Former Labor party leader, current Jewish Agency chair and son of a previous president Isaac Herzog was elected as the 11th president of the State of Israel, beating his rival Miriam Peretz with 87 votes to 26 in a secret ballot of Knesset members. The result was decided in the first round of voting as Herzog secured more than half of the votes in the 120-seat Knesset. He will be sworn into office for a single seven-year term on July 9. Dig Deeper ‘‘Isaac Herzog: A Second Generation President’’ (Jerusalem Post)
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) stands ready to facilitate peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, the UAE state news agency reported, citing Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al-Nayhan. Sheikh Mohamed reportedly told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sis in a phone call that the UAE “is ready to work with all parties to preserve the ceasefire and find new ways to reduce escalation and achieve peace.” The call was to express the UAE’s support for Egypt’s efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization. The UAE signed a normalization agreement with Israel last year along with its Gulf neighbor Bahrain, dubbed the Abraham Accords. Morocco and Sudan later joined the agreement. The escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians represents one of the greatest challenges to the peace deal since the White House signing ceremony last September.
Qatar’s ruling emir visited Saudi Arabia for the first time since signing a declaration with the kingdom and other Arab Gulf states to ease a years-long rift and end an embargo that had frayed ties among important US allies and security partners. Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was greeted at the airport by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, according to Saudi and Qatari state-run media. The meeting highlights how ties between the neighbors are improving following a decision earlier this year by Saudi Arabia to end its more than three-year-long embargo of the tiny and wealthy Gulf state. It also signals a Saudi reset in foreign policy as a new administration led by President Joe Biden reassess US-Saudi ties. Meanwhile, Turkey’s foreign minister is traveling to Saudi Arabia for a two-day visit as Turkey seeks to mend ties with the kingdom that hit an all-time low over the 2018 killing in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The visit is the first by a high-level Turkish official since the killing of Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s consulate. Dig Deeper ‘‘Iran Confirms Saudi Talks, Says ‘Too Soon’ to Discuss Results’’ (Ynet News)
Israel and Greece have signed their biggest ever defense procurement deal, which Israel said would strengthen political and economic ties between the countries and the two countries’ air forces launched a joint exercise. The agreement includes a $1.65b contract for the establishment and operation of a training center for the Hellenic Air Force by Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems over a 22-year period, Israel’s defense ministry said. The training center will be modelled on Israel’s own flight academy and will be equipped with 10 M-346 training aircraft produced by Italy’s Leonardo, the ministry said. Elbit will supply kits to upgrade and operate Greece’s T-6 aircraft and also provide training, simulators and logistical support. The announcement follows a meeting in Cyprus on Friday between the UAE, Greek, Cypriot and Israeli foreign ministers, who agreed to deepen cooperation. Dig Deeper ‘‘Israel, UAE, Greece, Cyprus Summit Sends Message to Turkey – Analysis’’ (Jerusalem Post)
Biden to Withdraw All Combat Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11
After years of arguing against an extended military presence in Afghanistan, President Biden is doing things his way, with the deadline for withdrawal set for the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
King Abdullah II addressed the unprecedented public rift within the royal family for the first time, portraying it as an attempted sedition involving his half-brother that had been “nipped in the bud,” but caused him anger, pain and shock. The monarch appeared to be doubling down on the allegations against Prince Hamzah, a former crown prince, while at the same time trying to reassure Jordanians that the nation was returning to business as usual. But even if the current crisis is eventually defused, major challenges loom for the Western-allied monarchy as it confronts growing internal dissent. The statement, presented by a newsreader on Jordan TV, dealt with the internal crisis that erupted over the weekend when Hamzah was confined to his home and accused of being part of a plot to destabilize the kingdom. Authorities have imposed a sweeping gag order on any coverage of the royal dispute in a sign of how sensitive they are to how it is perceived. The gag order and the king’s willingness to sanction his own brother also reaffirmed what Jordanians understand as their “red line” — an absolute ban on criticizing the monarch or the royal family.
Sudan’s Cabinet voted to repeal a 1958 law that forbade diplomatic and business relations with Israel, it said in a statement, the latest development in relations between the two countries. The move needs the approval of a joint meeting of Sudan’s sovereign council and Cabinet, which serves as Sudan’s interim legislative body, to come into effect, the Cabinet said. While Sudan’s civilian authorities have maintained that the decision to initiate relations with Israel would be left to the yet-to-be-formed transitional parliament, the vote is seen as a step that could pave the way for official visits and further diplomatic ties. Normalization with Israel is seen in Sudan as an initiative led by the military, which has welcomed visits by Israeli officials in recent months. One of those officials, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, welcomed Khartoum’s move.
Jordan’s Prince Hamza says he will disobey army orders to keep silent
The prince is accused of plotting to “destabilise” Jordan by working with “foreign parties”, according to officials.
Profile: Who is Jordan’s Prince Hamzah?
Prince Hamzah is a popular figure in Jordan and is seen as religious and modest, in touch with the common people.
