Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Time for UN to shift mission in Yemen

September 28, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

Peace in Yemen will continue to be elusive unless the United Nations shifts its mission from sponsoring an inter-Yemeni dialogue to mediating ceasefire negotiations between the actual warring parties, namely Saudi Arabia & allies and the de facto representatives of Yemenis who are fighting to defend their country’s territorial integrity and independent free will, i.e. the Huthi – Saleh & allies.

Convening its 70th session while celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the United Nations is unlikely to reconsider its stand on Yemen, but it must do, at least to provide a face – saving exit strategy for Saudi Arabia if not to stop a snowballing severe humanitarian crisis in the country.

The United Nations Mauritanian special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will sooner than later face the fate of his predecessor Jamal Benomar, who resigned his mission last March acknowledging its failure.

The Saudi insistence on dictating a fait accompli on Yemen is undermining the UN efforts to bring about a political solution, which was made impossible by the Saudi – led war on Yemen.

The legitimacy controversy

The UN sponsored Yemeni – Yemeni talks in the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, Muscat, and elsewhere will continue to be deadlocked. They are a non-starter. The Saudis have held their Yemeni allies captives of their dependence on Saudi financial, political and military support without which they could not survive internally.

The UN and Arab League recognition of them as the legitimate representatives of Yemen was counterproductive. They are viewed by most Yemenis more as Saudi puppets than legitimate delegates of their people.

Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is recognised by the UN and the Saudi – led coalition as the legitimate president of Yemen, arrived in Aden last week aboard a Saudi military aircraft and his safety was secured during his three – day stay there by military bodyguards from the United Arab Emirates. The arrival of his prime minister Khaled Bahah a week earlier was not different.

Conferring UN and Arab League legitimacy on them serves only to turn both organisations into biased parties to the conflict if not partners to it or at least accomplices and compromises their credentials as mediators.

The Huthis are portrayed by the Saudi – led propaganda as a sectarian fanatic and violent intruders into the Yemeni society or as agents of Iran who are waging a proxy war in Yemen, but the Huthis are not aliens. Their ancestors ruled Yemen for some one thousand years. They represent more than one third of the country’s population. Their role could have been strengthened by Iranian support and weakened by their religious speech, but nonetheless they are uncontroversial native integral component of Yemen’s national history and society.

Similarly, their ally in fighting off the Saudi – led war on Yemen, ex – president Ali Abdullah Saleh, is part and parcel of Yemeni political infrastructure. More than a three – decade ally of Saudi Arabia, when Saleh resisted a Saudi transition plan he hardly survived a bombing of his Friday prayers. Despite his individual ruling style and a wide spread corruption of his governance, he is credited with building a state infrastructure, a national army, a tolerable pluralistic political life and a relatively civil freedoms that were the envy of his Arab compatriots in the north who are still living under the Middle Ages systems of government and, more importantly, making the unity of Yemen a fact of life. When his representative credentials are questioned by his former Saudi allies it is noteworthy to remind them that his “al-Mutamar” party still controls the majority of the last democratically elected Yemeni parliament.

The “external” Iranian interference in Yemen and Iran’s sectarian support for “Shiite” Yemenis, in addition to a self – proclaimed role in defence of a controversial legitimacy of a Yemeni president, are the main raison d’être cited by Riyadh as the casus belli of the Saudi ongoing six – month old war on Yemen.

However history and realpolitik facts refute such Saudi claims and render them as merely thinly – veiled justification for installing a puppet regime in Sanaa by the brutal and inhumane force of an external invasion.

The current Saudi war on Yemen could be a “rite of passage” for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but not the Saudi Arabia as claimed by Rami G. Khouri (1).

Long history of Saudi military intervention

Long before there was an “Iran threat” or a “Shiite threat,” the Saudi ruling family never hesitated to interfere in Yemen militarily or otherwise whenever Yemenis showed signs of breaking away from Saudi hegemony towards a free will to determine their lives independently.

In the 1930s the Saudis engaged in a war on the Mutawakkilite Imamate of Yemen and succeeded in annexing the Yemeni provinces of Asir, Jizan and Najran to their kingdom, thus creating a border dispute that was not settled until 2000, but the current Saudi war on Yemen seems to reignite it.

Then, they occupied the Yemeni port of Hodeida on the Red Sea and attacked the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Yemen at the time was a similar conservative “kingdom” bound, like the Saudis, by treaties with the British colonial power.

From 1962 to 1970 the Saudis interfered militarily on the side of the “Shiite” Yemeni “royalists” whom they fought in the 1930s against republican revolutionaries who sought to usher Yemen into the twentieth century out of the Middle Ages. The Saudi military intervention led the Pan – Arab leader of Egypt Gamal Abd al-Nasir to rush to the rescue of the Yemeni republicans, thus regionalising a Yemeni internal affair into an Egyptian – Saudi war among the “Sunnis.”

History it seems is repeating itself nowadays, but the Saudis have so far failed to embroil Iran in Yemen as they did with Egypt then. Instead, the kingdom is itself plunging deeper into the Yemeni quicksand.

“In 1977, then, Saudi Arabia conspired (together with Salih) to the assassination of modernist President Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who was determined to loosen the stranglehold of the kingdom over Yemeni politics,” Tobias Thiel (2) of The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) wrote on last April 2.

In the aftermath of the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran into the regional scene, “the House of Saud expelled around 800,000 Yemeni guest workers to punish the newly united republic for its stance in the 1991 Gulf War (Kuwait war), plunging the country into an economic crisis” and “the kingdom simultaneously supported both sides – Sunni Islamists and Marxist separatists – in the 1994 war of secession,” Thiel added. Both those events had nothing to do with the so –called “Iran threat” or the “Shiite – Sunni” sectarian rivalry; both were inter – Arab and inter Yemeni conflicts.

“Finally,” according to Thiel, “Riyadh has backed the Salih regime against the mass protests in 2011 and has – as elsewhere – tried to stifle the democratic opening.”

Launching the Saudi war on Yemen last March had regionalised a Yemeni internal conflict, undercut short a Yemeni successful national dialogue sponsored by the United Nations, undermined the territorial unity of the country, which was then compromised only by the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that was isolated in the far south eastern part of Yemen, destroyed the infrastructure of the Yemeni state, created a snowballing severe humanitarian crisis and rendered the possibility of a Yemeni – Yemeni political solution a mission made impossible by both the mutual bloodshed and the Saudi insistence on shaping by brutal force the future ruling regime in Yemen on Saudi terms.

Riyadh intervened militarily in Yemen when the Saudi – led GCC initiative for a “transition” on their terms in Yemen broke down in 2014. The Saudis planned the “transition” in Yemen to be a show case that could be replayed in Syria where they have been arming and financing a similar “regime change” for the past five years. The failure of their “show case” in Yemen doomed their plan for Syria.

Historically, Sanaa and the northern rough mountainous provinces failed all Arab and non-Arab invaders. The Ottoman Empire at its zenith could not subjugate it. It is the bedrock of Yemen’s independence and self determination. There the hardcore of the Yemeni anti-Saudi invasion is entrenched and there this invasion will most likely meet it defeat.

The so – called “liberation” of Aden by Saudi and UAE military intervention could serve only as a recipe for a perpetuated civil war and regional capital of a divided Yemen. Hadi is unlikely to deliver in Aden what he failed to achieve when he was in Sana’a.

On last March 22, the former UN special envoy Jamal Benomar, addressing the UN Security Council via video conference, warned that, “the situation is on a rapid downward spiral” that is “leading the country away from political settlement and to the edge of civil war”. The status quo is “inviting a protracted conflict in the vein of an Iraq-Libya-Syria combined scenario,” he told an emergency UNSC session. Benomar resigned his UN mission acknowledging its failure. His successor is more likely to come to the same conclusion sooner than later.

The presence now of reportedly between 5 – 10 thousand ground GCC troops in Yemen is proof that the aerial onslaught had failed and that the so-called pro-government forces are merely a Yemeni make – believe address for the thinly – veiled Saudi – led external invasion.

The introduction of GCC ground troops into Yemen is more a show of the failure of the so – called Yemeni pro – legitimacy and pro – Saudi forces than a display of GCC military prowess.

Quoted by the Qatari News Agency (QNA) on September 18, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, tacitly acknowledging his country’s failure in Yemen, said that he “personally … suggested Israeli help as our only hope to end the status quo … His Highness King Salman put this proposal forward for further consideration.”

Ruling out any open Israeli contribution to the US-led war on Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1991, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the US “leading from behind” in the ongoing war on Syria is an instructive strong reminder that any Israeli role in the Saudi – led war on Yemen will most likely be ruled out as well, at least in public, because it would be definitely counterproductive.

It is high time that the UN moves to facilitate an exit strategy for Saudi Arabia from Yemen.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

(1) http://america.aljazeera.com/, September 16, 2015. Rami G. Khouri is a senior public policy fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and a senior fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School.
(2) Tobias Thiel is a PhD Candidate at the LSE’s Department of International History. His dissertation is about contentious politics, collective memory and violence in post-unification Yemen. He has spent the past three years in Yemen conducting field research.

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U.S. opens up to Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, and Iran

March 17, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

The appointment of Robert Malley as White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region is not considered a sufficient indicator that there will be any radical change in U.S. strategy despite the campaign launched against the U.S. by the Zionists due to its openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria and Iran.

On 6 March, President Barack Obama’s administration appointed Robert Malley, the former senior director of the National Security Council who dealt with the Iraqi, Iranian, and Gulf issues, and a member of the delegation negotiating the Iranian nuclear programme, as the Special White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf region. Malley is scheduled to assume his new position on 6 April, succeeding Philip Gordon.

Edward Abington, former U.S. consul general in occupied Jerusalem, described the lawyer specialised in “conflict resolution” as being an “American Jewish” and that his appointment is a “positive development”. He was also described by U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice as “one of our country’s most respected experts on the Middle East, since February 2014 Rob has played a critical role in forming our policy on Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf.”

However, the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) opposed the appointment of Malley for several reasons, stating that Malley is an “Israel-basher, advocate of U.S. recognition of major, unreconstructed terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and proponent of containment of Iran (i.e., not preventing them from attaining nuclear weapons) and proponent of negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (i.e. not changing his regime).”

He also believes that working with the Muslim Brotherhood is “not a bad idea” and called Israel’s settlements located in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 “colonies”. He also called for abandoning the Road Map for Peace approved by the international Quartet in 2003 and replacing it with a comprehensive settlement plan to be imposed on the parties with the backing of the international community, including Arab and Muslim states. He did so before the Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Senate in 2004. He also continues to urge the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, Palestinian Authority and Hamas “to unite”.

Malley also called for “involving” Hamas in the PLO’s negotiations with the occupation, explaining his statement by saying that the PLO must include Hamas because it has become “antiquated, worn out, barely functioning, and is no longer considered the Palestinian people’s sole legitimate representative.” He also called for the resumption of negotiations between the Arabs and Israel “on all levels on the basis of the Arab peace initiative.”

The ZOA did not fail to mention his father, Simon Malley who was born and worked in Egypt as a journalist for Al-Goumhouria newspaper before moving with his family to France and founding Afrique-Asie magazine. The ZOA said that Simon Malley was “a virulently anti-Israel member of the Egyptian Communist Party, a close confidante of Yasser Arafat, and an enthusiast for violent Third World ‘liberation’ movements.” As for his mother, Barbara Malley, she worked with the United Nations delegation of the National Liberation Front (NLF), the Algerian independence group.

Robert Malley was Barack Obama’s colleague at Harvard Law School and a Middle East affairs adviser for his 2008 campaign. However, Obama was forced to cast him aside due to the Zionist campaign against both of them after Britain’s the Times revealed that Malley had been in contact with Hamas.

In his media interviews Malley explained that the contacts were part of his work with the International Crisis Group, saying: “My job with the International Crisis Group is to meet with all sorts of savoury and unsavoury people and report on what they say. I’ve never denied whom I meet with; that’s what I do.”

