Monday, 20 May 2024
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Middle East

By Lauren Williamson, UK Defence Forum Research Associate

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which was formed by six Gulf monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula in 1981, currently works to achieve mutual strategic objectives such as promoting trade and commerce, unifying their security response and sharing information and technology. The Gulf Research Center's Riccardo Dugulin argues that the GCC can achieve much more by implementing a Gulf Neighborhood Policy (GNP) modeled on the European one. The problem with the December 2010 report is that recent political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa may require an overhaul of the proposed strategies.

The report offers straightforward prescriptions for the GCC's engagement with nearby countries, prospective GCC members like Yemen, and distant actors with an impact in the region such as India, China and Russia. The proposed engagement plans are rooted in practical incentive-disincentive methods, prioritizing economic and development programs to bolster struggling economies in nearby states, thereby furthering GCC economic and security interests. The GNP emphasizes reducing trade barriers, increasing GCC consumption of exports from developing countries, easing migration restrictions for labor and promoting religious tourism.

Dugulin utilizes the European Union's policy as a framework for the construction of the GNP and uses its successes and failures to define GCC strategies. A weakness noted in the EU's engagement is its lack of interaction in conflict zones – an option the GCC cannot take if it hopes to strengthen its regional power. With nuclear hostilities brewing in Iran, an unsettled insurgency in Afghanistan, minimal reconstruction in Iraq, civil strife in Yemen and the threat of extremists moving into the Gulf from Pakistan, GCC states are in fact surrounded by crises and potential threats.

Additionally, the unrest that began in Tunisia is said to have "spread" to other nations like Egypt and Libya. The seeds of similar disruptions have sprouted and may be growing in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as in GCC states such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The extent of the unrest and the root causes of contributing grievances are specific to each nation and are not yet fully understood by the international community. It may be better to hold off on some of the GNP initiatives until it can be determined whether engagement might be warmly received, or whether certain strategies should be redesigned. A failure for the neighborhood policy during its preliminary phase could be detrimental to the perceived efficacy of the GCC.

And there are dangers in adhering too closely to a European style of neighborhood engagement.

Firstly, as the report notes, the EU is much more cohesive than the GCC, with significant similarities in the governing styles and economies of its 27 nations. Additionally, the EU utilizes a shared currency, which facilitates its own internal economic projects and simplifies engagement with its neighbors. The GCC does not yet share a currency, though it seeks to implement one by 2020. However, because of the ongoing Eurozone crisis, foreign investors may balk at the attempt to implement a unified currency in the GCC which would harm the GNP's economic objectives, at least initially.

Secondly, the Arab nations that the GCC hopes to engage may be wary of initiatives that mirror those of Europe. Such programs may be interpreted as a Trojan horse for Western imperialism. In fact, the report urges the GNP to align directly with the EU on programs with shared neighborhood countries. But while collaborative efforts can harness greater economic power – indeed, governments can do more with more money – concerted efforts may also contribute to mistrust felt by the recipient country. To that end, it is crucial to create a neighborhood policy that truly reflects the character of GCC states and appeals to the unique identities of the people in the Gulf nations. The GCC must capitalize on one of its greatest strengths: local expertise.

The capstone of the Gulf Research Center's report is its provision of a well defined how-to manual for GCC leaders in creating an optimal infrastructure to appropriately implement development schemes. It details the creation of special banks and regulation bodies. It recommends allowing all stakeholders, from business and government elites to aid organizations and tribal leaders, to participate in the policy process, thus integrating diverse groups. The hope is that the proposed GNP would solidify social bonds between the various countries. Importantly, the report prudently states that achieving peace for the entire region is an unrealistic goal and should not be the objective of the neighborhood policy.

Dugulin offers a warning to the GCC states that if further political turbulence rocks the Arab world, the US may pressure the GCC to take a hard-lined stance. Again, aligning too closely with Western interests could cause problems for the GCC, and acting preemptively against neighboring states may diminish its ability to pursue its independent interests in the future. For instance, the GCC is committed to pursuing nuclear power for civilian-only use. If a neighborhood policy successfully allows the GCC to extend its influence in the region, it can then foster similar objectives among its neighbors. It's possible that Iran might even respond more openly to nuclear negotiations led by the GCC.

In this post-economic crisis, multi-polar world, regional blocs are important tools for countries to advance their own interests. A Gulf Neighborhood Policy has vast potential for the GCC as a conduit for collective response and economic development. Favorable outcomes in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan would pave the way for the GCC to extend its reach elsewhere, thereby eventually benefiting other struggling nations such as Somalia. But best-case scenarios are highly unlikely, and the hazards that accompany such engagements are numerous. The report ultimately falls short in exploring all the facets of the policy and their ramifications. And in light of the recent political unrest in the region, the GCC may need to look inward first before engaging its neighbors.

Report by Riccardo Dugulin for the Gulf Research Center, originally written for the Majalla. You can view the report in its entirety here.


By Alex Shone, UK Defence Forum Research Associate in Residence

On 8th March, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, an 80-year-old conservative cleric, was elected as the chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts. Mahdavi-Kani replaced Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who had headed the Assembly for the previous four years. Yesterday, in the House of Commons, it was asked of the UK Government what their assessment was of Rafsanjani's departure from the Assembly. The answer was that this event was not anticipated to seriously impact the current course of Iran's internal and external policies, though these will remain of great concern.

Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani

Born in 1931 in the village of Kan, near Tehran, he began his education in Tehran and left for Qom to study at a seminary in 1947, aged 16. One of his teachers was Imam Khomeyni (later Ayatollah Khomeyni). He was imprisoned and tortured due to his political activity in the 1970s. Mahdavi-Kani has a history of medical conditions. He has been hospitalised with heart problems three times in 1985, 2001 and 2005.

