America, An Empire on its Last Leg: To be Kicked Out from the Middle East?

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky

Global Research, January 07, 2020

America’s hegemonic military agenda in the Middle East has reached a dangerous threshold.

The assassination of  IRGC General Soleimani ordered by the President of the United States on January 3, 2020 is tantamount to an Act of War against Iran.

President Donald Trump accused Soleimani  of “plotting imminent and sinister attacks”: “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war…. we caught him in the act and terminated him.”

US Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper described it as a “decisive defensive action” while confirming that the operation ordered by POTUS had been carried out by the Pentagon. “The game has changed” said Esper.  

What the media has failed to acknowledge is General Soleimani’s central role in countering ISIS-Daesh and Al Qaeda terrorists in both Iraq and Syria. 

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC) under the helm of General Soleimani consisted in waging a real counter-terrorism campaign against ISIS-Daesh mercenaries, who from the outset were funded, trained and recruited by the US and its allies.

Trump’s action plan to “stop a war” consists in “protecting” America’s ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliated foot-soldiers.

US Extrajudicial Assassinations

While the assassination of General Soleimani constitutes a criminal act on the part of President Trump,  the US practice of extrajudicial assassinations of foreign politicians has a long history.

What distinguishes the assassination of General Soleimani from previous extrajudicial killings, is that the president of the US has formally announced that he gave the order.

This sets a dangerous precedent. It was “overt” rather than “covert”, i.e. a covert operation by the CIA or by a US sponsored Al Qaeda affiliate acting on behalf of Washington.

It is important to note that it was not Trump but in fact Obama who formalized (“legalized”) the practice of extra-judicial assassination (ordered by the president):

And if the president [Obama] can kill anyone, including US citizens, without judicial review, what power does he not have? Any but the most formal distinction between democracy and presidential dictatorship is swept away. (Joseph Kishore, wsws.org, October 31, 2012)

Trump’s Response: More Troops to the Middle East

While the Pentagon announced that it is “sending thousands of additional troops to the Middle East”, a unanimous vote in Iraq’s parliament was reached demanding the immediate withdrawal of all US forces.

The legislation requires the Iraqi government to “end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil and prevent the use of Iraqi airspace, soil and water for any reason”.

Note: Death to  America: refers to the US Government, Not the American People

Backflash: A Digression. The Obama Air Raids (2014-2017)

Concurrently the Iraqi parliament suspended the corrupt 2014 agreement with the Obama administration which invited the US to lead a fake counterterrorism operation directed against the Islamic State (ISIS-Daesh), made up of mercenaries who are funded, trained and recruited by US-NATO, with the support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The decision of the Iraqi parliament is in this regard fundamental. This operation was used by the Obama administration as a pretext to justify a third phase of the Iraq War (1991, 2003, 2014). Initiated in June 2014 by Obama under the disguise of a counterterrorism operation, a new phase of killing and destruction was launched.

Why was the US Air Force unable to wipe out the Islamic State which at the outset was largely equipped with conventional small arms not to mention state of the art Toyota pickup trucks?

F-15E Strike Eagle.jpg

From the very outset, Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama’s air campaign was NOT directed at ISIS.  The evidence confirms that the Islamic State was not the target. Quite the opposite. The air raids were intended to destroy the economic infrastructure of Iraq and Syria.

Look at the following image which describes the Islamic State convoy of pickup trucks entering Iraq fromn Syria and crossing a 200 km span of open desert which separates the two countries.

This convoy entered Iraq in June 2014.

What would have been required from a military standpoint to wipe out an ISIS convoy with no effective anti-aircraft capabilities?

Without an understanding of military issues, common sense prevails. 

If they had wanted to eliminate the Islamic State brigades, they could have “carpet” bombed their convoys of Toyota pickup trucks when they crossed the desert from Syria into Iraq in June 2014. 

The  Syro-Arabian Desert is open territory (see map right). With state of the art jet fighter aircraft (F15, F22 Raptor, F16) it would have been  –from a military standpoint–  “a piece of cake”, a rapid and expedient surgical operation, which would have decimated the Islamic State convoys in a matter of hours.

But if that had happened, they would not have been able to implement their “Responsibility to Protect” (P2R) bombing campaign over a three year period (2014-2017).

Instead what we witnessed were drawn out relentless air raids and bombings which culminated with the so-called liberation of Mosul (February 2017) and Raqqa (October 2017) by the US led coalition.

And we were led to believe that the Islamic State had the upper hand and could not be defeated by a powerful US led military coalition of 19 countries.

The people of Iraq and Syria were the targets. Obama’s bombing raids were intent upon destroying the civilian infrastructure of Iraq and Syria.

ISIS-Daesh were never the target of US aggression. Quite the opposite. They were protected by the Western military alliance.

US Troop Withdrawal: Yankee Go Home (2020)

While a major US troop withdrawal is unlikely in the foreseeable future,  “America’s War on Terrorism” is in jeopardy. Nobody believes that America is going after the terrorists.

In Iraq and Syria, everybody knows that all Al Qaeda, ISIS-Daesh affiliated entities are supported by US-NATO.A Major Conventional War Against Iran Is an Impossibility. Crisis within the US Command Structure

The “Yankee Go Home” process has commenced.  The US is not only being ousted from Iraq and Syria, its strategic presence in the broader Middle East is also threatened. And these two processes are intimately related.

In turn, several of America’s former allies including Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Egypt have normalized their relations with Iran.

Trump’s Punitive Bombings. Will They be Carried Out?

In recent developments, Trump has warned that if Tehran responds to the assassination of General Soleimani, he will “target 52 Iranian sites” intimating that they would be “HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

Donald Trump wants to hit back. But he has a serious logistical problem on his hands of which he may not even be aware of.

Normally a punitive operation of this nature directed against Iran would be entrusted to USCENTCOM’s forward headquarters in the Middle East located at the Al Udeid Air Force base in Qatar.

“CENTCOM controls US forces based across the Middle East and some of Central Asia – in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s main headquarters are located in Tampa Florida but it runs its daily combat operations from Al-Udeid air base 

With 11,000 US military personnel, the al-Udeid Air Force base close to Doha is “one of the U.S. military’s most enduring and most strategically positioned operations on the planet”   (Washington Times). It has led and coordinated several major Middle East war theaters including Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003). It was also involved in Syria.

But there is a problem: The forward base of USCENTCOM at the al-Udeid Air Force base is in Qatar. And since June 2017 Qatar has been “sleeping with the enemy”. Qatar has become a staunch ally of Iran.

What both the media, as well as foreign policy and military analysts fail to acknowledge is that US CENTCOM’s Forward Base headquarters at the al-Udeid military base de facto “lies in enemy territory”And it would seem that POTUS is totally unaware of this situation.

Barely a few months ago, (October 2019), The Pentagon took the decision NOT to move USCENTCOM’s forward base at Al Udeid to another location in the Middle East.

“Qatar has always been an exceptional partner, and this base from which we are operating is a great base, and CENTCOM has no intention of moving anywhere,” said CENTCOM’s deputy commander, Chance Saltzman.

Sloppy intelligence, flawed military planning? Qatar is not an “exceptional partner”. Since June 2017 Qatar has become a de facto ally of Iran.

More recently, they have been discussing the establishment of Iran-Qatar bilateral military ties.

Having decided that Al Udeid (located in enemy territory) could not be moved to another location in the Middle East, the Pentagon then envisaged a scenario of moving Al Udeid air and space operations to South Carolina: “to 7,000 miles away in South Carolina”. It was a simulation. “The temporary switch” lasted only 24 hours.

Lessons Learnt: You cannot effectively “wage war” in the Middle East without a “Forward Base” in the Middle East. This “South Carolina Test” borders on ridicule.

Are US military planners desperate?

Since May 2017, following the break up of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) the Pentagon has NOT BEEN ABLE TO MOVE USCENTCOM FORWARD BASE (including its air force striking capabilities) OUT OF ENEMY TERRITORY (QATAR) to a “friendly location” (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Israel) in the broader Middle East region.

Military analysts now admit that in the case of a conflict with Iran, Al-Udeid would be an immediate target. “The base’s defence system is said to be ill-equipped to defend itself against the low-flying cruise missiles and drones…”

Mr. President: How on earth can you launch your punitive bombings on Iran from the territory of a close ally of Iran? 

From a strategic point of view it does not make sense. And this is but the tip of the iceberg.

While the bombing and missile attacks can be dispatched from other US military bases in the Middle East (see diagram below) as well as from Diego Garcia, US aircraft carriers, submarines, etc, the regional USCENTCOM Forward Base at Al-Udeid, Qatar, plays a key role in the command structure in liaison with USCENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida, and US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) at the Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

Source: Statista 

While Qatar and the US have a longstanding bilateral cooperation agreement pertaining to the al-Udeid Air Force base, Qatar has military cooperation agreements not only with Iran but also with Hamas and Hezbollah, all of which are “enemies” of the USA:

The challenge for Washington is that while Qatar hosts al-Udeid, it’s also friendly with the Gaza-based Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), it is close to the Hezbollah’s leadership … [Qatar also] has cozy relations with Iran. Indeed, if Qatar didn’t host America’s largest air base in the Middle East, it would be under pressure from the U.S. to cease much of this behavior.”

And to top it off, Qatar is also friends with Russia. A military technical cooperation agreement pertaining  to air defense was signed with Moscow, immediately following Qatar’s rift with Saudi Arabia in June 2017.

Turkey’s Incirlik Air Force Base 

“A sleeping with the enemy situation” also prevails with regard to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Force base which was established in the 1950s by the US Air Force. Incirlik has played a strategic role in all US-NATO led operations in the Middle East.

With about five thousand airmen, the US Air Force is now hosted in a country (aka Turkey) which is an ally of both Russia and Iran. Turkey and Iran are neighbouring states with friendly relations. In contrast, US and Turkish supported rebels are fighting one another in Northern Syria.

In mid-December 2019, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu  dropped a bombshell, intimating  “that the United States could be barred from using two strategic air bases [Incirlik and Kurecik] in retaliation to possible US sanctions against his country” regarding Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system.

America’s Conventional Warfare Capabilities

For several reasons, US hegemony in the Middle East has been weakened in part as a result of the evolving structure of military alliances.

America’s command capabilities have been weakened. Two of the region’s largest strategic Air Forces bases, namely Incirlik (Turkey) and Al-Udeid (Qatar) are no longer under the control of the Pentagon.

While war against Iran remains on the drawing board of the Pentagon, under present conditions, an all out Blitzkrieg (conventional theater war) involving the simultaneous deployment of ground, air and naval  forces is an impossibility.

While the US does not have the ability to carry out such a project, various forms of “limited warfare” have been contemplated including targeted missile attacks, so-called “bloody nose operations” (including the use of tactical nuclear weapons), as well as acts of political destabilization and color revolutions (which are already ongoing) as well as economic sanctions, manipulations of financial markets and neoliberal macroeconomic reforms (imposed via the IMF and the World Bank(.

The Nuclear Option against Iran

And it is precisely because of US weaknesses in the realm of conventional warfare that a nuclear option could be envisaged.  Such an option would inevitably lead to escalation.

Ignorance and stupidity are factors in the decision making process. According to foreign policy analyst Edward Curtin “Crazy people do crazy things”. 

Who are the crazy people in key decision-making positions?

Trump foreign policy advisers: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Brian Hook, (Special Representative for Iran and Advisor to Pompeo), could “advise” President Trump to authorize  a “bloody nose operation” against Iran using tactical (B61 bunker buster) nuclear weapons, which the Pentagon has categorized as “harmless to civilians because the explosion is underground”.

The bloody nose operation” as designated by the Pentagon, conveys the idea of a military op (using a low yield “more usable” tactical nuclear weapon) which allegedly “creates minimum damage”. It’s a lie: the tactical nuclear weapon has an explosive capacity between one third and 12 times a Hiroshima bomb.

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (July 2019):

Tensions between the United States and Iran are spiraling toward a military confrontation that carries a real possibility that the United States will use nuclear weapons. Iran’s assortment of asymmetrical capabilities—all constructed to be effective against the United States—nearly assures such a confrontation. The current US nuclear posture leaves the Trump administration at least open to the use of tactical nuclear weapons in conventional theaters. Some in the current administration may well think it to be in the best interest of the United States to seek a quick and decisive victory in the oil hub of the Persian Gulf—and to do so by using its nuclear arsenal.

We believe there is a heightened possibility of a US-Iran war triggering a US nuclear strike…

Of significance, the use of tactical nukes does not require the authorization of the Commander in Chief. That authorization pertains solely to so-called strategic nuclear weapons.

Despite the warnings of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, present circumstances do not favor the conduct of a  US “bloody nose” tactical nuclear weapons’ operation.

The US Air Force’s tactical nuclear weapons arsenal is stored and deployed in five non-nuclear European countries including Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Turkey at military bases under national command.  

According to Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 2019 report), the US possesses an estimated 230 tactical nuclear weapons of which 180 are deployed in the five non-nuclear European countries. Some 50 B61 bunker buster bombs with nuclear warheads (gravity bombs) are stored and deployed at the Incirlik air force base which is under Turkey’s jurisdiction. (see table above)

Conclusion:

  • A US president committed to war crimes.
  • A failing  “War on Terrorism” narrative,
  • Weakened military command structures,
  • Failing alliances,
  • Sleeping with the enemy,
  • Unpredictable foreign policy analysts,
  • Deception and mistakes.

At this juncture: The US’ most powerful weapon remains dollarization, neoliberal economic reforms and the ability to manipulate financial markets.The original source of this article is Global ResearchCopyright © Prof Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, 2020

Trump to De-Escalate: Intel Source

January 08, 2020

Pepe Escobar posted with permission and cross posted with Consortium News

(written before Trump’s Speech)

President Donald Trump will de-escalate the crisis with Iran when he speaks to the nation at 11 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, a U.S. intelligence source has told me.

Last night Iran retaliated for the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani with missile strikes on two U.S. military bases in Iraq. So far there have been no casualties reported. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that the ballistic missile strikes launched from Iran completed Tehran’s military action.Javad Zarif  @JZarif

Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched. We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.6:32 PM – 7 Jan 2020

It is now up to Trump to determine whether the crisis will continue.

A top U.S. intel source sent me this analysis in response to a detailed question:

“It is most unlikely Trump will escalate at this point, and this could provide him with the opportunity to leave the Middle East except for the Gulf States. Trump wants to get out. The fact that Israel would be hit next by Iran [as promised, among others, by the IRGC as well as Hezbollah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah] will probably cause them to pull back, and not order Trump to bomb Iran itself.

“DEBKA-Mossad acknowledged that Iran’s offensive missiles cannot be defended against. Its secret is that it hugs the ground going underneath the radar screens.” [the source is referring to the Hoveizeh cruise missile, with a range of 1,350 km, already tested by Tehran.]

“What is amazing is that Iraq has allowed US troops into their country at all after seeing over a million of their people murdered by the US if we include the 500,000 dead children [during the 1990s, as acknowledged by Madeleine Albright]. The royals in the U. A. E. told me that this is because Iraq is more corrupt that Nigeria.

“The key question here is what happened to the Patriot Missile Defense for these bases who were on high alert assuming this is not similar to Trump’s missiles hitting empty buildings in Syria after the chemical false flag operation. I saw no report that any defense missile was working, which to me is very significant.”

Judd Deere, the deputy press secretary of the White House, confirmed on Tuesday night what I had learned earlier from another source. The White House said Trump, in a phone call, thanked Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for “Qatar’s partnership with the United States”, and they discussed Iraq and Iran.

According to my source, who is very close to the Qatari royal family, Trump actually sent a message to Tehran via the emir. The message has two layers. Trump promised sanctions would be cancelled if there were no retaliation from Tehran (something that Trump simply wouldn’t have the means to assure, considering the opposition from Capitol Hill) ; and there would be de-escalation if Tehran came up with a “proportional” response.

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif described the Iranian missile strikes as a “proportional response”.

That may explain why Trump did not go on TV on Tuesday night in the U.S. to announce total war – as much as neocons may have been wanting it.

Details are still sparse, but there’s ultra-high level, back room diplomacy going on especially between Iran and Russia, with China discreet, but on full alert.

There’s consensus among the Axis of Resistance that China has a major role to play, especially in the Levant, where Beijing is seen in some quarters as a possible future partner ultimately replacing U.S. hegemony.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has just been to Syria and Turkey this week. And according to Russian sources, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is making clear to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Russia’s stance that there should be no escalation.

Gen. Soleimani Key Role in Counter-Terrorism Admitted by All Sides: Australian Prof.

Gen. Soleimani's Key Role in Counter-Terrorism Admitted by All Sides: Australian Prof.
A senior professor and political analyst based in Australia deplored the US move to assassinate Iran’s Lt. General Qassem Soleimani, as “a cowardice attack” and said the revered commander’s key role in combating US-backed terrorism has been acknowledged by all sides.

January, 08, 2020 – 19:16 

Source

“General Soleimani is acknowledged by all sides to have been the key commander in organizing and helping coordinate the campaign against those terrorist groups which were supported by US allies as they had freely admitted these days US allies at one stage from Qatar but also from the (United Arab) Emirates, from Saudi in particular, and from Turkey later on, from Israel as well in the South of Syria for example,” Professor Tim Anderson told Tasnim in an interview.

Professor Tim Anderson is a distinguished author and Director of the Sydney-based Centre for Counter-Hegemonic Studies. He has worked at Australian universities for more than 30 years, teaching, researching and publishing on development, human rights and self-determination in the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East. In 2014, he was awarded Cuba’s medal of friendship. He is Australia and Pacific representative for the Latin America based Network in Defence of Humanity. His most recent books are: Land and Livelihoods in Papua New Guinea (2015), The Dirty War on Syria (2016), now published in ten languages; and Countering War Propaganda of the Dirty War on Syria (2017). His next book Axis of Resistance is due out in 2019.

