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Lebanon, a need for a systemic change

A demonstration in Beirut as part of 2019 protests [Wikimedia Commons]

▲ A demonstration in Beirut as part of 2019 protests [Wikimedia Commons]

ESSAYDavid España Font

1. Introduction

A shared feeling has been rising across the globe for the last three years, but with special strength during the last six months. The demonstrations since February in Algeria, since September in Egypt, Indonesia, Peru or Haiti, and in Chile, Iraq or Lebanon since October are just some manifestations of this feeling. The primary objective of this essay will not be to find a correlation among all demonstrations but rather to focus on the Lebanese governmental collapse. The collapse of the Lebanese government is one example of the widespread failure most politicians in the Middle East have to meet public needs.[i]

Regarding the protests that have been taking place in Egypt and the Levant, it is key to differentiate these uprisings from the so-called Arab Spring that took place in 2011, and which caused a scene of chaos all over the region, leading to the collapse of many regimes.[ii] The revolutionary wave from 2011, became a spark that precipitated into many civil wars such as those in Libya, Yemen or Syria. It is important to note that, the uprisings that are taking place at the moment are happening in the countries that did not fall into civil war when the Arab Spring of 2011 took place.

This essay will put the focus on the issue of whether the political power in Lebanon is legitimate, or it should be changed. Are the Lebanese aiming at a change in leadership or rather at a systemic change in their political system? This essay id divided into four different parts. First, a brief introduction summarizes the development of the October demonstrations. Second, it throws a quick overview into recent political history, starting from the formation of the Lebanese state. Third, it will approach the core question, namely which type of change is required. Finally, a brief conclusion sums up the key ideas.

2. October 2019

On Thursday October 17th, thousands of people jumped into the streets of Beirut to protest against political corruption, the nepotism of the public sector and the entrenched political class. There hadn’t been a manifestation of public discontent as big as this one since the end of the civil war in 1990. The demonstration was sparked by the introduction of a package of new taxes, one of which aimed at WhatsApp calls.[iii] Roads were blocked for ten days in a row while citizens kept demanding for the entire political class to resign. Although, apparently, the demands were the same as those forwarded in 2011, the protests might have been looking more for a change in the whole political system than for mere changes in leadership.

It must not be forgotten the fact that Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, warned that such protests could lead to another civil war and that the right to demonstrate had to be abolished as soon as possible. He literally stated: “I’m not threatening anyone, I’m describing the situation. We are not afraid for the resistance; we are afraid for the country.”[iv] Certainly, a change in the political power could make   such a power notably stronger, Hezbollah is now enjoying the weakness of the Lebanese political power and prefers to maintain the status quo.

This arising conflict must be analysed bearing in mind the very complicated governmental structure which seems to be very effective towards conflict avoidance, but not towards development and progress. The country is governed by a power-sharing system aimed at guaranteeing political representation for all the country's 18 sects.[v] Lebanon’s government is designed to provide political representation of all Lebanese religious groups, the largest ones being the Maronites, the Shiite and the Sunni. The numbers of seats in the Parliament is allotted among the different denominations within each religion. The President must always be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the Speaker of Parliament as Shiite.[vi]

Therefore, it goes without saying that the structure of the political power is designed for survival rather than for coexistence. Each representative is inclined to use his position in favour of the interest of the sects that he belongs to instead of that of the national, common interest. There is no chance for common policies to be agreed as long as any of these interfere with the preferences of any one of the sects.

3. A quick overview into recent history

Since the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire managed to control all the region today known as Levant and Egypt. However, the area known as Mount Lebanon remained out of its direct influence[vii]. The region became a self-governed area controlled by powerful Christian Maronite families. Because the Ottoman Empire did not allow European Christians to settle in the territory and benefit from trading activities, the Europeans used the Lebanese Maronites as their commercial representatives.[viii] This was one of the main ways how the European legacy penetrated the region, and one of the reasons that explains why Christians in Lebanon and Syria had a good command of French even before the arrival of the French mandate, and why they became, and still are, richer than the Muslims.

Following World War I, the League of Nations awarded France the mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman province of Syria, which included the region of the Mount Lebanon. This was a consequence of the signature in 1916 of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, by which the British and the French divided the Middle East into two areas put under their control. The British would control the South, and the French the North.[ix]

In 1920 the French carved out the region of Lebanon from their mandated area. The region would later be granted the independence in 1943. The means of such demarcation had as primary objective the guarantee and protection of the Christian’s free and independent existence in the Muslim Arab world, not even the protection of their rights but rather the recognition of their existence. Since the very first moment of Lebanon’s establishment as a separate territory from Syria, Sunni Muslims rejected the very idea of a Lebanese state which was perceived as an act of French colonialism with the objective of dividing and weakening what was perceived to be the united Arab Nation.[x]

Because the preservation of the greater Lebanon was the primary objective for the Christians and they were not going to give up that objective for the sake of a united Arab Nation, a gap between the Maronite and the Sunni communities opened that had to be closed. The legal agreement that came up from efforts in this sense came to be known as the National Pact of 1943 “al-Mithaq al-Watani.”[xi] At the heart of the negotiations was on the one hand the Christians' fear of being overwhelmed by the Arab countries, and on the other hand the Muslims' fear of Western hegemony. In return for the Christian to accept Lebanon's "Arab face," the Muslim side agreed to recognize the independence and legitimacy of the Lebanese state in its 1920 boundaries and to renounce aspirations for union with Syria.[xii]

With hindsight, the pact may be assessed as the least bad political option that could be reached at this time. However, as mentioned earlier, this pact has led to a development of the governmental structure that doesn’t lead to political construction and development but rather to mere survival.

4. Change in leadership or systemic change?

The issue at stake is very much related to the legitimacy that could be given to the Lebanese political power. In order to tackle this issue, a basic approach to these terms is a must.

The concept of political power is very vague and might be difficult to find a set definition for it; the basic approach could be “a power exercised in a political community for the attainment of the ends that pertain to the community.”[xiii] In order to be political, power inherently requires  legitimacy. When the power is fully adapted to the community, only then this power can be considered a political power and therefore, a legitimate power.[xiv] While it is possible to legitimize a power that is divided into a wide variety of sects, it cannot be denied that such power is not fully adapted to the community, but simply divided between the different communities.

Perhaps, the issue in this case is that there cannot be such a thing as “a community” for the different sects that conform the Lebanese society. Perry Anderson[xv] states that in 2005, the Saudi Crown reintroduced the millionaire Rafik Hariri into the Lebanese politics getting him to become prime minister. In return, Hariri had to allow the Salafists to preach in Sunni villages and cities, up to the point that his son, Saad, does not manage to control the Sunni community any longer. How is it possible to avoid such a widespread division of sects in a region where politics of influence are played by every minimally significant power?

Furthermore, in order to be legitimate, power must safeguard the political community. However, going deeper into the matter, it is essential that a legitimate power transcends the simple function of safeguarding and assumes the responsibility of maintaining the development of the community. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, in this case there might be no such thing as a community; therefore, the capacity of the political power in this specific case, legitimacy might be link to the idea of leading the project of building and developing such idea of community under one united political entity. Possibly, the key to achieve a sense of community might be the abolition of confession-based politics however…is it possible?

Additionally, another reason for which I do not believe that there is a full politization of the state is because it has still not transitioned from power, understood as force, into power understood as order. The mere presence of an Iranian backed militia in the country which does have a notable degree of influence on the political decisions doesn’t allow for such an important change to happen. In the theory, the state should recover the full control of military power however, the reality is that Lebanon does need the military efforts of the Shiite militia.  

Finally, a last way to understand the legitimacy of the power can be through acceptance. Legitimacy consists on the consent given to the power, which implies the disposition to obey of the community, and the acceptance of the capacity to force, of the power[xvi]. Until now there has been acceptance. However, being these protests the biggest ones seen since the end of the civil war, it is an important factor to bear in mind. It might be that these protests delegitimize the political power, or they might simply reflect the euphoric hit that many of these events tend to cause before disappearing.

5. Conclusion

After three months since the beginning of the protests, it seems that steps have been taken backwards rather than forwards. Could Hariri’s resignation mean a step forward towards the construction of the community and the abolition of the sectarian division?

The key idea is the nature of the 1943 agreement. The Pact’s core idea was to help overcome any philosophical divisions between the two main communities, the Christian and the Sunni. The Christians were not willing to accept a united Arab Nation with Syria, and the Muslims were not willing to be fully ruled by the Christians. However, 80 years later, the importance of confessionalism in the political structure is still there, it has not diminished.

To sum up, there are two additional ideas to be emphasised. One is that Lebanon was created in order to remain a non-Muslim state in an Arab world, the second one is that the principal reason for stating that the political powers in the Arab world have so little legitimacy is because of the intrusion of other regional powers in the nation’s construction of a community and the persistent war that is being fought between the Sunni and the Shiite in the region in

[i] B. Alterman, J. (2019). Lebanon’s Government Collapses. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from 

[ii] B. Alterman, J. (2019). Lebanon’s Government Collapses. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from

[iii] B. Alterman, J. (2019). Lebanon’s Government Collapses. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from

[iv] B. Alterman, J. (2019). Lebanon’s Government Collapses. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from

[v] CIA. (2019). World Factbook (p. Lebanese government). USA.

[vi] CIA. (2019). World Factbook (p. Lebanese government). USA.

[vii] Hourani, A. (2013). A history of the Arab peoples (p.). London: Faber and Faber.

[viii] el-Khazen, F. (1991). The Comnlunal Pact of National Identities: The Making and Politics of the 1943 National Pact [Ebook] (1st ed., pp. 7, 13, 14, 49, 52,). Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies, Oxford. Retrieved from

[ix] Taber, A. (2016). The lines that bind (1st ed.). Washington: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

[x] el-Khazen, F. (1991). The Comnlunal Pact of National Identities: The Making and Politics of the 1943 National Pact [Ebook] (1st ed., pp. 7, 13, 14, 49, 52,). Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies, Oxford. Retrieved from

[xi] el-Khazen, F. (1991). The Comnlunal Pact of National Identities: The Making and Politics of the 1943 National Pact [Ebook] (1st ed., pp. 7, 13, 14, 49, 52,). Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies, Oxford. Retrieved from

[xii] Thomas Collelo, ed. Lebanon: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1987.

[xiii] Zemsky, B. (2019). 2000 [Blog]

[xiv] Cruz Prados, A. (2000). Ethos y Polis (2nd ed., pp. 377-400). Pamplona: EUNSA.

[xv] Mourad, S. El mosaico del islam: una conversación con Perry Anderson (1st ed., pp. 81-82). Madrid: Siglo XXI de España Editores, S. A., 2018.

[xvi] Jarvis Thomson, J. (1990). The Realm of Rights (1st ed., p. 359). Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

ISIS: Armas de seducción masiva

[Javier Lesaca, Armas de seducción masiva. Ediciones Península, 2017. 312 páginas]

 

RESEÑAAlejandro Palacios Jiménez

¿Qué es lo que le lleva a un joven a abandonar a sus amigos y familia y a despojarse libremente de sus sueños para unirse al Estado Islámico? Con esta pregunta en mente, Javier Lesaca nos sumerge en esta narrativa en la que se disecciona el aparato comunicativo que utiliza el ISIS para ganar adeptos y extender sus ideas e influencia a través del Califato virtual.

Gracias a su amplia trayectoria profesional, el autor muestra en Armas de seducción masiva un alto grado de profundidad y análisis, el cual no está reñido con una narrativa amena y convincente. Javier Lesaca Esquiroz (Pamplona, 1981), licenciado en Periodismo por la Universidad de Navarra, trabaja como investigador en el Observatorio Internacional de Estudios sobre Terrorismo. Su amplio conocimiento sobre el tema le ha permitido desempeñar labores en organismos como el Banco Mundial, el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo o el Gobierno de Navarra. Experiencias laborales que complementa con la participación en foros como el Consejo de Seguridad de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) o el Diálogo Euro-Árabe de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura (UNESCO).

Su principal hipótesis es que la crisis de credibilidad en las instituciones tradicionales, potenciada por la crisis económica y financiera de 2008 y palpable en el movimiento 15-O, unido a la revolución tecnológica del siglo XXI, ha permitido al Estado Islámico (ISIS, por sus siglas en inglés; o Dáesh, por su nomenclatura árabe) influir de una manera nunca antes vista en las percepciones de los ciudadanos occidentales, en concreto en las de los millenials. Estos, que no se sienten representados por sus respectivas instituciones estatales, buscan sentirse importantes y participar en un proyecto nuevo que les ayude a dar sentido a sus vidas y a levantarse cada día por una causa por la que valga la pena luchar. Y Dáesh les ofrece justamente eso.

Armas de seducción masiva

Pero, ¿qué es Dáesh? Lejos de explicaciones históricas y religiosas, Lesaca nos presenta una respuesta inédita: el Estado Islámico encarna lo que se denomina el terrorismo moderno, el cual utiliza instrumentos propios de las nuevas generaciones para hacer llegar sus mensajes. En otras palabras, Dáesh se presenta como un movimiento social global que utiliza campañas de comunicación locales que se difunden en todo el mundo y cuyos actos terroristas se usan como mera “performance” dentro de toda una estrategia de comunicación más amplia. Así, Dáesh se define como un movimiento sin líderes que, paradójicamente, se aleja de los elementos más puramente religiosos para adecuarse así a las inquietudes de la audiencia juvenil a la que planean seducir.

El hecho de ser un movimiento descabezado no implica que internamente no esté organizado. Al contrario, el ISIS es un grupo terrorista que utiliza las redes sociales de manera muy eficaz y que cuya estructura interna le permite no solo influir, sino también estar en posesión de algunos medios de comunicación. Su estrategia consiste tanto en desarrollar medios propios como en utilizar lo que se llaman los “medios ganados”. Los primeros hacen referencia a la gran estructura comunicativa de Dáesh fundamentada en: notas de prensa, infografías, reportajes fotográficos, revistas en diferentes idiomas, la agencia de noticias Al Amaaq, radio Al Bayan, producciones musicales Ajnabá, la página web Isdarat (clausurada), productoras audiovisuales y el marketing offline en algunos lugares de Irak y Siria (vallas, carteles publicitarios o cibercafés). Por su parte, los medios ganados se miden en función de las veces que el grupo terrorista consigue que sus acciones condicionen la agenda de los medios de comunicación tradicionales.

El uso de tal cantidad de vías de comunicación con el objetivo de crear un mundo paralelo, que sus activistas llaman el Califato, y de segmentar geográficamente a la audiencia para modificar el encuadre del mensaje –todo ello amparándose en torticeras interpretaciones del Corán–, es lo que se conoce como terrorismo transmedia. Para hacer que esta estrategia sea lo más eficaz posible, nada se deja a la improvisación. Un ejemplo que se muestra en el libro es el del control que el todopoderoso productor ejecutivo sirio Abu Mohamed Adnani, amigo del líder del califato, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, ejercía sobre sus subordinados, a los cuales les supervisaba y aprobaba los contenidos y mensajes que ISIS transmitía a la opinión pública. Tanto es así que Adnani fue considerado por Occidente como el hombre que de facto ejerció el verdadero liderazgo diario dentro de la organización terrorista hasta su muerte en 2016.

Toda esta estrategia comunicativa es desgranada en el libro de manera precisa gracias a la gran cantidad de ejemplos concretos que el autor aporta sobre matanzas que Dáesh ha llevado a cabo desde su existencia y de la manera en que estas han sido transmitidas. En este sentido, Lesaca pone énfasis en la eficacia con la que el ISIS, haciendo uso de los nuevos medios de comunicación, camufla ejecuciones reales entre imágenes de videojuegos (Call of Duty) o de películas de ficción (Saw, Juegos del hambre, Sin City) para así difuminar la línea que separa la realidad de la ficción, creando lo que se denomina una narrativa transmedia. La idea es simple: ¿cómo te van a parecer crueles estas imágenes si son parecidas a las que ves en una sala de cine comiendo palomitas?

En última instancia, Javier Lesaca intenta definir una estrategia útil para hacer frente al terrorismo del futuro. Él asegura que no está claro de qué herramientas se deben dotar los Estados para hacer frente a esta nueva forma de terrorismo. Sin embargo, una buena forma de hacerlo sería poniendo de moda la democracia, es decir, reforzar los valores que han permitido la construcción de la sociedad del bienestar y el desarrollo del mayor periodo de prosperidad de nuestra historia. “El Estado Islámico ha conseguido ganar la victoria de la estética, es por ello que debemos conseguir que valores como la democracia, libertad e igualdad sean productos culturales atractivos”, afirma Lesaca. Pero no sólo basta con esto, dice. Además, “debemos impulsar el fortalecimiento institucional mediante la erradicación de la corrupción y la puesta en marcha de políticas que permitan crear una economía capaz de absorber todo el talento de las nuevas generaciones y conseguir una gestión eficaz de los servicios públicos”.

En resumen, se trata de un libro de conveniente a lectura para todos aquellos que se quieran familiarizar con la organización interna y estructuras del poder de Dáesh, sus objetivos y los medios que este grupo utiliza para su consecución. Además, resulta una guía valiosísima para el estudio y posterior reacción de Occidente a las campañas de comunicación no solo del Estado Islámico, sino también de posteriores organizaciones terroristas las cuales formarán parte de lo que ya se denomina el terrorismo moderno.

“Sin la guerra en Ucrania no habría habido intervención rusa en Siria”

Entrevista con el embajador Francisco Pascual de la Parte, autor de “El imperio que regresa. La Guerra de Ucrania 2014-2017” 

Francisco Pascual de la Parte, durante la presentación de su libro [Manuel Castells]

▲ Francisco Pascual de la Parte, durante la presentación de su libro [Manuel Castells]

ENTREVISTAVitaliy Stepanyuk

Pocos tienen un conocimiento tan directo de las relaciones de Rusia con Ucrania y otros territorios de la antigua URSS como Francisco Pascual de la Parte, quien ha sido ministro-consejero de la Embajada de España en Moscú, embajador en Kazajstán y cónsul general en San Petersburgo, entre otros destinos. Es autor del libro “El imperio que regresa. La Guerra de Ucrania 2014-2017”. Durante su presentación en la Universidad de Navarra, Global Affairs pudo conversar extensamente con el diplomático español sobre la crisis ucraniana y la política exterior rusa.

