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Egyptian-Russian Relations after the June 30th Revolution: Historic Recurrence or Political Option

Bassem Elmaghraby

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Since the establishment of the formal diplomatic relationship between Egypt and Russia (previous Soviet Union/USSR) in 1943 the relation between them have gone through multiple stages from the rapprochement to the extent of alliance until the divergence to the extent of severing diplomatic relations, during the 1950s and 1960s -the reign of Nasser- their relationship improved dramatically to the extent of alliance, for example many Soviet experts were sent to help in improving the infrastructure of some cities, establishing factories, and construction of the High Dam as well as the electricity networks…etc.  Moreover, Moscow was the first supplier of weapons and military technology to Egypt at that time, and most importantly great cooperation and military agreements have been concluded in 1968 after Nasser’s visit to Moscow, especially with regard to the Air-force and missiles.

After President Nasser’s death in 1970 and President Sadat take over the rule in Egypt a new stage between the two countries has been started, although the signing of the friendship agreement between Egypt and the Soviet Union in 1972, but soon the relations among the two states reached the worst situation ever where Sadat decided to expel the Soviet experts in July 1972, cancel the friendship agreement and even recall the Egyptian ambassador to Moscow, in turn, the USSR also recalled the Soviet ambassador to Cairo. 

The relations between the two countries were soon restored after President Mubarak took over the rule of Egypt, while he was keen to maintain close relationship with the US, he also concentrated on keeping a good relations with the Soviet Union; therefore, he invited the Soviet experts to take part in the maintenance process of the High Dam and other projects, signed scientific and cultural cooperation agreement with the USSR in 1983; re-exchange the ambassadors; strengthen the relations with the Russian Federation, the legitimate heir, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; and even the USSR became the second largest trading partner after the US.

Since the outbreak of the January 25th revolution until the June 30th revolution, relations between Egypt and Russia were cautious, given Russia’s opposition to the Arab Spring in general and the Egyptian revolution in particular considered it as an American-model of democratic transformation, as well as fear of the spread of radical political regimes that could affect Russia’s relations with neighboring countries and other factors.

Once the June 30th revolution broke out and overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood regime, the Russian orientation was very clear to support the revolution and consider what happen in Egypt as a correction of the path of the Arab Spring, and stressed that the stability in the Middle East, Arab region and even the Islamic and world level depends heavily on the developments in Egypt; in addition, the Russian diplomacy expressed Moscow’s keenness on maintaining stability and security in Egypt and the region. In other words, Russia has strongly supported Egypt’s return to the regional and international arena, its participation in all regional initiatives, and resisted any attempt to marginalize the Egyptian role.

It seems that the Russians were looking forward to this moment, when the political change is allowing them to strengthen the relations with Egypt; where both of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Russian ministers visited Egypt in November 2013 as known as “2+2” political talks, followed by the Egyptian Foreign Affairs and Defense ministers visit Russia in February 2014, the President Sisi was the Egyptian defense minister at the time.

Since the first days of the Sisi presidency, it has been clear that Egyptian-Russian relations are developing positively; first of all, the Russian position on the Egyptian revolution gave the chance to the new regime to diversify its foreign policy options by strengthening the relations with Russia, In addition, President Sisi wanted to restore and modernize Egypt’s foreign position at the regional and global levels, especially after the difficult historical experiences of recent decades.

In this context, the relations among the two countries could be summarized in political, social, economic and military relations as below:

Political and Social Relations

The Egyptian interim president “Adli Mansour” received a telephone call in November 2013 the Russian President “Vladimir Putin”, through which Putin expressed his and his country’s full support for Egypt and its transitional administration.

A Russian people’s delegation visited Egypt in May 2014 with a group of participants in the construction of the High Dam on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the transformation of the Nile River.

In September 2014 the Egyptian Prime Minister announced the establishment of the “Russian Unit” under the Cabinet to follow up the bilateral relations in various fields, which held its first meeting in the next month with the participation of 9 ministers and other officials.

The Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa “Mikhail Bogdanov” also visited Egypt in November 2014, discussed with the Egyptian Foreign Minister the developments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Egypt’s efforts in this issue. Afterward, in December the Russian Deputy Prime Minister “Arkady Dvorkovich” visited Egypt to meet President Sisi and other officials for further talks.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister visited Russia in February 2015 and met with his Russian counterpart discussing the two countries relations and common interests, and the Libya’s crisis in particular; then during March 2015 many mutual statements, meetings, and visits have been held to further boost the two countries relations such as the President Sisi meeting with the Secretary of the Russian National Security Council “Nikolai Patrushev” in Egypt; and the meeting of the Egyptian Defense Minister “Sedqi Sobhi” with his Russian counterpart “Sergey Shoigu” at the headquarters of the Russian Defense Ministry. Before the end of May 2015 the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Russian Counterpart stressed the importance of intensifying the anti-terrorism efforts and enhance the joint cooperation in various fields; followed by the meeting of the Russian Minister of Industry and Trade “Denis Manturov” with President Sisi in Cairo during which they discussed the establishment of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Customs Union (EAEU). In September 2015 the Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister with a delegation visited Russia and concluded further talks related to the disarmament, non-proliferation, Egypt’s candidacy for membership of the Security Council for the period 2016-2017, and issues on the agenda of UN General Assembly.

The head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom has a meeting with President Sisi in November 2015 during which they inking three agreements between the two countries. Afterward, the Russian Defense Minister also met President Sisi discussing the cooperation between the two countries regarding international and common concerns; followed by some meetings between the Russian delegation from one side and the Egyptian Minister of Defense, Minister of State for Military Production, and other officials from the other side concluding some protocols and agreements.

Throughout 2016 many mutual visits and meetings dealt with issues of coordination on various issues of mutual cooperation and enhancing cooperation between the two sides starting from January when the Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade visited Egypt and met Minister of Defense, followed by the meeting between President Sisi and the Speaker of the Russian State; then the political talks between the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Russian counterpart; and also the visit of the Egyptian delegation headed by the Minister of Civil Aviation to Russia regarding the Russian Aircraft Accident; and later the Egyptian Defense Minister visited Russia in light of the Egyptian-Russian strategic cooperation; finally, during November an Egyptian delegation from the Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Authority visited Russia to discuss the export of Egyptian products, followed by the visit of the Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation to Russia.

In the same context, the year 2017 witnessed a remarkable political cooperation and mutual visits between the two counties, where in March President Sisi received the Russian Deputy Prime Minister for political talks; after three days he received also Chairperson of the Russian Federation Council and her accompanying delegation to discuss the mutual cooperation in all levels; on May the Pope Twadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of St. Mark, visited Russia received by Russian President; then the Russian Defense Minister and Foreign Minister visited Egypt again and held talks with President Sisi; in August another round of discussions between the Foreign Ministers of the two counties in Moscow; in October the Speaker of the Egyptian House of Representatives visited Russia to participate in the 137th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; in November a Russian security delegation visited Egypt and had a meeting with the Minister of Civil Aviation

The cooperation between the two countries continued to grow up during 2018, where in May the 2+2 talks between the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Defense in the two countries held a new round in Russia; followed by another visit for the Minister of Defense to Russia in August to discuss the military cooperation between the two countries with his counterpart; and in September the Foreign Ministers held another meeting on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York discussing various issues including an assessment of the progress made in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Russian president, Putin, with a high-level delegation visited Egypt in February 2015 discussed the economic and political relations, the main issues in the Middle East, and concluded some deals and agreements, the most important of which is the establishing of the first Egyptian nuclear plant. In addition, he visited Egypt for the second time in December 2017, during the visit he discussed with President Sisi various issues especially the regional challenges and the political cooperation, witnessed the signing of the agreement to establish the nuclear plant, and stressed the importance of preserving the current status of Jerusalem.

