Saudi Arabia and Thailand agreed to exchange ambassadors in the first high-level meeting between the two countries since a row over a jewelry theft nearly three decades ago led the Gulf state to downgrade ties. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and visiting Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha agreed on the appointment of ambassadors “in the near future” and to strengthen economic and trade relations, said a joint statement on Saudi state media. Saudi Arabia downgraded relations with Bangkok after a diplomatic row over a theft in 1989 of around $20 million of jewels by a Thai janitor working in the palace of a Saudi prince, in what became known as the “Blue Diamond Affair”. A year after the theft, three Saudi diplomats in Thailand were killed in three separate assassinations in a single night. The theft of the jewels remains one of Thailand’s biggest unsolved mysteries and was followed by a bloody trail of destruction that saw some of Thailand’s top police generals implicated. A large number of the gems, including the rare blue diamond, are yet to be recovered. Thailand has been eager to normalize ties with oil-rich Saudi Arabia after the spat that has cost billions of dollars in two-way trade and tourism revenues and the loss of jobs for tens of thousands of Thai migrant workers.
The US no longer supports the proposed EastMed natural-gas pipeline from Israel to Europe, the Biden administration has informed Israel, Greece and Cyprus. State Department officials conveyed the new position to the Foreign Ministry, a diplomatic source in Jerusalem confirmed. The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the matter. The reversal of position from that of the Trump administration was first reported in Greece earlier this month. Washington informed Athens it was reversing course from the Trump administration in a “non-paper,” a diplomatic term for an unofficial, or off-the-record, communication. The EastMed pipeline, meant to transfer natural gas from Israeli waters to Europe via Greece and Cyprus, was announced in 2016, and several agreements have been signed between the three countries on the subject. The three states aimed to complete the €6 billion project by 2025, but no financing has been secured for it.
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said he would launch a probe into alleged police use of controversial spyware on Israeli citizens, first broke out by Calcalist. The publication revealed that the use of the malware was authorized by the law enforcement organization’s top brass while skipping the required court order. According to Englman, the report raises serious questions in regards to the balance between individual liberties and the investigative needs of law enforcement while risking data leaks and misuse of databases. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit was also looking into the issue. The Police denied allegations it made use of the Pegasus malware without legal supervision, particularly against mayors and protesters opposed to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as alleged by Calcalist.
Iran called for the United States to release Afghanistan’s frozen funds, but said it is not ready to recognize the Taliban-led government following high-level talks between the Islamist group and Iranian officials. Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi visited Tehran for talks a spokesperson said would focus on “political, economic, transit and refugee issues between Afghanistan and Iran.” Iran shares a 560-mile border with Afghanistan and hosts some 3.6 million Afghan refugees. Since the Taliban’s takeover in August, hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians have escaped into neighboring Iran using informal border crossings. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh described the talks as “positive,” but said Iran is “not at the point of officially recognizing” Afghanistan’s new leaders. No country has offered official recognition to Taliban, which in September unveiled an all-male cabinet that includes a US-designated terrorist and is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns. Shiite Iran did not recognize the Sunni movement when it was last in power from 1996 to 2001, during which the Taliban violently oppressed Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazaras and other ethnic minorities. The Taliban’s execution of at least eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998 brought Iran and the Taliban to the brink of war.
Times of Israel
A bipartisan group of United States lawmakers from the House and Senate launched the Abraham Accords Congressional Caucus, seeking to expand the American legislative branch’s role in the promotion of the normalization agreements Israel has signed with Arab neighbors. The caucus will be co-chaired by Republicans Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and James Lankford (R-OK) in the Senate and Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL), David Trone (D-MD), Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) in the House. In various statements announcing the caucus’s establishment, none of the members specified how exactly they plan to promote the Abraham Accords, though Rosen said the group would provide “bipartisan leadership to strengthen existing partnerships and widen the circle of peace to new countries.”
REUTERS | JOHN IRISHProgress has been made regarding the Iran nuclear talks although time is running out, France’s foreign minister said on Friday. Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed on Monday. Western diplomats have indicated they are hoping to have a breakthrough by the end of January or early February, but sharp differences remain with the toughest issues still unresolved.
