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“The Caesar Act – Washington Pours on More Sanctions Against Syria; Shifting Tides of War from Syria To Libya.” – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Transcript. Part Three

July 3, 2020

Moktar al Moktar – the Lion of the Desert, Libyan national hero, who fought Italian colonial conquest of Libya from 1911 through 1931. Italians killed 200,000 in their effort to pacify Libya.

“The Caesar Act – Washington Pours on More Sanctions Against Syria; Shifting Tides of War from Syria To Libya.”KGNU 1390 AM, 88.5 FM – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Tuesday, June 23, 2020.  Hosted by Jim Nelson. Transcript.

KGNU Hemispheres – June 30, 2020 – Transcript…Part Three. (Parts One, Two)

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What people don’t understand is that any kind of shift in the geopolitical “zero-sum game” or alliances within the region, and now in Libya, is going to have consequences in Idlib Province (Syria).

If Russia realizes that really Erdogan is going to up the ante for the continuation of chaos in Libya so that Turkey can secure control of that country’s natural gas pipeline to Turkey and from there, Europe, to substitute Qatari gas and circumvent Russian power in being a key energy source to Europe, where Turkey and Russia are going to settle their argument is going to be in Idlib (Syria).

– Ibrahim Kazerooni –

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These tensions we are talking about are long-standing. But the difference today is that the United States is weak. In the past, Washington had to power and influence to take the contradictions among its allies – Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel – and somehow meld them into some kind of common approach. That kind of influence is collapsing and American influence, to somehow come out of this with a common approach, is just gone. As a result of that we see the release of these local contradictions and forces – it’s a pretty scary moment.

– Rob Prince –

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(In this segment  we center around dissecting Turkish-Russian geopolitical tensions visavis Libya and Syria as well as the Egyptian stake in the Libyan crisis.)

Rob Prince: Ibrahim, I’d like to add something here concerning the Turkish-Russian tension over Libya. It has to do with natural gas – natural gas and oil, a very large deposit of natural gas off the coast of Libya. Turkey wants to be able to dominate that production and that is one of its reasons for its move into Libya

The United States doesn’t mind.

If Turkey is able to consolidate its position in Libya that actual gas flows coming from Russia (to Europe) can be bypassed.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Remember our discussion of the Doha Protocols?

There are two maybe three major natural gas producers at the moment. Number One is Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Number Two is the Libyan natural gas and Number Three the Iranian because the natural gas reserves in the Persian Gulf are divided between Qatar and Iran. The wells in Iranian territory has more oil and less gas than those of Qatar. The wells in the Qatari section have more natural gas than oil.

One of the conditions within the Doha Protocol was that Qatari gas to pass through Syria to Turkey. That has not happened but now there is another option to provide natural gas to Europe in light of the current chaos in the region and that is Libya, the idea being to secure the natural gas from Libya into some kind of corridor or pipeline going to Turkey and then passing from Turkey to Europe bypassing Syria in the Middle East and cutting into Russia’s supply of natural gas to Europe.

Russia is aware of the situation, of the threat to its interests and Erdogan’s plan and so it got involved in the mess, the chaos of the affairs in Libya.

Some historical perspective. Muammar Khadaffi had cut a deal with the United States and Europe: Western trade sanctions on Khadaffi would be lifted in exchange for acknowledging and paying restitution for Libya’s role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103

But when Obama came to power everything changed. Remember that Libya had agreed at that time to give up its nuclear weapons research program and given the pressure from the Bush Administration at the time, that Libya had entered the U.S. sphere of influence at long last. Khadaffi even agreed to free elections, opposition political parties.

In 2009, Libya was a prosperous and major petroleum and natural gas producer. Then the whole situation changed. I’m not denying that Khadaffi was a dictator and was guilty of extensive human rights violations against his citizenry. But Khadaffi comes off as some kind of saint when compared to the Saudi royal family.