President Sisi also have been visited Russia many times, the first time, as mentioned above, when he was the defense minister in 2014; then during his presidency he visited Russia again in August 2014, only two months after his election and first visit outside of the Arab world, discussing the various issued in the Middle East and agreed for greater global cooperation in the anti-terrorism activities, in addition to the agreement for concluding economic, military, and social deals or agreements;  President Sisi also visited Russia in May 2015 to take part in the Russian celebrations of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II; At an invitation of the Russian side, the President Sisi with an official delegation visited Russia in August 2015 held talks with his Russian counterpart about the anti-terrorism efforts, joint cooperation, regional and common concern issues, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Furthermore, as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of starting the relations between the two countries President Sisivisited Russia again in October 2018, during which he concluded the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation agreement together with the Russian President, gave a speech before the upper house of the Russian parliament, as the first foreign leader to do so, in addition to convene some other meetings between the officials of the two countries and many agreements and decisions have been reached during this visit such as the expanding of the military exercises.

The cooperation between the two countries started to reflect in their diplomatic common views in some issues for example on Syria both countries have been calling for preserving the country’s territorial integrity and its national army. In October 2017, the two countries brokered a ceasefire deal in southern Damascus. In Libya, the two countries support the Libyan National Army, which is led by Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya. In addition, the airspace deal with Egypt could bring Russia closer to Libya and raise the likelihood of greater Russian military involvement there.

Economic relations

Since the June 30th revolution broke out the economic cooperation between the two countries have greatly flourished between the two countries for instance:

In February 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed to establish a Russian Industrial Zone (RIZ) in Egypt as the first country in the world where Russia will establish such project outside the Russian mainland, which represents a gateway for Russia to the African continent; in addition to signing some other cooperation agreements and memorandums of understanding to enhance investment cooperation between the two countries and facilitating efforts to establish a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union. Furthermore, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the representatives of the two countries through which Russia will supply 10 civilian aircraft with Financial Leasing System as a first stage, then supply of 20 civilian aircraft as a second stage with the possibility of supplying 20 other aircraft as a third stage after obtaining the necessary approvals to facilitate the direct flights between Egypt and Russia. 

The volume of trade between Egypt and Russia rose during the year 2017 to 6.7 billion dollars, where the volume of Russian imports to Egypt reached 6.2 billion dollars (with an increase of 64%) and the volume of Egyptian exports to Russia reached 504.5 million dollars (with an increase of 35%).

It is worth to be mention here that the value of Russian exports to Egypt reached 2.418 billion dollars in the first five months of 2018 (an increase of about 32.3% over the same period in 2017), while the value of Egyptian exports to Russia reached 356 million dollars (an increase of 26.5%); more than 416 Russian companies operate in Egypt with capital of over $ 60 million, trade exchange between Egypt and Russia in the first five months of 2018 reached 2.775 billion dollars (with an increase of about 31.5% from 2017), in August 2018 a contract to buy 180 thousand tons of Russian wheat has been concluded, in September 2018 another contract to produce and supply 1300 new railway vehicles to Egypt has been concluded as the largest deal in the history of the Egyptian railway.

In December 2017 the two presidents signed a document under which they gave the start signal to El-Dabaa nuclear project, where they have signed in 2015 a cooperation agreement to establish this project as the first nuclear plant in Egypt based on a Russian loan, with four reactors and a capacity of five gigawatts, is scheduled for completion by 2029, according to Russia’s state-owned nuclear operator Rosatom, financed by a $25 billion loan from Moscow.

Furthermore, the Russian oil giant Rosneft bought a 30% stake in Egypt’s Zohr gas field for $1.125 billion last year, becoming a key player in developing one of the largest gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, Rosneft and Fleet Energy signed a framework agreement to explore a joint venture for providing gas supplies to Egypt.

