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The Libyan crisis in the summer of 2020

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In 2011, in a phase of severe economic crisis for Italy, almost on the verge of default, the violent ousting of the Libyan leader, Muammar al Minyar El Gaddafi, was the obvious tombstone of Italian foreign policy and also of its intelligence Services forced to serve only the interests of those who wanted to destroy Italy’s interests.

 The United States wanted to put an end to the sequence of “Arab Springs” started in Tunisia, a small country suitable for tests – as the papers of the Foreign Office reported in 1901 with respect to Russia, “a country suitable for Socialist tests”.

The United States interpreted foreign policy according to its internal and self-referential criteria and it was useless to ask it to have a broader vision.

Certainly France wanted to take Libya, but above all it wanted to take ENI and also to put Italy in a severe minority condition throughout the Mediterranean region.

 The way in which France operated in Gaddafi’s times – and, indeed, France has never relinquished coup designs against Gaddafi – showed only one thing, that also Great Britain knew, i.e. that Gaddafi had been an excellent invention of the Italian Intelligence Services, when they still existed. Italy rescued Gaddafi at least three times, twice from Great Britain and once from France, as well as twice from the United States.

Pursuing our national interest, we were branded as “anti-liberal” and, in any case, within NATO you pay for certain betrayals.

 Great Britain also wanted to follow France in its anti-Gaddafi hysteria, especially after Sarkozy asked the Raisfor a significant loan. It had some oil interest with it to prepare for the Royal Dutch Shell, which first opened negotiations with the new Libyan regime in 2013, as well as the ENI security Services, which quickly agreed with Jallud and Italy’s traditional points of reference in opposing Gaddafi. Either Shell or Total – that was the game, while Italy was sinking into the crisis and a “friendly” sale of ENI was not unlikely.

To put it frankly, however, the anti-Gaddafi rhetoric was ridiculous: the usual talk about his “not being democratic” – as if an Arab Rais could behave like a Manhattan jazz musician, all sex, drugs and rock & roll – while opening the doors to the Muslim Brotherhood and its networks which, coincidentally, immediately generated a widespreading of jihadist organisations, as it happened also outside Libya.

 Did they really believe there were good and “bad” jihadists? But where did they live, in a commercial spot for detergents?

The French intelligence services’ operation triggering the “revolt” was above all the tension at the Abu Salim prison, organized by a strange and previously unknown “Libyan section of the Association for Human Rights” based in Paris.

 The material start of the revolt was in Benghazi, in February 2011, but the economic and social situation in Gaddafi’s Tripoli was very different from the other “Arab springs” superficially organized by some strategic PRs,paid by the intelligence Agencies, between Manhattan and Sloane Street. Nothing to do with talk about “freedom” and Martini cocktails.

In fact, as maintained by some reports of the German Foundations published shortly before Gaddafi’s fall, Gaddafi’s Libya ensured an average income five times as much as Egypt’s. Said income was also well spread among the population, especially with Gaddafi who did the only possible job in a country with many tribes, i.e. ensuring their selective support.

Furthermore, the harsh but also naïve system – already put in place against Milosevic in Serbia or against Saddam Hussein in Iraq – was used again in Libya. Distingue frequenter, as the medieval logicians used to say.

The network of bloggers, previously strangely silent, started immediately, as well as some demonstrations on problems that existed even before, and the obsessive use of the “buzzword” democracy, which, in the minds of the poor and underprivileged people meant “getting better”, while in the words of strategic information managers, hired at a high and useless price by Western governments, meant: “now work for us”.

There was also Nietzsche’s “soothing oil” of the democratic myth to calm people’s fears, with some other possible distraction. Sex, above all, or youth amusement and entertainment business.

In the first phase of the Libyan “people’s” revolt, the United States largely had a wait-and-see attitude, but certainly a West believing that reality reasons like snobbish young ladies, like those you can find in some jet setters’ and socialites’ salons, is always doomed to the most tragic failures.

