EUNAVFORMED “Irini” operation: constraints and two critical issues
The war in Libya represents the main obstacle to stability in the Mediterranean area. While regional and international actors scramble for influence, the European Union and European states seem unable to revive the diplomatic path launched last January with the Berlin Conference and to prevent a looming humanitarian disaster just beyond the EU’s southern border (ISPI, 2020). As war persists in the North African country, factors such as weapons’ supply, illegal migration, drugs and human trafficking continue to affect the region and the south of Europe -including NATO’s border- and to impact on security in the area. EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation aims at ending arms trafficking in Libya: but such goal is far from being achieved due to a lack of political cohesion and ineffective military capability.
Analysis by Claudio Bertolotti
EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation: constraints and two critical issues
The Berlin Summit as a premise to the “Irini” operation
Participants at the Berlin Conference on Libya, which was held on 19th January 2020, committed specifically to fully respecting and implementing the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1970 (2011), 2292 (2016) and 2473 (2019). On 17th February 2020, the Council agreed to launch a new military operation in the Mediterranean, which would oversee the enactment of the embargo by means of aerial, satellite and maritime assets. In a break-through following months of negotiations, Greece confirmed its willingness to assist irregular migrants saved at sea by EU military ships, who would therefore not -at least formally- be sent over to an already hard-pressed Italy. This issue had previously stalled any tangible progress.
On 31st March 2020 Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy announced an agreement over the creation of operation “Irini” (Greek for “peace”), an Italian-led mission with its operational centre in Rome. As well as supporting the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and in accordance with Resolution 2292 of the U.N. Security Council, the mission also entails the inspection of vessels navigating the high seas off the coast of Libya, assumed to be carrying weapons (or related material) to, and from, Libya; it also inherits some secondary tasks from its predecessor, EUNAVFORMED’s operation “Sophia”, including the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy, and search-and-rescue duties.
the mission entails the inspection of vessels navigating the high seas off the coast of Libya, assumed to be carrying weapons to and from Libya
But up to now, “Irini” proved unable to achieve its primary goal, due to a fundamental political weakness brought about by the heterogeneous priorities set by EU countries, and to a limited military capability.
“Irini” ’s mission
On 30th March 2020, the European Council officially launched EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation in the Mediterranean. Through the imposition of an arms embargo and a new military operation within the scope of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the European Union is stepping up its efforts towards peace in Libya.
up to now, “Irini” proved unable to achieve its primary goal, due to a fundamental political weakness brought about by the heterogeneous priorities set by EU countries, and to a limited military capability
The main task assigned to EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” consists in implementing the embargo by also inspecting vessels to and from Libya, which can be reasonably assumed to be carrying weapons (or related material) for belligerents; as well as gathering extensive and comprehensive information on the trafficking of arms and other military equipment and supplies by sea. As secondary tasks, EUNAVFOR MED “Irini” will also:
- monitor and gather information on illicit exports of petroleum, crude oil and refined petroleum products from Libya
- contribute to the capacity-building and training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy in law enforcement tasks at sea
- contribute to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks through information gathering and patrolling by planes
“Irini” ’s mandate will initially last until 31st March 2021 and the operation will be performed under the close scrutiny of EU Member States, who will exercise political control and strategic direction through the Political and Security Committee (PSC) -in its turn under the responsibility of the Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy-. Unlike its predecessor “Sophia”, which operated in the Strait of Sicily, “Irini” shifted eastwards to patrol the waters between Egypt and Crete, with special attention payed to Cyrenaica.
A worsening situation: weapons keep reaching Libya
The internationalization of the conflict -its transformation from a civil war into a war by proxy- ensures that technologically-advanced military equipment continue to reach Libya by air, land, and sea. The fact that non-state armed actors in the country are pretty familiar with such weapons systems is a harbinger of danger for bordering countries as well: between 2012 and 2014, terrorists and separatist groups filled their arsenals with weapons belonging to the former Libyan army. These weapons could now cross into bordering countries, a number of which are increasingly struggling with insurgencies fueled by, among others, the so-called and dangerous as ever Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida.
participants at the Berlin Conference on Libya committed to fully respecting the arms embargo established by the UN Security Council; according to the UN, the latter has since been broken by several participants
Against such background, the optimist attitude displayed at the Berlin Conference now seems unjustified, especially as according to the UN, the arms embargo has since been broken by several Summit participants, with planes landing at airports in both Eastern and Western Libya with their cargos of weapons, armored vehicles, foreign fighters, and military advisors. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL, 2020) reported that “several among those who participated in the Berlin Conference” have been involved in the “ongoing transfer of foreign fighters, weapons, ammunition and advanced systems” and other military equipment (Kaim, Schulz, 2020).
