Will Africa become the center of confrontation between Turkey and the union of Israel and the Persian Gulf monarchies?
According to the Israeli newspaper Israel Today, in the coming days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make his first public visit to the UAE and Bahrain, where he will meet the UAE’s Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed and the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The visit will be additional evidence of strengthening relations between countries once considered hostile.
Earlier the Israeli press reported about another recent visit of the Israeli leader – to Saudi Arabia, where allegedly Netanyahu met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And although Saudi Arabia denies the meeting took place, the story undoubtedly fits into the context of the new geopolitical reality of the Middle East.
New alliance against Turkey and Iran
On September 15, 2020 representatives of the United States, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords in Washington. The agreements marked the restoration of full diplomatic and other ties between the two Arab countries and Israel under the auspices of the United States. This restoration took place against the backdrop of an unprecedented over the past 20 years’ deterioration of relations between Israel and Palestine, after the US attempt to impose on the Palestinians so-called “Deal of the Century”, which significantly worsens the situation of Palestinians.
And although the UAE and Bahrain made reservations that they continue to support the Palestinians, it was clear to most observers that in order to normalize relations with Israel, the UAE and Bahrain decided to sacrifice the Arab and Muslim common solidarity and interests of the Palestinians.
The emergence of the geopolitical axis of Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv is evident, and likely to be joined by Saudi Arabia. While it has not admitted it in public, Saudi Arabia has already approached the Zionist state.
The monarchies of the Persian Gulf and Israel are united by joint opposition to Iran. It is the anti-Iranian factor put at the forefront of the American coordinators of this process. However, another factor is also not left without attention of analysts – namely, the interest of both Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia in containing the geopolitical ambitions of Turkey.
Back in 2018, the head of Mossad Yossi Cohen told representatives of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE that the threat to all four countries is Turkey.
“Iranian power is fragile,” he reportedly told spymasters from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, the real threat is from Turkey”.
The Joe Biden administration coming to power in the United States will further push the UAE and Saudi Arabia closer to Israel. At the head of the State Department will be Tony Blinken, an ethnic Jew with strong ties to Israel. According to the Israeli media, the Biden administration will continue to “view Israel as the “good guys” in the region.
Given the Democrats’ criticism of the Saudis and the Emirates over the Yemeni war and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, these Gulf states may seek to strengthen ties with Israel as a guarantee of continued US support.
The final materialization of an Arab-Israeli alliance will lead to a change in geopolitics in much of the eastern hemisphere. To a large extent this applies not only to the Middle East, but also to the African continent. Moreover, it is in Africa that Turkey, which considers the African direction of its foreign policy strategic, may become the main opponent of this union.
The Horn of Africa
In addition to the Middle East, Israeli-Gulf reconciliation will have a serious impact on the geopolitics of Africa, primarily in the Horn of Africa.
After the overthrow of Omar Bashir in 2019 in Sudan, the position of the UAE in the country has increased dramatically. Almost at the same time, the country embarked on the path of restoration of relations with Israel.
On February 3, 2020 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the head of the Sudan’s Transitional Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda.
In September, negotiations were held in the UAE over Sudan’s removal from the US’ list of state sponsors of terror. This was followed by the restoration of relations between Sudan and Israel.
At the same time, the issue of building a Turkish base on the island of Suakin after the change of power in Sudan has suddenly frozen in place.
On Monday, November 24, an Israeli delegation went to Sudan for the first time to discuss potential economic and humanitarian cooperation after the authorities of both countries announced about normalization of relations via US mediation a month ago.
In addition to Sudan, experts expect relations between Israel and Eritrea to improve. Eritrea is largely dependent on the UAE, but has been trying to interact with Iran as well (in particular, there are suspicions of supplying Houthi rebels in Yemen from Eritrea). However, Eritrea has a military base of the UAE.
Building relations with Israel may help the Isaias Afwerki regime overcome international isolation (primarily isolation from the United States) and deprive Iran of any hope of using the countries as its strongholds in the Red Sea.
Another client of the UAE is the unrecognized state of Somaliland. In 2017, the UAE received the right to use the Berbera Port and build a military base there.
In 2020, however, news began to spread that there would be no UAE military base in Somaliland.
For Somaliland, the development of relations with Israel is a chance for international recognition. In Israel itself, there are also voices of support for Somaliland as a friendly Muslim state.
Not so long ago Mossad director Eli Cohen said that Israel will soon conclude agreements on normalization of relations with two countries: one not far from the Horn of Africa, and another one located in the region.
If they obtain recognition, Israel will find Somaliland a reliable ally (it is the most stable part of Somalia), opportunities for mining, military deployment and intelligence activities. The information that an Egyptian military base may appear in Somaliland further demonstrates the importance of that unrecognized state for international players.
Turkey, however, is one of the main external allies of the Somali federal government and has a training base there. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey could explore oil in Somalia at the invitation of the federal government. Official recognition by Israel of Somaliland or increased investment, military and intelligence activity will mean another front of confrontation between Turkey and Israel and the UAE.
The Israelis themselves unequivocally declare that they would like to see Somaliland in the block with a clear anti-Turkish orientation.
“With changes in the geopolitical context of the region knitting together Israel, the UAE, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt in a closer network of shared interests, Somaliland could be an important region for this group of countries,” Seth J. Frantzman Oped Editor and Middle East affairs analyst at The Jerusalem Post notes.
Yeni Şafak notes that intelligence agencies from Sudan, Egypt and the UAE are currently discussing a plan to reduce Turkish influence in the region. Against the backdrop of intensified confrontation, Somaliland may prove to be an important stronghold for this group of countries, including the possibility to use their cooperation with Hargeisa to pressure on Mogadishu.
Libya: intensification of the conflict
The Libyan conflict is currently the most visible indicator of the confrontation between Ankara and Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in North Africa. In the war in Libya, Turkey supports the UN recognized Government of National Accord. The United Arab Emirates and Riyadh are backing General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army.
Earlier, there had been information that Israel secretly supported Haftar’s troops, up to sending military advisers (though not to Libya, but to Egypt). (https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/israel-secretly-supports-putschist-gen-haftar-in-libyan-civil-war/news)/ In June 2020, Israeli media informed that Abd al-Salam al-Badri, deputy prime minister of the interim government of Libya (supporting Haftar), called on Israel to back Haftar against Turkey. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-interview-with-israeli-paper-top-libyan-rebel-calls-for-israels-support/).
As the American magazine Foreign Policy noted earlier “despite being hailed as a “peace deal,” the UAE-Israel agreement will more likely prolong ongoing regional wars. It will intensify conflict in those contested zones of the Middle East where the two blocs back rival-primarily Yemen, Libya, and Syria” (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/21/the-israel-uae-deal-wont-bring-peace-but-it-will-prolong-the-war-in-libya/).
The emergence of the Israeli factor in Libya could have a serious impact on the US’ position toward the pro-Turkish Government of National Accord.
The Western Saharan factor
However, apart from Libya, the deal between the UAE and Saudi Arabia with Israel could have an impact on another, more long-standing conflict in North Africa, namely, the situation in Western Sahara, a large (coastal) part of which is controlled by Morocco, and a smaller unrecognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), or more precisely the movement for self-determination Polisario, which is supported by Algeria. The UN considers Western Sahara a territory with a controversial status, which should be determined by referendum.
Western Sahara is relatively sparsely populated, but rich in phosphate deposits, and its territorial waters – in fish and other resources. The foreign energy companies explore for offshore oil and even sand is sold to Europe (for the European resorts).
In late January 2020, Morocco’s House of Representatives passed two bills that extended the kingdom’s jurisdiction to all of its territorial waters. At the same time, the European Parliament extended the trade agreement between the EU and Morocco to the territories occupied by Morocco. However, according to many sources, Israel lobbied for international recognition of Morocco’s rights to the Western Sahara in exchange for the normalization of Israeli-Moroccan relations.
In particular, the American news website Axios noted that “Israel and the US have been discussing a deal that would see the US recognize Moroccan sovereignty in the occupied Western Sahara and Morocco take steps to normalize relations with Israel”
Bloomberg, in turn, reported that “Israel asked the US to open a consulate in Moroccan-annexed Western Sahara to help it normalize ties with the North African nation.”
The seemingly long-defunct conflict demonstrated its propensity to flare up once again when Polisario announced the end of the truce with Morocco in response to the military operation Rabat two weeks ago.
The Persian Gulf monarchies support Morocco, while Algeria spoke out against the operation. The aggravation occurred after the embassies of the UAE and Jordan in Morocco opened their consulates in Western Sahara in November. Thus, they confirmed the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over this territory.
In this situation, Turkey is calling for a peaceful solution to the crisis. Ankara previously maintained close ties with both Morocco and Algeria, and Turkish business was also doing business in Western Sahara, but Algeria is also important for Turkey.
