Category Archives: Middle East

(Times of Israel) Netanyahu hails Israeli robotics team for groundbreaking trip to Dubai

(Times of Israel) PM says teen delegation visiting UAE to compete in ‘Robotics Olympics’ points to increasingly ‘above water’ relations with Gulf states

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center right) and Science Minister Ofir Akunis greet the Israeli teen delegation upon their return from the unofficial 'Robotics Olympics' in Dubai. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center right) and Science Minister Ofir Akunis greet the Israeli teen delegation upon their return from the unofficial ‘Robotics Olympics’ in Dubai. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday greeted Israel’s triumphant teen delegation’s return from the unofficial “Robotics Olympics” in a groundbreaking visit to Dubai.

The team’s second place finish at the FIRST Global Challenge and the warm welcome it received from its Emirati hosts highlighted the growing, and increasingly open, relations between Israel and the Gulf Arab state.

The countries have long had back-channel security and cyber ties, mostly based on a shared enmity for regional foe Iran. Israeli businessmen and tourists have also made clandestine visits to the oil-rich federation of sheikhdoms.

But issuing formal travel visas to the Israeli robotics team and openly welcoming them added a layer of formality to the warming ties.

Netanyahu told the team at his office Wednesday that their visit pointed to the increasingly “above water” relations between Israel and the Gulf states.

In this Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 photo, a team from Cameroon, on the right, compete with Luxembourg during the First Global Challenge, a robotics and artificial intelligence competition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

“You went there with robotics and technology but the reason why the State of Israel has forged ties with many countries in the first place is because we have technologies and capabilities against a common enemy in both the security and civilian spheres,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office.

The team — made up of students from the Megiddo Regional High School in northern Israel — showed Netanyahu and Science Minister Ofir Akunis their second-place winning robot.

Last week, Dubai hosted the largest-ever international robotics contest, challenging young people from 190 countries to find solutions to global ocean pollution.

The unofficial “Robotics Olympics” seeks to encourage young people to pursue subjects known as STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Teams of four to five students, aged 14-18, each received a kit of rods, wheels, wires and other raw materials with which to assemble their roving robots. Their task: Collect orange balls of various sizes from a playing field, which represented human-created pollutants in the ocean. Some devised robots for scooping, while others snatched up and fired the balls through the air into the receptacles.

The teams then formed “alliances,” each with up of four nations, to battle their way to the final round. Overall, 1,500 students took part.

A team captained by Belarus, and including Syrian refugees, eventually won the gold medal, edging out the Israeli team in a dramatic final match. But organizers stressed a message of unity, not conflict.

“The kids get it. To them this isn’t a competition; this is a ‘coop-etition.’ This is a celebration of technology,” said FIRST Global Challenge founder Dean Kamen.

“The whole time we were wearing these two caps, also as a robotics team and also as ambassadors,” said Osnat Duman, the Israeli delegation manager. “We got real VIP treatment and everyone welcomed us nicely.”

The team exchanged souvenirs with the other delegations, handing out Israeli snacks and rubber bands and distributing an Arabic and Hebrew phrasebook with relevant terms for the tournament. The teams’ pits were arranged alphabetically, so the Israelis found themselves adjacent to participants from Iran and Iraq. Duman said only the Tunisian team refused to accept the Israeli handouts. The main reminder of their unusual participation was the presence of a tough-looking additional technical “mentor” for the team, who was in fact a Shin Bet security guard dispatched to keep an eye on them.

“There was a lot of uncertainty about us arriving and there were some security concerns,” Duman said. “But at the end of the day we were just dealing with people, not countries.”

(HP) ISIS Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Reportedly Killed In US Military Operation

(HP) President Trump tweeted in the early hours of Sunday morning that “something very big” had just happened.

Iran was informed of IS leader Baghdadi’s death – Iranian officials tell Reuters https://reut.rs/346lLUc 

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2256:01 AM – Oct 27, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy177 people are talking about this

The leader of ISIS is believed to have been killed in a secretive US military operation, media reports suggest. 

APCNNFox News and Defense One, amongst other outlets, reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during the targeted attack. 

Iranian officials told Reuters that Tehran had been informed of Baghdadi’s death by Syrian officials “who got it from the field.”

The White House has not confirmed the ISIS leader’s killing, but said President Donald Trump would have a “major announcement” at 9 a.m. Sunday morning local time. No other information about the announcement was provided.

The secret operation targeting Baghdadi was reportedly approved by Trump earlier this month. There were reports Saturday of US military helicopters over Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

A team from the Joint Special Operations Command carried out the operation after receiving actionable intelligence, sources told Newsweek. The location had been under surveillance for some time. A senior US defence official told CNN that the CIA had assisted in locating the ISIS leader.

Trump appeared to cryptically hint at the news in a tweet, writing that “something very big just happened,” however did not elaborate. 

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Something very big has just happened!323K1:23 AM – Oct 27, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy175K people are talking about this

The ISIS leader has been in hiding for the past five years. In April, a video was published by the ISIS media wing al-Furqan that showed a man purporting to be Baghdadi.

Several U.S. officials said Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in 2017 and had to give up control of the terror organisation for several months. He became the head of ISIS in 2010. 

(Reuters) Saudi visit signals Putin’s growing Middle East influence

(Reuters) RIYADH (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin signaled Moscow’s growing Middle East clout on Monday on his first visit to Saudi Arabia in over a decade, buoyed by Russian military gains in Syria, strong ties with Riyadh’s regional rivals and energy cooperation.

Moscow accrued power in the Middle East in 2015 by sending troops to Syria, where it and Iran have been key backers of President Bashar al-Assad amid civil war, while the United States pulled back. Saudi Arabia sided with Syrian rebels.

On the eve of Putin’s trip, U.S. troops abruptly retreated from northern Syria as Russian-backed government forces deployed deep inside Kurdish-held territory under a deal to help fend off a Turkish cross-border offensive.

Russia has also strengthened ties with both Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which are locked in a decades-old contest for influence that veered towards open conflict after a recent spate of attacks on oil assets in the Gulf that Riyadh and Washington blame on Tehran. Iran denies the charges.