From theory to practice: operational difficulties and political boundaries
“Irini” started its activities at sea on 4th May but, despite some initial confidence, it has since been marred by differences among EU members. Greek and French ships joined the mission at the end of May but Malta, which had pledged specially-trained on-board personnel, withdrew its participation in an apparent attempt at influencing the Libyan GNA and Turkey.
The mission currently operates with the Greek frigate “Spetsai” (Hydra class) and the French frigate “Jean Bart” (Cassard class); a small maritime reconnaissance aircraft made available by Luxembourg and Poland; a German P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft; and (as of July) the Italian ship “San Giorgio”. In August, Germany provided its “Hamburg” vessel -a Sachsen class frigate with a crew of 250 military personnel. Italy further contributes with a drone for surveillance operations and with the logistical bases of Augusta, Pantelleria and Sigonella, while a P72 maritime patrol aircraft, an Air early-warning aircraft (Aew) and a submarine “will occasionally be available in support” (Pioppi, 2020). According to its operational commander, the deployment will “soon be capable of reaching full operational capacity” (Pioppi, 2020): nevertheless, compared to its initial objectives, it suffers from very limited resources and its effectiveness is further undermined by poor political cohesion among the 27 European partners.
Turkey’s challenge to the European Union
On 10th of June 2020 the Greek frigate “Spetsai” (under Italian command) tried to approach Tanzanian-flagged mercantile ship “Cirkin”, which was being suspected of carrying weapons from Turkey to Tripoli. The maneuver was countered in the Gulf of Sirte by direct intervention of a Turkish military unit escorting the mercantile (Hassad, 2020). A second Turkish military unit apparently converged towards the Greek frigate after a Greek navy helicopter overflew the “Cirkin”. As soon as the Greek helicopter approached the “Cirkin”, it received a call from the Turkish frigate explaining that “the Turkish ship is under the protection of the Turkish Republic”. The Turkish official said that the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) had not recognized “Irini”. A laser framing action on the part of the Turks -as a prelude to an escalation- is thought to have put an end to the situation by forcing “Spetsai” into retreat.
The “Cirkin” freighter, which entered the port of Tripoli on 11th of June (a day after the event), had set sail from the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul, after docking in a “roll-on roll-off” (RORO) port for a loadful of weapons, equipment and heavy vehicles, including armored vehicles hailing from a nearby military base of the Turkish army. The 4,000 tons, 100 metre’s long Turkish freighter was launched in 1980 and has previously been used by Ankara for shipping armored vehicles and other equipment to the GNA in Tripoli.
Greece denounced the incident -which would later re-occur with the French ship as well- as a blatant violation of the UN embargo; to which Ankara replied by underlining how, since the “Cirkin” enjoyed Turkish protection, the “Irini” intervention could in fact be deemed un-necessary. Turkey undeniably exposed the European operation’s critical issues; it also criticized its unilateral bias in favor of General Khalifa Haftar and further suggested the creation of a new mechanism by the United Nations (Hurriyet Daily News, 2020).
The incident, which did not make headlines outside Greece, testifies to the political -rather than operational- ineffectiveness of the European mission, which is supposed to be enforcing a military embargo on Libya; but as a matter of fact, does not seem to be able to control naval routes and to stop flows of weapons and other equipment from reaching General Haftar’s faction by land, from Egypt, and by air, from Russia.
the fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness
“Irini” ’s two principal shortcomings
The fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness. Military supplies reach the opposing Libyan factions from two directions: the western maritime border, used by Turkey to provide the GNA in Tripoli with weapons and fighters; and the eastern border, whereby Egypt and the United Arab Emirates send their support to Haftar’s LNA (al-Jazeera, 2020). As Egypt and the UAE are determined to take advantage of the situation, the Turks are left with no other option than supplying Tripoli with weapons across waters that are now being patrolled by the EU.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently complained that “the EU mission did not do anything to stop other powers’ shipments into Libya”, including what he alleged were “arms being sent by France to Haftar”. France, which denies supporting Haftar but has long been suspected of favoring him, voiced its fury last month after alleging that the French ship “Courbet” was subjected to laser framing by Turkish frigates’, while inspecting a mercantile en route to Libya (al-Jazeera, 2020).