Iran's Assembly of Experts

There 86 members of the Assembly of Experts and their role is to appoint the Supreme Leader, monitor his performance and remove the Leader from post if he is deemed incapable of fulfilling his duties. The Assembly's members are elected by the public for 8 year terms in a general election. The candidates are carefully vetted before being allowed to stand and the Assembly is dominated by religious conservatives.

Political career

Mahdavi-Kani was among the founding members of the Military Clergy Association, the jame'eh-ye rowhaniyat-e mobarez, (JRM). The Association started in 1977 as an anti-Shah movement and gained power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

After the Revolution, Mahdavi-Kani was appointed a member of Guardian Council in 1980 and served as Iran's interior minister between 1980 and 1981. He served as acting Prime Minister from September to October 1981, after the assassination of his predecessor, Mohammad Javad Bahonar. Mahdavi-Kani has also served as a member of the Council of the Islamic Revolution Committee and the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.

In 1984, Mahdavi-Kani became provisional Friday prayer leader for Tehran for two years. In 1997, he was elected to the Expediency Council, and in 1989 Ayatollah Khamene'i appointed him as the Director of Mosques. In 1999, Mahdavi-Kani was elected as secretary-general of the JRM, a position he holds to this day. He is also the chancellor of the Imam Sadeq University in Tehran.

Mahdavi-Kani is a traditional conservative cleric who elects to stay behind the scenes. He is a loyal follower of Ayatollah Khomeyni and has expressed criticism towards President Ahmadinejad. Mahdavi-Kani actually refused to receive the President during the latter's visit to Imam Sadeq University in 2007, though he supported Ahmadinejad's candidacy in the 2009 presidential election.

In memoirs published in 2007, Mahdavi-Kani said that he had always been opposed to the siege of the USA embassy in Tehran in 1979 demanding the extradition of the Shah from the USA to face trial in Iran.


By Scott Stewart, Stratfor

On March 19, military forces from the United States, France and Great Britain began to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which called for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya and authorized the countries involved in enforcing the zone to "take all necessary measures" to protect civilians and "civilian-populated areas under threat of attack." Obviously, such military operations cannot be imposed against the will of a hostile nation without first removing the country's ability to interfere with the no-fly zone — and removing this ability to resist requires strikes against military command-and-control centers, surface-to-air missile installations and military airfields. This means that the no-fly zone not only was a defensive measure to protect the rebels — it also required an attack upon the government of Libya.

Certainly, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has no doubt that the U.S. and European military operations against the Libyan military targets are attacks against his regime. He has specifically warned France and the United Kingdom that they would come to regret the intervention. Now, such threats could be construed to mean that should Gadhafi survive, he will seek to cut off the countries' access to Libyan energy resources in the future. However, given Libya's past use of terrorist strikes to lash out when attacked by Western powers, Gadhafi's threats certainly raise the possibility that, desperate and hurting, he will once again return to terrorism as a means to seek retribution for the attacks against his regime. While threats of sanctions and retaliation have tempered Gadhafi's use of terrorism in recent years, his fear may evaporate if he comes to believe he has nothing to lose.

Read more...  

By Nima Khorrami Assl, UK Defence Forum Researcher

As the United States, France, and Britain take the plunge into Libya's internal conflict, there seems to be a disagreement on the objectives of the mission and therefore what the exit strategy should be.

The trouble is that objectives are unclear because tactics, as opposed to strategy, are being discussed, and hence national leaders and their military advisors have proved incapable of formulating an exit strategy. For example, UN Security Council Resolution allows for the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians, and it also advocates the idea of tilting the balance of power against Qaddafi. However, neither of these can be achieved without arming rebels and having troops on the ground. Meanwhile, there seems to be a consensus on a maximalist objective which is to say Qaddafi must go. Unclear is what role the alliance can and should play once he is gone given the NATO members' preference for minimalist tactics and narrow commitment in pursuit of their maximalist objective.

Hence, the international community, and in particular Britain, ought to seek to resolve the conflict via covert diplomatic means while keeping their forces on alert so to ensure that Qaddafi regime will put its words into action. This is so given that an immediate departure of the Qaddafi family from power will almost certainly create a de-ba'athification symptom which could easily embroil Libya into internal battles with different parts of the country dominated by rival tribes.

In terms of political infrastructure, Libya is equivalent of Afghanistan and Yemen, and that should Qaddafi go, Libya's political structure must be rebuilt from scratch. Qaddafi does not have a formal position to match his actual authority and thus he cannot be expected to resign. He makes the key decisions, but there are no formal institutions through which he does so. Therefore, the existence and predominance of informal ties and a lack of institutions should constitute the cornerstones of British strategy in the country which, in turn, require more realism as opposed to idealism.

What is crystal clear in Libya today is that there is a strong opposition to Qaddafi. However, it is not clear whether there is any internal coherence to that opposition which, in and by itself, is problematic in a country like Libya with a population of just over six million. The majority of the competent people in Libya have, in one way or another, worked with the Qaddafi regime. Hence, once Qaddafi is gone, there will not be enough trained bureaucrats to construct a new Libyan government that is not an extension of the old one. This fact alone could propel Libya back into some form of tribalism and create a power vacuum that will then be up for grab by contesting forces leading to emergence of a prolonged civil war; indeed a breeding ground for emergence of extremist discourses in North Africa. This becomes all the more alarming given the fact that Libya used to be the second-leading source of insurgents entering Iraq via Syria, Libyan rebels' possession of weapons and missiles looted from government stockpiles, and the regime's increasing attempts to arm its supporters for defensive purposes.

