The FT’s Middle East editor Andrew England looks at the heightened tensions in the region. US President Donald Trump has sent a military task force to the Gulf, purportedly to counter unspecified threats from Iran and its allies to American interests
(NYT) President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has been under pressure to retaliate against the United States.CreditAbedin 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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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. 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”.
“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”.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
A 8 de Janeiro, a União Europeia colocou na sua principal lista de entidades e organizações terroristas os dois principais líderes das acções externas dos Guardas Revolucionários Iranianos, bem como a direcção de segurança interna dos serviços secretos do mesmo país.
A República Islâmica tornou-se assim o único país do mundo com dirigentes e departamentos armados estatais reconhecidos como terroristas pela União Europeia. Tudo isto se sucede a uma vaga de expulsões – e num caso mesmo de prisão – de diplomatas iranianos envolvidos em acções terroristas no solo europeu e à prisão de vários operacionais iranianos detidos na fase final da preparação de um ataque bombista em Paris, a 30 de Junho.
A França, entretanto, bloqueou as contas e encerrou associações francesas anti-Israel comandadas pelos guardas revolucionários iranianos; a Alemanha bloqueou os voos de uma das companhias aéreas iranianas envolvidas em acções logísticas armadas no Médio Oriente, enquanto a Polónia está a promover uma cimeira internacional sobre o Médio Oriente que o lóbi iraniano ocidental tem repetidamente atacado como sendo anti-iraniana.
Em quarenta anos o regime iraniano nada mudou na lógica da Jihad mundial que tem inscrita na sua Constituição e que tem aplicado com zelo dentro e além-fronteiras, com uma brutal repressão interna, expansão externa e terror em todas as direcções.
O que parece estar a mudar são no entanto os dirigentes dos principais países europeus, que parecem finalmente entender que a complacência com o terrorismo iraniano põe em causa a segurança não só do Médio Oriente como da Europa ela mesma.
A viragem da política europeia continua no entanto a enfrentar grande resistência dos partidários do apaziguamento e do poderoso lóbi iraniano que insistem em subvenções e dádivas ao regime de Teerão enfraquecendo a postura europeia.
A Europa precisa de ser clara nos seus princípios e capaz de agir com determinação perante a ameaça do Jihadismo orgânico de Teerão.
Israeli and Russian military officials meet in Moscow. Photo: IDF Twitter account.
An IDF delegation returned home on Wednesday following a one-day visit to Moscow for meetings with Russian military officials.
According to the Israeli military, the group of senior officers — led by Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the head of the Operations Directorate — briefed their Russian counterparts on the IDF’s ongoing effort to detect and destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah under the Lebanon border.
Furthermore, the IDF said a “central topic that was discussed was the improvement of the two militaries’ deconfliction system in the northern region.”
“The IDF will continue operating to prevent Iranian entrenchment and the arming of Hezbollah in Syria,” the Israeli military said on Twitter. “The delegations reached an understanding and agreed to continue in their joint work.”
During the day-long visit, the delegation will brief their Russian counterparts on Operation #NorthernShield and other operational issues.
Israel Defense Forces
The IDF delegation to #Moscow, led by the Head of the Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, will return to Israel tonight following meetings between the two militaries’ senior officials. pic.twitter.com/4WEZ6N8bzj
Following a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin last weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of his cabinet he had informed Putin that “we are continuing our policy — we will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.”
“We will continue to take action against the precision weapons in Lebanon, and we will complete the operation to foil the tunnels threat,” Netanyahu added.
Relations between Jerusalem and Moscow have been clouded in recent months by a mid-September incident in which a Russian military plane was accidentally downed by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile over the Mediterranean Sea, near Latakia. Russia indirectly blamed Israel for the mishap, asserting it had not been given enough advance warning of an IAF operation that was taking place in the area at the time.
Israel and Russia have sought to avoid such occurrences since Moscow’s military intervention in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime began in 2015.
(Economist) Foreigners are leaving the Middle East’s business hub
Dubai is unlike most of the Gulf’s sheikhdoms. Its economy thrives not on oil, but on tourism, trade and finance. Its patch of desert hosts one of the world’s busiest airports, its tallest skyscraper and the region’s biggest port at Jebel Ali. The pace of construction is dizzying. The emirate’s gdp is projected to grow by 3.3% in 2018, up from 2.8% last year.
Below the rosy top-line figures, though, there are growing signs that Dubai is running into trouble. Rising oil prices created momentum in the short term, but “trends are downwards” over the long term, says Ehsan Khoman of mufg, a bank. He and other analysts say an oversaturated property market and regional conflict are the biggest causes for concern.
Dubai’s stockmarket has slumped by 20% year-on-year and is the worst-performer in the Middle East. The recent collapse of Abraaj Group, the largest firm in the Dubai International Financial Centre, has jolted confidence. New business licences are far fewer and employment is shrinking for the first time on record. The emirate withholds statistics needed for a sovereign-credit rating, but state-owned companies provide a bellwether. In September s&p, a credit-rating agency, downgraded two, citing a weakening economy.
Foreigners make up more than 90% of the population, but schools for expatriates are closing. Removal companies say departures far outstrip arrivals. Real-estate agents bemoan a rash of empty flats, even as developers build more. Falling rents made Dubai’s property market the world’s second-worst performer in 2017. Shares in Emaar Properties, the emirate’s biggest developer, have sunk by 38% in a year.
Banks learnt to be more prudent after a debt-driven crisis in 2009, when Dubai needed a $20bn bail-out (equal to about a quarter of its gdp at the time) from Abu Dhabi, the richest fellow member of the United Arab Emirates (uae). Analysts do not expect another such crisis, but they still worry about the exposure of regional banks to property. Some would have gone bankrupt were it not for help from the central bank, says an asset manager.
Rising oil prices (until recent weeks), a recovery in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s biggest economy, and construction related to the next World Expo, which Dubai will host in 2020, help explain why firms say they are optimistic. But they also worry about protracted conflicts in the Gulf. Dubai, long a haven in the volatile region, has lately been caught up in the trouble. In August officials were forced to deny claims made by Yemeni rebels to have hit Dubai’s airport with armed drones.
Dubai is moored to the bellicose policies of Muhammad bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the uae. He and Muhammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, have not only led the war in Yemen but also a 17-month-old blockade of Qatar. As a result, Dubai lost a trading partner. Flights connecting the busy airport in Doha, Qatar’s capital, to Dubai have been grounded. Qatar’s imports, once routed through Jebel Ali, now go direct (or via Oman). Rather than share the business generated by Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup in 2022, the uae is trying to scuttle the tournament.
Dubai’s profitable relationship with Iran has been similarly disrupted. The emirate earned big port fees from the $17bn trade in re-exports to Iran. But America’s re-imposition of sanctions, with the support of the two belligerent princes, has scared away business. The dhows that shipped goods across the Persian Gulf every week now go once a month. Dubai has become less attractive as a back door to Iran. In May American and Emirati monitors dismantled a currency-exchange network in Dubai used by the Quds Force, the foreign wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. America has added Dubai to its anti-money-laundering watch-list.
With Muhammad bin Zayed calling the shots abroad, Dubai’s emir, Muhammad bin Rashid, has introduced stimulus measures at home. Over the summer he froze private-school fees and cut levies. In order to keep more foreigners from leaving, he introduced longer-term work visas and loosened restrictions on business ownership. There is hope that Chinese investors will start piling in. China, for its part, is developing the Omani port of Duqm, which could allow ships to bypass Jebel Ali.
Optimists point to opportunities resulting from the uae’s foreign adventures. The capture of ports in Yemen has opened new lines of commerce and might eventually benefit dp World, a port operator owned by Dubai. An alliance with General Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan warlord, could provide similar prospects on the Mediterranean. Emirati footholds in Somaliland could lead to more business in Ethiopia’s landlocked market. Quiet ties to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria could lead to reconstruction contracts. But as the uae becomes more entangled in the region’s political fights, so does Dubai. The emirate long benefited from the region’s distress. Now it risks becoming a victim of it.
JERUSALEM (AFP) – Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has told an Israeli newspaper he intends to defy the Palestinians and most of the world by moving his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Brazil would become the second major country after the United States to do so.
Asked in an interview with Israel Hayom published Thursday if he would move Brazil’s embassy, as he had indicated during his campaign, Bolsonaro said Israel should decide where its capital is located.
“When I was asked during the campaign if I’d do it when I became president, I said ‘yes, the one who decides on the capital of Israel is you, not other nations’,” he told the paper, which is a firm backer of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, with international consensus being that the status of the whole city must be negotiated between the two sides.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
In December, President Donald Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.
The embassy was officially transferred on May 14, with Guatemala and Paraguay following suit, though the latter announced last month it would return its embassy to Tel Aviv.
Bolsonaro, 63, who won a run-off election on Sunday, has outraged many with his overtly misogynistic, homophobic and racist rhetoric.
