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Abraham Accord, Under The Table

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After Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement regarding any possible shift in the country’s foreign policy towards accepting Israel was repudiated, it has re-affirmed Pakistan’s ancestral ideology. This re-endorsement of Islamabad’s decades-long stance against Israel with its conflict with Palestine came up after the “Geo-Political Earthquake” as mentioned by NY Times, when UAE and Israel formally increased their ties to full normalization. It is noteworthy that UAE had covert security ties way before this Abraham Accord and now the level of tie-up is upgraded to full-scale diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial stage. Moreover, the diplomatic office of Israel was already opened in one of the seven Emirati states, Abu Dhabi in 2015. The sour relations between Arab World and Israel date back to the Jewish migration towards Palestine during the British colonialism which was followed by the division of land and formation of the State of Israel after United Nations Resolution 181. Neighboring Arab states and Muslim World considered it unjust and so, went on war with the newly created state of Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 along with 2 wars waged by Israel on Lebanon in 1982 and 2006. The tensions plotted between Arab states and Israel saw curvatures with Egypt and Jordan making peace with Israel while conflict still remains with Syria and Lebanon. A major shift came with the recent Abraham Accord and its effects on the Palestinian struggle.

The Abraham Accord, followed by series of normalization deals by mainly Arab States and “Deal of the Century”, all are efforts made by the strongest Israeli ally, the United States of America, in an attempt to legitimize Israel. Just like the Peace Deal 2020, the Abraham Accord also faced criticism by the Palestinians. Trump administration’s actions towards Israel from an annual military assistance of worth $3 billion to recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel to the peace attempts, all indicate the good chemistry between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu. Contrary to Obama’s tenure which saw depressions in the US-Israel ties especially after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or more commonly known as Iran Nuclear Deal. A fierce opposition for the US-Israel relation and the ultimate existence of Israel is a bone of contention between the two friends and their common enemy, Iran.

Iran’s contradictions with westernization and the support of Pan-Pro Shiite Islamic ideology along with its military interference in the Middle East adds fuel to fire. Both Iran and Israel impugn each other’s interests. Moreover, Iran’s support to Hamas and Hezbollah which are labelled as terrorist organizations by many western states including USA and Israel, further heightens the discord. Obama, a democrat, saw neutralization of US-Iran tensions by opening a pathway for accepting their nuclear program’s miniaturization in a limited amount. This move was highly criticized by Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, even in the UNGA. Although, Trump has lost elections, yet the recent approval of air space by KSA might be an attempt to leave a legacy for Joe Biden, and his newly nominated vice president, Kamala Harris. Withal, Trump and Jerad’s efforts will eventually sling one’s hook with blemish on the upcoming Biden-Harris foreign policy. It is definite that Tel Aviv might be high on expectation from the Biden regime, in terms of continuation of getting Israel accepted.

Another projection by Bibi for Biden is to build an anti-Iran bloc in the world. This is not just the main policy of Israel and Trump’s America, rather it is a point of agreement between the Gulf states as well, excluding Qatar. The Abraham Accord has paved the path for further strengthening bonds between states having a common foe. Evidence from Oman’s policies also show its divergence towards accepting Israel in the near future, while Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan have already done it. Saudi Arabia after a reasonable silence on this accord, did refute, but has allowed its airspace for Israel. Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is the custodian of holy sites and its recognition of Israel would blow out its image, it does have some extent of clandestine connections with Israel. Israeli assistance is required to accomplish Vision 2030, especially for the technological advancement in the field of cyber security. Along with this, the US support to KSA in Yemen is also a contributing pressure building tactic used by the USA. Saudi Arabia will most probably not accept Israel or develop normalized diplomatic relations any time soon because it shall have to pay a heavy price, but covert connections might remain and flourish.

Although, this deal unites friends against mutual foe, yet the deal can be considered as a day dreamer’s pill. UAE’s new step towards Israel has questioned foreign policy of many, but it has less to do with Palestinian cause. The accord “suspends” annexation with Netanyahu, stating that they will not let go the annexation plan as Benjamin is already facing criticism from infuriated right-wing Israelis. Furthermore, with just suspension of annexation of Jordan Valley and West Bank, Gaza is being bombed, daily, since the accord and also right after normalization with Bahrain was signed. This accord might only help UAE economically and technologically, but shall not help the Palestinians, who already consider it as a stagger on their back. This accord has reversed the order of peace and conflict resolution, proposed in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, of bringing a just solution and creation of Palestinian state which shall be followed by normalization of relations with Israel, of the Arab world.

With the accord, overriding and back-pedaling the Arab Peace Initiative it did pose questions about where Pakistan stands as one of those countries who has had a firm stance of non-acceptance towards Israel. Pakistan did mention its stance would be in accordance with the Palestinians and this is re-assured by the Prime Minister’s statement despite immense pressure from the United States of America, especially after KSA has allowed her airspace to Israel, as an aftermath of Kushner’s visit. Turning pages of history, Pakistan and Israel share many commonalities, from both being created months after the other, both had been under British rule, majority of both states was formerly a minority and both are ideology-based states. However, most important of these mutual characteristics is that both states are contesting for land, though the way of contestation is different between both. Pakistan is struggling, to what was meant to be its part, Kashmir, while Israel is occupying which is not its part under international law. Former abides by the United Nations resolutions and international laws while the latter refutes them time and again. The former holds high the banner of persecuted Kashmiris while the latter persecutes the Palestinians. And, so giving up on the Palestinian cause by accepting Israel would axe out its struggle for Kashmiris in the Indian Occupied Kashmir.

Mentioning India and its occupation in Kashmir, Pakistan’s neighbor also shares mutual features of brutality, annexation and violation of human rights just like Israel. And, it is no doubt that these quotidian actions of both make them a close ally, especially against Pakistan. Since 1950, not just are they both friends at diplomatic level but have boosted it to strategic partnership in 2017. The strategic partnership, apart from agricultural and technological exchange, also includes military assistance by Israel to India. This military assistance adds on to its deterrence with Pakistan. One of the most evident proof of this joint action of both Israel and India against Pakistan is their mutual attempt to blow out Pakistan’s nuclear program in Kahuta in 1982, which failed due to the efficacy of Pakistani intelligence.

Quoting more events from history, Pakistan and Israel rarely saw some room to come towards table talks, it was either due to US pressure in Liaqat Ali Khan’s time when he responded firmly by raising the both Palestinian and Kashmir cause in United Nations. When during his tenure, Pakistan was incentivized economically and militarily by US in return of recognizing Israel, Liaqat Ali Khan, then Prime Minister of a newly born state, Pakistan boldly replied in a polite yet affecting tone: “Gentleman! Our soul is not for sale.” This was the same year when Pakistan’s pernicious enemy, India recognized Israel. The years and leaders followed by founding fathers, from Quaid-i-Azam to Bhutto to Imran Khan, all stick to this solid stance of not accepting Israel as a state despite its technological advancements and a close alliance with the US. Although some room for negotiations showed up during the Musharraf regime but it did face criticism at home. After all, Israel’s sweet talks and bitter actions towards Pakistan are not to be forgotten. It is likely enough that Pakistan will not let go Palestinian cause until justice is served. Yet, implications of non-acceptance for Pakistan and acceptance by the Arab World are to be witnessed. Will the recent wave of acceptance of Israel really make room for some solution to Palestinian cause? or is it just fake and short-lived solace for the oppressed?

Fatima is an under-graduate student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad, Pakistan. She has keen interest in global politics, diplomatic relations, shifts in foreign policies, international conflicts and their changing dynamics.

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Middle East

Israel and Turkey in search of solutions

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Twelve and eleven years have elapsed since the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents, respectively, and Turkey-Israel relations are undergoing intense recovery efforts. They are two important Eastern neighbours and influence regional stability.

Currently, as in the past, relations between the two countries have a structure based on realpolitik, thus pursuing a relationship of balance/interest, and hinge around the Palestinian issue and Israel’s position as the White House’s privileged counterpart. However, let us now briefly summarise the history of Turkish-Jewish relations.

The first important event that comes to mind when mentioning Jews and Turks is that when over 200,000 Jews were expelled by the Spanish Inquisition in 1491, the Ottoman Empire invited them to settle in its territory.

Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel in 1949. Israel’s first diplomatic Mission to Turkey was opened on January 7, 1950 but, following the Suez crisis in 1956, relations were reduced to the level of chargé d’affaires. In the second Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Turkey chose not to get involved and it did not allow relations to break off completely.

The 1990s saw a positive trend and development in terms of bilateral relations. After the second Gulf War in 1991 -which, as you may recall, followed the first Iraqi one of 1980-1988 in which the whole world was against Iran (with the only exception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Libya and the moral support of Enver Hoxha’s Albania) – Turkey was at the centre of security policy in the region. In that context, Turkey-Israel relations were seriously rekindled.

