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The War in Libya. Russia’s Time is Approaching

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On June 15, 2020, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu stated there are no disagreements between Russia and Turkey on the fundamental principles of the Libyan settlement. Moscow and Ankara are continuing negotiations at the technical level to develop a mechanism for establishing a ceasefire and start the process of political settlement of the Libyan conflict.

Who is Fighting in Libya?

In Libya over the past few years, two opposing authorities have existed in parallel, one of them is the Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli and led by Faiz Saraj. In the east, in the Tobruk, there is the Libyan House of Representatives, controlled by the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar. Since April 2019, the troops of H. Haftar besieged the Libyan capital. In November 2019, the Republic of Turkey and the government of F. Saraj signed a memorandum of understanding, which included the intensification of political and military-technical cooperation.

As a result of Turkish interference, the GNA forces managed to achieve significant military successes and go on the counterattack. The army of F. Saraj was able to lift the siege of Tripoli, which lasted 14 months and push the LNA from the Libyan capital. In April, the GNA troops established control over the coast in western Libya from Misrata to the border with Tunisia. Soon, the army of H. Haftar was forced to leave the capital airport, and Tarhuna, as well as al-Watiya airbase. Against the backdrop of the success of the government of F. Saraj, some Libyan Tuareg militias in southern Libya have expressed their support for Tripoli’s actions.

As a result of the GNA troops’ counterattack, the LNA supply system was violated, several key settlements of western Libya were captured, and the morale of H. Haftar was undermined. Now the fighting between the LNA and the army of F. Saraj is taking place on the approaches to the coastal Mediterranean city of Sirte, an important strategic point that is under the control of the LNA. The city is located on the way to oil fields in the east of the country, which are held by the army of H. Haftar, and if Sirte is taken from the GNA and their Turkish allies, the road is open for them.

What Role Does Turkey Play in the Libyan Conflict?

The situation at the front was changed thanks to large-scale intervention in the conflict by Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t hide that the victories over the troops of H. Haftar have achieved thanks to the Turkish soldiers and that the Turkish troops present in Libya are going along with the GNA to achieve common goals.

Ankara and Tripoli’s political and military-technical cooperation intensified after the signing of a memorandum of understanding in November 2019. The agreement between the GNA and Turkey defined the boundaries of Turkey’s exclusive economic zone in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, where there are large deposits of natural gas. Besides, the agreement implied the intensification of military cooperation. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the agreement between Ankara and Tripoli on security cooperation is an attempt to legalize military support that violates the arms embargo. The EU, Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus condemned the signing of a memorandum that violates international law, and other countries of the Eastern Mediterranean claim gas production in this part of the sea. By contrast, Tripoli recognizes Turkey’s right to extract natural resources in the designated exclusive economic zone in exchange for support in the Libyan conflict. Indeed, Turkey has interests in Libya. Ankara declares that it intends to win contracts for the restoration of Libya, and in the future, it will participate in the production of Libyan oil.

Just a few days after the Berlin Conference on Libya in January 2020, the participants agreed to comply with the arms embargo on Libya, Turkey sent tanks, anti-aircraft guns Korkut, self-propelled howitzers T-155, cannons GDF, combat vehicles ACV-15 and jeeps with anti-tank guns to help Tripoli. The media report that the Republic of Turkey is also transporting Syrian militants to Libya, who are fighting on the side of the GNA.

It is known that Turkey plans to open two military bases in Libya. Ankara is planning to deploy air defense systems and drones at the recently captured al-Watiya airbase. Also, Turkish troops will be stationed at a military base near Misrata. Turkey has in Libya not only economic interests but also military-political ones. Firstly, the deployment of troops of the Republic of Turkey at Libyan bases will allow Ankara to make more influence on the political course of located in Tripoli government. Secondly, Turkey will create an additional factor holding back the hypothetical offensive of the army of H. Haftar. It is unlikely that the LNA leadership will be able to fight with the Republic of Turkey’s regular units. Thirdly, Turkey will deploy troops in a country neighboring Egypt, one of Ankara’s key foreign policy opponents.

How is Egypt Responding to Intensified Hostilities in Libya?

The offensive of the pro-Turkish GNA forces and Turkey excited the Egyptian military and political circles, who perceived the defeat of the LNA and the advance of the Tripoli army deep into the country as a threat to Egyptians national security. Egyptian Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal said that Egypt will not allow pro-Turkish terrorists to control Libya. Besides, he also accused Turkey of wanting to colonize parts of the Arab world.

Egypt deployed part of the troops on the Egyptian-Libyan border. The media reported that the border with Libya was crossed by Abrams tanks and Mi-24 combat helicopters. It is also worth remembering that in the province Matruh, near the border with Libya, there is a large Egyptian military base named after the first president of Egypt, Mohammed Nagib. On its territory there are more than a thousand structures, about 20 thousand soldiers, hundreds of tanks, helicopters, boats, and air defense systems can be deployed here. The base is located close to the border with Libya, which, if necessary, allows Egypt to respond quickly to threats from a neighboring country.

Why Did Turkey and the Government of the National Accord not Accept the Cairo Declaration?

June 6, 2020, a conference was held in Cairo, during which the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt (ARE) Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came up with an initiative to overcome the Libyan crisis, the Cairo Declaration. The initiative provided for a complete ceasefire in Libya from June 8, the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the territory of the country, and the dissolution of all armed groups except for the LNA, which should ensure security in Libya. The proposals included the conditions for a political settlement of the conflict, in particular, the unification of Libyan political institutions and the creation of a presidential council with representatives of all three regions. It was planned that one of the three representatives would become president, and the other two persons would become his deputies. Egypt also called for continued talks in Geneva on the Libyan joint military commission in the 5+5 format.

The conference was attended by Egyptian President A.F. al-Sisi, Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aquila Saleh, the meeting was also attended by representatives of the United States, Russia, France, and Italy. Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Cyprus, South Africa, the League of Arab States and its members (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Kuwait) have expressed support for the Cairo Declaration. The EU supported the initiative, drawing attention to the fact that nothing can replace the comprehensive world, an agreement on which was reached during the Berlin Conference. Cairo’s efforts have also been welcomed in the United States.

At the same time, there were no representatives of the GNA and the Turkish Republic at the Cairo conference. The terms of a political settlement proposed by the Egyptian president were not discussed with key participants in the conflict. Naturally, Ankara and Tripoli refused to accept the Cairo Declaration and hostilities continued. GNA troops continued the bombing of the city of Sirte: the last large settlement belonging to the western part of Libya and controlled by H. Haftar.

Even though Ankara and Tripoli did not participate in the discussion of the Cairo Declaration, the GNA is ready to take part in peace talks. At the same time, it is emphasized that negotiations are possible only after the troops of F. Saraj can capture Sirte and the military base Jufra. At the same time, the GNA announced that H. Haftar is a war criminal and that he cannot participate in any negotiations on the post-war structure of Libya, and the Minister of the Interior of the F. Saraj Government announced that Libya will not be able to end the war until it’s East is liberated from H. Haftar.

The GNA is ready to continue the attack on the position of the LNA. Turkish troops can play an important role in that, considering that Ankara doesn’t hide the presence of its troops in Libya. The escalation of hostilities in Libya is taking place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus didn’t become a deterrent to hostilities. On the contrary, the warring parties decided to take advantage of the involvement of the rest of the world in the fight against the epidemic. H. Haftar declared himself the sole Libyan ruler, and the GNA went on the offensive. Missile attacks on Libyan cities lead to interruptions in the supply of water and electricity, which impedes the fight against the virus. Solving the problems caused by the epidemic seems less important to the top military-political circles of the warring parties than a war with each other. All this can contribute to the spread of coronavirus infection.

