News Timeline: Middle East 2009


January 4: Israel/Palestinian Territories

After more than a week of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, Israel sends ground troops in an attempt to permanently stop rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. Hamas’ objective, on the other hand, is to make Israel lift the blockade on Gaza. (January 18): Israel and Hamas agree to a temporary ceasefire. The agreement, however, does not mention the reopening of the Gaza crossings, which are controlled by Israel. (January 21): Israel withdraws all of its troops from the Gaza Strip, stationing them, however, near the border. More than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have been killed as a result of the recent clashes. The Gaza infrastructure has been severely damaged, with more than 4,000 buildings destroyed, leaving 50,000 Gazans homeless.

February 1: Iraq

The political bloc headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the State of Law Coalition, comes ahead of all other competitors in the Iraq’s provincial elections. The coalition campaigned on a platform of rule of law and the primacy of the state. The elections that were held on the last of day of January took place in 14 out the country’s 18 provinces, with 14,400 candidates. Polls were largely peaceful and voter turnout high. The elections are looked at as a test of the country’s return to security and stability.

February 2: Israel/Palestinian Territories

Israel conducts new raids into the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip in response to about a dozen rocket and mortar attacks by a small Palestinian militant organization, the Popular Resistance Committee. The attacks violate the ceasefires declared by both sides after a 22-day offensive into Gaza last month. (February 16): A Palestinian militant group called Hezbollah Brigades Palestine fire two rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Israel responds with a bombing on Rafah.

February 10: Israel

Israel is holding a snap parliamentary election after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stepped down amid allegations of corruption and after his successor, Tzipi Livni, failed to form a new coalition. The centrist Kadima party and right-wing Likud win the most votes, but not enough to form a government without coalitions. Kadima secures 28 parliamentary seats, Likud 27, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu comes third with 15 seats, and Ehud Barak’s Labour party falls to unprecedented fourth place, with 13 seats. (February 19): After securing support from far-right and religious parties, as well as the centre-left Labour party, the leader of the Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu, is asked to form a government.

February 14: Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conducts a major shake-up of the government posts. Among others, he dismisses two powerful religious leaders: the country’s top judge and the head of the infamous religious police. He also appoints the country’s first woman minister, Norah al-Faiz, at the ministry for women’s affairs.

February 27: Iraq

U.S. President Barack Obama announces a two-stage plan for the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Iraq. By the end of August of 2010, the number of troops will be reduced to about 50,000 and their mission will be advisory. All troops will be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

March 2: Israel/Palestinian Territories

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arrives in Egypt on her first visit to the Middle East as a representative of the Obama administration. She will participate in a donors’ conference in Sharm-al-Sheikh for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which suffered great destruction as a result of the recent Israeli incursions. Clinton will also visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories to discuss how to move the peace process forward.

March 23: Iraq

A suicide bombing in the northeastern Iraqi province of Diyala kills at least 25 people. Although it is believed that violence in Iraq has been the lowest since 2003, the country still is experiencing deadly attacks on daily basis, including attacks on police recruitment places and markets.

May 17: Kuwait

Three women in Kuwait win seats in parliament in general elections for the first time in the country’s history. Kuwait does not have political parties; candidates for the 50-seat assembly nominate themselves and run independently.

May 26: United Arab Emirates

France opens a military base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which will house 500 troops and contain a navy and air base as well as a training camp. For France, the base is important because of its strategic location in the Gulf. For the UAE and its Arab neighbors concerned about nuclear threat from Iran, the French base provides regional stability.

May 29: Israel/Palestinian Territories

After meetings with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and earlier this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United States President Barack Obama says that he strongly believes that a two-state option is the best solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also appeals to Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth. He also calls on the Palestinians to crack down on militants who attack Israel.

June 7: Lebanon

The pro-Western March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, wins Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, securing 71 seats out of 128. Its rival, pro-Syrian Hezbollah alliance, comes second, winning 57 seats. (June 27): Saad Hariri is nominated prime minister.

June 12: Iran

Iran’s hardliner, incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is declared a winner of the presidential election. His opponent, pro-reform Mir Hossein Mousavi, challenges the result, alleging fraud. Hundreds of thousands of his supporters take to the streets and demand new elections. The protests are the largest since the Iranian revolution. At least 30 people are killed and hundreds arrested. (June 16): The Guardian Council, Iran’s most powerful clerical body, orders a partial recount. (June 23): The Guardian Council announces that no major polling irregularities were found and confirms Ahmadinejad’s victory. The disputed election, followed by the waves of violent protests, leaves Iran’s ruling elite divided, undermines the public’s respect for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, and creates a new opposition group.

June 14: Israel/Palestinian Territories

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that he will agree to a creation of a separate Palestinian state, but only after the following conditions are met: the Palestinian state would have no army; it would accept Israel as a Jewish state; Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel; refugee issue would not be negotiated; and Jewish settlements would continue. Palestinians reject the Israeli Prime Minister conditions.

