MAS Special ReportLEVANT: Middle East and North Africa

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

DMS Special Report- Middle East and North Africa. November 2018 (I)

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Sursă foto: Mediafax
  1. Israel Defence Forces- A general becomes commander. Probably the commander will, soon, become a politician.
  2. “Arab shield I”- How a series of Arab states are trying to create an Arab NATO. For now, only through common training.
  3. US’s decision to offer rewards for PKK’s leaders capture, a delayed step, says Turkey.
  4. With the sanctions around the corner, Iran’s last straw would be a terrorism accusation from EU.
  5. Abbas agrees, Netanyahu does not butt in, Qatar is paying.


Israel Defence Forces- A general becomes commander. Probably the commander will, soon, become a politician.

The new chief of the Military Staff of the Israeli Army will be general-mayor Aviv Kochavi, the actual surrogate of general-lieutenant Gadi Eisenkot, the one who’s in charge at the moment. The announcement has been made at the end of October and it was unilateral, the Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, revealing the name of the general chosen to lead the Israeli army in the next period, when prime-minister Netanyahu was having an official visit in Oman. Being a fait accompli, the Israeli prime-minister agreed, hence, starting with 1st of January 2019, general mayor Aviv Kochavi will be Israel Defence Forces commander (IDF), probably the most important position in the Jewish state.

Electing general mayor Kochavi was a logical decision, based on the position he has as the moment, but made in circumstances which are casting a shadow on the actual political relation between the prime-minister and the defence minister.

Hence, it is not really clear if there was a coordination between the two leaders regarding the assignation, some saying that minister Lieberman took this decision by himself, after a delayed answer from the prime-minister. The relations between the two politicians were not wholehearted lately, due to some disagreements regarding Gaza’s situation management, Lieberman being more aggressive against the demonstrations at the border with Israel than the prime-minister.

As Netanyahu did not want to be the one who has to accept, without being previously informed, the decision of an executive subordinate, he did accept the assignment, but also transmitted “through sources” that it is actually a compromise solution, the defence minister bailing out on his first option, general mayor Nitzan Alon, the chief of Operations Directorate, who was also among the main candidates for this position[1].

Either way, there was no common communique of both prime-minister and the defence minister, as it happened in 2014, when the situation was quite similar. At that time, the prime-minister hesitated also, for some months, in taking a decision.

The election made by defence minister, and confirmed by prime-minister Netanyahu, is not the last step for general mayor Kochavi in his accession for the leadership of Israeli Military Staff. In the aftermath is Golberg’s Committee auditions[2], a governmental group especially created to monitorize the most important assignations in the state.

The ex-Commander of North Commission, as well as of Military Information Directorate, did not need a large period to handoff the position, but the deadline is pretty close. Neither general lieutenant Gadi Eisenkot will face such politically issues, considering that in Israeli media it is said that he is in the right spot to start the political fight[3], thanks to his mildness in his previous military position. On the contrary. There are already some estimations on how many votes would get in Knesset a political formation surrounding the actual chief of the Military Staff of the Israeli army, and the numbers are not bad at all. There are, also, estimations about the position he will have in the political specter, possible coalitions, how he will actually help the prime-minister wherewith he is, at the moment, in a parliamentary alliance. For now, general lieutenant Eisenkot called on the militaries to remain outside the political scene, across the institution which ensured the existence of the Israeli state. Starting with January first, 2919, he can ask for a transfer, for party’s interest.

  1. “Arab shield I”- How a series of Arab states are trying to create an Arab NATO. For now, only through common training.

Between 03-06 of November, takes place, in Egypt, the Military Exercise “Arab shield I”, whereat are participating military forces and observes from 8 Arab states. The exercise represents the expected effect of US’s efforts, for years, lately accelerated by president Trump- and by some Arab states in the region, firstly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, to create a regional structure alike NATO, to counteract Iran’s actions.

Such Arab coalitions already exist in Middle East’s area, under different formats- for example, the one from Yemen, against the Houthi militias, supported by Iran or the group of Arab states which were part of the Antiterrorist Coalition led by US and which deployed/still does operations in Iraq and Syria. Yet, a common organization concept, political-military, was and still it is hard to create due to internal Arab rivalries, but also to pressures of some states in the region, like Israel, which could feel threated by a common Arab force.

According to a spokesperson of FA in the region, colonel Tamer Al Refai[4], United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan will participate with military forces at this exercise, meanwhile Lebanon and Morocco will be represented through observers. We should notice Qatar’s military absence from this exercise, which is involved in a diplomatic and economic conflict with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, but also Oman’s, a state which adopted a midpoint position in its relations regarding Arab states vs. Iran.

