Tag Archives: Middle East

Storyline: Iran tackles United States after threat over Arms supply.

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Iran says it will sell weapons to countries that ‘won’t misuse them’ and will employ them strictly for defence purpose.

Tehran has hit back at a US threat of sanctions on anyone looking to make deals with Iran after the arms embargo on its military expired, saying Washington’s threats show the futility of US action and rhetoric on sanctions.

After a long-standing conventional arms embargo on Iran ended on Sunday despite Washington’s opposition, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of consequences for any individuals or entities that conduct arms deals with Iran.


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“Pompeo’s remarks are the most important sign that not even he believes unilateral US sanctions have been successful, and no [UN sanctions] have been reinstated,” spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday.

“Iran continues to believe it can operate within the framework of international agreements. What they fear is Iran’s return to the massive market of technology and arms exports,” Khatibzadeh said, adding that Iran produces 90 percent of its defence needs locally and will mostly look to export arms rather than import them.

In an interview with state television on Sunday night, Iran’s defence minister Amir Hatami said Iran would only sell weapons to countries that it is sure “won’t misuse them” and will employ them strictly for defence purposes.

“Unlike the Americans, we wouldn’t do just about everything for money,” he said, pointing out that the US sells billions of dollars of arms to Arab nations in the Middle East that fuel wars.

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Iran’s foreign ministry said “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place” in the country’s defence doctrine.

The US tried to stop the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran twice at the UN Security Council.

In August, it introduced a resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo while in September it claimed it unilaterally reinstated UN sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo.

On both occasions, the UNSC rejected the moves, saying they have no legal basis.

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The 13-year ban came to an end as part of Resolution 2231 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an accord signed in 2015 that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

The US unilaterally withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and has since blacklisted the entire Iranian financial sector.

The expiry of the embargo means Iran will face no challenges by the UNSC in trying to buy or sell conventional weapons, which include tanks, missiles and fighter jets among others.

A European ban on arms deals with Iran, separate from the UN arms embargo, will remain in place until 2023.

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“For the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various UN measures. Any country that now challenges this prohibition will be very clearly choosing to fuel conflict and tension over promoting peace and security,” Pompeo, who had led efforts to block the lifting of the embargo at the UN, said in a statement on Sunday.

“Any nation that sells weapons to Iran is impoverishing the Iranian people by enabling the regime’s diversion of funds away from the people and toward the regime’s military aims.”

In trying to stop the lifting of the arms embargo, Pompeo had warned that Russia, China and others could rush to sell advanced weapons to Tehran.

On Sunday, Israel Defence Minister Benny Gantz also vowed to take “whatever measures necessary” to prevent Iran from purchasing weapons.


#Newsworthy…

Israel, Bahrain to formalise ties – Israel in move to send delegates.

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Israel to send delegates to Bahrain on Sunday to formalise nascent ties following US-brokered normalisation deal.

Israel and Bahrain will officially establish diplomatic relations on Sunday at a ceremony in Manama, an Israeli official said, after the two states reached a US-brokered normalisation deal last month.

A visiting delegation from Israel and officials in Bahrain will sign a “joint communique (that) is the establishment of full diplomatic relations,” an Israel official in Manama told reporters.

Once the text is signed at a ceremony scheduled for Sunday evening, Israel and Bahrain will be free to open embassies in each other’s countries, the official said.

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain became the third and fourth Arab states to agree to normalise ties with Israel, following Egypt’s peace deal with Israel in 1979 and a 1994 pact with Jordan.

Sunday’s meeting follows a September 15 ceremony at the White House when Israel, the UAE and Bahrain inked the so-called “Abraham Accords” brokered by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The delegation, led by Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, will be accompanied by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose office said the mission seeks “expanded economic cooperation” among Israel, Bahrain and UAE.

In addition to the joint communique establishing diplomatic ties, Israel and Bahrain are expected to sign “six to eight” MoUs, including on economic cooperation, the Israeli official said.

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The official said he could not outline the substance of all the agreements scheduled for signature on Sunday, but security cooperation is likely to feature prominently in bilateral talks.

Earlier this month, Israel’s Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen held talks in Bahrain with top security and intelligence officials on “topics of mutual interest,” according to the Bahrain News Agency.

Mnuchin and another senior Trump aide, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, will continue on Monday to the UAE, whose accord with Israel has opened up the possibilities of bilateral commerce. On Tuesday, the US dignitaries will accompany the UAE’s first delegation to Israel.

From left: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed wave from the White House balcony after signing the Abraham Accords [File: Tom Brenner/ Reuters]

Israel and the UAE have reached a bilateral agreement that will give incentives and protection to investors who make investments in each other’s countries, both finance ministries said on Sunday.

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The UAE finance ministry said the agreement – which still needs to be signed by both finance ministers – would protect investments from non-commercial risks such as “nationalisation, confiscation, judicial seizures, freezing assets, establishing licensed investments, and transferring profits and revenues in convertible currencies”.

Last week, the UAE and Israel reached a preliminary agreement on a separate deal that would avoid double taxation.

The Palestinian leadership has condemned the Gulf normalisation agreements with Israel as “a stab in the back” for Palestinian aspirations to establish an independent state of their own.

The deals mark a distinct shift in a decades-old status quo where Arab countries have tried to maintain unity against Israel over its treatment of the stateless Palestinians.

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Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that more states in the Middle East want ties with Israel as priorities have shifted, arguing that countries now value lucrative trade opportunities above the Palestinian conflict.

But key player Saudi Arabia has said it will not follow its allies Bahrain and the UAE in establishing diplomatic relations without a resolution to the Palestinian issue.

