Posts Tagged ‘Hamas’

Pragmatic Sunni Front Against Iran Is Gone — U.S. disengagement policy leaves the Middle East To Russia and Iran

November 17, 2017

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Analysis

BY ZVI MAZEL
 NOVEMBER 17, 2017 11:24

The long-drawn civil war has brought nothing but suffering to the Syrian people.

FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zari

FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran attend a news conference in Moscow in April.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have agreed that there is no military solution for the Syrian crisis.

America is adopting the disengagement policy of former president Barack Obama and abandoning the Middle East to Russia and to Iran.

This unlikely strategic coordination between the two great powers is the death knell of the revival of the grand anti-Iranian front of pragmatic Sunni states – Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt – which the American leader had so proudly announced during his visit to Riyadh last May. That front had never gotten off the ground, partly because of the break-up with Qatar and partly because of Egypt’s ambivalent attitude towards Iran now that Cairo has strengthened its ties with Moscow and is aligning its position on Syria with its new ally.

Saudi Arabia, understanding that no American intervention was forthcoming and finding itself very much alone, was instrumental in getting the Lebanese prime minister to resign, thus triggering a crisis in Lebanon as a wake-up call to get the media and world public opinion to recognize at last that Iranian terrorism is about to engulf Lebanon and is threatening not only the Gulf area but the whole Middle East.

The aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring had dashed hopes of greater democracy and ushered an outpouring of Sunni radical Islam, which brought down nation states such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen and is blocking a return to regional stability. In Syria, world powers and Arab states are playing a dangerous game.

The long-drawn civil war has brought nothing but suffering to the Syrian people.

The overall situation – humanitarian, social, political, and economic – is so dire that it will take years for the country to recover if this can ever happen. The Sunni majority will not readily accept to live again under an Alawi dictatorial regime; the Kurds will refuse to see the dismantlement of the de facto autonomy they have achieved by fighting Daesh in Northern Syria.

On the other hand, neither Assad nor Iran nor Russia want elections held under international supervision, which would hand over the country to the Sunni majority. This would lose no time in bringing to justice Assad and his allies for their war crimes and would speedily expel Iran, its Hezbollah proxies and the so-called popular Shia militias, which are in fact Iranian terrorist organizations.

Furthermore, the agreements allowing Russia to maintain a military presence in the Mediterranean could well be rescinded.

Taking these factors into account, there can be no overall settlement of the Syrian crisis, only limited interim agreements.

There are understandings regarding so-called de-escalation or safe zones where fighting would end and displaced civilians could return. They would be enforced by cooperation among Russia, Iran and Turkey, with the tacit agreement of the United States and the support of Egypt. Iran’s presence in Syria would thus be officially recognized.

Four zones have been agreed upon, but it has not stopped Assad’s army, assisted by Iran and Russia, from taking advantage of the weakness of rebel forces to encroach upon them. Their fate is unclear.

Iran is the undisputed winner of the situation. It is now solidly entrenched in the country and it’s hard to see who could dislodge it. It has significantly furthered its goal of advancing to the heart of the Middle East, with Russia and America looking on and doing nothing.

Its presence is making itself powerfully felt in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. It can move its loyal Shia militias through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon while providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with sophisticated military equipment.

Saudi Arabia is increasingly uneasy at being surrounded from all sides, while Iran openly plots its downfall and that of its Emirates allies with the help of Shia minorities in the Gulf. Khomeini saw in the Saudi kingdom the main stumbling block to his aspirations to impose a Shia regime in the region, but was thwarted by the unified Sunni front then led by Egypt.

Khamenei, his successor, is still vigorously pursuing his objective with significant successes. By signing a nuclear deal behind the back of his most faithful allies, Obama effectively left the front in disarray while giving a free rein to Tehran.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, ostracized by the American president, turned to Russia and developed close military, political and economic links with Moscow, ultimately going along with its position regarding leaving Assad in place in Syria.

This led to a rift with Saudi Arabia, which is hurting the Egyptian economy.

Sisi hosted several meetings with Sunni rebels and urged them to participate in the summit in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana, where Russia, Turkey and Iran are drawing the future map of Syria.

Saudi Arabia had hoped in vain that Trump would revive the old Sunni front and even use force against Iran, as he had done in Afghanistan against Daesh and in Syria, when he ordered strikes against the Shayrat airfield used by the Syrian Army to launch chemical attacks on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Now America is going along with Russia and recognizes an Iranian presence in Syria, thus demonstrating once again that the lack of American resolve to be once again a significant factor in the region that could prevent a takeover by Iran and its allies.

It has also abandoned the Kurds, another faithful ally. Not only did it oppose the referendum for independence of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan established with its protection, it did not try to stop the Iraqi Army it had trained and equipped from attacking it with the help of Shia militias.

Thus, Iraq and the Kurds, two American allies it had equipped and trained who had fought together against Daesh, are now fighting each other, while Washington remains neutral and does not even try to conciliate them.

