Monthly Archives: January 2016

Global order and power equilibrium in 2016

Ibrahim Kalin writes:

The new year did not come with any good news for the world. The global disorder and regional chaos of 2015 appears to have continued into 2016. Unless a certain degree of power equilibrium is achieved at the global and regional levels, we will see a deepening of current conflicts and possibly the emergence of new ones. Global and regional powers have a major responsibility to shape the course of events in the months to come. And it starts with the Syrian crisis.

The war in Syria continues unabated with devastating consequences for regional peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond. The refugee crisis that has reached the shores of Europe remains a daunting task for Turkey and Europe. Since the drowning of Aylan Kurdi on Sept.2, 2015 made the headlines around the world, hundreds of Syrian refugees have lost their lives trying to cross the Aegean Sea to Europe. The media hype has died down but the refugees continue to drown in the cold waters of the Aegean and the Mediterranean.

Sectarian tensions show no sign of abating. The Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis with the support of Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq and Lebanon is jeopardizing everything to keep the criminal Bashar Assad regime alive. This is having catastrophic consequences for Syria and the Levant. The U.N. resolution 2254 has a chance to initiate a political transition in Syria within the framework of Geneva I and II and Vienna talks. The Russian-Iranian military action in Syria, however, is likely to derail this much-needed process.

The international community ought to take a firm stance to prevent Russia and Iran from destroying the last hope of peace in Syria. It also must not be fooled by empty discourses of fighting DAESH when in fact neither Russian nor Iranian military operations inside Syria target DAESH but rather focus on the Syrian opposition and civilians.

The Syrian conflict, among others, is emblematic of the fractured nature of the current global order. It is an order or rather disorder that suffers from the absence of the clearly defined notions of power, justice and legitimacy. How much power, how fair and how legitimate are the key questions that define the uses and abuses of power in the political, economic and military senses of the term. The current power struggle has lost all sense of legitimacy, principle or even calculated pragmatism.

As I have discussed before, “the Westphalian system of international order, established in 1648 after the bloody 30 years wars among European nations, was based on two simple yet important principles: that the sovereign nations of Europe would refrain from interfering in each other’s’ internal affairs and that a generally accepted equilibrium of power would keep the excessive ambitions of states in check.”

In theory, these two principles should form the backbone of any fair and stable global order. But the reality is different. Since the 17th century, the European nations and Russia have fought many bloody wars including the two world wars. The Ottoman Empire was dragged into World War I as part of the European imperialist design where neither the principle of non-interference nor limiting the ambitions of major powers was observed by any stretch of the imagination.

The heart of the matter is the question of power disequilibrium, i.e., the sense that some nations have too much power and abuse it and others have too little and make up for it with proxy wars. This is where some nation-states see themselves as powerful enough to go beyond their natural borders of influence and some others feel threatened by the presence of others and act to preempt them from encroaching upon their security hinterland.

But there are also other factors at play. The recent Russian attitude in Ukraine and Syria is underlined by a sense of “can-do-without-impunity” posturing on the one hand, and a sense of insecurity on the other. Emboldened by the success of nuclear talks and the rise of submissive actors in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, Iran displays a similar aggressiveness whereby it seeks to position itself as the patron of Shiite communities across the Muslim world. Needless to say, it leads to reactions from other major players such as Saudi Arabia that sees Iranian meddling as subversive and destabilizing.

The Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis is manipulating the power vacuum created by the Obama administration’s “engage but do not confront” policy. It emerged out of the Syrian war in the last year or so but is now having very serious consequences across the Middle East. Containing this crisis will go a long way in establishing a degree of power equilibrium and balance in the region.

The global order needs a fair and legitimate distribution of power whereby the nation-states with varying degrees of power feel neither emboldened enough to be reckless nor so insecure as to put the house on fire. Neither will serve anyone’s interest.

see on:


UAE told UK: crack down on Muslim Brotherhood or lose arms deals

The Guardian writes

The United Arab Emirates threatened to block billion-pound arms deals with the UK, stop inward investment and cut intelligence cooperation if David Cameron did not act against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Guardian has learned.

Internal UAE government documents seen by the Guardian show that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was briefed to complain to the prime minister about the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2012, when one of its leading members, Mohamed Morsi, became Egyptian president.

In the briefing notes it was suggested that the crown prince demand Cameron rein in BBC coverage.

In return, Cameron was to be offered lucrative arms and oil deals for British business which would have generated billions of pounds for the jet divisions of BAE Systems and allowed BP to bid to drill for hydrocarbons in the Gulf.

read on at:

read how al-Islah, the Muslim Brotherhood comunity in the UAE, has been persecuted over the years for its peaceful attempts at reform and development in the country

All Middle Eastern priorities to change with Saudi move

David Hearst writes

The Saudi decision to start the new year with mass executions bore the hallmarks of a calculated move. Riyadh doubtless anticipated that the Basij would do to Saudi diplomats what had been done to previous representatives of governments who had incurred the Ayatollah’s wrath. The Saudis were prepared to cut diplomatic relations, and ensure that other Arab states followed suit.

Not for the first time in recent months, an Iran which prided itself on anticipating the next step of its enemies and on outsmarting them, found itself wrong-footed by the Saudi move. Just as it was when Riyadh announced its military offensive against the Houthi takeover of Yemen, Iran still worked on old assumptions that Saudi Arabia moved cautiously and behind a bead curtain.

Here, however, the kingdom has played a different role. It has declared open season on the regional conflict with its Persian neighbour. This marks more than just one rung up the ladder of hostilities from its current stance of fighting proxies like the Iranian-backed Houthis, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Hezbollah.