Military relations

After the June 30th revolution, the pace of military visits between Egypt and Russia increased, with several visits by Russian military officials to Cairo to prepare for the start of expanded military talks between Egypt and Russia; for instance the frequent mutual visits of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense between the two countries since 2013 during which the two countries agreed to modernize the Egyptian military arsenal and provide it with Russian weapons, allowing the Egyptian political leadership to achieve its goal to diversify the sources of armament. After President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi takes over the power in Egypt he was keen to raise the combat and training abilities and to provide the armed forces with new types of weapons especially with Russia.

When president Sisi made his first visit to Russia he checked out some military objects, items, and systems which brought during his visit. Since then the military cooperation between Egypt and Russia began to grow significantly, especially in the fields of armament and training; while the armament cooperation was focusing on the development of the air force and the air defense system in particular as below:

Development of air forces

Based on the Egyptian strategy to diversify the sources of arms, the cooperation with Russia concentrated on providing the Egyptian Air Force with new and sophisticated aircraft, therefore, the deals with Russia included various types of armaments, ammunition and the technical needs of aircraft; in addition to buy many Russian fighter aircrafts and advanced MiG-29 and MiG-35, in addition to the Sukhoi Su-35.

A large number of KAMOV 52 helicopters were also contracted combined with all types of missiles, ammunition and technical assistance for aircraft.

Development of air defense

The cooperation with Russia regarding modernizing the air defense system has been concentrated on updating the short-range air defense system to the Tor-M2 system, and the medium-range air defense system to the Buk-M2 system.

Moreover, the addition of the long-range air defense system for the first time within the Egyptian Air Defense Forces, which announced on 26th of August 2015 after receiving the “300-S” Russian system also known as ” Antey 2500″; this system is the strongest in the response to all types of aircraft and missiles.

The Russian gift and the joint exercises

In August 2016 Egypt received a Russian missile vessel so-called Molniya b-32 as a present, which participated in the opening ceremony of the new Suez Canal. It considered as one of the most modern Russian naval vessels because of its high combat capabilities, where it contain a rapid and long-range sea-to-sea missile platform, in addition to advanced technology in military communications and modern defense systems.

The two countries witnessed great cooperation with regard to the joint training; where they have signed protocols of cooperation in joint trainings including sending missions of armed forces and technicians to train on the latest technology in manufacturing, in addition to conducting the joint exercises and maneuvers to improve the combat capabilities of the armed forces.

Accordingly, Egypt hosted the first joint military exercise with the Russian paratroopers so-called “Protectors of Friendship 1” in October of the same year; then the Egyptian and Russian paratroopers carried out the second joint military exercise so-called “Protectors of Friendship 2” held in Russia in September 2017; followed by the third joint exercise so-called “Protectors of Friendship 3” in October 2018, which is hosted by Egypt. The training included various activities and events, including the exchange of training experiences for Special Units, implementation of various forms of atypical shooting, training on the Special Forces fighting and combating terrorism, as well as the dropping of personnel, equipment, and vehicles from both sides.

It’s worth to be mention here that after the last visit of President Sisi to Russia in October 2018 the two sides agreed to invite military observers from 13 countries to observe these anti-terror drills.

Weapon deals, Military exhibitions and other activities

In August 2018 the Egyptian Defense minister participated in the opening ceremony of the Russian International Military-Technical Forum so-called “ARMY-2018”.

On the other side, the Russian participation was the most prominent during the Egypt Defense Expo (EDEX) 2018, where the Russian delegation demonstrated the products of 11 large domestic producers of military hardware and equipment for all military branches. Russia showcased a full-size copy of the Ka-52 reconnaissance and attack helicopter. The display stand of Russia’s state arms seller Rosoboron export featured the mockups of Yak-130 combat trainers, Su-35 fighter jets, MiG-29M/M2 multirole frontline fighters, Mi-17, Mi-28NE, Mi-35, Mi-26, and Ansat helicopters. Russia also demonstrated S-400 Triumf long-range air defense missile systems, Tor-M2E and Buk-M2E surface-to-air missile complexes, the Pantsyr-S1 air defense missile/gun system, and also Igla-S and Verba man-portable missile complexes. In addition to the T-90MS main battle tank, the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle, the Terminator tank support combat vehicle, the BTR-82A armored personnel carrier, Khrizantema-S and Kornet-E anti-tank systems, in addition to small arms and close-in weapons.

