Inplainview News Weblog - 2013: Middle East

2013-09-02 SUZAN FRASER . Turkish Ex-Army Chief on Trial for 1997 Coup

Turkey's former military chief and 102 other people went on trial Monday for alleged involvement in the ousting of an Islamic-led government in 1997, as Turkey presses ahead with efforts to make generals account for their decades of intervention in government affairs.
Retired Gen. Ismail Hakki Karadayi, 81, and the other defendants — including military officials and civilians — face life in prison, if convicted of charges of "overthrowing the Turkish government by force" for pressuring former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign.
The ouster was dubbed Turkey's "post-modern coup" because unlike previous coups in Turkey, no tanks or soldiers were used to bring down the government which was replaced by another coalition nominated by the president.
Karadayi served as the chief of the military staff from 1994 to 1998, at a time when the army was concerned by Erbakan's efforts to raise the profile of Islam in the predominantly Muslim but secular country. On Feb. 28, 1997, the military-dominated National Security Council threatened action if Erbakan did not back down. He resigned four months later.

2013-08-24 Al-Qaida branch blames Hezbollah for Lebanese bombings

A branch of al-Qaida has accused the Lebanese group Hezbollah of terrorism, blaming it for two bombs that killed 47 people outside a Sunni mosque in northern Lebanon on Friday.
Al-Qaida's north African branch, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), threatened retribution against the Shia Muslim group, a US-based intelligence monitoring website reported.
Aqim said in tweets that it knew "with certainty" that Hezbollah was responsible. "That vile party … should know that it will meet retribution soon," it said, according to the monitoring service Site.
Although Aqim does not operate in Lebanon, its statement shows growing regional hatred of Hezbollah by radical Sunni Muslim groups and a deepening sectarian divide in the Middle East.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which was once lauded by both Sunnis and Shias for its battles against Israel, has lost support from many Sunnis since it joined Bashar al-Assad's side in his fight against a majority Sunni uprising in Syria.
Syrian rebels, whose strongest elements are radical Sunnis, have been hosted in neighbouring Lebanon by sympathetic Sunnis and there have been attacks on Hezbollah members on Lebanese soil. Both Hezbollah and radical Sunni groups in Lebanon have sent fighters into Syria to fight on opposing sides.
The explosions in Tripoli, 40 miles from the capital, Beirut, were the biggest and deadliest there since the end of Lebanon's own civil war and came a week after a car bomb killed at least 24 people in a Shia district of Beirut controlled by Hezbollah.

2013-08-23 JODI RUDOREN. Pressure Rises on Hamas as Patrons’ Support Fades

The tumult roiling the Arab world had already severed the lifeline between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and two of its most important patrons, Iran and Syria.
Now, the dismantling of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood by the new military-backed government that ousted the Islamist president has Hamas reeling without crucial economic and diplomatic support. Over the past two weeks, a “crisis cell” of ministers has met daily. With Gaza’s economy facing a $250 million shortfall since Egypt shut down hundreds of smuggling tunnels, the Hamas government has begun to ration some resources.
The mounting pressure on Hamas has implications beyond the 141 square miles of this coastal strip that it has ruled since 2007. It could serve to strengthen President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and his more moderate Fatah faction that dominates the West Bank just as Washington-orchestrated peace talks get under way. It also adds another volatile element to the rapidly changing landscape across the region, where sectarian tensions have led to bloodshed and the Islamists’ rise to power through the ballot box has been blocked.
“Now, Hamas is an orphan,” said Akram Atallah, a political analyst and columnist, referring to the fact that the movement sprang from Egypt’s Brotherhood a quarter century ago. “Hamas was dreaming and going up with its dreams that the Islamists were going to take over in all the capitals. Those dreams have been dashed.”
In interviews here this week, as well as in public speeches, several Hamas leaders insisted that the Egypt crisis makes repairing the Palestinian rift more urgent. Instead, it already appears more elusive, with the loss of Cairo as the host and broker for reconciliation talks.
Seizing on its opponent’s weakness, the Fatah Revolutionary Council plans to consider declaring Gaza a “rebel province” at a leadership meeting Sunday with President Abbas, which would tighten the noose by curtailing Palestinian Authority financing of operations in the strip. Officials in Fatah and Hamas said that both have increased arrests of the other’s operatives in recent weeks. The Hamas leaders here blame Fatah for what they call a “vicious campaign” against them in the Egyptian news media.
“You can feel the heat because of what’s happening in Egypt,” said Ahmed Yousef, a former aide to Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, who now runs a Gaza research group called House of Wisdom. “The tense relations between Gaza and Ramallah has been intensified. Everybody is suspicious.”
In separate interviews this week, three senior Hamas leaders — Ziad el-Zaza, the finance minister and deputy prime minister; Ghazi Hamad, who handles foreign affairs; and Mahmoud al-Zahar, a hard-liner — said they were taking a “wait and see” approach to Egypt, hoping that perhaps the tide could turn their way. They imagined that a public backlash against what they called a coup could yet lead to the Brotherhood’s resurgence.
The opposition here has been emboldened by the events across the border. A new youth movement called Tamarod — Arabic for rebellion — after an Egyptian group that helped bring down Mr. Morsi, released a YouTube video urging the overthrow of Hamas and a Facebook page calling for mass demonstrations on Nov. 11. An engineering student who is among the group’s founders and spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals said that Hamas had detained at least 50 of Tamarod’s Facebook fans this week, and that he and several others had been jailed, placed under house arrest and had their mobile phones and computers seized. “Maybe Hamas leaders are afraid of what happened in Egypt,” he said.
Several experts said toppling Hamas would be tough. Unlike the Brotherhood, Hamas controls the security forces and service institutions in Gaza as well as its politics. And so far, the rhythm of life appeared to carry on.

2013-08-13 Meir Ohayon. Iron Dome intercepts Eilat-bound rocket

The Iron Dome defense system, deployed last month in Eilat, intercepted a rocket aimed at an inhabited area in the region 1 am Tuesday. Magen David Adom reported two persons were treated for anxiety attacks.
Shortly before 1 am a siren was heard in Israel's southernmost city and residents reported they heard echoes of two explosions in the area. The IDF and the police are canvassing the area and so far no further landing sites were found.
Meanwhile, Palestinian sources reported that the extremist Salafist group Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, which operates in the Sinai Peninsula, claimed responsibility for the rocket launched early Tuesday at Eilat.
However, these reports were not corroborated and the group has yet to issue a formal statement.
Four of the group's members were killed on Friday near Egyptian Rafah in an airstrike attributed to the IDF by foreign media.
Last Thursday the airspace in the Eilat area was shut down for two hours, due to a security assessment.

2013-08-10 Ron Ben-Yishai. Attack on Egyptian soil, problematic but probably necessary Attack on Egyptian soil, problematic but probably necessary

If the reports of an Israeli drone attacking a terror cell preparing to launch a rocket into Israel from Egypt are true then it would be the first time since Egypt and Israel signed their peace treaty in 1979 that Israel's forces have operated within Sinai, or Egypt for that matter – except a single incident during the terror attack along Route 12 two years ago. Like now, at the time, an Israel aircraft – according to Egyptian media reports, a helicopter – entered into Egypt, fired on terrorist but also at Egyptian soldiers, who return fire with a rocket in its direction.
The difference between what happened then and what allegedly happened Friday is that the alleged drone attack of the terrorists near Egypt's Rafah in Sinai was probably undertaken at Israel's own initiative. The reason for the initiative is what is called 'a live prevention' of an imminent attempt to launch either a rocket or a long-range missile. It is safe to assume that those behind the attack are a group of Salafist Bedouins attempting to launch either a Fajr or M75 Fajr-like missile made in the Gaza Strip by either Hamas or the Islamic Jihad.

2013-08-10 Sinai terror group says it was target of Israeli drone

An al-Qaeda-linked group active in the Sinai Peninsula said Saturday that its fighters were the target of a reported Israeli drone strike into Egyptian territory, a rare operation that could indicate increased Egyptian-Israeli security cooperation against militants in the lawless border zone.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, in a statement posted on a militant website, said that a drone that crossed into Egyptian airspace killed four fighters as they were preparing a cross-border rocket strike into Israel. It said the dead were from Egyptian Sinai tribes and that the rocket squad's leader escaped.
Egyptian security officials, speaking anonymously on Friday, said that a drone firing from the Israeli side of the border had killed five suspected militants
Israel has maintained official silence about the strike, suggesting that if the Jewish state was involved, it might be trying to avoid embarrassing the Egyptian military. An Egyptian military spokesman later denied the report but did not provide another cause for the explosion.
The strike could signal a significant new level of security cooperation between Egypt and Israel following the military coup that ousted Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, last month. The military has alleged that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement had turned a blind eye to Islamic militants in the Sinai.
The militant statement said that there was Egyptian air activity in the area but after the Egyptian aircraft withdrew, the Israeli drone attacked. A tribal leader in the area said that an Egyptian helicopter flew over the site a few minutes after the drone strike.
The Egyptian security officials said the Israeli attack was launched in cooperation with Egyptian authorities, despite Cairo's past insistence that the government would not allow anyone else to use its territories to launch attacks against jihadi groups.

