December 15, 2017

The Middle East and North Africa. Analytical Review 11/2017

 

Oleksiy Volovych

The Military-Political Situation in November 2017

 

In November, the military-political situation in the Middle East and North Africa remained tense and unstable. In our opinion, the most resonant events and processes took place in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Lebanon. In Syria, due to large-scale offensive operations of government forces, the ISIS stopped its organized resistance, but the Geneva-Syrian talks again hit a dead end. Turkey's allied relations with the USA and NATO are rather conditional and tend to deteriorate. In Iraq, complex negotiations continue between Baghdad and Erbil after the failure of the referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. In Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, ex-president of the country, died after armed clashes between former allies — Houthis rebels and Yemeni army units. In Libya, with the intervention of many foreign powers, the confrontation between the authorities in Tobra and Tripoli never stops. In early November, a “revolution of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman” began in Saudi Arabia to rebuild the civilization and modernize the economic structure of the theocratic Saudi monarchy. The Arab-Israeli dialogue, based on hostility with Iran and friendship with the United States, is coming to the fore and becoming public. In Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to leadership of the Lebanese government.

The Middle East and North AfricaSYRIA

The Combat Actions of the Syrian Government Troops. In November, fighting was taking place in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Homs and Deir-ez-Zor. On November 3, the government troops of Syria liberated from ISIS militants the city of Deir-ez-Zor, the administrative center of the Deir-ez-Zor province in the East of the country. On November 6, the government forces began an operation against the jihadists and rebel groups in the northern province of Idlib. The offensive proceeded from two directions — from the provinces of Aleppo and Hama. One of the goals of the offensive was the Abu al-Duhur Airbase. November 27, in the northeast of the province of Aleppo, near the city of al-Bab, hostilities were taking place between the government forces and the pro-Turkish rebel groups. November 30, in the southeast of the province, Syrian troops fought against the “Tahrir al-Sham” group in order to get to the border with the province of Idlib.

November 7, militants from East Ghouta shelled from mortars the central part of Damascus. Government troops' shelling in response killed several civilians in the Syrian capital. November 9, Syrian troops captured the last stronghold of the ISIS in Syria, the city of Abu Kamal. It was assisted by the permission of Iraq to Syrian troops to enter its territory to attack the city from the east. However, on November 10, ISIS fighters went on a counteroffensive and took back from government forces nearly half of the lost territory. The city of Abu Kamal was completely liberated from ISIS terrorists on November 20. At the end of November, Syrian troops in the south-east of the province of Deir-ez-Zor continued to attack the ISIS groups and liberated several settlements.

November 11, in the province of al-Hasakah, ISIS fighters, in agreement with the “Forces of Democratic Syria” (FDS), handed over to the Kurds without a fight the city of Markadah. After that, only small desert areas on the border with Iraq remained under the control of the ISIS in that province. November 26–27, in the north-east of the province of Hama, the ISIS fighters started an offensive against the position of the “Tahrir al-Sham” group and took several small settlements. Simultaneously, the positions of this group were attacked by Syrian troops, which resulted in a rather strange situational cooperation between them and ISIS fighters.

US Army Units' Actions in Syria. According to “The Washington Post”, the United States does not intend to withdraw all its troops (about 2,000 servicemen) from Syria after the defeat of the ISIS but plans to “establish new local governance in northern Syria, apart from the B. Assad's government”. Washington believes that the premature withdrawal of US troops can help B. Assad stay in power, which would be perceived as Russia and Iran's victory. It seems that in this situation Moscow's statements about a significant reduction of its military contingent in Syria should not be taken seriously.

According to some sources, on November 30, the FDS, which consists mostly of Kurds, said they were ready to join Syrian government troops after a political settlement of the country's crisis. Some experts believe that without Washington's consent, the FDS could not dare to take such a radical decision, which undoubtedly turned out to be unexpected for Moscow, and especially for Turkey.

November 30, the Pentagon also announced its intention to withdraw from Syria more than 400 Marines of the 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, whose mission is considered to have been fulfilled after the liberation of Raqqa by FDS formations. In particular, units of the Marine Corps supported the Kurds with artillery, using 155-mm howitzers M777. At the end of November, it became known about the closing of the joint US-British-Jordanian Command Post, which had been coordinating the activities of rebel groups in southern Syria in the provinces of Daraa and as-Suwayda. According to experts, this shows the Pentagon's plans to gradually withdraw US troops from Syria after the final defeat of the ISIS groups.

The RF VKS' Actions in Syria. Several times during November Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers flew over the territory of Iran and Iraq, struck at positions and targets of ISIS fighters in the provinces of Deir-ez-Zor, Damascus and Hama. November 3, Russian submarines operating in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, also attacked with “Kalibr” missiles ISIS facilities in Abu Kamal.

As reported on November 21 by Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General V. Gerasimov, “the active phase of the Russian counterterrorist operation in Syria is close to completion”. According to him, the grouping of Russian troops in Syria by the end of 2017 will have been significantly reduced. He also said that within the two years of the Russian operation in Syria, about 54,000 militants were killed, including 2,800 from Russia and 1,400 from the CIS countries.

According to the RF Ministry of Defense, “the total number of strikes of a Western Coalition led by the United States in Syria within a month does not exceed the daily number of Russian VKS' strikes on ISIS”. According to the Ministry, in November, the Western Coalition's daily work against terrorists in the East of the SAR did not exceed three or five strikes on single targets located far from the militants' strongholds. Within the same period, Russian VKS carried out 672 combat missions and struck 1450 targets just to support the militia of local tribes on the eastern coast of the Euphrates.

