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relations

Why is there a special relationship between America and Israel?

The US and Israel have been involved in a special yet complicated relationship since the beginnings of the proposals for a Zionist state. Over the decades both sides have aided one another and have found mutual security in their actions. Aside from the strategic aspect of the partnership of the two states, Israel embodies an ideal deeply embroiled in American thought since the earliest years of the New World. With the help of America, Israel has succeeded in its primary mission, providing a state for its people, and no American administration has considered reversing the decision on 1947, which established Jewish sovereignty. Israel’s relationship with the United States lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict, as not only does America’s influence underpin Israel’s immense military power and hence unyielding attitude, but it may also be the key to any compromise. The basis of the US-Israel relationship is extralegal, not found in formal bilateral treaties or documents, but in the public and private statements of presidents and other government officials.

Balfour Declaration

In 1917 there was a debate on whether or not the Balfour Declaration should be put forward, and on September 3rd the British cabinet voted to learn if American president Woodrow Wilson approved of it. This Balfour Declaration which was adopted by the British war cabinet on October 31, 1917 stated, “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”. On September 10th Wilson’s Foreign Office official Colonel Edward House communicated to Lord Robert Cecil of the British cabinet that Wilson was reluctant to endorse it. Wilson was in an delicate situation as America was not at war with Turkey but rather its allies, so for him to publicly endorse the declaration would worsen US-Ottoman relations which were already strained due to the war. Chaim Weizmann who was the president of the Zionist organisation learned of this reluctance and cabled the declaration’s text to several Zionist leaders who were close to president Wilson in an attempt to change his mind. As a result, within 2 weeks the Zionists got Wilson to reverse his decision and in mid-October Wilson formally sent Britain his approval, telling them not to make it known publicly however. Wilson therefore risked harming US relations with the Ottomans in order to relieve the political pressure that was placed on him by Zionist leaders. Wilson’s approval is widely considered as decisive in the first step of the formulation of an Israeli state as well as the beginning of Israeli American relations, as one can only speculate whether the British would adopt the declaration without the American president’s approval[1].

Woodrow Wilson’s first two successors, Harding and Coolidge supported the Balfour Declaration as well, and in fact expanded the support for Zionism, becoming increasingly involved in the Zionist-Palestinian conflict throughout the 1920s. The actions of the White House and Congress during the Harding and Coolidge administrations in support of Zionism were taken despite Wilson’s claim of the people’s ‘rights to self-determination’, with these pro-Zionist steps being taken in spite of the 1920 and 1921 Arab riots.

During the 12 year presidency of Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945), British-Zionist relations deteriorated and the Zionists began looking more to America than to England for help. Roosevelt tried to avoid any involvement by only offering limited aid to Nazi victims, although Roosevelt did support the heavy immigration of Jews into Palestine just like the previous 3 administrations. As British-Zionist relations deteriorated even further during the Second World War, throughout the war, the Zionists had successfully worked on increasing their control over the American Jewish population, therefore sufficiently helping mobilise the American public opinion[2].

Post-WW2

After the Nazi defeat and WW2, an estimated 1 million Jews were displaced around non-Soviet Europe (Jews behind the iron curtain were not allowed to leave the communist regime), leading America and the Truman administration to a deep involvement in solving the problem of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. Truman was highly aware of his voters’ opinions and in 1945, US Jews were split between Zionists, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists, all sending Truman conflicting signals. Truman met with the representatives of all 3 camps on several occasions each time reiterating that he was too preoccupied with the cold war to increase involvement in the Jewish immigration problem. However Truman did notably state that the formation of a Jewish state would cause a Third World War. In October 4, 1946, there was a sign that Zionist influences in Washington had got to Truman, as Truman gave a speech stating that the US could support “a viable Jewish State in the area of Palestine”. In November, four heads of US diplomatic missions in Arab states met with Truman and warned him that his pro-Zionist statements threatened US interests. He reportedly replied, “I’m sorry gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism, I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”[3].

Formation of Israeli State

On February 17, 1947, Britain announced that it lacked authority to give Palestine to the Arabs or the Jews, or to divide it between them. Britain said it thus had no choice but to submit the issue to the UN, and it did, and the UN general assembly opened a special session in April. At that time the figures against US support for a Jewish state included Defence Secretary James Forrestal, Secretary of State George Marshall, other State department personnel, and consular officials in the Middle East, as they feared such support would not only lead the Arabs to cut their oil supplies, but also become Soviet allies. As a result of big pressure mounted on the Truman administration from Zionists in the US, ahead of the vote for the 1947 partition of Palestine, US government officials pressurised other states to vote ‘yes’. Michael Comay, the head of Jewish Agency’s New York office stated that during the last 48 hours before the final vote, presidential aides, members of congress and even Supreme court justices joined together in an intensive lobby to secure positive votes, with examples of this action including Supreme court justices cabling the Philippines president, threatening him with negative consequences regarding Philippines interest in America if he did not change his vote from ‘no’ to ‘yes’, Truman aid Nile orchestrated similar pressure on Liberia and France, which were other key votes. These votes were crucial in securing a ⅔ majority in favour of the partition when the vote was held on November 29. As a result, the Zionists now had a UN resolution that favoured a Jewish state and allotted 53.46% of Palestine to the Jews, even though they occupied only 5-6% of its territory. Israel then declared its statehood on May 14 1948. Because of the intense US lobbying most states viewed the partition plan as an American project[4].

Relations throughout the Arab Israeli wars

The day after the Israeli declaration of independence, five Arab states, Lebanon, Syria, Trans-Jordan, Egypt and Iraq declared war on Israel. The US supported Israel throughout the war through both arms sales as well as morally. Israel repeatedly violated the truce agreement signed on July 19, 1948, by continuing its major offensives in the Negev desert. Despite this and strong State department objections, Truman continued his support for Israel, in doing so sacrificing the basic rights of around 1.4 million Palestinians. In early 1949, the UN negotiated a series of armistices between Israel and the Arab states involved, leaving Israel in control of 77% of Palestinian land. Through its role in the UN, America helped take even more land than in the 1947 partition plan through truce violations[5].

The 1967 Arab Israeli war broke out in a hostile atmosphere where American policy was pointed towards punishing Egypt due to its association with the Soviet Union during the 1960s at the helm of the cold war, and aiding its enemies, among them Israel. The outbreak of war in June 1967 revealed the regional fragility at the time. Despite increasing demand for Arab oil, the 1967 war was a catalyst for US support for Israel increasing enormously. In fact, it is reported that the US encouraged Israel to attack Egypt in order to weaken president Nasser, who had well developed anti-imperialist tendencies. Furthermore, by defeating Nasser, Israel opened the way for conservative Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait to use their financial resources to neutralise the threat to their nations coming from Nasser’s Egypt[6].

On the 6th of October, 1973, Egypt launched an attack on Israel through the Suez Canal, in addition to a powerful Syrian offensive on the Golan Heights. After initial Egyptian and Syrian successes, the battle started going Israel’s way from October 17. There was a cease-fire signed on the 24th, giving the US time to evaluate the situation. Several days later the US State Department announced the start of an airlift of military supplies to Israel to counter the Soviet airlift of supplies to Egypt and Syria. President Nixon therefore formally asked Congress for $2.2 billion in immediate military aid to Israel. For the first time the US had formally taken Israel’s side in an Arab Israeli conflict. However in 1974, Richard Nixon was replaced by Gerald Ford in the White House, who took a harder line on Israel and threatened a reduction of US support for Israel if it didn’t withdraw from Sinai, and reduce its aggression in the region. Jimmy Carter then set up a meeting in Camp David between Israeli and Egyptian presidents Ernest Begin and Anwar Sadat.

Ultimately, the talks succeeded, and Israel and Egypt signed the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty in 1979. Israel subsequently withdrew its troops and settlers from the Sinai, in exchange for normal relations with Egypt and a lasting peace, with last Israeli troops exiting on April 26, 1982[7].

 

The Nuclear Question

The prospect of nuclear war in the Middle East unleashed by Israel and beyond the capacity of the Bush administration to control was a real, but little publicised element of the 1990-91 crisis in the Persian Gulf. If nuclear war had occurred it would have transformed both the conflict and its consequences. The spectre of atomic warfare in the Middle East has placed the region’s nuclearization at the heart not only of US-Israeli relations, but also at the center of Israel’s drive to preserve its regional nuclear hegemony.

In December 1990, a senior air force officer pronounced that his branch of the armed services was ready “on every level, [including] non-conventional warfare capability.”9 The day that the US-led bombing of Iraq began, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld warned that “if [Saddam Hussein] fires chemical weapons at Tel Aviv, someone in Tel Aviv may go crazy, and he knows it.”

Based on signals from Israeli leaders that they would enter the war against Iraq only if the latter breached the non-conventional threshold, the Bush administration wanted to destroy Iraq’s ballistic missile capability in order to forestall the use of these weapons for a chemical attack against Israel[8].

Present Day

In America, views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more partisan than they’ve been since 1978, according to one study, which revealed that 79% of Republicans say their sympathies lie more with Israel than with the Palestinians, while only 27% of Democrats are more sympathetic to Israel. Another study revealed that, while a large majority of Democrats see Israel as a strategic asset, 55% of Democrats also see Israel as a strategic burden, and 60% of Democrats believe the United States should impose sanctions or take serious action in response to Israeli settlements. In the realm of trade, Israel’s trade to the United States is essential as the number of dollars created by exports from Israel create the highest number of U.S. jobs among its free-trading partners. For Israel, the United States remains a vital free- trading partner as it provides the country with an outlet for goods and services[9]. Donald Trump is backing Netanyahu’s government with hardly a critical word regarding Israeli activity towards the Palestinian people, and in 2018 announced the opening of a US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. From the vantage point of the United States, Israel today behaves like a dependable ally in a threatening world.

To many observers, the US-Israeli connection appears to possess its own dynamism which seems to be drawing the United States almost inexorably into an increasing direct involvement in the complexities of the volatile Middle East. U.S.-Israel relations continue to be an important source of economic, potential and financial support to both countries a partnership that continues to grow with time. This varied connection between the two countries will have greater implications in the future, and should also provide a good buffer against shocks in the world economy.

 

[1] https://archive.org/details/americafoundingo00mulh/page/60

[2] https://archive.org/details/americafoundingo00mulh/page/60

[3] https://archive.org/details/americafoundingo00mulh/page/60

[4] https://archive.org/details/americafoundingo00mulh/page/60

[5] https://archive.org/details/americafoundingo00mulh/page/60

[6] https://archive.org/details/DTIC_ADA035072/page/n11

[7] https://archive.org/details/DTIC_ADA035072/page/n11

[8] https://www.jstor.org/stable/4328496?casa_token=4Od6NMkFoiwAAAAA:tplZfzOChzDtkYh-t5ba0J_ZEWx-G4pxgs1qvWRRChB2KZLkJmpYbEuAaHrvoY1x4K0OUueKxiiJ8tVW1Oj_KEOhaVEeVXXoDAwg50H_3Fh8As21XCRv-Q&seq=10#metadata_info_tab_contents

[9] https://borgenproject.org/growing-importance-u-s-israel-relations/

Israel’s Enigmatic relationship with India

India and Israel have been allies for much of recent history although the relations between these two countries have been low-profile and only started getting global attention in recent years. Besides having strong economic ties the two countries also share key strategic and military cooperation.

Surprisingly India-Israel relations were largely informal until 1991. Despite having some ties since the 1960s mainly owing to defence and intelligence cooperation, India did not formalise diplomatic relations due to having a pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian stance. However this gradually changed when they formally established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992.[1]

History

India recognised Israel as early as 1950, but did not establish diplomatic ties until 1992. During the Suez crisis in 1956 the then Israeli foreign minister Moshe Sharett visited India as the Israeli army pushed into Egypt after Egyptian President Gamam Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal; while India played the role of mediator alongside the UK, the US and Yugoslavia.

During the Sino-Indian war in 1962, Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru sought arms from Israel, writing to Israeli PM Ben Gurion, and he responded, forming the foundations for defense cooperation between the two countries. This paved way for increased bilateral cooperation over the years as India sought more arms in their war with Pakistan in 1965 as well as in 1971.[2]

Throughout much of the 1970 and 1980s, India kept its distance from Israel publicly due to its support for the Palestinian cause. India was a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) that was supportive of anti-colonial struggles around the world which explains their support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).[3] India was astonishingly one of the first non-Arab states to recognise Palestinian independence. There were several geopolitical issues that shaped India’s standpoint during the 1970s and 80s. The seemingly antagonist position between India and Israel also involved India’s diplomatic strategy of trying to counter Pakistan’s influence in the Arab world as well as of safeguarding its oil supplies from the Gulf.

There were other major motives behind India’s anti-Israel stance. India has a large Muslim population and their antagonism towards Israel played a major role in delaying diplomatic relations, as politicians feared that they may lose Muslim votes in key regions if they were to formalise ties.[4] Also,  was the fact that thousands of Indian citizens worked in the Gulf, helping keep its foreign exchange reserves afloat.

Security cooperation

Even before establishing formal ties, India and Israel managed to collaborate in specific areas, with India’s main intelligence agency RAW (research and analysis wing) and Israel’s Mossad having signed a secret cooperation agreement in the areas of security, intelligence and military equipment.[5] The two top intelligence agencies established relationships since the 1960s. This was remarkable because throughout the 1970s and 80s their bilateral relations were sour. The situation started to shift in 1989 as three major developments sowed the seeds of change: first, the beginning of the era of coalition politics in India; second, the beginning of Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in Kashmir; and finally, break-up of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War coupled with the fall-out from the reversal of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.[6] Since the early 1990s, the growing insurgent activities in Kashmir sponsored by Pakistan heightened regional security environment of India and the then opposition party BJP kept pressurising the government to normalise relations with Israel. After the end of the Cold War, India, like many other countries had to make major changes to their foreign policy to accommodate the changing international milieu. It went towards economic liberalisation, opening its doors to other nations and subsequently formalised diplomatic relations with Israel. It was however kept low-profile due to India’s interests in the Middle East.