Egypt and Turkey, perhaps the main players on the Libyan chessboard, are not interested in further escalating the conflict. In July 2020, Ethiopia plans to begin filling the reservoir of the Hidase hydropower plant, regardless of whether Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa manage to reach a compromise on the distribution of water resources of the Nile River. A potential blow to the irrigation system of Egypt is a threat no less significant than the civil war in Libya, so the Egyptian leadership will probably try to avoid the aggravation of the situation on several “fronts” at once. The Egyptian leadership has concerns that it is being dragged into the grueling Libyan war. Given the fact that the army of the Arab Republic has trouble in the fight against terrorists on the Sinai Peninsula, participation in a full-fledged military campaign may make Egypt boggle for a long time in Libya. Also, the Egyptian intervention would be negatively perceived by the world community, and this could lead to the introduction of economic sanctions against Egypt and hit the already fragile economy.

Turkey has announced the launch of the Claw-Eagle Operation. During it, the Turkish Air Force attacked the facilities of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which are located in northern Iraq. Another issue Turkey is forced to monitor is the actions of the Syrian Arab Republic army, which is fighting against terrorist groups in Idlib. The intensification of hostilities in Libya is also taking place against the backdrop of worsening relations between Turkey and Greece. This does not allow Ankara to be involved in the processes taking place in Libya as it would like.

H. Haftar will not give up without a fight. The LNA is going to restructure the main operational headquarters of the command for more effective interaction on the battlefield. Reinforcements are drawn to Sirt. However, in connection with the events of recent weeks, it has become more apparent that a military way to resolve the Libyan conflict is hardly possible. Egypt will not allow the complete defeat of the LNA, and Turkey will not allow the defeat of the GNA forces.

Understanding this forces the warring parties to discuss measures that can stop the bloodshed. The delegations of the GNA and LNA took part in the third round of talks on Libya in the format of a meeting of the joint military talks 5 + 5, during which the parties discussed a draft ceasefire agreement. Although the ceasefire was repeatedly broken, both H. Haftar and F. Saraj alternately refused to sign the ceasefire agreement, now there is a real possibility of a compromise. Turkey and the GNA are ready for negotiations, but they want to strengthen their position before them.

It is worth recognizing that the military solution to the Libyan issue has not justified itself. This means that if the warring parties cannot find a political solution to the conflict, Libya will remain a country divided into two parts for a very long time. Under these conditions, Russia can take the initiative. It can offer F. Saraj and H. Haftar to negotiate with the mediation of Russia and Turkey on the conditions for establishing a ceasefire. Then, when the shooting stops, initiate a discussion on the possibility of a political settlement of the Libyan conflict. Moscow and Ankara have extensive experience in finding a compromise on the most painful issues, and it is possible that the Libyan conflict is no exception.

From our partner RIAC

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Saudi Arabia steps up effort to replace UAE and Qatar as go-to regional hub

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Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to outflank the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as the Gulf’s commercial, cultural, and/or geostrategic hub.

The kingdom has recently expanded its challenge to the smaller Gulf states by seeking to position Saudi Arabia as the region’s foremost sport destination once Qatar has had its moment in the sun with the 2022 World Cup as well as secure a stake in the management of regional ports and terminals dominated so far by the UAE and to a lesser extent Qatar.

Saudi Arabia kicked off its effort to cement its position as the region’s behemoth with an announcement in February that it would cease doing business by 2024 with international companies whose regional headquarters were not based in the kingdom. 

With the UAE ranking 16 on the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index as opposed to Saudi Arabia at number 62, freewheeling Dubai has long been international business’s preferred regional headquarters.

The Saudi move “clearly targets the UAE” and “challenges the status of Dubai,” said a UAE-based banker.

A latecomer to the port control game which is dominated by Dubai’s DP World that operates 82 marine and inland terminals in more than 40 countries, including Djibouti, Somaliland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus, the kingdom’s expansion into port and terminal management appears to be less driven by geostrategic considerations.

Instead, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Gateway Terminal (RSGT), backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, said it was targeting ports that would service vital Saudi imports such as those related to food security.

