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Libya: From the Arab Spring to the identity dissolution

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Of all the states of the Maghreb and Mashreq of the Middle East and North Africa that have experienced the phenomenon of the “Arab Spring” resulting, in some of them, with removing the gerontocratic dictatorships, Libya is a country that has known one of the most striking forms of post-revolutionary development: from the internationally supported banishment of the dictator Muammar al-Gaddhafi in 2011, to a democracy sabotaged from its very first stage of germination, by identity conflicts and tribal and caste contradictions. In the period which followed, up to the present stage where, from the first half of 2014, the former Jamahiriya presents itself to the observer as a state of armed militias, of ambitions for power, of anarchy and rapid slippage towards social dissolution and, apparently, by towards misidentification and national fragmentation.

The fratricidal struggles between the Libyans are not recent, they arose when the TV in print media presented the bloodied and death disfigured face of the one who was the “the great leader of the revolution of September 1, an image in which all Libyans saw a sign of victory, but which each understood ac- cording to ambitions, interests, adventurism and aspirations of power and influence groups, families, tribes and clans of the most diverse, in a society whose demography is perhaps more acutely than in the case of the other Arab states, marked by a complicated ethnic and centrifugal plurimorfism which, in addition to Arabs, is composed of other ethnicities: Imazighen (Berbers), Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians.  In the well-known tradition of faith in predestination and shifting responsibility for what is going on to anyone else but themselves, the Libyans do not cease to accuse the West, unanimously and regardless of the divisions that separate them, for the state in which Libya is today, nearly four years after the removal and trial less murder of Colonel Gaddhafi, in an advanced state of dissolution.

There is no doubt that the Western community and the influential Arab powers have their share of responsibility the “Libyan spring” – which was and certainly will still be examined in the minutest details – but it is equally doubtless that the Libyans themselves have their own and overwhelming responsibility at least to have too easily forgotten their national identity, the values for which they fought with gun in hand and the free future they are entitled to, and this social, mercantile, customary, territorial ideological and confessional frag- mentation is most clearly expressed in the realities of the multitude of “patriots” and “nationalists” who, on behalf of outdated vocal slogans, defend their own fortifications of concepts and interests.  This study aims to present, to the extent allowed by the printing space, a picture of Libya today, viewed from several perspectives – political, security and military – to facilitate a deeper understanding of contemporary Libya and the chaos in which it is struggling.   

A land of independent ”revolutionaries”  Today, the “private” armed militias are making the law in Libya. Their emergence, which coincided with the overthrow in August 2011, of the Gaddhafi regime, has at least two causal reasons: massive and brutal use of the former regime from, the early moments of social unrest, of military repression against the demonstrators, which determined their reaction to retaliate by using weapons, and secondly, limiting the actions taken by NATO regarding the air bombardment of the positions held by the military or by supporters of the former dictator, in parallel with the arming and the financial and logistical support of the protesters, in order to tilt the balance of forces in their favor. Well armed, both the revolutionaries and the military, the police and security forces defeated with the help of the Western military intervention, were organized in militia divided into two hostile camps, so that, in the next three years, amid the chronic political in- stability and the inability of the installed authorities (by the Western coalition leading the “democratic” Libya) to dissolve the extra-institutional and military formations and end the “militia phenomenon”, they grew numerically and from the point of view of the manpower, becoming, in their whole, a political, military and security force even stronger and more active than the governments that have succeeded and even than the national army.  
According to former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, if in the first days after the fall of Gaddhafi, the number of the “armed” rebels was around 30,000 people, today we speak of the active existence of more than 200,000 “militia” members of various colorations and ideological affiliations. Moreover, with time, the extra-governmental armed formations mosaic managed to impose itself and to substitute the very military institution in the execution of the state security and defense missions normally assigned to the army and police, such as the security and pro- tection of the major importance objectives (port facilities, oil fields, ports, airports, borders etc.).

We are currently experiencing the dramatic situation in which the government itself uses the services of the militia in this sense, as the same procedure is applied to the political parties or alliances engaged in the power struggle or in the liquidation of their political opponents. It is understood that, for their services, the militias require proper rewards which refer not only that the “beneficiaries” satisfy their pragmatic and group claims (of economic-financial nature), but also issues related to the sphere of politics or the interest of national and social unity, as in the case of the request for the establishment of the independent administrative region Brega – the most important reservoir of oil resources of the country – or the monopolization of oil exports out of the control of  any governmental control the requests being supported even by forceful action – the taking over of government and legislative offices, including the parliament building (which was forced, at gunpoint, to adopt the famous law of “political isolation (lustration) of the uncomfortable politicians”, especially those with a Ghaddafist past. In the same category is included  the use of the militias, by the political factors, either to repress peaceful demonstrations calling for reforms and improving the living standards, or for attacking foreign commercial consular or diplomatic representative offices, resulting in hostage taking and even fatalities.  
With the appearance of the retired General Khalifa Haftar on the political-military scene, leader of the inter-militia alliance self-entitled “Karamat Libya” (Dignity of Libya), fierce conflicts and political disputes appeared both within the government coalition and in the parliament, em- bodied, inter alia, by recourse to the support of the “private militias” to resolve political disputes and to organize, in early August, new anticipated elections, which resulted in the establishment of a new parliament and of a new executive disputed by the opponents, so that Libya offers the novelty of a country that has two simultaneous governments and two parliaments which repel each other, not hesitating to support their positions by appealing to strong arguments of the “party and clan militias”.   
The morphology of the military scene the current picture of the Libyan military spectrum dominated by militias is divided be- tween two large groups of armed formations, whose membership we will present in the following lines: It is the alliance that acts as the “Libya Dawn” (Fajr Libya) and its self-entitled adversary “Libya’s Dignity” (Karamat Libya) led by (ret.) General Khalifa Haftar.   

I. The alliance “Libya Dawn” (Fajr Libya) is organized as the oldest structure, consisting of formations encountered in the context of the revolution and the most heterogeneous in what regards the ideological orientations and programmatic objectives. The “alliance” is com- posed of the following main militant currents:  1) The “Shield of Libya” militias (Dar’u Libya) consisting of three regional divisions (central, eastern and western). Having its operational pivot in the Missurata region and city it is, in its great majority, composed of militant-Islamist elements whose ideology and doctrine are inspired and close to those of the “Muslim Brotherhood” movement. 2) “The Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Center”, an Islamist armed militia which acts mainly in the eastern areas of the national territory, fulfilling police specific missions. The formation was constituted in mid-August 2013, in Tripoli, through the merger of several “revolutionary” armed groups.

3) “The Revolutionary Phalanx of Tripoli ” (Katibat Thwwar Tarablus), a rebel formation of Islamist ideological doctrine affiliation, close to Abdel Hakim Belhajj, former leader of the Libyan Is- lamic opposition party “Al-Gama Al- Libiya Al-Muqatila” (the Libyan combat group). “The Phalanx” was founded by a former member of this group, Al-Mahdi Al-Harati (also founder of a Jihadist faction fighting in Syria) and who became after the Revolution … mayor of the capital Tripoli.  4) “The Shoura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi”, appeared on June 20, 2014 as a partnership between several tiny Salafist-Jihadist groups, with the objective of fighting against forces led by (ret.) General Khalifa Haftar and the so-called “Al-Saika Battalion”, made up of former soldiers and officers of the Libyan army.  5) “February 17 Brigade”, considered to be the largest and best equipped formation, created as an “armed arm” of the Libyan “Muslim Brotherhood” movement. It works in the port city of Benghazi in the east. 6) “Al-Sahat Ra’fatallah Detachments” that is also present in the perimeter of Benghazi. Although it has announced its willingness to be integrated into the national army, the group has kept two training camps and its entire armament. It was the first militia which engaged fights with General Haftar’s troops in May this year.

7) The “Group of the Shari’a Partisans” militias (Gama’at Ansar Al-Shari’a). The main and most active Jihadist-Salafist party in Libya constituted, in addition to local Libyans, of thousands of foreign fighters coming, especially from Algeria, Tunisia and the sub-Saharan Sa- hel African countries. The group is on the list of terrorist organizations drawn up by the US Sta- te Department.  8) The group “The First Shield of Libya”, of Jihadist orientation, was established and operates in the city of Tripoli. More recently it has merged with the group “Gama’at Ansar Al- Shari’a”, alongside which it is engaged in confrontations with the armed formations led by General Khalifa Haftar.   
II. The Alliance “Libya’s Dignity” (Karamat Libya) is, in turn, a combination of armed military formations constituted by former Libyan soldiers and national army officers which is present in several conflict regions of the country. Accused by the alliance groups “Libya Dawn” of having “anti-revolutionary” objectives and character, the alliance is created and commanded by (r) Lieutenant General Khalifa Haftar and is composed by the following main entities:  1) “Libyan National Army” Forces, which include about a third of the soldiers and officers of the Libyan military. It is under the direct command of General Khaif Haftar.  2) “Al-Sai’ka” Forces (Thunderbolt), coming from the elite units of the national army and ordered by Colonel Younes Abu Hamadeh.  3) “Al-Sawaiq” Brigade (Lightning), belonging to the family of Al-Zintan – the largest as- sociation of Libyan tribes – well equipped and trained, and similar, in what regards the specific tasks and structure, with the Western private security firms. It is commanded by General- Colonel Mustafa Trabulsi, who is in close relations with the monarchy of the United Arab Emir- ates, from which he receives substantial financial and logistical aid.  4) “Qa’qaa” Brigade (translatable, approximately, by “thunder”, “noise” or “weapon noise”), established in 2011 as an armed militia of revolutionaries who fought against the armed forces loyal to Colonel Gaddhafi. It is commanded by Osman Mleiqta

5) “Warshafana” Battalion, a militia calling itself after the name of the tribal clan Warshfana from the ranks of which come most combatants.  6) “Libyan Tribes Council” Battalion, composed of Warshafana clan warriors and several close and ally tribes, in kinship with it.  7) “Tibou” tribal union forces, in the extreme south of the Libyan territory.   
The polarization of the political scene  In July 2012, were held the first free general election that Libya has experienced in the last half century and which provided a first look at the guidelines and beliefs of the Libyan electorate under the new conditions after the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Al-Ghaddafi and his “Jamahiriyan” regime. At that time, 80 of the 200 members of the new parliament in Tripoli – People’s General Congress – were elected on party lists, while the rest, the majority of 120 MPs awarded a nominal victory on the vote. Unlike other countries that have experienced the phenomenon of the “Arab Spring”, the poll revealed the landscape of the predominant orientation of the citizens towards the political liberal mainstream led by Mahmud Jibril who, with a total of 39 seats in parliament, was invested as the first head of post-revolutionary Libyan government.

At the other extreme, another party which entered the election race, the National Front, member of the political coalition self-named National Rescue Front, succeeded to win only three parliamentary seats. Instead, the Justice and Edification Party, derived from the Muslim Brotherhood movement received 17 seats, while two other Islamist parties – Nation’s Party, a center party led by Sami Saadi and the Center National Party, led by Ali Tarhouni, each obtained only two seats in the parliament.   However, the Libyan political life was to focus, quickly, in a different direction than the one crystallized in the first democratic election ballot, that of a strong centrifugal and multipolar movement, generated, in particular, by party, tribal and personal interests of the Libyan political class, so that, at the moment, the Libyan political map has the following plurimorphous configu- ration:  1. National Forces Alliance formed in the wake of the removal from power of the Gaddafi regime and consisting of a mosaic of the first forces and political trends that Libya knew after decades of dictatorship.

The alliance includes a small number of 41 political parties, hun- dred of independent members and civil society organizations and it is headed by Mahmoud Ji- bril, a former member of the Transitional National Council, formed after the regime change in the country. Proclaiming democracy, national identity and human rights as guiding principles of its program, the Alliance is ideologically characterized as liberal and secular, even though its leader, Mahmoud Jibril, said in July 2012, that the Shari’a Islamic law is the main principle of the Alliance’s actions which, besides the already mentioned guidelines, stands for accepting and encouraging the so-called “mid-moderate Islam”. At the legislative elections of July 2012, the Alliance won 39 seats out of the 200 seats of the Libyan parliamentary forum.   

2. “National Front” Party (Al-Djabha Al-Wataniya) set up in Tripoli, on the remains of the former National Rescue Front (created as a clandestine opposition movement in 1981, au- thor of a failed attempt to overthrow the regime Muammar Al-Ghaddafi by force, in 1984). Be- tween 1987 and 1990, the Salvation Front continued to organize military structures, using for this purpose the territory of the neighboring African country Chad, where they were set up as the “Libyan Patriotic Army”, which was subsequently to be actively involved in armed anti- Gaddhafi confrontations until his removal from power. The National Front, formed after this moment, in 2011, enrolled in its political platform approx. 16 principles and action objectives, including the adherence to the values of democracy, civilian and human freedoms, ensuring the establishment of political plural- ism as an expression of the freedom of opinion, etc. At present, the party is led by Mohammed Mugrif, who was, between 2012 and 2013, the president of the new Libyan parliament (the General National Congress).  

3. The “Muslim Brotherhood” Movement in Libya, which appeared in 1949, but, unlike the Egyptian and Tunisian branches of the “Muslim Brotherhood”, has failed to achieve a significant dissemination in its ideology among the masses, trade unions, and civic organizations, due, mainly, to the draconian repressive measures applied by the Ghaddafi regime. Only on March 3, 2012, did the Movement announce the establishment of a political party of its own, under the name of the “Justice and Edification Party” led by Mohammed Sawwan. Freedoms and human rights, participation of all citizens, without discrimination, to the edification of the society, decentralization and economic liberalization, balanced development of all provinces and regions of the country, reducing unemployment, increasing chances at a job and a life of dignity for all citizens, achieving social harmony and concord, are just some of the objectives of the political program of this party which during the elections in June 2014, won 14 seats in the Legislative forum of Libya.   

4. The federalist political current formed during the revolutionary events of 2011 from the representatives of the Libyan historical provinces Brega and Fezzan, wishing for the cessa- tion of the state of marginalization and underdevelopment that they had experienced during the former regime, claims from the new post-revolutionary authorities to be reintroduced in the na- tional circuit of resources and social and economic values of development. More than one year after the revolution and in response to the indifference with which the authorities in Tripoli have treated these claims, a group of officers led by Ahmed Senoussi Zubeir and several tribal leaders from eastern regions of the country, declared the establishment of a “Council of the Federal Province Brega”, headed by Ahmed Senoussi and having as programmatic objective the “protection and promotion of the province in a federal liberal state”. Simultaneously, another entity led by Ibrahim Jazran, organized as an armed militia, self-proclaimed independent as the “Political Bureau of the Province Brega”, taking control by force, of the oil terminals destined for the Libyan oil exports, as a means of pressure on the central authority to satisfy their grievances, among which the first was the demand for the establishment of the autonomous province Brega within the borders it had during the monarchy period of the Libyan history (from the city of Sirte to Tobruk, near the state border with Egypt). The current is known, in terms of the crises it has caused, and as the “Armed Liberal Current”.   

5. Tibou Movement is the ethnic and tribal groups settled in northern and western part of Chad, in the Tibesti mountain range in the south-eastern oases of Libya, in the far western part of Sudan and northern Nigeria. These are nomadic Bedouin tribes with a total population of approx. 5 million people (of which approx. 400,000 are Libyans), divided into 38 tribes and having as main occupation agriculture and sheep breeding. The Libyan ethnicity of the Tibou group was, starting in 2007, involved in protest and resistance actions against the Gaddafi regime, establishing, in this sense, its own political party the “Tibou Front for the Salvation of Libya”. According to the Tibou leader, Abdel Magid Mansour, the number of the Tibou combat- ants amounts to 1,200.   

The evolution of the internal crisis – main stages  The tensions on the Libyan political and social scene have entered into a process of rapid degradation and violent confrontation with taking control, by the armed militias, of the “field” initiative, which led to continuous pressure put on the policy makers and on the legislative and executive leadership, which progressively amplified the armed confrontations and the regional and international interference in the internal affairs of this country.  – In May 2013, the Parliament adopted the so-called “Law of Political Isolation” aimed at removing the former regime officials and supporters of Gaddafi from the political life. The adoption of the law occurred as a result of the pressure of the armed groups, after they took over government offices, including those of the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs and threatening to extend such actions.  – On August 3, 2013, armed separatist groups occupied major oil fields by force, claiming the autonomy of the province Brega.

The action, also continued this year, has brought huge losses to the national budget by stopping royalties and income from oil exports.  – In the same month, a new actor in the person of General Khalifa Haftar appeared on the political-military fringes along with his military coalition “Libya’s Dignity”, which marked the entrance of the internal situation in a stage of chaos, violent clashes and of personal and group vengeances, all resulting in loss of life and in significant losses and damage to the national economy of the country.  – On 10 March 2014, the then Prime Minister of the Libyan government, Ali Zeidan chose to resign, taking refuge in Germany after a loaded tanker managed to escape unhindered off- shore in the direction North Korea being, however, stopped by US ships patrol and brought back to the Benghazi port. In Zeidan’s place, the parliament invested Defense Minister Abdallah Al Thaniy to lead the Executive, but he also resigned after a few days, due to his inability to form a new national unity government.  – In early May 2014, the General National Congress (the Parliament) appointed Ahmad Moaytiq as Prime Minister, but the appointment was annulled by the Constitutional Court; – In mid-May this year, Gen. Khalifa Haftar ordered the beginning of the “Libya’s Dignity” national scale operation against the Islamist rebel groups and formations. – June 25: gathered in Cairo, the representatives of Libya’s neighboring states called all groups, forces and militias involved in the confrontation to accept the initiation and execution of an extensive dialogue of national reconciliation, promising, at the same time, to refrain from any intervention in the internal Libyan problem. In its turn, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution to that effect, warning the imposition of international sanctions if the players on the Libyan fringes do not accept a general cease-fire. – On July 21, the Libyans elected a new parliament dominated by liberals and Islamists.
The United States decided to close its embassy in Tripoli and evacuate the personnel.  – As of mid-July, the Libyan conflict takes on the dimensions and characteristics of a genuine civil war, particularly carried out in Tripoli and Benghazi.  – August 4, 2014: the elected Libyan Parliament held its first meeting at Tobruk, in the absence of the Islamist MPs. At the request of Tunisia, a new meeting of the representatives of the neighboring countries is held in Algiers, to analyze the possibilities of achieving a cessation of hostilities between Libyans. Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Niger and Chad are participating. – August 18 2014: Foreign bombardment devices of unknown identity perform bombing raids on the positions held by Islamist militias and on the international airport in Tripoli. Egypt and the UAE are charged with these actions. Both Cairo and Abu Dhabi reject the accusations.  – August 23: the “Libya Dawn” coalition militias (Fajr Libya) take control on the international airport in the Libyan capital. The Parliament in Tobruk declares the Jihadist groups “Ansar Al-Shari’a” and “Fajr Libya” terrorist organizations. Libya is a country with two governments and two parliaments (Tripoli and Tobruk) who deny each other’s legitimacy. – On August 25, the National General Council (whose mandate had expired since March) appoints Omar Al-Hassi as prime minister. The appointment is challenged by the Coun- cil (parliament) in Tobruk.  – September 4: According to a press release from the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, about. 250,000 Libyans had fled their homes, finding shelter or in other areas of the country or in the neighboring countries.  

