Archive for the ‘Israel and Middle East’ category

Arab Regimes Terrified by Israel’s Freedoms

January 16, 2018

Arab Regimes Terrified by Israel’s Freedoms,  Gatestone InstituteGiulio Meotti, January 16, 2018

(Please see also, A secret Middle East alliance. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Egypt with Israel seem to have improved. — DM)

A prominent Tunisian-born French movie producer, Saïd Ben Saïd recently issued one of the frankest denunciations of anti-Semitism in the Arab world. The real culprit, he argued, was the prevalence of anti-Semitism fueled by Islamic extremists across the Middle East. Ben Saïd was forced to pull out of an Arab film festival last year because he had worked with Israelis.

A Lebanese director, Ziad Doueiri, did something even “worse”: he filmed some scenes on Israeli land!

“No one can deny the misery of the Palestinian people, but it must be admitted that the Arab world is, in its majority, antisemitic. This hatred of Jews has redoubled in intensity and depth not because of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but with the rise of a certain vision of Islam”. — Saïd Ben Saïd.

Fifty years have passed since many Arab countries were humiliated by Israel in 1967 in a war the Arabs started, with the explicit goal of destroying the Jewish State and throwing the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. Today, Israel has solid diplomatic relations with two of these countries — Jordan to Egypt — while Saudi officials speak with their Israeli security counterparts about the Iranian threat.

But although the Middle East is engulfed in a new wave of internal destabilization, and Iran has recently experienced a new wave of protests in which people chanted “we don’t want an Islamic Republic“, the great taboo for the Arab and Muslim world is still that of cultural exchanges with the hated “Zionists”.

A prominent Tunisian-born French movie producer, Saïd Ben Saïd, after being forced to pull out of North Africa’s most prestigious film festival, recently issued one of the frankest denunciations of anti-Semitism in the Arab world. He revealed, in an op-ed for the French daily Le Monde, that an invitation to preside over the jury of the Carthage Film Festival had been rescinded because of his work with the Israeli film director, Nadav Lapid, and for having participated on a panel at the Jerusalem Film Festival earlier this year. The real culprit, Ben Saïd argued, was the prevalence of anti-Semitism fueled by Islamic extremists across the Middle East:

“No one can deny the misery of the Palestinian people, but it must be admitted that the Arab world is, in its majority, antisemitic… This hatred of Jews has redoubled in intensity and depth not because of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but with the rise of a certain vision of Islam”.

Writers, novelists, journalists, politicians, bloggers, filmmakers: there are plenty of Arab and Muslim artists who have paid a heavy price for having broken through the iron curtain that has been put around Israel.

Amin Maalouf, who has both a Lebanese and a French passport, gave an interview to an Israeli channel, i24. Perhaps he thought that having won the Goncourt Prize (France’s greatest literary recognition), having received the Legion of Honor, and being among the “Immortals” of the French Academy would have protected him. Of course it did not. Right after his interview with the television channel, requests to deprive him of his Lebanese citizenship and put him on trial began at once.

A Lebanese director, Ziad Doueiri, did something even “worse”: he filmed some scenes on Israeli land! When he returned from the Venice Film Festival, the Lebanese police were waiting for him at the airport. He was arrested, interrogated for three hours, and accused of “collaborating with Israel”.

Because Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri filmed some scenes in Israel, when he returned from the Venice Film Festival, Lebanese police arrested him at the airport, interrogated him for three hours, and accused him of “collaborating with Israel”. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival)

Boualem Sansal, an acclaimed Algerian writer, should have received the Prix du Roman Arabe for his book “Rue Darwin”. The jury, however, who had actually selected him, later retracted the award and cancelled it. The reason? Sansal had made a trip to Jerusalem to attend an Israeli literary festival.

The great Egyptian writer Ali Salem has seen his career destroyed forever for having visited Israel. In 1994, a few months after the Oslo Accords were signed, the famous Egyptian satirical writer traveled to Israel and wrote the book, My Drive to Israel. Theaters abandoned and boycotted his plays.

The Nobel Laureate for Literature Naguib Mahfouz was persecuted by the Islamic fundamentalists, not only for his “secular spirit”, but above all the support which, at the time, Mahfouz provided to President Anwar Sadat for having signed the Camp David “peace” treaty with Israel. In 1979, the Arab countries boycotted the publication of Mahfouz’s novels. They are still officially unavailable in some Middle Eastern countries.

The most well-known Iranian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, ended up in jail; he was accused of “spying for Israel.” His “crime”? A visit to Israel two years earlier to “show the daily life of the Jewish people” and to expose anti-Semitic prejudices.

Even the most famous Arab poet, the Syrian Adonis, was expelled from the Arab Writers Union for having met with Israeli intellectuals in Granada during a UNESCO conference.

These Arab and Muslim regimes are terrified of Israel, a comparatively microscopic 20,000 square kilometers, compared to the 33 million square kilometers of the Arab and Muslim world. In an immense crescent that sweeps from Casablanca to Mumbai, Israel is the only free state in the region.

In Saudi Arabia, blogger Raif Badawi was imprisoned and flogged. In Jordan, the writer Nahid Hattar was murdered for “blasphemy”. In Egypt, the novelist Ahmed Naji was jailed for “obscenity”. And Iran increased the bounty for the murder of writer Salman Rushdie.

Israel is the only Middle Eastern state where journalists enjoy absolute freedom of expression and can safely challenge the military and government. It is a Jewish country where publishing houses translate Arab authors; the opposite does not happen in the Middle East. It is the only country where artists and writers are not censored or told by the state what to write, what not to write, or how to behave. This is what Arab and Muslim dictatorships fear: that their own artists might be “infected” by these “unruly” “Zionists”.

