Hamas Runs a Regional PR Campaign

Fatah’s Azam al-Ahmad (right) and Saleh al-Aruri of Hamas kiss after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on Thursday.

Ramallah- Gaza ruling party Hamas is steadily on the track of restoring its ties with former allies while maintaining current friends. The move by no means is risk-free, as conflict pits parties Hamas views as valuable against each other.

It is no secret that the Islamist movement, which lost allies and won others, is planning broader and better relations with Egypt. It looks forward to opening up as much as possible to Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But it also strives to do the same with Qatar and Turkey, and to restore ties with Iran and Hezbollah, and perhaps the Syrian regime at a later date.

Officially, Hamas says it wants to maintain advanced relations with all Arabs in the region, as well as other countries, so long that it serves the best interest of the Palestinian cause.

Many Hamas officials, including Hamas Leader Khaled Meshaal, confirmed that this goes beyond playing along politics axes.

Hamas-affiliated writer and political analyst Ibrahim Madhoun said the movement will partially succeed in its endeavors.

“There are countries and people who understand the positions of the movement and there are other countries that are conservative, but this will not push Hamas to take a hostile stance or to back down,” said Madhoun.

“The movement will try to knock on these doors, and open areas with everyone in one way or another, especially central countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt, as they stand to be the real supporter of the Palestinian cause,” he added.

According to Madhoun, “Hamas’ response to Egyptian efforts was not at the expense of Turkey or Qatar or of any other party, and neither will contact with Tehran be at the expense of Riyadh or the Gulf.”

“I believe that talking to Russia does not mean antagonizing the United States, although the latter takes a negative attitude. There are efforts by Hamas to infiltrate the American wall itself.”

Contacts made by the head of Hamas’ political bureau in the last two days, made it clear that Hamas actually tried to communicate with all sides openly as if it were sending out a message in every direction in this regard.

GCC-British Seminar on Strategic Partnership

Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdul Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani during the seminar on the strategic partnership between GCC and UK

Riyadh– Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdul Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani confirmed that cooperation between Gulf countries and UK is not new, especially in security and defense.

Zayani pointed out that there are several plans that are being constantly updated to counter terrorism and fight Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.

The Sec-Gen stated that the cooperation is ongoing, which was reiterated during the summit held in Bahrain.

Zayani was speaking during the inauguration of a seminar on the strategic partnership between the GCC and the United Kingdom in the framework of efforts exerted by the Gulf and British sides to promote the outcomes of the GCC-British Summit which was held in Bahrain in December 2016.

The seminar was held at the Prince Saud al-Faisal Center for Conferences.

Zayani stressed that this forum aims at reviewing the achievements of GCC-British relations and cooperation. He added that during last year’s summit, Gulf countries and the UK agreed on forming a joint group to counter terrorism, secure borders, and enhance societies’ abilities to recover and stabilize.

They also agreed to increase joint military drills and training including maritime drills, border security, and establish stronger economic and trade relations.

The Sec-Gen reviewed the most important outcomes of the first summit between the GCC and the UK.

British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Simon Collis confirmed that UK-Gulf friendship goes back ages, adding that trade between London and Gulf countries reached 30 million pounds over the past year.

The ambassador said that his country is adamant on establishing new partnerships while maintaining their old relations, stating that these partnerships will help the UK face all the challenges, establish security and stability.

Collis said that British Prime Minister Theresa May was clear when she said: “Gulf security is our security and Gulf prosperity is our prosperity. ”

When asked by Asharq Al-Awsat about the free trade negotiations with Gulf countries, Collis reported that this issue hadn’t been established officially. He explained that foreign trade is part of the European Commission, and it is impossible to discuss this matter before Brexit negotiations are over.

The ambassador confirmed that the relations with Gulf countries are not competitive but rather complementary. He added that there is a possibility to discuss and negotiate the general idea of free trade and he doesn’t expect to face any difficulties especially that the Gulf is the most important market following Europe and North America.

Iranian FM to Visit Muscat, Doha

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif holds a press conference on September 1, 2015, at the residence of the Iranian ambassador in the Tunisian capital Tunis.

London- Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is to meet his Omani counterpart Yusuf bin Alawi in Muscat on Monday before heading to Qatar, at a time when Tehran is facing US accusations regarding its regional attitude.

Zarif will hold discussions with Alawi on regional developments such as in Iraq, Syria and Yemen in addition to Gulf topics. After Muscat, Zarif is expected to head to Doha. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi stated that Zarif will also meet high-rank officials in the two countries.

