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Saudi Arabia, Iran and the probable end of the JCPOA

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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John Bolton, the current national security adviser of Trump’s Presidency who has replaced the already dismissed Gen. McMaster, believes that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is a “strategic defeat” for the United States.

Bolton also believes that it would always be better to follow the example of the Osirak attack on June 7, 1981 with the Israeli Operation “Opera” (or Babylon) or the Israeli attack of 2007 on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor in the Deir-ez-Zor area.

A reactor, however, manufactured by North Korea.

That was the operation Israel named “Outside the Box”.

Hence, to quote again Bolton, “to stop Iran, bomb it”.

Not so long ago, the idea of the US national security adviser was also to bomb North Korea just to stop its nuclear activity.

How can the activities of immediate revenge on the South Korean territory be considered in the US strategic equation?

“Collateral damage”, i.e. the destruction of the only credible ally, apart from Japan, throughout Southeast Asia.

Now the agreement between the two Koreas and Kim Jong Un’s request for direct talks with President Trump have materialized – certainly not for fear of Bolton’s simplistic bomb religion.

Arms, however, never make politics.

Nevertheless they can be used, as little as possible, if you still have a political strategy in mind vis-à-vis countries, such as Iran and North Korea, which have never been afraid of the US carpet bombing.

If, however, the most reluctant countries with respect to Bolton’s brilliant ideas are destroyed, what would be the political result?

It would simply be the total loss of value of the US word towards all and each of the other members of the P5 + 1;  the likely and relevant residual counteraction by both North Korea and Iran on South Korea, the Lebanon and (obviously) Israel; finally, the almost inevitable trigger of a chain of actions and reactions that would set fire to the whole Greater Middle East.

What is the first goal? Just think about it for a moment.

It is obviously the total insularization of Europe, which still believes that its union and its single currency are not against US long-term interests.

The EU and Great Britain will soon realize that the strategic automatism inherited from the end of the Second World War has no longer value in the relations between the two shores of the Atlantic.

However, what could the rational goal of this military action against North Korea and Iran be, apart from Doctor Strangelove-style libido of some US decision makers?

Very probably no goal at all or the worst possible one, i.e. the closure of the whole system between Suez and the Persian Gulf, and finally the strategic non-viability of the entire Islamic Shi’ite or Sunni world, as well as the total block of the energy, political, strategic and defensive link between the European Union and the Koranic universe.

This would not be good even for the United States.

The fact is that, strangely, the well-known and very old mistakes of the US intelligence on the North Korean,  Syrian, Iraqi or even Libyan arsenals, make most of the US defense establishment even think that it is necessary to bomb more, and not less, the Axis of Evil- as Bolton clearly says.

The less we know about Syria, Iran and North Korea, the more we destroy them. A very logical idea. Hence also the wrong places would be bombed.

Let us also imagine to what extent a tactical bombing on North Korean positions would weigh and be impactful, just now that North Korea is starting a meaningful, verifiable and useful dialogue with South Korea and its strategic allies, namely Japan and the United States.

The logical consequence would be at least the US abandonment on the part of South Korea and Japan.

All this while President Trump is declaring from the rooftops  he wants to leave Syria and thus make his Sunni allies engage on the ground – although we can easily predict they will refuse flatly.

Hence they are all very dangerous options for the United States and the whole West, which would find themselves to no longer have credibility, clout and role throughout Asia.

For a power like the United States the fact of losing face and the value of its word, as well as always and often unreasonably choosing to resort to weapons, even when this is not devoid of dangers, are satanic temptations that the United States must avoid throughout the Middle East and Asia.

Hence the counter-arguments relating to Bolton’s “carpet bombing” are even obvious.

Firstly, as shown by the data provided in the last meeting (held around March 20, 2018) of the P5 + 1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, United Kingdom and the United States), i.e. the group that reached the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, the Shi’ite Republic of Iran has so far fully implemented the rules enshrined in the eaty – as evidenced by the IAEA official data.

The IAEA report of February 22 was also accepted by all the JCPOA members, including the United States, who took note of Iran’s “continued adherence” to the letter and spirit of the 2015 deal.

What is the meaning of destroying with bombs – if they ever succeed in doing so without setting fire to its borders -a country that all signatories (including the United States) consider officially compliant with the implementation of the rules enshrined in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?

To possibly achieve Syria’s cantonization?

Paraphrasing Voltaire, a great evil for a little good.

If anything, with a view to putting an end to the Sunni jihad on the Syrian territory, the E3 -i.e. the group of the three European countries belonging to the P5 + 1 – immediately pointed out, in a confidential report, that we could sanction other new people and entities – already identified -that collaborated in the Iranian (conventional) missile tests, in the framework of the seven-year cooperation between Iran and Syria.

A German idea immediately supported by France, which fears the disruption of its positions in Syria and elsewhere.

Germany has already made clear that it will not participate in any military operation in Syria jointly with the other Western powers.

Moreover, in Bolton’s mind – following his statements  to the letter – the only alternative to the so-called Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate would be a new Sunni State in Syria.

However, how could we be sure that this new Sunni State would not soon be turned into a safe haven for the Caliphate’s jihad, which has not yet been defeated between Syria and Iraq?

Nevertheless Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have always had quite different ideas on how this new Sunni State should be, which would probably still be at the mercy of jihadist extremism.

Said extremism would immediately expand to Iraq and Jordan, thus undermining the lopsided strategic equation left on the ground by the United States after the hasty and ambiguous victories against Saddam Hussein.

What operational option would the United States choose, if Syria were destroyed to cantonizeit ethnically and according to religious fault lines?

A divided Syria and, indeed, cantonized as a Swiss valley is of no use to anyone, certainly not to Assad, but not to the various participants in the war against him, including the Caliphate’s jihad.

But not even to the United States, if you think about it.

In the first phase of the war against Assad, Saudi Arabia had placed all its eggs in the basket of a Lebanese Shi’ite, namely Okab Sakr, an old client of the Hariri family.

As is well-known, however, this family does not currently enjoy the favour of the new master of Saudi Arabia, namely Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

In the Syrian theater, Qatar operated with a defector from  Assad’s regime and two other aides with minor roles and the new Qatari acquisition was Abdulrahman Suwais.

Nevertheless the geopolitical (and economic) clash between Saudi Arabia and Qatar immediately moved to the local Syrian clients of the various Arab powers, with Qatar using forces linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia using Sakr, its broker and intermediary for the war against Assad, that – however – collected battalions of jihadists not yet linked to the so-called Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.

But in a quite haphazard way.

Moreover, all the three Arab and Muslim countries that supported Assad’ Sunni enemies have always thought that – apart from their rivalries – sooner or later the United States would have arrived to solve the Syrian issue for them.

This perception is the only rational factor we can note in President Trump’s current positions.

Former President Obama, however, did not claim the criterion of his “red line” in September 2013, after Bashar al-Assad allegedly using chemical weapons against a “rebellious” – i.e. Sunni and para-jihadist – part of his population.

Only in the summer of 2014 – immediately after Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s resignation as Head of the Saudi  intelligence-did real collaboration begin on the Syrian territory between Saudi Arabia, CIA and the US State Department.

Before the closure of the Syrian-Iraqi border, carried out by the so-called Caliphate in the summer of 2014, the many Sunni groups operated only with the huge resources provided by the various private donors, without much support from the Saudi government.

However, after the expansion of the Caliphate, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey agreed to support one single Sunni-jihadist movement, namely Jaysh-al Fatah(the “Army of Conquest”).

Nevertheless, some money still reached the multifarious and chaotic Sunni opposition to Assad’s Alawite and pluralist regime.

The “Conquest” movement was coordinated by the Saudi Koranic scholar, Abdullah Al Muhaysini, and the Jaysh forces operated mainly in Idlib and in Hama and Latakia.

Hence the jugular veins of the Russian-Syrian system.

In an interview of early April 2018 released to Time, however, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “Bashar can stay”.

The Saudi Prince’s reasoning is obvious: Saudi Arabia  wants to fund (possibly with a trillion US dollars)  Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even if he considers it takfir (apostate) so as to avoid Iran’s further penetration into Syria.

A Saudi strategic flexibility going as far as even creating a new relationship with the Jewish State.

What about the United States? Has it the same fantasy and creativity as Saudi Arabia?

However , the new “Sunni military alliance” – also created in 2015 around the Saudi forces – cannot replace the US military and strategic clout in the region.

Hence, according to Bolton and many of his aides, the United States should foot the bill and pay the price of the Islamic Military Alliance, an Arab NATO aimed against the Shi’ites and designed to favour the current oil balance of the OPEC Sunni system.

Hence why should the United States bring all this grist to the Saudi mill, just when the shale oil and gas make the United States autonomous from an energy viewpoint?

Moreover, during the last meeting of the “Sunni NATO” held at Manama in October 2017, the Head of this Alliance, namely Pakistani General Raheel Sharif, did not  mention any ongoing operation between Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Therefore the limit of the Sunni engagement in Syria has  already been tacitly achieved.

Hence if the United States commits itself to fighting Iran – passively and in vain – after the manipulated destruction of the JCPOA, it will only serve the Saudi interest and not its own.

Yet another long war that will lead to nothing, but only to an increase in the US military budget – the now well-known North American military Keynesianism.

