It seemed that the Mediterranean region had been forgotten during the Cold War, where instead the Limes from Szczecin to Trieste was central – and it was a technical mistake – two cities that Churchill mentioned in his famous speech on the “Iron Curtain” of March 5, 1946 in Fulton.
In all likelihood, however, it was George Orwell that in 1945coined the specific expression “Cold War”, in an essay entitled You and the Atom Bomb.
Also the presence of the Soviet naval Eskadra – slightly belated compared to the initial U.S. Fifth Fleet – was mainly linked to the protection of peripheral maritime areas from Syria to Eastern Mediterranean and the Dodecanese, not to mention the Soviet pressure on Turkey, a powerful NATO country on the USSR border.
The Cold War crisis and the “fall of the Berlin Wall”, however, have brought the Mediterranean back to the core of many countries’ strategic doctrines.
The Mediterranean is the natural end of the Chinese project of the New Silk Road.It is also the point of contact between Europe and the Arab world, i.e. with all the souls of the Arab world, which is the only area – along with China – that has collectively expanded its rayonnement after the end of the Cold War. The Mediterranean region is also the axis of the new economic and strategic Israeli expansion. Finally, it should also be recalled that it is the unavoidable channel of connection with Africa, which will be at the core of the already easily predictable geoeconomy of the near future.
We should also note the new U.S. posture towards the Pacific to encircle China and hence the relative decrease in the U.S. pressure on the Mediterranean region.
With its childish, but irrelevant Libyan policy, Italy has already been removed from the list of old and new powers that are currently redesigning the Mediterranean region.
Nowadays, those who give the cards in the Mediterranean are Turkey, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, as well as obviously the Russian Federation and China. When the cats are away, the mice will play.
Even the oil and gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean region change many of the current economic and political games and trigger new alliances.
Greece, for example, has officially and recently announced it cannot rule out the use of force in a possible conflict with Turkey. Just think that they are two NATO countries
As shown in a note drawn up jointly by Turkey and the Libyan GNA, what is at stake here are the 24 new blocks for oil and gas exploration existing in a region that would deprive Greece of some Dodecanese areas and would almost completely close the sea of Athens, thus making it a strategic object in Turkey’s hands.
Furthermore, the agreement between Turkey and Libya, as well as the sending of Idlib’s jihadists and other units of the Turkish Armed Forces, started on January 2, 2020, when the Turkish Parliamentary Assembly approved the sending of troops to support al-Sarraj’s government, connected to Turkey by a wide network of relations including those made available to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Certainly, the GNA’s Operation “Volcano of Rage” is correlated to a strong rearmament, on the part of Russia and Syria, of Khalifa Haftar’s LNA, which, for the time being, must limit the damage and avoid the spreading of al-Sarraj’s Libyan Turks.
As we will see later on, the withdrawal of Haftar’s air forces from al-Watiya was already being negotiated between the two sides. According to the Libyan broadcaster Libya24,however, there is already a pact between Erdogan and Putin to guarantee only to Turkey the Al-Watiya base, which would become – also with Russia’s agreement – a base shared by Turkey and the U.S. AFRICOM. In exchange for it, Russia would obtain the Qartabiyah air base near Sirte, as well as a naval base, again in Sirte, to give Russia the only thing it really wants to obtain from its Libyan adventure, i.e. a base in the central Mediterranean region.
It is even said that Erdogan harshly ordered Haftar – through a “Russian mediator” – to cease fighting and withdraw from his previous positions south of Tripoli.
In view of having a base shared with al-Sarraj’s Navy, the ideal base for Turkey is certainly Abu Sitta. Nothing to do with the usual complaining by Italy, always waiting for an agreement that will never seriously come with Tripoli’s Navy.
In Abu Sitta, in fact, an Italian military ship is at anchor, which coordinates – with 70 soldiers – the work of the Libyan Coast Guard to fight against illegal migration.
Who will be heard more in Tripoli, the Italian government or Turkey’s new neo-Ottoman imperialism? The answer is very easy.
The retreat of Haftar’s LNA seems justified above all by the need to protect the units most exposed to the Turkish Bayrackar TB2 drones. It is likely, however, that the LNA of Cyrenaica wants to disengage from direct contact with the enemy and then reorganize south of Tarhouna, where many Russian, Emirates and Jordanian advisors operate.
