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The autonomous military groups in Libya

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With a view to currently understanding what is happening in the critical relationship between the Libyan military groups, we need – first and foremost – to look at the role played by the United Arab Emirates.

 In Yemen, for example, the UAEs, which are primary players in the whole Arab context of the post-“democratic revolutions”, i.e. the “colour revolutions” developed by a U.S. model born in the Balkans, have placed both the Special Forces of the Presidential Guard and the traditional support to the local anti-Houthi militias on the ground.

In Yemen, the UAEs operate from the Assab base. In 2016 they reconquered Mukhallah, another very important base, and they finally recovered Al Mokha.

In Libya, the Emirates’ strategy, which is still essential to understand what is happening there, was different: clear support to Khalifa Haftar, certainly, but also direct actions by the UAE forces in favour of the forces of Benghazi’s Libyan National Accord: in the year between April 2019 and 2020 alone, there were as many as 850 drone launches and air attacks with advanced aircrafts on GNA’s Tripolitania, probably with Emirates’ pilots.

As to air attacks alone, the UAEs leave from the baseof al-Khadim, 65 miles east of Benghazi, which they have restructured. It is from this base that also the supplies for Haftar came, sent from al-Sweihan, Abu Dhabi, as well as from Assab, Eritrea, the maritime base from which the Italian colonisation of the Horn of Africa – which would be currently very useful – left in the 19th century.

With specific reference to operations in Libya, the mediation between the Emirates and the local fighting tribes is often mediated on the spot by Egypt, with strong financial, technological and informational support, as already happened in the operations towards Tripoli carried out by Saudi Arabia in 2017.

Hence who are the UAEs supporting in Libya? The Salafists, who often have the primary aim of fighting against the Muslim Brotherhood; many of the former fighters of Saleh’s “National Resistance Forces”; the old Republican Guard or the “Giants Brigades”, a Salafist group.

It should be recalled that in 2013 they were delegated to the government of Misrata, the “martyr city” and the centre of many revolutionary “katibe“. The city government was the prerogative of Ansaral-Sharia, a group affiliated to al Qaeda and arisen within the February 17thMartyrs Brigade, about which we will talk later on.

Hence many factions and “revolutionary brigades”, as well as much real immobility and immutability of the Libyan picture, where no one can win over the other, due to katibe and factions in government. This can be seen as a “guarantee” for silly or lazy Westerners, who think of stabilizing Libya by simply leaving it to its now very evident role of failed state.

In their heart the Emirates would like to have an al-Sisi-style shift towards authoritarianism, but in Libya there are even the Sudanese forces that also support General Haftar and collaborate closely and directly with those of the Emirates. We have already discussed Turkey’s role in Tripolitania in other articles.

Let us see, however, how the still many militarized factions operating in Libya were born and why.

Obviously the fault for all this lies with those who foolishly preached the war “against the tyrant” thinking that the Libya nor Maghreb political culture should be that of downtown Boston or London clubs.

 Or of some ignorant French mythomaniacs who, in 1968, supported the pure Khmer Rouges criminals.

 A global strategy for unsatisfied ladies in salons and social gatherings, a foreign policy of Mormon preachers who have their Bible “stuck in their heads”, as Voltaire used to say.

  The West looks only at itself. It has an inward-looking attitude and can only think of its own silly categories. Therefore, it can no longer understand the others and hence it does not even understand itself.

The insurgency in Cyrenaica in 2011, organized mainly by French intelligence agents, was staged there because of the traditional marginalization of the East Libyan region during Gaddafi’s leadership and of the persistent ideological and organizational presence of the Senussian network, which has always had excellent relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups of the Salafist tradition.

The Senussian sect has an esoteric and sometimes heterodox tradition which, over the years, has come closer to the Wahabi radicalism and literalist sectarianism of some Saudi and Egyptian traditions of Islam. As a scholar of ancient wisdom, I can say that this is a case to be studied carefully.

Hence a mix of local elites from Cyrenaica, superficial foreign agents, but often of local origin, as well as defectors from Gaddafi’s apparata, quickly organised a National Transitional Council(NTC) with French ships a few miles from the coast and even closer French submarines, as well as the advanced weapons supplied to them by the French Intelligence Services.

The NTC did mainly foreign policy, especially in the United States and the E.U. and especially contra Italiam, since Sarkozy’s dream was to have ENI bought by Total, with related presidential bribe, but it did not take care of hierarchically organizing all the various “revolutionary” groups that arose like mushrooms. Westerners paid well, and the “stuff” – as Machiavelli called it – was there for the most violent one.

