Middle East General

Middle East General

By Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies

On 14 July, during his visit to Israel, US President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with the leaders of a new economic group known as I2-U2, consisting of India, Israel, the UAE, and the USA. The announcement of the group’s establishment has raised many questions concerning its objectives, the timing of its formation, and the interests that unite its parties. Although the joint statement issued after the meeting stressed that the goal of establishing the group is a ‘particular focus on joint investments and new initiatives in water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security,’ the prevailing belief is that strategic goals stand behind the group’s establishment, considering the circumstances that led to its emergence and the nature of the relations and interests linking its members. This was noted by US State Department spokesman Ned Price when he said that the four parties discussed ‘expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security’.

Context

The I2-U2 group was established in October 2021 during a meeting between the US secretary of state and his Israeli and Emirati counterparts to monitor the implementation of the ‘Abraham Accords’, which triggered the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Israel on the one hand, and the UAE and Bahrain on the other. India, which enjoys strategic relations with Israel, joined the group a few days later, during a visit to Israel by India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Consequently, the four parties held a virtual meeting while Jaishankar was in Israel to attend the Indian Air Force’s participation in Israel’s Blue Flag exercise. While the tripartite group of Israel, the UAE and the USA appears understandable in light of the Abraham Accords, India’s accession has aroused several questions regarding motives, as well as the reason for choosing Israel as a setting for the announcement of its accession.

Interests

The four state parties are linked to a wide network of economic, strategic and security interests, with shared views on many regional and international issues, most prominently the issue of Islamist movements (although the ideology and practice of India’s ruling party is hostile not just to Islamist movements but to Islam more generally). They do have difference on other issues, such as Iran (with which India entertains friendly relations), and the failure of the UAE and Israel to share the hostile position of the USA and India on China. India, the UAE and Israel have been strengthening their bilateral relations in recent years, eventually making it possible to establish a regional alliance under US auspices.

India-Israel Relations

Following the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel in 1992, relations between the two states have flourished, especially since the ascension to power of India’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014. Trade between them had ballooned to more than four billion dollars by the end of 2016, from one billion in 2000. In 2017, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, undertook the first visit of an Indian prime minister to Israel, followed by a visit by the former Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to India in January 2018. The progress of Indo-Israeli relations has covered many areas, including research and development and joint manufacturing in the defence sector, science and technology, trade and innovation, agriculture, health, telecommunications, water, and smart cities. But the defence and security sector remains the most important in their bilateral relations. Within a few years, Israel became one of the three most important sources of weapons for India. During the Indian foreign minister’s visit to Israel in October 2021, the two countries signed a ten-year defence cooperation agreement. Previously, in April 2017, the two governments signed the biggest deal in the history of the Israeli military industry, valued at two billion dollars. India is currently the largest importer of Israeli weapons; it imports about 45 per cent of all Israeli produced weapons. Israel is a convenient source of arms for India because, unlike the USA, it does not tie its exports to any conditions.

India-UAE Relations

India’s high economic growth numbers, accompanied by an increase in its energy needs, added a strategic dimension to its relations with the Gulf region. Energy and maritime security have become the glue of these relations, and India has set its sights on strengthening relations with Gulf states, and building a strategic partnership with them to secure the oil and gas for its continued economic growth. India is currently the third largest oil importer in the world, and the Gulf region provides about 70 per cent of India’s imported oil; the vast majority from Arab states, and the rest from Iran. Although India’s relations with all Gulf countries have undergone extensive development, New Delhi and Abu Dhabi are particularly close, especially since the BJP came to power. In February 2016, the then crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, visited India. In January 2017, he again visited India as the guest of honour for its National Day celebrations. On the other hand, India’s prime minister Modi visited Abu Dhabi in February 2018, and again in August 2019, when he was presented with the Order of Zayed, the highest honour in the UAE. During this visit, the two countries also signed a partnership and strategic cooperation agreement that included energy, investment, defence and maritime security. Meanwhile, trade between the two countries amounted to USD57 billion in 2019.

In February 2022, the two countries signed a comprehensive economic partnership agreement to increase trade from its current level of USD60 billion to USD115 billion within five years. Symbolic of the relationship between the two countries, the UAE insisted on inviting India to attend the ministerial meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that was held in Abu Dhabi in early 2019, despite Pakistan’s threat to boycott the meeting. Later that year, India abolished Kashmir’s seven-decade self-rule.