He added that he used to inform the State Department about his meetings beforehand and briefs them afterward. During the same year, London’s Al-Hayat newspaper quoted deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, and Hamas official Dr Ahmed Yousef as saying: “We were in contact with a number of Obama’s aides through the internet, and later met with some of them in Gaza, but they advised us not to come out with any statements, as they may have a negative effect on his election campaign.”

Before this, Malley, who was a member of the U.S. negotiating team in the 2000 Arafat-Barak-Clinton summit at Camp David, was the target of an Israeli-Zionist campaign because he held all three leaders responsible for the failure of the summit, and not only the late Palestinian leader, who was repeatedly accused by Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and their team of negotiators of causing the failure.

Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organisation of America, said: “How exactly does someone, who is dropped as an adviser because he advocates recognition of, and meets with, the genocidally-inclined terrorist organisation Hamas, now became a senior adviser to the president, unless President Obama has all along agreed with much of what Malley thinks and advocates?”

Due to the fact that the appointment of Malley coincided with the crisis in relations between the U.S. and Israel, caused by the recent speech made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress behind Obama’s back and without his approval, analysts have begun to talk about “changes in the U.S. role in the Middle East” in the context of the Israeli media outlets and its Zionist and Jewish arms abroad.

They have also predicted that “there will be no doubt that the U.S. policy will be focused exclusively on pressuring Israel over the course of the last 22 months of Obama’s term,” as written by Jonathan S. Tobin in America’s Commentary magazine on 10 March.

During this time, Obama will be “free of electoral pressure” so the Obama administration’s treatment of the Palestinian issue is about to take on a much more aggressive attitude over the next two years. This will allow Obama to “invest the little political credit he has left in ‘bringing world peace’,” as written by Alex Fishman in the Israeli daily the Yedioth Ahronoth.

In Fishman’s view, there are now two courses of work on the White House’s agenda. First, it can follow the path of the “European Initiative” which proposes issuing a UN Security Council resolution for a “lasting solution in the Middle East”, while the second path involves waiting for the results of the Israeli elections this week, as it is a “renewal of the American peace initiative, which will have behind it a very skilled, determined person, who isn’t very fond of the current government: The president’s new man in the Middle East,” Robert Malley.

It is clear that these courses of action, the appointment of Malley and his record will undoubtedly breathe life into the PLO’s negotiating team, especially since President Abbas repeatedly says that going to the UN and international organisations, as well as the latest PLO’s Central Council recommendations, do not necessarily mean that negotiations will be abandoned.

These negotiations can also be considered new material used by the American camp in the Arab League to justify its on-going pressure on the PLO to continue to rely on the United States.

The appointment of Malley indicates one conclusion: that the U.S. is heading towards a new initiative to resume negotiations between the PLO and the Israeli occupying power without making any changes to its references. If the PLO interacts and deals with the “European initiative” then it is likely to deal and interact with any new U.S. initiative, according to all indications in this regard.

In this case, the PLO’s recent diplomatic actions not related to the negotiations and the United States has merely been “playing on borrowed time” while waiting for the results of the Israeli elections.

However, these actions can still be built upon in order to completely depart from the American vision for the “resolution of the conflict” in the event that Netanyahu is re-elected as prime minister.

On the other hand, Hamas should not be fooled by Robert Malley’s positions towards the movement, despite its importance, as it is an attempt to contain the movement and drag it into “negotiations” between the PLO and Israel based on the same references rejected and opposed by Hamas thus far.

As for Malley’s performance in Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf, over the past year, which was praised by Susan Rice, it has had catastrophic consequences on the ground that speak for themselves. Malley’s openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and Syria is nothing more than tactical dealings in order to serve the unchanged U.S. strategy with forces that have proved their presence.

Appointing Robert Malley as White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region is not a sufficient indicator of any radical change in the U.S. strategy that is on the verge of tearing the Arab world apart, along with its Islamic surroundings, unless it is deterred. This is true despite the Zionist campaign opposing his openness towards Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria and Iran.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by the “Middle East Monitor”.

The endgame of the US ‘Islamic State’ strategy

November 11, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Dismantling what the former US President George W. Bush once described as the Syria – Iran component of the “axis of evil,” or interrupting in Iraq the geographical contiguity of what King Abdullah II of Jordan once described as the “Shiite crescent,” was and remains the strategic goal of the US – Israeli allies in the Middle East unless they succeed first in “changing the regime” in either Damascus or Tehran.

The US, Israel and their regional allies have been on the record that the final target of their “regime change” campaign in the Middle East was to dismantle the Syria – Iran alliance.

With the obvious failure of Plan A to dismantle the self- proclaimed anti-Israel and anti – US Syrian – Iranian “Resistance Axis” by a forcible “regime change” in Damascus, a US – led regional alliance has turned recently to its Plan B to interrupt in Iraq the geographical contiguity of that axis.

This is the endgame of President Barak Obama’s strategy, which he declared on last September 10 as ostensibly against the Islamic State (IS).

This would at least halt for the foreseeable future all the signed and projected trilateral or bilateral Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian pipeline networks to carry oil and gas from Iran and Iraq to the Syrian coast at the Mediterranean.

Israeli Col. (res.) Shaul Shay, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a former Deputy Head of the Israel National Security Council anticipated in writing on last January 21 what he called the “Salafi Crescent” that is dangerously emerging to challenge the “Shia Crescent.”

“The growing involvement of Sunni Salafi jihadis in Iraq (since 2003), among the rebels in Syria (since 2011), and in Lebanon has created a ‘Salafi Crescent’ … from Diyala [in eastern Iraq] to Beirut,” he wrote.

“A positive outcome” of this Salafi Crescent “will be the decline in Iranian influence in the region,” Shay concluded.

Conspiracy theories aside, the eventual outcome is a sectarian Sunni military and political wedge driven into the Iraqi geographical connection of the Iran-Syria alliance in a triangle bordering Turkey in the north, Iran in the east, Jordan in the west and Saudi Arabia in the south and extending from north eastern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala which borders Iran.

Iraqi Kurdistan is already effectively an independent state and cut off from the central government in Baghdad, but separating Iran and Syria as well and supported by the same US – led anti – IS coalition.

Amid the misinformation and disinformation, the fact is that the IS threat is being used as a smokescreen to confuse and blur this reality.

The IS was conceived and delivered in an American womb. The US – drafted and enforced current constitution produced the sectarian government that is still trying to rule in Iraq. Sectarian cleansing and exclusion of Sunnis could not but inevitably create its antithesis.

The IS was the illegitimate fetus born and nurtured inside the uterus of the US – engineered political process based on a constitution legalizing a federal system based in turn on sectarian and ethnic sharing of power and wealth.

This horrible illegitimate creature is the “legacy” of the US war on Iraq, which was “conceived” in the “sin” of the US invasion of the country in 2003, in the words of the president of the Arab American Institute, James J. Zogbi, writing in the Jordan Times on last June 16.

US Senator John McCain, quoted by The Atlantic on last June 23, thanked “God,” the “Saudis and Prince Bandar” and “our Qatari friends” for creating the “monster.”

The pro-Iran government of former Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki was squeezed by the IS military advances to “request” the US help, which Washington preconditioned on the removal of al-Maliki to which Iran succumbed. The IS gave Obama’s IS strategy its first success.

However, al-Maliki’s replacement by Haider al-Abadi in August has changed nothing so far in the sectarian component of the Iraqi government and army. The US support of Iraq under his premiership boils down only to supporting continued sectarianism in the country, which is the incubator of the survival of its IS antithesis.

Moreover, the destruction of the Iraqi state infrastructure, especially the dismantling of Iraq’s national army and security agencies and the Iraqi Baath party that held them intact, following the US invasion, has created a power vacuum which neither the US occupation forces nor the sectarian Shiite militias could fill. The IS was not powerful per se. They just stepped in on a no-man land.

Similarly, some four years of a US – led “regime change” effort, which was initially spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood and which is still financed, armed and logistically facilitated by the US regional allies in Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia as well as by allied western intelligence services, has created another power vacuum in Syria, especially on border areas and in particular in the northern and eastern areas bordering Turkey and Iraq.

US Senator Rand Paul in an interview with CNN on last June 22 was more direct, accusing the Obama administration of “arming” and creating an IS “safe haven” in Syria, which “created a vacuum” filled by the IS.

“We have been fighting alongside al Qaeda, fighting alongside ISIS. ISIS is now emboldened and in two countries. But here’s the anomaly. We’re with ISIS in Syria. We’re on the same side of the war. So, those who want to get involved to stop ISIS in Iraq are allied with ISIS in Syria. That is the real contradiction to this whole policy,” he said.

The former 16 – year member of the US Congress and two – time US presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, writing in the http://www.huffingtonpost.com on last September 24, summed it up: The IS “was born of Western intervention in Iraq and covert action in Syria.”

The US ‘Trojan horse’

The IS could have considered playing the role of a US “Frankenstein,” but in fact it is serving as the US “Trojan horse” into Syria and Iraq. Fighting the IS was the US tactic, not the US strategy.

On record, Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that “the best way of fighting ISIS and terrorism in the region is to help and strengthen the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have been engaged in a serious struggle” against the IS. But this would not serve the endgame of Obama’s strategy, which targets both governments instead.

Beneficiaries of the IS “Trojan horse” leave no doubts about the credibility of the Syrian, Iranian and Russian doubts about the real endgame of the US – led declared war on the IS.

The United States was able finally to bring about its long awaited and promoted “front of moderates” against Iran and Syria into an active and “air-striking” alliance, ostensibly against the IS.

In Iraq, the IS served the US strategy in wrestling back the so called “political process” from the Iranian influence by proxy of the former premier al – Maliki. Depriving al – Maliki of a third term had proved that there is no unified Iran – backed “Shia house” in Iraq. The US has its own influence inside that “house.”

Installing a US Iraqi satellite was the strategic goal of the US – led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Instead, according to Doug Bandow, writing in Forbes on last October 14, “Bush’s legacy was a corrupt, authoritarian, and sectarian state, friendly with Iran and Syria, Washington’s prime adversaries in the Middle East. Even worse was the emergence of the Islamic State.”

This counterproductive outcome of the US invasion, which saw Iran wielding the reigns of power in Baghdad and edging Iraq closer to Syria and Iran during the eight years of al-Maliki’s premiership, turned the red lights on in the White House and the capitals of its regional allies.

Al-Maliki, whom Bush had designated as “our guy” in Baghdad when his administration facilitated his premiership in 2006, turned against his mentors.

He edged Iraq closer to the Syrian and Iranian poles of the “axis of evil.” Consequently he opposed western or Israeli military attack on Iran, at least from or via the Iraqi territory. In Syria, he opposed a regime change in Damascus, rejected direct military “foreign intervention” and indirect proxy intervention and insisted that a “political solution” is the only way forward in Iraq’s western Arab neighbor.

Worse still was his opening Iraq up to rival Chinese and Russian hydrocarbon investments, turning Iraq a part of an Iran-Iraq-Syria oil and gas pipeline network and buying weapons from the Russian Federation.

Al- Maliki had to go. He was backed by Iran to assume his second term as prime minister in spite of the US, which backed the winner of the 2010 elections for the post, Ayad Allawi. The US had its revenge in the 2014 elections. Al-Maliki won the elections, but was denied a third term thanks to US pressure.

The IS was the US instrument to exert that pressure. US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Baghdad on last June 23 warned that Iraq was facing “an existential threat.”

It was a US brinkmanship diplomacy to force al-Maliki to choose between two bad options: Either to accept a de facto secession of western and northern Iraq on the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan or accept the US conditional military support. Al-Maliki rejected both options, but he had paid the price already.

The turning point came with the fall of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul to the IS on last June 10. Iraqi Kurdistan inclusive, the northern and western Iraq, including most of the crossing points into Syria and Jordan in the west, were clinched out of the control of Baghdad, i.e. some two thirds of the area of Iraq. Al-Maliki was left to fight this sectarian Sunni insurgency by his sectarian Iran-backed Shiite government. This was a non-starter and was only to exacerbate the already deteriorating situation.

