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How to interpret the crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s allies

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The crisis between Qatar and much of the new “Sunni” NATO – as some US media already call it today – consists in a formal series of 13 requests  that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, the Emirates, Bahrain, and even Mauritius, have made – as an ultimatum – to Qatar:

1) to break off any diplomatic and economic relations with Iran; 2) to immediately close the Turkish military base near Doha and, anyway, put an end to military cooperation between Qatar and Turkey; 3) to immediately close Al Jazeera, an old TV created on the ruins of the BBC broadcasting in Arabic and later de facto monopolized by the Muslim Brotherhood; 4) to make the members of the Qatari Royal House no longer fund networks such as Arabi21, RASSD, Araby al-Jadid and Middle East Eye. “Araby al Jadeed” is a brand-new all-news network created in March 2014 and organized by Azmi Bashara, a former member of the Israeli Parliament, broadcasting from London, Beirut and Doha, with 150 employees, while the above stated Middle East Eye is currently led by David Hearst, formerly foreign editor-in-chief of the London Guardian.

The network Middle East Eye has been blocked by the Saudi authorities and by the other Emirates.

The other requests are the following: 5) Saudi Arabia has asked Qatar to stop funding groups or individuals designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAEs), Bahrain and Egypt, as well as providing data and information.

Well done. Some terrorists designated as such by Saudi Arabia are defined in the same way also by the West. It is the case of Hajjaj al Azmi, a Kuwaiti citizen who often lives in Doha. In the list of the 13 requests also the “Benghazi Defense Brigades” are mentioned, namely a militia created in June 2016 to oppose the forces of  Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity.

The Benghazi Defense Brigades cooperated with the ISIS “Caliphate” in its operations at Suq al-Hout and in Sirte.

The Saudi list includes Abdullah Bin Khalid al-Thani, former Interior Minister of the Emirate, linked to the 9/11 jihadist operations.

However, let us be honest and face it. Prince Turki bin Faisal was the leader of Saudi intelligence services for 23 years since 1979 until ten days before the 9/11 attack. Is it by mere coincidence?

According to well-known data, Nawaf bin al-Hamzi and Khalid al-Mindar, who both arrived in the United States for the 9/11 attack, were managed by the Saudi intelligence services.

Al-Bayoumi, selected by the FBI exactly as a Saudi agent, had huge funds in the United States granted by Saudi Arabia through the company Dallah Alco.

Al-Bayoumi was connected with Fahad al-Thumairy, Director of the Saudi Ministry for Islamic Affairs. However, let us not focus on the 29 pages taken from the US report on Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attack.

This would get us very far and would shed light on many facts and events that are currently taking place, not only in the Middle East.

Strategically, the issue of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Islamic terrorism has been long lasting: the jihad – which the West has foolishly favoured – has become the primary geopolitical agent throughout the Greater Middle East and also in the rest of the world.

This was solely Westerners’ fault since they had every chance to force Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Iran, the Lebanon, Iraq and all the other Islamic regional players in the Middle East to be more reasonable and become somewhat milder as to the “sword jihad”.

Nevertheless, Quos Deus perdere vult, dementat.

As things stand now, without a change there is no solution for this situation. We will be confronted with the remote-controlled jihad and later we will ask those maneuvering it for money to be rescued from an economic crisis that is also caused by the crazy geopolitics of the whole West.

Currently Saudi Arabia invests approximately 20 billion US dollars for infrastructure in the United States, as well as six billions for 150 Black Hawk helicopters to be used in the its kingdom.

If all goes well, at the very quick pace recently imparted to reach economic diversification, Saudi Arabia will go ahead according to its program  “Vision 2030” by selling,  at first, Saudi Aramco on the market.

This is another important fact to understand today’s events.

Nevertheless the project “Vision 2030” also proposes measures which may still generate tension, such as the increase in tariffs, rates and taxes, although with a fall in the unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7%.

Furthermore Saudi Arabia envisages primary support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The Saudi public Fund devoted to SMEs, namely Musharakah, has already 4 billion Saudi riyals, equal to approximately 6 billion US dollars.

In short, Saudi Arabia wants to rapidly diversify its oil-dependent economy and grow up to becoming the 15th global economy in 2020.

Special Economic Zones will also be created and foreign direct investment (FDI) will rise from the current 3.8% to 5.7% .

According to Al Saud’s plans, the private sector is expected to reach 65% of GDP as against the current 45%.

If Saudi Arabia does not bring the whole Peninsula and the Sunni world up to speed according to this program, “Project 2020” is clearly doomed to failure. Another rational motivation for the anti-Qatar diktat.

Let us now move to request 6.

Against this background, Saudi Arabia asks Qatar to “break off relations with Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and the “Caliphate”.

Let us analyze data.

In 2008, the leader of Qatar, Emir al-Thani, held a meeting between all parties present on the Lebanese political scene, by showing clear support for the Shiite movement of the “Party of God” and its allies, especially for the many Iranian foundations operating in Beirut.

It is worth recalling that exactly in 2008, the Sunni Lebanese leader,  Rafik Hariri (whose economic fortune had started in Saudi Arabia), was  killed, probably by a joint operation of some Shiite countries.

Recently the Qatari Emir has also spoken of Hezbollah as a “resistance movement”, adding that it is “not wise” to oppose Iran.

Al-Thani has also said that such news were manipulated, but obviously this just exacerbates the situation.

The issue, however, is not only geopolitical, but also economic.

Qatar is a relatively small, but not irrelevant oil producer, with 620,000 barrels a day. However, it is the first natural gas supplier in the world and – according to 2016 data – it exports 77.2 million tons mainly to the East.

However, why is there no OPEC for natural gas, which would avoid the politicization of the search of market shares between producers?

Meanwhile, the United States is becoming the largest natural gas producer in the world, with a 2016 extraction level equal to 23%, while in 2001 the share of shale gas in North American extraction was a mere 1%.

Hence it is obvious to imagine how prices and market shares will change with this mass of liquid gas in Europe and Asia. It is also easy to imagine how the  economies depending on natural gas in the Middle East would end up if the United States became more aggressive on the global liquid gas markets.

European markets’ net dependence on African and Middle East gas imports and rigid pricing of liquid gas on Asian markets, as well as the huge investment needed for extraction and transport infrastructure, are all factors which – unlike what happened for oil – prevent the creation of a global natural gas market protected by a single producer cartel.

This is why there is no OPEC for gas and this is particularly the reason why the oil exporters floundering in the financial crisis want to back the large gas extracting countries into a corner and later possibly expropriate them.

Hence Saudi Arabia’s and its allies’ current crackdown on Qatar poses a major economic problem for al-Thani’s Emirate, considering that all the ships flying the Qatari flag have been forbidden to dock in the Saudi and Emirates’ oil and gas terminal of Fujariah in the Persian Gulf.

For the time being the Emirate “punished” by Saudi Arabia has reassured its customers, especially the Asian ones and the major one, namely the Japanese Jera buying Qatari gas with long-term contracts, about the regularity of supplies, but nothing prevents delays and additional costs from  occurring,  which will soon affect Italy as well.

Furthermore the oil price fall had created a 98 billion US dollar deficit in Saudi Arabia’s public finances.

In a logic of looting, which Quran rules permit, the easiest solution is to put a strain on the richest opponent.

However, besides creating debt securities, Saudi Arabia will sell significant shareholdings of its oil companies, but above all of Saudi Aramco – and this is a central factor, as already mentioned.

Economic diversification is therefore an immediate need for Saudi Arabia  and this explains most of the current internal conflicts among the “Seven Sudayri” of the Al Saud family, who have been ruling and deciding the fate of much of the Arabian peninsula since the time of the Wahhabi uprising.

