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Turkey’s current wishes

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As early as January 11, 2016, even though we came to know it only in March, King Abdullah of Jordan stated in Washington that Turkey was deliberately exporting Islamic terrorists in Europe, after having “produced” them in Syria and on its national territory.

On that occasion the Jordanian king was not received by the US President, Barack Obama, but he clearly reaffirmed Turkey’s commitment to support Daesh/Isis both in Syria and in Iraq, as well as to export Islamist terrorism in Europe. He did so before an audience of influential US senators and journalists.

According to the Jordanian king, Turkey wants an “Islamist and radical” solution for the whole Middle East region.

Hence, not only on the basis of the statements made by the Hashemite king, the Turkish issue is the real keystone of the anti-jihadist strategy in the Greater Middle East.

On the other hand, Turkey itself has long been the major supplier of weapons and weapon systems to Daesh/Isis.

Turkey acts in particular through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are all controlled by the intelligence services MIT – and supplies are delivered by land or via the Euphrates river, by carefully mixing real humanitarian aid with weapons.

One of these NGOs is the Besar Foundation, led by a MIT man, D. Sanli, that in 2015 arranged over 50 convoys to supply weapons and victuals to the Turkmen jihadists of Bayirbukac and Kiziltepe, about 250 kilometres away from Damascus, either alone or jointly with another Turkish NGO, the Yilikter Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom.

The supplies were delivered through some checkpoints along the Turkish-Syrian border or, as already said, through waterways, particularly the Euphrates river.

Over the past two months, the weapons sent by Turkey to ISIS have been mainly TOW anti-tank missiles, RPG-7 mortars, several 7.62 mm M-60 machine-gunners, hand grenades and various tactical communication tools.

Moreover, at least according to the well-informed Russian military intelligence sources, Turkey has supplied Daesh/Isis with 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate, 450 tons of potassium nitrate, 75 tons of aluminium powder, large quantities of sodium nitrate, glycerine and nitric acid.

As is well-known, they are all primary components of explosives.

The funds provided to Besar apparently come from private financers, but actually belong to MIT special accounts.

Again in 2015, the NGO Yilikter organized over 25 convoys inside Syria, funded by Turkish, Middle East and European accounts managed in Turkey by the Kuveyt Turk and Vakif banks.

One of the Turkish NGOs involved in operations designed to support Daesh/Isis is IHH, the “Foundation for the Defence of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”, explicitly backed by the Turkish government.

Since the beginning of hostilities in Syria, in 2011, IHH has sent to Syria 7,500 vehicles with weapons “hidden” and mixed with traditional military aid.

IHH receives funds from the Turkish State and from several private financers, that pass through the usual Ziraat and Vakif banks.

With a view to supplying weapons to ISIS, the Turkish secret agents manage the military depots in the border towns of Bukulmez and Sansarin, from which they take the weapons to be hidden and mixed with humanitarian aid.

Usually the Turkish weapons for Isis transit through the border crossing of Cilvegoezu, 530 kilometres south-east of Ankara.

The Turkish intelligence services support not only the “Turkmen” jihadists operating along the Western border – who, inter alia, are responsible for the shooting down of the Russian Sukhoi-24 aircraft and the rescue helicopter last January – but also Jabhat al Sham, the “Levant Front”, a jihadist group operating in the area of Aleppo, as well as the many other political and military movements which quickly come in and out of the large rassemblement of the Al Nusra Front, namely Al Qaeda Syrian “section”.

The Turkish private business companies linked to the government buy the goods produced in the Free Trade Zone of Mersin, along the Turkish Southern coast and ship them to ISIS.

With a view to avoiding border problems, the military products intended for Daesh/Isis are sent to companies registered in Jordan or in Iraq, with documents bearing the wording “transit through the Syrian Arab Republic” instead of the name of the receiver.

The Turkish customs offices concerned are in Antalya, Gaziantep and Mersin. Later the goods intended for the “Caliphate” transit through the crossings of Cilvegoezu and Oencuepnar up to reaching the areas controlled by Isis.

Hence President Erdogan’s project is clear: through Isis he plans to balkanize Iraq, Syria, the Lebanon and the whole region up to the Caucasus, so as to project the Turkish power from Anatolia’s border up to Central Asia.

It is the old Panturanic Islamist/neo-Ottoman temptation, which resumes backwards the route of the Turkish tribes arriving from Western Siberia up to the Mediterranean.

