Pentagon to Send Military Battalions to Contain Iran’s Threats to US Allies

Washington- A US military official has revealed his country’s intention to form forces to send them to the Arab region to help counter Iranian threats.
 
“The United States wants to help the Arab countries deal with Iranian threats,” said General Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command at the 26th annual Arab-American Policymakers Conference in Washington.
 
“The Pentagon is working to achieve that desire and ensure its effective implementation. That includes the establishment of US military battalions sent as missions to the region and be designed specifically to provide advice and assistance,” he noted, stressing that such cooperation was an example of “partnership” between Washington and its allies in the region.
 
Votel underlined his country’s keenness to preserve relations with Arab states, adding that the Middle East would remain of exceptional importance to the United States, “considering that opportunities in the region are greater than obstacles and that regional countries want strong relations with the United States.”
 
The US General went on to say that security relations were the factor that maintains political relations, stating that bilateral military cooperation was still strong among the countries of the region, especially in Syria and Iraq and in the war against ISIS and other terrorist groups.
 
Stressing the importance of the US focus on security partnerships in the Middle East and encouraging local solutions in those countries, Votel said that America’s allies were leading their military wars in the region, while the role of the United States was limited to support and assistance.
 
“The United States will help its partners wherever and whenever it is necessary, because this benefits American interests,” he told the conference, which is organized by the National Council on US-Arab Relations.
 
Founded in 1983, the council is an American non-profit, non-governmental, educational organization dedicated to improving American knowledge and understanding of the Arab world.
 
The organization is based in Washington and works on strengthening and expanding strategic, economic, political, commercial, and defense cooperation ties between the United States and Arab countries.

Trump’s Iran Plan Does Too Much and Too Little

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s advisers are at pains to emphasize that Friday’s speech on Iran policy was an effort to lay out a comprehensive strategy to tackle the malign behavior of the Tehran regime, not just an announcement that the president had refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Their frustration that the headlines missed the forest for the trees is understandable — given the need for an Iran policy, not simply an Iran nuclear strategy, which was essentially the approach of the Barack Obama administration.

But Trump’s advisers only have the president — and not the media — to blame. The Iran nuclear deal has long been the focal point of the president’s rhetoric and was the centerpiece of the speech. And the decertification of the deal was one of the few tangible actions outlined by the president.

This focus on decertifying the Iran deal, reached between the US, five other major powers and Iran — is not just a distraction from the bigger picture: Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. In fact, it also undermines US efforts to execute a strategy aimed at reducing Iran’s influence. While decertification brings with it an array of costs, it brings no obvious benefits.

The main motivation for decertifying the deal seems to be the need to scratch a high-priority presidential itch. As the world knows, while the International Atomic Energy Agency and other entities have judged that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, Trump is uncomfortable certifying it every 90 days, as required by Congress. His refusal to do so today must give the president a certain amount of satisfaction, given how unequal he perceives the terms of the deal to have been. And he has a point. But the decertification is not linked to the rest of a more comprehensive strategy in any way; none of the steps laid out in the speech require the president make such a determination before they can be taken.

Instead, the failure to certify Iran’s compliance will make the stated objectives — to deter and prevent Iran from undertaking malign activities in the region from Syria to Iraq to Yemen –harder to achieve. Few people or governments will understand the difference between the president’s decision not to certify the deal from a complete US withdrawal of support for the deal. How many Americans — or others — know the difference between the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? The first is the U.S. domestic law that requires certification; the second is the international accord with Iran, and US participation in it is not related to certification in any direct manner.

This complexity will help the president appear to be delivering on a campaign promise to “rip up” the pact. But it will also have the unfortunate downside of confusing allies, making it harder to work with them to bring additional pressure to bear on Iran outside of the deal. Moreover, it plays into Iranian propaganda and seems to reinforce Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s longstanding mantra that the US cannot be trusted and is really seeking regime change above all else.

Moreover, Trump’s tough rhetoric obviously has repercussions within Iranian society. It undermines those in Iran who have been advocates of the deal — and strengthens its opponents. At the top of the list of those opponents is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the group responsible for Iran’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East. Strengthening the very actor that you most want to debilitate seems to be a poor approach.

Finally, if — as is very possible — the move not to decertify is answered by congressional crickets, Trump could find himself weakened, not strengthened. Surely, no president wants to declare his position that an agreement entered into by his government is flawed and against the US interests — only to see nothing happen. This will leave the president looking as if he is all talk and no action.

The starting point for Friday’s speech was correct: The US needs a more comprehensive strategy toward Iran, one that addresses its problematic behavior in the region. But a much better approach would have had very different components.

First, it would not have made the nuclear deal the focus, but would have put it in the proper context: a transactional agreement about one particularly problematic behavior (the nuclear file), but not a transformational agreement that can only be viewed as failing in light of Iran’s continued misdeeds in other domains.

Second, Trump could have alleviated the discomfort he feels in repeatedly certifying the agreement by working with Congress to find a way to designate that responsibility to another member of his administration. This would not be unusual; in other circumstances, the certification required by lawmakers is made by the secretary of state or other cabinet members. The president actually made a reference to this possibility when he said, “this law requires the president, or his designee, to certify that the suspension of sanctions under the deal is “appropriate and proportionate” to measure — and other measures taken by Iran to terminate its illicit nuclear program.”

