February 18, 2020

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10/16 Links Pt1: How Israel Helps Uphold the U.S.-Backed Liberal International Order; Turkey’s Assault on the Kurds: The Silence of the Islamists; Europe Must Do the Right Thing on Hezbollah

http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2019/10/1016-links-pt1-how-israel-helps-uphold.html

From Ian:


How Israel Helps Uphold the U.S.-Backed Liberal International Order
Seeking to reverse decades of diplomatic isolation, and in response to increasing hostility from Western Europe, Jerusalem in recent years has cultivated better relations with a variety of states, including some with unsavory rulers—ranging from the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. While such a policy has provoked sharp criticism in some quarters, Seth Cropsey and Harry Halem explain that a small country like Israel does not have the luxury of disdaining potential allies, and, moreover, continues to do much to support American interests and with them the “liberal international order,” such as it is. Take the fraught case of its relations with Russia:

Small powers such as Israel illustrate the liberal international order’s pathology. The Jewish state in particular feels the existential edge of political competition, having faced annihilation from its inception. Today, Iran is Israel’s greatest adversary. A unique blend of Shiite supremacism and Persian imperial revanchism drives Iran’s leaders to recover Sassanid and Safavid lost glory.

Rather than striking Iran directly, Israel has opted to attack its network of proxies that stretch from the Tigris to the Levantine basin. However, the United States no longer dominates the region’s airspace. Any Israeli action against Iran requires Russian assent as a simple geographical fact. This situation will persist indefinitely, as America shows no desire to challenge the Russian presence in Syria. So Israel must work with Russia if it hopes to combat Iranian expansion—as a matter of course, small powers must search for other options during periods of strategic turmoil, whatever their ideological preferences may be.

The irony is that Israel’s cognizance of Russian interests actually furthers American security goals. Iran poses a threat to the United States irrespective of its alliance with Israel. If a hostile power were to control the Middle East, it could sever the U.S.’s sea lines of communication and supply, preventing effective coordination between American forces and allies in Europe and Asia. Moreover, it could use its oil exports to threaten the reliance of U.S. partners on oil imports, such as Japan.

It is therefore no surprise that the U.S.’s interest in a stable Middle Eastern balance of power has persisted since the 1940s. But the age of imperial dominion has passed. America cannot govern as Britain and France once did. It must work with and through local actors. Critically, every attempt that the U.S., or any Western power, has made to court the “Arab street” has failed irrespective of support for Israel.

Gen. Kuperwasser: The U.S. Commitment to Israel Is Different from Its Commitment to the Syrian Kurds

IDF Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence research division, told JNS that the strengthening of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated extremist Sunni forces in northeast Syria “should disturb us.” He stressed that Turkey had launched its offensive with “problematic, radical forces.”

Kuperwasser predicted that “if the Kurds feel distressed, and American pressure can’t stop the Turks, they will try to link up with Assad, as well as with the Russians and the Iranians.” The Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) signed such a cooperation agreement with the Assad regime on Sunday.

While Israel can provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian Kurds and also apply diplomatic pressure, military intervention is out of the question, said Kuperwasser, director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Kuperwasser insisted that the events in northeast Syria will have no direct repercussions on U.S.-Israel relations. “The depth of the U.S. commitment to Israel is very different” from its commitment to the Syrian Kurds.

He added that while Israel “is acting decisively to prevent an Iranian base in Syria, what is important in this context is that the American economic pressure on Iran continues.”

“Despite pinpoint [Iranian] achievements on the ground, the infrastructure of Iran is still eroding. They can’t hold on for a long time without money. It all costs money in the end.”

Seth Frantzman: From Iran to Turkey, US browbeaten by ‘war’ narrative

During the run-up to the Iran deal in 2015, the main narrative put forward by those who supported it was that if the US did not do a deal then there would be a “war.” During the phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump, reports indicate, the same “If you don’t do this, there will be war,” threat was used.

US foreign policy has increasing been hostage to the notion that the US must cater to both allies and adversaries to avoid wars. Oddly, those countries, including Turkey and Iran, are able to bluff their way into things by alleging they are prepared for war with the United States. There is no evidence that either country is willing to risk a real conflict with the US, but their threshold for claiming they do is higher than the US, and they have learned that after decades of foreign wars Washington is more cautious about new tensions.

