Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

LDESP Middle East News Update – August 2012



The bimonthly LDESP Iraq News Update has transitioned to the monthly LDESP News Update From the Middle East. The Middle East update will include news coverage from Iran to Egypt. As with all LDESP news briefs, the information contained within the Middle East News update is to increase situational awareness concerning events that may affect your mission.

Disclaimer: Articles are taken from established and diverse professional periodicals, news articles, and editorial commentaries from different countries, reflecting a range of political views/biases, that are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. News summaries may highlight only a portion of an article that is relevant to the readers and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Opinions expressed in the articles, commentaries and features do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP staff.

For Iraqis, bombings and shootings like those that killed more than 100 people throughout the country 23 July have become a grim part of daily life since the departure of U.S. troops in December. The question facing U.S. officials is whether the mass killings, which have accelerated this summer, represent a return to sectarian war or a resurgence of Iraq’s al-Qaeda affiliate. The attacks, spread across 13 cities and more than 40 locations, targeted mostly Shiite neighborhoods and appeared to be the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a militant Sunni group. The carnage included an assault on a military base with guns and grenades, a car bombing in a Shiite vegetable market and a suicide bombing by an assailant who detonated his explosives in a crowd of police officers rushing to help Iraqis injured in earlier blasts. (…) More than 570 Iraqis have been killed in major attacks this year, a significant uptick in violence in the wake of the U.S. departure from the country. Over the weekend, the leader of Iraq’s al-Qaeda affiliate warned that the network was returning to its old strongholds and called for new recruits to launch attacks against the Shiite-led government and its security forces. (Washington Post)
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called 15 July for the US to speed up the transfer of weapons to Iraq, which lacks the ability to defend its airspace or borders, six months after American troops withdrew. The Iraqi premier also pointedly said during a meeting with General James Mattis, the visiting head of US Central Command, that only the central government would decide which arms purchases would be made, in an apparent swipe at Kurdish complaints over the acquisition of F-16 warplanes. (…) Iraq has agreed to acquire American military equipment worth more than $10 billion, including 36 F-16 warplanes which are not expected to be delivered for years, but also tanks, artillery, helicopters and patrol boats. While the army is regarded as able to maintain internal security, Iraqi and American officials acknowledge it cannot protect Iraq’s airspace, borders or territorial waters. (Middle East Online)
In response to the wave of popular discontent that followed the Iraqi government’s decision against taking in refugees from Syria, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on the military, police forces and the Red Crescent to take in displaced Syrians who are seeking shelter in Iraq as a result of the escalating violence in Syria and provide them with aid and assistance. Politicians, parliamentarians and intellectuals said the government’s position should be overturned and the borders should be opened to Syrians fleeing the violence. Ammar al-Hakim, the head of the Islamic Supreme Council, called on the government to “reconsider its decision and allow Syrian refugees to enter Iraq.” He described the closure of the border to Syrians, particularly to women and children, as a “decision that is not representative of Iraqis, who are a people of hospitality, manners and chivalry.” Nada Jubouri, a member of the parliamentary foreign relations committee, said: “The situation in neighboring Syria requires humanitarian protection for those affected and we should open our borders to them to help refugees in various ways.” Jubouri told Al-Zaman yesterday [23 July] that “the government should offer assistance to Syrian refugees, and the best solution is to build camps under the auspices of the United Nations.” (Al Monitor)

Jordanian and Syrian forces have traded gunfire on their border. According to a Jordanian security source, “brief” clashes broke out between the two armies in the Tal Al Sihab region after Syrian forces opened fire on some 300 refugees attempting to flee into Jordan. The Syrians had targeted Jordanian forces by mistake. Jordanian soldiers returned fire, said the source, igniting a fierce 10-minute-long battle between the two sides. (…) The incident marks the first full-scale clashes between Syria and Jordan and comes one week after Amman announced a military state of alert in the border region. (News.com.au)
Syria’s uprising has entered uncharted territory after rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad killed three of his top security chiefs in a devastating bomb attack in the heart of Damascus on 18 July – the single worst loss for the government in 16 months of increasingly bloody struggle. Mass defections of soldiers and a rampage by pro-regime militiamen were reported in the capital amid a swirl of rumours, including one that Assad’s wife, Asma, had fled to Russia and another that troops were being issued with gas masks, raising fears of the use of chemical weapons. The president’s whereabouts was also unclear, with one unconfirmed report that he had been wounded and left Damascus for Latakia on the coast. The White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was “clear that Assad is losing control”. He told reporters: “All of our partners internationally need to come together to support a transition.” The UN security council is due to vote on western-backed resolution at 2pm BST on 19 July that threatens sanctions against the Assad government if it fails to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas. (The Guardian)
The Syrian Army has descended on Aleppo, with troops, tanks, helicopters and warplanes, hoping to rout hundreds and perhaps thousands of armed opposition fighters who have grabbed a tenuous foothold here. The battle in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, could signify a decisive moment in the 17-month-old conflict, proving the government’s resilience or exposing its fragility. The Syrian government, which successfully stopped most rebel attacks on Damascus in late July, has promised to make quick work of its opponents in Aleppo. (…) On 30 July,the government and its opponents both claimed victories here. Opposition fighters said that after a pitched battle lasting several hours, they had seized control of a vital checkpoint northwest of the city, in Anadan, freeing up a route for supplies and fighters between Aleppo and the Turkish border. In the fight, the rebels seized several tanks and other military vehicles, activists said. (…) The combat came as the Syrian government suffered another high-ranking defection from its diplomatic corps, the fourth since the uprising against Mr. Assad began in March 2011. Britain’s Foreign Office announced that the Syrian chargé d’affaires, Khaled al-Ayoubi, the top Syrian diplomatic representative in Britain, had resigned because “he is no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts.” Diplomats from Iraq, Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates have also defected in recent weeks. (The New York Times)
