Posts Tagged ‘Abu Dhabi’

Malaysia’s 1MDB settles debt owed to Abu Dhabi with China backing

December 27, 2017

Workmen are pictured on site at the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 1, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

By Leslie Lopez
The Straits Times
December 27, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR – State-owned 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) has made the final settlement of US$602.7 million ($S810 million) in debt obligations to Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), by divesting its stake in two companies to buyers linked to Chinese state-owned enterprises.

The payment, the second tranche to a US$1.2 billion dollar loan IPIC extended in July 2015 to the troubled 1MDB, was made on Friday (Dec 22), ahead of the end-December deadline that both parties agreed to in early April this year.

IPIC confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that “it has now received all the funds required to be paid to it under the Settlement with the Minister of Finance (Incorporated) Malaysia and 1MDB and the Consent Award made on 9 May 2017”.

“The process to pay is being initiated early because the funds are in place and 1MDB wants to avoid any administrative trip-ups that could result from the banking holidays at the end of the year,” one Malaysian government official familiar with the settlement said.

The first tranche was settled in August.

The second instalment will be paid with funds raised from the sale of investments in financial instruments held by the Malaysian investment company and stakes held in two 1MDB-related entities that own tracts of land in the northern Penang state and another 318-acre real estate parcel around Port Klang, the sources said.

Malaysian government officials declined to identify the buyers in the real estate transactions but one financial executive close to the situation said that the equity interests in the 1MDB real estate entities were acquired by “concerns ultimately controlled by Chinese state-owned enterprises”. The executive declined to elaborate.

1MDB did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, 1MDB said that all funds were paid from proceeds of its on-going rationalisation programme.

Opposition MP Tony Pua had previously questioned how 1MDB was funding these repayments, and alleged that the Ministry of Finance’s refusal to answer indicated that 1MDB had help from the government.

For the first tranche, 1MDB had said in April that it would use investment units owned by 1MDB subsidiary Brazen Sky Limited to fund the payment.

In June however, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) said these so-called fund units are “relatively worthless”.

The DOJ has filed several lawsuits seeking to seize dozens of properties and luxury assets that it claimed were purchased with funds misappropriated from 1MDB amounting to over US$3.5 billion. The ongoing probe is one of several worldwide relating to 1MDB. Investigations have also been carried out in Singapore, Switzerland and Hong Kong.

The dispute between 1MDB and IPIC revolves around the IPIC loan and another US$3.54 billion in cash advances 1MDB claimed it made to several Abu Dhabi-controlled entities as part of obligations under a May 2012 bond arrangement.

IPIC claimed that it never received the monies from 1MDB, triggering the dispute.

IPIC declared 1MDB in default after the state investment fund refused to honour an interest instalment of US$50.3 million, a move that exposed the Malaysian government to billions more in claims.

Days before the arbitration process was to begin in April this year, both governments reached a settlement.

Under that confidential agreement, sources familiar with the deal said that Malaysia declared that it would honour all its financial obligations to its international bond holders and make full settlement on the US$1.2 billion dollar loan to IPIC before end-2017.

The settlement of the loan this week would also set in motion the second limb in the overall resolution to the dispute.

According to financial executives familiar with the situation, Abu Dhabi will begin negotiations in January 2018 with 1MDB regarding the outstanding US$3.5 billion that remains in dispute.

Separately, Malaysian government officials said 1MDB’s president and chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy, whose contract expires later this month, will continue in office. It is believed that Prime Minister Najib Razak, who chairs 1MDB’s advisory board, will decide on a new role for him after the country’s general election, which is widely expected in the first half of next year.

Mr Arul, who has been central in resolving 1MDB’s debt troubles, has been identified as a contender for the top job at state-owned strategic investment fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd.


Saudi Arabia Searches for U.S. Shale-Oil Deal

December 20, 2017

Aramco has held initial talks with Tellurian, other U.S. producers about energy assets

A pump jack stands idle in Dewitt County, Texas January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Anna Driver (Copyright Reuters 2017)



Saudi Arabia is hunting for an energy deal in American shale country, as economic upheaval pushes it to seek its first-ever international oil and gas production investments.

Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Aramco, has had initial conversations about either taking a stake in Tellurian Inc., a Houston-based liquefied-natural-gas developer, or agreeing to buy some of its fuel in the future, people familiar with the matter said. Separately, it has also inquired about acquiring assets in two giant U.S. oil and gas basins, the Permian and Eagle Ford, the people said.

The talks haven’t reached an advanced stage, and the Saudis have talked to other, undisclosed U.S. companies about natural gas export deals, the people said. A spokesperson for Tellurian said: “We cannot comment on commercial dealings.”

