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Abraham Accords Continue to Stagnate

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Despite the Biden administration’s verbal support of the Abraham Accords, it is doing little on the ground to strengthen them. Several events since my last update signal that the region is drifting further and further away from the Abraham Accords.

US Misses Several Opportunities to Bolster Abraham Accords

The State Department missed several opportunities to bolster the Abraham Accords in the past month.

At the end of the Trump administration, many experts predicted that Saudi Arabia, Oman and Indonesia were the best prospects to join the Abraham Accords. But a recent State Department meeting with Indonesia focused on women, youth issues, and climate change, not the Accords. Recent State Department meetings with Saudi officials suggests that the Biden administration is more focused on pressuring Saudi Arabia on the peace process in Sudan and in Yemen, not with Israel and the Accords. The State Department also appears to have not recently raised the issue of hajj flights of Israeli-Arabs to Saudi Arabia, and Israel’s offer to allow such flights for the sake of normalization with the Kingdom awaits the Kingdom’s response. A State Department meeting with Omani officials suggests peace in Yemen is a top priority for US-Omani relations, while the Abraham Accords is not.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken failed to petition Kuwait to join the Abraham Accords, according to the readout from his recent meeting with Kuwait’s foreign minister. The Assistant Secretary of State also failed to mention the Abraham Accords in a recent visit to Iraq.

While Sudan is ensnared in a civil war, recent State Department meetings with Sudanese officials seemed to have not mentioned the Abraham Accords at all, according to press releases (see here, here and here). The Abraham Accords have stalled in Sudan prior to the civil war, while Israel has offered to mediate between the warring factions (Saudi Arabia has already taken on that role).

In a recent call with Jordan, the State Department focused on Syria, but not how Jordan could contribute to the Abraham Accords. This omission occurred in the midst of Israel arresting (and then releasing) one of Jordan’s MPs for allegedly smuggling in weapons into Judea and Samaria (commonly known as the “West Bank”).

Iran Continuing To Advance Militarily and Diplomatically

Iran continues to flex its military muscles in the region. Iran has reportedly been offering the Islamic Jihad $5 million for every day that it does not enter into a ceasefire with Israel and continues to launch missiles into the Jewish state. Iran is also encouraging Hamas to unite with Islamic Jihad for rocket attacks in Israel. This comes as many in the Palestinian Authority (PA) are expecting that Hamas is planning a coup against the PA in Judea and Samaria. To substantiate their fears of a coup, PA officials point to a Hamas preacher in Gaza recently calling for Palestinians to spy on PA security officials that are believed to be working with Israel.  It was also recently discovered that Iran used earthquake aid to Syria as a front to smuggle in weapons to Iranian-backed militias. Additionally, Iran recently seized two oil tankers within one week in the Persian Gulf.

On the diplomatic front, Iran is continuing to score wins and emerge from isolation. Iran’s president visited Syria, the first such visit since 2010. In Syria, the two countries signed an agreement encompassing oil, rail, free trade, and agriculture. Iran’s railway company wants to link to Lattakia, a port in Syria, and expand its footprint to Iraq and Syria. Iran’s foreign minister also visited Saudi Arabia, the first official visit since the two countries restored ties in a deal brokered by China. The foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Russia met in Moscow to discuss “cooperation in the fight against terrorism” as well as restoring Syrian sovereignty in the aftermath of the Syrian civil war. Iran has also had recent high level meetingswith Iraq, Lebanon, and Oman.

UAE Drifting (Again) to China

Meanwhile, the UAE, the strongest of the Arab Abraham Accord partners, has recently been wavering in its support for American interests. After being pressured by the United States to halt building a military base near Abu Dhabi in cooperation with China, the UAE has once again resumed construction of that base. This base is reportedly one of many that China is planning to expand its military footprint worldwide. While briefings on UAE-China ties are classified, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who has access to those briefings, has expressed concerns about repercussions of having CCP installations so close to US assets. Not only does the US has an air force base near Abu Dhabi, but Huawei has tried to sell 5G technology to the UAE. According to Krishnamoorthi, “Alarm bells go off because we know that Huawei infrastructure gives the CCP a back door into accessing important data about users on the network. It gives them a surveillance capability that they don’t necessarily have with Nokia or Ericsson infrastructure.”

Perhaps more alarming is that China and the UAE have recently signed a deal in nuclear energy cooperation. And in another show of growing UAE-China ties, China paid for 65,000 tons of liquified natural gas (LNG) from the UAE in yuan. This marks the first time an energy deal was paid in yuan.

With the UAE drifting more to China, a resurgent Iran, and missed opportunities, the Abraham Accords are facing significant setbacks. The Biden administration must work to broker deals with Saudi Arabia, Oman, Indonesia and others to join the Accords, or risk the Middle East drifting more into Chinese, Iranian, and Russian hands.

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Israel

U.S., Israeli officials fear most hostages taken by Hamas on Oct 7 are dead

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A Wall Street Journal report states that U.S. and Israeli officials fear that most of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas since October 7 are dead, despite talks to secure a hostage release deal and a temporary truce occurring in Cairo.

While the IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of the 129 remaining hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza, the report said that “Israeli and American officials estimate privately that the number of deaths could be much higher.”

US officials quoted in the report said some hostages may have been killed by Israeli strikes on Gaza amid the ongoing war, while others had died of health issues, including injuries suffered during their abduction.

Some US estimates indicate that most of the hostages are already dead, American officials familiar with the intelligence told the paper, while stressing that US information on the hostages is limited and depends in part on Israeli intel.

Officials believe hostages who are still alive are being used as human shields surrounding the group’s leadership, hidden deep in Gaza tunnels, the report said.

Hamas has indicated recently that it is unable to provide 40 living hostages in the category set for initial release under a potential hostage deal — women, children, the elderly, or those requiring medical attention.

The release of other hostages including adult men and captured soldiers is under a separate category, reports the Times of Israel which has gathered the following press reports:

According to Kan news, Israel has insisted that 40 living hostages must be freed under any first phase, and that Hamas must make up for any shortage in one category with individuals from another.

According to Channel 12 news, Mossad chief David Barnea, Israel’s top official involved the negotiations, told cabinet ministers on Wednesday that freeing all 133 captives and remains held in Gaza in a single truce agreement would be impossible, and that at best 40 people could be freed in a first phase.

Of the 253 hostages kidnapped during Hamas’s October 7 attacks, in which terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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