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How Houthi Attacks Have Upended Global Shipping

Post by kmaherali »

Note: To show the changing paths of ships that regularly traverse the Red Sea, 3,461 cargo vessels recorded at entrances to the Red Sea in the last three months are shown. Shipping routes before the attacks show ship positions from Nov. 1, 2023 to Nov. 15, and positions from Jan. 1, 2024 to Jan. 15 are shown after the attacks. Source: Spire Global

It is an extraordinary detour: Hundreds of ships are avoiding the Suez Canal and sailing an extra 4,000 miles around Africa, burning fuel, inflating costs and adding 10 days of travel or more in each direction.

They are avoiding one of the world’s most important shipping routes, the Red Sea, where for months the Iranian-backed Houthi militia has attacked ships with drones and missiles from positions in Yemen.

The Houthis have said they are seeking to disrupt shipping links with Israel to force Israel to end its military campaign in Gaza. But ships connected to more than a dozen countries have been targeted, and a Houthi spokesman said this week that they consider “all American and British ships” to be enemy targets.

The turmoil has been sweeping. About 150 ships passed through the Suez Canal, which lies at the northwest end of the Red Sea, during the first two weeks of this January. That was down from over 400 at the same time last year, according to Marine Traffic, a maritime data platform. Those detours, and the Houthi attacks, have persisted despite airstrikes by the United States and its allies against the Houthis.

Houthi attack involving commercial vessels

Other Houthi attacks in the Red Sea

Three commercial

vessels were struck

in one day on Dec. 3.

U.S. and allies started launching airstrikes against the Houthis.

Armed Houthi

fighters boarded a

commerical vessel.

Four continuous

days of attacks.

Nov. 15, 2023

Dec. 1

Dec. 15

Jan. 1, 2024

Jan. 12

Jan. 15

Note: Attacks involving commercial vessels are attacks where at least one commercial ship is struck or targeted usually with drones or missiles. Data as of Jan. 20. Source: United States Central Command

Shipping companies have tripled the prices they charge to take a container from Asia to Europe, partly to cover the extra cost of sailing around Africa. Shipowners that still use the Red Sea, mainly tanker owners, face rising insurance premiums.

Container rates have not yet risen as much as they did during the coronavirus pandemic. But retailers like Ikea have warned that avoiding the Suez Canal could delay the arrival of merchandise at stores. Some car factories in Europe have had to briefly suspend operations while they wait for parts from Asia.

Cost of shipping a container from China to Northern Europe

From China to U.S. East Coast


Prices spiked

around the


Houthi attacks

in the Red Sea


Houthi attacks

in the Red Sea









Source: Freightos Data

This could worsen inflation. JPMorgan Chase estimated on Thursday that worldwide consumer prices for goods would climb an extra 0.7 percent in the first half of this year if shipping disruptions continue.

Here’s what the diversion from the Red Sea looked like for a single ship, the Maersk Hong Kong. The Singapore-flagged container ship set out from Singapore to Slovenia on Nov. 15. It reached Port Said in Egypt merely 12 days later, having passed through the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

On the way back to Singapore, it arrived at Port Said again on Dec. 17. But with the Houthis then ramping up attacks, it then made a U-turn and traveled around Africa instead, only arriving back to Singapore this Friday, after a full month of sailing.

Red SeaCape of Good HopePacific OceanAtlantic OceanTriesteRotterdamShanghaiSingaporePort Said
Note: Data is from November 1, 2023 through January 19, 2024. Source: Spire Global

The Red Sea and Suez Canal have become increasingly important in the past two years not just for ships that take goods between Asia and Europe, but also for oil and liquified natural gas cargos.

European countries tried to stop buying fuel from Russia after its invasion of Ukraine in 2022. So Russia sharply increased the oil it ships through the Suez Canal, much of it to India, while Europe stepped up natural gas purchases from the Middle East, also through the Suez Canal. About 12 percent of the oil carried worldwide by tankers passes through the Red Sea, and almost as much of the world’s liquefied natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
















Strait of


Hong Kong

Suez Canal




Red Sea






Gulf of


Area of Houthi



Global density of ships






Cape of

Good Hope

Source: World Bank Note: Ship traffic density maps are based on vessel positions reported between January 2015 and February 2021 processed by the International Monetary Fund’s World Seaborne Trade monitoring system.

The Houthis have said that they are seeking to disrupt shipping links with Israel as an attempt to force Israel to end its campaign in Gaza. But ships connected to more than a dozen countries have been targeted, many of them not traveling to or from Israeli ports.

While no deaths or injuries have been confirmed from these attacks, some vessels have been damaged. A car carrier, the Galaxy Leader, was hijacked in November and taken to Yemen. Its 25-member crew of mostly Filipinos has been detained there.

The U.S. Navy has shot down many drones and missiles before they could reach their targets, preventing serious damage of commercial vessels. But it is costly for America and its allies to intercept cheap drones and inexpensive missiles with advanced fighter jets and other military hardware.

The stance of China, a maritime powerhouse, remains a major question in the Red Sea. Beijing has avoided criticizing the Houthis and has not participated in military actions against them. The Houthi attacks have delayed China’s annual surge in exports before its factories are idled next month for the Lunar New Year. ... 778d3e6de3
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The U.S. and U.K. impose new sanctions on four Houthi leaders.

Post by kmaherali »

A Houthi supporter with a banner depicting U.S. and Israeli flags during a protest on Thursday in Sana, Yemen.Credit...Yahya Arhab/EPA, via Shutterstock

The United States and Britain on Thursday imposed sanctions on four leaders of Yemen’s Houthi militia, which has repeatedly attacked commercial ships in the Red Sea in recent weeks to pressure Israel to end its military campaign in Gaza.

The U.S. Treasury said in a statement that it believes that three of the Houthi leaders — Mohamed al-Atifi, Muhammad Fadl Abd al-Nabi and Muhammad Ali al-Qadiri — have been involved in executing the attacks in the Red Sea and in retaliating against the United States and its allies. A fourth Houthi leader — Muhammad Ahmad al-Talibi — oversees the group’s efforts to smuggle weapons, including drones and missiles provided by Iran, the Treasury said in the statement.

The United States and Britain, which carried out military strikes against several sites across Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen this week, said they would freeze assets belonging to the four leaders in their countries. The British government added in a statement that the Houthi officials would be subject to arms embargoes and travel bans.

Brian E. Nelson, the U.S. Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement that the coordinated sanctions with Britain “demonstrates our collective action to leverage all authorities to stop these attacks.”

The United States and its allies first retaliated against the Houthi attacks on Jan. 11, when it carried out military strikes against dozens of targets across Yemen. In the two weeks since, the United States and Britain have carried out nine strikes in Yemen, though American officials have repeated that they do not wish to escalate the conflict in the Middle East.

Last week, the Biden administration designated the Houthis, the de facto government in northern Yemen, as a terrorist organization but stopped short of more severe restrictions that could imperil humanitarian aid from reaching people in Yemen, who have endured famine and disease after nearly a decade of civil war.

— Gaya Gupta ... hi-leaders
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Post by kmaherali »

The Proxy Forces Iran Has Assembled Across the Middle East
A “Shiite Crescent” stretches from Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and back down to the Gaza Strip.

Supporters of Hezbollah protesting at the Lebanese-Israeli border in 2002 against an Israeli offensive in the West Bank.Credit...James Hill for The New York Times

For decades, the Shiite Muslim ayatollahs who came to power in Iran through the 1979 Islamic Revolution have worked to build an arc of like-minded proxy forces across the Middle East.

Training and arming extremist, nonstate militia groups throughout the region have been pillars of Iran’s foreign and security policy. What the Islamic Republic calls the “Axis of Resistance,” others often describe as a “Shiite Crescent” that stretches from Yemen on the southern Arabian Peninsula through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and back down to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, which controls the strip and is a rare Sunni Muslim organization among mostly Shiite militants, catapulted Iran and its allies back onto the global radar on Oct. 7 with a brutal cross-border attack on Israel. In response, Israel launched a blockade and a sustained bombing campaign that has devastated Gaza, as well as preparations for a possible ground invasion, sparking rumblings about a regional conflagration.

The degree to which Iran holds direct influence over this loose regional network is murky. Here is a summary of the main proxy forces and their locations in the region.

Men wearing blue uniforms and green berets line up in rigid formation.
Hezbollah soldiers took part in a parade in the town of Nabatieh in south Lebanon in 2002.Credit...James Hill for The New York Times


Hezbollah, Arabic for the “Party of God,” emerged in the 1980s from the chaos of Lebanon’s long civil war to become one of the most powerful forces in the region.

When Israel pulled back from most of neighboring Lebanon three years after its 1982 invasion, its army remained along a thin border strip. But the toll from constant clashes with Hezbollah forced a withdrawal in 2000. Hezbollah fought a 33-day war with Israel again in 2006, and there have been almost daily exchanges of fire since Oct. 7.

Iran is believed to have supplied Hezbollah with powerful missiles that could strike most Israeli cities, and Israel would be hard pressed to fight in both Gaza and in the north if Hezbollah launched a significant campaign. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has vowed devastating consequences for any such effort.

Aside from being a Shiite militia, however, Hezbollah is also a political party seeking popular appeal among other Lebanese sects. So despite Hezbollah’s virulent anti-Israel rhetoric, a new war would wreak havoc on a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic and infrastructure crisis and risk angering the bulk of Lebanon’s estimated 5.5 million population.


The ruling Assad family, members of the minority Alawite sect, a splinter off Shiism, has long bolstered its grip at home by allying itself with Iran. That alliance proved especially useful after 2011, when President Bashar al-Assad faced an antigovernment uprising and eventually a civil war with extremist Sunni Muslim forces.

Iran supplied militia troops — Israel accused it of deploying as many as 80,000 men — to buttress Syrian ground forces, while Russia provided air power. Hezbollah also dispatched fighters from Lebanon.

The 1974 cease-fire line between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights remained quiet for decades, although there have been occasional exchanges of fire since the uprising began. In recent days, Israel has launched airstrikes to respond to artillery fire from Syria, which opposition analysts said was most likely fired by Hezbollah.

President Bashar al-Assad waves on a poster hanging on the facade of a blackened multistory building in Homs, Syria.
A poster for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria hanging on a destroyed shopping mall in the war-ravaged city of Homs in 2014.Credit...Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The Assad regime has long supported radical Palestinian factions, but Hamas broke with Damascus in 2012 over the widespread arrest, torture and killing of countless Sunni Muslim insurgents. Mr. Assad is unlikely to want to open another front to help Hamas, especially since he continues to struggle to gain control over his country.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has blamed Iran’s proxy forces in Syria and Iraq for attacks against U.S. military targets. And early on Friday, the United States, which has deployed two aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean, announced that it had carried out two airstrikes against military facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Syria.

The air raids were meant to signal to Tehran it must rein in attacks against U.S. military facilities, U.S. officials said.


One unintended consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was that Iran was able to extend its influence deep inside its onetime enemy, setting up loyal militias, gaining wide political influence and reaping economic benefits.

