Tag Archives: Middle East

US foreign policy in the Middle East doesn’t exist anymore

Time was when a mere statement from a secretary of state – let alone a US president – would have the phones jangling across the Middle East. The Reagans, Clintons, Bushes or Obamas of this world actually did have an effect on the region, albeit often malign, US leaders being poorly briefed and always in awe of Israel (not to mention its power to destroy political lives in Washington). But today, who is calling the shots across the old Ottoman Empire?

Well, just take a look at Putin and Assad and Erdogan and Sissi and Macron and Rouhani. These are the men who are currently holding the headlines, either declaring Isis dead or beaten or Syria “saved” or the Kurds “terrorists” or rescuing Prime Minister Saad Hariri from his hostage home in Saudi Arabia – although now we’ve all got to believe that he wasn’t detained and didn’t really intend to resign or did resign but doesn’t want to resign any more. And rather oddly, Mohamed bin Salman looks less and less influential, a Gulf Crown Prince whose attempts to destroy Yemen, Assad’s Syria, Qatar and Al Jazeera and even poor Lebanon look more and more like a child in a tantrum, throwing his toys around in an attempt to frighten the neighbours – including the one neighbour he will not fight, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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Posted by on November 23, 2017 in Europe, Middle East, North America


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Vladimir Putin is positioning himself as the main player in the Middle East

After Israel’s victory in the 1973 Middle East war, Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko went on 22 October to see President Brezhnev at his dacha at Zavidovo just outside Moscow. The Israelis were not much interested in accepting a ceasefire set to begin the previous day, and, according to Anatoly Chernyaev, a Soviet official present at the talks, Brezhnev wanted to encourage the Israelis to keep the truce by offering a Soviet guarantee of Israel’s borders. Gromyko replied that the Arabs would take offence – but Brezhnev burst out that “we have been offering them (the Arabs) a sensible course of action for so many years. They wanted war and they are welcome to it … To hell with them.”

It was a view long shared by Soviet military officers. I recall the remaining anger of a former Soviet instructor in Yemen during the 1962-70 civil war, who, showing me Red Square one cold afternoon, made a remark almost as contemptuous as Brezhnev’s. “We helped to train the Arabs [against the monarchists] and they were useless and I think they should be on their own. Let someone else save them. Why should it be us all over again?”

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Posted by on October 20, 2017 in Europe, Middle East


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La nuova geopolitica del Medio Oriente

Le dinamiche politiche del Medio Oriente sono state completamente capovolte. Per cercare di capire cosa sta succedendo oggi nella regione bisogna prima osservare la situazione in Russia, ad Ankara, a Teheran, a Tel Aviv e nel sobborgo di Dahieh, a sud di Beirut, per poi concentrarsi su Abu Dhabi, Riyadh e il Cairo, con qualche sguardo fugace a Washington e Bruxelles.

Le questioni che un tempo calamitavano la nostra attenzione sembrano meno urgenti. Chiedersi come si evolverà la situazione nelle regioni curde dell’Iraq e della Siria, cosa faranno le decine di migliaia di jihadisti in tutta la regione dopo la distruzione del gruppo Stato islamico (Is) e quale sia il destino di Yemen, Libia e Palestina è ancora affascinante, ma forse meno preoccupante rispetto a pochi anni fa. La questione più importante della settimana è ancora il destino di qualche piccolo centro abitato lungo il confine turco-siriano? O è meglio chiedersi chi avrà il controllo della regione del basso Eufrate tra Siria e Iraq? Fino a quando sauditi ed Emirati Arabi Uniti proseguiranno le due campagne fallimentari, quella militare in Yemen e l’assedio del Qatar?

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Posted by on October 20, 2017 in Middle East



Isis is facing near total defeat in Iraq and Syria – but it has been beaten and come back before

Isis has fought desperately and skilfully to hold the Syrian city of Raqqa, under siege by Kurdish-led forces for more than four months, but will soon lose it in the latest defeat for the Islamic fundamentalist movement. Little is left today of the Caliphate declared in 2014, which once ruled most of western Iraq and eastern Syria.

Isis battled far longer than anybody expected for Mosul and Raqqa, but had to fight on multiple fronts against its many enemies and, above all, against the immense firepower of the US, Russian and allied air forces as well as conventional artillery. It was only by pounding large parts of both cities into rubble that the Iraqi security forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been able to prevail.

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Posted by on October 12, 2017 in Middle East


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The New Silk Road Will Go Through Syria

Amid the proverbial doom and gloom pervading all things Syria, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune sometimes yield, well, good fortune.

Take what happened this past Sunday in Beijing. The China-Arab Exchange Association and the Syrian Embassy organized a Syria Day Expo crammed with hundreds of Chinese specialists in infrastructure investment. It was a sort of mini-gathering of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), billed as “The First Project Matchmaking Fair for Syria Reconstruction”.

