Syria’s three-party strategic system, with the minor addition of the United States and its now remote allies on the field, is undergoing a radical transformation.
This is also due to the clear signs that the United States is sending to everyone that concern, in particular, their quick leaving Syria.
President Trump is not entirely wrongly when he says that Syria “has always been an old friend” of Russia and hence the Syrian issue is in Russia’s traditional area of interest.
This is true but, if we all thought this way, in the mid-nineteenth century China would have been reduced to its coastal regions only.
In geopolitics we do not talk with the logic of a golf club.
However, if the United States does no longer care about Syria, said country and its equilibria will still deal with the United States.
In fact, the United States will soon be bottled up in its CENTCOM of Tampa, which could no longer operate directly and effectively in Northern Africa (with the jihad going on in Central Africa and in Mediterranean Africa),nor in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the play has gone too far with the agreement between the US contingents and the Taliban.
Exactly the Taliban, the Islamic “students” that the Pakistani allies, apparently very loyal to the United States, trained with their excellent intelligence services and sent to fight against the United States.
At the time, however, the United States was a close ally of India and hence prevented Pakistan from having the strategic depth it absolutely needed to oppose the first Indian nuclear salvo and respond to the second one.
And not even the United States could now use the Al Udeid Command located in Qatar, the CAOC that the United States itself has put in difficulty, by following Saudi Arabia against the “terrorist” Qatar and hence – with a great leap in logic – “Iran’s friend “. What about Saudi Arabia?
Hence the Americans have also been bottled up in their beautiful and very recent Al Udeid base, controlled by all the Arab forces on the field as if they were hyperactive children.
Therefore, by now, the game in Syria involves only three countries, namely Iran, Israel and Russia.
While the reborn “Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate” is reconquering some areas around Deir Ezzor and is directly threatening the Kurdish areas and the major Syrian cities of the region.
Another crazy variable, which could bring the United States back into play and prolong the time needed for the stabilization of the Syrian territory, which is exactly what the “Caliphate” wants.
Meanwhile, however, the two Kurdish groups have allied with the Syria led by Bashar al-Assad and now know that the real player of US interests in Syria is Turkey.
Iran, Israel and the Russian Federation. This is the starry sky above Syria. Hence much closer negotiations than in the past on the control of the Syrian territory between Israel and the Russian Federation, the only real regional actors interested in controlling the whole Syrian territory.
Here Iran’s intelligence and security policy comes into play, with good technical knowledge and the ability to play its political weight well.
The weight of Iranian intelligence services is lower than others’ in Syria, but it is certainly not negligible.
Clearly Russia does not care much that Iran takes its continuous line of connection between Iran and the Lebanese Central and Southern coasts.
However, that was an idea of the past. Currently the issue is much more complex. Today the Russian Federation cannot fail to put Israeli interests at the core of its strategic Middle East choices.
Nevertheless, if Iran takes its advanced control network on the border of the Bekaa-Golan Valley – that Israeli re-conquered in 1975 – Russia will no longer hold Syria, which will have an immense territory – covered by Iranian lines southwards – to free itself from the Russian Federation’s control and then fall into Iran’s hands. Exactly what Iran is waiting for.
Iran must not have stable bases or buffer areas in Syria. This is also in Russia’s interest. It would be a trouble for Russia and Israel altogether, if that happened.
Nor should we forget the level of pressure that the Lebanese-Iranian axis over (and inside) the Bekaa-Golan region could exert on the Russian bases of Latakia and Tartus, in the Mediterranean, in addition to Iran’s tension on the Russian facilities of Humeinim, on an airport, and finally on the T4 base (Thiyas) in the Homs Governorate, east of Palmira.
Let us not even forget the Russian base of Sharyat, at the 50th Air Brigade in the Homs area.
The “corridor” – as the Iran’s “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” currently calls it – runs from Iraq to Syria, precisely to DeirEzzor.
It is a real and powerful strategic target for Iran that has not -but absolutely wants-an outlet to the Mediterranean, under its full control and not under the now irrelevant organization of Lebanese security.
It goes up to the Southern Lebanese coasts, obviously passing not only through the capital city, but also through Deir Qanun, Kafra and, finally, the Litani river.
However, with a parallel connection between Beirut and the Hezbollah command of the Litani area.
Hence, the Russian strategic thinking is currently simple: to prevent Iran’s further expansion to Syria, as well as to mainly avoid the persistence of the conflict in that area, and to maintain good relations with Israel.
In fact – and this is particularly interesting to us – the Russian Federation has partially deactivated its S-300 missile defenses that operate in Syria and will also do so in the future.
The S-300s are a sequence of long-range surface-to-air missiles manufactured by Russia.