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio addressed the issue as well by specifying that “Irini” “is not a naval blockade. The international regulatory framework includes the naval blockade as a method of war. Therefore, the blockade is a measure that can only be adopted during international armed conflicts. “Irini” envisages measures which must be selective, legitimate and fully respectful of international law, and aimed at promoting the return of peace and security in Libya “(Di Feo, 2020). Di Maio’s statement implicitly upholds the operation’s structural limitations, which clearly emerge in the form of two main criticalities.
the absence of a jurisdictional framework for States to operate in Libya or bordering nations, allows countries wanting to flout the arms embargo, to directly supply weapons to the conflicting parties by land, sea and air
One of the weak points of the arms embargo on Libya consists in its implementation. States’ and EU actions are restricted to enforcing the arms embargo at sea. Initially, the Security Council had only called upon States to inspect all cargos to and from Libya “in their territory, including at seaports and airports”, should they possess information providing reasonable grounds to believe that those cargos contained arms. The absence of a jurisdictional framework or authorization for States to act outside their own territory and to operate in Libya or bordering nations, allows countries wanting to flout the arms embargo, to directly supply weapons to the conflicting parties by land, sea and air.
The second criticality resides in the option of extending monitoring activities to Libya’s land borders, which involves having “boots on the ground” EU military personnel, but only in the event of a request from local authorities. If up to very recently, an agreement on this issue between General Khalifa Haftar in Tobruk and Tripoli government’s chairman Fayez al-Serraj seemed utterly unlikely, the truce which was announced on 21st August 2020 by al-Serraj and Aguila Saleh (spokesperson of the Chamber of Representatives in Tobruk) could open a different scenario (and al-Serraj’s apparent intention of leaving office at the end of October also adds to the picture). Currently though, without any Security Council authorization or consent on the part of the Libyan authorities, the EU cannot conduct any aerial surveillance activities within Libyan airspace, let alone stem the supply of weapons by air or enforce the arms embargo on the ground in Libya. As most of the weapons destined for General Haftar’s forces are being transported by land or air, a stricter enforcement of the arms embargo at sea comes at the expense of the Libyan Government of National Accord, which receives most of its supplies from Turkey via the sea route.
One might question whether the EU operation will be any more than symbolic, as EU member States are not likely prepared to commit all the naval and surveillance assets which are required to effectively enforce the arms embargo.
Analysis, assessment, forecast
Despite the UN arms embargo, Turkey signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and sent drones, armored vehicles, Syrian mercenaries and military officers to support al-Sarraj against the forces of eastern-based commander, General Khalifa Haftar. Ankara’s support affected the balance on the ground, forcing Haftar’s Libyan National Army to retreat from the west of the country following an unsuccessful attempt at capturing Tripoli; an attempt which turned into an exhausting one-year siege.
It is clear how current rules make it impossible to stop weapons’ shipments from Turkey, while the latter consolidates its position and role in Tripoli. As a sign of this, Ankara was assigned the port of Misurata in a move which saw the simultaneous removal of Italy from the same area.
“Irini” should essentially consist in a deterrent barrier; however, due to its shortcomings in countering embargo violations, such deterrence inevitably fails and Europe cannot but acknowledge, at most, Turkey’s commitment to war, and its success in Libya.
Due to a lack of control on land, sea and air routes, the overall impact of “Irini” is currently marginal. The mission will only be successful in so far as it is inscribed into a broader strategy which needs to be clearly defined and better implemented.
As recently suggested by ECFR (European Council for Foreign Relations), Italy should grab the opportunity offered by the German presidency of the EU Council to initiate a platform from which -together with allies- to enforce international norms on the conflict; broker among international competitors who have an interest in ‘feeding’ a war-by-proxy; enable a new UN conference on Libya. An engagement in this direction would jeopardize Russia’s attempt at protracting the conflict and possibly fill the vacuum generated by Turkey, Egypt and the UAE, who are supporting opposing sides.
due to a lack of control on land, sea and air routes, the overall impact of “Irini” is currently marginal. The mission will only be successful in so far as it is inscribed into a broader strategy
The recent UN Security Council resolution 2473 (2019) in support of operation “Irini” can be seen as a useful stepping-stone towards bolstering a European political vision able to turn into diplomatic and military action and initiative. EU member States should launch a real, impartial and balanced operation based on a shared strategy, which would concretely fulfill the Berlin Conference’s commitments. In order for this to be achieved, the embargo must necessarily be extended to include air and land, rather than being restricted to patrolling sea routes (Varvelli and Megerisi, 2020).
 On 15th September 2020, al-Serraj apparently announced his intention to leave his post at the helm of the GNA by the end of October.
