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Middle East

Is the Middle East on its way to strategic independence?

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text For many decades, the development, particularly political, of the Middle East has been a "derivative" of global trends. Simplifying a bit, we can say that peace and war here depended on the decisions and actions of primarily external players, whether they were the "powers" of the 19th century or the "great powers" of the 20th century. However, now we can see more and more evidence of the "sovereignization" of the region: the internal dynamics of the Middle East political processes are beginning to prevail, and now external players are forced to adapt to it. In any case, such an impression is formed when looking at the situation from the point of view of our basic hypothesis, according to which the basis of the regional architecture is a system of relations between three non–Arab countries – Iran, Israel and Turkey – as well as a heterogeneous "Arab Mashrik" (East), within which its own triangle dominates - the KSA, the UAE, the ARE, supplemented by Qatar. As part of such a scheme, we saw some time ago how Iran's status was purposefully raised – almost to the level of a "responsible regional player" and a de facto nuclear power. This put Tehran on a par with Tel Aviv and Ankara. In this new – recognized – capacity, Iran has led the way to normalize relations with the Arabs (first of all, the KSA). That is, in fact, he followed the same course that Israel took a little earlier and Turkey is also moving along. The Iranian-Arab normalization was carried out on three main platforms – in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen; its main content was balancing the interests of Tehran and Riyadh. And, apparently, this process has been going on and is going on, in general, productively. Judge for yourself: in Iraq, the parliament was finally able to elect a president and appoint a new government - and this despite the wave of unrest that shook the country in late summer and early autumn. At that moment it seemed that there would be no compromise, but it turned out that, on the contrary, the compromise was born as a result of the "mutiny" of supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. A compromise was also reached in Lebanon: there Hezbollah approved an agreement with Israel on maritime borders. Without going into the interpretation of all the subtleties of regional policy, we can still conclude that this fact is a signal that Tehran will not become a wall on the path of Israeli-Lebanese reconciliation (or, speaking in a local context, "normalization"). And this, in turn, can be understood as the Iranians securing more advantageous positions for themselves in bargaining with the KSA on the issue of a new Lebanese president. After all, now, if Riyadh fails to reach an agreement with Tehran on this issue, the fate of the maritime agreement will be at stake. That is, thereby the Saudis will find themselves in opposition not only to the Iranians, but also to the Israelis and Americans (the main sponsors and authors of the Lebanese-Israeli deal on maritime borders). Finally, in Yemen, despite the fact that the terms of the ceasefire agreements between the Houthis and the government (and in fact, the pro–Saudi coalition) have expired, nevertheless, large-scale hostilities have not resumed. The parties are clearly trying not to upset the balance. Of course, against this background, the publications in the American press of the "revelations" of Saudi intelligence about Iran's allegedly "imminent" attacks on its Arab neighbors and, above all, on the KSA itself sounded very threatening. In response to this "call", Washington even sent its warplanes "towards Iran" from bases in the Gulf. Finally, Riyadh announced that it was ending contacts with Tehran, which apparently meant the closure of negotiations in Baghdad, which the parties had been conducting for quite a long time in order to restore diplomatic relations. All this sham, especially in the conditions of incessant unrest in Iran, it would seem, should have indicated the failure of attempts at Arab-Iranian normalization. And if so, then this should be followed by another wave of escalation, which will inevitably return the region to full control of external forces led by the United States, which means that there is no need to talk about the "sovereignization" of the Middle East. However, it seems that the situation is somewhat different. And the key to understanding the situation is the change of government in Israel, or rather, the first statements of the new-old Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which he outlined the priorities of his regional strategy. The number one there is the involvement of new Arab countries in normalization with Israel. And only number two is countering Iran. The fact that Iran has receded into the background is news in itself. But the main question that I would like to clarify is: with which Arab countries exactly does Bibi intend to "normalize"? After all, if you look carefully, then the entire potential reserve in this direction has been exhausted: Israel already has relations with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and partly with Sudan. Either "irreconcilable" ones, such as Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, or "unnecessary" ones (because they are dilapidated), like Libya, Yemen, remained outside the process of "normalization".; or those who are already cooperating with Tel Aviv in fact, but do not want to do it officially – Oman, Qatar. These latter, by the way, may be of considerable interest, along with, for example, Kuwait. But still, the main goal of "normalization" is Saudi Arabia. There can be no doubt that Tel Aviv, as well as Tehran and Ankara, wants to get it. If we evaluate the events of recent weeks from this point of view, we can assume that the essence of what is happening, in particular, in Iran, as well as in Iranian-Saudi relations, is the "jealousy" of the Israelis. They cannot allow Iran to normalize its relations with the KSA first. This means that the struggle for the Saudi Kingdom is heating up between Israel and Iran – just like for the heart of a beautiful (and fabulously rich) princess. Until recently, the initiative was in the hands of the Iranians, and it almost came to restoring diplomatic relations with the Saudis. But the explosion of large-scale unrest in Iran disrupted this process, and now Netanyahu is ready to seize the initiative. At the same time, Ankara does not stand aside, it also wants to be the first to get Riyadh into its arms. The Turks are putting pressure on the economy: during the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Turkey a few months ago, billion–dollar contracts were signed, and this is a trump card that neither Israel nor Iran can boast of. In addition, the Turks, unlike their two rivals, have established excellent relations with the closest and very influential neighbors of the KSA – the Emirates and Qatar. And they can also act as an ally of the Saudis in Syria (and Lebanon), balancing the influence of Iran and Israel there. Assessing the situation of interaction within the triangle, one should always keep in mind that each of the "corners" seeks to prevent the union of the other two against it. That is, Iran is not afraid of Israel or Turkey as such, but of their tandem. And the same applies to all others: Tel Aviv takes care that Tehran and Ankara do not get together, and Ankara does not want this to happen between Tehran and Tel Aviv, no matter how impossible this option may seem. If we assume that at the moment the main struggle is unfolding between Israel and Iran for the right to "normalize" with Saudi Arabia, Turkey may have a decisive role: it is she who is able to swing the scales in one direction or another. Therefore, before winning the heart of the Saudis, the rivals will have to compete for the sympathy of the Turks. The Israelis have had a difficult time: the restoration of diplomatic relations, the president's visit to Ankara, the resumption of military-technical cooperation, etc. The Iranians seem to be lagging behind. But they have their own set of proposals to the heirs of the Ottomans: the main dish here is the joint fight against Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan. And, as you can see, in this field, IRI and TR are quite capable of joint actions: The Iranian IRGC's massive strikes on Kurdish bases in Iraq actually coincided with a similar Turkish operation. And on Syrian soil, Iran probably has something to offer the Turks. Especially considering the Turkish gas hub project, which could bring Iranian gas to world markets. In short, the possibility of an Iranian-Turkish tandem capable of making an offer to Riyadh, which will be extremely difficult to refuse, cannot but excite (if not frighten) Tel Aviv. They understand here that it is very difficult to keep Ankara in the Israeli orbit; it can slip out of their hands at any moment. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Israelis are dragging Turkey's "sibling" Azerbaijan into their game, while systematically pitting Baku and Tehran against each other. The calculation is simple: mutual hostility between Azerbaijan and Iran, their mutual provocations (fortunately, there is Armenia) will force Ankara to side with Baku and against Tehran. This is an additional insurance… You can analyze the situation further, gradually expanding the geography and/or delving into local problems. However, it seems that the above analysis is enough to make sure that the political processes in the Middle East region are gaining their own dynamics, their own content. The game that is being played inside the contours we have described is not a derivative of the development of the external, global environment. And this is the main characteristic of the new stage of regional development.