Israel’s parliament on Thursday ratified the normalisation agreement with the UAE.

A separate vote on the Bahrain pact is expected once the details are finalised


#Newsworthy…

News+: Saudi Arabia resume prayers at Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

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Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia resumed allowing citizens and residents to perform the Umrah at Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, after a seven-month pause due to coronavirus concerns.

Saudi Arabia is allowing its citizens and residents inside the kingdom to perform daily prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, for the first time in seven months.

Sunday also marked the start of the second phase of the gradual return of citizens and residents to performing the Umrah – an Islamic pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina undertaken any time of the year – expanding the capacity to 75 percent.

Earlier this month. Saudi Arabia allowed citizens and residents to perform the Umrah pilgrimage after a seven-month pause [File: Handout via AP]

With the start of phase one on October 4, Saudi Arabia had allowed 6,000 citizens and residents of the kingdom to perform Umrah daily, representing 30 percent of a revised maximum capacity of 20,000 pilgrims allowed into the Grand Mosque every day under new precautionary health measures.

Citizens and residents will be allowed to perform daily prayers at the Grand Mosque for the first time in seven months.

Starting November 1, the kingdom will allow visitors from specific countries deemed safe to perform Umrah at 100 percent of the revised capacity, which would remain in place until the danger posed by the coronavirus had passed, Saudi news agency SPA reported last month.


#Newsworthy

Implications for Iran unclear as her 13 years Arms embargo ends.

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A 13-year conventional arms embargo on Iran has ended, but the implications for Iran and the region remain uncertain.

Despite opposition from the United States, a long-standing conventional arms embargo imposed on Iran has expired in line with the terms of a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.

The 13-year ban imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) came to an end on Sunday as part of Resolution 2231 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an accord signed in 2015 that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

In a statement carried by state media, the Iranian foreign ministry said “as of today, all restrictions on the transfer of arms, related activities and financial services to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran … are all automatically terminated.”

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The end of the embargo means Iran will legally be able to buy and sell conventional arms, including missiles, helicopters and tanks, and the Iranian foreign ministry said the country can now “procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions, and solely based on its defensive needs”.

However, Iran was self-reliant in its defense, the statement said, adding that “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place” in the country’s defense doctrine.

The US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, imposing waves of harsh economic sanctions on Iran. US President Donald Trump’s administration has also employed every means in its power to unravel the nuclear deal and stop the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran.

The latest came in early October when 18 Iranian banks were blacklisted, including those that process humanitarian trade transactions – effectively severing Iran’s financial sector from the global economy.

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The US administration has been fervently supported in its efforts by Israel and a number of Arab countries that oppose Iran’s expanding regional influence.

In August, the US tabled a UNSC resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo, but it was rejected.

From the 14 UNSC member states, the so-called E3 of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and eight others abstained while Russia and China opposed the extension. Only the Dominican Republic supported the resolution.

After announcing the triggering of a process to “snap back” sanctions on Iran and waiting for a month, the US in September announced it has unilaterally reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of Resolution 2231.

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If implemented, the move would automatically extend the arms embargo as well.

But an overwhelming majority of UNSC member states once more rejected the bid, saying no process to reinstate sanctions was started because the move had no legal basis.

The US threatened “consequences” for countries that do not adhere to its assertion but has yet to take action.

In trying to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran, the US claims the lifting of the embargo will open a floodgate of arms deals that would quickly serve to further destabilise the region.

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EU embargoes on conventional arms exports and missile technology are still in place and will remain in force until 2023.

The foreign ministers of the E3 in July issued a joint statement that said while the three countries remain committed to fully implementing Resolution 2231, they believe the lifting of the arms embargo “would have major implications for regional security and stability”.

Russia and China
In practice, it might take some time for Iran to be able to utilise the freedom from the embargo.

For one, relentless US sanctions have significantly restricted Iran’s ability to buy advanced systems, whose purchase and maintenance could cost billions of dollars.

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Furthermore, China and Russia, or any other country pondering arms sales to Iran, would act based on their foreign policy interests, which would have to consider the balance of power and future economic interests in the Gulf and the wider region.

Iran and China have been considering a major 25-year strategic partnership deal, the details of which have yet to be published.

According to Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, the deal has already caused international scrutiny, so China, which wants to demonstrate the image of a “responsible power”, will tread carefully.

“More importantly, if [Joe] Biden is elected the new US president – which seems increasingly likely – Beijing would want to reboot the US-China relationship with a new US administration,” he told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.

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In this vein, Zhao said it would be unlikely for Beijing to jeopardise the opportunity to mend ties with a Biden administration by making huge arms deals with Tehran.

As for Russia, a 2019 US Defense Intelligence Agency report speculated Iran would buy Su-30 fighters, Yak-130 trainers, T-90 tanks, Bastion mobile coastal defence missile systems, and the S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems.

Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami travelled to Russia in late August to visit the International Military-Technical Forum Army-2020 and hold talks with senior Russian officials. The trip boosted speculations Iran is interested in Russian arms.

However, Nicole Grajewski, a research fellow with the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says there is no indication Russia and Iran have finalised a list of potential arms for negotiations.

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“It is not totally unfounded to suggest that Russia and Iran may wait until the US presidential elections,” she told Al Jazeera. “Both sides have reasons not to antagonise Biden if he is elected: Iran with the JCPOA and Russia with New START.”

New START is an arms reduction treaty and the last existing nuclear arms control pact between Russia and the US that expires in February. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called for a one-year extension of the pact.