 The Libyans did not want to kill the “tyrant”, in a Macbeth-style Scottish ritual – since it is a concept completely alien to their political culture – but they simply wanted to improve the Libyan regime, like the Tunisian one, both certainly permeated with nepotism and corruption, especially in Tunisia. Nevertheless, everything would certainly have been better than what happened afterwards.

Just think about the fact that the long war seems to be the silly rule of current “humanitarian” operations and interventions: everything is done with great fanfare and democratic rhetoric – as if the whole world should go on like Vermont, or Paris V Arrondissement -and later you discover that the world is different from the parochial and obscure wealth of certain leaders. Hence “the dose is repeated” endlessly, always with fewer troops, as if the others were idiots or unable to fight, finally believing that everything works according to the repetitaiuvant principle. However, foreign policy and strategy never work like that.

 The United States will be out of Afghanistan, without having resolved anything. Indeed, the situation will be worse than before, after a treaty with the Taliban drafted in Doha, which should lead to the withdrawal and complete return of U.S. soldiers back home within the next 14 months.

In Iraq, U.S. troops have been the subject of a Parliamentary resolution calling for their removal, despite the fact that the Iranian Armed Forces are still reluctant.

No significant strategic results have been reached and will be reached on the ground. Hence in Afghanistan the Taliban will obviously rise to power, as would have also happened many years ago.

 In Iraq, with the Shiite majority in the population and the Iranian oil, economic, political and military penetration, I do not believe that the U.S. presence will achieve other great results.

Certainly the U.S. bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the largest one in the Emirates, are another necklace around Tehran. As the old and new AFRICOM networks around Libya, i.e. as many as 29 military bases in Bizerte, Tunisia; Libreville, Gabon; Ouagadougu, Burkina Faso; Dakar, Senegal; Niamey and Agadez, Niger, to control the great route of African migration, often directed against our shores, as well as 5 other bases in Somalia, 4 in Mali, and finally 2 in Libya.

 Hence a terrible game is being played on Libya, which is the command and control on the passages from the Mediterranean to Central Africa, and Italy seems only to repeat the usual formulas of the snobbish young ladies, like those portrayed by Italian comedian Franca Valeri, based on two gross and very dangerous mistakes: a) Libya is not a “national interest”, because the usual human rights must be restored, but this is huge nonsense because these famous rights should be restored all over Africa; b) Italy’s interest is only that of the West, which does not have only one interest and, anyway, all the interests already defined are against Italy.

Which is the virus currently inoculated in our childish and immature politicians, which does not let them believe that there is a national interest, in which Libya is an unavoidable axis, considering that, as Napoleon said, “the basis of foreign policy lies in geography”?

At the time, we followed the very childish idea of Silvio Berlusconi and of his “centre-right” coalition that sided with the Anglo-Saxons and France as if we were in a costumed re-edition of the Second World War.

Certainly, just in case, we were also told that we would be bombed “by mistake”. But fear is not part of some strategic calculations. If our “allies” –that were stealing Libya and ENI from us – had done so, we would have told the truth. And more train attacks and bombings would have taken place…

The Reductio ad Hitlerum is a naivety that, in Italy, also applies to ruling classes. Ignorant of foreign policy as confirmands.

 Now, we are in the fairy world of a government that believes it can mediate while being completely irrelevant. Even on the ground, in Tripoli and Benghazi. A fairy-tale world made of human rights, always slave to propaganda, as well as to the rejection of war laid down by the most idiotic article of our Constitution, Article 11 (and, indeed, it is not the only one), which in fact accepts only unconditional surrender. In fact, those who came to power after an unconditional surrender, remember only that.

Not to mention the usual irregular migrants to be accepted without saying a word – something that our EU friendly countries do not and have never done, but that we should do immediately, considering the Dublin agreement and the always artfully created sense of guilt for old experiences.

It is also worth reiterating that Italy is out of Libya, of the Maghreb region, of Africa and it will shortly be out of the Mediterranean. Thanks to our politicians, who know about strategy and geopolitics like a pizza maker usually knows about the calculus of variations. No disrespect and offense to our pizza makers, of course.