While the UAE seeks to enhance its technology, security and defence clout by strengthening its relations with India, ideology is also an important factor in the development of its relations with India, as well as with Israel, The UAE agrees with the Israeli and Indian definition of terrorism, generalising and seeking to eliminate all variations of Islamist forces, and cooperating with them to restrict and shut down Islamic organisations that are active in representing the interests of Muslims in Europe and the United States.

UAE-Israel Relations

Despite a long history of secret relations between the UAE and Israel dating back two decades, according to some sources, security relations have progressed remarkably quickly, especially after the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020. On 18 August 2020, former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen visited the UAE where he met the Emirati national security adviser, Tahnoun bin Zayed, to discuss ‘prospects for cooperation in the fields of security’, and ‘exchanged points of view on regional developments and on issues of common interest’.

In March 2021, the Emirates Defense Advanced Technology Group (EDGE) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Israel Aerospace Industries Company to develop joint security and military production and build an advanced anti-drone defence system. In November 2021, the head of the Arms Export Department of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, Yair Kolas, visited the Dubai International Airshow, accompanied by seven Israeli security, military and cyber companies, in order to enhance the joint security and military cooperation between the two countries, and to design and manufacture unmanned ships capable of implementing M-170 anti-submarine attacks. On the political level, Naftali Bennett made the first visit of an Israeli prime minister to the UAE in December 2021, and returned in June 2022 with reports that Israel had installed radar systems in the UAE to intercept any attacks from Iran. Economically, the volume of trade between the UAE and Israel increased from USD125 million in 2020 to USD700 million in 2021. In March 2022, the UAE announced the establishment of a USD10 billion fund to invest in strategic sectors in Israel, including energy, water, space, healthcare and agricultural technology.

The Tripartite consensus and the US position

Thus, the Abraham Accords prepared the ground to bring together India, the UAE, and Israel as partners within the framework of an Asian-Middle Eastern regional alliance based on shared interests and sponsored by Washington. As soon as normalisation between Israel and the UAE became public, the International Federation of Indian-Israeli Chambers of Commerce was established, and Dubai was selected as its main international headquarters. The opening of the headquarters was attended by the heads of the Indian and Israeli diplomatic missions in Abu Dhabi and the UAE ambassador to India, in addition to numerous Indian businessmen based in the UAE.

On 14 February 2021, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) organised a virtual symposium titled ‘India, Israel, and the Gulf: New Opportunities’. Israel views Dubai as an important bridge to the large Indian market, as Dubai hosts about 500 Indian investment groups, as well as the headquarters of every Indian company operating in the Middle East, in addition to the 23 Indian banks with branches in the Dubai International Financial Center. On the other hand, New Delhi considers the presence of direct flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv helpful in strengthening the relations of Indian companies with Israel. Israeli representatives in Dubai hastened to establish relations with Indian businessmen in the Emirates, while several Indian companies in Dubai announced the launch of activities in Israel in the fields of healthcare, pharmaceuticals, financial services, and gold and jewellery, among other sectors. The three countries have shown great interest in strengthening cooperation in the field of technology and artificial intelligence, in which Israel and India are pioneers, while the UAE boasts the capital to invest in these projects. According to an opinion poll conducted by the Brookings Institution in 2019, the UAE and Israel are, remarkably, considered the most reliable partners for Indian political elites.

With Washington being party to this regional grouping, the three countries hope to gain access to advanced US technology in security, defence, aerospace, healthcare and emerging technologies, and also hope to access the best weapons technology and to cooperate in containing the Islamist groups that they consider their greatest threat.

Meanwhile, Washington hopes that cooperation with India in the Gulf will replace, if only partially, China, and will lead to the emergence and development of a defence-security architecture that can confront China. The USA is looking for cooperation not only in terms of defence, but also to compete with Chinese trade. To this end, it has been proposed that Indian ports, such as Mumbai, may be linked Greek ports through the Jebel Ali port in Dubai, and a railway line may be constructed from the Emirates through Saudi Arabia and Jordan to the port of Haifa. Washington believes that supporting such projects will help restructure global supply chains and international trade lines away from China and its Belt and Road Initiative. This would be consistent with the vision of the G7 countries, adopted at their last meeting in June 2022, to provide USD600 billion to finance infrastructure projects to rival and limit the expansion of Chinese mega projects.

