Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon’

Iran sends Hezbollah GPS parts to turn rockets into precision missiles — report

October 20, 2018

Most recent shipment arrived in Beirut on Tuesday; Lebanon has previously denied Netanyahu’s claim that Iran operates weapons factories on its soil

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Iran has delivered advanced GPS components to Hezbollah which will allow the terrorist group to make previously unguided rockets into precision guided-missiles, thus increasing the threat to Israel, Fox News reported Friday.

According to the media outlet, American and western intelligence services believe Iran has been increasing its shipments to Hezbollah, with one flight arriving in Beirut as recently as three days ago with the parts to convert weaponry at Iranian factories in Lebanon.

The existence of these factories was revealed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month. The Israeli military later released satellite images of three sites in Beirut that it said were being used by the Iran-backed terror group to hide underground precision missile production facilities.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has said Netanyahu’s allegations are “baseless.”

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showing a diagram of what he said was Hezbollah terror group sites near Beirut during his address to the 73rd UN General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018. (United Nations)

Fox News tracked Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm flight number QFZ-9950, which departed Tehran International Airport on Tuesday at 9:33 a.m. before flying to an unknown destination, according to flight data. Later that same day, the Boeing 747 jet reportedly landed in Damascus before its final leg to Beirut.

On Wednesday evening the plane reportedly took off from Beirut to Doha before returning to Tehran.

Illustrative: A Qeshm Fars Air cargo plane (Wikimedia commons)

Western intelligence sources said the plane was carrying weapons components, including GPS technology, to make precision-guided missiles in the Iranian factories located near the airport in Beirut.

Institute for National Security Studies Chairman Amos Yadlin attends the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv January 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Israel is determined not to let it happen,” for Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Fox News. “This is a source of concern because if the Iranians, on the one hand, are determined to build this precision project with ballistic missiles, and the Israelis are determined not to let it happen—this is a recipe for collision.”

“The Iranians are building a formidable military presence in Syria with ballistic missiles, precise ballistic missiles, UAV, air defense. Israel is not going to allow Iran to duplicate Hezbollah in Syria,” Yadlin said.

The target of the Israeli airstrike last month, in which a Russian spy plane was inadvertently shot down by Syrian air defenses, was machinery used in the production of precision missiles, which was en route to Hezbollah, The Times of Israel learned.

In response to that incident, Russia delivered the advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria. Netanyahu has said he has told Russia that Israel must continue to hit hostile targets in Syria, despite Moscow’s decision. There have been no reports of Israeli strikes in Syria since the downing of the Russian plane.

According to Netanyahu, these precision missiles are capable of striking with 10 meters (32 feet) of their given target. Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 rockets and missiles, though the vast majority are thought to lack precision technology.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hezbollah began working on these surface-to-surface missile facilities last year.

Reports that Iran was constructing underground missile conversion factories in Lebanon first emerged in March 2017. Since then, Israeli officials have repeatedly said that Israel would not abide such facilities.

In January, Netanyahu said Lebanon “is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will cannot accept this threat.”

One of the alleged sites is located under a soccer field used by a Hezbollah-sponsored team; another is just north of the Rafik Hariri International Airport; and the third is underneath the Beirut port and less than 500 meters from the airport’s tarmac.

A satellite image released by the Israel Defense Forces showing a site near Beirut’s international airport that the army says is being used by Hezbollah to convert regular missiles into precision-guided munitions, on September 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

These three are not the only facilities that the IDF believes are being used by Hezbollah for the manufacturing and storage of precision missiles.

In May, Netanyahu said Israel was “operating against the transfer of deadly weapons from Syria to Lebanon or their manufacture in Lebanon.”

In recent years, Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, which it says were aimed at both preventing Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and blocking the transfer of advanced munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israeli Air Force has largely abstained from conducting raids inside Lebanon itself, though it has indicated that it was prepared to do so.

Earlier this year, IAF chief Amiram Norkin showed visiting generals a picture of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter flying next to Beirut’s airport, in what was seen as a direct message to Hezbollah.

Israel fought a punishing war with Hezbollah in 2006. Jerusalem believes the group has since re-armed with tens of thousands of missiles that can threaten all of Israel.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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Pompeo says Saudis committed to complete probe into journalist’s disappearance

October 17, 2018

Saudi Arabia has committed to conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday before departing the kingdom for Turkey.

The Latest: Pompeo in Turkey for talks on Saudi writer
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks to the media before leaving Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. ( REUTERS/Leah Millis)

Pompeo said he would meet with President Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital Ankara, two weeks after Khashoggi vanished when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect documents he needed for his planned marriage.

Earlier, President Donald Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt in Khashoggi’s disappearance, while U.S. lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership and Western pressure mounted on Riyadh to provide answers.

In Saudi Arabia, Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman, the crown prince and the foreign minister.

“In each of those meetings I stressed the importance of them conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. They made a commitment to do that,” he told reporters traveling with him after boarding the plane for Ankara.

“They said it would be a thorough, complete and transparent investigation,” he said. “They indicated they understood that getting that done in a timely, rapid fashion so they could begin to answer important questions.”

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was murdered and his body removed, which the Saudis have strongly denied. Khashoggi was a U.S. resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post and he was critical of the Saudi government, calling for reforms.

Earlier, in a Twitter post, Trump said Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman denied knowing what happened in the Saudi consulate.

“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that.”

How the crown prince, often referred to as MbS, emerges when the dust settles over Khashoggi’s disappearance is a test of how the West will deal with Saudi Arabia in the future. At issue will be to what extent the West believes responsibility lies with MbS for Khashoggi.

“They made no exceptions to who they would hold accountable. They were very clear: they understand the important of this issue, they are determined to get to the bottom of it,” Pompeo told reporters.

Asked whether they said Khashoggi was alive or dead, Pompeo said: “They didn’t talk about any of the facts.”

MbS, who has enjoyed a close relationship with the Trump administration, has painted himself as the face of a new, vibrant Saudi Arabia, diversifying its economy away from reliance on oil and making some social changes.

But there has been mounting criticism of some of the prince’s moves.

These include Riyadh’s involvement in the war in Yemen, the arrest of women activists and a diplomatic dispute with Canada. The kingdom also denied an assertion by France that it held Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri captive in November 2017.

Despite Western concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Trump still says he is unwilling to pull out of weapons sales agreements with Riyadh.

Reporting by Makini Brice, Leah Millis and Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Darren Schuettler

Reuters

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Jamal Khashoggi: Turkey given permission to search Saudi consulate

October 15, 2018

Saudi Arabia has given Turkey permission to search its Istanbul consulate Monday afternoon, nearly two weeks after journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing there, a Turkish diplomatic source told CNN.

The news comes as international pressure mounts on Riyadh to explain the journalist’s disappearance. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and a Saudi royal insider-turned-critic, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2 and has not been seen since.
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Khashoggi’s disappearance has created a diplomatic rift between Saudi and the West, with the UK, France and Germany demanding a “credible investigation” into the events and US President Donald Trump warning of serious retribution if the Saudis are found to be behind his possible death.
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Image result for Jamil Khashoggi, photos
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Saudi authorities maintain Khashoggi left the consulate the same afternoon but have provided no evidence of that.
A joint Turkish-Saudi working group into the case has been proposed, but the results of a separate, internal Saudi investigation should be made public soon, a Saudi official with knowledge of the probe told CNN on Monday.
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The Saudi official said that a royal decree was issued Friday directing the public prosecutor to conduct an internal investigation into the Khashoggi case, based on intelligence shared with Saudi Arabia by Turkey.
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While a joint Turkish-Saudi investigation team is still cooperating on the ground, “the leadership had felt that an internal investigation was needed to make sure no stone is left unturned to unfold the truth,” the official said.
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On Sunday, Washington and Riyadh traded a series of threats, with Trump warning of the potential for “severe punishment” and Saudi officials threatening to retaliate if the US imposed sanctions. Riyadh later softened its tone.
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“There’s something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that were the case. So we’re going to have to see,” Trump said in a “60 Minutes” interview broadcast Sunday. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.”
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Saudi Arabia’s stock market fell as much as 7% on Sunday amid fears of sanctions. The index recovered some ground later to close 3.5% down. The market’s drop of as much as 9% since Khashoggi vanished has wiped out all the market’s gains in 2018, although it is still up 8% from a year ago.
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A security officer looks through a partially open door of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 12, 2018.

