West Asia Roundup: August 2022


Suffering from fury of floods and failings of the economy and fast depleting forex reserves, Islamabad once again reached out to the rich Gulf States who even obliged to bail them out once again. Cryptically, PM Shehbaz Sharif mentioned that whenever they call on friends it is presumed that it is for some help. IMF has already approved $1.2 bn and other tranche is in the pipeline subject to firm guarantees from its reliable creditors to the tune of $ 4bn. The benefactors in Qatar ($ 3bn); Saudi Arabia ($ 1.5bn); UAE ($1bn) conceded during the visit of PM Shehbaz Sharif to Doha on August (24) and that of Army Chief General Bajwa to UAE (August 16) led to averting the crisis in Pakistan partially. General Bajwa was even conferred by UAE’s second highest order recognising his efforts to consolidate bilateral cooperation. It was also reported that deal with Qatar included stationing of Pakistani troops for security during the FIFA world cup. Pakistan and Turkey Trade Ministers also signed a trade facilitation deal.

While the indirect discussions between Tehran and Washington on JCPOA nuclear deal continued to linger there was some hope that there could be positive development given the so called “Final Text’ and serious EV efforts even as Israeli leadership continued to flag its concerns against the deal. But in vain as both sides have reverted to warnings and change in reportedly agreed goal posts and US’s fresh sanctions were seen as non-sincerity by Tehran. It was also reported that Tehran‘s Foreign Minister had conveyed some EU proposal to Moscow in the context of Russia-Ukraine War. Tehran, which displayed its drone power at home, is said to have supplied a significant number to the Russians. In turn Russians launched an Iranian satellite ‘Omar Khayyam’.

In order to assuage some security concerns of the UAE and Saudi Arabia especially in the wake of Houthi’s drone and projectile attacks , President Biden approved the sale of THAAD and Patriot batteries at a total price of over $ 5bn. Congress’s approval is awaited. Meanwhile UAE and Iran decided to exchange Ambassadors and upgrade ties.

In the wake of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, UAE Foreign office issued a statement reiterating ‘One China Principle’ and support for China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while urging diplomatic dialogue for regional and international stability.

Turkey continued with its rapprochement and normalization efforts in the region. During his Sochi Summit meeting with President Putin, the Turkish President agreed to talks with Syrian President Saddam and supported talks between the opposition and government. Turkey hosts over 3.5 mn Syrian refugees, economy is facing headwinds and some understanding on Kurdish issues has likely been reached with Moscow and Tehran.

Iraq continued to face political instability and public protests and demonstrations due to the inability of the Shia blocs to form a government and appoint a Shia PM due to inadequate and divisive election results. Armed clashes between Saraya Salam militia of Muqtada Al Sadr and Hash al Shabi of the Coordination Network led by former PM Maliki lead to breach of Green Zone and the Parliament building but also to the death of 30 Iraqis and several injured. Eventually, Sadr called his supporters to leave and also decided to leave the politics as some other religious leaders chose to give deference to Iranian leader Khamenei. In the wake to the political instability and violence Interim PM Kadhimi threatened to resign but praised the efforts of Sadr to bring back the calm. Situation remains volatile.

President Erdogan also agreed to raise the bilateral diplomatic relations with Israel to the level of Ambassadors which were downgraded due to Israeli killings of some 60 Palestinians four years ago. Oil and gas transit and tourism as well as the Tel Aviv’s access to Washington via Jewish route and efforts by the Israeli President Herzog appear to have contributed to this development.

On August 2, Kuwait‘s noisy politics witnessed yet another dissolution of the Parliament and fresh elections in the last week of September are expected.

Tunis and Rabat became the latest to rupture diplomatic relations for Tunisia’s support and invitation to SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) to attend the 8th Tokyo International conference on African Development (TICAD) during which Japan committed $ 30 bn in developmental assistance for next 3 years.

Militias supporting rival governments in Libya clashed once again breaching the efforts and understandings reached.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, visited UAE from 31 August – 02 September 2022 to co-chairing the 14th India-UAE Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) and 3rd India-UAE Strategic Dialogue with Foreign Minister of UAE H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. These meetings provided an opportunity to both the Ministers to review the entire spectrum of comprehensive strategic partnership between India and UAE and regional and global developments. He also addressed the UAE young diplomats at the Diplomatic Academy. Both India and UAE are committed to move forward in their partnership in diverse areas, including trade, investment, conventional and renewable energy, food security, health, skill development, education, culture, defence, space, consular issues and people-to-people ties. These areas were also discussed at official levels during the meetings of the Sub-Committees of the JCM held on 23-24 August 2022. India and UAE have also recently signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) as well as the leaders of the two countries attended the first ever I2U2 Summit.

Indian Minister of Ports, shipping and Waterways Shri Sarbananda Sonowal visited Iran and UAE. In Iran he also visited the Chabahar Port especially the Shahid Beheshti port where he handed over six mobile cranes. He also met Vice President Mohammed Mokhber apart from his counterpart. A MoU on mutual recognition of Sea Farers certificate was also signed.

India and Oman completed the joint military exercises Al Najaf IV.

OIC ‘s unwanted and mischievous statement on the 3rd anniversary of revocation of Art 370 was termed as reeking of bigotry by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs further reiterating that Jammu & Kashmir is and will remain an integral and inalienable part of India.

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Pakistan Receives Financial Assistance Package from Gulf States

Pakistan has reached out to the US, China and the Gulf states to secure financial assistance and overcome the dire economic situation facing the state. International Monetary Fund (IMF) while approving an instalment of US$ 1.2 billion has asked Islamabad to provide firm guarantees from its allies to receive additional US$ 4 billion for its external requirements. Pakistan has been in talks with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China to receive assistance. Riyadh has agreed to bail out and help Islamabad to fulfil the conditions by the IMF. Saudi Arabia and IMF discussed the possibility of Pakistan borrowing up to US$ 2.8 billion against Riyadh’s quota of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) after Saudi Arabia’s decision to renew US$ 3 billion deposit at the State Bank of Pakistan. Saudi Arabia also announced investment worth US$ 1 billion in Pakistani economy.

The Pakistani Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa has acted as the interlocutor between the civilian government and Gulf States in seeking financial assistance. He visited Riyadh on 15 August and interacted with the Saudi political leadership. Pakistani Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on 18 August announced that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar would provide US$ 4 billion to bridge gap in foreign reserves. Pakistan has fulfilled one of the conditions of the IMF by lifting ban on luxury or non-essential items.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also visited Qatar on 23 August and met with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Following the visit, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) promised to invest US$ 3 billion to help the state’s economy.

TICAD Conference in Tunis

Tunisia on 27 August hosted the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) launched by Japan to promote growth and security in the African states. The conference was attended by 30 heads of state, representatives of international and regional organisations, business leaders etc. The conference identified the current challenges in terms of economic consequences from the COVID-19 crisis; Russia-Ukraine crisis induced food crisis and climate change which has deeply affected the African states. It emphasised on increasing Japanese investments in the continent especially in the arena of start-ups and food security initiatives. Japan has promised aid worth US$ 30 billion to be delivered over three years for development in African states. Tokyo has promised to provide US$ 130 million in food aid and offer assistance for the production of rice.

The first TICAD summit was hosted by Japan in 1993. The current TICAD conference is co-organised with the United Nations (UN); African Union (AU) and the World Bank. The summits have led to 26 development projects in 20 African states. The eighth TICAD Conference has occurred in the backdrop of China’s Belt and Road initiative and seen as Japan’s challenge to growing Chinese influence.

The selection of Tunis as the conference host has been controversial due to Tunisia’s breakdown in democratic transition after President Kais Saeed suspended the cabinet and the parliament. The Tunisian government also restricted the reporting and information around the summit.

Notably, the representative of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali participated in the conference. It prompted angry response from Morocco that controls the Western Sahara region. Rabat reacted by recalling its ambassador to Tunisia and boycotted the event. The Moroccan government clarified that the boycott does not in any way “call into question the commitment of the Kingdom of Morocco to the interests of Africa”.

Israeli Strikes in Gaza

Israeli forces launched three days of pre-emptive airstrikes against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) between 5 and 7 August. The operation codenamed, “Breaking Dawn” was initiated to curb alleged planned rocket attacks by PIJ. IDF launched 147 airstrikes against PIJ targets. PIJ also retaliated by sending around 1100 rockets towards the Israeli territory. In West Bank, Israeli forces arrested PIJ leader Bassam al-Saadi and 20 others. IDF also carried out targeted killing of Tayseer Jabari, a prominent leader of the group. The Israeli operation led to deaths of at least 49 Palestinians including 17 children. The military operation is likely to benefit the Naftali Bennet-Yair Lapid Coalition facing fresh election in November 2022 to quell criticism from Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters about their position of Palestinian insurgency.

Israeli and US Strikes in Syria

In late August, the US forces carried number of operation against Iran backed militias in Syrian territory in the background of the final stage of JCPOA negotiations with Iran. US President Joe Biden justified the killing of four fighters in eastern Syria on 23 August in Deir Az Zor by suggesting that it was necessary to protect its forces from attacks by Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). Tehran has denied connection with these groups and demanded the US forces to withdraw from Syria. The US strikes attacked a facility used by these militias for logistics and ammunition storage. The militias have retaliated by launching rocket attacks at two military bases in northeast Syria leading to minor injuries by US service personnel.

Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in late August carried out missile strikes at a large Syrian military facility in Masyaf that housed huge amount of medium-range missiles for Iran backed fighters. IDF’s main target was the arms depot containing around 1000 precision guided medium range missiles. IDF also attacked Aleppo airport on 31 August causing material damage. Israel reportedly targeted the runway and depots that contained missiles provided by Iran. The US Air Force senior official, Lieutenant-General Alexus Grynkewich, noted that they are aware of Israel’s military actions but emphasised that there is no connection between the IDF actions and US airstrikes.

US-Israel Mutual Interests

The US President Joe Biden speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on 31 August reiterated their joint commitment to deter the Islamic Republic of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The US also reaffirmed its unequivocal support for Israel and its security. The US and Israel in mid-July had signed joint declaration committing to prevent Iran to develop nuclear arsenal. The US noted that all elements of its national power available will be used to deny Iran the ability to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Israel has been a staunch opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal that reopened Iran’s economy after lifting sanctions while reducing uranium enrichment. Israel welcomed the suspension of the nuclear deal by Donald Trump administration. Tel Aviv is cautiously watching the renewed nuclear deal talks after Joe Biden took office in January 2021. It has indicated its intention to take unilateral military and espionage actions against Iranian targets and figures to thwart its nuclear weapons programme.

Palestinian Prisoner on Hunger Strike to be Released

Palestinian prisoner, Khalil Awawdeh held by Israel without charge or trial has suspended his hunger strike that lasted 172 days after eventually receiving the order of release. Awawdeh started his hunger strike shortly after his arrest in December 2021 to protest against administrative detention, a practise used by Israeli law enforcement agencies to detain Palestinian without charge or trial. The detainees are arrested on ‘secret evidence’ without providing proof of accusations and they are prohibited from defending themselves in court. They are held for renewable six month periods that usually lead to years in detention. Israel had initially arrested Awawdeh on suspicion of being an operative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Awawdeh’s likely release on 2 October has been seen as a legal win by Palestinians living in the occupied territories. A large number of Palestinian youth are currently languishing in Israeli prisons without charge or trial. The European Union (EU) called for the release of the prisoner in late August. Awawdeh will remain in hospital until he has completely recovered.

Turkey and Israel Restore Ties

Turkey and Israel on 17 August agreed to restore full diplomatic ties and both sides agreed to return their ambassadors in the coming months. Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan held conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. The relations downgraded after both states expelled ambassadors over the killing of 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces on Gaza border to protest against opening of US embassy in Jerusalem in 2018. President Erdogan in the past had called Israel as ‘terrorist state’.

In the context of Russia-Ukraine conflict, Turkey is trying to reassess its strategic priority by moving closer to its NATO allies and nurturing warm ties with Israel. Ankara at the same time hosted Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on 23 August and assured that restoring ties with Israel will not weaken Turkey’s support for the Palestinian cause.

Political Unrest in Iraq

Iraq in August witnessed intense turmoil due to the stalemate in forming government by leading political parties. The Sadrist bloc led by influential Shiite cleric, Muqtada Al Sadr emerged as the largest party in the October 2021 parliamentary election winning 73 seats. The Sadrist bloc along with Sunni parties and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) has attempted to prove its majority and appoint a new President. Muqtada Al Sadr’s rivalry with Iran backed parties such as Fatah Alliance; State of Law etc. working under the umbrella of the Coordination Framework (CF) have prohibited the formation of consensus government approved by all the Shiite parties similar to previous government formation process post elections in 2010; 2014 and 2018.

