Foreign Affairs 15.09.11

The Middle East being the volatile melting pot that it is, regular news stories are to be expected from
the many factions that come into conflict there. The so-called Arab spring has
seen many Arab nations come into a new era of regime change or annihilation.
Yet there are those who continue to resist what seems like an overwhelming tide
of optimism and new-world idealism. Both Iran and Syria are violently resisting
the attempts of opposition factions within their borders whose wish is to see the
progression of a non-militaristic-dictatorial government. However, it is easy
to forget that while the world’s attention is focused on the Libyan challenge,
and the hunt for Colonel Gaddafi continues, that a huge human-rights abuser
like China is being momentarily allowed to breathe. PM David Cameron, whilst
acknowledging the issue, is wary of the need to placate China, at a time when
trade negotiations are so important.


Iran is finding itself subject to an attempt by Britain to impose a UN resolution condemning the abuses
of human rights taking place in the country. At the same time, the US is
continuing to try and secure the release of two hitchhikers jailed in 2009 for
allegedly spying and illegally entering the country. Add to this the growing
concern of the UN Atomic Agency over Iran’s probably capability to produce a
nuclear weapon, and Iran is proving to be a multi stage headache for global
powers. The issue at the forefront is how Iran is preventing the revolutionary
mood from taking hold in the Islamic state. William Hague’s confident statement
that Iran cannot suppress the ‘Arab Spring’ does not hide the fact that
countries which have recently (1979) been subject to a revolutionary overthrow are
much more wary of threats appertaining to a similar nature. Iran’s
Revolutionary Guard are well versed in preventing effective opposition from
gaining a footing.

Whilst there seems little chance of a regime change anytime soon, what is reassuring is that Tehran may
be open to the prospect of peace-talks regarding the nuclear issue. Whether
this is another stalling tactic remains to be seen; however, with the economic
climate being so downcast, Iran would do well to embrace the financial
incentives being offered by the UN in return for ceasing nuclear activity.


Afghanistan is currently in the process of a transition from US forces to the Afghan National Army and
government; a process which was put under question this week with a 20-hour
attack on US and NATO installations. The Taliban actions have caused
consternation among politicians as to how the fragile security system that
Afghanistan currently has will stand up against such an onslaught again. It was
only with the help of US Army helicopters that the threat was eventually
eliminated. Afghan forces assisted in the clearing of the building overlooking
the US Embassy, from which the insurgents launched their offensive. However,
the ability of the security forces to respond to attacks is not the only factor
that needs to be considered. Also to take into account is the effectiveness of
the intelligence operations run by the Afghanistan government, to ensure
prevention of attacks, and knowledge of suspects. This will of course take some
time to build up, but in the meanwhile it will be important that support
remains available to the Afghans once withdrawal has been completed by 2014. To
leave the country without economic and military aid if needed would merely be
repeating the mistakes of both the Americans and the Russians in their respective occupations of Afghanistan.


Lastly, Syria has been commanding news headlines for its merciless treatment of protestors in the hot points
around the country. The latest actions have seen soldiers entering the
North-Western province of Jabal al-Zawiya, shooting up villages and disrupting
funerals. It appears that Western countries are unwilling to repeat actions
visited on Libya earlier this year, partially as a stance on non-interference,
but also a watchful eye on military expenditure, and attitudes in the Arab
world. There appears to be perhaps a more unanimous end in sight for this
conflict though. As with Libya, Syria’s assets have been frozen, as have the
assets of 32 Syrian and Iranian businessmen. There appears to be a determination
that the extra pressure needed to force Bashar al-Assad to step down should
come from the Arab world. The US in particular is chary of militaristic
participation within the Middle East; hence its insistence that a no-boots
policy be applied to Libya. In that conflict, although Colonel Gaddafi has yet
to be found, the opposition government has a firm grasp on the control of the
country; albeit with heavy air support for the last couple of months. To
Western minds, Syria, unlike Iran, will have to accede to the Arab spring wave.
And with the lure of foreign investment, and control of the oil supplies, the
motivation of the protestors is strong.