1. Desde el punto de vista de la geopolítica de la región, ¿quiénes son los principales actores?

Los principales actores en la crisis ucraniana se dividen en dos grupos: los que participan directamente en el conflicto armado y los que no participan en él, pero sí intervienen en la crisis. Los principales actores, obviamente, son el Gobierno ucraniano y los separatistas de las autoproclamadas Repúblicas pro-rusas del Donbass (regiones de Donetsk y Lugansk), respaldados y armados por Rusia.

En un segundo círculo concéntrico, los actores son Ucrania y Rusia, que se ha anexionado Crimea en respuesta al derrocamiento del presidente ucraniano pro-ruso Viktor Yanukovich, y que, como digo, apoya además a los separatistas ucranianos.

En un tercer círculo concéntrico, se sitúa la discrepancia entre Rusia y la Unión Europea (UE), que estima ilegal la anexión de Crimea y la intervención rusa en el Donbass, por lo que ha impuesto sanciones económicas, respondidas por Rusia.

En un cuarto círculo concéntrico tenemos una rivalidad entre Rusia y Estados Unidos, que acusa a Moscú de violar la integridad territorial de Ucrania y menoscabar con ello la seguridad en Europa. Este enfrentamiento tiene consecuencias para todo el planeta, ya que genera desconfianza y hostilidad entre ambas superpotencias que repercute en sus relaciones mutuas, fundamentalmente en los tratados de desarme y en sus posiciones en crisis como las de Siria, Corea del Norte, Venezuela y cualquier parte del mundo.

Por último, tenemos el enfrentamiento entre Rusia y la OTAN, a la que Rusia imputa la iniciativa hostil de haberse extendido hacia el Este, provocando con ello la reacción rusa cuando, teóricamente, tras la caída de la URSS, la OTAN había prometido no llevar a cabo su ampliación.

Todos estos son los actores. Unos participan en el primer círculo concéntrico, otros en el segundo y otros en todos.

2. En relación con la pregunta anterior, ¿cuál es el principal objetivo en esta lucha?

La respuesta a esta pregunta dependerá del actor en el que nos centremos. Obviamente no persiguen lo mismo los líderes de las repúblicas rebeldes que el Gobierno ucraniano o que el Gobierno ruso. En mi opinión, el régimen ruso persigue garantizar su seguridad mediante la recuperación del rango de gran potencia. Al controlar el espacio postsoviético e impulsar la Unión Económica Euroasiática (UEE) incluyendo a Ucrania, Rusia preveía fortalecer su posición internacional. Pero al negarse Ucrania a formar parte de la UEE y preferir una Asociación con la UE de Bruselas, ese plan de Rusia quedó muy dañado. En otras palabras, como decía Brzezinski, antiguo consejero de Seguridad Nacional de Estados Unidos, Rusia con Ucrania es un imperio, pero sin Ucrania es un estado normal. Pero como no se resigna a ser un Estado normal, no quiere perder el control sobre Ucrania. Rusia estima que sólo así puede garantizar su seguridad.

El fin que persiguen las autoproclamadas Repúblicas de Donetsk y Lugansk no está muy claro, porque ha ido cambiando con el tiempo. Primero era la autonomía, después la independencia, después la anexión a Rusia y después otra vez la autonomía. Varios de los líderes que proclamaban la independencia han desaparecido en extrañas circunstancias, siendo reemplazados por otros líderes.

En este momento el liderazgo de esas repúblicas está enteramente bajo el control de Moscú. Teóricamente, de ello habría que concluir que el fin de la Repúblicas de Donetsk y Lugansk es el mismo que el fin de los líderes rusos. Pero yo no estoy tan seguro, ya que había dirigentes en los gobiernos de esas repúblicas que, al principio, querían otro tipo de Estado. Es decir, no formar parte de Ucrania, pero tampoco de Rusia, aunque dieran primacía a la relación con esta. Una especie de Estado que fuera autónomo tanto de Rusia como de Ucrania, pero dentro del denominado “mundo ruso”: conjunto de pautas culturales, creencias y costumbres que identifican al pueblo ruso, basado en los valores tradicionales de la Rusia de los zares. Algunos de sus líderes más nacional-patriotas propugnaron, tras proclamar la secesión, fidelidad a la ortodoxia, protección a la familia, prohibición de los abortos, el juego, la prostitución, el divorcio… En fin, un gobierno que no hubiera encontrado encaje ni en una Ucrania integrada en la UE, abierta, por tanto, a asimilar la ideología de género y otros valores contrarios al “mundo ruso”, ni en una Rusia como la actual, que ellos consideraban gobernada por excomunistas descreídos y antiguos jefes de los servicios de inteligencia soviéticos. Los primeros dirigentes separatistas rebautizaron a su nuevo Estado como “Novorrossiya”, retomando el nombre de la Ucrania Oriental en la época zarista, cuyos territorios habían sido conquistados por Catalina la Grande a los turcos y a los cosacos ucranianos en el siglo XVIII.

Pero ese plan no pareció convenir a Rusia. En un momento dado, Moscú dejó de apoyar el “proyecto Novorrossiya” y provocó el reemplazo de los dirigentes que lo propugnaban. ¿Por qué? Muchos analistas estiman que el surgimiento de un Estado como Novorrosiya hubiera dado alas a la ya poderosa corriente nacionalista rusa de extrema derecha (propugnada, entre otros, por Alexander Duguin) que acusaba a Putin de traición por no haber invadido sin contemplaciones toda Ucrania, y fomentaría el surgimiento dentro de la misma Rusia de iniciativas análogas en otros territorios de la Federación Rusa donde los elementos tradicionalistas nacional-patrióticos tuvieran apoyo popular. En consecuencia, Rusia pareció optar por mantener esas repúblicas dentro de Ucrania, pero controladas por ella o, en caso extremo, proceder a una anexión de facto. Ambas soluciones le beneficiaban, pues impedían que Ucrania pudiera incorporarse a la OTAN y que tuviera suficiente margen de maniobra como Estado soberano, al tener dentro el caballo de Troya de esas repúblicas, controladas por dirigentes afines al Kremlin. 

El fin que persigue la UE es la estabilidad y prosperidad en su frontera oriental, exportando a las repúblicas ex-soviéticas sus programas de reformas económicas y políticas. Para ello, la UE puso en marcha su programa denominado “Partenariado Oriental” con varias de esas repúblicas. Cuantos más países de la antigua Unión Soviética asimilen los principios de la UE (Derechos Humanos, elecciones transparentes, igualdad ante la ley, ausencia de privilegios de casta, etc.) más segura estará la frontera oriental y más podrá extenderse el mercado europeo hacia esos países, incorporándolos gradualmente. En definitiva, para la UE la finalidad sería la estabilidad de la frontera Este, la extensión a los países de Europa Oriental de los principios que han dado origen a la UE y la expansión a ellos de su área de seguridad y prosperidad. 

Para EEUU, el principal objetivo sería el impedir que la URSS se reconstruya bajo otro nombre y vuelva a ser un factor de inestabilidad para las democracias. EEUU ha visto cómo poco a poco el control o la influencia rusa en antiguas regiones y repúblicas soviéticas ha aumentado y cómo estas han ido siendo recuperadas por Moscú, una tras otra. Primero fue Abjasia, luego Transnistria, luego Osetia del Sur…, amén de la influencia rusa en Bielorrusia, Kazajistán, Tayikistán, Kirguistán y, ahora, Ucrania, tras la anexión de Crimea y el control del Donbass. Algunos analistas observan ese proceso como una reconstrucción del control de Moscú sobre el espacio post-soviético, como ocurría bajo la URSS. Frente a ello, Washington sostiene que cada país tiene derecho a elegir libremente el organismo internacional y el sistema de seguridad colectiva al que quiere pertenecer, por lo que Rusia no tiene derecho de veto sobre la libre opción de un país determinado de Europa Oriental a ser miembro de la OTAN, o dejar de serlo, decisión que deben tomar sus propios ciudadanos, como ocurriría en el caso de Ucrania. En fin, cada parte en esta crisis persigue un objetivo diferente.

3. El conflicto de Ucrania estalló de manera imprevista. Cientos de personas salieron a las calles pidiendo una mejora en las condiciones de vida y el fin de la corrupción. ¿Cómo podríamos explicar el hecho de que el conflicto surgiese tan repentinamente?

En realidad, no se trata de un conflicto aislado, ni surgió por sorpresa, sino que desde la disolución de la URSS, las cancillerías y embajadas occidentales ya recibieron hasta ocho avisos de lo que iba a ocurrir y no supieron interpretar esas advertencias.

El primer aviso se dio en diciembre de 1986, en Kazajistán, con una serie de revueltas populares que ya indicaban lo que iba a ocurrir. Allí tuvieron lugar unos gravísimos disturbios, cuando el presidente de la República Socialista Soviética de Kazajistán, el presidente Kunáyev, dimitió y fue sustituido por un ruso, Gennady Kolbin. En ese momento, jóvenes kazajos salieron a las calles a protestar contra la decisión impuesta por Moscú de nombrar un presidente que no fuera étnicamente kazajo y que no conocía ni el idioma, ni las particularidades del país. Hasta hoy no se sabe el número de muertos que hubo en la represión de las tropas de la KGB, del ejército y de la policía, que fueron enviados urgentemente desde Rusia para aplastar la insurrección.

El segundo aviso consistió en la guerra de 1988 en Nagorno Karabaj (una región montañosa autónoma, poblada por armenios, de religión ortodoxa, enclavada en mitad de la república islámica de Azerbaiyán). Cuando los habitantes y las autoridades de Nagorno Karabaj vieron que la URSS se desintegraba, temieron que en el caos de la desintegración iban a sufrir represión y arreglos de cuentas de la gran mayoría musulmana que les rodeaba. Por consiguiente, el Parlamento de esa región autónoma solicitó la anexión a Rusia. Cuando esto ocurrió, las autoridades de Azerbaiyán enviaron sus tropas para impedir la secesión. Se originó una guerra que aún no ha acabado.

El tercer aviso, ocurrido en 1989, fue la “Masacre de Tiblisi” (Georgia), cuando miles de georgianos salieron a las calles en favor de la independencia de Georgia respecto de la URSS. El ejército soviético envió tropas especiales para reprimir la sublevación, como había ocurrido en Kazajistán. Allí murieron muchos civiles. Esa masacre dio lugar al Síndrome de Tiblisi: ningún alto cargo soviético quiso asumir, desde entonces, la responsabilidad de haber dado la orden de la intervención. A partir de ese momento, el ejército no volvería a intervenir contra el pueblo a no ser que recibiese por escrito una orden con la firma de quien decidía la intervención.

El cuarto aviso data de 1990 con la guerra civil de Transnistria, una franja oriental de mayoría étnica rusa en la república de Moldavia, que es de mayoría étnica rumana. Ocurrió que tras la independencia de Moldavia en 1991, los habitantes de Transnistria temieron quedar oprimidos en el nuevo país, de lengua y tradiciones principalmente rumanas. Por tanto, declararon su propia independencia de Moldavia, iniciando consecuentemente un conflicto que dejaría más de 20.000 muertos.

En todos estos casos y en otros que vendrían después, Rusia apoyó siempre a los secesionistas, puesto que eso era una forma de mantener a las repúblicas que querían separarse de la URSS controladas mediante una minoría dentro de ellas, que impedía su consolidación como soberanas e independientes.

El siguiente aviso consistió en el fallido intento de golpe de Estado en Moscú de agosto de 1991. Aunque fracasó, esa intentona abrió los ojos a otras repúblicas sobre el peligro de involución y regreso a la URSS y, a partir de ese momento, el proceso secesionista se aceleró.

El sexto aviso consistió en el referéndum convocado en Ucrania en diciembre de 1991. Bajo la pregunta “¿Está usted de acuerdo en que Ucrania se separe de la URSS y sea un Estado independiente?”, el 98% de la población ucraniana votó que sí, incluida Crimea.

Junto a estos avisos habían tenido lugar otros indicadores más, como el movimiento separatista en Abjasia (región del noroeste de Georgia), que en 1992 declaró su independencia de Georgia, la cual deseaba independizarse de Rusia por completo. Rusia apoyó a los separatistas también aquí.

El último aviso tuvo lugar en 2007, en Osetia del Sur. Fue tras un intento del gobierno de Georgia para lograr que la región separatista de Osetia del Sur volviese bajo su control empleando para ello su ejército. Rusia, que tenía estacionadas en Osetia Fuerzas para el mantenimiento de la paz desde un conflicto anterior,  intervino en favor de los separatistas, obligando a Georgia a renunciar al control de esa región.

4. Aunque a EEUU el conflicto ucraniano le preocupa, no le inquieta tanto como otros temas. De hecho, EEUU no está actuando y únicamente verbaliza su preocupación. ¿Es posible que no esté ofreciendo una respuesta clara porque piensa que fundamentalmente es un problema europeo?

A EEUU le preocupa por la sencilla razón de que la solución de otras crisis que ocurren en el mundo, fundamentalmente las de Siria, Venezuela y la de Corea del Norte, depende de que haya confianza y buena relación entre Moscú y Washington. Y nunca la habrá si previamente no se resuelve el tema de Ucrania. Lo que está envenenando las relaciones es Ucrania. De hecho, dudo mucho que sin la guerra en Ucrania hubiese habido una intervención rusa en la guerra en Siria como la que ha habido.

Cuando Occidente intenta aislar a Rusia imponiendo sanciones, Rusia tiene que salirse por algún lado. Por ello, para demostrar que no se le puede aislar y que es un protagonista en la escena internacional, Rusia interviene en Siria, en Venezuela o donde puede plantar cara a EEUU. Estaría emitiendo un mensaje parecido a este: “aunque me queráis aislar y reducirme a potencia regional de segundo orden, os puedo demostrar que sin mí no tiene solución ninguna crisis mundial. Es más, si quiero, os provoco otras crisis”.

5. ¿Qué opinan los propios ciudadanos rusos sobre la anexión de la península de Crimea?

La intervención y consiguiente anexión de Crimea por Rusia, dentro del conflicto ucraniano, es el punto que más envenena las relaciones entre Rusia y Occidente, pero también repercute en la opinión pública rusa.

Porque, claro, Rusia tiene un PIB del tamaño del de Italia y está manteniendo intervenciones en el exterior que le cuestan mucho dinero. Sus hospitales están en una condición lastimosa, la enseñanza atraviesa por una gran carencia de medios y disminución de calidad, las pensiones son bajísimas, se ha retrasado la edad de jubilación… Muchos en Rusia están disgustados por que, en estas circunstancias, se dediquen recursos ingentes a subvencionar Crimea. Porque Crimea no se sostiene sola. Antes, cuando estaba en paz y gracias al turismo, sí que podía llegar a sostenerse a sí misma. Pero ahora, ¿quién va a Crimea? ¿quién invierte en Crimea? Todo lo subvenciona el gobierno ruso. Eso estaría al alcance de un país con un PIB gigantesco, pero difícilmente un país que tenga un PIB como el de Italia o España y que dedique, directa o indirectamente, un tercio del PIB a sus fuerzas armadas y de policía. Además de tener que subvencionar Crimea, Rusia tiene que subvencionar Abjasia, Transnistria, Osetia y el Donbass. Por este motivo, hay en Rusia quien ya se pregunta si no fue un error la anexión de Crimea, como, por ejemplo, uno de sus más influyentes diarios, “Vedomosti”.

Por otra parte, una razón importante por la que los dirigentes rusos no ven con buenos ojos discutir sobre este asunto podría ser Chechenia. Según algunos expertos de Derecho Internacional, como la catedrática de Derecho Internacional de la Complutense, Araceli Mangas Martín, todos los argumentos que Rusia esgrime para justificar la secesión de Crimea de Ucrania valdrían para justificar una futura secesión de Chechenia de Rusia. ¿Qué ocurriría, se preguntan algunos analistas, si dentro de 10 o 20 años se formara una mayoría chechena que reclamara la secesión de Rusia en un referéndum invocando el precedente de Crimea? 

El tema de la legitimidad de la anexión de Crimea es un tema tabú en la sociedad rusa, por muchas razones. No se puede hablar de él con tranquilidad. De hecho, el único diputado de la Duma (Parlamento ruso) que votó en contra de la incorporación de Crimea a Rusia ha tenido que exiliarse porque ha sido amenazado. En los programas de televisión los debates sobre la existencia y legitimidad de la anexión de Crimea no suelen permitirse y cuando se tocan tiene que ser siempre desde el punto de vista oficial.

 

Despliegue de tropas ucranianas, en junio de 2014 [Wikipedia]

Despliegue de tropas ucranianas, en junio de 2014 [Wikipedia]

 

6. ¿Ve usted posible que Rusia acabe abandonando la guerra en Ucrania? Además, ¿podría Crimea volver a formar parte del territorio ucraniano?

Rusia ha dejado muy clara una cosa: no va a permitir jamás que los rebeldes y los separatistas ucranianos de las Repúblicas de Donetsk y Lugansk sean derrotados por el ejército ucraniano. No lo va a permitir. 

La única posibilidad de que Rusia abandonase su intervención militar en Ucrania sería que los secesionistas ganasen su confrontación con el gobierno ucraniano y consolidasen una independencia de este bajo el control indiscutido de Moscú.

Segundo, veo el regreso de Crimea a Ucrania muy difícil, prácticamente imposible. Porque Rusia está convirtiendo Crimea en una inmensa base militar que estima imprescindible frente a una OTAN expansiva. La está dotando de los más modernos sistemas de armamento: radares, cohetes, una moderna flota...

7. Demográficamente, ¿el porcentaje de rusos en Crimea es tan alto como se dice?

Según algunos analistas, el Kremlin juega con las cifras. Unas veces habla de rusos étnicos, otras veces de rusohablantes. Odesa o Jarkiv, por ejemplo, son grandes ciudades ucranianas rusohablantes, pero que están de parte del gobierno de Kiev. ¿Qué entiende Rusia por “ruso”? Dicen las autoridades rusas: “Es que la mayor parte de los habitantes de Crimea votaron legítimamente por la secesión e incorporación a Rusia en referéndum por una mayoría afirmativa en torno al 90%, constituyendo además los rusos la gran mayoría de la población en la península”. Defíname eso. ¿Qué pasa con el 13% de tártaros, qué pasa con el 20% de ucranianos? Y los que Moscú llama rusos en Crimea, ¿qué son exactamente: rusos étnicos, rusohablantes, titulares de pasaporte ruso, rusos por opción, por nacimiento, por matrimonio? ¿Con qué documentación electoral y con qué control de las votaciones se hizo el referéndum? ¿Se contaban como votantes censados las tropas de la base rusa de Sebastopol o no se contaban? ¿Cómo se controlaron las votaciones dentro de los cuarteles militares? En fin, es como decir “españoles” refiriéndonos a cualquier país iberoamericano. En Argentina o Cuba puede haber 700.000 españoles. ¿Aceptamos entonces que en un territorio de Argentina, Cuba o Venezuela, donde la mayoría sean españoles, estos organicen un referéndum por la secesión y su reincorporación a España y les armamos clandestinamente?

