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Defense & Security
Confrontation between Israel and Iran.

Shadow war no more: Hostilities between Israel and Iran have strayed into direct warfare – is there any going back?

by Javed Ali

For decades, Iran and Israel have been engaged in a “shadow war.” Falling short of direct military confrontation, this conflict has been characterized by war through other means – through proxies, cyber attacks, economic sanctions and fiery rhetoric. Events over the last few weeks in the Middle East have, however, changed the nature of this conflict. First, Israel – it is widely presumed – broke diplomatic norms by bombing an Iranian mission in Syria. The operation, in which 12 individuals were killed – including seven officials from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp Quds Force – ratcheted up the stakes. It also crossed a new threshold. Never before had that many Quds Force or other Iranian military officials been killed in a single attack by Iran’s adversaries. Almost immediately, rhetoric from leaders in Tehran indicated Iran would respond swiftly and dramatically. Then, on April 13, 2024, Iran responded by crossing a line it had, to date, not crossed: launching a direct attack on Israeli soil. Iran’s attack against Israel was also qualitatively and quantitatively different than anything Tehran had directly attempted before. Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that it consisted of at least 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles and 120 surface-to-surface missiles. The attack was launched from positions in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. In physical terms, the barrage caused little damage. Hagari said that 99% of the projectiles sent by Iran were intercepted by air and missile defenses, and that only one person was injured. For now, it appears that Tehran is content with its own response; the Iranian Mission to the United Nations posted a message on social media following the attack indicating that the operation had concluded. But as an expert on national security and the Middle East, I believe the Iranian attack was not about inflicting physical damage on Israel. It was more about Iran attempting to restore deterrence with Israel following the Damascus incident and showing strength to its domestic audience. In so doing, Tehran’s leaders are also conveying the message that should Israel conduct more aggressive actions against Iranian interests, they are willing to escalate. Friends, then longtime foes Iran and Israel have been adversaries virtually since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when the Shah of Iran fled the country to be replaced by a theocracy. New leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini broke the former regime’s ties with Israel and quickly adopted a strident anti-Israel agenda both in words and policy. In the decades since, Israel and Iran have inflicted harm on the other’s interests in both the physical and virtual worlds. This has included major terrorist attacks backed by Iran against Israeli interests in Argentina in 1992 and 1994, Tehran’s backing of Hezbollah’s grinding insurgency against Israel in southern Lebanon, and the major operational support provided to Hamas that in part enabled the attacks on Oct. 7, 2023. Meanwhile, Iranian officials have blamed Israel for the killing of senior military officials and scientists related to Iran’s nuclear program in Iran or elsewhere in the region. The lack of open acknowledgment by Israel of the killings was to create the illusion of plausible deniability and implant doubt about who was actually responsible. In recent years, Iran has relied heavily on its “axis of resistance” – militant groups in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza that share some of Tehran’s goals, notably in regard to countering Israel and weakening U.S. influence in the region. In the monthslong conflict sparked by the Oct. 7 attack, Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and the Islamic Resistance in Iraq network have repeatedly attacked Israeli and U.S. interests. ‘A clear message’ So what comes next? A lot will depend on how Israel and the U.S. respond. Officially, U.S. President Joe Biden has stated that in repelling the Iran missiles and drones, Israel had sent “a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten [its] security.” But there are reports that Biden has warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israel should “take the win” and could not rely on the U.S. supporting any offensive operations against Iran. A number of factors will determine whether Iran and Israel continue to launch more attacks against each other out in the open, or revert to shadow warfare. These include how each side reads domestic sentiment. Netanyahu is already facing pressure based on his handling of the war in Gaza and previous domestic concerns regarding attempts to influence the Israeli Supreme Court, among other matters. Likewise, inside Iran, the United Nations reports that two years after major public protests inside the country based on socio-economic conditions, the regime in Iran continues to ruthlessly suppress dissent. Apart from domestic considerations, both Iran and Israel will also weigh the risks of more open confrontation against their current operational capabilities. Here, it seems clear that neither Iran nor Israel can decisively win a prolonged military campaign against each other. Israel’s powerful military certainly has the ability to launch air and missile strikes against Iranian interests in the region, as they have already demonstrated in Syria and Lebanon for many years. And Israel probably could do the same for a short period of time directly into Iran. But Israel would face major challenges in sustaining a prolonged combined arms campaign in Iran, including the relatively small size of the Israel Defense Forces compared with Iran’s military, and the physical distance between both countries. Israel has openly conducted military exercises for years that seem more focused on simulating air strikes and perhaps special operations raids against a smaller number of targets inside Iran, like nuclear facilities. Moreover, launching a new front by directly attacking Iran risks diverting Israeli resources away from more immediate threats in Gaza, the West Bank and its northern border with Lebanon. Of course, Israel has fought and won wars with its regional adversaries in the past. But the conflicts Israel fought against its Arab neighbors in 1967 and 1973 took place in a different military age and prior to the development of drone warfare, cyber operations and support to Iranian-backed proxies and partners in Israel’s immediate neighborhood. Wary of further escalation A similar type of campaign against Iran would be unlike anything Israel has faced. Israel would no doubt find it difficult to achieve its objectives without a high-level of support from the United States, and probably Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt. And there is no indication that such backing would be forthcoming. Iran, too, will be wary of further escalation. Tehran demonstrated on April 13 that it possesses a large – and perhaps growing – inventory of ballistic missiles, drones and cruise missiles. However, the accuracy and effectiveness of many of these platforms remains in question – as evidenced by the seeming ease in which most were shot down. The Israeli and U.S. air and missile defense network in the region continues to prove reliable in that regard. Given the realities and risks, I believe it seems more likely that Iran will seek to revert back to its unconventional warfare strategy of supporting its proxy axis of resistance. Overt attacks, such as the one carried out on April 13, may be reserved for signaling resolve and demonstrating strength to its domestic audience. The danger is now that war has come out of the shadows, it may be hard to put it back there.

Defense & Security
Gaza envelope, Israel: October 25: IDF M M109 scourge gun fires in Gaza Strip

Expanding Israel’s Ground Forces or Prioritizing Technology?

