By Harlan Ullman, Opinion ContributorJanuary 17, 2022 – 08:00 AM EST
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill
In 2014, the Obama administration, without ample prior consultations and discussions, announced its “strategic pivot” to Asia. China was angered, and many friends and allies were alarmed by the seemingly sudden shift in American policy. China would become “the pacing threat” for the Obama administration’s national security planning. The next two administrations would follow suit.
“Pacing” like “prevailing” is a marvelously loose word that implies more than it means. But does “pacing” demand dramatic action? Or is its ambiguity a clever disguise to hide intent? “Prevailing” is equally elusive. Did the U.S. prevail in Afghanistan by killing Osama bin Laden despite the fraught withdrawal a decade later?
Given Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine’s borders and Western intelligence forecasts that an invasion may be imminent in late January, surely Moscow is the more “clear and present danger.” China only talks about regaining Taiwan by force if necessary. Since China has been identified as the “pacing threat” for some time, is a review long overdue to assess whether it or Russia best fills that description?
Three questions form the basis for an evaluation. First, what are the specific threats posed by China and Russia to the U.S. and its allies and how do China and Russia match up against the other in that regard? Second, if China and Russia are indeed coequal dangers, is the U.S. capable of dealing with both concurrently in all conditions? Third, what should be the appropriate U.S. national security and defense strategies and priorities towards both?
Clearly, China’s economic growth and increased international assertiveness are areas of major concern. By comparison, Russia, with a tenth the population and a fraction of China’s GDP, is economically relevant only in the vital energy sphere. But what is often overlooked is that Russia has at least as formidable if not a stronger military than China.
Russia is intent on dividing and disrupting NATO, our key multilateral security alliance. China is not. While China is exerting greater political and economic influence through the Belt and Road and other diplo-economic initiatives, unlike Russia, it is less reliant on the military tool even though it is increasing its global presence.
What is the best course of action for the U.S.? In my analysis, Russia is the more immediate political-military threat and China the long-term geo-economic challenge. While China’s technological military advancements have been impressive, Russia’s have been at least as noteworthy, particularly in space and modernizing its nuclear and conventional forces. Despite the specter of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, that threat has been exaggerated. China lacks the capacity to mount a successful amphibious assault on Taiwan and will for the foreseeable future.
About regarding China and Russia as co-equal threats, for over a decade and a half during the Cold War, the U.S. relied on the so-called “two-and-a-half war doctrine. It posited fighting two major wars (China and Russia) simultaneously and a half war elsewhere. Unable to win the half war in Vietnam, the concept of a two-war strategy remains unaffordable, unobtainable and unwinable.
What should the U.S. do? First, do not name enemies in advance. Second, China poses the larger geoeconomics challenge; Russia the political-military one. Third, the appropriate defense strategy is a “Porcupine Defense” in Europe, modified in the Pacific to contain China’s military to the first island chain. Both are defined in my recently-released book, “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD,” and rely on disrupting an enemy’s strategy and any initial military thrusts as the best means to deter and fight.
To many, this is radical thinking. Challenging the proposition of China as the pacing threat contradicts conventional political wisdom in Washington. But Europe is a much larger collective trading partner and the cornerstone for our defense through NATO. Russia will remain the more imminent danger after the Ukraine crisis passes. Strategy must reflect that reality.
Harlan Ullman, Ph.D, is senior adviser at Washington, D.C.’s Atlantic Council and the primary author of “shock and awe.” His latest book is, “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and that World at Large.”
ISLAMABAD — Overconfidence in its newly acquired S-400 air defense system may give India a false sense of invulnerability and increase the likelihood of a military miscalculation involving archrival Pakistan, analysts warn.
“Indian rhetoric appears to suggest a belief that the S-400 effectively makes its airspace impenetrable and its forces invulnerable,” Mansoor Ahmed, a senior fellow at the Pakistan-based think tank Center for International Strategic Studies who studies the country’s nuclear program and delivery systems, told Defense News.
Consequently, there are concerns “India may be emboldened to resort to military adventurism, believing its ‘Cold Start’ doctrine for punishing strikes and destabilizing incursions into Pakistan” is an assured success, he said.
Deliveries of India’s five S-400 regiments began in December 2021, with initial deployments along the Indo-Pakistan border.
On paper, the defensive — and potentially offensive — anti-access, area denial capabilities of the S-400 appear formidable. The system is reportedly effective against aircraft, UAVs, and ballistic and cruise missiles, with the latter capability potentially neutralizing Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent.
Its layered coverage is provided by a combination of the 40-kilometer-range 9M96E, 120-kilometer-range 9M96E2, 250-kilometer-range 48N6, and 400-kilometer-range 40N6E missiles, enabling it to protect large areas, high-value targets and itself from attack.
It is also highly mobile, can be made operational 5 minutes after arriving at a new location and therefore can be regularly relocated to avoid detection.
However, aerospace expert Douglas Barrie at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, told Defense News the S-400 “should not be underestimated, neither should it be over-estimated.”
A notable claimed feature of the S-400 is its potential offensive capability that would restrict an adversary’s use of its own airspace. For Pakistan, due to its geography and the long border it shares with India, the weapon system would cover most of the country.
However, Barrie is unconvinced. “Its much-touted maximum engagement range is dependent on the variant of surface-to-air missile deployed, the acquisition ranges of the associated radars in the operational area, the capacity of the personnel to effectively exploit the system, and also the steps and countermeasures any opponent might take.”
India plans to integrate the S-400 into its existing air defense network, which consists of indigenous and Indo-Israeli systems.
Consequently, Barrie said, India might “use the system more often to defend high-value targets or critical national infrastructure from air attack, rather than forward-deploy to hamper the Pakistani Air Force’s use of its own airspace [thereby] putting the systems at greater risk of attack.”
“In and of itself, I see the S-400 acquisition having little to no impact on the overall credibility of the Pakistani [nuclear] deterrent,” he added.
Similarly, Ahmed believes “its effectiveness against ballistic or cruise missiles is open to question and will depend on a variety of factors,” such as the effective engagement range. This specific factor takes into account the curvature of the Earth, the nature of nearby terrain and the location from which the system was deployed.
If deployed too far forward, an S-400 — or at least elements of the system, such as the launch vehicle — could be in danger of direct targeting. Ahmed specifically pointed to the Fatah-1, Pakistan’s 150-kilometer-range guided round for the Chinese A-100 multiple launch rocket system, as a weapon that could jeopardize the S-400. The Fatah-1 round was successfully tested in August 2021.
Additionally, suppression or even destruction of the S-400 could be aided by effective electronic warfare measures — a capability Pakistan demonstrated when its Air Force successfully launched retaliatory strikes into Indian-held territory during a flare-up in February 2019.
Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, or SPD, develops and protects all aspects of the country’s nuclear deterrent, and it’s likely the organization will be charged with determining the threat posed by the S-400 and how to respond.
Defense News tried to contact the SPD via the Army’s Inter Services Public Relations media branch, but received no response.
However, Ahmed pointed to improvements Pakistan is making to its existing arsenal to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent.
“Pakistan’s missile tests over the past several years appear to demonstrate enhanced accuracy and penetration capability in view of India’s growing investment in missile defenses. It has also introduced the [multiple independent reentry vehicle]-capable Ababeel ballistic missile system, designed to defeat any dedicated Indian anti-missile system,” he said. “While the S-400 remains a highly capable air defense system at best, its utility against missiles has yet to be proven in real-time conditions.”
Nevertheless, the S-400 does pose a considerable threat to Pakistan’s conventional deterrent.
“Suppression or destruction of enemy air defense (SEAD/DEAD) will likely have taken greater priority for the Pakistani Air Force in response to the S-400 acquisition,” Barrie said. “Options include acquiring more capable anti-radiation missiles, improved electronic countermeasures and aircraft self-protection.”
Outsmarting the system
Pakistan potentially has something in development that could be used against the S-400.
A stealthy combat drone design, the ZF1 was specifically created to attack heavily defended targets. It was promoted at Pakistan’s biennial arms exhibition IDEAS in 2018 by the UAS Global, whose CEO Rafay Shaik told Defense News at the time the aircraft would make its first flight soon.
The concept is not new to South Asia. India has its own stealthy UCAV program, the Ghatak, run by the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
Despite requests for information on the state of the program sent to UAS Global, there has been no news regarding its development since early 2019, and it’s unclear if ZF1 work is even ongoing.
Pakistan might also benefit from military exercises “with friendly countries that operate the S-400, such as China and Turkey, who may at least indirectly help identify its strengths and weaknesses for exploring opportunities to suppress and defeat Indian S-400 systems,” Ahmed said.
For its part, China has “multiple options” available for Pakistan, according to Richard Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
“It is very likely that, to the degree that China has aided North Korea’s new hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) missile warhead, it has or will similarly assist a Pakistani HGV, or simply sell the DF-17,” he said, referring to a medium-range missile system equipped with an HGV. “Or Beijing now has the option of allowing North Korea to sell its HGV to Pakistan.”
China could also help Pakistan redress the balance with a similar air defense system, Fisher added, and its ability to do so “can be expected soon.”
“In contrast to China’s flagrant abuse of the intellectual property of [Russia’s] Sukhoi Corporation, S-300 and S-400 maker Almaz-Antey in the 1990s agreed to sell China the means to make their own fourth-generation SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] along with sales of their SAMs,” he explained.
Fisher noted that Pakistan’s recently acquired Chinese-made HQ-9B missile — which reportedly has a 240-kilometer range and is locally referred to as the HQ-9/P — is based on Almaz-Antey technology. He said this transfer of advanced Russian technology enabled China to develop the initial land-based HQ-9 and ship-based HHQ-9 systems, which have a range of 125 kilometers and entered service in the mid-2000s.
These Chinese systems are quite advanced, Fisher added. “Like later variants of the S-300 family acquired by China, the HQ-9 featured a hard-to-jam phased array guidance and tracking radar, and its missile uses an active radar for terminal guidance.”
The longer-range HQ-9B is reported to have a dual semi-active radar homing/passive infrared seeker, while the HQ-9C, which is under development, will reportedly feature active guidance.
Citing the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as the civil wars in Libya and Syria, Ahmed noted that “increasingly more potent and sophisticated” air defense systems are being “matched by systems and technologies designed to beat them, such as standoff weapons, anti-radiation missiles, electronic countermeasures, UCAVs and drone swarms, and low-flying cruise missiles.”
“The race for offense-defense dominance is therefore increasingly favoring the offense,” he said.
Iran is closer than ever to being able to build a nuclear weapon. After President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran began enriching uranium to higher levels and stockpiling more of it. As a result, Iran now has the capacity to make enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb in less than a month—compared with the roughly one year it would have needed to do so before the United States quit the nuclear accord in 2018.
Iran’s leaders and President Joe Biden’s administration both say they want to return to the 2015 deal, but the parties remain far apart on what nuclear steps or sanctions relief should come first and how far-reaching those steps would need to be. Every day that the talks drag on without resolution, Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning; in late December, European governments warned that “weeks, not months,” remained before restoring the old deal would no longer be possible.
The hard truth is that the United States now has few good options for containing Iran’s nuclear program. It can persist with the no-deal status quo, allowing Iran to continue inching closer to a bomb while suffering under sanctions. It can pursue a return to the 2015 agreement and then attempt to get Iran to agree to a “longer and stronger” pact, as the Biden team has suggested. It can try for various other deals, either more or less stringent than the 2015 agreement. Or it can attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure with a military strike, possibly setting Tehran’s progress toward a bomb back by a few years but almost certainly provoking retaliation and possibly a sprint toward the nuclear finish line.
Of these options, a return to the 2015 deal is the least bad. It would pull Iran back from the nuclear brink, and it would offer modest hope for further talks on hard problems such as Iran’s missile program and its support for armed groups throughout the Middle East. It would pose far fewer risks than attempting to set Iran’s program back with a military strike, and it would likely buy more time. But Iran’s gains in knowledge are irreversible, meaning that the old accord won’t be as strong a barrier to the bomb as it was before Trump tore it up, and getting Tehran to agree to strengthen the deal over time will be difficult.
Iran claims that its decades-long nuclear program has always been entirely peaceful. But a wide range of sources of information—confirmed and expanded by an archive of Iranian documents Israeli agents stole in 2017—proves that at least from 1999 to 2003, Iran sought to design and manufacture nuclear weapons and to carry out a nuclear test. It was a comprehensive effort that included each element needed to produce nuclear materials and fabricate them into bombs. The secret program was led by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer who was assassinated, reportedly by Israeli intelligence, in November 2020.
In late 2003, after the United States invaded Iraq and international inspectors began probing some once secret Iranian activities, Iran shut down the parts of its program that were most identifiable as nuclear weapons efforts or that were still covert. But it continued its open uranium enrichment program—suitable for making low-enriched fuel for reactors as well as highly enriched material for bombs—and the construction of a “research reactor” at Arak that was well suited for producing weapons-grade plutonium.
