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The failure of the Palermo Conference on Libya

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Why did the Conference on Libya organized by Prime Minister Conte’s government at Villa Igiea in Palermo fail?

Firstly, it was a chaotic and hastily organized Conference, with evident signs of oversimplification, which became evident both in the logistics and in the policy line.

At the time of Presidents Moro, Cossiga and Craxi, the Conference would have certainly been a real success. Why? Because, at that time, Italy still counted much in the Mediterranean region and was taken very seriously by everyone. Italy knew what its interests were, not the usual “seductive attractions” of peace, development, etc. -just to put it in Benedetto Croce’s words.

It would not have been possible for France and Great Britain  to pressurize and blackmail Italy to bomb a country, namely Gaddafi’s Libya, which was our always open merchant  bank. It was also our strategic partner in the Maghreb region and our military guarantee against the so-called Françafrique and the defender of the equilibria with Egypt and Algeria, as well as the protection of ENI wells from many dangers.

The current Italian government has reduced the Libyan issue to a problem of mere reunification between the two parts, namely Cyrenaica’s area and Tripoli’s area, which is much loved by the United Nations, but no one knows why.

What is missing is the whole Fezzan region, an area of autonomous tribes in which interests intersect with illicit trafficking and with migrant flows. The Fezzan region was controlled by Gaddafi with a very effective system of stick (much) and carrot (sometimes).

It is fully inconceivable to think that all this can disappear thanks to the mere good will and good heart of al-Sarraj in Tripoli or of General Haftar in Benghazi.

Furthermore, a great and so sensitive foreign policy operation is never arranged for the migrant issue alone.

Migrants are above all the result of Great Britain’s and France’s extreme idiocy on Libya and of their desire to oust a “tyrant” (it is their eighteenth-century political rhetoric) that was instead a wonderful asset for the hated Italy.

Certainly, General Haftar could not even accept that Italy was the sole sponsor and funder of the Tripoli Coast Guard, which coordinated the “Operation Nauras” to stop the migrants’ ships and the NGOs that protected them.

One cannot fund either contenders and think that the other is happy with it.

Migrants, however, are a social, political and economic emergency that cannot be the only matter for a peace Conference on Libya.

In fact, for too long in Italy foreign policy has been confused with domestic policy, however without ever getting a grip on either of them.

We should not even forget the fully offensive action on European defence organized on November 12, by President Macron with Presidents Trump and Putin and Chancellor  Merkel.

The “European defence” is a huge nonsense invented by the childish President, Emmanuel Macron, who even wanted to merge the French and German armies at the beginning of his term of office.

Some of Cambronne’s words of the other French high military ranks have so far stopped this process, thus preventing the French Armed Forces from merging with the current chronic disaster of the Bundeswehr.

Nevertheless, at the Palermo Conference, Russia was represented by an influential deputy-Minister, Bogdanov.

What did Russia want from the Conference held in Sicily? Obviously a recognition of his new role in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Russia no longer thinks about the Mediterranean as in the Cold War phase -i.e. to divide it into two areas – but imagines it as a united region and probably under its sole  hegemony.

Russia has excellent relations with most African countries, strengthened by economic treaties, whereas this is certainly not the case with the European Union, while the rebellion against the CFA franc on the part of the 14 countries that are forced to adopt it is mounting ever more.

The fact of not having invited China to the Palermo Conference makes us smile.

This oversight is strange. China is the largest trading partner of African countries, with the exception of Swaziland.

A donor country, an investor and a lender.

With a mass of investment throughout Africa, which this year has reached 600 million dollars, in addition to a traditional presence in the infrastructure of Nigeria and Angola which is currently unparalleled.

They are the countries that, together with others, generate the flow of migrants reaching the Libyan coasts. Therefore, the fact of not having invited China is self-destructive.

It would also be interesting to know who is behind the many recruiters of men who can be seen in African squares. Certainly, many Western “operators” and some gangmasters of local leaders, who want to get rid of former convicts and “dangerous masses”.

