This section serves as a list of brief and important updates related to the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Content is collected via open sources, cross-checked and subsequently re-shared here. All content is handpicked by the EastMed & MidEast Observatory Team.

1Istanbul explosion: A blame game revisited (14 Nov. 2022)
Following an explosion in Istanbul's Istiklal street on Sunday 13 November 2022, Turkey's vice president Fuat Oktay described the explosion as a "terrorist attack" that was likely carried out by a woman. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu reported at Turkey's state Anadolu News Agency that the suspect was arrested.

"According to our findings, the PKK terrorist organisation is responsible," the minister added added, referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and by extension its Syrian branch the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also claimed this was likely a terrorist attack.

Ankara's claim that Kurdish militants were behind Sunday's attack come amid a decadeslong conflict between Turkish forces and the leftist PKK.

In recent years the conflict has spread into Kurdish held regions of northern Syria parts of which were invaded and occupied by Turkey. Ankara has also repeatedly banned pro-Kurdish political parties and has imprisoned key Kurdish political figures.

Soylu also laid blame on the US, comparing a message of condolence from the White House to a "killer being first to show up at a crime scene." This is in response to growing tensions between Turkey and the United States amidst geopolitical tensions.

The timing of the explosions is also impeccable, given the upcoming general elections in Turkey. Depending on how this crisis will be utilised, President Erdogan has much to gain and lose in terms of popularity, which has plummeted in recent years due to unfavourable economic and financial hardships across the country.


2Syria: Humanitarian disaster and a proxy playground (10 Nov. 2022)
Proxy activity in Syria has increased over the last few weeks. On 9 November 2022, an air attack destroyed a pro-Iran convoy near the Syrian border to Iraq. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for human rights reported that the convoy contained “fuel tankers and trucks loaded with weapons”, travelling from Iran all the way to Lebanon.

Iranian state television claimed that the US was responsible for the attack, yet the US military denied any involvement in any attack or air raid in Syria or anywhere near the Syrian border.

While Iran fights a pro-Assad war in Syria, backed by Russian support, the opposite has happened more recently. Iran has supported military Russia in recent weeks, providing strategic weapons and drones to be used in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Iranian and Russian defence relations have grown closer, given their direct and indirect exchanges and support in Syria and Ukraine respectively.

In Russia's case, Russia has also been able to hold considerable influence over areas it has emerged victorious in. Whether the same effect is to be expected for Iran in Ukraine remains to be seen.

Both the Iranian and Russian state have conflict views as to what their endgame in their wars is, but for now, their collaboration stands strong.


3Israeli elections: Netanyahu's comeback (4 Nov. 2022)
Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party and his right-wing allies make a comeback by winning a decisive majority in Israel's election. Left-wing party Meretz was just a few thousand votes short of making it into the next Knesset, ending a three-decade-long era of political representation.

Likud won 32 seats, while outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid is the second-largest party with 24 seats, followed by the far-right Religious Zionism – headed by Bezalel Smotrich and Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir – which earned 14 seats.

For the past five years (2019-2022), Israel held three general elections amidst political uncertainty. This time round, nonetheless, voters turnout exceeded 70%, which exceeded by far other previous elections' turnouts since 2015.

These elections also highlight the Left's and the Centre's inability to compromise with former PM Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid Party, which is more liberal at the core of its identity and is now the second-largest party at the Knesset.

Despite initial opposition from Likud and Netanyahu towards the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border demarcation agreement, Netanyahu is unlikely to change the official position and to abandon this agreement.

Similarly, in the absence of any serious disturbance (political or otherwise) or threat, it is also unlikely that the currently balanced and stable Israeli-Turkish relations will shift towards a different direction. This goes to show that Israeli foreign policy focuses more on structural frameworks that have steered the state towards a decisive path, instead of individual will and leadership alone.


4Lebanon's president steps down without replacement in sight (31 Oct. 2022)
On top of Lebanon's already exhausted and fragile political infrastructure due to years of financial hardships, political instability, and protests, Michel Aoun decided to quit, citing the disastrous impact of the financial crisis throughout the country.

The absence of a president creates a power vacuum that further jeopardises the Lebanese polity and organisational structure. This also inevitably creates a constitutional crisis.

Presidential candidates need to secure support from two-thirds of MPs in order to be elected. Lebanese legislators over the past year failed to agree on a new president four times. Under Lebanon’s consociational and sectarian political system, the presidency is always reserved for a Maronite Christian.

Lebanon sadly has a track record of political instability and failed governance, with similar issues observed when selecting its Prime Minister over the last two decades.

Such instability has also prevented a number of reforms from taking place. Reform could be a game change for Lebanese institutions, yet the economic meltdown of the last few years, the sectarian political system, and the 2020 Beirut explosion have prevented any substantial reform from taking place.


5Iran: EU sanctions perpetrators of serious human rights violations (26 Oct. 2022)
The Council today added eleven individuals and four entities to the list of those subject to restrictive measures in the context of the existing Iran human rights sanctions regime. This is in view of their role in the death of Mahsa Amini and the violent response to the recent demonstrations in Iran.