In recent months, Turkey has brought 9,600 mercenaries to Libya and other 3,300 ones are training in Syrian camps.
The GNA’s army itself, which had been sidelined by the advance of Khalifa Haftar’s LNA forces, also reconquered Bani Walid, south-east of Tripoli, where the Tripoline militias entered the city without firing a shot, thanks to the local authorities’ cooperation.
The military actions on the ground followed one another in rapid succession: on May 18, the GNA also conquered the above stated military base of Al Watiya, the former inevitable strength of Haftar’s LNA.
Currently a proxy war is being fought in Libya: Turkey and Qatar against Egypt, UAEs and Saudi Arabia, who want everything but Turkish hegemony over Libya. And vice versa.
The foolish pride of the “great” Europeans has allowed the permanent and stable crisis of the Libyan territory, after a hammering and manipulative series of trivial defamation operations against Gaddafi and his greatest ally, namely Italy. Do you believe that all the rhetoric – often even well-founded – against some of Italy’s Heads of government was unbiased and gratuitous, whatever mistakes they may have made?
There is also the hypothesis, which is now even more than a hypothesis, that Turkey would like to build military infrastructure together with NATO in Southern Libya, which would be the real game changer of the current balance of forces on the territory.
Certainly Italy, too, will participate in this operation, within the framework of the Atlantic Alliance, but only to play second fiddle compared to Turkey, which has no interest in having Italy as a partner, neither economically nor militarily, and certainly not in Libya.
Incidentally, the failed meeting of Prime Minister Conte with Haftar and al-Sarraj – later held only with the LNA General – at the beginning of January 2020, was a masterpiece of ineptitude, which definitively marginalized our diplomacy and deprived Italy of a real influence ability, under the banner of the “equivalence” between the two fronts.
Probably Conte only wanted to take credit for the truce actually arranged by Russia and Turkey.
The truce designed by Putin and Erdogan both in Idlib and, later, in Libya, conceals a strategic plan of considerable importance: the splitting up of Syria and then of Libya into regular and clear zones of influence, excluding the United States and its European and Western allies that will have no room in Syria nor even less in Libya.
Putin will obviously use Haftar’s LNA until it suits him. Later he will probably leave it to its fate and possibly deal with other new powerful regional African players: Algeria, which is moving in a strongly anti-Turkish direction; Sudan, where Turkey already has a military base on the island of Sawakin; Morocco, where one of the main local parties, the Justice and Development Party, is strongly connected to Erdogan and his AKP.
Libya, however, must be considered within the framework of a set of political, economic and military relations that are now very broad and concern the interconnection between Libya and Africa, including sub-Saharan Africa.
Haftar’s forces, however, had already left Bani Walid, again without firing a shot. The way mines were laid by Haftar’s LNA makes us think that the agreement had been reached well before military moves.
Furthermore, the GNA and Turkey also reconquered the city of Tarhouna, 95 kilometers from Tripoli, which had been one of the poles of Haftar’s relentless and overwhelming advance.
ObviouslyTripoli’s GNA now wants to reconquer the whole Sirte region, but above all the city bearing the same name, the real junction for controlling communications and trade between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.
Meanwhile, the governments of Tripoli and Tobruk have already agreed to resume their negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations, especially to make the best use of IRINI, the naval mission led by Admiral Fabio Agostini, aimed at controlling the passage of weapons in the Mediterranean to the Libyan coast.
An activity that will not be very successful, considering that loads of M60 tanks coming from Turkish arsenals have already arrived by sea to Misrata. The mission is being prepared by land from Tripoli to Sirte.
The closure of Haftar’s room for manoeuvre towards the East and the coast up to Tunis is another card now played only by Turkey.
Hence what does Turkey want from al-Sarraj’s Libya? First and foremost a primary economic and strategic role in the future Libyan reconstruction. Secondly the autonomous drilling of the above stated oil maritime areas in the Eastern Mediterranean region, disputed between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.
The GNA has long authorized the Turkish Petroleum Company to carry out exploration in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Turkey’s main point of reference is Qatar.
