Egypt, Turkiye leaders highlight importance of reviving economic cooperation

Egypt, Turkiye leaders highlight importance of reviving economic cooperation
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attends a meeting between the African Union and European Union during the G20 Leaders' Summit in New Delhi on September 9, 2023. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 10 September 2023

Egypt, Turkiye leaders highlight importance of reviving economic cooperation

Egypt, Turkiye leaders highlight importance of reviving economic cooperation
  • Analyst claims 2 nations can help boost political stability in Libya

ANKARA: The leaders of Turkiye and Egypt on Sunday met formally for the first time in more than a decade, on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

The meeting in the Indian capital New Delhi between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi marked an historic milestone in a recent thawing of relations.

In July, the two countries appointed respective ambassadors to Cairo and Ankara, effectively ending years of tensions that had strained diplomatic ties.

During Sunday’s talks, Erdogan and El-Sisi highlighted the importance of rejuvenating economic cooperation, including on energy, while promoting cultural exchanges.

Erdogan pointed out Turkiye’s keen interest in rekindling links in vital sectors such as liquefied natural gas and nuclear energy.

The reconciliation process has been a gradual one, with both countries taking measured steps to pave the way for diplomatic re-engagement.

Over recent years, Turkiye has shown its commitment to improving relations in several ways, including by ceasing the broadcast of Egyptian opposition TV channels, and detaining Egyptian dissidents using social media to support anti-government protests in Egypt.

Also, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Egyptian satellite TV channel, Mekameleen TV, last year relocated its operations from Turkiye.

Dalia Ziada, director of the Cairo-based MEEM Center for Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean Studies and a member of Diplomeds — The Council for Mediterranean Diplomacy, told Arab News that the Egyptians were pre-concerned by cooperation on regional problems.

“That was clearly expressed in the official statement by the Egyptian presidency which emphasized the importance of enhancing regional cooperation as a solid strategic approach to maintaining security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” she said.

However, she noted that the two delegations had yet to agree on holding a presidential summit in one of their capital cities.

“That is crucial to engage the public citizens in the reconciliation process in order to ensure its sustainability in the long term,” Ziada added.

Dr. Pinar Akpinar, assistant professor with the Gulf Studies Program at Qatar University’s College of Arts and Sciences, told Arab News that the Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement could lead to sustainable results in the short term by focusing on economic collaboration, regional cooperation, energy partnerships, security ties, and civil society engagement.

“Engaging the public and shifting away from red lines such as political ideologies toward shared interests are also critical components for success,” she said.

Akpinar pointed out that energy projects could be a focal point for collaboration between the two countries, particularly in renewable energy initiatives such as solar and wind farms.

“There is potential for private-sector investments in energy infrastructure and the creation of a geo-economic triangle involving Egypt, Israel, and Turkiye to attract European investments in the energy sector,” she added.

Akpinar said the rapprochement had the potential to bolster regional dynamics by enhancing energy security, stabilizing markets, and promoting economic interdependence.

“Collaborative efforts in renewable energy projects and infrastructure development can provide both countries with diversified energy sources and greater resilience against supply disruptions, positively impacting neighboring nations as well.

“Furthermore, their joint involvement in regional energy initiatives can position Egypt and Turkiye as influential actors in regional negotiations and conflicts, contributing to diplomatic stability and conflict mitigation while addressing shared energy needs in the region.

“They could also leverage their relations with Gulf countries in this regard,” she added.

Also a member of Diplomeds, Akpinar recently co-authored a policy paper with Ziada titled, “Fostering Egypt Turkiye Rapprochement through Sustainable Cooperation: A Strategic Policy Approach.”

In it they noted that improved Egyptian Turkish relations could enable the countries, “to build on their successful economic cooperation, revive military collaboration, and focus on future projects that support bilateral and regional well-being.”

Ziada said cooperation in the trade of LNG that had been going on since December 2021, could be magnified by including other regional players such as Israel.

“Especially in light of the ongoing successful cooperation between Egypt and Israel, since 2015, on extracting and liquifying the gas in their respective basins in the southern Mediterranean, this can deepen their cooperation,” she added.