British interests in Libya are threefold: namely, securing British investment and energy needs, preventing Qaddafi from "brutalising" his own people, and averting societal instability and/or civil war. The underlying question, therefore, is that can a UN backed no-fly zone assist the government in its attempt to secure those interests? And the short answer is most probably not albeit the credible threat of use of force can prove effective in forcing the Libyan regime to make compromises.

Establishing a no-fly zone can be a very time consuming and complex endeavour requiring troops on the ground in order to provide meaningful protection to citizens as well as near-perfect clarity on the rules of engagement. While the latter might prove very difficult to achieve due to involvement of poorly trained troops from Arab states, the former is disallowed by the UN Resolution and Western leaders, in particular President Obama, are unwilling to contemplate it.

The UK's relative influence is clearly on the wane, not only because the "special relationship" is no longer that special but also because financial crisis of 2008 accelerated the transformation of economic and political power from the West to China, India and other rising powers. To be effective, therefore, UK foreign policy practitioners must be able to exploit short-lived opportunities and develop new types of partnership based on a well-defined vision for Britain's future role in accordance to the rapidly evolving geopolitical realities of this Century. Securing British interests abroad will require the government to be able to influence and/or persuade others to work with it on shared goals, and a prerequisite to achieving this end is to be seen as an enabler; an actor that has the knowledge and resources to help other states to develop sufficient vision and knowledge with regards to their involvement in critical parts of the world.

As such, the coalition government ought to be credited for persuading others to back its call for the use of credible threat under the guises of no-fly zone. Nonetheless, much more needs to be done in the form of covert diplomacy if Britain and its allies are to avoid another lengthy military commitment in a Muslim land. Covert diplomacy is needed to facilitate talks between pro and anti Qaddafi forces if there is going to emerge a reform-minded, representative government in Libya. This requires understanding Saif Qaddafi's motives, and Britain is well-equipped to take on this role.

Saif Qaddafi is British educated and has close links to this country; that is to say, we know him well and he knows us well too. He is, in fact, amongst the very few people in the Libyan government that Western officials can engage with on both political and intellectual levels. He is a reformer who, according to people close to him, believes in Western liberalism as evident in his writings. Writing him off for remarks, which were considerably taken out of context when reported, would be a major geostrategic mistake. It has to be realised that one single rule that every Arab is familiar with is that of 'family first, everything else next'. And Saif Qaddafi is no exception. Britain has the means to influence Saif and as a result can persuade its allies to support its efforts for a diplomatic solution.

A diplomatic end to the current instability in Libya can help Britain and its allies to avoid acquisitions of meddling in Muslim affairs and/or hijacking the Libyan revolution which will be voiced regardless of Arab states involvement. Moreover, Qaddafi's money and cheap oil have helped Robert Mugabe to buttress his position in Zimbabwe. Hence, a negotiated end to the Libyan drama can help Britain to force Qaddafi stop bailing out Mugabe thereby weakening his position in Zimbabwe indirectly. Finally, there is the real danger of a sharp drop in Libyan oil flow to Europe in events of a revolution or prolonged civil war which could be avoided if Britain merges the threat of force with covert diplomacy.

A reduction in Libyan oil production leads to further dependency on the Saudi oil thereby making Britain more vulnerable to Saudi demands at this critical time in the region. Already, it seems that there is an agreement between the West and the GCC in the form of Arab consent and help over Libya in return for Western silence over Bahrain. The trouble is that GCC regimes suppression of Shia in Bahrain is helping the Iranian government to expand its influence there. Should the GCC governments fail to stabilise Bahrain and Bahrain falls under the Iranian influence, treating Iran, already an influential actor in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, as an equal partner might very well become a strategic necessity.

In short, that a military no-fly zone is an insufficient, risky strategy is clearly evident in Western powers desperate attempts to present it as a joint operation between NATO and the Arab League. What has been happening in the past couple of weeks is making of a tribal war and entirely unclear is what glue will hold together this decentralized country in the absence of nationalist identification.

As a result, danger of Britain ending up inheriting an open-ended protection of a new mini-state is real and can only be avoided if Britain and its allies do not limit their strategy to the use of force. Aside from its obvious and immediate geostrategic consequences – i.e. civil war, the cut-off of oil, and the possible re-empowerment of Al-Qaeda in North Africa –, foregoing covert diplomacy in favour of overt use of force will drastically reduce Britain ability to portray herself as an enabler in the Arab world. This is important because British interests can be very well secured if Britain is seen as an enabler, especially by emerging powers and in particular India, in resource rich regions.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly delayed his March 23 trip to Moscow following a bombing at bus stop in central Jerusalem that injured as many as 34 people. The bombing follows a series of recent mortar and rocket attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip reaching as far as the outskirts of Ashdod and Beersheba, as well as the March 11 massacre of an Israeli family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

Netanyahu, already facing a political crisis at home in trying to hold his fragile coalition government together, now faces a serious dilemma. There were strong hints that Netanyahu may hold a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow to restart the peace process and avoid becoming entrapped in another military campaign in the Palestinian territories, but that plan is now effectively derailed. Though the precise perpetrators and their backers remain unclear, a Palestinian faction or factions appear to be deliberately escalating the crisis and thus raising the potential for Israel to mount another military operation in the Palestinian territories.

Attacks in Jerusalem, while rare, raise concerns in Israel that a more capable militant presence is building in Fatah-controlled West Bank in addition to Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Even before the Jerusalem bombing, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli citizens in a March 23 Israel Radio broadcast that "we may have to consider a return" to a second Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. He added, "I say this despite the fact that I know such a thing would, of course, bring the region to a far more combustible situation." The past few years of Palestinian violence against Israel has been mostly characterized by Gaza-based rocket attacks as well as a spate of attacks in 2008 in which militants used bulldozers to plow into both civilian and security targets in Jerusalem. Though various claims and denials were issued for many of the incidents, the perpetrators of these attacks — likely deliberately — remained unclear.