Third, tangible measures to increase pressure on Iran to curb its meddling in other parts of the Middle East would have been the cornerstone of the strategy articulated Friday — rather than a sideshow. Such steps have been widely expected, and do not run afoul of the nuclear deal unless they replicate the sanctions that were lifted as its result of its signing. Steps to curb financing of terrorist groups and sanctions against the IRGC are fair game even while adhering to the pact. Notably, although complicated, a stronger approach might have involved some military measures; past experience tells us that the IRGC curbs its behavior when confronted more directly, as the US did in 2007 under the surge strategy in Iraq.

Fourth, had the president been silent on certification, congressional efforts — such as those led by Senator Bob Corker — to lay out conditions under which lawmakers could impose new sanctions might have actually provided the Trump administration with some leverage. As has been true in other cases, from Libya to China, the administration could have found its efforts to gain greater cooperation from allies were enhanced by the perception that it is under great pressure from Congress to see tangible results. Instead, current congressional initiatives look a lot like what they are — efforts to stave off the most destructive behaviors of the administration — and are unlikely to help the president extract more cooperation from allies.

Finally, a solid strategy toward Iran would of course need to address the country’s nuclear pursuits. But rather than focus on renegotiating the elements of the deal as it stands, a comprehensive US policy might have shifted gears to focus on what happens when elements of the deal start to expire. This is the only way to approach the very real question of what constraints will remain on Iran years later down the road.

(Bloomberg)

World Bank: Reforming Education in Arab World Must Be Priority

Arab

London – The quality of education in the Arab world has dropped in comparison to other regions in the world, which demands immediate reform to tackle development needs and employment in the future, said a recent World Bank report on education in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report urged Arab countries to set education as a priority because it is the basis for any future economic and social development process.

The Arab region has not achieved remarkable progress in recent years in reducing illiteracy, compared to Asian and Latin American countries. The worst in this regard were Djibouti, Yemen and Egypt. Furthermore, the region is still behind from the rest of the world in erasing illiteracy among people above 15 years of age. The numbers of students enrolled at high schools and universities has also not improved.

The World Bank report did acknowledge that the gap in education between the genders in the Arab world is becoming smaller.

One of the compilers of the report said that the time has come for Arab countries to focus their energies on the quality of education and preparing students for the modern job market. They should also train students on problem-solving and critical and innovative thinking. Teachers themselves should also be re-trained in these skills.

Unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa lies at 14 percent, which is higher than the rest of the world, excluding some parts of Africa. The greatest levels of unemployment were registered in the Palestinian territories. A third of the population of 300 million is also illiterate.

Young society

The need for reform in the Arab world is highlighted by the youthful society, where 60 percent of the population is younger than 30 years of age. This means that the region will need to create 100 million job opportunities for the youths over the next two decades. Economic development in region relies heavily on educational reform.

The World Bank report hailed the efforts of Jordan and Kuwait to that end, but it did remark that the reform did not reach the desired level. It explained that the relation between education and the workforce remained weak, adding that the quality of education did not improve.

Investment with poor resources

For 40 years, Arab countries spent about five percent of their general domestic income on education and they have achieved several results from this investment. At present, the majority of children benefit from mandatory education and a good percentage of them reach the levels of higher education. The region has also improved in raising fertility and lowering mortality rates.

Despite this improvement, the general progress in the Middle East and North Africa region remained less than others. In addition, educational curricula still produce more graduates in the theoretical sciences than practical ones.

The region has also failed to take the best advantage of its available human resources. Unemployment remains high among graduates and many of them find work in the government The relationship between economic growth, the distribution of income and lowering levels of poverty remains weak. The current educational system in the region does not produce graduates with the necessary skills and experience to compete on the global level where knowledge is the key to progress.

Employment crisis

Despite government attempts to provide education to the greatest number of students through construction of schools and hiring teachers, they have failed in assessing the connection between the efforts of the teachers and the accomplishments of the students and monitoring the educational process.

The World Bank report also spoke of the gap between what educational institutions provide and what the job market demands. This gap does not simply revolve around failing to produce graduates with the demands of the market, but the market itself has not grown enough to accommodate those graduates. In some countries, this is reflected in high levels of unemployment.

The next level of developing education in the region appears difficult to achieve in that it needs to develop an accountability and assessment mechanism. It should also focus on reforming education and the job markets.

This process will not be the same in all of the countries in the region because some of them have taken great leaps in achieving educational reform. All these countries need, in one way or another, to set incentives and systems of accountability that will yield results in the reform process.

Facts and figures

UNESCO estimates that 76.9 percent of the Arab world is literate. The literacy levels in some countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and the Gulf area, is above 90 percent, while it is less than 50 percent in Mauritania and Yemen.

Other education facts in the Arab region:

– About 100 million people are illiterate, two thirds of them women.

– A UN survey found that the average Arab reads only four pages a year.

– An Arab Thought Foundation report found that only eight percent of people in the Arab world want to improve their level of education.