India gave a number of reasons to justify the 1992 opening of formal relations, which are as follows[7]:

  1. Israel’s criticality to what happens in West Asia and the Gulf, that is a part of India’s extended neighbourhood impacting its strategic space, energy supplies and the 6 million Indians living in the region.
  2. Sophisticated defence equipment , technology and systems from Israel; potential cooperation in security and defence including counter terrorism.
  3. Absence of any quid pro quo from the Arab states
  4. Agricultural prowess including related technologies of Israel.

More recently the economic rivalry between India and China plays a role in this context. The growing relations between China and Pakistan have raised insecurities, especially the fact that Pakistan are the largest recipient of Chinese arms. These issues gave India more reasons to build-up their own arms and as Israel are among the top arms manufacturers in the world with one of the best research and development facilities as well as a supposedly good counter-terrorism unit, there are more reasons to increase cooperation in the field of security and defence.

First Israeli PM visit to India[8]

Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli PM to visit India in 2003 and the bilateral relations between the two nations started gaining publicity. State visits from officials started to take place since the establishment of diplomatic relations. This laid the framework for further cooperation in various areas; Agreements on Cooperation in the field of Health Sciences and Medicine and on Cooperation in combating illicit trafficking and abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotic substances were signed in 2003. In the same year, more significant agreements were signed in the field of protection of the environment, and another on the exemption of Visa requirements of holders of diplomatic, official and service passports.

2005 saw a MoU on India-Israeli Research and Development Fund Initiative while in 2006 a major pact was signed in the field of agriculture cooperation.

 Bilateral trade

Bilateral trade progressed rapidly since 1992. From a base of USD 200 million in 1992 comprising primarily of diamonds, merchandise trade has diversified and the overall figure stood at an astonishing USD 5.19 billion in 2011. In 2016 the figure slumped to USD 4.16 billion in 2016 (excluding defence) with the balance of trade in Israel’s favour. Trade in diamonds constitutes over 53 percent of bilateral trade. After China and Hong Kong, India is Israel’s thirds largest trading partner in Asia. Currently the sectors forming the diversified bilateral trade include pharmaceuticals, agriculture, IT and telecom, and homeland security. India’s major exports to Israel include precious stones and metals, chemical products, textiles and textile articles, while major exports from Israel include precious stones and metals, chemicals and mineral products, base metals and machinery and transport equipment.

Cooperation between the two nations increased dramatically ever since the election of India’s new Hindu nationalist BJP government led by Narendra Modi in 2014. This was followed by a first ever visit by an Israeli defence minister in 2015. The current prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Modi of India met for the first time at a UN General Assembly in 2014 where they discussed economic, technological, and agricultural collaboration for the future, while Netanyahu expressed his concerns about a nuclear Iran and the spread of radical Islam throughout Middle East.[9] In 2017, Modi made a stand alone visit to Israel- the first ever by an Indian PM.

Just weeks before modi’s historic visit, Netanyahu’s cabined agreed on measures aimed at increasing Israel’s non-diamond exports to India by 25 percent while establishing a new 40 million USD joint innovation, research and development fund. In July this year Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signed an agreement with India’s KSU in July 2018, to operate Israeli Taxibot semi-robotic vehicles at India’s New Delhi and Mumbai airports. Taxibot is connected to planes which taxi the airplanes from the airport’s jet bridge without the use of the airplane’s main engines.[10]

Israel in recent years have taken a strategic decision aimed at strengthening economic relations with China, Japan and India. Major Indian software companies including TCS, Infosys, Tech Mahindra and Wipro have began to penetrate the Israeli market. During PM Modi’s visit in July 2017, the first meeting of the newly established India-Israel CEOs Forum took place.[11]

Defence cooperation: military equipment and technology

Defence cooperation forms one of the strongest aspects of the bilateral relations

India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, while Israel is India’s largest customer after Russia.[12]

Israel produces some of the most sophisticated, cutting edge weapons systems in the world and India have been major buyers for a while now. India buys weapons systems for their armed forces, including navy and air force.

Since the 1990s, India purchased UAVs, drones, airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) radar systems, anti-tank missiles and many more weapons systems in deals worth billions of dollars. In 2007, the two nations signed a 2.5 billion DSD deal to develop an anti-aircraft weapons systems in India, and in 2009[13], Israel sold Barak 8 air defence systems to India for a staggering 1.1 billion USD. In 2011 Indian army bought more than 1000 units of Israeli X-95 assault rifle to use in counterinsurgency operation. In 2011 there were reports of a deal in which India were to purchase a large number of Israeli Spike anti-tank missiles, launchers, and related equipment worth nearly a billion dollars, from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems;[14]. Although the old contract with Rafael was cancelled, India has recently been on the verge of signing a 500 million USD deal with Israel to buy 4500 Spike missiles in a government-to-government purchase which could be finalised any moment.[15]

Israel also provides India with military technologies, and strategies for count-terrorism, including offering assistance following the 2008 Mumbai attacks.[16]

 Shifting Israel-Palestine stance

In 2015, India abstained from voting against Israel at the UN human rights commission signalling a shift in its Israel-Palestine policy. However in 2017 it voted for an Arab-sponsored resolution that rejected the US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel.

 Conclusion

Despite a recent setback taking place due to India having voted against the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the bilateral relations between the two nations have been growing stronger since the arrival of Modi making way for a new era of collaboration. In early 2018, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time ever to a commercial flight to Israel with the inauguration of an Air India route between New Delhi and Jerusalem.[17]

It seems today that the history of advocacy for the Palestinian cause is gradually diminishing as India is growing in alliance with Israel in more areas of cooperation and assistance. While India racks up more arms deals and equips its military with more sophisticated weapons systems and technology, it will be interesting to see further developments especially in the field of defence and security cooperation and find out what their main objectives are.

 [1] http://www.atimes.com/india-israel-relations-obscurity-certainty/

[2] https://www.livemint.com/Politics/k4CBHr4bIzoZ0O6OBOXw1M/India-Israel-ties-A-timeline.html ; https://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/abraham/india-israel.pdf

[3] http://www.rubincenter.org/meria/2004/12/pant.pdf

[4] Aafreedi, Navras (2012). “The Impact of Domestic Politics on India’s Attitudes towards Israel and Jews”. In Singh, Priya; Susmita, Bhattacharya. Perspectives on West Asia: The Evolving Geopolitical Discourses. Shipra Publications. pp. 171–183. ISBN 9788175416376.

