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GCC Detente: Facts, Analysis And Forecasts

GCC Detente: Facts, Analysis And Forecasts

7 JANUARY 2021

GCC Detente: Facts, Analysis, And Forecasts

The unexpected detente between Qatar and its GCC partners saw the full restoration of political ties between them following the end of the over three-year-long blockade against the peninsular nation, but speculation remain about the future of their reconciliation considering the unresolved issue of Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the UAE’s reported umbrage with Saudi Arabia’s decision to go through with all of this despite the uncertainties, though the arrangement will likely survive even if only because its optics serve every involved parties’ interests for the time being at least.

From “Blood Borders” Back To “Brotherhood”?

Analysts have scrambled to interpret the unexpected detente between Qatar and its GCC partners which just saw the restoration of political ties between them following the end of the over three-year-long blockade against the peninsular nation. I analyzed this dispute’s externally provoked divide-and-rule origins in a piece that I published in June 2017 about “The Machiavellian Plot to Provoke Saudi Arabia and Qatar into a ‘Blood Border’ War”, which claimed that the UAE exacerbated tensions between two of its main partners through a fake news hack in order to embroil them in an unnecessary internecine dispute that Abu Dhabi could then exploit in pursuit of its grand strategic ambition to become the Arab World’s next hegemon. Although no kinetic conflict of an international or internal nature ever materialized in either Qatar or Saudi Arabia, reports from last summer confirmed that the former scenario was in the cards until Trump inexplicably quashed it.

Little Sparta’s” Strategy

At any rate, the UAE succeeded in its goal of becoming the most important catalyst of geopolitical change in the Arab World in the years since after Saudi Arabia and Qatar were forced to focus on countering one another instead of leveraging their religious and media influence respectively to advance their regional agendas. Had that not happened, then each on their own might have been able to retain their corresponding edge over the UAE, let alone possibly joined forces to further sideline the overly ambitious state that US military forces once affectionately nicknamed “Little Sparta”. Instead of that happening, they were distracted with one another, which created the space for the UAE to flex to its leadership muscles. It proved its military prowess in the War on Yemen where it also cunningly undercut its Saudi “ally’s” strategy by cultivating South Yemeni separatists, while also brokering peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia as well as pioneering its own “peace” with “Israel”.

Saudi Pragmatism

The recent reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar therefore goes against the UAE’s interests even though it succeeded in buying itself enough time to come out on top as the Arab World’s new unofficial hegemon and the Gulf’s main catalyst of geopolitical change. Nevertheless, the question on everyone’s mind is why Saudi Arabia decided to go through with this in the first place despite Qatar not complying with any of the prior 13 demands that were made of it at the onset of their crisis. The answer can’t be known for sure, but it might very well be that Riyadh realized that the costs of indefinitely continuing this ridiculous feud with Doha far outweigh the expected benefits which nowadays appear further from reach than ever. The Kingdom’s de facto defeat in its War on Yemen, low oil prices as a result of World War C, and its overall regional failures likely contributed to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) deciding to throw in the towel.

The Biden Factor

MBS also fears that he’ll face unprecedented pressure from the US to further scale down his disastrous campaign of destruction in Yemen once Biden takes office (even if the incoming leader only “does the right thing for the wrong reasons”), to say nothing of how worried he is about the possibility that the President-Elect might rejoin the Iranian nuclear deal and subsequently enter into a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic. With these calculations in mind, it makes sense why MBS would go along with Trump’s legacy-solidifying effort to broker “peace” in the Mideast by agreeing to normalize relations with Qatar. The outgoing American leader earns another proverbial feather in his cap while the Saudi one can preempt his incoming American counterpart from weaponizing that dispute against him as part of a forthcoming comprehensive pressure campaign. The UAE, having lost control of events, was begrudgingly forced to go along with them.

