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Amman, Jordan - October 18, 2023 : Arab unity in the Al-Aqsa flood war (flag of Jordan and Palestine) Demonstrations of the Jordanian people in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian people

Political Insights (5): Determinants of the Jordanian Stance on Operation al-Aqsa Flood

by Atef al-Joulani

Jordan’s official stance on Operation al-Aqsa Flood faced challenges in maintaining a balanced position, despite strong and unprecedented engagement from the Jordanian public. The initial official stance, which seemed relatively strong and clear, diminished later, revealing contradictions between political declarations and practical measures on the ground. This has raised questions about the factors influencing Jordan’s position on the confrontation. First: Determinants of the Official Stance The official Jordanian stance on Operation al-Aqsa Flood was shaped by various factors: 1. Concerns regarding national security intensified due to the hostile attitudes of extreme right-wing Zionist groups towards Jordan, along with fears of forced displacement in the West Bank (WB) amidst the arming of tens of thousands of settlers and their persistent efforts to compel Palestinians to relocate to Jordan. Furthermore, concerns emerged regarding security threats to the kingdom’s northern and eastern borders amidst increased attempts to breach them due to escalation in Gaza Strip (GS). On 28/1/2024, a drone attack targeted US forces stationed near the Syrian border in Jordan, killing three soldiers and wounding about 35 others. 2. Geographic and demographic factors, coupled with strong public engagement with Operation al-Aqsa Flood, persistently fueled Jordanian protests against Israeli aggression and in support of resistance since October 7th. The protests have spanned the entire geographical and societal spectrum in Jordan. 3. The provisions of the Wadi Araba Treaty between Jordan and Israel, including political, economic restrictions, and normalization commitments between the parties. 4. The strategic relationship between Jordan and the US, which fully sided with Israel and provided it with political, military and financial cover to continue its aggression on GS. 5. Jordan’s tepid ties with Hamas suffered a setback after Operation al-Aqsa Flood, which coincided with a noticeable decline in relations, prompted by the arrest of several Hamas members for attempting to smuggle weapons into WB. 6. Jordan’s political stance within the Arab and international sphere, which opposes Hamas and “political Islam” movements. 7. Jordan’s political choices in the Palestinian arena, which support the political settlement, negotiations and the two-state solution, the efforts to de-escalate and impose calm in WB, enhancing the PA status within the Palestinian society, and preventing its collapse or decline in favor of other parties. 8. The official side voiced concerns about the impact of Operation al-Aqsa Flood on Jordanian public sentiment and electoral trends, fearing its exploitation by the Islamic movement during the critical upcoming parliamentary elections later this year (2024). Second: The Various Facets of the Jordanian Position On the political front, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was the first to indicate in the early days of the confrontation that “Hamas is an idea, and the idea does not end.” He emphasized that discussing a post-Gaza phase is a leap in the air, clarifying that Hamas did not create the conflict but rather the conflict created Hamas. Jordan was quick to describe Israeli military operations in GS as aggression and heinous war crimes, with positions issued by the King, Queen, Crown Prince and Jordanian Prime Minister condemning the aggression, calling for its cessation, and declaring solidarity with the Palestinian people. On the practical front, Jordan canceled the Quad Summit scheduled in Amman with the US President on 18/10/2023, in protest against the Israeli massacre at the Baptist Hospital in GS. Jordan also froze the energy-for-water agreement with Israel. On 1/11/2023, Jordan recalled its ambassador from Israel and conducted multiple air drops to support its field hospital in GS, while establishing a second field hospital in Khan Younis. Yet, the Jordanian public deemed these official actions insufficient, demanding the cancellation of the Wadi Araba treaty and the gas agreement with Israel, along with halting the water-for-electricity deal, closing foreign military bases in Jordan, supporting Palestinian resistance and engaging with its factions. The Jordanian official stance during Operation al-Aqsa Flood can be summarized as follows: 1. Condemnation of Israeli aggression on GS and urging an end to war crimes. 2. Implementation of measures falling short of public demands, amidst strong interaction by the Jordanian public during the confrontation. 3. Permitting limited popular activities, restricting access to borders with the occupied Palestinian territories, opposing open sit-ins and arresting activists participating in some events. 4. Allowing Jordanian territory for Gulf-to-Israel truck transit, within the context of a land bridge inaugurated to bypass Houthi restrictions in the Bab al-Mandab Strait for ships bound to Israel. Conclusion Jordan’s official response to Operation al-Aqsa Flood reveals significant confusion in aligning its regional and international stance, political choices and commitments with addressing the demands of the Jordanian public. Jordan’s participation in the land bridge for goods transit to Israel has damaged its credibility and provoked public outrage. This revelation coincided with Israel’s intensified blockade on GS, coupled with increased measures to prevent the entry of humanitarian aid, as part of the Israeli policy to starve the population and incite popular resentment against the resistance. Given recent practical behavior and relative retreat in stance and rhetoric, ongoing confusion in Jordan’s official position is expected in the coming period, with increased engagement in Arab and international arrangements regarding Gaza’s post-war future. Regarding relations with Palestinian factions, Jordan’s official side is expected to maintain its preference for engaging solely with the Palestinian Authority, aiming to bolster its position in the Palestinian arena, without showing openness to resistance movements in the foreseeable future.

Two equestrian figures in front of the flags of Iran and Israel.

