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Middle East Press ( 17 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Middle East Press On NATO, Netanyahu, Afghanistan And Iranian Threat: New Age Islam's Selection, 17 March 2021


By New Age Islam Edit Desk

17 March 2021

• NATO Needs A Plan To Better Engage With Middle East

By Luke Coffey

• Netanyahu Takes Ties With Jordan To The Brink

By Osama Al-Sharif

• Iran’s Next Battle Ground: Afghanistan

By Rami Rayess

• Unconstrained Netanyahu Jeopardizes Relations With Jordan

By Ben Caspit

• Israel’s President In Europe, Campaigns Against Iranian Threat, ICC Probe

By Rina Bassist

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NATO Needs A Plan To Better Engage With Middle East

By Luke Coffey

March 17, 2021

In recent years, there has been a major debate among policymakers in North America and Europe about the future of NATO. One issue the leaders of the alliance need to address is what its role in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region should be.

While not strictly part of its area of responsibility, NATO cannot ignore the MENA region. Historical and recent events show that what happens there can quickly spill over into Europe.

A decade after the start of the so-called Arab Spring, many geopolitical challenges remain in the region, from the rise of transnational terrorism to the nuclear threat and state-sponsored terrorism from Iran. Many in NATO have, therefore, rightly decided to place a renewed focus on working with regional partners on the southern periphery of the alliance.

NATO already has structures in place to improve cooperation with partners in this part of the world but has done little to enhance these relationships in recent years. The organization carries out cooperative security tasks with its southern partners through two mechanisms: The Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

Launched in 1994, the Mediterranean Dialogue forms the basis of NATO’s relations with its Mediterranean partners: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. Although talks generally take place on a bilateral basis between NATO and one Mediterranean partner (NATO+1), on occasion the forum meets as NATO+7. This places Israel at the same table as some of its regional neighbors, where it would not otherwise be.

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, which was launched in 2004, currently forms the basis of NATO’s relations with the Gulf states. Although all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council were invited to join, as yet only Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE have done so.

NATO’s 2010 “Strategic Concept,” which runs to 40 pages and was intended to serve as a guide for dealing with future challenges, is now woefully out of date. The MENA region is barely mentioned in the document. The alliance is in the process of developing a new version and should use this as an opportunity to enhance and build on its relations in the region.

NATO leaders need to develop a strategy to engage with the region. Partnership leads to interoperability, which helps to promote understanding and security. As Iran becomes more of a destabilizing force, and transnational terrorism continues to plague the region, the alliance should build solid and enduring relations with friendly MENA countries.

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• This is the executive summary of the latest research report published by the Arab News Research & Studies Unit. Download the full report.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1826806

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Netanyahu Takes Ties With Jordan To The Brink

By Osama Al-Sharif

March 16, 2021


Last week’s showdown between Jordan and Israel over the obstruction of a previously agreed visit by Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah to Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem to mark a Muslim holy occasion, and Amman’s retaliation by scuttling a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a regional country, has taken ties between the two countries to the brink.

Israel claimed that the cancelation of Hussein’s visit was due to disagreements over security issues related to protecting the heir to the Jordanian throne. But Jordan immediately responded, through Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi, by pointing the finger at Israel for violating arrival protocols at Al-Haram Al-Sharif and trying to impose complications to hinder Jerusalemites’ entry to the mosque. In retaliation, the Jordanian authorities delayed giving clearance to Netanyahu to come to Amman and board a private jet to take him to a regional country. When the clearance was finally given, it was too late and Netanyahu had to cancel his trip.

Tensions between Amman and Tel Aviv, particularly over Al-Haram Al-Sharif, have been brewing for years, but these latest incidents represent a new low in ties between the two countries, which share a decades-old peace treaty. Netanyahu has reneged on agreements and understandings with King Abdullah many times and the Jordanian monarch has refused to meet with or receive calls from the Israeli premier for years. But this time the level of Jordanian anger has reached a new high.

The visit would have been the first by a Jordanian royal to East Jerusalem since the two countries signed their peace treaty in 1994. Jordan wanted to underline its right, under the peace treaty, to have full access as custodian to Muslim holy places in East Jerusalem. This was exactly why Netanyahu, on the eve of a fourth Knesset election in the last two years and in which his political future is at stake, wanted to abort the visit. It had nothing to do with disagreements over security — it was a political stunt aimed at appeasing far-right Jewish voters.

Jordan was angry, as Al-Safadi put it, after Netanyahu reneged on an agreement and disrupted a religious visit by creating conditions that made it impossible, and then expected to come to Jordan and fly out of the country.

