Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Israel Has Secret Communications Link With Saudi Arabia

November 19, 2017

Energy Minister Steinitz tells Army Radio ‘it’s the other side that is interested in keeping the ties quiet’

Reuters Nov 19, 2017 8:59 PM

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presides over a meeting of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 7, 2017. HANDOUT/REUTERS

The Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday that Israel has had covert contacts with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran, a first disclosure by a senior Israeli official of such contacts.

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In an interview on Army Radio, Steinitz was asked why Israel was hiding its ties with Saudi Arabia, which does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

Steinitz replied: ”We have ties that are indeed partly covert with many Muslim and Arab countries, and usually (we are) the party that is not ashamed.

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“It’s the other side that is interested in keeping the ties quiet. With us, usually, there is no problem, but we respect the other side’s wish, when ties are developing, whether it’s with Saudi Arabia or with other Arab countries or other Muslim countries, and there is much more … (but) we keep it secret.”

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Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli military’s chief of staff, gave an unprecedented interview with a Saudi newspaper last week in which he called Iran the “real and largest threat to region.”

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It marked the first time that any senior Israel Defense Forces officer, let alone the chief of staff, has been interviewed by a media organization in Saudi Arabia.

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Eisenkot told the newspaper, Elaph, that Israel and Saudi Arabia are in complete agreement about Iran’s intentions. He also noted that Israel and Saudi Arabia have never fought each other.
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https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.823718

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Lebanon under ‘total control’ of Hezbollah: Bahrain FM

November 19, 2017

AFP

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© AFP | Bahrain Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa an Arab League meeting called by Riyadh
CAIRO (AFP) – Bahrain’s foreign minister said Sunday that Lebanon is under the “total control” of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, in a speech at an Arab League meeting called by Riyadh.”The Lebanese Republic, in spite of our relations with it as a brotherly Arab nation… is under the total control of this terrorist party,” said Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, referring to the powerful Shiite movement.

“Iran’s biggest arm in the region at the moment is the terrorist Hezbollah arm,” Sheikh Khalid charged.

He called on countries such as Lebanon “where Hezbollah is a partner in government to carry their responsibility”.

Saudi Arabia called the meeting of foreign ministers at the League’s headquarters in Cairo to discuss “violations” committed by Iran after a missile was intercepted near Riyadh in a November 4 attack claimed by Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen.

Iran, Russia and Turkey diplomats meet ahead of Syria summit

November 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | More than 330,000 people have been killed since Syria’s war began in March 2011
ISTANBUL (AFP) – Top diplomats from Iran, Russia and Turkey met Sunday morning in Antalya to discuss the civil war in Syria ahead of a three-way summit in the Russian city of Sochi on Wednesday.Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran and in the southern Turkish city for the closed-door meeting, an official said.

He declined to provide further details on the meeting, which comes as violence is diminishing in Syria’s six-year war although a political solution still seems out of reach.

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara are sponsoring the so-called Astana peace talks, named for the Kazakh capital where they are regularly held, which calls for the creation of “de-escalation” zones in key areas of Syria.

Although Turkey has supported rebels looking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government, it has muted its critiques of the Syrian regime, which is backed by Russia and Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani for the Sochi summit, where talks on reducing violence and ensuring humanitarian aid are on the agenda.

According to the Anadolu news agency, Putin and Erdogan have already met five times this year and spoken by telephone 13 times.

Erdogan last met Putin for talks in Sochi on November 13, agreeing on the need to boost elements for a lasting settlement.

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies in Cairo talks on Iran, Hezbollah

November 19, 2017

By Patrick Markey

CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and other Arab foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss ways to confront Iran and its Lebanese Shi‘ite ally Hezbollah, who the Arab allies say are interfering in their internal affairs.

Regional tensions have risen in recent weeks between Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite Islamist Iran over Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s surprise resignation and after an escalation in Yemen’s conflict.

Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally, resigned on Nov. 4 in an announcement made from Riyadh. Hariri cited fear of assassination and accused Iran and Hezbollah of spreading strife in the Arab world.