In 2015 the Obama administration presented a claim, through a sophisticated network of op-eds and surrogates sent to speak to media, which argued that “the only alternative to the Iran nuclear deal is war.” An April 2015 piece at The Atlantic noted that the alternative could be a “substantial war.” In May 2018, when Trump left the Iran deal, the BBC reported that a possibility might be a “new and catastrophic regional war.”

Turkey presented the US with a threat that Turkey would begin its operation regardless of the US presence and begin bombing US partners on the ground, the 100,000-strong Syrian Democratic Forces that the US had helped train since 2015 to fight ISIS.

Trump agreed to let Turkey conduct its “long-planned operation” to attack peaceful towns and cities that the US had enjoyed being stationed next to. Turkey has become proficient at using threats against Western powers to get them to do what it wants. It threatened to send 3.6 million refugees to Europe if the EU critiqued its operation. Is it normal for US allies to threaten to send refugees forcefully into their countries to punish them for policies?

Turkey’s Assault on the Kurds: The Silence of the Islamists

A stateless people comprised of a large number of Sunni Muslims is being bombarded by a country with an overwhelming military advantage. It’s the kind of thing that normally has American Islamist groups organizing protests and lighting up social media feeds.

But this time the aggressor is Turkey’s authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man who has positioned himself as a defender of violent Palestinian terrorists like Hamas and a patron for Muslim Brotherhood leaders who sought refuge from Egypt’s military rulers. He is bombing Kurdish targets in northern Syrian, and has sent his troops into the country.

American Islamists, normally not shy about Middle East conflicts, are largely silent about Turkey’s crimes. When Israel has launched defensive operations to stop Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists from raining rockets on civilians in southern Israel, the same groups were quick to condemn it, organize protests, demand US government action, and organize social media campaigns.

Kurdish victims fail to generate similar concern. Images on social media show Turkish bombing and shelling of civilians all along Syria’s northern border. Civilians in the town of Kobane, who withstood a 2014 ISIS onslaught, found themselves under attack by Turkish artillery.

Turkey claims it is conducting an anti-terrorist operation against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But the PKK’s ideology has moved away from revolutionary Marxism and now supports autonomy within Turkey, American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin noted in a January National Interest column. Erdogan sought peace with the PKK before turning against it in 2015.

“To refuse to acknowledge, let alone appreciate the evolution of the PKK and to refuse to recognize the achievements and stability of Syrian Kurdish governance against the backdrop of a horrendous civil war not only does an injustice toward the Kurds, but it also signals that in order to achieve their basic human rights, they must fight to the death in Turkey,” Rubin wrote.

Iran and Turkey Are Rivals for Middle East Hegemony

When those issues are combined with the US bolstering its forces in Saudi Arabia, the only conclusion is that the US goal is to increase pressure on Iran. This, in addition to paralyzing sanctions, should force the ayatollahs to make a decision about how they will proceed – whether or not to go back to the negotiating table or persist with escalation.

There is another factor in the equation – Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia, after all, has been working to stabilize Syria for five years. Trump’s move and the Turkish operation could put Putin under pressure to steer the Iranians into talks. None of the actors wants to see further escalation, but it appears that the Americans are posing the bigger challenge, and the game is heading into critical moments: what will the Iranians do when Trump makes things hard for them and he himself is facing an election?

Continued escalation of the situation in the Persian Gulf does not serve Iran’s interests since its economy has already sustained a fatal blow. However, it’s not certain they take the West seriously. It should be said that if Trump intends to create serious leverage, he needs to have more forces at the ready around the Gulf. This might be why the US cut down its involvement in Syria.

Amid all this, we must not ignore the human suffering the Kurdish issue entails. While Trump took a tough line toward Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lest he harm them, the significance of the current situation is clear – the Kurds might be facing a tragedy.

This can teach us that nothing has really changed in our world in the 21st century. National interests come first and humane concerns are marginalized. A people without self-determination and without a sovereign state doesn’t “count.” This dynamic only underscores how lucky our generation is; there is no way to know what would have happened if the historic decision of Nov. 29, 1947 to declare a national homeland for us had never been made.

Barry Shaw: Israeli intelligence briefing. Al-Bukamal Iranian base in Syria.

Much has been said and written about the Turkish incursion into northern Syria and their attacks against the Kurds.