International companies pull out

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Amid the diplomatic fallout over Khashoggi’s disappearance, international firms are pulling out of a high-profile investment summit, the Future Investment Initiative conference, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” due to take place later this month in Riyadh and to be hosted by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
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The latest high profile invitee to say they would not attend the conference was the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, a spokesperson confirmed Sunday.
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Turkish authorities believe 15 Saudi men who arrived in Istanbul on October 2 were connected to Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible murder. At least some of them appear to have high-level connections in the Saudi government.
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On Friday, a source familiar with the ongoing investigation told CNN that Turkish authorities have audio and visual evidence that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.
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His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate, says she did not see him re-emerge.
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Saudi Arabia firmly denies any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and says he left the consulate that afternoon. Turkey has called on Saudi officials to provide evidence that he left the consulate.
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In a joint statement on Sunday, the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany said “light must be shed” on Khashoggi’s disappearance and demanded a “credible investigation.”
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British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt on Sunday urged Saudi Arabia to explain what happened to Khashoggi, saying, “if they have got nothing to hide, then they will and should cooperate.”
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“If, as they say, this terrible murder didn’t happen, then where is Jamal Khashoggi? That’s what the world wants to know,” said Hunt.
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday declined to confirm whether US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would still be attending the conference in Riyadh.
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“I think we need to continue to evaluate the facts and we’ll make that decision — I talked to Secretary Mnuchin about it last night, we’ll be taking a look at it through the rest of the week,” Pompeo, alongside President Trump, told reporters in the Oval Office on Saturday.
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Doubts are also growing over whether British Trade Secretary Liam Fox will attend the Riyadh conference, the BBC reported Sunday citing diplomatic sources.
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Saudi Arabia softens tone awaiting Trump call

Saudi Arabia softens tone awaiting Trump call 02:44

Arab countries express solidarity

In what appeared to be a coordinated response, a number of Arab countries gave their support to Saudi Arabia. Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt all put out statements on Sunday saying they express solidarity with Saudi Arabia. The Palestinian Authority also put out a statement of support.
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In a strongly worded op-ed published later on Sunday, Turki Aldakhil, general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel, warned that if the US imposed sanctions on Riyadh “it will stab its own economy to death,” cause oil prices to reach as high as $200 a barrel, lead Riyadh to permit a Russian military base in the city of Tabuk and drive the Middle East into the arms of Iran.
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Faisal bin Farhan, a senior adviser at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, said on his official Twitter account Sunday that the op-ed “did not reflect the thinking of the Saudi leadership.”
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Riyadh later tried to soften its confrontational tone, with King Salman speaking on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Khashoggi’s disappearance.
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The Saudi Press Agency and the Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu reported the countries are considering establishing a “working group” to discuss the Khashoggi case.
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The Saudi Embassy in Washington offered a milder statement in a tweet on Sunday.
“To help clarify recently issued Saudi statement, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia extends its appreciation to all, including the US administration, for refraining from jumping to conclusions on the ongoing investigation,” the statement said.
A delegation from Saudi Arabia arrived in Turkey for the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported Friday.
But last week a senior Turkish official speaking on the condition of anonymity told CNN that the Saudis were not cooperating with the investigation: “They are not open to cooperating.”
Saudi Arabia softens tone awaiting Trump call

Saudi Arabia softens tone awaiting Trump call 02:44
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‘Working assumption’ is murder

