Archive for the ‘United Arab Emirates’ category

Fusion GPS and How the News Gets Made

July 23, 2017

Fusion GPS and How the News Gets Made, The Point (Front Page Magazine), Daniel Greenfield, July 23, 2017

(Please see also, FBI relies on discredited dossier in Russia investigation. A co-founder of Fusion Fusion GPS, which wrote the “Trump dossier,” has refused to testify before the Congress.– DM)

The Fusion GPS scandal is a shocking example of how the media sausage really gets made


Lee Smith has an extensive hardhitting piece at the Tablet on Fusion GPS and what the media has become. I’m going to excerpt a few relevant sections. Not necessarily in order.

On Wednesday, three major news organization published variations of the same story—about the line of succession to the Saudi throne. It seems that in June the son of King Salman, Mohammed Bin Salman, muscled his cousin Mohammed Bin Nayef out of the way to become the Crown Prince and next in line.

It’s a juicy narrative with lots of insider-y details about Saudi power politics, drug addiction, and the ambitions of a large and very wealthy family, but the most salient fact is that the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Reuters published what was essentially the same story, with minor variations, on the same day—not a breaking news story, but an investigative feature.

In other words, these media organizations were used as part of an information campaign targeting Riyadh, for as yet unknown reasons. Who’s behind it? Maybe an opposition research shop like Fusion GPS, or a less formal gathering of interests, like Saudi opponents foreign and domestic, as well as American intelligence officials.

The same likely goes for the flurry of media pieces claiming that the crisis with Qatar was caused by UAE hacking. That nonsense piece of Qatari propoaganda is seemingly even being promoted in paid Google ads.

Smith’s larger point is that the news is increasingly a series of hit pieces. While that’s obvious to most conservatives and independents, he discusses how organizations like Fusion GPS create them.

Fusion GPS was founded in 2009—before the social media wave destroyed most of the remaining structures of 20th-century American journalism—by two Wall Street Journal reporters, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch. They picked up former colleagues from the Journal, Tom Catan, and Neil King, Jr., who were also well-respected by their peers. When the social media wave hit two years later, print media’s last hopes for profitability vanished, and Facebook became the actual publisher of most of the news that Americans consumed. Opposition research and comms shops like Fusion GPS became the news-rooms—with investigative teams and foreign bureaus—that newspapers could no longer afford….

Fusion GPS, according to the company’s website, offers “a cross-disciplinary approach with expertise in media, politics, regulation, national security, and global markets.” What does that mean, exactly? “They were hired by a sheikh in the UAE after he was toppled in a coup and waged an information war against his brother,” one well-respected reporter who has had dealings with the company told me. “I believe they seeded the New Yorker story about the Trump Hotel in Azerbaijan with alleged connections to the IRGC. They may have been hired to look into Carlos Slim. It’s amazing how much copy they generate. They’re really effective.”

Yet it is rare to read stories about comms shops like Fusion GPS because traditional news organizations are reluctant to bite the hands that feed them. But they are the news behind the news—well known to every D.C. beat reporter as the sources who set the table and provide the sources for their big “scoops.”

The garbage media story you’re reading wasn’t even created by the reporters whose byline is on it. It was quite possibly created and hand fed by outside experts. Obviously this isn’t a new phenomenon. But the scale and the scope of it is. None other than Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Goebbels, bragged how little reporters [k]now and how easy it’s become to feed them material.

Something like Fusion GPS takes the White House operation that Ben Rhodes ran and makes it acceptable to countries and various interests.

Essentially we have what amounts to PR firms writing major media stories. And driving the narrative.

There is no accurate accounting of how many of the stories you read in the news are the fruit of opposition research, because no journalist wants to admit how many of their top “sources” are just information packagers—which is why the blinding success of Fusion GPS is the least-covered media story in America right now.

This is something to remember as the media throws another fit about how any criticism of it is a threat to the First Amendment. What the media increasingly is, is a space for assorted activists, for profit and non-profit, to run their narratives.

Much of the media’s new blood know nothing except how to tweet sarcastic animated GIFs and to have the right left-wing politics. The media isn’t a free press. It’s a monopoly run for the benefit of special interests.

