Hariri: ‘Promising summer’ for Lebanon after Saudi travel warning lifted

Saad Al-Hariri, above, said Saudi Arabia lifting the warning will greatly increase the number of Saudi tourists in Lebanon. (AFP/File)
Updated 24 April 2019

Hariri: ‘Promising summer’ for Lebanon after Saudi travel warning lifted

  • Saudi Arabia started warning its citizens of the instability in Lebanon in 2011
  • Lebanese PM Al-Hariri hopes for a series of agreements with Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT: More people have visited Lebanon since Saudi Arabia lifted its travel warning in February, pointing to a “promising summer” ahead, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said on Wednesday.
A fall in visitors from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies has hit Lebanon’s tourism industry, once a mainstay of a now-battered economy that Hariri’s new government has pledged to revive.
Saudi Arabia was once a major supporter both of its political allies in Beirut, chiefly Hariri, and of the Lebanese state. However, mindful of its overarching rivalry with Iran, Riyadh stepped back as Iran’s Lebanese ally, the political and military Hezbollah movement, grew in strength.
Saudi Arabia had been advising its citizens since 2011 to avoid Lebanon, citing Hezbollah’s influence and instability from the war in neighboring Syria.
“Without doubt the Saudi leadership’s decision ... had the most impact in increasing the number of visitors to Lebanon recently, which gives the best proof of a promising summer,” Hariri said at a Beirut conference attended by the head of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman humanitarian center.
Hariri also said he hoped that a pledge from Riyadh to help Lebanese families in need would spark a series of agreements between the two countries.
With pillars of the economy such as tourism and real estate in the doldrums, Lebanon has suffered years of low economic growth, and run up one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 25 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.