‘Laser’ episode discusses de-radicalisation and studies on the brain of jihadist supporters (Swiss National Radio)
What is de-radicalisation about? What do these programmes deal with, and what do they imply?
often with an individual, when you’ve taken them through this, and they no longer belong to ISIS or al -Qaeda or another jihadist orientation (…) their identity is broken. They’re no longer this ‘warrior fighting against the world’, so where do they belong? Their connection to morality is also separated now, because their previous kind of black-and-white moral perspective has been shattered; they do not necessarily have a sense of morality. All of these things need to be replaced, they need to be reintegrated in terms of their self-identity, their sense of belonging, their socialisation; their moral perspective needs to be reintegrated in a wider, societal perspective (Rashad Ali)
How do the brains of extremists and jihadist supporters react to specific situations or social experiments? What do their scans tell us?
Which factors can precipitate radicalisation, and which ones help disengagement?
LISTEN TO THE ‘LASER’ EPISODE ‘DERADICALIZZAZIONE. DENTRO LA MENTE JIHADISTA’ (aired on 22nd September by Swiss-Italian Radio – RSI)
Chiara Sulmoni meets Rashad Ali, a practitioner and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London, who works on de-radicalisation initiatives in the context of prisons, probation and the wider community; and Nafees Hamid (Research Fellow at Artis International and Associate Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism), who’ll explain the results of neuroscientific studies he conducted in Spain on the brain of jihadist supporters and whose conclusions scientifically confirm how social exclusion plays an important role in radicalisation, while social influence can ‘reactivate’ deliberate reasoning and help disengage from violence.
Further to the topics discussed in the documentary, here’s another take by Nafees Hamid:
“We have a tendency to overfocus on the individual: how can we build individual capacity to be more preventative of radicalisation, how do we teach people how to think critically, and so forth…. While radicalisation manifests at the individual level, it originally emanates at the community level, so when you see radicalisation happening, it’s clustering -geographically clustering-. Usually it’s just a few neighbourhoods in any country that produce the bulk of recruits into any terrorist group. There is clearly something happening in certain communities that make them more vulnerable. One of the things is lack of social cohesion, people do not really have a strong sense of belonging, purpose, identity, which make them an easy picking for terrorist groups to recruit. So while we are spending so much time on individual capacity building and counter-messaging, I think we could be focussing more on what I call ‘counter-engagement’.
the reason why terrorist groups are appealing to a lot of people, is because they are offering them engagement in a meaningful cause, they are offering them something to do. (…) If we want to prevent people, throwing nice messages their way is not going to be enough -or even mentorship-. You should probably give them alternative pathways for meaning and purpose
The reason why terrorist groups become appealing to a lot of people, is because they are offering them engagement in a meaningful cause, they are offering them something to do; you can get up off your couch, you can go and become a foreign fighter somewhere, you can become a smuggler, you can proselitize other people, you can promote the movement, you can do a variety of things with your life, that will give your life purpose and meaning through action. So if we want to prevent people, just throwing nice messages their way is not going to be enough, or even mentorship; you should probably give them alternative pathways for meaning and purpose. So if this basic, fundamental need to be an agent of social change, to want to engage in meaningful behaviour, if this need can be satisfied at the community level -whether it’s through community centres or schools, or any other possible avenue that gives people a sense of purpose, not just a job or a source of income but a real sense of purpose- you are offering them a pathway to purpose so that they don’t have to turn to extremist groups.
WAR AND PEACE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN: understanding the Turkish escalation between the Chinese expansionism in Africa and the reshaping of Middle Eastern equilibria
by Andrea Molle
The renewed interest in the Mediterranean, too often considered as a secondary theater in the context of International Relations, derives from several medium and long-term processes that are affecting the global geopolitical equilibria. In particular, it is the consequence of an aggressive Chinese trade policy in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has intensified in the last decade and sees many African states, such as Kenya and Congo, for example, reduced to colonies or in a de facto subordination to China’s interests.
This dynamic is echoed by Beijing’s desire to complete its Belt and Road Initiative, affirming itself as a privileged trading partner of the most important powers within the EU to force it in a relationship of strong dependence. This scenario is made possible by the vacuum created with the protectionist and isolationist turn of the USA led by Donald J. Trump, who seems to lack any coherent international strategy. Moreover, it is a consequence of the lack of a coordinated European strategy in foreign affairs, as demonstrated by the recent Italian interest in becoming a closer partner to China independently from its partners’ choices.
The intensifying of migratory fluxes, aggravated by climate change, corruption, and the increased radicalization in Africa, is a symptom of the destabilization resulting from the Chinese expansionist policy that handed control of critical commercial routes and hubs over to Beijing. Faced with a substantial erosion of their economic systems, mostly caused by the quasi-monopolies established by Chinese companies and investors and the consequent social crisis, more and more people leave Africa to seek fortune in Europe, accentuating the demographic crisis of the continent. Paradoxically, such an easing of demographic pressure contributes to the perpetuating of Chinese control over African governments, hence aggravating the crisis and divisions within the European Union.