The names of shadowy groups such as the "al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade-Imad Mughniyah" also began circulating, raising suspicions of a stronger Hezbollah — and by extension, Iranian — link to Palestinian militancy. (Imad Mughniyah, one of Hezbollah's most notorious commanders, was killed in February 2008 in Damascus.) The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades-Imad Mughniyah group claimed the March 11 West Bank attack, which Hamas denied. Palestinian Islamic Jihad's (PIJ) armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, has meanwhile claimed responsibility for the recent rocket attacks launched from Gaza that targeted Ashkelon and Sderot. PIJ spokesman Abu Hamad said
March 23 prior to the Jerusalem bus bombing that his group intends to begin targeting cities deep within Israeli territory as it enters a "new phase of the resistance." This is notable, as PIJ, out of all the Palestinian militant groups, has the closest ties to Iran.

The wider regional context is pertinent to the building crisis in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Iran has been pursuing a covert destabilization campaign in the Persian Gulf region to undermine its Sunni Arab rivals, particularly in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis reacted swiftly to the threat with the deployment of troops to Bahrain and are now engaging in a variety of measures to try to suppress Shiite unrest within the kingdom itself. The fear remains, however, that Iran has retained a number of covert assets in the region that it can choose to activate at an opportune time. Iran opening another front in the Levant, using its already well-established links to Hezbollah in Lebanon and its developing links to Hamas and other players in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, remains a distinct possibility and islikely being discussed in the crisis meetings under way in Israel at this time.

(C) All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission


Many Western politicians are likely to share U.S. Senator John D Rockefeller's sentiment that 'Iran is nothing but trouble, and always has been that.' This is especially true of Israeli politicians like former President Moshe Katsav. He has previously claimed that 'Iran stands behind a substantial number of terrorist actions against us, together with Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad. It pretends to care for the Palestinians.'

Yet other Western politicians hold a more pragmatic view of Iran. Despite condemnation of Iran's human rights record and nuclear programme Senator Howard Berman acknowledges that the country is central to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Iran is also 'a major player in global energy markets, and a key country in terms of our interaction with the Muslim world.'

Such diverse ranges of opinion underpin one of the UK Defence Forum's major research projects for 2011. The 'Iranian Insights' series will provide a comprehensive assessment of the government, politics and people of Iran. Subjects to be covered include:

·         The 'birth' of the modern Iranian state

·         Religion in Iran

·         Human rights and political freedom

·         Iran's internal security apparatus

·         Historical overview of Iran's relations with the Middle East

The series begins, however, with a more contemporary study. Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, has updated the Forum's factsheet on Iran's nuclear weapons programme. All reports will be available at the UK Defence Forum's library, with notification of their publication made on Viewpoints.


Editor's note: This is the final installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman wrote during his travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he shared his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and now concludes with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

I have come home, a word that is ambiguous for me, and more so after this trip to Romania, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland. The experience of being back in Texas frames my memories of the journey. The architecture of the cities I visited both impressed and oppressed me. Whether Austro-Hungarian mass or Stalinist modernism, the sheer size of the buildings was overwhelming. These are lands of apartments, not of private homes on their own plots of land. In Texas, even in the cities, you have access to the sky. That gives me a sense of freedom and casualness that Central Europe denies me. For a man born in Budapest, with a mother from Bratislava and a father from Uzhgorod, I can't deny I am Central European. But I prefer my chosen home in Austin simply because nothing is ever casual for me in Central Europe. In Texas, everything is casual, even when it's about serious things. There is an ease in the intensity of Texas.

On my return, some friends arranged a small dinner with some accomplished and distinguished people to talk about my trip. I was struck by the casualness of the conversation. It was a serious discussion, even passionate at times, but it was never guarded. There was no sense that a conversation carried with it risk. I had not met some of the guests before. It didn't matter. In the region I was born in, I feel that I have to measure every word with care. There are so many bad memories that each word has to be measured as if it were gold. The simplest way to put it, I suppose, is that there are fewer risks in Texas than in Central Europe. One of the benefits of genuine power is speaking your mind, with good humor. Those on the edge of power proceed with more caution. Perhaps more than others, I feel this tension. Real Texans may laugh at this assertion, but at the end of the day, I'm far more Texan than anything else.

Or perhaps I speak too quickly. We were in the Kiev airport on the way to Warsaw. As I was passing through security, I was stopped by the question, "Friedman? Warsaw?" I admitted that and suddenly was under guard. "You have guns in your luggage." For me, that statement constituted a near-death experience. I looked at my wife, wondering what she had done. She said casually, "Those aren't guns. They are swords and daggers and were to be surprises for my husband." Indeed they were. While I stood in mortal terror, she cheerily chatted up the guards, who really couldn't make out what she was saying but were charmed nonetheless by her complete absence of fear. In my case, the fear came in layers, with each decade like another layer in an archaeological dig. For her, memory is a much simpler thing.

The region I visited is all about memories — never forgetting, never forgiving and pretending it doesn't matter any more. Therefore, the region is in a peculiar place. On the one hand, every past grievance continues to live. On the other hand, a marvelous machine, the European Union, is hard at work, making the past irrelevant and the future bright. In a region not noted for its optimism, redemption is here and it comes from Brussels.

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Editor's note: This is the fifth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

We arrived in Istanbul during the festival of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael on God's command and praises the God who stayed his hand. It is a jarring holiday for me; I was taught that it was Isaac whom God saved. The distinction between Ishmael and Isaac is the difference between Hagar and Sarah, between Abraham and the Jews and Abraham and the Muslims. It ties Muslims, Jews and Christians together. It also tears them apart.