– The Arab woman still suffers from a lack of education opportunities.

– There is no incentive system to encourage older illiterates to continue their education and improve their academic skills.

– Women face challenges in leaving the house and pursuing an education at schools due to social pressures.

McMaster: Iran Biggest Threat to Arab Security

Trump announces Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his National Security Adviser at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida

The West Wing looked a bit in disarray with boxes all over …After the big renovation in August – there were unpacked packages, but – new paint …

In a way – it reflects what the White House has been going through …After the noisy exit of Steve Bannon and his protege Sebastian Gorka – the “Globalists” – as Bannon likes to call them – WON! That means – H.R McMaster, Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner.

But McMaster who had been a target for false rumors and well-planted leaks during these West Wing’s internal fights did not look victorious. After all – the veteran general came to the White House to lead our policy regarding Nuclear attempts by N. Korea, Iran ..To increase the fight against terror …These are more familiar territories to him, than dealing with Dc’s gossip.

So now – it is time to view with him, in depth, for the first time, the Trump administration in each key part of the world.

Naturally – we opened with the 2 Nuclear pending threats: Iran and N. Korea>

* IRAN

Q. We are 2 years (out of 10) into this controversial agreement ..WHERE do we stand?

A. “As President Trump has repeatedly said, the Iran nuclear deal was the worst deal of all time. There are many reasons for that. One is that nearly all the benefits for Iran were provided upfront.

“Also, the deal sunsets after ten years—now eight years, since two have already gone by. Iran can wait out the deal, and when it expires, have a threshold capability that will allow the regime to move toward nuclear weapons very quickly. All the while, Iran could develop missiles and delivery systems.

“President Trump will make the decision about our ongoing participation in the JCPOA according to his top priority, which is the safety of the American people. His administration’s job is to provide him with a full range of options with that directive in mind. As long as the United States and our partners remain parties to the deal, we have to hold Iran accountable to its terms. We know that Iran already violated the agreement—for instance- under the terms of the deal, when Iran violates it, they are given notice. And if they get back into compliance under a certain time, they are no longer considered in violation. That’s just another way that this deal is great for Iran and dangerous for everyone else.

“So, the first step is to rigorously enforce the deal. There are all sorts of inspections which could be made and are not made. There are many monitoring capabilities that have not been put in place. All parties should insist on rigorous enforcement.

“The President has already declared that the Iranian regime is not living up to its obligation. They are certainly not living up to the spirit of this agreement. Instead of contributing to regional peace and security, as the deal calls for, Iran is using proxy forces and a terrorist network to foment violence and victimize innocents across the greater Middle East. The Iranian regime is seeding these networks with increasingly destructive weapons as they try to establish a bridge from Iran to Lebanon and Syria.”

* N. KOREA

Q. Regarding North Korea ..I am sure, we are trying to learn everything about Kim John Un, and predict his next move …

A. “As to what will happen, it is impossible to predict. This is a regime that has committed egregious crimes against its own people—that has carried out an assassination in a public airport using a banned nerve agent, and repeatedly shows its disregard for its international obligations. How predictable is a regime like that, in terms of using the most destructive weapon on earth?

“A great achievement of President Trump—in addition to uniting many nations and building consensus—has been to work with China, and increase Beijing’s cooperation in pressuring North Korea, through imposing new sanctions, and by enforcing existing sanctions. There may be limits on what China is willing to do. We’ll see. But there’s no question that China has more leverage than any other country to convince North Korea that pursuing nuclear weapons is against Pyongyang’s own national security interests. We are not asking China to do us or anyone a favor. It is clear that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a grave threat to China.”

“The President’s has made clear to the world that North Korea is now a grave threat to all of us. Because it is a global problem, we see the international community joining us in sanctioning North Korea.

“What is different today than in the past is urgency. North Korea is rapidly advancing its missile and nuclear capabilities. We do not have time.

Q. And since we don’t have time, shall we try every possible avenue, like direct talks?
A. “The President has directed us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Past efforts have resulted in long, drawn-out talks that delivered unsatisfactory, weak agreements that North Korea immediately broke. All the while, they locked in the achievements that they made—advances in their weapons program—as the new normal.”

Q. So even if the opportunity comes, you will reject a direct meeting?

A. “The President does not believe that now is the right time to enter into negotiations with North Korea, particularly given North Korea’s continued belligerent actions. We have stated repeatedly that the door to dialogue is open, but North Korea must, as a first step, stop its increasingly provocative and threatening actions and take initial steps towards denuclearization.”

* SOUTH ASIA: AFGHANISTAN< PAKISTAN

Q. Afghanistan:‎ What is the current policy? WHAT EXACTLY are we changing?

“For too long we focused on tactics—debating the precise numbers of troops to commit –when our focus should have been on strategy – how to achieve a sustainable outcome in Afghanistan and South Asia consistent with US and our allies’ vital interests. The President demanded a complete appraisal of the situation, challenged assumptions, and asked all of the tough questions. He directed the development of a strategy that prioritizes the security of American citizens and the US homeland; provides US, Afghan and coalition forces all of the tools and authorities necessary to defeat the enemy; is sustainable over time; and shares responsibilities and burdens with others.