For example, the Vice-Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces is also the President of the Qatari Military Academy, but the Turkish Security Forces and Intelligence Services play a significant role in the Emirate, by closely cooperating and, sometimes, replacing the small but efficient Qatari Forces.
The Turkish operation in Northern Syria had very strong support from the Emirate, which regarded the Turkish mission in Syria “Source of Peace” as a wide and effective attempt of the Ikhwan to expand into the Sunni area of Syria.
Also al-Sisi, however, soon entered this Libyan game. On June 6 last, he announced an Egyptian Plan called the “Cairo Initiative”, aimed at reaching a ceasefire starting from June 8.
Al-Sisi’s initiative is obviously designed to regaining control of the situation in Libya, after Khalifa Haftar’s evident defeat, in open conflict and competition with Turkey and possibly against the aims of Qatar and probably of France itself, whose Intelligence Services’Brigade Action greatly supported Haftar’s LNA and continues to do so.
Particularly against the Italian oil and strategic interests.
The idea underlying Al Sisi’ strategy, but also Russia’s, is that Libya should be pacified and rebuilt following the current political-military fault lines, without waiting for an impossible future reunification.
The young Libyans who were trained by the Italian Intelligence Services in a place of Central Italy in 2011 often repeated that, if a strong national government were not quickly achieved, the territorial, tribal and criminal gangs and faction would disrupt the Libyan political and economic system definitively and irreparably.
Moreover, the very recent Egyptian plan suggests – in agreement with al-Sarraj’s himself – the removal of all foreign mercenaries present in all factions and then the creation of a “Presidential Council” elected by all the Libyan people equally representing the three historical regions, namely Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan, under the U.N. control, and also including women, young people and old tribal leaders.
A vague, complex, cumbersome and currently impracticable project which, however, shows that Egypt wants to wait for better times to do what it has always wanted to do: to gain influence over the part of Libya bordering on Egypt and differently regulate both the migration of Egyptian workers to the Libyan oil wells, and the oil issue itself, both with al-Sarraj and with those who will reconquer Cyrenaica if Haftar failed again.
Italy does not even give a sign. Yet the oil, migration, economic and even traditional interests should make any Italian government think that Italy, too, should take part – and possibly play a great role – in the project for splitting up Libya.
It should pursue again the Italian national interest and stop using its Armed Forces as a sort of Red Cross or Civil Protection, as well as avoid believing, or pretending to believe blindly and optimistically in the “magnificent and progressive fortunes” of international Conferences. It should also think that Libya is not only the memory of a pre-Fascist colonial past, but the axis of our inevitable and huge interests in the Maghreb region and throughout Africa.
How many Socialist Democrats volunteered in Libya in the 1910s, on the wave of Pascoli’s famous speech “The Great Proletarian nation is on the Move”!
How the Libyan issue can be solved, in one way or another, without placing it into a broader context, remains a sorrowful mystery – but now only for Italy.
For Italy, Libya is obviously its oil. ENI has seven extraction-processing areas available but, according to 2019 data, Italy receives 7 million oil tons from Tripoli (and Sirte), equivalent to 12.1% of its total energy imports.
For Italy, Libya is only the starting point and often criminal regimentation of many migrants. Here the core of the issue is the real understanding of this phenomenon.
The Libyan-Italian Memorandum of Understanding on Migration (LIMUM) was signed last February and later extended for additional three years.
The LIMUM envisages the Italian support to the Libyan authorities, which can stop the boats and ships leaving from the Libyan coast and then make migrants return to their shelters on Libyan territory.
It is legislation contrary to EU law and just one of the many attempts to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Hence what can be done? To find an agreement between all EU countries, which are now very happy to palm off all the irregular migrants from Libya to Italy, so as to create-irrespective of the real presence of al-Sarraj’s GNA that would have many fewer problems to solve – a series of civil and organized control-selection-permanence camps to stop and identify part of the sub-Saharan migration, in the necessary time cycles.
No agreements are reached with the countries of the region. They are all too happy to get rid of a share of “human overproduction” – as Konrad Lorenz called it – and they will never accept to have to keep a “dangerous crowd” who, at the most, will only be used as blackmail for Westerners who, in the end, will receive it anyway.
