Tag Archives: Israel Palestine Conflict

West Asia Roundup-January 2023

Abstract: 2023 began with greater tensions in the region. Israel -Palestine conflict and high levels of violence and protests in Israel against the efforts of Netanyahu’s ultra-right government to compromise the powers of the Judiciary as well as the worsening plight and concerns of the Palestinians. Blinken visits Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine and supports two state solution amidst spirally violence urging both sides to calm down. While Blinken’s visit did little to actually defuse or deescalate the violent situation he asked his ME office Barbara leaf and Hady Amr Special Envoy for Palestine to stay back and to help defuse the situation. He reiterated that US will oppose any efforts to undermine the two state solution as well as new settlements, outposts or demolition of Palestinian homes. Even Netanyahu was mainly concerned with Iran and his ultra rightist partner Ben Gvir vowed to continue with demolishing Palestinian homes and distribute arms among Israelis to defend themselves. Another one Orit Strock Minister was not happy with Blinken’s comments on the government’s plans to dilute the judiciary.

The coalition of nationalist parties in Jordan strongly criticised a statement by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry which “condemned” the shooting of seven Israeli settlers ‘in an illegal settlement’ in occupied East Jerusalem. UAE and several other countries also condemned the response to these attacks led to IDF killing 10 Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp.

PM Netanyahu also visited Jordan to meet King Abdullah and to defuse the ensuing crisis pertaining to Al Aqsa Mosque for which King Abdullah remains a custodian. Israeli National Security Minister, much against the advice of his colleagues, entered Al Aqsa flaring up tensions.

US and Israel also conducted the largest ever exercise in view of threats being perceived from Iran. Head of CIA Mark Burns also visited just before the targeted drone attacks on military facilities in Iran and Tehran accused Tel Aviv who maintained a stoic silence as always while vowing that Islamic Republic cannot be allowed to have the nuclear weapons. “Such actions cannot impact the determination and intent of our experts for peaceful nuclear progress,” insisted Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. He called the attack a “cowardly strike.”

Meanwhile Qatar FM also tried to revive the almost abandoned JCPOA apparently carrying some message from the Americans. Iranian confrontation both domestically with ongoing anti hijab female protesters and the West became further accentuated with its close partnership and military deals in drones and SU35 with Russia.

Iran’s former Deputy Defene Minister, Alireza Akbari, was executed days after being sentenced to death on charges of spying for Britain

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for holding meetings between Ankara, Russia, Syria and Iran with the aim of achieving stability in northern Syria. Erdogan said Ankara’s relations with Russia are based on mutual respect and his relationship with President Vladimir Putin is based on honesty. Turkish president added that while his country has not been able to obtain the result it desires regarding developments in northern Syria, it is calling for holding tripartite meetings between Turkiye, Russia and Syria.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, at the Zugulba Presidential Palace in Baku to discuss strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries. Both presidents oversaw the signing of a number of joint memoranda of understanding relating to various fields including tourism, culture and water resources in addition to agreements between the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Azerbaijani Ministry of Economy.

Due to an attack on its embassy Baku had withdrawn its mission staff from Tehran. President Ebrahim Raisi during a telephone conversation with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev expressed his condolences after the attack. “The governments of Iran and Azerbaijan will not allow the relations between them to be influenced by the insinuations of the ill-wishers of the two nations”. On the other hand a statement issued by Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that a “recent anti-Azerbaijani campaign against our country in Iran has encouraged such attacks against our diplomatic mission.”

Calls are growing for Tunisian President Kais Saied to step down in the wake of another very low turnout in the legislative election. The figure has been put at 11 per cent, according to some media reports. Just 8.8 per cent of eligible voters turned out in the first leg of the election in December. But Kais Saied remains unperturbed.

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed visited Pakistan (January 26-27) as the country suffered its worst economic crisis mainly to assure them of some support and in response to several visits from Pakistani leadership to the Emirates. Earlier bilateral ties were discussed during Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s interaction with the UAE leadership when he paid an official visit to the Emirates at the invitation of President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on January 12-13.

Tearing and burning of Quran in Sweden led to condemnation by the Muslim world. Turkey even cancelled the visit of Swedish Defence Minister stating that “We regretfully witnessed that no measures were taken as a result of these vile and heinous acts against Turkiye [including the recent acts of PKK leaders there]. Therefore, at this point, the visit of Swedish Defence Minister Jonson to Turkiye on January 27 has become meaningless. “So, we cancelled the visit,” announced Turkish National Defence Minister Hulusi Akar.

Saudi Arabia and Morocco signed a CT agreement on security and intelligence cooperation.

Britain and Saudi Arabia have reached an agreement to strengthen cooperation on diversifying sources of critical minerals, including graphite and lithium, the British government said in a statement. This came during the British Business Secretary, Grant Shapps’s visit to Riyadh for the Future Metals forum.

According to some reports, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Prime Minister, ordered that that Saudi Arabia’s investments in Pakistan be reviewed so that they could be increased to $10 billion. Earlier the new Army Chief of Pakistan visited Saudi Arabia and called on MBS while requesting more assistance to an embattled Pakistan.

The Saudi government welcomed the launch of the final stage of the political process in Sudan. King Salman bin Abdulaziz underscored Riyadh’s continued support to Sudan and international partners in the Quartet and Friends of Sudan Group to achieve the country’s stability and prosperity.

President Yoon Suk Yeol of the Republic of South Korea visited UAE. During the visit, the Korean President conferred with President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss the friendly ties between the two countries and the means to further develop bilateral cooperation in light of the strategic partnership that binds the two countries together.


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi was the Chief Guest on 74th Republic Day of India which is a distinct honour. It was his third visit. During the visit the relationship was upgraded to Strategic Partnership and several agreements were signed. He had close interactions with PM Modi and President of India among others. Egypt is also invited as a special guest during India’s G20 presidency. India and Egypt are celebrating 75 years of establishment of diplomatic relations this year.

MOS (EA) shri V Muraleedharan visited UAE and conferred with several Ministers and also raised issues pertaining to the welfare of Indian expatriates there.

Anthony Blinken’s Tour to Egypt, Israel and West Bank

The US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during the first leg of his regional tour visited Cairo on 29 January and met with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Both leaders discussed about enhancing the strategic partnership and promoting peace and security including support for elections in Libya and ongoing Sudanese led political process. Egypt continues to play a central role in US’ strategic calculations. Blinken also mentioned that the US will continue to encourage Cairo to take action on human rights. Notably, CIA Director William Burns after his trip to Ukraine and Libya visited Egypt on 24 January and met with the President El-Sisi and head of General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel and talked about efforts to boost security and intelligence cooperation. Burns emphasized on the role of bilateral cooperation to promote stability in the region.

Following the Egypt trip, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel and the West Bank. He called for de-escalation between Israelis and Palestinians while reiterating the US’ ironclad commitment to the Jewish state and its security. Blinken during the news conference stated that the US is committed to Israel’s full integration with the region by pushing for normalization efforts with Arab states. During the press statement, he mentioned about the US support for two states solution which is essential for Israel’s long term security. Blinken also met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and mentioned that Israeli policies especially settlement expansion and home demolitions as detrimental to the two state solution. Blinken’s visit did not lead to any breakthrough in subsiding the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians mentioning that it was “fundamentally up to them” to end the ongoing violence.

Israel in January witnessed large scale protest to oppose the political changes initiated by the right-wing government. The protesters in Tel Aviv gathered in large numbers throughout the month chanting slogans such as “No to dictatorship” and “Democracy”. The government has proposed changes under which the Knesset could pass legislation through simple majority even if it violates the Basic Law. It would lead to weakening the judiciary. The Netanyahu government has accused the Supreme Court of excessive interference in political decisions. Besides the changes in Supreme Court, the government has hinted amendments in laws allowing unlimited detention for immigrants and asylum seekers; twisting anti-discrimination laws permitting right to refuse service based on religious beliefs affecting equal rights of LGBTQ community and minority groups. The government also wants changes in election laws that would restrict political participation for individuals expressing criticism towards Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. The changes in election laws in directed to shrink the political space for Arab parties that uphold a more sympathetic attitude towards the Palestinians.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

The month of January was highly violent in Israel and the occupied territories leading to number of deaths of Palestinians and Israelis. Israeli forces killed two Palestinians including a minor on 25 January in East Jerusalem and West Bank during raids. Israel since March 2021 has carried out frequent raids under Operation Break the Wave causing fatal clashes. Israeli forces during these raids have killed bystanders as well as fighters in targeted assassinations and armed clashes.

Israeli forces raided a refugee camp in Jenin on 26 January and killed 10 Palestinians. The killing by Israeli forces led to rocket attacks by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) based in Gaza. Israel retaliated by carrying out air attacks on several locations in Gaza. Hamas in its statement noted that the group will continue to carry out “duty” to protect Palestinians and their sanctities. A day after the deaths of Palestinians in Jenin, a gunman on 27 January stormed inside a synagogue in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem killing seven people. Benjamin Netanyahu government in response to the recent violence announced plans to provide easier access for Israeli citizens to procure firearms. The move is seen as “collective punishment” and it is likely to increase the level of violence by allowing Israeli civilians to kill Palestinians with impunity.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on 3 January entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex ignoring warnings from Israeli politicians. The PA called it as deliberate provocation to change the status quo at the mosque complex. Netanyahu on 24 January visited Amman and met with Jordanian King Abdullah in midst of diplomatic tensions over the Al Aqsa Mosque. Earlier on 17 January, Jordanian Ambassador to Israel, Ghassan Majali was stopped from entering the mosque. King Abdullah during the meeting with Netanyahu stressed the importance of respecting the historical and legal status quo in Al Aqsa Mosque.

