New Age Islam Edit Bureau
02 December 2017
The Arab Spring Has Devoured Its Own Children
By Sinem Cengiz
How ISIL Changed the Oil Map of Iraq
By Omar Al-Nidawi
Lebanon — A Tale of Two Occupations
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Thrills but No Spills at Oil Meeting
By Cornelia Meyer
China’s New Role in Syria
By Maria Dubovikova
The Rohingya Tragedy Shows Human Solidarity Is a Lie
By Tawakkol Karman
If US Shifts Airbase To Jordan Can China Fill The Void For Doha?
By Shehab Al-Makahleh
Lebanon: A Tale Of Two Occupations
Chad, An African Dike Against Terrorism
By Huda Al-Husseini
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
1 December 2017
Seven years ago in December, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, immolated himself in protest at economic repression and political corruption. It was a catalyst for demonstrations throughout the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring.
Most protesters demanded democracy, freedom and dignity. The uprisings were a clear indicator to regimes that the time had come for reform, if not revolution. Youths, women, workers, Islamists and secular people all played a part, but in the end they lost. The Arab Spring ate its own children.
As women played a prominent role in organizing protest movements, many were hopeful for an improvement in their status post-Arab Spring. But seven years on, with the region more destabilized, hopes for women, democracy and human rights in the Middle East have faded. Despite women having been leading figures in the uprisings, cases of violence against them have increased dramatically in war-torn countries, such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Young people were at the forefront of the uprisings. They demanded work and equality, and used social media and technology effectively to express their grievances. But seven years on, not much has changed for them as the region continues to struggle with youth unemployment, leading to radicalization and recruitment by extremist groups.
The Arab Spring initially included both Islamists and secular people, but subsequent competition between them contributed to the eventual failure of the uprisings. Islamists, who had the most organized groups with strong networks, had quite an advantage at the start of the uprisings, but they too turned out to be losers, with secular people accusing them of hijacking the revolutions.
The winners were international, regional and non-state actors whose interventions played a significant role in the failure of the democratization process, and the creation of spheres of influence and fertile ground for extremist movements to expand and destabilize countries.
Many hoped the Arab Spring would lead to regional democratization, with new governments addressing the demands of people who took to the streets. But it only brought chaos and war, with most of the region’s leaders remaining in power. The terminology of the Arab Spring was problematic from the start, because “spring” refers to a temporary event, with winter coming later. A harsh winter is what the region is experiencing now.
The last three years dramatically reshaped the oil map in Iraq, OPEC's second-largest producer. The dust from the military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) will take weeks if not months to settle, and the Iraqi government's grip on disputed and oil-rich Kirkuk, which the Iraqi Kurds recently vacated, remains infirm.
But when it comes to oil, it is clear that the conflict has left some stakeholders better off than others.
The ISIL Factor
The Baghdad government got off to a very poor start. Even before ISIL stole the headlines with its dramatic conquest of Mosul in June 2014, the "terror" group's operations were damaging Iraq's oil industry. More than three months earlier, ISIL attacks had brought oil exports through the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline through which Iraq used to export the bulk of Kirkuk's 550,000 barrels per day (bpd) production, to a complete halt.
Repair crews, afraid to reach the sites of leaks caused by explosives - even with army escorts - dubbed a stretch of the pipeline's path Tora Bora, after the infamous stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Iraq's losses mounted when ISIL took over Mosul. ISIL fighters captured Ajil and Himrin oilfields in Salaheddin province and Qayyarah and three others in Nineveh province. The production potential of these fields, 72,000 bpd under ideal conditions, was rather minuscule from Baghdad's perspective - the country at that time was exporting nearly 2.6 million bpd.
But the real damage was in enabling ISIL to finance its war machine. It was able to generate an estimated $45 million a month selling the oil from these fields, and others in Syria, through a labyrinth of oil refining and smuggling operations. The windfall allowed it, for a while, to pay its fighters generously by local standards and keep its murderous campaign going for three long years.
Indirectly, the impact was more profound, more geopolitically significant. In the confusion following the fall of Mosul, Kurdish Peshmerga belonging to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) took over the prized Kirkuk fields. The largest of the fields, Avana and Bai Hassan, were swiftly integrated into the KRG's oil production system, while others continued to be operated by the Baghdad-controlled North Oil Company.
Baghdad and the KRG made a short-lived deal in December 2014 under which Baghdad would pay the KRG 17 percent of the national budget in exchange for 550,000 bpd (250,000 bpd from fields inside Kurdistan proper, and 300,000 bpd from Kirkuk fields under KRG control). The deal faltered within months as both sides accused each other of falling short of meeting their commitments under it.
The KRG started using Kirkuk's crude to shore up its oil exports independent of Baghdad. By July of 2015, the KRG's exports, which had been about 125,000 bpd before the fall of Mosul, quadrupled allowing the KRG to generate almost $4bn during the second half of 2015.
KRG's Oil Gains And Losses
In the Middle East, oil fuels more than just engines. It can fuel a drive for independence.
The KRG, whose position was boosted with the possession of Kirkuk, grew more confident in its ability to be economically self-reliant and steadily asserted its autonomy from Baghdad. Hardly two weeks had passed since ISIL took Mosul when KRG President Masoud Barzani told CNN during a June 23 interview that "The Kurdistan people should seize the opportunity now to determine their future."
