Talos Regional Snapshot – 13 August 2022

Aug 12, 2022



Iran nuclear negotiations conclude with final text
The negotiations to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or Iran nuclear deal), concluded in Vienna on 8 August, with representatives from Iran and the US returning to their respective capitals for further consultations. According to senior EU representatives, a final text was put forward at the conclusion of the latest meetings, which will be now decided upon by each government. In a statement on Twitter, EU Foreign Policy High Representative Joseph Borrell intimated there is little room for further negotiations: “What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text.” “However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals” the statement added.

US announces extension of sanctions waiver 
In a separate but potentially related development, the Biden administration notified Congress that it renewed a sanctions waiver pertaining to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. The waiver was set to expire next month and allows foreign companies to participate in “projects related to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear safety”, according to a State Department Spokesperson. The administration emphasized however that the extension is not tied to the current JCPOA negotiations, however, the timing of the announcement may be intended to facilitate the agreement.

Launch of Iranian satellite in Russia fuels concerns
On 10 August, Russia announced the successful launch of an Iranian satellite – the Khayyam – from a launch facility in Kazakhstan operated by the Russian government. The Iranian government says the satellite will be used for environmental monitoring purposes to improve productivity in the agricultural sector, water resource management and to confront deforestation. However, the US and other officials expressed concerns that the satellite will be used by the Russian and Iranian governments for intelligence purposes, including monitoring troop movements in Ukraine. A related concern is that the satellite will greatly enhance Iran’s intelligence gathering capabilities and facilitate the monitoring of regional adversaries, including Israel. Regardless, the launch further underscores enhanced levels of cooperation between Russia and Iran.


Increase in Turkish airstrike activity in northern Syria
An increase in Turkish airstrikes and artillery activity was observed this week in the Hasakah province, with multiple operations targeting positions and sites manned by the Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) between 7 and 10 August. According to reliable closed sources, artillery strikes on 7 August also targeted locations near positions typically manned by coalition forces, in a sign of increased Turkish assertiveness. The uptick is set to fuel concerns about the much discussed and anticipated Turkish military operation in northern Syria and follows a meeting between President Erdogan and President Putin days earlier (see below).


Putin and Ergodan discuss economic cooperation
In a meeting largely focused on economic cooperation and implementation of the grain export agreement reached between Russia and Ukraine in July, President Erdogan failed to obtain Russia’s approval for a military operation in northern Syria. Instead, Putin emphasized mutual commitment to “normalization”, days after a Kremlin spokesperson warned against action that will jeopardize Syria’s territorial integrity. Regardless, signs of deepening Russia-Turkey cooperation were underscored by Turkey’s pledge to pay for parts of Russia’s gas exports in rubles and to speed up the adoption of a Russian payment system that circumvents international sanctions. The two sides also emphasized intent to strengthen diplomatic cooperation in the wake of the grain export agreement.


Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire holds after three-day violence
A total of 48 people were reportedly killed in connection with a sudden increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence between 5 and 7 August. The latest exchange commenced when Israeli security forces conducted a series of arrest operations targeting sites and members affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza strip.  Airstrikes were then conducted against various sites in response to threats issued by the group on 5 August, prompting a series of retaliatory rocket attacks over the next days, with more than a thousand projectiles reportedly fired from within the Gaza strip. On 7 August, a ceasefire brokered by Egypt was announced and successfully put a halt to the fighting.  Of note, Hamas was not involved in the latest fighting.

Hezbollah reiterated threats against Israel
On 9 August, the leader of Lebanese Hezbollah issued a threatening statement against Israel over a long-standing maritime border dispute, warning to “cut off any arm” that reaches out to steal Lebanon’s wealth. The remarks follow an intensification in US-led efforts to resolve the dispute which escalated earlier this summer in connection with Israeli plans to conduct offshore gas reserves in the Karish gas field, located in a disputed area of the Mediterranean Sea. In July, at least three UAVs launched from Lebanon were intercepted in the vicinity of the field, in an assessed attempt to sabotage negotiations between the Lebanese and Israeli governments which, according to US officials, have shown signs of progress in recent weeks.


