Tag Archives: Middle East

Putin called Obama

Putin called Obama on Thursday, according to Russian news site TASS.

This was the first time the two leaders spoke in four months.

Putin reportedly brought up the spread of the Islamic State’s influence in the Middle East, according to The New York Times.

Ultimately, the two leaders agreed to have Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry meet to further discuss the issue.

They also had a “detailed” discussion regarding the situation in Syria and the Iranian nuclear problem. Russia and the US have not seen eye-to-eye with either of the two cases.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two leaders also discussed the ongoing Ukraine crisis, which flared up once again in early June.

“President Obama reiterated the need for Russia to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including the removal of all Russian troops and equipment from Ukrainian territory,” according to the White House.

ukraine

According to the Kremlin, the two leaders agreed that US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasian will soon be in touch to discuss the fulfillment of the Minsk agreement.

The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told TASS that, overall, the conversation was “constructive.” He added that Putin told Obama that the assumption about Russian troops in Ukraine is “a delusion.”

This comes slightly more than a week after Simon Ostrovksy‘s Vice News documentary on “Selfie Soldiers,” in which he followed a Russian soldier’s social media trail and reenacted the photos he took in Ukraine.

“American officials hope Mr. Putin may see the rise of the Islamic State as enough of a threat to now be willing to apply pressure on Mr. Assad, but they also suspected his renewed interest in the issue may be a way of distracting from Ukraine,” according to The New York Times.

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Strange Bedfellows – Middle-East ‘Frenemies’

United Against Islamic State

The enemy of your enemy is your… frenemy; and so it is across the Middle East as the WSJ notes the spread of The Islamic State has united many parties once at odds with each other to become ‘strange bedfellows’.

Strange Bedfellows – Parties that display friction or outright aggression toward one another are finding themselves aligned in a desire to counter Islamic State.

U.S. and Iran
The U.S. and Iran share an interest in fostering an Iraqi government strong enough to fend off Islamic State.

U.S. and Syria
The U.S. and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad share an interest in quashing Islamic State in Syria, even if the regime appears to put a higher priority on fighting other rebel groups.

Israel and Egypt
Israel and Egypt have come together to oppose Hamas, and they now have a similar long-term interest to do the same in confronting Islamic State.

Syria, Kurds, Turkey and Iraq
Turkey and Syria, long fearful of building up the region’s Kurds, have a shared interest in building up the Kurdish Peshmerga to combat a more immediate threat, Islamic State. Iraq has acquiesced.

Turkey and Qatar
Turkey and Qatar suddenly have a shared interest in keeping the Islamist movement they separately helped foster in check before Islamic State absorbs and consolidates it.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq
Saudi Arabia supported Sunnis in Iraq while Iran supported Shiites. They now have an interest in aiding the Shiite-led Iraq government to counter a common threat.

U.S., China and Russia
Russia and China have plenty of disputes with the U.S., but they agree that, as big powers, they are threatened in similar fashion by the expansionist Islamic extremism of Islamic State.

U.S., Egypt, Qatar and Turkey
Egypt’s military ruler sees Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. as hostile to his suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. They all now fear Islamic State will consolidate the Islamic threat.

U.S. and al Qaeda
The greatest odd bedfellow of all: Islamic State threatens al Qaeda as well as the West, meaning that, in fact, al Qaeda and the U.S. now have a shared enemy.

Here’s What 44 Countries List As The Greatest Dangers In The World

Iraqi Shi'ite

Amid rising conflicts engulfing the Middle East, most of the 44 nations surveyed in a new Pew Research Center study listed the top threat in the world as “religious and ethnic hatred.”

Nations were given the option of selecting between five dangers: nuclear weapons, pollution, AIDS and other diseases, inequality, and religious and ethnic hatred.

map danger larger

At 58%, Lebanon had the highest level of concern of any country and identified religious and ethnic hatred as the single greatest danger to the world, correlating to its diverse religious makeup of Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Lebanese Christians, Greek Orthodox, and Jews.

Meanwhile, severe battles between Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusra have brought war to Lebanon. Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Tunisia also shared Lebanon’s concern.

Meanwhile in the West, “the gap between the rich and the poor is increasingly considered the world’s top problem by people living in advanced economies,” the Pew Research Center says

Americans, and generally most European nations listed “inequality” as the world’s greatest danger. Spain cited this concern at a rate of 54%, the highest level of concern in this category.

global dangers survey pew research

Ukraine and Russia both named “nuclear weapons” as their highest threat, along with Japan, Pakistan, and Turkey. It is estimated that Russia —which leads the world in number of nuclear weapons — along with the US, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea, possess approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons altogether.

Most African countries claimed “AIDS and other infectious diseases” as their most pressing issue in the world today.

Former Shin Bet Head Returning to Politics on Likud List

Avi Dichter

Avi Dichter returns to Likud after brief hiatus, says he supports peace deal – but also that Israel should defang Gaza.

