May 7, 2017

The Middle East and North Africa. Analytical Review 04/2017

 

Oleksiy Volovych

The Military-Political Situation in April 2017

 

In April 2017, the situation in the region remained tense and unstable. Armed conflicts continue in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other countries of the region. In Turkey there was a “historic” referendum on amending the country's constitution on the transition from a parliamentary republic to a presidential one. In Syria, the use of chemical warfare agents in Khan-Sheikhun on April 4 was the main headline-making event. It was the reason for the missile strike by US Navy ships on the Syrian air base “Shayrat” on the 7th April. In Iraq, the positional battles for the liberation of western Mosul from the ISIS fighters continued. In Yemen, the troops loyal to President of Yemen Abd Rabbo Hadi are fighting on the outskirts of the port of Hudaydah with the Houthis insurgents, as well as supporters of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In Libya, with the support of Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France, Field Marshal Kh. Haftar, representing the House of Representatives in Tobruk, is conducting an operation in the Libyan province of Fezzan against armed groups loyal to the Government of National Unity in Tripoli.

 

TURKEY

President of Turkey R. Erdogan at a rally in Izmir, April 9, 2017The Historical Referendum. April 16, a nation-wide referendum was held in Turkey on introducing amendments to the country's Constitution concerning the country's transition from a parliamentary republic to a presidential one.

On 27 April, 2017, the official results of the referendum appeared in the “Official Gazette”. Of the 58.2 million registered voters, 49.7 million citizens participated in the survey, the voter turnout was 85.43 %. At this, 48.9 million ballots were found valid, 862,251 were invalid. Of the recognized valid ballots: 25,157,463 votes were “for”, 23,779,141 votes were “against”. As for the percentage, the final result was as follows: “for” — 51.41 %, “against” — 48.59 %. The CEC recognized these results as valid, despite objections from representatives of the opposition Republican People's Party and other political forces that reported massive violations and falsifications.

Almost half of the population of the country opposed the strengthening of the powers of the President of the country. In particular, most residents of the largest cities of Turkey voted against amending the Turkish Constitution. Thus, the AKP finally became the party of the Turkish provinces. To a large extent, this was determined by the serious economic crisis that is in Turkey today. The wave of repressions that swept the country after the military coup attempt of July 16, 2016 also influenced the moods of pro-Western voters.

As the current leadership of the country has repeatedly stated, constitutional amendments will enter into force during the two-year transition period until the next presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019. However, immediately after the official announcement of the voting results, the reform of the country's judicial system began, including the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors. In comparison with the previous system, the role of the President in appointing the top management of the Judicial and Public Prosecutor's Council has increased significantly. Military legal proceedings are finally eliminated in peacetime. In the four-month period, the entire military judicial corps should be transferred to civilian judicial structures.

President of the country R. Erdogan again heads the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as “the founder — the Secretary General”. At this, he has presented the “roadmap” for the development of the AKP for the next three-year period, and has appointed the next Congress of the party for the 21st of May 2017. Thus, relying on the results of the constitutional referendum, R. Erdogan is immediately proceeding to cardinal reforms of both the political system of the country and the party building.

In the coming weeks after the referendum, he decided to visit several leading countries and Brussels. After visits to India and Russia, he intends to go to China, the USA, the EU and to attend the NATO summit in Brussels. In his speech about his return to the AKP as its leader, R. Erdogan determined some of the most important directions of Turkey's foreign policy in the near future. In particular, he stressed the strategic importance of Turkish-American relations and his visit to the USA scheduled for May 16, pointing out that “if everything continues as before, then it will be impossible for us to agree with America”. At this he unambiguously outlined the spheres of Turkey's interests in Syria. Touching upon the relations with the European Union, R. Erdogan called on it “to open the way for Turkey, otherwise we will also make our calculations”. At the end of his speech, he once again reminded of his claims to leadership in the Islamic world, emphasizing that he did not perceive the “Muslim Brotherhood” as a terrorist organization.

His statement on the possible holding of another referendum on the desirability of further relations with the European Union caused discussions in the expert community about the future of the relations between Turkey and the EU. In particular, most of all experts are attracted by the issue of the possibility of implementing the agreement on refugees between Turkey and the EU. As you know, Ankara insists on visa liberalization with the EU as a condition for the fulfillment of the migration deal concluded with it. This is being discussed against the backdrop of the growing anti-European sentiments in the Turkish society both among pro-government conservatives and liberal oppositionists.