* This article was first published by the Arab Centre for Research & Policy Studies, Doha

Many people are questioning the value (and even the purpose) of US president Joe Biden’s visit  to the Middle East last week. While the trip’s objective was obfuscated by the White House, one thing is clear: while some part of the visit was about energy security for the West, much of it was about Israel.

It was clear beforehand that Biden wanted to repair the damaged relationship between his administration and Saudi crown prince (and effective ruler) Mohammed bin Salman (or MbS), in order to get the Saudis to increase their oil production and ease high energy prices in the US and Europe. But White House spokespersons sought to downplay the notion of a US president begging at the Saudi palace and said the trip was about normalising relations between Israel and Arab states, and particularly, Saudi Arabia. They hoped this would seem like a strong reason for Americans, given historical support for Israel in the US and within his Democratic Party. It was a miscalculation, but that the trip had a lot to do with Israel was true.

The more substantial stops on the tour were Israel and Saudi Arabia, with a brief visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In Israel, Biden did not mention anything about the expanding settlement project – illegal under international law and a violation of US policy. He reiterated support for Donald Trump’s relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, which is not recognised as Israel’s capital under international law; made no comment about reopening the US consulate that had served Palestinians before Trump shut it down; pledged to continue the annual $3,8 billion military aid package to Israel; condemned Iran for wanting to develop nuclear weapons (Iran doesn’t; Israel is the only Middle East state with nuclear weapons); and signed an anti-Iran declaration with Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid.

In Ramallah, after a brief meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Biden declared that “the ground was not ripe” for peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, pronouncing his verdict that Palestinians should remain under perpetual Israeli military rule in an apartheid state. That visit might as well not have happened; the Palestinians, to Biden, do not exist.

Though not the first US president to do so, Biden symbolically flew from Tel Aviv to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to hint at a possible new relationship between the two capitals.

In Saudi Arabia, Biden met the heads of the Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) and of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. He had two objectives here: mainly to convince MbS to increase oil production (which he failed to do), and to nudge Saudi Arabia towards normalised diplomatic relations with Israel (which he failed to do, except to get the Saudis to open their airspace to Israeli flights, itself, admittedly, an advance in Israeli-Saudi relations). It was an interesting image of a US president, cap-in-hand, asking the Saudis for help, and a more spectacular brushing off of the request by the latter.

In his presidential campaign, Biden had pledged to make MbS accountable for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which, the CIA said, the prince had a role in, and to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah state” for its human rights abuses. He did raise Khashoggi with MbS but was brushed off, as he would be, considering he was doing the begging. And this effectively has closed the Khashoggi matter for the US.

The rhetoric of global human rights has featured a great deal throughout his presidency. Yet he legitimised and heaped lavish praise on two governments known for publicly and spectacularly murdering journalists (including US resident Khashoggi, murdered by the Saudis, and US citizen Shireen Abu Akleh, murdered by the Israelis). No mention of other – ongoing – Saudi human rights violations; no mention of repeated and ongoing Israeli human rights violations and apartheid (as described by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as UN bodies). Indeed, he legitimised the human rights violations and crimes against humanity of Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as of other major violators such as the UAE and Egypt.

His attempt to portray the visit as building an anti-Iran alliance also fell flat. The Iranians (legitimately) accused him of spreading “Iranophobia”; the Saudis and Emiratis were not interested because they are in separate processes normalising their own relations with Iran and would prefer to do it without US interference; Egypt and Kuwait are quite happy nurturing their own relations with Iran on their terms. Only Lapid was thrilled with the anti-Iran rhetoric.

Biden also tacked on a promise that the US will not “walk away [from the Middle East] and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran”. Did he, perhaps, miss the fact that the states in the region (including Israel) have started “walking away” from the US, strengthening relations with Russia and China, attempting to restore relations with Iran (except Israel), and no longer believing in the US as a protector or patron?

