Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

Telephone call may have stopped imminent Israeli-Iranian war

February 15, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency]

Isreali newspaper Haaretz revealed that Russian President Vladimir Putin stopped an imminent Israeli-Iranian war, with a telephone call, following recent escalation. This weekend Israel shot down an Iranian drone over the occupied Palestinian territories and then later had a Israeli F-16 fighter shot down over Syria.

The newspaper described the call between Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday evening, as “decisive and fateful as it immediately stopped the escalation.”

The newspaper concluded that the Russian President provided an acceptable solution to both conflicting parties, and pointed out that this is a clear conclusion which can be drawn from the sequence of events on Saturday, as translated by Arabi21.

The newspaper also said that the Israeli raids on targets in Syria raised Moscow’s concerns, since they have targeted locations close to the areas of spread of Russian advisers, especially at Tiyas Military Airbase (T-4 Airbase) in the eastern countryside of Homs.

The newspaper concluded that the stability that prevailed in the region after the telephone conversation between Putin and Netanyahu has revealed again the real decision maker in the Middle East.  The newspaper stressed that Russia decides how things should turn out in the region while the United States is still an “absent-present” party in the scenes.

OPINION: Tensions in Russia-Iran ties

According to a statement the Kremlin has issued, after the telephone conversation on Saturday, Putin called on Netanyahu to refrain from taking any steps that may lead to a new round of serious confrontations in the region.

The Israeli ambassador in Moscow has called on both Russia and the United States to urgently intervene to contain the situation, and prevent Syria from becoming “a bridge through which Iran passes to (Israel).”


Tillerson says Hezbollah actions threaten Lebanon, region

February 15, 2018


© AFP | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks in Beirut on February 15, 2018
BEIRUT (AFP) – Hezbollah’s actions pose a threat to the security of Lebanon and have a destabilising influence in the Middle East, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday.”Hezbollah is not just a concern for the United States. The people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hezbollah’s actions, its growing arsenal, bring unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon,” Tillerson said in Beirut.

“Hezbollah entanglement in regional conflicts threatens the security of Lebanon and has destabilising effects on the region,” he said of the Iran-backed Shiite movement.

Hezbollah, branded a “terrorist” organisation by the United States, is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has fighters on the ground in the war-torn country supporting the regime.

“Their presence in Syria has perpetuated the bloodshed, increased the displacement of innocent people and propped up the barbaric Assad regime,” Tillerson said at a news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Hezbollah’s influence was at the heart of a political crisis in Lebanon over Hariri’s shock resignation announced from Saudi Arabia in November that was later rescinded.

Could Germany act as mediator between Israel and Iran?

February 13, 2018

The recent Israeli airstrikes in Syria have sparked concerns of a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran. DW spoke with Middle East expert Gil Murciano about the conflict, and Germany’s potential role as mediator.

Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights (Reuters/A. Awad)

DW: An Israeli fighter jet was downed by anti-aircraft fire this weekend in Syria. In response, Israel carried out airstrikes in Syria, including against what it described as Iranian targets. Is Syria going to become an arena of open confrontation between Israel and Iran?

Gil Murciano: In Syria, things are moving from the chaos of civil war to a new order, the fruits of which Iran is trying to harvest in an attempt to strengthen its influence. They want to build naval and air bases in Syria and strengthen Hezbollah. The Israelis, on the other side, had amidst all the chaos relied on non-intervention, but now they see themselves confronted with a new situation in which they are strategically inferior. It’s the first time they see their arch enemy on the other side of the border with the capability of turning Syria into a platform to attack Israel in the future. The Israelis are completely changing their policy, taking much greater risks in order to halt this dynamic.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not ruling out further military action. How far can Israel go?

This weekend we saws Israel’s willingness — for the first time, I think — to actually attack an Iranian target with Iranian forces. Up to now, Israel has been trying to avoid direct confrontation on this level with the Iranians. So this is a new step. And the possibility becomes much more probable that the cycle of the steps and countersteps could lead to an open escalation. From the Israeli point of view the question is not whether there will be a next round, but when it will arise.