Pakistan-UAE Bilateral Visits

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited the UAE on 12 January. He received warm welcome from UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Both sides reviewed a number of regional and international issues. The two leaders signed three agreements related to diplomatic academy training, combating human trafficking and state news agency cooperation. The UAE assured support for development and stability in Pakistan and offered US$ 1 billion loan and also agreed to roll over an existing loan worth US$ 2 billion. Both states agreed to promote bilateral economic and trade ties and enable investment integration opportunities. The UAE President on 25 January paid a brief visit to Rahim Yar Khan City for in-depth discussions on economy, trade, development and issues related to the diaspora.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Visit to Sudan

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Sudan on 26 January. Prime Minister Ahmed met with Sudanese military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to discuss on regional issues. The relations between Ethiopia and Sudan have been tense due to border dispute and refugee crisis following the two year conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Both states are keen to embolden and promote bilateral relations. Sudan also assured support for Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). In 2020, Ethiopia’s decision to start filling the dam’s reservoir without prior agreement with downstream states was heavily criticized by Sudan and Egypt. The tensions between both states also escalated following the conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) triggering a humanitarian crisis and flow of refugees to Sudan. Both sides also differ over Al-Fashaqa, a fertile border strip cultivated by Ethiopian farmers but claimed by Sudan. Sudan in June 2021 recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia to protest about killing of Sudanese soldiers.

Attack on Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Iran

An attack inside Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran on 27 January led to death of one security guard and two injuries prompting Baku to evacuate its diplomatic staff. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the assault on the embassy as a “terrorist act” and requested swift investigation. Iran’s relations with Azerbaijan have witnessed tension for months. Azerbaijani government in a strongly worded statement mentioned that recent “anti-Azerbaijan campaign” encouraged the gun incident and accused Iranian authorities of ignoring Baku’s appeal to increase security at the embassy. Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack and assured thorough investigation. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has tried to calm the situation and mentioned that bilateral relations should not be affected after the attack. Top officials in Tehran has dismissed the attack as a “terrorist act” and speculated that it could be driven by “personal issues”.

Drone Strike at Military Facility in Iran

On 28 January, military facility in Isfahan suffered minor damage from drone strikes. Iranian Defence Ministry stated that three drones were launched out of which one was destroyed by air defence systems and two were incepted by “defence traps” causing minor damage to one building. Reportedly, the attack was conducted by Israel to disrupt missile production. Iranian authorities did not clarify about the activities at the site calling it a workshop. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian called it a “cowardly” attack aimed at destabilizing the state.

Gas Deal between Italy and Libya

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during her visit to Tripoli on 28 January oversaw US$ 8 billion gas production deal between Eni and National Oil Corporation (NOC) aimed at increasing gas output for the Libyan domestic market and exports through the development of two offshore gas fields. According to the deal, the output will begin in 2016 producing 21 million cubic meters per day. Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi has hoped that the agreement will facilitate crucial investments in Libya’s energy sector contributing to local development and job creation while allowing Eni to play a leading role in Libya’s energy market.

Prime Minister Meloni met with Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah, head of the internationally recognized Government of National Unity (GNU) and the discussion focussed on migration across the Mediterranean Sea. In the background of the Russia-Ukraine war, European states since last year have sought to diversify its energy imports. Italy signed energy cooperation with Algeria in 2022.

Turkey’s Diplomatic Row with Sweden and Denmark

Turkey’s diplomatic row with Sweden and Denmark has escalated after reports of Quran burning incidents in Stockholm on 21 January and Copenhagen on 27 January, in front of the Turkish embassy by a far-right activist, Rasmus Paludan. Turkey summoned the envoys of the two European states and expressed strong condemnation for providing permission that constitutes a hate crime. Ankara’s diplomatic relations with Stockholm has remained tense due to its opposition to Stockholm’s entry in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Sweden and Finland fearing aggression from Russia has expressed their intention to join NATO. The accession process however requires the approval of all NATO members. Turkey has hinted that its consent is conditional upon Sweden as well as Finland’s efforts to crack down on Kurdish armed groups, activists and other groups. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the Quran burning warned Sweden not to expect support for its NATO bid.

Kuwaiti Cabinet Resigns

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf al-Sabah submitted his resignation to the Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah on 24 January after dispute with parliament. During the September 2022 parliamentary election, the opposition figures increased their share leading to standoff with the government. The new government formed in October 2022 collapsed only after two months. The government and the parliament reached an impasse over a debt relief bill allowing the state to buy Kuwaiti citizen’s personal loans. The tussle between the executive and the legislature has impeded reforms and affected investments in the Gulf state.

West Asia Round Up – October 2021


At G20 on October 30 the leaders of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the US reiterated their commitment to ensure that Iran can never develop nuclear weapons stating “We expressed our determination to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon and shared our grave and growing concern that, while Iran halted negotiations on a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) since June, it has accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps, such as the production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal. Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure, but both are important to nuclear weapons programs,” while reiterating the importance of a negotiated solution to the current situation “that provides for the return of Iran and the US to full compliance with the JCPOA and provides the basis for continued diplomatic engagement to resolve remaining points of contention. We are convinced that it is possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to full compliance and to ensure for the long term that Iran`s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” the statement read. They also asked President Raisi to seize this opportunity urgently as it was the only way to avert a dangerous escalation. European leaders have been intervening to resume the JCPOA talks.