In February, 2011 militant Islamicists eastern Libya, in Benghazi, launched an armed insurgency against Khadaffi’s central government.

Then what happened? ISIS, Al Qaeda, C.I.A got involved and everybody (Western powers) got involved supporting them, against the central government. The United States then jammed Libyan military communications. The U.S. fired missiles to intercept Libyan missiles fired at the rebels. The U.S. conducted numerous air strikes against forces loyal to Khadaffi. In sum, the U.S. intervention turned the tide in favor of Benghazi terrorist organizations.

Ultimately, in October 2011, two things happened simultaneously.

An American drone bombed the area and S.A.S. (British) Special Forces as well as their French counterparts went in to fire the bullet to kill Khadaffi. Hillary Clinton commented, “We came, he left, and that’s it.”

Now what we have, Libya is really in a mess; it is in complete chaos, wracked by violence, factionalism, political polarization, and the menacing jihadi extremism exported from Libya into Syria in 2012 onward, now they are coming back into Libya. From Libya, ultimately, they have to go somewhere else.

So, when you asked me a question regarding the Russian interests in Libya.?

Russian tried to force Haftar (Khalifa Haftar), instead of attacking Tripoli to enter into negotiations in which Haftar and the representative government in Tripoli would share power with the goal of somehow subduing the chaos in the country and some kind of order will be established in Libya.

But unfortunately, the United States along with other Western powers, they don’t want that. They give the green light to their proxy, Turkey, to move in for exactly the reasons that you talked about earlier: the weaker the Libyan central government, the easier it is for Western companies to get oil and gas. Ultimately if the West can get oil and gas from Libya through a corridor that goes from Libya directly to Turkey and then on into Europe then Russian influence in Europe can be circumvented and reduced by reducing the Russian natural gas supply to Europe.

As the polarization between the Libyan and international plays intensified, Vladimir Putin called Haftar to Moscow. The old group – or gang – that was ganging up against Assad in Syria – Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and the financiers behind it – those supporting the Tripoli faction and encouraging and helping Tayyip Erdogan to push into Libya militarily to get the gas..
Realizing this, Russia aligned itself with Haftar. Haftar is now being supported by Sisi (Abdul Fatah Sisi, Egyptian President) who is in turn supported financially by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Rob Prince: So many shifting alliances…

Ibrahim Kazerooni: I’m going to go back to the point that you raised earlier. What people don’t understand is that any kind of shift in the geopolitical “zero-sum game” or alliances within the region, and now in Libya, is going to have consequences in Idlib Province (Syria).

If Russia realizes that really Erdogan is going to up the ante for the continuation of chaos in Libya so that Turkey can secure control of that country’s natural gas pipeline to Turkey and from there, Europe, to substitute Qatari gas and circumvent Russian power in being a key energy source to Europe, where Turkey and Russia are going to settle their argument is going to be in Idlib (Syria).

The Syrian government is now massing up military commitment (in Idlib), ready to move. So far it has been the Russians who have been holding back the Syrians from going on the offensive. Moscow is waiting to see how the deal that it has tried to work out visavis Libya. Russia is supporting Sisi (Egypt) who is behind Haftar and now the polarization of the two powers, Turkey and Russia, over Libya is unambiguous.

The United States, with the Europeans on one side, their proxy is Turkey, the issue being the control of cheap natural gas. On the other side Russia, Sisi (Egypt), Haftar with the financial support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Whether the matter is resolved in Libya or not, certainly the Libyan situation will have consequences in Syria because Russia now realizes that square the deal (regain its balance of power with Turkey) by allowing the Syria government to push into Idlib.

The choice again – we’ve talked about it – as there will be fewer jihadist mercenaries in Idlib (large numbers having been transported to Libya), this weakens Turkey’s position there. Should as a result, Turkey try to use their air power, in all likelihood the Russian air force based in Syria will challenge them, and shoot them down.

Rob Prince: What a mess!