Muslims celebrate Eid with the sacrifice of animals (sheep and cattle). Istanbul is a modern commercial city, stunningly large. On this day, as we drove in from the airport, there were vacant lots with cattle lined up for those wishing to carry out the ritual. There were many cattle and people. The ritual sacrifice is widely practiced, even among the less religious. I was told that Turkey had to import cattle for the first time, bringing them in from Uruguay. Consider the juxtaposition of ancient ritual sacrifice so widely practiced that it requires global trade to sustain it.

The tension between and within nations and religions is too ancient for us to remember its beginnings. It is also something that never grows old. For Turkey, it is about a very old nation at what I think is the beginning of a new chapter. It is therefore inevitably about the struggles within Turkey and with Turkey's search for a way to find both its identity and its place in the world.

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By Yusuf Yerkel,

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed the fourth round of sanctions on Iran on June 9, 2010. Since then there has been no indication that Iran has become more cooperative and willing to open up its nuclear facility. In fact, economic sanctions against Iran have not prevented the pursuit  of uranium enrichment activities at all. Nowadays the propaganda of waging war against Iran as a resolution has been speculated around various administrations, in particular in the US and Israel. Whether such speculations will materialize remains to be seen. However "appealing" waging war against Iran is for some neo-cons, Turkey's paradigm stands as a potential conciliatory approach for conflict resolution not only in the case of Iran but also in other regional crisis.

The security culture of 'zero problems' with its neighbours is the primary reference point within which Turkey's stance on Iran should be analyzed. Rather than implementing hard power policy, the soft power approach has become the fundamental instrument in resolving regional problems. As the Turkish foreign minster Davutoglu pronounced, Turkey has adopted a new language in regional and international politics that prioritises civil-economic power.

Turkey's new security culture puts more emphasis on economic integration, cultural and political dialogue and room for diplomacy in conflict resolutions. According to Turkey, pursuing merely political engagement among regional actors would render the relationship very fragile in the light of crisis, whereas deepening ties by various non-political mechanisms offers the opportunity to overcome crises. In fact, Turkish President Abdullah Gul in his recent speech at Chatham House raised this point by arguing that boosting economic cooperation, which will in turn translate into prosperity, has the potential to prevent political problems from arising in zones of conflict in various regions.

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By Dominic C. MacIver

Barely addressed by Western media, over recent months Lebanon has seen an escalating political crisis that threatens regional stability. Confrontation continues between the two major political blocs. Put simply, one is the broadly pro-Saudi faction led by Saad Hariri whilst their opponent in the fragile power-sharing agreement is the broadly pro-Iranian faction led by Hassan Nasrallah. Nonetheless Lebanese politics are fluid, complex and unpredictable as regional and international powers ally with internal factions to gain advantage.

The argument between the two camps focuses on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) which is strongly opposed by Hizbullah. Their covert armed strength is growing, and is balanced only by assorted national and regional actors uniting to act as a counterweight to them and their Iranian patron. Notably included in these united powers balancing Hizbullah have been Syria and Saudi Arabia, who have not seen eye-to-eye for a long time. Their cooperation is central to the Arab Peace Initiative for Israel-Palestine and must not be jeopardized.

The STL is an impartial UN Tribunal with Lebanese and international prosecutors cooperating to bring the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to justice. Hizbullah protest that it is compromised, calling it an Israeli plot because it refused to investigate the possibility that Mossad organized the assassination. Meanwhile the son of the assassinated Hariri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, withdrew his former accusation of Syrian involvement. It is now expected that Hizbullah operatives will be indicted. Hizbullah have vetoed the funding that the STL receives from the Lebanese government, splitting the Cabinet and returning Lebanon to paralysis and crisis.

If this internal argument results in communal violence, with Hizbullah taking their arms to the streets (as they did in 2008) or provoking Israel into war (as they did in 2006), it would adversely affect many issues important to Western interests in the region. Although there are vastly too many variables to solidly predict outcomes, the list of endangered elements would feasibly include the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, the Israel-Palestine peace track, and US-led attempts at Iranian containment, not to mention the precarious existence of the pro-Western governments in Lebanon and elsewhere.

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By Lauren Williamson

Iranian nuclear negotiations have been underway again in Geneva between Iranian officials and diplomats from the P5+1 countries. Yet according to Reuters, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't plan to discuss his country's specific nuclear programme and will be opting instead to chat about nuclear issues generally or other global problems. As Ahmadinejad sees it, the heavy-weight weapons-wielders of the world are about to scold him – again – arguing his country should not play with guns.

It is unlikely that this round of talks will yield a less defiant Iran, as Tehran has been doggedly determined in its nuclear pursuit. This is especially true in light of Sunday's revelation by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran who claims Iran is now fully capable of producing nuclear fuel. It can now successfully make yellow cake, or uranium powder which, when refined, can become fissile nuclear bomb material.

Currently, Iran is returning to the negotiating table after a 14-month break. But the history of the issue has deep roots. The Institute for Science and International Security says Iran outlined nuclear ambitions in the 1950s, later signing the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – which does allow for the pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy programmes. From the 1980s through the 2000s Iran conducted undeclared nuclear-related activity, violating conditions of the NPT. Instead of pursuing its peaceful programme transparently, as it had agreed, Iran has been shirking it obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And its non-compliance has resulted in brutal economic sanctions from the international community since 2006.

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By Jamie Ingram

"The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics". Dr Boutros Ghali's famous 1985 prediction has since been proven wrong but many believe the point is still valid. Observers forecast that increasing populations in an already water-stressed region will inevitably lead to conflict. The Tigris-Euphrates river basin has been highlighted as particularly susceptible to violence, but would its three riparian states (Turkey, Syria and Iraq) really go to war over access to its water?