by Azar Gat

Since Hamas’s attack and the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip, the public discourse has been impressed by the view, which Major General (res.) Itzhak Brik in particular voiced even before the war, that the IDF is too small given the threats; that reliance on technology has led to dangerous neglect and reduction of the ground forces; that the air force is disproportionately funded at the expense of the ground forces; and that there is a need to increase the defense budget significantly and permanently, beyond covering the expenses of the war. This article argues that these claims are misleading and even damaging, both militarily and economically. It contends that the current size of the IDF and that of the main fighting ground formations have proven adequate for future challenges. Despite known failures—particularly in the field of intelligence—the article asserts that elite technology, combined with the quality and determination of its combat troops, has given the IDF its most significant advantages in the war. Therefore, the article advocates to continue prioritizing the investment in technology, in addition to significantly expanding and reforming the inexpensive low-tech local and community ground defense forces, which have been neglected, with disastrous consequences. We start with the events of October 7. In addition to the significant failure in intelligence, it is widely agreed that the operational mishap was even more shocking. Contrary to the accepted view, the Gaza Division had enough forces available to effectively cope with Hamas’s attack. These included the 77th Armored Battalion of the 7th Armored Brigade, as well as infantry forces from the Golani and Givati Brigades—all of which were first-line regular forces. However, some of these forces had been granted leave for the Simchat Torah holiday weekend. Incredibly, those who remained were not stationed at dawn in combat readiness in their positions or armored fighting vehicles, and they were caught unprepared. As a result, Hamas fighters were able to photograph themselves dancing on unmanned and burned Merkava tanks and Namer armored personnel carriers (APCs) in their parking lot. Even the 400 combat soldiers and the 12 Merkava 4 tanks that reportedly remained in the Gaza zone on that Saturday could have thwarted Hamas’s attack if they had been stationed in their positions. Additionally, combat helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on standby could have aided in defeating Hamas. Furthermore, there was a fiasco with the emergency squads in the border communities, which had faced cutbacks and restrictions in the years leading up to the war. In the few communities, like Nir Am, where the emergency squads were able to organize themselves—even to a minimal extent—they played a significant role in repelling the attack and preventing a massacre. The shock of October 7, the subsequent recognition of the serious security reality, and its potential to deteriorate into a regional war have strengthened the assessments that the IDF, particularly the ground forces, are facing missions and challenges that are too great for their current size. Since the 1980s and 1990s, the IDF’s order of battle has been significantly reduced. The number of tanks in the IDF has been cut down to approximately one-third of its peak in the 1980s, though the number of infantry brigades, especially in the regular forces, has increased to adapt to the changing face of the battlefield. The number of fighting field divisions has been cut in half. According to information made public during the war, the IDF currently has six or seven such divisions (the 36th, 162nd, 98th, 99th, 146th, 252nd, and parts of 210th). It is worth noting that this is similar to the number of divisions the IDF had during the Yom Kippur War (six divisions), when it faced the Egyptian army, the Syrian army, and expeditionary forces from other Arab countries, which altogether consisted of about 18 regular enemy divisions and hundreds of thousands of soldiers, along with their heavy equipment, including around 4,500 tanks. As an additional point of comparison, the United States conquered Iraq using four or five divisions, supported by overwhelming air superiority. Recall that during the current war in Gaza and with Hezbollah, the IDF called up approximately 300,000 reserve troops, in addition to the standing army. They faced around 30,000 armed fighters in Gaza and a similar number in Lebanon. This gave Israel a clear numerical advantage, not to mention its far superior combat equipment and firepower. In the ground invasion of northern Gaza alone, the IDF deployed four divisions (the 36th, 162nd, 252nd, and 99th)—more divisions than were used against the entire Egyptian army in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Furthermore, the 98th Division operated in Khan Yunis with eight (!) brigades (which were reduced by half as the intense combat declined)—a number that is almost equal to the total number of brigades deployed against the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip during the Six-Day War. It is difficult to imagine a greater concentration of force than this. Meanwhile, Central Command forces have been successfully and aggressively targeting terrorist activities in the West Bank, while in northern Israel, the 146th Division reinforced the 210th Division against Hezbollah after the war broke out. But doesn’t the IDF lack divisions for a simultaneous offensive against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon to remove the threat to the Israeli communities along the border? Let us recall the main considerations for operating in Lebanon or for refraining from doing so. Since the beginning of the war, the United States has vetoed such operation, in favor of diplomacy. Moreover, there are serious questions regarding the prospects of such an operation. If the IDF conquers southern Lebanon, which it is certainly capable of doing, Israel will face two choices: remaining there and dealing with Hezbollah’s guerrilla warfare indefinitely, as it had before the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, or withdrawing and watching Hezbollah return. Neither option is promising, especially given the possibility of escalation into a full-scale missile war. Indeed, in addition to these difficult questions, the concentration of efforts against Hamas has also played a role. Israel’s defense doctrine has always prescribed focusing the IDF’s efforts, both on the ground and in the air, against a single adversary at a time. This includes the use of internal lines to transfer forces from one front to another after achieving victory on one of them. Finally, does anyone really want to see a return of the large number of divisions and thousands of IDF tanks that crawled along the crowded roads of mountainous southern Lebanon in 1982? Still, some argue that the Gaza, Lebanon, and the West Bank are only the tip of the iceberg in the threat that Israel faces in a potential multi-front war. In this most severe scenario, the threat also includes the Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, and even Iran itself, and possibly also some Arab citizens of Israel. However, it should be noted, in the context of claims of excessive cutbacks to the ground forces, that all of these potential arenas, except for those already active in Gaza, southern Lebanon, and the West Bank, and not including the Arabs of Israel, are distant theaters of operations that do not require or have use of additional ground forces. Without mentioning the Americans, the air force—possibly with the assistance of special forces, and in certain scenarios, in cooperation with the navy—would conduct the main activity in these arenas. This is the same air force that some claim is being prioritized at the expense of the ground forces. In practice, the air force’s share of the IDF’s budget, which is around 50 percent, has remained at the same level since at least the 1960s. Furthermore, contrary to the impression that has emerged, the air force too has experienced a reduction in the number of its aircraft by half in recent decades. Finally, we must not forget that it was the air force’s precision one-ton bombs that paved the way for the ground forces, even in the nearby theaters of operation. In the exemplary inter-service cooperation in the campaign in the Gaza Strip that crushed Hamas’s organized resistance, the air force made a significant contribution to the relatively low number of casualties among the ground forces. Some ask, what guarantee is there that Egypt will not turn around and join the war against Israel—in its current regime or under a future Islamic regime? But if so, why not also add Jordan and Syria, and maybe also Saudi Arabia, now or in the future, to the roster of potential enemies? After all, according to the popular—and erroneous—argument heard since October 7, we must no longer rely on assessments of intentions, and only judge according to capabilities. For the sake of this argument, let us focus on Egypt. Egypt’s interests and political orientation under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi are clear and they most definitely do not involve a return to war against Israel. Of course, if an Islamist regime comes to power again in Egypt, Israel will need to make security adjustments. However, it is important to remember that Egypt’s dependence on the provision of American weapons and munitions is at least as great as, if not greater than, Israel’s dependence, and that the prospect of American support for Egypt waging war against Israel is nil. Furthermore, in order to wage war against Israel, the Egyptian army would need to cross the Sinai Peninsula—a large-scale classic killing ground, as it was in past wars, lacking population and without natural cover—where the high-signature Egyptian army would face destruction mainly from the air. Indeed, given the size of the Egyptian air force and its relatively advanced aircraft, the budgetary weight given to the Israeli air force at its current size is of supreme importance. Despite the failure of intelligence and additional technology-based systems, like the “see-and-shoot” system, the IDF’s great advantage in the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, aside from the heroism and determination of its troops, lies primarily in technology. The ground forces, air force, intelligence, and other firepower units, closely communicating and cooperating, possess unprecedented capabilities in rapidly identifying and destroying Hamas fighters and their positions in highly complex urban and underground environments. Some of the technological advancements made public include computerized data communication and intelligence systems based on artificial intelligence (AI), UAVs and drones for intelligence and attack purposes, as well as guided rocket weapons and mortars. The smart-shooter Smash artificial intelligence sight device for infantry rifles is also worth mentioning. These advanced capabilities, along with the Trophy Active Protection System equipped on IDF tanks and APCs, are the main reasons for the relatively low number of IDF casualties and the success of the ground advance. The Trophy system provides protection against Hamas’s anti-tank armaments, particularly rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers. While no system can guarantee complete protection, the Trophy system has demonstrated high interception rates, making it a groundbreaking Israeli innovation with global significance. Additionally, the interception capability of the Iron Dome—another unique Israeli technological development—has prevented significant damage from the thousands of rockets launched by Hamas against Israeli population centers, as the IDF’s ground invasion dismantles the organization’s defenses in the Gaza Strip. What, then, should Israel invest in? Essentially—beyond various adjustments and supplements, such as reinstating the mandatory military service at three years, certainly in combat units and other essential units—Israel should invest in further enhancing technological capabilities, and not in increasing the number of its field formations and tanks. As we have seen, and contrary to popular belief, the IDF did not lack forces during the ground invasion in Gaza; on the contrary, the concentration of forces that were utilized was enormous by any comparative measure. This was primarily due to the complexity and sophistication of Hamas’s underground network in densely populated urban areas, for which the IDF sought to find solutions, many improvised during combat. A high-priority necessity, thus, is the expedited development of capabilities for discovering and neutralizing underground infrastructure—in the Gaza Strip, in Lebanon, and in other places. To this end, a variety of tactical and technological means will be needed, including, as has already been partly revealed, drones and AI-guided (under)ground robots that operate inside tunnels. An equally high, if not higher, priority is to expand and enhance the active protection systems of the IDF’s tanks and other armored fighting vehicles (AFVs). As proposed in an article that I wrote before the war (“The Future of the Tank and the Land Battlefield,” INSS, July 20, 2023), we are currently in the early stages of a profound revolution in ground warfare, the context of which is not yet fully understood. This revolution is the Third Technological Revolution of the Industrial Age—the electronics and computing revolution—that the world has experienced since the mid-20th century, and it has already had a significant impact on air and sea warfare. In naval warfare, battleships with heavy armor and large guns, which once dominated the seas, have been replaced by electronically-guided missile armaments launched from ships, aircraft, and land. Defense as well is now achieved through electronically-guided interception and electronic jamming. Similarly, in aerial warfare, kinetic gun armaments and “dumb” bombs have been replaced by electronically-guided missile armaments and electronic defensive jamming for air-to-air, surface-to-air, and air-to-surface fighting. By comparison, due to the complexities of ground warfare, which involves varied terrain and extensive cover, and a large number of potential targets, the electronic revolution’s impact on ground warfare has been slower and more gradual. Nonetheless, we are currently witnessing a revolutionary turning point in ground combat. Since the beginning of the ground operation in Gaza, many have rightfully acknowledged the critical role played by tanks in the campaign, while also criticizing what they mistakenly perceived as a diminishing of the IDF’s tank’s power and importance in recent decades. It is true that the number of tanks in the IDF has significantly decreased as part of the overall downsizing of the IDF, and also due to changes in the tank’s role on the battlefield. Gone are the days when heavily armored formations engaged in direct combat with their cannon fire as the center of ground warfare. Tanks now have become targets for long-range guided munitions before they even come within the firing range of each other’s kinetic guns. Moreover, their heavy armor is no longer effective against advanced anti-tank missiles with dual-charge warheads, which strike their less protected top. Although such missiles have not yet been used in the Gaza Strip, they are starting to appear in Lebanon. The war in Ukraine has clearly demonstrated this vulnerability, even in advanced western tanks supplied to Ukraine. The absence of active protection systems for tanks in Ukraine, such as the Trophy and Iron Fist systems developed in Israel and now being acquired by the armies of the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, has contributed to the failure of the Ukrainian offensive efforts and the stalemate in the fighting, reminiscent of World War I. Indeed, the current interpretation of the stalemate overlooks the significance of active protection systems for tanks. Furthermore, in contemporary ground combat, tanks primarily provide immediate mobile firepower at the front lines. However, it is uncertain whether tanks armed with high-muzzle-velocity kinetic cannons, which were originally designed for warfare against other tanks, is still suitable for the changing nature of the battlefield. A more appropriate approach would seem to involve guided missile armament, combined with a 30 mm automatic gun; or, alternatively, a high-caliber, low-muzzle-velocity gun that is lighter and has reduced recoil. Such a gun would allow for dual-purpose fire, employing both missiles and high-explosive shells. This is comparable to the 152 mm gun, planned over half a century ago for the MBT-70 tank and the Sheridan light tank, which was ahead of its time. Additionally, the heavy armor of tanks (and heavy APCs such as the Namer) has reached its limits, and it is expected to be largely replaced by electronically-guided interception and jamming measures. Substantial changes are necessary in the tank’s design. The Merkava 4 and its upgrade, the Barak tank, are masterpieces and the best tanks in the world. However, the future does not lie with high-muzzle-velocity kinetic cannons and super-heavy armor. Israel’s Carmel project for the tank of the future is the way forward. In any case, the IDF has no shortage of tanks. What it requires is to equip all of its AFVs with active protection systems and continuously upgrade these systems based on battle experience. The vulnerabilities discovered in these systems need to be rectified, and the cover of the systems must be completed from all angles, including protection against drones and loitering munitions. Protection against UAVs and drones of all types and sizes is also crucial, including against targets that are not AFVs. This has been demonstrated to an unprecedented extent in Ukraine and the current conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon. The IDF has been a global pioneer in developing intelligence and attack systems of this nature. However, it seems that less attention has been given to developing defensive measures for intercepting and jamming enemy systems. In addition to ground warfare, solid-state laser systems for intercepting ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and UAVs are also of utmost importance. Some argue that none of the defense systems currently available can effectively counter the hundreds of thousands of missiles that Iran and its proxies in the Middle East could launch toward the Israeli home front in an all-out war. However, even if this argument holds true, it cannot be used in conjunction with the notion that the Israeli air force is receiving too much funding that could be allocated to ground forces. Israel’s primary response to the massive missile threat on the home front by Iran and its proxies lies not in defense but in deterrence, in which the air force plays the central role. This has been evident in the mutual deterrence that has existed thus far with Hezbollah, and even more so with Iran in the case of a regional war. In such a scenario, Iran should be concerned, and it appears that it is indeed concerned about, potential Israeli strikes on its infrastructure in areas such as power stations, oil fields, energy transmission, and ports. A related question is how much Israel should allocate to precision surface-to-surface missiles as alternatives to aircraft-launched missiles and bombs in varying war scenarios. However, it is important to note that such substitutions are particularly applicable in nearby combat zones, as there is still no real competition with the air force’s capabilities at longer ranges. So much for high-tech. While the majority of the IDF’s investment should focus on enhancing its technological capabilities, there is a clear need to significantly expand and reconstruct the ground forces in the cost-effective and inexpensive realm of low-tech local ground defense. The worst aspect of the October 7 fiasco was in that field. It is hard to believe, but a few years back, the IDF actually implemented budget cuts to the minimal payments made to the civilian security coordinators in frontline communities. Furthermore, due to theft concerns, the rifles stored in their homes were taken away from the emergency squads and placed in a central armory. Before the Six-Day War, when enemy armies were stationed right on the other side of the border, a system of local defense communities were an integral part of the IDF’s first line of defense. However, after 1967, when the borders were pushed further away from the settled areas of the country and with the increased mechanization of Arab armies, the significance and capabilities of community-based local defense decreased accordingly. However, given the changing nature of threats and the emergence of militias and armed organizations across the borders, the ability of emergency squads in communities to serve as the first, vital, and readily available line of defense has returned in full force. As such, their members should be released from all other reserve duties, and instead be properly organized, armed, and trained for their task. One reason raised for increasing the number of field formations is the anticipated need for additional reserve service due to the war. However, it is important to differentiate between different aspects of this burden. As long as the war continues, frontline reserve combat units will have to serve for an extended period. Israel should perhaps consider expanding the reserve forces that will be rotated in existing AFVs. This would provide more manpower without requiring additional equipment, as the IDF already has an abundance of tanks. On the other hand, the main need for reserve service will be to reinforce the defense system along the borders and protect the communities. It would not be appropriate to use units from frontline, “heavy” combat formations, armed with advanced and costly equipment, for this purpose. Instead, local defense units, which are much less heavily armed and much less expensive should be allocated for the task. The IDF’s establishment of the new Hashomer Brigade, composed of reservists from regular border defense units, is a positive step in this direction. Additionally, it would be worthwhile to establish national guard units based on individuals who have been released from the reserves in recent years due to budget cuts. These units would secure roads, critical facilities, airports, and communities within Israel in the event of a conflict. The necessary equipment and armaments for these units would be relatively light and inexpensive. Once bitten, twice shy—but this can also take a heavy toll. Following the trauma of the Yom Kippur War, the IDF doubled in size and defense expenses jumped to between a quarter and a third of GDP. This increase made a decisive contribution to the “lost decade” of the Israeli economy after that war. It is difficult to blame the defense leadership of the time. The trauma was great and largely justified, and alternatives in qualitative rather than quantitative directions only started to appear and become practical in ground warfare in the 1980s. In conclusion, the IDF, with the exceptions mentioned, is built more or less correctly with respect to the threats on the borders. When it comes to more distant threats, the air force remains the main deterrent and offensive response, in addition to its central role in the inter-service battle in the immediate theaters of operation. In view of the existing balance of power and given its overwhelming numerical superiority, the main things that the IDF is missing are primarily not in the realm of offensive field formations. The ranks need to be filled, there may be various expansions and supplements, and, of course, we can always want more—especially when it comes to security. But as Ben-Gurion determined, security needs and expenses must be balanced with other vital needs. After covering the major military and civilian costs of the war, replenishing stockpiles, and returning vehicles to service—a large and necessary one-time expense—there is no room for increasing the regular defense budget beyond 4.5–5.5 percent of the net GDP (before American aid). In military history, there are more than a few cases of drawing the wrong lessons from wars. Following the Spanish Civil War, for example (1936–1939), it was decided in the Soviet Union that the future vision of mechanized war advanced by Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky and his comrades in the top brass of the Red Army (who had been executed in Stalin’s purges) did not prove itself. The mechanized armies and corps that they had established were disbanded as a result and were hurriedly reassembled only after the Germans proved the doctrine’s effectiveness between 1939 and 1941. The Soviet Union paid dearly for this mistake with the German invasion. We must be careful to avoid the trauma of October 7 leading Israel to draw the wrong lessons. Contrary to the prevailing mindset, the main factor in the IDF’s exceptional success in the Gaza Strip, alongside the determination and heroism of its combat soldiers, has unequivocally been its decisive technological advantages. Israel should continue to deepen them in the mentioned directions.

