Archive for November 21, 2021

PA on Verge of Financial Collapse as Fewer Donors Honor Commitments

November 21, 2021

What can I say but…

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From The Media Line, 27 October 2021.

EU, Gulf and US have all cut aid to the Palestinians, whose financial difficulties have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic

The Palestinian Authority is experiencing the worst fiscal difficulties it has ever had since its establishment more than a quarter century ago. The treasury is facing a severe cash crunch, and this could soon reflect on its ability to pay government salaries and conduct daily business, top officials say.

An adviser to PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told a local radio station that the PA is experiencing its worst financial situation in years.

Stephen Salameh said in an interview on Ajyal Radio this week that the cessation of European support comes on top of a massive reduction in financial aid from Arab countries and the United States.

In the past, when faced with financial crises, the PA turned to wealthy Arab governments in the Gulf for assistance, but that support has declined.

The Media Line has learned that, of the $100 million that the Arab League member countries had committed to the PA as part of a financial “security net,” less than $2 million (!!!) has been forthcoming, according to a top official at the PA Ministry of Finance.

The donors’ share of the PA budget has dropped by a whopping 58% in the past few years, forcing the government to scramble for ways to make up the difference. This has left the PA with limited options; it raised taxes, implemented austerity measures and looked to local banks for loans.

But with the emergence of the coronavirus and an economy on the ropes, citizens cannot afford to pay higher taxes and banks are increasingly wary of continuing to raise the PA’s borrowing limit. The government is now trying to resurrect old moves from its playbook.

President Mahmoud Abbas dispatched Shtayyeh to Brussels this week, in hopes of persuading the Europeans to restore financial aid. The PA government has received no aid from the European Union this year.

An example of how serious the financial situation is: Gas stations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem have refused to service PA cars, including security vehicles, because the government hasn’t paid its bills.

Nizar al-Jabari, a member of the Administrative Board of the Gas Station Owners Syndicate, told The Media Line on Wednesday that the PA Ministry of Finance paid 3 million shekels, or $940,000, to the gas stations the previous day.

Jabari estimates the government debt to gas stations at “between 50 million and 60 million shekels,” or $16 million-$19 million.

Abbas is battling both domestic and external crises, in what observers describe as the worst political and financial troubles since he took the helm of the PA more than 16 years ago.

The problems are serious enough that they threaten the authority’s very existence.

On the political front, Abbas is facing growing challenges within his own Fatah party and popular turmoil because of his crackdown on civil liberties and cancellation of presidential and parliamentary elections that has been scheduled for the summer. And the lack of progress on the negotiations track with Israel has had a major impact on the PA’s standing locally, regionally and internationally.

The Palestinian street is growing impatient with the PA government.

“Prices are rising, incomes are either stagnant or there’s no work,” said Ameen Khairi, a shop owner in Nablus, in the northern West Bank. “They overburdened us with taxes that we can’t afford. The PA needs to live within its means.”

The economy in the Palestinian territories is teetering on the verge of collapse and the internal divide is growing ever deeper.

“The Palestinian economy continues to suffer under the occupation. Now, couple that with the bad management of the coronavirus policy that added to the troubles,” says Jamal Nimer, chairman of the Board of Directors at the Carmel Hotel in Ramallah.

He told The Media Line that the Palestinian economy is failing, especially the tourist sector, which has been hit hard because of the closures and restrictions as part of the government policy to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our economy is struggling, unemployment is soaring and poverty levels are skyrocketing. The outlook for the Palestinian economy is gloomy,” Nimer said.

More than a quarter of Palestinians lived in poverty before the pandemic.

Dr. Nasr Abdel Karim, a professor of finance and economics in the College of Graduate Studies at the Arab American University in Ramallah, says there is no doubt that the PA is going through a “real and suffocating financial crisis. Its manifestations are evident. There is a budget deficit, an accumulation of debt and delays in paying its obligations. It’s undeniable that there’s a clear decline in aid.”

Abdel Karim told The Media Line, however, that this crisis is “not new and has been repeated for years.”

But he argues that what makes the current financial hardship different is “essentially the position of the European Union. European aid, which was between $400 million and $500 million [annually], is not present now.”

Last week, one of the PA’s biggest European backers criticized the Palestinian government for widespread graft. A Swedish radio station quoted Foreign Minister Ann Linde as saying: “The corruption that pervades Palestine is an obstacle to providing economic support.”

Eighty-three percent of Palestinians believe there is corruption in PA institutions, according to a recent poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR).

Abdel Karim adds that Palestinians had great expectations following the election of US President Joe Biden and the change in administration that the flow of American aid would soon resume, after the Trump White House cut it off.

“This isn’t happening yet, leaving the PA disappointed with the US administration,” he said.

One of Abbas’ advisers confirmed to The Media Line that the president and his inner circle are “concerned” about the financial and political state of the PA.

“There is a feeling in the Mukataa that we have been abandoned by everyone,” he said, referring to the presidential compound in Ramallah, the seat of the PA government.

According to the London-based, pan-Arab Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, during a meeting with Palestinian leadership in Ramallah last week, Abbas became furious at the Biden administration, describing US officials as “liars for not keeping the promises they made to us.”

Those promises include reopening the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, providing financial support to the PA, and reopening the US consulate in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians were counting on renewed US support, politically and financially, that would encourage wealthy Arab states to restore their financial support. However, according to the same unnamed source, there is “a clear American truancy about directly returning financial support to the PA, especially as the United States accuses the PA of corruption.”

“This has affected the Gulf’s response to the requests from the PA,” the source said.

Abdul Karim says the PA leadership is living in a “political and financial bubble,” and that this week’s visit of the head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service, Majid Faraj, to Dubai, although it is under the cover of a visit to the Palestine pavilion at Expo 2020, “is an attempt to placate the United Arab Emirates and restore ties.”

Faraj, one of Abbas’ closest and most trusted confidants, met with the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, amid intensive official Palestinian media coverage. It was the first time Mohammed bin Rashid met with a senior Palestinian official since relations between the PA and the UAE became strained.

“The [Palestinian] Authority is also concerned about the diplomatic crisis, because if conditions improve diplomatically, it will have positive repercussions for financial aid,” Abdul Karim said.

Guards’ Publication Says Israel Attacked Research Center In September

November 21, 2021

Relates to the incident in the previous post.

A weekly publication in Iran says an incident reported as a fire in a military research center in September was an “attack” by Israel to exert pressure on Iran.

The little-known Sobh Sadegh publication of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) mentioned Tuesday that a “self-reliance research center” west of Tehran was in targeted by Israel in an operation similar to other attacks since July 2020, including two explosions in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

The IRGC reported on September 26 that a fire damaged one of its research facilities and three personnel were injured. Hours later, the announcement was deleted from its website and another version appeared saying that the fire was in the depot of the facility. Later, IRGC said that two of its personnel died in the incident.

Days later, ImageSat International published images saying that an explosion had taken place in a secret IRGC missile center west of Tehran. The images showed that one-quarter of the building was destroyed.

Several mysterious fires and explosion have hit Iran’s nuclear, military and industrial sites since July 2020, generally ascribed to operation by Israel. A top nuclear official, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was also killed last November in an elaborate assassination.

Satellite images show alleged Iranian missile factory seriously damaged in blast

November 21, 2021

From 30 September.

Before and after photographs from an explosion at an alleged Iranian missile base, on September 27, 2021. (ImageSat International)

Private Israeli intelligence firm releases photographs of facility outside Tehran, where at least two members of the Iranian military were killed earlier this week

A private Israeli intelligence firm released satellite photographs of an alleged Iranian missile production facility outside Tehran on Thursday, showing the damage at the site after an explosion there earlier in the week.

In the images, taken on Monday shortly after the blast, at least a quarter of the building — a “secret missile base” belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to the company — can be seen completely destroyed, while additional damage can be seen on the roof along the entire structure.

The photographs were released by ImageSat International, a satellite image analysis firm. The company identified the site as the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group.

The IRGC said that at least two members of the organization were killed in the explosion at the center outside Tehran, which it said was a “research self-sufficiency center.”

That appeared to refer to the Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, which was sanctioned by the United States Treasury in 2017 over its work “researching and developing ballistic missiles.”

Missile facilities and other sensitive sites in Iran have seen fires before.

The most notable came in 2011, when a blast at a missile base near Tehran killed Revolutionary Guard commander Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, who led the paramilitary force’s missile program, and 16 others.

