[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.]
Blinken says Russia and US have 'shared interest' in preventing a nuclear Iran (3 December 2021) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Stockholm to discuss the evolving situation on the Ukrainian border. Additionally, Secretary Blinken insisted that the US and Russia are both committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and that they are working to bring Iran back into the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Notwithstanding, Russia supports Iran’s position that all US sanctions be lifted as a gesture of goodwill after the US left the JCPOA in 2015. Russia is also aligned with Tehran on other regional issues, most notably in Syria where they both support the Assad regime.
Bennett urges Blinken to end Iran talks over 'nuclear blackmail' (3 December 2021) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to end the negotiations with Iran to reinstate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Prime Minister Bennett cited Iran’s enrichment of uranium at its Fordow facility as a sign that they are not genuinely interested in returning to the 2015 deal. Meanwhile, Iran has stated that the cessation of US sanctions and a guarantee that the US will abide by the deal even if a new administration comes to power in 2024 were fundamental preconditions to a return to the JCPOA.
Saudi pleads with US for missile defense resupply: Report (7 December 2021) Saudi Arabia has made a formal request to its US, European, and Gulf allies to provide them with missile defense ammunition to protect civilians and oil infrastructure from Houthi rebel attacks from neighboring Yemen. While the US has shifted its military focus towards the Pacific and President Biden has been clear in his intention to recalibrate the US-Saudi relationship after the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, all signs indicate that Biden will approve a $650 million deal to restore Saudi missile defense supplies. In addition to the threat to civilian life in Saudi Arabia, the US is also keen on protecting Saudi oil infrastructure which has been previously targeted by Houthi drone attacks, particularly amid rising energy prices and the effects that a potential attack on oil infrastructure could have on oil markets.
US imposes sanctions on Iranian and Syrian officers, citing rights abuses (7 December 2021) The US Treasury Department enacted sanctions on two senior Syrian Air Force officers and officials in Iran’s law enforcement agency for alleged human rights abuses. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the action as Iran has requested that all US sanctions be lifted as a precondition to an eventual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which is being negotiated in Vienna.
US-led combat mission to fight ISIL in Iraq ends (9 December 2021) US forces have ended combat missions in Iraq but it is expected that some members of the US military will remain there in an advisory role to the Iraqi army. While the initial US invasion of Iraq in 2003 aimed to oust Saddam Hussein since 2014 the main objective has been to contain the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). While ISIL has been in retreat after losing territory in Iraq in 2017 and Syria in 2019, they remain active in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. While the Iraqi military establishment has stressed the need for US support on intelligence gathering and maintenance of US-provided armaments, local Iraqi Shia factions have been vocal in their desire to minimize the role of the US military in Iraq.
US ‘privileging path of diplomacy’ with Iran, Biden’s envoy says (9 December 2021) US Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley affirmed the Biden administration’s intention of pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. The US has declared its willingness to hold direct dialogues with Iran, but this offer has been turned down by Iran since the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, and thus negotiations to return to the 2015 deal are taking place through Western European allies acting as intermediaries of the US. Iran has called on the US to lift all economic sanctions on Iran, but the US has remained steadfast in their position that only if Iran returns to compliance with the JCPOA will economic sanctions relating to Iran’s nuclear activity be discontinued.
Arab activists express caution over Biden's democracy summit (9 December 2021) As the US prepares to host a virtual summit on democracy, Arab activists have been quick to point out US support for autocratic regimes in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt is in direct contradiction with the stated goals of the summit. While the Arab Spring in 2010 represented an important advance for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, many of those achievements have seen significant setbacks in recent years, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt. Arab democracy activists have called attention to the fact that only one Arab state met the criteria to be invited to the summit, yet the US continues to financially and militarily support autocratic regimes in the region. Activists from the Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) group advocate for bolstering civil society in these countries rather than upholding non-democratic governments.