In 1993, Turkey upgraded diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level. The signing of the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel led to closer relations. The 1996 military cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which provided significant logistical and intelligence support to both sides.

In the 2000s, there was a further rapprochement with Israel, due to the “zero problems with neighbours” policy promoted by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party. I still remember issue No. 3/1999 of the Italian review of geopolitics “Limes” entitled “Turkey-Israel, the New Alliance”.

In 2002, an Israeli company undertook the project of modernising twelve M-60 tanks belonging to the Turkish armed forces. In 2004, Turkey agreed to sell water to Israel from the Manavgat River.

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Israel in 2005 was a turning point in terms of mediation between Palestine and Israel and further advancement of bilateral relations. In 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas spoke at the Turkish Grand National Assembly one day apart. High-level visits from Israel continued.

On December 22, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Ankara and met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In that meeting, significant progress was made regarding Turkey’s mediation between Israel and Syria.

Apart from the aforementioned incidents, the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations occurred five days after the above stated meeting, i.e. Operation “Cast Lead” against Gaza on December 27, 2008. After that event, relations between the two sides were never the same as before.

Recently, however, statements of goodwill have been made by both countries to normalise political relations. In December 2020, President Erdoğan stated he wanted to improve relations with Israel and said: “It is not possible for us to accept Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinian territories. This is the point in which we differ from Israel – otherwise, our heart desires to improve our relations with it as well”.

In its relations with Israel, Turkey is posing the Palestinian issue as a condition. When we look at it from the opposite perspective, the Palestinian issue is a vital matter for Israel. It is therefore a severe obstacle to bilateral relations.

On the other hand, many regional issues such as Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and some security issues in the region require the cooperation of these two key countries. For this reason, it is clear that both sides wish at least to end the crisis, reduce rhetoric at leadership level and focus on cooperation and realpolitik areas.

In the coming months, efforts will certainly be made to strike a balance between these intentions and the conditions that make it necessary to restart bilateral relations with Israel on an equal footing. As improved relations with Israel will also positively influence Turkey’s relations with the United States.

Turkey seeks to avoid the USA and the EU imposing sanctions that could go so far as to increase anti-Western neo-Ottoman rhetoric, while improved relations with Israel could offer a positive outcome not only to avoid the aforementioned damage, but also to solve the Turkish issues related to Eastern Mediterranean, territorial waters, Libya and Syria. Turkey has no intention of backing down on such issues that it deems vital. Quite the reverse. It would like to convey positive messages at the level of talks and Summits.

Another important matter of friction between Turkey and Israel is the use of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean reserves between Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus (Nicosia).

This approach is excluding Turkey. The USA and the EU also strongly support the current situation (which we addressed in a previous article) for the additional reason that France has been included in the equation.

The alignment of forces and fronts in these maritime areas were also widely seen during the civil war in Libya, where Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, as well as other players such as Russia, Italy, etc. came into the picture.

Ultimately, a point of contact between Turkey and Israel is the mediation role that the former could play in relations between Iran and Israel, especially after the improvement of Turkish-Iranian relations.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad – which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 -the Turkish Foreign Minister stated that the U.S. action would increase insecurity and instability in the region. He also reported that Turkey was worried about rising tensions between the United States and Iran that could turn Iraq back into an area of conflict to the detriment of peace and stability in the region. There was also a condolence phone call from President Erdoğan to Iranian President Rouhani, urging him to avoid a conflictual escalation with the United States following the airstrike.

Consequently, it is in the Turkish President’s interest to maintain an open channel with Iran, so that he himself can soften the mutual tensions between Israel and Iran, and – in turn – Israeli diplomacy can influence President Biden’s choices, albeit less pro-Israel than Donald Trump’s.

Turkey is known to have many relationship problems with the United States – especially after the attempted coup of July 15-16, 2016 and including the aforementioned oil issue – and realises that only Israel can resolve the situation smoothly.

In fact, Israel-USA relations are not at their best as they were under President Trump. President Erdoğan seems to be unaware of this fact, but indeed the Turkish President knows that the only voice the White House can hear is Israel’s, and certainly not the voice of the Gulf monarchies, currently at odds with Turkey.

Israel keeps a low profile on the statements made by President Erdoğan with regard to the Palestinians- since it believes them to be consequential – as well as in relation to a series of clearly anti-Zionist attitudes of the Turkish people.

