Why OPEC’s cuts shouldn’t have been a surprise — and may not hurt as much as you might think

“Gross’s take is straightforward: Arab states are simply pursuing their self-interest in keeping oil prices high. She cautioned against seeing the OPEC+ decision as a choice by the group between the US and Russia. Today is not like the Cold War, when many Middle Eastern states balanced between Washington and Moscow, seeking to extract maximum benefits from both superpowers and hedging in case either bloc won.
Besides, although the cut might boost oil prices, Gross says the prospects for Russia’s future oil revenues are potentially quite dim, as the G7 and the European Union prepare to implement new measures that could substantially reduce Putin’s proceeds from oil. Moreover, the actual production cut is likely to be around 1 million barrels per day — not 2 million — because many OPEC+ members weren’t meeting their quotas anyway, according to Gross.”

Israelis press U.S. not to rejoin Iran nuclear deal

“The 2015 nuclear deal, struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, lifted an array of U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for major restraints on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was too weak and too narrow and he reimposed the sanctions while adding new ones. After about a year, Iran began violating the terms of the deal, including by enriching uranium to high levels and shutting out inspectors.

President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the deal — he and his aides argued that it remains the best vehicle to contain an Iranian nuclear threat. Over nearly a year and a half, a period that included some long pauses, Biden’s emissaries have engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials about reviving the agreement.

The two sides, whose discussions have been mediated primarily by European officials, have tangled on a variety of thorny topics. Those include: whether the U.S. will rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the fate of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into traces of nuclear materials at various Iranian sites; and Iranian demands for certain guarantees that the lifting of sanctions will lead to economic benefits — and that the U.S. won’t pull out of the deal under a different president.

Biden has said he will not rescind the IRGC’s terrorism designation, and the IAEA has indicated it will not give up on the probe.

Iran recently responded to a European draft proposal on reviving the deal with comments mostly focused on sanctions and economic guarantees. U.S. officials have been looking at the Iranian demands and preparing their own response, which may be sent to European negotiators later this week.

The U.S. has been consulting allies, among them Israel, before sending its response, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it would wait until after Gantz’s meeting with Sullivan.

“At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.

The Israeli officials are making their push at a sensitive time: the country, currently being overseen by a caretaker government, will soon hold its fifth election in less than four years.

The main internal debate among U.S. negotiators has been about the economic guarantees sought by Iran, said Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group. Those guarantees deal in part with Iran’s concerns that even if the 2015 deal is revived, foreign companies will consider it too risky to invest in the country. Even when the deal was in full force, many foreign firms were hesitant to do business in Iran.

For Israel’s political leaders, an Iran whose economy is stronger is an Iran that is a bigger threat to their country’s existence. Iran’s rulers consider Israel an illegitimate state, and some have predicted its eventual doom.

Israeli political leaders’ argument against the nuclear deal often boils down to concerns that, if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran, the regime will use the incoming cash to engage even more in an array of unsavory activities, including funding and arming terrorist groups that target Israel.”

“some Israelis in the security establishment — often retired officers with more freedom to speak out — have broken with their political leaders on this issue. They argue that, as imperfect as the nuclear deal may be, it’s better than having no restraints on or surveillance of Iran’s program.”

“At present, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon — is believed to be a few weeks. Under a restored deal, it would likely be around six months. Under the original 2015 agreement, it was estimated at around a year.”

Biden says he wants a two-state solution. Why is he silent on Israeli settlements?

“Severe setbacks for the two-state solution have made US policy seem far-fetched at this point.

That reality came across in Biden’s remarks. “We’ll discuss my continued support — even though I know it’s not in the near term — a two-state solution,” he said upon his arrival this week. He conceded that such an outcome was elusive, while still clinging to it.

A number of factors have contributed to the declining prospects for an independent Palestinian state. Not enough US diplomatic muscle has been put into making the deal happen. The recently disbanded Israeli government didn’t even agree to it as policy (and the previous prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t really, either). Divisions between the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza have detracted from the Palestine Liberation Organization’s authority and legitimacy as a negotiating partner. And wealthy Arab states, like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have prioritized normalizing relationships with Israel — which come with economic and tech cooperation, defense business, and weapons sales — at the expense of Palestinian rights.

But the largest by far is the rampant expansion of settlements in the West Bank that has precluded Palestinians from living there.”