Iraq and Iran are the two largest Middle Eastern countries with a Shiite Muslim majority, and they also emerged from the war empowered across the region in a way that unnerved their ancient sectarian rivals, the Sunni Muslims, who dominate most Arab countries.

The effort to first drive out the American forces and then the Islamic State terrorist group allowed Iran and its allies to hone the use of militias and violence to attain their goals.

After rocket and drone attacks from Iran-backed militants last week, 19 U.S. troops based in Iraq and Syria suffered traumatic brain injuries, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

A man standing behind a giant gun in a street in Yemen waves one fist in the air, as other men around him mimic the gesture.
Houthi fighters in Sana, Yemen, after the Arab Spring uprising in 2015.Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times


In the Persian Gulf, the monarchies ruling Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have accused Iran of trying to foster instability by encouraging uprisings among the Shiite majority in the tiny island nation of Bahrain and the Shiite minority concentrated along Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern coast. In both countries, dissent was put down with brutal force.

Iran succeeded, however, in Yemen, where the militant Houthi Shiite movement armed by Tehran has come to dominate the country in an extended proxy war, pitting Iran against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The movement emerged in strength after 2014 as a political and armed organization whose leadership comes from the Houthi tribe, former rulers of northern Yemen whose faith is a Shiite offshoot known as Zaidi Shiism. The movement modeled itself on Hezbollah.

The Brookings Institution estimated that the war — which has created one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world — costs Tehran a few million dollars per month, while it costs Riyadh $6 billion per month.


Iran has long been engaged in a shadow war with Israel, its designated enemy. But the degree to which Tehran helped Hamas carry out the recent attack on Israel remains unclear. Intelligence analysts in Washington and Tel Aviv believe that Tehran at least provided the means.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other senior Iranian officials have all applauded Hamas, and Iran has threatened to widen its habitual cat-and-mouse attacks into an actual war unless Israel halts its retaliatory attacks on Gaza.

The sun is seen just above a tree line as scorched vehicles and tents remain in a field after a Hamas attack.
The remains of the music festival in Israel where Hamas opened fire on civilians on Oct. 7.Credit...Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

One goal of the bloody Hamas incursion, which killed at least 1,400 Israelis, with at least 229 more taken hostage, could well have been to disrupt a brewing peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would have left Iran isolated in the region.

The death toll in Gaza, which Palestinian health officials put at more than 6,700, has sparked street protests across the Arab world, and if they escalate, they could threaten the stability of autocratic rulers in Egypt, Jordan and other states, which would serve Iran’s interests.

On Friday, Egypt’s state news media said that at least six people had been injured by two drones that flew from the southern part of the Red Sea to the north, hitting Taba and Nuwaiba, Sinai resort towns not far from Israel and Gaza.

Egypt did not specify from where they had been launched, but the United States said last week that a navy warship in the northern Red Sea had intercepted projectiles possibly launched toward Israel by Yemen’s armed Houthi militia. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by kmaherali »

Sunken Ship Carried Fertilizer That Threatens Red Sea, U.S. Says

The U.S. Central Command said the 21,000 metric tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer presented “an environmental risk,” while the vessel posed an “impact risk.”

The fertilizer carried by the sunken Rubymar now poses an environmental risk to the area.Credit...Maxar Technologies, via Reuters

A British-owned cargo ship sank in the Red Sea about two weeks after being damaged in a missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthi militia, and the fertilizer it was carrying now posed an environmental risk, the United States military said late Saturday.

The assault last month on the vessel, the Rubymar, involved two antiship ballistic missiles launched from Yemen. The sinking appeared to be the first since the Houthis began targeting ships in an effort to put pressure on Israel to end its military siege in Gaza.

The U.S. military’s Central Command confirmed the Rubymar’s sinking in a statement on social media. It said the ship sank early Saturday while carrying a load of 21,000 metric tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer that now presented “an environmental risk in the Red Sea.”

The ship also poses a “subsurface impact risk” to other ships moving through the area, a busy international shipping lane, the Central Command said.

The Rubymar was an “environmental disaster” even before sinking because the attack created an 18-mile oil slick, Central Command warned last month. It said that the disaster could worsen if the fertilizer were to spill into the sea.

No other details about the sinking, or the risks it posed to the environment or to commercial shipping, were immediately available on Sunday morning. The Rubymar sailed with a Belize flag. The ship’s operator, Blue Fleet Group, based in Greece, did not respond to an inquiry.

After the attack last month, the Rubymar’s 24 crew members were taken to Djibouti by a vessel operated by a French shipping company. Djibouti port officials said at the time that the crew members were from Syria, Egypt, India and the Philippines. ... 778d3e6de3
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Re: THE MIDDLE EAST / Gaza Genocide

Post by Admin »

Some of the interesting links on this topic /

February 26, 2024: Israel Not Complying with World Court Order in Genocide Case ... /palestine ... ng-support
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Post by kmaherali »

As Israel’s Ties to Arab Countries Fray, a Strained Lifeline Remains

The United Arab Emirates has maintained its links to Israel throughout the war in Gaza, but the relationship, built on a U.S.-brokered deal, is under pressure as anger against Israel grows.

Members of the Jordanian Armed Forces dropping aid parcels along the Gaza coast, in cooperation with Egypt, Qatar, France and the United Arab Emirates, on Feb. 27.Credit...Jehad Shelbak/Reuters

Only a few years ago, plenty of citizens of the United Arab Emirates were willing to speak warmly about their country’s budding ties with Israel.

Israel had just established relations with the Emirates through a U.S.-brokered deal. Business groups sprung up to funnel cross-country investment. Two women, Emirati and Israeli, posed for a photograph holding hands atop a skyscraper in Dubai. American, Emirati and Israeli officials predicted that their deal, called the Abraham Accords, would spread peace across the Middle East.

But now, as Israel’s monthslong bombardment of Gaza fuels anger around the region, Emirati fans of the deal are increasingly hard to find.

An Emirati businessman who had once touted the economic ties said that he had left an Emirati-Israeli business council, and that he had nothing else to say. Some Emiratis, although frustrated with the accords, said they were afraid to speak publicly, citing their authoritarian government’s history of arresting critics. One figure who did speak out, Dubai’s deputy police chief, declared online that Arabs had “truly wanted peace” and that Israel had “proved that its intentions are evil.”

Neither the Emirates nor Israel is likely to walk away from the deal, analysts say: It remains a diplomatic lifeline for Israel while its ties to other Arab countries fray, and it has brought the Emirates billions in trade and positive public relations in Western nations. But the current trajectory of the war does not bode well for the accords or the security of the Middle East, said Mohammed Baharoon, the head of B’huth, a Dubai research center.

“This is a partnership,” he said, “and if one partner is not paying their dues, then it’s not a partnership anymore.”

Anger toward Israel and its main ally, the United States, has risen sharply in the Arab world over Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, Gazan health officials say, and left two million others facing mass displacement, the risk of starvation and a collapsing medical system.

A child walking between rubble and a white tent that bears the logo of the Emirates Red Crescent Society and says “UAE aid.”
An Emirati Red Crescent tent in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Officials in the United Arab Emirates have responded to the war between Israel and Hamas by focusing on aid to Gaza and calling for a cease-fire and the creation of a Palestinian state.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For the handful of Arab leaders who maintain ties with Israel, the war has pushed them to reconsider that relationship. Jordan recalled its ambassador in November. Egyptian officials have warned that any action that sends Gazans spilling into Egypt could potentially jeopardize a decades-old treaty. And Israel’s ambassadors to Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt have largely remained in Israel since the war began on Oct. 7, after the Hamas-led attack that Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.

The diplomatic chill has left Israel’s Embassy and Consulate in the Emirates as its only fully functioning diplomatic mission in the Arab world. Several government-owned airlines also suspended flights, leaving the Emirates as the only country in the Middle East where people can fly directly to Israel.

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Despite the pressure, Emirati officials say they have no intention of cutting ties.

In a written statement to The New York Times, the Emirati government highlighted how Emirati officials had used their relationship with Israel to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid for Gazans, as well as the medical treatment of injured Gazans taken to the Emirates.

“The U.A.E. believes that diplomatic and political communications are important in difficult times such as those we are witnessing,” the government said.

In late February, Israel’s economy minister, Nir Barkat, became the first Israeli minister to visit the Emirates since Oct. 7, attending a gathering of the World Trade Organization. In an interview, he said he was “very optimistic” after meeting with Emirati officials.

“There’s a bit of sensitivity while the war is still happening,” he said, but the two countries “have aligned interests, and the Abraham Accords are extremely strategic for all of us.”

Still, even if the existence of the accords is not at stake, what the relationship will look like is far from certain, many Israelis and Emiratis said.

Nir Barkat, wearing a dark suit and a red tie, sits in a white chair and gestures. Behind him is a teal wall with logos that say “13th WTO Ministerial Conference, Abu Dhabi, UAE, 2024.”
Nir Barkat, the Israeli minister of economy and industry, at the 13th World Trade Organization ministerial conference on Feb. 26 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. His attendance at the conference made him the first Israeli minister to visit the U.A.E. since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.Credit...Abdel Hadi Ramahi/Reuters

“The romantic phase of the Abraham Accords kind of faded away,” said Noa Gastfreund, an Israeli co-founder of the Tech Zone, a group that connects Emirati and Israeli tech entrepreneurs and investors. Now, she said, “we got into the realistic phase of understanding that it won’t be easy.”

Israel-Hamas War: Live Updates
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The U.S. carries out a fifth airdrop in Gaza, delivering nearly 41,500 meals. ... s-of-water
There are enormous logistical hurdles to delivering aid to Gaza by sea. ... aza-by-sea

The accords, announced in 2020, were particularly coveted by Israel as a major step toward greater integration into the Middle East, where Arab countries had long isolated Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and control over Gaza and the West Bank.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Donald J. Trump hailed the deal as a milestone, the Emirati president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, tempered his celebration. He emphasized that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump had reached an agreement “to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories.”

Over the next few years, hundreds of thousands of Israeli tourists poured into the Emirates, and in 2022, the country reported $2.5 billion in trade with Israel. A handful of Israeli restaurants opened in Dubai; one called itself Cafe Bibi, after Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname.

But cracks soon emerged among disappointed Emiratis, watching as Jewish settlements expanded in the West Bank and Israel formed the most right-wing government in its history.

Multiple plans by Mr. Netanyahu to visit the Emirates never materialized. The accords did not expand to include countries like Oman or Qatar. And while Saudi officials have pursued talks with American officials to potentially recognize Israel, they are uninterested in joining the accords — and are demanding heavy concessions.

At a conference in September, Anwar Gargash, a senior Emirati official, said that the Israeli relationship was “going through a difficult time.”

A view of Dubai’s skyline, seen from the water.
A handful of Israeli restaurants opened in Dubai after the Abraham Accords, which established formal relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, were signed in 2020. Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

Tensions have only worsened since the war began. Dhahi Khalfan, Dubai’s deputy police chief, has posted scathing denunciations of Israel on social media, saying that Israeli leaders “don’t deserve respect.”

