On April 27, General Khalifa Haftar, the military and political leader of Cyrenaica and especially of the Libyan National Army (LNA) announced that he “accepted the popular mandate to deal with the country’s issues, despite the burden of responsibilities and obligations, as well as the vast extent of responsibilities that lie on the shoulders of the Army”. He said so in a television speech on the evening of April 27, besides other statements on military tensions.
The General of Cyrenaica also added that the Army commanders would “be available to the people and work to the best of their abilities to alleviate the suffering of the people”. Gaddafi-style tones were used by a political-military leader who, as early as 2016, had his Cyrenaica’s banknotes printed in Russia with the Sirte Colonel’s profile.
We should not be ironic about these matters. The Libyan national sentiment, forged by the anti-colonialist struggle against the Italians at first and the Brits later, is by no means secondary to the widespread sentiment of loyalty to one’s own tribe.
Since 2016 Russia has already spent at least 10 billion dinars in Libya for aid to the population and, directly, to Khalifa Haftar’s Forces.
Furthermore, all the Libyan coastal areas from which migrants leave belong to the Forces linked in some way to the leader of Tripolitania, al-Sarraj. The same holds true for the detention centres.
Without this money flow the Misrata Forces, led by Zahwia and linked to the Warshafana tribe, would have no certainties in the distribution of salaries and payments for weapons and supplies.
In al-Sarraj’s Tripolitania the cycle of central-periphery funding is often uncertain.
On this Tripoli’s coast there is also Sebha, as well as Surman, used as migrant detention areas and military support to Tripoli, not to mention even Tripoli’s internal security militias, as well as the Nawasi and Tajouri, and the RADA forces that are Salafists linked to Abdel Raouf Kara and are now permanently deployed in the airport of Mitiga. Finally, there is still the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, led by Tajouri, that controls all the branches of banks in Tripoli.
The Nawasi own all the branches of the Libyana company, which deals with post and telecommunications- and we can imagine with what level of security. Here there is the issue of the clash – not yet ended – for gaining control of the currency black market between the Nawasi and the Ghazewy Brigade that still controls the old city.
In May 2017 the Nawasi Brigade also attacked the Foreign Ministry, whose Minister, Mohammed Taher al Sayala, had even been accused of having “covert” relations with Haftar, probably because of his frequent meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.
In August 2017, the Nawasi brigade – as rich as and often even more than the government of Tripoli – also attacked the Coast Guard’s Head of security. Currently, however, nothing has changed.
The Tripoli polyarchy – while the Benghazi group shows greater unity – is the main enemy of its own stay in power.
This is the Libya that currently Italy has totally abandoned to its own devices, believing that the fate of Tripoli’s and Cyrenaica’s coasts is not interesting for it. Obviously except for paying lip service to the U.N., the E.U., as well as the Kantian Perpetual Peace and some other universalist nonsense carefully devoid of any idea of national interest.
A fatal mistake for which we will pay a terrible price, not only for the future arrival of a huge number of migrants in the midst of a very harsh economic and financial coronavirus crisis.
Shortly before Haftar’s TV message on April 27, some members of the Benghazi Parliament issued press releases in which they stated they entrusted the country’s leadership to Khalifa Haftar.
Internal rebalancing that hides Haftar’s residual ability to control his political team and supporters better than al-Sarraj.
Without external support, however, neither side, i.e. Tripoli’s GNA and Cyrenaica’s LNA, have the possibility of going on the offensive – hence a stable and effective war of movement.
In my opinion everything began in early April 2019, when Haftar announced his plan to take Tripoli and even to free – as he said – al-Sarraj’s government itself from the grip of the Islamists, who held the region and the local politicians on a string.
Haftar’s plan was a real lightning war, with Tripoli quickly encircled and commando groups that would later enter the city, with a view to eliminating the pockets of resistance of al-Sarraj’s GNA and its “brigades”, well-known for their scarce political and military reliability and often autonomous forms of financing.
For Haftar that was a way of forcing also the countries that supported all the various warring parties – which currently prefer to side with al-Sarraj in negotiations – to sit at the table with him who was finally the dealer giving the cards.
But the blackmail of the LNA leader was even simpler: either you pay heed to me or I put the great migration routes back in action and close the oil supplies.
.Most of the weapons related to Haftar’s LNA are still those in the stores of Gaddafi’s old Libyan army that was not bad at all logistically.