His visit comes one week after Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani accused the boycott countries of offering Iran a gift, saying that their procedures are pushing Doha towards Tehran.

As for the nuclear deal, its future is still uncertain. AFP quoted the Qatari minister as saying that the region is in need of a country that has nuclear weapons. “The agreement is good but we need a better solution,” he added.

This is the first foreign visit to Zarif after his return from New York.

Furthermore, foreign ministers of Iran and Oman will discuss possible ways of cooperation in fields of energy and gas transportation to Oman and India. FM of Iran, Oman and India met one week ago on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York where they discussed cooperation in the energy field.

Bin Alawi visited Tehran mid of July and held talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the foreign minister, following Rouhani’s visit to Oman and Kuwait earlier in an attempt to reform ties with Gulf states.

British Government Spokesman: Houthis are not Cooperating, We don’t Support Kurdistan’s Referendum

Dubai – British Government’s spokesman in the Middle East and North Africa, Edwin Samuel, said his country was targeted by organizations such as ISIS, but that would not deter the British people from promoting a pluralistic and diverse lifestyle to overcome terrorism.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Samuel said: “The British government is strongly facing the extremist ideology, by supporting voices of moderation, especially in our religious communities and civil society, as well as obstructing extremists and chasing advocates of radicalism, and by seeking to build more cohesive societies.”

“We need to propose a way of life that respects tradition and religion, but also offers an opportunity so that young people are not exploited by a false doctrine. We can learn a lot about this from our allies, especially Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Asked about provocative speeches that are made under the concept of freedom of opinion, especially in Europe, Samuel said that his country was closely monitoring those who “spread the ideas of violent extremism.”

“If they break the law, they are prosecuted. If they don’t, we campaign against them openly and challenge their ideas,” he noted.

Samuel went on to say: “As Prime Minister Theresa May said, the defeat of extremist ideology is one of the greatest challenges of our time, but it cannot be defeated by military intervention alone, or by defensive operations to combat terrorism.”

In this regard, he stressed the importance of turning people’s minds away from violence and “make them understand that our values, the values of British pluralism, are superior to anything advocated by the promoters of hate and their supporters.”

The British government’s spokesman also touched on the situation in the region and the crisis between the Gulf States and Qatar, voicing UK’s concern over the ongoing rift between Doha and its neighbors.

“The United Kingdom is very concerned about the ongoing tensions in the Gulf because the GCC is our strategic partner, and we are in constant contact with our Gulf friends to encourage de-escalation, and we strongly support the Kuwaiti mediation efforts,” Samuel stated.

As for the UK position on Yemen, the British official reiterated the Kingdom’s support to the Saudi-led military intervention in the country, noting that Houthi rebels have failed so far to show goodwill and to cooperate effectively to reach a solution to the crisis.

“Houthis are not cooperating in the way they negotiate and they need to understand that the restoration of the legitimate government in Yemen is inevitable… They need to show goodwill by negotiating in good faith,” the British official said.

He stressed that the United Kingdom’s main concern was to stop the cholera epidemic and to get aid to the Yemenis.

“There is no military solution. Yemen has always suffered from a developmental and humanitarian problem; if we fix the fundamental problem, those, who might want to create problems from outside like Iran, will not find fertile ground,” Samuel said.

Underlining the British support to the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, the official said that his country was assuming a leading role in diplomatic efforts, including bringing together key international actors in an attempt to find a peaceful solution.

“The United Kingdom also plays a key role in humanitarian response as the third largest humanitarian donor to Yemen (after the United States and the European Union),” he added.

On Syria, Samuel said the situation there would remain complicated in the absence of a political solution.

“From the beginning, we were saying: The Syrian crisis needs a political solution that leads to a comprehensive transitional government that encompasses all the Syrians, excluding all those involved in shedding Syrian blood,” he stated.

“I lived in Syria when I studied Arabic in 2007 and 2008, and I knew it was a happy and varied life where all Syrians coexisted, regardless of their background. It is worse and more complicated now because of multilateral actors and the interference of foreigners, including Iran, Russia, and foreign extremists,” Samuel recounted.

“[President Bashar] Assad must leave,” he stressed, “and the Russians must help manage the transition away from Assad. We need to defeat ISIS to move to a national unity government.”

Asked about UK’s stance towards the independence referendum in Kurdistan, which is to be held on Monday, the British government’s spokesman said: “Britain’s position is clear. We do not support the aspirations of the Kurdistan Regional Government to hold a referendum on September 25; the referendum threatens to increase instability in the region at a time when the focus should be on defeating ISIS.”

He noted in this regard that the United Kingdom has proposed the resumption of a new round of talks between the governments in Baghdad and Erbil, which would address all points of disagreements between the two sides.

He also said that such talks should be held without preconditions with the support of the international community.

Qatar Flooded Banks with $8 Billion to Offset Outflows

Qatar

London- Qatar pumped 29.1 billion riyals ($8 billion) into its banking system in August to cushion it from withdrawals by financial institutions from neighboring Arab states due to the Gulf’s diplomatic crisis, central bank data showed.

The current crisis, triggered by the political and economic boycott of Qatar by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, had already led to government deposit injections of $6.9 billion in July and $10.9 billion in June.

Total deposits at Qatari banks rose to 793.6 billion riyals in August compared to 772.5 billion riyals in July as public sector deposits climbed to 302.6 billion riyals, up from 273.5 billion riyals in July, the data showed on Tuesday.

That represents additional inflows of 29.1 billion riyals from Qatar’s public sector in August from a month earlier. The data did not indicate which public sector entities had deposited these funds at Qatar-based banks.

Foreign customers deposits at banks in Qatar – mostly in hard currency – fell to 148.97 billion riyals in August from 157.2 billion riyals in July.

Reuters had reported that Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), had deposited fresh funds in its banks as Gulf investors withdrew deposits from Qatari banks and pulled funds out of Doha’s stock market.

Qatar’s central bank chief said in July the country had $340 billion in reserves that could help it to overcome the blockade consequences.

Former US Diplomat Says Yemen’s Ousted President Lost His Legitimacy before International Community

Yemen

Washington- A former US diplomat in Yemen confirmed that the Gulf initiative presented at the beginning of the outbreak of the crisis in Yemen stands as the only way out of the current three-year crisis. He stressed that the international community should push this solution and join forces to save the Yemeni people.

Ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has completely lost his legitimacy among the international community and has no interest in Saudi Arabia and its allies at all, former US ambassador to Yemen Gerald M. Feierstein said at a symposium by the Carnegie Center for Research and Research in Washington.

He pointed out that the Gulf initiative and the efforts of the United Nations being carried out by its envoy Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed is a vital lifeline for what is happening in Yemen.

“Without these efforts and initiative will not resolve the Yemeni crisis and the political transition that is supposed to be done will be delayed,” he added.

“The humanitarian issue in Yemen is of great concern to the international community, and the Yemeni parties to exploit this sympathy as Houthi contribute to the blocking of delivery of food aid to those in need through ports they control.”

The former ambassador stressed that the international community has the responsibility to pressure Iran-backed Houthi militias to cooperate with humanitarian efforts and assistance, facilitate the government’s procedures to return to Sana’a, and the work of the Central Bank for the development of the economy and development of the country.

The Challenge: Who Guarantees Qatar?

The problem of the four Arab states that decided to confront Qatar is not represented in obliging Doha to meet their 13 demands, but, it’s in Qatar’s credibility and guaranteeing what it says, signs and pledges.

We do not know of a single agreement that Qatar signed and complied with. Even with the mediation of someone as significant and influential as the US president, it will be no surprise if Qatar later violates what it pledges in ending its interferences in its neighbors’ affairs and its support of extremist and armed groups.

Doha’s policy is based on violating pledges and moving around them — it thinks this is a smart move to evade pressures and direct confrontations. An example of that is what happened in 2013 when it went to Riyadh and signed an agreement with guarantees from the mediator at the time, Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

Qatar only wanted to calm the anger of Saudi King Abdullah, may he rest in peace, after complaints over its interferences. Doha signed the agreement and made pledges but few months later, Saudi authorities found out that Qatar has not stopped supporting the groups that target it and has not ended domestic incitement against it.

After evidence was put forward to the Qatari negotiators, the latter claimed that the agreement did not include these details and things then worsened. Kuwait’s emir mediated with Qatar’s emir who reiterated his stance in the presence of Gulf leaders in November 2014.

According to the secret document leaked by CNN, Qatar’s emir pledged not to support the opposition in Gulf countries, not to shelter the opposition or grant its members Qatari nationalities and to stop funding armed terrorist groups in Syria and Yemen, i.e. ISIS and Nusra Front, because they target Gulf countries as well.

Qatar also pledged to keep Muslim Brotherhood members away from Qatar, close training institutions, known as the Academy of Change which trains youths from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries on opposition work, and stop its channel Al-Jazeera from inciting against Gulf countries.

