Written by Evegeny Satanovsky; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Turkey, the unrest in Iran, the civil war in Syria, the US exit from the “nuclear deal” with Tehran, the military actions in Yemen and the situation in Afghanistan attract the attention of international media. In addition, in many regions of the Middle East the situation is no less tense.
The unfolding or (in more rare cases) fading conflicts, in which the same players take part in the ME as a whole (the leading western countries, the Gulf monarchies, Iran, Turkey, China and, at a minimum, Russia) demonstrate what is actually the ratio of the forces of individual countries and interstate alliances.
Paris clashed with Riyadh
According to experts, during the last two weeks negotiations were ongoing between Saudi Arabia and France on the supply of weapons to Africa. It was originally planned that Riyadh would provide $150 million for the purchase of weapons for the G5 continent (Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad), which was created at Paris’ initiative and was to play a key role in limiting the combat potential of the jihadist structures of the Sahel. In this regard, the Saudi arms agency of the Ministry of Defence (which is overseen by the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman) is consulting with the French DGA (Direction générale de l’armement). The problem is that the Saudis are dissatisfied with the French subcontractors proposals and inflated requests of the African governments. After the Ramadan lull, the French, working in the G5 governments and the military attachés at the embassies of these countries, resumed consultations. That is, they are engaged in drawing up wish lists for arms. Riyadh suspects that under the pretext of fighting jihadists, the French and their African partners are simply trying to do business, often to the detriment of the real needs of the continent.
The products lists to be purchased with Saudi money most often refer to radio systems and light armoured vehicles. The G5 countries prefer new models of such equipment, but for financial reasons they are likely to receive obsolete or used ones. The French negotiators are trying to convince the Saudi partners to increase the amount of subsidies in order to be able to equip the African contingent with new equipment. It is primarily about the armoured car “Bastion”, which is produced by the French company Arquus based on the Renault Trucks Defense (RTD). This competes with the manufacturer of armoured vehicles Nexter Systems, who lobbies for the purchase of the armoured vehicle “Aravis”. The company Utilis is trying to convince the Saudis to sponsor the construction of military infrastructure in Chad.
During consultations, an attempt was made to define the main French subcontractors. When the requests reach $30 million, they will be submitted to the Ministry of Finance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for approval. The Saudi Ministry of Finance may require the list to be adjusted or discarded, which means resuming negotiations from scratch. If Riyadh signs the document, it will be submitted to the French export agency Sofema for the weapons purchase from French companies and the supply of its G5 forces.
Sofema will be responsible for the management of the programme. The company will become a link between the French defence industry, the African governments and the KSA financiers. Thus it was chosen at Riyadh’s insistence to the detriment of the main defense export agency of France, ODAS. Prior to this, Sofema was a minor contractor in the global military technical supplies between France and the SFMC of the KSA, which was vetoed by Mohammed bin Salman. Meanwhile, ODAS is now suspended by Riyadh from participating in the military technical supplying and maintains only the contracts concluded earlier.
The Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s discontent caused the agency’s ties with its competitors in the royal family and disruptions in the implementation of the contract for the rearmament of the Lebanese Armed Forces with Saudi funding. Earlier, Riyadh granted Sofema the right to implement the contract for the weapons purchase to Senegal for $30 million on the same terms that are now used in the G5 contingent supply. Then the contract allowed Senegal to buy 36 armoured “Bastions”.
In addition to financing the purchase of military equipment and ammunition for the Sahel, Riyadh is seeking to develop a similar deal for Djibouti. The final amount has not yet been agreed, but may be about $250 million. In recent months a number of French defence industry leaders have visited Djibouti. Many of them have hired consultants as knowledgeable about local realities as Bruno Pardigon. However, at the moment, the main operator of the credit line has not yet been determined. Experts believe that taking into account the volume of the transaction Sofema can derail it.
Djibouti is planning to supply armoured vehicles manufactures by Nexter, as well as weapons and equipment for the navy, which the French companies Raidco, Piriou and Kership are ready to sell. Due to this, the KSA is trying to strengthen the positions of the Djibouti navy to strengthen control over the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, and in the future, to transfer to a permanent basis the use of the KSA forces’ naval base in this country.
Libya’s Oil Crescent
The Presidential Council under the Government of National Accord (Transitional National Council of Libya of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj) of Libya, sitting in Tripoli, called on the UN Security Council to intervene in connection with the illegal transfer from oil ports of the country under the control of the Eastern authorities and block any illegal attempts to sell hydrocarbons. The day before, the command of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar had announced the transfer of terminals in the oil crescent on the coast of Sirte Bay to the Benghazi-based structure under the interim government under the leadership of Abdullah Abudrrahman al-Tani, operating in parallel to the National Oil Corporation (NOC) with headquarters in Tripoli.