The KRG's position appeared to be getting stronger as Baghdad lacked a proper response. Internally, however, there were undercurrents of disagreement and resentment towards the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) for dominating the region's affairs and managing the oil wealth without consulting other parties. The tensions were palpable in September 2016 when the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the KDP's junior partner in control of much of Kirkuk, reportedly threatened to cut oil flows and strike its own oil export deal with Iran. In the following months, the PUK would reiterate its threat, this time with a show of military force.
Nonetheless, the cash-hungry KRG was seeking more oil deals with powerful external actors both to generate much-needed revenue and hedge against possible retribution by Baghdad, Tehran or Ankara - all wary of the idea of an independent Kurdish nation.
One party that has been pulled into the squabble, or willingly inserted itself, is Russia. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been reports about state-owned Rosneft negotiating deals with the KRG, including buying a majority stake in the KRG oil export pipeline and potentially building another for natural gas export. This set of deals with Rosneft purportedly totals some $3.5bn, of which Rosneft has already paid out $1.3bn.
Securing Russian investment in its pipeline was perhaps a smart insurance policy that the KRG bought to make Baghdad and Ankara think twice before taking draconian measures to shut it down altogether.
For observers willing to overlook the perilous lack of internal cohesion, the KRG, as it geared up to hold a referendum on independence in September, seemed well on its way to become the Middle East's youngest state.
But the KRG miscalculated. Tensions between the Baghdad and Erbil governments culminated in the October 17 takeover of Kirkuk by the Iraqi military and Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). The Iraqi advance would've been unimaginable if not for the PUK's decision to cooperate with Baghdad, effectively torpedoing a decade-old strategic relationship with the KDP. The contested Kirkuk fields of Avana and Bai Hassan were once again under Baghdad's control.
Overnight, half of the KRG oil exports evaporated, taking with it years of planning, and dealing a painful setback to the decades-old aspiration for independence.
Baghdad almost immediately sought to translate the territorial gains into oil exports and revenue. Two days after the Iraqi military and PMUs walked into Kirkuk, the Iraqi oil minister called on British Petroleum (BP) to help develop Kirkuk fields. The federal oil ministry also announced a plan to repair its own northern pipelines so that it can divert the oil away from the KRG's pipeline.
There's a problem though. Pipeline repairs, by Baghdad's estimates, need at least three months. News of a plan to build a completely new pipeline may indicate that repairs aren't even feasible.
Baghdad hasn't figured out exactly what to do with all the Kirkuk oil yet.
Enter Iran. The eastern neighbour, which for years stood jealous of KRG oil dealings with Turkey, is going to make some modest gains from the KRG's plight. Desperate for an evacuation route, Iraq agreed to start trucking 15,000 bpd from Kirkuk to an Iranian refinery in exchange for Iranian oil delivered to Iraq's south.
In all this drama, the overall supply picture did not skip a beat. Baghdad managed to boost its oil exports from its southern fields to reach about 3.35 million bpd in October, offsetting the shortfall from Kirkuk. The sales generated $5.5bn in revenue, its highest monthly figure in almost three years.
The KRG is not completely out of luck. It remains in control of several fields inside Kurdistan proper, still producing about 300,000 bpd, of which about 250,000 bpd continue to flow through the Kurdistan-Turkey pipeline.
For a month now there has been a standoff between pro-government Iraqi forces and Peshmerga forces at the Faysh Khabur border crossing, where the Kurdish export pipeline enters Turkey. Baghdad wants to assume control over all crossings to bring all northern exports, including from fields inside Kurdistan's uncontested border, under state control - and bring the KRG to its knees.
This would entail Baghdad agreeing in return to provide for the financial needs of the Kurdish provinces from federal coffers. In theory, an agreement is possible. But there's more at stake than just civil servants' salaries and funds for schools or roads.
For the KRG, to maintain a revenue stream independent of Baghdad's chokehold is an existential-level question. There is also the looming question of what happens to the KRG lenders, including Russia. Western companies may have little in the way of recourse, but there's no telling what tricks the Kremlin might have up its sleeve to collect on its awkwardly-timed investments in Kurdish black gold.
Omar Al-Nidawi is an Iraq analyst based in Washington DC and the director for Iraq at Gryphon Partners.
By Eyad Abu Shakra
One thing that seems beyond doubt is that the days of double talk are over. It is no longer possible to get away with fake slogans amid dangerous realities in more than one area of the Arab world. As such, wise observers have become aware of what is going on and will not be fooled easily.
Post-1920 political entities, post-1979 political Islam (Sunni and Shiite), the relationship between state and non-state militias and armed groups, and various types of liberation and revolutionary slogans are now all under scrutiny.
A few days ago, my colleague and friend Amir Taheri uncovered an important side of the problems afflicting the region, almost all of which revolve around the Iranian role throughout the Arab world.
I was around in 1982 when what became Hezbollah was created in the political “kitchen” of the Iranian Embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus. The Iranian ambassador then was Ali Akbar Mohtashami, who later became interior minister. Damascus later became Hezbollah’s regional sponsor and nanny.