Diplomacy
Amman, Jordan - October 18, 2023 : Arab unity in the Al-Aqsa flood war (flag of Jordan and Palestine) Demonstrations of the Jordanian people in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian people

Political Insights (5): Determinants of the Jordanian Stance on Operation al-Aqsa Flood

by Atef al-Joulani

Jordan’s official stance on Operation al-Aqsa Flood faced challenges in maintaining a balanced position, despite strong and unprecedented engagement from the Jordanian public. The initial official stance, which seemed relatively strong and clear, diminished later, revealing contradictions between political declarations and practical measures on the ground. This has raised questions about the factors influencing Jordan’s position on the confrontation. First: Determinants of the Official Stance The official Jordanian stance on Operation al-Aqsa Flood was shaped by various factors: 1. Concerns regarding national security intensified due to the hostile attitudes of extreme right-wing Zionist groups towards Jordan, along with fears of forced displacement in the West Bank (WB) amidst the arming of tens of thousands of settlers and their persistent efforts to compel Palestinians to relocate to Jordan. Furthermore, concerns emerged regarding security threats to the kingdom’s northern and eastern borders amidst increased attempts to breach them due to escalation in Gaza Strip (GS). On 28/1/2024, a drone attack targeted US forces stationed near the Syrian border in Jordan, killing three soldiers and wounding about 35 others. 2. Geographic and demographic factors, coupled with strong public engagement with Operation al-Aqsa Flood, persistently fueled Jordanian protests against Israeli aggression and in support of resistance since October 7th. The protests have spanned the entire geographical and societal spectrum in Jordan. 3. The provisions of the Wadi Araba Treaty between Jordan and Israel, including political, economic restrictions, and normalization commitments between the parties. 4. The strategic relationship between Jordan and the US, which fully sided with Israel and provided it with political, military and financial cover to continue its aggression on GS. 5. Jordan’s tepid ties with Hamas suffered a setback after Operation al-Aqsa Flood, which coincided with a noticeable decline in relations, prompted by the arrest of several Hamas members for attempting to smuggle weapons into WB. 6. Jordan’s political stance within the Arab and international sphere, which opposes Hamas and “political Islam” movements. 7. Jordan’s political choices in the Palestinian arena, which support the political settlement, negotiations and the two-state solution, the efforts to de-escalate and impose calm in WB, enhancing the PA status within the Palestinian society, and preventing its collapse or decline in favor of other parties. 8. The official side voiced concerns about the impact of Operation al-Aqsa Flood on Jordanian public sentiment and electoral trends, fearing its exploitation by the Islamic movement during the critical upcoming parliamentary elections later this year (2024). Second: The Various Facets of the Jordanian Position On the political front, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was the first to indicate in the early days of the confrontation that “Hamas is an idea, and the idea does not end.” He emphasized that discussing a post-Gaza phase is a leap in the air, clarifying that Hamas did not create the conflict but rather the conflict created Hamas. Jordan was quick to describe Israeli military operations in GS as aggression and heinous war crimes, with positions issued by the King, Queen, Crown Prince and Jordanian Prime Minister condemning the aggression, calling for its cessation, and declaring solidarity with the Palestinian people. On the practical front, Jordan canceled the Quad Summit scheduled in Amman with the US President on 18/10/2023, in protest against the Israeli massacre at the Baptist Hospital in GS. Jordan also froze the energy-for-water agreement with Israel. On 1/11/2023, Jordan recalled its ambassador from Israel and conducted multiple air drops to support its field hospital in GS, while establishing a second field hospital in Khan Younis. Yet, the Jordanian public deemed these official actions insufficient, demanding the cancellation of the Wadi Araba treaty and the gas agreement with Israel, along with halting the water-for-electricity deal, closing foreign military bases in Jordan, supporting Palestinian resistance and engaging with its factions. The Jordanian official stance during Operation al-Aqsa Flood can be summarized as follows: 1. Condemnation of Israeli aggression on GS and urging an end to war crimes. 2. Implementation of measures falling short of public demands, amidst strong interaction by the Jordanian public during the confrontation. 3. Permitting limited popular activities, restricting access to borders with the occupied Palestinian territories, opposing open sit-ins and arresting activists participating in some events. 4. Allowing Jordanian territory for Gulf-to-Israel truck transit, within the context of a land bridge inaugurated to bypass Houthi restrictions in the Bab al-Mandab Strait for ships bound to Israel. Conclusion Jordan’s official response to Operation al-Aqsa Flood reveals significant confusion in aligning its regional and international stance, political choices and commitments with addressing the demands of the Jordanian public. Jordan’s participation in the land bridge for goods transit to Israel has damaged its credibility and provoked public outrage. This revelation coincided with Israel’s intensified blockade on GS, coupled with increased measures to prevent the entry of humanitarian aid, as part of the Israeli policy to starve the population and incite popular resentment against the resistance. Given recent practical behavior and relative retreat in stance and rhetoric, ongoing confusion in Jordan’s official position is expected in the coming period, with increased engagement in Arab and international arrangements regarding Gaza’s post-war future. Regarding relations with Palestinian factions, Jordan’s official side is expected to maintain its preference for engaging solely with the Palestinian Authority, aiming to bolster its position in the Palestinian arena, without showing openness to resistance movements in the foreseeable future.

Defense & Security
The Israeli-Lebanese border along the coastal road, south of Enn Naqoura

Between War and Agreement with Lebanon: The Conflict Over the Land Border

by Orna Mizrahi , Stephane Cohen

Demarcating the land border between Israel and Lebanon is an important and necessary step—but is it right to do under fire? In this document, INSS researchers provide an answer to this question and detail the background and points of disagreement between the two countries on this issue As part of the American-led efforts to use diplomatic means to end the fighting that has been ongoing for nearly five months between Israel and Hezbollah, the need to demarcate an agreed-upon border between Israel and Lebanon was also on the agenda. The Lebanese government is eager to include border demarcation in any ceasefire agreement and has adopted the same policy on this matter as Hezbollah, linking an end to the fighting to the cessation of Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip and presenting a hardline maximalist approach to border demarcation. Negotiations over the land border between the two countries are likely to be exhaustive due to the complexity of the issue and the wide gaps between the sides. It would be wrong, therefore, to conduct them under fire. At the same time, as part of an agreement to end the conflict, it is feasible to include an agreement over the establishment of a mechanism to discuss the issue at the next stage—once the fighting on the Israel–Lebanon border has died down. Increasingly concerned that the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah could escalate further and turn into an all-out war, the United States is working to advance a diplomatic move that would lead to a ceasefire. France, and more recently the United Kingdom and Germany have joined the Americans in this effort. The Americans have entrusted the task to US President Joe Biden’s close adviser, Amos Hochstein, who successfully brokered the maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon, which was signed in October 2022. At the behest of the Lebanese, Hochstein has been trying over the course of the past year to recreate this success and to get the parties to agree to a permanent land border. Thus far, he has not been successful. Beirut recently raised again the issue of demarcating the land border between Israel and Lebanon in the framework of efforts to secure a ceasefire between the IDF and Hezbollah, which have been engaged in limited combat along Israel’s northern border since Hezbollah initiated the conflict on October 8. The fighting has been ongoing since then, in parallel to the war in Gaza. In their discussions with American officials, acting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, have been pleased by the Biden administration’s willingness to help broker a ceasefire and to restore quiet to southern Lebanon. They say that they are committed to a diplomatic solution and to international decisions, with an emphasis on UN Security Council Resolution 1701. At the same time, they have taken a hardline position and have been forced to toe the Hezbollah line. They have done so not only in terms of linking an end to the fighting on the Lebanon border with a cessation of IDF operations in the Gaza Strip but also in terms of their demands when it comes to demarcating the land border. Their opening position is intransigent. In their diplomatic meetings and in interviews they have given to the media, both Mikati and Habib have raised the demand that Israel withdraws from every inch of Lebanese territory and, at the same time, they speak about the Mandate-era border, which was adopted as part of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, as the reference point rather than the Blue Line, the line of withdrawal identified in 2000 by the United Nations, without prejudice to any future border agreement. Reports in the Israeli and Lebanese media suggest that the issue was also raised during Hochstein’s recent visits to Israel (on January 4 and again on February 4) and Beirut (on January 11), but for the time being, Hezbollah and, in its wake, the Lebanese government are adamant that they will not pursue a diplomatic channel as long as the war in Gaza is ongoing. Milestones in the Demarcation of the Border between Israel and Lebanon The border between Israel and Lebanon, which is around 120 kilometers in length,[1] was demarcated more than a century ago as part of the Franco–British Agreement on Mandatory Borders that was signed in Paris in December 1920. That agreement saw the two European superpowers divide up the territory of the Ottoman Empire between them and agree on the borders between both Lebanon and Syria (readers must understand that it was not between Lebanon and Syria specifically, but between the territory of both and Palestine), which were under the French Mandate, and Palestine, which was under the British, from the Mediterranean Sea to Hama (which now makes up the border triangle between Israel, Syria, and Jordan). The agreement drew out the general path of the border, and the sides agreed to set up a joint commission to demarcate the exact path of the border. The commission was headed by two officers—French Lieutenant Colonel Paulet and British Lieutenant Colonel Newcombe. The commission demarcated the border, and in March 1923, the final agreement was approved by both countries. It was ratified in 1935 by the League of Nations. The system used by the commission to demarcate the border—a process that took an entire year and which left behind meticulous documentation of its work—was old-fashioned and problematic; it led to huge inconsistencies in the border. The border they drew up did not fully correspond to the border that was agreed on in Paris in 1920, but it was marked on the ground using piles of rocks. These piles were eventually replaced by 71 posts known as boundary pillars (BPs), of which 38 were placed along the Israel–Lebanon border. It should be noted that most of these BPs disappeared or were destroyed, making later demarcation difficult. Throughout the Mandatory period, right up until Israel and Lebanon gained their independence, the boundary drawn up by the commission was recognized as the international border. It was also the boundary that was used for the March 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Lebanon. That agreement, which the Lebanese are citing as their reference point for demarcation today, was not a detailed demarcation of the boundary. Rather, the agreement merely stated that the “armistice line will run along the international border.” In other words, along the border that was drawn up by the two Mandatory powers and approved in 1923.[2] Following the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000 and as part of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 425 (1978), the United Nations tried to demarcate the IDF’s withdrawal line using a team of its own cartographers. They drew what became known as the Blue Line, which deviates in several points from the Mandate-era boundary, and they based it on cartographic data and the interpretation thereof by members of the team. Israel and Lebanon both accepted the Blue Line as the line to which IDF forces would withdraw from southern Lebanon, but Lebanon submitted reservations that turned into points of contention between the sides. The UN approach is to recognize a border line upon which both parties will agree, although it is doubtful that Lebanon will agree to the Blue Line as the basis and likely will insist on the 1949 line. After the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Israel and Lebanon agreed to physically demarcate the Blue Line on the ground, and to this end, a professional committee was formed. This committee determined the exact location of 470 reference points along the Blue Line—around four such points for every kilometer. The goal of marking the border using blue barrels was to make the border clear to the local population, to military personnel, and to the United Nations—and to prevent any inadvertent Blue Line crossings or violation. Thus far, however, barrels have only been placed on around half of the reference points (more than 270). Each of them was only placed after Lebanon and Israel had examined its exact position and given their approval. Points of Contention between Israel and Lebanon Along the Border Region After the delineation and demarcation of the Blue Line, Lebanon presented reservations regarding 13 points along the Blue Line, covering an area of 485,000 square meters (not including the territory in the triangle of borders with Syria beyond the 1949 Armistice Line). To this day, this remains the main point of contention between the two countries. According to the Lebanese, these points deviate from the boundary that was determined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement (see the map in Appendix A). These points have been discussed at length over the years in contacts between the sides as part of the tripartite meetings and coordination mechanism established by UNIFIL. On a number of occasions, there were even reports that they have reached understandings about a solution for seven of them (although there has been no official announcement that they have been resolved). In July 2023, before the outbreak of the current conflict, the Lebanese foreign minister claimed that of the 13 contested points, agreement had been reached over seven, and that there were only six left to be resolved. Two months later, however, the Lebanese army issued an official statement in which it said that it still sees the 13 as being violations by Israel (the Lebanese see the territory on their side of the 1949 Armistice Line and the Blue Line as having been occupied by Israel) and that nothing had been finalized on the matter. Moreover, the army said representatives in the tripartite coordination mechanism did not have the authority to approve this. Recently, against the backdrop of negotiations, the issue was again raised in an interview given by Mikati. On February 1, he claimed that seven of the 13 points had already been settled, but that there were still major gaps in the positions of both sides with regard to the remaining six. Five days later, the foreign minister made a similar argument. The table below shows the 13 contested points, most of which could be resolved with some good will from both sides. At the same time, a number of points of strategic importance will be hard to resolve—primarily the first point close to the coast at Rosh Hanikra (B1), given its strategic location and its importance to both sides. This was one of the reasons that Israel demanded within the maritime agreement to preserve the status quo at this particular point, which was initially intended to be the starting point for the maritime demarcation, and to postpone the discussion on it until negotiations took place over the land border. >> Table: Lebanese reservations over the demarcation of the Blue Line    According to some recent reports, in addition to the 13 familiar points, Lebanon has already presented more Israeli violations and has demanded that Israel withdraw from 17 other areas beyond the Blue Line, some of which correspond with the 13 previous areas of contention. This is in contrast to the recently stated position of the Lebanese prime minister and foreign minister, both of whom referred only to the 13 contested areas. Details of these points, as published by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper, appear in Appendix B. In addition to the points of contention along the Israel–Lebanon border, there are also a number of substantial contested points on the Golan Heights. The Lebanese have laid claim to areas that were captured by Israel from Syria in 1967 during the Six-Day War in the border triangle between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. According to Beirut, Israel must return these territories, which it claims as its own, before any resolution of the conflict with Syria, which has opted not to deal with the issue at the current time. Further complicating the situation in these areas is the Golan Heights Law that Israel passed in 1981, which formalized the change in the legal status of the Golan and determined that the area fell under Israeli law, jurisdiction, and authority. These disputes form a major part of Hezbollah’s narrative. The organization argues that it is fighting for the liberation of more Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation, while exacerbating the already intense disputes between Beirut and Jerusalem and using them as part of its struggle against Israel. Therefore, it is no coincidence that many of Hezbollah’s military attacks during the past nearly five months of fighting have also been directed at the areas of Mount Dov and Shebaa Farms. There are two main areas in question: The northern part of the village of Ghajar: Lebanon claims sovereignty over the northern part of the village, which is located on the original border between Syria and Lebanon. Indeed, Lebanon’s claim is not entirely groundless, since the Blue Line dissects the village, in accordance with the findings from 2000 by UN cartographers, who worked according to maps in their possession. The northern part of the village, therefore, is in Lebanese territory, even though it was captured by Israeli forces from Syria in 1967 and its residents are Alawites. Lebanese complaints intensified after September 2022, when Israel erected a fence to the north of the village to prevent infiltrations from Lebanon. The erection of this fence was done in coordination with the IDF, which took into account the residents’ suffering from having their village split in two and the fact that entry was only possible via a border police and military checkpoint. Closing off the village from the north allowed it to open to visitors. In addition to the northern section of the village, Lebanon is also demanding territory to the east of the village. The Shebaa Farms: This is an unpopulated agricultural area on Mount Dov (the foothills of Mount Hermon), between the village of Ghajar and the Lebanese village of Shebaa (in the border triangle), which Beirut claims belongs to the village. From an Israeli perspective, this strategic area is vitally important in order to monitor a hostile region. Evidence of this was provided in October 2000, when three Israeli soldiers were abducted in a cross-border raid. It is no coincidence that Hezbollah’s first attack during the current conflict, on October 8, was against Mount Dov, which has become a key target over the past months. In contrast to the official Lebanese position, Hezbollah also has claims to more Israeli territory, which it wants to “liberate from occupation.” There are seven Shiite villages in the Upper Galilee which were abandoned or evacuated, and then captured by Israel during the War of Independence in 1948. It should be stressed that in official statements from Beirut about the border dispute with Israel, these villages are not mentioned. However, it is likely that, even after the resolution of the dispute over border demarcation between the two countries, Hezbollah will continue to refer to these villages as occupied Lebanese territory. This is an integral part of its efforts to maintain its status as “defender of Lebanon” and it will be used to incite hostility toward Israel. From an Israeli perspective, it would be wrong to negotiate the border demarcation under fire. The issue of border demarcation has, as mentioned, come up as part of the diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel; the Lebanese side (and, it seems, the mediators) raised it as one of the things that Israel could offer in order to promote a ceasefire. However, given the ongoing escalation and the possibility of all-out war, it appears that it would not be the right course of action for Israel to include negotiations over the future land border in talks aimed at securing a ceasefire—notwithstanding the importance of an agreed-upon resolution of the issue. There are several reasons for this: The time element: Negotiations are likely to be long and complex, given the profound disagreements that exist, especially over three points: Rosh Hanikra (B1); the village of Ghajar; and the Mt. Dov/Shebaa Farms. Such talks will not be completed quickly and will not lead to a ceasefire any time soon, especially given that the Lebanese side is currently presenting a particularly hard line. Israel, on the other hand, is interested in an immediate end to the fighting, so that the evacuated residents of the North can return to their homes as soon as possible. This argument is also supposed to convince the Americans, who are also keen to secure a ceasefire sooner rather than later and to avoid regional conflagration. An achievement for Hezbollah and the loss of a bargaining chip: If Israel were to hand over territory to Lebanon—no matter how little—as a result of the current conflict, it would inflate Hezbollah’s sense of accomplishment, as well as its claimed status as the ‘protector of Lebanon.’ It would also strengthen its argument to remain an armed organization, against the wishes of those citizens in Lebanon who want it to turn over its weapons to the Lebanese army. Moreover, Israel would lose a bargaining chip in the anticipated negotiations over the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, especially in terms of its desire for Hezbollah to withdraw north of the Litani River. The same is true of a partial solution, regarding, for example, the seven border points over which there is agreement in principle. While Hezbollah would portray this as a “victory,” the disagreements and the reasons for continued conflict would remain unaddressed. There is no official address on the Lebanese side with which Israel can sign any agreement, given the political vacuum that exists there. Since the last election in Lebanon, in May 2022, a transitional government has been in power and, since the end of President Michel Aoun’s term of office in October 2022, Lebanon has yet to elect a replacement. As per the constitution, it is the Lebanese president who has the authority to sign such agreements; indeed, it was Aoun who signed the maritime border agreement with Israel on his last day in office. Similarly, opponents of any agreement with Israel could challenge the authority of the current interim government to engage in negotiations on any issue with Israel. In conclusion, reaching an agreement on the route of the land border between Israel and Lebanon would be an important element in forging a new reality in the region. However, it would not be right to hold a complex discussion on the issue, and certainly not to accept a partial agreement that would include Israel’s surrendering of territory, as long as Hezbollah has not agreed to cease the current fighting, which it initiated. Therefore, Israel must reject the inclusion of the issue in the preliminary understandings over a ceasefire and must insist that negotiations over the demarcation of the land border only take place at a later stage. Appendix A Map of the Disputed Areas According to the Lebanese Side  Appendix B Lebanese Claims of Israeli Violations Along the Blue Line    Note: These are areas that Israel currently occupies and which the Lebanese claim violate the Blue Line. This list was published on September 7, 2023, by the Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is affiliated with Hezbollah. [1] “It’s time to talk about the Blue Line: Constructive re-engagement is key to stability,” March 5, 2021, https://unifil.unmissions.org/it%E2%80%99s-time-talk-about-blue-line-constructive-re-engagement-key-stability [2] Haim Srebro, True and Steady: Mistakes in the Delimitation of the Boundaries of Israel and Their Correction (Tzivonim Publishing, 2022), p. 143.

