The U.S.’s Strategic Re-Pivot to the Middle Eastern Quagmire

(Newsweek) – The U.S. has not fully woken to the rising Chinese dragon’s aggressive forays into the Middle East. In December 2019, China participated in its first three-way naval exercise with Iran and Russia in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. More recently, in response to Iran’s economic and military alliance with China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted in the beginning of August that “China’s entry into Iran will destabilize the Middle East. It’ll put Israel at risk. It’ll put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates at risk as well.”

But the Trump administration has not formulated a comprehensive regional strategy to keep China at bay, while also maintaining a light footprint in the Middle East and pivoting toward Asia. So for now, the U.S. is doomed to continually be sucked into the quagmire of the Middle East.

The U.S.’s regional allies questioned the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq and pivot away from the Middle East toward Asia. This subsequently led to increased Russian involvement in Syria and the rise of ISIS, which once again drew the U.S. into the region. A U.S. in retreat will increase regional instability, as an assertive Russia, a nuclear-aspiring Iran committed to destabilizing the region, a rivaling Saudi nuclear aspirant and mercantilist China seek to extend their spheres of influence across the vacuum of governance spanning the region.

U.S. strategic allies in the region are not convinced by the level of the U.S.’s commitment to their security vis-à-vis Iran. James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, has identified that Saudi Arabia fears that the U.S. will seek to renegotiate the JCPOA with Iran, which may contain loopholes and ambiguities that Iran could exploit. Iran could then be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, enhanced its ballistic missile capabilities and increase its support for terrorist proxies across the region. And the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have lauded the UAE’s recent peace agreement with Israel, which they believe will bolster their security in the event of a regional U.S. drawback.

China will seek to increase its maritime presence in the region to protect its energy imports. The Iranian attack on the Saudi petroleum processing facilities in 2019 saw oil prices spike by 20 percent. This affected China’s purchase of 60 percent of its oil that comes from the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia being China’s top supplier of oil.

Dorsey notes that Sun Degang and Wu Sike, scholars with close links to the Chinese regime, asserted that the Middle East was a “key region in big power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in a new era.” China perceives the U.S.’s reticence to commit to the Middle East as an opportunity to destabilize the region. For example, in 2017, China agreed to cooperate with Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy. Although this was guaranteed to heighten tensions with Iran, it was not met with a U.S. response. Similarly, in 2018, China’s comprehensive strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE was met with a muted response. All the while, GCC states are increasingly hedging from fully committing to the U.S. underpinning its security architecture and are simultaneously cultivating ties with China, Russia, Iran the U.S. and Israel.

Despite the U.S. providing weapons sales to GCC states, those GCC states will take the opportunity of increased ties with Israel to diversify their weapons supplies away from sole reliance upon the U.S.—especially in light of criticism by U.S. lawmakers on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This will reduce the U.S.’s leverage with them, which is and will continue to be exploited by China and Russia. In 2019, Russia advanced a collective security concept for the Gulf. In July 2020, at the ninth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Chinese and Arab League foreign ministers adopted the Amman Declaration, which seeks to build a joint China-Arab community by deepening ties.

Read Full Article: Newsweek

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Fallout of Halting Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia

(Defense News) – UK asserted that cluster bombs used in Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebels in Yemen were restricted to purely military targets, and that no civilians were targeted. Nonetheless, the outgoing Obama administration is halting a planned weapons sale of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia due to its concerns over civilian casualties while paradoxically continuing to refuel Saudi-led coalition planes.

This is a reversal of the US Congress’s decision in November 2015, to sell smart bombs to Saudi Arabia to limit civilian casualties. Other sales included laser guided munitions such as Guided Bomb Unit (GBU 10) Paveway II, UAVs, JADAM and as well as air to ground precision guided missiles used on the American built Saudi F15 fleet.

For Saudi Arabia, avoiding collateral damage is central to effectively countering the Houthis. Brigadier General Ahmad Asiri, a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense expressed that Saudi Arabia’s strategy in Yemen is imitating the US-led coalition’s strategy in Mosul and Riqqa of avoiding civilian casualties by relying upon local intelligence while relying upon air power rather than ground troops. This however creates a problem as Yemen’s National Army intelligence that Saudi Arabia relies upon is poor. To avoid civilian casualties Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in need of a greater intelligence network on the ground. This requires Saudi Arabia to reverse its doctrine that relies heavily upon airpower and commit to greater ground troops.

