relations between the two for the past six decades is unlikely to be replaced soon. Saudi Arabia is negotiating to buy $60 billion in advanced American weapons, and President Obama, in his speech last week demanding that Middle Eastern autocrats bow to popular demands for democracy, noticeably did not mention Saudi Arabia. The Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, sat prominently in the front row.

    Saudi Arabia is taking each uprising in turn, without relying on a single blueprint. In Bahrain, it resorted to force, sending troops to crush a rebellion by Shiites because it feared the creation of a hostile government — a kind of Shiite Cuba — only about 20 miles from some of its main oil fields, one sympathetic to Iran, if not allied with it. It has deployed diplomacy in other uprisings, and remained on the fence in still others. It is also spending money, pledging $20 billion to help stabilize Bahrain and Oman, which has also faced protests.

    In Yemen, Saudi Arabia joined the coalition seeking to ease out President Ali Abdullah Saleh because it thinks the opposition might prove a more reliable, less unruly southern neighbor. But Arab diplomats noted that even the smallest Saudi gestures provided Mr. Saleh with excuses to stay, since he interpreted them as support. This month, for example, the Saudis sent in tanker trucks to help abate a gasoline shortage.

    On Syria, an initial statement of support by King Abdullah for President Bashar al-Assad has been followed by silence, along with occasional calls at Friday Prayer for God to support the protesters. That silence reflects a deep ambivalence, analysts said. The ruling Saudi family personally dislikes Mr. Assad — resenting his close ties with Iran and seeing Syria’s hand in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, a Saudi ally. But they fear his overthrow will unleash sectarian violence without guaranteeing that Iranian influence will be diminished.

    In Libya, after helping push through an Arab League request for international intervention, Saudi Arabia sat out and left its neighbors, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, to join the military coalition supporting the rebels. It has so far kept its distance publicly from Tunisia as well, although it gave refuge to its ousted president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

    There are also suspicions that the kingdom is secretly providing money to extremist groups to hold back changes. Saudi officials deny that, although they concede private money may flow.

    In 1952, after toppling the Egyptian king, Gamal Abdel Nasser worked to destabilize all monarchs, inspiring a regicide in Iraq and eventually the overthrow of King Idris of Libya. Saudi Arabia was locked in confrontation with Egypt throughout the 1960s, and it is determined not to relive that period.

    “We are back to the 1950s and early 1960s, when the Saudis led the opposition to the revolutions at that time, the revolutions of Arabism,” said Mohammad F. al-Qahtani, a political activist in Riyadh.

  4. M. Silva said,

    The Start of New German-Russian Cooperation

    Russia and Germany are working together to develop a formal resolution of the ongoing dispute between Moldova and the breakaway territory of Transdniestria. While the resolution could have strong repercussions for Moldova, the chief significance of this deal is that it is the first demonstrable sign that Russia and Germany are working together to resolve European security issues. An upcoming meeting on the Transdniestria dispute is likely to have effects that reach far beyond Moldova.

    Russia and Germany are currently working on a formal resolution of the ongoing dispute between Moldova and the breakaway territory of Transdniestria, according to STRATFOR sources. The resolution was agreed upon during a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on June 14 in Geneva and is now being discussed with Moldova and Transdniestria in the lead-up to a June 21 meeting in Moscow on the issue. The specific details of the agreement are far less important than the fact that this is the first concrete instance of Russia and Germany working jointly to dictate the terms of key European security issues.
    The dispute over Trandsniestria has gone on since the territory gained de facto independence from Moldova just after the fall of the Soviet Union. Trandsniestria has been propped up by Russian assistance, including a contingent of 500 Russian troops on its tiny sliver of territory. While the government in Moldova proper has in the last two years oriented itself toward Europe, Transdniestria has remained Moscow’s loyal ally.