The logistical support and the military upgrade are still prerogative of the Emirates and Egypt, while a large part of liquidity is provided by Saudi Arabia and France has supremacy in the field of intelligence. Russia has a friendly wait-and-see attitude, with indirect support of mercenaries and weapons, to avoid frictions with Turkey, al-Sarraj’s primary partner, and to avoid an entanglement in the Maghreb region which, according to the Russian equation, would have been an excessive investment liable to weaken Russia’s operations in other regions it still considers of primary interest.
However, significant support has been lent to Haftar by the above mentioned Russian mercenaries of Wagner, who currently amount to 2,400 units approximately. Wagner is a subsidiary of Evgeny Prigozhin, a businessman very close to Vladimir Putin.
Wagner’s Russians have their base at Al-Jufra, in the fully safe area for Haftar, but they also directly command the LNA Brigade No. 106, the best elite unit of Haftar’s army.
The Tobruk Brigades that are part of Cyrenaica’s LNA are the following, for a total number of 25.000 soldiers: the 9thBrigade of Tarhouna, the city that was also the birthplace of a recent director of the Italian intelligence service AISE; the Zintan Forces, led by Idris Mathi and Mukhtar Fernana; the militants of the Bani Walid tribe; the al-Wadi Battalion of Sabratah; the Anti-Crime Force of Zawiyah; the 12th Brigade of Brak-al-Shati, 7 Battalions and two Brigades, and finally the 106th Brigade of Benghazi, the Special Forces, four additional line brigades.
At tactical level, despite the Wagner strong support, currently the war against Haftar’s Tripoli has stopped in the Tripoli Southern districts.
In this case, it is said that some European intelligence services, especially from Southern Europe, have provided strong support to al-Sarraj in view of blocking the LNA’s initiative and prepare, in time, the best groups currently supporting Tripoli’s government.
Last June, however, two specific new situations changed the tactical equation in favour of al-Sarraj.
The first was the long chain of logistical links between the front lines and Haftar’s Commands, which was slowly breaking down and making the links between the various LNA forces on the ground and between them and the central Command increasingly difficult.
Moreover, precisely for the above stated reasons, the offensive positions south of Tripoli shifted slowly from Haftar’s forces–which were also subject to slow disintegration, as always happened in those areas – to al-Sarraj’s best units, where the penetration of Haftar’s LNA agents, probably for specifically financial reasons, was not successful. Thatwas an eminently political factor
Haftar, however, had planned to stay around Tripoli only a few days, or two weeks at the most. On the contrary, the situation reached a stalemate that greatly favoured the forces linked to al-Sarraj.
It was precisely Ghayan, the starting point of Haftar’s attack, which was conquered, a few days after the LNA’s attack, by al-Sarraj’s best forces, “well directed” by some European Intelligence Services – as we would say about the first four Caliphs after the Prophet.
After over four months of stalemate, al-Sarraj trapped Haftar’s first lines that, at the time had either escaped or were without food and ammunition.
Another immediate change of scenario: after a network of support to Haftar’s LNA lines, above all by the French Intelligence Services and the Russian Wagner group, the attack potential of Cyrenaica’s LNA changed. It reached Tripoli and was encircled, above all, by the Zintan Forces, immediately south-west of Tripoli.
However, the new supply and command lines – rapidly rebuilt by Russia and France – meant that Haftar could again bomb the headquarters of the Tripoli military academy in Hadhba in early 2020, precisely on January 5, with a toll of 30 dead and about 500 wounded people.
Immediately afterwards, the real partners of the two Libyan warring groups, in Tripoli and Benghazi, namely Russia and Turkey, pushed – with the methods we can imagine – their representatives on the ground into a truce, at least temporary, but capable of making the two countries put forward a new independent and autonomous Libyan project, right at the beginning of the Berlin Conference, planned and then held as from January 19 of that year onwards.
The results are now well known.
Just free words and unfiltered thoughts, but we had already talked about it at the time.Later a clear and inevitable stalemate between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica was reached, and it would not even be difficult to imagine why, given the typically Western idea – that currently everyone must necessarily follow, without even wondering why – of the Perpetual Peace projects that would have made even Kant, a careful reader of Machiavelli, smile.
France and Great Britain broke Gaddafi’s treasure box to avoid the Colonel’s often “salvific”financial support for Italy, precisely in the phase in which the Euro was being designed as a model of “austerity”, i.e. a stable stop to Italy’s development in favour of others.
ENI was obviously the primary object of desire and the Maghreb region’s closure to the presence of a non-homogeneous partner, such as Italy, not in line with the British and French oil interests did the rest.
In 2011, at the time of the great financial spread in Italy, Great Britain punished the Colonel who, upon direct choice of the Italian Intelligence Services, staged the coup against King Idriss, a British-made King as no one ever before, while the Cyrenaica King who boasted of “never having visited Tripoli” was “undergoing hydrotherapy treatments” in Turkey.
