Category Archives: Middle East

(AFP) Brazil’s Bolsonaro wants to move Israel embassy to Jerusalem: report

(AFP)

© AFP | A picture taken on October 28, 2018 shows the Israeli and Brazilian flags flying outside the Brazilian embassy in Tel Aviv
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) A general tells Israel that its army must be still readier to fight

(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) ANALYSIS: IDF’S NEW MISSILE CORPS WILL REVOLUTIONIZE HOW ISRAEL WAGES WAR

(JerusalemPostYears 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

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 millionaire wants to pay Danish niqab fines

(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) “Qatar Island”: Saudis Launch Massive Canal Project To Cut Off Neighbor

(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. 

The Salwa canal was first announced in April but many observers dismissed it as but the latest in outrageous Saudi claims and punitive measures aimed at Qatar.

Newsweek reported in early April:

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) New Iraqi Leader Proclaims Jews Can Return: ‘They Are Welcome’

(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.

Jewish writings on the tomb are seen at a Jewish cemetery in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, Iraq March 29, 2018. Picture taken March 29, 2018.  REUTERS/Wissm Al-Okili
\ WISSM AL-OKILI/ REUTERS

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.

In this Dec. 29, 2015 file photo, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in Najaf, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq.
AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File

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.”

(BBC) Iran to boost uranium enrichment if nuclear deal fails

(BBC)

Media captionWhat is the Iran nuclear deal?

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.

Image captionIran insists its nuclear programme is for purely designed to meet its energy needs

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.

Image captionNatanz currently produces low-enriched uranium

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.

P.O. (BBG) Iran, EU Face Uphill Fight to Keep Nuclear Deal Alive Post-Trump

P.O.

…Make no mistake…

…The Iran nuclear deal is dead and buried…

…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.

‘Wind Down’

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.

P.O. Bibi’s key words in the CNN video

CNN: “The nuclear deal we are discussing is premissed on the assumption that Iran will somehow become a peaceful country.

It is not. 

It’s became an Empire that is devouring one country after the other.

And that they are doing before they have nuclear weapons

This deal will give them unlimited enrichment of uranium.”

“Second it does not address their ballistic missiles in which they could carry the bombs”

That’s what this is all about.

Everything else is crap in my opinion.

FCMP

 

 

 

 

 

 

+++ (JN) Putin avisa que mais ataques na Síria trarão o “caos” às relações internacionais

(JNO presidente russo afirma que a intervenção dos Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido na Síria diminuiu as hipóteses de se chegar a uma solução política para o conflito naquele país.

O presidente russo Vladimir Putin avisou este domingo, 15 de Abril, que mais ataques do Ocidente na Síria trarão o “caos” às relações internacionais.

Segundo a Reuters, Putin deixou o alerta numa conversa telefónica com o seu homólogo iraniano Hassan Rouhani depois de os Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido terem realizado, no sábado, uma série de ataques com mísseis contra três alvos associados à produção e armazenamento de armas químicas na Síria.

Um comunicado do Kremlin informou que Putin e Rouhani concordaram que os ataques ocidentais diminuíram as hipóteses de se chegar a uma solução política para o conflito que dura há sete anos e que já matou pelo menos meio milhão de pessoas.

“Vladimir Putin, em particular, enfatizou que, se tais acções cometidas em violação da Carta da ONU continuarem, isso inevitavelmente levará ao caos nas relações internacionais”, refere o comunicado do Kremlin, citado pela agência noticiosa.

Os ataques levados a cabo pelos Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido atingiram o coração do programa de armas químicas da Síria, disse Washington, em resposta a um ataque com armas químicas realizado há uma semana. Os três participantes insistiram que a sua resposta não teve como objectivo derrubar o presidente Bashar al-Assad ou intervir no conflito.

Os bombardeamentos, descritos pelo presidente dos EUA Donald Trump como um sucesso, mas denunciados por Damasco e seus aliados como um acto de agressão, marcaram a maior intervenção dos países ocidentais contra Assad e a Rússia.

As palavras de Putin foram divulgadas pouco tempo depois de o ministro-adjunto dos Negócios Estrangeiros da Rússia, Sergei Ryabkov, ter feito uma nota mais conciliatória dizendo que Moscovo faria todos os esforços para melhorar as relações políticas com o Ocidente.

Questionado sobre se a Rússia estava preparada para trabalhar com as propostas dos países ocidentais nas Nações Unidas, Ryabkov disse à agência de notícias TASS: “Agora a situação política é extremamente tensa, por isso não farei nenhuma previsão”.

“Trabalharemos com calma, de forma metódica e profissional, aproveitando todas as oportunidades para que a situação saia deste pico político extremamente perigoso”, afirmou.

+++ (BBG) Saudis Shoot Down Missiles, Drones as Mideast Tensions Flare

(BBG) Saudi Arabia said it intercepted ballistic missiles and shot down drones sent from Yemen, in the latest attack by pro-Iranian rebels that showed improved military capabilities more than three years into the conflict.

