The limits of Beijing’s Middle East Diplomacy



Amin Saikal
ছবি: সংগৃহীত

ছবি: সংগৃহীত

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In China-brokered talks, the two oil-rich and rival states of Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to restore diplomatic relations after a seven-year split. Although the two sides need much confidence-building, their rapprochement carries the potential to change the regional geopolitical landscape at the cost of concerns for policy hawks in the US and Israel.

The longstanding Iranian–Saudi sectarian and geopolitical rivalry has been a major source of tension and conflict in the Persian Gulf region. Traditionally, whereas Iran has sought to project itself as the guardian of Shia Islam, Saudi Arabia has claimed the leadership of Sunni Islam. Both have also competed for regional geopolitical supremacy. They have been involved, in opposition to one another, in some of the conflict-ridden flashpoints in the region, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Fearing Iran’s nuclear program and regarding the country as a regional threat, the traditionally US-backed Saudi Arabia has opened backdoor diplomatic channels with Iran’s other US-allied regional foe, Israel, and supported the normalisation of relations between some of its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in particular) with the Jewish state in an anti-Iran front. In response, Iran has forged close ties with Russia and China. The Saudi execution of a prominent Shia cleric and Iranians’ storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran resulted in Riyadh cutting ties with Tehran in early 2016.

However, the regional picture has lately changed for the two protagonists. Despite being under severe American sanctions and beset by public protests since September 2022, the Iranian Islamic regime has managed to maintain its regional influence in the Levant—the area stretching from Iraq to Lebanon—as well as Yemen and has made a show of its military strength by supplying Russia with deadly drones in the Ukraine conflict.

Saudi Arabia hasn’t been able either to rebuff the Iranian influence or to maintain its historical trust of the US as a very reliable ally, especially in the wake of America’s inability to rein in Iran and to avoid defeat in Afghanistan. It has increasingly found it in its interest to diversify its foreign relations, forging closer relations with the very powers with which Iran has established camaraderie, most importantly China.

The kingdom’s young de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman has viewed this diversification as not only signalling his dissatisfaction with Washington’s criticism of his alleged human rights violations, but also aiding him with realising his vision to make Saudi Arabia a regional superpower by 2030. For this, he wants to reduce the country’s dependence on hydrocarbon as a source of wealth; expand its economy, trade and inflow of investment and high-tech industry; and change its social and cultural landscape, though not its authoritarian politics. He has found the Chinese model more appealing in this respect.

Beijing could not be more pleased with the Iranian–Saudi rapprochement under its diplomatic auspices. It constitutes a major step, along with the recent peace proposal for Ukraine, in Beijing’s global diplomatic offensives to raise China’s credentials as a peacemaker through a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states on the world stage. The underlying message is to present the US as an interventionist ‘warmonger’ power. In addition, it paves the way for China’s deeper and wider economic and trade ties in a region from which it imports some 40% of its annual oil needs.

These developments can only be unsettling for the US and Israel, both of which regard any regional easing on Iran, especially with China’s support, as contrary to their interests. The US wants to maintain maximum pressure on the Iranian regime over its nuclear program, regional influence and handling of recent domestic unrest, headed by Iranian women against theocratic restrictions and declining standards of living. It is also not keen to see Saudi Arabia tilt towards the very powers that the US seeks to contain.

Israel regards Iran’s Islamic regime as an existential threat and has vowed to do whatever it takes to prevent it from becoming a military nuclear power. The two sides have been locked in a shadow war for some time. Israel has frequently attacked Iranian targets in Syria and Lebanon, assassinated several of the country’s nuclear scientists and raided its ships. In a more daring act, recently it directly attacked defence installations in Isfahan where Iranian nuclear facilities are located. In turn, Iran has targeted Israeli ships, intelligence and diplomatic personnel, and has promised to retaliate against any hostile Israeli action.

Israel and Iran have at times come very close to serious blows. Any direct confrontation between them could have devastating consequences for the region and beyond. Having said that, it’s also important to be reminded that China has good cooperative diplomatic, security and intelligence relations with Israel. Can we expect Beijing to step in there as well to bring about a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, where the US has failed? Most likely not, given Israel’s intransigence not to give up its occupation and America’s unwavering strategic backing of it.

(Amin Saikal, an adjunct professor of social sciences at the University of Western Australia, is the author of 'Iran rising: the survival and future of the Islamic Republic' and editor of 'Iran and the Arab world: a turbulent region in transition'.)

   

Italy is interested in selling arms to Bangladesh



International Desk, Barta24.com
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Italy is interested in selling various types of weapons and military equipment including fighter jets, satellites, patrol ships to Bangladesh. The European country wants to sign a defense agreement with Bangladesh to facilitate the sale of arms.

The matter may gain importance in the foreign secretary level talks of the two countries to be held in Dhaka on Monday (June 24).

Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the second political consultation meeting of the two countries will be held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday afternoon. The meeting will be led by Foreign Secretary Masood Bin Momen on behalf of Bangladesh and Riccardo Guariglia, Secretary General of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on behalf of Italy.

Last month, Italian Ambassador Antonio Alessandro paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at Ganabhaban. At that time, he told the Prime Minister that his country is interested in the transfer of technology including the sale of arms for the modernization of the armed forces of Bangladesh. Italy is also preparing to give a second satellite to Bangladesh.