Riyadh knows only too well that it cannot confront Iran militarily, as its poor showing in Yemen has made clear. Yet it probably believes that, due to its strategic position in the heart of the Middle East and its prominent influence on fixing the price of oil in the world, it can bring the West to reevaluate its stand on Iran.

Didn’t the French president, on a tour of the Emirates, rush to see the crown prince to get a firsthand account of the resignation of Saad Hariri, which could have dangerous repercussions on the Middle East and even on Europe, heavily invested in the Gulf states? Then there is the risk of a new wave of refugees. The West, which has long refused to see the Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon and Iran’s intention to set up not only military outposts in the country but perhaps missile factories, can no longer ignore what is going on. There are reports of Shia militias already training in Hezbollah camps in the Beqaa Valley.

Israel is closely monitoring Iran’s activities in Syria and has repeatedly stated that it would not let a new terrorist front develop.

It has thwarted Hezbollah’s efforts at setting up a basis near the Golan Heights.

Following intense lobbying in Moscow and Washington, a memorandum has been signed by the two powers and Jordan to push back non-Syrian forces (Hezbollah, Iranians, Shia militias and Sunni rebels such a Fatah Elshams) 20 kilometers from southwest Syria, along the borders with Jordan and the Golan.

This is still too close for Israel’s safety.

Saudi Arabia and Israel, the two main targets of Iran, will go on fighting Iran’s aggression, each on its own way, hoping against hope that America will at last fulfill its obligations to its allies, before it is too late and a new cycle of violence begins.

The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.

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Israel May Demand Iran Leave Southern Syria, but Russia Sets the Rules of the Game

November 17, 2017

For Moscow, the presence of Iranian troops is legitimate – Assad himself invited them

Amos Harel Nov 17, 2017 8:13 AM
Haaretz

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Image may contain: 2 people, suit and indoor

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad upon his arrival at the Kremlin in Moscow, October 21, 2015. AFP

A single brief statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday cleared up the strategic picture in southern Syria and the entire region. Three days after the signing of the agreement between Russia, the United States and Jordan about the cease-fire arrangements there, Lavrov disavowed the section of the accord that says foreign forces will be kept out of Syrian territory. Iran’s presence in Syria is legitimate, he said, and therefore Russia did not promise to compel the Iranians to withdraw their forces from the country.

This claim by Moscow, which also applies to the Russian forces there, rests on Iran and Russia having been invited into Syria by the Assad regime. This invitation by the Syrian sovereign ostensibly bestows legitimacy on the presence of these countries’ military forces in Syria, even with Russia conveniently ignoring the ongoing atrocities the Assad regime has been committing against its own citizens for the past six and a half years.

The only thing the Russians agreed to was a stipulation that the Iranians and the Shi’ite militias that answer to them would be kept five kilometers from the lines of contact with the rebels. For Israel, this means that the Iranians will be on the Golan Heights, just five to 10 kilometers from the border, depending on what areas are held by the rebels. This is the reason for Israel’s disappointment with the agreement, a feeling that has only intensified in the wake of Lavrov’s statement.

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The Russian foreign minister’s statement contained another hidden message: Moscow will be the one that decides what happens in Syria. The total lack of an American response to Lavrov’s comments, so soon after State Department officials boasted at a press briefing about the section of the agreement regarding the withdrawal of foreign forces, proves yet again who’s really running the show in Syria.

The reason for Russian support of Iran, despite Russia’s generally close and positive ties with Israel, is simple: The Iranians, and especially their Hezbollah proxies, are providing the Russians and the Assad regime with the ground forces upon which the regime’s survival hinges. Keeping the current regime in power is mission number one for the Russians, because that way they can maintain all the advantages – an image of power, a Mediterranean seaport at Tartus, potential trade deals – inherent in an Assad victory. Russia does not intervene or protest when Israel reportedly bombs a Hezbollah weapons convoy in Syria (as long as the airstrike doesn’t harm Russian troops), but is has no reason to exert itself to meet all of Israel’s demands about keeping the Iranians out of Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Israel is not bound by the tripartite agreement, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman repeated his warning that Israel will not sit back and allow Iranian entrenchment in Syria nor let Syria become a forward position against Israel, adding, “Whoever hasn’t understood this yet would do well to understand it.”

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What do the Israeli warnings refer to specifically? Brigadier General (res.) Assaf Orion, a senior scholar at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank and former head of the IDF General Staff strategy department, says Iran has been waging war on Israel for some decades now via proxies. “But now, for the first time, the Iranians appear to be preparing to put in significant infrastructure in Syria – army bases, a seaport, weapons manufacturing plants, permanent military forces. When Israel says it won’t accept this, it is trying to dictate new rules of the game. More so than in the past, for Israel the northern front has become one long continuous front in which the border between Syria and Lebanon is completely blurred. We’ll have to ask ourselves: When exactly does the moment come when we respond?”