The Evolvement of Iran–Israel’s Rivalry in the Red Sea and Eastern Africa

by Hamid Talebian , Dr. Sara Bazoobandi

Abstract The rivalry between Iran and Israel has intensified over the past decades. Iran has continuously expanded its involvement across the region, which has led to a ‘balance of terror’ between the two countries. Various incidents of confrontation have occurred between the two countries in the Red Sea and East of Africa since 2010s. The Iranian regime, has been expanding its strategic depth into various regions, including Africa. Different Iranian administrations have adopted distinct policies in their term, that are influenced by various factors. The relations between Iran and East African countries have been transactional and facilitated by Iran’s effort to provide various forms of financial and military assistance in exchange for friendly diplomatic relations and ability to influence African leaders’ attitude towards the West and its allies, particularly Israel. This paper reviews the history of involvement of the two countries in these regions, and analyses how policies of confrontation in both countries have changed and developed over the different historical periods. The paper will have a particular focus on post-2005, because there is compelling evidence indicating a substantial expansion of Iran’s engagement in these regions. 1. Introduction The rivalry between Iran and Israel has intensified over the past decades. This has been inflamed by various regional events such as Iran’s involvement in Syria, its nuclear ambitions, and Israel’s unprecedented peace agreement with some of the Gulf Cooperation Countries, Sudan, and Morocco. Tehran and Israel have been persistently adopting strategies, to counter the influence of one another in various regions. Such strategies have created a ‘balance of terror’1 between the two countries, in which Iran is deterred by Israel’s military capability and Tel Aviv is anxious of Iran’s ‘strategic depth’ and its expansion2. The latter has been demonstrated in various regional crises, including the attacks on Israel in October 2023. Since 1979, the mainsprings of Iranian strategies have been to enhance the regime’s strategic depth while pursuing other objectives in support of what the senior political leaders in Iran refer to as ‘the geography of resistance’ 3. At the same time, Israeli policies have been framed around a fixation with maintaining security of the state of Israel. The country’s qualitative military edge is aimed at maintaining Israel’s security and military strength, against hostile neighbours, and other regional players including Iran and its proxies. This has led to many incidents of indirect confrontations that have occurred between the two countries in various regions, including in the Red Sea and East of Africa, since 2010s. This paper reviews the history of involvement of the two countries in these regions, and analyses how policies of confrontation in Tehran and Tel Aviv have changed and developed over the different historical periods. It will also explore how the Red Sea and East of Africa became a important zone for hostile strategies between the two countries. Since 1979, and despite Israel’s military and security supremacy over Iran that stems from its advanced air force, sophisticated anti-missile air defence system, and its powerful intelligence system, the country has increasingly become concerned with Iran’s strategies. The state of Israel had maintained a stable and peaceful relationship with Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. However, after the Revolution the regime in Tehran has taken an extremely hostile position towards Israel, calling it a ‘cancerous tumour, that will be uprooted and destroyed’4. Given the outright hostility between the two countries since 1979, the focus of the analysis in this paper will be to evaluate post-Revolutionary formulation of Iran’s policies in the Red Sea and Eastern Africa regions that are directed at Israel. A brief overview of Iran’s pre-1979 policies in Africa is also provided as a valuable contextual component to enrich the analysis. The study reviewed various sources including academic literature and online news reports to collate data. Further, archival fieldwork was conducted at the National Archive of the United Kingdom (UK) to enrich the empirical evidence that is used in the analysis of the paper. During which the diplomatic catalogues of the archive, especially the Foreign Office (FO) and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) catalogues, were thoroughly examined to obtain relevant evidence. These catalogues contain a vast repository of data detailing interactions between the British government and foreign nations from 1782 to the present era.5 The documents that were reviewed at the National Archive have been extremely beneficial to clarify the relations between Iran and African countries. 2. Iran’s Engagement in Africa, a Historic Review Iran’s engagement with the African continent is a history of ebbs and flows, revolving around both continuity and change. Commencing before the Islamic revolution (1979), it began under the reign of Mohammadreza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, and took the form of a pro-status quo set of foreign policies aiming at perforating the increasing Nasserist and communist-Soviet presence in the Sub-Saharan Africa.6 The Shah was particularly concerned about the growing influence of the Soviet Union and communist-backed regimes in the Horn of Africa and perceived the latter as a significant security threat to his rule. Additionally, a mixture of geopolitical and regional developments in the early 70s such as the cold war and great power competitions, the British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, and decline of Arab nationalism after the death of Jamal Abdul Nasser, made the Shah more confident in pursuing an independent and more balanced foreign policy. The Shah had ambitions to take the leading role as the security provider of the Indian Ocean in collaboration with its other littoral states. Against that backdrop, the Horn of Africa became strategically important for the Shah and, therefore, Iran pursued strategies that were aimed at growing the country’s influence in the region, particularly through closer ties with Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa.7 Additionally, Iran at the time sought to strengthen diplomatic alliance within the international forums such as the United Nations General Assembly, and its Security Council. This was mainly due to Iran’s contentious position with the Arab world over territorial disputes with Bahrain and with the United Arab Emirates over the three islands in the Persian Gulf.8 With the oil crisis largely looming in the early 70s and growing oil revenues, Iran was able to afford transactional relationships with African states, some of which were in dire need for financial aid, to gain diplomatic support. The historical rise of oil export income prompted the Shah’s ambitions to portray Iran as an altruistic nation willing to provide humanitarian and development assistance to poor African countries. During this period Iran had a balanced position in relation to the state of Israel, except on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Iran’s view on the Palestinian issue was aligned with the Arab worlds and as British diplomatic records indicates, Tehran’s position on this issue was built on ‘Third-Worldism’ and anti-colonial rhetoric with the aim of distancing from, but simultaneously pressuring, the United States.9 Despite that, the Israeli government was relatively close to the government of the Shah and supported Iran’s activities in Africa, including in the Horn. The Shah personally believed that a united front in the Horn. constituting of Iran, Israel, and Ethiopia, would be a stabilising force and will bring security to the Horn of Africa.10 The 1979 Islamic Revolution changed Iran’s foreign policy direction on many levels. One of the driving forces of Iran’s foreign policy since the Revolution had been the state’s ideology. Iran’s post-Revolutionary political leaders have viewed the African Muslim communities as fertile ground for ‘exporting the Islamic revolution’ and expanding the geopolitics of Shiism.11 In Zimbabwe, for instance, the activities of the Iranian embassy has raised concerns as the security forces have been anxious about promotion of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and ‘indoctrination of young Zimbabweans’.12 Moreover, since the early years of the Revolution, the IRI have pursued diplomatic relations with African countries predominantly to counter economic and diplomatic influence of the West and its allies, including Israel. Through establishing transactional relationship with African states, in which the IRI provided African states with financial support, military assistance, and cooperation in development areas, Iran has been seeking to persuade African countries to limit ties with Israel. Moreover, from the early years after the Revolution, the IRI has been seeking to expand its diplomatic ties with Africa to gain international recognition and legitimacy. One of the early diplomatic initiatives of the IRI in the continent was the diplomatic tour of Ayatollah Khamenei in 1986, in his capacity as the president at the time.13 Through that initiative, launched by Khamenei’s tour to Southern African countries, the IRI sought to expand its relations with the region mostly to break the country’s post-Revolution diplomatic isolation. Entangled in a long war with Iraq, that started right after the Revolution, the IRI was increasingly detached from the international community. Africa was at the time the most accessible region for Iran to connect with. In exchange, Iran offered development assistance, that was mostly channelled through Construction Jihad,14 and oil supplies. In the aftermath of Iran-Iraq war and under the post-Cold War global dynamics, Iran’ former President, Hashemi Rafsanjani adopted a foreign policy approach aimed at normalising the IRI internationally.15,16 He actively followed up with diplomatic initiatives that were launched in the previous decade to invigorate Iran’s Africa policy by fomenting the transactional relationships. The expansion of relations between the IRI and Sudan is a great example of such initiatives. The IRI became one of the strongest allies of the ruling Islamic regime in Sudan. Iran invested in a variety of infrastructure projects in Sudan, including a 10 million US dollar road construction, connecting the North of the country to the South. The project was finished during Rafsanjani’s successor, former President Mohammad Khatami, term in office and was reportedly built by the Construction Jihad.17 Further, Iran provided military support for Omar-Al-Bashir’s government. Rafsanjani reportedly provided 300 million US dollar credit to Sudanese government to finance Al-Bashir’s purchase of Chinese weaponry.18 Some of the diplomatic initiatives that were launched in Africa during Rafsanjani’s presidency were continued during Khatami’s presidency. While maintaining relationships with some of the friendly states of Africa, such as Sudan, was carried over by Khatami’s administration, some of the cooperation deals and financial promises that were made during Rafsanjani’s presidency were abandoned. Africa played a minimal role in his foreign policy agenda and priorities that were revolving around the notion of ‘Dialogue of Civilisations’ and rapprochement with the West.19 When Khatami’s successor, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office, his government reignited the abandoned initiatives in Africa. His government launched a comprehensive initiative to develop new ties and strengthen the old links with African states. Ahmadinejad’s Africa policy was a crucial element of his government’s populist politics, providing an exemplary opportunity for his administration to showcase their support for the underprivileged nations in Africa. 3. Principalists’ Role in Iran’s Africa Policy Presidency of Ahmadinejad in 2005 was a turning point in the rise of the so-called ‘Principalists’ in the Iranian domestic politics. Principalists are considered to be the most conservative political camp in Iran. Due to their political ideology and loyalty for the Supreme Leader, they are known amongst the political factions in Iran, to be trusted allies of both Ayatollah Khamenei and the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran’s presidential election in 2005, was perceived as a turning point in Iran’s post-Revolutionary politics in favour of the Principalists, who promoted a foreign and domestic policy that were in line with the vision of the Supreme Leader. Though, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad clashed during his second term. Moreover, his presidency coincided with a historic rise of oil income in Iran that allowed pursuit of ambitious transactional relations with poorer nations, including those in East of Africa. Ahmadinejad promoted a foreign policy discourse that was framed around advancing ‘South-South’ relations, with strong emphasis on anti-imperial rhetoric of ‘Third-Worldism’20. During his terms, Iran launched an active diplomatic outreach campaign to various countries in Global South. At the same time, the IRI cut International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) access, for monitoring and surveillance of on its nuclear sites, after some clandestine nuclear activities were revealed.21 Considering the significance of Iran’s nuclear program for the security of the State of Israel, the latter caused, and continues to do so, immense level of anxiety amongst the Israeli political and security elite. These developments induced a shift in geopolitical vision of the IRI in that period and prompted foreign policy decisions that sought to create a new arena of confrontation between the two countries, in the Red Sea and East of Africa. As a result, Tehran pushed for strengthening relations with anti-West state and non-state actors to counter the international pressure that has been imposed on Iran in the form of international isolation and economic sanctions. The African continent, specifically the Eastern Africa, and the Red Sea region provided the IRI leaders an ideal environment to deter the international pressure and circumvent economic sanctions. Another noticeable achievement of the IRI’s policy in this region has been demonstrated in Iran’s success in gaining political presence to increase the regime’s international status. A great indicator of such success is African nations’ voting pattern in favour of Iran in the United Nations (U.N.). Figure 1 demonstrates that many African countries, including those in the Eastern Africa and the ones with military ties to Iran, have remained either neutral or in favour of Iran in their votes on consecutive the U.N. human rights resolutions. Figure 1. African states’ voting results in the U.N. General Assembly on resolutions related to the situation of human rights in Iran. Source: Data compiled from the United Nations Library22   So far, the paper provided a brief historical review of the Iranian initiatives in Africa. It has also highlighted the significant focus on Africa during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose populist politics played a major role in strengthening the transactional ties with the African nations. Although, the development that have so far been discussed in the paper are not directly linked with the rivalries between Iran and Israel in Eastern Africa and the Red Sea, they provide a valuable background on the development of Iran’s Africa policy that dates to pre-Revolution era. The next section will focus on post-2005, because the empirical data that has been analysed for this paper indicates a substantial expansion of the IRI’s engagement in the Red Sea and East of Africa. It will be later discussed that such developments, were perceived alarming by the state of Israel and prompted various push back. 4. Significance of Eastern Africa and the Red Sea in Iran–Israel’s Geopolitical Confrontations The presidency of Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) was characterised by an aggressive expansion of Iran’s ties with Africa. Such expansion has alarmed Iran’s regional rivals, particularly Israel. In this period, Iran opened five new embassies and reopened three of its embassies across the African continent. Three of these embassies were in countries on the Red Sea (Djibouti, Somalia, and Egypt).23 High global oil price in this period, boosted the IRI’s surplus revenue and enabled Ahmadinejad’s government to sign, or implement already signed, generous economic and developmental agreements with Eastern African states.24 Although, there is an important distinction between signing and implementation of such agreements, the evidence suggests a substantial rise in Iran’s economic assistance in the continent. Through a wide range of projects such as: a comprehensive cooperation agreement with Zimbabwe, agricultural investments and building the National Parliament in Comoros, and development of oil refineries in Eritrea,25. Iran sought to maximise its presence, and deepen its influence across the region. Similar transactional relationships with the states in the region have been pursued since that period by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.26 The Arab uprising and the rise of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates to senior political offices in Egypt was another significant event that took place in this period. Egypt under Mohammad Morsi began to build cordial relations with the IRI. After a long rule by pro-US Mubarak, who were hostile to the Islamic regime in Iran, improvement of relation with Egypt was a major step for Iran to the detriment of its regional adversaries, especially Israel. In post-Mubarak Egypt, the country’s security apparatus in the Sinai almost entirely collapsed and, consequently, it enabled the arms smugglers to transfer weapons – including Iranian cargoes freely to Gaza.27 During Ahmadinejad’d presidency, the IRI envisioned to utilise its ties with Africa to shift the balance of power against regional and global powers like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. As Table 1 indicates, more than half of Defense Cooperation Agreements (DCAs)28 that the IRI has concluded, between 2006 and 2012, with the African states, had been signed with Eastern African states.29 The DCAs, included a wide range of collaborations including knowledge transfer, training, and modernising the military infrastructure, and naval cooperation. As such, they were instrumental in accelerating Iran’s military presence in the region. Simultaneously, hefty modernising and restructuring packages were introduced to boost the IRI’s naval strength. These developments have raised concern in Tel Aviv. The rest of this section will investigate some of Iran’s expansion initiatives that prompted Israeli response. As noted above, Sudan played a significant role in the IRI’s Africa strategy. Iran’s relations with Sudan have also become a key element of the evolving conflict between Iran and Israel. For many years, the IRI had been one of the primary suppliers of the country’s weaponry and military technology30 accounting for 13% of Sudan’s total arms import between 2001 to 2012.31 Given its proximity to Sinai region and Gaza, Sudan was selected by the IRGC-Quds operatives as a strategic route for transferring arms through the north of Sudan, into the Sinai and further delivered to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militias. The weapon cargoes were reportedly transferred by the Egyptian and Sudanese smugglers through the Nubian desert in the east of Sudan, along the Red Sea coastlines, sea routes, and tunnels in between the Egyptian border and the Gaza strip.32 In response, between 2009 and 2011, several Israeli airstrikes that targeted weapon shipments in Sudan were launched on what was believed to be Iranian arms destined to Gaza.33 Further, in 2012, Israel bombed Yarmouk factory in Sudan, that was believed to be a hub of Iranian weapon production, and a critical supplier for shipments that were towards the Mediterranean.34 Iran has also reportedly used Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti to sustain its weapons shipment up to the Mediterranean as well as Yemen.35 The IRI has utilised regional turmoil and lack of security to expand its influence and maintain (or create new) weapon smuggling routes.36 In doing so, it has engaged with government and non-government actors across the region, which in some cases acted against each other. For example, despite the overall positive nature of the IRI with the Somalian government, Iran delivered weapon to the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) fighters in Somalia, in support of their armed confrontation with the Somalian government, in exchange for small portions of uranium. It is worth noting that some of Iran’s strategies for engagement in this region have been carried out by Ahmadinejad’s successor as well. Under the Rouhani’s administration, the IRI cooperated with Horn of Africa states like Somalia against al-Shabab and other groups in the name of counterterrorism. The IRI’s involvement in East Africa and the Red Sea, was built of a combination of transactional relations to boost access and supporting destabilising actors. Ongoing regional chaos, weak regional governments, and lack of security in the region have created a hospitable environment for external players to pursue their political gains. Tehran has been seeking to strengthen its regional presence while maintaining safe weapon delivery routes to allies and proxies in the Mediterranean. In other words, while the expansion into the Red Sea and East Africa has been strategically planned by the IRI to establish a network of influence across this region, the end goal has been to penetrate the Mediterranean region and maintain the support of network of allies and proxies, who are integral to Iran–Israel confrontation. The data collected in this study supports this observation. Between 2006 and 2013, the bulk of Iran’s arm export had been destined to Syria, Lebanon (Hezbollah), and Sudan.37 At the same time, Israel played a pivotal role in South Sudan’s independence through providing military support for the South Sudanese Mayardit’s front in the war with Khartoum.38 It is worth noting that, except for the military assistance to South Sudan, Israel remained disengaged from the region throughout this period. The passive strategy of Israel in the region has been following the country’s overall defense doctrine, that is based on a consensus amongst the military and political elite over circumvention of overstretching the defense capacities. The diplomatic tour of the then Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in 2009, in which he visited five African countries (nearly half of them were in Eastern Africa), marked one of Tel Aviv’s first political outreach to the continent.39 From the Israeli perspective, Lieberman’s African tour was largely motivated by gaining higher international recognition. Nevertheless, the Iranian pro-regime media interpreted it as a response to the first big diplomatic tour of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the African continent in 2008.40   In the post-2015 period, coincided with the war in Yemen and the events during in this period have been influenced by other regional powers’ effort for containing Iran in the region. Shortly after the beginning of the war in Yemen a diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Iran began that was prompted by the execution of a leading Saudi Shia cleric,43 and subsequent attack on Saudi embassy in Tehran. Apprehension about Iran’s destabilising strategies in the region, led to Saudi officials’ decision to embark on a regional initiative aimed at isolating Iran and containing its presence in this region. This was enhanced by the decline of the IRI’s interest under Rouhani’s Administration in maintaining the strategies pursued by the principalist president Ahmadinejad.44 Rouhani’s government prioritised a rapprochement with the West in pursuit of a nuclear deal that would bring the country out of its economic isolation and paid less attention to Africa. As a result, in 2016, all African countries in the Horn except Eritrea and Ethiopia but including Sudan (a long-time ally of the IRI), followed suit with Saudi Arabia and formally halted their diplomatic relationship with Iran. Government officials in Sudan explained their sudden and unexpected shift of policies against Iran to be ‘in response to to the barbaric attacks on the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad … ‘.45 However, this sudden turnaround was motivated by the ‘the promise of financial reward’46 coming from Riyadh and the latter’s subsequent promises for investing billions of dollars in Sudan’s economy combined with Sudan’s detente with the US for sanctions relief and revoking the ICC arrest warrant against Bashir. In the case of Egypt, the country was already limiting ties with Tehran after the 2013 military coup that toppled Mohammad Morsi. Losing Sudanese, Djiboutians, and Egyptian bases, the IRI lost several major corridors and littoral states’ territorial lands through which it was previously able to sustain military supplies to allies and proxies in the Mediterranean, and project power vis-à-vis Israel. These setbacks on the part of Iran were coincided with Israel’s increasing diplomatic, military, and economic engagement in the region. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited four East African states for the first time. The visits marked the highest Israeli ranked diplomatic visit to the region in decades. Shortly after, Israel’s Agency for Development Cooperation (MASHAV) reportedly approved to establish offices in all four countries. The agency allocated US$13 million to advance economic relations and cooperation in the region.47 Saudi Arabia’s effort to push Iran out of the region has also continued after 2016. The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin-Salman, organised the Red Sea Organisation as a regional platform to create a united Arab and Muslim front against Iran and concurrently to ‘institutionalize its expanding patronage network’.48 A combination of Israeli and the Saudi efforts, that were driven by mutual security concerns over Iran’s strategies across the region, had limited Iranian influence in the region. Having said, the internal dynamics and domestic political decisions of the African states in the region have also played a significant role. These countries have been historically influenced by the external actors,49 whilst neither the Gulf monarchies nor Iran have not fully delivered on their promises of economic aid and development assistance. As such, cutting ties with Iran in exchange for closer alliance with Saudi Arabia or Israel would be perceived as an organic trade off, and indeed a rational decision in countries where Iran had been playing a destabilising role domestically (e.g. supporting CIC in Somalia). Upon Iran’s multiple setbacks in the Horn of Africa, the country began pursuing its influence in Yemen as substitute strategic ally to counter the Saudi influence, and to compensate for its loss in the Red Sea region. In late 2014, the Houthis took control of the Yemeni port of Hodeida,50 a strategic location in the Red Sea. Shortly after, the Commander of Iranian Navy, Habibollah Sayyari, told the local state-owned media that the country’s presence in the Gulf of Adan and the North of Indian Ocean will be permanently maintained.51 Capturing the control of Hodeida was widely perceived in Iran as a victory and a major step towards increasing the country’s power in the region, despite the loss of ties with East African nations.52 The IRI also pursued other initiatives to challenge Israel in the region. One of Iran’s security policies towards Israel has been to pursue strategies that may result in pushing the opponent to overstretch its geographical and containment capabilities. Prompting Israel’s military campaign aimed at obstruction of arms smuggling routes across the Red Sea to block Iran’s efforts to arm allies and proxies in the Mediterranean region is a clear example of such strategies. These efforts have indeed influenced the security discourse in Israel and stimulated debate on whether the centre of activities of the Israeli naval forces should be moved from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea to deter Iran.53 In addition, various attempts have been plotted against Israel’s interest in the region. For example, in 2016 the Kenyan authorities reportedly arrested two individuals with suspected links with the Iranian government, that were collecting intelligence and preparing an attack against the Israeli embassy in Nairobi.54 Since 2019, the naval conflict between the two countries has exacerbated, particularly in the Red Sea.55 The IRGC’s presence in and beyond the Persian Gulf has caused concerns for all the regional players. Several Israeli ships have been attacked across the region, while the IRGC has been main suspect. In 2022, an Israeli tanker was attacked in the Gulf allegedly by Iranian drones and missiles.56 Since the beginning of the war in Syria, Israel has also reportedly conducted several attacks on the Iranian oil tankers that were destined to Syria,57 including a major Iranian-owned oil tanker, Sabiti, that was attacked near the cost of Jeddah. While neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia confirmed their involvement in the incident, it is speculated that it was a sabotage operation by the Israeli forces, to stop the Iranian tanker from reaching the Suez Canal.58 In 2021, one of the largest Iranian naval warships, Saviz, that was a crucial asset in IRI’s naval military operations in the Red Sea, was reportedly attacked by Israel.59 In the same year, another Iranian naval vessel, Khark, was attacked in the Strait of Hormoz. The naval tensions are a new form of confrontation between the two countries and are expected to escalate in external regions. Iran’s engagement in the Red Sea region and its littoral states has increased since 2011. This may have been, in part, triggered by Iran’s nuclear activities. In February 2010, the International Atomic Agency reported for the first time that ‘Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapon capability’60. Since then, Israel gradually recognised that the increasing Iranian influence in the region could pose a potential threat for its national security and economic interests. Although, Iran-Israel enmity dates to the very early days after the Islamic Revolution, Iran’s nuclear ambitions have played a significant role in escalation of the rivalry and its expansion to other regions such as the Red Sea and East of Africa. In Moreover, 2011 is considered as a significant point in the history of Iran’s activities in this region because in this year, Iran for the first time, sent a warship to this region that sailed through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to reach the Mediterranean. The presence of an Iranian warship was unsurprisingly alarming for the Israeli government. This has led to various events in the region, making this region a new zone for spill-over of the tension between the two countries. The move, unsurprisingly, caused strong reactions by the Israeli officials.61 Iran’s naval and political presence in this region has been perceived as a strong indicator for the country’s aspiration to expand its geopolitical influence. Israel and Saudi Arabia, along with the United States, have expressed their concern over Iran’s increasing interest in this region62. Saudi Arabia has accused the IRI of supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen63, while Israel has claimed that Iran is using the Red Sea maritime and land routes to support its allies and proxies across the Mediterranean, in Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. 64 After Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October, the risk of spill-over of Iran–Israel to this region has intensified. Most of Iran-backed proxies have openly expressed willingness for direct confrontation with Israel. In a televised statement, Houthi military spokesperson confirmed that the group had begun its missile and drone attacks on Israel and will continue to do so65. Such developments seem bound to make the prospects of Israel-Iran conflict (mostly through Iran’s proxies) in the region more likely. However, at the time of writing this article it is not possible to assess the extent or nature of this rapidly evolving conflict. Against this backdrop, strategies of containment and deterrence that limit Iran’s influence in the region have formed the core of Israel’s involvement in the politics and security structure of this region. Consequently, such strategies fostered another component to indirect military confrontation between the two countries. Threatening security of the State of Israel in the Red Sea, given that around 20 percent of Israel’s total trade depends on this naval route,66 has also been a strong motivation in Tehran. The port of Eilat, which connects Israel to the Gulf of Aqaba and further to the Red Sea, is one of the country’s major trade chokepoints, and of defense significance. There have been special deterrence measures, put in place by Israel, to maintain free navigation and avoid hostile powers from blocking the naval routes.67 5. Conclusion: What Lies Ahead? Iran–Israeli rivalry has evolved since the 1979 Revolution in Iran. The Iranian regime, has been pursuing ideology driven strategies of expanding its strategic depth into various regions, including Africa. Different Iranian administrations have adopted distinct policies in their term, that are influenced by various factors including ideological attachment with the most conservative senior political figures, government’s financial capabilities, and the overall international environment towards Iran. The relations between the IRI and some African countries have been transactional and facilitated by Iran’s effort to provide various forms of financial and military assistance in exchange for friendly diplomatic relations and ability to influence African leaders’ attitude towards the West and its allies, particularly Israel. This, combined with other factors such as Iran’s ambitious for the development of the country’s naval fleet, and its nuclear program have prompted anxious responses by Iran’s regional rivals, specifically in Tel Aviv. As a result, the Israeli government has begum to counter Iran’s effort to maintain its position in the continent. This has had spill-over effects particularly in the East of Africa and the Red Sea region. The region has become a crisis zone for strategic confrontations between Iran and Israel. This region is of high significance for Iran’s major adversary, for two reasons. First, it is of logistical significance for seaborn trade to Israel. Second, it is connected via the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, strategically important to Israel security. Against that backdrop, the region has become increasingly important to both Tel Aviv and Tehran. Given Iran’s strategic ambitions to expand its realm of influence, it is expected that the region will remain relevant to the Iranian calculus. The IRI has expanded its military capacities, particularly in terms of missile and drone technologies. It is therefore, likely to continue strategies to seek influence in this region, lure the local governments with its advanced warfare and financial resources, and continue to remain a significant player for the security structure of the region. Considering about 12% of global trade passes through the Red Sea, Iran’s strategies in this region will undoubtedly have wider global impact.   Disclosure Statement: No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors. Correction Statement: This article has been corrected with minor changes. These changes do not impact the academic content of the article. Additional information: Funding - This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG, 463159331), and H2020 Marie Sklodowska‐Curie Actions, Grant/Award Number: 101025388. Sara Bazoobandi & Hamid Talebian (2024) The Evolvement of Iran–Israel’s Rivalry in the Red Sea and Eastern Africa, Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, DOI: 10.1080/25765949.2023.2299076 © 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent. Notes 1 Marta Furlan, ‘Israeli-Iranian relations: past friendship, current hostility’, Israel Affairs 28(2), 2022, pp. 170–83, available at: 2 Michael Sagal, ‘Iran’s strategic depth expands from Yemen and Africa to the Mediterranean coast’, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (8 July 2019), available at: 3 Edward Wastnidge and Simon Mabon, ‘The resistance axis and regional order in the middle east: nomos, space, and normative alternatives’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, (2023), available at: 4 Amir Vahdat and Jon Gambrell, ‘Iran leader says Israel a ‘cancerous tumor’ to be destroyed’, Associated Press, (22 May 2020), available at: 5 For more information, see, available at: 6 Jeffrey A. Lefebvre, ‘Iran’s scramble for Sub-Saharan Africa’, Insight Turkey 21(1), 2019, pp. 133–50. 7 The National Archives of the UK (TNA), ‘FCO 31/1126’, 1972. 8 H.E. Chehabi, ‘South Africa and Iran in the apartheid era’, Journal of Southern African Studies 42(4), 2016, pp. 687–709. 9 The National Archives of the UK (TNA), ‘FCO 8/2731’, 1976. 10 Robert Steele, ‘Two kings of kings: Iran-Ethiopia relations under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Haile Selassie’, The International History Review 43(6), 2021, pp. 1375–92. 11 Soli Shahvar, ‘Iran’s global reach: the Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy, involvement, and activity in Africa’, Digest of Middle East Studies 29(1), 2020, pp. 53–75. 12 The National Archives of the UK (TNA), ‘FCO 8/8969’, 1992. 13 UPI Archives, ‘President said Ali Khamenei of Iran, visiting Southern Africa’, (19 January 1986), available at: 14 Eric Lob, ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy and construction Jihad’s developmental activities in Sub-Saharan Africa’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 48(2), 2016, pp. 313–38. 15 Shireen Hunter, ‘Iran’s pragmatic regional policy’, Journal of International Affairs 56(2), 2003, pp. 133–47. 16 R.K. Ramazani, ‘Ideology and pragmatism in Iran’s foreign policy’, Middle East Journal 58(4), 2004, pp. 549–59. 17 IRNA, ‘Journalists visit the ‘friendship road’ built by Iran in Sudan’, (31January 31, 2000), available at:بازدید-خبرنگاران-از-جاده-دوستی-که-توسط-ایران-در-سودان-احداث-شد 18 The National Archives of the UK (TNA), ‘FCO 8/8938’, 1992. 19 Edward Wastnidge, ‘Détente and dialogue: Iran and the OIC during the Khatami Era (1997–2005)’, Politics, Religion & Ideology 12(4), 2011, pp. 413–31. 20 Fariborz Arghavani Pirsalami, ‘Third Worldism and Ahmadinejad’s Foreign Policy’, Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs 4(2), 2013, pp. 81–109. 21 ‘Timeline of Iran’s Nuclear Programme’, The Guardian, (24 November 2013), available at: 22 United Nations, ‘United Nations Digital Library, Voting Data 2005-2022’, available at: 23 Mira Demirdirek, Jens Heibach, and Hamid Talebian, ‘Explaining middle-power engagement in external regions: a comparison of Iranian, Saudi, and Turkish Sub-Saharan Africa policies dataset’, MPEX German Institute for Global and Area Studies. 24 For an overview, see: Eric Lob, ‘THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN’S FOREIGN POLICY AND CONSTRUCTION JIHAD’S DEVELOPMENTAL ACTIVITIES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 48(2), (2016), p.313-338. 25 Haifa Ahmed Al MAASHI, ‘From security governance to geopolitical rivalry: Iran-GCC confrontation in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean’, Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies 11(4), 2017, pp. 46–63. 26 See, Alex De Waal, ‘Pax Africana or middle east security alliance in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea?’, World Peace Foundation, no. Occasional Paper 17, 2019, available at: 27 Eran Zohar, ‘The arming of non-state actors in the Gaza strip and Sinai Peninsula’, Australian Journal of International Affairs 69(4), 2015, pp. 438–61. 28 ‘DCAs establish broad legal umbrellas for the range of cooperative defense activities in which states might engage, from coordinating defense policies to conducting joint exercises to jointly producing weapons and technology’. See Brandon J. Kinne, ‘The Defense Cooperation Agreement Dataset (DCAD)’, Journal of Conflict Resolution 64(4), 2020, p. 730. 29 Mira Demirdirek, Jens Heibach, and Hamid Talebian, ‘Explaining middle-power engagement in external regions: a comparison of Iranian, Saudi, and Turkish Sub-Saharan Africa policies dataset’, MPEX German Institute for Global and Area Studies . 30 Reuters, ‘Sudan has drones, is pursuing missiles − state media’, Reuters, (5 September 2007), available at: 31 Mira Demirdirek, Jens Heibach, and Hamid Talebian, ‘Explaining middle-power engagement in external regions: a comparison of Iranian, Saudi, and Turkish Sub-Saharan Africa policies dataset’, MPEX German Institute for Global and Area Studies; Jonah Leff and Emile LeBrun, Following the Thread: Arms and Ammunition Tracing in Sudan and South Sudan, May 2014. Small Arms Survey. 32 Eran Zohar, ‘The arming of non-state actors in the Gaza strip and Sinai Peninsula’, Australian Journal of International Affairs 69(4), 2015, pp. 438–61. 33 ‘Sudan: questions on an Airstrike’, Stratfor, (26 March 2009), available at:; ‘Dispatch: Missile Strike in Port Sudan’, Stratfor, (6 April 2011), available at: 34 ‘Satellite pictures suggest Sudanese weapons factory hit by air strike’, The Guardian, (27 October 2012), available at: 35 ‘Eastern Africa: a battleground for Israel and Iran’, Stratfor, (29 October 2012), available at: 36 ‘Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1676’, UN Security Council, (21 November 2006), available at: 37 ‘SIPRI arms transfers database (SIPRI)’, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, (13 March 2023), available at: 38 ‘Israeli penetration into East Africa objectives and risks’, (29 September 2016), available at: 39 Tania Krämer, ‘A history of Africa-Israel relations’, DW, (18 April + 2018), available at: 40 Ali Maroufi Arani, ‘How Iran was able to eliminate Israeli cultural centers across the black continent’, Mehr News Agency, (28 January 2023), available at:ایران-چگونه-توانست-مراکز-فرهنگی-اسرائیل-در-قاره-سیاه-را-حذف-کند 41 Kinne, ‘The Defense Cooperation Agreement Dataset (DCAD)’. 42 Mira Demirdirek, Jens Heibach, and Hamid Talebian, ‘Explaining middle-power engagement in external regions: a comparison of Iranian, Saudi, and Turkish Sub-Saharan Africa policies dataset’, MPEX German Institute for Global and Area Studies. 43 Martin Chulov, ‘Saudi Arabia cuts diplomatic ties with Iran after execution of cleric’, The Guardian, (4 January 2016), available at: 44 See: Reza Bagheri and Eric Lob, ‘Rouhani’s Africa policy: disengagement, 2013–21’, Middle East Policy 29(1), 2022, pp. 154–73, available at: 45 ‘Sudan cuts diplomatic ties with Iran’, Reuters, (4 January + 2016), available at: 46 ‘Why has Sudan ditched Iran in favour of Saudi Arabia?’, The Guardian, (12 January 2016), available at: 47 ‘Israeli penetration into East Africa objectives and risks’, (29 September, 2016), available at: 48 Zach Vertin, ‘Toward a Red Sea Forum: the gulf, the Horn of Africa, & architecture for a new regional order’, Brookings Doha Center Analysis Paper, 2019, 18. 49 Jeffrey A. Lefebvre, ‘Middle East conflicts and middle level power intervention in the Horn of Africa’, Middle East Journal 50(3), 1996, pp. 387–404. 50 ‘Houthi Rebels take over Yemen’s Hodeidah Port: residents’, Reuters, (15 October 2014), available at: 51 ‘Iran’s Presence in the North of Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden will be maintained’, FarsNews, (20 January 2015), available at:حضور-ایران-در-شمال-اقیانوس-هند-و-خلیج-عدن-مستمر-و-همیشگی-است 52 Mira Demirdirek, Jens Heibach, and Hamid Talebian, ‘Explaining middle-power engagement in external regions: a comparison of Iranian, Saudi, and Turkish Sub-Saharan Africa policies dataset’, MPEX German Institute for Global and Area Studies; Ali Maroufi Arani, ‘How Iran was able to eliminate Israeli cultural centers across the black continent’, Mehr News Agency, (28 January 2023), available at:ایران-چگونه-توانست-مراکز-فرهنگی-اسرائیل-در-قاره-سیاه-را-حذف-کند 53 Lazar Berman, ‘After Saviz strike, Israel may be in dire straits trying to battle Iran at sea’, Times of Israel, (11 April 2021), available at: 54 Banafsheh Keynoush, ‘Iran’s Africa-Pivot Policy’, Middle East Policy 28(3–4), 2021, p. 236, available at: 55 For an overview, see A. Lott, Iran-Israel ‘shadow war’ in waters around the Arabian Peninsula and incidents near the Bab El-Mandeb, in hybrid threats and the law of the sea use of force and discriminatory navigational restrictions in straits, Edited by A. Lott (Brill Nijhoff, Leiden, 2022), p.117-141. 56 Eric Lob and Edward Riehle, ‘Assessing the threat of Iran’s drone carriers’, Middle East Institute, (7 March + 2023), available at: 57 Gordon Lubold, Benoit Faucon, and Felicia Schwartz, ‘Israeli strikes target Iranian oil bound for Syria’, The Wall Street Journal, (11 March 2021), available at: 58 ‘Leakage from Targeted Iran tanker halted as it heads for Gulf -Iranian media’, Reuters, (12 October 2019), available at: 59 Farnaz Fassihi, Eric Schmitt, and Ronen Bergman, ‘Israel-Iran Sea skirmishes escalate as mine damages Iranian military ship’, The New York Times, (6 April 2021), available at: 60 ‘Timeline: Iran’s nuclear program’, Reuters, (19 May 2010), available at: 61 ‘Israel Anger at Iran Suez canal warship move’, BBC News, (16 February 2011), available at: 62 Jeffrey A. Lefebvre, ‘Iran in the horn of Africa: outflanking U.S. allies’, Middle East Policy 19(2), 2012, p. 126. 63 Chase Winter, ‘Saudi coalition blames Iran for missile attack’,, (11 May 2017), available at: ; Carole Landry, ‘Iran arming Yemen’s Houthi rebels since 2009: UN report’, Middle East Eye, (1 May 2015), available at: 64 Isabel Kershner, ‘Israel says it seized ship in red sea with load of Iranian rockets headed to Gaza’, The New York Times, (5 March 2014), available at: 65 Maha El Dahan, ‘Yemen’s Houthis enter Mideast fray, hardening spillover fears’, Reuters, (1 November 2023), available at: 66 Mira Demirdirek, Jens Heibach, and Hamid Talebian, ‘Explaining Middle-Power Engagement in External Regions: A Comparison of Iranian, Saudi, and Turkish Sub-Saharan Africa Policies Dataset’, MPEX German Institute for Global and Area Studies. 67 See N. Lucas, Israeli Policy in the Red Sea, in The Red Sea: Prospects for Stability, edited by A.M. Farid (New York: Routledge, 1983).

