New Age Islam Edit Bureau
01 October 2016
Saudi-Turkish Ties Get New Meaning
By Sinem Cengiz
Pro-Israel? Or Pro-Palestinian? What
Will Be Obama’s Legacy?
By Ray Hanania
Diplomacy Alone Cannot Stop Barbarism
By Mohamed Chebarro
Implications of the Growing
Iran-Syria Economic Relations
By Dr. Majid Rafizade
What the Spanish Civil War Can Reveal
By Ibrahim Al-Marashi
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
1 October 2016
The visit of the crown prince, who was
accompanied by a high-level delegation, is just a routine visit which aims to
enhance political and economic ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the two
regional heavyweights. However, this routine visit comes at a crucial time
while Turkey is going through tough days since the failed coup attempt of July
15. The crown prince’s visit is the second one from the Saudi side since the
bloody coup attempt. On several occasions and also during the crown prince’s
meetings with Turkish officials, the Turkish side underlined its contentedness
with the Saudi position against the coup attempt.
The timing of the visit becomes important
due to several reasons. First, it comes at a time while Turkey’s ongoing
operation in Syria has taken a critical phase. A month has passed since Turkey
and Turkish-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched the Euphrates Shield
Operation, which has led the years-long Syrian crisis to enter a new era.
Following the coup attempt, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim announced
that a new page will be opened in Turkey’s Syria policy. And it was just after
a month that the button for Euphrates Shield Operation was pushed.
Given the complicated picture in the Syrian
war, which has become an internationalized multi-sided battlefield, it is still
unclear how long this operation will last. However, based on the developments
in the region, it seems Turkish troops in Syrian territory will stay for a long
On Friday, the Saudi crown prince was
received by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an official ceremony at
the Presidential Palace. President Erdogan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif
then had a tete-a-tete meeting. Following the meeting, the crown prince was
presented with the Order of the State by President Erdogan.
The process and the ways to resolve the
crisis in Syria was for no doubt the most important topic that dominated the
talks between the Saudi and Turkish officials. Regarding Syria, both Ankara and
Riyadh are on the same page and share similar views. That is — the ouster of
Bashar Assad regime, support for Syrian opposition, integrity of Syria and a
political solution for the crisis. During his visit to Turkey recently, Saudi
Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir also stated that his country supports Turkey’s
operation in Syria, adding that both countries support the moderate opposition
The visit also came at a time while Syrian
regime is carrying out a deadly aerial bombardment against opposition-held
parts of eastern Aleppo that cost lives of hundreds of civilians. So, long
story short: Syria file was as usual the hardest one on the table in
discussions. Besides these topics, the regional challenges that the two
countries face, such as instability in Iraq and Yemen, also occupy the agenda
Yildrim, who received Saudi crown prince on
Thursday afternoon and discussed bilateral ties and regional issues during a
meeting with him in Çankaya Palace in Ankara, stressed increased cooperation
with Saudi Arabia in the “fight against terrorism.” On his part, the crown
prince highlighted the “key role” that Ankara and Riyadh play in the region in
order to secure stability and security.
Meanwhile, the visit also saw the inking of
several agreements between Turkish and Saudi side. A memorandum of
understanding was inked to enhance cooperation in the field of labour and a
deal on media was signed. Also, a protocol to strengthen the cultural ties
between the two states was inked. In the framework of the protocol regarding
culture, 2017-2018 was declared as the years of culture between the two
The visit also saw the revival of the
“Saudi-Turkish Strategic Cooperation Council,” which was established in April
in order to bolster economic ties between the two states. Needless to say, the
economic ties between the two countries are below the expectation despite the
good potential between Ankara and Riyadh. Thus, crown prince’s visit is
expected to bear fruit in this respect.