The Netherlands is pulling funding from a Palestinian NGO after an investigation found links to an EU-designated terrorist group, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced. The defunding decision was made by Tom de Bruijn, minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, and Ben Knapen, minister of Foreign Affairs. The ministers wrote in a letter to the Dutch parliament that 34 employees of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) were shown to be active in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) from 2007 to 2020. The UAWC is one of six Palestinian civil society groups that Israel last year labeled as terrorist organizations over accusations of funneling donor aid to the PFLP. The Dutch investigation found that 12 UAWC employees held leadership positions with both UAWC and PFLP over the same period. The Netherlands had already temporarily suspended $24.3 million in aid to UAWC in 2020 after two senior UAWC officials were indicted in a bomb attack that killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl in 2019. Dig Deeper ‘‘Palestinian Gunman Killed in Gunfire Exchange with IDF Soldiers in Nablus’’ (Jerusalem Post)
Israel Aerospace Industries is reportedly in talks with Morocco to sell the North African kingdom the Barak 8 Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile system. Despite reports that IAI marketing director Sharon Bitton led the negotiations, IAI refused to comment on the matter, and sources involved in the matter said that such a deal had not yet been signed. Morocco’s defense budget for the coming year has allocated $12.8 billion to modernize its military. Rabat has held negotiations with different suppliers from several countries to buy medium- and long-range air defense systems, including the American Patriot system, China’s North Industries Group Corporation Limited (NORINCO)’s Sky Dragon 50 medium-range surface-to-air missiles, France’s short-range VL Milka missile defense system and others. The Barak-8 MR-SAM system is able to shoot down enemy aircraft at a range of 50-70 kilometers. It is designed to defend naval vessels against a myriad of short-to-long range airborne threats like incoming missiles, planes, and drones at both low and high altitudes. Morroco has had close economic, diplomatic, and military ties for years with Israel and in December Defense Minister Gantz made his first official visit to the country where he signed defense cooperation deals.
REUTERSBritish foreign minister Liz Truss urged Iran on Wednesday to sign up to the 2015 nuclear deal, saying it was “the last chance” to do, just a day before talks were expected to resume. “This is really the last chance for Iran to sign up and I strongly urge them to do that because we are determined to work with our allies to prevent Iran securing nuclear weapons,” she told the Chatham House think tank. “So they do need to sign up to the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) agreement, it’s in their interests to do so.”
Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Middle East Security at the Manama Dialogue (As Delivered)
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | SARAH EL DEEB
Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader declared for the first time on Monday that his powerful militant group has 100,000 trained fighters. His speech appeared to be meant as a deterrent to domestic foes following the nation’s worst internal violence in years. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah disclosed the size of the Shiite group’s militant arm in his first speech since seven people were killed in gunbattles on the streets of Beirut on Thursday – the worst street violence the city has seen in years.
THE JERUSALEM POST | LAHAV HARKOV
The foreign ministers of Israel, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and India agreed to establish a forum for economic cooperation in a video conference on Monday evening. The ministers agreed to meet in person at the Dubai Expo 2020 in the coming months. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was with Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid in Jerusalem for the quadripartite meeting.
Israel Signs an Agreement to Double Water Supply to Jordan
Israel formally agrees to double the amount of freshwater it provides to neighbor Jordan, one of the world’s most water-deficient countries. The agreement is proof that “we want good neighborly relations,” says Karine Elharrar, Israel’s minister of infrastructure, energy and water resources. Elharrar traveled to Jordan for a signing ceremony between representatives to the Joint Water Committee that manages bilateral water relations.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Iran’s foreign minister said that US officials tried to discuss restarting nuclear talks last month, but he insisted Washington must first release $10b of Tehran’s frozen funds as a sign of good will. Iran has rejected direct talks with the US, and indirect talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear accord aimed at keeping Iran from being able to develop a nuclear weapon stopped in June. The US used intermediaries at the United Nations last month to attempt to make contact, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state television. Iran has been unable to obtain tens of billions of dollars of its assets in foreign banks, mainly from exports of oil and gas, due to US sanctions on its banking and energy sectors. Western powers have urged Iran to return to negotiations and said time is running out as Tehran’s nuclear program is advancing well beyond the limits set by the deal. Amirabdollahian reiterated that Iran would “soon” return to the stalled nuclear talks in Vienna, declining to give a date.
