Interview with Thomas Lennartz/Middle East and Oriental Forum about the Greater Middle East: „Whether Turkey will make actually definite territorial claims against other states, this must prove the future.“

von Ralf Ostner

Global Review had the honour and opportunity to have an interview with Thomas Lennartz, chief of the Middle East Oriental Forum. The Middle East and Oriental Forum carries out security policy researches and provides analyses with main emphasis on Middle East, Central Asia, North Africas well as Islamic.oriented countries and societies worldwide. Their research results and analyses are at GO’s, NGO’s as well as Industry and Commerce’s disposal in Nato, EU and Western states.The MEOF is obliged to the Atlantic idea.

Thomas Lennartz

Chief Operating Officer Germany / CSA Middle-East and Oriental Security Analysts/Middle-East and Oriental Security Analysts
RK-Vorsitzender Verband der Reservisten der Deutschen Bundeswehr/Okt. 1985–2018


Global Review: Mr. Lennartz, since 9-11 the Greater Middle East experienced the war on terror and the Arab spring. However, Islamist fundamentalism is spreading througout the region. Some critic of the West as Jürgen Todenhöfer, Michael Lüders, Juan Cole and the like say the Iraq war 2003, the NATO intervention to ouster Ghaddafi and the Western support for anti-Assad forces opened the box of the pandora for Islamists and even the Islamic state as the West was fighting mainly secular despots. Do you agree with these assumptions?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

This is a theory which I can follow only very conditionally.The so-called second Iraq war has removed the Baath regime in Iraq but Iraq hasn’t been an established state since his foundation from the bankrupt’s estate of the Ottoman empire. The rebellions of the Arab Spring also would exactly like in Libya and Syria have removed the regime in Iraq.Up till now the Baath regime of Assad in Syria could last only with Putin’s help.The phenomenon Da’esh must be seen in connection with the contrast between a Sunni and Shiite Islam. Strong Shiite minorities live both in Iraq and in Syria, they put almost the majority of the population in Iraq, in Syria the Alawites to which the Assad-family belongs put the power elite there in state and army.The Sunnites felt more and more threatened of this, out of this feeling the rise of Da’esh resulted.An assistance of the West wouldn’t have been required here.

 

Global Review:In the aftermath of 9-11 the West focused on Al Qaida, the Taliban, jihadism and Islamist militant and terrorist groups while they perceived evolutionary Islamists as the Muslimbrotherhood and the Turkish AKP as potential modernizers of the Muslim world which could bring an moderate Islam and reconcile liberal Western democracy with a Mulim democracy with Islamic values. However we see that the Muslimbrotherhood and the AKP are islamofascist parties which want to build popular mass support to establish a Islamist presidental dictatorship under Sharia law.Do you think it was a mistake to perceive the Muslimbrotherhood and the AKP as some sort of Islamic Christian Democrat or Muslim conservative party? Has the West to reorientate its policy?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

I don’t know who has coined the term „islamo-fascist“. Anyhow, in my opinion, it is completely misplaced and inappropriate and shouldn’t be used in a serious debate.It is right, though, that it may seem to the West, so to use the words from Cem Özdemir, as if there is the only choice between military dictatorship or religious dictatorship at the moment in the Islamic world.You ask whether it was a fault to perceive parties or organizations like the Muslim brothers or the Turkish AKP as a kind of „Islamic Christian Democrats“:

At first the two organizations are not or only difficultly to compare.

The al-Ichwan al Muslimun, the Muslim brothers, were founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna under the impression of the British dominance in his country. They were anti-colonialistic and from the beginnig the distribution of Islam in a worldwide leading role was part of their aims.

The Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, the Party for Justice and Upswing, AKP, was founded in Turkey in the year 2001 by the reform wing of the Islamist Virtue Party, members of the liberal-conservative Party of the Mothercountry, the liberal-conservative Party of the Right Way and supporters of Fethullah Gülen.

