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Reviewing the Libyan issue

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]re we sure we have so far well-interpreted Libya’s scenario, its strategic balances and the nature of our real interests in that complex system? Are we confident that the goal of a mature foreign policy is to be deceived by the first who comes by, when he babbles words he does not know, such as “democracy” and “freedom”?

Finally, are we sure that – at cultural level – our lifestyles can be exported and fully turned – without residues – into social, religious and anthropological contexts completely different from the European or Western ones?

I am afraid not.

Unlike contemporary linguistics, in political cultures the so-called “Sapir-Whorf” hypothesis – also known as the principle of linguistic relativity – applies, whereby the grammatical structure of a language affects and even changes the very structure of thought.

The West, but especially France and Great Britain, which more than others had referred to the principles of a “humanitarian war” against the so-called tyrant Muammar al-Minyar Gaddafi, disappeared immediately after the establishment of the National Transitional Council in August 2011 and the killing of the “tyrant” on October 20, 2011.

Geopolitics in the Brothers Grimm’s style of fairy tales, with the bad guy who gets the end he deserves.

Geopolitics for small talk during the afternoon tea, where the profile of the latest villain is sketched, with some shivers down the back because, as the poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “Every woman adores a Fascist / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart / of a brute like you”.

Hence moralistic and naive geopolitics, deprived of any analysis of the objective nature of the forces on the ground and unable to understand how, for instance, Libya’s destabilization would also cause the end of Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

It was obvious that the end of a soundly authoritarian regime would favour the jihad, but this obvious possibility was never considered by anyone.

Today we are making the same mistake by favouring the now hypothetical regime of Fajez al-Sarraj.

A government that, while al-Sarraj is on travel, appoints a Chief of the intelligence, who is notoriously close to General Haftar.

A government whose Presidential Council, of which al-Sarraj is member, is headquartered in the base of Abu Sittah, near Tripoli.

And it does not dare to set foot outside the door..

It is true, however, that the Government of National Accord, established on the basis of the Political Agreement for Libya brokered by the United Nations on December 17, 2015, finds its democratic justification precisely in the House of Representatives – the now de facto autonomous rival government of the East. In between, however, there is precisely General Khalifa Haftar with his “Operation Dignity”, who seems to be the only armed prophet of the region, apart from the small and increasingly irrelevant factions.

It is the Libyan National Army – namely General Haftar’s creature – that de facto controls the House of Representatives, which should also justify the “democratic” regime of the Presidency in the West, in the hands of a now disarmed al-Sarraj.

Only a madman – outside Libya – could conceive such a delicate and dangerous apparatus, but this crazy man often lives – like a Phantom of the Opera – in the UN corridors in New York.

General Haftar’ strategic aims are now very clear: to eradicate jihadist Islam at least from Eastern Libya;   defend borders and the many Egyptian workers present in Cyrenaica; avoid the vast Libyan region being conquered by jihadist forces contrary to the interests of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates that know all too well how powerful the Muslim Brotherhood is in that region, due to ancient ethno-religious traditions.

Al-Sarraj has been recently recommended – by the United Nations and by the even more inept European Union, not to mention the United States – to “reach an inclusive agreement” with Haftar’s forces – an inclusion which is reminiscent of a fox in a henhouse.

On top of it, in Tripoli there is also the National Salvation Government led by Khalifa al-Ghawil.

It was established as a point of reference representing the group of politicians that lost the Libyan elections of June 2014, by later using the armed forces of the “Libya Dawn Coalition”, the Islamist militias operating against al-Sarraj and Haftar during the “second Libyan civil war” of 2014-2016.

In fact “Libya Dawn” militias conquered the Tripoli airport in 2014.

Today we witness the creation of the Libyan National Guard – on the ashes of Libya Dawn (Fajr) – established last February, again in Tripoli.

However, it will not take orders from al-Sarraj’s Government of National Unity and it is composed of armed brigades mostly coming from Misrata.

Hence infiltrations of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ansar Al Sharia are very probable.

In all likelihood, the new armed force still supports Khalifa al-Ghawil, the perpetrator of a recent coup in Tripoli. He is always the primary point of reference for the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Qatar and Turkey, which have very different prospects on Libya than Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Arab Emirates.