But, for Israel, another location is important.

Al-Bukamal is located on the Iraqi/Syrian border. It has been the target of recent Israeli airstrikes. Al-Bukamal is also the site of a key crossing between Syria and Iraq which allows it to become an important hub for Iranian weapons transportation to Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

In the early days of the Iranian and Iraqi militias’ control of the town of Al-Bukamal, the means of communication between them were wireless radios. After a few months of controlling the Syrian/Iraqi border town of al-Bukamal, assassinations increased in the area, which affected a number Iranian militias. The targeting of Iranian militia vehicles and their movements by cells opposing the militias were detected by the frequency used by the wireless radios.

Due to this detection, the Iranian militias issued orders not to speak on radios except when it was an emergency. After a few months, Iranian militias secured cellular lines from the company Zain Iraq through its members in the Popular Mobilization Forces.

About two months ago, Iranian militias set up a reinforced communication network for Zain Iraq on Jabal al-Baghouz on the Iraqi side of the border to gain greater coverage in al-Bukamal and its countryside. To obtain a line of communication, it requires personal identification and sometimes permission from militia commanders.

Few leaders of the Iranian militias have satellite telephones. Some members of the security branches of the Syrian regime in the city of al-Bukamal use Syrian lines, and there are some important figures from the Iranian militias in addition to the Iraqi line have another Syrian line to communicate with the Office of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Damascus.

Ben-Dror Yemini: The Kurds are being massacred and the world is silent

The Kurds of Rojava are not asking for independence, they are not demanding the dissolution of Syria and they declare that they want to live under the Syrian flag.

The Palestinians, unlike the Kurds, have repeatedly been offered proposals for independence and the establishment of a separate state but they declined time and time again.

The Kurds never received such an offer, but it did not stop the Palestinians from becoming the world’s darling and that also didn’t stop some idiots whose connection with reality was always a bit wonky from depicting Israel as a carbon-copy of Turkey.

Have the Kurds ever threatened to eradicate Syria, Iraq or Turkey? Have they ever launched rockets at population centers? Are their educational systems laden with jihadist racist propaganda?

The invasion is intended, among other things, to create a “safe zone” in which Turkey could settle Syrian refugees who fled due to the civil war raging in the country, but in the meantime, it also creates a new wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Where exactly will they run to?

We live in a world where atrocities against Muslims are firmly condemned – they were slaughtered in Darfur, they faced ethnic cleansing and massacres in Myanmar, they are locked up in re-education camps in China – these were always condemned with the support of the Arab and Muslim world.

But now when it is the Kurds, again the Kurds, who are facing a new wave of war crimes, the world keeps silent.

How Erdogan Planned This Ethnic Cleansing All Along

As the Voice of America itself reported on January 23, Erdogan’s plan was to resettle three million or more refugees from other parts of Syria in this “security zone” extending twenty miles deep into Syria. Twenty miles may not sound much, but – the VOA omitted to mention – almost all the Kurdish towns of northeastern Syria lie within that area. So Erdogan’s intention to annihilate the Kurdish presence in that area and replace it with others has been manifest ever since the beginning of 2019.

A whole series of Trump’s Republican supporters in the Senate expressed outrage over his decision, starting with Lindsey Graham (“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration”) and continuing with Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who remarked: “As we learned the hard way during the Obama Administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal.”

Turkey, Russia, Iran: Filling the Vacuum

Meanwhile, as Syria’s Kurds try desperately to stave off a massacre at the hands of Turkish forces, Iraqi Kurdistan lies directly in the line not only of Turkish but also Iranian fire. As the Iranian regime continues — through Shia militias and other proxies, including the Houthis and Hezbollah — aggressively to expand its influence across Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, the Iraqi Kurds interviewed fear that they could be next in Iran’s crosshairs.

In September 2018, for instance, IRGC forces fired seven missiles into Kurdistan in what Iran’s regime claimed was an attack on Iranian Kurdish dissidents based there. At least 11 people were killed in the strike, which occurred just a short distance from a Peshmerga military position visited by the author.

Today, the U.S. troop withdrawal from neighboring Syria, combined with the glaring lack of response by the West in the face of escalating Iranian and Turkish aggression in the region, have left Iraq’s Kurds and other U.S. allies in the Free World feeling more exposed than ever to the expansionist aims of both Erdogan and Iran’s mullahs.