Hence why China was not invited? For parochialism. Because we cannot imagine how such a huge country can be interested in peace in Africa, and probably we do not know what it wants. Simply China wants the absolute stability of the whole African continent.

But can we ensure it to Africa? No, we cannot. France still has its Operation Barkhane in place between Chad and Mauritania, which serves above all to let migrants move to Libya. Furthermore the North American troops of AFRICOM are everywhere on the Dark Continent with a view to opposing China.

Let us consider also the case of Djibouti, where a new Chinese base was built very close to the US one.

After the phase of economic investment, there will certainly also be the phase of Chinese military positions and I am not so sure that a Chinese base will not come out on the shores of the Maghreb region. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that China is a friend of Israel.

In short, it was real madness to do without the clout and influence of the People’s Republic of China in the Palermo Conference.

Why? Is it because we do not want to annoy America? Needless. Is it because it is too big and hence could say quia sum Leo? The Chinese diplomacy is so subtle that it does not permit such deductions.

As already mentioned, I think that ignorance is at the basis of China’s exclusion from the Conference. In fact, our diplomats come from years of “reforms” that have turned them into mere sales representatives.

They are all obsessed with an economy they do not know – hence they are probably not familiar with the evolution of Chinese business in Africa.

As for France and Great Britain, they came to use the Conference for their own purposes.

The French Foreign Minister, Jean Yves Le Drian, is a widely experienced old Mitterandian Breton.

The organization of the Conference based on bilateral meetings – as established by the regulation – favoured confidential agreements and “covert” meetings. For someone like Le Drian, who is a member of the Grand Orient of France, a covert approach is easy to take. France’s primary interest is to limit ENI’s presence as much as possible and exclude Italy from the African games.

Furthermore, Great Britain has the same style as the United States: they bring democracy somewhere and then, immediately after, they forget about it.

Therefore, bilateral relations were favoured, instead of a general and overall picture, which would have been in Italy’s interest.

It would have been very useful to have a Summit involving all parties, so as to break any stalemate and overcome rejections.

However, the Italian government’s approach was not a foreign policy approach, but a domestic policy one, i.e. to stop the migrant flows.

Hence no other idea for Libya, if not “dialogue” or the usual “peace”.

Platitudes for newspapers. In fact, how is it possible to put together al-Sarraj and General Haftar, who want dominance over coastal and productive Libya implying the usual principle of King Francis I and Emperor Charles V, epitomized by the statement “my brother and I want the same thing”. It was the Duchy of Milan.

Why should al-Sarraj commit suicide-probably only at political level – for General Haftar? Obviously, General Haftar pays heed only to the Russian and French intelligence services, which support him in his actions.

Furthermore, why should we try to achieve the goal of a “United Libya”, when currently no faction has difficulty in just seeing the other?

Let us face reality and state it clearly: the only way to unify Libya is to give a real Rais back to it.

Only those who credibly threaten to have maximum strength and power can stop the smaller forces of insurgency.

Perhaps it would be better if we read Machiavelli’s books more often, instead of those of the heart-rending political scientists.

In short, the Palermo Conference was a good idea – in principle – but organized by a country that was previously a second-class power and, currently, not even that.

Decades of destruction of Italy’s foreign policy, in the period from the end of the so-called “First Republic” to present times, have left their mark. Politicians are now reduced to vociferous tenants or to shortsighted semi literates who are unable to contemplate anything beyond their own national navel.

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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Are The U.S. And Its Partners Losing The Grip On Syria’s North East?

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The oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor located in Eastern Syria has witnessed another escalation between the local Arab populace and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Unexpectedly for the SDF and the U.S. military, the protesters have established control over a number of towns, and it seems they are willing to go further.

