21 Maggio, 2024

Mediterranean Security Update

Iraq. The common narrative about conflict in Iraq and generally speaking about conflicts in the Middle East is that they have religion motivations and are rooted in the struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims. However, according to Marwan Kabalan on al-Jazeera it is a reaction to specific modern-day events and problems. Its roots can be traced back to the failure of state-building in the Middle East and the 1979 Iranian revolution rather than centuries-old religious and political divisions. It has also been exacerbated by a set of subsequent developments, chief among them the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the 2011 Syrian revolution, the war in Yemen and other ongoing issues. The Islamic Revolution in Iran not only put religious figures in charge of a key Middle Eastern powerhouse, but it also stirred sectarian tensions. Attempts to export the revolution to neighbouring Arab countries led to a backlash, culminating in the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s.

Libya. Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj changed the interior minister and reshuffled other cabinet posts on 7 October in a bid to broaden his support nationwide and bolster security in the capital after weeks of clashes. In the reshuffle, al-Serraj appointed Fathi Ali Bashagha as interior minister. He comes from the western city of Misrata and is close to its armed groups, some of which took part in the Tripoli clashes. The government also named a new economy and industry minister, Ali Abdulaziz Issawi, who comes from Benghazi in eastern Libya, home to a rival administration.

Egypt. Hesham Ashmawi, an Egyptian former military officer accused of being behind a string of high-profile attacks in Egypt, was arrested on 07 October in Libya’s eastern city of Derna. The LNA published a picture of Ashmawi with blood on his face, being examined before having bandages applied. In December, an Egyptian military court sentenced Ashmawi and nine other suspected fighters to death in absentia for masterminding a string of attacks, including the 2014 targeting of a security checkpoint in Egypt’s Western Desert that killed 22 soldiers. Egyptian authorities say Ashmawi heads the Ansar al-Islam network, which they link to al-Qaeda and which they accuse of an assassination attempt on a former interior minister in 2013. The arrest is also linked to the volatile situation in the Sinai Peninsula where Egypt is waging a hidden war, uprooting thousands of people as the Arab World’s largest land army attempts to strike a decisive blow against Islamic State’s deadly local affiliate. Government troops have destroyed thousands of homes, burned farmland and cut off hundreds of thousands of residents with a seven-month blockade that left shortages of food and other goods until some restrictions were lifted in September. The military launched the campaign in February on orders from President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to use “brute force” to crush the terrorists in the aftermath of an attack on a North Sinai mosque. That attack, in November 2017, killed more than 300 people.

Turkey. Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist of The Washington Post, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain a document certifying he divorced his ex-wife – never to be seen since. Turkish sources have told media outlets they believe the Saudi writer and critic was killed inside the consulate in what they describe as premeditated murder. Then Turkish media has released the names of the 15 Saudi nationals suspected of killing Jamal Khashoggi, an accusation Saudi Arabia has denied. A Turkish news source says they include an air force lieutenant and a Saudi forensics chief and autopsy expert. Several special forces officers are among the group. Moreover, the Turkish authorities have informed the United States of an audio recording documenting the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. US president Donald Trump said that Saudi Arabia appears to be somewhat involved in the assassination or disappearance of Khashoggi, noting that the US, Turkey and other countries are investigating the case.

Syria. Turkey-backed rebels have said the withdrawal of their heavy weapons from a planned buffer zone in northwestern Syria will last several days. The National Liberation Front (NLF) announced on 07 October it has begun withdrawing heavy arms from the demilitarised zone as part of an agreement between Russia and Turkey. The agreement, signed on September 17 in Sochi, aims to stave off a large-scale government assault on Idlib province, the last major rebel-held bastion in Syria, by creating a 15-20km buffer zone ringing the area. Security in the area will be overseen by Turkish forces and Russian military police, according to the deal. Moscow said the demilitarised zone would help stop attacks from Idlib on Syrian army positions and Russia’s military bases in the region. Under the deal, all rebel factions in the demilitarised zone must withdraw heavy arms by 10 October. It also requires “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from the area by October 15.

Morocco. Abdelhak Al Khayam, head of Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ), a security apparatus specialized in terrorist crimes inquiry, revealed that since 2002 Morocco has dismantled 183 terrorist cells that sought to carry out terrorist acts in the country, and prevented 361 acts of vandalism. The BCIJ arrested more than 3,129 suspects, 292 of them have a criminal record and dismantled at least 57 cells, 51 of which are connected to Daesh and six are linked to Al-Faye Wa Al-Istihlal terrorist group. Among those who were arrested, 22 were foreigners, eight of them Syrians, three Afghans, two Frenchmen, and two Turks, in addition to an Italian, a Chadian, a Guinea, as well as an Egyptian, a Lebanese, a Russian and a Tunisian. The crimes are linked to ten Belgians, five Frenchmen, and two Spaniards all of them of Moroccan origin, in addition to a French citizen of Algerian descent.

Russia Focus. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on 07 October he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss coordination in Syria after the accidental downing of a Russian plane led to tensions. Netanyahu said he had spoken with Putin and the two agreed “to meet soon in order to continue the important inter-military security coordination”. Putin and Netanyahu have spoken at least three times by phone since the 17 September incident. Russia and Israel set up a hotline in 2015 to avoid accidental clashes in Syria. On 10 October Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed Russia’s attendance at the international conference on Libya to be held in the southern Italian city of Palermo after receiving an invitation from Italy. Lavrov said that he discussed with his Italian counterpart the importance of resolving the situation in Libya through the national dialogue, stressing his country’s readiness to seek a solution in Libya in accordance with international rules and laws.

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