[5] Pant, Harsh V. 2004a. ‘India–Israel Partnership: Convergence and Constraints’, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), vol. 8, no. 4

[6] https://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/abraham/india-israel.pdf

[7] https://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/abraham/india-israel.pdf

[8] https://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/abraham/india-israel.pdf

[9] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-india-israel-relations

[10] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-india-israel-relations

[11] https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Unclassified_Bilateral_briefb.pdf

[12] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-airshow-india-israel/israeli-defense-minister-lands-at-india-airshow-to-boost-arms-sales-idUSKBN0LM0WL20150218

[13] “IAI signs $2.5 billion deal with India – Israel Business, Ynetnews”. Ynetnews.com.

[14] https://en.globes.co.il/en/article-1000633160 ; https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/world/india-to-buy-israelis-spike-missile-for-1-b/article9749112.ece

[15] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-set-to-seal-500mn-deal-with-israel-to-buy-4-500-spike-missiles/story-wdT2IufrQ4ldybZFX76X5K.html

[16] Horovitz, David; Matthew Wagner (27 November 2008). “10 hostages reportedly freed from Mumbai Chabad House”. The Jerusalem Post.

[17] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-israel-airspace-riyadh-tel-aviv-flight-air-india-iran-flight-times-airlines-a8269891.html

Is Saudi pivoting towards Russia?

At a first glance, Saudi Arabia and Russia have not much in common in terms of foreign policy: the former is one of America’s closest allies, whereas the latter is its main geostrategic competitor along with China. But in the complex geopolitics of the Middle East, their bilateral relations are more multifaceted than it may seem; and recent events may drive them closer.

Is China the new tiger of Bangladesh?

Bangladesh and China have maintained good relations for much of history. Today the two countries share a strong strategic relationship, with China playing a vital role mainly in terms of economic and infrastructure development of Bangladesh. However things weren’t so good especially during the time when Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan and the subsequent years until around the mid 1970s.

During Bangladesh’s War of Liberation in 1971, there was a outbreak of complex geopolitical rivalries. India had allied with Bangladesh due to their long-term conflicts with Pakistan, and more so because Bangladesh was actually a part of Pakistan after the end of the British empire since 1947. China had been allied with Pakistan for most of history, and the ties strengthened especially around the time of the Sino-Indian war in 1962. As a result China opposed Bangladesh’s independence and vetoed their UN membership until 1974.[1]

It was only after the military coup in Bangladesh in 1975 that relations between Bangladesh and China started to improve. Prime Minister of Bangladesh since their independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had close ties with India, and only months after the military takeover, China eventually recognised Bangladesh as an independent state as diplomatic relations were secured.[2] This dramatic transformation was fascinating, but it did not come as a surprise as the military rule led by President Ziaur Rahman distanced Bangladesh from India and the Soviets[3], which can possibly be regarded as one of the most significant reasons for their improved relationships. Ziaur Rahman helped restore free market economy in Bangladesh[4] and made a visit to China in 1977 which is regarded as a crucial step in laying groundwork for bilateral cooperation, which was followed by Chinese visits to Bangladesh in the late 1970s. Since then state visits between the two countries have been regular most of which have resulted in positive discussions and signings of agreements on political, economic and security issues.

Current relations

Bangladesh and China share a very strong relationship that ranges from the spheres of the economy, politics, development to defence and security. Today, Bangladesh considers China an “all-weather friend and a trusted ally”[5]. The cooperation dates back to Bangladesh’s  military rule in the mid-70s, however the democratically elected governments since 1991 have been able to keep up the good relations. In a 2010 visit to Bangladesh by then Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, he stated that Sino-Bangladesh relations would remain strong regardless of any change in the domestic or international situation.[6] Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the other hand reiterated the importance of the country’s bilateral relations with China considering them a major ally of the highest significance.[7]

Economic ties

One of the most important aspects of the Sino-Bangla bilateral relations is the economic cooperation. China are by far the largest trading partner of Bangladesh with the latest World Bank figures revealing that Chinese exports to Bangladesh to be worth over US$ 10 billion (in 2015)[8]. On the other hand Bangladesh is China’s third largest trade partner. Majority of Bangladesh’s imports from china consist of raw materials for clothing and textile.[9] However the balance of trade between the countries is significant with Bangladesh having a deficit of approximately US$ 9 billion.[10] Reduction in trade deficit has been a primary concern for Bangladesh over the years, and following negotiations China agreed to provide duty-free access to around 5000 Bangladeshi products to the Chinese market under the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) which has so far resulted in a slight decline in the ratio of trade deficit[11].

Possible Free Trade Agreement?

Talks have been in progress for several years about Bangladesh seeking a zero-tariff access of 99 percent items including Ready-made garments products in order to improve balance of trade. China’s meteoric rise in becoming the 2nd largest economy in the world only behind the United States by toppling Japan was possible largely due to its diversified economy, while having 14 FTA’s with developed as well as developing countries around the globe.

However there are some challenges of the FTA, mainly with regard to China’s ‘Made in China 2015’ industrial policy plan. There are significant restrictions on investing in China, and also preference is given to state-owned enterprises that control 38 percent of industrial assets in China, skewing competition in the market in favour of those.[12] Also another concern for foreign investors is the ‘Chinese ways’ of implementation and enforcement of laws and regulations which tend to be ambiguous and lax.

A major geopolitical challenge concerning the FTA would come from the United States and India, especially with India also having a strong alliance with Bangladesh. Chances are that India may take the Chinese assertion in its backyard as a means of increasing influence in India’s sphere, while the United States may consider an FTA as a geostrategic obstacle in containing China at the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean region. However, if Bangladesh wants to achieve a fairly unrestricted access to Chinese markets it needs to keep pushing further on the negotiation table, while asserting to their other major allies, India and the United States that the actions are for their own best interests mainly in terms of economic development.

Will the US-China trade war have an impact on Bangladesh?

The recent trade war instigated by Donald Trump with his protectionist approach, with Chinese retaliations following by, has had impacts in the Bangladeshi economy. There has been a rise in steel prices (mainly rods) in the domestic market threatening both the major public infrastructure projects and the real estate market due to the US imposing tariff on US$ 34 billion worth of exports from China, while the latter imposed tariff on American cotton, and while China plan on importing cotton from India, the prices had already increased by 10-12 percent. It must be noted that more than half of Bangladesh’s cotton imports are from India  [13]. Soaring cotton prices would significantly hurt Bangladesh’s economy as they would affect the readymade garment sector.

Despite having strong economic ties there have been disagreements; a significant one is Bangladesh’s refusal of agreeing to China’s terms and conditions for the construction of the Sonadia deep-sea port in 2014.

Defence and Security Cooperation

Defence cooperation has been one of the major strengths in the bilateral relations between the two countries. China happens to be the only country that Bangladesh has signed a defence agreement with, which was done in 2002. Since then China had been the largest supplier of weapons and military equipment to Bangladesh, with latter being the 2nd largest recipient of Chinese arms in the world between 2011 and 2015[14]. Between 2013 and 2017 China has provided Bangladesh with 71 percent of all their arms purchases[15]. Bangladesh also recently purchased their first submarines to add to their naval fleet causing concerns in India. The Bangladeshi armed forces have acquired large numbers of tanks, large-calibre artillery, armoured personnel carriers, small arms and light weapons (SALW) as Chinese arms are the Bangladeshi Army’s weapon of choice while the Navy use Chinese frigates with missiles, missile boats, torpedo boats among others. China have also been supplying fighter jets and training aircraft to the Bangladeshi Air Force since 1977[16].