By 2015, Iran had mastered centrifuge uranium enrichment, installed thousands of first-generation centrifuges, started to test more advanced centrifuges that could enrich uranium even faster, and stockpiled substantial amounts of low-enriched uranium. Uranium enrichment is an exponential process, so once centrifuges have increased the 0.7 percent U-235 that comes out of the ground to the four percent suitable for reactor fuel, they have already done two-thirds of the work to reach the 90 percent enriched material typically used for nuclear weapons. In other words, Iran’s large stock of low-enriched uranium meant that it was two-thirds of the way to producing the highly enriched uranium for its first bomb—a process that U.S. officials publicly estimated Iran could have completed in three months.
Today, Iran is closer to a bomb than ever.
The 2015 nuclear deal changed all that. In return for sanctions relief, Iran agreed never to design or build nuclear weapons, took down and stored more than two-thirds of its centrifuges, disposed of 98 percent of its enriched uranium, poured cement into the core of the Arak reactor, agreed never to conduct a range of activities relevant to nuclear bomb development, and accepted a far-reaching set of verification measures.
These limits were designed to lengthen Iran’s timeline for producing bomb material to roughly a year—enough time for the international community to detect such an effort and take action to stop it. But the nuclear deal was a compromise, and its enrichment restraints contained “sunset clauses” that expired in ten to 15 years; its inspection provisions, while unprecedented, were far from “anytime, anywhere”; and it did not require Iran to confess all of its past nuclear activities. Moreover, lifting sanctions and unfreezing assets gave Iran more money, some of which went to support armed groups throughout the Middle East or to further its missile program, neither of which was covered by the deal. The pact’s advocates saw it as “a floor, not a ceiling,” hoping that the benefits of cooperation and increased economic integration with the West would make additional deals and ultimately a different relationship with Iran possible.
None of that happened, of course. Trump withdrew the United States from the accord in 2018, imposing stringent sanctions on Iran with which companies around the world were forced to comply if they didn’t want to be frozen out of the U.S. market and financial system. Iran’s currency plunged, inflation and unemployment soared, and poverty mounted. Remarkably, Iran continued to comply with the terms of the deal for a year after the United States withdrew, making sure the blame would be firmly fixed on Washington. But then it began to step past the deal’s restraints, gradually exceeding the limits on enrichment until in January 2020 it finally announced that its enrichment program would no longer be constrained by the deal at all.
THE NUCLEAR PRECIPICE
Today, Iran is closer to a bomb than ever. The latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, published in November 2021, show that Iran has surged far past the limits of the 2015 accord. Tehran’s experts are casting uranium metal, gaining valuable experience they would need to make uranium weapon components. Iran has also blown past the 3.67 percent enrichment limit set by the 2015 deal and is now enriching uranium at up to 60 percent—an easy jumping-off point to produce 90 percent enriched uranium for weapons (or material Iran could use directly in weapons if it modified its nuclear weapon and missile designs). Meanwhile, Iran’s stocks of enriched uranium have grown to over seven times the 2015 limit, and the country has enough 20 percent and 60 percent enriched uranium to rapidly make a bomb’s worth of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium. And despite a dramatic explosion in April at its largest enrichment facility, allegedly a result of an Israeli operation, Iran is running more centrifuges than the 2015 deal permitted, including hundreds of advanced centrifuges, and testing still more advanced devices.
The combination of enriched uranium stocks and advanced centrifuges enables Iran to produce the material for its first bomb in roughly a month—a time frame that will continue to shrink as Tehran’s stocks of 60 percent enriched uranium grow. In another couple of months after a breakout, Iran could have enough material for a second bomb, and then a third and a fourth soon after that. At the same time, Iran has scrapped the extra monitoring agreed to in the 2015 deal and continued to provide false information about the origin of human-made uranium particles inspectors found at several undeclared sites (although it has continued to allow inspections of its declared nuclear facilities).
A return to the 2015 deal could roll back some of Iran’s nuclear progress.
A return to the 2015 deal could roll back some of Iran’s nuclear progress, getting rid of the extra enriched uranium stocks, dialing enrichment back down to 3.67 percent, and taking the advanced centrifuges offline. But the knowledge Iran has gained can’t be erased. Day by day, Iran is gaining more insight into casting uranium metal, operating and manufacturing higher-performance centrifuges, handling highly enriched uranium without causing accidental chain reactions, and frustrating international inspectors without provoking a serious response.
Yet producing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon is not the same as making a nuclear weapon. To make a weapon, Iran would have to cast and machine the uranium components, manufacture shaped explosives to crush a ball of uranium to much higher density, make exquisitely timed detonators to set off those explosives on all sides of the bomb at the same time, and build a device to set off a shower of neutrons at the right moment to start the chain reaction. Iran worked on all of that in its old nuclear weapons program. But it is unclear how much Iran’s bomb-making capabilities have atrophied in the 18 years since the main parts of its weaponization effort ended or how much the assassination of Fakhrizadeh and other nuclear scientists—as well as the natural deaths and retirements of others—has set the country back. Israeli intelligence agents are optimistic, estimating that even once it has produced enough highly enriched uranium, Iran would need between a year and a half and two years to make a bomb. That’s probably in the right ballpark, unless Iran has unknown secret facilities. But once Iran has produced enough highly enriched uranium, it could hide the material away, making it very difficult to find and disrupt any program to manufacture a bomb.
Iran’s rapid progress on the nuclear front has left the United States with few good options. Without a deal, Tehran’s nuclear program will be essentially unfettered: only fear of provoking a military strike will limit Iran’s progress toward a bomb. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—to which Iran is a party—still prohibits Tehran from making nuclear weapons, but the treaty does not bar the production or storage of weapons-usable nuclear material, so long as it is under international inspection. As a result, Iran might choose to build up its stocks of 60 percent enriched uranium so that it has enough, if further enriched, for several nuclear bombs. Iran would likely also continue testing and manufacturing advanced centrifuges so that it is ready to move rapidly—possibly at a secret site—if it ever decides to take the final step toward nuclear weapons. The only real tools the United States would have to constrain Iran in this case are sabotage and sanctions. Sanctions might modestly limit Iran’s financial support to armed groups in the Middle East, but they would also cause substantial suffering for Iran’s people. Sabotage can create setbacks for Iran, but only temporary ones. Neither, so far, has stopped Iran from making substantial progress toward a bomb. And such actions come with their own risks, potentially heightening the sense of threat that strengthens the position of Tehran’s bomb advocates and intensifying the low-level “shadow war” between Iran, the United States, Israel, and the Gulf states.
