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Libano: Military Adviser delle Nazioni Unite in visita alla base avanzata italiana

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Shama (Libano) 12 maggio 2017 – Giovedì 11 maggio si è conclusa la visita ad una delle basi avanzate del contingente italiano in Libano con la missione UNIFIL da parte del Ten. Gen. Carlos Humberto Loitey (Uruguay), Military Adviser (MilAd) per le Nazioni Unite e responsabile del SottoSegretariato Generale.

Il Ten. Gen. Carlos Humberto Loitey, che ricopre l’incarico dal 22 novembre 2016, è deputato alla supervisione e all’assistenza di alcuni organi delle Nazioni Unite quali il Segretariato Generale, il Consiglio di Sicurezza, il Department of Political Affairs e il Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) ed è dirigente esecutivo e politico delle missioni militari di mantenimento della pace, fra cui UNIFIL. Il Comandante della Missione, il generale dell’esercito irlandese Micheal Beary e il Comandante della Joint Task Force – Lebanon, il Generale di Brigata Francesco Olla, hanno accolto il Military Adviser presso la base “UN-P 1-31”, l’avamposto dei “caschi blu” italiani che senza sosta monitora la zona di confine tra Libano e Israele attraverso attività di pattugliamento motorizzato e appiedato lungo la cosiddetta Blue Line, la linea di demarcazione dettata dalle Nazioni Unite il 7 giugno del 2000.

Nella base avanzata, dove attualmente è stanziato un plotone dei “Lancieri di Montebello”, il MilAd ha avuto occasione di approfondire, attraverso un briefing informativo, le tematiche connesse sia alla definizione esatta della citata Blue Line da parte delle Autorità Libanesi e Israeliane sia alle attività previste dalla Risoluzione del Consiglio di Sicurezza delle Nazioni Unite 1701 che il contingente italiano svolge dal 2006 con l’Operazione “LEONTE”.

Saudi Arabia toward the economic diversification

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In the past few weeks, Saudi Arabia has been at the centre of intense diplomatic activities, mainly directed to make significant economic deals. It is not a coincidence that some of the actors involved are the three biggest world economies: The United States, China and Japan. Indeed, while King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has taken a six-week trip in Asia, His Energy Minister Khalid-Al Falin headed for in Washington, to meet the US President Trump at the White House.

Such an intense effort goes beyond the normal diplomatic relations, especially given that the King’s visit in Japan has been the first visit to the country by a monarch of the Middle East oil-rich countries in the past fifty years. So, what is behind this busy agenda? First and foremost, oil. For decades, the vast availability of oil combined with the harsh regulations imposed by the monarchy -which did not encourage foreign companies entering Saudi markets-  have made oil the country’s one and only source of income.

However, the recent drop in oil price has been worrying the oil-rich monarchy. IMF projection for Saudi economic growth is not more encouraging, sharply foreseeing a drop from 2% to 0.4% this year. Hence, Saudi Arabia is exploring alternative economic paths, which include attracting foreign capitals and developing other industrial sectors. The short-term strategy, indeed, sets investments and infrastructure maintenance, especially electricity and transport networks, as first priorities. In a long-term perspective, “Vision 2030” expresses goals and expectations of the nation, based on three strong pillars: leading role in the Arab and Islamic word, become a global investment powerhouse and become a global hub, thus connecting Asia, Africa and Europe.

Having said that, Saudi effort to diversify its economy is more understandable. However, it is important to analyse also the political implications that these visits and commercial agreements may have.

Let’s start with Japan, the first trip of King Salman. As mentioned above, the Saudi King arrival in the Asian island is not an ordinary event, though the Kingdom is the largest provider of oil export and the two countries have friendly relationships. But this time King Salman has decided to travel all the way to the East and meet the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two leaders, then, agreed and signed the “Saudi-Japan Vision 2030”, a governmental project that aims to enhance the cooperation between the two countries.

By developing this project, Saudi Arabia and Japan will become equal strategic partners and Japanese companies will be given a designated zone in Saudi Arabia to allow fluid entry into the country, thus facilitating the economic partnership. The developmental projects outlined in the document include both government-related and private sector ones.

Notable names emerge with the private projects. Toyota is opting to produce cars and components in Saudi Arabia; Toyobo will cooperate in technological developments of desalination plants and several banks -i.e. Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ Bank- will be promoting investments in the Kingdom, while Softbank Group is planning to create investment funds worth 25$ billion for technological investments.

Therefore, Japan raises as a key actor to diversify Saudi Arabian economy. However, there are also political reasons behind this stronger partnership. The Japanese government is trying to contribute to Saudi Arabia political and economic stability, which is a fundamental factor to maintain the stability in the region. The competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran for the leadership in the Middle East has been deteriorating security and stability in the area for a long time. Japan has friendly relations with both countries and welcomes a productive dialogue between the two powers. Helping Saudi Arabia to strengthen its economy is indeed essential to maintain some balance between the two nations, also given that the relationship with the US -traditional ally and a core pillar of Saudi foreign policy- has recently gone through a hard time.

Moving forward, or better said westwards, King Salman reached China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer as well as the third largest economy. Similarly, as for Japan, the Sunni monarchy is the primary source of China’s energy demand. The two countries have sharply deepened their relationship by signing up to 65$ billion economic and trade deals. Within this framework, the countries are promoting manufacturing and energy sectors, included downstream oil opportunities. Moreover, the deals include a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the oil firm Saudi Aramco and China North Industries Group Corp (Norinco) to look into the construction of refining and chemical plants in China. Meanwhile, Sinopec and Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) agreed upon the development of petrochemical projects both in China and Saudi Arabia.

The stronger economic relationship comes as mutually beneficial for the countries. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia may see new trade opportunities in sectors other than oil, while confirming his position as key energy partner for China; on the other, China can benefit from further Saudi investments in its markets but also for the kingdom’s strategic location in the Middle East. Indeed, Saudi political, religious and economic influence in the region is a key factor for the Chinese “One belt, one road” initiative, that aims to build connectivity and cooperation between Eurasia and China.

However, Saudi Arabia also has its strategic advantages. From a security perspective, Saudi Arabia has always strongly relied on the US and its military presence in the Gulf. However, under Obama’s administration concerns and disappointments arose, as the US failed to show a firm determination in dealing with Iranian attempts to further develop its nuclear capabilities, thus jeopardising the stability of the region. In the past, China has refrained from interfering in the Middle East issues, trying to keep a neutral position between the two rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran and stressing the importance of close consultation. Some changes occurred, though.

In 2016, China backed Bashar al-Assad, offering its military cooperation and supported Yemen’s government against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels (A Saudi-led military coalition supports Yemen’s government). Lastly, the Chinese government signed an agreement to set the first factory for Chinese hunter-killer aerial drones in Saudi Arabia, first in the Middle East.

Is China going to replace the US in the Middle East? Perhaps it is still too early to make such an assumption, especially given the new development in Syria. However, it seems that China may and would like to play a more influential role in promoting security and stability in the region, having all the means (military and economic) to do it.

And here comes the third core piece of this puzzle: The United States. As mentioned above, Obama administration has seriously challenged the relationship between the West power and the Saudi monarchy. The major issue was the multilateral nuclear deal signed with Iran, which allowed Iran to sell its vast oil supplies more freely and solicit investment in its energy industry, increasing competition with top oil exporter Saudi Arabia. However, the new presidency has made clear its approach toward Iran, by immediately imposing additional sanctions on entities involved in the nuclear program.

Saudi Arabia visit to Washington seems to open a new phase in US-Saudi relations. While the King was busy in Asia, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih and the Deputy Crowne Prince Mohammed bin Salman met President Donald Trump at the White House. As Saudi minister pointed out, US-Saudi relationship is one of the most central to global stability and now seems to be better than ever. Indeed, the two countries again align on all the major issues, such as confronting Iranian aggression and fighting ISIS, but also enjoy the benefit of a closer personal bond between his royal highness, the Deputy Crown Prince and President Trump.

At the economic level, new investment programs are focused on energy, industry, infrastructure and technology. According to the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia is interested in investing up to $200 billion in US infrastructure, which is a core pillar of Trump’s agenda. As Falih explains, “The infrastructure program of President Trump and his administration is something that we’re interested in because it broadens our portfolio and it opens a new channel for secure, low-risk yet healthy return investments that we seek”.

These are only some of the economic negotiations and deals that Saudi Arabia is currently conducting, but they help to understand the new economic course of the country. They represent, indeed, a “Plan B” against the drop of oil revenue and the chance to reinforce and diversify the economic capabilities of the country, which can rely on resources other than oil, such as phosphate, gold, uranium and other minerals. Developing new sectors will also attract foreign investments and create new job opportunities for a young and ambitious local population.

One of the risks of such a massive network of economic deals is the reaction that other partners may have to commitments taken with other countries. As known, commercial arrangements have political consequences and impacts. Therefore, one of the main challenges for Saudi leaders will be to pursue its economic goals, while balancing its position toward all his major allies and friend nations, especially when some of its partners are not the best friends ever.

An obvious example is China. Despite years of lack of interest for Middle East issues, China is now trying to play a bigger role in the region, as the support in Yemen and Syria but also the Chinese warship tour in the Arab Gulf (January 2017) prove. Saudi Arabia welcomes this kind of assistance, as it can help to reduce Iran’s influence in the region. However, it is important not to upset a key and historical ally, the United States. As the new administration has shown a different approach toward the main regional issues -Syria and Iran- it might be a strategic mistake to bond too closely to the new player. Indeed, this might give the impression that a new guarantor of security in the Middle East has replaced the United States, a change that President Trump may not be entirely happy with.

In conclusion, the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s economy is a smart and necessary move to make. However, it goes beyond the economic sphere, as it also shapes Saudi political posture, as a regional power but also among the biggest foreign nations involved in the Middle East political struggle. It appears that the country is trying to bond closer ties with all those powers that have more interests -but also economic and military capabilities- influencing the stability and security of the region, thus trying to get the strongest support possible against its main rival, Iran. China and USA are on the spot but do not forget Russia, which has developed bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia in the past few years and has strong political and strategic interests in the Middle East. Lastly, a key factor will be the development of the Syrian war, especially after the US Tomahawk missile strike on an air base in Syria, very well welcomed by Riyadh.

It is likely that the future economic strategy of the Kingdom will follow the political and strategic needs of the country, confirming once again the strong interrelation between economic and political dimensions, but also the importance of a robust and independent economy to maintain an influential and leading role in the region.

 

Paola Fratantoni

FM calls on friendly countries to help establish peace in Yemen

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330 academics, many of them from Ankara University, were expelled with a new state of emergency decree

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Saudi forces are defending the Yemen borders from Houthis

Houthi militias were stopped at the border with Yemen by Saudi forces that avoid them to get closer. This is not the first attemp of Houthis to cross the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen or try to smuggle civilians. During this attempt, which started at the break of time, 4 Houthis were killed and several military equipments (weapons, explosive devices, rocket-propelled granades) were seized from them. The militias wore uniforms of the deposed president’s special forces.

Hezbollah: meeting Trump-Netanyahu and the death of the negotiations

Lebanese Hezbollah said on Thursday the outcome of U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had effectively signaled an end to peaceful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. “After what came out after the meeting between Netanyahu and Trump, I am not exaggerating if I say that yesterday there was a semi-official announcement of the death of the path of negotiations”, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a live televised speech. Trump on Wednesday dropped a U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Washington’s longstanding policy on the Middle East. “For the Israelis, there is no such thing as a Palestinian state” Nasrallah said, adding that the two-state solution was the only thing keeping the door to negotiations open.

An airstrike destroys the ISIS command center in Mosul

A building believed to be an Islamic State command center in western Mosul was destroyed on Friday in an airstrike conducted by the U.S.-led coalition, the building was situated in a main medical complex of the city. “The coalition was able to determine through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts that ISIS did not use the building for any medical purposes and that civilians were no longer accessing the site” the coalition said in a statement. “Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict, work diligently to be precise in our airstrikes, and take all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of air strikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians”, they have added.

Saleh al-Sammad condolences to victims of the massacre committed by Saudi aggression warplanes on a funeral house

During a visit to Arhab district in Sana’a governorate President of the Supreme Political Council Saleh al-Sammad offered condolences to victims of the massacre commited by Saudi aggression warplanes on a funeral house in the district on Wednesday. The attack killed 8 women and children and injured ten other women. The President condemned the aggression and the complicity of the international community on the aggression against Yemen. He also denunced the international silence on the crimes commitedgainst civilians and asked to lift the blockade which affected negatively 25 million people.

Libyan High Council of State agrees to meet Libyan House of Representatives delegation in Cairo to reach a political settlement to the Libyan civil conflict

Members of Libya’s High Council of State have agreed to meet a delegation from the Libyan House of Representatives in Cairo as part of talks hosted by Egypt to reach a political settlement to the Libyan civil conflict, according to Egypt’s army spokesman. Egypt’s Army Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazi, who is mediating talks between Libyan factions, received on Thursday the delegation from Libya’s High Council of State with the attendance of Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry. Talks were held on Monday and Tuesday between the chairman of the Libyan Presidential Council Fayaz Al-Sarraj, who is based in the capital Tripoli in the west of the country and is recognised by the UN as the country’s president, and Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar and Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, who both represent the House of Representatives in eastern Libya’s Tobruk. Attendants of the meeting expressed their appreciation for the Egyptian role to reach a solution to the Libyan crisis, calling on Libya’s House of Representatives to make use of this opportunity to save the situation in the country. Over the past months, Cairo has held meetings with different Libyan political factions, where Egypt has stressed the need for a political consensus to end the crisis in the country.

Yildirim: nowhere in the world is safe, terrorism does not recognize borders

Speaking at the opening of the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul, Yildirim said the threat from terrorism was global. “If we are talking about security, nowhere in the world is safe… terrorism does not recognize borders” he said. “There is no place safe from terrorism. The fear and threat of terrorism is only useful to terrorists. “I say it proudly and confidently – Turkey is as safe as the United States, Istanbul is as safe as Paris, Ankara is as safe as Sarajevo, Izmir is as safe as Baku. Therefore, please do not let terrorism sabotage tourism”. The prime minister hailed those working in the tourism sector as “volunteer peace ambassadors”. A string of terror attacks across Turkey have threatened the country’s vital tourism industry, with the number of foreign visitors dropping from 36.8 million in 2014 to 25.4 million last year, according to the Culture and Tourism Ministry. However, Yildirim said Turkey aimed to attract 8 million more tourists in the first stage of a campaign to boost tourism earnings to $50 billion, unveiled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week. He also stressed the non-financial benefits of tourism. “It is insufficient to evaluate tourism only from an economic point of view” he said. “Tourism is beyond that. It is primarily the meeting of cultures, the meeting of civilizations

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