However let us continue with the requests made by Saudi Arabia and its  allies to Qatar.

Again to continue the discussion of “request” 5 to Qatar, we are talking about 59 individuals and 12 institutions which, according to Saudi Arabia, support, organize and fund terrorism.

The list of organizations obviously include the charities linked to al-Thani’s family, but there are also Saraya al-Ashtar, an organization of “occasional terrorists” linked to Hezb’ollah in Bahrain; the “February 14 Coalition”, again operating in Bahrain in favor of the Shiite majority in the country; the “Resistance Brigades”, again active in Bahrain; Saraya al-Mukhtar, a Shiite League operating in the al-Khalifa’s kingdom, and finally Harakat Ahrar Bahrain.

Judging from this list, it seems that Daesh-Isis is not a terrorist organization  and the same holds true for al-Qaeda.

That is true, but they are Sunni organizations.

Moreover, a few days ago the British media published very compromising documents on the Saudi leaders’ funding  to all jihadist terrorist organizations.

Again according to the latest data, the money spent by the Saudi ruling class to spread Wahhabism (and Salafism) in the world – both ideological foundations of contemporary jihad – is currently at least 5.2 billion US dollars.

Hence the oil powers are brutally demanding Qatar, the world’s gas leader, to extradite “terrorists” (but only the Shiite ones) and not interfere in domestic affairs or grant citizenship to Saudi, Egyptians and Emirates’ citizens who are wanted in their countries of origin.

These are requests 7 and 8 of the cahier de doleances issued by Saudi Arabia and its allies, also supported  by the short-sightedness of the US intelligence services.

However, it is now well-established that in 1996 the Qatari royal family  hosted and protected Khalid Sheik Mohammed, thus saving him from a US arrest warrant issued against him who is considered one of the “masterminds” of the 9/11 attack.

It has also been ascertained that a member of al-Thani’s family provided a safe cover in Doha to Al Zarkawi, the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, during his many transfers to and from Afghanistan.

Later the Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Maliki, openly accused Qatar of backing al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate.

However, why is Qatar supposed to support Daesh-Isis, mainly funded by its Saudi arch-enemy?

Simply because the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate perpetrated at least three attacks on the Saudi territory in 2015, 2016 and 2017, for which it duly claimed responsibility.

As to request 9, Saudi Arabia and its allies – supported by the United States that found out that the country organizing terrorists is only the Shiite Iran – oblige Qatar to suspend any aid to their internal political enemies hosted by the Qatari Emirate and immediately inform the Sunni authorities (indeed Qatar, too, is strictly Sunni).

Moreover, Saudi Arabia and its allies ask Qatar to align itself with Saudi Arabia and with the other signatories of the diktat list at “economic, political, social and military” levels, following the indications of the Treaty reached between Qatar and Saudi Arabia in 2014.

In particular, the above mentioned Treaty regards Qatar’s end of money and weapon supplies, as well as logistical support, to groups and individuals hostile to Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Egypt and in the various Gulf Countries, obviously including Saudi Arabia.

The 2013 and 2014 agreements were secret agreements, but the topic is primarily the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now secretly operating in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Gulf – and listens on al- Jazeera the sermons of Shaykh al-Qaradawi, the most authoritative theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is worth recalling that it was exactly a Saudi university professor of the Muslim Brotherhood who radicalized Osama bin Laden who, until then, had been a cheerful Westernized young Saudi tycoon.

The list of the thirteen requests ends with two recommendations: firstly, to undergo monthly supervision during the first year and, for the following ten years, to be monitored, again on a yearly-basis, and anyway decide on  the list of the thirteen requests within ten days.

Obviously Qatar, which so far has not accepted the thirteen requests – has  immediately turned to Turkey, governed by the AKP, a party born from a rib of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to Iran.

As is well-known, the United States initially supported the Saudi requests – although it later remembered that its central command for the whole Middle East was in Qatar, at the al-Udayd base.