Abu Dhabi’s Divide-And-Rule Games Aren’t Over…

It’s not all bad for Abu Dhabi, however, since this detente is mostly superficial as it’s thus far failed to resolve the most contentious issue of dispute: Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood (which is banned as a terrorist group by Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the UAE). Unless Qatar capitulates in this respect, which appears unlikely since a significant share of its soft power is derived from patronizing the organization and its many proxies across the region, then this will remain a divisive variable which could be exploited by the UAE to keep its two “partners” at arm’s length from one another. Furthermore, Doha hasn’t scaled down its relations with Ankara or Tehran which became supercharged as a result of the GCC Cold War, so it hasn’t actually done anything to earn Riyadh’s trust. This will make it all the easier for Abu Dhabi to manipulate the mostly superficial detente between them so that it doesn’t become substantive.

…Or Are They?

That said, one of the sides — be it Qatar or Saudi Arabia — could unilaterally submit to the other in the interests of “regional peace” or whatever else, thereby mitigating the impact of these two currently unresolved but related issues: Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its concomitant closeness with the group’s Turkish and Iranian partners (the latter ties of which are presently unclear but speculated to have improved in recent years). Considering the fact that Saudi Arabia is nowadays weaker than it’s ever been in recent memory, it seems likely that Riyadh might be the one to make “friendly” moves in this direction by simply asking Doha not to support Muslim Brotherhood movements within its borders even if it continues doing so elsewhere. Such a development, which already seems to be in the works behind the scenes given the vagueness of those two countries’ detente, would be extremely detrimental to Abu Dhabi’s divide-and-rule interests.

Keeping Up The Charade

More than likely, however, the GCC detente will probably persist because the optics serve everyone’s interests. Qatar and Saudi Arabia officially patched up their dispute and can now focus on much more important issues of individual and shared interest, the latter of which relates to dealing with the energy market’s global downturn. As for the UAE, it doesn’t want to risk being exposed as the regional spoiler that it’s been over the past few years by making too loud of a fuss about the unresolved status of Qatar’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood or the possibility of Saudi Arabia looking the other way on this due to Riyadh’s recent weakness. It should be said, however, that this second-mentioned factor is largely due to the UAE’s Machiavellian machinations, so it would be a form of blowback if it results in Saudi Arabia passively accepting Qatar’s continued patronage of the Muslim Brotherhood despite Abu Dhabi’s intense aversion to that scenario.

Concluding Thoughts

The unexpected GCC detente caught many observers by surprise, but that’s mostly because few realized just how weak Saudi Arabia had recently become. It can no longer indefinitely remain hyper-focused on Qatar at the expense of its other interests after its regional strategy collapsed as a result of being dragged into this dispute and likely also the War on Yemen due to the UAE’s Machiavellian machinations. It’s unclear whether MBS realizes that he’s been played for a fool by his mentor Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ), or if this will ever even happen, but what’s important to pay attention to is how the Emirati leader responds to this new regional development. It’s the first time in several years that he’s lost control of events, and he certainly isn’t happy about it since he’d have preferred to have his countries’ two “partners” strategically bleed one another dry while his own continues rising in the aftermath. Whether he plays the spoiler or not, only time will tell.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: GCC, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE.


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Russian & Iranian Experts Finally Discussed Their Differences Over Syria

Russian & Iranian Experts Finally Discussed Their Differences Over Syria

28 DECEMBER 2020

Russian & Iranian Experts Finally Discussed Their Differences Over Syria

The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and the Institute for Iran-Eurasia Studies (IRAS) published a joint report addressing their nations’ differences over Syria which finally breaks the taboo about openly discussing them and will hopefully inspire more regular expert interactions on these important issues.

Breaking The Taboo

It had hitherto been taboo for many in the Alt-Media Community to discuss the differences between Russia and Iran in Syria for fear of unwittingly playing into the West’s divide-and-rule scheme against two of its main rivals, yet the failure to publicly discuss them led to the creation of an alternative reality whereby many people felt pressured by the community’s gatekeepers to imagine that no such differences even exist. This “political correctness” amounted to a de facto policy of censorship that in turn led to the creation of terribly inaccurate analyses about those two’s relations in the Arab Republic. That’s thankfully beginning to change, however, after experts from the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and the Institute for Iran-Eurasia Studies (IRAS) published a joint report last week titled “Russia and Iran in Syria and Beyond: Challenges Ahead”. This publication sends the message that it’s finally acceptable to publicly discuss their problems in Syria, especially Russia’s close relations with “Israel”, and will hopefully inspire more regular expert interactions on these issues.

