Estonia’s Lennart Meri Conference sheds light on Middle East developments, Saudi-Iran ties

Estonia’s Lennart Meri Conference sheds light on Middle East developments, Saudi-Iran ties
The role of the Middle East, rise of Saudi Arabia along with non-Arab countries, including Iran, Turkiye and Israel, was discussed during a Lennart Meri Conference session. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 May 2023
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Estonia’s Lennart Meri Conference sheds light on Middle East developments, Saudi-Iran ties

Estonia’s Lennart Meri Conference sheds light on Middle East developments, Saudi-Iran ties
  • We are in a bad place when it comes to Tehran’s nuclear program, warns leading expert
  • Chinese role in mediating between Kingdom and Islamic Republic explained

TALLINN: Analysts at a prominent thought leadership conference in Estonia debated on Friday whether the Middle East region and its hotspots have been neglected due to the Western focus on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In what has been described as a “mixed blessing,” there has been a strategic shift by the US toward East Asia and Europe’s preoccupation with Russia, which has led to reduced Western attention on the Middle East, a Lennart Meri Conference panel heard. With some panellists warning that “even if you leave the Middle East, the Middle East will not leave you alone.”

This was discussed during the main event’s pre-opening session at the Lennart Meri Conference, in the Estonian capital, Tallinn. The role of the Middle East, rise of Saudi Arabia along with non-Arab countries, including Iran, Turkiye and Israel, was also considered.

Hanna Notte, senior associate with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, said that the US did not want a war in the Middle East. Notte said that “we can continue playing games with Iran’s JCPOA,” referring to the Iran nuclear deal scrapped by former US president, Donald Trump, which has been stalled since last year.

Notte said that “we are in a bad place” with the JCPOA, and the Iranian regime is now stockpiling uranium, adding to Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “major wrench in global nuclear diplomacy.”


Hanna Notte, senior associate with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Hanna Notte, senior associate with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

The session tackled the stalled JCPOA deal, and the West’s absence, which may open avenues for other possibly less-benign actors such as Russia and China to assert their influence. An example was their neglect of the impact of Iranian weapons being exported to the conflict in Yemen war but not on the war in Ukraine.

Seth Jones, senior vice president and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that there had been a decrease in US influence, while China’s had been growing in the Middle East due to a decreased reliance on regional oil and a lessening in the perceived terror threat from region.




Seth Jones, senior vice president and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Editor-in-Chief of Riyadh-based Arab News, Faisal J. Abbas, also commented on China’s role and praised their efficiency in brokering the Saudi-Iran reproachment, saying it took only three months from the proposal presented by President Xi during his December 2022 visit to Riyadh and the declaration announed in Beijing on 10 March 2023.  

However, despite the role the Chinese are playing in the region, the kingdom’s relations with the US remain “ironclad” – adding that there are reasons why the Chinese proposal to mediate was welcomed.

“I know very well how China is perceived in Europe and how China is perceived in the US, but you also have to look at it from a Middle Eastern perspective,” Abbas said.

“We know what’s happening in Asia, in terms of the Chinese foreign policy there, but you have to remember in the collective memory of the Arab world (that) China was never a colonizing power in the region,” Abbas said. “It doesn’t bring any of the luggage that comes with, for example, Britain or France, or even the United States in the region.

“And most importantly, unlike Iraq (who tried to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran), China has leverage and 400 billion reasons, and that’s the amount of investment pledged in dollars to be invested in iran over the next 25 years.”




Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Riyadh-based Arab News

Russia’s alignment with Iran is long-standing, but for the first time Moscow is dependent on Tehran to secure weapons for the war in Ukraine and is looking for political support from parties that have not been isolated, said Anna Borshchevskaya, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.




Anna Borshchevskaya, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Mustafa Aydin, professor at the international relations faculty of economics, administrative and social sciences at Kadir Has University in Turkiye, said that his country’s priority was “stability on its own borders and in the wider Levant and Middle East region,” adding that this had been lacking since the end of the Cold War.

