Will Saudi’s gamble in Lebanon with Hariri lead to war between Israel and Hezbollah?

Martin Jay
Martin Jay is an award winning British journalist now based in Beirut who works on a freelance basis for a number of respected British newspapers as well as previously Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle TV. Before Lebanon, he has worked in Africa and Europe for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, Sunday Times and Reuters. Follow him on Twitter @MartinRJay
Will Saudi’s gamble in Lebanon with Hariri lead to war between Israel and Hezbollah?
The Hariri ‘kidnapping’ by Riyadh is generating more fake news and is only succeeding in boosting his popularity in Lebanon. But did a Saudi prince and Trump’s son intend on making him a bedroom poster icon in their quest to vex Hezbollah?

The recent news that Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state has urged Lebanon’s prime minister to return to Lebanon is baffling, in a story which is surely heading toward Hollywood scriptwriters any day now. On the same day as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (‘MbS’) began his purge of just about anyone who could question his leadership – or bankroll a campaign to topple him once he takes the throne – Saad Hariri’s jet touched down in Riyadh, and he was swiftly surrounded by Saudi police who took all the phones off him and his entourage. In the following days, no one knows his true fate after he read a script announcing his immediate resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister, citing implausible reasons such as attempts to assassinate him.

READ MORE: Lebanese president says situation surrounding al-Hariri ‘mysterious,’ asks Riyadh to clarify

In one week, regional journalists, mainly aligned to Saudi Arabian interests, have had a field day speculating on what is going on. No one really knows, not even European heads of state or least of all Rex Tillerson, who is under the allusion that Hariri is in control of his own fate.

Analysts are divided into two camps over what the forced resignation is really about, which followed a knee-jerk reaction from those in Lebanon who believed it was all a theatrical ploy to get Hezbollah to agree to Hariri’s proposed cabinet of ministers. As time passed, the two camps’ theories evolved into the move being orchestrated by MbS to show Iran that it is still powerful, using the Hariri resignation as a tool to re-balance the Saudi-Iran pendulum of geopolitical spoils. The second theory is more about Saudi Arabia itself and what the new crown prince is doing there. Many believe the Hariri resignation – which came on the same day as the round up of 11 princes, four ministers, and billionaire Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, is part of the crackdown, as Hariri himself is suspected of links to many of the businessmen targeted. Some speculate the crown prince is investigating him and is considering charging him – and therefore needs him to lose his immunity from prosecution, which he held as Lebanon’s PM. The theory, analysts tell me, is that Hariri needs to be kept on a short leash until he can be entirely cleared and also needs to prove his undying loyalty to MbS and his father.

Yet if the plan by MbS is to use Hariri to extract some token payment from Iran, the plan is already back-firing on a grand scale and like many of Riyadh’s schemes – Syria, Yemen, and Qatar – is comically ill-fated. In one week of Hariri being in Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese PM has achieved more in unifying the Lebanese than he could ever have hoped for in a lifetime of politics. Surely the Saudi’s ruse did not intend for Hariri to gain cross-party popularity in a country so sternly and insidiously divided by confessional lines? In just a week, Lebanon’s leading figures have quickly reached a consensus that they need Hariri back, a point echoed by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who is looking increasingly statesmanlike as the days pass and whose calm, measured speeches are now being watched by the entire country – thanks to Riyadh’s cunning plan.

Could it really have been the Saudi Crown prince’s plan to boost Hariri’s popularity and make the Hezbollah chief’s speeches unmissable?

Kushner, a Saudi prince and low hanging fruit

One has to wonder who or what is really behind this plan. Many pundits are troubled by how aloof Tillerson is to the reality of what’s happening. It’s as though the US really isn’t on the same page. And there’s a reason for this. It’s my belief that Trump has almost entirely outsourced the Middle East to his son-in-law who is behind this latest gambit in Lebanon. Just a few weeks before Jared Kushner was in Riyadh to spend time with MbS.  The Hariri plot is part of a whole new relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, who are both working hand-in-hand on a new strategy to destabilize Iran. Lebanon is a cheap shot for that. Low hanging fruit. After failing in both Syria and Yemen, where else could an easy spoil be gleaned, by taking a swipe at Iran’s feared proxy Hezbollah? But the stunt comes with a very high price to pay when – not if – it fails. If the Lebanon shenanigan goes awry and it makes Hezbollah even more popular there, does that dampen the ambitions of MbS and Kushner to hit the Shiite group or merely guide them like moths veering closer to the alluring flame?

