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Iran in the new talks on the Nuclear Treaty

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In the current Iranian economic and political system there are many old and new geopolitical and economic tensions.

At a time when many countries, including China, but not the United States, are adopting the criteria of the Paris Climate Agreement- signed, however, by 196 countries – it is obvious that oil will see its economic and technological importance decrease, while the role of alternative energy resources and, above all, natural gas will increase.

This is the first aspect to be studied: Saudi Arabia does not possess significant reserves of natural gas which, however, is much more “environmental-friendly” than oil, while Iran and Qatar have plenty of it.

Incidentally, the two countries which were accused of “sponsoring terrorism” during the meeting gathering 13 countries in Riyadh in May 2017 to establish the “Sunni Arab NATO” – a meeting where President Trump-led America which, however, is supposed to have some intelligence, had to say only yes.

This is exactly the reason why Saudi Arabia wants to immediately double its gas production up to 23 million cubic feet per day, while the country is also thinking about an OPEC oil reduction of 1.8 million barrels per day until the end of 2018.

This situation has nothing to do with the situation prevailing in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has 18% of all natural gas reserves in the world, the second in size after the Russian Federation’s.

Another political problem in the use of natural gas, as can be easily imagined.

Conversely, Qatar has “only” 14% of global natural gas reserves, the third largest region in the world in terms of oil and gas.

This is the reason why, for example, the issue of renewables is at the core of Vision 2030, the great Saudi reform project.

Saudi Arabia still ranks sixth in terms of natural gas reserves, and the new leader of the Saudi Kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman, wants to expand gas extraction in the country by approximately 4% or at most 6% on a yearly basis – with savings currently estimated at 71 US dollars for each oil barrel “replaced” by an equivalent amount of gas for the same energy production.

Hence the Saudi natural gas is mainly used at domestic level so as to avoid the energy additional cost of using national oil, which must be sold in huge quantities, while for Iran and Qatar gas is the only great economic and geopolitical opportunity of the future.

Moreover, Prince Muhammad wants to increase the production of solar energy, again to be sold to Europe, considering the obvious difference in sun exposure of Saudi lands compared to the European ones.

Hence new formulas for exporting oil and gas require different strategic configurations compared to the current ones, which arise from the now old invention of petrodollars after the Yom Kippur War but, above all, are unavoidable after the transformation of power potentials within the OPEC system.

Even today Iran often sells oil barrels in euros – Saddam Hussein’s original sin.

New energy routes to be established and defended towards Western markets and hence new distribution of satellite or enemy countries in the very long passage from the origin of energy sources up to European end consumers.

Also the United States relies on said consumers. I am afraid that, in the near future, it will try to sell us its shale oil and gas.

This explains the “materialistic” root of the Iran-Saudi Arabia tension in Yemen for the Shi’ite and Zaydist rebels of the Fifth Imam, the Houthis – officially called Ansar Allah – who should be supported by Iran, Eritrea and other Iran’s friendly countries.

Who controls Yemen controls the Suez Canal.

On the contrary, Saudi Arabia is helped there – although softly – by the United States and the United Kingdom.

I have not yet well understood the reason why the United States and Great Britain have long put all their eggs in the Saudi basket, thus relinquishing a more balanced action for hegemony over the Greater Middle East.

Obviously Mohammed Bin Salman still wants to sell significant shares of ARAMCO – the state-owned Saudi oil company – to major foreign investors and later diversify the Saudi economy.

The deal of the century for many US investment bankers.

The Saudi Prince has also planned to spend tens of billion US dollars on US armaments, mainly to support the Saudi invasion of Yemen and, again, to fight the Houthis, who inflicted heavy losses on Saudi Arabia itself and finally to strengthen the strategic friendly relationship with the United States, the primary axis of Saudi Arabia also after Mohammed Bin Salman’s “purges”.

Therefore, if Iran’s economic potential is released, the strategic potentials inside the Greater Middle East and relating to the link between Shi’ites and Sunnis are placed on an equal footing and, indeed, change in favour of Iran.

This is the real problem underlying the “reform” or the termination of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, signed on July 14, 2015 between the P5 + 1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States, plus Germany) and later by the EU and the Shi’ite Republic of Iran.

Furthermore, obviously the post-1979/1981 sanctions against Iran had already seriously harmed Iran’s economy, which began to recover after 2015.

At the time, the cost of international sanctions for the Shi’ite Republic had been calculated at 100 million US dollars per day.

