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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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China in the Middle East: Stepping up to the plate

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By defining Chinese characteristics as “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution, Messrs. Sun and Wu were suggesting that China was seeking to prepare the ground for greater Chinese engagement in efforts to stabilize the Middle East, a volatile region that repeatedly threatens to spin out of control.

The scholars defined China’s goal as building an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.

By implication, Messrs. Sun and Wu’s vision reflected a growing realization in China that it no longer can protect its mushrooming interests exclusively through economic cooperation, trade, and investment.

It also signalled an understanding that stability in the Middle East can only be achieved through an inclusive, comprehensive, and multilateral reconstructed security architecture of which China would have to be part.

Messrs. Sun and Wu’s article, published in a prominent Chine policy journal, was part of a subtle and cautious Chinese messaging that was directed towards players on all sides of the Middle East’s multiple divides.

To be clear, China, like Russia, is not seeking to replace the United States, certainly not in military terms, as a dominant force in the Middle East. Rather, it is gradually laying the groundwork to capitalize on a US desire to rejigger its regional commitments by exploiting US efforts to share the burden more broadly with its regional partners and allies.

China is further suggesting that the United States has proven to be unable to manage the Middle East’s myriad conflicts and disputes, making it a Chinese interest to help steer the region into calmer waters while retaining the US military as the backbone of whatever restructured security architecture emerges.

Implicit in the message is the assumption that the Middle East may be one part of the world in which the United States and China can simultaneously cooperate and compete; cooperate in maintaining regional security and compete on issues like technology.

That may prove to be an idealized vision. China, like the United States, is more likely to discover that getting from A to B can be torturous and that avoiding being sucked into the Middle East’s myriad conflicts is easier said than done.

China has long prided itself on its ability to maintain good relations with all sides of the divide by avoiding engagement in the crux of the Middle East’s at times existential divides.

Yet, building a sustainable security architecture that includes conflict management mechanisms, without tackling the core of those divides, is likely to prove all but impossible. The real question is at what point does China feel that the cost of non-engagement outweighs the cost of engagement?

The Middle East is nowhere close to entertaining the kind of approaches and policies required to construct an inclusive security architecture. Nevertheless, changes to US policy being adopted by the Biden administration are producing cracks in the posture of various Middle Eastern states, albeit tiny ones, that bolster the Chinese messaging.

Various belligerents, including Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey, but not Iran or Israel, at least when it comes to issues like Iran and the Palestinians, have sought to lower the region’s temperature even if fundamentals have not changed.

A potential revival of the 2015 international Iran nuclear agreement could provide a monkey wrench.

There is little doubt that any US-Iranian agreement to do so would focus exclusively on nuclear issues and would not include other agenda points such as ballistic missiles and Iranian support for non-state actors in parts of the Middle East. The silver lining is that ballistic missiles and support for non-state actors are issues that Iran would likely discuss if they were embedded in a discussion about restructured regional security arrangements.

This is where China may have a significant contribution to make. Getting all parties to agree to discuss a broader, more inclusive security arrangement involves not just cajoling but also assuaging fears, including whether and to what degree Chinese relations with an Iran unfettered by US sanctions and international isolation would affect Gulf states.

To be sure, while China has much going for it in the Middle East such as its principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, its affinity for autocracy, and its economic weight and emphasis on economic issues, it also needs to manage pitfalls. These include reputational issues despite its vaccine diplomacy, repression of the Uyghurs in the north-western province of Xinjiang, and discrimination against other Muslim communities.

China’s anti-Muslim policies may not be an immediate issue for much of the Muslim world, but they continuously loom as a potential grey swan.

Nevertheless, China, beyond doubt, alongside the United States can play a key role in stabilizing the Middle East. The question is whether both Beijing and Washington can and will step up to the plate.

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The US doesn’t deserve a sit on the UNHRC, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen

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A family in the Al Dhale'e camp for people displaced by the conflict in Yemen. YPN for UNOCHA

Last week, the US State Department communicated its intention of joining the UN Human Rights Council later this year. The UN General Assembly will be voting this October on who gets to join the 47-member UN Human Rights Council. 47 members is less than a fourth of all UN member states, so only very few countries get a seat and a say.

The United States does not deserve to join the UN Human Rights Council, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen.

The Human Rights Council is often criticized, especially by the right in the US, for having only bad human rights actors with atrocious records as members. But the US is not an exception to the atrocious human rights record club. 

In the seemingly war-less Trump period, the US nevertheless still managed to get engaged in war and war crimes in the completely devastated Yemen, which was hit by the worst humanitarian crisis and famine over the last years, after US-backed Saudi forces basically flattened the country. Over 13mln people suffered from starvation. Media and human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch alike have pointed to US complicity in war crimes in Yemen.

Months ago, I criticized UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore for lauding the Saudis’ “humanitarian leadership” in Yemen for the price of USD 150mln. The UN blue-washing partnerships were possible after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres removed Saudi Arabia from the UN blacklist in 2020 to make sure the rivers of cash by the Saudi humanitarian heroes kept flowing in the UN’s direction. But in October this year, it is not Antonio-it’s not a big deal-Guterres that decides who gets on the UN Human Rights Council. It’s all the UN member states. And many of them will not be impressed by the Saudi humanitarian leadership.

And even though a month ago, new US President Joe Biden announced that the US is ending its support for the Saudi offensive – and in parallel the US intell revealed the Khashoggi report which outlined the Saudi prince’s involvement in the murder of the journalist – questions still persist about the US role in the Yemeni situation from now on. 73% of all Saudi arms imports come from the US. The US State Department will simply be playing on words from now on in redefining what constitutes “offensive” support for the Saudi coalition, as the State Department Spokesperson Ned Price seemed to suggest. Any military expert knows how difficult it is to differentiate between offensive and defensive capabilities. Unless it’s really barb wire standing on your border, it’s pretty hard to make the case that something will serve for only defensive purposes. Especially if the “defense-only” capabilities are for a war-driven Saudi-led coalition. So, basically the Biden policy is the Trump policy, but much more polished. The language is more technocraticly elegant, but the essence is the same – just like many of the other decisions by the Biden Administration in its first weeks. It’s basically Trump, only the phrasing is much more polished and professionally shrewd.

This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Yemen’s Houthies for breaking the peace in responding to the Saudi forces, but it is safe to say that there isn’t much peace to break in Yemen, and the US has also taken care of that. So, Blinken’s statement reveals a new doze of hypocrisy – hypocrisy, which also characterizes the US’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council.

Biden’s Syria strikes that left many Biden supporters quite surprised last week also indicated that many of us who thought Biden would be a classical Democrat centrist were actually wrong. Biden has much more in common with the right now, judging by his very first policy choices – at home and foreign policy wise.

The US government will have to try a bit harder than “we are not Trump”, if it wants to convince the rest of the countries in October that it deserves a sit on the human rights table. If the Biden Administration continues the same way, it’s not going to be able to do so.

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Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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