Week of July 9
On Monday, July 9th, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan after his scheduled trip to Vietnam. Pompeo said at a press conference that he stopped in Afghanistan to “learn of the progress made” since President Trump outlined his foreign policy agenda last August. Pompeo met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who accompanied Pompeo at the news conference, as well as U.S. forces in the country. Pompeo told reporters that the Trump administration’s strategy in Afghanistan “is working” but that a peace process must be anchored by Afghans themselves. He said that in U.S. military activity in the country has “sent a clear message to the Taliban” that “they cannot wait us out.”
On Thursday, US News and World Report ranked Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt among the 25 most powerful countries in its annual survey. Israel ranked highest of all Middle Eastern countries, in eighth place worldwide, with the report citing its military might and diplomatic support from the US. Saudi Arabia followed closely in ninth and the UAE in tenth, surpassing South Korea and Canada. Iran and Turkey followed, ahead of both India and Australia, with their economic potential noted. The annual rankings are based on 65 indicators in nine categories such as a strong military, strong international alliances, economic and political influence, and leadership. Qatar, despite the year-long Gulf rift, was also included on the list, three positions ahead of last year. Egypt secured the last twenty-fifth position, described by the report as “one of the world’s earliest and greatest civilizations,” which highlighted the country’s growth in tourism and manufacturing. Middle Eastern nations, however, ranked lower in the “Best Countries” classification, as well as in key categories such as education.
Only hours after a ceasefire was reached in Gaza on Saturday night, rockets sounded in two communities on the Israel-Gaza border. Two Palestinian teens were killed by the Israeli strikes and four Israelis were wounded after a rocket fired from Gaza struck their home. In one of the most violent strikes since the 2014 war in Gaza, the Israeli military struck more than 40 Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip and over 190 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza into Israel. 37 projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, while 73 projectiles struck open areas in Israel. A new ceasefire was reached on Sunday and is largely holding up, but the Israeli military remains on high alert and has increased air defenses in case hostilities resume.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad al-Sharqi, an Emirati prince, sought asylum in Qatar on May 16. The prince was found at Doha’s airport, reportedly fleeing for his life because of a dispute with the rulers of Abu Dhabi. In an interview with The New York Times Sheikh Rashid accused Emirati rulers of blackmail and money laundering. He expressed deep resentment over Abu Dhabi’s intervention in Yemen, and his lack of consultation with the other six Emirates before committing troops. According to Sheikh Rashid, soldiers from smaller emirates such as his home of Fujairah, accounted for most of the war deaths in Yemen. “There have been more deaths from Fujairah than anywhere else,” Sheikh Rashid said, and he accused Abu Dhabi of hiding the full death toll. His defection to Qatar comes amidst the ongoing diplomatic and economic blockade of that country by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. While Qatar has denied the Sheikh’s presence, a Qatari close to the royal family confirmed that Doha had, in fact, allowed the prince to stay. “I am the first in a royal family going out of the UAE and telling everything about them,” he said. Such criticism of the Emirati leadership from one of its own is quite exceptional; one expert noted that “it is rare for such elite politics to spill out so publicly in the U.A.E.”
Also, on Sunday night, the Israeli military targeted a Syrian military post in Aleppo that was being used by Iran. Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and backs a number of armed groups fighting in support of Assad. The strikes come only days after Syrian troops secured most of the southern province of Deraa. The Syrian state-run News Agency (SANA) said the strike only caused material damage, while the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights claimed that nine “pro-regime” fighters has been killed in the strike. Israel has found itself increasingly drawn into the Syrian conflict not only in response to suspected Iranian activity, but because tens of thousands of Syrians have arrived along the Syria-Israel border over the past month following renewed fighting along the country’s southern provinces. Both Israel and Jordan have provided some tents for some of the refugees, but Human Rights Watch claimed, “They are living in areas where is intense heat without adequate shelter, without adequate humanitarian assistance, and despite the extreme humanitarian conditions and insecurity in the area, both the Israeli and the Jordanian government have persisted in not allowing these asylum seekers to try to seek refuge across the border.”
The New York Times published another compelling story on Sunday — this time, on Israeli intelligence agents who, on January 31st this year, raided a warehouse in Iran that Israeli’s intelligence agency had had been surveilling for almost a year. The agents collected close to 50,000 pages and 163 compact discs of memos, videos and plans regarding Iran’s systematic approach to advancing its nuclear weapons program. Just last week, a select group of reporters were invited to observe some of the key documents. Although Iran argues that the entire trove is fraudulent, American and British intelligence officers have confirmed the documents as genuine. The cache allegedly reveals that Iran’s nuclear weapons program was more sophisticated than most suspected, but that the political mandate after 2003 truly did slow progress down. Additionally, it’s clear that Iran has received foreign assistance in securing some of the materials necessary to construct a bomb, such as uranium deuteride.