We are certain, however, that President Erdoğan’s declarations of openness and Israeli acquiescence will surely yield concrete results.

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Middle East

The 25-year China-Iran agreement

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On March 27, 2021, a document entitled “Comprehensive Document of Iran-China Cooperation” was signed by Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, and his Chinese counterpart. The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously called “the agreement between the presidents of Iran and China correct and wise.” However, the Iranian people have widely criticized it as entirely against their national interests. Iranian officials have not even publicized the document’s contents yet probably because it is highly contentious.

In 2019, excerpts from this document were revealed by the Economist Petroleum news site. The details included:

  • China invests $460 billion in Iranian oil and transportation sectors. China will get its investment back from the sale of Iranian crude during the first five years.
  • China buys Iranian petroleum products at least 32% cheaper.
  • The Chinese can decide before other companies whether to participate in completing all or part of a petrochemical project.
  • 50,000 Chinese security personnel will be deployed to protect Chinese projects in Iran.
  • China has the right to delay the repayment of its debts for up to two years in exchange for Iranian products’ purchase.
  • At least one Russian company will be allowed to participate in the Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline design together with the Chinese operator.
  • Every year, 110 senior Revolutionary Guards officers travel to China and Russia for military training. 110 Chinese and Russian advisers will be stationed in Iran to train Revolutionary Guards officers.
  • Development of Iranian military equipment and facilities will be outsourced to China, and Chinese and Russian military aircraft and ships will operate the developed facilities.

Even some circles within the regime have criticized the agreement. The state-run Arman newspaper wrote, “China has a 25-year contract with Iran and is investing $460 billion in Iran. It is somewhat ambiguous. Presently, China is holding the money it owes us and blames it on the U.S. sanctions. How can we trust this country to invest $460 billion in Iran?”

Last year, Iran and China had the lowest trade in the previous 16 years, and according to statistics, by the end of 2020, the volume of trade between Iran and China was about $16 billion, which, including undocumented oil sales, still does not reach $20 billion.

Jalal Mirzaei, a former member of Iran’s parliament, said: “If in the future the tensions between Tehran and Washington are moderated, and we see the lifting of some of the sanctions, China can also provide the basis for implementing the provisions of this document, but if the situation continues like today, Beijing will not make any effort to implement the document, as it is essentially unable to take concrete action on the ground because of the sanctions.”

China’s objectives

Iran is vital to China in two ways, through its geopolitical location and its geo-economic importance. China knows that it does not have enough natural resources and is currently having a hard time supplying them from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supplies its energy needs from oil giant Aramco, half of which is owned by the United States. That is why China is looking for a safe alternative that the United States will not influence, and the only option is Iran. They may also have a two-pronged plan in Iran, which involves using Iran’s profitable market and making Iran into a lever of pressure against the United States for additional concessions.

The Iranian regime’s objectives

The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undermine U.S. efforts to isolate the Iranian regime. While the international dispute over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program has not been resolved, it is unclear how much this agreement could be implemented. The regime intends to make it a bargaining chip in possible future nuclear negotiations. However, some of Iran’s top authorities believe that China and Russia cannot be trusted 100 percent.

Due to the sanctions, the regime has a tough time to continue providing financial support to its proxy militias in the region. The regime also faced two major domestic uprisings in 2017 and 2019. Khamenei’s regime survived the widespread uprisings by committing a massacre, killing 1,500 young protesters in the 2019 uprising alone, according to the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and later confirmed by the Iranian regime’s Interior Ministry officials. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, Khamenei has been able to delay another major uprising.

Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Khamenei must bow to western countries’ demands regarding the nuclear issue, including an end to its regional interventions and its ballistic missile program. Khamenei will struggle to save his regime from s imminent uprisings and a deteriorating economy that will undoubtedly facilitate more protests by the army of the unemployed and the hungry at any moment.

Unlike the 2015 JCPOA, the Iranian regime in 2021 is in a much weaker position. In fact, by many accounts, it is the weakest in its 40-year history. By signing the recent Iran-China agreement and auctioning Iranian resources, Khamenei wants to pressure the United States to surrender and restore the 2015 JCPOA as quickly as possible. But in the end, this pivot will not counteract domestic pressures that target the regime’s very existence.

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Middle East

China-Arab Relations: From Silk to Friendship

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China and the Arabs have a long and rich economic and cultural history, and this distinguished relationship still exists today, with a promising future. This bilateral relationship between the two nations is based on the principles of respect and non-interference in internal affairs or foreign policies. Therefore, China’s relationship with the Arabs as well as with other nations is unique and a model to be followed. If you meet a Chinese person, the first phrase will be “Alabo” or an Arab in Mandarin, and he/she will welcome you. The Chinese state’s dealings with its counterparts can be measured based on the model of this Chinese citizen. China deals with the Arabs on the basis of friendship and historical ties.

The history of Sino-Arab relations goes back to the Tang Dynasty, and these relations developed with the flourishing of trade between the two nations. Since China was famous for its high quality silk, this trade route was called the “Silk Road”. Baron Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, better known in English as Baron von Richthofen, was a German traveller, geographer, and scientist. He is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road” or “Silk Route” in 1877.

Chinese-Arab relations have developed in contemporary history. In 1930, China established official relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A library in China was named the “Fouad Islamic Library”, after the late Egyptian king, “Fuad the First”. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cut ties with China and established relations with the Communist People’s Republic of China and inaugurated an embassy in Egypt. In the same year, the Arab League established relations with the People’s Republic of China. By the year 1990, all Arab countries cut their relations with the Republic of China and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

In 2004, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established, and today it is considered a milestone for the Sino-Arab relationship. At its inauguration, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing delivered a speech stating:“The Arab world is an important force on the international scene, and that China and the Arab countries have enjoyed a long friendship. Our similar history, our common goals and our broad interests have been credited with enhancing cooperation between the two sides; no matter how the international situation changes, China has always been the sincere friend of the Arab world”. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was officially established during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the headquarters of the League of Arab States in January of 2004.

Hu Jintao indicated at that time that the formation of the forum is a continuation of the traditional friendship between China and the Arab world. The Chinese president said at the time, “The establishment of the forum is conducive to expanding mutual cooperation in a variety of fields. He added that China had made four proposals; First, maintaining mutual respect, fair treatment and sincere cooperation at the political level. Second, strengthening economic and trade relations through cooperation in the fields of investment and trade, contracted projects, labor services, energy, transportation, communications, agriculture, environmental protection and information. Third, expand cultural exchanges. Finally, conducting training for the employees.”

During the second session of the forum in Beijing in 2006, China showed its sympathy for the issues of the Arab world and its interest in the peace process between Palestine and Israel, since China is a peace-loving country; it presented the idea of “a nuclear-free Middle East”. China is the best friend of the Arab countries today. Although some Arab countries have strong relations with the West whose policy does not match the Chinese policy, but all Arab countries agree on friendly and good relations with the People’s Republic of China.

The Arab citizen is not interested today in the foreign policy of the US, the deadly weapons of the US and Russia, or European culture, but rather the livelihood and economy, and this is what China provides through its wise economic policy. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road, which will restore glow to China-Arab relations; as the Arab world is in a strategic location on the initiative map. Thus, the Arab countries are an important partner for China in the initiative. Although the volume of trade exchanges between China and the Arab countries exceeded 200 billion US dollars, which increased 10 times over the past decade, there was no commercial and institutional arrangement to facilitate trade between the two sides.

China, as a peaceful and non-invasive country, aims to promote economic cooperation with Arab region on an equal basis because it considers the Arab world a historic partner. The historical experience of the Arabs with the Chinese through the Silk Road has confirmed that China differs from the nations of colonialism and imperialism, which consider the Arab region a place rich in natural resources only. In his historic speech at the Arab League, Chinese President Xi stressed that China will not seek to extend influence and search for proxies in the Middle East. The Chinese initiatives will contribute to establishing security and stability through economic development and improving the people’s livelihood, in line with the post-2015 development agenda and the aspirations of the Arab people for a better life, as the Chinese experience proves that development is the key to digging out the roots of conflicts and extremism in all its forms.

China is a neutral country and does not favor the use of violence. During the Syrian crisis, for example, the Chinese envoy to the Security Council raised his hand three times, meaning that China, with its wise diplomacy, supported the Syrian regime without entering the military war. During the recent Chinese military parade, Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed some Chinese military capabilities and thus sent a message to the enemies that China will always be ready if a war is imposed on it, and a message of support to China’s allies. The Arab region today needs a real partner who possesses economic and military power and international political influence, such as China; to ensure the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to consolidate the China-Arab relations and raise it to the level of a strategic alliance.

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