The Jordanian reaction was meant to send a clear message to Netanyahu and his camp of extremist followers that Jordan’s custodianship of Al-Haram Al-Sharif is a red line and will not be challenged. The Israeli stunt not only violated the 1994 peace treaty, but also a 2014 agreement brokered by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry between Jordan and Israel to “reaffirm commitment to the status quo at Al-Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound.” That agreement again recognized Jordan’s custodianship of the compound.

That custodianship is also recognized by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and reaffirmed time and again by the Arab League, Muslim countries and the international community. But Israel, especially under Netanyahu, has violated such agreements and understandings many times in the past decade. It has allowed Israeli officials and Jewish extremists to enter the compound and perform prayers. Some of the groups allowed to enter include ones that have vowed to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to build a Jewish temple in its place. Over the past decade, there have been many provocations by the Netanyahu government relating to Al-Haram Al-Sharif. Every time they have happened, Jordan has protested.

Over the years, Netanyahu has ignored these protests and, in the words of his political rivals and Israel’s top security officials, has severely damaged ties with Jordan, which they consider to be a strategic partner. The incidents include the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli diplomat at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman in 2017, which deepened King Abdullah’s distrust of Netanyahu, who had promised him he would put the diplomat on trial in Israel.

Netanyahu looks out only for his own interests. While his political fate remains unknown, his departure from the stage would be a positive thing for the region as a whole.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1826636

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Iran’s Next Battle Ground: Afghanistan

By Rami Rayess

16 March ,2021

Iran is at a crossroads. It has hard political decisions to make, with each leaving marks on the regime itself, and the future of the region. If Iran has partially succeeded in extending its arms through its proxies to several Arab countries, there is a different front on the horizon to worry about: Afghanistan.

With the US military withdrawal approaching and the Taliban being the most prominent power to fill the vacuum, Tehran badly needs to draft a peace treaty. If it does not, its power in the Middle East will gradually wither away.

Besides the working difficulties that Iran will face in its attempt to control its 920 kilometer border with Afghanistan, it will have been the first to worry about the US-Taliban agreement reached in Doha back in February 2020. The treaty aimed to push the Taliban to cut its ties with Al-Qaida, reach a political settlement with the incumbent Afghan government and reduce violence in the country in return for the American military withdrawal scheduled for May 2021.

Tehran’s relations with the Taliban have continued for years but they went public only recently. Despite its attempts to cover up those contacts in the framework of reaching out to all the stakeholders in Afghanistan; it was clear that Iran was aiming at neutralizing Taliban in its multi-faceted regional problems. The equation is straightforward and clear: if it fails to do that, it will not keep its influence and continue to support its militant arms.

If the Biden administration succeeds in regaining Iranian commitment to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) without amendment, it can set aside the nuclear threat for years ahead.

Some might look at the lifting of sanctions as leeway for Tehran to regain more resources to exploit and further empower and arm its regional proxies. But, the danger imposed by an open Iranian-Afghan border will need enormous funds to protect from a Taliban building its strength.

Is it in the best interest of Iran and the US to withdraw from Afghanistan? The Iranians supported the US invasion of Kabul back in 2001. It had almost waged war against the Taliban in 1998 in retaliation to the killing of nine diplomats in the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif when Taliban militants raided it.

Tehran also expelled Gulbuddin Hekmatyar because of his hostility to the United States.

When Iranian political pragmatism prevails, the great Satan (a term regularly used in Iranian rhetoric against Washington) is not quite Satan after all.

This back-and-forth relationship between Iran and the Taliban has come at a crucial moment. Despite the Biden administration reviewing the Doha accord of 2020, is still possesses the strongest playing cards in Afghanistan, with troops deployed, a pro-American government, and sanctions not lifted, yet. Iran does not have the same leverage.

A vision for the Afghanistan War prevails in Washington, based on the notion that a US troop presence in that country isn’t endless. Employing it to support a peaceful settlement that regains stability in the war-torn country is the priority.

However, this does not mean that the withdrawal should drag the country into endless civil strife, or that it cannot be used as a negotiating card, capable of reshuffling the regional situation.

Putting the political and ideological rift between Iran and the Taliban to one side, now is the time for settlement between the two: this is Tehran’s crucial agenda.

Preserving Iranian spheres of influence in the Middle East is the cornerstone for all of its policies. This is the project they have prioritized since the Islamic Revolution erupted in 1979.