The West, where people care about pluralism and cultural freedom, needs strongly to support these Arab and Muslim writers and artists who have dared to visit Israel and become “unruly” to boot. It means betting on freedom and progress instead of on autocracies and an artificial, failed “peace”. These Arab artists are far more brave and honest of all those European pseudo-intellectuals who embrace the boycott of Israel, the only free and open country in the Middle East.

Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.

The Palestinians’ Race to The Bottom

January 9, 2018

The Palestinians’ Race to The Bottom, FrontPage MagazineCaroline Glick, January 9, 2018

(Please see also, Egypt quietly urges Palestinians to accept Ramallah as capital. — DM)

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

The PLO’s behavior with Abu Ali and India indicates three things. First, that the PLO/PA is no longer immune from criticism in quarters where it received five decades of unconditional support. Second, it indicates that the PLO/PA is incapable of changing its behavior, even when it is aware that it ought to. Finally, the PLO/PA is still operating under the impression that nations will continue to support them forever because the basis of that support is unchanged.

The problem for the PLO/PA is that the world has changed fundamentally while they were busy embracing terrorists and getting away with it.

The economic and strategic realities of Israel cannot be ignored. Modi and his counterparts worldwide are now recognizing that the Palestinians have nothing to offer them, not even gratitude. When a critical mass of Palestinians recognize that the PLO’s jig is up, they will make peace with Israel. Until then, they will continue to serve as an irritating irrelevancy and nothing more.

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The PLO and the Palestinian cause more generally are sinking into irrelevance and rather than reform their policies to rebuild their position, they have adopted a scorched earth policy that only intensifies their race to the bottom.

On the face of things, the situation isn’t bad. Last month the PLO got 128 nations to vote in favor of their anti-American resolution rejecting US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. One of the states that voted with them was India.

Israel was shocked by India’s move.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly touts the growth of Israel’s bilateral ties with the largest democracy in the world. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s extraordinary visit to Israel last July highlighted the change. Netanyahu’s visit to New Delhi later this month will cement the new alliance.

Not only has Modi enthusiastically cultivated close ties with Israel, he has moved closer to Israel in its conflict with the PLO than any of his predecessors. In 2015, India abstained from an anti-Israel resolution at the UN Human Rights Council. Modi refused to visit the Palestinian Authority during his visit to Israel. And PLO chief and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to India earlier this year, Modi refused to say – as his predecessors have said – that the capital of a Palestinian state should be located in eastern Jerusalem.

And yet, last month at the UN, it felt like none of this had happened. India reverted to its previous posture of blind support for the PLO and joined the chorus in attacking America for recognizing that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

The Palestinians for their part were justifiably elated. Now, they thought, they were back in the driver’s seat. Trump is an aberration and the world – including India, continues to support them no matter what. They are today where they were in 1975 when the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 3371 defining the Jewish national liberation movement as a form of racism.

Then, less than a week after the UN vote, the PLO’s envoy to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali, shared a stage in Rawalpindi with the mastermind of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Lashkar e-Taibi leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is wanted by India not only for the massacre of more than 160 people in the Mumbai attacks. He is also wanted for his involvement in terrorist attacks in the city in 2006, which killed more than 200 people, and for a shooting at the Indian Parliament, an incident in which another 14 were killed in 2001.

Abu Ali didn’t think there would be any price to pay for his decision to embrace a mass-murdering terrorist. It’s what the PLO has always done. And so he posted photos of himself with Saeed online.

But it turns out that despite India’s vote, things have changed. A lot.

Indian social media exploded in rage against the Palestinians and the PLO. The most common sentiment was, “This is how they pay us back for abandoning the US and Israel to support them at the UN.”

Abu Ali’s embraces of Saeed were widely and angrily reported in the Indian media.

In response, Abbas announced that he was recalling Abu Ali. This would have been fine if it were true.

But this week it was reported that Abu Ali is back in business in Islamabad.

The PLO’s behavior with Abu Ali and India indicates three things. First, that the PLO/PA is no longer immune from criticism in quarters where it received five decades of unconditional support. Second, it indicates that the PLO/PA is incapable of changing its behavior, even when it is aware that it ought to. Finally, the PLO/PA is still operating under the impression that nations will continue to support them forever because the basis of that support is unchanged.

The problem for the PLO/PA is that the world has changed fundamentally while they were busy embracing terrorists and getting away with it.

This week, The Economist published its annual data on per capita GDP in countries throughout the world. For the first time, Israel’s GDP per capita has jumped above $40,000. According to the Economist’s data, per capita GDP in Israel jumped from $38,127 in 2016 to $44,019 in 2017. GDP grew 4.4% last year. Today Israel’s GDP per capita is higher than GDP per capita in Japan, Britain and France. The gap in Israel’s favor is expected to widen in the years to come as Israel’s GDP continues to grow and the GDPs of European states and Japan continue to stagnate due to negative fertility, continued migration of uneducated newcomers and lack of innovation.

In its own neighborhood, Israel’s neighbors remain economic and political basket cases. As Dr. Guy Bechor noted in his analysis of the data earlier this week, Egypt’s per capita GDP of $2,519 is one seventeenth of Israel’s. Jordan’s per capita income dropped last year from $4,648 to $4,135 and prospects for 2018 aren’t positive.