Pursuant to the JCPOA agreements, 1.3 billion US dollars have so far been returned to Iran for interest on frozen assets, while approximately 53.8 million dollars of “frozen” funds have not yet been returned to their legitimate owners.

The United States is keeping on indicating Iran’s persona non grata.

There are still other unresolved issues between Iran and the United States – many years after signing the JCPOA – but, as always happens in these cases, negotiations are very complex.

Iran has many advantages over Saudi Arabia: it has a more developed and diversified industrial structure; a lower fertility rate, as well as a less exploited oil production – and this precisely because of sanctions.

Nevertheless, for the time being Iran and the Caspian gas-producing countries can meet the energy demands of two major global players, namely Europe and China.

Both regions signed the Paris Climate Agreement.

Furthermore, within three years, Iran will have 24.6 billion cubic meters of gas available for being transferred to the pipelines, which can be calculated in addition to the current level of Iranian gas sales to both Europe and China.

What is the connection between this new Iranian geo-energy system and the probable US withdrawal from the JCPOA?

Let us consider the most important data: pursuant to the agreement, the IAEA can check every phase of the process for enriching Iranian uranium and plutonium – to an extent never experienced before in such international agreements.

Iran, however, must explain to the IAEA the relationship existing between the reprocessing of its uranium-plutonium and the probable military applications.

Again controlled by the IAEA, Iran shall certify it does no longer produce High-Enriched Uranium (HEU) or maintain reserves of such material. Furthermore, Iran must convert its heavy-water reactors (HWR) into research centres that can no longer produce plutonium suitable for nuclear weapons, under penalty of termination of the Treaty.

This is still enshrined in the JCPOA and in the IAEA’s practice.

Hence, since July 2015, the International Atomic Energy Agency based in Vienna has been monitoring every phase of the Iranian fuel cycle.

Nevertheless, the strictly military aspects of the Iranian nuclear system are not explicitly dealt with by the P5 + 1 agreement of 2015, but have been tackled in a separate document signed by both Iran and the IAEA, which defines a mechanism through which Iran replies directly to the questions put by the IAEA.

Iran, however, has currently no interest in manipulating or rejecting the 2015 agreement. Nevertheless, it is equally evident that the JCPOA has so far had no noticeable effects on the transformation of the Iranian support to Assad in Syria; to the Houthis in Yemen, who were initially attacked by Saudi Arabia, and to Iran’s operations on Saudi Arabia’s peripheral interests in the Middle East.

In short, the JCPOA works well in itself, but it is not politically useful to influence and condition Iran.

The agreement that President Trump wants to reject alone, possibly in contrast with his European allies, technically counteracts both ways through which nuclear weapons can be achieved, namely enriched uranium and plutonium.

However, with specific reference to uranium, pursuant to the P5 + 1 agreement, Iran must remove all the IR-2 centrifuges – developed from an old and now inefficient Pakistani model – and must also make the IAEA monitor the most modern IR-4 ones. According to the IAEA agreements and checks, they are fewer than thirty.

In the agreement already signed, it is also clear that for 15 years Iran cannot enrich uranium over 3.76% – a level that is very different from the previous 20%.

25 kilos of 20%-enriched uranium are needed to make a nuclear weapon.

Before signing the JCPOA, however, Iran possessed as many as 10,000 kilos of low-enriched uranium, which were enough to make ten nuclear weapons if the material had been further enriched.

With specific reference to plutonium, again pursuant to the P5 + 1 agreement, Iran accepts to immediately stop the construction of the Arak reactor and later turn it into a “normal” heavy-water reactor.

In 2016 Iran even made the Arak system unusable, by cementing the internal pipes.

In accordance with the JCPOA, the IAEA can carry out very intrusive checks.

The Vienna-based Agency can have free access to all Iranian nuclear facilities for the next 20 years.

An arbitration is also envisaged if the IAEA and the Iranian government disagreed with checking a site deemed “suspicious” by the Agency.

The arbitration time is approximately one month, but it is enough to check whether activities not permitted by the agreement have been carried out in that site.

However, every nuclear processing, operation and activity, even the hidden ones, leaves signs and traces that are very evident for the IAEA.

Furthermore, if Iran decided to organize a new production line of nuclear weapons on its own, it should at first build a new series of reactors and centrifuges, by using the scarce uranium it could find both internally and in covert international trade.

Nothing could be easier to discover.