Hezbollah, both a military force and a political movement, is part of a Lebanese government made up of rival factions, and an ally of Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Aoun has accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri hostage. Senior Lebanese politicians close to Hariri also said he was coerced into resigning. Saudi Arabia and Hariri both deny those accusations.

“What Iran is doing against some Arab countries calls for taking more than one measure to stop these violations, interferences and threats, which are carried out through many various means,” Hossam Zaki, Arab League Assistant Secretary, told Asharq al Awsat newspaper in an interview.

“Stopping them requires a joint Arab policy.”

He said the meeting would send a “strong message” for Iran to step back from its current policies.

Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram cited an Arab diplomatic source saying the meeting may refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

The emergency Arab foreign ministers meeting was convened at the request of Saudi Arabia with support from the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait to discuss means of confronting Iranian intervention, Egypt’s state news agency MENA said.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir told Reuters last week the kingdom’s actions in the Middle East were only a response to what he called the “aggression” of Iran.

“Unfortunately countries like the Saudi regime are pursuing divisions and creating differences and because of this they don’t see any results other than divisions,” Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian state media Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting in Antalya with his Russian and Turkish counterparts about the Syria conflict.

Lebanon’s state-run NNA media said the country’s the foreign minister would not attend the Cairo meeting. Lebanon will be represented by its representative to the Arab League, Antoine Azzam, it said.

After French intervention, Hariri flew to France and met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday.

Speaking in Paris, Hariri said he would clarify his position when he returns to Beirut in the coming days. He said he would take part in Lebanese independence day celebrations, which are scheduled for Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia also accuses Hezbollah of a role in the launching of a missile at Riyadh from Yemen this month. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s supply of rockets to Houthi militias was an act of “direct military aggression”.

Yemen’s civil war pits the internationally recognized government, backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, against the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Iran denies charges it supplies Houthi forces.

Additional reporting by Arwa Gaballa in Cairo; Sarah Dadouch and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut; Editing by Mark Potter

The Arab nation is on the retreat — The Iranians have effectively overtaken four Arab capitals; the Russians rule the Syrian coastline

November 19, 2017

Image result for shia crescent, map, pictures

 OPINION
 BY AMOTZ ASA-EL
 NOVEMBER 19, 2017 02:10

 

It’s that time of history again.

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)

It’s that time of history again.

Climb up the road abutting the Golan Heights’ southern ledge, opposite Jordan’s northwestern edge, and admire the Yarmuk River’s cliffy banks, where a bridge blown up by Palmach commandos in 1946 still hangs crippled to this day, disused like the Damascus-Medina railway it once served.

Here, a short hike away from the Syrian civil war’s antagonists; several miles from Deraa, the town where the anti-Assad revolt erupted, and from the biblical Edrei, where the Israelites faced off with Og the king of Bashan – a vast Arabian army dealt the Byzantine Empire in 636 CE the defeat that broke Islam’s path into the Christian Anatolia that now is Turkey, and the pagan Persia that today is Iran.

Now the great imperial powers of that showdown are back in the field, albeit with their roles reversed. Today the Arab nation is on the retreat, while the Byzantines’ Russian heirs and the Persians’ Iranian descendants are the conquerors on the saddle, their eyes on the horizon, galloping to the unknown.

Like all imperialists, they think of grandeur, of victory, of glory and loot, scorning humility, kindling fires and brandishing swords like battle-hungry cavaliers kicking horse ribs with hobnailed boots.

The Arab defeat by this haphazard pincer movement is colossal.

The Russians have bombed Arab cities, killing thousands and displacing millions; the Iranians have effectively overtaken four Arab capitals; the Russians rule the Syrian coastline; the Iranians are pushing foreign settlers into western Syria, after having unleashed Lebanese Shi’ites, Persian commandos and Afghan mercenaries on Syrian towns.

The Iranians have driven wedges between Arab and Arab in land after land, the Russians have turned the government of Syria into a troupe of puppets, and the Iranians have done the same to the government in Beirut.