Al- Maliki and Iran were made to understand that no US support was forthcoming to reign in the IS until he quits and a less pro-Iran and a more “inclusive” government is formed in Iraq.

The creation of the IS as the sectarian Sunni alternative against Iran’s ruling allies in Baghdad and Damascus was and is still the US tactic towards its strategic endgame. Until the time the US strategy succeeds in wrestling Baghdad from Iran influence back into its fold as a separating wedge between Iran and Syria, the IS will continue to serve US strategy and so far Obama’s strategy is working.

“America is using ISIS in three ways: to attack its enemies in the Middle East, to serve as a pretext for U.S. military intervention abroad, and at home to foment a manufactured domestic threat, used to justify the unprecedented expansion of invasive domestic surveillance,” Garikai Chengu, a research scholar at Harvard University, wrote in http://www.counterpunch.org/ on last September 19.

As a doctrine, since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate early in the twentieth century, western powers did their best to keep Arabs separated from their strategic depth in their immediate Islamic proximity. The Syria – Iran alliance continues to challenge this doctrine.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

Survival Is the Saudi Key Word

April 18, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Survival is the key word to understand the Saudi dynasty’s latest external and internal policies. These are designed to pre-empt change but paradoxically they are creating more enemies in a changing world order marked by turbulent regional geopolitics and growing internal demands for change.

The seventy-year old strategic oil for security US-Saudi alliance seemed about to crack on its 69th anniversary ahead of the summit meeting of US President Barak Obama and king Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in March.

With the US now committed to pivoting east and possibly on track to become an oil exporter by 2017, American and Saudi policies are no longer identical.

Former US President George W. Bush’s democracy campaign, which Saudi opposed, alerted its rulers to be on guard. The Arab popular protests since 2011 pushed them into leading a regional defensive counterrevolution and ever since the gap in bilateral relations has been widening.

The Saudis could not trust the US’ “regime change” strategy in the region, which depends on the Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI) as an instrument of change, sponsored by a regional rival like Turkey and a co-member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), like Qatar, which has been for long contesting the Saudi leadership of the GCC, the Saudi leading role in Arab politics and the Saudi political representation of Sunni Muslims.

This trilateral alliance of Qatar, Turkey and the MBI would develop into a real threat to Saudi’s survival if it was allowed to deliver change in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in the region. It might quickly leave Saudi Arabia as the next target for “change.”

The US pillar of Saudi security now seems to be in doubt as the United States stands unable to meet Saudi expectations on almost all the most critical issues in the Middle East, from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Saudi-Iran conflict and the ongoing bloody conflict in Syria, let alone the conflict with the MBI, especially in Egypt.

Within this context, using the MBI as an instrument for “regime change” in the region has created a Saudi MBI phobia. Change is overdue in the kingdom, but, after decades of intensive Islamic education, change could only come camouflaged in Islamist form.

“It might seem ironic for a Wahhabi theocracy to oppose so forcefully a party that mixes religion with politics. But it is precisely because the monarchy bases its legitimacy on Islam that it fears Brotherhood rivalry,” journalist Roula Khalaf wrote in the Financial Times in March.

Obama doesn’t seem capable of mending the bilateral fences. His refusal to fight Saudi regional wars reminds them that he is the same man who as a state senator back in 2002 stated that:
“Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East – the Saudis and the Egyptians – stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies.”

However, as demonstrated by Obama’s visit to the kingdom on March 28, the bilateral differences will remain tactical, while the strategic alliance will hold until the kingdom finds a credible alternative to its American security guarantor, although this seems an unrealistic development in the foreseen future.

Regional Shifts

Regionally, the kingdom is not faring better. The US-promoted and Saudi–advocated anti-Iran “front” of regional “moderates,” with Israel as an undercover partner, seems now a forgone endeavor.

The Saudi call for converting the GCC “council” into a “union” is now dead.

Oman’s public threat to withdraw from the GCC should it transform into a union and the Saudi current rift with Qatar threaten the GCC’s very existence.

Saudi invitation to Jordan and Morocco to join the GCC was unwelcome by other GCC members and by Morocco.

In Bahrain, the kingdom has intervened militarily to squash a three-year old ongoing democratic uprising.

The latest Kuwait-hosted Arab summit meeting did not see eye to eye with Saudi on Syria.

Forming a Lebanese government without Hezbullah and its pro-Syria coalition has failed.

Egypt’s calls for a “political solution” in Syria and its refusal to give the Syrian Arab League seat to the opposition could not be interpreted as a friendly position from a country that Saudi Arabia has bailed out, in exchange for its transition away from a MBI rule.

Turkey is at odds with the Egyptian-Saudi newly found partnership.

Iraq is accusing the kingdom of waging a “war” against it, with Saudi now the only country to not have a permanent ambassador to Iraq.

Meanwhile, the kingdom continues to deal with Iran as an “existential threat.”

In the background, the Israeli threat could never be overlooked.

Self-confidence Challenged

Using petrodollars as soft power to gain influence abroad and secure loyalty internally, the kingdom seems self-confident enough, or overconfident, to feel secured on its own.
Speaking at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on March 11, Prince Turki al–Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies in Riyadh and former Saudi Ambassador to the US, said:

“Saudi Arabia represents over 20% of the combined GDP of the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region (and over a quarter of the Arab World’s GDP) making it … an effective partner and member of the G20.

“The Saudi stock market represents over 50% of the entire stock market capitalization of the MENA region.

“The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the Kingdom’s central bank, is the world’s third largest holder of net foreign assets … Last but not least, Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom’s national oil company, is the world’s largest producer and exporter of petroleum and has by far the world’s largest sustained production capacity infrastructure.”

However, veteran journalist Karen Elliot House, has presented a starkly ominous picture.

“Sixty percent of Saudis are 20 or younger, most of whom have no hope of a job,” House wrote in her 2012 book. “Seventy percent of Saudis cannot afford to own a home. Forty percent live below the poverty line. The royals, 25,000 princes and princesses, own most of the valuable land and benefit from a system that gives each a stipend and some a fortune. Foreign workers make the Kingdom work; the 19 million Saudi citizens share the Kingdom with 8.5 million guest workers.”

According to House, regional differences are “a daily fact of Saudi life.” Hejazis in the West and Shiites in the East resent the strict Wahhabi lifestyle. Gender discrimination is a growing problem. Sixty percent of Saudi college graduates are women but they account for only twelve percent of the work force.

Moreover, according to Anthony H. Cordesman, published by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) on April 21, 2011, “There are serious gaps between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ regional differences in wealth and privilege, and tensions between Saudi Shi’ites and Saudi Sunnis.”

The kingdom has been squandering billions upon billions of petrodollars in a lost battle to finance a regional counterrevolution. Some $20bn dollars were pledged to bailout Bahrain and the Sultanate of Oman out of the Arab Spring. Three billions more was pledged recently to buy French arms to prop up the Lebanese army against the Hezbullah-led pro-Syria coalition. Several billions more have been pledged to Egypt to reinforce the successors of the ousted former president Mohamed Morsi, let alone the reportedly other billions spent on financing “regime change” in Syria. Reportedly, Obama tried to convince King Abdullah during his latest visit to bail out the transition in Ukraine.

To contain the repercussions of the Arab uprisings internally, the Kingdom has already spent even more on buying the loyalty of its own people; for the same purpose twenty Royal Orders, which were economically dominated, were issued in March 2011.

In February 2011, King Abdullah pledged more than $35 billion for housing, salary increases for state employees, studying abroad and social security. The next month the king announced another financial package worth more than $70 billion for more housing units, religious establishment and salary increase for military and security forces.

Bailing the population out of protests economically seemed not enough to secure internal stability as the kingdom, instead of relaxing the internal situation, has recently tightened the screws with the issuing of the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Its Financing on last January 31, the Royal Decree No. 44, which criminalizes “participating in hostilities outside the kingdom,” three days later and on March 7 the Interior Ministry’s “initial” list of groups the government considers terrorist organizations, both inside and around the country and both Sunni and Shiite.

“These recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism,” said Joe Stork, the deputy director of the Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa region. “These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups,” Stork added.

Internally and externally, the kingdom overconfidently seems intent on creating more enemies, neutralizing none, alienating world and regional powers, mainstream Sunni, Shiite, liberal, pan-Arab and leftist forces, wrecking regional havoc, all in what looks like an unbalanced reaction to threats, real and perceived, to the survival of the ruling dynasty. However, the kingdom seems like shooting its survival in the legs.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). An edited version of this article was first published by Middle East Eye on April 15, 2014.

Counterproductive Reactive Saudi Policies

March 18, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Writing in The Washington Post on February 27, 2011, Rachel Bronson asked: “Could the next Mideast uprising happen in Saudi Arabia?” Her answer was: “The notion of a revolution in the Saudi kingdom seems unthinkable.”

However, On September 30 the next year, the senior foreign policy fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy Bruce Riedel concluded that the “revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable.”

To preempt such a possibility, the kingdom in March 2011, in a “military” move to curb the tide of the Arab popular uprisings which raged across the Arab world from sweeping to its doorsteps, the kingdom sent troops to Bahrain to quell similar popular protests.

That rapid reactive Saudi military move into Bahrain heralded a series of reactions that analysts describe as an ongoing Saudi-led counterrevolution.

Amid a continuing succession process in Saudi Arabia, while major socioeconomic and political challenges loom large regionally, the kingdom is looking for security as far away as China, but blinded to the shortest way to its stability in its immediate proximity, where regional understanding with its geopolitical Arab and Muslim neighborhood would secure the kingdom and save it a wealth of assets squandered on unguaranteed guarantees.

In his quest to contain any fallout from the “Arab Spring,” Saudi King Abdullah Ben Abdel-Aziz selectively proposed inviting the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco to join the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), leading The Economist on May 19, 2011 to joke that the organization should be renamed the “Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club.” For sure including Iraq and Yemen would be a much better addition if better security was the goal.

Ahead of US President Barak Obama’s official visit to the kingdom by the end of this March, Saudi Arabia was looking “forward to China as an international magnate with a great political and economic weight to play a prominent role in achieving peace and security in the region,” according to Defense Minister and Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who was in Beijing from March 13 to 16 “to enhance cooperation with China to protect peace, security and stability in the region.” He was quoted by a statement from the Saudi Press Agency.

Prince Salman was in Japan from 18-21 last February, hopefully to deepen bilateral cooperation “in various fields.” On February 26, India and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to strengthen co-operation in military training, logistics supplies and exchange of defense-related information. On last January 23, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia signed a defense cooperation agreement, the first of its kind.

While a strong Saudi-Pakistan defense partnership has existed for long, it has been upgraded recently. Princes Salman and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal arrived in Pakistan on February 15. Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif was in Saudi Arabia earlier. Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC, Tufail Ahmad, wrote on this March 11 that “the upswing in the relationship marks a qualitative change,” hinting that the kingdom could be seeking Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities to “counter a nuclear-capable Iran” despite Islamabad’s denial, which “is not reliable.” The kingdom is moving “to transform itself as a regional military power,” Sharif wrote.

On this March 14, the Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia has given $1.5 billion (Dh5.5 billion) to Pakistan. In February a senior Pakistani intelligence official told the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia was seeking “a large number of [Pakistani] troops to support its campaign along the Yemeni border and for internal security.” The official confirmed that Pakistan’s agreement, during Prince Salman’s visit, to support the establishment of a “transitional governing body” in Syria was an important aspect of the deal.

On this March 5, the kingdom led two other members of the six-member GCC, namely the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, risking the survival of the GCC.

Hunting two French and Lebanese birds with one shot, the kingdom early last January pledged a $3 billion royal grant, estimated to be two-time the entire military budget of Lebanon, to buy French weapons for the Lebanese Army.