How many military forces in Syria are actually under Iranian influence?

Dr. Gil Murciano (2018 by SWP)


Gil Murciano is a Middle East expert at the SWP think tank

With pro-Iranian militias, we are talking about 7,000 to 10,000 combatants. In addition, there are roughly a few hundred Iranian experts from the Revolutionary Guards and Quds forces. But the real issue from the Israeli point of view is the changing power between Iran and its host, the Syrian regime of [President Bashar al-Assad]. Before the civil war, the Assad regime could say “stop” or “go” — it could actually control the the extent of Iran’s involvement. Now the Syrian regime is dependent on Iran for its survival. Therefore, Iran is free to advance its own interests: building bases in Syrian territory that may later be used against Israel and integrating Iranian forces into the structure of the Syrian army and advancing them later to the border of Israel.

Is the Assad regime really willing to allow Iran to start a war against Israel from Syrian territory?

It often seems that Iran and the Syrian regime are speaking the same narrative. But we do see some cracks, when looking under the surface. An Iranian chief-of-staff came to Syria a couple of months ago with a list of demands, both on the economic and security level: for example mining rights, including Uranium and building bases. The Syrians were effective in blocking these Iranian attempts. The Assad regime, in this fragile situation, is also trying to avoid reaching direct confrontation with Israel and trying to keep Iranian interests at bay. The Russians are trying to contain Iranian influence as well.

Read more: What do the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran want in the Syria conflict?

How do you see Russia’s role with regard to Israel and Iran?

They do tolerate Israel’s airstrikes as well as Iranian activities in Syria, but they are trying to avoid taking sides. Their main interest here is to keep on building the independent capacities of the Assad regime. The Russians have nothing more to gain in Syria, for them it is just about losses. So far, the Russians have been able to sustain the friction between those sides.

Can Israel count on the backing of the United States in a direct confrontation with Iran in Syria?

In the past, the Americans were an important part in the Israelis’ policy regarding Syria and Lebanon. But today, when it comes to the Syria issue, we see a complete absence of the US. You see the Americans leaving the arena to the Russians. This is one of the reasons why Israel is conducting such an active diplomatic campaign vis-a-vis the Russians throughout the last two years. The Syrian issue currently is not on the radar of US policy.

Are there options for the Europeans to mediate?

I think the EU and, specifically in this case, Germany have a unique potential. It is both a strategic ally of Israel, and at the same time it enjoys some level of access or reliability from Iran. Germany is the only actor in the Western world that has some practical experience in mediating informal agreements between Israel, Iran and Hezbollah — the relevant factors in this conflict. Here I refer to the POW swap where Germany was the main negotiator and facilitator in the past. So it has the know-how, the capacities, and a huge interest to stop this cycle of escalation. The shockwave of a third war in this region would have an impact over the Mediterranean. In Lebanon alone we have 1.5 million refugees who, in case of a war, might be knocking on Europe’s doors.

Gil Murciano is a Middle East and Africa expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) think tank in Berlin.

U.S.-led coalition in blocks Syrian pro-Assad forces attempting to seize terrain from Syrian Democratic Forces — Over 100 Assad-Regime Forces Killed by Defensive Air Strikes and Artillery Fire

February 8, 2018
The Associated Press and Reuters

The heavy death toll underscored the large size of the attack, which the U.S. official said included about 500 opposing forces, backed by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars

Syrian civil defense volunteers attempting to put out a fire following reported regime air strikes on February 7, 2018.
Syrian civil defense volunteers attempting to put out a fire following reported regime air strikes on February 7, 2018.AMER ALHAMWE/AFP

More than 100 fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar Assad were killed after U.S.-led coalition and coalition-backed local forces thwarted a large, apparently coordinated attack late on Wednesday and early on Thursday, a U.S. official said.

The heavy death toll underscored the large size of the attack, which the U.S. official said included about 500 opposing forces, backed by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars. The official spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

No American troops were killed or wounded in the incident, officials said.

Still, some U.S. troops had been embedded at the time with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose headquarters in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province had been a target of the attack.