Moreover, the crisis is exacerbated by the recent Turkish initiatives aimed to gain a hegemonic role in the Maghreb and the Eastern Mediterranean. This pitch invasion is seemingly facilitated by the shared Islamic culture to which Turkey claims the role of Defensor in open competition with other countries such as Saudi Arabia. Once again, this is a consequence of America’s withdrawal and the lack of a single European voice. With the expected resignation of Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) recognized by the United Nations, the effects on the current Turkish activities in Libya are hard to anticipate. Nevertheless, the intentions of Ankara remain unchanged: to become the privileged Chinese partner by taking advantage of this economic and political conjuncture.
To better understand Ankara’s strategy while not underestimating its chances of success, it is paramount to consider the totality and complexities of the Sino-Turkish relations. We are witnessing several signals. First of all, a softening of visa policies between the two powers has been underway for years. In addition to intensified cultural exchanges, China has recently granted Turkey considerable financial resources to support the industrial and military development plans of the government led by Erdogan. To overcome its structural military inadequacies, Turkey is now rumored to considering the purchase of fifth-generation Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter aircraft. The opening to a partnership with China has been made possible by the exclusion of Turkey from the Lockheed Martin F-35 initiative, wanted by the US. It also represents a further step towards Turkey’s exit from NATO. Should it happen, the loss of the Turkish partner would undoubtedly cause a crisis in the Atlantic Alliance, which is already in a state of suspended animation according to several international observers. A possible weakening of NATO is also a goal of Putin’s Russia, which, despite the current political tension with Turkey, is already providing the country with anti-aircraft systems and is pressing Ankara to purchase its Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters.
In this context, the normalization of the diplomatic relations between Israel and some of the Middle Eastern powers, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the unconfirmed rumors of possible future agreements for developing common military assets, should not be at all surprising. Indeed, this event cannot be just considered due to Trump’s plan to bring stability to the Middle East, which many commentators describe as insufficient if not wholly nonexistent. Instead, it must be understood as evidence that the Arab world, in a perpetual crisis of relevance, is aware of the profound changes in the geopolitical equilibrium of the Eastern Mediterranean and is trying to gain the most advantageous position possible. Finally, what seems to be consolidation now may appear as an anti-Turkish front. However, on a closer look, it is more likely to form an opposing front to Chinese neo-colonial reaches in Africa, or at least contain them while reducing at the same time the dependency from the West.
This game of Risk against the Sleeping Giant will eventually involve all those Persian Gulf countries, which were once sworn enemies of the Jewish state, which today think of Israel more and more as a natural ally. To them, Tel Aviv will represent not only a strong military partner but also an economic and technological hub capable of rivaling Beijing. Such a realignment of alliances and loyalties would probably lead to a solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This result, however, will not be due to either the American mediation or the joint efforts of various nations and international organizations. But instead to the emergence of a common enemy at the horizon. If a solution is therefore reached, it will, unfortunately, be at the expense of the Palestinians. Clinging to obsolete rhetoric and increasingly marginalized by their former allies, they do not seem willing to accept the changes and adapt their long-term objectives and strategy accordingly, falling into complete irrelevance.
With tensions with China predictably on the rise and in the face of the recent threats to Greece, the US has recently taken a stand, causing the temporary withdrawal of Turkish exploration vessels in the territorial waters controlled by Athens. However, coming “too late and one dollar short,” the US is not signaling any intent to get involved in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the contrary, responding to the American intervention and following the announcement of military exercises planned by the Greek armed forces in the northern Aegean, Ankara accused again Athens of violating the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greek-Turkish war (1919- 1923) by redesigning the new borders between the two countries. It is not the first time that Turkey has accused Greece of violating the Treaty. The first time was in June 1964, following the deployment of a Greek motorized brigade on the island. However, this time Turkey does not seem to rule out a military reaction to the exercises recently announced by Athens.
On the northern shore of mare nostrum, things are not going any better. Although it is clear that the game that is being played in the Mediterranean, and that involves Greece and Cyprus, is an existential threat to European and Western interests, including the survival of the European Union, few nations have fully understood it. Amongst the European capitals, the change in the balance that for years accompanied the Union’s Mediterranean policy seems to be fully appreciated only by Paris. Accused of only aiming to control negligible energy resources, the second powerhouse of the EU has instead always pushed for a more incisive international role for Europe and its military integration. France is left alone while Berlin acts as Germany is still a trading state, interested only in short-term economic gains and not to upset the precarious balance reached with Turkey on the issue of migrants from the Balkan route.