After the latest clash with Israel, Gazans’ struggle continues

“Israeli forces launched a preemptive strike against PIJ targets on August 5, Reuters reported, after one of the group’s leaders, Bassam al-Saadi, was arrested in the Occupied West Bank. Israel claims to have hit a number of PIJ targets. However, several civilians, including 17 children, were killed in the clashes, both by Israeli weapons and possibly by errant PIJ rockets intended for Israeli targets. A ceasefire brokered by Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, the US, the UN, and the Palestinian Authority between Israel and the PIJ last Sunday has thus far held; however, an attack on worshipers in Jerusalem’s Old City late on Sunday could portend more violence. At least eight people, including US citizens, were injured in the attack, which was allegedly carried out by a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, according to Israeli authorities. They have not yet released his name, and there is no indication that he is affiliated with any larger group, according to Reuters.

Despite the ceasefire, the aftermath of even short-term hostilities in Gaza goes far beyond active bombardments and shelling; the combination of years of violence, a brutal blockade, and state repression has created an enduring crisis. What’s more, there’s little chance to recover before violence breaks out again.

According to initial UN reporting, 360 Palestinians have been injured in the fighting, and Gazans experienced a tightened Israeli blockade of goods and services that led to 20-plus-hour rolling blackouts each day. There were no Israeli deaths or serious injuries, the Associated Press reported”

“The Gaza strip is home to around 2 million Palestinians and has been governed by Hamas since 2007, when the group took control from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. The two groups have had no success in creating a unity government over the past 15 years, despite repeated attempts, weakening the Palestinian resistance and further disenfranchising ordinary Palestinians. Although Fatah and Hamas agreed to hold elections in 2021, which would be the first since 2006, those elections have been postponed indefinitely.”

Biden’s Middle East Trip Pits Human Rights Against Realpolitik

“Though Biden appears willing to overlook Khashoggi’s death in order to shore up America’s access to Saudi oil, he is at least on record as explicitly having condemned that murder. At a November 2019 primary debate, Biden said he would “make [Saudi Arabia] the pariah that they are” and stop arms sales to the Middle Eastern nation. A month after Biden took office, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines released a government report confirming that the Crown Prince directed the assassination. The administration also delayed most weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, in light of its continued involvement in Yemen’s brutal civil war.”

“For many Middle East analysts, Biden’s trip signals pragmatism. “A successful foreign policy for a global power such as the US cannot choose values over interests,” wrote Council of Foreign Relations president Richard Haass in a recent article. “What the Biden administration is contemplating in Saudi Arabia appears to be righting the balance.””

What Biden wanted in the Middle East — and what he actually got

“Biden, who says he went to the Middle East to address “the needs of the free world,” has explained the strengthening of relationships with Arab states and Israel as a success.

But it’s worth taking a look at what concrete victories that closeness produced.

Saudi airspace will be opened to Israeli planes — an incremental step toward normalizing relations between the two countries, yes, but more of a victory for jetliner rights than human rights. A new peacekeeping arrangement was announced for the Red Sea Islands between Egypt and Saudi Arabia; the islands have been a regional geopolitical touchpoint, but the deal is hardly a major win beyond the region. There was talk of bringing Iraq closer to its neighbors, with a new electricity initiative to connect Iraq with the Middle East. Infrastructure projects totaling about $100 million were announced for Palestinians, including 4G networks for the occupied West Bank. The latter two, while worthwhile, are minor compared to other US development and foreign aid streams of funding — and minuscule compared to annual military aid to Israel.

A moderate success was Saudi Arabia’s ongoing commitment to maintaining a ceasefire in Yemen, a worthy goal considering the destruction wrought there, in part with the support of American weaponry, though hardly an issue that demanded a presidential visit.

As for oil, we haven’t seen any grand announcements. Ahead of the trip, a US official told reporters there wouldn’t be any big energy news, and instead pointed to an announcement a month prior from OPEC that the group of oil-producing nations would increase production.

It has left observers wondering exactly why Biden made the journey.”

“A senior Biden administration official, on the last day of Biden’s Middle East trip, described human rights at the center of America’s goals — “I’d go so far, literally, to say right at the forefront of our foreign policy,” they said.

But human rights is not even at the forefront of the administration’s press releases, fact sheets, and meeting summaries.

The official touted a “Biden doctrine” for the region. In the document, values rank lowest — fifth — after bullet points about partnerships, deterrence, diplomacy, and integration. So partnerships (with unsavory leaders) and deterrence (through our security assistance) are the priorities here.”