Taheri was absolutely right to remind those who do not remember, or who were witnesses to that period, that Hezbollah — which claims to embody “resistance” to Israel and the US — was nothing but a sectarian vehicle of Tehran’s mullahs, whose prime role was never to resist Israel but rather to confront Palestinian resistance against Israel.
During the early 1980s, a sizable section of the Shiite population of south Lebanon became critical of, even openly opposed to, Palestinian guerrilla operations launched from the area nicknamed Fatah Land, which the Lebanese government had relinquished to Palestinian resistance organizations. Israel kept retaliating against guerrilla operations across its borders by shelling Shiite villages, with the intention of turning the villagers against the Palestinians.
On the other hand, there were tacit and intersecting interests between the Israelis and Iranians in destroying the Lebanese leftist and nationalist parties fighting under the banner of the pro-Palestinian Lebanese National Movement (LNM). Shiite activists at the time constituted a sizeable percentage of the LNM’s rank and file.
Iran pre-1979 was unhappy about Lebanese Shiite intellectuals and youth joining Arab nationalist and leftist parties. Israeli and Iranian interests continued to intersect after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran under then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini chose to invest in and nourish Lebanon’s sectarianism. This was very much in Israel’s strategic interests, having always capitalized on and benefitted from religious and sectarian contradictions among its Arab neighbours, as the obvious prerequisite for division, conflict and a much-sought-after “coalition of minorities.”
Only one year after the 1967 war, many Lebanese were attracted to the Palestinian resistance against Israel. After the Israeli invasion and occupation of south Lebanon in 1982, it was the secular nationalist and leftist parties, including the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP), which launched the liberation campaign.
Young men and women led the campaign to liberate south Lebanon, and subsequently Palestine. They did not follow a regional non-Arab sectarian project, although many were Shiites, such as Sanaa Muheidly of the SSNP and Anwar Yassin of the LCP. Their liberation priority was different from that of the supreme leader in Tehran. They did not fight and sacrifice their lives in order to exchange one occupier for another.
Tel Aviv and Washington know the truth when Iranian commanders threaten to “exterminate” Israel, and have their threats reverberate in Beirut’s Shiite southern suburbs, Yemen’s Sa’dah Mountains, the camps of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Damascus regime’s media outlets.
Tel Aviv and Washington know that the forces that make up the PMU were the main beneficiary of the US invasion of Iraq, and that the Blue Line on the Lebanese-Israeli border is much closer to Hezbollah’s strongholds in south Lebanon than the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Albu Kamal and Deir Ezzor.
Still, Hezbollah seems to have forgotten the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, which were its justification to keeps its arms. It has also forgotten the Rafiq Hariri assassination’s “false witnesses,” who were its excuse to bring down the Cabinet of Saad Hariri in early 2011.
As for Hezbollah’s weapons, it was the only Lebanese party and militia that was allowed to remain armed after the Taif Accords of 1989, under the pretext that it was fighting to liberate south Lebanon. But it used its arms against its opponents in Lebanon in 2008, and later in Syria against the popular uprising. Hezbollah then expanded its explosive “services” to Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere.
In that regard, in an unforgettable speech, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah candidly said his “most honourable, best and greatest achievement” of his life was his speech in which he defended Houthi militia on the second day of the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen.
Such talk undermines the credibility of what he claims is his priority: Resisting Israel and the US. It underlines the fact that the mission entrusted to Hezbollah and other sectarian militias created, sponsored and commanded by Tehran in the Arab world, is nothing but the implementation of Iran’s regional project.
From a strategic viewpoint, this project faces two possibilities. Either it succeeds initially, with Iran imposing its hegemony over a vast area where the majority population is non-Shiite and non-Persian; this would provoke strife and endless civil wars. Or it fails, pushing Iran to seek more destructive alternatives, unless its regime falls and its theo-militaristic chemistry disappears. In either case, the West and Israel cannot lose.
By inciting or sponsoring extremist Sunni groups, Tehran has created a global terrorist phenomenon that has ensured the rise of the extreme right throughout the West. As for “liberating Palestine,” Tehran’s active support of certain trends within Hamas, as well as Islamic Jihad, has destroyed Palestinian unity and strengthened Likud and other extreme right-wing Israeli parties hell-bent on expanding illegal settlements and rejecting any meaningful peace negotiations.
2 December 2017
On Nov. 30 the 14 OPEC member countries and 10 non-member countries extended a deal to take 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) out of the market. The “Agreement of Cooperation” (the deal) was initially reached in December of last year and has now been renewed for the second time.
Markets reacted well. Brent now trades comfortably above the $63 mark. Saudi Arabia and Russia took firm control of the process. They will now co-chair the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC), which is in charge of ensuring the deal remains on track and that participants are in compliance. Saudi Arabia and Russia together produce in excess of 20 million barrels per day (bpd), which constitutes more than 20 percent of global production.
The outcome of the meeting in Vienna was a big success for the diplomatic skills of Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih and OPEC Secretary-General Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo. They were able to get 24 countries to agree on quantity and time. However, the run-up to the meeting was not without drama: There were rumors that Russia may not be on board with the deal, which temporarily sent the oil price tumbling.