As President Raisi confirmed his intent and date in November to return to Talks, FM Hossein Amirabdollahian urged ‘It is enough for Biden to issue an executive order tomorrow and they (US) announce they are rejoining the pact from the point where his predecessor left the deal. If there is a serious will in Washington to return to the deal, there is no need for all these negotiations at all’. Tehran has said its nuclear steps since Trump abandoned the accord are reversible “if Washington lifts sanctions in a verifiable process”.

Iranian leadership and commanders of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued statements against Azerbaijan, saying that it is allowing Israeli influence and plots to be implemented in the region, which Azerbaijan dismissed.

Iranian Chief of Staff General Mohammad Bagheri, on a visit to Moscow, pointed to his country’s intention to revive military cooperation with Russia as soon as the restrictions imposed by the UN Security Council are lifted.

Earlier in the month, Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Abdollahian visited Moscow to coordinate on regional affairs including Afghanistan. It also held the Afghan talks with regional countries in the Moscow Format, following the Russian initiative.

Saudi -Lebanon– Pursuant to the criticism by a Lebanese Minister of the role played by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Riyadh expelled the Lebanese Ambassador and withdrew theirs. Kuwait, Bahrain and UAE followed suit. As for Oman it urged all sides to not escalate the crisis. It was seen as the primacy of Hezbollah backed by Iran which has vitiated the relations as Lebanon wades through an unprecedented political and economic crisis. Qatar is trying to mediate.

Ahead of the G20 and Glasgow Summits Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that the Kingdom aims to reach zero-net emissions by 2060 through circular carbon economy. He launched the Forum and the Saudi Green Initiative in Riyadh, which will witness the introduction of new environmental initiatives for the Kingdom and will follow up on the progress of the ongoing programs within the Green Initiative. In his speech, the Crown Prince revealed plans to cut carbon emissions by over 270 million tons per year with investments of more than 700 billion riyals ($186.63 billion).

During his visit to Riyadh the US Special Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking assured that Washington is 100 percent committed to the defence of Saudi Arabia, while urging that cross-border attacks by Houthis into the Kingdom must stop underscoring “We have 70,000 Americans living and working all over the Kingdom. And it would be a terrible thing for any of those Americans to be harmed, in addition to Saudis and all the many other foreigners working in Saudi Arabia,” whose security was equally important.

Saudi –Pakistan

Imran Khan visited Saudi Arabia for an Investment Meet. Saudi Arabia revived its financial support to Pakistan, including US$3 billion in deposits to the central bank and up to $1.5 billion worth of oil supplies with deferred payments. Saudi Arabia had suspended aid last year because of Pakistani criticism of the kingdom’s lack of support in its dispute with India over Kashmir.

However, the kingdom’s renewed support results from a desire to counter tightening military and cultural relations between Pakistan and Turkey as well as Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban in the wake of the group’s victory in Afghanistan


Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that he received an invitation letter from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to visit the United Arab Emirates. The stronger the bond between our countries, the stronger the security and stability in the entire region,” the Israeli PM said. Earlier Secretary Blinken organised a discussion with his UAE and Israeli counterparts to take stock of developments since the Abraham Accords were signed a year ago. However, Foreign Minister Bin Zayed also said, during a joint news conference with US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, in Washington DC, that there could be no talk of peace in the Middle East if Israel and the Palestinians were not “on talking terms”. He stressed that a more successful UAE-Israeli relationship would encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to see “that this path works, that this path is worth not only investing in but also taking the risk.

On the other hand, surprisingly Israel is claiming to lead the negotiations between Abud Dhabi and Ramallah. According to media reports Israeli-Arab Minister of Regional Cooperation, Issawi Frej, has revealed that a possible reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and UAE would be announced soon

Israeli PM Naftali Bennet visited Russia to meet President Putin and discussed bilateral and regional issues. Russia reportedly allowed limited Israeli strikes in Syria

Algeria- Morocco-France

Algeria, which has long supported the Palestinian cause and opposed Morocco’s normalisation of ties with Tel Aviv, cut diplomatic ties with Rabat on August 24 over “hostile actions”, including alleged spying on its officials. Algeria has rejected attending roundtable talks on Western Sahara, considering the roundtable format “deeply unbalanced and counterproductive”, as per its Western Sahara Envoy Amar Belani . “We confirm our formal and irreversible rejection of the so-called roundtable format,” Belani asserted, warning that this format would thwart United Nations (UN) Envoy Staffan De Mistura’s efforts.

Belanialso denied reports that visiting Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan had discussed the dispute between Algeria and Morocco during his visit to Algiers. The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the minister’s visit aimed to “strengthen joint cooperation” including bilateral political cooperation that supports regional security and stability as well as “the latest regional and international developments”.

France and Algeria’s relations again got entangled amidst controversy observe the statements by French President when Algiers refused permission to Paris to use its air space as well as two of ministries stopped using French language. French President, Emmanuel Macron, reported by Le Monde newspaper, considered that Algeria was built after its independence in 1962 on a “memory revenue” established by the “political-military regime.” He also questioned the existence of an Algerian nation before French colonialism. Macron regretted his unintended statement.

Turkey US

Biden and Erdogan met in Rome to try to repair the damaging relationship between the two NATO allies. They discussed F16 and Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S 400 air defence system.

West Asian Economic Forum-The QUARTET

During Dr S Jaishankar’s visit to Israel the foreign ministers of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, India and the US held a hybrid meeting to bolster coordination. Following the meeting, Lapid said he agreed with his counterparts to establish a forum for economic cooperation. This is being seen as a highly significant development and possibly yet another QUAD.


US Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives introduced a resolution on expressing solidarity with the Lebanese people and the continued efforts to form a secure, independent, and democratic Lebanon. The lawmakers stressed that security, sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Lebanon is in the interest of the United States and its allies in the region. They underlined the US robust assistance for Lebanon, including training and equipment provided for the Lebanese Armed Forces, which it described as the sole institution entrusted with the defence of the sovereignty of Lebanon. The bill accused Iran of undermining Lebanon’s sovereignty and its history as a US partner and democratic actor in the Middle East.


The US will engage Israel seeking more information about the designation of six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations, State Department spokesperson Ned Price claiming that Washington was not given advance warning of the designation, a move that drew criticism from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said that the Biden administration intends to press ahead with its plan to reopen the Jerusalem consulate that traditionally engaged with Palestinians, despite Israeli opposition to such a move, Reuters reports.

India –
EAM’s visit to Israel

During the first ever dehyphenated visit of an Indian Foreign Minister to Israel the two sides agreed to start the negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). They have also decided to form a Task Force to formulate a comprehensive ten-year roadmap to identify new areas of defence cooperation at the 15th meeting of the India-Israel Joint Working Group (JWG) on bilateral defence cooperation held in Tel Aviv. Indian Air Force a also participated in the “Blue Flag “exercises in Israel along with many other countries. The two sides reviewed the progress made in the military-to-military engagements, including exercises and industry cooperation. The co-chairs were also apprised of the progress made by the Sub Working Groups (SWG) on Defence Procurement & Production and Research & Development.
It was also decided to form an SWG on Defence Industry Cooperation and in this regard, a document on Terms of Reference was signed between the two sides. The formation of this SWG would enable efficient utilisation of bilateral resources, effective flow of technologies and sharing industrial capabilities. It was also decided to schedule the Service level Staff talks in a specific time frame.

India -UAE

UAE’s Minister of State for Trade visited India and had wide ranging discussions. During the visit it was decided to finalise a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between the two countries.

MOS to Sudan and South Sudan

Shri V Muraleedharan visited Sudan and South Sudan to follow up on bilateral relations and enhancing engagement across the spectrum. However, Sudan witnessed the overthrow of the civilian government by the military junta that may have an impact on the eventual outcomes.

PM Modi met Saudi Crown Prince

Mohammed bin Salman on the side lines of the G20 in Rome and discussed wide ranging issues of mutual interest.

Some more details…
FM S. Jaishankar’s visit to Israel

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Israel from 17 to 21 October after invitation from alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He met with President Issac Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and prepared a roadmap for enriching the strategic ties and exploring new areas of bilateral collaboration.

Jaishankar interacted with Israeli academics, Indian origin Jewish community, business community leaders and Indian workers and students. He also visited the Talpiyot cemetery to pay respect to Indian soldiers who died in the region during First World War. Notably around 900 Indian soldiers are interred in cemeteries in Jerusalem, Ramle and Haifa.

India’s bilateral relations with Israel have been upgraded to strategic partnership during the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2017. Both states are keen to expand knowledge based partnership, innovation, research and boosting the Make in India initiative.

Israel UAE sign Space Agreement

Israel’s Minister of Science, Technology and Space, Orit Farkash Hacohen and UAE’s Minister of State for Advanced Technology, Sarah Al Amiri signed space agreement during World Space Week, part of Dubai Expo to enhance cooperation in scientific research, space exploration and knowledge transfer. The UAE Space Agency and Israel Space Agency signed agreement on two key construction projects i.e. Beresheet 2 moon mission and joint scientific research based on the Israeli-French satellite Venus and its data. The Beresheet 2 deriving from the Torah word, “in the beginning” was launched in 2019 to conduct landing on the moon. The agreement on Venus satellite will study the phenomena under earth resources, precision agriculture, desertification, monitoring water bodies, climate change which is crucial for both states.

In terms of space education, Nazareth Space Center would train Emirati and Israeli students about satellite engineering and astronomy. Both states are hoping to expand space research and attempt to determine the exact timing of the moon’s birth.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

Israeli government has announced plans to build new Jewish settlements in West Bank. The Ministry of Construction & Housing has published tenders for 1355 houses in the occupied territory. The Housing Minister, Zeev Elkin, belonging to the right wing New Hope party asserted that strengthening Jewish presence in the West Bank is essential to the Zionist vision.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh called on other nations to confront Israel over the aggression that settlement construction poses for the Palestinian people. The UN expressing grave concern called all settlements in West Bank including East Jerusalem is illegal under international law and obstacle to peace.

