West Asia Round Up – January 2022


On 29th January, India and Israel celebrated their 30th anniversary of establishment of full diplomatic relations. While Israeli PM Naftali Bennet called it a “Gehri Dosti’ -a deep friendship, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for ‘time to set new goals’ to take the ties to next level. He underscored the strong relationship between people of India and Israel for centuries. But now in the changing global context the importance of the bilateral relations has increased even more, he added. External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and his Israeli counterpart wrote an op-ed terming the relationship as an ‘ideal duo’ while identifying newer areas of cooperation under the caption ‘Namaste Shalom to friendship’. Israel is the original start up nation and India has the third largest start-up eco-system. Referring to the ‘New Quad’ and especially to the strategic change in the Middle East, they added that ‘the past year, we harnessed those new relationships into a quadrilateral group with India, Israel, UAE ad USA coming together to execute new projects.’ Both sides agreed to expedite the conclusion on the Free Trade agreement (FTA). Another one is being discussed with UAE.

UAE came under drone and missile attacks from the Houthis during the month which called for condemnation by many countries in the world and the UAE beefed up its security as US and Israel also extended support to Abu Dhabi. Two Indians were also killed. UAE Foreign Minister spoke to his Indian counterpart and conveyed condolences and assured of the safety of Indians in the Emirates. EAM conveyed India’s strong solidarity with UAE in the face of such an attack. Given its principled position against terrorism, India will stand with UAE in international forums on this issue. Both India and UAE are currently non-permanent members of the UNSC. UAE also demanded that Houthis be redesignated as the terrorist organisation yet again while pursuing the military option in response.
PM Naftali Bennet visited UAE in December amongst a host of exchanges since the signing of the Abraham Accords. This was followed by a visit by the Israeli President Issac Herzog (January 30-31) to have bilateral discussions with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as well as to visit the Dubai Expo 2020 where Israel has been participating.

On 30thJanuary, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim was invited to meet President Biden at the White House. Biden conferred a unique status on Qatar of a major ‘Non-NATO ally’ as the supplies of LNG and gas to Europe was discussed as Russia-Ukraine crisis deepens. They also discussed situation in the region as Qatar has been mediating between US and Iran on the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) and has been a major partner in Afghanistan. Earlier Qatari Foreign Minister visited Tehran to discuss bilateral and regional ties.
PM Modi’s visits to UAE and Kuwait had to be postponed due to Omicron spread. In 2022 these would have been the first foreign tours of the PM.

More details;
Houthi’s Actions against the UAE

Houthi group in January has intensified its aggressive campaign directly against the UAE. On 3 January, Houthi forces seized an Emirati vessel, Rwabee near the coast of Hodeidah and took seven Indians as hostages. Houthis claimed that the vessel was carrying military supplies. The group launched ballistic missiles and drones at an oil refinery in Abu Dhabi’s Musaffah Industrial city on 17 January killing two Indians and one Pakistani national. The UAE intercepted missiles on 24 January and 31 January during the visit by the Israeli President Issac Herzog. During the 31 January attack, the US responded by launching interceptor missiles.
The Houthi attacks on the UAE indicate the growing frustration after setbacks during ground offensive. The UAE backed Giant Brigades comprising of southern Yemenis and part of the Joint Forces have tilted the power balance in favour of the Hadi government since December 2021. The government-aligned forces have reclaimed the entire Shabwa governorate and forced out Houthi fighters.

Israeli President Visits the UAE

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the UAE on 30 January. He re-affirmed support for Emirates’ security needs and called for working together to find ways and means to bring full security to people in the region. The Israeli President has urged more regional states to join its détente with Arab states. Notably, the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit the UAE. Both states have widened the spheres of cooperation including defence tech; security and intelligence support since the Abraham Accords.

The Israeli President met with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and discussed about mutual security issues as well as bilateral relations. The Crown Prince mentioned that both states share common view of the threatsposed by militias and terrorist groups to regional stability and peace. The Houthis launched series of ballistic missiles towards Abu Dhabi and drones towards Dubai during the visit by Israeli President. The missiles were however intercepted by Emirati authorities.

