April 12, 2024
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Gaza Kids Play ‘Kidnap Israeli Soldier’ in Summer Camp

Gaza Kids Play ‘Kidnap Israeli Soldier’ in Summer Camp

(Ynet News)—In a somewhat unorthodox summer camp in the Gaza Strip, children aged between 6 and 16 picked up AK-47s and engaged in a series of quasi-military drills, including a lively game of “kidnap an Israeli soldier” in the sand dunes of Rafah.  An AFP correspondent listed some of the activities the Islamic Jihad summer camp offers its enrollees: Weapons use, jumping over fire and crawling under barbed wire, all performed to the tune of exploding charges.

“Moderate” Compared to What?

(Combined Services)—Iran’s presidential campaign season kicked off last month when an unelected body of 12 Islamic jurists disqualified more than 600 candidates. Women were automatically out; so were Iranian Christians, Jews and even Sunni Muslims. The rest were purged for possessing insufficient revolutionary zeal.

Regime loyalist Hassan Rowhani, 64, a former nuclear negotiator and security apparatchik, served for 16 years as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure, Rowhani led the crackdown on a 1999 student uprising and helped the regime evade Western scrutiny of its nuclear-weapons program. During the campaign, he boasted of how during his tenure as negotiator Iran didn’t suspend enrichment, on the contrary, “We completed the program.” He was also the brains behind the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Losing candidate Ali Akbar Velayati described Hassan Rowhani,  winner of the election in Iran, as a servant of the regime. The incoming president of Iran was never a reformist, and it is doubtful that his achievement was even a victory for the moderate camp in Iran. Rowhani, as opposed to the image that has been fashioned, was until recently known as part of the conservative camp in Iran. He is not one of those challenging the Islamist regime, and certainly not challenging Khamenei’s rule. “He never called himself a reformist,” explains Dr. Soli Shahvar, who heads the Ezri Center for Iran and Gulf Studies at Haifa University. “I interpret his election in one way only: The regime wanted him to win….Victory for a candidate who is perceived as more moderate yet still has the confidence of Khamenei, serves the regime.”

Iran Emerging as Victor in Syrian Conflict

(Washington Post)–As fighters with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement ally with Assad’s regime, their chief sponsor, Iran, is emerging as the biggest victor in the wider regional struggle for influence. Iran’s supporters and foes alike are mulling a new reality: that the regional balance of power appears to be tilting in favor of Tehran, with potentially profound implications for the Middle East.“This is an Iranian fight. It is no longer a Syrian one,” said Mustafa Alani, director of security and defense at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Council. “The issue is hegemony in the region. If Iran wins this conflict and the Syrian regime survives, Iran’s interventionist policy will become wider and its credibility will be enhanced,” he added.

Defector Syrian General Will Be Conduit for U.S. Military Aid to Rebels

(Washington Post)–Gen. SalimIdriss, 56, who heads the Supreme Military Council of the fragmented Free Syrian Army, will be the sole conduit of U.S. weapons to the rebels in Syria. Idriss met in Ankara with U.S. officials over what form the military assistance announced last week would take. U.S. officials told him that a no-fly zone would be “very difficult” and that they were not prepared to contemplate imposing one. There are questions about how much real authority Idriss wields over the chaotic rebel force, which consists of hundreds of loosely organized fighting units that answer to no one other than their local commanders. Idriss was selected to lead the Supreme Military Council “in part due to his ability to serve as a ‘diplomat’ for the council,” wrote Elizabeth O’Bagy of the Institute for the Study of War. “He was not chosen because of his command of significant ground forces or operational effectiveness.”

Syria’s War of Tunnels

(Al-Monitor)–The “War of Tunnels” is taking place in Syria’s strategic region of Qusair, on the border with Lebanon. In each city, town and village, dozens of hideouts and underground routes have been found by the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters. “These tunnels were used to connect alleys with each other, exit routes and hideouts, snipers’ shooting posts and weapons storage,” Major Abdo, a Syrian army officer explained.Several openings became visible in the ground. They were all at least four or five meters deep and connected to a huge network of water pipes built years ago by the government. “These pipes connect the countryside of Qusair to the city of Homs, and areas in southeastern Homs province not very far from Damascus countryside,” said Abdo.