Turkey: how long will the multi-vector policy last?

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text Turkey's state-owned banks, following private ones, abandoned the Russian MIR payment system. The largest private banks of the republic, Isbank and Denizbank, followed by the state-owned Halkbank, VakifBank and Ziraat Bank, no longer accept Russian MIR cards, which caused considerable surprise among tourists who are already in Turkey. The reason is a statement by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department (OFAC, a US government agency that oversees sanctions policy). It has recently warned third-country financial institutions against entering into new agreements or expanding existing ones with the Russian payment system, otherwise the organizations will fall under secondary sanctions. Recall: On September 15, OFAC made it clear that it regards Russia's recent efforts to expand the use of the Mir payment card network as an attempt to circumvent sanctions. Thus, those who, according to the United States, support such efforts may face restrictions in accordance with American legislation on sanctions against "harmful Russian foreign policy." It's time, I think, for Russia to introduce bans on supplies to the United States and other unfriendly countries of vital goods for them (for example, titanium and nuclear fuel) and adopt a similar law. But this is so, a lyrical digression. To be fair, Turkey is not the only one who refuses to work with the Mir system. Kazakhstan and Vietnam have also suspended the acceptance of Russian cards. Analysts believe that this list of states will only grow in the foreseeable future. On the official website of the "World" in the "Geography" section, only Russia has been listed since September 21. Whereas earlier, in addition to the countries already mentioned, Abkhazia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, South Ossetia, South Korea and, of course, Turkey were also mentioned there. The Turks would not be Turks if they did not have a "plan B". Ankara is already developing a "ticket card" for tourists from Russia. It can be used in restaurants, shops, museums, etc. The money will be debited from the tourist operator, not travelers. However, it is not yet specified whether the "tickets" will be prepaid or, on the contrary, paid for by tourists after the fact. It is possible that the necessary amounts will be immediately debited by the operator from the Russian accounts of tourists. The issue of commissions and the cost of such services has not yet been disclosed. The multi-vector nature of Ankara's policy has long been a cause for ridicule. Someone, on the contrary, admires her. For example, Turkey has stated that it is considering buying Russian military aircraft if the United States refuses to sell them the F-16. Earlier there was talk of buying the Su-57 instead of the F-35. Ankara stated that they would not support or recognize referendums in the DPR, LPR, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions. But, nevertheless, the Turks are ready to host a Russian nuclear power plant and transit Russian gas to Europe. In this context, experts from the British analytical center Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) emphasize that the United States and the EU will continue to increase pressure on Turkey to adopt sanctions against Russia in the coming months. However, Brussels fears that Ankara may use its levers for a "retaliatory strike". This, of course, is about managing migration flows. Today, more than 40 thousand refugees from Syria continue their trek to European countries, primarily Germany. The participants of the "freedom convoy" themselves say that there are at least 100 thousand of them. They intend to break through the Turkish-Greek border and seek a better life in the EU member states, as well as the UK. Undoubtedly, Ankara will try to make the most of this fact in negotiations with the Europeans, as it has done many times before. Especially considering the fact that Brussels today cannot provide its citizens with heat and light… In any case, at adequate prices… However, both Europeans and Americans also have ways to put pressure on Ankara. Mainly in the economic sphere, which, against the background of the approaching presidential and parliamentary elections in 2023, is becoming increasingly relevant. The sanctions that were imposed against Turkey after its actions in Libya and the Mediterranean Sea hit hard not only the military-industrial complex, which lost the supply of a large number of spare parts and parts. The restrictions also affect Turkish businessmen, officials, and companies. As a result of these measures, the economy of the republic is experiencing almost the worst times in its history. The growth in consumer prices on average significantly exceeded the inflation target of the Central Bank of Turkey (CBRT) of 5.0%: 15.5% year-on-year. Consumer confidence is close to record lows, and confidence in the real economy has been shaken. The central bank noted in the minutes of the meeting that "the leading indicators for the third quarter continue to indicate a loss of momentum in economic activity due to a decrease in external demand." Inflation in the country, as reported in August by the Institute of Statistics of the country, exceeded 80% year-on-year, and experts expect that growth will continue. Turkish banks continue to charge households significant spreads on loans, with the latest CBRT data (September 8) showing that households paid interest rates at an average of 30.8%. This led to the fact that consumer loan rates reacted only slightly to the rate cut in August. A similar dynamic was maintained with commercial loans. However, on August 20, the Central Bank introduced rules concerning bank lending to firms. Now banks must hold lira-denominated securities in the amount of 20% of the loan amount in CBRT if the loan rate exceeds the base rate of x1.4 and 90% if it exceeds the base rate of x1.8. The data show that this immediately reduced the average rates agreed on commercial loans, approximately from 26% (on August 21) to 21% (on September 8). Thus, as noted in the EIU, a reduction in the interest rate should reduce the cost of lending to firms. However, analysts are skeptical about the possibility of new incentives to help banks lend to firms at these rates. In the long run, this could lead to credit problems throughout the economy. Analysts at Business Monitor International (BMI), a structural unit of Fitch Solutions, believe that before the 2023 elections, the Turkish authorities will continue to conduct an unorthodox monetary policy, and after that the Central Bank will return to orthodox methods and start raising rates. Experts also note that in the near future, CBRT may go on a cycle of significant increases in the key rate, which will require banks to increase the cost of borrowing. The Turkish lira is also facing difficult