Defense & Security
A miracle glass on the Yemen of the world map

The impact of Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea on the Yemen crisis

by Sergey Serebrov

The U.S.-British coalition’s military intervention in Yemen has become the most dangerous expansion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (PIC), taking a heavy toll on the security in the Middle East and creating a parallel hotbed of military standoff in the Red Sea. There is no consensus in the region’s countries on the root cause of the current escalation, with some governments blaming the terrorist sortie of the Qassam Brigades militants from Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood (known as Toofan in Arabic) on October 7, 2023, while others—the abnormal situation of the decades-long occupation and blockade of Palestine by Israel, mentioned by UN Secretary General A. Guterres in October 2023. Yet they are all united in extremely negative assessments of the humanitarian consequences of the Iron Swords operation by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip. The final document of the LAS and OIC summit in Riyadh on November 11, 2023, attended by 57 heads of state, had the most pacifist tone possible, but it clearly condemned Israel’s war crimes campaign and demanded “an immediate ceasefire along with the opening of humanitarian corridors.” While rejecting the adoption of collective non-military measures of pressure on Israel proposed by the so-called Axis of Resistance and a number of other states, a caveat was made that they could be applied individually: “The resolution calls on the members of the OIC and LAS to use diplomatic, political and legal forms of pressure as well as deterrent measures to stop the colonial occupation administration’s crimes against humanity.” Russian scholars V.V. Naumkin and V.A. Kuznetsov attribute the strategy of the Israeli government and the militarist policies of the U.S. and UK as the main reason for aggravation of the PIC: “Rejecting the draft settlement by founding an independent Palestinian state (within the borders as of June 4, 1967 with the capital in Eastern Jerusalem), prescribed by resolutions of the UNSC, which would exist side by side with Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is driving the problem into a dead end. And pumping American and British weapons into Israel only prolongs the bloodshed. Continued attempts to resolve the Gaza conflict by force are disastrous for the future co-existence of the two peoples.” Discussions at the UN showed that this conclusion is shared by most countries in the region, i.e. the fuse for spontaneous outbursts of resistance to the existing order remains unextinguished. Yemen is one such hotbed. Deep political divisions, an unfinished nine-year war with the Arab Coalition (AC) and a massive humanitarian disaster affecting 80 per cent of the population did not prevent the country’s inhabitants from voicing their attitude to the Gaza tragedy. Political activism and anti-Israeli sentiments rose everywhere. The epicenter was 14 of the country’s 22 most populous provinces, controlled by the authorities of Sana’a, where an alliance between the Houthi movement Ansarullah and the core of the country’s former ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), formed a coalition regime in 2016 that recognized Yemen’s current constitution. These provinces are home to more than two-thirds of the country’s population (about 23 million people) as well as the largest cities, such as Sana’a, Ibb and the main Red Sea port of Hodeidah. The internationally unrecognized regime in Sana’a, targeted in March 2015 by a massive AC military operation at the request of the legitimate Yemeni authorities to neutralize it, has suddenly become one of the main centers of the region’s current political dynamics. The Ansarullah leadership’s public support of the Palestinian resistance has become a powerful springboard for strengthening of its status and authority both within Yemen and at the regional level, consolidating the ideological foundations of the Houthi movement as a new national symbol and political platform for the country. Castigating the U.S. and the UK for aiding Israel with its war in Gaza as “complicit in crimes against humanity,” the movement’s leader sayyid Abdul Malik al-Houthi placed an explicit emphasis on the importance of involving the peoples and governments of all Arab and Islamic states in the Palestinian struggle, while underscoring the vanguard role of Yemen. The Ansarullah leader condemned the Arab states that continued to pursue the course of normalizing their relations with Israel, calling on them to abide by the moral principles of Islam, which do not allow tolerance for the “usurper who clearly violates the rights of the Palestinian people.” He described Hamas’ Toofan operation as “a game-changer due to inflicting tangible losses on the Zionist enemy,” and Yemenis’ support for it as their “religious and moral duty.” Sana’a announced joining the Palestinian war on Israel and its readiness to send “hundreds of thousands of soldiers” at the right moment. The authorities organized the collection and transfer of money to Gazans, and they switched to active military support of the Palestinians in mid-October 2023 by launching missiles and drones towards the Israeli port of Eilat in an attempt to divert Israeli forces and hamper the port’s operations. On November 19, 2023, they arrested the ship Galaxy Leader, owned by an Israeli businessman, enforcing a ban they had imposed in mid-November on the navigation of Israeli ships and cargo through Yemeni territorial waters. Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Nebenzya said in early January 2024: “It is impossible to deny what is happening in the Red Sea is a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, where Israel’s bloody operation has been going on for three months,” while the U.S. “has turned the UN Security Council into a hostage by vetoing resolutions on an immediate ceasefire.” Since October 2023, the leader of Ansarullah has personally called on the people to participate in regular mass solidarity actions almost weekly, as part of a campaign he called “The Battle of Allah’s Promised Victory” and the Holy Jihad. To coordinate the mass demonstrations, which often involved more than 2 million people, and to provide ideological guidance, the authorities in Sana’a established the “Support for Al-Aqsa” committee, which turned those protests into weekly grand-scale political actions. The slogans of these marches, especially after the launch of Military Operation ‘Prosperity Guardian’ against Yemen on January 12, 2024, took on an increasingly militant tone: “You are not alone... we stand together with Gaza!”, “From the faithful people of Yemen—help, help Toofan,” “the Flood of al-Aqsa has already come—it will defeat the insolent countries,” “Al-Aqsa Flood, come and wash away the barriers and walls!” The Houthi ideology is based on the concept of the “Quranic path” proclaimed by the founder of this movement, sayyid Hussein B. al-Husi (1959-2004). The key tenet is that the consciousness of each Muslim believer and the Islamic community as a whole needs to be reformed and entrenched upon the rails of spirituality and morality as dictated by the holy book, which will make “ummah”, the entire Muslim community, exemplary and advanced. This progress towards the ideal should be led by a spiritual leader, personifying the selfless service to the faith and having genetic affiliation to the descendants of the Prophet’s house—the sada (hence the singular—sayyid). Among his main functions, as the doctrine has it, is to take care of the community’s readiness to defend the moral values of Islam against its worst enemies. Sayyid Hussein listed their names in his cliché (Arabic: sarkha), which he first uttered in a lecture to a youth audience in January 2002: “Allah is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse to the Jews! Victory to Islam!” This clarion call has become a distinctive marker of the Houthi and the Ansarullah movement, and posters with this text have been a permanent feature of meetings, marches, and wall decorations in public institutions and schools since 2016. After the Prosperity Guardian coalition’s bombings commenced, a new term of the “evil trinity” (ash-shir al-thulathi)—Israel, the U.S. and the UK—appeared in the Houthi narrative. In the expert community, the autonomy and authenticity of the Houthi ideology and socio-political movement with deep Yemeni roots are generally not in doubt. The Houthi were not and are not “agents” or “proxies” of Iran, despite their growing cooperation in recent years. In the Houthi movement, as was correctly noted by the well-known orientalist B. Haykel, the influence of not only Shiite but also Sunni currents of modern political Islam, as well as secular ideologies, including “nationalism and anti-colonialism” [1], is quite conspicuous. The Houthi movement also purports to protect Yemen’s sovereignty, rebuild its economy on the basis of its own resources and modern technology, improve its education system and restore its historical glory as the heart of the entire Islamic world and one of the main hubs of Islamic civilization. Helen Lackner, the British researcher of Yemen, said: “The charge of acting as Tehran’s proxy serves as an insult to an organization that has its own motivations and ideological position.” After 2016, Ansarullah shares equal seats with the General People’s Congress (GPC) on the Supreme Political Council (SPC) representing in a binary coalition government the central executive authorities in a full-fledged state-type republican system that encompasses provincial and local levels. The regime is based on the old bureaucracy created by President Abdallah A. Saleh, remaining loyal to the coalition authorities in Sana’a after Saleh’s death in December 2017 and retaining the same structure and core, with Ansarullah members added as managers and employees. The SPC is spearheaded by one of the movement’s leaders, Mahdi Mashat, while the government of national salvation is headed by GPC member Abdul Aziz bin Habtoor, a former rector of the University of Aden. The shibboleths of external propaganda characterizing the Houthi as “militias,” “jamaat,” “rebels,” “insurgents,” or “tribes” do not correspond to the socio-political nature of the movement, nor do they agree with the contemporary Yemeni realities. Beside the executive branch, the Houthi are represented in parliament, the judiciary and all security agencies, including the army and intelligence. Together with the GPC, they define the regime’s foreign policy as well as cooperation with the countries of the so-called Axis of Resistance that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This comes precisely as a result of the Decisive Storm, a foreign military operation launched nine years ago. According to formal criteria, the Ansarullah organization since 2015, in the situation of a protracted crisis related to the division of the Yemeni nation and the foreign AC intervention, having retained the signs of a socio-political movement, functionally made a leap into the category of transitional actors moving from quasi-state to the state type body. It should also be noted that under the extreme conditions of war and blockade, the coalition regime in Sana’a achieved consolidation, which was not the case (for objective reasons) in the camp of the internationally recognized Government of Yemen (GoY or IRG), which received major military and financial support from the Arab Coalition. Organizationally, since the very beginning, the IRG has been in a state of chronic systemic disintegration that sparked direct armed clashes between its factions. Mass popular demonstrations in support of Palestine in the IRG-controlled part of the country, which covers about 75% of its territory, were sporadic and less crowded. Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), attended the November summit in Riyadh, where he expressed his condemnation of Israel’s military operation in Gaza and Yemenis’ solidarity with the Palestinian people. However, he distanced himself from the hostile stance to IRG policy of the unrecognized regime in Sana’a, especially on the military blockade of Israeli shipping and navigation. “The terrorist attacks by the Houthi in the Red Sea are harming the freedom of global trade and the peoples of the region, doubling above all the suffering of the Yemeni people, whose survival is 90% dependent on imports,” he said. Opinions were divided among the leaders of other factions within the IRG, but most of them supported the establishment of the American-British Coalition (ABC) and the listing of the Houthi as global terrorists by the U.S. on January 17, 2024, which signaled a possible setback of the Yemeni conflict. The most likely scenario for the conflict, which promises to be protracted and extremely unsavory to the ABC, is for the Anglo-Saxon partnership to exploit the complex military and political environment for a further instrumentalization of existing rivalries. The above analysis of the Sana’a policy shows that the ABC command could not expect Sana’a to lift the maritime sanctions against Israel through military blackmail, as this would mean a backdown on the entire ideology of the regime, defined by the mentioned Houthi concept of the “Quranic path.” The lifting of the ban on Israeli shipping was promised by the Sana’a authorities only after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza and the opening of humanitarian corridors, which was officially voiced at all levels even before the launch of the ABC military operation in Yemen. Official spokesman of Ansarullah, Muhammad Abdulsalam, warned the ABC command about this intention immediately after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the ABC establishment in December 2023: “the ABC mission is to provide a cover for Israel and to proceed with illegal militarization of the Red Sea that will not stop Yemen which will continue to provide legitimate support to the people of Gaza.” U.S. claims that Operation Prosperity Guardian is designed to “undermine and degrade the ability of the Houthi to endanger seamen and threaten global trade on one of the world’s most important waterways” are questionable as well, as the AC’s attempt to accomplish a similar task militarily for nine years is known to have been unsuccessful, ending with a transition to a de-escalation phase in April 2022. Since March 2015, U.S. and UK officers have been represented on the AC command staff, contributing to the Decisive Storm operation by using the same methods, the same weapons and the