Perhaps the answer can be found with Trump. For us to understand truly what is going in the head of the Saudi prince, we should wrestle with two points. First, his rapid rise to the seat of the crown prince is entirely due to him presenting himself to both the Israelis and the Americans as a new type of Saudi leader who could recognize the state of Israel if he was made king, which explains this new partnership unraveling so quickly. Secondly, one of the reasons why Trump likes MbS much is that the Saudi prince can be so easily understood by Trump. MbS is the Trump of Saudi Arabia. Like the US president, the crown prince is insecure, obsessed with control and seems determined to be on the front pages of newspapers – regardless of the consequences. Like Trump, he also has no regard for the media and is deluded about himself and his own abilities, particularly beyond the borders of his own country.

Falling on your sword

In a country known for being an irony-free zone, it’s also interesting to observe how the obsession with hitting Iran is a vicious circle or a sword which the Saudis have slowly lowered themselves onto; Saudi Arabia’s meddling in the region has only made Iran and Hezbollah stronger in the last five years. Understandably, Riyadh now looks to Israel as a partner in settling old scores, but it all adds up to sour grapes and now apparently both Saudi Arabia and Israel have one chief and self-defining objective: to claw back self-respect and reinstall the pride lost, through defeats with Iran and its proxies.

They both now look at Hezbollah in Lebanon and see a war which could hurt the Shiite group could be a major victory to re-write the history books.

Another irony about the Hariri story is that it is due to the collapse of the Saudi economy, which hurled Hariri back into politics in Lebanon after the Saudis couldn’t pay Hariri’s construction company the $9 billion it was owed.  And MbS is credited as being the “architect to Saudi Arabia’s oil policy which reveled in the over-production of oil, leading to rock bottom prices today as it was his idea to counter US fracking companies. Another bullet. Another foot. Another spasm of delusion and denial.

Sex it up

Of course, it’s not only Saudi aligned journalists who are sexing the whole Lebanon story up beyond its true significance. US mainstream media, like the New York Times, just can’t help itself on indulging in using the word “war” in many of its misleading headlines, raising an obvious question: is there now a new dynamic which could speed up the inevitable war between Israel and Hezbollah?

The answer is probably not in the short term. While Lebanese academics like Dr Jamal Wakim stake their reputations on saying that Israel will invade Lebanon in the next 12 months, the Saudis believe an economic blockade of Lebanon would have much more effective results on destabilizing the country and causing chaos which could then weaken Hezbollah internally, thus providing the perfect moment for Israel to strike, if Hezbollah is forced to take control of Lebanon. It’s a hell of a gamble though. And already looking like it can’t work as, historically, the Lebanese have always supported Hezbollah when the country is threatened. They are not stupid and can already see that imposing a financial crisis – by trying to starve the economy of trade and remittances from outside – is an act of war in itself. But the Middle East is a region consumed by fake news and checkbook journalists and those in the West who only give the crisis a cursory look might be fooled in believing the planted narrative that “Hezbollah has declared war on Saudi Arabia,” which many newspapers dutifully and shamefully published. Hezbollah’s mere presence, let alone military strength is enough to spook the Saudis. This is clear. The smartest thing MbS and Kushner could do now is to deflate the balloon on Hariri becoming an iconic bedroom poster like Che Guevara before it’s too late and send him back to Lebanon to negotiate a deal, as surely he will achieve much more in Beirut than he can ever in Riyadh. But Tillerson also needs to intervene, rather than merely warn against the Saudis creating a proxy war in Lebanon before it’s too late, and the Saudis pull the entire region into a new war which can never be won, and Saudi Arabia and its new ally certainly can’t afford to lose. Who knows? One day we may start even believing the click bait masterpieces of the New York Times. But don’t hold your breath.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy: RT

Case of Missing Lebanese Prime Minister Stirs Middle East Tensions

Posters in Beirut of the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, who resigned from his post last week in an announcement on Saudi television. CreditJoseph Eid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIRUT, Lebanon — When the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri made a sudden trip abroad last week, it was taken at first to be a routine visit with his political patron, Saudi Arabia. But the next day, he unexpectedly announced his resignation by video from Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

He has yet to return to Lebanon.

On Friday, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, part of his governing coalition at home, charged that the Saudis were holding him against his will, while the Saudis have said they were protecting him from an unspecified assassination plot.

The Hariri case has become just one in a profusion of bewildering events — from Saudi Arabia’s arrest of princes and wealthy businessmen last weekend to ordering its citizens out of Lebanon on Thursday — that are escalating tensions in the Middle East and fueling anxiety about whether the region is on the verge of military conflict.

The American secretary of state Rex W. Tillerson warned Friday “against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country,” a message apparently aimed at Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Even before the events of the past week, analysts and officials in the region had been increasingly anxious about what they see as a volatile combination: an impulsive, youthful Saudi leader escalating threats to roll back growing Iranian influence, an equally impulsive Trump administration signaling broad agreement with Saudi policies, and increasingly pointed warnings from Israel that it may eventually fight another war with Hezbollah.

