Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 12.01.18

Massenbach-Letter. News

  • What Does 2018 Have in Store for the Kremlin?
  • In Syria, an Attack on Russia’s Narrative
  • Pope to Diplomatic Corps: Uphold human rights, defend family

  • ‚Water war‘ escalates between Egypt, Sudan
  • Wasserdiplomatie im Mittleren Osten
  • Iran’s Regime at War With Itself

Massenbach*’Water war‘ escalates between Egypt, Sudan

January 8, 2018 … 2018 has been a negative year for Egyptian-Sudanese relations … The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project has contributed to friction in Cairo-Khartoum relations. Egypt sees the project as a major threat to its water interests, while Sudan views it as a valuable opportunity. In November 2017, Cairo officially declared that technical negotiations with Sudan and Ethiopia had failed … the Nile’s water supply remains a source of much disagreement between Cairo and Khartoum. According to Sudanese state-owned media, the Egyptian military has since deployed its forces to waters off the coast of the disputed Halayeb triangle border area, where Cairo has also sent warplanes. Although not a new conflict, Egypt and Sudan’s territorial dispute at the border area has recently escalated … Sudan banned the importation of Egypt-sourced agricultural products, and President Omar al-Bashir accused Cairo of arming rebels in Darfur … Egypt fired back, pointing to the residence of several Muslim Brotherhood members in Sudan. In the grander regional picture, Egypt and Sudan find themselves on opposite sides of an increasingly polarized Sunni Arab world … what recently brought the tension in Cairo-Khartoum relations to an entirely new level was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Sudan last month … Cairo’s concern is that Sudan will use greater military might and diplomatic leverage from Ankara to step up pressure on Sisi with respect to both the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project and the Halayeb triangle border area. Beyond such strategic factors, which leave Egypt concerned about Turkey’s new foothold in the Red Sea, officials in Cairo see Sudan as facilitating Erdogan’s "neo-Ottoman" and pro-Muslim Brotherhood foreign policy ambitions, which do not sit well with Egypt and other Arab states … Among the numerous lingering tensions between Cairo and Khartoum, the future of the relationship between these two Nile countries — once close allies — will largely depend on water issues … a future in which fast-paced demographic and environmental changes exacerbate food security and other vital interests of nation-states, leading to more "water wars."


From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)

  • What Does 2018 Have in Store for the Kremlin?

“….Numerous critics of Vladimir Putin in the West would argue that this picture of the world in 2018 is one-sided, dogmatic, antiquated and misleading. They would also insist that Russia itself contributed a lot to many problems that the international community has to deal with in 2018 and beyond. Finally, they are likely to maintain that this vision is meant to justify the current Russia’s foreign policy and security posture, to keep the Russian political system intact and to put on a back burner all the badly needed economic and social reforms.

However, a more productive approach might be in trying to single out particular bits and pieces of this vision, which could constitute a basis for a substantive, albeit very limited, dialogue between Russia and the West on the fundamentals of the emerging world order. Even if this dialogue in any format starts this year, it is unlikely bear fruits anytime soon. Nevertheless, to understand Russia’s true concerns, fears, perceptions and expectations remains important, no matter how archaic, biased, opinionated or self-serving these might appear in the eyes of Russia’s critics….”


In Syria, an Attack on Russia’s Narrative

It has been less than a month since President Vladimir Putin declared a successful end to Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war and announced the imminent withdrawal of Russian forces from the country. Not even a fortnight later, Islamist militants conducted a deadly mortar attack against Russian forces in Syria.

The Syrian civil war is not over, and it won’t be anytime soon. The short-term damage to Russia’s public relations campaign is acute. But far more important is whether Russia is getting dragged into its very own Middle Eastern morass, and what this means for the various forces competing for power in Syria.

On Jan. 3, Russian business daily Kommersant reported that an Islamist mortar attack on Hmeimim air base on Dec. 31 had knocked out four Su-24 bombers, two SU-35S fighters and a military transport aircraft. Russia’s Defense Ministry disputed the specifics of the Kommersant report but not the attack itself. The ministry said that the base had come under mortar fire from a “mobile militant subversive group” and that two Russian soldiers had been killed in the attack.