The political relations between Turkey and the EU have an important economic basis, as two-thirds of foreign direct investments flow to Turkey from European countries. According to Professor of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Daron Acemoglu, if European investments drastically decline, the Turkish economy will collapse within several years. Reducing these investments would not be compensated for even by investments from the USA, China and the Persian Gulf countries. Of significant importance is also the modernization of the Customs Union concluded between the EU and Turkey in 1996. This is extremely needed by both sides, but more by Turkey. The process of updating the agreement on the Customs Union between Turkey and the EU is scheduled to be completed no later than 2018. Many experts are inclined to believe that the political relations of these two parties will inevitably deteriorate over time, since it is difficult to achieve mutual understanding between a democratic Europe and an autocratic Turkey, especially if its President restores the death penalty, for which he calls.

Turkey's air strikes against Kurds in Syria and IraqTurkey's air strikes against Kurds in Syria and Iraq. On 25 April, the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces reported that Turkish warplanes launched air strikes on objects related to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) near Sinjar in north-west Iraq and on the basis of the Kurdish militia of the “People's Protection Units” (YPG) in the Syrian province of Al-Hasakah in the North-East of Syria. About 30 strike-fighters participated in the attack of the Turkish Air Force destroying the PKK facilities and killing about 70 members of the Kurdish formations. A representative of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces stated that “the terrorists of the Syrian and Iraqi branches of the PKK are actively using routes in the north of Syria and Iraq for the transfer of militants, weapons, ammunition and explosives to Turkey”. Ankara repeatedly demanded from the Iraqi authorities and Iraqi Kurdistan that the PKK should leave the region, but this did not happen.

April 25, the YPG called on the international coalition led by the United States to stop Turkey's air strikes against Syrian Kurds. According to the human rights organization “Syrian Monitoring Center for Human Rights”, from these air strikes of the Turkish aviation in the North-East of Syria, at least 18 YPG soldiers were killed. Despite the fact that the YPG are part of the armed coalition of the “Forces of Democratic Syria” (SDS), which Washington is assisting in the operation against the ISIS, nevertheless, in Ankara they are considered a “Syrian branch of the PKK”. The authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan have called on the PKK militants to leave the Sinjar area in order to “avoid destabilization of the situation in the region”.

The non-agreed with the Western Coalition Turkish bombing of positions of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds caused a rather sharp reaction from the official representatives of the United States, Iran, Russia, the United Nations, as well as Syria and Iraq. Thus, the US Department of State's Spokesman Mark Toner said that he was concerned about Turkey's strikes in the north of Syria and Iraq. In particular, he pointed out that “these attacks had not approved by the Coalition, and they led to the tragic deaths of our partners in the fight against the ISIS, including the Kurdish militia of the Peshmerga”. The Coalition's Spokesman for fighting ISIS, US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said Ankara had warned the Pentagon about a strike on Kurdish armed groups in Syria and Iraq in less than an hour, at this, in his words, “Turkey was not coordinating its actions with its allies in the Coalition”.

A representative of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, condemning Turkish air strikes against Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq, pointed out that they violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of those countries. The UN Secretariat expressed concern about the consequences of the Turkish Air Force's strike on the positions of the Kurdish armed groups.

R. Erdogan stated that “the operations of the Turkish aviation in the north of Iraq and Syria will continue until all Kurdish terrorists have been destroyed”Nevertheless, Turkish President R. Erdogan ignored these condemnations, stating that “the operations of the Turkish aviation in the north of Iraq and Syria will continue until all Kurdish terrorists have been destroyed”. At this, he made another sharp statement about Bashar Assad, believing that as long as the latter leads Syria, a peaceful settlement of the Syrian conflict is impossible.

Russia's reaction to these air strikes was also quite tough. The statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation pointed out that “Turkey's air strikes on the territory of Iraq and Syria, bypassing the legitimate governments of these countries, are unacceptable and contradict the fundamental principles of interstate relations”. Moscow also reacted sharply to R. Erdogan's attack on Syrian President B. Assad, pointing out that “the future of the country and its leader can only be decided by the Syrian people”. In general, Russia's reaction to the Turkish bombing in Iraq and Syria was in line with the current very strained Russian-Turkish relations, complicated, among other things, by their deep disagreements over Syria and Iraq.