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A US official familiar with the intelligence told CNN that the US had intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him.
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Washington’s “working assumption” is that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate in Istanbul, according to a US official familiar with the latest intelligence. “We are pretty clear eyed it is likely to have happened and it didn’t end well,” the official said. The source did caution that this was the latest assessment and no conclusions had been made.
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However, last week Trump said he was reluctant to take action, particularly on the issue of arms sales. “There are other things we can do,” he told reporters at the White House.
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The US signed a nearly $110 billion defense deal with Saudi Arabia in May 2017, when Trump made Saudi Arabia a stop on his first foreign trip as president. The stop was seen, in part, as an endorsement of the strong relationship between Trump, Jared Kushner — his son-in-law and senior adviser — and bin Salman.
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Over the weekend a US senior administration official said that the US hasn’t really dealt much with the Turks on the Khashoggi investigation yet because US officials, including the embassy staff, mostly focused last week on repatriating American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was accused of plotting a coup attempt against Erdogan.
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Now that Brunson is back in the US, the official said Washington is expecting some information from the Turks. The US also still hasn’t heard anything from the Saudis, and are waiting for some information about what happened, the official said.
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The US President said Friday he had not yet spoken with King Salman — bin Salman’s father — in the wake of Khashoggi’s reported killing, but that he planned to “pretty soon.”
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Israeli aircraft said to destroy spying device in southern Lebanon

October 15, 2018

Lebanese media reports ‘heavy overflights’ by Israeli drones near the Litani river; no comment from IDF

The border fence between Israel and Lebanon with the southern Lebanese village of Blida in the background, from the Israeli kibbutz of Yiftah, on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

The border fence between Israel and Lebanon with the southern Lebanese village of Blida in the background, from the Israeli kibbutz of Yiftah, on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

Israeli drones struck a spy device in southern Lebanon on Sunday night, according to Lebanese media reports.

The Naharnet news site said the explosion was heard in the southern town of Zrariyeh, near the Litani River, amid “heavy overflights” by Israeli drones.

Lebanese Armed Forces were called to the scene and opened an investigation into the incident, the report said.

Media reports on Sunday also said that Israeli war planes were spotted over the southern cities of Marjayoun and Tyre.

It was unclear whether the alleged spying device was Lebanese or Israeli.

There was no comment from the Israel Defense Forces.

Lebanese officials have claimed to find Israeli listening devices in Lebanon before, including one last year, two in 2015, and two in 2010 that were found hidden in rocks.

Israel withdrew from the so-called South Lebanon Security Belt — a strip of land several kilometers wide along the Lebanese-Israeli border on Lebanon’s side — in a hastily organized operation in May 2000, after maintaining a presence there since the First Lebanon War in 1982.

Last year, the Lebanese army claimed it uncovered two separate Israeli spying networks operating in the country.

In January 2017, security officials said they had apprehended members of an Israeli spy cell made up of a Lebanese citizen, a Palestinian refugee, and two Nepalese women. In May, Lebanese media reported that an Iraqi man was arrested and confessed to providing Israel information about the Lebanese army and government officials.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-aircraft-destroys-spying-device-in-southern-lebanon-reports/

Missing journalist puts spotlight on Saudi prince’s friendship with Kushner

October 13, 2018

US president’s son-in-law has developed close ties with kingdom’s Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused of ordering Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

 

Jared Kushner, left, is seen at a White House meeting, on October 23, 2017. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Lebanon’s Christian Maronite patriarch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 14, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

Jared Kushner, left, is seen at a White House meeting, on October 23, 2017. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Lebanon’s Christian Maronite patriarch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 14, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In March, Saudi Arabia was on the brink of a new age of modernity. At the epicenter of the transformation were Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser.

But allegations this week that bin Salman — or MBS, as he is known — ordered the brazen murder of a dissident Saudi journalist in Istanbul, Turkey, have roiled the prince’s reputation as a modernizer.

So where does that leave Kushner, who cultivated a close friendship with MBS in part to advance Kushner’s efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks? Does Kushner counsel the president to distance the United States from Saudi Arabia? Or does he wait out the storm and return to the bromance when things are quieter?

Despite some favorable media coverage at the time of his last US visit in March, much reporting suggested — even before the disappearance in Istanbul last week of Jamal Khashoggi, a permanent resident of the United States — that MBS’s reforms were more show than substance.

