June 2018 Report: Russia's Relations with Iran and Its Overall Strategy for the Middle East
Summary of June Report:
(Will be posted June 1, 2018)
In the last few years Russia has been playing a serious role in the affairs of the greater region of the Middle-East. In doing so, it has assumed a powerful position as both a military and economic power. One that has provided largely as a bulwark to U.S. and western influences in the region.
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Turkish-Iranian relations have a constant characteristic defined in the last century and generally, the nature of these relations are extremely predictable. Various determinants, such as an absence of border issues, full awareness of each other’s reflexes due to a shared centuries-old empire mentality, and close collaboration on bureaucratic security procedures until the Islamic Revolution, have inhibited any radical changes to occur in bilateral relations (iramcenter.org/).
Historically, Turkey and Iran have been mirror images of one another, rarely seeing eye-to-eye, but unable to part ways due to their geographic proximity. Both countries opposed the American invasion and occupation, which they feared could restrict their room to maneuver in their historical sphere of influence. Second, they were suspicious that America would support Kurdish nationalism in northern Iraq and were wary of the invasion’s broader impact on the Sunni-Shia balance in the region.
Yet despite its initial opposition to the invasion, Ankara stood closer to Washington in pursuit of Turkey’s regional goals, while Iran maintained close bonds with the Shia majority and pro-Iranian Shia militias were increasingly targeting U.S. troops in Iraq (americanprogress.org/).
Turkey and Iran continued to compete from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon and from the Gulf to Afghanistan. The Syrian conflict and Turkey and Iran’s divergent policy choices became a bone of contention for the two rival regional powers.
While Turkey framed the growing conflict as a humanitarian issue and an opportunity to enhance its regional clout, Iran saw the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as a critical threat. This was because the Iranian establishment considered Syria to be a firewall that would block the disruptive impact of the Arab Spring from toppling regimes friendly to Iran or from reaching its own borders.
Turkey worked through proxies but refrained from directly embroiling itself militarily (americanprogress.org/). Turkish border cities became a chief logistical hub for foreign fighters seeking to enter Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other rebel groups. By August 2015, Turkey did eventually tighten up security on its borders (english.alarabiya.net/).
Iran, by contrast, employed more direct proxies such as Hezbollah and later deployed its own paramilitary assets to prevent the fall of Damascus. Iran did not hesitate to use the sectarian card in the conflict, employing Shia militias in Syria and Iraq against what it called the forces of extremism, which included not only Al Qaeda and its offshoots—including the Islamic State—but also almost all Sunni rebel groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.
While Iran aggressively pursued its goals—emphasizing the fight against what it regarded as Sunni extremism—the marginalization of Sunni interests drove Turkey and Saudi Arabia to set aside their ideological differences to stand together against Iranian expansionism. The interaction between the sectarianism stoked by both the Sunni and Shia elements involved in the Syrian civil war and escalating Iranian-Arab and Turkish-Kurdish confrontations is shaking the foundations of the regional order and undermining security and stability. (americanprogress.org/issues/). This tension has also extended into the Iraq conflict.
In Iraq, Turkey claims that it has a historical responsibility to protect the country's Sunni and Turkmen minorities from Iran-backed Shia militias who are in the region to fight ISIL.
Iran, on the other hand, alongside with Iraq's government, views Turkey's involvement in the conflict and military presence in the country as an incursion. Turkey 's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Iran of trying to split Iraq and Syria by resorting to Persian nationalism, while Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, criticized what he called Iran's sectarian policy aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The fear was that Iran was trying to create two Shia states in Syria and Iraq As ISIL is steadily losing large swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria, a significant power vacuum is forming along Turkey's southeastern border, causing Iran and Turkey to clash over who is going to replace the dominant force in the area. The tensions between the two powers were escalating greatly as late as early 2017 (aljazeera.com/). Then in late 2017 circumstances changed the dynamic.
The lack of Arab presence and its inability to formulate new parameters for national and regional security have allowed Turkey and Iran to balance their regional roles within the Arab world.
Turkey and Iran have given the military dimension an important role in shaping their regional role. Turkey used pre-emptive military intervention in its movements in the Arab region after adopting a defensive military approach based on protecting the borders. Turkey is also using its economic growth by branding itself as a country with Islamic economy to serve the Arab and Muslim countries.
The Syrian crisis showed the overlap of issues in the region and that no issue can be resolved without resolving the other and that the regional players should be involved with superpowers to bring solutions to these questions politically. Thus, the Syrian dilemma is looking more and more difficult to solve and radical Islamists have become the common enemy of all (english.alarabiya.net/).
The two countries’ joint stance on the illegitimate referendum in Kurdistan, their joint action with Russia through the Astana Process to minimize the conflicts in Syria; furthermore, their common position on nullifying the conspiracy against the Qatar administration illustrate that the tensions experienced for the past five years between Iran and Turkey have ended and the two countries have begun to increase their alliance (iramcenter.org/).
For the first time in history, military visits were made between Iran and Turkey at the level of Chief of General Staff. This allowed Turkey to organize a military operation on a larger and more strategic area within Syria with relatively low risk, and by mid-October, Turkish troops were situated in various regions of Idlib (iramcenter.org/).
In recent years, relations between the two countries have been developing in all fields of mutual interest and is continuing along this path to serve both nations' interests. President Hassan Rouhani said that the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey enjoy ample historical and cultural commonalities and further deepening of bilateral, regional and international relations between the two countries would be beneficial for peace and stability in the region and the world (iran-daily.com/).
It is not just the military and economic considerations that are driving the sudden change in attitudes between the two countries. Their roles in the Syrian/Iraq conflict and other past political stances have left both sides in compromising positions.
Iran is surrounded by Sunni-majority countries and can only hope to realize its domestic and regional goals in cooperation—or at least coexistence—with the rest of the neighborhood. Gulf monarchies are apprehensive about Iranian encroachment in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and beyond. In response, they are relying on a military buildup and the power of religious orthodoxy to help deter and roll back Iranian intrusion into what they regard as a rightfully Sunni Arab sphere of influence. For Turkey, its official discourse against sectarianism does not change the fact that it is now seen as a pro-Sunni power and, in general, has alienated Shia actors in the region.
This does not bode well for Turkey’s broader aims of regional integration nor its internal dynamics given its large Alawite and Kurdish populations, who feel threatened by the Islamic State and remain suspicious of the growing Turkish affinity with Sunni causes (americanprogress.org/).