times. However, she has been hitting one anti-record after another for a long time. The average exchange rate in 2023 is projected to be about 21.50 TRY/USD. Despite a certain increase in Turkish exports – up to 13.1% year–on-year - the trade deficit continues to grow, including due to the rise in energy prices. In August, their prices increased by 162%. Turkey's economy is one of the main problems of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) against the background of the upcoming elections. No external victories will overcome the social problems of the population, the stratification of society and the fall in income. Especially if it directly hits the wallets of ordinary Turks. This is understood both in the United States and in the EU states, which are finding it increasingly difficult to do business with Turkey, which is trying to "sit on two chairs" – to benefit from Washington, Berlin, London, Paris, as well as from Moscow. The world is changing rapidly and sooner or later Ankara will have to make a choice between the West and the conditional East. Otherwise, Turkey in 2023 risks repeating the fate of many states that have tried to play their own game bypassing the United States. In addition, the Americans have long been annoyed by the Turkish leader.    Especially after Ankara did buy Russian S-400 air defense systems. On the other hand, a certain fatigue from Ankara's maneuvers has also matured in the East. So, at the recent summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Erdogan was openly hinted: in order to join the association, he would have to withdraw from NATO. "We have provisions on the admission of new members, which provide for a number of criteria, including belonging to the Eurasian region, active maintenance of active diplomatic, trade and economic relations and cultural ties with the SCO member states, the absence of conflicts with the SCO states, and non-involvement in external conflicts, the absence of sanctions of the UN Security Council, but also non–participation in activities and blocs hostile or directed against SCO members," said Bakhtiyor Khakimov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for SCO Affairs, Ambassador-at-Large of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Under the current conditions, Erdogan and the AKP have less and less room for maneuver. And no matter what choice the country's authorities make, be it Washington or Moscow, some voters will consider it, if not a betrayal, then at least a mistake. Does Erdogan have a "plan B" for this case as well – the question is still open…

Biden went to the Middle East

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text An unusual impression is formed when looking at the Middle East on the eve of the visit of US President Joe Biden there. The event, needless to say, is important. After all, this is his first visit to the region, and so far the current White House administration has not presented its own regional doctrine. Everyone is terribly interested in what Biden's Middle East policy is. Traditionally, almost everything in the region depends on the direction and content of the US Middle East strategy. This is the topic around which all combinations are played out, coalitions are created, conflicts arise, etc. However, in the year and a half since the beginning of Biden's presidency, the general American theme has not been set. During this time, a lot of problems have accumulated in the Middle East, each of which the Americans are dealing with in one way or another, but there is no complete picture of such a mosaic. Therefore, it is not surprising that everyone is looking forward to Biden's visit. Moreover, his deadlines were postponed. In a word, one could say that "the whole world (or at least the entire region) froze in anticipation of Biden's arrival"… But everything turns out to be wrong. The region is by no means frozen. On the contrary, the activity of local politicians, kings, presidents, heads of government, diplomats has probably never been so high. Everyone has seen and negotiated with everyone, and more than once. And what is wonderful: this activity cannot be compared with a fever before a big event, when in a hurry they "check the clock", finish printing documents, arrange tables and chairs, adjust flags, check the operation of microphones and air conditioners, the presence of water in coolers… Such agitation on the eve of the arrival of the "owner" is a thing of the past. Now everything looks different. Namely: the President of the United States is not expected as a "director" who informs about strategic goals, gives valuable instructions that are binding, and distributes roles. They are waiting for him as a partner, who will be offered options for interaction and terms of cooperation. This is the main feature of Biden's "historic" visit: America has lost the initiative. It is not she who offers and disposes. It is not she who forms the agenda. And the head of the White House is going to the Middle East without knowing in advance the results of his negotiations there. This is really happening for the first time in many, many years, if not decades. Apparently, in order to remove this feeling, Biden, on the eve of his trip, published an article in which he made an attempt to set out his own agenda. Her theses have already been quoted many times, so there is no need to dwell on them in detail. However, it would still be appropriate to make a few comments. Biden insists that the current state of the Middle East region is much more calm and peaceful than before. At the same time, he points to a decrease in terrorist activity in Iraq, the restoration of the unity of the Arab Gulf countries, a truce in Yemen, the isolation of Iran, the prevention of a large-scale war in Gaza and the resumption of direct dialogue between the top leadership of Palestine and Israel. All this, according to Biden, is the merit of the United States. For the American public, such a description of the situation may be acceptable. However, any more or less serious analysis changes the picture. The fact is that almost all of the positions listed by the US president are largely tied to Iran. And there could not and cannot be any significant changes on any of these tracks without the consent of Tehran. And first of all in Iraq and Yemen. Does Washington really believe that the departure of Muqtada al-Sadr from the Iraqi parliament is the result of American diplomacy? Or that the Yemeni Houthis agreed to a truce in gratitude for removing them from the American list of terrorists? Or that Hamas in Gaza unexpectedly agreed to American persuasions not to continue rocket attacks on Israeli cities? It seems that all this would be impossible if it were not for the will of Iran. But he's "in isolation," says Biden. What kind of isolation can we talk about if the Iranian president visits Oman, exchanges visits with the Emir of Qatar, and preparations are