The following is the full text of Anderson comments:

The assassination and murder of General Qasem Soleimani was a terrible crime, a terrible act of terrorism, and a cowardice attack because it came when US occupation forces in Iraq were pretending to be there in the course of fighting ISIS or Daesh with which they coordinated with Iran and with Iraqi forces. So it was a treacherous attack and an unprovoked attack on people who ostensibly they were working with against the scourge of terrorism in Iraq. That was the pretext on which US forces came back into Iraq in 2014.

Now, the excuse that the Trump officials have given for this attack, this assassination, and also the murder of more than 30 Iraqi soldiers in one of the militia under the government’s forces, was that there was an imminent attack now this doctrine of an imminent attack that’s been called the Bethlehem doctrine. It’s the same type of rationale that was used for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. They claimed that the government of Saddam Hussein was just about to attack either the US or Britain or both. Now, it’s been stretched by this advisor called Daniel Bethlehem, who was brought in to Tony Blair’s office and Pompeo, one of Trump’s officials, has used it as the pretext after the fact for the assassinations, for the murders. They claim that there was an imminent attack on US people.

The second pretext, the second lie that’s been put about is that General Soleimani was somehow responsible for hundreds of deaths of Americans. There’s no basis been set up for this the former British diplomat Craig Murray has pointed out. It’s quite a lie. It may be that general Soleimani helped the resistance forces to the Iraq invasion after 2003 but anyone in Iraq was entitled to resist the US illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. So the pretext put about for the assassination are quite false in the same manner as the false pretext was set up for the disgraceful and criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Now, the work that General Soleimani had done in that time since soon after 2003, helping combat the scourge of terrorism introduced by the allies of the US and the US itself in Iraq and Syria for example but also Lebanon, Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra, the other proxy forces that were introduced to divide and weaken Iraq and then to do the same to Syria. General Soleimani was a leading commander in that. He was also training other commanders from the beginning in Syria, for example, from the beginning in Iraq you recall the huge wave of terrorism that happened in Iraq that began in 2006 under al-Qaeda in Iraq or the Islamic State in Iraq which went on to become ISIS or Daesh.

General Soleimani is acknowledged by all sides to have been the key commander in organizing and helping coordinate the campaign against those terrorist groups which were supported by US allies as they had freely admitted these days US allies at one stage from Qatar but also from the (United Arab) Emirates, from Saudi in particular, and from Turkey later on, from Israel as well in the South of Syria for example. So, General Soleimani was advising the resistance to Israel in Lebanon. He was a friend of the Palestinians. They’re mourning him now in Palestine.

He played an important role in many of those early battles in Syria against the terrorist groups; Nusra in the western Syria and Daesh in the east and the course against Daesh when they were about to take over Iraq in 2014 and the Americans reentered under the pretext of fighting Daesh. Of course, they did nothing of the sort. It was General Soleimani and the people he coordinated with, the Iraqi people, the Iraqi militia, that were put together to join with the Iraqi army after 2014 when the US-sponsored army was incapable of responding to that threat, General Soleimani was there, of course also defending Iran’s interests but being a tremendously respected and leading figure in the fight against terrorism in the region. Now, we see that this act of terrorism, this cowardly act of terrorism by the Trump regime and undoubtedly there are forces on President Trump, on the one hand, to try and persist with this idea of trying to neutralize the influence of Iran in the region but perhaps also for some short-term political gains in terms of his own domestic sphere.

He’s done nothing over the sort of course. He’s exposed an extraordinary stupidity which I admit I didn’t see. I didn’t see it was as bad as that I thought Trump was a crude man, an ugly man, in many respects but he hadn’t initiated new wars and he seems to have miscalculated very badly because he has forced Iran to respond, to take a revenge because this is such an insult to Iran as a nation. I can’t see any alternative. They’ll be seen as completely useless, completely weak if they don’t make some response. On the other hand, any response directly to US interests in the region is going to assure some sort of reaction as well.

MILITARY AND POLITICAL TRENDS OF 2019 THAT WILL SHAPE 2020

South Front

In the year 2019 the world was marked with a number of emerging and developing crises. The threat of terrorism, conflicts in the Middle East, expanding instability in South America, never-ending military, political and humanitarian crises in Africa and Asia, expansion of NATO, insecurity inside the European Union, sanction wars and sharpening conflicts between key international players. One more factor that shaped the international situation throughout the year was the further collapse of the existing system of international treaties. The most widely known examples of this tendency are the collapse of the INF and the US announcement of plans to withdraw from the New START. Meanwhile, the deterioration of diplomatic mechanisms between key regional and global actors is much wider than these two particular cases. It includes such fields as NATO-Russia relations, the US posture towards Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, unsuccessful attempts to rescue vestiges of the Iran nuclear deal, as well as recent setbacks in the diplomatic formats created to de-escalate the Korean conflict.

One of the regions of greatest concern in the world, is the Middle East. The main destabilizing factors are the remaining terrorist threat from al-Qaeda and ISIS, the crises in Libya, Syria and Iraq, the ongoing Saudi invasion of Yemen, the deepening Israeli-Arab conflict, and a threat of open military confrontation involving the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf. These factors are further complicated by social and economic instability in several regional countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran.

After the defeat of ISIS, the war in Syria entered a low intensity phase. However, it appears that the conflict is nowhere near its end and the country remains a point of instability in the region.

ISIS cells are still active in the country. The announced US troop withdrawal appeared to be only an ordinary PR stunt as US forces only changed their main areas of presence to the oil-rich areas in northeastern Syria. Washington exploits its control over Syrian resources and influence on the leadership of the Syrian Kurds in order to effect the course of the conflict. The Trump administration sees Syria as one of the battlegrounds in the fight against the so-called Iranian threat.

The province of Idlib and its surrounding areas remain the key stronghold of radical militant groups in Syria. Over the past years, anti-government armed groups suffered a series of defeats across the country and withdrew towards northwestern Syria. The decision of the Syrian Army to allow encircled militants to withdraw towards Idlib enabled the rescue of thousands of civilians, who were being used by them as human shields in such areas as Aleppo city and Eastern Ghouta. At the same time, this increased significantly the already high concentration of militants in Greater Idlib turning it into a hotbed of radicalism and terrorism. The ensuing attempts to separate the radicals from the so-called moderate opposition and then to neutralize them, which took place within the framework of the Astana format involving Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia, made no progress.

The Summer-Fall advance of the Syrian Army in northern Hama and southern Idlib led to the liberation of a large area from the militants. Nevertheless, strategically, the situation is still the same. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, controls most of the area. Turkish-backed ‘moderate militants’ act shoulder to shoulder with terrorist groups.

Turkey is keen to prevent any possible advances of the government forces in Idlib. Therefore it supports further diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran to promote a ‘non-military’ solution of the issue. However it does not seem to have enough influence with the Idlib militant groups, in particular HTS, to impose a ceasefire on them at the present time. Ankara could take control of the situation, but it would need a year or two that it does not have. Therefore, a new round of military escalation in the Idlib zone seems to be only a matter of time.

Syria’s northeast is also a source of tensions. Turkey seized a chunk of territory between Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad in the framework of its Operation Peace Spring. The large-scale Turkish advance on Kurdish armed groups was halted by the Turkish-Russian ‘safe zone’ agreement and now the Syrian Army and the Russian Military Police are working to separate Kurdish rebels from Turkish proxies and to stabilize Syria’s northeast. If this is successfully done and the Assad government reaches a political deal with Kurdish leaders, conditions for further peaceful settlement of the conflict in this part of the country will be created. It should be noted that Damascus has been contributing extraordinary efforts to restore the infrastructure in areas liberated from terrorists by force or returned under its control by diplomatic means. In the eyes of the local population, these actions have an obvious advantage over approaches of other actors controlling various parts of Syria.

Israel is another actor pursuing an active policy in the region. It seeks to influence processes which could affect, what the leadership sees as, interests of the state. Israel justifies aggressive actions in Syria by claiming to be surrounded by irreconcilable enemies, foremost Iran and Hezbollah, who try to destroy Israel or at least diminish its security. Tel Aviv makes all efforts to ensure that, in the immediate vicinity of its borders, there would be no force, non-state actors, or states whose international and informational activities or military actions might damage Israeli interests. This, according to the Israeli vision, should ensure the physical security of the entire territory currently under the control of Israel and its population.

The start of the Syrian war became a gift for Israel. It was strong enough to repel direct military aggression by any terrorist organization, but got a chance to use the chaos to propel its own interests. Nonetheless, the rigid stance of the Israeli leadership which became used to employing chaos and civil conflicts in the surrounding countries as the most effective strategy for ensuring the interests of the state, was delivered a blow. Israel missed the moment when it had a chance to intervene in the conflict as a kind of peacemaker, at least on the level of formal rhetoric, and, with US help, settle the conflict to protect its own interests. Instead, leaders of Israel and the Obama administration sabotaged all Russian peace efforts in the first years of the Russian military operation and by 2019, Tel Aviv had found itself excluded from the list of power brokers in the Syrian settlement. Hezbollah and Iran, on the other hand, strengthened their position in the country after they, in alliance with Damascus and Russia, won the war on the major part of Syrian territory, and Iran through the Astana format forged a tactical alliance with Turkey.