As clearly seen in Syria, they operate very effectively against aircraft, cruise ships and ballistic missiles.
Its radars are capable of chasing over 100 targets simultaneously, since they can engage in battle 24-36 of them at the same time.
The missile range of the S-300sis between 150 and 200 kilometers, with fully automatic operation.
Hence what does Iran want?
Firstly, it wants Russia not to selectively deprive the S-300 systems in the case of aircraft, missiles and carriers arriving in the corridor or the Bekaa-Golan region from Israel.
In addition, some experts of the Iranian intelligence services have noted a strong correlation between the organization of the Israeli attack forces and the timing and positions of the new Hezbollah and Pasdaran launching points.
In fact, in mid-January, Russia announced that the training of Syrian troops for using the S-300s would be completed in March, when the S-300 batteries should become operational.
But they will probably be “operated” selectively and, in any case, always under the immediate and active control of the Russian Supreme Command.
Iran, however, hopes for a miracle, i.e. that the weapons of a quasi-ally of Israel – namely Russia that is currently in Syria – become the best defense against Israel’s attacks on the Iranian-Lebanese “corridor”.
For Iran, the optimal target would be the dual and simultaneous attack between the Bekaa-Golan region and the Litani river, coordinated by actions south of the Israeli border supported by the Palestinian Islamic jihad.
We will talk about it later.
In fact, we should not forget the many small organizations of the radical Palestinian universe, which can no longer be connected with the Sunni axis that, indeed, does no longer wants to annoy Israel.
This happens precisely against Iran. It is a broad political-military axis mainly orphan of Hamas, which is now a criminal-business organization still devoted to raise funds among the most gullible and naïve Western “democrats”.
Or even worse.
Two Islamist Norths and a South, with a new master, namely Iran, simultaneously allied against the Jewish State.
This is the strategic dream of the Shiite Republic of Iran.
Russia, however, still wants to carry out joint actions with Iran, but always outside Syria.
Moreover, since the beginning of the Russian conflict in Syria, in 2015, it has been openly recognizing the central role played by Israel.
In fact, Russia wants its cake (the common interests with Iran, especially in the oil sector) and eat it, too (the full and reliable alliance with Israel).
Russia still wants to do much business with Iran in Venezuela, where both actors operate with great care.
Russia, however, also wants to collaborate with Iran for the Arab League’s recent and future peace initiatives, which should create a new climate of stability throughout the Greater Middle East.
It would be nice to believe it.
Conversely, also based on the official documents of the meetings with Russia, Iran immediately wants to use the “corridor” for a diagonal attack against Israel and later acquire Syria as large part of a Shiite territory. It also wants to operate as an ally of Russia – only and always in oil terms – between Qatar, Bahrain and the Emirates, which are areas in which the Russian Federation has been working very well in recent years. Iran, however, is working worse there.
Hence Iran could strengthen its positions in Syria, especially to force Russia to surrender there, as well as to also force it into a harsher position towards Israel.
Nevertheless, should Iran do so, it could lead to the strong tendency – in agreement between Russia and Israel – to immediately and harshly close the “corridor” and quickly get rid of the massive presence of Pasdaran and Hezbollah.
Hence, also Iran must consider its strategic equation well.
Moreover, reverting to the positions on the ground, Russia is taking additional five months to train the Syrians to use the S-300s.
With ongoing connections of the equipment both with the Humeinym base in Syria, but above all with the Russian Central Air Command in Moscow.
Putin will leave not even his field knife uncontrolled on the Syrian territory.
We have already seen the results of Russia’s very strict tactical and operational control of the Syrian forces, which would have certainly not achieved these excellent and quick results if they had not had patient and constant guardians from Moscow.
Obviously Russia does not want any relationship between its weapons on the Syrian territory and any attack against Israeli targets.
This implies that Russia wants to be absolutely sure that no Syrian and Iranian force, whether airborne or not, can use the S-300s against the Jewish State.
This approach has always been part of the Russian “Grand Strategy”, unlike the relationship between Russia and Iran that has been cold and only technical throughout the development of the Syrian wars.
Who knows what could happen if the Hezbollah bases on the Mediterranean were to prevent or harm the Russian operations between Latakia and Tartus.
Russia knows all too well it cannot trust Iran, but it will still try to make it carry out operations outside its great unitarian and Mediterranean Shiite dream-although this will certainly be very difficult.
What would happen if the Israeli aircraft, searching for Iranian targets on the Galilee-Bekaa-Golan line, bombed an S-300 or something else and created a severe dispute with Russia?
What would happen if all this could also trigger a short-term struggle between Shiite powers, in the North, in addition to local Syrian populations, also hit by the “Zionist entity”?