Like ancient Judah the morning after its demise, the Arab nation today sprawls dismembered, dispossessed and dishonored, “her enemies are now the masters, her foes are at ease” and “her infants have gone into captivity,” as the Book of Lamentations described Zion in its defeat.

Why the Arab nation tolerates all this is a mystery. How does it not pull its act together in the face of this invasion? Where are its many kings, presidents and sheikhs? Where is the Arab League in the face of the Arab nation’s humiliation, robbery and despair? Can it really do nothing other than pay seasonal lip service to Palestinian suffering, which, Allah knows, dwarfs when compared with what Moscow and Tehran have done to millions of blameless Arabs now trapped between Aleppo’s rubble, Europe’s angry cities and the Mediterranean’s hungry waves? These questions will surely be addressed, sooner or later, one way or another, by Arab literati and thinkers. Until that happens, there is a question to the imperialists, a question that can be answered already now: Why conquer? THE AIMS of Moscow’s and Tehran’s military thrusts are different: Russia wants to restore its imperial prestige, while Iran wants to dominate its neighbors.

Yet both quests, besides being morally evil, are also equal in their political folly, strategic anachronism and economic futility.

Politically, besides the likelihood that the two invaders will in due course clash, both have sowed the Sunni Arabs’ long-term enmity.

Which refugee, driven from Mosul, Raqqa, Sanaa or Homs, will not tell his or her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren just who it was that leveled the home they once inhabited, razed the store they once owned, or scorched the earth they once tilled, and who it was that drove them from the lands where they and their forebears had lived since antiquity? The Russians seem to realize this, and are careful to avoid stationing ground forces in Syria, evidently fearing the kind of guerrilla warfare that drove them from Afghanistan a generation ago. The Iranians are also cleverly limiting their own troops’ imperial expeditions, deploying instead an assortment of non-Iranian militias between Basra and Beirut.

It won’t help them. Measured though they have been, both invasions have landed thousands of Russian and Iranian “advisers” in the thick of a hostile Arab world.

Visible, tempting and easy targets, they arrived in fire and will leave in disgrace.

Strategically, too, both invasions will reap no edible fruit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is inspired by the czarist thirst for a so-called warm sea. Harking back to Peter the Great, this urge was informed by European colonialism’s conquest of the high seas and the New World. That setting, however, is long gone. What should Ivan, Igor, Olga or Katya gain from their leader’s bloodily won Mediterranean toehold? Indian spices? American bullion? African slaves? The Iranian thrust is even more misguided. History shows that Persian attempts to expand to non-Persian realms always ended in defeat – in the Middle Ages by the Byzantines, and before that by the ancient Greeks.

The current Persians not only don’t belong where they are inserting themselves, they can’t afford their imperial project economically, and neither can the Russians.

As happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan, they will ultimately learn that for the arms to punch, the stomach must be fed.

Yet both Russia’s and Iran’s economies are embattled, beset by industrial backwardness, cracking infrastructure, addiction to mining, plunging oil prices, weak currencies and demographic decline.

Both are in no position to sustain an imperial adventure in a region whose only treasures are the same oil and gas they already have in abundance.

Yes, Vladimir Putin and Ali Khamenei have sent today’s Arabs on a grand retreat. But tomorrow’s Arabs will emerge with a vengeance – the way yesterday’s marched on Byzantium and Persia, from the Yarmuk.

http://www.MiddleIsrael.net

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/The-great-Arab-retreat-514490

With Hariri in France, Trump and Macron discuss countering Iran, Hezbollah

November 19, 2017

White House says leaders discussed stopping Tehran’s ‘destabilizing activities in the region,’ as Hariri promises to return to Beirut

November 19, 2017
French President Emmanuel Macron, center right, and his wife Brigitte, right, greet Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri, second left, his wife Lara, center left, and their son Hussam upon their arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

French President Emmanuel Macron, center right, and his wife Brigitte, right, greet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, second left, his wife Lara, center left, and their son Hussam upon their arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke Saturday about the need to work with allies to counter Hezbollah and Iran the White House said, as a political crisis in the region continued to simmer following the surprise resignation of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri during a trip to Saudi Arabia.

