JPost Editorial: The UN Human Rights Council’s shameful blacklist
The UN has reached a new low. The UN Human Rights Council, usually in the news because it includes countries with the worst records of human rights abuse in the world, has now targeted companies that do business in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The so-called blacklist includes 112 companies with the aim of letting the world know who it is that works in Israel’s alleged “occupied territories.”
The publication of the list has been in the works since 2016. Countries with the worst human-rights records, such as Cuba and Venezuela, pushed the list due to their anti-Israel views, not because of an attachment to international law. The Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also supported the list, neither of which are known for having members with stellar human-rights records.
Unsurprisingly, the UN does not have a global standard for how it labels companies that operate in different disputed areas, such as Crimea, Kashmir, Afrin, Northern Cyprus or Western Sahara. As usual, the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has merely replicated the antisemitism of previous eras, targeting Israel the way global antisemites target Jews. There is no reason Israel’s role in the West Bank is especially unique.
Corporations that do business in the West Bank are no more involved in human-rights abuses than those accused of fueling such abuses from the Gulf to Asia.
As Lahav Harkov wrote in Thursday’s Post, there is no explanation for why some companies active in the West Bank, in the categories the UN mentions, are on the list of 112 while others are not. The UN supposedly seeks to target companies involved in surveillance, demolition, pollution and hindering the Palestinian economy. The list includes Motorola, Airbnb, General Mills and TripAdvisor, among others. This is confusing, since TripAdvisor enables users to review places in Palestinian areas. Why punish a company that assists people in finding tourism opportunities in Palestinian areas merely because the same company might highlight restaurants that are also owned by Israeli citizens?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will contest the decision with all of its strength and will boycott those who try to boycott it. President Reuven Rivlin said the companies deserve support, and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also slammed the list.
Caroline B. Glick: Build Bibi, build
From the dawn of modern Zionism, two forms of Zionism have operated in tandem. The first is diplomatic Zionism. The second is pioneering Zionism. One of the unique aspects of the Trump plan is that it embraces both.
The map of Israel envisioned in the Trump plan is a map that adds the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria to sovereign Israeli territory. It bears out the central maxim of pioneering Zionism – the map of Israel is determined by the settlement of Israel. The land Jews live in is the land over which they take possession. The slogan of the pre-state pioneers, “One more dunam [hectare], one more goat,” lives on, as relevant than ever in the Trump plan.
As for diplomatic Zionism, the Trump plan is predicated on a recognition that Israel is the legitimate sovereign in Judea and Samaria under international law. This recognition, a hundred years after those rights were anchored in international law in the San Remo Convention, is a singular triumph for diplomatic Zionism.
Over the past 150 years, when progress in one form of Zionism was blocked, the other compensated by taking a more dominant role.
For instance, due then Obama’s obsessive hostility towards Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and neighborhoods in united Jerusalem, throughout most of Obama’s presidency, pioneering Zionists were stymied. Israel couldn’t build new communities or build much of anything inside existing communities without incurring the white wrath of the White House.
So Netanyahu, the greatest diplomatic Zionist since Theodor Herzl grabbed the baton and started running. Through his peripatetic defenses of Israel’s rights and relentless push to strengthen and widen Israel’s bilateral relations with countries around the world, Netanyahu enabled Israel to withstand the Obama administration’s anti-settlement pressure campaign and get through his presidency with all communities intact.
Due to the administration’s sudden opposition to the application of Israeli law over the Jordan Valley and the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria ahead of the March 2 elections, the diplomatic pathway to Israeli sovereignty over the areas is stymied. But that there is a path forward. It has a diplomatic component but it mainly involves community building.
Clifford D. May: The return of the Monroe Doctrine
Tehran’s regional propaganda headquarters is in Caracas. The two regimes collaborate in a disinformation war against the US Their Spanish-language television networks, Hispan TV and Telesur, respectively, share journalists across Latin America.
Hezbollah, a proxy of the clerical regime, is firmly ensconced within Venezuela’s large (about 200,000) Lebanese Shia community. “Simply put,” Dr. Ottolenghi notes, “Maduro and his cronies use the trappings of a sovereign state to run a criminal syndicate involved in pillaging state resources and taking commissions from organized crime to use Venezuela as a staging ground for their global smuggling operations.”