Three Main Challenges

The 32-page document is much too detailed to concisely summarize so interested observers should read it in full at their convenience. For those who don’t have the time to do so, then the main point is that Russian-Iranian relations in Syria have thankfully shown more resilience than their critics expected, but some serious divergences remain despite several significant convergences. Both sides for the most part have shared views on multipolarity, anti-terrorism, and regional security, but they don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to Syria’s ultimate political settlement, the countries participating in Syria’s reconstruction, and Russia’s excellent relations with “Israel”. These three issues serve as a major impediment to their closer coordination in that conflict, yet the Russian side seems to underestimate just how uncomfortable the last two issues make Iran feel. This is obvious after reading the report, which is divided into a jointly published introduction followed by a comprehensive elaboration of the Iranian and Russian points of view.

Sidestepping Iran’s Most Serious Concerns

The introduction admittedly acknowledges all three of these issues, including the threats that Iran feels from growing Gulf participation in Syria’s reconstruction process and its very deep suspicions that Russia secretly supports “Israel’s” regular strikes against it and its allies’ forces there, but the Russian experts don’t do much to address these concerns other than repeat the platitude that Russia’s intention to be an “honest broker” stabilizes regional affairs. Iran, meanwhile, didn’t shy away from sharing two particularly blunt assessments about Russian intentions in Syria. Their side wrote that “For Russia, which in some cases ignored Assad in the past, removing Assad and replacing him with a figure who does not have his problems, and yet preserves his legacy, is probably a better option” (than keeping him in office). They also condemned Russia’s close ties with “Israel” as “the only dark point in Iran-Russia relations in Syria.” Moreover, they questioned why Syria still hasn’t been able to use the much-vaunted S-300s that Russia dispatched in 2018 to defend it from “Israel”.

The China Factor

Another interesting point to take note of was Iran’s suggestion to include China in a forthcoming international conference on Syria’s reconstruction, the proposal of which was completely ignored by the Russian side which instead focused on the importance of securing Arab and European support instead. It might just be an innocent omission on Moscow’s part, but it could also possibly signal that the Eurasian Great Power wants to ensure that the People’s Republic doesn’t reap the economic dividends that Russian military power was responsible for creating. Russia might believe that it could “indirectly manage/supervise” Arab and European investments in Syria but might not be able to do so when it comes to Chinese ones, potentially losing control of the reconstruction process. From the Iranian perspective, China is a much more reliable investment partner for the Islamic Republic than Russia is, and Tehran might believe that including Beijing into this framework could lead to the eventual dilution of some of the more “politically unsavory” aspects of Moscow’s policies in Syria.

Quid Pro Quo

This interpretation of the implied messages that Iran seems to be sending through its joint publication with Russia isn’t just the author’s wild speculation like some critics might instinctively claim, but is actually a pretty accurate reflection of the intentions that the Russian side explicitly laid out in the text. Not only did it practically dismiss Iran’s concerns about their country’s relations with “Israel” apart from passively touching upon them in the jointly written introduction, but they also expressed frustration with Damascus over its “inflexibility” in their section on Russia’s viewpoints towards the conflict, thus hinting at a degree of unease over the Syrian leader’s uncompromising position on certain issues. Moreover, a Russian expert unambiguously wrote that “Russia has already made significant investments in Syria, and it needs to reap the economic benefits in the form of different contracts, access to resources, exploration of shale oil and gas off the Syrian coast”, thus making it clear that Moscow feels that it deserves to retain a privileged economic position in the Arab Republic.

The Ball’s In Damascus’ Court

These differences — for as important as they are — don’t seem to be insurmountable though and could be more effectively managed by Syria playing a larger role in balancing between its two top allies. President Assad doesn’t have to politically compromise for anyone, be it Russia or whoever else, no matter how difficult the circumstances have become. Damascus, however, also isn’t in a position to force Moscow to militarily take its side against Tel Aviv, but it can continue to expand its military ties with Tehran through the planned purchase of anti-air and other defense systems in order to boost its deterrence capabilities independently of Russia. Syria, which desperately needs as much reconstruction aid as possible, also probably won’t turn down any Gulf offers so long as there aren’t any political strings attached such as weakening its relations with Iran. What it can do, however, is directly reach out to China to include it in Iran’s proposed international conference on this topic in order to reassure the Islamic Republic that Damascus is listening to its concerns.