 Without Libya there will beno control of the Mediterranean. Without control of the Mediterranean, there will be no Italian strategic and economic autonomy. Finally, without Italian strategic and economic autonomy there will be no growth, the mantra about which current politicians talk grandly.

However, let us better analyse the situation: Russia denies any direct engagement in Libya, but there are at least 14 MiG29 missiles in the Jufra base, as well as some Sukhoi-24 bombers, and also Pantsir anti-missile systems.

Allegedly, in the bases still linked to General Haftar, there are also Serbian and Ukrainian mercenaries, connected to the Wagner networks of Russian contractors.

 They are mainly in the base of Gardabyah, but although denying any direct military interest in Libya, Russia has reportedly deployed its 900 “militants” in Syria and Libya in the bases linked to Haftar, as done also by Turkey.

The intelligence Services are particularly active. Especially the French ones, namely the DGSE, as well as the American CIA, which has never left Libya, and the German BND. This is not surprising.

 Italy still has an excellent advisor to al-Sarraj, who knows all too well how to deal with certain issues. But he is alone, isolated, and now he is rare breed in Tripoli’s government.

In our opinion, al-Sarraj was not the holder of some Italian geopolitical interests, which should be dealt with well, but has the virtue of having been awarded the holy spirit of international organisations, through complex and sometimes indescribable ploys and ruses.

Italy would recognize also the devil, if it were appointed by some international organisations and fora, possibly even irrelevant.

France does not care about the international choices, which so much entice ambassadors and ladies, although it is a major part of them, more than Italy. In fact, it has always operated with its intelligence Services on Haftar’s side. When will the geopolitical servile attitude typical of the Italian ruling classes end?

 The passage channel between Libya and Europe – but not in Italy – is always the triangle between Benghazi, Zuwara and Malta, created with light aircraft.

They know more in certain palaces in Valletta, including the “religious ones”, than in many Italian palaces of power, if we still want to call them so.

 For the French Intelligence Services, the easiest connection is between Algeria and Lyon and, still today, some French intelligence service operatives train the still budding executives of Haftar’s Internal Intelligence Service.

 The Germans meet both Haftar and al-Sarraj with communication lines starting directly from Germany and arriving both in Tripoli and Benghazi.

 Meanwhile, on July 19, Egyptian President Al Sisi, the former Chief of the Military Services of the Armed Forces in Cairo stated – and he could not do otherwise – that Libya is obviously a national interest for Egypt. Even Italy, however, should have done so, also with possible “harshness”.

The EU, another factory of nothing, has stated in these days that we need to go back to the 5+5 mechanism for negotiation. But all the Libyan parties are reflections of other foreign countries and it is useless kicking the dog and meaning the master. We only need to talk to the master. What would be the “resolution of the Libyan crisis” magically awaited by the United Nations? No one knows.

An open and clear segmentation of the territory, which at the time of the Ottoman Empire was not unified at all. Hence it is a matter of “saying goodbye and part without resentment”. Like the aforementioned snobbish young ladies, jet setters and salon socialites.

But are we sure that a split Libya would be in our best interest? Possibly with the Fezzan tribes, happily involved in the illegal migration business, and Italy there to wait and see, as well as pay additional 1.3 million Euros to the so-called Libyan “coastguards”, as recently happened?

 In a context of oil and hence of public revenue crisis, such as the one expected in Libya in 2020/2021, the only country that will bear a heavy brunt will be Italy, which will probably die economically together with its old Libyan colony.

 Al-Sarraj recently explained that 1.4 billion U.S. dollars of oil sales have been lost since the port blockade imposed by General Haftar last January.

 It should also be noted that General Haftar already has excellent relations with the Greek Intelligence Services, he has often met in obvious opposition with Turkey. However, the choices made by the Benghazi leader have already caused an 80% fall in Libyan oil sales.