The Sadrist bloc in early 2022 failed to elect a new President due to lack of parliamentary quorum. The bloc resigned from parliament in June and challenged the CF to form government. According to Iraqi constitution, in case of resignation of any parliamentary member, the candidate with second highest votes could take over the seat. The Iran backed CF along with its allies nominated Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani as new Prime Minister in mid-July. Sadr in response mobilised his supporters to storm the parliament on 27 and 31 July and stall the nomination of Al-Sudani. The Sadrist supporters conducted sit-ins outside the parliament throughout August demanding fresh election. Sadr also sought judicial intervention to dissolve the parliament. The Judiciary however responded by suggesting that it cannot intervene in parliamentary procedures. Sadr has remained adamant over his demand for a fresh election. On 29 August, Sadr frustrated with the political process announced his resignation. The Sadrist supporters carrying out sit-ins outside government buildings clashed with CF supporters leading to at least 30 deaths and 700 injuries. Sadr in order to calm the situation urged his supporters to vacate the Green Zone and condemned violence in all its forms. Currently, the state continues to remain in a state of political limbo due to stubborn position of the leading political parties complicated by ethno-sectarian democratic system.

Renewed Clashes in Libya

The militias backed by Libya’s rival governments clashed in late August killing at least 32 and injuring 159 people. The clashes between rival militias had subsided for around two years since the Berlin Dialogue. The fighting has raised fears about dragging the oil-rich state towards a new civil war. The standoff has placed Tripoli based Government of National Unity under Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Tobruk based government under Fathi Bashagha backed by Khalifa Haftar at odds towards arriving at a political solution. The Tripoli based government blamed the latest round of conflict on fighters supported by Tobruk that fired a convoy in the capital city. Hamid Dbeibah has accused Bashagha of backing out of talks to resolve the crisis. The Tobruk based politicians have argued that Tripoli based GNU’s mandate has expired. Dbeibah has however assured to hand over power only to an elected government.

Emmanuel Macron’s Visit to Algeria

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Algiers between 25 to 27 August to re-invigorate the ties with the former colony. Algeria recently marked six decades of independence after 132 years of French rule. In the light of Russia-Ukraine conflict, European states are seeking to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and replace with alternative sources including from Algeria. Algeria at the same time intends to establish itself as a major gas producer.

Both sides in the joint declaration “decided to open a new era in laying the foundation for a renewed partnership expressed through a concrete and constructive approach, focussed on future projects and youth”. Macron mentioned that plans to allow additional Algerian students to study in France in 2022. Notably, he also announced the creation of a joint commission of historians to evaluate and examine the colonial period and the war of liberation. Both states discussed about political situation, the Sahel region and Western Sahara.

The relations between both states became sour after Macron questioned the existence of Algeria prior to the French occupation and accused Abdelmadjid Tebboune government of spreading ‘hatred towards France’. France also reduced the number of visas granted to the citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Algeria responded by accusing France of committing genocide and recalled its ambassador on 2 October 2021. Algeria also prohibited French military aircrafts from using its airspace. The situation has currently normalised and Algeria has re-allowed French aircrafts to reach its military bases in sub-Saharan Africa.

US Reinstates Ambassador to Sudan

In signs of improved relations, the US has sent its first Ambassador to Khartoum after a gap of 25 years. Sudan’s ties with the US were tense during the three decade rule under Omar Al-Bashir. Sudan was listed as state sponsoring terrorism in 1993 and faced widespread sanctions. Reportedly, the founder of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden stayed in Sudan between 1992 and 1996.

The newly appointed US ambassador to Sudan, John Godfrey writing on Twitter hoped to deepen ties between both states and aid Sudanese people’s aspirations to freedom, peace and justice. Sudan following the UAE’s approach normalised relations with Israel that led to removal of number of US sanctions. The return to civilian authority under Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok played a key role in thawing the relations with the US. The democratic transition process in Sudan has reached a roadblock after Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan usurped power in October 2021.