 

SYRIA

The USS Porter and the USS Ross conducted strikes into Syria. “This was in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime”The chemical weapon attack and the USA's reaction to it. The most headline-making event in Syria in April was the use of chemical warfare agents in the town of Khan-Sheikhun (Idlib province), killing 90 and injuring about 500 people.

April 6, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) began to investigate the use of chemical weapon and on 20 April it concluded that during the air strike on 4 April, sarin or a similar nerve agent was used in the city. This was stated by the OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü. However, he still has not answered the main question — who used chemical weapon in the Syrian province of Idlib? April 22, the Head of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Paulo Pinheiro, said at the press conference in Geneva that the majority of Syrian residents in the province of Idlib died not from toxic gas, but from the use of conventional weapons. The Commission could not at that time find out a link between the air strikes of the Syrian aviation and the use of chemical weapon.

Without waiting for the results of this investigation from UN experts and the OPCW, the US administration accused B. Assad's regime of using chemical weapon in Khan-Sheikhun. This served as the reason for a missile strike on the Syrian Air Force base “Shayrat” in Homs province, from which, according to Washington, the airplanes flew to strike on Khan-Sheikhun. On the night of April 7, the US Navy ships deployed in the Mediterranean Sea near the island of Crete, launched 59 cruise missiles Tomahawk against that airbase. According to US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the missiles damaged or destroyed at the Syrian air base “Shayrat” about 20 % of the military aviation of the Syrian government army, as well as fuel, ammunition and air defense facilities.

It should be noted that two days before the bombing of this airbase, D. Trump said that he did not intend to fight with Assad, his fate should be determined by the Syrian people. Interestingly, a similar situation had occurred earlier, when on August 21, 2013, about 1500 Syrians died of chemical weapons in the suburb of Damascus Al-Ghouta, including several hundred children. Then, like now, Washington accused the Syrian government troops of using chemical weapons, although at that time, like today, it did not provide explicit evidence. US President B. Obama threatened that he would strike on Syria. But after Moscow had suggested Damascus, under international control, should destroy chemical weapons and join the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, B. Obama stated that “if Bashar Assad gives up chemical weapons, the strike on Syria will be put on an indefinitely long pause”.

It is noteworthy that at that time Donald Trump publicly criticized President B. Obama for his intention to launch a military strike against Syria and expressed his admiration with V. Putin 's address to the Americans, calling it “a masterpiece for Russia and a misfortune for the United States”. But during his election campaign, D. Trump already criticized B. Obama for his not attacking Syria, and having become President, “corrected Obama's mistake” and struck this blow, demonstrating the power of the United States in confronting a weak opponent.

In general, the power structures of the United States and American society assessed President D. Trump's actions positively, but not without criticism. Thus, on 12 April, a member of the House of Representatives of the US Congress, as well as the major of the US National Guard and the veteran of the Iraqi campaign, Tulsi Gabbard stated that “President Trump's unreasonable strike against Syria was exactly at the moment when the United Nations began preparations for the investigation of the use of chemical weapons in Khan-Sheikhun”. According to her, “the USA's attacks on Syria will not save Syrian children, but will rather strengthen “al-Qaeda” in the determination to seize power in Syria.”

Representatives of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation reported that the chemical attack is a consequence of the government troops' strike on the warehouses of opposition troops with combat chemical weapon. However, according to experts of the OPCW, the statement of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation about the explosion of the facility, where chemical weapons were allegedly stored, is not supported by any reconnaissance data. The official Damascus, in turn, denied all accusations, saying that it does not use chemical weapons now and did not do it earlier. April 14, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that the situation around the Syrian city of Khan-Sheikhun was a hoax story. According to him, Syria does not have chemical weapons, which can be confirmed by the OPCW, and the Syrian Air Force did not hit any targets in Khan-Sheikhun with chemical weapons.