Ibrahim Kazerooni: So now the situation has escalated into a much broader conflict with Turkey, a NATO country, facing off militarily against Russia in Syria. The situation comes back around – from Libya to Syria to Libya back to Syria once again. Going back to 2011, the conflict moved from Libya into Lebanon and Syria, now back to Libya and soon back again to Idlib Province in Syria. Yes, what a mess.

Rob Prince: A deadly tango.

Just to remind our listeners… When on August 12, 2012, Abdul Fatah Sisi led the military coup against the Morsi government of Egypt, it was against the Muslim Brotherhoods. The Muslim Brotherhoods are among those forces that, first of all, Turkey supports. Therefore Egypt is quite concerned about a Libya that has a Muslim Brotherhood orientation. Cairo is also worried about terrorists crossing Libya’s eastern border into Egypt, so Egypt is quite serious about limiting Turkey’s influence in Libya.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: The confrontation between the Persian Gulf states, four on one side and Qatar on the other, was based primarily on Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhoods. Qatar aligned itself with the Muslim Brotherhoods and Turkey militarily. Now, on the other side, for Sisi and Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has become an existential threat. Under no circumstances is Sisi willing to risk any possibility where the Muslim Brotherhoods now in control of the western section of Libya move into the eastern Libyan zones and ultimately back into Egypt.

The Egyptians have made it clear that they are not going to allow that.

And now the crisis shifts back to Syria.

For the Syrian government also, the Muslim Brotherhood is equally an existential threat as much as it is to Egypt, because of Syrian history and what they did to Syria during both the rules of Hafez al Assad and Bashar al Assad’s rule. But yet Turkey has aligned itself closely with the Brotherhoods, so now, in the southern regions of Syria there has been some agitation from Muslim Brotherhood elements.

Syria is a mess, Libya is a mess, now there is possible confrontation between Egyptian and Turkish air forces in Libya or the Russian and Turkish air forces in Syria.

Rob Prince: But to look at all this from another angle. These tensions we are talking about are long-standing. But the difference today is that the United States is weak. In the past, Washington had to power and influence to take the contradictions among its allies – Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel – and somehow meld them into some kind of common approach. That kind of influence is collapsing and American influence, to somehow come out of this with a common approach, is just gone. As a result of that we see the release of these local contradictions and forces – it’s a pretty scary moment.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: A question, Rob. In 2011 we discussed this matter at that time. One of the excuses given for the invasion of Libya was “humanitarian intervention.” We have discussed this extensively regarding what is meant by humanitarian intervention, how it is a pretext for war. Can you briefly linked humanitarian intervention with the chaos unfolding in Libya.

Rob Prince: Of course. You know, colonial, neo-colonial powers have long needed a pretext for intervention. With few exceptions they’re not going to go in and say `we’re going to steal your natural resources, force you to engage in mono-culture production, use your labor and suck you dry.’ That’s pretty crude. That’s the problem with Trump, he’s too up front about being an imperialist.

A pretext is required.

Besides claiming the nation was “commissioned by God” (Manifest Destiny), one of the repeated pretexts for foreign in American history is has long been “humanitarian intervention.” But humanitarian intervention has been a cover, nothing more, nothing less. Yet I’m amazed how often people (in the United States) fall for it.

It’s the kind of thing we heard in Iraq, “the U.S. is going to go into Iraq (2003) and save the poor Iraqis from Saddam Hussein.” It wasn’t about seizing the Iraqi oil industry. It was another case of humanitarian intervention based upon a whole series of lies, “weapons of mass destruction,” etc. about what would happen if the U.S. did not invade. In the case of Libya in 2011, what was the “humanitarian interventionist” pretext? – the panic that Khadaffi was going to send his military into a prison in Benghazi and slaughter the inmates there.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: To interject. Remember Rob in 1990, 1991 the United States attacked Iraq in response to the occupation of Kuwait. One of the cooked up pretexts was that Iraqi soldiers had gone into Kuwaiti hospitals and stolen babies from incubators. It turned out that the incident was fabricated and the person who came and gave witness was the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador in Washington.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Gene Fitzpatrick permalink
    July 4, 2020 7:09 am

    Reading “The Caesar Act” series is like attending a seminar on a slice of ‘right now’ Middle East happenings that will put the reader ahead of at least 90% of Americans in respect to securing at least some understanding of this complex morass.