Human Shields

It is not only Saudi Arabia’s usage of air power that has contributed to civilian casualties. Houthi rebels along with units loyal to Saleh have launched rockets and shells from residential areas and constituting human rights violations. On November 10 2016, General Al-Asiri asserted that Houthi militias held up 34 humanitarian aid ships carrying urgent medical assistance for over six months. The UN Security Council’s established Panel of Experts on Yemen reported to the UN Security Council that in the Taiz province, the Houthis had violated international humanitarian law by concealing fighters and equipment in or close to civilians in Al Mukha in the Taiz Governorate “with the deliberate aim of avoiding attack”. Houthi-Saleh forces in Aden and Taiz were documented attacking “medical facilities, schools and other civilian infrastructure, and using snipers positioned atop buildings to target people seeking safety, medical care or food.”

A Human Rights Watch report in January 2016, similarly accused Houthi forces of placing its armed fighters in a school for the blind in Sanaa, saying this placed vulnerable children “at grave risk”. Echoing this, Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri revealed that on Nov 9, 2016, Saudi Arabia killed 30 Al Qaeda operatives in the Eastern side of Al Mukalla where numerous Al Qaeda operatives had embedded themselves in the densely populated areas.

For this reason in 2014, when Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah condemned the war in Gaza, he but did not criticize Israel’s military operations against Hamas’s usage of human shields. Israel has accused Iran’s proxy Hamas from storing and firing rockets from schools, hospitals and mosques in order to raise the prospects of collateral damage. Iran’s Al Quds force along with Hezbollah are training Houthi militias to conduct the same tactics in densely populated areas.

Military Assistance

In early 2016, the U.S. military significantly reduced the number of US military personnel coordinating with the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign resulting in increased likelihood of the usage of cluster bombings which would increase civilian casualties. Such measures also provides Iran the initiative to increase its support to the Houthis with impunity.

Both the US and UK can assist Saudi Arabia to dramatically lower civilian casualties in Yemen by increasing its intelligence cooperation with Saudi Arabia combined with offering precision guided munitions and pilot training. Reversing Houthi advances and Iranian involvement in Yemen can only be achieved with increased UK and US involvement leading to a greater humanitarian outcome.

Read Full Article: Defense News

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Why Israel, Gulf states are wary of Iran nuclear talks

(CNN) – TOlli Heinonen, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency recently asserted that Iran having passed the “point of no return” in its nuclear weapons program could within two weeks have the ability to enrich enough missile-grade uranium to build a bomb.
Yet U.S.-led direct negotiations with Iran broke down in Geneva while the potential remains for the unraveling of sanctions. Israel wants Iran’s enrichment of uranium set back by 12 months along with the dismantling of numerous centrifuges. The U.S., however, is willing to set it back by five months. Israel fears the problem with the U.S. timeline is if Iran kicks out inspectors, Washington would not have sufficient time to gear up militarily.

At Geneva, Iran opposed suspending work on its plutonium-producing reactor at Arak and downgrade its stockpile of higher-enriched uranium. Israel notes that recently Iran has planned for 34 new nuclear sites to be constructed along the country’s Persian Gulf and Caspian coasts. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs committee recently asserted that Iran will never agree to dismantle the Fordow uranium enrichment facility. Ilan Berman, the Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Center notes that this was a key concession that officials in the U.S. and Europe had expected Iran to make.

GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE have been able to push back against U.S.-led negotiations with Iran by allowing countries like France to curry favor with them. Thus it is possible that France scuttled the deal on offer in Geneva in order to win energy and military contracts in Saudi Arabia and the UAE at the U.S.’s expense. France has also increased defence ties with Israel. For these reasons there is little chance that Israel and Saudi Arabia will not lobby to derail P5+1 talks when they reconvene in November 20.

Read Full Article: CNN

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

As U.N. falters, Syria’s conflict threatens regional stability

(CNN) – It would be a mistake to write off threats of war against Syria from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as mere bluster, assuming that Turkey will maintain the status quo in valuing its relationship with the United States on one hand, while resisting Iran’s hegemonic ambitions on the other.

