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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 1 New Delhi December 23, 2017 - Annual Number

Middle East in Renewed Turmoil

Sunday 24 December 2017


by Harish Chandola

With the killing of a few Palestinians on the West Bank on December 8, the Middle East has again been thrown in a turmoil after the announcement by the US President, Donald Trump, on December 6, declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Demonstrations broke out almost all over the Moslem world, from Turkey to Malaysia and Indonesia, against that announcement and clashes broke out in Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River between Palestinians and Israelis forces, with Palestinians firing rockets and Israelis shooting at Palesti-nians with rubber bullets and pellets.

The alliance of the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council broke down the same day, on December 6, and a new alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took shape.

The former Yemen President, AbdRabbo Mansour Hadi, was assassinated a few days earlier by Houthi fighters in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, with no hope of the cruel war in the region, famine and cholera epidemic coming to an end in that impoverished Gulf country.

Yet another surprise possibility that is emerging is the likelihood of Saudi Arabia moving closer to Israel to oppose Iran.

All these are likely to change the situation in the region.

President Trump’s announcement has been opposed by his allies like Britain, France, Germany, the European Union, Turkey, Moslem countries, the Soviet Union and China and others. There was no requirement for him to announce the decision to move his embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which has caused these developments in the region. There was universal agreement to let Jerusalem remain the centre of three religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, a Sunni alliance, had not achieved much, except providing help to the Islamic State rebels in Syria and Iraq. The likelihood of Saudis moving closer to Israelis has the support of the United States.

Earlier, there was a boycott of Qatar by the Gulf countries and Egypt on the suspicion that it had links with Iran.

Scuffles broke out between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank of the Jordan River following President Trump’s announcement of declaring Jerusalam as Israel’s capital, continuing the conflict in the region.

The Shi’a Houthis in Yemen, supported by Iran, are being heavily bombed by Saudi Arabia with the help of the United States and Britain and they have imposed an embargo on them, causing a terrible famine and a cholera epidemic in Yemen.

The Islamic State’s war in Iraq and Syria has almost come to end and UN-sponsored talks on the future of Syria are to begin in Geneva.

The region is in greater turmoil than it ever has been. Yemen will elect or choose a new President following the killing of AbdRabbo Mansour Hadi by the Houthis.

It is a country where things move terribly slowly. I had gone there during its civil war towards the end of last century and given a report or news dispatch to my newspaper in India at its cable office at Sanaa. A week later I went there to see if it had been sent. It had not. The official in charge of the cable office was sitting outside, smoking a hubble-bubble, unconcerned about the unsent cables in his office. I wonder if my cable is still lying there!

The Gulf countries have all opposed President Trump’s announcement declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. Given their differences over Qatar, it is to be seen if the Gulf unity continues. The US maintains a large air base in Qatar. On December 7 Qatar signed an agree-ment with France to buy military aircraft from it and possibly set up an air base there.

The region, always volatile, has become more so now. India has a very large number of people working in the Gulf region, some of whom it helped come home recently from Qatar.

The danger of an Iran-Arab conflict growing in the region has increased. Iranian troops or militiamen have been fighting in Syria and Yemen, and are stationed in Lebanon and Iraq. These will become more active if the Arab Gulf countries take a fight with them with increasing hostility between Iran and Arabs.

The Soviet Union, besides opposing President Trump’s announcement declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has not made any new move in the region. It has become a major participant in the region’s developments after its partici-pation in the Syrian conflict.

It will take years for the United States to build its embassy in Jerusalem to function from there. What happens in the meanwhile will be something to wait and see. The region is rapidly changing and what may happen there in the coming years will be something to wait for and see.

The author is a veteran journalist with wide knowledge of developments in West Asia and the Arab world.

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