Gaddafi’s was punished because he sent the Brits away, also successfully seizing their bank accounts, and immediately opened the way to the Italians of ENI.
The ENI team had played some role in the coup staged by the pro-Nasserian “free officers” supported by the Italian Intelligence Service SID.
Later they warned, twice, of British targeted insurgencies, attacks and attempted assassinations against the “Colonel”.
A third time Gaddafi was put on alert by the Italian Intelligence Services in relation to a U.S. attack against the Colonel’s usual tent inside his base of residence.
There was enough to be severely punished. In the intelligence world nothing is forgotten, and the day of reckoning comes sooner or later.
France, however, still wants ENI or in any case a hegemonic Libyan areafor its reference oil company, Total.
Since early this year, however, Haftar has been controlling almost all the oil wells, such as Sarara and Al Fil, as well as the entire Sirte area and the coastal terminals to transport this oil.
The oil issue by which Haftar sets great store started in 2016, when the U.N. Security Council extended a motion enabling only the Tripoli government to manage exports through NOC, the Libyan State-owned oil company.
As we will see later on, this is the real and strong link between France and Khalifa Haftar’s LNA.
As already said, no result was reached at the Berlin Conference, but a factor materialized that was to clarify the future strategies of the two Libyan partners. Al-Sarraj’s GNA was then strongly and explicitly supported by Turkey, which wanted to play a role of Mediterranean – and later global – protection and expansion of the Muslim Brotherhood networks – hence above all of the Tripoli government – while Russia certified its lateral role, but always well connected with Haftar, for indirect oil interests and, above all, for reaching the strategic goal of a military base on Cyrenaica’s coast, a real game changer in the relations between the Russian Federation and NATO.
Both al-Serraj and Haftar, however, share only one assessment: the structural inefficiency of the U.N. mandate for the region and the irrelevant role played by Ghassan Salamè as U.N. Envoy.
Nevertheless, one of the current factors underlying the radicalization of the conflict between Tripoli and Cyrenaica lies also in the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Haftar heavily bombed Tripoli, hoping to make military use of the efforts that, however, al-Sarraj is making to curb the contagion.
The civilian population has thus become a primary war target.
As many as 2.4 million people were left without drinking water in Tripoli because, on April 10 last, Haftar’ Sherif Brigade cut off water supplies.
The Turkish support, with drones and advanced weapons, is still very important for the GNA in Tripoli.
The first target of Tripoli’s forces was the air base of Al Watiya, the area enabling to hit the capital of al-Sarraj’s government with the drones supplied by Saudi Arabia.
The Benghazi LNA militias responded with an offensive along the coast, which enabled Haftar’s GNA to secure the city of Zuwara until the conquest of Ras Jedir, a position on the border with Tunisia.
To the east of the coast, the two Libyan governments are still fighting for taking control of Abugrein, from which supplies leave for Misrata, which is the real military cover both for al-Sarraj’s government and for the city of Tripoli.
The third bone of contention in the current clash is the city of Sirte.
Cleared from the Islamic State, above all by the Misrata forces, linked to the GNA, Sirte is currently in Haftar’s hands after a jihadist Salafist unit defected to the Benghazi LNA.
Al-Sarraj arrived also at Sabratha and Sormanto control the line from the Tunisian border to Misrata, i.e. the key to Tripoli.
Hence currently the battle is mainly in the area of Tarhouna, Haftar’s most important base towards Tripolitania. Tarhouna is controlled by the 7th Brigade, an elite brigade of the Benghazi LNA led by the Al Khani brothers.
It is said, however, that Tripoli’s forces – strongly supported by the Turkish militias – are about to enter that city, which is crucial to hit and control coastal Tripolitania.
The Turkish drones are essential to provide cover and information to the GNA forces towards Tarhouna that, if lost by Haftar, would no longer allow the supply chain from Benghazi to West Tripoli, and would therefore permanently block Khalifa Haftar’s LNA at the borders of Tripolitania.
After conquering Tarhouna, Tripoli’s GNA is expected to head for Al Jufra, the key city for the cross-control of Fezzan, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.
As everybody knows, the Libyan war is a proxy war, which only the Westerners’ strategic carelessness does not allow to solve in a rational way.
This rational way would finally be to determine the birth of a Libyan Federal State, with areas controlled by local players in stable coordination with their international contacts and counterparts.
By now the possibility of a new unitary State in Libya, like Gaddafi’s, is increasingly remote.
We all know it is a bad thing, but now the “Arab Spring” disaster has taken place also in Libya, and above all against Italy, and it is no use crying over spilt milk.
Milk that we, too, spilt, obtorto collo and probably, without being fully aware of what the loss of Libya meant for Italy.
It should be recalled that al-Sarraj still has the U.N. support, as well as that of Great Britain, responsible for the regime change against Colonel Gaddafi, immediately after France. He also has the less decisive Italian support, as well as the support of Tripoli’s real backers, namely Qatar and Turkey.
But why does Turkey support al-Sarraj?
Firstly, because the government in Tripoli is supported by the United Nations, i.e. an international legal space that is vital to protect Turkey in its operations in Central Asia and the Mediterranean.
Secondly because this loyalty to the United Nations envisages a legalistic role for Turkey, like “we side with the lawful and legitimate State, while others support an illegal warlord”.
Then there is a much more substantial issue, i.e. the agreement between Turkey and Libya on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the two countries, which enables Turkey to balance its weight between the East and the West of the Mediterranean. Finally,Turkey does not want another refugee crisis, even in the Maghreb region, which could spill over onto its shores, considering that Turkey is already the Mediterranean-Asian country with the highest concentration of refugees.
With the future control of its oil and gas exploration EEZ off the coast of Tripoli, Turkey is building its absolute role as the sole mediator between the Middle East oil and gas and its European and Western consumers.
This Turkish strategy is directly against Greek and above all Italian interests, but this is probably not even known to the Italian government, which now believes that foreign policy is always a version of Lenin’s “gala dinner”.
On Haftar’s side, albeit in various degrees, there are still the following countries: France, which is still the axis of LNA’s intelligence; clearly the Russian Federation, as we have already seen; Egypt, which does not want in any way an “infection” and a contagion of the Muslim Brotherhood from al-Sarraj’s Libya through Tunisia, which is now also a Turkish platform, up to its borders, given that it was Al Sisi who staged a coup against the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt.
Again on the side of Haftar, there is Saudi Arabia, the rich supplier of capital and weapons, and finally the Emirates.
It is good to note that on one Libyan side there is Qatar, while the Emirates are on the other side.
Qatar is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, while the other Emirates extract oil, and the two markets are different and often opposed.
The core of the issue is that France supports Haftar because it believes that he is the only credible military force to control the passage of soldiers and weapons into the Sahel, where since 2014 France has been maintaining its Operation Barkhane.
Obviously the fact that a man linked to France holds most of the Libyan oil fields enables it to take the lion’s share in Total, especially against ENI interests.
But Russia, too, has significant oil interests, with Tatneft and Gazprom operating in Libya since Gaddafi’s time.
Russia, however, also intervened directly in favour of the Chad troops operating in the Sahel that are clearly opposing those of Haftar’s GNA that Russia supports in Libya.
Hence, considering that the possible lines of connection between Benghazi and the area of clashes with Tripoli’s GNA are now in the hands of the Turkish militiamen and of some other GNA’s “militias”, in this phase the only rational choice for Haftar and his points of reference could be that of creating a large political-media operation in view of achieving – with the maximum political and military clout – an international negotiation ensuring a decisive role to the LNA in the future partition of Libya and, above all, a further strong and credible role in the sharing out of oil revenues.
But what does Haftar really want? First and foremost, the General of Cyrenaica wants to maintain the unity of Libya which, despite many “federalist” and non-historical speeches by Western analysts, is a widespread feeling among the population.
Furthermore, the Algerian and Egyptian support to the LNA is still decisive, but it is also essential for the two States.
Without Haftar’s backing, the feeble balance between the “sword jihad”, Islamic radicalism – not yet violent – traditional secularism, border and internal security, in Algeria and Egypt, would be completely undermined.
A role that neither al-Sarraj nor the protectors of Tripolitania can take up on their own or credibly guarantee in Algeria and Egypt.
Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, apart from Qatar, do not even want to hear about the Muslim Brotherhood, that is decisive in al-Sarraj’s government, but strongly present also in Benghazi, for old reasons of internal stability, but they do not want, above all, the oil and political crisis of the second largest oil producer in Africa.
The mediation between Russia and Haftar is still in the hands of the Algerian Intelligence Services. The Russian arms pass through Algiers and are then assigned to Haftar.
Moreover, Russia has no interest in letting Haftar alone definitively win since it does not entirely trust him. It supports Benghazi’s LNA to have a preferential accessto the Libyan oil resources, as well as for the already mentioned future possibility of building a large base in the Mediterranean.