Qatar did not respect part of its pledges but it did prevent Al Jazeera channel from targeting Gulf countries and it did in fact silence the opposition on the channel; however, this was a deceitful move as it established and funded alternative media platforms for the opposition.

Qatar did not only deceive Gulf countries — it previously pledged to the US government and Israel to stop supporting Hamas officials but it continued to fund them outside Qatar. As for Bahrain, Qatar was used to lying about its role there in supporting the opposition despite the multiple evidence against it.

Do not be fooled by these stances which may seem dogmatic or political since Qatar used its guests when it needed to. Three months ago, it handed Saudi Arabia one of the opposition figures in an attempt to calm the situation.

Before that, it handed Russia the murderers of the Chechen leader who was an asylum seeker and who was assassinated in Doha’s streets. Doha was afraid after the murderers were tried and it quickly released them and sent them to Moscow.

Although Doha is committed to supporting fascist, national and Islamic groups, Qatar itself is a regime that does not have any morals or principles or an ideology. It uses other groups to strengthen its political value in the region – a value resulting from its greatness illusion.

How can one trust a regime that harbors all these contradictions? It hosts an American base, the Muslim Brotherhood, extremist Salafist groups, an Israeli office and leaders of extremist Iraqi and Palestinian groups. It uses its official media outlets to call for jihad against the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and at the same time, US jets fly from its territories to fight those meeting the calls of jihad.

It’s normal for a regime that harbors these contradictions to adopt deceit as a policy and sign pledges and then violate them. It’s also normal for no one to trust it. This is the upcoming challenge as how can we guarantee what Doha’s authorities pledge, especially that immediately following US President Donald Trump’s mediation, it began to distort facts related to the negotiations over an agreement?

GCC and Qatar’s Withdrawal

Brotherhood

This time former Iranian Ambassador to Qatar Abdullah Sehrabi spoke on behalf of the Qatari government, saying Qatar’s emir is willing to withdraw from the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Iranian official didn’t express a point of view or make an analysis but he conveyed a specific information.

While the Iranian information goes in tandem with the fierce attack of the Qatari media on the GCC, it seems that Doha wishes to add the council to its rivals’ list in the region or to – at least – sabotage this successful experience.

It is illogical to deny that the council is going through a real crisis as a result of a founding member’s decision to distance itself from the main purposes for which the council was established in Abu Dhabi on May 25, 1981.

However, the regime in Doha missed the fact that the GCC is stronger than any failure. Doha can withdraw or suspend its membership – it can replace Turkey and Iran with its interests in the council – but it can’t prevent other states from implementing its successful project. Neither the region nor the world are in a condition that would tolerate the collapse of a rare and successful experience in the Arab world.

It should be recalled that the council throughout history – almost four decades – has gone through dangerous political crises, mainly the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, then the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

Fortunately, these two dangerous crises occurred before the coup led by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa against his father. That’s why the council managed to confront them in as much solidarity as possible. Had Hamad bin Khalifa been the emir at the time, then, the council’s internal crisis would have been much worse than the external one.

It is normal that during Qatar’s current crisis, Doha would use any means to exploit the council’s unity to help itself out of the crisis. If we consider the keenness expressed by several capitals, including Washington, Paris, London and Berlin, on GCC’s continuity, then Doha’s opportunism won’t be surprising since this is part of its strategy.

Actually, it would be a surprise if Qatar acted otherwise and distanced the council from the current crisis although Doha is the one that has struck the mortal blow due to the announced and discreet violations of its authorities during the past years in the aim of causing rifts internally, inciting the violation of state sovereignty and hosting terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to destabalize the region.

All eyes are on the GCC annual summit to be hosted by Kuwait in December. In my opinion, if the crisis continues along with Qatar’s intransigence then it is better to postpone it. This way the continuity of the council would be preserved.

The council will be stronger when Qatar returns to be a Gulf country of equal rights and duties.

If Doha is hinting on withdrawing from the council then this is its decision. But the decision of the council’s continuity isn’t linked to it. The dispute with Qatar didn’t and won’t affect the Gulf countries’ interests and their moving forward whether with or without Qatar.

Moscow Suggests ‘Supporting’ Kuwaiti Mediation

Kuwait, Moscow- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed on Monday his country’s readiness to play a “supportive role” in the mediation efforts played by Kuwait to solve the crisis between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt from one side, and Qatar from another.

