Turkey’s election/How Iran will use its nuclear deal windfall
Jun 12, 2015
June 12, 2015
Number 06/15 #02
Today’s Update features some comment on Sunday’s dramatic parliamentary election result in Turkey – with the ruling AKP party and its increasingly authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan suffering a major setback. Plus, it also contains some important new analysis of the likely regional effects of the expected monetary windfall Teheran is expected to get as a result of any nuclear deal.
We lead with comment on the election result from veteran Turkish journalist Burak Bekdil. Bekdil says that, despite winning the most votes, the election represents the beginning of an inevitable decline for the AKP, given the loss of its parliamentary majority. Likewise, Erdogan’s plans to make himself, in effect, a democratically-elected Sultan will have to be put on hold for an extended period. He also analyses the complexity of trying to achieve a governing coalition for either the AKP or any of the opposition parties. For this good overview of this election’s significance, CLICK HERE. Bekdil also wrote a follow-up piece noting that the AKP-controlled media and officials are already blaming the “Jewish Lobby” and “neo-crusaders” for the election loss.
Next up is a good entry into the debate about whether an Iranian nuclear deal, and the considerable economic windfall it will reap for Teheran, will allow Iran to increase its destablising regional activities. Lee Smith notes that the Obama Administration argues that Iran’s destablising activities are low cost and therefore more money will not lead to more spending on them – but then offers considerable evidence that is not the case, and Teheran is actually spending billions yearly in Syria to prop up the Assad regime. Smith argues that Syria is the key link in Iran’s activities across the region, and that sanctions relief will almost certainly allow Teheran to maintain that key link financially and help achieve its regional goals in Lebanon and elsewhere. For his knowledgeable argument in full, CLICK HERE. Interestingly, American military chief General Martin Dempsey recently conceded that Iran will use its money from a nuclear deal to ” invest in their surrogates” and “invest in additional military capability” despite past US Administration claims to the contrary.
Finally, Lebanese journalist and analyst, CLICK HERE. More on the politically deadlocked situation in Lebanon, strongly affected by the Syrian civil war and dominated by Hezbollah, from Israel analyst Benedetta Berti.also looks at Iran’s likely spending preferences for the $50 billion in unfrozen funds it is expected to get as a signing bonus – with a special look at the role and expectations of Hezbollah, Iran’s powerful proxy in her country. She says Hezbollah is already anticipating a wave of new money – largely because the Syrian war has been so draining. She also says that Syria is just too important to Iran to imagine that any other spending priority would be higher. For her complete discussion of where Iran’s real budgetary priorities lie,
Readers may also be interested in:
- Veteran Washington insider Steve Rosen discusses the US Administration’s recent summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council, and why the assurances offered by President Obama to GCC governments are unlikely to be useful to them once an Iran deal is signed.
- The New York Times has reported that Iran is continuing to increase its enriched uranium stockpiles under the 2013 interim deal which was devised to “freeze” these stockpile levels. The report this is based on actually has some additional worrying details about Iran’s nuclear activities. The White House denies this is a violation of the agreement, since Iran has until June 30 to get the stockpiles down to pre-deal levels. Good comment on the significance of this comes from a Wall Street Journal editorial.
- Meanwhile, a UN panel says the US and other governments are refraining from reporting Iranian violations of the sanctions regime in order to try to improve the chances of reaching a nuclear deal. More on this from Lee Smith.
- AP reports that the US Administration is now backtracking on previous claims that sanctions on Iran unrelated to nuclear weapons will not be lifted under the agreement.
- Strategic experts warn that ignoring Iran’s missile development in the deal is a mistake. Plus, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency until August 2014, warns in testimony that the proposed Iran deal ” suffers from severe deficiencies” and that proposals for sanctions to “snapback” on Iran in the event of cheating are “fiction.”
