A Turkish attack on Afrin could spark a full-fledged war in Northern Syria

by Paul Iddon.

Unlike the other three Kurdish regions in the Middle East, Syrian Kurdistan (known among Kurds as West Kurdistan, or Rojava) is not contiguous. The ruling authorities in Syria over the years attempted to keep the Kurds divided by splitting up their territories, making them more easier to control and subjugate. When the Kurds finally garnered unprecedented self-rule, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad withdrew the bulk of state military forces from the region in 2012, to fight elsewhere in the war-torn country, they had to deal with the fact that their territories were split into three separate enclaves.



Rough maps of the Syrian Kurdish cantons across as they existed in early 2014, in mid 2015 and late 2016. Jazira (Cizire) and Kobanî were joined together since July 2015.Rough maps of the Syrian Kurdish cantons across as they existed in early 2014, in mid 2015 and late 2016. Jazira (Cizire) and Kobanî were joined together since July 2015.

The enclaves, referred to by the Kurdish authorities as cantons, are spread across Syria’s northern border with Turkey. In the north-east are the two primary cantons, Jazira and Kobanî. Situated to the east of the Euphrates is Kobanî and further north-east on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan is Jazira Canton. To the west of the Euphrates is an about 100 km stretch of territory and then the smallest canton, Afrin. Linking up with Afrin would effectively put the Kurds in control of the entirety of Syria’s border with Turkey.

The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) rule Rojava. Their armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), bravely defended Rojava’s cantons against Islamic State (ISIS). The YPG also afflicted ISIS with its first major setback, when it broke the groups brutal unrelenting siege of Kobanî (October 2014-January 2015) with US-led coalition air support. Since then they’ve gradually repelled that group from their territories and went on the offensive against them. In the summer of 2015 they successfully forced ISIS from the border town of Girê Spî (Tal Abyad) and in the process linked up their cantons, putting them in control of three-quarters of the Syrian border. After rolling back the ISIS offensive against the cantons they founded a larger Arab-Kurdish military coalition called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in October 2015, to confront ISIS across Syria.

In the meantime Turkey declared the about 100 km stretch of border from Kobanî to Afrin a “red-line” for the YPG. Immediately west of the Euphrates from Kobanî canton is Jarablus and not far west from Afrin is Azaz. Ankara invariably states that this Jarablus-Azaz region is vital to its security and doesn’t want a group that it argues is closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to control it. ISIS occupied large swaths of this region. Other Islamist groups, such as the Levant Front, backed by Turkey also held territory there in the Azaz region and opposed the Kurds, viewing them as collaborators with the Syrian regime.

SDF overlook the Tishrin Dam (Photo: Mauricio Morales / Al-Jazeera).

SDF overlook the Tishrin Dam (Photo: Mauricio Morales / Al-Jazeera).

Ankara’s red-line was, nevertheless, crossed by the SDF/YPG. In December 2015 the group captured the Tishrin Dam from ISIS further south from Kobanî. They subsequently began to build-up a foothold on the west side of the Euphrates.

In February 2016 the Syrian regime and its Russian backers launched a major offensive against Aleppo. This tied down other opposition groups opposed to the YPG.

Seizing an ideal opportunity the Kurdish fighters advanced eastward of their tiny isolated canton and successfully seized the small city of Tel Rifaat and the disused Menagh Airbase from the Levant Front. Russia even provided them with some supporting airstrikes for this offensive. Turkey responded by halting any further advance with cross-border artillery fire. The YPG, nevertheless, still hold both areas today.

In late May 2016 the SDF/YPG forces coming from Kobanî and Jazira were ready for a new mission: to capture Manbij, a major ISIS state stronghold in the Jarablus-Azaz vicinity. In secret meetings at Incirlik Airbase the Americans convinced the Turks not to interfere with the operation, promising them that mostly Arab members of the SDF would lead the operation into that Arab-majority city, with the YPG playing a supporting role – given their prowess as pointers for coalition airstrikes.

It was a lengthy and costly operation that lasted all summer, but the SDF/YPG prevailed by late August. The SDF established a military council in Manbij to administer the city post-ISIS. They clearly had grander plans given the fact they had prepared other councils for the nearby city of al-Bab and Jarablus. These councils were never implemented since the Turkish military launched a major cross-border operation into the Jarablus-Azaz area on August 24, Operation Euphrates Shield, and captured these cities from ISIS using Free Syrian Army (FSA) militiamen as proxies. The operation enabled Ankara to directly takeover the border region and keep Afrin separated from Kobanî. Consequently Turkish troops and their FSA proxies remain in the region to the present.

SDF forces beside their flag use a walkie talkie and tablet (Photo: Rodi Said / Reuters).

SDF forces beside their flag use a walkie talkie and tablet (Photo: Rodi Said / Reuters).

Turkey’s FSA proxies later threatened Manbij to the extent that the US had to send in Army Rangers in armored vehicles to prevent any clashes. Sporadic clashes between Turkish forces and the Syrian Kurds are not uncommon, in fact they are increasing as of late. In early April 2017 Turkey even launched a unilateral airstrike against a YPG base in Rojava’s northeast.

As Turkey is readying to send troops into Syria’s Idlib province as peacekeepers, to uphold the de-escalation zones it negotiated along with Iran and Russia, it’s increasing attacks against the YPG in the northwest. Ankara is now saying that the YPG in Afrin should be neutralized as it almost has the tiny far-flung canton completely boxed in.

“In order to stabilize the region, the Afrin region needs to be cleared of terror elements and terrorists,” said Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak on June 28, in a clear reference to the YPG. “Turkey is continuing to work with its counterparts to achieve this end with the help of the Foreign Ministry and the National Intelligence Organization.”

To Afrin’s west and north are the Turkish provinces of Hatay and Kilis, to her south there will soon be an unspecified number of Turkish troops as part of the de-escalation zones and to her near east are Turkey’s aforementioned FSA proxies.

Turkish-backed FSA militiamen.

Turkish-backed FSA militiamen. (AFP photo.)

Turkey likely figures it’s easier to confront the YPG in that isolated region, where there are no American troops, rather than in the far larger, and contiguous, north-east territories.

The YPG have their own intentions, they view the continued Turkish military presence in Jarablus-Azaz as an occupation and seek to force them out. Were a full-blown war to break out over Afrin the Kurdish forces would likely target the Turks and their allies in these areas. It’s unclear if the small American force in Manbij could even stand in the way of a major Turkish-YPG war.

It’s highly unlikely that Syrian Kurdish forces outside of Afrin would passively sit on the sidelines if the Turks attempt to pulverize their comrades there. This would in turn have stark implications for the ongoing Raqqa operation, which could slow down or even stop if the SDF/YPG need to re-allocate the necessary manpower and resources to fight the Turks.

In other words Turkey is more likely than not to spark a regional war across all of northern Syria if they try to cut off and crush the YPG in Afrin. Which is one reason, of many, the US should scramble to de-escalate the situation there rather than run the grave risk of letting it spiral out of control.

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Monitoring Economic Indicators from 500 Kilometers Up: Egyptian Oil and Gas Terminals

by Chris Biggers. This article was first published at Planet Stories.

Ain Sokhna Port, south of the Suez Canal. Image ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. Left: Jun 2017 / Right: Feb 2016

From space, satellites monitor the movement of commodities that can affect the health of national economies.

In Egypt, they track Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), one of Egypt’s most important commodities. With a rapidly growing population — more than 89 million — it remains crucial to many of the country’s domestic activities, particularly heating water and cooking. According to the World LPG Association, per capita consumption of the fuel is one of the highest in the world.