Aramco didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Any effort to acquire American oil-and-gas production assets would mark a watershed moment for Saudi Arabia. It has been the world’s top exporter of crude oil for decades, but booming U.S.  production has shaken the kingdom, depressing prices and compelling the government to rethink its dependence on revenue from its massive petroleum reserves.

The talks come as Saudi-U.S. relations have improved as President Donald Trump touts Saudi Arabia as a key ally in containing Iran. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said he spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about U.S. LNG exports during a recent visit to the kingdom.

The U.S. is now the largest producer of oil and gas combined and starting to export its energy abundance. Aramco owns refineries around the world, including the U.S., but doesn’t produce any oil and gas outside Saudi Arabia’s borders. The kingdom doesn’t import any natural gas or crude oil.

Producing and exporting American gas would diversify Aramco, which could be attractive to investors ahead of the company’s planned initial public offering in 2018 — expected to be the world’s most valuable listing. Saudi officials have said Aramco would make international investments in producing assets after the IPO.

Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih told reporters earlier this month that Aramco was more interested in importing natural gas from areas closer to the kingdom like the Mediterranean Sea and East Africa. Russian President Vladimir Putin also has pressed Saudi officials to invest in Russian gas.

But the people familiar with the matter said Saudi officials have held wide-ranging talks with oil-and-gas producers in the U.S. shale patch this year.

By investing in shale production, Saudi Arabia could gain a better understanding of the U.S.  oil-and-gas industry, which has upended the traditional model of energy production. Shale companies don’t invest in long-term projects that produce for decades like Saudi Arabia does, but rather pump in quick spurts that can be ratcheted down when prices fall or ramped up when they rise.

Other Middle Eastern petrostates are trying to learn more about shale. Earlier this year Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund Mubadala made a small investment with private equity in U.S. shale.

“The objective is to understand the dynamics of this business, the technical side and the financial side – in particular the cost,” said Musabbeh Al Kaabi, chief executive of Mubadala’s petroleum and petrochemicals business.

The Saudis also have been engaged in a global search for natural gas partners as the kingdom’s energy officials push to make the fuel a larger part of their mix for producing electricity, some of which is currently generated by burning crude oil.

Tellurian is known for its plans to export American liquefied natural gas via a terminal in Louisiana, expected to be finished by 2022. LNG is a super-chilled fuel that can be shipped around the world like crude oil.

Tellurian was co-founded by former BG Group executive Martin Houston and Charif Souki, former chief executive of Cheniere Energy Inc., the first U.S. company to build a sizable LNG export project. The company also has natural gas production and undeveloped shale acreage.

Saudi Arabia’s gas reserves are hard to extract and high in sulfur content which increases processing costs. So even though it has almost as much gas as the U.S. under the ground — about 4.5% of the world’s reserves, according to BP (BP) — it isn’t a major gas producer.

Importing LNG so far hasn’t made economic sense for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom subsidizes electricity costs for consumers, so the costs of infrastructure and shipping LNG add to its price and make it less attractive than just burning its large reserves of oil.

The calculation has begun to change as the kingdom prepares the Aramco IPO. In the long term, the increased revenue from additional oil exports could outweigh the initial costs involved in adding LNG to its energy mix.

“It’s very attractive to Saudi because in many cases you are freeing up oil” for export by importing natural gas, Mr. Houston told The Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of an LNG conference last month.

Saudi Arabia could import up to 12 million tonnes of LNG a year, making it the largest importer in the Middle East, if it switched away from oil for electricity generation, Poten & Partners says.

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways to end Tehran flights in January

December 19, 2017

In this file photo, an Airbus A380 rolls out of a paint hangar during a branding ceremony of Etihad Airways at the German headquarters of aircraft company Airbus, in Hamburg-Finkenwerder, Sept.25, 2014. (REUTERS)
DUBAI: Etihad Airways will scrap flights to Tehran on Jan. 24, the latest route to be dropped as the Abu Dhabi airline pursues a strategy review.
The airline launched the review in 2016 that has also seen it sell or step away from investments in foreign carriers.
Etihad’s five weekly flights to Iran’s capital will be reduced to two a week between Dec. 25 and Jan. 23, before it suspends the route entirely on Jan. 24, an airline spokeswoman said.
She declined to say why the route was being suspended, but said in a statement that affected passengers could switch to an alternative travel date between Dec. 25 and Jan. 23 or be refunded.
Since launching the strategy review, Etihad has said it would cut flights to San Francisco and Dallas-Fort Worth in the United States.
Britain’s top defense buyer Tony Douglas will join Etihad next month as its new group chief executive, as the airline rethinks its rapid expansion strategy.
Two of Etihad’s major foreign investments, Air Berlin and Italy’s Alitalia, filed for administration this year.
Douglas, who joins Etihad from Britain’s Ministry of Defense, has previously served as chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s airport company.
Etihad has made few details public about its strategy review, which since being launched has seen the departure of its James Hogan, its group chief executive who led the airline for a decade.