“I hope for all Arab leaders to reconsider the issue of dealing with Israel,” he wrote in January — an unusually frank plea in the Emirates, where most citizens say little about politics, out of both deference and fear.

Several Emiratis declined to be interviewed about the war in Gaza or Emirati ties with Israel. One Emirati in his 20s agreed to speak on the condition that he be identified only by a middle name, Salem.

He described a growing sense of cognitive dissonance as he enjoyed a comfortable life, amid gleaming skyscrapers and specialty coffee shops, while images of death and destruction streamed out of Gaza. The relationship with Israel was demoralizing, he said, particularly because he and many Emiratis had been raised to view Palestinians as brothers whom they must protect.

He now believes the Abraham Accords were an attempt to curry favor with the Emirates’ Western allies, he said. It made him feel like his country’s values were up for sale, he said.

Emirati views toward the accords had already grown darker before the war, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a generally pro-Israel research organization. By November 2022, 71 percent of those surveyed in the Emirates said that the accords were having a “negative” effect on their region.

So far, Emirati officials have responded to the war by focusing on aid to Gaza, directing increasingly harsh rhetoric toward Israel, and calling for a cease-fire and the creation of a Palestinian state.

The strongest remarks from an Emirati official to date came from Lana Nusseibeh, the country’s U.N. representative, in recent testimony to the International Court of Justice. She denounced “Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on the Gaza Strip,” argued that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank was illegal and demanded consequences.

People exiting a jet plane onto the runway.
Palestinians who were evacuated from the Gaza Strip arriving in Abu Dhabi in November.Credit...Karim Sahib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

She also said, at a conference in Dubai last month, that the Emirati government was not willing to fund the reconstruction of Gaza without an “irreversible” pathway to a Palestinian state.

In an interview, Mohammed Dahlan, an influential Palestinian exile and a close adviser to the Emirati president, suggested that Arab rulers had soured on Mr. Netanyahu.

Before the war, Mr. Netanyahu and Biden administration officials had set their eyes on a larger prize than relations with the Emirates: an Israeli deal with Saudi Arabia.

That prospect now looks increasingly out of reach, scholars say.

“Israel has become a moral burden for anyone engaging with it,” a Saudi academic, Hesham Alghannam, wrote in a Saudi magazine last month. “Arabs are nearing the conclusion that while peace with Israel may still be conceivable, it is no longer desirable.”

During Mr. Barkat’s visit, an image circulated on social media of the Israeli minister and Saudi Arabia’s commerce minister exchanging business cards at an event. The Saudi government swiftly denied the meeting had been intentional.

“An unknown individual approached the minister to offer greetings and later identified himself as the minister of economy in the Israeli occupation government,” the government said in a statement.

Asked about the Saudi reaction, Mr. Barkat said, “we love to create collaboration with all peace-seeking countries in the region.” ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by kmaherali »

With Iran’s Strikes, Arab Countries Fear an Expanding Conflict

The Iranian attack on Israeli territory made the Middle East’s new reality undeniable: Clashes are getting harder and harder to contain.

The interior of a house near Arad, Israel, that was struck in the Iranian missile attack.Credit...Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Arab countries, from the United Arab Emirates and Oman to Jordan and Egypt, have tried for months to tamp down the conflict between Israel and Hamas, especially after it widened to include armed groups backed by Iran and embedded deep within the Arab world. Some of them, like the Houthis, threaten Arab governments as well.

But the Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel over the weekend, which put the entire region on alert, made the new reality unavoidable: Unlike past Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and even those involving Israel and Lebanon or Syria, this one keeps expanding.

“Part of why these wars were contained was that they were not a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran,” said Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “But now we are entering this era where a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran — that could drag the region into the conflict and that could drag the U.S. in — now that prospect of a regional war is going to be on the table all the time.”

For the moment, the only countervailing force is the desire of both the United States and its longtime foe Iran to avoid a widening of the conflict, said Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group's program director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“I am heartened by the fact that the only ones who want a war are Israel and Hamas,” he said. “The Iranians are still talking to the Americans,” he said, referring to messages sent in recent days between the two by intermediaries including Switzerland and Oman.

The Iranian message, said Mr. Hiltermann, made clear they were looking to demonstrate their power, not expand the war. “They said, ‘There is going to be an attack, but we are going to keep it limited.’”

Streams of smoke from an Israeli antimissile system being fired into the sky over Ashkelon, Israel.
An Israeli antimissile system responded to Iranian missile and drone attacks early Sunday.Credit...Amir Cohen/Reuters

Still, for citizens of Arab countries, many of whom watched scores of drones and missiles streaking across their skies on Saturday, professions of desire to avoid a wider war are a slender thread on which to hang their future. Dismay over the attack was evident in many public comments, and in private ones, too, though others celebrated it.

Officials and analysts in the region were divided over whether Iran’s attack would spur countries with longstanding ties to the United States to push for still more engagement — and security guarantees — from Washington or to distance themselves in an effort to keep themselves safe from being attacked by Iran themselves.

Most urged de-escalation in the strongest terms. The only exceptions in the Arab world were northern Yemen, whose de facto Houthi government is close to Iran, and Lebanon, home to Hezbollah, the armed group backed by the Iranians.

Oman said that it was crucial to reach an immediate cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas that has been raging for the past half year in the Gaza Strip. Kuwait “stressed the necessity of addressing root causes” of the region’s conflicts.

And Saudi Arabia, which has tried to cultivate relatively warm ties with Iran since the two countries re-established diplomatic relations last year, said it was “extremely concerned” about the dangerous implications of the military escalation in the region. A statement from its Foreign Ministry asked everyone involved “to exercise maximum restraint and to protect the region and its people from the dangers of war.”

A crowd watching men carrying coffins.
A funeral procession in January for Houthi fighters killed in U.S.-led strikes in Yemen.Credit...Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Even before the Hamas-led attack on Israel that set off the war in Gaza on Oct. 7, Arab countries had been adjusting their geopolitical relationships. Their concern was that they might no longer be able to count on a U.S. government increasingly focused on Asia as Iranian-backed armed groups became increasingly active.

Arab leaders’ discomfort only increased with the Israeli assault in Gaza, which the United States defended but their own citizens found abhorrent, said Renad Mansour, a senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program.

For Saudi Arabia, this meant forging a diplomatic relationship with Iran, despite their deeply held antagonisms and attacks carried out with Iranian missiles on Saudi infrastructure as recently as 2019. Saudi Arabia’s approach to Iran was facilitated by China, which has recently worked to expand its influence in the region. Many Arab countries have turned to China in pursuit of business and diplomatic ties.

Then the war in Gaza began, dragging the Gulf states, along with Egypt and Jordan, more directly into the dynamics of a conflict they have wanted desperately to avoid.

Displaced Palestinians walking along a beach in Gaza as they seek to return to their homes.
Displaced Palestinians walked along a beach on Sunday as they sought to return to their homes in northern Gaza.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Now, Jordan has found itself shooting down Iranian missiles — and then being accused of defending Israel. The Israeli military assault on Gaza, often accused of being indiscriminate, has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of them women and children. Some 1,200 people were killed in Israel in the Hamas attack.

On Sunday, Jordan’s government came under sharp criticism both at home and from neighboring Arab countries for shooting down at least one of the Iranian missiles aimed at Israel. A former Jordanian information minister, Samih al-Maaytah, defended the decision.

“Jordan’s duty is to protect its lands and citizens,” Mr. al-Maaytah said. “What Jordan did yesterday was to simply protect its airspace.”

//This is what the mood is like in Israel after Iran’s attack. ... srael-mood
//Israel’s choices in responding to Iran’s attack all come with risks. ... ran-attack

He also said that “Jordan’s position on this conflict is that it is between two parties over influence and interests: Iran and Israel.”

Several people stand around a hunk of metallic debris.
Debris from a missile intercepted over Amman, Jordan, early Sunday.Credit...Ahmad Shoura/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While the Gulf countries’ petroleum exports have been largely spared, the Houthi attacks on shipping routes in the Red Sea — tied to the war in Gaza — have raised costs and added to tensions.

It is unclear whether the conflict between Israel and Iran will strain further the relatively new ties between Israel and some Arab states. Since the war in Gaza began, those relations have cooled, but it seems none of the Arab governments that recently forged ties with Israel are ready to abandon them entirely.

Two of the countries that signed the Abraham accords normalizing relations with Israel in 2020 — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — have in some cases halted business deals or distanced themselves publicly from that country since the war in Gaza began. And Saudi Arabia, which had been exploring the possibility of diplomatic normalization with Israel, has insisted that any deal would require creating an “irreversible” pathway to a Palestinian state, an unlikely prospect in the current Israeli political climate.

That distancing is likely to continue, analysts say, but so far none have cut off relations with Israel or, in Saudi Arabia’s case, completely ruled them out.

Pieces of metal from a missile on the back of a pickup truck in Israel.
Missile debris recovered outside Arad, Israel, on Sunday.Credit...Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

One reason Saudi Arabia has remained open to a future relationship with Israel is that now more than ever, the Saudis are hoping for a security guarantee from the United States in the event of an attack by Iran, said Yasmine Farouk, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington research group.

“What the Western countries under U.S. leadership have done to protect Israel yesterday is exactly what Saudi Arabia wants for itself,” Ms. Farouk said.

She added that despite Saudi Arabia’s history of enmity with Iran, the hardening of Saudi public opinion against Israel and the United States over the Gaza war is changing the calculations of Saudi leaders. Their focus is now on pushing the United States to compel Israel to end the war.

Perhaps the most striking development in the region is the growing push by some Arab countries to be part of forging diplomatic solutions to avoid having the region descend into a broader war. Arab countries held a conference in Riyadh in November to discuss how to best use their influence to stop the conflict.

People, including one waving an Iranian flag, at a nighttime demonstration in Tehran.
Iranians gathered at Palestine Square in Tehran on Sunday to express support for the strike on Israel.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

Qatar and Oman have become ever more active behind the scenes in seeking to bring about a cease-fire in Israel and renew diplomatic efforts between Iran and the United States to prevent the outbreak of a destabilizing broader conflict.

Qatar’s close relations with Hamas, Iran and the United States have made its ministers and senior officials pivotal in shuttle diplomacy. And Oman has become a conduit for messages between the United States and Iran. In just the past few days, Washington has communicated with Tehran through messages conveyed by the Omanis as well as the Swiss, according to a senior security official in Iraq and a senior U.S. administration official in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The new question, said Ms. Slim of the Middle East Institute, is what country can play the role of middleman and negotiator between Israel and Iran.

“The rules have changed, the red lines have changed and they need to be able to communicate,” Ms. Slim said.

Hwaida Saad and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by kmaherali »

The anti-Iran coalition

To understand the current confrontation between Iran and Israel, it helps to think about three recent phases of Middle East geopolitics.