The Fusion GPS scandal is a shocking example of how the media sausage really gets made.

Middle East: A Shift from Revolution to Evolution

April 8, 2017

Middle East: A Shift from Revolution to Evolution, Gatestone InstituteNajat AlSaied, April 8, 2017

The lesson the Trump administration might learn from the disastrous mistakes of its predecessor is that the main sources of terrorism in the region are political Islam and all its related religious groups. All these radical groups, including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas have been spawned by a political Islam driven by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The fight, therefore, should not be against Islam, but against political Islam. Islam needs to be practiced the way other religions are, as a private personal faith that should be kept separate from public life and politics, and whose expression should be confined to worship only.

Mosques, whether in the Arab and Muslim world or in the West, should be places of worship only and must not transformed to centers for polarizing society or for recruitment by political religious groups.

After each Islamist terrorist attack in the West, the public is divided into two camps: one angry and one indifferent. The problem with defeating Islamist terrorism seems to be that either it is attacked by conservatives who call Islam an evil cult or it is forgiven entirely by liberal apologists. What, then, is the answer?

One of the main failures in Western analyses of the origins of terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa is that the West attributes them to a lack of democracy and a lack of respect for human rights. This is, indeed, part of the cause, but the root of the problem is a lack of development and modernity. U.S. President Donald Trump did not exaggerate when he said that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was disastrous. It was catastrophic mainly for two reasons. One was the knee-jerk support for the “Arab Spring” and for extremist Islamic political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The second was the alliances the Obama administration built with unreliable countries such as Qatar, which supports radical political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, Obama made the mistake of continuing to try to appease Iran’s theocratic regime.

The Arab Spring’s uncalculated, hasty attempt to establish so-called democracy only generated more turmoil and chaos in the region. Certain radical political groups simply exploited the elections to serve their own political and sectarian agendas; that swoop for power only resulted in more authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, as have played out, for instance, in Egypt, where we have witnessed the murder of civilians and police officers by the Muslim Brotherhood. In other countries, the situation is even worse; attempts to install democracy have totally destroyed the state and facilitated the spread of terrorist militias, as in Libya.

It is ironic that Western countries and their advocates stress the need to apply democratic practices in Arab countries, but evidently do not recall that development and secularism preceded democracy in Western Europe. The United Kingdom, which has the oldest democratic system, did not become fully democratic until 1930. France became fully democratic only in 1945, 150 years after the French Revolution.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, at the Arab Summit in Jordan on March 28, 2017 delivered a speech in which he indicated his continuous support for the Muslim Brotherhood:

“If we are serious about focusing our efforts on armed terrorist organizations, is it fair to consider any political party we disagree with as terrorist? Is our goal to increase the number of terrorists?”

Many Arab leaders were infuriated by his speech; at the forefront was President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who left the Arab Summit Hall during the speech to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Most Arab leaders and analysts, in fact, are enraged by Qatar’s continuous support for Islamist political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, because these groups are a threat to their national security.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt speaks at the Arab Summit, on March 29. The previous day, Sisi walked out of a speech by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Sisi was infuriated by Al-Thani’s declaration of support for the Muslim Brotherhood. (Image source: Ruptly video screenshot)

Another consequence of Obama’s foreign policy — in particular attempts to get close to Iran’s hostile regime — has been a fraying of relationships with old Arab allies of the United States. Some of Obama’s advisors thought that replacing Saudi Arabia with Iran was somehow “better” for the United States, if Iran “is beginning to evolve into a very civilized and historically important country” — an analysis that can be described as completely short-sighted.

The Saudi regime, with all its flaws, is a monarchy run by princes; the Iranian regime is a theocracy run by clerics. The Saudi regime is not a theocratic regime but a hybrid structure, which is neither wholly secular nor wholly religious. As such, the religious class functions under the authority of the ruling class. Princes are driven by self-interest; clerics are driven by ideology. In terms of extremism, the Iranian regime is pushing for hegemony, whilst Saudi Arabia has been taking only a defensive, rather than an expansionist, position.