Yellow sign stating,

2024: The electoral year that we will live in danger

by Luis Eugenio García-Huidobro

It is also possible that, in the face of the uncertainty that this 2024 will bring, there may be no other alternative than to tolerate the tense wait that each of these elections entails. But even if this attitude is adopted, we must remember the lessons that history provides us in a context like the current one. During a conversation with foreign academics, one of them joked that, in 2024, we should at best content ourselves with having a quieter year than the previous one. Most agreed on the perplexity of entering a new year while still processing much of what happened in 2023. One of them recalled the assault on the Congress and the Supreme Court in Brazil, or the democratic regressions seemingly consolidating in India, Turkey, or Hungary. Another lamented that the terrorist attack in Israel and the brutal occupation of Gaza had diverted attention from the occupation in Ukraine and obscured the growing tension in the Balkans, the Red Sea, or the Taiwan Strait. Throughout this conversation, the common thread is the same: many events in 2023 reflect a world that has become extremely unpredictable. From this perspective, however, 2024 hardly presents itself as auspicious. By chance, in different electoral calendars, nearly half of the world's population will go to the polls in every corner of the planet, with geopolitical and democratic consequences difficult to anticipate. During 2024, there will be general elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Mexico, South Africa, Taiwan, Indonesia, Pakistan, El Salvador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Mozambique, Uruguay, Namibia, North Macedonia, or Romania. In addition to this, there will be presidential elections in Russia, Venezuela, Finland, Azerbaijan, Iceland, Croatia, Algeria, or Slovakia. There will also be parliamentary elections in Portugal, South Korea, Iran, Bangladesh, Belgium, Austria, Mongolia, Botswana, Georgia, or Lithuania. There will also be regional or municipal elections in Australia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Spain, Poland, Brazil, Chile, or Bosnia and Herzegovina. This combination represents an unprecedented electoral scenario since the introduction of universal suffrage in the late 18th century. This intricate electoral puzzle will undoubtedly have direct consequences on almost all ongoing or developing geopolitical conflicts. For example, this Saturday, presidential elections will take place in Taiwan, in which one of the three candidates in dispute advocates for a more favorable position towards reunification with China, and another has downplayed the importance of this conflict to focus on public policy issues. It is no coincidence, then, that in his New Year's speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced reunification with the island as inevitable, marking an escalation in the rhetoric used to address the issue compared to the same speech the previous year. Also in Asia, the border conflict between India and Pakistan could take a new turn after the escalation of violence in 2021 and 2022, as a result of the general elections both countries will have between February and May. From India, only a consolidation in its nationalist rhetoric can be anticipated, while from Pakistan, it is difficult to know what to expect, given the deep political crisis the country has been experiencing for almost two years and the political dynamics generated by the humanitarian crisis on its border with Afghanistan. Against all odds, the war in Israel and Palestine has not yet escalated into a regional armed conflict. However, the situation in the Middle East rests on a precarious balance whose pieces could be rearranged in the coming months. Even if Benjamin Netanyahu's government resists the pressure to call general elections, Israel's geopolitical position is likely to be weakened by the almost certain Labour shift in the UK government, a result of the division this conflict generates within the British left. Conversely, a Republican victory in the US elections in November would be a relief for Netanyahu, given the deference with which this party usually approaches the more problematic actions of the Israeli government. The importance of this support should hardly be underestimated, given Israel's increasing marginalization within the international community. This is evident not only in the adverse votes it has faced in the United Nations General Assembly but also in the genocide accusation that South Africa has filed against it before the International Court of Justice. This latter country is also heading for general elections in 2024 after a presidential term characterized by corruption scandals and, for the first time since the end of apartheid, could result in a change in parliamentary majorities that ends the political hegemony of Mandela's party. Finally, there are no major expectations of change in the parliamentary elections of a theocratic autocracy like Iran, even after suffering one of the worst terrorist attacks since the 1979 revolution and undergoing a deep economic crisis that has persisted for years. But attention must be paid to the election of the Assembly of Experts in March, as the resulting balances in it could impact the eventual appointment of the successor to an increasingly elderly Ayatollah Khamenei, with the regional ramifications that this may entail. Calls are growing in Ukraine for President Volodymyr Zelensky to call elections during this year, due to the widespread criticism his handling of the conflict has received. But even discounting this uncertainty, the country will have to face multiple external electoral variables that could compromise its position. For now, in the middle of the year, the election of five out of ten non-permanent positions on the United Nations Security Council will take place. More importantly, a possible Republican victory in the US presidential and parliamentary elections could severely weaken the Ukrainian military position, as indicated by recent debates in the House of Representatives and the Senate. While Vladimir Putin's position within Russia is weaker than before the invasion in 2022 (especially after the failed Wagner Group rebellion last June), everything suggests that the president will be re-elected for a fourth term in March. This geopolitical equation must also consider the election of the European Parliament, in which some predict unprecedented victories for the far right, which, if materialized, would also impact the composition of the European Commission. At the same time, there will be a renewal of the European Council, whose composition could also undergo changes due to new political balances in national governments. It should not be ruled out that Ursula von der Leyen could fail to be re-elected for a new term, despite her recent promise to prioritize aid to Ukraine. However, the advance of the far right may not entail significant changes in the European position toward this conflict. As a recent study suggests, the Russian invasion has marked a shift in sympathy that some populist or far-right parties previously expressed toward the Putin regime, which has now become a toxic association they deliberately seek to avoid. The geopolitical importance of the war in Ukraine, finally, has overshadowed other conflicts that are even brewing on European territory itself. Notably, the growing tension between Serbia and Kosovo - in which the former has threatened military interventions - has multiplied fears of the resurgence of a conflict that between 1998 and 1999 caused an estimated twelve thousand deaths and more than a million displaced. It is in this scenario that general elections will take place in Croatia and North Macedonia, as well as municipal elections in Bosnia & Herzegovina. All this also happens in a year that will be a critical juncture for global democratic development. As all available indicators suggest, the last two decades have witnessed a decline in democracy worldwide. Last year is indicative of this trajectory: in Africa alone, seven coups d'état occurred. And while many of these events also demonstrate the surprising democratic resilience of many countries, it is undeniable that 2024 could be a turning point for liberal democracy. Many of the main democracies show severe democratic erosions. Elections in India - which some question whether it can still be considered a democracy - could end up consolidating a competitive autocracy in that country, as everything indicates that Narendra Modi will remain as prime minister. In Mexico, polls anticipate that in June, the presidential candidate of the ruling coalition will be elected, suggesting that the state dismantling advanced by President López Obrador and his attacks on key institutional checks will continue. Moreover, the eventual election of Donald Trump - if not disqualified by the Supreme Court from running again as a candidate - would pose a serious threat to American democracy, as predicted by the contempt he repeatedly showed as president towards constitutional forms. Just remember his reaction to the Capitol assault or his efforts to subvert the electoral result in 2021. And it is needless to point out that his return to the White House would make any geopolitical balance as unstable as his temperament. There may be those who criticize the excessive pessimism of the outlined horizon. They may use the example of Poland, whose parliamentary election last October offered some optimism in the face of the democratic erosion that the country had experienced over the previous eight years. But even in this case, the path ahead for the Polish government to reverse this illiberal trajectory is long, and it will face multiple challenges. Perhaps the greatest of them in the short term is the municipal election in April, which populist parties could win. The same could be said of Brazil, which, after denying re-election to President Jair Bolsonaro, will return to the polls for the municipal elections in São Paulo. It is also possible that, in the face of the uncertainty that this 2024 will bring, there may be no other alternative than to tolerate the tense wait that each of these elections entails. But even if this attitude is adopted, we must remember the lessons that history provides us in a context like the current one. After all, we must not forget that in August 1914, the world's major powers believed that, in a context of great geopolitical instability, they would be perfectly capable of anticipating the reactions of their adversaries in case conflicts escalated.

Map of the Middle East and North Africa.