Should the United States manage to revive the 2015 deal, it would reduce the nuclear threat posed by Iran, but not to the extent that the original agreement did. More than six years of the time bought by the deal is gone, along with most hopes that the pact could establish habits of cooperation on which additional agreements could be built. And even if Iran mothballed its extra centrifuges and gave up its extra stocks of enriched uranium, it would probably be able to have those same centrifuges up and running again at known or secret sites in relatively short order should it choose to violate the pact. It could also make more centrifuges, expanding its enrichment capacity much faster than it would have been able to before the United States withdrew from the 2015 deal. (One key uncertainty is how rapidly Iran would be able to make and install more of these advanced centrifuges.) By one estimate, reviving the deal would lengthen Iran’s timeline for producing a bomb’s worth of material to between five and six months—up from less than a month today but well down from roughly a year when the deal was first fully implemented in 2016. And returning to the deal would involve again lifting key sanctions on Iran, strengthening the Iranian government and reducing Western leverage.
Some experts have suggested settling for a “less for less” approach—for example, getting Iran to relinquish its stocks of 60 percent enriched uranium, stop stockpiling more enriched uranium, and halt the installation of new centrifuges in return for lifting some sanctions. Such an arrangement might buy some time for talks, but it is by no means a long-term solution.
Others have urged the Biden administration to give up on reviving the 2015 deal and instead impose tougher sanctions to convince Iran to compromise, offering a “more for more” arrangement in which Tehran would accept more substantial restraints than the 2015 deal—perhaps combined with some limits on its missiles and regional activities—in return for lifting even more sanctions (and perhaps other benefits). But the current mess is the result of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, so there is little reason to think that more of the same will lead to a breakthrough. In Tehran, Trump’s exit from the deal has vindicated those who argue that Washington will never be a reliable partner, and these hard-liners now hold the levers of power. Moreover, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s most recent budget proposal assumes that Iran’s economy will grow at eight percent in the coming budget year even without a deal, suggesting that he doesn’t feel much urgency to compromise. And historically, Iran has responded to Western efforts to build leverage by trying to build counterleverage of its own—which partly explains why Iran has deployed so many centrifuges, stockpiled so much enriched uranium, and supported so many armed groups throughout the Middle East.
A military strike could buy from two to five years— less than a negotiated deal could provide.
A more plausible path to a longer and stronger deal would be to first return to the original deal and then attempt to lengthen and strengthen it in subsequent negotiations. That’s worth trying. But because a return to the 2015 deal would require lifting many of the sanctions on Tehran, Washington’s leverage for better terms down the road would be reduced.
A final option is a military strike, which could temporarily disable much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Although Iran could use its deep underground Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant to produce bomb material, some types of bunker-busting bombs would be able to damage the plant, and the tunnels into the site could be destroyed. But other nuclear facilities would also need to be destroyed, along with Iran’s extensive air defenses, making such an attack a large and complex air operation—far more difficult than the single-site strikes that Israel conducted against Iraq’s Osiraq reactor in 1981 and Syria’s Al Kibar reactor in 2007.
The U.S. military is capable of carrying out such an assault, and Israel has been improving its ability to do so (although its long-range refueling and bunker-busting abilities are more limited). But afterward, Iran would likely rebuild at secret locations, and it might well decide to kick out inspectors and try to build a nuclear weapon before it was found out and attacked again. In other words, such a strike might increase, rather than decrease, the long-term probability that Iran would obtain a nuclear bomb.
Estimates for how much time a military strike could buy range from two to five years— less than a negotiated deal could provide. If in the wake of a strike foreign intelligence agencies located new secret sites, another round of strikes would be needed and possibly another after that. Iran and its proxies would almost certainly retaliate, and they have many options—from long-range missiles that can reach Israel to an estimated 100,000 missiles and rockets in Hezbollah’s hands to ultraprecise drones that carried out what amounted to a warning strike at Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facility in 2019. Neither Iran nor the United States wants another full-scale war in the Middle East, but the risk of blundering into one would be substantial. And, of course, military attacks on foreign countries that are not carried out in self-defense are banned by international law. On the whole, then, the option of a military strike is the riskiest of all, though it would have to be considered if Iran ever did begin racing for the bomb.
SWALLOW HARD AND DEAL
In short, Iran’s nuclear progress has left the United States with some ugly options. Restoring the 2015 deal won’t buy as much time or safety as the original deal did, but doing so is the best of a bad set of choices. Not only would a return to the deal technically constrain Iran’s program, but by reducing the threats to Iran and creating a flow of benefits from cooperation with the West, it would weaken Tehran’s bomb advocates and strengthen those arguing that Iran should maintain the option to build a bomb without incurring the costs and dangers of actually building one. Ultimately, Iran has the technical capability to make a nuclear weapon; Washington’s goal must be to convince Iran’s leaders to choose not to do so.
The Biden administration is therefore right to try to find a path back to compliance with the original deal and from there to a longer and stronger follow-on accord. But with Iran’s hard-line leadership justifiably doubting American promises, there is no guarantee it will be possible to get back to the 2015 pact. And as time passes, the benefits of a return to the original deal will continue to diminish. Moreover, it will not be easy to limit the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program after the sunset clauses expire or to constrain its advancing missile program or address its support for armed groups throughout the Middle East. Ultimately, what is needed is a different relationship between Iran, its neighbors in the Middle East, and the West. A return to the nuclear deal would be one step forward on that long and difficult road.
Esmail Qaani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), arrived Sunday in Najaf, 180 kilometres to the south of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Qaani held a series of meetings with different Iraqi political forces to converge views on the next cabinet lineup.
“These meetings aim to unify the Shia house after the recent row between the Coordination Framework and the Sadrist movement,” the source said.
Qaani is also expected to meet the leader of the Sadrist movement, powerful populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to the same source.
Iraq might for the first time in years get a government that excludes Iran-backed parties if Sadr, who dominated the recent election, keeps his word, say Iraqi politicians, government officials and independent analysts.
However, they add that moves by Sadr to sideline rivals long backed by Tehran risks the ire of their heavily-armed militias which make up some of the most powerful and most anti-American military forces in Iraq.
The surest sign of Sadr’s new parliamentary power and his willingness to ignore groups loyal to Iran came on January 9 when his Sadrist Movement, together with a Sunni parliament alliance and Western-leaning Kurds, re-elected with a solid majority, a parliamentary speaker opposed by the Iran-aligned camp.
Parliament must in the coming weeks choose the country’s president, who will call on the largest parliamentary alliance to form a government, a process that will be dominated by the Sadrist Movement with whomever it chooses to work.
“We are on track to form a national majority government,” Sadr said in a statement earlier last week, using a term that officials say is a euphemism for a government made up of Sadrists, Sunnis and Kurds but no Iran-backed parties.
Sadr’s MPs, buoyed by their easy victory in parliament last week, echoed their leader’s confidence.
Iraqi politicians and analysts say the rise of Sadr and political decline of the Iranian camp, long hostile to the United States, suits Washington and its allies in the region, despite Sadr’s unpredictability.