The motivation of Saudi Arabia in exporting mosques world-wide and installing radical Saudi imams is defensive, not expansionist as in Iran. Saudi Arabia’s impetus is to confront Iran’s hegemony and the spread of its hostile ideology. It is this strategy, which Saudi Arabia has practiced since 1979 to balance Iran’s power and to combat its rebellious ideology, that must change.

That Iran’s Khomeini regime sought to embarrass Saudi Arabia — a country that is home to Islam’s two holiest mosques, in Mecca and Medina — by portraying it as not sufficiently Islamic, meant that the foundational Islamic Wahhabism of the Saudi Kingdom was aggressively reinforced. This emphasis resulted in even more constraints being put in place in Iran: especially on entertainment. Since the Khomeini revolution in 1979, all plays, fashion shows, international events, and cinemas have been banned. As for women, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has increasingly harassed them. As for minorities, especially Shia challenging the Iranian Shia regime and its support for Shia militias — particularly the dominant Revolutionary Guards — books were published attacking the Shia:

More books appeared, attacking the Shias and especially Khomeini’s views. These books – like the arguments of Khomeini’s followers – rejected modern thinking as an “intellectual invasion.” Saudi Arabia, considered the guardian of Sunni Islam, spent billions of dollars on challenging the Khomeini-backed Shiites.

This religious one-upmanship — a competition over which body can be the “most religious” — must stop. Saudi Arabia would do well to understand that in order to confront the hegemony of the Iranian theocratic regime, the answer is not to radicalize Saudi society but to return to the way it was before 1979.

The best way to defeat the rebel hostile regime in Iran might be through creating an inclusive and tolerant society in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia needs to change its approach towards Iran because the current strategy has not worked. The current strategy has done nothing except to strengthen the Iranian regime’s dominance; distort, globally, the image of Saudi Arabia and accelerate terrorism.

The lesson the Trump administration might learn from the disastrous mistakes of its predecessor is that the main source of terrorism in the region are political Islam and all its related religious groups. All these radical groups including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas have been spawned by a political Islam driven by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Extremist jihadists such as Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam and Ayman al-Zawahiri were all taught by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Islam practiced by the Iranian theocratic regime has been comfortably generating Shia radical militias, including the terrorist group, Hezbollah. The fight, therefore, should not be against Islam, but against political Islam. Islam needs to be practiced the way other religions are, as a private personal faith that should be kept separate from public life and politics, and whose expression should be confined to worship only. Mosques, whether in the Arab and Muslim world or in the West, should be places of worship only and must not transformed to centers for polarizing society or for recruitment by political religious groups. Unfortunately, Western countries have turned a blind eye to the political activities inside these mosques.

The danger of these religious political groups is that they do not believe in democracy or human rights; they just use elections to grasp power in order to impose a system of “Islamic Caliphate” as their only form of government. Most of these groups use religion as an ideology to oppose governments other than their own, and when they are criticized or attacked, they play the role of the oppressed.

The Trump administration needs to take advantage of the fact that the majority of people in the Middle East and North Africa have lost faith in religious political groups, especially since the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia.

Before the Arab Spring, support for these groups was huge; now it stands at less than 10% of the population. This study was conducted in the Arab world, not including Turkey. The Muslims who support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most recent polls indicate that the majority of people in Arab and Muslim countries prefer religion to be kept separate from politics.

The country that is working the most systematically to fight these religious political groups in the region is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There are several institutes and think tanks researching how to combat these groups. Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), has given a robust analysis of these groups and how to combat them in his book, The Mirage. In it, he cites a study on public opinion on political religious groups: A survey of the UAE population, on how these groups are able to influence the public by taking advantage of certain flaws in the system: 53.9% because of corruption; 47.9% because of poverty and 29.1% because of an absence of civil society groups that confront these opportunists.

The Middle East-North Africa region will undoubtedly have to go through several stages before it can successfully establish democracy. An evolutionary developmental approach will definitely be better than the failed revolutionary democratic one pursued by the Obama administration.