Now analysts and diplomats are scrambling to figure out what the latest developments mean, whether they are connected and whether, as some analysts fear, they are part of a buildup to a regional war.

Mr. Hariri, until he announced his resignation on Saturday, had shown no signs of planning to do so.

Hours later, on Saturday evening, a missile fired from Yemen came close to Riyadh before being shot down. Saudi Arabia later blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the missile, suggesting that they had aided the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen to fire it.

Before the world had a chance to absorb this news, the ambitious and aggressive Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the arrest of hundreds of Saudis — including 11 princes, government ministers and some of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen — in what was either a crackdown on corruption, as Saudi officials put it, or a purge, as outside analysts have suggested.

It then emerged that on a visit to Riyadh the week before, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who has been sent on missions both to Israel and Saudi Arabia, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the crown prince, talking with him until the early morning hours. The White House has not announced what they discussed but officials privately said that they were meeting about the administration’s efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

On Monday, Saudi officials said they considered the missile from Yemen an act of war by Iran and Lebanon, and on Thursday the kingdom rattled Lebanon by ordering its citizens to evacuate.

No one expects Saudi Arabia, which is mired in a war in Yemen, to start another war itself. But Israel, which fought a war with Hezbollah in 2006, has expressed increasing concern about Hezbollah’s growing arsenal on its northern border.

On Friday, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said that Saudi Arabia had asked Israel to attack Lebanon, after essentially kidnapping Mr. Hariri.

“I’m not talking here about analysis, but information,” he said. “The Saudis asked Israel to attack Lebanon.”

He provided no evidence of his claim, but Western and regional analysts have also said that, given all the confusing and unexpected events and unpredictable players, they could not entirely rule out such a scenario.

Israeli officials, however, have been publicly predicting another war with Hezbollah while also vowing to do all they can to postpone it.

“There are now those in the region who would like Israel to go to war with Hezbollah and fight a Saudi war to the last Israeli,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst for International Crisis Group. “There is no interest in that here.”

Photo

President Emmanuel Macron of France meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh on Thursday. CreditSaudi Press Agency, via Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long considered Iran to be Israel’s foremost enemy, a potential nuclear threat as well as a strategic adversary seeking to convert postwar Syria into a staging ground for attacks against Israel or into a corridor to transfer missiles and other weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

So Saudi Arabia’s stepped-up efforts to oppose Iranian influence in Lebanon drew measured applause in Jerusalem. But many Israelis fear that the aggressive actions by the Saudi crown prince could drag Israel into a war that it does not want.

Daniel Shapiro, a former United States ambassador to Israel, said that Israel and Saudi Arabia were pursuing similar goals at sharply different speeds and levels of proficiency.

“I’m not sure they’re aligned tactically,” he said in an interview. Prince Mohammed, he added, “seems very impatient to actually spark the confrontation.”

There are no signs of war preparations in Israel. The country is not mobilizing troops on its northern border or calling up reservists, and Mr. Netanyahu has given no indication that he sees a conflict as imminent.

Moreover, Israel’s war planners predict that the next war with Hezbollah may be catastrophic, particularly if it lasts more than a few days. Hezbollah now has more than 120,000 rockets and missiles, Israel estimates, enough to overwhelm Israeli missile defenses.

Many of them are long-range and accurate enough to bring down Tel Aviv high-rises, sink offshore gas platforms, knock out Ben-Gurion Airport or level landmark buildings across Israel.

Nor is Hezbollah necessarily hankering for battle with Israel, according to analysts who study the militant group closely. It is still fighting in Syria, where it has been backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and it is being drained by medical costs for wounded fighters and survivor benefits for the families of those killed, said Giora Eiland, a retired Israeli major general and former head of the country’s National Security Council.

“Hezbollah as an organization is in a very deep economic crisis today,” Mr. Eiland said. “But at the same time, the weaker they are, the more dependent they are on Iranian assistance — so they might have to comply with Iran’s instructions.”

But there have long been fears that now that the Syrian war — in which Hezbollah played a decisive role, gaining new influence, power and weapons — is almost over, Hezbollah’s enemies might seek to cut it down to size.

Mr. Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, implied Friday that its fight in Syria was nearly finished. If Saudi Arabia’s goal was to force Hezbollah to leave Syria, he said: “No problem. Our goal there has been achieved. It’s almost over anyway.”

World leaders have sought to tamp down tensions.

President Emmanuel Macron of France left Saudi Arabia on Friday after a brief, last-minute meeting with the crown prince.

During the unexpected two-hour visit on Thursday, Mr. Macron “reiterated the importance France attaches to Lebanon’s stability, security, sovereignty and integrity,” his office said. He also discussed “the situation in Lebanon following the resignation of Prime Minister Hariri,” his office said, but provided no further details.