We could also glimpse – very clearly – a Western campaign of simple and rough defamation against the “tyrant” Gaddafi and of progressive military support, especially in terms of air protection, to favour the “rebels”, all turned into “democrats”, with the magic of the aforesaid dull Western propaganda.

 The Italians, forced by a series of subtle but very clear threats, were forced to participate in the anti-Gaddafi operation and, with this silly choice, they marked their progressive cancellation from the Mediterranean.

What about Mohammed bin Salman? Andal-Sisi? And the King of Jordan, a great and enlightened statesman? Are they “democratic” only because they are liked by the sloppy and superficial Westerners, who in the Middle East operate like the classic bull in a China shop? Was only Gaddafi the “villain” of this B western movie or were also the others there?

 So let us forget the propaganda nonsense often orchestrated – as is the case with France – by enfantsgâtés who were trained – as I said above – among Pol Pot worshippers. After 1968, a path from De Gaulle’s enemies to U.S. propaganda men. A linear path, but the 1968 protesters did not know it.

As is well-known, the so-called Islamic revolution in Libya, but supported by Westerners, ended in August 2011, when the “democratic” Salafists and the Islamic Brothers took Sirte and Bani Walid, the last areas under Gaddafi’s control.

Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) has long had limited internal support, despite its being backed at international level with all the useless fanfares.

 No one will ever know the formula of the spell that has enabled Tripoli’s GNA to receive the so-called “international legitimacy”.

 The Presidential Council has been established in Tripoli since March 30, 2016. Led by Fayez al-Sarraj, former member of the Tobruk Parliament, where he represented Tripoli, it originated from a Libyan Political Agreement supported by the United Nations and signed on December 17, 2015, i.e. the Shkirat agreement, which was a pact between the two main factions to achieve a unitary national government between Tripoli’s GNA and Tobruk’s Parliament. Ninety Tobruk MPs signed the written agreements at the “Mohammed VI Centre” in the Moroccan city. Also the 27 Tripoli MPs signed it, but they had the “proxies to vote” of other 42 MPs living in the capital city who did not leave to vote. At the time the Presidential Committee was made up of 6 personalities, all designated by the United Nations. Later 3 other politicians were added, two representing Fezzan and one representing Cyrenaica. It was that Presidential Committee that drew up the list of Ministers of the unitary government. We know how it ended up. The legal-political fact is that the Tobruk Parliament accepted the 2015 agreement, but refused to sign Article 8 of the Shkirat text, which would force Tripoli’s government to control the autonomous forces of Cyrenaica.

 Furthermore, at the time, the Tobruk Parliament did not accept the names proposed for the future, but impossible Libyan national government. A great and definitive chaos.

However, who is Fayez al-Sarraj? He graduated in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Tripoli in 1982. He had secondary, but not negligible roles in Gaddafi’s regime and then inevitably joined the “revolution”.

It should be recalled, however, that the Presidential Council was the real Libyan “Head of State”.

 But why did the Security Council vote unanimously the Political Agreement of December 2015? In fact, the aforementioned Shkirat agreement of 2015 was defined mainly to resolve the dispute between the regularly elected House of Representatives operating in Tobruk-Al Bayda, the General National Congress of Tripoli and the other centripetal forces that had already been formed. The latter won the fight against two weak governments depending on “others’ weapons”.

 The idea in the Shkirat pact was good in principle, but, without deciding who should be entrusted with “sovereignty”, disputes are bound to last forever.

 Tripoli’s Presidential Council, currently led by al-Serraj – when, as you may recall, the current leader of Tripolitania had to arrive by sea because he knew that, if he arrived at the airport of Mitiga, he would be killed- was born, however, to create a unitary government with all “Parliaments” in Libya, not to operate alone.

The funny result is that the United Nations and all the sheep-like and spineless EU member States keep on looking the other way pretending nothing happened and treating the GNA as the only “legitimate” government. Moving forward almost by inertia, we could say. A heritage of the negative Western experiences in Iraq – but the brain is made to be used and not to project one’s own petty bourgeois preconceived ideas onto the Arab world, which is much more complex than we might think.

 The United States has always fully supported the Government of National Accord (GNA), but Egypt, the Emirates, Russia and also, indirectly, China argue that a “national and unitary Libyan army” is particularly needed and therefore they support – first and foremost – KhalifaHaftar, especially in an  anti-Islamistic and anti-jihadist function.

