Sino-Iranian Ties Are Dangerous, but Will Only Go So Far

The leaking of a draft of an extensive agreement for economic and strategic cooperation between Beijing and Tehran—two fiercely anti-American regimes—has caused serious concern in Washington. Jerusalem is also alarmed at the prospect that a regional power dedicated to Israel’s destruction now has the backing of the world’s second-mightiest country. While these worries are undoubtedly justified, argue Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein, there are limits to how much China can, or will, do for Iran:

Beijing will find it difficult to uphold grandiose promises of investment, and any joint projects that move forward will likely be negotiated under highly unfavorable terms for Iran. In addition, cooperation against the United States has limited potential because neither country can resolve the core challenges that the other faces vis-à-vis Washington. . . . China is unlikely to provide adequate investment to solve Iran’s economic woes, and Iran cannot provide China with the trade and technological advantages to mitigate recent U.S. steps in great-power competition.

The assessment that this leaked draft and a potential Sino-Iranian partnership constitute a major blow to U.S. “maximum pressure” on Iran appears premature. On the contrary, it is entirely conceivable that the document was leaked by Tehran as a desperate response to the partial success of America’s Iran policy. Iran’s dismal economic outlook and the regime’s recent blunders have created intense pressure on the government to present some good news to the public (e.g., Chinese investors lining up to pour money into Iran) in order to demonstrate the regime’s competence and to provide a sense of hope for the future. However, these Iranian “breakthroughs” do not always reflect reality.

Yet in military and strategic terms, the new friendliness between Iran and China has already yielded results:

Intelligence cooperation between the two countries reportedly led to the decimation of the CIA’s collection capabilities. In addition, Chinese assistance with Iran’s missile program has intensified the threat Iran poses to the Middle East. However, Beijing’s assistance to Iran is based on opportunism rather than any particular affinity. Recent reports have revealed China’s role in developing nuclear facilities for Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s arch-rival. . . . Beijing will not forego Saudi oil or trade with Israel and Turkey in order to entangle itself in Iran’s collapsing economy.

Read more at War on the Rocks

More about: China, Iran, Israel-China relations, U.S. Foreign policy

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood