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The Israel Peace Deals: To Each His Own

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

Diplomacy often lets tranquility succeed incivility by offering more by collusion than collision. The most unpredictable unions are possible, usually by compromising long-fought struggles and causes. Although a lucrative partnership is hailed and endorsed publicly in the political arena, the cost doesn’t come under the spotlight. The deliberate ignorance of that cost can reshape the entire politico socioeconomic infrastructure by unknown dimensions.

The Middle East, for instance, has witnessed its political landscape gradually plunge into chaos due to the short-sightedness of the rulers and their ill-advised strategies over the course of three decades. The intervention of foreign powers, authoritarian regimes, proxy wars, and failed diplomacy have made matters even worse.

Although “unholy”, the alliance between the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and Israel would reinvigorate the Gulf States’ economy by curtailing its reliance on oil as well as strengthening the viability of diplomatic interests. The most recent development in the Middle East regarding the US-brokered deal —the Abraham Accord— between Israel and the two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain, might be the turning point of the region’s much-awaited stability.

The first announcement of the Israel-UAE deal was made by President Trump in August 2020. Following the UAE’s footsteps, Bahrain also stepped forward to reconcile with an enemy from the Levant, and signed the accord in September, alongside UAE, under the watch of the Trump administration. The UAE and Bahrain are now the third and fourth countries respectively to recognize Israel after Jordan (in 1979) and Egypt (in 1994).

What’s on the Table?

According to the deal, Israeli administration will halt its systematic territorial annexation of the 30% occupied areas in the West Bank. In return, Israel can establish its diplomatic setup in both Gulf States to increase its influence, relevance, and reach in the region. With this arrangement, the Arab league has undercut its position on the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.

The normalization of ties for the encouragement of business, investment, communication, security, trade and mutual travel has signaled a new era in the Israeli-Arab relations, which have been disastrous since the second half of the 20th century, and might pave new ways to resolve one of the most sensitive conflicts in human history.

Key Developments

The diplomatic breakthrough has brought about three major developments that can shape the geopolitical landscape in the coming years. First, the season of love between the key Arab states and Israel is in full swing, putting a question mark on Arab’s “undivided loyalty” towards the Palestinians. The economic, security and technological considerations might have alluded the Arabs to amplify their economies and move beyond their dependence on receding resources.

The agreement also signals the interest of Emiratis and their confidence in designing a blueprint to shape the regional politics in the best interests of everyone. This agreement has also turned the global narrative that the political and socio-economic setup of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) revolves around the ideological foundations of Pan-Arabism and Pan-Islamism.

The US-brokered deal, which is step one towards the implementation of the “Deal of the Century”, can worsen the bloody rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. With the UAE and Bahrain being the key members of the Saudi front, Iran, in retaliation, can turn to Turkey and other Muslim sympathizers to balance the power struggle in the regional vicinities.

The UAE is already investing its political and economic efforts to secure its strategic interests and counter the Turkish influence in Africa’s Red Sea Littoral and the Horn of Africa by acting as a mediator between hostile states and providing security assistance. It is also funneling money into the African economy by developing ports and military bases such as Eritrea’s Red Sea port of Assab and Berbera in Somaliland.

While the historical Arab powers, like Syria and Egypt, are giving blood sacrifices to keep their authority in their own geographies, the Emiratis are strategizing exceptional plans to diminish the growing influence of Non-Arab Muslim powers, like Iran and Turkey, in the greater MENA region.

The Palestinian Rage

The proponents of Trump hail it as one of the greatest diplomatic accomplishments of the U.S. in modern history, some have even critically acclaimed the president’s effort to the extent as deserving of the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Palestinians, the real price payers, believe that the unusual merger brokered by the U.S. simply washes away their decades-old struggle down the drain, and that such clearly depicts the bias of the superpower towards the Israeli regime.

The Palestinians’ trust and reliability on the Arab League have been diminishing over the years, especially because of the speculations that the Arab leaders had been involved in backdoor negotiations with the oppressors. Even if the accusations were not true, the public acceptance of Israeli narrative on international forums has hurt the sentiments of Palestinians around the world.

The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, in an interview to BBC, told that the Israeli Premier Mr.Netanyahu had plans to proceed with the final stages of annexation earlier in 2020, which the UAE government saw as the perfect opportunity to put forward its propositions to secure a viable implementation of the two-state solution.

The said minister also assured that Mr. Netanyahu would most likely stick to his promise, and would not risk his long-term desire of diplomatic relations with the Arab League. The UAE also believes that the deal has brought an opportunity for the Palestinians to rethink their approach and carve out a new one by engaging in fruitful discussions with Israel.

The U.S. Foreign Policy

The U.S. foreign policy is influenced by the powerful business lobbies with Jews as major stakeholders. With the primary objective to craft an effective solution to tame the Israeli-Arab animosity, Jared Kushner, the Middle East advisor to the President, has played his cards really well so far.

In an interview to CBSN, he proudly expresses his victory by stating that this is the first peace deal in the Middle East to happen in 26 years. The UAE and Bahrain, unlike Iraq and Syria, are immensely rich countries, and so the U.S. won’t need to give them financial aid in order to increase its influence in the region. Thus, it is understandable why the U.S. wants to help Israel achieve its diplomatic ambitions in the long-run.

President Trump strongly confides in the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and believes that he will eventually hop in the bandwagon once more countries follow suit. Moreover, the U.S. has often nudged the Arab States to pursue diplomacy with Israel rather than to risk military standoffs. Most importantly, one of the primary incentives for the U.S. to meddle in the Gulf politics is to contain and isolate Iran, one of its arch-rivals.

What about Saudi Arabia?

According to the Middle East Monitor, Saudi Arabia, the Emir of the Muslim world, has not fully endorsed the Israeli position yet, and has stated that it will proceed with diplomatic recognition of Israel once the Palestinian state is completely established. However, the regime might offer support to Israel if it adheres to the “two-state solution” regime under the UN Watch.

The reluctance of the Saudi state to fully reject the Israeli narrative and accept the UAE-Bahrain- Israel deal somehow hints about its hidden love and support for the Zionist regime. Although the Kingdom has a lot to gain by welcoming Israel on board, its current stance on the development might be the result of two dominant factors that garnered a mixed response from the Muslim world.

Firstly, inspired by the US-Israel tactics to bleed Iran, the Saudis have political and economic incentives to join hands with the two to defeat its sworn enemy. Secondly, Saudi Arabia — the custodian of two holiest Islamic sites and the owner of the world’s largest oil company (Aramco) —is the leading entity of the Muslim world and thus cannot afford rifts rising from one-sided decisions, especially with so many anti-Israel states on board, like Pakistan and Turkey.

Thus, it would prefer taking a backseat amidst the changing political landscape, and wait for someone else to take the daring move first, before actually opening up about its position on the new developments.

Sudan Joins the Fray

The Sudanese diplomatic development with Israel has emerged after three months of the US-brokered peace deal between the UAE and Israel. The Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, finally accepted a long-awaited friendly invitation from the Israeli premier to welcome and celebrate the new dawn of Middle East, burying the grudges of the past.

Most of the credit, in this regard, goes to the UAE. The UAE has been meddling in the internal affairs of Sudan for quite some, accused of sponsoring and supporting the political machinery in Eastern Sudan. Despite receiving a harsh opposition for joining the normalization wave, from the Sudanese government’s perspective, the merger was necessary to cross its name from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

Soon after the diplomatic revival between Sudan and Israel, the UAE granted over half a billion dollars in financial aid to Sudan to oil its long-rusted financial, economic, and political machinery.
Sudan also holds geographic importance in terms of easy access to the rest of the Africa from the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt.

Turkey and China have already been investing in billions and trying to increase their domination in the African continent over the past years, so it is understandable that by getting Sudan in the team, the U.S. and Israel can significantly balance the growing influence of the Chinese and Turks in the region.

The author is an economist based in Islamabad, who also works as a content strategist in UK based firm. He holds keen interest in studying terrorism, counter-terrorism and diplomacy.

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Middle East

Iraq: Three Years of Drastic Changes (2019-2022)

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When the wave of the protests broke out at the beginning of October 2019 in Iraq, the Iraqi politicians did not realize the size of the gap between the demands of the protesters which were accumulated more than seventeen years, and the isolation of the politicians from the needs of the people. The waves of the protests began in a small range of different areas in Iraq. Rapidly, it expanded as if it were a rolling snowball in many regions of Iraqi governorates. Moreover, the platforms of social media and the influencers had a great impact on unifying the people against the government and enhancing the protest movement.

Al Tarir Square was the region where most protesters and demonstrators were based there. At that time, they stayed all day in this region and set up their tents to protest and demonstrate against the public situation of their life.

The protesters demanded their looted rights and asked for making economic reforms, finding job opportunities, changing the authority, and toppling the government presided by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. The protest stayed between ebb and tide, pressuring the political authority in Iraq.

A new period began in the history of Iraq where clashes between the protesters and the riot forces broke out in Al Tahrir Square and many governorates in the south of Iraq. Tear gas and ductile bullets were used against the protesters to compel them to retreat and disperse them. But the protesters insisted on continuing their demands. Many protesters were killed and wounded due to the intensive violence against them. The strong pressure with falling many martyrs gave its fruit when the Iraqi representatives of the Parliament endeavored to achieve the protesters’ demands by changing the election law into a new one. On 24 December 2019, the Iraqi Parliament approved of changing the unfair Saint Leigo election law into the open districts. The new law divided Iraq into 83 electoral districts.

Moreover, this violent protest led to the collapse of the Iraqi government presided by Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi. He was compelled to resign by the end of 2019. Many political names were nominated by the Iraqi politicians but the protesters refused them all because they were connected with different political parties.

Finally, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who worked in the Iraqi Intelligence Service and had no party, was nominated by the politicians to be the new Prime Minister. He was well-known for ambiguity and far from the lights of media.

Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has become the Prime Minister in March 2020. The protests were over at the beginning of April 2020. With the taking of responsibility of helping Iraq, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi promised the protesters, who were called “Octoberians”, to hold a premature election, and the election was fixed on 10 June 2020.

Many politicians tried to postpone or cancel the premature election. Under their pressure, the premature election was postponed and fixed on 10 October 2020. During Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s period as a Prime Minister, he opened new channels with the Arab states to enhance the cooperation and held many summits to support Iraq in the next stage.

Attempts to postpone the premature election by the Iraqi politicians were on equal foot, but all these attempts failed and the election occurred on the due time.

Before the election, many Octoberians and influencers encouraged the people not to participate in the election. On the day of the election, it witnessed low participation, and people were convinced of not happening any change. These calls gave their fruits in the process of elections in Iraq where the election witnessed very low participation, and most Iraqis refused to participate and vote to the nominees even though there was a new election law. When the elections were over, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Iraq announced that the results would be within two days. After announcing the results of the election partially and defeating many political factions in the Iraqi arena, many convictions were directed to the commission, and it was convicted by fraud and manipulation with the results. This aspect affected the activity of the Commission and led to put great pressure on it. After two weeks of pressure and convictions, the final results of the elections were announced and many political elite Iraqi leaders were defeated gravely.

The results of the election gave a new start through new leaders who were supporting the October revolution that happened in 2019. And most names of these winning movements and alliances were inspired by the October Movement. Those, who represented October Revolution, were also convicted by other Octoberians that Octoberian winners in the election deviated from the aims of the October Revolution.

A new struggle has begun between the losers in the election and the new winners who will have the right to be in the next term of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Representatives. Moreover, many independent individuals won in the election, and the conflict would deepen the scope of dissidence between the losers and winners. Finally, all raised claims of election fraud have not changed the political situation.

The final results of the election had been announced, and the date of holding the first session of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives was fixed to nominate and elect the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives.  The Shiite Sadrist movement, which represents 73 seats, has wiped out its competitors. This aspect has compelled the losing Shiite competitors to establish an alliance called “Coordination Framework” to face the Sadrist movement, represented by the cleric Sayyed Muqtada al-Sader. On the other hand, Al-Takadum Movement (Progress Party), represented by the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives, Mohamed Al-Halbousi, has taken the second rank with 37 seats.

The final results of the election had been announced, and the date of holding the first session of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives was fixed to nominate and elect the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives.

Finally, the first session of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Council was held. Mohamed Al-Halbousi has been elected as the spokesman of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Council. During the next fifteen days, the president of the republic will be elected.

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China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

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Middle East

Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

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Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

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