Given the Kurds’ painful history, including genocide at the hands of Saddam Hussein, and the threats they currently face, it’s no wonder that many shared an affinity for Israel — and a concern for the future.

“We defeated ISIS,” a Peshmerga general said, “only to see Iran and its Shia militias become stronger. They are filling the vacuum.”

Islamist-led Turkey has now joined those same Iranian-led forces in filling that vacuum — with the full acquiescence of the United States.

U.S. to Lobby NATO for Tough Turkey Punishment

Defense Secretary Mark Esper will travel to Brussels next week to demand NATO members implement “collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures” on Turkey as punishment for its incursion into Syria, he said today in a statement, setting in motion a process that could lead to historic penalties against a NATO ally.

It’s not clear what exactly those penalties might be, but a number of NATO states have already halted weapons sales and military aid to Ankara, as Congress readies its own punishing round of sanctions on the Turkish military that would effectively cut it off from the West.

The Trump administration today imposed a slew of economic sanctions on Turkey raising steel tariffs by 50 percent and halting negotiations over a $100 billion trade deal with the country. The Treasury Department also levied sanctions on Turkey’s ministries of defense and energy, as well as three senior Turkish officials.

Overseas, the European Union and some NATO countries have already started to move. EU foreign ministers today unanimously condemned Turkey’s bloody incursion, which has already seen its proxy forces film a roadside execution of a Syrian politician, as well as those of a number of Kurdish fighters. The Turkish actions “seriously undermines the stability and the security of the whole region,” the ministers said, but they stopped short of issuing a EU-wide arms embargo against Ankara.

Canada suspends new arms sales to Turkey

Canada on Tuesday announced it had temporarily suspended “new export permits” to Turkey, particularly of military equipment, in response to Ankara’s offensive into northern Syria.

“Canada firmly condemns Turkey’s military incursion into Syria,” Global Affairs Canada, the foreign ministry, said in statement.

“This unilateral action risks undermining the stability of an already-fragile region, exacerbating the humanitarian situation and rolling back progress achieved by the Global Coalition Against Daesh [Islamic State], of which Turkey is a member,” the statement added.

The suspended export permits cover “controlled property,” essentially military equipment, according to a list provided by the ministry.

Ottawa’s move follows similar measures by several European countries.

Turkey using Israeli-upgraded tanks in anti-Kurd offensive in Syria

Turkey is using M60-A1 tanks upgraded by Israel during the height of diplomatic relations between the two countries in their offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria.

Pictures of M-60 tanks upgraded by Israeli Military Industries (IMI) near the Turkish border town of Akcakale during Operation Peace Spring have circulated on social media. In the week since Turkey’s offensive began in northern Syria, hundreds of Kurds have been killed and 160,000 people, including 70,000 children, have been displaced from their homes.

All the main systems of M60-A1 tank, which were originally manufactured in the United States in the 1960s, were replaced with more advanced and modern systems already integrated into the main battle tanks of the IDF at a cost of $687 million.

Between 2003 and 2010, around 170 M60-A1 tanks were fitted with a 120 mm. cannon as well as advanced fire and turret control systems, and a new power unit with a 1000HP engine and transmission. The tanks were also fitted with hybrid armor (both active and passive) over its frontal arc.

Dozens of other subcontractors were involved in the project, with Israel’s Elbit systems as the primary subcontractor and smaller defense companies Urdan and Orlite also taking part.

Erdogan says Turkey ‘can never declare ceasefire’ in north Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed a US proposal to broker a ceasefire in northern Syria and said he was not worried over US sanctions, in comments published in Turkish media Wednesday.

He also said the Syrian army’s entry into the flashpoint northern Syrian city of Manbij was not a “very negative” development for his country as long as the region is cleared of Syrian Kurdish fighters.

“They tell us ‘to declare a ceasefire.’ We can never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan told journalists on a flight back from Azerbaijan, in comments published by the Hurriyet daily.

US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel Wednesday to Ankara to press Turkey to halt its offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters, President Donald Trump said Tuesday.

Pence’s office released a separate statement adding that he would “voice the United States’ commitment to reach an immediate ceasefire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement.”