In the years following the Global Economic Crisis and the Arab Spring movement, access to fuel for cooking has proved challenging, but nonetheless continues to be a priority for the country. According to the World Bank, more than 75% of Egyptian households rely on LPG. The country consumes approximately 4.3 million tonnes of the fuel each year, of which 1.47 million tonnes is produced domestically while another 2.18 million tonnes is imported from abroad.

And more and more LPG may be making its way into Egypt from outside the country. At Planet, we’ve been observing the expansion of Egypt’s oil and gas infrastructure at Ain Sokhna — a port located about 40 km south of Egypt’s strategically important Suez canal. It’s there, Planet’s 3–5 meter resolution imaging satellites show Egypt in the process of building a third basin and expanding a liquid bulk terminal. The space snapshots show the erection of six new storage tanks to be associated with the expanded terminal which, upon completion, will hold additional LPG and gasoil. At the time of capture, the tanks were in various states of build.

Moreover, the port also happens to be home to Egypt’s Floating Storage Regasification Units (FSRUs) which pump about 20 million m3 per day of foreign natural gas to feed Egypt’s grid and commercial sector. They were chartered in 2015 for a five year period. In February, Egypt announced plans to push between 100 and 108 liquified natural gas (LNG) cargos through the terminals in 2017. Planet’s high cadence imagery has already captured these vessels arriving alongside the FSRUs at the port.

In recent years, natural gas has become a competitor to LPG as Egypt has moved to connect additional households to the natural gas grid through a prior World Bank funded project. Accordingly, over 355,000 consumers have been connected to the gas grid in the Greater Cairo area, alone. Through the project, the state plans to connect about 1.5 million households in 11 of Egypt’s 27 governorates. Most recently, France, an important partner in the region, pledged another 68 million euros to expand gas connections to 2.4 million households. However, overall progress has been slow.

Both imported LNG and LPG will likely be integral to reducing the magnitude of Egypt’s energy security problems, especially until Zohr — a “super giant” gas field in the Mediterranean — begins production in earnest. Zohr is estimated to contain a reserve of approximately 850 billion m3 of natural gas. Eni, an Italian energy group which discovered the field in 2015, projects costs for development around $14 billion, a substantial sum given gas companies are reducing global expenditures.

Egypt LNG terminal near Idku. Captured June 15, 2017. Image ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc.

Egypt LNG terminal near Idku. Captured June 15, 2017. Image ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc.

If all goes according to plan, Eni believes the field will produce 70 million m3 of gas per day by 2019. That gas may further support domestic consumption, further easing pressure on Egypt’s energy demands — especially if more households are connected to the grid. However, depending on price, Egypt could restart significant exports and still use LPG as it continues to construct additional storage capacity and import infrastructure. If that occurs, Planet’s imaging fleet stand ready to capture Egypt’s LNG liquefaction terminals near Damietta and Idku.

As of 2017, Damietta’s LNG terminal remains offline as Egypt sends more domestic gas production to the grid, a policy that’s helped ease electricity shortages. The situation is unlikely to change in the short term as disputes persist around Egypt’s decision to declare force majeure in 2014. However, as Zohr’s production increases in 2018, we could see significantly more cargoes leaving from Idku. In 2016 for example, Planet’s imagery captured 7 of the reported 9 cargoes at port while another 4 have already been observed in 2017.

In the meantime, despite returning GDP growth and an IMF-led economic reform program, the North African country remains under stress with high levels of unemployment, inflation, and increasing public debt. GDP numbers from the first quarter show a 1.7% decline compared to last year and consumption of LPG and other fuels remain taxing on the state’s coffers. In the first half of FY 17, Egypt has already seen a $2.11 billion fuel subsidy bill, a jump of 46% over the same time last year. According to Egypt’s Petroleum Minister, 50% of the subsidy is spent on diesel, 20% for LPG, 20% for gasoline, and another 10% for fuel oil and petroleum derivatives. Egypt’s officials expect to spend more than $8 billion over FY17–18 for the bill.

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Ethiopian Security Strategy: Upgrades Overdue

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

The strategic significance of Ethiopia within Africa and the broader Indian Ocean region cannot be under-stated. With approximately 99.5 million people residing within its borders, Ethiopia is one of the continent’s most populous countries. Covering more than 1.1 million square kilometres of land, it is also the 26th largest in terms of geographic area. Ethiopia has frequently been the main driver of regional integration processes, such as through the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). However, given all of this, Ethiopia’s stated foreign and security policy is surprisingly, even alarmingly, unsophisticated.

The most recent strategic document from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was issued in 2002, though a modest update was offered in 2009. A detailed reading of this document suggests that Ethiopian foreign policy was, and perhaps still is, eastward-oriented: sub-sections are devoted to relations with Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan, as well as relations with Arab states (particularly Egypt) and Israel. However, little attention is paid to countries to the west and south which could also be considered part of Ethiopia’s security neighbourhood, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania. Of course, both the original strategy and its update pre-date South Sudan’s independence from Sudan and the impact subsequent waves of South Sudanese refugees have had on Ethiopia.

Furthermore, the strategy envisions a unilateral approach to securing Ethiopia’s national interests and emphasizes the importance of bilateral relations. Very little attention is paid to the virtues of multilateralism, despite Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s national capital, playing host to various African Union (AU) institutions. This may simply reflect Ethiopian strategic perception at the time; when the original document was issued, substantial numbers of Ethiopian troops were deployed to Somalia in an effort to combat the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic Courts Union and tensions were simmering with Eritrea. As clashes over the Ethiopia-Eritrea border continue, with skirmishes taking place as recently as June 2016, and as Ethiopia expresses frustration with the lack of support for its efforts to stabilize Somalia, it is likely that this scepticism for multilateralism persists among Ethiopian policy-makers.

But the lack of a clear foreign and security policy since 2002 leaves little certainty over whether this is indeed the case or where Ethiopia truly sees itself in the world. Despite the myriad security threats with which the country is faced, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) also finds itself operating with largely outdated equipment. The ENDF’s ground forces predominantly use vehicles acquired from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries during the 1980’s, following Ethiopia’s success in the Ogaden War against Somalia. In 2013, Ethiopia acquired newer Chinese-manufactured YW-534 armoured personnel carriers and WZ-523 infantry fighting vehicles, but much of Ethiopia’s mechanized infantry relies upon transport from Soviet BMP-1’s acquired almost 40 years ago.

Ethiopian troops, as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, drive through Baidoa town with a WZ551 APC followed by an YW531 -- Chinese-made -- during a routine patrol (Photo: Abdi Dagane).

Ethiopian troops, as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, drive through Baidoa town with a WZ551 APC followed by an YW531 — Chinese-made — during a routine patrol (Photo: Abdi Dagane).

Although the Ethiopian Air Force has managed to acquire several Sukhoi Su-27 multirole fighters from the Russian Federation, it heavily relies upon MiG-23 fighters purchased from the Soviet Union in the 1970’s to make up its numbers. With a total of approximately 33 fighter aircraft to secure its airspace, the ENDF still has weak airpower when compared to other regional actors. For example, the Egyptian Air Force’s complement of F-16 Fighting Falcons alone outnumbers the Ethiopian Air Force’s entire fleet or aircraft. Egypt and Ethiopia experience considerably different security situations, but the disparity in size and quality of aircraft operated by the two countries illustrates how severely Ethiopia has neglected its airpower. The ENDF also completely lacks a maritime branch. Though Ethiopia is a landlocked country, the Blue Nile flows from the Lake Tana through Ethiopia to Sudan and joins the White Nile at Khartoum. As piracy becomes a growing concern on the Sudanese and South Sudanese stretches of the Nile River, Ethiopia will require the means to deter any activities which could disrupt shipping or fuel instability, especially if Ethiopia invests in modernized riverine infrastructure. Uganda, which is similarly landlocked, nonetheless maintains a few inshore patrol vessels to secure its portion of the White Nile and Lake Victoria.