At this point, it is hard to know for sure the extent of the damage at Hmeimim. Kommersant is generally a reliable source of information and has little reason to fabricate this story. In addition, at least one Russian war reporter posted photographs on social media purported to show the damaged aircraft, though it is not yet possible to confirm their authenticity. If we accept for a moment that the reports are true, it was a highly destructive attack. We don’t know how many aircraft Russia has stationed at Hmeimim currently, but at the height of Russia’s Syria intervention in 2016, it had about 70 aircraft and 4,000 personnel at the base. Recently, Russia’s defense minister said 36 aircraft had returned to permanent bases in Russia. If Kommersant’s reporting is correct, that would mean at least 20 percent of Russia’s air assets at the base – and half of its SU-35S fighters stationed there – were damaged.

The extent of the damage is important for establishing the degree of the damage done to Russia’s image, but for that information we will have to wait. Either way, we can say for sure that the attack occurred and took Russian forces by surprise. Russia’s Defense Ministry has already announced that Russia will expand the security zone around the base and that Russian troops will now be responsible for its security – not Syrian troops, as had been the case. Whichever version of events – or combination of them – is true, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a major blow to Russia’s carefully crafted image. A few more incidents like this one will make it very difficult for Russia to pretend that its Syria intervention has achieved its goal.

Lost in the focus on this attack are the numerous other military operations Russia has undertaken in Syria just this week. Earlier on Jan. 3, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported that an Mi-24 helicopter crashed near Hama military airfield, killing both pilots. Meanwhile, on the same day, Reuters reported that Russian air assets supported a Syrian army assault on a rebel group just east of Damascus. Putin did not set a date for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria when he announced victory last month, and recent activity on the ground hardly suggests that Russia will be pulling the bulk of its forces out anytime soon. If anything, Russia will now have to demonstrate that it can finish a job it said was already done.

The question now becomes what the future of Syria looks like. Russia has tried to engineer a diplomatic solution that effectively locks in the status quo. At the moment, none of the entities competing for influence in Syria can gain an upper hand. The problem for Russia is that no one, except perhaps the Syrian Kurds, is interested in maintaining the status quo. The status quo does not suit Iran, which wants to see the full restoration of the Bashar Assad regime and Damascus’ resumption of its role as Iranian proxy and linchpin in Iran’s dream to project power to the Mediterranean. It also does not suit Turkey, which just this past week lent its support to the creation of the “National Army,” a 22,000-strong force that will reportedly fight Assad, the Islamic State and the PKK Kurdish militant group but whose first target is to be Syrian Kurds in Afrin. Assad’s regime, for its part, would like to have its country back without having to kowtow to any one power, and that means keeping Russia on the ground in Syria indefinitely to help in its efforts to reconquer the country.

(click to enlarge)

What started in Syria in 2011 was a civil war. That war, in effect, was put on hold when the Islamic State emerged out of the chaos and seized territory in Syria and Iraq. With the Islamic State gone, the civil war has resumed. This is not the narrative that any of the countries involved want the world to hear. Russia and the Assad regime would have the world believe that the only thing left to do is to wipe up a few more pockets of jihadist rebels. Iran would have the world believe the threat is far more serious and justifies an increased Iranian presence. Turkey is still hoping it can somehow put the Syrian Kurds back in their box while replacing Assad with a Sunni-led government friendlier to Turkish interests. Each of these countries is using its own proxies to try to advance its own goals, and each is trying to spin the situation in a way that reflects success.

Success, however, is fleeting in this part of the world. If the Islamic State is defeated and there are just a few rebels left to mop up, how is it that one of Russia’s main bases in the region was shelled with mortars? It would appear there is more work to be done than Russia has let on. That wouldn’t be a problem if Russia hadn’t already attempted to use its Syria intervention as evidence of its power in the region and in the world. But Russia has tried to spin the Syria excursion as a demonstration of Russian power, and that makes this attack, whether or not it damaged the aircraft in question, a distressing omen for Moscow. Russia went into Syria when its economy was in dire straits due to lower than expected oil prices and when Putin’s credibility was suffering after the Ukraine revolution in 2014. The Russian government needs to leave Syria with a victory to bring back to the Russian people. The more remote that possibility appears, the more this intervention has the potential to backfire.****************************************************************************************

Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Pope to Diplomatic Corps: Uphold human rights, defend family–uphold-human-rights–defend-family.html–full-text.html

,,,,,,It is also important for the various peace initiatives aimed at helping Syria to continue, in a constructive climate of growing trust between the parties, so that the lengthy conflict that has caused such immense suffering can finally come to an end. Our shared hope is that, after so much destruction, the time for rebuilding has now come. Yet even more than rebuilding material structures, it is necessary to rebuild hearts, to re-establish the fabric of mutual trust, which is the essential prerequisite for the flourishing of any society. There is a need, then, to promote the legal, political and security conditions that restore a social life where every citizen, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation, can take part in the development of the country. In this regard, it is vital that religious minorities be protected, including Christians, who for centuries have made an active contribution to Syria’s history.

