All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre

Romana Rubeo and Ramzy Baroud

On 4 February 2021, representatives from the Palestinian movement Hamas visited Moscow to inform the Russian government of the latest developments in unity talks between the Islamic resistance movement and its Palestinian counterparts, especially Fatah.

This was not the first time that Hamas’s officials had travelled to Moscow on similar missions. In fact, Moscow continues to represent an important political breathing space for Hamas, which has been isolated by Israel’s western benefactors. Involved in imposing this isolation are also several Arab governments that, undoubtedly, have done little to break the Israeli siege on Gaza.

The Russia-Hamas closeness is already paying dividends. On 17 February, shipments of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, made their way into Gaza via Israel, a testament to that growing rapport, and how it is being leveraged for the Palestinian benefit. While Russia alone cannot effect a complete paradigm shift in the case of Palestine, Hamas feels that a Russian alternative to the blind and conditional American support for Israel is possible, if not urgent. 

Recently, we interviewed Dr Daud Abdullah, author of Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy, and Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg, which published Abdullah’s book.

By Ramzy Baroud

Israeli anxiety was palpable after Israel’s prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, waited for days to be contacted by the new US president, Joe Biden, after the latter’s inauguration. While much is being read into Biden’s decision, including Washington’s lack of enthusiasm to return to the ‘peace process’, Moscow is generating attention as a possible alternative to the USA by hosting inter-Palestinian dialogue and discussing the future with leaders of Palestinian political groups. 

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Cathholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

By Johan Viljoen

SA Government Puzzled by Failure of Mozambique Government to Request Regional Support

South Africa has expressed continuing frustration at the Mozambique government’s failure to state what help it wants in fighting a growing incursion which has now displaced more than 565,000 people. 

South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said the inability of the regional body, the South African Development Community (SADC), to decide how to help Mozambique combat the  insurgency “remains a very worrying puzzle to us as the South African government”. 

“We have made every effort to reach out to the government of Mozambique and to sit with them to decide a support agenda,” she said on Wednesday in a webinar organised by London’s Chatham House on South Africa’s foreign policy. 

By Ali Fathollah-Nejad

On 4 January, a day after the one-year anniversary of the US assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iran took two steps as a show of force, against the fallouts from the US ‘maximum pressure’ policy of then-outgoing US president, Donald Trump. First, Iran resumed uranium enrichment to 20 per cent, hugely exceeding the 3.67 per cent level allowed by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or Iran nuclear deal), and notifying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose inspectors are monitoring Iran’s nuclear programme, of its decision. Second, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized a South Korean-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. Both actions, on the same day, were shows of force, with different rationales and intentions, but both part of an Iran counter-pressure strategy in the face of immense US-led pressure.

Iran's decision to enrich uranium to a level of 20 per cent (thus dramatically reducing the break-out time for developing a nuclear bomb, since 20 per cent enrichment constitutes nine-tenths of the enrichment work required to reach weapons-grade enrichment of about 90 per cent) represents the partial implementation of a law passed by the conservative-controlled parliament and quickly ratified by the hardline-dominated Guardian Council. The law demanded that the government of President Hassan Rouhani substantially boosts various components of the nuclear programme in order to force the USA to concede, in future negotiations, on the onerous sanctions it has imposed on Iran. On the same day, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted how Iran officially views this step: reducing its nuclear commitment as a legal response to the USA violating its JCPOA commitments, and its assurance that boosting its nuclear capacity was reversible once Washington recommits to its JCPOA obligations, and lifts re-imposed sanctions.

tweet

‘Our remedial action conforms fully with Para 36 of [the] JCPOA, after years of non-compliance by several other JCPOA participants,’ Zarif tweeted. ‘Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL.’ 

Rouhani’s administration had, at least publicly, opposed the bill about boosting the nuclear programme, arguing that it would undermine prospects for renewed diplomacy after Joe Biden became US president on 20 January. It therefore passed a by-law to delay the implementation of the legislation. In fact, there are two layers – one primary, the other secondary – underlying Tehran’s decision to boost enrichment to 20 per cent.

First, despite factional infighting in Iran’s politics, it is important to note that Iran’s ‘maximum resistance’ strategy in response to the US ‘maximum pressure’ campaign is a product of cross-factional elite deliberations, and largely continues to be so. This strategy is centred on the core idea of resisting US pressure with counter-pressure (also referred to as ‘counter-containment’) by fortifying Iran’s deterrence strategy. This is to be achieved through a gradual (and reversible) reduction of Iran’s JCPOA commitments, and by its resistance to US policies in regional conflicts (such as in Iraq, Syria and Yemen), with concomitant shows of force and/or nuisances (such as the seizure of oil tankers since the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and displays of Iran’s ballistic missile and drone capabilities), thus signalling Tehran’s readiness for war. This calculation is also based on the assessment that Washington lacks the appetite for another large-scale Middle East war, while Iran regards war with the SA as too risky and possibly jeopardising stability amid massive domestic public dissatisfaction with the regime.

Iran’s accumulated deterrence power can then be translated, the argument goes, into bargaining leverage in eventual talks with the USA. Despite some official rhetoric to the contrary, there is no alternative for Tehran to such talks as Iran’s vital interests lie in stability-threatening sanctions being eased. Iran may, in fact, be willing in future to offer more concessions that could be proportional to the amount of US pressure. But Iranians expect that pressure to ease as Biden’s administration drops the ‘maximum pressure’ doctrine. The objective of Tehran’s current stance is to achieve a return to the position Iran had held before the 2013-2015 JCPOA negotiations when its advanced nuclear programme had offered the international community the bad choice between a rock (an Iranian nuclear bomb) and a hard place (bombing Iran). That scenario had helped – along with the Obama administration dropping its ‘zero enrichment’ demand – extract concessions from the West. Above all, it realised important sanctions relief. This was precisely the Iranian strategy preceding the JCPOA negotiations.