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Yukiya Amano appears to be in a dispute with Iran about whether the latter has committed to allow inspections of suspect military sites. Amano has also said the IAEA will need access to any suspect sites for “years and years” rejecting Iran’s demands for limits on such inspections. And here is video of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei vehemently rejecting any inspections of military sites or interviewing of Iranian nuclear scientists, another key IAEA expectation.
- Some reports say the nuclear talks are more likely than not to miss their June 30 deadline and be extended.
- Backing up some of the reporting above about Iran’s commitment to the Syrian civil war, Iran says it will back Assad “to the end” and has acted on this by sending more men and arms into Syria. As part of Iran’s increasingly direct control of Assad’s forces, the Iranian also reportedly just executed three Syrian army officers who retreated.
- Further, there are reports of Assad regime forces helping ISIS, at the expense of other anti-regime forces, near Aleppo.
- Another good overall analysis of the Turkish election comes from Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Meanwhile, Israeli analyst Ely Karmon looks at how this result will affect Turkey’s Kurds, who are big winners in this poll. Finally, Shmuel Rosner asks if the election result is likely to improve the strained relations between Israel and Turkey.
- Meanwhile, American analyst Steven Cook predicts an extended period of political turmoil in Turkey following the decline of AKP hegemony. Also arguing that Turkey is poised on a precipice, though in a different way, is Michael Rubin.
- Isi Leibler calls on American Jewish leaders to do more to respond to what he see as a threatening foreign policy toward Israel from the Obama Administration.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Colin Rubenstein’s piece in the Australian last weekend arguing that relying on Teheran as an ally in the fight against ISIS is a very bad idea.
- Allon Lee on the essential ugliness of the insistence by some on responding to any discussion of Australians going to fight with ISIS by implying this is the equivalent to Jewish Australians fighting with the Israel Defence Force.
- Glen Falkenstein on why Australian Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale was right in recent comments he made about the potential for Israeli-Australian cooperation on water technology.
- Allon Lee’s latest “Media Week” column, focusing on new ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeil’s first report.
by Burak Bekdil
The Gatestone Institute, June 8, 2015
For the first time since his Islamist party won its first election victory in 2002, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was nowhere to be seen on election night. He did not make a victory speech. He did not, in fact, make any speech.
Not only failing to win the two-thirds majority it desired to change the constitution, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority and the ability to form a single-party government. It won 40.8% of the national vote and 258 seats, 19 short of the simple majority requirement of 276. Erdogan is now the lonely sultan at his $615 million, 1150-room presidential palace. For the first time since 2002, the opposition has more seats in parliament than the AKP: 292 seats to 258.
“The debate over presidency, over dictatorship in Turkey is now over,” said a cheerful Selahattin Demirtas after the preliminary poll results. Demirtas, a Kurdish politician whose Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) entered parliament as a party for the first time, apparently with support from secular, leftist and marginal Turks, is the charismatic man who destroyed Erdogan’s dreams of an elected sultanate. Echoing a similar view, the social democrat, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), commented on the early results in plain language: “We, through democratic means, have brought an end to an era of oppression.”
What lies ahead is less clear. Theoretically, the AKP can sign a coalition deal with the third biggest party, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party [MHP], although during the campaign, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli slammed Erdogan harshly for the embarrassing corruption allegations against the president. At the same time, a CHP-MHP-HDP coalition is unlikely, as it must bring together the otherwise archenemies MHP and HDP.
The AKP management may be planning for snap, or early, polls but there are hardly any rational reasons for it except to risk another ballot box defeat. Parliament may try a minority government, supported by one of the parties from outside government benches, but this can only create a temporary government.
Two outcomes, however, look almost certain: 1) The AKP is in an undeniable decline; the voters have forced it into compromise politics rather than permitting it to run a one-man show, with in-house bickering even more likely than peace, and new conservative Muslims challenging the incumbent leadership. 2) Erdogan’s ambitions for a too-powerful, too-authoritarian, Islamist executive presidency, “a la sultan,” will have to go into the political wasteland at least in the years ahead.