Israeli-based news television channel i24NEWS recently reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed an inter-ministerial team to examine alternatives to Israel’s current gas exports, including a way to direct it to Turkiye and consequently to southern European nations to cut reliance on the Russian pipeline.

The proposed pipeline, “aims to link the key Turkish-European pipeline with the abundant gas reserves in Israel and neighboring areas such as Egypt and the UAE”, i24NEWS reported.

Ziada said Egypt could adopt a mechanism that allowed it to cooperate with Turkiye on the gas issue, without necessarily cutting ties with Greece and Cyprus or harming its previous agreements with them. “It is not an either/or equation. Egypt can do both,” she added.

Ziada warned about the need for stabilizing Libya to ensure stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Libya, she said, was “a bleeding wound in this economically critical region. Egypt and Turkiye can perfectly cooperate to ensure political stability in Libya due to their strong connections with and influence on the conflicting parties inside the country.”

The rapprochement process has also been supported by recent civil initiatives such as Diplomeds, a non-profit policy group. Prominent experts from the Mediterranean region have been working since 2022 to advance Egypt Turkiye rapprochement and improve ties between Mediterranean countries by advancing peace and promoting regional cooperation.

In a joint statement, Dr. Nimrod Goren, co-founder of Diplomeds and senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, and Camille Limon, Diplomeds coordinator, told Arab News: “We are working on this issue out of a conviction that progress in ties is feasible and beneficial for the two countries and their peoples, but also for their neighborhood at large.

“Last year, as prospects for Egypt-Turkiye rapprochement emerged, Diplomeds assembled a multi-national policy support group, consisting of several Egyptian, Turkish, and other Mediterranean retired ambassadors, scholars, and policy analysts.

“The group worked collaboratively to assess changes in ties and rapprochement efforts, to draw recommendations for improving bilateral relations, and to identify new regional opportunities that may emerge once Egypt and Turkiye are back on good terms.”

Hesham Youssef, senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace, Diplomeds’ co-founder and part of its policy support group on the topic, noted that Egyptian-Turkish relations were important for stability in the region.

He said: “Stability in the region can be advanced if cooperation between Egypt, Turkiye, Saudi Arabia, and Iran can be achieved, and this stability can be dramatically enhanced to achieve prosperity with the end of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and strong partnership with other countries in the East Mediterranean and the Middle East.”

Tens of thousands gather for Raisi funeral procession in Tehran

Tens of thousands gather for Raisi funeral procession in Tehran
Updated 25 min 4 sec ago

Tens of thousands gather for Raisi funeral procession in Tehran

Tens of thousands gather for Raisi funeral procession in Tehran
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is due to lead prayers for Raisi and his companions

TEHRAN: Tens of thousands of Iranians flocked to the streets of Tehran Wednesday to join the funeral processions of president Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

In the center of the city, people holding portraits of Raisi gathered in and around the University of Tehran, where Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is due to lead prayers for Raisi and his companions, including foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Raisi’s helicopter crashed Sunday on a fog-shrouded mountainside in northern Iran on the way to the city of Tabriz after the group attended the inauguration of a dam project on the border with Azerbaijan.

A huge search and rescue operation was launched, involving help from Turkiye, Russia and the European Union. State television announced Raisi’s death early on Monday.

Raisi, who was widely expected to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader, was 63.

In the capital, huge banners have gone up hailing the late president as “the martyr of service,” while others bade “farewell to the servant of the disadvantaged.”

Tehran residents received phone messages urging them to “attend the funeral of the martyr of service.”

The processions, which will be attended by foreign dignitaries, are planned to set off from the university and head to the vast Enghelab Square in the city center, according to state media.

Funeral rites for the late president and his entourage began on Tuesday with tens of thousands of black-clad mourners in attendance in the city of Tabriz and the Shiite clerical center of Qom.

From Tehran, the bodies will be moved to South Khorasan province before being transferred to Raisi’s home city of Mashhad in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites at the Imam Reza shrine.

Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, has declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until the June 28 election for Raisi’s successor.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri, who was Amir-Abdollahian’s deputy, has been named acting foreign minister.

The country’s armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri has ordered an investigation into the cause of the helicopter crash.

Raisi was elected president in 2021, succeeding the moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.

After his death, global allies Russia and China and regional powers voiced their condolences, as did NATO, while the UN Security Council observed a minute of silence.

Messages of condolence also flooded in from Iran’s allies around the region, including Syria, Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, both of which are backed by Tehran.

UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve

UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve
Updated 22 May 2024

UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve

UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve
  • The UN food agency is now reevaluating logistics and security measures and looking for alternate routes within Gaza

WASHINGTON: The UN World Food Program said Tuesday the new US $320 million pier project for delivering aid to Gaza may fail unless Israel starts ensuring the conditions the humanitarian groups need to operate safely. The operation was halted for at least two days after crowds looted aid trucks coming from the port and one Palestinian man was killed.
Deliveries were stopped Sunday and Monday after the majority of the trucks in an aid convoy Saturday were stripped of all their goods on the way to a warehouse in central Gaza, the WFP said. The first aid transported by sea had entered the besieged enclave on Friday.
The Pentagon said movement of aid from the secured area at the port resumed Tuesday, but the UN said it was not aware of any deliveries on Tuesday.
The UN food agency is now reevaluating logistics and security measures and looking for alternate routes within Gaza, said spokesperson Abeer Etefa. The WFP is working with the US Agency for International Development to coordinate the deliveries.
Only five of the 16 aid trucks that left the secured area on Saturday arrived at the intended warehouse with their cargo intact, another WFP spokesperson, Steve Taravela, told The Associated Press. He said the other 11 trucks were waylaid by what became a crowd of people and arrived without their cargo.
“Without sufficient supplies entering Gaza, these issues will continue to surface. Community acceptance and trust that this is not a one-off event are essential for this operation’s success,” Taravela said in an email. “We have raised this issue with the relevant parties and reiterated our request for alternative roads to facilitate aid delivery. Unless we receive the necessary clearance and coordination to use additional routes, this operation may not be successful.”
The WFP also said Tuesday it has suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to a lack of supplies and insecurity.
President Joe Biden ordered the US military’s construction of the floating pier for deliveries of food and other vital supplies. Israeli restrictions on shipments through land borders and overall fighting have put all 2.3 million residents of Gaza in a severe food crisis since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, and US and UN officials say famine has taken hold in the north of Gaza.
Authorities have offered limited details of what transpired with Saturday’s aid convoy. However, Associated Press video shows Israeli armored vehicles on a beach road, then aid trucks moving down the road. Civilians watching from the roadside gradually start to clamber on top of the aid trucks, throwing aid down to people below. Numbers of people then appear to overrun the aid trucks and their goods.
At one point, people are shown carting a motionless man with a chest wound through the crowd. A local morgue later confirmed to the AP the man had been killed by a rifle shot. At another point, shots crackled, and some of the men in the crowd are shown apparently ducking behind aid boxes for cover.
It was not clear who fired the shots. The Israeli military is responsible for security for the aid when it reaches the shore. Once it leaves the secure area at the port, aid groups follow their own security protocols.
Asked about the shooting, the Israeli army told the AP, using the acronym for the Israel Defense Forces: “The IDF is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that the aid convoys do not travel with armed security. He said the best security comes from engagement with various community groups and humanitarian partners so people understand that there will be a constant flow of aid. “That is not possible in an active combat zone,” Dujarric said.
The Pentagon press secretary, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, said that as of Tuesday 569 metric tons of aid has been delivered to the secured area at the Gaza port. Some of it remains there, however, because distribution agencies are working to find alternative routes to warehouses in Gaza.
Asked if any aid from the pier had yet reached Gaza residents in need, Ryder said, “I do not believe so.” He said aid had resumed moving Tuesday from the secured area into Gaza, after what had been a two-day halt following Saturday’s disruption. He gave no immediate details.
Etefa, the WFP spokesperson in Cairo, said she knew of no deliveries from the shore on Tuesday, however.
Biden announced the US mission to open a new sea route for humanitarian goods during his State of the Union address in March, as pressure built on the administration over civilian deaths in Gaza.
The war began in October after a Hamas-led attack killed about 1,200 people in Israel. Israeli airstrikes and fighting have killed more than 35,000 Palestinians since then, Gaza health officials say.
Many international humanitarian organizations were critical of the US project, saying that while any aid was welcome, surging food through the land crossings was the only way to curb the growing starvation. Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official now leading the Refugees International humanitarian organization, called the pier operation “humanitarian theater” and said it was being done for political effect.
The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The crisis in humanitarian supplies has spiraled in the two weeks since Israel began an incursion into Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which has been closed since.
Since May 10, only about three dozen trucks have made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it difficult for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.
Taravela said little aid or fuel — needed to run aid delivery trucks — is currently reaching any part of Gaza, and stocks of both are almost exhausted.
“The bottom line is that humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” he wrote.

The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash

The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash
Updated 22 May 2024

The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash

The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash
  • It still has around 40 F-14 Tomcat fighter jets, which became famous in the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” in the 1980s and have been used by the US Air Force itself for two decades

PARIS: The helicopter in the crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was a US-made Bell 212, a model introduced in 1968 during the Vietnam War and last produced in 1998.
Here is what we know about the Bell 212:

Brought into service in 1971, the civilian helicopter had a military version known as Twin Huey, which was used by US troops during the Vietnam conflict.
One of its variants, the Huey UH-1 Iroquois, gained notoriety in an iconic scene in the film “Apocalypse Now” during which US troops play Richard Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries on loudspeakers during a raid on a Vietnamese village.
The Bell 212 can carry 13 passengers plus two pilots and fly at more than 250 kilometers (156 miles) per hour, with a range of more than 400 kilometers.
It features a two-blade propeller and is equipped with two Pratt and Whitney engines of 900 horsepower each.
The helicopter was first manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas, before production moved to Mirabel, outside Montreal, from 1988 until 1998, the last year it wast built. It was also made under license in Italy by Agusta.
As of last year, 704 Bell 212 or Bell 412 — its four-blade version — were still in service among armed forces, including in Angola, Argentina, Morocco, Turkiye and Zambia, according to the most recent annual report of industry publication FlightGlobal.

As of 2023, Iran operated 10 Bell 212 helicopters — two used by the air force and the remainder by the navy, according to FlightGlobal.
Tehran was an important client for the American civilian and military aircraft industry under the shah of Iran, a close US ally, until his ouster by the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Iran has sought to keep its aging fleet in the air despite US sanctions that have it made very difficult for Tehran to obtain spare parts.
It still has around 40 F-14 Tomcat fighter jets, which became famous in the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” in the 1980s and have been used by the US Air Force itself for two decades.
Iran also has a number of F5 fighters, purchased from the United States four decades ago and which first came into service 60 years ago.

The Bell company, which was founded in 1935 and became a subsidiary of industrial group Textron in 1960, still produces helicopters.
The firm prides itself on having been the first to certify a helicopter intended for civilian use, in 1946.
A year later it was an experimental Bell X-1 aircraft that Chuck Yeager piloted as he became the first man to surpass the speed of sound in 1947.



Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says

Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says
Updated 44 min 33 sec ago

Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says

Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says
  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

CAIRO: Israel has addressed many of President Joe Biden’s concerns over its long-simmering plan to carry out a widescale military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah aimed at rooting out Hamas, a senior Biden administration official said Tuesday.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity, said that in talks over the weekend with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Israeli officials incorporated many changes into their planning that seem to meet concerns about deepening an operation in an area that has been flooded with Palestinian refugees during the seven-month war.
Biden had previously said he opposed a widescale operation in Rafah that did not prioritize the safety of innocent Palestinian civilians.
The official said the administration stopped short of greenlighting the Israeli plan but said Israeli officials’ altered planning suggested they were taking the American administration’s concerns seriously.
About 900,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in recent weeks after the population swelled to about 1.5 million.

The United Nations suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Tuesday due to a lack of supplies and an untenable security situation caused by Israel’s expanding military operation. It warned that humanitarian operations across the territory were nearing collapse.
Along with closed and chaotic land crossings, problems also plagued the US military’s floating pier meant to provide an alternative route for aid into Gaza by sea. Over the weekend, hungry Palestinians took aid from a UN vehicle convoy coming from the pier, and the UN said since then it had been unable to receive trucks there.
Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in Washington that for the past few days, forward movement of aid from the pier was paused but it resumed Tuesday. There was no confirmation from the UN
The UN has not specified how many people stayed in Rafah since the Israeli military began its intensified ground and air campaign there two weeks ago, but apparently several hundred thousand Palestinians remain. The UN’s World Food Program said it was also running out of food for central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people sought shelter in a chaotic exodus after fleeing Rafah, setting up new tent camps or crowding into areas already devastated by previous Israeli offensives.
“Humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” said Abeer Etefa, a WFP spokesperson. If food and other supplies don’t resume entering Gaza “in massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread,” she said.
The warning came as Israel seeks to contain the international fallout from a request at the world’s top war crimes court for arrest warrants targeting both Israeli and Hamas leaders. The move garnered support from three European countries, including Israel’s key ally France.
The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged “use of starvation as a method of warfare,” a charge they and other Israeli officials angrily deny. The prosecutor accused three Hamas leaders of war crimes over killings of civilians in the group’s Oct. 7 attack.
The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The humanitarian crisis deepened after Israeli forces pushed into Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Tanks and troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, closing it ever since. After May 10, only about three dozen trucks made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it dangerous for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.
Israel insists it puts no restriction on the number of trucks entering Gaza. COGAT, the Israeli military office in charge of coordinating aid, said 450 trucks entered Tuesday from its side to Kerem Shalom and a small crossing in northern Gaza. It said more than 650 trucks are waiting on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom to be retrieved, blaming “lack of logistical capabilities and manpower gaps” among aid groups.
For months, the UN has warned that an Israeli assault on Rafah could wreck the effort to get food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians across Gaza. Throughout the war, Rafah has been filled with scenes of hungry children holding out pots and plastic containers at makeshift soup kitchens, with many families reduced to eating only one meal a day. The city’s population had swelled at one point to some 1.3 million people, most of whom fled fighting elsewhere.
Around 810,000 people have streamed out of Rafah, although Israel says its operations in Rafah are not the full-scale invasion of the city it had planned. The US says Israel never presented “credible” plan for evacuating the population or keeping it safe.
The main agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced the suspension of distribution in Rafah in a post on X, without elaborating beyond citing the lack of supplies. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UNRWA distribution center and the WFP’s warehouses in Rafah were “inaccessible due to ongoing military operations.”
Asked about the ramifications of suspending aid, Dujarric said simply: “People don’t eat.”
Etefa said the WFP had also stopped distribution in Rafah after exhausting its stocks. It is still passing out hot meals and “limited distributions” of reduced food packages in central Gaza, but “food parcel stocks will run out within days,” she said.
The US depicted the floating aid pier as a potential route for accelerated deliveries. The first 10 trucks rolled off a ship onto the pier on Friday and were taken to a WFP warehouse. But a second shipment of 11 trucks on Saturday was met by Palestinian crowds who took supplies, and only five trucks made it to the warehouse, Etefa said.
No further deliveries came from the pier on Sunday or Monday, she said.
“The responsibility of ensuring aid reaches those in need does not end at the crossings and other points of entry into Gaza — it extends throughout Gaza itself,” she said.
At the same time, battles have escalated in northern Gaza as Israeli troops conduct operations against Hamas fighters, who the military says regrouped in areas already targeted in offensives months ago.
One of the main hospitals still operating in the north, Kamal Adwan, was forced to evacuate after it was “targeted” by Israeli troops, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Around 150 staff and dozens of patients fled the facility, including intensive care patients and infants in incubators “under fire from shelling,” it said. The Israeli military did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The nearby Awda hospital has been surrounded by troops the past three days, and an artillery shell hit its fifth floor, the hospital administration said Tuesday. A day earlier, the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said Awda had run out of drinking water.
The war between began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostage. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan accused Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.
Israel responded to the Oct. 7 with an offensive that has laid waste to Gaza and killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count.
Monday’s call by Khan for arrest warrants deepens Israel’s global isolation at a time when it is facing growing criticism from even its closest allies over the war. France, Belgium, and Slovenia each said they backed Khan’ decision.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz headed to France on Tuesday in response, urging it to “declare loud and clear” that the request for warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant “is unacceptable to you and to the French government.”
His meetings there could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders. A panel of three ICC judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.
Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Netanyahu and his defense minister, even if they do not face any immediate risk of prosecution because Israel itself is not a member of the court.


Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu
Updated 22 May 2024

Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

The US should slap sanctions on International Criminal Court officials who seek an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a top foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Tuesday after meeting the Israeli leader.
Robert O’Brien, who served as Trump’s fourth and final national security adviser, made the comments in a Jerusalem interview with Reuters after meeting Netanyahu and other Israeli officials during a multi-day visit to the US ally.
O’Brien, who said Trump would be briefed on the results of the trip, discussed what he called the ICC’s “irrational decision” to issue a warrant for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Palestinian Hamas leaders, in his meetings with the Israeli officials.
“We can sanction the bank accounts, the travel. We can put visa restrictions on these corrupt prosecutors and judges. We can show some real mettle here,” O’Brien told Reuters from Jerusalem.
O’Brien was joined by former US Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta and former Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen.
The trip, first reported by Reuters, was a rare case of Trump allies traveling abroad as part of an organized delegation to meet foreign officials. It took place amid strains between Israel and the Biden administration about the US Middle East ally’s conduct of the war in Gaza.
In addition to Netanyahu, the delegation met in recent days with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, and Gallant, O’Brien said. Their itinerary did not include Palestinian leaders.
O’Brien said rescuing all remaining hostages held by Hamas and capturing Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that prompted Israel’s Gaza offensive, would be key to declaring victory over the militant group.
“This is something I did share with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Herzog and Benny Gantz from the war cabinet: We’ve got to move quickly,” O’Brien told Reuters. “Israel has to defeat Hamas in Rafah.”
The group said they did not go to Israel at Trump’s behest.
But O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen all speak regularly to Trump who, despite facing four criminal trials, is ahead of his Nov. 5 presidential election rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, in opinion polls in most battleground states.
In addition to meeting political leaders, members of the delegation traveled to areas of Israel that were targeted in the Hamas attack in October, including the site of the Nova Music Festival and the Nir Oz kibbutz, both near Gaza.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s seven-month-old assault on the Gaza Strip, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 others, according to Israeli tallies. Israel says that more than 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including several Americans.
On Monday, the ICC’s prosecutor in The Hague, Karim Khan, requested the warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Palestinian leaders, alleging they had committed war crimes.
In the Reuters interview, O’Brien said he was throwing his support behind Republican-led legislation in Congress that would sanction ICC employees that investigate officials in the US or in allied countries that do not recognize the court, like Israel.
It was unclear how much bipartisan support that bill could garner, though both Democratic and Republican officials have been sharply critical of the ICC.
In 2020, Trump issued an executive order to restrict travel and freeze assets of court staff involved in investigating US conduct in Afghanistan, sanctions which were reversed in the opening months of the Biden administration.
O’Brien’s comments suggest Trump’s advisers would be willing to reimpose and expand sanctions should the former president return to the White House. While the US has at times engaged with the ICC in a limited fashion, it has never been a member of the court, and many US political leaders argue the ICC’s international jurisdiction threatens national sovereignty.
Throughout the interview, O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen rejected assessments by many US, Palestinian and international officials who say Israel is not doing enough to protect civilian life.
“The Israelis are conducting themselves in a really fine tradition of a modern, humanitarian military, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway from the meetings we’ve had in my view,” O’Brien said.
The Biden administration has at times dissented from that view, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying earlier in May that Israel lacked a credible plan to protect civilians in Rafah.
While the Trump administration backed a two-state solution to Middle East conflict, O’Brien said the conflict in Gaza and Palestinians’ hostile attitude toward Israel makes discussing it a moot point at the moment.
The US government has long held that the pathway to a lasting peace runs through the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Since Oct. 7, however, Trump has indicated in interviews and on the campaign trail that he is rethinking his stance.