“It is not possible for us to declare a ceasefire” until Turkey clears the “terror organisation” from its border, Erdogan said, referring to the Kurdish forces.

In reversal, Turkey says Erdogan will meet Pence after all

Despite an earlier statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that he would not meet visiting US Vice President Mike Pence, his office said the meeting would go ahead after all.

“Earlier today, the President told @SkyNews that he won’t receive a US delegation that is visiting Ankara today. He does plan to meet the US delegation led by @VP (Pence),” wrote Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun on Twitter.

As US President Donald Trump dispatched Pence to Ankara to demand a ceasefire, Turkey rebuffed international pressure to curb its military offensive against Kurdish militants in Syria.

Erdogan rejected any negotiations, telling parliament the only way to solve Syria’s problems was for the Kurdish forces to “lay down their arms… destroy all their traps and get out of the safe zone that we have designated.”

Battles raged in the key Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain on Wednesday, with Kurdish fighters burning tires in a bid to blind Ankara’s warplanes and digging in against a ground offensive by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.

Jordan denies it agreed to extend Israeli access to border lands it wants back

Jordan on Wednesday denied Israeli officials’ claim that it was willing to extend for another season Israel’s access to border lands that Amman wants back, as leases for the areas are on the verge of expiring.

King Abdullah II has agreed that Israeli farmers be allowed to continue working their crops in the Tzofar enclave in the southern Arava desert for another season, sources in the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Council told Israeli media earlier in the day.

However, Jordan swiftly denied the report, with the country’s foreign ministry saying in a statement that the decision to take back the lands is “final and decisive.”

The development came amid ongoing talks between senior Foreign Ministry representatives and Jordanian officials regarding two parcels of land along the border between the countries — Tzofar and an enclave in the north known in Israel as Naharayim.

A special clause in the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries allowed Israel to retain use of the land for 25 years, with the understanding that the lease would be renewed as a matter of routine. However, in October 2018, amid domestic unrest in Jordan, Abdullah announced plans to terminate the lease. Despite ongoing efforts by the Israeli government, negotiations to guarantee continued access to the areas have so far been unsuccessful.

Europe Must Do the Right Thing on Hezbollah

What do Arab governments know about Hezbollah that the European Union refuses to acknowledge? The Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have both labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The EU, by contrast, determined six years ago that only Hezbollah’s so-called “military wing” belongs on its terrorism list. Partial recognition was at the time a welcome achievement: the 28 member states had finally overcome their longstanding resistance to adding the Iranian-sponsored group to the list.

Prompted by the leadership of the United Kingdom and determination of Bulgaria, which experienced a deadly Hezbollah attack the year before, and Cyprus, which arrested a Hezbollah operative scouting target sites, the EU recognized the threat Hezbollah posed in European cities.

But the EU uniquely opted to bifurcate Hezbollah, leaving its “political wing” off the terrorism list.

If there ever was a distinction without a difference, this was it. None other than Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Lebanon-based chief, said as much, stressing that no one could divide his organization. Mocking the EU’s decision, Nasrallah asserted: “Just as a joke, I propose that our ministers in the next government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.”

The European argument asserts that Hezbollah is a “legitimate” political party in Lebanon, runs in elections, and has members in the government. Thus, to blacklist Hezbollah in its entirety denies those who vote for its candidates their basic rights, in addition to jeopardizing the fragile stability of the Levantine country.

This line of defense fails to acknowledge the obvious.

Youth org. of Angela Merkel’s party call for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

The conservative youth organization, Young Union of Germany (JU), defied its party’s leadership from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) and the Christian Union Party over the weekend by urging the relocation of the country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

The JU, with roughly 105,000 members, passed a resolution titled “Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” at its 59th Germany Day convention, held in Saarland. According to reports in German media, the JU urged the CDU and CSU parties in the Bundestag to “follow the examples of the USA, Russia and Guatemala, and relocate its embassy to Jerusalem and therefore recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The JU document said that a continued refusal by the German federal government to relocate its embassy could continue to damage the relationship between Germany and Israel.

The Jerusalem Post exclusively reported in 2018 that Merkel intensely lobbied European countries not to relocate their embassies to Jerusalem.

The foreign policy spokesman of the CDU, Jürgen Hardt, who is an MP in the Bundestag, rejected the demand of the JU, stating: “The relocation of the embassy would not solve any problems, rather [it would] create new problems,” according to the the daily outlet Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.