Green Zone protest continues as Sadr calls for dissolution of parliament
Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr continued a sit-in protest inside the Green Zone this week, with supporters remaining in the vicinity of the Parliament building. The numbers have declined, yet a large-scale prayer session was organized on 5 August inside the zone, with another gathering planned for 12 August. In several statements issued during the week, al-Sadr reiterated calls for a dissolution of parliament and for early elections to be held, and notably urged the Supreme Court to act on the matter before the “end of the week”.

Maliki rejects call for early elections without parliament’s consent
The Iran-aligned Coordination Framework (CF) continues to reject Sadr’s demands, and this week former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki explicitly dismissed calls for early elections without parliament’s consent. Like other CF-leaders, Maliki reiterated the need for solutions implemented in accordance with the constitution. Supporters of the alliance are scheduled to hold another demonstration near the Green Zone on the afternoon of 12 August, setting conditions for another increase in tensions.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia opens airspace to more flights to Israel
According to international media reports, at least two more commercial airlines are now allowed to use Saudi airspace when operating flights to and from Israel. According to open-source flight data, both Cathay Pacific and Air Seychelles operated flights this week to Tel Aviv while crossing Saudi Arabia, in a sign that Saudi authorities are expanding access to Israeli-bound flights. The lifting of restrictions on Israeli flights was announced during President Joe Biden’s visit in July and is viewed as a small but significant step toward normalization in Israeli-Saudi relations.

Aramco and Sinopec strike agreement
In a sign of enhanced cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China, the state-owned oil company Aramco signed an agreement with Sinopec on 3 August, with both sides committing to expand cooperation in various fields, including carbon capture and hydrogen development. The two companies are also exploring plans for constructing a manufacturing hub in eastern Saudi Arabia. The timing of the agreement is noteworthy in light of the recently unsuccessful US efforts to incentivize Saudi cooperation to reduce oil prices and reduce Riyadh’s strategic ties with Russia and China.

United Arab Emirates

UAE affirms support for “one-China” policy 
In a statement coinciding with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed support for Beijing’s “One China policy” and expressed concerns about the impact of the visit on “stability and international peace.” The statement further affirmed Abu Dhabi’s support for China’s “territorial” integrity and sovereignty. The diplomatic show of support is the latest indication of the growing ties between the two countries, and a noteworthy sign of strategic disagreements with the US.


Egyptian and Qatari leaders hold talks
On 10 August, Qatari Emir Tamim bin al-Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi spoke on the phone to discuss the latest regional developments, including the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Both sides have traditionally played a significant mediating role given Egypt’s ties with Israel, and Qatar’s relationship with Hamas. The two sides also discussed ways to enhance bilateral relations which were severed in connection with the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar between 2017 and 2021. Egypt’s relations with Qatar have since improved, but at a slower rate than other Gulf states who participated in the blockade.


Saudi-backed government calls on Houthi Movement to comply with truce commitment
The Saudi-backed Yemeni government accused the Houthi Movement this week of failing to commit to the reopening of roads around Taiz province – a key provision of the truce agreement extended by both sides earlier this month. Speaking about the current situation, Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak expressed support for “any move” that will lead to a lasting ceasefire agreement, but said the main issue is that the “terms have not been abided by.” For their part, the Houthi Movement accused the Saudi-backed government of preventing adequate fuel shipments to arrive at the Port of Hodeidah, which is another key part of the agreement.

Reports of truce violations continue
Meanwhile, limited reports of truce violations continued to be reported across the country. This includes reports of artillery and rocket strikes along the frontlines near Taiz, Marib, and al-Bayda, however, the scope and attribution of these operations remain subject to conflicting accounts. For their part, the Houthi Movement also accuse the Saudi-led coalition of conducting air reconnaissance operations in violation of the truce. That said, an overall reduction in hostilities continues to be observed and no large-scale operations have been recorded by either side.

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