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This week, Britain’s The Guardian offered a perceptive description of the Middle East mood. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s announcement of his resignation, under Saudi pressure, sparked tension throughout the region that links seemingly unrelated events. In fact, these various undercurrents have been moving for some time, and now they have risen to the surface.

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The paper’s Middle East analyst, Martin Chulov, connects the dots between Hariri’s resignation, the Iraq-Iran takeover of Kirkuk on the Kurdistan border, the purges in Saudi Arabia, the famine afflicting millions due to Yemen’s civil war, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels firing a missile at the Riyadh airport. All of these things, he writes, are manifestations of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is now reaching a peak all across the area between Beirut and Sanaa.

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Shia Crescent

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The multi-pronged Saudi move – involvement in wars in Syria and Yemen, political maneuvers in Lebanon, efforts to isolate Qatar, efforts to limit the influence of extremist Wahhabi clerics, the plans to build a colossal “city of the future,” the IPO of oil company Aramco, along with many other ambitious initiatives – is being overseen by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Assaf Orion believes the prince “has got too many balls in the air. It’s a systems overload that requires extraordinary command and control in tandem with long-term planning. I’m not sure the prince can sustain it without dropping any of the balls.”

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To an outside observer, Saudi Arabia calls to mind what Churchill called Russia – “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” The series of moves set in motion by the crown prince, particularly the resignation that was forced upon Hariri, was met with some surprise in Israel, elsewhere in the region and in the West. Israeli military experts are also skeptical of the Saudis’ ability to advance their goals with their military capacity. Despite the purchase of billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry from the U.S. and other countries, the Saudis have performed poorly in combat in Yemen. And they have played a fairly minor part in the international coalition’s fight against ISIS. The Saudis’ big plans have to fully come up against hard reality, and when it does happen, the encounter is liable to be painful.

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Gaza unstable

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As far as security goes, a threat of escalation on the Gaza border hung over the country this week. The security assessment was that Islamic Jihad would try to stage a reprisal for the destruction of the attack tunnel in late October in which 12 operatives from Islamic Jihad and Hamas were killed. Here, the prime minister and defense minister warned of a severe response while simultaneously taking practical steps, including the deployment of Iron Dome missile defense systems in the center of the country. The decision to quickly deploy the missile defense batteries was dictated to the army at the cabinet meeting by Netanyahu. The cabinet ministers backed Netanyahu’s action, saying he was entitled to put wider safety margins in place when the situation could rapidly deteriorate.

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Islamic Jihad in Gaza did not immediately respond to the killing of its men, apparently because of moves by Hamas and, according to Palestinian sources, by Egypt too, to restrain it. Shortly after the tunnel strike, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas began implementing their reconciliation agreement and PA police officers were stationed at the border crossings between Gaza and Israel for the first time in a decade.

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But things have gotten more complicated since then. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in no rush to transfer the money that he promised to Hamas to pay civil servants’ wages and to upgrade the electricity supply.

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The reopening of the Rafah crossing, the main avenue of departure from Gaza, is also being held up due to disputes between the parties. Under these circumstances, Hamas has less motivation to rein in Islamic Jihad. Things could get even worse if the entire reconciliation process gets stuck and Hamas goes looking for someone to blame for Gazans’ disappointed hopes of an improvement in their harsh living conditions.

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Saudi Arabia has its fingers in the pie here, too. Two weeks ago, at the height of the upheaval in the kingdom, Abbas was urgently summoned to Riyadh. After the visit, his spokesman said the two parties view the reconciliation agreement with Hamas “100 percent the same way.” Since then, the PA has sharpened its demand that Hamas completely cut off ties with Iran and that its military wing submit all of its weaponry to Ramallah’s authority. Abbas’s aggressive new posture, evidently inspired by Saudi prodding, is angering the Egyptians, who acted as the patrons of the reconciliation process.

Amos Harel
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.823314

German Banks Close Accounts Of Anti-Israel Marxist-Leninist Party With Ties To Palestinian Terrorists

November 17, 2017
BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
 NOVEMBER 17, 2017 09:26

The Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany announced on Thursday that the Deutsche Bank and the Postbank shut down all of the party’s bank accounts in Germany.

PFLP Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

Palestinian members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) take part in a military show in Gaza . (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany announced on Thursday that the Deutsche Bank and the Postbank shut down all of the party’s bank accounts in Germany.

The anti-Israel Marxist-Leninist Party has been engulfed in an election scandal alleging it campaigned during the federal election with The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)–an EU and US designated terrorist organization.

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In a statement released on its German-language website, Gabi Fechtner, the Marxist-Leninist Party (MLPD) chairwoman, said the termination of the accounts “is a massive attack on the management of the MLPD.” She added that that the closure of the accounts “means a new high point in the criminalization campaign against the MLPD and a politically motivated bank boycott.”