He also said that the US backing of the Syrian Kurds broke the relationship with Turkiye and pushed Ankara to forge closer ties with Russia.




Mustafa Aydin, professor at the international relations faculty of economics

 


Gaza residents fear possible truce would only pause, not stop, the war

Gaza residents fear possible truce would only pause, not stop, the war
Updated 3 sec ago
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Gaza residents fear possible truce would only pause, not stop, the war

Gaza residents fear possible truce would only pause, not stop, the war
RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Homeless, hungry Palestinians fearing an Israeli assault on their last relatively safe haven in Gaza said they were desperate for a lasting ceasefire as the United States said a temporary truce could be agreed soon.
A proposed deal from the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in early March could stop the fighting for the first time since a brief truce in November and ease a human catastrophe unfolding in Gaza.
However, while negotiators discuss a reported proposal for a six-week truce, Israel’s enemy Hamas has said big differences remained and it was still demanding a permanent end to the fighting.
“We hope it will be a permanent ceasefire. We don’t want to go back to war because war after the first truce destroyed us and destroyed our houses,” said Rehab Redwan, a woman who had fled her house in Khan Younis to shelter in a roadside tent.
“Can you imagine — there’s no food, nothing to drink. There are no basics for life,” she added, saying she wanted to go back home even if it now rubble.
After nearly five months of Israel’s air and ground campaign, around 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have fled their homes, most houses are damaged or destroyed, famine looms and disease is rife, say aid agencies.
The war began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.

PERMANENT OR TEMPORARY TRUCE
Walking with a small child through the crammed streets of Rafah, where most displaced Gaza residents have fled to and which Israel says it plans to assault next, Faraj Bakroon said reported conditions for the proposed truce made no sense to him.
As well as including only a weeks-long pause in fighting, there is no indication that Israel would allow people who fled south to go back to their homes in the north — particularly if they are men of military age.
“If the truce is like the previous one and they would start war again after it is over, we don’t want it. And if we can’t go to the north then a truce is not needed. Let’s keep the war until it is totally over,” he said.
“How will we go according to the age they specified? How do we take the children? We can’t leave our children behind and move. We need to bring them,” he added.
Still, for many people in Gaza any stop to fighting would be welcome, even if it falls short of a lasting ceasefire.
“We want a total truce in which we can live,” said Rashad Daher through his full white beard. But he added, “regarding this temporary truce, we ask God that it happens.”
Ahmed Al-Far, living in Rafah after fleeing his home in Gaza City in the north, where Israel’s offensive focused first, said he hoped for a truce “so people can catch their breath and heal their wounds.”
“There are 150 to 200 martyrs daily among the people. It’s a huge loss for our people,” he said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah says Gaza aid must be doubled to stem crisis

Jordan’s King Abdullah says Gaza aid must be doubled to stem crisis
Updated 50 sec ago
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Jordan’s King Abdullah says Gaza aid must be doubled to stem crisis

Jordan’s King Abdullah says Gaza aid must be doubled to stem crisis
AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah said on Tuesday that humanitarian aid to Gaza must be doubled to prevent a deterioration in a hunger crisis affecting over 2 million people.
The monarch was quoted by state media as telling visiting USAID chief Samantha Power that the international community had to put more pressure on Israel to ease restrictions on the flow of food into the territory.
Jordan is urging its Western allies to lobby Israel to boost the quantities of aid coming from the kingdom via Kerem Shalom on the border of Egypt, Israel and Gaza, beyond the existing Rafah crossing, officials say.
Israel has said it is not blocking aid and blames problems on the UN and Palestinian sides for any delays.
Separately, the king arrived at a military air base to oversee the departure of seven C-130 military transport aircraft, three from Jordan and the rest from Egypt, Qatar, France and the UAE, that will air drop food parcels along the Gaza coast for a second day.
Jordan, which the UN and Western donors have turned into a regional hub for humanitarian supplies to Gaza, for the first time on Monday, along with the French army, air dropped food via four flights to thousands of displaced people sheltering on the beach.
Previous air drops that parachuted in medicines and humanitarian provisions were sent to hospitals that the Jordanian army runs in Gaza.

UN says Israel ‘systematically’ blocking Gaza aid access

UN says Israel ‘systematically’ blocking Gaza aid access
Updated 10 min 5 sec ago
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UN says Israel ‘systematically’ blocking Gaza aid access

UN says Israel ‘systematically’ blocking Gaza aid access
  • It has become nearly impossible to carry out medical evacuations and aid deliveries in northern Gaza and increasingly difficult in the south
  • All planned aid convoys into the north have been denied by Israeli authorities in recent weeks

GENEVA: Israeli forces are “systematically” blocking access to people in need in Gaza, complicating the task of delivering aid in what has become a lawless war zone, the UN said Tuesday.
It has become nearly impossible to carry out medical evacuations and aid deliveries in northern Gaza and increasingly difficult in the south, said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA.
All planned aid convoys into the north have been denied by Israeli authorities in recent weeks, with the last allowed in on January 23, according to the World Health Organization.
Making matters worse, even convoys cleared in advance with Israeli authorities have repeatedly been blocked or come under fire.
Laerke pointed to an incident last Sunday when a convoy, jointly organized by the WHO and the Palestinian Red Crescent (PCRS), to evacuate patients from the besieged Al Amal hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis, was blocked for hours and paramedics detained.
“Despite prior coordination for all staff members and vehicles with the Israeli side, the Israeli forces blocked the WHO-led convoy for many hours the moment it left the hospital,” Laerke told journalists in Geneva.
“The Israeli military forced patients and staff out of ambulances and stripped all paramedics of their clothes,” he said, adding that the convoy, which was carrying 24 patients, remained blocked for seven hours.
“Three PRCS paramedics were subsequently detained, although their personal details had been shared with the Israeli forces in advance,” Laerke said, adding that just one had been released so far.
“This is not an isolated incident,” he stressed.
“Aid convoys have come under fire and are systematically denied access to people in need.”
Such “inadequate facilitation for the delivery of aid throughout Gaza means that humanitarian workers are subject to unacceptable and preventable risk of being detained, injured or worse,” Laerke said.
The Hamas attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Militants also took about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.


Egyptian FM raises concerns over Red Sea tensions in talks with Iranian counterpart

Egyptian FM raises concerns over Red Sea tensions in talks with Iranian counterpart
Updated 27 February 2024
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Egyptian FM raises concerns over Red Sea tensions in talks with Iranian counterpart

Egyptian FM raises concerns over Red Sea tensions in talks with Iranian counterpart

DUBAI: Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, voiced concerns regarding the escalating tensions in the Red Sea, directly impacting Egypt, during discussions with his Iranian counterpart, Amir Abdolahian, Al Arabiya news channel reorted on Tuesday. 
Shoukry emphasized the unprecedented threat the tensions posed to international shipping traffic. 
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the 55th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said.
The officials delved into bilateral relations between Egypt and Iran, particularly following the summit between President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and President Ebrahim Raisi in November. 
They addressed the ongoing conflict in Gaza, expressing concerns over its potential escalation.


Yemen’s Houthis say Red Sea attacks will only be reassessed if Israeli ‘aggression’ stops

Yemen’s Houthis say Red Sea attacks will only be reassessed if Israeli ‘aggression’ stops
Updated 27 February 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis say Red Sea attacks will only be reassessed if Israeli ‘aggression’ stops

Yemen’s Houthis say Red Sea attacks will only be reassessed if Israeli ‘aggression’ stops
  • Situation to be reassessed if Gaza siege is ended and humanitarian aid is free to enter

ADEN: Yemen’s Houthi spokesperson said on Tuesday that the group’s operations in the Red Sea, where its missiles and drones have been threatening international shipping, will only stop when Israeli “aggression” on Gaza ends and the siege is lifted.
Asked if the attacks on ships would seize if a ceasefire deal was reached for Gaza, Mohammed Abdulsalam said the situation would be reassessed if the siege ended and humanitarian aid was free to enter.