If Qatar loses its tug-of-war with Saudi Arabia and its allies, its large  financial reserves will be hoarded by Saudi Arabia to back its project for stabilizing State budgets and rapidly achieving economic diversification, which is at the core of  the new King Muhammad al-Salman’s policy line.

Qatar has a sovereign fund of 355 billion US dollars and owns 30 billions worth of securities and shares, as well as an unknown, but definitely huge amount of other investments outside the Emirate.

Moreover, the Saudi royal family pays a high price – with a public debt that would have forced Saudi Arabia into default by 2018 – for the huge funds and loans granted to terrorist organizations in Syria, Yemen and  Iraq – all jihadist militias now out of the new balance of power and obviously defeated by the new connection between Russia, Iran, Syria and, in the future, Turkey.

Furthermore, in an already problematic situation, the bloody suicide rush to forcedly reduce oil prices – mainly targeted against the US shale oil – has depleted the public finances and the private incomes of the Wahhabi Kingdom.

Hence, with his victory, President Trump – who played many of his electoral cards precisely on the North American economic recovery to be funded with “unconventional oil and gas” – as shale is officially called – has unintentionally triggered off a tough internal power struggle within  the Al Saud family.

The first faction wants to rebuild an effective relationship with Russia and China, so as to stabilize prices and, in the long run, stop pegging the Saudi oil to the US dollar, which will shortly be only the financial instrument of the globalization of North American shale oil – a direct competitor of the Saudi one.

On the contrary, the opposite faction wants to preserve the already strong relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, so as to use the US economy as a carrier for the increasingly necessary and quick diversification of the Saudi economy, which is still heavily oil-dependent.

A factor linked to this new US-Saudi bilateralism is also the Saudi pressure against the New Silk Road of China, which is currently the number one enemy of US geopolitics and that the pro-American Saudis want to drive away from all the Gulf countries.

Conversely, it is almost useless to note that Iran has always been an essential passage point of the One Belt and One Road initiative (OBOR) designed by China.

It is also worth recalling it was Qatar, jointly with Iran, to open the first yuan “exchange centre” throughout the Middle East on April 14, 2015.

In addition to the above-mentioned monetary exchange and clearing centre for the Chinese and Middle East currencies – and it should be noted that yuan-denominated oil contracts between China and Iran are already in place – the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China also operates in Qatar.

If the yuan (and the ruble) became the new benchmark for gas and oil, the US dollar good days would be over since it could no longer lay onto the US-dollar denominated international trade the imbalances and asymmetries of public debt (which, including households’ and companies’ debt, accounts for 345% of the US GDP) and of its trade deficit.

“The dollar is our currency, but your problem” as a FED Governor said to his European counterparts.

Meanwhile, the new Saudi king, Muhammad bin Salman, is planning and designing a new 2 trillion US dollar sovereign fund, with a view to putting an end to the Saudi oil-dependence “within the next twenty years.”

Again according to the pro-American faction of the al-Saud family, the new sovereign fund is expected to invest half of its capital abroad, obviously without ever affecting Aramco, the world’s first oil producer and second holder of world reserves.

Said faction does not show any particular problem with oil price fluctuations, as has already demonstrated by trying – in vain – to push the US shale oil out of the market.

If the oil price increases, there will be more money available to Saudi Arabia for stepping up economic diversification. Even if the oil price  decreases there would be no problem: the Saudi oil has the lowest unit extraction cost and the country will always be in a position to sell its products on the fastest-growing and most liquid market in the world, which is currently the Asian one.

Once again Qatar’s primary role in the Japanese and Chinese energy system is very annoying for Saudi Arabia.