La pregunta que nos debería preocupar es: ¿en qué se distingue ciudadanía de nacionalidad? En los países occidentales ciudadanía y nacionalidad son lo mismo. Sin embargo, en Rusia no es así, y aquí vamos al meollo del problema. En los países de la antigua órbita soviética, nacionalidad significa “pertenencia a un grupo étnico”. Mientras que ciudadanía significa “sometimiento al régimen político, jurídico y administrativo de un Estado determinado, con independencia de la etnia a la que se pertenezca”.

En Rusia son cosas completamente diferentes. Tanto es así que en los documentos de identidad de Rusia y de Ucrania, hasta hace poco, figuraba como “nacionalidad” el grupo étnico del titular: judío, tártaro, ruso... Por eso, cuando Rusia se anexionó Crimea, la principal razón que dio el presidente Putin para hacerlo fue que debía proteger a los “rusos” en Ucrania, a “sus” nacionales en Ucrania, frente a la “Junta Fascista” de Kiev que les amenazaba. Para un ruso, puedes cambiar la ciudadanía; en cambio, la nacionalidad no se pierde nunca, y Rusia debe proteger a quienes ostentan la suya.

Todo ello explica que antes de intervenir en una república ex -soviética que se quiere separar de la órbita de Moscú, lo primero que hace Rusia es repartir pasaportes rusos entre ciudadanos de esas repúblicas a los que, a partir de ese momento, considera rusos, y luego, argumenta que los tiene que proteger.

De los ucranianos que vivían en Crimea, muchos la han abandonado. Otros, se han quedado en Crimea, por supuesto, pero sin poder poner en tela de juicio que Crimea pertenece a Rusia, sometiéndose a las autoridades rusas, debiendo, en muchos casos, obtener otra nueva documentación, distinta a la que tenían antes, y  prestando lealtad y sometimiento a otro Estado distinto a aquel en el que vivían hasta hace poco.

8. ¿Podríamos decir que Rusia y Occidente tienen interpretaciones diferentes sobre los principios que han de regir las relaciones internacionales?

Ese principio fundamental para el Kremlin de defender militarmente a los rusos estén donde estén, incluido el territorio de otra república ex-soviética, choca con otros principios básicos para la UE, EEUU y países occidentales: la integridad territorial del Estado, la soberanía del Estado y la igualdad de todos antes la ley... Si tú quieres proteger a los rusos que viven en Ucrania anexionándote Crimea porque tiene mayoría rusa, obviamente estás violando el principio de integridad territorial del Estado. Sin embargo, Rusia piensa que ella sí que ha respetado la integridad territorial de Ucrania, porque la integridad territorial tiene para los dirigentes rusos un significado diferente al nuestro. Para ellos la integridad territorial se refiere al aparato del Estado, pero no al territorio. Rusia da prioridad a otros principios, como es la protección de sus nacionales.

Por todos estos motivos este conflicto es tan peligroso, porque ni Occidente ni Rusia pueden renunciar a principios que consideran básicos. Por eso, cuando hablamos de diálogo de la UE y EEUU con Rusia para solventar este conflicto, estamos pidiendo un diálogo entre dos partes que hablan un lenguaje diferente, porque Rusia atribuye a los conceptos un significado completamente distinto al que les atribuimos nosotros.

9. La política rusa de protección de los rusos étnicos puede recordar mucho, en gran medida, la política de la Alemania nazi de la década de 1930 de intentar unir a todos los alemanes étnicos. ¿Considera que la situación es similar?

No solamente a los años 30, sino también al tiempo de la Primera Guerra Mundial, que estalló porque Serbia quería proteger a los serbios que vivían fuera del territorio de Serbia, los cuales se consideraban oprimidos y maltratados por las autoridades del Imperio Austrohúngaro, cuando este se anexionó Bosnia-Herzegovina. Uno de los que se sentían oprimidos, el estudiante Gavrilo Princip, con auxilio logístico de la policía secreta serbia, mató al heredero del trono de Austria-Hungría durante su visita a Sarajevo, la capital de Bosnia-Herzegovina. Eso provocó una reacción en cadena y una Guerra Mundial.

En la Segunda Guerra Mundial, Alemania exige que todos los alemanes vivan dentro del mismo Estado. Desgraciadamente, no todos los alemanes vivían en Alemania. Los nazis deciden entonces lograr que todos los alemanes de raza aria, superior, queden en un solo Estado, dirigidos por un solo Führer. Para ello, se anexionan Austria. Las potencias occidentales se quedan perplejas. Resultaba que también había alemanes en Checoslovaquia, que no estaban bien tratados por las autoridades checoslovacas, según los nazis. Entonces, el Führer fuerza a los checoslovacos a cederle los Sudetes. Luego Alemania se anexiona otros territorios y las potencias occidentales ceden. Más tarde, Hitler reclama el corredor polaco y la ciudad alemana de Danzig, territorio también de población alemana, pero situado en Polonia, y es allí cuando, definitivamente, Inglaterra y Francia, que habían ofrecido garantías a Polonia,  reaccionan.

Para algunos analistas occidentales, la situación recuerda mucho a lo que ocurre ahora en la antigua URSS. Primero, Rusia se anexiona una parte de otro país, luego se instala en una parte de otro, con la misma justificación: la de que hay rusos en ellos que hay que proteger. En mi opinión, la situación no es exactamente la misma, pero tiene alarmantes parecidos.

10. La lección de los años 30 es que la política de apaciguamiento no evitó la guerra, sino que simplemente la aplazó e hizo que se combatiese en peores condiciones. Entonces, ¿cuál es la actitud recomendable ante la política rusa?

Existen dos tendencias fundamentales: la primera comprende las tendencias al apaciguamiento y la segunda las tendencias a la firmeza. Entre las tendencias al apaciguamiento encontramos, a su vez, tres corrientes distintas:

–Un primer grupo de expertos llama la atención sobre un hecho fundamental: que Rusia está dispuesta a llegar más lejos que Occidente en el conflicto de Ucrania, porque para Rusia Ucrania es una cuestión vital, mientras que para Occidente no. Habría que llevar a cabo una revisión territorial. Vamos a ceder y vamos a dejar que Rusia se quede con sus rusos, y aquí se acaba el problema. Firmamos un acuerdo, y Rusia tiene su zona de influencia.

–La segunda corriente defiende la idea de convertir Ucrania en un Estado neutral para que Rusia no perciba una amenaza. Ello implicaría que se decida la congelación de la expansión OTAN, que ya no se extendería a ningún país más de la Europa oriental; se otorgue una autonomía muy amplia a las regiones de Ucrania oriental pobladas mayoritariamente por rusos, y se admita que Crimea forma parte de Rusia en compensación a la extensión de la OTAN hacia el Este.

–Según la tercera corriente, Rusia, al anexionarse Crimea y al intervenir en Ucrania oriental, no observó un comportamiento agresivo. Muy al contrario, actuaba en su legítima defensa, y a ningún país se le puede negar la legítima defensa. Decimos eso porque si hubiese triunfado la revolución del Maidán en toda Ucrania, incluida Crimea, y en toda Ucrania se hubiese implantado un régimen proclive a Occidente, hubiera sido cuestión de muy poco tiempo que el nuevo gobierno ucraniano hubiese solicitado el ingreso en la OTAN. Eso hubiera conllevado que las fronteras de la OTAN se hubiesen acercado todavía más a Rusia, poniendo en peligro la seguridad del país. Por tanto, Rusia, al actuar en Ucrania, únicamente lo hace en legítima defensa. Esta tercera corriente propugna la desmilitarización del Donbass, que la seguridad de las fronteras quede garantizada por una fuerza de mantenimiento de la paz bajo el mando de la ONU, y la admisión de Crimea como parte de Rusia, en compensación al hecho de que la OTAN ha incorporado países que antes pertenecían a la URSS.

Como comentamos anteriormente, existe una segunda tendencia que aboga por la firmeza: “No vamos a repetir el error de Múnich de ceder, ceder y ceder, porque si continuamos así, la próxima vez nos encontraremos con que Rusia intenta anexionarse un país báltico”, donde, por cierto, en Estonia y en Letonia tiene importantísimas minorías. La principal corriente de este grupo piensa que no podemos repetir el error de Yalta, de dejar dividir Europa en zonas de influencia y sobre todo de imponer la neutralidad a un país que no la desea. Por otra parte, lo que se estaría haciendo al admitir que Rusia se quedase con todas estas regiones es negarle a Ucrania, precisamente, su derecho a la legítima defensa. 

Otro grupo de esta tendencia sostiene que los partidarios de la estrategia de apaciguamiento no ofrecen ninguna solución a cómo se garantizaría entonces la seguridad de los países de Europa del Este. Además, el hecho de no extender la OTAN y de ser condescendientes con Rusia para evitar provocar a Rusia es un dilema falso, porque Rusia ya hace todo lo que puede por fastidiar a Occidente, todo el límite de provocación ya está superado. Si se quiere conseguir la estabilidad de Europa a base de cerrar los ojos y permitir que Rusia controle las zonas que antes pertenecían a la URSS, existe el riego de que Rusia siga ocupando territorios. ¿Hasta dónde tienen que llegar las fronteras de Rusia para que Rusia se sienta segura?

Además de las dos tendencias anteriores, existe una tercera corriente de pensamiento que llama la atención. Dice que en el caso de la Alemania nazi hay un hecho diferencial respecto de la situación actual: en aquel momento no existían las armas nucleares. En aquel momento, quizás fuera prioritario detener a Hitler a costa de pagar un alto precio, porque de lo contrario las consecuencias habrían sido catastróficas. Era un mal menor frente a un mal mayor. Sin embargo, ahora este dilema no existe, ya que ahora el dilema está entre llegar a un entendimiento con Rusia o una guerra nuclear.

La pregunta que plantea esta tercera posición es: ¿cuál es nuestra prioridad, castigar a Rusia o conseguir la estabilidad en Europa? Si elegimos la primera opción, entonces lo que habría que hacer es armar a Ucrania. Sin embargo, si nuestra prioridad es recuperar la estabilidad en Europa, entonces tenemos que iniciar conversaciones con Rusia. En realidad, a largo plazo, Occidente es mucho más fuerte que Rusia, pero el inconveniente que tiene a largo plazo es que no sabes si en ese periodo de tiempo tan grande estaremos todos muertos. Si Rusia ve que es más débil a largo plazo, obviamente intentará aprovechar la situación mientras todavía es fuerte.

 

Efectivos de la autoproclamada República Popular de Donetsk, en mayo de 2015 [Mstyslav Chernov]

Efectivos de la autoproclamada República Popular de Donetsk, en mayo de 2015 [Mstyslav Chernov]

 

11. Puede existir la interpretación de que lo que ocurrió en Crimea fuese una reacción de legítima defensa por parte de Rusia para evitar que su base naval de Sebastopol se convirtiera en base de la OTAN.  Rusia habría interpretado eso como una amenaza a su seguridad y, por tanto, habría intervenido para proteger su seguridad. Teniendo esto presente, tomemos como ejemplo la crisis de Cuba de 1962. Cuba decidió comprar armamento para colocar cohetes atómicos soviéticos en territorio cubano. Podían hacerlo desde el punto de vista del Derecho Internacional, eran dos países soberanos que podían venderse armas unos a otros. EEUU se sintió atacado ante la posibilidad de que hubiera cohetes en Cuba e intervino en Cuba. ¿No ha ocurrido lo mismo con Crimea y la URSS? En un segundo supuesto, imaginémonos que en México entra un gobierno de corte anti-americano, que se siente muy inseguro hacia EEUU y que decide instalar cohetes nucleares en la frontera de Río Grande. ¿EEUU permitiría en aras del Derecho Internacional de integridad territorial que hubiera baterías de cohetes apuntando a las ciudades de EEUU? ¿Qué piensa usted de esto?

Hay similitudes en esos casos, pero no se pueden comparar. Las diferencias que yo veo son, en primer lugar, que EEUU impuso un bloqueo en Cuba, pero no invadió Cuba, como usted dice, ni se anexionó región de Cuba alguna. Kennedy metió la pata con su invasión de Bahía de los Cochinos, retiró a sus tropas de allí y pidió públicamente perdón por la iniciativa. No me puedo imaginar a un líder ruso pidiendo públicamente perdón por la invasión ilegal por la URSS o por Rusia de un país soberano y sin declaración de guerra: Finlandia en 1939, los Bálticos en 1940, Hungría en 1956, Checoslovaquia en 1968, Afganistán en 1979, Ucrania en 2014….

En segundo lugar, los misiles instalados en Cuba eran armas nucleares ofensivas muy potentes, instaladas clandestinamente, mientras que EEUU no instala armas nucleares ofensivas comparables cerca de Rusia ni lo ha hecho clandestinamente. Moscú estima que los sistemas antimisiles norteamericanos en Polonia y Rumanía pueden convertirse en ofensivos fácilmente, pero tal recelo ruso se solventaría con un eficaz sistema de inspecciones y verificación. Además, los dirigentes rusos saben perfectamente que tales sistemas no constituyen amenaza efectiva alguna frente a su enorme arsenal nuclear. La prueba está en que presumen de él y lo consideran invulnerable, según palabras del propio presidente Putin.

En tercer lugar, lo de México es política ficción. No es imaginable que EEUU invada militarmente México para proteger a las minorías estadounidenses asentadas en ese país, como ha ocurrido con Crimea o el Donbass. Por otro lado, dudo que fuera posible que se instalaran armas nucleares en México con los acuerdos bilaterales y regionales que están vigentes entre EEUU y México y en el marco del tratado de libre comercio entre EEUU, México y Canadá. No olvidemos que, aunque imperfectos, tanto México como EEUU son regímenes democráticos. Sus líderes responden ante sus electores y ante su pueblo, y son elegidos por este. No es el caso de Cuba ni de la URSS, dictaduras comunistas, ni, según algunos autores, de la Rusia actual, régimen autoritario nacionalista. Las democracias no suelen hacer guerras entre ellas.

El único comportamiento de Estados Unidos similar a lo que ocurre en Crimea fue la invasión de la isla caribeña de Granada. Cuando en Granada subió al poder un régimen marxista, EEUU arguyó la necesidad de proteger a los estudiantes estadounidenses que había allí para intervenir, aunque no estaban en peligro.

Otra diferencia es que lo de Ucrania se inscribe en un proceso o tendencia (Kazajistán, Transnistria…), que parece haber estado perfectamente planificado desde 1990, como hemos comentado antes. No es un caso puntual, sorpresivo e improvisado, como fue la reacción de EEUU ante la instalación de misiles en Cuba en 1962.

12. Lo que ha comentado anteriormente sobre la reacción agresiva de Rusia para evitar el largo plazo, recuerda mucho a la estrategia directa de la contención estadounidense durante la Guerra Fría. La respuesta estadounidense era que, precisamente, había que rearmarse y tener una capacidad militar lo suficientemente intimidatoria para que la URSS no se atreviese a actuar agresivamente. Sería esa otra posible conclusión: ¿Hay que rearmarse?

De hecho, lo estamos haciendo. Para mí, el mayor error de Putin ha sido posibilitar que EEUU consiga en 20 días el consenso para un rearme y fortalecimiento de la OTAN que no había conseguido en 20 años. Ahora tienen una OTAN cohesionada y organizada, han conseguido el compromiso a un aumento de los gastos militares por parte de los aliados de la OTAN que antes eran reticentes a hacerlo.

13. Crimea era parte de Rusia hasta que Kruschev se la cedió a Ucrania en 1954. Además, el Imperio Ruso tuvo miles de muertes por recuperar esa península en la Guerra de Crimea. ¿El hecho de que ese territorio pertenezca a Ucrania o a Rusia es algo que podría ser discutible?

En primer lugar, la constatación de que Kruschev regaló Crimea a Ucrania es, según documentados autores, una de las grandes falsedades difundidas por los centros de inteligencia rusos, que ha sido creída por casi todo el mundo en Occidente. Aunque es cierto que la resolución del Presidium del PCUS de 1954 hace que Crimea pase a depender de Ucrania, con motivo del 300 aniversario de la incorporación de Ucrania al Imperio Ruso, este no era el único motivo, ya que Crimea es una zona muy árida, y el suministro de agua, mano de obra, infraestructura… es muchísimo más fácil desde Ucrania que desde Rusia. A efectos prácticos, es mucho más rentable, como se está viendo actualmente, mantener Crimea desde Ucrania que desde Rusia.

En segundo lugar, la región de Taganrog, más rica y más grande que Crimea, que anteriormente pertenecía a Ucrania, se asignó a Rusia. Por eso, algunos analistas piensan que lo que hubo fue una especie de compensación territorial, porque mantener Taganrog desde Ucrania es muy difícil también.

En tercer lugar, el cambio de fronteras administrativas entre las diferentes regiones de la URSS en tiempos de Stalin y de Kruschev era algo habitual y frecuente. Si consideramos anti-constitucional o ilegal la transferencia de Crimea a Ucrania por Kruschev, también hay que considerar ilegales docenas de modificaciones territoriales análogas que se hicieron en esa época en la URSS.

En cuarto lugar, Crimea ha sido parte de Rusia 250 años (Cuba fue española aproximadamente 400 años) y toda Ucrania occidental era Polonia hasta 1939. Luego Polonia tendría igual derecho a reclamar su parte de Ucrania que Rusia a reclamar la suya. Si vamos a justificar la anexión de territorios en base a vínculos históricos sin respetar los tratados internacionales actuales, entonces habría que rehacer todo el mapa mundial y provocaríamos una escalada bélica. Por esta regla de tres, los españoles deberían reclamar mañana mismo Cuba, pues fue un trauma para nosotros perderla, residen allí miles de españoles y fue mucho más tiempo española que Crimea rusa.