Considering that, in a situation of low prices per barrel and oil extraction restrictions, the least expensive oil in Africa, that is Libya’s, has its own strong significance, if it is closed to markets, we can infer the rule of those who have an interest in still destabilising Libya and those who have not.

Where would the “playing cards” of Westerners be? A small market in a very severe crisis? A non-existent presence on the ground? The idiotic ideologies that see in rampant immigration or in the impossible sealing of borders the solution to our problems? Those who do not know how to use weapons should not do foreign policy, and there would also be many weapons.

 Turkey has quickly taken the place of Italy, which is increasingly apallic.

In Italy they probably fear the reactions of some salon , jet setters and socialites, who would cry out for human rights and, sometimes, for the necessary actions of some lackeys.

Until January 2020, however, Turkey sent 100 of its officers and at least 2,500 militants from a jihadist group operating in Syria under the orders of MIT, the Turkish Intelligence Service, who quickly overturned the military result on the ground against General Haftar.

 Turkey has two goals on Libyan soil: firstly, stopping the Egyptian, Emirates and Saudi operations against Turkey’s economic and oil expansion in the Mediterranean. They know where the Mediterranean is. We do not.

We have surrendered to a beautiful region full of far more powerful States than Italy, namely Northern Europe, which no longer knows what to do with us. If it were not for the SMEs in the North.

 Beautiful those times when Amintore Fanfani, a man with extraordinary strategic and predictive skills- after all Tuscan-Etruscans are a bit haruspices, or predictors, whom the Romans greatly feared, according to Titus Livy – predicted a new “Mediterranean policy” for Italy, so as to take back that area that solum è mio, just to quote Machiavelli in a well-known letter to Vettori.

 The other Turkish policy line is that of perceiving a threat of the strategic whole between Israel, Greece and Cyprus – to which at least it reacts – with the probable EU support which, if any, would probably bring bad luck to the Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean.

 The reaction of Haftar’s operatives, although defeated on the ground so far, has not been negligible and allows to foresee a long proxy war between Turkey, Egypt, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other countries.

 With whom are the Westerners siding? They have left the ground to local players, with the exception of a few intelligence positions. Precisely with the hope of nothing, or rather with the idea that the matter will calm down and be settled by going back to the “negotiation and mediation tables”. To mediate what?

 The success of Turkey, which will certainly not want to mediate its new presence in Tripoli’s oil market, as well as in the new Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone, stretching from the Libyan coast to Kastellorizo, in the Dodecanese?

What does Russia want? It wants to fight Westerners in the region and, anyway, also Turkey.

 But again for Turkey and its intelligence, the services of the Russian contractor company Wagner were allegedly sold to the Emirates. This is not impossible.

Russia does not want a long war in Libya, which would wear out Mediterranean equilibria and probably exclude it from the new strategic context.

 On the contrary, Russia officially wants an agreement between the parties, the end of hostilities and the creation of a Government of National Unity.

 Furthermore, unlike others, Russia perceives the sense of Turkish penetration in Libya as the antecedent of the hegemonic Islamization of Turkey with respect to the jihadist groups of sub-Saharan Africa.

President Erdogan knows that Westerners – who do not make calculations,  but live on paranoia – are now obsessed with “China in Africa”. He therefore thinks they will keep quiet while Turkey takes the big piece of Africa not yet fully colonized by China.

Russia, however, will never take great risks in Libya, because it does not want tension with Turkey, and especially with its new Turkish Stream.

In 2016 Russia already printed 9 billion U.S. dollars of Haftar’s new Libyan currency, with the effigy of the old Rais, transported to Benghazi via Malta, which imposed its remarkable “tax”.

Moreover, the Russian Federation is playing its future true cards on Saif-al Islam Gaddafi rather than on General Haftar. In short, everyone is playing and making plans on Libya, after the “democratic” disaster of France and Great Britain, while Italy is doing nothing at all.

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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Are The U.S. And Its Partners Losing The Grip On Syria’s North East?