Everything will change in the Middle East when, at the end of hostilities in Syria, Israel shall face a number one enemy, namely Iran, which is currently strengthened by the new balance of power prevailing in Syria (and in the Lebanon) and shall also come to terms with what is increasingly becoming the “lesser evil”, namely Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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China and the Middle East: Heading into Choppy Waters

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China could be entering choppy Middle Eastern waters. Multiple crises and conflicts will likely shape its relations with the region’s major powers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey.

The laundry list of pitfalls for China includes the fallout of the Ukraine war, strained US relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Turkish opposition to Finnish and Swedish NATO membership, the threat of a renewed Turkish anti-Kurdish incursion into northern Syria, and the fate of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

Drowning out the noise, one thing that becomes evident is that neither the Gulf states nor Turkey have any intention of fundamentally altering their security relationships with the United States, even if the dynamics in the cases of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey are very different.

Saudi Arabia recognizes that there is no alternative to the US security umbrella, whatever doubts the kingdom may have about the United States’ commitment to its security. With next month’s visit to Saudi Arabia by President Joe Biden, the question is not how US-Saudi differences will be papered over but at what price and who will pay the bill.

Meanwhile, China has made clear that it is not willing and not yet able to replace the United States. It has also made clear that for China to engage in regional security, Middle Eastern states would first have to get a grip on their disputes so that conflicts don’t spin out of control. Moves to lower the tensions between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt by focusing on economics are a step in that direction. Still, they remain fragile, with no issue that sparked the differences being resolved.

A potential failure of negotiations in Vienna to revive the Iran nuclear deal could upset the apple cart. It would likely push Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia to tighten their security cooperation but could threaten rapprochement with Turkey. It could also heighten tensions in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq, where Iran supports a variety of political actors and militias. None of this is good news for China, which like other major players in the Middle East, prefers to remain focused on economics.

The dynamics with Turkey and Iran are of a different order. China may gleefully watch Turkish obstruction in NATO, but as much as Turkey seeks to forge an independent path, it does not want to break its umbilical cord with the West anchored in its membership in NATO.

NATO needs Turkey even if its center of gravity, for now, has moved to Eastern Europe. By the same token, Turkey needs NATO, even if it is in a better position to defend itself than the Gulf states are. Ultimately, horse-trading will resolve NATO’s most immediate problems because of Turkish objections to Swedish and Finnish NATO membership.

Turkey’s threatened anti-Kurdish incursion into northern Syria would constitute an escalation that no party, including China, wants. Not because it underwrites Turkish opposition to Swedish and Finnish NATO membership but because with Syrian Kurds seeking support from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Turkish and Iranian-backed forces could find themselves on opposite sides.

Finally, Iran. Despite the hot air over Iran’s 25-year US$400 million deal with China, relations between Tehran and Beijing are unlikely to fully blossom as long as Iran is subject to US sanctions. A failure to revive the nuclear agreement guarantees that sanctions will remain. China has made clear that it is willing to push the envelope in violating or circumventing sanctions but not to the degree that would make Iran one more major friction point in the already fraught US-China relationship.

In a world in which bifurcation has been accelerated by the Ukraine war and the Middle East threatened by potentially heightened tensions in the absence of a nuclear agreement, Gulf states may find that increasingly the principle of ‘you are with us or against us’ becomes the norm. The Gulf states hedged their bets in the initial months of the Ukraine war, but their ability to do so may be coming to an end.

Already Saudi Arabia and the UAE are starting to concede on the issue of oil production, while Qatar is engaging with Europe on gas. Bifurcation would not rupture relations with China but would likely restrain technological cooperation and contain Gulf hedging strategies, including notions of granting China military facilities.

Over and beyond the immediate geopolitical and security issues, there are multiple other potentially problematic issues and powder kegs.