2013-08-09 Report: IDF bombs rocket launchers in Egyptian Rafah

The Palestinian news agency Maan reported a loud explosion was heard on Friday in the Egyptian side of Rafah near the Israeli border, in the vicinity of the Kerem Shalom Crossing.
An Egyptian army source told the agency that an Israeli drone bombed ready-to-launch rockets deployed on Thursday in a desert area in the town, following a fly-over in which the rockets were detected.
According to Egyptian reports, which have not received official confirmation, Sinai militant groups decided to launch rockets at Israel, after acquiring various rockets via smuggling routes through the Red Sea.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram quoted the Egyptian army spokesperson who said that on 4:15 pm on Friday two explosions were heard about three kilometers west of the border line. According to him, Egyptian army forces are canvassing the area to find an explanation for the explosions.
An Israel source said in response to the reports: "We're aware of the increase Egyptian army activity against terror in Sinai."
Earlier on Friday Maan reported that it was an Egyptian alert of anti-aircraft rockets in Sinai which led to the closure of Eilat's airport for two hours on Thursday.
The news agency reported that according to high ranking Egyptian army officer, Cairo alerted Israel to threats made by Sinai Peninsula-based militant groups to attack Israeli targets with 70 km-ranged rockets.
The report said that Egyptian intelligence services acquired information that the Sinai groups are in possession of ground-air rockets and intend to attack strategic facilities in Sinai during the Eid al-Fieter holiday.

2013-08-04 Noah Beck. Flaws of Kerry's Mideast peace plan

Here is a list of reasons why Secretary of State John Kerry's Mideast peace plan is unfairly flawed in ways that endanger Israel:
1) No Palestinian reciprocity at the outset. Israel agreed to release 104 convicted terrorists just to get the Palestinians to talk peace. Would the US agree to release 104 Guantanamo prisoners for talks with anyone?
3) No religious freedom in a future Palestinian state. Palestinians insist (ironically) that "peaceful coexistence" means no Jewish settlers in their state. But, on principle, why should Jews be banned from living in a future Palestinian state -- particularly when Muslims constitute over 17% of Israel's population?
4) No Palestinian mandate to negotiate peace. There are about 2.1 million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and 1.7 million in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas-ruled Gaza vehemently opposes peace negotiations and denies Israel's right to exist. Islamic Jihad and Hamas recently lambasted PA leaders for meeting with Israelis to talk peace. The last time that the PA announced direct talks with Israel, Hamas announced plans to launch terrorist attacks at Israel, in coordination with 12 other Gaza terrorist organizations.
5) Transferring the West Bank could be Israel's geostrategic undoing. Jordan could collapse any day from a flood of about 500,000 Syrian refugees (and growing daily); severe poverty; popular discontent over corruption, inequality, and lack of freedom; acute water shortages; and/or Muslim Brotherhood action to overthrow King Abdullah's monarchy. These factors make the Abdullah regime's survival increasingly uncertain. After Israel militarily withdraws from the West Bank, will Hamas topple the PA there as it did in Gaza (two years after Israel's 2005 Gaza withdrawal)? What if the Hamas-allied Muslim Brotherhood then takes over Jordan?

2013-07-29 Oren Dorel. Analysts: Egypt coup weakens Hamas, may help peace talks

Unrest in Egypt and an Egyptian military crackdown in the Sinai has weakened the Palestinian Liberation Organization's main rival, Hamas, and improved prospects for peace talks about to begin in Washington, analysts say.
Hamas, the Palestinian franchise of the Muslim Brotherhood that controls the Gaza Strip and rules its population of 1.8 million Palestinians, opposes the negotiations that Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week for a possible independent Palestinian state.
It is a terrorist group that has instigated two wars with Israel, a country it seeks to destroy, and is vying to win the allegiance of the 1.7 million Palestinians in the West Bank who are are governed by the PLO.
But the coup that removed Egypt's first elected president from office robbed Hamas of a major backer and precipitated a crippling military offensive that has crimped its coffers, say analysts.
Hamas now "has no hope of a sympathetic hearing in Cairo," says Hussein Ibish, an analyst at the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington.
After Egypt's military detained the country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, July 3, it jailed dozens of top Brotherhood leaders and financiers who had been among Hamas' main supporters.
Since then, the military in coordination with Israel, also launched a major operation in the Sinai Peninsula, closing more than 850 tunnels into Gaza and killing militants it says were linked to Hamas, Ibish says. Israel gave its approval for the Egypt military's operation, which Egypt has to have to enter what is a legally-enforced demilitarized zone since the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries.
Ibish says Hamas was able to boost its stature and influence among Palestinians because of the existence of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo.
Ibish says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party was thrown out of Gaza by Hamas, did not agree to negotiations with Israel because of Hamas' moment of weakness. But he says Hamas will risk losing influence if Abbas delivers a deal for an independent Palestinian state, he says.
"It's hard to imagine how Hamas would not split," he says. "There would be a lot of Hamas guys who 'd want to be part of that Palestinian state" in leadership positions.
And the people of Gaza would not agree to stay "in this giant prison" of Gaza "just because they're under the thumb of the guys with all the guns," he says.

2013-07-22 EU ministers agree to blacklist Hezbollah's armed wing

EU foreign ministers have agreed to list the military wing of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
The move required the agreement of all 28 of the EU's member states.
It will now become illegal for Hezbollah sympathisers in Europe to send the group money or for European diplomats to meet its militant staff.
Some member states had been wary of the measure, saying it could further destabilise the situation in Lebanon.
The BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says some states had also argued it would be difficult to distinguish fully between the group's military and political wings.
EU officials had reportedly been proposing a compromise to satisfy more sceptical members - a statement that the bloc "should continue dialogue with all political parties in Lebanon".
The Lebanese government had on Friday urged Brussels not to move against Hezbollah, describing the militant group as an "essential component of Lebanese society".
But the group's involvement in the war across the border in Syria, in support of President Bashar al-Assad, has hardened European opinion, our correspondent says.
Countries that support the EU move say there is compelling evidence that Hezbollah was responsible for a bomb attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year in which six people died. The group denies any involvement.

2013-07-20 KHALED ABU TOAMEH. Palestinian factions see resumption of peace talks as 'political suicide'

Several Palestinian groups on Saturday criticized the Palestinian Authority for agreeing to resume peace talks with Israel, while PLO and Fatah officials said they knew nothing about what US Secretary of State John Kerry had offered the PA leadership to bring it back to the negotiating table.
On Friday night, Kerry announced from Amman that the peace talks would resume shortly.
Kerry's announcement came immediately after he flew unexpectedly from Amman to Ramallah for talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Kerry's surprise meeting with Abbas came one day after PLO and Fatah officials who met in Ramallah voiced opposition to Kerry's proposal to resume the peace talks unless Israel accepted the PA's demand for a full cessation of settlement construction, the release of Palestinian prisoners and recognized the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
The officials quoted Abbas as telling them that Kerry had refused to provide the PA leadership with written guarantees that Israel would accept its demands.
Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, announced late Friday that Chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat would soon head to Washington for talks with an Israeli representative under the auspices of Kerry. Abu Rudaineh said that "as a result of meetings and discussions between Kerry and Abbas over the past few days, progress has been achieved, paving the way for agreement on the principles that allow for the resumption of the negotiations (with Israel)."
Abu Rudaineh did not say how the progress was achieved. However, he pointed out that "certain details still require finding a solution for them." Nabil Amr, a senior Fatah official and former PA minister, said the way the PA leadership dealt with the issue of resuming negotiating with Israel was "frustrating."
The Palestinian National Initiative, a political movement headed by former presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouti, announced that it was opposed to the resumption of the peace talks with Israel "without clear and specific terms of reference."
The movement said that any negotiations should be based on the pre-1967 lines and a full cessation of settlement construction "in all Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem."
Hamas spokesman also condemned the PA for "succumbing to American extortion and complying with Israel's demands." Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the PA's decision was a "big gift to the extremist occupation government and a loss for the Palestinian people."
Another Hamas official, Salah Bardaweel, warned the PA leadership against "falling in the quagmire of negotiations." He said that the resumption of the negotiations unconditionally and under Kerry's terms was designed to "liquidate the Palestinian cause in return for secondary privileges for Palestinian Authority leaders."
Hamas spokesman also condemned the PA for "succumbing to American extortion and complying with Israel's demands." Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the PA's decision was a "big gift to the extremist occupation government and a loss for the Palestinian people."
Another Hamas official, Salah Bardaweel, warned the PA leadership against "falling in the quagmire of negotiations." He said that the resumption of the negotiations unconditionally and under Kerry's terms was designed to "liquidate the Palestinian cause in return for secondary privileges for Palestinian Authority leaders."
The PFLP denounced the resumption of the talks as "political suicide," while the DFLP said that Kerry's proposals were "insufficient," especially since he had failed to present written assurances to the Palestinians.