RELATED COVERAGE

Tensions with Iran, which is locked in several proxy wars with Saudi Arabia, have risen to new highs after Washington last year quit a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran and re-imposed sanctions.

The Russian president met King Salman and de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Putin says he has friendly relations.

In televised remarks, Putin and the king said bilateral relations were important to regional security and stability.

After discussions that touched on joint investments as well as conflicts in Syria and Yemen, Prince Mohammed said Saudi-Russian cooperation on energy would achieve stability.

Deepening ties have seen non-OPEC Russia, once regarded as a rival in oil markets, join OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia in forming an alliance known as OPEC+ to support crude prices by restraining output.

At a morning forum convening 300 Saudi and Russian CEOs, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said producers were showing high commitments to the deal, and his Russian counterpart said there were no talks underway to change it.

Ahead of the visit, Putin, who offered to provide Russian defense systems to the kingdom after Sept. 14 attacks on its oil facilities, said he could also play a positive role in easing tensions with Tehran given good ties with both sides.

Any progress on long-mulled Saudi plans to purchase the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems would cause disquiet in Washington, which is sending 3,000 troops and additional air defense systems to Saudi Arabia.

U.S. President Donald Trump has resisted pressure to sanction Riyadh over human rights abuses, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling that a “foolish” move that would only benefit competitors Russia and China.

OIL AND INVESTMENTS

Asked about concerns Riyadh was cozying up to Moscow, senior foreign ministry official Adel al-Jubeir said he saw no contradiction.

“We don’t believe that having close ties with Russia has any negative impact on our relationship with the United States,” he told reporters on Sunday. “We believe that we can have strategic and strong ties with the United States while we develop our ties with Russia.”

Russian and Saudi flags lined Riyadh streets ahead of Putin’s one-day visit, which includes an evening performance by Russia’s Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. He travels to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.

The two sides signed more than a dozen memoranda of understanding during the visit including in the fields of energy, petrochemicals, transport and artificial intelligence.Slideshow (22 Images)

RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev said a number of Russian investors were interested in a planned initial public offering of Aramco. The oil major could sell 1-2% through a local listing its chairman said would be announced “very, very soon”, ahead of a potential international offering.

Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia’s Gazprom was interested in cooperating with Saudi firms on natural gas.

Moscow, the world’s largest wheat exporter, made some progress in accessing the Saudi and Middle Eastern markets when the kingdom agreed in August to relax specifications for wheat imports, opening the door to Black Sea imports.

RDIF and Saudi Arabia’s SALIC signed an agreement to jointly search for investment projects in Russia’s agricultural sector.

(BBC) Turkey launches air strikes on Syria border area

Turkey has launched a ground and air offensive on territory held by Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria. Residents began to flee some areas, and plumes of smoke were seen rising from towns near the border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was to create a “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish militias, which will also house Syrian refugees. The Kurdish-led militias have been key US allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, but Ankara regards them as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

(Hill) With the Iran-Saudi crisis, Trump faces hard questions — some of his own making

(Hill) The surprise drone strike on Saudi petroleum production may trigger the military crisis many fear the Trump administration is poorly equipped to handle. 

The U.S. reaction to the strike will be determined, ultimately, by a president who makes national security policy on instinct and gut reaction. Trump alone will decide — and be accountable — without a fully staffed or fully functioning National Security Council and without the input from the best national and foreign policy security minds in the country.

Despite Trump’s often immature threats about destroying opponents, he seems inclined personally to avoid military conflict. Let’s hope that impulse continues. A unilateral American military strike on Iran in response to the attack on Saudi Arabia is a very risky national security decision.

Trump is probably under pressure for American military action against Iran from hardline U.S. and Middle Eastern hawks. He has fended them off before. He should do so again.

Since the president has launched unilateral economic warfare on Iran and aligned himself with a Saudi monarch who orders the murder of dissidents, including journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi, the likelihood that the attacks on Saudi Arabia are linked to American policy is real.

Whether Iran conducted the attacks directly or gave Houthi surrogates in Yemen the means to launch them is debatable, but almost certainly Iran had a major hand in the attack. Although the attack targeted the government of Trump’s personal ally, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and not directly on the U.S., Iranian motives also must have related to American sanctions on Iran after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal with Tehran.

Trump now faces the fact that allies are critical to American leadership in the world. Because of Trump’s hostile American unilateralism, no political leader among traditional U.S. allies appears willing to go out on a political limb at home to follow Trump. After trashing international organizations throughout his presidency, Trump’s influence at the UN and elsewhere is also doubtful — unless Iranian actions become much more threatening to the broader international order.

This is the price of unilateralism — America would be largely alone in an attack except for a ruthless Saudi monarch.

The president should not underestimate Iran. This is not some weak, desperate backwater country. Tehran is no novice to security issues. Iran is a regional power and an ancient empire that has been dealing with potent foreign military forces since Alexander the Great.

Whatever Trump decides to do, the United States will bear the consequences.

Today, Iran has a population of about 84 million energetic people, many of whom are not that enthusiastic about the direction of the country. Any U.S. strike on Iran will unify the population behind the current regime and inflame Muslims, particularly Shiites, around the world.

The surprise nature of the attack on the Saudis should also be a concern to the White House. From an Iranian perspective, the unexpected and sophisticated strike on a strategic target was a major success. This attack demonstrates Iran’s asymmetric ability to act in an unexpected and capable way. Iran has many options around the world to respond to American military action. The Middle East, Afghanistan and Europe are particularly vulnerable to future Iranian operations.