Secularization is also crucial in the fight against terrorism. Trying to build a democracy before going through the stages of secularism and political reformation — which includes rectifying existing flaws, such as corruption; modernization which means the liberation of the region from extremist totalitarian religious dogma and all other forms of backwardness in order to kick-start a renaissance; and scientific development — will not only be inadequate but will actually generate more terrorism by helping radicals to keep gaining power. It would be like a farmer who wants to plant roses in arid desert soil full of thorns.

EXCLUSIVE: Bill Clinton Got Millions From World’s Biggest Sharia Law Education Firm

August 4, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Bill Clinton Got Millions From World’s Biggest Sharia Law Education Firm, Daily Caller. Richard Pollock, August 3, 2016

Former President Bill Clinton collected $5.6 million in fees from GEMS Education, a Dubai-based company that teaches Sharia Law through its network of more than 100 schools in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.

The company’s finances strictly adhere to “Sharia Finance,” which includes giving “zakat,” a religious tax of which one-eighth of the proceeds is dedicated to funding Islamic jihad.

The company also contributed millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

The former president served as honorary chairman for GEMS Education from 2011 to 2014, according to federal tax returns he filed with his wife, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

His biggest paycheck from the closely-held company — which is incorporated in the Cayman Islands — was in 2014 when he pocketed $2.1 million. It is unclear if Bill received income from the Middle Eastern firm in 2015, since Hillary has not yet released her tax return for that year.

Sharia law is the Islamic religious legal system that many in the West see as intolerant of human rights and other religions, as well as violating the rights of women and gays. Sharia law is considered by Muslims to be superior to all secular authorities. Islamic jihadis regularly call for the imposition of Sharia law and want to impose it on the West.

GEMS boasted in a 2013 bond prospectus that it is the “only foreign group approved for educational services in Saudi Arabia.” The GEMS facilities in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, taught 1,600 students in 2013.

Saudi Arabia is where Wahabism, the strictest form of Sharia, is observed. The Middle Eastern kingdom bars women from driving cars, requires women to wear the strictest form of the hijab, which covers everything but the eyes and hands. Gay men and women are persecuted in Saudi Arabia.

GEMS distributed a job notice in 2014 for a director of “Islamic and Cultural Studies” for its campuses in the Saudi Kingdom. The skills for the position included proficiency in Sharia to help develop a curriculum. The company also acts as an educational consultant in Egypt, Jordan, and Libya.

Clinton’s relationship with the Sharia-oriented education firm drew critical reviews from anti-terrorism experts.

“Why would Bill Clinton be participating in programs that teach Sharia in foreign countries where that is the specific objective of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al-Qaeda,” asked counter-terror analyst Stephen Coughlin in an interview with TheDCNF.

GEMS is one of the most dominant educational programs in the Middle East, with 51 separate schools operating in the region. Globally, the for-profit company claims that 250,000 students are learning under its program in 170 countries.

Outside of the Middle East and North Africa, GEMS operates schools in Kenya, Uganda, Southeast Asia, and the United Kingdom.

GEMS even has two “international” schools in Chicago.

At the GEMS Jumeirah Primary School in Abu Dhabi, the website promotes Islam as a central tenet of its curriculum. “Our aim is teach all Muslim students the pillars of Islam, Islamic faith and morals, enabling them to efficiently apply them to their lives. To increase the knowledge of Islam we share with the children, the stories of prophets, manners of living a Muslim’s life, the five pillars of Islam.”

The Dubai firm has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to the foundation website. GEMS was an official sponsor of the 2013 and 2014 Clinton Global Initiative. Its Indian-born CEO Sunny Varkey attended both years.

And the Varkey Foundation, named after the CEO, contributed $250,000 to $500,000 to the foundation.

Varkey publicly claimed Bill was the “honorary chairman” of his foundation. But Bill and Hillary report in their joint federal tax returns the annual payments came from the for-profit GEMS Education company.

The company has raised funds through bonds and has openly broadcast its commitment to Sharia finance. In 2013, the company issued a $200 million bond prospectus and assured potential investors it relied on “Fatwa and Sharia” advisers to assure it was “compliant” with Sharia finance.