This, too, would be the incident preferred by the Shiite Republic of Iran, which is now trying to unleash a great all-out clash, on Syrian Southern borders, to lay all the blame on Israel. This would make Hezbollah and Pasdaran shift from the guerrilla warfare phase to the “people’s war” phase, which is more suitable for them.
Or we could also think of a mediation in which the bases of the precision-guided missiles brought from the “corridor” to Northern Lebanon and the Bekaa region are destroyed by Israel’s quick operations, which eliminate them all, while the S-300s around Damascus are still silent.
Clearly time is pressing.
Everything still depends on Russia’s ability to blackmail Iran, which – indeed -is fading ever more.
A possible solution could be a strong demonstration action by Israel on the skies of the advanced Hezbollah missile positions, not envisaging the use of S-300s, thus also allowing to reduce risks significantly.
While the “corridor” – which annoys both Russia and Israel – would be well closed in the meantime.
All this can only be done by the end of March.
Another option could be a bilateral operation between the North and the South, between Russia and Israel, but only on the “corridor”, which isolates the batteries of Hezbollah missiles and makes it clear to the “Party of God” that the missiles are no longer needed. It should also make clear that the missiles will not be repaired or “fueled” and that their communications with Iran will be very problematic.
Obviously if the United States does not fully leave Syria, there will be no argument that will make Iran go away from Bashar al-Assad’ Syria.
It is their favourite counterargument.
Like two blind people, lost in their dream of the great Shiite region or the even greater Middle East “democracy”, Iran and the United States justify each other, but without being able to do much any longer.
Furthermore, in a few choice words, Russia asked Netanyahu to use his influence on President Trump to immediately make the remaining US troops – that are there without a precise strategic idea – withdraw from Syria.
Inter alia, the demand to the Israeli Prime Minister implied the Russian request to make the American soldiers withdraw also from the Al Tanf base.
It is a large base located on the border between Syria and Iraq, in the Homs Governorate.
Clearly for the Russians who operate much in that area, the Al Tanf base – the old headquarters of a “coalition against terrorism” organized by the United States and later left to the “Free Syrian Army”, which is now an umbrella of terrorist groups that is currently self-named “Revolutionary Commando Army” – is a constant danger.
It is also obvious that this old base is only a remnant – however currently jihadist, albeit certainly “moderate” – of an old set of US forces in Syria.
The request for Netanyahu to put pressure on President Trump, with a view to putting an end to these two issues, had been made to Israel about six months ago, in late September, but without results. Clearly Israel does not fully trust Russia yet. And Russia does not want other “godfathers” for Israel in the global world, since the United States has now been “branded” or blocked outside the Middle East.
Also upon Russia’s explicit direct requests, President Trump has not yet clarified the issue of the Al Tanf base, thus being vague about its possible future use, although associating the timing for its closure with that of the now certain evacuation of all US troops from Syria.
Both Israel and Jordan, however, have made an explicit request to the United States to keep the Al Tanf base open.
Simply because this position is excellent to prevent Russia (and probably also Iran) from closing a base where also Jordanian illegal forces operate, since Al Tanf is right on Jordan’s border.
Israel does not want to be sealed in that important region by a base in Russian hands, with dangerous friends, while it does not even want to deprive its friendly country, namely Jordan, of a very useful base for possible bilateral operations.
Nevertheless, if Israel were to accept Russian pressure for the Al Tanf base – which is only an annoying mirage for it -Russia could make a nice gift to Israel.
In fact, it could prevent pro-Iran forces from slipping between the Jordanian and Israeli borders, thus recreating, elsewhere, another more artisanal and less sophisticated “corridor”.
Hence, Israel will ask Putin for some things before scrapping the Al Tanf base: firstly, to create an effective, controllable and real distance of at least 80 kilometers between the Iranian and pro-Shiite lines and Israel’s Northern borders.
How? Currently the control systems are manifold and very accurate, but the point is that we must be able to react before the start of the operation and 80 kilometers are always too few.
However, if the Russian Federation could guarantee an effective and armed line of control between its Iranian allies and the Israeli border, the negotiations could be made. Basically, it would be convenient also for Russia.
Hence, how can we convince Putin? Reminding him that being fooled by an ally is certainly not the best way to become the hegemonic country of the Greater Middle East.
Others did the same and we saw how they ended up.
Israel’ second request to Russia is to stop arms trafficking, by air, from Iran to Syria and Hezbollah.
So far Russia has never accepted this.
It must also be made clear, however, that if Russia does notget carried away by Iran in Syria, there could be a successful diarchy between Israel and the Russian Federation in the future, with all the allies they have in common in the Gulf, and no power outside the region could bother them.