Over the last 25 years rising populations, coupled with upstream States like Turkey developing rivers through the building of hydro-electric power stations and dams, have greatly increased pressure on many international rivers. Downstream States are understandably concerned that the flow of water reaching them may be disrupted. Fears abound that this could erupt into violence; especially in times of drought. Despite these well founded concerns international rivers have actually been the cause of very little conflict; the opposite is in fact true. The 20th century saw the signing of over 145 water-related treaties, the amount of violent conflicts over water? Seven minor skirmishes.

Crucially no international law governs the use of international rivers. While the 1997 UN Convention on International Watercourses contains useful principles, such as "Equitable and Reasonable Utilisation and Participation" few countries have signed up to it and it is not internationally binding.

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By Ben West

On the morning of Nov. 29, two Iranian scientists involved in Iran's nuclear development program were attacked. One was killed, and the other was injured. According to Iranian media, the deceased, Dr. Majid Shahriari, was heading the team responsible for developing the technology to design a nuclear reactor core, and Time magazine referred to him as the highest-ranking non-appointed individual working on the project.

Official reports indicate that Shahriari was killed when assailants on motorcycles attached a "sticky bomb" to his vehicle and detonated it seconds later. However, the Time magazine report says that an explosive device concealed inside the car detonated and killed him. Shahriari's driver and wife, both of whom were in the car at the time, were injured.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of town, Dr. Fereidoon Abassi was injured in a sticky-bomb attack reportedly identical to the one officials said killed Shahriari. His wife was accompanying him and was also injured (some reports indicate that a driver was also in the car at the time of the attack). Abassi and his wife are said to be in stable condition. Abassi is perhaps even more closely linked to Iran's nuclear program than Shahriari was, since he was a member of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and was named in a 2007 U.N. resolution that sanctioned high-ranking members of Iran's defense and military agencies believed to be trying to obtain nuclear weapons.

Monday's incidents occurred at a time of uncertainty over how global powers and Iran's neighbors will handle an Iran apparently pursuing nuclear weapons despite its claims of developing only a civilian nuclear program and asserting itself as a regional power in the Middle East. Through economic sanctions that went into effect last year, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany (known as the "P-5+1") have been pressuring Iran to enter negotiations over its nuclear program and outsource the most sensitive aspects the program, such as higher levels of uranium enrichment.

The Nov. 29 attacks came about a week before Saeed Jalili, Iran's national security chief, will be leading a delegation to meet with the P-5+1 from Dec. 6-7 in Vienna, the first such meeting in more than a year. The attacks also came within hours of the WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. State Department cables, which are filled with international concerns about Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Because of the international scrutiny and sanctions on just about any hardware required to develop a nuclear program, Iran has focused on developing domestic technologies that can fill the gaps. This has required a national initiative coordinated by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to build the country's nuclear program from scratch, an endeavor that requires thousands of experts from various fields of the physical sciences as well as the requisite technologies.

And it was the leader of the AEOI, Ali Akhbar Salehi, who told media Nov. 29 that Shahriari was "in charge of one of the great projects" at the agency. Salehi also issued a warning to Iran's enemies "not to play with fire." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elaborated on the warning, accusing "Zionist" and "Western regimes" of being behind the coordinated attacks against Shahriari and Abassi. The desire of the U.N. Security Council (along with Israel and Germany) to stop Iran's nuclear program and the apparent involvement of the targeted scientists in that program has led many Iranian officials to quickly blame the United States, United Kingdom and Israel for the attacks, since those countries have been the loudest in condemning Iran for its nuclear ambitions.

It seems that certain domestic rivals of the Iranian regime would also benefit from these attacks. Any one of numerous Iranian militant groups throughout the country may have been involved in one way or another, perhaps with the assistance of a foreign power. A look at the tactics used in the attacks could shed some light on the perpetrators.

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By Alex Shone, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Iran is a country firmly framed in Western perception as a state sponsor of terrorism, whose quest for a nuclear weapon is conceived for purposes of coercive regional diplomacy. Iranian President Ahmadinejad's regime drives this perception, and on the subject of Israel, his rhetoric stokes fears of a new war in the Middle East. This regime is the face of Iran that we in the Western world are presented with.

However, behind this is a far more complex and enigmatic nation. The 'real' Iran is clearly more than the 'Green Movement' of students and leftist intellectuals who were brutally suppressed in the wake of the country's presidential elections. The UK Defence Forum is commencing a new country series on Iran that will analyse all the country's history, society, economics and politics. This new series aims to comprehensively assess these wider aspects of Iran within and beyond the face of the regime.

The progress and extent of Iran's nuclear programme is reassessed continually as new intelligence enters into the public domain. Judgement as to the appropriate response oscillates between a pre-emptive military strike and continued diplomacy with sanctions. The conclusion seems to boil down to whether we choose to 'bomb Iran' or 'live with an Iranian bomb'.

Advocates for the military option have only to cite the indisputable failure of diplomacy to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions. Economic sanctions have utterly failed to bring down the international support network available to Iran. Critically, the West has not been able to inflict the necessary pressure on Iran's energy sector, in great part due to the failure to secure the cooperation of other key states.

The military option is beset by concerns for the consequences. Airstrikes would end all diplomatic hopes, certainly for the near future. They would also put back any chance of eventual regime change, perhaps by decades, as Ahmadinejad's domestic propaganda would likely take an immoveable hold. There is also the problem of Iran's capacity to retaliate. Iran is a country with varying degrees of influence beyond its borders into Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran, as a state sponsor of terror, also has channels into a network of armed group proxies. The significance of Iranian influence here remains unclear but is still a great concern.