Hence migration control camps out of the reach of al-Sarraj’s government and the major tribes operating as intermediaries of illegal migration.
With a view to defending them, a NATO-based Control Force will be created, albeit with Rules of Engagement that do not seem to be drafted written – as has sometimes happened – by inexperienced people.
It will be necessary, however, to choose a local champion that – together with the Italian Armed Forces, now getting out of their internationalist and pacifist dream or nightmare – will make us pursue our real interests in Libya, regardless of its being one or many, which is now not so much important for Italy.
Obviously, with a view to protecting the Italianoil, we will need not only the intelligent work of ENI, which knows very well how to move on its own in those circumstances, but also a control unit involving both the Intelligence Services and Special Corps, as already provided for by Law No. 198 of December 11, 2015.
A control unit that must “do politics”, i.e. choose, pay, direct and train a fairly significant group of local militants to oppose – also with weapons – the interests of other countries, possibly even allies, operating in that system.
All the Special Forces operate in crisis theatres permanently and with offensive and intrusive operations.
Certainly also Italy has done so, albeit in areas where there was a wide network of protection and coverage by NATO and other allied countries.
Now time has come to take action on our own.
CIA’ Special Activities Division has its own Special Operation Group (SGO), which operates in underground actions in major crisis theatres, with extensive legal rules and regulations.
After all, as Tocqueville said, “America is a country of lawyers”.
The French Commandement des Operations Speciales (COS) operates permanently, and especially in Africa, together with the Brigade (or Service) Action of the Direction Générale de la Securité Extérieure (DGSE).
The SA is largely autonomous in the collection of all types of intelligence and choice of operations.
The British E Squadron operates with the Secret Intelligence Service and is made up of elements coming from the SAS and the SBS. In short, it will be necessary to pull our claws out – with both secret and overt operations – to conquer the part of Libya we need to organize and pursue our interests. Without believing too blindly in the “magnificent and progressive fortunes” that, unlike his cousin Terenzio Mamiani, Giacomo Leopardi challenged and derided.
Safar Barlek of the 21st Century: Erdogan the New Caliph
Since the American’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, it became clear that everyone is holding his breath. That is exactly what Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doing these days. Ten years have passed since his war on Syria; however, he has, so far, reached zero accomplishments towards his 2023 dreams. As a matter of fact, Erdogan is in the worst position ever. His dream of becoming the new Ottoman Caliph began to fade away.
If we want to understand what is going on in his mind, it is crucial to follow Gas and Oil pipelines: He actively participated in the war on Syria because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refused to betray his Russian and Iranian friends by allowing the Qatari gas pipelines to pass through Syria then Turkey to reach Europe. Such a step would have empowered Turkey, opened a wide door for it to enter the gas trade industry, and would become the American’s firmed grip around the Iranian and Russian necks.
He saw the opportunity getting closer as the war on Syria was announced. He imagined himself as the main player with the two strongest powers globally: the U.S. and Europe. Hence, his chance to fulfil the 1940s Turkish- American plan to occupy northern Syria, mainly Aleppo and Idlib, where he could continue all the way to al-Mussel in Iraq, during the chaos of the futile war on ISIS seemed to be reachable. By reaching his aim, Erdogan will be able to open a corridor for the Qatari gas pipelines and realize the dream of retrieving the legacy of the old Turkish Petroleum Company, which was seized to exist after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1925.
Consequently, Erdogan announced his desire to establish a 15 km deep buffer zone along the Syrian borders and inside the Syrian territory. This is in fact, an occupation declaration, which will definitely enable him to reach the Syrian oil and gas fields. He even tried to offer the Russians a compromise that he would like to share managing these fields with them after Donald Trump’s announcement of withdrawing the American troops from Syria in 2018.
It was clear since the year 2019, after attacking the Kurds in east-north Syria, that he has lost the Americans and European support in the region. Especially after inking the Russian missiles S400 deal against the American’s will. Then he supported Azerbaijan against Armenia, threatening both Iranian and Russian security.