The German Union of Jewish Students praised the JU conference on Twitter for urging Germany and the EU to outlaw the entire organization Hezbollah, writing: “Thank you for this clear signal against terror and antisemitism. Stop Hezbollah.”

Terror Attacks in France: A Culture of Denial

This latest attack also demonstrates how inadequately prepared France is to tackle the problem. The murderer was not just any civil servant: his security clearance allowed him to have access to sensitive files such as the personal details of police officers and individuals monitored by the department, including several individuals suspected of terrorism.

Beyond the political sphere, there is also a culture a denial of the Islamist threat in the French media. Journalists, academics and politicians, with a few exceptions, have consistently played down not only the risk of terrorist attacks but also the threat of growing Salafist radicalization in the country.

According to a study by the Montaigne Institute, 29% of Muslims in France believe that Sharia law is more important than French law. This means that almost one-third of French Muslims live according to values that are fundamentally incompatible with French or Western standards.

It is important to note that theses quotes are not from right-wing thinkers or activists. Both François Hollande and Gerard Collomb were long-time eminent figures of the Socialist Party.

These are typical examples of what some call “la démission des élites” (the abdication of the elites): refusing to act on a situation of which they are perfectly aware but afraid to mention because of the dominant ideology of political correctness.

Israeli Arabs Welcomed in Saudi Arabia: Diplomatic Breakthrough or Cynical Ploy?

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS)’s calls to invite Israeli Arabs to live and work in Saudi Arabia could be either a diplomatic breakthrough or a cynical ploy. If the former, it could indicate that, at long last, the Arab world is awakening to the possibility that to fully enter the modern world, it must normalize relations with Israel.

To the surprise of many, Saudi Arabia announced recently that it will offer work visas to Arab citizens of Israel. Responses were divided into two main camps: those who see this as a diplomatic opportunity for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the entire region; and those who see it as both a cynical move and a dangerous temptation for Israel and the US.

A central objection to the plan is that it sidesteps the Palestinian problem. Eighty percent of Palestinians see the Saudi overture to Israeli Arabs as an abandonment. By diminishing the priority of the Palestinian issue, it allows Jerusalem and Riyadh to work together on their “real” problems, which include national security threats like ISIS and Iran.

The initiative opens up the possibility of increased economic interaction between Riyadh and Jerusalem, which could result in economic benefits accruing to both countries. As a senior journalist in the kingdom said, “The best way to improve relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia is to allow Israeli Arabs to work in the Gulf and thus build a bridge between the states.”

It is unclear whether MBS envisions full normalization with Israel. At the grassroots level, Palestinians, Saudis, and Israelis are already engaging through social media channels. Spokesmen and officials representing all three parties have been communicating peacefully.

Hamas Would Win PA Elections in West Bank

Despite the diplomatic schism between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan, senior security officials from Israel, Jordan, and the PA are confirming that security coordination and intelligence cooperation are operating with “Swiss clock” precision.

Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman are in rare agreement when it comes to elections for the Palestinian presidency in east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. In a speech at the United Nations last month, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared that PA elections would lead to Hamas defeating Fatah and the organization seizing control of the Palestinian Authority, quickly and brutally ousting Fatah officials from all government agencies, ministries, and the PA security and intelligence apparatuses.

Senior Palestinian officials say that Abbas’ close associates acknowledge that recent polls indicate clearly that if PA parliament elections were held now, not only would Hamas beat Fatah, but Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would also beat Abbas in a race for the presidency by a considerable margin.

The last time parliamentary elections were held in Gaza and the West Bank (2006), Hamas secured a majority in the PA parliament. A year later, Hamas carried out a putsch in Gaza and took control of all government agencies, while lynching many Fatah officials and deporting others from Gaza, along with their families.

MEMRI: Owner Of Egyptian Daily Calls To Liberate Women From The Custom Of Wearing The Hijab: ‘It Has Nothing To Do With The Islamic Shari’a’

Salah Diab, an Egyptian businessman and the owner of the daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, who writes under the pen name Newton, published a number of articles titled “Liberating the Mind” and “Is [Showing One’s] Hair Considered Nudity?” in which he argued that the hijab (head scarf) and niqab (full-face veil), which are worn by the vast majority of Egyptian women, are not mandated by the Islamic shari’a. Egyptian women, he wrote, adopted this custom as a result of religious indoctrination which prevailed in Egypt in the 1970s and which falsely presented it as a religious duty. He noted that Egypt once had prominent reformists who strove to renew the religious discourse, but that conservative forces, including Al-Azhar, excluded them from the public arena and prevented them from promoting their liberal views.