In 2017, the ISIS groups were driven out of major cities of Syria, but not destroyed, despite Moscow and Damascus' statements. Simply, the centralized structure split up into small units, and being much weaker, it mainly went to Sunni rural areas for further guerrilla warfare. At the same time, the fragmentation of the ISIS, as well as the loss of financial resources, have significantly reduced the arrival of militants from abroad.

Negotiations. As it has become known, on November 4, for the first time in recent years, a “high security official” from the United States arrived in Damascus. According to some reports, head of the National Security Bureau Ali Mamlouk participated in the negotiations from the Syrian side. In our view, the American official's visit to Syria shows that Washington began to consider Damascus as a possible partner in the negotiations.

November 11, as a result of a brief (several minutes) “on the move” conversation on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam, US and Russian Presidents, D. Trump and V. Putin adopted a brief joint statement on Syria prepared by experts from the two countries. In the statement, the leaders of the Russian Federation and the United States reaffirmed their resolve to defeat the ISIS terrorists in Syria, agreed to maintain active military communication channels to guarantee the security of the US and Russian Armed Forces and to prevent dangerous incidents involving the partners fighting against the ISIS. This statement was in fact nothing new, since there was not and cannot be a real cooperation between the military contingents of the Russian Federation and the United States in Syria. Instead, there is a clear rivalry.

November 20, Sochi hosted talks between the Presidents of the RF and the SAR — V. Putin and B. Assad, which prepared the “ground for decisions”, adopted on November 22 at the meeting of the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey “with the aim of determining the priority spheres of cooperation of the three countries in the Syrian settlement”. The joint statement stressed that “no political initiative, including de-escalation zones, should undermine the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria”. Participants of the trilateral summit also agreed to continue work in the Astana format and supported the idea of a Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.

November 22–24, a joint delegation of the Syrian armed opposition was formed in Riyadh to conduct direct talks with the Government of Syria at the 8th round of Syrian talks that began in Geneva on November 28. The basis of the delegation was made up of representatives of the High-level Negotiating Committee (the “Riyadh Group”) and some other groups of the Syrian armed opposition. The fact that the 8th round of Syrian negotiations would be futile was clear after the delegation of the united Syrian opposition declared the main condition for its participation in the negotiations — remowal of the President of the SAR B. Assad from power, and withdrawal of Iranian Armed Forces from Syria. These demands sound, to put it mildly, inappropriate and alogical against the background of the Syrian government's troops' successful operations (supported by the Russian VKS) against militants of ISIS and other terrorist groups. The talks were supposed to discuss four issues: governance, the fight against terrorism, preparation of the constitution and elections, as well as the “12 Intra-Syrian Essential Principles” concerning the future state structure of Syria. But after in the first part of the negotiation session (November 28 – December 1) the delegations of the official Damascus and the opposition failed to establish a direct dialogue, the break was announced until December 5.The head of the Syrian government delegation Bashar Jaafari said that “negotiations with the opposition are impossible until it ceases to demand the resignation of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad”.

TURKEY

The Deterioration of Relations between Washington and Ankara. Turkish-American relations during the presidency of B. Obama were quite tense, but then they remain such under President D. Trump. This is evidenced by the lack of understanding between Washington and Ankara over a number of issues in recent months. Throughout 2017, these allies in NATO have accumulated many new mutual claims.

On November 24, US President D. Trump and Turkish President R. Erdogan held a long telephone conversation, during which, according to the head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, M. Chavushoglu, the head of the White House allegedly promised to stop supplying arms to Kurdish FDS troops. However, it seems that D. Trump was misunderstood by Ankara. Anyway, soon a representative of the White House explained that “we're in a position to stop providing military equipment to certain groups. But that doesn't mean stopping all support of those individual group”. December 27, Director of Defense Press Operations for the US Defense Department Colonel Robert Manning officially stated that the United States continues to provide weapons to Kurdish FDS units fighting the ISIS. And even more so, according to some experts, the supply of US weapons to Syria will increase, as the United States plans to arm Sunni forces from the local tribes as part of the “local self-government” program in northern Syria. In response, Ankara decided to “frighten” Washington with the possibility of an operation in the Syrian Kurdish Canton of Afrin, as Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli stated at the end of November. However, in our opinion, the Turkish intervention in Afrin is unlikely, since neither Washington, nor Moscow perceive such a scenario of the Turkish forces. But then the Turkish leadership itself must obviously understand that the intervention in Afrin could lead not only to the deterioration of relations with Washington and Moscow, but also to intensification of Kurdish terrorist actions in Turkish cities, not to mention the fact that it would be very difficult for Turkish troops to drive the Kurds out of Afrin.

The Turkish authorities blame Washington for supporting the groups that are called terrorists by Ankara. These are Kurdish militias and supporters of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the United States and has been accused by Ankara of preparing and attempting a coup d'etat in Turkey on July 15, 2016. D. Trump's administration, in turn, expresses dissatisfaction with Ankara's rapprochement with Moscow and Tehran. Negotiations between Moscow and Ankara on supplying Turkey with S-400 surface-to-air missile systems caused a condemnation in Washington. NATO also criticized Turkey's decision, saying it would prevent it from becoming a part of the Alliance's single air defense system. During his visit to the United States on November 7–10, Turkish Prime Minister Birinci Yıldırım said that the conclusion of an agreement with Russia on the acquisition of the S-400 systems was supposedly a compulsory step, since, according to him, “attempts to obtain air defense systems from the NATO member countries did not have the necessary support from the United States”.