Following his victory, Netanyahu told Bolsonaro he was certain his election “will lead to a great friendship between our peoples and the tightening of links between Brazil and Israel.”
An official in Netanyahu’s office told AFP the Israeli premier was “very likely” to attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration ceremony in January.
(Economist) Arguments persist over how to keep Israel safe
IN THE twin towers of Israel’s Ministry of Defence and the neighbouring headquarters of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in central Tel Aviv, the brass hats summed up the end of the Jewish year with their customary briefings to politicians and journalists. With slideshows of maps and graphs showing why Israel’s armed forces are still the best in the region, the generals displayed their success in knocking out Iranian targets in Syria and stopping Hamas from menacing Israel from Gaza. While doing so, they have prepared their combat units to fight an all-out war, should they be obliged to.
But one old soldier insisted on spoiling the party. Major-General Yitzhak Brik retired from active service in 1999 but has served as the army’s ombudsman for the past decade. Last month he presented the cabinet and some members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, with a secret report. It warned that Israel’s forces, especially the army, are not ready for a major war.
Stung by these accusations, the respected chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot, responded by insisting that the army he has led for nearly four years is indeed ready for battle and that its units have undergone an unprecedented number of live-fire exercises. Both generals say they have based their assessments on raw data and direct impressions from the field. But frequent calls on the army to conduct internal-security operations have disrupted its training for all-out war. One mid-ranking IDF field commander says “it’s true that the tempo of exercises has gone up” but many of them are disrupted or cancelled “by urgent duty when Palestinians begin rioting in Gaza or the West Bank.”
Does it matter if the IDF is less than ready to fight a major war? Though Israel seems further from achieving a two-state peace deal with the Palestinians than at any point since the Oslo accords 25 years ago, it has seldom felt as secure in the region. Two of its once mortal enemies, Egypt and Jordan, are now allies. Syria’s army has been torn to shreds by civil war. Only on the border with Lebanon does Israel face a potent foe, in Hizbullah. In 2006 this militia-cum-political party fought Israel to a stalemate in a war on the border. Now, bloodied from its involvement in the Syrian war on the side of the regime, its fighters are experienced veterans. IDF officers mutter that Hizbullah’s forces are more seasoned than their own.
These question-marks over the army’s preparedness come at an awkward time for the generals. The IDF is set to launch a controversial plan to shorten the mandatory conscription period of 32 months for men, while offering enticing contracts to key personnel it wants to keep for longer periods. Critics say this jeopardises the IDF’s ethos of a “people’s army”.
At the same time, the generals have been blindsided by Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, who has just proposed his own “IDF 2030” programme, envisaging more spending on long-range missiles, cyber-warfare and intelligence gathering, instead of beefing up ground forces. Mr Netanyahu, who served as a commando officer 50 years ago, has often expressed impatience with the large armoured divisions of the regular army, and has always wanted more cash for sophisticated intelligence, special forces and the air force.
As Israelis observed Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, this year on September 18th-19th, they may have reflected on the national trauma of 1973. Then, Israel’s leaders failed to heed warnings by the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, that neighbouring Arab armies were planning to attack on the Jews’ holiest day. Israel ultimately won that war, but only after suffering heavy casualties and a blow to its self-confidence. It serves as a reminder that even the best intelligence can be useless when not backed by shrewd leadership and well-trained men on the ground.
(JerusalemPost) Years from now, it will also likely be looked at as one of the most significant decisions Avigdor Liberman will have made as Israel’s defense minister.
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires during a combined forces drill in Shizafon military base, near Eilat in southern Israel June 7, 2016. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
The idea has long been in the works, but the Defense Ministry’s decision on Monday to finally purchase new precision ground-to-ground rockets for the Ground Forces is nothing short of a revolution. Years from now, it will also likely be looked at as one of the most significant decisions Avigdor Liberman will have made as Israel’s defense minister.
The idea to establish a “Missile Corps” has been floating around for years in Defense Ministry corridors but has traditionally run up against opposition from the air force. The thinking was simple: Proponents believed it was important to diversify Israel’s offensive capabilities, while opponents feared budgets would be taken away from the IAF, which until now has had a monopoly on Israel’s sole long-range offensive strike capability.
For years, the IAF lobby succeeded in warding off the corps’ establishment – until now. While the idea might seem new, Liberman has been pushing it for about 15 years, ever since he was a junior Knesset member.