The Pandora Papers revealed that King Abdullah II of Jordan used a network of hidden firms to accumulate overseas properties during the 22 years of his reign. Worth as much as $100m, the 15 properties are located in the US and UK – and were revealed by an exposé by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Lawyers for the king said he used his own financial means to purchase the homes and denied any wrongdoing. But the optics are unflattering to Abdullah due to the relative poverty of Jordan. Jordan receives international aid, including from the US and the UK. In 2020 the king’s government introduced a crackdown on hidden wealth in the country in response to anti-austerity protests. According to the ICIJ report, attorneys and advisers to Jordan’s Abdullah worked extensively to conceal his real estate holdings. The investigation found Abdullah owned at least 36 secret shell companies in tax havens.
Cyprus is in negotiations with Israel to purchase Iron Dome batteries, Greek news agency SIGMA reported. Cypriot officials are currently engaged in deliberations on how the system would help the divided island nation meet its security needs. SIGMA also reported that Cyprus would purchase four warships from France, which together with the Iron Dome will be “a comprehensive response to the Turkish threat.” Turkish Cypriots in the northern part of the island claim to be a separate republic. Despite having virtually no international recognition, they have been able to hold on to the land for decades with the help of Turkey. Greek Cypriots, who are aligned with Greece, consider this to be a form of occupation. The Iron Dome deal, if it materializes, could further undermine relations between Israel and Turkey, which have been at loggerheads for many years stemming from geopolitical issues and Turkey’s efforts, although the two countries have been aiming to repair ties.
Bloomberg | Abeer Abu Omar
The United Arab Emirates is seeking to grow economic ties with Israel to more than $1 trillion over the next decade, Economy Minister Abdulla Bin Touq said Monday, strengthening a year-old relationship that’s already produced billions of dollars worth of business. Those deals include Mubadala Investment Co.’s $1 billion purchase of Tel Aviv-listed Delek’s stake in an Israeli gas field, Bin Touq told a virtual conference from the U.S., where he is leading a high-level business delegation. The Gulf country has also signed more than 60 memorandums of understanding with Israel since normalizing relations in 2020, he said, and is expecting an “influx” of trade in the next two years.
NY Times: Najib Mikati, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, became the prime minister of Lebanon, seizing the reins in a country that has been without a government for more than a year while its people careened deeper into an economic abyss. President Michel Aoun announced the formation of Mr. Mikati’s cabinet on his official Twitter feed, saying that he and Mr. Mikati signed to make it official in the presence of the speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri.
Bloomberg: The most basic foods have become political assets in economically devastated Lebanon. And no one’s tapped that currency of oil, milk and bread like Iran-backed Hezbollah. Designated a terrorist group by the U.S., it has galvanized its power by taking on more functions of a state hollowed out by an imploding economy and sectarian feuding. By offering food, cash and medical services amid widespread poverty in this once-middle class nation, the Shiite Muslim group has become a lifeline for many.
Energy ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon agreed on a plan to bring gas and electricity to Lebanon, following a meeting in Amman. Egypt’s Oil Minister said that his country would “be ready to transfer gas to Lebanon as soon as possible” via the transnational Arab Gas Pipeline. But damage to the pipeline and electricity lines during a decade of civil war in Syria means that energy supplies cannot start flowing until repairs are carried out. Fuel and power shortages are one of the most acute symptoms of Lebanon’s economic collapse, paralyzing the economy and vital services. The World Bank has labelled Lebanon’s situation the worst economic crash since the mid-19th century. Lebanon is also “working with the World Bank” to ensure it possesses enough capital to pay for the Egyptian energy imports.
American forces left Afghanistan today.
