US-Iran conflict escalates again, raising the threat of another war in the Middle East



The United States’ reinstitution of punitive sanctions is causing real hardship to Iranians.
AAP/EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Let’s start with a number. On any given day, more than 17 million barrels of oil pass through what is known as the world’s most important chokepoint.

Those 17 million-plus barrels constitute about 20%, give or take a few percentage points, of world oil consumption daily.

The waterway in question is the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf to the north. It is 33km wide at its narrowest – where its “chokepoint” shipping lane measures just 3km across.

This is barely enough space for supertankers to pass.

Any interruption to seaborne oil-trade through the strait in the world’s most volatile region would immediately push up oil prices, add to risks of a global recession and prompt concerns about a wider conflagration in the Middle East.




Read more:
Trouble in the Gulf as US-Iran dispute threatens to escalate into serious conflict


The Strait of Hormuz is not simply a chokepoint. It would become a flashpoint in the event of military confrontation between the US and Iran.

It is hard to overstate the dangers of unintended consequences from an escalation of American military pressure on Iran that risks bringing the region to the brink of war and severing an economic lifeline to the rest of world.

This scenario hardly bears thinking about. Yet Donald Trump has seemed determined to push Iran to the brink by re-instituting punitive economic sanctions that are causing real hardship to Iranians.

What is at stake for the regime in Tehran is its survival. It will not yield to crude American pressures which reflect a certain mindset in Washington that appears to believe that regime change on the cheap is achievable.

At the heart of an escalating dispute between the US and Iran is the US withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal and re-imposition of sanctions, notwithstanding that Iran was complying with its obligations. Iran is now threatening to resume production of low-enriched uranium beyond amounts specified in the deal.

This agreement was negotiated over many months by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Washington’s abrogation of it ranks as the most irresponsible act – among many – of the Trump administration.

America’s stringent sanctions that penalise entities that do business with Iran, allied with risks of conflict in the Gulf, are exerting enormous stress on the Western alliance.

American leadership in this case is perceived to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Vali Nasr, an Iranian specialist at the International Crisis Group, warns of a mistake or a miscalculation. He told The New York Times:

President Trump may not want war, but he will get one unless he balances coercion with diplomacy.

At this point, there is not much sign that American diplomacy provides a real prospect of an easing of tensions.

This week, the US announced it was deploying another 1,000 troops to the region to join more than 6,000 already in place. It has sent an aircraft carrier battle group to the Gulf, and has positioned B-52 bombers on bases in proximity to Iran.

All this is feeding high levels of anxiety in the Gulf region and across the Middle East. Further afield, markets across Europe, Asia and North America are nervously watching developments.

Whatever Washington’s strategy of exerting maximum pressure on Iran is, it is not working. It is also not clear whether there is a plan B.




Read more:
Why Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear deal may prove a costly mistake


America’s avowed aim is to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to force concessions on the nuclear deal. The US also wants the Iranians to scale back what Washington perceives to be their destabilising behaviour in the region.

This includes allegations Iran is behind a series of attacks in the Gulf on shipping tankers and oil pipelines in recent weeks. Iran denies involvement.

Circumstantial evidence of Iranian involvement is fairly compelling. But such is the damage done to Western intelligence credibility by mistakes in the lead-up to the Gulf War in 2003 that anything Washington says based on its own intelligence is questioned.

Let’s put forward another figure. The 17 million barrels passing through the Strait of Hormuz daily represent 30% of the world’s seaborne-traded oil.

Those shipments account for the bulk of oil shipped by the world’s major oil producers and OPEC members – Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

There’s another figure that is relevant. About 25% of the world’s traded liquefied natural gas (LNG) also transits what is arguably the world’s most strategically important waterway. Qatar, which matches Australia as the world’s largest exporter of LNG, sends almost all of its LNG through the strait.

In other words, this is a crowded energy superhighway by any standards.

The strait connects the Arabian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman to the south and the Arabian Sea beyond.

It is bounded on the eastern perimeter by Iran and to the west by the oil-rich Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have been urging their American allies to take “surgical” reprisals against Iran for attacks on shipping in the Gulf. In such a case, Iran would not turn the other cheek.

Tehran is certain to have a roster of retaliatory options starting, no doubt, with a further disruption to shipping in the Gulf. American naval forces could be deployed to keep Gulf sea lanes open, but this would come at a cost.

The most immediate cost would be felt in the world’s energy markets. What could not be discounted is another war in the Middle East and the destabilisation of the entire region.

These are dangerous moments.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Iran: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on news relating to the persecution of Christians in Iran (the most recent are at the top).

For more visit:
https://www.persecution.org/2019/06/11/iran-sends-morality-police-hard-hit-christian-province/
https://www.persecution.org/2019/06/09/iranian-official-imprisoned-backing-religious-minorities/
https://www.persecution.org/2019/06/04/iran-bans-religious-minority-teachers-kindergarten/

Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread – so will Islamic Republic now develop a bomb?



Shutterstock

Annie Waqar, University of Westminster

The most ambitious effort to peacefully constrain the nuclear aspirations of a nation hangs by a thread. Eight years of patient and difficult negotiations to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme were cast aside when president Donald Trump withdrew US support for the deal in May 2018.

Since then, tensions between Iran and the US, a signatory to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – alongside the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China – have escalated. Last November, the US inflamed things further by re-imposing economic sanctions targeting both Iran and the states that trade with it.

The US decision in early May to deploy an aircraft carrier strike force and B-52 bombers, in response to what Washington said was an imminent Iranian plan to attack US assets, has kept tensions at a boil.

Washington stated that the latest show of force was in response to a “campaign” of recent attacks, including a rocket launched into the Green Zone in Baghdad, explosive devices that damaged four tankers near the entrance to the Gulf, and drone attacks by Yemeni rebels on a key Saudi oil pipeline. Iran has denied any association with the incidents.

More recently, the US withdrew waivers which were part of the JCPOA deal with Iran. By revoking the waivers that enabled Iran to ship abroad excess supplies of enriched uranium and heavy water, the US has left the Islamic Republic pondering whether it should continue to comply with certain key parts of the deal.




Read more:
Is a war coming between the US and Iran?


Iran’s foreign affairs minister, Javed Zarif, and Iraq’s foreign minister, Ali Alhakim, held a joint news conference in May, during which Zarif called on European states to do more to preserve the nuclear deal. Zarif also called the deployment of extra US troops to the Gulf region “extremely dangerous and a threat to international peace and security”.

A supportive Alhakim stated: “The sanctions against sisterly Iran are ineffective and we stand by its side.”

Certainly, sanctions have damaged Iran’s economy. The Iranian currency has hit a record low against the US dollar amid continued economic difficulties following the reimposition of sanctions, and the purchasing power of Iranians has dropped significantly. Indeed, Iran’s economy in 2019 is expected to fall deeper into recession, with estimated negative growth of 5.5% or higher.

Iran’s choice

Tehran has requested that the European signatories to the nuclear accord – France, Germany and the UK – keep the pact alive. The JCPOA sets a 3.67% limit on uranium enhancement (enough to fuel a commercial nuclear plant) and bars Iran from accumulating supplies of more than 300kg of low-enriched uranium and 130 tons of heavy water, a coolant used in nuclear reactors.

Tehran has rightly said the deal agreed to end Iran’s financial isolation in return for the strict limitations on its nuclear activities. But by bolstering sanctions, the US has scared organisations and banks into diminishing, ceasing or avoiding altogether business with Iranian partners, with serious repercussions for Iran’s economy.

Europe, by and large, has supported diplomacy with Iran. It has argued that Trump’s rejection of the deal compromises the pragmatic wing of Iran’s administration and plays into the hands of hardliners. The EU has long had questions about Tehran’s missile program, and its involvement in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, but it has viewed these as separate from the nuclear agreement.

Hassan Rouhani: under pressure.
Shutterstock

The economic sanctions have certainly put the moderate Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani under pressure, both internationally and domestically. Iranian hardliners argue that Iran surrendered too much in the agreement.