Today’s designations include those responsible for the death of Mahsa Amini: Iran’s Morality Police and two of its key figures Mohammad Rostami and Hajahmad Mirzaei. In addition, the EU designates the Iranian Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), as well as a number of its local chiefs for their role in the brutal repression of the protests. Moreover, the EU lists Issa Zarepour, the Iranian Minister of information and Communications Technology, for his responsibility in the internet shutdown.

The measures imposed today consist of a travel ban and an asset freeze. In addition, EU citizens and companies are forbidden from making funds available to the listed individuals and entities. The Iran human rights sanctions regime also includes a ban on exports to Iran of equipment which might be used for internal repression and of equipment for monitoring telecommunications.

The list now comprises a total of 97 individuals and 8 entities.

The European Union and its member states condemn the widespread and disproportionate use of force against peaceful protestors. This is unjustifiable and unacceptable. People in Iran, as anywhere else, have the right to peacefully protest and this right must be ensured in all circumstances.

The EU expects Iran to immediately stop the violent crackdown against peaceful protesters, to free those detained, and to ensure the free flow of information, including internet access. Furthermore, the EU expects Iran to clarify the number of deaths and arrested, and provide due process to all detainees. The killing of Mahsa Amini must be duly investigated and any proved responsible for her death must be held accountable.

Source: Council of the EU (Press release, 17 October 2022).
6Israel's Supreme Court paves the way for the immediate signing of an EEZ delimitation agreement with Lebanon (24 Oct. 2022)
Israel's Supreme Court today rejected appeals that could delay the implementation of a landmark US-brokered deal to demarcate the maritime border with Lebanon.

Four groups of critics of the deal, including an opposition lawmaker, asked the court to force the government - which is seeking a speedy conclusion to the process ahead of the 1st November election - to hold a vote in parliament on the matter.

The court's decision neutralises one of the last obstacles in Israel that could disrupt the implementation of the agreement.

Although the scope of the maritime border agreement is limited, it marks a major compromise between the two neighbors who have a history of conflict and hostility, paving the way for energy exploration and de-escalating a flashpoint of recent tensions.

The US described the agreement as "a historic development".

There have been some reactions in Israel regarding the government's handling of this issue.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his government's acceptance of the agreement was sufficient, while the opposition argues that the text of the agreement should be ratified by parliament, especially in the midst of an election period.

The agreement provides for the establishment of maritime boundaries between Lebanon and Israel for the first time, while it provides for the organisation of a mechanism for the two countries to receive permits from TotalEnergies for the exploitation of an offshore natural gas field, located on the maritime boundary line.

Source: Athenian-Macedonian News Agency

7Cyprus hosted the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum: Prospects for a regional energy security (15 Oct. 2022)
The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) was held in Nicosia, Cyprus on 14 October 2022. Minister of Energy, Commerce and Industry Natasa Pilides led the conversation as Forum President.

EMGF focused on the European Union’s efforts to distance itself from Russian gas due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Major gas discoveries in offshore areas in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant have brought renewed interest to stakeholders, particularly since the disruption of gas flows from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Should the EU wean itself clean off Russian gas, then all regional gas-producing countries and numerous key stakeholders may be affected, hence the discussion centred on the matter.

Participants included the EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, the Energy Ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Greece, as well as the Secretary General of the forum, Osama Mobarez. Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, France, Italy, Jordan, and Palestine all equally participate as members of the EMGF. The EU, the World Bank, and the United States also retained their observer status at the Forum.

The discussions during the forum focused on how the Eastern Mediterranean region can be utilised better for the EU's own energy security challenges in the long run.

Nonetheless, while funding from institutions like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank will be required, both the EBRD and the EIB declared that investments in oil and gas projects would be scrapped, in order to align with the EU's climate change goals.

Countries such as Egypt reacted to this specific position, arguing that the green transition can be run in parallel with regional investment in hydrocarbons, with the latter acting as a catalyst for building greener technologies.


8Political violence in Yemen decreases, fragile truce ends (13 Oct. 2022)
On 2 October 2022, the UN-brokered peace truce presented by Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg came to an end. Large-scale political violence as a result of the ongoing Yemeni civil war during this period had significantly decreased. This is evident in how the internationally recognised Yemeni government has ceased reporting on truce violations.

Smaller-scale clashes still persisted, indicating that the truce in place between the internationally recognised government led by Rashad al-Alimi and the Houthi movement is tentatively fragile. In fact, reported fatalities as a result of these clashes are higher in numbers since the truce was agreed on 2 April 2022.

ACLED's data reports on why fatalities have remained high throughout this period. Characteristically, there are four main factors contributing to these numbers:

  • The continued violence between Houthi and the internationally recognised government forces
  • Ongoing competition within the anti-Houthi camp
  • Resurgence in activity from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
  • Increase in tribal violence throughout Yemen.

Ongoing negotiations between the warring parties have seen the UN Security Council calling upon all actors involved to "refrain from provocation".

Nonetheless, the issue at hand is a failure to understand the in-depth dynamics in the abovementioned factors that might continue to fuel political violence in Yemen. This is rather significant to highlight, in case of a renewal of another fragile truce.