Today the sea which the caesars of ancient Rome called Mare Nostrum has again become the focal point of the clash between the imperialist powers who overlook the Mediterranean as well as those who cannot see it from their windows. They all ply it in search of military ports, control of shipping routes and maritime trade, as well as to give them a military presence between three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia). Last but not least, they seek to exploit Libyan oil resources as well as those off Cyprus.
The fulcrum of the whole issue is, at the moment, Libya. This is divided between the Tripoli government – led by the puppet Serraj, once supported by the entire western world (headed by the USA and France), today by Turkey and Qatar – and the Cyrenaica front, with General Haftar as its strong man, supported by a coalition of the Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia with the "external" support of Russia. In real terms, the two great contenders are Russia and Turkey who, despite being allies in managing the strategic Turkish Stream pipeline – which brings Russian gas to southern Europe to supply Germany, and strategic economic advantages to Turkey – remain the two major competitors in the lower Mediterranean area.
Aside from the recent test of strength of a naval exercise in the waters in front of the Gulf of the Sirte (in early July) involving the USA, France, and Italy, there is little to report on the Western front. The last two (France and Italy) are the European countries most interested in Libyan oil, and they are in fierce competition with each other. However, at the moment they have very little to say, and are left only with regrets and frustrated ambitions. Meanwhile US participation is no more than to act as a disruption against Russia and to reaffirm their indispensable role in the Mediterranean. Turkey is the one which is really revealing its fierce military resolve in the Mediterranean area. Its military intervention in Libya, following the one in the Idlib area in Syria, has enabled it to secure control over the Syrian areas adjacent to its border, and of saving the government of Tripoli from the advance of Haftar's troops. In so doing it has made itself the main and most threatening interlocutor in Libya's oil affairs, effectively eliminating the old powers such as France and Italy. However, the Turkish "campaign" in the Mediterranean is not limited to these manoeuvres, but is projected as far as the offshore deposits of the island of Cyprus.
In short, the Turkish-Qatari axis (as far as Qatar can be counted militarily) competes with that formed by Egypt and Russia, with the participation of Iran, Iraq and the Lebanese Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia and Emirates. This is despite the fact that they all have opposing or contradictory objectives. (According to many observers, the split between Saudi Arabia and Emirates comes from a fierce dispute over the prospect of the exploitation of energy resources on the borders with Oman which have great economic and strategic interest). Operationally, Egypt, with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, supports Khalifa Haftar's troops with weapons and militias. Russia and the Lebanese Hezbollah, allies of Iran, have begun to recruit Syrian "civilians" to support the Tobruk General, and ever since the crisis began Moscow has sent its mercenaries (the so-called Wagner Brigade) to Libyan territory. Meanwhile in Syria, centres have been set up by Assad and Putin to recruit and train militiamen to be sent in support of their Libyan ally against Turkish attempts at penetration. Meanwhile, Turkey has already sent mercenaries from northern Syria to support Tripoli and Misurata. These units were formed by pro-Turkish jihadist militias from the Syrian region of Idlib. They contain Al Qaeda formations and leftover stragglers from the former Isis, all under the supervision of Turkish military advisers.
Whilst the control of Libyan oil is uppermost, Cypriot oil is also important. In addition to Turkey, the Emirates, Russia and, last but not least, Israel, are all involved. The latter has always been in search of energy autonomy linked to oil but until now has never found it. To understand the tension, we remind our readers of a video conference meeting convened in mid-May by Al Sisi with the participation of Greece, Cyprus, France and the Emirates, (note the absence of Saudi Arabia), which represented the first concrete structure of a "holy alliance" against the determined and dangerous Turkish penetration which risks further upsetting the Libyan scene. In an official communiqué, the newborn "holy alliance" condemned Turkish explorations in the waters of Cyprus as illegal and provocative. It added that the many violations of Greek airspace were an implicit act of war against a NATO country, committed deliberately and provocatively by Turkish fighter planes.
All this makes us reflect on two factors whose serious consequences are inextricably linked. The first is that, in the historical period that we are dramatically living through, that of a very deep "coronavirus" crisis where everything seems to be in suspended animation, imperialist rivalries have continued on their fateful path. In fact the depth of the crisis has only accelerated them, both in terms of diplomatic clashes and wars, that even if by proxy have increased in intensity, devastating strategic geographical areas for the usual interests linked mainly to the control and exploitation of oil. Also at stake is the control of crude oil marketing routes through the control of military bases in the Mediterranean and beyond, from Gibraltar to the Bosphorus, from Suez to the ports of Cyprus and Malta, then that of Aden and ending up on the Horn of Africa and the Strait of Hormuz.
The second significant factor is that the entire population of the area are victims of these imperialist manoeuvres, in the form of hundreds of thousands of civilians dead and wounded, millions of refugees surviving in real concentration camps, experiencing humiliating human degradation. This progressive barbarity is all that a capitalism in deep crisis can offer and it is making everyday life a tragedy. It is this everyday life that communists have the duty to oppose, by organising themselves in order to organise the alternative to a society that has nothing more to offer, except the intensification of wars, the progressive impoverishment of entire populations and the ever more intense exploitation of the working class, conceived by the capitalist system as "profit fodder" in times of peace and "cannon fodder" in times of war.
Sunday, July 12, 2020