Very recently China and Bangladesh made crucial developments in security cooperation. The bilateral relations between the two countries have been elevated to ”Strategic Partnership of Cooperation”. The deal is aimed at intelligence sharing and counterterrorism activities, although other important matters such as cybercrime, militancy, transnational crimes, narcotics, fire service, and visa issues were also discussed during the signing of this major agreement[17].

Development cooperation/ Infrastructure development

Development cooperation is an integral part of the bilateral relations between China and Bangladesh. China has played a crucial role in the infrastructure development of Bangladesh over the years. It has assisted Bangladesh in building bridges, roads and railway tracks and power plants. The development assistance from China to Bangladesh and other developing countries mostly come as LOC’s. During a recent Bangladesh visit in 2016, President Xi Jingping promised US$24 billion in economic assistance to Bangladesh mainly as LOCs related to 24 projects[18].

China assisted Bangladesh in the construction of six bridges commonly known as the ““China- Bangladesh Friendship” bridges[19]. China also helped Bangladesh in constructing the Barapukuria coal-fired power plant located in Dinajpur in the North West of Bangladesh and was commissioned in 2006[20]. During Jingpin’s visit to Bangladesh in 2016, the countries signed agreements for two 1320 MW coal-fired power plants- one Payra, Patuakhali and the other in Banshkhali, Chittagong- making China the largest energy partner to Bangladesh overtaking India[21].

China has also provided economic assistance to Bangladesh in terms of free aid and token gifts. Two major agreements were signed in 2010 for establishing a fertiliser factory, and telecommunications network systems in Bangladesh- that were to be set up with a US$ 770 million LOC from China with a two percent interest rate payable within 20 years[22]. There had been discussions for several years on potential road and railway connections linking Chittagong with Kunming that would boost the economies of both the countries however that has not materialised as of yet[23]. Currently China is developing a 750-acre industrial park in Chittagong which will take five years to become fully operational and it will largely be used by Chinese manufacturing firms[24].

Conclusion

The good relations shared between China and Bangladesh have always been of mutual interests and both countries benefit from that. Although the growing relations between China and Bangladesh raise geopolitical tensions in the South Asia region and the Bay of Bengal, there should not be much doubt that China’s primary interest lies in the booming economy of Bangladesh, which has been ever so dependent on their bilateral trade relations. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has recently said that there is nothing to be concerned about for India while not explicitly mentioning China or any other country, and that Bangladesh need funds for the sole purpose of development and that she would welcome any country that is willing to invest in the country; she also urged India to maintain cordial relationship with all its neighbours[25]. Keeping close ties with Bangladesh will no doubt be hugely beneficial for China as the demand for oil and gas have risen largely owing to its growing industries, and having a strong geopolitical presence in the Bay of Bengal and the littoral countries could give them an advantage in terms of accessibility to various ports. On the other hand Bangladesh can only benefit from the cooperation with a major economic power as it has done so in terms of their diplomatic, economic and security affairs and would be keenly anticipating further developments in their bilateral cooperation.

[1] http://countrystudies.us/bangladesh/108.htm

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320546820_SINO-BANGLADESH_RELATIONS_AN_APPRAISAL

[3] http://countrystudies.us/bangladesh/108.htm

[4] http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTPREMNET/Resources/489960-1338997241035/Growth_Commission_Working_Paper_22_Economic_Reforms_Growth_Governance_Political_Economy_Aspects_Bangladesh_Development_Surprise.pdf

[5] https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/41935-decoding-china-bangladesh-relationship/

[6] Xinhua, 16 June 2010.

[7] “China pledges free market access”, The Daily Star, 19 March 2010.

[8] https://wits.worldbank.org/CountrySnapshot/en/BGD

[9] https://www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/politics/expanding-the-bangladesh-china-trade-frontier-1296583

[10] https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/41935-decoding-china-bangladesh-relationship/

[11] https://www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/politics/expanding-the-bangladesh-china-trade-frontier-1296583

[12] https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/2018/05/18/free-trade-agreement-with-china-a-necessity

[13] https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/more-just-facts/what-does-the-us-china-trade-war-mean-bangladesh-1604986

[14] https://thediplomat.com/2017/01/why-chinas-submarine-deal-with-bangladesh-matters/

[15] https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2018-03/fssipri_at2017_0.pdf

[16] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320546820_SINO-BANGLADESH_RELATIONS_AN_APPRAISAL

[17] https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2018/10/26/bangladesh-china-sign-3-agreements-on-security-cooperation

[18] https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/41935-decoding-china-bangladesh-relationship/

[19] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320546820_SINO-BANGLADESH_RELATIONS_AN_APPRAISAL

[20] https://china.aiddata.org/projects/33957

[21] https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2016/10/18/china-becomes-bangladeshs-largest-energy-partner/

[22] Rezaul Karim Byron, “$ 770 million Chinese loan tied with conditions”, The Daily Star, 28 September 2010.

[23] https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-259521

[24] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bagnladesh-china/china-to-develop-bangladesh-industrial-zone-as-part-of-south-asia-push-idUSKCN1HB1M2

[25] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-need-not-worry-about-bangladesh-china-ties-sheikh-hasina/articleshow/63037906.cms

Bangladesh-India relations: towards a stronger alliance?

Bangladesh and India have been allied more or less since their inception despite having minor disputes on certain issues. The current Bangladeshi ruling party have taken Indo-Bangladeshi relations to the next level since they came to power in 2009 (who are now serving their second term with elections in a couple of months), reaching major milestones in security cooperation as well a massive upsurge in bilateral trade.

History

Bangladesh is surrounded by India from the North, West and much of the East with the Bay of Bengal in the South and Myanmar in the South-East. The border between Bangladesh and India covers a staggering 4,095 kilometres with West Bengal having the largest share of 2217 kilometres[1].

Both countries have close cultural ties, most significant of which perhaps would be language- i.e. Bengali. The main official language of India’s West Bengal is Bengali, spoken by over a 100 million people, which also happens to be the only official language of Bangladesh. On the other hand, Hindi and Bengali have same roots in the Sanskrit language which causes them to have many similarities and enables ease of learning.

Bangladesh had been part of British India until 1947, after which it was annexed as part of Pakistan (Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan, the West Pakistan was the Pakistan of today). However, after a 9-month long war of liberation Bangladesh gained independence in 1971 and subsequently joined the Commonwealth of nations in 1972[2], and the United Nations in 1974.[3] India had been an independent state since the end of the British Empire, with a history of complex and largely hostile relations with Pakistan due to a number of historical and political events.

Bangladesh have had friendly relations with India throughout much of their history. India has provided significant assistance to Bangladesh in their War of Liberation against Pakistan in 1971 in terms of military support and firepower. However, it must be noted that ever since the British left in 1947, India have always had a volatile relationship with Pakistan and they acted in their own best interests as they felt threatened with the geographical presence of Pakistan from the East and the West. Consequently, India was the first country to recognise Bangladesh as an independent state immediately afterwards.