Coughlin said Sharia law on finance also includes money for “zakat,” a religious tax. “And if you read the law of zakat, one-eighth of that money goes to fund Jihad,” he says. “There are eight categories of zakat you must pay every year. And one of them is Jihad.”

Two of the banks — Emirates NB and Noor Bank — provided critical loans to GEMS in August, 2015, and were also accused of conducting illicit banking deals with Iran.

In a June 9, 2009, diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks, U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Richard G. Olson slammed one of the lenders, Emirates NB Bank.

Olson told the Department of State that Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey “pointed out that Dubai-based Emirates NBD appears to remain out-of-step with other major international financial with respect to its sizable Iranian exposure.”

Olson reported the Emirates NBD Chairman “Ahmed al Tayer erratically dismissed Under Secretary Levey’s concerns about doing business for Iran with a mix of hostility, remorse and assurances of submission.”

Noor Bank, another bank which provided GEMS with financing, helped Iran process foreign currency receipts. MarketWatch reported that in 2012 “Dubai’s Noor Islamic Bank had been a primary conduit for returning foreign-currency oil receipts to Iran.”

GEMS is owned exclusively by billionaire Varkey and his family. Four of the five directors are Varkey family members.

The Varkey Group Ltd, the parent company of GEMS, and its shares are held “in a trust by a private trust company for the benefit of the members of the Varkey family,” according to the 2013 bond prospectus. Varkey’s net worth is estimated at $2.1 billion.

All of the Varkey group’s activities appear to be transacted by MaplesFS, the largest law firm in the Cayman Islands.

As stated by GEMS in its prospectus, “Under existing Cayman Islands laws will not be subject to taxation in the Cayman Islands.” It also tells potential investors, “The Cayman Islands currently have no income, corporation or capital gains tax and no estate duty, inheritance or gift tax.”

Bill has been a frequent visitor to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the trips often deal with money. As previously reported by TheDCNF, shortly after leaving the White House, Bill pocketed $15 million in an investment deal with the Dubai Investment Group that included as his business partner, the country’s authoritarian ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin-Rashid al-Marktoum.

Bill also collected $500,000 for a single speech he delivered in Abu Dhabi in 2011. He was paid by the UAE’s royal family. The United Arab Emirates is a monarchy where no elections are held and human rights abuses, especially of foreign laborers, are rampant.

TheDCNF contacted the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation about the GEMS Education relationship, but received no response.

TheDCNF also reached out to GEMS in Dubai but there was no reply by press time.


Should Israel and its Arab neighbors form an alliance against Iran?

September 3, 2015

Should Israel and its Arab neighbors form an alliance against Iran? The Hill, Eli Verschleiser, September 3, 2015

Could a nuclear deal with Iran accomplish more than decades of diplomacy in the Middle East and, rather ironically, create new alliances between Israel and Arab neighbors?

That’s a key question as we gear up for the battle on Capitol Hill over President Barack Obama’s controversial pact with Tehran to limit uranium enrichment in return for lifting of sanctions. Critics say the agreement paves the way for a double reward of Tehran— a huge influx of cash and an eventual, unfettered path toward nuclear arms.

Neither the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, nor the United Arab Emirates or for that matter any of the other Persian Gulf states are too excited about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The role of Iran in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and the rise of Islamic State terror and the Muslim Brotherhood, have become a much bigger problem for Arab leaders than the tired conflict with Israel. Those countries have a Sunni majority, while Persian Iran is led by rival Shia Muslims.

Iran, of course, is also a major oil rival for the Gulf States and became more powerful following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The Saudis have been publicly moderate on the deal but said to be privately angry over it. Epitomizing the old Middle East adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the Saudis were reported to have offered Israel the ability to use their airspace to strike at Iran. This is a crucial step in keeping a military option on the table as it would save time and fuel if such a strike were necessary. “The Saudi authorities are completely coordinated with Israel on all matters related to Iran,” a European official was quoted as saying in an Israeli TV report.

Clearly momentum for alignment with Israel in some form is building.

“To all those who think the Persian state, and the regime of the Rule of the Imprudent… the dictatorial fascist Persian regime which controls it, is a friendly country, whereas Israel is an enemy country, I say that a prudent enemy is better than an imprudent one.”

Those words were written by Abdallah Al-Hadlaq in the official newspaper of Kuwait, Al-Watan.

It is not the first time the author has expressed support for ties with Israel. As far back as 2009 he called on his government and other Gulf states to put aside their differences with Jerusalem and forge an alliance against Iran.

But the fact that his column was published in a government daily in a country without full press freedom speaks volumes.

“The state of Israel and its various governments have waged more than five wars with the Arabs, yet never in the course of these wars did Israel think to use its nuclear weapons against its Arab enemies,” Al-Hadlaq wrote. “Conversely, if the Persian state, with its stupid, rash and fascist regime that hides behind a religious guise, ever develops nuclear weapons, it will not hesitate to use nuclear bombs against the Arab Gulf states in the first conflict that arises.”

Were the Saudis to show leadership in rallying other Sunni-led states against Iran it could have a significant impact on a new order in the Middle East.

Furthermore the new coalition could collectively work wonders to get rid of ISIS, as Jordan’s King Abdullah recently declared in a CNN interview that the war against ISIS ‘is our war’. The Iranian nuclear threat and the ISIS threat can top the agenda in this new coalition.

“Iran does have enough politico-military and economic potential to counter-balance Saudi led “Sunni” states in the Middle East and beyond,” wrote Salman Rafi Sheikh in an essay for the magazine Eastern Outlook last March. “It is precisely for this very reason that Saudi Arabia’s anxiety about an agreement has fueled a flurry of intense diplomacy in recent days to bolster unity among “Sunni” states in the Middle East in the face of “shared threats”, especially those emanating from Iran.”

Rafi Sheikh, a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, noted that “this deal is most likely to send political jolts across the entire Middle Eastern political landscape, with Saudi Arabia and Israel standing as the most sensitive areas to bear its shocks; and as such, are most likely to clutch their hands into an alliance against Iran, and by default, against the US ambitions as well.”

There is great potential for Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to rally Gulf states as well as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan to stand up to an Iran that will only become more emboldened with the huge influx of post-sanctions billions and new political bona fides that will make Tehran bolder.

Increased security cooperation as Iran bides its time for an eventual bomb –after the agreement period, or in the worst-case scenario, in violation of the agreement — may eventually lead to more nuclear proliferation in the region.

Will that mean a nuclear pact between Israel and its former enemies? That will be a fascinating development that could never have been imagined even a decade ago.

And it will truly be a sad irony if, after nearly 70 years of a solid relationship between the United States and Israel, the Jewish state had to turn to despotic regimes with little or no human rights to solidify its security position, feeling far less than confident that Washington has its back than it has in the past.

However this may simply be the beginning of an Arabic Israeli accord where both groups can begin to understand and accept each other.

Egypt sends Assad secret arms aid, including missiles, with Russian funding

August 30, 2015

Egypt sends Assad secret arms aid, including missiles, with Russian funding, DEBKAfile, August 30, 2015

( Given that Egypt is heavily reliant on Saudi funding as well as the absence of any other news source beyond “Debka,” I find this article worthy of a generous helping of salt. – JW )


Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi has begun supplying Bashar Assad with arms, including missiles, after concluding a secret deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his consent to pick up the tab, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal. The first batch of short-range Egyptian-made surface missiles has reached the Syrian forces fiercely battling rebels for weeks for the recovery of the strategic town of Zabadani without breaking through (See picture showing missile with Egyptian factory markings.) 

It is not clear if the Egyptian missiles have also been passed to the Hizballah forces fighting with the Syrian army, considering that El-Sisi and Hizballah are at daggers drawn.

Our sources also reveal that the Egyptian arms consignments are freighted from Port Said to the Syrian port of Tartus by Ukrainian cargo vessels. These ships are today the most popular means of transport for clandestine and Black Market arms freights across the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.