Rouhani has perhaps come up with a clever way of deflecting domestic criticism of him – at least for now – by suggesting that the Islamic Republic hold a referendum over its nuclear program. The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) stated that Rouhani, who recently was openly chastised by the nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made the suggestion at a gathering of senior Iranian editors on May 25.

Khamenei, who has the last say on all issues of state in Iran, has not yet responded to Rouhani’s recent proposition. The Islamic Republic has seen just three referendums since 1979: one on its change from a monarchy to an Islamic republic, and two on its constitution.

A nuclear threat?

In the meantime, Iran has also threatened to quadruple its uranium-enrichment production limit, but stressed that even this uranium would not be enhanced beyond the 3.67% limit set by the JCPOA, making it unsuitable for developing a nuclear weapon. Rouhani has also said that Tehran will keep its excess enriched uranium and heavy water rather than exporting it.

If Europe fails to find a way for business and investors to work with Iran without being penalised by US sanctions, however, Rouhani has said that Iran will begin enriching uranium even further. In principle, this more highly-enriched uranium could be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon. This would send Iran back on its way towards making a bomb, and mark the end of the JCPOA.

According to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) most recent quarterly report, Iran’s enriched uranium and heavy water stocks have grown but have not exceeded the ceilings set in the nuclear agreement. This suggests that Iran continues to comply with the JCPOA – for now, at least.

So far, Iran has also abstained from getting entangled in military brinkmanship with the US. But Trump may soon face a tough choice: either engage in a military clash with Iran or return to the JCPOA. The latter may be a u-turn too far for the bellicose president.

Either way, it is difficult to convince nations to surrender nuclear weapons once they have them. In this case, everything peaceful should be done to ensure that Iran is prevented from acquiring one in the first place.The Conversation

Annie Waqar, Lecturer/Academic consultant, University of Westminster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trouble in the Gulf as US-Iran dispute threatens to escalate into serious conflict



US President Donald Trump’s language has only inflamed the tense situation.
AAP/EPA/Jim La Scalzo

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The last thing the world needs at a moment of significant trade tensions between the United States and China is a Middle East crisis that would further imperil global growth.

Yet this is what is threatening in the Persian Gulf, where the US and its Arab allies are edging towards a showdown with Iran in a contested waterway through which 20% of the world’s tradeable oil passes daily.

In coordination with its Arab allies, notably Saudi Arabia, and with Israel, the US is ratcheting up pressure on Iran to wind back its support for what it terms “bad actors” in the region.

This includes Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, radical groups in the Palestinian territories, including Hamas, the Houthis in Yemen, and disaffected anti-regime elements in the Gulf.

While the US denies it is seeking to bring about regime change in Iran, this clearly is its hope.

Conflict is not inevitable, but risks are elevated by combative talk – and actions – from a Washington that seems bent on engaging in the sort of brinkmanship that threatens more serious conflict in a region already on edge.




Read more:
Is a war coming between the US and Iran?


Washington’s deployment of an aircraft carrier battle group and B-52 bombers in the Gulf region is amplifying concerns.

President Donald Trump is not helping; to the contrary.

On one hand, he invites Iran’s leaders to talk. On the other, he warns of that country’s annihilation.

This sort of bombast, the antithesis of wielding a big stick and talking softly, coincides with tightening US sanctions that are doing significant damage to Iran’s economy.

These measures include sanctions imposed this month on Iran’s industrial metals sector. This sector accounts for about 10% of its export economy.

How Tehran responds to these harsh assaults on its economic lifelines is anyone’s guess, but what is certain is that its response will not be passive.

Already this month we have witnessed two sets of terrorist attacks on Gulf oil interests Iran, or its proxies, are blamed for an assault on four ships in which explosives damaged the hulls. Two of these vessels are Saudi-owned. In the second, Iran proxies are blamed for drone strikes on a Saudi Arabian oil pipeline.