Sources close to the SDF initially reported that the protesters limited their demands by requesting a solution to a number of minor issues, but soon enough it became evident that it was not the case and the issue – and a major one – was the presence of SDF in the area. The demonstrators were quick to turn from chanting slogans to taking control of towns: in a single day they captured all of Shuhayl, Al-Hawayej, Diban and forced the SDF members to leave before blocking the roads.

The protests were sparked by a series of assassinations of influential leaders of Al-Aqidat and Al-Baqara tribes. Three Deir Ezzor sheikhs were killed in less than a week: Sheikh Suleiman Khalaf al-Kassar from Al-Aqidat was shot in Busayra village July 30. The next day Sheikh Suleiman Al-Weis who belonged to Al-Baqara was shot in the head by two gunmen on a motorcycle in Al-Dahla. Finally, Sheikh Muttshar al-Hamoud al-Hifl was shot in the outskirts of Al-Hawayej on Sunday, August 2. His relative Sheikh Ibrahim al-Hifl was also wounded in the incident but survived.

In a peculiar coincidence, a few weeks before the assassinations the tribal leaders were invited to a meeting with the SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi with the U.S. servicemen also present. The agenda reportedly included co-operation between the tribes and the SDF. It was reported that at least one of the victims, Muttshar al-Hifti, declined to participate and to engage with the Americans.

An insight into the details of these meetings can be gained through the reports about an oil deal allegedly struck by the SDF and a little known American oil developer Delta Crescent LLC. Delta Crescent was granted exclusive rights for production, refinement and export of the oil from Deir Ezzor fields potentially bringing the participants annual profit of hundreds of millions dollars, according to statements made by U.S. officials. The deal was met with harsh response from the Syrian government who labeled it a “deal between thieves”.

According to sources on the ground, the implication is that those who fell victim to the assassinations shared this view and opposed the deal. Their removal, however, has clearly failed to deliver the results intended by the masterminds behind their deaths, yet another time when the Kurds were thrown to the wolves by the U.S. who is accustomed to making their allies bear the consequences of the reckless pursuit of the American interests.

Meanwhile the SDF started to amass forces in the vicinity of the areas shaken by the unrest. The reinforcements sent from Al-Shadadi, Al-Sousa and Baghuz are gathering at the US military base near Al-Omar oil field. Moreover, two US Apache attack helicopters were spotted patrolling the area. These developments combined with lack of report on any negotiations between the protesters and the SDF leadership paint a grim picture, indicating that the SDF likely intends to use force to disperse the protests.

It is not the first time the SDF resorts to the use of force when faced with the discontent of the local populace in north-eastern Syria, although this approach had never brought the desired result. All areas affected by the protests have been subjected to dozens of raids of the SDF and the US special forces. Reports on these operations unfailingly mentioned arrests of ISIS terrorists. They failed to mention, however, what the Pentagon files under the category of “collateral damage” – deaths of civilians killed in the result of the actions of the US military and their allies.

The upheaval in Deir Ezzor is yet another evidence that the SDF, initially an independent movement, has degraded to a tool or a lever of American influence in Syria, and now finds itself fighting consequences instead of locating the root cause of the unrest – widespread corruption among the officials of the Kurdish administration and dramatic deterioration of the living conditions.

The regional turbulence created by Washington’s constantly shifting stance – or rather a lack of stance – on Syria has grown so strong it finally turned against the American interests. The latest escalation in Deir Ezzor should be considered nothing but a byproduct of this ill-designed policy and, perhaps, marks a beginning of the end of the US and SDF hegemony in Syria’s North East.

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The Looming Disaster of the Safer Oil Tanker Moored off the Coast of Yemen

Amb. Sahar Ghanem

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Amidst the raging conflict in Yemen, the challenge of the Safer Oil Tanker emerges as one of the most hazardous risks to the environment safety in the Red Sea as a result of the potential oil spillage in the Red Sea at any moment.