He adds: “Hezbollah supporters, concentrated in several areas of Venezuela and along the Venezuela/Colombia border, have, over the years, lent their businesses to trade-based money-laundering schemes designed to repatriate drug money for the cartels – minus a hefty commission for Hezbollah.”
The day after the State of the Union, President Trump met with Guaido to discuss how “to expedite a democratic transition in Venezuela that will end the ongoing crisis,” according to a White House press statement.
I’d argue that will require additional sanctions, not just on the Maduro regime but also and especially on Russia which is violating the Monroe Doctrine – President James Monroe’s 1823 warning to Europe that further imperialism in the Western Hemisphere would not be tolerated.
Of course, in 2013, then-Secretary of State John Kerry announced: “The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” What he probably meant was that the Obama administration had no wish to dominate the Americas.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian neo-tsar toward whom Bhatt believes Mr. Trump is too solicitous, may have interpreted Mr. Kerry’s words differently: as an invitation to exploit US neighbors – an invitation he and others have been only too pleased to accept.
Nonetheless, despite the Gulf Arabs’ turn away from the White House plan, there has been a noticeable uptick in friendly overtures towards Israel. Shared interests and Israel’s perceived role as a gatekeeper to improved ties with the United States help explain shifting Arab attitudes. Bahrain hosted a conference to launch the economic portion of the peace plan last year. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid an official visit to Oman in 2018, the first such visit since the Second Intifada. The UAE hosted Israel’s minister of sports and culture in 2018 and became the first Arab country to play the Israeli national anthem at a sporting event. And Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declared in 2018, “Israelis have the right to have their own land.”
Spurred by a common fear of Iran, the Gulf states and Israel have been drawn into each other’s arms. The Gulf states now see Israel as an attractive partner in security and intelligence cooperation. Indeed, the plan even makes several mentions of its goal of bringing Arab states and Israel together, including creating a “regional security committee” comprised of Israel and several Arab countries.
While hostility to Israel diminishes, many Arab states, especially in the Gulf, have reevaluated their relationship with the Palestinians. Decades of Palestinian corruption, mismanagement, and obstructionism have bred frustration and donor fatigue. Following the plan’s release, Arab influencers, including the chairperson of the board of the popular Saudi-based newspaper Al-Arabiya, criticized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his obstructionism. By refusing to engage with Trump, rejecting the proposal before it was revealed, and declaring a “thousand no’s” to the plan after its release, the Palestinians have presented themselves as rejectionists and have given further room for Israeli-Arab union.
Additionally, internal Palestinian issues have alienated Arab benefactors. Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, remain divided. No conceivable peace plan could succeed with a hostile Gaza Strip run by an unrepentant terrorist group committed to destroying Israel, not to mention that Hamas, as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, is anathema to some Gulf states. And Abbas celebrating year 16 of his four-year term is a stark reminder of the corruption that has troubled Arab patrons.
Meanwhile, more pressing concerns, such as prolonged conflicts in Syria and Yemen, have relegated the Palestinian issue to the back burner in the Middle East. However, these conflicts have not fully negated the symbolic importance of Palestine to the Arab states, explaining the about-face the Arab League delivered.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir endorsed Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century in a press conference on Thursday, stating that the controversial deal had some “positive elements”.
“There are positive elements in Trump’s peace plan, which can serve as a basis for negotiation,” the top diplomat said during a visit to Romania.
He said the deal may not come into fruition easily because of Palestinian opposition.
“We have an Arab peace initiative with Israel,” he said, referring to the 2002 initiative of creating peace with Israel in exchange of the Palestinian right to return and a withdrawal of illegal Israeli settlements.
The Deal of the Century, however, disregards the initiative by annexing parts of the occupied West Bank to Israel.
“The Palestinians believe that the Trump plan is not appropriate for them and we cannot negotiate on their behalf. We must support their decision.”
Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump unveiled the initiative for a Palestinian-Israeli deal that would cede large swaths of the West Bank to Israel and put forward a set of near-impossible conditions for Palestinians to meet.
Saudi Arabia has previously welcomed the peace plan despite Palestinian opposition.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said it “appreciates” Trump’s efforts and called for the start of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A delegation of members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations visited Saudi Arabia this week, a first for the umbrella body for US Jews, and a move believed to be the first official visit to the kingdom by an American Jewish organization since 1993.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has learned that the visit from Monday to Thursday included meetings with senior Saudi officials as well as with Mohammed al-Issa, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League who recently led a delegation to Auschwitz. Al-Issa is seen as close to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince.