En quinto lugar, y más importante, en el Tratado de Amistad y Cooperación entre Rusia y Ucrania de 1997, Rusia reconoció la independencia e integridad territorial de Ucrania, incluida Crimea.

No podemos estar inmersos en un continuo proceso de reivindicaciones históricas. Para evitar eso existen los tratados internacionales que fijan las fronteras e impiden que volvamos a la selva.

14. Hace unos años fuimos testigos de cómo EEUU luchó por la independencia de Kosovo, la cual reconoció. Por tanto, ¿podríamos decir que el caso de Kosovo constituye un precedente que legitima a Rusia a defender la separación de Crimea?

Para muchos analistas, el caso de Kosovo y el caso de Crimea no tienen relación alguna entre ellos. En primer lugar, dicen, EEUU no buscaba anexionarse Kosovo, a diferencia de lo que Rusia hizo con Crimea. En segundo lugar, el reconocimiento de la independencia de Kosovo tuvo lugar después de 10 años de limpieza étnica llevado a cabo por las tropas Serbias en Kosovo contra la población albanesa. El tema se llevó a la ONU y se discutió durante mucho tiempo. Nada parecido ocurrió en Crimea: no había ningún conflicto entre rusos y ucranianos, no se llevó el tema a la ONU, ni siquiera se llevó al Tribunal Internacional de Justicia (Kosovo sí se llevó). Son cosas completamente diferentes. No había habido ningún incidente serio entre etnias en Crimea que justificase la anexión por parte de Rusia. En Kosovo sí los hubo, con miles de muertos.

Esto supone, según muchos autores, otro éxito de la propaganda rusa, que ha conseguido que mucha gente de Occidente considere que son casos similares. Además, habría que ver en qué condiciones se realizó el referéndum en Crimea: no hubo debates en televisión, no hubo diferentes partidos políticos que expusiesen sus posiciones, no hubo observadores internacionales, no hubo un censo fiable, los puntos de votación estaban tomados por el ejército ruso… No sabemos cómo es esa mayoría que votó a favor.

15. ¿Cómo se puede explicar el enorme poder y popularidad de Putin en un país considerado democrático y en el que existen elecciones regulares?

Un asunto que merece la pena comentar es el fracaso de las reformas democráticas en Rusia. Cuando se desintegra el comunismo en la URSS y Rusia opta por la economía de mercado, por la libertad de comercio y por la democracia liberal, espera recibir un modelo civilizado de todo eso. Lo que recibe, en más de una ocasión, son verdaderos gánsters occidentales haciendo negocios, apropiándose de los recursos económicos y culturales de Rusia, y de los cerebros de Rusia… La versión de la economía de mercado que recibe Rusia tras la implantación de la democracia liberal en el país es horrorosa y, a partir de ese momento, las palabras “democracia” y “reformas” quedan totalmente desacreditadas en Rusia. Ellos tienen una idea de reformas y de democracia totalmente nociva y fatal. Eso fue precisamente lo que catapultó al poder a líderes como Vladímir Putin.

Una cosa que no entendimos en Occidente es que, para un ruso, la estabilidad es mucho más importante que la libertad. Sobre todo no entendimos una cosa muy importante, que fue la pasmosa facilidad del tránsito del comunismo al nacionalismo. Fue una ingenuidad pasmosa por parte de los diplomáticos occidentales pensar que los líderes postcomunistas iban a edificar la democracia sobre las ruinas de la URSS y en contra de sus propios intereses.

El tránsito del comunismo al nacionalismo es, en realidad, muy fácil, porque sus elementos básicos son los mismos: primacía del líder sobre las instituciones, del dogma sobre los principios, de la lealtad sobre los méritos, de los slogans sobre el razonamiento, de la propaganda sobre la información, de la historia virtual sobre la real, etc.

 

Desfile de tropas rebeldes en Donetsk, en mayo de 2015 [Wikipedia]

Desfile de tropas rebeldes en Donetsk, en mayo de 2015 [Wikipedia]

 

16. La población de los países bálticos cuenta con una importante minoría rusa. En esos países se ha estabilizado la situación también porque ha habido un despliegue de la OTAN.¿Ucrania podría entrar en la OTAN y eso estabilizaría la situación o Rusia nunca permitiría que Ucrania entrase en la OTAN?

Hubo un momento en que se le propuso a Rusia unirse a la OTAN. Pero Rusia no quería ser un miembro más de la OTAN, no quería estar sujeta a EEUU, sino que desea tener protagonismo. Por su parte, Ucrania no es igual que los países bálticos. Yo creo que Ucrania no puede, de momento, entrar en la OTAN. Sin embargo, ya hay programas de colaboración entre la OTAN y el gobierno ucraniano. Para mí es consecuencia de la actuación del presidente Putin, porque ¿de qué le sirve ganar Crimea si pierde Ucrania, donde, además, ha hecho surgir un sentimiento anti-ruso? Con esa política, Rusia ha conseguido que la OTAN despierte y se fortalezca (lo que EEUU no había conseguido nunca), y que la mayoría de Ucrania tenga un sentimiento pro-occidental. Todo un balance.

En mi opinión, Rusia hará todo lo posible para evitar que Ucrania entre en la OTAN. No obstante, si Ucrania fuese admitida en la OTAN, Rusia respondería asimétricamente. A mi juicio, el mundo se colocaría al borde de una guerra nuclear.

17. ¿Cree que el asunto de Crimea puede tener una repercusión más amplia, establecer un precedente?

En opinión de muchos analistas, rusos incluidos, lo que Putin ha hecho allí es algo muy peligroso. Porque los argumentos que él da para justificar la secesión de Crimea de Ucrania, valdrían, según esos expertos, para justificar la secesión de otras regiones de Rusia. No ahora, pero sí en el futuro. Rusia tiene cerca de 120 etnias diferentes, imaginémonos que alguna decide aplicarse los argumentos utilizados en al caso de Crimea para justificar su propia secesión.

También hay otra cuestión a tener en cuenta, y es que Rusia se ha presentado como redentora de la humanidad a lo largo de la historia (con la caída de Constantinopla, erigiéndose como la tercera Roma y redentora de lo que quedaba de la civilización, y con la expansión del comunismo tras la Revolución de 1917, con la redención de los oprimidos), y ahora Rusia se presenta de nuevo por tercera vez como redentora de la humanidad. Para Rusia, las pautas morales que ahora en Occidente forman parte ya de los principios básicos de nuestra civilización, son inadmisibles. Ella piensa que nuestra sociedad se está disolviendo y que está totalmente corrompida. Por ejemplo, en Rusia jamás se permitirá la ideología de género y lo consideran como una plaga que está disolviendo la sociedad de Occidente. Esta tendencia que se conoce con el nombre de “mesianismo ruso”, que adopta diferentes formas a lo largo de la historia, es una constante con la que hay que contar. Rusia piensa que no está luchando solamente por Ucrania y por Crimea, sino por toda la civilización.

Presencia de China en Oriente Medio: controversia por el puerto de Haifa

La gestión dada a una empresa china provoca la amenaza de EEUU de no vender tecnología a Israel

Las protestas de la Administración Trump por haber otorgado la gestión del puerto de Haifa a una empresa china no han llevado de momento al Gobierno de Netanyahu a revisar el contrato, que fue tramitado a nivel ministerial sin pleno conocimiento de sus implicaciones geopolíticas. La penetración china en Israel –en el amplio contexto de Oriente Medio–, así como la reacción de Estados Unidos, pone de manifiesto un complicado triángulo de relaciones: Israel quiere la inversión china, pero teme perder el favor estadounidense.

Gestión de contenedores en el puerto de Haifa, en el norte de Israel [Wikipedia]

▲ Gestión de contenedores en el puerto de Haifa, en el norte de Israel [Wikipedia]

ARTÍCULOMaría Martín Andrade

El puerto de Haifa es uno de los principales puertos de Israel en volumen de mercancías movilizadas. Tiene también un carácter estratégico: el puerto, al norte del país, acoge a la Sexta Flota de Estados Unidos en sus desplazamientos. Esto último podría verse alterado tras conocerse el contrato de Israel con la empresa china Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) para que opere el puerto durante los próximos 25 años contando a partir de 2021, lo que no ha tenido muy buena acogida por parte de Washington. La compañía, que se ha comprometido a invertir 2.000 millones de dólares para ampliar las instalaciones y convertirlas en el mayor puerto de Israel, describe que entre sus funciones se encuentra la construcción e instalación de equipos y la gestión diaria de las actividades portuarias, clasificando este proyecto como parte de la iniciativa One Belt, One Road.

Esta iniciativa tiene su origen en la Ruta de la Seda, un itinerario comercial que unía China con diversos países del continente asiático hasta llegar a Europa, y que se remonta a los primeros siglos antes de Cristo. La nueva versión está basada en los primeros esquemas y pretende impulsar a China creando una red de infraestructuras, inversiones y comercio, y estableciendo lazos tanto multilaterales como bilaterales con los distintos estados que la incluyen así como empresas internacionales.

Todo lo anterior, añadido a la creciente expansión industrial y de transporte que China está experimentando, justifica también el interés del país asiático por algunos de los recursos naturales que Oriente Medio ofrece, como es el caso del petróleo, cuya importación asciende a un 50%, constituyendo otra de las razones por las que China quiere obtener presencia en distintos puntos de la región y que se manifiesta entre otras formas en la inversión en canales y puertos como los de Haifa y Ashdad en Israel, Cherchell en Argelia, Said y Alexandria en Egipto, y Kumport en Turquía. Concretamente, su apuesta en el puerto de Haifa está contribuyendo además a desarrollar el conocido como Israel-Gulf Economic Corridor (IGEC), cuyo objetivo es crear una vía ferroviaria que realice el trayecto desde el puerto de Haifa a la frontera jordano-israelí, enlazando allí con el sistema ferroviario jordano.

Sin embargo, las ambiciones chinas por obtener más presencia en Oriente Medio colisionan con las pretensiones de otro “robusto rival”, Estados Unidos, que movido también por intereses económicos y de seguridad aterriza mucho antes en la región y sin intención de compartirla. Así, tras conocer los planes en el puerto de Haifa, la respuesta de Estados Unidos se manifiesta en amenazas de que podría dejar de compartir datos de inteligencia con Israel y de reconsiderar la realización de futuros ejercicios a largo plazo de la marina estadounidense en dicho puerto.

Es importante tener en cuenta que no es la primera vez que Estados Unidos interviene para entorpecer las relaciones entre China e Israel. Las condiciones en las este último país se constituyó, añadido al ambiente hostil que lo envuelve y la necesidad de la posesión de armas para mantenerlo y protegerlo, han contribuido al desarrollo de su tecnología, sobretodo en materia de defensa, cuyo amplio alcance se debe en parte a Estados Unidos, que se encarga desde los años sesenta de suministrar al país con lo último en tecnología militar. Todo ello ha contribuido a que las exportaciones israelíes en materia tecnológica, principalmente en materia de defensa, se conviertan en la fuente principal de ingresos de su industria.

Durante los años 70, la economía china comenzó a modernizarse, y el siguiente paso a  seguir fue extender esa modernización al dominio militar, por lo que China comenzó a importar avances de defensa provenientes de Israel. Estas relaciones continuaron su expansión hasta el año 2000, momento en el que el país de Oriente Medio, debido a la presión estadounidense, decidió anular el acuerdo que permitía a China la obtención de cuatro sistemas de radares Phalcon. La razón que en su momento Estados Unidos alegó para oponerse al acuerdo fue la posibilidad de que China se beneficiaria de esa tecnología en un conflicto militar en Taiwán. Sin embargo, China no es el único país con el que Israel ha tenido dificultades para exportar su tecnología. En 2008 Washington negó que pudiera entregar a Rusia drones Heron.

A pesar de todo esto, las relaciones chino-israelíes han logrado sobrevivir, llegando China a convertirse en 2012 en el segundo socio comercial de Israel, además de desarrollar nuevos lazos de colaboración R&D, consistentes en una serie de acuerdos y colaboraciones entre instituciones académicas y compañías de ambos países.

Sin embargo, considerando la reacción de Estados Unidos frente a la involucración china en el puerto de Haifa, no es impensable plantarse un escenario en el que la presión americana reincida logrando en este caso abolir el acuerdo existente con la empresa Shangai International Port. Si esto ocurre, Israel perdería una parte importante de las inversiones que recibe y las relaciones comerciales con China se enfriarían, mientras que Pekín podría ver frustrado uno de sus planes para crear su ambiciosa Ruta de la Seda, si bien eso no significaría su declive en Oriente Medio.

 Lo que es incuestionable es que Estados Unidos ya no goza de la hegemonía de esta parte del mundo y tiene que hacerse a la idea de que va a tener que compartir influencia con otras grandes potencias. Es por ello que puede que sea más lógico lograr nuevas formas de cooperación con China para así establecer condiciones que a ambos le sean favorables.

En conclusión, con esta nueva inversión china se afirma lo que ya era conocido: la presencia china a nivel internacional aumenta y adquiere cada vez más volumen, y es más sensato adaptarse a los nuevos cambios que involucrarse en triángulos amorosos que nunca tienen final feliz para nadie.

'In Terra Sancta Concordia': la UE ante la capitalidad de Jerusalén

ENSAYO / Túlio Dias de Assis [Versión en inglés]

El presidente de Estados Unidos, Donald Trump, sorprendió en diciembre con otra de sus declaraciones, que al igual que muchas anteriores tampoco carecía de polémica. Esta vez el tema sorpresa fue el anuncio de la apertura de la embajada de EEUU en Jerusalén, consumando así el reconocimiento de la milenaria urbe como capital del único estado judío del mundo actual: Israel.

El polémico anuncio de Trump, en un asunto tan controvertido como delicado, fue criticado internacionalmente y tuvo escaso apoyo exterior. No obstante, algunos países –pocos– se sumaron a la iniciativa estadounidense, y algunos más se manifestaron con ambigüedad. Entre estos, diversos medios situaron a varios países de la Unión Europea. ¿Ha habido realmente falta de cohesión interna en la Unión sobre esta cuestión?

Por qué Jerusalén importa

Antes de todo, cabría analizar con más detalle la situación, empezando por una pregunta sencilla: ¿Por qué Jerusalén es tan importante? Hay varios factores que llevan a que Hierosolyma, Yerushalayim, Al-quds o simplemente Jerusalén tenga tamaña importancia no solo a nivel regional, sino también globalmente, entre los cuales destacan los siguientes tres: su relevancia histórica, su importancia religiosa y su valor geoestratégico.

Relevancia histórica. Es uno de los asentamientos humanos más antiguos del mundo, remontándose sus primeros orígenes al IV milenio a.C. Aparte de ser la capital histórica tanto de la región de Palestina o Canaán, como de los varios reinos judíos establecidos a lo largo del primer milenio a.C. en dicha parte del Levante.

Importancia religiosa. Se trata de una ciudad sacratísima para las tres mayores religiones monoteístas del mundo, cada una por sus propias razones: para el Cristianismo, principalmente debido a que es donde se produjo la crucificción de Cristo; para el Islamismo, aparte de ser la ciudad de varios profetas –compartidos en las creencias de las demás religiones abrahámicas– y un lugar de peregrinación, también es adonde hizo Mahoma su tan conocido viaje nocturno; y obviamente, para el Judaísmo, por razones históricas y además por ser donde se construyó el tan sacro Templo de Salomón.

Valor geoestratégico. A nivel geoestratégico también posee una gran relevancia, ya que se trata de un punto crucial que conecta la costa mediterránea levantina con el valle del Jordán. Por lo que su poseedor tendría bajo su control una gran ventaja geoestratégica en la región del Levante.

No es de extrañarse, pues, que el estatus de esta ciudad sea uno de los principales puntos de conflicto en las negociaciones para la paz entre ambos pueblos, como es bien sabido. De ahí que la intervención de Trump no haya sido de gran ayuda para poder retomar el proceso de paz; más bien, podría argüirse, ha sido todo lo contrario: ha provocado la protesta no solo de los palestinos locales, sino de todo el mundo árabe, logrando así desestabilizar aún más la región. Ha habido reacciones contrarias de Hamas, de Hezbollah y también de varios gobiernos islámicos de Oriente Medio (entre ellos incluso el de Erdogan, a pesar de que la República de Turquía de jure sea un estado laico). Hamas llamó a una intifada en contra de Israel: las múltiples manifestaciones en los territorios palestinos concluyeron con varios centenares de heridos y una docena de muertos, debido a enfrentamientos con los cuerpos policiales israelíes.

La posición de Europa

Europa, por su parte, intenta mantener una postura bastante más neutra y equilibrada, orientada a lograr la paz regional. La disposición de mediación de la Unión Europea tiene en cuenta principalmente las resoluciones aprobadas por la ONU sobre tan problemático tema. Las declaraciones europeas, consideradas un tanto irrealistas y utópicas bajo la perspectiva de muchos israelíes, se basan en cuatro puntos esenciales: los dos estados, los refugiados, la seguridad y estatus de Jerusalén.

La existencia de dos estados. Según la UE, una solución uniestatal sería contraria a los intereses de ambas partes, puesto que impondría la soberanía de uno de los pueblos por encima de la del otro. Por lo tanto, Bruselas estima que lo más adecuado sería la solución biestatal: que cada pueblo tenga su estado y que las fronteras entre ambos estén basadas en las vigentes el 4 de Junio de 1967, antes de la Guerra de los Seis Días. Aún y todo, se admitirían cambios a estos límites de soberanía, siempre y cuando ambas partes así lo desearan y lo aprobaran.

La cuestión de los refugiados. La UE considera que deberían tomarse medidas duraderas para la cuestión de los refugiados palestinos fuera de su tierra natal (especialmente en países vecinos como Líbano y Jordania), con el objetivo de que puedan regresar a su país.

La seguridad. Otro de los puntos primordiales para los europeos sería la cuestión de la seguridad, para ambos bandos: Por una parte, habría que establecer medidas para acabar con la ocupación israelí de los territorios palestinos. Por otra, habría que afrontar con medidas eficaces el problema del terrorismo palestino en la zona.

Estatus de Jerusalén. Teniendo en cuenta la importancia de dicha ciudad, Bruselas considera que no habría mejor solución que una resolución en la que hubiera soberanía compartida entre ambos hipotéticos estados. Adicionalmente, la ciudad sagrada de las tres religiones también sería la capital de ambos estados simultáneamente.

Sin embargo, como ya se ha mencionado previamente, se desconfiaba de la postura de varios estados-miembro, llegándose incluso a sospechar de un posible apoyo a la decisión americana. Esto se dedujo de estados como Chequia o Hungría, debido a algunas declaraciones sacadas de contexto o mal explicadas, que hacían aparentar que las disidencias entre Bruselas y Visegrado seguían aumentando. No obstante, si hay algo que destaca en la respuesta europea es la unión y coherencia interna.

El gobierno checo no hizo más que reconocer Jerusalén Occidental como capital de Israel, igual que hará con Jerusalén Oriental una vez Palestina vuelva a poseer la soberanía de su territorio. El gobierno magyar tampoco contradijo las posiciones europeas, ya que sus únicas declaraciones fueron que Europa no tendría por qué pronunciarse sobre las acciones diplomáticas de EEUU. Posteriormente, el primer ministro húngaro aclaró que la UE debe mantenerse firme en la política que ha defendido hasta el momento y que esa es de facto la postura magyar sobre el asunto. Además, el presidente francés Emmanuel Macron, durante su reunión con el primer ministro israelí Netanyahu, ya mencionó que Francia no apoyaba la decisión de Trump sobre Jerusalén, y de igual forma le habló Federica Mogherini, la Alta Representante de Asuntos Exteriores de la Unión Europea, manteniendo la postura mediadora neutral que ha asumido la UE hasta el momento.

Por tanto, ni la UE ni ninguno de sus estados-miembro han mostrado ninguna señal de apoyo a la decisión unilateral americana. Los europeos siguen unidos en su diversidad, quoniam “In varietate concordia”.

 

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Le Parisien, Trump sur Jérusalem : «C'est une nouvelle humiliation infligée au monde arabe», International, par Myriam Encaoua, 08 décembre 2017, 9h47

Radio France Internationale, Vives réactions après l'annonce de Trump sur Jérusalem, 06-12-2017

BBC, Muslim nations urge recognition of East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital, 13 December 2017

Khamenei is turning 80: Who will be next Iran's Supreme Leader?

The struggle for power has already started in the Islamic Republic in the midst of US sanctions and ahead a new electoral cycle

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian Air Force personnel, in 2016 [Wikipedia]

▲ Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian Air Force personnel, in 2016 [Wikipedia]

ANALYSISRossina Funes and Maeve Gladin

The failing health of Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, 89, brings into question the political aftermath of his approaching death or possible step-down. Khamenei’s health has been a point of query since 2007, when he temporarily disappeared from the public eye. News later came out that he had a routine procedure which had no need to cause any suspicions in regards to his health. However, the question remains as to whether his well-being is a fantasy or a reality. Regardless of the truth of his health, many suspect that he has been suffering prostate cancer all this time. Khamenei is 89 years old –he turns 80 in July– and the odds of him continuing as active Supreme Leader are slim to none. His death or resignation will not only reshape but could also greatly polarize the successive politics at play and create more instability for Iran.

The next possible successor must meet certain requirements in order to be within the bounds of possible appointees. This political figure must comply and follow Khamenei’s revolutionary ideology by being anti-Western, mainly anti-American. The prospective leader would also need to meet religious statues and adherence to clerical rule. Regardless of who that cleric may be, Iran is likely to be ruled by another religious figure who is far less powerful than Khamenei and more beholden to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Additionally, Khamenei’s successor should be young enough to undermine the current opposition to clerical rule prevalent among many of Iran’s youth, which accounts for the majority of Iran’s population.

In analyzing who will head Iranian politics, two streams have been identified. These are constrained by whether the current Supreme Leader Khamenei appoints his successor or not, and within that there are best and worst case scenarios.

Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi

Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi had been mentioned as the foremost contender to stand in lieu of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei. Shahroudi was a Khamenei loyalist who rose to the highest ranks of the Islamic Republic’s political clerical elite under the supreme leader’s patronage and was considered his most likely successor. A former judiciary chief, Shahroudi was, like his patron, a staunch defender of the Islamic Revolution and its founding principle, velayat-e-faqih (rule of the jurisprudence). Iran’s domestic unrest and regime longevity, progressively aroused by impromptu protests around the country over the past year, is contingent on the political class collectively agreeing on a supreme leader competent of building consensus and balancing competing interests. Shahroudi’s exceptional faculty to bridge the separated Iranian political and clerical establishment was the reason his name was frequently highlighted as Khamenei’s eventual successor. Also, he was both theologically and managerially qualified and among the few relatively nonelderly clerics viewed as politically trustworthy by Iran’s ruling establishment. However, he passed away in late December 2018, opening once again the question of who was most likely to take Khamenei’s place as Supreme Leader of Iran.

However, even with Shahroudi’s early death, there are still a few possibilities. One is Sadeq Larijani, the head of the judiciary, who, like Shahroudi, is Iraqi born. Another prospect is Ebrahim Raisi, a former 2017 presidential candidate and the custodian of the holiest shrine in Iran, Imam Reza. Raisi is a student and loyalist of Khamenei, whereas Larijani, also a hard-liner, is more independent.

 

1. MOST LIKELY SCENARIO,  REGARDLESS OF APPOINTMENT

1.1 Ebrahim Raisi

In a more likely scenario, Ebrahim Raisi would rise as Iran’s next Supreme Leader. He meets the requirements aforementioned with regards to the religious status and the revolutionary ideology. Fifty-eight-years-old, Raisi is a student and loyal follower of the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Like his teacher, he is from Mashhad and belongs to its famous seminary. He is married to the daughter of Ayatollah Alamolhoda, a hardline cleric who serves as Khamenei's representative of in the eastern Razavi Khorasan province, home of the Imam Reza shrine.

Together with his various senior judicial positions, in 2016 Raisi was appointed the chairman of Astan Quds Razavi, the wealthy and influential charitable foundation which manages the Imam Reza shrine. Through this appointment, Raisi developed a very close relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is a known ideological and economic partner of the foundation. In 2017, he moved into the political sphere by running for president, stating it was his "religious and revolutionary responsibility". He managed to secure a respectable 38 percent of the vote; however, his contender, Rouhani, won with 57 percent of the vote. At first, this outcome was perceived as an indicator of Raisi’s relative unpopularity, but he has proven his detractors wrong. After his electoral defeat, he remained in the public eye and became an even more prominent political figure by criticizing Rouhani's policies and pushing for hard-line policies in both domestic and foreign affairs. Also, given to Astan Quds Foundation’s extensive budget, Raisi has been able to secure alliances with other clerics and build a broad network that has the ability to mobilize advocates countrywide.

Once he takes on the role of Supreme Leader, he will continue his domestic and regional policies. On the domestic front, he will further Iran's Islamisation and regionally he will push to strengthen the "axis of resistance", which is the anti-Western and anti-Israeli alliance between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Shia Iraq and Hamas. Nevertheless, if this happens, Iran would live on under the leadership of yet another hardliner and the political scene would not change much. Regardless of who succeeds Khamenei, a political crisis is assured during this transition, triggered by a cycle of arbitrary rule, chaos, violence and social unrest in Iran. It will be a period of uncertainty given that a great share of the population seems unsatisfied with the clerical establishment, which was also enhanced by the current economic crisis ensued by the American sanctions.

1.2 Sadeq Larijani

Sadeq Larijani, who is fifty-eight years old, is known for his conservative politics and his closeness to the supreme guide of the Iranian regime Ali Khamenei and one of his potential successors. He is Shahroudi’s successor as head of the judiciary and currently chairs the Expediency Council. Additionally, the Larijani family occupies a number of important positions in government and shares strong ties with the Supreme Leader by being among the most powerful families in Iran since Khamenei became Supreme Leader thirty years ago. Sadeq Larijani is also a member of the Guardian Council, which vetos laws and candidates for elected office for conformance to Iran’s Islamic system.

Formally, the Expediency Council is an advisory body for the Supreme Leader and is intended to resolve disputes between parliament and a scrutineer body, therefore Larijani is well informed on the way Khamenei deals with governmental affairs and the domestic politics of Iran. Therefore, he meets the requirement of being aligned with Khamenei’s revolutionary and anti- Western ideology, and he is also a conservative cleric, thus he complies with the religious figure requirement. Nonetheless, he is less likely to be appointed as Iran’s next Supreme Leader given his poor reputation outside Iran. The U.S. sanctioned Larijani on the grounds of human rights violations, in addition to “arbitrary arrests of political prisoners, human rights defenders and minorities” which “increased markedly” since he took office, according to the EU who also sanctioned Larijani in 2012. His appointment would not be a strategic decision amidst the newly U.S. imposed sanctions and the trouble it has brought upon Iran. Nowadays, the last thing Iran wants is that the EU also turn their back to them, which would happen if Larijani rises to power. However it is still highly plausible that Larijani would be the second one on the list of prospective leaders, only preceded by Raisi.

 

 

2. LEAST LIKELY SCENARIO: SUCCESSOR NOT APPOINTED

2.1 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

The IRGC’s purpose is to preserve the Islamic system from foreign interference and protect from coups. As their priority is the protection of national security, the IRGC necessarily will take action once Khamenei passes away and the political sphere becomes chaotic. In carrying out their role of protecting national security, the IRGC will act as a support for the new Supreme Leader. Moreover, the IRGC will work to stabilize the unrest which will inevitably occur, regardless of who comes to power. It is our estimate that the new Supreme Leader will have been appointed by Khamenei before death, and thus the IRGC will do all in their power to protect him. In the unlikely case that Khamenei does not appoint a successor, we believe that there are two unlikely options of ruling that could arise.

The first, and least likely, being that the IRGC takes rule. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the IRGC takes power. This would violate the Iranian constitution and is not in the interest to rule the state. What they are interested in is having a puppet figure who will satisfy their interests. As the IRGC's main role is national security, in the event that Khamenei does not appoint a successor and the country goes into political and social turmoil, the IRGC will without a doubt step in. This military intervention will be one of transitory nature, as the IRGC does not pretend to want direct political power. Once the Supreme Leader is secured, the IRGC will go back to a relatively low profile.

In the very unlikely event that a Supreme Leader is not predetermined, the IRGC may take over the political regime of Iran, creating a military dictatorship. If this were to happen, there would certainly be protests, riots and coups. It would be very difficult for an opposition group to challenge and defeat the IRGC, but there would be attempts to overcome it. This would be a regime of temporary nature, however, the new Supreme Leader would arise from the scene that the IRGC had been protecting.

2.2 Mohsen Kadivar

In addition, political dissident and moderate cleric Mohsen Kadivar is a plausible candidate for the next Supreme Leader. Kadivar’s rise to political power in Iran would be a black swan,  as it is extremely unlikely, however, the possibility should not be dismissed. His election would be highly unlikely due to the fact that he is a vocal critic of clerical rule and has been a public opposer of the Iranian government. He has served time in prison for speaking out in favor of democracy and liberal reform as well as publicly criticizing the Islamic political system. Moreover, he has been a university professor of Islamic religious and legal studies throughout the United States. As Kadivar goes against all requirements to become successor, he is highly unlikely to become Supreme Leader. It is also important to keep in mind that Khamenei will most likely appoint a successor, and in that scenario, he will appoint someone who meets the requirements and of course is in line with what he believes. In the rare case that Khamenei does not appoint a successor or dies before he gets the chance to, a political uprising is inevitable. The question will be whether the country uprises to the point of voting a popular leader or settling with someone who will maintain the status quo.

In the situation that Mohsen Kadivar is voted into power, the Iranian political system would change drastically. For starters, he would not call himself Supreme Leader, and would instill a democratic and liberal political system. Kadivar and other scholars which condemn supreme clerical rule are anti-despotism and advocate for its abolishment. He would most likely establish a western-style democracy and work towards stabilizing the political situation of Iran. This would take more years than he will allow himself to remain in power, however, he will probably stay active in the political sphere both domestically as well as internationally. He may be secretary of state after stepping down, and work as both a close friend and advisor of the next leader of Iran as well as work for cultivating ties with other democratic countries.

2.3 Sayyid Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei

Khamenei's son, Sayyid Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei is also rumored to be a possible designated successor. His religious and military experience and dedication, along with being the son of Khamenei gives strong reason to believe that he may be appointed Supreme Leader by his father. However, Mojtaba is lacking the required religious status. The requirements of commitment to the IRGC as well as anti-American ideology are not questioned, as Mojtaba has a well-known strong relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Mojtaba studied theology and is currently a professor at Qom Seminary in Iran. Nonetheless, it is unclear as to whether Mojtaba’s religious and political status is enough to have him considered to be the next Supreme Leader. In the improbable case that Khamenei names his son to be his successor, it would be possible for his son to further commit to the religious and political facets of his life and align them with the requirements of being Supreme Leader.

This scenario is highly unlikely, especially considering that in the 1979 Revolution, monarchical hereditary succession was abolished. Mojtaba has already shown loyalty to Iran when taking control of the Basij militia during the uproar of the 2009 elections to halt protests. While Mojtaba is currently not fit for the position, he is clearly capable of gaining the needed credentials to live up to the job. Despite his potential, all signs point to another candidate becoming the successor before Mojtaba.

 

3. PATH TO DEMOCRACY

Albeit the current regime is supposedly overturned by an uprising or new appointment by the current Supreme Leader Khamenei, it is expected that any transition to democracy or to Western-like regime will take a longer and more arduous process. If this was the case, it will be probably preceded by a turmoil analogous to the Arab Springs of 2011. However, even if there was a scream for democracy coming from the Iranian population, the probability that it ends up in success like it did in Tunisia is slim to none. Changing the president or the Supreme Leader does not mean that the regime will also change, but there are more intertwined factors that lead to a massive change in the political sphere, like it is the path to democracy in a Muslim state.

Iran's nuclear crisis: Red Hat insights

Why Tehran has decided to openly confront US sanctions and how the crisis could develop from now

Persian chess-game [Pixabay]

▲ Persian chess-game [Pixabay]

ANALYSISBaltasar Martos

It is now time to suggest a possible future-oriented course of action for Iran in response to the US unilateral exit from the nuclear deal1. The strategy employed to this end will be that of the red-hat analysis, capitalizing on cultural comprehension and adopting the Iranian regime’s perspective to better understand the way in which it perceives the various threats and opportunities ahead, hence always considering situational factors.

A SWOT analysis will be provided beforehand by way of introduction, focusing just in one of the most important (1) strengths: high proportion of young people; (2) weaknesses: the intrincate political system; (3) opportunities: a closer relationship with leading European countries, and (4) threats: joint pressure by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. This will surely enable a more in-depth approach to Iranian views and positions.

A simplified SWOT

1. First and foremost, Iran is home for more than 80 million people, 43% of which are less than 40 years old. This large young population is very much tuned to Western trends and habits of consumption. They embrace technology virtually as much as in any other Western nation. The most striking fact about Iranian youngsters is the amount of university students among them. The country is well known for hosting a highly qualified population and labor force that acquired superior education at any of the numerous universities in the major cities.

2. In second place, Iran owns a very complex, intricate political system that renders the hierarchy of the decision-making process very difficult to understand. Its current institutions are a product of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which ousted the Shah and reformed the whole previous power network. The political system of the country then turned from an authoritarian Monarchy into a constitutional theocracy with a multipolar power structure. The religious figure of the Supreme Leader or Ayatollah is the ultimate responsible for setting both domestic and foreign policy. The main issue here is that this institution holds views that are deeply rooted in the old days and endeavors to influence the private lives of the citizens. Decisions are self-explanatorily not made according to economic efficiency or political experience, or even less to satisfy population’s demands. Instead they aim to preserve and safeguard the regime and ensure its survival. The primary concern of the ruling political elites is thus to last in power, not to introduce reforms or think prospectively.

3. In the third place, Iran has now the chance to strengthen ties with its traditional powerful trade partners in the European Union, such as France, England or Italy. Provided their opposition vis-à-vis the US reimposition of sanctions, Iran can utilize this opportunity to begin a rapprochement towards them and express its best desire to cooperate under certain established conditions that prove beneficial to both parts.

4. Finally, Iran should not disregard the warnings coming from the White House. The main threat Iran is likely to face is an aggressive diplomatic strategy at the initiative of the US with the aggregated—but separated—efforts of Israel and Saudi Arabia. This would definitely jeopardize Iran’s current position as one of the dominant powers in the region and would force the nation to find an alternative solution.

Red Hat exercise

Tehran’s interpretation of Washington’s 2018 diplomatic shift quite evidently differs from that of the Trump administration2. In the words of Ayatollah Khamenei, the ultimate reason for this new move lies in the US’s perverse ambition to progressively weaken and undermine the socio-political structure built after decades of arduous work by the Islamic Revolution. Khamenei claims that Washington’s intention is to overturn a popular, legitimate government in favor of a puppet regime completely subjected to its will.

In their public speeches, the Iranian political elites constantly refer to the US’s boundless ambition to regain total control of the region, oppress civil society and submit individuals to their corrupted dogmas and doctrines, like they did decades ago. They very often evoke the glorious past of their millenary civilization and emphasise that it is precisely its longevity what makes it worthy of the most careful preservation and promotion. Once a major empire, they say, Iran has developed a unique identity different from that of its closest neighbors.

In the Iranian collective mindset, especially that of the most orthodox Shia and the very influential clerics, the nation enjoys the highest dignity for having conquered other territories and peoples but also endured invasions and dominations from enemies and rivals, yet always remaining true and loyal to its ancient traditions and foundations. More recently, Iran owes its independence to the innumerable efforts made by the leaders of the Revolution to free the nation from the clutches of the American imperialism embodied in the Pahlavi dynasty. The country’s civilisational pride is therefore deeply ingrained in the people’s minds and very often put forward in the political discourse. Furthermore, its foreign policy is soaked by a traditional ‘regional fear’, for Iran sees itself as the guardian of true Shi’a values amidst a region dominated by Shi’a-adverse powers with superior military capabilities.

The strong resentment and hatred against the Western world in general, and the demonization of the United States in particular, appear very often in Iranian politics. Such an anti-Western narrative is very often used to cover up the regime’s economic mismanagement over the last decades, instead blaming the West for all the struggles, ills and evils of society. We must remember that, for Iranians—at least for the most religious sector of the society—the Islamic Revolution is a path that leads believers into Paradise and salvation as understood by the Shi’a. The revolution purports to redeem the peoples from the national humiliation suffered during Western dominance in the times of the Shah. Therefore, martyrdom, resistance and endurance are considered three most valuable virtues that will guarantee all kinds of enjoyments to those cultivating them throughout their lifetime.

Iran presumably decided to start a nuclear program based off several historical reasons. On one hand, in face of a strong isolation experienced during the bloody war waged against Irak—an opponent which used chemical weapons against both combatants and civilians alike—Iran began its works with the aim of further intensifying its nuclear technology developments as a means to guard against a future surprise of similar characteristics.

On the other hand we shall recall the Revolution’s need to constantly legitimate itself and maintain its status in front of the international community, thus preserving Iran’s independence from outside influence or external intervention while restoring its former greatness as a center of scientific progress. Moreover, Tehran has long claimed its need to promote a solid nuclear energy plan to ensure energy security at home and satisfy the needs of its huge domestic demand in peaceful civilian, energy and medical terms. The government emphasizes the right to develop, research, produce and use nuclear energy as endowed by Iran’s membership in the Non-Proliferation treaty.

However, the most pressing issue for Iran’s security is undoubtedly the fact that five of the world’s nine nuclear powers are located nearby or directly on its borders. The theocracy claims to have substantial grounds for feeling victim of the foreign arrogance of the outside world, which has allegedly endeavored to restrict Iran’s rights to freely develop its nuclear activities by having it sign the Non-proliferation Treaty, unlike other neigboring nuclear-armed states such as Pakistan, Israel or India. This brings us to the conclusion that, even if the regime vehemently denies any interest in developing nucler weapons and rather uses the need to supply its domestic market with much needed energy resources as an excuse to keep its works running, some evidence found in recent discoveries of covert facilities and nuclear plants can confirm the vital importance for some of the regime leaders to obtain weapons in the short or medium term.

Scenarios ahead

The Persian nation is now standing on a crossroads with three different paths ahead, each one leading to a very different place. We will place them in an order, ranging from the most likely scenario to the least plausible one: (A) prolongation of diplomatic stalemate with minor tensions; (B) quick escalation of tensions and direct military confrontation, and (C) bring back the so-called ‘12 conditions’ to the bargaining table and stick to them. 

A. The most likely: Diplomatic stalemate

On May 8, exactly a year after Donald Trump's announcement of US exit from the JCPOA, President Rouhani announced that Iran would cease to perform parts of its commitments under the nuclear deal, namely the observance of the limit for its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and the compliance with the limit of heavy water reserves. Its statement included a 60-day ultimatum, addressing specifically the European State parties to the treaty and urging them to find a diplomatic solution via economic packages to ease the current oil and banking restrictions. Should they prove unable to fulfill this conditions, Rouhani warned, Iran will continue with its intended pullout from the accord through a ‘multi-phased approach’.

Europeans have recently been employing a rhetoric that has resulted in ambiguous and confusing promises to Iran, mainly due to the innumerable efforts they need to make in order to balance out a strong willingness to save the deal and the fear of a further detachment from an everyday more hostile American partner. On his side, President Rouhani has remained true to his bet on ‘strategic patience’ in the style of the Moderation and Development Party, to which he belongs, during all this time.

Nevertheless, it seems that the patience of the Iranian leadership is coming to an end with each passing day. The political elites have harshly critized its European counterparts for making lots of empty promises throughout this last year without achieving any substantial or practical outcome, specially after the U.S. decision on April 22 to put an end to the waivers on oil imports from third countries in an attempt to ‘bring oil trade to zero’. This will no longer exempt any customer engaging in oil transactions with Iran from the US-led second wave of sanctions. Moreover, Rouhani has called on the Europeans to allow Iran to repatriate its money sitting in European bank accounts, which still remain blocked as part of previous sanctions.

Without disregarding the vital importance of the E3 for Iran’s national economy and the pivotal role they play in the political scenario surrounding the country in the Middle East, it is also true that there are other strategic partners involved in this game whose existence as credible alternatives to the E3 is precisely the cause that pushes the Iranian leadership to discard a complete withdrawal and rather remain adhered to the nuclear accord. At the front of this group of Iranian oil importers are China and India, which will self-evidently ignore the effects of the recent termination of the US waivers and prosecute their purchases to satisfy their huge domestic demand. Although with weaker currencies and perhaps using more rudimentary instruments, both China and India will manage to secure those transactions in an orderly manner and will most likely help other purchasers to do the same. In fact, some voices speak of a possibility of performing oil-swap arrangements via Russia to lock oil prices and protect their finances from the high volatility of global energy prices.

Following this logic, Iran will then go ahead with its ongoing business while persuading and encouraging importers to keep buying Iranian oil despite the inability of European counterparts to meet the aforementioned ultimatum as set by President Rouhani. In paralell to this, Iran will probably threaten the remaining parts and especially the Americans with a further development of its nuclear capacities, but this will only add to a strategy that seeks to prolong the current state of affairs until the next U.S. presidential elections in 2020 take place.

B. The apocalyptic, yet no the least plausible scenario

The most apocalyptic—yet not the least plausible—scenario can be inferred from the most recent moves of US military assets after the government’s official designation of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps as a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organization’ on April 8. Fist, on May 6, the Pentagon announced the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force on the Persian Gulf. Four days later, the Pentagon confirmed that it had sent some warships, the USS Arlington amphibious transport dock and a Patriot missile defense battery to the same region as a deterrent to Iran. Lastly, on May 12, two Saudi oil tankers and four additional Emirati ships off the coast of the Persian Gulf were sabotaged. President Trump blamed Iran for malicious behaviour targeting maritim traffic along the Gulf. More recently, Washington officials have announced a new deployment of some fighter jets and additional troops to the same territory in what they have called a ‘mostly protective measure’. This suddenly heightened tensions might result in the outbreak of renewed hostilities in the coming months.

The American public opinion does not discard a military confrontation in a close future. In fact, a poll conducted in the US between May 17 and May 20 disclosed surprising results3: more than half of the American citizens consider Iran as a ‘worrying’ or even ‘imminent’ threat. Roughly the same percentage assumes their country will go to war against Iran in the coming years. Very few civilians believe that a preemptive attack should be conducted on Iranian military interests, but roughly 80% of them are convinced that the US should respond to an attack from the side of Iranian via airstrikes or even ground troop invasions.

An undeniable fact is that there are differing views inside the White House. The National Security Advisor John Bolton and in some way also the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have always shown a maximalist approach that seeks to overthrow the mullahs’ regime in Tehran. Apparently none of them would hesitate to enter into a dire military confrontation if the situation so required. Bolton himself had already declared his intentions even before substituting his predecessor in office, Herbert McMaster. On the other hand, President Trump has used his recent meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to affirm the following: ‘Iran has a tremendous economic potential. […] It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership. We are not looking for a regime change. I just want to make that clear. We are just looking for no nuclear weapons'4. This somehow spaces out his view from that of his hawkish aides. In the words of Karim Sadjadpour, a well renowned Iranian-American policy analyst, ‘What Trump articulated in Japan was another reminder that his main problem with the Iranian nuclear deal was that it was signed by Obama. Given Trump’s eagerness for a public summit and deal with Tehran, it is conceivable that Iran’s leaders could sign a more favorable deal with Trump than they did with Obama. But the pride and mistrust of Iran’s supreme leader makes him more inclined to subject his population to another year of sanctions and economic malaise rather than do a deal with Trump’.

C. The unlikely back to the negotiating table

On May 12, 2018, four days after President Trump made public his intention of withdrawal from the JCPOA, Pompeo set out a list of twelve conditions under which Washington would agree to a new agreement with Tehran. Besides addressing the termination of Iran’s participation in different conflicts throughout the Middle East, it explicitly called on Tehran to ‘stop enriching its uranium and plutonium reserves, grant IAEA unrestricted access to all sites throughout the entire country and end proliferation and testing of ballistic missiles’.

It should be noted that Trump never presented explicit and clear evidence that Iran was failing to comply with its obligation. Instead, he merely denounced the treaty as far from being minimally advantageous for American interests, once again reinforcing the idea that the Obama Administration resoundingly failed to negotiate a deal that could benefit both parts. The three European State parties also emphasized that Iranians had remained faithful to their commitment and that had been officially attested by international inspectors supervising the nuclear facilities. That was the main piece of evidence supporting Iran’s thesis of not being in a state of violation of any provision of the deal but instead strictly observing every single aspect as they were agreed upon.

Having all this in mind, there are other aspects we should look at. The war in Syria is slowly coming to an end and Al-Assad owes his victory to the strong and uninterrupted financial and logistic aid from Tehran. There is no doubt that the regime will hold him accountable for all the support provided throughout the conflict and will seek to consolidate positions around the war-torn territory, thus expanding the influences of Shia islamist ideology as promoted by the Supreme Leader and the most prominent clerics. Moreover, not only is Iran-backed Hezbollah movement present in Syria, but also it enjoys a very prominent position inside the Lebanese parliament and holds an enormous influence in the country in general terms.

All this together, in addition to the round success Tehran is enjoying in his efforts to back Houthi rebels as compared to the exorbitant cost Saudi Arabia is paying to counter the rebellion, suffices to conclude that Iran is by no means willing to get back to the conditions advanced by Pompeo in order to renegotiate a new treaty that would thwart all the efforts already made along the way. This would signify an absolute humiliation for the regime. Iran has already come too far and it would now only accept to resume negotiations if it was granted the chance to depart from a dominant diplomatic position.

 

Representatives from the P5+1 countries in 2015, weeks before reaching the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement [US State Department]

Representatives from the P5+1 countries in 2015, weeks before reaching the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement [US State Department]

What the EU is doing

Among all the State parties involved in the JCPOA, the E3 are likely to be the most severely affected by the US reinforcement of sanctions given the big stake they have in the region in form of finances and investments in the oil sector, and their unwillingness to go undercover. As a result of this new decision by Washington, companies and banks doing business in Iran could see their access to the American market cut off. Among other collateral effects, the re-imposition of sanctions will cause a negative impact on the region’s trade flows, energy supplies, connectivity, security and stability. Indeed, sanctions present a special conundrum for the European counterparts: either they decide to carry on with their economic activities in Iran or they remain inside the US-led international financial circuit. They need to solve this jigsaw puzzle if they still want to secure their economic interests.

In order to do so, following the US exit, the High Representative of the European Union Federica Mogherini issued a statement bitterly regretting the US retaliation and expressing the EU’s strong commitment to enact an updated blocking statute that would enter into force on August 7. This blocking statute refers to the ‘Council Regulation (EC) No 2271/96 of November 1996 protecting against the effects of the extra-territorial application of legislation adopted by a third country, and actions based thereon or resulting therefrom’5. It basically ‘allows EU operators to recover damages arising from US extraterritorial sanctions and nullifies the effect, in the EU, of any foreign court rulings. It also forbids EU persons form complying with those sanctions’6. In a nutshell, this statute acts as a shield against trade wars and mitigates the impact of those sanctions on the interests of European companies doing legitimate business with Iran, thus keeping Iran’s oil and investments flowing.

The European Union considers that its Member States’ business decisions should not be determined by any kind of foreign legislation. It would never recognize such legislation applicable to European operators. However, the EU still holds to the commitment of pursuing a continued, full and effective implementation of the treaty as long as Iran also plays its part by refraining from acquiring further equipment to develop a nuclear weapon and enables monitored verification of its uranium-235 enrichment activities. The E3 considers that the agreement is delivering on its goal so far and ensuring the peaceful nature of the nuclear program.

It is hence no surprise that the three European Member States involved in the deal are determined to preserve and implement it, insisting upon the numerous benefits it entails for Iran, the Middle East and the rest of the international community. Acting on behalf of the E3, the EU has recently endeavored to take several measures in order to offset the US withdrawal of the JCPOA7.

i) In the first place, they seek to extend the European Investment Bank lending mandates, allowing the bank to decide strictly under the EU budget to what extent and under which conditions it will finance commercial activities in Iran.

ii) Secondly, they also attempt to encourage and promote activities by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) willing to undertake operations in Iran.

iii) Thirdly, they purport to accelerate the activation of the Instrument In Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX). This is a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ acting as a clearing house or barter arrangement for Iran to conduct trade with European companies outside of the SWIFT mechanism. This mechanism was officially registered by France, Germany and the United Kingdom on January 31, 2019. It works as an alternative payment channel that facilitates legitimate trade and investment between the EU and Iran despite sanctions. It is led by the EU3 and self-evidently euro-denominated. The entity originally focused only on trade in non-sanctionable essential goods, namely medical and humanitarian, and not so much on oil-related transactions so far. It mainly addresses SMEs whose total trade volume is usually small. In principle, it has not been designed to circumvent or bypass US sanctions but rather to fight money laundering and counter the financing of illicit terrorist activities. These last aspects reinforce the European efforts to voice its disagreements on Iran’s declared support for Al-Assad in Syria and the promotion of terrorism region-wide, its multiple human rights abuses and its development of ballistic missiles.

However, in view of the technical complexities resulting in a long delay to set in motion this mechanism as well as the more immediate challenges the Union has to face in the first instance, it is very unlikely that the E.U. finds enough resources and time to effectively give a definite impulse to this apparatus before the deadline of 60 days from May 8 set by Iranians eventually expires.

 

 

(1) Sanger, D. et al. “U.S. Issues New Sanctions as Iran Warms It Will Step Back from Nuclear Deal”, The New York Times, May 8, 2019

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/08/us/politics/iran-nuclear-deal.html

(2) Chubin, Sharam. “The Politics of Iran's Nuclear Program”, The Iran Primer, US Institute for Peace, 2010 (updated 2015)

http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/politics-irans-nuclear-program

(3) Ipsos/Reuters Poll Data, Iran Poll 05.20.19 https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/12/658/652/2019%20Reuters%20Tracking%20-%20Iran%20Poll%2005%2020%202019.pdf

(4) Kranish, Michael. “Trumps Says He Is Not Seeking 'Regime Change' in Iran”. The Washington Post, May 27, 2019

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-says-he-is-not-seeking-regime-change-in-iran/2019/05/27/94d3053a-808d-11e9-933d-7501070ee669_story.html?utm_term=.9005a7a98ec8

(7) Geranmayeh, Ellie. “60 days to save the JCPOA”. European Council on Foreign Relations. May 9, 2019

https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_60_days_to_save_the_jcpoa_iran_nuclear_deal

Iranian crisis: the regional context

How Russia, China, India and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries react to the new US sanctions against Iran

Presidents Putin and Rouhani during a meeting in Tehran, in September 2018 [Wikipedia]

▲ Presidents Putin and Rouhani during a meeting in Tehran, in September 2018 [Wikipedia]

ANALYSISAlfonso Carvajal

As US-Iranian relations continue to deteriorate, the balance of power and regional alliances will be prone to shifting and changing. Iranians will likely feel increasingly more marginalised as time passes and will seek to remedy their state of international isolation. Here, the main factors to look out for will be the nations seeking to achieve great power status, and how they will try to attract Iran towards them while pushing the Islamic Republic further away from the United States.

China and Russia’s response

Russia’s relations with Iran have historically been complicated. While at some points, the two countries have faced each other as rivals in war, other times have seen them enjoy peace and cooperation. Russia has been an important actor in Iranian international relations since at least the Sixteenth Century and will most likely retain its importance in the long run. Since the fall of the USSR, Russian-Iranian relations have improved, as many issues that had caused tensions suddenly disappeared. These issues where mainly caused by their ideological incompatibility, as the USSR’s atheism was looked upon with suspicion by Khomeini, and its support given to Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war.

Recently, both countries have found themselves facing international, mainly US, economic sanctions. This is a factor that is important to acknowledge, and that will shape their future relations. As Russia and Iran struggle to defuse the effects of sanctions, they will seek trade elsewhere. This means that they have found in each other a way to make for their isolation, and their ties are likely to only grow. Militarily, cooperation has already been cemented by years of sanctions in Iran.

Whereas once the Iranian Armed Forces boasted of having the most advanced Western-built fighter jets and other military material in the region, Iran now often uses Russian and Chinese aircraft and military gear, coupled with its own native military industry that was independently developed as a result of its isolation. Iran is also said to cooperate with Russia in certain industrial sectors close to the military such as drones. However, due to the latest international sanctions, Russia is less keen to continue to cooperate on military sales and technology transfers. For this reason, Russia has shown reluctance towards helping the Iranian nuclear program, although it is in favour of reaching a deal with Iran along with the international community.

A cornerstone in Russian-Iranian relations has always been their mutual distrust towards Turkey. In the age of the Ottoman Empire, relations between Persians and Russians would often consist in an alignment against the Ottoman Turks. Nowadays, their relationship also has this component, as Turkey and Iran are increasingly competing in the Middle East to decide who will lead the reconstruction of the region, whilst Russia and Turkey find themselves at odds in the Black Sea, where Russia’s ambition of naval dominance is being challenged.

While it may seem that Russia and Iran should be close allies, there are a series of reasons to explain why cooperation is not likely to see a fully fledged alliance. First of all, there are far too many differences between both regimes, as they have different geopolitical imperatives and ambitions in the Caucasus and the Middle east. The second issue is Israel. As Russia moves further into the Levant, it tries to maintain good relations with Israel, Iran’s archenemy, also called little Satan by Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. As the conflict in Syria dies down in the following years, Russia will be forced to choose between who to support. This is likely to mean a withdrawal of support towards Iran’s position in Syria, as it sees its meddling in the region increasingly unproductive, and would favour its retreat. Iran, however, has said it is there to stay.

Russian-Iranian cooperation has recently been developed in one important country of the region: Afghanistan. As the US seems to lose interest in the Middle East and pivots towards East Asia, Russia and Iran have moved into the war-torn country, as they back different factions aiming to end the decades-long conflict. Russia has previously backed the Taliban, because it wants to ensure that they are a part of the peace negotiations. Iran has backed both the government and the Taliban, as it wants to fight the rising influence of ISIS in Afghanistan, as well as keep good relations with the Taliban to maintain a degree of stability and control over Afghanistan’s west, so that the conflict does not spill over. Although Russia and Iran might have different objectives, they are united in wanting to push the US of the region.

