Sunday, March 26, 2023




No plans to provide additional seats to Middle East carriers: Govt – The Economic Times

India does not have plans "as of now" to provide additional seats to Middle East carriers, a top government official said on Tuesday even as leading Gulf carrier Emirates described not having enhanced bilateral flying rights as "pity". Emirates, which operates only wide-body A380s and B777s, flies to nine Indian cities and operates 167 weekly flights to India. Currently, the airline and its group entity flydubai have bilateral rights to operate around 66,000 seats weekly to India. India has an open skies policy with countries that are beyond India's radius of 5,000 kilometres. To a query on bilateral flying rights, Civil Aviation Secretary Rajiv Bansal said Vietnam and Indonesia are asking for more frequencies. "This is reflective of Indians' demand to visit these places," he added. According to him, all the Middle East carriers have been asking for additional seats for the last several years but "we have not been giving any additional seats to any Middle East carriers". When asked whether the stance remains, Bansal said, "as of now, yes". Emirates Airline President Sir Tim Clark said it was a "pity" with respect to bilateral flying rights not being enhanced. They were speaking at the CAPA summit in the national capital. During a media roundtable, Clark said Emirates has sought 50,000 additional seats under the bilateral rights. He also said that opportunities are great in India. India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world.

China’s Middle East policies could harm Israel’s interest – opinion – The Jerusalem Post

On March 10, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, flanked by senior security officials from Iran and Saudi Arabia, announced that the two countries had agreed to restore diplomatic relations. The image of the three side by side was reminiscent of similar images from Washington over many years: presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump flanked by the Arab and Israeli leaders of the time, celebrating peace, the Oslo Accords and the Abraham Accords.The Chinese organizers, masters of ceremony, were sending a clear message: what America could do, China can also do. For decades, China has produced peace plans, held peace forums and sent peace envoys to the Middle East. The difference was that America’s actions changed Israel, the Middle East and the world, while China’s changed nothing. Is something new happening?The March event triggered a shock wave across the world. Most commentators agreed that there were three big winners, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, one big loser, Israel, and maybe one small loser, the United States.China demonstrated that it is a major player in the Middle East and possibly beyond, and that it can achieve goals that are out of reach for America.The lost alliance between Israel and the Gulf states A NEWSPAPER with a cover picture of the flag of Iran and Saudi Arabia, is seen in Tehran last weekend. (credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/REUTERS)Iran spectacularly wrecked American sanctions as the Saudi finance minister announced that his country would soon start investing in Iran. A defensive alliance between Israel and the Gulf states now seems very remote.Saudi Arabia demonstrated, also spectacularly, that it could look after itself, had options in addition to the US and could treat America with the same indifference with which it had been treated by some previous American administrations.Israel briefly woke up from its domestic turmoil, acknowledged its strategic defeat, blamed America’s Joe Biden and the opposition party’s Yair Lapid and then returned to its turmoil.The Americans did not quite know whether they are winners or losers, which illustrates Biden’s unclear and contradictory Middle East policies. Five full days after the Beijing event, Secretary of State Antony Blinken emerged to welcome any reduction of tensions. Just a short time before, a US Defense Department official had announced new sanctions against Iran. Winner? Loser?Long-term geopolitical implications of the Beijing accordCommentators did not notice two long-term geopolitical implications of the Beijing accord. First, it is not a stand-alone event but part of something much larger. China is slowly revealing a new, comprehensive plan for the Middle East. In January 2022, an article in the Communist Party’s Global Times advised the Arabs that they would be better off with China as their main partner instead of America. Then in December 2022, President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia and met with the leaders of the Arab world.A LONG statement issued after the recent summit demanded a Palestinian state in line with the Arab position. This was nothing new. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, made a state visit to Beijing in February 2023. A joint statement demanded that Israel open its nuclear activities to the control of the IAEA. This was new. No Chinese president had ever signed a statement critical of Israel, certainly not one co-signed by Iran.And then came the Beijing-mediated accord between Iran and Saudi Arabia. What are the next stages of China’s master plan? Trying to impose the 1967 borders on Israel? Coercing Israel to disclose its nuclear secrets?And here is the second long-term geopolitical implication of the Beijing accord and the preceding events: China seems to be turning more actively against Israel. There are other signs, for example, China’s increased anti-Israeli activism in the UN. Asking why China is becoming more adversarial is the wrong question.The right question is: Why did China wait so long? Since 1951, a year after Israel recognized the People’s Republic of China, the United States has involved itself in the China-Israel relationship. For 20 of the last 72 years (1979-1999), Israel had a green light for arms exports to China.Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani talks with Minister of State and national security adviser of Saudi Arabia Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban during a meeting in Beijing, China March 10, 2023 (credit: CNSPHOTO VIA REUTERS)Red lights from WashingtonBut for more than 50 years, Israel has gotten red lights from Washington, first against diplomatic, then defense and finally, many investment and technological agreements with China. Israel learned that the indispensable political and military support it gets from America comes with strings attached, including the reduction of China links.As the conflict between the superpowers heats up, America would like more support from Israel in the struggle, which means that China will likely regard Israel increasingly as an American pawn. Israel suffers growing collateral damage from a conflict it did not create and cannot influence. America has reasons to prohibit certain Israeli technology exports but it should not cause China and Israel to become enemies.China’s Middle East policies could seriously harm Israel’s interests. Whether America wants to leave the Middle East, as many suspect, or whether it wants to stay, this would not be in America’s own national interest.The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). He is the author of China and the Jewish People – Old Civilizations in a New Era and Rise and Decline of Civilizations – Lessons for the Jewish People.