As the president considers his options, he should answer some serious questions for the public to consider:

  • Why is the United States responsible for responding to an attack on Saudi Arabia? Yes, Saudi Arabia is a long-standing American ally, but the strike was on a Saudi facility and appears linked directly to the war in Yemen. The Saudi military is equipped with some of the best U.S. military equipment. If there is a military strike on Iran, the missiles should be directed — or the planes flown — only by Saudis.
  • Exactly what American interest is advanced by a military attack on Iran? The Iran attack has no real impact on American access to petroleum. How a strike would enhance the possibility for new nuclear negotiations with Tehran is unclear. How American security in general would be improved by a military attack on Iran is also unclear.
  • Why is this America’s problem and not a world problem? And are we prepared to go it alone? I do not see anyone racing to join the U.S. in action against Iran over these strikes.
  • Once an American strike is launched, then what? Are we prepared to pay the potential cost of a military conflict with Iran of extended duration? Put more directly, are Americans willing to sacrifice the blood of our military personnel to respond to a drone attack on a Saudi oil patch? I don’t think so — certainly not in the long run — and Tehran has probably already made that calculation.

The right policy for the region is to promote stability in the Middle East through broad international engagement, not American unilateralism.

The reaction to the drone strike on Saudi Arabia should be an international one.

Unfortunately, Trump and his unilateralist supporters, are not inclined to take this path. They have damaged too many relationships with allies and international institutions to create effective coalitions or to stimulate broad international action to achieve that goal.

The United States should not act unilaterally in the Middle East, and certainly should not go down the path of American military action against Iran at this point. I just hope Mr. Trump follows his more peaceful instincts on this one.

(AP) U.S. to deploy troops, weapons to Saudi Arabia

(AP) WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced late Friday that it will deploy additional U.S. troops and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as President Trump has put off any immediate military strike on Iran in response to the attack on the Saudi oil industry.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the deployment is a first step to beef up security in the region. He would not rule out additional moves down the road.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more details about the deployment will be determined in the coming days, but it would not involve thousands of U.S. troops.

Other officials said the U.S. deployment likely will be in the hundreds and the defensive equipment heading to the Middle East probably will include Patriot missiles and possibly enhanced radars.

The announcement reflected Mr. Trump’s comments earlier in the day when he told reporters that showing restraint “shows far more strength” than launching military strikes and he wanted to avoid all-out war with Iran.

Instead, he laid out new sanctions on the Iranian central bank and said the easiest thing to do would be to launch military strikes.

General Dunford said the extra equipment and troops would give the Saudis a better chance of defending against unconventional aerial attacks.

“No single system is going to be able to defend against a threat like that,” he said, “but a layered system of defensive capabilities would mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that may come from Iran.”

The United States has not provided any hard evidence that Iran was responsible for the attacks, while insisting the investigation continues.

But Mr. Esper said Friday that the drones and cruise missiles used in the attack were produced by Iran.

“The attack on Sept. 14 against Saudi Arabian oil facilities represents a dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression,” Mr. Esper said.

In deciding against an immediate U.S. strike, Mr. Trump for the second time in recent months pulled back from a major military action against Iran that many Pentagon officials and other advisers fear could trigger a new Middle East war.

In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Mr. Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians.

Iran has denied involvement in the attack on the Saudi oil facilities and warned that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.”

Mr. Esper and General Dunford declined to discuss any potential ship movements to the region, although a number of U.S. Navy vessels are nearby.

The additional air and missile defense equipment for Saudi Arabia would be designed to bolster its defenses in the north, because most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthi rebels in Yemen to the south.

A forensic team from U.S. Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished.

Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.

(EUobserver) EU mulls naval mission to Persian Gulf

(EUobserver) According to a German advisory note, the EU should send a European naval mission to the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, writes the Belgian newspaper De Morgen. The German government would launch the idea at one of the informal European meetings in Helsinki at the end of August. According to the note, the mission would need five frigates, two corvettes and protection teams with planes and logistical ships.

(ZH) Iran Seizes Foreign Oil Tanker Accused Of Smuggling Fuel

(ZH)

In what will be seen as another escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on July 31, adding to rising concerns about the safety of shipping in a region crucial to oil exports.

The vessel – the third foreign ship seized by Iran in the Gulf since July 14 in response to a UK seizure of Iran’s own ship – is suspected of smuggling a large volume of fuel, the Guards said on their Sepah News portal according to Bloomberg. They did not, however, give any details about the flag or nationality of the ship or its operator.

The ship’s seizure took place last Wednesday, Sepah News, the Revolutionary Guard’s official news service, reported, a day after United Arab Emirates officials traveled to Iran to discuss maritime border cooperation and the flow of shipping traffic, including illegal movements.

Edward Wong@ewong

BREAKING: Iran says it has seized a third foreign oil tanker. This NYT investigation shows how 12 Iranian tankers have brought oil to China & other nations since May, despite US sanctions. Countries defy Trump, who has failed to get allies on Iran. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/03/world/middleeast/us-iran-sanctions-ships.html …257:33 PM – Aug 4, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy20 people are talking about this

The ship was carrying 700,000 liters (4,403 barrels) of smuggled fuel when it was seized near Farsi Island in the western part of the Gulf, off Iran’s southwestern coast, Sepah News reported. The island is located about 400 miles (640 kilometers) from the Strait of Hormuz, the volatile center of Iran’s standoff with the West in recent weeks. Iran’s state-run Press TV reported that the seized ship is an Iraqi tanker that was delivering the fuel to some Arab countries in the Persian Gulf.

Iranian state news agency IRNA reported that a video of the moment the vessel was seized showed it was Iraqi, although as the WSJ notes, maritime confrontations between Iran and Iraq are considered rare. The Iraqi ship’s seizure would follow July’s visit to Tehran by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who has sought to ease tensions between the U.S. and Iran, both close allies of Iraq.

Gen. Ramezan Zirahi, a navy forces commander in the Guard, was quoted by Iran’s Fars News Agency as saying the fuel had been transferred to the vessel from another ship, and was bound for Arab countries in the region when it was impounded. The seven detained crew members – who were arrested – were foreign, he said, without naming their nationality or that of the vessel. The ship was taken to Bushehr port on Iran’s southwest coast, and its cargo was confiscated and handed over to the National Oil Distribution Company of Iran.

The announcement of the ship’s capture coincides with a joint meeting between the Iranian and Qatari coast guards in Tehran aimed at improving and developing maritime cooperation between the Gulf neighbors, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported earlier Sunday. That gathering follows a rare meeting between the coast guards of Iran and the U.A.E. last week.

