Monday, January 04, 2021

From Ian:

Can the “Abrahamic narrative” grow beyond the Gulf states?
The speed with which Israeli ties to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have taken off, and the warmth experienced by every Israeli business delegation and tourist group in these countries, is astounding.

One explanation for this alacrity is that the normalization of ties between these Gulf Arabs and Israelis partially is based on something deeper than security and economic relations. From the Gulf side, it is based on a genuine discourse of religious moderation and broad-mindedness.

The Emiratis and Bahrainis explicitly want to set an example for other Arab countries in the region. The question is whether their models of moderate and mature thinking indeed can be exported to other parts of the Arab world? Can it catch on elsewhere?

In fact, every Israeli to whom I have related my conversations and experiences in the Gulf has asked me this very question. They say: Let’s assume we believe you, and stipulate that some Gulf Arabs are genuine in their pursuit of peace and partnership with Israel, based on a self-conception that prioritizes open-mindedness and non-discrimination. But how are Gulf Arab leaders going to influence the Palestinians, or the Egyptians and Jordanians?

After all, Israelis have been conditioned to hear only bitterness from Israel’s immediate Arab neighbors; a narrative of self-pity and anger marked by complaints, false allegations, vituperation, and in some cases, glorification of violence against Israel.

Some of these Arabs still maintain a border conflict with Israel; some are deeply embedded in a rejectionist narrative that denies the Jewish People’s historic and legitimate connection to Zion; and some openly seek Israel’s destruction!

So, what can the Emiratis and Bahrainis really do about changing attitudes among the Arab populations that sit on Israel’s borders?
Seven reasons for the ‘post-jihadist’ milieu
With America in a moment of deep polarization, elections looming in Israel and the coronavirus still wreaking havoc around the world, the local and global situation seems murky. And yet, ironically, within this mud-swamp grows a beautiful flower of Middle East hope: The Abraham Accords—the beginnings of the Arab world’s normalization with Israel. The Abraham Accords are, in turn, an outward manifestation of an even broader movement happening within the Arab world: post-jihadism.

Jihad means struggle, and it represents the Islamic value of holy war against infidels. Post-jihadism, on the other hand, is the tendency away from pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism—the ideologies of Arab-Islamic conquest—and its replacement with the ideal of regional cooperation and the goals of societal and individual self-actualization and prosperity.

Post-jihadism has a long way to go, to be sure. But the old thinking is being challenged—and there are at least seven contributing factors that are helping ignite the imagination for a post-jihadist Middle East:

1. States running jihadism are a disaster
Regional Arabs are rethinking jihadism, because it doesn’t make sense in the modern industrial world. A posture of conquest simply does not equal power and wealth the way that it used to. Instead, the Arab street sees that the jihadist-leaning states and organizations, such as Iran and ISIS, eschew minimum freedoms, and bring misery, poverty and death to their people.

In other Arab states, rulers used jihadism as a national goal to draw popular ire away from inept leadership, endemic corruption, slothful bureaucracy and a stagnant pre-industrial economy. Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser had a goal of defeating Israel, while Iraq’s Saddam Hussein dreamed of defeating Iran. But the jihad distraction is no longer working. People in Arab countries are no longer content to forfeit their own lives and upward mobility for their corrupt leaders’ dreams of victory.

Discontent with jihadism is also rocking the foundations of a related concept: anti-Israelism. Destroying Israel was once a reliable rallying cry in the Arab world.
Seth Frantzman: Gulf reconciliation: Impact and implications for Israel - analysis
Qatar’s double game has never been clear. On the one hand, it appears open to Israel, and its friends say it is astute and could normalize relations with Israel. It has tried to sell itself to pro-Israel groups, including far-right pro-Israel voices, as being open to Israel. But at the end of the day, Qatar’s long-term role has been with far-right Islamist groups, not moderates.

Yet it claims to be open to hosting Israelis for sports events and being moderate. There were Hanukkah celebrations in Dubai, not Doha, in December. It talks about doing things, but when it comes to actually doing them, there is no real verification that it has changed.

The question is whether Ankara and Doha are just paying lip service to appear like the “good cop” for the Biden administration, or whether they will change. So far, Ankara hasn’t changed. It still backs extremists in Syria, it has ravaged Afrin, and it stirs up trouble in the Mediterranean.