The Lebanon crisis and Iran’s role in the area was also expected to be discussed Sunday at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo Sunday, at Saudi Arabia’s urging.

Hariri said Saturday that he will return home in the coming days from where he will declare a political stance for the first time since making the strange resignation announcement from Riyadh that unleashed fears of a crisis in Lebanon.

That announcement came as Hariri left for France after Macron invited the Lebanese leader to Paris to dispel fears that he was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.

Shortly after, the White House said that Macron and Trump had addressed Lebanon and Syria during their phone call.

“Both presidents agreed on the need to work with allies to counter Hizballah’s and Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” a statement from the White House said.

Macron is seeking to calm tensions and avert a proxy conflict between Saudi-backed and Iranian-backed camps in Lebanon.

Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy group considered a terror organization by the US and Israel, is part of Hariri’s government. The group has accused Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US of forcing Hariri to resign and engineering the crisis.

Hariri’s appearance in Paris — looking relaxed and posing with his wife and older son on the steps of the Elysee Palace with the French presidential couple in front of a large crowd of journalists — contrasted with his limited-access, carefully choreographed appearances from Saudi Arabia.

Hariri told Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Saturday that he will take part in Independence Day celebrations in Beirut on Wednesday, according to Macron’s office.

After his meeting with Macron, Hariri told reporters: “God willing, I will attend Independence Day in Lebanon and will declare my political stance from Lebanon and after meeting President Michel Aoun.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks after meeting with French President at the Elysee Presidential Palace on November 18, 2017 in Paris. (AFP PHOTO / Thomas Samson)

“As you know I have resigned and we will talk about this matter in Lebanon,” Hariri said after thanking Macron, who he added “expressed pure friendship toward me that I will never forget.”

The Independence Day ceremony is usually headed by the president, prime minister and parliament speaker, and Hariri’s presence could help calm uncertainties that have escalated since his strange and surprising resignation announcement on November 4 from Saudi Arabia.

However, Hariri’s political status is murky. Lebanon’s president refused to accept Hariri’s resignation, accusing the Saudis of holding him against his will.

A high official in Macron’s office said Hariri’s place is first in Beirut, “which is the only place where he can hand his resignation to the Lebanese head of state.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with French presidential policy, found it normal that Hariri would keep any announcement about his political stance for his fellow citizens.

Before leaving Riyadh, Hariri dismissed as “rumors” reports about his alleged detention in the kingdom.

In his November 4 televised resignation announcement, Hariri had cited Iran and Hezbollah for meddling in Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. He also said he was afraid for his life.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives a live TV interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 12, 2017, saying he will return to his country “within days”. (Future TV via AP)

Saudi Arabia on Saturday asked its citizens for the second time in less than two weeks to leave Lebanon “as soon as possible” given the “circumstances” there. That raised fears of more punitive actions to come.

The French presidential official said it is essential that Lebanon be protected from “negative” foreign influences because the country needs stability and a strong state. The official didn’t name any specific nations but said Lebanon should be protected from the “dangers that regional crises can pose to it.”

Just before leaving Saudi Arabia, Hariri met with the Saudi crown prince and other senior officials, according to a member of Hariri’s political party and two Lebanese television stations.

Hariri’s exact next steps after his planned visit to Lebanon are unclear. A French official said Saturday that France is offering Hariri the necessary support during this time of political turmoil in his country. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.

Macron said he received Hariri “with the honors due a prime minister,” even though he has announced his resignation, since Lebanon hasn’t yet recognized it.

While Macron insists that he’s not offering “exile,” Hariri’s return could be complicated by Lebanon’s internal tensions.

During a phone call on Saturday morning, Macron and Aoun spoke about a return of Hariri to Lebanon that could help make Lebanese institutions “function normally again,” the French presidential official said.

It’s part of a broader Macron strategy to reassert French influence in the region, while the United States under Trump is increasingly seen as unpredictable or disengaged. Macron’s office says France’s strategy is to talk to all powers in the region and not to appear as choosing a camp.