June 30: Iraq

The United States withdraws its troops from Iraqi towns as scheduled and officially hands over the security to the Iraqi forces. The pullback comes six years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. All troops are expected to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. With the U.S. troops gone, Iraqi forces face serious security challenges. In just past two weeks, about 250 people were killed in violent attacks across the country.

August 6: Palestinian Territories

About 2,000 Palestinian delegates conclude a three-day Fatah Congress, the first in 20 years, held in the West Bank in Bethlehem. The attending delegates include the Palestinians from diasporas in Syria and Lebanon. However, Hamas, which is in power in the Gaza Strip, barred about 400 activists from attending the Congress. The Congress unanimously reelected President Mahmoud Abbas and rejuvenated the central committee by staffing it with new and younger delegates. It also reaffirmed the charter option of armed resistance against Israel, decided not to resume peace talks with the Israelis until preconditions are met, and stressed its commitment to the two-state solution with the 1967 borders.

August 18: Israel/Palestinian Territories

After continued pressure from the United States, Israel agrees to stop issuing building contracts and to freeze all settlement work in the West Bank, one of the conditions of the peace plan called the Roadmap. Presently, there are about half a million Jews who settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

September 9: Israel/Palestinian Territories

Israel says it restores the settlement plan and prepares to build about 450 new homes in the West Bank and 500 in Jerusalem for Jewish settlers. The total freeze of settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories is a prerequisite for restarting peace talks.

September 16: Israel/Palestinian Territories

A judge and judicial investigator, Richard Goldstone, turns in a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the recent armed conflict in the Gaza Strip that left about 1,400 Gazans and 13 Israelis killed. The report presents evidence that both Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters committed war crimes. It accuses Israel of purposely using disproportionate force and targeting civilians. It also condemns Palestinian groups of launching rocket attacks that aimed at civilians in Israel. The document encourages both sides to launch their own investigations on the alleged crimes and report their findings to the UN Security Council within six months.

September 21: Iran

In a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran admits that it has a second uranium enrichment plant near Qom. The first one is in the city of Nantaz. At the same time, it says that the plants are only for developing fuel for nuclear power plants. However, the world fears that Iran is developing its nuclear-weapon capabilities in these plants. The IAEA requests access to inspect the facility.

October 25: Iraq

The Islamic State of Iraq, a radical Sunni militant group linked to al-Qaeda, claims responsibility for suicide bombings in Baghdad that killed more 150 people. The attacks aimed at the ministry of justice and a provincial government office. The group opposes the Iraqi government and fights to establish an Islamic state.

November 4: Israel/Iran

Israeli military intercepts a ship on the Mediterranean Sea smuggling weapons. Israel claims that the weapons originated in Iran and were intend for the militant Hezbollah organization in Syria. Both Syria and Iran deny the accusations. After the most recent offensive in the Gaza Strip, Israel has intensified its hunt for smuggled weapons to Hezbollah or Hamas in Gaza.

November 4: Iran

Iran’s authorities arrest more than 100 pro-democracy protesters on the anniversary of the storming of the U.S. embassy in 1979, which started the Iranian Revolution. At least 30 demonstrators have been killed and thousands detained in pop-up protests since the June presidential election that the opposition claims were rigged.

November 10: Lebanon

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri forms a national unity government five months after he was brought to power. Fifteen ministers come from prime minister’s ruling coalition, five are nominated by the president who is seen as neutral, and 10 ministers come from the opposition parties, including two from the Islamist Hezbollah group.

November 13: Yemen/Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian military pushes Yemeni rebels 6 miles deep inside Yemen’s territory from the Saudi-Yemeni border. The Houthi rebels are part of the Zaidi Shia group, a minority in Yemen, but a majority in the north of the country. First clashes between Houthi and the Yemeni government started in 2004 when the group demanded more autonomy. Since the new skirmishes in 2009, hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands have had to flee their homes. Saudi Arabia got involved, saying it wanted the rebels move back from the border.

November 26: Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Chief Mohammed El-Baradei calls on Iran to accept an international UN-drafted plan that would resolve the dispute over the country’s nuclear program. According to the plan, Iran would ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia for processing. France would then convert the uranium into fuel rods for a reactor in Iran. This process would guarantee that Iran does not use uranium to develop nuclear weapons, but it gets the fuel it needs. (November 27): The IAEA passes a resolution condemning Iran for defying a UN Security Council ban on uranium enrichment and secretly building a second uranium enrichment plant. (November 29): The Iranian government approves a plan to construct 10 more uranium enrichment plants.

December 27: United Arab Emirates

South Korea wins a $20 billion contract to build nuclear power plants in the Untied Arab Emirates (UAE), defeating such countries as the Untied States and Japan. The UAE says its demand for electricity has doubled and the first nuclear plant is expected to open in 2017.

December 28: Iran

Iran’s authorities arrest at least 300 protesters and opposition members a day after massive and violent anti-government demonstrations in the country’s capital, Teheran. Those detained include family members and senior advisors to the opposition leader Hossein Mousavi, who ran in the elections against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These protests have been popping up since the controversial June presidential elections, presenting a big challenge for the Iranian government.