A group of countries and organizations interested in Lebanon’s stability met Friday with the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, and issued a statement expressing “concern regarding the situation and prevailing uncertainty in Lebanon” and calling for Lebanon to be “shielded from tensions in the region.”

The members of the group, the International Support Group for Lebanon — including the United Nations, Britain, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States, as well as the European Union and the Arab League — are not all on the same side of the issues at stake so the statement seemed to reflect broad international concern.

At a news conference in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, before the meeting, Mr. Macron said he did not share Saudi Arabia’s “very harsh opinions” of Iran.

Analysts say a new war in the region is unlikely but some have warned that the increased tensions could provoke an economic crisis or even start a war accidentally. Miscalculations have started wars before, as in the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Experts caution that Israel is often only a mistake or two from being drawn into combat.

“It’s a dangerous situation now,” said Amos Harel, the military reporter for Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper. “It only takes one provocation, another reaction, and it can get all of a sudden completely out of control. And when you add the Saudis, who evidently want to attack Iran and are looking for action, it gets even more complicated.”

Correction: November 10, 2017 
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated where President Emmanuel Macron of France met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. They met in Riyadh, not in Abu Dhabi.

Correction: November 11, 2017 
An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the nature of a trip to Riyadh by Jared Kushner. The trip was not previously undisclosed; the trip had been public information, but the fact that Mr. Kushner had a long meeting with the Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was previously undisclosed.

An overview of the tensions between Saudi Arabia and its neighbors

 November 9 at 1:38 PM

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, left, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, first lady Melania Trump and President Trump in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May. (Saudi Press Agency/European Pressphoto Agency)

Earlier this week, buried in all of the other news that’s a constant feature of the modern world, there was an unusual pronouncement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Gulf-affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said Monday that the Lebanese government would be “dealt with as a government declaring war” on his country — raising the specter of a new armed conflict in the already tense region. On Thursday, Saudi Arabia suggested that Saudi citizens leave Lebanon.

It’s the latest point of tension between Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, raising an important question: How serious is this tension?

To answer that question, we reached out to Tamara Wittes, senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. Earlier this week, Wittes walked us through the web of international relationships surrounding the kingdom. We’ve broken it down by country.

Iran

This is the proper place to begin, it seems.

“Saudi Arabia’s greatest concern in the region is the rise and expansion of Iranian influence,” Wittes said. When asked about Saudi Arabia’s military actions in Yemen (which we’ll get to), she was more blunt. “Everything that Saudi Arabia is doing outside of its borders — and some of what it’s doing inside its borders — is about Iran,” she said.

The overarching tension worth remembering is that between the two major Muslim denominations, Sunni and Shiite (or Shia). Saudi Arabia is heavily Sunni. Iran is heavily Shiite.

“The Saudis [believe] that the Iranians are instigating dissent and activism in the Shia population of Saudi Arabia,” Wittes  said. “In the eastern province, the Saudis have been engaged in security operations in Qatif for a couple of yearsnow, trying to deal with regular unrest. How much of it is domestically generated and how much of it is Iranian-instigated, I don’t know. But the Saudis believe that it’s Iranian-instigated.”

Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca, the holy site to which Muslims are expected to journey at some point in their lives, a pilgrimage known as the hajj. That’s another point of tension.

“The Iranians constantly allege that the Saudis discriminate against or mistreat Shia pilgrims,” Wittes said. “Shia pilgrims have upset people when they’ve engaged in Shia rituals as part of the hajj and venerated certain sites that Shias venerate that Sunnis think are idol worship. So there’s that dispute as well.”

That’s the inside-the-borders tension. The outside-the-borders tension is largely about influence.

Lebanon

Bringing us to Lebanon.

It’s not necessarily right to say that Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have a tense relationship, Wittes said, given that Lebanon doesn’t have a unified foreign policy, since it doesn’t have a unitary government. That muddies the sense of brewing conflict between the two countries as independent states.

What this is about, she said, is Iran.

“Until a week ago, the prime minister of Lebanon was a close ally of Saudi Arabia,” Wittes said. That prime minister was Saad Hariri, son of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The younger Hariri resigned Saturday, meaning that Saudi Arabia lost an ally in a position of power in the country.

 Play Video 1:09
What to know about Saudi Arabia’s role in the resignation of the Lebanese PM
Lebanon was thrown into turmoil after the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia. Here’s what you need to know. (Joyce Lee/The Washington Post)

“Iran has a major foothold in Lebanon through Hezbollah,” she said, referring to the Shiite political and military organization that the Trump administration recently warned was aiming to attack the United States. “For a long time, Saudi Arabia worked to balance Iran in Lebanon through its support” of the Hariris, she said.