Moreover, given the formation of the two opposing blocs and the clear drift of Morocco towards the Saudis-UAE-Israel bloc, Ankara is likely to have to choose between Morocco and Algeria in their regional rivalry. Algeria is now more important, as it borders Libya. On November 1, it organized a referendum on constitutional changes. According to its results the Algerian army was allowed to take part in foreign operations. Experts believe that the change was made to intervene in Libya if necessary.
Most likely, Algeria will join Turkey in the emerging bipolar confrontation in the Middle East due to its importance to Turkey and Morocco’s drive towards Saudi-UAE block and Israel. In this case, Morocco’s role in the settlement of the Libyan crisis will be significantly limited (the country is now one of the negotiation platforms).
Turkey has its own difficulties with Algeria, but these are mainly due to the fear of secular Algerian leadership of strengthening the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam (represented, however, in its moderate versions in the country’s parliament). If Ankara convinces Algeria that it is not going to support political Islam in that country, the alliance of the two countries will be stronger, which will affect the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean.
France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, together with Greece, are already confronting Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean in the economic sphere (EastMed pipeline, EastMed Gas Forum (EMGF)). In addition, there are also significant divergences in interpretations of international law (agreements on the maritime border between Egypt and Greece), as well as in the military sphere.
However, due to the role of Italy in Libya and EasMed initiatives, Spain’s energy interests in Libya (and Madrid’s recent attempts to demonstrate its activity in Libya), Algeria’s and Morocco’s interests in Libya the confrontation between the two blocs will likely to extend to the entire North Africa and the Mediterranean region as a whole.
Decrease in the role of the UN
At the same time, a realistic balance of power, rather than international law or the UN’s position, will play an increasingly important role in the Mediterranean and Africa.
The emerging bloc of UAE-Israel and Saudi Arabia will continue to undermine international law and the role of the UN in conflict resolution.
The bloc of Gulf and Israeli monarchies has called into question numerous UN resolutions on Palestine, depriving the Palestinians of a chance to establish sustainable statehood. The same is happening in Western Sahara. Contrary to the position of the UN, the people of Western Sahara are deprived of the right to determine their own destiny.
On the other hand, the internationally recognized integrity of Somalia does not stop the Emirates and Israel from supporting unrecognized Somaliland.
In Libya, the presence of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord does not stop Turkey’s opponents from supporting the unlawful army of Khalifa Haftar.
Israel, which has long learned to live by ignoring international law and UN resolutions, will feel better than anyone else in this situation of growing chaos.
Playing on contradictions
Africa (both North and Sub-Saharan Africa) is now an area where the interests of many actors meet. Among them are both traditional colonial metropolises, primarily France and Great Britain, the United States, and new players: Turkey, Iran, UAE, Israel and Russia, which has returned to the continent. The factor of rapprochement of UAE and Saudi Arabia with Israel and their common with France confrontation of Turkey in the Mediterranean may lead to anti-Turkish synergy of the three projects. Iran, despite attempts to establish itself on the continent, cannot serve as a strong enough ally in the region.
Turkey, faced with the opposition of the UAE-Saudi Arabia-Israel-France bloc in Africa, may act within the framework of three paradigms (the same applies to the Mediterranean):
1.Try to make peace with the opponents. This is what Jared Kushner’s recent initiatives to reconcile Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia’s attempts to resume dialogue with Turkey are meant to do. However, such agreements, if they involve Israel and France, are fraught with concessions of national interests in the zone closest to the country’s territory – the Eastern Mediterranean.
While Turkey and Saudi Arabia (but not the UAE!) expect a cooling-off of relations with the US after Donald Trump steps down as president, Israel and France can count on the support of the Joe Biden administration. They will feel the support of Washington in their relations with Ankara, which means they will not make serious compromises.
2. Try to stand alone against the opponents, which is fraught with overstrain and geopolitical collapse.
3. Try to play on the contradictions in the formed block of UAE-Saudi Arabia Israel and France, paying closer attention to other players also present in the region. In particular, Ankara can play on the Franco-Russian contradictions in Africa. Not long ago, the French President Emmanuel Macron blamed Russia and Turkey in promoting anti-French sentiment in Africa.
It is also possible that Turkey will try to exploit the contradictions between Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Economic ties between Turkey and Egypt remain strong. Turkish authorities are sending signals that they are ready for normalization of relations.
Egypt and Turkey may find common points of contact outside the Eastern Mediterranean as well. Thus, in the Western Sahara, their positions have surprisingly coincided. Both Ankara and Cairo have called for restraint on both sides to the conflict, while the Gulf states have openly supported Morocco.
Finally, negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey offer an opportunity for Ankara to exploit the contradictions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
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