The situation is similarly bleak in the Gulf States, despite their oil and gas reserves. Iran, for instance, is poor and forecasts for the future are terrible. Last year, despite the $100 billion windfall the regime received from sanctions relief, per capita GDP in Iran dropped from $6,144 in 2016 to $5,879. Wars in Syria, Yemen, Iran, Lebanon and Gaza don’t come cheap.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are drawn to Israel not only because of their joint security concerns about Iran. They are also eager to expand ties with Israel to benefit from its civilian technologies in everything from agriculture and water technologies to digital communications. And they are not about to allow the Palestinians to stop their cavalcade to Israel.

As The New York Times reported last week, Egyptian intelligence officer Capt. Ashrag al-Kholi called four different television hosts last and told them that Ramallah can serve as the capital of a Palestinian state just as well as Jerusalem. Kholi was also taped telling them that the Palestinians have to compromise for peace. In his words, “How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really? At the end of the day, later on, Jerusalem won’t be different from Ramallah. What matters is ending the suffering of the Palestinian people. Concessions are a must and if we reach a concession whereby… Ramallah will be the capital of Palestine, to end the war and so no one else dies, then we should go for it.”

Kholi explained that a new Palestinian campaign of terrorism against Israel will harm Egypt by strengthening Islamic State (ISIS), Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

So while it is true that 128 countries – including India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – voted with the PLO against Israel and the US at the UN last month, it is also true that their votes don’t signify as much as they used to. It is equally true that the Palestinians can’t try their patience by pushing anti-Israel resolutions every day as they have for the past 45 years. Because as the Palestinians keep playing their old tricks, Israel is becoming a more and more significant regional and global power and the nations of the world aren’t interested in weakening Israel when Israel is helping them survive and prosper.

As Abu Ali’s continued tenure in Pakistan shows, rather than recognize the shifting power balance and update their positions to align with it, the PLO has become even more brittle and reactionary and extreme. If Egypt doesn’t support their war against Israel, then they will take their roadshow to Tehran, or its Lebanese satrapy.

On December 31, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad met with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. After meeting with al-Ahmad, Nasrallah told al Mayadeen TV that Fatah – led by Abbas – agreed to “activate a third intifada,” or terror war, against Israel. PA parliament members also visited Lebanon and met with Iranian-controlled Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Sunday night, Israel Channel 2 reported that terrorist incitement is rising steeply in the official PA media and social media networks. One video, of a faked shooting of a Palestinian teenage girl by an actor dressed in an IDF uniform, has gone viral. Thousands of viewers have responded to the fake scene with pledges to kill Israelis to avenge the fake death.

When later this month Netanyahu meets Modi in Delhi, India’s UN vote and Abu Ali’s embrace of Saeed will be on the agenda. And there is good reason to believe that Modi will recognize the linkage and vote differently in the future. Like Netanyahu, he recognizes that the PLO’s basic case is wrong. Peace is achieved by defeating terrorists, not by empowering them.

Moreover, Israel beckons. The economic and strategic realities of Israel cannot be ignored. Modi and his counterparts worldwide are now recognizing that the Palestinians have nothing to offer them, not even gratitude. When a critical mass of Palestinians recognize that the PLO’s jig is up, they will make peace with Israel. Until then, they will continue to serve as an irritating irrelevancy and nothing more.

More Middle East changes

November 23, 2017

More Middle East changes | Anne’s Opinions, 23rd November 2017
In some good news related to my previous post, the Trump administration has threatened to close down the PLO offices in Washington in retaliation for the PA attempting to bring Israelis to the International Criminal Court:

The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Saturday night expressed its surprise over threats by the United States to shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that the Trump administration had put the PLO on notice that it will shutter their office in Washington unless they entered serious peace talks with Israel.

According to AP, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has determined that the Palestinians ran afoul of a provision in a U.S. law that says the PLO mission must close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians.

A State Department official said that in September, PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas crossed that line by calling on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israelis.

The law now gives President Donald Trump 90 days to consider whether the Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” If Trump determines they are, the Palestinians can keep the office. An official told AP it was unclear whether the U.S. might close the office before the 90-day period expires, but said the mission remains open at least for now.

The Palestinians then threatened to cut their ties to Washington (a bonus as far as Israel is concerned):

“The State Department notified us in an official letter that they cannot certify the continued opening of the PLO office in Washington, DC, due to the fact that we are pursuing the ICC,” Erekat told Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

“We responded to them in an official letter that in case they officially close the office of the PLO in Washington, DC, we will put on hold all communications with this American administration,” he added.

Watch Saeb Erekat’s statement here:

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said on Saturday night the surprise stems from the fact that the meetings between Abbas and Trump were characterized by a full understanding of the steps necessary to create an atmosphere that would allow the resumption of the peace process.

He said that the American threat represented an unprecedented step in the history of U.S.-Palestinian relations and could have dangerous implications for the peace process and the relations between the United States and Arab countries.

Reports of the threat to shut down the PLO mission in Washington came several days after the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved the Taylor Force Act.

The bill, named for U.S. army veteran Taylor Force, who was murdered in a terrorist stabbing attack in Tel Aviv in March, 2016, would cut funding to the PA unless it stopped its payments to terrorists and their families.

All I can say is it’s about time that someone finally held the PLO and the PA to account for their support of terrorism and for scuppering the peace talks with Israel every step of the way.

Bassam Tawil, a Middle East-based Muslim, explains in the Gatestone Institute why the Palestinians will not accede to any demands made upon them by Trump or any other American administration:

  • The Palestinians have made up their mind: The Trump peace plan is bad for us and we will not accept it. The plan is bad because it does not force Israel to give the Palestinians everything.
  • If and when the Trump administration makes public its peace plan, the Palestinians will be the first to reject it, simply because it does not meet all their demands.
  • Trump will soon learn that for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians, 99% is just not enough.