same intelligence sources as the ABC currently relies on. One of the major military outcomes of the AC’s “old” campaign was the emergence of a localized industrial base at the Sana’a disposal to build and maintain the kind of modern-day arsenal that made the transition to a political settlement of the crisis the most expedient choice for all sides. Finally, the proposition of the ABC command that the operation in the Red Sea was designed to protect the safety of commercial shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which accounts for about 14% of the world’s commercial cargo turnover, also proved to be completely untenable in the first month and a half. Already at the stage of the Anglo-Saxon coalition formation, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, suggested: “They have assembled a so-called ‘international coalition’ (which quite characteristically consists mainly of American ships), which is supposed to ‘ensure security’, although in reality the legitimacy of its actions raises the most serious questions in terms of international law. We should not have any illusions about the true goals of the authors of the resolution. This is not about ensuring the safety of navigation in the Red Sea at all, but an attempt to legitimize (post factum) the actions of the aforementioned ‘coalition’ and have Security Council’s endorsement for an unlimited time.” Operation Prosperity Guardian per se was the main cause behind the escalation of tensions and a threat to the navigation of all other carriers. It is no coincidence that neither the littoral states of this subregion nor the leading foreign states that use this route have yielded to the pressure or expressed any willingness to join the coalition. Egypt, 10% of whose budget depends on Forex earnings from Suez, saw the ABC action as “a dangerous acceleration of events in the southern Red Sea and Yemen ... with potential risks of a wider conflict in the region due to Israel’s ongoing attacks in the Gaza Strip.” His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, said even before the ABC attacks in Yemen, the “from Qatar’s political perspectives, no military action leads to a resolution. We are closely watching developments in the Red Sea, but our greatest fear is the consequences of being drawn into an endless loop of region-wide tensions. We hope for an early end to what is happening to the civilian ships via diplomatic means. That will be the best way possible.” Essentially, all countries in the subregion agreed that the best way out of the military conflict in the Red Sea would be to fulfill the Sana’a demands to the Israeli authorities, i.e. putting an end to a devastating war in Gaza. Of all the countries in this subregion, only Bahrain, home to U.S. and British naval bases, joined the ABC. Objective data on the ship traffic through the Suez Canal shows that the drop was only about 2% in the first thirty days after the seizure of the Israeli ship by the Yemeni military. A deeper dive began only after the U.S. announcement of the ABC on December 18, 2023, reaching a record 50% by the end of February 2024, after the strikes on Yemen commenced, when the Sana’a authorities added to their sanctions list the U.S. and UK military and their merchant ships, which became the main targets of their attacks starting in mid-January 2024. A summary of the first month of Operation Prosperity Guardian was over 400 air and missile strikes by ABC forces on Yemeni territory and more than 25 retaliatory attacks by the Sana’a authorities against ABC and Israeli naval targets with the sinking of the British merchant ship Rubymar carrying ammonia fertilizers in February 2024. Nor has it been possible to stop the Houthi from launching missiles toward Israel. Besides the military risks to shipping, the ABC operation also threatened the ecology of the Red Sea waters, which is an important traditional source of income for fishermen in the coastal states. The true strategy of the ABC in Yemen can only be judged by the further course and results of the campaign, which promises to have far-reaching consequences for the entire region. Its most likely development will be an attempt to torpedo de-escalation, which has defined the downward dynamic of the “old” military crisis in Yemen involving the AC since April 2022. There are several reasons for this conclusion. First, the decisive move by KSA and Sana’a to remove the regional component of the Yemeni crisis has been highly successful in bringing it out of the stalemate it hit after the failure of the Kuwait round of UN-sponsored talks in 2016. The de-escalation process was accompanied by exchange visits of official delegations from Riyadh and Sana’a in April and September 2023 and their preparation of a compromise settlement formula that would satisfy both sides. The Houthi surrender as the only scenario for ending the war became a thing of the past, and the consolidation of the Ansarullah political alliance with the GPC core within the ruling regime in Sana’a finally appeared to get a sort of recognition. This shift removed the main motive for the AC to continue the war and meant a reorientation of the regional leader, Saudi Arabia, to deep readjustment of the entire system of subregional relations and to zero out its involvement in external military conflicts. To finalize the process, all that remained was to sign a ready-made roadmap and start preparing a national dialogue in the Yemeni format with the participation of Ansarullah under the auspices of the UN. Second, de-escalation was largely achieved due to the normalization of KSA-Iran diplomatic relations in March 2023, mediated by China. For the U.S. and the UK, this change meant, among other things, undermining their fundamental long-term geopolitical construct, which had been used for decades to structure the system and dynamics of regional relations across the Middle East. It was based on the exploitation of Sunni-Shiite and Iranian-Saudi contradictions, into which anti-American and anti-Israeli manifestations were also implanted as a sign of “Shiite” (aka “Iranian”) influence in the countries of this region. The conflict in Yemen has long ago proved its complete unsuitability for analyzing the Yemeni realities. The sociocultural ground in this country has ruled out the transformation of Yemeni contradictions into sectarian ones, as the relations between both dominant autochthonous religious communities of Yemen—Shafi’i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shia)—have remained traditionally tolerant and friendly. The religious framing employed has been much more influential in sharpening their dichotomies with the proselytizing radical version of the Salafi ideology of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood* operating within the Islah Party. The attribution of the “Iranian agent” label to the Houthi has generally remained very superficial to Yemeni political discourse proper and has not become a fully effective tool for manipulating this rivalry. Third, the very fact that Riyadh entered direct negotiations with Sana’a, mediated by Oman, signaled the increasing role of sovereignty in the system of subregional politics and the process of its transition to a more friendly architecture of relations, less dependent on the military presence of extra-regional superpowers in the Gulf and the Red Sea. Back in the summer of 2019, the UAE unilaterally announced the end of its military involvement in the AC operation in Yemen. The KSA’s new strategy toward Yemen has been heading in the same direction. Various attempts by the U.S. special ambassador to Yemen, T. Linderking, to slow down and derail this process were not quite successful. The U.S. emissary either inspired the KSA with mistrust of Iran’s intentions after the restoration of KSA-Iran diplomatic relations, or warned the Arabian countries that the U.S. would not leave Yemen out of its control anyway, saying, in particular, that the final stage of “an inclusive Yemeni-Yemeni political process [should] take place under U.S. auspices” instead of the UN format recognized by all parties. The UN mission in Yemen, which played an important and very positive role in the success of the “Oman track,” may also have been a source of discontent for the Anglo-Saxon partnership. A roadmap to end the KSA's military involvement in Yemen within three years was prepared by late 2023, which Hans Grundberg, the current head of the mission, publicly announced on December 23. This marked a de facto major step toward the final international legitimization of Ansarullah as a full-fledged participant in the political process. The struggle to keep the roadmap for a Yemeni settlement afloat, albeit in a postponed mode due to the ABC military intervention, is of fundamental importance for the future status and security systems of Arabia and the Red Sea. This is evidenced, in particular, by the KSA’s choice to consolidate the agreements reached with Sana’a after the Western coalition began bombing Yemen. At a meeting with T. Linderking in February 2024, KSA Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to “provide assistance to Yemen in facilitating a dialogue between the parties to reach a political solution under the auspices of the UN.” In addition to the KSA’s own experience of waging war in Yemen, there is a solid scientific basis for this choice: following a comprehensive analysis of the genesis and state of the Ansarullah organization, the authors of The Houthi Movement in Yemen, a fundamental monograph recently published by the KSA, conclude that “regardless of the final result, it seems that the Houthis will remain a key player in Yemen’s cultural, social, economic and political scenes for the foreseeable future [2].” Over the years of war, the leading Yemeni centers of political influence (CPIs) within the IRG and both active participants in the AC—the KSA and the UAE—brought about an amalgam of interests, which, in the context of a military intervention by the powerful ABC, risk being manipulated by the neocolonial project of the Anglo-Saxon partnership. By playing up intra-Yemeni contradictions and staging the pulling of certain Yemeni CPIs to their side, the two leading players of the ABC may try to turn them into an instrument of their policy both in the crisis zone and in the entire subregion. Unfortunately, they have serious and objective prerequisites for this attempt at sowing discord. The success of the “Omani track” within the Riyadh-Sana’a bilateral format in achieving sustainable de-escalation in the conflict zone was achieved almost without the participation of all the other CPIs in the IRG. This narrower format created a ground for their dissatisfaction and natural concerns about the current situation. The Emirati actors on the IRG’s Emirati flank, represented by General Aidarus al-Zubaidi’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) and General Tareq M. Saleh’s Political Council of the National Resistance Forces, were particularly wary, directly criticizing certain provisions of the roadmap that, in their view, provided excessive economic advantages to the hostile authorities in Sana’a—for example, their right to a share of the proceeds from the export of Yemeni oil to pay off debts on the salaries of civil servants. The ABC’s operation against Sana’a provoked something of a revenge attempt on the part of these CPIs within the IRG. President Rashad al-Alimi and the leaders of the Emirati flank of the PLC were quick to express their willingness to cooperate with the ABC, although each of the three CPIs had very different perspectives and goals in mind, both for themselves and for the future of the country. All the old political science constructs introduced to launch and accompany AC’s military campaign began to rapidly return to the Yemeni narrative: the diminutive labeling of the Sana’a authorities as “Houthi,” “militia,” or “rebels”; the reanimation of the Iranian expansion bugaboo through the Ansarullah movement, ostensibly willing to bring the Red Sea under Iran’s heel, etc. At the same time, the political reasons for the rivalry between the CPIs of the Saudi and Emirati flanks in the IRG camp have not disappeared. The probable supply of arms by the ABC to one of the flanks in the AC camp, or even to one of the CPIs on either flank, will inevitably lead to imbalances in the fragile configuration of forces, not only along the IRG-Sana’a Alliance (SA) axis, but also within the IRG camp. The risk of these CPIs clashing with each other is sometimes not lower, and in some scenarios even higher, than with the SA. Suffice it to mention the fact that the official policy of the leading faction on the Emirati flank, the Southern Transitional Council or STC, to withdraw the South within the 1990 borders of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), enshrined in the National Charter of Honor of the South that adopted in May 2023, is emphatically denied by most of the other Yemeni CPIs within the same IRG, as well as by both SA members. The ABC’s military involvement in the internal Yemeni tangle is difficult to coordinate and predict. It carries the risk of completely transforming the situation and ricocheting into the camp of the IRG itself as well as the AC partners backing it. This is exactly the scenario that the Qatari leader warned about, speaking of the endless loop of conflicts into which Arabia is being drawn by the aggression in Yemen recently unleashed by the ABC. *** In conclusion, we should emphasize the importance of historical and socio-cultural factors, underpinning the notion of identities that play a primary role in conflicts both in Yemen and in the region in a broader sense. Especially because these are particularly visible and instrumental in the current escalatory ladder. Amar Bendjama, Algeria’s representative to the UN, described what is happening in the Red Sea as a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, reminding that “the primary responsibility for maritime security rests with coastal States — best positioned to ensure the safety of crucial waterways — and underscor[ing] that any collective effort lacking the active involvement of such States is likely to fall short of achieving the desired results.” He also noted that “the Red Sea is more than just a trade route — it is steeped in civilizations and communities with legitimate aspirations and hopes.” * This organization is declared terrorist and banned in Russia. 1. The Houthi Movement in Yemen Ideology, Ambition and Security in the Arab Gulf / Ed. Abdullah Hamidaddin, I.B. TAURIS, King Feisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies Series, KFCRIS, 2022. P. 21. 2. Ibid. P. 3.