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The refugee crisis currently affecting Europe has elicited comparisons to the refugee crisis resulting from the Second World War. This comparison, while worthwhile insofar as it has helped mobilise sections of the European community to assist the refugees, misses a key point: the Middle East and African regions are confronting the refugees crisis to a far greater extent than Europe. Europe is seeing merely a fallout of the crisis that is catastrophically affecting Lebanon, Turkey and certain other Middle East nations. Refugees making their way to Europe represent barely 0.068 per cent of the total European population, while over 25 per cent of the residents of Lebanon are refugees.

Refugees seeking rehabilitation in Europe are from many countries, with the largest group being from Syria. As Eurostat illustrates, the number of people seeking asylum in Europe from Syria numbered 130 000 in 2014, far more than the next largest group – from Afghanistan – numbering 40 000. The ‘refugee crisis’ is, then, primarily the result of four years of protracted war in Syria.

Unfortunately, the focus only on refugees distracts from the larger need to urgently resolve the Syrian crisis, and there is no concrete effort in this regard. Thus, even though some sections of European society have redeemed themselves with great humanitarian gestures and the acceptance of refugees  – Germany’s Angela Merkel and Catholic leader Pope Francis stand out amongst these, the ongoing refugee crisis is a deeper indictment of the global political elite, whether in the UN Security Council or in capital such as Damascus, Tehran, Istanbul and Riyadh, from where the war and violence in Syria has been fuelled without an end since 2011.

This indictment is at two levels. First, it relates to their inability to limit the spread of violence within the Middle East and Africa. And if the chaos of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia was not enough, the misery of the Yemeni people from March also lies at their doors. Second, it points to the shambolic handling of the refugee crisis resulting from the wars the region has experienced in the past few years.

A bigger picture of the refugee crisis is necessary, as illustrated by the following facts. For 2015, the UNHCR has appealed for more than $4.5 billion just to address the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and the rest of North Africa. This does not include the six million Syrians internally displaced in their home country, and who the UN cannot access. However, only thirty-seven per cent of these funds have been made available to the UN agency. Further, even with the global outpouring of grief for the refugees who died in the Mediterranean, especially after the widespread publication of pictures showing drowned babies like Aylan and Galip Shenu, UK prime minister David Cameron could promise to accept only 20 000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, in a radical departure from the greater goodwill exhibited by Germany. Also, Gulf Arab countries, without whose financial and logistical support the Syrian war could not have been sustained for almost five years, have refused to resettle refugees in their countries, citing concerns about demographic disproportionality and their financial assistance for refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Such data show the effective apathy of the global political elite to the suffering of these dispossessed refugees. This is compounded by another factor: the tendency of the global media and audience to take notice of an issue only when it affects white Europe or North America. While the refugees struggling to make their way into Europe are part of the media splurge witnessed from USA to Australia, and including South Africa, there is still insufficient attention being paid to refugees who are struggling to find inhabitable spaces within the Middle East and Africa. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the movement of Yemeni refugees to the Horn of Africa. The bombing of Yemen has already created 1.5 million refugees in less than six months, but is getting barely a mention in the global fixation on the ‘European refugee crisis’. The International Organization for Migration estimates that almost 60 000 refugees have arrived in Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia from Yemen since March. It is a fair question to ask why these refugees do not get as much attention as the ones who have drowned in the Mediterranean or have been held back in Hungary.

This oversight highlights the Eurocentrism that still plagues the humanitarian concern that is driving the discussion over the ‘European refugee crisis’. Indeed, this very label should be changed, and, since it is a result of the Syrian civil war, it should be called the the ‘Syrian crisis’ instead. Further, the discussion should be broadened to include refugee crises affecting other parts of the world; if the world’s concern is the well-being of refugees, then it must be understood that there are other places that also need drastic humanitarian assistance. Above all, this refugee crisis should not become a reason to detract from the political failings of the global political elite, which can and should do more to stop wars, rather than simply bandaging some wounds created as a result of their actions.

By Omar Shaukat

With the release of another video showing the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff, held hostage by the Islamic State (IS, also variously known as Isil, or Isis), IS’s confrontation with the US has become a hot topic of discussion throughout the world.

However, what such discussions typically miss is the manner in which IS has not only found enemies in the US but also within the Muslim world and the jihadist circles that at some point supported it. In fact, these internal divisions are so deep that a former ally of IS, and the US’s previous public enemy number one, al-Qaeda, too finds itself engaged in mortal combat with IS.