Related:

As Trump Hands Syria to Russia, Iran Shows No Sign of Leaving

November 19, 2017

Iran’s presence is not expected to diminish despite the U.S.-Russia deal. Israel is concerned, but whether Iran is interested in opening a front against Israel in Syria remains unclear

By Zvi Bar’el Nov 19, 2017 8:39 AM

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Trump and Putin chat at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, on November 11, 2017. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP

Moscow and Washington agreed in a joint statement last week that no military solution is possible in Syria and that there are only diplomatic options. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly responded that those who don’t believe in a military solution should pull their troops out of Syria.

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The statement, which seemed to signal that presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump had turned a new leaf in their relations, also raised concern in Israel, which fears that a diplomatic solution would leave Iranian-backed forces in Syria. In time, this could pose a threat to Israel.

The U.S.-Russian agreement implies that all foreign combatants must leave Syria. Russia would press Bashar Assad to order Iran and Hezbollah to leave the country; the U.S. would ask Jordan to oust jihadi forces like Jabhat al-Nusra and other Sunni militias. These assumptions are far from convincing.

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At a press briefing after the joint statement, a senior American official said the Americans don’t intend to negotiate with Assad or the Iranian forces, but with Russia. He emphasized the American and Russian sponsorship for the cease-fire agreement signed in Jordan about setting up a safe zone in southern Syria, a move that was roundly criticized by Israel.

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Israel directed its remarks at Russia, but the U.S. is equally responsible for the agreement. The statement shouldn’t have surprised Israel, because already in April, at Trump’s previous meeting with Putin, the two had agreed not to discuss Assad’s future at that stage. Trump made a major concession to Russia, which was reflected in the current briefing as well, to the effect that Assad must go but it’s up to the Syrian people, including those who were displaced, to make that move by means of election. They also agreed that the two powers could work together on issues of joint interest.

However, those shared interests don’t necessarily take into consideration Israel’s interests.

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At present the agreement doesn’t draft final maps, so Israel’s alarm may be premature. But after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that “the presence of Iranian forces in Syria is legitimate since they were invited by Syria,” and in view of Erdogan’s statement, clearly the prospect of the foreign forces’ leaving isn’t worth the paper the agreement was written on. Nor does the document specify when the forces must leave and who will get them out.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, outdoor and nature

Free Syrian army fighters stand together in Quneitra countryside, near Syria’s border with Israel, August 24, 2017. ALAA AL-FAQIR/REUTERS

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Iran, Russia and Turkey, together with the Syrian and foreign militias acting in their name in Syria, do not intend to leave and it is doubtful they will do so after a final agreement is reached.
This is the reality Israel will have to live with, if it doesn’t want to go to war against the Russian-Iranian partnership sponsored by America. This partnership received an unusual bolstering by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in a message he sent to a conference in Moscow this week entitled “Iran, Russia, Five Centuries of Cooperation.”

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Zarif wrote in the message that this cooperation will “cement security, stability and growth in Central Asia and Middle East regions.”

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Lavrov said in a message delivered at the conference that he hopes the cooperation in various fields between the two countries will expand to strategic matters. This cooperation also has important economic aspects, like laying the gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan and infrastructure investments.

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Russia’s ties with Iran helped persuade the Iranians to move their forces in the southern safe zone further north and east and to clarify to Iran that it’s better not to give Israel a reason to attack in Syria. But the extent of Iran’s military presence in Syria hasn’t changed. According to Iranian opposition reports and sources in the rebel militias, the number of Iranian and pro-Iranian troops is estimated at 70,000.

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Headed by General Jaafar al-Asadi, these forces operate under a joint command located near Damascus airport, which cooperates with the Syrian army. The al-Shibani camp, northwest of Damascus, which served the Syrian Republican Guard troops before it was passed to Iranian troops, accommodates some 3,000 soldiers, as well as Hezbollah troops and Afghan militias.