(CNN)America’s chaotic, humiliating — yet, at times, heroic — final retreat from its defeat in Afghanistan will resonate for years after the last military jet lifted off from Kabul at 11:59 p.m. local time on Monday, 30 August, ending the country’s longest war.
NYT: The last U.S. military plane left Kabul Monday night, ending a presence that spanned two decades but failed to defeat the Taliban and left behind tens of thousands of Afghans.
The final UK troops, diplomats and officials have left Kabul, Downing Street has confirmed.
The departure of the RAF flight brings to an end the UK’s 20-year military involvement in Afghanistan.
More than 15,000 people have been evacuated by the UK since 14 August.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the moment was a chance to reflect on the achievements of recent weeks – and the last two decades, such as girls’ education and weakening al-Qaeda.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita signed three agreements in Rabat. The agreements include cooperation in the fields of culture, sport and youth, as well as an agreement on direct flights between the two countries. “Something is happening in the Middle East. People and leaders look to Libya, Syria and Lebanon and say to themselves, ‘This is not what we want for our children. This is not it we want for ourselves,” Lapid said. “The only war worth devoting our life to is not against our neighbor, or against anyone who prays differently from us. The only war that makes sense is the war against poverty, ignorance, epidemics and drought,” he said. “The agreements we sign will bring innovations and opportunities to our countries for the benefit of our children – and their children – for years to come’’ he added. Lapid’s trip marks the first official visit of an Israeli delegation to Morocco in 20 years.
Source: I24 News
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.
THE WASHINGTON POST | STEVE HENDRIX, MICHAEL E. MILLER AND SHIRA RUBIN
Israel dramatically escalated its assault on the Gaza Strip early Friday with a combined air and artillery barrage aimed at destroying Hamas’s tunnel system, marking the addition of ground forces for the first time in the five-day battle and tipping the conflict closer to all-out war. The 40-minute midnight assault involved 160 Israeli warplanes and three brigades of ground forces, including tanks, according to a spokesman for the Israeli military. The operation targeted a sprawling system of tunnels that Hamas has spent years building underneath Gaza’s streets, raising the possibility of significant civilian casualties.
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)
Southern Israel was bombarded by over 250 rockets from the Gaza Strip as terror groups sent barrages of rockets, injuring at least 31 Israeli civilians. In retaliation for the rocket-fire that terror groups in the Strip said came as part of an operation called “Sword of Jerusalem”, the IDF carried out waves of airstrikes against 130 terror targets in the Strip in an operation they call “Guardians of the wall.” The targets hit by Israel included the home of a Hamas battalion commander in a multi-story building, the organization’s military intelligence headquarters, munition manufacturing sites, military complexes belonging to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as two offensive tunnels that were close to the border fence. The strikes also killed 15 Hamas terrorists. Palestinian WAFA news agency reported that a total of 25 people including children were killed and another 103 were injured.
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.
By Pranshu Verma and Rick Gladstone
The move will once again make the United States a leading donor to the United Nations agency that assists about 5.7 million Palestinians in the Middle East.
THE JERUSALEM POST | JERUSALEM POST
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will be the Biden administration’s first top cabinet member to visit Israel. He is expected to arrive next week, Walla reported on Tuesday night. Austin will arrive in Israel amid an increase in maritime incidents between Israel and Iran.
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.
Egypt and Qatar have agreed to resume diplomatic relations, the Egyptian foreign ministry said, making Cairo the first to officially do so under an Arab deal to end a long-running dispute with Doha. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt agreed earlier this month to restore diplomatic, trade and travel ties severed in 2017 over allegations Qatar supported terrorism, a charge that Doha denies. When the boycott was announced, Egypt and its allies called on Qatar to cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, among other demands. The Islamist group was outlawed in Egypt after then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the overthrow of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi from the presidency in 2013, before being elected president himself the following year. Much of the Muslim Brotherhood’s senior leadership was jailed in Egypt but other members took refuge abroad in Qatar or its regional ally Turkey. Egypt and the UAE have also found themselves at odds with Turkey and Qatar in Libya, where they have backed opposing factions in a civil conflict.
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