Certainly the JCPOA lacks the immediate and selective procedures to carry out checks, where needed, without limits from the Iranian government but, once again, any deviation from the rule would be easily and quickly discovered by both the IAEA and any intelligence service operating on site.

With regard to the above stated matter of sanctions, it is worth recalling that Europe lifted its sanctions, including the 2012 oil embargo, on the day when the Treaty was signed.

Other sanctions were lifted by the European Union on trade in precious materials and gold, as well as on shipping and insurance.

As already mentioned, after signing the Treaty, the United States lifted sanctions on the Iranian funds frozen in their banks and on the financial assets of the Shi’ite Republic, as well as on part of the oil ones.

Nevertheless, currently President Trump does not want to maintain the agreement reached with Iran in 2015, unless it includes “expanded” safeguards.

Is it a way to favour Saudi Arabia unilaterally? Why? What does the United States get for it? Would it be more useful than a peaceful Iran entering the world market and, consequently, also abandoning dangerous anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli positions?

The US President essentially wants in-depth international inspections for Iran’s specifically military facilities, be they nuclear or not, besides additional sanctions if the Islamic Republic exceeds specific levels of missile tests, be they nuclear or not.

Certainly if President Trump participated in the talks on the North Korean nuclear system with a tough and isolated position, at least as far as the JCPOA is concerned–which  many US analysts predict will “be dead and gone in May” – it would be impossible for Kim Jong-Un, for example, to take him very seriously.

Moreover, a few days ago the US President announced an increase in tariffs and duties on Chinese products to the tune of 60 billion dollars.

Obviously President Trump is putting pressures on China for North Korea to make less military investment, but China has well-known and powerful commercial countermeasures to take and it will certainly not leave North Korea alone, especially in a situation of exacerbated Sino-American relations.

Finally, the US President threatened to withdraw a substantial amount of US troops from South Korea.

This makes the traditional US ally in the Korean peninsula, namely South Korea, less loyal and provides to Kim Jong-Un additional cards to play during the negotiations – and the North Korean leader has already proved to be an excellent poker player.

The strategic aim underlying President Trump’s operation is obvious. He wants to favour- far too much – the old circle of interests between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is connected with economic assessments (the military and non-military Saudi investment in the United States) or with the maintenance of the petrodollar system – which is essential for the whole Sunni and US horizon – so as to later isolate Iran as a “rogue state” and only terrorist country, thus forgetting the well-known ties existing between the Gulf petromonarchies and the Salafist, Qaedist and neo-Caliphate Middle East jihadism.

In simpler terms, “withdrawing” from the Treaty means that the United States wants to return to the pre-JCPOA sanction regime, which implies the return to stricter regimes for both the UN and the ever more reluctant European allies, who have already much business in place with Iran.

Germany is already lobbying in the EU for new sanctions against Iran, which, in its opinion, would convince President Trump not to withdraw from the JCPOA.

As Voltaire used to say, “a little evil is often necessary for obtaining a great good”, but in this case it is unlikely that the mechanism will work.

In this case President Trump would say that sanctions are fine with the EU and would add new ones.

To the delight of Saudi Arabia which, if deprived of geopolitical and military control east of the Middle East, would become much less tractable than it currently is.

Fighting each other – “Befriend a distant State and strike a neighbouring one”, as taught by the everlasting Chinese 36 Stratagems of the Art of War (and not only applying to war and military strategy).

This holds true also for Israel.

Certainly the pressure on the border with Syria must be relieved and Israel is right in conveying harsh signs of its presence. However, are we sure that an all-powerful Saudi Arabia throughout the Middle East still remains friendly to the Jewish State, albeit secretly? What about Palestine?

If, on May 12, President Trump reintroduces sanctions, Iran will no longer be able to export oil or anything else, since it would incur US “secondary sanctions” and any bank acting as a broker in Iran’s transactions would be excluded from the North American circuit, which is certainly no small thing.

The US President, however, can reduce the financial isolation of any country by declaring that one of its banks “has significantly reduced Iranian oil imports”, which provides further room for political autonomy for President Trump.

In fact, the EU is studying mechanisms to shield against US secondary sanctions, but May 12 is very close.

There is also the concrete possibility that President Trump may want to “make an agreement to have another agreement”: the US President may want to make a new JCPOA, with more sanctions, to force the Europeans to follow him in this adventure.

This would be the US President’s real goal, i.e. a EU economy again ancillary to the US cycle – as at the time of Kissinger’s “Year of Europe”.

This would be currently impossible.