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The oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor located in Eastern Syria has witnessed another escalation between the local Arab populace and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Unexpectedly for the SDF and the U.S. military, the protesters have established control over a number of towns, and it seems they are willing to go further.

Sources close to the SDF initially reported that the protesters limited their demands by requesting a solution to a number of minor issues, but soon enough it became evident that it was not the case and the issue – and a major one – was the presence of SDF in the area. The demonstrators were quick to turn from chanting slogans to taking control of towns: in a single day they captured all of Shuhayl, Al-Hawayej, Diban and forced the SDF members to leave before blocking the roads.

The protests were sparked by a series of assassinations of influential leaders of Al-Aqidat and Al-Baqara tribes. Three Deir Ezzor sheikhs were killed in less than a week: Sheikh Suleiman Khalaf al-Kassar from Al-Aqidat was shot in Busayra village July 30. The next day Sheikh Suleiman Al-Weis who belonged to Al-Baqara was shot in the head by two gunmen on a motorcycle in Al-Dahla. Finally, Sheikh Muttshar al-Hamoud al-Hifl was shot in the outskirts of Al-Hawayej on Sunday, August 2. His relative Sheikh Ibrahim al-Hifl was also wounded in the incident but survived.

In a peculiar coincidence, a few weeks before the assassinations the tribal leaders were invited to a meeting with the SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi with the U.S. servicemen also present. The agenda reportedly included co-operation between the tribes and the SDF. It was reported that at least one of the victims, Muttshar al-Hifti, declined to participate and to engage with the Americans.

An insight into the details of these meetings can be gained through the reports about an oil deal allegedly struck by the SDF and a little known American oil developer Delta Crescent LLC. Delta Crescent was granted exclusive rights for production, refinement and export of the oil from Deir Ezzor fields potentially bringing the participants annual profit of hundreds of millions dollars, according to statements made by U.S. officials. The deal was met with harsh response from the Syrian government who labeled it a “deal between thieves”.

According to sources on the ground, the implication is that those who fell victim to the assassinations shared this view and opposed the deal. Their removal, however, has clearly failed to deliver the results intended by the masterminds behind their deaths, yet another time when the Kurds were thrown to the wolves by the U.S. who is accustomed to making their allies bear the consequences of the reckless pursuit of the American interests.

Meanwhile the SDF started to amass forces in the vicinity of the areas shaken by the unrest. The reinforcements sent from Al-Shadadi, Al-Sousa and Baghuz are gathering at the US military base near Al-Omar oil field. Moreover, two US Apache attack helicopters were spotted patrolling the area. These developments combined with lack of report on any negotiations between the protesters and the SDF leadership paint a grim picture, indicating that the SDF likely intends to use force to disperse the protests.

It is not the first time the SDF resorts to the use of force when faced with the discontent of the local populace in north-eastern Syria, although this approach had never brought the desired result. All areas affected by the protests have been subjected to dozens of raids of the SDF and the US special forces. Reports on these operations unfailingly mentioned arrests of ISIS terrorists. They failed to mention, however, what the Pentagon files under the category of “collateral damage” – deaths of civilians killed in the result of the actions of the US military and their allies.

The upheaval in Deir Ezzor is yet another evidence that the SDF, initially an independent movement, has degraded to a tool or a lever of American influence in Syria, and now finds itself fighting consequences instead of locating the root cause of the unrest – widespread corruption among the officials of the Kurdish administration and dramatic deterioration of the living conditions.

The regional turbulence created by Washington’s constantly shifting stance – or rather a lack of stance – on Syria has grown so strong it finally turned against the American interests. The latest escalation in Deir Ezzor should be considered nothing but a byproduct of this ill-designed policy and, perhaps, marks a beginning of the end of the US and SDF hegemony in Syria’s North East.

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The Looming Disaster of the Safer Oil Tanker Moored off the Coast of Yemen

Amb. Sahar Ghanem

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Amidst the raging conflict in Yemen, the challenge of the Safer Oil Tanker emerges as one of the most hazardous risks to the environment safety in the Red Sea as a result of the potential oil spillage in the Red Sea at any moment.