One SDF fighter was wounded in the incident, the official said.

“We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain SDF had liberated from Daesh [ISIS] in September 2017,” the official said.

The forces were “likely seeking to seize oilfields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for Daesh from 2014 to 2017.”

Neither U.S. officials nor the U.S.-backed coalition have offered details on the attacking forces. The Syrian army is supported by Iranian-backed militias and Russian forces.

The U.S.-led coalition had alerted Russian officials about the presence of SDF forces in the area far in advance of the thwarted attack, the U.S. official said.

“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted (enemy) attack,” the official said.


Defensive US military strikes kill 100 pro-regime forces in Syria

Washington (CNN) — The US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria conducted air and artillery strikes against pro-regime forces in Syria on Wednesday, killing over 100 pro-regime fighters, the coalition said in a statement.

The coalition said the strikes had been carried out after forces allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “initiated an unprovoked attack” against a well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters where coalition advisers were working with US-backed Syrian fighters.
Some 500 pro-regime troops carried out the attack using artillery, mortar fire and Russian-made tanks, a US military official said.
“Syrian pro-regime forces maneuvered T-54 and T-72 main battle tanks with supporting mortar fire in what appears to be a coordinated attack on Syrian Democratic Forces approximately 8 kilometers east of the Euphrates River de-confliction line in Khusham, Syria,” the military official said.
The official said that about “20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed within 500 meters” of the Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters before the US-backed fighters and coalition forces “targeted the aggressors with a combination of air and artillery strikes.”
“We estimate more than 100 Syrian pro-regime forces were killed while engaging (Syrian Democratic Forces) and Coalition forces,” the official said.
“This action was taken in self-defense,” he said, adding that pro-regime forces that returned across the river had not been targeted.
The official said no coalition or US personnel had been killed or wounded in the engagement but that one member of the Syrian Democratic Forces was wounded.
He said the coalition suspected that pro-regime forces were attempting to seize territory, including lucrative oil fields, that the Syrian Democratic Forces had liberated from ISIS in September.
They “were likely seeking to seize oilfields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for Daesh from 2014 to 2017,” the official said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Another US official who spoke to CNN said it was unclear exactly who the pro-regime forces were but that the US is looking into whether Russian contractors operating in the vicinity might have been involved. This official added that there is no direct evidence yet that the Russians had fired on the Syrian Democratic Forces facility where the US advisers were located. They have not ruled out that Iranian backed-forces might have also been involved in the attack, this official said.
The coalition “cannot speculate on the exact makeup of the Syrian pro-regime forces who conducted the attack at this time,” the US military official said.
The coalition said the attack took place in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, five miles east of the agreed-on “de-confliction” line designed to separate Russian-backed regime troops and US-backed forces in Syria.
The US military official said the coalition had informed Russia of the presence of pro-regime forces in the area before the attack via a hotline established as part of the de-confliction line, adding that the coalition had observed a buildup of pro-regime troops over the past week.
“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted (Pro-Regime Forces) attack,” the military official said. “Russian officials assured Coalition officials they would not engage Coalition forces in the vicinity.”
The US maintains about 2,000 troops in Syria, who mostly work with the over 50,000-strong Syrian Democratic Forces, a mix of Kurdish and Arab fighters who have been the primary US-backed force fighting ISIS in Syria.
This is not the first time the US military has clashed with pro-regime forces in Syria.
A US Navy F/A-18 shot down a Syrian regime Su-22 jet last June that had attacked US-backed forces on the ground. Coalition aircraft have struck regime forces who were perceived as posing a threat to a base at At Tanf, Syria, that houses US and coalition military advisers. The US also shot down a pro-regime drone after it dropped a munition in the vicinity of US troops in Syria.

Netanyahu: Israel not seeking war, but will do ‘everything’ to defend itself — “The Iranians are flooding the Middle East”

February 4, 2018

Amid tensions on northern front and Gaza border, PM says Israel the ‘main factor’ hindering radical Islam in Middle East

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM HOLLANDER)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM HOLLANDER)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government “does not seek war” but will do “everything” to defend the country, amid rising tensions on the Lebanon front and the Gaza border.

Speaking to ministers at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu introduced IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot ahead of a briefing by the army chief, and added that he had “full confidence” in Eisenkot and in the military.

“The IDF is the strongest army in the Middle East, and thankfully so, because we are facing many challenges,” the prime minister told reporters.

“As I made clear to [US] President [Donald] Trump and later to European leaders and to [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin — our presence here is the main factor hindering the expansion of radical Islam, led by Iran and Islamic State, in the Middle East,” he continued. “Those factions also threat all other entities in the world.

“We do not seek war, but we will do everything that’s needed to defend ourselves,” he said.

Last week, Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow to discuss Iranian military entrenchment in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily MAXIMOV/AFP)

“The question is: Does Iran entrench itself in Syria, or will this process be stopped. If it doesn’t stop by itself, we will stop it,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a telephone briefing at the time.

“We also spoke about Lebanon, which is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will not accept this threat,” he added.

Netanyahu said that the weapons factories are currently “in the process of being built” by Iran. Israel is determined to do whatever is necessary to prevent those two developments, he said.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a former IDF major general and a member of the security cabinet, warned on Saturday that Israel would sent Lebanon “back to the stone age” should the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terror group take military action.

“The Iranians are flooding the Middle East,” Galant told Channel 10 news. “They took southern Lebanon using Hezbollah, and are trying to take over Syria under Russian wings. The process of turning Syria into a battlefront is dangerous and we will not stand by. We have clear lines.”

The Gaza border has also seen escalation over the past few days after several weeks of relative calm.

On Saturday, the IDF said its fighter jets struck Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip in response to a rocket fired toward Israel from the coastal enclave, after a similar strike on Friday in response to a rocket fired Thursday night.


Trump may present peace plan even if Palestinians won’t negotiate — “Peace will not be achieved by walking away”

February 2, 2018

Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 10 news


The White House is considering presenting President Trump’s Middle East peace plan even if the crisis with the Palestinian Authority continues and Palestinian President Abbas refuses to come to the negotiating table, senior U.S. officials tell me.

The bottom line: The U.S. officials say the administration won’t impose on the Israelis or Palestinians to accept the plan, but may release it so the parties and international community can judge it at face value.

The officials said no decisions were made yet in this regard but stressed the president and his “peace team” are not ruling out this option.

One senior U.S. official told me:

“Since it’s not done, we haven’t decided yet how we are going to put it forward and what happens if one of the sides isn’t ready to come to the table. We are not there yet. But we are very optimistic that all relevant countries who want to support a peace agreement between the two sides are still waiting for our plan, want to work with us and realize we cannot be replaced. Despite all of the false reports about our plan, we are confident it will be beneficial to both sides and both peoples.”

The current standoff

After Trump’s Jerusalem announcement on December 6th, Abbas announced he would cut ties with the U.S. over the peace process. The Palestinians also boycotted Vice President Pence’s visit in the region.

  • Abbas claimed Trump is not an honest broker and called his peace plan “the slap of the century”.
  • Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said he will react to the Trump plan after he sees it but stressed he is ready to renew peace talks.

The latest developments…

  • U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt held a series of meetings with Netanyahu, his advisers and several ministers over the last two weeks. Greenblatt also met with opposition leader Hertzog and briefed EU member states representatives in Tel-Aviv and East Jerusalem. He did not meet with any Palestinian officials but met with Palestinian students and private sector executives.
  • On Wednesday, Greenblatt participated in an emergency meeting of the donor countries to the Palestinian Authority. The meeting focused on the crisis in the peace process and on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also participated in the meeting. It was the first time senior Palestinian and U.S. officials were around the same table since the Jerusalem announcement. Greenblatt and Hamdallah shook hands but didn’t hold a meeting.
  • In his speech during the plenary meeting, Greenblatt referred to Hamdallah and said he hopes that the fact he is participating shows the Palestinians are still committed to the efforts to renew the peace process. Greenblatt also said President Trump’s announcement was just a recognition of reality and the connection of Israel and the Jewish people to Jerusalem. Greenblatt also said in his speech: “Did the President’s decision prejudge any final status issues? No. We have not taken a position on borders”.
  • Greenblatt stressed that the Trump administration continues drafting its peace plan and called on the Palestinians to return to the peace talks: “Peace will not be achieved by walking away from negotiations. It is easy to walk away from the table. But that helps no one, and it reduces or perhaps eliminates the chances of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement. And that would be terrible for the Palestinian people”.