In response to the USA's missile attack on the Syrian airbase, Moscow disconnected the communication channel between the Defense Departments of Russia and the United States, through which the coordination of military actions between Russia and the United States in Syria was carried out. Russian President V. Putin called the attack on the Syrian air base “an act of aggression” and accused the USA of violating the norms of international law, as well as of actions “under an imaginary pretext”. It seems that this time V. Putin's statement did not seem a “masterpiece” to Trump... On 12 April, Russia vetoed the UN Security Council's resolution on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. A representative of the Russian Federation at the UN Security Council said that Moscow would not support the resolution condemning the government of Syria without investigating the incident in Khan-Sheikhun by the OPCW experts.

April 12, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid his first official visit to Moscow, during which he had many-hours talks with Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov and Russian President V. Putin. The main topics of the talks were Syria and Ukraine. The sides exchanged their vision of the situation and prospects for its development in these countries. Following the negotiations, the parties acknowledged significant disagreements on the issues under discussion. R. Tillerson refused to accept the proposal of the Russian Federation to come up with a joint initiative to create a special group to investigate the incident in Khan-Sheikhun, which would include representatives of the OPCW, experts from Russia, the United States and countries of the region. R. Tillerson stated that Assad should leave and demanded that Russia should stop supporting him.

On 13 April, during the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic, S. Lavrov and W. Muallem, S. Lavrov reiterated Russia's continued support for “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria”. It seems to us that under all circumstances, Moscow will not give up support for B. Assad's regime, and this will remain the main contradiction in Russia's relations with the US and the TR over the situation in Syria.

 

IRAQ

The operation to liberate the Iraqi city of MosulArmed Hostilities. The operation to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the ISIS militants by the Iraqi army and coalition forces led by the United States has already lasted for 8 months. The eastern part of Mosul was liberated in mid-January. While the Iraqi troops entered the territory of western Mosul only in February. Despite the absolutely desperate situation, the ISIS fighters continue to exert fierce resistance. Even being completely surrounded in the western part of Mosul, they attack and counter-attack the Americans and their allies. Moreover, on 16 April, they used sarin against the positions of Iraqi troops around Mosul. As a result — 25 Iraqi soldiers needed medical assistance.

The total number of the Iraqi Armed Forces engaged in the operation totals more than 150,000 soldiers, including the elite units of the US Army — the 101st Airborne and 1st Infantry Divisions, as well as the special task Delta Force (ACE). In Iraq, are also involved US elite units — MARSOC (a special unit of the Marine Corps of the United States), U.S. Army Special Forces (”green berets”). In addition to the American special forces, the Coalition includes: British special forces SAS, Canadian special forces — Joint Task Force-2, as well as Australian special forces — SASR. The air cover for the combat operations of the allied ground forces is provided by aircrafts of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, the UAE, Turkey and Iraq. During the offensive against Mosul, the United States and Great Britain's UAVs were also used.

U.S. Army Soldiers an observation post in MosulAccording to the Pentagon, US President D. Trump has provided the Department with the authority to lift restrictions on the strength of the country's military contingent in Iraq. At present, there are approximately 5.2 thousand American servicemen in Iraq, most of whom act as instructors and advisers. In military operations against jihadists, only US Special Forces take direct part. The Iraqi military are trained at organized large training centers. In 2015, American instructors trained more than 17,500 Iraqi military personnel and 2,000 policemen.

In December 2016, 150,000 soldiers of the Iraqi Army and Coalition Forces were confronted by no more than 20,000 ISIS fighters. At the moment, there are no more than 10 thousand of them left. According to them, during the first six months of the storming of Mosul, the troops of the Western coalition allegedly lost: 110 tanks, 130 infantry fighting vehicles, 36 armored personnel carriers, 880 “Humvee” armored vehicles, 110 armored bulldozers, 640 various trucks, 3 strike and 50 reconnaissance AUVs, 8 helicopters. However, in American media these losses are not confirmed, but they are not denied either. At least, the author did not find such information.

By early April, terrorists controlled less than 30 % of the territory of the western part of Mosul, where there are no more than 1.5 thousand militants. According to the representatives of the Iraqi Army, in late May, it is planned to complete the liberation of Mosul from the ISIS militants. But it should be noted that since the beginning of the operation, the time of this complete liberation has been changed 7 times, but so far it was only a promise.