At the time, though, the technology was not yet ripe and he was not in a position to implement the idea. Now he can.
The changes are both in the technology and in the threats Israel faces on the battlefield. Technologically, Israeli companies like Israel Military Industries manufacture rockets today that are guided by GPS and have the ability to strike their targets with unprecedented precision in all weather conditions – sun, rain or fog.
The rockets have various ranges of between 30 and 150 kilometers.
The need for such rockets stems from changes on the battlefield. The IDF today faces enemies that are fast and slippery. Hamas and Hezbollah don’t operate out of identifiable military bases, but rather move between homes, schools and hospitals through underground passageways.
The IDF not only needs to be quick when engaging the enemy but, due to the civilian environment, it also needs to be accurate. Firing 170,000 artillery shells like it did during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 won’t have much of an effect in a future war with Hezbollah. They need to be accurate.
While the IAF has long objected to the establishment of the missile corps – it will cost about NIS 500 million of initial investment – the procurement of the rockets will actually benefit the air force by freeing it up to focus on strategic missions.
Coordinating missions, as is done today between the infantry corps and the IAF, is a complicated and long process. In times of war it goes faster but is still not immediate. Having a rocket capability attached to ground forces gives infantry commanders the independence to take out targets faster than in the past. Considering how Hezbollah and Hamas operate, this is a huge advantage.
All of this is made possible by the dramatic upgrade to IDF communication networks, particularly integration of the Tzayad battle management system, which enables all IDF units to see one another on digital maps and then to identify the position of enemy forces by simply hitting their location on the screen.
It will take some time before we see these rockets in action, but one thing can be said about Liberman’s decision: Israel is once again revolutionizing modern warfare.
(EUobserver) French-Algerian businessman and activist, Rachid Nekkaz, has pledged to pay fines issued in Denmark for breaches of a new law against face-masking garments, known as the ‘burqa ban’, after a 29-year-old woman became the first to be penalised under the law, which came into effect last week. Nekkaz told Berlingske he already paid hundreds of thousands of euros for women fined in Belgium, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Germany.
(ZH) It almost sounds too insane to be believed, but Saudi Arabia’s move to further isolate neighboring Arab rival Qatar by literally turning it into an island is but the latest in an intense year long feud between the two countries that has already produced its fair share of bizarre headlines.
Tiny but ultra-wealthy Qatar is a peninsula which shares a 37.5 mile border (60km) with Saudi Arabia on the kingdom’s northeast side and juts out from the Arabian peninsula about 100 miles into the Persian Gulf.
Saudi media revealed this week the kingdom is quickly moving forward with ambitious plans to dig a 200 meter wide and 15-10 meter deep canal the entire length of the land border, effectively creating ‘Qatar island’ — as some Mideast news sources are already calling it.
Of course, the Qataris don’t appear to have a say in their own country’s geographic fate, and the Saudis and Emirates further plan to locate nuclear waste sites and a military base along the proposed canal to boot.
The so-called “Salwa Marine Canal Project” has reportedly opened up to bidding among five international companies that specialize in digging canals, with bids closing next Monday and the project to be awarded in 90 days, according to regional sources. The canal project is estimated to cost up to 2.8 billion riyals ($750 million) according to Saudi-based Sabq newspaper.
Qatar has remained defiant throughout its unprecedented summer diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states which have brought immense pressure to bear on the oil and gas rich monarchy through a complete economic and diplomatic blockade imposed by its neighbors. Saudi and UAE officials have long accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, aligning with Iran, and meddling in the affairs of its gulf neighbors in a crisis that has resulted in the near complete unraveling of the GCC.
Apparently, Riyadh is not content with traditional isolation. The so-called “Salwa Marine Canal Project” would establish a military base in one area of the border and a nuclear waste site in another. The waste would come from the nuclear reactors that Saudi Arabia is planning to build. The border would then be clearly demarcated by a wide canal. The UAE would also build a nuclear waste site at its border’s closest point to Qatar.
But it now appears to be concretely advancing and not a bluff.
Beyond nuclear waste and military installations, Riyadh further envisages beach resorts in Salwa, Sakak, Khor al-Adeed and Ras Abu Qamees, and marinas for yachts and leisure.
According to Dubai-based Gulf News the canal will be fully within the Saudi side of the border, meaning Qatar will have no rights or access to the waterway. Gulf News further (somewhat enthusiastically) notes that“In April, Saudi border guards took control of the Salwa crossing, effectively cutting off Qatar’s only terrestrial link with the outside world.”