Caroline Glick talks about holding the State Department to account as an extension of the threat to close the PLO mission:

Aside from the fact that the US has refused to hold the PLO accountable for its actions for a quarter century, the PLO has another good reason to be shocked by Tillerson’s letter: the US consulate in Jerusalem operates as almost a mirror to the PLO mission in Washington.

And yet, as Yisrael Medad has exhaustively documented, the Jerusalem consulate maintains an effective boycott of both these dual nationals and Israeli nationals who live in its area of operation. All of the consulate’s activities for US citizens are directed specifically and openly toward “Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

The consulate also openly rejects the notion that Israel and Jews have ties to its area of operations. For instance, Blome went on a hike around Judea and Samaria in July where he effectively erased the Jewish heritage sites in the areas. The consulate echoed UNESCO’s Jew-free version of the history of the land of Israel in a press release that celebrated his walk along the “Masar Ibrahim Al-Khalil” trail in celebration of “the connection of the people with the land.” Jews were not mentioned in the press release. And the historical name of the route he took is “Abraham’s path.”

Scholarships to study in the US and jobs listed on the website are open to “Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

In other words, while the PLO missions are pushing the BDS agenda in the US, the US consulate in Jerusalem is implementing it on the ground in Israel.

In a congressional hearing on the issue of moving the embassy to Jerusalem on November 8, Rep. Ron DeSantis said that transfer of the embassy may be delayed due to the Trump administration’s “efforts to pursue a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.”

DeSantis argued that until the embassy is moved the Trump administration should take “incremental steps” that move it toward the goal.

Among the steps he advocated, DeSantis said “the American consulates in Jerusalem should report to the American embassy in Israel, not directly to the State Department.”

Tillerson’s letter to Zomlot was shocking because it represented the first time since 1993 that the PLO has been held accountable for its actions. The time has come for the State Department, too, to be held accountable for its behavior. And the best way to start this process is to follow DeSantis’s advice, subordinate the US consulates in Jerusalem to the US ambassador and end their boycott of Jews – US citizens and non-citizens – who live in the Jerusalem area, in Judea and Samaria.

With this in mind it is nothing short of astonishing that the following video appeared, in which Kuwaiti writer strongly defended Israel, calling it a legitimate state, not an occupier:

I think we should ask Mr. Al-Hadlaq to provide some urgently-needed background information to the State Department! Kol hakavod to him. I hope he stays safe.

Along with the daring fatwa of Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh condemning Hamas as another terror organization and forbidding fighting against Israel , is this another harbinger of better times ahead for Israel in the Middle East? I hope I’m not being too optimistic in hoping so. There have been too many of these talks, statements, interviews and fatwas to think there is not a sea-change starting to occur in the Arab world. Let us just pray it continues.

Israel and Saudi Arabia: a desert mirage or a new alliance?

November 21, 2017

Israel and Saudi Arabia: a desert mirage or a new alliance? | Anne’s Opinions, 21st November 2017

In the crazy world of Middle East wars, politics and shifting alliances, it is hardly surprising that relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are warming up from their deep freeze. In fact this is an alliance (“friendship” is too strong a word to use) that has been revving in the background for quite some time, ever since the rise of ISIS and more importantly, the tailwind given to Iran by our “friends” in the Obama administration and their European allies through the JCPOA, aka the Iran nuclear deal.

In the interim there has been some political upheaval in the kingdom, with princes and heirs to the throne being replaced at an eye-watering pace. The newest heir to the throne is determined to drag the medieval country into the 21st century, by whatever means:

(CNN)Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to inherit the throne from his 81-year-old father, is not a patient man. The 32-year-old is driving a frenetic pace of change in pursuit of three goals: securing his hold on power, transforming Saudi Arabia into a very different country, and pushing back against Iran.

Mohammed Bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

In the two years since his father ascended the throne, this favorite son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz has been spectacularly successful at achieving the first item on his agenda. He has become so powerful so fast that observers can hardly believe how brazenly he is dismantling the old sedate system of family consensus, shared privilege and rigid ultraconservatism.
In the process, however, MBS, as the crown prince is known, is making a lot of enemies.
Much of the prince’s agenda is laudable and long overdue. He has no interest in democratic reforms, but he does want to introduce social reforms, and is making some progress on that front. That, too, is making him enemies among the old guard.
He has vowed to improve the status of women, announcing that the ban on women driving will be lifted next year, and limiting the scope of the execrable “guardianship” system, which treats women like children, requiring permission from male guardians for basic activities. He has also restrained the despised religious police. And just last month he called for a return to a “moderate Islam open to the world and all religions,” combating extremism and empowering its citizens.
On the economic front, bin Salman wants to reinvent an economy that became complacent from fantastic oil riches — only to see oil prices crash — and bring it into the 21st century with his ambitious Vision 2030 plan.
But the prince’s revolutionary changes require, above all, making sure he remains in charge, and he is letting nothing stand in his way.

The prince is not bluffing. That became startlingly clear last Sunday, when he unexpectedly ordered the arrest of some of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful men.

Read it all, it makes for a thrilling read, even though this is not fiction but real life with very real and dangerous potential consequences if it fails.

Meanwhile, the latest pronouncements and actions emanating from Saudi Arabia give us pause for a cautious hope, though with each country having an influence on the next, there is always the danger of a domino effect, or maybe we should call it the dangers of unforeseen consequences.

The Saudis called on Hezbollah to disarm, threatening to oust it from Lebanon:

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Thursday called on the Hezbollah terrorist organization to disarm, warning the group that regional efforts were underway to oust them from the Lebanese government.