Iran and Hezbollah used the preliminary outcome of the conflict in Syria, and the war on ISIS in general, to defend their own security and to expand their influence across the region.  The so-called Shia crescent turned from being a myth exploited by Western diplomats and mainstream media into a reality. Iran and Hezbollah appeared to be reliable partners for their regional allies even in the most complicated situations.

Russia’s strategic goal is the prevention of radical Islamists from coming to power. Russia showed itself ready to enter dialogue with the moderate part of the Syrian opposition. Its leadership even demonstrated that it is ready to accept the interests of other actors, the US, Israel, Kurdish groups, Turkey, Iran, and Hezbollah, if this would help in reaching a final deal to settle the conflict.

Summing up the developments of 2019, one might expect that the current low-intensity state of the Syrian conflict would continue for years. However, several factors and developments could instigate the renewal of full-fledged hostilities:

  • A sudden demise or forceful removal of President Bashar al-Assad could create a situation of uncertainty within the patriotic component of the Syrian leadership;
  • Changes within the Russian political system or issues inside Russia which could lead to full or partial withdrawal of support to the Syrian government and withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria;
  • A major war in the Middle East which would turn the entire region into a battlefield. In the current situation, such a war could only start by escalation between the US-Israeli-led bloc and Iran.

The Persian Gulf and the Saudi-Yemen battleground are also sources of regional instability. In the second half of 2019, the situation there was marked by increased chances of open military confrontation between the US-Israeli-Saudi bloc and Iran. Drone shoot-downs, oil tanker detentions, open military buildups, and wartime-like rhetoric became something common or at least not very surprising. The US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel point to Iran as the main instigator of tensions.

Iran and its allies deny responsibility for the escalation reasonably noting that their actions were a response to aggressive moves by the US-Israeli-Saudi axis. From this point of view, Iran’s decision to limit its commitments to the already collapsed Nuclear Deal, high level of military activity in the Persian Gulf, shoot down of the US Global Hawk spy drone, and increased support to regional Shia groups are logical steps to deter US—led aggression and to solidify its own position in the region. Iran’s main goal is to demonstrate that an open military conflict with it will have a devastating impact to the states which decide to attack it, as well as to the global economy.

The US sanctions war, public diplomatic support of rioters, and the Trump administration’s commitment to flexing military muscle only strengthen Tehran’s confidence that this approach is right.

As to Yemen’s Houthis, who demonstrated an unexpected success in delivering retaliatory strikes to Saudi Arabia, they would continue to pursue their main goal – achieving a victory in the conflict with Saudi Arabia or forcing the Kingdom to accept the peace deal on favorable terms. To achieve this, they need to deliver maximum damage to Saudi Arabia’s economy through strikes on its key military and infrastructure objects. In this case, surprising missile and drone strikes on different targets across Saudi Arabia have already demonstrated their effectiveness.

The September 14 strike on Saudi oil infrastructure that put out of commission half of the Saudi oil output became only the first sign of future challenges that Riyadh may face in case of further military confrontation.

The unsuccessful invasion of Yemen and the confrontation with Iran are not the only problems for Saudi Arabia. The interests and vision of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East have been in conflict for a long time. Nonetheless, this tendency became especially obvious in 2019. The decline of influence of the House of Saud in the region and inside Saudi Arabia itself led to logical attempts of other regional players to gain a leading position in the Arabian Peninsula. The main challenger is the UAE and the House of Maktoum.

Contradictions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE turned into an open military confrontation between their proxies in Yemen. Since August 29th, Saudi Arabia has provided no symmetric answer to the UAE military action against its proxies. It seems that the Saudi leadership has no will or distinct political vision of how it should react in this situation. Additionally, the Saudi military is bogged down in a bloody conflict in Yemen and struggles to defend its own borders from Houthi attacks.

The UAE already gained an upper hand in the standoff with Saudi Arabia in the economic field. This provided motivation for further actions towards expanding its influence in the region.

During the year, Turkey, under the leadership of President Recep Erdogan, continued strengthening its regional positions. It expanded its own influence in Libya and Syria, strengthened its ties with Iran, Qatar, and Russia, obtained the S-400, entered a final phase in the TurkStream project, and even increased controversial drilling activity in the Eastern Mediterranean. Simultaneously, Ankara defended its national interests -repelling pressure from the United States and getting off with removal from the F-35 program only. Meanwhile, Turkish actions should not be seen as a some tectonic shift in its foreign policy or a signal of ‘great friendship’ with Russia or Iran.

Turkish foreign policy demonstrates that Ankara is not seeking to make ‘friends’ with other regional and global powers. Turkey’s foreign policy is mobile and variable, and always designed to defend the interests of Turkey as a regional leader and the key state of the Turkic world.

Developments in Libya were marked by the strengthening of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and backed by the UAE, Egypt, and to some extent Russia. The LNA consolidated control of most of the country and launched an advance on its capital of Tripoli, controlled by the Government of National Accord. The LNA describes its main goal as the creation of the unified government and the defeat of terrorism. In its own turn, the Government of National Accord is backed by Turkey, Qatar, the USA and some European states. It controls a small part of the country, and, in terms of military force, relies on various militias and even radical armed groups linked with al-Qaeda. Ankara signed with the Tripoli government a memorandum on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, it sees the GNA survival as a factor which would allow it to justify its further economic and security expansion in the region. This clash of interests sets conditions for an escalation of the Libyan conflict in 2020.

Egypt was mostly stable. The country’s army and security forces contained the terrorism threat on the Sinai Peninsula and successfully prevented attempts of radical groups to destabilize the country.

By the end of the year, the Greater Middle East had appeared in a twilight zone lying before a new loop of the seemingly never-ending Great Game. The next round of the geopolitical standoff will likely take place in a larger region including the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Consistently, the stakes will grow involving more resources of states and nations in geopolitical roulette.

The threat that faces Central Asia is particularly severe since the two sets of actors have asymmetrical objectives. Russia and China are rather interested in the political stability and economic success of the region which they view as essential to their own political and security objectives. It is not in the interest of either country to have half a dozen failed states in their immediate political neighborhood, riven by political, economic, and religious conflicts threatening to spread to their own territories. In addition to being a massive security burden to Russia and China, it would threaten the development of their joint Eurasian integration projects and, moreover, attract so much political attention that the foreign policy objectives of both countries would be hamstrung. The effect would be comparable to that of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on the US political and military establishment. The monetary price of these wars, the sheer political distraction, wear and demoralization of the armed forces, and the unfortunately frequent killings of civilians amount to a non-tenable cost to the warring party, not to mention damage to US international “soft power” wrought by scandals associated with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and “black sites”. Even now, shock-waves in the US military hierarchy continue to be felt regarding the court-martialed senior-ranking US Navy “SEAL” commando charged for the wanton killing of civilians in Northern Iraq during the US military’s anti-ISIS operations.

By contrast, this dismal scenario would be enough to satisfy the US foreign policy establishment which, at the moment, is wholly dominated by “hawks” determined to assure the continuation of US hegemony.  Preventing the emergence of a multi-polar international system by weakening China and Russia is their desire.  This sets the stage for another round of great power rivalry in Central Asia. While the pattern is roughly the same as during the 19th and late 20th centuries—one or more Anglo-Saxon powers seeking to diminish the power of Russia and/or China—the geography of the battlefield is considerably larger for it encompasses the entirety of post-Soviet Central Asian republics.  Also included is China’s province of Xinjiang which has suddenly attracted considerable Western attention, manifested, as usual, by concern for “human rights” in the region.  Historically, such “concern” usually precedes some form of aggressive action. Therefore the two sets of great power actors—the US and other interested Western powers on the one hand, with Russia and China on the other—are locked in a standoff in the region.

The key security problem is militancy and the spread of terrorism. The US and its NATO partners remain unable to achieve a military victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban reached a level of influence in the region, turning it into a rightful party to any negotiations involving the United States. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that a fully-fledged peace deal can be reached between the sides. The Taliban’s main demand is the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country. For Washington, conceding to this would amount to public humiliation and a forceful need to admit that the superpower lost a war to the Taliban. Washington can achieve a military victory in Afghanistan only by drastically increasing its forces in the country. This will go contrary to Trump’s publicly declared goal – to limit US participation in conflicts all around the world. Therefore, the stalemate will continue with the Taliban and the US sitting at the negotiating table in Qatar, while Taliban forces slowly take control of more and more territory in Afghanistan.

Besides fighting the US-backed government, in some parts of the country, the Taliban even conducts operations against ISIS in order to prevent this group from spreading further. Despite this, around 5,000 ISIS militants operate in Afghanistan’s north, near the border with Tajikistan. Member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization are concerned that ISIS militants are preparing to shift their focus to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Russia. The terrorists are infiltrating CIS states, incorporating with organized crime, creating clandestine cells, brainwashing and recruiting new supporters, chiefly the socially handicapped youth and migrants, [and] training them to carry out terrorist activities. The worsening situation in Central Asia contributes to the spread of radical ideas. Now the main threat of destabilization of the entire Central Asian region comes from Tajikistan. This state is the main target of militants deployed in northern Afghanistan.