Russia casts doubt over evidence of Iran-made missiles to Yemen — Russian propaganda?

January 31, 2018


US President Donald Trump, flanked by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, speaks during lunch with members of the United Nations Security Council in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)
UNITED NATIONS: Russia on Wednesday dismissed evidence presented by the United States and UN experts that Iran had supplied missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels as inconclusive, signaling it would oppose a bid to slap sanctions on Tehran.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said it was unclear whether missiles and weaponry used by the rebels were Iranian-made or whether they were shipped before the arms embargo on Yemen was imposed in 2015, casting doubt over the findings of a UN panel of experts.
“Iran is vehemently denying it is supplying anything to Yemen,” Nebenzia told two reporters.
Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shake hands prior to the Syria meeting in Sochi, Russia on 22 November 2017 [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]
“Yemen hosts a pile of weapons from the old days. Many countries were competing to supply weapons to Yemen during the time of president Saleh, so I cannot give you anything conclusive,” he said.
Ali Abdullah Saleh was Yemen’s leader 1990-2012. He was killed in December by his erstwhile Houthi rebel allies.
Asked whether the case had been made for action against Iran, the ambassador answered “no.”
Nebenzia joined UN Security Council ambassadors on a visit to Washington this week to inspect debris from missiles that the United States says were supplied by Iran to the Houthis.
The ambassadors had lunch with President Donald Trump, who urged the council to take steps to counter “Iran’s destabilizing activities” in the Middle East.
A recent report by the panel of experts bolstered the US claims when it concluded that Iran had violated the arms embargo on Yemen by failing to block supplies of missiles to the rebels.
The Trump administration has said it will seek action at the Security Council against Iran, although it has yet to specify what those measures might be.
“If there is something we will see. How can we pass judgment prematurely before we know what it is about,” Nebenzia said.
Russia has the power to block sanctions by resorting to its veto power as one of the five permanent Security Council members along with Britain, France, China and the United States.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley last month presented the missile fragments as “undeniable” evidence that a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels at Saudi Arabia in November was Iranian-made.


The new Iranian long range missile Khoramshahr (front) is displayed during the annual military parade on September 22, 2017 in Tehran. (AFP)

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, suit

Above: Iranian foreign minister Zarif shares some fun with his co-equal from Russia Mr. Lavrov.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley points to previously classified missile segments she says prove Iran violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms, during a press conference at Joint Base Anacostia in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley points to previously classified missile segments she says prove Iran violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms, during a press conference at Joint Base Anacostia in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley briefs the media in front of remains of Iranian “Qiam” ballistic missile provided by Pentagon at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. (Reuters)


Israel Tries Arabic Outreach, Gets Mixed Response

January 27, 2018

Military deploys social media to spread anti-Iran message

IDF’s Maj. Avichay Adraee holds a sign that reads: Hezbollah: Iran’s hand in Lebanon. The photo was a part of a social media exchange, with a fighter from Hezbollah. Photo: Israel Defense Forces


As Saudi Arabia and Iran spar for influence across the Middle East, Israel is using the Arabic language to seek common ground with Tehran’s enemies and sway its sympathizers.

The efforts have been met at times with hostility and ridicule—in part because Maj. Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army spokesman leading the outreach, doesn’t shy away from provocation.

Maj. Adraee’s recent output includes a Facebook post of image of Iran’s flag superimposed over the Gaza Strip and a Twitter video simulating an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, home of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah.

Text messaging

A tweet from the Israeli military’s Arabic-language spokesman Maj. Avichay Adraee accuses Iran for dragging down Gaza, including the message that Iran “will not care about the peoples it attempts to exert its influence over.”

With 1.2 million followers on his Arabic Facebook page and more than 181,000 on Twitter, Maj. Adraee is the face of the Israeli messaging campaign. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued videos with Arabic subtitles denouncing Iran, and the foreign ministry routinely posts rosy images of Israeli-Arab coexistence for its own million-plus Arabic-language Facebook followers.

For Israel, which doesn’t have diplomatic relations with most of its neighbors, social media has become a way to engage with Arabs and reinforce a growing alignment with Sunni Muslim Arab states.

The most influential of those states is Saudi Arabia. In a sign of that emphasis, the Israeli military chose a newspaper owned by a Saudi publisher when it offered the first Arab-media interview with its chief of staff in more than 10 years.

Iran is the “biggest threat to the region,” chief-of-staff Lt. Gen Gadi Eisenkot told the publication, Elaph, which is based in London, in November. “In this matter, there is complete agreement between us and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

An official at Iran’s United Nations mission didn’t respond to a request for comment on Israel’s media outreach.

In recent years, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up intelligence cooperation to counter Iran, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials—though these Arab states have said they still aren’t willing to engage publicly because of their opposition to Israeli rule over Palestinians.

“In the Arab world, there’s a common threat when it comes to Iran,” said Maj. Adraee. Arabs are “interested in what we have to say,” he said.

Elaph’s publication of editorials by Maj. Adraee condemning Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas have prompted speculation in Lebanese media that Saudi Arabia is deepening ties further with Israel.

Pitching Harmony

An Arabic Facebook post by the foreign ministry promotes a peaceful Israel.

Elaph’s publisher, Othman al Omeir, said his publication is independent and blocked in Saudi Arabia because of its liberal-leaning tone. However, Mr. Omeir said, there is now “a different position toward Israel” in the Arab world.

Maj. Adraee, who is 35 years old and Jewish, said he learned Arabic from his mother, who immigrated from Iraq. He joined the army more than 12 years ago and helped set up the Arabic-language communications team in 2005.

It was after the end of the second Palestinian uprising in Israel, a bloody conflict, and the military had decided it needed to better communicate its position to Arabs and particularly to Arabic-speaking news correspondents based in Israel, Maj. Adraee said.

He points out that as recently as 2006, during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israeli army communicated with Arabs in Beirut by dropping leaflets from planes that warned of bombing attacks.

With social media, Maj. Adraee occasionally engages directly with followers, alongside tweets and posts promoting the strength of the Israeli military and seeking to undermine its foes.

The response is often negative. Qatar-based news organization Al Jazeera published a video that framed Maj. Adraee’s attempts to engage with Arab youth as a targeted Israeli intelligence campaign to brainwash them.

Egyptian comic Tamer Gamal has dressed up as the spokesman in videos—donning reading glasses and a gray uniform with a beret under the shoulder strap—and set up a Facebook page parodying Maj. Adraee’s profile.

The new Saudi Arabian leadership’s aggressive approach to Iran is shifting the balance of power across the Middle East and is having huge repercussions for the region. Iran, in response, has warned Saudi Arabia against its hawkishness. WSJ’s Niki Blasina explains the four main proxy conflicts between the two nations.

“I did it because I saw that the Israelis were trying to present themselves as something they are not—a peaceful and democratic country,” Mr. Gamal said in an interview.

Israeli officials, while aiming to project strength, seek to counter that image, arguing for example that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

Websites affiliated with the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have warned Arabs against following Israeli social-media channels.

The Lebanese political faction Amal Movement, which is close to Hezbollah and Iran, has also mocked Maj. Adraee. “One of the most important things we can do is not communicate with these suspicious pages as their aim is to provoke a reaction,” said a spokesman for the group.

More coverage

Gulf States Offer Better Relations If Israel Makes New Bid for Peace
Trump Says Palestinians Must Return to Peace Talks to Get U.S. Aid
Israel Sees Rising Threat From Iran After ISIS
That appears easier said than done. In one of Maj. Adraee’s most intense social-media exchanges, a fighter from Hezbollah last year tweeted a picture of himself in uniform with a message that his group was going to conquer northern Israel.