Moreover, Grajewski pointed out that while the Trump administration has been inconsistent in implementing provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Russia will take US sanctions into account – especially since Moscow would like to sell weapons to states that could become subject to secondary US sanctions.

But she believes financing to be the biggest impediment to a potential major Iran-Russia arms deal.

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“Russia won’t be as willing as China to sell Iran weapons on barter like it did in the 1990s,” Grajewski said. “Plus, Russia doesn’t want to damage its relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel by providing Iran with high-tech or advanced weapons.”

But the researcher believes Iran and Russia may enjoy a boost in military cooperation and contacts that have increased in the past few years due to shared interests in Syria and a general improvement in bilateral relations.

“There will likely be additional military exchanges and drills in addition to an increase in efforts that promote the interoperability between the Russian and Iranian armed forces at the tactical level,” she said.

The end of the embargo means Iran will legally be able to buy and sell conventional arms, including missiles, helicopters and tanks [File: West Asia News Agency/Reuters]

Iran’s perspective
Following the implementation of the nuclear deal in 2016, Russia completed delivery of the S-300 air defence missile system to Iran, which was successfully tested by Iran in early 2017.

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This finally concluded an $800m deal signed between the two states in 2007 that was left unfulfilled by Russia after multilateral sanctions pressure on Iran grew.

But by that time, a lot had changed inside Iran.

As Iranian defence expert Hossein Dalirian explains, after years of multilateral and unilateral sanctions, Iran concluded it has to rely on the expertise of its own engineers and experts to boost defence capabilities.

“With this perspective, extensive efforts were launched inside Iran to develop a diverse range of advanced arms and systems that are now produced locally, which are on par with those of developed nations, even as attested by military experts of Iran’s enemies,” he told Al Jazeera.

Among others, these include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the Bavar-373 surface-to-air missile defence system, which was officially rolled out in August 2019, and which Iran says is on par with the state-of-the-art Russian S-400 system.

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However, Dalirian said, it has not been possible, or economically feasible, for Iran to produce a number of armaments, including fifth-generation fighter jets.

“Even though Iranian experts have recently achieved technological know-how to produce fighter jet parts, and built Kowsar, which is on par with fourth-generation fighter jets, it seems that purchasing fighter jets might be pursued by Iran at the same time as locally developing modern fighter jets,” he said.

Dalirian says many countries have shown interest in Iranian armaments, but have been unable to buy them due to sanctions.

“Now it remains to be seen what Iran’s enemies, specifically the US, have planned for potential buyers of Iranian arms in political terms,” he said.


#Newsworthy…

Armenia must return foreign mercenaries – Turkey Gov’t says.

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Turkey said Armenia must stop its occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands and send back the “mercenaries and terrorists” it brought from abroad for stability in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where Armenian and Azeri forces have clashed.

“Armenia must immediately halt its attacks, send back the mercenaries and terrorists it brought from abroad and withdraw from the Azerbaijan lands,” said Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, adding a ceasefire and peace are needed.


#Newsworthy…

Israel normalisation, violation of public peace – Mahmoud Abbas.

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Mahmoud Abbas calls for international conference early next year to ‘launch a genuine peace process’.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has criticised the recent decision of two Arab countries to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel as a “violation” of a “just and lasting solution under international law”.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday, Abbas also called for an international conference early next year to “launch a genuine peace process” in the wake of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain’s recognition of Israel.

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“The conference should have full authority to launch a genuine peace process based on international law,” Abbas told the virtual UNGA in a recorded video address from his headquarters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

“It should aim to end the occupation and grant the Palestinian people their freedom and independence in their own state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and settle final-status issues, notably the refugee question,” he said.

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The Palestinians have rejected US President Donald Trump’s proposal to end the conflict, which they say overwhelmingly favours Israel, and have officially cut off contact with the United States and Israel. Arguing that Washington is no longer an honest broker, they have called for a multilateral peace process based on UN resolutions and past agreements.

They have also rejected the agreements signed by the UAE and Bahrain on September 15 to normalise ties with Israel, viewing it as a betrayal of the long-standing Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only come in exchange for territorial concessions.

Since the mid-90s, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has sought an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war.

There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected more than 10 years, and the two sides are fiercely divided over the core issues of the conflict.

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Instead, Netanyahu has focused on building ties with Arab, African and Asian countries that have long supported the Palestinian cause. In Israel, the agreement with the UAE, an oil-rich country with considerable regional influence, is seen as an historic breakthrough that could transform the Middle East.

Israel put on hold its plans to annex up to a third of the West Bank following the deal with the UAE, while saying it still plans to eventually go through with them. The UAE said the agreement removed an immediate threat to the two-state solution and gave the region a window of opportunity.

The Palestinians insist the conflict will not be resolved until they realise their aspirations for independence.

“There can be no peace, no security, no stability, no coexistence in our region without an end to the occupation,” Abbas said.


#Newsworthy…

East Mediterranean: Greece lauds return of turkish research vessel.

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Greek government calls the departure of the Oruc Reis from disputed waters after weeks of tension ‘a positive step’.

A Turkish seismic survey vessel, whose research in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean has been at the heart of a weeks-long standoff between Ankara and Athens, has returned to waters near southern Turkey – a move Greece said was a positive first step in easing tensions over offshore natural resources.

But Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar played down the significance of the move, saying the ship had returned to shore as part of scheduled plans and insisted it did not mean Ankara was “giving up our rights there”.

“There will be planned movements backwards and forwards,” Akar told state news agency Anadolu in Antalya, southern Turkey, on Sunday.