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Posted by on July 26, 2017 in Asia, Middle East


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Two Impulsive Leaders Fan the Global Flames 

The Middle East.  Could there be a more perilous place on Earth, including North Korea?  Not likely.  The planet’s two leading nuclear armed powers backing battling proxies amply supplied with conventional weapons; terror groups splitting and spreading; religious-sectarian wars threatening amid a plethora of ongoing armed hostilities stretching from Syria to Iraq to Yemen. And that was before Donald Trump and his team arrived on this chaotic scene. If there is one region where a single spark might start the fire that could engulf the globe, then welcome to the Middle East.

As for sparks, they are now in ample supply. At this moment, President Trump’s foreign policy agenda is a package of contradictions threatening to reach a boiling point in the region. He has allied himself firmly with Saudi Arabia even when his secretaries of state and defense seem equivocal on the subject. In the process, he’s come to view a region he clearly knows little about through the Saudi royal family’s paranoid eyes, believing staunchly that Shia Iran is hell-bent on controlling an Islamic world that is 85% Sunni.

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Posted by on July 21, 2017 in Middle East



Trouble in the Gulf: the view from Tehran

Throughout the Gulf region people are talking about the rift between Saudi Arabia (and its allies) and Qatar and the unexpected appointment on 21 June of Muhammad Bin Salman (known as ‘MBS’) as Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince. The unprecedented attempt to marginalise a fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member has shocked many in the region, and there are fears that the promotion of MBS may further exacerbate the tension.For months it has been obvious that King Salman was grooming his favourite son as his successor, but few imagined that happening quite so soon.At the core of the Qatar furore lies the longstanding rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Throughout the commotion, Iranian politicians have largely kept quiet and advised both parties to settle their issues through negotiation. But if they were concerned about the inter-Arab squabbling, the promotion of MBS has sent an altogether more powerful message to the Iranians, as he is behind the war on Yemen, and seen either as a ‘reformer’ or as ‘reckless’.

Source: Trouble in the Gulf: the view from Tehran, by Camelia Entekhabifard (Le Monde diplomatique – English edition, July 2017)

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Posted by on July 6, 2017 in Middle East


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A Planet’s Future Threatened by the Fate of Its Children

“This is a war against normal life.” So said CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward, describing the situation at this moment in Syria, as well as in other parts of the Middle East. It was one of those remarks that should wake you up to the fact that the regions the United States has, since September 2001, played such a role in destabilizing are indeed in crisis, and that this process isn’t just taking place at the level of failing states and bombed-out cities, but in the most personal way imaginable. It’s devastating for countless individuals — mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers — and above all for children.

Ward’s words caught a reality that grows harsher by the week, and not just in Syria, but in parts of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, among other places in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Death and destruction stalk whole populations in Syria and other crumbling countries and failed or failing states across the region.  In one of those statistics that should stagger the imagination, devastated Syria alone accounts for more than five million of the estimated 21 million refugees worldwide. And sadly, these numbers do not reflect an even harsher reality: you only become a “refugee” by crossing a border.  According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in 2015 there were another 44 million people uprooted from their homes who were, in essence, exiles in their own lands.  Add those numbers together and you have one out of every 113 people on the planet — and those figures, the worst since World War II, may only be growing.

Source: Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, A Planet’s Future Threatened by the Fate of Its Children | TomDispatch

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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Middle East


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Blood on the Tracks of the New Silk Roads

China’s cardinal foreign policy imperative is to refrain from interfering abroad while advancing the proverbial good relations with key political actors – even when they may be at each other’s throats.Still, it’s nothing but gut-wrenching for Beijing to watch the current, unpredictable, Saudi-Qatari standoff. There’s no endgame in sight, as plausible scenarios include even regime change and a seismic geopolitical shift in Southwest Asia – what a Western-centric view calls the Middle East.And blood on the tracks in Southwest Asia cannot but translate into major trouble ahead for the New Silk Roads, now rebranded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Source: Blood on the Tracks of the New Silk Roads

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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America


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Did Donald Trump denounce Qatar as a ‘sponsor of terrorism’ due to failed business deals?

What on earth made President Donald Trump identify Qatar – with its longstanding relationship with the US and host to 10,000 American military personnel on the biggest airbase in the Middle East – as a “funder of terrorism”? Did someone misinform him of Qatar’s role in the region? Or was Mr Trump embittered because, as Qatari businessmen are asking themselves, a real estate deal between the future US president and Qatar’s rulers fell through in 2010?

Clayton Swisher, the investigative journalist who broke the Palestine Papers story in 2011 – detailing secret talks between the Israelis, the Palestine Authority and the Bush-era US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice – says that Mr Trump and his daughter Ivanka came to Qatar seven years ago. There, he says, they approached two senior Qatari officials for investment help. One was Hussein Al-Abdullah, executive board member of the Qatar Investment Authority. The other was Sheikh Hamid bin Jassem al-Thani, a member of the royal family who was then prime minister.

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Posted by on June 18, 2017 in Middle East, North America


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