Phase 1: Before Oct. 7 of last year, Iran was arguably the most isolated power in the region. The Biden administration was growing closer to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s biggest rival for power. Israel, Iran’s longtime enemy, had signed a diplomatic deal during the Trump administration with Bahrain, Morocco and the U.A.E. Iran, for its part, was financing a network of extremist groups such as Hamas and the Houthis.

Together, these developments pointed to the emergence of a broad alliance — among Arab countries, Israel, the U.S. and Western Europe — to check Iranian influence and aggression.

Phase 2: Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel scrambled the situation. Israel’s massive military response focused global attention on the plight of Palestinians — a subject that tends to isolate Israel. Arab leaders condemned Israel, while the U.S. and other countries pressured Israeli leaders to reduce suffering in Gaza and devise an end to the war.

The anti-Iran coalition seemed to be fraying.

Phase 3: The latest phase began last week, as Iran prepared to fire missiles and drones at Israel in retaliation for Israel’s April 1 assassination of Iranian military commanders who work with groups like Hamas. This retaliation would become Iran’s first direct attack on Israel. And the anti-Iran coalition reassembled to repel it.

U.S. officials worked closely with Israel to intercept the missiles, as my colleague Peter Baker reported. British and French forces participated, too. Arab countries shared intelligence. Jordan went so far as to shoot down some drones itself. When President Biden commented on the attack’s failure, he did so while sitting next to the prime minister of Iraq, which is home to a missile battery the U.S. had used during the operation.

Even though Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel, the joint response enabled Israel to avoid a single civilian death. John Kirby, a Biden aide, summarized the result as being “a stronger Israel, a weaker Iran, a more unified alliance.”

A new phase now?

The question now is how Israel will respond to Iran. Israeli officials have said they must do so to exact a price that will deter future Iranian attacks.

From Israel’s perspective, Iran is already the aggressor: Its official policy is to seek the destruction of Israel, and Iran-backed groups — like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis — regularly attack Israelis. Israel has responded with covert assassinations of Iranian officials who lead this effort, such as the April 1 strike in Syria. After any future assassination, Israel does not want to face a new Iranian missile barrage.

Some analysts believe that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, also has a political incentive to prolong the conflict with Iran. That fight, Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland told The Times, serves Netanyahu’s interests as both “a distraction from the horrors of Gaza and as a way of changing the subject to an issue where he is more likely to get sympathy in the U.S. and the West.”

But a major response from Israel — one, say, that killed many Iranians — has the potential to destabilize the broad anti-Iran coalition, much as the war in Gaza has. “The point is to respond smartly, in a way that won’t undermine the opportunity for regional and international cooperation,” Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., told The Wall Street Journal.

Among the options Israel is considering: a cyberattack, targeted assassinations or a strike on an Iranian military base in another country. The Biden administration hopes that any attack will contribute to Iran’s isolation rather than Israel’s.

The threat to Arab leaders

And why are Arab leaders willing to be part of a coalition with Israel? As surprising as it may sound, many see Iran as a bigger problem than Israel, even if they don’t say so publicly. The network of extremist groups that Iran funds and arms destabilizes the region. The Houthis have attacked Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in recent years, for instance. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt’s government has long loathed.

When Arab leaders worry about existential threats to their governments, Israel rarely makes the list. Iran and its network of outside groups do. “Many Arab leaders share the view that Hamas is a terrorist organization that should be destroyed,” said my colleague Michael Crowley, who covers diplomacy.

This shared view helps explain why the anti-Iran coalition came together in the first place. But it is a fragile coalition. Arab countries and Israel do not make for easy allies. When Israel is at war — in Gaza or elsewhere in the region — the alliance can come undone.

Related: This is the third recent newsletter on shifting global coalitions, which I think are crucial to understanding the news right now. You can also read about Iran’s “axis of resistance” and the emerging China-led alliance that includes Iran and Russia.

NY Times
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Post by kmaherali »

As Anger Grows Over Gaza, Arab Leaders Crack Down on Protests

Grief and rage over the war and Israel have led to demonstrations across the Arab world. Arrests suggest governments fear the outrage could boomerang.

A pro-Palestinian demonstration in Cairo in October, when the Egyptian government was organizing rallies of its own. But even then, some protesters were arrested.Credit...Mohamed Hossam/EPA, via Shutterstock

Like other governments across the Middle East, Egypt has not been shy about its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its denunciations of Israel over the war in Gaza are loud and constant. State media outlets broadcast images of long lines of aid trucks waiting to cross from Egypt into Gaza, spotlighting Egypt’s role as the main conduit for aid entering the besieged territory.

Earlier this month, however, when hundreds of people gathered in downtown Cairo to demonstrate in solidarity with Gaza, Egyptian security officers swooped in, arresting 14 protesters, according to their lawyer. Back in October, the government had organized pro-Palestinian rallies of its own. Yet at those, too, it detained dozens of people after protesters chanted slogans critical of the government. More than 50 of them remain behind bars, their lawyers say.

It was a pattern that has repeated itself around the region since Israel, responding to an attack by Hamas, began a six-month war in Gaza: Arab citizens’ grief and fury over Gaza’s plight running headlong into official repression when that outrage takes aim at their own leaders. In some countries, even public display of pro-Palestinian sentiment is enough to risk arrest.

Out of step with their people on matters of economic opportunity and political freedoms, some governments in the Arab world have long faced added discontent over their ties with Israel and its chief backer, the United States. Now the Gaza war — and what many Arabs see as their own governments’ complicity — has driven an old wedge between rulers and the ruled with new force.

Morocco is prosecuting dozens of people arrested at pro-Palestinian protests or detained for social media posts criticizing the kingdom’s rapprochement with Israel. In Saudi Arabia, which is pursuing a normalization deal with Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, which has already struck one, the authorities have displayed such hypersensitivity to any hint of opposition that many people are too frightened to speak on the issue.

And Jordan’s government, caught between its majority-Palestinian population and its close cooperation with Israel and the United States, has arrested at least 1,500 people since early October, according to Amnesty International. That includes about 500 in March, when huge protests were held outside the Israeli Embassy in Amman.

A crowd filling a wide intersection at night, seen from above. Lines of people in hi-vis block off one side.
Jordan arrested about 500 people at a protest near the Israeli Embassy in March.Credit...Jehad Shelbak/Reuters

Afterward, the president of the Jordanian Senate, Faisal al-Fayez, said that his country “will not accept that demonstrations and protests turn into platforms for discord.”

Arab autocracies rarely tolerate dissent. But activism around the Palestinian cause is particularly thorny.

For decades, Arab activists have linked the struggle for justice for the Palestinians — a cause that unites Arabs of different political persuasions from Marrakesh to Baghdad — to the struggle for greater rights and freedoms at home. For them, Israel was an avatar of the authoritarian and colonialist forces that had thwarted their own societies’ growth.

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“What’s happening to the Palestinian people clarifies the foundation of the problem for Arabs everywhere, that the problem is tyranny,” said Abdurrahman Sultan, a 36-year-old Kuwaiti who has participated in sit-ins in support of the Palestinian cause since the war began.

Kuwait initially tolerated some of the sit-ins. But for some Arab governments, the connection evokes peril. Palestinian flags were a common sight at the Arab Spring protests that swept the region in 2011. In Egypt, where since taking power in 2013 President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has quelled protest and muffled most criticism, the authorities are ever mindful that activism can quickly boomerang against them.

Protesters wearing Palestinian-style scarves and waving key shapes representing lost Palestinian homes.
A protest in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Kuwait City. Most Persian Gulf monarchies are far less tolerant of dissent. Credit...Yasser Al-Zayyat/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Today they’re out to protest for Palestine; tomorrow they might protest against him himself — the president,” said Nabeh Ganady, 30, a human rights lawyer who represents the 14 activists arrested at the April 3 protest in Cairo.

The message, said Mahienor El-Massry, a human rights lawyer who joined the demonstration, “is that people shouldn’t even dream that there exists any margin for freedoms or for democracy, and that you should never gain confidence and then move toward bigger demands.”

Ms. El-Massry was arrested along with 10 other protesters during a smaller solidarity protest outside United Nations offices in Cairo last Tuesday, according to Ahmed Douma, a well-known Egyptian activist. They were later released.

In interviews conducted around Egypt, Morocco and Persian Gulf countries — including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait — many citizens described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in stark terms, viewing the Palestinian cause as a struggle for justice, Israel as a symbol of oppression and, in some cases, their rulers’ dealings with Israel as morally bankrupt.

Coming after agreements by Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties with Israel, along with Saudi steps toward following suit, the war has galvanized outrage in those countries toward not only Israel but also Arab leaders willing to work with it.

“If you’re willing to sell that, and sell those people out — sell yourself out — what’s next? What else is for sale?” said Salem, an Emirati in his 20s who asked to be identified by a middle name, given the Emirati authorities’ record of punishing dissent.

Governments that signed agreements with Israel have often described the decision as a step toward greater regional dialogue and interfaith tolerance. In February, the Emirati government said in a statement to The New York Times that keeping its diplomatic ties with Israel open was “important in difficult times.”

But because of hostility or, at best, indifference toward Israel in the broader Arab public, there is a “direct, necessary connection” between authoritarianism and the signing of such agreements, said Marc Lynch, a political science professor focused on the Middle East at George Washington University.

A security official speaking into a bullhorn. A woman in a head scarf looks on from the background.
Security forces at a demonstration this month in Amman, Jordan, where at least 1,500 people have been arrested during protests.Credit...Alaa Al Sukhni/Reuters

The fact that some gulf Arab states have used Israeli surveillance tools to monitor critics only cements that impression.

“If people had any space to democratically elect or express, they wouldn’t choose to normalize with Israel,” said Maryam AlHajri, a Qatari sociologist and anti-normalization activist.

Many Arab governments have tried to tame or harness popular anger with heated rhetoric condemning Israel over the war. Yet they see too many practical benefits to ties with Israel to renege on peace deals, analysts said.

Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, has developed a close security partnership with its neighbor over years of jointly combating militancy in northern Sinai. Egypt and Israel have also worked together to blockade Gaza to contain Hamas, whose brand of militant political Islamism Egypt considers a threat. And Egypt needs Israel’s cooperation to prevent a huge influx of Palestinian refugees from Gaza.

Gulf monarchies, including Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, which have for years faced attacks by Iran-backed groups, have long maintained back-channel security connections with Israel, which sees Iran as its greatest threat. That enemy-of-my-enemy arrangement paved the way for normalization talks later on, and critiques of those initiatives are rare since many gulf monarchies effectively ban all forms of protest and political organizing.

H.A. Hellyer, a Middle East security expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said governments were “trying to thread a line between that anger, which I think is very genuinely felt, across all sectors of Arab societies, and what those states interpret as their national security considerations.”

In the past, some of the region’s leaders permitted their frustrated populations to blow off steam with pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activism. But now that the suffering in Gaza implicates Arab governments in the eyes of many of their citizens, the chants tread on sensitive territory.

Loaded trucks on dusty ground, with a densely built-up landscape on the horizon.
Trucks carrying humanitarian aid entering Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt in December.Credit...Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Some Egyptians have criticized their government for, among other things, allowing Israel any say over the delivery of desperately needed aid into Gaza through a border crossing in Egypt. And since October, Moroccans have gathered for large, near-daily solidarity demonstrations in about 40 cities that bring together leftists and Islamists, young and old, men and women.

Mostly, the authorities have left them alone. But a few protests have been repressed, according to rights groups and witnesses, and dozens of protesters have been arrested, including a group of 13 in the city of Sale and an activist named Abdul Rahman Zankad, who had criticized Morocco’s normalization agreement with Israel on Facebook.

Mr. Zankad was sentenced to five years in prison this month.

“People are arrested simply for voicing their opinions,” said Serroukh Mohammed, a lawyer in the port city of Tangier and a member of an Islamist political organization. Moroccans will continue to protest, he said, as long as their government defies popular sentiment to maintain ties with Israel.

Representatives for the governments of Egypt and Morocco did not respond to requests for comment.

For Arabs like Mr. Sultan, from Kuwait, the absence of popular support for relations with Israel means any normalization agreements are doomed to fail.

“To make peace, you need regimes and governments that represent their people, that are elected,” he said.

A crowd holding a Palestinian flag that is almost as wide as the boulevard on which they’re protesting.
A giant Palestinian flag unfurled in Rabat, Morocco, where there have been near-daily protests in dozens of cities.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Aida Alami contributed reporting from Rabat, Morocco. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by kmaherali »

Israel and Saudi Arabia Are Trading Places

Saudi Arabia and Israel are America’s two most important Middle East allies, and the Biden administration is deeply involved with both today, trying to forge a mutual defense treaty with Saudi Arabia and help Israel in its conflicts with Hamas and Iran. But the Biden team has run into an unprecedented situation with these two longtime partners that is creating a huge opportunity and a huge danger for America. It derives from the contrast in their internal politics.

To put it bluntly, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has put his country’s worst religious extremists in jail, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put his country’s worst religious extremists in his cabinet.

And therein lies a tale.

M.B.S., with his laser focus on economic growth after several decades that he has described Saudi Arabia as having been “sleeping,” has unleashed the most important social revolution ever in the desert kingdom — and one that is sending shock waves around the Arab world. It has reached a point where the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are now putting the finishing touches on a formal alliance that could isolate Iran, curb China’s influence in the Middle East and peacefully inspire more positive change in this region than the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan ever did militarily.

M.B.S.’s government did something appalling when it killed Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a liberal critic living in the United States, in Istanbul in 2018. M.B.S. has also done something none of his predecessors dared: break the stranglehold that the most conservative Islamists held over Saudi social and religious policy since 1979. This shift has proved so popular among so many Saudi women and young people that women’s participation in the work force jumped to 35 percent from 20 percent between 2018 and 2022, according to a report by the Atlantic Council, and is even higher today.

That is one of the most rapid social changes anywhere in the world. In Riyadh, you see its impact on the city’s streets, in its coffeehouses and in government and business offices. Saudi women aren’t just driving cars; they are driving change, in the diplomatic corps, in the biggest banks and in the recent Saudi women’s premier soccer league. M.B.S.’s radical new vision for his country is nowhere more manifest than in his publicly stated willingness to normalize diplomatic and economic relations with the Jewish state as part of a new mutual defense pact with the United States.

The crown prince wants as peaceful a region as possible, and a Saudi Arabia as secure from Iran as possible, so he can focus on making Saudi Arabia a diversified economic powerhouse.

That used to be Israel too. Alas, the tragedy of Israel under Netanyahu is that because he has been so desperate to gain and hold power to avoid possible jail time on corruption charges, he has created a governing coalition that has given unprecedented power to two far-right Jewish supremacists with authority in three ministries — defense, finance and national security — and prioritized a judicial coup before it did anything else. Netanyahu has also made unparalleled concessions to ultra-Orthodox rabbis, transferring enormous sums of money to their schools that often don’t teach math, English or civics and most of whose draft-age men refuse to serve in the army at all, let alone alongside women.

Of course, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and Israel is a democracy. M.B.S. can order changes that no Israeli prime minister can. Still, leaders in both have to gauge what will enable them to stay in power, and those instincts are driving Netanyahu to make Israel more like the worst of the old Saudi Arabia and M.B.S. to make Saudi Arabia more like the best of the old Israel.

The result of Netanyahu’s alliance with the far right is that Israel can’t take advantage of the tectonic shift in Saudi Arabia — with its offer to normalize relations with the Jewish state and open a road for Israel with the rest of the Muslim world — because doing so would require Israel to pursue a pathway with Palestinians to create two states for two indigenous peoples.

Moreover, without offering some horizon for a two-state solution with non-Hamas Palestinians, Israel can’t forge a permanent security alliance with the coalition of moderate Arab states that helped thwart the barrage of more than 300 drones and missiles that Iran fired at Israel on April 13 in response to Israel’s killing of a senior Iranian military commander and some of his subordinates in Syria. Those Arab states cannot afford to appear to be defending Israel indefinitely if Israel is not working to find moderate Palestinian partners to replace Israel’s control over Gaza and the West Bank.

In other words, Israel today cannot summon the coalitions it needs to thrive as a nation, because it would lead to the breakup of the governing coalition that Netanyahu needs to survive as a politician.

All of this is creating a huge headache for President Biden, who has done more to save the Israeli people from Hamas and Iran than any other American president but has been frustrated by an Israeli prime minister who is more interested in saving himself. Biden’s support for Netanyahu is now costing him politically and curtailing his ability to take full advantage of the changes in the Arabian Peninsula. It could also cost him re-election.

Since M.B.S. began dominating Saudi decision-making in 2016 — in the place of his ailing father, King Salman, Saudi Arabia has basically gone from an incubator of A.Q. — Al Qaeda — to an incubator of A.I.

Indeed, there is a lot of trouble these days between the two most reform-minded leaders in the Arab world: M.B.S. and M.B.Z., Mohammed bin Zayed, the ruler of the United Arab Emirates. But it is good trouble. It is an intense competition over who can partner fastest and deepest with the most important global companies driving A.I.

As the U.A.E.’s most important newspaper, The National, noted on Tuesday: “In the aftermath of Microsoft’s $1.5 billion investment in Abu Dhabi artificial intelligence and cloud company G42, the spotlight is now on the Middle East’s growing stature as a regional leader for global technology. The charge, led by the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, has attracted attention from the likes of Oracle, Google and Amazon and highlights increasing investor confidence in the region, with growing financial backing from, and relations with, the West.”

It is impossible to overstate the power of a nearby good example. When M.B.S. announced in 2018 that Saudi women could attend sporting events like men’s soccer games, Iranian women demanded the same from their ayatollahs. The ayatollahs were forced to relent after a 29-year-old Iranian woman charged with trying to attend a men’s soccer match died in September 2019 after setting herself on fire.

As one young Saudi official recently remarked to me, M.B.S. was able to sideline the religious extremists in the kingdom, without starting a civil war, by unleashing all the pent-up energy of young Saudis, who wanted to realize their full potential by being connected with all the cutting-edge global trends. So these youths just steamrolled the resistance from the roughly 30 percent of Saudis whom I’d describe as hyperconservative. (Saudi sources tell me that about 500 of the most extreme clerics have been locked up. M.B.S. is wisely still paying other very conservative government religious officials, like the religious police, but he has disempowered them — not without personal risk to himself.) Iran, by contrast, has unleashed the full brutality of its religious authorities to steamroll Iranian youths, who went into open civil war with the regime in September 2022 after an Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died in police custody. She had been arrested for allegedly not properly covering herself in public.

That is why you get scenes like Iranian college students in 2020 refusing to walk on American and Israeli flags that the clerics painted on the ground at the gateways to their universities, or in April booing and honking horns at a soccer match when the regime demanded a moment of silence in honor of the Iranian military commanders killed by Israel. They see Iran’s religious dictators exploiting the Palestinian cause and Hamas to cover the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ brutality against Iran’s own youth.

This is in stark contrast with some of the U.S. college students now demonstrating who see Israel as the “colonial” aggressor and give Hamas a free pass, even though it murdered, kidnapped and raped Israelis on Oct. 7, triggering the massive Israeli bombardments that have killed tens of thousands of Gazan civilians, including thousands of children, with seeming indifference.

The key question for the Biden administration and the Saudis today is this: What to do next? The good news is that they are 90 percent done with the mutual defense treaty that they have drawn up, both sides tell me. But they still need to tie down a few key points. These include the precise ways in which the U.S. will control the civilian nuclear energy program that Saudi Arabia will get under the deal; whether the mutual defense component will be explicit, like that between the U.S. and Japan, or less formal, like the understanding between the U.S. and Taiwan; and a long-term commitment for Saudi Arabia to continue to price oil in U.S. dollars, not switch to the Chinese currency.

But the other part of the deal, which is seen as critical to winning support in Congress, is for Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel. That will happen only if Israel agrees to Riyadh’s terms: get out of Gaza, freeze the building of settlements in the West Bank and embark on a three- to five-year “pathway” to establish a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. That state would also be conditioned on the Palestinian Authority undertaking reforms to make it a governing body that Palestinians trust and see as legitimate and Israelis see as effective.

There are a lot of “ifs” and “provided thats” in this equation that seem most unlikely today. They might seem less so when the Gaza war ends and both Israelis and Palestinians add up the terrible costs of not having a permanent peaceful solution and contemplate whether they want more of the same or to make a radical departure.

It is clear to U.S. and Saudi officials that with Netanyahu having thrown in with the far right to stay in power, he’s highly unlikely to agree to any kind of Palestinian statehood that would lead his partners to topple him — unless his political survival dictates otherwise. As a result, the U.S. and the Saudis are considering finalizing the deal and taking it to Congress with the stated proviso that Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Israel the minute Israel has a government ready to meet the Saudi-U.S. terms.

But no decision has been made. U.S. officials know that Israel is in such turmoil today, and with the whole world seemingly coming down on it, it is impossible to really get Israelis to consider the profound long-term political and economic benefits of normalized relations with Saudi Arabia, the world’s most influential Muslim nation and Arab nation.

Hopefully, though, if there can be a permanent end of fighting and a return of all Israelis taken hostage, Israel will hold new elections. And then — maybe, just maybe — the choice on the table for Israelis will not be Bibi or Bibi-lite, but Bibi or a credible pathway to peace with Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by kmaherali »

U.N. General Assembly Adopts Resolution in Support of Palestinian Statehood

The vote comes after the United States last month vetoed a Security Council measure granting full U.N. membership to a Palestinian state.

video id: 100000009462938

The United Nations General Assembly approved the resolution by a vote of 143 to 9 with 25 nations abstaining. The Assembly can only grant full membership with the approval of the Security Council.CreditCredit...Sarah Yenesel/EPA, via Shutterstock

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday overwhelmingly adopted a resolution declaring that Palestinians qualify for full-members status at the United Nations, a highly symbolic move that reflects growing global solidarity with Palestinians and is a rebuke to Israel and the United States.

