Israel, Morocco sign security deal as defense minister visits Rabat

Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) shakes hands with Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz (L) in the capital Rabat on November 24, 2021. (AFP)
Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) shakes hands with Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz (L) in the capital Rabat on November 24, 2021. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 24 November 2021

Israel, Morocco sign security deal as defense minister visits Rabat

Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) shakes hands with Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz (L) in the capital Rabat on November 24, 2021. (AFP)
  • The Morocco deal came as Gantz made the first visit by an Israeli defense minister to the North African kingdom

RABAT: Israel and Morocco signed a security agreement Wednesday making it easier for Rabat to acquire high-tech exports from Israel’s defense industry, as the countries expand ties following their normalization deal last year.
The memorandum of understanding signed in Rabat by visiting Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Morocco’s minister in charge of defense administration, Abdellatif Loudiyi, was “unprecedented” for the Jewish state, an Israeli official said.
Israel has several security accords with allied nations, but the Morocco deal marks the first-of-its-kind agreement with a majority Arab nation, the official said, asking not to be named.
Israel has full diplomatic relations with only four other Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain.
The Morocco deal came as Gantz made the first visit by an Israeli defense minister to the North African kingdom.
Gantz said the deal “will enable Israeli exports here (to Morocco).”
Israel’s defense ministry oversees all security exports, with the Jewish state offering state-of-art products ranging from attack drones to the Iron Dome missile defense system.
One Israeli product, the NSO’s Pegasus spyware, has already made its way to Morocco, according to Amnesty International and Paris-based organization Forbidden Stories.
Rabat allegedly used it against French President Emmanuel Macron — a claim denied by Morocco which said it never bought the software and has filed lawsuits against French media and Amnesty.
An Israeli defense official stressed that “relations with Morocco were not based on arms sales” alone.
In Morocco, Israel was eyeing “long-term bonds that are a cornerstone of Israeli security,” the official said.
A Moroccan government statement said agreements had been signed in areas of defense and “cybersecurity,” and that both sides had “a common interest to consolidate relations.”
The statement also noted the importance to bilateral ties of Morocco’s Jewish community and the “Moroccan Jewish diaspora” living in Israel, which is home to some 700,000 Jews of Moroccan descent.
Gantz, who was meeting Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita Wednesday evening, is scheduled to visit a synagogue Thursday morning before returning to Israel.
Morocco and Israel previously set up low-level ties in 1993, but Rabat broke them off at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 2000.
Rabat normalized ties with the Jewish state last December, shortly after similar announcements by the UAE and Bahrain. Sudan followed suit in January but has yet to build relations.
Those pacts brokered by former US president Donald Trump infuriated the Palestinians, who urged the Arab world to maintain its stand against recognizing Israel until it agrees to a peace deal establishing a Palestinian state with its capital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, an Israeli expert on Morocco at Tel Aviv University, told AFP that Rabat had not abandoned the Palestinian issue but was “recalibrating” its position given the benefits of dealing with Israel, including its defense industry.
In return for normalizing ties with Israel, the Trump administration recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.


Lebanon crippled by electricity, water outages

Lebanon crippled by electricity, water outages
Updated 24 May 2022

Lebanon crippled by electricity, water outages

Lebanon crippled by electricity, water outages
  • Crisis-hit country has exhausted its oil stocks, with a tanker arriving at the end of the week
  • The Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment has announced that it has been “reluctantly forced” to subject the locations to “severe and harsh” water rationing

BEIRUT: Lebanon has been plunged into darkness after oil stocks in the country’s last functional power plant in Deir Ammar ran out on Tuesday morning.
Lebanon exhausted its oil stock, which it imports from Iraq, during the parliamentary elections to ensure power was maintained during the electoral process. The country has to wait for an oil tanker to arrive at the end of the week, then wait some more until the oil is tested before it can be unloaded.
Elsewhere, the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment has announced that it has been “reluctantly forced” to subject the locations to “severe and harsh” water rationing.
The shortage of diesel, the steady rise in prices and the extensive power cuts are hindering pumping stations from providing water supply, the authorities said, warning of further deterioration. The water establishment added that should any pumping station go out of service, securing the needed funds to repair it would be close to impossible.
The Lebanese have for many years provided alternatives to the basic state services, including a mass market for power generators. However, hundreds of thousands can no longer afford any of these alternatives.
On Tuesday, the local currency hit a new record low, trading at 34,100 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on the black market.
Pharmacy owners staged a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Health on Tuesday to demand “implementing the laws of delivering medicines to pharmacies and fighting the phenomenon of smuggling drugs outside Lebanon, specifically to Syria.”
Dr. Joe Salloum, head of the Pharmacists’ Syndicate, said patients are being subjected to several types of fraud. “Some cancer patients bought medicine that turned out to be counterfeit, while the state and the ministry fails to draw up a solid plan to provide necessary, quality medication.”
He added: “Leaving room for smuggled and counterfeit medicine amid chaos and fraud threatens the lives of patients, if they can even afford to buy any medicine.”
Salloum said the whole mess could have been avoided if the medication card had been approved two years ago. “(It looks) as if there was a plan to destroy the entire sector, including pharmacies, importing companies, and Lebanon’s medical identity.”
Amid the chaos, Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government has entered into caretaker mode after failing to approve an electricity plan.
The picture in the newly elected parliament remains blurred as MPs struggle to find ground with the new reformist MP surge.
Mikati revealed that Energy Minister Walid Fayyad deliberately obstructed the offers submitted by General Electric and Siemens in agreement with international groups to supply Lebanon with electricity at a reasonable price.
Mikati said Fayyad withdrew the file from the Cabinet’s agenda 15 minutes before the final session was held on May 21, claiming the offers needed “further reviewing.”
Mikati insisted on pursuing the issue and asked Fayyad “to dare to name the person who asked him to withdraw the file from the Cabinet’s agenda and why,” in an indirect reference to Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.
“The government had decided to negotiate with four international companies, namely Ensaldo, Mitsubishi, General Electric and Siemens on the possibility of providing Lebanon with generators needed to produce 24-hour electricity permanently,” Mikati said, adding: “General Electric and Siemens, in agreement with international groups, made offers to supply Lebanon with electricity before next summer at a very reasonable price, even about the price of gas for energy production, and we simply needed to draw up the terms of reference following the applicable laws.”
A source close to Mikati said: “The cost of preparing the terms of reference was agreed upon with the French side but without any warning. President Michel Aoun’s political team decided to withdraw the file from the Cabinet’s agenda in refusal to record achievement in securing electricity for a government in which the FPM is not directly present.”
Aoun’s meeting on Tuesday with Anne Grillo, the French ambassador to Lebanon, focused on the upcoming elections and the Lebanese-French cooperation in all fields. Grillo conveyed French President Emmanuel Macron’s continued support for Lebanon and its people.
During the Fifth Saudi-Lebanese Cultural Forum, held on Monday evening at the residence of Walid Bukhari, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, he spoke about Mufti Sheikh Hassan Khaled, who was assassinated in an explosion targeting his convoy on May 16, 1989.
“His assassination was a prelude to the assassination of all of Lebanon, which is experiencing difficult circumstances, foremost of which is the targeting of its Arab identity and its relationship with its Arab environment.”
Bukhari also mentioned the “martyrdom” of Lebanon and the Arab world regarding the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“We know Sheikh Khaled would be happy with the results of the honorable elections and the downfall of all symbols of treachery, betrayal, death and hate,” Bukhari said.
Speaking at the forum, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian stressed the comprehensive role that Sheikh Khaled played “so that the political quorum and Beirut remain standing, lest the divisions of the war affect the relations between Muslims and Christians, the sons of one nation.”


Turkey hints at Syria operation amid discussions of NATO enlargement

Turkey hints at Syria operation amid discussions of NATO enlargement
Updated 24 May 2022

Turkey hints at Syria operation amid discussions of NATO enlargement

Turkey hints at Syria operation amid discussions of NATO enlargement
  • Turkey’s operation is expected to focus on areas where the country is targeted the most by cross-border attacks
  • The announcement comes at a time in which Turkey is vehemently objecting to the NATO membership bids of Sweden and Finland

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Monday evening an impending military operation into northern Syria to establish a 30 km-deep safe zone along the southern border. 

Turkey’s operation is expected to focus on areas where the country is targeted the most by cross-border attacks. But Erdogan did not go into further detail. 

Turkish forces have launched three major incursions into northern Syria since 2016 and took control of areas along the border against threats from Daesh and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, listed as a terror group by Turkey. 

The withdrawal of the Syrian Kurdish forces up to 30 km into Syria was part of the Russia-Turkey deal in Sochi. 

The announcement comes at a time in which Turkey is vehemently objecting to the NATO membership bids of Sweden and Finland, citing the two Scandinavian countries’ support for the terror groups and their arms embargoes following Turkey’s previous Syria operation in 2019. 

Although the two countries deny any support given to the terror groups on their soil, Ankara asked Sweden and Finland for the extradition of 33 members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and an end to the ongoing military export bans to Turkey. 

Turkey considers the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK. 

The timing of the announcement, therefore, stirred debate about whether it would be part of a grand bargain between Turkey and the Western alliance to decrease its support for the Syrian Kurdish militants in exchange for Ankara lessening its pressure on the enlargement goals of the organization. 

Noah Ringler, an expert from Georgetown University, thinks the northwestern Syrian city of Tal Rifaat is the most likely target of the operation, while Kobane or Manbij is the next most likely option. 

“I believe Erdogan still seeks a broader deal with US President Joe Biden on NATO enlargement and the purchase of American-made F-16s and would not like to confront US forces further east near Al-Malikiyah,” he told Arab News. 

An operation in Tal Rifaat, situated halfway between Aleppo and the Turkish border, has been on the agenda for years as the YPG seized control in the region. The city houses Kurds who fled Afrin when Turkey carried out an operation there in 2018 to root the YPG out.  

Ankara, however, perceives a threat coming from the Tal Rifaat area, which is believed to be used by Kurdish forces to conduct cross-border attacks on Turkey. 

There have been several fire exchanges between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurdish militants for a couple of months. 

As Tal Rifaat is home to many refugees living in Kilis and Azaz and has limited Russian and Iranian presence, Ringler said that Russia is likely willing to let Turkey attack within certain areas with some pre-conditions, like ensuring the lack of Turkish sanctions on Russian goods and services. 

“Russia may also ask Turkey to put pressure on the PYD (Kurdish Democratic Union Party) to return them to the table with Syrian President Bashar Assad, as talks have stalled,” he added. 

Experts also note that any such operation could take advantage of Russia’s preoccupation with the invasion of Ukraine and US commitments to defend Taiwan against China.  

According to Ringler, Turkey’s drone strikes on the YPG in northeastern Syria have always been satisficing, as elections in Turkey draw near. 

“Erdogan considers taking new steps as vital to distract the attention from domestic issues and divide the opposition over Kurdish and Syrian issues,” he said. 

The details of the operation and the decision to launch it will however be discussed during Turkey’s National Security Council meeting on Thursday.

Whether the operation has or will have the green light from Russia and US is still unclear. 

“Turkish Armed Forces have the capacity to attack all of the above areas, but for political reasons it is likely the best for Erdogan to do sequential operations, threatening additional action closer to next year’s elections and in order to gain concessions from the US, Iran, Russia and the YPG,” said Ringler.

He added: “I think Assad’s forces will fight back like in February 2020, and the extent of Russian air support will be a key indicator of the extent to which Turkey is coordinating with Russia. Assad’s forces are unlikely to give up positions without trying to impose costs on Turkish-backed Syrian armed groups and the Turkish Armed Forces for their presence in Syria.”

According to Ringler, US Congressional elections will also play a role in negotiations with the US, as presidential powers do not allow Biden to lift some of the existing sanctions and Congress remains committed to arms sanctions on Turkey related to its S-400 Russian missile defense purchase and Operation Peace Spring into Syria. 

Currently hosting about 3.7 million refugees from Syria whose presence in the country has increasingly become a hot topic among several opposition parties pledging their immediate repatriation, Ankara has been discussing their resettlement to briquette houses in safe areas along the border. 

The Turkish government is also worried that public anger over the refugees’ widespread presence will dominate the upcoming election round and influence electoral preferences. 

The latest official figures revealed that 400-500 people are returning each week to the safe zones on the Turkey-Syria border. Since 2016, around half a million Syrians have returned to those zones, which are controlled by Ankara-backed groups.  