The South Asia strategy the President unveiled on August 21st differs from the policies of the previous administration in many ways:

• No timelines for withdrawal. Conditions on the ground will drive the strategy. The Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups cannot wait us out. And the US will no longer announce plans to our enemies.

• The strategy integrates political, diplomatic, and military efforts. We will be realistic about what we are trying to achieve. The previous administration sought to strike a bargain with the Taliban, while US Forces withdrew. It was a rush to failure, similar to how the disengagement from Iraq led to the rapid growth of ISIS in 2014. Instead, the United States and our partners will better support the Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and pursue a political settlement under the right conditions.

• NATO allies and partners for the Afghan mission are pledging increased military efforts and financial support. And all of us will work more closely with other nations to ensure they are playing a constructive role in supporting a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

• President Trump has lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our warfighters in Afghanistan just as he did in the highly successful campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Our military now has what it needs to support courageous Afghan soldiers and relentlessly pursue the enemies of all civilized people.

Q. What about next door Pakistan? After all – this is where we found Osama Bin Ladin, living so close to the President (then Asif Ali Zardari)’s place …

A. “We are fundamentally changing how we approach the problem of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. The President expects Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based on its territory and will condition US security aid to Pakistan, accordingly. Pakistan has paid a high price in its struggle against terrorist groups, but it has fought these groups selectively, while providing support to others, such as the Taliban and the Haqqanisas the President stated in his speech announcing the strategy. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our efforts in the region. But it also has much to lose unless it stops its support of groups that are attacking US interests in Afghanistan.”

* IRAQ

Q. You fought in Iraq .. Looking at the current chaos there …Was it worthwhile?

A. “Most problems in Iraq today stem from our disengagement before military gains were consolidated politically. The complete withdrawal of US forces in 2011 led to the collapse of large portions of the Iraqi state and the rise of ISIS, which led for example to the fall of Mosul. Courageous Iraqi forces recently liberated that city, in part, because of President Trump’s decision to prioritize the fight against ISIS and to give his commanders the necessary authority to fight and support partner forces more effectively.

Q. Are we going to divide Iraq? There is a referendum later this month, refounding a new Kurdish state?

A. “Regarding the referendum the Kurdistan Regional Government announced for later this month, it remains to see what will happen. But our strong view is that it is in the interest of Kurds and of all Iraqis to have a unified Iraq. Now is not the time to divide the country. If Iraq fragments, the main beneficiaries will be the Iranian regime or groups like ISIS, both of whom seek to perpetuate ethnic and sectarian conflict among Iraqis. For years, the Iranian regime has been able to exploit the Iraqis’ factional infighting to infiltrate and subvert Iraq’s state institutions. At the same time, Salafi jihadi terrorists such as al Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS have used ethnic and sectarian competition for power, survival, and resources to portray themselves as protectors of the Sunni population. The best weapon against these dangerous forces is Iraqi political unity based on a common vision for a secure and prosperous Iraq.”

* U.S.-UK:

Q. Just before the vote about Brexit happened, I was in London. Former President Obama was there as well, almost threatening the British voters, that Brexit would hurt their special place and relationship with the US …

A. “Obviously, that was up to the British people to decide … The US view is that we want to do everything we can to preserve and strengthen the special relationship. We are bound together by common interests and values. The problems we face today are problems that demand international responses. That heightens the importance of our relationship with the UK and our relationship with Europe as well”

Q. In that case, what if other countries follow the UK, and leave the EU?

A. “That will be up to the European individual countries. Our priority is our relationships with the United Kingdom and the European Union. These relationships and our relationship with each European nation are essential to achieving our common goals and ensuring the security and prosperity of our citizens”

* TURKEY:

Q. US and Turkey have not enjoyed the best relationship in recent years…

A. “Turkey is a NATO ally. It is an ally who has fought with us, assisted us in many conflicts. As a young boy, I listened to my father’s experiences in Korea, and he had the great affinity for Turkish troops, alongside the US forces, who have been with us, especially in the Middle East, after 2003.

Turkey is on the front line of human catastrophe! As you know, they absorbed so many refugees ..Turkey, is increasingly, recognizing that the best way for Turkey to emerge stronger from this conflict, for security and stability in the Middle East. It is for us, to work together better than we have ever done in the past. ”

Q. We recently raised the issue of violation of human rights, regarding the aide to Egypt ..What about journalists and others, jailed in Turkey?

A. “It is really a question for the Turkish people to determine …It is important to raise ALL issues, that are involved, to strengthen our relationship ..Such conversations are happening, among friends, all the time ..President Trump prioritizes, how we can strengthen the relationship with Turkey.

* MIDDLE EAST:

Q. Why do you think, now – after so many failing attempts- is a better chance to achieve peace?

A. “What changed regionally can help change the problem …It can lead to new partnerships and relationships …
There is a greater alignment, among the Arabs against Iran!
If any Arab state would ask themselves: What is the biggest threat to our security today?” No one would say, it is Israel ..IT IS IRAN!
All the Arab states recognize the threat that Iran poses …
This recognition leads to tremendous possibilities which could lead not only to the (better) security of Israel but create some of the conditions necessary for lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians, but also improve the security of the Arab states in the region as well.