Destabilization of Central Asia and the rise of ISIS both contribute to achievement of US geopolitical goals. The scenario could devastate Russia’s influence in the region, undermine security of key Russian regional ally, Kazakhstan, and damage the interests of China. The Chinese, Kazakh, and Russian political leadership understand these risks and engage in joint efforts to prevent this scenario.

In the event of further destabilization of Central Asia, ISIS sleeper cells across the region could be activated and a new ISIS self-proclaimed Caliphate could appear on the territory of northern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan. Russia and China would not benefit from such a development. In the case of China, such instability could expand to its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, while in Russia the main targets could be the Northern Caucasus and large cities with high numbers of migrant laborers from Central Asian states.

Armenia now together with Georgia became the center of a US soft power campaign to instigate anti-Russian hysteria in the Caucasus. Ethnic groups in this region are traditionally addicted to US mainstream propaganda. On the other hand, the importance of the South Caucasus for Russia decreased notably because of the strong foothold it gained in the Middle East. 2020 is looking to be another economically complicated year for Georgia and Armenia.

Throughout 2019, China consolidated its position as a global power and the main challenger of the United States. From the military point of view, China successfully turned the South China Sea into an anti-access and area-denial zone controlled by its own military and moved forward with its ambitious modernization program which includes the expansion of China’s maritime, airlift, and amphibious capabilities. The balance of power in the Asia-Pacific has in fact shifted and the Chinese Armed Forces are now the main power-broker in the region. China appeared strong enough to fight back against US economic and diplomatic pressure and to repel the Trump Administration’s attempts to impose Washington’s will upon Beijing. Despite economic war with the United States, China’s GDP growth in 2019 is expected to be about 6%, while the yuan exchange rate and the SSE Composite Index demonstrate stability. The United States also tried to pressure China through supporting instability in Hong Kong and by boosting defense aid to Taiwan. However, in both cases, the situation appears to still be within Beijing’s comfort zone.

An interesting consequence of US-led pressure on China is that Washington’s actions provided an impetus for development of Chinese-Russian cooperation. In 2019, Moscow and Beijing further strengthened their ties and cooperation in the economic and military spheres and demonstrated notable unity in their actions on the international scene as in Africa and in the Arctic for example.

As to Russia itself, during the year, it achieved several foreign policy victories.

  • The de-facto diplomatic victory in Syria;
  • Resumption of dialogue with the new Ukrainian regime and the reanimation of the Normandy format negotiations;
  • Improvement of relations with some large European players, like France, Italy, and even Germany;
  • Implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project despite opposition from the US-led bloc;
  • Implementation of the Turkish Stream project with Turkey;
  • Strengthening of the Russian economy in comparison with previous years and the rubble’s stability despite pressure from sanctions. Growth of the Russian GDP for 2019 is expected to be 1.2%, while the Russia Trading System Index demonstrated notable growth from around 1,100 points at the start of the year to around 1,500 by year’s end.

The salient accomplishment of the Russian authorities is that no large terrorist attack took place in the country. At the same time, the internal situation was marked by some negative tendencies. There was an apparent political, media, and social campaign to undermine Chinese-Russian cooperation. This campaign, run by pro-Western and liberal media, became an indicator of the progress in Chinese-Russian relations. Additionally, Russia was rocked by a series of emergencies, corruption scandals linked with law enforcement, the plundering of government funding allocated to the settlement of emergency situations, the space industry, and other similar cases. A number of Russian mid-level officials made statements revealing their real, rent-seeking stance towards the Russian population. Another problem was the deepening social stratification of the population. Most of the citizens experienced a decrease in their real disposable income, while elites continued concentrating margin funds gained through Russia’s successful actions in the economy and on the international level. These factors, as well as fatigue with the stubborn resistance of entrenched elites to being dislodged, caused conditions for political instability in big cities. Liberal and pro-Western media and pro-Western organizations exploited this in an attempt to destabilize the country.

Militarization of Japan has given the US a foothold in its campaign against China, Russia, and North Korea. The Japan Self-Defense Forces were turned into a fully-fledged military a long time ago. Japanese diplomatic rhetoric demonstrates that official Tokyo is preparing for a possible new conflict in the region and that it will fight to further expand its zone of influence. The Japanese stance on the Kuril Islands territorial dispute with Russia is an example of this approach. Tokyo rejected a Russian proposal for joint economic management of four islands and nearby waters, while formally the islands will remain within Russian jurisdiction -at least for the coming years. Japan demands the full transfer of islands a term which is unacceptable to Russia from a military and political point of view. The social and economic situation in Japan was in a relatively stable, but guarded state.

Denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea reached a stalemate after the North Korean leadership claimed that Washington was in no hurry to provide Pyongyang with acceptable terms and conditions of a possible nuclear deal. The example of the US unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran also played a role. The positive point is that tensions on the Korean Peninsula de-escalated anyway because the sides sat down at the negotiation table. Chances of the open military conflict involving North Korea and the United States remain low.

In February 2019, the Indian-Pakistani conflict over the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir put the greater region on the brink of a large war with potential for the use of nuclear weapons. However, both India and Pakistan demonstrated reasonable restraint and prevented further escalation despite an open confrontation between their militaries which took place at the same moment. Meanwhile, the February escalation demonstrated the growing power of Pakistan. In the coming years, look to Jammu and Kashmir as a point of constant instability and military tensions, with very little chance that the sides will find a comprehensive political solution to their differences.

The threat of terrorism is another destabilizing factor in the region. In 2019, ISIS cells made several attempts to strengthen and expand their presence in such countries as Malaysia and Indonesia. Law enforcement agencies of both countries are well aware of this threat and contribute constant and active efforts to combat this terrorism and radicalism. It should be noted that Malaysia is in conflict with the Euro-Atlantic elites because of its independent foreign policy course. For example, its government repeatedly questioned the mainstream MH17 narrative and officially slammed the JIT investigation as politicized and nontransparent. So, the leadership of the country is forced to be in a state of permanent readiness to repel clandestine and public attempts to bring it into line with the mainstream agenda.

While the European Union is, theoretically, the world’s biggest economy using the world’s second most popular currency in international transactions, it remains to be seen whether, in the future, it will evolve into a genuine component of a multi-polar international system or become a satellite in someone else’s—most likely US—orbit. There still remain many obstacles toward achieving a certain “critical mass” of power and unity. While individual EU member states, most notably Germany and France, are capable of independent action in the international system, individually they are too weak to influence the actions of the United States, China, or even Russia. In the past, individual European powers relied on overseas colonial empires to achieve great power status. In the 21st century, European greatness can only be achieved through eliminating not just economic but also political barriers on the continent. At present, European leaders are presented with both incentives and obstacles to such integration, though one may readily discern a number of potential future paths toward future integration.

Continued European integration would demand an agreement on how to transfer national sovereignty to some as yet undefined and untested set of European political institutions which would not only guarantee individual rights but, more importantly from the point of view of national elites, preserve the relative influence of individual EU member states even after they forfeited their sovereignty. Even if the Euro-skeptics were not such a powerful presence in EU’s politics, it would still be an insurmountable task for even the most visionary and driven group of political leaders. Such a leap is only possible if the number of EU states making it is small, and their level of mutual integration is already high.

The post-2008 Euro zone crisis does appear to have communicated the non-sustainability of the current EU integration approach, hence the recent appearance of “two-speeds Europe” concept which actually originated as a warning against the threat of EU bifurcation into well integrated “core“ and a less integrated “periphery”. In practical terms it would mean “core” countries, definitely including Germany, France, and possibly the Benelux Union, would abandon the current policy of throwing money at the less well developed EU member states and, instead, focus on forging “a more perfect Union” consisting of this far more homogeneous and smaller set of countries occupying territories that, over a thousand years ago, formed what used to be known as the Carolingian Empire. Like US territories of the 19th century, EU states outside of the core would have to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” to earn membership in the core, which would require them to adopt, wholesale, the core’s political institutions.

The deepening disproportion of EU member state economies, and therefore sharpening economic disputes, are the main factor of instability in Europe. The long-delayed withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the union, which is finally expected to take place in 2020, might trigger an escalation of internal tensions over economic issues which might blow up the EU from the inside. Other cornerstones of European instability are the extraordinary growth of organized crime, street crime, radicalism, and terrorism, most of which were caused by uncontrolled illegal migration and the inability of the European bureaucracy to cut off the flows of illegal migrants, integrate non-radicalized people into European society, and detect all radicals and terrorists that infiltrate Europe with migrants.

The situation is further complicated by the conflict in Ukraine and the destruction of international security treaties, such as the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and its planned withdrawal from the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). These developments go amid constant military and political hysteria of micro-states and Poland instigated by the Euro-Atlantic elites. The EU bureaucracy is using this state of hysteria and ramping up speculations about a supposed military threat from Russia and an economic and political threat from China to distract the public and draw attention away from the real problems.