A prominent Saudi-owned newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, recently took issue with an increasingly aggressive tone in Chinese diplomacy. “China isn’t doing itself any favours … Chinese officials seem determined to undermine their own case for global leadership … Somehow Chinese officials don’t seem to recognize that their belligerence is just as off-putting…as Western paternalism is,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

China’s balancing act, particularly between Saud Arabia and Iran, could become more fraught. A failure to revive the nuclear agreement will complicate already difficult Saudi Iranian talks aimed at dialling down tensions. It could also fuel a nuclear, missiles, and drone arms race accelerated by a more aggressive US-backed Israeli strategy in confronting Iran by striking at targets in the Islamic republic rather than with US backing in, for example, Syria.

While Chinese willingness to sell arms may get a boost, China could find that both Saudi Arabia and Iran become more demanding in their expectations from Beijing, particularly if tensions escalate.

A joker in the pack is China’s repression of Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang. A majority of the Muslim world has looked the other way, with a few, like Saudi Arabia, openly endorsing the crackdown.

The interest in doing so goes beyond Muslim-majority states not wanting to risk their relations with a China that responds harshly and aggressively to public criticism. Moreover, the crackdown in Xinjiang and Muslim acquiescence legitimises a shared opposition to any political expression of Islam.

The problem for Muslim-majority states, particularly those in the Middle East, is that the era in which the United States and others could get away with the application of double standards and apparent hypocrisy in adhering to values may be drawing to a close.

China and, for that matter, Russia is happy to benefit from the global South’s reluctance to join condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine and sanctions against Russia because the West refuses to apply the principle universally, for example, in the case of Israel or multiple infractions of international and human rights law elsewhere.

However, China and Middle Eastern states sit in similar glasshouses. Irrespective of how one judges recent controversial statements made by spokespeople of India’s ruling BJP party regarding the Prophet Mohammed and Muslim worship, criticism by Muslim states rings hollow as long as they do not also stand up to the repression of Muslims in Xinjiang.

For some in the Middle East, a reckoning could come sooner and later.

Turkey is one state where the issue of the Uighurs in China is not simply a far-from-my-bed show. Uighurs play into domestic politics in a country home to the largest Uighur exile community that has long supported the rights of its Turkic brethren in China and still boasts strong strands of pan-Turkism.

These are all elements that could come to the fore when Turkey goes to the polls next year as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Turkish republic.

The question is not whether China will encounter choppy waters in the Middle East but when and where.

Author’s note: This article is based on the author’s remarks at the 4th Roundtable on China in West Asia – Stepping into a Vacuum? organised by the Ananta Aspen Center on 14 June 2022 and was first published by the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.

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Recognising Israel: Any Asian volunteers?

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The question for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is not whether either country will recognise Israel but when and who will go first.

For the past two years, Saudi Arabia was believed to want a Muslim state in Asia, home to the world’s three most populous Muslim majority countries, to recognise Israel first. Asian recognition would give the kingdom, home to Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, a welcome fig leaf.

Numbers, as expressed by population size, were one reason. Compared to Saudi Arabia’s 35 million people, Pakistan has a population of 221 million, Indonesia 274 million, and Bangladesh 165 million.

That was one reason Saudi Arabia preferred an Asian state to take the lead in following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, who recognised Israel in the least two years.

Likely more important was the expectation that potential mass protest against a move toward Israel was more likely to erupt in Asia, where the margin for expressing dissent is greater than in much of the Middle East. Such protests, it was thought, would distract attention from the Custodian of the Holy Cities taking similar steps.

Saudi Arabia has signaled for some time that it would like to formalize its expanding informal relations with Israel but needs a cover to do so. The kingdom has emphasized this in recent weeks as it sought Israeli acquiescence in the transfer by Egypt to Saudi Arabia of sovereignty over two islands at the top of the Red Sea and prepared for a possible visit by US President Joe Biden.

The visit is designed to improve relations strained since Mr. Biden came to office over Saudi doubts about US security commitments, US demands that the kingdom increase oil production in a bid to reduce prices and limit Russian energy exports, Saudi acquisition of Chinese missiles, and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In advance of a visit, Saudi Arabia has not rejected a US proposal for a regional Middle Eastern air defence system that would include the kingdom and Israel.

