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.
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around
Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.
Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.
But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.
The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.
The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.
It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.
It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.
Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK
Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.
Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.
The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.
If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.
The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.
The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.
The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.
Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”
Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.
The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.
A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.
The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.
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