2013-07-19 Hamas reject's Kerry's announcement: Abbas has no authority to negotiate

Hamas dismissed US State Secretary John Kerry's announcement of the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and slammed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas : "He has no legitimacy to negotiate in the name of the Palestinian people on the core issues."
Meanwhile, officials within the Palestinian Authority have yet to respond to Kerry's dramatic announcement, and only Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeina issued a statement noting that some details must still be solved before negotiations start.
He also stressed that if everything goes well - US State Secretary John Kerry will invite Saeb Erekat and the Israeli representative for initial talks in Washington in the coming days.
The Israeli side has so far registered more enthusiasm. "These have been long months of skepticism and cynicism, but now four years of diplomatic impasse are about to end," Justice Minister Tzipi Livni declared .
"In the negotiation chamber we'll maintain Israel's national and security interests as a Jewish and democratic state," she said.

2013-07-19 Harriet Sherwood, Hazem Balousha. Palestinians in Gaza feel the Egypt effect as smuggling tunnels close

Palestinians in Gaza are feeling the impact of regime change next door. Since the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by the military on 3 July, not only have Gaza's rulers, Hamas, lost their close political allies, but the Egyptian army has clamped down on the smuggling trade through the tunnels, which for six years have been a major lifeline for the 1.7m population of the tiny coastal strip.
The Egyptian authorities have targeted the underground passages as part of a drive to regain control of the vast Sinai desert, whose population is hostile to Cairo.
At the height of the black market trade between Gaza and Egypt there were thought to be more than 1,000 tunnels employing around 7,000 people – providing Hamas with an income from taxes and permits of millions of dollars a month, estimated at 40% of the government's revenue. But Egypt is thought to have closed or destroyed around 80% of the tunnels.
"The Gaza Strip has lost around $225m during the past month due to the halt of imports, namely fuel and crude materials for construction, such as cement, gravel and steel," said the Hamas economy minister, Alaa al-Rafati.

2013-07-19 Israel incapable of negotiation with Palestinians: Araqchi

Iran Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Araqchi says Tehran is against the resumption of talks between Israel and Palestinians as Tel Aviv is incapable of dialogue.
The Israeli regime’s structure is based on occupation and therefore it is incapable of negotiating and reaching an agreement with Palestinians, Araqchi said on Sunday.
He added that the Tel Aviv regime is not ready to pay the price for peace due to its warmongering nature.
"Islamic Republic of Iran, along with Palestinian groups, opposes the proposed plan and [Iran] is confident that the occupying Zionist regime [of Israel] does not believe in the principle of withdrawal from the occupied territories," the Iranian spokesperson stated.

2013-07-12 Kristin Smith Diwan. What's Next for the Youngest Leader in the Arab World?

Prior to the Emir’s ascendancy in 1995, Qatar was a sleepy emirate, lacking the mercantile culture of its neighbors. Qatar’s emergence as a wealthy petrostate was delayed due to the late development and longer investment cycle of its natural gas fields. Under Emir Hamad, Qatar played catch-up, moving more aggressively than its peers to deploy its new wealth toward societal transformation. Ambitious programs of international engagement and educational reform were pursued. Recognizing that its students were not prepared for the high quality universities that it imported from the West, alone in the Gulf, Qatar commissioned the reworking of its entire K-12 educational system.
Qatar brought change to the rest of the Arab world as well. The launch of al-Jazeera transformed the Arab media landscape for good, opening up political space for discussion and consolidating the Arab public into one participatory audience. Just how tightly that public was bound became evident in the spring of 2011, as al-Jazeera broadcast the spread of the popular uprisings, championing the public push for change from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond (although not for its neighbor, Bahrain). Qatar’s material support for armed revolutionaries in Libya and Syria showed just how far Qatar was willing to go to keep ahead of the Arab Spring. Embracing the elevation of popularly-elected Islamist movements and Islamist fighters, Qatar sought to leverage its support for their aspirations into regional influence. The confluence of interests was not lost on the citizens of transitioning states. When the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi narrowly won Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election, one Egyptian paper’s headline screamed, “Congratulations Qatar!”
Qatar may have been misguided in its support for Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated forces from Egypt to Libya and Syria, and the precipitous decline of Qatar’s al-Jazeera is illustrative of this shift. Most observers noted a change in its editorial policyafter the removal of their Director General Wadah Khanfar in September 2011, and replacement by a Qatari royal, Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani. Since then, critics argued that al-Jazeera lost its broader (although always Islamist-sympathetic) appeal and became more narrowly a tool of Qatari foreign policy. The network whose broadcasts were initially cheered in Tahrir square by revolutionaries in January 2011 has since been demonized in the Egyptian street in the wake of the June 30 demonstrations—its reporters were hounded out of a military press conference, and the offices of its Egyptian affiliate were raided by security forces. Some of its employees were detained and others resigned citing its bias toward the Muslim Brotherhood.
How will the young Emir Tamim bin Hamid respond to these setbacks? The cost of persisting in current policies and alliances will rise, given the new government in Egypt, and the mounting pressures for a shift in policy from Qatar’s Gulf Cooperation Council allies who have clashed with Qatar over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations. These states were the first to embrace the new power alignment in Egypt, as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait rapidly pledged $12 billion in financial grants and assistance, although Egypt is still making good use of the $5.5 billion Qatar pledged to the Morsi-led government, which leaves Qatar still in the lead as the single largest donor to Egypt.
Qatar’s recognition of the new Egyptian government is the first indication of a change in direction. This was followed by a ministry of foreign affairs statement expressing concern over the loss of life that occurred on Sunday, as security forces confronted pro-Morsi protestors. The tone of the statements match that of Emir Tamim in his first address to the nation, where he expressed respect for all genuine and effective movements in the region, but pledged that Qatar will not choose one trend over another, nor will accept the division of Arab society by sect or creed. This inclusiveness will need to be more fully realized in Qatar’s policies to regain its standing in Egypt and elsewhere. A shift in tone and policy may be facilitated by new leadership at al-Jazeera, where Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim has stepped down to take up his new position as minister of economy and trade in the new Qatari cabinet.
Emir Tamim does not appear poised to turn Qatar's support for democratic liberation inward. Before abdicating, Emir Hamid issued a law extending the authority of Qatar’s appointed Shura Council into 2016, negating his own promise of parliamentary elections in 2013. Some Gulf youth activists registered their disappointment via twitter, imagining the impact if Emir Hamad had stepped down with an announcement of an elected parliament. Still others seemed impressed with the delegation of power to a new generation, and with Qatar’s clarity of vision, as opposed to the tendency of many older Gulf rulers to just muddle through until a crisis hits. If Emir Tamim can connect with this new generation in substantive ways that further empower them, then Qatar could truly bequeath a revolutionary legacy in the Gulf and regain its stature within the region.

2013-06-25 Report: Iraqi Al-Qaeda Leader in Turkey to Buy Weapons, Chemical Substances

Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has travelled to Turkey to purchase weapons and chemical substances to start a new phase in war on the Baghdad government, media reports said.
Al-Baghdadi is in Turkey to buy weapons and chemical substances to be used in al-Qaeda operations against Iraq's army, al-Mayadeen TV quoted an informed source as saying on Tuesday.
Iraq’s al-Qaeda has recently increased its terrorist activities in the Muslim country concurrent with a rise in al-Qaeda attacks in Syria.
Earlier this month, the Iraqi defense ministry announced that it had broken up an al-Qaeda cell that was working to produce poison gas at two locations in the capital for future attacks at home and abroad.
The group of five people built two facilities to produce sarin and mustard gas, using instructions from another Al-Qaeda group, Iraqi Defense Ministry Spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told a news conference.

