Russia and Turkey are again taking the lead in efforts to find a solution to Libya’s near decade-long crisis – and hoping in the process to carve out spheres of influence for themselves in the oil-rich North African nation.
In a telephone call late last month, the two countries’ foreign ministers urged belligerents in Libya to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table, something many analysts see as the beginning of a renewed attempt to resolve the conflict.
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That call came on the heels of a resounding military victory for the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in western Libya.
Turkish support for the GNA had only weeks earlier allowed it to turn the tide and repel a year-long offensive by eastern-based renegade commander Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egpyt back.
But as Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner group retreated from the Tripoli front lines – in what seemed like a move coordinated with Ankara – more than a dozen Russian fighter jets landed in eastern Libya, according to the US Africa Command.
‘Unlikely to reverse tide’
For some observers, the move signalled Moscow’s willingness to step up its support for Haftar.
Samuel Ramani, a researcher at Oxford University, however, said the manoeuvre was aimed at cementing Russia’s negotiating position ahead of potential peace talks.
“It is not a sign of its willingness to engage in a Syria-style military intervention in Libya, as Moscow has privately acknowledged that Haftar is unlikely to reverse the tide of the Turkish offensive,” Ramani told Al Jazeera.
The link between Russia’s diplomatic aspirations in Libya and its deployment of the MiG-29 aircraft, Ramani said, becomes apparent when one considers Moscow’s rhetoric over the past week.
“On the day of the US report about Russian jets arriving in Libya, Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke with Aguila Saleh, head of the [eastern-based] parliament and LNA ally, about a political solution,” he noted.
Saleh, an influential figure with Libya’s eastern tribes and the speaker of the House of Representatives, has announced an initiative of his own for Libya, one that includes talks with the West and comes into direct conflict with Haftar’s plan.
This is not the first time that Russia and Turkey have attempted to broker a ceasefire in Libya.
In January, GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Haftar visited Moscow as part of Russo-Turkish efforts to secure a lasting ceasefire.
However, Haftar – seemingly bolstered by his battlefield successes at the time – refused to sign the agreement and abruptly left the Russian capital.
The Moscow meeting was followed a week later by a separate summit, this time hosted by Germany.
The Berlin conference saw the participation of a dozen countries, at least half of which were supplying Libya’s warring parties with arms in violation of a 2011 UN arms embargo.
In addition to securing a pledge by foreign actors to desist from further arming Libya’s belligerents, the meeting – postponed several times – was an opportunity for Europe to reassert itself in a strategic part of the world that had become a gateway for tens of thousands of refugees and migrants seeking new lives in Europe.
In the end, however, weapons continued pouring into the war-torn country, eventually leading Ghassan Salame, the UN’s special envoy for Libya, to resign.
Though accompanied by much less fanfare, Russia’s renewed eagerness to mediate the conflict has been met with heightened concern by the United States.
“For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now,” General Stephen Townsend of the US Africa Command said in a statement on Russia’s deployment of combat aircraft.
The gravity of his tone stood in sharp contrast with the mixed signals the United States sent during the previous year.
Shortly after Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli in April 2019, President Donald Trump praised the Ajdabiya native for his role in “fighting terrorism”.
To complicate matters further, some of Washington’s biggest allies, including the UAE, Egypt and Jordan, are propping up Haftar and appear, at least in the short term, to be siding with Russia.
Compromises for Turkey
Tough compromises await Turkey as it considers its next move.
Ankara’s allies in Tripoli have made it clear that under no circumstance will they entertain the prospect of negotiating with Haftar.
To be sure, the 76-year-old’s survival is not guaranteed. After rallying his troops for an entire year around the goal of overtaking Tripoli, signs of his domestic support base fragmenting in light of the setback his LNA is facing are beginning to emerge.
There are also reports suggesting that Abu Dhabi and Cairo are looking for a replacement.
Turkish columnist Semih Idiz told Al Jazeera the country’s vast territory means that it is unlikely for Turkey to pursue a military strategy.
If Haftar’s support base does not break up, then there is little Turkey can do to exclude him from future talks, Idiz said.
Airpower a tall factor in Libya war outcomes
“It [Turkey] will find itself in a similar position to that which it is facing in Syria, where Ankara does not recognise Assad despite more and more countries coming around to acknowledging that the Syrian president is part of the equation,” he said.
“Eventually, Turkey will have to accept this, and it already has. There are indirect talks between the government and the Assad regime.”
Turkey’s troubles, however, don’t stop there.
Should Haftar continue to play a role in eastern Libya, then Turkey’s intervention will have gone in vain, according to Idiz.
This is because one of Turkey’s prime motivations for entering the war was a contentious maritime border demarcation agreement it signed with the GNA that expanded its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the resource-abundant eastern Mediterranean.
EEZs allow countries exclusive rights to exploit natural resources, including mineral wealth.
“There is no guarantee for Turkey that an agreement between the GNA and Haftar in Libya will honour the November deal that Ankara signed with al-Sarraj for the demarcation and delimitation of the eastern Mediterranean,” Idliz said.
“While Ankara acknowledges that a deal could move in the direction of a federation and that Turkey will have influence in the west, there is nothing to say that its strategic objectives in the eastern Mediterranean will be fulfilled as a result of the political agreement that might be reached.”
Mohammed Ali Abdallah, an adviser to the GNA for US affairs, similarily said Turkey’s maritime agreement is “of no value to it if the Libyan government is unable to control its entire shoreline”.
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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