    However, the situation has evolved since Berlin and Moscow made Transdniestria the leading topic of Russian and European security cooperation under the aegis of the EU Political and Security Committee. Germany is officially presenting the proposal, though Russia helped create it. The idea behind the proposed resolution, from Berlin and Moscow’s perspective, is to prove that Russo-German cooperation, which has been increasing in numerous fields, should not be seen as a threat to other European countries (especially in Central Europe). Rather, it should be seen as a force that can lead to improvements throughout Europe.
    The Possible Resolution
    Although Russia and Germany are vague about their formulation of a resolution to the Transdniestria conflict, STRATFOR sources have learned what such an agreement would look like. The resolution would call for Transdniestria to receive representation in the Moldovan parliament. In exchange, Russia will consider allowing a peacekeeping or monitoring force from the European Union or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) into Transdniestria to help the Russian military patrol the region. It is not clear whether Transdniestria’s allotted representation in the parliament would be fixed (for example at 5 or 15 percent) or proportional to the population. Also, Russia would not guarantee allowing any certain number of EU or OSCE peacekeepers into Transdniestria — Moscow only conceded it would be open to the possibility.
    Specifics aside, such a deal would have compelling potential consequences. A would-be Transdniestrian parliamentary contingent would likely form an alliance with the pro-Russian Communist party, which could flip the Moldovan government, currently led by the pro-European Alliance for European Integration (AEI) coalition, to one led by a pro-Russian coalition. This would replace a chaotic and fractured government that has not worked easily with Moscow with the possibility of ensconcing in Chisinau a stable and Russian-oriented administration.
    Such a potential outcome is likely not lost on the AEI. Moldova is only considering this proposal because it is being put forth by Germany, according to STRATFOR sources. Moldova’s pro-European coalition is happy to draw the attention of the country at the head of the European Union, not to mention the economic investment and other incentives that such attention involves. The leading figures involved in the negotiations are Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat and Foreign Minister Yuri Lyanke, who is in Filat’s Liberal Democratic Party. Filat believes that if he wins an agreement on Transdniestria coupled with German economic investment, and is personally linked to Berlin, then his party’s popularity will soar. The AEI coalition is already shaky and the members of the coalition have proven they are willing to go their own way if necessary. Demonstrating ties to Germany could keep Filat on the political scene no matter what happens to the coalition.
    Obstacles to the Resolution
    There remain considerable technical and legal hurdles to the creation of such a resolution. All negotiations over the Transdniestria conflict are supposed to be handled within the framework of the 5+2 group (Moldova, Transdniestria, the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine, with the European Union and United States as observers) and approved by Brussels, rather than through direct German or Russian proposals. But Russia and Germany have circumvented this process, even knowing full well that the exclusion of 5+2 parties like the United States and the European Union makes eventual approval from Washington or Brussels a difficult prospect. If Russia and Germany can simply get Moldova and Transdniestria to approve a deal, it would essentially be done.
    This makes the upcoming 5+2 negotiations on June 21 — the first such meeting in five years — crucial. Washington and Brussels will likely push for any agreement to require their approval, but Moscow and Berlin are not inclined to comply. While the United States is not at all happy with this, it is likely unwilling to stand up to Russia over Moldova at this time, mainly due to more pressing issues between Moscow and Washington, like Afghanistan. This is why the United States will ask third parties — namely Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom — to pressure the Moldovans to reject the deal. With so many issues unresolved, there is no guarantee the resolution will go through.
    Germany is not pursuing this resolution solely for Moscow’s benefit. Berlin wants to show Central Europe that it can make Russia cooperate on security issues, or at least that Moscow will treat Berlin as an equal, and that the Central Europeans do not need to turn to the United States to address their security concerns. Given that the likely outcome of Transdniestrian representation in the Moldovan parliament would be a pro-Russian turn in Chisinau, the Central Europeans’ view of Germany’s ability to make Russia more accommodating is unlikely to improve. The next question, then, is whether Moscow would pursue full control of Moldova — after all, it wants Berlin to feel like Germany gains something through negotiations with Russia. All of these factors set the stage for an interesting 5+2 meeting on June 21 — one which has implications far beyond Moldova and Transdniestria.

