Iran’s Syria policy hurts its regional popularity

Syria

By Dina Esfandiary, Research Associate, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme and Islam Al Tayeb, Research Analyst, IISS-Middle East

These days, there are not many things that Arabs agree on. In fact, it may be fair to say they agree to disagree more often than not when it comes to regional policy. But Iran, once the darling of the Arab Street, is finding both popular and government opinion turning against it. And at the heart of the matter lies official Iranian attitude towards sectarianism and the Syrian uprising.

For years, Iran, and especially Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, enjoyed the unwavering support of the Arab general public, especially following the 2006 war in Lebanon. Many perceived Iran as the outspoken guardian of the Muslim world; a country that had the guts to oppose compromise in the Arab-Israeli peace process and support Hizbullah in its struggle against Israel. But this is no longer the case, and Iran knows it.

So the Iranian regime is trying to regain some positive influence. It’s partly why Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was in Amman, Jordan, recently to meet Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and King Abdullah II. Jordan’s government welcomed the opportunity to discuss Syria with their Iranian counterparts. But the response was different in Parliament: Bassam al-Manaseer, chairman of the Arab and Foreign Relations Committee of the Jordanian Parliament, called the visit ‘unwelcomed’ and expressed his concerns over ‘suspicious’ Iranian activities in the region.

Read the full article in the Atlantic


Rafsanjani, the accidental reformist

Rafsanjani with Khomenei and Khamenei in background

By Mona Moussavi, Editorial assistant

This year’s Iranian presidential election race got a lot more interesting last Saturday when former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani registered his candidacy just minutes before the deadline.

The move transforms the race to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cannot stand in June’s poll after serving two full terms. Rafsanjani has a turbulent relationship with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. And despite being a conservative, he is attractive to reformers as a relative moderate in contemporary Iran.

Attention is now on Khamenei to see how he responds. The more than 600 candidates who have registered to run must all be vetted by the Guardian Council. Khamenei holds sway over the council, which comprises six clergymen directly appointed by the supreme leader, and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (himself appointed by the supreme leader).

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A ‘naya’ (new) Pakistan?

Nawaz Sharif addresses a rally on the campaign trail to becoming PM Photo PLMN
By Kiran Hassan, Research assistant, South Asia Programme

Can a third-time prime minister rescue a nation in trouble? This is a question being asked about Nawaz Sharif since his party won the most number of votes in historic elections in Pakistan last weekend.

The poll – in which one elected Pakistani government succeeded another for the first time since independence in 1947 – leaves Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League–N (PML–N) in charge of a country plagued by terrorist attacks, corruption and daily power outages. Sharif has already made it clear that the economy will be his top priority, but his campaign promise to force the United States to cut back drone attacks on Pakistani soil – albeit now softened – remains in the news.

Sharif and the PML–N saw off a plucky challenge by former cricketer Imran Khan and his Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI), and should now be able to govern alone without needing to form a coalition.

Pakistan’s youthful population meant there were 36 million registered new voters among a total 86m; and voter turnout was substantial, at 60%, including a large proportion of women. Although more than 100 people lost their lives in election-related violence, the Taliban failed to significantly disrupt the vote.

However, Sharif’s two previous unpopular terms in the 1990s hang over him, and his party’s victory in this election rests almost entirely on its success in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

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Rio’s man takes WTO reins

Roberto Azevedo WTO Photo

Sanjaya Baru’s most recent column in the Indian Express focuses on Brazil’s Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo, who has just been announced as the next director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Azevedo will be the first Latin American in the job when he takes over from Pascal Lamy on 1 September.

Baru, the IISS director for geo-economics, says that the media stereotyped the Brazilian Azevedo as the voice of protectionism and of the global south in his race for the job against Mexico’s Herminio Blanco. But the full picture is much more complex.

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Bridging the Gulf: Kuwait and a GCC Union

Kuwait towers

By Wafa Alsayed, Research Analyst, IISS-Middle East

In February of last year, Ahmed al-Saadoun, Kuwait’s speaker of the parliament at the time dismissed the idea of a Gulf Union. In an interview with Al Arabiya, he stated that Kuwait, with its open political system, could not withstand a union with the more authoritarian Gulf states. However, since then Kuwait has undergone yet another chapter of political turmoil accompanied with harsh government reaction to public criticism of the state. Due to these developments, the government in Kuwait may be looking more favorably at the prospects of a Gulf union. The signing of a Gulf Security Agreement at the Bahrain GCC Summit in December may signal that, in the face of growing domestic upheaval, Kuwait is willing to restrict its public sphere, enter a union with other GCC states and coordinate more on security.

The GCC Security Agreement was first proposed in 1994. At the time Kuwait resisted it because it considered some of its articles to be in conflict with its constitution. The agreement was shelved for almost two decades and an amended version was reintroduced at the end of last year. Though Kuwait’s government reassured the public that the amended version is no longer in conflict with the constitution, the swift signing of the agreement along with the secrecy surrounding its provisions stirred a heated debate in Kuwait, with some warning that the country is falling in line with the rest of the Gulf on issues of internal security and domestic politics.

Read the full article in Al Arabiya


Change of tack needed in Baltic gas policy

Vilnius to Kaliningrad gas pipeline Photo Gazprom

By Pierre Noel, Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow in Economic and Energy Security

In the Baltic states, energy security remains perceived as a truly serious issue. It’s seen as a question of survival rather than, as it is in much of the world, merely an exciting topic for after-dinner speeches. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania depend entirely on Russia for their gas supply and have complicated political relationships with Moscow. Recent numerical indicators of gas-supply security – including my own – show that the Baltics are among the least secure countries in Europe. Therefore they want to invest in gas-supply security.

The European Commission encourages them to do so, but has precise ideas about how it should be done: it has made subsidies contingent on the building of joint regional infrastructure. Brussels’ dream however, although aggressively pursued since 2009, has failed to materialise. In fact, Baltic gas-security cooperation faces serious political and even legal hurdles. Steps already taken have managed to infuriate Russia without improving the Baltic states’ ability to cope with supply disruptions in any way.

Therefore it is important to know if Baltic cooperation is absolutely needed, simply desirable or just one solution among others to improve Baltic gas-supply security.

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Israeli air strikes add to fog of Syrian war

010213jet - Copy

By Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security, IISS-Middle East

Israel’s recent air strikes on Syria were intended as a warning to both Syria and Iran, and to stop weapons falling into Hizbullah’s hands – but they have increased the likelihood of a regional conflict.

Last week, the Israeli air force struck two targets inside Syrian territory. The first seems to have been a shipment of surface-to-surface missiles destined for the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah (the Fateh-110 is more accurate than anything Hizbullah is known to currently possess, and with a 300-kilometre range has much of Israel within its reach). The second was a major research centre and important storage facility near Damascus, which is administered by units of the elite Republican Guard. Israel had already struck this installation – the Centre of Scientific Studies and Research in Jamraya – in January, allegedly destroying shipments of anti-aircraft missiles destined for Hizbullah.

These strikes add to an already complex political and military landscape in Syria. The Assad regime has deployed its full arsenal of conventional capabilities against the Syrian rebels – and may have even used chemical weapons on a small scale. The rebels are consolidating their hold over much of Syria, but remain too ill-equipped and poorly organised to win the struggle on the battlefield.

The rise of Islamist and jihadi factions has further complicated the picture: better organised and funded, they often spearhead rebel attacks on key regime facilities across the country. They may eventually seize some of the regime’s advanced weaponry.

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