Stressing that he is not urging women to reject the hijab, but only calling to respect the choice of those who do not wish to wear it, Diab attacked the preachers who, over the years, established the view that almost every part of the woman’s body, including her hair, is ‘awrah, i.e., nudity that must be covered, a view that has no basis in the Quran. He added that liberating the Egyptian mind of the prevailing religious discourse will also liberate the Egyptian womens’ heads from the hijab.

The articles sparked a lively debate among Diab’s readers, and expressions of support for his view, some of which he quoted in his articles.

Iran blames alleged tanker attack on Israel, US and Saudis

A senior Iranian lawmaker on Wednesday blamed Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia for an alleged attack on an oil tanker last week off the Saudi coast and said he would take the complaint to the UN.

Tehran says the Iranian-flagged Sabiti tanker was hit by two separate explosions off the Red Sea port of Jeddah on Friday.

“The footages that the cameras mounted on the oil tanker have taken show that the attack has been carried out by the US, the Zionist regime and al-Saud,” MP Abolfazl Hassan Beigi was quoted saying by the Fars news agency.

Hassan Beigi, a member of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, claimed without evidence that the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia were alleging the Islamic State jihadist group or Afghanistan’s Taliban was behind the explosions in the Red Sea.

He also asserted Iran was in possession of documents pointing to the involvement of “certain governments” in the incident.

“There are abundant documents and evidence of interference of certain governments in the attack against the Iranian oil tanker and they will be presented to the UN and UN Security Council and the countries which played a role in the terrorist attack should pay the price for their deeds,” he said.

U.S. carried out secret cyber strike on Iran in wake of Saudi oil attack – report

The United States carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran, two U.S. officials have told Reuters.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation took place in late September and took aim at Tehran’s ability to spread “propaganda.”

One of the officials said the strike affected physical hardware, but did not provide further details.

It highlights how President Donald Trump’s administration has been trying to counter what it sees as Iranian aggression without spiraling into a broader conflict.

The strike appears more limited than other such operations against Iran this year after the downing of an American drone in June and an alleged attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on oil tankers in the Gulf in May.

The United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany have publicly blamed the Sept. 14 attack on Iran, which denied involvement in the strike. The Iran-aligned Houthi militant group in Yemen claimed responsibility.

Publicly, the Pentagon has responded by sending thousands of additional troops and equipment to bolster Saudi defenses – the latest U.S. deployment to the region this year.

US charges Turkish bank with evading sanctions against Iran

The United States has criminally charged a major Turkish bank with helping Iran evade sanctions against it, potentially raising diplomatic tensions as the US tries to contain Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.

The charges against Halkbank, a state-owned bank, were announced Tuesday, years after a wealthy gold trader was arrested in Florida. Before pleading guilty and testifying against a co-defendant, the Turkish-Iranian businessman, Reza Zarrab, hired Rudy Giuliani to lobby the administration of US President Donald Trump to drop the charges as part of a prisoner exchange.

The timing of the charges could be significant as the Trump administration tries to press Turkey to limit its military incursions in Syria, a move Trump himself allowed by declaring US troops would be withdrawn.

The US imposed limited sanctions on Turkey this week and has threatened more. While the charges against Halkbank are not related, they could give the US leverage as Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien travel to Turkey on Wednesday.

In a release, US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said senior officials at Halkbank had designed and carried out the scheme to move billions of dollars of Iranian oil revenue illegally.

Turkey’s Halkbank dismisses U.S. charges, Erdogan calls them ‘ugly’

Turkey’s Halkbank said on Wednesday that U.S. charges against it amount to an escalation of Washington’s sanctions on Ankara over its military incursion in Syria, while President Tayyip Erdogan called them an “unlawful, ugly” step.

U.S. prosecutors on Tuesday charged the state-owned lender with taking part in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. In response, Halkbank’s shares plunged as much as 7% on Wednesday despite a new ban on short selling.