At it’s beginning it was connected closely with the emerge of a new, religious, civil class of Anatolian origin and the arising of an intellectual elite outside of state control.

The relationship of AKP and Muslim brotherhood can be divided up into a time before and after the military coup d’etat in Egypt.

After the military putsch the AKP has placed itself as a clear opponent of the Egyptian leadership and take openly the Muslim brotherhood’s side.

2013 the Egyptian armed forces suppressed a sit-in of the Muslim brothers at the Rabia-al-Adawiya-Place in Cairo by force of arms with around 1.000 people killed. The arabic word „rabia“ means „the fourth“ and since then Turkish president and AKP-leader Erdogan uses the new sign of the Muslim brotherhood, four fingers streched out with the thumb bent, the „Rabia-Salute“, to wave to the crowd.

It is evident that common ground of both movements, AKP and Muslim brotherhood, is to refuse the questioning of political decisions with reference to won elections. AKP and the Muslim brotherhood don’t understand the importance of pluralistic dimensions in a democracy. And they also don’t have the will to do so.

The Muslim brotherhood is regarded as a radical Islamist organization in Western countries. In future, one will have to watch exactly the development of the AKP.

 

Global Review: The USA has critizised Pakistan for a „double game“ in Afghanistan, harboring and supporting the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other Islamist insurgent groups and suspended the military and civil aid for Pakistan. Do you think this is an appropriate reaction? Won´t China fill the gap and benefit from this measure? Pakistan threatened to flood Afghanistan with Afgan refugees from Pakistan which could further destabilize the instable situation iu Afghanistan and swell the rank and files of the Taliban. Is this in the interest oft he USA, India and the NATO states?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

The role of Pakistan in the mixture situation of southern Central Asia has always been hardly transparent.Too many groups are influencing it’s politics and the Pakistani secret service, the Inter Service Intelligence, lives a life of an enigmatic independent existence.As regards foreign policy Pakistan feels forced to a maneuvering between it’s relations to China, Iran, India, Russia and the USA.

Afghanistan and it’s conflicting groups has to represent a glacis for Pakistan towards it’s neighbors and Russia. To this it requires from the Pakistani view of a submissive Afghan government with a critical distance to Hindu India and Shiite Iran.The cut in the military and financial aids by the USA may appear to the present US-administration as a form of pressure and influencing control, but it is, however, an actual retreat. Russia and China will try this vacuum to fill out.Nato and USA will have to remain present in Afghanistan, probably have to strengthen their presence again until foreseeable future to not obtain the same effect here.

Global Review: US supporter of Trump as Jeff Smith from the Republican Heritage Foundation think that this „double game „in Afghanistan is in Pakistan´s national interest and describes them as follows: „In efforts to persuade Islamabad to abandon this nefarious “double game,” the U.S. government has deployed a constant stream of diplomatic and economic carrots—including $33 billion in aid and “reimbursements” since 2002—but virtually no sticks.Predictably, each attempt has failed. It turns out it’s quite difficult to change a country’s cost -benefit calculation when you’re unwilling to impose any costs.Pakistan’s double game, on the other hand, has brought it tangible benefits.Islamabad has clear and consistent objectives in Afghanistan: It seeks a government in Kabul that is pliable, submissive, and hostile to India. Since the Afghan people—who are now deeply, understandably hostile to Pakistan and favorable toward India—will never vote such a government into power, the next best outcome for Pakistan is to ensure the government and the country are divided and unstable.Not only has their quest for instability in Afghanistan been wildly successful, they’ve convinced America to foot much of the bill.After being subjected to this double game for more than a decade, the patience and generosity of the American people has reached its limit.“ Do you think this assessment is right and that the US sanctions are an appropriate reaction that will change Pakistan´s behaviour and interest calculations? Will the Pakistan goverment , its military and ISI rethink their „double game“?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

It is absolutely correct, that the military and financial helps for countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to be „barrel without the ground“ and successes rather show themselves slow till imperceptible.But as I have already explained in case of the previous question, a retreat from this politics will leave a vacuum of power, dangerous for the West, which will be filled out fast by other protagonists on the scene.What the putative Pakistani double crossing concerns, the West must realize so that this is connected inseparably with the Pakistani politics since it is indispensable in the region for Pakistan. We will be forced to adjust our policy to it.Sanctions would rather ensure that Pakistani foreign policy would reorientate itself.

