Category Archives: Iran

The Geopolitical Impact of ISIS: Actors, Factors, and Balances of Power in the Middle East

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

Source: The Guardian

The ISIS Threat

Generally speaking, the emergence of ISIS has posed a significant security threat to regional and international states alike; a threat which challenges the stability and territorial integrity of regional states as well as Western regional interests. As known from International Relations and particularly Realism literature, (mutual) security threats are one of the most important factors in the formation of different kinds of alliances. As such, it is without surprise that we see unlike partnerships to emerge, such as the ones mentioned below. Continue reading

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Turkey and Israel: The Revitalization of Relations?

From the 1980s onwards the Turkish-Israeli relations started improving gradually. The year 1996 in particular was a milestone as the two countries signed a series of agreements of military cooperation and training, among others. The agreements were of outmost strategic significance as they gave rise to a pro-Western strategic axis which had a serious impact on the regional balances of power.

From Friends to Foes

The election of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power of the Turkish state in 2002 had a gradually negative influence on the relations between Turkey and Israel for two main reasons. The first reason was the systemic changes that occurred in the region after 9/11 and the American invasion in Iraq (2003). The second reason was the AKP’s ideology which is positioned somewhere in between political Islam and democratic ideals even though the party itself denies any relationship to political Islam and declares that it is a “conservative-democratic” party. As far as the first reason is concerned, after 2001 Turkey had to manage a geopolitical environment which was particularly unstable both for its own and Western interests; this created the necessity for a closer relationship with the Arab/Muslim world. In terms of the second reason, the ideology of the AKP and the “Davutoğlu doctrine” (i.e. Turkey’s foreign policy doctrine based on the writings and approach of its Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlou) called for improved relations with the Middle East and distance from the West and Israel. The AKP’s approach toward the Arab/Muslim world and its anti-Western stance gained even greater momentum after 2006. That was when the European Union disappointed Ankara regarding its prospects for accession, while the friction between Turkey and Washington about Iraq – which includes the dimension of the Kurdish issue – continued.

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Israel, Gaza & the Mideast: An ‘Indirect Approach’?

By Zenonas Tziarras & Panagiotis Andrikopoulos*

Published on EurasiaReview, November 18th, 2012

This article is overreaching and it does so because it accepts one axiom: the only politics that matters is the politics that happens “under the table”. While this does not refer to conspiracy theories it does imply that most people do not know most of the things that shape the socio-political and economic realities of our world. Therefore when a political situation unfolds, depending on the broader context, one has to try to look at the bigger picture; in other words, try to think “outside the box”, if they would like to decode what the reality might be.

Having said that, strategic thinking could help us find unconventional solutions to problems as well as better understand real situations. One of the greatest strategists of the 20th century, Basil Liddell Hart, argued that the more indirect the strategy, the shorter the way to the end, and the more decisive the results. Looking at the unfolding events in Gaza through this prism, even though Israel’s approach may be indirect in tactical terms, as it is based on artillery and airstrikes for now, the ‘indirect’ here does not refer to Israel’s operations in Gaza but to the role these operations play in a possible greater ‘indirect’ strategic plan of the West. This means that, at this juncture, we are looking at the Middle East as a chessboard whereon western and non-western powers clash, and pawns (of different value) such as Israel, Hamas, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Russia, the US and others have a role in the moves that lie ahead. Within this framework there are two questions to be answered: 1) what is the grand strategic aim of the West? Put simply, what is the geopolitical end-game that the West aspires to – in the Middle East? And 2) what micro-strategies/tactics (including ‘indirect approaches’) will be employed in order for this aim to be achieved? Lastly, there is one simple question that triggers and drives the whole discussion: why Gaza, and why now?

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Syrian Crisis: Facts and «Collateral Damages»

In terms of the Syrian crisis it is already clear that certain issues will keep playing a decisive role in the upcoming developments, or that they could constitute outcomes of the conflict. These issues could be divided into internal and external.

As far as the external issues are concerned, it has become obvious that the al-Assad regime has by its side the undisputable powers of Russia and China. It is noteworthy that these two countries have recently announced that they will not be accepting any western intervention in Syria, thus responding to Obama who said that the use of chemical weapons by the regime would be a “red line” for the US and a reason for the use of military force. In this light, opponents of the Syrian regime remain the western states with leading country the US, while Turkey plays a central regional role against the Assad regime – both as a meeting centre of regional and international actors for the management of the crisis and the organization of the Syrian opposition/resistance, as well as a refugee hosting centre and a (indirect) supporter of the Syrian rebels. Important role in supporting the rebels are also playing Arab countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, while it has been reported that N. Iraq trains and reinforces Syrian Kurds for the armed resistance within Syria. Moreover, Turkey and the US have been discussing along with other western allies the establishment of a partial no-fly zone over Syria for the protection of non-combatants. In the context of the external dynamics of the Syrian crisis, it important to mention Iran which is one of the very few allies of the Syrian regime and one of the reasons why the US (and Israel, among others) want Assad replaced.

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The Thoughtlessness of the Intervention Advocates – Syria

The horror taking place in Syria is not to be questioned. The way it is utilized by western media, is. The moral need to do something about Syria is not to be questioned. The way morale is utilized for political reasons, is. The fact that Assad must go is not to be questioned. It is the “how” that needs to be discussed and the western-style intervention – which has become a habit – that needs to be questioned. The thoughtlessness of the intervention advocates, with regard to the case of Syria specifically, is unbearable.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been bombarded with “Responsibility to Protect” rhetoric; we’ve been reminded of the (U.S.) need to intervene in Syria to weaken Iran, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas; we’ve been told of all the positive effects a new Syrian regime would have for the region; we’ve been pointed out how useful regional countries (e.g. Turkey) would be in a potential intervention; how Russia would care, but not so much as to cause problems, and so on. It is as if everyone stopped thinking rationally and stopped weighing the costs and benefits. To be honest though, depending on one’s perspective of the situation, the costs and benefits could be entirely different. What would be the objective of an intervention, really? Would it be Iran? Would it be Hamas and Hezbollah? Would it be the Russian interests in the Middle East? Would it be the protection of the Syrian people under the “Responsibility to Protect” umbrella? Or is the “Responsibility to Protect” just the moral cover-up – and the ultimate immoral means – for the achievement of all previous, and more, objectives? I would vote for the latter. In any case, an intervention – if it were to take place – should be about the people. But the fact is that there is no scenario in which the Syrian people – or the region, for that matter – would benefit from an intervention. There are at least five main reasons for that, briefly presented below, which are linked to the simplifications put forward by the intervention advocates.

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Possible Geopolitical Implications of the Syrian Crisis

As the crisis in Syria keeps escalating and the violent crackdown of the Bashar al-Assad regime results in more civilian deaths, the growing instability and civil opposition is significantly challenging the die-hard regime and raises questions regarding how much longer it can keep up with the deteriorating domestic situation and the increasing international pressure. More importantly, the troubling question that emerges is what might happen when the regime is finally overthrown?
While people in Syria and the West want a major change to take place in the country, the same cannot be said for some of the other states of the Middle East. Even if western countries want al-Assad to step down they will not intervene in Syria as easily as they did in Libya because this time there is much more at stake since Syria is geographically and geopolitically located at the heart of the Middle East and all of its problems. One needs only to look at a map of Syria and observe the countries with which it shares a border (Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel) to recognize this.
Syria also has political and strategic ties with actors that are hostile to the West such as Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Paradoxically, during the last decade or so Damascus has been maintaining good relationships with Turkey, a mostly western ally, as well. Nonetheless, for the last few months Turkey has been pressuring Assad to stop the violent crackdown and step down. This shift in Ankara’s behavior towards Syria was a concern for other states in the region like Iran – for various reasons which are examined below. From that perspective it seems that if the regime in Syria were to be overthrown and replaced with a pro-western one, the allies of the present Syrian regime could react in unpredictable ways out of fear, possibly disturbing the regional geopolitical realities and even the balance of power.
Iran is already worried because of Turkey’s stance towards the Syrian crisis. During the last decade the good relations between Syria and Turkey, the Kurdish problem that both states face and the “zero problems with neighbors” doctrine of Turkish foreign policy, have brought Iran and Turkey closer to each other. Yet their good relations, in the context of their competition for regional hegemony and their traditional enmity, can still be questioned. For Iran in particular, the commercial and economic bonds that were developed between itself and Turkey were of vital significance since they constituted a way out of the western embargo (which was mainly imposed to counter its nuclear policies) and give impetus to its development aims. Furthermore, Turkey was a key ally for Iran given the always tense situation between Tehran and Tel Aviv and the fact that Turkey’s relations with Israel have been in decline for the last three years. On the other hand, Turkey used its cooperation with Iran to attain more stability in the transnational Kurdish territories, for economic reasons and of course to approach the Arab-Muslim world including the Palestinians. The increasingly strained relations between Turkey and Israel and the development of better relations between Turkey, Syria and Iran have increased Ankara’s prominence among the Arab countries while creating tensions within the western-Israel alliance.
If the Syrian regime were to be replaced with a pro-western one, a number of things could happen. Iran might turn against the new Syrian regime and Turkey for supporting the change while Turkey would probably lose the support of Lebanon, Palestine and probably of other Middle East countries as well. The instability or even sectarian conflicts that could possibly emerge in Syria would create the necessary conditions for the Kurds to intensify their efforts for autonomy thus creating instability and conflicts in Northern Iraq, Turkey and Iran as well. These, in turn, could lead Israel to adopt a harder stance towards Iran and therefore force the US to undertake a more active role in backing it. Within this context Turkey’s developing solidarity with the Arab-Muslim world could fall apart and the doctrine of “zero problems” would face a setback. Hence Ankara would once again have to rely on its traditional western allies, which it has been largely neglecting of late. This, of course, would depend on Turkey’s ability to strike a balance between its old friends and its new potential enemies, especially now that it would have to face the great Iranian threat.
The above scenario may not come to fruition, yet it is far from implausible. Such a scenario would create new regional and international alliances thereby changing the current order and balance of power in the Middle East. The possibility alone of such a development indicates both the geopolitical and geostrategic importance of Syria and the reasons why the international community finds it more difficult to intervene there than it did in Libya. Even as the humanitarian crisis that is taking place there worsens, and evidence of genocide emerges, the Syrian crisis is far more complicated than the Libyan one and should consequently be handled with caution by the international community.
Zenonas Tziarras, Global Politics Online Magazine (www.global-politics.co.uk), 4 Sep. 2011.