At a press conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, al-Jubeir denounced Hezbollah as “a tool of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards” and “a first-class terrorist organization used by Iran to destabilize Lebanon and the region.”

Saad Hariri, (former?) PM of Lebanon

“Hezbollah has kidnapped the Lebanese system,” he said.

Al-Jubeir added that “consultations and coordination between peace-loving countries and Lebanon-loving countries are underway to try to find a way that would restore sovereignty to Lebanon and reduce the negative action which Hezbollah is conducting in Lebanon.”

The minister’s remarks came as the kingdom rejected accusations that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was being detained in Riyadh following his shock resignation earlier this month.

In response Hezbollah raised the alert across Lebanon, which further complicates matters for Israel:

The Hezbollah terror group has raised its alert status across Lebanon, fearing threat of attack by Israel and other nations, Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported Saturday.

The news came amid a political crisis between Beirut and Saudi Arabia, sparked by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise resignation. Hariri cited Iran and Hezbollah’s meddling in the region as the reason he was stepping down. The November 4 resignation broadcast from the Saudi capital is widely believed to have been engineered by the Gulf kingdom.

The Kuwaiti paper further reported that Hezbollah leaders have instructed a halt to arms shipments sent to the group from Iran through war-torn Syria.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, though it rarely officially confirms such attacks.

In August a former air force chief said Israel carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for the Lebanese terror group over the past five years.

Al-Jubeir warned Friday that there will be no stability in Lebanon unless Hezbollah disarms.

The resignation of Saudi-aligned Hariri has thrown Lebanon into turmoil and raised concerns that the country could be dragged into a battle for regional supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Indeed Israel has been watching Syria’s actions carefully and taking defensive action where necessary. On Sunday the IDF fired on Syrian targets fortifying positions near the demilitarized zone Golan heights:

The IDF fired upon Syrian army positions Sunday evening near the Israeli border in the Golan Heights on Sunday, the IDF spokesperson’s office reported.

IDF in a military exercise near the Syrian border

Syrian forces had been working to fortify a military outpost in the buffer zone, in violation of ceasefire agreements, and an IDF tank fired deterring shots in response.

A similar incident occurred on Saturday, when an IDF tank fired a warning shell near Syrian forces after identifying a Syrian army-built outpost in the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel, similarly contrary to ceasefire agreements.

According to the IDF, the outpost was located close to the Druse village of Hader on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights.

Earlier this month, following intense fighting in the village, the IDF said it was willing to provide assistance and prevent the capture of the Druse village by anti-regime forces.

Meanwhile Israel is continuing its humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees. For the first time ever, the IDF permitted Israeli TV Channel 2 News to film the crossing of some refugees, and one Syrian mother of a sick child said “All Syrians want to come to Israel” – a mind-boggling statement considering that Israel and Syria have been deadly enemies since Israel’s establishment and even before:

Extraordinary footage showing Syrian mothers crossing into Israel with their sick children for medical care was broadcast by Israel’s Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) on Sunday after the Israel Defense Force (IDF) permitted the channel to film for the first time operations part of its ongoing policy of providing care for civilians and select combatants injured in the country’s raging civil war.

In interviews accompanying the footage, several Syrian mothers expressed deep gratitude to Israel for providing medical assistance and said that many Syrians living near the border no longer view Israel as the enemy, while another said that “all Syrians” would come to Israel if given the opportunity.

“Israel was thought of as the enemy… Now that you are helping us, most [on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights] are with you. They love Israel. They see the true face… the reality,” one mother said.

Another added that the real enemies are “Islamic State, Hezbollah, Bashar [Assad]. They’re all the same.”

“I wish we could stay here for good,” another interviewee told the reporter. “I’d be the first to cross [if the border were open]” she said, adding that “all of Syria would follow me. All the civilians left in Syria would come.”

Read their heart-breaking stories of abuse, murder, executions and more at the hands of the various Syrian factions and the regime.

Watch the video below:

With this in mind, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman called on the Arab nations to make peace with Israel and confront Iran:

“After Daesh, Iran,” Liberman tweeted on Saturday, referring to the Islamic State by its Arabic name. “[Late Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat was a brave leader, who went against the stream and paved the way for other Arab leaders to recognize the importance of strategic ties with Israel.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman looking through binoculars during a visit to the Israel’s northern border, November 14, 2017. Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

“40 years after his historic visit to Israel, I call on leaders in the region to follow the path of President Sadat, come to Jerusalem and open a new chapter, not just in terms of Israel’s relations with the Arab world, but for the whole region,” Liberman wrote.

Sadat famously flew to Jerusalem ahead of signing the Camp David peace deal with Israel, the first Arab leader to do so. Sadat was later assassinated for his actions.

“The Middle East today needs, more than anything else, a coalition of moderate states against Iran. The coalition against Daesh has finished its work, after Daesh, Iran,” Liberman wrote in remarks that appeared to be directed in part at Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has in recent days stepped up its efforts to counteract Iran and its proxies in Yemen, and the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

All these shifting alliances hold great potential benefit for Israel, especially Saudi Arabia’s turnabout, but Melanie Phillips wonders if it is all too good to be true:

According to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, reported here, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, has issued a quite remarkable religious ruling. Answering a question on TV about the Palestinian Arab riots over Temple Mount last July, he didn’t merely denounce Hamas as a “terror organisation”.

Much more significantly he actually issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, forbidding war against the Jews; and he said that fighting against Israel was inappropriate.

How can this be anything other than highly significant?

With a religious fatwa coming on the heels of a Saudi realignment as well as their internal political upheaval, it is probably good news – we will just have to be patient, to wait and see:

We can all obviously see the politics behind this. Saudi Arabia is in the fight of its life with Iran, to which end it has forged tacit and not-so-tacit alliances with Israel as well as the US. The new, reformist Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not only supported this alliance with Israel but, more remarkably, has said that now is the time for the kingdom to get rid of Wahhabi extremism and revert to “what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions”.

… the fact that the Prince made such a statement about now getting rid of extremism, in public, followed by this fatwa from the Grand Mufti, in public, surely suggests that the tectonic plates might just be beginning to shift within the heartland of Sunni fundamentalism.

Too good to be true? Just more smoke and mirrors? Of no more significance than a temporary alliance of expediency? Maybe. Nevertheless, a religious statement goes beyond politics. Neither the Prince nor the Grand Mufti needed to open up the religious issue in public at all. Watch this space, eh.

I’m sure the Israeli authorities are proceeding with caution. כבדהו וחשדהו is what they say in Hebrew: Literally: respect him and suspect him. Verify and justify.

Will Trump make a peace breakthrough in 2018?

June 15, 2017

Will Trump make a peace breakthrough in 2018? DEBKAfile, June 15, 2017

(Lots of speculation about future events, but an interesting piece nevertheless. — DM)

US President Donald Trump’s goal of generating a rapid improvement of Israel’s ties with the Arab world, including the Palestinians in 2018, is not just up to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, but depends largely on how the Trump administration handles the continuing conflict between Qatar and its powerful Arab opponents, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Up until the end of this week, Trump had turned down the efforts of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resolve the Gulf conflict by diplomacy. Instead of heeding them, the president took the advice of the Saudi defense minister, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, who visited Washington this week. Tillerson and Mattis tried to arrange a conference between Saudi Arabia and Qatar so as to gradually ease the tensions, but Trump torpedoed the initiative by adopting Riyadh’s tough line.

A complex situation has arisen in the last few days regarding the US diplomacy for bringing Israel and the Palestinians aboard a peace process. The signs of movement on this score fluctuate between crises and some progress:

1. The Gaza electricity row falls under the first heading. Some circles contend that the crisis is artificial, since the Palestinian enclave is receiving as much power now as before. What is different is the new, intensified pressure by Egypt on the one hand and the Palestinian Authority on the other in the hope of toppling Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip or squeezing its leaders into toeing their lines. Neither Egyptian President Abel Fatteh El-Sisi nor the Palestinian Authority chairman has made headway. Hamas stubbornly refuses Cairo’s demand to sever ties with Qatar, while launching a counteroffensive to draw Israel into the dispute by making an empty threat of an “explosion.”

Israel responded with a counter-threat on Thursday, June 15: a proposal to transfer one hour’s worth of power from West Bank Palestinian towns to boost the supply to Gaza.

This maneuver kept the entire electricity issue in the court from it was tossed, Ramallah.

2. A shower of Israeli concessions is landing on the Palestinians judging by almost daily reports. Some are true and others false. But in sum, they are designed to impress President Trump with the Netanyahu government’s good will towards his peace initiative and readiness to take steps in its support. In fact, the prime minister is preparing the ground for the forthcoming arrival of Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy on the Israel-Palestinian issue.

3. US Secretary of State Tillerson this week informed the Senate that the Palestinian Authority had agreed to  halt its payments to the families of Palestinian terrorists who were killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis. Palestinian officials no doubt let this be understood to demonstrate their willingness to go along with Trump’s peace initiative, without, however, have any real intention of following through.

4. Media reports and the findings of Arab research institutes add up to the following predictions on the fate of the negotiations generated by the Trump administration between Israel and the Arab world:

A. Some time during 2018, a showcase summit will be staged for Trump, Netanyahu and leading Arab rulers like Saudi King Salman, Egyptian President El-Sisi and the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

They will publish a joint declaration signaling the phased normalization of relations with Israel by such preliminary steps as the exchange of economic and business delegations, the opening of trade offices and of Arab skies to Israeli commecial flights. None of these researchers is clear about the Palestinian role in this event.

B. Meanwhile, Israel will make concessions towards improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians, such as removing checkpoints, issuing building permits for Palestinian towns and more jobs in Israel.

C. Israel and the Palestinian Authority will expand their security cooperation. The Palestinians will be persuaded to cease their incitement against the Jewish State and stop payouts to the families of convicted Palestinian terrorists and other security offenders.

D. Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will ensue, without preconditions on either side, and expand. with Arab governments sitting in.

E. At the end of a period of some years, this process will mature into a discussion of the core issues of the dispute, Palestinian statehood, future borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.

In other words, the year 2018 will see the building of normal relations between Israel and Arab countries to be followed at a later date by the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. President Trump has clearly seized on relations with Riyadh, Cairo and Abu Dhabi as a lever for pushing Israel and the Palestinians into peace talks.

The idea is simple. Israel’s improved ties with the Arab world will resonate positively on Israeli-Palestinian relations. That appears to be Trump’s formula for peace. But there is a catch. It depends heavily on the US President maintaining good relations with the Arab world in the long term.

UN Secretary-General Launches Slanderous Attack on Israel

June 7, 2017

UN Secretary-General Launches Slanderous Attack on Israel, PJ MediaP. David Hornik, June 7, 2017

(If Mr. Guterres gets kicked out as the UN Secretary General, which won’t happen, a job may well await him at the Washington Post. Please see also
Washington Post Peddles Palestinian Propaganda, Part Two. — DM)

06/01/2017 Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, at a meeting with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of 2017 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Evgeny Biyatov/Sputnik via AP

“This occupation,” Guterres writes:

… has imposed a heavy humanitarian and development burden on the Palestinian people. Among them are generation after generation of Palestinians who have been compelled to grow up and live in ever more crowded refugee camps, many in abject poverty, and with little or no prospect of a better life for their children.

Further, he writes:

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remove a driver of violent extremism and terrorism in the Middle East and open the doors to cooperation, security, prosperity and human rights for all.

**********************

At this time 50 years ago, Israel was fighting the Six Day War and conquering territories. Since then it has returned the Sinai to Egypt, withdrawn from Gaza, retained control of the Golan Heights, and created a self-governing Palestinian entity in part of the West Bank while retaining overall security control there.

This 50-year anniversary has seen a flood of statements lauding or lamenting the Six Day War and its outcomes for Israel. Statements of the former kind emphasize that the war gave Israel defensible borders, a close alliance with the United States (by showing that Israel was a regional power), and, eventually, peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

Among the best in this vein were op-eds by Michael Oren and Bret Stephens.

Statements of the latter kind bemoan Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians and describe it as a disaster that has to end — fast. And UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offers some of the most egregious remarks in this vein.

“This occupation,” Guterres writes:

… has imposed a heavy humanitarian and development burden on the Palestinian people. Among them are generation after generation of Palestinians who have been compelled to grow up and live in ever more crowded refugee camps, many in abject poverty, and with little or no prospect of a better life for their children.

Further, he writes:

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remove a driver of violent extremism and terrorism in the Middle East and open the doors to cooperation, security, prosperity and human rights for all.

Let’s start with Guterres’ first claim about the alleged misery of Palestinian life since Israel took over the territory.

A few days before Guterres posted his statement, popular Israeli columnist Ben-Dror Yemini published a piece called “The truth about the occupation.” Yemini is not a right-winger; he wants Israel to eventually withdraw from most of the West Bank and separate from the Palestinians. But he also wants the discourse to be based on truth and not propaganda.

Yemini looks at some key elements of Palestinian life and compares the situations before and after the “Israeli occupation” (I use the scare quotes because Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and — except for anti-terror operations — Area A of the West Bank):

Education: Before the Six Day War in 1967, there was not a single university in the West Bank (under Jordanian rule) and Gaza (under Egyptian rule). “Today, there are more than 50 higher education institutions in the territories.”

Infant mortality: According to a Palestinian study and World Bank figures, the rate has gone from 152-162 per 1,000 live births in 1967 to: 132 in 1974, 53-56 in 1985, less than 30 in 1993, 25 in 2002, and 18 at present.

Yemini notes:

“The sharp drop, from 1976 to 1993, took place under direct Israeli rule. The drop continued under the Palestinian Authority, but at a more moderate pace.”

” … [The] infant mortality rate among the Palestinians is much lower than the global average of 31.7, and is significantly lower than the average in the Arab world — 28.”

Life expectancy: “[F]rom 48.6 in 1967 to about 73 (or 75, according to different sources) today.”

Writes Yemini:

“I can touch on more and more areas in which an objective examination will reveal an amazing improvement in the past 50 years. For example, in the area of water. In 1967, only four of 708 Palestinian towns and villages were connected to running water. Today, 643 communities are connected to running water (97% of the population).”

From the UN secretary-general’s description — “a heavy humanitarian and development burden on the Palestinian people … with little or no prospect of a better life for their children” — one would think Israel is mercilessly grinding the Palestinians down. The truth is very different.

Guterres’ description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — “a driver of violent extremism and terrorism in the Middle East” whose resolution would “open the door” to some sort of utopia — is even more shockingly at variance with the truth.

Before the “Arab Spring” erupted in 2011, such claims about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being the cause of Middle East strife were par for the course.

Since then, the region has seen six years of apparently endless warfare — among Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, and Kurds, among Islamists and non-Islamists, and among armies, militias, and terror organizations of every conceivable stripe — from Yemen to Iraq to Syria to Egypt to Libya, accompanied by the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

To say that all these disparate groups are bombing, shooting, besieging, and even gassing each other because of the Israelis and the Palestinians is to make a mockery of reality.

None of Yemini’s work implies that most Palestinians favor the current situation on the West Bank. They’ve been taught from the cradle that Jews are demons, that Tel Aviv and Haifa are “settlements,” and that the only just fate for the Israeli endeavor is to be annihilated.

Yet Westerners, including the UN secretary-general, are not required to adopt the viewpoint of a brainwashed Middle Eastern people.

The Palestinians not only hate Jews but — in classic Middle Eastern style — are riven by violent internal animosities between the Islamists of Hamas and the nationalists of Fatah, and between different Fatah factions.

Awareness of facts, as opposed to anti-Israeli canards, suggests that Israeli security control of the West Bank is — for now — better than the alternatives, and is in fact preventing another Middle Eastern hellhole from erupting.

US-Israel security interests converge

April 28, 2017

US-Israel security interests converge, Israel Hayom, Yoram Ettinger, April 28, 2017

In 2017, the national security interests of the U.S. and Israel have converged in ‎an unprecedented manner in response to anti-U.S. ‎Islamic terrorism; declining European posture of deterrence; drastic cuts in ‎the U.S. defense budget; an increasingly unpredictable, dangerous globe; ‎Israel’s surge of military and commercial capabilities and U.S.-Israel shared ‎values. ‎