Saudi Arabia is poised to become the largest single donor of humanitarian aid to Syria after raising US$72.3 million (Dh265.5m) in a special nationwide fund-raising drive in late July. The funds will nearly double the money now available to provide basic services such as food, shelter, clean water and health care inside Syria and to the 120,252 Syrian refugees who have been registered by the United Nations in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Khaled Khalifa, regional head for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Abu Dhabi, said he expected Saudi authorities to announce within days that they will be turning over the full amount raised last week to aid organisations participating in UN-coordinated operations in Syria. They will then decide what aid agencies will receive the funds and how they will be used, he said. (…) The relief aid raised last week is not the only Saudi aid moving towards Syria. The Riyadh government is said to be already channelling funds to rebels fighting to overthrow the government in Damascus. (The National)
Syrian officials warned 23 July that they would deploy chemical weapons against any foreign intervention, a threat that appeared intended to ward off an attack by Western nations while also offering what officials in Washington called the most “direct confirmation” ever that Syria possesses a stockpile of unconventional armaments.  The warning came out of Damascus, veiled behind an assurance that the Syrian leadership would never use such weapons against its own citizens, describing chemical arms as outside the bounds of the kind of guerrilla warfare being fought internally. “Any stock of W.M.D. or unconventional weapons that the Syrian Army possesses will never, never be used against the Syrian people or civilians during this crisis, under any circumstances,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, said at a news conference shown live on Syrian state television, using the initials for weapons of mass destruction. “These weapons are made to be used strictly and only in the event of external aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.” Mr. Makdissi said that any such weapons were carefully monitored by the Syrian Army, and that ultimately their use would be decided by generals. (The New York Times)
Jordan opened its first Syrian refugee camp on 29 July, near the northern town of Zaatari. The camp will initially host 5,000 refugees, providing food and water, as well as a shelter from the violence. The Jordanian Interior Ministry says as many as 1,000 refugees are crossing the border every day, with the numbers expected to increase. Plans are now underway to expand the camp dramatically, to accommodate around 100,000 people in the future. (…) The UN says up to a million Syrians have been displaced by the crisis. A total of 150,000 are thought to have fled the violence into neighboring Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. All four countries are taking emergency measures to settle the refugees. Lebanon has recently opened up schools, which were closed for the summer, to house Syrian families and Iraq recently opened its border crossings to allow refugees into the country. (Xinhua News)
Bahrain has said it is banning opposition rallies in order to prevent disruption to traffic and street violence that are sabotaging efforts to end unrest in the Gulf Arab state. But the opposition described the move as a new attempt to silence them. The island state ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa family has seen unrest since an uprising for political reforms, led by majority Shi’ites, was launched in February 2011 after revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. The uprising was initially crushed during a period of martial law but unrest has continued with regular organized protests by opposition parties and clashes between riot police and youths who say the monarchy marginalizes them. A senior official said the government had no new plans to ban rallies outright, but wanted to make sure they did not turn violent. The Interior Ministry said in mid July it had banned a series of rallies on 12 and 13 July organized by the leading opposition party Wefaq, the latest in a series of publicly announced bans over the past month.  (Reuters)
Thousands of anti-government protesters in Bahrain have clashed with riot police firing tear gas in demonstrations against plans to make political marches illegal. Witnesses said street battles took place in several places on 20 July around the Gulf island kingdom. Many protesters denounced plans by Bahrain to halt giving permits for opposition marches, saying they disrupt traffic and everyday life. The kingdom has been gripped by more than 17 months of clashes between the Sunni monarchy and protesters from the kingdom’s Shia majority, which claims it faces discrimination. At least 50 people have been killed in unrest in Bahrain since February 2011. (Al Jazeera)
Bahrain’s crown prince has ordered police to exercise restraint in dealing with protesters and to avoid sectarian discrimination, as opposition activists accuse the Gulf Arab state of cracking down on pro-democracy protests. The opposition party Wefaq praised the crown prince’s comments. Bahrain crushed an uprising led by majority Shi’ites last year after successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, but unrest has continued with marches and rallies that sometimes result in clashes between police and Shi’ite youths. Since June the government – pressed by Washington to resolve the political dispute – has banned a number of marches by leading opposition party Wefaq, saying they block traffic and lead to violence. But the opposition says it is an attempt by the Sunni ruling Al Khalifa family to crush all forms of street protest and accuses police of stepping up the use of shotgun pellet and raids on houses to stop all dissent. (…) The Interior Ministry said last week it had ordered an investigation into allegations of abuse by police officers. (Reuters)
In the former southern Yemen capital of Aden, secessionist leaders who once served jail terms for their political activities openly lead demonstrations, while the pre-unification flag, once forbidden, is a nearly constant presence in the sweltering city’s streets. Yemen’s Southern Movement has emerged defiantly from the power vacuum caused by last year’s uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (…) And while the leaders of this divided movement stress that they’re committed to waging a peaceful struggle, some are quietly raising the specter that long-festering wounds dating from Yemen’s unification could doom the country’s post-Saleh transition. (Christian Science Monitor)
THOUSANDS of Yemenis have rallied in the capital Sanaa, urging authorities to release 117 protesters arrested during the yearlong popular uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Activist Fathi al-Baadani said the rally on 29 July is also a protest against the government’s sluggishness to release the detainees despite an order to review their cases and set them free. The delay is due to the fact that Saleh’s followers still hold influential security and military positions, Al-Baadani added. (…) Sanaa radio said Prime Minister Salem Mohammed Bassindwa expressed strong dissatisfaction with several military, security and intelligence institutions over the lack of action to free the prisoners. (The Australian)