Ten Things to Watch in the Middle East and North Africa in 2024

by Prof. Dr. Eckart Woertz , Olena Osypenkova

Less than two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Gaza War has re-ignited the Israel–Palestine conflict and disrupted regional politics. Developments in Syria and Yemen are in flux, Egypt finds a new role as mediator, and new spaces are opening up for international actors like China. We present a list of ten things to watch in the region as we move into 2024. Local conflicts: Authoritarian resilience will likely manifest itself in a series of sham elections. The Yemen War might linger on amid negotiations, while Israel has no plan on how to run Gaza after an end to hostilities. Regional developments: The Arab League has brought Syria back in from the cold. Israel’s normalisation of relations with Arab countries is on hold for the foreseeable future. Egypt is regaining some of its former regional lustre by acting as a mediator, whether in Gaza or in Sudan. International dynamics: Western democratic countries struggle to maintain influence compared to China and even Russia. A Trump victory in the US elections would change American foreign policy, make solving the Iranian nuclear file impossible, and could lead to adverse reactions from what is now a nuclear-threshold state. Israel would be given free rein in the Occupied Territories; the Gulf states would be forced to choose sides. Economic issues: The region remains an energy powerhouse difficult to ignore. OPEC+ arrangements will hold, and Gulf sovereign wealth funds might reconsider their asset allocation if G7 countries decided to seize – not just freeze – Russian foreign assets. Policy Implications Europe needs to confront China and Russia in the region, prepare for a possible Trump victory, and rein in the Israeli far right. Energy transitions may offer opportunities for regional collaboration. Sanctions against Russia and Iran need to be clearly communicated to other oil exporters unless they are spooked by financial weaponisation and refrain from investment in European capital markets. Who Will Run Gaza? Egypt administered the Gaza Strip between 1948 and 1967, but never thought about claiming it as its own territory. The Gaza Strip has remained a hot potato ever since. In contrast to the West Bank, where Israel expands illegal settlements and has annexation plans, it has no such ambition in Gaza. In 2005 Israeli forces even withdrew, only controlling external access points. Who will run Gaza after the arms fall silent? Israel does not seem to have a concrete plan, except for “destroying Hamas” – which has run the Gaza Strip for nearly two decades – and disconcerting mind games about ethnic cleansing by pushing large population segments out of Gaza. Whatever is meant by “destroying Hamas,” it is a task whose fulfilment is unlikely; one cannot militarily destroy an ideology with deep roots in an insurgent movement and the broader population. The Israeli government has also ruled out that the ailing and corrupt Palestinian Authority could ride back into Gaza with the help of Israeli bayonets, a plan that the US administration has peddled. (Leaving aside the question whether the PA would either want or could even do that given its extreme weakness; its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is 88 years old). Israel does not want to rule Gaza, but will have to if no other solution is found. It is still considered the occupying force by the UN and wants to have the freedom to intervene in the future to thwart any emerging security threat like the Hamas terror attack of 7 October. The UN or Arab countries such as Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to step in. They would only potentially assist in the administration of Gaza if Israel was ready to provide a credible political solution to the Palestinian question, but the populist Benjamin Netanyahu government with its right-wing extremists such as Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir is unlikely to even contemplate such an idea. Running Gaza will be a daunting task. There is an escalating humanitarian crisis, and up to three-quarters of all houses are damaged or destroyed. Donors such as the Gulf countries and the EU will not be enthusiastic to provide reconstruction funds yet again if renewed hostilities and destruction are a distinct possibility. Will the War in Yemen End? In September 2023, direct negotiations in Riyadh between senior representatives of Iran-aligned Ansar Allah (also known as the Houthis) and high-ranking Saudi officials, including the Saudi minister of defence, raised hopes about a pending end to the protracted war in Yemen, which has caused one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises and an estimated 377,000 deaths since its onset in 2015. On the verge of Christmas, then, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg announced that Ansar Allah and the Saudi-backed internationally recognised government had committed “to a set of measures to implement a nationwide ceasefire,” proclaiming that he “will now engage with the parties to establish a roadmap under UN auspices [towards lasting peace]” (OSESGY 2023). While these are significant developments that bear the potential to end the stalemate in one of the deadliest regional conflicts, one should exercise caution when assessing the prospects for peace in Yemen any time soon. Bent on terminating its direct involvement in the war, Riyadh failed to exact meaningful concessions from Ansar Allah. Instead, it demanded major ones from its Yemeni allies in the Presidential Council – who, given their dependence on Saudi Arabia, grudgingly acquiesced. With the Council representing a mixed bag of rival groups, however, upcoming negotiations will be challenging. Even if its members come to terms with Ansar Allah under Saudi pressure, the odds are high that intra-Yemeni fighting will be resumed thereafter – even if on a more modest scale. Another obstacle to peace is Ansar Allah’s growing involvement in the Gaza War. Since mid-October 2023, the group has been launching missiles towards southern Israel. In mid-November, it also began to attack shipping lanes in the Red Sea. These attacks not only threaten to derail the upcoming intra-Yemeni negotiations (Lackner 2023) but also, and crucially, boost the risk of Yemenis being drawn into another major conflict. Authoritarian Elections in the MENA: What For and Who Cares? Around the world, 76 countries will hold elections in 2024 – a number of them situated in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region (The Economist 2023). Despite the prevalence of authoritarian tendencies and the failure of democratic transitions in many countries of the region, respective leaders seem to remain committed to practicing one key element of democratic systems at least: holding elections. Iranians will head to the ballot box in March 2024, for the country’s legislative elections. Concentration of political power within the hands of a small elite and the oppression of opponents have intensified over the past few decades in Iran. This has led to a widespread loss of confidence there in electoral processes, demonstrated in low voter turnouts in recent years. Meanwhile, Algeria is due to hold the country’s second presidential election since Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in 2019 after 20 years in office. Hirak, the Algerian civil protest movement pivotal to the ousting of Bouteflika, has largely rejected the current president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, as he is perceived to be a continuation of the previous political apparatus. As the opposition has called for boycotting previous elections in 2019 and 2021, we can expect low voter’s turnout in the upcoming elections again. In Tunisia, December 2023 marked the country’s first local elections under the new constitution, with a reported boycott rate of 90 per cent (El Atti 2023). Ennahda, the country’s main opposition group, has strongly questioned President Kais Saeid’s legitimacy since he suspended parliament in 2021 and called for boycotting the elections. Even in Libya there have been hopes that parliamentary and presidential elections, previously postponed for years on end, might be finally held in 2024.    While voter-turnout rates are expected to be low in Iran, Algeria, and Tunisia, underscoring their contested legitimacy, the opposite can be expected for Turkey. The local elections set for March will serve as a litmus test for the political fate of this polarised country. Following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s re-election in May 2023, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) aims to reclaim major metropolitan municipalities, currently held by the opposition. Istanbul’s mayoral election holds particular importance, both economically and symbolically, as the office of mayor marked the starting point of Erdoğan’s political career. If incumbent opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu is re-elected, he may have a chance of winning the next presidential elections in 2028. Conversely, a victory for AKP candidate Murat Kurum could demoralise the fragmented opposition further and consolidate the authoritarian regime long-term (Turkey recap 2024). Why are the MENA’s authoritarian governments, despite their electoral engineering often determining the results ahead of time, so determined to hold elections? Authoritarian regimes across the region have adopted a narrative that seeks to justify various aspects of their conduct, such as violent crackdowns, oppression, and corruption. Democratic institutions like national elections are a useful element in legitimising such a narrative, portraying political leaders as democratically elected and their actions as in accordance with the will of the people. Elections are a useful tool to draw clear boundaries to political participation. Incumbent leaders tend to put processes in place that push opponent groups out of the race. Such processes may take place in the form of vetting or the criminalisation of opposing political views. This allows authoritarians to maintain the concentration of power in the hands of the ruling elite by limiting the participation of other interest groups. Elections are a means for consensus-building within the established system of rule. Military and paramilitary interest groups are integral players in elections held in the MENA region. Concentration of power in the hands of authoritarian ruling elites is achieved through collaboration between the military apparatus and civilian elements of the political elite. As such, elections are also a useful tool to help renew the consensus achieved between senior military and civilian leaders. Egypt: From Mediator to Regional Power Broker? In the past year, Egypt has played a major role in conflict mediation and provided humanitarian lifelines in Sudan, Libya, and Gaza. Acute risks to regional stability from these three wars fuel existing security threats through volatility, insurgencies, and arms trafficking the longer they go on. Managing these closely intertwined conflict environments puts Egypt on track to become a major power broker in the MENA region and the Sahel at a time when its battered economy weighs heavily on its foreign influence. Libya and Sudan were major junctions in trans-Saharan arms trafficking long before the ongoing civil war in Sudan started in April 2023. Militias operating near the Libyan border with Chad transport military equipment, personnel, and fuel throughout the region, while weapons smuggled from Yemen and Eritrea via the Red Sea supply insurgents operating on the Sinai Peninsula and in the Levant. Murky battlegrounds also facilitate Russia’s advances into Africa, as both Sudan and Libya buttress revenue streams for Moscow and the Wagner Group. The US and UK’s recent airstrikes on Houthi targets to secure Red Sea shipping lanes marks a new escalation in the Israel–Hamas war with far-reaching implications. Through 2023, Egypt engaged in multiple summits to broker humanitarian ceasefires via the UN, African Union, Arab League, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and the US–Saudi-led Jeddah process in Sudan (Skinner 2023). It hosted several conferences in Cairo to facilitate a new roadmap between Libya’s rival administrations, and dialogue among Sudan’s highly fractured civil society. Though it initially suspended its mediation in the Israel–Hamas conflict after the latter’s second-in-command, Saleh al-Arouri, was assassinated in Lebanon, Egypt resumed its involvement only days later. While countries rally around assisting in ceasefire and hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas, or conflict management in Libya and Sudan, diplomatic rifts have strengthened in the Middle East. Egypt has so far benefitted from both trends in different ways. In the Israel–Hamas war, its indispensability opens the door for the expansion of political and economic collaboration – as, for example, through planned cash deposits from the Gulf, or US cooperation despite the recent straining of American–Egyptian relations. The fronts are more pronounced in Libya and Sudan, most notably with the UAE’s meddling in both countries through sponsoring and supplying militias with weapons, leaving Egypt as a more consistent mediator. For better or worse, Egypt’s proximity to three wars simultaneously is as much a security liability as it is a diplomatic opportunity to assert itself. Whether it can ascend from its role as mediator to a power broker, however, remains as open as these conflicts themselves do. Will Syria’s Regional Re-Integration Continue? During its annual summit on 19 May 2023, Syria under President Bashar al-Assad was re-admitted into the Arab League as a full, regular member. This was a major diplomatic and symbolic achievement for the dictatorial government in Damascus after being ousted for almost 12 years because of its massive, almost indiscriminate, repression of its own population in the incipient phase of the Syrian civil war in fall 2011 – a process that worsened in the years to follow, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths and over 13 million displaced Syrians. The next regular Arab League summit, to be held in Bahrain in April or May 2024, will be a litmus test for whether Syrian regional re-integration will continue and what it might look like in concrete terms. So far, Arab countries’ normalisation of relations with Syria since the 2023 Arab League summit has been without any substance, essentially yielding zero benefit for the regional governments who were previously opposed to the Assad regime. There has been no economic investment from the Gulf countries, and trade with Jordan or Egypt has remained minimal. In the short-term, at least, there has been no “normalisation dividend” to speak of. In addition, the diplomatic normalisation with Assad has not led to any improvement in border security or to a decline in drug smuggling, especially of Captagon and hashish, into Jordan and towards the Gulf countries. Rather, 2023 was a record year for documented drug-smuggling activities as well as increased use thereof by Arab youth in Syria and its neighbouring countries. What is worse, the Assad government has instrumentalised the massive escalation of violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories since 7 October 2023 in two ways: Rhetorically, Assad and other Syrian officials have continuously denounced the Israeli aggression against Palestinian civilians while declaring that they have not been involved in any of the activities of the so-called resistance axis, thereby trying to improve their tarnished image in the region and beyond. Militarily, Assad’s armed forces have led a massive campaign against the Islamist opposition-controlled Idlib region, specifically targeting civilians. In the three months since October 2023, 200 people, mostly children and women, have been killed and over 120,000 internally displaced – happening out of sight and out of mind vis-à-vis Arab and international audiences alike (Haid 2024). Will Iran Go Nuclear after a Trump Victory? During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump criticised the Barrack Obama administration’s conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July of the previous year. Once in office, in May 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the agreement. The current Joe Biden administration has since unsuccessfully tried to revive the deal; Iran, claiming it is no longer bound by the JCPOA’s provisions either, has since resumed its uranium enrichment. It is now within breakout capacity (Millington 2022). During the current presidential primaries, Trump, who will be Biden’s most likely opponent in the 2024 elections, has again called for a tougher stance on Iran. The higher (nuclear) stakes and Trump’s record of a “maximum pressure” policy towards Iran have raised fears of a potential military conflict should he win a second term in office in fall 2024. While such scenarios are not impossible, their likelihood is overstated in political commentaries. The US’s sanction and embargo policies against Iran have been a constant of the two countries’ relations since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. When a 2003 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency found that Iran was in violation of its safeguards agreement, the issue escalated further. Subsequent US administrations have initiated several new rounds of international sanctions against Teheran – with the stated goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb and a potential arms race in the Middle East. This international pressure eventually brought a new moderate Iranian government to the negotiation table in 2013, resulting in the “nuclear deal” reached between the P5+1 and Iran in Vienna in 2015. However, neither the JCPOA nor its discontinuation have altered the fundamental parameters of the four decades and counting of US–Iranian antagonism. It only temporarily shifted the focus from military posturing towards diplomatic avenues. Even Obama, who championed a new approach “based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” continuously stressed that military options remained on the table. The Trump administration, on the other hand, shied away from limited strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, let alone an open military conflict with Tehran, despite its “maximum pressure” approach culminating in the targeted killing of Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. With these fluctuating tactics, the chances of escalation remain real – whether triggered by an emboldened second Trump administration ordering a pre-emptive strike, an Israeli spoiler play, or Teheran’s conclusion that going nuclear while still under political cover from Russia is the best way to counter an unpredictable US president. In a more favourable scenario, there might be continuity on the American side despite rhetorical grandstanding. Iran could also decide that flaunting its nuclear-threshold status may give it as much leverage as actually crossing the threshold – with considerably less risk. Will the Abraham Accords Survive the Gaza War? The Abraham Accords, signed in 2020 between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, and later Morocco and Sudan, led to diplomatic normalisation and envisaged cultivating deeper economic, cultural, and technological ties between the respective countries. After the peace agreements reached with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, four other Arab countries now entertain diplomatic relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia was rumoured to be set to join their ranks before the Hamas attack on October 7 scuppered that. However, Israel’s ongoing hostilities in Gaza and the unprecedented humanitarian crisis there have sparked concerns about the durability of these accords and the broader trajectory of Israel’s normalisation process in the region. Arab governments that signed normalisation agreements with Israel are facing growing scrutiny and calls for accountability at home, exemplified by citizen-driven initiatives like protests, marches, and online activism. Up to 85 per cent of the population in Gaza have been displaced, and South Africa has launched procedures against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague over accusations of genocide. The vast majority of MENA populaces vocally support the Palestinian cause. Their governments are afraid that pro-Palestinian protests could turn against them in a re-iteration of the Arab Spring and threaten regime survival. This mounting pressure from below has led governments, such as those in Bahrain and Jordan, to recall their ambassadors from Israel, while US-brokered talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been suspended. The Abraham Accords came with considerable incentives: The US took Sudan off its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, removed sanctions on it, and also recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory. The UAE and Israel have a common interest in high-tech and defence investments, as well as in countering Iran’s regional posturing. The latter was also a major factor in the negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. But the premise of the accords – namely, that sustainable normalisation could be achieved while ignoring the Palestinian question – has proven the populist right-wing Netanyahu government to be misguided. The enduring criticism of the US for its perceived lack of impartiality in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict could tarnish its role as a mediator, potentially affecting its ability to encourage other Arab nations to establish ties with Israel. By signing the Abraham Accords, elites’ political and economic interests took precedence over the concerns and aspirations of their broader publics. Popular discontent remains a powerful social force, compelling governments to re-assess and reconsider these commitments – as seen in the recall of ambassadors, and underscoring the limitations of elite agreements. China In, Europe Out? China–Middle East relations will continue to deepen on two fronts in 2024. Geoeconomically, China’s influence in the region has grown in recent years in various sectors due to its Belt and Road Initiative, while the EU’s – and US’s – regional presence has been in relative decline. According to Chinese customs data, the volume of trade between itself and the Middle East nearly doubled between 2017 and 2022, from USD 262.5 billion to USD 507.2 billion. By 2023, China was the leading import and/or export partner for most countries of the region. For example, it replaced the EU as the Gulf Cooperation Council’s top trading partner in 2020. Key sectors in China–MENA relations include traditional energy, renewable energy, infrastructure, technology and communications (including Huawei’s 5G), fintech, and manufacturing. Geopolitically, two points are worth noting. First, China will continue its policy of non-interventionism. The expensive regional military order is dominated and financed by the US. From the perspective of own national interests, there is no reason why China should change this equation. In 2024 the US will continue to spend more geopolitical resources regionally (thanks to the Gaza War), with China being the biggest economic beneficiary. Second, regarding the “geo” in geopolitics, the region is undergoing a slow pivot away from “the West” and self-identifying with other geographic imaginaries such as “Asia” and the “Global South.” In bilateral and multilateral exchange formats with each other or with Chinese, Indian, and other Global South partners, regional officials are increasingly dropping the term “Middle East” in favour of “West Asia.” They are slowly shedding the Western-centric concept of “the Middle East” (and “Near East”), reconceptualising the region’s geographic identity in a post–Western order world (Forough 2022). Another sign of this trend in recent years is countries of the region actively seeking membership in Asian-led institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and BRICS+. Moreover, the Western powers’ unapologetic support for how Israel has pursued its war in Gaza is going to speed up the regional distancing from the West. MENA countries have been supportive of South Africa’s case at the ICJ, while China has called for an immediate ceasefire and full Palestinian statehood within the framework of a two-state solution. Will OPEC+ Hold? The Saudi-led OPEC and Russia have not been natural allies historically. During the Arab Cold War from the 1950s to 1970s, they saw each other on opposing sides of the ideological divide, with the Soviet Union supporting revolutionary regimes in the Middle East that were hostile to the Gulf monarchies. The Saudi decision in 1985 to stop cutting production and open its oil spigots to regain market share led to collapsing prices. The fiscal impact of this decision on the USSR played no minor part in its eventual demise a few years later. All the more surprising was this odd couple joining forces in 2016. Russia became a member of OPEC+, which agreed to cut oil production. Before a glut caused prices to decline from 2014 onwards, Saudi Arabia had tried to instigate a price war against the newly emerging producers of unconventional tight oil in the US and lost. Yet, the new-found unity between the two oil heavyweights lasted only so long. In early 2020, Saudi Arabia and Russia engaged in a brief price war with each other, before agreeing on renewed OPEC+ production cuts in April of the same year. The US welcomed this step at the time. US producers were facing bankruptcy as the COVID-19 pandemic obliterated oil demand, pushing wholesale prices at the oil-trading hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, into negative territory at one point.    In October 2022, OPEC+ countries cut oil production by two million barrels per day – their first production cut since 2020. This time, the Western powers were outraged that the Gulf countries would collaborate with Russia in the middle of the latter’s war of aggression against Ukraine. However, the Gulf countries have their own national interests. They see opportunities in exploring new partnerships in an increasingly multipolar world. They need to safeguard their fiscal stability and fund development projects for the post-oil age. By the mid-2030s, global oil demand could level off – as, indeed, Saudi Aramco warned in its 2019 IPO prospectus. How will OPEC+ fare when OPEC meets next, in June 2024? All cartels are inherently unstable. Free riders try to benefit from higher prices without maintaining quota discipline and cutting production, like Iraq did during the Arab oil boycott of the 1970s. And then there are the newcomers, encouraged by artificially high prices. If the reduction in oil production in OPEC+ countries continues, the partially lost volumes may be compensated for by increased production in non-OPEC ones such as the US, Canada, Guyana, and Brazil. Traditional producers from the Middle East would lose market share like they did in the early 1980s. Energy transitions will likely impact on oil demand in the medium- to long term as well. If history is a guide, OPEC+ will then falter – albeit in June 2024 it might still be successful in keeping its cartel together for now. How Would Gulf Sovereign Wealth Funds React If the West Seized Russian Assets? Western countries have taken the unprecedented step of freezing USD 300 billion in Russian assets in the wake of the latter’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine. Now the G7 wants to discuss at its next meeting in February 2024 going a step further, namely by seizing those assets and using them to pay for restoration work in Ukraine (Tamma and Politi 2023). This is ringing an alarm bell with sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) in the Gulf countries and China, given they hold significant assets in Western capital markets and jurisdictions. The investment authorities of Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Qatar belong to the largest SWFs worldwide. More recently, Saudi Arabia has developed its Public Investment Fund into and internationally active investor, rendering it completely different from the passive investor and sleepy holder of domestic assets that it was only a few years back (Roll 2019).    The very term “SWF” was only coined in 2005 at the time of the second oil boom. Gulf SWF assets have since swelled. During the financial crisis of 2007/8, they often acted as white knights for Western banks and companies facing financial turmoil. Heavy investment was thus made in companies such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and Volkswagen. The US, with the help of other Western countries, has increasingly weaponised the global financial infrastructure such as the SWIFT payment system (Farrell and Newman 2019). The Gulf countries have not been targeted by Western sanctions like Iran and Russia have, but they have faced such threats in the past. During the Arab oil boycott of the 1970s, the US even threatened to inflict a unilateral food embargo on the import-dependent Gulf countries (Woertz 2013). Against this backdrop, the threatened seizure of Russian assets will likely prompt them to diversify assets away from Western markets. They have already increased the share of emerging markets in their portfolios. The year 2023 also saw increased gold purchases by sovereign entities. So-called petrodollar recycling was a crucial aspect of international financial stability during the oil booms of the 1970s and early years of the new century, but this continuing to happen cannot be taken for granted in the future. This GIGA Focus deviates from the series’ typical format. It is the joint product of several GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies staff members. Eckart Woertz contributed the section on the administration of Gaza after the war, Jens Heibach authored the part on the Yemen War, Mira Demirdirek and Sara Bazoobandi wrote the one on regional elections. Hager Ali addressed Egypt’s growing importance as a mediator, André Bank looked at Syria’s regional re-integration. Nils Lukacs examined the possible implications of a Trump victory on US policy in the MENA. Deema Abu Alkheir authored the section on the future of Israel’s normalisation process with some countries of the region. Mohamadbagher Forough analysed the growing importance of China regionally as Europe struggles to maintain its influence there. The parts on OPEC+ and Gulf SWFs were written by Eckart Woertz and Olena Osypenkova, who also jointly edited this GIGA Focus.