Yes, women could drive, but the activists who helped bring about the change were languishing in jail. Yes, he seemed ready for closer relations with Israel, while also bombing Yemen into submission, with little regard for civilian casualties. Yes, the extended Saudi royal family seemed on board with his changes, but maybe a period of imprisonment and torture in 2017 had something to do with that.

With the Khashoggi crisis in full bloom, the Trump administration is scrambling for a strategy. Trump himself is wary of penalizing a nation that spends big money on US arms.

A demonstrator dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) with blood on his hands protests outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, on October 8, 2018, demanding justice for missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Jim Watson/AFP)

“I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country on — I know they’re talking about different kinds of sanctions,” he said Thursday, referring to moves in Congress to sanction Saudi Arabia, “but they’re spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others, for this country.”

Saudi Arabia also figures large in Trump administration plans to isolate Iran.

At the center of the US-Saudi relationship is Kushner, whom Trump has tasked with relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The drive for a peace deal is what ostensibly brought Kushner and MBS together, but their relationship has broadened to include arms sales and regional strategy making.

Here are five key moments in the Kushner-MBS bromance.

The first meeting

According to The Washington Post, MBS and Kushner became friendly when the crown prince first visited Trump as president in March 2017. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was next on the agenda but was delayed by a snowstorm, which allowed the two 30-somethings to become acquainted. That set off a long distance relationship, with frequent phone calls, the Post reported.

Open arms and an arms deal

One result of the closeness was a major shift: A president’s inaugural trip has traditionally been to a neighbor, Canada or Mexico. Trump instead first headed to Saudi Arabia, in May 2017, and Kushner was instrumental in setting the agenda — so instrumental that he says he got a rabbi’s permission to join his father-in-law on the Shabbat flight. (Which rabbi? That’s still a mystery.)

The trip went off smoothly — remember that glowing orb Trump and MBS’s dad touched together? And Trump signed a $110 billion arms sale deal with the country.

US President Donald Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

That Lebanon business

Kushner visited with MBS in Saudi Arabia in October 2017, supposedly to discuss advance of the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. A week or so later Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, turned up in Saudi Arabia to resign, citing the overweening influence in his country of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia aligned with Iran.

It was a bizarre moment, and soon Hariri was back in Lebanon having rescinded his resignation. What happened?

Hariri has close business and family relations in Saudi Arabia, and MBS may have coerced his resignation as a means of sowing chaos in Lebanon, which he reportedly hoped would spark a punishing Israeli assault on Hezbollah. No one told the Israelis and they were not game to be Saudi Arabia’s proxy in its longstanding dispute with Iran.

Did Kushner give MBS a green light? They chatted until 4 a.m. during the visit. We may never know what they discussed, but the proximity (and secrecy) of his visit so close to the Lebanon fiasco led to speculation that Kushner winked at MBS’s maneuvering. The crown prince arrested a bunch of his extended family at around the same time. That was the second round of arrests; the first was in June, soon after the Trump visit. Making matters murkier, Trump praised the prince for the arrests in a tweet.

That peace deal

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was summoned to Saudi Arabia the same month as Hariri, November 2017. What was said was not clear, but according to subsequent reports, MBS pressed Abbas to accept Kushner’s terms for a peace deal that would comprise a Palestinian quasi state with its capital in Jerusalem’s suburbs, as opposed to the city itself.

Abbas reportedly declined, and Saudi statements denied that MBS had ever embraced such a proposal.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

One year later …

A year after their snowbound bromance began, MBS was back in the United States for what was to be a turning point in the US-Saudi relationship. He met with Trump, and Kushner helped organize a busy itinerary for the prince, including stops in high-tech centers on the East and West coasts to talk investment. MBS and his modernization proposals received glowing attention from influential columnists.

Marring the visit was the revelation, first reported at the time by The Intercept, that MBS told Persian Gulf buddies that he had Kushner “in his pocket.”