Neighbours and NATO allies Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared last month after Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

Turkey’s navy had issued an advisory earlier this month saying the vessel would continue operations in the area until September 12. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said it would continue exploratory operations for longer but no extension to the advisory was issued as of noon.

Refinitiv ship tracking data showed Oruc Reis, along with two accompanying naval vessels, returned to a location just off the coast of Antalya.

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The move was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Sunday.

“The return of Oruc Reis is a positive first step, I hope there will be continuity. We want to talk with Turkey but in a climate without provocations,” he told reporters in Thessaloniki.

Ankara faces potential sanctions from the European Union, which fully supports member states Greece and Cyprus, over the dispute. But many states, including Germany, want to defuse the stand-off through dialogue.

“A sanctions list exists as an option [against Turkey]. Our desire is not to see it implemented but it will be done if we see that the other side is not returning to the path of logic,” Mitsotakis said.

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The dispute over potential oil and gas reserves triggered a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey and Greece both dispatching warships to the area and conducting military exercises to assert their claims.

The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis [File:Turkish Ministry of Energy/Handout via Reuters]

Turkey has repeatedly said it is open to solving issues with Greece through dialogue but publicly rejected any conditions, including Oruc Reis halting operations, before negotiations.

“If there are those who set preconditions for Turkey, we have preconditions too and these preconditions need to be met,” Cavusoglu said during a news conference on Saturday, without elaborating.

Earlier in September, Mitsotakis said his country would only start talks with Turkey to resolve conflicting claims once Turkish “provocations” ceased.

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Turkey rejects EU criticism and says the bloc should remain impartial in the dispute, arguing the waters where exploratory natural gas drilling was being conducted were part of its Turkish continental shelf.

Turkey says it has a legitimate claim over the area in the eastern Mediterranean. There is no agreement between Greece and Turkey delimiting their continental shelves, while Turkey disputes any claims by Cyprus, with which it has no diplomatic relations.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Its internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government represents the whole island in the European Union, though its authority is effectively contained to the southern part. North Cyprus is an unrecognised Turkish Cypriot state recognised only by Ankara.

James Ker-Lindsay, a professor at the London School of Economics, said at the heart of the dispute is a 1924 maritime accord agreement between Turkey and Greece that is now outdated. He said Turkey is claiming one tiny Greek island is cutting off its access to vast gas resources.

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“It’s an incredibly complex problem. A hundred years ago the two sorted out their borders but times have changed. International law was in a very different place, you couldn’t explore deep waters. But with technology we’ve now been able to,” he told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.

Amid the tension, Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a “robust” arms purchase programme and an overhaul of the country’s military.

In a keynote address in Thessaloniki, he said Greece would acquire 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four multipurpose frigates, and four navy helicopters, while also recruiting 15,000 new troops and pouring resources into the national arms industry and cyberattack defence. New anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles will also be secured, he added.

Mitsotakis is believed to have hammered out the programme after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a southern European leaders summit in Corsica this week. France has strongly backed Greece in its burgeoning showdown with Turkey, as well as Cyprus.

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Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday took aim at Macron following French criticism of Turkish maritime activities in the eastern Mediterranean, as tensions between the NATO allies continue to escalate.

“You will have many more problems with me,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul. “Don’t mess with the Turkish people. Don’t mess with Turkey.”

Separately on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute between Greece and Turkey, saying continuing military tensions between the NATO allies only serve the alliance’s enemies.

“Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity,” Pompeo said after talks in Nicosia with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.


#Newsworthy…

Research machine at East Mediterranean heart moves back near Turkey shore

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Greek government calls the departure of the Oruc Reis from disputed area after weeks of tension ‘a positive step’.

A Turkish seismic survey vessel, whose research in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean has been at the heart of a weeks-long standoff between Ankara and Athens, has returned to waters near the southern Turkish province of Antalya.

Neighbours and NATO allies Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared last month after Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

Turkey’s navy had issued an advisory earlier this month saying that the vessel would continue operations in the area until September 12. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said it would continue exploratory operations for longer but no extension to the advisory was issued as of noon on Sunday.

Refinitiv ship tracking data showed Oruc Reis, along with two accompanying vessels, had returned to a location just off the coast of Antalya on Sunday.

The return of the Oruc Reis near Turkey’s southern shore was welcomed by the Greek government.

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“This is a positive step. We will see how this develops to make a proper assessment,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told Skai, a television broadcaster.

Military build-up
The dispute over potential oil and gas reserves triggered a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey and Greece both dispatching warships to the area and conducting military exercises to assert their claims.

Turkey has repeatedly said it is open to solving issues with Greece through dialogue but had publicly rejected any pre-conditions, including Oruc Reis halting operations, before negotiations.

“If there are those who set pre-conditions for Turkey, we have pre-conditions too and these pre-conditions need to be met,” Cavusoglu said during a news conference on Saturday, withour elaborating.

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Earlier in September, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country would only start talks with Turkey to resolve conflicting claims once Turkish “provocations” ceased.

Meanwhile, Turkish Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar said on Sunday in Antalya’s district of Kas that Turkey supports peace and dialogue “if our wishes and demands are fulfilled”.

His comments came as Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou visited the Greek island of Kastellorizo, located directly across the Mediterranean from Kas

The European Union, of which Greece is a member, has criticised Ankara for its actions and threatened sanctions as punishment.

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Turkey rejects the criticism and says the bloc should remain impartial in the dispute, arguing that the waters where exploratory natural gas drilling was being conducted were part of its Turkish continental shelf.

Pompeo in Cyprus
Amid the tension, Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a “robust” arms purchase programme and an overhaul of the country’s military.