By Basheer Nafi’

A truism that is valid for almost all revolutions – including the English, French, and the European revolutions of the mid-nineteenth century, the Iranian Revolution and east European revolutions after the Cold War – is that every revolution has an associated counterrevolution. A common thread through most modern revolutions is that they expressed the desire of the people in a nation to restrain the modern state either by demanding constitutional rights and democracy, confronting authoritarianism and the hegemony of the ruling elite, or by demanding a just social system that would be based on the redistribution of economic burdens and wealth. The success of a revolution, however, has never been guaranteed. In the past few decades, the countries that have experienced relatively easy transitions to democracy have been those that had been part of broader regional systems, or which had received support from regional bodies such as the European Union. Even such countries were not always spared counterrevolutionary retaliations.

Women in Conflict

By Zeenat Adam

‘When women are violated like men who but for sex are like them – when women’s arms and legs bleed when severed, when women are shot in pits and gassed in vans, when women’s bodies are salted away at the bottom of abandoned mines or dropped from places into the ocean, when women’s skulls are sent from Auschwitz to Strasbourg for experiments – this is not recorded as the history of human rights atrocities to women...When things happen to women that also happen to men, like being beaten and disappeared and tortured to death, the fact that they happened to be women is not noted in the record books or human suffering…What happens to women is either too particular to be universal or too universal to be particular, meaning either too human to be female or too female to be human.’ – Catherine McKinnon, ‘Are Women Human?’

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The severing of Hamas’s relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s government, which saw its politburo relocate from Damascus to Doha and Cairo in early 2012, would inevitably impact the Palestinian movement’s relationship with long-time allies, Hizbullah and Iran. In fact, Hamas’s political repositioning on Syria reflects a reconfiguration of regional alliances that have been spurred by the uprisings that have swept across the region since December 2010. The political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other countries, facilitated by the uprisings in the region, saw the Palestinian resistance movement gravitate away from the ‘axis of resistance’ (Iran, Hizbullah and Syria) towards a Brotherhood-oriented Egyptian-Qatari-Turkish axis. Aside from an ideological resonance, this new alliance would also potentially ameliorate its isolation brought on by the classification of it as a ‘terrorist’ organisation by Israel, the USA, Canada, the EU and Japan.

By Elham Fakhro

Two years after the launch of Bahrain’s national dialogue, government and opposition representatives have failed to arrive at a settlement over the future direction of the country. The withdrawal from the talks of Bahrain’s largest opposition group al-Wefaq – first in July 2011 and again in September 2013 after the arrest of its deputy leader – reflects growing tensions between the two sides. A coalition of opposition groups said that the ongoing arrests of political leaders and activists were proof that the government was not serious about reform. Government representatives, on the other hand, accused the opposition of supporting violence by the February 14 coalition, a radical opposition group that the government calls a terrorist movement. Newly-energised loyalist groups also accuse the government of adopting a ‘too soft’ stance against the opposition. Bahrain’s international allies – including the United States and the United Kingdom – continue to criticise the absence of sufficient reform by the government, but have failed to broker any political settlement. As the schism between social and political groups hardens, prospects for a political solution appear increasingly dim.

Opening Remarks by International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim at the International Conference of the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) on MENA: A transforming Region and its impact on the African Continent, Sheraton Hotel, Pretoria, 27 August 2012.

I wish to thank you kindly for the invitation to address this distinguished audience who have gathered here to discuss what is most certainly a relevant topic. For the many visitors from far afield, I extend to you a warm South African welcome and hope that you will enjoy every moment of your stay in our friendly country.

By ‘Izzat Shahrour

The use of China's veto over the Syrian crisis demonstrates that it no longer needs to sit on the fence on such international issues. In other words, there is no ambivalence on China’s part; it is decisive in its actions and no longer desires to either please everyone or to provoke anyone. China had previously maintained diplomatic relationships with smaller countries in order to gain support against Taiwan at the United Nations, or more generally to defend China against criticism of its human rights record. China is now recognised as an emerging international power especially after it asserted itself as a major economic force. Its strategic interests have changed and with that its relations with other major powers. These developments have effected a change in its policies and diplomatic conduct.

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