Israel PM gives nod to Gaza Marine gas development, wants security assurances

Israel PM gives nod to Gaza Marine gas development, wants security assurances
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on June 18, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 June 2023

Israel PM gives nod to Gaza Marine gas development, wants security assurances

Israel PM gives nod to Gaza Marine gas development, wants security assurances
  • Any pact must include Hamas, the Gaza Strip ruler, says analyst
  • Field is part of ongoing talks between Palestinians, Tel Aviv, Cairo, US

GAZA CITY: Israel has given preliminary approval for the development of a gas field off the Gaza Strip.

If concluded, the agreement would be a boost for the Palestinian economy.

Announcing the move on the Gaza Marine project, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said progress would hinge on “preserving the State of Israel’s security and diplomatic needs.”

The office added in a press statement in Arabic and Hebrew that the project — 36 kilometers from the Gaza coast in the waters of the Mediterranean — falls within the framework of the ongoing negotiations between Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

On May 4, Israel’s Channel 13 reported that the government was in secret talks with the Palestinian Authority to extract gas from the field off the coast of the Gaza Strip, with the approval of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The channel claimed that the Israeli government held internal discussions about the gas field after the administration was formed at the end of last year.

It reported that the talks were renewed as part of the political and security process that began recently between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under US mediation.

The issue of developing the Gaza Marine field and preparing it for gas extraction was at the heart of the talks that took place in Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh.

The talks brought together security and political officials from the Palestinian and Israeli sides, under the auspices of the US. Jordan and Egypt were part of the talks.

Tzachi Hanegbi, head of the Israeli National Security Council — who headed the Israeli delegation — and Ghassan Alyan, coordinator of government operations in the Palestinian territories, took a leading role in the meetings.

The deal would see an Egyptian company facilitating natural gas production in the offshore fields.

Gaza Marine is estimated to hold over 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, much more than is needed to power the Palestinian territories.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority — represented by the sovereign wealth vehicle Palestine Investment Fund or PIF — will gain 27.5 percent of profits from the field.

The PIF’s partner, the Palestinian-owned Consolidated Contractors Company or CCC, will get another 27.5 percent.

The remaining 45 percent will go to the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Co. or EGAS, which will operate the project.

The Israeli TV channel indicated that Tel Aviv expects Palestinians to gain economically from the latest step, which might contribute to reducing security tensions in the long run.

Economist Hamed Jad hoped a deal could be finalized by the end of the year.

“The Palestinian attempts, since the discovery of gas fields off the shores of Gaza, have continued ever since but every time there are new obstacles. Now the issue has come up again,” Jad told Arab News.

He said that a final agreement should include an understanding with Hamas — the de facto ruler of Gaza — to avoid further challenges in the field’s operations.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Arab News: “We are following up on all developments related to the gas issue and the agreements.”

He added: “Our people’s right to benefit from its natural resources and gas is guaranteed in all international laws and resolutions.”

The Gaza gas fields were first discovered in 1999 in Palestinian territorial waters.

The first discovery was called Gaza Marine 1 and contains an estimated 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

The second field — located on the sea border area between Gaza and Israel — was called Gaza Marine 2 and contains an additional 3 billion cubic meters.

The fields have long been seen as a major stepping stone toward Palestinian energy independence but they remained untapped mainly due to Israeli objections and obstacles.

The offshore fields can help Gaza’s power station switch from oil to gas, which would increase its operational capacity.

In November 1999, a 25-year contract for gas exploration and development of gas fields was signed between the British Gas Group or BG Group, the CCC and the PIF.

BG Group withdrew from the project in 2016 and handed it over to Shell, which withdrew from the agreement in 2018 due to various disputes.

In 2021, the PA signed a memorandum of understanding with Egypt to develop the Gaza gas field and the necessary infrastructure.

Since 2016, the Gaza Strip has been suffering from a severe shortage of electricity as a result of the Israeli bombing of the only station at the time.

There has also been a lack of funds to finance the petrol needed to operate the station amid the 16-year-long Israeli-led blockade.