  5. M. Silva said,

  6. M. Silva said,

    Obstacles to Iranian influence in Iraq: Shi’i leaders’ pattern of oscillation and Turkey’s increasing footprint

    As the US prepares to withdraw a number of factors may frustrate Iranian ambitions in Iraq. Iraq’s Shi’i leaders conduct and Ankara’s expanding role is slated to serve as a counterweight to Iranian influence.
    About the author
    Rachel Kantz Feder is a PhD candidate in Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University (TAU) where she is writing a dissertation on Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Shi’i thought and politics. She is also a junior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at TAU.
    In light of the contentious impending US troop withdrawal, the political stasis and resurgent sectarian violence, and the reverberations from the Arab Spring, Iraq’s political and economic landscape merit some attention. In such a discussion it is difficult to evade the question of Iran’s ubiquitous influence in Iraq. Of course, perception of Iran’s omnipresence enters – and often frames –debate on many current trouble spots in the region. From the fear of a political and security vacuum in a post-US Iraq beset by the spectre of ethno-sectarian conflict, to Tehran’s vital support for a plethora of political and military organisations, Iran’s role in Iraq certainly looms large.

    Iran is profoundly entrenched in Iraqi politics, economy, and society and enjoys an unprecedented degree of leverage in Iraqi affairs. This is indisputable. Tehran cultivates its reach and promotes its interests through aggressive economic penetration, co-optation of political and military groups (not exclusively Shi’i ones), and deep religious and cultural ties, to name only the primary conduits. Nevertheless, there are numerous factors that complicate Tehran’s designs and problematize the narrative of Iran’s hegemony in Iraq. In addition to intra-Shi’i divisions and internecine struggle among the communities that errantly are referred to as the monolithic “the Shia of Iraq,” two other factors form a counterweight to Iranian dominion: Shi’i leaders’ oscillation between cooperation with and defiance of Iran; and Turkey’s rapid ascendance and commitment to rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure and economy.

    Since 2003, Iraqi Shi’i leaders have adopted positions independent of Tehran’s directives repeatedly reaffirming that they are not beholden to Iran as the narrative goes. Rather, they are in a continuous process of evaluating their relations with Iran vis-à-vis domestic political conditions and sometimes material constraints. The need for political, military, and tribal leaders to safeguard and advance their organization’s status has produced a pattern that betrays raw survival tactics and calculated opportunism.

    For example, although the southern Shi’i tribes are known to be fiercely anti-Iranian and are commonly perceived as bastions of Iraqi nationalism, in the absence of economic opportunity, many tribesmen participate in the industry of cross-border smuggling with Iran. According to security analysts, the paucity of resources and employment has fuelled acute despondency, which in extreme cases even has driven Shi’is to cooperate with al-Qaeda in attacks against their coreligionists for financial reward.

    On the political level, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr’s conduct embodies a trend whereby political expedience requires Shi’i leaders to lean on Iran for backing only to later defy Iranian interests when they return to a position of strength. Many observers regard any cooperation with Iran as proof of Tehran’s control over Iraqi leaders. However, while acknowledging the success of active Iranian manoeuvring, the relationship is better understood as more of a two-way street. This nuanced take highlights the agency of Iraqi leaders who invite Iranian aid and comply with Tehran’s wishes when it is politically suitable for them. The past eight years of intra-Shi’i struggle and sectarian conflict has resulted in this pattern, and the last few weeks in particular have witnessed interesting developments in this regard.