The Saudi multi-billion dollar support to the change of guards in Egypt early last July and the kingdom’s subscription to Egypt’s make or break campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) inside and outside the country following the ouster of the MB’s former president Mohammed Morsi reveal a much more important Saudi strategic and security unsigned accord with Egypt’s new rulers.

On the outset of the so-called “Arab Spring,” the kingdom also bailed out Bahrain and the Sultanate of Omen with more multi-billion petrodollars to buy the loyalty of their population.

More multi-billion petrodollars were squandered inside the country to bribe the population against joining the sweeping popular Arab protests.

Yet still more billions were squandered on twenty percent of all arms transfers to the region between 2009-2013 to make the kingdom the world’s fifth largest importer of arms while more Saudi orders for arms are outstanding, according to a new study released on this March 17 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

While the United States will continue to “guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge” over all the twenty two Arab nations plus Iran, Iran is developing its own defense industries to defend itself against both the US and Israel, rendering the Saudi arms procurement efforts obsolete.

Had all of those squandered billions of petrodollars spent more wisely they could have created a revolution of development in the region.

Not Assured by US Assurances

Ahead of Obama’s visit, the Saudi message is self-evident. They are looking, on their own, for alternative security guarantees, or at least additional ones. They don’t trust their decades – long American security umbrella anymore. The US sellout of close allies like the former presidents of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen shed doubt on any “assurances’ Washington would be trying to convey during Obama’s upcoming visit.

President Obama is scheduled to be in Riyadh by the end of this March to assure Saudi Arabia of what his Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns on last February 19 told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the United States takes Saudi security concerns “seriously,” “US-Saudi partnership is as important today as it ever was” and that the “Security cooperation is at the heart of our agenda” with the GCC, reminding his audience that his country still keeps about 35,000 members of the US military at 12 bases in and around the Arabian Gulf.

However, “the Saudi voices I hear do not think that what they see as the current lack of American resolve is merely a short-term feature of the Obama Presidency: They spot a deeper trend of Western disengagement from their region,” Sir Tom Phillips – British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia 2010-12 and an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme – wrote on last February 12.

Obviously, the Saudis are not assured, neither internally, regionally or at the international level because as Burns said on the same occasion: “We don’t always see eye to eye” and it is natural that Gulf states would “question our reliability as partners” given US efforts to achieve energy independence and US warnings that traditional power structures, such as the gulf monarchies, are “unsustainable.”

Obama’s upcoming visit to the kingdom has been described as a “fence-mending” one. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal, at a joint press conference alongside visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry last November, hinted that fences might not be mended because “a true relationship between friends is based on sincerity, candor, and frankness rather than mere courtesy.”

What Prince Al Faisal described as “frankness” is still missing: His brother, prince Turki al-Faisal, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last December, blasted the Obama administration for keeping his country in the dark on its secret talks with Iran: “How can you build trust when you keep secrets from what are supposed to be your closest allies?”

“The Saudis have good reason to feel besieged and fearful,” Immanuel Wallerstein, director emeritus of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University and senior researcher at Yale University and Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris, was quoted as saying by AlJazeera America on this March 1.

Senior associate of Carnegie’s Middle East program Frederic Wehry on this March 10 wrote that, “There is a growing sense in Gulf capitals … led by Saudi Arabia” that “the United States is a power in retreat that is ignoring the interests of its steadfast partners, if not blithely betraying them.”

What Burns described as “tactical differences” with Saudi Arabia and its GCC co-members, the Saudis are acting on the premise that those differences are much more strategic than “tactical” and accordingly are overstretching their search for alternative security guarantees worldwide because they seem to disagree with Burns that “our Gulf partners know that no country or collection of countries can do for the Gulf states what the United States has done and continues to do.”

Pressured between Two ‘Crescents’

Three threatening developments have led to Saudi distrust in US security assurances. The first was the selling out of a US ally like the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the second was the Qatari, Turkish and US coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood regionally and the third was the assumption to power of the MB in Egypt. The first development set the precedent of selling out of a long regional US ally against the fervent public advice of the kingdom. Mubarak’s ouster set the red lights on in Riyadh of a possible similar scenario in Saudi Arabia.

The second development put the kingdom on alert against the emerging MB, Turkey, Qatar and the US axis that would have encircled Saudi Arabia had the kingdom allowed this axis to hand the power over to the Brotherhood in Syria in the north and in Egypt in the west. The MB is influential in Jordan, the kingdom’s northern neighbor, and in Yemen, its southern neighbor. The Hamas’ affiliation to the MB in the Palestinian Gaza Strip would complete what a Saudi analyst called the “Brotherhood crescent” in the north, west and south, to squeeze the kingdom between the rock of this “Brotherhood crescent” and the hard place of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the east.

The third development surrendered the western strategic backyard of the kingdom to the MB, which has become untrustworthy politically in view of its membership in the emerging US-led ““Brotherhood crescent” after decades of sponsoring the MB leaders who found in the kingdom a safe haven from their suppression in Syria and Egypt and using them against the pan-Arab regimes in both countries and against the pan-Arab and communist political movements.

Unmercifully pressured between the “Brotherhood crescent” and what King Abdullah II of Jordan once described as the “Shiite crescent” extending from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Hezbullah in Lebanon, let alone the al-Qaeda offshoots, which have deep roots inside the kingdom and in its immediate surroundings and have emerged as a major threat to regional as well as to internal stability, in addition to what the Saudis perceive as the withdrawal or at least the rebalancing of the US power out of the region, the kingdom seems poised to find an answer to the question which Bruce Riedel asked on September 30, 2012 about whether or not the “revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable.”

The Saudi answer so far has been reactive more than proactive. “It is difficult to avoid the impression that Saudi policy is more re-active than pro-active,” Sir Tom Phillips – British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia 2010-12 and an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme – wrote on last February 12.

Proactive Shorter Path Overdue

Following the lead of the United States and Europe who have come to deal with the fait accompli that Iran as a pivotal regional power is there to stay for the foreseeable future, a more Saudi proactive regional policy that would engage Iran and Syria would be a much shorter and cheaper route to internal security as well as to regional stability, instead of reacting to their alliance by engaging in a lost and costly battle for a “regime change” in both countries.

Or much better, the kingdom could follow the lead of the Sultanate of Oman, which risked to break away from the GCC should they go along with the Saudi proposal late in 2011 for transforming their “council” into an anti-Iran military “union.” Regardless of what regime rules in Tehran and since the time of the Shah, Oman has been dealing with Iran as a strategic partner and promoting an Iranian-GCC regional partnership. Qatar takes a middle ground between the Saudi and Omani positions vis-à-vis Iran. On this March 17, the Qatar-Iran joint political committee convened in Tehran.

Feeling isolated, besieged and threatened by being left in the cold as a result of what it perceives as a withdrawing US security umbrella, the kingdom’s new experience of trying to cope on its own is indulging the country in counterproductive external policies in the turmoil of the aftermath of the shock waves of the Arab popular uprisings, which have raged across the Arab world since 2011, but its tide has stopped at the Damascus gate of the Iranian – Syrian alliance, which is backed internationally by the emerging Russian and Chinese world powers.

At the end of the day, the kingdom’s recent historical experience indicates that the Saudi dynasty lived its most safe and secure era during the Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian trilateral understanding, which was developed as a regional axis of stability, as the backbone of the Arab League regional system and was reinforced by the trilateral coordination in the 1973 Arab – Israeli war.

The revival of the Saudi coordination with Egypt in the post-Morsi presidency was a crucial first step that would lead nowhere unless it is completed by an overdue Saudi political U-turn on Syria that would revive the old trilateral axis to defend Arabs against Israel. A partnership with Iran would be a surplus; otherwise the revival of the trilateral coordination would at least serve as a better Saudi defense against Iran as well.

However such a Saudi U-turn would require of course a strategic decision that would renege on the kingdom’s US-inspired and ill-advised policy of dealing with Syria and Iran as “the enemy,” while dealing with Israel, which still occupies Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories, as a possible “peace partner” and a co-member of an anti-Iran and Syria “front of moderates,” which the successive US administrations have been promoting.

It would first require as well a change of foreign policy decision-makers in Riyadh, but such a change will continue to be wishful thinking until a man of an historic stature holds the wheel at the driving seat at the helm of the Saudi hierarchy. Until that happens, it might be too late. Meanwhile, it is increasingly becoming a possibility that the “revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable.”

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

Egyptian historic breakthrough with Russia, not a strategic shift yet

February 21, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

The recent two-day first official visit in forty years by an Egyptian defense minister to Russia of Egypt’s strongman Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, accompanied by Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, was indeed an historic breakthrough in bilateral relations, but it is still premature to deal with or build on it as a strategic shift away from the country’s more than three-decade strategic alliance with the United States.

The US administration sounds not really concerned with this controversy about an Egyptian strategic shift as much as with the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s welcome of al-Sisi’s expected candidacy for president.

“Egypt is free to pursue relationships with other countries. It doesn’t impact our shared interests,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, on this February 13.

The United States, which has been waging, by military invasion and proxy wars, a campaign of “regime changes” across the Middle East, was miserably hypocritical when Marie Harf invoked her country’s “democratic” ideals to declare that her administration “don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr. Putin to decide who should govern Egypt.”

However, Pavel Felgenhauer, writing in the Eurasia Daily Monitor on this February 13, described the visit as a “geopolitical shift” that “could, according to Russian government sources, ‘dramatically reorient international relations in the Middle East’.” The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, on the following day described it as an “historic breakthrough” in Egyptian-Russian relations and a “transformation in the strategic compass of Egyptian foreign policy from Washington to Moscow.”

The main purpose of al-Sisi’s and Fahmy’s visit was to finalize an arms deal reportedly worth two to four billion US dollars, al-Ahram daily reported on February 13. The joint statement released after the meeting of both countries’ ministers of defense and foreign affairs in Moscow on the same day announced also that the Russian capital will host a meeting of the Russian-Egyptian commission on trade and economic cooperation on next March 28.

This is serious business; it is vindicated also by the arrival in Cairo on this February 17 of the commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force, Lieutenant General Victor Bondarev, heading a six-member team of his commanders, on a four-day visit, according to the Egyptian Almasry Alyoum online the following day.

Egypt is the biggest strategic prize for world powers in the Middle East. “Egypt – with its strategic location, stable borders, large population, and ancient history – has been the principal power of the Arab world for centuries, defining the movement of history there like no other,” Germany’s former Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer wrote on last July 26. No wonder then the flurry of speculations worldwide about whether Egypt’s Russian pivot is or is not a strategic shift.

In the immediate proximity, this “new concern” has been “preoccupying Israel’s strategists in recent weeks. They are beginning to worry about the high momentum” with which Putin is capitalizing on America’s “hands off policy” in the Middle East, according to DEBKAfile report on February 16. Al-Sisi’s trip to Moscow, which “put him on the road to the independent path he seeks” has “incalculable consequences” the report said, adding that “he is investing effort in building a strong regime that will promote the Nasserist form of pan-Arab nationalism, with Egypt in the forefront.” “This policy may well bring Egypt into collision with the state of Israel,” the report concluded.

Nonetheless, two former Israeli cabinet ministers of defense, namely Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Ehud Barak voiced support for al-Sisi. The first publicly supported his bid for presidency. Barak said that “the whole world should support Sisi.” However, their voices seem to fall on deaf ears in Washington D.C., or sounds like it.

Both men’s support is consistent with Israel’s instructive official “silence” over the developments in Egypt, which is still committed to its thirty five –year old peace treaty with the Hebrew state. “Israel’s main interest,” according to Israeli officials and experts, quoted by The New York Times on last August 16, “is a stable Egypt that can preserve the country’s 1979 peace treaty and restore order along the border in the Sinai Peninsula,” which extends 270 kilometers (160 miles) from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea Israeli resort of Eilat.