Sana’a: Yemeni troops have opened fire on dozens of jobless protesters who demonstrated near an oilfield operated by French Total in the southeastern Hadramaut province, wounding 10 people, a local official said. “Ten demonstrators were injured, two of them seriously,” said the official on condition of anonymity. Witnesses said troops guarding the facility fired tear gas and live ammunition at the demonstrators who gathered on a road leading to the oilfield carrying banners calling on energy company Total to hire them. (…) Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has high unemployment rates and is suffering from an escalating humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by protests last year that forced veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after more than three decades of rule. (Gulf News)
The International Monetary Fund on 16 July revised upwards its economic forecast for the Middle East and North Africa even as it trimmed its predictions for global growth. The IMF said it now expects growth of 5.5 per cent for the MENA region in 2012, 1.3 per cent higher than its April forecast, helped by boosts in Saudi and Libyan oil production. Its prediction of a 3.7 per cent climb for the region in 2013 remained unchanged. “In contrast with the broad trends, growth in the Middle East and North Africa will be stronger in 2012–13 relative to last year,” the fund said in its quarterly revision of economic forecasts. “Key oil exporters continue to boost oil production and domestic demand while activity in Libya is rebounding rapidly after the unrest in 2011.” The region, which is a net importer of raw materials and food staples, may also benefit from a projected easing in global consumer price inflation. But the IMF painted a much gloomier global picture. Forecasting overall growth at 3.5 per cent in 2012 and 3.9 per cent in 2013, the fund said the worldwide economy appeared weaker since its assessment three months ago. (Ahram Online)
Oil prices rose a seventh straight session on 19 July, reaching an eight-week high, as Middle East tensions reinforced concern about potential supply disruptions while strong corporate earnings lifted investor optimism. Brent jumped more than 2 percent and U.S. crude rallied 3 percent the day before the U.S. August contract expires. Brent posted the biggest percentage rise over seven consecutive sessions, 10 percent, since early July. “The complex surged to the upside largely on geopolitical issues related to a renewed clash of rhetoric between Israel and Iran and civil unrest in Syria,” Jim Ritterbusch, president at Ritterbusch & Associates, wrote in a note. 18 July’s attack that claimed the lives of top officials in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle and the Bulgarian bus bombing that killed Israeli tourists — an act Israel blamed on Iran — reinforced fears that oil shipments could be disrupted. Brent September crude jumped $2.64 to settle at $107.80 a barrel, having reached $108.18, the highest price since front-month Brent hit $109.36 on 11 May. U.S. August crude rose $2.79 to settle at $92.66 a barrel, having swung from $89.86 to $92.90, the highest front-month intraday price since crude hit $93.01 on 22 May. U.S. September crude tacked on $2.80 to settle at $92.97 a barrel. (Reuters)
World oil demand growth will slow in 2013 from the already weak 2012, OPEC said on 11 July citing Europe’s debt worries, a faltering U.S. economic recovery and deceleration of growth in emerging markets. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which produces a third of global oil, said healthy output levels from non-OPEC producers next year would be enough to cover the modest growth in demand without the need for OPEC itself to increase output. (…) The group’s forecasts are close to those of the U.S. government, which on 10 July cut its global oil demand growth estimate for 2013 by 360,000 bpd to 730,000 bpd. (Reuters)
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned Sunni-led Arab states and Turkey, who are supporting Syria’s opposition in its battle with Tehran’s ally President Bashar al-Assad, that their insistence on toppling the Syrian regime will destabilize their own countries and the entire region. (…) “If they continue moving in the wrong direction then let them rest assured that the consequences of this will affect them too,” said Mr. Salehi in a joint news conference with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Moallem, who was visiting Tehran 29 July. Mr. Salehi said those countries were “wrong, naïve and deluded,” if they thought the removal of President Assad from power will bring about a new government in Syria friendly to their interests. His remarks come amid heightened sectarian tensions in the region fueled by the conflict in Syria and unrest in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia. (…) “We have sufficient defense capabilities to protect every sand grain in the homeland Syria,” he said adding that his government was determined more than ever to defeat what he described as a foreign-led “conspiracy.” He predicted that rebels now amassed in the northern city of Aleppo would be defeated the way fighters were routed in Damascus earlier this month. (Wall Street Journal)
Washington has held talks with Israel about a possible strike at Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, which is thought to be the largest in the world. The Pentagon is not advocating military action, particularly while President Bashar al-Assad still clings to power, but US officials told the New York Times that the option had been presented by Israel. Thomas Donilon, the US national security advisor, was in Israel 14-15 July to discuss the dramatically developing crisis, which reached a bloody turning point on 18 July when a rebel bomb killed three of Mr Assad’s closest aides. An Israeli incursion from the air or by land would be highly sensitive, given that it has officially been in a state of war with Syria for decades. Israel however has a track record of unilateral action there, having destroyed a facility suspected of being a planned nuclear weapon research and development centre in the eastern Deir ez-Zor region in 2007. (The Telegraph)
A letter to Israel from Egypt’s new president hoping for regional peace kicked up a stir 31 July when the Egyptian leader’s Islamist movement denied he sent it. Israel insisted the letter was genuine. The spat underlined the touchy nature of Egyptian-Israeli relations, always frosty but now especially sensitive in the wake of Muslim Brotherhood victories in Egyptian elections. It also appeared to show some disarray in the fractured Egyptian government. The letter, ostensibly sent by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, was a response to a message from Israeli President Shimon Peres, conveying Israel’s good wishes for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (…) Then a spokesman for Morsi, Yasser Ali, said in Cairo that Morsi had not written a letter to the Israeli president at all. “This is totally untrue,” Ali said, calling the letter a “fabrication.” He blamed two Israeli newspapers for manufacturing the letter — though it was released by the president’s office in Jerusalem. (Fox News, Associated Press)
