February 11, 2018

The Middle East and North Africa. Analytical Review 01/2018

Oleksiy Volovych

The Military-Political Situation in January 2018. Part 2

The Military-Political Situation in January 2018. Part 1 


The USA-Iran: Confrontation Continues. January 12, US President D. Trump informed that he had decided to waive “for the last time” the application of certain nuclear sanctions canceled in accordance with the international agreement signed in Vienna on July 14, 2015 — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA). At that, D. Trump said that the USA would withdraw from the deal, if, on agreement with its European allies, within the next four months, it would not be amended to cover not only the nuclear but also Iran's missile program. D. Trump also pointed out that the USA would withdraw from the deal immediately, if the talks with Europeans go to a dead end.

US President insists on the Congress' adoption of a new law, in which, in his view, the United States should demand from Iran to let IAEA inspectors to its nuclear facilities at the first request. In this law, in D. Trump's opinion, the termination of the nuclear deal with Iran should be reflected, although the agreement itself refers to the 10-year period for which restrictions on uranium enrichment for the IRI are introduced. Incidentally, these demands of D. Trump's are not new. They literally repeat the proposals made by Republican Senators Bob Corker and Tom Cotton in the US Congress in October 2015. But then the Democrats dismissed them “as unacceptable unilateral rewriting of the deal”.

Following D. Trump's statement, the US Treasury on the same day imposed additional sanctions against 14 individuals and legal entities in Iran, including the head of Iran's Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani. They are accused of human rights violations during the recent riots in the country, as well as of promoting the development of the Iranian missile program. D. Trump also demanded that European allies join the USA's other restrictive measures against Iran — sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the leadership of Iran and the Lebanese party Hezbollah. In particular, D. Trump insists that Europeans should recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and support the United States in its fight against Iranian cyber-threats, the country's missile program and human rights violations in Iran. January 26, in his speech in Davos, D. Trump once again called on European partners to “confront Iran's support for terrorists and block its path to a nuclear weapon”. In this, he was actively assisted by the Prime Minister of Israel B. Netanyahu, who on the sidelines of the Davos Forum urged E. Macron and A. Merkel to stand at the USA and Israel's position on Iran and the nuclear deal with it.

Trying to exert pressure on European allies, D. Trump's administration somehow “forgets” that on July 20, 2015, at the meeting of the UN Security Council unanimously, including the United States, Resolution 2231 was approved in support of an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. According to the Resolution, if the agreement is successfully implemented, the UN Security Council will on “the date ten years after the JCPOA Adoption Day, as defined in the JCPOA, all the provisions of this resolution shall be terminated, and none of the previous resolutions shall be applied, the Security Council will have concluded its consideration of the Iranian nuclear issue”. Implementation Day is the date on which, simultaneously with the IAEA report verifying implementation by Iran of the nuclear-related measures described in Sections 15.1. to 15.11 of Annex V of the JCPOA.

It should also be noted that D. Trump did not pay attention to the fact that on January 11, representatives of three European countries — Germany, France and Great Britain, as well as the European Union after the meeting in Brussels with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran M. J. Zarif declared that they were ready to defend the agreement from attempts to cancel it and expected that all the parties, including the United States, would continue to fully implement the agreement. Representatives of the above-mentioned European countries and the European Union pointed out that the lifting of sanctions against Iran in accordance with the agreement on its nuclear program “had a positive impact on trade and economic relations with Iran”. M. J. Zarif once again said that Tehran could revise its cooperation with the IAEA if the United States decided to withdraw from the nuclear deal. However, some experts believe that the possible unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal will not disassociate it if the other five countries and Iran do not agree to stop it. In their view, the USA's possible exit from the JCPOA will only lead to USA's self-isolation in this matter.

The Foreign Ministry of Russia called D. Trump's position an ultimatum on JCPOA, which “completely contradicts not only the principles on which the international relations are being built, but also the logic of the nuclear deal”. The RF Deputy Foreign Minister S. Ryabkov said that the Russian Foreign Ministry perceives D. Trump's efforts to denounce the existing nuclear deal with Iran extremely negatively as it “will harm the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime”. According to him, “Russia will persistently explain to the United States the defectiveness and corruption of the latter's sanction policy”.

January 22, during his visit to London, US Secretary of State R. Tillerson announced progress on the issue of obtaining the consent of European allies to “improve” the agreement with Iran. According to the head of the State Department, if these “improvements” are approved by all the parties to the agreement, the United States can refrain from leaving the JCPOA. However, the agreement, along with European countries — Britain, France and Germany — includes also the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China, which, at the request of Iran, are unlikely to agree to “improvements” in the text of the deal. After his talks in London, R. Tillerson said they had agreed to set up a working group of experts from the USA, the UK, France and Germany on “fixing flaws” in the nuclear deal with Iran.