“But over the course of the last several years,” Wittes said, “the Saudis kind of pulled back on engaging in Lebanon. They cut off aid for a period of time and basically left Lebanon without a government for two years and left [Saad] Hariri out in the cold.” Hariri then “cut a deal” with Hezbollah to return to power, she said, leading Saudi Arabia to ask him to resign.

“They pulled Hariri out of the government so they could say, ‘Look, this government is controlled by Hezbollah,’ ” she continued, “and now they want to pick a fight but they have no leverage.”

“They are raising tensions with Iran and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon,” she said, not really with Lebanon itself. Wittes described the claim of a state of war as “rhetorical.”

Yemen

Yemen has been a focus of U.S. military attention as a base of operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. Earlier this year, Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was killed during an operation in Yemen, one of the first raids of its kind during President Trump’s administration.

Saudi Arabia is also active in Yemen, leading a coalition of countries in the hopes of influencing the outcome of a civil war in the country initiated by a Shiite faction known as the Houthis. The coalition intervention has included airstrikes and ground troops, with hundreds of casualties on both sides. Last week, a missile fired from Yemen was intercepted as it neared an airport in Riyadh; shortly afterward, Saudi Arabia intensified its blockade of Yemeni ports.

Wittes said that Saudi Arabia’s interest is not in uprooting terrorists. It is, again, about Iran.

“The Saudi government has long dealt with a lot of political upheaval in Yemen on its southern border,” she said, “and AQAP has been in Yemen and has been a threat to the Saudi kingdom and to the United States, for sure. But what prompted the Saudi intervention was a sense that the Iranians were getting more deeply engaged supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and they wanted to intervene to curtail and, if they could, push out that Iranian influence.”

And they are now stuck in a quagmire,” she said.

Qatar

Earlier this year, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar spiked after quotes emerged in Qatari media that were attributed to the latter country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani. Among other things, those quotes praised Hamas and called Iran “an Islamic power.” It later emerged that those quotes were probably fabricated, placed in Qatari media by hackers from the United Arab Emirates, according to U.S. intelligence. Despite that revelation, Saudi Arabia and its allies (including Egypt and the UAE) have engaged in a boycott of the country.

Again, though, the tensions run deeper than what happened this year.

“There is a long-standing family argument within the gulf Arab states, in which basically Qatar is on one side and the Saudis are on the other,” Wittes said. “The Iran component is that Qatar is among the gulf states that has maintained a relatively more open relationship with Iran.”

But in this case, Iran isn’t the main issue, she said. The main issues are, first, an effort by the Saudis to “impose discipline” on Tamim and, second, frustration with Qatar’s perceived support for the Muslim Brotherhood — which the Saudis and Emiratis see as threatening their power.

“The Qataris are on the side of the upstart movements that have played a role in popular uprisings and revolutions, and the Saudis and Emiratis are on the counterrevolution side,” she said. “That’s the big dispute there.”

Bahrain

Among the countries that experienced a popular uprising was the small nation of Bahrain. The islands of the Bahraini archipelago are mostly Shiite, but the nation is led by a Sunni monarchy. During the Arab Spring of 2011, there was an uprising, and it was Saudi forces that helped quell the unrest.

There are still “ongoing” tensions in the country, Wittes said.

Egypt

Part of the reason that Saudi Arabia has been particularly active of late, Wittes suggested, was that Egypt used to be a prominent counterweight to Iran in the region. It, too, is mostly Sunni, and about a fifth of Arabs are Egyptian. But unrest in that country has limited Egypt’s role in the region, and political developments there have put Saudi Arabia on edge.

“The Saudis were very upset by the fall of [President] Hosni Mubarak” during the Arab Spring, Wittes said. “They were very alarmed by the victory in the first free elections in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood and the elevation of a Brotherhood candidate to the presidency. They were very supportive of the coup that overthrew [Mohamed] Morsi and brought [Abdel Fatah] al-Sissi to power.” Sissi, she said, has strong ties to Saudi Arabia.

“The Saudis have sunk billions into keeping the Egyptian economy afloat and supporting Sissi,” she added.

Syria

The dominant military conflict in the region of late has been in Syria, where Iran again seeks to expand its influence.

“At the rhetorical level and at the level of private financing, a lot of money has flowed from Saudi Arabia to the opposition militias, Sunni militias fighting [President Bashar] al-Assad,” Wittes said. The revolution in Syria arose at the same time as the tension in Bahrain, prompting Saudi Arabia to highlight the Sunni-Shiite rift at play in the Syrian conflict. As the fight fragmented over time, with some groups aligning with terrorist groups and against one another, the country stepped back.