One missile was intercepted over Riyadh, with loud blasts heard in the night sky above the Saudi capital on Wednesday. Two other missiles were intercepted over the southern areas of Jazan and Najran, authorities said. The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen said it also downed a drone targeting an airport in the southwestern province of Abha and another in Jazan.

The missiles were fired just hours after President Donald Trump confirmed the U.S. would strike Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are backed by Russia and Iran, over a suspected chemical weapons attack. The State Department said the Houthi attacks on Saudi population centers were “fueled by the Iranian regime’s dangerous proliferation of weapons and destabilizing activities in the region.”

“It’s hard to see the timing of the latest Houthi strike on Saudi Arabia as purely coincidental,” said Hani Sabra, founder of Advisory, a New York-based consultancy. The attack is probably an Iranian message to embarrass Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is wrapping up a foreign tour to world capitals and has repeatedly accused Iran of seeking to destabilize the kingdom, he said.

The Houthis have been aiming their ballistic missiles at major Saudi cities and targets more regularly in the past few months than any other period in the three-year war. The kingdom and its allies accuse Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge Tehran denies.

Iranian Message?

“The Houthis have indeed been stepping up their attacks on their northern neighbor, but with regional tension sharply escalating, particularly as a result of recent Syria-related developments, Iran, through the Houthis, probably wanted to send Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a message,” Sabra said.

A missile fired in December was aimed at the main royal palace during a cabinet session headed by King Salman. Last month, Saudi defenses intercepted seven ballistic missiles fired at Riyadh and other cities by the Houthis, the biggest such barrage since the war began in March 2015.

The Houthis, who have repeatedly targeted the kingdom in retaliation for its offensive inside Yemen, said Wednesday’s attack on Riyadh was directed at the defense ministry.

Increasing Risks

“The Houthis’ capabilities have improved — with outside assistance — over the course of the conflict, and it is reasonable to expect that they will continue to do so for the duration of the conflict,” said Allison Wood, an analyst with Control Risks. And while Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s best defense systems, the risk of a missile or a drone hitting targets “at some point” will increase with more regular attacks, he said.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have been able to recover areas in southern Yemen from the Houthis, but the rebels still control the capital Sana’a and territories in the north.

The conflict has caused a humanitarian disaster with thousands of civilian deaths, disease, hunger and displacement.

(ABC) Emirates throws Airbus A380 a lifeline with $16 billion deal

(ABC) The Middle East’s largest airline, Emirates, is throwing Airbus a lifeline for its troubled A380 jumbo jet.

The carrier said Thursday it struck a deal with Airbus to buy 20 of its A380 double-decker jets, with the option to buy 16 more, in a deal worth $16 billion.

Airbus had said earlier this week that if it didn’t close the deal with Emirates, it would end production altogether of the jet. The plane has been difficult to sell in part because of its unusually large size, which can be hard to fill and requires bigger runways.

“This new order underscores Airbus’ commitment to produce the A380 at least for another ten years,” said Airbus chief salesman John Leahy.

The deal removes one thorn in Airbus’s side as it struggles with a series of production problems and legal woes. Authorities in Britain and France are investigating alleged fraud and bribery related to Airbus’ use of outside consultants in commercial plane sales. Airbus has warned the investigations could lead to “significant penalties.”

In an effort to get past these problems, the company in December shook up its top leadership, announcing that its CEO, Tom Enders, will step down in 2019.

The deal with Emirates also caps several weeks of talks and tensions with the airline.

In November, Airbus suffered the embarrassment of believing it had struck a deal to sell A380s to Emirates, only to see Boeing sit on the podium with the airline and sign a $15.1 billion deal.

Dubai-based Emirates already has 101 A380s in its fleet and 41 more on order, making it the largest operator of the jumbo jet. Its fleet relies solely on the Airbus 380 and the Boeing 777.

Emirates Chairman and CEO, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, said at a signing of the deal in Dubai that the order “will provide stability to the A380 production line.”

Emirates, which is owned by the Dubai government in the United Arab Emirates, said the additional A380s will be delivered to the airliner from 2020 onwards and that some of the new A380s will be used as fleet replacements.

An Airbus A380 has a list price of $445.6 million, but airlines and manufacturers often negotiate lower prices. Airbus delivered just 15 of the planes last year, and aims to deliver 12 more this year.

Leahy had said Monday that Emirates is the only airline with the ability to commit to a minimum of six planes a year for a minimum of eight to 10 years, or what is needed to make the Airbus program viable.

“It’s positive news for both sides,” said airline analyst John Strickland of JLS Consulting. “The A380 is critical to Emirates’ hub-and-growth strategy and equally the airline is key to Airbus’ continuation of the program. It will be a great relief to Airbus to have secured this order, but they have to work aggressively to secure orders from other airlines too now.”

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said the deal reflects Emirates’ commitment to advancing “Dubai’s vision to grow further as a world-class destination and aviation hub.” Dubai’s main airport, where Emirates is based, is among the busiest in the world with more than 80 million travelers passing through in 2016.