The return of Russia as the diplomatic and military great power to Africa marked a new round of the geo-economic standoff in the region. The apparent Russian-Chinese cooperation is steadily pushing French and British out of what they describe as their traditional sphere of influence. While, in terms of economic strength, Russia cannot compete with China, it does have a wide range of military and diplomatic means and measures with which to influence the region. So, Beijing and Moscow seem to have reached a non-public deal on a “division of labor”. China focuses on implementation of its economic projects, while Russia contributes military and diplomatic efforts to stabilize the security situation, obtaining revenue for its military and security assistance. Moscow plays a second violin role in getting these guaranteed zones of influence. Terrorism is one of the main threats to the region. The Chinese-Russian cooperation did not go without a response from their Western counterparts that justified their propaganda and diplomatic opposition to Beijing-Moscow cooperation by describing Chinese investments as “debt-traps” and the Russian military presence as “destabilizing”. In 2019, Africa entered into a new round of great powers rivalry.

The intensification of US “soft power” and meddling efforts, social, economic tensions, activities of non-state actors, and organized criminal networks became the main factors of instability in South America. Venezuela and Bolivia were targeted by US-backed coups. While the Venezuelan government, with help from China and Russia, succeeded in repelling the coup attempt, Bolivia was plunged into a violent civil conflict after the pro-US government seized power. Chile remained in a state of social economic crisis which repeatedly triggered wide-scale anti-government riots. Its pro-US government remained in power, mainly, because there was no foreign ‘democratic superpower’ to instigate the regime change campaign. Actions of the government of Colombia, one of the key US regional allies, undermined the existing peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and forced at least a part of the former FARC members to take up arms once again. If repressions, killings, and clandestine operations aimed at the FARC members committed to the peace continue, they may lead to a resumption of FARC-led guerrilla warfare against the central government. The crisis developing in Mexico is a result of the growth of the drug cartels-related violence and economic tensions with the United States. The right-wing Bolsonaro government put Brazil on track with the US foreign policy course to the extent that, the country worked with Washington against Venezuela, claiming that it should not turn into ‘another Cuba’. A deep economic crisis in Argentina opened the road to power for a new left-centric president, Alberto Fernandez. Washington considers South America as its own geopolitical backyard and sees any non pro-US, or just national-oriented government, as a threat to its vital interests. In 2020, the US meddling campaign will likely escalate and expand, throwing the region into a new round of instability and triggering an expected resistance from South American states. An example of this is the situation in Bolivia. Regardless of the actions of ousted President Evo Morales, the situation in the country will continue escalating. The inability of the pro-US government to deliver positive changes and its simultaneous actions to destroy all the economic achievements of the Morales period might cause Bolivia to descend into poverty and chaos causing unrest and possibly, a civil war.

During 2019, the world superpower, led by the administration of President Donald Trump, provided a consistent policy designed to defend the interests of US domestic industry and the United States as a national state by any means possible. This included economic and diplomatic pressure campaigns against both US geopolitical competitors and allies. The most widely known Trump administration move of this kind was the tariff war with China. However, at the same time, Washington contributed notable efforts in almost all regions around the globe. For example, the United States opposed Chinese economic projects in Africa, Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Europe, tried to limit exports of the Russian defense industry, pressured NATO member states who did not want to spend enough on defense, and proposed that US allies pay more for the honor and privilege of provided “protection”. Additionally, Trump pressured the Federal Reserve Board of Governors into lowering interest rates and announced plans to lower interest rates even further to weaken the dollar in order to boost national industry and increase its product availability on the global market. These plans caused strong resistance from international corporations and global capitalists because this move may undermine the current global financial system based upon a strong US dollar. This straightforward approach demonstrated that Trump and his team were ready to do everything needed to protect US security and economic interests as they see them. Meanwhile, it alienated some “traditional allies”, as in the case of Turkey which decided to acquire Russian S-400s, and escalated the conflict between the Trump Administration and the globalists. The expected US GDP growth in 2019 is 2.2%. The expected production growth of 3.9% reflects the policy aimed at supporting the real sector. In terms of foreign policy, the White House attempted to rationalize US military presence in conflict zones around the world. Despite this, the unprecedented level of support to Israel, confrontation with Iran, China, and Russia, militarization of Europe, coups and meddling into the internal affairs of sovereign states remain as the main markers of US foreign policy. Nevertheless, the main threat to United States stability originates not from Iranians, Russians, or Chinese, but rather from internal issues. The constant hysteria in mainstream media, the attempt to impeach Donald Trump, and the radicalization of different social and political groups contributes to destabilization of the country ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The year 2019 was marked by a number of dangerous developments. In spite of this, it could have been much more dangerous and violent. Political leadership by key actors demonstrated their conditional wisdom by avoiding a number of open military conflicts, all of which had chances to erupt in the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, South America, and even Europe. A new war in the Persian Gulf, US military conflict with North Korea, an India-Pakistan war -none of these were started.  A peaceful transfer of power from Petro Poroshenko to Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine allowed for the avoidance of a military escalation in eastern Europe. China and the United States showed their restraint despite tensions in the Asia-Pacific, including the Hong Kong issue. A new global economic crisis, expected for some time by many experts, did not happen. The lack of global economic shocks or new regional wars in 2019 does not mean that knots straining relations among leading world powers were loosened or solved. These knots will remain a constant source of tension on the international level until they are removed within the framework of diplomatic mechanisms or cut as a result of a large military conflict or a series of smaller military conflicts.

Chances seem high that 2020 will become the year when a match will be set to the wick of the international powder keg, or that it will be the last relatively calm year in the first quarter of the 21st century. The collapse of international defense treaties and de-escalation mechanisms, as well as accumulating contradictions and conflicts among world nations give rise to an especial concern.

Trump Threatens Syria for al-Qaeda Occupiers of Idlib

December 27, 2019

Miri Wood

Syrians celebrate Christmas in Damascus Abbasid Square

Trump wished the Syrian Arab Republic a belated Merry Christmas by tweeting yet another threat, warning the SAR not to liberate Idlib from the approximately 10,000 al Qaeda savages who have occupied this area of the country, since the beginning of the crisis.

Surely the 45th President of the USA knows these stats, supported even by the same UN that also wails for al Qaeda on a regular basis. Surely Trump heard Special Presidential Envoy to the alleged anti-Daesh Global Coalition, Brett McGurk when he emphatically stated that  Idlib province is the largest al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.

The Trump threat comes on the heels of his signing the new NDAA law, which includes the Qatar-funded Caesar Hoax legislation, unprecedented peak colonialism which attempts to forbid Syria from protecting its citizenship from terrorists armed by NATO, within its own borders. The nasty Trump threat comes as Syria militarily enforces the Astana Agreement, already liberating more than 30 villages from the criminally insane al Qaeda savages. 

Perhaps Trump is seeking a bump in his approval ratings; the only time that he was revered, cheered, practically fellated, was when he bombed Syria for al Qaeda, based on the criminal lies of the British illegal whose medical license was permanently revoked due to his terrorism ties, via fake news!CNN, on 7 April 2017.

British undoctor illegal, Shajul Islam was the source of the Khan Sheikhoun chemical hoax, 4 April 2017.

isis-recruit-trump
British illegal, British terrorist in Syria was source for the GB hoax in Khan Sheikhoun

In the tweet where the POTUS threatens to again use the US military as al Qaeda’s second air force, Trump again gave his support to the caliph wannabe, rabid Erdogan, lying that the leader of Turkey — the country through which most of the 350,000 foreign killers entered, and without stepping on any of the almost 200,000 land mines still not cleared — was working to stop the carnage (“carnage” is a word he likes, having used it in his inaugural speech, when he promised that ”American carnage” would stop, though soon after, he flexed those “American carnage” muscles, bombing two bridges in Syria).

Though Trump has been consistent in supporting Erdogan’s war crimes against Syria — in late January 2017 he announced his support for Turkey’s invasion and occupation ofJarabulus — it is possible that the kissy faces in the tweet were meant as a request for Turkey to stop recycling its al Qaeda militias from Syria into Libya.

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump · Dec 26, 2019

Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province. Don’t do it! Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage.

Fares Shehabi@ShehabiFares

Sure..

View image on Twitter
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1758:17 PM – Dec 26, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy47 people are talking about this

Though Trump has been consistent in supporting Erdogan’s war crimes against Syria — in late January 2017 he announced his support for Turkey’s invasion and occupation ofJarabulus — it is possible that the kissy faces in the tweet were meant as a request for Turkey to stop recycling its al Qaeda militias from Syria into Libya.

H.E. al Jaafari quoting Egyptian Nobel Laureate Najib Mahfouz to the rabid & deaf UN hyenas [Archive].

The above quote from Laureate Najib Mahfouz is appropriate for the tripartite aggressors running the UN; it is also applicable to Trump’s menacing tweet, given that two prominent members of al Qaeda are on the US Treasury Department’s SDN list. Terrorist al Jolani has been designated since 2013 and also has a ten million dollar bounty on his head (again, the US taxpayer pays and pays: Pays for the weapons to arm takfiri in Syria, pays for the bombing of Syria, pays for the 501(c) ‘charities’ and think tanks that function as press liaisons for al Qaeda in Syria.).

Jolani donned Trump wig 7 April 2017.

Nusra Front Commander Jolani Meets Commanders of FSA Moderate Rebels in Idlib with help of Erdogan. [Trump does not know this?]

Saudi Muhaysini is also on the SDN list.

afp
al Muhaysini is on the US Specially Designated Nationals list. Here he is with child soldiers he has trained.

Despite the ongoing economic terrorism inflicted on Syria, by the Trump regime, terrorists continue to have exceptional telecommunications access, courtesy of Trump’s pal, Erdogan. Saudi illegal and designee Muhaysini has recently condemned Christmas celebrations, enjoyed throughout the Syrian Arab Republic, except in al Qaeda occupied areas of Idlib.

Here is one of the icons of the Syrian “revolution”, the Idlib based Saudi Sheikh Abdallah Muhaysni, blasting Christmas day and admonishing Syrians who celebrate it. And we wonder why Christians support the legitimate government in #Syria5534:00 PM – Dec 26, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy443 people are talking about this

How very odd that the great Christian President Donald J. Trump wishes to protect these violent criminals of al Qaeda.

— Miri Wood


غاز الأبيض المتوسّط.. هل يُشِعل المنطقة؟

حسني محلي

حسني محلي

باحث علاقات دولية ومختصص بالشأن التركي

لولا الدعم الذي قدَّمه القذّافي للثُنائي أجاويد وأربكان لما استطاعت تركيا ربما السيطرة على قبرص عام 1974 لتصبح اليوم طرفاً أساسياً في كل معادلات المتوسّط بغازه الذي قد يحرق الجميع، وهذه المرة “إسرائيل” أيضاً.

  • غاز الأبيض المتوسّط.. هل يُشِعل المنطقة؟ (أ ف ب).

وقَّعت تركيا أواخر الشهر الماضي على اتفاقياتٍ هامةٍ مع دولتين في المنطقة، إحداهما الحليف العقائدي قطر، والأخرى تشكّل العُمق الاستراتيجي لأنقرة في شمال إفريقيا وهي ليبيا التي تشهد حرباً طاحِنة بين فريقين، أحدهما مدعوم من أنقرة والدوحة، والآخر من القاهرة والرياض وأبو ظبي.

إذا تجاهلنا الجوانب العقائدية والأمنية والعسكرية والمالية للعلاقة بين أنقرة وكل من طرابلس والدوحة، فالغاز الطبيعي هو القاسَم المُشترك لعلاقات إردوغان مع الدولتين الغنيّتين نفطًياً.

قطر هي الدولة الثالثة في العالم من حيث احتياطيات الغاز بعد إيران وروسيا، فيما تُعدّ ليبيا الدولة الثامِنة غازياً وفق الاحتياطيات المُعلَنة عالمياً والتي تُقدَّر بنحو 200 تريليون متر مكعب، تقع نحو 80 تريليون منها في منطقة الشرق الأوسط.

ويُقدِّر العديد من الدراسات الأميركية والأوروبية احتياطي الغاز في شرق المتوسّط أي مصر وفلسطين (غزَّة) و”إسرائيل” ولبنان  وسوريا وقبرص بحوالى 50 تريليون متر مكعب. كان هذا الغاز وما زال سبباً لصراعاتٍ صعبةٍ ومُعقَّدةٍ مع استمرار الخلافات السياسية والعسكرية والاستراتيجية بين كل الأطراف مع انضمام تركيا إليها.

أنقرة أعلنت أكثر من مرة أنها لا تعترف بالاتفاقيات التي وقَّعت عليها قبرص مع مصر و”إسرائيل” ولبنان في ما يتعلَّق بترسيم الحدود البحرية وتقاسُم المناطق الاقتصادية بينها، كما هدَّدت وتوعدَّت الشركات التي وقَّعت على اتفاقيات مُتعدِّدة مع الدول المذكورة للتنقيب عن الغاز واستخراجه وتسويقه.

وجاء اتفاق أنقرة مع حكومة الوفاق الليبية (تسيطر على حوالى 8% فقط من مساحة ليبيا) في ما يتعلّق برسم الحدود البحرية بين تركيا وليبيا في البحر الأبيض المتوسّط ليُثير نقاشاً جديداً في المنطقة، بعد أن اتّهمت تركيا سابقاً القبارصة اليونانيين واليونان بالسيطرة على مساحاتٍ واسعةٍ في البحر على حساب مصر ولبنان و”إسرائيل” وسوريا. فبعد أن ناشد الجنرال خليفة حفتر مجلس الأمن للتدخّل ضدّ تركيا تحدَّث وزير خارجيّته عبدالهادي حويج للإعلام الإسرائيلي وعبَّر عن استعداد بلاده للتعاون ضدّ تركيا، فيما اعتبرت أثينا الاتفاق مُخالِفاً للقانون الدولي وعملاً استفزازياً كون المنطقة التي اعتبرتها تركيا ضمن حدودها البحرية، شملت جزءاً من المياه الإقليمية والجرف القاري للجزر اليونانية وأهمّها كريت التي كان من المُقرَّر أن يصلها الأنبوب الذي سينقل غاز قبرص إلى اليونان ومنها إلى إيطاليا.

وكانت أنقرة قد أعلنت قبل ذلك من جانبٍ واحدٍ عن خارطةٍ تُبيِّن حدودها البحرية في البحر الأبيض المتوسّط، ليزيد ذلك في الطين بلّة في ما يتعلّق بالتوتّر الموجود أساساً والمُستَنِد إلى عددٍ من الأسباب السياسية والتاريخية.

ففي تموز/يونيو 1974 تدخّلت تركيا في قبرص بحجَّة الانقلاب الذي وقع آنذاك ضدّ الرئيس مكاريوس وقالت عنه إنه يُهدِّد القبارصة الأتراك في الجزيرة التي سيطر الجيش التركي آنذاك على ثلث مساحتها. وترفض أنقرة أيّ اتفاق يوقّعه القبارصة اليونانيون باعتبارهم لا يمثّلون الجزيرة بأكملها، فأرسلت أربعاً من سفنها المحمية بالبوارج والطائرات إلى محيط الجزيرة للتنقيب عن الغاز واستخراجه.

وأعلنت واشنطن، التي تشهد علاقاتها توتّراً جدِّياً مع أنقرة على خلفيّة صفقة صواريخ  أس 400، رفضها للموقف التركي ووصفته بأنه استفزازي فيما فرض الاتحاد الأوروبي عدداً من العقوبات الاقتصادية والمالية والسياسية ضد تركيا باعتبار أن قبرص التي يمثّلها القبارصة اليونانيون عضو في الاتحاد.

وشكّل التعاون القبرصي مع “إسرائيل” واليونان من جهة، ومع مصر واليونان من جهةٍ أخرى، سبباً آخر في ردّ فعل أنقرة على هذه التحرّكات ذات الطابع السياسي والعسكري والأمني ووصفته بأنه يستهدف أمن تركيا القومي.

ويُفسّر ذلك ردّ فعل الدول المذكورة على اتفاق أنقرة مع طرابلس باعتبار أن الوضع الحالي في ليبيا لا يسمح لها بالتوقيع على مثل هذه الاتفاقيات، لاسيما وأن تركيا لم توقّع على معاهدة الأمم المتحدة الخاصة بترسيم حدود البحار المفتوحة بين الدول المُتشاطِئة. لذلك فهي على خلافٍ دائمٍ مع اليونان في ما يتعلّق بتقاسُم الجرف القاري ورسم حدود المياه الإقليمية في بحر إيجة الذي يحتضن عشرات الجزر اليونانية القريبة من الشواطئ التركية والتي ترى فيها أنقرة خطراً على أمنها الاستراتيجي.

دفع ذلك إردوغان أكثر من مرة إلى الحديث عن ضرورة إعادة النظر في اتفاقية لوزان لعام 1923 التي اعترفت باستقلال تركيا، فالاتفاقية اعترفت لليونان بمساحاتٍ أوسع من مياه بحر إيجة أي 43.5% لليونان و 7.5% لتركيا والباقي مياه دولية.

ويزعج ذلك أنقرة كما يزعجها الوضع في قبرص التي تحوّلت إلى قاعدةٍ مشتركةٍ لتحالفاتٍ إقليميةٍ ودوليةٍ مُعاديةٍ لها بالإضافة إلى صراعاتها الاقتصادية بعد اكتشاف الغاز فيها. فقد قامت نيقوسيا بترسيم حدودها البحرية مع مصر عام 2004 ومع لبنان عام 2007  ومع “إسرائيل” عام 2010، كما وقَّعت العديد من الاتفاقيات مع الشركات الأوروبية والأميركية والروسية وحتى القطرية، للتنقيب عن الغاز واستخراجه ونقله إلى أوروبا.

ومن هذه الشركات شركة “أيني” الإيطالية و”توتال” الفرنسية و”نوبل إنيرجي” و”أكسون موبيل” الأميركية و”وود سايد” الأسترالية و”بي بي” البريطانية و”روسنفت” الروسية.