The US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price condemned Israel’s push to develop new settlements and objected to retroactively legalise irregular settlement outposts in the Palestinian territory. Price called the settlement expansion as inconsistent with efforts to reduce tensions and ensuring calm. The US however restrained from mentioning any action but suggested that the issue has been discussed at senior levels. The Joe Biden administration has rejected demands by the Progressive Congress members to condition aid to Israel based on its actions in occupied Palestine. Joe Biden has described his administration’s commitment to Israel’s security as ironclad.

Israel in mid-October issued military order declaring six prominent Palestinian rights groups i.e. Al-Haq, Addameer rights group, Defence for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees as terrorist organisations alleging links with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a left wing movement that works as political party and armed group. The Israeli government has claimed the human rights groups as part of network of organisations serving as international front on behalf of PFLP. The military order essentially outlaws these groups and police are authorised to shut their offices; seize assets and imprisonment.

Military Coup in Sudan

Sudan’s transition to democracy was cut shot after the military dismissed the civilian government in October 2021. The democratic transition in Sudan was propelled after eight months of street protests and civil disobedience since December 2018. It led to Political Agreement and Draft Constitutional Declaration facilitating 39 month political transition period formally transferring executive power to the Sovereignty Council and civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The military has displayed uneasiness with the civilian takeover process. Earlier in September 2021, the civilian government thwarted a coup attempt by military leading to arrest of 40 officers. The relationship between the civilian and military leadership has been tense throughout this period.
On 16 October, pro-military sympathisers backed by the army held demonstrations calling for coup. In response, pro-democracy protestors came to streets to express support for the civilian government. The nation-wide public demonstrations have created major unrest in different parts of the state. The negotiations between the army and the political coalition of civilian groups also reached a dead end due to differences over security reforms; army’s commercial activities; formation of constitutional court; appointment of an attorney general and chief justice and transfer of the chair of the Sovereignty Council to a civilian official.

Eventually on 25 October, the military chief and chair of the Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dismissed the civilian government and arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and majority of the cabinet. The coup led to widespread protest including clashes with security forces killing at least 10 and injuring more than 150 civilians. The African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership. The US, European Union and other western states condemned the coup and asserted that it would maintain its diplomatic engagement with the civilian government. The military under pressure has indicated its willingness for dialogue, however political groups and citizens coalitions has demanded restoration of the pre-coup political order and constitutional process.

Saudi Arabia-Houthi conflict

Saudi air airstrikes and Houthi drone attacks have continued in October. The Royal Saudi Air Defense Force (RSADF) on 16 October intercepted and destroyed two weaponised drones. Earlier on 8 October, Houthis carried out drone attacks in King Abdullah Airport and Abha airport. Meanwhile in Marib, around 260 Houthis fighters were killed in three days. Saudi Arabia led coalition has conducted daily air raids around Marib targeting Houthis.

The US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held discussion with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud about the situation in Yemen. Blinken assured the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia to defend its territory. Besides Yemen, the US and Saudi leaders discussed about the status of the nuclear deal and pressing need for joint efforts to ensure stability in Afghanistan and other regional and international issues.

West Asia Round Up – September 2021


Afghanistan and emergence of Taliban on the centre stage remained a key concern and priority for the international community and major actors and which was equally reflected in the West Asian leaders’ interventions at the UNGA apart from their own regional and bilateral challenges.

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli PM Naftali Bennett claimed that Tehran had in recent years taken “a major leap forward” in its nuclear production capacity and ability to enrich weapons-grade uranium. “Iran’s nuclear weapon programme is at a critical point; all red lines have been crossed”. Iran on its part asked Tel Aviv to stop clandestine attacks on its nuclear facilities.

While US said that the window for Iran to return to JCPOA negotiations was fast closing the French officials asked Iran to return to talks with world powers over its 2015 nuclear deal to avoid a diplomatic escalation that could jeopardize the negotiations. The official also said Iran could not set new conditions before returning to the talks in Vienna as the terms on the table were clear.

Meanwhile, Tehran demanded US to unfreeze $10 bn for it to meet its exigencies as a goodwill gesture. Iranian officials said nuclear agreement “is no longer at the top of the regime’s priorities,” explaining that the Supreme National Security Council will determine the composition of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team. However, it is expected that the teams will return to negotiating table sooner that later.

According to the Director-General of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organisation (TPO)’s Office of Arabian and African Countries, Farzad Piltan, the Islamic Republic’s five Arab trade partners are Iraq with about $5.3 billion worth of exports, followed by the UAE with about $3.7 billion, Oman with exports worth $244 million, followed by Kuwait and Qatar. Piltan said China was Iran’s top export destination.

Iran also joined SCO as a full member

As the Jordan’s King Abdullah II in nearly a decade had his first telephone call with President Assad, mediated by Iraqi PM, Jordan fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria on Wednesday in a boost for the struggling economies of both countries. The move follows a push by Arab states to rehabilitate Syria, which they have shunned during its decade-long civil war. UAE was one of the first to re-establish ties with Damascus.