Concluding Thoughts

However one personally feels about the several key challenges to Russian-Iranian relations in Syria, the very fact that they’re being so frankly discussed at the highest levels of both countries’ academic communities shows that the prior taboo on publicly talking about them has finally been broken. Whether it’s Iranian experts’ speculation about Russia’s true stance towards President Assad’s political future and the imperfect nature of Moscow’s “balancing” act between their country and “Israel”, or Russia’s efforts “to ensure the actions of Damascus and Tehran are well-coordinated and do not sabotage Moscow’s initiatives” behind its back like one of its experts fears might be happening, everyone in the Alt-Media Community should now feel comfortable talking about these issues in the open. Ignoring these problems won’t make them go away; to the contrary, that previously implied policy of “political correctness” arguably made them much worse. Now that they’re being tackled head-on by Russian and Iranian experts, it’s time for everyone else to address them as well.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Russia, Syria, Iran, Assad, Israel, China, GCC, Balancing.


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The Sudanese-‘Israeli’ Peace Deal Required Lots Of Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering

The Sudanese-‘Israeli’ Peace Deal Required Lots Of Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering

29 OCTOBER 2020

The Sudanese-

The Sudanese-”Israeli” peace deal isn’t a spontaneous act of reconciliation like it’s misportrayed by some as being but the result of lots of behind-the-scenes maneuvering including last year’s military coup and recent reports that Saudi Arabia will secretly pay Sudan’s agreed-upon $335 million in compensation to US victims of terrorism.

The Road To Recognition

Sudan, which was once ruled by one of the most anti-Zionist governments in the world, announced that it’ll normalize “relations” with “Israel” following the planned signing of a US-brokered peace deal between the two decades-long foes. This wasn’t a spontaneous act of reconciliation like it’s misportrayed by some as being but the result of lots of behind-the-scenes maneuvering over the past few years. It’s important to trace the sequence of events in order to obtain a better understanding of how something as significant as this development came about. It wasn’t by any means an impulsive decision, but one that was at least several years in the making and entirely the result of external meddling into Sudanese affairs.

The Yemen Factor

Former President Bashir was deposed in a military coup last year during large-scale protests reportedly as a result of his armed forces’ refusal to use violent force for dispersing the increasingly riotous unrest. Prior to that “deep state”-driven regime change, the country had gradually aligned itself with the GCC throughout the course of its ongoing War on Yemen, having previously been more closely affiliated with Iran in the years prior. The North African state’s “pariah” status due to its earlier hosting of Osama Bin Laden and support of militant anti-Zionist causes abroad gave it few options other than partnering with the Islamic Republic and China. The War on Yemen, however, was the cynical “opportunity” to change all of that, or so President Bashir thought.

The large-scale dispatch of Sudanese troops and mercenaries to the conflict zone coincided with the country cutting its ties with Iran in January 2016, after which it was for all intents and purposes under the GCC’s near-total influence. The period from that moment until the military coup can be interpreted in hindsight as the time when that not-so-secretly-”Israeli”-backed military bloc extended its sway throughout the country, relying on its newfound leverage over the powerful armed forces. This set the stage for the regime change that would later follow and subsequently transform Sudan into a GCC protectorate for lack of a better description. Its new GCC-allied military leadership then began to seriously consider “normalizing” ties with “Israel” in earnest.

The stumbling block to the country’s removal from international isolation has always been its designation by the US as a so-called “state sponsor of terrorism”. Former President Bashir mistakenly thought that this could be nixed in exchange for contributing so much to the GCC’s War on Yemen, yet that never materialized since the real quid pro quo was recognition of “Israel”, which would have generated even more serious unrest than the anti-government protests that uncontrollably spread throughout the country in spring 2019. For that reason, the former leader refused to take such a fateful step, though it was ultimately his undoing since he might have been able to secure the military’s loyalty in the face of those regime change riots had he done so.