In response to terrorist threats to its eastern oil-rich provinces, Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media have begun calling for “surgical strikes” against Iranian interests.

Such action would provoke a wider conflagration.

What tends to be overlooked in all of this is the ease with which Iran, on a previous occasion, stifled oil shipments from the Gulf.

In 1984, Iran was widely believed to have been responsible for rolling second world war mines into Gulf waterways in the so-called “tanker war” with Iraq. This destroyed several vessels and brought tanker traffic to a halt for weeks.

Adding to jitters are recent reports that a Katyusha rocket fell near the American embassy in central Baghdad. Iranian-backed militias, with their strongholds across the Tigris River in the east of the city, are suspected of launching the rocket.

Washington had already ordered non-essential US personnel out of Baghdad. Oil giant ExxonMobil has begun moving employees out of the region. The US has warned commercial air traffic of increased risks in the Gulf.

This is a movie we have seen before, in the first Gulf War and in the 2003 invasion of Iraq to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iran proved to be a significant beneficiary of the chaos that resulted from a destabilisation of the Middle East following the US-led invasion.

None of this is contributing to a stable oil market, on which the global economy rests.

On top of punitive sanctions against Iran, sanctions on Venezuela and disruptions in Libya caused by a civil war have unsettled markets.

Dramatic cuts in Iran’s oil shipments due to US-imposed sanctions followed Washington’s withdrawal last year from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) aimed at forestalling Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Until sanctions started to bite, Iran was the second-largest exporter among Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), behind Saudi Arabia. At their peak, Iranian exports were about 3 million barrels a day.

That number has now slid to 500,000 barrels or less, according to oil market analysts. But in its attempts to skirt US sanctions, Iran is no longer reporting production to OPEC and is not providing definitive information on exports.

As things stand, US sanctions are being adhered to by most importers of Iranian crude, with the likely exceptions being China and India. The US removed waivers on countries accepting Iran’s oil in November after withdrawing from the JCPOA in May 2018.

The 2015 agreement, negotiated by the Obama administration in partnership with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, froze Iran’s nuclear program for 15 years. The agreement was designed to provide an opportunity for the West to take counter-measures in case Iran upscaled its production of fissionable material.

By withdrawing from the JCPOA without a fallback position beyond punitive sanctions and threats of military action, the US has separated itself from its allies and left itself few options beyond further sanctions – or military threats.




Read more:
Stakes are high as US ups the ante on trade dispute with China


That is, unless Trump’s offers of direct negotiations with Iran’s leaders bear fruit. At this stage, a tense standoff in the world’s most volatile region is not only dangerous, it could have been avoided by the US adhering to an agreement that was far from perfect, but better than the alternative.

That alternative is estrangement from its allies on Iran, and now real risks of a further security deterioration in the volatile Gulf.

Philip Gordon, a Middle East specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, summed up the dilemma for US policy and that of its allies rendered anxious by risks of adventurism in the Gulf in pursuit of an American goal of regime change in Tehran. He wrote that barring something extraordinary such as the collapse of the Iranian regime,

It’s hard to see how this current conflict could end without the United States backing down or with a further and very dangerous escalation. The Trump administration should have considered all this before it walked away from the nuclear deal in the first place.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Forty years on from the Iranian Revolution, could the country be at risk of another one?



File 20190211 174880 1r6pcj5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The last four decades in Iran have been marked by internal tension due to its political system, which combines theocratic and republican elements.
from shutterstock.com

Naser Ghobadzadeh, Australian Catholic University

Iran’s ruling clergy are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1979 revolution, during which Shi’ite Islamists, led by religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, toppled Mohammad Reza Shah’s secular monarchy.

The linchpin of the Islamic Republic’s political system is Ayatollah Khomeini’s doctrine of Wilayat-i Faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, which makes a Shia religious jurist the head of state. The jurist’s legitimacy to hold the most powerful position in the state is claimed to be based on divine sovereignty.

As its name suggests, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s current system combines theocratic and republican elements. The president and parliament are democratically elected, while the members of powerful institutions such as the Guardian Council and the judiciary are appointed by the Supreme Leader (Walī-yi Faqīh).