 

Former Minister and Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) leader Avi Dichter will be returning to politics, Walla! News reports Monday – this time, running in the Likud primaries, to be held on Wednesday.

Dichter returns to politics after leaving Kadima in 2012 to join Likud, and after briefly serving until March 2013 as Home Front Command Minister at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s request during the 19th Knesset.

Despite Netanyahu’s support, Dichter did not manage to get enough votes from party members to formally join the Likud party during the last elections, falling short by 380 votes for the threshold.

Now, he says, he is taking stock of past experiences in his cautious return to the political scene. He explained that while last time, he launched a six-week campaign to woo members’ support for his Likud candidacy, he has been systematically building support throughout several “headquarters” throughout the country ahead of the 2015 elections.

Dichter explained that he identifies with the Right, but not the “extreme Right,” as he puts it, and believes that Likud must remain “Center-Right” in order to remain the ruling party and to build a coalition for the 20th Knesset.

When asked what “Center-Right” entails, he dodged the question slightly, but did note that, in his view, it includes acceptance of the idea of “Two States for Two Peoples.”

“Any intelligent person realizes that a one-state solution with the six million Jews and seven million non-Jews – mostly Muslims – is irresponsible,” Dichter stated to Walla!. “It is to set for ourselves a reality which is clearly unreasonable.” Dichter added that Netanyahu takes this view as well.

Following the theme of a grand plan for the Middle East, the former Shin Bet leader added that Gaza must be demilitarized – and that if the international community does not step in to do so, Israel must do so itself.

“Gaza is a terrorist entity controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization, no matter what the European Union says,” he explained. “They have no idea what Hamas is.”

“We will have to disarm Gaza,” he continued. “Destruction of the terrorist infrastructure is something that will have to happen. Either the Egyptians and the Palestinian Authority will do this, or the time will come for Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield in Gaza. This is something you need to plan – it’s not something you do in response to rocket fire. We cannot leave it like it is.”

Dichter added that in his view, the Nation-State or Jewish State Law – the law blamed with bringing down the 19th Knesset – will eventually pass. The former Minister was the first to introduce his own version of the law, with Netanyahu’s blessing, as a Kadima MK during the 18th Knesset.

Declassified CIA Paper Reveals How The US Helped Stop An Iranian Sneak Attack On Saudi Oil Rigs In 1987

Iran Test Silkworm Missile

A recently disclosed CIA document suggests that the US military’s around-the-clock satellite imagery analysis helped Saudi Arabia foil a planned Iranian attack on its offshore oil rigs in 1987.

An article titled “We Watched the Gulf,” which appeared in Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s newly declassified internal journal, describes how the US upped its surveillance efforts in the region during a highly fraught moment in the Gulf region’s recent history.

In the late 1980s, as the catastrophic Iran-Iraq war approached its end, the US military’s Priority Exploration Group (PEG), which analyzed images captured from space, was ordered to focus all of its attention on the Persian Gulf.  

In October 1987, the US’s increased surveillance in the region helped foil a plot that might have left parts of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure in flames, with untold political and economic consequences during a time when Middle Eastern states had a veritable death-grip on world oil markets.

Earlier that year, PEG found that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had been building a “small boat force” in the northern Persian Gulf, equipped with automatic weapons and rocket launchers.

Around 60 of these nimble attack ships were turned back by the Saudi Royal Navy during one engagement in 1987. The Saudis backed Saddam Hussein’s regime in the Iran-Iraq war, and Iran frequently harassed Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf. The armada was apparently headed for Saudi-owned oil platforms.

The article in Studies in Intelligence strongly implies that the Saudis repelled the attack thanks to US satellite intelligence. It’s a notable, if long-secret instance in which the US effectively intervened in a complex Middle Eastern conflict, and used its unmatched intelligence capabilities to prevent an already-tense situation from spiraling even further out of control. 

Iran wanted to attack Saudi oil assets because of their support for Iraq during the war. But this was just one incident in an alarming and fragile situation in the Persian Gulf that had directly drawn in the US military.

The US focused its attention on the Persian Gulf in the context of Operation Earnest Will, the world’s largest maritime convoy operation since World War II, in which the US escorted dozens of Kuwaiti oil tankers through the Straits of Hormuz.

 

This was the so-called “tanker phase” of the Iran-Iraq war, in which both countries tried to choke off their enemy’s oil industry by attacking ships sailing to and from their ports.

There was plenty of collateral damage, some of it resulting in the loss of American lives: In May 1987, an Iraqi aircraft fired two missiles at a US frigate. Thirty-seven Navy personnel aboard the USS Stark were killed.

The US was also closely tracking the threat posed by Iranian assets in the Gulf in order to prevent a further escalation — specifically, anti-ship cruise missile sites near the Strait of Hormuz and in the northern Gulf.

The US wanted to protect global oil lanes, and prevent future attacks on its own warships.

10 Arab Nations Join US-Led Coalition against Islamic State

Isis: Ten Arab Nations Join US-Led Coalition against Islamic State
US Secretary of State John Kerry poses with his Arab counterparts in Jeddah.