“Exportation of the Revolution” is the benchmark of Tehran’s revival of past Persian imperial dreams. This has been in the making for decades, and its erosion now is harmful for the regime.

Tehran is now playing hard ball by: intensifying Houthi bombardment of Saudi Arabia; paralyzing efforts in Lebanon to form a new cabinet; fueling added support to its militants in Iraq, and of course, freezing any potential conflict with the Taliban. Will Iran attempt to push this hardline extremist group against the US?

When the Taliban delegation visited Tehran last January, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamakhani said: “The US strategy supports the continuation of war and bloodshed among various Afghan groups in the political spectrum”. This is the core of the story, the more the US and Taliban fight, the better off Tehran is.

So, if a Biden strategy aimed to cease rapprochement between the two parties, while simultaneously dropping the nuclear threat by securing an immediate return of Tehran to the JCPOA, unexpected repercussions might unfold in the future. We may start to see Iran losing ground in its many regional spheres of influence.

https://english.alarabiya.net/views/2021/03/16/Iran-s-crossroad-The-Taliban

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Unconstrained Netanyahu Jeopardizes Relations With Jordan

By Ben Caspit

Mar 16, 2021

The crisis between Israel and Jordan described here last week is deeper and far more severe than was previously known, as indicated by information that continues to leak out of Jerusalem and Amman in recent days. According to senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah have only spoken once or twice since they met in June 2018.

Israel no longer tries to conceal the dispute among top decision- and policymakers regarding relations with Jordan. At issue is the question of whether Israel should continue to support the rule of the vulnerable Hashemite monarchy or let it fall and strive for the kingdom to be replaced by a Palestinian state that would annex the demilitarized autonomy in the West Bank currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The very fact that Israel is even considering such an idea is being perceived in Amman as a flagrant crossing of a red line, a scenario considered unimaginable until recently, which is barely causing a ripple in the current strained relations.

The intensity of the crisis was revealed in the morning hours of March 11, when Netanyahu apparently instructed Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority and the Israel Airports Authority to close off Israeli air space to commercial flights to and from Jordan. The order stunned senior officials of both these administrations. It had not been preceded by a discussion in the government or the security Cabinet; Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi had not been informed and knew nothing about it; the Mossad had not been consulted, either, nor the Shin Bet security agency or the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Having been thwarted in his plan to fly to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a lightning photo-op with its crown prince, Netanyahu drew the doomsday weapon in cavalier fashion and ordered what amounts to a flagrant violation of the historic 1994 peace agreement with Jordan.

Netanyahu’s action was prompted by anger at realizing he would be unable to fly to the UAE for a two-hour election campaign airport meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Contrary to reports that emerged that day, it now transpires that the Jordanians did not ban Netanyahu’s plane from traversing their air space en route to Abu Dhabi. They adopted instead a cleverer ruse: simply delaying the take-off of the executive jet that had been sent by the UAE to pick up Netanyahu and his entourage. The plane had landed in Amman and was awaiting permission to fly to Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport to pick up its passengers. The aircraft crew reported being held up by technical difficulties, but at some point Netanyahu realized the problems were political and diplomatic rather than technical, and retaliated with the order to shut down Israel’s air space to its neighbor.

Fortunately, two hours after his order was passed down to the Civil Aviation Authority, word came from the prime minister’s office rescinding it. The top brass of the Civil Aviation and Airports Authority spent the two intervening hours dragging their feet. They asked for the order in writing, which they got. They then asked for clarifications, which they also received, by which time Netanyahu had come to his senses. The question is whether next time he will also come to his senses in time.

Closure of the air space between Jerusalem and Amman would have severe and far-reaching implications. It would violate international aviation treaties, flagrantly and substantively violate the peace treaty that provides for free air passage over each state, get Israel in trouble with the various international airlines that ply that route, and more.

A senior Israeli security official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu's move “caused tremendous damage to relations with Jordan” on top of the almost complete disruption of ties between the king and the prime minister. The only senior Israelis who speak with the monarch occasionally are Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Netanyahu’s political rival) and Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen. The tight security coordination between the two sides continues unabated, but is not guaranteed forever. “At this rate, the security cooperation is also under threat,” the security source explained.

Netanyahu of 2021 is a completely different man than the veteran, cautious leader who has steered away from adventures and risks over his 12 years in office and is well versed in the rules of the game. These days, he is toying with the peace with Jordan, one of Israel’s most important strategic assets, like an infant playing with a rag doll. He is devoting most of his energies to relations with second- and third-tier states in the Gulf, where the big money is, while ignoring the most sensitive interests of Israel’s national security.