* * *

The impounding of the ship will escalate the tensions that have flared in the region’s waters as Iran resists U.S. sanctions that are crippling its all-important oil exports and retaliates after one of its ships was seized July 4 near Gibraltar. Iran grabbed a British tanker, the Stena Impero, in Hormuz two weeks later and continues to hold it. Iran also detained a small Emirati-based vessel, the Riah, earlier in July and accused it of smuggling fuel. Nine of the 12 Indian crew members have since been released, but the vessel remains impounded. Ship-tracking experts noted the size of the cargo on the vessel seized on Wednesday was even smaller. Petroleum products sold domestically in Iran are heavily subsidized, so it is potentially lucrative to divert them to foreign markets, where they can be sold for a higher price.

The passage at the mouth of the Persian Gulf accounts for about a third of the world’s seaborne oil flows. To reduce the risks of navigating the waterway, the Royal Navy has started to escort British ships, and a plan for a European naval mission is taking shape.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the region in recent months, a charge Tehran has denied.

The crisis in the Gulf has caused oil prices and shipping premiums to rise and prompted some vessel owners to avoid the region. Last week, Bloomberg reported that British oil giant BP, which had to shelter one of its tankers in the Persian Gulf this month in fear it could be targeted by Iranian forces, was avoiding sending ships to the region after tensions flared between Tehran and London.

BP is “certainly not sending British ships and crews” through the Strait of Hormuz, the only way for tankers to reach the world’s biggest oil-exporting region, Chief Executive Officer Robert Dudley said in a Bloomberg TV interview.

Earlier this month, a BP tanker had to abandon a plan to load Iraqi crude and instead took shelter near Saudi Arabia because the company feared the ship could be targeted in a tit-for-tat response for British Royal Marines seizing a vessel transporting Iranian crude in the Mediterranean, a person familiar with the matter said at the time.

At the same time, the U.S. has boosted military deployments in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz and is trying to pull together an international maritime force to patrol the region. The British also plan to create a separate European maritime security force.

Ironically, it remains unclear if allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will cooperate: as the WSJ notes, the U.K., Germany and France are at odds with the Trump administration over its decision to pull out of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal to which they are co-signatories, and are working to keep the deal alive and to ease tensions with Tehran.

For its part, Iran says it is trying to maintain maritime security in the region. But its officials also have repeatedly warned they would block the Strait of Hormuz—through which a third of the world’s seaborne oil is transported—in response to crippling U.S. sanctions. Iran has accused the Europeans of not providing adequate relief from American pressure.

(AJ) Iran seizes British oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

(AJ) Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps says tanker was captured ‘for failing to respect international maritime rules’.

The vessel was seized by 'small crafts and a helicopter', the owner of the vessel said [Stena Bulk/Handout/via Reuters]
The vessel was seized by ‘small crafts and a helicopter’, the owner of the vessel said [Stena Bulk/Handout/via Reuters]

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said its forces have captured a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz for allegedly violating international laws, amid rising tensions in the Gulf. 

The Stena Impero tanker “was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards at the request of Hormozgan Ports and Maritime Organisation when passing through the Strait of Hormuz, for failing to respect international maritime rules,” the IRGC’s official website Sepahnews announced.

The tanker “was led to the shore and handed over to the organisation to go through the legal procedure and required investigations,” it said.

The vessel was seized by “small crafts and a helicopter” at 7:30pm local time (15:00GMT), the owner of the vessel, Stena Bulk, and Northern Marine Management said, adding that they are “presently unable to contact the vessel”. 

Tanker tracking service Marine Traffic showed that the UK-flagged, Swedish-owned Stena Impero last signalled its location near the Island of Larak in the highly sensitive waterway at 9pm local time (16:30 GMT).

There are 23 crew members on board, the company’s statement added.

“We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” a spokesperson for Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.

Second vessel seized

The British Foreign Office confirmed a second naval vessel, a Liberian-flagged vessel, had been seized in the Strait of Hormuz by Iranian authorities.

Later on Friday, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that the Liberian-flagged Mesdar tanker was briefly held and given a notice to comply with environmental regulations before being allowed to continue on its way.

“I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz,” said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

“I will shortly attend a COBR (national security) meeting to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels.

“These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”

There was no immediate confirmation from Iran that its forces had seized a second vessel. 

Strait of Hormuz

‘Provocative moves’

The developments came a day after the IRGC said it had seized a foreign tanker accused of smuggling oil with a crew of 12 on Sunday.

The Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf, the world’s most important waterways for the transport of oil, has become a hotspot for tensions with Iran amid a spate of incidents there.

Relations between Britain and Iran and the United States and Iran have soured in particular.

Earlier this month, British Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar for allegedly violating sanctions against Syria.

On Friday, Gibraltar’s Supreme Court extended for 30 days the detention of the seized Iranian supertanker, Panama-flagged Grace 1, which was intercepted off the southern tip of Spain on July 4.

Richard Weitz, a security analyst at Wikistrat, a global risk consultancy group, said Friday’s incident was a “reciprocal action” by Iran.

“This was anticipated,” he told Al Jazeera from Washington, DC. “This is just the latest in a series of these subconventional forms of provocative moves.” 

(ZH) Syria & Iran To Defy Sanctions By Building Railway From Tehran To Mediterranean

(ZH)

Iran is preparing to begin construction on a large railway that links their capital city of Tehran to the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, the Director of Syrian Railways Najib Al-Fares said on Wednesday.

According to Fares, the new railway will promote regional trade between Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The new project is expected to be funded by the Iranian government, with support from both Syria and Iraq.Illustrative file image of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways, slated to undertake construction work in Iraq on a railway line to link Iran with Syria.

The Director of the Iraqi Railway Company, Jawad Kazim, said that Iraq had previously signed contracts to implement projects with Iranian companies, but most were delayed.

For Syria, the new railway system is expected to help ease their economic issues that have derived from the U.S.-led sanctions on the Levantine nation.