The situation was repelled with Iran when he recited a poem on the 11th of December 2020, which could have provoked the feelings of the Azeris and incited them to secede from Iran. On the 28th of February 2021, he even accused Iran of harboring the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
Now the situation is escalating again. A few days ago, the Iranian Army’s Ground Force launched the “Fatih Khyber” maneuvers in the northwest of the country near the border with Azerbaijan, with the participation of several Armored Brigade, 11th Artillery Group, Drones group, and 433rd Military Engineering Group, with the support of airborne helicopters. A major maneuver that indicates there is an escalation between Iran and Azerbaijan, which is taking place under Turkish auspices. The escalation is an attempt to threaten Iran’s security from the north.
When Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian nuclear scientist, was assassinated at the end of last year, the American newspaper New York Times described the deed as “the most brilliant work of the Mossad”. At that time, many resources revealed that the executors of the operation passed to Iran through Azerbaijan and were situated in Turkey for a while before moving. And now Iran has great concerns because of Azerbaijan hostess of active Israeli and American intelligence members.
As Iran is going now to another stage of nuclear talks with G5+1, it is an opportunity for the American and Turkish interests to meet again, as Erdogan is pushing towards achieving a victory in the region, and the Americans are trying to create trouble to distract it. We know what the Americans want, but what matters here is what Erdogan wants.
Erdogan wants to be a bigger participant in the Azeri oil industry. He wants to push Iran into aiding him to give him more space in the Syrian lands. He wants to be given a chance to save face and be granted some kind of victory in his “War on Syria”. It is his wars that he is leading in Libya, Sudan, the Mediterranean Sea, and now in Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. Erdogan was preparing himself to become the first of the new coming rein of the new Ottoman Sultanate in 2023.
2023 is the date for two important occasions; the first is the Turkish presidential elections. And the second is the end of the Treaty of Lausanne 1923. Erdogan had high hopes that he would be able to accomplish a lot before the designated date. In involving Turkey in every trouble in the Arab country since the “Arab Spring” had begun. He has an agenda in each of them, from Syria to Libya, to the Mediterranean Sea, to where he seeks to preserve the Turkish right for expansion.
Erdogan believed in building double alliances between Russia and Iran from one side and the United States through Turkey’s presence in NATO from the other, he can manipulate everyone to achieve his goal in Syria and secure the Buffer Zone. He started a policy of Turkification in northern Syria, which is against international law in occupied regions and countries. In addition, as he is still politically maneuvering to reach this goal, he is becoming more like a bull chasing a red carpet. He is backstabbing everyone, even his allies in Nusra.
Erdogan, the paranoid, has used every possible method to rally aggregations against local governments and authorities in each country as he built his alliances. In Syria, he played on sectarian differences to rally Sunnis and, in particular, on Muslim Brotherhood groups to build alliances against the current Syrian government. He imported terrorists from al-Nusra, armed them, and ideologically manipulated terrorists from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Chinese Xinjiang, into fighting in Syria in the name of Islam against the Alawites “regime”. He represented himself as the protector of Sunnis. In order to justify bombarding the Kurds, he was playing on nationalistic feelings.
In Libya, he played on empowering the Muslim Brotherhoods against other atheist groups, as he rates them. He empowered the al-Wifaq government along with the Americans to pave the way to dividing Libya, where the dirty international game almost tore the country apart using terrorist groups financially backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, i.e. Qatar.
In Lebanon, he presented himself as the protector of the injustice Sunnis. Turkish intelligence paid around four million dollars to regroup Sunnis in Said and Tripoli. The same thing was going on with Hamas in Palestine in the name of the freedom of the Palestinians and their fight against Israel. In the Arab countries, Erdogan worked hard to be designated as the new Muslim leader and was very careful not to be perceived as a Turk but as a Muslim. And now the same game is going in Azerbaijan.
Erdogan’s interference in Azerbaijan does not fall out of the American expected Turkish role. A few days ago, a congress member praised the important role Turkey is playing within NATO. It is not a language of reconciliation; it is a language of playing on Erdogan’s ego. Therefore, it is only fair to question the Turkish role in Azerbaijan, in particular to the relation between the two mentioned countries and Israel.