The other geopolitical giant that is slowly encroaching on the region is the People’s Republic of China, albeit with a different stance altogether. Like Russia, China has welcomed business with Iran and currently supports the nuclear deal, the JCPOA, which the US recently left. Chinese-Iranian ties are more solid than the Russian’s, as they don’t have as many overlapping hegemonic ambitions. In a certain way, the relations between these two countries arose as a way to contain the USSR’s expansive influence during the 1970’s after the Sino-Soviet split, and predate the current Iranian regime. Both countries see their relation as part of the past, as great empires of antiquity, the present, and see each other as important partners for future and ongoing projects, such as the One Road One Belt initiative. However, as does Russia, China sometimes tries to play down its support towards Iran so as not to antagonize its relations with the West and the US in particular.

The Chinese have cooperated with the Islamic Republic since its conception in the 80’s, as the Iranian isolation led them towards the few markets they could access. The main theme of this cooperation has been undoubtedly based on hydrocarbons. Iran is one of the most important producers of both crude petroleum and natural gas. China is Iran’s largest trade partner, as 31% of Iran’s exports go to China, whose imports represent 37% of Iran’s in 2017. Military cooperation between these two countries has also been very important, a large part of Iran’s non-indigenous military material is of Chinese origin. The Chinese have historically been the main providers of arms to the Iranian regime, as can be seen by much of the equipment currently used by the IRGC.

Both regimes feel a certain closeness as some parts of their ideologies are similar. Both share an anti-imperialist worldview and are sceptical of Western attitudes, an attitude best perceived among their unelected leaders. They are countries that are emerging from the misery left behind by Western imperialism, according to their own narrative. Both see each other as the heirs of some of the world’s oldest cultures—the Chinese often talk of 20 centuries of cooperation between both states—, and thus feel a historical, civilizational and anti-imperialist connection in this sense. Iranians admire the great leaps that the PRC has taken towards development, and the great successes they have brought to the Chinese people and State. They also value the Chinese mindset of not meddling or criticizing the internal affairs of other States, and treating them all in the same way independent of their government.

On the other hand, the Chinese are happy to work with a Muslim country that doesn’t stir the restive North-Western Xinjiang region, where the majority of China’s Uighur Muslims live. In fact, Iran is seen by the Chinese as an important factor on the stability of Central Asia. More recently, they also see in Iran a key part of the pharaonic One Belt One Road infrastructure project, as Iran sits in the crossroads between East and West. It is understood that Beijing has high expectations of cooperation with Teheran.

However, not all of it is positive. Iranians and Chinese have different ideological foundations. China has shown that it will not be able to form an full-fledged alliance with Iran, as it fears Western backlash. In 2010 China voted a UNSC resolution in favour of sanctions towards Iran. Even though these were largely ignored by China later, Tehran understood the message. As a result of these sanctions, the only nations willing to trade with Iran where Russia and China. The latter became an increasingly important trade partner as a consequence of the lack of Western competition and began to flood the Iranian market with low-quality goods, which was unpopular among the Iranians. Resentment toward China only grew as the Chinese firms that became established in Iran brought their own workers from China and unemployment remained at high levels despite the increased economic activity. As discontent rose, Iranians of all backgrounds saw the negotiations with the West with great expectations. If successful, negotiations could provide a diversification of providers and a counterbalance against Chinese influence.

As negotiations have broken down under the Trump administration, China’s role in Iran is likely to only intensify. While the Europeans fight to save the nuclear deal, Iran is set to count on China as its main trade partner. Chinese firms, although now more vulnerable to pressure from the US than in 2010, still have strong interests in Iran, and are unlikely to leave what will be a competition-free market once most foreign firms are deterred by US sanctions. The Chinese will seek to keep the nuclear provisions of the JCPOA agreement and will cooperate in the development of the Arak Heavy Water Reactor, probably displacing the Russians, which have historically led the Iranian nuclear program. Chinese involvement in the Iranian nuclear industry will likely prevent the development of a bomb, as China does not want to encourage nuclear arms proliferation.

While China moves into South Asia, alarms go off in New Delhi. India sees itself as the dominant power in the region and its traditional enmity towards China is causing a change in its foreign policy. India’s PM, Narendra Modi, is following a policy of “Neighbourhood first” in the face of a growing Chinese presence. China already has expanded its reach to countries like Sri Lanka, where it has secured the port of Hambantota for a 99-year lease. In the latest years, Pakistan, India’s other arch-enemy, has become one of China’s closest partners. The relation between both countries stems from their rivalry towards India, although cooperation has reached new levels. The Chinese- Pakistan Economic Corridor runs from the Chinese city of Kashgar through the entire length of the country of Pakistan and ends in the developing port of Gwadar. The project has caused a rush of much needed capital in the financially unstable Pakistan, with Chinese and Saudi bonds keeping it afloat. In the face of China’s new projects and its New Silk Road, New Delhi sees itself more and more surrounded, and has accused China of scheming to isolate it.

To face China’s new stance, India has taken a more active role. Its prime minister made many State visits to the neighbouring countries in a bid to weaken Chinese influence. In this effort to impose itself on what it sees as its region, India is developing a deep-sea port in the coast of Iran, past the strait of Hormuz in the Indian ocean. Iran will be an important piece in the designs of the Indian political elite.

The development of the deep-sea port of Chabahar is a joint Indian, Iranian and Afghan project to improve the connectivity of the region and has more than one reason of being. It is effectively a port to connect Central Asia, a growing 65-million people market, through a series of rail and road networks which are also part of the project, to the Indian Ocean. Another reason for this port is the development of war-torn Afghanistan, which also serves the purpose of reducing Pakistan’s influence there. Pakistan holds a firm grip in Afghanistan and sees it as its back yard. Pakistan is said to harbour Taliban guerrillas, who use the country to launch attacks against Afghanistan, as it did against the USSR in the 80’s. The most important feature of all for India is that the port would allow it to bypass what is an effective land blockade from Pakistan, and will permit it to reach and trade with Afghanistan. The Chabahar port will essentially compete with the Chinese-built Gwadar port in nearby Pakistan, in the two superpowers’ race for influence and domination of the ocean’s oil-carrying sea lanes.

India’s usual approach is to keep a neutral stance around world conflicts in order to be able to talk and deal with all parties. This is part of its non-commitment policy. For example, India has relations with both Israel and Palestine, or Iran and Saudi Arabia. This means that India is very unlikely to make any serious statement in favour of Iran against the United States if Iranian-US relations were to badly break down, as it might be seen as picking sides by some countries. It does not mean, however, that it will abandon Iran. India has already invested greatly in infrastructure projects and is unlikely to simply withdraw them. Far more importantly, India is one of Iran’s biggest petroleum purchasers, and losing such an important market and provider is not a choice the Indian government is eager to make.

India calls its relationship with Iran a “strategic partnership”, in terms of cooperation in energy and trade activities. The Indian government is likely to take a cautious stance while acting with principles of Realpolitik. They will try to sort out sanctions if they can and will discourage this sort of activity while trying to maintain their interests in the region. As said before, New Delhi will shy away from committing strongly from any project likely to keep its hands tied.

The Syrian War

In 2011, the Middle East and North Africa region was shaken by what would soon be called the Arab Spring. While the citizens of many Arab countries where chanting pro- democratic slogans and protesting outside dictators’ palaces and in the squares of Middle Eastern capitals, outside observers began to say that the once dictatorship- riddled region was about to adopt Western liberal democracy in what would become an era of freedom never paralleled in such countries. What came later could hardly be further from that reality. The region was struck by great waves civil unrest, as one by one, from West to East, the waves of revolution spread. The most authoritarian regimes attacked their own citizens with brutal repression, and what seemed like democratic transitions rapidly turned out to fall back into authoritarianism. Such was the case in Egypt, among others. However, some countries where struck harder than others. The more serious cases became civil wars. Some of the countries that had enjoyed relative long-term stability, like Libya and Syria burst into civil war. Yemen too, was struck by sectarian conflict.

The longest of these conflicts, the Syrian Civil War, is on its 8th year already. For a long time, it has drawn many international and regional actors, turning its countryside into a patchwork of pro-government militias, rebel guerrillas, Islamist extremism, transnational nationalist movements and others. The ruling class, the Al- Assad alawite family, under an authoritarian and secularist regime, has held on to power through every means possible, using foreign support as a crucial part of its survival strategy. To his side, Bashar Al-Assad has drawn the support of Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation, as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. Each of these players has brought their own forces to the battlefield, as Russia has helped give Syria the necessary aerial capabilities it lacked, while Iran provides it with Shia militias, material, volunteers, and the presence of Hezbollah.

The regime faces many groups, who often fight against each other, and have different international backing, if any. For example, the Free Syrian Army is said to be backed by Turkey and is made from Sunni Arab and Turkmen militias. Other groups such as the Islamic State or Al Qaeda affiliated organizations also fight for survival, or to implement their ideal society. Another important group, perhaps the most important one is the YPG, or People’s Protection Unit, largely a Kurdish force, which holds much of Northern Syria, the Kurdish region called Rojava. The YPG and the Syrian government of Al-Assad seem to have come to an understanding and try not to enter into hostilities amongst each other, focusing on the Islamic State, or ISIL. YPG international backing comes mainly from the US, but with President Donald Trump having said that the US will soon leave Syria, their future is uncertain.

With Bashar Al-Assad’s position having become dominant in the Syrian battlefield, it is expected that the conflict will enter a new stage. Israel has shown its growing discomfort in what it sees as Iranian expansionism, and has launched aerial offensives against Iranian positions, permitted by Russia, who currently controls much of Syria’s aerial defences. This might spell the loosening of Al-Assad’s coalition.

As Iranian-backed forces draw closer to the southwest of Syria, Israel becomes more and more nervous. The implication of Israel in the Syrian conflict would most likely be a disaster for all parties involved. If Israel comes to point of fearing for its territorial integrity, or its existence, it has previously shown, in many occasions, that it will not doubt to take action and use all of its military might in the process if needed.

This is why Hezbollah is unlikely to make a serious move towards the Golan Heights. Hezbollah now boasts of the greatest amount of power it has ever had in its domestic scene. It is an influential actor in the Syrian War and at home it has achieved serious political power, forming a coalition with various other Shia and Christian groups. A war with Israel, in which it was identified as the aggressor, would be disastrous to its image as a protector of the Lebanese, as it has always taken a stance of resistance. It would put all of Hezbollah’s political achievements in jeopardy. Whatever the case, Israel boasts of significantly more modern and powerful armed forces, which would force Hezbollah to be on the defensive, thus making an offensive into Israel extremely unlikely. Hezbollah must then try to restrain Iran, although, amongst the myriad of Iranian-backed militias, it has lost leverage in its relations with Iran and the IRGC.

For Bashar Al-Assad, war with Israel might prove an existential threat, as it bears the potential to cause a great deal of damage in Syria, undermining any effort to consolidate power and end the war in his favour. If war with Israel broke out, even if it was just against Iranian-backed objectives, Al-Assad would never be able to obtain the reconstruction funds it so badly needs to rebuild the country. Israel’s powerful and advanced army would without a doubt pose the patchwork of battle-hardened militias a very big challenge. Thus, it is very unlikely for Al-Assad to permit a war might cause his downfall.

Russia, wishing to end the war and keep its military bases and prestige in the process, would no doubt discourage any sort of posturing against Israel from its allies in Syria. Moscow seeks to maintain good relations with Israel and wouldn’t be very upset about an Iranian exit. It is already trying to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from coming too close to the Israeli and Jordanian borders and has opened the Syrian airspace to Israeli aerial attacks towards Iranian targets located in its vicinity. Russia would welcome a quick and impressive end to the war to consolidate its status as a global power and become a power broker in the region.

Reaching a deal with the US to end hostilities in exchange for the recognition of Al-Assad is not outside the realms of possibility, as chances of regime change get slimmer, the US will be forced to recognize that Al-Assad is there to stay. It is necessary to acknowledge that a Russian-US deal will be incomplete, and quite unfruitful. The US is very likely to demand that Iran leave Syria and stops occupying Iraq with is Quds Force. Russia does not possess the leverage to send Iran back home. It would also be unfavourable for Russia as it has chosen to help Assad to regain its status as a great power in the world and has become a major power broker in the Middle East. This means their position relies on their status, which would be compromised, were Iran to openly confront Russia. The Iranians have already said that they would not leave unless Bashar Al-Assad specifically asked them to. Russia could pressure on Al-Assad, but the Iranians are likely to have more leverage, as they have a larger ground force in the region, and where the first to help the Syrian regime.

If the US wants to achieve any sort of meaningful peace negotiations, it must come into dialogue with the Iranians. Any sort of negotiation that does not include Iran would be pointless, as the amount of influence it has acquired in the region these last years makes it a key player. Iran is determined to stay in Syria and the IRGC is committed to force the government to keep its presence abroad.

In any case, the retreat of US troops in Syria would mark a turning point in the war. Currently the US provides air support, has 2,000 ground troops and provides an vital amount of equipment to the YPG Kurdish forces. Its retreat would be a blow to American credibility as an international ally, as it abandons the Kurds in a decisive moment where all tables could turn against them. Turkey has committed forces towards fighting the Kurds, which it sees as a threat to its national integrity, as large numbers of Kurds live inside Turkey and are hostile to it. The main reason for Turkish entry into the Syrian war was to stop the YPG from uniting a long stretch of land along the Turkish

border towards the Mediterranean Sea and to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state. It is therefore a possibility that, whether through its Syrian proxies, or with its own army, the Turks will ally with Al-Assad against the Kurds, if these two don’t reach an agreement and begin hostilities. This alliance is more than likely, as Turkish animosity towards Kurdish forces will cause them to jump at the occasion, if Al-Assad asks for help. Al-Assad might seek in this way to balance Iranian influence by integrating another player, which would cause tensions between Iran and Turkey to rise, as both countries aspire to obtain regional hegemony, and would give Syria more margin to manoeuvre.

 

Saudi Arabian soldier from the First Airborne Brigade with a UAE soldier, 2016 [Saudi88hawk-Wikipedia]

Saudi Arabian soldier from the First Airborne Brigade with a UAE soldier, 2016 [Saudi88hawk-Wikipedia]

 

Saudi-Iranian rivalry

The struggle for dominance in the region is expected to continue indeterminately. As long as the ideological argument between the Islamic Republic and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) exists, it will take geopolitical dimensions, as both states seek to ensure their legitimacy in the face of the other. The Iran-Iraq War shaped the Islamic Republic’s sense of geopolitical isolation, giving the more entrenched sectors of its political elite a fierce will to prevent any further isolation as was done in the past. Chemical weapons, often provided by the US were used against it, without any action taken from the international community. Therefore, the Iranian elites believe that Iran will have to stand by itself, and knows it will have few allies.

For the moment, Iran seems to be winning the confrontation. With a the possibility of a consolidated Syria, Iran’s influence would be unparalleled. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon will provide Iran the reach and the potential to expand its influence even in the Mediterranean Sea. The war in Yemen is proving as costly as it is ineffective to Saudi Arabia and its allies, with a minimum cost from Iran. It can be expected that Iran keeps its strong grip over these countries, as its presence has become necessary for the survival of some of these states. It will not be without difficulty, as local forces are likely to reject the imposition of Iranian authority. This has been shown before in the burning of the Iranian consulate in Basra [4], by local Sunni Arabs who resent the degree of influence its neighbour has in their country. The recently struck commercial deals with Iraq during Rouhani’s visit to the country might cause more Iraqis to take a more confrontational stance, as they are seen to benefit Iran more than Iraq. Both counties have pledged to increase their trade up to 20 billion dollars, but it will be hard to determine how they will affect Iraq. With this degree of Iranian involvement, the KSA’s influence diminishes.

The Yemeni war is likely to drag on for years, and if the Saudis are to win, the shall have to keep paying a high toll, which will require strong political will to overcome the adversities. The expense of this war is not only material, it has primarily taken a great diplomatic cost, as it loses credibility to its allies, like the US, which see the ineffectiveness of the Saudi military. At home, their western allies struggle to explain their partnership with a country that has proven too much to handle for certain political groups and the civil society in general, with its lack of human rights considerations and sharia-based laws that seem outdated to Westerners. The cruel Yemeni war further alienates the Saudi Kingdom from them.

The conflict for Middle Eastern hegemony might be about to attract a new player. As Pakistan tries to deal with its ongoing crisis, its new president, Imran Khan, has looked to the Gulf States for funding. The Saudis and the UAE have already pledged many billion dollars. For now, the economic woes make Pakistan an unlikely actor, but there is evidence of a change of direction in Islamabad, as Khan seems to part ways from his predecessor’s foreign policy regarding its western neighbour. Cooperation with Iran has significantly been reduced, especially in terms of security and anti-terrorism, as in March 2019 Baluchi ethno-nationalists once again attacked Iranian positions from the Pakistani border. Tehran seems alarmed by these developments and has explicitly warned Pakistan that an approach towards Saudi Arabia and participation in the so called Middle Eastern Cold War will have severe consequences for Pakistan. It is right in fearing Pakistan, which has shown that it can play the same game as Iran, making use of foreign militias and having an impressive intelligence service, on top of the nuclear bomb. If Iran where to cause conflict in Pakistan, it might find itself in severe disadvantage, as it would be harder to use subversive activities in the predominantly Sunni country. It might also come to odds with China, who will view any menace to its infrastructure projects with great suspicion. Iran would have difficult time finding a serious counterbalance to Pakistan in India, as India would decline to strike a serious alliance due to its many interests in the Gulf States.

Iran, however, still holds many cards it can use if the conflict were to escalate. Bahrain, whose predominantly Shia population contrast to its powerful Sunni ruling family, which will find itself fighting to maintain control in the case of an Iranian- backed coup similar to the one in 1981, or a pro-democracy uprising with significant Shia elements such as the one of 2011. For the latter, had the Gulf states not intervened in Bahrain in support of its ruling family, Bahrain would now likely be part of the Iranian regional system, which would be extremely troublesome for the KSA, given its proximity. It can also be expected for Iran to influence the oppressed Shia Arabs along Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf coast. These Shia Arabs lie just above most of KSA’s petrol wells and reserves, and if stirred to open rebellion, and properly armed, would cause immense trouble in the Monarchy.

The other option open to Iran will be to exploit the current Gulf crisis between the KSA and UAE against Qatar, whose blockade has lasted almost two years. Iran will seek to build up stronger ties with Qatar, who has found itself isolated by most Arab nations. Currently, Turkey is the key ally to Qatar in the crisis, and their partnership is seen to have strategic importance by both parties.