Some commentators have indicated that Ethiopia’s under-developed security policy may stem from a different conception of military power. Specifically, aside from roughly five years of Italian occupation in 1936-1941, Ethiopia is the only African country not to suffer under European colonialism. As such, history leaves Ethiopian policy-makers predisposed to regard the ENDF as a means of self-defence and nation-building, rather than a tool for power projection. This would explain the ENDF’s reliance upon mass infantry rather than a quality air force and “brown water” navy – mass infantry can be used as a means of addressing unemployment and countering any internal insurrections among Ethiopia’s diverse regions. For example, when mass protests broke out in August 2016 in Ethiopia’s Oromiya and Amhara regions, ENDF infantry were deployed and more than 90 protesters were killed.

Deficient domestic policies have ensured, in short, stunted development in Ethiopian foreign and security policy. So long as the ENDF is looked to as a means to quash internal dissent, Ethiopia will be unable to achieve its potential as a regional leader. Though an “upgrade” is long overdue both in terms of strategic orientation and defence equipment, it is likely Ethiopia will continue to be an inward-looking country.

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Women’s rights in Yemen

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

Nisma Mansoor

Nisma Mansoor

Nisma Mansoor likes to watch “Game of Thrones” and wear make-up. She peppers her Facebook wall with emojis, memes, and selfies. She studies the same subjects that her parents did in college. She has a blog and a part-time job at an NGO. A feminist with liberal political convictions, Nisma wants to work as a hydraulic engineer. In Europe or North America, no one would think twice about such a typical collegian. It might shock Westerners, then, to learn that Nisma lives in Yemen.

At twenty-two years old, Nisma is finishing her last year at the University of Aden, the country’s second-largest city and one of the few that the Yemeni government still controls after Iranian-backed rebels seized the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014. The circuitous path that encouraged Nisma to become a hydraulic engineer and feminist parallels Yemen’s own complex history with women’s rights.

From 1967 to 1990, Yemen struggled with the same division that plagued Germany, Korea, and Vietnam during the Cold War. Pro-Western nationalists governed North Yemen from Sana’a while South Yemen, the only communist state in the Arab world, had its capital at Aden. Women’s rights in Aden flourished under the socialist regime. Some women even joined the army and the police.

The South’s progressive, secularist social policies encouraged women such as Nisma’s mother, herself a communist, to seek advanced degrees. Her parents met at a university in Baku, then part of the Soviet Union. Her father was studying hydrogeology, her mother petroleum engineering.

Tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels attend a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters, Sanaa, Yemen, June 20, 2016 (Photo: Hani Mohammed).

Tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels attend a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters, Sanaa, Yemen, June 20, 2016 (Photo: Hani Mohammed).

When Nisma was born in 1994, the year of a brutal civil war between northerners and southerners after Yemen’s 1990 unification, her parents emphasized the importance of female education in a country that had been at the forefront of women’s rights in the Arab world.

“My childhood was very good,” Nisma reflected. “I was raised by very caring parents. I grew up in a family that values education.” Her parents enrolled her in an international school because of the tribal conservatism that had started creeping into Yemen’s state schools. After the northerners defeated the southerners in the 1994 civil war, they imposed family laws restricting women’s rights on Aden.

Whereas Nisma’s parents had learned Russian, she studied English with the hope of one day attending an American or European university. Nisma could study civil engineering at the University of Aden, but only a foreign education could offer expertise in hydraulic engineering. “I want to be a women’s rights activist and engineer to be the voice of southern women while helping them with their quality of life,” she told me. Smiling behind a blue headscarf, Nisma plans to confront two of Yemen’s greatest challenges at once: gender apartheid and water scarcity.

“Yemeni women face severe discrimination in all aspects of their lives,” Human Rights Watch reported in 2013. “Women cannot marry without the permission of their male guardians; they do not have equal rights to divorce, inheritance or child custody, and a lack of legal protection leaves them exposed to domestic and sexual violence.” The ongoing civil war that began in 2015, meanwhile, worsened a water crisis in one of the world’s driest, poorest countries. “While the war is going on, the water level in the aquifer is going down, so the problem may end up being bigger than the war,” said William Cosgrove, a water expert and former World Bank water resources specialist for the Middle East.

The Gender Inequality Index represents the loss of achievement within a country due to gender inequality. It uses three dimensions to do so: reproductive health, empowerment, and labour market participation. In 2015, Yemen ranked on place 159 -- with other words: at the last place.

The Gender Inequality Index represents the loss of achievement within a country due to gender inequality. It uses three dimensions to do so: reproductive health, empowerment, and labour market participation. In 2015, Yemen ranked on place 159 — with other words: at the last place.

“Everyone can build a house, but being a hydraulic engineer means changing people’s lives,” Nisma observed over Facebook Messenger. “I’ve seen people who spend their entire days looking for something to drink. Girls who should be in school are instead searching for water.” For Nisma, fighting water scarcity equals fighting for women’s rights on her terms.

“Nisma’s approach to studying hydraulic engineering for development purposes actually fits very well within the framework Yemeni women’s movements have established since the outset—framing the issues as national duties, rather than women’s issues per se,” remarked Natana Delong-Bas, a professor at Boston College specializing in women and gender in the Muslim world. “This has long been a way for women to make a contribution seen to have national purpose.”

Hundreds of women like Nisma attend Yemeni universities, yet they face difficulties translating their education into employment. “All universities in Yemen have over 60 percent female enrolment, but it doesn’t transfer to the workforce,” said Fernando Carvajal, an academic who has lived in Aden and Sana’a and runs the blog Diwan. Extremists from al-Qaeda and ISIS have also threatened the University of Aden for failing to implement sex segregation. According to Nisma, they once kidnapped the dean.

For Nisma to become a hydraulic engineer, she will likely have to study in Europe or North America. She considered applying to American universities through the Fulbright Program, but Executive Orders 13769 and 13780, US President Donald Trump’s attempt at a Muslim ban, torpedoed those plans because they prevent Yemenis from obtaining visas to the United States. “I hope you get rid of Trump soon,” said Nisma. “He’s insane.”

While looking for alternative programs in other Western countries, Nisma is focusing her efforts closer to Aden. “She loves her city.” noted Mohammed al-Qalisi, one of her friends from Aden. “As a community activist, she’s become a decisionmaker, putting forward her vision to help our civil society fight different bad attitudes and habits,” added Nazar Nasser Ali Haitham, like Nisma an agitator for the South’s return to independence. Nisma’s job as a monitoring and evaluation assistance at RNW Media, a Dutch NGO promoting freedom of the press and speech, ensures that her community hears her voice.

“While most of the women in world enjoy their lives and rights, women in Yemen are fighting every day to get their basic needs,” Nisma wrote on Facebook. “They fight each and every day to ensure that their children will have clean water to drink and food to eat.” To her, the fight against gender apartheid and water scarcity are the same battle, and she plans to lead it.

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The significance of Iran’s missile attack on Syria

by Paul Iddon

One of the missiles Iran launched at Deir Ezzor in Syria on night of June 18.

One of the missiles Iran launched at Deir Ezzor in Syria on night of June 18.

On the night of June 18 Iran fired six long range missiles from its western provinces at Islamic State (ISIS) to the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor in retaliation for the June 7 terrorist attacks in Tehran, which killed 18 people.

Iran’s retaliation strike (Operation Laylat al-Qadr; عملیات لیلةالقدر) demonstrates that it has the capability to hit targets more than 650 km away in relatively short notice. This is something the Iranians had difficulty doing until late in their bloody eight year war with Iraq back in the 1980s. Obviously, Iran’s missile capabilities have progressed ever since, in spite of US and international sanctions.