Bangladesh has a moderate foreign policy that places multilateral diplomacy as one of its core initiatives. Ambassador of Bangladesh to the U.S., Mohammad Ziauddin stated in 2009 that Bangladesh’s foreign policy is based on the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s dictum, “Friendship with all and malice towards none”, with the ruling party leader Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister of Bangladesh being the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[4]

Trade

The first trade agreement between the two countries was signed in 1972 and trade volume is staggering as of today. According to the some of the most recent available figures, Indian exports to Bangladesh totalled $4.5 billion between July 2016-March 2017 while Bangladesh exports to India was worth $672.40 million during the Fiscal Year 2016-17. India have also extended three Lines of Credits (LOCs) between 2010-2017 worth up to US$ 8 billion, making Bangladesh the largest recipient of Indian LOC’s.[5]

Today, Bangladesh is home to the fastest growing megacity in the world- Dhaka; while the country also boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a GDP growth rate averaging over six percent annually over the past ten years or so.[6] On the other hand, India is the most populous democracy boasting the sixth largest economy in the world by nominal GDP.[7]

Major Disputes in Bangladesh-India Relations

Despite good relations there have been disputes over borders throughout history, and it was not until June 2015 that many of the long-lasting disputes were largely settled.[8] Other significant disputes include maritime claims over seawater at the Bay of Bengal.

Border Dispute: One of the most discussed topics in their recent bilateral relations had been the border killings of Bangladeshi citizens along the Indo-Bangladesh border by India’s Border Security Forces (BSF) with their apparent “shoot-to-kill” policy in which the Human Rights Watch claimed had killed nearly 1,000 people (Bangladeshi citizens) between 2001-2011.[9] Indian officials have argued that the reason for the attacks were largely due to increasing illegal migration of Bangladeshis into India as well as persistent misuse of borders by illicit traders.[10]

River Dispute: Another major dispute concerns the sharing of the River Teesta. Teesta is one of the 54 rivers shared by Bangladesh and India[11]. This river originates in Sikkim and flows through the North of West Bengal and meets Brahmaputra river in Bangladesh[12]. The countries reached agreement on sharing the river for the first time in 1983 according to which the share of water was (as follows): India- 39%, Bangladesh- 36%, Unallocated -25%. However in recent years Bangladeshi has been asking for an equitable share. Water disputes between the two countries have existed for quite a long time throughout history. Notably it took 20 years to end the Ganges river dispute in 1996. In 2011 an interim deal that was supposed to last the 15 following years increased the share of India to 42.5 per cent and that of Bangladesh to 37.5 per cent. But to the disappointment of Bangladesh as well as India, it never materialised, largely due to the government of West Bengal refusing to sign due to concerns of the northern region drying out[13]. Despite planning failure being regarded as one of the main reasons for not having reached an agreement as of yet, there are other underlying reasons why things haven’t materialised. There is no denying that Bangladesh do need their share of water, with the Asian Foundation reporting in 2013 that Teesta’s flood plain covers 14 per cent of the total cropped area of Bangladesh provides direct livelihood opportunities to approximately 73% of its population[14]. On the other hand, the River Teesta plays a major role in the Northern Bengal while nearly half a dozen districts in the entire West Bengal state are dependent on it.[15]

Government stance:

The previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government did not have strong alliance with India and thus were not quite receptive to India’s concerns. They had also garnered opposition from India due to providing refuge to  leaders and members of some of the North Eastern nonstate actors/militias. However due to their close relations, the current ruling party have largely followed India-friendly policies while taking India’s side on their fight against North Eastern separatists.[16] In spite of all these, Delhi closely anticipates an agreement for the sharing of River Teesta which they believe would give them political leverage over the apparent rising influence of China in the Bay of Bengal.[17]

Awami League/Ruling party relations with India

The current ruling party led by Sheikh Hasina has had a strong alliance with India ever since they came to power in 2009, with major acts of cooperation taking place in the subsequent years. Bilateral relations of the two countries had never been better as it has been over the past decade or so. Prior to 2017, there were no formal mechanisms in place for any significant security cooperation, but that changed in 2017. As Sheikh Hasina made a special visit to India in 2018 which resulted in the signing of a MoU on the framework for defence cooperation. That paved way for improved cooperation between the armed forces of both the countries, with MoU’s signed for cooperation ranging from joint military exercises, sharing of strategical operations studies for the Defence Services Command and Staff colleges, coast-guard cooperation between the two countries to an extension of line of credit worth US$500 million for the purchase of defence equipment from India.[18]

One of the major deals was the Rampal Power Plant which is a proposed 1320 Megawatt coal-fired power station in Khulna region, Bangladesh which is a joint-venture between the Bangladesh Power Development Board and India’s National Thermal Power Corporation.[19] However the signing of the deal was subject to much controversy due to the proposed site being only 14 kilometres North of the worlds largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans which happens to be a UNESCO world heritage site.[20] It received attention in the local as well as the international arena because the project violates the environmental impact assessment guidelines for coal-based thermal power plants.[21] Environmental experts have expressed major concerns due to the close its proximity to the Sundarbans, while there have been campaigns by The National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, and Power-Port, and environmentalists against the proposed project. Despite all the protests, the Bangladeshi government have consistently denied all claims and allegations about the negative environmental impacts of the Rampal project. The project has been under way for a while now however little progress have been made.[22]

Conclusion

In September 2018 Bangladesh signed a MoU with India which would let the latter use two of Bangladesh’s major ports– Chittagong and Mongla[23]. Bangladesh and India are two of the major economies of South Asia and their relationship will have a lasting impact on the region’s development. While India has the potential to emerge as a major world power competing with the likes of China and the U.S, Bangladesh may also have a role to play in their development. With the Bangladeshi general elections coming up, the Awami League are favourites to get re-elected, while it is the same for BJP, with PM Narendra Modi expected to remain PM should they win again, the relations between India and Bangladesh are likely to get better and better, with the only worry for India being China’s increasing cooperation with Bangladesh.

References

[1] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/5-things-to-know-about-india-bangladesh-ties-from-trade-to-security/story-qgVND0mAQ4S1DpmYpzd5lJ.html

[2] “Bangladesh Joins Commonwealth”. Edmonton Journal. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 19 April 1972 – via Google News.

[3] “United Nations: Palestinian Position Becomes Critical Issue”. The Citizen. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. 18 September 1974 – via Google News.

[4] https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/south-asia-week-bangladeshs-policy-priorities-and-its-relationship-united-states-and

[5] https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Bangladesh_September_2017_en.pdf

[6] Trading Economics, 2018, Bangladesh GDP Growth Rate. <https://tradingeconomics.com/bangladesh/gdp-growth>

[7] “India becomes world’s sixth largest economy, muscles past France”. Archived from the original on 9 August 2018

[8] Serajul Quadir (6 June 2015). “India, Bangladesh sign historic land boundary agreement”. Reuters India.