Within this context can be interpreted Israel’s closed eyes to the incursion of Egyptian tanks and warplanes into what is designated by the treaty as a “demilitarized” “Area C” of Sinai.

The Litmus Test

Herein is the litmus test to judge whether al-Sisi’s eastward orientation and his supposed “Nasserist” loyalties indicate or not a strategic shift that trespasses the Israeli and US red line of Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty.

Senior associate of the Carnegie Middle East Center, Yezid Sayigh wrote on August 1, 2012 that the United States “will continue keeping a balance between its relations with the (then) Egyptian president (Mohamed Morsi) and the Egyptian army. The balance will always shift to the side that ensures the continuity of Egypt’s commitment to the following: The Camp David Peace Treaty, the retention of a demilitarized Sinai, retaining multinational troops and observers led by the US, maintaining gas exports to Israel, isolating Hamas, resisting Iran’s efforts to expand its influence, resisting al-Qaida, and keeping the Suez Canal open.” (Emphasis added).

These are the bedrocks of Egypt’s strategic alliance with the US and because they were and are still safe in good hands under both the removed president Morsi and the prospective president al-Sisi, it will be premature to conclude that the revived Egyptian – Russians relations indicate any strategic departure therefrom.

Preserving or discarding these Egyptian commitments is the litmus test to judge whether Egypt’s revival of its Russian ties is a strategic maneuver or a strategic departure.

Other indicators include the financial and political sponsorship of al-Sisi’s government by none other than the very close Arab allies of the US, like Jordan and in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, who had already together pledged twenty billion dollars in aid to al-Sisi and reportedly are funding his armaments deal with Russia.

Saudi Al Arabia satellite TV station on this February 13 quoted Abdallah Schleifer, a professor emeritus of journalism at the American University in Cairo, as sarcastically questioning President Barak Obama’s performance: “What an extraordinary accomplishment President Obama will take with him when he retires from office – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which provided (late Egyptian president) Anwar Sadat with both moral and financial backing to break with the Russians in the early 1970s and turn towards the United States – may now finance an Egyptian arms deal with the Russians,” Schleifer said.

Al-Sisi’s supposed “Nasserist” and “pan-Arab” orientation could not be consistent, for example, with inviting the defense ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Bahrain, Morocco, and their Jordanian counterpart Prime Minister Abdullah al-Nsour to attend the 40th anniversary celebrations of the 1973 October War. Syria was Egypt’s partner in that war and Jamal Abdul Nasser’s major “pan-Arab” ally, but it was not represented. The countries which were represented were seriously against Abdul Nasser’s Egypt and its pan-Arab ideology, but more importantly they were and still are strategic allies of his US-led enemies and peace partners of Israel.

US Aid Counterproductive

US whistleblowers warning of an Egyptian strategic shift are abundant as part of blasting Obama for his foreign policy blunders. For example, US foreign policy scholars Tom Nichols and John R. Schindler, quoted on this February 13 by The Tower.org staff, who agree that they rarely agree on anything, are agreeing now that Obama’s administration is undermining “nearly seven decades” of bipartisan American efforts aimed at “limiting Moscow’s influence” in the Middle East.

But Nael Shama, writing on Middle East Institute website on last December 16, said: “It can be argued that Egypt’s flirtation with Russia does not mean a shift in the country’s foreign policy away from the United States as much as an attempt to induce the United States to shift its Egypt policy back to where it was before … in order to pressure the United States and to arouse concern among American politicians about the prospect of losing Egypt, encouraging them to amend unfavorable policies.”

The Obama administration welcomed al-Sisi’s assumption of power by calling off the biannual joint US-Egypt military exercise “Bright Star” and halting the delivery of military hardware to Egypt, including F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, Harpoon missiles, and tank parts and when Last January the US Congress approved a spending bill that would restore $1.5bn in aid to Egypt, it was on the condition (emphasis added) that the Egyptian government ensures democratic reform.

Le Monde Diplomatique in November last year quoted veteran arms trade expert Sergio Finardi as saying that the US aid money “never leaves US banks, and is mostly transferred not to the target country but to US defense manufacturers that sell the equipment to Egypt.”

More important, US aid money is attached to Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty with Israel. Such a commitment is compromising Egyptian sovereignty in Sinai, which has become a no-man land where organized crime, illegal trade in arms and terrorist groups enjoy a free hand with a heavy price in Egyptian souls and governance.

Either the provisions of the peace treaty are amended, or the American conditions for aid are dropped altogether or at least reconsidered to allow Egypt to fully exercise its sovereignty in Sinai, or Egypt would look elsewhere for alternative empowerment, for example to start “a new era of constructive, fruitful co-operation on the military level” with Russia as al-Sisi told his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, according to the official Egyptian news agency MENA on last November 14.

All the foregoing aside, Egypt wants to modernize its military-industrial complex per se. Shana Marshall, associate director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and research instructor at the George Washington University, quoted by http://www.jadaliyya.com/ on this February 10, called this “Egypt’s Other Revolution.” The thirty five-year old arrangements with the United States are not helping out, but worse they have become the main obstacle to fulfill this aspiration.

All these and other factors indicate that al-Sisi is in fact pursuing vital Egyptian national interests and not seeking a strategic shift in his country’s alliance with the US. The Russian opening is his last resort. It is highly possible that he might backtrack should Washington decide not to repeat its historical mistake when it refused to positively respond to similar Egyptian military and development aspirations in the fifties of the twentieth century, which pushed Egypt into the open arms of the former Soviet Union.

‘Abject Failure’ of US Aid

For Egypt to look now for Russian armament and economic help means that the Egyptian – US strategic cooperation since 1979 has failed to cater for its defense needs and development aspirations.

Thirty five years on, during which a regional rival like Iran stands now on the brink of becoming a nuclear power with an ever expanding industrial military complex while the other Israeli rival is already a nuclear power and a major world exporter of arms, Egypt’s military stands weaker, seems stagnant, underdeveloped and pushed out of competition while its population have become much poorer.

Nothing much has changed since the US Middle East Policy Council in its winter edition of 1996 published Denis J. Sullivan’s piece, “American Aid to Egypt, 1975-96: Peace without Development,” wherein he pointed out that “the reality is that Egypt is far from a “model” of effective use of (US) foreign assistance.”

The country, despite the fact that “the US aid program in Egypt is the largest such program in the world” and that “in 21 years, Egypt has received some $21 billion in economic aid from the United States plus over $25 billion in military aid,” Egypt “remains poor, overpopulated, polluted and undemocratic … In short, Egypt in 1996 continues to exhibit virtually all the characteristics the United States has claimed to want to change since it began its massive economic aid program in 1975,” Sullivan wrote.

Seventeen years later David Rieff, writing in The New Republic on this February 4, described what Sullivan said was a “failure” as an “abject failure” of “the US development aid to Egypt.”

Militarily, Carnegie’s Yezid Sayigh’s paper of August 2012 quoted an assessment of US embassy officials in a 2008 cable leaked by WikiLeaks as saying that “tactical and operational readiness of the Egyptian Armed Forces has degraded.” He wrote that “US officers and officials familiar with the military assistance programs to Egypt describe the Egyptian Armed Forces as no longer capable of combat.” He also quoted “leading experts on Egypt Clement Henry and Robert Springborg” as saying that the Egyptian army’s “training is desultory, maintenance of its equipment is profoundly inadequate, and it is dependent on the United States for funding and logistical support … despite three decades of US training and joint US-Egyptian exercises.”

US Back Turned to Egypt

The Tower.org on February 13 reported that the “White House two weeks ago pointedly declined to invite Egypt to a summit of African leaders.”

That was not the first indication that the US foreign policy has been alienating Egypt since Field Marshal al-Sisi assumed power early last July in response to a massive popular protest on last June 30 against the former president Mohamed Morsi.

Since US Secretary of State John Kerry’ visit to Egypt last November, who in this capacity toured the region more than eleven times and seems to spend more time in the Middle East than in US, Kerry has been dropping Egypt out of his itinerary. His president Obama, who is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia next March, receive Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu early in the month and had received King Abdullah II of Jordan on this February 14, had no reported plans either to receive al-Sisi or to visit his country, which was previously a regular stop for US top visiting officials.

Is it a surprise then that al-Sisi’s first visit abroad was to Moscow and not to Washington D.C., to meet with the Russian president and not with his US counterpart?

Al-Sisi in an interview with the Washington Post early last August accused the US of “turning its back” to Egyptians. “You left the Egyptians, you turned your back on the Egyptians and they won’t forget that,” he said.

However, al-Sisi does by no means dream of disturbing the existing political order in the Middle East, or coming to loggerheads with Israel or the US, but it seems obvious that he’ is fed up with the preconditions attached to US aid that have rendered his country’s military and economy backward in comparison to regional highly upgraded rivals. The US did not help Egypt become a “success story in economic development” as the USAID claims on its website.

Pavel Felgenhauer wrote on February 13 that, “It is clear Egypt is ready to accept Russian aid and weaponry as it did during the Cold War in the 1950s–1970s to show the US it has an alternative source of support.”

Indeed, al-Sisi thanked his Russian counterpart for “giving the Egyptian people economic and defense aid.” Putin said that he was “sure we can increase trade to $5 billion in the future.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “We agreed to speed up the preparations of documents that will give an additional impulse to the development of military and military-technical cooperation.” It is noteworthy that all is without preconditions, political or otherwise.

The Associated Press on February 13 quoted Abdullah el-Sinawi, whom the AP identified as “a prominent Cairo-based analyst known to be close to the military,” as saying that al-Sisi “wanted to send a signal to Washington.” “Egypt needs an international entrusted ally that would balance relations with America. Egypt will be open to other centers of power without breaking the relations with the US,” he said.

Abdel-Moneim Said, another Egyptian analyst, wrote in Al-Ahram Weekly on last November 21 that Egypt is “merely seeking to expand its maneuverability abroad” and that “the Russian ‘bear’ that had come to Egypt has had its claws clipped”: “Soviet Union has collapsed, the Warsaw Pact is dead, and the Cold War is over … (and) the US GDP … is eight times more than Russia’s;” moreover the US-led world alliance accounts “for 80 per cent of global gross production and a larger percentage of the world’s modern technology.”

True, Egyptian Foreign Minister Fahmi said on last October 18 that the “Egyptian-American relations have changed after 30 June for the first time in 30 years to a peer relationship” and that “Egyptian decision making is now independent from any state.” A day earlier he told the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper that the bilateral relations were in “a delicate state reflecting the turmoil in the relationship.” “The problem,” he said, “goes back much earlier, and is caused by the dependence of Egypt on the US aid for 30 years.”

Therefore, “Egypt is heading toward Eastern powers,” Saeed al-Lawindi, a political expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Xinhua on February 14, but Talaat Musallam, a strategic and security expert and a former army general, described al-Sisi’s Russian pivot as “a kind of strategic maneuver.” Musallam was vindicated by Fahmi’s repeated assertions that “Egypt’s closeness with Russia is not a move against the US,” i.e. not a strategic departure from the United States.

However, international relations are not static; they have their own dynamics. Should the US passive sensitivity to Egyptian aspirations continue to be hostage to the 1979 Camp David accords and the Russian opening continue to cater for Egypt’s military as well as economic vital needs, the “strategic maneuver” could in no time turn into a strategic shift.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

Playing Al-Qaeda Card to the Last Iraqi

February 12, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

International, regional and internal players vying for interests, wealth, power or influence are all beneficiaries of the “al-Qaeda threat” in Iraq and in spite of their deadly and bloody competitions they agree only on two denominators, namely that the presence of the U.S.-installed and Iran–supported sectarian government in Baghdad and its sectarian al-Qaeda antithesis are the necessary casus belli for their proxy wars, which are tearing apart the social fabric of the Iraqi society, disintegrating the national unity of Iraq and bleeding its population to the last Iraqi.

The Iraqi people seem a passive player, paying in their blood for all this Machiavellian dirty politics. The war which the U.S. unleashed by its invasion of Iraq in 2003 undoubtedly continues and the bleeding of the Iraqi people continues as well.

