Former Trump diplomat warns of rising Russian influence in Middle East

James F. Jeffrey (L), chairman of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, has warned of Russia's growing influence in the Middle East region through ties with Iran and Syria. (Screenshot/AFP/File Photos)
James F. Jeffrey (L), chairman of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, has warned of Russia's growing influence in the Middle East region through ties with Iran and Syria. (Screenshot/AFP/File Photos)
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Updated 06 February 2021

Former Trump diplomat warns of rising Russian influence in Middle East

James F. Jeffrey (L), chairman of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, has warned of Russia's growing influence in the Middle East region through ties with Iran and Syria. (Screenshot/AFP/File Photos)
  • Moscow is actively competing to replace US interests in the region in ways that have not been seen for almost 50 years, says James F. Jeffrey

CHICAGO: Russia is aggressively competing to replace American interests in the Middle East in a way not seen since the 1973 Arab-Israeli “October War,” the former US envoy to Syria under President Donald Trump warned on Friday.

James F. Jeffrey, now chairman of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said during a media briefing that Moscow’s interests in the region are not restricted to Syria or working with Iran, but extend to forging alliances with regional players such as Turkey and Iraq.

He added that Russia is leveraging the approach of the new US administration to Iran in its efforts to build stronger alliances.

“Russia is very active in the region,” he said. “(In) the two areas where it is militarily present, Libya and Syria, it has been stymied largely by Turkish military responses, particularly in Syria, with some American diplomatic support.

“But Russia is trying its very best to present an alternative security architecture for the region. (The Russians) are our competition in the region as much as the Iranians are.

“That (growing Russian influence) is a new factor that was not present in any major way during the Obama administration. That is something I would urge the Biden administration to focus on; the problem with Russia in the region is very important.”

Jeffrey added that the message the Kremlin is sending to regional powers is clear, and that it is threatening US interests by implying support for Iran.

READ MORE: Biden strikes tough tone on Russia in diplomatic push

“Now you have a third factor — for the first time since the Yom Kippur War (another name for the October War) or perhaps Afghanistan in the 1980s — which is an active Russian presence in the region, which is a potential security alternative to the US,” he said.

“I would urge the (Biden) administration to pay attention to that because it is something new.”

Jeffrey said that while President Joe Biden is keen for a quick return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, he should be wary of Russia positioning itself to expand its alliances in the region by using Syria and Iran as bases.

Any reduction of US presence in the region could lead to even closer ties between Tehran and Moscow, which would increase the confidence of the Iranian regime, he added.

Jeffrey also described the ongoing conflict in Syria as “the biggest mistake of the Obama administration” because it is “a military stalemate” that Russia could manipulate in the hope of becoming a force equal to the US in the region.

Biden outlined his own concerns about Russia on Thursday, as he distanced himself from the position taken by the Trump administration.

“I made it clear to President (Vladimir) Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the US rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions — interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens — are over,” he said.

“We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people. And we will be more effective in dealing with Russia when we work in coalition and coordination with other like-minded partners.”

Jeffrey also predicted on Friday that the Biden administration will retain the sanctions placed on Turkey by Trump in the weeks before he left office. They were imposed in response to Ankara’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, which the West views as a threat to NATO and the US F35 Lightning II advanced stealth surveillance and combat jet.


Egypt to receive AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson vaccines next week

Egypt to receive AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson vaccines next week
Updated 3 min 28 sec ago

Egypt to receive AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson vaccines next week

Egypt to receive AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson vaccines next week
  • Johnson & Johnson vaccine is being provided in cooperation with the African Union
  • As part of the health ministry's plan to expand the provision of vaccines, it is scheduled to receive the Pfizer vaccine later this month

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed announced on Thursday the Egypt will receive shipments of AstraZeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccinations next week. The jabs will be distributed across the country, Zayed said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is being provided in cooperation with the COVAX facility, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, Khaled Mujahid, assistant minister of health, explained, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is being provided in cooperation with the African Union.

As part of the health ministry's plan to expand the provision of vaccines, it is also scheduled to receive the Pfizer vaccine later this month, and will distribute one million doses of the Sinovac vaccine over the next two weeks, Mujahid said.

Centers have been allocated to vaccinate those who want to travel abroad, he added, with 126 centers across the country equipped for data registration and the printing of certificates with QR codes.

He said vaccination reservations can be made through the ministry’s website and that an appointment for vaccination will be provided within 72 hours of registration.

Egypt has ordered around 120 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and production of around a million doses of the Sinovac vaccine has already begun at Egypt's Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA) factory in preparation to begin vaccinating citizens in August.

VACSERA is scheduled to produce more than 200 million doses of the vaccine by the end of this year — enough to achieve the government’s goal of vaccinating 40 million citizens and allocating surplus doses for export to regional allies.


Egypt, Italy demand quick exit of mercenaries from Libya

Egypt, Italy demand quick exit of mercenaries from Libya
Updated 55 min 46 sec ago

Egypt, Italy demand quick exit of mercenaries from Libya

Egypt, Italy demand quick exit of mercenaries from Libya
  • Egypt and Italy say mercenary groups and foreign forces should leave Libya without delay
  • Egypt, Italy welcome opening of the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata

CAIRO: Egypt and Italy have demanded that foreign forces and mercenaries leave Libya without delay, and welcomed the opening of the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata.

This came during a phone call between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio.

The two sides discussed several regional issues, especially the developments in Libya and Tunisia.

A statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Di Maio briefed Shoukry on the overall results of his recent visit to Libya and his meetings with various parties there.

It added that Shoukry stressed the importance of fulfilling the roadmap approved by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum and UN Security Council Resolution 2570, regarding holding presidential and parliamentary elections on their scheduled date in December, with the need for all foreign forces and mercenaries to leave Libya immediately.

He also welcomed the step taken to open the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata.

Regarding Tunis, Shoukry stressed the importance of supporting stability and the legitimate aspirations of the people there, adding that Egypt stood in solidarity with all measures taken by President Qais Saeed to preserve the integrity of state institutions and overcome the delicate situation in the country.


Areas of Iraqi province lose power after attack on pylons

Areas of Iraqi province lose power after attack on pylons
Updated 05 August 2021

Areas of Iraqi province lose power after attack on pylons

Areas of Iraqi province lose power after attack on pylons
  • "Terrorist elements" using "explosive devices" carried out attacks on 13 pylons over the past 48 hours, said the electricity ministry
  • Provincial authorities distributed photos showing the damaged pylons

SAMARRA, Iraq: Iraq’s northern Salaheddin province was left partially without power after “terrorists” blew several pylons, the government said Thursday, as increasing attacks add to the strain on Iraq’s electricity network.
“Terrorist elements” using “explosive devices” carried out attacks on 13 pylons over the past 48 hours, the electricity ministry said in a statement.
Provincial authorities distributed photos showing the damaged pylons.
Several districts in Salaheddin have since been without power, including some neighborhoods in Samarra, one of the province’s largest cities, an AFP correspondent said.
Unclaimed attacks on Iraq’s electricity network have been increasing since the start of summer.
Authorities normally accuse “terrorists” of being behind the attacks, without identifying a particular group.
Oil-rich Iraq produces just 16,000 megawatts of power — far below the 24,000 megawatts needed, and even further from the expected future needs of a country whose population is set to double by 2050, according to the UN.
The country buys gas and electricity from neighboring Iran to supply about a third of its power sector, which has been worn down by years of conflict and poor maintenance, and is unable to meet the needs of the country’s 40 million population.
Last month, areas in the country’s south were plunged into darkness for several days after a series of similar attacks.
Around the same time, Iran briefly suspended its gas and electricity exports because of Iraq’s failure to pay a $6 billion energy debt.
The US blacklisted Iran’s energy industry in late 2018 as it ramped up sanctions, but has granted Baghdad a series of temporary waivers, hoping that Iraq would wean itself off Iranian energy.
The failure of Iraq’s power system is particularly acute in the baking hot summer months, often a time of social protest exacerbated by electricity shortages, when temperatures shoot past 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).
Energy consultant Harry Istepanian said factors contributing to Iraq’s energy crisis included not only the Iranian export suspension but also a “lack of enough generation capacity and fuel supply, lack of maintenance of the existing generation units, high demand... high technical and commercial losses, vandalism and sabotage.”


Lebanon's Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government

Lebanon's Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government
Updated 05 August 2021

Lebanon's Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government

Lebanon's Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government

Lebanon's OPM designate Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government after meeting president.


Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz threatens Iran with military action

The comments by Benny Gantz (pictured) come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations over last week’s attack on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people. (Reuters/File Photo)
The comments by Benny Gantz (pictured) come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations over last week’s attack on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 05 August 2021

Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz threatens Iran with military action

The comments by Benny Gantz (pictured) come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations over last week’s attack on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Gantz responded to whether Israel was prepared to attack Iran with a blunt “yes”

TEL AVIV: Israel’s defense minister warned Thursday that his country is prepared to strike Iran, issuing the threat against the Islamic Republic after a fatal drone strike on a oil tanker at sea that his nation blamed on Tehran.
The comments by Benny Gantz come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations over last week’s attack on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people. The tanker, struck off Oman in the Arabian Sea, is managed by a firm owned by an Israeli billionaire.
The US and the United Kingdom similarly blamed Iran for the attack, but no country has offered evidence or intelligence to support their claims. Iran, which along with its regional militia allies has launched similar drone attacks, has denied being involved.
Speaking to the news website Ynet, Gantz responded to whether Israel was prepared to attack Iran with a blunt “yes.”
“We are at a point where we need to take military action against Iran,” Gantz said. “The world needs to take action against Iran now.”
Iran did not immediately respond to Gantz’s comments. However, in a letter Wednesday to the UN Security Council, its chargé d’affaires in New York described Israel as “the main source of instability and insecurity in the Middle East and beyond for more than seven decades.”
“This regime has a long dark record in attacking commercial navigation and civilian ships,” Zahra Ershadi wrote. “In less than two years, this regime has attacked over 10 commercial vessels carrying oil and humanitarian goods destined to Syria.”
Ershadi’s comments refer to an ongoing shadow war being waged on Mideast waterways since 2019 that has seen both Iranian and Western-linked ships attacked.
Last week’s attack killed the vessel’s Romanian captain as well as a British crew member who worked for Ambrey, a maritime security firm. In a statement Thursday, Ambrey identified the victim as Adrian Underwood, a former soldier in the British Army who started at the firm as a maritime security officer in 2020 before becoming a team leader.
“We continue to be in contact with Adrian’s family to offer support at this sad and difficult time,” said John Thompson, Ambrey’s management director.
The attacks began a year after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. President Joe Biden has said he’s willing to rejoin the accord, but talks over salvaging the deal have stalled in Vienna.