Ultimately the real driving force behind this is the threat of Kurdish nationalism and the rise of autonomous Kurdish states in the region. In Turkey, the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) has resumed its terror campaign against the Turkish state. Iran will be watching these developments closely, nervous about its own Kurdish minority and well aware that the PKK seeks to overturn the existing state order in both Turkey and Iran.
Indeed, the PKK and its offshoots’ continued threat to Iran’s national unity was again demonstrated by the recent clashes in northwestern Iran. Kurdish separatism is a real possibility in both Syria and Iraq and is a more distant if just as divisive threat in Turkey and Iran. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq enjoys strong U.S. support and continues to flirt with the idea of independence. Syrian Kurdish fighters are building de facto autonomy on the ground and enjoy military support from both the United States and Russia, though this is likely to dry up once the Islamic State is defeated (americanprogress.org/).
The decision by both nations to change so abruptly from the last five years of hostility and competition towards working together is rooted in several mutual concerns and interests. That said it is unlikely this alliance is going to be a short-lived relationship. The possible rise of autonomous Kurdish regions especially in a centralized location like Northern Syria and Iraq offers a serious security concern that is igniting another round of destabilizing hostilities in the region. Inevitably this fact alone is likely going to bring Iran and Turkey more closely together as their security interests further align.
It is unlikely that Turkey will simply sever ties with the U.S. over the Kurdish issue. Turkey will continue to try and walk a line maintaining relations with the U.S. as a powerful ally while cultivating stronger ties with Iran, with whom they share grave security concerns.
It is too early to predict what this new relationship means in the interim. This could serve to strengthen Iran’s position; who in the aftermath of the ISIS conflict is left with significant control within both the Syrian and Iraqi governments and will now have means to marginalize the threat of one of their biggest rivals in the region. This could also be an avenue for resolution with the west whereby Iran’s economic interest will force it to pursue a more negotiable position with its previous enemies.
Turkey and Iran have been in constant competition with each other for the last five years, and their relationship has been extremely hostile. In the last few months, however, they have been making serious moves towards building a strong and friendlier alliance. Why?
Check back May 1 for the full report.
North Korea remains a critical security challenge for the U.S.
Despite significant resource shortfalls and aging hardware, the DPRK maintains a large, conventional, forward-deployed military and continues to improve its ability to launch rapid, small-scale attacks against South Korea. North Korea’s continuing efforts to undertake provocative actions against Seoul — demonstrated during its August 2015 ambush of South Korean soldiers — poses a serious threat to the U.S. and its regional allies. We also remain concerned about North Korea’s proliferation activities in contravention of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (www.dia.mil/).
Enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger America. Now, shadowy networks of individuals can bring extensive chaos and suffering to our shores for less than it costs to purchase a single tank. Terrorists are organized to penetrate open societies and to turn the power of modern technologies against us (georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/).
North Korea has waged a long and complex covert war against not just South Korea but a wide range of counties it considers to be threats. It has done so through the use of an elaborate global intelligence network and a large and well supported Special Forces unit within its military. DPRK policies, operations and clashes with the ROK are countless in the past forty-six years. Terrorist attacks included assassination attempts on South Korean presidents (Krause, 1999).
Starting in 1948 when the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was inaugurated, North Korea set on an immediate campaign to undermine it. First, they worked through small communist groups active in the Republic to initiate an outright armed insurrection and eventual revolution. Early strategic estimates assumed that North Korea would further augment such destabilization through the use of military units being infiltrated into South Korea disguised in civilian attire.
It was at this time that one of the South Korean primary security organs, the Constabulary, was already heavily penetrated by communists and North Korean sympathizers (Declassified intelligence document kr-8-7 ORE 44-48). By 1949 intelligence estimates assumed a strong and efficient communist underground operating within South Korea and working in cooperation with North Korean military forces. The perceived strategy of North Korean response to U.S. forces leaving the peninsula was a full military assault from the North to coincide with a planned massive communist revolt and guerrilla campaign in the South. This led the U.S. military thinkers to stress the need to emphasize counter-insurgency measures in any military response to such aggression (Declassified document ORE 3-49).
Starting in 1962, Kim Il Sung drew inspiration from the NLF insurgency to decide on “low-intensity irregular warfare” instead of a conventional military offensive to reunify Korea. Such a strategy would avoid the risk of an American nuclear response from nuclear weapons stored in South Korea. North Korea has built on this strategy. In 1966-67 a Hanoi-Havana-Pyongyang triangle, as the three considered themselves, “the sole true manifestations of armed revolution” versus what they perceived as the compromised revolutions in Moscow and Beijing (H-Diplo).
North Korea has a robust and diverse special operations force capability, their Special Purpose Forces, with nearly 104,000 soldiers committed to these daring tactics and operations. The principal mission of the North Korean Special Purpose Forces is to infiltrate into the enemies rear area and conduct short duration raids. Their most dangerous avenue of approach for their forces includes amphibious approaches, airborne infiltration and the use of a vast tunnel network. These soldiers can arrive on the battlefield by hovercraft, helicopter, light planes and parachutes, tunnels, submarines, and by boat. They will attempt to destroy or capture soft targets such as Army logistics bases and Air Force bases. This force is capable of massing and appearing anywhere if hostilities recommence between the two Koreas.
It has also orchestrated various assassinations such as the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Park Chung Hee where the DPRK terrorist killed his wife; and the attempt to kill President Chun Doo Hwan in Rangoon that resulted in the killing of seventeen ROK officials in 1983. The most daring example of the North Korean SPF capability and commitment is the Blue House Raid of 1968. On 17 January, 1968, a thirty-one-man detachment from the DPRK‘s Special Purpose Forces (reconnaissance) breached the chain-link fence on the DMZ, donned ROK uniforms and infiltrated closer than one kilometer to the official residence of the ROK president, Park Chung Hee.
North Korea’s operations have gone well beyond the Korean peninsula. Three DPRK operatives that arrived in Rangoon aboard a merchant ship carried out the attack on President Hwan. Another infamous incident included the bombing of a Korean Airline 747 that killed 115 passengers. Between 1953 and 1999 the DPRK committed over 76,000 transgressions against the armistice treaty (Krause, 1999).
North Korea was also instrumental in arming the Iranian military in the initial days of the Ayatollah Khomeini coming to power (Kuzichikin, 1990).