Global Review: China and Chinese critics of Trump like Long Xingchun and Li Tian in the Global Times ( 2018/1/8). Have a different point of view: „ The fence put up on the US-Mexico border with razor-sharp concertina wire cannot stop Mexicans from entering the US. In the same way, the 2,400-kilometer-long Pakistan-Afghanistan border along intertwined mountains and valleys can in no way stop civilians from crossing, let alone terrorists. Therefore, adjusting its anti-terror strategy should be Washington’s foremost priority. The Afghan Taliban, in spite of its previous close relations with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, should not be simply termed a terrorist group. It still has a group of followers in Afghanistan. So an anti-terror war aimed at eliminating the Taliban will never succeed. Washington had already recognized the need to talk with the Taliban and achieving reconciliation is the most effective way to ensure Afghan stability. However, negotiations have failed to make substantial progress over the years due to lack of trust between the US and the Taliban, and Washington’s inconsistent policy.  Therefore, the US needs to cooperate with Pakistan and other stakeholders in a holistic way. Censuring Pakistan is of no help in solving the issue. The US war on terror will not necessarily succeed with Pakistan’s cooperation, but will definitely founder without it. That the White House froze security aid to Pakistan has fully exposed its arrogance and selfishness. Its image in the international community has been tarnished. If Pakistan’s national interests and security cannot be ensured, the region will never see peace and stability. But if Trump’s real intention is to maintain US military presence in the region by keeping the turmoil alive, he will probably have his way with this new policy.“ China was hosting  negotations between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban in Beijing. Do you think the Chinese point of view is correct and will bring a solution? Can China be a neutral mediator? What is India´s strategy for a political solution in Afghanistan? Is there any possibility for a political solution or can it only be achieved if the Taliban is eliminated?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

I don’t think that China can be a neutral mediator, for this it’s interests are too strong in the region.The Chinese point of view coincides with what I have explained prominently. A vacuum left from the West will be filled out very fast.Whether negotiations will lead to the success in the mentioned constellation, will depend less on the neutrality of the mediator but on his acceptance at the participants.

Talks with the Taliban will always turn out very difficult due to the rejection characteristic of them of habits under international law. Personally I also have doubts about their contractual fidelity with possible agreements.Whoever hides bombs into ambulances and attacks child relief organizations also will break agreements before the ink dried on the paper if he can make an advantage.Of course this makes a political solution tremendously difficult.

But an elimination of the Taliban will be almost impossible until foreseeable future due to the ethnic, geographical, religious and political structures in Afghanistan and partly also in Pakistan.In addition, the Taliban are only a part of the problem. After it’s defeat in Syria and Iraq an remarkable increasing of Da’esh can be notified on the spot. Also al-Qaida should be furthermore expected.The developments in Afghanistan will influence the Indian subcontinent and it’s permanent flash point Kashmir substantially.

Historical Afghanistan from 1947 up to the fall of the Najibullah regime had been India’s natural ally in the region. India with it’s clear rejection from Islamic fundamentalists is a strong opponent of the Taliban. This and it’s good relations to Russia and to Iran make it an important counterbalance against a possible axis China-Pakistan-Taliban.However, applies to it: Without a steady Afghanistan there isn’t any safety neighter for Pakistan nor for India.

Global Review: With his state visit in Saudiarabia and the new National Security Strategy, Trump made clear that he wants to counterbalance the increasing Iranian influence in the region. While he doesn´t want to cancel the nuclear deal at the moment, he pushed new sanctions against Iran because of Iran´s support for Assad, Hisbollah and Hamas, the Houthi rebels in Yemen,and the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and against Iran´s missile programme. The EU wants to support these sanctions in ordert o save the nuclear deal. Do you think Trump´s Middle East policy will work and should be supported by the EU and NATO states?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

Middle East is dominated by the rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran at present. This situation won’t change after an end of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq either.Still-laicistic Turkey is busy rediscovering it’s Ottoman-Islamic, Sunni roots and changing it’s foreign policy to the effect, establishing itself as hegemonic power in the Middle East again. In turn this will take it to conflict with Saudi Arabia and it’s Sunni allies, which can already be read from the Qatar issue easily.

Therefore we soon will be busy with three regional middle-powers competing for supremacy in the Middle East. In addition there is the nuclear-power Israel.A furthermore unblanced support of the Saudi Arabian policy joined with the hardly changeable support of Israel in addition to the opposition with Iran will bring the USA into a conflict situation with Nato-partner Turkey.

EU and Nato will be well-advised here to do a great deal of compensation and to keep good relations to all protagonists in the region. Primarily Germany has the reputation as an honest mediator there which will be necessary to use.

Global Review: What do you think are the political implications of the opposition protests in Iran. Will they be supportive fort he moderate faction under Rouhani or strengthen the hard liners and Revolutionary Guards? Do you think that regime change in Iran is a possible scenario or would Iran desintegrate as Syria or need a US intervention to topple the regime?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

Yet Iran’s leaders seem to be placing their proxies above their citizens. The authorities continue to spend billions of dollars on the likes of Hezbollah, Hamas in Palestine, and the Houthis in Yemen. Iran has spent close to $10 billion in Syria alone to prop up Assad.Protests staged by mostly working-class young men against deep reductions in food and fuel subsidies quickly evolved into demonstrations against Iran’s theocracy.

Three generations is a long time for any revolutionary utopia to survive, as citizens become increasingly disconnected from – and even sceptical of – the original cause. With about half of Iran’s population under the age of 30, and youth unemployment at around 25%, it is no surprise, that people are disappointed of President Hassan Rouhani’s inability to deliver meaningful economic reforms.

While some observers argue that he is not actually the moderate political voice that he is often portrayed as, his relatively restrained response to the protests suggests that he understands the need for economic reforms and an anti-corruption strategy in Iran.Rouhani’s government however is likely to remain under pressure because of Iran’s weak economy.

Global Review: Do you think that there can be a political solution in Syria or will the war escalate even more as the USA are now openly establishing a 30 000 strong YPG-troop while Turkey is invading Northsyria and wants to establish a permanent security zone.

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

Without doubt Turkey has created a new area of conflict by it’s invasion to the Afrin sector in Syria. But whether Turkey militarily and politically will get accepted with it’s plans for a safety zone in northern Syria, that remains to be seen for the moment.A political solution in Syria will depend on an agreement of the USA and Russia to a great extent and whether they will succeed in exerting sufficient pressure on the regional actors.

An example of this which was internationalized heavily like the current war in Syria from a civil war is the Lebanon-conflict lasting for years and about which Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, said: „Conflicts has to be condensed, if one wants to solve them. Only the extract is easily manageable.“

He has paraphrased, that there are violent conflicts which must exhaust themselves to a war fatigue until the conflict gets soluble.

Global Review: Erdogan wants to establish a islamofascists presidental dictatorship and to renew a noeOttoman Empire with support oft he Muslimbrotherhood and other Islamists in the Greater Middle East. He is even building a military base in Sudan and Somalia at the Horn of Africa.While the kemalist elites and the Turkish military want to fight the PKK and the YPG and prevent a Kurdish state, Erdogan seemingly wants to expand the Turkish territory as he is claiming territorial rights in the Balkans, Greece and in the Greater Middle East. Is such an Islamist neoOttoman revisionist Turkey still a reliable partner of NATO an dthe West? Some politicians in Germany and France as Gabriel, Macron or the CSU are demanding that Turkey shouldn´t become EU member, but that the future relations between Turky and the EU could be built on a „pragmatic partnership“comparable with Saudiarabia or China.