2013-06-24 Simeon Kerr. Qatar emir set to abdicate and hand power to crown prince

Qatar’s emir will cede power to his son in a radical break with tradition in the strategically vital Gulf state, according to state-owned Al Jazeera television.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani told members of the ruling family on Monday that he would pass on power to the crown prince, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the broadcaster said.
The emir is scheduled to address the nation on Tuesday morning, the ruler’s court said.
Such a voluntary abdication of a hereditary monarch is very rare in the Gulf. Diplomats say the 61-year-old emir, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1995, wants to cement stability in the influential Gulf state.
Diplomats have said the succession will start with the removal of the powerful prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has played a vital role in shaping the rise of Qatar into its prominent global position.
The country is set to embark on a massive infrastructural investment drive ahead of its hosting of the World Cup in 2022.
Qatar, one of the richest countries on earth, has looked after its 300,000 nationals well, with a cradle-to-grave welfare state, blunting calls for reform that have emerged across most Gulf states in the wake of the Arab revolutions.
However, human rights groups have criticised the conviction of a poet for criticising the emir and called for reforms to the labour system that has led to widespread abuses of the large numbers of workers building Doha’s ever-changing skyline.

2013-06-16 Prof. Dror Zeevi. Erdogan claims Jewish investors behind protests

After two weeks of protests, each side in the Turkish tumult is starting to produce its own narrative, explain the origin of the protest and plan the next step.
In the demonstrators' viewpoint, the protest's train has long left its humble beginnings as an environmental struggle against the redevelopment of Gezi Park in central Istanbul, and is now heading toward far more general goals.
The object of the protestors' ire is no longer Gezi Park, the ruling AK party or even the government, but one man - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Described as an autocrat, demonstrators protest his attempts to force values, norms and codes of conduct on a widely diverse public, and especially against the move to make Erdogan president carrying sweeping authorities.
Erdogan's conduct toward the demonstrators – his refusal to meet with leaders and harsh measures aimed at suppressing the demonstrations – is for them ample proof to their claims.
The protestors have little love for the Turkish media outlets, as well, which act like cowed rabbits, provide little coverage of the demonstrations and tend to support the government's stance.
Conversely, over the last few days and especially since returning from a visit to north Africa, the Turkish PM has constructed his own theory of the ongoing events. At first he comprised a long lists of supposed suspects behind the protests – opposition supporters, hooligans, foreign governments – but recently the government's narrative is taking a more stable shape and accusations are mostly directed at business men and large-scale investors Erdogan has been terming "the interests lobby."
According to him, these want to hamper Turkey's economy for short-term profits. Though the specific guilty partners were not explicitly named, it appears Erdogan is hinting at investors such as Jewish-American tycoon George Soros and other Jewish and Western businessmen.
Also unexplained is why should these investors want to see Turkey's dynamic economy fail, and in what way do they influence protestors across the country.
Long before the present protest, a significant decrease in the Turkish economy's growth has been marked. The country's bane is its large foreign debt: Turkey owes tens of billions of dollars to debtors, especially in Europe and the US, and the interest it is required to pay is debilitating its economic base thus hampering its growth.
The large – some would say megalomaniac – investments in state projects are also emptying the state's coffers.
Erdogan and his team are naturally aware of the imminent economic setbacks, and therefore the choice of financial speculators as the evil behind the protests is not random.
When the unpleasant information about the economic status will be revealed next year before the elections, the PM could shirk the responsibility, having warned beforehand that foreign investors schemed to foil the economy.
Erdogan's strategy to blame the international financial establishment echoes with the sounds of the old Turkey, xenophobic and suspicious of the world.

2013-06-16 Riot police pour into Istanbul before Erdogan rally

Riot police from the Turkish provinces have been flown into protest-torn Istanbul as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepares to rally supporters.
Some 1,000 riot police officers arrived at Ataturk Airport from regions as far away as Diyarbakir and Sirnak in the south-east, Turkish media report.
Istanbul has been tense since riot police broke up a protest camp on Taksim Square on Saturday evening.
They moved in after weeks of protests against Mr Erdogan's policies.
The protests began on 28 May against a plan to redevelop Gezi Park, but snowballed into nationwide anti-government protests after the perceived high-handed response of the authorities under their three-term prime minister.
Medical officials estimate that 5,000 people have been injured and at least four killed since protests began.
The rally in support of Mr Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is planned for the early evening, in the Kazlicesme district on the edge of the city.
Mr Erdogan, a hate figure for the protesters, has agreed to postpone the redevelopment of the park while the courts consider the project's legality.
But he insisted the park had to be "evacuated" by the security forces.
Activists have been calling on protesters to return to the city centre.
However, there is a tight police cordon at Taksim Square and there are bag searches and identity checks.
Witnesses say Saturday was one of the worst nights of unrest since Gezi Park was occupied 18 days ago.
Clashes continued into Sunday morning in the streets around the square, eyewitnesses say.
Thousands of people also took to the streets of the capital, Ankara, to express support for the protests and unrest continued there on Sunday.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to clear demonstrators in the capital's Kizilay Square on Sunday afternoon.
The Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) said it would call a nationwide strike on Monday, while another union grouping is deciding whether to join the action.

2013-06-16 Turkey unrest: Unions call strike over crackdown

Unions in Turkey have called a one-day nationwide strike to protest against the police crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.
The Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) and Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK) are demanding an end to "police violence".
The move comes after continued sporadic clashes between protesters and police in Istanbul and the capital Ankara.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angrily defended the crackdown.

2013-06-03 Bill Clinton paid half million USD for speech in Israel

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton has been paid 500,000 U.S. dollars for a speech to be given at an event in honor of Israeli President Shimon Peres, sources confirmed to Xinhua Sunday.
Clinton is scheduled to visit Israel on June 18 for the fifth annual Presidential Conference, to be attended by international political leaders, thinkers and artists.
Clinton's 45-minute speech on sustainability was invited by the Peres Academic Center in the city of Rehovot, northern Israel, but will be co-sponsored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), officials at the JNF and the Peres Academic Center told Xinhua Sunday.
The payment was made to the Clinton Global Initiative, an international affairs outreach venture of Clinton, according to Israel's Hebrew-language Yedioth Ahronot daily.

2013-05-30 AMANDA HODGE. Killing of Taliban leader in Pakistan a boost for US drone program

THE US drone strike that killed the Pakistani Taliban's No 2 has delivered a powerful message to the new government that the controversial drone program can work in its interests.
The death of Waliur Rehman comes just days after US President Barack Obama outlined stricter protocol for drones, promising lethal force would be used only if a target posed a "continuous, imminent threat to the American people", and a week ahead of the new Pakistani administration's June 5 swearing-in ceremony.
It creates an early dilemma for prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif, who maintained a hard line against drone strikes during his election campaign calling them a "challenge" to Pakistani sovereignty but has refused to say whether he would demand an end to drones in the weeks since his May 11 election victory.
Rehman, 40, and second only to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan commander Hakimullah Mehsud, is understood to have co-ordinated dozens of suicide attacks on Pakistani civilians, waged guerilla war against Pakistani troops and conducted cross-border attacks against NATO troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
His death on Wednesday morning, along with at least five others, in a missile strike on a Taliban safe house near the North Waziristan capital, Miran Shah, removes a powerful anti-state actor ahead of mooted peace talks between the new government and the home-grown terror outfit.
"This drone attack is a signal to Pakistan and its new government by America that 'look, it's not all bad. We're also killing people who attack you and the Pakistani state,' " defence analyst Ayesha Siddiqua told The Australian yesterday. "Of course we have seen the usual condemnation from the diplomatic corps that we were not informed but, if I can remind you, the TTP attacks the Pakistani state.
"This is an attack which has practically landed from heaven and will put (Sharif) in a position of strength in any talks with the Taliban."
But Mansur Mahsud, director with the Islamabad-based FATA Research Centre, suggested Rehman's death could complicate negotiations by depriving the process of a key player.
"He was a very cool-minded person, a very intelligent person, and he was someone that the government could talk to," Mr Mahsud said.

2013-05-11 Qatar pays price for its generous support to Muslim Brotherhood

Angry Tunisian and Libyan protesters burned the Qatari flag in two simultaneous moves and without prior coordination.
Furious about the persistent interference of the Gulf state in the Arab countries’ affairs, the protesters condemned Doha’s foreign policy and accused its Emir of supporting religious parties to serve his country’s agenda, as part of a "conspiratorial scheme for the benefit of Israel and the international imperialist powers."
The Tunisian protesters in Gafsa burned the Qatari flag on Thursday during a demonstration organized by various political forces and civil society organizations to condemn the "Zionist attack on Syria" and show solidarity with the Syrian people.

2013-05-08 Kurdish PKK rebels 'begin leaving Turkey' after truce

Kurdish rebel fighters have begun leaving south-eastern Turkey for their safe havens in Iraq under a ceasefire, Kurdish sources say.
"We know that they have started moving," Selahattin Demirtas, a pro-Kurdish politician involved in the peace process, told AFP news agency.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) announced last month a phased withdrawal to start early in May.
More than 40,000 people have died in their 30-year fight against Turkey.
There was no immediate official confirmation of the move from Turkey but an unnamed security source told Reuters news agency: "We have observed movement among [PKK] group members, but have not been able to establish whether this is regrouping or preparation for a withdrawal."
The PKK is believed to have up to 2,000 fighters inside Turkey and their full withdrawal may take up to four months.
They are expected to cross the border on foot, heading for their bases in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq.
Abdullah Ocalan, the veteran PKK leader in prison in Turkey, ordered the withdrawal in March as part of peace negotiations with Ankara.

2013-04-25 SUZAN FRASER. Kurdish Rebels to Retreat From Turkey to Iraq

Kurdish rebels will start withdrawing thousands of guerrilla fighters from Turkey on May 8 and retreat across the border to northern Iraq, a rebel commander said Thursday according to a pro-Kurdish news agency, in an important milestone toward ending the nearly three-decade old insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
In a news conference held in northern Iraq's Qandil mountains, rebel commander Murat Karayilan said the extraction would be gradual. He warned, however, the retreat would come to an "immediate" stop should the rebels be attacked as they leave Turkey, according to Firat News, an agency that is close to the rebels.
The decision to leave Turkey and retreat to bases in northern Iraq comes a month after the rebels declared a cease-fire, heeding a call by jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is engaged in talks with Turkish officials to end the fighting. Ocalan had also asked his group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to leave Turkey as part of the peace efforts.
"The withdrawal will be gradual, in groups," Karayilan, who took over the PKK's leadership after Ocalan's capture and imprisonment in 1999, said. "It will be completed in the shortest time possible."

2013-04-17 TOVAH LAZAROFF. Kerry: 2 state solution may be dead within 2 years

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Wednesday that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be dead within two years.
“I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting,” Kerry told the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. “I think we have some period of time, a year, a year-and-a-half, or two years or it’s over.”
The secretary of state’s comments come amid a renewed US drive to rekindle direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which have been largely frozen since late 2008.
Palestinians have insisted they will not hold direct negotiations with Israel unless it halts West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
Israel has refused to cede to that request and has urged the Palestinians to come to the table without preconditions.
Kerry is now seeking a way to break a four-year deadlock over the issue.

2013-04-14 Gulf officials hold emergency meet over Iran’s nuclear proximity

Gulf environmental officials on Sunday held an emergency meeting in Saudi Arabia’s capital to discuss possible threats posed to surrounding Gulf countries by the Iranian nuclear plant in Bushehr.
Last week, a powerful earthquake struck close to Iran’s plant, killing 32 people and injuring 850, it also destroyed homes and devastated two small villages…
The plant is 277 kilometers away from Kuwait, 300 kilometers away from Bahrain, 350 kilometers away from Iraq's southern city of Basra, about 410 kilometers away from the Qatari capital Doha, 600 kilometers away from the UAE's Abu Dhabi and about 620 kilometers away from the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The plant poses a threat to these countries because it falls within a seismically active area; the aforementioned countries could be under the risk of being subjected to uranium and nuclear radiations leaks.
Tehran has repeatedly dismissed safety concerns over the Bushehr plant, which began operations in September 2011 after decades of delays.
Israel, Gulf Arab states and many Western countries fear Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, while the Islamic Republic is battling with international sanctions aimed at curbing specific areas within its atomic program.

2013-04-12 How Saudi Arabia’s ‘Plan B’ became a game-changer in Syria

When it came to the current Syrian crisis, the kingdom chose earlier on to break its silence. Since it became evident that the Assad regime had decided to make a bloody massacre of the peaceful protests that started in March 2011, Saudi Arabia has made its concerns vocal. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz recalled his ambassador from Damascus, and made very strong statements criticizing Assad.
However, when it came to logistical and military support for the Syrian opposition, most of the work was being done by the kingdom’s small neighbor Qatar. “The truth was that the Saudis and Qataris had reached an agreement, whereby Saudi Arabia outsources the logistical and military support tasks to Qatar, and confines itself to just paying the bills,” the source told Al Arabiya.
By March 2012, a year after the outbreak of the crisis, the Saudi-Qatari arrangement had achieved very little on the ground. The death toll stood at over 50,000, while hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians became displaced and sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Both the Saudis and the Qataris understand that if the situation is not contained more rapidly, then not only will there be very few Syrians left to save, but Iran will be a major step closer to achieving regional hegemony.
The Saudis and the Assads go back a long way. However, the relation was much better when the late Hafez al-Assad was alive.
“Hafiz rarely said yes, but when he did say yes, he meant it. On the other hand, Bashar always says yes, but he never means it,” the Saudi source told Al Arabiya.
“Bashar is politically immature and a pathological liar. He had full Saudi support when he first assumed office, but the support quickly began to vaporize until none was left at all following the assassination of (former) Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005.”
Hariri was a moderate Sunni leader whom Saudi Arabia nurtured and supported. His rise to power came as a result of the Saudi-brokered Taif Accord of 1989, which effectively ended 15 years of Lebanese civil war. Syria was responsible for Lebanon’s security as per the Taif Accord, which is why upon the assassination, fingers were quickly pointed at Damascus and its ally, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Albeit a purely Shiite group, Hezbollah enjoyed wide support across various Lebanese sects – including Hariri’s – when it was regarded as a resistance movement fighting the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Today, it is labeled a terrorist organization, and reportedly continues to receive weapons from Iran through Syria.
Upon the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah began consolidating power internally. It forced Lebanon into a war with Israel in 2006, and in 2008 it used its arsenal against its own people to occupy Beirut.
The crisis ended after a political agreement was reached, but there is nothing to stop Hezbollah taking over Beirut (or attacking Israel) again. As such, the group continues to be a double-edged bargaining chip for both the Iranians and the Syrians.
Just this week, Bahraini lawmakers voted to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The group, along with Iran, have been accused of stirring trouble and promoting sectarian strife between the Sunni and Shiite populations of Bahrain.
As such, it could be argued that the true face of the Saudi-Iranian confrontation is not a Sunni-Shiite one, but an Arab-Persian one, whereby the oil-rich successor to the Persian Empire is using its allies in Syria and Hezbollah to destabilize and control Arab nations. Needless to say, what did not help limit Iran’s regional ambitions was the miserable American failure in handling post-Saddam Iraq.
...when it became clear that - due to Iranian and Russian support - Assad was winning the war he is waging against his own people, the Saudis decided they needed a plan B.
Prince Turki’s brother-in-law Prince Bandar bin Sultan was appointed head of the Saudi Intelligence Agency (al-Istikhbarat).
As in the United States - where the FBI focuses on domestic security, while the CIA is responsible for international intelligence-gathering - in Saudi Arabia, the Istikhbarat handles international threats and operations, whilst another body called the Mabaheth - whose head reports to the Ministry of Interior - handles domestic security.
Despite the fact that his “official” role has long been Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar – especially under the late King Fahd – has always served as his country’s international man of difficult tasks.
During the Lebanese civil war, he was a personal envoy of the late king, mediating between rivals and negotiating with the Syrians. As ambassador, he brokered what was at the time the largest U.S. arms deal in history, to deliver AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia despite Israeli opposition. Furthermore, he played a significant role in assisting the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Following his tenure as ambassador, he was appointed secretary general of the Saudi National Security Agency. Prince Bandar is believed to be in his mid-60s. In recent years, he was a victim of rumors that raised questions about his health, his loyalty to the Saudi throne and suggested that he was assassinated by the Syrians, all of which turned out to be untrue!
“When Syria started looking like it’s going to be mission impossible, the Saudis turned to Prince Bandar to manage the situation. Knowing him, he would never agree for anyone else to be behind the steering wheel, so Qatar was asked to take a back seat,” Al Arabiya’s source said.
“Prince Bandar toured the world, gathering support for his mission to end the crisis in Syria. Many countries in Asia and Europe offered their support, and began actively arming the FSA with lethal and advanced weapons, although they might deny this publically.”
The source confirmed recent stories in Western media that the weapons were being shipped to the FSA through Syria and Jordan from countries such as Croatia. These weapons have been reaching FSA fighters since December 2012. “The Jordanians’ help has been crucial. They know that if the Syrian crisis is further prolonged, then the spillover across their border will be inevitable,” the source added.
According to unconfirmed reports, Jordan is supposed to be hosting an advanced joint-operation centre, where the situation is monitored. Throughout the crisis, and especially since the beginning of Plan B, the Americans have been indirectly supplying its allies with highly-sensitive and accurate information about the situation within Syria.
In the meantime, Al Arabiya sources say Assad’s fall is imminent. How long will it take? “A couple of months, and if it doesn’t happen within a couple of months, then I’m afraid it might be a very long time,” said the source with access to a prominent Saudi official.