As conflict between states evolves, cyberspace is becoming an increasingly vital component of strategy and doctrine for war fighting. Non-state actors remain unpredictable, and the entry barrier to procure disruptive cyber tools and capabilities remains very low. Cyber reconnaissance, exploitation, and the potential for attacks against DoD forces around the globe is a reality. These activities indicate an interest in how DOD operates in cyberspace and may allow our adversaries to identify opportunities to try to disrupt or degrade military operations. Additionally, state actors are using cyber espionage in attempts to steal critical information from DoD and defense contractors. We remain concerned about this persistent threat to our ability to plan, prepare and ready our forces for future conflicts (www.dia.mil/ ).
In the 21st century North Korea has explored cyber warfare as a means to more pragmatically engage the larger powers of the Western world. According to South Korean sources, North Korea has roughly doubled the number of hackers it employs to conduct cyber-attacks. North Korea appears to have 5,900 personnel for cyber-warfare, up from about 3,000 people two years ago. North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau employs around 1,200 hackers. The bureau is home to the country’s spying activities and was previously blamed by Seoul for several attacks on South Korean computer networks. Given North Korea’s bleak economic outlook, [offensive cyber operations] may be seen as a cost-effective way to develop asymmetric, deniable military options (www.northkoreatech.org/).
North Korea’s military could turn to cyber-based attacks and weapons as a more cost-effective alternative to conventional weapons. In the last few years North Korea has been viewed as the prime suspect in a campaign of cyber-attacks. However, the degree of their capability to wage a high level cyber war and be a serious threat is still quite debatable. Unlike the statements and reports that comes from the South Korean government, the North’s capability to launch attacks isn’t even stated as a certainty by the DoD. The very nature of cyberattacks makes it difficult to conclude with certainty the organization responsible. That uncertainty appears to be at the root of the DOD’s cautious stance (www.northkoreatech.org//).
North Korea has also built an extensive criminal enterprise through its global intelligence network. Several entities across the globe are facilitating North Korean trafficking in arms and related materiel; procurement of luxury goods; and engagement in illicit activities, including money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods and currency, bulk cash smuggling and narcotics trafficking. Several companies have been named and sanctioned for the aid they have given in proliferating such activities (treasury.gov/r).
Prior to 2009, the organization of the community originated with Kim Chong Il and proceeded down through three channels—the National Defense Commission, Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) and the Cabinet. Subordinate to the National Defense Commission were the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces and State Security Department. The Reconnaissance Bureau, Security Command and Guard Command were subordinate to the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces. The Korean Workers’ Party Secretariat was in charge of the Operations Department, Bureau No. 35, the Unification Front Department and the External Liaison Department while the Cabinet exercised nominal control over the Ministry of People’s Security.
The change was designed to secure the power and position of Kim Chong-il1 and deal with increasing levels of unrest and corruption within the civilian population and the military. Recent changes during 2009-2010 — the most dramatic reorganization in years — seems to have been implemented to unify all the intelligence and internal security services directly under the National Defense Commission (NDC).
The NDC was expanded from eight to twelve members with five now controlling the entire community including the Ministry of People’s Security that was transferred from the Cabinet. Additionally, press reports indicate that changes occurred within those organizations tasked with foreign intelligence operations, including those handling the Republic of Korea (ROK). Specifically, the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces’ Reconnaissance Bureau was merged into the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) (38north.org/).
The Reconnaissance General Bureau is North Korea’s premiere intelligence organization, created in early 2009 by the merger of existing intelligence organizations from the Korean Workers’ Party, the Operations Department and Office 35, and the Reconnaissance Bureau of the Korean People’s Army (northkoreatech.org/).
The Reconnaissance General Bureau is a military-intelligence agency that resembles the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division. Human intelligence officers — the technical term for spy recruiters— are highly sought after in North Korea. Often recruits are selected for special-operations training while they are still in high school. Sent to an elite intelligence academy in Pyongyang where they are trained in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as in martial arts and underwater diving, among other skills. Only after years of training are they then assigned to work for the RGB. Part of the mission involved trying to recruit South Koreans who were believed to be sympathetic toward Pyongyang.
A defector from the United Front Department, a civilian intelligence outfit that is subordinate to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, has said there are probably hundreds of North Korean intelligence officers operating in the United States at any given point, and that their main goal is to recruit Korean-Americans who lean towards supporting North Korea. Pyongyang sees intelligence officers as crucial assets in its confrontation with its adversaries, and that it treats them exceedingly well when they are loyal. In North Korea, spies are treated in extremely high regard (intelnews.org).
Additionally the Reconnaissance General Bureau, as part of its function, trades in conventional arms and controls the North Korean conventional arms firm Green Pine Associated Corporation (Green Pine), which was also identified for sanctions by the President for exporting arms or related materiel from North Korea.
The RGB has a headquarters and six bureaus: 38 North: First Bureau; Operations: Second Bureau; Reconnaissance: Third Bureau: Foreign Intelligence: Fifth Bureau; Inter-Korean Dialogue: Sixth Bureau; Technical: Seventh Bureau; and Rear services.
The number and organization of the SIGINT assets within the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces is unclear. Ground based assets are believed to consist of a small number of independent collection sites located throughout the North in areas of high interest (e.g., along the DMZ as well as the Russian and Chinese borders); the electronic warfare/SIGINT battalions within Korean People’s Army corps; and the EW/SIGINT battalions that exist within some KPA divisions.
The Sixth Bureau works with the General Staff Department’s Electronic Warfare Bureau and is believed to exercise overall responsibility for signals intelligence (SIGINT), electronic warfare (EW) and information warfare operations within the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces. Sixth Bureau exercises some degree of control over the Air Force’s SIGINT collection aircraft and Navy’s intelligence gathering vessels. The Bureau also coordinates operations with the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces Communications Bureau and its subordinate units (northkoreatech.org/).
The First Bureau is responsible for basic and advanced training of intelligence agents, escort training and escort operations (which facilitate covert infiltration of agents throughout the world). It is organized into a Headquarters, Basic Training, Advanced Training, two Seaborne Escort Training Centers, four Seaborne Escort Units (a.k.a. Maritime Liaison Offices) and two DMZ Escort Units. Defector statements suggest that the Operations Department has approximately 6-7,000 personnel.