Is that the case? The Khashoggi mystery is not going away, and we may learn more soon.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/missing-journalist-puts-spotlight-on-saudi-princes-friendship-with-kushner/

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What Trump Can Do About Saudi Arabia

October 11, 2018

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi? The Saudis need to provide the U.S. with answers.

Is it already too late?  Photographer: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who has been missing since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, we remain in the allegation-and-denial phase. The Turkish police allege murder, and the Saudi government denies foul play.

As we wait for more information, it’s best to prepare for the worst. The Turkish government has provided specifics and evidence — such as video of Khashoggi entering the consulate and the names of 15 Saudi agents that it says flew to Istanbul in pursuit of him. The Saudis have issued blanket denials.

And even though the Turks have done the same kind of thing, it also fits a pattern for the Saudis under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. For more than a year, he has been purging his critics. Wealthy members of the royal family have had their assets confiscated. Others have died in mysterious helicopter crashes. As Reporters Without Borders has documented, at least 15 Saudi journalists and bloggers have been arrested or disappeared since September 2017.

That’s not unusual in autocratic states. But if the Saudis abducted or murdered Khashoggi in Turkey, it crosses another line. It’s the kind of sinister statecraft to be expected from Russia, North Korea and Iran — not from a U.S. ally.

So if the Saudis did this, what should the U.S. do about it? One approach would be a slap on the wrist. Have an assistant secretary of state make a speech about how terrible this is without threatening any substantive repercussions. The Saudis are on the front lines of a regional war with Iran, after all, and the U.S. can’t risk weakening its side in the conflict. No one wants the Houthis and their Iranian patrons to control Yemen’s Port of Aden. As an early Trump administration memo put it: “Allies should be treated differently — and better — than adversaries.”

Another strategy would be to recognize that Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have divergent interests and downgrade the relationship. Recall the U.S.’s top diplomat (the post of ambassador is currently vacant), support a resolution condemning its actions at the United Nations and suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Maybe the president could even give a speech about the venality of this crime. America cannot allow this kind of lawlessness to become normalized.

If other nations are to take the liberal world order seriously, then the anchor of that system — the U.S. — must punish the outliers, friend and foe alike. Besides, the Saudi-led war in Yemen has been waged at a horrendous human cost. Why deepen ties with a despot who disappears reporters and bombs civilians?

There are problems with both tacks. A slap on the wrist lets the Saudis off too easily. Indeed, the relatively muted response from the Trump administration to the Prince Mohammed’s purges up to now may have led his government to believe it could get away with it.

There is also a deeper problem with the slap on the wrist. It lets the Saudis believe the U.S. needs them more than they need us. It effectively puts the Saudis in control of the alliance, despite the fact that they are a much weaker power. As Robert Kagan told me in an interview this week: “Unless are you willing to punish them for this misbehavior, then they own you.”

What about the more severe response? Saudi Arabia would definitely get the message — and other U.S. allies would understand there are consequences if America recalled its top diplomat and supported a UN resolution. But that risks undermining Prince Mohammed, and the U.S. has an interest in his success with promised reforms like greater women’s equality, a more open economy and a less radical clergy. What’s more, less U.S. military engagement in Yemen will likely lead to more civilian casualties.

Which course it chooses will say a lot about the Trump administration’s values. The first priority for U.S. officials should be to join the rest of the world in demanding a full accounting of what happened in Istanbul.

In the meantime, President Donald Trump should suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He should also denounce the Saudis in public and threaten them with the more severe options in private. Finally, the State Department should investigate all cases of missing and detained journalists and dissidents in Saudi Arabia and release the results to the public.

Trump can do all this while also making it clear that the U.S. remains committed to helping its allies counter Iran in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. None of those allies, however, is indispensable. And if Saudi Arabia wants to act like Iran, eventually America and the world will be forced to treat it as such.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-10-11/jamal-khashoggi-case-trump-has-options-with-saudi-arabia

Netanyahu, Putin to meet after Syria friendly fire incident — Bibi Restates Israel’s Strong Stand Against Iran

October 7, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss coordination in Syria after the accidental downing of a Russian plane led to tensions.