The secondary, yet considerably less crucial, layer underlying Tehran’s decision to boost enrichment to 20 per cent is domestic politics. The Rouhani administration (headed by a ‘lame duck’ president whose two-term limit ends in August) is pitted against more hardline rivals (whose camp is in charge of the nuclear programme and currently dominates the national security discourse) who seek to torpedo the government’s ability meaningfully to enter into talks with the USA ahead of Iran’s June presidential election. Barring a Rouhani diplomatic success with Biden, with consequent economic benefits for Iran, the June election is expected to be won by a conservative or hardline candidate. Many among the hardline establishment want to reap those economic benefits themselves after the election. 

However, the problem with this counter-containment/counter-pressure strategy is that alarmism alienates western powers, whose domestic anti-Iran forces will be emboldened to put pressure on western capitals not to appease or engage in rapprochement with an Islamic Republic that is seen as increasingly belligerent and confrontational. This can be seen in European reactions to Iran’s 20 per cent enrichment; European governments condemned the move as a ‘considerable departure’ from Iran’s JCPOA obligations, saying this threatened the deal’s survival.

The other 4 January show of force, the seizure of the South Korean tanker, has less to do with the official explanation that its confiscation was due to the vessel polluting Persian Gulf waters with chemicals, but is, rather, related to the freezing of an estimated $7 billion worth of Iranian assets in South Korean banks since 2019. The funds are for crude oil imports from Iran. Due to US extra-territorial sanctions prohibiting bank transfers – especially in US dollars – to Iran in particular, and US pressure in general, South Korea blocked these funds. The tanker incident happened just ahead of a scheduled 10 January visit to Tehran by a South Korean delegation. That delegation then included First Vice Foreign Minister Choi, who joined in order to hold talks about the release of the tanker. South Korea, one of Iran’s top oil importers, had dramatically reduced and even halted its oil imports as a result of the pressure of US sanctions, since Washington is an indispensable ally of Seoul. Iran’s move was intended to put pressure on South Korea to release the Iranian assets amid recent talks involving the three sides over the fate of the funds. It is doubtful that the seizure will lead to Seoul releasing the Iranian funds, since Washington’s stance will ultimately be decisive. One possibility would be, as contemplated by Tehran and Seoul, that part of the frozen Iranian funds will be used to pay for Iranian imports of COVID-19 vaccines and equipment from South Korea. South Korea subsequently asked Qatar, which has relatively close relations with Iran, for ‘maximum support’ to help release its tanker, which Doha agreed to do. However, Iran’s attempts have been futile thus far. In any case, this Iranian tanker seizure has important side-effects: it undermines the image of Iran as a reliable and stability-seeking Persian Gulf power in the eyes of East Asian powers that have become increasingly important purchasers of Iranian oil over the past decade.

Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Afro-Middle East Centre, and a former Iran expert of the Brookings Institution in Doha (BDC) and the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) 

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Cathholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

By Johan Viljoen

Concern Over TOTAL’s Increasing Leverage In Security Matters

After January 1, when 2 alleged insurgents were discovered in a residence in Afungi, Total has quietly resumed its work. At least the logistics are operating. Loads of supplies to the site were seen in Pemba. The report of insurgents killed by the Joint Task Force (FDS and Total), was enough for Total to announce the evacuation of Afungi during the first week of January. The document announcing the evacuation was based on two facts: 2 insurgents were killed at Quitupo, near the installations (although there are no reports of an engagement with insurgents), and a threat of attack on Palma for the 5th of January, which never materialized. Total had a structural project for the Mozambican economy interrupted because of a threat. This raises the question:  what is the capacity of the Joint Task Force? Sources in the sector say that Total used the pretext of insecurity to gain an advantage over the Joint Task Force itself. Total has claimed behind the scenes that the FDS soldiers who are part of the JTF are not properly prepared and some of them are suspected of being linked to the insurgency (there is no trust between the two parties) and some of them defected to the insurgency shortly after the events (allegedly because they are better paid there). Throughout the week of 11 January, the Government and Total held talks, in which Total challenged the government on three issues: the failure to provide the security guarantees promised in October, the lack of political solutions and the failure of military interventions. Under the July 2020 security agreement between Total and the Mozambican government, Afungi was to be protected by 1000 military and police officers and part of the private security contracted by Total, and there would be an increase in maritime security.  In exchange, Total agreed to provide funding and logistical support for the Joint Task Force. 

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Cathholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

Johan Viljoen

Mozambique Government Concerned About Attacks Near TOTAL Installations

Pressured by oil company Total, which requires clear security guarantees in Afungi, the government of Filipe Nyusi is in a race against time to find a solution that will enable the continuity of gas projects in the Rovuma basin. In their most recent forays into the Palma District, insurgents were fought in the vicinity of Afungi, the center of oil operations. Alarms went off and Total E&P Mozambique Area 1, operator of the Mozambique LNG project, evacuated part of its camp, one of the measures in the security protocol. Some companies that provide services followed his example and removed their staff, paralyzing part of the activities. Last week, those in charge of Total's security sector travelled to Maputo to discuss security issues in Afungi with Mozambican authorities. It is not known whether or not there was a commitment or guarantee by the Government to strengthen security on the Afungi peninsula, the main requirement of the French company Total. On Monday, the President of the Republic travelled to Tanzania where he discussed with his counterpart John Magufuli ways to contain violent extremism in both countries. Foreign insurgents (Tanzanians, Somalis, Congolese, Rwandans, Ugandans and Burundians) operating in Cabo Delgado enter Mozambique across the common border with Tanzania, so a political agreement between the two states is essential to halt expansion and intensification of the armed violence in the north of the country. On his trip to Tanzania, Nyusi was accompanied by the Commander-in-Chief of the Police, Bernardino Rafael, and by the Commander of the Northern Operational Command Post, Major-General Eugénio Mussa. It is the first trip abroad dedicated to security issues in which the President of the Republic included a high ranking FADM officer in his entourage, a gesture that signals the power that the military is gaining in command of operations in Cabo Delgado.

The Denis Hurley Peace Initiative, an NGO that is part of the South African Cathholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

By Johan Viljoen

Refugees from Cabo Delgado Increasing in Nampula, Threatening Humanitarian Catastrophe

With a population of 743 125 (according to the 2017 census), Nampula is the third largest city in Mozambique (after Maputo and Beira). The city is in the grips of an extreme drought. There has been no rainfall since the beginning of last year, and the dam supplying water to the city has dried up. The city has been completely without water for two weeks now.

The situation is desperate. Covid19 infections are increasing exponentially, as residents are unable to wash their hands regularly or observe basic hygiene practices. There are already reports of cholera. With crops having failed due to the absence of rain this year, malnutrition and starvation are spreading. 

By Ali Fathollah-Nejad

The November presidential election victory of Joe Biden against the incumbent Donald Trump raised alarm bells within the anti-Iran front in the Middle East – most notably Israel and Saudi Arabia. They reckon that the days of Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran are numbered, and fear that President-elect Biden will follow through on his campaign promise to return the USA to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal), which will include easing sanctions on Iran in exchange for the latter’s return to the limits and restraints imposed by the JCPOA on its nuclear programme.

With just over a month left for the Trump administration, there has been a sense of urgency among Iran’s foes not only to sustain but to increase the pressure on Tehran in this period, by creating new facts that the Biden administration would not be able to ignore, and which will complicate any smooth transition to a new US Iran policy. These new facts could be achieved through new sanctions on Iran, or through other means, such as covert operations against Iran’s nuclear programme intended to provoke an Iranian reaction. This last possibility reportedly featured prominently in a November visit to the region by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, especially in his meetings with Israeli, Saudi and UAE leaders. Given these attempts at increasing agitation by the anti-Iran front, as well as Trump’s unpredictability, concerns were raised in Tehran. Iran’s military leadership has, as expected and in its usual manner, reacted with a language of defiance and counter-threats. 

By Ramzy Baroud

In September 2017, organizers of the ‘Africa-Israel Summit’ indefinitely postponed their event which was scheduled to be held in Lomé, Togo, from 23 to 27 October, a month after they made their decision. What Israeli leaders saw as a temporary setback was partly the result of intense, behind-the-scenes lobbying of several African and Arab countries, including South Africa, Algeria, and Morocco.

The conference and its postponement, or, more correctly, cancellation, was, however, hardly the beginning or end of the efforts of Israeli prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, to court Africa. In January 2019, Tel Aviv announced it had established diplomatic relations with Chad, and that Mali, also a Muslim majority country, would follow suit soon thereafter.

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Cathholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We  co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

COUNTRY UPDATE: 8 December 2020

Johan Viljoen

SACBC Solidarity Visit

Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) facilitated a solidarity visit by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) to the Diocese of Pemba, Cabo Delgado,  over the period 2 to 4 December. The SACBC delegation consisted of Bishop Victor Phalana (Bishop of Klerksdorp and SACBC liaison Bishop for Justice and Peace), Bishop Jose Luis Ponce de Leon (Bishop of Manzini), Sr Tshifhiwa Munenzhe (newly appointed SACBC Secretary General) and Johan Viljoen (DHPI Director). The Mozambican delegation consisted of Bishop Luis Fernando Lisboa (Bishop of Pemba) and Archbishop Inacio Saure (Archbishop of Nampula and Vice President of the Mozambican Bishops’ Conference), Mr Manuel Nota (Director of Diocese of Pemba Caritas) and Ms Bettinha Ribeiro (Caritas Pemba Project Manager). The group visited Good Shepherd Mission (Pemba), Paquitiquete (Pemba), as well as refugee settlements in Ancwabe (about 100 km north of Pemba) and Metuge (about 50 km from Pemba). 

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Cathholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

COUNTRY UPDATE: 19 November  2020

By Mahdi Ghodsi and Ali Fathollah-Nejad

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged Iran’s already ailing economy, but the country’s economic crisis is rooted in factors beyond the pandemic’s fallout. Since the United States’ 2018 withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA – or Iran Nuclear Deal), it has become clear that Iran’s economic woes – especially its currency devaluation – are strongly correlated with key political and geopolitical events. The volatility in the exchange rate and Iran’s currency depreciation are signs of an unhealthy economy.

By Nikolay Kozhanov

Introduction

The Israeli-Emirati Memorandum of understanding and cooperation on the use of storage capacities and pipeline infrastructure of the Israeli Europe-Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC – previously the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co Ltd) will undoubtedly benefit both Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. However, the agreement is unlikely to have the strong impact on the oil market that is currently claimed by the signatories.

The agreement on normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel, signed in September, is becoming the cornerstone of the legal and contractual basis for the development of future Israeli-Emirati relations. During the bilateral business summit held in Abu Dhabi in late October 2020, the two countries signed a number of important documents, including a memorandum on the use and development of the EPAC oil and oil products infrastructure. According to the Israeli and Emirati media, this step should open up access for the UAE to theEuropean oil market. However, such statements are somewhat inconsistent with reality.

By Ramzy Baroud 

In a few words, a close associate of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu summed up the logic behind the ongoing frenzy to expand illegal Jewish settlements in Israel. ‘These days are an irreplaceable opportunity to establish our hold on the Land of Israel, and I’m sure that our friend, President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be able to take advantage,’ Miki Zohar, a member of the Likud Party was quoted as saying.

By ‘these days’, Zohar was referring to the remaining few weeks of Trump’s term in office. The US president was trounced by his Democratic Party rival, Joe Biden, in the presidential elections held on 3 November. Trump’s defeat ignited fears in Tel Aviv, and heated debates in the Israeli Knesset, that the new US administration might challenge Israel’s unhindered settlement expansion policies. Indeed, not only was Israel allowed to expand old settlements and build new ones throughout Trump’s term, but it was actually encouraged by US officials to do so with a great sense of urgency.

By Ali Fathollah-Nejad and Amin Naeni

The outcome of the 3 November US presidential election will reverberate far beyond the USA, especially in Iran, where it may influence the fortunes of rival political factions as well as the results of Iran’s own presidential elections next June.

The Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign has imposed unprecedented economic sanctions against Iran and severely undercut the credibility of the reformist camp. Massive popular disillusionment with so-called moderates made it easier for hardliners to win control over the Iranian parliament in February. Now, due to the reluctance of many Iranians to participate in future elections – out of disappointment at the failure of reformists to fulfil their promises of economic progress and political reform – hardliners are hoping to gain the presidency as well.

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Cathholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

COUNTRY UPDATE: 27 October  2020

Johan Viljoen

Is an attack on Pemba Imminent?

The arrival of over 7 000 displaced persons on fishing boats during the course of last week in Pemba, fleeing attacks by insurgents in the north of the province, has raised fears of a possible attack on the city of Pemba itself. On Friday 23 October Julião João Cumbane, a senior Frelimo party member and part of the country’s intelligence community, wrote on his Facebook page that there are almost certainly “terrorists” amongst the refugees, who are posing as refugees to infiltrate Pemba, and plan an attack. 

On Saturday 27 October information was received from Metuge, about 10 km from Pemba, that insurgents had sent messengers to the community to warn them to evacuate “if they wanted to save their lives”. The City of Pemba is situated on a peninsula on the southern entrance to Pemba Bay. Metuge is on the mainland. 

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

COUNTRY UPDATE: 21 October  2020

Johan Viljoen

An escalation in the fighting in Cabo Delgado has resulted in a renewed influx of refugees to the provincial capital Pemba, by boat. The first fishing boats arrived on Saturday 17 October when hundreds of families disembarked  at Paquiquete beach from boats, each carrying 30 to 40 people, fleeing the armed conflict in the districts of Quissanga and Macomia. Children, women, the elderly and the sick travelled several miles in overcrowded boats. On Sunday around 700 people from the Quirimbas Archipelago, and from communities of Olumboa, Guludo, Ntoni, Kirimizi and Mucojo, in Macomia district, disembarked at the beach, the majority of them women and children.

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

COUNTRY UPDATE: 16 October  2020

Johan Viljoen

Insurgents attach village in Tanzania

For the first time, the conflict in Cabo Delgado has spilled across the border into Tanzania, marking a dangerous escalation of the violence. About 30 insurgents  from Mozambique attacked the village of Kitaya on the Ruvuma river (right by the border) on 14 October n the evening (around 7 to 9 pm). There is a Tanzanian army base close to the village and Tanzanian soldiers tried to intervene, but the insurgents were very well equipped with machine guns and other material, and the soldiers could not do much. According to reports, two Tanzanian soldiers and 1 villager were killed, and another villager was shot in the legs.  1 tanker and 2 army vehicles were burned, in addition to the village dispensary, shops, warehouses and several houses. 30 Tanzanian villagers were taken by force to Mozambique by the insurgents. The insurgents claimed that that this was only the beginning, as they want the border between Tanzania and Mozambique to start in Lindi, not Mtwara

Zimbabwe is set to become the latest African country to embrace Israel as it seeks to get off the US sanctions list. Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, vowed to get the embattled country out of the economic turmoil it had faced under the former president, Robert Mugabe, since the late 2000s, and ending US sanctions on the country would be a good start. 

In August, Mnangagwa appointed Israeli citizen Ronny Levi Musan as Zimbabwe’s honorary consul in Israel. This signalled strengthened relations between the two countries, and a move away from longstanding support expressed for Palestinians by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Musan is alleged to have links with the controversial Nikuv International Projects Company that was accused of engineering Robert Mugabe’s win in the 2013 Zimbabwean elections. He is also the CEO of the Ashelroi Group, which describes itself as aiming to connect companies, organisations,  diplomats,  leaders  and  churches  from  all  over  the  world  to  Israel. 

Mnangagwa hopes to enlist Israel’s military intelligence to train Zimbabwe’s security forces and to establish a defence academy in Harare, which will be run by Israelis.

Zimbabwe’s relations with Israel began in the early 1990s under Mugabe, who deployed Israeli riot control equipment to suppress political opposition, especially before the 2008 elections when there was a heavy clampdown on the opposition, particularly supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The former president was also instrumental in Nikuv obtaining a stake in Zimbabwe’sdiamond mines in Mutare through a contract that has since been characterised by widespread corruption. After Mnangagwa took power from Mugabe in a military takeover in November 2017, the relationship with Israel has continued, and, more recently, seems set to improve. Mnangagwa has been on a drive to attract investment into the embattled Zimbabwean economy, and to find a way to re-engage western countries to lobby for the lifting of sanctions against the country; Israel seems to be the gateway.

In October 2019, Mnangagwa met then-Israeli foreign minister, Israel Katz, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Earlier, in April 2018, Mnangagwa accepted the credentials of Gershon Kedar as the non-resident ambassador to Zimbabwe, but based in Israel. Kedar brought representatives of a number of Israeli companies to Zimbabwe, including Michael Biniashvili, who is associated with former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) general Gal Hirsch, a controversial businessperson who had been accused of bribery and money laundering while heading the Defensive Shield Holdings Company in which Biniashvili is a partner. Defensive Shield Holdings was accused of tax evasion in Israel and of bribingthe Georgian defence minister, Davit Kezerashvili, to secure military training contracts in 2007 and 2008. Another unsavoury businessperson that Kedar has pushed into Zimbabwe is Yaron Yamin, who owns 262 claims on sixty-two gold mines in the southern African country.

These initiatives, with Mnangagwa’s blessing, signal the president’s desperate attempts to appease the West, notably the USA, Israel’s biggest ally. Musan has set plans into motion for Mnangagwa’s official visit to Israel. His activities in Zimbabwe include collaboration with Pentecostal churches to push for Christian support for Israel. Zimbabwe’s honorary consul is also pushing for Israeli businesses to invest in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, and he recently announced the intention to open an Israeli academy of agriculture in Zimbabwe. 

On the diplomatic front, Israel hopes that Mnangagwa will follow the example of his Malawian counterpart, Lazarus Chakwera, who announced plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem, thus legitimising Israel’s claim of Jerusalem as its capital city, a claim not recognised under international law. Chakwera, an Evangelical Christian who staunchly supports Israel, is on a drive to promote Israel on the continent. His visit to Harare last month likely included discussions with Mnangagwa about relations with Israel and the USA.  

Donald Trump’s White House is increasingly doing Israel’s bidding on the African continent, and is pushing for African states to normalise relations with Israel as a means of unlocking US aid and investment. Sudan, for example, is being lobbied to recognise Israel in exchange for being removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. The USA has also lobbied Kenya, which already has strong relations with Israel – including in security and intelligence, to publicly support Israel and push for Israel to get observer status in the African Union (AU). Others countries, such as Chad, have also used relations with Israel as a means of receiving western arms, which are being used to suppress domestic dissent. 

Like many other African and Arab states, Zimbabwe has long had secret relations with Israel; these are now coming to light through Mnangagwa’s rigorous attempts to attract investment into the Zimbabwean economy, despite ZANU-PF’s supposed support for the Palestinians.

By Phyllis Bennis

When US president, Donald Trump, announced his latest threats against Iran on Rush Limbaugh’s show last week, it was unclear whether he or his steroids were talking. Even this president rarely uses language like, ‘If you f**k around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before’ in announcing foreign policy.

The possibility of an ‘October Surprise’ looms over every US presidential election. This year, twenty-some days from the election they’re likely to lose, with more than 215 000 people across the United States dead from the pandemic, the White House transformed into the latest coronavirus hot spot, the economy still in free-fall, and the commander-in-chief high on drugs, the Trump administration’s latest harsh new sanctions on Iran do not look surprising at all. The political use of the term October Surprise, after all, started with the Iran hostage crisis of 1980.

But this not-so-shocking surprise is actually incredibly dangerous and reckless for the future, and incredibly cruel and heartless – even sadistic – right now. The new economic sanctions will shut down the last eighteen Iranian banks still able to finance the import of desperately-needed humanitarian goods, including medicine desperately needed during the Covid-19 crisis, and even basic foodstuffs. Earlier US sanctions had already brought massive suffering to Iranians. At the beginning of April, as the pandemic was at its height, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy acknowledged that ‘U.S. sanctions are stopping medical equipment from being sent to Iran. As a result, innocent people are dying.’

The White House claims this latest escalation of its ‘maximum economic pressure’ sanctions campaign will force Iran to the negotiating table. But years of punishing the entire population of 80 million Iranians has shown that this is almost certain to fail to achieve stated US goals, and even if it succeeded, the human price paid in hunger, lack of medicine during a raging pandemic, and the death of children and other vulnerable people is simply far too high. 

During an earlier sanctions campaign against Iran, Democratic congressperson Brad Sherman blithely noted that ‘critics also argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.’ Sherman, who is now running to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had the audacity to compare Washington’s brutal sanctions against Iran to the global movement against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. In so doing, Sherman deliberately ignored a critical distinction: the vast majority of South Africans supported anti-apartheid organisations that called on the world to impose sanctions, accepting the consequences, and linking those external sanctions to their broader national strategy for liberation and freedom. In Iran, people and organisations fighting to broaden democratic rights are calling desperately for an end to sanctions – because the sanctions are killing them.