The focus of the talks between the Conference constituents and Saudi officials was on countering terrorism and those fomenting instability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Israel share a mutual concern about Iran’s activity in the region and fears that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program.
Why it matters
The Presidents Conference is an umbrella body for major US Jewish organizations, created in the 1950s to present a unified Jewish voice on issues of foreign policy. It has been riven in recent years over differences on criticizing Israel’s settlement policy, and on how closely to work with the Trump administration.
It’s not known which component organizations were represented in Riyadh, but the Conference’s professional leadership — executive vice president Malcolm Hoenlein and CEO William Daroff are known to have been present — as well as current lay chairman Arthur Stark.
A number of organizations chose not to attend, but most notably no Reform movement group was on board.
The visit signals what could be an increasing warmness between some mainstream US Jewish groups and Saudi Arabia.
David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, and for the last two months, head of the Yesha Council as well, is convinced that the discourse about Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley is not merely pre-election talk. “It is coming closer,” he says and identifies unprecedented processes that are underway. One of them is the initial meetings of the steering committee for the application of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, a committee that was established by the Prime Minister, and whose members include representatives of his office, the Defense Ministry, the Civil Administration and others.
“The committee has already convened and that indicates that this is serious,” Elhayani says, and adds, “From my discussions with our people in the United States, I understand that longterm preparations have been undertaken to gain American recognition of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley. The visit of John Bolton (then National Security Advisor of the Trump Administration) to the Jordan Valley seven months ago was the first indicator for me.”
The domestic political arena, too, inspires in Elhayani unprecedented hopes. “In the course of negotiations to establish a government, Yisrael Beytenu declared that one of its demands is that the coalition agreement include a paragraph calling for sovereignty in the Jordan Valley. I have heard of a proposal given by a senior member of the Blue and White party with the agreement of Benny Gantz and Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon to Naftali Bennett and Rabbi Rafi Peretz. In this proposal, one of the paragraphs of the coalition agreement would be sovereignty in the Jordan
Valley. All these tell me that it will happen.”
“The people and the politicians have internalized that this step is essential and its significance is that the area will no longer be enveloped in political uncertainty and it will be possible to engage in long-term planning after 52 years of settlement during which we were forced to do it all ourselves, with no organized guidance from the government. The time has come to consider this area part of the State of Israel. It is a geographical strip of land that is longer than the strip between Hadera and Ashdod and has enormous development potential.”
The UN Human Rights Council’s blacklist of businesses working in settlements was compiled with the help of organizations affiliated with terrorist groups, the Strategic Affairs Ministry said on Thursday, a day after the list was made public.
Meanwhile, the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel sought to help businesses that may be hurt by boycotts due to the list’s publication.
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan called the list “disgraceful,” saying it “proves once again the UN’s consistent antisemitism and Israel-hatred.”
“The UNHRC, which consists of tyrannical states and despotic regimes, proves once again that it is a rotten institution that makes delusional decisions, which have no connection to actual human rights,” he stated.
Erdan argued that the blacklist will end up hurting the livelihood of thousands of Palestinians working with Israelis in the West Bank.
One of the groups the Strategic Affairs Ministry cited was Addameer, Conscience in Arabic, a Palestinian NGO.
Addameer’s accountant Samer Arbeed is a member of the terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who led the cell that murdered 17-year-old Rina Schnerb near Dolev in the West Bank last year, detonating the bomb himself.
Another Palestinian NGO, Al Haq. the Truth in Arabic, is focused on legal action against Israel for alleged human rights violations and was heavily involved in the blacklist’s compilation, the ministry said.
Al Haq is led by a a former senior member of the PFLP, Shawan Jabareen, who has served time in Israeli prison for his involvement in terrorist activities. An Israeli court described him as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – on the one hand he presents himself as the director of a human rights organization, and on the other, he is active in a terrorist organization that commits murder…He actively denies the most fundamental right of all, without which there are no other rights – the right to live.”
Settlers on Thursday said they planned to file a local class action suit against the United Nations, based on Israel’s anti-boycott law.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan announced the plan at an emergency meeting he held in his offices, with Economic and Trade Minister Eli Cohen (Likud) and factory owners from the Barkan Industrial Park.