The exercise will be deployed across a scenario which will involve the participation of terrestrial, naval and air elements, of AA special operations forces, at the Military Base “Mohamed Naguib” from Marsa Matrouh governorate, placed in North-East of Egypt[5].

The exercise came before a bilateral training of Egyptian and Saudi forces, in October, across the “Tabuk 4” Exercise, deployed at Faisal Air Base from south-east of the country. The states which sent their observes were, with some absences, the same who are participating at “Arab shield I” Exercise.

An Arab NATO is not new, the idea was launched in 2015-2016, but the regional adversities are numerous, hence the last proposal at Arab League’s Summit, which took place in Egypt, for a reunion of chief of military staffs of the Arab states, failed.

At the end of September 2018, the American diplomate Tim Lenderking, assistant for the states in the Gulf of US’s Secretary of State, confirmed that in January it will take place a summit to launch an <<Arab NATO>>[6], called MESA/ Middle East Strategic Alliance, to include US, Egypt, Jordan, EAU, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

We will see if “Arab Shield I” Military Exercise was an actual step for this important summit, or we will deal with another postpone of founding a regional Arab-American political-military and security structure in Middle East.

  1. US’s decision to offer rewards for PKK’s leaders capture, a delayed step, says Turkey.

The Turkish defence minister, Hulusi Akar, stated, on 7th of November, in an interview for the national press agency Anadolu, that US’s decision to offer huge amounts of money for information or for capturing PKK leaders, is a positive step, yet delayed, of the American partner. The American announcement was made, in the previous day, by Matthew Palmer, assistant of US’s Secretary of State, during a visit in Ankara, and it was seen as a US message for Turkey to attenuate the disputes between the two countries in an issue which is tearing them apart: US’s support for Kurdish groups in north of Syria, which Ankara thinks it has direct relations with PKK.

The amounts offered are quite important, $5 million for Murat Karayilan, $4 million for Cemil Bayik and $3 million for Duran Kalkan. These are similar with the ones offered for information of capture of Al-Qaida or ISIS groups, which confirms that US is truly interested in calming its important ally in the region, admittedly, across the NATO Alliance, Turkey.

Furthermore, minister Akar said that Turkey expects US to adopt the same position against YPG leaders, the Kurdish group from Syria, also seen by Ankara as a Syrian extension of PKK.

Additionally, the Turkish minister said that Turkey expects US to stop supporting YPG[7] with military equipment and munitions.

The Turkish demand will only complicate the relation that US, through the military component dislocated in North of Syria, has with the Kurdish group, which had the most consistent contribution at defeating ISIS in North-East of Syria. After Turkey completely destroyed YPG in Afrin enclave, US could only offer the common Turkish-American patrols in Mandij area, North of Syria, territory still controlled by Kurdish forces. Of course, for Ankara it is too less, the majority of the territory which is under the Syrian Kurdish control, admittedly, through an armed group, Defence Syrian Forces, which includes also Arab formats, being in East of Euphrates.

US’s offer to support Turkey in capturing/annihilating PKK leaders from North of Iraq is, actually, a counteroffer, that the Turkish leaders do not seem to accept, but together. And US’s blames against Ankara about focusing only in Kurdish militias combat, ignoring ISIS’s threat, only confirms the Turkish concerns about US’s true objectives in the area.

  1. With the sanctions over its head, Iran’s last straw would be a terrorism accusation from EU.

The Danish police arresting a Norwegian citizen, with Iranian origins, who was about to be involved in an assassinate in Denmark, emerged at a bad time for Iran, a state which is under US’s sanction and which is trying to upkeep the economic and political relations with the European states.

In a press conference, which took place at the end of October, the director of Danish Information and Security Services/ PET, Finn Borch Andersen, stated that the identification and arrest operation of the potential Iranian information services’ agent took weeks, and it has been made with the cooperation of information services and police from many Northern states, involving huge unseen actions, including blocking the traffic between Denmark and Sweden.

Assassination’s objective was supposed to be the leader of the Danish branch’s leader of Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz Organization/ ASMLA, which made, according to Iranian authorities, the bloody attack at the military parade deployed on 22th of September 2018, in Ahvaz (Khuzestan), in West of Iran.

Even if the attack was claimed by a faction of the group, Teheran considered responsible for it some states on whose territory this group’s leaders were, the Iranian minister asking the Dutch, British and Danish government to “blame the attack and deport the involved people in its organization, in order to be judged in Iran”.