The recent cross-border confrontation could ignite regional convulsions as Turkey is sucked into Syria, leading to belated actions on the part of the international community.

The Assad regime knows its time is limited as the rate of military and intelligence officers defecting to Jordan and Turkey increases in momentum. Rebel attacks are inching closer to the heart of the Assad regime, such as the recent attack on the Syrian air force intelligence compound in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. This contributes to the regime’s recklessness in firing upon Turkey with impunity.

Ankara may also be emboldened by the fact that Iran, a key Assad ally, could be limited in its ability to intervene due to its economic woes at home. This week its currency – the rial – plummeted in value due to a combination of sanctions and Tehran’s own mismanagement of the economy. Turkey has less to lose by responding to Syrian aggression – this rationale is supported by recent reports that Iran has withdrawn from Syria 275 members from a special operations unit attached to its elite Quds Force.

Read Full Article: CNN

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

US Approach Towards the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood

(ICT) – Presented at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) Twelfth World Summit on Counter-Terrorism, Herzliya, Israel 10-13 September 2012

Have there ever been examples of despots and autocrats being moderated by being incentivised to do so by the international community? Can you think of any? The tides of tyranny have never been reversed by financial incentives.

On the contrary this has merely emboldened them and hardened their insatiable desire to maximise power. The Obama administration is in the process of emboldening the Muslim Brotherhood by finalising a $1-billion bailout for the Muslim Brotherhood, almost a third of its total burden. The Obama administration is also working with the (IMF) to secure a $5-billion loan for the regime. On top of that, U.S. officials are in the process of creating multiple funds and programs worth almost $500 million to help U.S. and Egyptian businesses connected with the regime. This would be in addition to the regular “security” and “foreign aid” packages. The State Department is also preparing to lead a delegation of dozens of U.S. companies to encourage investment in Egypt. The Obama administration was offering almost $500 million in loans and guarantees to Egyptian businesses.

Note these measures are not being advanced with an independent secular civil society, but with the regime. As such, the Obama administration is repeating the mistaken approach of successive US administrations. That is conducting a top-down approach that empowered autocrats at the expense of investing in a secular liberal civil-society. The Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan is ‘Islam is the Answer.’ Thus the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leader, Muhammed Badi in Sept 2010 exhorted in a sermon that Muslims ‘need to understand that the improvement and change that the Muslim nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death, just as the enemies pursue life.’ Well let’s see whether the Koran alone has the ability to raise the Muslim world out of social and economic stagnation. Turkey has already cheated by combining Mohammed with Adam Smith. So much for the Koran superseding everything including the state. However, the US is enabling Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to cheat and not make ideological compromises by offering it freebies.

On the contrary, the US has stoked the fires of despotism in Egypt that has entailed alleviating the Muslim Brotherhood of the responsibility of fostering good governance and a coherent economic plan. Martin Kramer has expressed, ‘The Brotherhood has a so-called “Renaissance” plan for the overhaul of the Egyptian economy. I won’t pretend to judge its feasibility. Could modernization of tax collection double or triple tax revenues? Can Egypt double the number of arriving tourists, even while contemplating limits on alcohol and bikinis? Can a renovation of the Suez Canal raise transit revenues from $6 billion a year to $100 billion? Can Egypt’s economy surpass the economies of Turkey and Malaysia within seven years? These are all claims made at various times by the economic thinkers of the Muslim Brotherhood, who trumpet Egypt’s supposed potential for self-sufficiency.’ Plan B, Kramer outlines is a shakedown in what is termed as ‘Reparations’ from the West for its geo-strategic position. Martin Kramer was so right in his prescient assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood’s shakedown of the West which we already see in motion.

Read Full Article: ICT

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

How Moderate is the Muslim Brotherhood?

(RUSI) – Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has blindsided the West, and appears as a pluralistic movement. As a result, the US National Security Council has emphasised that the US has not ruled out ‘engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process’.1 Yet the Brotherhood is locked in endless debate between those who aspire to instant jihad − citing Mohammed’s small armies defeating much larger ones as in the battles of Badr and Uhud − and others who advocate a multi-generational process of ‘da’wah’ (persuasion via example and preaching), as well as deception. Some analysts look to Islam’s past traditions to prove this point. Strategies can involve the use of concepts such as ‘taqiyyah’, a process that includes lying to enemies to conceal one’s true intentions, which Raymond Ibrahim claims is widespread in the Islamic world. Forms of taqiyyah can include collaboration with the enemy or ‘hudna’, a ceasefire that provides organisations like Hamas time to replenish their weapons stocks. The ultimate objective is the attainment of power.

Da’wah and taqiyyah were strategies employed by the Iranian revolutionary Ayatollah Khomeini in the late 1970s in his dealings with the United States. Khomeini shrewdly echoed what the international community wanted to hear and spoke of pgge4nder equality and thepvgio8 lation of human rights by the Shah. History will recall how Khomeini later proceeded to brutally purge all those who had previously constituted his coalition to advance his Islamist agenda. Thus Khomeini laid down the blueprint that has been followed by Islamist groups across the Middle East: the more distant from power, the more moderate and democratic their rhetoric. The greater their proximity, the more openly anti-Western and undemocratic their agenda becomes.

Read Full Article: RUSI Newsbrief_March_2011_Seener

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

The Threat From Israel’s Arab Population

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(InFocus) – While Iran and Syria, along with their proxies Hamas and Hizbullah, are often cited as Israel’s primary security concerns, Israeli Arabs are a growing strategic threat. What began as hostility toward the Jewish identity of the state has evolved into a growing identification with Palestinian nationalism and Islamism. Thus, the challenge posed by Israel’s Arabs to the security of the state is now characterized by religious ideology as well as political identity, making rapprochement increasingly less likely.

Israeli Arabs in Context

Despite allegations that Israel cleansed itself of its Arab population, Arabs have lived in the state of Israel since the founding of the state. Approximately 150,000 Arabs elected to live in Israel after the armistice of 1949. In accordance with Israeli law, the state took measures to ensure that Israeli Arabs enjoyed the same rights and privileges as Jewish Israeli citizens. Over six decades, however, the Israeli Arabs have developed a unique political identity, distinctly separate from the Israeli political identity, and often hostile to it.

In 2000, a poll published by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot revealed that 66 percent of Israeli Arabs would back the Palestinians in any confrontation with Israel, while only 13 percent would support their own country. Similarly, a 1999 survey by the Institute for Peace Research at Givat Haviva found that 32.8 percent of Israeli Arabs believed that only “Israeli” was “appropriate to their self-identity.”

At the beginning of 2001, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) reported that 18.7 percent of Israel’s population, including East Jerusalem, was Arab. Today, the Israeli Arab population centers and political hotbeds outside of Jerusalem are found in an area known as the “Triangle” in Northern Israel, where the majority of the Israeli Arabs live.

Read Full Article: InFocus

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Report and Retort: A Response to John Hulsman

Strategic Intelligentia

(The National Interest) – The following is part of an ongoing debate between Barak M. Seener and John C. Hulsman.Seener offered a critique of Hulsman’s article “Designated Driver Diplomacy.” Hulsman responded, and Seener gets the last word here.

It is impressive how a supposed response manages to ignore several examples of how Britain either openly opposed or pro-actively reinforced U.S. foreign policy. These examples cannot be dismissed as merely being “trees pointing the other direction” in comparison to a forest, as they were pivotal moments in history. Instead, an onslaught is made upon my alleged policy leanings due to my being a “representative of the Henry Jackson Society.” I have never been affiliated with neoconservatism for reasons described below. Ironically, I find myself in the position of wanting to cite the same Cary Grant lines despite it being unbefitting for an alleged neoconservative to recall the effeminate and debonair British actor.

In an emotive appeal to those subscribing to conspiracy theories, the author holds neoconservatives responsible for hijacking U.S. foreign policy. None of the Bush’s cabinet advisors were neoconservatives. They were traditional realists who perceived the world as a dark and dangerous place with amorphous transnational threats that needed to be tackled, especially after 9/11. The notion of a neoconservative coup- which ignores most Democrats’ position in 2002-is facile. It also enables those not subscribing to neoconservatism to evade responsibility for also actively promoting Iraq’s invasion.

Just as historical readings ought not be conducted in a two-dimensional manner, similarly policy affiliations are allowed to be nuanced.

Read Full Article: The National Interest

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.