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Israel

One of the most interesting relationships is between Saudi Arabia and Israel. “I would say it’s sort of an alliance of interests,” Wittes said — with those interests relating, again, to Iran.

“The Saudis and the Israelis share a common enemy in Iran and a common sense of threat,” Wittes said. “They both see Iranian expansionism in the region and both see it as an existential problem for them.” That’s manifested in several ways,  including, recently, a quiet push by Israeli diplomats to bolster Saudi Arabia’s efforts in Lebanon.

1 \ I published on channel 10 a cable sent to Israeli diplomats asking to lobby for Saudis\Hariri &against Hezbollah http://news.nana10.co.il/Article/?ArticleID=1272790&sid=126 

האיום האיראני: ישראל מיישרת קו עם סעודיה נגד מעורבות טהראן וחיזבאללה בלבנון

משרד החוץ שיגר מברק הנחיות לכל שגרירויות ישראל בו התבקשו לפעול נגד המעורבות של חיזבאללה ואיראן במערכת הפוליטית בלבנון

news.nana10.co.il

Saudi Arabia and Israel are also concerned about the decline of U.S. influence in the region, a feeling that they shared when Barack Obama was president and that continues with Trump in the White House. Both, she said, have an interest in bringing the U.S. back into a more prominent role.

Wittes’s explanations offered two common themes. The first is that the Saudi-Iranian relationship is the central undercurrent to most of the recent news. The second is that understanding the intricacies of Saudi politics demands a much more thorough background than most Americans possess.

Courtesy: The Washington Post

Israel ready to go into Syria to ‘protect Druze village’

Israel ready to go into Syria to 'protect Druze village'
The Israeli military, which has been launching airstrikes against Syria, could be preparing to cross into its territory now. It says it’s ready to act to protect the Druze village of Hader, located on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, after a car bomb killed nine people and injured 23 others there.

“In recent hours we witness the intensifying of the fighting at the area of the Druze village of Hader in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights,” IDF (Israel Defense Force) spokesperson Ronen Manelis said in a statement, as quoted by The Jerusalem Post. “The IDF is prepared and ready to assist the residents of the village and prevent damage to or the capture of the village Hader out of commitment to the Druze population,” he added. Manelis did not specify any actions that could be taken by Israel, but denied any claims that Israel is involved in the fighting in Golan Heights, or is assisting jihadists there.

The move to publicly intervene in the Syrian civil war is an unusual one for Israel, which has maintained an official hands-off policy toward the conflict, only becoming involved when one of its “red lines” was violated. Such “red lines” include the violation of Israeli sovereignty through deliberate or accidental attacks, Iranian-backed militias taking positions on the Golan border, and attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

Israel has been launching airstrikes against various targets in Syria, usually saying it is either targeting “Hezbollah infrastructure”or responding to “stray projectiles” flying into Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Israel’s latest target was a copper factory in the province of Homs, which prompted Damascus to turn to the UN and ask it to condemn Israel’s actions as supporting terrorism

The IDF statement came after a car bomb in Hader, situated some 4 km (2.5 miles) from the border, killed nine people and injured at least 23 others. Syrian news agency SANA reported that the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front was responsible for the attack, adding that army units and pro-government militias clashed with those responsible following the incident. However, the Jewish Press reported that the Salafist jihadist group Tahrir al-Sham had claimed responsibility.

Al-Nusra Front had reportedly announced that it would be launching a campaign “to lift the siege on the villages in the Golan Heights and the Syrian Hermon” which are under the control of the Syrian government. However, it stated that it had no intention of harming residents of Hader or their property, nor “anyone else who does not intervene in the war.”

The Druze religion arose in the 11th century from a branch of Shia Islam known as Ismailism, and is considered heretical by jihadists. The Druze make up about 3 percent of Syria’s population of 22.5 million.

Courtesy: RT

Israel approves first new settlement in UNESCO-protected Hebron in 15 years

Israel approves first new settlement in UNESCO-protected Hebron in 15 years
Israel has approved 31 new settlement homes in the city of Hebron in the West Bank for the first time in 15 years.

Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank and is home to a population of about 1,000 Israeli settlers who live in the middle of the Old City.

The new houses will be built for the Beit Romano settlement on what used to be a bus station on Shuhada Street. The Civil Administration’s Licensing Subcommittee approved the permits, but said they are subject to conditions, including appeal, the Times of Israel reports.

The Times of Israel and the Jewish Press report the approval was seen as an Israeli response to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) recent decision to list Hebron’s Old City as an “endangered Palestinian World Heritage Site.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved a number of new settlements this year. The building of settlements on land in the Palestinian Territories is perceived as an obstacle to the peace process and is considered a violation of article 49 of the Geneva Convention.

