Gulf Arabs relish Tillerson firing; Iran weighs nuclear deal

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walks down a hallway after speaking at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Gulf Arabs relish Tillerson firing; Iran weighs nuclear deal

DUBAI: Reactions in the Middle East on Wednesday to the firing of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reflect the volatile divide between Iran, where many fear his departure heralds the demise of the 2015 nuclear deal, and Gulf Arab nations hoping for a more hawkish US stance toward Tehran and Qatar.
There was no immediate response from officials in the region. But Iran’s daily Javan newspaper, believed to be close to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard, said that replacing Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo signaled the end of the nuclear deal.
President Donald Trump’s appointment of Pompeo places an ardent foe of the deal in charge of US diplomacy as the administration debates whether to withdraw from the agreement. Tillerson had pushed Trump to remain, and had been pursuing a delicate strategy with European allies and others to try to improve or augment the Obama-era deal.
“For quitting the deal his dumping was necessary,” Javan said.
That would be welcome news for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view Iran as a regional menace. They have also pushed Washington to take a harder line on Qatar, which they and other Arab nations have boycotted since last year, accusing it of supporting extremist groups and cozying up to Iran. Tillerson had sought to mediate the crisis among the US allies.
In the UAE on Wednesday, the English-language Khaleej Times borrowed from the US president’s show-biz days for its headline: “YOU’RE FIRED!” Saudi Arabia’s English-language Arab News had the same headline.
Another English-language newspaper, the state-aligned The National newspaper of Abu Dhabi, offered an editorial saying Tillerson’s firing would “surprise few,” pointing to his disagreement with Trump over Qatar.
The UAE, along with Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, cut off land, sea and air routes to Qatar in June 2017. Qatar, which has backed Islamist opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, has denied supporting extremists. It shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.
Trump has at times appeared to side with Qatar’s rivals in the dispute, while Tillerson had projected a more neutral stance.
“While Mr. Tillerson shortsightedly urged Saudi Arabia and allies in the quartet to end their boycott of Qatar, Mr. Trump named Doha ‘a funder of terrorism at a very high level,’” The National’s editorial page said.
Faisal J. Abbas, the editor-in-chief of the Arab News, similarly said Tillerson’s mishandling of the Middle East “turned the region into his political graveyard.” Abbas wrote that Tillerson’s handling of the Qatar dispute proved the former ExxonMobil CEO was “’full of gas’ more than anything else.”
“Is there reason to believe Doha had influence over Tillerson? Was he really biased toward Qatar?” Abbas wrote in a front-page editorial. “Or was he surrounded by so many State Department officials still stuck in the Obama era that they undermined his ability to act? None of this matters now.”
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati professor of political science, called Tillerson “the worst foreign minister in the history of America” on Twitter. He also implied Gulf Arab unhappiness with Tillerson led to his ouster.
“History will remember that a Gulf state had a role in expelling the foreign minister of a superpower and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote.
Kuwait, which has sought to broker an end to the Qatar crisis, offered no immediate comment, though a local newspaper described Tillerson’s departure as striking “like an earthquake” in a headline.


Israeli planes strike Hamas targets in Gaza

Updated 18 June 2018
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Israeli planes strike Hamas targets in Gaza

  • The attacks targeted two Hamas military sites and a munitions manufacturing site
  • “Fire balloons” and kites carrying flammable material have become symbols of the Palestinian border protests in recent months

JERUSALEM: Israeli warplanes on Monday conducted strikes against nine Hamas “military targets” in the northern Gaza Strip in response to incendiary kites being sent into Israeli territory, the army said.
The attacks targeted two Hamas military sites and a munitions manufacturing site, the military said in a statement, without specifying whether the raids had resulted in casualties.
“Fire balloons” and kites carrying flammable material have become symbols of the Palestinian border protests in recent months.
The Israeli army on Saturday wounded two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attempting to launch incendiary balloons across the border into Israel, officials said.
Since major border protests broke out at the end of March, more than 300 fires have devastated several thousand hectares of fields and shrubland, the Israeli fire service has said.
According to Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, 400 kites have been intercepted from some 600 launched since the start of the recent protests.
At least 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire in the same time span. No Israelis have been killed.
Palestinians are calling to return to the homes their families fled or were forced from in 1948 during the war surrounding the creation of Israel.
The Gaza Strip is controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas which Israel considers its chief enemy.
The two sides have fought three wars since 2008 and observe a tense cease-fire.