Gulf rulers boycotting Qatar skip GCC annual summit

December 5, 2017

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani gestures as he poses for a family photo during the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in Kuwait City, Kuwait, December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed Reuters

By Ahmed Hagagy

KUWAIT (Reuters) – Qatar’s Emir said on Tuesday he hoped a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Kuwait would help maintain stability in the region, Al-Jazeera TV said, though four Arab heads of state involved in a rift with Qatar stayed away.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt which have imposed economic, diplomatic and trade sanctions on Qatar in a dispute that began in June, sent ministers or deputy prime ministers instead to the annual event.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who with Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah were the only heads of state to attend the meeting, acknowledged that the summit took place in “highly sensitive circumstances” in the life of the GCC.

“I am full of hope that the summit will lead to results that will maintain the security of the Gulf and its stability,” Tamim said, according to the Doha-based Al-Jazeera.

Sheikh Sabah, opening the summit, called for a mechanism to be set up in the Western-backed grouping to resolve disputes among its members.

Relations within the Gulf have soured since the four Arab states accused Qatar of supporting terrorism. Qatar had denied the charges.

Kuwait, which had spearheaded unsuccessful mediation efforts since the rift began, had hoped the summit would provide an opportunity for leaders to meet face-to-face and discuss the crisis, according to two Gulf diplomats.

Earlier, the UAE said it would set up a bilateral cooperation committee with Saudi Arabia, separate from the GCC, on political, economic and military issues.

UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the new committee would be chaired by Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Mohammed Bin Zayed, state news agency WAM reported.

Saudi Arabia has not yet commented.

The proposal also coincides with an escalation in the conflict in Yemen, where both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are heavily involved. Veteran former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in a roadside attack on Monday after switching sides in Yemen’s civil war, abandoning his Iran-aligned Houthi allies in favor of a Saudi-led coalition.

Founded in 1980 as a bulwark against bigger neighbors Iran and Iraq, the GCC is facing an existential crisis after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, charges Doha denies.

(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

UAE, Saudi Arabia forming new group, separate from GCC

December 5, 2017

By Jon Gambrell
The Associated Press
December 5, 2017

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday announced it has formed a new economic and partnership group with Saudi Arabia, separate from the Gulf Cooperation Council — a move that could undermine the council amid a diplomatic crisis with member state Qatar.

The Emirati Foreign Ministry announcement, just hours ahead of a GCC meeting in Kuwait, said the new “joint cooperation committee” was approved by the UAE’s ruler and president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan.

Saudi Arabia did not immediately report on the new partnership.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the development could affect the six-member GCC meeting, which is expected to focus on the Qatar issue. Half of the GCC members are boycotting Doha in a dispute that’s cleaved the Arabian Peninsula.

The Emirati ministry said the new “committee is assigned to cooperate and coordinate between the UAE and Saudi Arabia in all military, political, economic, trade and cultural fields, as well as others, in the interest of the two countries.”

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have cultivated even-closer ties in recent years. Emirati troops are deeply involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nayhan, also is believed to have a closer relationship with Saudi Arabia’s young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Emirati announcement did not say whether any other Gulf Arab countries would be invited to join the new group but the development puts pressure the GCC, a group of American-allied Gulf Arab nations formed in part in 1981 as a counterbalance to Shiite power Iran.

The United States and its European allies all have told the council’s members that the region remains stronger with them working together as a whole, while the countries themselves still appear divided over their future.

The fact the GCC meeting in Kuwait was to take place at all is a bit of a surprise, given the unusually sharp criticism among the typically clubby members of the GCC pointed at Doha.

“This is the most important annual summit the GCC has held for more than two decades,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. “The GCC needs to illustrate its relevance after having been bypassed at every stage of the Qatar crisis.”

The dispute began in June, following what Qatar described as a hack of its state-run news agency that saw incendiary comments attributed to its ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Soon after, GCC members Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates closed off their airspace and seaports to Qatar, as well as the small peninsular nation’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia.

The boycott initially reeled Doha, though it soon replaced food products with those flown in from Turkey and Iran.

However, Qatar’s foreign reserves have dropped by some $10 billion — a fifth of their value — since the dispute began. Those reserves are crucial in supporting the nation’s riyal, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar, as well as funding the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup that Doha will host.

For boycotting nations, they allege Qatar funds extremist groups and has too-cozy ties to Iran. Qatar has long denied funding extremists but it restored full diplomatic ties with Iran during the crisis. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran that gives its citizens the highest per-capita income in the world.

A similar dispute involving Qatar erupted in 2014. But this time positions have hardened against Qatar, whose support for Islamist opposition groups has angered the Arab nations now boycotting it. The UAE in particular views Islamists as a threat to hereditary rule in its federation of seven sheikhdoms. Egypt, angered by Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the nation’s deposed President Mohammed Morsi, is also boycotting Doha.