Following expressing deep alarm, the United Nations Security Council called on 29 June,2020, to immediately grant unconditional access for the United Nations technical experts to assess the tanker’s condition without overdue to prevent growing risk of possible rupture, explosion or even spillage.

The threat of the floating Oil Tanker, moored off the coast of Yemen, does not only impose challenges to the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Red Sea, but it rather represents a huge challenge that threatens the environment safety, leading to one of the largest environmental hazards in the world, after the unforgettable 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Siberia – Russia.

On 18 July 2019, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mr. Mark Lowcock informed the UN Security Council of the growing threats of the deserted Safar Oil Tanker, warning of possible explosion or leakage of its loads [1.14 M barrels of crude oil]. In his briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, he pointed out that such an incident would result to a disastrous crisis to the marine life in the Red Sea and maritime in the straits of Bab-Al Madeb and Suez Canal which are two significant water corridors to the world.

It is known that the Red Sea is home for some scarce invertebrates such as corals and 600 species of fish. Unless preventative measures are taken now and immediately to prevent oil spill or possible tanker explosion, we will concretely witness a disastrous incident leading to severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods starting from Yemen and extending north to Suez Canal through Jobal strait and the Gulf of Suez and south through Bab-Al Madeb strait reaching even Hormoz strait through the Arabian sea.

Environment experts’ projections expect that 115 islands are vulnerable to the risk of oil pollution; 126,000 fishermen will lose their source of income, among them 76,000 fishmen are in Al Hodeidah governorate; 850 tons of fish stocks will be exposed to the danger of contamination and death in Yemen, in the Red Sea and in Bab Al-Mandam; more than 500 fish species are at high risk of disappearing; and 300 corals will certainly disappear as a result.

The problem emerged following the takeover of the Capital Sanaa on 21 September 2014, when Houthi militias implemented unilateral actions inter alia dissolving parliament and taking over Yemen’s government institutions, which have seriously escalated the situation, leading to illegitimate seizure of power “coup d’etat”, and eventually leading to current conflict in Yemen.

The floating storage and its connected offloading terminals have not been inspected or maintained since 2015 after Houthis militias took control of the area including port of Ras Isa to which the floating tanker is connected by terminals extending 9km off the coast of Yemen.

Yemen’s internationally-recognized government has warned in many letters of evident corrosion and lack of maintenance, creating the conditions for serious environmental disaster. The Yemeni government made an urgent call for the UN to send inspection team to scale the risks.

Unfortunately, the UN inspection team was denied access to the floating tanker by the Houthi militias many times. The UN inspection team is tasked with the mission to provide the necessary inspection and put recommendations for the needed maintenance and continuing to create obstacles will refrain the team from reaching the tanker and delivering the urgent inspection.

Lately, the Government of the Republic of Yemen repeated asserting the urgent emergency of the imminent catastrophe of the floating “Safer Oil Tanker”. The government confirmed that “given the critical nature of the aging floating tanker’s situation, on 27 May 2020 leaks have been reported in the tanker causing water leaked into the tanker’s operational machineries raising the possibilities of the tanker rupturing, sinking or even exploding.

Despite urgent fixing of leaking occurred, the deteriorating situation of the tanker threatens continuing eroding. As a result, on 15 July 2020, the UNSC held a session to debate latest urgent developments and called for urgent response to be taken by the Houthi militias as required by the inspection team. It is worth mentioning that the Houthis always show willingness to accept the inspection team just like the assurances made by the Houthis in August 2019 only to be withdrawn right before the inspection team was due to board the tanker.

The Yemeni government has always approved all relevant initiatives recommended by the UN to allow addressing the serious matter and proposing necessary urgent solutions to the Safer oil tanker, as part of the responsibility to the humanitarian and economic measures proposed by the office of the UN Special Envoy Mr. Martin Griffiths and as part of its responsibility to building and sustaining environment safety; however, the Houthi militias continue refusing to allow permissions to the UN inspection team to visit the oil tanker, noting that the situation of the Safer oil tanker is becoming extremely critical more than ever, causing increasing threats of possible oil spillage, tanker sinking and explosion at any moment.