Israeli soldiers with Palestinian journalists

Israel now ranks among the world’s leading jailers of journalists. We don’t know why they’re behind bars

by Peter Greste

Israel has emerged as one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, according to a newly released census compiled by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Each year, the committee releases a snapshot of the number of journalists behind bars as of December 1 2023 was the second highest on record with 320 in detention around the world. In a small way, that is encouraging news. The figure is down from a high of 363 the previous year. But a troublingly large number remain locked up, undermining press freedom and often, human rights. China takes out unenviable top spot At the top of the list sits China with 44 in detention, followed by Myanmar (43), Belarus (28), Russia (22), and Vietnam (19). Israel and Iran share sixth place with 17 each. While the dip in numbers is positive, the statistics expose a few troubling trends. As well as a straight count, the Committee to Protect Journalists examines the charges the journalists are facing. The advocacy group found that globally, almost two-thirds are behind bars on what they broadly describe as “anti-state charges” – things such as espionage, terrorism, false news and so on. In other words, governments have come to regard journalism as some sort of existential threat that has to be dealt with using national security legislation. In some cases, that may be justified. It is impossible to independently assess the legitimacy of each case, but it does point to the way governments increasingly regard information and the media as a part of the battlefield. That places journalists in the dangerous position of sometimes being unwitting combatants in often brutally violent struggles. China’s top spot is hardly surprising. It has been there – or close to it – for some years. Censorship makes it extremely difficult to make an accurate assessment of the numbers behind bars, but since the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in 2021, journalists from Hong Kong have, for the first time, found themselves locked up. And almost half of China’s total are Uyghurs from Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused of human rights abuses in its ongoing repression of the region’s mostly Muslim ethnic minorities. The rest of the top four are also familiar, but the two biggest movements are unexpected. Iran had been the 2022 gold medallist with 62 journalists imprisoned. In the latest census, it dropped to sixth place with just 17. And Israel, which previously had only one behind bars, has climbed to share that place. That is positive news for Iranian journalists, but awkward for Israel, which repeatedly argues it is the only democracy in the Middle East and the only one that respects media freedom. It also routinely points to Iran for its long-running assault on critics of the regime. The journalists Israel had detained were all from the occupied West Bank, all Palestinian, and all arrested after Hamas’s horrific attacks from Gaza on October 7. But we know very little about why they were detained. The journalists’ relatives told the committee that most are under what Israel describes as “administrative detention”. 17 arrests in Israel in less than 2 months The benign term “administrative detention” in fact means the journalists have been incarcerated indefinitely, without trial or charge. It is possible that they were somehow planning attacks or involved with extremism (Israel uses administrative detention to stop people they accuse of planning to commit a future offence) but the evidence used to justify the detention is not disclosed. We don’t even know why they were arrested. Israel’s place near the top of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ list exposes a difficult paradox. Media freedom is an intrinsic part of a free democracy. A vibrant, awkward and sometimes snarly media is a proven way to keep public debate alive and the political system healthy. It is often uncomfortable, but you can’t have a strong democratic system without journalists freely and vigorously fulfilling their watchdog role. In fact, a good way to tell if a democracy is sliding is the extent of a government’s crackdown on the media. This is not to suggest equivalence between Israel and Iran. Israel remains a democracy, and Israeli media is often savagely critical of its government in ways that would be unthinkable in Tehran. But if Israel wants to restore confidence in its commitment to democratic norms, at the very least it will need to be transparent about the reasons for arresting 17 journalists in less than two months, and the evidence against them. And if there is no evidence they pose a genuine threat to Israeli security, they must be released immediately.

Saudi Arabia's New Approach

Saudi Arabia Needs to See a New Approach from Washington

by Dr. Abdulaziz Sager

Three months after the horrendous events of October 7, the death toll in Gaza continues to mount daily. The humanitarian crisis has been called “unprecedented” and will have lasting effects for generations to come. Moreover, every day the crisis continues, the region faces the potential of multiple conflicts that, unless managed effectively and immediately, threatens to broaden the scope of the calamity beyond what has been seen so far. The escalation is already visible in the Red Sea, with several attacks on international shipping lines putting 12% of the world’s commerce that traverses the Bab El-Mandab strait at risk. These attacks increase the possibility of further regional reactions and instability. While efforts such as the recently announced US-led maritime task force Operation Prosperity Guardian are welcome steps to prevent further incidents from occurring, the issue of maritime security around the world’s chokepoints must be addressed collectively by the international community. Only such combined efforts will send the right message to the concerned states, and to the Houthis in Yemen and other violent non-state actors and prevent more attacks. The rising tensions in the Red Sea are a clear indication of how volatile the security environment in the entire Middle East remains and how quickly developments can escalate. Given the current state of affairs, any incident can further unravel the delicate situation in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, or Libya, to name the most immediate cases. Once the pressure valve explodes, it will be incredibly difficult to reverse the consequences. All the above undermines the efforts by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the past years to de- escalate regional tensions and put relationships on a more cooperative footing. This includes rapprochement with Iraq and Türkiye and pushing for Syria to rejoin the Arab League. Regarding Iran and Yemen, Saudi Arabia has recently reiterated its commitment to peaceful regional relations, including welcoming the UN envoy’s statement on the Yemen Peace Roadmap as well as reiterating its commitment to the Beijing Agreement with Iran. What is therefore required, now more urgently than ever, is a clear meeting of the minds of Washington and Riyadh when it comes to preventing further tragedies. The United States remains the most consequential actor when it comes to the medium to long-term security landscape in the wider Middle East. Yet, its policies over the past decades have been unbalanced, haphazard, and uncommitted and have threatened the long-term stability of the region. Moreover, the US has not listened to the advice of its Gulf allies throughout this period. This must change, or the gap in perception between the two sides will continue to widen. The more pressing issue is the need for a straightforward and clear commitment by the US to end the conflict in Gaza. The US is the only external actor with a measure of influence over Israel, but it has yet to use that influence effectively in ending the hostilities and promoting a more comprehensive and just political solution for the Palestinian issue. Instead of focusing on an Israel- only approach, what this involves is a genuine engagement with all its regional allies to defuse the situation and prevent further escalation. This can best be done if there is adequate and wide-ranging engagement with the Arab world, including with the GCC states. So far, Washington has not uttered the word ‘ceasefire’ even once. This stands in contrast to most of the rest of the international community, including an increasing number of European countries and many Latin American countries, that demand an end to military operations as far as the current violence on the Palestinian-Israeli front is concerned. Any change in rhetoric heard from Washington so far has been inconsequential. This includes the most recent announcement from Israel of a tactical shift in fighting, a step that President Biden had pushed for. The region now expects the US to demonstrate a real and substantive commitment to pursuing a ceasefire as every day this conflict remains, the threat of extremism and a widening regional conflict also increases. The time for shuttle diplomacy for the sake of conducting visits has clearly passed. Additionally, there needs to be a clear commitment to the two-state solution with reference to the Arab Peace Initiative. At the 2023 Munich Security Conference, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained about the Ukraine crisis that “there is no neutral position when it comes to a war of aggression...there is no balance.” However, these same principles are not being applied by the US when it comes to Gaza and the wider Middle East. The US refused to listen to the advice of the GCC states twenty years ago in Iraq; Unless it quickly begins to shift its course, it risks making those same mistakes again. Saudi Arabia, as well as most of other Arab states, see no wisdom in the current US regional policy and cannot support an unwise policy. It's not defiance to the US, but a rejection of a short sighted, non- fruitful policy.

Limited cooperation between Morocco and Israel in the face of the Gaza crisis

Morocco and resolving the Gaza crisis

by Einat Levi

Israel and Morocco mark three years this week since renewing their relations, but the war between Israel and Hamas leaves no room for celebration. For the time being, bilateral cooperation on the governmental level is limited and low profile, focusing mainly on security matters. Despite high expectations from the numerous visits by Israeli ministers and officials to Morocco, these visits have not led to substantial cooperation beyond statements and memoranda of understanding. The lack of focus and the inability to materialize the dozens of signed agreements is evident these days, emphasizing what has not yet been implemented. For instance, an agreement for employing Moroccan migrant workers in Israel has not yet been signed, despite the statement made by the former interior minister Ayelet Shaked in July 2022. Nor has the economic infrastructure to enable business between the countries been completed, namely agreements on customs, double taxation avoidance, promotion and protection of investments, and other systems to enhance the attractiveness and competitiveness of the trade channel between Morocco and Israel. Moroccan decision makers, for their part, appear to regard the ongoing war with Hamas, and no less so the current Israeli government, as detrimental to the resumption of relations between the countries to its positive course. Statements by senior Israeli officials calling for the destruction of Gaza, while vehemently opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state, echo in the Moroccan media, damage Israel’s image, and mainly serve opposition parties who wish to harm the special relations between the two countries. Nevertheless, Morocco’s official position regarding relations with Israel as a strategic interest remains intact. This was evidenced by the results of the extraordinary Arab Islamic Conference held in Riyadh in November, in which Morocco – alongside other key Arab and Muslim countries – was reluctant to embrace actual decisions or actions against their relations with Israel. Morocco’s decision to keep its ambassador in Tel Aviv – despite the Israeli mission staff being evacuated from Rabat – is a significant statement in itself. In the economic field, businesses more or less continue as usual. Israeli companies come to Morocco or meet their partners in third-country destinations such as France and Spain. This discreet arrangement seems convenient for everyone.Tourism has almost completely stopped between the countriesTourism is the most affected sector, with direct flights between Tel Aviv and Rabat still on hold, and a travel warning in effect with a rating of three out of four, advising Israelis to avoid non-essential travel to Morocco. As a result, Israeli and international Jewish tourism to Morocco has almost entirely stopped. This situation is exacting a price from Israeli tourism agencies and Moroccan hotels and service providers. While tourism is a key to people-to-people connections, most civil and cultural partnerships are currently on hold and in a “waiting” situation until the end of the war. Despite the challenges, some joint initiatives can be preserved, finding creative ways to sustain them, such as transferring them from a bilateral framework to a multi-sided one under an American, European, Emirati, or other umbrella, or conducting activities online whenever possible. One of the main challenges in the civil context is the sentiment among Israelis of Moroccan descent regarding Morocco. It ranges from disappointment to astonishment and a lack of understanding in light of images of mass protests from Rabat and other cities in Morocco and even antisemitic incidents that do not receive official condemnation. Here, it should be noted that Israeli frustration is partly due to cultural and behavioral differences between Israel and Morocco, despite their close cultural connection. According to the Moroccan perspective, including that of decision-makers, it is preferable to avoid conflicts, make explicit statements, and deal with matters quietly behind the scenes. In their view, the secrecy of action is a key to success, preserving internal stability and advancing a wishful agenda. That’s because, according to their understanding, one cannot resist what one does not see or know, so ultimately, maintaining quiet preserves the status quo as if nothing has been done. In Morocco, non-action is considered, in practice, equivalent to any action, and perhaps even the most proper and challenging action to execute. Three years after the resumption of official ties, and in the shadow of the Gaza war challenges, the crisis also provides a new opportunity for regional and bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Morocco’s relatively neutral position may in fact enable it to play an important role in the aftermath of the war as part of a broader coalition dedicated to rehabilitation and reconstruction processes. It could help in the reconstruction and in implementing local and regional programs to deal with and prevent extremism and violence. Morocco could assist in the training of Palestinian public employees deployed in Gaza. Morocco could also host forums, meetings, and conferences to support and promote a sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The good relations that Morocco maintains with both sides – Israeli and Palestinian – and the religious authority of King Mohammed VI, including his role as the chairman of the Al-Quds Committee in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, are just some of the assets Morocco can bring to this complex task. The connection with Morocco is a significant asset for Israel in times of peace and war alike. It is important that we learn and derive insights from the past three years towards the new chapter in relations that will unfold once the war is over.