Diplomacy
Chancellor Sholz and Prime Minister Ibrahim in Berlin

Press conference by Federal Chancellor Scholz and the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, on Monday, March 11, 2024 in Berlin - Wording

by Olaf Scholz , Anwar Ibrahim

BK Scholz: A warm welcome, Mr. Prime Minister! I am delighted to welcome you here to Germany for the first time. Your visit is a very special start to a Southeast Asia Week with several high-ranking visits from this important region of the world here in Berlin. The Indo-Pacific region is of great importance to Germany and the European Union. We therefore want to intensify political and economic cooperation. Germany already maintains close economic relations with the region. Malaysia is Germany's most important trading partner in ASEAN. This is of great importance because it is associated with many direct investments in the country, but also with all the economic exchange that results from this. We would like to further expand this partnership. Of course, this is particularly true with regard to the objective of further diversifying our economic relations with the whole world. We want to have good economic and political relations with many countries. We also want closer cooperation on climate protection and the expansion of renewable energies. We are therefore very pleased with Malaysia's announcement that it will stop building new coal-fired power plants and dramatically increase the share of renewable energies. We think this is very important. Malaysia and Germany are established democracies. We are both committed to multilateralism and compliance with international law. It is therefore also right that we deepen our security and defense cooperation. The defense ministries are already working on the necessary cooperation agreements. Of course, we also discussed developments in the Middle East, developments in Gaza and the situation following the Hamas attack on Israeli citizens. It is no secret that our perspective on the Middle East conflict is different to that of others. But that makes it all the more important to exchange views with each other. In any case, we agree that more humanitarian aid must reach Gaza. This is also our clear call to Israel, which has every right to defend itself against Hamas. We do not believe that a ground offensive on Rafah is right. An important step now would also be a ceasefire that lasts longer, preferably during Ramadan, which has now begun and during which we broke the fast together today. Such a ceasefire should help to ensure that the Israeli hostages are released and that, as I said, more humanitarian aid arrives in Gaza. We also have a very clear position on long-term development. Only a two-state solution can bring lasting peace, security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians. That is why it is so important that we all work together to ensure that a good, peaceful perspective, a lasting common future is possible for Israelis and Palestinians, who coexist well in the two states. Of course, the world is marked by many other conflicts and wars, especially the dramatic war that Russia has started against Ukraine. It is a terrible war with unbelievable casualties. Russia, too, has already sacrificed many, many lives for the Russian president's imperialist mania for conquest. This is against all human reason. That is why we both condemn the Russian war of aggression. It is important to emphasize this once again. The Indo-Pacific is of great importance for the future development of the world. Of course, this also applies to all the economic development and development of the countries there. I therefore welcome the efforts of Malaysia and the ASEAN states to settle disputes peacefully and to find ways to ensure that this becomes typical of everything that has to be decided there. Any escalation must be avoided at all costs. Peace and stability must always and everywhere be maintained on the basis of international law. This applies in particular to the freedom of the sea routes and compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That is why the ongoing negotiations on the Code of Conduct are so important. Thank you once again for coming to Berlin on the first day of Ramadan, at least for our location. We broke the fast together earlier. For me, this is a good sign of peaceful coexistence and solidarity. I see it as something very special. Ramadan Kareem! PM Anwar: Thank you very much, Mr. Chancellor, dear Olaf! Thank you for your wonderful hospitality and for bringing us together today to break the fast! Germany is of course one of our most important partners in Europe. We have seen a huge increase in trade and investment. We can see that major investments have been made. We have visited Siemens. Infineon is a big investor in Malaysia and is showing its confidence in the country and the system here. There are many other examples of companies operating in Malaysia. Of course, my aim is always to expand bilateral relations in the areas of trade and investment and also to benefit from your experience, both in the field of technology and in environmental and climate protection issues. We have set ourselves clear goals for the energy transition. We have drawn up an action plan that is also in line with your policy. Renewable energy, ammonia, green hydrogen - we are pursuing these very actively. Fortunately, Malaysia is also a hub within ASEAN for these renewable energies and technologies. We welcome the German interest in this, also with regard to new investments in the renewable energy sector and with a view to climate change. We have of course discussed this cooperation on this occasion and I am pleased with the Chancellor's willingness to tackle many of these issues. Sometimes we have small differences of view, but it really shows the trust we have in each other. As far as the war in Gaza is concerned, we agree that the fighting must stop. We need a ceasefire immediately. We also need humanitarian aid for the people of Palestine, especially in Gaza. Of course we recognize the concern about the events of 7 October. We also call on Europeans, and Germany in particular, to recognize that there have been 40 years of atrocities, looting, dispossession of Palestinians. Let us now look forward together! I agree with the Chancellor on what he said about the two-state solution. It will ensure peace for both countries. Together we can ensure that there is economic cooperation and progress for the people in the region. We have also positioned ourselves with regard to the war in Ukraine. We have taken a very clear stance against aggression, against efforts to conquer. This applies to every country and, of course, also to Russian aggression in Ukraine. We want a peaceful solution to the conflict. Because this conflict has an impact on trade and economic development as far away as Asia. We have a peaceful region. ASEAN is currently the fastest growing economic area in the world, precisely because it is so peaceful - apart from the issue in Myanmar, but that is contained within Myanmar. The conflict has not spread to the region, although there are of course refugee movements. Within ASEAN, we have jointly agreed on a five-point consensus and the parameters by which the issue can be resolved. The ASEAN countries have agreed that Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia would like to lead the troika together and resolve the conflict with Myanmar. Then there are other issues such as the South China Sea and China. I assured the Chancellor that we are getting along well with China. We have not seen any difficult incidents, but of course we see ourselves as an absolutely independent country. We are of course a small country, but we stand up for our right to cooperate with many countries to ensure that the people of Malaysia also benefit from these mechanisms and from cooperation with other countries. Once again, Mr. Chancellor, thank you very much for this meeting. I am very impressed by your insight, by your analysis of the situation. It is very impressive to see what a big country like Germany is doing, and it was also good to share some of our concerns. I am pleased with the good cooperation. It's not just about trade and investment, it's also about the overall development of bilateral relations in all areas. I also told the Chancellor that the study of Goethe is gaining interest in Malaysia. Questions from JournalistsQuestion: Mr. Prime Minister, can you tell us something about the progress of German investment in Malaysia and can you say something about the challenges for the government in the transition to renewable energy in Malaysia? Mr. Chancellor, in 2022 you spoke about the turning point in German foreign and security policy. But if you now look at ASEAN or Southeast Asia: How does Germany see Malaysia in terms of its bilateral importance, trade and also regional issues? PM Anwar: Within the European Union, Germany is our biggest trading partner. They have made large investments, up to 50 billion US dollars. I have already addressed Infineon and many other leading German companies and I have said in our discussions that we are very pleased that they have chosen Malaysia as an important hub, as a center of excellence, as a training center in the region and I look forward to further cooperation in this area. Of course, I also mentioned that education should be a priority. There are 1000 Malaysian students here in Germany and also several hundred German students in Malaysia. We are also very happy about that. We are working with many German companies to train people and strengthen cooperation. We have taken important steps in renewable energy. We are investing in solar energy, in green energy and in our renewable energy export capacity. There is now an undersea green energy cable to the new capital of Indonesia, another to Singapore, and another cable to the Malay Peninsula. You can also see from the fact that data centers and artificial intelligence are growing and thriving in the Malaysian region that this has great potential. BK Scholz: Thank you very much for the question. - First of all, the turning point lies in the Russian attack on Ukraine. This was the denunciation of an understanding that we have reached in the United Nations, in the whole world, namely that no borders are moved by force. But the Russian war of aggression is aimed at precisely that, namely to expand its own territory as a large country at the expense of its neighbor - with a terrible war. We cannot accept this - not in Europe and not anywhere else in the world. That is why it is right for us to support Ukraine and to do so in a very comprehensive manner. After the USA, Germany is the biggest supporter - both financially and in terms of arms supplies - and in Europe it is by far the country that is making the greatest efforts to help Ukraine defend itself. But this touches on an issue that is important for the whole world. Anyone who knows a little about the history of the world - and it is colorful and diverse - knows that if some political leader is sitting somewhere, leafing through history books and thinking about where borders used to be, then there will be war all over the world for many, many years. We must therefore return to the principle of accepting the borders as they are and not changing them by force. That is the basis for peace and security in the world. That is why we are also very clear on this together. For Germany, however, this does not mean that we lose sight of our own economic development, the development of Europe and the world. As you may already have noticed, it is particularly important for the government I lead and for me as Chancellor of Germany that we now make a major new attempt to rebuild relations between North and South and to ensure that we cooperate with each other on an equal footing in political terms, that we work together on the future of the world, but that we also do everything we can to ensure that the economic growth opportunities and potential of many regions in the world are exploited to the maximum. This is why economic cooperation between Europe and ASEAN, between Germany and ASEAN, between Germany and Malaysia plays such an important role, and we want to make progress in the areas we have just mentioned. Renewable energies are central to this. We know that: We need to increase the prosperity of people around the world. Billions of people want to enjoy a level of prosperity similar to that which has been possible for many in the countries of the North in recent years. If this is to succeed, it will only be possible if we do not damage the environment in the process, which is why the expansion of renewable energies is so important. New and interesting economic opportunities are also emerging, for example in the area of hydrogen/ammonia - this has been mentioned - because the industrial perspective of the future will depend on more electricity, which we need for economic processes - and this from renewable energies - and on hydrogen as a substitute for many processes for which we currently use gas, coal or oil. Driving this forward and creating prosperity together all over the world is a good thing. The fact that the German semiconductor industry and successful German companies in the electronics sector are investing so much in Malaysia is a good sign for our cooperation. We want to intensify this. Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. Your government supports Hamas and, unlike Western countries, has not described Hamas' attack on Israel as terrorism. In November you said that Hamas was not a terrorist organization. Do you stand by this assessment and are you not afraid that this position on Hamas could affect relations with countries like Germany? Mr. Chancellor, I have a question for you: Do you think that Malaysia's position on Hamas could damage bilateral relations between Germany and Malaysia? And if I may, one more question on Ukraine: Germany is still discussing the delivery of cruise missiles to Ukraine. The Foreign Minister said yesterday that a ring swap with the UK was an option, i.e. Germany sending Taurus cruise missiles to the UK and the UK then sending its Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine. Do you think this is also an option? PM Anwar: Our foreign policy position is very clear and has not changed. We are against colonialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and dispossession, no matter in which country it takes place, in Ukraine or in Gaza. We cannot simply erase or forget 40 years of atrocities and dispossession that have led to anger in the affected societies and also action after action. Our relations with Hamas concern the political wing of Hamas, and we will not apologize for that either. This cooperation has also helped to raise concerns about the hostages. We have no links with any military wings. I have already said that to my European colleagues and also in the US. But we have some different views. The Australian National Congress also recognized long before the Europeans or Americans that this apartheid policy must be abolished. That's why we have taken that position. We need to understand what the fundamental problem with this is. We cannot allow people to be plundered, to have their homes taken away from them. This has to be solved. Am I in favor of people, of children being killed? Absolutely not. No, nobody should do that. That is the consistency in our politics. But I am against this obsession, this narrative, as if the whole problem started on October 7 and would end then. It didn't start on October 7, and it won't end then either. It started 40 years ago and it's still going on today. Against this background, I am of the opinion - and I have also said this to the Chancellor - that we should now look to the future. We have a problem. Do we want to deal with history now, with the atrocities that have happened, or do we want to solve the problem now? Solving the problem now means: the fighting must stop, the killing must stop. Then the whole international community - Germany, Malaysia and all neighboring countries - can ensure that there is no more violence, from any group, against anyone - not against Muslims, Christians or Jews. People must be able to live in peace. Thank you very much. BK Scholz: I have already said it and I would like to repeat it again: Germany's position is clear. Israel has every right to defend itself against the terrorist attack by Hamas. We have always made that clear in recent days, weeks and months, and it remains so. Israel can rely on that. At the same time, we have clear positions on further developments, and these have already been stated. Let me say this once again: we want more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. We want the hostages to be released, unconditionally. We want there to be no unnecessary victims. That is why we have said very clearly what forms of military warfare are compatible with international law and what we find difficult. I have spoken out on Rafah and on the need for a long-term peaceful perspective with a two-state solution that makes it possible for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to live peacefully in a separate, self-governing state alongside Israel - as a democracy in the region, and where the citizens of Israel can also rely on us. That is the perspective we are working for and what is at stake now. That is why we are working - despite the different assessments of the specific issue - on a peaceful perspective, which is necessary. I would like to repeat what I have to say on the issue of supporting Ukraine in its defense. Germany is by far the country that is providing the most support for Ukraine - financially, but also in terms of arms deliveries. All in all, the deliveries to date and those promised amount to 28 billion euros and 30 billion dollars. That is a considerable sum. We have mobilized everything to ensure that Ukraine receives the necessary support from us - ammunition, artillery, tanks, air defence of various kinds, which is also highly efficient and very much appreciated. Our support is reliable and continuous. Ukraine knows this, and we hear time and again how much this great support is appreciated there. As far as the one weapon system is concerned, I am of the opinion that it cannot be used without control in view of its effect and the way in which it can be used, but that the involvement of German soldiers is not justifiable, not even from outside Ukraine. I have therefore said that I do not consider the deployment to be justifiable and that it is therefore not a question of direct or indirect involvement, but of us being clear on this specific issue. My clarity is there. It is my job as Chancellor, as head of government, to be precise here and not to raise any misleading expectations. And my answers are correspondingly clear. Question: Good afternoon, Excellencies! You both mentioned the situation in Gaza and said that we must look ahead to a two-state solution. But how much influence can this meeting have on a humanitarian ceasefire? PM Anwar: Germany is an important country in Europe and has established good relations with Israel, and we have somewhat better relations with Palestine, with the Palestinian Authority and also with the political Hamas. Other Arab countries and neighboring states of Palestine and Israel are doing what they can. We should also be a little more positive. It is of course a chaotic situation, an uncertain situation. There is no easy solution. The Palestinians have suffered a lot. The Netanyahu government has also been very clear in its stance. There is no easy solution. We have to stop the killing of innocent people on both sides, the killing of civilians. We now need a permanent ceasefire and, ultimately, a two-state solution. This is also possible if the international community has the courage and determination. I have said: sometimes you get really depressed when you have the feeling that this case has already been morally abandoned and that there is no real will from all countries to stop the war and find a solution. I am sure that the countries of the Middle East, the international community, Germany and the other parties involved want this peaceful solution. BK Scholz: We would all have liked the start of Ramadan to have been accompanied by a longer-lasting ceasefire, which would have been linked to the release of the hostages by Hamas and also to an increase in humanitarian aid reaching Gaza. Having said that, the aim now is to bring this about as soon as possible. I believe that would be very important for everyone and could also create prospects for further developments. That is what is at stake now. We are in agreement with the American government and the European Union in everything we do. Many people around the world are also trying to work in this direction - as we have heard here, but this also applies to neighboring countries. What we must prevent is an escalation of the war. We also warn against Iran or the Iranian proxies becoming more involved in this war than is already the case. This must be resolved soon. As I said, how this can be done is something that is very clear to me, to the European Union, to the USA and to many others, and it has also been mentioned here together. Question: Mr. Prime Minister, you said that history should be left behind. But for the Israeli hostages, October 7 is still the present, also for their families. Regarding the talks you are holding with the political leadership of Hamas: What are you talking about? How much hope do you have that these hostages will be released soon? Can you also say something about what you saw on October 7 and the fact that these hostages are still being held by this terrorist violence? Mr. Chancellor, you recently met the Pope, who has now caused controversy with his statements on the white flag, which Ukraine has taken to mean, as the Foreign Minister said, that the Church is behaving more or less as it did at the beginning of the 20th century, in other words that the Church did nothing against Nazi Germany at that time. How do you react to the Pope's statements? PM Anwar: Thank you. I have already made my opinion clear. You cannot simply overlook the atrocities of the last four decades, and you cannot find a solution by being so one-sided, by looking only at one particular issue and simply brushing aside 60 years of atrocities. The solution is not simply to release the hostages. Yes, the hostages should be released, but that is not the solution. We are a small player. We have good relations with Hamas. I have told the Chancellor that, yes, I too would like the hostages to be released. But is that the end of it, period? What about the settlements, the behavior of the settlers? No, it goes on every day. What about the expropriations, their rights, their land, their dignity, the men, the women, the children? Is that not the issue? Where is our humanity? Why is there this arrogance? Why is there this double standard between one ethnic group and another? Do they have different religions? Is it because of that? Why is there a problem? Yes, we want the rights of every single person to be recognized, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Jewish or Christian. I am very clear on that. But of course I cannot accept that the issue is focused on just one case, on one victim, and that the thousands of victims since 1947 are simply ignored. Is humanity not relevant? Is compassion not relevant? That is my point. Do I support any atrocities by anyone towards anyone? No. - Do I want hostages to be held? No. But you can't look at the narrative in such a one-sided way. You can ask if I disagree with some subgroups. But that's not the way to solve the issue. We have to be fair, just, and find an amicable solution that is just, that is fair. BK Scholz: Once again what I have already said: Germany has a special and good relationship with Israel. That is very important to us. That's why Israel can also rely on us. You have a clear position on what is necessary now. That includes the release of the hostages. That includes humanitarian aid. It includes the prospect of a two-state solution. I have already spoken about this, I just want to mention it again here. This is also important for us. We were very supportive of the founding of the state of Israel, and German policy will continue to develop along these lines. As far as the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is concerned, Germany's position is very clear: Ukraine has the right to defend itself, and Ukraine can rely on us to support it in many, many ways. I have already said that we are very far ahead when it comes to the volume and quality of the arms supplies we have provided. That is also true. That is why, of course, I do not agree with the position quoted.