    Mention of “humanitarian intervention” in part 3 reminds me how I ‘bought into’ the justifications given for bombing the hell out of Belgrade by Bubba in the late 90s. If it hasn’t been already done, I wonder if a column &/or program might be given to this subject with emphasis on the fallaciousness of the ‘humanitarian’ designation given to this atrocity.

    Lastly, it would be of interest to some of us political “junkies” to hear commentary on the Bowman coup in the Bronx. Your thoughts on how it was accomplished. Who the players were both locally in Bronx-Westchester and in D.C. What it might portend for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for the House’s stance vis-a-vis Is/Pal etc.

    • July 4, 2020 7:42 am

      Dear “Fellow political junky” – Gene F…. I fell for main stream media too on the vilification of Serbia… It was only later looking at the result – the partition of Yugoslavia into so many fragmented pieces that I began to wonder about it. I was also terribly uncomfortable about the NATO bombing campaign as I do not ever remember NATO doing any good anywhere. It was only later – the next target Iraq – that it all came together 1. vilify a leader (easy because most are pretty awful) 2. find a humanitarian pretext that is either completely false or dramatically overstated 3. Support pro-fascist elements (that are called freedom fighters – Ukraine) engage in overthrowing the government in the name of saving the people (very popular con job here in the USA) 4. Partition the country either de jure (Yugoslavia) or de facto (Iraq, Libya).

      Concerning Humanitarian intervention… We did whole programs of it “back in the day”… I’ll see if I can find them.

      The Bowman victory over Eliot Engel… Gotta remember that it’s NYC – one of the most culturally and politically diverse cities in the world. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s pretty difficult in NYC to grow up racist with so many people of so many backgrounds entering your life. The city also has a history of liberal-left and outright left politics, especially among its non-white population. There was a time, long gone, when the city had among the finest public education systems anywhere. In any case – none of what I just cited above is new, but it is essential to understanding the left move in NYC politics. I forgot to add, it’s often forgotten, NYC is actually a big union town – healthcare workers, teachers, – when I grew up the Teamsters were especially strong there, among others. Anyway given the demographic shifts (more nonwhites than whites) and the class disparities, it is not surprising to me (who grew up there) that Queens and the Bronx would elect an Alexandria Octavio Cortez or that just north of the city Jaamal Bowman would get elected. What was surprising is how long it took.

      Bowman defeated a very powerful House Rep, Eliot Engel, one of AIPAC’s key players in Congress, shepherding one pro-Israeli bill after another (there are over 80 in this session) through the House of Representatives, not letting anything (the one bill HR 2407) pro-Palestinian out of committee. Engel didn’t just lose, but lost by a landslide in the primaries – ie, a solid rejection of the man’s politics. And then there was the solid primary of A.O.C. – outspent 10 to 1 (or was it more lopsided)… Finally we can see the same tendency – moves to the left in many, many major U.S. cities.

    • July 4, 2020 7:50 am

      PS… after responding to you I came across a press release from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on her recent primary victory:

      Today, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) released the following statement on Independence Day.

      “On July 4, I feel especially proud to represent a community that embodies our nation’s true values. Nearly half of the constituents in New York’s 14th Congressional District are immigrants, with over 200 languages represented. Our district was also one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, but because we stood together as a community, we now have some of the lowest rates of the virus in the country.

      Through its perseverance, diversity, and appreciation for our shared humanity, NY-14 represents the promise of this country – the ideals we have long espoused but still struggle to meet. It is the privilege of my life to represent this community, and, though it will not be easy, I believe that together we can finally make unalienable the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.”

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