Reverting to the official structures of the now inevitably fragmented Libya – just now, when we need it well united – there is also Khalifa Gwell’s government, based on the now remote authority of a General National Congress, which had its moment of glory during the 2012 Parliamentary elections.

The “Parliament of Tripoli”, which has nothing to do with al-Sarraj, largely moved to the High Council of State, a body chaired by the leader of Misrata, Abdul Rahaman Sweli. Later, however, the Tobruk Parliament began to support the government of Abdullah Al-Thinni operating directly from Al-Bayda.

 All the revolutionary groups participating in the easy insurgency against Gaddafi, the thuwar, as they are generically called in Libya, did not want – from the beginning – the continuity of the Armed Forces and the Libyan police. Quite the reverse, they strongly contested that assumption.

All of them had developed the vague concept of “revolutionary legitimacy” and it was precisely the first non-Gaddafi government, led by Abd Al Rahim al Kib (which lasted from November 2011 to November 2012) which actually appointed “guerrillas” from Zintan and Misrata, as well as Salafists and many jihadists, to Ministerial posts, at least to rebalance the distribution of presences in the “revolution” between Colonel’s old loyalists and new “Islamic revolutionaries”.

As was obvious, those jihadists and most of the thuwar, be they Salafists or not, did not accept at all the presence of the old men of Gaddafi’s regime in other areas of the Libyan government. In their opinion, their “revolutionary legitimacy” allowed them to have a right of control and expulsion – often “immediate” – for the old elements of Gaddafi’s “regime”.

 Another factor not to be neglected in the analysis of the Libyan structural crisis is the scarce conceptualization and official regulation of military power and security.

 Some roles in the Intelligence Services were abolished by the anti-Gaddafi revolution, based on the idea – we all know in Italy, but which remains silly anyway – that certain qualifications recalled sad moments (but only for them).

 Even the Defence Ministry was abolished and the new laws for the intelligence sector made the Services a semi-private function, so to speak.

 The laws adopted by the NTC and the National General Congress were always ambiguous and badly drafted, just like the Italian ones. Therefore any political players had the possibility of favouring their own military faction to the detriment of the others.

 Therefore, first and foremost, the lack of clear and unambiguous rules and the intentional ambiguity of security laws mainly favoured the so-called “revolutionary legitimacy” of the thuwar against the professionalism of  former Gaddafi’s supporters or even of the men that the West – always foolishly and carelessly – chose to lead the “new Libya”.

 The ultimate aim of the insurgency was the destruction of Gaddafi’s family, who reasoned by clans and tribes. That held true for all the thuwar, although they had nothing in common.

Hence all of them and their katibe could not seriously control the Libyan territory and the concept of State power and unitary control of the territory did not even exist. We could define it a “federalism of civil war”.

95% of the small katibe, the “battalions” of the thuwar, were composed of less than 1,000 elements – little more than extended families, like the mafia gangs in the South of Italy – and in the Libyan West they organized themselves mainly through “Military Councils”, while in Eastern Cyrenaica through rather loose coalitions of “fighting groups”.

 By Darwinian natural selection, two large reference organisations soon emerged for all the small katibe: the “17th February Coalition” and the “Coalition of Revolutionary Organisations”.

 The “17th February Coalition” soon divided into two other sections.

 The first one was called “Preventive Security Apparatus” and performed mainly counter-espionage and border control activities, also to counter the many elements still linked to Gaddafi.

 The second one was called the “Libya Shield Force” and was composed of small groups that had operated mainly in Brega and operated mainly in the oil-rich Tripolitania.

 In Misrata a brigade was formed, led by a defector of Gaddafi’s forces, Salim Joha, but made up of groups of trained civilians, with a size ranging from 1,000 men up to even 10-20 that, however, soon reached the size of as many as 236katibe.

Almost all of them were battalions specialised in one single task or function. Most of them enrolled – so to speak – in the “Misrata Union of Revolutionaries” or even in the “Misrata Military Council”.

  In November 2011, at its best, the Union had 40,000 militiamen.

 In the West, in the region generically defined as Tripolitania, there was a clear differentiation among the contact people of the countries that had carried out the (illegitimate) attack on Gaddafi – a differentiation that referred to military groups, policy lines and even areas of influence.

 In Zintan there were 6,000 “revolutionaries” divided into eight brigades, while in Nalut there were 5,000 divided into six brigades.

 The katibe of Jadu, Zawiya, Zuwara and the other small centres were mainly linked to the Border Guards, to the forces for controlling oil wells or even to those for Vital Installations.

Moreover, in Tripoli as many as 17 “revolutionary councils” were created, mainly fuelled by the 16,000 common criminals that Gaddafi had freed shortly before his fall. None of the groups was completely autonomous nor could control acceptable parts of territory. Many of them were involved in drug dealing with drugs stolen from the warehouses of the security apparata or operated in the “black market” and in the private protection sector.

There were also “revolutionary” groups that were created, but later, in the regions where Gaddafi’s power had lasted longer: in BaniWalid, Tarhouna and in the Warshafana area.

 Those groups were a mix of old Gaddafians, orphans of their leader but always and absolutely part of the same tribe, and also of new “revolutionaries” who imitated the exploits of the katibe operating in the major centres.

Most of those groups later returned to the ranks of the Oil Guards that paid better than others.

Nevertheless, Gaddafi was also to blame for that chaos. He had created a State security structure that did not report only and directly to the Chief of Staff, but to two different and clearly separate bodies: the “Temporary General Committee on Defence” (initially led by Abu Bakr YunisJabr) and the “Standing Committee on Defence”, led by various figures but, actually, by Gaddafi himself.

The safety net of Gaddafi’s regime was also very complex: there was the “32ndBrigade”, led by Khamis Gaddafi, as well as the Mohammed al Maqariaf, Sahban, Fadhil Abu Omar, Faris, Hamza, Suqur, Abu Minyar and finally the Maghawir brigades.

In Gaddafi’s organization of State security, also the other military forces were divided into two. Only the Eastern units immediately defected, while the others remained loyal to the Colonel.

 A part of the Saeqa battalion joined the “revolutionaries” of Eastern Cyrenaica to form the “Zawiya’s Martyrs Brigade” but, as the advance of jihadists and Westerners from the East proceeded, many officers – albeit fewer we may think – began to defect also in Tripolitania.

Nevertheless, many of the military units stationed in the South and in the West remained loyal to Gaddafi almost until the end.

 After the death of the Sirte Colonel, the units of the West and of the South met with the “revolutionary councils” in the regions where the regular Armed Forces were strong while the revolutionary katibe were weak. This happened mainly in Gharyan, Khums, Sabha, Surman and Tarhouna, the city where a former director of our “external” intelligence Services was born. A hybridization of the political-military forces that make us reflect and is very characteristic of the Libyan anti-Gaddafi insurgency.

Instability obviously grew, while the Westerners, who foolishly caused it, washed their hands of it, probably waiting for the Holy Spirit of some invariably rigged election.

 There was also the strengthening of some institutions which, however, were already very fragmented: the “Libya Shield Force”, the “Preventive Security Apparatus”, the “Lybyan National Guard”, a structure initially created by Khalid al Sharif, former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a network that was already born in the run-up to the 2011 insurgency.

Ubioccidentalia, ibijihadismus, and forgive me for the inevitable mistakes in Latin.

 There were even other organizations of Gaddafi State that absorbed elements of the katibe to stay in power and have some kind of operational base. To survive and do business or just to stay alive. The economic crisis caused by the fall of the regime in 2011 bit immediately.

 Oil accounted for 97% of Tripoli’s revenues at the time of the Colonel. The Libyan oil was processed and exported by ENI, French Total, German Wintershall, Russian Gazprom and Spanish Repsol. With many Italian managers inside them. Obviously Westerners were waiting for the capital of the Libyan Investment Authority to be mobilized – 67 billion in late 2012 – but the political issues arising from the factionalism of the katibe and governments were endless, as it was easy to predict. There were also the General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL), the Libyan Iron and Steel Company (LISCO), the Economic and Social Development Fund (ESDF), the Office of Development or Administrative Complex (ODAC), the free port area of Misrata. Since Gaddafi’s time, an economy that, before the 2011 insurgency, had already been largely privatized but that the “revolutionaries” could not interpret and were not able to control.

Also the institutions fell into chaos, often applying Westernist models to a very different situation: for years the position of “Supreme Leader of the Armed Forces” remained not legally clear, but fluctuated within the GNC, as a result of power struggles, and was often harshly contested by the many “little bosses” of the katibe.

 Before the governments split into two, there was also the often immature conflict between the Defence and the Interior Ministries and the government itself which led, even in the midst of an uncertain and always personalistic management of oil transactions, to an administrative, social and political stalemate – which, in turn, led to an increase in mass poverty.

That added to the Baroque and elaborate structure of institutions, pursued almost exclusively to avoid command and responsibility: the above mentioned Supreme Defence Committee in Tripoli (where also the Salafist and jihadist influences were more evident than in other regions),also divided throughout Libya into 54 regional sectors, had as many as 16,000 guerrillas available only in the old Gaddafi’s capital.

As already recalled, again at the Libyan post-national level, there were 54 local sectors of the Supreme Defence Committee, as well as 23 anti-crime committees, 45 units supporting defence activities, the Ėlite Forces and the Special Deterrence Forces.

 It should also be noted that the Forces that had sought the support of the various factions of the Supreme Defence Committee -often succeeding in obtaining it – even included pro-Gaddafi katibe or even mere common criminals, in addition to elements already classifiable as Qaedist jihadists.

In Ben Ashur, for example, the members of the anti-crime brigades were all ex-convicts.

Until the dissolution of the Supreme Defence Committee, this was the mechanism of Libya’s post-Gaddafi “security”. We will talk about this matter again in other articles.

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. “

Middle East

The Russian bear in Lebanon

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It turned out that the Biden-Putin summit on May 16 has established a wider effect than anyone would expect.

It exceeded by far political analysis, especially in Lebanon. The summit almost coincided with the Russian economic delegation’s visit to Beirut on the 18th of the same month and the announcement of its study results to initiate investments projects in Lebanon.

The results revealed the Russian delegation’s future plans in rebuilding the oil refineries in Zahrani and Tripoli and rehabilitating the latter’s port. Regardless of the projects, the Russian companies intend to deal with, if they are approved and encouraged by good signs changes can be relied upon. It means that Lebanon has taken an important leap in its economic policies by gradually moving towards the East.

Naturally, Lebanon’s orientation towards the East “if it happens” will not be absolute and definitive, but rather principled and partial. This is an important matter by itself. It is marked as a qualitative leap that may minimize the private companies’ monopolization of energy imports, which will be directly reflected, firstly, in electricity production in Lebanon, and secondly in facilitating the provision of petroleum products in Lebanon. Such projects became a necessity, in particular, after the collapse of the Lebanese lira against the American dollar.    

Logically, changing the reality of the production of electricity will reveal immediate results. It will be reflected in the change in the rehabilitation of the economic infrastructure fields in Lebanon. It will also positively reflect in other vital areas, such as determining the prices of food commodities, which became outrageously high. 

Accordingly, one of the most important reasons for the obscene rise in food prices is related to the high costs of transportation in the last month alone. It is almost above the purchasing power of the Lebanese. For example, the prices of vegetables and fruits, a non-imported commodity, which is not supervised by government support, remained within reasonable prices; however, once the diesel prices started rising, it directly affected the prices of the seasonal vegetables and fruits.

In addition, there are unseen accomplishments that will go with the entry of Russian companies, which is creating new job opportunities in Lebanon. Lately, it was reported that unemployment in Lebanon will reach 41.4% this year. It is a huge rate, which the Lebanese media, in general, use to provoke people against the current resigned government. However, it neglects to shed the light on the importance of the Russian investment in creating new job opportunities, which will affect all social groups, whether they were transporters, building workers, porters, cleaners, or university graduates.

The companies coming to Lebanon are directly supported by the Russian state. However, they are private companies, a fact that has its advantages. They are familiarized with dealing with other Western international companies. Russian companies have previously coordinated with French and Italian companies in Lebanon, through contracts concluded for the extraction of gas in Lebanese fields and in other fields outside Lebanon. Russian- European coordination process is also recognized in rebuilding Beirut’s harbor. A German company will rebuild the docks, while the French will rebuild the containers or depots, and the Russian companies will rebuild the wheat silos.

It seems that the process is closely related to the future of Lebanon and the future of the Chinese project, the New Silk Road, [One Road, and One Belt]. However, it is not clear yet whether the Russian companies will be investing in Tripoli’s refinery and in regenerating and expanding its port or it will be invested by the Chinese companies. If this achievement is accomplished, then Tripoli will restore its navigating glorious history. Tripoli was one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean. Additionally, there is a need for the Russian and the Chinese to expand on the warm shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Secondly, the project will boost Tripoli and its surroundings from the current low economic situation to a prosperous economic one, if the real intentions are there. The results in Tripoli will be read as soon as the projects set foot in the city. Of course, this will establish another Sino-Russian victory in the world of economy and trade, if not in politics as well.