For Russia the message could also be persuasive – and even credible.
Finally Israel wants the factories near the Syrian-Iranian bases on the Syrian territory, which usually produce precision materials for Hezbollah missile launches, to be completely and permanently scrapped.
Easier said than done. Iran could re-establish them elsewhere, in Jordan or in the Lebanon, or even in Iraq.
In that case, however, they could easily be checked in due time, even for a future targeted attack.
Here, probably, an agreement could easily be reached.
Not even Russia likes this production of weapons, which it cannot fully control.
And here comes Russia’s trump card: if no global negotiations with Iran are made, there will be no military operation on the Syrian skies that will enable Israel to have peace.
This is true – but it is also true that the Israeli air operations give Russia the strong power to be credible with Iran.
There is no way out. Either we make Iran understand that its “corridor” does not work or cannot work – and hence it can only give few and not even effective missiles to the Shiite Lebanese – or nothing can be done about it.
This is a possible agreement of convenience between Israel and Russia.
Furthermore, in any case, the missile operations of the Lebanese Shiites could be used not only for a real war, but above all to terrorize, change and distort the behaviour of the Israeli population and government.
As already mentioned, the leaders of the Palestinian Resistance Committees, operating south of the Israeli border, were cheerfully hosted by Hezbollah in Beirut on January 30 last.
Hence the issue here would be to have -from the Palestinian Resistance Committees and before the elections scheduled in Israel on April 9 – a series of missile attacks, especially in the Gaza Strip, a perfect point for the real attack, but also for distracting Israel in relation to a strong action from the North.
The timing gap between the two is essential for the success of the Iranian-Shiite-Palestinian operation.
Furthermore, the Palestinian Resistance Committees are small organizations in Hamas’ hands.
This means that Hamas has become Hezbollah’s direct counterpart in the South.
In this case, the issue lies in avoiding – with the usual intelligence operations – mass missile attacks, which should take place about three weeks before the elections. The right psychopolitical timing.
We could also envisage, however, a quick and surgical attack by Israel on Hamas before their operations, with a view to belittling them vis-à-vis their funders and associate the fate of Hamas with that of these new pro-Shiite groups.
Conflict in Yemen is a Global Threat and Iran’s Trump Card
Few people outside analyst and scholarly circles think of Yemen and Libya conflicts as anything central to contemporary confrontation with some of the sprawling global state and non-state threats, and yet both are gateways to much greater crises, and even a fundamental shift in international alliances. In the view of the United States, Yemen is practically a forgotten conflict. While sectarianism continues to splinter the society, and radical ideologies take deep root following the withdrawal most of the UAE forces in 2019, the US is tittering closer to the edge of contemplating withdrawal.
President Trump’s administration is torn between the seemingly mutually exclusive election promises to his base (and beyond) of withdrawing US participation from “endless” Middle Eastern wars but at the same time confronting and pressuring Iran and other threats such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, as well as keeping to the recently articulated commitments of strengthening US defense relationship with Saudi Arabia, which leads the Arab Coalition effort against the Iran-backed Houthis in that theater of war. So far, most of the US pressure campaign to minimize Iran’s dangerous aggression in the region and expansionist ambitions consisted of sanctions and financial limitations, as well as from the engagement in a limited (and mostly reactionary) cyberwarfare. US engagement in Yemen consists mostly of logistical and intelligence assistance to the Arab Coalition, and a fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda, which flourish in the chaotic environment, and on tensions among the members of the +Coalition with sometimes divergent long-terms goals and visions of Yemen’s future.
If US bases in Yemen are attacked by Houthis, that would not make the news coverage or the public briefings. Part of the reason US had worked to minimize the appearance of Houthis’ potential threat to US security interest is the preservation of the delicate balance between being involved just enough to keep a modicum of stability in the war-torn country, keeping stable the relationship with US allies, and at the same time avoiding accusations of being drawn in into another long term conflict that may end with a physical escalation and confrontation with Iranian forces. There is increasing evidence that the purpose of the Houthis is global, rather than local or regional nuisance aimed at the Saudis. Houthis are modeled after Hezbullah, which itself started as a local Lebanese militia aimed at ousting Israel, but grew into a quasi-formal military structure that now controls the Lebanese Parliament, as well as has taken advantage of the country’s tribal structure to ensure local support.