At the outset of the meeting Al-Falih was therefore clear that an extension of the deal and compliance were crucial to bring the historic overhang of global crude inventories down. The OECD inventories are now around 140 million barrels above the rolling five-year average, which is about 60 percent lower from where they were a year ago. Al-Falih pointed out time and again that the deal was starting to achieve its aim, but that there was further to go. He is right: The futures market is around 1 billion barrels long. Any disappointment in market sentiment could well lead to profit-taking and a major sell-off.
Both Russia and Saudi Arabia stand to gain from a higher oil price: Saudi Arabia is reorganizing its economy in accordance with Saudi Vision 2030, which is expensive and includes an IPO of the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco. The cost of the cuts is minimal for Russia, because the country only signed up to 300,000 bpd of cuts on a production exceeding 11 million bpd. The Russian economy can well use the infusion of cash resulting from higher oil prices: There are still sanctions hanging over the country and President Vladimir Putin faces an election in March of next year.
The deal is done for the time being. However, there are still risks facing the oil market. On the downside, it is unclear how much incremental shale production will come on stream due to higher oil prices. US shale production is forecast to reach 6.17 million bpd in December. The International Energy Agency is concerned that increases in US shale — and other non-OPEC production — might dent the effect of the production cuts. There is also the question of when and how to unwind the deal, which is similar to what central banks face when they try to exit expansive monetary policies. To that end Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak, on the margins of the meeting, mentioned that he was not in favour of an unlimited duration of the deal.
On the upside, the global economy is in the best shape since 2008, which is good news for demand. The future of Venezuela’s production hangs in the balance as the country faces internal turmoil. There are always possible unforeseen outages in OPEC and non-OPEC countries. The gradual rebalancing of the market has also brought back the political risk premium, which means that tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere may well exert an upward pressure on the price. Lastly we should not forget that the prolonged period of low oil prices resulted in the cancelation of up to 40 percent of scheduled investment of international oil companies over the past few years. This is certainly on the mind of Al-Falih. So much so, that he specifically stressed this risk during the press conference.
Extending the deal has borne fruit for the time being. Markets are rebalancing and prices are rising. As always, there are upside risks and downside risks to the oil price. There is no time for complacency and both OPEC and non-OPEC signatories to the deal will need to monitor the situation closely and fine-tune actions and messaging on a continuing basis.
By Maria Dubovikova
What is China’s incentive for greater involvement in Syria, which will lead to further competition between Washington and Beijing? China will deploy troops in Syria as Beijing is very concerned about the increasing number of militants of Chinese origin (Uighurs) who have joined Daesh in Syria and Iraq. China does not interfere in any country unless there are economic and political benefits.
Its Defence Ministry is considering sending two special forces units to fight terrorists in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, as some of them have Chinese nationality and would pose a high risk if they return home. An estimated 5,000 Chinese militants are fighting alongside various insurgent groups in Syria. Moreover, China has invested tens of billions of dollars in Syrian infrastructure.
Beijing does not want Syria to become a base for Uighurs to launch terrorist attacks against Chinese citizens and interests overseas. The Aug. 30 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, which was planned by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Syria and financed by Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front), was cited as justification for the Chinese to be in Syria.
Some analysts say Chinese and Russian involvement in Syria is similar to that of the Americans in Afghanistan in 2001, who wanted to deny Al-Qaeda a base to launch attacks against US targets.
The delayed involvement of the Chinese army indicates that China’s main objective in Syria is economic. Beijing recently received Syrian government representatives who asked for further Chinese economic support, resulting in the announcement of more than $6 billion in direct investments.
After the demise of Daesh, China will be investing heavily in Syria. Politically, Beijing will try to coordinate with all concerned parties, including Moscow and Washington. Last week, there were talks between Beijing and Damascus on countering ETIM terrorists in Eastern Ghouta. ETIM is said to have committed more than 200 terrorist acts in China in the last few years.
China relies on Central Asian and Middle Eastern energy sources, and thus seeks stability in those regions. Meanwhile, Xinjiang in northwest China is restless and susceptible to violence, which Beijing blames on radical separatist movements such as ETIM. More than 10,000 Chinese police marched through Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in February in a show of force.
According to sources, Chinese military advisers are already in Syria, paving the way for troops. And combat drones have been shipped from China to Syria for counter-terrorism operations.
The extent of China’s involvement hinges on the conduct of the US, which is wary of a greater Chinese role in the Middle East and Central Asia that could affect American strategic interests. The coming few weeks will witness many meetings between Chinese and American military and security officials.
The Rohingya Tragedy Shows Human Solidarity Is A Lie
Nobody argues any more about what is happening in Myanmar. The United Nations, international human rights organisations and world capitals all agree that the war being waged on the Rohingya Muslims is a clear example of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
According to international reports, the number of people who have fled Myanmar military operations in Rakhine state have reached approximately 600,000 refugees by October.
The crisis continues to get worse, fanned on one hand, by the Myanmar government's intolerance and insistence on continuing their racist exclusionary policies, and on the other hand, by the fact that the world's interest in what is happening in Myanmar is just not deep enough.
The most dangerous thing the Rohingya tragedy has uncovered is that the idea of "human solidarity" may be nothing more than a big lie.
