The Middle East 7th August 2017

Countries across the Middle East face political turmoil following the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and the ongoing conflict in Syria. Libya was slowly recovering post revolution but has come highly unstable due to inter factional fighting & criminal activity, including kidnapping which is on the rise. The FCO advises against all travel to Libya and Syria . IS has increased its presence in Libya. In Late March 2016 further attempts are being made to form a unity government but it is assess that Libya will remain very unstable for the  near to medium term. The FCO also advises against all travel to Syria, as an open civil war rages. The Conflict in Syria is likley to last many more monthsthe open involvement of Russia and Iran on the Government side has resulted in significant gains for the Assad Regime, Aleppo fell to the government in December 2016.   Jordan is part of the coalition against ISIL, tensions are high following IS's murder of Jordanian Air Force pilot in Jan 2015 and IS is likely to attempt attacks inside Jordan. The US issued a terrorist threat warning for Jordan in the middle of Dec 2016. Lebanon is now a major concern and tensions as inter religious tensions are being ignited by the unrest in Syria and the grouping Hezbollah is now becoming increasingly involved. Egypt, huge protests in early July 2013 lead the Army to remove President Morsi. Presidential elections were held in May 2014, ex Army Chief Sisi won overwhelming but very poor electoral turnout. Opposition to the Sisi government is growing, economically Egypt is suffering as the tourist trade has offered as a result of terrorism although in 2017 bookings are reported to be up.   The bombing of a Russian passenger plane flying out of Sharm el Shekh on 31 Oct 2015 led to many European countries, including the UK, stopping flying into the tourist destination.

The situation in Iraq is highly unstable due to ongoing friction between sunni and shia communities and ongoing Iraq operations against IS, these operations are gaining some success, the Kurds and Iraq Army (supported by the US) are now entering Mosul.  Tunisia and Algeria have remained relatively stable and both have conducted parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014. However in both countries Islamist terrorism is a concern and 17 tourists were killed in an attack on 18 March 2015 the Tunis Museum and a further 38 in the Sousse beach attack on 26th June 2015. The FCO now advises Against all but essential travel to Tunisia.

The re-election of Netanyahu as Israeli Prime Minister will bring stability to the political landscape but not much comfort for those hoping for a two State solution with Palestine although talks about talks started in July 2013. The conflict with Gaza in July and Aug 2014 just highlight the stalemate that exists. Tension is high in Jerusalem following a number of fatal sectarian attacks in late 2014, throughout 2015 and into 2016, to date foreign nationals have not been targetted.  Iran is opening to trade and tourism following the successful conclusion of the nuclear energy talks and is looking to improve relations with the West.  Anyone who has been generally loves the country, very friendly with wonderful sites and topography. British, US and Canadian visitors require a guide/escort when travelling and the visa authorisation process will take weeks so plan well ahead. A vehicle borne expedition will need a Carnet De Passage, in the UK this can be obtained from Cars UK. The British Embassy has reopened in Tehran & BA fly direct from London. In May 2017 president Rouhani was re-elected giving hope that relations with the West will continue to improve although President Thump is publically being critical of the Iranian regime.

On 21 March 2017 the US Department of Homeland Security announced a ban on large and medium sized electronic goods in hand luggage on flights coming from the Middle East and North Africa. Mobiles are allowed. Airlines affected are Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Royal Air Maroc, Etihad, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Egypt Air, Kuwait Airlines, Qatar Airlines and Royal Jordanian Airlines. Some restrictions were lifted in July 2017, travellers must check before flying.

In a separate developement, on 5 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, eastern controlled Libya broke of diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it of financing the Islamic State. amongst demands is for Qatar to close down the Al Jazeera TV news network, one of the very few marginally independent  media outlets in the region.

On 7th June there was a first IS attack in Iran which killed 12 people in 2 locations in Tehran.

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