Q. So? Is anything moving??
A. “The President expects results …So the recent trip of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt is a very important one. Time will tell ..”

Would Qatari Crisis Last Two Years?

Those who were betting on a short-lived Qatari crisis have lost. Everyone who thought that Qatar’s efforts for international pressure would be fruitful, was proven wrong. Three months on, the four states’ stance hasn’t changed, and is as firm as it was on June 5. Since day one, the ball has been put in Qatar’s court.

The message has been clear: If Qatar wants to restore ties, end the boycott and open the border, all it should do is implement what was handwritten by Qatar’s emir in the Riyadh Agreement in 2014. However, it is up to Doha if it decides to face the boycott and lose its interests with the four states.

Qatar chose confrontation, intransigence, escalation and the failure to implement what was requested from it out of its assumption that the crisis would soon end even if it disregarded its pledges. Yet this didn’t happen and time wasn’t in Doha’s favor. As three months passed without achieving its goals, maybe a year or two would also pass and Qatar would discover that it has become the only isolated state and all its bets are gone with the wind.

“It is okay if the Qatari crisis lasted two years,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. The boycotting states decided to cease the harmful Qatari policies only after they geared themselves for a long-term boycott out of their conviction that Doha’s attitude won’t be easily straightened and it won’t meet its pledges overnight.

As it has so far skilfully done, Doha will continue to procrastinate. Only time will reveal where Qatari interests will lie. Did Turkey and Iran really compensate the Gulf loss? Did Doha benefit from marketing itself in a trivial way among western capitals to urge them to pressure for lifting the boycott?

The answer is clear, as the crisis nears the 100-day mark, Qatar continues to see it as its main political, economic and social cause. In contrast, the four states haven’t lost anything from crisis but consider the Qatari file to be among a dozen others put on their agenda. Qatar is more than welcome to step back, but if it holds onto its stance and rejects to abide by its commitments, then it is free to do so.

We can say that the world has forgotten the Qatari crisis. It appeared in the headlines for some time, then states resumed their businesses by looking after their interests. The foreign ministers of US, France, UK and Germany toured the region to carry out diplomatic missions with allied states, then they left. Nothing more was done.

Gradually, Qatar woke up on an ugly truth that it is facing a real crisis unilaterally. It has plenty of solutions, but procrastination or resorting for Western help are not among them. Pursuits to strike alliances with Turkey and Iran didn’t compensate its stalled interests. Even the “blockage” lie didn’t work out. It rather unveiled Qatar’s naivety – here you see Qatar bragging that 35 percent of Middle Eastern trade goes through the state’s “besieged” port.

Amidst the current Qatari regime policy, it seems there is no hope in resolving the crisis soon. Let Qatar stick to its stance and let there be a protracted crisis. Sometimes, only time is capable of resolving complex issues. Qatar is the only damaged party – its losses are increasing but only these losses will urge Doha to meet its obligations.

Prospects and Challenges of Russian-Iranian Cooperation in Syria

Associate at the Russia and Eurasia programme of Chatham House and senior lecturer at the European University at St.Petersburg

Russian military engagement in the Syrian conflict had the direct impact on Moscow’s relations with the Middle Eastern countries. The main interest of political analysts is drawn to the development of the interaction between Tehran and Moscow in Syria. Officially, the Iranian authorities supported Putin’s decision to deploy Russian air forces at the Khmeimim airbase. The majority of the Iranian politicians praised Moscow efforts aimed at the support of the Syrian regime whereas the main media outlets of the Islamic Republic covered the activities of the Russian army in Syria completely in the line with the Russian propaganda approaches. Nevertheless, the international expert community is far from being unanimous regarding the nature of the Russian-Iranian dialogue on Syria. Some experts believe that the rift in Russian-Iranian dialogue is inevitable.

Indeed, the hidden discussion on the necessity to cooperate with Russia in Syria exists in Iran. Moreover, there are even some Iranian policymakers and analysts who cautiously question the rationale behind Tehran’s military involvement in Syria itself. Nevertheless, these questions are raised within a certain (not very large) group of the Iranian political elite without reaching the national level of discussion. Moreover, these intra-Iranian debates have little chances to bring changes in the diplomatic course of the country without the blessing of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, who takes final decisions on all sensitive political questions. And, during his meeting with Putin in November 2015, Khamenei gave the green light for the Iranian cooperation with Russia on Syria.

The Supreme Leader’s decision was largely supported by the moderate conservatives who dominate the political life of the country. Thus, immediately after Putin’s trip to Tehran the advisor on the international affairs to the Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Velayati (who is deeply involved in the Iranian diplomacy on Syria) formulated the official point of view on Russian-Iranian cooperation that became widely accepted in the Iranian political establishment. He argued that the Iranian authorities are determined to have “continuous and long-lasting cooperation with Russia” on Syria. The geostrategic factor seriously favored for strengthening the Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria. For Tehran, the beginning of the Moscow’s military involvement in the Syrian affairs finally gave the Iranian authorities what they had been looking for the last decade: a solid political and military base for the development of bilateral relations.