It is likewise important that the many refugees who have found shelter and refuge in neighbouring countries, especially in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, be able to return home. The commitment and efforts made by these countries in this difficult situation deserve the appreciation and support of the entire international community, which is also called upon to create the conditions for the repatriation of Syrian refugees. This effort must concretely start with Lebanon, so that that beloved country can continue to be a “message” of respect and coexistence, and a model to imitate, for the whole region and for the entire world. …


Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat*Chance für Wasserdiplomatie im Mittleren Osten: Israelische Meerwasserentsalzungstechnologie als Lösung?

04.01.18 … Bei der Suche nach einem Verständnis für diese „Wasserfrage“ im Mittleren Osten stößt man auf Widersprüchlichkeiten und unterschiedliche Darstellungen historischer Entscheidungen. Einmal damit begonnen, wird es leicht zur Irrfahrt. Man wird die Wasserfrage in dieser Region ebenso wenig ignorieren können, wie Auseinandersetzungen und Verteilungskonflikte in anderen Hotspots auf dem Globus. Aber hier könnte eine Lösung machbar sein. Es gibt technologische Alternativen zu den ansonsten umstrittenen Grundwasserressourcen und gute Vorschläge renommierter und einflussreicher Institute. Für die Umsetzung ist aber eine Politik der Annäherung unabdingbar …

GreenBiz: 5 trends that will guide the flow of water strategy in 2018 January 3, 2018 … We are ready to pivot from solely focusing on water footprint stewardship to embracing a more expansive view of water strategy and how it aligns with — and supports — business growth. This pivot will result in a shift from a mindset on water risks to one that prioritizes abundance. A holistic water strategy would include innovation in technologies, business models, funding and financing and partnerships (across industry sectors). A focus on abundance means mobilizing stakeholders within and outside the world of water to harness our collective skills and capabilities to finally solve the wicked problem of water … the concept of abundance suggests that we can creatively mobilize our resources to ensure that everyone has access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene … 1. Expect new business models … 2. Get ready to welcome outsiders … 3. Prepare for expanded democratization of actionable water information … 4. Look for new funding and financing strategies across the value chain … 5. And … the rise of conference fatigue …

DFG fördert Forschungsprojekt zu globalen Wasserkreisläufen

03.01.2018 Die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) fördert die Forschergruppe „Understanding the Global Freshwater System by Combining Geodetic and Remote Sensing Information with Modelling Using Calibration/Data Assimilation Approach“ (GlobalCDA) … Ziel sei es, die Wasserflüsse und Wassermengen auf den Kontinenten der Erde besser zu quantifizieren und somit ein tieferes Verständnis der globalen Wasserkreisläufe zu gewinnen …


*Massenbach’s Recommendation*

Iran’s Regime at War With Itself

The old guard is a dying breed, and its allies lack the ability to address the problems of governance.

Public agitation in Iran has many wondering about the fate of the almost 40-year Islamic republic. As evident from the way in which the latest wave of protests has been contained, popular unrest is unlikely to bring down Iran’s clerical regime. That said, the demonstrations underscore a political economic problem in the Shiite Islamist state. Before it can truly address its economic problems, it needs to sort out the war that the regime is having with itself.

Jan. 8 marks one year since the death of Iran’s most influential cleric and former president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Normally, we at GPF do not pay much attention to individual political leaders since they matter only so much when it comes to geopolitics. But in this case, there is a strange development: Reportedly, President Hassan Rouhani has ordered a review of the investigation into Rafsanjani’s death. Rafsanjani, a founder of the Islamic republic, was found dead in his pool. The explanation given was that the octogenarian leader died of cardiac arrest, but the reports that surfaced in recent weeks quoting family members say his body had unusually high radiation levels.

It is strange (to say the least) that this inquiry into Rafsanjani’s death comes at a time when Iran’s political establishment is trying to move past serious unrest. This story is emblematic of the struggles within the clerical regime, which have only gotten worse over the past decade. These internal differences are being exacerbated by the public uprising. Just as Rouhani’s opponents tried to take advantage of the unrest to weaken the president, his faction appears to be trying to use Rafsanjani’s death as a countermove – among many others.

Though many see Rafsanjani as a symbol of a corrupt political elite, many others see him as a symbol of political moderation. Rafsanjani left an indelible mark on the country’s political system. He was a close associate of the founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the uprising against the shah. After the revolution, Rafsanjani held several pivotal positions in the regime.

Khomeini appointed him to the Council of the Islamic Revolution, which existed from January 1979 to July 1980 with the purpose of transitioning the country from the monarchy to the Islamic republic. During this same period, Rafsanjani also served as interim interior minister. In 1980, he was elected speaker of parliament, a position he held for nine years. When Khomeini died, Rafsanjani played a key role in the succession of the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Then, from 1989 to 1997, Rafsanjani served two consecutive terms as president.

In 1989, he also assumed the chairmanship of the powerful Expediency Council, which was created to mediate between parliament and the Guardian Council (a 12-member clerical entity with oversight of legislation and the power to vet candidates for public office) and later granted supervisory authority over all three branches of government. Rafsanjani held this position until his death. In addition, from 1983 until his death he served as a member of the popularly elected Assembly of Experts, an 86-member clerical body responsible for electing the supreme leader, holding him accountable and removing him, if and when necessary. From 2007 to 2011 he served as the chairman of the assembly.

Rafsanjani is best known for being the father of the pragmatic conservative camp within Tehran’s political establishment. In this way, he had one foot in the camp of the hard-line clerical establishment and the other in the reformist trend that came to prominence under his successor, former President Mohammad Khatami.

Deeply cognizant of the public mood, as well as the strength of the hard-liners who have dominated the Islamic republic, Rafsanjani long sought to strike a balance between the two sides. His power began to fade after he lost a re-election bid against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. Four years later he sided with the reformists who claimed foul play in the elections in which former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi lost to Ahmadinejad.

The uprising known as the Green Movement that followed the controversial election forced Rafsanjani to return to trying to find some balance between the liberal and conservative camps. However, he had made enough enemies on the right that, despite his positions on the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, his influence continued to wane. His last major accomplishment was supporting the 2013 election of his protege, the current president, Rouhani, who has emerged as the de facto leader of the pragmatic conservatives and their reformist allies.

It is important to note that these categories – pragmatic conservatives, ultra-conservatives and reformists – are no longer coherent blocs; rather, they represent broad coalitions containing multiple factions. The Iranian political establishment has been losing its coherence, especially since the intra-conservative rifts that emerged during the Ahmadinejad presidency (2005-13). In other words, the regime is fast approaching an impasse (if it hasn’t reached it already) where it cannot continue to expect that it will maintain social stability without undergoing substantial political economic reforms. The regime must evolve to preserve itself.

The current supreme leader, at age 78, is near the end of his career. The Islamic republic has had only two supreme leaders – Khomeini and Khamenei – and most of the founders are dead. The only prominent survivors are Khamenei, Rouhani and the 90-year-old Guardian Council chief, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. The political fragmentation coupled with the inability of the state to provide for the needs of a growing and increasingly younger population make succession all the more difficult. The tug of war between the republican and theocratic components of the hybrid regime and the disproportionate power wielded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps further complicate matters.

The old guard is a dying breed, and its allies lack the ability to address the problems of governance. This has enabled Rouhani to get aggressive in pushing for economic reforms. Just this week he criticized religious organizations for not paying tax. On Jan. 9, he made an even more profound remark, according to a statement published on the presidency’s website: “The problem we have today is the gap between officials and the young generation. Our way of thinking is different to their way of thinking. Their view of the world and of life is different to our view. We want our grand-children’s generation to live as we lived, but we can’t impose that on them.”

Rouhani and his allies understand that the problems are not just economic; they are also political. The threat to the Islamic republic comes not from protesters but from the disagreement within the regime on how to govern the country of 80 million. The contradiction hardwired into its political system threatens its long-term stability. Iran’s political problems are catching up with it at a time when it was hoping to consolidate the geopolitical gains it has made over the years during the meltdown in the Arab world.



see our letter on:

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



01-10-18 What Does 2018 Have in Store for the Kremlin.pdf

01-08-18 Pope Francis addresses diplomatic corps Full text – Vatican News.pdf