Ten Arab nations have announced they are to join a US-led coalition against Isis (known as Islamic State) militants.

In a joint statement, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, said they “will do their share” to fight against the jihadist group that has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The development marks a major diplomatic success for Washington and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had embarked on a Middle East tour to lobby for a greater Arab role in the fight against extremists. 

In fact, some of the ten states have tense diplomatic relations due to their rivalry on other regional issues.

Qatar and Turkey’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, has put the two countries at odds with Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt.

The announcement came after Kerry met delegates from the ten countries in the Saudi government’s summer seat of Jeddah.

The group of states said they assessed plans to eradicate IS “wherever it is, including in both Iraq and Syria” and pledged to join in “many aspects of a coordinated military campaign” against the militant organisation.

They also promised to support the new Iraqi government and stop the flow of funds and fighters that have boosted IS power.

Representatives from Turkey attended the meeting but did not sign the agreement and refused to let the coalition use its bases to launch air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

“Turkey will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations,” a government spokesperson speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.

Earlier, Russia condemned Washington plan to target IS militants in Syria, saying it would consider air strikes an “act of aggression” if carried out without a UN mandate and the assent of the regime of Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad.

The US has already launched limited air strikes against IS in Iraq at the request of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

IS launched its offensive on Iraq from its heartland of north-eastern Syria, capturing key Sunni towns and cities such as Mosul and Tikrit.

It has now declared a “caliphate” that straddles the Iraqi-Syrian border and represents a greater landmass than that of the United Kingdom.

According to the UN, over 1.6 million people have been displaced by conflict in Iraq this year while 850,000 people fled their homes in August alone.

Russia has a deep-pocketed economic supporter that is also a staunch US ally

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin meets with United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

China’s economic support for Russia in the face of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and growing pressure from Western sanctions, is well known. But another deep-pocketed financial supporter has also been forging closer economic ties with Russia this summer: the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE ‘s most visible commitment to Russia is through the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a state-bank backed private equity fund with more than $10 billion in foreign capital that invests in Russian businesses.

It has some Western private equity giants on its board (pdf., page 12 and 13), including Apollo’s Leon Black and Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman.

But Middle Eastern nations, and particularly the United Arab Emirates, led by Abu Dhabi, have provided most of the money in recent years. Funds from the Middle East include:

  •  $5 billion committed by the Abu Dhabi department of finance in 2013, the “largest investment from the Middle East ever made into Russia.”
  • $1 billion from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Companypledged in 2013.
  • $2 billion from Qatar’s Investment Authority, pledged this May.

There are investments from outside the Middle East too, including $1 billion from China Investment Corp., $500 million from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation, and about $200 million from France’sstate-backed Caisse des Depots.

The RDIF may be moved to Russia’s central bank to keep it from being touched by sanctions, Bloomberg reported this week. A RDIF spokeswoman said no decision has been made, and discussions about this change were started two years ago. 

And Republican-backed sanctions-related bill in the US Senate could force US private equity advisers to leave the fund’s board, and US companies from doing business with RDIF. Both moves could potentially have a serious impact on investors’ return—on top of any impact from the weakening Russian economy.

The RDIF investments happened before Russia’s incursion into Crimea, and are part of a growing relationship cemented by meetings between Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years, including the signing of a tax treaty and a nuclear agreement.

Abu Dhabi made the first Gulf sovereign wealth fund investment in Russia back in 2010 (paywall), when it invested $100 million in a Russia-focused hedge fund, and since then the seven emirates that make up the UAE have been forging alliances and investing large sums. Total United Arab Emirates investment in Russia stands at about $18 billion, the emirates’ economic minister, Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansourisaid in February. 

Since the March annexation of Crimea, officials from the UAE have been pledging more economic support for Russia and pushing closer ties. In April, Dubai airport officials traveled to Moscow looking for investors.

In June, the UAE’s economic minister traveled to Moscow with 40 government and business executives and pledged to more than double bilateral trade between the two countries to $7 billion  in 2014, and cooperate with Russia on energy and agriculture projects. And in August, the UAE’s state-run carrier Etihad said it would start freight services between Abu Dhabi and Moscow. 

The UAE depends on Russia’s deep pockets too. In the past decade,Russians have flocked to Dubai to take advantage of the warmer weather and tax-free shopping, where they’re known as the emirate’s highest-spending guests.

Russian-tourist-arrivals-in-Dubai-Russian-visitors-to-Dubai_chartbuilder

With hundreds of billions of dollars in excess oil reserves, the United Arab Emirates are not likely to feel a real pinch from the falling value of any Russian investments, or a short-term decline in the number of wealthy Russian tourists.

But as a long-time ally of the US, the UAE could certainly feel some political heat—maybe as soon as this week, as nations gather to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although the emirates are not NATO members, a UAE representative will attend Thursday’s alliance summit in Wales as an observer.

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