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

Whether Turkey will make actually definite territorial claims against other states, this must prove the future. But it is a fact that Turkey newly discovers it’s Ottoman past and would like to claim a political hegemony in the former areas of the Ottoman empire. For this purpose it relies on the religious aspect next to the political.However, it is also fact that even the Arab Sunni majorities won’t tolerate an Ottoman renaissance in the region, all the more because the Ottoman caliphate was disqualified by the majority of the Arab people as usurped already at Ottoman times.

In the Nato Turkey has always chosen it’s own way due to the permanent conflict with Greece. Nato has unwillingly accepted this because of the geostrategical situation of Turkey and will further do so.Leaving the Nato therefore would hardly have consequences for Turkey, in this case it would be courted not only by Russia and probably China but also by it’s former Nato-partners, including the USA.Concerning an EU-membership of Turkey that is not the question as long as the Cyprus issue isn’t solved.

Until then Turkey cannot be accepted to the EU at all.

Global Review: After Trump´s decision to reckognize Jerusalem as capital of Isreal, do you think that the two state solution is dead? Won´t this imply a radicalization oft he Muslim world? Is a „deal“ between Israelis and Palestineans still possible or will the PLO also cancelt he Oslo agreement and return to ist old terrorist strategy as before 1992?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:

The central question is wether it will be possible to assign the West-Bank and East-Jerusalem to a subject of international law as bearer of its territorial sovereignty on the basis of criterions and rules of international law. Such an assignment will be unsucessfull considering the classic methods of international law nowadays. It doesn’t know any status that would capture the West-Bank and East-Jerusalem.
The State of Israel didn’t become the bearer of of the territorial sovereignty of the West-Bank and East-Jerusalem in the spirit of international law neither by its foundation 1948 nor by conquest 1967.
This applies just as well to the Palestinian Autonomy Authority. Till now, there is no Palestinian state, that could perform sovereignity on the West-Bank and East-Jerusalem.
Even it’s admission to the United Nations doesn’t change this situation. The United Nations are not able to create states. Statehood concerning to their own UN-Charta is precondition for UN-membership not its consequence. So the two state solution cannot die, because it is the only possilble solution in international law. All other solutions could only be a striking case of violation of this international law.
I do not believe that the PLO will return to open terroristic strategies, but there are other players on the table, like Hamas and Iran with it’s Pasdaran, and even Da’ish and al-Qaida cannot be negotiated.
The Jerusalem-West-Bank-issue cannot be seen isolated, it ist part of the whole Middle-East-problem.

Global Review: While the world watches on Syria, the Yemen war between Iran and Saudiarabia with its war attrocities, masses of refugess and even mass starvation and cholera reaches genocidial dimensions. What do you think the USA, the EU and Germany should do to end this war? After the Houthis murdered their former ally Saleh who wanted to come to a peace agreement with Saudiarabia a political solution seems even out of sight? Who could servbe a an intermediator?

Lennartz/Middle East Forum:Here are going the foregoing remarks about Syria fully entensive. It’s a civil war in Yemen, a proxy war and again a war between Sunnites and Shiites.
The difference for us in the West is that we haven’t perceived the problems connected to this war, for example the flood of refugees and displaced persons, just like the consequences of war in Syria or in Iraq. Therefore we tend to perceive less the war it itself, to forget it.
But this war also cannot be seen isolated. It is also part of the complete crisis of the Middle East already mentioned repeatedly. It won’t have been ended therefore separately either.
Strategy of the West must therefore comprise an overarching strategy for this region which must primarily be future-compliant so that the Middle East can be pacified permanently.
Unfortunately, but I only can repeat it: We must not harbour the illusion to be able to solve the problems of the Middle East in foreseeable future. Patience, wisdom, empathy and great endurance will be required.



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