    Al-Maliki has a history of acrimonious relations with Iran dating back to his al-Dawa party’s years in exile. He and other activists recall the days in which Tehran was far from hospitable to those who did not endorse Ayatollah Khomeni’s concept of vilayet-i faqih (clerical rule) government and did not acquiesce to Iran’s effort to dominate the Iraqi opposition against Saddam Hussein. Since al-Maliki assumed the premiership in 2006, he has resisted Iranian dictates, while instrumentally reminding his detractors in Baghdad that Tehran can act as his powerful and willing at his behest. He blatantly disregarded Tehran’s wishes ahead of the 2009 provincial elections when he casted himself as a staunch Iraqi nationalist and established the State of Law bloc instead of running under the Iranian-backed Shi’i umbrella list. Al-Maliki correctly understood that Iraqis sought leadership that would not be subservient to Tehran’s will. Still, in the nine-month post-election stalemate, al-Maliki accepted Iran’s offer to assist in coalition-building negotiations.

    Recently, rising popular discontent with the government’s egregious inefficiencies, political paralysis, and the divisive issue of continued US presence in Iraq have combined to weaken al-Maliki and push Iraq to the precipice. He has allegedly even lost backing within his own party. To make matters worse, following Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s call to improve state services, slash top officials’ salaries, and eliminate superfluous positions that inflate the government, Adil Abd al-Mahdi of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq Party resigned at the end of May. Abd al-Mahdi’s resignation further increased the pressure on al-Maliki, embarrassing him for the lack of progress achieved during his stewardship, and highlighting Ayatollah Sistani’s criticism of his performance.

    The next week, al-Maliki and his al-Dawa party decided to submit to the religious authority of Grand Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi, who served as Iran’s Chief Justice for a decade and was even rumored to be the successor of Iran’s Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Shahroudi, an Iraqi-born cleric of Iranian origin, studied in Najaf until he was forced to flee to Iran after his mentor, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr’s execution in 1980. He embraced Khomeini’s revolutionary clerical rule early on and showed unrelenting support for the regime, placing him at odds with some leaders and members of al-Dawa during their exile. Al-Dawa’s preference for Ayatollah Shahroudi as their marja al-taqlid (source of emulation for religious guidance) instead of deferring to Ayatollah Sistani is telling. Ayatollah Sistani, who the same week refused to receive the Iranian ambassador, leads Iraq’s religious establishment and enjoys the greatest religious following worldwide.

    While the choice to follow Ayatollah Shahroudi was perhaps long in the making, it is the timing of this decision that’s most instructive. Since Grand Ayatollah Fadhlallah – a Lebanese cleric who rejected Iran’s strain of vilayet-i-faqih (which in theory obliges all Shi’is to submit to Iranian clerical supremacy) – died nearly a year ago, al-Dawa has refrained from choosing a replacement ostensibly due to both the political implications that could result from selecting a religious authority in Iraq’s turbulent political atmosphere and the challenge that it poses for party internal cohesion. Evidently, as al-Maliki found himself increasingly embattled and isolated by the day, he made an overture to Tehran and moved distinctly closer to – if not firmly within – Iran’s orbit.

    If al-Maliki recently deemed it prudent to turn to Iran during a low political point, then the leader of the heavyweight Sadr-ist trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, has been emboldened by his political ascendance and freely lashed out against Iran last week. Although al-Sadr’s militia, Jaysh al-Mahdi, allegedly receives extensive financial support and training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), al-Sadr has been scathingly critical of Iranian interference in Iraq for some time. He has employed anti-Iranian rhetoric and emphatically insisted upon Iraq’s independence from all outside forces. When al-Sadr and his forces suffered stinging blows during his confrontation with al-Maliki in 2008 in the battle for Basra, he adopted language that was more in line with Iranian positions, but did not endanger his image as a warrior of Iraqi independence. Around a year ago he protested Iranian meddling and even threatened to relocate from the religious seminaries of Qom where he began his pursuit of religious studies and ostensibly sought refuge from American attacks in 2007. Thus, despite his aversion to Iranian influence in Iraq, he has been willing to cooperate with Tehran and accept its aid.

