🌍 Inside The Middle East — Dec. 2
Iran Nuclear Scientist Assassinated + Regional Reactions, Palestinian Journalism Student Released From Jail, Turkey Detains Military Officers, Jordan Fears Losing Jerusalem Mosque, U.A.E. Mars Mission
Hello! Happy hump day (is that still a thing?) and welcome to Inside The Middle East where we dissect the week's most important news from the world's most important region.
Another bumper edition today as we summarize what went down in Iran on Friday when the country’s top nuclear scientist was assassinated, plus we have reactions from all the key players in the region. We’ll also travel to Turkey where another 82 military officers have been detained in connection to the failed 2016 military coup; to Jordan whose leaders fear losing control of Jerusalem’s holiest Muslim and Christian sites; to the U.A.E. whose attempt to become the first Arab nation to reach the moon is on course for February 2021; and to Palestine where a journalism student has been released from an Israeli jail after 15 months.
Be sure to check out yesterday’s podcast with The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan, who shed light on what it’s like to work at one of America’s oldest news institutions, and we also dove deep into her new book Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World. Okay Aina, over to you!
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Just the one dataset used in today’s newsletter…
Turkey Arrests: Data on the number of people purged in Turkey since the failed 2016 military coup, from Turkey Purge
Iranian Nuclear Scientist Assassinated
We start this week in Iran where the country’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was ambushed and killed in Absard on Friday, a popular vacation spot with the country’s elite around 55 miles east of Tehran. Iran has blamed the attack on Israel, while no official response has been made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Here’s what we know so far…
Fakhrizadeh was known as the godfather of Iran’s nuclear program, launching it in the late 1980s until it was disbanded in 2003. His location was kept secret and he was never interviewed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Fakhrizadeh’s death is Iran’s second high-profile assassination this year, after General Qassem Soleimani was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Iraq in January, and has raised serious questions over its national security. Fakhrizadeh is also the fifth Iranian nuclear expert to be assassinated in the past decade, all of whom Iran has blamed on Israel, who has neither claimed or denied responsibility.
Here’s a selection of reactions from the key players from around the world…
Israel: No official response, but concerns are growing over possible retaliation, including one Iranian newspaper saying the Israeli city of Haifa should be bombed.
Saudi Arabia: The Saudi foreign minister criticized Iran’s foreign minister for suggesting Riyadh had involvement.
U.S.: The White House and CIA have both declined to comment.
European Union: EU spokesperson Peter Stano tweeted the killing was “a criminal act” and it ran “counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for”.
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Turkey Detains 82 Military Officers
We visit Turkey now where 82 military officers, who Ankara accuses of having links to exiled scholar Fethullah Gulen, are set to be detained in the latest crackdown since the failed military coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. Gulen is accused of being the mastermind behind the coup, but has denied any involvement and has resided in Pennsylvania since 1999.
That hasn’t stopped Erdogan from seemingly arresting anyone and everyone associated with the Gulen movement, which promotes “a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, modesty, hard work and education”, according to the BBC. So far close to 100,000 people have been arrested, including prominent judges, academics and journalists. Last week Turkish officials arrested at least 70 people accused of having links with the Democratic Society Congress, which advocates for greater rights for Turkey’s long suppressed Kurdish community.
Jordan Fears Losing Jerusalem Mosque
Jordan next where leaders fear losing custodianship of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of the world’s holiest sites. The concern comes after a not-so-secret meeting last week between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which could result in official diplomatic relations between the two nations — Saudi this week allowed Israeli commercial planes to use its airspace.
Jordan’s foreign minister released a statement last week challenging the “attempts to alter the historical and legal status quo” of the mosque, which followed a phone call between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. Jordan has overseen Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, known as Haram al-Sharif, since 1924, the same year the Saud dynasty was given control of Mecca and Medina.
Last Time on Inside The Middle East…
U.A.E. on Course to Arrive on Mars in Feb. 2021
The U.A.E.’s attempt to coordinate the first interplanetary mission by an Arab nation is on course to be completed on February 9, 2021. The Emirates Mars Mission will send a spacecraft named Hope to the red planet, and will carry instruments to study the planet’s atmosphere and interplanetary space. The instruments are set to stay on Mars for a whole Martian year (equivalent to 687 Earth days), and the U.A.E. would become the fifth region to reach Mars, joining the U.S., Russia, Europe and India. The Emirati have also set their sights on the moon, hoping to send a rover named Rashid in 2024.
The Middle East Goes to Mars
Palestinian Journalism Student Released From Israeli Jail
We end this week in Palestine where a 22-year-old journalism student has been released from an Israeli jail after 15 months. Mays Abu Ghosh, who attends Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank, was arrested in August 2019 for allegedly being a member of the Democratic Progressive Student Pole, a student organization banned by Israel.
Abu Ghosh was also charged with taking part in activities against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, “communicating with an enemy” — she took part in a conference on the Palestinian right of return — and contributing to an alleged Hezbollah-affiliated news agency. She was fined 2,000 shekels ($600/£445), and said she was physically and psychologically tortured. Abu Ghosh said she plans to finish her studies and continue her media training.
That’s all for today, see you on Friday for Picks of the Week! 👋