Middle East Friends, Mediterranean Enemies, Taiwan Friends, and the World’s Hair is on Fire Week in Review
Middle East Friends, Mediterranean Enemies, Taiwan Friends, and the World’s Hair is on Fire Week in Review
Happy Friday y’all. If you missed our take on the WeChat/TikTok issue, click here to read it. Don’t forget to listen to the latest episode of the Perch Pod with Xander Snyder by clicking here. Jacob appeared on The Rebound podcast earlier this week, which you can find here. If you or someone you know needs help managing geopolitical risk, don’t be shy – reply to this e-mail or write to us at email@example.com. Be good to each other and wear your masks, we’ll catch you on the flip side!
You’ve got a friend. Sort of. The United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel released a joint statement saying that the UAE had agreed to “full normalization of relations” with Israel, with UAE recognition contingent on Israel suspending annexation of Jewish/Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank. UAE leader Mohamed bin Zayed (MbZ) was less effusive in his description of the deal, tweeting that he had only agreed to “cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “still committed to annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel but it can only happen in coordination with the U.S.”
What it means: Begin, Rabin, and…Netanyahu? If this deal goes through, then Netanyahu will join that lofty pantheon of previous Israeli leaders who successfully acquired recognition of Israeli sovereignty from an Arab state. Of course, almost immediately after President Trump announced the deal, MbZ and Netanyahu’s statements seemed to walk it back considerably, no doubt because it is a bad look for MbZ to be recognizing Israel just so Israel won’t annex the West Bank, and because some of Netanyahu’s base will be apoplectic at Bibi’s refusal to follow through on his annexation campaign promises.
Even so, this is a major political win for Netanyahu especially. Annexing parts of the West Bank helps Netanyahu politically with his base, but truth be told, it does not help Israel’s national security that much. The only way to annex parts of the West Bank is to pick areas where Jews/Israelis already live and leave a patchwork of isolated Palestinian communities forever trapped in a liminal space between occupation and sovereignty. Israel cannot annex the whole of the West Bank because that would mean giving citizenship to all the Palestinians that live there and then Israel’s democratically Jewish character would be in jeopardy, if not lost overnight.
Securing recognition from the UAE allows Netanyahu to walk back from the annexation precipice. After all, he was able to secure a major victory for Israel, whose grand strategy since independence in 1948, and even before that, has been to secure official recognition from its Arab neighbors, and he did so without having to sign an agreement with Palestine or without giving up annexation permanently. Whatever you may think of Netanyahu – we laid our thoughts a few weeks ago – there is no denying his skill as a tactician and as a politician, on full display with this move.
The practical import is harder to sus out. Behind the scenes, the UAE and Israel have been cooperating for years because they share a common enemy: Iran. But it would also be a mistake to read this as strictly another U.S. attempt to strengthen its Middle Eastern coalition against the Islamic Republic. U.S. sanctions on Iran have crippled the Iranian economy, and besides, Iran lacks the cultural, religious, and military power to project force deep into the Arab world. The power the UAE keeps running into these days is not Iran, but Turkey. Ditto Israel, which declared yesterday that it supported Greece against “any aggressive action in the eastern Mediterranean from any actor, including Turkey.” We couldn’t have asked for a better segue.
War in the Mediterranean? Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned that an “accident” might soon occur in the Eastern Mediterranean. French President Emmanuel Macron dispatched two Rafale fighter jets, a helicopter carrier, and a frigate to reinforce France’s position in the Mediterranean. The Turkish research vessel Oruç Reis began operating in a contested area near Greek waters, causing a potential collision between a Greek frigate and a Turkish frigate. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the collision was an enemy “attack” and that Turkey had “responded” accordingly.
What it means: There is still a lot we don’t know about what happened in the Eastern Med this week. (This is being typed on Thursday afternoon so it is possible that there may be more details available shortly after this posts Friday morning.) Greek media, for instance, report a minor incident in the area, referring to the incident as “minor damage” rather than a major collision. Erdogan’s comments may be more bravado than fact, and in any case, Erdogan reportedly discussed the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Charles Michel on Thursday.
Germany has been playing “good cop” in this standoff for weeks now, attempting to get Greece and Turkey to negotiate, to little avail. It has fallen to France to play bad cop – and France appears to be relishing the role. France already found itself on the opposite of Turkey in the ongoing Libyan Civil War. As recently as June, France accused Turkey of targeting a French vessel attempting to inspect a cargo ship for suspected illegal weapons en route to Libya. France subsequently called for a NATO investigation of the incident and withdrew from Operation Sea Guardian in protest.
That incident, in effect, was Turkey calling France’s bluff in Libya. Now, it appears France is calling Turkey’s bluff in the eastern Mediterranean. Macron, after all, is the French President who described NATO as “brain-dead” in a November 2019 interview with The Economist. From Macron’s perspective, the June incident with Turkey might simply have been the nail in the coffin. That’s magnifique from Macron’s perspective. His ultimate goal since assuming office has been to build a stronger, more unified European Union, with the German economy as its beating heart and with the French army as its sword and shield. Having finally secured German cooperation on the former, France can now demonstrate the value of the latter: French fighters and frigates to protect EU member-states from foreign aggression.
Is Turkey willing to risk a major conflagration with a fellow NATO state in the Eastern Mediterranean, even as it attempts to solidify its shaky positions in northern Syria and Libya? Will Paris follow through and come to Greece’s aid if this morphs from an “accident” into a potential naval skirmish? These are not the sort of questions that allow one to sleep easily at night. It seems to us, at least with the information currently available, that Erdogan may have gotten more than he bargained for or than Turkey is ready for. Indeed, for Ankara, the timing couldn’t be worse. The Turkish lira is in free fall again and Erdogan has staked an awful lot of legitimacy on defending ambitious Turkish aspirations in the Mediterranean.
As in June, when France reluctantly sought a face-saving withdrawal, the most likely scenario is Turkey finds a reason to put off its “seismic research” close to Greek waters. Still, it is easy enough to imagine how this could devolve into a real conflict, and even if it doesn’t, it is looking increasingly likely that brain-dead NATO’s life-support might be failing soon as well.
Speaking of potential wars…U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan, becoming the most senior U.S. cabinet official to visit the island since 1979. Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration detained a Chinese oil tanker it accused of illegally entering Taiwanese waters without permission. China held military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and to the north and south of Taiwan; Taiwan unveiled a new defense budget with a 10 percent increase in spending and said it was in discussions with the U.S. to acquire underwater sea mines and cruise missiles.
What it means: The Chinese exercises are almost certainly a direct response to Azar’s visit. Don’t worry, that should be cause for some comfort. China needed a response that was robust enough to get American attention but not so robust as to precipitate a more serious incident. Unlike in the Eastern Med, there is already a set limit on how far this will go. That said, China is playing a difficult game, as it tries to project as menacing a presence in the region as possible without starting a conflict in which it knows it cannot prevail. How else to explain “sources” telling The South China Morning Post that China would “not fire the first shot” in the South China Sea under any circumstances.
The more interesting news in U.S.-China relations this week was overshadowed by the recent shadowboxing in the South China Sea. Reports indicated that Huawei has decided to embark on what it is calling its “Nanniwan” project – a new attempt to “de-Americanize” Huawei’s supply chain. Huawei will start immediately with laptops, smart screens, and Internet of Things devices, presumably by the end of the year. Huawei’s phones, however, are a different story. That is hardly a surprise; recent U.S. restrictions on exports to Huawei (and China in general) that use U.S. technology or components are aimed at this crucial part of Huawei’s business.
What’s surprising is that no less a source than the People’s Daily is admitting as much. Quoting Huawei’s CEO of the consumer business group, Richard Chengdong, China’s paper-of-record announced that Huawei’s self-developed Kirin chips would not be produced after September 16 due to U.S. export controls. Is China trying to appear weak to garner global sympathy points? It seems late in the game for that kind of move but desperate times do call for desperate measures. Meanwhile, the always-entertaining Global Times ran an op-ed with a not-so-veiled threat aimed directly at a U.S. company, warning that if the U.S. went forward with its ban on WeChat that it might “drastically intensify [Apple’s] downward trend.”
In just about any normal week, the news that the U.S. will continue its asinine trade war with the European Union would have warranted a closer look, but we live in crazy times. Airbus expects an EU response and so should you.
The Trump administration is seeking to change the definition of a showerhead so more water can flow through them. No, that’s not from The Onion. That’s a real story from this week. We’re literally showering while Rome is burning.
Incumbent Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko won “reelection” with 80 percent of a rigged vote, which led to mass protests and the opposition candidate fleeing to Lithuania for fear of her life.
Nikkei reports that China has hired 100 Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) engineers in the last year.
A spokesperson for the energy minister for the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in Germany said that she expected Mukran port to continue its normal work despite the threat of U.S. sanctions over Nord Stream 2.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said recent data from Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais that indicated fires in the Amazon region are at the highest level in a decade were a “lie.”
The Indian government is considering a roughly $1 billion investment to build a transshipment port at Great Nicobar Island in the Bay of Bengal.
A Russian district court reportedly fined Google roughly $20,000 for “insufficient search engine filtering of prohibited content.”
Infobae reports that Argentina is planning a concerted and coordinated diplomatic offensive on the Falklands/Malvinas islands.