Defense & Security
Map of the Red Sea

Red Sea politics: why Turkey is helping Somalia defend its waters

by Federico Donelli

Somalia and Turkey recently announced that they would expand the terms of a defence agreement first signed on 8 February 2024 to include the maritime sector. This came as tensions rose between Somalia and landlocked Ethiopia. Ethiopia is seeking access to the Red Sea through Somaliland, a breakaway state of Somalia. Federico Donelli, an international relations professor whose research covers Red Sea security and politics, puts this defence agreement into context. What’s the scope of the relationship between Turkey and Somalia? Turkey’s entry into Somalia in 2011 started out as a humanitarian partnership but soon turned into a strategic one. Its support since has been economic and infrastructural and has increasingly included the military. The Turkish government saw Somalia’s failed statehood and the lack of other major international stakeholders as an opportunity to increase its popularity across Africa. Turkey aimed to: - gain international visibility - test its ability to intervene in conflict and post-conflict scenarios - increase market diversification into east Africa - cultivate its image as a benevolent Muslim middle power by promoting Islamic solidarity. Several Turkish faith-based associations and NGOs already active in Africa became directly involved in development and relief projects. Major national brands, such as Turkish Airlines, promoted campaigns to raise funds for Somalia. Within a few years, Turkey’s involvement in Somalia was portrayed by the government and perceived by the Turkish public as a domestic issue. Turkey’s early efforts to bring Somalia back to the table of the international community were successful. With the reopening of Mogadishu’s port and airport in 2014, both managed by Turkish companies, the economic situation in Somalia improved compared to the previous decade. Turkish political elites began to present their involvement in Somalia as a success story. This is despite some remaining critical problems, including failing to root out the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab. Turkey took responsibility for training the Somali National Army in partnership with other stakeholders, including the European Union and the United States. It opened a military base in Mogadishu in 2017. The base trains one of the army’s elite units, the Gorgor Brigades, and serves as a Turkish military outpost in the region. Al-Shabaab’s persistence has convinced Turkey that it needs to provide more active military support for Somalia’s development. Ankara also wants to protect its economic and political investments in Somalia. Finally, behind the Turkish deal with Somalia is the politics around the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). Over the past 12 months, Turkey has moved closer to the United States. It’s positioned itself as an effective ally in Africa to counteract the negative effects of France’s withdrawal – such as the increasing influence of Russia. Turkey’s commitment to Somalia follows its efforts in Libya. In both cases, Turkey has proven willing to take on the security burden that other Nato members, particularly Italy, have refused to meet. Turkey’s engagement in Somalia is, therefore, part of a broader foreign policy strategy to gain more autonomy in global politics. Increased relevance within Nato would help achieve this. What’s the context of the maritime defence pact between Turkey and Somalia? Turkey and Somalia began working on an agreement between November 2023 and January 2024. Turkey agreed to train and equip Somalia’s naval force and help patrol the country’s 3,333km coastline. Turkey’s defence sector has had increasing influence in Ankara’s foreign policy decisions. Turkey sees itself as an exporter of defence industry products, and as a partner in training special forces and police. African countries are among the main targets for the Turkish defence sector. Somalia, therefore, provides an opportunity to spread more Turkish production and items. In 2022, Turkey became, along with the United States, the main backer of a new offensive against Al-Shabaab. It provided logistical support to the Gorgor forces and air cover to the national army. This cooperation has led to the 10-year defence agreement, including maritime security, signed in February 2024. Turkey and Somalia have been working on the accord for some time, but recent regional events have undoubtedly affected the announcement’s timing. An Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding in January 2024 is one such event. Turkey has good relations with Somaliland, but considers the territorial integrity of Somalia to be essential for its stability. At the same time, the Horn of Africa’s political dynamics are shifting. Mounting tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia have led to new coalitions involving regional and extra-regional players. It’s important not to oversimplify, but two factions are emerging. On one side are Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the other are Somalia, Egypt, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia. At first, Turkey sought to mediate between the factions to defuse tensions. But its agreement with Somalia reduces Turkey’s room for manoeuvre. Although the relationship with Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed appears to be unaffected, there could be negative repercussions, especially for the many Turkish economic interests in Ethiopia. What is the UAE factor? When it comes to the Horn of Africa, the UAE plays a pivotal role. Turkey and Somalia each have a relationship with the Emirates. From 2014 to 2020, Turkey engaged in bitter rivalry with the Emirates in the wider Red Sea area. This was driven by the two countries’ different visions for the region’s future. Relations improved from 2020. During the 2020-2022 war in Tigray, both Turkey and the UAE supported the Ethiopian government. But recent developments in the Horn of Africa, such as the UAE-backed Ethiopia-Somaliland deal, threaten to create new friction between Turkey and the Emirates. Turkey doesn’t have the political will or material capacity to sustain this. In the past three years, the UAE has supported the Turkish economy with direct investment, changing the balance of the relationship. The situation is similar for Somalia. From a commercial and security perspective, the Emirates is important in Somalia. The UAE manages two key Somali ports – Berbera and Bosaso. It’s also moving to take over Kismayo. And the Emirates has been one of Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s principal backers. It would be risky for the Somali president to break ties with Abu Dhabi. What happens next? There is still much uncertainty about how the Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding and the Turkey-Somalia defence cooperation agreements will be put into practice. What’s clear is that both the UAE and Turkey are becoming more active and influential in the region. And that African dynamics within and between states are closely intertwined with regional and global trends.