“This Biden trip is a preview of US foreign policy in an era of great power competition with China and new fault lines of a world divided by Russian aggression. There are trade-offs. “You sanction Russian oil, and you give power to Middle Eastern autocrats,” Khalidi told me. “The only reason he’s sidling up to these human rights abusers is because of the knock-on effects of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and the energy impact of that invasion.”

Or, as Freeman put it, “The message to the people in the region is we only care about you in the context of our great power rivalry.”

Despite the emphasis on Russia, there was little movement on solidifying a Middle East coalition in support of Ukraine. The United Arab Emirates is a major hub for Russian businesspeople and dirty money, and that seems unlikely to change. Egypt is a hot spot for Russian tourists. Saudi Arabia and Israel are still fence-sitters in the Ukraine conflict, hesitant to definitively take a side. While Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE voted to condemn Russia’s invasion in the UN resolution, none has joined the US-led sanctions against Moscow.

Yet all of these regional powers are making demands of the US to take a harder line on Iran and enable them militarily. (Wait, wouldn’t realpolitik be crafting a deal with Iran, and getting more oil production online in the process?)”

A Ceasefire in Yemen after Seven Years: Are US‐​Backed Saudi/​Emirati Aggression and War Crimes Finally Over?

“After years of attacks on civilians, the Saudis and Emiratis are guilty of manifold war crimes. The United Nations Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, subsequently disbanded under Saudi pressure, last fall described the horror: “Since March 2015, over 23,000 airstrikes have been launched by the coalition in Yemen, killing or injuring over 18,000 civilians. Living in a country subjected to an average of 10 airstrikes per day has left millions feeling far from safe.” Victims included “civilians shopping at markets, receiving care in hospitals, or attending weddings and funerals; children on buses; fishers in boats; migrants seeking a better life; individuals strolling through their neighborhoods; and people who were at home.”

Support for the royal aggressors made US officials into coconspirators. Reported the New York Times in September 2020: “The civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s disastrous air war over Yemen was steadily rising in 2016 when the State Department’s legal office in the Obama administration reached a startling conclusion: Top American officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners. Four years later, more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials say the legal risks have only grown as President Trump has made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East nations a cornerstone of his foreign policy.””

“Last November the United Nations Development Programme estimated Yemen’s death toll at 377,000, 70 percent of whom were children under five. Indirect causes, especially malnutrition and disease, took the majority of lives.”

“despite Washington’s shameful backing for Saudi/Emirati aggression and attacks on civilians, the royal regimes appear to have tired of their endless wars. Indeed, Ansar Allah’s strikes on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, though limited in effect, seriously embarrassed both governments. The Emiratis were particularly vulnerable since further attacks on Dubai could wreck its role as a hub for commercial activity and air travel.
In a dramatic move, the Saudis forced Yemen’s nominal president, Hadi, to yield his authority, after spending seven years justifying war to restore him. Reported The Wall Street Journal: “Saudi authorities have largely confined him to his home in Riyadh and restricted communications with him in the days since, according to Saudi and Yemeni officials.” The Houthis dismissed the move and some analysts speculated that Riyadh hoped to unite factions opposed to Ansar Allah to better wage war. However, the move effectively cleared the deck for negotiations. Peter Salisbury of the International Crisis Group opined that this was the “most consequential shift in the inner workings of the anti‐Houthi bloc since war began.”

More significant — and generating more hope — is the two‐month ceasefire that began on April 2, the first day of Ramadan, a month of fasting and reflection for Muslims. For the first time in more than seven years, the royal air war against Yemeni civilians halted. If respected, the suspension of hostilities, which was announced by UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, could lead to a more durable settlement. Needed is a political compromise among Yemenis providing broad representation in a new government.

Still, any optimism must be tempered. Past ceasefires have collapsed and reaching agreement, especially given outside interference, will be difficult.”

Strikes on U.S. Troops Show the Need To Withdraw From Iraq and Syria

“Just days into 2022, multiple military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria came under attack. Two drones carrying explosives were destroyed last Tuesday as they headed toward U.S. troops in western Iraq. The next day, rockets and indirect fire hit bases in western Iraq and eastern Syria. And last Monday, two armed drones were shot down as they approached a facility housing American advisers at the airport in Baghdad.

Though there were no casualties, the Iran-backed militias behind the attacks have made clear that they will continue. That alone should encourage the Biden administration to get American soldiers out of harm’s way”

Israel and the Gulf States Are Becoming Closer. But It Won’t Make Biden’s Life Much Easier.

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/12/16/israel-emirati-rapprochement-biden-middle-east-problem-524851