The more al-Ghawil becomes dangerous, the more his issue is linked to the tensions between the EU and Turkey.

With the crazy overthrow of Gaddafi, we have also given this card to the Islam of “permanent jihad” and “sword jihad”, as well as to the regional Islamic powers in the Middle East.

Italy, the most naive country which knows nothing about the real balances currently existing in Libya, relies only on al-Sarraj to stop or limit the migrant flows from the Libyan coast.

It is just wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, the oil terminals of Sidra and Ras Lanuf have been reconquered by Khalifa Haftar who, after two years, has freed the Benghazi region from the jihadist militias and is heading for Tripoli, his next inevitable target.

The oil areas were taken by forces joining some Qaedist Salafists, the military of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Benghazi Defence Brigades , Misrata militias and the “Petroleum Defence Guards” of Ibrahim Jadhran.

Later the soldiers of old General Haftar came in – the General who was overthrown precisely by Gaddafi, who hold him responsible for the Libyan defeat in Chad.

Both Misrata militias and the Petroleum Defence Guards are loyal – at great cost – to al-Sarraj’s government.

But was it not al-Sarraj’s GNA supposed to be the “secular government” so much liked by the United Nations and the Europeans?

Jadhran, however, wants greater autonomy for Libya’s Eastern oil provinces. He opposes the Muslim Brotherhood currently de facto in power in Tripoli and, with his “Petroleum Defence Guards” – approximately 17,500 units -he controls the region and sometimes also other parts of Libya.

Today, however, this structure is in disarray but – apart from Haftar’s forces – in some regions, the oil areas are still held by the old groups of Jadhran, who is an ever more listless ally of al-Sarraj.

It is worth recalling that the Parliament of Eastern Libya supports the end of a united Libyan National Oil Corporation.

Furthermore, in Tripoli, al-Ghawil’s National Salvation Government, known as “the Tripoli-based Parliament”, bases its tenuous legitimacy on the General National Congress, which dates back to the old 2012 Libyan Parliament.

Most of the General National Congress members are also members of the Council of State, a body recognized by the Libyan Political Agreement brokered and managed, at the time, by the UN finest spirits.

A political area that recognized itself especially in the “Libya Dawn”, as well as in Misrata militias, now basically in favour of al-Sarraj, and in the five local Western Libyan militias.

Finally, in Tobruk – or rather in Al Bayda – there is also Al-Thinni’s government, in place since March 2014, that is direct heir to the transitional government elected immediately after Gaddafi’s fall, which should transfer its powers to al-Sarraj’s GNA.

We will wait for a long time.

Furthermore, apart from the forces of the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate in Sirte, fought and eradicated at first by the militias linked to al-Sarraj and later by Haftar’s forces, the jihadist brigades not directly related to Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate are operating in Libya.

It is the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, which was created by joining several jihadist militias just to counter Haftar’s ”Operation Dignity”. Then we have Ansar al-Sharia, whose Benghazi faction has merged with the above stated “Shura Council” and operates with militants who fought in Syria and Iraq throughout the Libyan territory.

Moreover there are the February 17th Brigade Martyrs Brigade; the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade; the Shura Council of the Mujahideen in Derna; the Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council, in North-East Libya; the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, the Tripoli Special Deterrence Force and the Libya Shield 1.

Now nearly all of these groups have their headquarters and operate in Western Libya, in Tripoli or in Misrata.

As early as 2011 Ansar al-Sharia, which was already operational immediately before Gaddafi’s fall, has organized training camps for foreign fighters, mainly Tunisians and Egyptians.

Under these conditions the war feeds itself: the more a group is fierce and organized, the more it can handle extortions, robberies, kidnappings and blackmails.

Meanwhile “Operation Dignity” is in crisis because the Libyan National Bank does not abide by the agreement to provide 40% of the oil proceeds to the Benghazi government, while the 60% payments to the Tripoli government are still vague and labile.

The separation of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) is in the air and, with said separation, we will have the stabilization ab aeterno of the Libyan chaos.

The worst case scenario for us.

Moreover, the city of Misrata is largely supported by the funding of Qatar, Turkey and Sudan.

For both sides it is a thorn in the flesh for the new Libyan State’s unity.