But excluding the Iran camp from the government risks a violent backlash. There have been in recent days attacks on political parties allied with Sadr causing two injuries and material damage to building in Baghdad. They have also challenged the election of the parliament speaker in the Federal Supreme Court.
Qaani’s series of meetings with Iraqi political forces come within this context and as Iran struggles to maintain its political influence, experts say.
According to Iranian media, Qaani visited the grave of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a commander in the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilisation Forces, as well as other graves in the city of Najaf. The Quds Force commander also paid a visit to the Mausoleum of Imam Ali.
Muhandis was killed in 2020 in the US drone strike which targeted then IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. The Qaani’s visit comes after a string of rocket and drone attacks targeting US advisers in Iraq and Syria in early January. At least some of the attacks were blamed on pro-Iran militias.
Israeli navy ships attacked, Monday several Palestinian fishing boats near the shore of Gaza city, in the besieged coastal region.
Eyewitnesses said the navy fired many live rounds at the boats, in addition to using water cannons, causing damage; no injuries were reported.
One of the fishermen said the boats were only three nautical miles from the Sudaniyya shore, northwest of Gaza city when the navy attacked them.
He added that the fishermen had to return to the shore without being able to fish and provide for their families, in fear of further assaults.
The army frequently attacks farmers, shepherds, workers, and fishermen across the eastern parts of the coastal region and in Palestinian territorial waters, leading to dozens of casualties, including fatalities, in addition to preventing the Palestinians from tending to their lands and from fishing to provide for their families.
In March of this last year 2021, the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza said Israeli mines were responsible for an explosion that led to the death of three fishermen.
If the West fails to meet its security demands, Moscow could take measures like placing nuclear missiles close to the U.S. coastline, Russian officials have hinted.
Jan. 16, 2022
VIENNA — No one expected much progress from this past week’s diplomatic marathon to defuse the security crisis Russia has ignited in Eastern Europe by surrounding Ukraine on three sides with 100,000 troops and then, by the White House’s accounting, sending in saboteurs to create a pretext for invasion.
But as the Biden administration and NATO conduct tabletop simulations about how the next few months could unfold, they are increasingly wary of another set of options for President Vladimir V. Putin, steps that are more far-reaching than simply rolling his troops and armor over Ukraine’s border.
Mr. Putin wants to extend Russia’s sphere of influence to Eastern Europe and secure written commitments that NATO will never again enlarge. If he is frustrated in reaching that goal, some of his aides suggested on the sidelines of the negotiations last week, then he would pursue Russia’s security interests with results that would be felt acutely in Europe and the United States.
There were hints, never quite spelled out, that nuclear weapons could be shifted to places — perhaps not far from the United States coastline — that would reduce warning times after a launch to as little as five minutes, potentially igniting a confrontation with echoes of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
“A hypothetical Russian invasion of Ukraine would not undermine the security of the United States,” said Dmitry Suslov, an analyst in Moscow who gave a closed-door presentation on the standoff to Russian lawmakers last month. “The overall logic of Russian actions is that it is the U.S. and NATO that must pay a high price.”
And as Ukrainians were reminded anew on Friday, as the websites of the country’s ministries were defaced in a somewhat amateurish attack, Russia’s army of hackers can wreak havoc in Ukraine, but also in power grids from Munich to Michigan.
It could all be bluster, part of a Kremlin campaign of intimidation, and a way of reminding President Biden that while he wants to focus American attention on competing and dealing with China, Mr. Putin is still capable of causing enormous disruption.President Vladimir Putin of Russia answering a question during his annual news conference in Moscow on Dec. 23.Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock
The Russian leader telegraphed that approach himself by warning repeatedly in the past year that if the West crossed the ever-shifting “red line” that, in Mr. Putin’s mind, threatens Russia’s security, he would order an unexpected response.
“Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, fast and tough,” Mr. Putin said last April, referring to the kinds of unconventional military action that Russia could take if adversaries threatened “our fundamental security interests.”
It has reinforced those demands, which the U.S. calls “non-starters,” with a troop buildup near Ukraine and repeated warnings it was prepared to use unspecified “military-technical means” to defend what it considers its legitimate security interests.
In response, the Biden administration has issued warnings of financial and technological sanctions if the Kremlin should follow through with its threats, particularly in regard to Ukraine. American officials say that for all the talk about moving nuclear weapons or using asymmetrical attacks, so far the U.S. has seen little evidence.
At a White House briefing on Thursday, Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, declined to be drawn into the question of what kind of Russian action would trigger a U.S. response — whether, for example, the U.S. would respond to a cyberattack the way it would an incursion into Ukrainian territory.
“The United States and our allies are prepared for any contingency, any eventuality,’’ he said. “We’re prepared to keep moving forward down the diplomatic path in good faith, and we’re prepared to respond to fresh acts. And beyond that, all we can do is get ready. And we are ready.”
Of course, the most obvious scenario given the scale of troop movements on the ground is a Russian invasion of Ukraine — maybe not to take over the entire country but to send troops into the breakaway regions around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, or to roll all the way to the Dnieper River. At the Pentagon, “five or six different options” for the extent of a Russian invasion are being examined, one senior official reported.Ukrainian soldiers at the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels in the Donetsk region of Ukraine last month.Andriy Dubchak/Associated Press
Yevgeny Buzhinsky, a retired lieutenant general and a regular Russian television commentator, predicted a looming “limited” war provoked by Ukraine that Russia would win in short order through devastating airstrikes.
“There will be no columns of tanks,” General Buzhinsky said in a phone interview. “They will just destroy all the Ukrainian infrastructure from the air, just like you do it.”
In Geneva, Russian diplomats insisted there were no plans to invade Ukraine. But there were hints of other steps. In one little-noticed remark, a senior Russian diplomat said Moscow was prepared to place unspecified weapons systems in unspecified places. That merged with American intelligence assessments that Russia could be considering new nuclear deployments, perhaps tactical nuclear weapons or a powerful emerging arsenal of hypersonic missiles.
In November, Mr. Putin himself suggested Russia could deploy submarine-based hypersonic missiles within close striking distance of Washington. He has said repeatedly that the prospect of Western military expansion in Ukraine poses an unacceptable risk because it could be used to launch a nuclear strike against Moscow with just a few minutes’ warning. Russia, he made clear, could do the same.
“From the beginning of the year we will have in our arsenal a new sea-based missile, a hypersonic one,” Mr. Putin said, referring to a weapon that travels at more than five times the speed of sound and could likely evade existing missile defenses.
In an apparent reference to the American capital, he added: “The flight time to reach those who give the orders will also be five minutes.”
Mr. Putin said he would deploy such missiles only in response to Western moves, and President Biden told Mr. Putin in their last conversation that the United States has no plans to place offensive strike systems in Ukraine.President Biden meeting with Mr. Putin in Geneva last June.Doug Mills/The New York Times
Russian officials hinted again in recent days about new missile deployments, and American officials repeated that they have seen no moves in that direction. But any effort to place weapons close to American cities would create conditions similar to the 1962 crisis that was the closest the world ever came to a nuclear exchange.
Asked about the nature of what Mr. Putin has termed a possible “military-technical” response, Sergei A. Ryabkov, a deputy foreign minister, said in Geneva on Monday: “Right now there is no reason to talk about what systems will be deployed, in what quantity, and where exactly.”
Ominous warnings. Russia called the strike a destabilizing act that violated the cease-fire agreement, raising fears of a new intervention in Ukraine that could draw the United States and Europe into a new phase of the conflict.
The Kremlin’s position. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has increasingly portrayed NATO’s eastward expansion as an existential threat to his country, said that Moscow’s military buildup was a response to Ukraine’s deepening partnership with the alliance.
And when a Russian reporter asked Mr. Ryabkov in an interview broadcast on Thursday whether Russia was considering deploying military infrastructure in Venezuela or Cuba, he responded: “I don’t want to confirm anything or rule anything out.”
Moving missiles, however, is obvious to the world. And that is why, if the conflict escalates further, American officials believe that Mr. Putin could be drawn to cyberattacks — easy to deny, superbly tailored for disruption and amenable to being ramped up or down, depending on the political temperature.
Mr. Putin doesn’t need to do much to insert computer code, or malware, into American infrastructure; the Department of Homeland Security has long warned that the Russians have already placed malware inside many American power grids.
The Biden administration has sought to shore up U.S. systems and root out malware. The nation’s biggest utilities run an elaborate war game every two years, simulating such an attack.Anti-ship missile systems moving from positions near the Trefoil base, Russia’s most northern military outpost, in May.Emile Ducke for The New York Times
But much of corporate America remains far less protected.
The fear is that if sanctions were imposed on Moscow, Mr. Putin’s response could be to accelerate the kind of Russian based ransomware attacks that hit Colonial Pipeline, a major beef producer, and cities and towns across the country last year.
The F.S.B., Russia’s powerful security service, on Friday announced the arrest of hackers tied to the REvil ransomware group — a gang connected to some of the most damaging attacks against American targets, including Colonial Pipeline. The move was welcomed by the White House, but it was also a signal that Moscow could flip its cyberwarriors on or off at will.
“There could be all sorts of possible responses,” Mr. Putin said when asked last month about the “military-technical” response he warned about.
“The Russian leadership is rather inventive,” said Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a research organization close to the Russian government. “It’s not necessarily only about Ukraine.”
Analysts in Moscow believe that beyond a more threatening Russian military posture, the United States would be particularly sensitive to closer military cooperation between Russia and China. Mr. Putin will travel to Beijing on Feb. 4 to attend the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics and hold a summit meeting with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, Russia said on Friday.A portrait of Mr. Putin at a market in Moscow last month.Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Kremlin has noted that Mr. Biden sees China, not Russia, as America’s most complex, long-term challenger — an economic, military and technological competitor that plays in a different league from Russia. Yet forcing the United States to increase its investment in a confrontation with Russia, analysts say, would undermine Mr. Biden’s greater strategic goal.
“The United States, objectively, does not want to increase its military presence in Europe,” said Mr. Suslov, the analyst. “This would be done at the cost of containing China.”
Anton Troianovski reported from Vienna, and David E. Sanger from Washington.
Sunday, 16 January 2022 6:59 AM [ Last Update: Sunday, 16 January 2022 10:26 AM ]
A US soldier looks on while an AH-64 Apache assault helicopter flies above during a patrol by the Suwaydiyah oil fields in Hasakah province, northeastern Syria, on February 13, 2021. (Photo by AFP)
Several rockets have reportedly hit a military facility housing US occupation forces in Syria’s oil-producing eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr.
Local source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Arabic service of Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency that the projectiles landed in the vicinity of the US-controlled al-Omar oil field late on Saturday, causing a fire.
The sources added that American forces stationed at the field put out the fire, and responded with missile strikes.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries and the extent of damage caused.
US military drones also flew over the field following the attack. So far, no group has claimed responsibility.
Angry locals prevent US convoy from entering Hasakah village
Meanwhile, residents of a village in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah intercepted a US military convoy attempting to pass through their community and forced it to turn back.
According to Syria’s official news agency SANA, residents in Salehiyeh Harb village, which lies near the city of Qamishli, and Syrian government forces blocked the convoy on Saturday evening, making it turn around and head back in the direction it came from.
Damascus, however, says the unlawful deployment is meant to plunder the country’s resources.
Former US president Donald Trump admitted on several occasions that American forces were in Syria for its oil.
Turkish military base in northern Iraq under attack
Separately, a number of rockets targeted a military base in Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh, where Turkish military forces are engaged in on-and-off operations against positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
Sabereen News reported that three rockets were launched at Zilkan base in northern Iraq’s Bashiqa region late on Saturday.
The report added that Turkish occupation forces responded to the attack with a volley of artillery rounds.
Iraq and Turkey have been locked in a dispute over Ankara’s military activities in Kurdistan region. The Baghdad government has repeatedly called on the Turkish government to stop violations of Iraqi sovereignty.
Militants of the PKK — designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union — regularly clash with Turkish forces in the Kurdish-dominated southeast of Turkey attached to northern Iraq.
A shaky ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish government collapsed in July 2015. Attacks on Turkish security forces have soared ever since.
More than 40,000 people have been killed during the three-decade conflict between Turkey and the autonomy-seeking militant group.
In a dramatic parliamentary session on January 9, the new Iraqi parliament reelectedMohamed al-Halbousi for a second term as speaker. While the vote further widened intra-Shia divisions, it also revealed Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s ability to change political dynamics across Iraq. The Sadrist Movement, the Sunni Taqadum and al-Azim alliance, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and other smaller factions attended the session and voted for Halbousi and his two deputies.
According to the Iraqi constitution, the parliament has thirty days from the first session to elect the country’s new president, who will then ask the largest bloc in parliament to form a government. To date, there is no agreement between Iraq’s main political powers. The post-2003 system in Iraq is centered on an informal power-sharing arrangement among Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds. Under this informal system, the prime minister’s post is reserved for a Shia, the position of speaker is reserved for a Sunni, and the president is required to be a Kurd.
