Age Islam Edit Bureau
31 May 2017
‘Axis of Unity’ Style
By Dr. Manuel Almeida
Plight of Israel’s Left
By Osama Al-Sharif
Iran An Islamic Power?
By Khaled Al-Sulaiman
That Charmed the Leader of a Superpower
By Turki Aldakhil
It Time For An Alternative Syrian Army?
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
the Time Up For Iran’s Forays in the Middle East?
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Dr. Manuel Almeida
30 May 2017
More than 40 million Iranians went to the
polls to elect their president. Social media was awash with praise for the
dynamism of Iran’s Islamic democracy. The simultaneous visit of US President
Donald Trump to Riyadh was used to contrast the supposed progressivism of
Iran’s political system with the undemocratic, conservative nature of its Gulf
On a recent visit to South America, I had
close contact with the unfolding crisis in Venezuela, a reality that in many
ways is reminiscent of Iran’s. For over a month and on a daily basis, Venezuela
has witnessed some of the biggest protests in its history against President
Nicolas Maduro. The exodus to neighbouring countries has turned into a refugee
The dramatic instability tearing down
Venezuela is at odds with the confidence in Tehran following the nuclear deal,
the effects of which are visible well beyond Iran’s borders. But there are
numerous parallels between the two countries, including the instrumental use of
elections and other features commonly associated with democracy to uphold the
For various factors noted in analyses
published over the last week, to label Iran as democratic is stretching the
meaning of the word beyond its limits. There is the tightly vetted poll of
candidates, the strict control exerted by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the
Guardian Council over the whole process, and the looming coercion of the
security and intelligence entities, ready to be deployed in case things do not
turn out as planned.
In 2009, when it looked like the reformist
Mir Hossein Mousavi was well positioned to win the presidential race, the vote
was rigged in favour of the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The massive protests
that followed were crushed by the police and the Basij paramilitary militia.
More than 100 people were killed.
Still, last week’s vote — which gave an
overwhelming victory to the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, the moderate face within
the acceptable spectrum of candidates as defined by the regime — should not be
dismissed as insignificant. The same holds true for last year’s parliamentary
elections, a setback for hard-line factions.
Instead of a statement about the health of
Iran’s so-called semi-democratic political system, it could be seen as a strong
signal of how an increasingly significant portion of Iran’s vibrant and
resilient society is at odds with the clerical-military establishment that runs
Like Iran, Venezuela has major oil reserves
— the world’s largest according to various 2016 estimates — yet the regular
citizen hardly felt the benefits before the current long run of low oil prices.
World Bank figures place youth unemployment in Venezuela above 15 percent.
Iran’s is a staggering 32 percent.
Anti-imperialism and an aversion to the
US-led global order unite both regimes. It was anti-imperialism that justified
the coups that installed the late Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini and former
President Hugo Chavez in power. Their successors, Khamenei and Maduro, took on
the mantle of anti-imperialism that became both regimes’ raison d’etre.
Bilateral relations developed considerably
under Chavez and former President Mohamed Khatami, and deepened with
Ahmadinejad. In 2007, both governments famously declared an “axis of unity”
against the US. The presence of Hezbollah in Venezuela, including involvement
in the global drug trade, is well documented.
Tehran consistently blamed economic
troubles on US-led international sanctions, oblivious to its own financial
empire of hundreds of billions of dollars that underpins the “economy of
resistance.” Maduro uses the pretext of US interference for everything that
goes wrong. He blamed the CIA for the cancer that took his predecessor’s life.
While the lifting of most economic
sanctions on Iran post-nuclear deal brought much-needed breathing room for the
regime, Venezuela is on the verge of collapse. Economic mismanagement,
including the disappearance of billions of dollars from the state-owned oil
company, led the government to print currency relentlessly. Annual inflation
skyrocketed to a world record of 800 percent. Public services such as
electricity provision massively deteriorated, and food and medicine shortages
are the new normal.
Holding the keys to the future of Chavismo
are the army and manipulation of the electoral process. Defence Minister Gen.
Vladimir Padrino Lopez has so far stuck with Maduro and stepped up pressure on
dissent among the military’s lower ranks. A popular armed militia created by
Maduro in the image of Iran’s Basij has assisted the police in the crackdown on
protesters. Dozens have been killed, and many more arrested and tried in
In March, the government-controlled Supreme
Court dissolved the opposition-led legislature. The United Socialist Party is
now twisting and breaking constitutional norms to remain in power. Regional
elections have been repeatedly postponed out of fear of a massive defeat for
the ruling party. Meanwhile, opposition leaders are being arrested and
opposition parties forced to re-register.
A vote to elect members of a new
constituent assembly, which will be charged with re-writing Venezuela’s
constitution, is expected in the next few months. The president may then try to
extend his term before next year’s presidential elections.
The failure of neoliberal reforms in the
early 1990s is blamed for the strength of the populist revolutionary movement
that put Chavez in power. This is another alarming parallel with today’s Iran:
Without deep structural changes and the endorsement of powerful hard-line
factions, it is difficult to see how Rouhani’s neoliberal economic agenda can
Last Saturday, an interesting and
symbolically important event took place at Rabin Square in the heart of Tel
Aviv. Tens of thousands of Israelis converged to join a rally, organized by the
Peace Now movement, to voice opposition to Israel’s 50-year occupation of
Palestinian territory and support the two-state solution. It was the first
public sign in many years that the beleaguered Israeli left was still alive.
The rally brought back memories of a
once-vibrant and influential leftist movement that included Zionists,
non-Zionists, Jews and Arabs. For a few hours on Saturday evening, participants
relived the euphoria of the mid-1990s, when an end to the decades-old conflict
between Arabs and Jews was within grasp, and when Palestinians could almost
taste liberation and self-determination.
Deja vu? Not quite. The left was dealt a
lethal blow at this very square at a peace rally on Nov. 4, 1995, when
then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a radical Jew. No one
knows exactly how or why this movement unravelled, but Israel’s mood had
changed. In 1996, voters brought back Likud hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu, who
formed a right-wing, anti-peace coalition.
The once-dominant Labour party was now on
the retreat. Its degeneration as a political force continued for the next
decade and a half. The rise of so-called “third way” parties reshaped Israel’s
political landscape. It ushered in far-right parties that rewrote the country’s
political agenda and underlined the demographic reconstitution of the
electorate in a way Israel has not seen since its birth.
Labour joined the next three coalition
governments under Ehud Barak (1999-2001), Ariel Sharon (2001-2006) and Ehud Olmert
(2006-2009), but its influence was quickly receding. It had become a shadow of
its former self, having ruled Israel for generations almost uncontested,
relying on the support of the powerful Histadrut labour union and smaller
leftist parties and movements led by intellectuals, business elites and
Historically, it was Labour governments
that dallied with various peace initiatives, especially after the 1967 war. But
it was the conservative Likud, under Menachem Begin in 1977 and Yitzhak Shamir
in 1991, which engaged in peace negotiations with the Arabs and later the
Palestinians. Begin secured a peace treaty with Egypt. Shamir’s participation
in the Madrid peace conference was short-lived and unsuccessful.
Rabin’s 1992 victory against Shamir allowed
him to form a Labor-led government that eventually concluded the historic Oslo
Accords with the Palestinians. That represented the pinnacle of the pro-peace
camp, and his assassination marked its eventual decline.
Today’s Labor, now called the Zionist
Union, is a center-left alliance that is led by the uncharismatic former lawyer
Isaac Herzog and includes once-Likud hawk and former Foreign Minister Tzipi
Livni, who leads the Hatnuah (Movement) party.
Its platform includes resuming peace talks
with the Palestinians and halting construction in some settlements. Herzog is
said to have exchanged letters with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
committing to full withdrawal from the West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem.
In the 2015 elections, the Zionist Union
won 24 seats, making it the second-largest party in the Knesset (Parliament).
It scored victories in major cities including Tel Aviv, and in affluent and
liberal areas of Israel. Interestingly, Arab-Israeli parties, running under the
Joint List, came in third with 13 seats in the 120-seat legislature.
But more importantly, Netanyahu’s Likud
remained in front with 30 seats, and was able to form a coalition with
far-right parties supported mostly by settlers, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox
His key partners include Avigdor
Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu nationalist party and Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit
HaYehudi Zionist religious party. Netanyahu’s dependence for his political
survival on these two parties, which reject the two-state solution, has effectively
disqualified him as a peace partner.
The Zionist Union has been criticized for
either giving in too much to the Palestinians, or for not being daring enough
to cross the religious-ethnic divide and join forces with the Arab parties of
Israel. Together, at least theoretically, they can reinvent Israel’s left and
present a serious challenge to the growing settler-Russian voter base in
Instead, disgruntled Israeli liberals have
seen their country veer violently to the right, departing from the
secular-socialist-Zionist base that Israel represented for millions of Jews
worldwide. They are keen to point out that while Israel is governed today by a
far-right ideology that borders on racism, intolerance and apartheid politics,
the reality is that the country is divided.
They point out that US politicians tend to
support these far-right policies, ignoring the other half of Israelis who do
not want to be forced into making the choice between a democratic, multi-ethnic
and multi-religious Israel, and a Jewish but racist and undemocratic one.
Saturday’s rally brings into the equation
the fact that Israel’s left, while on the defensive (in fourth place in a
recent poll), remains a plausible alternative to the destructive, chauvinistic,
self-serving ideologies of the far right. The left needs to reinvent itself,
find new common denominators and appeal to a wider electorate. Its voice must
be heard in Washington too so officials there understand that Netanyahu’s
rejectionist position does not represent all Israelis.
May 31, 2017
AFTER the founding of the Islamic Republic
of Iran in 1979, the first thing it did was to engage in an eight-year-war with
neighboring Iraq, killing more than a million people, half of them innocent
During this war, Iranian warplanes and
ships threatened the international navigation in the Arabian Gulf. Anyone would
feel an Iranian military presence in this tense and explosive waterway
Iran has committed massacres either by its
armed militia, sectarian groups, the Republican Guards or hired mercenaries.
In this case, can we consider Iran an
Islamic power that can protect the security and stability of the region?
The answer is, no doubt, a big NO.
Experience has taught us that Iran was the main instigator of trouble and the
force behind disruption of stability in the Gulf. It has a hand in every
conflict in the region.
Iran had a hand in every terrorist act in
the GCC countries starting with the Haj riots and continuing through the recent
aggressive activities in Al-Maswarah district of Awamiyyah.
It definitely had a hand in the explosions
in Moaissem and Al-Khobar. It was also behind an assassination attempt against
Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, the late Emir of Kuwait.
This is apart from Iran’s continued support
to terrorist organizations including Al-Qaeda whose leaders it had hosted.
Iran has been planting terrorist cells in
neighbouring countries, recruiting traitors and inciting violence in Qatif as
well as in Bahrain.
It is a fact that Iran has been rekindling
the lamps of crises and pouring oil on their flames.
It is true that Iran is a might military
force but it is not an Islamic power that will preserve the security and
stability of the region. It is a bullying force wearing the garb of racism with
the turban of sectarianism on its head.
After visiting Saudi Arabia, and attending
three summits, US President Donald Trump travelled to several other countries.
During his meeting with Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump commended King Salman bin Abdulaziz and said:
“It was an epic gathering. King Salman is a very wise, wise man.” During his
press conference in Brussels where the NATO summit was held, Trump said King
Salman is “a wise man who wants to see things get much better rapidly.”
It is clear that the visit and its outcome
as well as the kindness of the Saudi people demonstrated toward Trump and his
administration had touched him. The schedule and events were immaculately
planned during his visit and Trump was warmly welcomed by the Saudi government
and people who took to social media networks to comment on the visit.
Trump said that he sat for a long time with
the king and held negotiations with him to discuss several affairs. Trump was
thus impressed because what he had heard from anti-Saudi media outlets did not
reflect Saudi Arabia’s true nature. Trump visited Saudi Arabia, met its leaders
and sat down with them. These leaders only make promises they can keep. This
has been Saudi Arabia’s policy since its establishment.
The current Saudi generation was not
distorted a lot by leftist and nationalist discourse, which have charmed people
since the 1960s. These speeches condemned imperial powers under the pretext of
colonization and underestimated, denied and opposed the American role. Arab elites
thus had a complex related to the United States and radical generations in the
region inherited this hatred and repeated the same national and leftist terms
that condemn the US.
This was due to their lack of understanding
of the United States of America. Expert Fouad Ajami said this hatred could be
because of Palestine adding, however, that America is not alone responsible for
this cause. He noted that what those who criticize the US have in common are
revolutionary movements, which cannot condemn governments so they condemn
America offered help to the world and
except for some mistakes, which are relevant to some wars like to the 2003
Iraqi invasion, it actually contributed to ending wars and saving Islamic
countries from tyranny. This is what happened in Afghanistan’s war against the
Soviets and it also saved Muslims from ethnic wars in the Balkans.
with the US
America is not purely evil like some
national thinkers say and it is not purely good. However, what is certain is
that ever since Britain exited Gulf countries, the US has been the natural
alternative for economic and military investments and for political alliances
in the region.
Some think it is too much for Saudi Arabia
to ally with America. It is as if Iran did not beg Barack Obama for the past
eight years to make it the US’ number one ally instead of Saudi Arabia and hand
it the region’s affairs. Obama did that and gave Iran the keys to all capitals.
Before the Operation Decisive Storm was
launched, the Iranian regime bragged that it controlled four Arab capitals. All
countries seek America’s amiability but when Saudi Arabia restored its solid
and normal relations with Washington, some were envious and jealous.
Saudi Arabia is different from Iran due to
its development, civil approach and political realism. Iran is a theocratic
country that lives in the past and that devises its policies and strategies on
awaiting Imam Mahdi.
Trump administration reflects the depth of
the US and the America we know. Saudi-US relations have strengthened throughout
history between President Franklin Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz, President
Dwight Eisenhower and King Saud and presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon
and King Faisal.
These relations reached their peak during
the terms of Ronald Reagan and George Bush and King Fahad but they became tense
during Obama’s term. And now, during Trump and King Salman’s era, they are
going back to how they used to be.
Arabs know how wise King Salman is as this
can be seen through his 50 years of experience. Donald Trump, the president of
a superpower, has caught up with this wisdom.
The idea of establishing an army for the
Syrian opposition seems late but I think that proposing this idea today is more
appropriate than ever. The concerned parties, including the group of countries
in support of the Syrian revolution and which is secretly known as the
“military room” in Jordan, had different stances about the presence of an
However, the situation calls for
establishing a new Syrian army for several reasons. First of all, this army will
represent the Syrian people and not a sect or a religion or an extremist group,
and it will not be affiliated with the region’s countries or mercenaries. Syria
needs an army that represents all the Syrians, re-establishes the state,
imposes order and operates under international legitimacy.
The biggest challenge that threatens the
Syrians today is the emergence of an Iranian army on their soil. This army is
led by the Revolutionary Guards and it consists of militias from Iraq, Lebanon,
Afghanistan, and Pakistan and of course troops from the Iranian Quds Force.
This is a direct threat to the project of
the Syrian state as the Iranians can stay there for a long time. Two US
Congressmen sent letters to the American secretaries of state and defence
warning them that Iran plans to exploit its presence in Syria to build military
bases on the Mediterranean Sea.
It is true that there is actually no longer
an opposition free Syrian army like we knew it. It disintegrated into smaller
groups after the Iranians, Russians, ISIS, al-Nusra Front and other groups
So why are we talking about establishing a
new Syrian army? It is due to the proposed political solution and to help plan
safe zones for refugees. It is also due to some countries’ desire to form a power
that fights terrorist groups which have infiltrated opposition-held areas. Keep
in mind that establishing a military power is a requirement to recognize the
opposition’s role in the new project of governance as it cannot live under the
shadow of Assad’s army.
A new Syrian army is thus needed to end the
chaos, which has resulted as a result of the spread of dozens of militias and
to unite the armed opposition under one flag and leadership. Of course, this
armed opposition would be united after sorting it to make sure it’s
ideologically “appropriate” and that it’s patriotic and not religious. The
thousands of defectors from the Syrian Arab Army who refused to kill their
people can be the core of the new Syrian army.
Everyone, and not just Syrians, needs this
army. They need an army that fights terrorist organizations that threaten
Syria, the region and the world, that confronts the Iranian army’s militias if
they refuse to exit Syria and purges the latter from regional movements, which
oppose neighbouring countries, like the Kurdish Turkish movement and the Iraqi
In case a political agreement is reached,
the new Syrian army can complement the regime’s Syrian Arab Army, which has
become weak as it is now made up of mere remnants.
There is no value in a political solution
if it is not preceded by a project that establishes entities, mainly the army,
and provides security. The opposition does not trust the regime forces, and it
wants a military power that represents it inside this adopted system of a
political solution. It needs this power to protect the areas affiliated with
it. When other countries insist on evacuating Syria of all foreign fighters,
the Syrian regime will hold on to Iran’s militias unless a national army that
assumes the task emerges.
Considering the divergent views, it may be
a long time before there is an agreement over a political solution. This does
not prevent establishment of a Syrian army during the negotiations period to
fight terrorism and end the excuse that the Assad regime needs Iran’s militias
the Time Up For Iran’s Forays In The Middle East?
Dr. Theodore Karasik
Time is up for Iran’s foray in the Middle
East. Saudi Arabia and allies are backing their talk with actions by first
conducting a “house cleaning” of the GCC of Iranian influence. The Riyadh
Triple Summit helped to establish a new baseline in the region for unity against
the threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and extremists of various
Events in Bahrain rightfully point in this
direction. The laser-beam focus on Qatar, Iran’s enabler, is part of a process
to get Doha to self-reflect on its actions in support of Tehran in the Levant
and in Yemen and for Qatar to halt that course immediately.
The Saudis and their allies want Iran to
stop its expansionist activities into Arab lands, halt militaristic behaviour
with missile production and launches, and cease supporting Shiite extremists
Earlier this month, Saudi Deputy Crown
Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave an extraordinary interview where he argued in
theological terms that Tehran’s ultimate aim is to wrest control of Islam’s
holiest site in Mecca: “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia.
Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi
That is exactly what the Kingdom intends to
do since, according to Mohammed Bin Salman, “How do you have a dialogue with a
regime built on an extremist ideology … which [says] they must control the land
of Muslims and spread their Twelver Jaafari sect in the Muslim world?”
While in Saudi Arabia, US President Donald
Trump also drove home the point about Iran’s perfidy. Iran, in turn, slammed
Saudi Arabia and its allies including the United States repeatedly for
hypocrisy ever since the Triple Summit.
Tehran is upping its game in Arab lands,
unleashing its militias, making trouble in maritime sea-lanes, and continuing
with missile tests and expansion of its technology program. Tehran, of course,
learned this stunt from Pyongyang.
Consequently, Saudi Arabia is encircling
Iran in a much larger scope than Tehran’s so-called Shiite Crescent in a
trans-regional arc in order to choke Iran into behavioral changes to force
retreat or a “withdrawal of the tentacles” according to one GCC interlocutor.
First, it is important to recall that a
major focus of King Salman’s visit to East Asia sought Asian assurances to
reduce and break ties with Iran in order to re-enforce support for Saudi
Arabia’s Vision 2030. King Salman and his delegation may be delivering the same
message to Asian hosts that relations with Iran are going to be under Saudi
Iran’s links to East Asia are part of the
strategic and tactical competition. Although Saudi Arabia is in a strategic
relationship with China, Beijing’s support for Iran is not serving Riyadh’s
interest now. This is the outer ring of states Riyadh sees being part of a
pincher move against Iran’s ability to transact in East Asia.
Second is Saudi Arabia’s outreach to Iraq
in order to swing Baghdad away from Tehran. Visits by high-ranking Saudi
officials including Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir earlier this year is
an attempt to entice Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s government closer to
Riyadh’s position, especially on a Sunni security arch.
Iraq’s participation in the Eager Lion
manoeuvres, an annual military exercise, launched earlier this month in Jordan
with the participation of more than 7,000 soldiers from over 20 countries, is
part of the attempt to bring Iraq into the axis.
and Hard Power
In addition, Riyadh wants Abadi to reign
the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a coalition of mostly Shiite militias in
Iraq, after the Battle for Mosul concludes. To be sure, Riyadh is newly charged
in fixing the Iraq file: Saudi Arabia’s disgust with Qatar’s negotiations with
Al-Nusra and Iran on the “Four Cities” deal and subsequent payment of a huge
ransom to Kataib Hezbollah for the release of kidnapped Qatari royals, which
ended up in Abadi’s hands, is forcing Riyadh into pro-action on Iran’s western
flank in a methodical way using power politics and energy as tools.
Third, Saudi Arabia is upping its prowess
around Iran that forms a net around the Islamic Republic. Riyadh is encircling
Iran through a variety of soft and hard power networks that are in Pakistan
(Baluchistan), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. This is a
space to watch as Riyadh puts pressure points on the Islamic Republic from
outside especially to Iran’s north and east.
This encirclement idea is not new – it’s
from the Cold War days and used repeatedly – but now has an added twist with a
more aggressive and muscular Saudi foreign and security policy augmented by
social media to expose issues and themes to tear down Iran’s legitimacy to
Tehran, of course, will lash out but
through unity of effort, Saudi Arabia and Sunni allies will be able to succeed
with a new “will to power” to force Iran away from Arabia’s heart based on a
new sense of identity needed to make the Arab transformation successful.
Further away, Saudi Arabia will be working
with African allies who attended the US-Arab-Islamic Summit to shut down
Iranian activities in their respective states.
Clearly, we are entering a new page in
Saudi-Iran relations. With the multi-level civil wars in Libya, Syria, and
Yemen, Riyadh and Tehran are likely to battle it out beyond simple rhetoric.
Saudi Arabia and allies are establishing
the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) to be a NATO-like
organization based on organizational and tactical lessons learned from
Operation Inherent Resolve as well as structure on the Global Alliance to Fight
This fact, according to the Riyadh
Declaration, is an important step to build up a military and constabulary force
of 40,000 troops for deployment. Iran, already heavily vested in the Levant and
in Yemen, is unlikely to retreat. For now, Saudi Arabia and allies are going to
rely on pressure tactics to force changes in Iran’s behavior by starting with
Qatar; down the road is going to be a different story that will make Tehran