    On June 20th, after Hassan Danai’far, the Iranian ambassador to Iraq and an IRGG commander of the Quds Force, announced to the Iraqi media that Iran would respond with force to any attack from Iraqi soil, Muqtada al-Sadr immediately rebuked his threat. He emphatically rejected the ambassador’s remarks and warned that “we will not allow this to happen even if it is the occupiers who are targeted”. Other senior members of the Sadr-ist trend reiterated that they are first and foremost concerned with Iraqi national interests and will not permit any country to settle scores in Iraq. al-Sadr’s vehement condemnation of any Iranian attack on Iraqi soil came as a surprise to many observers, but once considered in the pattern of oscillation between cooperation with and defiance of Iran according to domestic political strength it should not stand out as a striking reaction.

    Grand Ayatollah Sistani is perhaps one of the few Shi’i leaders who do not constantly re-evaluate his relations with Iran according to this pattern. Both his independence from the state and his choice to remain above the fray of everyday politics have afforded him the ability to maintain value-driven stances on critical issues that Iraqis face. Ayatollah Sistani –a passive opponent of the Iranian model of clerical involvement in politics – has adopted stances that are reflective of ‘Iraq-first’ nationalism, and has served as a unifying and democratic force in Iraq’s pursuit of self-determination. Since 2003, his critical interventions in the state-building and peace-building processes have demonstrated his principled commitment to a democratic and constitutional system. Wikileaks documents revealed the extent to which he purportedly has toiled to thwart Iranian infiltration of Najaf’s religious establishment and check Tehran’s machinations to sway the Iraqi political process at various junctures. His freedom from domestic political constraints has exempted him from the oscillation pattern and allowed him to consistently counter Iranian objectives in Iraq.

    Finally, Turkey’s rapid economic rise in Iraq – and declared aspiration to assume a major role in Iraq’s reconstruction and infrastructural development – constitute another compelling factor that curbs Iranian influence. In the past two years Ankara has increased its trade volume with Iraq by almost 70%, placing Turkey not too far behind Iran as Iraq’s number one trade partner.

    While Turkey is heavily invested in industry and trade in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, it has also significantly expanded into most Iraqi provinces, where Turkish goods now rival Iranian products.

    In 2009, with the aim of stimulating investment, Turkey opened a consulate in Basra, which is a major hub of Iran’s commercial trade with Iraq, and had not witnessed economic competition of this calibre until Ankara came along. The Turkish government and Turkish companies and investors are deeply involved in pivotal components of Iraq’s reconstruction effort. Turkish players are spearheading oil, gas, and electricity projects, housing developments, and major building projects such as new airports, malls, and stadiums.

    Turkish cultural and political influences seep into Iraq alongside this booming economic collaboration. Ankara has cultivated relations with all of Iraq’s political forces and factions. This past March, the fertile Iraqi ground for Turkish influence was underscored by President Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s landmark visit to Iraq in which he was accompanied by an entourage of around 100 entrepreneurs and officials. If President Erdogan’s reception by Kurdish leader Mas’ud Barzani (the Turkish military establishment’s historic nemesis) was not historic enough, President Erdogan also became the first foreign Sunni political leader to meet with Ayatollah Sistani.

    Whereas Saudi Arabia and Iran may continue to vie for hegemony in hot-spots such as Bahrain, Ankara may be replacing Riyadh as Iran’s primary local contender for influence in Iraq. The added dimension of Turkish influence in Iraq poses an interesting prospect that may be palatable to major foreign actors in a post-US presence Iraq. As the American administration devises its exit strategy – irrespective of whether that takes place beyond the scheduled end of 2011 deadline – it may regard Turkey’s rising role in Iraq as an attractive alternative to Iranian influence and breathe easier upon its withdrawal.