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah appointed a veteran former Saudi ambassador to Washington as the head of the country’s intelligence agencies 19 July, restoring an internationally popular Saudi to prominence as the kingdom pushes for stronger action on Syria. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was popular with Western leaders as Saudi envoy to the U.S. from 1983 to 2005, succeeds Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al Saud. (…) “In these very hectic moments for Saudi foreign policy…we need Bandar bin Sultan,” said Abdullah al-Shammri, a political analyst. “He’s a volcano, and we need a volcano at this moment.” Mr. al-Shammri cited what he called Prince Bandar’s “special relationship” with American officials. He also mentioned parallels between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia working together in the 1980s against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and current circumstances in Syria, where the U.S., Saudi Arabia and others are trying to overcome Russian objections to tougher action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. (Wall Street Journal)
While Iran’s military loudly trumpets every new project or purported advance in hopes of rattling the U.S. and its Gulf Arab allies, the U.S. is quietly answering with an array of proposed arms sales across the region as part of a wider effort to counter Tehran. In June and July, the Defense Department has notified Congress of possible deals totaling more than $11.3 billion to Gulf states such as Qatar and Kuwait, which are seen as some of America’s critical front-line partners in containing Iran and protecting oil shipping lanes. The proposed sales – including Patriot missile batteries and Apache attack helicopters – are still modest compared with massive Gulf purchases such as Saudi Arabia’s $60 billion package last year. That deal included more than 80 new F-15SA fighter jets, missiles, radar warning systems and other equipment. But the recent flurry of expected sales from U.S. firms, approved by the Pentagon and outlined in notifications to Congress, underscores the growing emphasis among nervous Gulf states on seeking quick upgrades to existing firepower and defensive networks. (Huffington Post)
Abu Dhabi started exporting its first crude from a pipeline that bypasses the Strait of Hormuz, shipping the fuel from the neighboring sheikhdom of Fujairah to a refinery in Pakistan. The link, stretching from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah on the Gulf of Oman, began loading a shipment of about 500,000 barrels, Mohamed Al-Hamli, oil minister for the United Arab Emirates, said 15 July at the inauguration ceremony. (…) Abu Dhabi, the U.A.E.’s capital and holder of more than 90 percent of its oil, built the export route for crude to avoid Hormuz, a narrow waterway carrying a fifth of the world’s traded oil that Iran has threatened to block in retaliation for sanctions targeting the country’s nuclear program. Construction costs were 27 percent higher than the $3.3 billion contract awarded to China Petroleum Engineering & Construction Corp. in 2008 and was delayed by 11 months. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Iranian oil output tumbled to its lowest level in more than 20 years last month as tightening U.S. and European sanctions clamped down on the Islamic Republic’s export markets, a monthly report from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries showed 11 July. Although Iran maintains that sanctions haven’t made a large dent in its oil production, it is losing an increasing number of its customers. New OPEC forecasts also suggest world markets will be able to cope well with lower Iranian oil supplies through 2013. Although Iran has been forced to cut back oil production, “this does not change the supply surplus at all,” said Commerzbank in a research note. “Weaker than expected demand, coupled with growing supply, point to a still amply-supplied oil market,” it said. (…) According to data OPEC analysts gathered from secondary sources, these restrictions drove Iran’s oil production down by 188,500 barrels a day in June, to 2.96 million barrels a day. The last time Iran’s annual average production fell below 3 million barrels a day was 1990. (Wall Street Journal)
Iran expects to hold more talks with world powers on its nuclear program following an inconclusive round of negotiations in Istanbul earlier this July, its foreign minister said in a newspaper interview published on 30 July. The failure of the talks to secure a breakthrough over Tehran’s uranium enrichment, which the West fears is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, has raised international concerns that Israel may carry out a military strike. “I can’t say it with certainty but if everything proceeds normally then there should be further negotiations,” Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Austria’s Der Standard. “A breakdown (in talks) is in nobody’s interests. The gaps can only be closed through talking.” Salehi said, however, that Iran’s right to uranium enrichment had to be recognized from the outset. “It’s a matter of principle,” he said. Tehran denies it is attempting to develop atomic weapons, saying its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this month that Iran’s proposals made in talks with the so-called P5+1 group of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany were “non-starters”. (Reuters)
Iran is defiantly forging on with its controversial nuclear activities by activating hundreds more uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  “There are currently 11,000 centrifuges active in enrichment facilities” in Iran, he was quoted by state media as saying late on 25 July in a meeting with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and senior regime officials. That was more than the 10,000 centrifuges Iran was last said to have had operating, according to a 25 May report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Ahmadinejad’s reported comments did not give a more precise figure nor detail how many centrifuges were now working at each of Iran’s two enrichment sites: Natanz and the heavily fortified underground bunker of Fordo. (The Telegraph)
Iranian officials unleashed sharper attacks against tightening Western sanctions 31 July, equating the financial pressure to “warfare” and vowing to counter by retooling the country’s oil-dependent economy. The defensive remarks from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the head of Iran’s central bank appear to reflect two sides of the economic squeeze on the country: Growing anxiety about the drain from sanctions and high-level efforts to find ways to ride them out. (…) Iran has managed to overcome U.S.-led embargoes and other attempts at economic isolation with self-sufficiency moves such as developing domestic industries and emphasizing high-tech advances including an aerospace program. But the current sanctions are hitting Iran in its most vulnerable spot — its vital oil exports — and are forcing major reassessments within a nation that was recently OPEC’s No. 2 exporter. (Fox News, Associated Press)
Saudi Arabia is on track to surpass its record oil output this year, analysts said 30 July, offsetting a decline from Iran because of international sanctions, despite pressure from other oil exporters to cut back and help bolster world oil prices. High Saudi output helps keep oil prices down, which is good news for fragile economies in the U.S. and Europe, which rely on the kingdom to help keep up supply as they implement sanctions intended to press Iran over its nuclear program. The country shows no sign of letting up from its average production levels of 9.94 million barrels a day in the first half of 2012. Output averaged 9.9 million to 10 million barrels a day in July, industry analysts and shippers said, as the country increased exports and burned more crude to meet an increase in domestic demand for electricity, which surges in the summer months. That puts the top oil exporter in line to exceed its record oil output of 9.901 million barrels a day in 1980, when the country opened the taps to make up for a sharp fall in Iranian output after its 1979 revolution. (Wall Street Journal)
Saudi Arabia’s economic landscape is expected to see an average growth of 5.3 percent over the year, which is likely to impact oil and non-oil sector positively, according to a report released by the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry and published in Arab News on 31 July. According to the report, government spending will remain the primary growth driver for the national economy as the private sector depends on the volume of government spending in its activity, the report said. (…)  Meanwhile, oil revenues have increased by 37.6 percent compared with last year due to the increase of production and oil prices. The oil sector as a major source of revenue for the state budget is set up to make the major part of the gross domestic product. This is believed to boost confidence in the Saudi economy and drive its growth further, the report added. (Al Arabiya)
The United Arab Emirates will be the first Gulf Arab state to start constructing a nuclear power plant in the region, where top oil exporters seek alternative energy resources to meet the soaring electricity demand that threatens to absorb their precious oil and gas reserves. UAE’s nuclear regulator said on 18 July that it granted a licence to Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp (ENEC) for the construction of the OPEC member country’s first two nuclear reactors, which will be built by a South Korean-led consortium, a project worth billions of dollars. (Reuters)
An Islamist group that has been the target of a crackdown on opposition by authorities in the United Arab Emirates called on 30 July for the release of jailed activists and affirmed its devotion to the country’s rulers. At least 20 activists have been detained since 15 July, when the Gulf Arab state said it was investigating a foreign-linked group plotting “crimes against state security”. Many of those were affiliated with the local Islamist group al-Islah (Reform). (…) Interior Ministry officials have not commented on the arrests. The UAE, a 40-year-old federation of seven emirates and a major oil exporter, allows no organized political opposition. It has been spared the political tumult that has toppled four Arab heads of state since last year, thanks in part to its cradle-to-grave welfare system. (…) Analysts say UAE authorities, like other Gulf monarchies, are irked by the rise of Islamists in Egypt and other states in the wake of the Arab Spring, anxious that their gains elsewhere could embolden Islamists on their own turf. (Reuters)
The American Defense Department announced its intention to sign a contract with Kuwait valued at $4.2 billion to sell 60 Patriot new generation (PAC-3) rockets, 20 shelling stations, four radar installations, a supervising station and necessary training for the use of those arms, and its operations, in addition to spare parts. This agreement will strengthen Kuwait defence capabilities against Iran, according to officials. (…) The Congress has 30 days to voice any objection to the possible sale or the contract will be semi-finalized. (Kuwait Times)
The head of Kuwait’s biggest bank blasted the country’s political deadlock in a rare public outburst for the Gulf Arab region, underscoring business leaders’ frustration with an impasse that has delayed much needed economic development. Kuwait has seen eight governments come and go in just six years due to bickering between the parliament and cabinet. The last government resigned in June after Kuwait’s constitutional court dissolved a parliament elected in February. Fresh elections are expected to be held after the holy month of Ramadan, due to begin later this week. (…) Meanwhile, the stock market has fallen 62.7 percent from its June 2008 peak and the International Monetary Fund warned in May that Kuwait would exhaust its oil savings by 2017, despite 13 years of fiscal surpluses from high oil prices, if it kept spending money at the current rate and didn’t enact economic reforms. (Reuters)
Oman expects to erase its 1.2 billion rial ($3.1 billion) budget deficit projected for 2012 as oil prices have been higher than forecast, a finance ministry official said on 4 July. “Up to May, we have sold our oil 50 percent above the price we estimated for the 2012 budget, and that has pushed up revenues beyond our expectations,” a finance ministry official in the budgeting department told Reuters. “At this rate, we are comfortably going to wipe out the deficit,” said the official, who did not want to be identified under briefing rules. Oman sold its oil at an average price of $115 per barrel in the first five months of 2012 and the sultanate’s revenue reached “a little over 5 billion rials” in that period, he said. (Reuters)
Oman’s consultative Shura Council has launched a drive to speed up reforms of labor laws after strikes by oil workers in the Gulf Arab state in the past two months demanding higher pay and better working conditions. Oman, which gets 70 percent of its revenue from the oil sector, has detained more than 30 people in recent weeks following protests that some blame on the government’s failure to deliver jobs promised after massive protests last year. Up to 400 oil workers downed tools at state oil fields in May to push for better pay and pensions. More strikes broke out in June, mainly among employees of private contractors working in the oil sector, labor union officials said. The strikes were the biggest Oman, a Western ally, has seen since last year’s protests against corruption and unemployment triggered by “Arab Spring” uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. (Reuters)
Bahrain has been in turmoil for 17 months since a pro-democracy movement erupted after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The conflict in the Gulf Arab state pits opposition groups, led mainly by majority Shiite Muslims, against the ruling Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family and its supporters. Here are some political risks facing Bahrain: INTERNAL CONFLICT The political standoff took a new turn in June and July when the Interior Ministry banned marches led by the opposition party Wefaq, saying these had disrupted traffic and led to violence between police and protesters Wefaq had failed to control. (…) FRAUGHT RELATIONS WITH IRAN Friction with Iran rose in May after a Gulf summit mulled a possible political union among Gulf Arab states, starting with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Iran and Bahraini opposition groups denounced the plan, which will be discussed again in December. (…) IMPACT ON ECONOMY Bahrain, long a banking and tourism hub, has become a shadow of its former self since the unrest broke out. (…) Economic growth slowed to 2.2 percent in 2011 from 4.5 percent the previous year after some businesses closed and investors withdrew from Bahraini mutual funds. Further measures to diversify the economy, improve the investment climate and strengthen the labor market are essential for sustained growth and employment,” the IMF executive board said in an annual assessment. (Kuwait Times, Reuters)
Bahrain’s ambitious economic reform program is still on track, the head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat said in the first week of July, despite a year of turmoil in the Gulf Arab state as the monarchy tackles a pro-democracy protest movement. Mahmood Al-Kooheji said the fund would focus its investment activities on Bahrain and Gulf Cooperation Council countries and that while it would not engage in more debt issues, its subsidiaries could seek to refinance loans. The $9 billion fund, among the smallest sovereign wealth funds in the Gulf Arab region, may offload a portion of its stakes in its portfolio firms and reinvest the proceeds in the country’s economy, Kooheji said. “Maybe the way forward will be for us to reduce our shareholding in some portfolios we have. But our focus would be to reinvest that money into the Bahraini economy,” the CEO said in an interview in early July. (Reuters)
Yemen said on 22 July it has placed its security services on high alert to prevent “terrorist” attacks after it uncovered a plot to launch assaults against security and military checkpoints. (…) The attackers were plotting to “disguise by wearing military uniforms and achieve their targets.” Al-Qaeda militants have carried out several deadly attacks against Yemeni security services since President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who has repeatedly vowed to battle extremists, came to power this year. (…) This July, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of a police academy in Sana’a, killing eight cadets and wounding several more. Officials had accused al-Qaeda of carrying out the assault. But the network has not claimed responsibility for this attack. (Al Arabiya)
In the latest sign of Washington’s deepening involvement in Yemen’s battle against an al-Qaeda affiliate, the U.S. military is preparing to give more than $100 million in counterterrorism and security aid to the Arabian country this year, according to newly obtained documents. The U.S. government suspended military assistance to Yemen more than a year ago in response to then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s suppression of mass protests and other challenges to his 33-year rule. In the aftermath of Saleh’s resignation in February and an easing of the country’s political crisis, the Obama administration notified Congress last month that it intends to resume military aid to Yemen. The aid is restricted for use by Yemen’s counterterrorism forces, which are locked in a struggle with an al-Qaeda affiliate that has also targeted the United States. (Washington Post)
Yemen delivered its first oil shipment from the Maarib pipeline to its Aden refinery after a nine-month halt that left the poorest Arab country dependent on donations of fuel, an official from the refinery told Reuters. (…) The pipeline was shut after attacks by tribesmen in 2011. Prior to the closure, it carried around 110,000 barrels per day of sweet, light crude to the Ras Isa export terminal on the Red Sea coast, operated by state-owned SAFER. The closure of the pipeline forced Yemen’s 150,000 bpd Aden refinery to shut, leaving the country more dependent on imports and on donations from Saudi Arabia. Repairs to the pipeline were completed and it resumed operating earlier in July. “Our first priority is to send oil to the refinery…and then the government will start to think about exports,” an official at SAFER said. He added that the first two or three shipments from Maarib would be sent to the Aden refinery. The total volume of the first three shipments to the refinery is expected to be around 1.2 million tonnes of crude, a shipping source in Aden said. (Reuters)
Yemen has resolved a months-long spat with Ukraine that had threatened to derail its bid to join the World Trade Organization, the WTO said on 26 July. The agreement puts Yemen back on course to join the world trade body as early as the end of 2012. That would make it the 159th member after Russia and Vanuatu, which will both become members in August, and Laos, which is finalising entry terms. (…) WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said Ukraine had agreed terms with Yemen, enabling the WTO’s working party on Yemen’s accession to hold a final meeting in late September. The wider WTO membership will then approve Yemen’s membership package and send it back to Yemen for ratification. (Reuters)
Controversial preacher Sheikh Ahmad Assir signaled 2 July that he would not bow to any government or public pressure to end a nearly one-week sit-in that has blocked Sidon’s northern entrance. Assir’s supporters have dug in at the protest site, bringing in more tents and setting up prefabricated bathrooms, water tanks, taps and washrooms for prayers. Assir, who began the sit-in 27 June to protest against Hezbollah’s arms, was seen moving around in the site on a bicycle, explaining to his supporters the outcome of government officials’ contacts with him to persuade him to end the sit-it. (…) Assir has demanded concrete action with regard to ending the hegemony of non-state arms, a clear reference to Hezbollah’s weapons. He also threatened further escalation of his protest if the issue was not seriously discussed. Assir told journalist that the most important contact with him was with Charbel, who he said had conveyed to him Sleiman’s wishes to end the sit-in in order to facilitate the process of National Dialogue, which is expected to tackle the arms issue in late July. (The Daily Star)
President Michel Sleiman postponed 23 July the National Dialogue that had been scheduled to take place later this week to 16 Aug., citing the need for more time for consultations. (…) In mid July, the opposition decided to boycott the 24 July session in protest against Hezbollah’s refusal to discuss its arms and the government’s failure to provide security agencies with telecommunications data following abortive assassination attempts targeting the coalition’s key figures. (…) A source told The Daily Star in mid July that in the third round of National Dialogue Sleiman was likely to present a blueprint containing a summary of ideas and proposals made by Dialogue parties and retired Lebanese Army generals concerning a national defense strategy. (The Daily Star)
A small arms skirmish that broke out between inhabitants of two regions in Tripoli, Northern Lebanon were finally controlled by the Lebanese Army on 28 July at midday, according to state-run Lebanese news agency, the National News Agency (NNA). These clashes were between armed Sunni and Alawite factions in the regions of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, according to the Lebanese news service, The Daily Star. The clashes began on 27 July night and left at least 14 dead. (…) The shooting seemed initially to have been contained by the Lebanese army with no fatalities but at midnight the clashes recommenced and expanded to include a larger region. According to The Daily Star, automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades were used in the fighting. The wounded include at least three army soldiers, said the NNA, but none have been reported dead yet. The clashes continued until 28 July morning and only came to an end when the Lebanese army started firing back at the shooters. The Lebanese army said in a statement published on the NNA news site that the army moved in heavy patrols, creating barriers and raiding the houses of shooters. The army is looking for the shooters and creating reinforcements in order to restore normal order. (…) According to CBS News, at least 20,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Tripoli alone. Estimates indicate that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon totals 90,000. (The Daily News Egypt)
Several areas across Lebanon, including parts of the capital Beirut, witnessed power cuts on 31 July as the national electricity company warned of a nationwide blackout following a strike by its employees. A dispute between Electricity of Lebanon (EDL) and day labourers demanding their tenure led to the company to warn that the entire country could be blacked out. “The company is obliged to close its doors” due to the “occupation of its headquarters by day labourers,” EDL said in a statement late on 30 July. “This decision will result in an electricity blackout throughout Lebanon in a matter of hours,” EDL warned, calling on citizens, most of whom already have generators, to take “precautionary measures.” (…) In a country where several Muslim and Christian communities coexist, the dispute has taken on a religious dimension: labourers are mainly Shiite, while Christian parliamentarians united in opposition to a bill advocating their tenure. (Agence France Presse)
The head of Lebanon’s Higher Relief Committee, Ibrahim Bashir, announced 7 July that the state-run organization can no longer provide Syrian refugees with food or medical aid because funding has dried up. “We stopped providing food and hospitalization at 12 p.m. 10 July given that the number of refugees has risen dramatically,” Bashir told The Daily Star. “Hospital bills are extremely high as some refugees suffer from heart problems, cancer and diabetes. We are unable to pay that much,” he added. According to a report released by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there are now 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, of whom 26,905 are registered to receive regular services from the international organization. Local charities as well as Bashir say that the actual number is closer to 60,000. The UNHCR and the International Medical Corps are covering the costs of life-saving medical care. In addition, local charities are covering hospitalization costs at a number of private hospitals across the country. (The Daily Star)
The selection of Egypt’s new government is 70 percent complete, and talks are ongoing about filling the remaining posts, Prime Minister-designate Hisham Qandil told reporters 30 July. (…) Qandil, a little-known irrigation minister, was chosen by Mursi to head the new government on 24 July. His selection was criticised by secularist groups and other parties who saw him as a far cry from the national unity figure that the president pledged to appoint. Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali denied reports that the government will change the current minister of defense, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who is also head of the military council, in the cabinet due to be announced on 2 Aug. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Cairo on 31 July to meet Egypt’s new Islamist president and its top general, seeking to balance security concerns with efforts to promote the country’s still wobbly transition to democracy. It will be Panetta’s first opportunity to speak with President Mohamed Mursi of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood. Political uncertainty is casting a shadow over Egypt’s future as the military and the Muslim Brotherhood engage in a power struggle over the future of a country that remains without a permanent constitution, parliament or government. Panetta told reporters at the start of his week-long trip to North Africa and the Middle East that he would urge Egypt’s government “to provide for as broad a coalition as possible within the government”. (…) Panetta also wants to bolster the U.S. commitment to a strong military relationship with Egypt in talks with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council that took over when Hosni Mubarak was ousted and that is vying for influence with Mursi. (…) Panetta’s visit will underscore the somewhat delicate position the United States faces in Egypt. For three decades it strongly supported Mubarak, who repressed and marginalized Mursi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. (Reuters)
Egypt is allowing freer temporary entry for Palestinians into the country through the Rafah border crossing in an unprecedented move to ease long-imposed travel restrictions, particularly on Gazans – however, not everyone agrees the measures will go far enough. Until now, any Palestinian under 40 was escorted by security agents to or from the Gaza border to ensure they spent no time on Egyptian territory. (…) The new measures end the procedure and allow Palestinians to cross through Egypt on their own arrangements, allowing them to stay in the country for up to 72 hours to do so. The measures came into effect early on 30 July, and took many security agencies by surprise because it came before a formal announcement was made. (Al Jazeera)
Jordan on 29 July opened its first official refugee camp to help host tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled the mounting violence in its northern neighbour. “I hope the ordeal of our Syrian brothers will vanish,” Interior Minister Ghaleb Zubi told reporters as he and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh opened the Zaatari camp, which can take up to 120,000 refugees, in Mafraq near the border with Syria. Judeh said between 1,000 and 2,000 Syrians are fleeing to Jordan every day. (…) Judeh said Jordan is now hosting more than 142,000 Syrians, around 36,000 of whom are UN-registered. The majority of Syrians are living with Jordanian relatives in the country’s north. (Ahram Online, Agence France Presse)
The International Monetary Fund on 25 July reached a preliminary $2 billion loan agreement with Jordan, where the economy has been slowed by higher oil prices and uncertainty in the aftermath of the region’s Arab Spring protests. “The IMF staff agreed to support Jordan’s agenda for a socially acceptable fiscal consolidation,” the IMF said in a statement. “It will provide liquidity during the next three years, which will allow the authorities to gradually implement their agenda.” It said Jordan’s economy had been hit by exogenous shocks that were outside the government’s control. Regional political tensions, coming from Syria and Egypt, and a slowing global economy have hit tourism to Jordan and caused a drop in worker remittances and foreign direct investment, the IMF said. (Al Arabiya)
An Israeli law which allowed ultra-Orthodox Jews to defer military service is to expire on 31 July, leaving a legislative hole which could technically see them called up en masse. When the Tal Law expires at midnight, conscription will theoretically be guided by a 1986 law, meaning that all 18-year-old Israelis, including the ultra-Orthodox, will be compelled to enlist — unless they are specifically exempted by the defence ministry. However, Defence Minister Ehud Barak on 31 July afternoon gave the military some breathing space to work out how to put the theory into practice. (…) In February, Israel’s High Court ruled the Tal Law was unconstitutional and must be rewritten, prompting calls for a system to impose conscription or some other form of national service on the ultra-Orthodox as well as on Israel’s Arab minority. But the question of how to reword the law has sparked deep divisions in the rightwing coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which failed to push through new legislation before the parliament broke up for its summer recess. (Agence France Presse)
Israeli Dies after Self-Immolation During Protest
A wheelchair-bound Israeli veteran died on 1 August, days after setting himself on fire in a protest over his economic situation, a spokeswoman for Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv said. Akiva Mafa’i who was badly injured two decades ago during his service in the Israel Defense Forces, had set himself alight on 29 July. The 45-year-old poured  gasoline over his body and ignited it at a bus station in the town of Yehud. Passersby extinguished the flames with bottles of water and a fire extinguisher but he was left with 70% burns. The veteran had spent four months in a coma at the Beer Sheva Medical Center after he was injured at age 23, according to local media reports. Mafa’i is the second person to die in a self-immolation in Israel in less than a week. Moshe Silman, a bed-ridden member of a movement to lower the cost of living in Israel, set himself alight during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on 14 July. He died two weeks later. According to local media reports, he left a note accusing the conservative Netanyahu government of “taking from the poor and giving to the rich.” Israeli media have reported other suicide attempts apparently motivated by economic hardship. (CNN)
President Obama said 27 July he is releasing an additional $70 million in military aid for Israel, a previously announced move that appeared timed to upstage Republican rival Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel 28-29 July. The stepped-up U.S. aid, first announced in May, will go to help Israel expand production of a short-range rocket defense system. The system, known as Iron Dome, has proved successful at stopping rocket attacks fired at Israeli civilians from close range, including from Gaza. (…) Obama said the bill underscores the United States’ “unshakable commitment to Israel.” (Fox News)
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on 29 July touted the close security relationship between Israel and the US, suggesting that Israel remained on board with international efforts to pressure Iran on its nuclear program and had not decided to unilaterally strike the Islamic Republic. Panetta was speaking at the start of a week long trip to the Middle East and North Africa that will bring him to Israel for talks with top officials, in which discussion of Iran’s nuclear program is expected to figure prominently. His trip will come after US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s visit to the Jewish State which concludes on 30 July. (…) “With regards to where Israel is right now, my view is that they have not made any decisions with regards to Iran and that they continue to support the international effort to bring pressure against Iran,” Panetta said. (…) “I’m proud of the defense partnership that we’ve built over the past several years. The US-Israel defense relationship, I believe, is stronger today than it has been in the past,” he said. (Jerusalem Post)
The Arab League on 23 July backed a Palestinian plan to ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize a state of Palestine, but stopped short of setting a date for the bid, Palestinian officials said. Instead, Arab League representatives meeting in Doha asked a committee to prepare the U.N. appeal and report back on Sept. 5, said Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking by phone from Doha. Timing is crucial, with a U.N. bid before November potentially disrupting the U.S. presidential race. The U.S. and Israel oppose the quest for unilateral recognition. They say a Palestinian state must be set up through negotiations. Israeli-Palestinian talks broke off in 2008 and the two sides disagree on how to restart them. (…) The General Assembly could at best accept “Palestine” as a non-member observer state. Palestinian officials have said the main purpose of winning General Assembly recognition is to reaffirm the 1967 lines as the borders of a future Palestinian state. Last year, Abbas sought full U.N. membership for Palestine but failed to win the necessary votes in the U.N. Security Council. (Associated Press)
The World Bank has said the recent economic growth in the Palestinian Territories is unsustainable because of its heavy reliance on foreign aid. The Palestinian Authority had begun establishing institutions for a future state, but the economy was not strong enough to support it, a report warned. It was critical to increase trade and spur private sector growth, it added. The PA said in June it was facing a funding crisis, with debts of $1.5bn (£968m) and a cash shortfall of $500m. (…) The World Bank said donor countries had propped up the Palestinian economy by giving the PA billions of dollars in aid, helping it achieve a 7.7% increase in GDP between 2007 and 2011. But the report said the growth had only occurred in government services, real estate and other non-tradable sectors. The manufacturing and agriculture sectors had shrunk, and aid levels had begun to fall because of the global economic downturn, it noted. (BBC News)
American officials on 19 July identified the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly attack on Israeli vacationers here as a member of a Hezbollah cell that was operating in Bulgaria and looking for such targets, corroborating Israel’s assertions and making the bombing a new source of tension with Iran. One senior American official said the current American intelligence assessment was that the bomber, who struck 18 July, killing five Israelis, had been “acting under broad guidance” to hit Israeli targets when opportunities presented themselves, and that the guidance had been given to Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, by Iran, its primary sponsor. Two other American officials confirmed that Hezbollah was behind the bombing, but declined to provide additional details. (…) A senior Israeli official said on 19 July that the Burgas attack was part of an intensive wave of terrorist attacks around the world carried out by two different organizations, the Iranian Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as well as by Hezbollah. (The New York Times)
Israel’s Supreme Court on 27 July granted a government request to delay the eviction of the largest illegal settler outpost in the occupied West Bank. The court had previously ruled the outpost, Migron, was built on privately owned Palestinian land and had ordered the government to remove it by 1 August. 27 July’s ruling extended the deadline to 21 August. The government told the court on 22 July that the temporary site set up for Migron’s 50 families to move to would not be ready in time. The army also said it was concerned the eviction could set off violent protests by settlers in the sensitive period of Ramadan and asked to delay the task until after the Muslim holiday was over. (Reuters)
President Barack Obama extended for another year 25 July sanctions against entities the US considers threatening to Lebanon’s stability, a veiled reference to supporters of Hezbollah. Obama said in a message to Congress that he would prolong the “national emergency” which former president George W. Bush first declared in 2007, and which has been renewed each year since. The measures include freezing the assets of people considered to be threatening to Lebanon’s democracy or stability. “Certain ongoing activities, such as continuing arms transfers to Hezbollah that include increasingly sophisticated weapons systems, serve to undermine Lebanese sovereignty, contribute to political and economic instability in Lebanon, and continue to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” the president wrote. (Agence France Presse)


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1 Response »

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