Maj. Adraee responded: “If you dare, we will surprise you.”

After a number of further exchanges that included a threat to his life, Maj. Adraee published intelligence photos on Facebook of dozens of people whom the army claimed were Hezbollah spies patrolling the Israeli border—a rare step even in traditional media.

Maj. Adraee said he was pleased that he had started a discussion. A spokesman for Hezbollah declined to comment.

Yonatan Gonen, head of Arabic digital diplomacy at Israel’s foreign ministry, said the impact of the media efforts is often limited. He said social-media users might now refer to his country as Israel instead of “the Zionist entity,” calling it a small improvement but progress nonetheless.

For Maj. Adraee, the latest media efforts are a small step toward better relations.

“I see a change,” he said. “But it’s a slow change.”

Write to Rory Jones at

Tillerson says Washington, Europe start work on Iran nuclear deal — “Our work group also is intending to identify areas of greater cooperation (with) Europe to push back on Iran’s malign behaviour.”

January 27, 2018

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the Warsaw Ghetto monument in Warsaw, Poland January 27, 2018. REUTERS-Kacper Pempel

By Lidia Kelly and Marcin Goettig

WARSAW (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Saturday that working groups on fixing what the U.S. sees as flaws in the Iranian nuclear deal have already begun to meet, trying to determine the scope of what is needed and how much Iran needs to be engaged in it.

Tillerson, ending a week-long European trip in Warsaw, said that he had secured support from Britain, France and Germany – all parties to the 2015 agreement – to work on the deal that President Donald Trump has warned he will walk away from unless changes are made.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” Tillerson told journalists. “The working groups have already begun to meet on efforts to agree principles, what is the scope of what we attempt to address and also how much we engage Iran on discussions to address these issues,” he said.

The nuclear deal gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for curbs on its atomic program.

Trump vowed to stop waiving U.S. sanctions unless the Europeans agreed to strengthen the deal’s terms by consenting to a side agreement that would effectively eliminate provisions that allow Iran to gradually resume some advanced atomic work. Trump also wants tighter restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Iran has rejected any renegotiation.

Tillerson said the nuclear deal was only a “small” part of U.S. policy in the Middle East and Washington was more immediately concerned about other issues including Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen and its supplying weapons to militias in the region.

“Our work group also is intending to identify areas of greater cooperation (with) Europe to push back on Iran’s malign behaviour,” he said.


Despite statements from Russia earlier this week that Washington’s accusations against Moscow that it and the Syrian army were behind a chemical attack in eastern Ghouta were “unfounded”, Tillerson reiterated that ultimately Russia bore responsibility.

“I stand by my comments,” he said.

“The chemical weapons … are being used to hit the civilian population, the most vulnerable – children inside of Syria … We are holding Russia responsible for addressing this. They are (Bashar al-) Assad’s ally.”

Russia is providing direct military support in Syria against various rebel groups trying to oust Assad, and giving diplomatic cover in the U.N. Security Council.

(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

Related: (Iran)






Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, suit

Above: Iranian foreign minister Zarif shares some fun with his co-equal from Russia Mr. Lavrov.

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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia, on November 22, 2017

Trump holds meeting with Israel’s Netanyahu at Davos — Urges Palestinians to the negotiating table

January 25, 2018

Combines from Reuters, AFP and CBS News

Mr. Trump arrived in Davos and the World Economic Forum Thursday, hours after an impromptu press conference with reporters in which he said he is looking forward to being interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, and is open to a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was looking forward to “opportunities to advance his America First agenda with world leaders.”

One of President Trump’s first official meetings in Davos was with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu.

Mr. Trump is greeting Netanyahu following the prime minister’s visit with Vice President Mike Pence during his overseas visit to the Middle East. There, Pence had announced the U.S. embassy in Israel would be making its move to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv earlier than planned.

While addressing the international media in Davos, President Trump said he had withheld several millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians in order to get them to the bargaining table. He also said he decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in order to remove that topic from the negotiating table.

More as it becomes available…