2023 Middle East happiness rankings: UAE, Israel happiest as Lebanon hits bottom

Lebanon is the least happy nation in the Middle East region, and Israel and Gulf nations are the most, while Turkey continues to decline in happiness rankings according to a new edition of the World Happiness Report released this week. The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s 2023 World Happiness Report ranks 137 countries based on several criteria including income, health and a sense of freedom to make key life decisions. The Middle East and North Africa is the least happy region after sub-Saharan Africa, the report shows, but a comparison of the 2022 and 2023 rankings shows that several countries including Israel, Iraq and Iran have become happier over the past year.  Israel, which remains the happiest nation in the region, climbed to the fourth happiest country across the world from ninth.  While Gulf nations, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the region’s powerhouse Saudi Arabia are the second group of happiest countries in the broader Middle East and North Africa region, all three of them have become less so over the past year, the rankings showed. The United Arab Emirates, the second happiest nation in the MENA region, dropped two places from 24th to 26th globally. Saudi Arabia, the third happiest nation, fell five places, landing at 30th in the global rankings.   In the Gulf group, Bahrain registered the biggest decline by dropping to 42nd from 21st globally, but the nation is the fourth happiest nation in the region. Algeria, Iraq and Morocco follow the Gulf nations in the global rankings. Algeria appears to be more happy in comparison to the 2022 rankings by climbing to 81st place from 96. Iraq also saw a significant leap, climbing to 98th in 2023 from 107th in 2022. Iran, which has been engulfed in nationwide anti-regime protests, also became happier over the past year, rising its ranking from 110th to 101st from the previous period. Tunisia also seems more happy than the previous period, as its ranking has risen to 110 from 120. Turkey, meanwhile, slid six ranks in the 2023 report, dropping from the 106th to the 112th happiest nation globally.  Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are the least happiest nations in the Middle East and North Africa region. Yet, Egypt and Jordan seem more happy by rising their ranks eight and 11 ranks, respectively, from the previous period. Lebanon, meanwhile, is the least happy nation, along with Afghanistan globally.  Middle East and North African countries’ happiness rankings from highest to lowest with their global placements are as follows: Israel: 4th UAE: 26th Saudi Arabia: 30th Bahrain: 42nd   Algeria: 81st Iraq: 98th Morocco: 100th  Iran: 101st Turkey: 106th Tunisia: 110th Egypt: 121st Jordan: 123rd Lebanon: 136th The 2023 report did not rank Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Syria or the Palestinian territories. Explore the #WHR2023 data! Check out the new World Happiness Report dashboard by @‌sdgstoday to compare countries, regions and life satisfaction over time. — World Happiness Report (@HappinessRpt) March 20, 2023 On the global scale, the Nordic nations dominated the top three spots, with Finland, Denmark and Iceland being the happiest nations across the world.

