Tensions, strikes and bombings stain 2022 in Mideast

Published December 20th, 2022 - 08:50 GMT
Middle East
A mural depicting slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is illuminated with headlights on a street in the Arab town of Umm Al-Fahm in northern Israel, on September 5, 2022. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Highlights
Yearend

ALBAWABA - It was another turbulent year for the Middle East, with tensions running high across many corners of the volatile region _ from Israel and Palestine to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya to the west and, of course, Iran to the East. 

Despite the tensions, 2022 saw business-as-usual in a handful of countries, where many sectors, primarily oil, industry and tourism, were revived following closures under the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Politically, the Middle East will always be a boiling pot for many reasons, including those of the pervading non-state actors like ISIS and Al Qaeda. This is not to forget the players filtering into the region like the United States, Russia, and widely seen as meddling in the Mideast's internal affairs, as well as those in the region wielding influence like Israel, Turkey and Iran. 

The following is a summary highlighting some of the interesting events that took place regionwide in 2022.

Houthi missiles land in the U.A.E.; Yemen reaches truce with Houthis
This year started with a rising tension in the Gulf Arab region that was highlighted on Jan. 17, when the United Arab Emirates was attacked by Houthi missile strikes. Reports suggested there were cruise missiles fired, while some termed them as drones. But the Abu Dhabi attack, all the way from Saada in Yemen, a distance of 1,800 kilometers, was a dramatic, breaking event. The missiles struck three oil tankers at an ADNOC storage facility, with one missile landing in Abu Dhabi Airport’s extension, which is under construction. The attack killed three people – two Indians and one Pakistani – and injured six other people. It was condemned by the international community. The Houthis then launched five missiles that reached their targets in the U.A.E. Meanwhile, many hoped that the Yemen war was coming to an end following eight years of bloody fighting in which hundreds of thousands were killed and millions displaced. With much hope, the first truce between the warring factions in Yemen under the auspices of the United Nations took effect on April 2. The truce meant fighting was temporarily halted for two months, and the deal was to be renewed thereafter. The truce, made under the supervision and endless negotiations of U.N. Envoy Hans Grundberg, and backed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, eased tensions for ordinary Yemenis, and opened the air space for flights between Sanaa and the capitals of Jordan and Egypt. Subsequently, it was renewed in June and August, but the warring parties, namely the Houthis and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government,  refused to extend the truce for October-November, which in effect meant they had gone back to fighting. But this does not mean the end of the road, as Grundberg is likely to continue trying to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table.

 

U.S. kills ISIS leader
On Feb. 3, the U.S. army struck Idlib in northwest Syria. The attack killed then newly-named ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim Al Hashemi Al-Qurashi and at least 12 other people, including some members of his family. It is reported that Qurashi killed himself after being encircled by U.S. special forces in a battle that ensued. Qurashi took over the terror organization in 2019, when Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi was killed also by U.S. forces after leading the outfit since 2014 when the group occupied the city of Mosul, northern Iraq and Syria. But 2022 was the beginning of a bad year for ISIS and for Qurashi, who was killed in October, a development that significantly shrunk the organization’s sway.
 

Israel kills prominent Palestinian journalist
The murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, shot by an Israeli sniper on May 11 outside the Jenin camp was a shock to the Palestinians, Arabs and the international community. As an Al Jazeera TV journalist since the 1990s, she was a household name with her distinctive style, voice and approach, covering the Palestinian story under Israeli occupation. Over the decades, she and her colleagues were always tested in the line of fire. Her daily and weekly reports focused on the shooting and killing of Palestinian men, women, children, old and young. In two words, she saw herself as a "war reporter". In the final days, she said she expected to be killed while on a news story. At first, the Israeli army would not admit that the bullet came from one of its soldiers. But the army was forced to back down when a U.S. State Department investigation stated she was most likely killed by Israeli fire.

Israel bombs Damascus, Aleppo airports
On June 10, Israeli military strikes rendered the Damascus International Airport inoperable for at least two weeks. The pre-dawn strikes damaged runways, the control tower and other buildings. Subsequently, inbound flights were diverted to Aleppo Airport in the north, 360 kilometers away from Damascus. Israeli warplanes strike Syria on a regular basis. Sometimes, strikes come from the sea. At times, the strikes include areas surrounding Damascus, but usually leave the capital's international airport from a direct hit. This time, however, it specifically targeted the airport in Damascus, and two months later, Israel attacked Aleppo’s airport.