The EU Member States also know that the sanctions on Iran increase the oil barrel price by one or two dollars.

And these sanctions against Iran cost to the United States over 272 million US dollars a year.

Approximately 315,000-420,000 fewer jobs for the US rednecks.

What are the possible solutions? A proposal for a new JCPOA to be redrafted immediately, with a specific note in addition to those already present in relation to the IAEA checks on any nuclear weapon systems that could be installed on ICBM carriers.

Abolition – after a three-month standby period – of any secondary sanction procedure, after Iran declaring the size and structures of its missile program which may be used with very unlikely nuclear warheads.

Apart from the technical work carried out by the Vienna-based Agency, political control powers should be granted to a joint committee including JCPOA members and representatives appointed by the UN Security Council, without fearing any possible overlap, which can only do good.

We should make President Trump understand that, while it is true that the EU is the largest commercial region imposing import duties, repeating this model in the United States is not at all useful, neither for America, nor for Europe, nor for the Middle East countries which must let be developed in peace.

It is our primary interest for three main reasons.

Firstly to avoid being tied up, hand and foot, to Saudi Arabia alone; secondly to avoid financial transfers from the Sunni Middle East in one direction only and thirdly to avoid having to cover up, indefinitely, some countries which pay lip service to the fight against “terrorism” and, indeed, finance terrorists massively.

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

Palestine Ends All Agreements with Israel and the United States

Nikolay Plotnikov

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On May 19, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), declared an end to all agreements, including security agreements, with Israel and the United States. On May 22, Palestinian security forces withdrew from the East Jerusalem area.

The reason for this decision was Israel’s claims to annex about 30 per cent of the territories in the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria. This was announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 10 during the presentation of his government to the Knesset. According to him, the time has come to apply Israeli law to these territories and “write another glorified chapter in the history of Zionism.”

It should be noted that the territories mentioned are the Palestinian territories in West Bank captured by Israel during the six-day war of 1967. The United Nations defines these territories as occupied. According to UN General Assembly Resolution No. 181, they are “the area of the proposed Arab State.”

Israel considers these territories disputed. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, banning to move the civilian population into the occupied territory, to date, Israel has created about 140 settlements in West Bank with approximately 500,000 people living there. From the point of view of international law, they are not part of Israel. Another 200,000 Israelis moved to the occupied East Jerusalem.

The vote on extending Israeli sovereignty to the occupied Palestinian territories may take place on July 1. In this effort, Israel is actively supported by the United States, as the annexation of territories in West Bank is part of the so-called “deal of the century” formally unveiled by Donald Trump on January 28, 2020. He is convinced that the establishment of Israeli sovereignty over territories in West Bank is fully consistent with his personal peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that annexing territories in West Bank is “ultimately Israel’s decision to make,” and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, the main supporter of Israeli settlements, is confident that Washington will recognize this move.

Netanyahu’s plan is not widely supported by the Israeli society. If the majority of Israeli Knesset members are ready to support it, a rather significant group of former senior military and special services officers are against it. For instance, 220 retired Israeli generals and admirals (including Gadi Shamni, a retired general in the Israel Defense Forces; Tamir Pardo, former Director of the Mossad; and Ami Ayalon, former director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service) made a collective statement, warning that the annexation would threaten Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, anger allies in the Gulf and undermine the Palestinian authorities collaborating with Israel on important security issues. The generals were supported by 149 prominent American-Jewish leaders and 11 members of the U.S. Congress.

Judging by opinion polls, a significant part of Israeli society is of the same opinion. Many Israeli human rights organizations, including such respectable ones as B’Tselem and Yesh Din, have spoken out against the proposed annexation.

Egypt, a major regional player and mediator between Israel and Hamas, is coordinating with Israel in its fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Sinai. The annexation of the West Bank can spark negative reactions from the Egyptian population, which will force President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to reconsider relations with Israel.

The situation with Jordan is more complicated, with a significant number of Palestinians living there. They will get involved if Israel begins to implement its plans. This will lead to even greater radicalization and will inevitably provoke mass protests. The Kingdom of Jordan, facing difficult economic problems exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, will be confronted with enormous challenges. Amman is well aware of this.

For many years, the Jordan-Israel border was the safest border for Tel Aviv. The situation may change after July 1, as warned of by Jordan’s King Abdullah II. On May 15, in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Abdullah II warned that if Israel really does move to change the borders, it would set off a massive conflict with Jordan.