– September 7, 2014: A military transport plane loaded with weapons for the militia coalition “Libya Dawn” is intercepted and forced to land. Sudan’s military attaché is declared persona non grata and expelled in connection with this incident.  – September 22, 2014: the Libyan Parliament elected (in Tripoli) approved the composition of a second government led by Abdallah Al-Thaniy. 13 states (including the US and France) and the UN and the European Union address, in New York, a collective call for “an immediate ceasefire in the Libya immersed in political and security chaos” and the two parallel governments and parliaments each claims their legitimacy. – October 2, 2014: The violent fighting continued in Benghazi, 50% under the control of the Islamist rebels, between the “Shoura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi” militia and units of the Alliance “Libya’s Dignity”, commanded by General Khalifa Al-Haftar, who sought help from the aviation and armor. Five attacks with explosives carried out by Islamist fighters caused the death of more than 50 soldiers from the units of General Haftar. The 15 members of the Security Council addressed a new call to the cessation of the armed confrontation, warning with the imposition of new international sanctions against Libya.  – On October 6, the self-entitled Jihadist movement “The Shoura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi”, member of the “Libya Dawn” proclaimed the city and oil district Derna in the east of the country as “Islamic emirate”, pledging, at the same time, the oath of allegiance and loyalty to the leader of the Islamic State, “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was the first significant penetration of the Da’ish Jihadist offensive in Libya which, in the absence of an urgent national reconciliation dialogue between all parties involved in the Libyan war, “threatens to expand rapidly and make the Libyan territory the third part of the “Islamic caliphate” in Syria and Iraq”, according to Bernardino Leon, the representative in Libya of the UN Secretary General. – 15 to 16 October: the Libyan army and the forces led by General Khalifa Haftar triggered a strong ground offensive, supported by aircraft and armored vehicles, on the positions held by the Islamist militias in the northeast and in the city of Benghazi. News releases, formally belied both by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo and by the spokesman of the US State Department referred to the Egyptian involvement in the bombing raids on Islamist parties. The attacking units took control of the quarries in the south and west of the city Benghazi, as well as on the sites and logistics of the militia and self-entitled “February 17 Brigade” – the armed arm of the Libyan movement “Muslim Brotherhood”.  

Libya, which, after the dictatorship of Muammar Al-Gaddafi, went through a “bloody spring” just to come under the dictatorship of gangs, militias and armed tribes, seems to move rapidly towards social dissolution and national and territorial dismantling despite the regional and international community attempts to determine, through dialogue or through penalties and economic pressures, a ceasefire and transition to a national reconciliation process. Such prospects still remain remote, as long as, in addition to the ambitions and interests of the political class, of the “professional revolutionaries” and tribal influences, this situation is maintained by the regional actors, including by funding and support of a political orientation or of one or the other of the armed militias.  Will the new multinational anti-terrorist campaign have a positive influence – be it only as a warning – on this complicated and dramatic situation? Only short-term developments will allow an answer to this question.  

 

First published in “Geostrategic Pulse

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Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Iran’s game just started

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By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran. 

At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.  

As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms. 
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.  

At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”. 

All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.  

Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme. 

At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.  

In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.  

The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”. 

It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.    

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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