Biden visits the region
Between July 13-16, U.S. President Joe Biden traveled to the Middle East. His first stop was Israel, followed by the West Bank. He traveled on to Saudi Arabia, where he attended a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting that included leaders from Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. Biden managed to cement America’s relations with Israel, and paid "lip-service" to the two-state solution with the Palestinians as he met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. In Saudi Arabia, he was given a cold shoulder because Riyadh refused to commit to a U.S. request to increase oil output to help bring down skyrocketing petroleum prices. The endeavor was crucial ahead of the U.S. midterm elections, which were held in  November. Instability in international oil prices was sparked by international sanctions on oil-producing Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

Iraqis storm their Parliament
On July 27, crowds stormed into Iraq’s parliament building in the heavily-fortified “green zone” in the Iraqi capital amid political turmoil gripping the country. They were supporters of powerful Iraqi politician Muqtada al-Sadr, who were protesting the absence of a consensus by Iraqi political blocs to form a government following the October 2021 parliamentary elections. The then Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was ruling in a caretaker capacity and so was Iraqi President Barham Saleh. They waited for parliament to elect a Cabinet, but deputies and parties were jockeying for cities and ministries, and were in no hurry to choose. The ransacking of parliament was unprecedented, with mass protests spilling into the capital city of Baghdad. It took three grueling months for parliament to agree on a new president, Abdul Latif Rasheed, and Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani.

Israel bombs the Gaza Strip
On Aug. 5, Israeli warplanes struck numerous sites in the Gaza Strip in what Israel described as a preemptive strike against Palestinian factions allegedly planning rocket strikes at targets in Israel. The attacks, which continued through Aug. 7, focused on the Islamic Jihad movement, one of the dominant Palestinian groups fighting the Israeli occupation. At least 49 civilians, including 17 children, were killed and 350 were injured in 147 strikes. The area was on high alert during the three-day attack, despite international appeals for calm, including from the U.S. administration of Joe Biden. Hamas, which has been ruling Gaza since 2007, was careful not to be embroiled in the tension and escalations that literally devastated the coastal strip in May 2021, and before that in 2014. Nevertheless, statistics show around 1,100 rockets were fired by Palestinian groups on different Israeli towns and cities, including Jewish settlements near Gaza.

Death of Mahsa Amini fuels protests in Iran
Mahsa Amini died in police detention in Tehran on Sept. 16, setting off violent protests in many cities, towns and villages across Iran against the government. Protesters clashed with police, causing the number of deaths and injuries to rise. Amini was detained by the “morality” police for the way she wore the hijab. Critics said she was beaten on the head in a police van before she entered the police station. Her death drew a strong global condemnation over the rapidly-rising number of deaths of civilians in the country. Protests in Iran soon became a daily occurrence with many removing their headdress, despite the draconian measures taken against them, including the capital punishment slapped on some protestors. By Dec. 7,  the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization revealed that 458 protesters were killed. Despite measures adopted to reinstate calm by easing restrictions on hijab-wearing, the country continues to be gripped by widespread demonstrations. 

Chinese leader visits Saudi Arabia
On Dec. 7, Chinese president XI Jinping started a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, underlining Beijing’s desire for closer ties with the world’s largest oil producer. By the same token, it underpinned Riyadh's wish to advance ties with eastern nations led by China and to gradually move away from its longtime alliance with the United States. The Chinese president attended three meetings, some gathering regional leaders, namely Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah II. The Chinese leader, who last visited the region in 2016, was received by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. During the visit, Riyadh and Beijing signed 34 agreements and other deals estimated at nearly $30 billion.

FIFA World Cup 2022 in Doha, Qatar
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 was played by 32 teams, which competed across 64 matches held from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18. The tournament was FIFA's 22nd edition, but the first international football event of its magnitude to be held in an Arab country. Qatar reportedly spent more than $220 billion in the past 12 years to prepare for the tournament, during which the Palestinian flag was frequently hoisted by players and fans, drawing global attention to the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, the longest in history. The games saw, for the first time ever, an Arab team, namely Morocco, advancing to the semi-finals. Argentina claimed the golden trophy.


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