Iran has been dealing with the two countries with tolerance, as neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, who is playing in this case on the nationalistic feelings of the Azeris in Iran to start trouble, in the least expression. It is clear, if the situation escalates with Azerbaijan, Iran would be walking through land mines. Therefore, it needs to be carefully leading its diplomatic negotiations. On the other hand, Iran knows, but it needs to acknowledge that as long as Turkey occupies one meter in northern Syrian, the region will never know peace and security. The first step to get the Americans out of Iraq and Syria will be to cut Erdogan’s feet in Syria, once and for all.
In leading his quest for victory, Erdogan moved the terrorist around the region. Now he is filling Azerbaijan with these mercenary terrorists from the Arab region and center of Asia, just like the Ottoman when they dragged the compulsorily recruited soldiers from their villages and houses from all over the Arab countries to fight their war in the Baltic region. A dream that needs to put an end to it. The Syrians believe that it ends with ending the Turkish occupation in Idlib. However, it is important that their friends believe that too.
*The Safar Barlek was the mobilization effected by the late Ottoman Empire during the Second Balkan War of 1913 and World War I from 1914 to 1918, which involved the forced conscription of Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, and Kurdish men to fight on its behalf.
From our partner Tehran Times
The Absence of Riyadh in the Turbulent Afghanistan
As the situation in Afghanistan becoming increasingly turbulent, the NATO allies led by the United States are fully focused on military withdrawal. As this has to be done within tight deadline, there have been some disagreements between the United States and the European Union. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, publicly accused the U.S. military in Afghanistan, which was responsible for the internal security of Kabul Airport, of deliberately obstructing the EU evacuation operations.
China and Russia on the other hand, are more cautious in expressing their positions while actively involving in the Afghanistan issue. This is especially true for Russia, which after both the Taliban and the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) led by Ahmad Massoud have pleaded Russia for mediation, Moscow has now become a major player in the issue.
Compared with these major powers, Saudi Arabia, another regional power in the Middle East, appears to be quite low-key. So far, only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia has issued a diplomatic statement on the day after the Taliban settled in Kabul, stating that it hopes the Taliban can maintain the security, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. Considering the role that Saudi Arabia has played in Afghanistan, such near silent treatment is quite intriguing.
As the Taliban were originally anti-Soviet Sunni Jihadists, they were deeply influenced by Wahhabism, and were naturally leaning towards Riyadh. During the period when the Taliban took over Afghanistan for the first time, Saudi Arabia became one of the few countries in the international community that publicly recognized the legitimacy of the Taliban regime.
Although the Taliban quickly lost its power under the impact of the anti-terror wars initiated by the George W. Bush administration, and the Saudis were pressured by Washington to criticize the Taliban on the surface, yet in reality they continuously provided financial aid to the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda organization which was in symbiotic relations with the Taliban.
However, after 2010, with the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State, the Riyadh authorities had decreased their funding for their “partners” in Afghanistan due to the increase in financial aid targets.
In June 2017, after Mohammed bin Salman became the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and took power, Saudi Arabia’s overall foreign policy began to undergo major changes. It gradually abandoned the policy of exporting its religious ideology and switched to “religious diplomacy” that focuses on economic, trade and industrial cooperation with main economies. Under such approach, Saudi Arabia’s Afghanistan policy will inevitably undergo major adjustments.
With the reformation initiated by the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia has drastically reduced its financial aid to the Taliban. In addition, Riyadh also further ordered the Taliban to minimize armed hostilities and put its main energy on the path of “peaceful nation-building”. This sudden reversal of the stance of Saudi Arabia means that Riyadh has greatly weakened the voices of the Taliban in the global scenes.
In recent years, the Taliban have disassociated with Saudi Arabia in rounds of Afghanistan peace talks. After Kabul was taken over by the Taliban on August 19, a senior Taliban official clearly stated that the Taliban does not accept Wahhabism, and Afghanistan has no place for Wahhabism. Although this statement means that Al-Qaeda’s religious claims will no longer be supported by the Taliban, it also indicates that the Taliban has reached the tipping point of breaking up with Riyadh.
Under such circumstance, for the Riyadh authorities under Mohammed bin Salman, the most appropriate action is probably wait-and-see as Afghanistan changes again.