The GCC’s “Deep State” Scheme

The only way for him to have politically survived that unrest would have been for the military to support his reported decision to use lethal force in quelling them. They didn’t though, not because they sympathized with the protesters, but because they were no longer loyal to the country’s internationally recognized leader due to the massive inroads that the “Israeli”-backed GCC made in flipping this “deep state” institution against him over the preceding years. It wasn’t actually former President Bashir’s decision to make upon thinking about it, but the GCC’s, and they needed him removed in order to advance the “deal of the century”.

It’s unclear whether or not they played a role in inciting the regime change unrest at the time, but they almost certainly ensured that it wouldn’t be quelled by the armed forces that were more loyal to the GCC than to former President Bashir. Upon his removal, the military leadership then sought to recognize “Israel” with the GCC’s support, but Sudan first had to be removed from the US’ “state sponsors of terrorism” list, which is where Saudi Arabia comes in. Although the UAE is arguably the stronger of the two GCC leaders right now, Saudi Arabia still regards itself as the bloc’s “big brother”, which might be why reports have recently circulated that it offered to pay Sudan’s agreed-upon $335 million compensation to US victims of terrorism and their families.

Although it can’t be known for certain, those reports certainly seem credible since Sudan is among the world’s most impoverished nations and couldn’t realistically afford to pay such an enormous sum without some sort of secret support. Iran described the planned payment as a “ransom” to be taken off of the US’ “state sponsors of terrorism” list, which is actually a pretty accurate description even though it seems like it’s Saudi Arabia that’ll end up paying this fee instead of Sudan. Some Sudanese seem to agree with this assessment as evidenced by former Prime Minister Mahdi’s condemnation of it. His criticism is notable since he currently heads the country’s largest political party and presumably reflects popular sentiment in this respect.

The American Agenda

Without paying this “ransom” (regardless of whoever ultimately foots the bill), Sudan would never have been taken off the US’ list, which in turn would have created uncomfortable optics for “Israel” if a state regarded by the American government as a “state sponsor of terrorism” officially recognized it. For this reason, it can be surmised that the real quid pro quo was recognition of “Israel” by the post-coup military authorities in exchange for Saudi Arabia secretly paying its agreed-upon compensation, with the end result being the deepening of the “Israeli”-GCC axis’ influence in a geostrategic part of Africa. From an American perspective, this is the ideal outcome since it satisfies all of the US’ interests.

A former leader who had previously partnered with Iran was removed under the pretext of a “patriotic” military “restoring democracy” in accordance with the “people’s will”, which thus provides the cover for it go against the legitimate will of the people by subsequently recognizing “Israel”. The protests that this move might provoke could easily be put down by the “democratic military” with lethal force like they could have done in spring 2019 when confronted with the regime change riots but instead chose not to do out of loyalty to their “Israeli”-backed GCC patrons. Back then without any public decision to recognize “Israel”, it would have been condemned by the West as a crime against humanity, yet now it can be ignored or even justified by them.

The lessons to be learned from this are several. The first is that authoritarian states (the objective description of which shouldn’t be interpreted as expressing any value judgement) are most easily influenced through their “deep states”, particularly their military and intelligence factions. Second, economically desperate states impoverished by years of intense sanctions might try to break their “isolation” by participating in foreign military adventures, which in turn inadvertently leads to their “deep states” being co-opted by their newfound “partners”. Third, this external meddling can be exploited during times of national crisis to encourage regime change which finally leads to the targeted state coming under the full control of a foreign government.

Concluding Thoughts

Looking forward, this model could realistically be repeated elsewhere across the world, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll always succeed. Former President Bashir’s biggest mistake was thinking that allying with the “Israeli”-backed GCC would eventually provide an exit from international “isolation”. What he should have instead done was double down on relations with China while staying out of the War on Yemen. Even if he still went through with cutting off ties with Iran as a “goodwill gesture” towards the GCC, he could have still retained enough strategic autonomy through an enhanced partnership with China to remain in office, deliver economic benefits to his people, and enable Sudan to retain its de-facto independence instead of become someone else’s proxy.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

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