It is unlikely that this time the Gulf monarchies, collaborating with Israel against Iran in recent years, won’t get involved (for example, Saudi Arabia, exchanging intelligence with Israeli intelligence services). They have known about Netanyahu’s plans for West Bank for a long time, now the public in these countries will probably have a negative reaction to the annexation and require actions from the authorities.

The United Nations and the European Union cautioned against the West Bank annexation. Their representatives, in particular, Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, warned that this would be a devastating blow to the two-State solution for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, would slam the door on fresh negotiations and threaten efforts to advance regional and international peace.

According to Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, Brussels does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank. However, this is his personal opinion and not the official position of the EU. The Union does not have a single position on what needs to be done now. Some EU member states, such as Hungary and Austria, believe that this is not the right time for such statements. Ireland, Norway, and Luxembourg, on the contrary, believe that it is necessary to make a statement and take measures against Israel if it does not abandon its plans.

France and Germany expressed their disagreement with Netanyahu’s intentions to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in West Bank. They called on the Israeli authorities to refrain from any unilateral measures that would lead to the annexation of all or part of the Palestinian territories. Given that Borrell’s statement is personal, and the demarches by Paris and Berlin are more like wasting breath, it is unlikely that the EU will move from words to some decisive action against Israel, like imposing sanctions. Moreover, the United States will not allow this.

Turkey, as expected, harshly criticized Netanyahu’s intentions. Ankara warned that the country would always stand by the brotherly Palestinian people.

The Church expressed its utmost concern. On May 7, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Holy Land Churches published a statement on Israeli unilateral annexation plans, “which would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.” Church leaders urged the Palestine Liberation Organization, which they called “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” to resolve all internal and factional conflicts so it could present a united front “dedicated to achieving peace and the building of a viable state that is founded upon pluralism and democratic values.” They also called on the UN, the United States, Russia, and the European Union to respond to annexation plans.

The League of Arab States is also making attempts to increase the efforts to oppose Netanyahu’s plans. The Arab League condemned Israel, saying that the implementation of plans to annex any part of the Palestinian territories would “represent a new war crime” against the Palestinians. In late April, in the Arab League Council online extraordinary meeting at the ministerial level, under the chairmanship of Egypt, a joint statement was made to support the Palestinians and Jordan, rejecting the Israeli unilateral moves.

An ambiguous position was taken by Canada. When the people of Crimea decided to join the Russian Federation following to the results of the referendum, official Ottawa was restless about the alleged Russian annexation and not only joined the economic and political sanctions of the West against Moscow and certain Russian politicians and entrepreneurs, but also sent its military instructors and started to provide material and technical support to the Ukrainian army. The country, thus, became directly involved in the civil war in Donbass. Now the Canadian government is abstaining from making public statements condemning Netanyahu’s intentions, let alone imposing practical sanctions.

There is little time left until the moment of truth on July 1. Much depends on how the international community and the Arab world behave. The complicit silence in the face of the situation, as was the case with Israel’s recent annexation of the Golan Heights, might bring about unexpected consequences for the entire Middle East. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki cautioned against the annexation, saying it would “end the two-state solution” and will “turn the battle from a political one to an endless religious war.”

Judging by the statement of Mahmoud Abbas, there is still hope. According to him, Palestinians are ready to return to the negotiating table with Israel, but with the mediation of a third party.

Some experts believe that under the prevailing conditions, the Middle East Quartet – the United Nations, the United States, Russia, and the European Union, could serve as a mediator. However, there are some factors that can obstruct such work.

The European Union is divided at this point. Its members should first decide what they want to achieve and develop an action strategy.

Prior to the U.S. presidential election, the current administration will not refuse the well-publicized “deal of the century.” It is part of the election campaign of Donald Trump, who is extremely interested in the lack of international consensus on measures to influence Israel. In addition, the American President probably takes into account the fact that the Arab world is now focused on internal problems and paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Russia emphasized its willingness, together with other participants of the Middle East Quartet, to encourage talks between Israel and Palestine and “to continue to facilitate the resumption of the peace process via direct dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians within a generally recognized international legal framework.” On May 22, by the initiative of the Palestinian side, Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa, had a telephone conversation with Hussein al-Sheikh, Fatah Central Committee member, who informed Mr Bogdanov about the latest decisions by the Palestinian leadership regarding relations with Israel. Russia reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to supporting the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the establishment of an independent state within the 1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem, living peacefully and maintaining neighborly relations with Israel. The Special Presidential Representative of the Russian Federation pointed out that the proposal by Russia’s leadership to hold a face-to-face meeting between President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow without any preconditions remained on the table.