underway in Baghdad for a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran and the KSA in order to restore full-scale relations? And if Turkish President Recep Erdogan intends to arrive in Tehran immediately after the visit of the American leader to the Gulf? There is no "isolation" of Iran. Moreover, if we agree with Biden's opinion and recognize all the American successes and achievements listed by him, then logic will also require recognizing that the United States could achieve all this solely relying on very close and trusting cooperation with Tehran. For, let us repeat – in today's Middle East, nothing like this can be obtained without the consent of Iran. And this is well known and all regional players proceed from it. And the whole regional structure is built around this immutable fact – and not around this or that American doctrine, as it was before. Through the efforts of successive American administrations, Iran has become not only a "threshold" nuclear power and acquired its own missiles, but has managed to create strong footholds in the Arab world (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen), establish strong trade and political relations (Qatar, Oman, Syria, Gaza, partly the UAE and the PNA in the West the bank of the Jordan). Iranian warships have already moved beyond the Persian Gulf and settled into the Red Sea. And soon they will enter the expanses of the World Ocean (exercises have been announced in Venezuela, where the Iranians will participate together with Russia and China). In short, Iran, as an influence factor, has equaled the United States in the region. And this has transformed the Middle East into a completely new quality. He is no longer a passive object of American (or any other) policy, but a kind of collective subject. He has acquired an internal, independent dynamics of development, which the White House manages (at least under the current owner) unable to. This means that Biden will not only be listened to here and not so much as demanded from him to integrate America into the emerging regional architecture. And it, as we have already assumed, is formed around several centers of power: three non-Arab (Tel Aviv – Tehran – Ankara) and one Arab, which, apparently, will be heterogeneous. It has yet to be formed on the basis of the competition between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi with the participation of Cairo and Baghdad. In these conditions, the only thing that the United States can really influence is competition in the Arab camp. But even here Washington can no longer make any individual decisions: neither Tel Aviv, nor Ankara, nor the Arabs themselves will allow him to do this. Because they all understand perfectly well: America is not up to the subtleties of Middle Eastern layouts right now. She won't delve into them. This means that he will inevitably make mistakes, the consequences of which will have to be sorted out for more than one year. Adventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan are classic examples of this. Nobody wants a repeat. Therefore, we can assume that the main content of Biden's Middle East visit will be, firstly, an attempt to regain the trust of the Arabs, first of all, Riyadh. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that the main requirement formulated by the Arab Gulf countries is their full participation in the work on the "nuclear deal" with Iran. And the implementation of this requirement logically entails the ousting of the United States from the process, if only because Tehran consistently insists that Gulf security issues concern only coastal states and no extra–regional forces should be allowed here. This thesis, persistently repeated by Iran, seems to meet with the understanding and tacit consent of the Arabs. And we can say with a fair degree of confidence that this is their vision of the "Middle East NATO", which was mentioned by Jordanian monarch Abdullah II on the eve of Biden's visit. In the United States, this project is seen as a formalized American-Israeli-Sunni alliance against Iran. But the Gulf Arab countries need a regional bloc primarily to consolidate and institutionalize the Arab center of power in the region, and not to legitimize the presence of the United States and Israel here and give them the right of veto in solving regional problems. This, by the way, is understood in Tel Aviv, where they do not dream of binding themselves with allied obligations either with the Arabs (no matter how friendly they may be) or with Washington. So Biden will have a very difficult dialogue in this direction. No less difficulties, apparently, await him when discussing another problem - the "stabilization" of the global energy market against the background of the consequences of Russian special operations in Ukraine. The point here is to convince the Arabs (mainly the KSA) to increase oil production in order to "punish" Moscow. Technically, this task does not seem impossible. Despite the widespread opinion of French President Macron, Saudi capacities are hardly working "at the limit". The question is not to quickly increase production. For the Arabs, the question is to guarantee long-term demand. After all, no one has canceled the "green agenda" yet, and it, being adopted at the highest international level, orients oil-producing countries to a steady decline in demand for "black gold". If the prospects remain the same and demand continues to decline, then the Arabs have no reason to open their taps. They need long-term contracts, not one-time "geshefts". So, under these conditions, it is quite possible to assume that in response to Biden's wishes, he will be offered to withdraw from the Paris agreements (as his predecessor Donald Trump did). Such a step would indicate Washington's seriousness to restore the global oil market and would give Arab exporters a reason to start increasing production. But will Biden do that? Will he take responsibility for completely abandoning the foundations of his political program? It is impossible to exclude this, given that the responsibility can be blamed on Putin: they say, it is because of him that you have to give up the most expensive… Such a feint is likely. And here it is extremely important whether the Arabs will allow themselves to be convinced. After all, Biden himself has already demonstrated how easily the newly elected US president crosses out the decisions of his predecessor. Trump pulled the US out of the Paris agreements, and Biden brought everything back. But if Biden repeats the actions of Trump – where are the guarantees that his replacement will not repeat the actions of Biden himself? So, whichever way you look at it, the US president has a very delicate mission in the Middle East: to regain at least some of the trust from the countries of the region and come to terms with the loss of the role of the almighty hegemon.

Gas or brake – which will Lebanon and Israel choose?