The need to develop active cooperation between the two countries in Syria is also determined by the situation on the battleground. Iran was the first to supply the Syrian regime with arms, financial means and “volunteers” while Russia initially tried to limit its involvement into the crisis by the diplomatic support provided to Assad. Yet, by 2015, Iranian resources were substantially exhausted. Moreover, it became obvious that these resources were not enough to save Assad. By that moment, Tehran was also deeply involved not only in the Syrian war but in the Iraqi and Yemeni conflicts. Consequently, the Iranian government was compelled to juggle its limited human and material resources between these three countries. The beginning of the Russian direct military involvement in Syria considerably eased the burden lying on Iran’s shoulders by radically changing the balance of power in favor of Damascus.

Both Russia and Iran are extremely interested in saving the government institutions in Syria. Yet, each of the sides had its own motifs for this. Russia was largely driven by its security concerns, confrontation with the West and Putin’s plans to reestablish Russia as an influential world power. For Tehran, its struggle for Syria is believed to be a part of the greater strategy designed by the Supreme Leader and his team whose final goal is to secure the right of the Islamic republic to the regional supremacy. The Iranian conservatives even formulated the concept of the “chain of defense” that comprise of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. According to this theory, each of these countries represents the “front line” of the Iranian defenses against the international and regional opponents of the Islamic republic that strive to undermine its influence in the Middle East. Consequently the weakening of the Iranian presence in any of these four states can have global negative consequences for Tehran’s geostrategic plans. Such vision of Syria inevitably makes the survival of the pro-Iranian Assad regime an existential issue for Tehran and, thus, puts the Islamic republic together with Russia in the camp of international forces interested in the survival of the Syrian state.

Yet, both Russia and Iran are very pragmatic about their cooperation in Syria. This also helps their dialogue. Neither Moscow not Tehran has any illusions about the ultimate goals of its partner and how different they are. This was openly stated by Khamenei’s advisor Ali Velayati in 2015. When characterizing the level of cooperation between Russia and Iran in Syria he argued that “each country pursues its own benefits [by supporting Assad], [but] Russia cannot protect its interests in the Middle East and the region alone”. In other words, Russia and Iran came to an understanding that in order to secure their interests in Syria they need to cooperate. Consequently, Moscow and Tehran formed a marriage of convenience where each partner tries to reach its own goals with the help of the other.

And, yet, it is too early to speak about the emergence of the full fledged Russian-Iranian alliance in Syria. So far, military coordination between the two countries has been patchy. Neither is in a hurry to create joint command structures. Their coordination is occasional, and in most cases, the sides simply prefer to take parallel paths to the same destination. The current format of the Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria based on the principle of the marriage of convenience also prevents the dialogue between the two countries from evolving into the strategic alliance. In order to achieve the current primary goal – to save the Syrian government from falling – the countries agreed to temporary ignore the differences in their approaches towards the settlement of those issues that, at present, are of the secondary importance. However, this only means that the discussion of these questions (such as the future of Assad or Iran’s plans to use the territory of Syria to continue supporting the Hizbollah in Lebanon) is just temporary postponed.

Finally, not the last role in limiting the capacities of the Russian-Iranian dialogue on Syria is played by the factor of the third countries. Russia carefully watches that its cooperation on Syria would not harm the development of their relations with other regional powers. Thus, by allying with Tehran, Moscow would most likely harm relations with its ‘silent partner’ in the Middle East – Israel – whose position on the annexation of Crimea, on Western sanctions against Russia and on Russian air forces in Syria corresponds to Russian interests.

What’s next?

Russia and Iran will remain interested in cooperation on Syria. Yet, it is still difficult to see this relations transforming into a full-fledged alliance. Although the drivers that bring Moscow and Tehran together are strong, the destiny of Russian-Iranian “marriage of convenience” depends on a number of factors. All in all, Russia and Iran were forced to become partners in Syria under the influence of existing circumstances. Consequently, their interaction is limited. Given the differences in motives of Russian and Iranian involvement in the Syrian quagmire and concerns existing both in Tehran and Moscow that the forming of a full-fledged alliance can harm their relations with third countries, it is possible to conclude that Russian-Iranian dialogue has already reach the maximum of its potential.

Trumps Sees ‘Chance’ to Revive Mideast Peace Process

In this July 24, 2017 file photo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington.

Washington- The White House announced on Friday that President Donald Trump is sending three of his aides to the Middle East to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process in a step that renews the US direct engagement in this file.

In a statement, the White House said Trump “believes that the restoration of calm and the stabilized situation in Jerusalem after the recent crisis on the Temple Mount-Haram al Sharif has created an opportunity to continue discussions and the pursuit of peace that began early in his administration.”

The White House also said the visit of the aides to the Middle East is based on Trump’s “various meetings” with top administration officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

Based on those meetings, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell will travel to the region in the coming days, the White House said.

The trip aims “to continue discussions with regional partners about how best to support the peace effort.”

The White House also said the three aides are to meet leaders from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority about how best to support the peace effort.