Defense & Security
Border between Gaza and Egypt in Rafah

Why Egypt refuses to open its border to Palestinians forcibly displaced from Gaza

by Liyana Kayali

Around 1.5 million Palestinian civilians are currently squeezed into the southern Gaza city of Rafah after repeatedly being forced by Israeli bombardment and ground assaults to evacuate further and further south. The town, which originally had a population of 250,000, is now host to more than half of Gaza’s entire population. They are sheltering in conditions the UN’s top aid official has called “abysmal”, with disease spreading and famine looming. In a military onslaught the International Court of Justice has ruled a plausible case of genocide, Israel has so far killed over 29,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Now there are increasing fears Israel’s expected ground assault on Rafah could push civilians across the border into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Originally designated as a “safe zone”, Rafah is now being targeted by Israeli airstrikes, as well. Those fleeing the violence have nowhere safe to go. However, Egypt, the only country aside from Israel that has a border with Gaza, has rebuffed pressure to accept Palestinian refugees displaced by Israel. Reports have indicated that Israeli officials have tried to lobby international support to compel Egypt to accept refugees from Gaza. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, however, has been adamant in refusing to allow humanitarian corridors or the entry of large numbers of Palestinians into Sinai. He has called it a “red line” that, if crossed, would “liquidate the Palestinian cause”. In recent days, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has validated Egypt’s position. Grandi said displacing Gazans to Egypt would be “catastrophic” for both Egypt and the Palestinians, who, he indicated, would likely not be allowed to return. Why Egypt is opposed to the idea There are a few reasons for Egypt’s opposition. The first is that Egypt does not want to be seen to be facilitating ethnic cleansing through the permanent resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza. In October, a leaked document from Israel’s Intelligence Ministry included recommendations to forcibly transfer of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million out of the territory and into tent cities in Egypt’s Sinai Desert. Government ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir have also both openly advocated the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza to make way for their replacement by Israeli settlers. Further, in January, a conference in Israel calling for this very plan was attended by 11 members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet and 15 additional members of parliament. While Netanyahu last month said Israel has “no intention of permanently occupying Gaza”, he hasn’t shut down talk from his ministers about it. When asked about the conference in January, for example, he said everyone was “entitled to their opinions”. Sisi is also conscious of the strong surge of sympathy the Egyptian public has demonstrated for the Palestinians and the support they have shown for his opposition to any displacement of people across the border. This is due to feelings of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, as well as an awareness of the lessons of history. Recalling 1947-49, when an estimated 750,000 were either expelled or forced to flee their homes by Zionist forces during the war surrounding the creation of the state of Israel, Egypt doesn’t want to be seen to be enabling another Nakba, or “catastrophe”. The total number of refugees created by the Nakba now stands at around 6 million. According to the UN, about a third live in refugee camps, Israel having denied their right to return to their homeland. Significantly, in November, Israel’s minister for agriculture, Avi Dichter, declared: “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba,” adding, “Gaza Nakba 2023. That’s how it’ll end.” Egypt’s complicated relationship with Hamas Another key concern for Egypt is its security. If Palestinians were resettled in Sinai, it could make the Egyptian territory a new base from which to launch resistance operations. This could drag Egypt into a military conflict with Israel. In addition, Sisi has only just managed to clamp down on Islamist insurgents in North Sinai in recent years and is presumably concerned that an influx of refugees could be destabilising. Finally, Sisi likely believes Hamas could mount opposition to his regime. After overthrowing President Mohamed Morsi in a military coup in 2013, the Sisi regime cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and repressed all dissent. This extended to a demonisation of Hamas, which grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. Between 2014 and 2016, the Egyptian military bombed and flooded tunnels linking Gaza with Egypt, at the same time as accusing Hamas of colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood against the state. It has also enforced Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Having said that, the relationship is not straightforwardly antagonistic. Hamas and Egypt have co-operated on counterinsurgency operations against the Islamic State in Sinai. Egypt has also played a role in mediating current and past ceasefire negotiations between Hamas and Israel. However, the latest rounds of negotiations have gone nowhere, leaving Egypt to nervously ramp up its warnings around any Israeli moves on the border. Egypt and Israel have had a peace treaty since 1979, and their relationship has become stronger with Sisi in power. However, Egypt has threatened to suspend the peace treaty if Rafah is invaded. Where does this leave the people of Gaza? Netanyahu has vowed to push ahead with a ground incursion of Rafah in the coming weeks. Concurrently, Egypt has moved to fortify its border and, according to reports and satellite images, begun building a walled buffer zone of about 21 square kilometres in the Sinai. This suggests Egypt is preparing for a potential removal or exodus of Palestinians. While it isn’t entirely clear whether this is being done in co-ordination with Israel or as a “contingency” measure, the zone would condemn Gazans to yet another densely packed open-air prison with dire human rights implications. As much as states like Egypt and Jordan have strengthened their rhetorical opposition to Israel in the past few months, neighbouring Arab countries have done little to seriously pressure Israel to halt its military operations or significantly improve aid access to the Gaza Strip. In fact, Egypt’s intermittent closures of the Rafah crossing have delayed the entry of desperately needed aid into Gaza. There are also reports Egyptian authorities are demanding thousands of dollars in bribes from those desperate to leave via Rafah, deepening a sense of cynicism, despair and, ultimately, abandonment.

Defense & Security
Map of the Red Sea, with the location encircled

The Red Sea crisis is a new blow to global supply chains.

by Salvador Sánchez Tapia

In March 2021, the container ship Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal. The six days the canal remained closed raised a wave of concern worldwide as it blocked passage through this strategic route, which handles 30% of the world's container traffic. The incident caused serious delays in global supply chains, with its effects still being felt months after the crisis. The concern over the Ever Given case now pales in comparison to that provoked by attacks from the Houthi rebels, a Yemeni insurgent group, in the vicinity of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, at the entrance of the Red Sea, on the route from European markets through the Suez Canal. In early November 2023, this rebel group began bombarding Israeli and American targets in support of the Palestinian group Hamas. Their attacks, which have extended to commercial traffic venturing through the area, aim to provoke a collapse that forces Israel to halt its offensive in Gaza. Cost overruns and longer distances The impact of this situation on the global economy is not easily quantifiable, but initially, it has led to higher insurance costs for those who continue to use this route. Also, there are additional costs for shipping companies that, to avoid the area, have decided to divert traffic towards the route around the Cape of Good Hope. At 9,000 kilometers and 14 days longer, this route is currently safer than the Suez Canal. Furthermore, it can be expected that sustained tension in this area will eventually lead to an increase in energy prices. Approximately 12% of the world's traded oil passes through the Suez, first passing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. All of this adds to the extra costs generated by delays resulting from circumnavigating Africa and the possibility of imbalances between supply and demand for inputs. All these factors create a scenario that, if sustained, will likely translate into an increase in consumer prices and a resurgence of inflation. This situation directly affects Europe, but also countries like China or India, not to mention the very negative effect it has on the economy of Egypt, the country that controls the Suez Canal. Difficulties and Risks This is not the only maritime passage facing difficulties. In Panama, the decrease in the depth of the canal, as a result of a prolonged drought, prevents the passage of heavier vessels, which must seek alternatives, often more expensive. Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that, due to their location in areas of great geostrategic importance, the Strait of Hormuz (Persian Gulf) or the Strait of Malacca (Southeast Asia) may also become sources of instability, crucial points for international maritime transport. If instability persists, the search for alternative routes becomes an evident necessity. In fact, it is already underway. Besides the one around Africa, other routes to connect Asia and Europe could be explored: the Arctic route, limited by environmental and geopolitical reasons, could contribute, albeit probably modestly, to alleviating the situation. Others that combine land and sea segments could also do so. However, this latter option is complicated by the topography and the difficulty of finding routes that bypass conflict-ridden areas or do not give China the key to access them. Vulnerable Supply Chains Given the difficulties global supply chains have faced in less than five years (the COVID-19 lockdowns, the war in Ukraine, and now the attacks at the entrance of the Red Sea), it is pertinent to consider how to mitigate their vulnerability, whether it is advisable to redesign them, and even if free and globalized trade remains viable as it is known today. Issues such as redundancy in supply chains and diversification of suppliers and markets allow for the creation of resilient systems that ensure the flow of resources. Reconsidering the balance between just-in-time logistics and accumulation logistics to achieve greater autonomy would help cushion the effects of an interruption like the one currently experienced in the Red Sea. The other question is how to create an environment that restores freedom of navigation through the Suez Canal. The United States launched the "Guardian of Prosperity" operation, which has not been supported by all countries trading through the canal and has also raised suspicions among those who see it as an undesirable alignment with Israel or as a safe path to the regional extension of the war in Gaza. Finding a solution that does not involve increased costs at all levels of global supply chains will be difficult. Rather, the goal is to calculate whether this increase compensates for what could be lost if the current situation, increasingly subject to the instability of the international system, is maintained.

Defense & Security
Russian and Iranian flags on matching puzzle pieces

Increased Iran-Russia Military Cooperation After the Ukraine Invasion: Impact of US/Western Sanctions

by Ian Dudgeon

Iran and Russia have entered a closer political, economic, and military relationship during the past two years, the trigger widely seen as the upsurge in defence cooperation following Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This new relationship, described variously as a strategic alignment or strategic partnership, was seen by both Tehran and Moscow as necessary to meet mutual and separate critical national needs due to the restrictive effects on both of US and Western sanctions. Iran’s international affairs, since its 1979 Islamic revolution, have been largely shaped by two factors. The first is Iran’s strong adherence to national autonomy, maximum self-sufficiency, and non-alignment. The latter has included, as far as practical, a balance between East and West, or today, Global South and Global West. However, Iranians are cautious about trusting others. While, therefore, a strategic alignment with Russia, or potentially others, could be acceptable, a formal alliance that compromise’s autonomy, would not. The second factor is Iran’s relationship with the US, and in turn with Europe, other Western countries and the UN, and their use of sanctions to deter or change international adversarial differences. Iran-US relations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution have been tense and conflicted, and especially with Iranian-supported regional state and non-state militia. Major US concerns include Iran’s support for “state and non-state terrorism,” human rights abuses, missile development, and their potential, some say intent, to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Decades of broadly-based US sanctions, along with EU and UN sanctions, the latter mostly nuclear related, have strongly impacted the nation. The one short period of Iran-US rapprochement commenced in 2016 when President Barack Obama successfully brought Iran onboard as a signatory to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPOA) or nuclear agreement. Obama’s aim was to firstly resolve the nuclear issue and use this as the stepping-stone to negotiations on other regional security issues. But this two-step process was undone by President Donald Trump‘s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose US primary and secondary sanctions. Trump’s action, and President Joe Biden’s subsequent “failure” to rejoin the JCPOA and repeal related US sanctions, bitterly disappointed a large cast of international stakeholders, including Iran’s moderates and other JCPOA signatories. For Iran, the US could not be trusted to seriously seek rapprochement and repeal US sanctions either before, or foreseeably after, this year’s US presidential elections. This distrust extended also to the Europeans and others who would continue to remain subject to US secondary sanctions. Iran saw its future fundamentally with countries that were willing to openly trade with them, notwithstanding US sanctions, and other countries or organisations that were prepared to overlook or actively circumvent or evade sanctions. Multilateral outreach included Iran joining two major non-aligned groups in 2023, the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and BRICS+6 (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa + 6). These comprise some 40 percent and 46 percent respectively of the world’s population, and some 20 percent and 30 percent of global GDP. BRICS also includes some 40 percent of global oil production. Key members of both include Russia, China, and India. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt are part of the “+6 members” of BRICS, and are also Dialogue Partners of the SCO. Both organisations offer significant additional political and economic networking opportunities and economic options. Bilaterally, the relationship between Tehran and Moscow, from its imperialist Shah/Tsar and post-revolutionary Iran and USSR/Russia iterations to the late 1980s, has had its share of tensions and conflict, including territorial disputes. The past 30-year period from the early 1990s to 2021, however, has been relatively stable. Geographic proximity, including a maritime border across the Caspian Sea, facilitated a significant increase in trade, reportedly from some US$1 billion in 2005 to US$3.3 billion in 2021. Mutual security interests also saw an increase in regional military cooperation, including joint operations against ISIS in Syria, and increased Russian sales of military equipment to Iran. The relationship changed significantly in early 2022 due to Russia’s increased military equipment needs, and to help offset the broad impact of sanctions imposed by the US, the EU, and others on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Militarily, increased Iranian defence sales to Russia have included a range of munitions, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) systems, and potentially Iranian short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). The UAV deal includes the construction of a factory for manufacturing thousands of Iranian drones in Russia’s Tartarstan province. In return Russia has sold, or agreed to sell, to Iran a range of advanced weapons systems, including the S-400 air-defence missile, helicopters, and SU 34 fighters. Enhanced cyber and satellite cooperation was also agreed. Russia has also passed to Iran many of the high technology Western weapons systems captured in Ukraine, enabling Iran to evaluate, copy, and develop counter-measures. Significantly, this new level of Iranian-Russian cooperation has lifted the military capability of both, with implications for the Middle East and Ukraine respectively. But how effective have the sanctions been? Iran has been subject to harsh sanctions since 1979, and developed a “resistance economy” involving official and extensive unofficial trade and financing arrangements. Because many related statistics are unreliable or unavailable, official GDP estimates may be highly inaccurate. Importantly, however, and despite fluctuations, the World Bank shows a consistent decline in Iran’s GDP since 1979. For Russia, due to shifting markets and higher prices for oil since early 2022, their GDP contracted some 2 percent only that year compared to a prediction of more than 11 percent, and has mostly recovered since. Economically, despite the challenges of sanctions, bilateral cooperation is strong, both economies still function, and their governments remain stable. Militarily, sanctions have facilitated closer cooperation between Iran and Russia, contrary to US, NATO, and allied interests. Are there areas for the US to negotiate the lifting of sanctions with Iran and Russia? US priorities for Iran could include rejoining the JCPOA, facilitating a reduction or cessation of state and non-state militia attacks against regional Israeli, US, and related maritime targets, and restricting specified military cooperation with Russia. US priorities for Russia could include various ceasefire compromises involving the war in the Ukraine, and restricting specified military cooperation with Iran. And the likelihood of progress? For the reasons above, progress on any issue between the US and Iran is very unlikely before this year’s US presidential elections. If or when afterwards would depend in large part on who was elected. For Russia, a ceasefire compromise in Ukraine could be possible if it gave them “temporary” retention of vast tracts of land captured post-2022. Timing will be dictated by battlefield outcomes, but the US Senate approval on 13 February of an additional US$60 billion of military assistance to the Ukraine, and its likely approval by Congress, makes a ceasefire in the foreseeable future unlikely.