However, this statement by the Turkish Prime Minister does not reflect the actual situation. Let me remind that on September 26, 2013, Turkey announced the completion of the T-LORAMIDS Tender, under which it chose the far from the best but rather cheap Chinese air defense missile system HQ-9 (FD-2000) and refused to buy the European SAMP-T system or the American “Patriot” systems. The Russian S-300VM then did not reach the final stages of the tender.

November 14, 2017, US Defense Secretary James Mattis called Turkey's purchase of the S-400 Ankara's “sovereign decision”, but stressed that this will not be compatible with NATO' systems, so Turkey must take it into account. Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs Heidi Grant put it more bluntly, pointing out that Turkey's purchasing Russian S-400 systems will deprive Ankara of access to US and NATO defense technologies. According to her, it is, first of all, about the possibility of Turkey's obtaining newest F-35 fighters. According to some reports, if the United States does not supply Turkey with F-35 on schedule, Ankara may dismantle the American AN/TPY-2 radar station in Kürecik, Malatya province.

However, if Turkey gives up the radar station in Malatya, it will significantly reduce its importance for the United States and NATO. November 9, at the meeting of NATO Defense Ministers in Brussels, Turkey's Defense Minister N. Canikli announced the signing by Turkey, France and Italy of a memorandum of intent in defense, which includes the joint production and supply to Turkey of next generation air defense SAMP-T system made by consortium Eurosam. At that it was reported that the memorandum does not cancel agreements with the Russian Federation on the supply of S-400 systems.

In recent months, there has also been a series of incidents involving diplomatic missions in both countries. Thus, after clashes between security guards of the Turkish leader and representatives of the Armenian and Kurdish communities in the United States at the TR Embassy in Washington during his visit to the USA on May 16, US authorities arrested and charged 15 bodyguards of R. Erdogan and they may be sentenced to 15 years of prison. October 5, Turkish police arrested an employee of the United States Consulate General in Istanbul, whom the Turkish authorities accused of undermining the constitutional order and espionage. After this, the diplomatic missions of Turkey and the US almost simultaneously suspended the issuance of non-immigrant visas to Turkish and American citizens. Later, the White House blocked selling Turkey the arms worth 1.2 million US dollars which was intended for R. Erdogan's bodyguards. Earlier, the United States refused to supply combat drones to Turkey. Washington also declined the offered by Ankara support to the US Special Forces during the liberation of Syrian Raqqa from ISIS militants if Kurdish FDS units were removed from the operation.

So, Ankara's policy continues to be the United States and NATO's “headache”. Turkey's allied relations with the USA and NATO are rather conditional and tend to deteriorate and even rupture. In our view, Turkey may lose a lot if the United States and NATO are forced to stop their military cooperation with it.

IRAQ

Combat Actions. November 3, Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi announced the liberation of the last major ISIS stronghold in the country's territory, Al-Qa'im, on the border with Syria. Thus, Iraqi government forces, with the support of an International Coalition led by the United States, freed almost all the territory captured by ISIS in Iraq. In mid-November, the Iraqi Armed Forces also liberated from ISIS militants the city of Rawa located on the banks of the Euphrates near Al-Qa'im. On November 23, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense announced the start of an operation to clear from ISIS militants the desert areas in the provinces of Salah ad-Din, Nineveh and Anbar. The offensive involves the army and the police, as well as Shiite volunteer units.

During the annual briefing for foreign military attaches, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, General V. Gerasimov, stated the readiness of the Russian side to assist the United States in the destruction of ISIS fighters in the western desert areas of Iraq. At this, he emphasized that the US-led Western Coalition “must focus on the destruction of terrorists in Iraq, in order not to let them return to Syria, and not be deploying its military bases in the SAR”. In response, the Pentagon Spokesman said that the United States did not have and are not having any military cooperation with Russia either in Syria or in Iraq because of its aggressive foreign policy. It was pointed out that the Kremlin may hope for is the talks that will help avoid unwanted incidents between the United States and Russia during military operations in the same territory.

Negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil. The main goal of the federal government regarding the Iraqi Kurdistan is to preserve Kurdish autonomy, but subject to Baghdad's further control over borders, airports, tax revenues from the autonomy and oil exports. The federal government also demands that sub-units of the Kurdish “Peshmerga” should be controlled by the Iraqi central government.

In the first half of November, talks between representatives of the federal government of Iraq and the new leadership of the Iraqi Kurdistan (IK) on the deployment of federal forces on the borders of the region with neighboring countries continued in Mosul, but so far to no positive result. The most problematic in the negotiations are the following three issues: Baghdad's demanding from Erbil to officially cancel the results of the referendum of September 25, 2017 on the independence of the IK, the question of the amount of Baghdad's grants for Erbil for the transfer to the federal control of the checkpoints at the borders of the IK and restoration of the federal government's control over the oil resources in the Kirkuk area. However, given the fact that over 90 % of the participents of the referendum voted for the independence of the IK, the official recognition of its ineligibility and cancellation of its results will inevitably discredit in the eyes of the majority of the Kurdish population of the autonomy the new government in Erbil. According to Russian expert Y. Shcheglovin, “to insist on more official and more clearly articulated cancelling of the referendum results means a lose-lose situation, since none of the Kurdish politicians can do this without their political death”. As for the question of the amount of subsidies from Baghdad, Erbil tightly binds them with the issue of transferring to the federal control of the checkpoints at its borders and customs payments. In an attempt to persuade Baghdad to compromise, the Kurdish authorities appeals to the United States and Turkey, acting as intermediaries.