In a keynote address in Thessaloniki, he said Greece would acquire 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four multipurpose frigates, and four navy helicopters, while also recruiting 15,000 new troops and pouring resources into the national arms industry and cyberattack defence. New anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles will also be secured, he added.

The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis [File:Turkish Ministry of Energy/Handout via Reuters]

Mitsotakis is believed to have hammered out the programme after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a southern European leaders summit in Corsica this week. France has strongly backed Greece in its burgeoning showdown with Turkey, as well as Cyprus.

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Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday took aim at Macron following French criticism about Turkish maritime activities in the eastern Mediterranean, as tensions between the NATO allies continue to escalate.

“You will have many more problems with me,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul. “Don’t mess with the Turkish people. Don’t mess with Turkey.”

Separately on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute between Greece and Turkey, saying continuing military tensions between the NATO allies only serve the alliance’s enemies.

“Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity,” Pompeo said after talks in Nicosia with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.


#Newsworthy…

Iranian wrestler, Afkari executed after severe torture.

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Afkari was accused of stabbing and killing a man in the southern city of Shiraz in 2018.

Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari has been executed after being convicted of stabbing to death a security guard, according to state media.

Afkari was executed “this morning after legal procedures were carried out at the insistence of the parents and the family of the victim”, Kazem Mousavi, head of the justice department in southern Fars province, was quoted as saying.

Authorities accused Afkari, 27, of stabbing the water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz. Iran broadcast the wrestler’s televised confession last week.

But Afkari said he was tortured into making a false confession, according to his family and activists. His lawyer said there was no proof of his guilt. Iran’s judiciary, however, denied the torture claims.

Afkari and his brothers were employed as construction workers in Shiraz, 680km (420 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.

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Iran may ban ‘luxury product’ imports
The provincial court in Shiraz also sentenced Afkari’s brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari to 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively, over the killing.

Afkari’s attorney accused authorities of denying his client a family visit before the execution, as required by law.

“Were you in so much hurry to execute the sentence that you also deprived Navid of a last meeting?” Hassan Younesi said on Twitter.

There was no immediate reaction by Iranian officials to the attorney’s accusation.

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‘Very different’ stories
Reporting from Tehran, NRM said there are two different narratives about the murder.

“Outside Iran we’re hearing that Navid Afkari was arrested due to these protests that took place in 2018 and alleged killing of a security officer. Inside Iran, it’s very different. The judiciary released a statement a while ago – they said Navid Afkari was arrested after the murder of a 52-year-old water worker accompanying the Shiraz water company, and that murder took place on 23 July 2018.

“Navid Afkari was arrested by police a few days after, after they identified him using CCTV footage. As far as the judiciary is concerned, his arrest and conviction have nothing to do with the protests that took place,” said Baig.

Afkari was shown performing a stabbing gesture during a police reconstruction of the killing while saying,
“I hit twice, once and then again.” Human rights groups frequently accuse Iran’s state media of airing coerced confessions. Iran denies the accusation.

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The International Olympic Committee said the execution of Afkari was “very sad news”, adding in a statement that IOC President Thomas Bach had written this week to Iranian leaders asking for mercy for him, while respecting Iran’s sovereignty.

Afkari said he was tortured into making a false confession, according to his family and activists [File: Vahid Salemi/AP]

Afkari’s sentencing had triggered a social media campaign that portrayed him and his brothers as victims targeted for participating in the 2018 protests. On Tuesday, a global union representing 85,000 athletes had called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari.

United States President Donald Trump also expressed his own concerns.

“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. “Thank you!”

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Iran responded to Trump’s tweet by running an 11-minute state TV broadcast on Afkari, which included the weeping parents of Turkman.

The broadcast included visuals of Afkari on a motorbike, saying he stabbed Turkman in the back, without explaining why he allegedly carried out the assault.

The state TV segment also showed blurred police documents and described the killing as a “personal dispute”, without elaborating.

It said Afkari’s mobile phone had been in the area and it showed surveillance footage of him walking down a street, talking on his phone.

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Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency dismissed Trump’s tweet in a feature story, saying that American sanctions have hurt Iranian hospitals amid the pandemic.

“Trump is worried about the life of a murderer while he puts many Iranian patients’ lives in danger by imposing severe sanctions,” the agency said.

Baig noted state TV has carried an interview with the parents of Hassan Turkman, and in it they said their son was murdered and they had the right to retribution.

They added, “the foreign media had not even bothered speaking to them when their son was killed, and that he left behind three children. So there are two very different narratives,” said Baig.


#Newsworthy…

[Jordan] Terrible explosions hit Zarqa; no casualties.

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Authorities say the explosions occurred at a military warehouse where ”unuseable’ mortar bombs were being dismantled.

A series of massive explosions rocked the Jordanian city of Zarqa early on Friday, but there were no initial reports of casualties and authorities said the blasts were probably caused by an electrical short circuit at a nearby military munitions depot.

Huge orange flames lit the desert night sky after the explosions sparked a large fire east of Jordan’s second-largest city.

The flames could be seen as far away as the capital, Amman, 35km (22 miles) to the southwest.

Amjad Adailah, spokesman for Jordan’s government, said the blasts occurred “in a warehouse containing unuseable mortar bombs belonging to the armed forces”.

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No injuries have been recorded so far, he said, adding that initial investigations show “the explosion was caused by an electric circuit in army ammunition depots that are in an isolated and unpopulated area and under camera surveillance”.

However, an army source told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity that some of the weapons at the site were precision-guided anti-aircraft missiles.