At centre of the problem is the opaqueness against which all assessments must be made. Iran is very much a closed country, regime and society to the West and the limits of our own understanding prohibit formulation of deeper judgements as to where Iranian intent lies. Diplomacy has failed with the Iranian regime and until sanctions develop real teeth, which key world powers genuinely rally behind, it is likely that Iran's government will be inconsolable from their nuclear path.

Rather, it is the Iranian people who are central to any resolution of this crisis. Ahmadinejad's regime and its political course must be de-legitimatised in the eyes of the Iranian population who do not have access to a free media. Understanding all aspects of Iran's society is therefore a paramount requirement if the West is to more effectively engage with the Iranian people to help steer the country from its current confrontational path.


By Alex Shone, Research Associate, U Defence Forum

Syria has been described by some US analysts as a 'low hanging fruit' in the Middle East; a potential partner for resolving some entrenched obstacles to an eventual peace resolution. This fruit many argue is 'ripe' for strategic realignment; a move that would generate new and potentially crucial opportunities.
Syria will become an increasingly important player within the affairs of the Middle East. A comprehensive appreciation of the country and its internal dynamics is a clear requirement and shall form the basis for a new UK Defence Forum country series on Syria.

Syria is a country that bridges military, political and social divides between several key Middle East countries. As a result, a perception lingering over Syria is that of contradiction and 'double-standard games' with the West. Syria's stated aim is peace with Israel and yet they have allied themselves with partners whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel. Syria is a bastion for secularism and yet they promote a common cause with numerous political Islamist groups. Syria simultaneously supports Iraqi Sunni insurgents and Lebanese Shi'ite armed groups.

These glaring and controversial actions have played no small role in obstructing diplomatic progress between Syria and the US. Western perception is that Syria has yet to take the first, genuine steps towards redressing these areas. The other and problematic side of this coin is that Syria believes it has taken these first steps, demonstrated as they see it by their cooling of relations with Hezbollah and warming of relations with Turkey.

Consequently, an impasse exists whereby the US waits for a show of commitment by Syria to rethinking its alliances with such undesirable partners as Hezbollah, Palestinian armed political groups and critically, Iran. Syria in turn waits for a greater show of commitment by the US for support if these entrenched status-quos are to be uprooted. Syria simply does not have the motivation to do so until they feel that the steps they have taken are appreciated; Syria is weary of what Damascus sees as a one-way show of commitment.

Equally, there is undoubtedly safety and comfort for Syria in preserving its current position. The Syrian regime, itself a Shi'ite minority within a Sunni majority nation, has been described as one that must preserve certain instabilities in order to survive. Its relations with such countries as Iran are fraught, and indeed perhaps governed, by parallel shared and competitive interests. Damascus manoeuvres between Ankara, Riyadh and Tehran, pursuing the bilateral relations it has with each whilst holding the others at bay with the 'stick' that it does have at its disposal.

Each side tends to view their own "gestures of goodwill" as holding enormous significance while dismissing the others' as insignificant. Resolution of contradictions on Syria's part will likely require a slow-but-sure start rather than sweeping and dramatic changes. Gambling with their future is clearly not something the Syrian regime can do. The regime is, for the medium term relatively secure. Economics is central, and while the country is faring well in terms of macroeconomics, underlying problems will in the longer term become increasingly problematic for the current regime's survival.

Syria can indeed be described as a low hanging fruit among potential Middle East partners for the West. However, progress in improving relations will have to be seen if it is to be 'plucked' or flipped towards a new regional status quo of power. Not simply normalisation but instead an expansion of dialogue shall be required to discuss the relevant issues and problem areas in order to determine a new regional role for Syria.


By Andras Beszterczey, UK Defence Forum Researcher

Hizballah is often heralded by allies and enemies alike as the textbook example of how an Islamist organisation can be assimilated, albeit painfully, into a democratic system. However, it is not clear whether the Party of God's 'Lebanonisation', coined by the veteran Lebanon commentator Augustus Richard Norton, was conducted willingly. The question is of the utmost importance as the nation awaits the findings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), investigating the 14 February 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which is likely to implicate members of Hizballah and reveal its true commitment to the democratic system.

The decision to participate in the 1992 elections, Lebanon's first since the civil war began in 1975, was a painful one for Hizballah. Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, the Secretary-General from 1989, warned that if the Party of God agreed to discard its ultimate objectives of creating an Islamic Republic for the sake of domestic political growth, it would only be a matter of time till the resistance against Israel was likewise abandoned. He was so adamant in his stance that Tufayli subsequently left, or was perhaps expelled – outsiders will never know, and ultimately he proved to be correct.

The fundamental misconception surrounding Hizballah is also the resistance's greatest hour – the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000. Hizballah did not beat Israel in the manner that international opinion believes. The Israeli Prime Minister in 2000, Ehud Barak, had, since the height of his military career in the early 1980s pushed for a full withdrawal from Lebanon and simply implemented a policy that he had desired to see for nearly two decades once gaining the premiership in July 1999. The lack of Israeli response to continued guerrilla activities along the Israeli-Lebanese border – Hizballah made an estimated eleven attempts to abduct Israeli soldiers between May 2000 and July 2006 – was first and foremost due to Israel's preoccupation with the Second Intifada. Nasrallah gravely miscalculated in July 2006 that Israel was still paralysed. The July War that Hizballah provoked with its abduction of two Israeli soldiers was so destructive that the Party could never again bring a conflict of such devastation upon Lebanon, knowing well what Israel's response would be lest Hizballah attack, and still survive as a political party.