    When push comes to shove the Saudis, whose influence has waned in Iraq since the height of sectarian violence in 2006-2007, may also be more amenable to Turkey’s role as opposed to Iran’s. As for Iran, Iraq is a central component in its foreign policy and regional ambitions. Therefore while Tehran will be relieved to see the US out of its backyard, it may not be thrilled with Turkey’s new assertive position in Iraq. Furthermore, their clashing hegemonic aspirations in the region may set the two regional powers on a collision course further down the line. Still, Tehran may be more comfortable with Turkey as opposed to Saudi Arabia, which has been its major ideological and political rival since the Islamic Revolution.

    Whether the Turkish dimension in Iraq is contested or embraced by these various actors, it is evident that the Turkish rise is slated to serve as a critical counterweight to Iranian influence. The Turkish factor combined with widespread Iraqi anti-Iranian sentiment, Ayatollah Sistani’s determination to keep Iran at bay, and Shi’i leaders’ oscillation pattern all complicate the partial reality and narrative of Iranian dominion in Iraq, and most likely in a post-US Iraq.

  7. M. Silva said,

    ‘Istanbul bombing was Hezbollah strike on Israeli envoy’


    May explosion attributed to PKK was meant to be retaliation for Mossad’s alleged hit on Iranian nuclear physicist, Italian newspaper reports.

    A bomb in Istanbul that injured eight people in May was not organized by the Kurdish militant group PKK but was an attempt by Hezbollah to kill Israel’s consul- general in the city, an Italian newspaper reported Monday.

    Citing Washington sources, the leading daily Corriere della Sera reported the May 26 bomb in Istanbul’s busy Etiler district was aimed at Moshe Kamhi, Israel’s consul-general to Istanbul, in retaliation for the 2010 assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Masoud Alimohammadi in Tehran. Iran blamed the strike on the US and Israel, a charge the US State Department dismissed as “absurd.”

    After tracing the Istanbul attack to the PKK, Turkey’s national intelligence organization reportedly revised its conclusion to instead incriminate Hezbollah, acting at the behest of its sponsor Iran.

    According to the Italian report, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Al-Quds Force surveilled the area, carefully noting Kamhi’s daily routine, then contracted Lebanese members of Hezbollah to carry out the attack.

    The plan failed, the report said, due to countermeasures taken by the Israeli diplomat and by Turkish counter-terrorism services.

    No one claimed responsibility for the May attack, but Turkish officials were quick to suggest the PKK was attempting to stir up chaos ahead of the country’s June 12 elections. The movement, an acronym for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.

    Israel denied knowledge of the Hezbollah plot, and Turkish intelligence sources summarily rejected the report.

    “Israel carries out similar disinformation campaigns through newspapers from time to time,”one source said, Turkey’s Hurriyet daily reported.

    Kamhi, born and raised in Istanbul and a native Turkish speaker, took his current position in 2009. He previously worked at a number of diplomatic postings including a stint at the Israeli consulate in Ankara, where he met his future wife, a non- Jewish Turkish woman.

    “I am an Israeli who was born in Istanbul and raised through Turkish culture. I was molded inside Turkish civilization,” he told Hurriyet in a 2009 interview.

    “My grandfather was born in Skopje [now in Macedonia] and my grandmother was from Pristina [Kosovo].

    My mother’s side of the family took a shortcut – they came directly to Istanbul from Spain and lived in Haskoy for 500 years,” he said, referring to a heavily Jewish neighborhood in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district.

    Kamhi himself grew up in nearby Kasimpasa, close to the childhood home of Turkey’s current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Kamhi and Erdogan are the same age, 57, but attended different schools and never met as youth. On Erdogan’s first visit to Israel in 2005, Kamhi served as translator.

    “I introduced myself and we spoke about Kasimpasa,” Kamhi told Hurriyet.

    Ma’ariv reported Sunday that Erdogan would visit Gaza over the next two weeks for meetings with officials of the Hamas government. The Turkish premier has been a strident critic of Israel’s 2008-09 Gaza War, its closure of the territory to non-essential goods since Hamas seized power and its raid last year of a Gazabound flotilla that resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens.

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