Following talks with Kuwaiti Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah at the Seif Palace on Monday, in addition to a meeting held with Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Lavrov said that the Kuwaiti mediation efforts to end the ongoing rift between Qatar and several Arab countries “deserves to be supported.”

According to Russia’s official news agency TASS, Lavrov said: “We strongly believe that Kuwait’s initiative deserves the support of all those who can generate a positive impact on this situation. We are ready to provide this support in any mode that will be acceptable to all participants in this situation.”

The Russian minister also said Moscow “has good relations with all the countries which found themselves in such a difficult situation.”

According to Kuwait’s news agency KUNA, Lavrov’s visit on Monday came to follow-up on the implementation of the agreement reached between Kuwait’s Amir and Russian President Vladimir Putin to strengthen bilateral relations and coordinate positions on issues of mutual interest.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings cut Qatar’s sovereign rating to AA-, with a negative outlook.

The New York-based firm said in a statement Monday that it has “downgraded Qatar’s Long-Term Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) to ‘AA-‘ from ‘AA’ and removed them from Rating Watch Negative (RWN) where they were placed on 12 June 2017.”

Fitch Ratings also expected that the Qatari government’s net foreign assets would fall to 146 percent of gross domestic product in 2017 from 185 percent last year, adding that “at the same time, the full financial and economic impact of the embargo is uncertain and could prove to be larger than we currently expect.

Qatari-Iranian Alliance, a Stark Proof Supporting Boycott Allegations

Qatar

Qatari-Iranian cooperation by no means surfaced as a surprise to Gulf observers. The alliance stood as proof to the claims made by the bloc of four countries boycotting Qatar for its hostile behavior and actions.
It is stark proof that Qatar, like Iran, is a source of chaos and violence. The renewed alliance is at best described as the meeting of the two main violence-funding poles in the region.
On one hand, Iran is the main supporter of ultra-hardline militant groups such as Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, the Fatimids, and others. While on the other, Qatar, for nearly three decades, sponsored extremist militant organizations such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, Nusra Front, Ansar al-Sharia, and others.

The only common denominator bringing Qatar and Iran together is regional security and political cooperation.
Qatar is not an important trading partner of Iran, and there is no Shiite figure in Qatar to facilitate their visits to the holy sites. There is no cultural or popular consensus that can justify political rapprochement.
Doha saying that the economic boycott by its angry Gulf neighbors forced it into rebooting ties with Tehran is simply not true. The peninsula’s consumer market is relatively the smallest in the region, meaning that Qatar’s demands can easily be met.

Any potential Qatari-Iranian trade is based on one factor– forming a hostile front against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.
Adopting such an approach suggests that Qatar has fallen back to its pre-2010 policies. Qatar was an ally of Iran, a key supporter of Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad and Lebanon’s “Hezbollah. “
This alliance was then directed against the Saudi-Egyptian alliance. The relationship between Doha and Tehran lasted for over a decade, was anti-Saudi, with the two governments fiercely supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.

Signs of change and the advance of cooperation preceded visits carried out by Qatari officials to the Iranian capital recently. Al Jazeera, Doha’s state-funded media mouthpiece, started employing altered rhetoric from what the Qatari government was using.
It covered the Iran-backed Houthis militias, defended pro-Iranian armed groups in the Saudi town of Awamiyah, and changed its viewpoint about its coverage of the uprising in Syria.

Qatar refused to agree to several terms set by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, describing the blockade and demands made by the quartet a blunt and loud transgression against its sovereignty– but it is now making itself liable to Iranians and their allies.
Why? Not for military protection, as it is the case with Turkey, but the cooperation with Tehran is a conscious effort to take a hostile, offensive step in the region. In return, the Iranian cleric-led regime expects Qatar to pump funds and propaganda support to Iranian proxies spread across the region in order to amp pressure against its adversaries.

This all emphasizes what everyone knows already, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, the retiring prince, is still the one who first-handedly deals with the crisis in Qatar, not his son Tamim, the current emir.
Unfortunately for Doha, no matter who holds the reigns today, US policy under the leadership of Donald Trump, the main international player in the region, changed from what it was during former president Barack Obama. Trump’s administration is fighting Iran rather than appeasing it.

Doha’s cooperation with the Iranian regime is a nonsensical step and presents proof the Arab quartet can use in discussions with international governments. It is further evidence of the hostile nature of the Qatari administration and its ties to extremism and violence. It will be difficult to justify Doha’s decision to a large part of the Arab public which despises the mullahs in Tehran because of their actions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.