This newest punishment on Iranians will exacerbate the devastating impact of the broader sanctions regime the USA has imposed on Iran for years. While the State Department brags that it ‘continues to stand with the Iranian people’ and that ‘exceptions for humanitarian exports to Iran…remain in full force’, the reality is that existing economic sanctions, despite those exceptions, have destroyed Iran’s economy and the lives of most of the 80 million Iranians, especially the poorest and most vulnerable among them. 

The latest escalations in broad US sanctions against Iran began with Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran Nuclear Deal. Despite virtually unanimous international and US intelligence agreement that the JCPOA was working (Iran was not building nuclear weapons), and UN inspectors remained on the ground in Iran, and despite UN sanctions being stopped, Trump made it clear that abandoning ‘Obama’s deal’ was top of his agenda. In May 2018 he pulled out of the deal and imposed a host of new crippling and unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Other signatories to the JCPOA – Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia, and the European Union – all opposed the US withdrawal, as did the UN Security Council, which had endorsed the deal and established a monitoring agency to guarantee its implementation. The biggest US demand that the UNSC had accepted was what became known as ‘snap-back’, by which any signatory could report an Iranian violation, and if confirmed by UN monitors, the UN sanctions that had been lifted would automatically be restored. With the USA having abandoned the deal, and US sanctions rapidly escalating, European countries made some efforts to protect Iran from the impact of the new sanctions, but largely failed. Iran eventually responded by taking some calibrated steps in nuclear power enrichment beyond what was permitted in the JCPOA.

In early August, Washington tried to convince the UNSC to extend some conventional arms’ restrictions on Iran that were set to expire. These restrictions had nothing to do with nuclear weapons, and the rest of the UNSC (with the exception of USA-dependent Dominican Republic) unanimously refused. A week later, in an effort to escalate ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran even further, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced he was invoking the ‘snap-back’ procedure, and demanded the restoration of UN sanctions against Iran. The rest of the Security Council (except the Dominican Republic) made it clear that since the USA had renounced the agreement, it no longer had standing to make such a demand. Pompeo’s response was that since the USA had originally signed the treaty, Washington still had all the rights of signatories, despite having officially withdrawn and thus ending all its obligations. He then simply announced that UN sanctions were back in force, though no other state agreed.

Then came the latest US sanctions. Along with new suffering for the Iranian people, the danger could quickly escalate if, for example, the USA decided to forcibly board and ‘inspect’ a ship that it might claim was carrying goods to or from Iran. If Iran were to resist, a serious military conflict could erupt. This threat of a deliberate US provocation, aimed at forcing Iran to respond militarily and giving hawks in Washington an excuse to use greater military force in time for pre-election boasting by Trump, could shape an incredibly dire and dangerous October surprise. Iran has not taken Washington’s bait, reacting instead to US provocations – including the assassination of powerful Iranian political and military leader General Qasem Soleimani in January – with significant caution. But Iran has its own elections scheduled in June, and there is growing pressure on the leadership for more decisive action.

Iran may also be holding back in anticipation of a change in the White House. Democratic Party presidential contender Joe Biden has not called for ending sanctions on Iran, but has made clear that he would: ‘offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy’, return to the JCPOA, end the Muslim ban on entry to the USA, and work to end the Yemen war. While his position is not nearly as strong as it needs to be to end the assault on ordinary Iranians’ lives, there is no question that it challenges some of the worst aspects of existing policy. This should not be surprising; the JCPOA represented the high point of Obama’s foreign policy achievements, and since Biden’s credibility is fundamentally bound up with Obama’s legacy, he needs to maintain the commitment to the JCPOA and the diplomacy-over-war framework that enabled it. It is public knowledge that pressure on Trump to impose new and ever-more-damaging sanctions on Iran come from Israel and the far-right Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. Just a couple of weeks before the newest sanctions were announced, the FDD head co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for a ‘12th-round economic knockout’ in the form of a Trump move to ‘[b]lacklist the entire Iranian financial industry’.

So, beyond the expectation of a last-minute electoral bump (which is not a sure thing, given significant public opposition to wars in the Middle East), what is the US goal in provoking a military clash with Iran that could quickly escalate out of control?

In the Trump era, clear strategy is generally outside the realm of possibility. But immediate goals can sometimes be discerned. From the beginning, the Trump administration – mainly in the person of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – has focused on building a US-backed regional anti-Iran alliance with Israel and key Arab allies Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and others. Much of that is underway, bolstered most recently by the USA-orchestrated agreements between Israel and both the UAE and Bahrain, with the blessing of Saudi Arabia. Those agreements, while leaving out any reference to ending Israel’s oppression, occupation and colonisation of Palestinians, are primarily aimed at increasing US arms sales to its Arab allies, and going public with the longstanding but formerly more-or-less hidden trade, commercial and security ties between Israel and the Gulf monarchies.

Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons certainly remains a longstanding US goal. Part of that is rooted in the US determination to prevent further nuclear weapons proliferation in the world. However, much of it is based on a US commitment to Israel to maintain Tel Aviv’s nuclear weapons monopoly in the region; it is Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant that houses the Middle East’s only nuclear weapons arsenal. On the other hand, US intelligence agencies have for years agreed that Iran did not have a nuclear bomb, was not building a nuclear bomb, and had not even decided it wanted to build a nuclear bomb. Under the JCPOA, Iran’s nuclear capacity and its ability to obtain nuclear components anywhere else were extremely limited, and UN nuclear inspectors were on the ground. That remains the case, but could change if US ‘maximum pressure’ continues to prevent Iran’s access to international trade, purchases of food and medicine, and so forth.