The Anti-Corruption Campaign. January 24, Saudi authorities announced the completion of the anti-corruption campaign, during which several hundred princes, senior officials and businessmen of the Kingdom were detained. According to experts, this announcement was intended to reassure international investors on the eve of the privatization of “Saudi Aramco” company, the world's largest oil exporter.

The very unusual anti-corruption campaign, initiated by the hereditary Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has broken all the partnership ties made over decades, and now foreign investors and partners of Saudi companies are waiting for the definition of new business rules in Saudi Arabia, and therefore are in no hurry to invest into various economic and infrastructure projects. 95 % of the accused (originally more than five hundred people) agreed to the proposed transfer of parts of assets and property to the state government as compensation in exchange for release. It is reported that as a result of expropriation, the treasury of the state received about 106 billion US dollars, some of which will be used to finance social support programs. However, some experts are skeptical that the Saudi government has been able to raise such a huge amount in such a short time, given that no information on the sale of assets, firms, enterprises and real estate in Saudi Arabia has been published recently. According to Saudi officials, the cases of the 95 people who did not agree to a pre-trial settlement, were transferred to the Prosecutor's Office. According to other sources, the figure was larger, and almost all of them stepped into opposition to the hereditary Prince, hoping for an open trial with the involvement of top-notch Western lawyers to defend their rights and interests. But, most likely, such a scenario for the hereditary Prince is too undesirable, as an open trial can make public facts that raise many questions to the King Salman's environment, including about the legitimacy of the appointment of Prince Muhammad bin Salman to the post of the Crown Prince.

January 27, was released one of the main subjects of the anti-corruption campaign, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who is considered by experts the main opponent of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inside the royal family, despite their being cousins. The authorities demanded from him to pay about 6 billion US dollars for his release, but Prince Alwaleed flatly refused. The arrest of billionaire Alwaleed, whose wealth is estimated at 17 billion US dollars, has drawn the attention of business circles in the West. Many world media have been covering the investigation in Alwaleed's case. At this, some articles revealed quite scandalous details about the Saudi judicial system and methods of investigation. It seems that the Saudi authorities had to face pressures from some of the international business elites who had long-standing business and personal contacts with Alwaleed. Among them are two former Presidents of France (F. Hollande and N. Sarkozy) and current French President E. Macron, who expressed concern to Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the arrest of Alwaleed bin Talal. It is possible that the release of Prince Alwaleed was one of the conditions for Mohammed bin Salman's visits to Paris and the United States in the second half of February. Some experts believe that the quite strange nature of the current anti-corruption campaign did not affect the underlying causes of corruption in the Saudi society, but became an instrument of mass redistribution of property in favor of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his environment.



Armed Clashes in Aden. January 27, as a result of armed clashes between adherents of South Yemen's independence and government units in some parts of Aden, about 20 people were killed and dozens were injured. The formal reason for the aggravation of the situation was a ban on a demonstration demanding the resignation of the government. In response to this, armed groups (controlled by the Southern Transitional Council and supported by the United Arab Emirates) seized several government buildings. Prime Minister Ahmed Bin Dagr defined the events in Aden as an attempted coup and called on the parties to stop the fire. President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi also called to immediately stop the hostilities.

According to some experts, the UAE, supporting the Southern Transitional Council, decided to once again demonstrate to its ally in the “Arab Coalition” — Saudi Arabia, that they do not share Riyadh's support to President A. M. Hadi, whose interim term of office expired in January 2015. The Emirates insist on confederative Yemen, with separation of South Yemen and transfer of power in North Yemen to the clan of the recently murdered ex-President A. A. Saleh, namely to his son Ahmed and nephew Tareq, while the KSA stands for the preservation of the unitary structure of the country. Thus, the main reason for the recent clashes in Aden is the lack of mutual understanding between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh over further political and state structure of Yemen. Moreover, all this shows profound contradictions in relations between the key partners in the “Arab Coalition” not only over this, but also over other regional issues, which undoubtedly removes the prospect of peaceful settlement of the Yemeni crisis and the completion of the mission of the “Arab Coalition” in Yemen.

According to some reports, Saudis will try to urge D. Trump to put pressure on Abu Dhabi within the framework of the forthcoming visit of the Crown Prince Mohammed to the United States in February in order to encourage the Emirates to engage in more active offensive actions against Houthis and to stop the actions aimed at separating South Yemen. Obviously, the White House's position on this issue will depend on how well the Americans and Saudis can agree on the implementation of 109.7 billion US dollars arms agreements with Saudis, signed last May during the US President's visit to the KSA.

Humanitarian Catastrophe. According to the UN, since March 2015 more than 10,000 people were killed, about 50,000 wounded and more than 2 million displaced in Yemen as a result of the civil war and invasion of the “Arab Coalition”. As a result of air bombings by the Coalition's aviation, almost completely was destroyed the basic infrastructure, were blocked Yemeni main ports, through which is imported up to 90 % of food for the 27-million population of the country. Since the beginning of the war until January 2018, the Human Rights Watch has documented 87 illegal attacks by the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia, some of which may be qualified as war crimes, which resulted in the deaths of almost 1 thousand civilians, and destroying hundreds of homes, hospitals, schools and mosques. More than 22 million Yemeni people, including 11 million children, need humanitarian aids. More than 8 million people are completely dependent on UN food aids and are on the brink of death from starvation.