Iran’s leadership have eagerly sought to promote the strike as proof of their military strength. “They cannot slap us. We will slap them”, declared Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on his official website and in a widely-shared video on Instagram, which showed footage the terror attacks in Tehran and the retaliatory missile launches.

For Tehran, the missile strike serves two purposes: Retaliation against those attacks on Iran’s capital and a, not so subtle, warning to the United States and the Islamic Republic’s rivals in the region. “The Saudis and Americans are especially receivers of this message,” said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) General Ramazan Sharif on Iranian state television. General Mohammad Hossein Baqueri, the Iranian military’s chief of staff, also declared that: “Iran is among the world’s big powers in the missile field.” He also warned the US that in the event of a war their military bases in the region will be targeted. “We are in permanent rivalry with them [the Americans] in different fields, including the missile sector,” Baqueri said.

The June 7 terrorist attacks in Tehran provided the IRGC an apt opportunity to test their missiles – all indigenously-produced – for the first time in an actual war zone. Since the Iran-Iraq War, Tehran only used their missiles against the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) militant group in Iraq hosted by Saddam Hussein. The most significant strike against MEK was in April 2001. The missiles used in that attack were the older Shahabs, an Iranian-made Scud derivative, which, in this strike, flew no more than 150 km to their targets.

Massive crater allegedly from an Iranian ballistic missile, which had fallen in western Iraq.

Massive crater allegedly from an Iranian ballistic missile, which had fallen in western Iraq.

The IRGC claim that aerial photographs taken from their Syria-based drones confirmed that in the attack on Syria all missiles, which reportedly included the new Zolfaghar, a missile unveiled just last September with a range of 700 km, struck their intended fixed targets – an ISIS command headquarters and arms and ammunition depots. There is reason to believe they were indeed relatively accurate, but also reason to be sceptical that all missiles successfully impacted on their targets as Tehran claims (see “Exclusive photos: Syria-bound Iranian ballistic missiles fall in Iraq“, The New Arab, 29.06.2017 and “Iran mocks reports its Syria missile strikes fell short“, The Washington Post, 25.06.2017).

In terms of both cost and effectiveness it’s not necessary to strike an adversary like ISIS from hundreds of kilometres away. Symbolically, on the other hand, such a strike is a perfect way to demonstrate ones reach — and not only Iran is using such an opportunity. On October 7, 2015, the Russians fired 26 Kalibr cruise missiles (the first of several intermittent cruise missile strikes, the latest one being on June 23) from vessels in the Caspian Sea to targets in Syria almost 1,500 kilometers away, shortly after intervening in that country’s civil war. As is the case with Iran’s Operation Laylat al-Qadr that was the first time the Russians used these long-range cruise missiles in combat and demonstrated to potential rival powers in the region, namely the United States, the range of their weaponry. This, and the opportunity to test these weapons in actual combat, likely motivated these strikes over any practical tactical considerations. After all, their jet fighter-bombers already based in Syria could strike any adversary much more cheaply with little risk of getting shot down.

But the US is not a bit better than the rest. When US President Donald Trump wanted to punish the Syrian regime for the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack last April, he fired an enormous payload of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the regime’s Shayrat airbase. Unleashing such a devastating payload against a single fixed target isn’t necessarily practical, but it’s a clear demonstration of strength.

Trump’s bombardment of Syria’s Shayarat with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles -- click on the image to enlarge (compiled by Louis Martin-Vézian of CIGeography).

Trump’s bombardment of Syria’s Shayarat with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles — click on the image to enlarge (compiled by Louis Martin-Vézian of CIGeography (Facebook / Twitter).

Back in 2006 the Pentagon considered expanding the reach of the United States’ conventional missile arsenal by modifying their nuclear Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) to carry conventional payloads, to be used in case of a war against either Iran or North Korea. With a range of a mind-boggling 12,000km conventional Tridents would have enabled the US to readily strike adversaries from a whole continent away in short order, an unequivocal demonstration of both reach and strength. But the idea was scrapped due to the risk that any launch of these missiles would alert Russia’s early warning system for a nuclear attack. After all, it would have been difficult for Moscow to differentiate between the launch of conventional and nuclear-armed Tridents.

Iran’s Deir Ezzor strike may well prove to be a one off case. However, as Tehran continues to enhance, expand and test its missile capabilities – much to the consternation of Washington, which charges Iran with violating UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by doing so – it may readily seize another opportunity to demonstrate, to domestic and foreign observers alike, these weapons, or newer models and variants, capabilities in a combat situation.

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Unrealistic demands on Qatar reveal the real reasons behind the blockade

by Patrick Truffer (originally published in German). He has been working in the Swiss Army for more than 15 years, holds a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zurich), and a master’s degree in international relations from the Free University of Berlin.

Among other things due to pressure from the USA, Friday last week, Qatar was presented with a list of thirteen demands compiled by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The four countries require implementation of these demands until next Tuesday in order to lift the blockade that has been ongoing for more than two weeks. In the highly unlikely event of Qatar submitting to these demands, in the first year compliance with the demands would be checked by the four countries on a monthly basis, in the second year quarterly, and in the following ten years annually (“Arab states issue list of demands to end Qatar crisis“, Al Jazeera, June 23, 2017). In point of fact, this would amount to a relinquishment of sovereignty, and is from this aspect alone hardly acceptable. In view of this far-reaching attempted influence by the four countries on an independent sovereign state, the demand that Qatar should no longer interfere with the internal affairs of the four countries seems almost cynical. In addition, Qatar would have to pay reparation payments to the four countries for the consequences of its policy of recent years, without mentioning any sum. The list of demands clearly shows that the four countries are less concerned with limiting terrorism in the sense of western thinking, but more with extending their regional power, disciplining Qatar, and eliminating oppositional trends and voices critical of the regimes. However, no further consequences have been formulated in the event of Qatar not meeting the demands. There would probably be a lasting diplomatic and economic separation — military escalation is currently unlikely.

After the first panic purchases in Qatar, everyday life has returned to normal. The missing foodstuffs from Saudi Arabia have been replaced with products from Iran and Turkey.

After the first panic purchases in Qatar, everyday life has returned to normal. The missing foodstuffs from Saudi Arabia have been replaced with products from Iran and Turkey.

Not only is there demand that Qatar break off diplomatic relations with Iran, but also that it refrain from military cooperation with Turkey and a Turkish military presence in Qatar. But Qatar will hardly comply with this demands. On the contrary, the blockade has increased the importance of Qatar’s economic relations with Iran and Turkey. According to the Iranian Financial Tribune, Iran has been shipping around 1,100 tons of fruits and vegetables to Doha every day since imposing the blockade. In fact, this is only the beginning: to date, 66 tonnes of beef have been delivered, and a further 90 tonnes are expected. The delivery of large quantities of eggs, and steel for Qatar’s ambitious infrastructure projects could follow. Iran has also opened the airspace, which is crucial for deliveries from Turkey. In the roughly two weeks of the blockade, Turkey has been able to export around 32.5 million US dollars worth of goods to Qatar, 12.5 million US dollars of which were spent on foodstuffs — amounting to approximately three times the exports before the blockade and around 100 cargo aircraft (Daren Butler, “Turkey Rejects Call to Shut Military Base in Qatar“, Reuters, June 23, 2017). Even if Saudi Arabia does not want to allow interference in its regional sphere of influence either on the part of Iran or on the part of Turkey, the kingdom has achieved exactly the opposite with the blockade: strengthening of relations between Turkey, Iran and Qatar to the detriment of Saudi Arabians, along with opening up a lucrative sales market for the two supplying countries.

