• Toby Irwin

Notable Comments from Manama Dialogue 2019

This article is a compilation of notable comments from leaders at the 2019 IISS Manama Dialogue hosted from the 22nd to 24th of November. The Manama Dialogue is the Middle East's most prominent international security summit, and is hosted yearly by the UK think tank IISS.

1. On French diverging interests from the US

Question from Deborah Haynes, Foreign Affairs Editor at Sky News:

"This is a question for Madame Parly. You talked about American disengagement in the region and also of the need to review the grammar of deterrence, but why is it taking France and other European countries, with the exception of Britain, so long to launch this maritime security force to help protect shipping in the Gulf? If I may, could you give a sense of what France’s vision is for the future of NATO, particularly with regards to potentially resetting NATO’s relations with Russia? Thank you."

Response from Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, France:

" Thank you. The first question was about the maritime security initiative and the question was first, why does France not follow the American-led initiative? The reason is very simple. We prefer not to join because we want to make clear that our policy is separate from the maximum-pressure American policy, which does not mean that we do not want to contribute to the maritime security in the region. That is why we took the initiative to structure a European approach and that approach would be separate but fully coordinated with the American one"

This comment is of interest because it affirms previously noted tendencies for France to diverge from the interests of NATO allies, principally the United States. To the more aware of Atlantic geopolitics one might have noted this as a reflection of the divergence between European security ambitions and that of North American interests. Where each European state falls in each category is a matter of debate, though the comments from Madame Parly indicate France is in the former.

She went on to note that the actions of Turkey in Syria indicate a deeper split in alliance interests:

"What we have seen recently with the attack from Turkey along the border of Syria, that there is also a question about the way allies take into account the interests of others. I think that the time now has come to move from the brain dead to the brainstorm"

2. On Jordan's position on Israel/Palestine peace process.

From Barik Mhadeen, Senior Researcher, Human Security, West Asia-North Africa Institute.

"My question is to His Excellency Ayman Safadi. Yesterday, His Majesty spoke in Washington and said that our relationship with Israel now is at an all-time low. And you just mentioned in your presentation now that for the past two or three years the peace process has been dead, more or less. Now, where does that leave us in Jordan, and what cards do we have or do we intend on playing to save ourselves from the precautions of such a deadlock?"

Response from Ayman Safadi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Jordan:

"On the issue of Jordan–Israel relations, as His Majesty said yesterday in New York, they are at an all-time low. We have not been able to achieve bilateral cooperation on many of the issues that are limited to Jordanian–Israeli cooperation. We had the Red–Dead project, for instance, which was ready to be tendered. [At the] last minute Israel decided not to go ahead with it and it stopped. Twenty-five years into the peace treaty, and we all remember the days when the treaty was signed, during a time when all Arab countries were engaged in a collective effort to have collective peace. We all spoke of a peace dividend. Where is that peace dividend? ...

Again, occupation continues; violations of Palestinians’ rights continue. Prospects for a two-state solution that would allow for the emergence of an independent sovereign Palestinian state on 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital – we are nowhere near that. ...

I will close by saying that, that said, yes, there are challenges to the relations and our commitment to peace remains unwavering because we do believe that peace is a right for everybody. However, our commitment to the conditions for achieving that remains solid. You cannot have peace unless the Palestinians have their legitimate rights, and we will continue to do everything we can with our brothers and partners to bring about that peace and bring about that end of occupation. And the two-state solution, that is the only way to achieve regional peace. Thank you."

Notable from this is Jordan's frustration at lack of peace talks, and commitment to a two-state solution.

3. On the repatriation of British orphans of Syrian fighters.

Question from Raf Sanchez, Middle East Correspondent at Daily Telegraph:

"Should we expect any further repatriations of British children or adults, or is this the limit on how many people the UK is prepared to take back? What do you say to criticism from British allies, like the US, Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces, who say that Britain is failing to live up to its responsibilities by refusing to take back its citizens?"

Response from Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser, Cabinet Secretary, Cabinet Office, UK:

"We have just repatriated a group of very young orphans. These are young British citizens who, for no fault of their own, because of the decisions of their parents, have found themselves in a war zone. We felt it was the right thing to do, once we were able to do so, to repatriate them. If others find themselves in the same circumstances and it is possible to do so, then the same principle will apply. However, people should not underestimate the practical challenges and security challenges of doing that safely. The primary responsibility, of course, for the welfare of those children is the parent who, in effect, abused and victimised them by taking them to a war zone and allowing them to be indoctrinated in the first place. However, they are Brits and we have a responsibility to them."

Interest comes from the distinction between orphaned children and the return of actual fighters. Striking is the importance of agency vis-a-vis presence in Syria, as he goes on to say foreign fighters will be dealt with through the UK justice system. There is thus a divergence in policy between children and adults. One might suggest this is an obvious observation, though the real question arises at where exactly the line is drawn for repatriation and at what age.

4. On economic regional leadership.

Question from Adnan Hassan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Mecasa Advisors Europe:

"Dr Gargash spoke about shared economic zones and touched on youth. It seems to me that the region has one of the highest percentages of youth, and economic diplomacy, in fact, might even be more important for regional stability than hard force. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, of course, at $782 billion, is at the heart of the GDP in the region and with the G20 and reform process, is very key to the future. How do you see the vision for a regional economic order playing out and how do you see both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE playing a role in that? Thank you."

Response from Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, UAE:

"Clearly, regional leadership, the regional role is very important. Now, the issue of economic prosperity. I would argue that Gulf countries, from Saudi Arabia to some of the UAE and other Gulf countries, have always pursued what I would consider a developmental model. In various conversations with our leadership in the UAE, it is consistently about housing, it is consistently about services, it is consistently about youth, it is consistently about education, and so on and so forth. This is like a daily conversation that we have. It is not a conversation really about regional politics, etc. I would say that in many ways, many of the Gulf countries, in their model, which is criticised by others as rentier models, but it is consistently about social and economic policy. I think what I would like to see is more of that discussion in the region."

Dr Gargash seems committed to the idea of positive sum economics, where every state can win through economic investment and development. It stands in contrast to what one might expect from a competitive, oil rich (and ultimately finitely resourced) region. Comments might be a reflection of aspiration and not reality, however.

5. On how the US might react to a conflict between Lebanon and Hezbollah.

Question from Brigadier General (Retd) Maroun Hitti, Defence and Military Adviser to the President of the Council of Ministers, Lebanon:

"Knowing that planning for such a reaction from the LAF against any action from Hizbullah could serve as a deterrent, we have been advocating the LAF to do so in the last six months before the recent eruption, because we saw it coming. If it happens, if the LAF comes to blows with Hizbullah, in the absence of any internal political umbrella and knowing the strong interaction that exists between the US political decision-makers and yourself and your command, what would be the US reaction?"

Response from General Kenneth McKenzie Jr, Commander, US Central Command, US:

"Thank you. I will begin with just a direct answer to the question on Lebanon from General Hitti. We continue to believe that the Lebanese Armed Forces remain the best security guarantor for the state of Lebanon, and should be the expression of the state as the holders of armed power in Lebanon. That continues to be our position, and we will continue our strong support for the LAF."

6. On US deterrence against Iran.

Question from Nicholas Childs, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security, IISS:

"However, I pose the question as to whether – particularly the reluctance of some of the United States’ traditional allies to join the new International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), the different rules of engagement that are therefore out there – and, in some cases, no rules of engagement as far as some of the looser frameworks that have been put together are concerned – that these are, in a way, hindering that re-establishment of deterrence that you, General McKenzie, particularly, talked about. I wonder if you could address whether there is more to be done, in terms of aligning those approaches."

Response from General Kenneth McKenzie Jr, Commander, US Central Command, US:

"The question was, are the ROE and the complexity of the situation putting nations off from joining the IMSC? Nations may have their own reasons for not joining an act of collective security, so I cannot comment on that. But I can tell you that nobody is more comfortable in a complex, multi-ROE environment than navies. And my NAVCENT Commander, Admiral Jim Malloy, who is seated down here in front, we work every day in an environment where nations hold different views, different red cards about what they can and cannot do. It is just a complex environment that we are very comfortable with. ...

The last point I would just like to make is to talk a little bit about deterrence, and, of course, I’m largely talking about Iran. However, as I alluded to in my opening comments, deterrence is doubt in the mind of an adversary that the object they are pursuing is ultimately going to be worth the potential loss or damage that will be inflicted on them as they pursue that object. Activities we are undertaking now in concert with our partners in the region are all designed to re-establish deterrence with Iran. And we have had some success with that. It is not perfect, but it continues."

Unlikely that different ROE are hindering regional cooperation in 'containing' Iran. Likely other geopolitical factors and alliance considerations at play. Are all regional states keen to be involved in a US led coalition?

7. On Turkey's position regarding action in Syria, and NATO responses to said action.

Question from Deborah Haynes, Foreign Affairs Editor, Sky News:

"And for the Turkish minister, please. It seems that obviously a lot of NATO allies are angry by Turkey's action in Syria. Isn't it a fact that Turkey needs NATO more than NATO needs Turkey?"

Response from Sedat Onal, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Turkey:

"There were two questions about NATO, whether we need, as Turkey, NATO more or NATO needs us more. The answer is in the motto of NATO, ‘All for one, one for all.’ We stick to this understanding. And as to resuscitate the brain of NATO, we should not take things out of their context. S400s and other issues, Turkish operation in Syria: these are issues that we can discuss within NATO, and we are trying to do so. NATO is the most successful defence organisation of all time and I think it is going to remain as such. We are committed to support this idea... why not work with Syrian regime to combat terrorism?"

Deputy Minister Onal seems unphased by NATO backlashes, and notably brands Kurds terrorists. I may have misinterpreted the transcript wrong, but that is how it comes across. One might look at this themselves to draw their own conclusion. It is from the 4th plenary Q&A.

8. On Iranian strategy.

Question from John Raine, Senior Adviser for Geopolitical Due Diligence, IISS:

"Based on a two-year study by the IISS of Iran’s capability to fight through third parties, one of the conclusions being that they had done this extremely well and now enjoyed a certain strategic advantage, do you think that whilst we are concentrating on outgunning the Iranians, the Iranians are concentrating on outsmarting us? And if there is new thinking about how we might disable this critical Iranian capability? Thank you."

Response from Chris Murphy, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, Senate, US:

"One of the things that the Iranians rightly point out is that their ballistic missiles are pointed as much at their Gulf adversaries as they are at Israel, and that they are going to want us to put on the table questions of our military support for allies here, which I think we have to be very careful about, entertaining those discussions.

I want us to go into any new negotiations with Iran with eyes wide open. You do not get something for nothing. And if you want to put things beyond what was in the context of the JCPOA negotiations in a new negotiation, then we need to be willing to put other items on that table as well. And that may ultimately draw us further apart. I think we all need to be careful what we are asking for in that respect."

Iran likely to expect US withdrawal in return for any form of concessions.

9. What hinders alliance development in the Middle East?

Question from Lieutenant General (Retd) Sir Thomas Beckett, Executive Director, IISS-Middle East:

" I suppose the question I would like to ask is, why is it so difficult to create effective alliances in the Middle East? If you look at what we have got here, the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) essentially stemmed from the Iran–Iraq War, and one of its intentions was that it would provide some sort of collective defence, which it never has"

Answer from Emilie Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Middle East Security, IISS:

"I think it is a mix of factors. One, there is a huge imbalance between local capabilities and expectations and what the rest of the world is willing to put into that. If the GCC had become a real security alliance for almost 40 years now, then the international actors would have looked at the GCC, and the potential for regional organisations to provide for regional security, more seriously. This has not happened. We see alliances, not necessarily formal alliances."

Read more: https://www.iiss.org/events/manama-dialogue/manama-dialogue-2019

Cover Photo Courtesy of IISS Flickr

At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a third year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK foreign policy and the defence/aerospace industry.