Netanyahu said he had spoken with Putin and the two agreed “to meet soon in order to continue the important inter-military security coordination”.

Speaking at the start of a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu again pledged to stop “Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria and to thwart the transfer of lethal weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon”.

The meeting would be the first since the Russian plane was downed by Syrian air defences, which fired in response to an Israeli raid in the country.

© POOL/AFP | Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018

Putin and Netanyahu have spoken at least three times by phone since the September 17 incident.

Fifteen Russians were killed in the incident that Moscow blamed on Israel, accusing its pilots of using the larger Russian plane as cover.

Israel disputes the Russian findings and says its jets were back in Israeli airspace when the plane was downed.

Russia announced new security measures to protect its military in Syria, including supplying the Syrian army with S-300 air defence systems and jamming radars of nearby warplanes.

Those measures have led to concern in Israel that it will be forced to limit its strikes against what it calls Iranian and Hezbollah targets in the neighbouring country.

It has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

Russia and Israel set up a hotline in 2015 to avoid accidental clashes in Syria.

Both Iran and Hezbollah — enemies of Israel — are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in his country’s civil war alongside Russia.

AFP

UNRWA concerned over plan to shut its East Jerusalem operation

October 5, 2018

The UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees expressed concern on Friday over moves by the mayor of Jerusalem to close down its operations in the city.

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Mayor Nir Barkat said on Thursday he had developed a plan to end the Jerusalem operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinians displaced by the 1948 war of Israel’s founding and to millions of their descendants, and to replace them with Israeli services.

In this file photo,a Palestinian man carries a bag of wheat flour distributed at an aid distribution centre of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

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UNRWA has faced a financial crisis since the United States in August announced it was cutting aid to the body, calling it an “irredeemably flawed operation” with an “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”

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Barkat, on Twitter, said the US decision created an opportunity to change the current situation, which he said would otherwise “perpetuate the ‘refugee problem’ and encourage incitement.”

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UNRWA, in a statement, said it “expresses its concern about recent statements made by the mayor of Jerusalem on its operations and installations in East Jerusalem.”

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“UNRWA has continuously maintained operations in the occupied Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem since 1967 with the cooperation and on the basis of a formal agreement with the State of Israel, which remains in force,” it said.

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It said it provided education, health, relief and social services in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as a capital of a future state.

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Barkat said that under his plan the municipality would take over education, welfare and health services. “We provide services for all residents alike — there are no refugees in our city,” he said.

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Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital. The government’s Central Bureau of Statistics says it has a population of 900,000, including about 340,000 Arabs.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in the past called for UNRWA to be dismantled.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1383136/middle-east

Related:

Israel to remove UN Palestinian agency from Jerusalem

October 5, 2018

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees on Friday expressed concern after Jerusalem’s Israeli mayor said he would remove it from the city.

Mayor Nir Barkat announced in a statement Thursday a “detailed plan to remove UNRWA from Jerusalem and replace its services with municipal services”.

UNRWA said such a move would affect its humanitarian operations and installations in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The agency runs schools and health centres particularly in the Shuafat refugee camp where it says 24,000 Palestinians are estimated to live.

UNRWA has come under pressure from Israel and the United States.

© AFP/File | Palestinian girls outside a school run by UNRWA in the Askar refugee camp east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on September 2, 2018

The two countries object to the fact that Palestinians can pass refugee status to their children, and want the number of refugees covered by the agency to be sharply reduced.

The US administration ending its funding to UNRWA in August, the latest in a series of controversial moves applauded by the Israeli government but criticised by the Palestinians and the international community.

“The US decision has created a rare opportunity to replace UNRWA’s services with services of the Jerusalem Municipality,” Barkat said.

“We are putting an end to the lie of the ‘Palestinian refugee problem’ and the attempts at creating a false sovereignty within a sovereignty,” he added.

The issue of Palestinian refugees — along with the status of Jerusalem — has long been a major sticking point in peace efforts.

More than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

They and their descendants are now classified as refugees who fall under UNRWA’s mandate.