Those who call and fight for freedoms and human rights regardless of race or religion or colour or ideology - and I am one of those - are facing a huge conundrum. Why is this happening? Why is this human holocaust, happening right before our eyes, not being stopped? Are there unknown conditions that must be met in order to show human solidarity and offer the support needed to end a particular people's suffering?
These are questions whose answers, I fear, will be terrifying. Is human solidarity something afforded only to the strong and rich who have political or economic power in the international arena?
Many are starting to understand that human solidarity does not extend to Muslims. Regardless of how accurate that opinion is, it is an indicator of the doubts that have taken root in the minds of some, and that is not a good thing.
And this is not the only loss that has come out of the Rohingya tragedy. The regime in Myanmar, which is perpetrating horrific violations every day, can still find allies who defend what it is doing. The Myanmar regime's responsibility for the extermination of the Rohingya is clear and its statements denying what is happening are mendacious.
Sacrificing her past as a fighter for rights and freedom in order to embrace tyranny, Aung San Suu Kyi - leader of the Myanmar government and Nobel Peace Prize laureate - serves as a prime example of the damage that can befall someone we thought would keep her principles no matter what.
It is truly tragic that Aung San Suu Kyi is defying reality and denying with confidence the violence and ethnic cleansing, to an extent that Amnesty International has classified her affirmations as "a mix of untruths and victim blaming". Aung San Suu Kyi could have fought and won a victory for human rights or for her own conscience at the very least. But she preferred to fight for her "nation" and its military vision built on exclusion, marginalisation and rejection of diversity. What a tragic end for a woman who so many counted on.
The 'Terrorism' Excuse
The Rohingya tragedy has confirmed what we've said about the use of "terrorism" by dictatorships as a useful excuse to realise political goals and destroy opposition or political opponents.
The world has seen how entire villages are destroyed and their inhabitants killed or displaced, all atrocities committed in the name of the "war on terror"; who can accept these justifications? I would think no one.
The truth is that using "terrorism" as an excuse to suppress opponents and to enable tyrannical political leadership to strengthen its bases is an old ruse that everyone can see through. The UN and international community have to be brave and prevent the use of "terrorism" in this way.
Authoritarian regimes must be deprived of the opportunity to use a just cause such as fighting "terrorism" for their own ends. Not only that, but there must also be a real accounting of those who have perpetrated human rights violations for any reason.
There are numerous calls to end the military operations against the Rohingya today. This can be seen as a positive development, and although it comes very late - better late than never.
In spite of that fact, the regime in Myanmar likely will not respond to these calls unless there is a unified international stance against the crimes against humanity that are being perpetrated there. The military in Myanmar are still the ones who call the shots, and they don't see anything wrong with denying the Rohingya their rights.
The Rohingya tragedy has shown how a UN member state can have an internal policy built on racial and religious discrimination without any international consequences. Therefore pressure must be increased on the regime in Myanmar if we are to see real course correction.
It is time to take a firm stance on Myanmar. We should not pacify a state promoting apartheid policies. It is time to stop a human tragedy that has persisted for decades.
A few days ago, Bangladesh and Myanmar reached an agreement that allows the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, who were subjected to a campaign of persecution and forcible displacement by the Myanmar army only two months ago. But this agreement, even if implemented, is not enough to go on as if nothing happened.
It is true that the repatriation of the Muslim-majority Rohingya is very important to put an end to this tragedy, but what guarantees will the Myanmar government provide for not repeating its ethnic cleansing campaign?
Nevertheless, this agreement should be a prelude to the end of abhorrent discrimination against the Rohingya who should be given political and civil rights as citizens of Myanmar.
The Rohingya have lived for a long time without knowing the true meaning of humanity and justice. Would it not be wonderful if they could find some of that now? We must work to realise that with all our strength, not just for them, but for all of us.
Will the US move its major airbase in Qatar (al-Udeid) to another in Jordan’s Azraq city and will China replace the US airbase in Doha? A report in the US military’s daily Stars and Stripes claims that the Pentagon wants to pump in $143 million into upgrades at the Muwaffaq Salti Airbase in Azraq, more than any other overseas Air Force operational site, which implies that the US is planning to leave al-Udeid Airbase in Qatar for various considerations.
In February 2015, Washington and Amman had signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding in which the US vowed to pay $1 billion in military aid to Jordan every year until 2018 because it considers Jordan an irreplaceable partner in the Middle East. This US admiration for Jordan dates back to 1957 when Washington regarded Amman’s role as pivotal for ensuring security and stability in the region.
While the US has mainly focused on the military significance of Jordan, the latter’s role in the region will be critical in the coming decade following the recent setback in US relations with Turkey, and the fact that Washington is upset with Qatar’s position on countering terrorism that is one of the factors in its decision to shift its airbase in al-Udeid to Jordan.
In May this year, US President Donald Trump announced his plan to allocate $500 million for upgrading American airbases overseas. The budget of the Defense Department submitted to Congress includes $478 million for Air Force “military construction,” of which $207 million is meant for foreign facilities in the Middle East, including bases in Incirlik Airbase in Turkey and the Muwaffaq Salti Airbase in Jordan that the US uses for operations against the ISIS. The other $271 million is allocated for a number of airbases and airports in NATO member states.
