From Turkey’s decision to provide military support to war-torn Libya and the killing of Soleimani to the devastating Beirut explosion and Abraham Accords between Israel and a spate of Arab states, the Middle East will find it hard to forget 2020. Here’s a recap of the most dramatic events that shaped the outgoing year:
- 2 January - Turkish parliament approves an official intervention in Libya in a bid to help the forces of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord and its fight against the troops of General Khalifa Haftar, backed by Egypt, Russia and several Gulf states. Soon after the chamber's approval, Ankara places boots on the ground of the war-torn country and provides the Arab nation with ammunition.
- 2 January - Israel, Greece and Cyprus sign a historic gas pipeline deal, agreeing to establish a 1,900 km long route to carry the energy from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. This comes amid strong opposition from Turkey that simultaneously works on pact with Libya aimed at dividing its resources with Ankara.
- 3 January - Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran's top generals, was assassinated in Iraq by a US drone strike, which was followed by Tehran launching a retaliatory missile strike on two American bases in Iraq. Soleimani’s death triggered mass demonstrations against Washington and the Islamic Republic's leaders vowed to avenge his blood, leading to Trump's decision to pull some American troops from Iraq.
- 10 January - Egypt reopens its Alexandria synagogue after a three-year renovation project. The Egyptian authorities reportedly poured some $4 million into the Eliyahu Hanavy initiative and they also invested millions of dollars into the repair of other Jewish sites in the country.
- 21 January - Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab announces his cabinet of 20 ministers, most of whom were academics and former advisors. In parallel, protesters took to the streets of the country, demanding economic and political reforms.
- 28 January - Trump unveils his "deal of the century" peace plan, as yet another attempt to end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under the initiative, the two sides would swap land, Palestinian factions like Hamas would be disarmed in exchange for serious cash injections and would be able to declare an independent state with a capital in one of Jerusalem's suburbs. The pact was swiftly rejected by the Palestinians, many Israelis, some regional players and much of the international community.
In early February, Egypt's statistics agency said that the country's population had officially reached 100 million people, presenting a problem for a nation that has limited resources.
The month was also marked by the outbreak of the coronavirus and its spread in the Middle East. Just as the region started registering its first cases, several nations in the area announced a number of restrictive measures in a bid to contain the virus.
Qatar evacuated its citizens from Iran, Kuwait sent its evacuation planes to Italy, Israel started sealing its borders, Iraq banned gatherings and barred travel to several states, and Iran announced domestic travel restrictions.
- 1 March - Turkey starts its operation Spring Shield in Syria, following an incident where at least 34 Turkish soldiers had been killed and dozens of others injured in Idlib, a de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria. Ankara blamed the attack on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The aim of the operation was to push the Syrian forces away from the 12 Turkish observation posts in Idlib that were set up after the 2018 Sochi agreement.
- 2 March - Israel goes to the polls for the third time in under two years. The result of the parliamentary race was that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party retained a lead, gaining 36 out of 120 seats in the country's chamber.
- 19 March - Netanyahu declares a state of emergency and a national lockdown in an attempt to address the spread of the virus. Public institutions, businesses and offices were shut down, Israelis were not allowed to exceed the radius of one kilometre from their homes and most of the public transportation was halted.
- 20 April - After threes round of elections and more than a year of political impasse, Netanyahu and former chief of staff Benny Gantz agree to form a government.
- 22 April - Iran launches Nour 1, its first military satellite into space. Developed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, it was supposed to gather intelligence, something that sparked strong condemnation from the US.
- 27 April - King Salman of Saudi Arabia issues a decree announcing that his country would no longer sentence people to death if they'd committed crimes while still minors. The announcement came two days after the Arab nation declared that it would ban flogging.
- 17 May - Israel's 35th government was sworn in in Jerusalem, ending nearly two years of political gridlock. Netanyahu retained his seat as the country's PM, while Gantz became its defence minister. The coalition has been slammed for being the most "wasteful" government, featuring 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers, -- all during the raging coronavirus and the acute economic crisis that it has unlocked.
- 20 May - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declares that the PA's security coordination with Israel was "null and void". This followed Netanyahu’s decision to go ahead with his plans to extend Israel's sovereignty over parts of the West Bank. The initiative was taken off the table in July, and Palestinians resumed their cooperation with Israel in November.
- 4 June - The UN-backed Government of National Accord said it established full control of Libya’s capital Tripoli, ousting the forces of General Khalifa Haftar from the area.
- 15 June - Turkey kicks off its Claw-Eagle and Tiger operation in northern Iraq, aimed at ensuring "the safety of Turkish people and borders" and neutralising the threat of PKK and other Kurdish groups that Ankara considers terrorists.
- 17 June - The Trump administration unloads a new wave of sanctions against Syrian officials, including President Assad himself and his wife Asma. The idea was to prevent Syria from getting the necessary funds and pushing it back to the UN-led negotiations.
- 1 July - Israel's parliament, the Knesset, was supposed to vote on Netanyahu's so-called annexation plan that aimed at applying Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, but the initiative was nixed, causing frustration among the country's conservative circles.
- 10 July - The Hagia Sophia museum of Istanbul was made into a mosque after the announcement of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that sparked outrage among seculars of the country and much of the international community.
- 20 July - The United Arab Emirates launched its first rocket to Mars. The mission was not supposed to land on the planet but rather to orbit it for the whole Martian year of 687 days.
- 2 August - The United Arab Emirates launched operations at Barakah, the first Arab nuclear power plant. The idea behind the project was to move the country away from its dependency on oil and adopt more sustainable energy sources. However, it raised concerns among some circles in the Middle East that claimed the plant was potentially posing a threat to the area's security and stability.
- 4 August - An explosion rocks the port of Beirut, capital of Lebanon. The detonation of a large amount of ammonium nitrate improperly stored at the site led to the deaths of at least 200 people and left 300,000 others homeless. The explosion shattered the already fragile Lebanese economy and angered the masses, who held the government's negligence responsible for the disaster.
- 13 August - Netanyahu announces Israel would establish official relations with the UAE that would become the third Arab nation to recognise the Mideast country.
- 15 September - Israel, the UAE and Bahrain sign historic normalisation agreements in Washington. The deals were embraced by the international community but condemned by the Palestinians and a number of regional players.
- 29 September - The leader of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah passes away. Being touted as the "dean of Arab diplomacy," he served as a mediator in several regional conflicts including the restoration of ties with states that backed Iraq, following its war against his country, and the stand-off between Qatar and other Gulf states.
- 23 October - Trump announces Sudan would be the fifth Muslim nation to officially recognise Israel. In exchange, the African country would be removed from the US list of terror states, something that would lead to cash injections into the country.
Throughout November, US unloaded a number of sweeping sanctions against Iran. Those included measures against the country's oil sector, Khamenei-linked foundation and several firms.
- 27 November - Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist and a person deemed as one of the developers of Iran's nuclear programme, was assassinated outside of Tehran. The Islamic Republic pointed the finger of blame at Israel, vowing to avenge his blood. Tel Aviv never confirmed these allegations.
- 10 December - Trump announces Morocco would be the the sixth Muslim state to recognise Israel. In exchange, the US acknowledged its rights over Western Sahara.