Now, despite dissatisfaction with government corruption and foreign control which has affected even the Shia Lebanese residents, due to Hezbullah’s willingness to make allies with corrupt Christian parties and weak Sunni representation, it is nearly impossible to excise from power. Additionally, Hezbullah forces retain presence in strategically important areas, close to natural resources and organized crime schemes which help pay for Iran’s military expenditures and keep the economy afloat through a shadow market system. Hezbullah’s operations in Latin America, Africa, parts of Asia, and Europe are intelligence, political, military and covert operations, and also business related. Hezbullah has been involved in everything from abductions for ransom, drug trade, and control of diamond markets to ideological influence campaigns and social jihad “hearts and minds” psych ops.
The Houthis are being molded into the same type of faction, with global presence and a level of resourcefulness which far exceeds their initial purpose in toppling the Yemen government, destabilizing the country, and miring Saudi Arabia in a seemingly unwinnable asymmetrical contact. Having expressed threats in the general direction of UAE, Israel, and having spread anti-American propaganda, Houthis are becoming effective counterparts to Iraqi militias and other Iranian foreign legions, and with time, may become part of a more integrated network of well disciplined ideologically loyal forces that are alotted a portion of control over local territories in exchange for their availability to strike at Iran’s favored target anytime anyplace and give Iranian propagandists and lobbyists in the West a cover of plausible deniability to keep pushing deals with Tehran and to help the Islamic Republic avoid accountability in the form of sanctions snapbacks and arms embargoes. Like Hezbullah, they are increasing armed with sophisticated missiles, drones, and mining capabilities which so far they have used primarily against Saudi Arabia, but which, as with Hezbullah can be used against Israeli targets or to supplement Iraqi militia targeting of US sites.
The ruse is working with the European Union, which has criticized the possibility of snapback sanctions over the violations of the JCPOA, and shown reluctance to back the renewal of the arms embargo due to expire in the fall. Furthermore, several leading European countries are working to circumvent US economic sanctions on Iran through various financial instruments. All of this points to Iran’s position that there is international goodwill to exploit, but that Iran needs “safe spaces” to distract the world from its general malfeasance.
Yemen is a perfect convergence of a multitude of crises, illnesses, debilitating conditions, threats, and conflicting interest that becomes increasingly more complicated to untangle with time. Iran has in part succeeded in discrediting Saudi Arabia’s efforts in that regard through a combination of intense and largely successful one-sided media and political campaigns, which the Saudis and their allies have struggled to refute, coupled with the limited attention span for the conflict accorded by the US government. Saudis themselves appear to be demoralized as rumors of their eventual withdrawal persist, without any of the accompanying defense and security concerns being addressed or resolved. Separatists have taken control of a portion of Aden; the territories once cleared of Al Qaeda presence by UAE backed forces are now increasingly falling prey to the sprawling Muslim Brotherhood ideologies.
Despite a few key victories in terms of eliminating Al Qaeda and ISIS leaders in Yemen by joint operations with the Coalition, the groups are finding fodder for radicalization. The Houthis are increasingly legitimized by the Western media, the United Nations and other international organizations, and by human rights NGOs. While key donors have cut humanitarian aid, the Houthis are using the chaos to their advantage to amass power, impose self-serving new taxes, such as the “khums” tax to benefit “Hashemites” – tribal affiliates of prophet Mohammed, to which some Khomeinist followers also lay claim, and to mobilize support from youngsters recruited and indoctrinated through special training camps since they are children.
With the situation spiraling out of control and little international support for the Arab Coalition’s operations, Yemen is quickly becoming Iran’s backdoor to the Middle East. Once strengthened, Houthis can infiltrate the Saudi borders and through subversion, spread radical ideology and recruit supporters in the East, and mobilize the Yemeni diaspora in the South. They can exploit factionalism and alliances of conservative clergy, remnants of Islamists, pan-Arabists obsessed with the Hashemite return to power and opposed to the idea of even limited defense rapprochement between Israel and the Kingdom, as well as various opportunists who may not particularly care for Shi’a but will jump on any bandwagon that can bring them to power.
The Houthis are already using routes through Lebanon and Oman to reach Iran and to engage in effective trade, training, and the spread of Khomeinist revolutionary thinking and corona virus all over the region. Finally, Turkey is looking to make limited alliances with both Muslim Brotherhood (Al Islah) followers on the ground, the Hadi government, and even the pro-Iran Houthis to exploit the vacuum of power left by UAE withdrawal, US unwillingness to engage beyond defensive measures, and the beat down against the Saudis by the international community. They are offering to send humanitarian aid and ideological material through Somalia, using same routes that could in the future also deliver weapons.
It is time for Israel and the United States to start taking Yemen as more than just a backwater battle for Saudi self-assertion and to treated as part of Iran’s and its allies’ strategically important entry to the takeover of the Middle East and later, important, African and Middle Eastern routes – by political, military, and ideological means.
Has Turkey Colonized Libya?