According to diplomatic sources, the agenda of the meeting of the foreign secretaries of the two countries to be held in Dhaka on Monday includes issues such as political cooperation, trade, investment, defense, immigration, satellite technology, information and communication technology, cyber security.

When asked about defense cooperation, a related senior official said that Italy has offered to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in the defense sector several years ago. The country is quite interested in this matter. In recent years, Italy has been giving special importance to the issue of defense in cooperation with Bangladesh.

According to various sources, Italy is interested in selling various types of equipment to the Bangladesh Air Force and Navy. Thales Alenia, a joint venture of France's Thales and Italy's Leonardo, has shown interest in selling the second satellite to Bangladesh. In addition to aircraft, security and aerospace maker Leonardo is talking about aircraft maintenance and technology transfer. And Italian shipbuilders have offered to sell coastal patrol vessels as well as transfer technology.

However, several officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that no new project is being taken up due to financial reasons including the crisis of reserves. In such a situation, there will be no final decision about Italy's armament at the moment. And the defense MoU will not be signed now as several procedural issues are pending.

Officials in Dhaka said that the issue of safe and orderly migration of workers from Bangladesh will be given importance in this meeting between the two countries. Italy drafted a memorandum of understanding to Bangladesh in February this year to facilitate safe migration between the two countries. This draft will be discussed.

It is known that the Rohingya crisis will be discussed due to the deteriorating internal situation in Myanmar in the discussion between the foreign secretaries of the two countries. A part of the Italian delegation will visit Cox's Bazar after the meeting.

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This time Palestine was recognized by another European country



International Desk, Barta24.com
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This time, another European country, Armenia, has recognized Palestine as an independent state. At the same time, the country has strongly condemned the barbaric attacks and massacres by the Israeli forces in the besieged Gaza territory of Palestine.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Eastern European country made this announcement on Friday (June 21), Arab News reported in its report.

In the declaration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia demanded an end to Israeli violence in the entire Palestinian territory, including Gaza. By granting this recognition, the Eastern European country supports the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and their legitimate status as an independent state.

Earlier, the Slovenian government approved the decision to recognize Palestine as an independent state on May 30. The Slovenian prime minister also demanded an immediate end to the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the release of all Israeli prisoners.

Spain, Norway and Ireland officially recognized Palestine as an independent state on May 28. The leaders of the countries said that their countries officially recognize the Palestinian state for peace in the Middle East.

So far, about 145 UN countries have recognized Palestine.

Incidentally, starting from October 7, Israel has been carrying out indiscriminate massacres and barbaric attacks in Gaza, which is besieged by Palestine, for about eight months. More than 37,000 Palestinians have already been killed in Israeli attacks. Most of them are women and children. Besides, more than 88 thousand people were injured.

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Butcher Jihad in 14 days jail custody again



International Desk, Barta24.com
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Jhenaidah-4 Constituency MP Anwarul Azim Anar's murder case accused butcher Jihad Howladar has been ordered to 14 days in jail custody again.

Barasat’s Sessions Court of North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal gave this order on Friday (June 21).

On May 23, Jihad was arrested from Bangaon in West Bengal by the CID of West Bengal State Police. On May 24, he was taken to Barasat Court for the first time. After that, the court ordered a total of 14 days CID custody for 2 rounds. After CID remand, when he was taken to court on June 7, the judge ordered 14 days of jail custody in the first phase. At the end of that period, the court again ordered a 14-day jail custody on Friday.

However, the accused Jihad Howladar did not appear in court that day. He is currently lodged in Dum Dum Central Jail. From there, Chief Judicial Magistrate Shuvankar Biswas heard the statement of the accused on video conference and fixed the date of next appearance. In that case, he will be brought to court again on July 5.

Accused Jihad has been booked under four non-bailable sections – 364 (kidnapping with intent to murder), 302 (culpable homicide), 201 (tampering with evidence) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) – of the Indian Penal Code.

It is to be noted that on May 13, MP Anar was murdered in Sanjiva Garden in Newtown. It is known that the murder was done on the orders of Akhtaruzzaman Shaheen, a US citizen of Bangladesh origin, who planned the murder.

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Despite ban, Turkish goods are going to Israel



International Des, Barta24.com
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Turkey imposed a ban on all trade with Israel. The announcement was made by the country's Ministry of Commerce last May citing the "further deterioration of the humanitarian situation" in the besieged Gaza Strip. However, despite the ban, Turkish goods are going to Israel through third countries this month.

This information was published in a report of Middle East Eye on Thursday (June 20).

According to the report, Turkish goods have been reaching Israel through Greece and other nearby countries since the beginning of May, despite the trade embargo.

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel imported 116 million US dollars worth of goods from Turkey last May which is 69 percent less than May last year. But Turkey's export agency claims only 4 million US dollars worth of goods went to Israel in May which is 99 percent less than last May.

However, a permanent ceasefire has not yet been established in Gaza. In the meantime, Turkey is sending goods to Israel even after announcing the imposition of a complete trade embargo on Israel.

However, a trade official claimed that most of the goods that Israel ordered before Turkey imposed the trade embargo are now going to Israel via Greece.

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