2013-04-09 Bassem Mroue, Maamoun Youssef. Iraqi al-Qaeda and Syria militants announce merger

Al-Qaeda's branch in Iraq said it has merged with Syria's extremist Jabhat al-Nusra, a move that shows the rising confidence of radicals within Syria's rebel movement and is likely to trigger renewed fears among its international backers.
A website linked to Jabhat Al-Nusra confirmed on Tuesday the merger with the Islamic State of Iraq, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first made the announcement in a 21-minute audio posted on militant websites late Monday.
Jabhat Al-Nusra has taken an ever-bigger role in Syria's conflict over the last year, claiming to have taken the lead role in key battles and staged several large suicide bombings.
The Syrian group has made little secret of its ideological ties to the global jihadist movement and its links across the Iraqi border but until now has not officially declared itself to be part of al-Qaeda.
Al-Baghdadi said that his group — the Islamic State of Iraq — and Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra will now be known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham. Sham is a name for Syria and the surrounding region.
"It is time to announce to the Levantine (Syrian) people and the whole world that Jabhat al-Nusra is merely an extension and part of the Islamic State of Iraq," he said.
He said that the Iraqi group was providing half of its budget to the conflict in Syria. Al-Baghdadi said that the Syrian group would have no separate leader but instead be led by the "people of Syria themselves" — implying that he would be in charge in both countries.
For such a high-profile Syrian rebel group to formally join al-Qaeda is likely to spark concerns among backers of the opposition that are in the global terror network's crosshairs, including both Western countries and Gulf Arab states.

2013-04-07 Anne Gearan. Kerry presses Israel, Turkey to mend ties

Israel and Turkey must stick to their agreement to end a nearly three-year estrangement as a building block for wider Mideast peacemaking, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday.
Kerry did not sugarcoat concern that Muslim politics in Turkey could delay or derail the deal struck last month among President Obama and the volatile leaders of two key U.S. allies. He added stops in Turkey and Israel to an unrelated trip to shore up the agreement.
We say again, we would like to see this relationship that is important to stability in the Middle East, critical to the peace process itself, we would like to see this relationship get back on track in its full measure,” Kerry said after meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Kerry addressed the crowing tone of some commentary in Turkey after an apology by Israel for the deaths of Turks aboard an aid ship in 2010. The ship was part of a flotilla trying to break the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.
“The foreign minister has expressed very clearly to me, in response to an inquiry by me, that they have taken steps to try to prevent any kind of sense of triumphalism,” Kerry said.
Davutoglu said little about the agreement but that Turkey would press its view that Israel’s embargo on Gaza must end. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he plans to visit Gaza over Israeli objections.

2013-03-28 Cyprus court jails Hezbollah man for plotting to attack Israelis

A Cyprus court sentenced a member of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah movement to four years in jail on Thursday on charges of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.
In a case bearing similarities to a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria targeting Israelis last year, the Cypriot court convicted Hossam Taleb Yaccoub on five counts of participating in a criminal organization and agreeing to commit a crime.
Yaccoub, 24 when he was arrested, was accused of tracking movements of Israeli tourists at Larnaca airport, and routes of buses transporting them.
He was detained in Cyprus two weeks before a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas in July, an attack Sofia blamed on Hezbollah. The group denies involvement.
Yaccoub, a Swedish national of Lebanese origin, pleaded not guilty. He admitted he was a member of Hezbollah, saying he would carry out innocent errands for a handler code-named Ayman, whom whom he could not fully identify because he always wore a hood.

2013-03-22 COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON. Netanyahu Apologizes to Turkey for Deadly Ship Raid

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized on Friday to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a raid on a Turkish flotilla ship, a move that will help restore strained ties between the countries.
The call, which happened as President Barack Obama wrapped up his first presidential visit to Israel, was an unexpected outcome from a Mideast trip that seemed to yield few concrete steps.
Mr. Netanyahu's office confirmed that the Israeli leader, in a conversation with Mr. Erdogan, "agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against [Israeli Defense Forces] soldiers." Mr. Erdogan accepted the Israeli apology, the prime minister's office said.
Mr. Erdogan has long sought an apology for the raid in May 2010 on the Mavi Marmara, which was part of a flotilla that sought to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. An Israeli raid on the ship left nine passengers dead, all of them Turkish or of Turkish descent.

2013-03-21 Ayla Jean Yackley. Kurd rebel leader orders fighters to halt hostilities

Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan ordered his fighters on Thursday to cease fire and withdraw from Turkish soil as a step to ending a conflict that has killed 40,000 people, riven the country and battered its economy.
Hundreds of thousands of Kurds, gathered in the regional center of Diyarbakir, cheered and waved banners bearing Ocalan's mustachioed image when a letter from the rebel leader, held since 1999 on a prison island in the Marmara Sea, was read out by a pro-Kurdish politician.
"Let guns be silenced and politics dominate," he said to a sea of red-yellow-green Kurdish flags. "The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders ... It's not the end. It's the start of a new era."
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has taken considerable risks since he was elected in 2002, breaking taboos deeply rooted in a conservative establishment, not least in the military, by extending cultural and language rights to Kurds. But Kurdish activists demand greater freedom from Ankara.
Erdogan, talking in the Netherlands, welcomed the ceasefire call but said the real test would be putting it into action. Military operations would stop if the rebel guns fell silent…
Erdogan must carry a skeptical conservative establishment, just as Ocalan from his prison island must marshal and keep the obedience of fighters ensconced in the remote mountains of Qandil, northern Iraq, some harboring doubts about the process.
Ocalan gave no timetable. Rebels would withdraw to bases in Qandil, which they have used as a springboard for attacks in Turkey and which themselves have been bombed by the Turkish air force.
At the bottom of a wide valley below the snow-capped Qandil mountains, over a thousand fighters, men and women dressed in combat fatigues and carrying rifles, listened to music and grilled kebabs as they celebrated Kurdish new year. Civilians wore brightly colored Kurdish costume. Children threaded around the gathering trailing kites.
A peace would bolster the NATO member's credibility as it seeks to extend influence across the Middle East, and remove a stumbling block from its path to join the EU. It would also ease a burgeoning relationship with the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, which is yielding strong economic benefits.
Truces have been declared and secret talks held with the PKK in the past, but expectations this time have been fuelled by the openness with which the talks have been conducted.
Leftist militants launched bomb and missile strikes on Turkish government and ruling party offices on Tuesday night in attacks which Erdogan said were aimed at derailing the peace process.

2013-03-21 MARK LANDLER. This Time, No Call to Halt Settlements

President Obama, visiting the Israeli-occupied West Bank, appeared to move closer to the Israeli position on Thursday regarding resumption of long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, stopping short of insisting on a halt to Israel’s settlement expansion as he had done early in his first term.
Hours after rockets from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza hit southern Israel, Mr. Obama met with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on the second day of Mr. Obama’s Middle East trip, and challenged both sides to resume face-to-face talks, pledging that the United States “would do our part.”
Mr. Obama condemned the rocket attacks, which came in violation of a three-month cease-fire, but he insisted that the Israelis should not use violence as an excuse to avoid negotiations, no more than the Palestinians should insist that Israel halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a condition.
“If we’re going to be successful, part of what we’re going to have to do is get out of the formulas and habits that have blocked progress,” Mr. Obama said in a news conference with Mr. Abbas. “Both sides are going to have to think anew.”
Mr. Abbas reiterated his demand that Israel halt settlement construction, but he did not explicitly cite that as a condition for entering into direct talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Talks have basically been stalled since 2010.