During his visit to Tripoli July 4th Turkey’s defense minister Hulusi Akar signed an agreement on military cooperation with the representatives of the Government of National Accord (GNA). The signature was held behind the closed doors, but the few details that were leaked to the media are enough to conclude that the GNA has effectively traded its ostensible sovereignty for the Turkish support in the stand-off against the Libyan National Army and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.
The agreement between Turkey and Tripoli authorities stipulates that the GNA is a guarantor of Turkish interests in Libya. The real meaning behind that is that the government led by Fayez al-Sarraj officially put the Turkish interests before the national concerns of Libya. The GNA also gave Turkey an official permission to establish military bases on the Libyan territory.
These concessions are no doubt important, but perhaps the most brazing innovation introduced in the agreement is that all Turkish servicemen are given diplomatic immunity. This effectively means that the representatives of the Turkish metropole walking the Libyan soil are automatically granted a number of important privileges, granting them a legal advantage over the indigenous population.
Furthermore, the diplomatic immunity unlocks new possibilities for the transfer of foreign militants and supplies of arms, including internationally banned munitions, in violation of the arms embargo. Since the beginning of the year Turkey flew in to Libya over 15,000 of Syrian mercenaries, including child soldiers, who were recruited in the Syrian province of Idlib and received military training under the supervision of the Turkish advisers. In addition to that, it has been recently discovered that Turkish campaign to recruit fighters is not limited to Syria, but also includes Yemen.
The new agreement further facilitates transfer of foreign fighters into Libya. The GNA has officially given up its right to at least formally check Turkish ships and planes and allowed Ankara to create military bases that are out of Libyan jurisdiction. In these conditions the Turks will be able to send in as many mercenaries, including former members of terror groups, as they see fit without any restrictions or knowledge of the outside world.
In truth, Turkey’s behavior in Libya is already that of a colonial power in the new incarnation of the Tripolitanian Wilayet, a former colony of the Ottoman Empire. Human rights watchdogs report that the next day after the agreement was signed a number of Turkish planes with members of radical groups on board landed in Tripoli.
By signing the new agreement Fayez al-Sarraj and his government pledged allegiance to Turkey and cast away any pretence of being a leader of Libya. Turkey, in turn, is reluctant to declare Tripoli its colony, but this thin varnish will not hide the ugly reality behind.
Palestinians between COVID-19 pandemic and unilateral Israeli plan of annexation
On March 2020 took place the third general elections in the parliamentary Republic of Israel, for the 120 seats of the Knesset. The results viewed the victory of the right-wing Likud party, leaded by Netanyahu, obtaining 58 seats, although his charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in November 2019, and the left-wing “Blue and white” party, headed by Gantz. After several compromises, the 20 April formed an emergency government of national unity for a limited period of 36 months, presided by Netanyahu for the first 18 months and by Gantz during last 18 months, under the approval of the president Rivlin. In the first phase Gantz will be vice-premier and Minister of Defence. The alternation on the guide of executive will be enshrined by a law of the Knesset.
This even slight predominance of Likud party will entail the implementation of the so-called US President Trump “deal of the century”, which encompasses the Israel political process of incorporation of the occupied West Bank, that include Israeli settlements, the region of Jordan Valley and nature reserves. In other words, government has been authorized to bring a de-facto ‘annexation” plan to debate in the Knesset since 1 July 2020. This Israeli proposal would include up to 30% of the total areas of West Bank.
Amnesty International underlines that this agreement would worsen the violations of human rights, the impunity of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross violations, perpetrating a flagrant violation of international law. Being annexation an acquisition of territories by the use of force, it’s breaching at the same time art. 2 (4) UN Charter, generally set out jus cogens norms and humanitarian laws. This plan would extend Israeli law to the OPT, not changing their legal status. In fact, under domestic Israeli law, it’s nothing else but an Israeli settlement expansion, thus denying civil and political rights to Palestinians, their freedom of movement, of speech, of association, equality and non-discrimination rules.
As well known, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the world longest-running struggle between two self-determination movements: the Jewish Zionist and the Palestinian nationalism that claim the same territories and throughout this atavic conflict Israel has been accused of treating non-Israelis people as in the Soth African’s apartheid.
On both sides, have been recorded unlawful killings, that are crime of war, arbitrary detentions, many forms of discrimination, human trafficking, denial of humanitarian access, abuses and maiming of women and children, used as human shields and forced to be involved in military actions in an overall framework of rides, incitation campaigns and retaliations.
In his annual report on children and armed conflict, the UN Secretary General Guterres reported in June 2020 the omission from the “list of shame” of States perpetrating these crimes, such as Saudi-led coalition, Yemen, Myanmar and also Israel, despite abuses in the occupied territories have been well-documented by UN. Human rights associations and organizations from all over the world are asking this list be evidence-based, avoiding to coddle powerful countries.
