West Asia Round up-June 2022


One of the most important aspects during the month was engaging and hectic diplomatic activity and high level visits.

Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman visited Jordan, Egypt and Turkey (June 20-22) essentially aiming at rapprochement and reconciliation as well as to garner participation at the July GCC +++ Summit with President Biden. Turkish President Erdogan had taken the initiative to intensify and reinforce partnership with Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Cairo pursuant to domestic economic challenges and external developments.

Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi received his Venezuelan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan counterparts and discussed ways of enhanced cooperation. With President Maduro of Venezuela (a sore for the Americans and as sanctioned as the Iranians) Tehran signed a 20 years cooperation plan. Maduro also visited Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait and Algeria. Also in a bid to restart to JCPOA talks and in view of the pressing energy security and crisis, the EU’s foreign policy Chief Josep Borrel visited Tehran. It was agreed to hold talks in Doha though not much hope was evidenced.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian visited India and discussed among others the operations of transit routes relating to INSTC (North South Transport Corridor), Chabahar and Caspian Sea for the Russian cargo among other issues. He met Dr Jaishankar EAM and NSA Ajit Doval. He also called on PM Modi. India abstained on an IAEA Resolution that was critical of Iran.

Iraqi PM Kadhimi visited Riyadh and Tehran in a bid to restart talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Algeria suspended its two decades old Friendship Treaty with Spain on account of Madrid’s pro Morocco stance over Western Sahara. Also it stopped all imports that might even impact the oil and gas exports.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim in his first visit to Cairo conferred with President Sisi. Ties were tensed during the blockade for nearly four years between the two countries. He also received second time the National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun of UAE.

PM Naftali Bennet paid a surprise visit to UAE to meet Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. Also President Herzog paid a visit to Jordan to meet King Abdullah II in Amman. Probably the visits were aimed at framing up some elements of the proposed security architecture during the visit of Biden. Of course the bilateral and regional dimensions of the relationships are equally frayed and important. Israeli ruling coalition lost majority and the Knesset was dissolved paving way for 5th elections in a short period. Yair Lapid took over as the interim PM.

Turkey changed its official name to “Turkiye” which was accepted by the UN. Turkey also lifted its objections after consultations with Sweden and Finland on their application to join NATO. At the same time it also provided a list of wanted Turks to be extradited. Israeli Foreign Minister also visited Turkey.

Hamas restored ties with Syria. EU President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Ramallah and promised to provide all assistance and restore full funding to the Palestinian Authority.

Returning from G7 Summit in Germany, PM Modi visited UAE to express his personal condolences on the demise of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed and to meet and congratulate his friend the new President Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed. This was his 4th visit to the Emirate and as a special gesture PM Modi was received by the Emirati leader and the meetings were held at the airport itself when a Joint Vision statement was also issued.

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu visited Qatar (June 4-5) and held meetings with the Qatari leadership and business community. Unfortunately, the visit was clouded by the controversy generated as a result of some remarks against Prophet Mohamed by a Spokesperson of the ruling party. This had witnessed protests by several countries however; Indian government’s stance and action taken by the BJP were broadly accepted by the countries in the region. OIC also issued a statement condemning the incident and statement which was rejected by India. Kuwait even apprehended and deported those protesting on the streets against India.

India -Saudi Arabia Joint Committee on Defence Cooperation met. India and Egypt held joint air defence exercises. INS Kochi also made port of call on a goodwill mission to Red Sea port of Safaga.

More details …..
Indian Prime Minister’s visit to UAE

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 28 June visited the UAE with aims to deepen engagement with the Gulf state. This was Prime Minister’s fourth visit to the Gulf state which is a crucial energy provider for India. Prime Minister during the meeting with President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan conveyed his condolences on death of the preceding President and Emir of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Earlier in February 2022 Prime Minister Modi and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held summit and both leaders signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The two leaders issued Joint Vision Statement titled “Advancing India and UAE Comprehensive Strategic Partnership: New Frontiers, New Milestones.” Narendra Modi during his latest visit reviewed the progress of the comprehensive partnership.

Iranian Foreign Minister’s Visit to India

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on 8 June visited India at the invitation of External affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar. The Foreign Minister met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. During the meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister, both leaders discussed whole range of issues such as measures to improve political, cultural and people-to-people ties. India praised Iran’s role in facilitating India’s medical assistance to Afghanistan including supply of COVID-19 vaccines for Afghans living in Iran. They also talked about increasing regional connectivity and reviewed the progress made in Shahid Beheshti terminal, Chahbahar port. India is hopeful that Chahbahar port could provide sea access to Afghanistan. It can also be transformed into a commercial transit hub for Central Asian states. Indian Ministry of External Affairs has reported that teams from both states will meet in near future to evaluate the operational aspects. The Iranian Minister informed his counterpart about the progress in JCPOA talks and exchanged views on Russia-Ukraine conflict.

New IRGC Chief Appointed

Iranian government appointed Mohammad Kazemi, the former head of Intelligence Protection Organisation as the new chief of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. (IRGC). Kazemi has replaced Hossein Taeb who according to Israeli media was behind the Iranian plot to kill or abduct Israeli tourists in Turkey. Israel in June has issued travel advisory to its citizens to avoid travelling to Turkey who could get killed or abducted as part of its retaliation policy.

Notably, in June, two Iranians working in the aerospace industry were killed in separate incidents during their active duty. One of the victims, Ali Kamani was part of IRGC’s aerospace division in Khomein who died in a “driving accident” during an unspecified mission. Earlier in the month, Mohammad Abdous was also killed during a mission. Both victims have been labeled as martyrs indicating that their deaths were linked to foreign powers. In early June, one IRGC Quds Force colonel, Ali Esmaelzadeh was also killed in an accident.

In related news, Iran tested Zuljanah satellite launcher for research purposes. The satellite vehicle was launched with a suborbital target which would be used to collect data from the launch.

Iran Nuclear Talks

Iran hosted the European Union (EU)’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on 25 June. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian during the meeting with EU foreign policy chief agreed to resume nuclear talks with the US. Iran expressed its desire to restore the 2015 nuclear accord and mentioned that it hoped the US will responsibly and fairly engage to reach final point of the agreement. Borrell also hoped to resume the talks to restore the nuclear deal that would benefit the region and the world. Meanwhile, Qatar played host to indirect talks between the US and Iran to salvage the JCPOA. The talks after number of rounds ended without any progress in June last week.

Qatari Emir’s Visit to Cairo

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visited Egypt on 24 June after years of cold relations including Cairo’s support for 2017 boycott of Doha due to alleged claims of backing terrorism. Qatar also opposed the 2013 military coup by Abdel Fatah Al Sisi to topple the democratically elected government under Mohammad Morsi. After the failure of the 2017 boycott and thaw in relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar has sought to re-engage with the largest Arab state. In the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and resulting food insecurity and economic downturn in Egypt, Qatar provided US$ 5 billion as investment to improve the economy. Both sides discussed about the key regional issues; measures to improve bilateral and economic relations. The visit by the Qatari Emir was the first since the 2021 declaration to normalize ties with Doha. Notably, the Qatari Emir and the Egyptian President met on the sidelines of Glasgow Climate change summit and Beijing Winter Olympics.

Saudi Crown Prince’s Visit to Egypt, Jordan and Turkey

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the first leg of the regional tour visited Cairo and met with President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi. Egypt has been a close ally of Saudi Arabia and supported its war in Yemen and 2017 Qatar blockade. Both leaders shared their views about regional and global politics and talked about measures to combat terrorism.

In Jordan, Saudi Crown Prince met with King Abdullah II. Jordan is facing the economic consequences of Russia-Ukraine conflict and the COVID-19 crisis. Jordan is seeking to jointly carry out economic projects and new investments. Saudi Arabia had committed investment worth US$ 3 billion, however it remained stalled. Therefore, the recent visit could unlock the investment projects aiding the Jordanian economy. Jordan and Saudi Arabia has closely coordinated on security issues. Jordan has refused to wholeheartedly back Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Ankara and met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aiming to fully normalize ties after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia is seeking to utilize its economic reserves and oil production capacity to ease tensions with Turkey and in fact offered financial aid that could help Turkey’s economy ahead of presidential election in 2023. Saudi Arabia is hoping that trip could lead to full normalization and restoration of ties. Both states have lifted restrictions on trade, flight connectivity and TV screenings.