The AKP appeared polled in first place on June 7. But that day may mark the beginning of the end for it. How ironic; the AKP came to power with 34.4% of the national vote in 2002, winning 66% of the seats in parliament. Nearly 13 years later, thanks to the undemocratic features of an electoral law it has fiercely defended, it won 40.8% of the vote and only 47% of the seats in parliament, blocking it from even forming a simple majority.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Back to Top
Even the Obama administration acknowledges that Iran is up to a lot of mischief in the Middle East. Tehran is engaged in a sectarian conflict from Lebanon to Syria and Iraq that has recently come to include Yemen as another active front. However, the White House continues to insist, against all evidence, that the clerical regime’s aggression won’t increase when it gets a huge cash infusion from sanctions relief and an immediate $30 to $50 billion bonus, when (or if) it signs the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the nuclear deal.
According to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Iran will almost surely use that money to improve its domestic economy. And besides, as Obama argued last month, most of the destabilizing activity that Iran engages in is low-tech, low-cost activity.
The numbers say otherwise. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.’s Syria envoy, recently estimated that the war to prop up its Syrian ally is costing Iran $35 billion a year. That assessment is likely too high, but certainly of all Iran’s regional projects, keeping Bashar al-Assad’s regime afloat is the costliest. And thats because its an occupation, says Fouad Hamdan, campaign director of Naame Shaam, an organization that keeps tabs on Iran’s war in Syria.
It’s a foreign occupation that affects Iran directly, because without control of territory in Syria, Iran loses its supply lines to Lebanon and Hezbollah, the Iranian regime’s most powerful deterrent against an Israeli strike on its nuclear program. Thus, says Hamdan, the battle for Syria is a battle for the survival of the Iranian regime.
There was a time when the White House found it convenient to argue that the Syrian conflict was costly to Iran. When the war started there, rather than arm rebels to help topple Assad, the administration told its media surrogates that it was wisest to stand by as the war would bleed Iran. They were right about its potential to be a quagmire for Tehran. Now, sanctions relief, including the signing bonus, will enable Iran to bolster its support for Assad.
”Imagine Syria as a kind of Iranian province or governorate,” says Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Military defeats are boxing the Assad regime into an increasingly small region, basically now an enclave in western Syria along the Damascus-Homs corridor leading up to the Alawite homeland on the Mediterranean coast. Assads ability to survive is becoming almost entirely an Iranian responsibility. Facing a continuing war of attrition, the regime in Damascus has lost most of its ability for overland trade, with its only secure border being Lebanon. The Iranian responsibility is only increasing, as the Assad regimes resources, and thereby its ability to maintain its patronage networks, pay salaries, and so on, shrinks or vanishes.
Fouad Hamdan argues that the Assad regime is already well past that point. Syria is broke, he tells me. The various Syrian state institutions that the Obama White House says it wants to preserve even if Assad does fall are now almost entirely dependent on Iran. Iran is pumping $500 million a month to the Syrian central bank that takes care of things like salaries and many of the internally displaced as well as Damascus and the coastal areas, says Hamdan. Iran spends maybe another half-billion a month for things like food and fuel, weapons and armaments, as well as the various militias now fighting in Syria, from the newly recruited Afghan Shiite militias, known as the Fatimeyun division, to Hezbollah.
Naame Shaam (Persian for Letter from Syria) estimates that Iran’s Syria expenditures are $10 to $15 billion annually, roughly $1 to $1.2 billion a month. Hamdan, a 55-year-old Lebanese-German national, explains that his organization, which is made up of four Shiites (himself, a Syrian, and two Iranians) and was founded in 2014, gets most of its information from open source materials, especially the Iranian media. The Iranian regime will boast about its activities openly, he tells me. Then maybe someone comes along and tells them its not a good idea to make that information public, so they remove it from the Internet.