(Independent) Camp Speicher massacre: Retracing the steps of Isis’s worst-ever atrocity

(IndependentIraq Reborn: As Isis is driven out of the last few towns under its control, Patrick Cockburn visits the scene where more than 1,700 young air cadets were slaughtered by the group. More than three years later, there are still grisly tell-tale signs of what happened here

It is one of the most shocking of many sadistic videos shot and publicised by Isis in which its gunmen are seen executing their victims. It shows scenes from the Camp Speicher massacre on 12 June 2014 when Isis murdered 1,700 army recruits in a former palace compound of Saddam Hussein on the banks of the Tigris river near Tikrit.

Columns of terrified young men are filmed being driven at gunpoint by masked Isis gunmen dressed in black towards mass graves which the victims can see are already filled with bodies. Others are beaten as they stumble down stone steps onto a small dock under a bridge on the Tigris. As each one is dragged forward by a guard, he is shot in the head by a man with a pistol so he falls into the water. The ground where the killings are taking place is covered in blood.

It is worth forcing oneself to look at this disgusting video again as Isis is driven by Iraqi security forces out of its last strongholds in the deserts of western Iraq. The movement, now defeated and almost eliminated, revelled in its cruelty and boasted of its mass killings in order to terrorise its opponents. The Camp Speicher massacre was its worst single atrocity in Iraq or Syria.

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A soldier prays at a mass grave for Shia soldiers from Camp Speicher who were killed by Isis militants in the presidential compound of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Tikrit after government forces liberated the area in April 2015 (Reuters)

The slaughter of the young recruits happened a few days after Isis had unexpectedly captured Mosul; its militarily units were racing south towards Baghdad against little opposition as the Iraqi army disintegrated. Its gunmen were greeted by many Sunni as liberators in places like Tikrit, the city near which Saddam Hussein was born and grew up. It was here that as many as 10,000 army recruits were being trained at an air force academy. They were told to go home by their commanders who themselves fled in circumstances that still cause controversy and anger. The young men, who were from all over Iraq, changed into civilian clothes and those carrying weapons were told to leave them behind at the camp.

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Iraqi forces fought back to take Tikrit and the surrounding desert in 2015. Here, Shiafighters are seen launching a rocket during clashes with Isis militants on the outskirts of the city (Reuters)

Isis gunmen captured many of the recruits as they walked along the roads heading home and divided them into Shia and Sunni before loading the Shia into trucks. It is not known when they realised they were going to die because many were told at first that they would be let go where they could get transport to Baghdad. Instead, they were taken to an area where Saddam Hussein had built several palaces where he and his family could enjoy a fine view across the Tigris. Some of the palaces were in ruins, shattered by US bombing, and the rest were abandoned.

The site of the killings may have been chosen because of its associations with Saddam Hussein. Hayder al-Baldawi, a member of a committee commemorating the massacre, says: “It was an act of revenge for the execution of Saddam and the fall of his regime. Many of the killers were identified later as coming from Tikrit, Baath party members and people from Saddam’s Albu Nasr tribe and other pro-Saddam tribes, who joined up with Isis.”

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Mourners carry flag-draped coffins at a symbolic funeral for Iraqi soldiers killed by Isis when they overran Camp Speicher military base in June 2015 (AP)

There are many massacre sites: on the flat ground by the river large pits have been excavated where the recruits were killed and their bodies covered with earth and stones. At one place, they were shot on top of a low cliff so the bodies fell in a heap on ground below. Another site is some way away, high up on a bluff overlooking the river, near Saddam Hussein’s giant ruined Salahudin palace, where today there is a stretch of rough ground and a deep hole with a tree in the middle distance on the edge of a cliff. We compared this to a still from the Isis propaganda video that shows the same tree, but the foreground is carpeted in dead bodies so numerous that one cannot see the ground. Many of the dead have their hands tied behind their backs and there is a black Isis flag in one corner of the picture.

A watchman pointed to a rock where he had just found a bit of blood-matted hair stuck to the side of a rock which he believed must date from the massacre.

It is not clear how many died: Isis claimed that it had killed 1,700, though the number of bodies so far identified is lower. Mr Baldawi says that “the Ministry of Health does not have enough money to pay for DNA kits, so bodies can be identified for certain”. He puts the number of dead at 1,935, of which 994 bodies have been found and, of these, 527 have been identified and 467 are under medical examination. In addition, some 941 are still missing, though these figures are difficult to verify because the search for the bodies only began in March 2015, eight months after the killings, when government forces recaptured Tikrit.

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Iraqi soldiers salute next to a mass grave containing the bodies of hundreds of Shiasoldiers from Camp Speicher who were killed by Isis militants in Tikrit (Reuters)

The search for the perpetrators of the massacre has gone on ever since with 36 alleged killers executed in August 2016 amid allegations that they had not received a fair trial. Defence lawyers were not able to speak to the accused and walked out. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued a negative report on the conduct of the trial, saying that there had been a “failure to investigate allegations of torture”. Nevertheless, there have been no counter-massacres and the government and NGOs have made concerted efforts to get the Tikrit Sunni tribes to reconcile with the families of the victims.