In conclusion, the Safer Oil Tanker is a floating time-bomb and allowing inspection and maintains is the only possible means that will stop a serious catastrophe from happening. If incidents of explosion or even oil spill occur, that will lead to one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the Red Sea. Action must be taken immediately while we have in hand an opportunity to protect the environments and spare the lives of millions of people in Yemen and the region from a looming tragedy.

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Greater Implications of the Iran-China Deal on India

Dhritiman Banerjee

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Authors: Dhritiman Banerjee and Subarna Mustari*

India entered as a stakeholder in the development of Iran’s Chabahar port in 2016 as part of an India- Afghanistan- Iran trilateral agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor. A landmark strategic victory for India, this agreement not only connected New Delhi with Kabul but also provided India a link to Eurasia through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, it sought to challenge China’s investment in the Gwadar Port in Pakistan as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Indian involvement in the Chabahar- Zahedan Railway project therefore has far-reaching implications for New-Delhi’s interests in the Asian geopolitical scenario. However, after Iran’s signing of a landmark investment deal with China earlier this year, we aim to analyze the implications of the deal on India in this article.

The Middle East is particularly important to India because of its vast energy resources. Stephen P. Cohen feels that five factors steer India’s policy in the Middle East namely:

1. Energy Security: India is very reliant on Oil and Gas resources from the Middle East and therefore relations with most of the major suppliers including Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are strategically important to India. And India does not want to become a victim to a sudden increase in Oil and Gas prices or a temporary embargo of these resources as the pipeline from Central Asia to India via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan is not likely to materialize soon.

2. The Muslim Factor: Although a secular democratic State, India has a very high Muslim population who resonate with countries in the Middle East which brings out the relation between India’s foreign and economic policy on the one hand and domestic politics on the other. This linkage has particularly increased in importance after the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the Modi Government which is thought to be discriminatory against Muslims and has provoked sharp criticism from the international community.

3. The Kashmir Factor: For Indian foreign policy it is of paramount importance that the Middle Eastern States do not interfere in Kashmir or support Pakistan regarding the issue. Therefore it conducts a “sophisticated balance of power diplomacy” in order to contain the spread of Pakistani influence regarding Kashmir and to keep the Kashmir issue out of all discussions.

4. The Israel Factor: India’s recent cultivation of strategic relations with Israel has led to important advancements in the technology, intelligence, and military sectors as well as important leverage in the US but many analysts in India are still skeptical about cultivating close relations with Tel Aviv. Eventually it can be said that a balance between Tel Aviv and Tehran will become an important factor in Indian Foreign Policy.

5. The Non-Proliferation Factor: Because of India’s strategic relations with the US, India does not want to violate American non-proliferation goals in the region. But Indian strategists have had a long history of skepticism regarding American non-proliferation strategies and tactics with skepticism. In fact the Indian leadership was at the forefront in the development of the theoretical case against the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the global non-proliferation regime. In fact, most of the arguments developed by India are now used by Iran and North Korea to justify their opposition to the NPT and therefore India must find a solution to this paradox in the near future as although its record of horizontal proliferation has been very good, it has been an example for States regarding vertical proliferation.  

China’s offer to invest $400 billion in Iranian oil and gas sectors over 25 years tokening a comprehensive trade and military partnership between the two nations is undoubtedly far more beneficial to Iran than India’s promise of a $150 million investment scheme over 10 years. This deal is mutually beneficial for both China and Iran and the Iranian economy reeling under sanctions will get a much needed lifeline. Similarly, China is facing international criticism over its aggressive political and military strategies that include attempts at hegemonizing the South China Sea (SCS) at the cost of the other littoral States, passing a new security law to strengthen its control over Hong Kong and engaging in a border standoff with India in Ladakh. This deal therefore allows China a strategic leverage in the Middle East. China’s strategic decision for such an investment into Iran comes at a notable time – immediately following the Sino-Indian Border Clash of June 2020. Iran’s decision to choose a more lucrative deal from a more lucrative regional partner facing the same extra-regional opponent – the United States – intersects directly with India’s vested security interests in Iran against both China and Pakistan. Furthermore, India’s relations with the United States puts both India and Iran in a very complicated situation with Iran at greater risk of allowing more Chinese presence than India in the region, given the former’s bigger investment and the mutual threat of the United States.