2013-03-12 THOMAS L.FRIEDMAN. Mr. Obama Goes to Israel

Quietly, with nobody announcing it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from a necessity to a hobby for American diplomats. Like any hobby — building model airplanes or knitting sweaters — some days you work on it, some days you don’t. It depends on your mood, but it doesn’t usually matter when that sweater gets finished. Obama worked on this hobby early in his first term. He got stuck as both parties rebuffed him, and, therefore, he adopted, quite rationally in my view, an attitude of benign neglect. It was barely noticed.
The shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from necessity to hobby for the U.S. is driven by a number of structural changes, beginning with the end of the cold war. There was a time when it was truly feared that an Arab-Israeli war could trigger a wider superpower conflict. During the October 1973 war, President Nixon raised America’s military readiness to Defcon 3 to signal the Soviets to stay away. That is not likely to happen today, given the muted superpower conflict over the Middle East. Moreover, the discovery of massive amounts of oil and gas in the U.S., Canada and Mexico is making North America the new Saudi Arabia. So who needs the old one?
Of course, oil and gas are global commodities, and any disruption of flows from the Middle East would drive up prices. But though America still imports some oil from the Middle East, we will never again be threatened with gas lines by another Arab oil embargo sparked by anger over Palestine. For China and India, that is another matter. For them, the Middle East has gone from a hobby to a necessity. They are both hugely dependent on Middle East oil and gas. If anyone should be advancing Arab-Israeli (and Sunni-Shiite) peace diplomacy today it is the foreign ministers of India and China.
Writing in Foreign Policy magazine last week, Robin M. Mills, the head of consulting at Manaar Energy, noted that “according to preliminary figures reported this week, China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest net oil importer.” Mills described this as a “shift as momentous as the U.S. eclipse of Britain’s Royal Navy or the American economy’s surpassing of the British economy in the late 19th century. ... The United States is set to become the world’s biggest oil producer by 2017.”
At the same time, while the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict emotionally resonates across the Arab-Muslim world, and solving it is necessary for regional stability, it is clearly not sufficient. The most destabilizing conflict in the region is the civil war between Shiites and Sunnis that is rocking Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen. While it would be a good thing to erect a Palestinian state at peace with Israel, the issue today is will there be anymore a Syrian state, a Libyan state and an Egyptian state.
Finally, while America’s need to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace has never been lower, the obstacles have never been higher: Israel has now implanted 300,000 settlers in the West Bank, and the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza have seriously eroded the appetite of the Israeli silent majority to withdraw from the West Bank, since one puny rocket alone from there could close Israel’s international airport in Lod.
For all these reasons, Obama could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist.

2013-03-11 Neil Churchill. Qatar Picks Sarkozy To Lead Wealth Fund

Nicolas Sarkozy, the ex-President of France, is being courted by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and other investors to help start a new private equity fund, according to a British newspaper.
The Financial Times reported that the Qatar Investment Authority has offered the ex-politican its backing as well as €500 million ($650 million) to help run the new fund from a non-executive position, using his political clout to open doors.
Sarkozy, who was in Abu Dhabi earlier this month speaking at a conference alongside ex-British foreign secretary David Miliband, has yet to establish a new role after losing out in France’s presidential race to Francois Hollande last year.

2013-03-01 UN's Ban: Erdogan's Zionism comment 'hurtful'

Minister Tayyip Erdogan's description of Zionism as a crime against humanity was "hurtful and divisive", adding to criticism of comments that risk deepening Turkey's rift with Israel.
"The secretary-general believes is it is unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership," the spokesman said in a statement.
Erdogan had told the UN Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Vienna: "Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."
Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when nine Turks were killed by Israeli commandos who stormed the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship.
US State Secretary John Kerry is expected to raise the issue when he meets with Erdogan and other Turkish leaders in Ankara on Friday.
Israel's prime minister accused his Turkish counterpart on Thursday of making a "dark and false" statement, while the White House also condemned the remarks.

2013-02-07 Yitzhak Benhorin, Attila Somfalvi. White House: Obama won't introduce new peace plan

US President Barack Obama's Israel visit will not be "focused on specific Middle East peace process proposals," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Joe Biden said that the US will try to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians during John Kerry's term as secretary of state. Kerry, who was sworn into office by Biden, did not mention Israel in his speech but vowed that that US will not retreat from the world stage due to budget constraints or the complexity of global challenges.
Carney added that newly-appointed Secretary of State John Kerry will attempt to find ways to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians during his February visit but that the White House does not want to foster false hopes regarding the president's visit.

2013-02-06 U.S. has drone base in Saudi Arabia: NYT

The CIA conducts lethal drone strikes against al Qaeda militants inside Yemen from a remote base in Saudi Arabia, including the strike that killed the U.S.-born al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki.
The location of the base was first disclosed by The New York Times online Tuesday night.
The Associated Press first reported the construction of the base in June 2011 but withheld the exact location at the request of senior administration officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because portions of the military and CIA missions in Yemen are classified.

2013-01-20 AMY TEIBEL. Israel leader says Iran key issue, not settlements

Two days before national elections, Israel's prime minister on Sunday shrugged off international criticism of Israeli settlement construction, charging instead that Iran's suspect nuclear program the real threat to regional security.
Speaking to his Cabinet, Benjamin Netanyahu said he had told a group of visiting U.S. senators over the weekend that "the problem is not building ... The problem in the Middle East is Iran's attempt to build nuclear weapons ... This was, and remains, the main mission facing not only myself and Israel, but the entire world."
Israel, the U.S. and much of the international community believe Iran may decide to produce nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
Netanyahu, who has repeatedly spoken of the Iranian nuclear program throughout his four year-term and long before, has claimed credit for helping put the issue on the international agenda.
The international community has slapped tough economic sanctions on Iran, also urging Tehran to open its program to international inspectors. While the sanctions have hit Iran hard, its government has refused to cooperate with inspectors or halt its enrichment of uranium. Enrichment is a key step toward developing a nuclear bomb, though it has other purposes as well.

2013-01-20 Harriet Sherwood. Binyamin Netanyahu rejects calls for Palestinian state within 1967 lines

Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed to rebuff international demands to allow a Palestinian state with a border based on the pre-1967 Green Line and its capital in East Jerusalem, as hardline pro-settler parties and factions are expected to make unprecedented gains in Tuesday's election.
"When they say, 'Go back to the 67 lines,' I stand against. When they say, 'Don't build in Jerusalem,' I stand against," the Israeli prime minister told Channel 2 in a television interview.
"It's very easy to capitulate. I could go back to the impossible-to-defend 67 lines, and divide Jerusalem, and we would get Hamas 400 metres from my home." He would not allow that to happen under his leadership, he said.
Likud supporters on Sunday draped the walls of Jerusalem's Old City with huge banners proclaiming "Only Netanyahu will protect Jerusalem" and "Warning: 67 border ahead".
Netanyahu's electoral alliance, Likud-Beiteinu, is on course to emerge from the election as the biggest party in the 120-seat parliament, with 32-35 seats. Negotiations to form the next coalition government will begin immediately after final results are announced.
Most analysts expect Netanyahu to invite the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, to become a coalition partner following a bruising election battle between the pair. "An hour after the elections, the fight between Netanyahu and Bennett will be over. They will sit down together to form a coalition government," wrote the respected columnist Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth.

2013-01-12 Glenn Greenwald. The US - alongside Saudi Arabia - fights for freedom and democracy in the Middle East

The most significant problem in political discourse is not that people embrace destructive beliefs after issues are rationally debated. It's that the potency of propaganda, by design, often precludes such debates from taking place. Consider how often one hears the claim that the US is committed to spreading democracy and opposing tyranny in the Middle East in light of this fact from a New York Review of Books article by Hugh Eakin reviewing three new books on Saudi Arabia (via As'ad AbuKhalil):
"The US does more trade - overwhelmingly in oil and weapons - with Saudi Arabia than any other country in the Middle East, including Israel, and depends on close Saudi cooperation in its counterterrorism efforts in Yemen."
Indeed, President Obama has repeatedly touted what he calls "the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia" and "the importance of our bilateral relationship" and often vows "to continue cooperating closely on a range of issues".
In other words, the single most repressive regime in that region is also America's closest ally. Eakin also notes that while Saudi leaders have exploited the rhetoric of the Arab Spring to undermine leaders its dislikes (primarily in Syria and Iran), its only direct action was to send its troops into Bahrain "to stave off a popular revolt and prop up the Bahraini monarchy" and use "its influence in the Gulf Cooperation Council, the alliance of autocratic Persian Gulf states, to pull together support for the beleaguered royal houses of Morocco and Jordan." About all of this Saudi bolstering of tyranny, Eakin says: "The White House has remained silent."
Actually, that's not quite accurate. The US has been there every step of the way with its close Saudi allies in strengthening these same tyrannies. As the Bahraini regime has systematically killed, tortured, and imprisoned its own citizens for the crime of demanding democracy, the Obama administration has repeatedly armed it and trumpeted the regime as "a vital US partner in defense initiatives" and "a Major Non-NATO Ally". The US continues to be a close partner of the Yemeni dictator ("elected" as the only candidate allowed on the ballot). And it stands as steadfastly as ever behind the Gulf State monarchies of Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar as, to varying degrees, they repress democratic movements and imprison dissidents.
The US is not committed to spreading democracy and freedom in the world. "Freedom" and "democracy" are concepts it exploits to undermine regimes that refuse to serve its interests. Indeed, there is virtually an inverse relationship between how democratic a country is in the Muslim world and how closely allied the US is to it.

