Doubts over Turkey’s tactical move to extend olive branch to Egypt

Turkey's Foreign Affairs minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. (AFP)
Turkey's Foreign Affairs minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 07 March 2021

Doubts over Turkey’s tactical move to extend olive branch to Egypt

Doubts over Turkey’s tactical move to extend olive branch to Egypt
  • Bilateral relations strained in recent years by Muslim Brotherhood, Libya conflict and other matters

ANKARA: With Turkey hinting at a potential deal with Egypt on exclusive maritime zones in the gas-rich Eastern Mediterranean, the impact of such an agreement on energy transit routes and the political concessions that Turkey might be obliged to make have come under the spotlight.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday said that the country wanted to sign a deal over maritime boundaries.

But this willingness is currently limited to declarations from the Turkish side, with no tangible reaction from the Egyptians.

Turkey’s tactical move indicates a willingness to reduce escalatory policies in the region in order to bypass any criticism from Brussels and US President Joe Biden’s administration.

Potential sanctions against Turkey’s controversial exploratory activities in the Eastern Mediterranean would be discussed at the European Summit on March 25-26, pushing it to not make aggressive moves ahead of that meeting.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

But experts regard such a deal to still be far-fetched, at least in the short-term, because Egypt has had an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) agreement with Greece since last year. This pact angered Turkey because it has had longstanding disagreements with Greece over the extent of their mutual continental shelves.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had a phone call on Wednesday evening, after Cavusoglu’s statement, on regional issues of common interest, with a special emphasis on energy and Eastern Mediterranean issues, another strong signal that Greece would do its best to not let a Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement happen.

Turkey said the deal between Greece and Egypt did not include a disputed zone to the south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo which Turkey claims under its own EEZ.

Relations with Egypt have been strained after the Turkish-backed Mohammed Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted by El-Sisi in 2013.

Last year, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece released a joint declaration accusing Turkey of carrying out “provocations” in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Egypt has been involved in the East Mediterranean Gas Forum since 2019 without involving Turkey.

Turkey and Egypt have also backed opposing sides in Libya’s civil war.

“Turkey has tried to lure Egypt into signing an EEZ agreement with it by claiming it will receive a bigger share than it will from a bilateral agreement between Athens and Cairo,” Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News. “In a similar manner, it has presented the claim that the EEZ agreement between Israel and Cyprus gives Israel less than what it would receive had it signed an agreement with Turkey.”

While a relaxation in tensions between Turkey and Egypt was plausible, Lindenstrauss did not expect a serious rapprochement happening soon, so an EEZ agreement between the sides was not likely to materialize.

In late February, Egypt and Israel agreed on linking an Israeli offshore natural gas field to liquefied natural gas facilities in northern Egypt through an underwater pipeline to meet the increased demand for natural gas in Europe.

The pipeline will begin from Israel’s Leviathan gas field and then head to Egypt by land before going to Crete through the Greek-Egyptian EEZ.

This route sidesteps Cyprus. In other words, the gas is not likely to be exported through disputed areas that might draw Turkish objections.

Emre Caliskan, a research fellow at the UK's Foreign Policy Centre, thought  that Turkey’s recent efforts to improve its relations with Israel and Egypt was motivated by a need to break the alliance between Greece, Israel, Cyprus and Egypt.

“These countries have been united against Turkey’s increasing influence and gas searches in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he told Arab News. “From the Turkish policymakers’ strategic view, Greece and Cyprus interests are in contradiction with Turkey’s ambitions in the region. Therefore, Turkey will try to distance Greece and Cyprus from Egypt and Israel.”

These moves require a change in Turkey’s support to the Muslim Brotherhood ideology that inspires Hamas in order to bring Egypt onside and end the bilateral dispute. Turkey hosts several of the organization’s members and supporters since the group’s activities were banned in Egypt.

Last month, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced seizing goods worth $121,000 sent by Turkey-based Hamas members to individuals in the West Bank through two Turkish companies.

“We have recently heard claims that Turkey has been reassessing its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. It is too early to assess any policy change in relation to this. Any substantial reconciliation with Israel and Egypt will require Turkey to distance its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Caliskan said.

For Caliskan, Turkey’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood was based on ideology and also on a strategic partnership.

“Distancing Turkey’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood would impact Turkey’s influence in Libya for example. Turkey is likely to compartmentalize its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, reducing its support to their presence in Egypt and Palestine, but will continue supporting them in North Africa, especially in Libya and Tunisia.”


34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM
Updated 6 min 12 sec ago

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM
  • Survivors reported that the boat capsized in rough seas at around 4:00 am after leaving Yemen with around 60 passengers on board

DJIBOUTI: Thirty-four migrants drowned on Monday after their boat capsized off the coast of Djibouti, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, the second such accident in just over a month.
Survivors reported that the boat capsized in rough seas at around 4:00 am (0100 GMT) after leaving Yemen with around 60 passengers on board, an IOM official in Djibouti told AFP, asking not to be named.
"The migrants were being transported by people smugglers," Mohammed Abdiker, the IOM's regional director for East Africa and the Horn of Africa, added on Twitter.
"Apprehending and prosecuting people traffickers and smugglers who exploit the vulnerabilities of migrants must become a priority. Too many lives needlessly lost."
There were "many children" among the bodies found, the first official said, adding that survivors were receiving treatment from the IOM and local authorities.
The boat capsized in seas north of the Djibouti port town of Obock, a major transit point for thousands of African migrants in the region trying to reach the Gulf.
It follows a similar accident on March 4 when 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a journey between Djibouti and Yemen across the Gulf of Aden.
At least 200 migrants were packed aboard that vessel when it left Djibouti. But about 30 minutes into the voyage the smugglers panicked about the weight on board, and threw 80 people into the sea before turning back towards land.
Two similar incidents in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants.
Every year thousands of migrants make perilous boat journeys from the Horn of Africa to war-torn Yemen, many with the aim of travelling overland to Gulf nations in search of work.
It is believed thousands of migrants are stranded in Yemen, where a years-long conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions in what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The strait which separates Djibouti from Yemen is unusual in that it sees migrants and refugees passing in both directions -- boatloads of Yemenis fleeing to Africa to escape war, while others head in the opposite direction carrying African migrants to the Arabian Peninsula in search of better opportunities.


Iran says it identified person who caused power outage at Natanz — report

Iran says it identified person who caused power outage at Natanz — report
Updated 12 April 2021

Iran says it identified person who caused power outage at Natanz — report

Iran says it identified person who caused power outage at Natanz — report

DUBAI: Iran said on Monday it had identified the person who disrupted flow of power at the Natanz nuclear facility that led to electricity outage in the site, Iran’s Nournews website quoted intelligence sources as saying.
“The person has been identified ... Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person who caused the electricity outage in one of the halls at the Natanz site,” the website reported. It gave no details about the person.

Iran blamed Israel for Sunday's incident at the Natanz nuclear site and will take its revenge, state TV quoted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on Monday.
Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of "nuclear terrorism" and said Tehran reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators.
Iran and world powers held what they described as "constructive" talks last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran that Washington abandoned three years ago.
"The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions ... they have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge from the Zionists," Zarif was quoted as saying.


Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international
Updated 12 April 2021

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international
  • The program is an expansion of last year’s local ‘10 Million Meals’
  • Donations can be made across the globe to the campaign through www.100millionmeals.ae

DUBAI: The ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign, launched by Dubai’s ruler, will provide food parcels for the needy across 20 countries during Ramadan.
The program is an expansion of last year’s local ‘10 Million Meals,’ which distributed food in communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic across the country.
Individuals and companies across the globe can make donations to the campaign through www.100millionmeals.ae, which will then distribute food in countries such as Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Angola, Uganda and Egypt.
“Providing food during the holy month of Ramadan is the best we can give from the UAE to humanity,” Dubai’s Ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said.
The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI) will work with the UN World Food Program, Food Banking Regional Network and local humanitarian organizations in receiving countries to distribute food for those in need.
“We will work with humanitarian organizations, companies, entities and humanitarians to join us in securing 100 million meals to bring a sense of safety to underserved homes across the world,” Al-Maktoum said.  
The campaign also supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to end hunger by 2030.


‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya
Agriculture remains a marginal sector in Libya, where the economy is dominated by hydrocarbons, the country boasting the most abundant oil reserves in Africa. (AFP)
Updated 12 April 2021