Adjustment of the flight route from and to Doha due to the blockade is clearly evident.

Adjustment of the flight route from and to Doha due to the blockade is clearly evident.

With the strategic support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar attempted to cleverly utilise the dynamics during the Arab Spring in order to expand its regional political significance. However, in hindsight, this project must be regarded as not having been particularly successful. On the contrary, in doing so it triggered the ire of the monarchs, initiating a challenge to its power. To date, relations with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have not recovered from this. Qatar’s open support for the Muslim Brotherhood during the Arab Spring, not least with the help of Al Jazeera, led also to a disagreement in 2014 among the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and withdrawal from Doha of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. According to the four countries’ demands, support of the Muslim Brotherhood should now definitely cease. Together with the Islamic State, al-Qaida, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood should be designated as a terrorist group and be sanctioned by Qatar.

How do I reach as many people as possible with as much information as possible? It is a difficult balancing act. Yes, there are things we must keep silent about. But we are achieving 90 percent, and we do not lie. — Yasir Abu Hilala, director of the Arabic channel of Al Jazeera, on the need for a certain degree of compromise to maintain an office in a country; Monika Bolliger, “Der Medienkrieg am Golf“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, June 24, 2017, own translation.

Qatar’s regional influence is also to be restricted. In this context, there is additionally the almost medieval-seeming demand that Al Jazeera, along with Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, and Middle East Eye be shut down. In addition to the financial resources resulting from the extraction and export of oil and natural gas, Al Jazeera is an important instrument of political power for Qatar. After all, the news channel reaches some 50 million Arabic-speaking and 200 million English-speaking viewers. But Al Jazeera is more than this: it is currently the most professional and pluralistic news channel in the region (Monika Bolliger, “Der Medienkrieg am Golf“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, June 24, 2017). According to the four countries, the Arab population should only be hearing and seeing what the official media in the Gulf and the Nile provide them with (Inga Rogg, “Katar will nicht nachgeben“, NZZ am Sonntag, June 25, 2017). The fulfilment of this demand is just as unrealistic as the rest of the demands — if only because Middle East Eye, for example, has its offices in London. The supporting attitude of US President Donald Trump for this blockade casts a shadow over international protection of freedom of expression, but fits his own problematic attitude towards critical, free media.

The other gulf states see Qatar as this extremely rich child that has got all this money and all these big toys and wants to play but doesn’t know how to do it”. — Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies and Head of the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Qatar, cited in David D. Kirkpatrick, “3 Gulf Countries Pull Ambassadors From Qatar Over Its Support of Islamists“, The New York Times, March 05, 2014.

The blockade imposed on Qatar and the demands are not about the fight against terrorism, but about the suppression of Qatar’s sometimes stubborn, non-compliant politics in comparison to the other GCC states. The goal of Saudi Arabia is containment of Iran and expansion of its regional power. It is using the GCC in order to achieve this goal, and is demanding unrestricted allegiance from its member countries. As in January 2016, the embassy of Saudi Arabia was stormed in Tehran, and Riyadh utilised this as a thrust to engage its GCC partners in a tough confrontational policy against Tehran, calling for the abolition of all diplomatic and economic relations between the GCC countries and Iran (Björn Müller, “Der Golfkooperationsrat – Bündnis der ‘negativen Solidarität’“, Pivot Area, June 11, 2017). Qatar did withdraw its ambassador from Tehran, but neither diplomatic nor economic relations were broken off. Iran still maintains an embassy in Doha, and Qatar one in Tehran. Moreover, Saudi Arabia wants to prevent Turkey from interfering, in particular also because the political roots of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan are within the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a party close to the Muslim Brotherhood. In this respect, the intergovernmental relations between Turkey and Egypt have been bad since the overthrow of the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by el-Sisi. This upheaval was supported by the Saudis, which also led to a cooling of Turkish-Saudi relations. The slow improvement of the Saudi-Turkish relations of the last two years now seems to have come to an abrupt end – not entirely to Iran’s displeasure.

Turkish armored personnel carrier drives at Ankara's military base in Doha, Qatar June 18, 2017. Turkey has begun military drills in Qatar amid a Saudi Arabia-led international boycott against its fellow, oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbor.

Turkish armored personnel carrier drives at Ankara’s military base in Doha, Qatar June 18, 2017. Turkey has begun military drills in Qatar amid a Saudi Arabia-led international boycott against its fellow, oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbor.

 
Conclusion
From a regional point of view, a dangerous power game is developing in the Middle East between the regional powers, with Saudi Arabia (together with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain), Turkey and Iran more or less stepping on each other’s toes. This especially involves expansion of its regional power, primarily at the expense of Iran, as well as the complete neutralisation of groups opposing and critical of the regime in the Middle East — this actually being the second phase of neutralising the Arab Spring and the few remaining groups in the Middle East. The blockade and the demands placed on Qatar have nothing to do with an intensified fight against terror in the region — this reasoning is merely an excuse. A long-term continuation of the blockade could, however, have a highly counter-productive effect on Saudi Arabia. Not only is Qatar benefiting from the situation, it is also delivering the emirate into Iran’s arms, strengthening the Turkish influence in the region, simultaneously straining Saudi-Turkish relations, and endangering the continuity of the GCC in its present composition. If there is further escalation, someone in Washington may end up being caught with his pants down.

More information

• • •

The 13 demands in full

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
  2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
  7. Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  8. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  9. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  10. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  11. Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
  12. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  13. Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

Source: Patrick Wintour, “Qatar given 10 Days to Meet 13 Sweeping Demands by Saudi Arabia“, The Guardian, June 23, 2017.

• • •

Posted in English, Patrick Truffer, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

China’s Liaoning Departs Qingdao

Imagery of Qingdao acquired on 26JUN17 by Planet.

Imagery of Qingdao acquired on 26JUN17 by Planet.

China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has departed its home port of Qingdao, recent imagery acquired by Planet confirms. China’s Ministry of Defense said the carrier would conduct routine training while also making a two-day port call in Hong Kong. This year marks the former city state’s 20th anniversary under Chinese rule since being handed back over from Great Britain.

According to imagery and news reporting, the carrier sets out with its co-located flotilla, which includes the destroyers, Jinan (152) and Yinchuan (175), the frigate Yantai (538), as well as several other vessels. Equipped with a detachment of J-15 fighters, the carrier’s visit to the former British colony also coincides with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first trip to the special administrative region since taking office in 2013.

The visit is expected to put China’s military achievements on display in an attempt to strengthen patriotism tied to the mainland. However, that may be difficult with younger generations — particularly since most of Hong Kong’s recent pro-democracy movement has been youth-driven. Of Hong Kong residents aged 18 to 29 years old, recent polls suggest that only 3.1 per cent identified as Chinese, compared to 3.4 percent six months ago. That’s the lowest rating since the University of Hong Kong began the polls in 1997.

China’s Liaoning, and its future carrier which launched in April at Dalian, represents a significant step forward as Beijing develops capabilities for a blue-water navy. Previously, China’s sole operational carrier deployed for training in December 2016 in the Bohai and Yellow Sea, before making an appearance in the South China Sea at a new pier at Hainan Island.

“In the long run, China needs to develop its own aircraft carrier battle teams, with at least six aircraft carriers, maritime forces led by guided missile destroyers, as well as attack submarines,” Xu Guangyu, a senior advisor to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association wrote in the PLA Daily in April. “China will build about ten more bases for the for the six aircraft carriers [and] […] could have bases in every continent”, he went on to write.

Posted in Armed Forces, China, Chris Biggers, English, Sea Powers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Drone Revolution Revisited

by Dan Gettinger and Arthur Holland Michel. Both are co-directors of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.

