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Middle East

Abraham Accord, Under The Table



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

Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania



Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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Middle East

Getting Away With Murder: The New U.S. Intelligence Report on the Khashoggi Affair



It was October 2, 2018 when a man walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate to collect some documents he needed for his impending marriage.  He had been there earlier on September 28, and had been told to allow a few days for them to prepare the needed proof of divorce from an earlier marriage.

So there he was.  His Turkish fiancée had accompanied him and he asked her to wait outside as it would only take a minute or two.  She waited and waited and… waited.  Jamal Khashoggi never came out.

What went on inside is a matter of dispute but US intelligence prepared a report which should have been released but was illegally blocked by the Trump administration.  Mr. Trump is no doubt grateful for the help he has had over two decades from various Saudi royals in addition to the business thrown his way at his various properties.  “I love the Saudis,” says Donald Trump and he had kept the report under wraps.  It has now been released by the new Biden administration.      

All the same, grisly details of the killing including dismemberment soon emerged because in this tragic episode, with an element of farce, it was soon evident that the Turks had bugged the consulate.  There is speculation as to how the perpetrators dispersed of the corpse but they themselves have been identified.  Turkish officials also claim to know that they acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.  They arrived on a private jet and left just as abruptly.

The egregious killing led to the UN appointing a Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard.  She concluded it to be an “extra-judicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”  She added, there was “credible evidence”  implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials.  

Now the US report.  Intelligence agencies conclude Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad under the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  They add that the latter has had unitary control over Saudi security and intelligence organizations and thus it was “highly unlikely” an operation of this nature would have been possible without Prince Mohammed’s authorization.

Mr. Biden’s reaction is plain.  Although the Crown Prince is the de facto ruler with his father the King’s acquiescence, Mr. Biden has not talked to him.  He called the king and emphasized the importance placed on human rights and the rule of law in the US.

President Biden is also re-evaluating US arms sales to the Kingdom with a view to limiting them to defensive weapons — a difficult task as many can be used for both, a fighter-bomber for example.

There are also calls for sanctions against the Crown Prince directly but Biden has ruled that out.  Saudi Arabia is after all the strongest ally of the US in the region, and no president wants to jeopardize that relationship.  Moreover, the US has done the same sort of thing often enough; the last prominent assassination being that of the senior Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani,  by the Trump administration.  

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Middle East

US intelligence report leaves Saudi Arabia with no good geopolitical choices



The Biden administration’s publication of a US intelligence report that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi creates a fundamental challenge to the kingdom’s geopolitical ambitions.

The challenge lies in whether and how Saudi Arabia will seek to further diversify its alliances with other world powers in response to the report and US human rights pressure.

Saudi and United Arab Emirates options are limited by that fact that they cannot fully replace the United States as a mainstay of their defence as well as their quest for regional hegemony, even if the report revives perceptions of the US as unreliable and at odds with their policies.

As Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed contemplate their options, including strengthening relations with external players such as China and Russia, they may find that reliance on these forces could prove riskier than the pitfalls of the kingdom’s ties with the United States.

Core to Saudi as well as UAE considerations is likely to be the shaping of the ultimate balance of power between the kingdom and Iran in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia’s border with China.

US officials privately suggest that regional jockeying in an environment in which world power is being rebalanced to create a new world order was the key driver of Saudi and UAE as well as Israeli opposition from day one to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that the United States together with Europe, China, and Russia negotiated. That remains the driver of criticism of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the agreement.

“If forced to choose, Riyadh preferred an isolated Iran with a nuclear bomb to an internationally accepted Iran unarmed with the weapons of doom,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and founder of the National Iranian American Council. Mr. Parsi was summing up Saudi and Emirati attitudes based on interviews with officials involved in the negotiations at a time that Mr. Biden was vice-president.

As a result, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel appear to remain determined to either foil a return of the United States to the accord, from which Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew, or ensure that it imposes conditions on Iran that would severely undermine its claim to regional hegemony.

In the ultimate analysis, the Gulf states and Israel share US objectives that include not only restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also limiting its ballistic missiles program and ending support for non-state actors like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemen’s Houthis. The Middle Eastern states differ with the Biden administration on how to achieve those objectives and the sequencing of their pursuit.

Even so, the Gulf states are likely to realize as Saudi Arabia contemplates its next steps what Israel already knows: China and Russia’s commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia or Israel are unlikely to match that of the United States given that they view an Iran unfettered by sanctions and international isolation as strategic in ways that only Turkey rather than other Middle Eastern states can match.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE will also have to recognize that they can attempt to influence US policies with the help of Israel’s powerful Washington lobby and influential US lobbying and public relations companies in ways that they are not able to do in autocratic China or authoritarian Russia.

No doubt, China and Russia will seek to exploit opportunities created by the United States’ recalibration of its relations with Saudi Arabia with arms sales as well as increased trade and investment.

But that will not alter the two countries’ long-term view of Iran as a country, albeit problematic, with attributes that the Gulf states cannot match even if it is momentarily in economic and political disrepair.

Those attributes include Iran’s geography as a gateway at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; ethnic, cultural, and religious ties with Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of history and empire; a deep-seated identity rooted in empire; some of the world’s foremost oil and gas reserves; a large, highly educated population of 83 million that constitutes a huge domestic market; a fundamentally diversified economy; and a battle-hardened military.

Iran also shares Chinese and Russian ambitions to contain US influence even if its aspirations at times clash with those of China and Russia.

“China’s BRI will on paper finance additional transit options for the transfer of goods from ports in southern to northern Iran and beyond to Turkey, Russia, or Europe. China has a number of transit options available to it, but Iranian territory is difficult to avoid for any south-north or east-west links,” said Iran scholar Alex Vatanka referring to Beijing’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.

Compared to an unfettered Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE primarily offer geography related to some of the most strategic waterways through which much of the world’s oil and gas flows as well their positioning opposite the Horn of Africa and their energy reserves.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s position as a religious leader in the Muslim world built on its custodianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, potentially could be challenged as the kingdom competes for leadership with other Middle Eastern and Asian Muslim-majority states.

On the principle of better the enemy that you know than the devil that you don’t, Saudi leaders may find that they are, in the best of scenarios, in response to changing US policies able to rattle cages by reaching out to China and Russia in ways that they have not until now, but that at the end of the day they are deprived of good choices.

That conclusion may be reinforced by the realization that the United States has signalled by not sanctioning Prince Mohammed that it does not wish to cut its umbilical cord with the kingdom. That message was also contained in the Biden administration’s earlier decision to halt the sale of weapons that Saudi Arabia could you for offensive operations in Yemen but not arms that it needs to defend its territory from external attack.

At the bottom line, Saudi Arabia’s best option to counter an Iran that poses a threat to the kingdom’s ambitions irrespective of whatever regime is in power would be to work with its allies to develop the kind of economic and social policies as well as governance that would enable it to capitalize on its assets to effectively compete. Containment of Iran is a short-term tactic that eventually will run its course.

Warned former British diplomat and Royal Dutch Shell executive Ian McCredie: “When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1922, it created a vacuum which a series of powers have attempted to fill ever since. None has succeeded, and the result has been a century of wars, coups, and instability. Iran ruled all these lands before the Arab and Ottoman conquests. It could do so again.”

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