Russia also wants a real and definitive negotiation between Benghazi and Tripoli, but largely managed by Russia alone, above all pending the great post-war contracts (such as the Benghazi-Sirte railway, which is worth 2 billion US dollars). Russia’s interests in Libya, however, are mainly focused on a rapid de-escalation of the conflict – an operation directly connected to the strategic agreement between Turkey and Russia, which is of primary importance for Syria and Turkish Stream compared to the other peripheral scenarios. These scenarios also include the Libyan ones in which Russia has entered only because the Western naivety has enabled it to do so. Certainly, Bashar el Assad backs Haftar also materially, while strange rumours are rife of non-occasional relations between Iran and Cyrenaica’s LNA.
The best idea would be, therefore, that of “sanitizing” the Libyan issue, putting the new players outside the European area out of play, as well as allowing an agreement between the EU, the United States and Russia to end the war operations in Libya and creating Zones of Regional Interest inside the old Gaddafi’s area, thus turning the war economy of the countless gangs -that is self-sustaining and allows the arrival of all the external players who want to do so – into the economy of reconstruction, possibly managed by the same gangs that are currently fighting one another.
As said above, it is federal plan but within a national Libyan framework, establishing the traditional identity of the Libyan people and allowing the country’s transition from a war economy to the great reconstruction.
Moreover, on January 20 last, Italy and Great Britain submitted a joint declaration condemning the closure of the oil wells in south-east Libya, ordered by Khalifa Haftar himself.
France obviously blocked it within the EU. There was also a basic U.S. consensus on this declaration, which came after an explicit and direct request from the Tripoli government.
The underlying idea was to condemn the fact that “NOC (the Libyan State-owned company) was forced to suspend operations in critical installations throughout Libya” and hence urge the immediate reopening of all facilities.
France, however, asked that the two countries present with their diplomacy in Libya, namely Cyprus and Greece, joined the operation. This means that while Turkey takes Tripoli and a minimal part of the Eastern Mediterranean area, France acquires two reference countries in the region, namely Greece and Cyprus.
And probably also the old Lebanon, now undergoing a financial crisis and sufficiently far away from Saudi Arabia.
On the other side, the Turkish jihadist and pro-Turkish militiamen gathered in Idlib, Syria, by the Turkish MIT, are already fighting for Tripoli, with 2,000 dollars a month on average, as well as 50,000U.S. dollars going to families in case of death and 35,000dollars in case of severe disability.
Turkey has also announced the sending of a ship for oil prospections off the Somali coast. The Libyan circle widens and this creates ongoing and uncontrollable instability.
Troubles for the Emirates or nuisance operations for the United States and China off Aden.
Back to Strategic Hedging and Mediation in Qatar Foreign Policy after the Gulf Reconciliation
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt ended the land, air and sea blockade on Qatar last January. While the way how the crisis ended revealed the control of the Saudi and Emirati decision-makers on the evolution of the issue, the process of isolation by its GCC neighbors reconstructed Qatar foreign policy within a loss of trust mode and directed the Qatari decision-makers to question the country’s hedging strategy in the region. Following the reconciliation in January 2021, Qatar seems to practice its mediation policy again at the regional conflicts beside bringing back to the hedging strategy towards Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The blockade, which lasted three years and half, since the June 2017 increased the level of distrust of the Qatari decision-makers to the regional states, and to realize the significance of strengthening Qatar’s regional security standing and international status. While economic wealth helped the country to utilize the outcomes of the blockade for political purposes, it pushed the country to establish, or strengthen, relations with alternative allies and economic partners, particularly Iran and Turkey.
Strategic hedging, as a concept developed after the Cold War period in contrast to the bandwagoning, balancing or buck-passing, has been the major foreign policy tool of Qatar as a small state aware of its security needs. It illustrated the Qatar’s aim of finding a middle ground while insuring the potential security risks of the regional actors to its national security. By hedging the risky adversaries,namely Saudi Arabia and Iran, in the region, Qatar avoided a security dilemma and minimized the risks of being threatened.The Qatar foreign policy discourse revealed not only cooperative elements but also the confrontational ones which gradually paved the way forSaudi Arabia and the allies to build a rationale to imply blockade on the country in June 2017.
Prior to the 2017 crisis, hedging strategy helped Qatar to compensate its smallness and offset the potential security threats from Iran. Qatar had signed a security cooperation agreement with Iran in December 2010 including the exchange of specialized and technical committees, expand cooperation in training and naval exercises, as well as conducting joint campaigns against terrorism and insecurity in the region. Beside cooperating with Iran at the security and economy fields, Qatar avoided to challenge Saudi Arabia and shared the common regional security worries of the GCC towards Iran. It aimed at balancing its relations between these two regional powers and at the same time remaining neutral as much as it can by employing a discourse of mediation as a foreign policy tool.
While simultaneously positioning itself alongside the GCC, Qatar decision-makers gave credits to keeping ties with Iran. Qatar allowed Turkey to open a Turkish military base in its territory even before the crisis. While already securing its national security through a US military air base, Qatar’s decision for opening a Turkish military base was highly criticized by its GCC neighbors and its removal became one of the demands of Saudi Arabia and the allies to end the blockade. Qatar’s decision to boost domestic defense capabilities was understandable to enhance its security during the crisis. Resuming its dialogue with Iran helped Qatar to maintain the peaceful development of the natural-gas fields of Qatar shared with Iran. Moreover, getting militarily, economically and politically close to Turkey allowed the country to diversify its military dependency from the US and the Europe. At the domestic sphere, the economic wealth helped Qatar to survive and keep the Qataris more attached to the regional desires of the country, during the crisis, all of which worked for breaking free from the Saudi influence on the foreign policy decisions of Qatar.
The GCC crisis was an opportunity for Iran to present itself as an alternative ally to Qatar than the GCC members which was observed in the enhancement of the Iranian export to the country as well as Iran’s decision to allow the Qatar airways to operate by Iranian airspace. In 2017, the Iranian exports to Qatar was $250 million,$225.25 million in 2018, and $214.17 million in 2019, according to the United Nations database. China also upgraded its security partnership including selling military technical exports, major importer of LNG of Qatar.
As a result ofregionally being isolated, Qatar had a break from hedging strategy in the region while callingSaudi Arabia and the allies for a diplomatic dialogue to solve their problems. The crisis raised the sense of respect to state sovereignty at Qatar foreign policy, and eventually increased the loss of trust at the perception of the Qatari decision-makers towards the GCC members. Ironically, the chronicsecurity threat perception of Qatar towards Iran was replaced with the distrust to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates at security realm.
The crisis enabled Qatar to gainmore security and influence in the region than before as a small state. As the regional conjuncture does not promise to go back to the conditions in pre-Gulf period giventhe more multifacedregional threats, Qatar became aware of the fact that it cannot rely on the GCC or the US alone military and economically. Hence, it announced the resume of its dialogues and cooperation with Iran which signaled the continuity of the hedging strategy of the Qatar foreign policy. Despite this strategy can be considered as part of escaping the possibility of new threats from Iran,it works for undermining the regional power of both Saudi Arabia and Iran through economic, diplomatic and institutional instruments.
In post-reconciliation period, it seems that Qatar manages to gain a high degree of freedom of sovereign action within the GCC. This helps Qatar to maintain its strategic interests and decide with whom to cooperate at the times of crisis or peace. Qatar is more aware of the impact of the structural features of power in domestic politics and regional security, hence pays importance to build counter alliances towards its neighbors at the same time cooperating with them, and without challenging them rhetorically or materially. The Gulf reconciliation did not weaken the Iran’s potential ally status to Qatar, in contrary, Qatar announced that it will keep Iran in the game and, moreover, willing to mediate with Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Qatar is not anymore looking for minimizing threats to its stability and survive in the multipolar dynamics of the region. The decision-makersarenow motivated to pursue the Qatar’s own strategic interests, and mediate Saudi Arabi and Iran, Iran and the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Qatarwould to like to achieve the rewards of its bilateral military and economic establishments during the blockade over the changing attitude of the Gulf neighbors towards its rights as a sovereign state beside strengthening its regional status and international standing. As the al-Ula GCC summit in January was far from directly addressing the major roots of the Gulf crisis, it is exposed to give birthto the new conflicts at the foreign policy and regional security perception of the states at different shapes, and pave the way for the Qatari decision-makers to present the country as a mediator of the region again.
A little acknowledged clause may be main obstacle to revival of Iran nuclear accord
A little acknowledged provision of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program explains jockeying by the United States and the Islamic republic over the modalities of a US return to the deal from which President Donald J. Trump withdrew.
The provision’s magic date is 2023, when the Biden administration if it returns to the agreement, would have to seek Congressional approval for the lifting or modification of all US nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.
Both the administration and Iran recognize that Congressional approval is likely to be a tall order, if not impossible, given bi-partisan US distrust, animosity, and suspicion of the Islamic republic.
As a result, the United States and Iran have different objectives in negotiating a US return to the accord.
The Biden administration is attempting to engineer a process that would allow it to sidestep the 2023 hurdle as well as ensure a negotiation that would update the six-year-old deal, limit Iran’s controversial ballistic missiles program and halt Iranian support for non-state actors in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
A pro-longed negotiation would allow President Joe Biden to focus Congress on his domestic legislative agenda without Iran being a disruptive detraction.