It is important to note that Erdogan’s
meeting with the crown prince have the characteristic of being the “6th
meeting” with a top Saudi official within a year. And also it becomes the
second between Erdogan and Crown Prince Naif within less than 10 days after
both met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on
It is also noteworthy to mention that this
is the third time Erdogan is coming together with a Saudi official within a
month. The high-level meetings between the two countries started from the end
of last year, and the recent visits show that this pace is expected to
Ankara and Riyadh seems to be eager to strengthen
the cooperation through these visits while the region is going through critical
days and poses challenges for both countries. Also, when taking into
consideration the US’ relations with both regional allies, Turkey and Saudi
Arabia, the close cooperation between Ankara and Riyadh becomes more
meaningful. It seems that the coming days will show us the outcomes of these
Many Arabs believed newly elected President
Barack Obama would re-balance America’s heavily pro-Israel foreign policy,
including establishing a Palestinian State.
In fact Obama didn’t disappoint Arab world
or Palestinian expectations when he embraced Palestinian rights and
acknowledged Palestinian “suffering” during an unprecedented speech in Cairo
six months after winning election in November 2008.
Seven years later, though, Obama found
himself in the ruins of the two-state solution, doing what his Democratic
predecessor Bill Clinton did as his term ended, currying Israeli forgiveness to
strengthen his post-White House legacy.
Clinton spent his entire eight years
nurturing Palestinian-Israeli peace only to watch it vanish.
In 1993, Clinton convinced Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with PLO leader Yasir Arafat. It was a
spectacular moment that I personally witnessed at the White House with the
naïve hope it would end decades of American anti-Palestinian bias.
Clinton blamed Palestinians for the failure
of the 2000 Camp David peace process and before leaving office gave Israel a
record $3.12 billion in aid.
What a trophy it would be for any President
to finally resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. But how to off-set the cost of
After peace failed, both presidents did an
about-face at the end of their terms after pressuring Israel.
It is disappointing to see both presidents
do the same thing, fight for Palestinian rights for much of their years, and in
failure, take the safe route out by showering Israel with support.
At the end of his term in 2000, Clinton
tried to force Palestinian President Yasir Arafat to accept a flawed peace
accord that was drafted in private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Barack by Dennis Ross, who years later acknowledged he is a Zionist with his
allegiance to Israel’s interests. Arafat was justifiably skeptical in going to
Camp David in July 2000. The Wye River agreements signed by Arafat and Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spelled out specific actions that Israel was to
take, but Israel never took, including withdrawal and the release of prisoners.
After being elected to replace Netanyahu in
1999, Barak was desperate to achieve a peace accord acceptable to Israelis but
not to appear too conciliatory to the Palestinians. As a consequence, Barak
only met face-to-face with Arafat twice, including only one time during the
so-called Camp David “negotiations.” Camp David wasn’t a negotiation at all,
but a dictate from Barak in consultation with Clinton and delivered to Arafat
Ross conferred with Barak and Clinton to
deliver a “peace plan” that Israelis would accept in the hopes of strengthening
Barak’s chances for political survival. The plan relegated Palestinians to a
state that would remain managed by Israeli soldiers in three buntastans, allow
Palestinian “custody” of Muslim Holy sites in East Jerusalem, but refused to
take the Palestinian refugees Right of Return seriously.
With Arafat’s rejection of the dictate,
Barak’s government collapsed and in the new elections in 2001, Ariel Sharon was
elected prime minister. Sharon had used violence to raise the apprehensions of
Israelis provoking Palestinians by visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Surrounded by army of police and soldiers, Sharon declared the compound would
always remain in “Jewish” hands..
Clinton left office without achieving peace
between Israelis and Palestinians. It was a peace Clinton needed almost as much
as Israelis and Palestinians. In January 1999, Clinton was accused of having
sex with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, at the White House over a period of
several years during his first and second terms in office.
Congress impeached Clinton but the Senate
declined to indict him, even though he repeatedly lied to the public claiming
he never had “sexual relations” with Lewinsky. A peace accord might have wash
away that stain from his legacy.