At the same time, If Palestine is ready for negotiations, Benjamin Netanyahu might not be. In Israel, many of his political opponents believe that discussions around the annexation of part of the West Bank and COVID-19 are the only way for him to stay in politics and evade prosecution for corruption and breach of trust, at least for the next few months. And the Prime Minister is unlikely to refuse it.

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Prospects of normalization grim in Libya

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Analysts say that Libya is one of the most important crisis to watch for in 2020 because of the involvement of Russia and Turkey. More importantly, the plight of the Libyans after almost 10 years of civil war cannot be ignored.

Jens Stoltenberg, head of NATO military alliance recently said in an interview that Turkey remains an important ally and NATO is ready to support GNA increasing the possibility of Russia and NATO locking horns.

Eight years after Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi eliminated his country’s weapons of mass destruction the colonel found himself on the wrong side of the gun, when he was overthrown and killed in 2011 submerging the country in a civil war.

NATO members led by Britain and France supported the so-called revolution by airstrikes – then watched as the country sank into chaos. Barrack Obama said leaving Libya without a plan after Gaddafi was the “biggest mistake” of his presidency.

There are fears that the global Covid-19 pandemic could devastate the war-torn Libya, where a decade long conflict has ravaged key infrastructure and created dire medical shortages.

Today the country is divided into two factions backed by foreign powers struggling to put the country together.

On the one side, there is the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) under Prime Minister Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj in Tripoli supported by Turkey, Qatar, and Italy. Turkey has deployed Syrian mercenaries.

Tripoli has been under siege by Libyan National Army (LNA) headed by Khalifa Haftar, who started his offensive on Tripoli in April 2019. The offensive was launched while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Tripoli to prepare for a peace conference.

Unsuccessful in taking Tripoli, Haftar has laid a siege on the capital city for the last four months.

The 76-year-old Libyan-born commander Haftar is supported by Russia, Egypt, France, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and to a lesser extent Israel. Russia has sent mercenaries.

The Wall Street reported that prior to his April offensive on Tripoli, Haftar was in Riyadh where Saudis gave him tens of millions of dollars. 

In his dominion, Haftar is known as “the marshal”, and is the military ruler of eastern Libya, with Benghazi as his stronghold. He has promised to build a stable, democratic, and secular Libya but the regions in his control are without any law and order and corruption abounds.

There were several summits by international community to put an end to the Libyan strife before Covid-19 pandemic sidelined the Libyan crisis.

The last summit was called the Berlin Conference was held on January 19. Haftar and al-Sarraj didn’t even meet face to face and the summit failed to yield results.

China has remained neutral in this conflict. Under the Gaddafi regime, China engaged in various infrastructure activities with 35,000 Chinese laborers working across 50 projects, ranging from residential and railway construction to telecommunications and hydropower ventures. The year leading to Gaddafi’s overthrow, Libya was providing three percent of China’s crude oil supply, constituting roughly 150,000 barrels a day. All of China’s top state oil firms – CNPC, Sinopec Group, and CNOOC – had had standing infrastructure projects in Libya.

In the outbreak of protests in 2011, China sought to preserve economic ties with Libya and rejected the NATO-led military intervention. China abstained at the UN Security Council vote to authorize military intervention.

In late 2015, the GNA emerged as the new political authority, the product of negotiations brokered by the United Nations and backed by China.

Although many Chinese projects were suspended in Libya and bilateral trade decreased by 57 percent, China’s neutrality paved the way for Beijing to stand in good stead with GNA for years to come.

Immigrants crisis

Home to an estimated 654,000 migrants – more than 48,000 of them registered asylum seekers or refugees – many of them cramped conditions with little access to healthcare amidst the pandemic. An outbreak can be catastrophic.

Many live on transfers from friends and family and UNHCR handouts. With work hard to find many hope to proceed with their journey to Europe. Smugglers have put hundreds and thousands of them in boats and sent them across the Mediterranean to Italy.

UNHCR has been evacuating some of the most vulnerable refugees until airspace was shut in early April.

On May 13, WHO issued a joint statement on Libya emphasizing that the entire population of the country, especially some 400,000 Libyans that have been displaced – about half of them within the past year, since the attack on Tripoli — are at risk of Covid-19 pandemic.

