Posted tagged ‘Lebanon’

Trump is serious about slashing aid to Palestinians and Hizballah-dominated Lebanon

January 4, 2018

Trump is serious about slashing aid to Palestinians and Hizballah-dominated Lebanon, DEBKAfile, January 4, 2017

In view of the Trump administration Middle East policies, which meet Israel’s most vital security concerns, the attitude adopted towards Hamas by Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott is incomprehensible. At a time that Washington is clamping down hard on Iran’s anti-Israel friends, pawns and proxies in the Middle East, Israel’s own security leaders are talking quietly to Hamas. They believe they can coax the leaders of this Iranian-funded terrorist organization into stopping the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza which beset Israel almost daily. Still worse, they are using as their main intermediaries local UNRWA officers, who are notoriously antagonistic to Israel and represent a UN body targeted by the Trump administration for the cutoff of aid. They are assisted by a UN Middle East envoy, Nikolay Mladenov of Bulgarian.

These talks have achieved very little. Hamas has only consented to its own operatives refraining from firing the rockets, but shuts both eyes when fellow terrorist factions keep the rockets coming, so long as they are kept to a “moderate” trickle. Given these contacts with Hamas, it is hard for Israel to raise an outcry when a Palestinian Authority official gets together with its arch-foe, Hassan Nasrallah. Meanwhile, “moderate” rocket fire is a continuous bane for hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are trying to live normal lives.

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Palestinian leaders in Ramallah were wrong to assume that President Donald Trump does not seriously mean to cut off US aid. He meant exactly what he said when he tweeted on Wednesday, Jan. 3: …we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue… peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.” He then asked rhetorically: “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

DEBKAfile points out that, in the first place, Donald Trump is always serious when he discusses money, and, in the second, he is ready to wield the axe on US aid programs,  not just for Ramallah (and Pakistan), but across the Middle East. Nations and organizations even slightly tainted with Iranian influence are especially targeted.

Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah was fast on the uptake. In a speech on Wednesday night, he stressed that Iran and his own organization were financing the Palestinian struggle over Jerusalem. He disclosed a recent meeting he had in Beirut with Azzam Al-Ahmed of Fatah, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ special emissary for negotiations with Hamas.
In his speech, he made four points which represented Tehran’s reply to Trump:

  1. The Palestinians need not worry. They can rely on Iran and Hizballah to make up the funding shortfall resulting from the cutoff of US aid.
  2. The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks brokered by Egypt depend above all on Hizballah’s say-so for a Hamas decision.
  3. Even Abbas is forced to accept this, which is why he had no choice but to send a representative of his Fatah party for a secret meeting with the Hizballah leader. Since Hamas’ deputy chief, Salah Arouri, had already spent time with Nasrallah before traveling to Tehran, Abbas had decided he had better place his party and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah on an equal footing with Hams vis-a-vis Tehran.
  4. Just as Iran and Hizballah are bankrolling Hamas and Jihad Islami for fighting Israel from the Gaza Strip, they are also backing the Palestinian struggle for Jerusalem. This cuts Jordan out of the picture. Whether or not this is the truth, Nasrallah’s rhetoric made an impression on Palestinian and wider Arab opinion.

Until recently, some US administration officials were certain they had managed to extract Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the Lebanese army from the Iranian-Hizballah orbit. Trump was not sold on this and acted to neutralize this assumption. He inserted Andrew L. Peek into the State Department as deputy assistant secretary of state covering Iran and Iraq. Peek, who has no diplomatic record, comes from US military intelligence, a world which never shared the State Department’s patience with Iran and Hizballah. His appointment quickly touched off an administration reassessment of the US economic and military aid program for Lebanon. It was coupled with a recommendation of political action to head off a pact between President Aoun and Nasrallah, which could give this pro-Iranian duo a majority in parliament in Lebanon’s next election. It was also decided to discontinue US support for the Lebanese army in view of its domination by Hizballah.

President Trump is contemplating similar steps in Baghdad for curtailing Iranian domination of Iraq’s political leadership.

In view of the Trump administration Middle East policies, which meet Israel’s most vital security concerns, the attitude adopted towards Hamas by Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott is incomprehensible. At a time that Washington is clamping down hard on Iran’s anti-Israel friends, pawns and proxies in the Middle East, Israel’s own security leaders are talking quietly to Hamas. They believe they can coax the leaders of this Iranian-funded terrorist organization into stopping the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza which beset Israel almost daily. Still worse, they are using as their main intermediaries local UNRWA officers, who are notoriously antagonistic to Israel and represent a UN body targeted by the Trump administration for the cutoff of aid. They are assisted by a UN Middle East envoy, Nikolay Mladenov of Bulgarian.

These talks have achieved very little. Hamas has only consented to its own operatives refraining from firing the rockets, but shuts both eyes when fellow terrorist factions keep the rockets coming, so long as they are kept to a “moderate” trickle. Given these contacts with Hamas, it is hard for Israel to raise an outcry when a Palestinian Authority official gets together with its arch-foe, Hassan Nasrallah. Meanwhile, “moderate” rocket fire is a continuous bane for hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are trying to live normal lives.

Palestinians: Where Have They Gone?

December 26, 2017

Palestinians: Where Have They Gone? Gatestone Institute, Shoshana Bryen, December 26, 2017

(Please see also, The night the UNRWA stole Xmas. — DM)

American funding for UNRWA is problematic itself because the organization is inextricably intertwined with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This may be the right time to review the number of Palestinian “refugees” in the world and the world’s obligation to them.

Ten years ago, in a forum on Capitol Hill, then-Rep. Mark Kirk called for an international audit of UNRWA. Kirk admitted he was unsuccessful, despite such accounting anomalies as a $13 million entry for “un-earmarked expenses” in an audit conducted by UNRWA’s own board.

Palestinians are the only “refugee” group that hands the status down through generations, which is why they are governed by UNRWA; all other refugees are under the care of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which has a mandate to settle refugees so they can become citizens of new countries.

Palestinian refugees are a slippery population — but when 285,535 of them go missing from a small country such as Lebanon, it should raise eyebrows.

UNRWA in Lebanon reports on its website that 449,957 refugees live under its protection in 12 camps, but a survey by Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics, together with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, could only find 174,535. The Lebanese government said the others “left.” Okay, maybe they did — Lebanon constrained them viciously, so it would make some sense. What does NOT make sense, then, is the UN giving UNRWA a budget based on nearly half a million people when, in fact, there are far fewer than a quarter of a million. Who is paying and who is getting the money?

We are and they are.

The UNRWA website shows a budget of $2.41 billion combined for FY 2016 and 2017. The U.S. provides more than $300 million to UNRWA annually, about one-quarter of the total. In August 2017, UNRWA claimed a deficit of $126 million. A former State Department official said the budget shortfalls are chronic but that “the funds seemed eventually arrive” after pressing others for more money — some of that additional money is from the U.S.

American funding for UNRWA is problematic itself because the organization is inextricably intertwined with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon; see herehere and here. And specifically for Lebanon, the connection goes as far back as 2007. But stay with the “floating” population problem for a moment.

A July 2015 street celebration in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh camp, which is administered by UNRWA. (Image source: Geneva Call/Flickr)

The huge discrepancy in Lebanon suggests that UNRWA may have trouble counting refugees in the West Bank, Jordan, Gaza, and Syria as well. (We’ll give them a pass on Syria for now.) The problem is not new, but that Palestinian agencies were running the census may help the United States overcome its own long-term obstinacy when it comes to counting and paying.

Ten years ago, a forum on Capitol Hill, then-Rep. Mark Kirk called for an international audit of UNRWA. Kirk admitted he was unsuccessful in generating demand among his colleagues despite such accounting anomalies as a $13 million entry for “un-earmarked expenses” in an audit conducted by UNRWA’s own board. An amendment to the 2006 Foreign Assistance Act had called for $2 million in additional funds for UNRWA, specifically for an investigation of finances, but the amendment was withdrawn at the request of the State Department.

As a Senator, Kirk offered an amendment calling for the State Department to provide two numbers to Congress: the number of Palestinians physically displaced from their homes in what became Israel in 1948, and the number of their descendants administered by the UNRWA. The State Department denounced the amendment, saying:

“This proposed amendment would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.”

Far from prejudging the outcome, a review of the number of Palestinian “refugees” in the world and the world’s obligation to them would provide an honest basis from which to make policy.

In 1950, the UN defined Palestinian “refugees” as people displaced from territory that had become Israel after having lived there for two years or more — this is distinct from every other population of refugees that must be displaced from their long-term homes. Furthermore, Palestinians are the only “refugee” group that hands the status down through generations, until there is a resolution of the status of the original group — which is why they are governed by UNRWA; all other refugees are under the care of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has a mandate to settle refugees so they can become citizens of new countries. UNRWA, naturally, produces the only population of refugees that grows geometrically over time rather than declining as the original refugees die and their children are no longer stateless. (See Vietnamese refugee resettlement for an example of how this works for others.)

The original population of refugees was estimated at 711,000 in 1950. Today, there appear to be 30-50,000 original refugees remaining, and UNRWA claims to care for 4,950,000 of their descendants. But 285,000 of them appear to have disappeared from Lebanon.

It has long been understood that there is an undercount of deaths in UNRWA refugee camps — to admit a death means UNRWA loses that member in the accounting for the international community. It also wreaks havoc with Palestinian insistence that there are 6 million refugees (not UNRWA’s 5 million) and that a million people are not registered, but should still have a “right of return” to homes their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents claim to have had inside the borders of Israel.

The numbers game also exists with people who do not live in refugee camps. The Palestinian Authority counts as residents 400,000 Palestinians who have lived abroad for over a year, and according to Deputy Palestinian Interior Minister Hassan Illwi, more than 100,000 babies born abroad are registered as West Bank residents — both in contravention of population-counting norms. Jerusalem Palestinians are double-counted – once as Palestinian Authority residents and once as Israeli Palestinians. The PA, furthermore, claims zero net out-migration; Israeli government statistics differ.

How many Palestinians would there be in these territories if a proper census was taken? How many “refugees” would disappear from UNRWA rolls as they did in Lebanon? How might that affect the budget?

Can we please find out?

Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center.

Qassem Soleimani sends minion on odyssey from Iraq to the Lebanese-Israeli border

December 12, 2017

Qassem Soleimani sends minion on odyssey from Iraq to the Lebanese-Israeli border, DEBKAfile, December 12, 2017

It took Soleimani’s Iraqi minion and his heavily armed convoy a couple of days to cover 300km from Iraq to Beirut. This is exactly the distance Iranian and Hizballah forces cover on their way from Iraq to the Mediterranean. The tour that wound up Khazali’s trip took place on the south Lebanese road parallel to Israel’s northern border. That road is just 65km long. At several points on his itinerary from Iraq, he must have been sighted. It is hard to understand why no American force in Syria and no eyes along the Israeli-Lebanese border missed sighting his armored convoy and failed to take him out – and so cut short Tehran’s deadly, well-advanced conspiracy to unleash thousands of ferocious Iraqi Shiite militiamen against Israel.

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By reaching the Lebanese-Israeli border on Dec. 2, Iraqi Shiite militia chief Qais al-Khazali embodied the consummation of Iran’s open land bridge to the Mediterranean.

The mission that Iranian Revolutionary Guards Al Qods chief, Gen. Qassem Soleini entrusted to  Khazali and his militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of Believers), embodies Iran’s success in gaining its great ambition of an overland corridor under its control through Iraq up to the Mediterranean coast. In line with that mission, the militia chief was guided along the Lebanese-Israeli border on Dec. 2, for a sight at close hand Israel’s border towns from Admit in the west to Metullah in the east. He needed this information in order to mark out the military positions he would assign to his Khalazi network at Tehran’s behest.

This event most of all highlighted American and Israeli inertia in letting Iran consummate its prime strategic goal of opening up new fronts against Israel from Lebanon and the Syrian Golan. They are to be manned not just by Hizballah, but by many thousands of battle-hardened Iraqi militiamen devoted to Tehran, as the Khazali odyssey has revealed.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources tracked his itinerary from the crossing into Syria from Iraq on Thursday, Nov. 30. His first stop was at Soleimani’s headquarters east of Abu Kamal. There, he conferred with the Al Qods chief and his operational staff, as well as with officers of his own militia who were fighting in Syria. They discussed ways and means of transferring 15,000 militiamen from Iraq to Lebanon via Syria for taking up deployment in southern Lebanon along the Israeli border.

On Dec. 1, when these matters were settled, Khazali set out for Damascus, escorted now by Hizballah in a heavily-armored convoy. There, he reported to the new headquarters set up by his militia in partnership with the Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah, the backbone of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU). It is commanded by Soleimani’s deputy, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Our sources report that this headquarters was recently established in Damascus to coordinate the Syrian- based Shiite militias, including those imported from Pakistan and Afghanistan, for a concerted campaign against Israel.

Khazali’s convoy then drove west, crossed the Syrian border into Lebanon and drove on to Beirut for a meeting with Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah. The two terror chiefs ironed out all the details pertaining to the disposition of the Assaib Ahl al-Haq militia in southern Lebanon across from northern Israel’s Galilee. Our military sources report that that the militia chief was then taken on his tour by Hizballah for surveillance of Israeli military formations on the other side of the border, so as to arrange the positioning of his forces accordingly when they arrived in Lebanon.

The tour began at the Hizballah position facing Israel’s Admit, continued to Houla, west of which Hizballah has planted a position opposite Israel’s Manara ridge and the IDF post located there. His next stop was Kafr Kela, just one and a half kilometers from the northernmost Israeli town of Metula. From a nearby Hizballah position, he was able to view the Golan and Hermon slopes. The voice of a Hizballah officer could be heard on a video clip released in Iraq on the militia chief’s tour. He was saying: “This is Golan. It is nearly 10 kilometers from here.” Khazali then proceeded on foot with his escorts to the Fatima Gate on the Lebanese-Israeli border outside Metula.

It took Soleimani’s Iraqi minion and his heavily armed convoy a couple of days to cover 300km from Iraq to Beirut. This is exactly the distance Iranian and Hizballah forces cover on their way from Iraq to the Mediterranean. The tour that wound up Khazali’s trip took place on the south Lebanese road parallel to Israel’s northern border. That road is just 65km long. At several points on his itinerary from Iraq, he must have been sighted. It is hard to understand why no American force in Syria and no eyes along the Israeli-Lebanese border missed sighting his armored convoy and failed to take him out – and so cut short Tehran’s deadly, well-advanced conspiracy to unleash thousands of ferocious Iraqi Shiite militiamen against Israel.

Syria attacks Beit Jinn opposite IDF Hermon positions – reprisal for reported Israeli airstrike on Iranian base near Damascus

December 2, 2017

Syria attacks Beit Jinn opposite IDF Hermon positions – reprisal for reported Israeli airstrike on Iranian base near Damascus, DEBKAfile, December 2, 2017

Two significant military events were reported early Saturday, Dec. 2, by Arab and Russian sources – neither of them officially confirmed. The first was an Israeli airborne missile attack on the Syrian army’s 1st Division’s ammunition dump near Al-Kiswah 14km southwest of Damascus and 50km from the Golan. The target was identified as an Iranian military base which the BBC reported on Nov. 10 to be under construction in the Syrian military compound at Al-Kiswah. DEBKAfile’s military sources refuted the BBC report.

Other sources reported that the Israeli target early Saturday was a Hizballah position near the Syrian 1st Division’s 91st Brigade base in the same area. Syrian military sources and Arab social media released videos showing Syrian air defense intercepting some of the Israeli missiles while others hit the target. Some sources claimed they were launched from Lebanese air space. A short time later, the Syrian army announced that units of its 7th armored division and the 42nd brigade of its 4th division had just launched an offensive on the Beit Jinn pocket on Mount Hermon a little more than 4km away from IDF positions on the mount. A Druze village is located inside this enclave. The Syrian military statement omitted to mention the fact that Hizballah forces are spearheading this attack.

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.

How Iran Tried to Turn Arab States into Fading Ghosts

November 12, 2017

How Iran Tried to Turn Arab States into Fading Ghosts, Gatestone InstituteAmir Taheri, November 12, 2017

Tehran also exerts political influence through at least part of the Ad-Daawa (“The Call”) party. However, Iran’s hope of creating a second Lebanon in Iraq has not succeeded because many Iraqis resent Iranian domination while the grand ayatollahs of Najaf regard the Khomeinist regime in Tehran as an abomination.

The mullah’s scheme in Syria has also run into trouble because of Russian intervention and President Vladimir Putin’s determination that Syria’s future is decided in Moscow and not in Tehran.

Hariri’s resignation may be a sign that the Arabs are no longer prepared to grin and bear it as Tehran dismantles their state structures by creating doubles to their armies and transforming their governments into puppets with their strings pulled from the Iranian Embassy.

Tehran’s scheme for dominating the Arab states may have reached its limits; the rapid advance of the mullahs may now be followed with a roll-back. And that could mean the return of political frontiers and loyalties based on citizenship not religious sect.

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If history is a stage on which the fate of nations is played out, knowing when to step in and when to bow out is of crucial importance. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time and, even worse, in the wrong context, could lead to loss and grief.

These may have been some of the thoughts that Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri may have had in mind when he decided to throw in the towel rather than pretend to exercise an office without being able to do so in any effective manner. Hariri realized that he was in office but not in power.

Whatever the reason for Hariri’s departure, I think he was right to withdraw from a scenario aimed at turning Lebanon into a ghost of a state with a ghost of a president and ghost prime minister and parliament.

Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister, Saad Hariri. (Image source: kremlin.ru)

That scenario was written in Tehran in the early 1980s with the creation of the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah by then Iranian Ambassador to Damascus Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-pour. The original idea had taken shape in 1975, when Ayatollah Hadi Ghaffari created the first branch of Hezbollah in Tehran to fight the Shah. By 1977, clandestine branches had been created in Turkey and Kuwait.

The hope was to fade out political frontiers, often created by accidents of history or designs of empires, and replace them with religious frontiers. The aim was to create an archipelago of Shi’ite communities across the Middle East, linked together through a network of religious-political organizations controlled by Iran.

The rationale for this was that throughout Islamic history, the element binding people together was allegiance to a version of the religion (Arabic: Mazhab) rather than political concepts such as citizenship of a state.

The fall of the Shah and the seizure of power in Tehran by mullahs gave the scheme a new impetus by putting Iran’s resources at its disposal.

However, very soon it became apparent that the grand design could not be realized without destroying or at least weakening Western-style state structures already in place. The states targeted had more or less strong armed forces that would resist an Iranian takeover.

This was precisely what happened in Turkey, where attempts by the Hezbollah branch to make a splash were crushed by the army.

In Iraq, a premature takeover bid by Khomeini gave Saddam Hussein an excuse to invade Iran and start an eight-year war.

In Syria, according to the memoirs of General Hussein Hamadani, who led the Iranian military contingent there, the national army did all it could to prevent Tehran from creating power bases of its own. The situation in Syria changed only when the nation was plunged into civil war by President Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless repression of peaceful protests.

The mullahs learned from their experience in Iran.

Soon after they seized power by a combination of freakish circumstances, Khomeini realized that he would never win the loyalty of existing state structures, while being unable to destroy them altogether.

Thus, he developed the strategy known as “parallelism” (movazi-sazi in Persian).

He created the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a parallel to the national army. Islamic courts were set up as parallels to state courts based on laws inspired by the Napoleonic Code. The Majlis (parliament) found its parallel in the Assembly of Experts.

Applied to other Middle Eastern countries, this strategy was known as tohi-sazi or “emptying of content”.

The first place this was put into practice was Lebanon.

Iran created a Shi’ite militia to “parallel” the regular Lebanese army. Then, through Hezbollah, Tehran also recruited allies among other Lebanese communities and transformed the Lebanese parliament into a toothless bulldog. Finally, Tehran succeeded in propelling its candidate into the presidency, and secured effective power of veto in the Council of Ministers.

All that costs a lot of money.

According to the current Iranian national budget, Iran is spending an average of $60 million a month in Lebanon, most of it through Hezbollah. Consequently, as President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech last month, nothing can be done in Lebanon without Iran’s say-so.

The Lebanese branch of Hezbollah has given Iran value for money to the point of sustaining thousands of casualties in combat in the 2006 mini-war with Israel and, more importantly, the campaign to crush Assad’s opponents in Syria.

In Iraq, the Iranian scheme has had partial results.

Tehran created the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of 17 Shi’ite militias, plus the Islamic Peshmergas (Kurdish fighters hired by Tehran) to parallel the Iraqi national army and the military force of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region government.

Tehran also exerts political influence through at least part of the Ad-Daawa (“The Call”) party. However, Iran’s hope of creating a second Lebanon in Iraq has not succeeded because many Iraqis resent Iranian domination while the grand ayatollahs of Najaf regard the Khomeinist regime in Tehran as an abomination.

The mullah’s scheme in Syria has also run into trouble because of Russian intervention and President Vladimir Putin’s determination that Syria’s future is decided in Moscow and not in Tehran.

Tehran’s scheme has had partial success in Yemen.

Iran’s surrogates, the Houthis, succeeded in creating a parallel army in the shape of Ansar Allah, but failed to fully clip the wings of the regular army. The Houthis also reduced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to a shadow of his past but could not fully get rid of him. On top of that, the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention has dealt a decisive blow to Tehran’s hope of doing another Lebanon in Yemen.

In the case of Qatar and Oman, Tehran used Finlandization, allowing them to enjoy tranquility in exchange for splitting the Arab ranks and toeing the mullahs’ line on key issues.

When Muhammad Morsi took over as Egypt’s elected president, Tehran tried to sell its scenario in Cairo as well.

Former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati was sent to Egypt with a letter from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In it, Khamenei called on Morsi to disband the Egyptian army and create a parallel military force to “guard the revolution”. The proposed scheme was never applied either because, as Velayati and Khamenei claim, Morsi rejected it or the Egyptian army pre-empted it by deposing Morsi.

Hariri’s resignation may be a sign that the Arabs are no longer prepared to grin and bear it as Tehran dismantles their state structures by creating doubles to their armies and transforming their governments into puppets with their strings pulled from the Iranian Embassy.

Tehran’s scheme for dominating the Arab states may have reached its limits; the rapid advance of the mullahs may now be followed with a roll-back. And that could mean the return of political frontiers and loyalties based on citizenship not religious sect.

Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran’s premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection

November 8, 2017

The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection, Gatestone InstituteKhaled Abu Toameh, November 8, 2017

Hamas has already stated repeatedly that it has absolutely no intention of laying down its weapons as promised for the “reconciliation” agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

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Now that the Iranians have sole control over Lebanon, their eyes are set on the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, for its part, is thirsting for Iranian resources. Hamas knows that it will have to pay a price.

Iran and Hezbollah are working with Hamas to establish a “joint front” against Israel.

The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has had enough. Last week, Iran finalized its takeover of Lebanon when Hariri resigned, and reportedly fled to Saudi Arabia.

Hariri, denouncing Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, said he feared for his life. Hariri has good reason to be afraid of Hezbollah, the powerful Shia terror group and Iranian proxy that effectively controls Lebanon.

Indications show that Iran and Hezbollah are also planning to extend their control to the Gaza Strip. Iran already provides Hamas with financial and military aid. It is precisely the support of Iran that has enabled Hamas to hold in power in the Gaza Strip for the past 10 years. It is also thanks to Iran that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another major terror group in the Gaza Strip, are in possession of thousands of missiles and rockets. It is Iranian money that allows Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to continue digging terror tunnels under the border with Israel.

Relations between Iran and Hamas have grown stronger in the past few weeks. Last month, a senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran to attend the funeral of the father of the senior Iranian security official, Qasem Soleimani. A few weeks earlier, another senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran to brief Iranian leaders on the latest developments surrounding the “reconciliation” agreement reached between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA).

It was the first time senior Hamas officials visited Iran since relations between the two sides became strained in 2011. That year, Iran suspended its ties with Hamas over the latter’s refusal to support Syria’s dictator, Bashar Assad, against his opponents in its civil war. The sudden rapprochement between Hamas and Iran has raised concerns among Abbas and his Palestinian Authority officials regarding Hamas’s sincerity in implementing the “reconciliation” agreement. President Abbas and his officials wonder why Hamas rushed into arms of Iran immediately after reaching the “reconciliation” accord under the auspices of the Egyptian authorities.

Iran and Hezbollah are no fans of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is terrified that Hamas is trying to bring Iran and its Hezbollah proxy into the Gaza Strip.

Abbas and his PA are eager to return to the Gaza Strip, but the presence of Iran there creates a serious problem. Like Hariri, Abbas would have good reason to fear for his life if Hamas brings the Iranians and Hezbollah into the Gaza Strip.

Abbas’s fear is also not unjustified. Earlier this week, a senior Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzouk, disclosed that his movement and Hezbollah were working towards strengthening their relations. “Relations between Hamas and Hezbollah were never cut off,” Abu Marzouk stated.

“We have ongoing contacts and understandings. But we preferred to keep them away from the spotlight. Hamas and Hezbollah are in one line in the fight against Israel, and we coordinate our positions regarding the Palestinian cause. Hamas will continue to cooperate with resistance groups that support the Palestinian resistance.”

The alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah is a direct result of the renewed relations between Iran and Hamas. With the help of Hezbollah, Iran has managed to take control of large parts of Syria. With the help of Hezbollah, Iran already controls Lebanon. Now that the Iranians have sole control over Lebanon, their eyes are set on the Gaza Strip. They know that the only way to access the Gaza Strip is through the Hamas door. Iran wants to see Hezbollah inside the Gaza Strip. Hamas, for its part, is thirsting for Iranian resources. Hamas knows that it will have to pay a price: allowing Iran and Hezbollah to set foot in the Gaza Strip. Judging from the remarks of Abu Marzouk, Hamas appears to be happy to pay the price.

Hariri, Abbas and many Sunni Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, felt betrayed by the Obama Administration’s policy of détente towards Iran — a policy that emboldened the Iranians and gave them a green light to meddle in the internal affairs of Arab countries to try to establish, as they seem to have done, a “Shiite Crescent” from Persia through Yemen and now Lebanon, clear to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Sunni Arabs are apparently particularly worried about the nuclear deal signed between the Obama Administration and Iran. They feel that the Obama Administration’s attempt to appease the Iranians has emboldened the country that is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. Iran has since taken advantage of the nuclear deal to threaten and try to terrorize America, its friends and its Arab allies.

Abbas has multiple reasons to be worried about the Hamas-Hezbollah alliance. Here is another one: a recent meeting in Beirut between Hamas leader Saleh Arouri and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah was yet another sign of Hamas’s effort to pave the way for Iran and Hezbollah to infiltrate the Gaza Strip and meddle in the internal affairs of the Palestinians.

A recent meeting in Beirut between Hamas leader Saleh Arouri (left) and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah (right) was another sign of Hamas’s effort to pave the way for Iran and Hezbollah to infiltrate the Gaza Strip. (Image source: Hezbollah via Al Manar)

Hamas has already stated repeatedly that it has absolutely no intention of laying down its weapons as promised for the “reconciliation” agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is prepared to cede to PA President Mahmoud Abbas limited civilian control of the Gaza Strip, but has been clear that it will never dismantle its security apparatus or military wing. Hamas wants to bring the Iranians and Hezbollah into the Gaza Strip to counterbalance pressure from Abbas and Egypt and other countries to disarm and hand control over to Abbas. If Abbas ever returns to the Gaza Strip, he will find himself sitting not only with Hamas, but also with Iran and Hezbollah, who consider him a traitor and puppet in the hands of Israel and the US.

Alarmed by the rapprochement between Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran, Saudi Arabia earlier this week summoned Abbas for urgent talks in Riyadh. The Saudis have been following with concern the visits by Hamas leaders to Iran and Hezbollah, and are worried that Abbas may face the same fate as Hariri.

Abbas may well wish to steer clear of the Gaza Strip: Iran and Hezbollah are working with Hamas to establish a “joint front” against Israel. Hamas’s decision to tilt towards Iran and Hezbollah discloses the truth: it is not headed towards moderation and pragmatism, but the very opposite. This does not bode well for the current Trump Administration’s efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Without stopping Iran and Hezbollah from spreading their influence and control to the Gaza Strip and Arab countries, the prospects of peace seem rather dim. In fact, the prospects of war seem pretty close, as Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad meet in the middle to discuss their plans for war against Israel. Failing to stop Iran and Hezbollah would mean that Abbas may soon find themselves hiding with Hariri in Saudi Arabia.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.