During the signing of the minutes, [Iranian Deputy Minister and Chairman of Roads Maintenance and Transport Organization] Shahram Adamnejad said that the tripartite meeting resulted in positive outcomes among the three sides, affirming that the goal of the negotiations is to activate the Iranian-Iraqi-Syria load and transport corridor as a part of a wider plan for reviving the Silk Road as the three countries have an old experience in the international trade. — Syria’s SANA

While this should be beneficial for all parties, this new railway system will face heavy criticism and possibly military attack from the U.S. and its allies, most notably Israel.

Mehr News Agency@MehrnewsCom

Tripartite meeting of Iran, Iraq, Syria on railways coop. https://ift.tt/2RJVVAC 112:31 PM – Jul 1, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacyTripartite meeting of Iran, Iraq, Syria on railways coop.TEHRAN, Jul. 01 (MNA) – The tripartite meeting of Iran, Iraq and Syria was held on Monday morning at the Headquarter Railways of The Islamic Republic of Iran.en.mehrnews.comSee Mehr News Agency’s other Tweets

Israel has paid close attention to the Iranian developments in Syria and has often acted when they suspect weapons are being transported across borders.

Map via Syrianews.cc: Iran will bypass the Strait of Hormuz, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Suez Canal to reach the Mediterranean.

The U.S. is likely currently opposing the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) control over the border city of Albukamal in Deir Ezzor because it allows Iran to build a land bridge along the international highway.

(CNBC) Iran says it will break internationally-agreed limit on uranium levels in 10 days

(CNBC)

  • Iran will surpass the internationally agreed limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpiles in 10 days, the country’s atomic energy body said Monday.
  • A spokesperson for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization said that the country would increase enrichment levels to 20% for use in local reactors, but emphasized that Europe still had a chance to save the Obama-era deal.
Reusable - Iran nuclear

A reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran.Getty Images

DUBAI — Iran will surpass the internationally agreed limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpiles in 10 days, the country’s atomic energy body said Monday.

A spokesperson for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization said that the country would increase enrichment levels to 20% — significantly closer to weapons-grade material — for use in local reactors, but emphasized that Europe still had a chance to rescue the 2015 nuclear deal if its remaining signatories found a way to shield the Islamic Republic from the crippling effect of U.S. economic sanctions.

“We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kilogram limit,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on state TV, as quoted by Reuters. “There is still time … if European countries act.”

Iran would be exceeding its internationally-agreed enrichment cap of 3.67%, which is the amount allowed for civilian nuclear power development. Weapons-grade enrichment is 90%, but according to nuclear experts, reaching 3 to 4% enrichment equates to roughly two-thirds of the work done toward that 90% figure, as any increases beyond that seemingly small amount disproportionately speeds up breakout time.

Tehran has threatened to roll back its obligations under the nuclear deal a year after the Trump administration withdrew from it and reimposed punishing sanctions on the Iranian economy, most significantly its oil sector, the country’s largest source of revenue.

The nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was meant to offer Iran financial relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program and was signed under the Obama administration along with the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K., Russia and China.

The deal’s non-U.S. signatories opposed the Trump administration’s withdrawal and have pledged to keep the deal alive, even going so far as creating a special-purpose vehicle that could facilitate trade with Iran while skirting U.S. secondary sanctions.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman said Monday that European leaders needed to “act, not talk.”Hurtling toward conflict?

The announcement comes just days after suspected attacks against two foreign tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which U.S. authorities have blamed on Iran. The tanker explosion site lies near the critical shipping lane that is the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow conduit for 30% of the world’s seaborne oil.

The events, which sent oil prices up as high as 4% and led the ships’ crews to abandon their crippled vessels, came just a month after four oil tankers were damaged in alleged sabotage missions also attributed by the U.S. to Iran. Tehran denies all the accusations, alleging that Washington aims to stoke “Iranophobia” and find an excuse to go to war.

The last several weeks have also seen drone attacks on oil infrastructure and an airport in Saudi Arabia claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran.

A rapid escalation in tensions has stoked fears of impending conflict between the U.S. and its Gulf allies and the Islamic Republic, though both sides say they don’t want war. Washington has ramped up its military presence in the region, with additional aircraft carriers, bomber tank forces and planned deployments of thousands more troops. A slight miscalculation or miscommunication, many believe, could spark an all-out conflict.

(NYT) Iran Will Stop Complying With Some Parts of Nuclear Deal

(NYT) President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has been under pressure to retaliate against the United States.CreditAbedin Taherkenareh/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has been under pressure to retaliate against the United States.CreditCreditAbedin Taherkenareh/EPA, via Shutterstock

Iran’s president declared on Wednesday that the country would stop complying with two of its commitments under the Iranian nuclear deal, pushing the growing confrontation between Washington and Tehran into new and potentially dangerous territory.

The announcement by President Hassan Rouhani came exactly a year after President Trump withdrew entirely from the 2015 agreement, which limited Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear fuel for 15 years.

But Mr. Rouhani did not follow Mr. Trump’s path and renounce the entire agreement. Instead, he notified European nations that he was taking some carefully calibrated steps, and that he would give Europe 60 days to choose between following Mr. Trump or saving the deal by engaging in oil trade with Iran in violation of American unilateral sanctions.

“The path we have chosen today is not the path of war, it is the path of diplomacy,” he said in a nationally broadcast speech. “But diplomacy with a new language and a new logic.”

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Starting on Wednesday, he said, Iran would begin to build up its stockpiles of low enriched uranium and of heavy water, which is used in nuclear reactors — including a reactor that could give Iran a source of bomb-grade plutonium. If the Europeans fail to compensate for the unilateral American sanctions, he said, Iran will resume construction of the Arak nuclear reactor, a facility that was shut down, and its key components dismantled, under the deal.

Mr. Rouhani then threatened a potentially more severe step. If the Europeans do not find a way to help Iran “reap our benefits,” especially in petroleum exports and banking transactions, in 60 days Iran will end the limits on the enrichment of uranium, he said. Currently, it is enriching small amounts, and only to a level of 3.67 percent, which is suitable for nuclear power plants — but not for nuclear weapons.You have 2 free articles remaining.Subscribe to The Times

Without economic progress, he said, “we will not consider any limit” on enrichment, suggesting that it could rise to levels closer to something that could be used in weapons. Iran has never been known to produce weapons-grade material.