The Marxist-Leninist Party lashed out at The Jerusalem Post for its investigative series on the party’s connection with the PFLP prior to the September, 24 federal election.

The party, which adheres to the line of the late Soviet Union dictator Josef Stalin, wrote that negative press coverage is related to its support for the “Palestinian liberation struggle.” The Marxist-Leninist Party campaigned on a joint list with the PFLP and its supporters, according to German media reports.

The Marxist-Leninist Party did not secure the required 5% of the vote to enter the Bundestag. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency monitors the Marxist Leninist Party and its 1,800 members because the party is deemed a threat to the country’s constitutional democracy.

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Fechtner said “all of the defemations with respect to our alleged terror connections…are without substance.” The Marxist-Leninist Party leader said: “We demand that the Deutsche Bank and the Postbank immediately withdraw the cancellations.” She added that if the banks refuse to re-open the accounts, the Marxist-Leninist Party will initiate legal action.

A Deutsche Bank spokesman told the Post that the bank declines to comment. The Postbank did not immediately respond to a Post query. The Marxist Leninist Party called for “Solidarity with the just resistance of the Palestinian people against Israel’s war of aggression and state terrorism” during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in 2009. The party says the PFLP should be delisted as a terrorist organization.

According to a report in the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper, the Marxist Leninist Party had €4.17m. available for its electoral campaign ahead of the September election. It is unclear how much money, if any, was allocated to the PFLP and its supporters. In addition to the four Deutsche Bank accounts listed on the Marxist Leninist Party’s website, the GLS Bank in Bochum operates an account for the party.

The Marxist Leninist Party said in an early September statement that “the PFLP is not a member of our alliance. Sympathizers of the PFLP are, however, engaged in our alliance and are represented… in the interests of the Palestinians.”

However, German media showed screenshots of Marxist Leninist Party election literature listing the PFLP as an alliance partner of the party.

http://www.jpost.com/International/German-banks-close-accounts-for-Marxist-Leninist-Party-with-ties-to-Palestinian-terrorists-514492

Hamas alleges Israeli spies used Bosnian passports for assassination

November 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial for Tunisian engineer Mohamed Zouari in the Gaza Strip on January 31, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Hamas on Thursday alleged Israeli spies used Bosnian passports to enter Tunisia and assassinate one of its drone experts as the Palestinian movement announced details of its probe into the December incident.

Tunisian engineer Mohamed Zaouari was shot dead in his car in December 2016 by unknown gunmen, with Hamas accusing Israel of responsibility at the time.

Senior Hamas figure Mohamed Nazzal made the allegations on Thursday in a statement and at a press conference in Beirut.

He said an investigation concluded a number of agents from Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had operated in Tunisia over several months, including pretending to be foreign journalists in order to get close to Zaouari.

The main two assassins who entered the country before the killing were using Bosnian passports, Nazzal said.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon declined comment. Israel also had not previously commented on the killing.

Israel has previously faced criticism after its agents reportedly used British, Irish, Australian and other passports to assassinate a Hamas leader in the United Arab Emirates in 2010.

That led to Britain, Ireland and Australia expelling some Israeli diplomats in protest.

Zaouari, 49, was murdered at the wheel of his car outside his house in Tunisia’s second city Sfax on December 15 last year.

The engineer and drone expert had worked for a decade with Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, the group said at the time.

Israel Sees Rising Threat From Iran After ISIS

November 16, 2017

Like Islamic State, Iran and Hezbollah call for Israel’s destruction—but they have greater military capability

JERUSALEM—While much of the world celebrates the impending defeat of Islamic State, Israeli officials look at Syria and see little reason for joy. To them, a lesser enemy is being supplanted by a far more dangerous one—Iran and its allies.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is consolidating control, and his forces—aided by Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah—are eliminating Islamic State’s final pockets in the country while inching closer to the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

“Every place we see ISIS evacuating, we see Iran taking hold,” warned Sharren Haskel, an Israeli lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. “We have been dealing with this threat of Iran through Hezbollah on our northern border [with Lebanon], and we would not want to see the same setup on our Syrian border.”

Like Islamic State, Iran and Hezbollah call for Israel’s destruction. But unlike Islamic State, they have the military capability to pursue that goal.

With the Israeli-Lebanese border largely quiet since the devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, Iran and its allies don’t disguise their desire to open a second front in Syria.

“Iran’s goal is clear: to establish regional hegemony in the Middle East and to surround Israel from all directions,” said Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, who heads a right-wing religious party allied with Likud and sits in the country’s security cabinet. “We’ve made it clear this is unacceptable and indeed, we will act to prevent it.”

To Israel, that’s a strategic challenge much more severe than anything Islamic State could do.

“ISIS, unlike Iran, doesn’t have an air force, missiles, sophistication and they are not supported by anyone, not by a superpower like Russia,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Amos Gilead, the head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy, an Israeli think tank, who served until earlier this year as director of policy and political-military affairs at the Israeli defense ministry.

More Middle East Crossroads

  • In Saudi Purge, Echoes of Putin and Xi November 6, 2017
  • Kurds Face Setbacks Across the Middle East November 2, 2017
  • As Wars Wind Down in Syria and Iraq, Jordan Sees Opportunity October 26, 2017
  • Mideast Conflicts Flare Up as ISIS Fades October 17, 2017

In fact, Islamic State militants who for years have controlled a small patch of land in an area where the Golan Heights meet Syria and Jordan have never troubled Israeli settlements just across the border fence.

Recognizing Israeli concerns about the Iranian threat, the U.S., Russia and Jordan have been negotiating de-escalation agreements between rebels and the regime in southern Syria that would prevent Iran and its militias from coming too close to Israeli positions on the Golan. It isn’t clear, however, to what extent Russia will be able to enforce those deals.

Israel, meanwhile, is threatening to act unilaterally if its so-called “red lines” are violated. It has already done so many times with airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria—many of them targeting weapons shipments bound for the group in Lebanon.

Those “red lines” include the creation of permanent Iranian bases, airfields or naval facilities in Syria, the transfer of long-range precision missiles to Hezbollah or the establishment of plants to produce such missiles in Syria or Lebanon.

Israeli officials aren’t just worried about Syria.

The endgame of Syria’s war has also prompted the Palestinian Sunni Muslim movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, to renew links with Shiite Iran. Those ties had been weakened by Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions.

The way Israeli officials see it, the defeat of Islamic State has left their country essentially surrounded, with Iranian proxies or allies active on three of its five borders.

“One of the great tragedies of the international coalition against ISIS was to bring Iran de facto, Russia, Assad and the United States on the same side in a situation which ultimately benefited Assad and the Iranians,” said Michael Oren, deputy minister in the Israeli prime minister’s office and a former ambassador to Washington. “We have to grapple with the consequences of this, unintentional or not.”

These new challenges emerge at what seems like a golden period in Israel’s history. The civil wars and insurgencies that ravaged Israel’s foes after the Arab Spring in 2011 proved a major boon for the country’s security and drew international attention away from Israel’s own conflict with the Palestinians.

The Syrian war, by destroying the Syrian army and eliminating most of its chemical-weapons capability, removed the main conventional military threat on Israel’s borders. The spike of sectarian rivalry between Iran and the Saudi-led Sunni camp, meanwhile, brought Israel closer than ever to Saudi Arabia and some of its allied Gulf monarchies.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi summed it up like this: “The Arab Spring was supposed to be a democratic movement. But it ended up to have a spring for Israel and chaos in the Arab region.”

Indeed, while the rest of the Middle East is reeling, Israel’s economy is booming and its cities are safer from attacks than they have been in decades.

“Israel’s position in the world is better than at any time in our national existence,” Mr. Oren said. However, he cautioned, this doesn’t mean the country can lull itself into complacency.

“Hezbollah has at least 130,000 rockets and is capable of hitting every city in Israel, including Eilat. We have to operate on the assumption that Hezbollah and Iran are building up these capabilities not just to have them, but someday to use them. They are saving them all for us.”

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/israel-sees-rising-threat-from-iran-after-isis-1510788403

Palestinian hopes for Egypt border opening dashed for now

November 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Palestinians wait for travel permits to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing after it was briefly opened on August 16, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Palestinian leaders hoped a recently signed reconciliation agreement would lead to Egypt reopening its border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, but those hopes seem to have been dashed.

Egypt has kept its crossing with Gaza largely closed in recent years, while the territory has also been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Israel has fought three wars with Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, since 2008.

Hamas and rival Palestinian faction Fatah, which is based in the occupied West Bank, signed a landmark reconciliation deal last month aimed at ending their decade-long split.

The agreement mediated by Egypt led to president Mahmud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority retaking control of Gaza’s borders on November 1.

The PA is supposed to retake full civil control of the Gaza Strip by December 1.

Palestinian leaders had said they hoped one result of the deal would be the opening of Egypt’s Rafah border with the Gaza Strip on November 15.

On Wednesday, Palestinian officials said they were still awaiting word from Egypt.

“We don’t have any information about when Rafah border will reopen again,” Nazmi Muhanna, in charge of border crossings for the Palestinian Authority, told AFP.

Cracks have emerged in the reconciliation deal, particularly over security control of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is refusing to disarm its military wing as Abbas wants.

Security in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is also thought to be one of Cairo’s concerns.

Egyptian security forces have been fighting a branch of the Islamic State group in the Sinai.

Egypt is expected to host another meeting of Palestinian factions in Cairo on November 21 to discuss next steps in the reconciliation process.