The official spokesperson for the Armed Forces, Ahmed al-Mismari, indicated that the decision was taken because the oil export funds were used to finance mercenaries and illegal armed groups. This armed intervention is not about direct support of the Sarraj government, but about the machinations of the Islamist clans of Misrata and Tripoli, whose emissaries sit on the Presidential Council. The NOC called such a step a violation of the UN Security Council decisions and local legislation, stressing that the LNA “has no legal authority to control the production and export of oil in the country”.
It should be noted that France’s effort and the UN to unite the warring Libyan warring factions have stalled and the differences that split the country are deepening. Haftar’s decision to grant the eastern branch of the NOC control over the export from the oil crescent fields could mean a political manoeuvre for more leverage on sponsoring negotiations about unity in Libya at the international level. At the same time, by expanding the capabilities of a competing company, Khalifa Haftar tries to reassure his supporters in eastern Libya, insisting that the country move to federalism.
The Field Marshal’s decision to hand over Ras al-Anuf and Es Sider to the NOC, based in El Baida, can be seen as a continuation of the split between eastern and western Libya. Haftar is once again trying to strengthen control over the oil industry in eastern Libya, which has two-thirds of the country’s oil reserves and most of its production infrastructure. These attempts are in no small part propaganda and will soon result in the return of the western NOC control. Haftar and Tobruk have already tried to monopolise oil exports and transfer all its rights to the eastern NOC, but in the end, this idea was abandoned, because they met two insurmountable obstacles.
Frist, the eastern NOC did not have international accreditation for trading operations on the London and other western exchanges, which made all attempts to export oil through it initially illegal. The western NOC beat off all of Tobruk claims in a British court. Plus, the US supports exclusively the rights to export of the western NOC. In one of the incidents, the US military intervened to stop the export of oil sent by the eastern NOC. Secondly, the forces of Field Marshal Haftar were unable to establish control over Fezzan, where there are fields that supply the terminals of the oil crescent on the coast.
Experts agree that as long as political negotiations remain at an impasse, the status quo in Libya with the division of the country into west and east will remain. The situation is more akin to that of Haftar (and Paris behind him) to exert pressure on Tripoli and the local clans in connection with France’s attempts to achieve domestic national consensus and general elections…
The situation in Somalia is reminiscent of the situation of 27 years ago, when a single state ceased to exist. This is indicated by the aggravation of centrifugal tendencies in the country. It is symbolic that President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, belong to the same clan (Darod/Marehan), as the last dictator of Somalia, Mohamed Siad Barre. The complication of the situation, in addition to the growth of combat potential and activity of the Islamist al-Shabab, is influenced by the President’s desire to end the Autonomous quasi-governmental formations and bring them to the federation under his leadership, as well as the fact that the territory of Somalia has become a struggle arena between the UAE and Qatar.
Farmajo has strained relations not only with Somaliland, which requires the recognition of state independence, in favour of an alliance with Puntland, but also with the leadership of Galmudug. This unrecognised state in central Somalia occupies the southern part of the city and the district of Galkayo. It is bordered to the north by Puntland, to the west by Ethiopia, to the South by the territory controlled by the federal government of Somalia and to the east by the lands of individual clans. Unlike Somaliland, Galmudug, like Puntland, does not seek the establishment of an independent state and is ready to enter the future of federal Somalia as a constituent of the federation. But this option, apparently, does not suit Farmajo.
At the end of 2017, he tried with his decree to remove the President of Galmudug Ahmed Duale Gelle Haaf, but faced opposition from the main clans of the enclave and overturned the decision. Now the efforts to transform the power in Galmudug have resumed. By the new elections in 2020, Farmajo plans to weaken the state ambitions of the enclaves in Somali territory and to prove himself as a unifier of the nation. He is now once again trying to put pressure on the militarily weakest “state” in the territory of former Somalia.
Together with Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre, threatening military intervention, Farmajo unsuccessfully tried to put pressure on Ahmed Duale Gelle Haaf to not appear at the summit of regional leaders held in Baidoa on May 13. Here Qatar’s support is evident. On May 14 in Doha, Farmajo met with his key ally, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani. During the meeting, he was critical of “suspicious relations between the UAE and the separatist entities, such as Somaliland and Puntland”, and obtained the Emir’s consent for the provision of “special tokens” in the relations of the President of Puntland Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, to try to convince him to come into the Turkish-Qatari orbit of influence.
With no military or financial means to centralise power, Mogadishu is counting on Qatar and Turkey to encouraging contradictions between regional entities, as the conflict between Puntland and Somaliland in the Khatumo area is intensifying. This situation is sensitive for Farmajo, as the region is inhabited by the Dhulbahante, related to the Somali President’s clan. This leaves him no choice but to defend the claims of Puntland in maintaining control over Khatumo, otherwise he risks being accused of weakness by his own clan.