The Muwaffaq Salti Airbase is 55 kilometre from Amman (35 miles south of the Syrian border) and close to Iraqi borders as well. It has been used for military air operations. The earmarked amount will be used for paving the airfields, building shelters for aircraft and dormitories for pilots and crew.
Military reports from Jordan reveal that the aforementioned airbase has been used by Americans for flying US-built MQ-9 Reaper drones to strike targets in Syria and Iraq. The airbase, also known as H4, houses various platforms which belong to Royal Jordanian Airforce.
Since al-Udeid is host to a forward HQs of United States Central Command (CENTCOM, the HQs of the United States Air Forces Central Command - USAF), No. 83 Expeditionary Air Group RAF, and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the USAF, shifting to the Jordanian airbase may not happen soon. It is noteworthy that the number of US soldiers at al-Udeid Airbase is more than 10,000.
Meanwhile, work is ongoing at the Muwaffaq al-Salti Airbase for the so-called a Life Support Area (LSA), which include supporting facilities and new infrastructure. The Jordanian airbase will undergo speedy expansion of storage facilities to enable the military to support cargo and personnel recovery operations at the base.
On July 12, US President Donald Trump said that the US was ready to relocate from al-Udeid, and that “If we (the US) ever had to leave, we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one (airbase), believe me, and they will pay for it”.
Meanwhile, Germany has been negotiating with Jordan for months over pull its troops out of Turkey to the Muwaffaq al-Salti Airbase. The decision of German military to move its troops from Incirlik to Muwaffaq al-Salti Airbase comes in the wake of political and diplomatic squabbles between Turkey and Germany over a number of issues, including differences over the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe and the Turkish government’s support for Islamists in Germany.
Even NATO is now considering moving out of Turkey as Ankara has moved closer to Moscow and the US is also said to have almost taken the decision of giving up its airbases in Incirlik and to gradually shift base to Jordan. Will China replace the US in Doha?
Meanwhile, Chinese Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun and Qatari Major General Sa’ad al-Khulaifi met on 27 September at the INTERPOL summit in Beijing, where they discussed cooperation on combating terrorism and signed a deal to increase their coordination in this regard.
Given the fact that Doha-Beijing ties have been strengthening in various spheres recently (such as in the fields of energy, banking, security and military), China has started considering Qatar as an attractive destination for cooperation in the area of defense. China is a major importer of Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG). Thus, Beijing seeks to secure this source of energy which is very important for Chinese industries development and expansion.
It is reported that China’s military is eyeing Qatar’s al-Udeid base as the US plans to ultimately vacate it. To China, Qatar is important because it is the only Arab country that is connected to Islamist non-state actors and the fact that Doha can negotiate with them easily, especially with East Turkestan Islamic Movement of Xinjiang. Thus, China considers Qatar as a useful partner in the Arab world.
The move from al-Udeid and Incirlik to Jordan may not prove to be an easy transition for the US as it may entail enormous logistical hassles and infrastructure development.
However, the Americans as well as NATO member states have started rethinking the role of Ankara and Doha in the region, especially after a Turkish military base is being set up in Doha. However, if Americans leave al-Udeid, China seems to be ready to fill in the void.
Lebanon: A Tale of Two Occupations
One thing that seems beyond doubt these days is that the days of ‘double talk’ are over. It is no more possible to get away with fake slogans; as we are before dangerous realities in more than one area in the Arab world, and thus, I claim wise observers have become aware of what is going on, and will not be fooled easily.
‘Post 1920 political entities’, ‘Post 1979 Political Islam (both Sunni and Shi’ite), the relationship between State and non-state’s militias and armed groups, and of course, various types of liberation and revolutionary slogans, are now all under scrutiny.
A few days ago, in ‘Asharq Al-Awsat’, my colleague and friend Amir Taheri uncovered an important side of the problems causing the regional challenges, almost all of which revolve around the Khomeinist-Khamen’ist Iranian role throughout the Arab world.
Personally, I was around in 1982 when what became Hezbollah was created in the political ‘kitchen’ of the Iranian Embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus. The Iranian ambassador then was Ali Akbar Mohtashami (Mohtashamipur), who later went on to become Interior Minister in Tehran; and Damascus later became the party’s regional sponsor and ‘nanny’.
Mr. Taheri was absolutely right to remind those who do not remember, or were witnesses to that period, that Hezbollah which claims to be the embodiment of “resistance” to Israel and the USA was, in fact, nothing but a sectarian vehicle of Tehran’s mullahs, whose prime role was never to resist Israel but rather confront the Palestinian “resistance” movement fighting against Israel.
The Early 1980s
During the early 1980s, a sizable section of the Shi’ite population of south Lebanon became critical of, even openly opposed to, Palestinian guerrilla operations launched from the area nicknamed ‘Fatah Land’ which the Lebanese government had relinquished to the Palestinian “resistance” organizations.
For its part, Israel kept retaliating against guerrilla operations across its borders by shelling the Shi’ite villages with the intention of turning the villagers against the Palestinians. On the other hand, there were tacit and intersecting interests between the Israelis and Iranians in destroying the Lebanese Leftist and ‘Nationalist’ parties fighting under the banner of the pro-Palestinians ‘Lebanese National Movement’. Shi’ite activists, that time, constituted a sizeable percentage of the LNM’s rank and file.