Trump also requested that the upcoming trip focuses on topics such as the path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the economic steps that can be taken both now and after a peace deal is signed to ensure security, stability and prosperity for the region, and to combating extremism and easing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Last month, Israeli forces closed Al-Aqsa Mosque to worshipers after a deadly shooting at the holy mosque’s compound in the occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds.

Israel then partly reopened gates of the mosque but placed strict security measures at the entrances of the compound, including metal detectors to search worshipers.

The step created strong disputes and a war over “the sovereignty of the mosque,” leading to further confrontations between the two sides and leaving injuries in the ranks of Palestinians.

271 Jihadi Militants Return to France- Minister

Police secure the Champs Elysees Avenue after one policeman was killed and another wounded in a shooting incident in Paris, France

French interior minister Gerard Collomb revealed, in a newspaper interview, that 271 jihadi militants have returned to the country from war zones in Iraq and Syria and all of them are subject to investigation by public prosecutors.

With around 700 French nationals estimated to have fought in ISIS ranks in Iraq and Syria, France- like other European countries- has been struggling with how to deal with the pouring so-called returnees.

Some 217 adult French nationals have returned to France from fighting in the Middle East, the interior minister said. In addition, some 54 minors have reportedly made it back home after fighting alongside ISIS militants.

An undisclosed number of them have been detained while the rest are being vetted by public prosecutors, he added.
Asked how many French jihadis had been killed in Iraq and Syria, Collomb told the Sunday newspaper that it was difficult to corroborate information.

The head of France’s special forces said in June that his units were directly involved in street battles in the Iraqi city of Mosul but denied they were specifically targeting French-born jihadis fighting for ISIS.

France has participated in a US-led coalition battling ISIS in Iraq, and it also intervened in Mali to push back an Islamist rebellion in the west African state.

French military interventions overseas have exposed it to attacks by Islamist militants at home. Gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in and around Paris in November 2015 and over 100 were killed in other Islamist attacks in France in the past two-and-a-half years.

Collomb said the threat of militant attacks was “very high”, citing two incidents targeting police on Paris’ Champs Elysees and seven foiled plots so far this year.

An increasing number of people were being flagged under a preventative monitoring system for radicalized behavior, with more than 18,500 people reported, he said.

France has been subject to state of emergency legislation, giving police extended powers, since the November 2015 attacks, and the government plans to incorporate some of these measures into ordinary law through a counter-terrorism bill to be put before parliament in the coming months.

The Modernization Of Middle East Is A Sight To See

In every age intellectuals shape and cling to one concept as the organizing principle for an understanding of the present and speculation about the future. From the end of the 1940s, as the colonial era drew to a close, the fashionable concept was “modernization” and its variants such as “development” and “progress”.

But what constituted modernization wasn’t quite clear. Nor after what model should nations aspire in their quest for progress and development.

In the 1970s, the Iranian capital Tehran was a favorite destination for intellectuals from all over the world who wished to test those ideas in a country which had the rare distinction of having never been either a colony or a colonizer, and yet, its leaders had adopted the gospel of modernization with some enthusiasm.

For a journalist, the arrival of so many prominent intellectuals, among them people like Gunnar Myrdal, W.W. Rostow, G.K Galbraith, Raymond Aron, Henri Lefebvre, Carlo Schmidt, Talcot Parsons and David Apter, made Tehran the equivalent of a candy store for a child. I had the rare privilege of spending quality time with almost all the visitors both for formal interviews and informal conversations.

Their message was: Hurry up! Modernize!

The theme of modernization was taken up in a series of television debates in Tehran in which the best ways for the Middle East to “enter the modern world” were hotly discussed by intellectuals then fashionable in Iran.

What we didn’t know at the time was the extent to which our “oriental” societies had already become modern by adopting some of the most controversial aspects of the Western model.

Traditions that had provided a moral compass for centuries, were, now dismissed as cumbersome if not a sure sign of backwardness. Old institutions such as tribes, guilds, Sufi orders, clerical hierarchies, and family networks that had counter-balanced the power of the state were dissolved or weakened, leaving power concentrated in a few hands at the center of government.

The aim was to “westernize” as fast as possible even if that meant the destruction of the indigenous culture which now appeared atrophied or degenerate. For those who wanted the better of the two worlds, the ideal model was Japan a nation that was supposed to have “Westernized” while maintaining its traditional values and institutions.

What those admirers of Japan ignored was the way that the Japanese had “entered the modern world.”

They forgot that the modern, westernized Japan they admired had been born in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and cradled by an American occupation force that was still nursing its baby decades later.

Thus they ignored that modernization a la Japonais required a baptism of fire that few would desire after a moment of cool reasoning.

Another thing they ignored was that in our neck of the wood, that is to say the Middle East, the machinery of state had modernized itself by enhancing its powers and developing new modes of control, manipulation and repression. That, in turn, had led to the westernization of part of traditional society that now used an essentially Western narrative in its struggle against the established order.

For example, the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s discourse owed more to Lenin and Stalin than the great Muslim philosophers and theologians of ages.

The seizure of power by mullahs in 1979 highlighted Iran’s jump to “westernization”. The revolt was dubbed a “revolution”, a Western concept for which we have no word in the Persian language.