Basic and advanced training generally occur at a system of safe houses located throughout North Korea, although most are in the Pyongyang area under the name of the Kim Chong-Il Political and Military Academy (or Central Committee Political and Military Academy). Safe houses are isolated so students are only familiar with the training, operations and personnel of their own team to prevent compromise if captured. Instructors and others working within the Operations Department generally have little or no contact with members of other departments.
Courses can last from six months to two years and cover a wide range of subjects. The First Bureau has also been involved in kidnapping operations throughout the world intended to secure persons to serve as language and cultural instructors for North Korean operatives and to allow previously trained agents to assume the victim’s identity. These latter operations have generally occurred in Asia, particularly Japan. To conduct these missions, the Operations Department employs a wide variety of specialized swimmer delivery vehicles, semi-submersible infiltration landing craft, infiltration vessels and midget and coastal-submarines (38north.org/wp-content//).
While this organization remains institutionally subordinate to the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, it apparently reports directly to NDC Vice Chairman General O Kuk-ryol, a trusted follower of Kim Chong-il who has played a pivotal role in anti-ROK intelligence operations since at least 1989 when he was appointed director of the Operations Department (38north.org/wp-content/).
General O Kuk-ryol is a retired former Korean People’s Army [KPA] official and senior DPRK Government official. O is a member of the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee and deputy to the Supreme People’s Assembly. He is the patriarch of one of the most influential elite families in North Korea. Gen. O was a leading advocate and supporter of the DPRK’s development of nuclear weapons during the 1980s and for two decades controlled one of the most influential patronage networks in the North’s armed forces.
O attended the Mangyo’ngdae Revolutionary School and Kim Il Sung University. O also received military education in Russia at the Soviet Air Force Academy and Frunze Military Academy (currently known as the Combined Arms Academy). He began his official career in 1964 in the Korean People’s Army Air Force. He was promoted to Major General (sojang) in 1968 and became commander of the Air Force. He was promoted to Chief of the General Staff in September, 1979. In the 1980’s he was responsible for the creation of the Mirim Electronic Warfare Institute (Automated Warfare Institute), the country’s premier training institution in electronic (cyber) warfare. He was responsible for managing personnel shuffles (purges and promotions) among KPA general-grade officers from 1991 to 1993. Around 1992, O Kuk Ryol was appointed department director of the WPK Operations Department, managing military intelligence collection and planning and training for special activities targeting South Korea. In 2009, O Kuk Ryol was appointed Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission.
According to one report, he has also established a foreign trading corporation. Gen. O presided over the consolidation of much of the DPRK’s foreign intelligence collection (focused primarily on the ROK and Japan), operations, education and training into the NDC Reconnaissance General Bureau. He was an early user of computers during the 1980s and led the KPA on a military modernization program at that time, including development of nuclear weapons, expanding and advancing ballistic missiles and adopting electronic (and late cyber) warfare. Aspects of Gen. O’s military modernization program were still used or being implemented in the DPRK as of 2017.
Gen. O is said “to be a commanding officer who is neat and tidy in character and behavior and has a careful planning ability and propulsive force to push ahead with what should be done.” In contrast to many of his peers, O is not a heavy drinker and was not a major participant in the social culture of other DPRK elites. He is married and has six children. Reports describe him as highly intelligent, humble and loyal to Kim Jong Un (nkleadershipwatch.org/). North Korea has long employed a covert strategy for more aggressively engaging perceived threats. In the past decades since the end of the Korean War in 1953, it has only expanded such operations on a more global scale.
The recent actions taken by the U.S. under the Trump administration have been aggressive and a sharp departure from the traditional dealings between the two countries. This has created a new dynamic, strategic and political thinking on both sides. In light of this new and unorthodox approach to North Korea’s missile testing, it is likely that North Korea will begin a withdrawal from more overt military acts that could provoke unnecessary hostility with more powerful U.S. forces. It will become more reliant on its global intelligence network and covert special warfare operations to engage in any aggressive acts against the west.
Going forward, U.S. policy makers should expect to see North Korea place greater emphasis on using indirect means to engage the west and their neighbors.
-They will heighten their criminal activity particularly in the areas of currency counterfeiting, narcotics sales and any other industry that works towards destabilization when it involves the United States and Japan.
-Expect North Korea to use aggressive indirect means of covert operations with Special Forces as the more common means by which they engage the United States and its allies.
-Expect that North Korean intelligence will try to reach out and develop stronger relations with radical terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and Hezbollah who could provide the necessary resources to initiate more devastating attacks.
The DPRK intelligence and covert military program has long been a key component of their military strategy. It has developed an extensive network that has been the more preferred means by which the country pursues aggressive foreign policy. For a long time, the North Koreans have been working to create a more efficient and modernized intelligence organization and Special Forces program with greater emphasis on cyber warfare and other technological innovations. A director has been appointed who is staunchly anti-west, a foreign policy hawk and a modernist who has embraced technological innovation and a wide nuclear weapons program. It is apparent that for a long time North Korea has been gradually looking to embrace a more extensive covert strategy as the primary way it intends to wage war in the future.
Declassified document ORE 3-49, Consequences of U.S troop withdrawal from Korea, in Spring 1949, Central Intelligence Agency, 28 February 1949.
Declassified document ORE 44-48, Prospects for Survival of the Republic of Korea, Central Intelligence Agency, 28 October 1948.
Krause, Troy P, COUNTERING NORTH KOREAN SPECIAL PURPOSE FORCES, Air command and staff college, Air University, 1999.
Kuzichkin, Vladimir, My life in Soviet Espionage: Inside the KGB, Ivy Books, New York, 1990.
H-Diplo Article Reviews, Balázs Szalontai. “In the Shadow of Vietnam: A New Look at North Korea’s
Militant Strategy, 1962-1970.” Journal of Cold War Studies 14:4 (Fall 2012): 122-166. Reviewed by Jiyul Kim, Oberlin College.
In the past, enemies needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger America. Now, shadowy networks of individuals can bring boundless chaos and suffering to our shores for less than it costs to purchase a single tank.
Terrorists are organized to penetrate open societies and to turn the power of modern technologies against us (https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/nsc/nssall.html). Among the most series threats, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) intelligence arm remains a critical security challenge.
My April 1 report will take an in-depth look at the ongoing threat of DPRK Intelligence to U.S. security.
Myanmar is interested in modernizing its military. Over three days in early February, the military staged its largest ever air-land-sea war games, in a very public effort to burnish its tarnished image and raise its credentials as a professional war-fighting machine. The live-fire exercises were clearly intended to showcase their armed forces’ growing capabilities and sophistication to international as well as domestic audiences.
In an era of quasi-democratic governments, it seems unlikely that Myanmar’s strategic planners still entertain their fears of direct Western military intervention that haunted them in the aftermath of the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, it would be equally remarkable if current contingency planning for border clashes with Bangladesh or even China is not regularly reviewed.
At another level, the scale of the drills underscored accelerating efforts to build what Min Aung Hlaing has repeatedly referred to as a “standard military.” Arguably an implicit admission that the Tatmadaw is sub-standard. The term implies a force that is both technologically modern and operationally far better trained and integrated than it is now.
Major steps towards modernization have been made in the last decade, not least in efforts to locally manufacture a wide range of defense equipment. An indigenous ship-building program has been a central element, with a new class of stealth frigates unveiled as flagships of a fast-growing navy with ‘blue water’ ambitions in the Bay of Bengal region. Though they have received support from a variety of other countries in obtaining equipment, the western world remains skeptical as to the military’s true intentions.
The drills also served to reflect the Tatmadaw’s longstanding operational shortcomings and, perhaps more importantly, the doctrinal dilemmas of an aspiring national defense force trapped in a 70-year-long civil war that, professionally and morally, has proved deeply corrosive.
The military campaigns waged by an overwhelmingly ethnic Burman army against the nation’s disaffected ethnic minorities which has resulted in negative effects of alienating the country’s minorities from its government. The generals remain determined to impose a centralized system of Burman-dominated governance on Myanmar’s multi-ethnic society.
The Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, has long been beset by allegations of the systematic massacre, rape and pillage against ethnic Rohingya civilians in Rakhine state (atimes.com). Myanmar government’s actions towards the Rohingya, including military-led “clearance operations” that the United Nations has said are tantamount to ethnic cleansing. The United States called Myanmar’s blanket denials of ethnic cleansing preposterous and called on the UN Security Council to hold the military accountable (atimes.com/). Now, supposedly, it is looking to promote itself as a more professional war-fighting machine (atimes.com/).
Regardless of the intent, Myanmar has a clear agenda to modernize its military force. North Korea has proved a beneficial and continually reliable partner to this effect.
For the last several years, North Korea has exported artillery, truck-mounted multiple launch rocket systems and other military equipment to Myanmar in exchange for rice and other foodstuffs, according to news reports. Myanmar expert Bertil Lintner reported for Asia Times Online in 2006 that North Korean tunneling experts were spotted in Naypyidaw assisting the Myanmar military in building underground bunker complexes and other secretive facilities. The extent of North Korea’s involvement in Myanmar’s military modernization programs, arms supplies, and weapons development remains largely unknown.
Lintner has also documented North Korean assistance to Myanmar’s missile program, including photographic evidence of then junta No. 3 General Thura Shwe Mann leading a Myanmar delegation to Pyongyang to visit defense facilities, military production lines, and a surface-to-surface missile factory in late November and early December 2008. On the occasion, Shwe Mann and North Korean military chief General Kim Kyok-sik signed a memorandum of understanding that formalized joint efforts in “building tunnels” and “modernizing weapons and military equipment.” In June 2011, the U.S. Navy intercepted and turned back a North Korean ship it suspected of delivering missile technology to Myanmar.
Some analysts suspect the previous government’s punitive response to journalists with the local Unity Journal, who were sentenced to ten years in prison for reporting on a secretive military facility at Magwe Division, aimed to cover up active North Korean involvement at the underground complex. The reporters, who probably wrongfully claimed the facility was used to manufacture chemical weapons, also spotted what they identified as Chinese technicians in residence.
Analysts believe the technicians were more likely North Korean (thediplomat.com /). Intelligence sources in the region had for several years recorded frequent arrivals of North Korean ships at Myanmar ports. The ships carried what was usually described as “construction material” to Myanmar and rice back to North Korea, indicating a barter arrangement. Myanmar bought – or bartered – artillery pieces and truck-mounted 240mm Multiple Launch Rockets Systems, or MLRSs, from North Korea in early 2008. The deal with Myanmar was meant for the production of a basic Scud-type missile akin to North Korea’s Hwasong 5 or Hwasong 6 with a range of 320-500 kilometers.
For years Myanmar has strained to assure the United States, amid a diplomatic warming trend, that such agreements are now null and void. Breaking the strategic ties between Myanmar and North Korea became a key point for the Obama administration. It was a major reason why the United States in 2011 decided to shift its policy towards Myanmar from sanctions-imposed isolation to diplomatic engagement with the then ruling military-backed regime. For a time, it was thought by the Obama administration to have been successful in this endeavor.
However, recent reports of a leaked UN confidential report say that the association continues between the two countries. North Korea had earned US$200 million in 2017 from exports that violated various UN-imposed sanctions. The sanctions-busting exports included coal, iron, lead, textiles, seafood and ballistic missiles or missile technology to Myanmar and Syria (atimes.com). The government of Myanmar has maintained that it is not engaged in trade with the North Korean state despite evidence to the contrary.
The situation in Myanmar is fragile, as the government operates on a basic dual system of government. Up until 2011, the country was ruled entirely by a military junta. In 2011, the Junta handed over power to a civilian government.
The election of 2016 was the first fully free election the country had seen in nearly five decades. However, the civilian government does not retain full control of the country. Instead, it shares a fragile cohabitation with the military that retains a considerable amount of instilled power. The military remains the key political force in the country and has key involvement in any constitutional amendments. The constitution of the country, written under military rule in 2008, guarantees the military 25% of seats in the parliament as well as the direct appointment of key cabinet positions of Defense, Home Affairs and the Border. As a result, the military defines its own path and agendas outside of any control or influence from the civilian government (bing.com). It is a viable assumption that while the formal government can legitimately deny any involvement with North Korea, the military could easily pursue its own independent relations.
North Korea has defied UN bans through an elaborate network of offshore company registries, complicit foreign nationals and a helpful international banking system. It has also been aided by numerous private companies throughout the world that both supply necessary resources, such as oil. Several foreign ports on the Asia coast, primarily Taiwan, have assisted in masking North Korean cargo being moved illegally. (bing.com). It continues to operate a vast and elaborate criminal enterprise that allows it to flaunt UN sanctions to obtain resources and serve pariah states as a large-scale arms broker.
This intelligence site has reported previously on the extensive criminal networks controlled by North Korea. It has also reported on the violent conflict in Myanmar and its repressive actions against the minority communities of their country. The dangers of this alliance are that it creates a destabilizing threat in the world. Pariah states operating repressive regimes and engaging in terrorist activities have an ally in North Korea who has the means and expertise to equip such states with weapons systems and other technology that only make them more of a threat.
At the same time, North Korea has such states as Myanmar as clients that offer needed capital to continue financing their nuclear developments and military buildups. They further reciprocate by giving North Korea access to resources and markets that are otherwise not open to them due to sanctions. Countries such as Myanmar, offer the means of payment which infuses the North Korean state with needed cash to finance their own military and weapons development.
Collectively this alliance further erodes the effectiveness of UN authority in being able to contain and control such states and their activities. This is even more corroded by North Korea’s well established criminal networks and intermediaries that serve to bypass the traditional means of UN sanction enforcement. At the same time, the complicated dual system of government makes it impossible to hold the country accountable for any violations. When the military can operate its own foreign policy separate from its own elected government, how is the world to act?
In my upcoming report I will take a look at Myanmar's military regime and North Korea's international arms business.
The communist regime of North Korea has long financed its economy through an illicit arms business, a business that has catered to outlaw regimes in the world by offering a multitude of extensive services for weapons development and procurement.
One of its chief clients is the military regime in Myanmar that has been embroiled for decades in an ethnic-based civil war. (see here for my previous report on Buddhist Fundamentalism and Myanmar). This conflict has led to all sorts of severe human rights abuses ranging from torture and rape to near genocide.
Throughout the years of the Obama administration, it had been a major objective of U.S policy to break up this relationship. While it had been thought that the U.S had been successful in achieving this goal back in the Obama years, recent evidence has come to light that suggests differently.
Brazil continued to be the top destination of exports, with $316 mm, followed by Mexico ($153 mm), Venezuela ($74 mm), Colombia ($71 mm), Peru ($62 mm), Chile ($60 mm), Argentina ($44 mm), Guatemala ($31 mm), Dominican Republic ($27 mm) and Ecuador ($24m). In these days of austerity and budget cuts in the region, affordable Indian generic medicines are preferred by Latin American consumers as well as their governments. In recent years, Mexico has become the chief beneficiary of relations with India.
In 2016 Mexico became the top destination of India’s exports to Latin America and the leading destination in the world of India’s car exports. Exports to Mexico were $2.865 bn in 2015-16. Mexico, the second-largest economy in the region, has been growing and India’s exports to that country have also been steadily increasing. Mexico’s share of India’s vehicle exports was $1.03 bn out of the total Indian exports of $5.6 bn. Even more interesting is that vehicle exports to Mexico have shown an impressive 31% growth from 2014-15 (thewire.in/43577).
In June 2016 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Mexico City for a working visit at which time he agreed with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to raise the level of bilateral relations between the two countries from 'privileged' to 'strategic partnership'. The two leaders agreed to “Seek ways to deepen our cooperation in aerospace issues, in science and in technology as well. We will also launch concrete projects in areas such as agriculture, agricultural research, biotechnology and waste management, management of natural disasters and solar energy.” (sandiegouniontribune.com/). Bilateral trade has grown rapidly in recent years, at double-digit rates consistently.
A well-diversified basket, comprising, inter alia, chemicals & petrochemicals, engineering goods, automobiles & auto parts, pharmaceuticals, diamonds, textiles & garments, and gasoline round out the array of trading goods. Crude oil is still the major Mexican export to India, besides fertilizers, iron & steel, and engineering goods. The areas assessed to have maximum growth potential are mining (projects in Mexico), food processing and infrastructure (projects in India), automobiles & auto parts, textiles & garments, software and IT, pharmaceuticals, engineering, renewable energy, and biotechnology.
Indian investments in Mexico are estimated (to be) several hundred million dollars, and Mexico is now in a catching-up phase. Most major Indian IT companies, several pharmaceutical companies, and engineering companies in tires, packaging, and electrical equipment have a growing Indian presence in Mexico, whereas Mexican investments in India are in multiplexes, housing & infrastructure, auto parts, cement, and food processing. (Arcelor Mittal made one of its early major takeovers in Mexico).
Investments from India in Mexico are estimated significantly above US$ 1 billion. Most of the leading Indian companies in IT/software (TCS, Infosys, Wipro, NIIT, BirlaSoft, HCL, Aptech, Hexaware, Patni, Tech Mahindra etc.) and pharmaceutical (Claris Life Sciences, Wockhardt, Sun Pharma, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Torrent Pharmaceuticals, Lupin Pharma, Zydus Pharma etc.) sector have set up joint ventures in Mexico taking advantage of its strategic location, large market and investment-friendly policies. In 2008, JK Tyres of India bought Mexican tire company Tornel. Leading Mexican companies like Homex, Cinepolis Cemex, and Mexichem have likewise invested in India in recent times. Major investments in the steel and mining sector have also been made by the Arcelor Mittal Group.
Through Mexico’s own sizable market and investment-friendly policies, it is eminently placed to offer the strategic advantage of the world’s largest NAFTA market, already drawing large FDIs from the USA and elsewhere. Indian cinema Bollywood’s estimated the immense potential for Mexico and Latin America yet remains to be explored. Apex chambers from both sides have several cooperation MOUs, and Indian business delegations regularly participate in several major trade fairs in Mexico (indembassy.org/).
However, India's vibrant, growing diverse democratic culture has caught Mexico's fancy. Indian Government Programs such as 'Make in India', 'Digital India’, etc. are key initiatives to attract investment, and many Mexican companies are interested in sectors such as food processing, IT and telecom, auto components, Infrastructure (affordable housing) among others and are keen to take advantage of these programs. Mexico is India’s ninth supplier with around $1.8 billion in 2015. Overall, the value of Indian crude oil imports has gone down by an average -40% from all supplying countries, since 2011, when crude oil purchases were valued at $122.1 billion. But, Mexico is one of the countries that upped the value of their crude oil supplies to Indian importers by 31%.
The ‘MakeinIndia’ programme is of interest to the Mexican companies. Over the last several decades, Mexico had a similar program “Made in Mexico”, that evolved from a simple low-tech, high-volume, low-mix assembly-based manufacturing model into an emerging industrial powerhouse with in-country capabilities to produce a gamut of sophisticated items, ranging from high-tolerance, precision machine components that are incorporated into modern jetliners to delicate and highly calibrated devices that are used in life saving medical procedures.