[9] “India/Bangladesh: Indiscriminate Killings, Abuse by Border Officers”. Human Rights Watch. December 9, 2010; “India’s shoot-to-kill policy on the Bangladesh border”. The Guardian. 23 January 2011; “Khaleda Zia assures counter-terror co-operation to India”. Yahoo News. Indo Asian News Service. 2012-10-29

[10] “Khaleda Zia assures counter-terror co-operation to India”. Yahoo News. Indo Asian News Service. 2012-10-29

[11] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/5-things-to-know-about-india-bangladesh-ties-from-trade-to-security/story-qgVND0mAQ4S1DpmYpzd5lJ.html

[12] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/the-teesta-river-dispute-explained-in-10-points/articleshow/58091320.cms

[13] https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/teesta-has-one-sixteenth-of-water-needed-for-agriculture-117041500257_1.html

[14] https://www.clearias.com/teesta-river-dispute/

[15] https://www.clearias.com/teesta-river-dispute/

[16] https://www.clearias.com/teesta-river-dispute/

[17] https://www.clearias.com/one-belt-one-road-obor/

[18] https://www.orfonline.org/research/india-bangladesh-defence-cooperation-coming-of-age-at-last/#_edn2

[19] “Indo-Bangla joint company for power import”. The Independent. Dhaka. 8 March 2011.

[20] Rahman, Khalilur (24 February 2013). “Demand for Rampal power plant relocation”. Financial Express. Dhaka.

[21] Kumar, Chaitanya (24 September 2013). “Bangladesh Power Plant Struggle Calls for International Solidarity”. The Huffington Post.

[22] https://thewire.in/south-asia/rampal-power-project-sundarbans-india-bangladesh; https://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2018/01/21/little-progress-large-coal-fired-power-plant-projects

[23] “Transporting Goods to 7 Sisters: Dhaka to let Delhi use Ctg, Mongla ports”. The Daily Star. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 18 September 2018. < https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/carrying-goods-7-sisters-dhaka-let-delhi-use-ctg-mongla-ports-1635397>

Are Saudi-Turkish relations deteriorating?

The relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now becoming a subject of mediatic interest following the alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khoshoggi, a critic of Riyadh’s current government, in his country’s consulate in Istanbul. To better understand this event and its consequences, it is necessary to put it in the broader context of the bilateral relations between the two states, which dates back to the 1920s.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and its aftermath.

Once the main power in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in both political and territorial terms in the wake of its defeat in WWI; thus reshaping the region’s geopolitical order. Many of its former lands became de facto colonies under the rule of either Great Britain or France (on the basis of the Sykes-Picot agreement), but two cases stand out as exceptions: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Turkey.

During the Great War, Britain was fighting against the Ottoman Empire, who was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In this context, the British were actively supporting an Arab uprising to weaken the Ottomans and extend their influence on the Middle East. This led to a deal with the Saud family: in exchange of aid against the Ottomans, the House of Saud would rule an independent kingdom after the end of the war.  This resulted into the establishment of Saudi Arabia (which takes its name from the ruling al-Saud dynasty) in 1932.  An important aspect of the newborns state was its affiliation to Wahhabism, a juridical and religious doctrine of Islam known for its conservatism and that became the basis of the Saudi political system. This made the Kingdom the champion of Sunni Islam, even though its adherence to Wahhabism has recently become less marked under the influence of Crown Prince bin Salman. After the discovery of huge oil reserves in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia gradually became a major producer and started accumulating wealth. During the Cold War, it forged an alliance with the United States, thus becoming (in spite of occasional divergences, like the 1973 oil crisis) one of its main allies in the Middle East. As of today, the House of Saud is still in power and its cooperation with the US remains a central element of its foreign policy.

On its part, the Ottoman Empire was weakened by war, politically delegitimized and in social unrest; and had to face the consequences of defeat. With the nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gaining more and more influence, the imperial rule did not last. The last Sultan (and Caliph) was deposed, and a Republic was proclaimed. But its territory was much smaller than the pre-war Empire. Other than Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Arabia, it even lost some lands in mainland Anatolia; which it recovered after a war with Greece in 1919-22 that gave the country its current shape. Atatürk promoted westernization in the newly-born Republic, notably to transform it into a secular state after centuries of religious-based Ottoman rule.  This is a major difference from Saudi Arabia, which instead based its polity upon religious conservatism.  But like the KSA, Turkey decided to side with America after WWII, joining NATO in 1952. During the decades, the country experienced several coups, the last of which occurred in 2016 as an attempt to overthrow President Erdogan, who has held the office since 2014 after serving eleven years as Prime Minister.

The history of Turkey – Saudi Arabia relations

Official relations between the two countries were established in 1932, when the KSA was founded. During the pre-WWII era, when the Middle East was still largely influenced by European powers, their bilateral relations were stable and no major issue emerged. During the late ‘40s following the withdrawal of colonial forces, new states appeared in the region and started pursuing their own geopolitical objectives, thus complicating the regional dynamics.

A first factor of disagreement was the Palestinian issue and the creation of Israel. Turkey recognized the Jewish state and adopted a moderate stance towards it during the Arab-Israeli wars, whereas Saudi Arabia refused to establish official relation with it and actively supported the cause of Palestinians as well as that of Arab states fighting against Israel.

Relations with Iran would soon become another problematic issue. Before the 1979 Revolution that overthrew the Shah and established the Islamic Republic, Ankara maintained good relations with Teheran. The instauration of the new Iranian regime resulted into colder relations for some time (due to Turkey’s friendly ties with the US and Israel, the arch-nemesis of Iran) but then they gradually improved. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Riyadh also enjoyed generally positive relations with Teheran, with the two main points of disagreement being religious divides (Sunni vs Shia respectively) and the recognition of Israel by the former. But this dramatically changed after 1979: the difference in faith combined with the Saudi’s amity with the US turned their mutual relations into strong hostility.

The Iran-Iraq war that raged between 1980 and 1988 saw the KSA and Turkey taking a different stance. Riyadh, in spite of strained relations with Baghdad, considered Teheran’s revolutionary regime to be the main threat to its security and therefore supported the former with financial aid. In contrast, Turkey was more conciliatory with Iran: keeping a neutralist policy, it maintained economic ties with both belligerents, thus refusing to implement the US-led embargo on Iran. The outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991 following Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait saw both Saudi Arabia and Turkey joining the US-guided coalition against Iraq.

Ankara and Riyadh also took different postures after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by US forces. The fact that most of the terrorist that had hijacked the planes used to strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals caused some strain between Riyadh and Washington, but in general the Saudis cooperated with the US in the War on Terror the latter launched after 9/11. On its part, Turkey supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but opposed that of Iraq in 2003 out of fears that the instability that would follow the end of Saddam’s regime would allow the Iraqi Kurds to obtain an independent state.

