Sunday, July 23

Sunday, July 23

GRAND GULF TOUR Turkey’s Erdogan travels to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan follows a string of foreign

GRAND GULF TOUR

Turkey’s Erdogan travels to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait

Photo: Turkish FM

Photo: Turkish FM

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan follows a string of foreign officials by visiting Saudi Arabia and Kuwait today in a bid to temper the Qatar crisis.

Last week, Saudi and Emirati representatives reduced their 13 demands to just six, notably dropping the requirements that Qatar close Al Jazeera and a Turkish military base in the country. The Saudi-led bloc continues to demand that Doha ‘combat terrorism’—a phrase that has been used to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. Nonetheless, the fact that some of the more onerous demands have been dropped bodes well for a potential resolution.

Erdogan and Qatar’s emir have been in close communication throughout the six-week blockade. The two share similar outlooks on the region and support Islamist groups in Syria and elsewhere. Indeed, Erdogan has stuck by his Gulf partners, branding the blockade as “inhumane” and joining Iran in sending food aid to offset potential shortages. This has put the Turkish leader in an uncomfortable position given Iranian-Saudi tensions.

While Qatar is a major investor in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invest 20 times more—trade ties Ankara cannot afford to sever. Mr Erdogan will be hoping his pilgrimage today will assuage Riyadh and that a visit to Doha on Monday will help cool the regional spat.

Delve deeper: Qatar’s Islamist ties targeted by Saudi-led demands

TANK DIPLOMACY

Iraq’s vice president meets with Russians to talk ISIS

Photo: Tommy Avilucea

Photo: Tommy Avilucea

Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki arrives in Moscow today for four days of talks with officials, including Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov. The visit comes after Iraq’s military and allied militias retook Mosul on July 9, ISIS’ last major stronghold in the country.

The Kremlin plans to supply Iraq with over $1 billion worth of the T-90S battle tanks. The potential deal signals that Russia—which is already a major backer of Syria’s regime— could be looking to expand its influence in Iraq. Russia could then be angling to compete with the US in supporting Iraq’s government.

Maliki, Iraq’s former prime minister, appears open to this possibility. He has credited Moscow’s intervention in neighbouring Syria with preventing Baghdad’s fall. Maliki said “if it were not for the Russian stance,” supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime against ISIS, “the region would be fully destroyed” in a domino effect.

While Russia will stay focused on Syria for the time being, Maliki’s comments and visit signal that Iraq could see a shift towards Moscow—especially if he were to get his old job back.

MAYHEM ON THE MOUNT

Israeli lawmakers return to holy site likely delayed

Photo: Sliman Khader/Flash90

Photo: Sliman Khader/Flash90

A ban on Israeli lawmakers entering the al-Aqsa mosque, enacted in October 2015 over concerns about security and inflamed tensions, was set to be lifted today. Called the Temple Mount by Jews, the site is the holiest in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam.  Following an attack at the site by Palestinian militants on Israeli police last week, the reopening to lawmakers will likely be delayed.

Following the attacks, the mosque was briefly closed and then reopened with new security procedures, including the bitterly protested addition of metal detectors. Controversially, Muslim men under 50 have been banned from entering the mosque.

But rather than halting violence, the new measures have incited it. On Friday, three Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli police, increasing the probability that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will delay lawmakers’ return.

If the ban is lifted today, it will start a week-long trial period to see whether it is ended permanently and test how secure the site is. In the unlikely event this goes forward, don’t expect the trial to find safety and calm.