The project will reportedly be funded entirely but UAE and Saudi private investors, and it will be interesting to see if it actually comes to fruition. If so, building what is essentially a massive 60km long mote to physically cut off an entire country would certainly constitute a first in the history of diplomatic warfare.
(Haaretz) Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who formed a coalition with a pro-Iranian political bloc, is known to call for ending sectarianism in Iraq.
The newly elected Iraqi leader, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said that Jews, who were expelled decades ago, are welcome to return, Newsweek reported Tuesday.
Al-Sadr, who recently formed an alliance with a pro-Iranian political bloc, said that “If [Jews’] loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome.” He stated that Jews who wanted to return would receive full citizenship rights. Currently, the Iraqi constitution does not recognize Judaism as one of the country’s official religions.
Iraq’s Jewish community is one of the most ancient in the world. Before Jews either left or were displaced from Iraq following the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, they accounted around two percent of the country’s population, around 150,000 strong. In 1951 most Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel, to be followed in the following decades by the few thousand who remained. All in all, Iraq expelled 120,000 Jews, and today few Jews remain.
Al-Sadr’s political bloc, the Sairoon Alliance, won the largest number of parliamentary seats in elections in mid-May. Al-Sadr then announced that he was teaming up with a pro-Iranian political bloc, the National Iraqi Alliance, led by Hadi al-Amiri, in order to form a coalition.
The comments from the cleric come amidst political upheaval in Iraq, as the country is still reeling from a contentious election, which members of the political opposition have alleged was rigged.
Al-Sadr’s comments welcoming Jews are not new. He made similar remarks in a 2013 interview, saying he “welcomes any Jew who prefers Iraq to Israel and there is no difference between Jews, Muslims or Christians when it comes to the sense of nationalism. Those who do not carry out their national duties are not Iraqis even if they were Shiite Muslims.”
Iran says it has begun work on increasing its uranium enrichment capacity, in case its 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers collapses.
The head of Iran’s atomic agency told reporters that it was developing infrastructure to build advanced centrifuges at the Natanz facility.
The agency has informed the United Nations of the move, but said it would remain within the rules of the deal.
President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal with Iran last month.
European powers are now scrambling to salvage the nuclear agreement, which imposes restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting sanctions.
A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Tuesday that the agency had received a letter from Iran on 4 June informing it that there was a “tentative schedule to start production of UF6”, referring to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges.
What is the work designed to achieve?
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, told reporters on Tuesday that preparations were under way to build new centrifuges.
“If we were progressing normally, it would have taken six or seven years, but this will now be ready in the coming weeks and months,” he said.
Mr Salehi said this was in line with instructions from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has ordered officials to be prepared to step up enrichment if the nuclear deal – known as JCPOA – falls apart completely.
“If the JCPOA collapses – please pay attention, if the JCPOA collapses – and if we decide to assemble new centrifuges, we will assemble new-generation of centrifuges. However, for the time being, we move within the framework of the JCPOA,” Mr Salehi said.
Is such work allowed under the accord?
Mr Salehi insists Iran is acting “within the framework of the rules and commitments of the nuclear deal”.
The accord signed with the US, France, Germany, the UK, Russia, and China, limits uranium enrichment by Iran to 3.67%, far below the roughly 90% threshold of weapons-grade material.
In exchange, the country received relief from crippling sanctions.
Under the agreement, Iran can build parts for the centrifuges as long as it does not put them into operation within the first decade.
President Trump argued that these conditions did not go far enough to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and pulled out of the agreement, leaving the remaining European signatories scrambling to save it.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful. Its compliance with the deal has been verified by the IAEA.
What is the purpose of the Natanz facility?
It is Iran’s largest uranium enrichment facility, and began operating in 2007 in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions.
It consists of underground buildings capable of holding up to 50,000 centrifuges. Uranium hexafluoride gas is fed into centrifuges, which separate out the most fissile uranium isotope U-235.
The facility produces low-enriched uranium, which has a 3%-4% concentration of U-235.
That can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants, but also be enriched to the much higher level of 90% needed to produce nuclear weapons.
A clear signal from Tehran
Analysis by Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent
This is a clear signal from Tehran that it is not simply a bystander and that if the nuclear deal collapses it has options too.
It comes as key European countries struggle to keep the nuclear agreement on life support.
Major international companies are already beginning to distance themselves from Iran in fear of US sanctions.
The move inevitably increases the sense of tension and it probably does those countries eager to maintain the deal few favours.
It highlights the whole issue of Iran’s formerly ambitious enrichment programme and again raises the question as to exactly what this enrichment programme was ultimately for.
…Today’s announcement was only the public notice of the funeral…
…No deal can survive with a veto from the United States…
…Just imagine if the US’s legal authorities start going after all the world’s companies that deal with Iran, on reinstated full sanctions…
…No way Jose.
…Regardless of all the crap one might listen to…
Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira
(BBG) Donald Trump didn’t kill the Iran nuclear deal. He just shrank its membership by one.
That was the line taken by the European Union immediately after the U.S. president announced his withdrawal from the 2015 accord. Germany, France and the U.K. all said they’ll stick to their commitments. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he wants to see them deliver.
“I don’t trust these three countries either,” Khamenei said on his website. “If you want to have a deal, we need practical guarantees otherwise they will do the same as the U.S. If they can’t give definitive guarantees, it won’t be possible to continue.”
But it’s not clear whether the EU, China and Russia will be able to ensure Iran receives the promised economic benefits — including free access to international oil markets and accelerating flows of trade and investment — that persuaded the Islamic Republic’s leaders to sign up to an agreement capping its nuclear program.
Before Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he’ll pull the U.S. out of the deal, Western businesses had already been reluctant to take the plunge into a country still subject to multiple curbs imposed by Washington. The exit throws billions of dollars of European investments that had been planned into disarray. President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will push to make the deal work but may step up uranium enrichment again if the efforts of the remaining parties don’t yield tangible results.
“The international reach of U.S. sanctions makes the U.S. the economic policeman of the planet, and that is not acceptable,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday in an interview on France Culture radio. He branded Trump’s decision a “major mistake” and said he’ll lobby Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week to grant exemptions for European firms. French President Emmanuel Macron is due to speak to Rouhani later in the day.
Oil rebounded to trade at the highest level since 2014 with the sanctions aimed at cutting exports from OPEC’s third-largest producer. Brent for July settlement climbed as much as 3.1 percent to $77.20 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange and was 2.9 percent higher at 12:46 p.m. in the British capital.
Trump’s now promising to introduce a host of new restrictions that will test an economy already under strain. Iran’s rial has hit record lows against the dollar in recent months, forcing Rouhani’s government to impose currency controls. Protests that spread through several Iranian cities in December and January were linked to stagnation and rising costs of living, as the nuclear deal failed to deliver economic liftoff.
In Iran’s capital, where many were glued to Trump’s speech on TV, 32-year-old masters student Golnaz said she’s worried that hard times may be ahead. “What if the Europeans also apply sanctions,?” she said by phone from north Tehran. “If people go back to those times when money was tight, food was even difficult for many to buy, it’ll be really bad.” She declined to be identified by her family name because of the sensitivity of speaking to foreign media.
“Iran will now turn to the Europeans and say: “This happened. What are you going to do?’,” said Amir Handjani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“Iran wants more than just political rhetoric from European leaders,” he said — and that won’t be easy to deliver. “It’s one thing for the EU to say we remain committed and we won’t take steps that will undermine the deal. It’s another for European companies and banks to trade and invest in Iran.”
The EU has policy tools available that it’s used in the past to protect companies from U.S. sanctions — but they’re often outweighed, in the eyes of executives, by the risk of losing access to the world’s biggest economy.
Pulling the Plug
French oil giant Total SA, for example, says it will pull out of a joint venture in Iran if Trump re-imposes sanctions and it can’t win an exemption. Siemens AG Chief Financial Officer Ralf Thomas said he is assessing the impact for business in the country and the company will always comply with export regulations. Volkswagen AG, which began selling vehicles in the Islamic Republic last year, also vowed to stick to the rules.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany will also be seeking talks with the Iranian government to work out what happens next, describing the U.S. decision as “grave.” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged Trump’s criticisms of the deal — Tehran’s ballistic missile program, the sunset clause on the nuclear restrictions, and its regional meddling — but insisted the accord should serve as a foundation for broader agreement.
“Those are issues are need to be addressed and we are working with our European and other allies to do just that,” May told lawmakers in London Wednesday.
Russia said late Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” by the U.S. decision to pull out of the deal, and ready to work with other parties to keep it alive. China urged all parties involved to continue efforts to implement the agreement.
Rouhani said in a televised address that it was already clear the U.S. under Trump wasn’t committed to an accord also signed by Russia and China. He said his foreign ministry will start talks with all the other participants on how it can still be made to work. But Iran has ruled out renegotiation.