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Crisis in Ukraine: the Middle East connections

Also: Oman's foreign minister says dialogue is essential in dealing with Iran, Yemen and Syria; keeps focus on two-state solution. 
Turkey Ukraine

How Ukraine Crisis Touches Turkey, Syria, Israel

Turkey: Erdogan seeks to capitalize on relationships

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will travel to Ukraine on Feb. 3, enjoying the spotlight, and seeking to leverage his relationship with both his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts as a potential mediator to the current crisis.

Amberin Zaman, reporting from Vinnytsia, Ukraine, writes, “Turkey, not America, is commonly cited as the country that boosts Ukraine’s flagging spirits the most and whose actions show that it isn’t afraid of Russia.”

In addition to the drone sales, “Turkey’s unstinting diplomatic support for Ukraine over Crimea is seen as vital,” explains Zaman. “Turkic Muslim Tatars were a majority until Stalin forced them out and millions of them resettled in Turkey. Ankara calls Russia’s annexation of Crimea an illegal occupation. Turkey is also a vocal backer of Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, which Putin appears willing to risk a war to stop.”

“Erdogan’s offer to mediate between Russia and Ukraine could be seen as a laudable peace effort or grandstanding,” writes Fehim Tastekin, “but the growing spectre of war is a cause for real alarm for Turkey, a country among the first in line to feel the fallout of a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.”

“Putin’s capacity to bloody Turkey’s nose when he deems it in Russia’s interests is not in doubt,” adds Zaman.

Syria: Russian escalation connects Ukraine, Syrian theatres

A recent Russian-Syrian joint air patrol may not only have a been a signal in response to Israeli airstrikes on Syria, writes Anton Mardosov: “Amid tensions over Ukraine, Moscow is sending a signal to NATO that their military capabilities include the Middle East.”

Russia’s military intervention in the Syria war changed the Russian military, especially its use of air power, the Washington Post reported this week.

“Moscow deliberately rotated as many forces as possible through Syria, at times on extremely short deployments,” the Post writes “According to the Kremlin, all Russian ground troop commanders now have combat experience, as do 92 percent of military pilots.”

In coming weeks, if the current trend continues, “the Kremlin will concentrate an unprecedentedly large force in the Mediterranean Sea,” writes Mardosov.

Israel: ready to receive Jewish immigrants fleeing Ukraine

“On the backdrop of growing tensions and speculation over an imminent Russian invasion,” writes Rina Bassist, “Cabinet ministries in Jerusalem prepare for the possibility that thousands of Ukrainian Jews would want to immigrate to Israel.”

There are reportedly between 48,000 and 75,000 Ukrainian Jews.

Ukraine, which has good relations with Israel, “had even asked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to speak on its behalf to Russia,” adds Bassist. “Reports a few days ago revealed that when Bennett was preparing for his Sochi meeting last October, Kyiv reached out to Jerusalem and asked if it could assist in mediation with Moscow. Apparently, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin rejected this proposal and nothing came of it.”

Oman FM: Engagement over isolation key to success in Syria, Yemen

Oman Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi, in an exclusive podcast interview with Al-Monitor, says that dialogue underpins Oman’s approach to regional issues, maintaining friendly ties with all key parties, and that inclusive diplomacy is key to solving the region’s conflicts and crises.

Five takeaways from our interview this week:

  • Vision 2040: key to diplomacy

Oman’s foreign policy is linked to its Vision 2040, which “aims at fully realizing economic and social realities, objectively foresight the future, and effectively guide planning in the upcoming two decades,” by promoting a stable environment for economic growth; fostering an outward-looking approach to find the right partners; and developing structures for joint international collaborations.

  • Iran: Good intentions in Vienna

Albusaidi says he is optimistic and confident in the “integrity and good intentions” of all parties at the Vienna talks, and that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is critical for international and regional peace and security.

  • Yemen: Houthis have a role 

Albusaidi said that Yemen needs an immediate ceasefire and an ultimately Yemeni political solution involving the Houthis, who “need to be engaged." Isolating or designating them as a terrorist group, he said, could undermine diplomacy.

“Iran’s support for the Houthis is real, but perhaps overstated,” he said.

Referring to the recent Houthi attacks on civilians in the UAE, Albusaidi said that Oman stands with the US, UN and Oman’s neighbors in condemning the escalation, calling for immediate de-escalation and a ceasefire.

  • Abraham Accords: Palestine first

Albusaidi said that Oman will be “among the first to offer its active support” for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, referring to the “unresolved issue of Palestine” as the “most serious division and source of tension in the region.”

The foreign minister explained that dealing with Israel is “nothing new” for Oman, citing the Sultanate’s support for the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, and Oman’s opening a trade office in Israel after the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993.

  • Syria: time for a reset

Albusaidi said that Syria is a “crucial player” in regional and Arab politics, and that “bringing it the back to the fold is a concept that ought to be embraced.” He added that isolation has not achieved progress, and that engagement may be more a promising means to encourage a reconciliation among the key Syrian parties toward a political solution.

You can listen to the full interview here.

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