Jordan’s army acknowledged that there had been an explosion “in one of the ammunition depots which is being dismantled near the city of Zarqa”.

It added in a statement that “a committee has been set up to determine the causes of the explosion”.

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The desert area where the explosions took place houses several major US-equipped army bases including an airfield built in 2018.

Following the explosions, security forces sealed off Zarqa, a sprawling industrial city of 1.5 million people, and prevented traffic from leaving or entering.

Journalists wanting to travel through Zarqa to the blast site about 10km (6.2 miles) to the east were prevented from doing so.

“We felt like an earthquake had struck. Our windows shook and glass shattered. My kids started crying,” Zarqa resident Nabila Issa told Media.


#Newsworthy…

Lebanese recycle glass from Beirut explosions

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Standing in a pile of broken glass in northern Lebanon, a man forced shovel-loads of shards retrieved from Beirut after the massive explosion at its port into a red-hot furnace.

Melted down at a factory in second city Tripoli, they re-emerged as molten glass ready to be recycled into traditional slim-necked water jugs.

The August 4 port explosion ripped through countless glass doors and windows when it laid waste to whole Beirut neighbourhoods, killing at least 190 people and wounding thousands more.

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Volunteers, non-governmental groups and entrepreneurs have tried to salvage at least part of the tonnes of glass that littered the streets, some of it through recycling at Wissam Hammoud’s family’s glass factory.

“Here we have glass from the Beirut explosion,” said Hammoud, deputy head at the United Glass Production Company (Uniglass), as several men sorted through a mound of shards outside the building.

“Organisations are bringing it to us so that we can remanufacture it,” said the 24-year-old.

As workers washed and stacked jars behind him, Hammoud said that between 20 and 22 tonnes of glass had been brought to the factory, a hive of rhythmic activity centred around the furnace that burns at 900-1,200 degrees Celsius (1,650-2,190 Fahrenheit).

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Nearby, three men produced jars stamped out of a mold in a carefully choreographed sequence, while another two handled the more delicate process of blowing and forming the traditional Lebanese pitchers.

“We work 24 hours a day,” Hammoud said. “We can’t stop because stopping costs too much money.”

  • Helping local industry –
    Ziad Abichaker, CEO of environmental engineering company Cedar Environmental, has spearheaded multiple glass recycling initiatives in Lebanon.

In the first days after the blast, he teamed up with civil society organisations and a host of volunteers to come up with a plan to keep as much glass as possible out of landfills already overburdened by a decades-old solid waste crisis.

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“We decided that at least part of the shattered glass… our local industries should benefit from as a raw material,” Abichaker told the press.

“We’re diverting glass from ending up in the landfill, we’re supplying our local industries with free raw material,” he added.

According to him, more than 5,000 tonnes of glass was shattered by the explosion.

From mid-August to September 2, almost 58 tonnes were sent for reuse at Uniglass and Koub/Golden Glass in Tripoli.

Abichaker said he hoped, with funding, to bring the total to 250 tonnes.

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  • ‘Tip of the iceberg’ –
    At the volunteer hub dubbed the Base Camp in Beirut’s hard-hit Mar Mikhael district, young men and women kitted out with sturdy shoes, masks and heavy gloves sort the glass, pulling bits of detritus out of the piled shards under a scorching sun.

Anthony Abdel Karim, who had launched months before the blast an upcycling glass project called Annine Fadye or “Empty Bottle” in Arabic, coordinates the operations.

We have “mountains of waste that are piling up in Beirut, they’re mixed with everything. Glass and rubble and metal are mixed with organic waste… and this is not healthy,” he said.

“We don’t have proper recycling in Lebanon.”

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Abdel Karim was drawn to recycling glass after seeing huge numbers of bottles being thrown out while working in events management in Beirut’s nightlife, one of the city’s calling cards first quieted by the pandemic and economic crisis, and now battered by the blast.

Glass from the explosion poses different challenges from bottles, as much of it is dirty, so the initiative focuses on gathering glass from inside homes and other buildings, setting up a hotline where people can request pickup.

Abdel Karim said they aim to find other ways of recycling the glass that is not suitable to send to Tripoli, possibly by crushing it to be used in cement or other materials.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, noting just a fraction of the glass so far had been collected and repurposed. “It needs a lot of time, we know that.”


#Newsworthy…

Turkish forces begin military exercises in Cyprus.

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France, meanwhile, says sanctions against Ankara are on the table during European Council meeting later this month.

Turkey’s armed forces on Sunday began annual exercises in the breakaway republic of Northern Cyprus – an entity recognised only by Ankara – as tensions continue to rise with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey’s hunt for gas and oil reserves in waters claimed by Greece has put a huge strain on the relationship between the two NATO members.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday raised the stakes by warning Greece: “They will either understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or on the field through bitter experiences.”

As tensions run high, the Turkish military began its exercises called “Mediterranean Storm” with the Turkish Cypriot Security Command, Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter.

“The security priorities of our country and the TRNC [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus] are indispensable, along with diplomatic solutions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Oktay said.

The Turkish defence ministry also tweeted the military exercises, which last until Thursday, continued “successfully”.

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Cyprus is divided between the Greek Cypriot-run south – an EU member state – and the Turkish Cypriot north.

Turkey sanctions
Meanwhile, France said Turkey’s escalating conflict with Greece and Cyprus will be the main subject at this month’s European Council meeting, when sanctions will be considered against Ankara.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he and his counterparts in other EU countries had already discussed “the range of reprisals we could take with regards to Turkey”.