After more than 87.5% of the vote has been tallied, the right-wing bloc headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, appears to be on 59 Knesset seats, even with the support of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina. Early exit polls following Tuesday’s election indicated a virtual deadlock for a fourth time in the past two years, leaving Israel facing the prospect of continued political gridlock and unprecedented fifth consecutive election. The latest tally does not include the double envelopes, which include the votes of coronavirus patients, soldiers and Israelis abroad. According to the latest results, Likud has 30 seats, Yesh Atid 17, Shas 9, Blue & White 8, United Torah Judaism 7, Labor 7, Yamina 7, Yisrael Beiteinu 7, Religious Zionism 6, The Joint List 6, New Hope 6, Meretz 6 and Ra’am with 5. Dig Deeper ‘‘In Referendum Election on Netanyahu’s Achievements, Victory Again Eludes Him’’ (Times of Israel)
The Middle East quartet of mediators – the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – discussed reviving “meaningful negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of a two-state solution. In a statement following their meeting, the quartet said that both Israel and the Palestinians need “to refrain from unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve.” It appeared to be the first time since September 2018 that envoys from the four mediators have met. Last month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped there would be a quartet meeting in coming weeks, now that there was a new president in the White House. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as its capital – all territory captured by Israel in 1967. Under a failed peace proposal by former President Trump, Washington would have recognized Jewish settlements in occupied territory as part of Israel. Dig Deeper ‘‘UN Adopts Resolution Condemning Israel Over ‘Human Rights Situation’’ (I24 News)
The Chinese government plans to invite Israelis and Palestinians to hold talks in China, Al-Arabiya TV channel quoted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as saying in an interview. Wang, who started a Middle East tour this week, also voiced support for a Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen, according to the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based channel. China has offered itself several times in the past as an alternative to the United States when it comes to mediating between Israelis and Palestinians, coming up with proposals to end their decades-old conflict. He did not elaborate, and it was not immediately clear whether he had government representatives in mind. On Yemen, Wang said: “We call for implementing the Saudi initiative for a settlement in Yemen as soon as possible.” The Saudi peace initiative includes a nationwide ceasefire and the reopening of air and sea links with the territories held by the Houthi group in Yemen. However, the Iran-aligned Houthis has said the offer falls short of their demands. Dig Deeper ‘‘Saudi Envoy Urges Lebanon Politicians To Form New Government Quickly’’ (Reuters)
Yehya Al-Sinwar has been re-elected to head Hamas in the Gaza Strip for a second term, officials said, reflecting his control over both political and military wings of the Islamist group that rules Gaza. Sinwar, Hamas leader since 2017, was freed in a 2011 prisoner swap with Israel after spending 20 years behind bars on charges that included killing suspected informants against Palestinian militants. While he supports Hamas’ opposition to co-existence with Israel, Sinwar has maintained a relatively stable standoff across the Gaza border. He has also sought improved ties with Egypt, which maintains restrictions along its frontier with Gaza. Hamas has yet to elect a leader for the West Bank. Sources said his identity would be kept secret as protection against Israel or the administration of President Mahmoud Abbas. The leader of Hamas is Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh is facing a challenge this time by the former head of the group, Khaled Meshaal. Dig Deeper ‘‘Palestinian PM Makes International Appeal for Coronavirus Vaccines’’ (Ynet News)
Biden Administration Formally Offers to Restart Nuclear Talks With Iran,
Israel and US begin Arrow-4 development
PM Olmert-My Quest for Peace
Bahrain mourns the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust and stands in solidarity with survivors, Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani wrote to his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In a rare gesture from a senior official of an Arab state, Al-Zayani wrote that the day “stands as a solemn memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and an enduring reminder of the need to uphold our universal commitment to rejecting all forms of antisemitism and hatred, so that our world may never again witness such an atrocity.” Al-Zayani called the Holocaust an “abhorrent crime against humanity,” and said Bahrain “stands in solidarity with the survivors and their families.” The Bahraini foreign minister pointed to his country’s Jewish community of about 50 people and said that Bahrain is committed to multiculturalism and interfaith dialogue. Dig Deeper ‘‘Erdan Calls on UN to Fight Threats for Jews: Antisemitism and Iran’’ (Jerusalem Post)
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL | NANCY A. YOUSSEF
The U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general who most recently led all U.S. military operations in the Middle East, as President Biden’s defense secretary, making him the first Black secretary ever to run the department. Mr. Austin, 67 years old, was confirmed in a 93-2 vote, becoming the second member of Mr. Biden’s cabinet to gain Senate approval, after Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was confirmed on Wednesday.
The UAE has signed an agreement with the U.S. to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones. Although the UAE and the US were working to ink a deal before Biden took office, the new president has said he will re-examine the agreements. The UAE, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel. The US State Department and the UAE Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment. One of the people said the agreement was signed about an hour before Biden was sworn into office. The document gave the UAE the chance to accept the negotiated schedule and configuration of the jets while also making the purchase request official.
US President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to be secretary of state, Antony Blinken, threw his support behind a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but said he doubted near-term prospects for such a deal. “The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution,” Blinken said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But he added: “I think realistically it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.” Dig Deeper ‘‘Arab League Chief Hoping Biden Will Reverse Trump’s Middle East Policies’’ (Israel Hayom)
Mahmoud Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years
14 January 2021
The UAE and Cyprus signed a defense cooperation agreement in the latest partnership between the Gulf country and a Mediterranean country. UAE Minister of State for Defense Affairs Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi signed the agreement during a videoconference with Cyprus’ Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides. The agreement includes proposals for future joint training exercises and operational cooperation. Petrides lauded the deal as inaugurating a strategic relationship between the two countries’ militaries, according to the Associated Press. The deal is the latest sign the UAE is capitalizing on its common cause with Mediterranean nations opposed to Turkey’s policies in the region. Cyprus currently has close military ties with Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Amid tensions between Greece and Turkey last year, the UAE offered F-16s to partake in joint exercises off Crete with Cypriot, Greek and French military personnel. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed later penned a strategic partnership with Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in November, allowing the two countries to station forces on each other’s territory and share intelligence. See also ‘‘How Capitol Hill Riots Will Complicate Turkey-US Ties’’ (Al-Monitor)
7 January 2021 Sudan officially joins Abraham Accords to normalize Israel ties Sudan became the third of four countries to agree to sign on to the Trump administration-brokered accords, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and before Morocco. https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/sudan-officially-joins-abraham-accords-to-normalize-israel-ties-654461