These countries could have used their influence with Hamas to change it and change its antisemitic terrorism-supporting message. They didn’t do that. This illustrates that when it comes to reducing extremism, it’s not clear if these countries will do it.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have done more than just lip service. They want change, moderation and tolerance.

The question is whether Gulf reconciliation means that Qatar changes its role and reduces its reliance on Turkey and links to Iran, or whether the opposite happens and it seeks to open up doors for groups such as Hamas via its reconciliation.

Cairo and Riyadh likely would not want any opening to the Brotherhood after years in which they went as far as possible to crush groups linked to it. But they, too, want warmer relations with the new US administration.

Those are the question marks. What does Qatar’s game plan mean for the peace deals and Hamas and the Palestinians? Will it stoke tensions or reduce them? Will it mean more peace and normalization, or will it put the brakes on?

Israel, pragmatically, has been able to deal with Qatar in the past and will in the future. But Israel also knows that Ankara and its links to Doha and Hamas, represent a hostility that has not changed.

“Trust, but verify,” the saying goes. Ankara and Doha have not veritably changed. Many other peace-promoting countries have.


Khaled Abu Toameh: Arabs: An Extremely Important Voice for Peace
When someone with George Kurdahi's weight and stature openly states that it is up to the Arab countries to decide whether they want to make peace with Israel, this sends a message to millions of Arabs that the idea of establishing relations with Israel may not be a bad one after all.

This, needless to say, is a refreshing change, especially because it is coming from a country such as Lebanon, which is effectively ruled by Hezbollah and the mullahs in Iran.

"If the weapons [of Hezbollah] undermine the State of Lebanon and are an obstacle to the return of many Arabs to Lebanon, then there needs to be re-examination of the situation. Hezbollah must reconsider its positions so that we can ensure a prosperous future for Lebanon." — George Kurdahi, one of the Arab world's most influential TV presenters, YouTube, December 26, 2020, Lebanon.

Kurdahi may have "shocked" his audience by speaking out in favor of peace with Israel and by criticizing the Palestinians and Hezbollah. His words, however, hardly surprised those who read and listen to what many Arabs in the Gulf have been saying about the Palestinians and Hezbollah, as well as peace with Israel.

These Arabs also have a clear and powerful opinion of Hezbollah: a manipulative and murderous terrorist group that serves as proxy for the mullahs in Iran and poses a real threat not only to Israel, but to Lebanon and other Arab countries as well.
Dore Gold: The Makings of the U.S. Recognition of the Moroccan Sahara
The security challenges that the Moroccans face primarily emanate from the area of the former Spanish colony of the Western Sahara, where an insurgency campaign is being waged by guerrillas from the Polisario front against the Moroccan security forces, with the support of Algeria. Morocco had valid claims to this disputed territory; many tribes in the area had been historically linked to the Moroccan monarchy.

It was clear that the Polisario, far from being a national liberation movement deserving global backing, were emerging as an organization linked to the terrorist network Iran had established across the Middle East and Africa. The Western powers did not have to send their air forces to North Africa, but they could deny the Polisario their diplomatic goals.

After Syria hosted Iranian proxy forces in large numbers, the U.S. issued a proclamation in March 2019 recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. After the Polisario decided to work with Iran, an equivalent move of recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara made perfect sense.

It was a strategy that was working. Already Bahrain, Jordan, and the UAE all had spoken about opening up consulates on the territory of the Western Sahara.

South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, distanced his country from Polisario claims. This was significant given the fact that South Africa, besides being the most powerful country in Africa, also held the presidency of the African Union.

If the U.S. wished to reinforce political moderation across the region and weaken the axis of extremism, then reinforcing Morocco's position on the Sahara issue was a wise approach to follow.
Pierre Rehov: Peace Agreements between Israel and Morocco: The Wisdom of a King
"30 years is long enough to place ballot boxes." — Sami Gailani, blaming the UN for the conflict in the Western Sahara that had been frozen for 30 years; Euronews; November 17, 2020.

"There is no Sahrawi people as there is a French, American or Moroccan people," stated the political scientist Alexandre Greenberg. "The only institution that claims to represent the Sahrawi people is the Polisario Front, a Marxist guerrilla group armed by Algeria."

Through these agreements, stemming from the Trump doctrine, which redraw the map of an Arab world more united in the face of Iranian threats and Turkish ambitions, a modern myth is shattering -- that of "international law" represented by the false omnipotence of the United Nations.

The agreement forged by His Majesty King Mohammed VI and the United States is a feat of great statesmanship -- a firm diplomatic triumph for peace in the Middle East.


Shin Bet: Horgen murderer ‘wanted to avenge Palestinian prisoner’s death’
The Palestinian alleged to have murdered Esther Horgen in the northern West Bank last month did it to avenge the death of a friend who died in prison, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said on Monday.

The name of the suspect is Mohammad Maroh Kabaha, a 40-year-old resident of the village of a-Tura near Jenin.

Kabaha has served time in prison for terror-related activities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also lauded the security services and said that "we will be strict in our judgment of him", adding that Israel will seek all those who aided him too.

"Let all those who wish us harm know," Netanyahu said, "Israel's long reach will get to them anyplace, anytime."

Along with Kabaha, four more suspects were arrested, suspected of helping him hide from the Israeli security forces who were looking for him after the attack.

The Shin Bet added that during his interrogation, Kabaha said that he planned the attack some six weeks in advance. One reason was to avenge the death of his friend Camal Abu Wae’r – a Palestinian prisoner who fell sick and died in jail.


IDF sees record number of Israeli Arab conscripts (recruits)
More than 1,000 Israeli Arabs have volunteered to serve in the IDF as conscripts or reservists in the past year, and most after the coronavirus crisis began in March, the military's Manpower Directorate said Sunday.

The number of conscripts (recruits) from the Arab sector is more than twice that of previous years, and includes Muslims from areas such as Taibe, Qalansuwa and East Jerusalem, Bedouin from the Galilee and Christian Arabs from the north.

Alongside the overall increase in the number of new Israeli Arab troops, the number of those enlisting for combat roles has also increased. Some 450 new soldiers enlisted as scouts and fighters in the Bedouin patrol unit, while dozens more have joined prominent infantry brigades such as Kfir and Nahal and others still are serving in the Border Police.

The increase in conscripts (recruits) can be attributed to a Manpower Directorate online initiative through which some 4,000 possible volunteers expressed their interest in joining the IDF this year alone.

To the army's amazement, some of those who expressed an interest came from so-called enemy states in the region. The applications from these countries had to be declined however due to security considerations.

“About 700 would-be volunteers called from Arab countries such as Lebanon and Syria, perhaps as part of the change the region is going through. We could not believe the demand,” the Manpower Directorate said.

"As a result, we opened a recruitment bureau in the Galilee, where volunteers can study to improve their Hebrew. This branch will be able to recruit a total of up to 2,500 people a year,” the Directorate said.
Security forces arrest suspects in rock-throwing attack
Security forces have arrested several suspects in a rock-throwing attack in Judea and Samaria on Sunday that left an Israeli woman seriously wounded, the IDF reported Sunday evening.

The operation, which rested on intelligence from the Shin Bet security agency, was ongoing. The village of Deir Nidham, some 19 km. (12 miles) northwest of Ramallah, has been blockaded, and roadblocks have been put in place on local traffic routes. The suspects have been transferred to the Shin Bet for interrogation.

The victim in Sunday's attack, Rebecca Teitel, 40, was hit in the face by a rock while driving with her children on Highway 465 near the Neve Tzuf settlement. Her children were not injured.

Binyamin Regional Council head Yisrael Gantz said Sunday evening that Teitel had undergone surgery and was been given further treatment in the neurological department of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

"Rebecca is responsive, but her condition is still listed as serious," he said. "I am here with her family at the hospital to give a brave hug from all the residents of Binyamin."
PA arrests suspects in East Jerusalem triple homicide, hands them to Israel
The Palestinian Authority has reportedly handed over to Israel four suspects arrested over the weekend in connection with a shootout in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab that left three Palestinian residents dead and eight wounded.

Two of the suspects, relatives of the victims, are suspected of murder, while two others are suspected of aiding the perpetrators, the Ynet news site reported Monday.

They were arrested in Ramallah on Sunday after a manhunt that saw Israel give special permission for large numbers of armed Palestinian Authority police to enter Kafr Aqab a day after the shooting.

