Top News: Military intervention may be only alternative if diplomatic efforts fail

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said that he is unable to rule out the possibility of international military intervention in Libya if ongoing diplomatic efforts for dialogue fail to bear fruit. In a press statement, Renzi said that Italy was geographically close to Libya and that his government would do “whatever necessary” to ensure Italy’s security. He added that the growing number of illegal migrants (around 150,000 this year) entering Italy by way of Libya posed a significant threat and pledged to deal with that situation as well. Renzi made it clear, however, that there could be no international intervention without UN approval. [Libya Herald, 12/21/2014]



US delivers Apache helicopters to Egypt, disappointed with denying entry to US scholar
Egypt was handed ten Apache helicopters from the United States, official military spokesperson Mohamed Samir confirmed to state media Saturday. The shipment follows an August deal as part of US military aid to Egypt. The announcement was made to put an end to doubts regarding the delayed delivery. Previous reports cited the “deliberate postponement” of the delivery from the US side to put pressure on Egypt. The Pentagon, however, said in September that the United States would deliver the helicopters to support Cairo’s counterterrorism efforts. Meanwhile, the US State Department has said it is “disappointed” about an incident last week, which saw a US scholar who had arrived at Cairo airport prevented from entering Egypt. Michele Dunne, an academic and former US diplomat, was denied entry to Egypt last week at Cairo International Airport. Spokesperson Psaki said in a press conference that Dunne’s case was raised with the Egyptian government, but that it is their understanding that she’s not banned from entering Egypt. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, Reuters, The Guardian, 12/20/2014]

President appoints new acting head of intelligence agency
Egypt’s intelligence chief Mohamed Farid al-Tohamy has been removed and his deputy, Khaled Fawzy, appointed as acting head in his place, the Egyptian presidency said. No official reason was given for Tohamy’s departure. The state-run news portal Al-Ahram said Tohamy, who is in his sixties, was retired for health reasons. Tohamy was granted the Order of the Republic for “his efforts throughout his career,” as per the presidential decree. Khaled Fawzy was previously the head of the National Security Authority, part of the General Intelligence Service, and was also the advisor to the director of the GIS. [Ahram Online, DNE, AFP, AP, Aswat Masriya, 12/21/2014]

Egypt police hail arrest of 10,000 ‘terrorists, rioters, Facebook admins’ in 2014
Egypt’s security situation is improving after over 10,000 people were detained since January, assistant to the Minister of Interior, Abdel Fattah Othman, was quoted as saying in state-owned news agency MENA. The arrests were made for “rioting” and belonging to “terrorist organizations,” Othman said. He added that police forces arrested 6,400 “rioters,” 2,600 accused of “attacking police stations,” 460 on terrorism charges, and 119 for administering Facebook pages that “incite against the military and police.” Meanwhile, the interior ministry denied reports that approximately 600 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 were detained in an underground prison affiliated with a Central Security Forces camp in the Qalyubia governorate. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, 12/21/2014]

New Tunisian president talks up relations with Egypt, need for joint counterterrorism
Béji Caïd Essebsi, the winner of the Tunisian run-off presidential election on Sunday has called for the need to adopt a regional strategy to address the Libya situation. Essebsi said that the strategy, which would include Egypt, Libya and Algeria, amongst other countries, would reduce tensions and combat terrorism. Essebsi added that “relations between Egypt and Tunisia will always be characterized by cooperation and strength,” in a Sunday night phone interview with Egyptian satellite network ONtv. Preliminary unofficial results indicated that Essebsi obtained 55.5 percent of the vote in the presidential election runoff against Moncef Marzouki, leader of the center-left secular party Congress for the Republic. [DNE, 12/22/2014]