Qatar has traditionally had better ties to Iran than most other Gulf states, also due to the fact that they share the South-Pars/North Dome natural gas field, the largest in the world, and rely on cooperation to exploit its resources and wealth. This is largely a product of its independent foreign policy. This means that Iran is likely to use the crisis to drive a wedge between the members of the GCC and take advantage of their disunity in favour of Qatar and in detriment to the KSA. It will be difficult for the Iranians and the Qataris form a significant partnership, since there are still too many obstacles to this. First of all, Qatar is a Sunni Arab state, and it is the main exporter of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas, which would not fit Iran’s tendency toward Shia countries. Secondly, a partnership with Iran would make the Gulf Cooperation Council’s crisis permanently irreparable, which is not desired by Qatar. Finally, this would turn Qatar into the main objective of the Saudi-led coalition and would unnecessarily put it in harm’s way.

One key factor could change everything in a highly unlikely scenario, also known as a ‘black swan’. This is the disappearance of ISIS from the Levant, and its relocation to Khorasan, a term used for Central Asia, Northern Iran and Afghanistan. This would change the balance of power in the middle East as it would bring conflict to the very borders of Iran. It would allow for Iran’s enemies to arm this extremely anti-Shia group, following a parallel of the Yemen’s Houthi rebels for Saudi Arabia. These rebels are banking on the opportunity that, following peace in Afghanistan with the Taliban, the Taliban’s followers will become disenchanted by its leadership dealings with the US and would thus join the newly founded group. They would acquire the battle-hardened Taliban troops, which would provide a formidable foe for Iran.

Iran's three paths of action to expand its influence

From Iranian strategic perspective the Sunni-Shi‘a divide is only part of its larger objective of exporting its revolution.

Escena militar de un altorrelieve de la antigua Persia [Pixabay]

▲ Escena militar de un altorrelieve de la antigua Persia [Pixabay]

ESSAY / Helena Pompeya

At a first glance it may seem that the most important factor shaping the dynamics in the region is the Sunni-Shi’a divide materialized in the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran over becoming the main hegemonic power in the region. Nonetheless, from the strategic perspective of Iran this divide is only part of its larger objective of exporting its revolution.

This short essay will analyze three paths of action or policies Iran has been relying on in order to exert and expand its influence in the MENA region: i) it’s anti-imperialistic foreign policy; ii) the Sunni-Shi’a divide; and iii) opportunism. Finally, a study case of Syria will be provided to show how Iran made use of these three courses of action to its benefit within the war.

I. ANTI IMPERIALISM

The Sunni-Shi'a division alone would not be enough to rocket Iran into an advantaged position over Saudi Arabia, being the Shi’ites only a 13% of the total of Muslims over the world (found mainly in Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq).[1] Even though religious affiliation can gain support of a fairly big share of the population, Iran is playing its cards along the lines of its revolutionary ideology, which consists on challenging the current international world order and particularly what Iran calls US’s imperialism.

Iran does not choose its strategic allies by religious affiliation but by ideological affinity: opposition to the US and Israel. Proof of this is the fact that Iran has provided military and financial support to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Palestine, both of them Sunni, in their struggle versus Israel.[2] Iran’s competition against Saudi Arabia could be understood as an elongation of its anti-US foreign policy, being the Saudi kingdom the other great ally of the West in the MENA region along with Israel.

II. SUNNI-SHI’A DIVIDE

Despite the religious divide not being the main reason behind the hegemonic competition among both regional powers Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shi’a), both states are exploiting this narrative to transcend territorial barriers and exert their influence in neighbouring countries. This rivalry materializes itself along two main paths of action: i) development of neopatrimonial and clientelistic networks, as it shows in Lebanon and Bahrain[3]; ii) and in violent proxy wars, namely Yemen and Syria.

a. Lebanon

Sectarian difference has been an inherent characteristic of Lebanon all throughout its history, finally erupting into a civil war in 1975. The Taif accords, which put an end to the strife attempted to create a power-sharing agreement that gave each group a political voice. These differences were incorporated into the political dynamics and development of blocs which are not necessarily loyal to the Lebanese state alone.

Regional dynamics of the Middle East are characterised by the blurred limits between internal and external, this reflects in the case of Lebanon, whose blocs provide space for other actors to penetrate the Lebanese political sphere. This is the case of Iran through the Shi‘ite political and paramilitary organization of Hezbollah. This organization was created in 1982 as a response to Israeli intervention and has been trained, organized and provisioned by Iran ever since. Through the empowerment of Iran and its political support for Shi’a groups across Lebanon, Hezbollah has emerged as a regional power.

Once aware of the increasing Iranian influence in the region, Saudi Arabia stepped into it to counterbalance the Shi’a empowerment by supporting a range of Salafi groups across the country.

Both Riyadh and Tehran have thus established clientelistic networks through political and economic support which feed upon sectarian segmentation, furthering factionalism. Economic inflows in order to influence the region have helped developed the area between Ras Beirut and Ain al Mraiseh through investments by Riyadh, whilst Iranian economic aid has been allocated in the Dahiyeh and southern region of the country.[4]

b. Bahrain

Bahrain is also a hot spot in the fight for supremacy over the region, although it seems that Saudi Arabia is the leading power over this island of the Persian Gulf. The state is a constitutional monarchy headed by the King, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, of the Sunni branch of Islam, and it is connected to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd Causeway, a passage designed and built to prevent Iranian expansionism after the revolution. Albeit being ruled by Sunni elite, the majority of the country’s citizens are Shia, and have in many cases complaint about political and economical repression. In 2011 protests erupted in Bahrain led by the Shi’a community, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates stepped in to suppress the revolt. Nonetheless, no links between Iran and the ignition of this manifestation have been found, despite accusations by the previously mentioned Sunni states.

The opposition of both hegemonic powers has ultimately materialized itself in the involvement on proxy wars as are the examples of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and possibly in the future Afghanistan.

c. Yemen

Yemen, in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, is a failed state in which a proxy war fueled mainly by the interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran is taking place since the 25th of March 2015. On that date, Saudi Arabia leading an Arab coalition against the Houthis bombarded Yemen.

The ignition of the conflict began in November 2011 when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over his power to his deputy and current president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (both Sunni) due to the uprisings product of the Arab Spring.[5]

The turmoil within the nation, including here al-Qaeda attacks, a separatist rising in the south, divided loyalties in the military, corruption, unemployment and lack of food, led to a coup d’état in January 2015 led by Houthi rebels. The Houthis, Shi‘ite Muslims backed by Iran, seized control of a large territory in Yemen including here the capital Sana’a. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority nations are supporting the government.

Yemen is a clear representation of dispute over regional sovereignty. This particular conflict puts the Wahhabi kingdom in great distress as it is happening right at its front door. Thus, Saudi interests in the region consist on avoiding a Shi’ite state in the Arabian Peninsula as well as facilitating a kindred government to retrieve its function as state. Controlling Yemen guarantees Saudi Arabia’s influence over the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Baab al Mandeb, thus avoiding Hormuz Strait, which is currently under Iran’s reach.

On the other hand, Iran is soon to be freed from intensive intervention in the Syrian war, and thus it could send in more military and economic support into the region. Establishing a Shi’ite government in Yemen would pose an inflexion point in regional dynamics, reinforcing Iran’s power and becoming a direct threat to Arabia Saudi right at its frontier. Nonetheless, Hadi’s government is internationally recognized and the Sunni struggle is currently gaining support from the UK and the US.

III. OPPORTUNISM

The Golf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a political and economic alliance of six countries in the Arabian Peninsula which fail to have an aligned strategy for the region and could be roughly divided into two main groups in the face of political interests: i) those more aligned to Saudi Arabia, namely Bahrain and UAE; ii) and those who reject the full integration, being these Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

Fragmentation within the GCC has provided Iran with an opportunity to buffer against calls for its economic and political isolation. Iran’s ties to smaller Gulf countries have provided Tehran with limited economic, political and strategic opportunities for diversification that have simultaneously helped to buffer against sanctions and to weaken Riyadh.[6]

a. Oman

Oman in overall terms has a foreign policy of good relations with all of its neighbours. Furthermore, it has long resisted pressure to align its Iran policies with those of Saudi Arabia. Among its policies, it refused the idea of a GCC union and a single currency for the region introduced by the Saudi kingdom. Furthermore, in 2017 with the Qatar crisis, it opposed the marginalization of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and stood as the only State which did not cut relations with Iran.

Furthermore, the war in Yemen is spreading along Oman’s border, and it’s in its best interest to bring Saudi Arabia and the Houthis into talks, believing that engagement with the later is necessary to put an end to the conflict.[7] Oman has denied transport of military equipment to Yemeni Houthis through its territory.[8]

b. Kuwait

A key aspect of Kuwait’s regional policy is its active role in trying to balance and reduce regional sectarian tensions, and has often been a bridge for mediation among countries, leading the mediation effort in January 2017 to promote dialogue and cooperation between Iran and the Gulf states that was well received in Tehran.[9]

c. Qatar

It has always been in both state’s interest to maintain a good relationship due to their proximity and shared ownership of the North/South Pars natural gas field. Despite having opposing interests in some areas as are the case of Syria (Qatar supports the opposition), and Qatar’s attempts to drive Hamas away from Tehran. In 2017 Qatar suffered a blockade by the GCC countries due to its support for Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or ISIS. During this crisis, Iran proved a good ally into which to turn.. Iran offered Qatar to use its airspace and supplied food to prevent any shortages resulting from the blockade.[10] However as it can be deduced from previous ambitious foreign policies, Qatar seeks to diversify its allies in order to protect its interests, so it would not rely solely on Iran.

Iran is well aware of the intra-Arab tensions among the Gulf States and takes advantage of these convenient openings to bolster its regional position, bringing itself out of its isolationism through the establishment of bilateral relations with smaller GCC states, especially since the outbreak of the Qatar crisis in 2017.

IV. SYRIA

Iran is increasingly standing out as a regional winner in the Syrian conflict. This necessarily creates unrest both for Israel and Saudi Arabia, especially after the withdrawal of US troops from Syria. The drawdown of the US has also originated a vacuum of power which is currently being fought over by the supporters of al-Assad: Iran, Turkey and Russia.

Despite the crisis involving the incident with the Israeli F-16 jets, Jerusalem is attempting to convince the Russian Federation not to leave Syria completely under the sphere of Iranian influence.

Israel initially intervened in the war in face of increasing presence of Hezbollah in the region, especially in its positions near the Golan Heights, Kiswah and Hafa. Anti-Zionism is one of Iran’s main objectives in its foreign policy, thus it is likely that tensions between Hezbollah and Israel will escalate leading to open missile conflict. Nonetheless, an open war for territory is unlikely to happen, since this will bring the UyS back in the region in defense for Israel, and Saudi Arabia would make use of this opportunity to wipe off Hezbollah.

On other matters, the axis joining Iran, Russia and Turkey is strengthening, while they gain control over the de-escalation zones.  

Both Iran and Russia have economic interests in the region. Before the outbreak of the war, Syria was one of the top exporting countries of phosphates, and in all likelihood, current reserves (estimated on over 2 billion tons) will be spoils of war for al-Assad’s allies.[11]

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took control of Palmira in 2015, where the largest production area of phosphates is present. Furthermore, Syria also signed an agreement on phosphates with Russia.

Iran has great plans for Syria as its zone of influence, and is planning to establish a seaport in the Mediterranean through which to export its petroleum by a pipeline crossing through Iraq and Syria, both under its tutelage[12]. This pipeline would secure the Shi’ite bow from Tehran to Beirut, thus debilitating Saudi Arabia’s position in the region. Furthermore, it would allow direct oil exports to Europe.

In relation to Russia and Turkey, despite starting in opposite bands they are now siding together. Turkey is particularly interested in avoiding a Kurdish independent state in the region, this necessarily positions the former ottoman empire against the U.S a key supporter of the Kurdish people due to their success on debilitating the Islamic State. Russia will make use of this distancing to its own benefits. It is in Russia’s interest to have Turkey as an ally in Syria in order to break NATO’s Middle East strategy and have a strong army operating in Syrian territory, thus reducing its own engagement and military cost.[13]

Despite things being in favour of Iran, Saudi Arabia could still take advantage of recent developments of the conflict to damage Iran’s internal stability.

Ethnic and sectarian segmentation are also part of Iran’s fabric, and the Government’s repression against minorities within the territory –namely Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis- have caused insurgencies before. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States aligned with its foreign policy, such as the UAE are likely to exploit resentment of the minorities in order to destabilized Iran’s internal politics.

The problem does not end there for Iran. Although ISIS being wiped off the Syrian territory, after falling its last citadel in Baguz[14], this is not the end of the terrorist group. Iran’s active role in fighting Sunni jihadists through Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias in Syria and Iraq has given Islamist organization a motivation to defy Tehran.

Returning foreign fighters could scatter over the region creating cells and even cooperating with Sunni separatist movements in Ahwaz, Kurdistan or Baluchistan. Saudi Arabia is well aware of this and could exploit the Wahhabi narrative and exert Sunni influence in the region through a behind-the-scenes financing of these groups.

 


[1] Mapping the Global Muslim Population, Pew Research Center, 2009

[4] Ídem.

[7] Reuters ‘Yemen’s Houthis and Saudi Arabia in secret talks to end war’, 15 March, 2018

[8] Bayoumy, Y. (2016), ‘Iran steps up weapons supply to Yemen’s Houthis via Oman’, Reuters, 30 October.

[9] Coates Ulrichsen, K., ‘Walking the tightrope: Kuwait, Iran relations in the aftermath of the Abdali affair’, Gulf States Analytics, 9 August, 2017

[10] Kamrava, M. ‘Iran-Qatar Relations’, in Bahgat, Ehteshami and Quilliam (2017), Security and Bilateral Issues Between Iran and Its Neighbours.

[11] The current situation in Syria, Giancarlo Elia Valori, Modern Diplomacy, January 2019

[12] Irán en la era de la administración Trump, Beatriz Yubero Parro, IEEE, 2017

[13]  The current situation in Syria, Giancarlo Elia Valori, Modern Diplomacy, January 2019

Iran Country Risk Report, May 2019

Iran Country Risk Report (May 2019)

The sanctions that the United States is implementing against the Islamic Republic of Iran since November 2018 are the toughest sanctions ever imposed on Iran. They threaten to cut off foreign countries and companies dealing with Iran from the US financial system in order to deter business with Iran so to curtail the impact of proxy groups on the Middle East’s security and stability. The aim of this country report is to provide the most recent analysis of the Iran's economic and political situation, and estimate its evolution in the short and medium term. It presents an overlook of specific clues about matters related to political risk, as well as the effect that sanctions may have on the Iranian economy, and the prospects for political stability all over the region.

Alona Sainetska

 

Report [pdf. 13,5MB]

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Effects of sanctions

The re-imposition of US sanctions will maintain the Iranian economy in recession during the remaining months of 2019. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the economic meltdown will be very unlikely to happen, as the volume of oil exports is still significant, crude prices are going to continue to rise and other major powers´ opinion will still differ from the US´s. The multinational companies dependent on US financial system will continue leaving the Iranian market, partially leading to declining of the foreign investment, but SMEs will be almost unaffected and new forms of trading are likely to emerge soon.

Iran is likely to build stronger economic and political ties with India, China and Russia, thus giving them more power and openness to new trading opportunities, basically due to lack of any other possible partner on the horizon in the mid-term.

The prices are likely to keep growing up in the following months reaching the average inflation of 31.2% in 2019-20; still the risk of hyperinflation is discarded due to the fact that Iran is able to meet a significant share of local demand through local production. 

Backed by support from the EU, Iran is promised to obtain in the mid-term a special mechanism of payments  (Special Purpose Vehicle) for its oil and other exports (possibly through a barter system) in order to conduct trading outside of the competence of the US sanctions. This is likely to create some tensions between Europe and the US but they will not be powerful enough to split the long-lasting alliance between the two.

Oil and gas

The Iran´s production of oil will probably continue to decrease affecting the world´s oil price.

Five from the eight initial major buyers (Italy, Greece and Taiwan have already stopped their purchases from Iran) are and will be buying Iranian oil now that the waivers have been extended for the following 90 days. Thereby, the Iranian oil will still remain in demand during the following years, and Iran´s government is likely to find solutions for its selling and exportation, even though illegally, in the mid and long-term. Thus, the United States is unlikely to meet its earlier target of driving Iranian oil exports to zero.

Iraq will continue to buy natural gas from Iran in order to use it in the production of electricity, becoming the second largest customer. Taking into account the fact that there is a sort of competence between US and Iran for the influence over Iraq, it can fuel a further deterioration of their relations. It is also plausible that more buyers will emerge if some new forms of trading, which do not rely on dollar, appear soon.

Even though the modest production growth is likely to continue, Iran won´t be able to unilaterally monetize its natural gas resources due to lack of financial partners and the investment, especially from the West. However, it will be able to fulfil its domestic demand and sustain trade with Turkey.

Iran’s ability to increase production and exports of natural gas will be almost improbable, unless the relations with the United States are improved or support from international partners in defiance of sanctions is reinforced. Nevertheless, if Iran manages to accomplish current development projects, its export pipeline capacity will increase from 46.4 bcm/year in 2018, to 119.7 bcm/year to the regional and global markets in a long run. China, India and Pakistan will play a significant role in Iran´s natural gas sector.

The domestic scene

Iran will continue demonstrating considerable resilience in coping with US sanctions, and is likely to continue to fully implement the commitments of JCPOA as long as China, Russia, or countries which are non-members of the deal, such as India, continue to trade with it, and if EU continues maintaining its constructive attitude. In this case, even a greater international support and United Nations diplomatic intervention is expected in the mid-term. However, on a longer run, the JCPOA future will depend upon the economic situation and complex political battles between moderates and hardliners in Tehran.

The current deterioration of the economic conditions in Iran, the rial devaluation and growing inflation, together with already-high unemployment will provoke a further popular discontent which is likely to maintain the protests but without any considerable probability to threaten the Iranian political stability or lead to leadership´s rupture during the upcoming years.

The sanctions are likely to produce some adverse effects on the political local scene over the longer term, as Iranian hardliners may take advantage of them and the popular frustration and obtain the victory in the coming 2020 parliamentary elections and the 2021 presidential poll. As a result, any possibility for future cooperation with US will equal zero.

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