Attacks on ships and US drones show Yemen’s Houthis can still fight despite US-led airstrikes

Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 February 2024

Attacks on ships and US drones show Yemen’s Houthis can still fight despite US-led airstrikes

Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Despite a month of US-led airstrikes, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. This week, they seriously damaged a ship in a crucial strait and apparently downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.
The continued assaults by the Houthis on shipping through the crucial Red Sea corridor — the Bab el-Mandeb Strait — against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip underscore the challenges in trying to stop the guerrilla-style attacks they have used to hold onto Yemen’s capital and much of the war-ravaged country’s north since 2014.
The campaign has boosted the rebels’ standing in the Arab world, despite their human rights abuses in a yearslong stalemated war with several of America’s allies in the region. Analysts warn that the longer the Houthis’ attacks go on, the greater the risk that disruptions to international shipping will begin to weigh on the global economy.
On Monday, both the Houthis and Western officials acknowledged one of the most serious attacks on shipping launched by the rebels. The Houthis targeted the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar with two anti-ship ballistic missiles, and one struck the vessel, the US military’s Central Command said.
The Rubymar, which reported problems with its propulsion in November, apparently became inoperable, forcing her crew to abandon the vessel.
Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed on Monday night that the Rubymar sank. However, satellite images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showed the Rubymar still afloat at 2 p.m. local time Tuesday just north of the Bab el-Mandeb. A large oil slick trailed the vessel.
The Rubymar attack marked one of a few direct, serious hits by the Houthi rebels on shipping. In late January, another direct hit set a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker ablaze for hours.
Meanwhile, the Houthis early Tuesday released footage of what they described as a surface-to-air missile bringing down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone off the coast of Hodeida, a Yemeni port city they hold on the Red Sea. The footage included a video of men dragging pieces of debris from the water onto a beach.
Images of the debris, which included writing in English and what seemed to be electrical equipment, appeared to correspond to known pieces of the Reaper, usually used in attack missions and surveillance flights. A US defense official acknowledged Tuesday an MQ-9 “crashed off the coast of Yemen,” without elaborating.
In November, the Pentagon acknowledged the loss of an MQ-9, also shot down by the rebels over the Red Sea.
Since the Houthis seized the country’s north and its capital of Sanaa in 2014, the US military has lost at least four drones to shootdowns by the rebels — in 2017, 2019 and this year.
Meanwhile, the Houthis claimed an attack on the Sea Champion, a Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier bound for Aden, Yemen, carrying grain from Argentina.
The rebels separately claimed an attack on the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Navis Fortuna, a ship that had been broadcasting its destination as Italy with an “all Chinese” crew to avoid being targeted. Private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel sustained minor damage in a drone attack.
The US shot down 10 bomb-carrying Houthi drones, as well as a cruise missile heading toward the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Laboon over the last day, Central Command said Tuesday. The US military also conducted strikes targeting a Houthi surface-to-air missile launcher and a drone prior to its launch.
The Houthis acknowledged the drone attacks and claimed other assaults not immediately acknowledged by the West.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor.
The European Union has launched its own campaign to protect shipping, with member France saying on Tuesday that it shot down two Houthi drones overnight in the Red Sea.
So far, no US sailor or pilot has been wounded by the Houthis since America launched its airstrikes targeting the rebels in January. However, the US continues to lose drones worth tens of millions of dollars and fire million-dollar cruise missiles to counter the Houthis, who are using far cheaper weapons that experts believe largely have been supplied by Iran.
Based on US military statements, American and allied forces have destroyed at least 73 missiles of different types before they were launched, as well as 17 drones, 13 bomb-laden drone boats and one underwater explosive drone over their monthlong campaign, according to an AP tally. Those figures don’t include the initial Jan. 11 joint US-UK strikes that began the campaign. The American military also has shot down dozens of missiles and drones already airborne since November.
The Houthis haven’t offered much information regarding their losses, though they’ve acknowledged at least 22 of their fighters have been killed in the American-led strikes. Insurgent forces including the Houthis and allied tribes in Yemen number around 20,000 fighters, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. They can operate in small units away from military bases, making targeting them more difficult.
The Houthis may view the costs as balanced by their sudden fame within an Arab world enraged by the killing of women and civilians by Israel in Gaza.
In the past, others — including the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — have used the Palestinians’ plight to justify their “actions and garner support,” wrote Fatima Abo Alasrar, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
“It legitimizes the Houthis’ actions in the eyes of those who sympathize with the Palestinian cause, distracts from the more immediate issues associated with the Yemen conflict and the failures of Houthi governance, and potentially broadens the base of their support beyond Yemen’s borders,” Alasrar added.
If the Houthi attacks continue, it could force the US to intensify and widen its counterattacks across an already volatile Mideast.
“Without a ceasefire in Gaza, the Houthis could be tempted to further escalate against US interests in the Red Sea and in the region,” wrote Eleonora Ardemagni, a fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.
For Washington, “deterrence options” are getting narrower, she added.


Two killed in Iraq strike blamed on Turkiye

Two killed in Iraq strike blamed on Turkiye
Updated 21 February 2024

Two killed in Iraq strike blamed on Turkiye

Two killed in Iraq strike blamed on Turkiye
  • Turkiye has over the past 25 years operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK

IRBIL, Iraq: Two people were killed Tuesday in a strike in northern Iraq that was blamed on Turkiye, security and health officials said.
Turkiye frequently carries out ground and air offensives on positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state — in northern Iraq.
“Two civilians were killed and another injured in a Turkish strike” on a remote village in the mountainous region of Akre in Dohuk province, a security official said, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
A health official in the region confirmed the death toll, and said that two others were wounded. He didn’t specify if those killed were civilians.
The Turkish military rarely comments on its operations in Iraq.
Turkiye has over the past 25 years operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK.
A Turkish soldier was killed and another injured in an “attempted intrusion” of a Turkish military base in northern Iraq blamed on the PKK, Turkiye’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
Attacks on Turkish military bases in northern Iraq in December and January killed 18 soldiers.
Both Baghdad and the regional government of the Iraqi Kurdistan region have been accused of tolerating Turkiye’s military activities to preserve their close economic ties.
In October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would “continue to intensify” its strikes against the PKK in Iraq and neighboring Syria, which Ankara and its Western allies consider a “terrorist” group.

Ankara, Cairo mend ties, signaling challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood

Ankara, Cairo mend ties, signaling challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood
Updated 20 February 2024

Ankara, Cairo mend ties, signaling challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood

Ankara, Cairo mend ties, signaling challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood
  • Erdogan is sending a message that Turkiye is distancing itself from anti-Western elements in the region

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo on Feb. 14 as part of a major state visit intended to boost the gradual normalization between the two countries that started in 2021, with plans for El-Sisi to visit Turkiye in April.

In the aftermath of the visit, it emerged that Turkish authorities revoked the citizenship request of reported Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein Ahmed Hassan, drawing speculation on the motives behind the decision.

Erdogan’s visit signaled a shift in Turkiye’s stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood, a pivotal factor in thawing tensions between the two nations.

Al-Arabiya reported Hussein has offloaded his property in Istanbul, engaging in discussions with Muslim Brotherhood officials on potential courses of action, including a resolution with Turkish authorities or seeking an alternative place of residence.

Turkiye has undertaken measures over the past two years to address Egypt’s demands for crackdowns on exiled Muslim Brotherhood members and the closure of Istanbul-based media outlets critical of the Egyptian government. Consequently, prominent Muslim Brotherhood figures, media personalities, and academics have begun leaving Turkiye, while Egyptian dissidents face social media restrictions imposed by Turkish authorities.

In 2022, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Egyptian satellite TV channel, Mekameleen TV, relocated its operations from Turkiye, underscoring shifts in regional dynamics. Last year marked a significant milestone as Egypt and Turkiye appointed ambassadors to each other’s capitals for the first time in a decade. The Feb. 14 Cairo meeting, along with El-Sisi’s planned visit to Turkiye in April, are a further signal of the desire for diplomatic normality.

Soner Cagaptay, senior fellow at The Washington Institute, told Arab News: “The reconciliation with Egypt represents the final and most challenging aspect of Turkiye’s ongoing efforts to reset relations with Middle Eastern powers. For nearly a decade, Turkish relations with countries in the Middle East were strained primarily due to Ankara’s unilateral support for the Muslim Brotherhood starting in 2011. While Turkiye gradually repaired ties with other nations, Egypt remained the last hurdle, as President El-Sisi has insisted on concrete steps from Turkiye to crack down on exiled Muslim Brotherhood members residing within its borders.”

Despite recent warm exchanges aimed at repairing ties, experts stress the importance of addressing the Libyan conflict before genuine cooperation can be achieved, as two countries have frequently found themselves at odds in their support for rival governments in the North African country.

“As an additional, yet unspoken aspect of the reconciliation process, negotiations between Ankara and Cairo have also touched upon a potential power-sharing agreement for Libya, seeking a common understanding of the Libyan conflict. Egypt views the eastern part of the North African country as within its sphere of influence,” Cagaptay said.

Ankara recently began to talk to various actors in Libya rather than limiting itself to the Government of National Accord, one of the two rival governments that emerged in the war-torn country.

On Saturday Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan held consultations with his Italian counterpart, Antonio Tajani, on the situation in Libya on the sidelines of the 16th Munich Security Conference, coinciding with the diplomatic efforts between Ankara and Cairo.

Fidan also met Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah in Tripoli two weeks ago before separate meetings with Mohammed Al-Manfi, head of the Libyan Presidential Council, the council’s deputy head, Abdullah Al-Lafi, and Mohammed Muftah Takala, president of Libya’s High Council of State.

“Turkiye’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood elements is part of its rapprochement process with Egypt, determined by both internal and external motivations,” Pinar Akpinar, assistant professor at the Department of International Affairs and Gulf Studies Program at Qatar University, told Arab News.

“The primary internal motivation is the anticipated elections, which are overshadowed by the severe economic crisis Turkiye faces. The resignation of the latest chief of the central bank, Hafize Gaye Erkan, only nine months after resuming her duties, has further eroded trust among the people and investors in the Turkish economy,” she added.

According to Akpinar, as an important regional power and Turkiye’s largest trade partner in Africa, rapprochement with Egypt allows Erdogan to present a success story before the elections, both politically and economically.

“Erdogan is sending a message that he is strengthening his alliance with the West, evident in Turkiye’s support for Sweden’s NATO membership, rapprochement with Egypt, and distancing from anti-Western elements in the region,” she said.

“It should also be noted that, for the first time, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin refrains from supporting Erdogan in elections and has postponed his planned visit to Turkiye, expected to take place last week. As such, Erdogan is leaning towards and seeking support from Turkiye’s traditional allies for this election and his rapprochement with Sisi as a strong Western ally of recent years, is part of this narrative.”

In the meantime, Fidan said an agreement had been finalized to provide drones to Egypt earlier this month.

Greek ship attacked in Red Sea by Houthis arrives in Aden with cargo

Greek ship attacked in Red Sea by Houthis arrives in Aden with cargo
Updated 20 February 2024

Greek ship attacked in Red Sea by Houthis arrives in Aden with cargo

Greek ship attacked in Red Sea by Houthis arrives in Aden with cargo
  • The Sea Champion was attacked twice on Monday with a window damaged but no crew injuries

LONDON/ADEN/ATHENS: The Greek-flagged bulker Sea Champion arrived in the southern Yemeni Port of Aden on Tuesday after being attacked in the Red Sea in what appeared to have been a mistaken missile strike by the Houthi militia, sources said.

Shipping risks are escalating due to repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab Strait by the Iran-aligned Houthis since November. US and British forces have responded with several attacks on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

The Sea Champion, which was taking grain from Argentina to Aden, the seat of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, was attacked twice on Monday, with a window damaged but no crew injuries, Greek Shipping Ministry sources said.

A port source in Aden and a separate shipping source said the vessel was discharging part of its cargo of some 9,229 tonnes in Aden before heading to the northern Port of Hodeidah, an area controlled by the Houthis.

The port source in Aden, who declined to be identified, said the attack on the vessel was a mistake. A separate port source in Hodeidah, who also declined to be identified, said the Houthis informed them the attack was not intentional.

Houthi officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The vessel’s Athens-based operator Mega Shipping and Greek Shipping Ministry officials declined to comment on the vessel’s arrival.

The Sea Champion was anchored in Aden Port with its last position updated at 1211 GMT, according to data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic.

The Houthis, who control Yemen’s most populous regions, have attacked vessels with commercial ties to the US, Britain and Israel, shipping and insurance sources say.

Despite Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue striking ships linked to Israel until attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stop.

Shipping sources said the Sea Champion, which had made grain deliveries in the past to Yemen, had US ownership links.

So far, no ships have been sunk nor crew killed from the attacks in a sea lane accounting for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic.

Nonetheless, concerns were mounting over the fate of the Rubymar ship, which was hit by missiles in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday, despite the crew evacuating onto another ship.

In a maritime advisory seen by Reuters, commercial ships were cautioned to stay away from the area of the abandoned vessel amid fears it might sink.

A US defense official said the vessel had not sunk.

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the leading union organization for seafarers, said the Rubymar attack should be a wake up call “to immediately prioritize seafarers’ safety, before we see human lives lost on the Red Sea.”

He said an immediate, permanent Gaza ceasefire was a critical step to guaranteeing safe transit through the Red Sea.

There was also alarm that commercial ships could face new perils including the possibility of sea mines being deployed, maritime security sources said.

The US military’s Central Command said on Feb. 17 it had conducted self-defense strikes on various targets including one unmanned underwater vessel, which it said was “the first observed Houthi employment of a UUV since attacks began on Oct. 23.”

While many ships have opted to divert around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, some have continued to sail through.

French container shipping group CMA CGM said on Tuesday its Jules Verne vessel had transited the Red Sea under French naval escort, after suspending crossings for security risks earlier this month.

The European Union on Monday launched a naval mission to the Red Sea to “safeguard freedom of navigation” there amid hopes of more protection and support for commercial shipping. France has provided navy escorts in recent weeks for some shipping traffic including French-linked vessels.

Jordanian king meets Algerian assembly president

Jordanian king meets Algerian assembly president
Updated 20 February 2024

Jordanian king meets Algerian assembly president

Jordanian king meets Algerian assembly president
  • Jordanian monarch voiced his country’s backing for Algeria’s role as a non-permanent member of the UNSC

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah on Tuesday met Ibrahim Boughali, president of Algeria’s People’s National Assembly, in Amman, Jordan News Agency reported.

The meeting underscored the longstanding historical ties between the two countries, with King Abdullah expressing a desire to bolster cooperation in various sectors, particularly at the legislative level.

The Jordanian monarch voiced his country’s backing for Algeria’s role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, emphasizing support for Arab initiatives, notably the Palestinian issue, and efforts to uphold global peace and security.

Additionally, King Abdullah praised Algeria’s endeavors to facilitate a ceasefire in Gaza and its provision of humanitarian assistance to the region. He also stressed the urgency of intensifying efforts to implement an immediate ceasefire, safeguard civilians and guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Boughali later met Abdullah Ensour, acting president of the Jordanian Senate, to discuss cooperation and regional developments.

The meeting touched on the significance of fostering Jordan-Algeria relations, highlighting King Abdullah’s visit to Algiers in 2022 as a crucial step in strengthening ties.

Ensour also commended Algeria for its advocacy for the Palestinian cause, its diplomatic efforts within the African Union, and its role in the recent African summit declaration in Addis Ababa, which called for a ceasefire in Gaza and compliance with the International Court of Justice’s decisions.

During the meeting, Ensour also demanded an independent international investigation into Israeli violations of international humanitarian law.