The resolution was approved by a vote of 143 to 9 with 25 nations abstaining. The Assembly broke into a big applause after the vote.

But the resolution does not mean a Palestinian state will be recognized and admitted to the United Nations as a full member anytime soon. The Assembly can only grant full membership with the approval of the Security Council, and, if history is a guide, the United States would almost inevitably wield its veto power to kill such a measure, as it did in April.

Even though a majority in the General Assembly have long supported Palestinian statehood, the resolution was the first time the body had voted on the issue of full membership. The resolution declares that “the State of Palestine is qualified for membership in the United Nations” under its charter rules and recommends that the Security Council reconsider the matter with a favorable outcome.

The resolution was prepared by the United Arab Emirates, the current chair of the U.N. Arab Group, and sponsored by 70 countries. The United States voted no, along with Hungary, Argentina, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia and Nauru.

“The vast majority of countries in this hall are fully aware of the legitimacy of the Palestinian bid and the justness of their cause, which faces fierce attempts to suppress it and render it meaningless today,” said the U.A.E. ambassador, Mohamed Abushahab, as he introduced the resolution on behalf of the Arab Group.

Though largely symbolic, the resolution does provide Palestinians with new diplomatic privileges. Palestinians can now sit among member states in alphabetical order; they can speak at General Assembly meetings on any topic instead of being limited to Palestinian affairs; they can submit proposals and amendments; and they can participate at U.N. conferences and international meetings organized by the Assembly and other United Nations entities.

The 193-member General Assembly took up the issue of Palestinian membership after the United States in April vetoed a resolution before the Security Council that would have recognized full membership for a Palestinian state. While a majority of council members supported the move, the United States said recognition of Palestinian statehood should be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Frustration with the United States has been brewing for months among many senior U.N. officials and diplomats, including from allies such as France, because Washington has repeatedly blocked cease-fire resolutions at the Security Council and has staunchly supported Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, even as civilian suffering has mounted.

“The U.S. is resigned to having another bad day at the U.N.,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on the U.N. for the International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention organization. But he added that the resolution “gives the Palestinians a boost without creating a breakdown over whether they are or are not now U.N. members.”

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., told the Assembly ahead of the vote that Palestinians’ right to full membership at the U.N. and statehood “are not up for negotiations, they are our inherent rights as Palestinians.” He added that a vote against Palestinian statehood was a vote against the two-state solution.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, a sharp critic of the U.N., said voting for a Palestinian state would be inviting “a state of terror” in its midst and rewarding “terrorists” who killed Jewish civilians with privileges and called member states endorsing it “Jew haters.”

Robert A. Wood, a U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that while the U.S. supported a two-state solution as the only means for sustainable peace, “it remains the U.S. view that unilateral measures at the U.N. and on the ground will not advance this goal.”

Mr. Wood said that if the Assembly referred the issue back to the Council, it would have the same outcome again with the U.S. blocking the move.

The Palestinians are currently recognized by the U.N. as a nonmember observer state, a status granted to them in 2012 by the General Assembly. They do not have the right to vote on General Assembly resolutions or nominate any candidates to U.N. agencies.

France, a close U.S. ally and one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has supported the Palestinian bid for statehood breaking away from United States’ stance at the U.N. both at the Council and the Assembly vote. “The time has come for the United Nations to take action with a view to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the basis of the two-state solution,” said Nicolas de Rivière, France’s ambassador to the U.N., in his address on Friday.

The Assembly session, which was expected to flow over to Monday because of the long list of speakers, was not without moments of performative drama.

Mr. Erdan, Israel’s ambassador, held up the picture of Hamas’s military leader, Yahya Sinwar, considered the architect of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, with the word “President,” and then a transparent shredder, inserting a piece of paper inside it, and said the member states were “shredding the U.N. charter.”

Mr. Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador, at the end of his speech raised his fist in the air, visibly chocking back tears, and said “Free Palestine.” The Assembly broke into applause. ... inian.html
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Post by kmaherali »

Live Updates: ‘Technical Failure’ Caused Helicopter Crash That Killed Iran’s President, State News Agency Reports

The deaths of Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, and foreign minister left the country without two of its most influential figures at a moment of regional and domestic tumult.

Video ID 100000009477239

After scouring a mountainous area of dense forest, rescuers found the remains of the aircraft, which had the president and foreign minister on board.CreditCredit...Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

Here are the latest developments.

The deaths of Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, and foreign minister leave the country without two influential leaders at a particularly tumultuous moment of international tension and domestic discontent, although analysts and regional officials expect little change in Iran’s foreign or domestic policies.

Mr. Raisi, 63, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian were killed on Sunday in a helicopter crash resulting from a “technical failure,” Iranian state news media reported. They were traveling from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan after inaugurating a dam project when their helicopter went down in a mountainous area near the city of Jolfa. Search and rescue teams scoured a rugged area of dense forest through rain and fog for hours before finding the crash site. There were no survivors.

The Iranian authorities have sought to project a sense of order and control. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there would be “no disruption” to the government’s work, and on Monday he said that the first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would assume the role of acting president and must organize elections for a new president within 50 days.

A public funeral procession for the president and foreign minister will be held in the city of Tabriz on Tuesday morning, and the bodies will then be taken to Tehran for an official funeral, said the interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi.

The death of Mr. Raisi, a conservative who crushed dissent and had been viewed as a possible successor to Mr. Khamenei, occurred weeks after Tehran came close to open conflict with Israel and the United States. A long shadow war with Israel burst into the open in an exchange of direct strikes last month. And looming over everything is the question of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has produced nuclear fuel enriched to a level just short of what would be needed to produce several bombs.

Here’s what else to know:

Mr. Raisi, a hard-line religious cleric who came of age during the country’s Islamic Revolution, was the second most powerful individual in Iran’s political structure after Mr. Khamenei. His death opens a new chapter of instability, just as the increasingly unpopular Islamic Republic is engaged in selecting its next supreme leader, and it might pave the way for Mr. Khamenei’s son Mojtaba to eventually assume that role. ... nstability

Following his ascent to the presidency in 2021, Mr. Raisi consolidated power and marginalized reformists. He continued to expand Iran’s regional influence, backing proxies across the Middle East that have conducted strikes against Israel and the United States, and oversaw a deadly crackdown on domestic protesters, many of them women and young people. ... -dead.html

The clandestine war with Israel burst into the open after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, setting off the war in Gaza and a cascade of strikes and counterstrikes across the region. The hostilities became even more pronounced after Israel conducted airstrikes on a building in the Iranian Embassy complex in Syria in April. Iran retaliated with its first direct attack on Israel after decades of enmity, launching more than 300 drones and missiles toward the country, almost all of which were shot down.

The authorities in Iran also face domestic anger, with many residents calling for an end to clerical rule. Corruption and international sanctions have ravaged the economy. In the last two years, the country has seen a domestic uprising, the Iranian currency plunging to a record low, water shortages intensified by climate change and the deadliest terrorist attack since the 1979 founding of the Islamic Republic.

What to Know About Mohammad Mokhber, Iran’s Acting President

Mr. Mokhber has long been involved in business conglomerates tied to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He must hold elections for a new president within 50 days.

Mohammad Mokhber, who is acting president, had held senior positions in some of Iran’s most powerful conglomerates.Credit...Iranian Vice President’s Media Office

With the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, becomes acting president. Mr. Mokhber is a conservative political operative with a long history of involvement in large business conglomerates closely tied to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Khamenei said that Mr. Mokhber must work with the heads of the legislature and judiciary to hold elections for a new president within 50 days.

Vice presidents in Iran are typically low profile, operating more as players within the government than as public figures.

“Iran’s vice presidents have traditionally not been contenders to succeed their bosses,” said Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center in Washington. “The bigger question,” she added, “is who will the regime allow to run for the office.”

Mr. Mokhber is around 68 years old and became first vice president in August 2021. He is originally from Khuzestan Province in Iran’s southwest, bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf. He was a deputy governor there, and during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s served as a member of the Revolutionary Guards medical corps.

One of Mr. Mokhber’s relatively few high-profile appearances came when he and three other senior Iranian officials went to Moscow in October 2022 to complete a sale of Iranian drones and ballistic missiles to Russia, for use in the war in Ukraine.

Mr. Raisi chose him as vice president after Mr. Mokhber held senior positions in some of Iran’s most powerful organizations, including the Mostazafan Foundation, Sina Bank and Setad, a conglomerate entirely controlled by Ayatollah Khamenei that has billions of dollars in assets and was involved — not entirely successfully — in efforts to make and distribute a Covid-19 vaccine.

All three organizations are part of an opaque network of financial entities that are tied to the Iranian state, although they are not directly state-owned. They are also connected to projects that are priorities for the supreme leader and his inner circle.

Mr. Mokhber’s involvement suggests that he has been a successful behind-the-scenes player who is familiar with the financing networks that are important to the official Iranian power structure.

The Mostazafan Foundation, where Mr. Mokhber worked in the early 2000s, is officially a charity but is described by the U.S. Treasury as “a key patronage network for the supreme leader” that includes holdings in key sectors of Iran’s economy, including finance, energy, construction and mining. It is the subject of sanctions by the U.S. Treasury because it is controlled by Mr. Khamenei, and the Treasury said it was created in part “to confiscate and manage property, including that originally belonging to religious minorities” in Iran, including Baha’is and Jews.

The Treasury says the foundation funnels some of its money to individuals and entities in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that have been involved in terrorism and human rights abuses.

The Sina Bank has faced sanctions by the U.S. Treasury and the European Union for financing Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.

Mr. Mokhber appears to have risen to the top of Iran’s political leadership in part because of the close relationship he developed with Iran’s supreme leader, dating from at least 2007 when he joined the leadership of Setad. Within a few months of his appointment to Setad, Mr. Mokhber had founded the Barakat Foundation, which has a number of companies under its aegis including a major Iranian medical and pharmaceutical company.

While his relationship with the supreme leader will be important while elections are being organized, analysts say that a much larger group of high-ranking officials around Mr. Khamenei will determine how this sensitive period in Iran will be handled.

“The regime is at a tipping point — politically, economically, and even militarily,” Ms. Wright said, noting Iran’s large-scale aerial attack on Israel last month that was nearly entirely intercepted, which she called “a humiliating failure.” Low turnout in parliamentary elections in March was also a sign of trouble for Iran’s theocracy, she added.

“It is very nervous about its future and the durability of its core ideology,” she said.

Leily Nikounazar contributed reporting. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by kmaherali »

Saudi Arabia Eyes a Future Beyond Oil

The kingdom is trying to juggle its still-vital petroleum industry with alternative energy sources like wind and solar as it faces pressure to lower carbon emissions.

Arrays of solar panels help power the Jazlah Water Desalination plant in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Credit...Iman Al-Dabbagh for The New York Times

At a two-hour drive from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, rows of solar panels extend to the horizon like waves on an ocean. Despite having almost limitless reserves of oil, the kingdom is embracing solar and wind power, partly in an effort to retain a leading position in the energy industry, which is vitally important to the country but fast changing.