Indeed, Iran since the days of the Shah (pre-1979) was unhappy about Lebanese Shi’ite intellectuals and youth joining Arab nationalist and leftist parties. Israeli and Iranian interests continued, later on, to intersect after the Khomeini ‘Islamic Revolution’. While Israel, which during the Cold War was opposed to pro-USSR ‘Left’ and keen to deprive the Palestinians of their Lebanese support base, Khomeinist Iran chose to invest in Lebanon’s sectarianism and nourish it.
This was very much in Israel’s strategic interests which have always capitalized on and benefitted from religious and sectarian contradictions throughout its Arab neighbors, being the obvious prerequisite for division, conflicts and the much sought after ‘coalition of minorities’.
Incidentally, only one year after the June War of 1967, many Lebanese were attracted to the Palestinian ‘resistance’ against Israel, with Khalil Izzeddin Al-Jamal becoming the first ‘martyr’ in 1968. Later on, following the Israeli invasion and occupation in 1982, it was the secular Nationalist and Leftist parties, including the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP), which launched the liberation campaign.
The young men and women led the campaign of liberating South Lebanon, and subsequently Palestine; neither losing the compass nor following a regional non-Arab sectarian project, although many were Shi’ites, like Sanaa’ Muheidly (SSNP) and Anwar Yassin (LCP). For those, their liberation priority was different from those of ‘The Supreme Guide’ in Tehran. They, simply, did not fight and sacrificed their lives in order to exchange one ‘occupier’ for another.
The Whole Truth
Tel Aviv and Washington know the truth, the whole truth when the commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) shout, boast and threaten to ‘exterminate Israel’, and have these shouts and boasts reverberate in Beirut Shi’ite southern suburbs and Yemen Sa’dah Mountains, as well as the camps of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and the Damascus regime’s media outlets.
Yes, both Tel Aviv and Washington know the whole truth; particularly that the forces that now make up the Iraqi PMF were the main beneficiary of the US invasion of Iraq, and that ‘The Blue Line’ on the Lebanese – Israeli borders is much close to Hezbollah south Lebanon strongholds than the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Albu-Kamal and Deir Ez-Zor.
Still, Hezbollah seems to have forgotten the ‘Israeli-occupied’ Sheb’aa farms which were its justification to keeps its arms, and forgotten the Rafiq Al-Hariri assassination’s ‘false witnesses’ who were its excuse to bring down the cabinet of Saad Al-Hariri in early 2011.
As for Hezbollah’s arms, it is worth mentioning that it alone among the Lebanese parties and militias was allowed to remain armed after ‘The Taif Accords’ (1989), under the pretext that it was fighting to liberate south Lebanon. However, it used it against its opponents inside Lebanon in 2008, and later in Syria against the Syrian people’s uprising. From then on, it expanded its explosive ‘services’ to Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere overseas.
In that regard, in an unforgettable speech, Hezbollah’s Secretary General (Hassan Nasrallah) candidly said that his “most honourable, best, and greatest achievement’ in his lifetime was his speech in which he defended Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the second day of ‘the Storm of Resolve’ campaign; adding “This was the true ‘Jihad’…"!
Such talk undermines the credibility of what he claims is his priority: “resisting Israel and fighting America”; and rather, underlines the fact that the mission entrusted to Hezbollah and other sectarian militias created, sponsored and commanded by Tehran in the Arab world, is nothing but carrying out Iran’s regional project.
From a strategic point of view this project faced two possibilities:
1- It succeeds, initially, and thus Iran would impose its hegemony on a vast area where the majority population is non-Shi’ite and non-Persian; but this would provoke strife and endless civil wars.
2- It fails, pushing Iran into seeking more destructive alternatives, unless its regime falls, and its theo-militaristic chemistry disappears.
In either case, the West and Israel cannot lose!
The fact is that Tehran’s regime, through its sectarian attitude and militaristic interventions, has gifted the powers he claims to fight priceless ‘services’. Through inciting, or sponsoring, extremist Sunni groups, it has created a global terrorist phenomenon which in turn has ensured the rise of the extreme right throughout the West.
As for ‘liberating Palestine’, its active support of certain trends with Hamas, as well as Islamic Jihad Organization, has ensured destroying Palestinian unity, and strengthening the Likud and other extreme right-wing Israeli parties hell-bent on expanding illegal settlements and rejecting any meaningful peace negotiations.
By Huda al-Husseini
A Levantine woman who was part of a delegation to Russia told me that during their meeting with President Vladimir Putin, he honestly told them: “If you want democracy, go to the US and if you want security and stability that protect the economy of your rich state, talk to us.”
The horrific massacre which recently happened in Sinai reflects much of this logic. Democracy cannot flourish amid terrorist threats that are present in every corner. The West won against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the new arena became Libya. Meanwhile America’s strikes began to target al-Shabaab in Somalia.
However these organizations do not sum up all terrorism. There is a country which thanks to its geographic location is of huge significance for the West that’s fighting terrorism. This country also has a history of participating in campaigns that aim to achieve stability.