According to Palestinian media reports, the three victims were Adnan al-Rajabi, Haytham al-Rajabi and Issam al-Rajabi, all members of the same extended family. A fourth, unnamed shooting victim was in critical condition in a Ramallah hospital as of Sunday night.

Israel officially bans the Palestinian Authority from operating inside the Jerusalem boundary and regularly cracks down on its activities in the capital. Saturday’s scenes, therefore, were highly unusual, with dozens of officers of the Palestinian security forces entering Kafr Aqab in armored jeeps before fanning out along the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare.
PMW: Trump “cloned from the genes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Balfour”– op-ed in official PA daily
The decision of US President Trump to pardon the four American security contractors who in 2007 killed 14 Iraqis in Baghdad (details below), served a regular columnist for the official PA daily as spring board to smear President Trump. Muwaffaq Matar, who is also a member of the Revolutionary Council of Abbas’ Fatah Movement, wrote that Trump is “cloned from the genes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Balfour” and runs a “mafia gang” in what he termed “the Black House.” This alleged genetic heritage expresses itself in “multiple personality disorder, megalomania, and a racial superiority [complex]”:
“The White House during the term of [US] President [Donald] Trump has become a dubious place in which a global mafia gang dwells, which views itself as being in a position of ruling the world…
The only explanation for the announcement issued by Trump’s Black House following his decision to pardon the perpetrators of the massacre [in Iraq in 2007]… is that this man not only suffers from multiple personality disorder, megalomania, and a racial superiority [complex], but rather he also constitutes a mix of racism and a bloody colonialist mentality, which is embodied inside a human entity cloned from the genes of [Adolf] Hitler, [Benito] Mussolini, and [former British Foreign Secretary Arthur] Balfour!”
[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Dec. 24, 2020]


This is far from the first time the PA and Fatah have been using hate speech against Trump. As Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the US embassy there, closed the PLO office in Washington, cut US aid to UNRWA, and proposed his Middle East peace plan which would have the PA compromise on its ideologies - to name just a few of his decisions unpopular with the PA - the PA became more and more enraged with him. Palestinian Media Watch has documented that the PA and Fatah mocked Trump from the start. Abbas’ Fatah has referred to him as “Hitler,” called him an “irrelevant clown, and made him drown in an animated video. At a demonstration organized by the PLO in which the Bethlehem District Governor Kamel Hamid participated, Palestinians hung an effigy of Trump on the gallows and later burned it:
Palestinian Authority Announces Two-Week Lockdown to Curb Spread of COVID-19
The Palestinian Authority over the weekend announced a full, two-week lockdown as part of its efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in the West Bank. Supermarkets, pharmacies and other essential services will be allowed to remain open.

The PA has recorded 140,287 coronavirus cases since the pandemic erupted, including 1,447 deaths. Some 120,000 Palestinian have recovered from the disease.


Iran ramps up uranium enrichment to 20%; Netanyahu: Proof it is seeking nukes
An Iranian government spokesman said Tehran has begun enriching uranium up to 20% at an underground facility, prompting a warning from Israel.

The state-run IRNA news agency on Monday quoted Ali Rabiei saying President Hassan Rouhani had given the order for the move at the Fordo facility.

Enrichment at 20% is a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move proved that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and that Israel would not allow this.

“Iran’s decision to continue violating its commitments, raise the level of enrichment and advance its industrial capacities for underground uranium enrichment can not be explained in any way other than the further realization of its plans to develop a military nuclear program,” he said.

“Israel will not allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons,” said Netanyahu.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz similarly said Jerusalem would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
At max speed, new Iran enrichment could cut nuke breakout to 6 weeks
A lot is not known about Iran’s newly announced move on Monday to enrich uranium up to the 20% level, but at maximum speed, a top nuclear expert has told The Jerusalem Post that its nuclear breakout time to a bomb could be cut to only six weeks.

Institute for Science and International Security president David Albright said that there were many variables, such as how many IR-1, IR-2ms or even IR-4 or IR-6 centrifuges were being used.

Albright also said that as long as the Islamic Republic was stopping at the 20% level, ironically, it could take six months or more to significantly cut down the breakout time to a nuclear weapon.

Currently, experts have said that even as Tehran has enough low-level enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs, that because it has not gone above the 5% enrichment level, it remains around three months away.

Basically, the idea is that the ayatollahs continue to enrich uranium at the same level so that their potential for more nuclear bombs increases, while they do not actually come any closer to their first actual nuclear weapon.

In contrast, after about a half year of sustained uranium enrichment to the 20% level, Albright is saying the time to get to an actual nuclear weapon, if Iran chose to rush toward one, would be cut in half to only six weeks.
The 'USS Nimitz' turns around: US 100,000-ton message to Iran
Just prior to the new year, the USS Nimitz, a massive aircraft carrier that anchors US power in the Middle East, was told to come “directly” home. US Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller thanked the carrier and the 5,000 sailors and Marines of its strike group for their work. Ninety-six hours later, the Nimitz got another order to “halt its routine redeployment” and remain on station in the area of US Central Command.

“No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America,” Miller said. For the people that are part of the aircraft carrier, designated CVN-68, the orders must have been confusing. The move is interpreted as part of US deterrence in case of Iranian attacks around the anniversary of the killing of IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. But the US knew the anniversary was over the last several days, so it’s unclear why the carrier was given mixed messages.

The messages came from the top. The Pentagon released the statement about coming “directly” home on December 31. “The Nimitz team provided persistent air cover during the troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and conducted operations and exercises that strengthened enduring partnerships and alliances in the US Central Command and US Indo-Pacific Command areas of responsibility,” the statement said. Then days later the US said that “due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) to halt its routine redeployment.”

In general, there has been chaos at the Pentagon after secretary of defense Mark Esper left in November 2020. He didn’t have a very long stint there either, taking office in July 2019. Patrick Shanahan had been at the helm from January to June of 2019. Before him, Jim Mattis, now a vocal critic of US President Donald Trump, had been America’s chief warrior.
Iran seizes South Korean-flagged oil tanker headed for the UAE
Iran on Monday seized a South Korean-flagged oil tanker in the crucial Strait of Hormuz, further escalating tensions in the Middle East between Tehran and the West.

Iran acknowledged the seizure of the MT Hankuk Chemi, alleging “oil pollution” sparked the move. Hours earlier, Tehran had said a South Korean diplomat was due to travel there to negotiate over billions of dollars in its assets now frozen in Seoul.

The boat seizure — which followed an announcement by Iran that it would start enriching uranium to 20% in violation of the nuclear deal — come amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s term in office.

Satellite data from MarineTraffic.com showed the MT Hankuk Chemi off Bandar Abbas on Monday afternoon, with no explanation as to the change in the vessel’s path. It had been traveling from Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. The ship had been carrying an unknown chemical shipment, according to data-analysis firm Refinitiv.

Calls to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry and the ship’s listed owner, DM Shipping Co. Ltd. of Busan, South Korea, were not immediately answered after business hours Monday. Iran did not acknowledge the vessel’s location.
Report: UAE Foils Iranian Attack in Dubai on Anniversary of Soleimani Killing
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) thwarted an Iranian terrorist attack that was planned to take place in Dubai on the anniversary of the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, Hebrew-language broadcaster Channel 12 reported on Sunday.

The attack was intended to target a preferred Israeli tourist destination and business districts.

According to the report, Emirati intelligence authorities arrested in the last few days an Iranian cell in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi.

The members of the cell are currently being investigated.

This development comes as the Middle East braces for possible retribution from Iran for the assassination of Soleimani, who was killed by an American drone at Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020.

Iran has vowed to retaliate, putting US allies, including Israel, on high alert.
Incoming US National Security Adviser Sullivan Says Soleimani Assassination Did Not Make America Safer
Incoming US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that the assassination of Iranian terror mastermind Qassem Soleimani did not make America safer or protect US interests.

Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force, was the architect of Iran’s strategy for regional domination via terrorist proxies and military involvement in the Syrian civil war. He was killed on Jan. 3, 2020 in a US drone strike.

The IRGC has been listed as a terror organization by the US.

Speaking to host Fareed Zakaria, Sullivan was asked about an opinion piece he wrote following Soleimani’s death that predicted a massive Iranian retaliation. Zakaria asked if he would acknowledge that this does not appear to have occurred.

Sullivan answered that, as President-elect Joe Biden has also said of Soleimani, “No American would mourn his passing.”

However, he asked, “Did that action make America safer? Did it protect our national interests? And I submit to you one year later, the answer to that question is no.”





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