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

TRIPOLI: Under a yellow tarpaulin stretched over an arched metal frame, Siraj Bechiya and his partner inspect their hydroponically grown lettuce, pioneers of the method in mostly desert Libya where conventional agriculture struggles.
Zip ties, punctured plastic cups as pots and PVC tubing bought in DIY shops hold the precious crops at “Green Paradise” — so dubbed by the two young Libyan entrepreneurs spearheading the project.
But the ad hoc nature of the materials hasn’t stopped the plants from thriving, their long white roots nourished by water rich with nutrients and oxygen.
Bechiya and his partner, Mounir, have been working tirelessly on their project for months in the small town of Qouwea, 40 km east of the capital Tripoli, erecting a tunnel-shaped greenhouse surrounded by breeze-block walls on a semi-arid site.
Their hope is to demystify hydroponic farming, which “guarantees a good yield in small spaces,” uses little water and doesn’t need pesticides, 20-year-old Bechiya told AFP.
Soilless farming has gained ground in many countries but is still in its infancy in Libya.
But in a country whose territory is 90 percent arid desert, the method could offer a path toward more food self-sufficiency, Bechiya believes.
Agriculture remains a marginal sector in Libya, where the economy is dominated by hydrocarbons, the country boasting the most abundant oil reserves in Africa.
Arable land barely makes up three percent of Libya’s territory and is under threat, as rapid urbanization eats up the fertile strip along the Mediterranean coast.
Another major challenge to farming in Libya is the lack of water where agriculture needs it most.
The Great Man-Made River — a pharaonic project realized by former ruler Muammar Qaddafi more than 30 years ago — carries drinking water pumped from groundwater tables in the south to the northern cities where most Libyans live.
But this resource is not infinite, and the GMMR’s network has been heavily damaged in the decade of conflict that has ravaged Libya since Qaddafi’s ouster in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.
In the face of these challenges, Bechiya and Mounir set out to train in hydroponics two years ago in neighboring Tunisia.
“When we came back, it was imperative that we move from theory to practice,” Bechiya said.
“We started with some vegetables in the house and we were surprised by people’s enthusiasm.”
In theory, hydroponics can guarantee higher yields and profits than conventional farming, which is at risk from weather, water shortages and pollution from unregulated pesticide use.
“With more space in the greenhouse, the idea was able to take off. We will continue to develop it ... and improve quality,” said Bechiya, as he measured the acidity of the water feeding his young lettuce.
“Libyan consumers don’t want produce full of pesticides anymore, but organic produce,” he added.


US secretary of defense aims to deescalate Israel-Iran tensions

US secretary of defense aims to deescalate Israel-Iran tensions
Experts believe that US defense secretary’s visit to Israel aims to facilitate Washington’s eventual rejoining of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. (Reuters/File)
Updated 12 April 2021

US secretary of defense aims to deescalate Israel-Iran tensions

US secretary of defense aims to deescalate Israel-Iran tensions
  • Experts claim Tel Aviv will seek to play up the threat of Iran, with US return to JCPOA looming
  • The visit is aimed at reassuring Israel by bolstering US-Israeli and Gulf-Israeli defense relations while dispelling Iranian perceptions of US complicity in recent Israeli attacks on Iranian targets

AMMAN: Middle East experts believe that the visit of the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Israel is largely aimed at deescalating Israeli-Iranian tensions, and facilitating Washington’s eventual rejoining of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal.

Austin said the US is committed to “Israeli military edge” and advancing “strategic partnership” efforts with Tel Aviv.
Lamis Andoni, a veteran analyst based in Amman, told Arab News that the visit is ultimately aimed at helping the US return to the JCPOA. “President Joe Biden is worried that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu would like to escalate the situation in the Gulf, with the aim of torpedoing the eventual return to the Iran nuclear deal,” she said.
Andoni added that Netanyahu was only concerned about his own future, and would therefore focus on exaggerating Iranian threats to ensure Gulf states remained united against Iran.
Ali Jarbawi, a professor at Bir Zeit University, told Arab News that Austin’s visit was nothing more than an attempt to placate Israel.
“They want Israel to be reassured on the fact that the new administration will be returning to the Iran nuclear deal,” he said.
Retired Jordanian air force general, Maamoun Abu Nawwar, said that the goal of the visit is to ensure that Israeli does not escalate the situation in the Gulf. “The fact that the first senior official from the Biden administration to visit Israel is a military man is a clear sign that they are hoping he will address the potential of a dangerous escalation … between Israel and Iran,” he told Arab News.
Ofer Zalzberg, Middle East Program director at the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation, said that the visit will be characterized by an internal contradiction in US objectives: “It aims at reassuring Israel by bolstering US-Israeli and Gulf-Israeli defense relations while dispelling Iranian perceptions of US complicity in recent Israeli attacks on Iranian targets, which harm establishing the trust required for successful nuclear negotiations,” he said.
Musa Shteiwi, former head of the University of Jordan’s Center of Strategic Studies, said that the visit would seek to resolve the Iran issue at a time that Israel is going in the opposite direction. “They will talk about pursuing the partnership issue in order to facilitate the return to the Iran deal,” he said. Barak Ravid, a Tel Aviv-based reporter for Axios, argued that both Austin’s position and the timing of the visit were important.

“This is the first trip of a senior Biden administration official to Israel. Austin will try to make sure that there is a no surprises policy between Israel and the US when it comes to Iran, and will try to reassure the Israelis about the nuclear talks with Iran. The Biden administration wants to make sure tensions in the region will not escalate in a way that sabotages the nuclear talks,” he said.
Regardless of the worries about military escalation, it is clear to observers that the real issue is the political one. Abu Nawwar believes that the Iran nuclear deal, initially signed by the administration of former President Barack Obama, will eventually prevail. “It is the only game in town,” he added.

On Monday, Iran said it blames Israel for Sunday's incident at the Natanz nuclear site and will take its revenge, state TV quoted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying.
Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of "nuclear terrorism" and said Tehran reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators.