Qatar: Among the pigeons.
Also: Libya, Russia, Turkey, Central Asia, China, the US and Iceland.
QATAR. Among the pigeons.
A gas-rich monarchy risks upsetting the region, again.
Israel on Monday released evidence Hamas was using a Qatari medical centre in Gaza for military operations. Benjamin Netanyahu's former national security adviser last week called for the US to list Qatar as a state-sponsor of terrorism.
INTELLIGENCE. Qatar plays mediator between Israel and Hamas, and has long kept pragmatic relations with Tel Aviv, but strains are showing, particularly with Doha’s vocal condemnation of operations in Gaza, including through its Al Jazeera network. Strain between Qatar and its neighbours has also resurfaced. A four-year Saudi-led blockade ended in 2021, but tensions over Yemen and Afghanistan refuse to go away. A diplomatic spat has begun with India as well.
FOR BUSINESS. Doha last month sentenced eight ex-Indian navy officers to death. Though held since last August, the eight have allegedly been tied to Israeli spying, though some in Delhi believe the issue is of a commercial nature. Qatar has done well in trade and investment. It has recently signed major gas deals with China and the Netherlands. But 95% of its residents are expats and its ongoing success relies on the goodwill of larger (often opposing) powers.
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LIBYA. RUSSIA. Moscow on the Med.
Vladimir Putin eyes Europe’s underbelly.
Russia is planning a naval base in eastern Libya, Bloomberg reported on Sunday. The region's breakaway administration last week hosted 260 firms from ten countries to discuss reconstruction projects in the wake of September’s floods.
INTELLIGENCE. Russia has few security imperatives in the central Mediterranean. Its access between the Black Sea and the Suez Canal is protected by a base in Syria, which it has bolstered since the war began in Gaza. Yet a presence in Libya would complicate EU energy and migration interests, not to mention support Russian military activities in next door Niger and Sudan (where, like eastern Libya’s rulers, it is said to be arming the rebel Rapid Support Forces).
FOR BUSINESS. There is also undoubtedly an economic dimension to any Russian interest in oil-rich eastern Libya, where France, Turkey, Italy, Qatar, Egypt and others have sought to build influence. As with Israel and Palestine, Russia sees itself as a natural mediator in Libya’s civil war, but doing a deal with warlord Khalifa Haftar would hurt Moscow’s relations with Tripoli, as well as frenemy Ankara, which supports the UN-recognised administration there.
With the brevity of a media digest, but the depth of an intelligence assessment, Daily Assessment goes beyond the news to outline the implications.
TURKEY. CENTRAL ASIA. Cold Turkic.
Ankara is at odds with its fraternal neighbours over Israel.
A Maltese-flagged vessel departed Israel last week after allegedly offloading 1 million barrels of Azerbaijani crude. Turkey's president discussed Gaza with his Azeri and Turkic counterparts at a regional summit in Kazakhstan on Friday.
INTELLIGENCE. Azerbaijan’s recent takeover of the former Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh was helped by Turkey, which has ethnic ties with the Azeris and seeks to (re)build a trade and energy corridor through the Caucasus and Central Asia. Yet Azerbaijan was also helped by Israel, which supplies 60% of its arms (Azerbaijan supplies 40% of Israel’s oil), but which has seen ties deteriorate with Turkey since Gaza. Kazakhstan is Israel’s other key supplier.
FOR BUSINESS. Azerbaijan could mediate between its two partners, but for now Turkey is more interested in wedging its ally, which has also sought to repair ties with Iran, through which the energy corridor would transit. Vladimir Putin, who visits Kazakhstan this week, will meanwhile want to ensure Turkey doesn’t muddy his own regional interests. On Monday, Russian troops shot a Georgian national on the South Ossetia frontier, the first fatality since the war of 2008.
CHINA. UNITED STATES. Peace by piece.
Progress is made for a presidential summit, but obstacles still loom.
Vice-Premier He Lifeng will visit the US on Wednesday, Beijing said, ahead of Xi Jinping’s expected visit next week. The US Department of Agriculture opened its first pavilion on Monday at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai.
INTELLIGENCE. Despite the recent signing of 11 new US agricultural purchase contracts and a series of carefully staged economic missions, Washington and Beijing need more to get relations back on track. Premier Li Qiang’s pledge on Monday to remove restrictions on foreign investment in manufacturing might help, but more meaningful was last month’s military talks and this week’s dialogue on arms control – the first since the Obama administration.
FOR BUSINESS. Engagement on trade and arms control is welcome, but tension remains on technology and the South China Sea. A former TSMC executive last month claimed China had made a breakthrough on 5 nanometre chips using DUV lithography. Beijing firms are reportedly besting Nvidia on certain AI semiconductor functions. These developments will boost calls for further US controls just as US ally the Philippines pushes back on maritime borders.
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ICELAND. Where there’s smoke.
Unusual seismic activity prompts concerns of a major eruption.
Reykjavik on Monday released contingency evacuation plans for the town of Grindavik as more earthquakes were recorded on the Reykjanes Peninsula, home to the Blue Lagoon spa. There have been 18,500 quakes since 25 October.
INTELLIGENCE. Seismic and volcanic activity is normal for Iceland, but a 7cm uplift in the past ten days on Mt Thorbjorn is deemed significant. The 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption, which was preceded by quakes, led to a six-day ash cloud, closing airspace for 20 countries, and disrupting flights for 10 million travellers. Bigger eruptions, such as that of Iceland’s Laki in 1783, led to changes in the monsoon, record heat in Europe and record cold in North America.
FOR BUSINESS. Predicting eruptions is hard, but their impacts can be managed. Airlines and engine makers have tightened ash safety limits. Tourism operators liaise more frequently with seismologists. A New Zealand court last week charged operators with negligence after an eruption killed 22 in 2019. Predicting climate impacts is also hard, but they are likely to be large. An eruption in Tonga last year may have raised the probability of 1.5º warming by 7%.