Conflicts Forum Weekly Comment

Conflicts Forum

5 – 12 April

The Almaty talks (5-6) April between Iran & the P5+1 have generally been spun in the western press as signalling a lack of interest by Iran in the chance to negotiate seriously with the West over its nuclear programme, and therefore denoting a further example of Iranians succeeding in missing an opportunity.  The situation however is not quite so simple: the Iranians in fact put forward a proposal to suspend enrichment at 20%, and to put into place within Iran an assured and verifiable low-enriched fuel cycle.  The offer to suspend the higher 20% enrichment (much of which has been turned into fuel rods for a reactor producing isotopes for cancer treatment, and which is needed medically), together with the Supreme Leader’s disavowal of nuclear weapons as ‘forbidden’ in Islam, the Iranians believe, is indeed, a serious start point.  The P5+1 responded to this proposal by refusing to lift the unilateral economic and financial sanctions imposed on Iran.  The talks did not break down, but neither did they progress.  In Iran, there is a counterpart view (to the western ‘spin’) – it is that the US, in any case, has no intention to lift sanctions on Iran – and moreover is incapable of lifting them: the sanction legislation has become like a matted, tangle of roots: legislation interpenetrating into legislation – stretching back, layer upon layer, over thirty years.  And it is thought that this US Republican Congress would not raise even its little finger to help Obama reach a solution with Iran; and that in any case, Obama has more important fish to fry with Congress – namely the economy, and would not appreciate an Iranian diversion of attention.  The Supreme Leader has made a significant speech in response to the situation, which effectively urges Iranians to batten down the hatches, and expect more pressures this year (though he expressed confidence that Iran was much better shape to bypass the contemporary sanctions than it was either in 1992 or 2002). The Leader’s key point was that the US simply insists on its particular ‘truth’ – its own narrative – and tolerates no other ‘truth’ to a situation, so how can such so-called ‘negotiations’ possibly be successful.  How can there be any trust? What does all this suggest?  One possibility is that Obama is simply happy to let Iran ‘stew’ under ever increasing sanctions, even as his Administration understands that their siege increasingly is being bypassed (see here); but there is always the risk too, that continuing US confrontation may end badly: in some unintended military ‘accident’.  Equally, visitors to Israel note that some senior Israeli security officials perceive a rare opportunity: the Arab world is decimated by its internal ructions (Eygpt, Syria and Iran), Sunni-Shi’i strife is exacerbating, Israel has never been better armed (thanks to Obama), Hamas has been brought into the Qatari-Turkey camp, Turkey is being slowly wooed back into military alliance with Israel, and Kerry is launching a Palestinian ‘peace initiative’ … well … why not take opportunity of this extraordinary concatenation of events, and ‘take out’ the Iranian (conventional) military capabilities under pretext of their having crossed some imaginary ‘red line’?

Hamas Elections: Leaks from senior members of Hamas have indicated that Meshaal’s re-election as head of the Hamas political committee was the result of intense pressures particularly from Qatar and Turkey, but also from the head of Egyptian intelligence (see here).  The Arab states and Turkey are quoted as saying that they wish to see a Palestinian ‘reconciliation’ between Fateh and Hamas; they would prefer Meshaal in power, rather than any other Hamas political figure, noting that Meshaal is taken to be committed to the Arab line, rather than that of Iran. Al-Quds al-Arabi notes that the effective shoe-horning of Meshaal into the Hamas leadership by these external powers has opened deep divisions within the movement – one sign of which was that the leadership was contested for the first time, rather than a leader emerge through consensus.  However, with even the more optimistic Israeli commentators noting that with the new Israeli coalition in place, there has never been a less likely prospect for a Palestinian solution, the question arises as to what exactly is the vision of Turkey and Qatar in respect to the Palestinian issue; or is this simply another move on the chessboard aimed at weakening Syrian and Iranian influence – more than helping Palestinians achieve their state?

The Al-Nusra Front was revealed this week to be pledged to al-Qae’da; and to be a component of a joint al-Qae’da front bridging al-Qae’da in Iraq, with that in Syria. A leading Arab commentator, Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, noted: “To say that that collaboration betweenal-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda is the single biggest development in the Syrian crisis, is no exaggeration”. It started with Ayman al-Zawahiri calling all the Islamic brigades fighting President Assad to found an Islamic Emirate in Syria.  Receiving rather less publicity in the West however, was the audio message posted on the internet on Monday by the leader of al-Qae’da in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  He announced a merger of the Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qae’da in Iraq) with al-Nusra Front in Syria.  According to al-Baghdadi, the Al-Nusra front’s leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani, and “a group of men” relocated to Syria from Iraq at an early stage of the civil war [in Syria] and connected up “with pre-existing cells in the country.” In his recorded audio message, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi credits AQI, i.e. Zarqawi, with establishing in Syria a broad network of cells and secret training camps for the recruits al Qaeda mustered for jihad in Iraq and across the Muslim world, in the early 2000s.  Al-Baghdadi names Syrian Jabhat al-Nusra, then an underground body with hidden ties to al Qaeda, as the organization which managed the training courses and ran the flow of weapons through Syria into Iraq.  A top Iraqi intelligence official told the Associated Press in Baghdad that they have always known that “al-Qaeda in Iraq is directing Jabhat al-Nusra.” Iraqi officials said the groups are sharing three military training compounds, logistics, intelligence and weapons as they grow in strength around the Syria-Iraq border, particularly in a sprawling region called al-Jazeera, which they are trying to turn into a border sanctuary they both can exploit.

One Comment

  1. Almaty talks

    .. USA totally insincere, Iran somewhat insincere, but at least, playing the game. Surely these humans with flags on their foreheads could do just a little better than this? Perhaps, with women in charge, it would be better?

    Perhaps. Perhaps it is, too late.

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