Settlement advocates say even though there has been a number of announcements of new settlement construction, only a fraction may actually be built in the end, Reuters reports.

“The permits approved today would increase the number of settlers in Hebron by 20 percent,” Hagit Ofran of Israeli Peace Now told RT. “They required significant legal acrobatics that might not stand the test of the High Court of Justice. While doing everything in his power to please a small group of settlers, Netanyahu is harming Israel’s morality and image abroad, while crushing basic values of human rights and dignity.”

“We thank the prime minister, government ministers, Knesset members and all public figures who worked with determination and dedication together with us to promote this construction,” the Jewish community of Hebron said in a statement, the Jewish News reports. “We ask everyone to ensure that the construction is indeed carried out without delay.”

The last time settlements were approved in Hebron was in 2002, when 10 units were built in Tel Rumeida.

Courtesy: RT

Israeli jets bomb Syrian anti-aircraft battery after spy planes fired at near Lebanon border

Israeli jets bomb Syrian anti-aircraft battery after spy planes fired at near Lebanon border
Israeli jets bombed a Syrian anti-aircraft battery east of Damascus after it fired an anti-aircraft missile at the Israeli aircraft on a spy mission overflying Lebanon, the IDF said. Damascus said the planes violated Syrian airspace near the Lebanese border.

The battery was reportedly located 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Damascus, Reuters reported citing Israeli military. The spy planes, which the Israeli military said were on a “reconnaissance mission,” were not hit.

“Earlier today, an anti-aircraft missile was launched from Syria towards IDF aircraft during a routine flight over Lebanon. No hits confirmed,” the Israeli Defense Force spokesperson tweeted.

Earlier today,an anti-aircraft missile was launched from Syria towards IDF aircraft during a routine flight over Lebanon. No hits confirmed

The Israeli military reportedly hit the Syrian battery with four bombs, leaving it no longer operational.

Israel immediately reported the incident to Russia, accusing the government in Damascus of a “clear provocation,”according to Haaretz, citing the military.

“The Syrian regime is responsible for any firing from its territory. We see this incident as a clear provocation and we will not allow it,” Haaretz quoted the army spokesperson as saying.

After notifying Russia as part of the air coordination between the two countries, the Israeli Air Force responded two hours after the Syrian missile was fired, according to Israeli paper Maariv, quoting IDF spokesperson Ronen Manlis.

In a video statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the incident, saying “an attempt to harm our [Israeli] aircraft” was “unacceptable.”

“Whoever tries to harm us, we will strike at him. We will continue to act in the region as is required in order to defend Israel,” Netanyahu said.

According to the Haaretz report, an “Sa5-type missile” was fired at the Israeli aircraft, which is a NATO reporting name for Soviet-designed S-200 surface-to-air missiles.

Airspace violation

Damascus has reacted to the attack by saying the Israeli jets violated Syrian airspace near the Lebanese border. It also claimed one of the trespassing jets was hit.

“The aircraft of Israel’s Air Force violated [Syria’s] airspace near the border with Lebanon in the Baalbek area at 08:51 a.m. local time (05:51 GMT)… One of the planes was hit, which forced the aircraft to leave,” a statement by the Syrian military said, as quoted by Sputnik news agency.

Last month, Lebanon filed a complaint to the UN against Israel for “planting spy devices on Lebanese land and continuously breaching” its airspace, contending that the actions “constitute a blatant violation of the Lebanese sovereignty.”

Early September, Israel launched missiles at the Syrian army position in Hama province from Lebanese airspace. The army refused to comment on the incident.

The Israeli military has repeatedly targeted arms convoys within Syria, claiming that they were carrying ammunition to Hezbollah, Israel’s Lebanon-based adversary. The attacks have happened almost 100 times over the past five years, according to the Israeli Air Force commander.

READ MORE: Israeli warplanes strike near Damascus airport – reports

Courtesy: RT

What are Donald Trump’s objections to the Iran nuclear deal?

The US president is threatening to pull the country out of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. DW examines why Trump is considering dropping the deal and who shares his concerns on Iran.

UN Generalversammlung in New York | Donald Trump, Präsident USA (Getty Images/AFP/T.A. Clary)

The “worst deal ever”: That is how US President Donald Trump describes the 2015 landmark Iran nuclear accord. He repeatedly has signaled that the United States will withdraw from or revise the agreement, a threat he reiterated most recently during Tuesday’s speech at the UN General Assembly. 

Both the US State Department and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran has abided by the agreement, and nuclear non-proliferation experts and other international powers that brokered the deal are pressing the White House to stay in.

So why is the Trump administration against the nuclear accord?