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text The gas issue remains one of the most pressing in the Middle East. This time, attention was drawn to it by the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who called the gas reserves on the Lebanese shelf the basis for the development of the country and called on the Lebanese to unite for their development for the sake of the future. You can't argue with the sheikh, but there is a problem: the gas fields are located in an area disputed by Lebanon and Israel. The two countries have been formally at war since 1948, and the maritime borders between them have not been defined. The essence lies in the difference in the definition of the ceasefire line from 1949. They don't match on the maps of the two countries. According to the Israeli version, the line of the maritime border with Lebanon rests on the border of the Cypriot economic waters 15 kilometers north of the point on which Lebanon insists. Initially, when the gas fields on the Levantine shelf were just discovered, Beirut opposed their development without agreeing on maritime borders. However, his efforts, in particular, his appeal to the UN, remained in vain. And so far, for Lebanon, "to begin the development of deposits" means first of all to conclude an agreement on the maritime border. As for Israel, it simply ignores the problem from the very beginning: Tel Aviv, without any doubt, has been successfully developing production on Leviathan and Tamar for a long time. The same approach has been demonstrated to them now. Shortly after Hassan Nasrallah's statements, the Israelis drove a gas production platform to the area of the Karish field exactly on the disputed section of the border. In response, Hezbollah stated that it would not leave without reaction "Israel's violation of Lebanese sovereignty" and would act, including by force. However, a remarkable reservation was made: "if Israel and Lebanon do not reach an agreement on the border." That is, the issue of the border was put at the forefront, and not in general about the right of the "Zionist entity" unrecognized by Lebanon to dispose of the natural resources of the shelf. But it was quite possible to expect such a radical approach from Hezbollah. But no, the leading pro-Iranian force in Lebanon has demonstrated readiness for constructive dialogue. The only condition is the formal coordination of borders. The disputed area of the water area is 860 sq. km. Substantive negotiations between Beirut and Tel Aviv on this topic began in 2020 with the mediation of the United States. However, on them, the Lebanese side announced new claims for 2.3 thousand square kilometers, including the Karish field and another promising block. Naturally, they were rejected, and negotiations were curtailed. But in mid-June of this year, the parties returned to them. An American mediator, Amos Hochstein, appeared in the region. Beirut decided to abandon additional claims: they say, the previous government put them forward without thinking. And the Israeli Prime Minister (already former) Naftali Bennett called on the Lebanese government to start developing the shelf "within its exclusive economic zone", "seize the opportunity to improve its economy" and build "a better future for the Lebanese people." The words – note – are very similar to the rhetoric of Sheikh Nasrallah… Against this background, Hezbollah's position looks quite constructive and negotiating. After all, it boils down to the fact that "the main thing is to agree on the borders, without detailing which borders: taking into account the Lebanese claims to "Karish" or without them. At the same time, it seems that the prospects for negotiations depend primarily on whether Iran is ready to follow the previous logic of "normalization" with Saudi Arabia on the Lebanese platform. If so, progress on the Israeli-Lebanese border is possible, which will open up opportunities for Beirut to revive the half-dead economy and gradually revive the country. If not, Hezbollah will rise up against the "treacherous compliance" of the authorities and turn the maritime border into a new hotbed of tension.

Turkey: views on the harvest, economy and elections-2023

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text The election campaign has already begun and promises to be very tough. The chairman of the "Party of the Future" Ahmet Davutoglu (in 2009-2014, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey) recently called for early elections to be held in the country, citing the continuing aggravation of the economic crisis. The politician also predicted an increase in social tension in society – as the second key factor in the development of the situation in the country. It is very likely that, proposing to hold early elections, the leader of the "Party of the Future" proceeds from the fact that the aggravation of the two factors mentioned above will give the leadership of the republic a chance to impose a state of emergency and cancel the elections as such. At the same time, the Turkish economy is really in a deplorable state. The Turkish lira continues to fall, more than 17 Turkish lira are already being given for 1 US dollar. Annual inflation, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), as of May 2022, has accelerated to 73.5%, becoming a record for the last 24 years, and price growth is the highest since the 1998 crisis. Compared to 2021, the cost of transport services and food soared by 107.62 and 91.63 percent, respectively. A high growth was also recorded in the category of household goods and furniture – 82.08%. Not such a galloping, but still double-digit growth was recorded in the fields of telecommunications (plus 19.81 percent), education (plus 27.48%), prices for clothing and shoes increased significantly (plus 29.8%). The gross foreign exchange reserves of the Central Bank of Turkey (CBT) fell from $66.0 billion (as of June 3) to $61.5 billion as of May 6. Recall that at the end of 2021, they amounted to 72.6 billion dollars. Analysts at Business Monitor International (BMI), a structural division of Fitch Solutions, state: in 2022, nominal GDP may fall by more than 20%. If in 2021 this figure amounted to more than $ 814.5 billion, then according to the results of the current one, only $ 614 billion is projected. The British experts of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), in turn, emphasize that, despite the weak lira, the decline in demand and the recovery of income from tourism, high prices for essential goods will lead to the fact that the balance of payments deficit will exceed the level of 2021. The likely forecast for 2022 is a deficit of about $26 billion, or 4.2% of GDP. But