The UAE is more than just the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’ – The National

While the UAE may lack the snowy peaks and alpine vistas of Switzerland or the culinary and horological masterpieces for which the Swiss are known, the Emirati leadership is quietly building the foundation for a new role – that of the "Switzerland of the Middle East”.The tumultuous Arab uprisings, and the ensuing turmoil in Egypt, served as a crucial inflection point for the UAE's customary approach to regional conflicts. The ascendance of Islamist groups and their potential to destabilise the Middle East posed a direct challenge to the UAE's own security and stability. Consequently, the Emirati leadership responded by adopting a more interventionist approach to the region’s conflicts, such as the decision to militarily intervene in Yemen. This approach marked a departure from the UAE's long-held position as a quasi-neutral regional player, established by the Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as the region itself changed. Instead, the era ushered in a more assertive and proactive role for the UAE, which US former Centcom head Gen James Mattis once likened to "a little Sparta".Despite the prevailing challenges, the Emirati leadership has opted for a fresh approach, ingeniously seizing the economic prospects brought forth by the post-pandemic landscape. On the other hand, by astutely responding to ongoing geopolitical and military conundrums, such as the situation in Ukraine, the UAE fortified its position as a neutral arbitrator and mediator par excellence.Owing to its strategic geographical positioning, congenial business climate, state-of-the-art infrastructure, tax-friendly environment and forward-thinking policies, the UAE has emerged as a veritable lodestone for international investment, a financial epicentre, and a nexus of trade, all of which hinge on the maintenance of stability.The county is set to experience a substantial boost in financial wealth, with a predicted compound annual growth rate of 6.7 per cent, leading to more than $1 trillion by 2026, thanks to the influx of high-net-worth individuals (HNWI), according to recent reports. In the post-pandemic era, Dubai alone saw its HNWI population surge by 18 per cent, propelling the emirate to the top spot in the Mena region.Yet, the Emiratis have surpassed merely mirroring Switzerland's blueprint of being a global wealth management hub and a neutral arbiter in the complex realm of international politics. Instead, Abu Dhabi formulated its unique model, centred on cutting-edge industries, global alliances and partnerships, and influential soft-power projection. Skilfully blending these three components has propelled the UAE towards this newfound, multifaceted role, both politically and economically.The India-UAE High-Level Joint Task Force on Investments meeting in Abu Dhabi, Abdulla Al Neyadi / UAE Presidential Court The UAE's first strategic choice is to be more Swiss and less SpartanThe UAE has adopted a proactive foreign policy that recognises the urgent need for regional countries to come together and establish new economic, security and political frameworks to ensure regional security and stability, in light of Washington's strategic shift to disengage from the Middle East. Accordingly, the UAE champions several significant endeavours involving Arab nations and, in some cases, collaboration between Arab countries and Israel. Abu Dhabi has earmarked funding, which by certain calculations amounts to $18 billion, for the construction of an oil pipeline connecting the southern Iraqi city of Basra to the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Concurrently, the UAE has fostered a strategic accord between Jordan and Israel encompassing the establishment of a 600-megawatt solar energy facility, complete with an electrical energy storage system situated in Jordan, aimed at generating clean power for export to Israel. As a reciprocal measure, Israel will embark on a programme to develop sustainable desalination initiatives, supplying Jordan with an estimated 200 million cubic metres of treated water each year.Moreover, since the latter part of 2021, the UAE demonstrated its nimble diplomatic prowess by making significant strides in reconciling with former adversaries, mainly restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran and Turkey. Notably, the UAE played an earlier leading role in brokering the Abraham Accords, historic peace agreements with Israel that paved the way for Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to join the normalisation club with Israel.In the cases of Turkey and Israel, the UAE pursued a path of peaceful reconciliation, anchored by robust economic agreements and trade arrangements. Through this approach, it sought to establish enduring common interests that reflect the UAE's unwavering commitment to tangible actions and concrete results, rather than mere rhetoric, when it comes to building stable and constructive relationships with its neighbours.The UAE’s expanding trade agreements with Turkey, India, Indonesia and Israel, in addition to pre-existing deals