US lawmakers warn against foreign interference in Libya's election (10 December 2021) As Libya looks to hold democratic elections in two weeks, US lawmakers are unsure if they will be held due to the wide range of foreign players that continue to maintain a significant presence in the country. A civil war in Libya in 2019 saw Turkey back the UN-backed government in Tripoli while the UAE, France, and Russia, with support of the Wagner Group, backed Khalifa Hiftar’s insurgency in eastern Libya. A peaceful democratic election would undermine Turkey’s position for a continued military presence in Libya, while Russia hopes to maintain a foothold in Libya should Hiftar be elected president. Notwithstanding the external forces destabilizing Libya, the internal politics of the election add to the tumultuous atmosphere as well, as the three most likely contenders for the presidency are Dbeibeh, the current prime minister who reversed course after initially stating he would not run for office, Gaddafi, son of the ousted dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, and Hiftar, who lead the insurrection against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
Israel pleased with US pivot to pressure in Iran nuclear talks (10 December 2021) As talks in Vienna on Iran’s return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) resumed on December 9th, Israeli officials have pressed US officials to opt for a more forceful solution to halt Iran’s nuclear program. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz discussed the possibility of joint military exercises if talks in Vienna remain in gridlock and a military solution would be necessary. The primary motive for Iran to return to compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency is to end the economic and financial sanctions that are stifling the Iranian economy. While the original 2015 JCPOA left regional players sidelined, the US has taken a different approach this time by including the UAE as a mediator by helping move Iranian assets through Abu Dhabi should Iran decide to return to the JCPOA.
US, Palestinian officials hold first economic dialogue in five years - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (15 December 2021) For the first time in five years, US and Palestinian officials held virtual calls to improve economic ties and support Palestinian economic development. Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert explained that the dialogue is an important part of the US’s overarching goal of working towards a negotiated two-state solution. While the Biden administration has not revoked the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, they have reopened the Jerusalem consulate, and have renewed US aid to the occupied Palestinian territories and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
Bennett: What is happening in Vienna has ramifications for Israel and the region (22 December 2021) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hosted US national security advisor Jake Sullivan to discuss the ongoing negotiations with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Sullivan’s visit was prompted by reports that President Biden had been ignoring Prime Minister Bennett’s calls to the White House due to the latter’s refusal to halt settlement construction in the Atarot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Israel's Bennett gets scolded by the White House - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (28 December 2021) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is hoping to speak soon with US President Joe Biden after the latter snubbed his informal request for a phone call. It is surmised that President Biden did so in response to a leaked conversation between Bennett and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that was framed to aggrandize the Israeli Prime Minister. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan visited Israel to explain Biden’s position to Prime Minister Bennett and to allay concerns that the US-Israeli relations are fluctuant. Bennett is facing increased pressure from the US over settlement construction in East Jerusalem and is likely to adopt an approach more similar to that advocated by his Defense Minister Benny Gantz in keeping disputes with the US behind closed doors.
Macron wraps up Gulf tour in Saudi with MBS meeting (4 December 2021) French President Emmanuel Macron met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia after visiting Qatar and the UAE. The conversation between the two focused primarily on the situation in Lebanon, where a worsening economic crisis has been coupled with a diplomatic rift that saw Saudi Arabia ban all Lebanese imports. Macron was clear in his remarks that his meeting with Salman, who was implicated in the murder of US-based journalist Jamaal Khashoggi, should not be interpreted as an endorsement of his alleged human rights violations. Macron has however come under scrutiny after he approved the sale of 80 French Rafale warplanes to the UAE, which is supporting the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France discouraged (8 December 2021) French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed his dismay regarding the nuclear talks with Iran which have resumed in Vienna. The newly elected government in Iran led by Ebrahim Raisi has adopted a much tougher stance than his predecessor and has been particularly adamant about the cessation of US sanctions on Iran. CIA director William Burns has stated that while Iran has progressed with the enrichment of uranium, they still lack the components necessary to ‘weaponize’ the enriched uranium, and couple it with an appropriate delivery system.
Western states ask Tunisia to return to ‘democratic institutions’ (10 December 2021) The diplomatic mission heads of the G7 nations, in addition to the EU, called for a restoration of the democratic institutions of Tunisia. In July of 2021 Tunisian President, Kais Saied suspended the parliament and has yet to establish a clear path to restoring the representative body, prompting fears that Tunisia is in danger of reverting to an autocracy. President Saied has cited the economic and political uncertainty caused by the pandemic as the main reason for taking such drastic actions, but the situation has not substantially improved, as public demonstrations against his power grab are increasingly more frequent and stalled negotiations with international lenders have many worried that the government will be forced to default on its debt.
Turkey seeks Ukraine-Russia de-escalation, opposes sanctions on Moscow -Anadolu (1 December 2021) Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that he had been in contact with his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts and that he believed sanctions against Russia for their presumed aggression against Ukraine would not be conducive to a long-term solution to the issue. Turkey maintains strong relations with both countries, despite the differences they have with Russia concerning their positions on Libya and Syria. While the Russian Foreign Ministry formally denied an offer from Turkey to mediate the conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did confirm that Putin and Erdogan would discuss the topic during a scheduled call later this week.
Kremlin keeping a close eye on Israel-Ukraine rapprochement (10 December 2021)
Kremlin hopes Syria can be a future thorn in NATO's southern flank - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (28 December 2021)
Other Countries/ Middle East
Iran accuses Israel of poisoning nuclear talks (2 December 2021) Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh denounced Israel for undermining the nuclear negotiations in Vienna by circulating Israeli intelligence that Iran is actively progressing towards the 90% uranium enrichment mark needed to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has firmly denied the veracity of these claims and has urged Western nations to act independently of Israel. While the International Atomic Energy Agency has not confirmed that enrichment levels have reached the 90% threshold, it has expressed frustration at the lack of transparency that Iran is providing concerning its nuclear program. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahain has stated that a deal could be reached if US sanctions on Iran were to be lifted.
Israel weighs options, timing of possible military strike on Iran (3 December 2021) As discussions in Vienna for Iran’s return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remain at an impasse, Israel has been diligently preparing for military strikes on Iranian nuclear targets, and increasing the pressure to end talks in Vienna. Despite the lack of progress, the US has maintained a united front with the EU, Russia, and China that has limited Iran’s ability to back away from negotiations. Iran has remained obstinate in its position that the US should release 10 billion USD in frozen Iranian assets and lift all the economic sanctions imposed when the Trump administration abandoned the JCPOA in 2018 as a gesture of goodwill. Israel is keen on bringing about a diplomatic resolution rapidly if it is going to occur at all, as it places some limits on Iran’s nuclear program and offers Israel time to properly coordinate and organize a military attack.
Patronage marginalizes qualified Turkish diplomats (3 December 2021) Former members of Turkey’s foreign ministry are concerned that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sidelined a once highly effective and accomplished diplomatic corps and used ambassadorships to reward party loyalists. This has hindered Turkey’s ability to navigate increasingly complex foreign policy challenges and has seen many career diplomats consider early retirement, as the meritocratic system of entry to the foreign ministry is being cast aside. The shift is seen by many as an effort from Erdogan to replace a once secular foreign ministry with one that is more compliant to his Islamized foreign policy goals and is altogether less influential in shaping Turkey’s relations with foreign countries.
UAE’s top security official visits Iran to develop ‘warm ties’ (6 December 2021) UAE national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to discuss relations between their two countries. The UAE and Iran support opposing factions in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, but the readout from the meetings suggests that they are willing to expand their relationship in the transport, energy, and health sectors. As Iran continues to negotiate a reprieve from US sanctions by way of the nuclear negotiations in Vienna, the UAE presents itself as a financially secure partner that could support an Iranian economy hampered by US sanctions.
Syria praises visit of UAE minister to Damascus (6 December 2021) UAE Foreign Minister Abdalla bin Zayed became the most senior Emirati official to visit Syria since the beginning of the Syrian civil war when he met with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Damascus. This visit is in keeping with other overtures that Middle Eastern countries have recently made to the Assad regime, as they come to accept that Assad will likely remain in power for the near future and they look to reintegrate Syria into the regional fold.
No sign of increased Qatari aid to Turkey after Erdogan visit (7 December 2021) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has concluded his visit to regional ally Qatar and expanded ties with the Gulf country on several fronts. Most notably, however, Qatar agreed to extend a 15 billion USD currency swap agreement, a vital step to stabilize the Turkish lira which has been descending in value for several months. Turkey has long been aligned with Qatar, particularly since the 2017 embargo from Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain, which was aggravated by the fact that Turkey maintained a military base in Qatar. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have taken steps to improve relations with Ankara, but the UAE has made more tangible progress after agreeing to significantly increase its investment in Turkey
Israeli press review: Tel Aviv worried about new Iran-UAE axis (7 December 2021) Senior Israeli officials are growing concerned that the UAE is expanding ties with Iran, particularly after the UAE was a major partner to the 2020 Abraham Accords that saw Israel normalize relations with several Arab countries. Emirati officials are said to be embracing a more pragmatic regional foreign policy because they are concerned that the US shift towards Asia and the South China Sea is a sign that it is less willing to support its allies in the Middle East. Israel is particularly concerned that UAE support and sanctions relief from the United States, should an agreement be reached in Vienna, would provide them with the means to strengthen to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC) and other Iran-backed militias in the region.
Saudi Arabia’s MBS on first visit to Qatar since end of blockade (8 December 2021) Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made his first visit to Qatar since he ascended to the title of Crown Prince in 2017. It is also the first visit from a Saudi Arabian dignitary since the 2017 blockade against Qatar, which stemmed from a dispute over the coverage of Al Jazeera and the presence of a Turkish military base in Qatar, and resulted in the rupture of diplomatic relations between Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is looking to mend ties with Qatar and other Gulf countries particularly because while the GCC countries share strong cultural and religious ties, they do not all share the same position concerning Iran, Saudi Arabia’s longtime regional foe. Negotiations between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to reinstate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are still ongoing, and Saudi Arabia is keen on making sure Iran does not receive support from other Gulf countries.
Israeli foreign minister Lapid visits Egypt to boost ties (9 December 2021) Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo seeking to strengthen ties with Egypt, and consolidate the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas which Egypt brokered during the summer of 2021. Lapid discussed plans to bolster the ailing Gazan economy, while Hamas has long appealed for an end to the Egyptian-Israeli blockade, and Israel has requested that Hamas return two captive Israeli soldiers and the remains two deceased Israeli soldiers. While Egypt and Israel have discreetly coordinated with each other on security issues in the past, and previous Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained a distant relationship with Egypt, current Prime Minister Bennett in September made the first official trip by an Israeli Prime Minister to Egypt in more than a decade, indicating that he is willing to pursue a closer relationship than his predecessor was.
Lebanese PM says he asked Egypt for support to generate electricity (10 December 2021) Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that he formally requested natural gas from Egypt, as Lebanon continues to suffer from a severe energy shortage that has affected hospitals from operating normally.
Israeli PM Naftali Bennett to make first official visit to UAE | News (12 December 2021) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is set to make history as the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit the United Arab Emirates. While Bennett is set to touch upon many regional issues with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the state of the nuclear negotiations with Iran will be high on their agenda. Israel, in particular, has been sending diplomats to the US and several European countries to advance a hardline approach to relations with Iran. The UAE and Israel formalized their rapprochement in the Abraham Accords of 2020, which led to high-level investments between the two countries, but the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab countries involved in those accords was denounced by Palestinians, who saw their cause relegated for the sake of economic ties and a unified front against Iran.
Turkey not yet ready to give up on Muslim Brotherhood (12 December 2021) While Turkey has taken steps to improve its ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, their continued support for the Muslim Brotherhood is a major obstacle to realizing this goal. Even as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faces increased domestic opposition amid the precipitous depreciation of the Turkish lira, Turkey remains steadfast in its support of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Turkish Islamist NGO IHH, Humanitarian Relief Organization, maintains support across all Turkish political parties even though their work has drawn scrutiny because of ties with Hamas. As Qatar, which has long offered financial support for the Muslim Brotherhood, diminishes its ties with Turkey to appease its Gulf neighbors, Turkey is likely to preserve its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood to maintain a key strategic partner in the Middle East.
Gulf states back Egypt in Nile river dam dispute with Ethiopia - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (14 December 2021) The Gulf Cooperation Council voiced its support for Egypt regarding the regional conflict that the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has caused. Countries that lie downstream of the Nile, namely Egypt and Sudan, are concerned that the construction of the dam would deprive them of an essential source of water. As construction of the dam nears completion, the African Union and the United States have made efforts to resolve the issue diplomatically but have had no success as of yet.
Qatar's presence in eastern Mediterranean benefits Egypt, Turkey - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (15 December 2021) The announcement of a gas exploration deal between Cyprus, Qatar, and ExxonMobil could prove to be a starting point for improved relations between Turkey and Egypt. Cyprus is at the center of a sovereignty dispute between Turkey and Greece, where Northern Cyprus is dominated by Turkish Cypriots and Southern Cyprus is dominated by Greek Cypriots; Turkey is currently the only country to recognize Northern Cyprus as an independent state and does not maintain diplomatic relations with Nicosia. Turkey and Qatar have close relations, particularly because they both view the Muslim Brotherhood favorably, and this point of convergence for them is precisely why Egypt and Turkey are at odds with each other; Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Since the 2017 blockade against Qatar led by Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt, the Egyptian government has made the most progress in normalizing relations with Qatar as evidenced by the appointment of ambassadors to each country, and the various energy deals they have agreed upon. Qatar’s interest in the Eastern Mediterranean and its close ties with Turkey, leaves them positioned to potentially mediate a rapprochement between Ankara and Cairo.
As Turkey names new envoy for Armenia, skepticism prevails - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (15 December 2021) Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed that Turkey and Armenia would be naming special envoys to improve relations between the two countries, but despite the progress this represents, the path to normalized relations remains complicated. As one of the major obstacles was the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is now almost entirely controlled by Azerbaijan, Turkey views rapprochement with Armenia as a chance to improve its image with the international community. Russia, however, mediated the peace settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan in November of 2020 and in doing so has been able to preserve its influence on both sides of the conflict by keeping 2,000 peacekeepers in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. While Azerbaijan’s victory has given Ankara hope that they may be able to assert themselves as the major military peacekeeper in the region, there is little doubt that Russia will continue to be Armenia’s primary ally, even if there is a breakthrough in Turkish-Armenian relations.
Israel to donate 1 million vaccine doses to African countries via COVAX - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (16 December 2021) Israel has made a donation of 1 million vaccine doses purchased from the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca but has provided the global vaccine distribution program COVAX with a list of recipient countries they request the vaccines be sent to. As Israel recovered its observer status with the African Union in July, it is using the opportunity to donate vaccines to bolster its relations with African countries. While Israel has vaccinated Palestinians working in the West Bank and the Israeli territory, the Palestinian Authority has received vaccines from Russia and the COVAX program. Israel has also shipped medical equipment to Bulgaria and India in its efforts to help other nations maintain their healthcare systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Egypt, Turkey compete for military foothold in Kenya - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (18 December 2021) The chairman of Egypt’s Arab Organization of Industrialization hosted a delegation from Kenya’s National Defense College as Egypt looks to bolster its relationship with Kenya in both the military and economic spheres to counter Turkish influence in the Eastern African country. In keeping with Egypt and Turkey’s adversarial relationship, Cairo is seeking to foster a closer relationship with Kenya to protect their security interests in the Horn of Africa and the Suez Canal, but also to sway Kenya to position itself with Egypt in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) conflict. Egypt’s recent military agreements with Sudan and Uganda reflect that these two foreign policy goals are high on Cairo’s policy agenda as it looks to reinforce ties with the Nile Basin countries.
Venezuela's Maduro plans to visit Iran 'very soon' - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (27 December 2021) Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed plans to visit Tehran to ratify cooperation agreements between Venezuela and Iran. Both countries have been subjected to severe economic sanctions from the US, and Iran has made efforts to supply Venezuela with oil as the South American country struggles with a deep energy crisis despite having extensive oil reserves.
In Egypt, elation at Turkish currency crisis - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (28 December 2021) As the value of the Turkish Lira continues to plummet, Egypt has enjoyed a feeling of schadenfreude over Turkey’s economic misfortunes. Egypt and Turkey have been at odds since the 2013 ousting of Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected Egyptian President who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood remains a key ideological ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Ankara was particularly riled after current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi went to great lengths to expunge the Brotherhood from Egypt by banning them and cracking down on their assets and financial resources. The conflict between Ankara and Cairo extends beyond their national borders, as Turkey is backing militias in Libya and Sudan in addition to offering support to Ethiopia through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis.
Lebanon to start pipeline renovation to import Egyptian gas | AP News (28 December 2021) To alleviate their ongoing energy crisis, Lebanon announced that an agreement was reached to begin two natural gas projects from Egypt. These projects will import Egyptian natural gas through Jordan and Syria, the latter of which has been the subject of US economic sanctions since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011. Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, in a separate arrangement agreed to refurbish Lebanese gas tanks to safely store greater quantities of oil.
Treaties, Agreements, United Nations, Statistics
Iran gives European nuclear deal parties drafts on sanctions removal, nuclear issues (2 December 2021) Following the start of the seventh round of negotiations in Vienna, a European diplomat confirmed that Iran had given them documents laying out the sanctions relief and inspections of nuclear facilities that could be the basis for a return to a nuclear agreement. Israel, a vocal critic of the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, claims that Iran continues to enrich uranium despite participating in talks in Vienna.
UAE buys record 80 French Rafale jets in $19bn arms deal (3 December 2021) The UAE and France agreed to a $19 billion deal that will see the Emiratis purchase 80 Rafale jets and 12 Caracal helicopters from French aviation multinational Dessault. The deal has come under criticism from Human Rights Watch, which points out that the UAE has had a major role in the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen that has resulted in a litany of alleged human rights violations. The UAE has capitalized on the hesitancy from Washington to approve defense deals due to the former’s close relations with China. Outside the military sphere, the UAE and France have cemented their partnership through the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which was made with a $1.2 billion investment, and the Chateau de Fontainebleu which was restored by the Emiratis with an $11.3 million donation.
Syria to host 2024 energy conference as Arab normalization gains momentum (10 December 2021) While several Arab countries have made important steps towards normalizing relations with Syria, the announcement from the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) is more likely to test the US’s patience concerning Arab countries integrating the Assad regime back into the regional fold. While Jordan and the UAE had made minor overtures to the Assad regime, the OAPEC announcement is a major step forward in that direction. While the US has decried these moves and has no intention of lifting sanctions or the Caesar Act, there has been certain leeway offered for humanitarian objectives such as the energy deal between Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan that will send gas through Syria. The most significant security challenge in Syria remains the continued presence of Iranian troops, but the recent dismissal of the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has led Gulf countries to believe that their influence in Damascus is growing.
Saudi UN envoy: Iran playing "games" in talks with kingdom (13 December 2021) Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the UN, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, made a statement categorizing direct discussions with Iran as ‘games’ that have no clear objectives. Saudi Arabia ruptured diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016, and the two have maintained a fraught relationship since then. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of the attack on petroleum infrastructure at Abqaiq in 2019 and with supporting the Houthi rebel insurgency in Yemen with armaments.
UN envoy seeks new path forward on Syria in Damascus visit - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East (14 December 2021) UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen met with Syrian government officials to work towards a political settlement to Syria’s civil war. Syria was expelled from the Arab League in 2011, but the stalemate in the civil war has allowed for Arab states to begin the process of reestablishing relations with Damascus. Russia and Iran continue to back Syria militarily, while a UN negotiation in October failed to produce a framework for a new Syrian constitution. Syria continues to push forward on a military solution to retaking control of the entire territory, despite the gridlock in the northwest and the east where rebel forces are supported by both Turkey and the United States.
Iran allows IAEA to reinstall cameras at Karaj nuclear facility (15 December 2021) Iran announced that it voluntarily granted access to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to install cameras at key nuclear facilities. The restored access to the nuclear sites is a major improvement in bringing Iran in compliance with IAEA regulations, and in return, Iran presented formal documents outlining the revocation of US sanctions that would permit them to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).