The “Made in Mexico” program has come to embody quality, as well as to represent one of the world’s most competitive total landed cost manufacturing locations. This program has translated to low or exempted MFN import tariffs for more than 70% of the 12,119 tariff codes. This has positioned the country among the most open in the world (Free Trade Agreements with more than 45 countries) and has generated a trade-to-GDP ratio of more than 61% (more than United States, Brazil, and even China), etc. (thedollarbusiness.com/).
India’s involvement in South America goes back to the early 21st century with Brazil. In the 21st century, Brazil focused on the idea of reciprocal multilateralism, i.e. the rules of multilateral orders should benefit all nations, and not merely be dictated by the superpowers for their benefit. The President maintained the tradition of formulating and programming foreign policy as a state policy. Lula, in his entire tenure, is stated to have visited around 80 countries. India, too, shared similar views on reciprocal multilateralism like Brazil. The essence of this idea was rightly projected when both the countries led the developing world during the trade negotiations over agricultural subsidies in 2003 in Cancun. The unified stance of resistance marked the beginning of a new era in international relations and hinted at non-accommodation of North-South relations.
The two countries pursued their stance of negotiating on their terms--not just by what is prescribed by the major powers—and came together again to form the G4 group.
Along with Germany and Japan, the two emerging nations supported each other in order to bid for a permanent seat in United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Brazilian investments in India comprise sectors like automobiles, IT, mining, energy, biofuels, and footwear. On the other hand, Indian companies have invested in areas of IT, pharmaceuticals, energy, agri-business, mining and engineering/auto sectors. The Indian companies that have marked their presence in Brazil are Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Wipro, Infosys, Cadilla, Mahindra, L&T, Renuka Sugars, United Phosphorus, and Polaris are present in Brazil.
Indian pharmaceutical laboratories, such as Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and Ranbaxy, which are big exporters of generic medicines, have formed joint ventures and installed factories in Brazil as well. The Brazilian companies gaining a foothold in India include Marco Polo (automobiles), Vale (biggest mining company), Stefanini (IT), Gerdau (Steel) (idsa.in/backgrounder/). Much of the recent push toward India is due in part to the current political climate emanating from the United States.
The tactics employed by U.S. President Trump toward Latin American countries have been seen as bullying and remarks seen as racist. Specifically, in the case of Mexico, the situation between the U.S. has been greatly jeopardized. Current U.S. policies have cornered Mexicans and jeopardized their economy. Mexico depends on the U.S. for 81% of its exports and nearly 50% of its imports. Statistics show that U.S. and Mexico trade is at least 1.5 billion a day. The recent H-1B announcements by President Donald Trump have prompted Ambassador Madam Melba Pria to invite Indian professionals to Mexico.
India is a part of SAARC, ASEAN, and other organizations just as Mexico is part of NAFTA and TPP amongst others. Indian companies are doing business on the entire American continent taking advantage of the regional collaboration agreements Mexico holds with its neighbors. A couple of examples; through NAFTA, India has access to the entire North American region and through the Pacific Alliance, they can do business as any other Mexican company in South American countries such as Chile, Colombia and Peru (thedollarbusiness.com/).
At a time when the developing world is experiencing frustrations with the traditional major power partners and are suspicious of their overall motives, India is taking advantage of this situation and offering itself up as an alternative to the major powers. Several possibilities have the potential to arise from this. If trends continue as they are, in the next ten years India’s position as an economic trading partner will grow considerably; to the point of overtaking the U.S, E.U. and China as the chief economic power in the Latin American region.
This presents several considerations for how it will impact the geopolitical landscape. As countries such as Mexico develop greater economic ties to India, they will become less dependent on North American business to sustain their economy. In the long run, this will greatly erode the power of U.S. influence in the region. At the same time, this situation is also working to erode the growing influence of China, who has likewise been using its economic prowess to strengthen its power in the region. This development is likely to heighten hostilities between India and China who, as this reporting site has discussed in previous reports, are in the developing stages of a modern-day global cold-war.
What must be understood by the nations of the developed world is that India presents a new sphere of influence.
Where many nations in the developing world have come to see traditional global powers such as the E.U, North America, and China as domineering and racist in their dealings, India is a country that still is recognized as part of the developing world and has endured similar discrimination from the same institutions. This has made it easier for India to be seen as a comrade state rather than as a potential exploiter. India is capitalizing on this strategy as a means to build global relations with trading partners. So far, in the years that India has been involved in Latin America, it has shown little interest in pursuing much beyond the means of economic interests. Nor is it a real possibility that India would do so in the immediate future. However, if circumstances should change, India could viably become another means Latin American countries can turn to for military support and possibly more.
The U.S. needs to understand that in the coming years India will be a serious power in the Western Hemisphere, one that will have interest in the direction of the region and serious influence to impact what happens. In response, the U.S. needs to begin developing a strategy for how it intends to address this issue in the future. India will be a powerful ally in several matters. It could also be a powerful means to marginalize the U.S. power base and thereby present a new balance of power that Latin American countries will be able to turn to as an alternative if they do not wish to be reliant or succumb to U.S. pressures.
The decision by the U.S. to move the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem has sparked global protests. Currently, the Islamic nation-states of the South-Pacific have been awash with protests of Muslims rallying support of the Palestinians. These protests have not just been gatherings of several thousand people, they have also received the public support of their executive political leaders including the president of Indonesia and the prime minister of Malaysia. This raises a concern as to where the future of the South-Pacific is headed, and what it means for U.S. security interests in the region.
The decision of the United States to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has inflamed tensions between the Islamic world and the West. This includes the region of Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, thousands have taken to the streets to demand a reversal of the decision and the acknowledgment of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state (atimes.com).
For the world’s largest Muslim majority country, a geographical distance from the Middle East is secondary to an enduring belief that the Islamic world must support its own populations. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has made Palestinian independence a long-running foreign policy priority for the county that has been elevated under his leadership. He hosted the 2015 Asia-Africa Conference, bringing together leaders from across the two continents in one of his first major world stage appearances. (atimes.com).
Though Indonesian president Joko Widodo has been a strong proponent of a united Islamic world and an avowed supporter of the Palestinian cause, his personal record would not categorize him as a religious or political extremist. Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was elected Indonesia’s President, becoming the first leader elected outside of the country’s narrow political and military elite and coming from poverty. Jokowi has released 12 economic reform packages aimed at easing investment into the country and doing away with troublesome and redundant regulations (time.com).