China, a signatory to the accord, urged restraint on all sides but put the blame for the confrontation squarely on Washington, which it said had escalated tensions. At a press briefing, Geng Shuang, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, praised Iran for adhering to the nuclear agreement that Mr. Trump has abandoned, and reiterated his country’s endorsement of the agreement and opposition to United States sanctions against Iran.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, at a meeting in Moscow with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, complained about the “unacceptable situation” created by the “irresponsible behavior of the United States,” but did not respond directly to Mr. Rouhani’s comments.

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If Iran begins carrying out Mr. Rohani’s threats in early July, it could put the country on the pathway to a bomb, essentially resuming activity that the 2015 nuclear accord pushed off to 2030. That would almost certainly revive debate in the United States over possible military action, or a resumption of covert action, like the cyber attack on Iran’s centrifuges a decade ago that the United States and Israel secretly conducted together.

None of the actions that Mr. Rouhani warned of would get Iran to a nuclear weapon anytime soon. But they would resume a slow, steady march that the 2015 agreement temporarily stopped.

Mr. Rouhani’s announcement marked another sharp blow to an agreement that President Barack Obama hoped would end 40 years of hostility between the two countries, and which he bet could open a new era of cooperation. While Iran scrupulously followed the deal, that cooperation never happened: Iran continued to test missiles — which were not covered in the arrangement — and to fund terror groups and the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Mr. Trump threatened to kill what he called the “worst deal in history,” and over the objections of several of his advisers he withdrew from it exactly a year ago. He complained that it was too narrow, and that the 15-year limit on Iran producing nuclear fuel simply kicked the problems down the road. Advocates of the arrangement said those provisions bought vital time, delaying a program that otherwise might have resulted in an Iranian bomb in just a year.

It is not clear how Washington will respond to Mr. Rouhani’s speech. While the United States abandoned its side of the nuclear deal, it has long demanded that Iran fulfill its commitments to international inspections and moratoriums on nuclear work. The national security adviser, John Bolton, a fierce opponent of the deal, has often said that Iran never intended to give up its nuclear ambitions — and he may cite Mr. Rouhani’s speech as further evidence.

Mr. Rouhani invited all participants in the deal to rejoin negotiations. But he said the 2015 agreement must be the basis for such talks, a position the Trump administration has rejected.

While Iran’s decision Wednesday did not terminate the landmark nuclear accord, it left it on life support.

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Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, said in an interview during a recent visit to New York that the country’s leadership was under growing pressure to respond to Mr. Trump’s effort to strangle Iran’s revenue. He called the continuing effort to starve Iran of the ability to engage in trade — which was enshrined in United Nations resolutions endorsing the 2015 agreement — a “war crime” against the Iranian people.

In an effort to contrast their behavior with Mr. Trump’s, Iran’s leaders have for now rejected calls that they, too, terminate the agreement. Instead, for the past year Tehran has remained fully in compliance, according to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But domestically, the failure to gain sanctions relief has put huge pressure on Mr. Rouhani to strike back at the United States.

The decision came just days after the Trump administration said it was moving bombers and a carrier group into the Persian Gulf as a warning to Iran, after intercepting intelligence that attacks on the United States forces or their allies might be in the offing. Mr. Pompeo took an unannounced trip to Iraq on Tuesday and told reporters he had discussed with Iraqi officials the “threat stream we had seen” from Tehran.

“We don’t want anyone interfering in their country, certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq, and there was complete agreement,” he said.

But European officials say they remain mystified why Mr. Trump did not take on the Iranians for their support of terrorist groups while remaining within the deal. The result, they say, could well be a resumed nuclear crisis, as the Iranians seek to raise the pressure.

(Axios) Israel passed White House intelligence on possible Iran plot

(Axios)

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu with national security adviser John Bolton. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images

Israel passed information on an alleged Iranian plot to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf to the U.S. before national security adviser John Bolton threatened Iran with “unrelenting force” last night, senior Israeli officials told me.

Why it matters: Bolton’s unusual and aggressive statement included news that the U.S. would move an aircraft carrier to the region. The officials said intelligence gathered by Israel, primarily by the Mossad intelligence agency, is understood to be part of the reason for Bolton’s announcement.

Behind the scenes: Information about possible Iranian plots against the U.S. or its allies in the Gulf were raised two weeks ago in talks held at the White House between an Israeli delegation headed by national security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and a U.S. team led by Bolton, the Israeli officials told me.

  • The intelligence about a possible Iranian plot is not very specific at this stage, but the officials said it was clear the threat was against a U.S. target in the Gulf or U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

The bottom line: An Israeli official told me Mossad drew several scenarios for what the Iranians might be planning:

“It is still unclear to us what the Iranians are trying to do and how they are planning to do it, but it is clear to us that the Iranian temperature is on the rise as a result of the growing U.S. pressure campaign against them, and they are considering retaliating against U.S. interests in the Gulf.”

— Israeli official

(UNHCR) First resettled refugees arrive in Portugal from Turkey

(UNHCR)

04 April 2019  

LISBON – Thirteen refugees from Syria and Iraq, including six children, arrived safely in Lisbon on Wednesday (03/04) after leaving Istanbul, Turkey as part of a Portuguese refugee resettlement programme for 2018-2019, supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and IOM, the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The new arrivals are the first to be resettled to Portugal from Turkey, under the program, where they have previously been hosted after fleeing conflict in their home countries.

They include three families from Damascus and Aleppo in Syria and an individual from Iraq. The families will join extended family members that are already living in Portugal.

“UNHCR has been supporting Portugal strengthen its resettlement scheme, deploying a resettlement expert to Lisbon and working with Portuguese authorities to identify and refer at-risk refugees in Egypt and Turkey as part of the program,” said UNHCR’s Regional Spokesperson for Southern Europe, Carlotta Sami.

“Through IOM’s offices in Portugal and Turkey, we have been supporting the Government of Portugal towards its overall commitment to receive 1,010 refugees by October this year,” said IOM Portugal’s resettlement focal point Sónia Pereira. “Forty more refugees are expected to arrive from Turkey under the programme this month.”