PIF and China’s Cosco Shipping Ports each bought a 20 per cent stake in RSGT in January.

The Chinese investment fits into China’s larger Belt and Road-strategy that involves the acquisition regionally of stakes in ports and terminals in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman, and Djibouti, where China has a military base.

RSGT Chief Executive Officer Jens Floe said the company planned to invest in at least three international ports in the next five years. He said each investment would be up to US$500 million.

“We have a focus on ports in Sudan and Egypt. They weren’t picked for that reason, but they happen to be significant countries for Saudi Arabia’s food security strategy,” Mr. Floe said.

Saudi Arabia’s increased focus on sports, including a potential bid for the hosting of the 2030 World Cup serves multiple goals: It offers Saudi youth who account for more than half of the kingdom’s population a leisure and entertainment opportunity, it boosts Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s burgeoning development of a leisure and entertainment industry, potentially allows Saudi Arabia to polish its image tarnished by human rights abuse, including the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and challenges Qatar’s position as the face of Middle Eastern sports.

A recent report by Grant Liberty, a London-based human rights group that focuses on Saudi Arabia and China, estimated that the kingdom has so far invested in US$1.5 billion in the hosting of multiple sporting events, including the final matches of Italy and Spain’s top soccer leagues; Formula One; boxing, wrestling and snooker matches; and golf tournaments. Qatar is so far the Middle East’s leader in the hosting of sporting events followed by the UAE.

Grant Liberty said that further bids for sporting events worth US$800 million had failed. This did not include an unsuccessful US$600 million offer to replace Qatar’s beIN tv sports network as the Middle Eastern broadcaster of European soccer body UEFA’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia reportedly continues to ban beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom despite the lifting in January of 3.5 year-long Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy and ween it off dependency on oil exports “has set the creation of professional sports and a sports industry as one of its goals… The kingdom is proud to host and support various athletic and sporting events which not only introduce Saudis to new sports and renowned international athletes but also showcase the kingdom’s landmarks and the welcoming nature of its people to the world,” said Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington.

The increased focus on sports comes as the kingdom appears to be backing away from its intention to reduce the centrality of energy exports for its economy.

Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Prince Mohammed’s brother, recently ridiculed an International Energy Agency (IEA) report that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” as “the sequel of the La La Land movie.” The minister went on to ask, “Why should I take (the report) seriously?”

Putting its money where its mouth is, Saudi Arabia intends to increase its oil production capacity from 12 million to more than 13 million barrels a day on the assumption that global efforts to replace fossil fuel with cleaner energy sources will spark sharp reductions in US and Russian production.

The kingdom’s operating assumption is that demand in Asia for fossil fuels will continue to rise even if it drops in the West. Other Gulf producers, including the UAE and Qatar, are following a similar strategy.

“Saudi Arabia is no longer an oil country, it’s an energy-producing country … a very competitive energy country. We are low cost in producing oil, low cost in producing gas, and low cost in producing renewables and will definitely be the least-cost producer of hydrogen,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

He appeared to be suggesting that the kingdom’s doubling down on oil was part of strategy that aims to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a player in all conventional and non-conventional aspects of energy. By implication, Prince Abdulaziz was saying that diversification was likely to broaden the kingdom’s energy offering rather than significantly reduce its dependence on energy exports.

“Sports, entertainment, tourism and mining alongside other industries envisioned in Vision 2030 are valuable expansions of the Saudi economy that serve multiple economic and non-economic purposes,” “ said a Saudi analyst. “It’s becoming evident, however, that energy is likely to remain the real name of the game.”

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Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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Powershift in Knesset: A Paradigm of Israel’s Political Instability

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The dynamics of the Middle East are changing faster than anyone ever expected. For instance, no sage mind ever expected Iran to undergo a series of talks with the US and European nations to negotiate sanctions and curb its nuclear potential. And certainly, no political pundit could have predicted a normalization of diplomacy between Israel and a handful of Arab countries. The shocker apparently doesn’t end there. The recent shift in Israeli politics is a historic turnaround; a peculiar outcome of the 11-day clash. To probe, early June, a pack of eight opposition parties reached a coalition agreement to establish Israel’s 36th government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. While the political impasse has partly subsided, neither the 12-year prime minister is feeble nor is the fragile opposition strong enough to uphold an equilibrium.