Following expressing deep alarm, the United Nations Security Council called on 29 June,2020, to immediately grant unconditional access for the United Nations technical experts to assess the tanker’s condition without overdue to prevent growing risk of possible rupture, explosion or even spillage.

The threat of the floating Oil Tanker, moored off the coast of Yemen, does not only impose challenges to the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Red Sea, but it rather represents a huge challenge that threatens the environment safety, leading to one of the largest environmental hazards in the world, after the unforgettable 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Siberia – Russia.

On 18 July 2019, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mr. Mark Lowcock informed the UN Security Council of the growing threats of the deserted Safar Oil Tanker, warning of possible explosion or leakage of its loads [1.14 M barrels of crude oil]. In his briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, he pointed out that such an incident would result to a disastrous crisis to the marine life in the Red Sea and maritime in the straits of Bab-Al Madeb and Suez Canal which are two significant water corridors to the world.

It is known that the Red Sea is home for some scarce invertebrates such as corals and 600 species of fish. Unless preventative measures are taken now and immediately to prevent oil spill or possible tanker explosion, we will concretely witness a disastrous incident leading to severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods starting from Yemen and extending north to Suez Canal through Jobal strait and the Gulf of Suez and south through Bab-Al Madeb strait reaching even Hormoz strait through the Arabian sea.

Environment experts’ projections expect that 115 islands are vulnerable to the risk of oil pollution; 126,000 fishermen will lose their source of income, among them 76,000 fishmen are in Al Hodeidah governorate; 850 tons of fish stocks will be exposed to the danger of contamination and death in Yemen, in the Red Sea and in Bab Al-Mandam; more than 500 fish species are at high risk of disappearing; and 300 corals will certainly disappear as a result.

The problem emerged following the takeover of the Capital Sanaa on 21 September 2014, when Houthi militias implemented unilateral actions inter alia dissolving parliament and taking over Yemen’s government institutions, which have seriously escalated the situation, leading to illegitimate seizure of power “coup d’etat”, and eventually leading to current conflict in Yemen.

The floating storage and its connected offloading terminals have not been inspected or maintained since 2015 after Houthis militias took control of the area including port of Ras Isa to which the floating tanker is connected by terminals extending 9km off the coast of Yemen.

Yemen’s internationally-recognized government has warned in many letters of evident corrosion and lack of maintenance, creating the conditions for serious environmental disaster. The Yemeni government made an urgent call for the UN to send inspection team to scale the risks.

Unfortunately, the UN inspection team was denied access to the floating tanker by the Houthi militias many times. The UN inspection team is tasked with the mission to provide the necessary inspection and put recommendations for the needed maintenance and continuing to create obstacles will refrain the team from reaching the tanker and delivering the urgent inspection.

Lately, the Government of the Republic of Yemen repeated asserting the urgent emergency of the imminent catastrophe of the floating “Safer Oil Tanker”. The government confirmed that “given the critical nature of the aging floating tanker’s situation, on 27 May 2020 leaks have been reported in the tanker causing water leaked into the tanker’s operational machineries raising the possibilities of the tanker rupturing, sinking or even exploding.

Despite urgent fixing of leaking occurred, the deteriorating situation of the tanker threatens continuing eroding. As a result, on 15 July 2020, the UNSC held a session to debate latest urgent developments and called for urgent response to be taken by the Houthi militias as required by the inspection team. It is worth mentioning that the Houthis always show willingness to accept the inspection team just like the assurances made by the Houthis in August 2019 only to be withdrawn right before the inspection team was due to board the tanker.

The Yemeni government has always approved all relevant initiatives recommended by the UN to allow addressing the serious matter and proposing necessary urgent solutions to the Safer oil tanker, as part of the responsibility to the humanitarian and economic measures proposed by the office of the UN Special Envoy Mr. Martin Griffiths and as part of its responsibility to building and sustaining environment safety; however, the Houthi militias continue refusing to allow permissions to the UN inspection team to visit the oil tanker, noting that the situation of the Safer oil tanker is becoming extremely critical more than ever, causing increasing threats of possible oil spillage, tanker sinking and explosion at any moment.

In conclusion, the Safer Oil Tanker is a floating time-bomb and allowing inspection and maintains is the only possible means that will stop a serious catastrophe from happening. If incidents of explosion or even oil spill occur, that will lead to one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the Red Sea. Action must be taken immediately while we have in hand an opportunity to protect the environments and spare the lives of millions of people in Yemen and the region from a looming tragedy.

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Greater Implications of the Iran-China Deal on India

Dhritiman Banerjee

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Authors: Dhritiman Banerjee and Subarna Mustari*

India entered as a stakeholder in the development of Iran’s Chabahar port in 2016 as part of an India- Afghanistan- Iran trilateral agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor. A landmark strategic victory for India, this agreement not only connected New Delhi with Kabul but also provided India a link to Eurasia through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, it sought to challenge China’s investment in the Gwadar Port in Pakistan as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Indian involvement in the Chabahar- Zahedan Railway project therefore has far-reaching implications for New-Delhi’s interests in the Asian geopolitical scenario. However, after Iran’s signing of a landmark investment deal with China earlier this year, we aim to analyze the implications of the deal on India in this article.

The Middle East is particularly important to India because of its vast energy resources. Stephen P. Cohen feels that five factors steer India’s policy in the Middle East namely:

1. Energy Security: India is very reliant on Oil and Gas resources from the Middle East and therefore relations with most of the major suppliers including Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are strategically important to India. And India does not want to become a victim to a sudden increase in Oil and Gas prices or a temporary embargo of these resources as the pipeline from Central Asia to India via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan is not likely to materialize soon.

2. The Muslim Factor: Although a secular democratic State, India has a very high Muslim population who resonate with countries in the Middle East which brings out the relation between India’s foreign and economic policy on the one hand and domestic politics on the other. This linkage has particularly increased in importance after the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the Modi Government which is thought to be discriminatory against Muslims and has provoked sharp criticism from the international community.

3. The Kashmir Factor: For Indian foreign policy it is of paramount importance that the Middle Eastern States do not interfere in Kashmir or support Pakistan regarding the issue. Therefore it conducts a “sophisticated balance of power diplomacy” in order to contain the spread of Pakistani influence regarding Kashmir and to keep the Kashmir issue out of all discussions.

4. The Israel Factor: India’s recent cultivation of strategic relations with Israel has led to important advancements in the technology, intelligence, and military sectors as well as important leverage in the US but many analysts in India are still skeptical about cultivating close relations with Tel Aviv. Eventually it can be said that a balance between Tel Aviv and Tehran will become an important factor in Indian Foreign Policy.

5. The Non-Proliferation Factor: Because of India’s strategic relations with the US, India does not want to violate American non-proliferation goals in the region. But Indian strategists have had a long history of skepticism regarding American non-proliferation strategies and tactics with skepticism. In fact the Indian leadership was at the forefront in the development of the theoretical case against the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the global non-proliferation regime. In fact, most of the arguments developed by India are now used by Iran and North Korea to justify their opposition to the NPT and therefore India must find a solution to this paradox in the near future as although its record of horizontal proliferation has been very good, it has been an example for States regarding vertical proliferation.  