“Yesterday the organization that called itself the ‘UN Human Rights Council’ became a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions organization in every sense of the word,” Dagan said. “It. Is an antisemitic organization and a hypocritical organization. It talks about peace, but its real purpose is only to sabotage the State of Israel and harm coexistence,” Dagan said. As such, he said, the anti-boycott laws can be used against it in local courts.
The suit would target UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The suit would demand compensation and would also name left-wing organizations. Dagan said he did not believe that diplomatic immunity extended to this kind of civil compensation suit.
I call on @UN leaders, starting with Secretary-General @antonioguterres, to make their views and voices heard on this issue so there can be no mistaking the UN’s intentions as they pertain to #MiddleEastPeace. Full statement: https://t.co/5bNLcgI9FI
— Ambassador Kelly Craft (@USAmbUN) February 13, 2020
Note change in terminology! U.S. is now referring to Judea & Samaria (‘West Bank’) as ‘Israeli-controlled territories’, not occupied territory! https://t.co/jpb2qaze0D
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) February 14, 2020
UN Black List of companies in Jewish areas of West Bank is a Racist Policy
The UNHCR Black list of companies operating in Jewish areas of West Bank is a racist policy and pretending that this is about human rights is a gross and deceptive tactic. Brooke Goldstein tells Michelle Makori
Why? Because you are a shameless, egotistical man, desperate for relevance.https://t.co/gfnCy2CLHY
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) February 13, 2020
The Netherlands criticized a report published by the United Nations Human Rights Council, naming and shaming companies with activities relating to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Netherlands discourages companies from investing in Israeli settlements, but believes that the UN should keep out of this, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said to NOS.
The list contains 112 companies, including four Dutch ones – telecom and media content provider Altice Europe, travel platform Booking.com, real estate developer Kardan, and its subsidiary engineering firm Tahal Group International. According to the UN, there are reasonable grounds to conclude that these companies have been involved in activities that are banned by the Human Rights Council resolution 31/36.
While the settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory are considered illegal under international law, the UN council report has no legal ramifications. It is mainly meant to “name and shame” the companies involved, according to NOS.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is not the UN’s job to make businesses aware of corporate social responsibility. That job lies with countries themselves – which is why the Netherlands discourages companies from investing in Israeli settlements. The Netherlands also considers the list a prime example of a one-sided focus on Israel. The Netherlands was “loud and clear” in making its dissatisfaction with the list known, the Foreign Affairs spokesperson said to NOS.
Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs will also make it clear to the Council in Geneva that the Netherlands does not agree with this “disproportionate” one-sided focus, the spokesperson said.
The Czech Republic on Thursday applied to submit a written legal opinion to the International Criminal Court, in which it would argue that The Hague does not have jurisdiction to launch an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Gaza and the West Bank.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek filed the request to become an amicus curiae — a “friend of the court” who is not a party to the case but wants to offer its views — one day before the deadline for states to submit legal opinions expires on February 14.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Thursday declined to comment on the matter. But diplomatic officials told Haaretz that they welcomed Prague’s move, which Jerusalem had encouraged.
The Czech Republic has long been considered one of Israel’s closest friends in Europe.
Germany on Friday backed Israel’s position at the International Criminal Court, which is currently weighing whether to open an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Gaza and the West Bank.
Like the Czech Republic on Thursday, Berlin submitted a request to become an amicus curiae — a “friend of the court” who is not a party to the case but wants to offer its views.
Hungary also submitted an application, diplomatic officials told The Times of Israel, citing the same rational.
The deadline for states to submit legal opinions expires Friday.
All three countries were expected to submit written legal opinion positing that The Hague does not have jurisdiction to investigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Austria, which in recent years has become closer to the Jewish state, is also expected to file an application.
In its filing, Germany noted it was “a staunch supporter of the International Criminal Court and its organs, and a leader of the fight against impunity.” It also noted that it has long been a proponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But, it argued, “The scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction pursuant to Article 12 of the Rome Statute does not extend to the occupied Palestinian territories. Article 12 of the Rome Statute presupposes that there is a “State” that has the ability under international law to delegate territorial jurisdiction to the Court with respect to the relevant cases.