Refugees near MosulThe delay in the liberation of Mosul is mainly due to the fact that the command of the Iraqi army and the forces of the Western Coalition obviously did not take into account the humanitarian risks factor in conditions when terrorists use the civilian population as a “human shield”. Humanitarian channels for letting out hundreds of thousands of civilians from the city have not been fully established, and temporary camps have not been established for them. Besides, during the bombing by the Coalition's aviation, several hundred civilians in the city were killed. According to the UN, terrorists keep about 400,000 people without water, food and medicine in the western part of the city. Terrorists in every way prevent the exit of the population from the zone of military operations in Mosul to the territory controlled by the Iraqi Forces. Within the last two months, several hundreds of the city's residents, including women and children, have been executed for attempts to escape from the city.

April 25, Iraqi government forces ousted the ISIS militants from the largest area of the western part of Mosul — al-Tanek. Two days earlier, al-Thawra's urban area also came under the control of Iraqi troops. This operation is considered the greatest victory for all the months of fighting for Mosul. At the same time, the armed formations of the Iraqi Shiite militia began a new offensive against the positions of the ISIS in the historic city of Hatra, southwest of Mosul.

 

YEMEN

The confrontation in YemenArmed Hostilities. After constant military strikes from the air, sea and land, continuing for more than two years, Saudi Arabia and its Arabian allies, with the support of US Special Forces, failed to return to the leadership the former president of Yemen Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and to disperse the Houthis movement. As a result of the protracted civil war, with the intervention of the KSA and its allies, according to the Yemeni Legal Center for Rights and Development, more than 12,000 Yemenis have been killed and more than 20,000 have been injured. According to the UN, nearly 19 million people need humanitarian aid, which is two thirds of the population of Yemen, with 7.3 million of them experiencing a sharp shortage of food.

The Arabian Coalition led by the KSA includes the monarchies of the Persian Gulf — the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. They are also supported by Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and Jordan. The Shiite armed groups “Ansar Allah” (Houthis movement) and the army units, which remained faithful to the former President of the country Ali Abdullah Saleh, are supported by Iran.

As part of the preparation of the operation “The Golden Spear” to seize the port of Hudaydah on the Red Sea coast, which is in the hands of Houthis detachments and supporters of ex-President Ali Saleh, the Coalition has deployed two newly formed and trained by Emirates instructors motorized brigades to the north and south of Hudaydah. Currently, these brigades are fighting against the Houthis 150 km north of Hudaydah and 120 km south of it. The resistance of the insurgents is not weakening, and Riyadh and Abu Dhabi demand from Washington to increase the assistance and to send American special forces, heavy artillery and assault aircrafts to Yemen to storm Hudaydah.

April 18, anti-aircraft batteries of government troops in Yemen's Ma`rib province mistakenly shot down a Saudi “Black Hawk” military helicopter with 12 servicemen on board.

On 22 April, the special forces of the Houthis insurgents conducted an operation against a group of mercenaries from Saudi Arabia north of the town of Mocha, in the province of Taiz, which killed or injured more than 80 foreign mercenaries, including soldiers from the Sudan and the UAE.

April 23, the opposition Yemeni army fired ballistic missiles at the positions of the Saudi troops at the al-Alab border crossing in the region of Asir. On the same day, the Houthis insurgents held off a massive attack by mercenaries of the former President Abd Rabbo Hadi in the southwestern part of Taiz. During the operation, several dozens of mercenaries and four of their armored personnel carriers were destroyed.

On 27 April, the Yemeni Houthis insurgents' rocket and artillery fire destroyed an ammunition depot, located at al-Fawaz military base in the south-western Saudi province of Najran. Yemeni opposition troops' “Katyusha” missiles also struck at positions and vehicles of Saudi troops at two military bases in Jizan. The forces of the Yemeni Army and people's committees also launched a rocket and artillery strike against the KSA's military base al-Hajar in the Asir border region. Yemeni Houthis insurgents use ballistic missiles of Iranian production Qaher-M2, as well as rockets of local production — Zelzal-2.

The USA's Role in the Yemeni Conflict. In the US President Donald Trump's Administration's foreign policy, Yemen is given quite a prominent place. The main task of the United States in Yemen is the struggle against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AKAP). During the first three months of D. Trump's presidency, AKAP suffered more strikes with use of drones than during the entire 2016.