Turkey embarked on a military-backed hydrocarbon exploration venture in waters between Greece and Cyprus on August 10, ratcheting up tensions in a strategic corridor of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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Greece responded with naval exercises to defend its maritime territory, which were later bolstered by the deployment of French frigates and fighter jets.

‘Up to the Turks’
The dispute between NATO members has underscored the rising geopolitical risks in the area as Turkey pursues more aggressively nationalist policies under Erdogan.

The European Union’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell has also raised the possibility of sanctions against Ankara, but so far Paris has been unable to persuade other EU nations to join its hardline response.

Le Drian urged Erdogan to begin talks over its Eastern Mediterranean ambitions between now and the European Council meeting.

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“It’s up to the Turks to show that this matter … can be discussed,” he told France Inter radio. “If so, we can create a virtuous circle for all the problems on the table.”

While he declined to specify the type of sanctions Ankara could face, he said there was an “entire series of measures”.

“We are not short of options – and he knows that,” said Le Drian referring to Erdogan.

The European Council meeting is set to meet on September 24-25.


#Newsworthy…

Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile over set limit – IAEA, United Nations

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IAEA says Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium stands at more than 10 times the limit set in 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium in violation of limitations set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but has begun providing access to sites where the country was suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency said on Friday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium now stands at more than 10 times the limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

As of August 25, Iran had stockpiled 2,105.4kg (4,641.6 pounds) of low-enriched uranium, up from 1,571.6kg (3,464.8 pounds) reported on May 20.

Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia.

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Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8kg (447 pounds).

Iranian technicians work at a new facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor, just outside the city of Isfahan 410km south of the capital, Tehran [File: Vahid Salemi/AP]

The IAEA also reported that Iran has been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of up to 4.5 percent, higher than the 3.67 percent allowed under the JCPOA. It said Iran’s stockpile of heavy water had decreased.

The deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

But in 2018, President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal, saying it needed to be renegotiated.

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Since then, Iran has slowly scaled back against the restrictions in an attempt to pressure the remaining nations to increase incentives to offset new, economy-crippling US sanctions.

Those countries maintain that even though Iran has been violating many of the pact’s restrictions, it is important to keep the deal alive because the country has continued providing the IAEA with critical access to inspect its nuclear facilities.

The agency had been at a months-long impasse over two locations thought to be from the early 2000s, however, which Iran had argued inspectors had no right to visit because they dated to before the deal.

Last week, Iran announced it would allow the IAEA access to the two sites, following a visit to Tehran by the organisation’s Director General Rafael Grossi.

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The IAEA said Iran had granted its inspectors access to one of the two sites.

“Iran provided agency inspectors access to the location to take environmental samples,” a separate IAEA report seen by the AFP news agency said on Friday.

“The samples will be analysed by laboratories that are part of the agency’s network,” it added.

The report said an inspection at the second site will take place “later in September 2020 on a date already agreed with Iran”.


#Newsworthy..

United States sanctions foreign firms over Iran aid to export petroleum.

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The US said the companies helped facilitate Iran’s export of petroleum and petrochemicals in violation of its sanctions.

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on 11 foreign companies, accusing them of helping to facilitate Iran’s export of petroleum, petroleum products and petrochemicals in violation of American sanctions.

The Treasury said it slapped sanctions on six companies based in Iran, the United Arab Emirates and China that it said enable the shipment and sale of Iranian petrochemicals and support Triliance Petrochemical Co Ltd, a Hong Kong-based company blacklisted by the US.

The State Department also imposed sanctions on five companies for engaging in transactions related to Iran’s petroleum and petrochemical industry, as well as on three executive officers of the blacklisted companies.

“Our actions today reaffirm the United States’ commitment to denying the Iranian regime the financial resources it needs to fuel terrorism and other destabilizing activities,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate statement.

The move freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

The action targets Iran’s Zagros Petrochemical Co, which the Treasury said agreed to sell Triliance hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Iranian petrochemicals this year.

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Triliance, a Hong Kong-based broker, was hit with sanctions in January over accusations it ordered the transfer of the equivalent of millions of dollars to the National Iranian Oil Co as payment for Iranian petrochemicals, crude oil, and petroleum products.

The Treasury also blacklisted UAE-based Petrotech FZE and Trio Energy DMCC, Hong Kong-based Jingho Technology Co Ltd and Dynapex Energy Ltd, as well as China-based Dinrin Ltd, accusing them of being front companies for Triliance and Zagros.

“The Iranian regime uses revenue from petrochemical sales to continue its financing of terrorism and destabilizing foreign agenda,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have spiked since Republican President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal struck by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, and began reimposing sanctions that had been eased under the accord.


#Newsworthy…

Breaking: Bahrain agree UAE-Israel flight cross its airstrip.

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Decision comes after Saudi allowed first direct Israeli commercial flight to use its airspace following UAE-Israel deal.

Bahrain has said all flights to and from the United Arab Emirates can cross its airspace, a move that will allow air services between Israel and the UAE to fly over the kingdom.

Thursday’s decision, which the kingdom’s aviation authority said came at the request of the UAE, follows an agreement last month that saw the UAE becoming the third Arab country to reach a deal with Israel about normalising ties.

The US-brokered agreement, which capped years of discreet contact between the two countries in commerce and technology, was denounced by the Palestinians as a betrayal of their cause by a major Arab player, while they still lack a state of their own.

“Bahrain will allow all flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to cross its airspace,” reported the official Bahrain News Agency, citing an official source at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications.

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The decision cuts flying time between the Middle East states by several hours.

Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a British naval base, has an historic Jewish community. The kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel, with two US-based rabbis in 2017 saying King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa himself promoted the idea of ending the boycott of Israel by Arab nations.

Last month, an Israeli official said Bahrain and Oman could be the next Gulf countries to follow the UAE in formalising ties with Israel.

Kushner (left) meets Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (right) during his visit to Manama earlier this week [Bahrain News Agency/Reuters]

But Bahraini state media reported last week that King Hamad had told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who was in Manama as part of a Middle East tour aimed at forging more links between Israel and Arab countries following the UAE-Israel deal – that the Gulf state was committed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

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Earlier this week, Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, flew with a high-level Israeli delegation to the UAE on the first direct commercial passenger flight between the two countries.

While no other Arab country has yet indicated a willingness to follow the UAE, Saudi Arabia allowed the El Al charter flight carrying Kushner and the Israelis to use its airspace.

On Wednesday, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told Kushner that Doha remained committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. In the initiative, Arab nations offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

The UAE has promoted the deal as hinging on Israel halting its contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank sought by the Palestinians for their future state. The deal also may allow Abu Dhabi to buy advanced weaponry from the US, including the F-35 stealth fighter jet.


#Newsworthy…

Donald Trump can score ‘a simple’ diplomatic win from Saudi Arabia – By Eisner & Alaoudh

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Getting US citizens released from Saudi jails would be much easier to accomplish than nomralising Saudi-Israeli ties.


White House adviser Jared Kushner visited Saudi Arabia this week and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The two men have developed a close bond over hours of private chats, sharing their grand visions for the region. The purpose of this trip was reportedly to discuss a normalisation of ties deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, similar to the one the UAE concluded, dubbed the “Abraham Accord”.

If Saudi government statements are to be believed, it is unlikely he will succeed in that mission in the near term. But Kushner can use his continuing dialogue with MBS to do some good. He should leverage his close ties to the crown prince to gain the freedom of Saudi political prisoners, including US-Saudi dual nationals Salah al-Haidar and Bader al-Ibrahim. Saudi Arabia has detained the two Americans without charge since April 2019.

Both al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim are US-born citizens, natives of Virginia and Washington, respectively. They were living in Saudi Arabia when they invoked the ire of Saudi authorities for engaging in what passes as normal political discussion in much of the rest of the world. Al-Ibrahim is a co-author of a book on the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. Al-Haidar is a journalist, whose now-deleted YouTube show, That’s the Point, featured leading Saudi intellectuals and reformers.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 1, 2020 [Reuters]

Al-Haidar’s real crime might well have been just being the son of Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at King Saud University and prominent feminist whom Saudi authorities are prosecuting for her past activism to end the driving ban on women. Saudi state security officials arrested Al-Haidar just a few days after they released his mother on bail.

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Our sources in Saudi say that the Specialized Criminal Court for State Security, the Saudis’ own version of the star chamber, has finally decided to charge the two men under the terrorism law, based on their comments and tweets, for which they face up to 30 years in prison. Like almost all proceedings in the Special Criminal Court, the trials of the two men will be held in secret.

Given US President Donald Trump’s dire need for foreign policy victories to showcase ahead of the November elections, getting al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim released and bringing them home to the US would be a popular move with both Republican and Democrat voters.

The Saudi crown prince could show the Saudi justice system is working by acquitting the men or giving them light sentences for time served, before allowing Kushner to claim credit for their release. It would be MBS’s gift to the Trump administration, which could use the release to burnish the image of President Trump as the protector of American citizens unjustly imprisoned abroad – an image portrayed in a polished seven-minute video clip presented during the Republican Convention at the end of August.

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It is worth noting that MBS is indebted to President Trump and Kushner. The crown prince was isolated and reeling after the savage murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Western democracies spoke in unison, condemning the murder and demanding accountability. Many followed up with action, imposing travel bans, sanctions and suspensions of arms exports.

At MBS’s low point, the Trump administration and Special Adviser Kushner rode to the rescue, providing a crucial lifeline. Jared Kushner reportedly became MBS’s chief champion in the White House, as well as an informal adviser to the crown prince on damage control. Eight months after Khashoggi’s murder, Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fast-tracked the arms shipments to avoid traditional congressional reporting requirements. As far as the Trump administration was concerned, it would be business as usual between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The rest of the world took notice.

Apart from al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim, many other prominent Saudi activists and intellectuals are languishing in jail, including Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been whipped, electrocuted and waterboarded for advocating women’s rights; Salman Al-Awdah, a prominent Muslim scholar who called for democratic reforms and faces the death penalty and the father of one of the authors; Nouf Abdulaziz, a blogger and activist who has been tortured and sexually harassed in jail; Fadel al-Manasif, a Shia activist and writer serving a 15-year sentence for peaceful activism; and Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer also serving a 15-year sentence.

The list sadly goes on. For now, it is enough for senior adviser Kushner to secure the release of the two Americans and seek freedom for this small cross-section of Saudi political prisoners. It would not erase the unsavoury taint of Kushner’s friendship with MBS, but it would be big news, deservedly so. A US-brokered release of American and Saudi political prisoners would also provide a signal to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other autocratic allies in the region, that the Trump administration, despite its alarming violations of human rights at home, might one day focus its attention on their own cell blocks of political prisoners.


The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect NRM’s editorial stance.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Michael Eisner

Michael Eisner is General Counsel of Democracy for the Arab World Now and former State Department Attorney-Adviser.

Abdullah Alaoudh

Abdullah Alaoudh is Director of Research for the Gulf Region at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). Tweet: @aalodah


#Newsworthy…