In a February 9, 2020 interview with the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, former deputy prime minister of Sudan and currently the head of the Umma Reform and Renewal Party, expressed support for the recent meeting between Sudanese leader ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Burhan and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and for the normalization of relations between the two countries. Responding to those who condemned the meeting, Al-Mahdi stated that the Palestinians themselves have normalized relations with Israel and have maintained economic ties with it since the signing of the Oslo Accords, as do many other Arab countries, chief of them Egypt.
Al-Mahdi added that the Arabs’ years-long policy of refusal, as part of which they have rejected every proposal for resolving the Palestinian issue, is unrealistic and has harmed them, and that the talk of a continued boycott of Israel has become meaningless in the current reality and considering the existing balance of power. Urging the Arabs to learn from the mistakes of the past and advance towards normalization with Israel, he stressed that the Sudanese, with the exception of some extremists, are in favor of this option, especially since Sudan is in desperate need for Israeli technology. Moreover, friendship with Israel could help Sudan clear its name as a former state-sponsor of terror and may lead to the lifting of the U.S. sanctions on it, he said.
It should be noted that Al-Mahdi expressed similar positions when he served as minister of investments and deputy prime minister, which drew fire from the Sudanese political and religious establishment. 
It should also be noted that, according to recent reports, Israel, the U.S., Egypt and Saudi Arabia are discussing the possibility of holding a summit in Cairo, attended by Israeli PM Netanyahu and several Arab leaders, including Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, Egyptian President ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, and the leaders of the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Sudan. If there is any truth to these reports, the meeting between Netanyahu and Al-Burhan may have been a trial balloon ahead of this summit. The interview with Al-Mahdi in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, as well as another article recently published in the daily – an opinion piece by senior columnist ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed explaining Sudan’s reasons for drawing closer to Israel – may likewise be a Saudi attempt to promote the idea of normalization with Israel among the Arab public.
The head of Sudan’s transitional government has said Israel has an important role in removing the country from a US blacklist of state sponsors of terror, according to a report in an Arab newspaper.
Speaking to London-based pan-Arabic publication Asharq al-Awsat, Sudan’s Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan cited that fact as justification for his controversial, unprecedented meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda earlier this month.
Sudan, a predominantly Muslim nation, does not have official relations with Israel, but after their meeting, Netanyahu said the two had agreed to move towards normalizing ties.
Burhan had denied this, but in Friday’s interview appeared to confirm it, saying such a move was “within the framework of Sudan’s efforts for its national and security interests.”
He said a committee would be formed to discuss advancing relations, and claimed there was widespread support for normalization in the country. and that only “limited ideological groups” opposed it.
Sudan’s transitional government announced on Thursday that it has reached a settlement with families of the victims of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in order to have the country removed from the US terrorism list, the AP reported.
The attack killed 17 sailors and wounded more than three-dozen other people. Sudan was accused of providing support to Al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the attack.
This comes after other moves by Khartoum to end its international pariah status, including a meeting between its interim leader, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, in Uganda with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help establish more normalized relations.
Earlier this month, Sudan also tentatively agreed to allow flights heading to Israel to cross its airspace.
And earlier this week, Sudan’s leadership said it would hand over longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face war-crime charges for fighting in the western Darfur, the report said. The settlement with USS Cole victims is among the last issues remaining to be resolved for Sudan to be removed from the US list of terrorism supporters.
Four members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and three Syrian soldiers were killed in airstrikes around Damascus late Thursday night which Syria attributed to Israel, according to a Britain-based Syrian civil war monitor.
At approximately 11:45 p.m., incoming missiles struck five weapons depots near Damascus International Airport, including an attack on a military position south of the Syrian capital, the al-Arabiya news channel reported, citing unidentified sources.
The attack came hours after a shipment — reportedly of munitions — arrived at the airport from Tehran, according to flight data.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported that in total seven people were killed in the strikes, four of them from the IRGC and three from the Syrian military.
What utter garbage from @Beltrew at @Independent! A bunch of anonymous ‘sources’, no names (so no verification) and only orgreferences to extremist anti-Israel org @btselem & @hrw. This is not serious journalism, but propaganda. @UKMediaWatch https://t.co/7DKca9i0vi
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) February 14, 2020
Hamas reportedly sent a message to Israel announcing that it would unilaterally stop launching explosive balloons into Israeli territory, channel 12 reported on Thursday quoting an unnamed security official.
The report added that the message arrived a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened the terror organization ruling over the Gaza Strip in an interview on channel 12 saying that “we are preparing a big surprise for Hamas, and if they don’t change, we’ll use it.”