The statement reported everyday challenges that humanitarian missions and workers face to carry on with their mission. The UN verified 113 cases of grave violations, including killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools, and health facilities.

The report points out that as of May 13, there were 64 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including three deaths, in different parts of the country. This shows transmission of the disease is taking place and the risk of further escalation of outbreak is very high.

The report talks about food security and latest assessments show that most cities are facing shortages of basic food items coupled with an increase in prices, urging all parties to protect the water supply facilities that have been deliberately targeted.

“We look forward with anticipation to the pledged financial support to the Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya, as announced by the GNA,” WHO statement said.

Oil production

Oil reserves in Libya are the largest in Africa with 46.4 billion barrels as of 2010. Much of Libya’s oil wealth is located in the east but the revenues are channeled through Tripoli-based state oil firm National Oil Corporation (NOC), which says it serves the whole country and stays out of its factional conflicts.

Prior to the 2011 Libyan civil war, Libya produced over 1.5 million barrels a day. As a result of a blockade of export terminals by LNA by February of this year oil production dropped to 200,000 barrels a day reports Bloomberg. NOC said the North African state’s current level of production is at 91,221 barrels per day as of March 17.

In order to choke GNA from the crucial crude export revenue, the LNA seized Libya’s export terminals and ports in the east in mid-January. The blockade has cost Libya some $560 million, Petroleum Economist reported in January. 

According to NOC, the blockade has plunged production from around 1.2 million barrels a day, and added losses had surpassed four billion dollars by April 15.

Conflict wages

In the last couple of weeks, significant developments have been happening in the Libyan civil war.

In an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica, Jens Stoltenberg, head of NATO military alliance said that Turkey remains an important ally and NATO is ready to support GNA. He stressed NATO is supporting UN’s efforts for a peaceful solutions to conflicts both in Libya and Syria.

Meanwhile, the independent English language Tripoli-based Libyan Express reported that Haftar launched a rocket attack Thursday on Tripoli, hitting the Central Hospital on other downtown areas. 

Tripoli Central Hospital and some civilian areas were targeted. GNA’s Health Ministry said 14 civilians were injured, adding that the hospital will not be able to serve people due to the attack pointing out what a massive setback was amid the outbreak of Coronavirus.

Libyan military forces said Monday that the Libyan army struck forces loyal to Haftar in Al-Watiya airbase in the southwest of Tripoli during the government-led Operation Volcano of Rage.

LNA has intensified attacks on civilians since the beginning of May as GNA made substantial military progress in the offensive in the western part of Tripoli. Armed drones provided by Turkey conducted effective attacks against the LNA.

Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashaghe has accused Haftar’s forces had used chemical weapons on the Salah Al-Deen front, south of Tripoli. The accusations were confirmed by Canadian journalist Amru Saleheddine, who found several government soldiers with symptoms to those of epilepsy, usually caused by nerve gas.

The conflict in Libya is backed by foreign actors with different objectives and priorities. Any emerging power configuration will be fragile unless the external actors come to a shared understanding.

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Middle East

Internationalization of Higher Education in the GCC Countries

Ivan Bocharov

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Education is an important area of social life, shaping the intellectual and cultural state of society. In the context of globalization, the challenges of time give rise to new trends in it, one of which is internationalization. This process has already swept the whole world, including Arab countries. Some of them, especially the Gulf states, nowadays are actively competing with other exporters of educational services in the world market.

The development paths of higher education in the Arab Gulf countries were analyzed in a scientific article «Internationalization and the Changing Paradigm of Higher Education in the GCC Countries», as well as measures were taken to improve the quality of education and its regional integration. The author of the scientific work is Julie Vardhan, Assistant Professor at the School of Business, Manipal University. The work is based on an analysis of 167 university sites of the countries of the region and some scientific works devoted to the internationalization of higher education, integration, and demographic processes in the GCC countries. The analysis of Julie Vardhan is comprehensive. In addition to university sites, issues related to the history of the internationalization of education were analyzed, as well as data reflecting demographic trends in the GCC countries. These data allow to see the general picture of how the internationalization of higher education is developing in the Arab States of the Gulf.

According to the author’s definition, internationalization is the process of integration of international components into the country’s higher education system. Although universities have always developed international cooperation, globalization has created a new context for internationalization. Over the past decades, the number of educational institutions and students studying in them has sharply increased in the region.