Foreign Militant Islamists Streaming into Syria to Face Hezbollah

(Kansas City Star/McClatchy)—Foreign Islamist extremists are streaming into Syria, apparently in response to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah’s more visible backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a development that analysts say is likely to lead to a major power struggle between foreign jihadists and Syrian rebels should the regime collapse. While many foreign fighters have been absorbed into established Syrian rebel groups, there are signs now that an increasing number are remaining in free-standing units that operate independently and are willing to clash with other rebels and Syrian communities to implement their own rigid vision of Islamist governance.

Gaza Suffers Drop in Foreign Aid over Syrian War

(Israel Hayom)–The conflict in Syria is increasingly hurting Hamas-ruled Gaza financially, according to several officials. Iran has reduced monthly cash transfers because Hamas refuses to side with the Syrian regime. In addition, Islamic charities abroad that used to donate heavily to Gaza have been redirecting some of their aid to Syria. In Kuwait, billboards that used to appeal for help for Gaza now have switched to Syria. In a further costly twist, more than 1,500 people, most with family ties to Gaza, have arrived from Syria since last year, with hundreds more en route. Aid officials say they have trouble finding jobs and homes for newcomers in crowded, impoverished Gaza.

Istanbul Square Crackdown Shakes Erdogan’s Regional Credibility

(Al-Monitor)—The Gezi Park protests and the brutal police crackdown on the demonstrations in support of them has not only tarnished Turkey’s credibility as an exemplary democracy once lauded as the “Turkish model,” but has also diverted Ankara’s attention away from critical developments in the Middle East, much to the delight of its regional rivals, most notably Iran. It is also clear to Iranian policy makers, who have made the continuation of the Assad regime a strategic imperative, that the turmoil in Turkey has also diminished Ankara’s influence in rallying support for the Syrian opposition.

Turkey’s Erdogan: “We’ve Been Patient for Too Long”

(Al-Monitor)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have declared a war against a segment of his own people. “We’ve been patient for far too long,” Erdogan said recently. He increasingly perceives that the people protesting in the streets are conspiring to bring him down illegally. He is convinced that the protesters have not really come to the streets on their own, but that domestic and foreign provocateurs have goaded them into doing so. If there is provocation on the streets, it first started with excessive use of force by the police, and the more the prime minister continues to refuse to find a middle way. His decade-long policies, and the weak opposition, are responsible for the unrest on Turkey’s streets. But with this speech, Erdogan made it clear that he wants to pick a fight with those who disagree with him. He is doing his best to divide the nation between his supporters and the others, and increasing the risks of clashes between those groups. Turkey has turned a corner to a dangerous path.

Understanding the Turkish Demonstrations

(Gatestone Institute)—.People in a supposedly democratic Turkey are reluctant to air their grievances out of fear their government might take revenge on them. In the culture of the Middle East backing down or apologizing is considered dishonorable. Consequently, they blame each other and look for scapegoats but almost never admit responsibility for problems. Before Erdogan came to power in 2002, many observant Muslims complained that the state discriminated against them. Under Islam, there can be no separation of religion and state. Since Erdogan and his AKP [“Truth and Reconciliation Party”] came to power, they have done their best to dismantle the secular apparatus of the state and impose their version of Sunni fundamentalist Islam. Events of the past few weeks have forced onto the Turkish agenda issues the government had pushed underground. Whatever happens, Turkey has shown that it is not the stable island of calm and democracy its allies had hoped it to be.

Palestinians Need Tough Talk from Europe

(New York Times)—The European Union, traditional patron of the Palestinians, needs to tell the Palestinians that EU patience with the Palestinians has its limits. It’s hard for Europeans to argue that the Palestinians have exhausted negotiations, given that Abbas has agreed to only three weeks of talks in the last four years, and that an offer in September 2008 by Israel’s then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, never received a reply. The only way to achieve Palestinian statehood is through direct, unconditional talks with Israel. Israel is not wrong to insist on strict security arrangements. Rockets smuggled into Gaza have been repeatedly and indiscriminately fired on Israeli cities. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for an arms embargo on Hizbullah after the 2006 Lebanon war was never implemented. Moreover, international peacekeepers cannot be the sole basis of security—as shown by Austria’s recent decision to pull out of the UN Disengagement Observer Force interposed between Syrian and Israeli forces.