Initially, authorities described the 2011 blast as an accident, though a former prisoner later said that the Guard interrogated him on the suspicion that Israel was behind the explosion.

US defense chief: If Iran not serious about nuclear talks, we’ll look at all options

November 21, 2021

Pentagon head vows to prevent Tehran getting nukes, says Washington committed to diplomatic outcome but will examine alternatives if Tehran isn’t willing to engage

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFF20 November 2021, 12:34 pm  

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during the 17th IISS Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital Manama, on November 20, 2021 (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during the 17th IISS Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital Manama, on November 20, 2021 (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

America’s top defense official vowed Saturday to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and to counter its “dangerous use” of suicide drones in the Mideast, as negotiations remain stalled over Tehran’s tattered atomic deal with world powers.

United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s comments in Bahrain at the annual Manama Dialogue appeared aimed at reassuring America’s Gulf Arab allies and Israel, as the Biden administration tries to revive the nuclear deal which limited Iran’s enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

“The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. And we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue,” Austin told an event put on by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all of the options necessary to keep the United States secure,” he said.

“Iran should be under no illusion that it will manage to undermine the relationship between the US and other countries in the region,” Austin said, according to the Walla news site.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Austin’s remarks come after the US’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan raised concerns about America’s commitment to the Middle East, as defense officials say they want to pivot forces to counter perceived challenges from China and Russia.In this image, made from an April 17, 2021 video released by the state-run TV station Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility. (IRIB via AP)

“Let’s be clear: America’s commitment to security in the Middle East is strong and sure,” Austin said, according to Reuters. “But Iran’s actions in recent months have not been encouraging — especially because of the expansion of their nuclear program.”

The defense chief reiterated that in the opinion of the Biden administration, diplomacy is “the tool of first resort.”

Since then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, a series of escalating incidents have struck the wider Mideast. That includes drone and mine attacks targeting vessels at sea, as well as assaults blamed on Iran and its proxies in Iraq and Syria.

The US also killed Iranian al-Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani in early 2020, which then saw Iran target American troops in Iraq with ballistic missiles.

In addition, a number of attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities have been blamed on Israel, and since February, Iran and Israel have been engaged in a “shadow war” in which vessels linked to each country have come under attack in waters around the Gulf.

Israel has said it will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons, and its military has begun drawing up fresh attack plans for a potential strike on Iranian facilities. Last month the government reportedly allocated billions of shekels toward making those plans viable.

The Pentagon chief was asked why Washington did not respond to last month’s drone attack on a base used by the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State terror group in Syria. The New York Times said Friday the attack was Iranian retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

“The United States of America maintains the right to defend itself. And we will defend ourselves and our interests, no matter what, at the time and place of our choosing,” Austin replied.The damaged al-Tanf base in southern Syria is seen a day after it was apparently struck by Iranian drones, on October 20, 2021. (Courtesy, via Aurora Intel)

Under US President Joe Biden, military officials are looking at a wider reshuffling of forces from the Mideast to other areas, though it still maintains a large presence at bases across the region.

Austin hinted at that in his remarks, saying: “Our potential punch includes what our friends can contribute and what we have prepositioned and what we can rapidly flow in.”

“Our friends and foes both know that the United States can deploy overwhelming force at the time and place of our choosing,” Austin said.

Austin’s comments also touched on the ongoing war in Yemen, for which the Biden administration halted its offensive support.

Saudi Arabia has led a military campaign since 2015 against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who hold Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. The Houthis have launched drone and ballistic missile attacks on the kingdom to retaliate for a punishing aerial bombing campaign that also has killed civilians.Illustrative: Tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels raise their weapons during a gathering against the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in Sanaa, Yemen, on August 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

But while the kingdom constantly refers to every drone and missile fired by the Houthis as successfully intercepted by its defenses, Austin put the rate, instead, at “nearly 90 percent.” The US also withdrew its THAAD air defenses and Patriot missile batteries from Prince Sultan Air Base several months ago.

“We’ll work with them until it’s 100%,” he said.

The Manama Dialogue takes place each year in Bahrain, a small island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia that’s home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. Bahrain also has engaged in a years-long campaign crushing dissent. Activists wrote to Austin before his trip, urging him to raise the detention of prisoners on the island and Bahrain’s involvement in the Yemen war.