Gulf security: It’s not all bad news
Gulf states are in a pickle.
They fear that the emerging parameters of a reconfigured US commitment to security in the Middle East threaten to upend a more-than-a-century-old pillar of regional security and leave them with no good alternatives.
The shaky pillar is the Gulf monarchies’ reliance on a powerful external ally that, in the words of Middle East scholar Roby C. Barrett, “shares the strategic, if not dynastic, interests of the Arab States.” The ally was Britain and France in the first half of the 20th century and the United States since then.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the revered founder of the United Arab Emirates, implicitly recognised Gulf states’ need for external support when he noted in a 2001 contribution to a book that the six monarchies that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) “only support the GCC when it suited them.”
Going forward question marks about the reliability of the United States may be unsettling but the emerging contours of what a future US approach could look like they are not all bad news from the perspective of the region’s autocratic regimes.
The contours coupled with the uncertainty, the Gulf states’ unwillingness to integrate their defence strategies, a realisation that neither China nor Russia would step into the United States’ shoes, and a need to attract foreign investment to diversify their energy-dependent economies, is driving efforts to dial down regional tensions and strengthen regional alliances.
Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, his UAE counterpart, are headed to Washington this week for a tripartite meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The three officials intend “to discuss accomplishments” since last year’s establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries “and other important issues,” Mr Blinken tweeted.
The Israeli foreign ministry suggested those other issues include “further opportunities to promote peace in the Middle East” as well as regional stability and security, in a guarded reference to Iran.
From the Gulf’s perspective, the good news is also that the Biden administration’s focus on China may mean that it is reconfiguring its military presence in the Middle East with the moving of some assets from the Gulf to Jordan and the withdrawal from the region of others, but is not about to pull out lock, stock and barrel.
Beyond having an interest in ensuring the free flow of trade and energy, the US’s strategic interest in a counterterrorism presence in the Gulf has increased following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The US now relies on an ’over the horizon’ approach for which the Middle East remains crucial.
Moreover, domestic US politics mitigate towards a continued, if perhaps reduced, military presence even if Americans are tired of foreign military adventures, despite the emergence of a Biden doctrine that de-emphasises military engagement. Moreover, the Washington foreign policy elite’s focus is now on Asia rather than the Middle East.
Various powerful lobbies and interest groups, including Jews, Israelis, Gulf states, Evangelists, and the oil and defence industries retain a stake in a continued US presence in the region. Their voices are likely to resonate louder in the run-up to crucial mid-term Congressional elections in 2022. A recent Pew Research survey concluded that the number of white Evangelicals had increased from 25 per cent of the US population in 2016 to 29 per cent in 2020.
Similarly, like Afghanistan, the fading hope for a revival of the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, from which former President Donald J. Trump withdrew in 2018, and the risk of a major military conflagration makes a full-fledged US military withdrawal unlikely any time soon. It also increases the incentive to continue major arms sales to Gulf countries.
That’s further good news for Gulf regimes against the backdrop of an emerging US arms sales policy that the Biden administration would like to project as emphasising respect for human rights and rule of law. However, that de facto approach is unlikely to affect big-ticket prestige items like the F-35 fighter jets promised to the UAE.
Instead, the policy will probably apply to smaller weapons such as assault rifles and surveillance equipment, that police or paramilitary forces could use against protesters. Those are not the technological edge items where the United States has a definitive competitive advantage.
The big-ticket items with proper maintenance and training would allow Gulf states to support US regional operations as the UAE and Qatar did in 2011 in Libya, and, the UAE in Somalia and Afghanistan as part of peacekeeping missions.
In other words, the Gulf states can relax. The Biden administration is not embracing what some arms trade experts define as the meaning of ending endless wars such as Afghanistan.
“Ending endless war means more than troop withdrawal. It also means ending the militarized approach to foreign policy — including the transfer of deadly weapons around the world — that has undermined human rights and that few Americans believe makes the country any safer,” the experts said in a statement in April.
There is little indication that the views expressed in the statement that stroke with thinking in the progressive wing of Mr. Biden’s Democratic Party is taking root in the policymaking corridors of Washington. As long as that doesn’t happen, Gulf states have less to worry about.
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