What Tehran is most keen to obscure, says Hamdan, is the fact that its war in Syria is an occupation. Syrian rebel fighters acknowledge that the Syrian army still exists in places, but, according to Hamdan, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is calling the shots. This was made plain in January when a high-level convoy targeted by Israel on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights included IRGC officers and Hezbollah fighters but no Syrian officials.
In the chain of command, says Hamdan, Qassem Suleimani is on top, and the IRGC-Quds Force commander takes his orders directly from the supreme leader. Under him is Hossein Hamedani, who oversees IRGC operations in Syria. Then theres the Iranian ambassador, various IRGC commanders, and Hezbollah commanders. Hezbollah does most of the training and takes on the most dangerous missions. Then there are other militias, like Iraqi and Afghan fighters, at the bottom.
The Syrian regime’s most significant contributions to the war effort, says Hamdan, are its air force and the so-called National Defense Forces. These Iranian-trained civilian fighters have been combined with the paramilitary gangs known as the shabiha to replicate a Syrian version of the Basij, the paramilitary group created by the founder of the Islamic Republic, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Accordingly, almost nothing happens on the ground without the Iranians knowing about it or giving the direct orders, which includes war crimes and chemical weapons attacks. If the White House once boasted that it had rid Assad of his unconventional arsenal, the reality is that Iran has also crossed Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons.
Iran doesnt want to show it’s in control of Syria, says Hamdan. It needs Assad as a political cushion, especially now with charges that the Syrians are committing war crimes. Without the Assad regime, Iran would legally be seen as an occupying power, which would thereby have responsibilities to the people under occupation.
It will be very hard for Iran to end its occupation of Syria. The Syrian border with Lebanon is Iran’s supply line to Hezbollah. If Iran loses that channel, an asset it has built up over 30 years with billions of dollars is isolated. The Iranians lose their ability to project power on the Israeli border as well as their most effective deterrent to protect their nuclear facilities against Jerusalem. Were Hezbollah to be deprived of its Iranian lifeline, it would be vulnerable not just to Israel – which has made clear over the last few weeks how dearly the party of God and all of Lebanon will pay in the next round of hostilities – but also to Lebanese (and Syrian) Sunnis looking to repay the blood debt Hezbollah has earned with its war in Syria.
Without Iranian assistance, Hezbollah will find itself drowning in a sea of Sunnis – from villagers in the Bekaa Valley to Islamist militants in the Palestinian refugee camps. Add to those numbers the 1.2 to 2 million Syrian refugees, the vast majority Sunni, now in Lebanon thanks to Iran and Hezbollahs occupation of their homeland. There are also the battle-hardened Islamist groups that have been at war with Hezbollah for several years now, like Jabhat al-Nusra. As Nusra commander Abu Mohammed al-Jolani told an Arab news network last week, Hezbollahs fate is tied to Assad’s. The departure of the latter means the end of Hezbollah, said Jolani. The party has many enemies in Lebanon, and with the departure of Assad, their voice will rise against [Hezbollah].
Iran’s regional position is built on sand. If it loses Syria, it may lose Hezbollah and leave its nuclear program vulnerable. What’s helping sustain Tehrans strategy is the Obama administration. As the Iranians have kept Assad afloat, the White House has covered Iran’s flank in all four Arab capitals controlled by Tehran: Baghdad, where U.S. airstrikes supported an IRGC-led offensive on Tikrit; Beirut, where the administration shares intelligence with Hezbollah-controlled units of the Lebanese Armed Forces; Damascus, where the White House promised Iran that Assad was safe from U.S. strikes on Islamic State positions; and Sanaa, where American diplomats urge Saudi Arabia to seek a political solution rather than a military victory over the Iran-backed militias.
Sanctions relief will abet Iran’s regional goals. The signing bonus alone will cover the costs of Iran’s continued occupation of Syria for at least another year and tens of thousands more dead Syrian civilians.
Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.
Back to Top
Why the idea that economic and social pressure can keep Hezbollah in check is deeply flawed
Tablet Magazine, June 11, 2015 12:00 AM