Obama walked into the Middle East abyss
with his eyes wide open and with the power of a strong mandate from the
American people to do what he wanted.
Delivering a powerful speech in Cairo to
the Arab world, months after being sworn in as the 44th American president,
Obama expressed passionate sympathy for Palestinians who “suffered in pursuit
of a homeland.” Declared Obama, “The situation for the Palestinian people is
intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian
aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”
Hearing Obama deliver the Cairo speech in
June 2009 was as powerful as watching Rabin and Arafat shake hands in 1993. The
declaration rankled Israel, fuelling a long-running battle that hit a record
low in 2012 when Netanyahu all but endorsed Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt
With three months remaining in his term as
the world’s most powerful leader, Obama gave Israel the largest military aid
package in US history, $38 billion ($3.8 billion a year) over 10 years.. It’s a
steep price to enhance his pro-Israel legacy.
Diplomacy Alone Cannot Stop Barbarism in
30 September 2016
The latest sequence of siege, death, and
destruction in Aleppo is just another example of an international community
that has gone irrelevant, incapable and indolent.
The post-WW2 order, the post-Soviet Union
collapse and the order that followed called for solving world problems
multilaterally and through diplomatic pressure. But after nearly six years of
war in Syria the stalemate at the UN remained and the power of diplomacy that the
US Secretary of State John Kerry has been armed with seems outdated and
President Putin of Russia cannot become a
peacemaker when his Air Force squadron commander continues to rain bombs
indiscriminately on Aleppo, and whatever targets the Syrian president and their
Iranian allies brandish as terrorist positions.
The world has been there many times before.
The Bosnian crisis of 1992 was stopped only by the use of massive power that
persuaded all parties to sit and search for a compromise.
In Kosovo in 1999, NATO undertook an air
campaign for 78 days before Serbian leadership and their Russian allies agreed
to come to terms with the right of Kosovar for self-determination, which is
still short of total independence.
The American intervention in Afghanistan in
2001 was aimed at stopping terror reaching American shores. The Iraq war, we
were told, was aimed at stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
These may not be perfect examples of
intervention for world peace and security for civilians but they seemed
necessary at the time and stability in those countries are still a work in
progress. Syria, after nearly six years of ongoing onslaught on its civilians,
could have benefited from action aimed at least at containment.
The world will survive the continued
onslaught on Syria but the world that we know and its tenets of peace will
change for good
Search for a Compromise
Creating a no-fly zone could have sent a
message to all parties that meaningful negotiations and the search for a
compromise is in everyone’s interest.
The creation of a safe haven for Syrians
fleeing their regime’s barbarism could have saved the world’s destabilizing
influx of refugees and delivered a message that those Syrians will not
disappear and therefore push the regime of Assad to discuss a transitional
government that leads eventually to his departure.
In Syria today, and after all types of
bloodshed, the world stands divided between those resorting to disproportionate
violence, namely Assad regime, president Putin of Russia and Iran. They are
achieving their goal to create a Syria empty of more than half of its population
whom this camp brandish unfairly as terrorists.
They are inflicting suffering by
obliterating cities and shattering livelihood as punishment for daring to call
for a change after 40 plus years of Assad family and their cronies.
The reality on the ground calls for a
review of rhetoric of the condemnation, dismay and of empty red lines. The
killing of 400,000 Syrians will not be healed just by allowing convoys into
besieged areas. The 5 million refugees will not stop spilling into Europe just
because they are getting aid in their camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
The 7 million internally displaced Syrians
are unlikely to return home soon unless they sign a surrender papers to a
regime that dropped barrel bombs day in and day out on their livestock, agricultural
land and their villages in a scorched earth strategy masterminded by Assad and
his allies in Moscow and Tehran.
It is ridiculous to be told for the past
year that Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lavrov are about to reach an accord
that would implement a transitional deal that would settle the Syrian crisis
and stop the killing. All this has been heard while Russian air campaigns and
Iranian-led foreign militias continue to kill, maim and besiege and then
forcefully transfer civilians under the nose of the UN.