In September 2016, the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College released a 45 page long report called “The Drone Revolution Revisited: An Assessment of Military Unmanned Systems in 2016“. It covers the evolving ecosystem of unmanned systems technologies as it stands in 2016 and the ways in which the technology has evolved and matured over the past seven years since the publication of the best-selling book “Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century“. If you have not read the report yet, it will be high time to make it up.

In 2009, not many people were talking seriously about robots in war. Even though every U.S. armed service operated drones either in the air, on the ground, or undersea, and though numerous initiatives to develop the next generation of advanced systems were already publicly underway, there was very little broad public dialogue on the topic. By 2012, the year that the Center for the Study of the Drone was founded, news stories about unmanned systems technology and its implications were appearing regularly, and a vibrant public debate around the use of these systems was increasingly filling the airwaves.

What put drones into the the public spotlight? One factor was undoubtedly the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration quickly expanded the military’s use of drones. Another significant factor was the book “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century” by Peter W. Singer. Published in 2009, “Wired for War” offered a comprehensive portrait of the influx of drones into the U.S. military at a critical time in the history of the technology, and the many ways in which they would transform the battlefield. By presenting the rapidly expanding menagerie of drones in both the sky and on the ground, Singer demonstrated that the field of military robotics had matured to a point where it was disrupting the status quo. He described proliferating technologies that were already presenting significant challenges and opportunities — one example being the psychological impact of remote warfare on drone pilots and sensor operators — as well as programs and fields of research that were likely to yield new transformative capabilities in the near future. One such track was the development of autonomous weapons systems that can identify and engage targets without human intervention.

The book served as a core text in the class “The Drone Revolutions“, an undergraduate seminar held at Bard College in the spring 2016 academic semester. The class sought to lay out a broad overview of unmanned systems technology in both military and civilian spheres, and equip students with the analytical tools to conduct original research on unmanned systems. As a final assignment for the seminar, we asked each student to research two platforms or technologies described in “Wired for War” in order to determine whether the program still exists, how the system has developed, and how the technology is currently being used (and by whom).

“The Drone Revolution Revisited” offers a guide to the evolving ecosystem of unmanned systems technologies as it stands in 2016, and reflects the ways in which the technology has evolved and matured over the past seven years since the publication of “Wired for War”. The research produced by our students served as the basis for Chapter I, which consists of portraits of 30 systems that Singer presented as the harbingers of the drone revolution. Some of the systems — for example, the U.S. Navy’s MQ-8 Fire Scout — have grown into large multi-billion dollar military acquisition programs, while other systems that seemed promising, such as the Boston Dynamics BigDog or the Foster Miller SWORDS, have fizzled. Of these 30 systems, 13 are active or deployed, three remain in development, and 14 have been cancelled or are inactive. By revisiting these systems, we have sought to update, expand upon, and interrogate Singer’s 2009 portrait of the drone revolution.

For each system, we explain what it does, which military service or agency developed it, its specifications, its history, and (if the information is available) its cost. We also describe whether the system remains in development, has been deployed, or was cancelled. For deployed programs, we describe the extent to which they have been used, and by whom. For cancelled programs, we identify the reasons for their cancellation. It should be noted that the benchmarks “developmental”, “deployed”, and “cancelled” that we present on page 5 refer to the formal military programs under which a particular system was managed, rather than the actual system. If a particular program is cancelled by the military, that does not necessarily spell the end for the particular drone or robot. For example, prototypes of a cancelled system may remain in contractors’ inventories; though the Pentagon cancelled the Global Observer program in 2012 the manufacturer, AeroVironment, is actively seeking alternate customers for the drone. Or new programs may emerge that build on technologies that were matured through earlier cancelled program. Though the U.S. Air Force is phasing out its MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper — essentially a larger, faster variant of the Predator — is slated to remain in use far into the foreseeable future.

The Navy's unmanned X-47B receives fuel from an Omega K-707 tanker while operating in the Atlantic Test Ranges over the Chesapeake Bay. This test marked the first time an unmanned aircraft refueled in flight.

The Navy’s unmanned X-47B receives fuel from an Omega K-707 tanker while operating in the Atlantic Test Ranges over the Chesapeake Bay. This test marked the first time an unmanned aircraft refueled in flight.

The systems and programs in this report represent only a sample of the many drones that exist today. Some of the most significant trends that we are currently witnessing are not fully reflected by the systems that existed or were already under development in 2009. The maritime domain has become more important in recent years; unmanned undersea and surface vehicles are slated to play a prominent role in naval operations in the near future, and numerous high-profile maritime drone development programs are currently underway. Likewise, certain ground and airborne unmanned systems programs that already existed in 2009 have evolved in dramatic ways, or given rise to entirely new programs. For example, the Northrop Grumman X-47A, an in-house prototype combat drone, has since given rise to the X-47B, an impressive demonstrator combat drone developed for Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program, which was recently reconceived as the MQ-25A Stingray, an aerial refuelling drone with strike capabilities. Finally, and crucially, non-U.S. drone programs have expanded significantly; China and Europe, for example, are seeking to develop advanced aerial drones that can match the capabilities of U.S. systems. In order to reflect these trends, we present portraits of six platforms not mentioned in “Wired for War” that are representative of important shifts in the recent history of drone technology development. These platforms are highlighted in light blue.

In Chapter II, Peter W. Singer revisits the book and reflects on the trajectory of the drone evolution in the time since it was published. Singer points to trends that have emerged since 2009, such as the growth in the use of drones in the U.S. targeted killing program and the emergence of swarming technology programs, and predicts the ways in which the field is likely to evolve in the near future.

This report points to numerous possible avenues for future research. Why do some technologies fail while others thrive? How have the priorities for certain drones changed over the years and how are these priorities reflected in the defense budget? By reviewing programs side by side, our hope is to foster dialogue about the broader patterns that can indicate whether or not a system is likely to be successful or not, as well as lessons regarding the types of point failures that can cause a program to be cancelled. In doing so, we are looking to spark a conversation about where the most significant technological advances are likely to happen and to inform predictions on the next seven years of drone technology development.

This video preview of the report shows some of the profiled systems in action:

Download: Arthur Holland Michel and Dan Gettinger, “The Drone Revolution Revisited: An Assessment of Military Unmanned Systems in 2016” (New York: The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, September 2016).

Posted in Dan Gettinger, Drones, English, Technology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Unrealistische Forderungen an Katar verraten die wahren Gründe der Blockade

von Patrick Truffer (English version). Er arbeitet seit über 15 Jahren in der Schweizer Armee, verfügt über einen Bachelor in Staatswissenschaften der ETH Zürich und über einen Master in Internationale Beziehungen der Freien Universität Berlin.

Unter anderem auf Druck der USA wurde letzten Freitag Katar eine von Saudi-Arabien, Ägypten, den Vereinigten Arabischen Emiraten und Bahrain zusammengestellte Liste mit dreizehn Forderungen übergeben. Die vier Staaten verlangen eine Umsetzung dieser Forderungen innerhalb der nächsten 10 Tage, um die Aufhebung der seit zwei Wochen andauernde Blockade zu erwirken. Im höchst unwahrscheinlichen Fall, dass Katar bei diesen Forderungen einwilligen sollte, würde die Einhaltung der Forderungen durch die vier Staaten im ersten Jahr monatlich, im zweiten Jahr vierteljährlich und in den darauf folgenden zehn Jahren jährlich überprüft werden. Faktisch käme diesem einen Souveränitätsverzicht gleich und ist nur schon von diesem Aspekt her kaum akzeptierbar. Angesichts dieser weitreichenden versuchten Einflussnahme der vier Staaten auf einen unabhängigen souveränen Staat mutet die aufgestellte Forderung, dass Katar sich zukünftig nicht mehr in die inneren Angelegenheiten der vier Staaten einmischen dürfe schon beinahe zynisch an. Ausserdem solle Katar für die Folgen seiner Politik der letzten Jahre den vier Staaten Reparationszahlungen entrichten müssen, wobei keine Summe genannt wird. Die Liste der Forderungen zeigt deutlich auf, dass es den vier Staaten weniger um die Eindämmung des Terrorismus im Sinne westlicher Denkweise geht, sondern mehr um die Ausweitung ihres regionalen Machtanspruchs, der Disziplinierung Katars sowie dem Ausschalten oppositioneller Strömungen und regimekritischen Stimmen. Für den Fall, dass Katar den Forderungen nicht nachkommen sollte, werden jedoch keine weiteren Konsequenzen formuliert. Wahrscheinlich wäre eine dauerhafte diplomatische und wirtschaftliche Trennung — eine militärische Eskalation ist momentan jedoch eher unwahrscheinlich.

