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Middle East

Some considerations on the Libyan case

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Too little, too late. Any international effort to “bring peace” to Libya is now a commitment which, in all likelihood, will not lead to new positive results in that area.

Let us analyse the situation: about 6,500 Isis militants are estimated to be present in Libya, twice as many as we thought just a few days ago. Their number, however, is growing rapidly.

The “Caliph” Al Baghdadi is transferring to Libya and Tunisia, by land or even by sea, all the terrorists who, thanks to the Russian victories and the victories of Bashar el Assad’s Syrian Arab Army, do no longer succeed in reaching the Isis territory from the Syrian and Turkish borders.

Currently Bashar’ Syrians are a few tens of kilometres from Raqqa, the Caliph’s “capital city”.

Al Baghdadi’s cells, however, were already present on the Libyan territory before the Syrian comeback and Russian presence, while Gaddafi’s fall immediately paved the way for jihadist groups such as Ansar al Sharia, that killed the American Consul in Benghazi in September 2012, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that Sirte’s Colonel had repressed in Southern Libya.

At least 36,000 “foreign fighters” from 120 different countries may have arrived in the Isis territory.

Therefore Al Baghdadi’ strategic logic is clear: to turn Libya into the starting base to bring war – and not just terrorism, which is a specific war strategy – into the Eurasian peninsula, by using a sequence of actions which, in all likelihood, will be at first real terrorism, then the manipulation of the large Islamic minorities present in the EU, as well as the massification of the confrontation, and finally the beginning of a guerrilla warfare inside Europe.

The fact whether Libya’s “unity” government is established or not is of little importance for the self-proclaimed Caliph.

What is important is that it shall have no real power in the region and it shall not really unite all the many “kabile”, namely the tribes, that Gaddafi had harshly placed under his sole command.

If there is a European intervention – or, to be more precise, a French, Italian and British one, with US support – the sequence of events will become even more predictable.

There will be a call for help by the Libyan unity government, which will not necessarily dispel discord and silence diverging interests within it, as well as a resolution of the UN Security Council, the organization that former Italian President Cossiga dismissed as “useless”. Later the military will come, possibly under an Italian joint command, with a view to “training” the local police, with some Special Operations Forces’ initiatives.

Once again, too late and too little.

Joining Britain, France and Italy together in a peace-enforcing operation in Libya is politically possible, but scarcely sensible from the operational viewpoint.

It is worth recalling that the UN “peace operations” doctrine was devised when Islamic terrorism or, rather, the jihad, had not yet appeared on the horizon.

For Isis, Libya is the second front of its particular jihad, as well as the basis for controlling oil – which was the source of Libya’s wellbeing during the dictatorship – and to use its wells and sell smuggled hydrocarbons, also thanks to the decrease of the oil barrel prices and the cover of some producing countries which “mix up” their oil with the one bought on the jihad black market.

Isis has a global strategy, while Europe has none.

Furthermore, the United States have clearly shown they do not want to deal with the Middle East any longer, and the European Union is split into at least two internal fronts on immigration, while Great Britain, which should also participate in the operations on the Libyan ground, is slowly but surely walking out of the European Union.

Today an old story, at the origin of Islam itself, is repeating itself: when the Prophet Muhammad died, the Byzantines and the Iranian Empire were exhausted by a long war with each other, and it was easy for Caliph Abu Bakr to conquer the Iranian empire and its capital Ctesiphon, then head to Egypt and from there up to Andalusia.

The divisions among Christians fostered the arrival of the first jihad and many Eastern Christians, treated as heretics by the Byzantine Basileus, preferred the new Arab regime to the Eastern Empire’s repression.

By easy comparison, we can say that today the divisions between Westerners and their internal weaknesses will favour, God forbid, the arrival of this new jihad.

Hence, reverting to current times, Italy does not want the migrant boats along its shores, and this is the reason why it wants to take action to “bring peace” to Libya.

It is too little. We need to manage the destabilization of the whole Sahel region which produces migrants – destroying boats is a naive spite. You can rest assured that they have the money to buy them back.

The oil issue does not seem to be particularly interesting for the current Italian decision-makers, who have “a blind faith in the progress” the newly elected Iranian reformers are supposed to foster but, as Voltaire used to say, “in spite of facts, people are often hard-headed”.

In Iran, Rowani’s reformers won the majority, with 92 seats; the “independent candidates” obtained 44 seats and the candidates who are against the P5+1 agreement on Iran’s nuclear issue won 115 seats which, if we consider the 39 ones which will go to second ballot in April, make the victory of the supporters of the agreement with the West less remarkable than we may think.

Not to mention the fact that, thanks to his political victory, Rowhani will soon dictate his conditions to the West.

Basically France does not want operations in Libya. It is already present in the Sahel region; it is carrying out counterterrorist operations on its territory and now it also operates in Senegal and Mali; probably it has not the strength to well manage the situation on the ground in Libya.

By the way, do we want to support the “national unity” government in Tripoli or combat Isis?

Great Britain will participate because it wants to try and recover a part of the Mediterranean. It will not succeed, but it certainly does not want France and Italy to regain the “fatal shore” in Libya.

Three diverging interests for the three countries which should fight together.

The United States will launch drones, which have no family and above all do not vote, and will do very little else.

Once again, too little, too late.

Just to put it in my usually brutal terms, a more widely strategic logic – and not a propaganda-demagogic logic, need to be used again in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

If the United States walk out of the region, and I do not think that the new President will be more interventionist than Barack Obama, the small and no longer medium-sized European powers shall find a new global player.

Alone they will never succeed, with the results we do not even want to imagine.

China could be the new global player, in connection with Israel, with whom it has excellent relations. It has also a strategic relationship with the Russian Federation, which is already operating in Syria against Isis.

China is the ideal global player: it has stable and excellent relations with all these countries; it has the technology, including the military one, to change the situation on the ground, and it can also put pressures, without being affected and constrained beyond an acceptable limit, on Iran and Saudi Arabia. China is also in connection with the Jewish state, its stable reference point for the most advanced technologies.

In his recent visit to the Middle East, Xi Jinping has built a broad political project and, after carrying out a cleansing exercise within the CCP and the Chinese companies – just think of the recent elimination of the top managers of China Telecom and high fashion – the Chinese CCP Secretary will be very powerful, as and probably even more than Mao.

Hence, the Libyan framework shall be seen in its Mediterranean context, which is now a unified strategic theatre.

As all similar armies, Isis, which is a terrorist-jihadist group, operates in the name and on behalf of one or more States.

They want some things, but they say so in a more polite way: they want Libyan oil; they want a government – in Tripoli or Tobruk, it does not matter – entirely subordinate to their interests; finally they want to use this “liquid” phase of jihadist terrorism to wipe out the autonomous Maghreb States which are friendly to the West (and Russia).

Namely Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and, with a different module, Egypt, which is also a world choke-point thanks to the Suez Canal.

The European Union shows structural weaknesses which suggest a rapid geopolitical and economic decay. The United States are undergoing their cyclical isolationist phase – hence the Sunni world wants to conquer the Maghreb region so as to threaten and intimidate Europe, flood it with immigrants and control it with the North African oil which will shortly compete with the Russian (and Iranian) oil.

Therefore, if we do not start again to think big, we will not even solve the peace-enforcing operations which we have been dragging on since the cold war.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Middle East

China-Iran Deal and its implication for the region

Ashish Dangwal

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From the past few years, the increasing partnership between China and Iran has raised major concerns among many countries. Sinking economy and the recent COVID crisis pushed Iran into the corner and China timely manifested itself as a perfect partner for Iran. The diplomatic ties between these two countries were established in 1971 and over the years China’s demand for energy and Iran’s isolation from the international community brings them together. The recent investment and security pact covered almost every sector from Telecom, banking, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. Though the secret details of the pact were leaked but soon rejected by Iranian officials.

In 2016, Xi Jinping made a state visit to Iran and then laid the structure of this deal. Soon after in 2019, China announced its plan to invest $ 400 billion. Iran’s economy is suffering greatly because of the U.S.A sanctions and needs a lifeline to revive their domestic market. Where one side, most of the companies from different nations pulled out their businesses from Iran, On the other hand, Chinese investment can play a significant role in Iran’s survival. This partnership between these two nations directly challenges U.S.A efforts to cut off Iran from the international market arena. China’s ever-growing aspirations to increase its involvement in the Middle East perfectly sync with the geostrategic location of Tehran. However, Iran’s ambition to become a regional power needs huge investment in its domestic market. That’s where both countries see themselves as an emerging partner. 

China-Iran Economic Relationship

As a growing economy, China dependence on Iran’s oil is quite reasonable. Though this relationship is not just based on the energy, but even on the many different aspects. After 2016, China and Iran were agreed to increase their trading relations to $600 billion in the upcoming 10 years. The agreement was concordant with One Belt, One Road framework. A total of 17 agreements were signed, including one which relates to the Iran nuclear programme. The Chinese will help connect Tehran with Mashhad via their high-speed rail technology.  After the sanctions levied by the USA and other western countrieson Iran, its dependence on China increased in recent years. The trading relationship is not only limit to purchase of crude oil but even China’s involvement inIran’s upstream and downstream production processes through major investments.From 2005, both countries signed seven upstream production agreement with each other. All these agreements involve the state-owned Chinese companies, which shows the significant presence of China in Iran.

China-Iran-Syria Nexus

In December 2019, Syrian president while giving an interview to a Chinese media expressed his willingness to join the BRI project and projected Syria as a perfect partner for the Chinese investment. Syria suffered a lot because of the decades of war and wanted to start the reconstruction activities in their country. Iran and China identified themselves as the ally of Syria and they even wanted to make a strategic nexus between these countries. For the reconstruction process, China is helping Syria from Port of Tripoli by setting up it as a logistic base for the reconstruction process. China wanted to link this port with Syria’s “Four sea strategy” and connect the BRI project to the eastern Mediterranean area. This whole economic bloc could challenge the American hegemony in the region. Iran and Syria are already strategic allies in this region and by adding China in this situation, it would promote the autocratic rule in the region to counter America.

The implication for the Region

Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy towards Iran pushed many countries like India and Japan to cut off the trading ties with Tehran. This was seen as the major diplomatic blunder made by the U.S.A because of the one very simple reason that these countries could play a major role to find the middle ground for the talks between Iran and the west.As claimed by the reports, China will increase its partnership to build the ports too, getting a port in the Persian Gulf will provide the major boost to Chinese strategic plans. If China successfully expands its presence in Iran then it will lead to the major conflict between the U.S.A and China. Though China has already invested heavily on the Gwadar port, it will not hesitate to gain an upper hand in the Persian Gulf. From where Beijing can keep its eye on U.S.A movements in the region. India’s investment progress in Iran was slow and that’s the reason recently Iran started the railway track construction work on its own.

The growing instability in the region will further escalate, as the partnership will grow between these countries. China’s ambitions to expand its BRI projects and Syria’s “Four seas strategy” can become a foundation for future projects in the whole region. Syrian President Bashar Assad has promoted this four seas strategy since 2009 that would transform the Damascus into a major trading hub. Syria wanted to form an economic space between Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria that will shape a new bloc of nations in the region. This plan includes the four seas of the region from the Mediterranean, Caspian, Black Sea, and the Persian Gulf, which makes easy for these nations from investment to transportation. 

The expanding partnership will lead to the architecture of a security structure between these three countries and will directly undermine the U.S.A presence in the region. The gradual consolidation of powers based on Anti-American and Anti-west sentiments can even form a proper security alliance where the inclusion of Turkey would be a possible scenario shortly. All these countries kind of having the same political regime one way or another, so for them it will be a great strategy to stop America’s presence from their domestic issues. If U.S.A wants to stop China’s involvement in the region, it needs to involve its key Asian partner, so that there will be some major power players in the region to maintain stability. 

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Middle East

Are The U.S. And Its Partners Losing The Grip On Syria’s North East?

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The oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor located in Eastern Syria has witnessed another escalation between the local Arab populace and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Unexpectedly for the SDF and the U.S. military, the protesters have established control over a number of towns, and it seems they are willing to go further.

Sources close to the SDF initially reported that the protesters limited their demands by requesting a solution to a number of minor issues, but soon enough it became evident that it was not the case and the issue – and a major one – was the presence of SDF in the area. The demonstrators were quick to turn from chanting slogans to taking control of towns: in a single day they captured all of Shuhayl, Al-Hawayej, Diban and forced the SDF members to leave before blocking the roads.

The protests were sparked by a series of assassinations of influential leaders of Al-Aqidat and Al-Baqara tribes. Three Deir Ezzor sheikhs were killed in less than a week: Sheikh Suleiman Khalaf al-Kassar from Al-Aqidat was shot in Busayra village July 30. The next day Sheikh Suleiman Al-Weis who belonged to Al-Baqara was shot in the head by two gunmen on a motorcycle in Al-Dahla. Finally, Sheikh Muttshar al-Hamoud al-Hifl was shot in the outskirts of Al-Hawayej on Sunday, August 2. His relative Sheikh Ibrahim al-Hifl was also wounded in the incident but survived.

In a peculiar coincidence, a few weeks before the assassinations the tribal leaders were invited to a meeting with the SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi with the U.S. servicemen also present. The agenda reportedly included co-operation between the tribes and the SDF. It was reported that at least one of the victims, Muttshar al-Hifti, declined to participate and to engage with the Americans.

An insight into the details of these meetings can be gained through the reports about an oil deal allegedly struck by the SDF and a little known American oil developer Delta Crescent LLC. Delta Crescent was granted exclusive rights for production, refinement and export of the oil from Deir Ezzor fields potentially bringing the participants annual profit of hundreds of millions dollars, according to statements made by U.S. officials. The deal was met with harsh response from the Syrian government who labeled it a “deal between thieves”.

According to sources on the ground, the implication is that those who fell victim to the assassinations shared this view and opposed the deal. Their removal, however, has clearly failed to deliver the results intended by the masterminds behind their deaths, yet another time when the Kurds were thrown to the wolves by the U.S. who is accustomed to making their allies bear the consequences of the reckless pursuit of the American interests.

Meanwhile the SDF started to amass forces in the vicinity of the areas shaken by the unrest. The reinforcements sent from Al-Shadadi, Al-Sousa and Baghuz are gathering at the US military base near Al-Omar oil field. Moreover, two US Apache attack helicopters were spotted patrolling the area. These developments combined with lack of report on any negotiations between the protesters and the SDF leadership paint a grim picture, indicating that the SDF likely intends to use force to disperse the protests.

It is not the first time the SDF resorts to the use of force when faced with the discontent of the local populace in north-eastern Syria, although this approach had never brought the desired result. All areas affected by the protests have been subjected to dozens of raids of the SDF and the US special forces. Reports on these operations unfailingly mentioned arrests of ISIS terrorists. They failed to mention, however, what the Pentagon files under the category of “collateral damage” – deaths of civilians killed in the result of the actions of the US military and their allies.

The upheaval in Deir Ezzor is yet another evidence that the SDF, initially an independent movement, has degraded to a tool or a lever of American influence in Syria, and now finds itself fighting consequences instead of locating the root cause of the unrest – widespread corruption among the officials of the Kurdish administration and dramatic deterioration of the living conditions.

The regional turbulence created by Washington’s constantly shifting stance – or rather a lack of stance – on Syria has grown so strong it finally turned against the American interests. The latest escalation in Deir Ezzor should be considered nothing but a byproduct of this ill-designed policy and, perhaps, marks a beginning of the end of the US and SDF hegemony in Syria’s North East.

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Middle East

The Looming Disaster of the Safer Oil Tanker Moored off the Coast of Yemen

Amb. Sahar Ghanem

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Amidst the raging conflict in Yemen, the challenge of the Safer Oil Tanker emerges as one of the most hazardous risks to the environment safety in the Red Sea as a result of the potential oil spillage in the Red Sea at any moment.

Following expressing deep alarm, the United Nations Security Council called on 29 June,2020, to immediately grant unconditional access for the United Nations technical experts to assess the tanker’s condition without overdue to prevent growing risk of possible rupture, explosion or even spillage.

The threat of the floating Oil Tanker, moored off the coast of Yemen, does not only impose challenges to the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Red Sea, but it rather represents a huge challenge that threatens the environment safety, leading to one of the largest environmental hazards in the world, after the unforgettable 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Siberia – Russia.

On 18 July 2019, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mr. Mark Lowcock informed the UN Security Council of the growing threats of the deserted Safar Oil Tanker, warning of possible explosion or leakage of its loads [1.14 M barrels of crude oil]. In his briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, he pointed out that such an incident would result to a disastrous crisis to the marine life in the Red Sea and maritime in the straits of Bab-Al Madeb and Suez Canal which are two significant water corridors to the world.

It is known that the Red Sea is home for some scarce invertebrates such as corals and 600 species of fish. Unless preventative measures are taken now and immediately to prevent oil spill or possible tanker explosion, we will concretely witness a disastrous incident leading to severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods starting from Yemen and extending north to Suez Canal through Jobal strait and the Gulf of Suez and south through Bab-Al Madeb strait reaching even Hormoz strait through the Arabian sea.

Environment experts’ projections expect that 115 islands are vulnerable to the risk of oil pollution; 126,000 fishermen will lose their source of income, among them 76,000 fishmen are in Al Hodeidah governorate; 850 tons of fish stocks will be exposed to the danger of contamination and death in Yemen, in the Red Sea and in Bab Al-Mandam; more than 500 fish species are at high risk of disappearing; and 300 corals will certainly disappear as a result.

The problem emerged following the takeover of the Capital Sanaa on 21 September 2014, when Houthi militias implemented unilateral actions inter alia dissolving parliament and taking over Yemen’s government institutions, which have seriously escalated the situation, leading to illegitimate seizure of power “coup d’etat”, and eventually leading to current conflict in Yemen.

The floating storage and its connected offloading terminals have not been inspected or maintained since 2015 after Houthis militias took control of the area including port of Ras Isa to which the floating tanker is connected by terminals extending 9km off the coast of Yemen.

Yemen’s internationally-recognized government has warned in many letters of evident corrosion and lack of maintenance, creating the conditions for serious environmental disaster. The Yemeni government made an urgent call for the UN to send inspection team to scale the risks.

Unfortunately, the UN inspection team was denied access to the floating tanker by the Houthi militias many times. The UN inspection team is tasked with the mission to provide the necessary inspection and put recommendations for the needed maintenance and continuing to create obstacles will refrain the team from reaching the tanker and delivering the urgent inspection.

Lately, the Government of the Republic of Yemen repeated asserting the urgent emergency of the imminent catastrophe of the floating “Safer Oil Tanker”. The government confirmed that “given the critical nature of the aging floating tanker’s situation, on 27 May 2020 leaks have been reported in the tanker causing water leaked into the tanker’s operational machineries raising the possibilities of the tanker rupturing, sinking or even exploding.

Despite urgent fixing of leaking occurred, the deteriorating situation of the tanker threatens continuing eroding. As a result, on 15 July 2020, the UNSC held a session to debate latest urgent developments and called for urgent response to be taken by the Houthi militias as required by the inspection team. It is worth mentioning that the Houthis always show willingness to accept the inspection team just like the assurances made by the Houthis in August 2019 only to be withdrawn right before the inspection team was due to board the tanker.

The Yemeni government has always approved all relevant initiatives recommended by the UN to allow addressing the serious matter and proposing necessary urgent solutions to the Safer oil tanker, as part of the responsibility to the humanitarian and economic measures proposed by the office of the UN Special Envoy Mr. Martin Griffiths and as part of its responsibility to building and sustaining environment safety; however, the Houthi militias continue refusing to allow permissions to the UN inspection team to visit the oil tanker, noting that the situation of the Safer oil tanker is becoming extremely critical more than ever, causing increasing threats of possible oil spillage, tanker sinking and explosion at any moment.

In conclusion, the Safer Oil Tanker is a floating time-bomb and allowing inspection and maintains is the only possible means that will stop a serious catastrophe from happening. If incidents of explosion or even oil spill occur, that will lead to one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the Red Sea. Action must be taken immediately while we have in hand an opportunity to protect the environments and spare the lives of millions of people in Yemen and the region from a looming tragedy.

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