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The new Libyan crisis and Turkey’s presence in Tripolitania

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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.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Getting Away With Murder: The New U.S. Intelligence Report on the Khashoggi Affair

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It was October 2, 2018 when a man walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate to collect some documents he needed for his impending marriage.  He had been there earlier on September 28, and had been told to allow a few days for them to prepare the needed proof of divorce from an earlier marriage.

So there he was.  His Turkish fiancée had accompanied him and he asked her to wait outside as it would only take a minute or two.  She waited and waited and… waited.  Jamal Khashoggi never came out.

What went on inside is a matter of dispute but US intelligence prepared a report which should have been released but was illegally blocked by the Trump administration.  Mr. Trump is no doubt grateful for the help he has had over two decades from various Saudi royals in addition to the business thrown his way at his various properties.  “I love the Saudis,” says Donald Trump and he had kept the report under wraps.  It has now been released by the new Biden administration.      

All the same, grisly details of the killing including dismemberment soon emerged because in this tragic episode, with an element of farce, it was soon evident that the Turks had bugged the consulate.  There is speculation as to how the perpetrators dispersed of the corpse but they themselves have been identified.  Turkish officials also claim to know that they acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.  They arrived on a private jet and left just as abruptly.

The egregious killing led to the UN appointing a Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard.  She concluded it to be an “extra-judicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”  She added, there was “credible evidence”  implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials.  

Now the US report.  Intelligence agencies conclude Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad under the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  They add that the latter has had unitary control over Saudi security and intelligence organizations and thus it was “highly unlikely” an operation of this nature would have been possible without Prince Mohammed’s authorization.

Mr. Biden’s reaction is plain.  Although the Crown Prince is the de facto ruler with his father the King’s acquiescence, Mr. Biden has not talked to him.  He called the king and emphasized the importance placed on human rights and the rule of law in the US.

President Biden is also re-evaluating US arms sales to the Kingdom with a view to limiting them to defensive weapons — a difficult task as many can be used for both, a fighter-bomber for example.

There are also calls for sanctions against the Crown Prince directly but Biden has ruled that out.  Saudi Arabia is after all the strongest ally of the US in the region, and no president wants to jeopardize that relationship.  Moreover, the US has done the same sort of thing often enough; the last prominent assassination being that of the senior Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani,  by the Trump administration.  

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US intelligence report leaves Saudi Arabia with no good geopolitical choices

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The Biden administration’s publication of a US intelligence report that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi creates a fundamental challenge to the kingdom’s geopolitical ambitions.

The challenge lies in whether and how Saudi Arabia will seek to further diversify its alliances with other world powers in response to the report and US human rights pressure.

Saudi and United Arab Emirates options are limited by that fact that they cannot fully replace the United States as a mainstay of their defence as well as their quest for regional hegemony, even if the report revives perceptions of the US as unreliable and at odds with their policies.

As Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed contemplate their options, including strengthening relations with external players such as China and Russia, they may find that reliance on these forces could prove riskier than the pitfalls of the kingdom’s ties with the United States.

Core to Saudi as well as UAE considerations is likely to be the shaping of the ultimate balance of power between the kingdom and Iran in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia’s border with China.

US officials privately suggest that regional jockeying in an environment in which world power is being rebalanced to create a new world order was the key driver of Saudi and UAE as well as Israeli opposition from day one to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that the United States together with Europe, China, and Russia negotiated. That remains the driver of criticism of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the agreement.

“If forced to choose, Riyadh preferred an isolated Iran with a nuclear bomb to an internationally accepted Iran unarmed with the weapons of doom,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and founder of the National Iranian American Council. Mr. Parsi was summing up Saudi and Emirati attitudes based on interviews with officials involved in the negotiations at a time that Mr. Biden was vice-president.

As a result, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel appear to remain determined to either foil a return of the United States to the accord, from which Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew, or ensure that it imposes conditions on Iran that would severely undermine its claim to regional hegemony.

In the ultimate analysis, the Gulf states and Israel share US objectives that include not only restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also limiting its ballistic missiles program and ending support for non-state actors like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemen’s Houthis. The Middle Eastern states differ with the Biden administration on how to achieve those objectives and the sequencing of their pursuit.

Even so, the Gulf states are likely to realize as Saudi Arabia contemplates its next steps what Israel already knows: China and Russia’s commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia or Israel are unlikely to match that of the United States given that they view an Iran unfettered by sanctions and international isolation as strategic in ways that only Turkey rather than other Middle Eastern states can match.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE will also have to recognize that they can attempt to influence US policies with the help of Israel’s powerful Washington lobby and influential US lobbying and public relations companies in ways that they are not able to do in autocratic China or authoritarian Russia.

No doubt, China and Russia will seek to exploit opportunities created by the United States’ recalibration of its relations with Saudi Arabia with arms sales as well as increased trade and investment.

But that will not alter the two countries’ long-term view of Iran as a country, albeit problematic, with attributes that the Gulf states cannot match even if it is momentarily in economic and political disrepair.

Those attributes include Iran’s geography as a gateway at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; ethnic, cultural, and religious ties with Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of history and empire; a deep-seated identity rooted in empire; some of the world’s foremost oil and gas reserves; a large, highly educated population of 83 million that constitutes a huge domestic market; a fundamentally diversified economy; and a battle-hardened military.

Iran also shares Chinese and Russian ambitions to contain US influence even if its aspirations at times clash with those of China and Russia.

“China’s BRI will on paper finance additional transit options for the transfer of goods from ports in southern to northern Iran and beyond to Turkey, Russia, or Europe. China has a number of transit options available to it, but Iranian territory is difficult to avoid for any south-north or east-west links,” said Iran scholar Alex Vatanka referring to Beijing’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.

Compared to an unfettered Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE primarily offer geography related to some of the most strategic waterways through which much of the world’s oil and gas flows as well their positioning opposite the Horn of Africa and their energy reserves.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s position as a religious leader in the Muslim world built on its custodianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, potentially could be challenged as the kingdom competes for leadership with other Middle Eastern and Asian Muslim-majority states.

On the principle of better the enemy that you know than the devil that you don’t, Saudi leaders may find that they are, in the best of scenarios, in response to changing US policies able to rattle cages by reaching out to China and Russia in ways that they have not until now, but that at the end of the day they are deprived of good choices.

That conclusion may be reinforced by the realization that the United States has signalled by not sanctioning Prince Mohammed that it does not wish to cut its umbilical cord with the kingdom. That message was also contained in the Biden administration’s earlier decision to halt the sale of weapons that Saudi Arabia could you for offensive operations in Yemen but not arms that it needs to defend its territory from external attack.

At the bottom line, Saudi Arabia’s best option to counter an Iran that poses a threat to the kingdom’s ambitions irrespective of whatever regime is in power would be to work with its allies to develop the kind of economic and social policies as well as governance that would enable it to capitalize on its assets to effectively compete. Containment of Iran is a short-term tactic that eventually will run its course.

Warned former British diplomat and Royal Dutch Shell executive Ian McCredie: “When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1922, it created a vacuum which a series of powers have attempted to fill ever since. None has succeeded, and the result has been a century of wars, coups, and instability. Iran ruled all these lands before the Arab and Ottoman conquests. It could do so again.”

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Back to Strategic Hedging and Mediation in Qatar Foreign Policy after the Gulf Reconciliation

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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.

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