The following day, on Wednesday, Netanyahu reiterated in an interview with Army Radio that “either the rockets and balloons stop completely or there will be a different military action.”
Speaking to channel 12, the security official said that if calm is maintained, Israel will ease up restrictions on the Strip with measures such as re-expanding the fishing zone.
“We are skeptical, but an attempt will be made to restore stability to the Gaza border communities,” the source said.
Where’s the money going to from the millions from the EU and UK to the Palestinian Authority and @palestineinuk Could have bought a hundred machines? @MAPCampaigns @BorisJohnson @foreignoffice pic.twitter.com/nIISQyqjLH
— Eye On Antisemitism (@AntisemitismEye) February 13, 2020
If in the past, the Middle East was dominated by Arab national states, today, the non-Arab states, mainly Iran, Turkey and Israel, became the prominent actors, dictating the regional agenda. Alongside them, Islamism became an additional, significant regional actor.
The general reason for the decline of the Arab states is that they had not modernized successfully. Most of them suffer from a critical imbalance between population and resources, with consistently poor economic performance.
In those circumstances, the Arab societies broke down into their components, highlighted by sectarian division between Sunnis and Shiites.
Moreover, when Arab nationalism was defeated decades ago, failing to unite all Arabs into one nation, it left a huge ideological vacuum that was filled by Islamic politics.
If the Arab-Israeli conflict was once the core of regional politics, when Israel was isolated, facing just about all of the Arab states as actively hostile enemies, this is no longer true. It has made peace with some key Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, and it has common interests with others.
All Arab states share profound concerns about possible American withdrawal and Iranian hegemonic designs, while Israel is currently Iran’s main challenger in the region.
Leading Turkish politicians, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, and many journalists have made statements and commented on the recent fighting in Idlib between the Turkish military and Turkish-backed jihadi factions on one side and the Syrian military on the other. Devlet Bahçeli has since 1997 been leader of the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP), which is part of the Cumhur İttifakı (“People’s Alliance”), a political coalition formed in February 2018 comprising the MHP and President Erdoğan’s ruling AKP.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry published four press releases on February 3 describing an exchange of fire that day between Syrian government forces and Turkish forces in Idlib. The statements reported that seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian as well as 76 Syrian government “soldiers and personnel” were killed in the exchange. President Erdoğan said the same day that “30-35 regime elements had been neutralized” and that “of course there will be consequences for the [Syrian] regime.”
Defense Ministry statements on February 10 said that Syrian military artillery fire in Idlib had killed five Turkish soldiers and wounded five more, and that “101 regime elements have been neutralized, three tanks and two artillery/mortar positions were destroyed, and one helicopter had been struck.” A February 11 statement said that “51 regime elements have been neutralized, two tanks, one antiaircraft position, and one munitions depot had been destroyed, and one tank had been seized.” A February 12 statement said that “55 regime elements have been neutralized.”
The following report will review government and media reactions to the fighting.
“The Turkish Nation Should… Begin Planning Now To Enter Damascus… Let Syria Burn, May Idlib Collapse, Down With Assad”
On February 11, 2020, Turkish politician Devlet Bahçeli said: “The Turkish nation should, if necessary, if there is no other option, begin planning now to enter Damascus… Let Syria burn, may Idlib collapse, down with Assad… Syria, though it may not be official, has in practice become a colony of Russia. Assad’s bridle is tied to Moscow. The [responsibility for the] violence against our martyrs, as much as it is on the aggressor Syria, is on the shoulders of Russia, which set the scene for this and encouraged and aroused [the Syrian government] behind the scenes. It is a requirement that this reality be faced… There will be no tranquility, neither in Syria nor in Turkey, unless Assad is taken down from his throne.”
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar challenged Greece’s sovereignty on its islands in the Aegean Sea, saying in two recent interviews that Greece had armed 16 islands in violation of the relevant agreements. The Greek government reacted, saying: “It is at the very least hypocritical for a country that systematically violates the territorial integrity, sovereignty and sovereign rights of nearly all its neighbouring countries… to invoke international law.”