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Libyan foreign minister says terrorists want control of oil
Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Dairi says that terrorists behind Operation Libya Dawn – the Islamist leaning coalition propping up the rival government in Tripoli – want to control oil resources to finance terrorism worldwide and that international and regional cooperation must increase. Al-Dairi made clear that the House of Representatives supports UN mediation but that Libya Dawn is deeply connected to Ansar al-Sharia and the Islamic State, both labelled as terrorist organizations by the international community. Meanwhile, military planes loyal to Libya’s recognized government attacked opposition brigades seeking to seize the country’s two biggest oil ports, officials said, though a spokesman for the rival force said civilian targets had been hit. There was no immediate word of any casualties. [Libya Herald, Reuters, 12/21/2014]

House of Representatives expected to amend Political Isolation Law next week
The House of Representatives is in the final stages of amending the controversial Political Isolation Law (PIL) passed by the old General National Congress a year and a half ago. The law banned anyone who held a leading position in the Qaddafi regime from holding office for ten years. One reason for the amendment is the position of Operation Dignity leader Khalifa Haftar. More than fifty House members have reportedly signed a petition to name him Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Although the move will probably be blocked by opposing House members, the PIL currently prevents him from holding the post. [Libya Herald, 12/20/2014]

Benghazi port remains closed; wheat routed via Tobruk
The commercial port in Benghazi remains closed due to fighting between pro-government and Islamist forces, forcing wheat imports to make a detour via Tobruk harbor, according to a port official. Tobruk lies some 375 miles east of Benghazi near the border with Egypt. It has better security and is home to the recognized, elected parliament. Trucks also bring food from Egypt, though Egyptian authorities sometimes close the main crossing. Smaller Libyan ports under government control, such as Bayda, remain open. Libya has limited food production and has to import everything from wheat to juice to dairy products. [Reuters, 12/19/2014]

Essebsi declared winner in Tunisia’s run-off election
Veteran politician and leader of Nidaa Tounes, Beji Caid Essebsi was declared the winner of Tunisia’s first free presidential election, beating rival and incumbent Moncef Marzouki with 55.68 percent of the vote against 44.32 percent, official results showed on Monday. Essebsi declared victory in the presidential race shortly after polls closed on Sunday, igniting a similar response from rival candidate Moncef Marzouki who rejected the claim, expressing confidence in his victory once the polls closed. Marzouki’s camp on Sunday stressed that the election was too close to call and has so far not conceded defeat. [Reuters, Asharq al-Awsat, Daily Star, 12/22/2014]


US airstrikes target ISIS north of Aleppo city
US-led coalition airstrikes hit Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) targets Sunday in areas north of Syria’s second city Aleppo. It was the first time that coalition aircraft had targeted ISIS in the Madajen area, where it has been fighting al-Nusra Front and their allies. The area lies between the ISIS stronghold of Dabiq and the town of Marea to the southwest, which is held by its rivals. “At least twelve coalition strikes hit ISIS positions and weapons depots in areas that had never been targeted before,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “The strikes might help the rebels and al-Nusra Front in their fight against ISIS.” [AFP, 12/22/2014]

Twenty ISIS fighters killed in failed Deir Ezzor attack
At least twenty ISIS fighters were killed late Saturday in the second failed attempt this month to take the Deir Ezzor air base. At least two regime soldiers were killed in the attempt, but the withdrawing militants successfully captured anti-aircraft missiles. [Daily Star, 12/22/2014]

Iraqi forces seize ISIS-held territory in Anbar; Coalition airstrikes bolster defenses in Baiji
Iraqi security forces in conjunction with tribal coalition fighters on Sunday claimed victory in a fiercely contested attempt at retaking the town of Al-Wafa from Islamic State militants, twenty miles west of the provincial capital, Ramadi. A senior member of an Anbar tribal coalition fighting the extremist group, however, cautioned early victory reports noting that tribal fighters were not sufficiently equipped and required more arms to hold the town. Clashes also continued throughout Sunday, with Islamic State militants fighting fierce battles with Iraqi security forces in the Anbari towns Haditha and Al-Baghdadi. Coalition airstrikes targeted ISIS positions in Ramadi, Mosul and Baiji amid rising concerns of Islamic State militants launching a counter assault to retake the oil critical oil town twenty miles north of Tikrit. [Asharq al-Awsat, Daily Star, 12/22/2014]