Palestinian leaders continue to call for at least some of them to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel under any peace deal.

Israel says Palestinians must give up the so-called right of return and that allowing descendants of refugees to inherit their status only perpetuates the problem instead of solving it.

Israel also considers all of Jerusalem as its united capital, while the Palestinians see the predominantly Arab eastern area as the capital of their future state.

Some five million registered Palestinians refugees are eligible for UNRWA services in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the blockaded Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Barkat said that under his plan all UNRWA schools in east Jerusalem will be closed by the end of the current school year. Health centres will likewise be shut down.

The municipality will also lobby Israeli political leaders and press them to exercise their “authority to remove UNRWA (headquarters) from Israel’s sovereign territory” in Jerusalem.

“In parallel, the city will work to expropriate the area for public purposes,” he said.

But on Friday UNRWA said it was “determined to continue to carrying out” its services in east Jerusalem and criticised Barkat’s plan.

“Such messaging challenges the core principles of impartial and independent humanitarian action and does not reflect the robust and structured dialogue and interaction that UNRWA and the State of Israel have traditionally maintained,” the agency said.

AFP

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A child works at a shop across from a poster of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Related:

U.S. envoy Kushner calls UNRWA corrupt, inefficient, unhelpful for peace

A Palestinian woman takes part in a protest against possible reductions of the services and aid offered by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in front of UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City August 16, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

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Report: Saudi Arabia Used Israeli Cyberweapons to Target Dissident in Canada

October 2, 2018

Saudi authorities reportedly used technology provided by Israeli firm NSO to try and track Omar Abdulaziz via his cellphone, a Canadian research group claims

Pegasus' use worldwide, according to Citizen Lab
Pegasus’ use worldwide, according to Citizen Lab

Agents apparently linked to the Saudi regime used spy technology from Israeli firm NSO Group Technologies to eavesdrop on a Saudi dissident in Canadaaccording to a report on Monday.

The Citizen Lab research group said it had “high confidence” that NSO’s Pegasus software had been used this summer to eavesdrop on a 27-year-old Saudi exile, Omar Abdulaziz.

According to the report, which was picked up by Canadian daily The Globe and Mail, the aim was to access the iPhone of Abdulaziz, who lives in Montreal and has been a prominent critic of the Saudi government on social media.

Any such use of eavesdropping technology by a foreign government would constitute illegal wiretapping, Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert told the daily.

Dissident Omar Abdulaziz speaking out against the Saudi regime.
Dissident Omar Abdulaziz speaking out against the Saudi regime.YouTube screengrab

The case comes against the backdrop of a diplomatic crisis between Ottawa and Riyadh, following criticism in August by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland over the jailing of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. She also called for their release.

Saudi Arabia called the minister’s comments a violation of its sovereignty and in response suspended diplomatic and trade ties with Canada. Riyadh also brought home thousands of Saudi university students who had been studying in Canada.

In July, Citizen Lab researchers issued a warning that misleading messages about protests in Saudi Arabia were being used to target cellphones, including that of a regional Amnesty International researcher. Last month, the University of Toronto research group claimed that at least 36 governments were making use of NSO’s services. It also claimed there was a high degree of probability that Saudi Arabia was among them. Suspected Pegasus software infections were found in Canada, Britain, France and Morocco, in addition to Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Qatar and Bahrain, Citizen Lab said.

In August, it was reported that the United Arab Emirates had used NSO software to track 159 members of the Qatari royal family. And lawsuits recently filed in Israel and Cyprus alleged that the rulers of the UAE used Pegasus for more than a year to monitor opponents of the regime both inside the emirate and abroad.

For its part, NSO has said it “develops products that are licensed only to legitimate government agencies for the sole purpose of investigating and preventing crime and terror.” Its software, the company said, has been used to help prevent suicide attacks, to help convict drug lords and to locate missing children. It did not specify which governments make use of its technology. “The product will not operate outside of approved countries,” its statement said.

https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/report-saudi-arabia-used-israeli-tech-to-try-and-track-dissident-in-canada-1.6517064