According to the World Food Program, more than 400,000 Yemeni children suffer from acute malnutrition. According to the ICRC, about 15.7 million Yemenis have no access to safe drinking water and adequate medical and sanitary services. According to the World Health Organization, in 2017 more than 1 million cases of cholera and more than 2,200 deaths from the disease were registered. 24.3 million Yemenis do not have access to the electricity network. By December 2017, prices for gasoline, diesel and gas had increased by more than 200 % compared with their pre-war figures. In January 2018, King of Saudi Arabia Salman ordered to transfer to Yemen 2 billion US dollars to support the national currency and provide humanitarian aid to the country's population. However, some experts believe that, at best, only a small portion of these funds, which will remain after being abducted by officials of the Yemeni government, can be distributed among the population of the southern part of the country.



Kh. Haftar: His Enemies and Sponsors. On January 27, the aviation of the Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, struck at terrorist groups in Derna, 140 km from Tobruk, where are based the House of Representatives and the government alternative to the government in Tripoli. In the course of the air strikes, the positions and vehicles of the fighters were destroyed, but this does not mean that they were pushed out of Derna. This requires a ground-based operation. More than four years ago, Derna was seized by the group of Libyan Islamists and radicals supported by Qatar, and now it remains the only city controlled by them city in eastern Libya. Attempts to clear Derna were made by the Egyptian Special Forces and Libyan units before, but without result.

If Kh. Haftar has not managed to establish full control over Derna, near Tobruk, it will be even more difficult for him to establish control of remote areas. For example, for half a year Kh. Haftar's has been trying to consolidate in the southern region of Fazzan, as well as to earn the local tribes' support. His next offensive in order to establish control over the territory adjacent to the borders of Libya with Niger and Chad, was unsuccessful. At the same time, Marshal's main opponents — Misuratans and Trilopolitans — managed to save their positions in Fazzan and even set control over the main oil fields in the region where the main operator of oil production is the Italian ENI company. And this is mainly due to the fact that Paris, as one of Kh. Haftar's main sponsors, is forced to give ground to Rome in Fazzan. Therefore, Paris, Abu Dhabi and Cairo have decided not to conflict with Rome but to focus their efforts on establishing their control in the eastern region of the country — Cyrenaica.

In January, along with the provision of economic and military assistance to the Libyan tribes in Fazzan, Rome continued its actions to support Fayez al-Sarraj's government in Tripoli, which opposes the government in Tobruk and Marshal Kh. Haftar. Under the pretext of combating illegal migration, a 1.5-thousand contingent of Italian military seamen and marines is based in Tripoli and al Khums. In the near future, the group of Italian Special Forces in the number of 400 servicemen will also be stationed in Misurata. Rome seems to be increasing its military presence in the western part of Libya, thereby attempting to force Kh. Haftar to limit the scope of his influence in the country to Cyrenaica.

Recently, the Russian military presence in this region is becoming more and more noticeable. Thus, the French secret services point out that in recent months the number of employees of the Russian GRU in Tobruk and Benghazi has increased, and that Kh. Haftar's Army's elite units are trained by officers of the Russian Special Forces and functionaries of the Russian VKS. At this, Russian influence in the region is growing, not only due to the military presence and supplying Kh. Haftar's army with arms through Egypt, but also within the framework of official diplomacy. Thus, last December, Bashir Salekh (a former “banker” close to Muammar Gaddafi, who has good contacts among the tribes of the Toubou and Awlad Suleiman in southern Libya and in the neighboring countries (in the region of Sahara and Sahel) visited Moscow. The head of the Russian-Libyan contact group, Lev Dengov, maintains ties with certain political groups in Tripoli and Misurata.

The recent resonant terrorist attack in Benghazi on January 23 shows that the situation in Libya is still far from stabilization. Twenty-eight people were the victims of the double attack, including Ahmed Ali al-Fitouri, a commander of the Special Arrest and Investigation Unit of the LNA), and Brigadier General Mahdi al-Falah, a head of the Counter-Espionage of the LNA's intelligence service.

Kh. Haftar announced the full liberation of Benghazi from terrorists and radical Islamists in July 2017, but after that, the activity of terrorists in the city has not stopped. And the reason for this, in our opinion, is that the opposing Libyan clans are still not able to reach a compromise in order to stabilize the situation in the country and form a united government. And this is largely contributing to the backstage struggle of foreign sponsors of the Libyan clans for the influence in the country and their reluctance to put the interests of the long-suffering Libyan people over their corporate interests. According to some reports, the influential clans of Misurata, supported by Qatar and Turkey, are trying to disrupt all peaceful initiatives of the UN and the EU aimed at achieving a compromise in Libya and formation of a stable government of national unity.