Halbousi’s election can be seen as a victory for Sadr’s bloc over the Coordination Framework, a bloc that is largely aligned with Iran. Today, the political representation of the Iraqi Shia community is clearly divided into two main blocs. The first is the Sadrist Movement, which is led by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most visible post-2003 political leaders. The other Shia bloc is the Coordination Framework, a loose coalition of mainly Shia parties that includes two former prime ministers and other influential Shia political figures.
The Sadrists claimed nearly 40 percent of the seats won by Shia in the October 2021 election. Due to the complex nature of its coalition, it is still unclear how many seats the Coordination Framework will command. Nevertheless, it appears that they will control at least seventy seats.
As the largest single party in parliament, the Sadrists voted for the reelection of Halbousi, while the Coordination Framework boycotted the vote. A similar division occurred among the Kurds. The KDP, led by Masoud Barzani, attended the vote, while the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) joined the Coordination Framework in boycotting the vote.
Sadr described the vote as an important step toward forming a national majority government. Since the October 2021 election, the Sadrists have considered either trying to form a national majority government in coalition with non-Shia parties or settling for the role of Iraq’s political opposition. The Coordination Framework has only proposed one option: forming a consensus government. For Sadr, forming a majority government would mean reaching out to the major winners within the Sunni and Kurdish communities while excluding other political forces across the spectrum. A majority government can certainly be a responsible and effective government with clear tasks, expectations, and responsibilities. However, this idea is rejected by the Coordination Framework and every major party besides Sadr’s.
Sadr is serious about forming a majority government, which would challenge the post-2003 status quo in Iraq. At the same time, he knows that he has no guaranteed support from the other parties. While the Sunnis and the KDP joined Sadr in the vote for speaker, electing a president and prime minister is much more complex. Any Sadrist national majority government will depend on the support of the KDP and the new alliance between Taqaddum and al-Azim, the major political winners among Iraq’s Kurds and Sunnis. With the seats of another Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Sadr could also lead a new government. On the other hand, Sadr could form a national majority government by dividing the Coordination Framework and gaining the support of Shia alliances such as the National Power of the State Coalition and the Fatah Alliance.
Sadr will face three key challenges in any attempt to form an alliance with the Kurds and Sunnis. First, though an understanding between Sadr, Barzani, and Halbousi existed prior to the election, the KDP and the Sunni parties have so far rejected the idea of forming an alliance with just one Shia bloc. In addition, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Coordination Framework’s leader, has tried to create new alliances in an attempt to increase the Framework’s seats. This has created a balance of seats between the two Sunni blocs, making it difficult for Halbousi to claim sole leadership or representation of Iraq’s Sunnis. Finally, if Sadr does manage to obtain the support of the KDP and Halbousi, the Sadrists—the Shia component of the coalition—will not constitute a majority, making it the first government not dominated by Shia since 2003. This may make it a struggle for the coalition to win the support of the Shia community.
These challenges make it more likely that Sadr will try to reach out to Shia powers within the Coordination Framework to form a Sadr-led consensus government. The Sadrists may also consider settling as the opposition. The latter option may hold some appeal for Sadr, who has always presented himself as a renegadewho holds the government in Baghdad to account. Sadr’s supporters, who do not question his choices, may see Sadr as a true leader who sacrificed political power for the sake of the nation. This would not be the first time that Sadr threatened to leave a government and join the opposition. What is different today is that the Sadrists hold over seventy seats and could gain the support of smaller factions in order to create a sizable opposition bloc. If Sadr decides to take this path, he will create the most significant opposition force in the post-2003 Iraqi political system.
However, there are significant barriers that likely outweigh the perceived benefits of forming an opposition coalition. If Sadr does form an opposition coalition, it will only be because he has been prevented from forming a majority government. Considering the personal rivalry between Maliki and Sadr, this outcome will have broader implications for Sadr’s image and credibility.
Losing out on the ability to make appointments for the thousands of senior and special posts in the Iraqi government may also make Sadr hesitate to form an opposition coalition. Controlling these appointments allows politicians to direct national policy and advance their own political, ethnosectarian, and economic interests. Being in the opposition would prevent Sadr from taking advantage of this opportunity.
While Sadr enjoys a disciplined base and can afford to change his positions without losing support, he knows that his victory was largely due to the Sadrists’ skillful handling of new electoral laws. While they gained nineteen seats in the recent election, their share of the popular vote decreased significantly. For many political activists within the Sadrist Movement, especially those who worked hard during the election campaign, being in the opposition would prevent them from reaping the rewards that they believe Sadr owes them.
Lastly, if Sadr is not included in the next government, the Coordination Framework and the militias aligned with it will dominate Iraq. This would allow the militias to continue operating outside of Iraq’s security forces without facing pressure from the government. The crackdown on illegally owned weapons that Sadr campaigned on would not be implemented, and Sadr would disappoint the international supporters who saw in him a means to reduce the influence of pro-Iranian armed groups.
With all this in mind, it is likely that a partial consensus government will be formed. There is nothing new about a consensus government. However, what is new is that it may be a consensus government that advances the political, ideological, and international priorities of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Kamaran Palani is an Associate Fellow at Al Sharq Strategic Research, a Research Fellow at the Middle East Research Institute, and Lecturer in International Relations at Salahaddin-University-Erbil. His research interests include Iraqi politics, regional Kurdish politics, de facto statehood in the international system, internal displacement and prevention of violent extremism in Iraq.
Israeli forces seen in front of the Dome of the Rock, within the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem on September 10, 2021 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]HajjSayidJanuary 15, 2022 at 2:24 pm
Clashes between Israelis and Palestinians are nothing new. These episodes have been happening since the Zionist militias started the Nakba in 1948 with the violent expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of more than 140 towns and villages. This ethnic cleansing campaign made way for the Ashkenazi, Khazar and Sephardi Jews, displaced from Europe, to settle in historical Palestine.
The episodes of direct confrontations in May 2021 between Palestinian resistance forces and Israel reignited the debate on the legitimacy of each and the effectiveness of a lasting peace agreement between the two parties. As usual, the mainstream media lavishly trumpeted the chant about “Israel’s right to defend itself”, while continuing to treat resistance forces, especially the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, as responsible for aggression and “terrorism”.
In January 2020, former US President Donald Trump, without the participation of Palestinians, announced an arrangement termed the “deal of the century“. Trump’s proposition was a unilateral initiative arising from pressure from the US Jewish lobby aimed at continuing the annexations of Palestinian territories and recognising and legalising the crimes that the Jewish state has been committing since 1948. What appeared to be an alternative to “lasting peace” was, in fact, a macabre plan to end Palestine as a nation.