It’s Chad which American President Donald Trump chose to ban its citizens from traveling to America. Although Chad’s democratic record is not encouraging, the ban is considered illogical due to Chad’s role as a stabilizing force in South of the African Sahel.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s first foreign trip after he was elected was to Mali. In September, Chadian President Idriss Deby visited Paris to sign an agreement with the EU which will grant Chad a loan worth $8.3 billion to cover the years 2017 until 2021. The aim of the plan is to help Chad throughout its severe economic crisis.
This plan also reflects the strategic importance which Chad represents in combating terrorism. However, despite financial support, local political pressures which threaten Chad can influence its role as a stabilizing force in the region.
France knows the importance of Chad. Its intelligence helped Idriss Deby topple President Hissene Habre in 1990. In April last year, Deby won a fifth term during elections and he tightened his authority despite the several attempts to topple him. He has succeeded in making Chad an indispensable partner for international security in Africa.
During his last visit to Paris, he was glad that Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe congratulated him for his work against terror groups in the region. During his address, Macron noted that combating terrorism is a priority for his administration. As a result, financial aid provided to Chad helps maintain the stability of this strong partner in the region.
The Arab Spring proved that the stability of European countries depends on pleasing poor or growing countries. The biggest proof after Syria has been Libya.
Chad is located at a crossroad north of Africa and its neighbors are Nigeria, South Sudan and Libya. All three countries suffer from extremism, and particularly from Boko Haram in Nigeria. South Sudan has proven it’s a failed state ever since its independence while armed militias in Libya harbor criminals that almost shake Egypt’s national security.
I remember how when I was in Chad once, Libya invaded its desert and French forces deterred the attack. Considering its geographic location, Chad is viewed as strategic for western countries’ interests, particularly for France as well as for Egypt’s interests in confronting terrorism.
Chad is an important member of the G5 Sahel countries and it works with Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger to enhance cooperation and security in Sahel as part of the Operation Barkhane (a military plan which France launched in 2014 to eliminate armed groups in the African Sahel and that’s headquartered in N'Djamena where 3,000 French soldiers are stationed).
Chad is one of the rare African countries that are described as the region’s “sheriff” since it leads reconciliations and succeeds in them. A researcher in Chadian politics said Chad’s government carried out several negotiations with rebellious groups and with the Sudanese government that provided safe havens for them.
After negotiations and the agreement between Chad and Sudan, the Chadian army agreed to include most rebels in its ranks. This provided some stability even though some groups continued to object to Deby’s authority.
Macron’s election strengthened relations between the two countries considering their focus on combating extremist groups like Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Boko Haram’s influence is strongly present in Chad around Lake Chad which is inside Chad’s territories. It’s a fishing area that’s also rich in agricultural and grazing lands. Boko Haram has benefitted from the lake’s geography and invaded many islands. To confront the continuous threats and to respond to the immediate and long-term demands of citizens, Chadian authorities need to base their work on the relatively successful regional security cooperation and to begin keeping away from military responses and rely on more important civil approaches.
Deby deployed soldiers on several fronts in the Central African Republic and in Mali. He’s lately deployed troops in the basin of Lake Chad to fight Boko Haram thus following the diplomatic military strategy to fight terrorism in the region. Military expenditure helped Chad expand its participation outside African borders as it supports the Arab and international coalition to fight the Houthis in Yemen.
Chad is also an important partner in the current immigration crisis which Europe is suffering from as many refugees try to reach Libya via Chad’s borders. For the past five years, many Sudanese found refuge in it. Another sign of Chad’s growing political influence is the election of its former foreign minister Moussa Faki Mahamat as chair of the African Union Commission.
As a result of this wide participation, the overall military expenditure in Chad increased during the past 13 years. Last September in an attempt to attain more influence and aid from other countries, Deby threatened not to participate in the G5 Sahel coalition and demanded that part of the foreign troops deployed in Chad withdraw if Chad does not receive strong financial support.
Although Chad seems strong thanks to its solid military power and stable political institutions, the opposition began to intensify, and the government is being criticized over matters related to human rights and democracy. This is in addition to the economic crisis due to the decrease of oil prices.
Chad proved its strength and commitment to combat terrorist groups and sent regular troops to many countries, including African ones, to combat terrorism. Neighboring countries are completely collapsed, like Libya and South Sudan and they are all open to Egypt. Boko Haram is not the only threat to political stability in Chad.
The political crisis makes it a fertile land for extremists. France under Macron is aware of that as it is urging Deby to call for new parliamentary elections. Deby had postponed them under the excuse that the budget was not enough. France under Macron desires to strongly return to Africa and the Middle East.
It knows that any vacuum caused by economic or political weakness may be filled with terrorism or that Iran may look forward to seizing it now that it has a foothold in Burkina Faso.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Deby to hold elections and reminded him that French support is conditional on the presence of a democratic system. This takes us back to Putin’s statement: If you want democracy, go to America.
What if Deby rejects the French conditions, will France and Europe stop supporting Chad, the state which fought and is fighting terrorism?
After the Arab Spring results unfolded, the proverb “A devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” became more relatable. The African Sahel has two doors, one that overlooks Egypt’s Sinai and another that overlooks Europe’s backfield.