In short, Jokowi is trying, step-by-step, to live up to his pledge of making it easier to do business in Indonesia. He has pledged to eliminate 3,000 regional government regulations by July (he has identified 42,000 regulations in need of elimination or change at the central government level), arguing they hamper the setting up and operation of businesses (csis.org).
He has made a bold new appointment for the chief of the national police, the former head of the national counterterrorism agency, Tito Karnavian (time.com). Karnavian presided over the pursuit of the Islamic terrorist Santoso. Santoso was the symbolic heart of the jihadi movement in Indonesia. He had trained more than 100 Indonesians but also a few Malaysians, creating a powerful alumni network (time.com).
A driving force in all of this has been the Indonesian Council of Ulema. It has been leading the “Indonesia unites for Palestine” movement. The country’s top Muslim clerical body organized a several day protest in the nation’s capital that collected thousands of people. Anwar Abbas, a top cleric from Palestine, read a petition calling on Indonesians to stop buying American products until Trump revoked his move (timesofisrael.com).
Nadlatul Ulama, or Council of Ulema, is a powerful organization. With 50-million strong it is the largest Sunni Islamic organization in the world (huffingtonpost.com). The organization has a history of bloody conflict, particularly with communists. It was instrumental in combating several communist uprisings such as the Madiun in 1948 where hundreds of NU and PKI members (a Kurdish group) were killed.
Later, NU violently clashed with the leftist PKI in the so-called 'unilateral actions' of 1964 and early 1965, when communist groups had sought to occupy large rural landholdings owned by well-to-do Muslims. In the period leading up to the coup, some sections of NU had worked closely with anti-communists in other political parties and the army to build an informal anti-PKI alliance. During this time NU units worked closely with the army and other anti-communist groups in drawing up lists of PKI members and supporters then either detaining or executing them. Much of the killing by NU squads took place on riverbanks or in fields, with victims usually being killed in a quick and orderly fashion using bladed weapons. Tens of thousands of PKI members and 'sympathizers' met their deaths at the hands of NU killing squads. Anecdotal information suggests that NU units were probably responsible for more executions than any other civilian group.
When those involved in NU's killing squads are asked why they executed communists, the most frequent reply is that their motivation was religious. Many Ulama described communists as kafir harbi or war-like infidels, informing their students and followers that it was an obligation to physically oppose such enemies until they either relent or are dead (insideindonesia.org). Though the organization has a history of violence that was religiously driven, it has also proven in modern times to be a powerful stalwart against religious extremism.
Part a Sunni religious body, part political party and part charity, it was founded in 1926, nearly 90 years ago, as a response to another Sunni movement, Wahabbism. Wahabbism is the ultra-conservative reform movement based in Saudi Arabia that advocates for puritanical laws from the time of Islam’s origins. It rejects the modern notion of religion as a purely private activity and the separation of church and state.
The Islamic State is highly committed to Wahhabi principles, using its religious textbooks and embracing its hardline tradition of killing unbelievers. NU’s stated goal is to “to spread messages about a tolerant Islam in their respective countries to curb radicalism, extremism and terrorism,” which, it claims, “often spring from a misinterpretation of Islamic teachings.” It launched its global anti-extremism initiative in 2014.
NU is setting its sights worldwide. In December 2014, it created an American nonprofit called Bayt ar-Rahmah in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to serve as headquarters for its international activities. It is also building a “prevention center” in Indonesia to train Arabic-speaking students to combat jihadist rhetoric, alongside NU theologians. It has created a joint program with the University of Vienna in Austria called VORTEX, the Vienna Observatory for Applied Research on Radicalism and Extremism.
The project, which is funded by the Ministry of Internal Security, works to “produce counter-narratives against radical ideas and propagate them globally,” said Staquf. He said NU is also working on future projects with the Swedish and British governments (huffingtonpost.com).
Malaysians planning a protest at the Putra Mosque intend a show of unity rejecting the United States’ move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Such events and voicing of disapproval have been well reported. What has been somewhat dismissed is the greater support these protests are receiving from ranking heads of state (thestar.com).
On 22 December 2017, a protest was held at Malaysia’s Putra Mosque. In attendance was the Malayan Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who arrived at the Putra Mosque to take part in the Solidarity Rally to Save Jerusalem. He arrived at 1 pm and immediately went to the prayer hall to perform the Friday prayer followed by the Hajat prayer. A special sermon touching on the Jerusalem issues is being delivered by Federal Territory Mufti Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri. Also in attendance was Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (nst). In addition PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, Palestine Ambassador to Malaysia Datuk Dr Anwar Al Agha and various political and NGO leaders were expected to make an appearance (thestartv.com).
In response to these protests and others like them being carried on throughout the world, the U.S. has threatened strong action. U.S President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off U.S. funding to countries that support a resolution criticizing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. US Ambassador Nikki Haley stated that the United States "will be taking names" of countries that vote in favour of a General Assembly resolution declaring that Jerusalem's status can be changed only by direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
"For all these nations, they take our money and then vote against us. They take hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars and then they vote against us."
In a letter to over 180 of the 193 UN member states, Ms Haley hinted at possible U.S. retaliation. Mr Trump's comments made clear to recipients of US assistance that billions of dollars could be at stake (thenational).
The situation regarding Jerusalem has sparked a global outcry from the world, particularly the Muslim dominated regions. What is difficult to ascertain is whether the positions taken by the political leadership of such countries as Indonesia are hardened stances of belief or if this is the simple politics of appeasing the current political climates within their own borders. Given that much of this fervor is being driven by powerful Islamic political agents it is understandable that politicians in these countries tread lightly.
The U.S. has a right to maintain its position and assert its rights in the world. However, it must also understand what greater ramifications exist beyond their actions. If the protests of even more traditionally moderate nations are indeed being driven by powerful influences within their religious communities, then it is paramount that the U.S. does not exacerbate the situation. A primary U.S. concern should be moving too boldly on the global stage in a way that offers fuel that could feed anti-American movements throughout the world. If moderate governments are delivering public outcry as a way to appease angered political bases, then a sudden withdrawal of needed financial aid or some other form of detrimental retaliation by the U.S. will only undermine their position and open the door for other threats to emerge.
The U.S. should not simply kowtow to world opinion, it should, when necessary, assert itself. How it responds must be more thoughtful and decisive so as not to create grossly negative second and third order effects.