D. Trump's approach to the situation in Yemen is significantly different from Obama's approach, whose attitude to the military intervention of the Arabian Coalition led by Saudi Arabia was rather restrained, although the US administration did provide significant support to the Arab Coalition since the beginning of the campaign in early 2015. The Obama administration saw the Arab Coalition's invasion of Yemen as a wrong and unjustified action. At the end of 2016, the US even introduced a moratorium on selling guided missiles to Saudi Arabia.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis in Riyadh, April 19, 2017It seems that the administration of D. Trump considers Yemen not just an opportunity to fight against al-Qaeda, but an arena of geopolitical rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the context of the global inter-confessional conflict of Shiites and Sunnis. In this context, support to the Arabian Coalition led by Saudi Arabia, is a blow to Iran's regional ambitions, which fully corresponds to Trump's anti-Iranian position, which he advertized during his election campaign.

Apparently, today D. Trump's administration significantly increase its support for the Arabian Coalition in preparing an offensive on the port of Hudaydah on the Yemeni coast of the Red Sea. In particular, this operation was discussed during the visit of Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Washington in March and the visit of US Secretary of Defense James Mattis to Riyadh on 19 April.

As for the forthcoming operation to seize the port of Hudaydah by Yemeni government forces and the Arabian Coalition, it should be noted that about 70 % of food imports in Yemen come through this port. Its possible closure due to hostilities will entail disastrous consequences for the population on the verge of starvation. Stopping the work of the port can cause famine in at least five provinces — Hudaydah, Taiz, Lahij, Al-Bayda and Mahwit. Besides, there is no reason to believe that the Houthis will leave this port without resistance.

On 12 April, the Pentagon Spokesman announced the possible sending of a limited contingent of the US Armed Forces to Yemen to fight the terrorist network of AKAP and other extremist groups. Recently, however, the AKAP has demonstrated an amazing ability to adapt to the situation created by the civil war in Yemen and is showing more and more sophisticated skills in its relations with local clans and tribes, in particular by providing significant humanitarian aid to the local population. Virtually lack of control by the central government has contributed to the creation of a social support base for AKAP in southern Yemen. April 29, the leader of AKAP Qasim ar-Raymi issued a statement that his organization was ready to fight the Houthis insurgents in Yemen, while noting that AKAP could sign a truce with the government of President Hadi under certain conditions.

During his first visit to Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that Washington was ready to help in the settlement of the Yemeni armed conflict through negotiations, although on the eve of the visit he sent a request to the White House to lift restrictions on military support for the Coalition of Arab countries under the leadership of the KSA. After that, the US Congress approved urgent selling to Saudi Arabia guided munitions worth 390 million US dollars. The Pentagon also provides the Arabian Coalition with intelligence and UAVs. While Washington used to avoid military operations with Houthis rebels before, now the US administration must decide on the extent of its participation in this war. However, such a choice is not easy. On the one hand, the Houthis are fighting against al-Qaeda militants, on the other hand, they are Iran's allies. And most importantly, the Houthis are supported by millions of Yemenis, which excludes the possibility of a military solution to the Yemeni conflict.

 

LIBYA

LibyaThe Military-Political Situation. At present, the main reason for the unsettledness of the Libyan conflict is dual power, and more specifically, the confrontation between the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the House of Representatives of Libya in Tobruk. Apart from Russia, Egypt, France and the UAE, who are the sponsors of the House of Representatives in Tobruk, recently Italy and Algeria have intensified their supporting the GNA. On 3 April, the House of Representatives of Libya voted to return to the inter-Libyan dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations. The deputies also proposed to elect a new head of the GNA instead of the current Prime Minister F. Sarraj and to re-form the Presidential Council of Libya.

Attempts to reach an understanding between Tripoli and Tobruk have been made repeatedly, but without success. The latest such attempt was on February 13, 2017, in Cairo. One of the conditions for reconciliation between Tripoli and Tobruk is the Field Marshal Kh. Haftar's demand to grant him the post of Minister of Defense in the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, as well as to dissolve the Presidential Council under F. Sarraj, dominated by Tripolitan and Misurata Islamists. The next round of negotiations between F. Sarraj and Kh. Haftar is scheduled for early May in Abu Dhabi (UAE).

Meanwhile, along with attempts to reach a compromise through negotiations, force actions are also being undertaken to change the situation in the interests of the opposing sides. At present, military actions between the troops of Tripoli and Tobruk have moved to the south-west of the country to the area of Sebha. On 15 April, after violent clashes with the armed formations of the “Third Force” Brigade from Misurata, the loyal to GNA Prime Minister F. Sarraj, Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of Field Marshal Kh. Haftar, took control of the large Tamanhent airbase near Sebha. On the night of April 24 to 25, the Tobruk Air Force bombed the airport and the military camp in the town of Sebha.