As for Italy, Rome seems to think its best option is to take once again on the very same posture of equidistance and neutrality that has reduced it to a background actor in the international relations system with the addition of a dangerously ambiguous relationship with China. Nevertheless, France, which appears to be the natural candidate to lead the Union’s foreign policy, cannot expect to win this game alone. Geography is not an opinion: without Italy, the second naval power in the EU, Europe stands no chances of being relevant. It will inevitably be doomed in a humiliating position of subjugation.
Main events in the Maghreb and the Mashreq – August
Algeria: beyond the crisis, Algeria allows private banks, airlines, sea transport firms
Algeria will allow its private sector to set up banks as well as air and sea transport companies for goods and passengers to reduce spending, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on 18th August. The move is part of wider reforms by the OPEC member to cope with financial problems caused by a sharp fall in energy export revenues, the main source of state funding for the North African country. Elected in December 2019, Tebboune wants to encourage private investors and improve the investment climate in an effort to develop the non-energy sector and reduce reliance on oil and gas.
Algeria’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen to $57 billion from $62 billion in January, while energy export revenues are expected to reach $24 billion this year compared with $33 billion in 2019, Tebboune said. Energy earnings currently account for 94% of total exports and the government aims to bring that figure to 80% from next year, while increasing the value of exports of non-energy products to $5 billion from $2 billion now, he added. To achieve that goal, the authorities will allocate $14.84 billion to help finance investment projects for the coming months (MEMO – Middle East Monitor, 2020).
Egypt: Greek deals with Egypt, Italy
The agreement for the partial designation of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between Greece and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean was signed on August 6 in Cairo. For Athens, the deal effectively nullified a maritime accord between Turkey and the internationally recognized government of Libya signed last year. This agreement is part of a broader strategy of settling bilateral issues, building alliances with third parties in a way that promotes national interests, based on respect for international law. It is also a balanced agreement that is fully in line with the United Nations Law of the Sea, a piece of international law in which Turkey is one of only 15 countries in the whole world to not sign or ratify. The agreement with Egypt came after Greece signed a deal with Italy on June 9 which effectively extended a 1977 agreement between the two states on continental shelves in the Ionian Sea.
Israele: a new peace deal with the United Arab Emirates
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed had agreed to a peace agreement: Israel it will temporarily “suspend” plans to annex the West Bank, as part of a new peace deal. The deal was announced by US President Donald Trump.
The UAE and Israel plan to exchange embassies and ambassadors, according to the statement. It will be the third Arab country to open relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Netanyahu formally thanked Egyptian President Adel-Fattah el-Sisi and the governments of Oman and Bahrain for their support to the normalization of relations between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem.
But Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas trashed the peace agreement as “a betrayal of Jerusalem.” In a statement read out on Palestine TV, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, “The Palestinian leadership rejects what the United Arab Emirates has done and considers it a betrayal of Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause. This deal is a de facto recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The PA also announced it was immediately withdrawing its Ambassador to the UAE, according to a statement on the Palestinian news agency Wafa. Officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejected the agreement, as did Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Lebanon: the Beirut explosion a Turning Point for Lebanon?
On the afternoon of 4th August 2020, two explosions occurred at the port of the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The second explosion was extremely powerful, and caused at least 177 deaths, 6,000 injuries, and US$10–15 billion in property damage, leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. The main blast at Beirut’s port was caused when an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate had been ignited: ammonium nitrate is a highly combustible material used to make fertilisers and bombs. The appalling negligence that left more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the port in unsuitable climatic conditions, with no expert oversight, for more than six years demonstrate the endemic corruption and incompetence of a country devasted by decades of settarian conflicts, absence of a governance and cynical political games played by regional States and internal actors. Exacerbated by the pandemic, the chronic corruption and misrule had brought the economy to ruin; because a long term economic and social crisis the State is going to fail, although Lebanon has been a failing state for years.
For months prices have been soaring and the middle class has been sinking into poverty and despair. For weeks, before the explosion, residents of the capital demonstrated against mismanagement and economic uncertainty. Since the day of the explosion, protesters tried to break the police and army cordons; as consequence, Lebanon’s parliament has approved a state of emergency that grants sweeping powers to the army: the state of emergency allows the army to curb free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press, as well as to enter homes and arrest anyone deemed a security threat. But it was not enough to contain the mass protests: the demonstrations prompted Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet to resign: but the crisis is too deep to be resolved by a change of management.