Contrary to conventional wisdom — and traditional State Department policy — ‎U.S.-Israel and U.S.-Arab relations are not a zero-sum game. This is ‎currently demonstrated by enhanced U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, ‎concurrently with expanded security cooperation between Israel and Egypt, ‎Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other pro-U.S. Arab countries, as well as stronger ‎cooperation between the U.S. and those same Arab countries. Unlike the ‎simplistic view of the Middle East, Arab policymakers are well aware of their ‎priorities, especially when the radical Islamic machete is at their throats. They ‎are consumed by internal and external intra-Muslim, intra-Arab violence, which ‎have dominated the Arab agenda, prior to — and irrespective of — the ‎Palestinian issue, which has never been a core cause of regional turbulence, a ‎crown-jewel of Arab policymaking or the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. ‎

Israel’s posture as a unique ally of the U.S. — in the Middle East and beyond — ‎has surged since the demise of the USSR, which transformed the bipolar ‎globe into a multipolar arena of conflicts, replete with highly unpredictable, ‎less controllable and more dangerous tactical threats. Israel possesses proven ‎tactical capabilities in face of such threats. Thus, Israel provides a tailwind to the ‎U.S. in the pursuit of three critical challenges that impact U.S. national security, significantly transcending the scope of the Arab-‎Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue: ‎

‎1. To constrain/neutralize the ayatollahs of Iran, who relentlessly aspire to ‎achieve nuclear capability in order to remove the ‎U.S. from the Persian Gulf, dominate the Muslim world, and subordinate the American “modern-day Crusaders.”‎

‎2. To defeat global Islamic terrorism, which aims to topple all pro-U.S. Arab ‎regimes, expand the abode of Muslim believers and crash the abode of non-Muslim “‎infidels” in the Middle East and beyond.‎

‎3. To bolster the stability of pro-U.S. Arab regimes, which are lethally ‎threatened by the ayatollahs and other sources of Islamic terrorism.

Moreover, Israel has been the only effective regional power to check the North ‎Korean incursion into the Middle East. For instance, on Sept. 6, 2007, the ‎Israeli Air Force destroyed Syria’s nuclear site, built mostly with the support of ‎Iran and North Korea, sparing the U.S. and the globe the wrath of a ruthless, ‎nuclear Assad regime. ‎

While Israel is generally portrayed as a supplicant expecting the U.S. to extend a ‎helping hand, Adm. (ret.) James G. Stavridis, a former NATO supreme commander, ‎currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts ‎University, says otherwise. He maintains that Israel is not a supplicant but ‎rather a unique geostrategic partner, extending the strategic hand of the U.S. ‎through a mutually beneficial, highly productive ‎relationship with the U.S.

On Jan. 5, 2017, Stavridis wrote: “Our ‎best military partner in the region, by far, is Israel … as we stand together ‎facing the challenges of the Middle East. … Israeli intelligence gathering is ‎superb. … A second zone of potentially enhanced cooperation is in technology ‎and innovation. … In addition to missile defense, doing more together in ‎advanced avionics (as we did with the F-15), miniaturization (like Israel’s small ‎airborne-warning aircraft) and the production of low-cost battlefield unmanned ‎vehicles (both air and surface) would yield strong results. … We should up our ‎game in terms of intelligence cooperation. [The Israeli intelligence ‎services] of our more segregated sectors on a wide range of trends, including the disintegration of Syria, the events in Egypt and the military and nuclear ‎capability of Iran. … Setting up a joint special-forces training and innovation ‎center for special operations in Israel would be powerful. … It truly is a case ‎of two nations that are inarguably stronger together.” ‎

Unlike other major U.S. allies in Europe, the Far East, Africa and the Middle East, ‎Israel does not require U.S. military personnel and bases in order to produce an ‎exceptionally high added value to the annual U.S. investment in — and not ‎‎”foreign aid” to — Israel’s military posture.

For example, the plant manager of Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the ‎F-16 and F-35 fighter planes, told me during a visit to the plant in Fort Worth, Texas: “The ‎value of the flow of lessons derived from Israel’s operation, maintenance and ‎repairs of the F-16 has yielded hundreds of upgrades, producing a mega-‎billion-dollar bonanza for Lockheed-Martin, improving research and ‎development, increasing exports and expanding employment.”

A similar ‎added value has benefitted McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the F-15 fighter plane ‎in Berkeley, Missouri, as well as hundreds of U.S. defense manufacturers, ‎whose products are operated by Israel. The Jewish state — the most ‎predictable, stable, effective, reliable and unconditional ally of the U.S. — has ‎become the most cost-effective, battle-tested laboratory of the U.S. defense ‎industry. ‎

According to a former U.S. Air Force intelligence chief, Gen. George Keegan: ‎‎”I could not have procured the intelligence [provided by Israel on Soviet Air ‎Force capabilities, new Soviet weapons, electronics and jamming devices] with ‎five CIAs. … The ability of the U.S. Air Force in particular, and the Army in ‎general, to defend NATO owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it ‎does to any other single source of intelligence.” The former chairman of the ‎Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, revealed that “Israel ‎provided the U.S. [operational lessons and intelligence on advanced Soviet ‎ground-to-air missiles] that would have cost the U.S. billions of dollars to find ‎out.”

On Oct. 28, 1991, in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, then-Defense ‎Secretary Dick Cheney stated: “There were many times during the course of ‎the buildup in the Gulf, and subsequent conflict, that I gave thanks for the ‎bold and dramatic action that had been taken some 10 years before [when ‎Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak].” The destruction of Iraq’s ‎nuclear capabilities in 1981 spared the U.S. a nuclear confrontation in 1991.

An Israel-like ally in the Persian Gulf would have dramatically minimized U.S. ‎military involvement in Persian Gulf conflicts, and drastically reduced the ‎monthly, mega-billion dollar cost of U.S. military units and bases in the ‎Gulf and Indian Ocean, as is the current Israel-effect in the eastern flank of ‎the Mediterranean.‎

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.