According to the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq, 34452 Iraqis were killed since 2008 and more than ten thousand were killed in 2013 during which suicide bombings more than tripled according to the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk’s recent testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The AFP reported that more than one thousand Iraqis were killed in last January. The UN refugee agency UNHCR, citing Iraqi government figures, says that more than 140,000 Iraqis have already been displaced from Iraq’s western province of Anbar.

Both the United States and Russia are now supplying Iraq with multi–billion arms sales to empower the sectarian government in Baghdad to defeat the sectarian “al-Qaeda threat.” They see a casus belli in al–Qaeda to regain a lost ground in Iraq, the first to rebalance its influence against Iran in a country where it had paid a heavy price in human souls and taxpayer money only for Iran to reap the exploits of its invasion of 2003 while the second could not close an opened Iraqi window of opportunity to re-enter the country as an exporter of arms who used to be the major supplier of weaponry to the Iraqi military before the U.S. invasion.

Regionally, Iraq’s ambassador to Iran Muhammad Majid al-Sheikh announced earlier this month that Baghdad has signed an agreement with Tehran “to purchase weapons and military equipment;” Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen defense and security agreements with Iran last September.

Meanwhile Syria, which is totally preoccupied with fighting a three –year old wide spread terrorist insurgency within its borders, could not but coordinate defense with the Iraq military against the common enemy of the “al-Qaeda threat” in both countries.

Counterbalancing politically and militarily, Turkey and the GCC countries led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in their anti-Iran proxy wars in Iraq and Syria, are pouring billions of petrodollars to empower a sectarian counterbalance by money, arms and political support, which end up empowering al–Qaeda indirectly or its sectarian allies directly, thus perpetuating the war and fueling the sectarian strife in Iraq, as a part of an unabated effort to contain Iran’s expanding regional sphere of influence.
Ironically, the Turkish member of the U.S.–led NATO as well as the GCC Arab NATO non–member “partners” seem to stand on the opposite side with their U.S. strategic ally in the Iraqi war in this tragic drama of Machiavellian dirty politics.

Internally, the three major partners in the “political process” are no less Machiavellian in their exploiting of the al-Qaeda card. The self–ruled northern Iraqi Kurdistan region, which counts down for the right timing for secession, could not be but happy with the preoccupation of the central government in Baghdad with the “al–Qaeda threat.” Pro-Iran Shiite sectarian parties and militias use this threat to strengthen their sectarian bond and justify their loyalty to Iran as their protector. Their Sunni sectarian rivals are using the threat to promote themselves as the “alternative” to al-Qaeda in representing the Sunnis and to justify their seeking financial, political and paramilitary support from the U.S., GCC and Turkey, allegedly to counter the pro-Iran sectarian government in Baghdad as well as the expanding Iranian influence in Iraq and the region.

Exploiting his partners’ inter-fighting, Iraqi two–term Prime Minister Nouri (or Jawad) Al-Maliki, has maneuvered to win a constitutional interpretation allowing him to run for a third term and, to reinforce his one-man show of governance, he was in Washington D.C. last November, then in Tehran the next December, seeking military “help” against the “al-Qaeda threat” and he got it.

U.S. Continues War by Proxy

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged to support al-Maliki’s military offensive against al–Qaeda and its offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

24 Apache helicopter with rockets and other equipment connected to them, 175 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, ScanEagle and Raven reconnaissance drones have either already been delivered or pending delivery, among a $4.7 billion worth of military equipment, including F-16 fighters. James Jeffrey reported in Foreign Policy last Monday that President Barak Obama’s administration is “increasing intelligence and operational cooperation with the Iraqi government.” The French Le Figaro reported early this week that “hundreds” of U.S. security personnel will return to Iraq to train Iraqis on using these weapons to confirm what the Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, did not rule out on last January 17 when he said that “we are in continuing discussions about how we can improve the Iraqi military.”

Kerry ruled out sending “American boots” on the Iraqi ground; obviously he meant “Pentagon boots,” but not the Pentagon–contracted boots.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) online on this February 3 reported that the “U.S. military support there relies increasingly on the presence of contractors.” It described this strategy as “the strategic deployment of defense contractors in Iraq.” Citing State Department and Pentagon figures, the WSJ reported, “As of January 2013, the U.S. had more than 12,500 contractors in Iraq,” including some 5,000 contractors supporting the American diplomatic mission in Iraq, the largest in the world.

It is obvious that the U.S. administration is continuing its war on Iraq by the Iraqi ruling proxies who had been left behind when the American combat mission was ended in December 2011. The administration is highlighting the “al-Qaeda threat” as casus belli as cited Brett McGurk’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on this February 8.

The Machiavellian support from Iran, Syria and Russia might for a while misleadingly portray al-Maliky’s government as anti – American, but it could not cover up the fact that it was essentially installed by the U.S. foreign military invasion and is still bound by a “strategic agreement” with the United States.

Political System Unfixable

However the new U.S. “surge” in “operational cooperation with the Iraqi government” will most likely not succeed in fixing “Iraq’s shattered political system,” which “our forces were unable to fix … even when they were in Iraq in large numbers,” according to Christopher A. Preble, writing in Cato Institute online on last January 23.

“Sending David Petraeus and Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker back” to Iraq, as suggested by U.S. Sen. John McCain to CNN’s “State of the Union” last January 12 was a disparate wishful thinking.

“Iraq’s shattered political system” is the legitimate product of the U.S.–engineered “political process” based on sectarian and ethnic fragmentation of the geopolitical national unity of the country. Highlighting the “al-Qaeda threat” can no more cover up the fact that the “political process” is a failure that cannot be “fixed” militarily.

Writing in Foreign Policy on this February 10, James Jeffrey said that the “United States tried to transform Iraq into a model Western-style democracy,” but “the U.S. experience in the Middle East came to resemble its long war in Vietnam.”

The sectarian U.S. proxy government in Baghdad, which has developed into an authoritarian regime, remains the bedrock of the U.S. strategic failure. The “al-Qaeda threat” is only the expected sectarian antithesis; it is a byproduct that will disappear with the collapse of the sectarian “political process.”

Iraq is now “on the edge of the abyss,” director of Middle East Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), professor Gareth Stansfield, wrote on this February 3. This situation is “being laid at the door of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,” who “is now portrayed as a divisive figure,” he said.

In their report titled “Iraq in Crisis” and published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on last January 24, Anthony H. Cordesman and Sam Khazai said that the “cause of Iraq’s current violence” is “its failed politics and system of governance,” adding that the Iraqi “election in 2010 divided the nation rather than create any form of stable democracy.” On the background of the current status quo, Iraq’s next round of elections, scheduled for next April 30, is expected to fare worse. Writing in Al-Ahram Weekly last August 14, Salah Nasrawi said that more than 10 years after the U.S. invasion, “the much-trumpeted Iraqi democracy is a mirage.” He was vindicated by none other than the Iraqi Speaker of the parliament Osama Al Nujaifi who was quoted by the Gulf News on last January 25 as saying during his latest visit to U.S.: “What we have now is a facade of a democracy — superficial — but on the inside it’s total chaos.”

Popular Uprising, not al-Qaeda

Al-Maliki’s government on this February 8 issued a one week ultimatum to what the governor of Anbar described as the “criminals” who “have kidnapped Fallujah” for more than a month, but Ross Caputi, a veteran U.S. Marine who participated in the second U.S. siege of Fallujah in 2004, in an open letter to U.S. Secretary Kerry published by the Global Research last Monday, said that “the current violence in Fallujah has been misrepresented in the media.”

“The Iraqi government has not been attacking al Qaeda in Fallujah,” he said, adding that Al-Maliki’s government “is not a regime the U.S. should be sending weapons to.” For this purpose Caputi attached a petition with 11,610 signatures. He described what is happening in the western Iraqi city as a “popular uprising.”

Embracing the same strategy the Americans used in 2007, Iran and U.S. Iraqi proxies have now joined forces against a “popular uprising” that Fallujah has just become only a symbol. Misleadingly pronouncing al-Qaeda as their target, the pro-Iran sectarian and the pro-U.S. so-called “Awakening” tribal militias have revived their 2007 alliance.

The Washington Post on this February 9 reported that the “Shiite militias” have begun “to remobilize,” including The Badr Organization, Kataib Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army; it quoted a commander of one such militia, namely Asaib Ahl al-Haq, as admitting to “targeted” extrajudicial “killings.”

This unholy alliance is the ideal recipe for fueling the sectarian divide and inviting a sectarian retaliation in the name of fighting al-Qaeda; the likely bloody prospects vindicate Cordesman and Khazai’s conclusion that Iraq is now “a nation in crisis bordering on civil war.”

Al – Qaeda is real and a terrorist threat, but like the sectarian U.S.-installed government in Baghdad, it was a new comer brought into Iraq by or because of the invading U.S. troops and most likely it would last as long as its sectarian antithesis lives on in Baghdad’s so–called “Green Zone.”

“Al-Maliki has more than once termed the various fights and stand-offs” in Iraq “as a fight against “al Qaeda”, but it’s not that simple,” Michael Holmes wrote in CNN on last January 15. The “Sunni sense of being under the heel of a sectarian government … has nothing to do with al Qaeda and won’t evaporate once” it is forced out of Iraq, Holmes concluded.

A week earlier, analyst Charles Lister, writing to CNN, concluded that “al Qaeda” was being used as a political tool” by al–Maliki, who “has adopted sharply sectarian rhetoric when referring to Sunni elements … as inherently connected to al Qaeda, with no substantive evidence to back these claims.”

Al–Qaeda not the Only Force

“Al–Qaeda is “not the only force on the ground in Fallujah, where “defected local police personnel and armed tribesmen opposed to the federal government … represent the superior force,” Lister added.

The Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) had reported that the “Iraqi insurgency” is composed of at least a dozen major organizations and perhaps as many as 40 distinct groups with an estimated less than 10% non-Iraqi foreign insurgents. It is noteworthy that all those who are playing the “al-Qaeda threat” card are in consensus on blacking out the role of these movements.

Prominent among them is the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN) movement, which announced its establishment after Saddam Hussein’s execution on December 30, 2006. It is the backbone of the Higher Command for Jihad and Liberation (HCJL), which was formed in October the following year as a coalition of more than thirty national “resistance” movements. The National, Pan-Arab and Islamic front (NAIF) is the Higher Command’s political wing. Saddam’s deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, is the leader of JRTN, HCJL and NAIF as well as the banned Baath party.

“Since 2009, the movement has gained significant strength” because of its “commitment to restrict attacks to “the unbeliever-occupier,” according to Michael Knights, writing to the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) on July1, 2011. “We absolutely forbid killing or fighting any Iraqi in all the agent state apparatus of the army, the police, the awakening, and the administration, except in self-defense situations, and if some agents and spies in these apparatus tried to confront the resistance,” al-Duri stated in 2009, thus extricating his movement from the terrorist atrocities of al-Qaeda, which has drowned the Iraqi people in a bloodbath of daily suicide bombings.

The majority of these organizations and groups are indigenous national anti-U.S. resistance movements. Even the ISIL, which broke out recently with al-Qaeda, is led and manned mostly by Iraqis. Playing al-Qaeda card is a smokescreen to downplay their role as the backbone of the national opposition to the U.S.-installed sectarian proxy government in Baghdad’s green Zone. Their Islamic rhetoric is their common language with their religious people.

Since the end of the U.S. combat mission in the country in December 2011, they resorted to popular peaceful protests across Iraq. Late last December al-Maliki dismantled by force their major camp of protests near Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. Protesting armed men immediately took over Fallujah and Ramadi.

Since then, more than 45 tribal “military councils” were announced in all the governorates of Iraq. They held a national conference in January, which elected the “General Political Council of the Guerrillas of Iraq.” Coverage of the news and “guerrilla” activities of these councils by Al-Duri’s media outlets is enough indication of the linkage between them and his organizational structure.

No doubt revolution is brewing and boiling in Iraq against the sectarian government in Baghdad, its U.S. and Iranian supporters as well as against its al-Qaeda sectarian antithesis.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

The Saudi Bull in Arab China Shop

January 8, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Obsessed with the “Iran threat,” which leads to its warmongering in Syria, Saudi Arabia is acting like a bull in a china shop, wreaking regional havoc in an already Arab fragile political environment and creating what George Joffe’ of Cambridge University’s Centre of International Studies, on last December 30, called the “second Arab cold war,” the first being the Saudi-led cold war with the Pan-Arab Egypt of Gamal Abdul Nasser since the 1960s.

The kingdom stands now almost isolated politically. Its “going it alone” in the Syrian conflict has cornered Saudi Arabia into a self-inflicted foreign policy no-win deadlock, to be at odds with three super powers, including its strategic U.S. ally as well as Russia and China, in addition to regional heavy weights in Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Algeria, all who advocate a political settlement of the conflict.

Within the six-member Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), the kingdom navigates no better.

It is at loggerheads with Qatar over the latter’s sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and consequently over the two countries’ disagreement over the removal of the MB-led Mohammad Morsi’s presidency.

Saudi Arabia’s hostility to the MB and its support of their removal from power in Egypt have reflected negatively on the Saudi-Turkish relations as well and had repercussions in Syria, leading to a restructuring of the insurgent political and military competing leaders who claim the representation of the Syrian people: Qatari and Turkish-supported leading figures and organizations were replaced by Saudi loyalists and accordingly, for example, the “Free Syrian Army” has simply disappeared to be replaced by the Islamic Front.

In the last GCC summit meeting in Kuwait, the other five members of the GCC, Oman in particular, rejected the kingdom’s proposal to develop the “cooperation council” into a confederation.

Despite the Saudi bailing out of the post-Morsi interim government in Cairo with a few billions of US dollars, Egypt doesn’t see eye to eye with Riyadh neither on Syria, where it joined the political solution advocates, nor on relations with Russia, which Egypt is now reviving to balance its US ties.

According to Wall Street Journal online on this January 5, the ensuing situation “is placing the White House in a growing diplomatic quandary as its regional allies fall into competing camps.”

The fact that the United States has chosen diplomacy instead of military confrontation with Tehran and Damascus has politically isolated the kingdom, which had hedged its bets on a western military intervention led or blessed by the United States. It feels betrayed by its American strategic ally. For a long time it relied on a long mistaken understanding that the US marines will be always available as mercenary soldiers ready to fight Saudi wars as long as the wealthy kingdom would pay for it, not aware of the US understanding of the vice versa.

However, instead of maneuvering wisely to backtrack to steer in harmony with the US, the kingdom stubbornly decided to “go it alone.”

In an op-ed published by The New York Times on last December 19, Saudi Ambassador to the UK, Prince Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, said his country “will go it alone” against Syria and Iran, because it “will not stand idly by” while the US compromises Saudi Arabia’s security and “risk[s] the region’s stability.”

However, “in spite of its great wealth, the kingdom is not able to confront significant threats in its strategic environment on its own,” former Iran Coordinator in Israel’s National Security Council, Yoel Guzansky, wrote in Haaretz on last December 25, adding that as regards the Saudi “deterrence of and protection from Iran, … no other major power is currently interested in or capable of filling the role played by the United States.”

As of late this summer, Saudi Arabia had given $400 million in arms and other equipment to Syrian Salafi Jihadists, the Wall Street Journal online reported on last December 29.

True, Saudi warmongering over Syria and Iran could abort the Geneva II conference on Syria, scheduled to convene on this January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland to wrap up a political settlement, but in the end of the day the Saudi kingdom is more likely to end up the only loser in the face of a regional and worldwide consensus on political settlement as the only possible exit out of the Syrian conflict.

Logic dictates that Iran should be in and Saudi Arabia out, but the Geneva II guest list includes warmongering Saudi Arabia, but excludes Iran, which has been calling from the start for a political solution. Such an arrangement warns of including the only “spoiler-in-chief,” in the words of the Assistant Professor of International Studies at Arcadia University, Pennsylvania, Samer N. Abboud, writing in the Qatari http://www.aljazeera.com on this January 5.

The US and Russian top diplomats, John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov were scheduled during a meeting ahead of Geneva II to decide on Iran’s participation, according to Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

There is no way the kingdom could succeed in Syria where a US-led Qatari, Turkish, French and British alliance failed. Saudi former intelligence chief, former ambassador to the US and an influential member of the royal family, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, admitted their failure when he told CNBC on this January 7 that the United States failed in its dealing with the Syrian conflict.

Thanks to Saudis, Syrian Conflict Spills over

The three-year old conflict in Syria has somewhat been contained within its own borders, but Saudi Arabia’s ongoing warmongering threatens to perpetuate the conflict and, more importantly, to spill it over regionally without achieving the Saudi proclaimed goal of changing the regime in Damascus at any cost.

The protracted Syrian conflict is already spilling over into neighboring countries through the Saudi sectarian agitation and incitement.

In the east, Iraqi officials had already appealed to the Saudi and other GCC governments to stop their intervention in Iraq’s internal affairs by arms and political, financial and logistical support to insurgents whose terrorism claimed the lives of some ten thousand overwhelmingly civilian Iraqis in 2013.

West of Syria, “Lebanon is paralyzed right now,” Gen. Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the second largest bloc in Lebanese parliament, told http://www.al-monitor.com on last December 13. After a two-week power vacuum, a prime minister-designate was nominated last April, but he has yet to form his government. His efforts have reached a dead end. The country since then was administrated by a caretaker government. No breakthrough seems imminent.

Saudi Arabia is the reason. It is exploiting its historical influence with loyalists and allies to prevent any inclusive government. It insists on the exclusion of Hizbullah as a precondition. The dead end polarized the country between pro-Syria and pro-Saudi camps. Riyadh, to guarantee a no-return by its loyalists, has recently fueled this polarization with a three billion “gift” over five years to arm the Lebanese army with French weapons in the hope of creating a counterbalance to Hezbullah, thus qualifying Lebanon for a civil war.

Meanwhile the northern and eastern parts of the country have slipped out of the control of the central government in Beirut and became a bastion of a Saudi-supported training camp, safe haven, manpower reservoir and a host of foreign Jihadists, fueling the Syrian conflict with arms and fighters.

Deterred by the military successes of the official Syrian Arab Army against them and falling back on Lebanon, those “Jihadists” are retaliating with the escalation of suicide bombings inside Lebanon, which are claiming more and more Lebanese civilian lives of all sects.

In the south in Jordan, where the kingdom succeeded for three years to keep balance between its geopolitical links with Syria and its strategic alliance with the US and Saudi Arabia, warnings against a mounting Saudi pressure to change course have been voiced recently.

For example, former premier and member of the upper house, Ma’arouf al-Bakhit, quoted by http://www.ammonnews.net on last December 30, warned that the disparity between the US and Saudi approaches to solving the Syrian conflict is pressuring Jordan, which is now facing the “challenge” of the possibility that Saudi Arabia “might act to impose its vision on Jordan,” indicating that “Syria no longer views Jordan as neutral” and accuses the kingdom of “hosting a Saudi – Israeli operations room to run military operations in Syria.” If Syria decides to act on this accusation, al-Bakhit added, it is “possible” to “move part of war” to “the interior of the kingdom’s territory.” Al-Bakhit should have cited Lebanon and Iraq as live precedents.

Further away, in Russia, the latest terror attacks in Volgograd were interpreted as an integral part of and attributed to the same terror network and mastermind in the Middle East, thus alienating the emerging Russian world polar. Russian media reports were implicating Saudi Arabia as responsible.

Saudi Strategy Fails in Syria
Since the so-called “Arab Spring” sprang out in Tunisia three years ago, the Saudi-led GCC monarchies succeeded in defending themselves against the tidal popular protests by a preempting financial bailout (Oman, Bahrain) or by direct military intervention (Bahrain) and by financial, political and indirect, but public nonetheless, military intervention to hijack the burgeoning revolutions in the “republics,” which have become more like china shops, either stateless or failed states, breathlessly in a life or death fight against “Islamist” terror organizations, which are armed and financed by none other than this same Saudi-led petrodollar monarchies and sheikhdoms.

This Saudi-led strategy is best manifested in Syria, where it met its first failure. Internal, regional and international consensus on political settlement and anti-terror campaign is gaining momentum to put an end to this strategy. Saudi Arabia has no other option but either to backtrack or being isolated. It either changes course or changes its leadership.

Its warmongering in Syria is portraying the kingdom in public opinion as the regional mastermind of violence and instability, vindicating American accusations, fueled by Israeli incitement, in the aftermath of the terror attacks in US on September 11, 2001 that the Saudi sectarian ideology is an incubator nurturing violence and terror, despite the kingdom’s long war against its own Islamist terrorists.

This sectarian ideology is creating a sectarian clash across the Middle East between two theocracies, the “Shiite” theocracy of Iran and the Sunni theocracy of Saudi Arabia, thus blurring the real dividing line of the regional battle between the US-protected Israeli occupation of Arab lands in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon and the self-proclaimed Iran – Syria axis of resistance. The survival of a secular Syria will be the first regional step towards the containment of this destructive sectarian clash.

Within this context it is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia, the godfather of the “Arab peace initiative,” postures as a peace maker against the Israeli occupying power, but insists on military solution in Syria whose Golan Heights is occupied by Israel since 1967.

Ironically, Saudi – Israeli crossroads seem to meet as the only regional relief for the kingdom. This approach of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is creating a fait accompli of a Saudi-Israeli marriage of convenience against Syria and Iran, which places the two countries on a higher moral ground among the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

Obama’s ‘Big Prize’ to Earn Nobel Peace Prize

November 27, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

Indeed, US President Barak Obama has gone a long way to earn his Nobel Peace Prize, which was prospectively and in advance awarded in 2009 to the 44th president of the United States while less than eight months in office.

However, Obama’s “big prize” to make him “feel that I deserve” the Nobel Prize as he had said then will be waiting for him until he ends the ongoing Israeli war on the Palestinian people and occupation of their land, at least since 1967.

This Israeli war lies at the heart of both the wars Obama inherited as well as those he has just averted and has been all along the source of regional wars, instability and insecurity as well as the source of the deep-rooted anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

To his credit, President Obama, true to his promise to “end a decade of wars,” wound up the war on Iraq, now coordinating winding down his country’s war on Afghanistan next year and twice this year he has navigated successfully to avert and avoid dragging his country into wars on Syria and Iran.

It doesn’t matter much whether Obama has gone thus far out of principle or under the pressures of the financial crisis in his country and the emerging geopolitical realities internationally and regionally in the Middle East.

Pressures would be more likely an interpretation if one is to judge by his shift from his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call on Syrian rebels not to disarm with the aim of enforcing a regime change in Syria to the US co-sponsoring now the upcoming Geneva – 2 conference on January 22 for a political solution of the Syrian conflict.

But the “out of principle” interpretation seems more likely if one is to judge by the AP wire story about the background of the Iran deal, which revealed that Obama was conducting “secret talks” with Iran for about a year before the election last summer of the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, to whose “moderation” a lot of credit was attributed for the success of negotiating the deal.

It is true that Obama’s ongoing “drone war” on Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, his “leading from behind” in the NATO-led war on Libya, his “warships diplomacy” and “sanctions war” on Syria, Iran and of late on Egypt all vindicate calls for rescinding his Nobel prize, but ending the ongoing Israeli war on the Palestinian people remains his only daring peace move that will tip the balance to his credit for good.

Except for his failure to deliver on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on the Cuban territory, the Arab – Israeli conflict remains the most critical foreign policy area where his deeds still do not match his words.

Long before his opposition to the US-led war on Iraq in 2003, Obama came of political age in the campus anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s and was elected as an anti-war figure; at a presidential campaign debate in South Carolina in 2007 he spoke about meetings with the leaders of Iran, North Korea, and other nations hostile to his country. He was awarded the Noble Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation” and for his vision and work “for a world without nuclear weapons.”

After his new START treaty with Russia cutting down the two countries’ nuclear arsenals, disarming Syria of its chemical arsenal and restricting Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful purposes, disarming Israel of its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction remains the litmus test which will determine the credibility of Obama’s endeavor “for a world without nuclear weapons” and will qualify him to “deserve” the Nobel Peace Prize.

After the signing of the four-page “Joint Plan of Action” interim nuclear deal between Iran and the 5-plus-1 partners in Geneva on this November 24, “He can now also say he has avoided a third war,” according to Bruce O. Riedel, a former administration official who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, quoted by The New York times last Monday.

However the “third war” has been raging bloodily and mercilessly for less than three years now in Syria, “led from behind” by his administration and either openly armed, financed and logistically supported by the US regional Qatari, Saudi and Turkish allies or proxies, it doesn’t matter which, or away from media spotlights by the US Israeli strategic ally.

Partnering with Russia to conclude the January 22 Geneva – 2 conference with a successful political solution of the Syrian conflict, by drying up the regional sources of arms and money that fuel the conflict, will be Obama’s “small prize” towards earning his Nobel prize.

But his “big prize” will remain tied to ending the sixty five-year old Israeli war on the Palestinian people.

Israel’s warmongering against Iran, Syria, Lebanese Hezbullah and Palestinian anti-Israeli occupation resistance movements besieged in the Gaza strip stands isolated in the face of a consensus by the world community on pursuing Obama’s pledge that “diplomacy would continue” because, as he said last Sunday, “we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.”

“The plan of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … has been to launch a massive military assault on Iran that has no guarantee of success in ending the nuclear program but would almost certainly unleash a region-wide war.” (http://www.philly.com, Nov. 24, 2013)

Netanyahu condemned the Iran deal as an “historic mistake;” he stated that “Israel is not bound by the agreement” and has the right to “defend itself by itself” before sending his cabinet minister Naftali Bennett to Capitol Hill to rally Congress against the White House and the State Department and calling on American Jews to oppose the policies of Obama’s government. Netanyahu leaves no doubt that he is well determined to abort the Iran deal and deprive Obama from earning his Nobel Peace Prize.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

Syria, Egypt Reveal Erdogan’s ‘Hidden Agenda’

November 20, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

The eruption of the Syrian conflict early in 2011 heralded the demise of Turkey’s officially pronounced strategy of “Zero Problems with Neighbors,” but more importantly, it revealed a “hidden agenda” in Turkish foreign policy under the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

What Sreeram Chaulia, the Dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs in India’s Sonipat, described as a “creeping hidden agenda” (http://rt.com on Sept. 15, 2013) is covered up ideologically as “Islamist.”

But in a more in-depth insight it is unfolding as neo-Ottomanism that is pragmatically using “Islamization,” both of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s legacy internally and Turkey’s foreign policy regionally, as a tool to revive the Ottoman Empire that once was.

Invoking his country’s former imperial grandeur, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu had written: “As in the sixteenth century … we will once again make the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, together with Turkey, the center of world politics in the future. That is the goal of Turkish foreign policy and we will achieve it.” (Emphasis added)

Quoted by Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, writing in last March/April edition of http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org, the goal of Erdogan’s AKP ruling party for 2023, as proclaimed by its recent Fourth General Congress, is: “A great nation, a great power.” Erdogan urged the youth of Turkey to look not only to 2023, but to 2071 as well when Turkey “will reach the level of our Ottoman and Seljuk ancestors by the year 2071” as he said in December last year.

“2071 will mark one thousand years since the Battle of Manzikert,” when the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine Empire and heralded the advent of the Ottoman one, according to Fradkin and Libby.

Some six months ago, Davotoglu felt so confident and optimistic to assess that “it was now finally possible to revise the order imposed” by the British – French Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 to divide the Arab legacy of the Ottoman Empire between them.

Davotoglu knows very well that Pan-Arabs have been ever since struggling unsuccessfully so far to unite as a nation and discard the legacy of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, but not to recur to the Ottoman status quo ante, but he knows as well that Islamist political movements like the Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI) and the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Party of Liberation) were originally founded in Egypt and Palestine respectively in response to the collapse of the Ottoman Islamic caliphate.

However, Erdogan’s Islamist credentials cannot be excluded as simply a sham; his background, his practices in office since 2002 as well as his regional policies since the eruption of the Syrian conflict less than three years ago all reveal that he does believe in his version of Islam per se as the right tool to pursue his Ottoman not so-“hidden agenda.”

Erdogan obviously is seeking to recruit Muslims as merely “soldiers” who will fight not for Islam per se, but for his neo-Ottomanism ambitions. Early enough in December 1997, he was given a 10-month prison sentence for voicing a poem that read: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers;” the poem was considered a violation of Kemalism by the secular judiciary.

Deceiving ‘Window of Opportunity’

However, Erdogan’s Machiavellianism finds no contradiction between his Islamist outreach and his promotion of the “Turkish model,” which sells what is termed as the “moderate” Sunni Islam within the context of Ataturk’s secular and liberal state as both an alternative to the conservative tribal-religious states in the Arabian Peninsula and to the sectarian rival of the conservative Shiite theocracy in Iran.

He perceived in the latest US withdrawal of focus from the Middle East towards the Pacific Ocean a resulting regional power vacuum providing him with an historic window of opportunity to fill the perceived vacuum.

“Weakening of Europe and the US’ waning influence in the Middle East” were seen by the leadership of Erdogan’s ruling party “as a new chance to establish Turkey as an influential player in the region,” Günter Seufert wrote in the German Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) on last October 14.

The US and Israel, in earnest to recruit Turkey against Iran, nurtured Erdogan’s illusion of regional leadership. He deluded himself with the unrealistic belief that Turkey could stand up to and sidestep the rising stars of the emerging Russian international polar, the emerging Iranian regional polar and the traditional regional players of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, let alone Iraq and Syria should they survive their current internal strife.

For sure, his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI) and his thinly veiled Machiavellian logistical support of al-Qaeda – linked terrorist organizations are not and will not be a counter balance.

He first focused his Arab outreach on promoting the “Turkish model,” especially during the early months of the so-called “Arab Spring,” as the example he hoped will be followed by the revolting masses, which would have positioned him in the place of the regional mentor and leader.

But while the eruption of the Syrian conflict compelled him to reveal his Islamist “hidden agenda” and his alliance with the MBI, the removal of MBI last July from power in Egypt with all its geopolitical weight, supported by the other regional Arab heavy weight of Saudi Arabia, took him off guard and dispelled his ambitions for regional leadership, but more importantly revealed more his neo-Ottoman “hidden agenda” and pushed him to drop all the secular and liberal pretensions of his “Turkish model” rhetoric.

‘Arab Idol’ No More

Erdogan and his foreign policy engineer Davotoglu tried as well to exploit the Arab and Muslim adoption of the Palestine Question as the central item on their foreign policy agendas.

Since Erdogan’s encounter with the Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Economic Summit in Davos in January 2009, the Israeli attack on the Turkish humanitarian aid boat to Gaza, Mavi Marmara, the next year and Turkey’s courting of the Islamic Resistance Movement “Hamas,” the de facto rulers of the Israeli besieged Palestinian Gaza Strip, at the same time Gaza was targeted by the Israeli Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 then targeted again in the Israeli Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Turkey’s premier became the Arab idol who was invited to attend Arab Leage summit and ministerial meetings.

However, in interviews with ResearchTurkey, CNN Turk and other media outlets, Abdullatif Sener, a founder of Erdogan’s AKP party who served as deputy prime minister and minister of finance in successive AKP governments for about seven years before he broke out with Erdogan in 2008, highlighted Erdogan’s Machiavellianism and questioned the sincerity and credibility of his Islamic, Palestinian and Arab public posturing.

“Erdogan acts without considering religion even at some basic issues but he hands down sharp religious messages … I consider the AK Party not as an Islamic party but as a party which collect votes by using Islamic discourses,” Sener said, adding that, “the role in Middle East was assigned to him” and “the strongest logistic support” to Islamists who have “been carrying out terrorist activities” in Syria “is provided by Turkey” of Erdogan.

In an interview with CNN Turk, Sener dropped a bombshell when he pointed out that the AKP’s spat with Israel was “controlled.” During the diplomatic boycott of Israel many tenders were granted to Israeli companies and Turkey has agreed to grant partner status to Israel in NATO: “If the concern of the AKP is to confront Israel then why do they serve to the benefit of Israel?” In another interview he said that the NATO radar systems installed in Malatya are there to protect Israel against Iran.

Sener argued that the biggest winner of the collapse of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad would be Israel because it will weaken Lebanon’s Hizbullah and Iran, yet Erdogan’s Turkey is the most ardent supporter of a regime change in Syria, he said.

Erdogan’s Syrian policy was the death knell to his strategy of “Zero Problems with Neighbors;” the bloody terrorist swamp of the Syrian conflict has drowned it in its quicksand.

Liz Sly’s story in the Washington Post on this November 17 highlighted how his Syrian policies “have gone awry” and counterproductive by “putting al-Qaeda on NATO’s (Turkish) borders for the first time.”

With his MBI alliance, he alienated Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in addition to the other Arab heavy weights of Syria, Iraq and Algeria and was left with “zero friends” in the region.

According to Günter Seufert, Turkey’s overall foreign policy, not only with regards to Syria, “has hit the brick wall” because the leadership of Erdogan’s ruling party “has viewed global political shifts through an ideologically (i.e. Islamist) tinted lens.”

Backpedaling too late

Now it seems Erdogan’s “Turkey is already carefully backpedaling” on its foreign policy,” said Seufert. It “wants to reconnect” with Iran and “Washington’s request to end support for radical groups in Syria did not fall on deaf Turkish ears.”

“Reconnecting” with Iran and its Iraqi ruling sectarian brethren will alienate further the Saudis who could not tolerate similar reconnection by their historical and strategic US ally and who were already furious over Erdogan’s alliance with the Qatari financed and US sponsored Muslim Brotherhood and did not hesitate to publicly risk a rift with their US ally over the removal of the MBI from power in Egypt five months ago.

Within this context came Davotoglu’s recent visit to Baghdad, which “highlighted the need for great cooperation between Turkey and Iraq against the Sunni-Shiite conflict,” according to http://www.turkishweekly.net on this November 13. Moreover, he “personally” wanted “to spend the month of Muharram every year in (the Iraqi Shiite holy places of) Karbala and Najaf with our (Shiite) brothers there.”

Within the same “backpedaling” context came Erdogan’s playing the host last week to the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, not in Ankara, but in Diyarbakir, which Turkish Kurds cherish as their capital in the same way Iraqi Kurds cherish Kirkuk.

However, on the same day of Barzani’s visit Erdogan ruled out the possibility of granting Turkish Kurds their universal right of self-determination when he announced “Islamic brotherhood” as the solution for the Kurdish ethnic conflict in Turkey, while his deputy, Bulent Arinc, announced that “a general amnesty” for Kurdish detainees “is not on today’s agenda.” Three days earlier, on this November 15, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, “Turkey cannot permit (the) fait accompli” of declaring a Kurdish provisional self-rule along its southern borders in Syria which his prime minister’s counterproductive policies created together with an al-Qaeda-dominated northeastern strip of Syrian land.

Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism charged by his Islamist sectarian ideology as a tool has backfired to alienate both Sunni and Shiite regional environment, the Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Emirati, Saudi and Lebanese Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Israelis and Iranians as well as Turkish and regional liberals and secularists. His foreign policy is in shambles with a heavy economic price as shown by the recent 13.2% devaluation of the Turkish lira against the US dollar.

“Backpedaling” might be too late to get Erdogan and his party through the upcoming local elections next March and the presidential elections which will follow in August next year.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com