Even more complicated is the issue of oil production in the province of Kirkuk. Before the referendum, the Kurdish autonomy government had been exporting about 500 thousand barrels of oil daily through Turkey. But on November 2, 2017 the Iraqi State Organization for Marketing of Oil (SOMO) entered into an agreement with the Turkish government to export the same volume of oil from the Kirkuk via the Turkish port of Ceyhan. At present, exports of Kurdish oil have decreased to 200 thousand barrels per day. In the future, the federal government intends to control all oil fields, including those located in the autonomous region of Kurdistan. According to the head of the government of IK Necirvan Barzani (nephew of ex-president of the IK Massoud Barzani), Erbil is ready to hand over to Baghdad control over oil, the border and all revenues of the region if the federal government agrees to allocate 17 % of the national budget to the Kurdish autonomy in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution. However, the federal government has expressed readiness to allocate only 12.6 % to the autonomy.

Some experts believe that all these games with the referendum on the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan had one aim — to receive from Baghdad additional allocations for the maintenance of the excessively bloated state apparatus and the “Peshmerga”. According to some observers, N. Barzani, who did not support the idea of holding a referendum on independence, is currently going through “inspection of a prospective bride” in Baghdad for the post of future president of the IK. By the way, his candidacy for this post is unanimously supported by Tehran and Ankara.

YEMEN

The Death of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. At the end of November, there were armed clashes between the Shiite Houthis rebels — supporters of the “Ansar Allah” movement and supporters of the former President of the country, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a and the surrounding areas. A few months ago, the Houthis blamed their ally, A. A. Saleh, for betrayal and separate talks with representatives of the “Arabian Coalition” led by the KSA, which since March 2015 has been conducting combat actions in Yemen against Houthis rebels. At this, the former President was supported by the local tribes, but their support was and remains insignificant. In mid-November, Houthis tried to arrest A. A. Saleh, his son, nephew, and some people from his closest circle. Then it ended in A. A. Saleh's signing a document whith obligetions not to conduct further separate negotiations with Saudi Arabia.

Armed clashes between “allies” began again on November 29. A. A. Saleh's party (General People's Congress) accused the Houthis of “a dangerous conspiracy to undermine the unity and cohesion of the Yemenis”. For his part, the leader of the “Ansar Allah”, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, called the actions of A. A. Saleh's supporters “crazy and suspicious”. At the same time, he called on the ex-President to “put an end to the crisis in Sana'a”, pointing out that “any differences can be resolved through dialogue and mutual understanding”. However, the ex-President accused his former allies of “acts of aggression,” calling on the Yemeni people to “rebel against the Houthis groups”. By the end of November, loyal to A. A. Saleh armed formations took control of most of districts of Sana'a and pushed the Houthis from two large military bases in the capital. It was reported that more than 200 people were killed during the fighting. The “Arab Coalition” reported about its support for A. A. Saleh's actions against the Houthis.

December 2, in his address to the Yemeni people, A. A. Saleh said that he could no longer tolerate the “recklessness of the Houthis” and urged the neighboring countries to “cease aggression, lift the blockade and turn the page”. Yesterday's allies-Houthis called this statement a betrayal. After this, the loyal to A. A. Saleh army units began fighting against the Houthis, but their consequences were catastrophic for the ex-President and his associates. December 3, A. A. Saleh's car was fired from a grenade launcher, he and his closest environment were killed. The body of the former President of Yemen was carried by happy Houthis on the blanket through the streets of Sana'a. Reminds the massacre over Gaddafi…

Most likely, this murder will aggravate the already dramatic situation in Yemen. Local civil war can turn into a “war of all against all”. Today it is difficult to predict who will win in the confrontation of the former allies and how it can affect the further development of the civil war in Yemen, which was interfered by the “Arab Coalition” on the side of formally acting President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who from 1994 to 2011 was Vice President, while A. A. Saleh was the President of Yemen.

According to the “Al-Jazeera” TV channel, Ahmed Saleh, son of the former President, is currently in the Emirates. According to some reports, the “Arab Coalition” intends to declare him the new ruler of Yemen, of course, if he is not afraid to repeat the fate of his father.

Today, millions of Yemenis are threatened by the most massive hunger. The reason is the cessation of food supplies to this country due to the Arab Coalition's blocking the world's air, land and sea connections with Yemen. According to the UN, about 7 million Yemeni are on the verge of starvation. The delivery of medicines to combat the epidemic of cholera, which struck more than 900,000 Yemenis, is also blocked.

LIBYA

Combat Actions. November 15, the Air Force of Libya conducted air strikes on ISIS fighters' camp south of the city of Sirte, located on the Mediterranean coast east of Tripoli. Sirte has been controlled by ISIS fighters since 2015. Libyan ISIS' supporters are a situational association of various tribal clans, mainly with Qatar's financial support. The main centers of concentration of local supporters of ISIS were Sirte and Derna. Moreover, in these cities in parallel there were several other terrorist groups that periodically fought among themselves for influence in one region or another.