Nach den ersten Panikkäufen herrscht in Katar wieder normaler Alltag. Die fehlenden Lebensmitteln aus Saudi-Arabien wurden mit Produkten aus dem Iran und der Türkei ersetzt.

Nach den ersten Panikkäufen herrscht in Katar wieder normaler Alltag. Die fehlenden Lebensmitteln aus Saudi-Arabien wurden mit Produkten aus dem Iran und der Türkei ersetzt.

Nicht nur wird von Katar verlangt die diplomatischen Beziehungen mit Iran abzubrechen, sondern auch von einer türkischen Militärpräsenz in Katar und einer militärischen Zusammenarbeit mit der Türkei abzusehen. Katar wird auch dieser Forderung kaum nachkommen, denn im Gegenteil haben durch die Blockade die wirtschaftlichen Beziehungen Katars zu Iran und der Türkei an Wichtigkeit zugenommen. Gemäss Angaben der iranischen Financial Tribune, verfrachtet der Iran seit Verhängung des Blockade täglich rund 1’100 Tonnen Früchte und Gemüse nach Doha. Doch das ist nur der Anfang: bis jetzt wurde 66 Tonnen Rindfleisch geliefert und weitere 90 Tonnen werden erwartet. Die Lieferung grosser Mengen Eier und Stahl für Katars ambitionierten Infrastrukturprojekten könnten folgen. Ausserdem hat der Iran den Luftraum geöffnet, was für Anlieferungen aus der Türkei entscheidend ist. Die Türkei konnte in den rund zwei Wochen der Blockade Güter für rund 32,5 Millionen US-Dollar nach Katar exportieren, wobei davon 12,5 Millionen US-Dollar auf Nahrungsmittel fallen — das entspricht ungefähr dem Dreifachen der Exporte vor der Blockade und umfasste rund 100 Frachtflugzeuge (Daren Butler, “Turkey Rejects Call to Shut Military Base in Qatar“, Reuters, 23.06.2017). Auch wenn Saudi-Arabien eine Einmischung in seine regionale Einflusssphäre zulassen will weder von Seiten Irans noch von Seiten Türkei zulassen will, hat das Königreich mit der Blockade genau das Gegenteil erzielt: Eine Stärkung der Beziehungen zwischen der Türkei, Iran und Katar zum Nachteil Saudi-Arabiens sowie die Öffnung eines lukrativen Absatzmarktes für die beiden anliefernden Staaten.

Die Anpassung der Flugroute von und nach Doha aufgrund der Blockade ist deutlich zu erkennen.

Die Anpassung der Flugroute von und nach Doha aufgrund der Blockade ist deutlich zu erkennen.

Mit der strategischen Unterstützung der Muslimbrüder versuchte Katar die Dynamik während des Arabischen Frühlings geschickt zu nutzen um damit seine regionale politische Bedeutung auszuweiten — im Nachhinein muss dieses Vorhaben jedoch als nicht sehr erfolgreich bewertet werden. Im Gegenteil zog es damit den Groll der Monarchen auf sich, unter deren der Thron langsam zu wackeln begann. Auch die Beziehungen zum ägyptischen Präsidenten Abdel Fattah el-Sisi erholten sich davon bis heute nicht. Katars offene Unterstützung der Muslimbrüder während des Arabischen Frühlings, nicht zuletzt mit Hilfe Al Jazeera, führte 2014 zu einem Zerwürfnis unter den Staaten des Golf Kooperationsrat (Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC) und zu einem Abzug der Botschafter Saudi-Arabiens, der Vereinigten Arabischen Emiraten und Bahrains aus Doha. Geht es nach den Forderungen der vier Staaten soll mit der Unterstützung der Muslimbrüder nun definitiv Schluss sein. Zusammen mit dem Islamischen Staat, der al-Qaida und der libanesischen Hisbollah sollen die Muslimbrüder von Katar als terroristische Gruppierung bezeichnet und sanktioniert werden.

Wie erreiche ich möglichst viele Leute mit möglichst vielen Informationen? Es ist eine schwierige Gratwanderung. Ja, es gibt Dinge, die wir verschweigen müssen. Aber wir bringen 90 Prozent, und wir lügen nicht. — Yasir Abu Hilala, der Direktor des arabischen Kanals von al-Jazeera über die Notwendigkeit eines gewissen Grads an Kompromissen um ein Büro in einem Land behalten zu können; Monika Bolliger, “Der Medienkrieg am Golf“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 24.06.2017.

Auch sonst soll Katars regionaler Einfluss eingeschränkt werden. In diesem Kontext steht auch die nahezu mittelalterlich anmutende Forderung Al Jazeera zusammen mit Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed und Middle East Eye zu schliessen. Neben den finanziellen Ressourcen, welche sich aus dem Abbau und Export von Erdöl und Erdgas ergeben, stellt Al Jazeera ein wichtiges machtpolitisches Instrument Katars dar. Immerhin erreicht der Nachrichtensender rund 50 Millionen arabischsprachige und 200 Millionen englischsprachige Zuschauer. Doch Al Jazeera ist mehr: Es handelt sich bei diesem Nachrichtensender um den momentan professionellsten und pluralistischen in der Region (Monika Bolliger, “Der Medienkrieg am Golf“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 24.06.2017). Geht es nach den vier Staaten soll die arabische Bevölkerung nur noch das hören und sehen, was ihnen die offiziösen Medien am Golf und am Nil servieren (Inga Rogg, “Katar will nicht nachgeben“, NZZ am Sonntag, 25.06.2017). Die Erfüllung dieser Forderung ist genauso unrealistisch wie der Rest der Forderungen — nur schon deshalb, weil beispielsweise Middle East Eye seine Büros in London stationiert hat. Die unterstützende Haltung des US-Präsidenten Donald Trump bei dieser Blockade wirft ein schlechtes Licht auf den internationalen Schutzes freier Meinungsäusserung, passt aber in seine eigene problematische Haltung gegenüber kritischen, freien Medien.

The other gulf states see Qatar as this extremely rich child that has got all this money and all these big toys and wants to play but doesn’t know how to do it”. — Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies and Head of the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Qatar, cited in David D. Kirkpatrick, “3 Gulf Countries Pull Ambassadors From Qatar Over Its Support of Islamists“, The New York Times, 05.03.2014.