The indictment came a day after the United States imposed sanctions on Turkish officials, hiked tariffs and halted trade talks in an effort to persuade Turkey to stop attacks against the Kurdish YPG militia in northeastern Syria.

The indictment in a U.S. district court in New York, which further strains ties between the NATO allies, alleges Turkey’s second-largest state bank conducted fraud, money laundering, and other sanctions offenses.

While the U.S. prosecutor did not tie the charges to sanctions over Syria, Halkbank did.

“These were filed as part of the sanctions introduced against our country by the U.S. government in response to Operation Peace Spring, heroically launched by the Turkish army to secure our borders and establish peace in the region,” the bank said of the incursion now in its eighth day.

Soccer coach who worked in Iran: I never met anyone who favors regime

Former German soccer player and coach Winfried Schäfer spoke to German publication t-online.de and said that during the time he spent in Iran, he never met anyone who supports the regime of the ayatollah. Schäfer worked in Iran for two years, managing government-owned soccer club Esteghlal, one of the most popular teams in the country.

“In two years, I never met a person who was in favor of the regime, and I speak of people from very different backgrounds –industrialists, academics, football players, taxi drivers and even ministers,” Schäfer said, as quoted by Radio Farda.

“The people I’ve met, no matter young or old, are not at all in line with the [Islamic] regime,” he added, also highlighting that Iranians are scared, in a way that is hard to understand for someone who does not live in Iran.

The report also honored the memory of Sahar Khodayari, a 29-year-old woman who set herself on fire in front of a Tehran court in September in protest of a six-month prison sentence she was possibly facing for trying to enter a men’s soccer game back in March. She eventually succumbed to her wounds.

Khodayari was a big Esteghlal fan and became known in the country and abroad as “Blue Girl,” after the team’s color.

Following her death, world soccer’s governing body FIFA and women’s rights campaigners pressured Tehran to lift the ban on women attending soccer matches. On Thursday, for the first time in 40 years, female fans were allowed to attend a game between the Iranian national team and Cambodia in a World Cup qualifying match.

Iranian-American Businessman Coordinated With UAE Monarch to Target Iran Critics, Lawsuit Alleges

An Iranian-American businessman tied to a network of pro-Tehran advocates coordinated with a Middle Eastern monarch to target prominent Americans in an international hacking-and-disinformation campaign, according to court documents filed in the United Kingdom in September.

Amir Handjani, an oil executive and attorney who sits on the board of directors of Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank, has worked as a registered foreign agent for Ras al Khaimah, or RAK, one of the seven monarchical states that make up the United Arab Emirates. The RAK has deep financial and diplomatic ties to Tehran. According to a $16.7 million complaint filed in September in a London court, RAK’s ruler, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, ordered Handjani to execute a smear operation which appeared to be aimed in part at perceived critics of Iran, including former Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon.

In the complaint, American aviation magnate Farhad Azima says that RAK and its associates were behind a hack of his email and devices as part of an effort to blackmail him in 2016.

Experts on Iran and its espionage operations said the smear campaign appeared to be another example of Iran using its proxies and allies to target its perceived critics, even inside the United States.

David Asher, a former State Department official and expert in money laundering schemes, told the Washington Free Beacon that the alleged hacking attack on Azima and Solomon reflects “a classic Iranian information warfare exercise.”

Tunisia’s new president regards any ties with Israel as ‘high treason’

Tunisia’s new president is a hardline opponent of any form of ties with Israel and recently called moves toward relations with the Jewish state “high treason.”

Kais Saied was the clear winner in Sunday’s second and final round of the North African country’s presidential elections, beating rival Nabil Karoui with 77 percent of the votes.

Two days earlier, in the final televised presidential debate, Saied became animated when moderators asked about his stance on normalization of relations with Israel, a sensitive issue in the Arab and Muslim world.

“‘Normalization’ is the wrong word to use,” he retorted. “We should be talking about high treason.”

That is a common Arab nationalist position that ended up earning him praise among supporters and voters.

Tunis currently has no diplomatic relations with Israel. Its parliament was due to vote last year on a draft law criminalizing ties with Jerusalem, but the proposal did not get the endorsement of then-president Caid Essebsi, who died in July.

During the debate, Saied also said Tunisia was in a state of war with the Jewish state.



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