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The south region’s headquarters, based some 60 kilometers south of Damascus on the road to Daraa, controls the Daraa, Sweida and Quneitra area, not far from the Yarmouk camp, which serves Hezbollah. A missile unit is situated in the Azroa base, near the town Sheikh Maskin.

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On the eastern-northern front, Iranians forces are deployed in the Hasakah, Raqqa and Qamishli area, and operate an airport for military flights. Almost 1,000 troops are based in another airport, located some 50 kilometers from Tadmor city, according to Iranian opposition sources. Some 1,000 Islamic Revolutionary Guard troops are also staying in the Latakia and Tartus region controlled by the Syrian army. The BBC recently published photographs of a large military camp secretly being built on the outskirts of Damascus, which can accommodate a few thousand troops.

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The number and deployment of the Iranian forces cast doubt over Israel’s ability to prevent any Iranian presence in Syria, as Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said in an interview with the Saudi-owned Elaph site. But the deployment mainly attests to the weak points in the Syrian army, where it requires Iranian assistance. So far, such assistance has been provided in local battles, like the conquest of Aleppo, but this doesn’t indicate an intention to take over Syrian territories and turn them into Iranian enclaves.

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Israel’s fears that Iranian forces and their proteges will establish strongholds in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights are not unfounded. But it is not certain that Iran, Syria and Russia have an interest in opening a front against Israel in Syria. Both Iran and Syria are interested in completing the strategic move to stabilize Assad’s regime and end the militia war. It’s clear to Iran and Russia that if Israel attacks, as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has threatened, the attacks may not be limited to Iranian targets but expand toward Assad’s palace and other Syrian strategic targets, including Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

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So mutual deterrence is being set up between Israel and Syria and Iran, in which the Israeli threat to Iran could be more palpable in the Golan Heights than the Iranian threat to Israel.

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This balance could be disrupted if the Iranians deploy middle- and long-range missiles in the southern Golan Heights. But this option is not on the table yet, either, mainly due to Russia’s objection to an Iranian strategic move that could harm Russian interests. At the same time, Israel sees the long-range missiles placed in Iranian territory as a greater strategic threat than the missiles that might be placed in Syria. On the whole, in case of a missile war, geographical distance is not overly significant as long as Israel and Iran can attack each other from afar.

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The more serious problem Israel faces is the alliance that the United States and Syria have formed in the Syrian arena, which means that Israel cannot expect American backup if it decides to attack in Syria.

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Trump continues to display indifference to military and strategic moves that don’t pertain to fighting ISIS, and in view of the organization’s defeats, Washington could announce that its goals in Syria and Iraq have been achieved in full and withdraw its forces. If this happens, Israel will find itself diplomatically isolated in a combat zone it had made efforts not to intervene in from the start.

Zvi Bar’el
Haaretz Correspondent

read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.823326

Lebanon FM to skip Arab League summit on Iran

November 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil will not attend an extraordinary Arab League meeting in Cairo called by Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s foreign minister will not attend an extraordinary Arab League meeting on Sunday called by Saudi Arabia to discuss “violations” committed by Iran, a ministry source told AFP.Arab foreign ministers will gather in Cairo on Sunday at the request of Riyadh, whose simmering regional rivalry with Tehran has escalated in recent weeks.

But Lebanon’s top diplomat Gebran Bassil will not be among them, a foreign ministry source said.

“This morning, a decision was taken that Lebanon would be presented by Antoine Azzam, the permanent representative to the Arab League,” the source said.

“Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil will not be present.”

For more than a decade, Lebanon’s political class has been largely split between Iran-backed movement Hezbollah and its allies, and a Saudi-supported coalition led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Hariri stepped down from his post on November 4 in a televised address from Riyadh, sparking fears Lebanon would be caught up in the spiralling tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, the predominant Shiite power, are long-standing rivals based as much in geostrategic interests as religious differences.

According to a memo seen last week by AFP, the Saudi request for an Arab League meeting was based on a missile it says its air defences intercepted near Riyadh after being fired from Yemen on November 4.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen, and it has accused the Iran-backed rebels of firing the missile.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later accused Iran of “direct military aggression” against the kingdom by supplying the rebels with ballistic missiles.

Related:

Saudi Arabia and Arab Allies Call Emergency Meeting in Cairo on Sunday To Discuss Iran, Hezbollah

November 19, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person, sky and outdoor

Iran — A Revolutionary Guard missile, the Shahab-3, under a picture of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. Credit Hasan Sarbakhshian, AP
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BY REUTERS
 NOVEMBER 19, 2017 10:23

 

Saudi Arabia and other Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss confronting Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite ally Hezbollah.

A Houthi militant shouts slogans as he stands next a poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah

A Houthi militant shouts slogans as he stands next a poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during a rally against US support to Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa. (photo credit:REUTERS)

CAIRO, November 19 – Saudi Arabia and other Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss confronting Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite ally Hezbollah, who the Arab allies say are interfering in their internal affairs.

Regional tensions have risen between Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Islamist Iran over Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s surprise resignation and after an escalation in Yemen’s conflict.

Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally, resigned on Nov. 4 in an announcement made from Riyadh. Hariri cited fear of assassination and accused Iran and Hezbollah of spreading strife in the Arab world.

Hezbollah, both a military force and a political movement, is part of a Lebanese government made up of rival factions, and an ally of Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Aoun has accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri hostage. Senior Lebanese politicians close to Hariri also said he was coerced into resigning. Saudi Arabia and Hariri both deny those accusations.

The emergency Arab foreign ministers meeting was convened at the request of Saudi Arabia with support from the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait to discuss means of confronting Iranian intervention, Egypt’s state news agency MENA said.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir told Reuters last week the kingdom’s actions in the Middle East were only a response to what he called the “aggression” of Iran.

“What Iran is doing against some Arab countries calls for taking more than one measure to stop these violations, interferences and threats, which are carried out through many various means,” Hossam Zaki, Arab League Assistant Secretary, told Asharq al Awsat newspaper in an interview.

“Stopping them requires a joint Arab policy.”

He said the meeting would send a “strong message” for Iran to step back from its current policies.

Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram cited an Arab diplomatic source saying the meeting may refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

Saudi Arabia accuses Hezbollah of a role in the launching of a missile at Riyadh from Yemen this month. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s supply of rockets to Houthi militias was an act of “direct military aggression”.

Yemen’s civil war pits the internationally recognized government, backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, against the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Iran denies charges it supplies Houthi forces.

Anticipating confrontation at the Cairo meeting, Lebanon’s foreign minister may not attend, though a final decision will be taken on Sunday morning, a senior Lebanese official told Reuters on Saturday.

After French intervention, Hariri flew to France and met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday.

Speaking in Paris, Hariri said he would clarify his position when he returns to Beirut in the coming days. He said he would take part in Lebanese independence day celebrations, which are scheduled for Wednesday.

Why Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals

November 18, 2017
  • 18 November 2017
Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. REUTERS/EPA

Saudi Arabia and Iran are at loggerheads. They have long been rivals, but it’s all recently got a lot more tense. Here’s why.

How come Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t get along?

Saudi Arabia and Iran – two powerful neighbours – are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance.

The decades-old feud between them is exacerbated by religious differences. They each follow one of the two main sects in Islam – Iran is largely Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power.

Map showing Sunni distribution in Middle East

This religious schism is reflected in the wider map of the Middle East, where other countries have Sunni or Shia majorities, some of whom look towards Iran or Saudi Arabia for support or guidance.

Historically Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and home to the birthplace of Islam, saw itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However this was challenged in 1979 by the Islamic revolution in Iran which created a new type of state in the region – a kind of theocracy – that had an explicit goal of exporting this model beyond its own borders.

Map showing Shia distribution in Middle East

In the past 15 years in particular, the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been sharpened by a series of events.

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who had been a major Iranian adversary. This removed a crucial military counter-weight to Iranian influence in Iraq, which has been rising since then.

Graphic

Fast-forward to 2011 and uprisings across the Arab world caused political instability throughout the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia exploited these upheavals to expand their influence, notably in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, further heightening mutual suspicions.