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar: “Greece Has Armed 16 Of Them Contrary To The Agreements”
In a statement on January 23, Akar said: “Despite these islands having a non-military status, Greece has armed 16 of them contrary to the agreements. We expect Greece to behave according to international law, the agreements it has signed, and good neighborly relations… We will not be encroached upon in any way. This is not a threat but our saying that we are in favor of good neighborliness is not a weakness. Right now, neither in the world nor in history is there a country whose territorial waters are six [nautical] miles and its airspace is ten [nautical] miles. We are faced with such outlandishness. They are trying to introduce this to world opinion as a reality. We are defending our right on this matter.”
Turkish Government: Territorial Waters Are Six Nautical Miles In Aegean Sea, 12 In Mediterranean And Black Seas
While the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea expands a country’s territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles from its shore, Turkey is not a party to this convention. The Turkish government recognizes its own territorial waters as including the waters six nautical miles from its shore in the Aegean Sea, and 12 nautical miles from its shore in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Were Turkey to recognize Greece’s territorial waters as including those waters 12 nautical miles from Greece’s shore, the many Greek islands in the Aegean Sea would bring much of that sea under Greek control.
Seth Frantzman: Diplomacy Alone Won’t End the Iranian Threat
When dealing with adversaries, diplomacy has to be part of a more-holistic approach to work. Iran’s leaders have had great success employing such an approach because they understand that the West is afraid of war and that it has largely abandoned the idea of using force as a means to its strategic ends.
Iran is happy to play the diplomacy game when that is to its advantage, but it also deploys military advisors through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to countries such as Syria, where some 800 IRGC troops are now located. It funds Hizbullah and arms it with precision-guided munitions. It transfers missile and drone technology to Yemen, and its intelligence officials have infiltrated Iraq. It has fired rockets at Israel, attacked Saudi Arabia with cruise missiles, used drones against Israel, fired ballistic missiles at U.S. forces and used its militias to attack them in Iraq, and mined ships in the Gulf of Oman.
All of this demands a response from the West that combines diplomacy with military force. One has to confront Iran on its own terms. If it fields diplomats and paramilitary proxies and sanctions missile attacks on U.S. troops, then the U.S. must field diplomats, rally its own allies on the ground, and invest in missile-defense capabilities.
Iran sees itself involved in a total war with the U.S., a fact made clear by the constant statements from the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, calling the U.S. “satanic” and “evil.” For Tehran’s leaders, this is a religious-ideological struggle to the death.
When the United States killed Qassim Soleimani at the Baghdad airport in the early hours of January 3, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was not the only target. With Soleimani was a handful of other Iranian brass as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Iraqi Shiite militia known as Kata’ib Hezbollah. Only days before, that group had fired on a base in Kirkuk and killed an American contractor. The group was also involved in the siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad just days later.
Upending two decades of established U.S. foreign policy, Donald Trump cared little whether the perpetrators of the embassy attack and the missile strike in Kirkuk came from Iran or were surrogates of Iran based in Iraq. Iran was responsible, and Iran paid. In one stroke, Trump eliminated the Iranian figure who had been spearheading the bloody proxy war against America, Israel, and a number of Gulf Arab states dating back to the late 1990s.
Soleimani’s killing was, without question, the most consequential act of Trump’s presidency. It didn’t just punish Iran for the action of its proxies. After decades of the U.S. letting the Islamic Republic get away with murder, the Trump administration made it clear that America would no longer allow the regime to hide behind its militias.
In 2008, a former CIA analyst named John Brennan wrote an article for Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science in which he laid out what he thought was a logical case for not responding to Iran’s violent proxies in the Middle East. “While Iranian support to these client groups undoubtedly strengthens their ability to carry out terrorist attacks, it is unclear what role Iranian officials play, if any, in the operational decisions made by these groups,” Brennan wrote. “Moreover, while many of these groups’ activities are labeled as ‘terrorism,’ most of the attacks carried out by Iranian Shia proxies are paramilitary in nature and are directed against combatant targets, either Israeli soldiers along the Lebanese border or coalition forces in Iraq.”
Brennan, who served as director of the CIA under Barack Obama, was not alone. He was one of many intelligence and military officials who viewed with calm dispassion the Islamic Republic’s use of proxies to attack Americans or American interests. As a result, Soleimani went unchallenged during his tenure as the leader of Iran’s military elite from 1998 to 2020.