Mr. Netanyahu currently serves as the caretaker prime minister of Israel. While the charges of corruption inhibited his drive in the office, he was responsible to bring notable achievements for Israel in the global diplomatic missions. Mr. Netanyahu, since assuming office in 2009, has bagged several diplomatic victories; primarily in reference to the long-standing conflict with Palestine and by extension, the Arab world. He managed to persuade former US President Donald J. Trump to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the contentious city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he managed to strike off the Palestinian mission in Washington whilst gaining success in severing US from the nuclear agreement with Iran. To the right-wing political gurus, Mr. Netanyahu stood as a symbolic figure to project the aspirations of the entire rightest fraction.

However, the pegs turned when Mr. Netanyahu refused to leave the office while facing a corruption trial. What he deemed as a ‘Backdoor Coup Attempt’ was rather criticized by his own base as a ruse of denial. By denying the charges and desecrating the judges hearing his case, Mr. Netanyahu started to undercut the supremacy of law. While he still had enough support to float above water, he lost the whelming support of the rightest faction which resulted in the most unstable government and four inconclusive elections in the past two years.

While Mr. Netanyahu was given the baton earlier by President Reuven Rivlin, he failed to convince his bedfellow politicians to join the rightest agenda. Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu probably hoped to regain support by inciting a head-on collision with the Palestinians. The scheme backfired as along with the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the tremors overtook Israel’s own Arab-Jewish cities resulting in mass chaos. The burning of Mosques and local Synagogues was hardly the expectation. Thus, both the raucous sentiment pervading the streets of Israel as well as the unstable nature of the Netanyahu-government led the rightest parties to switch sides.

As Mr. Netanyahu failed to convince a coalition government, the task was handed to Mr. Yair Lapid, a centrist politician. While the ideologies conflicted in the coalition he tried to forge, his counterparts, much like him, preferred to sideline the disputes in favor of dethroning Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid joined hands with a pool of political ideologies, the odd one being the conservative Yamina party led by the veteran politician, Mr. Naftali Bennett. While Mr. Lapid has been a standard-bearer for secular Israelis, Mr. Bennett has been a stout nationalist, being the standard-bearer for the rightest strata. To add oil to the fire, the 8-party coalition also includes an Arab Islamist party, Raam. A major conflict of beliefs and motivations.

Although the coalition has agreed to focus on technocratic issues and compromise on the ideological facets, for the time being, both the rightest and the leftish parties would be under scrutiny to justify the actions of the coalition as a whole. Mr. Bennett would be enquired about his take on the annexation of occupied West Bank, an agenda vocalized by him during his alliance with Mr. Netanyahu. However, as much as he opposes the legitimacy of the Palestinian state, he would have to dim his narrative to avoid a fissure in the already fragile coalition. Similarly, while the first independent Arab group is likely to assume decision-making in the government for the first time, the mere idea of infuriating Mr. Bennett strikes off any hope of representation and voice of the Arabs in Israel.

Now Mr. Netanyahu faces a choice to defer the imminent vote of confidence in Knesset whilst actively persuading the rightest politicians to abandon the coalition camp. His drive has already picked momentum as he recently deemed the election as the ‘Biggest Fraud in the History of Israeli Politics’. Furthermore, he warned the conservatives of a forthcoming leftist regime, taking a hit on Naftali colluding with a wide array of leftist ideologies. The coalition is indeed fragile, yet survival of coalition would put an end to Netanyahu and his legacy while putting Naftali and then Lapid in the office. However, the irony of the situation is quite obvious – a move from one rightest to the other. A move from one unstable government to a lasting political instability in Israel.

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