Behind Kh. Haftar's current offensive there is the discontent of his main foreign sponsors such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France with Italy's increased activity in Libya. Rome's activity in the traditional zone of interests of France has caused irritation in Paris. The matter is that the Italians are trying to create in the south of Libya, a Rome-controlled military group of representatives of the tribes of the Toubou and Tuareg, which the Italian military will formally arm and train to block the flow of African refugees to Italy.

Key migration routes from Libya to ItalyAccording to Frontex, from the beginning of January to the middle of April this year, 28,000 African refugees arrived in Italy from Libya, which is 30 % more than in the same period last year. In early 2017, F. Sarraj's government signed with the European Union an agreement on the establishment of control over migration flows from Libya. A significant role in this process, will obviously be played by Toubou tribes, living along the southern border of Libya. Over the past six years, these tribes have proved to be a force which has to be taken into consideration in the country. Their total number is about 60 thousand. Most of this ethnos (about 650 thousand) live in neighboring Chad, Sudan and Niger.

It seems that the Italians are trying to gain a foothold in the south of Libya, where there are oil-producing trades. Obviously, they remembered the times when Libya from 1911 to 1943 was Italy's colony. At that time, more than 100,000 Italians resettled to Libya, some of whom got assimilated with the local population. Considering that the Italians support the government of F. Sarraj, who is in confrontation with the House of Representatives in Tobruk, it is not surprising that Paris, Cairo and Abu Dhabi confronted Kh. Haftar and his army with the task of dislodging the Misurates, and at the same time ousting the Italians from Fezzan. It should be noted that the attack of Kh. Haftar's army in the south of Libya began after the visit of the President of Egypt A.F. as-Sisi to Washington, where he probably received from US President D. Trump assurances of the full support of Cairo's actions on the Libyan direction.

On the other hand, Algeria, supporting the government of F. Sarraj in Tripoli, decided to coordinate its actions in Libya with Italy to confront the Franco-Egyptian bloc, which supports the House of Representatives in Tobruk and its LNA led by Kh. Haftar. Algeria and Italy are trying to bring together the positions of Tripoli and Tobruk by working out new provisions in the December agreement of 2015, allowing, on the one hand, to preserve the unity of the Libyan state, and on the other — to observe the interests of Libyan political groups in Tripoli and Tobruk. At this, of course, the interests of Algeria and Italy in Libya must be secured. Obviously, implementation of this kind of agreement will be very difficult and mainly because of the almost insurmountable differences between Tripoli and Tobruk over the distribution of Libyan energy resources.

U.S. President Donald Trump is holding a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at the White House, April 20, 2017Until now, the US President D. Trump's administration's position on the situation in Libya is not clear. On 20 April 2017, at the joint press conference in the White House with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, D. Trump said that he did not want to involve his country in the settlement of the internal conflict in Libya. At the moment, Washington does not have any serious “pro-American” political force in Libya that the Americans could count on. The forces that the Americans originally intended to rely on in Libya have turned out to be ideologically very close to the “Muslim Brotherhood”, which Trump wanted to include in the blacklist of terrorist organizations, but after listening to his advisers, changed his mind, because almost in a half of Arab countries, “brothers” are more or less present in the legislative and executive branches of power.

To influence the situation in Libya and, if necessary, to interfere with the events in this country, the administration of D. Trump will still most likely use its base in Tunisia, which the US State Department and the Pentagon recently declared “Major non-NATO ally” (MNNA). In early 2017, the process of equipping the Tunisian security forces with American weapons, first of all, attack helicopters and land-based and sea-based radar systems, has got intensified. Tunisian special forces are being actively trained under the guidance of American instructors. In April, 18 helicopters Bell OH-58D “Kiowa Warrior” were delivered to Tunisia, in addition to the 6 helicopters delivered earlier. Besides, as part of direct military assistance, the United States will supply 6 more “Black Hawk” Sikorsky UH-60 attack helicopters. The Pentagon has announced a competition among private companies that must train Tunisian pilots to drive these helicopters.