let's return to the presidential and parliamentary elections, which are scheduled to take place on June 18, 2023, but rumors and talk about their postponement have been going on for a long time. They even call specific dates – November 2022, then spring 2023. A number of politicians opposed to the current government today state that it is the early elections that will not allow Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to gain the necessary number of votes to win. Nevertheless, according to polls by the research company Optimar, the AKP is currently gaining 35.9% of the vote, and its ally in the People's Alliance coalition – the Nationalist Movement Party (HDP) – 10.4% of the vote. 39.2% of voters are ready to vote for the coalition itself. In a similar scenario, if elections had happened in Turkey, even in August 2022, Erdogan and the People's Alliance would have won the parliamentary elections. The only thing that can prevent this is 20% of voters who are either undecided or do not plan to vote at all. According to the Institute of the Middle East (IBV), for such a politicized country as Turkey, this is an extremely high indicator. Among the main contenders for the presidency of the country are the mayors of Ankara and Istanbul Mansur Yavash and Ekrem Imamoglu, the leader of the "Good Party" Meral Ashkener, as well as the head of the Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu. IBV analysts note that businessman Cem Uzan, who lives in France, also intends to put up his candidacy. At one time, he owned 28% of the Turkish media, as well as the GSM operator Telsim. Nevertheless, in 2000, his party took only the fifth place in the elections and did not get into parliament, and Uzan himself was accused of financial fraud and as a result lost a significant part of his assets. A recent Avrasya poll showed that both Kilicdaroglu, Imamoglu, and Yavash are ahead in the ratings of the Turkish president by 21.4%, 13.8% and 13.4%, respectively. Nevertheless, today it is worth considering only as an indicator that Erdogan will not be able to win in the first round. And if the opposition supporters unite, the current head of state has a very real chance to leave his office. Erdogan can oppose this with an administrative resource, as well as use the security forces and courts controlled by him. Thus, investigations have already been initiated against Imamoglu on charges of slander and insulting representatives of the country's Central Bank, as well as disrespect for shrines after he walked around the shrine with his hands behind his back during the commemoration ceremony in the tomb of Mehmed the Conqueror (Mehmed II) on the 567th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul. At the same time, it is important to note that the CHP, the Good Party, the Party of the Future, Deva, Saadet and the Democratic Party form a united coalition aimed at defeating Erdogan. In addition, they plan to return to a parliamentary republic. The Justice and Development Party, in turn, is losing votes today, as is the Nationalist Movement Party. According to polls, the AKP is gaining from 34.8% to 44.2%, which means that it will not be able to get a majority in parliament. The IBV cites the results of another survey conducted on June 13 by the Gezici research center. 44.7% of respondents believe that the pro-government "People's Alliance" will be able to solve problems in the economy, while 51.6% of respondents are convinced that the opposition "National Alliance" is capable of overcoming the economic crisis. Moreover, 56.8% of respondents believe that the leader of the opposition parties will be able to govern the country better. Against this background, the head of the Gezici Center, a specialist in international studies in the field of security and strategic studies Murat Gezici said: "People who define the economy as the biggest problem in the country will turn their anger into voices of reaction against the government, which does not listen to him, looks down on him and ignores the problems. For this reason, it can be said that the government is now more shaky than ever before. This is absolutely clear" It is already obvious that Recep Tayyip Erdogan intends to raise his rating, including through victories in foreign policy. These are undoubtedly peacekeeping initiatives within the framework of the Ukrainian crisis, including attempts to establish the export of Ukrainian grain, which recently seemed to have been agreed upon, but Kiev, as always, is against. It is not for nothing that the Turkish authorities have again begun to put pressure on NATO, refusing to accept Sweden and Finland into the alliance. Ankara's position, if viewed in the context of the elections, is quite advantageous. If Washington and Brussels agree to the lifting of sanctions, the supply of weapons and components, Erdogan will be able to say that he has pushed the West. Well, if not, the Turks will not agree to another expansion of NATO and will say that the alliance has to reckon with them. Read more about the Turkish reaction to the decision to include Sweden and Finland in the union in our article. It is not for nothing that Ankara's rhetoric against Greece has sharply tightened in recent months. All this seems to be another attempt to rally society around the ruling elite in the face of the threat of external pressure. At the same time, there is no candidate among the opposition for Russia who could be more profitable than Erdogan and the AKP. For example, Kilicdaroglu sharply criticizes not only the Turkish authorities, but also Moscow after the Syrian government carried out an airstrike on 36 Turkish soldiers two years ago. "Anyone who shoots at my soldiers is my enemy," the newspaper "Sözcü" quoted in 2020 the words of Kilicdaroglu, who meant not only Bashar al-Assad, but also Vladimir Putin personally. At the same time, a fellow party member of the leader of the Republican People's Party, Engin Ozko, called Erdogan a "traitor" who approved the massacre of millions of Muslims in war-torn Syria, which provoked a fight in parliament, and Ozko himself was convicted and imprisoned for insulting the president. But this is so, by the way, about the administrative resource and democracy in Turkey… Summing up, we add that today analysts agree: the Turks will most likely not elect the president and parliament ahead of schedule. On the contrary, Erdogan and the AKP will try to spend the rest of the year building up their positions and discrediting, or even eliminating competitors. The election campaign in Turkey has already begun and the confrontation promises to be brutal and uncompromising. However, there is no other way in this Middle Eastern republic.