The uprising of the turmoil in these strips of land are likely to escalate at a planetary level. In front of what has been described by A.I. as an incoming “law of the jungle” after latest elections, this ngo is currently urging international community to strengthen the implementation of international law stressing, that any annexation of the occupied West Bank is nul and void. It’s also claiming an halt of the construction of Israeli illegal settlements and infrastructures in the OPT and all trades with them, decrying the Israeli attempts to undermine Palestinian human rights, including the right of return of Palestinian refugees and supporting ICC investigations and calls on governments to offer political and practical support to the Court over the Palestinian situation.
In fact, according to art.47 of the 4th Geneva Convention, protected people who are in occupied territories shall not be deprived of their rights as the result of the occupation neither by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the occupying powers, not by any annexation of whole or part of the occupied territories.
Moreover, it’s not clear what will be ruled out about citizenships and residency under this incorporation of lands. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu affirmed that Palestinian residents in the areas that will be annexed wouldn’t get Israeli citizenship.
Profiting from illegal blockade on Gaza and fragmentation of the population in the OPT, annexation would result in a mass-expropriation of private and agricultural Palestinian lands and home demolition, thus violating the right to adequate housing (in 2019 Israel demolished 617 Palestinian structures and evicted 899 people in the West Bank). The law of occupation prohibits demolitions if not necessary for military operations. Punishing demolitions are collective punishments, thus forbidden by international law as well as the transfer of prisoners in the occupying country, being in Israel occurring administrative detentions, with neither fair process nor accusations, of about 4600 people.
The PA (governing body of autonomous Palestinians regions) and the paramilitary PLO called international community to impose sanctions against Israel and started boycotts and disinvestment, announcing that this Israeli expansion would face with the resistance of Palestinians in any forms, considering it as a “declaration of war” .
On the wave of the USA proposed “Deal of the Century”, an “International Conference on the Question of Palestine” was held last February in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, gathering practitioners, academics and civil society, in order to thwart the phenomenon of unilateral actions and to implement the substantive exercise of inalienable rights in Palestine. In this occasion Member States of ASEAN were urged to continue their operations in the pursuit of justice and peace and was highlighted the uselessness of a new plan and the necessity of an effective execution of existing agreements and UN resolutions, based on the two-State formula.
More precisely, the 28 January Trump administration held a press conference in the White House, announcing a “peace to prosperity: a vision to improve the lives of the Palestinian and Israeli people” plan, that pleased to the new coalition government in Israeli. It proposed the incorporation of the existing Israeli settlements in West Bank, including Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem; Jerusalem as undivided capital of Israel; a territory for the future Palestine, including parts of West Bank, Gaza strip and some Jerusalem surrounding; linking of the Palestinian territories through new roads, bridges and tunnels; freezing for 4 years Israeli settlement construction; US embassy in Palestine; investment of $ 50 billion to build a new Palestine state.
The PA and the League of Arab States, among others, rejected the plan and under the mounting pressure of Tunisia and Indonesia, thereafter USA proposed many amendments.
Thus it’s crystal clear that lately protests against the recently announced plan for annexation, proclaimed by Israel and sponsored by USA, and lockdown security measures against Covid-19 have dragged Palestinians in a hell of oppression and restrictions that considerably limit the freedom of civilians that are currently exacerbating further clashes and opposing resistance, regardless the ban of gathering for the pandemic and the quarantine imposition, being their lives at risk in any case.
The outbreak of coronavirus in 2019 propelled a common effort and a new opportunity of collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis in the attempt to enforce the Middle East peaceful process, being the watchword a strong cooperation on the ground and one at an international level. Nicholay Mlandenov, the Bulgarian Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process in the UN Security Council, stressed the “inspiring example” of cooperation in these lands, before the elections, in order to contain the spread of the virus and seized the moment to impact communities in order to make further steps toward peace and to reject unilateral decisions. In this perspective, UN has delivered over 1 million of aid items, such as protective equipment and test kits, for Palestinians hospitals and clinics, due to insufficient funding. Special Coordinator added that UN will do its utmost for the well-being and safety of Palestinians and Israelis, ensuring that no less than $137 million would be transferred to the region in the coming four months.
UN will move in this direction especially through the Middle East Quartet (composed of Russian Federation, USA, EU, UN), that see cooperating the world’s existent superpower countries and institutions involved in the pacification of these areas, its agencies (i.e. UNRWA and coordination office for Humanitarian Affairs -OCHA) and other international organizations, such as WHO.