Maintaining Iran’s role as enemy makes it easier for the USA to justify ever-more-massive arms sales to repressive authoritarian kingdoms, and the ten-year $38 billion gift to the Israeli military. For the preposterously wealthy but strategically dependent Gulf states, the real fears of Iranian influence (on Shi’a populations in their countries, competition for oilfields and pipeline routes, etc.) are matched or even outstripped by the value of Iran-as-bogeyman to ensure continuing US strategic support and protection. 

Reports have been floating around that Washington may close the giant US embassy in Baghdad, and pull out diplomatic and other non-military personnel. That may be in anticipation of a future Iranian response to continuing US escalation – perhaps something like a US military attack on the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces – that could lead to Iranian retaliation against US military forces in Iraq. With Israeli backing, a strike against Iranian interests by some combination of the UAE, Bahrain and/or Saudi Arabia, even without direct US participation, cannot be completely ruled out. Under such circumstances, it is not impossible that public pressure could lead the Iranian regime to make different and much more dangerous choices.

US escalations may not be over yet. There are several more weeks of October for new surprises.

* Phyllis Bennis is an advisory board member of the Afro-Middle East Centre. She is also a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. Her most recent book is the seventh edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.

** This article was first published online by Common Dreams

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

COUNTRY UPDATE: 12 October 2020

Johan Viljoen

Suspected terrorists arrested in Quelimane, Zambezia Province

The arrest of four suspected terrorists on Thursday 8 October in Quelimane, the capital of Zambezia Province, has raised fears in Mozambique that the threat is now expanding beyond Cabo Delgado Province. 

Reports state that the four young men rented a residence for five days in the Torrone Velho neighborhood on the outskirts of Quelimane. Many different people came to the house daily, which raised suspicions on the part of the residents, who alerted the law enforcement agencies. The suspects were eventually arrested on Thursday (10/8).

The police have not yet commented on what happened.

“I saw the affliction of my people and I heard their cry, I know their sufferings and I went down to set them free… ”(Ex. 3, 7)

DIOCESE OF PEMBA, PROVINCE OF CAPE DELGADO, MOZAMBIQUE

Sr. Marinês Biasibetti

Activity carried out in the province of Cabo Delgado from 03 to 06 August.

Cabo Delgado Province is rich in natural resources and the discovery of gas and precious stone deposits in the region has attracted many foreign companies, which is contributing to aggravate old conflicts, feeding the differences between the privileged and the poor and vulnerable population.

The attacks began in October 2017 and have taken on terrible dimensions to this day, terrorizing populations and forcing mass migration.

 “The situation of the displaced is a major concern for the diocese, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, a situation that is likely to get worse, the entire diocese through its organizations and NGOs, government institutions and people of goodwill are involved in assistance to the displaced, each giving their contribution, the number of displaced people in the province already exceeds 250 thousand with more than a thousand dead, civilians, security forces, insurgents, in addition to the disappearance and abduction of countless people, including journalists.

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

COUNTRY UPDATE: 8 October 2020 - WHO PROFITEERS  IN CABO DELGADO?

Johan Viljoen

The global perception, informed by the media, believes that the conflict in Cabo Delgado is religious: Islamic terrorists who are intent on establishing an Islamic state there. This view is generally not shared by Mozambican commentators and analysts, who point out various root causes of the conflict. 

Jacinto Veloso is a former Portuguese air force pilot who flew his plane to Tanzania to join Frelimo in 1963. He was Security Minister (1980-83) and continued in government until 1994. He is currently a member of the government’s National Defence and Security Council (CNDS). A minister during the 1982-92 war, he saw big power destabilisation first hand. 

In an interview published in Savanah newspaper on 5 June 2020,  he argues that the war in Cabo Delgado represents a major strategic onslaught by an unknown party with vested interests on Mozambique’s  gas resources in order to control them. “ We are dealing with a mega-operation conceived, directed, and executed from outside the country.” He cites as a model the United States use of Islamic fundamentalists, notably Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan from 1979 to eventually defeat the Russians.

The Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an NGO that is part of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, regularly compiles reports on Northern Mozambique from its sources in Pemba, Mozambique. We co-publish, with the DHPI, those reports here.

COUNTRY UPDATE: 5 October  2020

Johan Viljoen

Mozambique government requests military assistance from EU

The Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augusto Santos Silva, said on 30 September that he is sure that the European Union's response to Mozambique, which asked for support for the training of its forces, will be positive.

"We received in the European Union the letter sent by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique, it is a very clear letter. Mozambique is very clear in identifying the areas in which European cooperation can support them, namely in the fight against terrorism in Cabo Delgado and I am sure that the European Union will give a positive answer ", said Augusto Santos Silva.

Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in northern Iraq last month attracted the attention of regional and international players and angered Iraq’s prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who is seeking enough regional and international support to force Turkey to withdraw its troops and cease the bombardment. Although Turkey has occasionally bombed the PKK in the Qandil Mountains, near the Iraq-Iran border, for many years, the latest incursion that started in June, dubbed Operation Claw Tiger, has been unrelenting. Iraqi government protests have not stopped the Turkish incursion. On the other hand, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, seems to be ignoring the incursions, despite occasional statements of protest. 