Israeli Foreign Minister’s Visit to Turkey

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Turkey on 23 June in an attempt to boost their bilateral relations. Israel is worried about the attacks on its citizens in Turkey by Iranian spies. Turkey has assured about the safety of all visitors and stressed on its commitment to fight against terrorism. Israel has appreciated Turkish cooperation in foiling Iranian operations. Turkey on official level has avoided taking sides between Iran and Israel but only mentioned that it will not allow any kinds of operations on its soil.

On bilateral level, Turkey enjoyed close diplomatic and strategic ties with Israel which was disrupted in 2010 after Israeli forces attacked Turkish flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Turkey in the recent years has been highly critical of Israeli policies in occupied Palestinian territories. Israel has also criticized Turkey for supporting Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel Government Collapse

Israel’s coalition government made up of eight ideologically distinct political parties has collapsed in June 2022. The coalition government was formed in 2021 to deter Benjamin Netanyahu to return to power. The coalition government had weak majority since its formation. In recent months, few Members of Knesset withdrew their support due to political reasons leading to dissolution of the Knesset. The Jewish state will witness fifth election in three years in November 2022.

Iraqi Parliamentarians Resign

On 12 June, 73 members of parliament belonging to nationalist Shiite bloc under influential cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr resigned, complicating the political impasse in Iraq. During the October 2021 parliamentary election, the Sadrist Movement secured the highest number of seats at 73 in the 329 seat parliament. The Sadrist movement political agenda is based on Iraqi nationalism and opposition to external involvement including the US and Iran.

After the October 2021 election, the political factions failed to agree on the appointment of a new Prime Minister, reserved for member of Sunni community. According to Iraqi laws, if any seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate that secures the second highest number of votes in their electoral district would replace them. The resignation of Sadrist MPs however empowered the pro-Iran Shiite factions and their allies such as the Coordination Framework with current majority at 122 seats.

Iraqi Prime Minister’s Visit to Iran

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on 26 June visited Tehran and met with President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein. Both sides discussed about removing barriers on financial transactions, facilitating religious pilgrimages and railroad connectivity between Shalamcheh in Iran and Basra in Iraq. Al-Kadhimi prior to his visit to Iran met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Notably Iraq since 2021 has served as the mediating ground for Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has hosted series of meetings to resolve all outstanding issues between the two regional powers. In Saudi Arabia, both sides discussed about measures to support and strengthen regional security and stability. Raisi and al-Kadhimi during the press conference in Tehran did not specifically mention Saudi Arabia. They however talked about improving ties across the region. The Iranian President warned about normalizing ties with Israel as well as presence of foreign powers that would aggravate the problems in the region. Iran agreed with Iraq’s views on ending the Yemen conflict and both sides have supported UN negotiated truce in Yemen.

Iraqi Court Sentences British man to 15 year in Prison

An Iraqi court in Baghdad on 6 June sentenced a British tourist, Jim Fitton to 15 year in prison on charges of smuggling artefacts out of the state. Fitton is a retired geologist and was arrested at Baghdad airport on 20 March 2022 after security officials discovered 12 fragments of pottery and other shards in his possession. The artefacts were picked during a group tourism expedition in Eridu, a Mesopotamian site, in Dhi Qar province. The court dismissed Fitton’s claim that the items were collected as souvenirs and he was unaware of Iraqi laws and the value of the said artefacts. Besides, the British citizen, one German national, Volker Waldmann was also arrested. Waldmann while carrying the artefacts did not collect them from the site. The court found that he did not have criminal intent and announced his release. The verdict reflects the sensitivity attached to ancient artefacts which were willfully plundered and transported during colonial period by western powers.