“The regions they returned to are Jarablus, A’zaz, Marea, Al-Bab, Ras Al-Ayn, and Tal Abyad. These are all safe regions in Syria that we have created,” Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently said.

However, the Syrian government considers the presence of safe zones as a kind of “colonialism” and “ethnic cleansing.” Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently urged the international community to stop Ankara from proceeding with its plans for building houses and local infrastructure in safe zones to send 1 million refugees back to their country.  

Caroline Rose, a senior analyst at the New Lines Institute, thinks that the recently announced Turkish military operation in northern Syria is certainly a tactic Ankara has employed to test Russia in Syria amid its intervention in Ukraine. 

“It is also a message Turkey is wishing to send following its opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership in NATO due to grievances related to the PKK, as well as to take advantage of Russian distraction in Ukraine to alter the status quo in Syria and deepen its footprint in the northeast,” she told Arab News. 

Rose, however, does not think the US will offer any public or private green light for this operation, nor will Russia publicly support it.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, in a statement on Tuesday, accused Turkey of “destabilizing the region.”

Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, believes there is always an opportunity for Turkey to launch a tactic operation targeting a specific area. 

“The most reasonable targets would be Tal Rifaat and Manbij. I don’t expect any operation on the eastern side of Syria. Turkey should concentrate its efforts and forces on controlling the strategic points on the M4 highway in Idlib that became a de facto frontier between Turkish-controlled pockets and Kurdish forces,” he told Arab News. 

Erdogan’s announcement also came a day before diplomatic delegations from Sweden and Finland landed in Ankara on Tuesday to discuss their NATO membership bid, where Turkey is expected to present some files on PKK activities during their meeting with the Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal on Wednesday. 


Yemenia to operate direct flights between Houthi-held Sanaa, Cairo

Yemenia to operate direct flights between Houthi-held Sanaa, Cairo
Updated 24 May 2022

Yemenia to operate direct flights between Houthi-held Sanaa, Cairo

Yemenia to operate direct flights between Houthi-held Sanaa, Cairo
  • Egypt’s FM Sameh Shoukry said that the Egyptian authorities would allow the resumption of flights between Sanaa and Cairo as part of efforts to cement the truce
  • Under the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2, Yemenia will operate weekly flights from Sanaa airport to Amman and Cairo

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s government on Tuesday praised Egypt for allowing the country’s national carrier, Yemenia, to operate direct flights from Houthi-held Sanaa to Cairo as part of the UN-brokered truce.

The agreement facilitated the resumption of flights from Sanaa airport for the first time in six years.

On Monday, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, said that Egyptian authorities would allow the resumption of flights between Sanaa and Cairo as part of efforts to cement the truce and support peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

During a call with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Shoukry expressed his hope that the move would consolidate the UN truce in Yemen, alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people and contribute to efforts to establish stability in Yemen.

Under the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2, Yemenia will operate weekly flights from Sanaa airport to Amman and Cairo as warring factions commit to stopping hostilities across the country. The agreement also allows fuel ships to enter Hodeidah seaport.

The first commercial flight since 2016 left Sanaa airport on May 16 — a move that enhanced hopes of strengthening the truce and finding a peace deal to end the war.

The Egyptian decision sparked jubilation among Yemenis, especially among medical patients who seek treatment in Egypt. It was also met with praise from foreign envoys and international mediators.

Baligh Al-Mekhlafi, the information counselor at the Yemeni embassy in Cairo, told Arab News that thousands of Yemenis, mainly patients, will benefit from the resumption of flights, since Egypt is a top destination for Yemenis.

“Opening the airport will contribute to alleviating human suffering and the cost of travel for citizens, especially that 80 percent of the passengers come to Egypt for medical treatment,” Al-Mekhlafi said, announcing the departure of the first flight from Sanaa to Cairo next week.

During a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador in Washington DC, the US Yemen envoy, Tim Lenderking, thanked Egypt for supporting peace in Yemen and the UN-brokered truce.

“The US appreciates Egypt’s strong support for Yemen peace efforts, including the ongoing truce,” Lenderking tweeted.

The Chinese Embassy in Yemen also tweeted praise for Egypt. “We appreciate the Egyptian efforts to operate direct flights from Sanaa to Cairo, hoping that the suffering of the Yemeni people will be alleviated,” it said.

