REPORTS that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a clandestine visit to the northern Saudi city of Neom to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday have sparked a firestorm of rumours. The Saudis have flatly denied that the Israeli leader set foot on their soil; however, officials in Tel Aviv — in typically Israeli fashion — have adopted a more ambiguous tone. Several media outlets in Israel say the visit indeed took place, while a member of the state’s security cabinet has said on record that “the meeting happened”.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that fervent moves are being made in the shadows to bring the Arabs and Israel closer to each other, with the Trump administration very publicly calling for recognition of the Jewish state, particularly by Saudi Arabia.
While over the past few months the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan have struck peace deals with Israel, it would be a game changer were Saudi Arabia to do so. Officially, Riyadh sticks to the position that there would be no peace with Israel unless the Palestine question is resolved. But it is difficult to believe that the Gulf states would have gone ahead without Saudi Arabia’s blessing. Moreover, because Islam’s holiest sites are on Saudi soil, Riyadh’s recognition of Tel Aviv would have a great impact on the Muslim world. There have also been indications that Pakistan faces pressure from some of its powerful foreign friends to embrace Israel.
As this paper has stated before, there is nothing wrong with Muslim states pursuing ties with Israel as long as the Palestine issue is resolved to the Arab side’s satisfaction. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a possibility as the Palestinians have rejected the recent peace deals between Arab states and Israel. The reason remains clear; those who rule Israel have no intention of going back to the 1967 borders and living in harmony with the Palestinians by giving them back the land that was stolen from them. In fact, the Palestinians are being offered a so-called ‘deal of the century’, which is in fact an instrument of surrender designed to declare a clear victory for Israel, and perpetual humiliation for the Arabs.
The Palestinians continue to resist because they are denied basic human rights and dignity. Going back to the Arabs’ dealings with Israel, it is apparent that these moves are being made to please the Trump administration, which is soon to exit Washington. However, if the new Arab-Israeli alliance is being cemented to confront Iran and its regional allies, then instead of peace more instability can be expected, as Tehran’s arch-nemesis Israel now has a foothold in the Gulf. The weeks ahead may unravel new surprises in this regard and states, including Pakistan, will have to mould their policies accordingly.
PUTTING together an accurate threat assessment demands intelligence nuggets to be assembled together to form a coherent picture. If too many pieces of the jigsaw are missing, the result can be disastrous. Seen in this light, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s go-ahead for setting up the National Intelligence Coordination Committee is a logical step — at least on the face of it. Helmed by the DG ISI as its chairman, the NICC will serve to coordinate a number of intelligence organisations in the country. The Abbottabad Commission investigating the US raid to capture Osama bin Laden in 2011 had noted the absence of a mechanism whereby civil and military intelligence could be integrated and had recommended that such a body be set up.
A lack of synchronised intelligence can indeed compromise the readiness of security operations. The raison d’être for setting up the Abbottabad Commission was itself the result of a massive intelligence failure by Pakistani authorities. A number of large-scale terrorist attacks have also been successfully carried out because of a lack of intelligence integration between different agencies. For example, the storming of Bannu jail by the TTP in April 2012 resulted in 384 prisoners being sprung from prison. With some hard-core terrorists among the freed inmates, the incident marked a significant setback for Pakistan’s war against militancy. There was also the horrific APS Peshawar attack on Dec 16, 2014, also carried out by the TTP, in which nearly 150 people lost their lives. Despite the school being located in a high-security zone, the terrorists managed to arrive at the destination undetected and launch their murderous assault without facing resistance. However, while there may be sound arguments for the establishment of the NICC, it is worth noting that the National Counter Terrorism Authority will come under it. Established via an executive order in 2009, Nacta was conceived as a body that would coordinate the counterterrorism efforts of civilian and military intelligence agencies — in short, the role that the NICC will now be playing. A turf war between the various agencies that were unwilling to share information, and a tussle over its leadership left Nacta moribund for several years. One wonders why it has now been relegated to a lower rung on the intelligence ladder. In any case, it is to be hoped that the mandate of each agency will be well defined in the new set-up and that none will be used to encroach on civil liberties.
Journalists at risk
THE Independent High-Level Legal Panel, backed by the Media Freedom Coalition, has been a busy forum since its establishment in 2019. It has taken up the matter of security for journalists working in trying conditions, often under hostile governments, with the seriousness that the issue demands. In its third report on media freedom published on Monday, the IHLLP has not limited itself to asking Commonwealth governments to implement its recommendations to provide safe refuge to journalists in danger. In fact, it has come up with pathways that can rescue journalists from perilous situations. The report makes nine important recommendations, including a suggestion to introduce an emergency visa for journalists at risk and for their immediate families. In case the passports of such journalists are revoked by their country, it is recommended that they be provided urgent documents to travel to safety. The provision of security under the Refugee Convention is recommended for journalists who should be allowed to apply for asylum from within their own country. Yet another recommendation calls for measures to prevent victimisation of journalists on occasions such as when an extradition is sought on the basis of red warrants.
Professional unions have hailed the direction advised by the report. More than 450 journalists were forced into exile between 2010 and 2015; almost 400 were detained last year. Over 60 journalists went ‘too far’ and were missing in 2018 — numbers that again doubled over a decade. Pakistan features prominently in the report as one of the countries from where the 15 individual cases for the study have been taken. The applause the report has received from the Commonwealth Journalists Association was expected. The next good thing would be for all members of the Commonwealth family and the world at large to join the cause in earnest. Only six of the 40 governments that have joined the coalition and signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom are from the Commonwealth. What steps have the rest taken to protect journalists?