Netanyahu is apparently willing to pawn the pillars of Israel’s national security posture in order to arrange a campaign trip for himself ahead of the March 23 elections to Abu Dhabi airport. Even as of this writing, Netanyahu is trying frantically to convince the UAE to allow him to fly to Abu Dhabi later this week, on March 18, “even for a half hour” meeting at the airport with the crown prince. He is willing to sacrifice everything and everyone, including King Abdullah, for the sake of his reelection. On March 16, Netanyahu’s people leaked information according to which they were preparing an alternative flight path circumventing Jordan should it try once again to thwart his flight to the UAE.

The Jordanians understand what Netanyahu is doing. They have long been monitoring anxiously the deterioration in relations with Israel and are very concerned about possibly losing Netanyahu as a cautious and stable strategic ally. Abdullah lacks significant leverage over Netanyahu. If he expects the Americans to bail him out, he could be waiting for a long time. All that is left to do is to pray that Israel somehow extricates itself as soon as possible from the deep political crisis that has been paralyzing the country for over two years. As things stand right now, such a scenario is unlikely.

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2021/03/israel-jordan-united-arab-emirates-benjamin-netanyahu-king.html

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Israel’s President In Europe, Campaigns Against Iranian Threat, ICC Probe

By Rina Bassist

Mar 16, 2021

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin met today in Berlin with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Speaking at a joint press conference, Rivlin thanked Germany for its commitment to Israel’s security, calling on all European countries to stand by Israel on the Iranian nuclear file, on the International Criminal Court (ICC) probe against Israel, and on the issue of Israeli civilians and bodies of IDF soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza.

“At this time, the international community must stand firm and uncompromisingly against Iran's nuclear intensification and its support for terrorist organizations that threaten Israel and the region. We trust our friends in Europe to stand by us in our fight against the misuse of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, against our soldiers and citizens," said Rivlin.

He further argued that while the balance of powers in the region is changing, following the Abraham Accords, Iran keeps threatening its neighbors.

Berlin is the first stop on a three-day tour by the president in Europe. Tomorrow, he will fly to Austria, where he will meet with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen. Both men will then participate in a memorial ceremony for Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Rivlin will finish his tour on Thursday, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

This presidential tour is exceptional on several levels. Rivlin was invited a while ago by his German and Austrian counterparts to visit, yet the coronavirus pandemic made things complicated. With the skies now opening, the decision by International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the beginning of March to open a probe against Israel certainly pushed for the visit to take place rapidly. Apparently, this was also the reason Paris was added to the tour. Rivlin had traveled to France in January 2019 for an official state visit, where President Macron received the president and his wife, Nechama (now belated), with honors, for a festive 200-guest dinner. This second visit was set up for a good reason.

The two main themes of the visit — Iranian nukes and the ICC probe — explain the participation of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on this trip. Kochavi joined the president for the meeting this afternoon with Steinmeier for an update on the regional security situation. Kochavi is also expected to join the president for his meetings with the Austrian and French heads of state. The only professional meeting scheduled for Kochavi during this trip is with his German counterpart, Gen. Eberhard Zorn.

Still, beyond briefing European leaders on the security challenges faced by Israel, the mere presence of Kochavi on such a trip sends a clear message. Israel will let no one, not even the ICC, probe Israeli officers.

President Rivlin is considered very popular in Israel and has taken the cause of Israeli Arabs and against discrimination on several occasions. He was also one of the first Israeli officials to react to Bensouda’s decision, describing it as scandalous and stating, “We will not accept claims against the exercise of our right and our obligation to defend our citizens. The State of Israel is a strong, Jewish and democratic state that knows how to defend itself and investigate itself when necessary. We are proud of our soldiers, our sons and daughters, the essence of our people, who stand guard for their country generation after generation, a defensive wall against all those who seek our harm. We will stand guard to ensure that they are not harmed because of this decision.”

Indeed, before embarking, the president came back to this issue, saying, “This important diplomatic visit I am taking, together with the chief of staff, is highly significant at this time. … It is important to ensure that the international community is ready, determined and uncompromising, to oppose Iran’s nuclear plans. … My agenda for this trip also includes the misuse of the International Criminal Court against our soldiers and citizens.”

For Rivlin to take on the ICC reflects his understanding that a great majority of Israelis are united against such a probe. By bringing Kochavi along on this trip, Rivlin tells the international community: Here is our top soldier, standing by my side, on European soil, under my protection.

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2021/03/israel-germany-austria-france-reuven-rivlin-emmanuel-macron.html

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