Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog. (AFP/AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog. (AFP/AP)
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Updated 27 January 2022

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan
  • Arab News told announcement on appointment of ambassadors possible before Israeli president’s trip

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has predicted the start of a positive “new period” in relations with Israel when his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog visits Turkey next month.

During a televised interview, the Turkish leader announced that Herzog would make the trip to Ankara before mid-February, prompting speculation among analysts that a move on the appointment of ambassadors to both countries could be imminent.

Although precise dates for the visit have not yet been revealed, it will mark the highest-level trip by an Israeli official to Turkey for years when then-Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Ankara on the invitation of then-PM Erdogan.

In his nighttime TV announcement, Erdogan said: “With this visit, a new period can begin in Israel-Turkey relations.”

According to experts, any success in turning a new page in the fragile relationship between the two nations will depend on several factors, including the re-exchanging of envoys, and restrictions on Hamas’ activities in Turkey.

Herzog and Erdogan have spoken three times by phone since July, both passing on friendly messages, and last week Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu called his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, the first time such communication had taken place between the two nations’ foreign ministers in 13 years.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News that the appointment of ambassadors would be a concrete first step toward the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations.

“There is some Israeli concern with the choice of ambassador on the Turkish side, but this is an issue that can be resolved,” she said.

She noted that any significant improvement in the COVID-19 situation could potentially cause friction over the entrance of certain Turkish citizens to Israel.

“Israel might deny entry to those it suspects are contributing to igniting tensions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and among Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and Turkey will likely claim these people are innocent visitors.

“While a report that surfaced this week of Turkish willingness to curb some of Hamas’ orchestrated military activity from its territory is welcomed news in Israel, a negative development in this realm will be an additional cause of friction between Israel and Turkey,” Lindenstrauss added.

To what extent Turkey’s vocal support for the Palestinian cause, including settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, will be reconciled within the rapprochement process is still unknown.

Potential energy projects between the two countries are also on the negotiation table especially after Washington recently decided to withdraw support for the Israeli-Greek East Med pipeline. Following the decision, Erdogan said Turkey was ready to work with Israel on reviving gas transfer to Europe via Turkish soil.

Ankara is eager to diversify its energy resources in the wake of Iran’s sudden move to cut gas flows to Turkey and in the face of a threat to gas imports posed by the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.

“With regard to Turkish statements on renewal of the option of Israel exporting natural gas to Turkey and from there to Europe, it is not clear if developments since 2016 connected to Israel’s gas exports to and through Egypt, as well as recent developments surrounding the Arab pipeline, do not preclude such a pipeline,” Lindenstrauss said.

On the importance of Herzog’s visit, she added: “When Shimon Peres visited Turkey in 2007, he and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, gave speeches one after the other in front of the Turkish Parliament. This was the first speech of an Israeli leader in a Muslim-majority country’s parliament.

“Thus, it will be a good reminder that Ankara is capable of playing a more balanced role with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the benefits of such a more dispassionate stance.”

Dr. Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, told Arab News that Herzog’s visit would be important for Turkey in overcoming its ongoing diplomatic isolation and improving relations with regional countries.

She said: “An announcement about the appointment of ambassadors may be expected before Herzog’s visit. Actually, it is just a technical detail. Both countries didn’t downgrade their diplomatic relations, they just called back their ambassadors.”

During the upcoming meeting in Ankara, Nasi expected the Palestinian issue, energy, trade, tourism, and regional security, including East Med balances, Syria, Iran, and Libya, to be high on the agenda.

“Ankara would prefer conditioning its rapprochement with Israel with the improvement in living conditions of Palestinian people. At the same time, Israel would expect from Turkey a step forward in terms of Hamas activities in the country,” she added.

Nasi pointed out that Israel had never closed its door to any dialogue opportunity with Turkey. “But its prerequisite is clear: Turkey should stop its support to Hamas. Israel therefore expects clear reassurances from the Turkish side.”

Meanwhile, experts believe that a resolution to the Cyprus issue will be the key to moving forward with any energy project between the two countries.

Nasi said: “The energy topic is preferred by the politicians because it creates a positive agenda in the public opinion of both countries.”

Erdogan is expected to visit the UAE on Feb. 14 as another step toward mending his country’s frayed ties with countries in the region.


Oman ends all COVID-19 protective measures

Oman ends all COVID-19 protective measures
Updated 10 sec ago

Oman ends all COVID-19 protective measures

Oman ends all COVID-19 protective measures
Oman announced on Sunday the lifting of all measures that had been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in all venues and for all activities, state TV reported, citing a statement from the government committee dealing with the pandemic.
There have been 389,943 infections and 4,260 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the sultanate since the pandemic began, according to Reuters data.

Four killed in attempt to smuggle drugs from Syria -Jordan’s armed forces

Four killed in attempt to smuggle drugs from Syria -Jordan’s armed forces
Updated 22 May 2022

Four killed in attempt to smuggle drugs from Syria -Jordan’s armed forces

Four killed in attempt to smuggle drugs from Syria -Jordan’s armed forces

Four people were killed in an attempt to smuggle large amounts of drugs from Syria to Jordan, the kingdom’s armed forces said on Sunday.
Some smugglers were also wounded while others escaped by going back to Syria, it said.
The Jordanian armed forces did not specify who killed or wounded the people involved.
War-torn Syria has become the region’s main production site for a multi-billion dollar trade also destined for Iraq and Europe. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government denies involvement in drug making and smuggling.
In January, Jordanian soldiers killed at least 27 armed smugglers and wounded others as they crossed the border.


Israel reports monkeypox case as virus spreads to Middle East

Passengers arrive at the COVID-19 testing site of Israel's Ben Gurion airport in Lod on May 19, 2022. (AFP)
Passengers arrive at the COVID-19 testing site of Israel's Ben Gurion airport in Lod on May 19, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

Israel reports monkeypox case as virus spreads to Middle East

Passengers arrive at the COVID-19 testing site of Israel's Ben Gurion airport in Lod on May 19, 2022. (AFP)
  • The virus, which causes distinctive pustules but is rarely fatal, is endemic to parts of central and west Africa

JERUSALEM: Israel confirmed its first case of monkeypox on Saturday, joining several European and North American countries in detecting the disease endemic to parts of Africa.
A spokesman for Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said that a 30-year-old man, who recently returned from western Europe with monkeypox symptoms, had tested positive for the virus.
The virus, which causes distinctive pustules but is rarely fatal, is endemic to parts of central and west Africa.
In recent weeks, cases have been detected in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden as well as in the US, Canada and Australia, raising fears the virus may be spreading.
Symptoms of the rare disease include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.
The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions or droplets from a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding or towels.


Ex-Tehran hostage: ‘Blundering’ IRGC is ‘Iranian

Kylie Moore-Gilbert. (AFP)
Kylie Moore-Gilbert. (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2022

Ex-Tehran hostage: ‘Blundering’ IRGC is ‘Iranian

Kylie Moore-Gilbert. (AFP)
  • Moore-Gilbert was arrested in 2018 after leaving a conference but realized that she was being used as a pawn to extract concessions and funding from Western countries

LONDON: A former dual national prisoner jailed by Iran has said that the country’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are “blundering and brainwashed idiots.”
British Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, 35, who was jailed for almost three years on trumped-up charges of spying, told The Telegraph that her captors were incompetent and were “not well versed in security, geopolitics or counter-espionage.”
While detained in Evin Prison in Tehran, Moore-Gilbert was accused of operating as a spy in the country before her arrival, thanks to a mistake on the part of the IRGC, who used the wrong calendar in reference to her account.
After her ordeal and release in late 2020, Moore-Gilbert began writing a book, “The Uncaged Sky,” which details her treatment in Iran. It was released in April this year.

BACKGROUND

British Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert was arrested in 2018 after leaving a conference but realized that she was being used as a pawn to extract concessions and funding from Western countries.

She said: “They’re not necessarily talented or skilled. Some of them are smart but they're brainwashed.
“I watched the movie about Johnny English in Farsi in my cell, and I thought, that is the Revolutionary Guard — the Iranian Johnny English. Most of the time, they are blundering around arresting innocent people because of brainwashing and conspiracy theories.”
The IRGC is Iran’s elite fighting force and answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But critics argue that in the case of Moore-Gilbert and other dual nationals arrested and jailed by the force — including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe — the IRGC uses hostage-taking as a means to generate funds.
Moore-Gilbert was arrested in 2018 after leaving a conference but realized that she was being used as a pawn to extract concessions and funding from Western countries.
She said: “I had been calling for my case to be made public from the first few months of my arrest. I was telling my family on the phone — go to the media, get it out there, don’t keep it a secret. But unfortunately that wasn’t listened to.
“I don’t blame my family for it at all, the advice they were getting from the government was it’s better to keep quiet.”
The academic urged families of hostages taken by Iran to go public through media campaigns. “I don’t see any evidence of hostages being treated worse in prison (after going public),” she said. “I noticed that great attention was placed on my medical situation after the arrest became public.”
And to make matters worse, the academic discovered that her husband, Ruslan Hodorov, a Russian Israeli dual national, had been having an affair in Australia during her time in jail.
But Moore-Gilbert described the discovery as a “blessing in disguise.” The two have since divorced.
She said: “Whilst it doesn’t reflect well on his character that he abandoned me in my darkest moment, I’m better off without him.”


Lebanese government goes into caretaker mode amid calls to expedite economic recovery plan

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun (R) and Prime Minister Najib Mikati (C) heading the cabinet meeting in Beirut on May 20, 2022.
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun (R) and Prime Minister Najib Mikati (C) heading the cabinet meeting in Beirut on May 20, 2022.
Updated 22 May 2022

Lebanese government goes into caretaker mode amid calls to expedite economic recovery plan

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun (R) and Prime Minister Najib Mikati (C) heading the cabinet meeting in Beirut on May 20, 2022.
  • Rescue opportunities only available through IMF, says PM Najib Mikati
  • Hezbollah-backed MP Gebran Bassil draws fire over electricity crisis

BEIRUT: The mandate of the newly elected Lebanese parliament begins on Sunday amid warnings that any delay in the country's economic recovery plan would have a high cost. The term of the previous parliament expired on Saturday.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the government of Najib Mikati was considered to have resigned based on the constitution.

Aoun expressed his appreciation to the prime minister and ministers, asking the government to act in caretaker mode until a new government was formed.

The Cabinet held its final session on Friday fraught with last-minute decisions, including the approval of the economic recovery plan, amid objection from the ministers of Hezbollah and the Amal movement.

FASTFACT

The Cabinet held its final session on Friday fraught with last-minute decisions, including the approval of Lebanon’s economic recovery plan.

Mikati said: “Deposits of up to $100,000 will be fully protected,” stressing at the same time that there was “no economy without banks.”

The financial strategy in the plan includes a program to restore financial solvency “as a priority to enhance confidence in the state.”

In the medium and long term, it aims to put the debt on a regressive path through the introduction of gradual financial adjustments accompanied by permanent and strategic debt restructuring reforms.

The government also expects to cancel a large part of the Central Bank's foreign currency obligations to commercial banks.

The Cabinet approved an increase in the telecommunications tariff, starting July, accompanied by the formation of a ministerial committee to review the remarks from the communications minister’s plan.

It did not approve the item related to the customs dollar after the finance minister withdrew it from the agenda “to avoid public anger.”

The Cabinet approved allocating $35 million for chronic diseases and cancer drugs, provided that the amount was secured by the Housing Bank in US dollars, which would be enough for four months.

Mikati warned: “Any delay in the recovery plan will have a high cost. Had we resolved this two years ago, the cost would have been much lower.”

He stressed that rescue opportunities were only available through the International Monetary Fund, and the Central Bank should set the necessary standards to ensure the growth of the economy.

He criticized the attempts of some to prioritize their interest over the public interest, indirectly finding fault in how the Free Patriotic Movement had handled the electricity crisis.

“I personally received two offers from companies willing to operate the Al-Zahrani and Deir Ammar plants to produce electricity on gas at excellent prices. A consulting office was assigned to study the two offers, but unfortunately, the minister of energy withdrew this item from the Cabinet’s agenda to be further discussed.”

MP Ashraf Rifi, commenting on the electricity issue, said on Saturday: “What Mikati said about withdrawing these offers from the Cabinet’s agenda constitutes a continuation of a major crime committed against the Lebanese immersed in darkness. Hezbollah-backed Gebran Bassil is the one to blame.”

Bassil, he added, had taken over the Ministry of Energy since 2008 “as if it were his personal property, with all the failures, waste, and corruption practiced within it, and the Lebanese are paying the price.”

Rifi called on sovereign and reformist MPs to make the electricity issue their priority, agree on a plan of action, and hold those involved accountable.

The International Support Group for Lebanon has called on adopting the necessary legislation to secure economic stability in Lebanon, strengthen governance, and implement the reforms that Lebanon and its people urgently need to bring the country back up on its feet.

The ISG also called on all concerned parties to move quickly to form a government that can implement the vital reforms that are long overdue and to continue working with the IMF, including implementing the prior measures that Lebanon committed to in the staff-level agreement on April 7 to lay solid foundations for the sustainable social and economic recovery of Lebanon.

The US State Department urged the elected MPs and political leaders to respond to the Lebanese people's call for change and to work seriously and urgently to take the necessary measures to save the economy.

It called for the rapid formation of a government that was capable and committed to carrying out the serious work required to restore the confidence of the Lebanese people and the international community.

The elected parliament is meanwhile preparing to elect a speaker and deputy speaker.

The Development and Liberation bloc announced Najib Berri's nomination for the parliament speaker position at the end of a meeting headed by him. He has headed parliament since 1992 and nobody is running against him.

If Berri is elected by acclamation, this will be his seventh term.

The bloc stressed the need for the caretaker government to carry out its duties in the transitional period and follow up on issues that concerned people and their economic and social problems, especially controlling the exchange rate and securing fuel, bread, and other needs.

The FPM, the Lebanese Forces Party, and independent and reformist MPs are against Berri’s nomination.

Member of the Development and Liberation bloc, Dr. Michel Moussa, told Arab News: “In this defining stage, parliamentary blocs communicate with one another to voice their positions on Berri's candidacy, while it is only natural for him to be running.”

He explained that the blocs would hold their meetings next week. “But in Lebanon, everything is decided at the last minute.”

As of Sunday evening, the elected MPs will have 15 days to elect the speaker, said Moussa.

Otherwise, the process of assigning a new prime minister to form the next government would be disrupted, provided the caretaker government continued to function until a decree to form the new government was issued.

“All these things will become clear next week.”

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