India, compared to China, not only has far less to offer economically to neutral yet strategic prospective allies (Iraq, Iran, and other Gulf nations) in countering China in the West Indian Ocean Region (IOR), but its alliance with the extra-regional United States has compromised Iran’s faith in India as concrete ally. With such a timely investment, China has in one stroke obtained a highly strategic regional ally against the United States in securing its energy concerns, and simultaneously taken the battle directly to Iran where India is attempting to undermine China’s String of Pearls (SOP) strategy (Gwadar Port, Pakistan) through the Chabahar Port.

Furthermore, India’s recent history of erratic dealings in the middle-east, and compliance with the US’s policies in Asia has dipped the region’s confidence in India as a reliable regional partner. China’s already expanding foothold in the middle-east and Africa, and stronger deliverance makes it a better prospective partner for Arab nations who see China as such. In fact, in recent years China’s influence has grown in the region through an increase in economic investment.  Between 2005 and 2019, China has invested over $55 billion in the region according to the AEI’s China Global Investments tracker. Between 2004 and 2014, China also gave financial assistance of $42.8 billion to the region according to Aid Data Research lab. Also for many States in the Middle East, China is their most reliable trade and strategic partner as well as a key source of technology and armed drones. Therefore, it can be claimed that while Iran and China have patterned their foreign policies in such a way that it regionally benefits them against extra-regional influences; India’s current foreign policy narrative accounts to a degree of dependency on extra-regional powers that limits its regional interests of security against its two biggest border rivals – China and Pakistan. Secondly, India’s engagement with the United Sates in the maritime arena remains limited in the eastern side of the Indian Ocean at a time when India needs to increase a collaborative presence on the western side – which, given the unfavorable economic effects of the pandemic and wishful economic management of the Indian Government, leaves room only for clever diplomacy on India’s part. Therefore, Indian dealings in the middle-east and in the West IOR have to be strategically designed with not just extra-regional allies which share the same apprehensions of Chinese presence; but also look to secure greater strategic partnerships with East Asian nations like South Korea and Japan to balance its over-dependence on the United States for energy and geopolitically diversify its defense against China’s SOP doctrine.

India, apart from expedient solidification of its energy, trade, and security interests in the middle-east, has to double-down on its Act East Policy especially with Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, in this regard it can be said that relations with these two countries, particularly with Indonesia, will be of paramount importance to India. This will help cement India’s claim of a rules based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific in order to check Chinese attempts to hegemonize the region. In this regard, the link between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Aceh Province in Indonesia will cement maritime ties between the two countries and help to check Chinese advances near the strait of Malacca through the SOP strategy. However, a major restriction to such collaborations in this regard, would be the persecution of Muslims under the Modi government in India and the religious radicalism prevailing in the country. Another more viable option available to India is the QUAD group consisting of India, US, Australia and Japan. India can use this grouping to not only uphold its claim of a rules based maritime order but also gain a foothold in the SCS region and pose a challenge to China through close alliances with the QUAD and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). Therefore, to conclude, it can be said that a new Cold War maybe brewing between India and China which might set to define the very nature of Asian geopolitics in the near future.

* Subarna Mustari is an undergraduate student of Political Science at Bethune College, Kolkata. Her interests lie in Political Science and International Relations as well as in history of war, colonialism and philosophy. She has recently published for Modern Diplomacy.

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