Wednesday, October 02, 2019

From Ian:

Seth Frantzman: Rosh HaShanah greetings in the Muslim world are changing
Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington put out “a happy and sweet new year” greeting this year, courtesy of her highness the Ambassador Reema Bandar al-Saud.

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin-Zayed al-Nahyan also wrote a “Shana Tovah” greeting on Twitter.

An aid to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani also wished Jews a happy a new year.

The three examples are small signs of increasing willingness of countries in the Middle East to express tolerance and openness to Jews. This is interesting, considering the fact that Jews lived in most modern Middle Eastern countries since before their current foundations and have roots in the region going back thousands of years. However many of the modern countries in the region have had varying degrees of official state anti-semitism expressed either in textbooks or through obsession with destroying Israel, often thinly veiled behind hatred for Jews in general.

Because some of the governments in the region linked their hatred for Israel with a loathing, suspicion and persecution of their own Jewish minorities they chose to forego any expression of respect for the Jewish religion. Now things are changing, just a bit. With a new chapter being written in Israel-Gulf relations, the first steps can be seen in respect for Jews in general, including discussions with openly Jewish delegations, rabbis or groups, and discussions about having a synagogue or two here and there. Much of this is still a sensitive issue, and in general while there have been overtures to Jewish communities, and outreach in places like Bahrain, Dubai, Qatar, and the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, there is still much work to do.
In first, Saudi envoy in Washington sends Rosh Hashanah greeting to US Jews
Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington sent out Rosh Hashanah greetings to US Jews wishing them a happy and sweet Jewish new year, NBC News reported Tuesday.

According to the report, it was the first time the embassy has sent such a message to Jewish people in America.

“On this occasion of Rosh Hoshanna [sic], Her Highness The Ambassador Reema Bandar Al Saud sends her wishes for a happy and sweet new year,” the embassy wrote on the greeting card.

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Along the bottom the card read, “Happy Shana Tova,” along with images of honey, apples, and pomegranates, all foods traditionally eaten at Rosh Hashanah feasts.

The report did not say in what format the card was sent out. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, fell on Monday and Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, Princess Reema Bandar Al Saud (screenshot: YouTube)

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington sent out Rosh Hashanah greetings to US Jews wishing them a happy and sweet Jewish new year, NBC News reported Tuesday.

According to the report, it was the first time the embassy has sent such a message to Jewish people in America.

“On this occasion of Rosh Hoshanna [sic], Her Highness The Ambassador Reema Bandar Al Saud sends her wishes for a happy and sweet new year,” the embassy wrote on the greeting card.

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Along the bottom the card read, “Happy Shana Tova,” along with images of honey, apples, and pomegranates, all foods traditionally eaten at Rosh Hashanah feasts.

The report did not say in what format the card was sent out. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, fell on Monday and Tuesday.

Last week the State of Israel congratulated Saudi Arabia on its national day, showering the Gulf kingdom with warm wishes for peace and security, despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry routinely tweets congratulations on countries’ national days, but only to those with which it has formal diplomatic ties.

PMW: Ignoring the elephant in the room - World Bank distorts report to absolve PA of fiscal responsibility
In a press release accompanying a new World Bank report assessing the PA economy Kanthan Shankar, the World Bank's Country Director for West Bank and Gaza said that the PA is having financial difficulties due to the "liquidity squeeze":
"The outlook for the Palestinian territories is worrisome as drivers of growth are diminishing and the severe liquidity squeeze has started to affect the PA's ability to fulfill its responsibilities of paying its civil servants and providing public services."
[World Bank website, Sept., 19, 2019]

This ostensibly bleak prognosis was based on a 15-page report that pointed to two major factors that contributed to the PA's financial crisis, but completely ignored the elephant in the room: That the PA's financial crisis is a direct result of its "Pay-for-Slay" policy which has the PA squander millions of shekels/dollars/euro's a year to pay monthly salaries to terrorist prisoners and released prisoners as well as monthly allowances to wounded terrorists and the families of dead terrorists!

According to the World Bank report, the two dominant factors underlying the PA's latest financial crisis are Israel's "unilateral deductions of almost US$12 million per month from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA" and a reduction in foreign aid.

Providing no context for the Israeli deductions, in what can at best be seen as an act of willful blindness and at worst a deliberate attempt to mislead the international community, the World Bank report never once referred directly to Israel's Anti-"Pay-for-Slay" law according to which, Israel withholds PA taxes equaling the amount the PA rewards terrorists, and never bothered to note that it was legislated as a direct response to the PA's "Pay-for-Slay" policy.