وقد وقَّعت “روسنفت” على اتفاقٍ هامٍ مع مصر ولبنان وسوريا كما سبق لها أن وقَّعت على اتفاقيات مُماثلة مع العراق وإيران وكردستان العراق.

ويرى كثيرون في التواجُد الروسي في سوريا ذات الاحتياطي الكبير جداً (أكثر من قطر) سبباً هاماً في الحسابات الروسية الخاصة بالغاز، لأن موسكو لا تريد لغاز الأبيض المتوسّط أن يُنافِس غازها في أوروبا وبشكلٍ خاص في ألمانيا وإيطاليا التي يصلها الغاز الروسي عبر أنابيب يمرّ بعضها عبر  الأراضي التركية التي يصلها الغاز الإيراني والأذربيجاني والتركمنستاتي، فيما تغطّي تركيا 60% من استهلاكها للغاز من روسيا.

ويُفسّر ذلك مع عناصر أخرى العلاقة الاستراتيجية بين موسكو وأنقرة بانعكاسات ذلك سلباً كان أو إيجاباً على الوضع السوري.

وكانت أنقرة قبل تدهور علاقاتها مع تل أبيب قد بذلت مساعي مُكثّفة لإقناع الأخيرة بمدّ أنابيب تنقل الغاز الإسرائيلي والقبرصي إلى تركيا، مقابل أنابيب للمياه التركية تصل قبرص ومنها إلى “إسرائيل”.

فشل هذا المشروع بسبب تدهور العلاقات التركية- الإسرائيلية كما فشلت مباحثات توحيد شطريّ الجزيرة القبرصية وهو المشروع الذي لو تحقّق لكان ساعد أنقرة على تحقيق أهدافها الاستراتيجية عبر قبرص طالما أنها دولة ضامِنة لاستقلال الجزيرة وفق اتفاقية 1960، حالها حال اليونان وبريطانيا التي تمتلك قاعدتين هامّتين في قبرص.

وكان لـ”إسرائيل” ومن قبلها اليهود منذ بدايات العهد العثماني أطماع مُثيرة في الجزيرة باعتبارها بوابة الانفتاح البحرية الوحيدة لنجاة اليهود من الطوق البري العربي في حال تفعيله.

وجاءت التطوّرات اللاحِقة في المنطقة لتضع أنقرة أمام تحدّيات جديدة بعد خلافها العقائدي أي الإخواني مع مصر، الدولة الأهمّ في حسابات الغاز بسبب تقارُبها مع قبرص واليونان ومجاورتها لقطاع غزَّة الذي يذخر أيضاً باحتياطي هام من الغاز.

وتُبيّن كل هذه المُعطيات مدى صعوبة الحسابات الوطنية والإقليمية والدولية لكل الأطراف بخصوص الغاز الذي يبدو أنه سيحرق شرق الأبيض المتوسّط حاله حال البترول الذي كان ومازال سبباً لكل مشاكل المنطقة العربية منذ استقلالها وحتى اليوم.

ومع استمرار الحرب في سوريا وانعكاساتها الإقليمية والدولية، لاسيما في ما يتعلّق بالتواجُد الروسي والدور التركي هناك وهو ما يؤجِّل حسم ملف الغاز السوري بحرياً، فقد وقَّعت بيروت على اتفاقيّتين مع شركات “توتال” الفرنسية و”إيني” الإيطالية و”نوفاتك” الروسية للتنقيب عن البترول والغاز واستخراجهما في منطقتين يقع جزء من إحداهما في المياه المُتنازَع عليها مع تل أبيب.

ومع استمرار مساعي الوساطة الأميركية التي بدأها ديفيد ساترفيلد وهو الآن سفير أميركا في أنقرة، فقد قدَّرت الدراسات حصَّة لبنان من الغاز الطبيعي في  المتوسّط بنحو 11 تريليون متر مكعب وهي كافية لإنهاء جميع مشاكل لبنان.

وكان الأمين العام لحزب الله السيّد حسن نصرالله قد تحدَّث في 16 شباط/فبراير من العام الماضي عن معركة الغاز في المنطقة وقال “إننا نستطيع تعطيل العمل بمحطّات الغاز الإسرائيلية في البحر المتوسّط في حال اتّخذ مجلس الدفاع اللبناني الأعلى قراراً بذلك”. بالمقابل أعلنت تل أبيب أنها طوَّرت درعاً صاروخية أسمتها “مقلاع داوود” الصاروخي لصدّ أيّ هجوم من حزب الله يستهدف منصّات الغاز.

ويعكس ذلك بكل وضوح الوضع المُعقَّد والصعب والخطير في قضية الغاز وانعكاساتها على حسابات الدول المعنية مباشرة أولاً. وثانياً الدول ذات العلاقة ومنها أوروبا وأميركا وروسيا وبالطبع تركيا التي يريد لها إردوغان أن يكون لها باع وذراع طويلة في جميع أنحاء العالم لأنه يريد لتركيا أن تعود إلى أمجاد الدولة العثمانية التي حكمت العالم فانتهى بها المطاف بحدودها الحالية فخسرت جميع مناطق الغاز والبترول في المنطقة التي كانت تحت حُكم الدولة  العثمانية. ويؤمِن إردوغان أنه وريث هذه الدولة بعقيدتها وقوميّتها، وهو ما يُفسِّر ما قام ويقوم به في سوريا وليبيا والمنطقة عموماً منذ ما يُسمَّى بالربيع العربي.

فقد اعترض إردوغان على التدخّل الأميركي والأوروبي في ليبيا في 28 شباط/فبراير 2011 إلا أنه عاد وأعلن تأييده لذلك في 21 آذار/مارس، أي بعد عام من القمّة العربية في سرت التي حضرها بدعوةٍ من معمّر القذافي. ولولا الدعم الذي قدَّمه القذافي للثنائي أجاويد وأربكان لما استطاعت تركيا ربما من السيطرة على قبرص عام 1974 لتصبح الآن طرفاً أساسياً في كل مُعادلات المتوسّط بغازه الذي قد يحرق الجميع وهذه المرة “إسرائيل” أيضاً.

Bloomberg: Gulf States Are Backpedaling on Iran

Bloomberg: Gulf States Are Backpedaling on Iran

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By Staff, Bloomberg

An expanded soccer tournament, a direct flight, clandestine meetings and a pledge to release prisoners of war; diplomacy is breaking out as Gulf Arab nations back away from a Donald Trump-inspired confrontation with Iran. And the signs are everywhere.

Last week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain played their first games of the 2019 Arabian Gulf Cup in Qatar after a last-minute decision to take part.

Meanwhile, Oman is quietly hosting high-level meetings, and even Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has hinted at direct channels with the UAE.

Spooked by the prospect of a catastrophic war with Iran and its allies across the region, Gulf monarchies are in the midst of a strategic rethink. The UAE, whose economic model relies in large part on its international links, quickly realized it had most to lose from a military escalation. It had pulled out most of its troops from Yemen by the end of a turbulent summer that saw oil tankers targeted and a US drone downed in the Gulf without significant American response.

While the humanitarian catastrophe unleashed by the war on Yemen trained an unwelcome spotlight on Saudi Arabia, it took a brazen strike on Saudi oil installations – which knocked out half the country’s crude production – to ram home the risks and prove that Trump was not about to ride to his allies’ rescue.

“The attacks shattered any illusion of this magical US security umbrella,” said David Roberts, an assistant professor at King’s College London who studies the Gulf. “It burst the bubble and showed that Iran had the willingness to both do something astonishing like the attack on Aramco facilities and the capability to carry it out.”

In the meantime, the Trump administration withdrew last year from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA], known commonly as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions that have crippled its oil exports.

Rolling back Iran’s power remains a priority for the Gulf Arab leadership. There’s an increasing recognition, however, that no one stands to gain from a military escalation in the world’s top oil-exporting region.

In search of a breakthrough, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, shuttled between Tehran and Riyadh in October. He met Leader of the Islamic Revolution His Eminence Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Sheikh Hassan Rouhani, as well as Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman [MBS], describing talks as “encouraging.”

As they explore ways forward, Gulf States are moving at different speeds.

The UAE broke with the US and Saudi Arabia by not naming Iran as the culprit behind attacks in May and June on oil tankers as they sailed toward the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s foremost oil shipping chokepoint.

It sent coast guard officials to Iran for the first time in six years and Rouhani hinted at other meetings with senior UAE officials. “We’re moving toward improved relations,” he said Oct. 14. Saudi Arabia is catching up.

However, where the US holds back, others are crowding in. Russian President Vladimir Putin has forged a partnership with Iran, created an oil alliance with Saudi Arabia and built ties with Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who was warned by the US last month against plans to purchase Russian jets.

Putin traveled to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in October after visits by the Saudi king and the UAE’s de-facto leader Mohammad bin Zayed to Moscow. The two Gulf countries and Russia have signed deals valued at billions of dollars.

For Iran’s Rouhani, the case for regional engagement is obvious.

“Don’t you know that Iran is going to stay here and we will remain neighbors throughout history?” he has said, referring to Iran’s Arab neighbors. “Trump will only be around for a few years and will go back to whatever it was he was doing.”

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