Abu Dhabi sent a team of intelligence officers to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, in an attempt to mediate between Puntland and Somaliland. Recently, the American chargé d’affaires to Somalia, Martin Dale, achieved a ceasefire between the warring parties, but Puntland violated it two days later. The situation in the relations between Hargeisa and Carraroe deteriorates and the central government of Somalia provides the latter hidden support.
Faced with the alliance between the clans of Dhulbahante and Darod, the President of Somaliland Musa Bihi Abdi (Isaac/Haber Aval clan), at the suggestion of the UAE, strengthened the support of the Hawiye clan, which begins to oppose Farmajo in connection with his attempts to take business from a number of influential leaders of the Hawiye. He demanded from the heads of the company “Juba Airways” Abdullah Warsame (Hawiye) and “Daalo Airlines” “Abusita” Mohammed Abdillahi (Isaac clan) to sell controlling stakes of their companies to the business representatives of the Darod clan. Last week, while meeting in Nairobi, representatives of Hargeisa, with the participation of advisers from the UAE, presented a plan to support the Hawiye clan. Farmajo is trying to organise the same for Puntland on behalf of Qatar and Turkey, using the rivalry between them and the UAE.
Eritrea Trusted Ethiopia
After several weeks of silence in response to the peaceful initiatives made at the end of May by Addis Ababa, the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki on June 5 addressed the nation in which he announced that Ethiopia is ready to transfer the disputed territory of Badme to Asmara and said he will send a delegation to Addis Ababa for discussions on cooperation. The transfer of the city of Badme to the Eritreans was prescribed for by the Algiers Agreements, which in 2010 drew an intermediate line in the armed conflict over disputed territories between Ethiopia and Eritrea. This agreement provided for the exchange of prisoners, the return of displaced persons and the establishment of a special commission to demarcate the border between the states.
With the mediation of the UN mission, it was decided to divide the disputed territories approximately equally and leave the city of Badme for Eritrea. However, Ethiopia has not implemented that agreement and has not liberated the occupied territories, including Badme. Since then, the conflict could just break out again, as in the disputed territories skirmishes regularly happen between the parties. The most violent clashes occurred in 2007, 2008 and 2010. So it may be that the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Oromo Musli Aby Ahmed Ali decided to end the confrontation, which was largely caused by the complex interpersonal relations between Afeworki and his colleagues in the revolutionary war of the Tigre people in the Ethiopian leadership.
Interestingly, Isaias Afeworki decided to believe the Ethiopian Prime Minister who is Muslim. Two months ago, the countries (and Sudan on Ethiopia’s side) were on the verge of a new war, which was due to the emergence of a contingent of Egyptian troops in Eritrea in response to plans to build a Turkish military base in Sudan’s Sawakin. Experts believe that Afeworki’s response to Abiyah Ahmed Ali’s peace initiatives are due to calm the rage in Eritrea, engulfed by the economic crisis due to military spending. The country is a military camp with a mobilisation economy.
However, it is possible that Afeworki is ready to change the situation, to resume the transit of Ethiopian cargo through the port of Aseb that brought 18 percent of income to Eritrea’s budget before the war. The plans of the Ethiopian Prime Minister are to carry out economic reforms to allow foreign capital to enter the domestic market and turn the country into a “gateway to Africa”, which is hampered by the lack of access to seaports.
The KSA and the UAE play a major role in Ethiopia’s efforts to establish relations with Eritrea, trying to contain the spread of Qatari influence there and to ensure the priority of their economic interests. The change in the Eritrean President’s attitude to peace with Ethiopia came after the Arabs had given assurances to the process. On May 19, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Aby Ahmed Ali during his official visit to the KSA asked the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to become the guarantor of this process and to use the influence of his country on the President of Eritrea Afeworki to help him start peace talks with Addis Ababa.
Aby Ahmed Ali promised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that Ethiopia would respect the Algiers Agreement if Asmara agreed to guarantee the release of Ethiopian cargo to the ports of Eritrea. At the same time, the Ethiopian Prime Minister made the same request to Washington, which approved this process. So the main guarantor of a possible deal between Addis Ababa and Asmara is the KSA, Riyadh wants to strengthen its political and economic influence in Ethiopia through trusting ties with Oromo Muslims.
The influence of Saudi Arabia in Ethiopia was previously spread through the Saudi millionaire of Ethiopian origin Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi and the missionary activities of the pro-Saudi preachers. The country’s Tigre authorities sent away the last ones two years ago under the pretext of incitement to mass unrest among the Oromo parishioners, replacing their enemies from the Lebanese sect “al-Ahbash”. Amoudi was harmed in the KSA during the anti-corruption war, which was started in the royal family by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Now it is over. Riyadh seems to be returning to Ethiopia thanks to direct contacts with the new Prime Minister, followed by investments and the return of Saudi Islamic charities to the country,
The article is based on materials from the expert of the Middle East Institute A.A. Bystrov.