Kurdish peshmerga forces push into Sinjar, make progress in Kobani
Backed by US coalition airstrikes, Kurdish pershmerga fighters pushed into the contested northern Iraqi town of Sinjar Sunday, touching off heavy clashes with ISIS militants who have controlled the area for months. The offensive follows last week’s successful anti-ISIS push, which shattered the militant group’s siege on Mt. Sinjar and freed thousands of Yazidis trapped on the mountain since the town’s fall in August. At least fifteen Kurdish fighters were wounded in Sunday’s clashes and a pershmerga official notably said that operations to clear the seized territory would continue to meet ISIS resistance. Across the border in northern Syria, peshmerga forces are also making progress in Kobani against ISIS. [Daily Star, 12/21/2014]

ISIS executes one hundred foreign fighters for attempted desertion
ISIS executed one hundred of its own foreign fighters who tried to flee their headquarters in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Financial Times said over the weekend. The report said that ISIS militants had cracked down on foreign fighters who failed to report for duty, raiding dozens of homes and arresting a large number of fighters attempting to flee the group’s de facto capital. The report follows the release of a video posted on jihadi websites depicting a confession by four fighters arrested for plotting against the militant group in areas of Iraq and Syria under its control. [The Daily Star, 12/22/2014]

US approves $2.4 billion deal to supply 175 Abrams tanks to Iraq
The Obama administration has approved the sale of 175 Abrams tanks to Iraq in a deal worth an estimated $2.4 billion. A government statement stressed the importance of the deal, noting that the new armaments will assist Iraqi forces in quickly mobilizing and defending their borders, while cementing the US commitment to the country’s self-defense. The deal provides Iraqi forces with equipment, parts and logistical support but finalizing the sale will take up to five years. [AP, 12/19/2014]

Israeli drone downed over Quneitra
The Syrian army on Sunday claimed responsibility for an Israeli reconnaissance drone brought down near the occupied Golan Heights. State media sources said the drone was downed while flying over the village of Hadar in the restive Quneitra province, near the Golan Heights. Israel has struck Syria several times since the start of the nearly four-year civil war, mostly destroying weaponry that Israeli officials said was destined for Hezbollah fighters in neighboring Lebanon. [Reuters, Daily Star, Naharnet, 12/20/2014]


Attack on tribal leader by Houthis sparks reprisals
Four bodyguards of a tribal chief affiliated with the Islamist Islah party were killed on Sunday near Yemen’s capital by Houthi militiamen, a tribal source said, sparking an ambush in reprisal. The Houthis blew up the house of Sheikh Yahia Taqi at al-Makarib in the Arhab area north of Sana’a, killing the four bodyguards. Local tribes then ambushed a Houthi convoy of four vehicles carrying reinforcements, “killing or wounding around thirty,” a local official said. The Houthis took Arhab in mid-December after clashes with local tribesmen in an attempt to consolidate their hold on the capital. [AFP, 12/21/2014]

Yemen, UNDP discuss trends of future aid
Yemen and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) discussed on Sunday the future trends of the UNDP aid to Yemen. During the meeting, Planning and International Cooperation Minister Mohamed al-Maitami and UNDP Country Director Ms. Mikiko Tanaka reviewed the possible means to enhance the bilateral cooperation relations, as well as implementation progress of the UNDP-funded projects in the country. [SABA, 12/21/2014]

Four killed in police operation in Saudi village
Saudi police killed four “terrorists” Saturday in a Shia village in an operation to arrest the people who shot dead a soldier there last weekend, an interior ministry spokesman said. During a shootout in Adamiya, “four terrorists, including the primary suspect in the shooting of soldier Abdelaziz bin Ahmed al-Assiri were killed,” said the spokesman in a statement. One policeman was wounded. The village in the Eastern Province has witnessed clashes between security forces and protesters from the minority Shia community. [AFP, 12/20/2014]

Bomb explodes in Bahraini village, wounding three
A bomb blast in the Bahraini village of Bani Jamra, the scene of simmering unrest since anti-government protests were crushed in 2011, has left three policemen slightly wounded according to official sources. The Bahraini interior ministry said that the three sustained minor injuries, describing the explosion as a “terrorist” blast and adding that “necessary steps are being taken” without elaborating. Witnesses said that the blast occurred late Friday and that security forces swiftly sealed off the village, which lies near Manama. They added that a young protester was also injured in clashes with police in another village, Sanabes, late on Friday. [AFP, 12/20/2014]

Qatar gives ‘full support’ to Sisi’s Egypt
Qatar has pledged its “full support” to Egypt, an official statement said, ending more than a year of regional isolation over its support for Cairo’s ousted Islamist president. “The security of Egypt is important for the security of Qatar… the two countries are linked by deep and fraternal ties,” said a statement from the office of the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The statement came a day after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi met in Cairo with a Qatari envoy. A Saudi royal envoy attended that Saturday meeting. Sisi’s office said Egypt looks forward to a “new era that leaves behind the disagreements of the past.” A statement released by the Saudi palace on Saturday evening said that both countries “had accepted the Saudi initiative, understanding that it is in the interest of the two countries and their peoples,” and had agreed to “cease doing things which create rifts between the two countries.” [AFP, AP, Ahram Online, DNE, 12/21/2014]


Oil price drop to save Egypt LE30 billion in energy subsidies
According to the Egyptian minister of petroleum, the global drop in oil prices will save Egypt a third of its fuel subsidy bill in the current fiscal year. As a result, fuel subsidies will drop to about EGP 70 billion ($9.7 billion) in the fiscal year ending June 2015, down from EGP 100 billion originally planned. The fall in oil is good news for the Egyptian government, which in July slashed fuel subsidies and hopes to reduce the budget deficit to 11 percent of GDP. [Ahram Online, 12/22/2014]

Around $10 billion flowed out of Morocco in 2003-2012
According to a Global Financial Integrity study, around $10 billion in illicit capital flowed out of Morocco from 2003 to 2012, facilitating crime, corruption, and tax evasion. According to the report, Morocco had a record $998 million in unrecorded funds in the past nine years. [Morocco World News, 12/21/2014]

Tobruk requests funding from Libyan Central Bank
During a cabinet meeting, the government of al-Thinni, declared that it was seeking LD150 million ($120 million) to fund the “army’s campaign against terrorist groups” from the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), which is to transfer the funds without delay. The money will reportedly be spent on arming forces battling the Libya Dawn militia, which controls the capital and other areas in the west. During the same meeting, a further LD100 million ($80 million) was approved for aiding internally displaced peoples. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/22/2014]

Falling oil prices worry Algeria
Algeria is starting to feel the effect of falling oil prices and may have to rein back many of the policies of the last years, such as the generous subsidies. While the nearly $200 billion in foreign reserves can partially cushion the blow in the short term, Algeria’s Central Bank governor has warned that oil and gas dividend will not last forever. Oil revenues make up 97 percent of the country’s hard currency earnings and 60 percent of the government’s budget. Until now, efforts to diversify the economy away from oil and gas have been minor. [NYT, 12/20/2014]

Chinese oil company shuts down operations in Yemen
CNOOC Ltd’s Nexen unit said on Sunday it was shutting operations at an oilfield and processing facility in Yemen, where the Islamist militant al-Qaeda group is operating, due to a security threat. A Nexen spokeswoman said the company had determined there was an undue risk to staff working at its Block 51 field operations and BAK PF processing facility. A Yemeni oil ministry official suggested the recent drop in global oil prices might be the reason, rather than security, saying that Nexen was producing only around 1,500 barrels per day from Block 51. Nexen said it would reopen and return workers to the site when the security environment was more favorable. [Reuters, 12/21/2014]