West Asia Highlights
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF
Russia and Middle East
Moscow holds the key to Peace between Jerusalem and Damascus

Israel has maintained pressure and occasional military and drone interventions across Golan Heights into Syria and would have liked to see Bashar Assad gone due to his proximity to Iran and Hezbollah. However, the Russian intervention in Syria to prop up the regime and to fight the ISIS as well as to maintain their strategic interests in the Middle East the dynamic has changed. Russia continues to maintain pressure and presence and is key to any peaceful outcome in Syria especially as US has been engaged in a somewhat unpredictable manner. Syria was discussed at length between President Trump and President Putin at Helsinki on July 16. Meanwhile Israeli war planes shot down a Syrian Sukhoi-22.

Foreign Policy article by Dov Zakheim concludes that Russia is more important than US in averting war between Israel and Syria

Iran

As the US-Iran spat continues with impending sanctions, pursuant to US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the German Minister of State for International Affairs Neils Annen hoped that India would continue to purchase Iranian oil reportedly stating that “It will be India's sovereign decision. I am not a salesman for Iran but I have an impression that India is willing to continue buying oil from Iran and this will be a very important statement."

Tehran Times reported that Trump’s trade war has resulted in realignment of political forces in Europe and Asia. China and Germany have decided to shake hands in their common trade war with the US. And amidst the trade war, many countries, including Germany and China, have thrown their weight behind Iran and denounced America’s bullying tactics and sabre-rattling after the U.S. pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and embarked on an economic offensive against Iran. However, some countries felt the heat. Among Iran’s three biggest buyers of oil who account for about half of Iran’s oil exports – China, India, and Turkey – India seemed to have come under the US pressure. A few weeks ago, a day after the U.S. ambassador to UN Nikki Haley visited New Delhi, media reports said that India’s oil ministry had ordered refiners to prepare for drastic reduction or zero import of Iranian oil from November when the 180-day wind-down period ends.

While serving as German foreign minister, current President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was one of the main architects of the 2015 agreement under which Iran promised not to develop nuclear weapons in return for relaxation of sanctions by the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. It was also unsurprising that on the margins of a meeting with his French colleague current German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas promised that Europeans would continue to honour the agreement regardless of whether US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal — something he ultimately opted to do a day later. Berlin also hosted a number of unsuccessful meetings in recent months aimed at brokering a compromise with the US.

President Rouhani earlier in the month also visited Switzerland that represents US interest in Iran and Austria which holds the current EU Chair. Visits were stated to be of ‘prime importance’ by the Iranian foreign office. Meanwhile during the press conference with visiting Italian PM on July 30, President Trump in keeping with his style of diplomacy with North Korea, said that he would be willing to meet Iran's leader without preconditions to discuss how to improve ties after he pulled the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying, "If they want to meet, we'll meet." "I'd meet with anybody. I believe in meetings," especially in cases where war is at stake, Trump said at a White House news conference when asked whether he was willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

In response, Iran said the way back to talks was for the US to return to the nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers that Trump exited in May.

Gulf Dispute

During the over a year long dispute and blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, UAE & Egypt and Bahrain (the ‘Quad’), Doha had chosen the path of approaching the international organisations and route of diplomacy to flag the injustice done to them quite successfully. The International Court of Justice in a partial ruling ordered UAE to protect Qatari citizens in the Emirates. Earlier Qatar had gone to International Civil Aviation organisation (ICAO) for flying restrictions imposed by the Quad.

Yemen

Yemen's Houthi rebels targeted Saudi oil tankers in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, forcing Saudi Arabia to suspend its oil supplies through the important choke point for international trade. Iran backed Houthis have claimed recently to have carried out missile attacks against Saudi targets including against the Saudi Aramco the bigger oil company as well as the drone attack against the Abu Dhabi International Airport although denied. It was a new approach to attack against the economic targets in the aggressors according to Houthi sympathiser Saba news agency.

Palestine

Israeli forces unleashed a wave of strikes across the Gaza Strip on after saying its troops came under fire, killing three Hamas members as fears grew of a wider conflict. The UN envoy for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, said, “Everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW!”, “Those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis into another war must not succeed,” he wrote on Twitter. The Palestinian Authority condemned the indifference of the global community towards the mayhem in Gaza. It also called upon the international community to intervene to stop Israel from carrying out a military operation in the Gaza strip.

There were reports that Trump administration is looking at avenues for alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza strip through an infusion of developmental aid that might trigger the authorities to consider the much touted and rejected Trump Peace Plan whose details are yet to be made public.

Iraq

While the country suffers from uncertainty on new government formation, Iraq especially the southern part is marked by unremitting protests forcing Abadi government out of options. Basra that provides 90% of the Oil in Iraq is specially facing the challenges and strikes and protests due to unemployment, unfair wages, lack of infrastructure etc. the authorities also fear the spurt being attributed to fights between Saudi and Iran backed groups.


Image Source: http://www.pbdmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/middle_east.jpg

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