Abbas Rejected Netanyahu Offer to Free 50 pre-Oslo Prisoners for New Talks

(Times of Israel)—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year offered to free 50 Palestinian security prisoners who have been held since before the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, in a bid to get Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the peace table. Abbas rejected the offer. A senior Palestinian official said the Palestinians might agree to renew talks with Israel if Netanyahu releases all 107 of the pre-Oslo veterans still in jail, most of whom have blood on their hands. It is understood that the Israeli security establishment has no objections on security grounds to the release of the 107 pre-Oslo veterans. The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the matter.

Palestinian Authority Official Warns of Worsening Financial Crisis

(Ma’an News Agency)—The Palestinian Authority deputy prime minister for economic affairs reported that the financial crisis is getting worse. “There is a major financial crisis and the PA is $4.2 billion in internal and external debt,” Muhammad Mustafa said during a news conference. The PA official also warned of a growing job crisis, with over 250,000 Palestinians currently unemployed, young people particularly affected. The PA owes $600 million to banks and $1 billion to international financial institutions, Mustafa said.

Egypt’s Summer of Jew-Hatred

(Wall Street Journal)—One element of Egyptian culture has remained constant since a popular revolt swept away Hosni Mubarak’s pharaonic dictatorship: its virulent antisemitism. Khaybar, a serial drama set to air during Ramadan (starting on July 8), is Egyptian TV’s latest piece of hate melodrama. It depicts the Prophet Muhammad’s conquest, in A.D. 629, of a Jewish community on the Arabian Peninsula. Ahmed Maher, a popular actor playing one of the Jewish villains said Khaybar sets out to depict Jews as “the ugliest slice of humans.” Mina Rezkalla, a U.S.-based Egyptian activist noted. “The goal is completely outward antisemitism.”

 

Egypt’s Perilous Drift

(New York Times)–Egypt is running out of hard currency and can’t buy enough gasoline and diesel for power stations. Long lines are forming at gas stations, worsening Cairo’s titanic traffic jams, and electricity cuts are commonplace. Morsi’s government has been a huge disappointment for many Egyptians. Many non-Islamists voted for Morsi—it was the only way he got elected—because they felt they could not vote for the candidate favored by supporters of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, and because they believed his promise to be “inclusive.” When you talk to them today you can feel a palpable hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood and a powerful sense of theft: a widespread feeling that the Brotherhood tricked them and now they have failed to either fix the country or share power, but are busy trying to impose religious norms. What happened two years ago was more musical chairs than revolution. First the army ousted Mubarak, and then the Muslim Brotherhood ousted the army, and now the opposition is trying to oust the Brotherhood. Each, though, is operating on the old majoritarian politics—winners take all, losers get nothing.

 

 

 

Egyptian Sticky Fingers

(BackSpin)—European auditors determined that Egypt squandered €1 billion in EU aid over the last seven years. According to the Financial Times, the findings are damning for both the Mubarak and Morsi regimes:

The European court of auditors found that the new Egyptian government that swept to power in the wake of popular uprisings in 2011 demonstrated even less interest than its predecessor in EU-sponsored programs to foster civil society and protect the rights of women and minorities. It also warned that Brussels was unable to track about 60 percent of the aid money after it was transferred to Egyptian government coffers, raising concerns about widespread fraud and mismanagement.

 

Is the Sunni Saudi Kingdom Next?

(World Affairs)–Every nation bordering Syria—Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey—is being drawn into the conflict there. The leaders in these countries are worried and Saudi Arabia is in a panic. Hundreds if not thousands of Saudis are pouring into Syria to fight with one or another of the factions trying to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And that has Saudi leaders terrified. King Abdullah warned Saudis to stay out of the fighting to no good effect. But the Saudis are concerend because they remember what happened almost 10 years ago when thousands of Saudis joined the jihads against the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and then came back and turned their weapons on Saudis and foreigners who lived there. Hundreds died.

 

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