Obviously this implies denying any autonomy to the Kurds, whom the Turkish press called “the Turks of the mountains.”

Furthermore, it is worth adding that this is a perspective totally alien to the strategy of NATO, of which Turkey is the Member State having the second largest Armed Forces after the United States.

What does the NATO Secretary General – the young Norwegian Social Democrat leader Stoltenberg, appointed to that post in 2014 – have to say on this matter?

Born in 1969, can he remember when the German Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt “froze” – jointly with the conservative French President Giscard d’Estaing – the Italian military posts within NATO, in the phase in which the Italian Communist Party (PCI) was entering the government coalition?

Does he think that the “sword jihad” is just a way to “topple Assad’s tyrannical regime” in Syria and bring there the famous two-party parliamentary democracy, which is so fashionable in the West?

Or do those who support the “Caliphate” think that the jihadists will easily obey Turkey’s orders or the orders of the other countries supporting them, after achieving their success on the ground?

Therefore, for Turkey, the goals to be reached by supporting Daesh/Isis, are those of a direct intervention on the Syrian territory, with the possible establishment of a large “Sunni district” as an area subjugated to Turkey.

Moreover, Turkey does not really want the great anti-Iranian area that Saudi Arabia plans to create in the Middle East, or at least it wishes it only as part of its pan-Turkish project stretching from the Mediterranean to Central Asia up to Xingkiang, the Turkmen region inside Communist China.

Nor does the Turkish government want to fully adhere to the Saudi geopolitics in the region, which would force it to submit to Saudi Arabia, thus taking it away from the European Union and the United States.

Hence Turkey’s use of Daesh/Isis implies the idea of a “controlled fire” in Syria and Iraq, that Turkey hopes it can target both against the Kurds and towards Iran’s future expansion area, which would be finally blocked by the collapse of Alawite Syria.

Therefore, currently the Turkish government operates to maintain its leadership in the region and create a corridor towards Central Asia, as well as conquer the Sunni area north of the Al Saud’s world and influence both the United States and the faint-hearted and foolish European Union.

Nor does Turkey want to entirely relinquish its own relations with the United States, despite the scarce use allowed of the Incirlik air base for anti-Isis operations and the Turkish army’s merely cosmetic actions against Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.

Furthermore, controlling and manipulating migration flows to the EU enables Turkey to open and close the EU “valves” both for a future EU membership and as a financial and political blackmail against EU institutions.

Moreover, President Erdogan’s support to ISIS allows to support the Islamist electoral faction within the ruling party, namely AKP, against the still wide “secular” areas and mindful of Ataturk, the electorate and the Turkish ruling classes.

The trial against Ergenekon, the neo-coupist and secularist military network, ended in 2013 with the conviction of 275 people, including the Chief of Staff, Ilker Basbug, and the leader of the socialist “Patriotic Party”, Dogu Perincek.

Obviously if an Independent Kurdish State were founded in Syria and Iraq, the mass of Kurds in Turkey would feel entitled to follow suit.

The Kurds account for 10% of the total Turkish population, and they are almost all spread throughout the Eastern provinces, in close contact with their Syrian compatriots.

Hence Turkey maintains contacts with the United States (and not with the Atlantic Alliance, in which it is scarcely interested), which is a traditional ally of the Kurdish groups in Syria (that now sympathize more with Russia), so as to avoid the United States pushing for an Independent Kurdish State – and in that case Turkey could still use its good relations with Isis, as a sort of blackmail.

Moreover, Turkey is worried about the crisis in Ukraine and the Black Sea, which is one of its primary strategic points.

If tension mounted in that region, Turkey would be faced with two negative scenarios: the Russian (and Rumanian) power projection onto the Black Sea and the possibility for Russia to hold in check both the Turkish territory and its trade routes eastwards, which are key to Turkey’s Panturanic strategy.

Nor does Turkey wish to completely turn against Russia, from which it receives most of its oil and gas supplies which, however, are bound to double by 2020 as to oil and to quadruplicate as to natural gas.

And, indeed, the only rational source of supply is the Russian region, which will certainly make its weight felt and its voice heard if Turkey used the jihadist lever even further in the Syrian crisis.

Should the European Union be able to think strategically, these could be the issues at stake in the Syrian-Iraqi region.

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. “

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Middle East

Ukraine crisis could produce an unexpected winner: Iran

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 Iran potentially could emerge as an unintended winner in the escalating crisis over Ukraine. That is, if Russian troops cross the Ukrainian border and talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement fail.

An imposition of tough US and European sanctions in response to any Russian incursion in Ukraine could likely make Russia more inclined to ignore the fallout of violating US sanctions n its dealings with Iran.

By the same token, a failure of the talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, the European Union, France, Germany, and Britain to revive the accord that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program would drive Iran closer to Russia and China in its effort to offset crippling US sanctions.

US and European officials have warned that time is running out on the possibility of reviving the agreement from which the United States under then-President Donald J. Trump withdrew in 2018.

The officials said Iran was weeks away from acquiring the know-how and capability to produce enough nuclear fuel for a bomb quickly. That, officials suggested, would mean that a new agreement would have to be negotiated, something Iran has rejected.

No doubt, that was in the back of the minds of Russian and Iranian leaders when they met last week during a visit to Moscow by Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi. It was the first meeting between the leaders of Russia and Iran in five years.

To be sure, the road to increased Russian trade, energy cooperation, and military sales would open with harsh newly imposed US sanctions against Russia even if restrictions on Iran would remain in place.

That does not mean that the road would be obstacle-free. Mr. Putin would still have to balance relations with Iran with Russia’s ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

If anything, Russia’s balancing act, like that of China, has become more complicated without the Ukraine and Vienna variables as Iranian-backed Houthis expand the seven-year-long Yemen war with drone and missile strikes against targets in the UAE.

The Houthis struck as the Russian, Chinese and Iranian navies started their third joint exercises since 2019 in the northern Indian Ocean. The two events were not related.

“The purpose of this drill is to strengthen security and its foundations in the region, and to expand multilateral cooperation between the three countries to jointly support world peace, maritime security and create a maritime community with a common future,” Iranian Rear Admiral Mostafa Tajoldini told state tv.

US dithering over its commitments to security in the Gulf has persuaded Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE to hedge their bets and diversify the nature of their relations with major external powers.

However, a Russia and potentially a China that no longer are worried about the fallout of violating US sanctions against Iran could put Riyadh and Abu Dhabi on notice that the two US rivals may not be more reliable or committed to ensuring security in the Gulf. So far, neither Russia nor China have indicated an interest in stepping into US shoes.

This leaves Saudi Arabia and the UAE with few good choices if Russia feels that US sanctions are no longer an obstacle in its dealings with Iran.

Russia is believed to want the Vienna talks to succeed but at the same time has supported Iranian demands for guarantees that the United States would not walk away from a revived deal like it did in 2018.

Against the backdrop of talk about a proposed 20-year cooperation agreement between the two countries, Russia appears to want to negotiate a free trade agreement between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union that groups Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, alongside Russia.

Iran has signed a similar 25-year cooperation agreement with China that largely remains a statement of intent at best rather than an action plan that is being implemented.

Like in the case of China, the draft agreement with Russia appears to have been an Iranian rather than a Russian initiative. It would demonstrate that Iran is less isolated than the United States would like it to be and that the impact of US sanctions can be softened.

“We have a document on bilateral strategic cooperation, which may determine our future relations for the next 20 years. At any rate, it can explain our prospects,” Mr. Raisi said as he went into his talks with Mr. Putin.

For now, Mr. Raisi’s discussions in Moscow appear to have produced more lofty prospects than concrete deals.

Media speculation that Russia would be willing to sell Iran up to US10 billion in arms, including Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 anti-missile defense systems, appear to have remained just that, speculation. Saudi Arabia and the UAE would view the sale to Iran of such weapons as particularly troublesome.

By the same token, Iranian officials, including Finance Minister Ehsan Khanduzi and Oil Minister Javad Owji, spoke of agreements signed during the Moscow visit that would revive a US$5 billion Russian credit line that has been in the pipeline for years and produce unspecified energy projects.

It’s unclear if these are new projects or ones that have been previously discussed and even agreed to, such as the one Lukoil stopped working on in 2018 after the US pulled out… Lukoil was concerned about being targeted by US sanctions,” said international affairs scholar Mark N. Katz.

Theoretically, the dynamics of the Ukraine crisis and the prospects of failed Vienna talks could mean that a long-term Russian Iranian cooperation agreement could get legs quicker than its Chinese Iranian counterpart.

Negotiating with a Russia heavily sanctioned by the United States and Europe in an escalated crisis in Ukraine could level the playing field as both parties, rather than just Iran, would be hampered by Western punitive measures.

Tehran-based Iranian scholar and political analyst Sadegh Zibakalam suggested that it was time for the regime to retire the 43-year-old Iranian revolution’s slogan of “neither East nor West.” The slogan is commemorated in a plaque at the Foreign Ministry.

Asserting that Iran has long not adhered to the motto, Mr. Zibakalam suggested that the plaque be removed and stored in the basement of a hardline Tehran newspaper. “It has not been used for a long time and should be taken down,” he tweeted.

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Unified Libya will come only via ballot box, ‘not the gun’-UNSC

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A boy runs in the ruins of the Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli, Libya. © UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti

Libya is at a “delicate and fragile juncture in its path to unity and stability”, the UN Political Affairs chief told the Security Council on Monday, urging the international community to remain united in supporting national elections postponed last month. 

In welcoming positive developments across three different tracks of intra-Libyan dialogue, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, also recognized the challenges that must be overcome.  

“So many Libyans have told us, the way towards a stable and united Libya is through the ballot box, not the gun”, she said. “We must stand with them”. 

Postponed elections 

Growing polarization among political actors, and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process, led to the postponement of long anticipated elections on 24 December.  

The High National Commission for Elections (HNEC) cited shortcomings in the legal framework along with political and security concerns. To address this, the House of Representatives has established a Roadmap Committee to chart a new political path that defines an elections timetable and process. 

New Special Adviser 

Last month, Stephanie Williams was appointed Special Adviser on Libya, having served as acting Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission, UNSMIL, last year.  

To date, she has undertaken wide-ranging consultations, including with members of the Government of National Unity (GNU), the High National Election Commission, the House of Representatives, and candidates for presidential and parliamentary elections.  

Oil-rich Libya has descended into multiple crises since the overthrow of former rule Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, which in recent years saw the country divided between rival administrations – a UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli, and that of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar.  

Ms. Williams has reiterated that the focus of the political process now, should remain on holding “free, fair, inclusive and credible national elections” in the shortest possible timeframe. 

“In all her meetings, the Special Adviser highlighted the 2.8 million Libyans who have registered to vote”, said Ms. DiCarlo, adding that she also called on everyone to respect the will of the Libyan people and to adhere to the timeline agreed to in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) roadmap, which was endorsed by the Security Council

Welcomed developments 

The UN political affairs chief said ongoing dialogue among political, security and economic actors from across the country was key. 

“We have seen reports of consultations between the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the High State Council, as well as among presidential candidates from western and eastern Libya”, she said.  

On the security track, there have been meetings among various armed groups, as well as the Chief of General Staff of the Western Military Forces under the GNU and the acting General Commander of the rival LNA, with the participation of military chiefs and heads of military departments from both sides.  

Turning to the economy, further steps have been taken to reunify the Central Bank of Libya.  

Moreover, renewed efforts continue to advance national reconciliation based on the principles of transitional justice.  

Security situation 

While the ceasefire has continued to hold, “political uncertainty in the run up to the elections has negatively impacted the overall security situation”, the political chief informed the Council, including in Tripoli. 

It has resulted in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates, she added. 

Similarly, unfulfilled demands made to the GNU by the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) in western Libya resulted in the shutdown of oil production, causing the National Oil Corporation to declare in December, force majeure – a clause that removes liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes. 

Following negotiations between the PFG and the GNU, Oil production was restored on 9 January. 

To implement the ceasefire agreement, last month military representatives from opposing sides, called the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission (JMC), discussed with Turkish and Russian authorities, an Action Plan to gradually withdrawal mercenaries and foreign fighters from the country.     

At the same time, despite serious logistical and security challenges, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continued its work to establish a ceasefire monitoring hub in Sirte, pending the GNU’s approval on accommodation and office facilities. 

Human rights concerns 

“The human rights situation in Libya remains very worrying”, said Ms. DiCarlo, noting “documented incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation”, which she described as obstacles toward a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections. 

“We are particularly concerned that women and men working to protect and promote women’s rights continued to be targeted by hate speech, defamation and incitement to violence”, she stated. “Some of the disturbing social media posts that posed a threat to the safety and security of these persons were removed after UNSMIL brought them to the attention of social media platforms”.  

Meanwhile, arbitrary detention by State and non-State actors continued across the country, with many detainees subjected to serious rights abuses. 

Migration management  

The situation of migrants and refugees is also highly concerning.  

“Large numbers of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea and returned to Libya continue to be detained in inhumane and degrading conditions with restricted humanitarian assistance. Thousands are unaccounted for”, the UN official said.  

Ms. DiCarlo pointed out that hundreds of foreign nationals were expelled from Libya’s eastern and southern borders without due process, with some “placed in extremely vulnerable situations across remote stretches of the Sahara Desert without sufficient food, water, safety and medical care”. 

“The United Nations remains ready to work with Libyan authorities on a long-term national response to migration and refugee management in line with international law to include addressing human rights concerns”, she assured. 

Accountability  

To ensure political progress, Elham Saudi, Co-founder and Director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya, said that all who commit abuses must be held accountable, including mercenaries. 

She noted that without law, revenge would be the only winner.  

Ms. Saudi also maintained the importance of an enabling environment for all rights advocates, especially women, and expressed hopes for a human-rights based approach in how Libya is governed, going forward. 

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Embarking on Libya’s Noble Foray Into the Future

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On Saturday the 22nd of January, activists from across the civil society spectrum in Libya gathered over Zoom with one purpose in mind; publicly declaring their support for the 1951 Libyan Independence Constitution. Despite the political turmoil which has engulfed the country since the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2011, a strong civil society movement which supports a return to our historical constitution, has always existed in Libya. These supporters, who represent a significant number of Libyans from across the country, see the restoration of the 1951 constitution as the only way to shape their future.

Libya has been through an immeasurable amount of internationally led initiatives, all aimed at providing Libya with long term “solutions”. Only over the course of the past decade, one can count the UN-brokered Skhirat agreement in December of 2015, the 2017 Paris meeting, the 2018 Palermo conference alongside Mohammed bin Zayed’s Abu Dhabi gathering in February 2019. Followed by Putin and Erdogan’s joint call for a ceasefire in 2020, alongside the first (2020) and second (2021) Berlin conferences alongside UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, each and every one of these efforts amounted to nothing.

The main reason behind these, perhaps well-intentioned but failed attempts, was the simple fact that none of these efforts had any grounding in Libyan history or the support of the Libyan people. Reaching consensus in a society as heavily divided as that of Libya, is a significant challenge. However, placing our faith in our history will undoubtedly provide us with a solution that is closer to the hearts of citizens of our nation and which has the potential to assist in competing factions finally putting their differences aside.

This was the catalyst of Saturday’s meeting which sought to once and for all provide an authentically Libyan solution to the issues which have been plaguing the country for over a decade. The first of these is the preservation of our territorial integrity which has for too long been challenged by foreign actors. It is high time that a long term resolution for our country’s ills is found that ensures the exclusion of foreign elements from shaping the future of our great land.

The second issue the gathering sought to underscore was the need to build an inclusive future for all members of Libyan society. For far too long, our country has excluded citizens of certain political persuasions, cultural backgrounds or those who hold different opinions. Every Libyan deserves equal opportunities, protection of basic rights alongside access to justice. This has been impossible in a country which for so long has lacked a cohesive national identity.

These two issues are indeed intertwined with the third issue which the conference sought to highlight, namely, our demand to return to constitutional legitimacy under the leadership of our Crown Prince Mohammed El Hasan el Rida el Senussi. As the sole heir to the throne of King Idris, passed down through the late Crown Prince Hassan, Prince Mohammad is the leader our country has yearned for.

With leadership claims grounded in historical fact that cannot be upended by foreign or domestic elements, from an ideological standpoint, Prince Mohammad serves as an anchor, offsetting challenges to stability posed by foreign elements. This is strengthened by his position as  the scion of a family which has been in Libya for centuries and founded the Senoussia movement, briniging with it Islam, to the country. Furthermore, historical memories of the reign of King Idris, which saw religious tolerance, gender equality and security for its citizens, reflects the future which Libyan’s would like to see for themselves today.

Bringing together journalists, academics, human rights defenders and political activists, Saturday’s gathering was indeed revolutionary. It would have been unimaginable that such a gathering would even have taken place a mere decade ago. Representing not only themselves, but a wide range of segments of Libyan society, those attending over Zoom broadcasted a powerful message; a rejection of foreign attempts top shape the future of the country alongside a return to historical, constitutional, legitimacy under the leadership of the only man who can help Libya exit the current quagmire and begin its noble foray into the future.

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