The impact of the crisis is terrific, especially in the urban areas. People try to leave or survive thanks to economic support from relatives abroad; others are resorting to some support from Hezbollah. Economic sanctions have made Iran less generous, but Hezbollah continues to maintain a widespread patronage network. The main short-term consequence is fragmentation and criminalisation. In the long term, it remains to be seen in which sphere of influence Lebanon ends up. Iran is trying to exploit the deadlock, but cannot alleviate its financial need. Hezbollah is now increasingly looking to China, such as the government that is trying to attract Chinese investment and China itself sees an additional hub in the East Mediterranean (in addition to the bridgeheads it already has in Egypt and Greece), (Holslag, 2020).
Libya: Turkey and Qatar sign military cooperation deal with Libya government
According to Ahval News, Turkey and Qatar have signed a tripartite deal with the Libyan government for military cooperation, in a new development set to enhance the government’s defence against the forces of Khalifa Haftar. The agreement, which was announced by Libya’s Deputy Defence Minister Salam Al-Namroush on 17th August, will establish military facilities and training programmes within the country. This cooperation will include Qatar’s funding of military training centres and the establishment of a trilateral coordination centre and Turkish naval base in the city of Misrata. Consultation will also be provided to Libyan government forces as part of the agreement.
Italy, which has been present in Misrata for years with its own military hospital, has been removed from the area, making the efforts made so far in vain. The same Italian staff will be redeployed near the capital Tripoli.
Syria: U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria would most likely shrink in the coming months
The top American military commander in the Middle East said that U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria would most likely shrink in the coming months, but that he had not yet received orders to begin withdrawing forces.
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, said the 5,200 troops in Iraq to help fight remnants of the Islamic State and train Iraqi forces “will be adjusted” after consultations with the government in Baghdad.
General McKenzie said he expected American and other NATO forces to maintain “a long-term presence” in Iraq — both to help fight Islamic extremists and to check Iranian influence in the country. He declined to say how large that presence might be, but other American officials said discussions with Iraqi officials that resume this month could result in a reduction to around 3,500 U.S. troops.
Despite President Trump’s demand last fall for a complete withdrawal of all 1,000 American forces from Syria, the president still has some 500 troops, mostly in the country’s northeast, assisting local Syrian Kurdish allies in combating pockets of ISIS fighters (Schmitt, 2020).
Morocco: Morocco, Portugal Pledge to Fight Against Irregular Migration
Portugal and Morocco have pledged to join efforts to curb irregular migration: Rabat and Lisbon announced the move in a statement following a videoconference between Portugal’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Eduardo Cabrita, and Morocco’s Minister of the Interior, Abdelouafi Laftit. The two officials built the conference’s talking points on the strong cooperation between Morocco and the European Union on security issues. They expressed their governments’ readiness to “intensify” their security cooperation within the broader EU-Morocco agenda of preventing and fighting against “illegal migration and human trafficking.” According to reports, the increasing shift towards Portugal is directly linked to Morocco’s success in curbing migrants’ attempts to reach Europe through Spain, which has long been the traditional route of waves of irregular migrants in recent years (Tamba, 2020).
Tunisia: Tunisia cracks down on migrant departures. Economic crisis worsens
Thousands of migrants disembarked on Lampedusa and Sicily in July and August. The governor of the Sicilian region has called on the federal government to call a state of emergency with hotspots above capacity and a number of migrants testing positive for coronavirus. The majority of the migrants who reportedly disembarked on Lampedusa and Sicily came from Tunisia. Italian authorities reported that in 2020, nearly half of the over 16,000 people who have landed on Italy’s shores departed from Tunisia.
Following pressure from the Italian foreign ministry, Tunisia announced on August 6 that it had made available more means to counter irregular migrant departures from the North African country. Tunisia has announced that it has made available naval units, surveillance devices, and search teams at Mediterranean crossing points to counter irregular migrant departures (ANSA).
Italy’s Interior Ministry has released €11 million ($13 million) to Tunisia’s government for use in efforts to stem the flow of migrants. On 18th August, Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio visited Tunis, accompanied by European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Oliver Varhelji.
The decision arrived in a critical moment for the country both at economic and political level: the economic situation is worsening and the tourism sector’s revenues down 56% at the end of July to 1.2 billion dinars compared to 2.6 billion in the same period last year (ANSA). Economic crisis is a push factors for Tunisian migrants. At political level, Tunisia’s prime minister-designate Hichem Mechichi said he would form a purely technocratic government following wrangling among political parties over the formation of the country’s next administration. The decision will likely put the prime minister-designate in confrontation with the Islamist Ennahdha Party, the largest political group in parliament, which announced it would oppose the formation of a non-political government. However, the proposal for a government of independent technocrats without political parties will win support from the powerful UGTT trade union and some other parties, including Tahya Tounes and Dustoury el Hor. Protests have erupted in the country’s interior this year over widespread unemployment, lack of development and poor public services in health, electricity and water.