Mr. Biden “needs something to get beyond 2023. So, he wants a process that would take a number of steps that could take…a number of years to accomplish. During that time, the United States could ease some sanctions… These small things along the way could happen in a process but the key is going to be to have a process that allows the Biden administration to draw this out for some time,” said former State Department and National Security Council official Hillary Mann Leverett.
An extended process would, moreover, make it easier for Mr. Biden to convince America’s sceptical Middle Eastern partners – Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – that a return to the deal is the right thing to do.
Mr. Biden sought to reassure its partners that, unlike Mr. Trump, he would stand by the US commitment to their defence with this week’s missile attack on an Iranian-backed Shiite militia base in Syria. The strike was in response to allegedly Iranian-backed militia attacks on US targets in Iraq as well as the firing of projectiles against Saudi Arabia reportedly from Iraqi territory.
The US attack also served notice to Iran that it was dealing with a new administration that is more committed to its international commitments and multilateralism as well as a revival of the nuclear agreement but not at any price.
The administration has reinforced its message by asking other countries to support a formal censure of Iran over its accelerating nuclear activities at next week’s meeting in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors.
The United States wants the IAEA to take Iran to task for stepping up production of nuclear fuel in violation of the nuclear accord and stalling the agency’s inquiries into the presence of uranium particles at undeclared sites.
While risking a perilous military tit-for-tat with Iran, the US moves are likely to reinforce Iranian domestic and economic pressures, in part in anticipation of the 2023 milestone, to seek an immediate and unconditional US return to the accord and lifting of sanctions.
Pressure on the Iranian government to secure immediate tangible results is compounded by a public that is clamouring for economic and public health relief and largely blames government mismanagement and corruption rather than harsh US sanctions for the country’s economic misery and inability to get the pandemic under control.
The sanctions were imposed after Mr. Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018.
The pressure is further bolstered by the fact that recent public opinion polls show that the public, like the government, has little faith in the United States living up to its commitments under a potentially revived nuclear deal.
The results suggest that neither the government nor the Iranian public would have confidence in a process that produces only a partial lifting of sanctions. They also indicated a drop of support for the deal from more than 75 per cent in 2015 to about 50 per cent today.
Two-thirds of those polled opposed negotiating restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as its support for regional proxies even if it would lead to a lifting of all sanctions.
Public opinion makes an Iranian agreement to negotiate non-nuclear issues in the absence of a broader effort to restructure the Middle East’s security architecture that would introduce arms controls for all as well as some kind of non-aggression agreement and conflict management mechanism a long shot at best.
Among Middle Eastern opponents of the nuclear agreement, Israel is the country that has come out swinging.
The country’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, last month rejected a return to the deal and signalled that Israel would keep its military options on the table. Mr. Kochavi said he had ordered his armed forces to “to prepare a number of operational plans, in addition to those already in place.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, suggested a couple of weeks later that his country may not engage with the Biden administration regarding Iran if it returns to the nuclear agreement.
“We will not be able to be part of such a process if the new administration returns to that deal,” Mr. Erdan said.
By taking the heat, Israel’s posturing shields the Gulf states who have demanded to be part of any negotiation from exposing themselves to further US criticism by expressing explicit rejection of Mr. Biden’s policy.
To manage likely differences with Israel, the Biden administration has reportedly agreed to reconvene a strategic US-Israeli working group on Iran created in 2009 during the presidency of Barak Obama. Chaired by the two countries’ national security advisors, the secret group is expected to meet virtually in the next days.
It was not immediately clear whether the Biden administration was initiating similar consultations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
In a confusing twist, Israel has attracted attention to its own officially unacknowledged nuclear weapons capacity by embarking on major construction at its Dimona reactor that was captured by satellite photos obtained by the Associated Press.
Some analysts suggested that Israel’s hard line rejection of the Biden administration’s approach may be designed to distract attention from upgrades and alterations it may be undertaking at the Dimona facility.
“If you’re Israel and you are going to have to undertake a major construction project at Dimona that will draw attention, that’s probably the time that you would scream the most about the Iranians,” said non-proliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis.
Will the New Interim Government Lead Libya Out Of A Long-Standing Crisis?
Last week, February 17, Libyans celebrated the 10th anniversary of the revolution that ousted the long time leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The decade that followed the violent change of power has not brought Libya any closer to the desired outcome. Instead, the country plunged into endless wars and economic turmoil, the consequences of which did not cease to plague Libya until recently.
In June 2020, after the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the forces loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) de facto established a ceasefire, the United Nations intensified its peacekeeping efforts to resume the political process. Jump started by Stephanie Williams, interim head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum paved the way for a step-by-step solution to the impasse in which Libya has found itself after almost a year and a half of non-stop hostilities. From the first meeting in Tunisia in early November of 2020 up to the last one held in Geneva this February, 75 forum members representing the Libyan society in its entirety have been working to determine the fate of the war-weary nation.
Finally, to the great surprise of many foreign observers familiar with the Libyan agenda, the forum participants managed to agree with little effort on the lists of potential candidates for positions in a transitional government, which is supposed to replace both rival administrations in Tripoli and Al-Bayda. By doing this, the representatives actually accomplished two main tasks: filling in the vacuum of legitimacy of the GNA conditioned by the expiration of the Skhirat agreement, as well as ending the vicious struggle for power, putting the implementation of reform under international supervision.
Its worth noting that the winning list of candidates comprised of the chairman of the Presidential Council (PC), his two deputies, and prime minister, appeared to be starkly different from the expectations of many. The vote gave victory to politicians with little fame not only among foreign pundits, but even Libyans themselves. Muhammad Younis Al-Manfi, a former diplomat, became the head of the PC, while Abdullah Al-Lafi and Musa Al-Quni took over as his deputies. In turn, Abdelhamid Al-Dabaiba, a prominent Libyan businessman hailing from an influential family of the city of Misurata, was appointed as prime minister. Al-Dabaiba is supposed to oversee the appointment of ministers and the formation of the so-called government of national unity, which will lead Libya to the national elections scheduled for December 24.
Holding general elections is the primary mission of the new government, along with the reform of the armed forces, which mainly implies their unification, as well as the disarmament and elimination of illegal armed groups. In order to fulfill this ambitious task, something their predecessors failed to do since 2015, the current leaders of the interim government should make every effort, keeping in mind that any manifestation of bias or flirtation with foreign powers at the expense of the aspirations of the nation can annihilate all achieved progress and spark the conflict anew.
These considerations must at all times remain at the top of the agenda of the transitional authorities, since many influential domestic players appear to be not fully satisfied with the current distribution of power and the appointment of undesirable persons to senior positions. Among these undesirables is a native of Misurata Abdelhamid Al-Dabaiba. After the 2011 revolution, the city exploited the seaport and ready access to the state budget to achieve a virtual independence, building an army of numerous and well-equipped militias. It is generally accepted that it was the Misurati groups that made a deciding contribution to lifting the blockade on Tripoli in 2020 and forcing Khalifa Haftar to withdraw his troops from western Libya. The election of Al-Dabaiba was only logical, as it represents an outcome of the conflict that ended in favor of a coalition where Misurata played a key role.
There is another circumstance that could potentially cause a démarche of the elites in eastern Libya, who still remember the bitterness of defeat. The Al-Dabaiba family has close ties with the Turkish leadership and personally President Erdogan. In particular, Ali Al-Dabaiba, cousin of the new prime minister Abdulhamid Al-Dabaiba and once mayor of the city of Misurata (1989-2011), who headed the Organisation for Development of Administrative Centers (ODAC) and granted Turkish companies 19 billion dollars in Libyan construction contracts during his tenure. The issue of Turkeys involvement still constitutes a main obstacle for normalizing relations between parties to the conflict. Ankara actively supported the GNA in the fight against the LNA, sending thousands of mercenaries, military equipment and advisers to Libya. The LNA repeatedly listed the withdrawal of the Turkish forces as a condition for national reconciliation. In addition, Ali Al-Dabaiba has almost succeeded in subversion of the work of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunisia, after he attempted to bribe its participants to make them vote for his cousin. This incident provoked uproar from the Libyan public, forcing the UN to open an investigation into the forum members.
In this regard, Prime Minister Abdelhamid Al-Dabaiba along other officials of the newly formed government will face a difficult challenge of meeting the expectations of the Libyan people and the international community. Although the recent reforms of governmental organs did not actually change the balance of power, keeping those loyal to the established allies of the GNA within the leadership structure, they sidelined the existing differences between the warring parties, allowing to prolong the fragile truce and relaunch the political process.
In the nearest future Libya’s current leaders should make it their priority to minimize the dictate of Turkey or the West, and, if possible, prevent their further interference, as well as maintain the transparency of the interim government before the general elections. Even the slightest retreat from neutrality and independence, two principles the new head of Presidency Council Mohammed Al-Manfi appear to be keen on upholding, may entail catastrophic consequences and lead to an indefinite delay in settling the Libyan conflict.
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