The first offensive against Sirte by the troops of the Libyan National Army under the command of Marshal Khalifa Haftar took place in 2016, but they were stopped by the the resistance of the armed groups of the Tripolitans and Misuratans. Even before the attack on Sierte, the Air Force controlled by Kh. Haftar bombed the city of Derna, which was publicly condemned by the French Ambassador to Libya, Bridgitte Curmi. However, in fact, this condemnation was the disguise of Kh. Haftar's stay under the patronage of Paris, where they increasingly agree on the need to stabilize the situation in Libya and prevent its split into three quasi-states (Cyrenaica, Fazzan and Tripolitania) with the help of military force alone, in this case LPA. Lately France has begun to increase military supplies to Kh. Haftar's troops. In October, C-130 cargo planes of the French Air Force made several shuttle flights to Benghazi to deliver ammunition and weapons for LPA, despite the UN's official embargo on arms supply to Libya.

The advancement of Kh. Haftar's forces along the Mediterranean coast of the country from east to west gives him the opportunity to gradually take control of the coastal oil terminals and ports, and accordingly — of the main financial flows. Kh. Haftar and his patrons's further goal is to establish control in the west of Libya. Kh. Haftar hoped to achieve this goal first thanks to the support of the Zintan tribe, but the latter refused to give such a support, as the head of the Government of National Accord in Tripoli Fayez al-Sarraj managed to draw it over to his side. As a result, on November 7, the armed formations of Zintanis and Tripolitans controlled by F. Sarraj drove Kh. Khaftar's forces out of the city of Aziziya, located 55 km northwest of Tripoli.

The Issue of Arms Embargo. November 3–4, while on his official visit to Washington, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj met with US President D. Trump, Secretary of State R. Tillerson and Defense Secretary J. Mattis, who spoke against any foreign military intervention in the internal conflict in Libya. In their view, all Libyan politicians should support the efforts of UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salame, aimed at reconciling the parties to the Libyan conflict and creating the necessary conditions for holding national elections.

At the talks, F. Sarraj asked the United States to help with easing the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council on Libya in accordance with resolution No. 1970 of February 26, 2011, when M. Gaddafi was alive. Resolution No. 2292 of 14 June 2016 provided for a strengthening of sanctions against Libya and, in particular, the inspection of ships sailing to and from Libya for illegal weapons traffic. However, these sanctions and embargo practically did not affect the supply of arms to the country. According to former UN Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Martin Kobler, Libya is a country infested with weapons — 20 million weapons per 6 million inhabitants. In recent years, Qatar, Turkey and Sudan have been supplying weapons to Islamists, while Egypt, the UAE and the KSA — to the government in Tobruk. At this, countries such as France, the UAE and the KSA often supplied arms to both opposing sides. In 2016, the UAE sent Belarusian helicopters Mi-24 to Kh. Haftar's LPA, as well as civilian aircrafts re-equipped and turned into combat planes. Apart from aviation, LPA received through Saudi Arabia several hundred armored personnel carriers, Toyota pickup trucks. Weapons to Libya are shipped via Malta and across Libya's borders with Egypt and Sudan.

The United States on the Libyan market of weapons specialize mainly in the field of aviation. For example, according to some reports, the American company Airtec has transported from Malta to Libya several small turbo propeller planes of the general purpose King Air 200, manned by American crews and equipped with machine guns. Besides, according to the Russian media, several other US companies, such as L-3 Technologies, Blue Ridge Aero Services, Commuter Air Technologies and M & N Aviation, are working quite actively in the Libyan arms market. In addition, the American private military company Blackwaters operates in Libya under a contract with the UAE. Thus, the United Nations' arms embargo against Libya actually does not prevent illegal supplies of weapons.

SAUDI ARABIA

“Crown Prince Mohammed's Revolution”. Many experts today say that the young hereditary Prince Mohammed bin Salman has begun a large-scale restructuring and modernization of the social and economic structure of the Saudi monarchy, trying to bring it in line with the realities of the 21st century. This rebuilding and modernization are increasingly called the “Crown Prince Muhammad's Revolution”, whom everyone is already perceiving as the real ruler of the KSA today and the future King — tomorrow. He began the process of modernizing the country with replacing the old elite with the young Princes — grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the first King-founder of Saudi Arabia Abdelaziz bin Abdel Rahman Al Saud. Some experts anticipate democratization of the country up to Western standards and even predict its transformation into a secular state, which seems rather doubtful to us.

“Crown Prince Mohammed's Revolution” began on November 4–5, when the recently organized High Commission for Combating Corruption under the control of the Crown Prince sanctioned the detention of 11 Princes and 30 former and current Ministers and businessmen accused of corruption. However, this can hardly be called the first wave of arrests. In September, about 30 representatives of the clergy, intellectuals and political activists were arrested under the pretext of fighting terrorism. According to some observers, these arrests, above all, were intended to centralize power in the hands of the heir to the throne, as well as to eliminate potential rivals and opponents of his reforms.

The Crown Prince wants to be sure that no one will prevent him from becoming King, which should happen soon enough, given the weak health of King Salman. However, on the other hand, these arrests undoubtedly increase the number of the Crown Prince's opponents and enemies. Among the detainees of November 4–5, there are several cousins of Mohammed bin Salman — sons of the previous King of Saudi Arabia Abdallah, a very influential multi-billionair al-Waleed bin Talal, Minister of Economy and Planning Adel Fakeih, former director  of the Saudi Intelligence Agency Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Commander Royal Saudi Naval Forces Abdullah al Sultan and several respectable businessmen. The next day after the arrests, in a plane crash was killed another cousin of the heir to the throne — Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, whose father was the heir to the throne from January to April 2015.

Even before his appointment (in June 2017) to the post of Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman had been the successor to the throne, Second Deputy Head of Government, Defense Minister and Head of the Economic and Development Council. At the moment, he has taken under his control the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Guard. It is noteworthy that Crown Prince Mohammed decided not to bring the matter to court on detained corruptors and his opponents and instead offered them to pay “redemption” — to transfer part of their wealth to the state treasury, that is, to partially expropriate. According to him, 95 % of more than 200 people accused of corruption agreed to hand over part of their assets to the authorities. According to some reports, by the end of November, the disgraced princes had transferred to the treasury of the monarchy about 100 billion US dollars, which will help the Saudi authorities resolve the problem with the deficit of the state budget for 2018.

According to some observers, Crown Prince Mohammed decided to substitute litigation with partial expropriation, considering that most of the detained princes are grandchildren of the founder of the royal dynasty, and the very fact of their prosecution may harm the institution of royal power as such. Besides, in the course of a trial, the suspects of corruption would tell things, which, from the point of view of the Crown Prince, should not be publicized.

Crown Prince Mohammed intends to also make a revolution in the country's economy. At his initiative, the ambitious program of diversification and modernization of the KSA economy, called “Vision 2030” was developed and approved by the Government in April 2016. Recently, the Crown Prince has presented investors with a plan for the construction of the Neom metropolis in the desert, which will be fully equipped with solar and wind energy and will become a technology hub for the countries of Asia and Africa.

At Crown Prince Mohammed's initiative, in order to reduce unemployment among Saudi youth, the issuance of permits for foreign labour to enter the country has been substantially reduced. Crown Prince Mohammed initiated the King's revolutionary decree, allowing Saudi women to drive a car. Having caused the confrontation within the royal family, the Crown Prince also has found himself in a direct confrontation with some sheikhs of large Saudi tribes, as well as with Salafi spiritual leaders, who were very alarmed by his recent calls for “moderate Islam” and transformation of the theocratic Saudi monarchy into a secular state.

As for the corruption in Saudi Arabia, it has long been a habitual form of functioning of local businesses. According to many experts, corruption in Saudi Arabia will not disappear, because nobody from the royal family wants to live on a salary, so there will be new rules of the game, new players, and nothing else. In their most recent publications in reputable American media, most observers believe that Crown Prince Mohammed's “revolutionary anti-corruption actions” have violated fundamental “braces” of the Kingdom — the unity of the ruling Al Saud clan. The system that existed for decades and which made it possible to ensure the stability of the monarchy and its sustainable development, by Crown Prince Mohammed's efforts was immediately put out of balance and into a state of turbulence, the effects of which are difficult to predict.

Crown Prince Mohammed's Foreign Policy. For several consecutive months from Riyadh has been coming information that the current 82-year-old King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz may transfer his royal throne to 32-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed and retire. But even before the formal transfer of power it is quite obvious that virtually all the power in the country is already in the hands of Crown Prince Mohammed, and King Salman is becoming a symbolic figure. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the formation of the foreign policy of the Saudi Crown Prince is subject to close attention of many political observers.

For leading foreign policy and the reform of the Saudi society, Prince Mohammed needs a powerful foreign ally, which is the USA and the administration of President D. Trump, who fully supports Saudi Prince in his decisive anti-corruption efforts. The basis of Prince Mohammed's pro-American orientation is Washington's economic interests after signing a multibillion-dollar contracts in the spheres of economy and arms and equipment supply between the USA and KSA within the framework of D. Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017. Using the full support of the US President, the Crown Prince has also initiated an unprecedented rapprochement with Russia, Israel and China. However, not all political forces in Washington share D. Trump's enthusiasm regarding foreign policy of hereditary Prince Mohammed, perceiving his foreign-policy actions with criticism.

Probably the greatest coordination can be seen in the positions of Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh with respect to Iran. However, the overwhelming majority of countries, including the allies of the United States of America, are very skeptical about appeals from these capitals to increase sanctions and even military pressure on Iran. Many European politicians consider hopeless and counterproductive President D. Trump's idea of “friendship with the Arabs against Iran”. Moreover, even the GCC member countries like Qatar, Kuwait and Oman maintain good-neighborly relations with Iran and have diplomatic relations with it.

The initiated by Prince Mohammed in March 2015 military adventure in Yemen did not justify his plans, but also demonstrated the weakness of the Armed Forces of the KSA and the whole “Arab Coalition”, which for 2.5 years has not managed to crush the Houthis rebellion. This adventure also demonstrated the fragility of the unity of foreign policy priorities of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Thus, Abu Dhabi's desire to establish control over the southern part of Yemen within the former PDRY, with further separation of that region, does not suit Saudi Arabia at all. According to some reports, Riyadh has made certain concessions to the Emirates in Yemen, provided that the UAE would support Saudi Arabia in its attempts to exert economic and political pressure on Qatar. As you know, on June 5, the KSA, the UAE, the ARE, and Bahrain suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar because of “Doha's support for various terrorist groups that destabilize the Middle East region”. However, the pressure of the “Arab Quartet” on Qatar did not have the desired results. In Syria, the Saudi authorities provided assistance to the anti-government opposition, but lost, since Turkey, Iran, Russia and the United States intercepted the initiative.