Tribal leaders said that individuals from tribes had taken part in the massacre, but denied it was a communal Sunni attack on the Shia. They said that Sunni officials from Tikrit had also been targeted and killed by Isis. Some Sunni had helped Shia escape. Reconciliation is helped because Tikrit is wholly Sunni and members of the two sects are not intermingled as they are in other parts of Iraq, where neighbourhood revenge killings have been frequent. Tikrit, with a population of 160,000, looks relaxed and suffered only limited damage during its recapture compared to other Sunni cities like Ramadi and Mosul.

Identifying who on the government side was responsible for allowing so many unarmed Shia recruits to be captured remains a divisive political issue. Victims’ families want to know who were the senior officers who ran away, leaving their sons to be murdered by Isis. This is not just an issue between Shia and Sunni, but between Shia and Kurd, relations between the latter being particularly fraught in the wake of the government reoccupation in September of Kirkuk and the disputed territories.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister at the time of the killings, said in an interview with The Independent that he has a simple explanation for what happened: “In fact, the Speicher massacre occurred because the commander there was a Kurd and he received orders from [then-Kurdish President] Masoud Barzani to withdraw with his [Kurdish] men and they left everything in chaos and disorder and the massacre happened.”

This account has the advantage of excusing Mr Maliki and his government for any responsibility for the collapse of the Iraqi armed forces in the area which enabled Isis to slaughter so many young men.

(OBS) Liga Árabe pede à ONU para convocar reunião sobre “violações” do Irão

(OBS) A Liga Árabe, reunida este domingo no Egito, pediu ao Conselho de Segurança da ONU para convocar uma reunião para discutir as “violações” do Irão no Médio Oriente.

A Liga Árabe sublinhou que a ONU “deve assumir responsabilidades” com o objetivo de manter a paz e a segurança internacionais

A Liga Árabe, reunida este domingo no Cairo, Egito, pediu ao Conselho de Segurança da ONU para convocar uma reunião para discutir as “violações” do Irão no Médio Oriente.

Em comunicado, citado pela EFE, os vários ministros dos Negócios Estrangeiros e representantes dos países membros da entidade pan-árabe pediram que o grupo que os representa em Nova Iorque solicite à ONU uma reunião que aborde “a ameaça à segurança nacional árabe” do Irão e as suas infrações às resoluções internacionais.

Na reunião no Cairo, que foi convocada de urgência pela Arábia Saudita, os chefes da diplomacia convocaram também a ONU para esclarecer “as violações do Irão à resolução sobre o fornecimento de armas a milícias terroristas no Iémen”.

O encontro realizou-se porque a Arábia Saudita acusa o Irão de estar ligado ao míssil lançado no início do mês por rebeldes iemenitas contra Riade, intercetado pelas Forças Armadas sauditas, e por uma explosão ocorrida num oleoduto no Bahrein no dia 11.

Os líderes reunidos no Cairo exortaram assim o Conselho de Segurança a considerar o “míssil balístico feito pelo Irão” como “uma agressão por parte do Irão e uma ameaça para a segurança e a paz nacionais e internacionais”.

Numa conferência de imprensa conjunta com o ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros de Djibuti, Mahmoud Ali Yusuf, o secretário-geral da Liga Árabe, Ahmed Abulgueit, disse, no entanto, que ainda não foi decidido recorrer ao Conselho de Segurança da ONU, mas a evolução na região pode levar a isso. “Não vamos declarar guerra ao Irão”, disse Abulgueit aos jornalistas.

A Liga Árabe sublinhou que a ONU “deve assumir responsabilidades” com o objetivo de manter a paz e a segurança internacionais.

A entidade condenou as “interferências contínuas” do Irão nos assuntos árabes, que “alimentaram o sectarismo e o conflito sectário” e exigiu que pare de apoiar e financiar as milícias, em referência aos rebeldes no Iémen, que “ameaçam com mísseis os países vizinhos”.

A Liga Árabe culpou ainda o movimento xiita libanês Hezbollah, que classificou como “terrorista” de apoiar o “terrorismo” com “armas sofisticadas e mísseis balísticos”.

O conselho árabe argumentou que a Arábia Saudita tem “o direito de se defender legalmente no seu território, conforme estipulado no artigo 51.º da Carta das Nações Unidas”, e afirmou que apoiará o país em todas “as medidas que decidir tomar contra violações iranianas no âmbito da legitimidade internacional”.

Na reunião, o ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros da Arábia Saudita, Adel al Yubeir, disse que confia que os países árabes tomem uma decisão firme para enfrentar o Irão.

Al Yubeir assegurou que a “Arábia Saudita não ficará de braços cruzados perante a flagrante agressão [do Irão]” e que “não renunciará” a defender a segurança nacional.

A Arábia Saudita e o Irão, grandes rivais regionais, não mantêm relações diplomáticas desde janeiro de 2016 e apoiam lados opostos na guerra do Iémen e na crise do Líbano.

(FP) China Is Eyeballing a Major Strategic Investment in Saudi Arabia’s Oil

(FP) Washington may have invented the petrodollar system, but Beijing is looking toward the future.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Beijing on March 16. (Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Beijing on March 16. (Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images)

Since the election of Donald Trump, relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States have seemingly returned to their halcyon days. Saudi officials have been energized by Trump’s desire to roll back Iranian influence and his support for Saudi economic reforms, and they are enthusiastic about the two countries’ newfound unity of purpose.

But Saudi Arabia is not just being courted by the Trump administration. Without the pomp and circumstance of the Riyadh summit, where Trump addressed representatives from across the Muslim world earlier this year, the Chinese government is taking quiet steps to bring Saudi Arabia’s hydrocarbon reserves firmly into its orbit. Through its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and a reported offer to invest in the kingdom’s state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, the Chinese are laying the groundwork for a profound economic shift in the Middle East and the world.

As it has grown over the last three decades, China has slowly become a much more important energy partner to Saudi Arabia and Gulf states. Its emergence as an economic powerhouse has increasingly fueled its ambition to dictate the rules of the energy market: In recent years, it has scaled down its share of energy imports from OPEC members in favor of non-OPEC countries, primarily due to its preference to purchase oil and gas in yuan or the local currency of the exporter, rather than U.S. dollars. China importsapproximately one-quarter of its energy from Saudi Arabia, but Russia recently supplanted the kingdom as China’s top energy producer.

China’s fastidious control over its own currency is the first step toward upending the way oil is traded.

China’s fastidious control over its own currency is the first step toward upending the way oil is traded.

Forged by U.S. President Richard Nixon and Saudi King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 1973, the petrodollar system has wedded the greenback to the world’s most sought-after commodity.In return for conducting energy sales exclusively in dollars, the United States agreed to sell Saudi Arabia advanced military equipment. One obvious reason China wants oil to be traded in yuan is to increase global demand for yuan-denominated assets. This would increase capital inflows and may eventually lead to the yuan being a plausible global alternative to the American dollar. Saudi Arabia is OPEC’s historic swing producer and price arbiter — if it agreed to conduct transactions in currencies other than the dollar, other OPEC producers would be forced to follow suit.

Beijing’s thinking is also influenced by geopolitical calculations. China’s return on investment in Saudi infrastructure could take decades, but Beijing would gain a valuable foothold in the Gulf and possibly persuade one of the world’s leading oil producers to upend the way oil is traded. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, especially the United Arab Emirates, provide a valuable hub to Middle Eastern and African markets through their ports, airports, and global networks. This spring and summer, Beijing and Riyadh announced a number of deals in various sectors, including increased energy exports and a reported $20 billion shared investment fund.

The equation is much more difficult for Saudi Arabia and the other oil-producing countries in the Gulf. On one hand, Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the United States, however shaky, is the bedrock of regional security. On the other hand, growth in energy consumption will continue to be centered east of the kingdom, not west.

The Chinese have not given Saudi Arabia much time to consider its options. Chinese state-owned oil companies PetroChina and Sinopec have already expressed interest in a direct purchase of 5 percent of Saudi Aramco. This could prove to be a boon for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been eager to achieve a $2 trillion valuation of Aramco in a highly anticipated initial public offering, which is currently scheduled for 2018.

Considering the depressed state of the oil market, investors may be hesitant to meet the targets for Aramco’s valuation that the Saudi leadership has laid out. A private Chinese placement could solve this dilemma — and allow Riyadh to delay the IPO in the hopes that oil prices will improve. While this investment may not explicitly require that Saudi Arabia agree to trade in yuan, it would give China leverage toward that goal. For Mohammed bin Salman, Chinese investment in Aramco could kick-start a new economic partnership with Beijing.

For Mohammed bin Salman, Chinese investment in Aramco could kick-start a new economic partnership with Beijing.

As part of its economic reform, Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan intends to raise foreign direct investment from 3.8 percent of GDP to 5.7 percent, or an additional $12 billion per year.It is a far safer bet that China would be able and willing to inject that type of money into Saudi Arabia than U.S. private equity and hedge funds. The main reason for this is the difference in Chinese and Western time horizons when considering return on investment. While Western governments and companies have historically had appetite for infrastructure projects that offer a return on investment in a maximum of 30 to 40 years, the Chinese are playing a much longer game — in some cases investing in projects that break even in more than 100 years.

Saudi Arabia and China stand to gain from this geoeconomic shift — but what about the United States? For all its talk of remaking the U.S. economy, the Trump administration must heed the changing economic currents. Given the depths of Beijing’s interest in Saudi Aramco, it seems many policymakers in the Gulf and the West do not fully appreciate the geopolitical interests at stake. Aramco, formerly the Arabian-American Oil Company, will not rebrand itself — but it may effectively become “Archco,” the Arabian-Chinese Oil Company.

Asked how he went bankrupt, a character in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Risesresponded: “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.” It’s unlikely the petrodollar system will be fully replaced by an equivalent “petroyuan” system, but the dollar’s monopoly on major oil sales may loosen gradually — and then suddenly. That gradual process may have already begun.

(Economist) The first universal museum of the Arab world opens in the UAE

(Economist) Abu Dhabi tries to distinguish itself as a cultural destination

AS EMMANUEL MACRON and Muhammad bin Zayed, the president of France and the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), walked towards the Louvre Abu Dhabi (LAD) for its grand opening on November 8th, their eyes were fixed on the magnificent silvery domed roof—heavy as the Eiffel Tower—that appears to float above the galleries. They might have got a better sense of the project if they had gazed down at the floor.

For there, in the entrance, is a map of the UAE’s coastline. All along the shore, listed as if they were ports on an old parchment, are the names of towns around the world that manufactured the hundreds of objects on display inside. Each one is spelled out in its own language; 26 in all. There is Greek, Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. There is even one in Hebrew, for Qa al-Yahud, the old Jewish quarter in Sana’a, Yemen, where the LAD’s medieval Torah was made.

As a work of design, the museum, created by Jean Nouvel, a Pritzker prize-winning architect, will count as one of the great buildings of his generation. As an exercise in cultural co-operation and “soft diplomacy”, it is unprecedented. The 30-year contract, signed in 2007, is worth €974m euros ($1.1bn) to the Louvre and its partner museums in France. They, in turn, have lent the LAD 300 objects. The loans will continue for ten years and the Louvre and its partners are committed to mounting four exhibitions annually in Abu Dhabi for the next 15 years. It also advises on acquisitions for the LAD’s own collection. Prince Muhammad has described the museum to friends as the “crown jewel” in his country’s relationship with France. The UAE also hosts a French military base and an offshoot of the Sorbonne.

From the start, the crown prince and his trusted adviser, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, pushed hard for the project, which will end up costing more than €2bn, according to a professional who has seen the latest figures. Steering the museum to completion has been Mr Mubarak’s younger brother, Muhammad, an energetic 35-year-old property developer who chairs the museum’s governing body, the Tourism & Culture Authority. “Louvre Abu Dhabi is our gift to the world,” he says. The museum is the first of three planned for Saadiyat Island, the cultural district being built on a sandbar a short hop away from the city.

Across 12 galleries, the museum presents a chronological and thematic narrative of world history. The shift from hunter-gathering to sedentary life produced the first villages, symbolised here by a monumental, 8,500-year-old plasterwork statue with two heads, lent by Jordan. That led to the first great powers in the fertile valleys of the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, Indus and Yellow rivers around 3,000BC, which, in turn, led to the first empires, the universal religions and the continental trade routes. Pioneering voyages offered new perspectives on the world, and, in time, to new ways of living and governing. For the LAD, globalisation is a very old idea and a cause for optimism. The Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, which the museum bought from the Armand Hammer Foundation in Los Angeles, is a rare version with a rainbow in the background. The early galleries, with similar objects from similar periods, if coming from very different places, are very effective. The modern section less so.

The LAD is the first universal museum (one which aims to explain the world through its art history) to be built in the 21st century and the first in the Arab world. Manuel Rabaté, the French director, describes it as an “adaptation or renewal” of the Enlightenment idea that led to the original universal institutions—the British Museum, the Hermitage and the Louvre in Paris. Some may feel it is a bit rich for a country that has limited free speech and a history of using imported indentured labour on its construction sites to ask people to “see humanity in a new light” or “recognise ourselves in each other”, as exhorted to by the posters advertising the LAD on the main highway to Saadiyat Island. But its fans are passionate.

They see the LAD as a pillar in the effort to turn the UAE away from its dependence on oil to becoming a modern, knowledge-based economy. It will be an important local employer, especially of women, and not just in menial jobs. Hissa al-Dhaheri, the deputy director, is an Emirati woman, as is the finance director. The 60-strong staff is expected to grow to 150 by next year; many more will be employed indirectly. And it will be a draw for foreign tourists; 4.4m visited Abu Dhabi in 2016. The city is already a busy transport hub. The emphasis on culture distinguishes it from the shopping malls and glitzy commercial tourism of Dubai, an hour down the road.

Most of all, the LAD is seen locally, and by neighbours like Saudi Arabia, as a bastion against what it regards as the forces of evil: Islamic extremism and Iran. That Abu Dhabi feels itself under threat cannot be underestimated, and the iconography of fear runs through the museum—from Abel Grimmer’s 1595 painting of the Tower of Babel to the final exhibit, Ai Weiwei’s Babel-shaped “Fountain of Light”.

Now open, the museum still has work ahead. Once the French loans stop, the galleries will be filled from the LAD’s own collection. Some of the presentation could be smoother, and much still needs to be done on the training and education programmes if the museum is to gain an enthusiastic local following. First, though, it needs to take another look at the map on the floor of the entrance. The Hebrew word for Qa al-Yahud, the old Jewish quarter in San’aa, has been written back to front.

(BBG) UN Panel Blames Syrian Forces for Deadly Sarin Attack in April

(Bloomberg) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s
government was behind a deadly chemical attack that killed
scores of civilians in a rebel-held village last April, an
investigative panel said in a report to the United Nations
Security Council.
The April 4 attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun killed
more than 80 people and injured almost 300 others, according to
a report Thursday by a panel of investigators known as the Joint
Investigative Mechanism. In June, investigators from the
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the
attack probably involved the use of sarin, a lethal nerve agent,
or similar toxic weapons. But that agency isn’t authorized to
conclude who’s responsible for the use of banned chemicals.
After the attack, as images of dying children gasping for
air circulated in the media, the U.S. placed blame on the Syrian
military while also accusing Russia, which backs Assad’s
government, of pushing a “false narrative” that rebel forces
were behind the incident. In an early test of his
administration, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered dozens of
cruise missile strikes on the Shayrat airfield from which the
jet fighters had launched.
The attack on the town crossed “many, many lines, beyond
red lines,” Trump said at the time.
Assad’s government has repeatedly denied the charges.
“‎Time and again, we see independent confirmation of
chemical weapons use by the Assad regime,” U.S. Ambassador to
the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement after the report was
circulated. “The Security Council must send a clear message that
the use of chemical weapons by anyone will not be tolerated.”
The use of chemical weapons would also mean Syria violated
a deal to destroy such weapons, an accord brokered by the Obama
administration and Russia after an August 2013 sarin attack
killed more than 1,000 people in a Damascus suburb.

(Economist) A new war in Iraq, now between Shia Arabs and Kurds

(Economist) Iraqi leaders act to retake the city and its oilfields from the Kurds.

WITH its rich reserves of oil and multitude of ethnicities and religions, the city of Kirkuk was always contested. The jihadist takeover of much of northern and western Iraq in 2014 allowed the Kurds both to take over the disputed city, and pose as defenders of Iraqi freedom. Now that Islamic State (IS) is being defeated, the old disputes over who controls the city have reignited.

In the early hours of October 16th, Iraqi government forces advanced on the city, taking over the oilfields, the biggest military base outside the city, and then the governorate building in the centre.

Oil production was briefly shut down. Thousands of civilians are fleeing the city and surrounding province, choking the Kurdish checkpoints on the roads into the mountainous north.

So far the casualties have been relatively light. Most Peshmerga fighters withdrew without much of a fight. But some Kurds in the city have responded to calls from their leaders to take up arms in Kirkuk’s defence.

Several factors are inflaming tensions. The first was a referendum on Kurdish independence last month. It had been called by the regional government’s president, Masoud Barzani, against the advice of many officials. Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has vowed to prevent secession and halted international flights into Kurdish cities. Rival Kurdish factions are openly accusing each other of betraying Kirkuk.

Mr Abadi, sounding uncharacteristically belligerent, says the referendum will cost the Kurds “everything” they have gained since establishing an autonomous government in 1991. The loss of Kirkuk’s oilfields would certainly cost the Kurdish regional government its prime source of revenue at a time when it is already struggling to finance its rule.

Trade routes into the landlocked region have been severely impaired after Iran closed their common border. And Kurdish business interests elsewhere in Iraq have come under attack. Last week, gunmen attacked a regional office of Korek Telecom, a mobile-phone network run by Mr Barzani’s nephew, disabling its coverage in southern Iraq.

A second cause of conflict is the mounting tension between America and Iran. American diplomats are shuttling between Erbil and Baghdad, urging Messrs Abadi and Barzani, both of whom they consider allies, to restrain their forces. But America’s president, Donald Trump, risks undermining their efforts. On October 13th Mr Trump spoke out against Iran and vowed to curb its influence in the region.

He denounced the nuclear deal struck with Iran (and five other global powers) by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to lift certain sanctions on Iran in exchange for it curbing its nuclear programme and submitting it to tighter international scrutiny. Mr Trump also threatened to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country’s praetorian guard, as a terrorist organisation.

The IRGC has responded to his bombast with force. Ahead of the Kirkuk offensive, General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, the IRGC’s foreign-operations arm, arrived in Iraq. Two armed groups closely linked to Iran—the Popular Mobilisation Units (or Hashd al-Shaabi) and the Federal Police—led the assault.

Across the border in Syria, Iran’s allies are also advancing, rubbing close to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which are backed by America. On October 14th, Syrian forces took al-Mayadin, another town on the Euphrates, from Islamic State. Across the region, General Suleimani is demonstrating that while Mr Trump talks, Iran speedily acts.

Underlying these local fights is a broader scramble for vast swathes of the Fertile Crescent from which IS has retreated. Local militias and regional powers are racing to create facts on the ground. Raqqa, the capital of IS in Syria, is about to fall to American-backed Syrian rebels. But the Syrian government, and its Iranian and Shia allies, seem likely to win the race for control of Syria’s borders. Some still look for an agreed way forward. Last week Mr Abadi suggested establishing a joint administration in Kirkuk, involving Iraqi government and Kurdish officials. But as erstwhile allies in the struggle against IS turn their guns on each other, calls for negotiations look worryingly late.

(JakartaPost) Once promised paradise, IS fighters end up in mass graves

(JakartaPost)  

An Iraqi woman visits the grave of a relative, who was killed during battles with Islamic State (IS) group fighters, at a graveyard in the Iraqi town of Dhuluiyah, 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Baghdad, on Oct. 10, 2017. The Islamic State group once drew recruits from near and far with promises of paradise but now bodies of jihadists lie in mass graves or at the mercy of wild dogs as its (Agence France-Presse/Sabah Arar)

The Islamic State group once drew recruits from near and far with promises of paradise but now bodies of jihadists lie in mass graves or at the mercy of wild dogs as its “caliphate” collapses.

Flies buzz around human remains poking through the dusty earth in the Iraqi town of Dhuluiyah, 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Baghdad, at a hastily-dug pit containing the bodies of dozens of IS fighters killed in 2015.

“They should have ended up in the stomachs of stray dogs,” local police officer Mohammed al-Juburi told AFP.

“We buried them here not out of love but because we wanted to avoid diseases.”

At one stage, IS ruthlessly wielded power over a vast swathe of territory straddling Iraq and Syria, but a military onslaught on multiple fronts has seen its fiefdom shrink to a last few pockets.

Since the launch in 2014 of air strikes in Iraq and Syria against the group, a US-led coalition says around 80,000 jihadists have been killed.

The overall number of dead is higher if you include those targeted by Russian and Syrian strikes.

Buried with bulldozers

In agricultural Dhuluiyah on the banks of the Tigris river, residents faced a common dilemma over what to do with the corpses of IS fighters after local Sunni militiamen beat back the jihadists in fierce clashes.

“We could have thrown them into the water, but we love the river too much to pollute it,” said the local policeman, who lost his own brother in the violence.

“The people here as well as their animals drink from the Tigris.”

Local finally decided to dig a mass grave for the fighters — but they said they refused to honor them with Islamic rites.

Iraqis visit the grave of a relative, who was killed during battles with Islamic State (IS) group fighters, at a graveyard in the Iraqi town of Dhuluiyah, 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Baghdad, on Oct. 10, 2017. The Islamic State group once drew recruits from near and far with promises of paradise but now bodies of jihadists lie in mass graves or at the mercy of wild dogs as its (Agence France-Presse/Sabah Arar)

“We buried them with bulldozers. Even in the ground they are still mired in their own filth,” said farmer Shalan al-Juburi.

“They said that they would go to paradise to enjoy the gardens of delights, but this is how they ended up.”

The desolate site is in stark contrast to a nearby graveyard surrounded by a red-brick wall a few hundred metres (yards) away.

There the “martyrs” who died helping to stop the jihadist advance lie in well-tended tombs adorned with their portraits and shaded by trees.

Elsewhere, in western Iraq’s Anbar province, the luckiest among the IS dead appear to be those killed during its offensives against the army in 2015.

In the centre of Fallujah, the first major city captured by the group in 2014, hundreds of memorials in a makeshift cemetery bear the noms de guerre of foreign fighters buried by their comrades.

But as Iraqi forces in Anbar now look to oust the jihadists from their final footholds, operation commander Mahmoud al-Fellahi insisted any jihadists killed will end up in mass graves.

A similar fate befell IS members in the city of Mosul, the group’s largest urban stronghold in Iraq that it lost in July.

There, a senior Iraqi commander told AFP, authorities used earthmoving equipment “to bury the jihadists after we collected information on their identities and nationalities”.

‘Desert dogs are waiting’

Across the border in Syria — where competing Russia and US-backed offensives are squeezing IS — the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates some 50,000 IS members have been killed.

As clashes rage with the jihadists, one Syrian commander said that what happens to dead fighters is not a priority.

“At the moment, we are more interested in what happens above the ground than under it,” he told AFP.

Another military source said the identities of the fighters can provide useful intelligence.

“The terrorists try to collect their dead. If we find them, we try to identify the foreigners for a possible information swap with their home countries,” the source said.

In the desert plains that the jihadists once dominated, the bodies of dead fighters are left abandoned, a pro-regime militia head told AFP.

“The desert dogs are waiting for them,” he said. “When fighting ends, the jihadists come out of their hiding places to collect the remains.”

A spokesman for the US-backed force close to ousting IS from the city of Raqa said the bodies of the group’s members were “generally buried” whenever possible.

“But sometimes due to snipers or because they are under rubble, some of the bodies end up rotting,” said Syrian Defence Forces representative Mustefa Bali.

While the rank-and-file are often left forgotten, IS appears to have taken care to hide the final resting places of prominent Western jihadists.

“Figures who were well-known and wanted by the international community are buried at secret locations,” said Syrian Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Those include notorious British executioner Mohamed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John”, propaganda chief Abu Muhammad al-Adnani and military leader Omar al-Shishani.

There has been no record of bodies of foreign jihadists being repatriated, said Abdel Rahman.

 

Ammar Karim and Maher al-Mounes | Agence France-Presse | Dhuluiyah, Iraq