Saudi-Turkish relations in recent years

The year 2011 can be seen as a turning point in the history of contemporary Middle East, and the events that took place since then had a profound effect on Turkey-KSA relations. In 2011, the “Arab Spring” shook the region, leading to the outbreak of a bloody and still-unsolved civil war in Syria. The US withdrew its last combat forces from Iraq and reduced its direct involvement in the Middle East in accordance with President’s Obama “Leading from Behind” policy. Since then, the region’s geopolitical landscape has significantly changed and local actors have become more active.

Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have supported the rebels trying to topple the al-Assad regime in Syria. The two also found some common ground in the fight against the auto-proclaimed “Islamic State”. In 2014, this Sunni extremist group rapidly seized control of considerable swathes of territory in the northern parts of Iraq and Syria. An international coalition started hitting its position with airstrikes to support the local forces on the ground. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey have condemned the group, even though there have been allegations that wealthy Saudi nationals founded the group and that Turkey has secretly traded oil with it. The struggle against the IS also explains why both have sustained the Iraqi state, even though their involvement responds to a slightly different logic. Ankara did so to avoid that a Kurdish state may emerge from the fragmentation of Iraq, plus to prevent that Teheran may complete a pipeline that would allow it to export its hydrocarbons without having to pass via the Turkish territory; while Riyadh acted to limit Teheran’s influence in the area, given that Iraq’s population is mainly Shia. Also, in the frame of the Iran-KSA proxy war in Yemen, the two powers are both helping the government forces to defeat the Houthi rebels sustained by Iran. Finally, the Saudis promptly expressed their support for Erdogan’s government during the 2016 coup attempt.

Yet, in the broader struggle for influence over the Middle East, the divergences between Riyadh and Ankara have multiplied. First, there is some form of ideological divergence. Since Erdogan became President in 2014, he promoted a reintroduction of religious-based norms in Turkey; and many consider this as being contrary to the secular spirit that the Republic has had since its foundation by Atatürk. At the same time, Saudi Arabia moved in the opposite direction under the leadership of Prince bin Salman. Even though he centralized power (similarly to Erdogan), he lifted many of the traditional Islamic limitations in many aspects of Saudi society. But beyond that, there is much realpolitik underneath.

The two support opposing factions in Egypt: the Saudis favor the government led by General al-Sisi; whereas the Turks support the opposition forces, notably the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not a factor to neglect, because having a friendly government in Cairo makes easier the access to the Red Sea and its shipping lanes, an objective that Ankara is pursuing. In regard to Iran, the KSA maintains its longstanding hostile stance, while Turkey (in spite of the differences) has shown more willingness to cooperate with it (and Russia) in regard to Iraq and Syria. In turn, this is linked to their relations with Israel. Riyadh, considering that Teheran is the main regional rival of Tel Aviv, is unofficially but concretely establishing closer ties with the latter; all with Washington’s patronage. The Trump administration has clearly shown its willingness to support both Saudi Arabia and Israel, so this come with no surprise. At the same time, Turkey’s ties with the Jewish State have been deteriorating during the past decade, notably since Erdogan became President in 2014. Israel does not appreciate Turkey’s support for Islamic movements and for the Palestinian cause, something which recently led to a verbal escalation between Erdogan and Netanyahu. Plus, Tel Aviv does not see positively Ankara’s closer ties with Teheran. The access to offshore gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean is another factor that is straining their bilateral relations. Israel is collaborating with Cyprus and Egypt to exploit these energy resources, whereas Turkey is asserting its rights in a quite aggressive manner against other players. In this context, Tel Aviv is also fostering closer ties with Athens, whose relations with Ankara are historically problematic. Lastly, there is the Qatar issue. In 2017, the KSA and other countries (including Egypt) initiated a blockade on the small Gulf state, because of its friendly ties with Iran and for allegedly sponsoring terrorism; a move that Israel approved. Soon, Turkey showed its support to Qatar by providing economic aid and even by dispatching its troops.

The result is that an informal yet tangible entente is forming between Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US and other powers to counter Turkey, which in turn is creating closer ties with Iran (and Russia). The most recent events are to be interpreted in this context.

The current crisis: the alleged killing of Jamal Khashoggi

The Saudi-Turkish standoff that is making the headlines these days is just the latest episode of the deteriorating ties between the two countries, but relations with other powers should be factored in as well.

The Turkish authorities accuse the Saudis to have assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist known for its critic position towards the government in Riyadh, at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. This has sparked a crisis between the two countries and has attracted much mediatic attention. One interesting thing to note is that Turkey has decided to exploit this occasion to free US pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been detained for two years over accusation of being involved in the failed 2016 coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan. It appears that Turkey is trying to exploit the Khashoggi affaire to restore its ties with the US, which have been damaged in recent years due to various issues. First, this is due to Turkey’s cooperation with Russia and Iran combined with its growing enmity toward Saudi Arabia and Israel. Second, the US refuse to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric that Ankara blames to be responsible for the 2016 coup attempt. This leads to the third factor, namely the imposition of US sanctions on Turkey, something that caused a considerable depreciation of its currency (the lira), putting the country’s economy under stress and forcing it to take restrictive economic measures in the form of higher interest rates; a measure necessary to stop the fall of the lira’s value but that will damage Turkey’s economy by adding pressure on its negative trade balance and on its external debt.

As such, the timing Andrew Brunson’s liberation now appears both as a conciliatory act towards the US in the hope of having sanctions lifted and to restore better political ties, as well as an attempt to improve its international image all while damaging Saudi Arabia’s. It is another application of Turkey’s traditional policy of tilting alternatively towards the US and then towards Russia and Iran so to keep viable relations with all and maximize its own benefit. After a period where it built its ties with Washington’s adversaries, it is therefore to be expected that Ankara will now seek a reconciliation; but this will likely be only partial. Still, the US-Saudi ties are indeed becoming more strained following the episode, but in the long term it is likely that mutual interests will prevail. What will happen next is yet to be seen, but it is certain that the complex power interplay in the Middle East will not end here.

Will Germany and Russia create an alliance?

Germany’s relations with Moscow have always been, and remain, one of its central strategic challenges. Yet views on how to deal with the country have historically remained split. To temper Russia’s advancement in Europe, pressures Germany feel now have led to both an alliance and conflict with Russia in the past. Are we seeing the return of a German-Russian Alliance?

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Will Japan and Russia make peace?

For more than 70 years, Russia and Japan have been at loggerheads over Pacific islands on the edge of the Sea of Okhostk known as the Kuril islands. The long-standing dispute dates back to WWII when the Soviet Union seized the islands, expelling all 17,000 Japanese residents. Japan’s official position is that the islands are an inherent part of its territory and are under illegal occupation. Russia meanwhile, insists it owns the islands.

The dispute has remained a sticking point in Japan-Russia relations ever since, preventing the signing of a formal peace treaty. But less than two weeks ago on 12th September 2018, Russia’s President Vladmir Putin used an appearance at the Eastern economic forum to float the idea of signing a peace treaty with japan. “An idea has just come into my head… Let’s conclude a peace treaty before the end of this year, without any pre-conditions.”

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