General David Petraeus, US Army (Ret.) and former Director of the CIA, interviewed by Claudio Bertolotti
by Claudio Bertolotti
The Italian version of this interview was published in the Italian Army military magazine ‘Rivista Militare‘ N.°3/2020.
US Army General (Ret.) David Petraeus headed the Multinational Forces in Iraq -where he supervised the ‘surge’ campaign in 2007-8-; served as Commander in Chief of the US Central Command CENTCOM (2008-10) and led Coalition Forces in Afghanistan (2010-11). He is a former Director of the CIA. He is now a Partner with the global investment firm KKR and Chairman of the KKR Global Institute.
Rather than setting the stage for a difficult intra-Afghan compromise, then, the deal implicitly appears to anticipate the endgame the insurgents themselves have consistently articulated since 2001: a Taliban reconquest of the country.
General Petraeus, how do you feel about the WHAM strategy (‘Winning Hearts and Minds‘), which particularly characterized your leadership in the Afghan (and Iraqi) wars, considering the situation the two countries are facing today?
As we stressed in the counterinsurgency field manual, “the decisive terrain” in such an endeavor is the “human terrain.” A counterinsurgency campaign necessarily focuses on the people, on providing them security and then on solidifying the security foundation by helping to restore basic services, repair damaged infrastructure, re-establish local governance, revive local economies, and so on –; to show the people that their lives will be better if they support the government and the coalition forces supporting the government, rather than if they actively or tacitly support the insurgents. And over time, as security and the situation improve for the people, they understand the logic of rejecting the insurgents and supporting the counterinsurgents.
Looking at negotiations with the Taliban and military disengagement from Afghanistan: are you disappointed in how it ended or was it the only deal that could be reached today?
The agreement holds out the tantalizing prospect of transforming Afghanistan from a problem that will require the perpetual military management of the United States into one that can be solved politically, once and for all. But the risks presented by this gamble are huge, and the signs from the deal’s early aftermath – continued Taliban attacks and an Afghan government in disarray – are not encouraging.
The Taliban’s vehement insistence that all U.S. troops leave Afghanistan strongly suggests that its purpose in peace talks isn’t to transform its relationship with the United States but to evict its forces so that they can then overthrow the Afghan government. The deal would seem to give the Taliban little incentive to bargain seriously with the internationally recognized government in Kabul, since its opponent’s position will grow progressively weaker as the deadline for international withdrawal approaches. Rather than setting the stage for a difficult intra-Afghan compromise, then, the deal implicitly appears to anticipate the endgame the insurgents themselves have consistently articulated since 2001: a Taliban reconquest of the country.
A personal consideration on the Afghan war.
We went to Afghanistan for a reason – to eliminate the Al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, in which the 9/11 attacks were planned and where the initial training of the attackers was conducted. And we have stayed for a reason – to ensure that al-Qaeda did not succeed in re-establishing that sanctuary, something they have repeatedly sought to do since the Taliban and other insurgents returned to Afghanistan and repeatedly carried out violent attacks on the Afghan people, their forces, and their coalition partners.
General, the author of this interview had the honor of serving his country in Afghanistan alongside US troops, partly during Operation Enduring Freedom, partly during the subsequent ISAF mission. What is your opinion about the Italian commitment in Afghanistan?
It was a privilege to have superb Italian contingents in Afghanistan and to have an Italian commander and headquarters as Regional Command West in Herat. During my time as Commander of US Central Command (2008-2010) and then as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (2010-2011), the Italian forces in RC-West conducted textbook counterinsurgency operations. All Italians should be very proud of the men and women who wore their country’s uniform in Afghanistan.
General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Ret.)
General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Ret.) is one of the most prominent U.S. military figures of the post-9/11 era. During his 37-year career in the United States Army, General Petraeus was widely recognized for his leadership of the organization that produced the U.S. Army’s counterinsurgency manual and overhauled all aspects of preparing U.S. Army leaders and units for deployment to combat; for his subsequent command of the Surge in Iraq that retrieved a desperate situation and dramatically reduced violence in the country; and for his command of coalition forces in Afghanistan as they reversed the momentum of the Taliban and enabled initial transition of tasks to Afghan forces and institutions. He culminated his military career with six consecutive commands as a general officer, five of which were in combat, a record unmatched in the post-World War II era. General Petraeus has been awarded numerous U.S. military, State Department, NATO, and United Nations medals.