The answer lies with the deal’s alleged weaknesses and, equally important, non-nuclear related issues that the Trump administration would now like to bring onto the negotiating table, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Islamic republic’s expanding influence in the Middle East.

Watch video00:38

Trump slams Iran at United Nations

Read more: Donald Trump and the Iran nuclear deal – a crisis in the making

What does the Iran nuclear deal do?

Under the 2015 deal negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany), Tehran agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crushing international sanctions and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets. Under the deal, Iran is permitted to maintain a small amount of nuclear-related activity and uranium stockpiles for research and medicine purposes.

However, the quantities are far below any threshold that would allow the fast and unannounced development of nuclear weapons. In effect, Iran is allowed peaceful nuclear research just as any other country.

Objection: delay but not prevent

At the time of the deal, Western intelligence agencies estimated it would take Iran as little as one year to produce a nuclear weapon. The 2015 accord restricted Iran’s nuclear-related activities for 10 to 15 years. After this period expires, the deal will need to be renegotiated or Iran could theoretically restart its nuclear weapons program.

Iran's Supreme leader Ali Khamenei (Irna)Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has accused Trump of unfair criticism of the country’s nuclear programs

If Iran then were to choose to pursue nuclear weapons, it would start from a lower starting point that would buy time for the international community to respond.

But the Trump administration finds this ‘sunset clause’ —  essentially the accord’s expiration date — to be problematic because it delays, rather than prevents, Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb. The White House’s concerns echo Israel’s, which has argued that the nuclear issue cannot be kicked down the road.

Read more: Ayatollah Khamenei slams US ‘bullying’ on nuclear deal

Objection: covert nuclear activity?

The deal also allows the IAEA inspections regime  to monitor declared nuclear facilities, storage facilities and supply chains.

However, the Trump administration argues that the nuclear accord does not provide access to restricted military sites that could be used for a covert weapons development program. It has demanded that inspectors gain access to these sites, something that Iran has rejected.

Supporters of the deal argue that any covert program would be spotted through existing monitoring provisions of existing facilities and supply chains.

Objection: ballistic missiles

The wording of UN resolution authorizing the nuclear deal is vague on ballistic missiles. It “calls upon” — but does not require —Iran not to carry out work “related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

Iran says its ballistic missiles are conventional weapons that are not “designed to” carry nuclear warheads even if they are “capable of” delivering them. Since Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, Tehran argues, the UN resolution does not apply to its ballistic missile program.

But the Trump administration argues that the missile program violates the nature of the deal and views it as a threat to US Gulf Arab allies and Israel. The US has slapped a number of sanctions on Iranover the program, causing Tehran in turn to accuse the US of going against the spirit of the accord.

Iran makes missiles tests (picture-alliance/dpa/Defence Ministry Iran)Iran launches a ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in March 2016

Objection: funds for ‘destabilizing activities’

Under the nuclear deal, a good chuck of Iran’s internationally frozen assets, valuing some $100 billion, were released. The Trump administration argues that is bad because this money can be used to fund Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the Middle East and support of terrorist groups.

US grievances include Iran’s hostility to Israel, its engagement in Syria and Iraq, and the Islamic Republic’s wide regional support for various Shiite militant groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as for Hamas, the militant Islamist organization in the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, Washington and Israel are concerned that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a security and military organization separate from the regular armed forces, and Hezbollah are setting up bases on Israel’s doorstep in southern Syria.

Read more: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad: Propped up by Tehran and Moscow

Trump visits Saudi Arabia (picture-alliance/abaca)In May, Trump opened a combating extremism center with Arab and Muslim allies in Saudi Arabia. At the time, he had sharp words for Iran.

Who objects alongside Trump? 

Internationally, Trump’s view of the deal reflects that of the Gulf Arab monarchies and the right-wing of the powerful Israel lobby in the US. Both the Gulf monarchies and Israel are concerned about Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East and the end of Iran’s international isolation through the lifting of sanctions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly lambasted the nuclear deal and lobbied the Trump administration to pull out. However, current and former Israeli intelligence and military officials have said that while the deal is not perfect, Iran has not violated the agreement and a US withdrawal would backfire.

Netanyahu stands before the UNNetanyahu praised Trump’s hardline comments on Iran at the UN.

Domestically, critics of the Iran deal in Trump’s current administration include  US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, CIA chief Mike Pompeo and senior White House policy advisor Stephen Miller.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, are reportedly in favor of the US staying in the deal, despite advocating a strong line against Iran.

How could Trump break the deal?

Trump faces an October 15 deadline to certify to the US Congress whether Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. If he does not certify compliance, Congress could impose nuclear-related sanctions, effectively killing the 2015 deal. However, it remains unclear how the Republican-controlled Congress would respond.

Read more: New US Russia sanctions bill risks EU anger

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