In November 2015, the Russian warship “Admiral Vladimirsky” visited the Adabiya port in Suez to express the strengthening of strategic military understanding and cooperation between the Egyptian and Russian Navy.

In November 2017, the two countries agreed to allow the military aircraft of the two countries to exchange airspace and air bases with each other.

Many weapon deals have been concluded between the two countries for instance the two countries signed a $3.5 billion arms deal in 2014;50 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets were purchased from Russia in 2014 and delivery started late 2017; Egypt also purchased 46 of a naval version of the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator helicopter, intended for the two French Mistral helicopter carriers that Cairo bought from Paris in September 2015; in addition to the initiate to buy the T-90 tanks.

Moreover, Egypt launched an observation satellite, called EgyptSat-A, by Russian rocket, called Soyuz-2.1b, on 21st of Feb 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan; the satellite will be used to gather imagery of the Egyptian territory and surrounding regions for digital mapping, assessments of mineral, water and other resources, environmental monitoring, vegetation monitoring, studies of the headwaters of the Nile, and disaster management.

In conclusion

The relations between the two countries have witnessed various stages of prosperity, the breaking of diplomatic relations, gradual growth, a period of caution and prosperity once again after the June 30th revolution; which some interpreted as historic recurrence; while others interpreted the recent boom as a political choice to approaching the East at the expense of the West due to the surrounding political and international events or interactions.

In fact, the rapprochement and prosperity of the relations between Egypt and Russia since the June 30th revolution depends mainly on the nature of the interests between them. Both countries share many common interests; both are strategic and influential countries in their regions, globally, and at various international organizations as well.

Consequently, the fact that history repeats itself is a natural phenomenon in international relations, but this repetition itself is a result of interaction, interests and political choices between states. That is the case between Egypt and Russia where the events between the past and the present have resembled, but this resembling or repetition is a result of the changeable Social interaction and mutual interests of both countries that constitute their decisions and political choices.

The national interests are the main reason for Russia to support the political transition in Egypt and June 30th revolution, while it opposes the Arab Spring in general and even oppose the January 25th revolution in Egypt itself only two years earlier, and for Egypt to further strengthen its relations with Russia; where the Russian leaders admitted in many occasions the significant importance of Egypt in the Arab, African, Middle East, and Muslim circles, the Russian perception about the radical political regimes in the region, their perspective about the Arab Spring and fears of the revolution infection and their relation with neighboring countries, and the Russian position in some issues such as the Syrian, Libyan, and Crimea crises; all of these factors shows the great interests for Russia to strengthen its relation with Egypt.

On the other hand, Egypt also was in urgent need for Russian support after the revolution for gaining the international legitimacy of its ruling regime especially after the American position on the revolution, to diversify and balance its foreign options, to face the domestic pressure and popular rejection of the dependence on the US, and for the Economic, Social, Political, and military cooperation and assistance; all of these interests, and more, make it rational for both sides to seek more cooperation.

Political Science Lecturer Assistant, Suez Canal University, Egypt; and Ph.D. candidate at Jilin University, China

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Conflict in Yemen is a Global Threat and Iran’s Trump Card

Irina Tsukerman

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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.

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Has Turkey Colonized Libya?

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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.

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Palestinians between COVID-19 pandemic and unilateral Israeli plan of annexation

Paola Canale

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Al-Walaja, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. Photo: UNRWA/Marwan Baghdadi

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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