Libya commander Haftar visits Russia ahead of conference

Haftar met with the Russian defense minister in Moscow on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 08 November 2018

Libya commander Haftar visits Russia ahead of conference

  • Russia’s military has long shown backing for the powerful Libyan commander, who dominates eastern Libya
  • Russia is expected to send high-level representatives to the Palermo meeting

MOSCOW: Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian media reported, signalling Kremlin support ahead of a conference aimed at settling the north African country’s years of strife.

Russia’s military has long shown backing for the powerful Libyan commander, who dominates eastern Libya.  

He has visited Russia before, and last year the Russian Defense Ministry hosted him aboard its sole aircraft carrier.

Shoigu and Haftar discussed the Libyan crisis and the security situation in the Middle East and North Africa, Russian news agencies said, citing a defense ministry statement, without giving details.

Italy will host an international conference on Libya on Monday and Tuesday, which Haftar will attend, Italy has said. 

Haftar’s office said the meeting in Moscow had covered ways to end Libya’s crisis and the fight against terrorism.

Russia is expected to send high-level representatives to the Palermo meeting.

The international community formally backs the transitional government in Tripoli, but Egypt and the UAE have lent Haftar support and European states including France courted Haftar as his power grew.

UN efforts to stabilize Libya have long been undercut by the divergent agendas of foreign powers.

France has vied for influence with Italy, which has sought to protect its oil and gas interests and stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, by building ties in Tripoli.

 

 

In recent weeks, Western powers and the UN have quietly stopped talking about the election in December, without formally declaring it dead.

In May, France had persuaded major players in the North African country to verbally agree to elections on Dec. 10 as a way of ending repeated rounds of bloodshed between competing factions.

But weeks of fighting between rival militias in Tripoli and deadlock between rump parliaments in Tripoli and the east has made that goal unrealistic, Western officials argue.

Shelving the plans for presidential and parliamentary elections is the latest setback for Western powers.

Instead of pushing for a vote as a short-term goal, UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame was focusing in a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday on staging a national conference next year and fixing the economy, diplomats said.

The conference would aim to forge consensus in a country divided between hundreds of armed groups controlling mostly minimal territory, towns, tribes and regions.

Salame plans to push again for economic reforms to end a system benefiting armed groups that have access to cheap dollars due to their power over banks.

Salame is the sixth UN special envoy for Libya since 2011.

Diplomats say delayed reforms introduced in Tripoli in September, including a fee on purchases of foreign currency, can only partially ease Libya’s economic woes as long as the central bank remains divided and predatory factions retain their positions.

The reforms have so far done little to improve conditions for ordinary Libyans hit by steep inflation and a cash crisis linked to the fall of the dinar on the black market.

For the militias, the sources said Salame would outline a new “security arrangement” for Tripoli aimed at depriving them of control of key sites and integrating their members into regular forces — something that has proved elusive in the past.

Talks to unify rival camps launched in September 2017, shortly after Salame took up his post, ground to a halt after one month with Haftar’s role a key sticking point. Many in western Libya oppose him, fearing he could use the position to seize power.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army says it is committed to the election process, in which Haftar himself is a possible candidate.


Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

A Syrian woman carrying a child walks by, in the Washukanni Camp for the internally displaced, near the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasakeh in northeastern Syria, on February 17, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2020

Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

  • Middle East expert believes Ankara and Tehran are locked in an information war

ANKARA: Turkish and Iranian media outlets are battling as deeply rooted tensions have resurfaced. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency has published an opinion piece that critically discussed tensions with Iran over Syria. It said: “Turkey’s vision of regional development and integration is pitched against Iran’s regional strategy prioritising geopolitical wins.
“Ignoring Ankara’s concerns in the fight against terrorism during Operation Peace Spring, Tehran is now setting its Shiite militias in the field in motion against Turkey, who is actively endeavoring to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
The analysis piece, titled “Idlib front, Iran’s weakening foreign operation capacity,” was penned by Hadi Khodabandeh Loui, a researcher at the Iran Research Center in Ankara.
Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.
An editorial piece that was published in Iran’s hardline newspaper Entekhab compared Turkey’s military moves in Syria to Israel’s bombings of pro-Assad forces. The piece warned Ankara about a potential aggressive reaction from Tehran to both threats.
Israeli warplanes fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus, in early February and they hit Syrian Army and Iran-backed militia positions, reportedly killing 23 people.
Being among the guarantor states of the Astana peace process for Syria, aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, Turkey and Iran have already witnessed the fragility of their relations in October 2019 when Iran criticized Turkey’s moves to establish military posts inside Syria, emphasizing the need to respect the integrity of Syria.
Then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly accused Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries following Tehran’s condemnation of Turkey’s operation in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

BACKGROUND

Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.

In March 2018, Iran’s Tehran Times defined Turkey’s cross-border military operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin as an “invasion.” It splashed with a headline that read: “Turkish troops occupy Syria’s Afrin.”
Over recent weeks, Ankara has voiced criticisms that the Assad regime, Iran-backed militia and Russia have violated the ceasefire in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib, with frequent attacks targeting Turkish troops.
Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, thinks that Assad’s forces are winning decisively, and Turkey’s ability to resist them is greatly diminished.
“Assad’s forces have consolidated their control over west Aleppo, and are steadily advancing in Idlib. Turkey does not view the Iranian mediation offers in Syria as credible, especially as Iranian media outlets are justifying them by claiming that Turkey broke the terms of the Sochi agreement by harboring extremists. Turkey is insistent that Russia violated Sochi by supporting Assad’s offensive,” he told Arab News.
Regarding the media conflict, Ramani thinks that Turkey and Iran are locked in an information war over Syria, and are both trying to paint the other as an aggressor.
“It’s a way to rally public support in both countries around more confrontational posturing, in the event of a bigger military escalation that actually sees Turkish and Iranian forces in direct combat, not just Assad and Turkish proxies,” he said.