The report did not explain, for example, that the PA budgeted hundreds of millions of shekels, in 2018 alone, to reward the wounded terrorists and the families of the dead terrorists, and that the PA admitted to paying 502 million shekels in salaries to terrorist prisoners and released prisoners.
PMW around the world

With Kurz victory, Israel keeps good friend in Europe - analysis
While Jerusalem has not formally reacted to the decisive victory of Sebastian Kurz in Austria’s parliamentary election – likely because the results were announced Sunday, on Rosh Hashanah – there are certainly smiles in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry since Kurz is one of Israel’s strongest supporters in Europe.

Kurz, who was ousted as chancellor in May in a no-confidence vote after some 18 months in power, called a snap election and increased his strength at the ballot box by some 5% from the last election.

The far-right Freedom Party – whose leader Heinz-Christian Strache was involved in a scandal that led to the breakup of the Kurz’s coalition earlier this year – garnered 10% less at the polls this time around.

Both Kurz’s strong victory and the poor showing of the Freedom Party – a far-right party with an antisemitic past with whom Israel would not officially engage – are positive developments for Israel.

Kurz last visited Israel in July, after he lost the no-confidence vote and was headed for elections. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met him and called him a “tremendous friend of the State of Israel, a champion of fighting antisemitism and great leader for Austria.”

Netanyahu developed a strong relationship with Kurz – first when Kurz was foreign minister from 2013 to 2017, and then when he became chancellor in December 2017.

Kurz has emerged over the last few years as one of Israel’s best friends in Europe – giving pro-Israel speeches, tweeting his support, visiting the Western Wall, standing up for Israel in various EU forums and developing a close relationship with Netanyahu.
UN Watch: It’s official: Venezuela’s Maduro regime set to win seat on UN’s top human rights body
It’s official: Venezuela has submitted its candidacy for a seat on the UN’s highest human rights body, and barring an unexpected shift, the Maduro regime — despite being accused of gross and systematic human rights abuses — will be elected by a vote in the UN general assembly on October 16th, according to UN Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization based in Geneva. (See Venezuela’s human rights pledges below.)

The voting will also confer council membership on at least three other countries – Libya, Mauritania, and Sudan – that independent human rights groups also judge to be unqualified by reason of their chronic human rights abuses and negative voting record on rights issues.

UN Watch warned the results could severely undermine the council’s credibility. “Electing Venezuela to a human rights council is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the watchdog group.

The outcome of next month’s vote can be predicted in advance because the geographically organized regional slates to which Venezuela and the other countries belong have not nominated alternative candidates, so all four will be elected unopposed.

In 2017, the EU pledged to “strive to ensure competitive Human Rights Council membership elections, particularly by encouraging more candidates than seats within each regional group,” however UN Watch is unaware of any EU effort to encourage candidate countries from the Latin American group to challenge Venezuela, or to encourage African countries to submit candidacies to challenge Libya, Mauritania and Sudan.

Neuer said the creation of the council in 2006 by the late Kofi Annan, then UN secretary general, was intended to weed out the worst abusers, whose presence had discredited the council’s predecessor, the now-defunct UN human rights commission. “Sadly, this was never respected. This year, there is not even the illusion of competition,” Neuer said.
Netanyahu refuses to give up right-wing bloc despite calls for unity gov't
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the leaders of the parties in his Right-Center political bloc on Wednesday and told them he was refusing Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s demand to give up the bloc as a condition for coalition talks.

Netanyahu said he would continue to negotiate on behalf of the bloc of 55 MKs. The party heads urged him to continue efforts to build a coalition before returning the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin.

While Netanyahu’s associates said Saturday night that he would likely return the mandate before the Rosh Hashana holiday started on Sunday evening, he is now expected to wait for the new Knesset to be sworn in on Thursday.

Netanyahu blamed Blue and White’s unwillingness to sit in a government led by him on Gantz’s number two, Yair Lapid. Sources in Blue and White said Gantz was more willing to accept serving briefly under Netanyahu than Lapid, but if Netanyahu did not give up the bloc, there was nothing to negotiate.

It is possible that Likud will make an effort to bring Yisrael Beytenu or Labor-Gesher into the coalition before the mandate is returned. Army Radio reported that Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman summoned his confidant, JNF UK chairman Samuel Hayek from London to handle coalition talks.

If Netanyahu returns the mandate, Rivlin is expected to immediately task Gantz with 28 days to form a government. If he fails, there will be 21 days in which any MK can build a coalition and prevent another election.
Poll: 52% want Netanyahu to stand down as Likud leader to enable unity coalition
A poll published Friday indicated that almost two-thirds of Israelis would rather see the country’s rival political parties backtrack on election promises and compromise, rather than be plunged into a third election in a year.

A narrow majority also say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should step down as Likud leader to enable a unity government. The rival Blue and White party has offered to partner Likud in a coalition, but only if Netanyahu, who is embroiled in legal difficulties, steps down.

According to the Channel 12 survey, only 23% favored further elections to break the current political deadlock, with 63% wanting the rival Likud and Blue and White parties to compromise on their positions to enable a unity government.

The poll comes after negotiating teams for Likud and Blue and White met Friday morning for ongoing talks over a potential unity government between the two parties, but made little headway, with each side appearing chiefly concerned with avoiding any blame for a collapse of negotiations.

Some 33% blamed Netanyahu for the deadlock, compared to 20% blaming Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, and 25% holding the rivals equally to blame, the survey found.
Liberman will ‘make own offer’ to PM and Gantz if no breakthrough by Yom Kippur
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party on Wednesday said it would “present its own offer” to the country’s two largest rival parties if they fail to reach a power-sharing agreement by next week.

“The last thing the country needs now is new elections,” the party said in a statement, adding that a third vote was unlikely to significantly alter the political landscape.

“We must reach a rational solution and leave all personal considerations and ego aside,” Liberman told party colleagues. “If by Yom Kippur [next Tuesday evening] there is no breakthrough, Yisrael Beytenu will present its own offer to the two factions [Likud and Blue and White].”

He noted that after the holy day, “the task of government-building will switch into high gear.”

Liberman added that when the 22nd Knesset is sworn in on Thursday, he will use the opportunity to try and advance talks between the sides.

Liberman on Sunday had warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz that the public would not forgive them if they failed to form a unity government and consequently send the country to elections for the third time in less than a year.
Joint List to boycott Knesset swearing-in over violence in Arab communities
The Joint List alliance of four Arab-majority parties said it will boycott Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony for the new Knesset to protest what it calls the government’s failure to address rising levels of violence in Arab towns.

“Tomorrow, the 13 members of Knesset of the Joint List won’t take part in the festive Knesset swearing-in plenum, as part of the general strike announced by the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee over the wave of murders in Arab towns and the uselessness of the police,” Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi wrote on Twitter.

Recent weeks have seen a surge in murders among the country’s Arab minority, prompting its political representatives to promise to make the problem a primary issue.

Over 60 Arab Israelis have been murdered since the start of 2019.

“The dozens of people murdered since the start of the year are victims not only of violent crime, but also of the disinterest of the government and law enforcement,” tweeted Joint List leader Ayman Odeh.
Two suspects arrested for allegedly transporting terror cash
Border Police forces in the area of Jerusalem's Abu Dis arrested two Palestinian suspects transporting thousands of Israeli shekels, which were suspected to be used for terrorist activities, according to a police spokesperson.

The two Palestinian suspects were stopped at a security crossing in the area through a joint initiative between intelligence officers and police forces.

The suspicious vehicle contained NIS 80,000, €2,700 and $3,350 - all of which was seized by intelligence forces.

The two suspects from Jenin, aged 20 and 30, have been arrested and are now being questioned by authorities to determine further action.
Report: Hezbollah, Iranian forces suffer from mysterious poisoning in Damascus
A large number of Hezbollah fighters and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops were hospitalized due to food poisoning this week, Syrian state media reported Wednesday.

According to the reports, the poisoning can be traced to water in one of Damascus's southern suburbs, although it was unclear why it had been contaminated and whether this was intentional.

According to various reports in the foreign media, the Revolutionary Guards have recently been working on setting up a command center just south of the Syrian capital, to Russia's chagrin.

One report claimed that Russia, which apparently views this as a blatant effort on the part of Iran to establish a high-profile and permanent presence in Syria, has tried to sabotage those plans.

It remains to be seen whether this latest incident was a result of foul play.
Iran’s Soleimani claims he and Nasrallah barely escaped Israeli air raid in 2006
The head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps on Tuesday claimed that Israeli aircraft targeted him and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Qassem Soleimani made the comments during his first major interview, a lengthy one-on-one that was screened on Iranian television.

Soleimani described his role in overseeing fighting against Israel, from Beirut, during the Second Lebanon War thirteen years ago, and specified that he reported to Tehran on a daily basis and was in constant contact with Khamenei.

Soleimani said he spent almost the entire duration of the 34-day conflict in Lebanon, which he entered from Syria alongside Imad Mughniyeh, a commander of the Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah who was assassinated in 2008.

“Israeli spy planes were constantly flying overhead” in the Dahiyeh neighborhood of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, Soleimani said.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah “had a situation room” in the heart of the area, he said, and the Israelis were “watching every movement.”
Hundreds protest in Lebanon’s capital over worsening economic crisis
Hundreds of Lebanese protested Sunday in the country’s capital and other areas over an economic crisis that worsened over the past two weeks, with worries over dollar-reliant Lebanon’s local currency losing value for the first time in more than two decades.

Lebanon is facing a deep-running fiscal crisis as it staggers under one of the highest debt ratios in the world, at $86 billion or more than 150% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Many of Sunday’s protesters in downtown Beirut blamed Lebanese political leaders for the widespread mismanagement and corruption.

The protesters gathered shortly before noon in the central Martyrs Square, then marched toward the government headquarters where riot police were deployed.

“The people want to bring down the regime,” some of the protesters chanted as riot police stopped them from marching toward the government headquarters. The slogan echoed that of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

Other protesters chanted “peaceful” and tried to stop the young men who clashed with security forces.
Lebanese PM gave over $16 million to South African model — report
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri reportedly gave over $16 million to a South African swimsuit model who says they were romantically involved.

The payments from Hariri to Candice van der Merwe began in 2013, when he was not in office but still leader of his Future Movement party, the New York Times reported Monday.

The report, which cited South African court documents, said the two met in the Seychelles in 2013, when Hariri was between terms as prime minister and managing the family business.

Van der Merwe was 19 years old when she was reportedly recruited in 2012 to visit a resort in the archipelago country “frequented by some of the richest private individuals in the world” and to where models were brought from overseas “to lend a sense of glamour and exclusivity.”
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrives in the garden of the Elysee Palace to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, September 20, 2019, in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

According to the report, van der Merwe made numerous additional trips to the Seychelles and in May 2013 received $15,299,965 from a Lebanese bank. She also received two luxury cars worth over $250,000, which her lawyer said were bought by the same “extremely well-to-do Middle Eastern gentleman” who transferred her the money.
UN excludes one third of Syria, mostly Kurds, from constitution committee
A new UN committee tasked with writing a Syrian constitution has excluded voices from one third of the country and may be given foreign powers a veto over which Syrian voices are allowed, according to reports. Despite claims by the UN’s Geir Pedersen that the UN would have “Syrians sitting together,” including voices from the diaspora, large groups appear to be excluded.

The committee was announced last week by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and will meet in Geneva on October 30. The committee is supposed to include “members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition representatives,” according to reports. The agreement was made between the “Syrian Arab Republic” and the Syrian Negotiations Commission and is intended to be a “credible, balance and inclusive Constitutional Committee that will be facilitated by the UN.”

Unfortunately, like many UN actions it is the precise opposite of the language embodied in its formation. Critics say it is neither balanced or inclusive, excluding voices from the larger Kurdish groups in eastern Syria and largely excluding most Syrians from the process, erring instead on the side of Assad and Turkish-backed opposition groups to have a veto over the participation of others. Turkey’s desire to exclude SDF-linked groups is because Ankara argues they are linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which Ankara views as a terrorist organization. Similarly the Syrian regime describes many Syrian groups, particularly religious extremists, in Idlib as terrorists and will not want them represented.
Report: Tehran, Moscow Clash over Iranian Plans to Build Up Military near Damascus
Syrian state media report that Iran is looking to establish a district for Iranian forces and Shiite militias in the southern Damascus suburb of Set Zaynab.

Tehran wants to set up a large number of accommodations, headquarters and logistics warehouses in the area, but has run into resistance from Russia.

The Russians, who have reportedly closed down major roads to militia forces in the southern parts of the capital, fear that the actions may provoke an Israeli military response and put their own personnel at risk.

It has also been reported that control of Damascus and its environs is currently in the hands of Syrian army units receiving direct orders from the Russians.
'Don't Go Wobbly' on Iran
In response to the Iranian military attacks, the American government, which had been flirting with the idea of renewed diplomacy, instead enhanced its already tough economic sanctions and avoided a retaliatory military strike. Washington thus revealed itself to be far more clever than its critics: if the US had taken military action, and Iranian civilian casualties had been incurred, Tehran would have claimed to be the victim -- and US aggression would have become the center of debate. Even without that pretext, Iran has been claiming to be the victim and accused the US of being the "supporter of terrorism in our region."

In short, through a combined policy of military restraint and economic pressure, the Trump administration has shifted the entire discussion on Iran.

No longer is preserving the JCPOA the issue, but rather jettisoning it and perhaps starting over. No longer is the use or abuse of American military power the focus of debate, but rather Iran's terrorist activities -- not just against America and Israel -- but against the entire world's energy sources.

The late US President Ronald Reagan bankrupted the Soviet Union through taking down its proxies around the world, with the help of such groups as the Solidarity movement in Poland and the democratic resistance in Nicaragua. His programs, such as the Strategic Defense Initiative, made it untenable for Moscow to maintain its empire, which broke up in 1991.

One hopes that the Trump administration's use of economic pressure against Iran -- with the help and missile-defense mechanisms of America's Middle East allies, including Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- may cause the four-decade run of the Iranian mullahs' war against America and Western civilization to come to an end.

But this can only happen if -- in the words of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher -- America and its allies "don't go wobbly."
Israel Facing Increasing Danger from Iran
Yoav Limor Brig.-Gen. Dror Shalom, head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division, warns, "We're in a much more complex reality than we were in the past, and it's only getting worse....At the end of the day, it's all about Iran." He estimates it will take Iran two years to build a nuclear bomb.

In the past few years, Israel has been very active in Syria against Hizbullah's attempts to arm itself and against Iranian attempts to entrench itself there militarily. "A lot fewer weapons are coming in. The Shiite militia bases they wanted to build aren't being built. Iran's monetary investment has declined."

"I think it's very likely" that Quds Force commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani will shoot at Israel from Iraq. "It could be surface-to-surface missiles, cruise missiles, or long-range UAVs. He has UAVs that can fly 1,000-1,200 km. (600-700 miles) which he has used in the Persian Gulf....My working assumption is that it's only a matter of time until he tries."

In Gaza, "Hamas wants a deal, but one that doesn't recognize Israel....Hamas is now willing to agree to long-term ceasefires....We in intelligence have identified an opportunity for an agreement."
Khamenei: We’ll further breach nuke deal until we get ‘desired results’
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday threatened that Iran would further breach the international accord that set limits on its nuclear program until it obtains the “desired results.”

Since May, Iran has taken a number of steps in violation of the 2015 agreement, including stockpiling uranium above the permitted limit and installing advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

Iran says the moves ae in protest over a lack of economic relief from the deal’s European signatories since US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord last year and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

“Regarding the nuclear issue, we will seriously pursue reduction of our commitments. The Government should precisely, thoroughly pursue that until we reach the desired results—and we will certainly by the Grace of God achieve the desired outcomes,” Khamenei wrote on his Twitter account.

He did not specify what additional steps Iran may take in breach of the pact.
Top IRGC commander says Iran has 'the capability to annihilate' Israel
Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) head Hossein Salami General Hossien Salami said Iran has "the capability to annihilate" Israel and it must be "wiped off the world" map, during an IRGC commanders gathering on Monday.

During his speech, Salami added this idea is within Iran's reach.

He said, "The second step of the revolution is the step that rearranges the constellation of power in favor of the revolution. Iran's Islamic evolution will be on top of this constellation... In the second step we will be thinking of the global mobilization of Islam."

This is not the first time a top Iranian official has called for the destruction of Israel. In the past, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei also called for the destruction of Tel Aviv and Haifa.

However, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has repeatedly denied any Iranian leader ever threatening Israel. He most recently made these statements in December 2018.
Putin says no evidence Iran behind attack on Saudi oil facilities
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday there was no proof Iran carried out the missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities last month, and the United States had yet to present evidence proving the Islamic Republic was behind the strikes that rattled global energy markets.

“We condemn this [attack], but we are against shifting the blame on Iran, as there is no evidence for that,” Putin said at a Moscow energy conference, according to the Sputnik news agency.

The Russian leader said he recently spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who assured him Tehran was not involved in the September 14 assault that halved the kingdom’s oil production.

Iran has denied responsibility and the Houthi rebels it backs in Yemen said they were behind the attack.

But Riyadh’s ally Washington and European powers have blamed the drone and cruise missile strike on Tehran.
Rouhani blames Trump for failure of French nuclear compromise efforts in NY
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said that he supports a plan by European countries to bolster his country’s unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but the proposal was scuppered by US President Donald Trump openly threatening to impose more sanctions.

Speaking during a weekly cabinet meeting in Tehran, Rouhani said: “We agree with the general framework” in which France, Britain and Germany urged Tehran to enter talks about a new arrangement on the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Rouhani said the plan included preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, securing its support for regional peace, lifting US sanctions and the immediate resumption of Iranian oil exports.

He said the plan could have been discussed during his visit in New York last week for the UN General Assembly, but that Trump sank the chances by vowing in his speech to the assembly that not only would sanctions remain in place but “they will be tightened.”

Rouhani accused Washington of sending mixed messages by privately being open to compromise but publicly calling for increased pressure on Iran.
Poll: Most Americans Support Sending Troops, Missile Defenses to Saudi Arabia
A majority of voters support sending at least some U.S. troops and missile and air defenses to Saudi Arabia after airstrikes on Saudi oil fields this month that the U.S., European and Arab nations have blamed on Iran, according to a new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the poll released Thursday said they would back sending such military support to Saudi Arabia, while 42 percent said they would oppose such a move.

A larger majority of respondents, 72 percent, said they support sanctions that the Trump administration has placed on Iran in the wake of the oil field attacks, according to the survey.

Nearly as many respondents, 71 percent, also said the U.S. should to ramp up diplomatic and economic pressure on Tehran instead of launching a military strike on the country.

Sending U.S. troops and air defenses to Saudi Arabia would almost certainly escalate tensions with Iran and raise the potential of a new U.S.-involved conflict in the Middle East.
MEMRI: Lebanese Journalist: Iran Acting To Replace Armies Of Neighboring Countries With Militias Under Its Control
In August 2019 Yousuf Al-Nasseri, an official in the Shi'ite Iraqi pro-Iranian militia Harakat Hizbullah Al-Nujaba, called to dissolve the "mercenary" Iraqi army and replace it with Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi [the Popular Mobilization Units – PMU], the umbrella of Shi'ite militias of which Al-Nujaba is part.[1] In response, Lebanese journalist Toni Francis, a columnist for the Al-Hayat daily, wrote that Al-Nasser's statement was part of the Iranian campaign to take over Iraq. Iran, he claimed, uses its ties with Shi'ite leaders and militias in Iraq, as well as in other countries in the region, in order to expand its influence zone and promote its agenda, including its struggle against the American influence, especially in Iraq. He added that the attempt to take over Iraq using the PMU is similar to the efforts of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to take over other countries by means of its militias, such as the Houthi militia in Yemen and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Therefore, we must not be surprised if we hear calls to disband the armies of those countries as well, he said.

The following are excerpts from Francis's column:[2]
"The call of Yousuf Al-Nasseri, an official in the Iraqi Harakat Al-Nujaba militia, to disband the Iraqi army did not come out of nowhere. Harakat [Al-Nujaba] forms an active part of the PMU militias, most of which are loyal to the Iranian leadership and follow its orders. Therefore, Al-Nasseri's campaign cannot be viewed separately from the Iranian program aimed at turning Iraq into an empty husk and completing its takeover of it.

"Iran does not hide its aspiration to replace the armies of the neighboring countries with the militias it supports and funds. It managed to take the first important steps in this direction in Iraq after the [2003] U.S. invasion and the notorious decision to disband the Iraqi army. It is no secret that the attitude of [Iraq's] Kurdish and Shi'ite sectors towards the Iraqi army was negative [at the time], because the Shi'ite sectors had been oppressed by the Saddam Hussein regime – oppression that only intensified as a result of [their] uprisings against the dictatorial regime – and the Kurds suffered from oppression throughout [their] history, including from massacres and abuses. Therefore, it was a foregone conclusion that the relations of these two sectors [the Kurds and the Shi'ites] with the military establishment would be somewhat tentative.
By Attacking Saudi Arabia, Iran Has Taken a Step Beyond Proxy Warfare
When the Iran-backed Yemenite Houthi rebels took responsibility for the attack on Saudi oil facilities, the claim at first seemed credible, as the Houthis have previously used drones against the Saudis. But further investigation suggests that Iran attacked the oil fields itself, with cruise missiles launched from its own territory, likely alongside drones. Dore Gold points to a single reason why the Islamic Republic would move from conducting a proxy war with Saudi Arabia to more direct conflict: the ayatollahs have not yet encountered retaliation, and they will continue to escalate until they do. (Video, 8 minutes. Text available at the link below.)

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