Sudan had a failed coup

Foreign Minister of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud visited India and met his counterpart Dr S Jaishankar as well as called on PM. This is the first ministerial visit from Saudi Arabia to India since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both Ministers discussed all issues related to their bilateral relationship and regional and international issues of mutual interest. They reviewed the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Council Agreement signed between the two sides during the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to Saudi Arabia in October 2019. They expressed satisfaction at the meetings held under the Agreement and progress achieved. Both sides discussed further steps to strengthen their partnership in trade, investment, energy, defence, security, culture, consular issues, health care and human resources.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephone conversation with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on September 3. Both leaders discussed regional issues of common concern. They agreed that there is no place for terrorism and extremism in the world and stressed the importance of international community standing together against such forces. PM conveyed his best wishes for the Expo 2020 starting October 1 in Dubai in which Indian Pavilion and presence will be remarkable. Later, United Arab Emirates and India have commenced their discussions on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which was announced during the visit of (Sept 27) of Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, who met India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry; Minister of Civil Aviation; Minister of Electronics and Information Technology; and Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance, where the potential for deepening ties in trade, investment, technology and aviation were discussed.

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Interventions by West Asian Leaders during Annual General Debate at UN General Assembly

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during his speech at UN General Assembly mentioned that the foreign policy priorities of the Kingdom are peace, security, stability, supporting dialogue and peaceful solutions. The state is keen to set up conditions for development and achieve the aspirations of people for a better future in the region. Saudi Arabia insisted that it would remain the top international donor contributing US$ 800 million to poorer states to combat COVID-19 crisis. The King mentioned the importance of keeping the region free of weapons of mass destruction by supporting international efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear weaponization programme. He brought up the subject of extremism and expressed its commitment to thwart religion-based violence. On Yemen, he blamed the Houthis for rejecting the peace initiatives offered by the UN to peacefully resolve the conflict.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani speaking at the UN General Assembly urged the international community to engage with the Taliban. He stated that boycotting Taliban would only lead to polarisation and reactions. According to him, there is urgent need for support to the Afghan people during this critical juncture and separate between humanitarian aid and political differences. He mentioned that it is Qatar’s humanitarian duty to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan and push for preserving tangible gains. His speech did not touch upon the conditions of women under Taliban rule.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar called for ending armed conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya. He opined for respecting the sovereignty of Arab states and reaching comprehensive political solutions under the ambit of the UN that remains the only way to end crises in the region. The Foreign Minister insisted that the UAE would utilise its relationship with Israel to stimulate economic growth and advance prosperity and stability for the people in the region. The UAE stressed that the normalisation would eventually benefit the Palestinians who have denounced the agreement. The UAE with regard to Iran stated that any future agreement between the Islamic Republic and world powers on the nuclear programme should involve the states in the region.

Yemen’s internationally recognised government under Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was represented by Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak at the UN General Assembly. He expressed support for the UN led peace process and pointed to Iran’s backing for the Houthis as part of the problem. With regard to COVID-19 crisis, Mubarak pressed on the need for more vaccines arguing that roughly 1 million doses it received is insufficient to vaccinate even the most vulnerable portions of the population.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaking at the UN called the US presence in the West Asian region as lack of rationality and detrimental to oppressed people from Palestine, Syria, Yemen to Afghanistan as well as the US taxpayers. The US sanctions according to Raisi is a new way of war with the nations of the world and a crime against humanity especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Raisi noted that despite sanctions, Tehran Research Reactor has succeeded in producing radiopharmaceuticals for treating cancer patients and developed its own COVID-19 vaccines. Raisi reminded the danger of terrorism and identified the root causes such as identity and economy. He called Israel as the organiser of the biggest state terrorism and suggested holding referendum with participation of all Palestinians of all religions and ethnicities including Muslims, Christians and Jews. Raisi assured that nuclear weapons have no place in its defence and deterrence policy suggesting that production and stockpiling of atomic weapons are forbidden in Iran by religious decree.

Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Fayssal Mekdad during his speech on 27 September reaffirmed the state’s commitment to combat terrorism and restoring security and stability. He mentioned that the state is safe for the refugees to return and all relevant institutions are working towards that goal. He blamed the western states for their hypocritical attitude of pretending to care about the Syrians while extracting benefit from their suffering. He called for stopping cross border aid mechanism from Turkey. Mekdad argued that the US and Turkey while occupying its territories are looting its natural resources.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his speech talked about a more just world for both Turks and Muslims living in the US. He stressed on the possibility of a fairer world to accomplish its goal through cooperation, solidarity and humanity. With regard to Afghanistan, he pointed towards the failure and indifference of the US and asked who would pay the price for their irresponsible behaviour. Erdogan mentioned that his government is ready to engage with Afghanistan if Taliban is willing to form an inclusive government.