The entry of the Russians and the Chinese into the Lebanese field of commerce has international implications. It will come within international and global agreements or understanding. Nevertheless, it is a sign that the Americans are actually losing their grip on Lebanon. This entry will stop the imposition of a limited number of European-oriented Lebanese monopolizing companies, which have dominated the major Lebanese trade of oil and its products. Dominance is protected with the “illusion” of meaningless international resolution. It is true that the Americans are still maneuvering in several places; however, this is evident to the arbitrariness of decisions making in the U.S. today. It is the confusion resulting from ramifications of the “Sword of Jerusalem” operation in Palestine; it seems that they do not have a clear plan towards policies in the region, other than supporting “Israel”.

If the above is put into action, and the Russian companies start working within a guarantee agreement with the Lebanese state. This means a set of important issues on the international and regional levels. And it also means that the Americans would certainly prefer the Russians to any Chinese or Iranian economic direct cooperation in Lebanon.

Firstly, it is clear that in their meeting Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin reached a kind of consent to activate stability in the region. Two years ago, the Americans had a different plan. According to an established source, the Americans actually intended to strike internal stability in Lebanon and ignite another civil war round, before finalizing stability in Syria. This assertion tunes with David Hale’s, an American envoy to Lebanon, a declaration about the American anger over the $10 billion spent in Lebanon to change the political reality and overthrow Hezbollah from the government. Consequently, the American project is behind us now. Russia and China need to invest in the stability of Lebanon, in order to secure their investments in the process of rebuilding Syria.

Secondly, the Lebanese state guarantee, which the Russians require, is directly related to the lack of confidence in the Lebanese banking policies, which have lost their powers as a guarantor for investments after the role they played since November 17, 2019 till today. It proved the inefficiency of the financial policies of the Lebanese banks, which was based on the principle of usury since the nineties of the last century. In addition, a state guarantee will enable the Russian companies to surpass the American sanctions. 
The state guarantee increases the value and importance of the Lebanese state as an entity in the region, and this can be understood from Macron’s statements after the explosion of Beirut port last August when he said that Lebanon’s role in the region as we know it must change. 

Thirdly, if we consider the history of international unions in the world, including the European Union, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and others, they started as economic alliances before they end as political alliances. Therefore, at this historical stage and in order to work on the economic recovery of Lebanon, which needs more investments instead of falling under the burden of more debts. Lebanon needs to head East towards economic unity with Syria. In cooperating with two superpowers, Lebanon and Syria can form an economic bloc on the Mediterranean shores, a bloc that can get Lebanon out of the vortex of Western absurdity and expand its alliances and horizons to be a real economic and cultural forum where the East and the West can meet.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Middle East

A New Era in US-Jordan Relations

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President Joe Biden meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

King Abdullah of Jordan is the first Arab leader who met American President Joe Biden at the White House. The visit has reaffirmed the strong and long-standing Jordan-US strategic partnership and reinvigorated the bilateral engagement for working together on security issues, and economic development on the basis of shared values and priorities. The King’s visit to Washington reaffirmed Jordan’s value as a reliable ally who plays a critical role for stability in a highly volatile region.

Jordan’s value is multi-dimensional and ranges from bilateral military cooperation, intelligence sharing and joint global counterterrorism operations including as a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve to deployment of almost three thousand (3,000) American troops to Jordan as part of the ongoing campaign to combat regional terrorism. The US has expanded military footprint to Jordan after Washington’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria and reduce military presence in the Turkish airbase of Incirlik. In addition, the kingdom’s geopolitical position in the heart of the Middle East provides a viable alternative for logistical support to the American military taking into consideration the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and close three bases in Qatar. Notably, the remaining supplies from the three Qatari bases along with the Support Mission have been transferred to Jordan and have become part of the Area Support Group-Jordan that operates as the Base Operations Support Integrator to back contingency operations and military-to-military engagements within the US Army Central Command’s area of responsibility.

Jordan’s value also stems from its critical role in addressing the overwhelming humanitarian needs created by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as well as in hosting almost two million registered Palestinian refugees.

Support of Two-state Solution

The fact that Jordan remains at peace with Israel and is a key interlocutor with the Palestinians adds to the kingdom’s reliability to mediate and advance initiatives that support the two-state solution. This presupposes the resetting of Jordan-Israel relations. Washington is well-placed to offer its good offices and help restore trust between the two neighboring countries. The twenty-seventh year Jordan-Israel peace treaty shows not only the possibilities for coordination and co-existence but also the ceilings to peace with Israel in the absence of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A “cold peace” and quiet, limited cooperation are currently the maximum possibilities vis-a-vis a “warm peace” that will unlock Jordan-Israel cooperation and potential.