The boy is holding a Kurdistan flag

Iraqi Kurdistan and the Failure of Capitalizing Kurdish-Israeli Relations

by Farhang Faraydoon Namdar

History of Bashur and Israel Kurds, mainly Bashuris, and Israelis share notable similarities that would foster a natural alliance. Since the inception of Bashur, in South Iraq, as a polity in 1991, it has grappled with a hostile neighbourhood intent on weakening and erasing its polity—paralleling Israel’s challenges with Arab states that often deny its recognition. Moreover, the Kurds and Israelis exhibit political, cultural, and historical similarities. However, the precarious nature of their relations, given the hostile neighbourhood, renders the existing literature on Kurdish-Israeli relations sparse. Importantly, this literature fails to address a crucial question: how Bashur politics has shaped these relations? The Lost Israeli Tribes and The Kurds The origins of the Kurds are a subject of dispute among scholars, with various theories linking them to different peoples (Limbert 1968, 40-1). However, scant attention has been given to the connections between the Jews of Israel and Kurds in Bashur. In the seventh century BCE, eight of the ten Israeli tribes residing in ancient Israel migrated and have been considered lost. Various nations, from Mexico to Japan, have claimed descent from these tribes (Lyman 1998, 7). Despite the publication of a DNA research project on the origin of Bashuris in 2001, revealing that “Kurdish and Sephardic Jews were indistinguishable from one another” (Nebel et al. 2001, 1095), such findings might not be well-received among Kurds due to nationalist and Islamist sentiments. Furthermore, Hennerbichler argues that the Kurds constitute one of the oldest nations in the Middle East, highlighting the remarkable similarity between the Modal Kurdish Haplotype DNA and that of Ashkenazi Jews (2012, 69-70). Additionally, Mcdowell suggests that many Iranicized Kurds are of Semitic origin (1992, 9). Despite these perspectives, Kurds generally consider themselves a distinct group that has inhabited the region for an extended period. Hemeres contends that the Kurds are one of the oldest people in the Middle East, possessing their alphabet and predating many present-day Middle Eastern nations (2022). However, Hemeres’s reliance on ancient sources and observations from scholars centuries ago may need to be more scientifically credible. A more scholarly and scientific approach to understanding the origin of the Kurds would be preferable. Both Israelis and Kurds, fearing potential Islamic backlash, face challenges in acknowledging shared ties. Given that a significant portion of Bashuris are Muslims, Israeli policymakers may find it difficult to consider them as similar to Jews, who are both an ethno-religious group—where an Israeli Jew follows Judaism and is ethnically Jewish (Greenspoon 2014, 129). Despite these commonalities, the literature suggests that such shared characteristics have played a limited role, primarily because Iraq and Israel do not share a border, and the risk of Islamic backlash outweighs any potential benefits from their ties. In existing literature, there is no evidence of Israel seeking to aid the Kurds solely due to a perceived kinship but rather to counter strategic threats. However, the Bashuris find themselves in a strategically significant position in Israeli calculations. Even if both Israelis and Bashuris acknowledge such a tie, they may deny it due to the ongoing state of war between Iraq and Israel (Romano and Rojhelat 2019, 171). As recently as 2022, the Iraqi parliament passed a law criminalizing relations with Israel; if found guilty, one could face the death penalty (AP 2022). Throughout much of their history, Bashuris have not identified with Israelis and have generally shown more sympathy towards Palestinians. Despite the emergence of a pro-Israeli sentiment in the region today, it is challenging to establish a direct link between this shift and Israeli involvement in the Kurdistan region. The region’s increasing Westernization since 2005 and improved access to education may also contribute to this change. Moreover, Bashur-Israeli relations have predominantly involved a specific faction of Iraqi Kurds rather than being under the purview of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This is attributed to political, economic, and, to a lesser extent, social divisions within the region. Bashur The presence of a weak state in Iraq, coupled with Baghdad’s historical disputes with its neighbors, has provided the Bashuris with a unique advantage in terms of organization and access to the outside world compared to other Kurds in the Middle East. Notably, Bashuris were the only ones legally recognized as a minority (Edmonds 1959), particularly the Barzanis, who gained international recognition as leaders of the Kurdish revolution against the Iraqi government in the 1920s. In 1946, the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was established but eventually dissolved (Edmonds 1959, 2). Mustafa Barzani played a pivotal role in attempting to save the republic, leading followers in a protracted battle with the Iranian Army before seeking refuge in Soviet territories (Reisinzadeh 2019, 65). Following the republic’s collapse, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was founded in 1946 by four Kurdish officers of the Iraqi army, inviting Mala Mustafa to lead the party (Hevian, Rodi 2013, 97). After the 1958 July Revolution in Iraq, Barzani and other Kurdish Peshmerga were allowed to return to Iraq, welcomed by Baghdad in an effort to centralize power under Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim (Rubin 2007, 354). Relations improved, and Iraq was declared a unity between Kurds and Arabs (Bagley 1959, 288-9). Barzani quickly asserted control over much of Kurdistan, prompting fear in Baghdad (Lortz 2013, 39). The strength of the KDP and Barzani, recognized by Baghdad, was evident in their ability to rally people and maintain control over Kurdistan. However, conflicting interests emerged as the KDP sought autonomy while Baghdad aimed to centralize the state against Nasser’s Pan-Arabism. In 1961, the Kurds, led by Barzani, revolted against the Iraqi government, marking the first Kurdish-Iraqi war (Rubin 2007, 353-5). The Kurdish revolt gained strength, with significant defections from Kurdish soldiers in the Iraqi army (Pollack 2004, 219-20). The revolution was successful, controlling many cities and engaging the Iraqi army in 1961 (Paul 2013, 214-5). Despite the revolutionary success, internal divisions within the KDP, involving conservative, Marxist, and nationalist factions, challenged Barzani’s control. The main factions were the Malayyis (Barzani supporters) and the Jalalyis (Talabani followers), proving to be a hindrance to Kurdish unity and their pursuit of rights (Abbas 2020). Hence, when the Israelis arrived in Bashur, the Kurds were already divided. Israeli-Kurdish Reproachment The historical development outlined above explains Israel’s inclination to assist the Kurds. However, proving that the Kurds successfully convinced both the Iranians and Israelis to aid them is challenging. In the case of Iran, the fear of a potent Kurdish revolution spilling over from Iraq likely motivated their alignment with Israeli interests. Israel, valuing its relations with Iran and Turkey and considering any assistance to Kurdish groups within these countries as foreign intervention, strategically supported the Kurds during a crucial time. Efforts by the Kurds to secure Israeli assistance were extensive before Israel agreed to help. Ismet Sharif Vanly notes that the first Bashuri to visit Israel was not Mustafa Barzani or his associates but the General Secretary of the KDP, Ibrahim Ahmad (Bengio 2017), who, at the time, balanced against Mustafa Barzani by controlling the KDP politburo. Ahmad, serving as the de facto president of the party, played a crucial role in approaching Israel, visiting the country during Barzani’s absence. His influence was significant, as evident from his leadership in the KDP and renaming the party from the Kurdish Democratic Party to the Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1955 (Reisenzadeh 2019, 65). Barzani, concerned about Qassem, sent Kamuran Ali Baderkhan to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir in 1959, seeking political support (Alvand 2016, P: 71). However, tangible support from Israel did not materialize immediately. Israel, prioritizing relations with Turkey and Iran, needed their consent before assisting the Kurds, making their support a tactical move to keep Baghdad occupied without allowing the revolution to escalate beyond control, something that Iran and Turkey were concerned about (Alvandi 2016, 72). Despite the tactical nature of Israeli support, it was unique in its multifaceted approach, encompassing diplomatic, financial, and military aspects. The Kurds’ persistence and the strategic alignment of interests among Iran, Israel, and the United States during this period provide insights into the intricate dynamics that shaped the Israeli-Kurdish relationship. Assisting non-state actors in the Middle East has typically involved arms deliveries and financial support. For instance, Iran initially supported Shiite groups across the region, with assistance being predominantly political. It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that Iran began providing military training to these groups (Reisinezhad 2019, 61-70). However, Israeli assistance to the Kurds stands out as a unique example in Middle Eastern history, where a state actively helped a non-state actor to enhance organization and adaptability. Israeli support for the Kurds went beyond supplying weapons and cash. Initially, the Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad and the Iranian intelligence service Savak collaborated to establish the KDP Parastin in 1966, aiming to gather military intelligence on the Iraqi army, a departure from previous practices (Ghareeb 1981: 133, Hennerbichler 2012, 254). This was a significant change for the Kurds, as internal challenges, including betrayal, had historically impeded Kurdish revolutions. Additionally, Israel provided diplomatic assistance by attempting to facilitate meetings between the Kurds and Americans despite facing some challenges (Alvandi 2016, 74). Furthermore, Israel extended substantial financial assistance, and its military advisors were stationed at KDP headquarters from 1965 to 1975 (Mamikonian 2005, 395). This comprehensive assistance from Israel played a pivotal role in transforming the Kurds from traditionally organized armed tribesmen relying on instinct to a more organized group employing intelligence and modern warfare techniques. Notably, the Kurds typically sought assistance rather than training. When Barzani’s representative, Bedir Khan, returned to Israel in 1963, his meetings with top Israeli leaders, including Golda Meir, focused on securing money, weapons, and a radio transmitter (Alvandi 2016, 72). The assistance provided by Israel likely influenced the Iranians to adopt a similar approach in their dealings with groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. Israel’s deep involvement in the fighting was exemplified in a battle where Israeli commander Tsuri Sagay assisted the Kurds in planning and supervising the war, resulting in significant casualties for the Iraqi forces. Following this success in 1965, Baghdad agreed to grant autonomy to the Kurds, leading to a coup. The Iraqi military refrained from launching another offensive in Kurdistan until January 1969 (Alvandi 2016, P:70). Despite facing setbacks in 1975, their leaders remained intact, and the KDP continued as a political force. One of the main contributing factors to this resilience was the way Israel assisted the Kurds in reorganizing. Therefore, Israel’s aid can be viewed as a state actor’s support to a non-state actor, fitting within the framework of Israel’s external balancing strategy. The Periphery Doctrine The periphery doctrine conceived by Israeli leaders like Ben Gurion emerged as a response to the challenges posed by Israel’s hostile Arab neighborhood. This strategy aimed at cultivating ties with non-Arab states and political entities, including the Kurds and Christian Arabs (Romano and Rojhelat 2019, 165-6; Samaan 2019, 384; Kaye and Roshan 2011, 22). Despite the significant demographic presence of Kurds in the Middle East, Israeli-Kurdish relations were the weakest link in the Periphery Doctrine. Israel primarily engaged with state actors like Iran and Turkey, limiting its support for Kurdish movements in those countries while focusing on assisting Bashuris, given Iraq’s hostility towards Israel (Romano and Rojhelat 2019, 172). The unique relationship between Israel and the Kurds was strategically designed to weaken Iraq in its ongoing conflict with Israel, primarily as Iraq remained in a state of war with Israel, particularly after coming under Iranian influence. Although Israeli-Kurdish relations include business within the framework of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) (Romano and Rojhelat 2019, 76-7), they have yet to expand to include other Kurdish groups substantially. From the perspective of Israeli-Kurdish ties, the doctrine appears successful as it contributed to the Kurds maintaining political influence even in the face of military defeat and remaining as a political force in Iraq against Baghdad. The establishment of Parastin and the training of KDP Peshmerga were pivotal in solidifying the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and averting internal splits. Nevertheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that one of the earliest divisions, resulting in the de facto existence of two mini-states in the Kurdistan region, predates Israeli involvement in Bashur. This early schism continues to pose a substantial obstacle, limiting the ability of the Bashuris to capitalize on the assistance provided by Jerusalem fully and vice versa. Kurdish Division as An Impediment After the success against the Iraqi government, internal divisions among the Kurds became pronounced. The KDP politburo, specifically the Jalalyis faction, chose to negotiate with Baghdad and even participated in the Baathist government of 1966. This government brought about with assistance from Barzani and Israelis, retained KDP members in Baghdad until the late 1960s (Rashid 2017, 49-52). The consequences were far-reaching, leading to the eventual split of the KDP. The politburo faction, led by Jalal Talabani, became distinct, and the term “Jash,” meaning foal, gained popularity, denoting traitors within the Kurdish community. This internal strife left the Kurds divided, unable to fully capitalize on the foreign support from Israel, Iran, and the United States. It created two conflicting proxies in the Kurdistan region—one aligned with the West and the other with the Eastern Bloc. This exacerbated intra-Kurdish conflicts in Bashur, allowing external powers to manipulate their factions rather than assisting them in realizing their national aspirations. Barzani heavily relied on Iran and, through them, on Israel and the United States for logistics, financial, and military assistance. The revolution faced imminent collapse in 1975 when Baghdad and Tehran signed a deal to end hostilities (Mcdowal 1992, 21-23). Consequently, Barzani called on all fighters to go home, preventing further resistance against the Iraqi government. However, Mahmoud Othman, sometimes referred to as Barzani’s right-hand man, expressed in an interview that it was a failure of the leadership that the revolution collapsed, stating, “We had everything, arms, money, territory, and Baghdad was not that powerful. The Shah told us we could continue fighting” (The Best Video News 2023). Despite having the resources and potential support, Barzani decided unilaterally to halt the fight. After 1975, the KDP transformed into a police force for Iraq and Iran in Bashur, preventing the emergence of any armed group from fighting against Baghdad. While there was limited influence Israel could exert to prevent this, the split had already occurred. Barzani’s monopolization of relations and other international ties compelled him to cease fighting unilaterally. For example, in 1978, approximately 1700 PUK peshmerga attempted to move into the Iran-Iraq-Turkey triangle to establish bases along the Syrian border, where they received weapons and ammunition. This led to a clash with KDP forces, resulting in the death and capture of many PUK fighters (Rizgar 2021, Pencemor 00:26:00-00:29:00). Since its establishment in 1976, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) maintained close relations with the Soviet Union and Syria. According to Jalal Talabani, the founder of the PUK, the Soviets reached out to him in 1975 when Mustafa Barzani declared the end of the revolution. They requested a meeting in East Germany, where Talabani met with a Russian agent. Talabani recounts in his autobiography that during the meeting, the Russian agent asked, “Do you know Alexander?” to which Talabani replied, “Yes, I know him very well.” They both started laughing (Rashid 2016, 20-31). The founding of the PUK was decided in the Soviet Union, contrary to the official PUK history that claims its seven founding members did so in Damascus in 1976. Co-founder Omar Sheikhmous states that Talabani had already formed the PUK on May 22nd, 1976 when it was announced on Syrian national radio. They were informed later (Pencemor 2017, 00:10:40 – 00:12:00). Talabani further mentions, “I met President Hafiz Assad, and he promised to help us and said, Syria is your own country” (Rashid 2017, 38). Most of the PUK’s funding came from Libya, amounting to millions of dollars (Pencemor 2017, 00:40:00 – 00:41:00). Interestingly, the strategic moves that Israel made in the 1960s now fell into the hands of their adversary, the Syrians, who shared similar interests in Iraq. Today, the region remains politically and economically divided socially, to a lesser degree, between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK. Although the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) enjoys de facto internal sovereignty, it operates as a confederacy between the PUK, which controls the security services and economy of Sulaimani and Halabja provinces, and the KDP, which oversees the security services and economy of Erbil and Duhok (Namdar 2021; Greaves 2019). Consequently, Israeli relations predominantly align with the KDP. Traditionally allied with Iran, the PUK has refrained from fostering such relations with Israel. Nevertheless, the PUK has tacitly consented to Israel’s presence in the KRG, allowing Israeli assistance and shipments to the region, given that the PUK controls half of the KRG. For instance, Israel has trained peshmerga forces and dispatched machinery to the region over the last two decades (Romano and Rojhelat 2019, P:175). Despite these engagements, the primary diplomatic relations with Israel are upheld by the KDP. Kurdish-Israeli Relations Today When Israel lost access to Bashur following the Iranian revolution, the most likely opportunity for a return presented itself after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. Reports of Israeli intelligence presence in Bashur emerged after 2003, indicating an interest in monitoring Syria, Iran, and Iraq (Hersh 2004). In 2022, Iran claimed responsibility for bombing a mansion in Erbil, alleging it housed a group of Israeli spies (Yahya and Abdul-Zahra 2022). Despite the risks, the Kurdistan region, as Iran grows more muscular, sees potential benefits in maintaining ties with Israelis to exert influence on Washington through the pro-Kurdish Jewish lobby in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) (Bengio 2014, P: 3). Although Israel openly supported the Kurdistan region’s independence referendum, this backing, while significant publicly, did not match the level of support on the ground. The referendum contributed to increased pressure from Baghdad, bringing the region to the brink of collapse, and justified an anti-Kurdistan alliance among Middle Eastern Shiites led by Iran (Bengio 2017). Additionally, Bashur lacks the necessary conditions to sustain itself as an independent state, being landlocked in a neighborhood that perceives a Kurdish state as an existential threat. Consequently, constitutionally guaranteed autonomy within Iraq could better protect the rights of the Kurds and serve as a more favorable ally for Israel. Israel’s support for the Barzanis could have been more beneficial if directed towards the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) rather than solely to the Barzanis in the 1960s and now only the KDP, who had centralized military power. Ibrahim Ahmad and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) exposed Barzani’s relations with Israel for similar reasons, not implicating the KDP as they were leaders within the party (Bengio 2014). As a result, relations between Israel and the broader Bashuri factions never fully developed. Furthermore, present-day Israeli-Kurdish relations can be more accurately characterized as Israeli-KDP relations, especially within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) framework, where the KDP dominates critical positions within the KRG. Israel’s support has been used by the KDP to consolidate power, leading to a weakened KRG. The KDP’s security services have become more oppressive, and KDP-controlled areas face criticism from the international community for suppressing journalists and activists (Human Rights Watch 2021). This strain on KDP-PUK relations has further weakened the Kurdistan region, undermining the goals of Israel’s Periphery Doctrine. Moreover, the KDP champions an independent Kurdistan, although practical feasibility could be better due to the region’s landlocked status. Israel’s assistance to the KDP in exporting oil independently from Baghdad, a policy tested to demonstrate survival capabilities, ultimately failed, leaving the Kurdistan region more vulnerable (Henderson et al. 2023). Now, the region is more divided, with a weaker economy and a shrinking population due to immigration (Namdar 2021) As a result, Kurdish-Israeli relations have become monopolized by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), creating increased risks for both sides. While it could be argued that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) may not actively seek relations with Israel, as mentioned earlier, the PUK has been part of the overall relations within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In 2008, when Jalal Talabani, Secretary-General of the PUK and President of Iraq, briefly met with Ehud Barak, he faced criticism. He clarified that the meeting was in his capacity as the general secretary of the PUK, not as the president of Iraq (Aljazeera 2008). Moreover, as Israel and the United States have distanced themselves from the PUK, the party has moved closer to Baghdad and Iran. This shift has weakened the KRG and could make Israel’s presence in the region tenuous, introducing increased uncertainty. Erbil has placed considerable expectations on AIPAC, believing it can persuade Washington to adopt policies it might not otherwise consider. It is important to note that while the Israeli lobby is influential, the assistance the U.S. provides to Israel is not solely because Israeli lobbyists convince Washington. Instead, it stems from recognizing that Israel is an indispensable ally to the U.S. in the region (Bar-Siman-Tov 1998). Israel remains the United States’ primary ally in the Middle East, possessing a robust military and contributing significantly to the development of advanced military and technological capabilities. On the other hand, the KRG remains a deeply divided polity without a considerable military force, where it is divided among many factions and parties, and many of the peshmerga lack basic training. An additional implication of a weakened Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), where the secular model has faltered, is the increasing religious orientation among Bashuris. This shift occurs amid severe financial sanctions from Baghdad, and religious discourse has gained prominence in the region’s social media and media outlets. This failure of the KRG has partly resulted from the KDP-PUK divide, where they have yet to present a united front in Baghdad to secure the region’s budget share, making life more difficult for Bashuris over the past eight years. Exposing ties with Israel could further damage the already weakened legitimacy of the KRG, particularly considering the rising religious sentiments among the Kurdish population. Conclusion The Kurds, despite being one of the most significant nations globally, face challenges with fundamental political and social rights. There are three Kurdish polities in the Middle East—the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and Rojava. These entities have achieved substantial internal sovereignty, but their division has resulted in challenges and a renewed threat to Kurdish self-rule. The Kurds find themselves in a precarious position as their primary ally, the United States, is disengaging from the region, leaving them vulnerable to the interests of neighboring states. Israel, recognizing historical, cultural, and political affinities with the Kurds, has sought to establish strategic relations with them. However, the geopolitical complexities of the region and Kurdish internal divisions have hindered their ability to leverage these relations to secure their political survival. Despite Israel’s assistance in helping the Kurds reorganize and adapt to regional realities, the Kurds have yet to capitalize on these opportunities fully. Bashuri politics have provided justifications for regional powers to take action against the Kurds due to their relations with Israel.