After the attack, Teheran addressed its rhetoric about country’s destabilizing attempts towards the US and some Arab states in the region (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates), conserving the European states, when the sanctions imposed by US started to have effects.

The operation on the Danish territory led to Copenhagen’s demand for EU to adopt a new series of sanctions against Teheran, accordingly with the American position expressed by president Trump who asked Europe (EU) to have an unyielding position against Iran, considering the existence of an “Iranian terrorism” on the European territory.

Because the antecedents are not really positive for Iran, Teheran being also previously accused of organizing some operations against exiled groups which were opposing the Iranian regime-for example, in June 2018, a potential bomb attack, baffled in Paris, against the French branch of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq group-, the incident in Denmark fortified states’ arguments which are supporting the sanctions against Iran.

Of course, there are already some interesting coincidences happening, like Mossad’s interference in supporting with information the French and Danish information services in the two operations, from June, Paris, and September-October, from Denmark. Also, the announcement moment of deploying and ending this operation happened only some days before the European Union’s announcement on building an institution called “Special Purpose Vehicle/SPV[8], for ensuring a financial framework for the commercial exchanges between EU and Iran, outside the existent bank system, and which would have allowed US’s sanctions short-circuit.

According to a media source[9], the announcement was supposed to be made on 5th of November. As consequence of Denmark’s operation, which was extremely publicized, it was postponed sine die, waiting for some peaceful times for Europe’s relations with Iran.

  1. Abbas agrees, Netanyahu does not butt in, Qatar is paying.

Pressured by the Egyptian president, Adel-Fattah al-Sissi, during a bilateral meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, for an international conference /3th of November, Mahmoud Abbas, president of National Palestinian Authority (NPA), agreed on not imposing new inter-Palestinian sanctions on fellow citizens in Gaza and start paying functionaries and Palestinian employees who are working on the territory which is under the control of NPA’s rival organization, Hamas.

At the meeting participated also the chief of Egyptian information services/ General Director of Information, general mayor Abbas Kamel (who was Egypt’s main negotiator), but also NPA’s representative for inter-Palestinian reconciliation, Azzam al-Ahmad.

The Egyptian president, in order to convince Abbas, had to warn that Egypt will withdraw from its mediator role to directly communicate with Hamas, as the only Palestinian authority in Gaza Strip.

Hence, Abbas had to agree not only with not imposing new sanctions in Gaza, but also with continuing the internal reconciliation process.

Palestinian president’s approval was necessary to get to an agreement in the negotiations Egypt is trying to mediate between Hamas and Israel. Abbas agreed with these conditions, but he also demanded one: Gaza’s Strip return under NPA’s jurisdiction.

According to media[10], the agreed process will follow two phases:

  • attenuate the violence and create dialogue circumstances: two-three weeks;
  • reinstall NPA’s authority in Gaza Strip and create a national unity executive to organize parliamentary and presidential elections: around six months;

NPA is majoritarian controlling Palestinian areas in West Bank, but it also has an important presence in Gaza Strip, hence the negotiations could not continue without Abbas agreeing on these concessions.  Actually, Israeli force structures also warned Egypt and Hamas that they cannot move forward without president Abbas being involved.

The agreement, mediated by Egypt, but also by other UN structures, tries to find a durable solution for the conflict between Hamas and Israel, which tends to become permanent and to have an explosive evolution.

The situation is so difficult in Gaza Strip that even the Israeli leaders affirmed that hey need a foreign financial contribution to improve the economic situation of the almost 2 million people who are living on this territory.

The first phase of the agreement already came into force, registering a certain deduction of violence at the border with Israel, thanks to an increased hour of providing electric energy and paying salaries for functionaries and all civil employees from the strip (not all owed salaries, but 60% of the ones for July!). The evolutions were made with Qatar’s involvement, which decided to pay what NPA and Israel qualified as “sanctions against Hamas”.

Prime-minister Netanyahu decided not to interfere in the negotiation process led by Egypt and to allow the Qatari financial afflux to avoid a social explosion, foreseen even by Israeli security services, by solving an issue wherein it is deeply involved with third party’s money, which entered as cash in Gaza after the operation coordinated with Israel, not with Abbas and the National Palestinian Authority[11].

The situation, somehow, winded down in Gaza, Hamas can pretend to be an organization which keeps its promises and which equally treats with Israel. On its turn, the Jewish state expunged a part of the tensions at the border. Only Abbas does not seem to have quick political dividends with this arrangement, so who knows…