The U.S., which has some 10,000 troops stationed at Qatar’s sprawling al-Udeid Air Base as part of its campaign against the Islamic State group and the war in Afghanistan, also has sought to end the crisis. Its military has halted some regional exercises to put pressure on the GCC to resolve the crisis. However, President Donald Trump in the meantime made comments seemingly supporting the Arab nations’ efforts at isolating Qatar, complicating those efforts.

A Trump-prompted call in September between Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim and the Saudi crown prince that offered a chance at negotiations also broke down in mutual recriminations.

Kuwait’s 88-year-old emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, has tried to mediate the dispute, so far without success. However, Kuwait appeared in recent days to secure promises from the GCC to attend its annual high-level summit.

It remains in question who will attend from each member state. Bahrain had sworn it would not attend any meeting that featured Qatar, though a lower-level official attended a meeting of GCC foreign ministers on Monday in Kuwait City. Qatar’s Shiekh Tamim already committed to attending, while Oman said another official would represent Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

But the GCC meeting also represents more than just the Qatar crisis. The long-stalemated Saudi-led war in Yemen suffered a new setback with the death Monday of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who recently defected from the Shiite rebels holding its capital.

Meanwhile, a new generation of Gulf leaders is rising, like Saudi Arabia’s assertive 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed, who launched the Yemen war and has been more confrontational with Iran.

“The Saudi camp is seeking to commit the Gulf states to a hard-line anti-Iran policy and adherence to Saudi leadership,” Ayham Kamel, the head of the Middle East and North Africa division of the Eurasia Group, wrote in an analysis published Tuesday. “While the UAE believes its interests are best served by an alliance with Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain is compelled to follow Riyadh’s lead, the other Gulf states are much more hesitant to do so.”


Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at . His work can be found at .

UAE denies Houthi allegations of firing missile against its nuclear plant

December 3, 2017

Baraka Nuclear Energy project. (Photo courtesy: ENEC)

ABU DHABI: The United Arab Emirates on Sunday denied a report that Yemen’s Houthi group had fired a missile toward a nuclear plant in the UAE, state news agency WAM reported.

The National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, NCEMA, has denied claims made by Houthi militias in Yemen of a missile launch toward the UAE’s airspace.
In a statement, NCEMA emphasised that the UAE’s air defense system is capable of dealing with any threats.
The authority noted that the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant has all necessary safety and security measures in place to avert crises.

UAE has denied claims made by Houthi militias in Yemen of a missile launch towards the UAE’s airspace. (Photo courtesy: social media)

NCEMA emphasised that the ‘s air defence system is capable of dealing with any threats.

The authority noted that the  Nuclear Power Plant has all necessary safety and security measures in place to avert crises.

NCEMA reassured the UAE’s citizens and residents that the nation is safe and stressed that the country will always maintain its safety and security, continuing in its beliefs of peace and justice.

The authority went on to advise the general public not to pay attention to such rumors disseminated by media agencies issuing false news that question the UAE’s capabilities, strength and security.
The Associated Press

Yemen’s Houthi Rebel Group Claims It Fired Missile at UAE ‘Nuclear Reactor’
United Arab Emirates’ state news agency denies report

The Associated Press, Reuters and Haaretz Dec 03, 2017 1:31 PM

Houthi fighters stand guard in Sanaa, Yemen November 30, 2017.

Houthi fighters stand guard in Sanaa, Yemen November 30, 2017. Mohamed Al-Sayighi / Reuters

The United Arab Emirates on Sunday denied a claim by Yemen’s Shiite rebels that a rebel missile had been fired toward the country’s under-construction nuclear plant.

The rebels, known as Houthis, earlier in the day claimed they had launched a missile toward the plant in Abu Dhabi in the first such strike toward the country.

“The National Emergency and Crisis and Disasters Management Authority denies the claim that the Houthis fired a missile toward the country,” the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency said. “The UAE possesses an air defense system capable of dealing with any threat of any type or kind.”

The statement added that the nuclear power plant was well-protected.

The National, a state-aligned newspaper in Abu Dhabi, also reported that Barakah’s operations were “unaffected on Sunday, while sources on the ground confirmed there were no signs of an attack to the structure.”


The newspaper did not elaborate.

The $20 billion Barakah nuclear power plant is in Abu Dhabi’s far western desert. The first of its four reactors, being built in the UAE near its border with Saudi Arabia, is scheduled to come online in 2018.

The UAE, like other U.S. Gulf allies in the region, has the Patriot Missile defense system capable of shooting down ballistic missiles and is the only international client to have on delivery the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

The Houthis last month had targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with a ballistic missile that was intercepted by Saudi air defenses. It was the deepest strike inside the kingdom since the war between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis and their allies began in March 2015.

But for the Houthis to launch a missile from Yemen at the UAE, it would likely have to fly over Saudi Arabia’s vast southeastern desert in order to reach Abu Dhabi.

Sunday’s claim came amid heavy fighting in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, where the Houthis are facing off with fighters loyal to the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the fifth straight day of street fighting as the alliance between the two unravels.

The Houthis have accused Saleh of striking deals with the Saudi-led coalition, which has been waging an air campaign against the Houthi-Saleh alliance for nearly three years.

Since the recent clashes erupted, the Saudi coalition has been targeting the Houthis and backing Saleh’s camp to control Sanaa. The UAE is an active member of the coalition and its forces have mostly focused on securing the southern region of Yemen.

Senior Houthi official Deif-Allah al-Shami told The Associated Press that the missile fired toward Abu Dhabi was a “message to the United Arab Emiratis for its political and financial support to Saleh.”

He said that the UAE has hosted members of Saleh’s family, including his son who was an ambassador to the UAE and believed to be residing here during the conflict. Al-Shami also said the rocket attack was a message that “we will continue to target every nation that participated in the aggression against Yemen.”

At least 100 Emirati soldiers have been killed in the war, which was launched to dislodge the Houthis from Sanaa after they overran the capital and kicked out the internationally-backed Yemeni government from power. The conflict has killed more than 10,000 Yemeni civilians and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying Houthis with missiles, including the one used to target Riyadh on Nov. 4. Both the Houthis and Iran deny the claim.

Iran, meanwhile, has close trade ties with the UAE. In November, Iranian authorities ordered a two-day ban on a hard-line Iranian newspaper after it ran a headline saying the UAE’s tourism hub of Dubai was the “next target” for Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The UAE on Sunday was celebrating its 46th National Day with a four-day-long public sector holiday. On Thursday, the country also marked Martyr’s Day to commemorate the country’s fallen soldiers.

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Mohammed bin Salman should learn from Anwar Sadat and help Israelis believe in peace again

November 25, 2017

 NOVEMBER 25, 2017 08:18

Sadat made Israelis see a better future, a vision that is lacking today.

Bin Salman should learn from Sadat and help Israelis believe in peace again

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Anwar Sadat. (photo credit:REUTERS/GPO)

It was November 19, 1977, and when the door opened, Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, appeared at the top of the stairway.

He was greeted with a salute by an IDF officer who told him: “Mr. President, the guard of honor of the Israeli Defense Forces is ready for your inspection.”

This was how Sadat was received when he landed in Israel 40 years ago this week, a trip that heralded a new era for Israel, the Middle East and the entire world.

Sadat’s visit came a mere four years after the bloody Yom Kippur War, during which Israel lost its confidence – as well as 2,688 of its soldiers. While Israel managed to hold on to the Sinai and the Golan Heights that it conquered during the Six Day War, the country now carried a renewed sense of vulnerability, one not felt since the founding of the Jewish state.

On the other hand, the war was also traumatic for Sadat. It made the Egyptian leader understand that Israel could not be destroyed, and that the only way for him to retrieve the Sinai was by coming to terms with Israel’s existence and entering into peace talks with a country, that until then, was considered his arch nemesis. It was a transformative moment for Sadat, who finally realized that, in the Middle East, only peace would last.

For Israel, it also was a transformative moment, and Sadat’s visit left a deep mark on the Israeli psyche. Until then, the Jews who had returned to their homeland believed the Arabs would never come to terms with their existence and never stop trying to destroy them.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin stand together at Ben Gurion Airport after Sadat’s arrival on November 19, 1977. (GPO)

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin stand together at Ben Gurion Airport after Sadat’s arrival on November 19, 1977. (GPO)

By coming to Israel, Sadat made Israelis understand that they would not have to “forever live by the sword” – as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously declared a few years ago – but could actually be accepted by their Arab neighbors.

That was the true significance of Sadat’s visit. Yes, it was important for the Arabs to understand that Israel could not be destroyed; but it was just as important for Israelis to understand that a better, more peaceful future was also possible. Continued war and hostility did not have to be Israel’s destiny.

Sadat made Israelis see a better future, a vision that is lacking today when trying to achieve a sustainable peace deal with the Palestinians.

Today, Israelis appear to be mostly disenchanted with the prospects for peace. They see what happened when Israel pulled out of parts of the West Bank in the late 1990s.

That move was met by a suicide-bombing campaign and the Second Intifada.

They see the tens of thousands of rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad have accumulated and launched from the Gaza Strip and the countless IDF operations since Israel pulled out in 2005. They think back to the summer of 2006 and the war against Hezbollah, provoked by the abduction of two IDF reservists six years after the army pulled out of its security zone in southern Lebanon.

Now, go try to convince Israelis that another withdrawal, another risk – as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state – are in their interests. There might be a potential demographic time-bomb on our hands, but that is difficult to explain and too far away to see. In the immediate-term, Israelis see mortars landing on the runways at Ben-Gurion Airport and ISIS cells slipping into the West Bank over an unguarded Jordan Valley.

The litmus test for whether people want to make a peace deal now is Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. If the right-wing camp in Israel announces a rally to protest the lack of construction in settlements, it will fill the square. If the left-wing camp announces a rally to call on the government to enter peace talks with the Palestinians, it’s doubtful the square would fill up even by half.

The reason is because Israelis suffer from a combination of disenchantment and apathy.

The economy is booming and people – while they justifiably complain about the high cost-of-living here – live a relatively safe and secure life. Who wants to think about what is happening a mere 20-minute drive from downtown Tel Aviv when you don’t have to? Moreover, 40 years after Sadat’s visit, Israelis look around the region and see that not that much has really changed.

While we now have peace with Jordan and Egypt, neither of those countries’ leaders is willing to step foot in Israel. It is true that Israel has covert contacts throughout the Gulf, but when the Israeli national judo team competed recently in Abu Dhabi, the judokas had to remove the Israeli flags from their uniforms.

And when one of the judokas won a gold medal, he had to stand on the podium and watch as the International Judo Federation’s anthem was played and its flag was raised, instead of Israel’s blue-and-white and “Hatikva.”

So Israelis ask themselves: Why would this suddenly change? Why should we take risks for something that seems so dangerous?

This apathy and disenchantment are important to keep in mind, because if people don’t demand something of their leadership, there is no reason for the leadership to take action that is politically risky. If Israelis aren’t demanding that Netanyahu make peace with the Palestinians, then why would he?

Yes, there is pressure from the United States and Europe, but all of that can be managed like it was during the eight years under the Obama administration. Without real pressure from the Israeli public, there is no real reason to expect a change.

How can this change? With a modern-day Sadat. Imagine for a moment that Muhammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, traveled to Jerusalem, spoke at the Knesset, visited Yad Vashem, and announced his desire to normalize ties with Israel.

This would provide Israelis with a glimpse of a reality that currently does not exist.

If the king of Bahrain or the president of the United Arab Emirates came, it would have a similar effect. A visit by King Abdullah of Jordan or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt would also leave Israelis impressed.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gestures during a military parade (Saudi Press Agency/Reuters)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gestures during a military parade (Saudi Press Agency/Reuters)

So why don’t they visit? When asked, officials in the Gulf explain that they can’t just come to Jerusalem. “We have public opinion in our own countries,” they answer, saying their people would be angry if they visited the Zionist state at a time when the Palestinian people remain stateless.

In addition, these Arab leaders don’t see why they need to come to Israel without Israel first making serious concessions and taking real steps toward peace.

While they might think they have a point, they are missing a true understanding of Israel. Despite almost 70 years of statehood, Israel is the only country in the world that still faces calls for its destruction, and whose citizens hold a passport banned from travel to more than a dozen countries. Recognition by Saudi Arabia and a visit to Israel by one of its leaders, would have an impact that Gulf leaders cannot yet full appreciate.

Such a visit would tell Israelis that their country is legitimate. It would tell a people, that not long ago was on the brink of extinction, that it will continue to survive and thrive. It would give Israelis a sense of confidence not felt since Sadat came here in 1977.

While a visit by Crown Prince bin Salman would not automatically create peace, it would create a ripple effect that would force Israel to respond, an act of significance that neither the Israeli people nor its leadership would be able to ignore.

Sadat, it seems, understood just that, and ultimately paid with his life. Forty years later, the Israeli people are still waiting.


Lebanon’s President Seeks Explanation for Prime Minister’s Stay in Saudi Arabia

November 11, 2017

After meeting with Saudi official, Michel Aoun asks for return of Saad Hariri, who abruptly resigned in Riyadh

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh on Saturday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh on Saturday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

BEIRUT—Lebanese President Michel Aoun asked Saudi Arabia to explain why Prime Minister Saad Hariri hadn’t returned to Lebanon after resigning his post from Riyadh last week, according to a statement released Saturday from the president’s office, the latest salvo in an escalating crisis between the two countries.

“We request the return of the prime minister to Lebanon,” according to the statement from Mr. Aoun, which recapped a meeting between Saudi Arabia’s chargé d’affaires and the Lebanese president the day before.

Mr. Hariri had resigned unexpectedly last Saturday, citing Iran’s meddling in internal Lebanese affairs as the reason. He also said he was tendering his resignation because he felt his life was under threat at home.

Mr. Hariri appeared publicly on Saturday, when he greeted King Salman upon his return to Riyadh from a trip to Medina.

Mr. Hariri’s extended stay—now in its seventh day in Saudi Arabia—coincides with upheaval in the royal family stemming from a sweeping anticorruption campaign spearheaded by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. More than 200 people have been detained, including members of the royal family and cabinet officials, as part of the government’s continuing corruption crackdown.

The Lebanese prime minister’s failure to return home has stirred speculation about the extent of his involvement in the Saudi political crisis. Under Lebanese law, the resignation only becomes official when the prime minister hands it in person to the president. Both the president and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri have rejected Mr. Hariri’s resignation.

Saudi Arabia’s chargé d’affaires in Lebanon, Walid al Bukhari, on Saturday said Mr. Hariri was in the kingdom by his own will.

“Maybe he does not want to come back because of security reasons or out of fear of being assassinated,” said the Saudi diplomat, Mr. Bukhari. ”He is free to leave when he wants.”

Mr. Hariri got elected as prime minister following a deal that brought in Mr. Aoun, an ally of the powerful political and military group, Hezbollah, which is strategically aligned with Iran.

On Friday, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah accused Riyadh of holding Mr. Hariri under house arrest, saying Saudi Arabia had coerced Mr. Hariri into resigning.

“We consider that an insult to the Lebanese prime minister,” he said.

As calls mount for Mr. Hariri to return home, tensions between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have been rising.

On Saturday, a Lebanese army soldier was killed and four others were wounded while conducting an operation in northeastern Lebanon to attempt to rescue a Saudi national who had been abducted and was being held for ransom. The fate of the hostage couldn’t immediately be determined.

A tweet Saturday by the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon said they are communicating with the Lebanese authorities to secure the release of the Saudi national without any prerequisites.

The troubles between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have aroused U.S. concern, which considers both to be key partners in the region. “The United States cautions against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, a clear reference to Riyadh and Tehran, both of which have seen the country as a battleground for influence.

Mr. Tillerson told reporters Friday he had no indication that Mr. Hariri was being held against his will, but said if the Lebanese prime minister is indeed resigning, “he needs to go back to Lebanon to make that official.”




Lebanon believes Saudi holds Hariri, demands his return

Lebanon believes Saad al-Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, from where he resigned as Lebanese prime minister, two top government officials in Beirut said, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon believes Saad al-Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, from where he resigned as Lebanese prime minister, two top government officials in Beirut said, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon’s prime minister Saad al-Hariri gestures during a press conference in parliament building at downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File PhotoA third source, a senior politician close to Saudi-allied Hariri, said Saudi Arabia had ordered him to resign and put him under house arrest. A fourth source familiar with the situation said Saudi Arabia was controlling and limiting his movement.

In a televised statement indicating deep concern at Hariri’s situation, his Future Movement political party said his return home was necessary to uphold the Lebanese system, describing him as prime minister and a national leader.

Hariri’s resignation last Saturday, read out on television from Saudi Arabia, came as a shock even to his aides and further embroiled Beirut in a regional contest between Riyadh and Tehran.

Hariri’s exit fueled wide speculation that the Sunni Muslim politician, long an ally of Riyadh, was coerced into stepping down by Saudi Arabia as it seeks to hit back against Iran and its Lebanese Shi‘ite ally, Hezbollah.

In his resignation speech, Hariri denounced Iran and Hezbollah for sowing strife in Arab states and said he feared assassination. His father, a former prime minister, was killed by a bomb in 2005.

Saudi Arabia has denied reports he is under house arrest.

But Hariri has issued no statements himself to that effect, and has not denied that his movements are being restricted.


“Keeping Hariri with restricted freedom in Riyadh is an attack on Lebanese sovereignty. Our dignity is his dignity. We will work with (foreign) states to return him to Beirut,” said the senior Lebanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government had yet to declare that position.

Saudi Arabia says Hariri resigned because Hezbollah, which was included in Hariri’s coalition government, had “hijacked” Lebanon’s political system.

Hariri aides had until Thursday denied he was under house arrest but took a dramatically different tone after a meeting of the Future Movement convened at Hariri’s Beirut residence on Thursday.

A statement read by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his return was “necessary to recover respect for Lebanon’s internal and external balance, and in the framework of full respect for Lebanese legitimacy”.

Hariri’s aunt, Bahia, sat next to Siniora as he read the statement. The party stood behind his leadership, it said.

Hariri came to office last year in a political deal that made the Hezbollah-allied Christian politician Michel Aoun head of state and produced a coalition government grouping most Lebanese parties including Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia blessed the government at the time, but has been fiercely critical of the Hariri-led government since he stepped down, saying it failed to act against Hezbollah, whose guerrilla army is far more powerful than the weak state.

Saudi Arabia had wanted Hariri to take a tougher stance toward Hezbollah, and he failed to do so, the fourth source said. “He was functioning as if it is business as usual, so the Saudis had to accelerate the process and to force a resignation.”

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri attends a general parliament discussion in downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File PhotoSaudi Arabia this week lumped Lebanon together with Hezbollah as parties that are hostile to it, breaking with a long-established policy that has drawn a line between them and raising concerns of further Saudi measures.


Hariri flew to Saudi Arabia last Friday.

The top Lebanese government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Lebanon is heading toward asking foreign and Arab states to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to release Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.”

The official said Hariri was still Lebanon’s prime minister, echoing other Lebanese government officials who say his resignation had not been received by Aoun, and his government therefore remained in place.

The resignation of Hariri, a business tycoon whose family made its fortune in Saudi Arabia, happened at the same time as a wave of arrests of Saudi princes and businessmen accused of corruption by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The senior Lebanese politician close to Hariri said: “When he went (to Saudi Arabia) he was asked to stay there and ordered to resign. They ordered him to read his resignation statement and he has been held under house arrest since.”

Two U.S. officials said the Saudis, led by Crown Prince Mohammed, had “encouraged” Hariri to leave office.

The fourth source said: “He is under controlled movement by the Saudis, limited movement.”

Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said Saudi Arabia must halt its interference in Lebanese affairs.

He made a one-day flying visit to the United Arab Emirates, a close Saudi ally, earlier this week before returning to Saudi Arabia.

Hariri’s office said in a statement he had received the French ambassador to Saudi Arabia at his Riyadh residence on Thursday. He had also met the head of the EU mission to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, and on Tuesday the British ambassador and the U.S. charge d‘affaires.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed U.S. Charge d‘Affaires Chris Henzel met with Hariri. Asked about reports Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia, Nauert declined to elaborate on his status or what was discussed, calling the talks “sensitive, private, diplomatic conversations.”

Nauert indicated the United States would not treat the Lebanese government any differently as a result of the uncertainty over Hariri.

Saudi Arabia warned its citizens on Thursday against travel to Lebanon and said those already there should leave. It has issued similar advice about Lebanon to its citizens before.

Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch will visit Saudi Arabia next week and has received “a positive response” from Saudi officials over the possibility of seeing Hariri, his spokesman said.

Patriarch Beshara al-Rai’s visit “had been decided on a long time ago. In light of the developments, his mission has become national,” Walid Ghayyad said. The patriarch will take a message to the kingdom that “Lebanon cannot handle conflict.”

How Saudi Arabia turned on Lebanon’s Hariri

November 11, 2017

By Samia NakhoulLaila BassamTom Perry

Iran skips UN conference on nuclear energy in Abu Dhabi

October 31, 2017

Image may contain: 3 people, people sitting

In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, speaks with Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano, left, during their meeting, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017. An unidentified interpreter sits at center. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Oct 30, 2017, 1:26 PM ET

Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers may hang in the balance, but you wouldn’t know it at the United Nations conference on atomic energy held Monday in the United Arab Emirates.

Iran decided to skip the Abu Dhabi conference, leaving its seats empty as Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, avoided speaking about the nuclear deal at all in his address at the venue.

Officials at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted an anonymous source at the organization late Monday saying the delegation could not attend as the UAE did not grant them visas.?

At a later news conference, Amano himself declined to discuss it.

“This conference is open to all the countries and we welcome the participation of all the countries,” Amano said. “But of course it depends on each country whether to attend or not. I do not comment on Iran’s participation. It is (up to) Iran to decide.”

During a visit to Iran the day before, Amano told reporters that Tehran was still honoring the 2015 nuclear accord. President Donald Trump has declined to re-certify the 2015 nuclear deal, sending it to Congress to address.

Both the UAE and neighboring Saudi Arabia remain highly suspicious of the nuclear deal, which saw economic sanctions on Iran lifted in exchange for it limiting its enrichment of uranium. The two Gulf Arab countries say that new money flowing into Iran has aided its ability to back Shiite militias in Iraq and support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Also sharing that suspicion is Israel, which sent a delegation to the nuclear conference. The UAE, like many Arab countries, does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and remains opposed to its occupation of lands Palestinians want for a future state.

Conference organizers asked journalists not to film the Israeli delegation.

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Their presence also nearly created a unique diplomatic conundrum, as conference organizers had seated them next to Iran.

Trump’s refusal this month to re-certify the agreement has sparked a new war of words between Iran and the United States, fueling growing mistrust and a sense of nationalism among Iranians. The European Union, Britain and other parties to the deal have all encouraged Trump to keep the accord in place.

Amano reiterated that Iran remains in compliance with the deal when pressed by reporters in Abu Dhabi on Monday. However, he demurred when asked to discuss what actions Trump could take in the future.

“We do not speculate,” Amano said. “So I do not have any comments on the future action of the president of the United States.”


Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.?


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