At the time, only a perfect idiot could create such a geopolitical situation. We found him – indeed, we found many of them.

What could be the solution? Support to Khalifa Haftar’s ‘”Operation Dignity”, also to avoid the General falling into the hands of the Russian Federation, which could aspire to two military bases in Cyrenaica. Moreover, Haftar is the only one having the design of a United Libya, of a non-Islamist State and of a correlation of forces not alien to the stability of the rest of the Maghreb region, which depends directly on the Libyan crisis.

The “disarmed prophets”, as always happened in the history of Western political thinking, must be abandoned to their fate.

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

Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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Middle East

First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*

The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.

Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.

As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.

But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.

This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.

To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.

The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.

For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.

Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.

Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.

The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.

Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.

* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

From our partner RIAC

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Middle East

Iran’s Impunity Will Grow if Evidence of Past Crimes is Fully Destroyed

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No reasonable person would deny the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But that issue must not be allowed to continue overshadowing Iran’s responsibility for terrorism and systematic human rights violations. These matters represent a much more imminent threat to human life, as well as longstanding denials of justice for those who have suffered from the Iranian regime’s actions in the past.

The Iranian people have risen multiple times in recent years to call for democratic change. In 2017, major uprisings broke out against the regime’s disastrous policies. Although the ruling clerics suppressed those protests, public unrest soon resumed in November 2019. That uprising was even broader in scope and intensity. The regime responded by opening fire on crowds, murdering at least 1,500. Amnesty International has reported on the torture that is still being meted out to participants in the uprising.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organizations have continued to repeat longstanding calls for increased attention to some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the regime in previous years.

Last year, Amnesty International praised a “momentous breakthrough” when seven UN human rights experts demanded an end to the ongoing cover-up of a massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

The killings were ordered by the regime’s previous supreme leader Khomeini, who declared that opponents of the theocracy were “enemies of God” and thus subject to summary executions. In response, prisons throughout Iran convened “death commissions” that were tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views. Those who rejected the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were hanged, often in groups, and their bodies were dumped mostly in mass graves, the locations of which were held secret.

In the end, at least 30,000 political prisoners were massacred. The regime has been trying hard to erase the record of its crimes, including the mass graves. Its cover-up has unfortunately been enabled to some degree by the persistent lack of a coordinated international response to the situation – a failure that was acknowledged in the UN experts’ letter.

The letter noted that although the systematic executions had been referenced in a 1988 UN resolution on Iran’s human rights record, none of the relevant entities within that international body followed up on the case, and the massacre went unpunished and underreported.

For nearly three decades, the regime enforced silence regarding any public discussion of the killings, before this was challenged in 2016 by the leak of an audio recording that featured contemporary officials discussing the 1988 massacre. Regime officials, like then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi, told state media that they were proud of committing the killings.

Today, the main victims of that massacre, the principal opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), are still targets of terrorist plots on Western soil, instigated by the Iranian regime. The most significant of these in recent years was the plot to bomb a gathering organized near Paris in 2018 by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Free Iran rally was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as hundreds of political dignitaries, and if the attack had not been prevented by law enforcement, it would have no doubt been among the worst terrorist attacks in recent European history.

The mastermind of that attack was a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi. He was convicted in a Belgian court alongside three co-conspirators in February. But serious critics of the Iranian regime have insisted that accountability must not stop here.

If Tehran believes it has gotten away with the 1988 massacre, one of the worst crimes against humanity from the late 20th century, it can also get away with threatening the West and killing protesters by the hundreds. The ongoing destruction of mass graves demonstrates the regime’s understanding that it has not truly gotten away with the massacre as long as evidence remains to be exposed.

The evidence of mass graves has been tentatively identified in at least 36 different cities, but a number of those sites have since been covered by pavement and large structures. There are also signs that this development has accelerated in recent years as awareness of the massacre has gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the destruction currently threatens to outpace the campaign for accountability, and it is up to the United Nations and its leading member states to accelerate that campaign and halt the regime’s destruction of evidence.

If this does not happen and the 1988 massacre is consigned to history before anyone has been brought to justice, it will be difficult to compel Tehran into taking its critics seriously about anything, be it more recent human rights violations, ongoing terrorist threats, or even the nuclear program that authorities have been advancing in spite of the Western conciliation that underlay 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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