Vladimir Putin with President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Russia-UAE talks

by Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin held talks with President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi. The agenda included the current state of multifaceted Russia-UAE cooperation and prospects for the further expansion of ties, as well as topical international issues with a focus on the situation in the Middle East. Before the consultations began, an official welcoming ceremony for the Russian President was hosted by the President of the UAE at the Qasr Al Watan Palace. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Industry and Trade, Russian co-chair of the Russian-Emirati Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic and Technical Cooperation Denis Manturov, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office – Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, presidential aides Igor Levitin, Maxim Oreshkin and Yury Ushakov, Russia’s Ambassador to the UAE Timur Zabirov, as well as Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, Central Bank Governor, heads of the Roscosmos State Corporation, Russian Direct Investment Fund, Rosatom State Corporation, Rosoboronexport, VEB.RF State Development Corporation, and other officials took part in the talks on Russia’s side. * * * Beginning of Russia-UAE talks President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (retranslated): Welcome, my dear friend Vladimir Putin, to the United Arab Emirates. I am glad to see you again. Let me begin by emphasising the historical nature of relations between the Russian Federation and the UAE. Over the past years, we have witnessed a substantial push to develop these relations in various spheres for the mutual benefit of our nations and people. I would like to express my great appreciation for your personal and effective contribution to strengthening our bilateral relations. In this context, I would like to say that the UAE is Russia’s biggest trade partner in the Middle East and in the Gulf Region. Let me note that the UAE is a major investor in the Russian economy. Investment in the non-oil sector increased by 103 percent over the past year. I would like to specifically mention that this is an unprecedented breakthrough which demonstrates the special nature of relations between our countries. I will be glad to continue working together on strengthening bilateral cooperation in various spheres. Of course, promoting development in energy, infrastructure, and high technologies, as well as elsewhere has special priority. In addition to this, I would like to mention that the United Arab Emirates and the Russian Federation have been working together and cooperating within various international frameworks. For example, we work together within BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, where the Emirates were granted dialogue partner status in May 2023. We are also developing and promoting the strategic dialogue between the Russian Federation and the Gulf Cooperation Council. This helps us reinforce our relations and expand them in various spheres, promoting a proactive exchange of views on key international and regional matters, as well as on key items on our bilateral agenda. Once again, Mr President, welcome to the United Arab Emirates. I wish progress and prosperity to the Russian Federation and its people. President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Your Highness, friends, First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting us and for this colourful and friendly welcome. The other day, the United Arab Emirates celebrated the 52nd anniversary of its founding. I want to congratulate you on this and I want to recall that the Soviet Union was among the first to recognise this independent, self-reliant, and sovereign state. Today, our relations – thanks to the position you have taken – have reached unprecedented heights. You and I are in constant contact, and our colleagues work together on a permanent basis. In fact, the United Arab Emirates is Russia’s main trade partner in the Arab world. Last year, trade grew by 67.7 percent. This year, I think, the figures will be even higher. The same goes for investment activity. There is also progress in industrial cooperation, by which I mean cooperation to build certain industrial facilities in the United Arab Emirates and in the Russian Federation. A number of major oil and gas projects are being implemented. We also cooperate through OPEC Plus. We certainly attach due importance to humanitarian ties. Tourist exchanges are making headway: last year, almost one million tourists from Russia – a little over 900,000 – visited the UAE. A Russian school has been opened, and we are grateful to you for ordering land set aside to build a Russian Orthodox church. We also cooperate internationally. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the United Arab Emirates makes a huge contribution to stabilising the situation in the world. We will certainly discuss with you the situation in the main hot spots, primarily, of course, the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I will certainly inform you of the developments in the context of the Ukraine crisis. I am quite pleased that the United Arab Emirates is beginning to work within the BRICS system. In 2024, Russia will chair this organisation. We will continue contacts on this. We look forward to meeting you at the [BRICS] summit in Kazan in October 2024. The UAE is currently hosting one of the world’s most important environmental forums. The first results of the effort to implement the Paris Agreement are being summed up. As expected, you are holding this event at the highest level, and very many people in the world, even those who do not identify themselves with environmental movements, are certainly grateful to you for this work. A Russian delegation is also involved in this work at the highest level. We wish you success. I have no doubt that it will be so. Shukran! <…>

Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi King’s al-Yamamah Palace.

Russian-Saudi talks

by Vladimir Putin

A meeting between Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud took place in the Saudi King’s al-Yamamah Palace. At the Conclusion of the Visit of Vladimir Putin to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a Joint Statement has been adopted. Beginning of Russian-Saudi talks Crown Prince, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (retranslated):We can find many topics and subjects of common interest, on which we are working together to promote stability and development around the world, including in the Middle East. Over the past seven years, we have achieved a lot in our bilateral relations, for example, in the energy sector, investment and agriculture. In addition, our political cooperation and interactions have had a positive influence on several Middle Eastern issues and helped enhance security. Moreover, our future political ties and cooperation will, no doubt, have a positive bearing on the international environment. We have broad and far-reaching opportunities ahead of us, and by seizing them we can work together for the benefit of our nations and the entire world. I would like to reiterate, Mr President, that you are a cherished guest here in Saudi Arabia. We welcome you on behalf of its government and its people. Welcome! President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Your Highness, first, I would like to thank you for the invitation. We expected to see you in Moscow. I know that the circumstances have affected these plans. But, as I said, nothing can prevent the development of our friendly relations. Indeed, being in this region on a scheduled visit to the United Arab Emirates, I used your invitation to come and see you and all our friends that we have been vigorously developing our interaction with over the past seven years. That said, the next meeting will hopefully take place in Moscow. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (retranslated): Of course, we are ready. Vladimir Putin: Agreed. Indeed, the Soviet Union was among the first to recognise the independent state of Saudi Arabia. This was almost a hundred years ago. Our relations have developed in different ways during this time. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud: I would like to note that it was the development of independence rather than the independence of a state that was recognised at that time. Vladimir Putin: In any event, we respected the will of the subjects of Saudi Arabia to build their future independently. Much has happened in our relations during this time, but over the past seven years, they have certainly reached a truly unprecedented level. This was achieved owing to the wise policy of your father, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King of Saudi Arabia with your direct participation. We have stable, very good ties in political interaction, the economy and in humanitarian area. And, of course, it is now very important for all of us to exchange information and views on what is taking place in the region. No doubt, our meeting is timely. Thank you very much for your invitation, once again. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud: Welcome! <…>