Qatar’s Diplomatic Overtures towards Iran and the US

Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on 27 January visited Tehran and met with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. Qatar in the background of regional competition has maintained steady ties with Iran. Both states have maintained regular communication and prior to the visit, foreign ministers discussed about regional issues and arenas of bilateral engagement. According to government sources, the discussions mostly focussed on the situation in Yemen and Afghanistan.

The visit by the Foreign Minister to Iran was followed by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s trip to the US on 30 January. In light of JCPOA talks with Iran and the developments in Afghanistan, Qatar has occupied a critical role in the US Foreign Policy. President Joe Biden during the Emir’s visit designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally formally upgrading the partnership between both states. Qatar has served as US’ diplomatic representative to deliberate with Taliban leadership in Kabul. Qatar could also ensure stability of global energy supplies in case of full-fledged conflict between Russia and NATO forces. Qatar while maintaining cordial ties with Iran also hosts US army’s Central Command in the region. It is therefore seeking to de-escalate and eventually dilute tensions between US-Saudi axis and Iran. The visits by Qatari leaders to Iran and the US indicate that the Gulf monarchy is attempting to mediate to finalise the JCPOA and de-escalate regional tensions.

Uncertainty in Sudan

The political situation in Sudan continued to remain fragile after Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok resigned on 3 January. Hamdok was ousted in a coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in late October 2021. The military in response to international pressure and street protests re-instated Hamdok and his transitional cabinet under a compromise agreement. The agreement called for a technocratic cabinet until election in 2023. However, the power-sharing has not been clearly defined. The street protests continued in several cities calling the political deal as tool to legitimise military control and demanded full civilian rule. The military’s harsh response to the street protests has led to number of deaths and injuries. The military effectively controls the government after Hamdok’s resignation.

The UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) has been attempting to resolve the political crisis by discussing with Sudanese factions. Sudanese protestors however rejected the UN approach calling it external intervention.

Attack on Baghdad Airport

The US diplomatic missions, air and military bases have been attacked on several occasions since the killing of Qassem Soleimani and Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) Commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January 2020. Iran-backed armed groups have vowed revenge and threatened to continue attacks till the US troops exit the state. Earlier in July 2021, the US and Iraq agreed in fourth and final round of strategic dialogue agreed to troop withdrawal by end of 2021.
On 13 January, the US Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone was attacked wounding two civilians. The three rockets landed on the perimeter of the US Embassy and one hit a schoolin Al-Qadisiyah residential complex. In Anbar, Iraqi military base hosting US troops was attack with rockets. On 28 January, rocket attacks were carried at the Baghdad International Airport adjacent to the US airbase called Camp Victory.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

Omar Abdulmajeed Assad, an elderly Palestinian man with US passport was killed during arrest and assault by Israeli forces in Jiljilya village near Ramallah. The Israeli forces while carrying military raid stopped Assad’s car and dragged him on the ground causing heart attack. The US President expressed concerns after Assad’s death and called for thorough criminal investigation and full accountability. The US State Department and Congress members from Wisconsin placed pressure on Israel to investigate the matter.
In a rare acknowledgement, the Israeli Army called Assad’s death as a result of moral failure and poor decision making. The battalion commander of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion was reprimanded and the platoon and company commanders were stripped of their commands and prohibited from serving in commanding roles for two years. Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi called it a careless act that is contrary to the values of Israel Defence Force.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) welcoming the decision but emphasised on broader accountability to ensure justice for all Palestinians. The PA spokesperson pointed out that only reason Israeli authorities pursued the investigation is due to the US pressure.

In early January, more than Palestinian administrative detainees held without trial launched boycott of Israeli military courts by refusing to show up for court sessions. The prisoners are boycotting in solidarity with one detainee on hunger strike. The military courts are seen as legal tool of oppression in which the results are predetermined by the military commander of the region.