Israel Raises Alert Level Fearing Islamic Jihad Retaliation for Gaza Tunnel Bombing; Anti-rocket Systems Deployed

November 15, 2017

Haaretz

Heightening of nationwide alert follows threats by Gaza-based militant group to avenge killing of 12 of its fighters; comes amid raised tensions in Israel’s north after army downs Syrian drone

By Amos Harel and Yaniv Kubovich

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Israeli soldiers near Gaza after Israel bombed a cross-border attack tunnel, October 30, 2017. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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The Israeli military raised its alert level on Monday, taking various measures in the wake of new assessments that the Islamic Jihad will attempt a revenge attack. The leadership of the Gaza-based group is threatening revenge over Israel’s bombing of a cross-border attack tunnel near Gaza two weeks ago, in which 12 members of Islamic Jihad and Hamas were killed. These measures, which are considered exceptional, included the deployment of anti-rocket Iron Dome batteries in central Israel, but not the calling up of reservists. This is the first time such measures were taken since the 2014 Gaza war ended.

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The assessments regarding Islamic Jihad involve a range of possibilities on the Gaza border and further beyond. The organization controls dozens of Grad-type Katyusha rockets with a range of over 40 kilometers, capable of hitting Ashdod and Be’er Sheva, and possibly even longer-range rockets. The group also still has operational capabilities in certain areas of the West Bank, including the Jenin area, but it is unclear whether it could carry out an attack. Islamic Jihad is under pressure both from Israel’s security services and the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence apparatus.

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Israel and Islamic Jihad have exchanged threats over the past few days. The coordinator of government activities in the territories, Gen. Yoav Mordechai, announced in Arabic on Saturday a warning that Islamic Jihad “is playing with fire on the backs of residents of the Gaza Strip, and at the expense of the internal Palestinian reconciliation and the entire region.” Mordechai stressed in the video message: “Just to be clear, Israel will respond forcefully and resolutely to any Islamic Jihad reaction whatsoever — not just against Jihad, but also against Hamas.” The video concluded, “We advise Islamic Jihad’s leadership in Damascus to exercise caution and keep things under control.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel holds Hamas responsible for any attack originating from Gaza. “We will take a very firm stance against anyone who tries to attack us or attacks us from any area,” he warned. Islamic Jihad responded that it would see any attack on its leadership as a declaration of war against it.

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Although two weeks have passed since the bombing of the tunnel, which extended into Israel beneath the large fence at a distance of about a kilometer from Kibbutz Kisufim, defense officials have the impression that Islamic Jihad has not abandoned its revenge plan following the killing of its members, who were hit when the Israeli army attacked the eastern side of the tunnel, inside Israeli territory. It seems that the organization is preparing to carry out an attack, and the intention is to make a reverberating response. Under such circumstances, Israel is expected to respond harshly. From such a point, the road to another round of real blows with Gaza, which would be the first one in three years, is liable to be short.

The lack of an immediate retaliation by Islamic Jihad likely stemmed as well from measures that Hamas against it. Hamas feared two weeks ago that an escalation with Israel would undermine its process of reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority. However, reconciliation talks have really slowed down since then, and the Palestinian Authority has yet to release funds to Hamas that it had hoped for in order to fund salaries of government workers in Gaza and to help fund the electricity supply from Israel to Gaza.

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Failure to attain a breakthrough in the unity talks could lessen the motivation of Hamas to restrain Islamic Jihad.

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Escalation in the south is happening as tension remains in the north along the Syrian border. The Israeli army last weekend shot down a drone, most likely Syrian, which had infiltrated the demilitarized zone in the Golan border. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened in response that Israel would take action to thwart Iran’s attempt, with Hezbollah’s help, to establish a military presence in Syria. Israeli analysts are still struggling to decipher Saudi Arabia’s moves, chief among them the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Said Al-Hariri (which seemed to have been dictated by Riyadh) – which they see as having added to confusion and instability in the region.

Amos Harel
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.822583

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Hezbollah, crown jewel of Iran’s influence spreading, arm twisting

November 13, 2017

AFP

© AL-MANAR TV/AFP / by Tony Gamal-Gabriel | Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah speaks on the group’s Al-Manar television channel on November 10, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah, blamed by Saad Hariri for his shock resignation as premier, has grown over the three decades since its founding into a mighty army used by Iran to project regional influence.

Hariri criticised the powerful Shiite movement for its meddling across the Middle East during a televised interview from Saudi Arabia on Sunday, his first media appearance since he stepped down on November 4.

Hezbollah has participated in Hariri’s government for almost a year.

From Lebanon to Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, Hezbollah has matured into Iran’s most useful “tool” — drawing the ire of Tehran’s regional rival Riyadh, analysts say.

Hariri’s surprise resignation sparked worries that Lebanon would be caught in the crossfire of the bloody, decades-long power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“This resignation indicates Saudi’s will to put a stop to Iran’s expansion,” said international relations expert Karim Bitar.

Hezbollah had become Iran’s “trump card” in the Middle East, added Bitar, of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

Since its founding in the 1980s during Lebanon’s grinding war, Hezbollah has relied heavily on Iran for financial, political and military support.

It is the only faction to have retained its arsenal of weapons after the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil conflict in 1990.

Despite being branded a “terrorist” organisation by the United States and Gulf countries and targeted with economic sanctions, Hezbollah has risen to play a decisive role in regional conflicts.

– ‘Most important tool’ –

“The most important Iranian tool in the region is Hezbollah,” said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

Hezbollah has trained Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary forces, Khashan said, and even has “operatives” in Yemen’s war to back Shiite Huthi rebels targeted by Riyadh.

Closer to home, Hezbollah has fought ferociously in Syria to defend the government of President Bashar al-Assad, also an ally of Iran.

The group’s intervention in Syria’s six-year conflict was a major turning point that helped Assad’s troops retake swathes of territory.

It also helped hone Hezbollah’s own combat experience, transforming it from a guerrilla movement to a powerful fighting force with offensive capabilities.

Combining its military expertise and political savvy, Hezbollah has matured into Iran’s “crown jewel” in the Middle East, said Joseph Bahout at the Carnegie Foundation think tank.

It now serves as a “model” for all Iran-allied groups in the region, from Syria’s pro-regime militias to Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi and the Iran-backed Huthi fighters, Bahout said.

These military ventures formed the crux of Hariri’s criticism of Hezbollah during his landmark interview on Sunday from Riyadh.

Breaking his silence more than a week after his resignation, Hariri called on Hezbollah to commit to Lebanon’s policy to “disassociate” from regional conflicts.

“I tell Hezbollah: it is in your interest, if we want to protect Lebanon… to leave some of the areas that you have entered,” Hariri said.

He zoned in on Yemen, saying Hezbollah’s involvement in the protracted conflict there had drawn Saudi’s rage: “Did the kingdom have any position towards Hezbollah before the war in Yemen?”

– Conflict ‘flare up’ –

Hariri, 47, accused Iran and Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilising the broader region when he stepped down on November 4.

That announcement sparked worries that Lebanon would be sent careening back into political and economic turmoil as Riyadh and Tehran vie for influence.

There were even fears of a new war with Israel, after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia last week of asking Tel Aviv to bomb Lebanon.

Israel and Hezbollah have clashed several times, including in a month-long war in 2006 that killed 1,200 Lebanese — mostly civilians — and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

But any new conflict between Lebanon and its southern neighbour risked spilling over into the broader region, experts have said.

“This time,” said Bahout, “because of the extension in Syria and Iraq, it won’t be a war on Hezbollah only. It will very quickly flare up.”

Nasrallah’s forces could respond to Israeli pressure by striking elsewhere, including the United Arab Emirates or even Saudi Arabia.

For Bitar, a convergence of factors, including “an impulsive Saudi Arabia, backed by an equally, extremely impulsive American president, and rising rhetoric in Israel”, could indicate a war was near.

“But at this stage, we are still in a system where there is mutual deterrence, a balance of terror,” he said.

“The two parties know that an eventual war would be devastating for both sides.”

by Tony Gamal-Gabriel
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Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists again digging into Israel — Warning for War?

November 6, 2017

Opinion

ON MY MIND: GAZA’S TUNNELS

BY KENNETH BANDLER
 NOVEMBER 6, 2017 22:36

Digging remains a strategic priority for Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist organizations.

TUNNELS FROM Gaza are a threat but the government’s tunnel vision also needs to be corrected.

TUNNELS FROM Gaza are a threat but the government’s tunnel vision also needs to be corrected. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The construction industry is thriving in Gaza, but we have evidence once again that much of it is taking place underground. Undeterred by the outcome of the Gaza war three years ago, Hamas, firmly in control of the coastal territory for more than a decade, and its terrorist sibling Islamic Jihad have been busy excavating toward and into Israel.

Israel’s discovery of a tunnel beginning in Khan Younis, crossing under the border and reaching near Kibbutz Kissufim revealed that digging remains a strategic priority for the Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist organizations. Its destruction last week confirmed that Israel’s government and military will take defensive measures to protect its citizens.

Discovery of the now destroyed tunnel was credited by Israel’s prime minister to “breakthrough technology” developed following the 2014 war, when Israeli forces encountered an extensive network of Hamas tunnels, including 14 extending into Israel. By war’s end, Israel had destroyed 32 tunnels, many large enough for terrorists to stand upright.

Israel learned at the time that a massive terrorist attack using the tunnels had been planned for the Jewish New Year. While terrorist attacks have always been one real concern, another is using these tunnels to kidnap Israelis. In 2006, Hamas grabbed Gilad Schalit and held him hostage in Gaza for more than five years.

A 2011 Hamas-Israel agreement led to Schalit’s release in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of them convicted terrorists with blood on their hands.

Israel is erecting an impenetrable concrete wall deep in the ground along its border with Gaza to obstruct future cross-border excavations. It is expected to be completed in 2019. Demonstrating its unlimited audacity, Hamas actually protested the subterranean wall plan after it was announced last year, claiming it would hinder its resistance against Israel – though Hamas never calls Israel by its proper name.

Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad not only refuse to recognize Israel, but seek its destruction, and thus stand firmly in the way of those who are genuinely working to achieve peace.

Since capturing Gaza from Fatah in 2007, after Israel withdrew totally from the territory and transferred it to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Israel have fought three wars, and after each Hamas replenished and expanded its stockpile of missiles and rockets. Hezbollah acted likewise after its wars with Israel, the last one in 2006, significantly increasing its own supply of armaments to be used in the next round.

In defense against these threats, Israel, with US support, developed the Iron Dome, which has been successfully deployed to down short-range missiles and rockets. The technology used to detect tunnels, and the underground wall being built along the Gaza border, are further necessary defensive actions.

Despite the reconciliation agreement Hamas signed last month with the PA, it has adamantly insisted that relinquishing its stockpile of weapons is not part of the deal. Nor, presumably, is the tunneling.

Indeed, the destroyed tunnel’s discovery by Israel came only days after UNRWA, the UN relief agency operating in Gaza, announced that it had found – and not for the first time – a tunnel beneath one of its schools.

In May 2014, a similar PA-Hamas “unity agreement” was announced with great fanfare. Two months later, Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli Jewish teenagers and launched rocket barrages on Israel, sparking the war in Gaza that summer.

Now, Hamas has called Israel’s destruction of the tunnel “a desperate attempt to sabotage efforts to restore Palestinian unity,” while Fatah called it a “crime” to “thwart the Palestinian national reconciliation.”

And Iran, which provides political and material support for Hamas, as well as for Hezbollah, and continually threatens to eliminate Israel, joined in condemning Israel for demolishing the tunnel.

The impossibility of Hamas reforming its policies and seeking peace was reaffirmed after the reconciliation agreement with the PA.

“The time in which Hamas discusses the issue of recognizing Israel has ended,” declared Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza.

“The discussion now is about when to erase Israel.”

For the Trump administration and others seeking a breakthrough to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with the goal of achieving a comprehensive peace, Hamas dominance in Gaza remains a real and formidable obstacle.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

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Mahmoud Abbas summoned to meet Saudi rulers in Riyadh

November 6, 2017

Palestinian Authority (PA) leader slated to sit down with king and crown prince of Gulf kingdom, which is in the midst of a historic power shakeup

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Then Saudi Crown Prince and now King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (right) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) in the Saudi Red Sea resort of Jeddah, on June 18, 2014. (AFP/HO/Saudi Press Agency)

Then Saudi Crown Prince and now King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (right) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) in the Saudi Red Sea resort of Jeddah, on June 18, 2014. (AFP/HO/Saudi Press Agency)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Saudi Arabia unexpectedly on Monday to meet with King Salman  and Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman, with the Gulf kingdom at the height of a major crackdown on members of the royal family.

Abbas had been in Egypt, where he was scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, when he was summoned to Riyadh to meet with the Saudi rulers, according to the official PA news site Wafa.

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The Palestinian ambassador in Riyadh, Bassam Agha, said the meeting would address bilateral contacts and efforts to strengthen relations between the two sides, as well as “developments on the Palestinian issue.”

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s heir to the throne oversaw an unprecedented wave of arrests of dozens of the country’s most powerful princes, military officers, businessmen and government ministers. Some of them are potential rivals or critics of the crown prince, whose purported anti-corruption sweep sent shockwaves across the kingdom Sunday as he further consolidated power.

Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman in Moscow’s Kremlin, Russia, May 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, pool, File)

Abbas’s Fatah party, which leads the West-Bank-based PA, is currently in the midst of a reconciliation process with the Hamas terror group, its longtime rival that controls the Gaza Strip.

The two sides signed an agreement last month in Cairo that calls for the PA to retake civilian control of the Strip by December 1, a decade after Hamas ousted it from the coastal enclave in a violent coup.

In recent months, Hamas has publicly flaunted its burgeoning ties with Iran, and the Islamic Republic has in turn sworn to increase its military backing of the Gaza-based terror group.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are currently locked in a battle for regional hegemony, and blame each other for spreading extremism throughout the Middle East.

Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri (2nd-R) meets with Iranian official Hossein Amir Abdollahian (R) and other Hamas operatives in Lebanon on August 1, 2017. (Courtesy)

On Saturday, a high-profile Hamas delegation visited Tehran for the second time in recent weeks, in order to attend a memorial service for the father of Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force.

Image result for Saleh al-Arouri, photos

Saleh al-Arouri

The delegation included Deputy politburo chief Saleh al-Arouri and politburo member Ezzat al-Rishq.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/abbas-summoned-to-meet-saudi-rulers-in-riyadh/

AP contributed to this report.

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