During a series of discussions, the virtual think tank of the Institute for Political and International Studies explores the economic, political, and strategic consequences of the Ukraine war for the Middle East. In the first part of this discussion, in a conversation with Mr. Ferdosipour, the former ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Jordan, we have explored the impact of the Ukraine war on Egypt and the problems of Palestine.
Q: Egypt imports weapons from Russia and its stance towards the issues of Libya and Syria has been close to Russia’s as well. In Libya, both sides have provided financial and military support to Khalifa Haftar. Meanwhile, Egypt has tried to maintain strategic cooperation with the US and Europe. Cairo voted against Russia in the Security Council and pursuant to this vote, it also condemned the sanctions imposed against Russia. Egypt has been trying to hold on the middle line between the West and Russia. How long(er?) can this policy last?
A: The consequences of the war between Russia and Ukraine for Egypt can be approached from different perspectives. First, we should consider El-Sisi's coup government in Egypt as a joint product of the West, especially the United States and its agents in the Persian Gulf region. Having said that, El-Sisi has likewise tried to strike a sensible balance in foreign policy so as to win Russia's support to carry on with his coup government. On the one hand, ever since the Camp David Accords, Egypt is indebted to the United States of America due to its financial assistance of 3.1 billion dollars, especially regarding the military, security, and economic issues, and on the other hand, it owes its shared Socialist-Republic history with the former Soviet Union. In this sense, we shall consider the relationship between Egypt and the USA as a Catholic marriage. Egypt's positive vote in the United Nations Security Council against Russia's aggression, notwithstanding its otherwise condemnation of Western sanctions against Russia coupled with its emphasis on finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine war and the propagated dominant theme in Egypt's national media to keep up a neutral policy about the whole issue, are all indicative examples of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, the policy of moderation taken by El-Sisi's government regarding this crisis.
Concerning the economy, Egypt has so far suffered a loss of more than 7 billion dollars due to its high level of reliance (80%) on importing grains from the region in crisis. El-Sisi's government's inability to choose an alternative option can increase the cost of establishing national peace and lead the country's political future to an unredeemable path. Even though Egypt has already compensated for its deficit in the budget through the increase in the oils and gas price in the global markets, other serious problems, including the impact of war on Egypt's tourism and the reduction in the number of Russian and Ukrainian tourists, the potential risk of altercations between the Russian and Ukrainian tourists inside Egypt during the outbreak of war, the reduction in Western and American support to Egypt due to their involvement in the long-lasting crisis in Ukraine, are all great losses and damages Egypt and other North African countries are suffering.
Besides, for Egypt, regarding both politics and security, the consequences of this war are as remarkable as in the economic domain, and even much more. The most destructive consequence of this war is for the Zionist regime. The probable disarrangement in this regime's interactions with Russia due to its taking sides with Kyiv in the Ukraine war can lead to a more unfavourable situation for Egypt in the Renaissance Dam crisis. Accordingly, any strategic and tactical inclination that Egypt mistakenly shows toward the Russian axis in this war will result in its exclusion from the financial support provided by the United States, the extension of sanctions to include Cairo, and the cancelation of the previously ongoing economic and especially military supports. Even now, the USA's intention in normalizing the relations in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, especially between Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime due to Bin Salman's need for getting through with the challenges of political power transfer, is a premonition that forebodes the maximization of the conflict in the Suez crisis. Conceding the authority over Tiran and Sanafir islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia was the Zionists' trick to increase the energy hub in the ports of Eilat, Haifa, and Ashkelon, which undoubtedly reduces the importance of the Suez Canal.
The war in Ukraine has severely increased the instability in Egypt's neighbouring areas and complicated this country's choice of foreign policy. For example, under the influence of Ukraine, Syria's condition can turn into a crisis between Russia and the Zionist regime, while Egypt's traditional policy has always been based on adhering to a socialist approach in the Levant and following Russian Federation's policies. In case of instability in the Levant, the persistency of Egypt's policies in this region might be challenged critically.
A similar situation prevails in Libya, since Cairo's policy regarding the Libyan crisis is based on supporting Haftar's national army in line with Russia. However, the policy of the West and the United States is against supporting the National Council. Therefore, if under the influence of Ukraine's war, the power of the national army in Libya declines, the consequences regarding security issues may extend to Egypt, reducing Cairo's influence in Tripoli, and finally, the extension of the influence of the Libyan National Council's ideologies into the political prospect of Libya will also extends into Tahrir Square in Egypt. The situation with Sudan will not be any better than the problems with Libya; any war consequences in this country will not only affect the unity of action in defending the rights of the Nile and the Renaissance Dam, but also will put the neighbouring area of Egypt (two-fourths of Egypt's borders including the borders with Sudan and Libya) on fire, due to the increased influence of the Zionist regime.
To what extent Egypt's quasi-neutral policies and similar policies in the Middle East can last, in my opinion, depends on the time frame, intensity, and geographical scopes of the war. Such policies can survive only if the conflict proceeds to be handled with diplomacy. However, if the scope of the war broadens from the southeastern regions to the northeastern region, i.e., from the arc-shaped borders of Crimea in the south, Mariupol in the southeast, Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Belarus in the north, far into the Ukrainian lands, i.e. Kyiv and its western region, the continuation of the war becomes an authentic supposition with two meanings:
First: The West's effort to continue NATO's expansion policy to the East and second: the risk of employing strategic weapons in the war zone; both cases expand the geographical scope while prolonging the time of the war. There is no doubt that with such a presupposition, the outcome of playing this game with two cards in sleeves will largely depend on the player's luck and talent.
Q: The impact of the Ukraine war on the Palestinian issue
A: In my opinion, the Palestinians, and especially the resistant groups, have taken benefits from the current crisis in Ukraine in three aspects:
1: The Zionist regime taking sides in this war with Kyiv and the emergence of tension in its relations with Russia have largely evoked the same situation as during the Cold War time in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the Palestinians feel that the continuation of this situation is a supportive force from which they can gain advantages. To some extent, one could even infer that Palestinians have gained more courage since the beginning of the war in Ukraine due to the challenge that this complex situation has caused to the Zionists, resulting in the expansion of the internal political crisis in this regime. Of course, we should not forget that just as Kornet could prove the calculations wrong in the 33-day war by surprising the Zionists, now, the unexpected arrival of Western weapons in the Ukraine war, including the MANPADS Stingers and Javelins (anti-tanks), is also capable of confuting the ongoing calculations in the conflict between the resistance and the occupiers again.
Second: It is certain that widening the scope of the war in Ukraine will make the US more involved. Now, besides the issue of the South China Sea and the China-Taiwan conflict, the additional pressure of these two crises will distract the US from supporting the Zionist regime. It is exactly similar to Truman's situation regarding the Vietnam crisis where it was a necessity to adopt a proper policy for filling the vacancy caused by Britain's withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. Of course, this time, due to the economic stagnation of the United States, the four supporting principles of the Truman Doctrine are no longer apt to support the Zionists regime. Biden's attempt to force Saudi Arabia to join the Abraham Accords approves this interpretation.
If this presupposition is correct, it will be difficult for Israel to enter into any kind of war in the future, as it will not be supported by the United States; besides, perhaps with the supportive entry of Russia into the axis of resistance, the proceeding of the ongoing situation will accelerate in favour of Palestine with a remarkable reduction in the due costs. For the Zionists, this situation equals playing with fire inside-out.
On the other hand, the Zionists' interference in such crises as the ones in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, Northern Iraq, and also the peripheral area of Iran has substantially increased their vulnerability on an international scale, risking a potential decline for the Zionist army.
Third: In case of the continuation of the war in Ukraine and regarding the two-fold standards that the West and especially the United States employ considering the human rights policies, the world will not remain silent about this conflict. The interference of international legal institutions in such cases as the assassination of a Palestinian journalist (Shireen Abu Akleh) are similar examples of such an alternating approach. Now, if the Islamic world acts cautiously and the independent international lawyers decide to enter the scene more actively, the Palestinian nation can definitely act through these international institutions to claim its constitutional rights.
In short, regarding the conflict with the Zionists, the aftermath of the crisis in Eastern Europe is enough to enable the Islamic Resistance to relinquish the military involvement with the occupiers for the first time, successfully balance the terror, enter the spheres of the continental plateau (to gain access to fossil energy) and generally proceed in several dimensions concerning regional economy and politics. After about a century of one-dimensional conflicts with the Zionists, new variables are emerging in the region.
Mojtaba Ferdosipour, Director of the West Asia Study Group
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)