Iran, on 8 August, committed to joining the Turkish bombardment. Attempting to seize the initiative, especially with Iran joining in, on 25 August the USA offered to mediate between Baghdad, Ankara and the KRG. The US offer followed Kadhimi’s complaint to US president Donald Trump about the ongoing airstrikes and his appeal for American assistance. The appeal to Trump followed a Turkish drone strike that killed two high-ranking Iraqi border officials, the first casualties of Iraqi officials since the start of the Turkish campaign in June. Despite Baghdad’s condemnation of the killings, which led to the cancellation of a planned visit of the Turkish foreign minister to Baghdad, Turkey vowed not to back down.

On the same day as the US offer, at a summit between Egypt, Jordan and Iraq about the formation of an economic, diplomatic and security bloc, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi stressed the need to deal with foreign interventions destabilising countries in the region, hinting at Turkish activities in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Not to be left out, French president Emmanuel Macron visited Iraq on 2 September, and met Kadhimi and KRG leader Nechirvan Barzani to discuss Iraq’s sovereignty. Unimpressed by Macron’s visit, Turkey hosted Barzani in Ankara two days later. On 8 September, ignoring criticisms, Turkey and Iran vowed to continue the airstrikes against the PKK and its Iranian affiliate, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), upsetting Baghdad further. 

The incursion is not, however, a matter of Turkey against the Kurds, as it is sometimes portrayed. Turkey has strong and enduring relations with the KRG based largely on trade relations and security cooperation. Despite occasional public condemnation, Erbil seems to be broadly supportive of the Turkish incursion and has cooperated with Turkish intelligence, even providing information on PKK positions. 

The PKK began an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, attempting to create an independent Kurdish state. Since then, the Turkish military has killed hundreds of PKK members and imprisoned thousands more, including the group’s founder, Abdullah Ocalan, captured in 1999 in Nairobi while en route to South Africa. A ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK, agreed in 2013 as part of a move towards a negotiated settlement, broke down in 2015, and Turkey, USA and the EU listed the PKK as a terrorist organisation. The group operates mainly from the Kurdish regions in northern Iraq and southern Turkey. Its Iranian affiliate, the PJAK, was formed in 2004 and operates between Iraq and Iran, launching attacks against Iran.

Mass demonstrations broke out in northern Iraq against the KRG’s response to the airstrikes, including in Sinjar where Turkish troops are present. In Baghdad, activists have accused Turkey of murdering civilians. The anti-Turkish demonstrations are likely to continue as the Turkish incursion persists, especially in the Sinjar region where many displaced Yazidis want to return to the homes that they had evacuated or were evicted from during the reign of terror of the Islamic State group in August 2014.

Turkish activities against the PKK in northern Iraq have also highlighted the rivalry between different Iraqi Kurdish groups, exposing historical tensions between them, which have differing views on Turkey and its role in northeastern Syria, where it has been battling Kurdish groups. The KRG’s ruling party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has close relations with Turkey, and, consequently, the KRG and Turkey have strong trade links that date back to late 2000s, as well as security cooperation and intelligence sharing. These relations were temporarily disrupted when the KRG held a referendum for independence in 2017. The referendum proved to be a miscalculation by the KRG as it was condemned by regional and global powers, including its allies Turkey and the USA, as well as Iran. Then-president of the KRG, Masoud Barzani, stepped down after the referendum, paving the way for his son to succeed him and repair damaged foreign relations.

The KRG was formed as an autonomous entity in 1992 after the UN imposed a no-fly zone in the Kurdish region following Iraq’s defeat by the USA in the first Gulf War. However, rivalry between Kurdish groups prevented a stable government being formed, and it was only in 1998 that the KDP and its main rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), signed a US-brokered ceasefire agreement. In 2005, the Iraqi constitution granted the region autonomous status. Unlike the PUK, the KDP shares Turkey’s hostility towards the PKK, leading the PUK to accuse its rival of collaborating with Turkey and being responsible for the increased Turkish bombing of the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq’s eastern Kurdish region. Apart from the PUK, other Iraqi Kurdish groups that are friendly towards the PKK include the Change Movement (Gorran) and the Freedom Movement of Kurdistan Society. Turkey has been agitating with the KRG for these groups to be banned.

These differences among Kurdish groups were again highlighted when, on 21 July, Turkey revealed that it had detained Dalia Muslim, the niece of Saleh Muslim, a prominent leader of the Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Ankara claimed she had defected from from the Kurdistan Protection Units (YPG), the PYD’s armed wing; she had been a fighter in the YPG’s Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). The PYD denied that she had defected, and accused the KRG of having handed her over to Turkish intelligence agents after she had travelled to Erbil for medical treatment.

Allegations of KRG ‘collaboration’ with Turkey are partly based on the close economic relations between the two. The KRG exports oil via Turkish pipelines that connect Kurdish oilfields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Controlling huge oil and natural gas reserves, the KRG often clashes with Baghdad over the distribution of the revenues from the sale of these resources. This dispute escalated in 2014 when Baghdad lodged a complaint against the KRG at the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration (ICA) in Paris. Baghdad is demanding US$25 billion in compensation for allowing the KRG to export oil without the central government’s consent. 

The Baghdad-Ankara tension is likely to persist, especially now that Iran is involved. Turkey has found yet another reason for its antagonism to France, which it regards as interfering in its fight against ‘terrorism’. The KRG finds itself in a dilemma. On the one hand, it too wants to curb PKK activities and force it out of areas the KRG controls; on the other hand, it wants to maintain good relations with Baghdad and does not want to be seen to support foreign intervention in Iraq.

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