Julie Vardhan divides the countries that compete among themselves in the educational services market into four groups. The first group includes the USA, UK, and Australia. In these countries are the best universities in the world, and English is their native language. The second group consists of Germany and France. German and French universities are trying to attract students from neighbouring countries, as well as those countries with which established strong sociocultural and historical ties. The third group includes Japan, Canada, and New Zealand. They attract from 75 thousand to 115 thousand international students per year. The fourth group consists of Malaysia, Singapore, and China. These countries have recently recognized the importance of global education, and now they are spending resources on the development of higher education to compete effectively in the global educational services market. According to the author, the GCC countries are also included in this group.

The main goal of the Gulf Cooperation Council is to develop integration processes and establish cooperation, including in the field of education. At the same time, the GCC countries face some problems associated with the development of advanced technologies. Recently, governments of member states have begun to pay more attention to the development of human capital to ensure sustainable economic growth. Educational and labour migration of knowledge workers directly affects the development of the country’s economy, and the Arab Gulf states are just interested in creating a knowledge economy.

For studying the electronic resources of educational institutions, the author used the method of content analysis. In particular, Julie Vardhan ascertained whether internationalization was mentioned on the university’s website by searching for the keywords «international», «global», «international partnerships», «international collaboration», «world-renowned faculty» and «diverse students, multicultural». Only one category is used in the study, in which the words mentioned above and phrases are combined, and it is the «phenomenon of internationalization». As part of the study, 167 university websites of the GCC countries were analyzed. Site analysis was limited to their English versions.

The author made a table that shows the growing trend in the number of universities in the region. Until the 1990s in most GCC countries, there were only one or two state universities. Since the early 2000s, a significant increase concerning the number of both state and private universities has been observed. This boost, according to Julie Vardhan, cannot be explained only by population growth. The focus on the development of human capital played a significant role in increasing the number of universities in the country of the region.

Most GCC countries have public and private institutions that establish partnerships with foreign universities. Besides, some international universities create their branches in the countries of the region. Among the 167 universities examined in this study, 103 educational institutions are private, 70 of them have established partnerships with foreign universities, or are their affiliates. In each of them, internationalization manifests itself in different ways. For example, Saudis often go abroad as part of academic mobility programs. At the same time, many students from other countries come to Saudi Arabia to study the basics of Islam at local universities. Thus, within the framework of internationalization, there are both import and export of education. The UAE and Qatar are states with a considerable number of branches of foreign universities, and the universities of Oman and Kuwait offer many double-degree programs.

One of the reasons for the growing demand for educational services from private universities and those universities that have established partnerships with educational institutions from other countries is the increasing number of youth. Another reason is that the Gulf Arab governments support internationalization and educational integration with other countries and foreign universities. Julie Vardhan outlines the following approaches to the internationalization of higher education, which are used by the governments of GCC member states. The first approach is the implementation of neoliberal reforms aimed at increasing the accessibility of higher education while compensating for the costs of consumers and the private sector. The second approach is to make changes to the curriculum to meet international standards. For example, Saudi Arabia, over the past years, has been trying to develop secular education, actively uses English to educate students, and also adopts the American system of education. The third approach is the establishment of extensive partnerships with foreign universities, affecting the international recognition of the prestige of education in the GCC countries.

The author acknowledges that the study has flaws. There is limited potential for the content analysis method. Julie Vardhan points out that the ability to analyze the content of Internet resources is limited by changing the nature of the data source. The content and structure of web pages can change quite quickly after the content analysis. She also notes that researchers should develop their coding scheme for the content analysis of university sites.

Despite some problems (for example, the commodification of education and the transformation of national identity), significant progress has been achieved in the internationalization of higher education in the GCC region in a short time. The region has great potential for further internationalization. The results of the study by Julie Vardhan help to trace the prospects for the internationalization of education in the framework of regional integration of learning. This work is of great scientific interest to anyone interested in the internationalization of higher education in the Gulf countries.

Studying several aspects of the internationalization of education at once prevented the author from concentrating on the electronic internationalization of university Internet resources. The methodology for researching university sites is not spelt out, and it does not specify how exactly the individual stages of content analysis should be implemented. Julie Vardhan believes that researchers should develop their coding scheme, which is the basis of the methodology. It is advisable to create universal and convenient tools for everyone to analyze the content of university sites so that every researcher of the internationalization of higher education can make the maximum contribution to their study. The question remains what difficulties the universities of the Arab countries of the region face in such internationalization. In this context, it is interesting to analyze which state initiatives in the field have been successful, and which experiences have not.

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