In order to tackle the spread of the virus, Israeli government has approved a legislation for a partial lockdown and has increased restriction of movement of people and trade, exception done for health workers in Gaza strip, for special medical and humanitarian cases. Furthermore, it has imposed a curfew in the West Bank. It has also tactically allowed counter-terrorism surveillance technology to be used to track infections. On the other hand, an internal cooperation within Palestine, between Hamas and Fatah (in the PA) has been tightened.
Israel was one of the first countries to close its borders and imposed restrictions when the global pandemic first outburst and soon after PA followed its example, by adopting measures such as the suspension of. public prayers, although the mosques are still opened.
All over the world, many western countries, such as France and UK, but also countries in the Arab world, such as Gulf Arab states, are declaring and recognizing that, although their Israeli backing, this plan is occurring in open violation of international law, thus execrable, severely damaging and affecting human rights of Palestinians, not even ensuring the international minimum standard and the right of repatriation, compelling those who left their country to stay abroad.
The 1 July hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Gaza and West Bank against the annexation. The following day, Pope Francis summoned the US and Israel ambassadors for preventing an escalation of violence in these lands, reckoning that the state of Palestine and that of Israel have the same right “to exist and live in security, within international recognized borders”, discouraging unilateral actions.
The Pope and UN are, in fact, in search of an establishment that seems will never happen, trying to demonize the upcoming of a new world conflict, triggering an international alarm to stop this crusade and massacre of civilians. The Holy See recognized the State of Palestine in 2013, soon after followed the recognition by the UN with the status of non-Member observer State. Last March also the Muslim World League urged the moral duty of an interfaith partnership to overcome the crisis.
Israeli defence minister and alternate prime minister Gantz has announced that it would be desirable that the propaganded annexation would take place after the proclaimed state of emergency due to the coronavirus. In fact, the Palestinian ministry of health last week said that 2636 people have tested positive for Covid-19 compared with 1256 recorded a week ago, expressing the fear of a “second wave”of infections after the easing of the full lockdown since last May.
What furthermore is inflaming the crisis is the Palestinian economic dependence on Israel, especially for the 150.000 Palestinians working in Israel (5000 in Gaza) with official permit and about 60.000 work illegally in Gaza strip and West Bank. Their average daily income is 250 Israeli shekels (about $70 per day), so the adopted restrictions mean depriving hundreds of millions of dollars flowing for Palestinian market and a decline of Palestinian purchasing power due to the lack of liquidity, causing a reduction of 50% of the Palestinians civil servants wages. Moreover, the health measures imposed at Israeli airports, crossings and ports have impeded the arrival of imported products from Palestine, whose exportations have been banned, putting at risk the furniture of goods and foods. To get things worse OPEC continues to cut oil exports, holding up the prices. The World Bank reported in April that, if coronavirus crisis and its economic effects wouldn’t ease, the Palestinian economy will shrink by 7%, causing an unprecedented collapse. Palestinian financial minister has already asked for a loan from Israel of 500 million Israeli shekels ($141 millions) per month until the end of the pandemic but it’s unlikely it could fulfill its obligations.
So, in conclusion, the economic downturn, the spread of Covid-19 and the paralysis of the both nationalisms, that claim the same lands under their religious auspices and believes, have highlighted the weakness of the international system in the Middle East, and in particular in Israel and Palestine, putting them in the hands of Trump’s American hegemonic policy of “America first”, consisting in the affirmation of its economic global power and its presence on the field in an anti-terrorist key of interpretation.
As a matter of fact, although resonant speeches, has been revealed a consistent lack of democracy and effective protection of liberal values, especially from USA and UN on one hand, and through continuous terrorist attacks from Palestinian organizations recognized as terrorists by UN and EU such as i.e. Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, al.Aqsa Martyr Brigade and LFP, on the other
Bearing in mind that “terrorism” has been defined in 1994 by the UN as “criminal acts intended or calculating to provoke a state of terror in general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstances unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them”, it’s clear that on both sides the destiny of innocent civilians, that are daily struggling simply for their livelihood are nowadays still put at risk.
In an economic strangulation and political entanglement, many Palestinian people are actually living in danger and facing violence; they are often forced, having no choice, to be enrolled in military corps, both terroristic or legally recognized, in order to avoid indigence, in a quest for revenge and social redemption.
Once again, in the slowness and inadequacy of political summits in the control rooms of power, through the diplomatic meetings and clumsy changing strategies in the international arena, long distant from the dramatic reality ground, this is one of the saddest quarrels in which are always the helpless battered people that continues on suffering and paying for economic giants damages and interferences and that are far to be resolved in a lack of a clear direction and solutions for a long-lasting peace and security at the four corners of the world.
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