Iran’s critics say it is intent on establishing itself or its proxies across the region, and achieve control of a land corridor stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean.

How have things suddenly got worse?

The strategic rivalry is heating up because Iran is in many ways winning the regional struggle.

In Syria, Iranian (and Russian) support for President Bashar al-Assad has largely routed rebel group groups backed by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is trying desperately to contain rising Iranian influence and the militaristic adventurism of the kingdom’s young and impulsive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the country’s de facto ruler – is exacerbating regional tensions.

Five things about Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

He is waging a war against rebels in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, Yemen, in part to stem perceived Iranian influence there, but after nearly three years this is proving a costly gamble.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, many observers believe the Saudis put pressure on the prime minister to resign in order to destabilise a country where Iran’s ally, Shia militia group Hezbollah, leads a politically powerful bloc and controls a huge, heavily armed fighting force.

There are also external forces at play. Saudi Arabia has been emboldened by support from the Trump administration while Israel, which sees Iran as a mortal threat, is in a sense “backing” the Saudi effort to contain Iran.

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (left), Salman bin Adbulaziz (centre) and Donald Trump put their hands on an illuminated globe, Riyadh (21/05/17)

The Jewish state is fearful of the encroachment of pro-Iranian fighters in Syria ever closer to its border. EPA photo

Israel and Saudi Arabia were the two countries most resolutely opposed to the 2015 international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, insisting that it did not go far enough to roll back any chance of Iran obtaining the bomb.

Who are their regional allies?

Broadly speaking the strategic map of the Middle East reflects the Shia-Sunni divide.

Map showing who supports whom

In the pro-Saudi camp are the other major Sunni actors in the Gulf – the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as Egypt and Jordan.

In the Iranian camp is Syria’s government, which has been strongly backed by Iran, and where pro-Iranian Shia militia groups, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, have played a prominent role in fighting predominantly Sunni rebel groups.

The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is also a close ally of Iran, though paradoxically it also retains a close relationship with Washington on whom it has depended for help in the struggle against so-called Islamic State.

How is the Saudi-Iranian rivalry being played out?

This is in many ways a regional equivalent of the Cold War, which pitted the US against the Soviet Union in a tense military standoff for many years.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are not directly fighting but they are engaged in a variety of proxy wars around the region.

Syria is an obvious example while in Yemen Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying ballistic missiles fired at Saudi territory by the Shia Houthi rebel movement – an incident which heightened the war of words between the two countries.

Houthi rebels in Sanaa (file photo)
Yemen is one of a number of battlegrounds fuelling Iranian-Saudi tensions. Reuters photo

But having become bogged down in Yemen and essentially defeated in Syria, Saudi Arabia seems to have its eye on Lebanon as the next proxy battlefield.

Lebanon risks being tipped into Syria-like chaos but few analysts see Saudi interests prevailing there.

Conflict in Lebanon could so easily draw in Israel in opposition to Hezbollah and this could lead to a third Israel-Lebanon war far more devastating than any of the previous encounters.

Some cynics wonder if the Saudi crown prince’s game plan is to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah and deliver a heavy blow to the group this way!

Are we heading towards a direct war between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

So far Tehran and Riyadh have fought via proxies. Neither is really geared up for a direct war with the other but one successful rocket attack on the Saudi capital from Yemen could upset the apple cart.

Will Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran?

One obvious area where they could come into direct conflict is in the waters of the Gulf, where they face each other across a maritime border.

But here too fighting could risk a much broader conflict. For the US and other Western powers, freedom of navigation in the Gulf is essential and any conflict that sought to block the waterway – vital for international shipping and oil transportation – could easily draw in US naval and air forces.

Graphic showing military balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran

For a long time the US and its allies have seen Iran as a destabilising force in the Middle East. The Saudi leadership increasingly sees Iran as an existential threat and the crown prince seems willing to take whatever action he sees necessary, wherever he deems it necessary, to confront Tehran’s rising influence.

The danger is that Saudi Arabia’s new activism is fast making it a further source of volatility in the region.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42008809