Since the July War the resistance has been inactive with the only operation potentially attributed to their fighters being the engagement on the border on 3 August 2010 between the Lebanese Army and the IDF. Accusations arose that the Lebanese soldiers were linked to Hizbullah who ordered them to initiate a small engagement along the border to reactivate the fear of the Israeli enemy, yet the fire-fight is but a shadow of Hizbullah's former guerrilla activities. As a result the 'first-leg' of the Party's legitimacy, the resistance, disappeared because the need for Hizballah to maintain its domestic image bore greater weight than the need to fight Israel.

A second misconception surrounding the evolution of Hizballah is its relationship with Syria. Before the Cedar Revolution, the demonstrations calling for Syria's withdrawal after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Syria controlled all matters of importance relating to Lebanon's foreign and defence policy. Its presence in Lebanon dates back to 1976 when it intervened, with the international community's blessing, in the civil war to stem the tide of the local radical Palestinian presence. The negative aspect of Syria's domination was that the secular pan-Arabist regime of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and his son and heir, Bashar, dictated both the scope and magnitude of Hizballah's social welfare schemes to avert the Party from gaining a preponderance of power. Released of Syrian control, Hizballah was henceforth able to dictate its own policies. This became apparent with the May-June 2005 elections as Amal and other rival forces, previously dependent on Syrian patronage, subordinated themselves to Hizbullah's leadership creating a Shia hegemon. With the subsequent growth of Hizballah's actions, exemplified by its use of its weapons for domestic political objectives in May 2008, the Syrian factor waned.

Nevertheless, Syria maintains significant influence over Hizballah that has only recently begun to be appreciated. The most visible aspect is the use of Syria as a transit for Hizballah's arsenal, specifically the missiles it used during the July War to bring life in northern Israel to a halt. Secondly, Syria still maintains significant intelligence and security apparatus within Lebanon. On 31 August fighting broke out in Beirut between Hizballah and al-Ahbash, a Sunni faction. The argument was supposedly over a parking space; however, rumours are rife that the clash was instigated by Bashar al-Assad to remind the Party of Syria's preeminent position in Lebanon.

Hizballah has been reigned in once out of domestic political considerations and Syria may well be the answer to controlling the Party again. Others have likewise come to this conclusion. Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri's son, stated last month that Syria was not responsible for the assassination of his father, a volte-face of perplexing proportion considering that the anti-Syrian issue was the only uniting rallying cry of the various Maronite and Sunni groups involved in the Cedar Revolution. Yet Syria's influence in Lebanon has historically aimed at maintaining the status quo and Hariri seems to have come to the conclusion that an alliance with his father's killers is the lesser of two evils compared to the growing strength of Hizballah and its potentially antagonistic reaction to the STL.

Further UK Defence Forum research on Hezbollah can be accessed here .


By Scott Stewart

The Oct. 29 discovery of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) inside two packages shipped from Yemen launched a widespread search for other devices, and more than two dozen suspect packages have been tracked down so far. Some have been trailed in dramatic fashion, as when two U.S. F-15 fighter aircraft escorted an Emirates Air passenger jet Oct. 29 as it approached and landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. To date, however, no other parcels have been found to contain explosive devices.

The two parcels that did contain IEDs were found in East Midlands, England, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and both appear to have been sent by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda's jihadist franchise in Yemen. As we've long discussed, AQAP has demonstrated a degree of creativity in planning its attacks and an intent to attack the United States. It has also demonstrated the intent to attack aircraft, as evidenced by the failed Christmas Day bombing in 2009 involving Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to detonate an explosive device concealed in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

A tactical analysis of the latest attempt suggests that the operation was not quite as creative as past attempts, though it did come very close to achieving its primary objective, which in this case (apparently) was to destroy aircraft. It does not appear that the devices ultimately were intended to be part of an attack against the Jewish institutions in the United States to which the parcels were addressed. Although the operation failed in its primary mission (taking down aircraft) it was successful in its secondary mission, which was to generate worldwide media coverage and sow fear and disruption in the West.

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By Scott Stewart

STRATFOR is currently putting the finishing touches on a detailed assessment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the al Qaeda-inspired jihadist franchise in that country. As we got deeper into that project, one of the things we noticed was the group's increasing reliance on criminal activity to fund its operations. In recent months, in addition to kidnappings for ransom and extortion of businessmen — which have been endemic in Iraq for many years — the ISI appears to have become increasingly involved in armed robbery directed against banks, currency exchanges, gold markets and jewelry shops.

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By George Friedman

Last week's events off the coast of Israel continue to resonate. Turkish-Israeli relations have not quite collapsed since then but are at their lowest level since Israel's founding. U.S.-Israeli tensions have emerged, and European hostility toward Israel continues to intensify. The question has now become whether substantial consequences will follow from the incident. Put differently, the question is whether and how it will be exploited beyond the arena of public opinion.

The most significant threat to Israel would, of course, be military. International criticism is not without significance, but nations do not change direction absent direct threats to their interests. But powers outside the region are unlikely to exert military power against Israel, and even significant economic or political sanctions are unlikely to happen. Apart from the desire of outside powers to limit their involvement, this is rooted in the fact that significant actions are unlikely from inside the region either.

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By Scott Stewart

On the afternoon of Sunday, May 30, an Aeromexico flight from Paris to Mexico City was forced to land in Montreal after authorities discovered that a man who was on the U.S. no-fly list was aboard. The aircraft was denied permission to enter U.S. airspace, and the aircraft was diverted to Trudeau International Airport in Montreal. The man, a Somali named Abdirahman Ali Gaall, was removed from the plane and arrested by Canadian authorities on an outstanding U.S. warrant. After a search of all the remaining passengers and their baggage, the flight was allowed to continue to its original destination.

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