[This is a monthly roundup of news articles and other materials related to other countries’ foreign policies toward the Middle East. It does not reflect the views of the Foreign Policies Roundup Editors of Jadaliyya.]
CIA director Burns holds talks in Israel, with focus on Iran (11 August 2021) US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency David Barnea. While discussions revolved around the situation in the Middle East at large, particular attention was placed on Iran, which both parties suspect of carrying out the July 29th attack on an Israeli tanker off the coast of Oman.
US announces new Iran sanctions, targeting Omani ‘broker’ (13 August 2021) The US Treasury Department unveiled sanctions on an Omani businessman accused of facilitating the sale of Iranian oil that supports the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The sanctions arrive as discussions between Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 Nuclear Deal remain in gridlock, and a new Iranian administration led by Ibrahim Raisi takes office.
US calls on Tunisia’s Saied to appoint PM, restore democracy (14 August 2021) US Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer met with Tunisian President Kais Saied to advocate for a restoration of Tunisia’s parliamentary democracy. Earlier in July, Saied dismissed the Prime Minister and suspended parliament which opposition leaders branded as a coup d’etat.
Bennett ‘happy’ as Biden touts ‘other options’ against Iran (27 August 2021) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made his first visit to the White House, and lauded US President Joe Biden for remaining open to ‘other options’ in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The Biden administration has been clear in its aim to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but since the change of administration in Tehran, talks in Vienna have not progressed. Notably, Prime Minister Bennett made no mention of Palestine. President Biden stated that he would discuss Palestinian rights with Bennett, but it is believed that he refrained from focusing on the because of his administration’s focus on the situation in Afghanistan.
France, Germany, UK very worried about Iran's uranium enrichment (19 August 2021) After the release of a United Nations atomic energy watchdog report, France, Germany, and the UK released a joint statement urging the Iranian government to cease their enrichment of uranium. While they pressed Iran to abide by the limits set in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiations in Vienna to bring Tehran back into a nuclear deal are at an impasse.
Russian firefighting plane crashes in Turkey, eight killed - Ifax (14 August 2021) A Russian Be-200 firefighting plane crashed claiming the lives of five Russian military personnel and three Turkish citizens. The plane was sent to help contain wildfires that have been ravaging the southern coast of Turkey for the past several weeks.
Putin, Erdogan agree to strengthen coordination on Afghan issues -Kremlin (21 August 2021) The Russian and Turkish presidents met in Sochi to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, and to combine efforts to curb drug trafficking and terrorism in the region. Turkey continues to maintain an important role in security at Kabul airport in Afghanistan.
Russian army patrol rebel enclave in Syria to avert offensive, sources say (24 August 2021) Russian forces were keeping watch in the southwestern Syrian city of Daraa, bringing a halt to shelling from Iranian militias and hoping to prevent a military assault on the city. Moscow had assured Israel and the United States in a 2018 deal that they would impede Iranian forces from extending their influence in the region.
China Isn’t Trying to Dominate the Middle East (9 August 2021) In the context of the Biden administration’s focus away from the Middle East, some ponder if China is attempting to fill the vacuum that the United States is leaving. Rather than replacing the US as the dominant foreign power in the region, China is more focused on securing relationships in the Middle East to support their economic development, and to dampen criticism of their treatment of the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Other Countries/ Middle East
Israel to OK new homes for West Bank settlers, Palestinians -security official (11 August 2021) Permits for the construction of three thousand new homes in the West Bank are set to be approved by the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. A portion of these permits have been granted to Palestinians, notwithstanding the fact that the development of Israeli settlements in the West Bank remains in defiance of international law.
Israeli foreign minister inaugurates diplomatic office in Morocco (12 August 2021) Yair Lapid and Minister Delegate to the Moroccan Foreign Ministry Mohcine Jazouli met to commemorate the opening of the Israeli diplomatic office in Rabat. The rapprochement is seen as a continuation of the Abraham Accords that were led by the United States to normalize diplomatic ties between Israel and three other Arab states: The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan.
Israel says it downed a Hezbollah drone that crossed from Lebanon (12 August 2021) Amid increased hostilities along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Israeli military took down a reconnaissance drone they claim belonged to Hezbollah. Earlier in the week, Hezbollah launched rockets that were met with Israeli artillery fire.
Attack kills eight Egyptian troops in Sinai | Conflict News (13 August 2021) ISIL (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for a bomb that detonated in the town of New Rafah, which borders the Gaza Strip. Egyptian security forces have been battling armed insurgents in the Sinai peninsula furtively, as journalists, and other media have been given limited access to report on the conflict.
Iran asks Taliban to ensure safety of diplomats in Herat (13 August 2021) After the Taliban capture of the city of Herat in western Afghanistan, the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement to reaffirm the protection and fair treatment of their diplomats stationed in Herat. In 1998 Taliban forces killed eight Iranian diplomats in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, which nearly propelled Tehran to take up arms against the Taliban militants.
Turkish soldier killed in mortar attack in northern Iraq - ministry (13 August 2021) Turkey’s Defence Ministry has confirmed the casualty of one Turkish soldier after the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an attack on a Turkish military base in northern Iraq. The Turkish military has been combating the PKK insurgency on their southeastern border since 1984, and the conflict has claimed more than 40,000 lives since its onset.
Qatar urges Taliban to cease fire at meeting in Doha (14 August 2021) At a meeting in Doha, Qatari foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani met with the head of the Taliban's political bureau, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, to urge the latter to negotiate an armistice with the Afghan government. Following the meeting, a statement was issued declaring that the international community would not recognize a government in Afghanistan, ‘imposed through the use of military force’.
UAE says working to facilitate evacuation of foreign diplomats from Afghanistan (15 August 2021) The UAE Foreign Ministry confirmed its involvement in aiding in the departure of diplomatic personnel from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Egypt, Australia and the European Union.
Syria says its air defences intercepted Israeli missiles (19 August 2021) An Israeli bombing raid was met with Syrian air defenses in the cities of Damascus and Homs. It is believed that the air assault was meant to target Hezbollah facilities in Syria. Hostilities between the Lebanese militants and the Israeli armed forces have been on the rise after the two exchanged fire earlier this month.
The Shattering of Yemen (19 August 2021) While many have characterized the conflict in Yemen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is evidence to suggest that the situation is driven more by local military factions than by external forces. The appointment of a new UN special envoy to Yemen offers a unique opportunity for diplomats to advance a political settlement that includes parties outside the Houthi-Hadi-Saudi bloc.
Qatar’s Taliban efforts position Doha as a key mediator: Analysts (20 August 2021) Qatar’s role as host to various negotiations over the past decade with representatives of the Taliban positions them to be a vital point of contact for leaders seeking to mediate with the Afghani militant group. The Taliban has officially reclaimed power in Afghanistan, advancing steadily towards Kabul since the announcement of the departure of US troops in April 2021.
Gulf Arabs jittery about Taliban takeover but may seek pragmatic ties (20 August 2021) While Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both formally recognized the Taliban when they last held power in Kabul twenty years ago, many believe that they will take a more hesitant approach this time around. Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are keen to contain the spread of political Islam, but Riyadh’s position as custodian of two of Islam’s holiest sites offers them a unique position to influence the Taliban. Moreover, the financial weight of both Gulf states could entice the Taliban to refrain from antagonizing Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, as they now find themselves with the responsibility of governing Afghanistan without the foreign currency reserves that were previously available to the US backed Afghan government.
Iran urges Japan to release billions in blocked funds amid U.S. sanctions (22 August 2021) In a meeting between newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Raisi requested that the foreign minister unblock Iranian assets in Japanese banks. These funds have been frozen since 2018, when the United States reinstated sanctions on the Iranian banking and energy sectors.
Officials: Egypt closes Gaza border amid tensions with Hamas (24 August 2021) Egyptian officials closed the Rafah border crossing with Gaza to pressure Hamas to negotiate a long term peace process with Israel. Cairo has fostered mediation between the two groups since the outbreak of violence in May, but Hamas has retained a hardline position in response to Israel’s stricter enforcement of its blockade on Gaza.
Algeria cuts diplomatic relations with Morocco (25 August 2021) Algeria has severed its diplomatic relations with Morocco claiming that the latter used Pegasus spyware against Algerian officials, and fomented insurrectionist movements within Algeria. At the heart of the strained relationship between the two countries is the region of the Western Sahara, which Morocco affirms as its sovereign territory. The Algerian government has long backed the Polisario independence movement and their claim to establish a state independent from Morocco.
Iranian, Gulf Arab officials meet in Baghdad (28 August 2021) The Iraqi government hosted a regional security summit in Baghdad with the intention of bringing together neighboring countries to resolve their differences diplomatically, rather than doing so through battling factions within Iraq. Most notably, Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers were present, and despite the fact that talks between the two have stalled, Iraqi officials confirmed that they have not disbanded.
Treaties, Agreements, United Nations, Statistics
A la frontière libano-israélienne, une « dangereuse » poussée de fièvre (7 August 2021) The escalation of hostilities on the Israeli-Lebanese border has spurred the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to release a statement describing the situation as ‘very dangerous’. Joanna Wronecka, United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, warns that a lapse in judgement from either side could have grave consequences, and urged both parties to exercise restraint.
Israel approves resumption of Qatar aid to Gaza (19 August 2021) Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced the completion of a deal with Qatar and the United Nations to restore aid payments to Gazans. These direct transfers were suspended by the Israeli government during the clashes in May over concerns that the funds were reaching Hamas.
UN, EU condemn Palestinian Authority over activist arrests (24 August 2021) Palestinian Authority security forces arrested 23 people in Ramallah who were protesting against the treatment of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority who died in June while under police custody. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has postponed elections indefinitely citing Israel’s opposition to allowing residents of East Jerusalem to vote. Much has been made however of his party’s low polling numbers that suggest that his reasons for delaying elections stem from Abbas’ fear of replacement as president of the Palestinian Authority.
Millions ‘one step away’ from famine in Yemen, UN warns (24 August 2021) The outgoing UN special envoy for Yemen stated that two thirds of the country’s population depends on humanitarian aid for everyday needs. Since 2015, Yemen’s GDP has decreased by 40%. The port of Hodeidah, the main port of Yemen, has been under a Saudi led blockade for several years and has provoked a major fuel shortage in the Houthi controlled areas of Yemen.