(They had to use the climatological term “enqelab” which means disturbance. The Arabs use it to mean a coup d’etat.)

The mullahs organized a referendum, wrote a constitution, devised a Western-style flag, raised a Trotsky-style militia, and built a cult of personality around Khomeini modeled on that of Stalin in his time.

The only traditional methods they used consisted of seizing hostages, stoning women to death and the mass killing of real or imagined opponents. The system they created owes more to George Orwell’s “1984” than to Farabi’s “Virtuous City” (Al- Madinat al-Fadilah).

Four decades later, they run a racket that looks more like the Cosa Nostra than any traditional Islamic government, even the worst like that of the Sarbedaran in the medieval times.

However, it seems that “modernization” is spreading winning our region.

That thought came to me the other night as I watched some two hours of several video footages from Syria and Iraq in a special showing in a London TV studio.

I saw a “modernized” Middle East with armies marching across scorched plains, soldiers and mercenaries cursing in a dozen different languages, the choir of cannons and the choreography of armored cars and tanks.

I saw refugees and displaced-person camps, barbed wires, watch-towers, loudspeakers spreading the latest version of truth. There were minefields and grieving mothers, naked children, and victims of gas attacks and chemical weapons. The skies were dotted with warplanes dropping more bombs on Syria and Iraq than on Germany during the Second World War.

A landscape of ruins, reminding one of Berlin, Warsaw or Leningrad in 1945- in other words very modern, very Western. This looked like Europe in 1918 or 1945, only magnified many times over thanks to the superior power of destruction we now have.

The footage from Syria and Iraq reminded me of documentaries made by Billy Wilder and Raoul Walsh in Western Europe in the wake of the Second World War and Pathed newsreel from Japan in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We became modernized and westernized long ago, often without realizing it. Iran became modernized when Khomeini organized the execution of at least 4000 people in a weekend, something even the blood-thirsty Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar never imagined doing. Syria became modern when Hafez Al-Assad killed 20,000 people in Hama, something no Umayyad Caliph would imagine doing.

And was it not a sign of Iraq’s modernization when Saddam Hussein gassed 5000 of his own citizen to death, a nightmare that would never cross Haroun al-Rashid’s mind?

The results of generations of dream, dreams of modernization and westernization, are in front of eyes and, thanks to modern technology, immediately observable even in the remotest parts of the region.

We, all of us, including rulers and rules, intellectuals and common folk, rich and poor have modernized our societies by creating Everest-high rubbles and swarms of terrorized refugees. All we have kept from our traditions is hat of denying our own responsibility, blaming it all on others.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Ruling System

saudi

The ability of any political system to arrange governance when positions are changed is what determines its strength – this was embodied on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia when Prince Mohammed bin Salman replaced Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as a crown prince.

Bin Nayef congratulated Bin Salman, wishing him luck in his smoothly assigned task.

Observers see that the kingdom is changing rapidly – this calls on the governing administration to keep up with what’s expected from it. Change, however, must not be at the expense of stability. Pledging allegiance to Mohammed bin Salman as Crown Prince came within the framework of the political system and its traditions, i.e. the decision was made by the king, with the support of the royal family, and the pledge of allegiance by different sections of the society.

On Wednesday, the decision was announced and everything went normal. This is uncommon in the Middle East as change always passes through a period of difficulties. For 80 years, the Saudi political system has been stable and capable of making transitions under the leadership of the king who enjoys full loyalty.

We have seen transitions happen smoothly in Saudi Arabia as there have been five crown princes in seven years – whether in the case of death or assignments, transitions were carried out according to the same rules and royal traditions, different to what may happen in other regimes.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s age and experience in the modern government administration has made his assignment a new development – he provides the vitality, which Saudi Arabia needs in its modernizing projects launched under his direct supervision.

Since the 1970s, several researches and books have been written and have raised questions about Saudi Arabia’s ability to survive changes which time brings about, different generations and decrease of resources, not to mention the continuous challenge of how to balance continuity and modernization.

Those familiar with royal systems’ nature -especially the Saudi royal system – are aware that the most important characteristic is the kingdom’s ability to adapt. The king wants to bring youth to the fore so they are in harmony with the society.

Saudi Arabia has a young population – as much as 60 percent of them are below the age of 30. They expect the government to act upon their needs. As a result, modernizing projects mainly target the youth.

There are no many options for the government that has inherited a difficult legacy, in which development projects and managing of affairs are mainly based on oil revenues. For some time, oil revenues can be depended on but it is risky to continue relying on them and is a conspiracy on future generations.

The other option is to develop the state’s administrative capacity and reinterpret its tasks –This briefs the concept of modernization led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The new assignment also ends frequent questions about the state, the family, the position of the crown prince and the political future, cementing stability in this significant country in a disturbed region.

We cannot neglect former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s phase since he has developed Saudi security institutions and improved their work to susbsequently win the war on terror after the 2003 explosions.

Finally, the kingdom’s stability matters for the entire region’s stability and serves the interest of the region countries, including those that may disagree with Saudi policies. Chaos is contagious and it can spread just like stability.