Separately, in the southern port city of Aden, Rashad Al-Alimi, chief of the Presidential Leadership Council, received foreign delegations that visited the interim capital of Aden to express support for the government and listen to plans for reforming state bodies, unifying military and security units, and reviving the economy.

Official media reported on Monday that Al-Alimi met Peter-Derrek Hof, the Dutch ambassador to Yemen, and Birgitta Tazelaar, deputy director general for International Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We talked about the reforms the Presidential Leadership Council is working on, including the unification of the military and security institutions under the Riyadh Agreement, and the economic, service and judicial files,” Al-Alimi said, according to SABA news agency.

The Yemeni leader also met with Richard Oppenheim, the UK ambassador to Yemen. Al-Alimi urged the international community and the UK to mount pressure on the Houthis to respect the truce and open roads in Taiz.

The UK ambassador tweeted from Aden that he had “fruitful” meetings with Al-Alimi and Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed. “I urge all parties to continue with the constructive approach taken. Yemen needs peace,” he said.


UAE announces first case of monkeypox

UAE announces first case of monkeypox
Updated 14 min 49 sec ago

UAE announces first case of monkeypox

UAE announces first case of monkeypox
  • The case was detected in a 29-year-old woman who arrived from West Africa
  • The ministry assured the public that health authorities are taking all necessary measures to ensure safety

DUBAI: The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention announced the country’s first case of monkeypox on Tuesday.

The case was detected in a 29-year-old woman who arrived from West Africa and is receiving the necessary medical care, Emirates News Agency reported.

The ministry assured the public that health authorities are taking all necessary measures including investigation, the examination of contacts, and monitoring their health.

It added that it is cooperating with other health authorities in implementing an epidemiological surveillance system to ensure sustainable efficiency, protection from communicable diseases, and rapid detection of all diseases and viruses, including monkeypox, in the UAE.

The ministry called on members of the public to obtain information from official sources in the UAE, and to refrain from spreading rumours and false information, highlighting the importance of staying updated on developments and guidelines issued by UAE health authorities.


Turkish minister aims to boost Palestinian economy in rare West Bank trip

Turkish minister aims to boost Palestinian economy in rare West Bank trip
Updated 24 May 2022

Turkish minister aims to boost Palestinian economy in rare West Bank trip

Turkish minister aims to boost Palestinian economy in rare West Bank trip
  • Turkey signed nine new pacts with the embattled Palestinian Authority
  • Cavusoglu will meet Israeli officials on Wednesday, the latest step in a diplomatic thaw between Ankara and the Jewish state

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Turkey’s top diplomat announced Tuesday a raft of new agreements to bolster the struggling Palestinian economy, during the first high-level Turkish visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 15 years.
During Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s trip to Ramallah, Turkey signed nine new pacts with the embattled Palestinian Authority, ranging from agriculture to education and trade.
Cavusoglu will meet Israeli officials on Wednesday, the latest step in a diplomatic thaw between Ankara and the Jewish state. He will also make a private visit to the Al-Asqa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Alongside his Palestinian counterpart Riyad Al-Maliki, Cavusoglu pledged to push ahead with plans for the construction of an industrial zone in the Palestinian territories.
“The necessary order has been given; there is no luxury for evading and delaying this project,” he said, also setting a $2 billion annual bilateral trade target and pledging more scholarships with Palestinians to study in Turkey.
The World Bank warned this month that the Palestinian economy was in a “precarious” state, with the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority — a major West Bank employer — only paying partial wages since November.
Maliki described Cavusoglu’s visit as “historic” and reflecting the “special relationship between the two countries.”
Turkey has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, but visits to the West Bank had been obstructed by a 15-year diplomatic rupture between Ankara and Israel.
Israel and Turkey proclaimed a new era in relations following President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara and Istanbul in March.
Cavusoglu’s Ramallah visit came as fresh violence rocked the West Bank flashpoint of Jenin.
Israel’s army said a shootout erupted between troops and Palestinians during the latest in a series of operations in the Jenin area, with a man suspected of “terrorist activity” arrested.
Three Palestinians were wounded, according to the Palestinian health ministry.