Looking out over 3.3 million panels, covering 14 square miles of desert, Faisal Al Omari, chief executive of a recently completed solar project called Sudair, said he would tell his children and grandchildren about contributing to Saudi Arabia’s energy transition. “I’m really proud to be part of it,” he said.

Although petroleum production retains a crucial role in the Saudi economy, the kingdom is putting its chips on other forms of energy. Sudair, which can light up 185,000 homes, is the first of what could be many giant projects intended to raise output from renewable energy sources like solar and wind to around 50 percent by 2030. Currently, renewable energy accounts for a negligible amount of Saudi electricity generation.

Analysts say achieving that hugely ambitious goal is unlikely. “If they get 30 percent, I would be happy because that would be a good signal,” said Karim Elgendy, a climate analyst at the Middle East Institute, a research organization in Washington.

Still, the kingdom is planning to build solar farms at a rapid pace.

“The volumes you see here, you don’t see anywhere else, only in China,” said Marco Arcelli, chief executive of Acwa Power, Sudair’s Saudi developer and a growing force in the international electricity and water industries.

ImageMarco Arcelli, wearing a suit, glasses and a microphone ear piece, makes a gesture with his hand.
“The volumes you see here, you don’t see anywhere else, only in China,” said Marco Arcelli, chief executive of Acwa Power, Sudair’s Saudi developer.Credit...Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg

The Saudis not only have the money to expand rapidly, but are free of the long permit processes that inhibit such projects in the West. “They have a lot of investment capital, and they can move quickly and pull the trigger on project development,” said Ben Cahill, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research institution in Washington.

Even Saudi Aramco, the crown jewel of the Saudi economy and the producer of nearly all its oil, sees a shifting energy landscape.

To gain a foothold in solar, Aramco has taken a 30 percent stake in Sudair, which cost $920 million, the first step in a planned 40-gigawatt solar portfolio — more than Britain’s average power demand — intended to meet the bulk of the government’s ambitions for renewable energy.

The company plans to set up a large business of storing greenhouse gases underground. It is also funding efforts to make so-called e-fuels for automobiles from carbon dioxide and hydrogen, notably at a refinery in Bilbao, Spain, owned by Repsol, the Spanish energy company.

Aramco’s computer scientists are also training artificial intelligence models, using nearly 90 years of oil field data, to increase the efficiency of drilling and extraction, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

“Environmental stewardship has always been part of our modus operandi,” said Ashraf Al Ghazzawi, Aramco’s executive vice president for strategy and corporate development.

Still, pressure to accelerate the energy transition may grow in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, a region that has young, environmentally aware populations and that could be especially vulnerable to climate change.

“Countries from the MENA region, including Saudi Arabia, will face the impacts of climate change and extreme temperatures, water scarcity,” said Shady Khalil, lead campaigner for Greenpeace Middle East and North Africa, an environmental group.

A brown, hilly area is studded with wind turbines.
Acwa Power turbines on the outskirts of Tangier, Morocco. The company is a renewable energy giant. Credit...Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

Although it insists that petroleum has a long future, Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, seems to also be trying to signal that it is not locked in a pollution-belching past but is more like a Silicon Valley company focused on innovation.

Recently, the company invited a group of journalists to a presentation during which young Saudis described green practices like using drones rather than lumbering fleets of trucks when prospecting for oil or restoring mangrove swamps along tropical coastlines to soak up carbon dioxide.

In the last two years, Saudi Arabia has instructed Aramco to sharply pare back oil production to nine million barrels a day, in line with agreements in the group known as OPEC Plus. In January, Aramco announced that the Saudi government had told it to halt an effort to boost the amount of oil it could produce.

In Aramco’s view, these decisions are not harbingers of declining fossil fuel consumption. Executives insist that the company will continue to invest in oil and, at the same time, sharply increase output of natural gas.

These fuels will continue to “play a very important role” up till 2050 and beyond, Mr. Al Ghazzawi said, arguing that both renewables and oil and gas would be needed to meet growing demand. “We’ve always felt there has to be a parallel and concurrent investment in new and conventional sources of energy,” he said.

The executives said Aramco was well positioned for the coming decades. The combination of some of the world’s largest fields and careful stewardship, they said, means it can produce oil at very low cost — $3.19 a barrel on average. The company is also betting that it can make its oil more attractive by chipping away at the emissions caused by producing it — an attribute that is not rewarded by markets now but could eventually command a premium.

An aerial view of a rectangular complex surrounded by rust-colored desert.
Aramco’s Shaybah oil field in the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia.Credit...Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

“I think ultimately the market will value low-carbon products and the pricing will become even more profitable,” said Ahmed Al-Khowaiter, Aramco’s executive vice president for technology and innovation.

It is easy to see why Aramco and the Saudi government would be wary of damaging a business that dates to 1938. Aramco continues to be one of the world’s most profitable companies: For the first quarter of this year, it earned $27.3 billion and said it would pay out $31.1 billion in dividends, mostly to its main owner, the Saudi government.

It follows, though, that if Aramco cuts back its investment in oil, it will be able to pay even higher dividends to the government that could be used in a wide range of efforts to diversify the economy.

Aramco says it will be putting around 10 percent of its investments into lower-carbon initiatives, but these moves have not shown up much in the financial results. “I just don’t think it moves the needle,” said Neil Beveridge, an analyst at the research firm Bernstein. “Oil production really accounts for the vast bulk of earnings.”

Some of Aramco’s initiatives are likely to take years to bear fruit, but conditions already look ripe for solar energy. Saudi Arabia has blazing sun and vast stretches of land that can be populated with solar panels. Add in a close relationship with China, which is supplying much of the renewable equipment including the panels at Sudair, and “they are building at a very low price,” said Nishant Kumar, a renewable and power analyst at Rystad Energy, a research firm.

Sudair, for instance, will sell its power at about 1.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, a near record low at the time it was agreed.

A man pumps hydrogen fuel into a car labeled “Aramco.”
A hydrogen fueling station near Saudi Aramco’s headquarters. Saudi Arabia is laying the groundwork to export hydrogen, a clean fuel. Credit...Maya Siddiqui/Bloomberg

“They know very well that the economy can only be efficient if they can continue to take advantage of that ever-reducing solar energy cost,” said Paddy Padmanathan, a former chief executive of Acwa Power who is now a renewable entrepreneur.

The kingdom is betting that abundant, low-cost electric power could attract energy-intensive industries like steel. Acwa is helping to build what is likely to be the world’s largest plant for making green hydrogen, with an eye to exporting to Europe and other places with higher costs.

The only problem, analysts say, is Saudi Arabia is not moving as fast as it could be. Mr. Kumar figures that it may achieve only about half of the ambitious 2030 goal for solar installations. Wind is lagging even more. One reason: The government has not created the conditions that could bring in competing firms that might bolster output, analysts say.

Acwa, for instance, will be heavily relied upon for meeting the ambitious renewable targets. “We think it is difficult to ignore the operational — and financial risks,” analysts at Citigroup wrote recently. The company is listed on the stock exchange, but 44 percent is owned by the Public Investment Fund, the key financing vehicle for the initiatives of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Still, renewable energy is already creating jobs. Acwa, for instance, has 3,840 employees with about 1,900 in Saudi Arabia. The opportunity to work in cleaner energy businesses appeals to younger Saudis.

Acwa set an example by installing large arrays of solar panels at a plant it recently built on the Persian Gulf to convert seawater into drinking water. Desalination requires enormous amounts of electricity; the solar energy reduces the need to tap into the power grid and, consequently, cuts emissions.

The developers of two adjacent plants are following suit. “Using this technology is very important,” said Nawaf Al-Osimy, chief technical officer of the plant known as Jazlah. “The more you use, the more sustainable it is.”

Nawaf Al-Osimy walks through the Jazlah Water Desalination plant, which has big pipes coming out of a blue wall.
Nawaf Al-Osimy, chief technical officer of the Jazlah Water Desalination company, which draws vast quantities of water from the Persian Gulf and makes it drinkable. Credit...Iman Al-Dabbagh for The New York Times ... 778d3e6de3
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Reformist Candidate Wins Iran’s Presidential Election

Masoud Pezeshkian defeated an ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, in a runoff.

Masoud Pezeshkian waving to supporters at a campaign rally in Tehran on the last day of campaigning on Wednesday.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

Farnaz Fassihi
By Farnaz Fassihi
Published July 5, 2024
Updated July 6, 2024, 5:00 a.m. ET
In an election upset in Iran, the reformist candidate who advocated moderate policies at home and improved relations with the West won the presidential runoff against his hard-line rival, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

The reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian, 69, a cardiac surgeon, got 16.3 million votes to defeat Saeed Jalili, with 13.5 million votes. The result delivered a blow to the conservative faction and was a major victory for the reformist camp, which had been sidelined from politics for the past few years.

After polls closed at midnight, turnout stood at about 50 percent, roughly 10 percentage points higher than in the first round with about 30.5 million ballots cast, according to the interior ministry.

The first round had a record low turnout because many Iranians boycotted in protest. But the prospect of a hard-line administration that would double down on strict social rules, including enforcing mandatory hijabs for women, and remain defiant in negotiations to lift international economic sanctions, seemed to have spurred Iranians to turn out.

Mr. Pezeshkian’s supporters took to the streets before dawn on Saturday, according to video footage on social media and his campaign, honking horns, dancing and cheering outside his campaign offices in many cities, including his hometown, Tabriz, when initial results showed he was leading. They also took to social media to congratulate Iranians for turning up at polls to “save Iran,” a campaign slogan of Mr. Pezeshkian’s.

“The end of the rule of minority over majority,” Ali Akbar Behmanesh, a reformist politician and head of Mr. Pezeshkian’s campaign in the province of Mazandaran, said on X. “Congratulations for the victory of wisdom over ignorance.”

A group of men sit in a circle on a carpeted floor with slips of paper between them. Two women in black head scarves sitting in chairs watch them.
Officials counting votes in Tehran on Saturday.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

Some conservative supporters of Mr. Jalili said on social media that regardless of who won, the turnout was a victory for the Islamic Republic and they hoped the new administration would work to bridge divisions among political factions.

While Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wields the most power in government, analysts said the president could set domestic policies and shape foreign policy.

“A reform-minded president, despite all the limitations and failures of the past, is still meaningfully better — in some significant way it would put some constraint on the authoritarianism of the Islamic Republic,” said Nader Hashemi, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at George Washington University.

The special election was held because President Ebrahim Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash in May. Mr. Pezeshkian’s new term will last four years.

Elections in Iran are not free or fair by Western standards, and the selection of candidates is tightly vetted by the Guardian Council, an appointed committee of 12, with six clerics and six jurists. But the government has long viewed voter turnout as a sign of legitimacy.

People hold flags and banners at a campaign rally.
Supporters of Dr. Pezeshkian at a campaign rally.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

The two candidates in the runoff, from opposite ends of Iran’s constrained political spectrum, represented different visions for Iran, with consequences for domestic and regional politics.