The Guardian Council oversees elections and the final approval of legislation. According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, all legislation, policies and programs must be consistent with the observance of Islamic principles.
The Guardian Council has a duty to monitor all legislative decisions and determine whether their implementation would cause a violation.




Read more:
World politics explainer: the Iranian Revolution


This unprecedented political system brought in four decades of internal conflict. The established Islamic Republic of Iran also ceased being a US ally and instead became an enemy. International sanctions, along with the clergy’s mismanagement and endemic corruption, have resulted in a dire economic situation. There is a strong fear the high unemployment and inflation rate will continue to rise.

Under these circumstances, there are now doubts the Islamic Republic can survive. And some wonder whether we may soon see another revolution. So, what is the situation in Iran 40 years after the Shah was overthrown and who is agitating for change?

Decades of unrest

After Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, a more conservative Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, came to power and strengthened the theocracy.

The reformist movement emerged in the mid-1990s to counter the newly established conservative regime. They had little chance of gaining power through theocratic institutions, so they focused on the electoral side. They campaigned for women’s rights, democratic rule and a civil-military divide.

Reformists gained power twice: from 1997 to 2005 and from 2013 – with the election of the relatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani – until now. In these years, reformists controlled electoral institutions such as the presidency and the parliament.

For decades, reformers have struggled to limit the power of theocratic institutions – while still broadly complying by the laws of the clergy, and the principles set in place by Khomeini – and expand the power of republican institutions. However, they were no match for the Khamenei-led resistance, and theocratic institutions are more powerful today than they were in the mid-1990s.

Iran has also continually had tense relations with the international community. In addition to eight years of war with Iraq, Iran has been under sanctions for almost all of the past four decades. These have been imposed by the US, the EU, and the United Nations over claims Iran breached its nuclear obligations.




Read more:
Why the Iran nuclear agreement is a deal worth honouring


Today, the Donald Trump-led US government is pursuing an extremely hostile approach to Iran. Crucially, the US has withdrawn from a nuclear deal negotiated with the Obama administration – under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program. The US has reapplied previous sanctions (which were lifted under the deal) and imposed new ones. Iranians are also the most affected of the Muslim majority countries included in Trump’s travel ban.

Reformists have made some progress towards easing economic hardship, loosening social control, and initiating a temporary easing of tensions with the outside community. But the parlous nature of the political structure empowers the theocrats to manipulate the system and stymie any reform effort that promises a path to democratisation.

Reformists or pro-regime opposition

The protests that swept Iran between December 2017 and January 2018 showed that many Iranians don’t consider the reformists capable of bringing about meaningful change. Protestors expressed their anger over increasing economic hardship, as well as Iran’s support and funding for foreign conflicts, namely the civil wars in Yemen and Syria. They also chanted slogans calling for an end to the rule of clerics.

Rampant corruption, the failure of Rouhani to fulfil his promises – such as boosting the economy, extending individual and political freedoms, ensuring equality for women and men, and easing access to the internet – and the return of sanctions have combined to shatter hope of reform. This has been expressed in global protests by the Iranian diaspora calling for a change to the government.

It seems unlikely the reformists will be able to maintain their positions in the country’s electoral institutions. The sad reality is that even if they have another chance, the result will only compound their failures.




Read more:
Why Iran’s protests matter this time


These circumstances have led to another stream of opposition – one agitating for a toppling of the Islamic Republic and regime change – gaining currency. Most members of this group are in exile, including Iran’s ex-prince and son of the Shah overthrown by the revolution, Reza Pahlavi.

But there is profound disagreement between the opposition groups in exile. Although they share a similar goal, they have consistently proven unable to agree on an overarching framework. The profound divisions among the groups has drained both their resources and intellectual capacity, which has rendered them incapable of contesting the country’s ruling clergy.

Those advocating for regime change have also been incapable of articulating a viable alternative to the Islamic Republic. All opposition groups overuse the abstract notion of “secular democracy” without clearly explaining what exactly they have in mind.

Pahlavi’s desire is reportedly not to put himself back on the throne, but to let the people decide what the political system would look like. He has said:

It’s not the form that matters, it’s the content; I believe Iran must be a secular, parliamentary democracy. The final form has to be decided by the people.

While this is a legitimate statement, figures like Pahlavi ought to offer viable alternatives that would help bring opposition groups together. Potential alternatives should also be structured to appeal to the masses, a considerable segment of whom have expressed disillusionment with the ideal of an Islamic state.

Opposition groups are absorbed in delegitimising the Islamic Republic, questioning the way the clergy run the country. In doing so, they forget the the people who have already expressed widespread dissatisfaction with the clergy.

The opposition needs to skilfully craft an alternative to the Islamic Republic and a comprehensive plan for the transition to democracy. Until an alternative political system is formulated and popularised, the opposition will remain impotent and unable to initiate a transformation in the country.

Of course, change is not impossible. A military confrontation with Israel or the US, the departure of 79-year-old Ayatollah Khamenei, or a spontaneous mass uprising could prove a game changer.The Conversation

Naser Ghobadzadeh, Senior lecturer, National School of Arts, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Syrian war is not over, it’s just on a new trajectory: here’s what you need to know


File 20190205 86224 ksozds.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel will keep vying for power in Syria long after the US is gone.
from shutterstock.com

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

December 2018 marked a significant shift in the Syrian conflict. The end-of-year events put the country on a new trajectory, one in which President Bashar al-Assad looks towards consolidating his power and Islamic State (IS) sees a chance to perpetuate its existence.

Turkey’s role

Kick-starting the development was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement he would start a military operation east of the Euphrates River – an area controlled by the US supported and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The US and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces control the area to the east of the Euphrates River.
Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the eight-year conflict, Assad and his main backer, Russia, have not militarily engaged with the Kurds. Assad and Russia didn’t see the Kurds as terrorists or insurgents, but as protectors of their territory against IS and other jihadist forces.

But Turkey sees the Kurdish zone as an existential threat. Turkey has legitimate fears: if the Kurdish region in Syria becomes independent, it can unite with the Kurdish region in northern Iraq and eventually claim the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

Turkey’s intended military operation east of the Euphrates is yet to eventuate. But the announcement was a bold move, made more real by the large military build-up on the Turkish-Syrian border. It put pressure on the US administration and US President Donald Trump to make a call on Syria: either stand firm against Turkey and further stretch already tense relations, or pull out of Syria to abrogate responsibility.

Trump chose the second option. He swiftly declared the US would pull out from Syria altogether – and sell Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Turkey to prevent its attempt to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defence system.

The removal of US troops came with a Trump-style announcement on Twitter: “After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home!”

US policy

Since April 2018, Trump had made clear his desire to leave Syria. Ten days after declaring his intention, an episode of chemical attacks forced Trump’s hand into staying in Syria and retaliating. This time, though, either the pressure from Turkey worked or Trump saw it as a perfect time to execute his intent to leave.

Under the Obama administration, US foreign policy with regards to Syria was to remain there until IS was destroyed completely, Iran and its associated entities removed and a political solution achieved in line with the UN-led Geneva peace talks. Trump claimed the first goal was complete and saw it as sufficient grounds to pull out.




Read more:
Further strikes on Syria unlikely – but Trump is always the wild card


Then, on December 21 2018, Trump announced Defence Secretary James Mattis would retire at the end of February 2019. The Washington Post reported Mattis vehemently objected to, and clashed with Trump over, the Syrian withdrawal. In his resignation letter, Mattis wrote: “you have the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours”.

Differences have marked US policy on Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. Trump further added to the confusion, and his erratic decision-making also demonstrates his frustration with his own administration.

Russia’s game

The global fear, of course, is that the US withdrawal will leave Russia as the region’s military and political kingpin, with Iran and Turkey as its partners.




Read more:
Stakes are high as Turkey, Russia and the US tussle over the future of Syria


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has publicly stated that Russia respects Turkey’s national interests in Syria. He added Turkey was willing to compromise and work together to improve the situation and fight against terrorism. Turkey appears to have accepted Russian objectives in Syria in return for Russia’s green light to do what Turkey deems best for its national interests in the Kurdish region.

One Russian objective is to ensure Assad remains Syria’s president. Russia may allow Turkey to host limited operations in the Kurdish region, not only to hold a compromise with Turkey, but also to eventually pressure Kurdish forces into cooperating with Russia and accepting the Assad regime.

Russia is playing out a careful strategy – pleasing Turkey, but not at the expense of Assad’s sovereignty in Syria. Erdogan was a staunch adversary of Assad in the early years of the conflict. Russia counts on Erdogan’s recognition of Assad to influence other Sunni majority states to cross over to the Russian-Assad camp.

Russia’s strategy is to please Turkey, but only to the extent that it doesn’t threaten Assad’s hold on power in Syria.
from shutterstock.com

The Turkish foreign minister has said Turkey may consider working with Assad if Syria holds democratic elections. Of course, Assad will only agree to elections if he is assured of a win.

The United Arab Emirates announced a reopening of its embassy in Damascus, which was followed by Bahrain stating it had never cut its diplomatic ties with the Syrian administration. Although Saudi Arabia denied it, there are media reports that the Saudi foreign ministry is establishing diplomatic ties with the Syrian administration.

These are indications the main players in the region are preparing to recognise and work with the Assad government.

An important step in Turkey’s recognition of Assad came in a meeting on January 23 between Putin and Erdogan. Putin reminded Erdogan of the 1998 Adana Pact between Turkey and Syria. The pact began a period of previously unprecedented bilateral links between Turkey and Syria until 2011, when the current conflict flared.

Erdogan acknowledged the 1998 pact was still in operation, meaning Turkey and the Assad administration could work together against terrorism.

Trump may also see no problem with the eventuality. There was no mention of Assad when he claimed victory in Syria, indicating he does not care whether Assad remains in power or not.

Islamic State

The overarching concern is that the US pulling out of Syria would bring back IS. The group has lost large territories and the major cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. The last town under IS control, Hajin, fell to coalition forces in December 2018. Despite these wins, it’s too soon to claim the end for IS.

Trump has a solution to this too: outsourcing. In a Tweet on December 24, he announced Turkish President Erdogan will “eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria”. This is highly unlikely as Turkey’s main concern is the Kurdish region in northern Syria where IS is not likely to pose any threat.

Given Russia and Assad will be the main forces in Syria, their policies will determine the future of IS.

Assad would not want IS to jeopardise his own government. At the same time, Assad’s claim for legitimacy throughout the civil war was his fight against terrorism, embodied by IS. If IS were to exist in some shape and form, it would benefit Assad in the crucial years of consolidating his power. This may lead to Assad appearing to crack down on IS while not entirely eradicating them.




Read more:
James Mattis: what defence secretary’s resignation means for Syria, Afghanistan and NATO, as Trump leans in to Putin


IS will also try hard to survive. It still has a large number of seasoned commanders and fighters who can unleash guerrilla warfare. IS also has operatives peppered throughout Syria to launch suicide bombing attacks in Syrian cities, similar to what they have been doing in Iraq.

Israel, meanwhile, has been quietly hitting Iranian targets in Syria since May 2018. Israeli air strikes intensified in January 2019 and occurred in broad daylight. In acknowledging the strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s “permanent policy” was to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

We could see more altercations between Israel and Iran in 2019, now that the US has abandoned the objective of countering Iran’s presence in Syria.

The Syrian conflict is not over. It’s just on a new trajectory. The US withdrawal is sure to leave a power vacuum, which will quickly be filled by other regional powers like Turkey, Iran and Israel under the watchful eye of Russia.The Conversation

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Iran: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article that reports on persecution news from Iran.

For more visit:
https://christiannews.net/2018/10/06/irans-judiciary-sentences-two-believers-for-affirming-basic-christian-doctrines/