In early November, the KSA authorities accused Iran of supplying ballistic missiles to Yemeni Houthis rebels. Prince Mohammed bin Salman described these Iran's actions as “Tehran's direct military aggression”. Earlier, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir said that the Kingdom reserves the right to give an adequate response to Iran's hostile actions against the Kingdom.

The declaration about creation of a “Muslim anti-terrorist coalition” under the auspices of Riyadh in December 2015 has never been implemented. The first meeting (November 26 in Riyadh) of Defense Ministers of the “Islamic Military Alliance Against Terrorism” also ended in a statement by the representatives of 40 states on “military, strategic, political and financial cooperation”. The idea of the creation of an “Arab NATO” consisting of the KSA, the UAE, Egypt, Kuwait and Jordan, put forward by Crown Prince Mohammed, with the support of D. Trump's administration, in May 2017, has not been fulfilled either…

ISRAEL

The Arab-Israeli Dialogue. In recent years, the dialogue between Israel and Arab countries of the Persian Gulf has become increasingly evident. This allows Israeli politicians to argue that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is only possible after the normalization of Israel's relations with leading Arab countries, rather than vice versa, as has been stated at different levels for many decades. Most likely, Israel has managed to move forward with the establishment of a dialogue with Saudi Arabia, despite the absence of diplomatic relations between the states. First of all, we have to point out Israel and the KSA's almost identical positions on Iran, which both the countries perceive as their enemy. In addition to the common enemy, Israel and Saudi Arabia have a long-standing common friend — the United States of America. When D. Trump became the US President — from the very beginning rather anti-Iranian — the partnership between Israel and the KSA got additional motivation. After all, a common enemy sometimes does more to bring partners together than a common friend. In the Arabian East, there is a saying: “If you cannot overcome your enemy, then try to make it your friend”. In reality, this was for the first time demonstrated by President of Egypt A. Sadat, when, in March 1979, in Washington DC, under the auspices of US President G. Carter, he signed a peace agreement with the Prime Minister of Israel M. Begin. This saying can be fully applied to Israel and the KSA, which used to be enemies, but have recently learned to coexist and even cooperate. Let's hope that one day these two countries will learn to co-exist with Iran…

In my opinion, hotting hostility between the Arab states and Iran should stop, especially since three out of the six GCC countries — Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, let alone Iraq and Syria, — maintain friendly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The confrontation of Arab countries with Iran is a catastrophe for the whole Middle East region and for the entire Muslim world. Therefore, all problems between some Arab countries and Iran must be resolved at the negotiating table. Hundreds of billions of US dollars, which are meaninglessly thrown into the mountains of needles weapons and military equipment, should be sent to increasing the well-being of the peoples of all countries of the Persian/Arabian Gulf and the entire Arab Ummah. Allah gave oil and gas to the Persians and Arabs not for their insanely arming themselves, fighting among themselves and shedding rivers of blood. Allah gave the Persians and Arabs these natural treasures in order to make people of their countries happy and live in friendship and harmony with each other and with all the neighboring peoples, including Israel. Everyone knows and sees what tragedy have been experienced by the peoples of Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Syria after they became victims of external aggression aimed at “democratizing” these countries and overthrowing the existing regimes there, while these peoples have the right to independently determine how to live and what kind of government to have…

On November 23, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged the fact that he had secretly fostered cooperation with a number of Arab countries, which, he said, “continues to get shaped and will result in expanding the orbit of peace”. November 27, in his interview with Israel's 9th TV channel, Israeli Defense Minister and leader of the “Our Home-Israel” party, Avigdor Lieberman said that the rise of the Iranian threat would lead the Arab countries to open cooperation with Israel. In his view, the leaders of moderate Arab states are not ready to open contacts with Israel, “because they are far more afraid of their own people, their own citizens than of Iran”.

Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Force Gadi Eizenkot in an interview with the Arab newspaper “Elaph”, said on November 16 that he was ready to provide Saudi Arabia with intelligence to counter Iran, which, he said, “is trying to create two Shiite crescents, one — from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and the other — through the Persian Gulf, Oman and Yemen”. What was publicly said by Gadi Eizenkot was not so much news as public confirmation of long-known information. According to some reports, an agreement on cooperation in the sphere of radio intelligence between Israel and the KSA was reached in 2014, and a regular intelligence exchange between the Israeli “Mossad” and the KSA's General Intelligence (on Iran, “Hizbullah” and the Yemeni Houthis rebels) was established back in October last year. The main intermediary in establishing such contacts in the sphere of intelligence exchange was the former Director of the “Mossad” Tamir Pardo. At this, the exchange of intelligence is carried out mainly through the intermediary of the General Intelligence of Jordan. In the same 2016 year, experts from the Israeli company Elbit Systems, in accordance with the agreement with the KSA's General Intelligence, upgraded the Saudi radio interception station. Through mediators in South Africa, Israeli firms have provided the KSA and other Arabian countries of the Persian Gulf with the technology of production of drones and medium-range missiles. Apart from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain also have channels for exchanging information with Israel on Iran through Jordan.

In our view, a real strategic partnership between Israel and Arab Gulf countries is hardly possible not only today, but also in the near future, since the Arab-Israeli contradictions will not disappear. Nevertheless, these are the first steps towards rapprochement, albeit situational, between Arab monarchies and Israel. Behind all the rhetoric of Israeli politicians and officials about the Iranian threat, there is Israel's desire to open the markets for wealthy Arabian monarchies and, above all, for the sale of Israeli weapons.