Hostility is overt. It brings regional division to centre stage. Challenging the military and political influence that Iran has grown accustomed to wield in Syria, Yemen and Iraq since the US invasion in 2003 has now become official Saudi policy. Very little of the spectrum of bilateral relations are left intact, bar the offer to host Iranian Muslim pilgrims at the Hajj. Considering what happened at the Hajj last year, that too is now in doubt.  All trade and air travel between the countries has now been cut.

For good or for ill, in sickness and in health, Saudi Arabia under King Salman has become an assertive regional force, prepared to back its interests with hard power. It has defined regional allies in Turkey and Qatar. It faces defined regional enemies in Iran and Russia. It is forcing other Arab states to choose sides. Bahrain and Sudan did so on Monday, while the Emirates downgraded their relations with Iran.

It would be interesting to learn how much notice Riyadh gave Washington of Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir’s statement. Probably even less time than the decision to launch an attack on Yemen. Saudi Arabia no longer waits for the approval of its chief military patron and supplier. Like other US allies in the region, it is used to acting on its own.

The move spells the end, for now, to the Syrian ceasefire talks and possibly also Yemeni ones as well. The fallout from this weekend is unlikely to stop there. There is every indication that Riyadh will go on the offensive to restrict Iran’s re-entry to global markets, after its nuclear deal with Washington. Saudi Arabia will keep the price of oil at record lows, even at the cost of aggravating its own balance of payment crisis. It has already inflicted damage on the solvency of Russia’s foreign trade bank Vnesheconombank, which needs $18bn to start lending again.

If this was planned, why was the plan carried out now? Forty-five of those executed were Saudi nationals, alongside a Chadian and an Egyptian. Forty-three were Sunnis, many of them al-Qaeda figures who had been on death row for periods stretching back to 2004. Their execution was a card Riyadh could have played anytime since the last wave of al-Qaeda bombings in 2012. Why was it played now, what political messages were sent and to whom?

Saudi Arabian rulers have faced two historic sources of internal dissent: the Shia minority, many of whom live in the Eastern Province, and Sunni jihadis. But only one of those sources makes the regime shake. Most analysts agree that Shia protests do not have the same ability. Of the 43 Sunni prisoners executed, the state media focused on Faris al-Shuwail al-Zahrani.

He was described as the ideologue behind a series of attacks on expats, police stations and oil plants which killed hundreds. In executing a “preacher of takfir”, the regime took on its ideological rival. In Wahhabi Salafism, only a state preacher can practise takfir, that is, declaring another person an infidel. This would have reassured the Sunni majority. But there was a message, too, for them. In a year in which the fuel subsidy is being lifted, overtime in state-run institutions is being cut, and everyone will have more taxes to pay, including a form of sales tax, the message is that no protest will be tolerated.

Externally, the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr was certain to touch off protests abroad, as Iran had done so much to highlight his case. On cue, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, and Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi cleric, both reacted. According to the internal communique seen by The Independent, the head of Riyadh’s security services ordered police forces in the country to cancel any holidays scheduled for early 2016 and urged them to exercise “maximum precaution” until further notice.

The prospects of substantive Syrian talks had already been dealt a mortal blow by the alleged Russian air strike that killed Zahran Alloush, the leader of Jaish al-Islam. Alloush signed up for the Saudi peace process when other Syrian militia leaders walked away. In killing Alloush, Russia was showing, on Assad’s behalf, that it could fashion the negotiating environment by selecting which interlocutors lived. Alloush’s killing did less to the balance of forces on the ground outside Damascus than it did to Saudi determination to stop this.

Now the prospects of talks are dead. Instead, Saudi Arabia is cultivating a deepening security relationship with Turkey. Billions of dollars of contracts for advanced Turkish weaponry are rumoured to be in the offing as a result of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest visit to Riyadh.

The intensity and lethality of the combat in Syria that escalated when Russian warplanes began bombing largely opposition targets from the air are now set to escalate from the ground as well. As the front lines have changed little, this only means the conflict will be prolonged. Any talk of civil war winding down in local ceasefires now looks like the optimistic prattle of the past.

For at least one of the intervening powers, Russia and Iran on one side and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the other, Syria will become an Afghanistan – a war from which one foreign power will have to beat an ignominious retreat. Saudi Arabia, whose foreign policy is popular among the majority-Sunni population of the region, is confident it will not be the one doing that.

This can only entrench conflict in the region in 2016. If 2015 was violent, this year is set to become even more so. The Saudi move will be as much a challenge for Egypt. Until now, the Saudi paymasters of the Egyptian military ruler Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tolerated the cold response Egypt gave to Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Syria. How much longer that will be the case with the Egyptian rapprochement to Russia and Iran remains to be seen.

Whichever way you cut it, this is not a move from which any side can back down quickly. There are high stakes internationally, and each player in this conflict feels it has already invested too much to shove the machine into reverse gear. Each government feels vulnerable internally. There is little leeway for compromise. Ultimately, a balance of power has to be drawn between Iran and Saudi Arabia. That will now be achieved in an international test of wills played out in a region bristling with weapons and wielded exclusively by people who know how to use them.

read at:

Lawsuit against US Treasury lays bare the substantial illegal funding of Israel

A lawsuit has been filed against the United States Treasury on the grounds that 150 NGO’s operating in the U.S. sent $280 billion to Israel in the past 20 years and was reported as a deductible item on their income tax filings. The lawsuit argues that the funds sent to Israel were filed as part of the U.S. income tax regulations’ code 501(c) (3), violating U.S. and international law.

This action by NGOs has consistently undermined U.S. foreign policy by contributing to the countless crimes and human rights violations by the Israeli military against the Palestinians. It argues on behalf of the US taxpayer that the NGOs should pay back the unpaid taxes with interest.

see the filing on