China’s offer to invest $400 billion in Iranian oil and gas sectors over 25 years tokening a comprehensive trade and military partnership between the two nations is undoubtedly far more beneficial to Iran than India’s promise of a $150 million investment scheme over 10 years. This deal is mutually beneficial for both China and Iran and the Iranian economy reeling under sanctions will get a much needed lifeline. Similarly, China is facing international criticism over its aggressive political and military strategies that include attempts at hegemonizing the South China Sea (SCS) at the cost of the other littoral States, passing a new security law to strengthen its control over Hong Kong and engaging in a border standoff with India in Ladakh. This deal therefore allows China a strategic leverage in the Middle East. China’s strategic decision for such an investment into Iran comes at a notable time – immediately following the Sino-Indian Border Clash of June 2020. Iran’s decision to choose a more lucrative deal from a more lucrative regional partner facing the same extra-regional opponent – the United States – intersects directly with India’s vested security interests in Iran against both China and Pakistan. Furthermore, India’s relations with the United States puts both India and Iran in a very complicated situation with Iran at greater risk of allowing more Chinese presence than India in the region, given the former’s bigger investment and the mutual threat of the United States.

India, compared to China, not only has far less to offer economically to neutral yet strategic prospective allies (Iraq, Iran, and other Gulf nations) in countering China in the West Indian Ocean Region (IOR), but its alliance with the extra-regional United States has compromised Iran’s faith in India as concrete ally. With such a timely investment, China has in one stroke obtained a highly strategic regional ally against the United States in securing its energy concerns, and simultaneously taken the battle directly to Iran where India is attempting to undermine China’s String of Pearls (SOP) strategy (Gwadar Port, Pakistan) through the Chabahar Port.

Furthermore, India’s recent history of erratic dealings in the middle-east, and compliance with the US’s policies in Asia has dipped the region’s confidence in India as a reliable regional partner. China’s already expanding foothold in the middle-east and Africa, and stronger deliverance makes it a better prospective partner for Arab nations who see China as such. In fact, in recent years China’s influence has grown in the region through an increase in economic investment.  Between 2005 and 2019, China has invested over $55 billion in the region according to the AEI’s China Global Investments tracker. Between 2004 and 2014, China also gave financial assistance of $42.8 billion to the region according to Aid Data Research lab. Also for many States in the Middle East, China is their most reliable trade and strategic partner as well as a key source of technology and armed drones. Therefore, it can be claimed that while Iran and China have patterned their foreign policies in such a way that it regionally benefits them against extra-regional influences; India’s current foreign policy narrative accounts to a degree of dependency on extra-regional powers that limits its regional interests of security against its two biggest border rivals – China and Pakistan. Secondly, India’s engagement with the United Sates in the maritime arena remains limited in the eastern side of the Indian Ocean at a time when India needs to increase a collaborative presence on the western side – which, given the unfavorable economic effects of the pandemic and wishful economic management of the Indian Government, leaves room only for clever diplomacy on India’s part. Therefore, Indian dealings in the middle-east and in the West IOR have to be strategically designed with not just extra-regional allies which share the same apprehensions of Chinese presence; but also look to secure greater strategic partnerships with East Asian nations like South Korea and Japan to balance its over-dependence on the United States for energy and geopolitically diversify its defense against China’s SOP doctrine.

India, apart from expedient solidification of its energy, trade, and security interests in the middle-east, has to double-down on its Act East Policy especially with Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, in this regard it can be said that relations with these two countries, particularly with Indonesia, will be of paramount importance to India. This will help cement India’s claim of a rules based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific in order to check Chinese attempts to hegemonize the region. In this regard, the link between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Aceh Province in Indonesia will cement maritime ties between the two countries and help to check Chinese advances near the strait of Malacca through the SOP strategy. However, a major restriction to such collaborations in this regard, would be the persecution of Muslims under the Modi government in India and the religious radicalism prevailing in the country. Another more viable option available to India is the QUAD group consisting of India, US, Australia and Japan. India can use this grouping to not only uphold its claim of a rules based maritime order but also gain a foothold in the SCS region and pose a challenge to China through close alliances with the QUAD and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). Therefore, to conclude, it can be said that a new Cold War maybe brewing between India and China which might set to define the very nature of Asian geopolitics in the near future.

* Subarna Mustari is an undergraduate student of Political Science at Bethune College, Kolkata. Her interests lie in Political Science and International Relations as well as in history of war, colonialism and philosophy. She has recently published for Modern Diplomacy.

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