Sums and quantities are yet to be determined, but Western intelligence sources report that Ukrainian vessels called in at Egyptian ports at least three times from July 22 to Aug. 22 and sailed off to Syria laden with weapons.

It is a deal that may affect the fate of the Assad regime from five, often conflicting, perspectives:

1. By providing Assad with an additional source of weapons, Cairo is reducing his dependence on Iran. This suits the Syrian ruler very well at this time, because he is fully aware of Tehran’s latest steps to draw Gulf rulers and Moscow into supporting a plan for ending the Syrian war, by installing a provisional government in Damascus and so easing his exit.

2. A certain parting-of-the ways has developed between Moscow and Tehran on how to terminate the Syrian conflict. By sending Assad arms, Cairo  casts its vote for Moscow’s perspective in preference to Tehran’s.

3. El-Sisi is now diametrically opposed on Syrian policy to the GCC led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who are patrons of the rebel movement dedicated to toppling Assad.

4. He is also on the opposite side to Israel and Turkey. Israel backs the rebels fighting in southern Syria to create a barrier against the encroachment of Hizballah and Iranian Al Qods Brigades up to its northern border and the Golan. Turkey and the US have reached terms on Syrian policy. Saturday, Aug. 30, Turkish jets carried out their first air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State, as part of its deal with the US.

5. The Russian-Egyptian understanding on the Syrian question is a signpost that clearly marks the way to deepening military and strategic relations between Moscow and Cairo.

Taking the lead on a resolution of the Syrian question, the Kremlin staged a discussion last Tuesday, Aug. 18, with three Arab visitors: Jordan’s King Abdullah, UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Egyptian president. It was led by Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of Middle East Affairs, and followed by individual tête-à-têtes between Putin and each visitor in turn.

The Russian and Egyptian leaders did their best, according to DEBKAfile’s Moscow sources, to draw the Jordanian and UA rulers over to their pro-Assad policy, or at least accept common ground for a measure of cooperation. In effect, Putin and El-Sisi were out to convince Jordan and the US to back away from the Syrian rebel cause and the Saudi line. Their future actions may indicate how far they succeeded.

Egypt bids for two advanced French helicopter carriers – counterweight to the Iranian navy

August 27, 2015

Egypt bids for two advanced French helicopter carriers – counterweight to the Iranian navy, DEBKAfile, August 27, 2015

mistral-_Saint-Nazaire_western_France_May_25_2015Mistral carriers at Saint-Nazaire shipyard

Egypt is in advanced negotiations with France for two highly advanced French Mistral class assault-cum-helicopter carrier ships that were originally destined for the Russian Navy. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that this deal, if it goes through, will substantially beef up the regional lineup of the Saudi, Egyptian and Israeli navies. The new vessels would enable it to contest Iranian naval challenges in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and alter the balance of strength between the opposing sides.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have given presidents Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi and Francois Hollande pledges to fund the transaction at $800 million per carrier.

The Mistrals will join the missile ships of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel and six Dolphin submarines which, according to foreign sources, are capable of firing nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Their delivery comes at a time of strengthening strategic ties among Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel.

The Egyptian navy stands to own the most advanced warships of any Middle East power. The French vessels may also be used as aircraft carriers, because their decks are designed to carry fighter jets as well as helicopters. The only nations maintaining this type of vessel in the region are outsiders – the US, which deploys a Wasp class helicopter for marines; Russia, the ageing Moskva class copter carrier, and France.

Originally ordered from France by the Russian Navy, the pair of Mistrals was never delivered owing to the sanctions the European Union imposed on Moscow after the Ukraine invasion.

It is a multi-purpose warship, able to accommodate 16 “European Tiger” four-bladed, twin-engined attack helicopters, four large landing craft for dropping 450 marines on shore, 70 armored vehicles, including 14 heavy AMX Leclerc assault tanks.

These figures are flexible. If necessary, the French carriers can handle an expanded complement of 900 marines and 40 tanks. It is also a command ship geared to maintain communications with military forces located anywhere in the world. It also carries a 69-bed field hospital. The Mistral has a maximum speed of 18 knots and maximum range of 20,000 miles.