Real interests of the United States – no longer servants to  the House of Al Saud – which would be the interest of stabilizing the Middle East system to the lowest possible nuclear and conventional potential, possibly with a Conference between the P5 + 1 and Iran also meant for the new strategic redesign of the whole region, to be agreed also with Israel.

Nevertheless the European sanctions against Iran – the substitute for the US break with the JCPOA which, in all likelihood, will take place after May 12 – should anyway  be supported by all 28 EU Member States.

This would be the project of the E3, the EU countries of P5 + 1.

This is clearly just a way to avoid the May 12 deadline  proposed by President Trump – a snack of good European cuisine offered to the United States with a view to preventing it from reaching the bad military lunch against Iran.

However, how would the other non-European signatories of the 2015 deal react, when seeing that the United States increasingly behaves as a semi-legal actor and as a fully selfish element in the international geopolitical concert?

Obviously if the United States unilaterally withdraws from the JCPOA, the chances of a war against Iran will increase significantly, but is it certain that the United States will  win it quickly and without extensive damage? Not at all.

Moreover, are we sure that the future world is still unipolar like the one immediately after 1989, as some residual and naive theorists of US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan still think?

Should we not currently say that both the great operations for “exporting democracy” have been a clear military, strategic, economic and geopolitical failure?

Iraq was almost given away to Iran which, in fact,is already using the Shi’ite majority of the Iraqi population as leverage. Afghanistan is still a strategic void where nothing has been decided yet, after almost two decades of war, while China is building its own Beijing-Kabul railway.

Hence if the EU accepts President Trump’s diktat on Iran to limit or abolish Iran’s missile activities, including the conventional ones, and its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it will not achieve any of its goals.

Not even in this case is it conceivable that the United States limits their demands on Iran.

Iran, however, could choose to remain in the perimeter of the July 2015 deal, by stopping any regional agreement with Western powers and reacting immediately to local threats.

Another option – already partially verified in the recent meetings between the Iranian Foreign Minister and the  British government – could be to collaborate with the individual European countries of P5 + 1 on issues other than those pertaining to the nuclear deal as – in this case –  for the resolution of the Houthis’ Shi’ite insurgency in Southern Yemen.

A further option could be President Trump’s walking out of the JCPOA agreement- without saying goodbye – but  not preventing the European countries to keep on having economic relations with Iran, and avoiding secondary and non-territorial sanctions, especially in the financial and banking sector.

An unlikely scenario – the war in the Middle East is also a war against Europe, for its final disruption and destructing as a US ally that believed to be more important than the United States.

However, anything can happen. The instability and volatility of the current US Presidency bode well.

Furthermore, if China, Russia and the EU remain party to the 2015 deal, Iran will have every reason to stay within the JCPOA perimeter and thus remove any US justification for a military attack on Iran or for a further phase of US sanctions only.

Moreover, considering the unreasonable and never decisive  US presence in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, Iran could also play the card of further military pressure on US targets in all these regions, thus making the US actions extremely costly and, above all, harmful to one or more US Sunni allies.

Conversely, if President Trump re-imposes all sanctions, including the secondary ones, but walking out of the  JCPOA, also Iran could withdraw from the July 2015 deal but remain in the nuclear non-proliferation system led by IAEA – and the two things are not connected at all.

Once again, what would be the rationale of a future US  military attack on Iran?

In all likelihood, Russia and China would maintain  relations with Iran, thus giving away the entire Shi’ite arc to Russia and China, which will use it excellently to ban all US presence beyond the Persian Gulf.

Hence the US strategic subjection to Saudi Arabia would be complete.

Moreover, Iran could make some surprise moves like the recent one by Kim Jong Un and inevitably make the United States sit at the bilateral table of talks on nuclear and even conventional weapons – and from a position of strength.

Having played all its cards on the fight against Iran, Saudi Arabia would be definitely taken aback and could not opt for a blind support to the United States during the new talks.

There is no guarantee it would be such as to serveall the Saudi regional interests.

Finally, the most unlikely scenario could be a EU that succeeds in convincing the United States to fully remain in the JCPOA, without any additional or already envisaged sanctions.

It is very unlikely and it is now clear that the US deep state wants to “bring democracy” also to Iran and, possibly, to the Shiite-Alawite part of Syria, thus destabilizing the most important Middle East buffer State and ultimately playing Russia’s and China’s game.

Clearly they will firmly keep the non-Sunni areas of the Syrian cantonization and will operate on them to reach the Arabian peninsula, thus heavily influencing the Sunni canton dreamed of by Bolton.

Obviously this will not happen with the war, but with the economic and infrastructural agreements we already see at work.

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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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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