Biden didn't arrive

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text US President Joe Biden has decided to postpone his long-announced visit to the Middle East. Previously, it was assumed that he would visit the region at the end of June, but now the deadline is July. The official reason is the heavy workload of the White House host's schedule on his trip to Europe. However, there is reason to believe that this is not the only problem. It is likely that Biden simply does not make sense to go: the program prepared by his diplomacy was not accepted by the partners. As far as can be judged, the strategic plan of the visit was to create a coalition of Arab States and Israel. The goal is to formalize a Sunni–Israeli alliance against Iran, as well as to involve the Arab world in an anti-Russian total sanctions war. But skillful actions Moscow and Tehran, on the one hand, and the deepening distrust of Middle Eastern countries towards the United States, on the other, upset this plan. It is easy to see that the central idea of the visit is a logical continuation of the strategy of the "Abraham agreements", initiated and promoted by the previous President Donald Trump. He positioned these agreements as the "deal of the century", the creator of which he rightfully felt himself. At the same time, it is important that one of the foundations of Trump's Middle East policy was to strengthen close ties with Saudi Arabia. A number of agreements on the supply of modern weapons worth billions of dollars were signed with Riyadh. It seems that the pinnacle of the strategy of "Abraham" should have been the consent of the KSA – the leader of the Arab and Islamic world – to recognize Israel. If it succeeded, Trump could well claim a place in History and the Nobel Peace Prize. Biden, who became a symbol of the complete rejection of "Trumpism", first of all destroyed the US-Saudi relations. He accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of killing Kashoggi (Hashukji), stopped (official) support for the actions of the KSA and the Saudi coalition in Yemen, froze arms contracts with Riyadh, withdrew air defense systems from the kingdom. And most importantly, he took a course to restore the "nuclear deal" with Iran terminated by Trump. It can be assumed that this was done within the framework of the strategy that was proposed Henry Kissinger: to turn Iran from the number one enemy into a "responsible" participant in the Middle East balance of power. It is not surprising that the Saudis did not like it, and as a result, Saudi-American relations turned out to be in the worst state in history. In the face of Washington's inconsistency and incompetence, Riyadh began to establish its own ties with Tehran on its own, in fact, engaging in work to form a dynamic balance of power in the region. Relations with Moscow, and especially with Beijing, are consistently strengthening. All this has become a clear sign of Washington's loss of control over the development of the regional situation. This circumstance has become even more obvious, and most importantly – unacceptable – in the new global conditions set by the Ukrainian crisis. America urgently needed allies in the Middle East, and the allies are disciplined, ready to follow orders coming from the White House. Actually, the American diplomacy was engaged in the urgent formation of such a group of allies. So, in March, a conference was organized with the participation of the foreign ministers of the United States, Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco. And it is quite likely that Washington then discovered that it had no new proposals, no new prospects with which it could captivate the Arabs, or rather, the KSA. He has only Kissinger's "regional dynamic equilibrium" plan and the "Abraham agreement" in stock. But the first one is morally outdated in conditions when discipline is needed. And the second ones are outdated, like the "Trump legacy". Nevertheless, the bet, apparently, was made on "Abraham": information appeared in the press that Biden was preparing another "historic deal" with the participation of Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Cairo. Its subject is the transfer of two islets (Tyran and Sanafir) at the exit from the Gulf of Aqaba into the Red Sea under the sovereignty of the KSA, which requires the consent of Israel and Egypt. And the meaning of the deal is the recognition of the Jewish state by the Custodian of the Two Shrines of Islam. In addition, a new conference was planned, this time at the top, between the United States, Israel and nine Arab countries: the six GCC, plus Jordan, Iraq, Egypt. If successful, it could be a truly impressive victory for American diplomacy. But it did not take place. At least it's postponed. And, frankly, there is no serious reason to believe that it will take place. Why? Firstly, because according to the Tyrant and Sanafir, even in Israel they hinted to the Americans not to fuss. Like, we'll figure it out ourselves, we have enough competencies for this, and you're just muddying the water. And secondly, the expansion of the "Abraham agreements" to the KSA now seems almost impossible. The fact is that for Tehran, this will be evidence of Riyadh's refusal to normalize relations with Iran and will give the Iranians carte blanche to deploy anti-Saudi, anti-American, anti-Israeli activity on all fronts. Riyadh has already moved too far towards establishing a dialogue with Tehran. You can turn back, but the price is unlikely to be acceptable. We will have to destroy the unspoken agreements already reached on Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. But the KSA depends much more on the situation in these areas than on the state (quite stable and predictable) of its relations with Israel or even on relations with the United States (which are so impulsive and treacherous and which, as it turned out, can be replaced – in part – by China). The threats that Saudi Arabia may face if it agrees to "Abraham" can be judged by the following facts. The Iraqi Parliament has passed a law according to which recognition of Israel is punishable by life imprisonment or death penalty. It was initiated by Muqtada al-Sadr, the main Iranian protege in Baghdad, and adopted unanimously (!) – despite the fact that the deputies have not been able to form a government and elect a president for the eighth month. Such unanimity indicates that Iran (through al-Sadr and its other clients) is in full control of the situation in Iraq. So any wrong move on the part of Riyadh will lead to an explosion. A similar law is now being prepared for adoption by the Houthi parliament in Yemen. This means that the accession of the KSA to the "Abraham agreements" will blow up the truce here as well. The situation is about the same in Lebanon. The "anti-Abrahamic" law is not being discussed there yet, but the pro-Iranian Hezbollah is capable of blowing up this country as well. To complete the picture: the Government of Oman made a sharp and unequivocal condemnation of the "Abraham agreements". It is curious that this happened literally in the wake of the visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Muscat. All this means that for Saudi Arabia, any steps towards the US demands to normalize relations with Israel are associated with huge and unjustified risks. Washington is not able to stop them. That is why it seems extremely unlikely that Biden's Middle East venture will succeed. After all, without the participation of the KSA, it will simply be emasculated. Against this background, the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the Gulf, who visited Bahrain and the KSA, where he participated in the fifth session of the Russian Federation–GCC strategic dialogue at the ministerial level, looks very remarkable. Judging by the stinginess of comments on these negotiations, they did not achieve any "breakthroughs". Yes, they were hardly planned. The main thing is that we managed to prevent a "break", that is, to preserve the relations themselves and the positive dynamics of their development. And with "breakthroughs" it is not worth rushing. We need to give Americans time to get even more confused and lose even more. Photo: nbcnews.com

Lebanon and the next Middle East triangle

Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text It is formed by Saudi Arabia – Iran – Israel. In mid-May, the long-awaited elections to the local parliament were held in Lebanon. Their results, of course, will be of crucial importance not only for this long-suffering country, but also for the entire Middle East. Lebanon is one of the sites of confrontation between two powerful players – Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their rivalry lies, by and large, at the heart of all the troubles, conflicts, crises tearing Lebanon apart. If we proceed from this circumstance, we can conclude that the very fact of the elections testifies to the mutual desire of Riyadh and Tehran to find a way out of the Lebanese impasse. Against the background of the contacts they established in Baghdad and the truce in Yemen, this looks completely logical: The KSA and the IRI are looking for opportunities to normalize their relations in radically changed global and regional conditions. The results of the Lebanese elections are known: a new balance has been established between the two leading camps. It is unstable and inconclusive; its future depends on the behavior of "independent" deputies, whose number has increased significantly. This result was achieved due to the retreat of the pro-Iranian forces led by Hezbollah, which lost control of the majority in parliament. This retreat was clearly coordinated and organized. Otherwise, the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Nasrallah, would not have gone for a quick and conflict-free recognition of the results of the vote. At the same time, it is fundamentally important to understand that this would be unthinkable without preliminary agreements between Tehran and Riyadh and without appropriate mutual guarantees. Their probable content: Iran refrains from aggressive actions, does not use the remaining power advantage of Hezbollah and gives it greater freedom of maneuver; Saudi Arabia does not seek to further weaken Hezbollah or defeat it in order to establish its own hegemony. The exchange of such guarantees is possible only if there are common, quite specific interests. And Sheikh Nasrallah made the first hint the other day about the possible content of these interests. He called on the Lebanese to unite and work together to revive and develop the state. He called the oil and gas fields on the Lebanese shelf a source of resources for development. This is extremely important, because the Eastern Mediterranean shelf is turning into one of the central geopolitical problems around which the entire regional situation will develop. Solving this incredibly complex problem will require virtually a complete restructuring of the entire regional structure. One of the most "innovative" features of such a new structure is the status of a Mediterranean power, which Iran should receive as part of the implementation of Sheikh Nasrallah's idea. Moreover, with the support of the KSA. The development of the situation in this direction hardly suits Israel. Iran's access to the Mediterranean Sea is a true "nightmare" for Israel, no less (if not more) worse than the Iranian nuclear missile threat. Therefore, Tel Aviv's desire to prevent the implementation of this scenario and the opposition to Iranian-Saudi coordination in Lebanon may become one of the main trends determining the development of the regional situation. However, what can Tel Aviv do? Strike a blow to the Iran-Saudi balance in Lebanon? But this will once again expose him as a "malicious aggressor" and draw him into another large–scale and dangerous military campaign, because Hezbollah is by no means a paper tiger. In addition, Israel's next Lebanon war will disrupt the process initiated by the "Abraham agreements" on "normalization" with Arab countries, and will call into question the establishment of strategically significant relations with Turkey. Such an adventure will once again put Israel "outside the law" in the region, deprive it of the opportunity to offer the Middle East its vision of a joint future. This will mean a strategic defeat, even if at the moment it turns out to disrupt the Iranian plans. At a time when Washington's support for Israel is by no means guaranteed, such a move looks reckless. Tel Aviv cannot fail to understand this, and there, apparently, they are making a choice in favor of more subtle actions aimed at upsetting the emerging Iranian-Saudi balance. We are talking about intensifying efforts aimed at involving Riyadh in the process of Israeli-Arab "normalization". So the question arose about two islands in the Red Sea – Tirana and Sanafir. They belong to the KSA and control the exit of the Israeli fleet from the Gulf of Aqaba. Tel Aviv insists that a special trilateral agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt be concluded on them. Its signing will mean the actual and legal recognition of Israel by Riyadh, which is what the Israelis are striving for. There is no doubt that the Israelis themselves and their new friends in the Gulf (UAE) are strongly advertising the benefits that the KSA can receive if it joins the "Abraham agreements": access to Israeli technologies, the possibility of creating a joint air defense-missile defense system, prospects for investment in the development of the Mediterranean shelf… At the same time, it is no less likely that the Saudis are also under pressure of a different nature: the demonstrative "liquidations" carried out by the Israeli special services in Iran cannot remain without attention in Riyadh. They probably understand that no Saudi politician, businessman or officer can feel safe: the Mossad is able to eliminate anyone. Especially if this "anyone" is connected with Iran. For its part, Tehran is also putting pressure on Riyadh. Apparently, while remaining faithful to certain agreements, he does not escalate either in Iraq, Yemen, or (as we have seen) in Lebanon. But he makes it clear that Saudi Arabia is not the only country in the Gulf with which Iran can do business. The alternative is Qatar, whose emir held very fruitful talks in the Iranian capital. And the subsequent visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to the Sultanate of Oman became a clear demonstration that the Iranians broke the blockade in the Gulf and that "normalization" with Iran enjoys no less, if not more popularity among local monarchs. In this context, of course, Iran-Qatar relations are of particular interest, since Doha is quite capable of "outbid" Saudi clients, taking the place of Riyadh, for example, in the same Lebanon. It can even be assumed that such attempts have already been made and for the sake of their suppression, a scandal was arranged with the Lebanese Minister Cordahi: with his help, the Saudis brought order to the circles focused on the different capitals of the Gulf, and led them to swear allegiance exclusively to Riyadh. But if Doha offers more favorable terms, discipline and the oath will not work. But not only in Lebanon, Saudi interests may be threatened by the duet of Iran and Qatar. This is also possible in Syria, where Tehran is able to strengthen its position against the background of a reduction in the Russian military presence, which is already being recorded by the Arabs. Qatar is able to play the role of mediator between Iran and Turkey and together with them reduce Saudi influence here to nothing. If we take into account that in recent years Riyadh has practically lost its traditional support from Washington and there are no hopes for rapid improvement here, then it becomes obvious: the KSA is now in a very difficult situation. On the one hand, the kingdom is very interested in "normalization" with Iran in order to get rid of the unbearable burden of rivalry with it. Otherwise, we will have to exist in a ring of conflicts (Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon), without having the strength either to manage them or to resolve them. On the other hand, it is necessary to somehow build your relations with Israel: either go for "nomalization" with it - but then you will have to forget about Iran and actually turn into an Arab vassal of Tel Aviv. Or refuse to openly "normalize" with the Jewish state and play a double game, balancing between it and the Iranian Shiites. This role is neither to the face nor on the shoulder of Saudi Arabia, but nevertheless, it seems that it will be forced to play it, at least in the near future. The chances of success may appear if Riyadh manages to convince the Israelis of its ability to control Iran's activity, in particular, in Lebanon (as well as in Iraq, Yemen and Syria), and, if necessary, to restrain it. So Saudi strategists and diplomats will have to prove that they are no worse than their Emirati and Qatari counterparts.