One hundred and twenty seven refugees have now been resettled in Portugal from Egypt, as part of its most ambitious resettlement program, since December 2018. 

Resettlement is available only to a fraction of the world’s refugees. Typically, less than one per cent of refugees worldwide are ever resettled.

With developing regions hosting 85 per cent of the world’s refugees, or 16.9 million people, ensuring a more timely, equitable and predictable sharing of responsibilities by increasing access for refugees to move to third countries is a key objective of the Global Compact on Refugees.

For this week’s new arrivals to Lisbon, IOM staff welcomed the refugees at the airport together with the Immigration and Borders Service (SEF). IOM assisted the new arrivals with luggage collection and accompanied them through immigration and arrival procedures that were conducted by the SEF and the High Commissioner for Migration (ACM). After leaving the airport, they were accompanied by their hosting institutions to their new accommodations. 

Municipal authorities and NGOs throughout Portugal are supporting refugees arriving through this programme, who will be offered initial support with housing and basic needs while they learn the Portuguese language and pursue employment. The refugees will have access to healthcare and education, as well as professional and vocational training.

P.O. (GUA) Trump says US will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights

P.O.
I can only say:
Well done President Trump!
The Golan Heights are vital to Israel security.
Before 52 years ago, when Israel conquered the area with enormous acts of heroism, under orders from the famous General Moshe Dayan, Israel used to be bombed almost everyday from these Heights.
It could not continue.

And i am of the opinion the Golan Heights should for ever be a part of Israel.
Full Stop.

Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira



(GUA) Donald Trump has announced that the US will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967, in a dramatic move likely to bolster Benjamin Netanyahu’s hopes to win re-election, but which will also provoke international opposition.

Previous US administrations have treated Golan Heights as occupied Syrian territory, in line with UN security council resolutions. Trump declared his break with that policy, in a tweet on Thursday.

He said: “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”

By defying a 52-year-old unanimously adopted UN resolution on “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”, Trump has also broken the postwar norm of refusing to recognise the forcible annexation of territory – which has underpinned western and international opposition to the Russian annexation of Crimea.

“The United States relies on these core principles regarding peaceful dispute resolution and rejecting acquisition of territory by force,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, wrote on Twitter. Wittes, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, added the move “yanks the rug out from under US policy opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as well as US views on other disputed territories”.

Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, quickly tweeted his gratitude for Trump’s gesture.

“At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” the Israeli prime minister wrote. “Thank you President Trump!”

The Syrian state news agency issued a statement saying Golan Heights remained Arabian and Syrian regardless of Trump’s comments.

The announcement came as Netanyahu was hosting the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in Jerusalem.

“President Trump has just made history,” Netanyahu said. “I called him. I thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel. The message that President Trump has given the world is that America stands by Israel.”

Pompeo said: “President Trump tonight made the decision to recognise that hard-fought real estate, that important place is proper to be sovereign part of the state of Israel.”

He added: “The people of Israel should know that the battles they fought, the lives that they lost on that very ground, were worthy, meaningful and important for all time.”

The announcement marks a diplomatic coup for Netanyahu, less than three weeks before a close fought election, and four days before he is due to visit Washington.

Trump denied his announcement was intended to help Netanyahu hold on to office, even suggesting he had been unaware the election was imminent.

“I wouldn’t even know about that. I have no idea,” Trump told Fox News. He said he had been thinking about recognising the Israeli annexation “for a long time”.

“This is sovereignty, this is security, this is about regional security,” he said.

Administration officials had previously rebuffed Netanyahu’s pressure for recognition of Israel’s possession of the strategic border area, pointing out that Trump had already handed the Israeli leader a significant political gift by moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Recognition of the Golan could pave the way for US recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Palestinian occupied territories. In a recent state department report on human rights, the administration changed its description of the West Bank and Gaza from “occupied territories” to “Israeli-controlled territories”.

Robert Malley, a former Middle East adviser to Barack Obama and now head of the International Crisis Group, said: “This decision is intensely political – timed to boost Netanyahu’s electoral chances; gratuitous – it will not alter in any way Israel’s control of the Golan Heights; in disregard of international law; and an ominous step at a time when voices in Israel calling for the annexation of the West Bank are growing louder.”

He added: “It is of a piece with the administration’s one-sided Mideast policy and confirms that its goal is not Arab-Israeli peace but a fundamental redrawing of the parameters that have governed its pursuit.”

Israel advanced into the Golan Heights gradually in the years following the 1948 war Arab-Israeli war, and occupied it entirely in the 1967 war. That year, UN security council resolution 242 stressed the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security”.

A further resolution, supported by the Reagan administration in 1981, rejected as “null and void” a move to put the area under direct Israeli jurisdiction.

Over the decades there have been a string of abortive attempts to negotiate a peaceful solution to the fate of the Golan Heights – most recently in 2010 when the Obama administration and Netanyahu engaged in secret talks with the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, on a peace treaty involving Israeli withdrawal.

But that effort foundered with the spread of the Arab Spring revolt to Syria, and Assad’s decision to crush the rebellion by massacring protesters in 2011.

Frederic Hof, a former senior state department official involved in those negotiations, told the Guardian on Thursday that annexation “would be an entirely gratuitous gesture with potential diplomatic downsides for Israel and for the security of Israelis”.

Hof said: “It will be welcomed by Israel’s bitterest enemies – Iran and Hezbollah – who would see annexation as additional justification for terror operations. It would enable Syria’s Assad regime to change the subject from its war crimes and crimes against humanity to Israel’s formal acquisition of territory in violation of UN security council resolution 242. It would do nothing whatsoever positive for Israel’s security.”

(Forward) 52 Iraqi Jews Were Killed By The Secret Police. 50 Years Later, Their Descendants Come Forward.

(Forward)

The men in the back asked for silence, and then one began to read the names of the Iraqi Jews killed half a century ago. There were 52 in all: nine hanged in a public square after a show trial in 1969, the rest disappeared by the secret police. The hangings were a de facto death sentence for Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community, pushing those who had not already fled to Israel to begin smuggling themselves out of their homeland.