Erdogan’s speech at the UN raised eyebrows in India after he mentioned Turkey’s stance to solve the ongoing problem in Kashmir for 74 years through dialogue between parties and within the framework of relevant UN resolutions.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet during his first speech at the UN General Assembly called Israel as a lighthouse in a stormy sea and a beacon of democracy that is diverse by design, innovative by nature and eager to contribute to the world. He identified the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and polarisation as the biggest threat to Israel as well as rest of the world that has weakened public trust in institutions. He elaborated Israel’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 crisis. He mentioned that the state is surrounded by Hezbollah, Shiite militias, Islamic Jihad and Hamas that are backed and funded by Iran. He called by global efforts to halt Iran’s plans to dominate the region through its proxies. He recalled the role of the current Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in killing around 5000 political activists in 1988. Bennett expressed concerns over Iran’s progress in developing its nuclear R&D, production capacity and uranium enrichment levels.

Israeli Prime Minister reiterated that his government would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and hinted that it would do whatever is necessary to halt the nuclear programme. Bennet pushed US President Joe Biden to harden stance against Iran’s nuclear programme and its regional policy.

Algeria’s Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra during his speech called for holding referendum on self-determination for the disputed Western Sahara region. He assured support for the rights of the Sahrawi people and urged the UN to assume their legal responsibilities and guarantee their inalienable rights.

Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi during his speech tried to dispel fear about the political developments in the North African state. President Kais Saied in July 2021 suspended the parliament and consolidated political control. Jerandi argued that the state is facing deeply rooted political polarisation, corruption, socio-economic and health crisis which forced the President to take measures. He argued that the chronic problems facing the state has weakened the democratic process, state institutions and judicial system. The Foreign Minister assured that Saied’s efforts would put the state back on the right path towards democracy. In case of Libya, Tunisia suggested that it is willing to provide support to complete the political track and meet their political and electoral obligations.

Developments in Yemen

In South Yemen, protests erupted in Aden and Hadramawt governorates in mid-September over deteriorating living conditions, widespread poverty and power cuts. The protest turned violent following which security forces fired live ammunition towards protestors killing two in Aden and one died in Mukalla. There were several instances of stone pelting, road blockades and arson by protestors in Khour Maksour, Crater and Sheikh Othman districts.

The street protests have been supported by the Southern Transitional Council (STC) that has called for bigger demonstrations against Abdrabbuh Hadi government. The power-sharing deal between Hadi government and STC brokered by Saudi Arabia has reached a fragile state in the current period.

In northern Yemen, Houthi forces has re-launched offensive in Al Bayda governorate and succeeded in taking key strategic sites in Bayhan district in neighbouring Shabwah governorate. Houthi forces succeeded in claiming control over Ain, Bayhan, Usaylan districts in the Shabwah governorate. In Marib governorate, clashes were reported by Houthis and Hadi government’s forces.

Syrian Conflict

In North West Syria, the Islamist group Ansar Abu Bakr Al Saddiq Brigade attacked a Turkish armoured vehicle using IED on the Bennsh Idlib road killing three Turkish soldiers. At the same time, Russian warplanes conducted airstrikes against Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS) locations in Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama. In separate attacks, HTS killed Syrian and Russian soldiers. On 14 September, three Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) fighters were killed in drone strike.

Israel Palestine Conflict

On 6 September, six Palestinian prisoners including one former leader of Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade and five Islamic Jihad members escaped from Israel’s Gilboa prison. The escape was seen as a major security and intelligence failure. The prisoners dug a hole in the floor of their bathroom leading to a hollow space underneath the prison and reached the outer wall. According to Shin Bet, the prisoners were picked up in a car. The jail-break was seen as a major embarrassment for the Israeli security establishment.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called it a grave incident requiring an across-the-board effort by the security forces. Israeli security forces by 19 September had captured all six prisoners. The last two prisoners were arrested from Jenin. Palestinians in Jenin clashed with Israeli troops and threw stones and explosives at the troops. In other parts of West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians took out marches in support of the prisoners.

Notably, after the first two prisoners were arrested on 11 September, at least one rocket was launched towards Israel which was intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system. Israeli fighter jets conducted retaliatory strikes on Hamas positions in Gaza. There was no reported loss of lives.

Israeli Embassy opens in Bahrain

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Manama on 30 September to inaugurate its embassy. Incidentally, Bahraini air carrier Gulf Air flight made its maiden flight to Israel the same day. Foreign Minister Lapid met with King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa to discuss avenues to further deepen the relations. Bahrain along with the UAE, Sudan and Morocco normalised relations with Israel in 2020. Bahrain considers Iran as an existential threat and engagement with Israel including in the sphere of security could help the Gulf state to ward off Iran’s overtures.

School teachers protest in Iran

School teachers in Iran protested throughout the state in the first week of September demanding better working conditions, better salaries and government action to stop high rates of inflation. Teachers are demanding implementation of a new law for ranking teachers based on their qualifications that would reciprocate in their salary scales. The law has already been passed by the parliament’s education committee. The approval process of the law has been slow likely because it could create a new financial obligation for the Iranian government.