within the Arab world, forge connections to new markets encompassing more than 2.2 billion people and entwining the country’s economy with a remarkable 10 per cent of global economy.In a bold demonstration of the UAE's commitment to confronting obstacles and fostering alliances as a resolute and long-lasting strategy, President Sheikh Mohamed recently opted to withdraw Abu Dhabi's bid to host the 2026 World Bank and International Monetary Fund meeting. In a conciliatory gesture, Sheikh Mohamed extended his support to Doha as a prospective host.During the donor conference for the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen, the Minister of State, Noura Al Kaabi, expressed the UAE's commitment to aiding the Yemeni people and called for international efforts to achieve peace in Yemen in 2023. The UAE has already provided Yemen with $6.6bn in aid since 2015, and this year it will continue its support for reconstruction and rehabilitation projects with approximately $325 million. Such a stance is a significant departure from UAE’s previous involvement in the Yemen conflict.In a trailblazing move in 2018, the UAE engaged with the Assad regime, despite scant support from fellow Arab nations. This stance has since gained traction, with key regional players, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, following suit in the wake of the Turkey-Syria earthquake, marking a watershed moment in the UAE's ascent as an Arab trendsetter. Last Sunday, Sheikh Mohamed received Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in Abu Dhabi, where the two leaders discussed the stability in the Middle East.Internationally, the UAE played a pivotal role in facilitating a prisoner swap agreement between Russia and Ukraine, which was reportedly linked to the resumption of Russian ammonia exports to Asia and Africa via Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Moreover, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh mediated the release of American basketball player Brittney Griner from Russia through another prisoner swap that took place after Sheikh Mohamed’s visit to Moscow last October.The Great Mosque of Al Nuri in Mosul, Iraq, and its famous leaning minaret were blown up by ISIS militants in 2017 and are being rebuilt with help from Unesco and the UAE. Haider Husseini / The National More on UAE foreign policyFurther, the UAE's notable standing as the 10th-most influential soft power player globally and the top-ranked Middle Eastern nation, according to the Global Soft Power Index, emphasises its expanding influence on the global scene. The UAE's unwavering commitment to enhancing its soft-power capabilities, as evidenced by hosting prestigious events such as Expo 2020, increasing foreign aid allocations, and embarking on a Mars mission, bears witness to its steadfast ambition to become a formidable force in global affairs.Showcasing its soft power and commitment to promoting hope and tolerance, the UAE has forged a partnership with Unesco, in pursuit of the visionary "Revive the Spirit of Mosul" initiative. This co-operative endeavour aims to breathe new life into Mosul's historic architecture and treasured heritage sites, with a particular focus on reconstructing the city's famed Al Nouri Mosque and its 45-metre tall Al Hadba minaret, a landmark built in 1172 by Seljuk ruler Nour Al Din Zanki, which bestowed upon Mosul its nickname, Al Hadba. Also, the UAE's generous $50m grant has facilitated the restoration of the famous Dominican Al Saa'a Church and Al Tahera Catholic Church, underscoring the nation's ongoing dedication to the preservation of cultural legacies and the advancement of global understanding and tolerance.Nestled on the banks of the Tigris River in northern Iraq, the historic city of Mosul – whose name in Arabic signifies "The Connector" – has served as a vibrant nexus of cultures, civilisations and faiths. A crucial hub of commerce on the Silk Road, Mosul has welcomed a diverse array of communities, including Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians and Armenians, as well as Muslims, Christians and Jews. The city's 2014 capture and subsequent three-year occupation by ISIS was a targeted assault on the ideals and symbolism that Mosul has long embodied. The commitment to rebuild the city is a powerful counter-message, affirming the restoration of public spaces as a means to foster co-existence, tolerance and hope for a brighter future.However, the UAE's ambition to become the "Switzerland of the Middle East" is not without its challenges. One major challenge the country faces is competition from other regional players, who are also seeking to establish themselves as dominant political and economic centres in the region.The Middle East is a challenging and enduring neighbourhood made for marathon runners, not for sprinters. The UAE is a marathoner, guided by the values of “Zayed Doctrine” of positive communication, regional dialogue good neighbourliness, stability, development and prosperity.Its first strategic choice is to be more Swiss and less Spartan.Published: March 21, 2023, 2:00 PM

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