Bei der über Katar verhängten Blockade und den Forderungen geht es nicht um den Kampf gegen den Terrorismus, sondern um die Unterbindung der zuweilen eigensinnig störrischen Politik Katars im Vergleich zu den anderen Staaten im GCC. Das Ziel Saudi-Arabiens ist die Eindämmung Irans und die Ausweitung seiner regionalen Macht. Um dieses Ziel zu erreichen instrumentalisiert es den GCC und fordert von dessen Mitgliedsstaaten die uneingeschränkte Gefolgschaft. Als im Januar 2016 die Botschaft Saudi-Arabiens in Teheran gestürmt wurde, nutzte das Riad für einen Vorstoss, um seine GCC-Partner auf eine harte Konfrontationspolitik gegen Teheran einzuschwören und verlangte den Abbruch aller diplomatischen und wirtschaftlichen Beziehungen zwischen den GCC-Staaten und dem Iran (Björn Müller, “Der Golfkooperationsrat – Bündnis der ‘negativen Solidarität’“, Pivot Area, 11.06.2017). Katar hat zwar drauf folgend seinen Botschafter aus Teheran abgezogen, jedoch weder die diplomatischen noch die wirtschaftlichen Beziehungen abgebrochen. Nach wie vor unterhält der Iran eine Botschaft in Doha und Katar eine Botschaft in Teheran. Ausserdem will Saudi-Arabien die Einmischung der Türkei verhindern, insbesondere auch deshalb, weil sich die politischen Wurzeln des türkischen Präsidenten Tayyip Erdoğan mit der Justice and Development Party (AKP) in einer der Muslimbrüder nahestehende Partei befinden. Dementsprechend schlecht sind auch die zwischenstaatlichen Beziehungen zwischen der Türkei und Ägypten nach dem Sturz des ägyptischen Präsidenten Mohamed Morsi durch el-Sisi. Dieser Umsturz wurde von saudischer Seite gestützt, was auch zu einer Abkühlung der türkisch-saudischen Beziehungen führte. Die langsame Verbesserung der saudisch-türkischen Beziehungen der letzten zwei Jahre fanden nun wohl ein jähes Ende — nicht ganz zum Leidwesen Irans.

Turkish armored personnel carrier drives at Ankara's military base in Doha, Qatar June 18, 2017. Turkey has begun military drills in Qatar amid a Saudi Arabia-led international boycott against its fellow, oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbor.

Turkish armored personnel carrier drives at Ankara’s military base in Doha, Qatar June 18, 2017. Turkey has begun military drills in Qatar amid a Saudi Arabia-led international boycott against its fellow, oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbor.

 
Fazit
Regional betrachtet entwickelt sich im Nahen Osten ein gefährliches Machtspiel zwischen den Regionalmächten, wobei Saudi-Arabien (zusammen mit Ägypten, den Vereinigten Arabischen Emiraten und Bahrain), Türkei und der Iran sich mehr oder weniger gegenseitig auf die Füsse treten. Besonders ersterem geht es um die Ausweitung seiner regionalen Macht primär auf Kosten Irans sowie um die komplette Neutralisierung oppositioneller und regimekritischer Gruppen im Nahen Osten — als eigentlich um die zweite Phase der Neutralisierung des Arabischen Frühlings und dem wenigen, was im Nahen Osten übrig geblieben ist. Die Blockade und die an Katar gestellten Forderungen haben nichts mit einer verstärkten Terrorbekämpfung in der Region zu tun — diese Begründung bildet bloss einen Vorwand. Eine langfristige Fortführung der Blockade könnte sich für Saudi-Arabien jedoch höchst kontraproduktiv auswirken. Nicht nur kommt Katar mit der Situation gut zurecht, sondern es treibt das Emirat in die Armen Irans, stärkt den türkischen Einfluss in der Region, belastet gleichzeitig die saudisch-türkischen Beziehungen und gefährdet den Fortbestand des GCC in der jetzigen Zusammensetzung. Bei einer weiteren Eskalierung könnte schlussendlich auch einer in Washington dumm aus der Wäsche gucken.

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The 13 demands in full

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
  2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
  7. Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  8. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  9. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  10. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  11. Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
  12. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  13. Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

Quelle: Patrick Wintour, “Qatar given 10 Days to Meet 13 Sweeping Demands by Saudi Arabia“, The Guardian, 23.06.2017.

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Posted in Patrick Truffer, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Cost of Cutting off Qatar

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

On 5-6 June 2017, a crisis emerged in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with its neighbour Qatar. Soon after, the governments of Bahrain, Comoros, Egypt, the Maldives, Mauritania, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen followed suit in cutting ties with Qatar. The governments of Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Jordan, Niger, and Senegal have also downgraded the status of their diplomatic relations with the estranged Emirate. In the midst of these announcements, United States President Donald Trump claimed credit for isolating Qatar, insinuating that the country has been supporting militant Islamist organizations, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Despite these comments by President Trump, Qatar signed a $12 billion US deal a little over a week later, on 14 June 2017, to purchase F-15QA fighter jets from the US (see Paul Iddon, “The Gulf crisis and future of Qatar’s military“, offiziere.ch, 19.06.2017).

Without addressing the merit of Trump’s claims that he pushed for this isolation during the Riyadh Summit in April 2017, the US President’s comments present a substantial risk to American interests in the Gulf region and the broader Middle East. Much of the media commentary to date has speculated on whether recent developments will “push” Qatar into closer security ties with Iran. A more pressing concern, however, is the impact this crisis will have on the American presence at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

Al-Udeid is an important link in the logistical chain for ongoing American military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, serving as a forward headquarters for US Central Command (CENTCOM), US Air Forces Central Command, and the 379th Expeditionary Air Wing of the US Air Force (USAF). It is also worth noting that Al-Udeid continues to host a British presence and was an important base for Royal Australian Air Force operations in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2008. The sale of F-15QA fighter jets, as well as the start of a joint US-Qatar naval exercise on June 15, seems to suggest that defence relations between the two countries will endure, but further declarations of support for Saudi Arabia’s actions against Qatar could lead to the expulsion of some, or all, of the approximately 11,000 American military personnel at Al-Udeid Air Base. Such a development would severely undermine the effectiveness of coalition operations against ISIS at a crucial time, as ISIS’ traditional “capital” of Raqqa, Syria is under siege.

This would not be unprecedented. In the initial years of the American-led intervention in Afghanistan, Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in southeastern Uzbekistan played a crucial role. The USAF’s 416th Air Expeditionary Operations Group was hosted there, along with ample contingents from the US Army and US Marine Corps. However, in response to an alleged insurrection by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in May 2005, Uzbek forces massacred civilians, possibly in the hundreds, in the country’s eastern city of Andijan. Criticism of the human rights situation by US authorities prompted Uzbekistan’s then-President Islam Karimov to expel American forces from Karshi-Khanabad in July 2005. US officials were subsequently left reeling, exploring the potential of using bases in Latvia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe as staging points for future operations in Afghanistan.

American power projection in Central Asia and the Middle East was once again undermined in 2014, when Kyrgyzstan caved to pressure from the Russian Federation and ordered US forces to vacate Manas Air Base, which had emerged as a new logistical hub for operations in Afghanistan following Karshi-Khanabad. As the experiences in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan demonstrate, the loss of major overseas airbases is costly as large contingents of troops and supplies must be transported great distances in a very short period of time, while American officials must also struggle to find new bases suitable to long-term operational requirements. Failing to do so can have a devastating impact on the effectiveness of ongoing operations, much as the loss of Al-Udeid would give ISIS some breathing room in Raqqa.

It may well be that careful negotiations behind-the-scenes between American and Qatari officials have forestalled such a scenario. But it is evident that, if Trump is to deliver on his promise of dismantling ISIS, a more sophisticated approach to relations in the Gulf region is needed – one which ensures that the logistics of American power projection is protected from whatever disputes Qatar might have with its neighbours.

Correction
On the imagery above, we wrongly identified the 30 Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker as Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Thanks goes out to Youri L for his feedback and the detailed explanation.

Posted in English, Paul Pryce, Qatar, Security Policy | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments