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The global strategy of General Khalifa Haftar

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he agreement between the Libyan factions signed in Morocco on December 17, 2015 has not been implemented yet. It implied an enlightened “process of national reconciliation” – obviously bottom-up – that no one wanted to put in place while bullets were whizzing and the self-styled “Caliphate” of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi established itself in the Sirte region.

But, in the naive mentality of the major international decision-makers, only Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army was the true enemy of national reconciliation. The former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, referred precisely to the former Gaddafi’s protégé when he said that the “battles of individuals, having only their own interest in mind, jeopardize the security of Libya”.

We know for a fact that, for some strange alchemy, the former Secretary of State stated the exact opposite of truth, with haughtiness and self-conceit. Hence we can infer that Haftar’s forces were inevitable to eliminate the jihadist militants in the Sirte region, which however is a fact.

Therefore, when the old Gaddafi’s General launched ”Operation Dignity” (Karama) on May 16, 2014, he had some goals in mind, including Libya’s unity – a sentiment much more widespread than we may believe among the populations – in addition to the inevitable establishment of a military-civilian dictatorship, the only form of government capable of disarming and stabilizing the whole Libyan crisis arc, not with UN-style talk but with deeds.

From the very beginning Haftar had the support of Algeria, well-aware of the resilience and dangerousness of permanent jihad. He was also helped by Egypt, willing to protect its citizens working for the Libyan economy which, before Gaddafi’s fall, was by far the most prosperous economy in the Maghreb region.

Abdel Fattah Al Sisi – that only Italy’s terrible mismanagement of the “Regeni affair” has made depart from our interests, promptly replaced by France’s – does not want the Muslim Brotherhood in his way, a real jihadi “third international”, and is arming Haftar, the sworn enemy of every totalitarian Islamism.

Haftar can also rely on the support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that want neither the Muslim Brotherhood, namely the backbone of both current Libyan governments, nor the structural crisis of one of the largest oil producers in Africa. Finally he is also helped by France, which, despite everything, had a moment of strategic lucidity in the Libyan region.

Fortunately, in that moment, President Hollande was asleep.

Obviously Italy has made no strategic choice and it is still betting on an impossible unity government immediately – that, if any, would count nothing – and on the UN strange and idealistic geopolitics, which I think is based on the horoscope of the day.

Conversely, Renzi’s Italy at first and Gentiloni’s later rolled the dice (a game forbidden in the Islamic culture) by betting only on Fajez Al-Serraj’s government that, with its twenty ministers counts for little or nothing even in the streets of Tripoli where it has its headquarters, on the sea which saw the sinking of Italo Balbo’s aircraft, shot down “by mistake” by the friendly fire of Italy’s anti-aircraft guns.

Hence, in my opinion, Italy should have had to deal also with Khalifa Haftar, who is not a disarmed prophet as Serraj or Savonarola, but a very armed prophet, such as Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus – just to quote Machiavelli’s Prince, in which the disarmed leaders always ruin themselves and fail.

The end of political realism, replaced by an idealism half-way between the 1968 movement and Rousseau-style thinking, is a decisive cultural problem of our time, as we will see later on.

Currently for Khalifa Haftar, the other strong point – namely the void filled, as taught by the ancient doctrine of Sun Tzu in his Art of War – is the agreement with the Russian Federation, signed aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier returning victoriously from the Middle East on January 11 last.

Thanks to the decisive mediation of the Algerian intelligence services, Russia will grant to the Libyan General military equipment and, in particular, advanced electronic devices for surveillance and signal intelligence.

Russia, which has already won its war in Syria, another Western void filled by Russia and Assad’s Alawites, is now a leader in the South-Mediterranean basin and therefore has the immediate need to find a place and a credible ally in the Libyan system.

The Russians still know how to wage a war and, therefore, they know that only one or two bases in the East- Mediterranean basin are undefended and can be strategically silenced, even without explicit acts of war.

Instead of waiting for Kantian “perpetual peace”, Russia has chosen the horse on which to bet, namely Khalifa Haftar, and it is supporting him not with pacifist talk, but with its weapons and its political and strategic support at international level.

Quos Deus perdere vult, dementat could be the motto of Western geopolitics in recent years.

“Operation Dignity” is certainly a decisive ally of Tobruk government but, in spite of aid, the other government, namely the Tripoli one, has lost control also over what should be its capital city – hence it would make no longer sense to support it.

But whoever forgets Machiavelli is bound to study it in defeat.

Furthermore Russia has always wanted a base in North Africa: in 2010 it asked the Algerian government to have access to the Mers-el-Kebir base, which at that time was denied to it.

Today, however, Russia has Libya available – a country it has always dreamt of having even when Gaddafi was in power. Just before being overthrown, as a result of the combined effect of jihadists and European democracies, Gaddafi had bought weapons from Russia – allegedly to the tune of four billion US dollars – while he had accepted the presence of Russian “instructors” for his Armed Forces.

Russia cannot sell weapons directly to Haftar, owing to the UN embargo in force since 2011, but it can make them be “assigned” by Algeria, which already has 90% of its arsenal in Russian arms.

Moreover, the militants of the so-called “Caliphate” are fleeing from the Sirte region and central Libya southwards, namely on the Libyan border with Algeria, Chad and Niger.

In fact it was exactly Chad to seal its borders with Libya on January 3 last.

Moreover Algeria wants to continue talks with all Libyan players, but it would prefer to have two Russian bases in Cyrenaica, which have already been planned, instead of the empty and dumb indolence of Western idealists.

Meanwhile, however, it is betting on the strongest horse, namely Khalifa Haftar.

In the meantime Russia has become China’s largest oil supplier, by supplanting Saudi Arabia. This happens exactly after the agreement signed by OPEC and non-OPEC countries, which has led to a decrease in production both for the Arab-Islamic producers and for the Russian ones, thus making the oil barrel price rise again.

While, however, history is magistra vitae, as it should be, it is nonetheless true that Haftar wanted to become Commander-in-chief of the new post-Gaddafi’s Libyan Armed Forces. Nevertheless, due to the endless hair-splitting and pedantry of politics in the Maghreb region, Yussuf Al-Mangoush was chosen. He immediately created a private militia of jihadists and had several loyalist officers killed.

Probably Al-Mangoush also ordered to kill General Abdel Fattah Younis, the powerful Head of Eastern Libya’s rebels.

And again, if the West is not a blind kitten, as unfortunately I suspect, the Misrata forces – that support Al Serraj’s government against remuneration (even Italy’s) – will still be more of a challenge for Haftar’s ”Operation Dignity”.

Instead of doing like that 1968 activist who pushed his way through the police and the red revolutionaries with a white sheet, shouting “Peace!”, but being given an awful beating by both of them, Italy and the rest of the EU should deal with Haftar – and now we will see what Trump’s America will do. They should also open a “dialogue” (a word which is now particularly fashionable) with Khalifa al-Gwell, the leader of Tobruk government, and finally decide to design a new map of Libya, where possible.

Possibly by force and not only with bombastic statements of principle.

This means two governments – and we would also do a favour to Serraj by taking him seriously – with one single Army led by Haftar and, above all, a border between Eastern and Western Libya controlled by Egyptians, Saudis, Algerians, Tunisians and a Multinational Force in Libya established under a UN mandate as interposition force by Italy, Spain, France, the United States and Russia.

Currently, the tension between Misrata Forces and “Operation Dignity” is very high and could affect also the city of Tripoli, but the conflict would also directly concern the central oil-producing region, while Haftar is operating tribal alliances in the South, the same strategy which enabled him to conquer the Libyan Oil Crescent.

In all likelihood, the centre of gravity of this war will still be the Sirte region, where Khalifa Haftar will do his utmost to block Misrata forces.

Moreover, at the meeting of the African Union held in Brazzaville on 30 January last, Al-Serraj said he wanted to create an “anti-terrorist” unit and, to this end, he could meet General Haftar.

The agreement that Al Serraj has in mind is certainly the appointment of Haftar as Commander-in-chief of the joint Libyan Armed Forces, but above all the preservation of his Tripoli government and his current job.

At least by capitalizing on his international connections and support, namely the “disarmed prophets” of the West.

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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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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