Mujtahid, an anonymous tweeter who has repeatedly provided insights into the secretive workings of the House of Saud in recent years, reported that Saudi Arabia and Israel had created a “situation room” on the 14th floor of an Istanbul office building to advance the establishment of diplomatic relations. He said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s close aide, Saud al-Qahtani, headed the Saudi side.

Despite rampant speculation, Mr. Bin Salman is unlikely to see Mr. Biden’s visit as a capstone for recognition of Israel. More likely, he will continue to insist on a fig leaf in the form of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or a major Asian Muslim-majority state going next.

Much of the attention focused in the almost two years since the UAE-led quartet forged relations with Israel focused on Indonesia. Not only because Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim majority state and its foremost Muslim democracy but also because it is home to the world’s most moderate mass Muslim civil society movement, Nahdlatul Ulama.

Heads of Nahdlatul Ulama have visited Israel and met Israeli leaders multiple times in the past two decades, even though Indonesia and Israel have no diplomatic relations. The movement also has close ties to various American Jewish groups.

Similarly, the absence of formal relations between Israel and Indonesia has not prevented Israeli diplomats, scholars, and journalists from maintaining contact with Indonesian counterparts and travelling to the archipelago nation or Indonesian pilgrims from touring the Jewish state. Nevertheless, Indonesia has rebuffed both the Trump and the Biden administration’s requests to move towards recognition.

Indonesia’s refusal may not come as a surprise. However, suggestions that Pakistan, despite its close ties to Saudi Arabia, may strike a deal with Israel come out of left field. Religious ultra-conservatism is woven into the fabric of society and at least some state institutions. Moreover, anti-Semitism is rampant in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, a recent visit to Israel by a delegation of Pakistani activists seeking to promote people-to-people contacts has sparked anger and debate in Pakistan. The group, which met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, included American and British Pakistanis, prominent Pakistani journalist Ahmed Qureshi, and Fischel BenKhald, a Pakistani Jew.

Without at least an overt nudge from powerful quarters, no Pakistani journalist could make this public trip to Israel and return safely, reflecting how attitudes pertaining to Israel have evolved in the world’s only Muslim nuclear power,” said London-based Pakistani journalist Hamza Azhar Salam.

That did not stop Pakistani state television from firing Mr. Qureishi.

“The good news is, we today have the first, robust and rich nationwide debate in Pakistan on establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. This is hug,” Mr. Qureishi said.

Many Pakistanis, led by ousted prime minister Imran Khan, saw the visit to Israel as part of an effort by Pakistan’s powerful military to forge closer ties to the Jewish state – a move Mr. Khan appears to have considered when he was in office.

His aide, Zulfi Bukhari, reportedly visited Israel for a meeting with then head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen. Mr. Bukhari has denied travelling to Israel.

The visit by the Pakistani activists came two years after two Pakistani academics called in an op-ed in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper for Pakistani-Israeli cooperation in resolving the South Asian state’s water stress and upgrading its agriculture sector.

Similarly, Pakistani political analyst Saad Hafiz recently argued that Pakistan’s recognition of Israel would earn it the support of the Biden administration and the Israeli lobby in Washington for continued International Monetary Fund (IMF) aid for his country’s battered economy. Mr. Hafiz also reiterated that Pakistan could benefit from Israeli water conservation technology.

“The US leadership, Congress, and the powerful pro-Israel lobby could support the resumption of financial assistance to Pakistan as an incentive if it agrees to normalize ties with Israel, “ Mr. Saad said.

Pakistanis and Israeli have links in other ways. For example, many Pakistanis offer their services on Fiverr, an Israeli marketplace for freelance professionals.

Degrees of Saudi cooperation with Israel and Pakistani feelers contrasted starkly with legislation passed in the last two weeks by the Iraqi parliament criminalizing contact with Israel and by the Houthi government in Yemen that outlawed contact not only with Israel but also with Jews.