It is nevertheless noteworthy that the last five years have been discerned by the previous American administration’s lack of appreciation of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Trump peace proposal, known as “the Vision”, not only undermined the long-established aim of a two-state solution but also reinforced discussions over alternatives including a one state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; different measures of annexation, such as Israeli annexation of Area C in the West Bank; “exotic options” such as a federation in which Israel and Palestine share certain aspects of sovereignty; potential unilateral Israeli initiatives with most prevailing a Jordanian model, in which Jordan takes control of the West Bank and Palestinians are given Jordanian citizenship; and, reinforcement of the notion that “Jordan is “Palestine””.

Practically, Jordan can serve as honest broker in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but as the late King Hussein stated in an interview with The New York Times in 1991 “Jordan should not be, cannot be, will not be a substitute for the Palestinians themselves as the major aggrieved party on the Arab side in a process that leads to peace”. The cited statement is fully embraced by Jordan’s current leadership.

Acknowledgment of Jordan’s Custodianship

The public acknowledgement by the American President of the kingdom’s special role as custodian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem is translated into a vote of confidence and a commendation for Jordan’s efficient safeguarding of religious sites for decades.  As known, Amman pays the salaries of more than one thousand (1,000) employees of the Jerusalem Waqf Department and its custodianship role is carried out on behalf of all Islamic nations. The kingdom holds the exclusive authority of the Jordanian-appointed council, the Waqf, over the Temple Mount/ Haram Al Sharif and has spent over 1 billion dollars since 1924 for the administration and renovation of Al Aqsa mosque.

Jordan has admittedly served at multiple occasions as credible intermediary for Israel and the Palestinians to suspend tensions in the old city of Jerusalem, particularly at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif and pursues a successful administration of religious funded schools favoring moderate religious education and religious tourism. Jordanian moderation has guaranteed co-existence of the three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem at a time when on the contrary, counties like Turkey funnel millions of dollars in charity projects in Jerusalem promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Overall, Jordan’s custodianship has proved to be successful in maintaining delicate arrangements for the benefit of all religions and parties involved.

American Loan Guarantees

The King’s discussions with the American President also centered on the economic challenges exacerbated by the effect of the pandemic and the enhancement of bilateral economic cooperation. Admittedly, Jordan showed strong leadership and governance with early actions that reduced the coronavirus pandemic pressure on the kingdom’s health system. The Jordanian government imposed a nationwide lockdown and severe social distancing measures at a much earlier stage of the pandemic than other Middle East countries.

Jordan withstood the pandemic’s impact with minimal loss of life but with a significant cost to its economy. As of June 2020, most restrictions on economic activity were lifted turning Jordan into one of the first Arab countries to reopen. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has contracted in 2020 by 3.5 percent after growing 2 percent in 2019 due to losses in state revenues because of fewer remittances and a weakened tourism market.

To cope with the direct negative effects of the pandemic on its state budget, the Kingdom received $396 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The amount of finance has specifically helped address the country’s balance of payments needs and allowed for higher spending on healthcare, and assistance to households and companies most affected by the pandemic. Despite that the IMF provided in March 2020 another multi-year $1.3 billion loan package to Jordan, the pandemic has caused a $1.5 billion shortfall in its balance of payments.

This complex economic reality along with Jordan’s moderation in the Arab world justify continued robust annual American economic assistance to the kingdom in the form of budgetary support (cash transfer), USAID programs in Jordan, and loan guarantees. US cash assistance should increase in the coming years taking into consideration that it is directed to refugee support and to segments of the economy that are mostly affected by the pandemic like foreign debt payments and fuel import costs. Overall, a pledge should be made for Jordan in American congress for the authorization of moreUS sovereign loan guarantees that will help the kingdom weather the pandemic’s adverse medium-to-long-term effects on its economy. US sovereign loan guarantees will allow Jordan to issue debt securities that are fully guaranteed by the American government in capital markets, effectively subsidizing the cost for the Jordanian government to access financing.

It is also noticeable that in a genuine effort to help the kingdom contain the pandemic and safeguard public health, the American administration proceeded with the delivery of over 500 thousand covid-19 vaccines to Jordan highlighting American commitment to international vaccination programs including that of the kingdom.