According to “The New York Times”, on November 8, 82-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was invited to Riyadh, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed and they discussed a draft of “D. Trump's “peace plan” for the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which seems to have already been approved by the Saudi authorities. This plan is expected to be presented by Vice  President of the United States M. Pence on December 18 in the Knesset of Israel. According to some sources, under this plan, the Palestinians will receive their state in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip, but there will be no full sovereignty over these territories, as much of the Israeli settlements will remain there. Instead of East Jerusalem, as the capital of the future Palestinian state, the eastern suburbs of Jerusalem Abu Dis are offered, especially since most of the PNA offices in Jerusalem have long been there.

Besides, an alternative option is allegedly suggested: in exchange for the West Bank, Palestinians can create their own state on a part of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Has this been agreed with Cairo or not — is yet to be known. According to the Israeli newspaper “Times of Israel”, in Riyadh, the head of the PNA was “offered” either to agree to D. Trump's “peace plan” or to resign. In addition, Abu Mazen was “strongly advised” to also distance himself from Iran and the Lebanese “Hizbullah” and to stop the process of reconciliation with Hamas until it ceases to have ties with Iran. It has also been reported that if Abu Mazen fails to fulfill these “wishes” of the Saudi authorities, then the financial support of the PNA will be substantially reduced, or suspended altogether.

At the moment, there is not enough reason to consider the above-mentioned draft of D. Trump's for a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict exactly as it is presented in some Western and Arab media. As the Arabs say, “whoever will live will see, and water will show — who can swim, and who cannot”…

LEBANON

Saad Hariri's Resignation, Which Has Not Happened. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad el-Din Rafik al-Hariri on November 4, in a televised address from Riyadh, declared his resignation due to “the threat to his life and the interference of Iran and his followers in the face of Hizbullah in the internal affairs of Lebanon”. The statement caused resonance around the world with its unnaturalness: the head of government declares his retirement while in a foreign country. This circumstance has led many political observers to conclude that it was the Saudi authorities that forced him to do so.

For S. Hariri, Saudi Arabia is the second homeland, since he was born in that country in 1970 when his father, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in 2005, was engaged in construction business there, which allowed him to become a dollar billionaire later. S. Hariri has a Saudi citizenship. From his father S. Hariri inherited Saudi Arabia's largest construction company, Saudi Oger, which has recently gone bankrupt. S. Hariri was appointed Prime Minister of Lebanon in November 2016. Before that, he headed the country's government in 2009–2011.

In Riyadh, they expressed support for S. Hariri's decision to leave office. On November 19, an emergency session of the League of Arab States, convened at the Saudi initiative, adopted a resolution in which Lebanese “Hizbullah” was recognized as a terrorist group. According to many observers, S. Hariri's rather strange resignation statement was made under pressure from Riyadh to make the Lebanese authorities deprive the Shiite party of “Hizbullah” of the opportunity to participate in the political life of the country, in particular in parliamentary elections, as well as injoint with the Lebanese Army operations on the border with Syria. And all this, according to the plans of Saudi strategists, was supposed to weaken the Iranian influence in Lebanon. However, it seems that the Saudi authorities have set up an overwhelming task for S. Hariri. The matter is that Lebanese party “Hizbullah” (“The party of Allah”) has been a parliamentary party since 1992, through which the Christian Maronite, Michel Aoun, was elected President of Lebanon in October 2016 from the 46th attempt after the start of the election. In June 2009, the headed by “Hizbullah” coalition “March 8” won 57 seats out of 128 in the Lebanese parliamentary elections. In contrast to S. Hariri, M. Aoun believes that “Hizbullah” is “a true Lebanese force, they are blood of our blood”. The withdrawal of Israeli troops (May 2000) from southern Lebanon, where they had been since June 1982, is considered to be first of all a merit of the “Hizbullah” militants who, during all these years, led the partisan war against the “Israeli occupiers”.

When S. Hariri's staying in Saudi Arabia continued for too long, the Lebanese authorities appealed to French President E. Macron to intervene as a mediator between Beirut and Riyadh on “releasing” of the Lebanese PM, fearing that Lebanon could be drawn into a regional conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These fears intensified after the Saudi authorities urged their citizens to leave Lebanon immediately.

November 9, in Riyadh, French President E. Macron met with S. Hariri and Crown Prince Mohammed. As a result of his mediation mission, after two weeks of “visiting”, S. Hariri flew to Paris on November 18, and returned to Beirut on November 22. There S. Hariri cancelled his decision to resign and said he would remain Prime Minister till parliamentary elections in May 2018. He also said he would continue to co-operate with President M. Aoun. On November 26, S. Hariri stated that “Hizbullah hurts our Arab brothers and affects the stability and security of their countries”. It seems that S. Hariri was wise enough not to say that “Hizbullah” also hurts Lebanon. Had he said that, he would have set himself against a significant part of the Lebanese population, which he, as a young and promising politician, does not need at all.

Crown Prince Mohammed's attempts to put pressure on Lebanon's Prime Minister to make him “tame” Lebanese “Hizbullah” ended in failure, as this task is basically unsustainable for S. Hariri, taking into consideration the great and irreplaceable role this Shiite party plays in the Lebanese society. Atempts to remove Hizbullah's parliamentary party from political life in Lebanon can only lead to a civil war. However, Lebanon has already experienced a civil war in 1975–1990 and hardly conscious Lebanese politicians will be willing to unleash another one.