In the days before the election, Mr. Pezeshkian’s campaign rallies attracted larger and younger crowds. Prominent politicians like Mohammad Javad Zarif, a former foreign minister, campaigned for him and said the choice was between “day and night.”

The message that voters should turn up out of fear of Mr. Jalili appeared to have resonated.

“I’m going to vote, because if I don’t vote, the Islamic Republic won’t be toppled,” Ghazal, a 24-year-old fashion designer in Tehran, the capital, said in a telephone interview. Like others interviewed, she asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of drawing the government’s attention.

Sedigheh, a 41-year-old pediatrician in Tehran, also abandoned her boycott and voted for Mr. Pezeshkian on Friday, even though she said by telephone that she had no hope that any president could bring about meaningful changes that people demanded.

“I voted, because I think we need small and incremental changes that make our lives a little better,” she said, “and if there is a president who can or wants to make those small changes, it’s enough for now.”

A veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, Mr. Pezeshkian served in Parliament for 16 years, including a stint as deputy Parliament speaker, and as health minister for four years. After his wife died in a car accident, he raised his children as a single father and has never remarried. That, and his identity as an Azeri, one of Iran’s ethnic minorities, endeared him to many voters. He campaigned with his daughter by his side at every rally and major speech.

Many conservatives crossed party lines and voted for Mr. Pezeshkian because, they said, Mr. Jalili was too extreme and would deepen tensions at home.

“Mr. Jalili cannot unite Iranians,” Saeed Hajati, a conservative who said he was voting for Mr. Pezeshkian while at a town-hall-style meeting on Thursday that was streamed on the Clubhouse app. “He will divide us more, and we need someone who can bridge these divisions.”

A white-haired, bearded man in glasses stands with his hand on his heart, smiling a little and surrounded by several other men.
Saeed Jalili on the last day of campaigning in Tehran on Wednesday. In the days before the election, multiple prominent politicians and clerics had warned that Mr. Jalili was too extreme.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

Mr. Pezeshkian campaigned on a promise to work with his rivals to solve Iran’s many challenges. In his last campaign video message, he told Iranians, “I am your voice, even the voice of the 60 percent whose voice is never heard and did not show up at the polls.” He added, “Iran is for everyone, for all Iranians.”

Mr. Jalili campaigned on the message that he would safeguard revolutionary ideals and remain defiant against challenges like sanctions and nuclear negotiations.

In the days before the vote, prominent politicians and clerics called Mr. Jalili “delusional,” compared him to the Taliban in Afghanistan and warned that his presidency would put the country on a collision course with the United States and Israel.

Reformists in Iran said that Mr. Pezeshkian’s election campaign was a boost for their political movement, which many inside and outside the country had written off after being marginalized in parliamentary elections and the last presidential election, in 2021. That year, competitive candidates were disqualified, while those who remained faced a disillusioned electorate.

“The reformist movement got a new lifeline in the country, and reformists came with all their force to support him,” Ali Asghar Shaerdoost, former member of Parliament from the reformist party, said in a live town-hall-style gathering streamed on Clubhouse from Tehran.

Many Iranians have called for an end to the Islamic Republic’s rule in waves of protests, including a 2022 uprising led by women in which crowds chanted, “Conservatives, reformists, the game is over.”

The government has brutally cracked down on dissent, killing more than 500 people and arresting tens of thousands. The widespread anger and loss of hope were reflected in the fact that half of eligible voters, about 61 million, sat out this election, saying that a vote for the government would be a betrayal of all victims.

A group of people stand in a line against a backdrop of a stone building.
Lining up to vote in Tehran on Friday. Turnout was higher in the runoff than in the first round of voting.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

Mahsa, a 34-year-old accountant in Isfahan, said by telephone that she refused to vote and was not buying the logic that she had to pick between bad and worse. “I see this election as government propaganda — a kind of ridiculous mask behind which everything is controlled by a dictator.”

A daunting list of challenges awaits the winner: an ailing economy debilitated by years of international economic sanctions, a frustrated electorate and geopolitical tripwires that have brought Iran to the brink of war twice this year. Many Iranians blame the government for wrecking the economy, limiting social freedoms and isolating the country.

During Mr. Raisi’s tenure, he oversaw a strategy of expanding Iran’s regional influence and strengthening ties with Russia and China. Iran-backed militant groups expanded their reach and gained more advanced weapons across the Middle East, and the country’s nuclear program advanced to weapons-threshold level in the aftermath of President Donald J. Trump’s withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018.

As war rages between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, militant proxies backed by Iran have opened new fronts against Israel from Yemen to Lebanon. Those tensions took Iran to the brink of war with Israel in April and with the United States in February.

Leily Nikounazar and Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting. ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by kmaherali »

After 9 Months of War, Israelis Call for a Cease-Fire Deal and Elections

A day of nationwide anti-government protests comes amid signs of progress toward a truce and hostage deal with Hamas, as well as continued fighting.

The police dispersing demonstrators blocking a road in Jerusalem on Sunday.Credit...Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press

Israelis on Sunday marked nine months since the devastating Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7 and the start of the ensuing war in Gaza with a nationwide day of anti-government protests at a time that many here view as a pivotal juncture in the conflict.

Primarily calling for a cease-fire deal with Hamas that would see hostages return from captivity and for new elections in Israel, protesters brought traffic to a standstill at several major intersections in cities and on highways across the country. Much of central Tel Aviv was blocked in one of the biggest protests in months.

Some progress has been made in recent days for a resumption of negotiations toward a tentative deal after weeks of an impasse, even as the fighting continues in Gaza, where an Israeli strike hit in the area of a U.N. school on Saturday, and across Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

But many Israelis, among them the families of some of the hostages, fear that the cease-fire efforts could be torpedoed not only by Hamas, but also by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who, they say, might prioritize the survival of his government over a deal that could topple it.

The leaders of two ultranationalist parties who are key elements of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition have threatened to bring the government down if the prime minister agrees to a deal before Hamas is fully destroyed — a goal that many officials and experts consider unattainable.

The far-right parties in the governing coalition “don’t want a deal,” Shikma Bressler, a protest leader, said in a social media post early Sunday, adding, “They need Armageddon.”

“And Bibi?” Ms. Bressler added, referring to Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname. “He needs war so there won’t be elections.”

A boy cries as a woman comforts another child behind him.
Seeking refuge at the United Nations school in Nuseirat, in central Gaza, on Saturday after the Israeli airstrike.Credit...Eyad Baba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Tensions over the potential deal also surfaced within Mr. Netanyahu’s own Likud party at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. After the prime minister accused the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, a rival, of playing politics, Mr. Gallant retorted by warning Mr. Netanyahu against any “politically driven attempt” to tie a hostage deal to other contentious issues dividing the government, according to Mr. Gallant’s office.

“This is a delicate hour,” Mr. Gallant said. “We must strike an agreement to secure the release of the hostages.”

Israel’s northern border remained volatile on Sunday, with the Lebanese Hezbollah organization firing salvos of rockets, drones and anti-tank missiles into Israeli territory. In an unusual incident, a private U.S. citizen was injured in one of the strikes from Lebanon, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

The spokesman said the person does not work for the U.S. government but could provide no further details, citing privacy concerns. An Israeli soldier was also lightly injured, according to the Israeli military.

The rockets from Lebanon came a day after Israeli aircraft carried out a deadly strike against a Hezbollah operative in the area of Baalbek, deep inside Lebanese territory, about 40 miles northeast of Beirut.

Israel identified the target as Meitham Mustafa Altaar, describing him as a key operative in Hezbollah’s Aerial Defense Unit who had taken part in several attacks against Israel.

Another man believed to be an Israeli was seriously injured in a strike from Lebanon on Sunday that reached deeper into Israel than most of the previous attacks in months of tit-for-tat cross-border clashes.

In central Gaza on Saturday, Israeli aircraft struck in the area of a United Nations school in Nuseirat, where the Israeli military said Palestinian militants had been operating out of a number of structures. At least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded in the strike, according to the Gaza health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed so far in Gaza, according to local health officials.

The school had become a shelter for displaced people seeking safety, the ministry added. Hamas, in a statement, called the strike a “massacre.” The Israeli military said it had taken measures to avoid civilian casualties in the strike and blamed Hamas for operating from areas crowded with Gazan civilians.

On Sunday, the Israeli military said its air force struck another complex in the vicinity of a school building in Gaza City where fighters were operating, as well as a Hamas weapons manufacturing facility in the same area.

The military said it was continuing its operations in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, and in Shajaiye, an area east of Gaza City, in the north. The air force also carried out a strike against the municipality building in Khan Younis, a large southern city from which Israeli ground forces withdrew in April.

Hamas was using the building, the military said, for military activities. Before the strike, the military said, the civilian population was evacuated from the area.

Trails of smoke can be seen against a blurry landscape.
Israel’s Iron Dome defense system intercepting a missile fired from south Lebanon over Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel, on Wednesday.Credit...Atef Safadi/EPA, via Shutterstock

At a protest calling for the release of the hostages in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, a weekly occurrence, Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is being held hostage in Gaza, said of the renewed talks for a cease-fire, “For the first time in many months, we feel hope.”

But she added: “Netanyahu, we’ve seen how time and again you’ve torpedoed deals at the moment of truth. Our heart was shattered each time. Don’t dare break our heart again! It is your duty to return all of the citizens you forsook.”

Many Israelis are enraged over Mr. Netanyahu’s refusal so far to take any personal responsibility for the Israeli intelligence and policy failures leading up to the Oct. 7 terrorist assault, in which 1,200 people were killed, according to the Israeli authorities, and about 250 more were taken into Gaza. Of the 120 hostages remaining in Gaza, at least a third are presumed dead, officials say.

The protests on Sunday, which the organizers called a national “Day of Disturbance,” began at 6.29 a.m. — the time the Hamas-led attack began on Oct. 7 — with “wake-up calls” outside the homes of several lawmakers and ministers, including the minister of defense, Mr. Gallant.

Several tech companies allowed their staff time off to participate in the protests, which were expected to culminate in large rallies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem later in the day. Sunday is a workday for most Israelis.

Despite recent progress in indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas, via U.S. and Arab mediators, sticking points remain, and a cease-fire deal is not considered imminent.

A person holds up an Israeli flag at nighttime in front of a bright light. People are gathered on the left.
Police spraying protesters with water cannons during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday.Credit...Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

The talks are based on a three-stage framework first publicized by President Biden in late May and later endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.

Both sides agree on the broad outlines of a deal that would include an initial six-week cease-fire and the release of the most vulnerable civilian hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. But Hamas is seeking assurances that Israel won’t restart the war after some hostages come home. Israel says it needs the option of resuming hostilities and will not effectively commit to a permanent cease-fire from the outset.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a statement on Sunday evening saying the prime minister remains “steadfastly committed” to the principles already agreed upon by Israel and endorsed by Mr. Biden, including that any deal must allow Israel to resume fighting until it has achieved “all of the war’s goals.”

Gabby Sobelman, Johnatan Reiss and Myra Noveck contributed reporting. ... tests.html
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