The United States, UK and France have been
limiting the help the Syrian opposition could get from other allies such as
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to counter balance the Russian and the regime
air supremacy. All this under the banner of Russian-American cooperation that
will settle the Syrian crisis to join efforts in the fight against ISIS later.
Beyond barbarism and brutality
The bombing campaign of Aleppo shows
clearly the intentions of the Kremlin, Damascus and Tehran regime to eliminate
all opposition to Assad through a scorched earth policy to regain rebel held
areas at all cost.
Mere use of terms such as “barbarism”,
“brutality” and “excessive use of force” will not alleviate the suffering of
Syrians. Just calling Russian action in Syria a war crime and crimes against
humanity will not save makeshift hospitals and civil defence teams working in
harsh conditions to apply the thinnest dose left of humanity to civilians
caught in relentless bombing of densely populated areas of Aleppo.
Last but not the least, all the friends of
Syria – such as US, UK and France – could offer is to call Russia a pariah
state for floundering in its duty to protect peace as a responsible member of
the Security Council.
Diplomacy alone cannot stop barbarism by Russia
and Iran in Syria. The world will survive the continued onslaught on Syria but
the world that we know and its tenets of peace will change for good.
Maybe the so-called friends of the Syrian
people could finally understand that without the use of a stick the diplomacy
of John Kerry w
Implications of the Growing Iran-Syria
A considerable amount of analysis has been
dedicated to Iran’s geopolitical, strategic, and military relationships with
the Syrian government apparatuses. Nevertheless, the shifting economic nexus
between Tehran and Damascus has been subjected less to scholarly work, policy
analysis, or media attention.
The changing paradigm in Tehran-Damascus
economic ties can have significant long-term implications for Iran’s
geopolitical and economic influence in the region.
Iran’s shifting economic paradigm in Syria
Right before the conflict erupted, Iran
ratcheted up its investment with considerable amounts of money, resources,
skilled forces, and labor in various provinces in Syria.
Large sums of cash and resources were
allocated to investments in several sectors such as transportation,
infrastructure, and energy, including a joint bank in Damascus, 60 percent of
which is owned by the Iranian government, as well as a $10 billion natural gas
agreement with Syria and Iraq for the construction of gas pipeline that would
start in Iran, run through Syria, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean, and reach
several Western countries.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the
main player alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), also supported
the allocation of $5.8 billion in aid to Syria by Iran’s Centre for Strategic
Research (CSR), which concentrates on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategies
in six different arenas including Foreign Policy Research, Middle East and
Persian Gulf research, and International political economy research.
A 17-article agreement was also signed
which concentrated on “trade, investment, planning and statistics, industries,
air, naval and rail transportation, communication and information technology,
health, agriculture, and tourism.” The contracts are mainly between the state
organizations while Iran’s main investors are various companies
(transportation, food, etc) owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and the
Office of the Supreme Leader.
Iran’s economic influence in Syria has
exponentially increased contrary to common perceptions. In the long-term, if
the Syrian war ends, Iran would be the most dominant player in Syria
Iran’s Long-Term Plan
Iran and Syria played almost equal role in
economic trade and investments before the conflict, as both held some leverage
against the other. But after the uprising, Iran’s economic leverage over Syria
increased exponentially causing Syria's debt and dependence on Iran to increase
While some argue that Iran’s economic
investment in Syria has decreased, in fact statistics show otherwise. Isolated
from the international community and being confined with global sanctions, the
Syrian government has become more reliant on Iran. In other words, Iran has
become Syria’s economic lifeline. After the conflict, free trade has increased
and the trade custom fees have been significantly decreased up to 60 percent,
in favor of Tehran.