Pakistan is unlikely to follow Iraq or the Houthis. Even so, “it is unlikely that Pakistan’s fragile coalition government has the credibility and time to take the politically risky decision to open dialogue with Israel, especially with (Imran) Khan snipping at its heels,” Mr. Saad said. “Yet, bold decisions are needed for Pakistan to compete in a changing world.”

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The West Gives Ukraine What It Denied to Libya

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migrants refugees
photo: IOM/Amanda Nero

Since the start of the Ukrainian conflict more than 6 million refugees have left Ukraine in search of a better life in Europe. Most of them faced no considerable problems in crossing the border and eventually find what they were looking for thanks to the lenient approach taken by the government of European nations. Welcoming Ukrainians with open arms comes in sharp contrast with the experience of refugees from Africa or Middle East, who also run from chaos and war. What is the reason behind this discrimination? Is it the double standards of the West or simply a disastrous concatenation of circumstances?

The downfall of longtime Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 caused an exodus of around 2 million Libyans. Most of them migrated to Tunisia and only 300,000 chose to try their luck in EU, predominantly Italy and Malta. Unlike the Ukrainians, Arabs did not receive such a warm welcome. On the contrary UN allocated more than $700 million to deter Libyans from crossing the Mediterranean. The funds went on costal guard training and improvement of border control. In practice this means seizing vessels with refugees in the open sea and sending the people who paid smugglers exorbitant amounts of money back to poverty and suffering. The West is acting as if it’s trying to avoid Africans and Arabs like a plague while 6 million Ukrainians were accepted with ease and even given special treatment in certain countries like Poland.

Instead of taking in the Libyan refugees the EU could have committed to rebuild infrastructure and improve the living standards in Libya. At one point in time it seemed that this strategy would be implemented: according to Financial Tracking Service from 2011 until 2022 Tripoli received $1.2 billion worth of aid. It is quite a large number, which rounds up to $109 million per year. However, it’s not sufficient from a stand point of a country. For example in 2021 Egypt has dedicated around $3 billion for low-income housing while having 27.9% poverty rate. At the same time Libya has 53% poverty rate, which means $109 million per year could probably provide housing for less than 0.2% of those in need. As for Ukraine, FTS recorded $1.8 billion in foreign aid since 24 February 2022 – more than Libya received in 11 years.

It is not only about the refugees and funding but about the causes and solutions of the crisis. In Libya thousands of innocent lives were taken, thousands of homes and crucial infrastructure objects annihilated in the wake of the military operation conducted by NATO with no one brought to responsibility. Now, the news about war crimes and casualties in Ukraine can be heard in any part of the globe. Evidently when military force is used to establish “democracy” far away from the homeland, lost Arab lives is an acceptable sacrifice in a white man’s eyes.

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Energy News2 hours ago

Salt and a battery – smashing the limits of power storage

by Caleb Davies Thanks to the renewables’ boom, the limiting factor of the energy revolution is not power supply as much...

Russia7 hours ago

Biden forces Russia to retake all of Ukraine, and maybe even Lithuania

The Soviet Union had included what now are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan,...

East Asia9 hours ago

The Global-south Geopolitical and Geoeconomic Landscape and China’s Growing Influence

The importance of China’s CPEC project in the region and the obstacles it faces. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC,...

Finance10 hours ago

5 Ways LinkedIn Works for Your Career

Any job seeker can reach their goal much faster with the use of job search engines and career platforms. You...

South Asia11 hours ago

Bulldozing Dissent in India

State brutality and hostility have emerged as the defining factors in BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party)  policy toward Indian Muslims. From...

Americas14 hours ago

America and the World: A Vital Connection

“The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for...

East Asia16 hours ago

Five key challenges awaiting Hong Kong’s incoming leader John Lee

Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting John Lee has officially been appointed as the sixth-term chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative...

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