The prominent Shi’ite Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement in Iraq, appears to be attempting to set himself up as a recognized religious authority in Iraq – even though his studies in the holy city of Qom in Iran have not yet qualified him to issue fatwas. His recent tweets appear to be aimed at pleasing Tehran, which follows the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, or rule of the jurisprudent, under which the leader is the custodian of the people.
Empowered by his new status as a leader of the Iraqi resistance factions following his meeting in Iran with commanders of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Al-Sadr, who has in recent weeks renounced the anti-government protesters, is now condemning them as “animals pursing their lust.” He seems to be challenging the Shi’ite religious establishment as represented by Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.
The following report will examine Al-Sadr’s recent tweets, which signal his effort to garner support from Iran and from his remaining supporters among the poor sectors of the Iraqi Shi’ite community, and to position himself as guardian of Islamic values in Iraq.
Al-Sadr’s Calls For Gender Segregation In Protests
On February 9, Al-Sadr tweeted his 18 points for demonstrators to abide by during their ongoing anti-government protests. One was that demonstrators “must observe the legal and social rules of the country as much as possible” and that there should be no mixing of the genders at the sit-in tents.
Al-Sadr affiliate Mohammad Saleh Al-Iraqi tweeted on February 10 a list of reasons why women and men should not protest together, in part because some female protesters do not wear the hijab and the protests have become an opportunity for “debauchery.”
IRGC Commander-in-Chief Gen. Hossein Salami Eulogizes Qasem Soleimani
IRGC Commander-in-Chief General Hossein Salami spoke in a ceremony marking the 40th day since the killing of IRGC Quds Force Commander General Qasem Soleimani. General Salami said Soleimani was responsible for the Palestinians’ current military capabilities and that as a result of Soleimani’s work, the Israelis can today hear across their border the languages of people from Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Yemen, the Hijaz, and elsewhere. General Salami threatened that if America and Israel make “the slightest mistake,” Iran will strike both of them. He then addressed the Israelis, telling them not to count on America, because “America always arrives late or does not arrive at all. “If you want to open such an account,” he added, “take a good look at the sea, because that is where your final place of residence will be. I am referring to the Mediterranean Sea.” The ceremony aired on Ofogh TV (Iran) on February 13, 2020. At the beginning of the ceremony, General Esmail Ghanni, who replaced Soleimani at the commander of Quds Force, read out Soleimani’s will.
Iranian Animation Depicts Missiles Destroying US Military Base in Revenge for Killing of Soleimani
On February 11, 2020, Fars News Agency (Iran) published an animation titled “Harsh Revenge” that was produced by the Research & Production Center of TV & Animation at the behest of the Islamic Development Organization, which is under the auspices of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The animation shows a U.S. drone locking in and firing upon a vehicle in which IRGC Qods Force Commander Qasem Soleimani is riding outside of Baghdad Airport. The animation then shows a massive crowd chanting slogans and holding up pictures of Iranian “martyrs.” Soleimani’s coffin is shown magically illuminated, and the animation cuts to an Iranian control center from which missiles are launched at an American military base. The missiles are shown destroying the base and its equipment, including a drone similar to the one that shot the missile that killed Soleimani. The animation concludes with a quote from Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei in which he says that America’s corrupting presence in the region must come to an end.
A U.S. Navy warship seized weapons believed to be of Iranian “design and manufacture,” including 150 anti-tank guided missiles and three Iranian surface-to-air missiles, the American military said on Thursday.
In a statement, the military said the guided-missile cruiser Normandy boarded a dhow, a traditional sailing vessel, in the Arabian Sea on Sunday.
“The weapons seized include 150 ‘Dehlavieh’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), which are Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian Kornet ATGMs,” the statement said.
“Other weapons components seized aboard the dhow were of Iranian design and manufacture and included three Iranian surface-to-air missiles,” it said.
The military said that the weapons seized on Sunday were “identical” to those seized by another U.S. warship in November.
Last year, the guided-missile destroyer Forrest Sherman seized advanced missile parts believed to be linked to Iran from a boat it had stopped in the Arabian Sea.
In recent years, U.S. warships have intercepted and seized Iranian arms likely bound for Houthi fighters in Yemen.
The U.S. Navy interdicted 358 Iranian-made missiles + other weapons components on their way to the Houthis in Yemen. This is another example of the world’s largest state sponsor of terror the Islamic Republic of Iran continuing to defy the UN Security Council. pic.twitter.com/vPOaoIpChU
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 14, 2020
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