US-Jordan Defense Partnership

The strategic US-Jordan defense relationship was reflected in the discussions that were conducted between the Jordanian King and the American President. American support for the modernization of Jordan’s F-16 fighter jets has been at the forefront of the agenda with the aim of achieving greater interoperability and effectiveness for the Jordanian Armed Forces.  The American President recognized Jordan’s contribution to the successful international campaign to defeat ISIS and honored as an example of heroism the memory of captain Muath al-Kasasbeh who was executed in 2015 by the terrorist organization’s militants.  

Jordan has suffered avowedly from terrorism throughout the years and works collectively at regional and international levels to eliminate all its forms. The kingdom lost two prime ministers, Haza’a Al-Majali and Wasfi Al-Tal, as victims of terrorism and experienced a series of terrorist attacks like the simultaneous suicide bombings against three hotels in Amman in November 2005 that led to the loss of life of American, Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian nationals.

In effect, Jordan is the third-largest recipient of annual American foreign aid globally, after Afghanistan and Israel. A Memorandum of Understanding on American foreign assistance to Jordan commits the United States to providing $1.275 billion per year over a five-year period for a total of $6.375 billion (FY2018-FY2022). Renegotiations on the next such agreement for FY2023-FY2027 is estimated that will aim at increasing the American commitment to Jordan, a key ally in the fight against international terrorism whose military should be in position to procure and maintain conventional weapons systems.

On the whole, Jordan is a steadfast security partner of the United States in the Middle East whose moderation and pragmatism helped the kingdom weather regional and world challenges. As 2021 and past years have showed, Jordan’s position as a bridge between the Levant and the Persian Gulf provides it a unique geopolitical standing, in a way that nowadays Amman is granted with a significant security, diplomatic and humanitarian role that signals a new era in US-Jordan relations.

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Middle East

Chinese FM Wraps Up his Visit to Egypt

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Wang Yi, the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, visited Egypt on July 18, 2021, in El Alamein City, northwest Egypt. The Chinese Foreign Minister is the first foreign official to visit this strategic city.

Wang Yi met with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, during his visit to Egypt, and they discussed bilateral relations between the two countries. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Egypt and China. Egypt is the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with China and the first African country to do so. In the Arab world, the Islamic world, Africa, and developing countries, Egypt has long been one of China’s most important strategic partners. At the international level, the two countries mutually support one another. The meeting between Egypt’s Foreign Minister and China’s Foreign Minister focused on three main issues: the Covid-19 vaccine, the One Belt One Road Initiative, and international and regional issues such as Palestine and Syria

Covid-19 Vaccine

Both Egypt and China have a long history of cooperation and friendship. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19, the two countries’ relations were based on economic and trade cooperation, with China being Egypt’s first trading partner for the eighth year in a row since 2013, and the volume of trade exchange between the two countries exceeding $14.5 billion in 2020. However, as the outbreak Covid-19, cooperation between the two countries expanded to include medical cooperation. Egypt and China worked together to combat the virus. Egypt sent medical supplies to China, and China sent medical supplies and Chinese vaccine to Egypt. In addition, in December 2020, the two sides signed a cooperation agreement on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and China dispatched technical teams to Egypt to assist in the vaccine’s local manufacture. As a result, Egypt is considered Africa’s first vaccine manufacturer.

One Belt One Road Initiative  

Egypt is an important strategic partner in building the Belt and Road Initiative. According to CGTN, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, stated that:” Egypt supports the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI).” He added that Egypt is ready to strengthen cooperation with China in the fields of economy, trade, industry, science and technology, and expand human exchanges within the framework of the “Belt and Road Initiative.” One Belt and One Road Initiative is one of the most important initiatives of the twenty-first century, announced by President Xi Jinping during official visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013. Egypt was one of the first countries to participate in this initiative. In 2014, Egyptian President al-Sisi expressed in an interview that China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative was an “opportunity” for cooperation between China and Egypt. Egypt was willing to participate in it actively.

International and Regional Issues

Regarding the international and regional issues, the two sides exchanged views and coordinated positions on some issues as Palestine, Syria issues. It’s worth mentioning that Wang Yi paid a visit to Syria the day before his trip to Egypt, marking him the first Chinese official to visit Syria since the country’s civil war began. China supports the Syrian sovereignty and rejects foreign interference in Syria, and also rejects the regime change. The Egyptian Minister Sameh Shoukry also discussed with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the GERD issue. According to Sky News, Shoukry explained Egypt and Sudan’s positions as two downstream countries, the importance of preserving the interests of all parties and not jeopardizing the downstream countries’ water security, and the importance of engaging in intensified negotiations under the auspices of the African Union presidency. The two sides signed an agreement on the Egyptian-Sino Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee at the end of their meeting.

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