Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 03.02.17 – Special

Massenbach-Letter. News – Special

  • From our Russian News Desk. “Trump and Putin arrive in the Middle East”

Massenbach*From our Russian News Desk.

*Trump and Putin Arrive in the Middle East*

There has been no better time in recent history where Russia-U.S. bilateral relations are positioned best to leverage their coordinated influence on the divided sectarian and tribalistic theatre in the Middle East to broker a negotiated resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been holding the center of the world in limbo for the last 70 years.

President Trump has assembled an unprecedented team from outside the political realm to take on this longstanding dilemma. While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will embolden their respective Departments to proceed from a position of strength, it is Senior Advisor Jared Kushner who will preside over the art of the deal in the ancient struggle.

Many have surmised how the 36-year old inexperienced Kushner could have an inkling of a chance to strike a covenant when skillful powerhouses under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations, some with good intent and some below their pay grade, failed to reach a final agreement between Israel and their neighbors. That’s just it! Most pundits misjudged a Trump presidency so why not resume with a narrative of glum and minimal expectations only to realize Kushner has over delivered to those on the wrong side of history yet again.

Vasily Kuznetsov:
Donald Trump Will Create
a “Window Of Opportunity” In the Middle East

First, it is clear in the early weeks of the Trump regime that it is no longer political business as usual. The approach will not and cannot be the same course as past endeavours to peace. Rather, a hybrid all-inclusive regional methodology from a position of coordinated Russian – American strength by hawking a concise and aggressive slant where the affected countries reach a negotiated pact with some benefits, is better than an ever-imposing resolution with fewer gains for those that remain as holdouts.

The Middle East players will quickly discover the Trump-Putin era brings forth new innovative processes that are far different from the antagonistic and politically inept team that Obama fielded. Gone are the days where the UN bullies pass disproportionate numbers of resolutions against the only democracy in the Middle East or where photo-op handshakes at Camp David result in numerous Israeli concessions for peace and the Palestinian Authority unwillingness to recognize the right of the Jewish State to exist. Gone are the days where France and its EU stalwarts lead a “Peace Conference”, a nation that has itself been battered by Islamic terror attacks and now plays as the acting agent for the same goons who caused blood to flow on the streets of Paris and Nice.

The Middle East players will quickly discover the Trump-Putin era brings forth new innovative processes that are far different from the antagonistic and politically inept team that Obama fielded.

President Putin’s rise as the world’s most powerful man in 2016 and now co-broker alongside the President Trump was a direct result of Obama’s failed Russian reset. Obama set the stage early in his first term when he chose to pull the plug on Bush’s American missile defense from Poland and Czechoslovakia in a conciliatory effort to gain Putin’s support on Iran’s nuclear program at the expense of American close ties with Israel. With little to fear on the Russian western European flank, Putin recognized the feeble American resolute crumble under Obama – a requirement to thrust forward on their political and military ambitions.

Putin euchred Obama by snatching the Crimean strategic tongue lapping the Black Sea after the U.S. and the West laid their cards down in supporting the removal of a democratically elected pro-Russian regime in Ukraine. Next came Putin’s rise in the Middle East when Obama failed to uphold the line in the sand in the Syrian civil war. The Russians now hold a strategic foothold as the main power broker in Syria following a decisive win against the American-backed rebels.

Tatiana Karasova:
To the Israeli Front
in American Boots

The absence of a solid U.S foreign policy doctrine as a counterbalance to the Russian offensive strategy diminished the fear of American military reprisal and was understood as a sign of weakness to the Putin-type bravado leaders who only respond to those who project positions of strength.

Dealing Donald Trump must now produce with the wily Vladimir Putin as an equal partner in the Middle East. Trump has indicated during his campaign and after becoming President that he hopes to get along with Russia, stating “that would be a good thing for America.” Trump’s praise for Putin’s operational skills as he marched towards his election victory was a political win for the Russian President as well.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has expressed the desire to normalize relations with the U.S. "Following the difficult relations we had under Barack Obama, President Putin is ready to meet in the interests of global security and stability. We share the position expressed by President Trump for re-establishing normal relations. This means we need to work in a business-like way." Business-like is Trump’s language in setting up the art of the deal.

The absence of a solid U.S foreign policy diminished the fear of American military reprisal and was understood as a sign of weakness to the Putin-type bravado leaders who only respond to those who project positions of strength.

Following Obama’s diplomatic spat where he expelled Russian diplomats in his waning days, Trump will be first up to bat in creating trust with Putin. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did just that when he revealed that the U.S. would be open to working with Russia in its mission against ISIS and reverse his predecessor’s policy toward Syria.

Russia and the US, while at odds in the balance of global power, now have a perfect opportunity to move the world forward on a common thread of mutual respect and beneficial national security. In short, they can and will eliminate ISIS and place the debacle in Syria, the attachment of Crimea, and the removal of economic sanctions against Russia in the rear-view mirror. There will be some give and take here but in the end, Trump will have built trust with Putin that allows them to move past these achievements or bygones and onto the next stage in the Middle East process.

Nikolay Surkov:
Russia and Israel —
Do Not Mess With Me in Middle East

While Kushner works directly with Israel and the Palestinians to engage in a 2-state solution, they will be apprised that Russia and America are moving through the backchannels on an alternative 3-state solution if the bilateral result is not forthcoming. This forces the parties to engage and compromise, and subsequently put more pressure on the Palestinians if they seek to remain an autonomous state. It must also be made clear that Jerusalem will remain as the sole capital of Israel as no city can become the capital of two sovereign states. Essentially, the Jewish capital in Jerusalem will cost Ukraine any hope of regaining Crimea.

The next step, which if leveraged with strong intent, will see America exert pressure on Saudi Arabia and Putin grinding the corners in Iran; the two opposing regional powers funding proxy conflicts that clash with their inherent tribal bloodlines. If the world cannot get past these two entities finding common ground like Russia and U.S., then any Middle East peace effort will not filter downward and throughout the Arab world. They need to understand their well-being and stability hinges on getting behind the plan, both politically and financially in terms of funding Egypt and Jordan in absorbing the West Bank and Gaza respectfully.

In the business-like matter, these side-bar discussions are much the same as senior executives of major corporations and multiple labor union presidents negotiating a contract. One must understand that the parties will each take back the positives and benefits in the contract that demonstrates they are working on behalf of their constituents trying to reach a deal that all can live with. The outlining countries or benefactors of the regional powers will look for gains as well. For the most part, they will fall in line. Syria and Iraq, which may have postured in the past, are in no position to create demands other than surviving as a country. We have got them while they are down. The Gulf States simply fall in line to preserve their well-being.

Russia and the US, while at odds in the balance of global power, now have a perfect opportunity to move the world forward on a common thread of mutual respect and beneficial national security.

Iran will be the hardest nut to crack. If Russia walks away with a less threatening NATO, the removal of sanctions over Ukraine and increased oil revenues, President Putin may just figure it all out. He can go down in history with this global legacy. The one question for President Trump will be whether he can persuade Russia to turn away from Iran and cooperate with U.S. policy to counter Iranian aggression in the region. It is important to determine what the limits of Russia’s willingness to work together regarding Iran are. Those conversations must take place. Secretary of State Tillerson, who is known to have gained much respect from Putin through his days with Exxon, will be the man to lead such a discussion.

Putin must decide if he really seeks to become an ideal partner in defeating Radical Islam, then Iran must be defeated in its current state that permits sponsored terrorism and a road map to a nuclear weapon that is as much a threat to Moscow as a hemisphere away in Washington.

Jiri Valenta:
Deal-maker Trump
Will Likely Choose Persuasion

Just as Obama’s Russian playbook scrapped the missile defense deployment in Eastern Europe in hopes of greater Russian cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program, it is now Trump showcasing a new playbook that offers a great deal in return for in as much as reversal to Obama’s America’s foreign policy on Iran. In the end, Russia may come out with a double or nothing win where America barely breaks even through two American presidents. There may be too much on the table for Russia to walk away but it might also be too much for Trump to venture against Putin who could stick it to Trump as he did to Obama. That said, Trump must champion American fortitude in the resurgence of America’s military might and a willingness to use it without equivocation.

What assurances does America have that Russia will cooperate? None. But what does the U.S. lose that it hasn’t already lost? Crimea, Syria, Iran’s nuclear track and influence in the Middle East. What does America have to gain? Resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a mitigated Iranian nuclear threat and a turning point where the world moves on to the next era in civilization. As Trump says, “Dream big, think big, and go big.” Just when many in the world have become most skeptical and fearful of Trump, it may be just what the world needs.

Trump must champion American fortitude in the resurgence of America’s military might and a willingness to use it without equivocation.

As for the crux of the matter, Israelis are ready to move on and make a deal. Palestinians, too, seek a better life for their families, if it were not for the intimidation, threats, and hatred from the hardliners. With the right amount of leverage on Iran that cuts off funding to the extremists, strong marketing that sells the benefits of a better life ahead, and isolating the radical tyrants; the Palestinian people might just discover their voice that has gone unheard for decades.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Russian International Affairs Council.

23 january2017

Middle East at the regional security crossroads

Photo:
REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov
Participants of Syria peace talks attend
meeting in Astana

Syrian civil war can be seen as the key to the stabilising the entire region. Serving as a magnet for jihadist fighters from all over the world and being the arena where interests of global, regional and local powers have been clashing for the last six years, Syria has become a crucial regional issue. This is why Syrian crisis resolution will have a huge impact on the entire region and will help to bring stability to the Middle East.

Recent Russia-Turkey rapprochement, the formation of the Ankara-Moscow-Tehran triumvirate, their cooperation in Syria and the newly negotiated ceasefire agreement–provide a good chance to create a new trend in the regional security architecture that could help to stabilise the region. Pacified Syria would bring not only peace and stability to its people and to the neighbouring countries, but would also contribute to the formation of the new Middle East security system.

Fragmentation of the Arab world and regional security system

With the fragmentation of the traditional 20th-century security system in the Middle East which was centred around three major Arab states–Egypt, Iraq and Syria–and traditional non-Arab actors–Iran and Turkey, the region became more unstable and turbulent. Since 2003 in Iraq, and later in 2011 in Egypt and Syria that system has been dismantled. With the decline of the above-mentioned traditional Arab powers, Saudi Arabia emerged as a new power broker in the region. Riyadh-led alliance of the oil-rich Gulf monarchies has significantly increased its role in the Middle Eastern affairs going beyond their domains.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are involved in Syrian conflict financing various radical groups trying to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad: they have already invested a lot to simply give up their efforts in Syria and let Iran enjoy its rising regional influence which only complicates the resolution of the Syrian conflict. In addition, the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Houthi rebels creates extra hot spot in the region giving radical Islamists another safe haven simultaneously undermining Gulf states’ image as they are incapable of winning the war they initiated. Besides, huge financial aid coming from the GCC countries to Egypt turned once an influential regional player into a paralysed giant with the whole set of unresolved economic, social and political issues who is largely dependent on the external financial aid and unable to influence any regional issue in a serious way.

Russia’s Syria Campaign: Measuring Costsand Benefits​​​​​

On the one hand, all those processes seem quite natural and logical as the Saudi-led GCC formation is filling the vacuum left by Egypt and Syria simultaneously fearing the rise of Iran. But on the other hand, it exacerbates regional confrontation along sectarian lines which put the region on the verge of collapse.

Previously, security architecture of the Middle East was based on the fragmented character of the Arab states, their inability to unite and create strong regional force, and on the balancing partnerships between them and non-Arab regional actors–Iran and Turkey. That provided the region with relatively simple and more or less working system of checks and balances. Previously, non-Arab actors played quite marginal role in the Middle East affairs if to compare to the current situation. Today, with almost entire territory between Turkey, Iran and the Gulf stuck in chaos and the only regional actor capable of being a challenger is busy fighting a war in Yemen and struggling with low oil prices, Ankara and Tehran aim at exploiting this time to their utmost advantage. They both want to beef up their positions in the Middle East by securing a place in the future regional security architecture.

As a result, we witness a significant change in regional dynamic–the role of non-Arab powers, Iran and Turkey, in the regional affairs increases putting Saudi Arabia and the GCC in a tight spot. Besides, it is happening against the gradual change of the U.S. role in the Middle East, the new U.S. administration which is likely to continue the politics of limited involvement into the region, the war in Yemen, and low oil prices. This is why Saudi Arabia is so desperate to stand for its positions in the region. The country understands that the balance of power in the region tilts not in its favour.

Huge financial aid coming from the GCC countries to Egypt turned once an influential regional player into a paralysed giant with the whole set of unresolved economic, social and political issues.

This is why the current period can be characterised as the grand transformation which will result in the new Middle East security architecture. It is going to define regional dynamics and trends.

The Grand Transformation

The war in Syria is at the epicentre of this grand transformation. The future of the new regional security system will depend on the outcomes of the Syrian conflict. The distribution of power in the aftermaths of the war will be at the core of the new system.

This is why major regional actors, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, want to stand by their interests and positions in Syria to the end. In addition, we should put US unwillingness to be involved in Syria into this context and get the situation where regional powers started to flirt with Russia trying to have Moscow by their side when it is necessary. Having conflicting interests (it does imply that they have none common), Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, attempt to improve their relations with Russia to use it against each other. In the Syrian context, Turkey and Iran have more common interests (Kurdish issue is one of the most important) than Saudi Arabia with them, which allowed Tehran and Ankara to establish a sort of a new alliance with Moscow.

2016 – Contours of the New Reality​​​​​

Having Iran and Turkey on board, Russia sidelines the US and Saudi Arabia from defining Syria’s fate. Moreover, Moscow gets more control over regional dynamics: Turkey enjoys quite good relations with Saudi Arabia and is a NATO member which makes it convenient interlocutor and a channel for transmitting necessary messages from Moscow.

However, new Iran-Russia-Turkey “alliance” brings in certain difficulties which might play against its members. All three countries are non-Arab states which does not add legitimacy to them in the eyes of the Arab street. According to the Zogby Research Service survey 2016 of Turkey and Iran favourability ratings among Arab states decline. What is more, strong majorities in the Arab world see Russia’s role in the region (including Moscow’s role in Syria) as negative, although in Saudi Arabia and Egypt Russia’s favourability ratings are improving. This is why the reaction from the GCC, in particular from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt will be very important. Therefore, it is quite logical to have an influential Arab state in this sort of “alliance” and Saudi Arabia might play that role. Being the most capable Arab state in terms of financial, military power and influence outside its borders, Riyadh could have been a valuable addition to the new security formation.

With the new Trump administration, Saudis feel even less comfortable than before. Trump’s approach to Syria which prioritises defeating ISIS and Jabhat an-Nusra (now Jabhat Fateh ash-Sham) while cooperating with Russia, makes Saudi Arabia worried about remaining Iranian influence there. This is why Riyadh started to look for closer ties with Russia as an alternative to make sure Iranian influence in the Middle East is in check.

It is very important that on 27, December 2016 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Saudi Arabia and Qatar be invited to the Syria talks to be held in the Kazakh capital Astana on 23, January 2017. On the one hand, it confirms that Arab regional powers should be part of the process, while on the other hand, it indicates Turkish willingness to have a stronger position in the new format by having Saudi Arabia and/or Qatar on board backing Ankara on anything to counterbalance Iran.

Trump’s approach to Syria which prioritises defeating ISIS and Jabhat an-Nusra (now Jabhat Fateh ash-Sham) while cooperating with Russia, makes Saudi Arabia worried about remaining Iranian influence there.

This is why the beginning of 2017 might witness the first signs of the new regional security system coming out of the Russia-Iran-Turkey initiative.

Russia’s role

Although many experts prematurely argue that Russia’s role in the Middle East will continue to grow at the expense of the declining US influence in the regional affairs, it is quite far from reality. Russia’s involvement into Syrian conflict made many thinks of Russia’s big come back to the Middle East. The reality is that Russia neither wants nor has a capacity to increase its involvement in the Middle East.

Undoubtedly, Russia’s involvement in Syria and its military reinforcement (two military bases in Latakia and Tartus) should not be ignored. But in general, it does not change Russia’s overall approach of very limited involvement into the region and does not allow Moscow to pursue a pro-active foreign policy in the Middle East. Russia’s policy in the region still remains largely reactive.

Middle East Zugzwang​​​​​

The Middle East has never been a priority for modern Russia. Even on the conceptual level, none of Russia’s foreign policy documents prioritised the region. The new Russian Foreign Policy Concept released on 1, December 2016 lists the Middle East as number five regional priority after the post-Soviet space, Euro-Atlantic (Europe and the US), Arctic and Asia Pacific. Latin America concludes the list.

Historically, Middle East was of the marginal importance Russia. Even during the Cold War, the region was just one of the “battlefields” where the Soviet Union tried to confront and limit American influence.

Currently, Moscow’s policy in the region is majorly driven by the security concerns with fighting terrorism among top priorities. In fact, it could be said that Russia tries to apply “lead from behind” approach in its Middle East policy once pioneered by the U.S. Russia clearly understands that it does not have enough resources and power to increase its involvement in the region and to take extra responsibility alone. It simply can’t afford it.

This is why Moscow chose to enhance its ties with the regional actors who have more capacity and power to influence the situation on the ground. Being a part of the Middle East, Turkey and Iran are naturally interested in playing a bigger role in the region as it directly affects their national security. By bringing Turkey and Iran together Moscow tries to launch a new regional format where major Middle Eastern powers could work together. As it was previously mentioned, Saudi Arabia might become next to join this format to increase its legitimacy.

Having Iran and Turkey on board, Russia sidelines the US and Saudi Arabia from defining Syria’s fate.

Therefore, Russia pursues two major goals in the Middle East. First is to become a mediator in the region through creating a mechanism, capable of helping major powers to solve regional problems. Second is to be able to influence regional affairs by not being heavily involved.

In the end, Russia, as well as China, are rightly driven by the question: “Why it is us who should take care of the mess the US made in the Middle East?” Taking all that into account, the limited involvement strategy with the gradually increasing role of the regional actors might become the one to ultimately work in the Middle East. With the new phase of the Syria conflict and changing dynamics in the region, this year will show whether the new security system in the Middle East will ultimately start working.

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see our letter on: http://www.massenbach-world.de/41259.html

*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*

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UdovonMassenbachMailJoergBarandat

02-01-17 Trump and Putin arrive in the Middle East.docx

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