2013-01-08 David Hirst. This could be the birth of an independent Kurdish state

I was surprised to read an article in the Baghdad newspaper al-Sabah, by its editor Abd al-Jabbar Shabbout, suggesting it was time to settle the "age-old problem" between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds by establishing a "Kurdish state". I had never heard a formerly so heretical view expressed in any Arab quarter so publicly. And this was no ordinary quarter: al-Sabah is the mouthpiece of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki himself. Shabbout went on to suggest a negotiated "ending of the Arab-Kurdish partnership in a peaceful way".
He called his proposal plan B, plan A being what was already in train: that is, a continuous dialogue between central government and the Kurdish regional government conducted within the framework of the "new Iraq" which emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
But plan A, he said, was getting nowhere. Differences – over power and authority, oil and natural resources, territory and borders – were so deep that the dialogue had repeatedly failed. And in recent weeks it almost came to war instead. For a while the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga faced each other across the frontiers between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq in an atmosphere so tense, said Shabbout, that hostilities could have broken out at any moment. And it wasn't only Shabbout but Maliki himself who warned that if war did break out, it wouldn't be just a war between Kurdish rebels and a dictatorial regime in Baghdad, as it used to be under Saddam, but an "ethnic war between Arabs and Kurds".
Be it plan A or plan B – war or diplomacy – the latest, dangerous stand-off has made one thing clear: the "Kurdish question" has now reached another critical stage, and it is intimately bound up with the region-wide cataclysm that is the Arab spring.
It was ever thus for the Kurds, their destiny as a people shaped less by their own struggles than by the vagaries of regional and international politics, particularly the great Middle Eastern upheavals they periodically produce. These began, in modern times, with the first world war and the fall of the Ottoman empire. In the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement Britain and France promised them a state of their own, but then reneged, and they ended up as minorities, more or less severely repressed, in the four countries – Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria – among which their vast domains were divided.
They repeatedly rebelled against this new order, especially in Iraq. But their landlocked location and the wider geopolitical environment were always against them. Their rebellions were always crushed – the last one, under Saddam, with the genocidal use of gas.
But they never ceased to dream of independent statehood. And the first of two great breakthroughs in the road towards an independent Kurdish state grew out of the megalomaniac folly of Saddam himself, with his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and one of its entirely unforeseeable consequences, the establishment of the internationally protected "safe haven" in northern Iraq.
The second breakthrough grew out of the new constitutional order ushered in by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Under it, the Kurds consolidated their autonomy with broad new legislative powers, control of their own armed forces, and some authority over that mainstay of the Iraqi economy: oil.
But from the outset they had made it clear that they would only remain committed to the "new Iraq" if it treated them as an equal partner. It wasn't long before this ethno-sectarian, power-sharing democracy began to malfunction, intensifying the Kurds' yearning for independence. Openly or surreptitiously, they began accumulating constitutional, political, territorial, economic and security "facts on the ground", designed to ensure that, if and when they proclaimed their newborn state, it would have the ability to stand on its own feet.
So are the Iraqi Kurds now on the brink of their third, perhaps final, breakthrough, and the great losers of Sykes-Picot about to become, 90 years on, the great winners of the Arab spring?
It seems that they await one last thing – another of those game-changing events, such as the break-up of Syria – that can transform the whole geopolitical environment in the Kurds' favour. But the quarter in which they are actively looking to bring it about is Turkey. That they should even think of this is, historically speaking, extraordinary. Turkey probably has most to lose from independence-seeking Kurdish nationalism, and has been brutal as any in its repression of it. Ever afraid of Kurdish gains in another country as a progenitor of them in Turkey, it has long set great store on Iraq remaining a united country.
But since 2008, in a complete reversal of earlier policy, which had once been to boycott Kurdistan altogether, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pursuing "full economic integration" with it. Meanwhile its relations with the Iraqi government have been deteriorating, with the two now on opposite sides in the great Middle Eastern power struggle that pits Shia Iran, Maliki's Iraq, Bashar al-Assad's Syria and Hezbollah against the Syrian revolutionaries, most Sunni Arab states and Turkey itself. Turkey's courtship with Iraqi Kurds has moved so far, the Kurds believe, that Turkey might soon break with Maliki's essentially Shia regime and deal separately with the other main components of a fragmenting Iraqi state, its Arab Sunnis and its Kurds.
In return, an independent Kurdistan could be a source of abundant and reliable oil supplies, a stable ally and buffer against a hostile Iraq and Iran, and even, in a policy option as extraordinary as Turkey's own, a collaborator in containing or combating fellow Kurds in the shape of the PKK – who, having established a strong presence in "liberated" Syrian Kurdistan, are seeking to turn it into a platform for a reviving insurgency in Turkey itself.
It is even said that Erdogan has gone so far as to promise Massoud Barazani, the Iraqi Kurd president, that Turkey would protect his would-be state in the event of an Iraqi military onslaught – though presumably that would never come to pass if, adopting plan B, the Maliki regime really is contemplating the seismic step of letting the Kurds go of their own free will.

2013-01-02 Harriet Sherwood. Likud members call for Israeli annexation of West Bank territories

Prominent members of Israel's ruling Likud party have proposed the annexation of part of the West Bank as the battle for rightwing votes intensifies before the general election in less than three weeks.
Government minister Yuli Edelstein told a conference in Jerusalem that the lack of Israeli sovereignty over Area C – the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli military control in which all settlements are situated – "strengthens the international community's demand for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines".
Ze'ev Elkin, the chairman of the governing coalition, said Israel should adopt a "salami" approach to annexation: "We will try to apply sovereignty over as much as we can at any given moment."
A third Likud member, extreme rightwing settler Moshe Feiglin, proposed that the state of Israel should pay Palestinian families to leave the West Bank, using funds earmarked for security measures. "We can give every family in Judea and Samaria [the biblical term for the West Bank] $500,000 [£300,000] to encourage [them] to emigrate … This is the perfect solution for us," he said.

2013-01-01 Overheated rhetoric on Israeli settlements

FACING AN election in which his most dangerous competition is from the far right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has adopted a familiar tactic: a flurry of announcements of new construction in Jewish settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The predictable result has been a storm of denunciations by the United States and every other member of the U.N. Security Council, along with dire predictions that the new building would “make a negotiated two-state solution .?.?. very difficult to achieve,” as British Foreign Secretary William Hague put it.
The criticism is appropriate, in the sense that such unilateral action by Israel, like the unilateral Palestinian initiative to seek statehood recognition in November from the U.N. General Assembly, serves to complicate the negotiations that are the only realistic route to a Middle East peace. But the reaction is also counterproductive because it reinforces two mistaken but widely held notions: that the settlements are the principal obstacle to a deal and that further construction will make a Palestinian state impossible.
Twenty-five years ago, Israel’s government openly aimed at building West Bank settlements that would block a Palestinian state. But that policy changed following the 1993 Oslo accords. Mr. Netanyahu’s government, like several before it, has limited building almost entirely to areas that both sides expect Israel to annex through territorial swaps in an eventual settlement. For example, the Jerusalem neighborhoods where new construction was announced last month were conceded to Israel by Palestinian negotiators in 2008.
Diplomats were most concerned by Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to allow planning and zoning — but not yet construction — in a four-mile strip of territory known as E-1 that lies between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement with a population of more than 40,000. Palestinians claim that Israeli annexation of the land would cut off their would-be capital in East Jerusalem from the West Bank and block a key north-south route between West Bank towns. Israel wants the land for similar reasons, to prevent Ma’ale Adumim — which will almost certainly be annexed to Israel in any peace deal — from being isolated. Both sides insist that the other can make do with a road corridor.
This is a difficult issue that should be settled at the negotiating table, not by fiat. But Mr. Netanyahu’s zoning approval is hardly the “almost fatal blow” to a two-state solution that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described.
The exaggerated rhetoric is offensive at a time when the Security Council is refusing to take action to stop the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians — including many Palestinians — by the Syrian regime. But it is also harmful, because it puts pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make a “freeze” on the construction a condition for beginning peace talks. Mr. Abbas had hinted that he would finally drop that demand, which has prevented negotiations for most of the past four years, after the General Assembly’s statehood vote. If Security Council members are really interested in progress toward Palestinian statehood, they will press Mr. Abbas to stop using settlements as an excuse for intransigence — and cool their own overheated rhetoric..

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