The colonialist plan did not end after the self-proclamation of the Jewish state nor with the massacre perpetrated during the so-called Six-Day War, or with the occupation of the Gaza Strip, Sinai (Egypt) and the Golan Heights (Syria). Israel continues to carry out the process of complete Judaisation of Palestine in all fields, adopting legislation such as the Basic Law of the Nation-State passed by the Knesset on 19 July, 2018, through which it legally became an exclusive state for Jews.
As can be seen, the goal of the Israeli occupation is the complete destruction of Palestine so that there is finally the establishment of a state of Jewish supremacy in the occupied territories, without defined borders and in permanent expansion. The intention is to transform what is left of Palestine into small islands of land as if it were a mini-state – pulverised, surrounded and suffocated by the occupier on all sides.
A new Hamas programme was approved in 2017 and called the General Document of Principles and Policies. It asserts that the establishment of the so-called “State of Israel” based on unilateral decisions is completely “illegal, infringes the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and goes against their will and the will of the Nation,”as it is a violation of human rights and the right to self-determination.
Hamas has declared that it will not recognise Israel or anything that happened in Palestine in terms of occupation. This includes the construction of colonial settlements, the Judaisation of historical and sacred places and the change in characteristics or falsification of historical and cultural facts. It understands that Palestinian rights over their land and places will never lapse.
The Hamas programme rejects a lasting solution other than the liberation of Palestine “from the river to the sea”, without compromising its rejection of Israel and without abandoning any rights of the Palestinians. It agrees with the establishment of a Palestinian state along the borders of 4 June, 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of refugees and displaced people from their homes, from which they have been expelled since 1948.
The leadership of Hamas has declared that it is committed to the re-establishment of relations and joint actions by Palestinian organisations based on pluralism, democracy, national partnership, acceptance of the other and the adoption of dialogue. The aim is to strengthen the unity to meet the aspirational needs of the Palestinian people, as occurred in the historic meeting of 5 September, 2020, when the main Palestinian forces came together for a joint initiative to contest the Israeli occupation.
Some insist on the thesis of the alleged attempt by Hamas to delegitimise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). However, the movement shows the recognition of the organisation in its programme, stating that it is a reference for the Palestinian people that needs to be preserved, developed and rebuilt on a democratic basis, inside and outside Palestine, to ensure the participation of all forces fighting to protect the rights of Palestinians.
While Palestinians seek solutions to end the colonial apartheid of the “Jewish state”, Zionist leaders deny, by all means, the most elementary rights of Palestinians. This can be seen in the statements of the current premier, Naftali Bennett, who said in 2018 that he “wouldn’t give an inch of land to the Arabs” and told US magazine The New Yorker in 2013: “I will do everything in my power so that they never have their own state.”
For these and other reasons, Palestinians do not trust the Zionists. They do not comply with agreements, such as the Oslo Accords, which have become a dead letter without recognising the right of existence of the Palestinian state. After Oslo, Israel accelerated the expansion of the occupation, the creation of Jewish colonial settlements, the confiscation of land, the creation of quotas for exports to the Israeli market and control on the import of agricultural machinery and tools, which ended up ruining Palestinian agriculture.
Despite this, there are still those who advocate the recognition of Israel by the Palestinian resistance as a pre-condition for the existence of “lasting peace agreements”. There are also those who support normalisation to take effect when it is known that this arrangement is ineffective for the simple realisation that Israel will not stop the occupation at a negotiating table. Such rhetoric serves the interests of the Israeli occupation, which is aware of its inability to win new battles against the Palestinian resistance.
To accept the occupier’s reality is to annihilate the dream of freedom and liberation, betraying the martyrs and those who fought long and hard for freedom, self-determination and dignity. This would betray the principles of legitimate resistance to achieve what is enshrined in international law and the Charter of the United Nations.
TENÓRIO, Sayid Marcos. Palestina: Do mito da terra prometido à terra da resistência. 1st ed. São Paulo: Anita Garibaldi, IBRASPAL, 2019. P. 382.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.
NEW DELHI: Even as there looks no immediate headway towards deescalating tensions between South Asian nuclear neighbours, at least 50 politicians, former officials, and peace activists have come together urging Pakistan and India to attend to their differences and work for durable peace in the region.
Indian peace activist Om Prakash Shah is planning to release compilations of 50 articles in the form of a book — In Pursuit of Peace: Improving Indo-Pak Relations — in the Indian capital New Delhi over the weekend, requesting both countries to at least start talks to find solutions to their political issues.
The authors, who have contributed to the book include former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, former Information Minister Javed Jabbar, former Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha and former Chief Minister of occupied Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah, among others.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency ahead of the release of the book, Shah said there was a general recognition on both sides to find a way to co-exist in a peaceful productive manner and to make sure that the differences do not spin out of control, especially given the developmental challenges faced by both countries.
“The main aim of this book is to deepen our mutual understanding of the different points of view in Pakistan and India and to speed up the process of dialogue, which I believe is an important tool for bridging the trust deficit between India and Pakistan,” said Shah, who is working on improving Pakistan-India relations for the last three decades.
He said the book has taken the stock of Indo-Pak relations as both countries are approaching the 75th anniversary of their independence in August 2022.
Relations between India and Pakistan plummeted to a new low after August 5, 2019, when India not only revoked the longstanding special status but also bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir, prompting Islamabad to downgrade its diplomatic ties.
Desirable to turn to dialogue
Pakistan has been maintaining the normalization of ties with New Delhi is linked to a review of the August 5 decision and ultimate resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Stating that India Pakistan relationship, “like any complicated multi-faceted relationship, has its ups and downs,” Shah said that it is important to maintain a focus on bridging the gaps between the two neighbours that share a long border.
“To bridge this inherited chasm, it is desirable to turn to dialogue, which is an important tool that is available to all of us. It is important that we do not leave the challenging task of establishing a climate of trust and confidence between India and Pakistan to our respective governments only,” he said.
Shah urged the civil society in both countries to take a lead in progressing the peace talks and to resolve our mutual differences, in addition to the efforts made by the two governments.
Asked about the central idea in the articles written by a divergent group of people across the borders, Shah said, all authors are committed to finding ways to improve India and Pakistan relations.
Mohammad Mukhtar Ansari, a former top official in the Indian government, who has also contributed to the book, said both countries should not be oblivious of emotional attachment between the divided families and cultural affinity among the people of both sides.
“The countries, which support cultural exchange programs across the regions and promote economic and business trade, do not engage themselves in war-like activities or maintain adversarial relations.
Both the countries must give a chance to its people to establish contacts at various levels, which will pave the way for establishing a friendly relationship with all the neighbouring countries,” he said.
He added that it is important that the protection of sociocultural identities is duly factored “in the dialogue process to respect and promote traditional bondage between the people living beyond the borders.”