Monday, February 22, 2021

Iran, Turkey, Qatar Alliance: Will this mark a shift in MENA's Balance of power?

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Raya Tripathi

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Iran, Turkey, Qatar Alliance: Will this mark a shift in MENA's Balance of power?

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Global Views 360

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February 22, 2021

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Turkey-Qatar Alliance

Turkey-Qatar Alliance | Source: Turkish Think Tank

Qatar, Iran and Turkey have been forming an alliance—which impacts several countries—especially in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. The move comes after Israel recently established its diplomatic relations with four Arab league countries, namely, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The article covers how this move can have an impact on the balance of power in the region.

Support for the Palestinian Cause

The three countries are critical of the Israel-Arab ties and support the Palestinian cause. Various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah as well, are shoring up ties with Turkey and other countries in the region that stand against normalization with Israel.

During his speech in the 75th United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan called out on Israel and proclaimed, “The occupation of Palestine is a bleeding wound.”

Since the Gaza attack, which killed 10 Turkish social activists aboard a ship by the Israeli commandos in international waters, the relationship between the two has only soured. After this incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel, downgrading the diplomatic status. Yet in 2016—after a few meetings—the relationship was restored. However, after another attack in Gaza in 2018, Turkey called back its ambassadors again and expelled the Israeli ambassador to Turkey. Since then they do not have full diplomatic status.

Following the attacks Erdogan—the president of Turkey—even called Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu “a terrorist.” The country has been openly supportive of the Palestinian cause, and has also sent aid for humanitarian relief to the Palestinians. Several Hamas leaders have been visiting, taking refuge, and even meeting with Erdogan.

On August 22, 2020, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Erdogan in Istanbul. Jibril Rajoub, secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee, as well arrived in Turkey on September 21, 2020 to meet with Haniyeh and his deputy Saleh al-Arouri and discuss ways to end the internal Palestinian division.

On the same day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas phoned Erdogan and thanked him for his support for the Palestinian cause. The two have shared several calls since—discussing political developments and US pressure on the region to normalize ties with Israel and ways to face such pressure.

Turkey has tried to balance its relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, who happen to be arch rivals. But after the recent growing closeness with two of Saudi Arabia’s rival countries, Iran and Qatar, Turkey might end up straining its relations with Saudi Arabia.

Qatar-Saudi Arabia conflict

This diplomatic conflict is also known as the Second Arab Cold War (the first one being the Iran-Saudi Arabia Cold War). There is an ongoing struggle between the two countries to gain influence in the Gulf. Their relations strained especially after the emergence of Arab Spring. During that time, Qatar became in favour of the revolutionary wave, whereas Saudi Arabia was against it. Both the States are allies of the United States, but have a tussle in their ideologies. Both have avoided direct conflict with each other.

There are other issues between them which leads to further tussle-

1. Qatar broadcasts a news channel, Al Jazeera, which favours the Arab Spring.

2. Qatar has good relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia's rival.

3. Qatar also allegedly supported Muslim Brotherhood in the past. Which it denies.

The Qatar diplomatic crisis became worse in 2017. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations and trade ties with Doha, and imposed a sea, land and air blockade on Qatar, claiming it supported “terrorism” and was too close to Iran. Yemen, the Maldives and Libya's eastern-based government also followed later. Qatar rejected the claims and said there was “no legitimate justification” for the severance of the relations.

How does this new alliance affect the other countries in the region?

The new alliance seems to lead into formations of two alliance groups or blocs in the region, with some countries siding with Iran, Qatar and Turkey and others with the Saudis and their allies. Another point to keep in mind is that Saudi Arabia is supported by the US, while two countries from the former alliance—Turkey and Iran—are supported by Russia. This will lead to further division among the Middle Eastern countries.

President Trump, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, Israeli Prime Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the UAE Signing the Abraham Accords | Source: Trump White House Archives

This alliance can also affect the trade among these countries, and can severe the ties of many Middle Eastern countries. The biggest beneficiary is going to be Israel, which doesn’t have good relations with most of the Muslim world, except the ones which established diplomatic ties recently by signing the Abraham Accords.

In North Africa countries like Egypt and Morocco recognise Israel. However, most of the North African countries also supported the Arab Springs, which is against the ideas of Saudi Arabia. The Islamic holy land seriously seems to have less Arab allies when it comes to opposing the Arab Springs.

In fact, there can be impacts on trade and diplomatic ties with other countries outside the Middle East and North African region as well. Countries will have to balance their relations with both these groups.

How does it affect the Balance of power in the region?

In international relations, balance of power refers to the posture and policy of a nation or group of nations protecting itself against another nation or group of nations by matching its power with the power of the other side.

There has been a Cold War situation between Iran and Saudi Arabia as they are very (perhaps most) influential powers in the region. But Saudi Arabia is still more influential as a business as well as a soft power—it has a richer economy, oil exports, and most importantly, being the holy land where every Muslim comes for Hajj pilgrimage—it has Mecca and Medina. It is the land where the Prophet Muhammad first delivered his messages and teachings. Iran may try to compete in the economic part, but isn't equally as challenging in the religious part—although it is an important country for the Shia Muslims.

There have been arms embargo on Iran by the UN for arms race. Russia and China have been eager to supply Iran with advanced jets, tanks and missiles, which is quite alarming for its Gulf Arab neighbours, especially its primary adversaries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

On 14 September 2019, drones were used to attack the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Houthi movement in Yemen claimed responsibility, joining it to events surrounding the Saudi Arabian intervention in the Yemeni Civil War and stating that they used ten drones in the attack from Yemen. Saudi Arabian officials said that many more drones and cruise missiles were used for the attack and these originated from the north and east, and that they were of Iranian manufacture. The United States and Saudi Arabia have stated that Iran was behind the attack while France, Germany, and the United Kingdom jointly stated Iran bears responsibility for it. Iran has denied any involvement. The situation has only exacerbated the Persian Gulf crisis.

By forming this new alliance, supporting the Palestinian cause—with Qatar—even supporting the idea of Arab Springs; the Iran-Turkey-Qatar alliance has a new power with them. What remains to be seen is the other Middle Eastern country’s decision—whether they support this new alliance and the Palestinian cause or go for yet another fragile “peace-building” initiative in the already disturbed region.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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