These agreements are believed to increase
Iran and Syria’s annual trade volume to $5 billion. Allaedin Boroujerdi stated
that the recent agreements were “a firm response” to the United States and its
Western allies “investing billions of dollars to change the political structure
of the Syrian government.” Iran has also the dominant role in Syria’s economy
since trade between Syria and Turkey and other regional players has
Iran’s investments in Syria’s
infrastructure, power generation capabilities, and gas market have also
increased since then, as part of the reconstruction process. The additional
shift is that the investments are not only done with the Assad’s governmental
apparatuses, but also with many Shiite militia groups.
Iran’s investments remain mostly in the
form of credit lines and loans. Although the war has become costly for Iran,
Iran has not abandoned its economic plan in Syria. Tehran’s economic and
reconstruction plan in Syria is a long-term one which can pay off very well in
the vast market of Damascus if the Syrian war ends. We can make the analogy
that Iran’s economic agenda is similar to its plan in Iraq, after US invasion,
and partially similar to the US Marshall plan of giving economic support to
rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II.
But Iran is playing a more enduring plan.
Some reports indicate that Iran is getting paid back via contracts in Syrian
real state by buying Syrian land. This gives Iran considerable amount of power
over Syria in the long-term. If the war ends, Iran will be single most
important player in Syria economically.
The nuclear deal has definitely made Iran’s
economy stronger. This in return has increased Iran’s economic influence in
Syria, as it has also benefited Assad as well. Larger infrastructure and energy
projects will be more likely on the horizon. Almost every year, Iran is signing
a new contract with Syria for nearly over a billion dollars of credit line.
Another area of increasing trade- and
Khamenei and the IRGC’s priority- is arms trade with Syria in order to
strengthen its defense. Syria is a matter of national security for Iran.
Without Iran’s financials assistances, Assad would have not survived.
For example, although there are
international economic sanctions against Syria, Iran’s crude oil sale to Syria
increased to its highest record of 125,000 barrels a day in March 2015. The
amount will more likely increase since sanctions were lifted against Iran.
More recently, Syria and Iran signed
several agreements to invest in oil, electricity, power, energy, and other
industrial sectors. They discussed “means to implement cooperation between the
two countries.” Although it is billions of dollars, it is still hard to
quantify the exact estimate Iran’s investment in Syria and its trade.
Iran’s trade and investment in Syria was
approximately over $9 billion annually before the sanctions were lifted. This
amount is expected to increase to $15-20 billion annually. Iran’s non-arms
trade with Syria is still one-fifth (nearly $2 billion) of Iran’s trade with
Iraq, which is intriguing since Syria is a conflict-affected state.
Iran’s economic influence in Syria has
exponentially increased contrary to common perceptions. In the long-term, if
the Syrian war ends, Iran would be the most dominant player in Syria
economically. This also suggests that due to the above-mentioned date, Iran
cannot afford any peace plan that will lead to the removal of the Alawite state
30 Sep 2016
As the battle for Aleppo continues
unabated, this intense episode in the Syrian civil war harkens back to a
vicious battle for another Mediterranean city, Barcelona, during the Spanish
July 2016 marked the 80-year anniversary of
the outbreak of the conflict in Spain, lasting from 1936 to 1939. In July 1936,
General Francisco Franco led a rebellion among the Spanish military and his
allies, collectively referred to as the Nationalists, against the recently
elected left leaning Republican Government.
The Republican government rallied its
military forces to its defence, in addition to anarchist and communist militia,
and a civil war ensued.
I refrain from invoking the cliched phrase,
"history repeats itself". Rather, this piece, part of a series of
articles comparing the Spanish past and Syrian present, will elucidate similar
dynamics in civil wars, and illustrate how they end or why they continue to
Comparisons between these two conflicts
have been made before. Two prominent political scientists, Laia Balcells and
Stathis Kalyvas write, "The Spanish Civil War became a focal conflict in
Europe, the ideological and military battleground where fascist and
anti-fascist forces clashed while the entire world stared. Today, Syria has
become the key battleground of Sunni and Shia ideologues and activists."
While I disagree that the Syrian civil war
can be reduced to Sunni-Shia tensions, their mention of how the "world
stared" as the Spanish civil war unfolded holds true for most of the
international community and Syria since the fighting broke out in 2011.
First, in terms of similarities, both
conflicts involved rival foreign powers which sponsored proxies in the Spanish
civil war, akin to the roles Saudi Arabia and Iran have played in the Syrian
civil war, just to name a few.
The USSR sided with the Republicans and
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy provided its troops and military aid to the
Nationalists, tipping the balance in Franco's favour.
Franco was leading a rebellion against the
government, which would seem to make his forces similar to the Nusra Front, but
in terms of military hardware, he would be comparable to Bashar al-Assad in
that he utilised most of the military hardware inherited from the state to
combat his foes.
Both these parties demonstrated their
dependence on airpower, even though 80 years have transpired, and aerial
technology has developed significantly.
Franco had complete control of the air, due
to the participation of the air forces of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, which
bombarded pro-Republican towns. As of 2015, the intervention of the Russian air
force tilted the balance in Assad's favour.
In the case of the Republican side, the aid
delivered by the USSR to the Spanish communist militias, defeated the anarchist
militias in Barcelona. ISIL has played a similar role in weakening Syrian
rebels, particularly those forces who control Aleppo.
Despite the strength of Franco's forces, in
the spring of 1938 the Spanish civil war appeared to have reached a stalemate,
yet a year later the Nationalists scored their final victory after conquering
Madrid. That conflict spanned three years. Why has the Syrian conflict endured
so much longer?
There are numerous reasons why the Syrian
civil war continues. Differences in terms of military, geographical, and
economic dynamics of the conflict provide some explanations.
First, the roles of the strongest military
side are reversed. Assad has been ensconced in the capital, and the onus has
been on the rebels to seize it.
Franco was invading his own country from
Morocco to capture Madrid. The stronger military force in Spain had to take the
capital, the ostensible seat of power, whereas in Syria the weaker power had to
achieve this goal, which proved elusive.
Second, Spain is only bordered by France
and Portugal, with the former providing minimal aid to the Republicans, and the
latter aiding the Nationalists.
In the case of Syria, it has many more
neighbours, bordered by Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan, and each border
serves as a conduit for perpetuating the conflict in terms of arms flows and
fighters. Those border nations, in addition to the United States, Russia, Saudi
Arabia, Qatar, and Iran, all have a stake in the civil war, and all seek an end
to the war that suits their national security interests.
Al-Nusra Front fighters carry weapons on
the back of pick-up trucks during the release of Lebanese soldiers and
policemen in Arsal, eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon [Reuters]
Third, because the conflict has lasted
longer in Syria, another difference is the political economy of the civil war.
Since the war has lasted so long in Syria a
myriad warlords, some on the government side and others on the rebel side, have
taken root during the conflict, developing their own parasitic set of
It is doubtful that these parties would
support a negotiated political solution if their financial base were to be
threatened by an end to the hostilities.
Anarchist and communist militias in Spain
had developed their own micro-economies, such as in Barcelona, but these were
dismantled after the Nationalist victory there.
Rehearsal for World War II
The Spanish civil war served as a
battleground for Germany and Italy to test out their new military hardware,
particularly their bombers targeting civilian centres. This tactic was a
prelude to a much larger conflict, World War II.
Observers of the Syrian civil war argue
that Russia is using this conflict to try out its new military hardware,
ranging from cruise missiles to long-distance bombing raids from Iran, in order
to send a message to the US and its NATO allies about its new military
As a historian, I dislike the phrase
"history repeats itself", because it is overly deterministic, and
denies the agency to actors in the present.
In this case, the US, Russia, and the
Syrian parties need to ensure that the bloody, half-a-decade civil does not
become the prelude to a much larger conflict.