About 150 people gathered Sunday at Congregation Bene Naharayim, the Iraqi synagogue in suburban Queens, for a commemoration of the hangings and the kidnappings. Old and young, refugees and their descendants, mingled in a mix of English and Hebrew with a Mizrahi, or Eastern, accent. They spoke of the significance of this milestone, and the long decline of Iraq’s Jewish community and its American diaspora.

“This oldest and proud Jewish community into which we were born is now all but gone, probably forever, sadly,” said Rita Katz, a private terrorism investigator, told the assembled. Katz’s father was one of the nine men hanged; her family escaped to Israel several months later.

“I’m sure that all of you here never forgot, and will never forgive,” she said. “And we will never, ever will stop loving and missing them, all of them.”

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings by the Forward
Raphael AbadaShlomo Yadoo reading the names of the killed or disappeared Iraqi Jews.

Congregation Bene Naharayim, located in the Jamaica Estates section of Queens, was founded in 1984. From the street it looks like one of the larger houses that dot the neighborhood. Inside, its walls are covered in photographs of Jews in Baghdad and Basra, maps of Iraq and plaques of deceased members. It has 300 families paying dues, and 100 active members, according to Shlomo Yadoo, the synagogue’s president.

The community it serves is a minority of a minority in American Jewish culture: Iraqi Jews and their descendants, who are part of the diverse world of Sephardic Judaism, which broadly encompasses the Jewish communities whose roots lie from Spain and Morocco to Iran. In the years after the establishment of the State of Israel, in 1948, many Jewish communities were expelled from the Arab or Muslim countries they had called home for 2,000 years or more.

In 1968, the Ba’ath party rose to power in Iraq, in large part through the efforts of Saddam Hussein, who would go on to lead the party, and be dictator of Iraq, for 24 years. The Jewish community had already largely fled for Israel; its population in Iraq had gone from 130,000 in 1950 to less than 3,000 by 1969.

That was the year the regime hung 14 people accused of being spies: nine Jews, three Muslims and two Christians. Iraqi citizens held cookouts in the Baghdad square where the hangings occurred. In the early 1970s, the regime allowed the rest of the Jews to leave, and by the 21st century fewer than a few dozen Jews remained in the country.

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings by the Forward
Raphael AbadaRita Katz, left, and her mother Salima Gabbai.

Iraqi Jews feel that their stories have been broadly forgotten in favor of remembering the tragedies that befell Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, whose descendants now vastly outnumber Sephardic Jewry in America.

“In Israel, and everywhere, they don’t know about Iraqi Jews, or Middle Eastern Jews,” said Ruth Shakarchy, head of Bene Naharayim’s sisterhood group, which organized Sunday’s event. “They know only about the Holocuast.”

Shakarchy said that besides the hangings, many Ashkenazi Jews also don’t know about the Farhud, the Iraqi Kristallnacht in June 1941 when widespread rioting caused the deaths of over 100 Jews and the destruction of over a thousand Jewish homes.

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings at lunch by the Forward
Raphael AbadaWomen speaking at lunch after the program.

Jordan Salama’s mother fled Iraq with her family as a teenager. Though raised in Westchester County, Salama, 22, had his bar mitzvah at Bene Naharayim. In high school, he made a half-hour documentary about his grandparents’ journeys in the Mizrahi diaspora, and now hopes to expand his research on his Syrian paternal grandfather’s life in Argentina.

“All these stories keep circulating around in my head, and I think the most important thing is to keep tell them to other people so we don’t forget,” he said.

Part of the reason he wants to tell these stories, Salama said, is because they are often overlooked in the Ashkenazi-dominated American Jewish culture.

“I think it’s important to recognize that there was this time of paradise and coexistence [for Arab Jews], and that maybe hopefully it can happen again, if we’re given the opportunity,” he said.

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings by the Forward
Raphael AbadaLighting the memorial candles

After the program, the attendees lined up for an Iraqi and American Jewish spread of lunch fare: bagels and cream cheese; pita, eggplant, roasted eggs and pickled mango sauce (amba) for sabich, the Iraqi-Israeli street food; pound cake and muffins; date cookies and baklava.

Next to the desert buffet, Doris Sheena Zilkha, 66, born in Iraq, recounted how after the 1969 hangings the Jewish community was constantly in fear of disappearances, and fasted on Mondays and Thursdays in a gesture of frantic piety.

“People were landing on the moon, and here we were educated, and sitting ducks,” she said.

Baklava at Iraqi Jewish Baghdad hangings memorial program by the Forward
Raphael AbadaBaklava.

One of the family members of the disappeared men in Iraq was Felix Shamash, who was just a teenager when his father, Shoul, was taken from their home in October 1972.

Shamash said that the manner in which his father was taken away forever was as banal as the other stories mentioned Sunday. He had just come home from school when a member of the secret police arrived to escort his father away. The man promised that Shoul would be home soon. Before he left, Shoul put a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste in his jacket pocket.

“We didn’t even go near him or kiss him,” Shamash recalled. “We were sad. You knew this was goodbye.”

Within six months, they had fled for Athens, where they received U.S. visas and immigrated to New York.

The family never officially learned the fate of Shoul. Shamash said he heard his father’s name once in a radio broadcast from outside Iraq, included in a list of Jews murdered by the regime. But because they didn’t have a date of death, or a grave, Shamash said that no one ever said kaddish for his father.

But a couple years ago, Shamash decided to change course. Now he uses the date of his father’s disappearance as the yartzeit, the anniversary of death.

“I figured I’m getting old, someone has to say kaddish for him,” he said.

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings by the Forward
Raphael AbadaListening to Yadoo read the names.

The photographs in this article were taken by Raphael Abada. You can view more of his photographs of the event here.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at feldman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

This story “Iraqi Jews In America Remember Baghdad Hangings” was written by Ari Feldman.

Read more: https://forward.com/news/national/418799/iraqi-synagogue-baghdad-hanging-anniversary/