Special forAfrica ExPress
Massimo A. Alberizzi and Monica A. Mistretta
24 May 2020
Silvia comes out only veiled, Silvia puts like to Islamist preachers, Silvia receives video messages from the Muslim Brotherhood. These are the voices that in these hours are the background noise to a story, that of her kidnapping in Somalia, whose contours go well beyond the (questionable) sphere of gossip and her religious conversion. Never be fooled by the buzz. On the contrary, the buzz often cancels out the carrier refrain.
While we are distracted by media cabaret news, five Iranian oil tankers are about to reach the coasts of Venezuela: one has already docked today. They are carrying 1.53 million barrels of oil and alkylate, an oil derivative used to produce gasoline.
What does this have to do with the Silvia affair? The plot is complicated, but we try to follow it patiently. We know that a source in the Italian secret service has revealed that it was Qatar, a Middle Eastern country that has always been a bridge with Iran, that paid the ransom for Silvia’s liberation. And Qatar somehow also got into the issue of oil tankers: when on Saturday Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened the Americans with retaliation in the event of an attack on his ships off the coast of Venezuela, he did so during a telephone conversation with the Emir of Doha.
And it is a statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to add another piece. Venezuela cannot pay Iran with banking transactions, since the two countries are both under embargo, but in gold bars transported clandestinely to Tehran with the planes of Mahan Air, the Iranian Pasdaran company. And perhaps, we might add, the bars have already been transhipped with the big boeings of the national company Iran Air, which in April and May stopped over at least twice a week between Tehran and the Sabana de Mar airport in Santo Domingo, a country very close to Venezuela, if only because it imports oil.
Now, if the gold is used in Tehran to circumvent US sanctions, it must have used a lot of it in the last period. Dozens of flights between Tehran, Caracas and Sabana del Mar mean tons of gold. Tehran denies it. But this happened while Silvia was still in the hands of her kidnappers and before Qatar was paid for her release. One has to wonder what Italy gave in exchange and to whom.
Even the Shebab, Sunnis, flirt with Shiite Iran, as well as Qatar: when the Americans killed the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on January 3, the terrorist group was the first to respond two days later with the attack on the US base at Lamu. Somalia is central to the events in Iran in recent months. A demonstration, among other things, of how religious allegiances can be cheerfully set aside when there are lucrative businesses to be made.
But back to the tankers. They leave Iran in the first week of May from Shahid Rajaee’s trading port north of Bandar Abbas. In those days the port of call is hit by a cyber attack that American sources attribute a few days later to Israel. And it is here that, for a series of connections, another country emerges: Germany, Iran’s first European commercial partner. Yes, because it was a German company that built the Shahid Rajaee port in 2016 for a 104 million euro order. And because precisely in the days preceding the departure of the oil tankers, on 30 April, Germany finds itself forced, under American pressure, to outlaw Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that in cities like Hamburg and Munich has always acted as a financial bridge with Iran during the hardest periods of American sanctions. The oil tankers set sail from Shahid Rajaee very few days after the decision of the German Government to ban Hezbollah: coincidences that weigh heavily.
Now, if we wanted to close the circle, we would go and see what Germany is doing in Somalia: since 2017 it has started to transfer millions of euros in aid to the country. In 2019 alone,
invested $73 million in Somalia. On the other hand, Qatar will invest 10 billion euros in various projects in Germany over the next five years, not counting the 25 billion dollars with which it has financed companies like Volkswagen or Deutsche Bank. The close military cooperation between the two countries has created more than one dispute in the German parliament.
Silvia Romano was released in Somalia on 9 May, the day of the Israeli cyber attack on the port of Saheed Rajaee. The same port from which Iranian oil tankers bound for Venezuela left in those days. Gold, oil, cyber attacks, ransoms paid by third countries: Silvia’s story is here, not in her conversion. Let’s try to keep a clear head.
Massimo A. Alberizzi and Monica A. Mistretta
twitter: @malberizzi @monicamistretta