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Middle East Press ( 19 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Middle East Press on Israel’s Upcoming Election, Yemen’s Houthis and Hezbollah: New Age Islam's Selection, 19 March 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

19 March 2021

• Israel’s Upcoming Election: Where Did the Occupation Go?

BY Akiva Eldar

• Iran Using Yemen’s Houthis to Achieve Its Sinister Goals

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

• Oppression and Land Theft Bring Shame To Israel

By Ray Hanania

• What's next for Russia’s Relations with Hezbollah?

By Anton Mardasov

• Sun Is Not Rising For Syrian Refugees

By Ryszard Czarnecki


Israel’s Upcoming Election: Where Did the Occupation Go?

BY Akiva Eldar

18 Mar 2021

On March 23, Israel will hold legislative elections for the fourth time in two years. With less than a week to the election, pundits are still reluctant to predict its outcome, as all polls point to a tight race between the supporters of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his opponents.

Failure by any of the centrist or left-wing parties, such as Blue and White or Meretz, to cross the 3.25 percent electoral threshold could leave Netanyahu in power. Failure by the far-right Religious Zionist Party of Bezalel Smotrich to cross the threshold, meanwhile, would likely deprive Netanyahu of a Knesset majority and bring an end to his 12-year rule.

While it is indeed difficult to predict the exact composition of the next Israeli Knesset, the electoral agendas and campaigns of the major parties taking part in the race reveal a lot about the troubling direction towards which the Israeli society is heading.

Whether Netanyahu’s supporters or his opponents succeed in securing a parliamentary majority, the outcome will be a coalition government. If neither electoral block succeeds in securing the 61-seat majority in the parliament it needs to form a government, the voters will be dragged to the balloting stations for a fifth time in the coming months.

Together, the five parties on Israel’s political right – Netanyahu’s Likud, Gideon Saar’s New Hope, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu and Smotrich’s Religious Zionism – are polling at 59-60 seats, with 15-16 seats forecast for the ultra-Orthodox parties that traditionally ally themselves with the right.

While these parties have strikingly different attitudes towards Netanyahu, there are no discernible differences among them on issues that actually matter – the occupation and the state of the Israeli democracy.

In their electoral campaigns, these parties all but completely ignored the most fundamental problems facing Israel today. In fact, even most of the centrist and left-wing parties chose to sweep these issues under the carpet in their efforts to expand their base and oust Netanyahu from power.

Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, its alleged human rights and international law violations, and questions about the legitimacy of its democracy are not at the forefront of any political party’s agenda, because these are not major concerns for an overwhelming majority of Israeli voters.

The prominent Israeli politicians’ reactions to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recent decision to greenlight an investigation into Israel’s alleged war crimes in the occupied territories and settlements demonstrated the Israeli attitudes towards these issues clearly.

Like Netanyahu, Liberman, Bennett and Smotrich condemned the court and accused it of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. New Hope party chair Saar, meanwhile, lambasted the “shameful” decision to investigate “the world’s most moral army”.

And the leaders of right-wing parties were not the only ones who treated the court’s ruling as an opportunity to defend Israel’s occupation and settlement policies. Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, who portrays himself as leader of the moderate centre, called the decision “disgraceful anti-Semitism”, adding that he was “proud of the IDF soldiers and officers defending us against the threat of terrorism”. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White alliance is campaigning for centrist votes, was just as fierce, claiming the court lacked jurisdiction to allow such a probe and arguing that the Israeli legal system had repeatedly proven its competence in dealing with violations by the military. Even Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli stood up for the Israeli military and the court system.

Meretz was the only Zionist party whose leader Nitzan Horowitz rejected the criticism of the ICC, saying it had valid grounds for its decision. However, Meretz is hanging on by a thread, with its estimated 150,000 voters barely sufficient to push it over the electoral threshold. That voter pool also, more or less, represents all Israeli Jews concerned about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians living under its rule and the total disappearance of notions such as “peace”, “human rights” and “conflict resolution” from the Israeli discourse.

In a Hebrew-language study recently published by the Molad: The Centre for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, Israeli psychology professors Daniel Bar-Tal and Amiram Raviv attempted to explain the reasons behind the Israeli society’s – and hence the Israeli political classes’ – support for the occupation and the state’s violent policies towards Palestinians.

The two psychologists argued that as a result of long-term indoctrination, Israeli Jews accepted as fact a narrative in which all Arabs are inherently violent, untrustworthy and determined to destroy Israel. Within the same narrative, Israeli Jews are cast as a moral people whose efforts to achieve sustainable peace are being thwarted by their war-mongering neighbours.

According to Bar-Tal and Raviv, due to this narrative that has been hammered in to their minds for decades, Israeli Jews believe it is they who are under attack by the Palestinians. Hence they believe, to avoid a repetition of the Holocaust, they must be strong, united and willing to do anything necessary, including turning a blind eye to human rights and international law violations by their state.

Renowned Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky once wrote that a conflict ends on the day a society realises the price it will pay for a peace agreement is lower than the cost of the ongoing conflict.

Unfortunately, as the Israeli political parties’ reluctance to discuss the occupation and its consequences in their electoral campaigns demonstrate, the Israeli society is yet to reach this realisation.

So who wins Israel’s upcoming election, and forms its next government, is of little consequence in regards to the most fundamental questions facing not only the Israeli society, but also the Palestinian people who have been living under occupation for almost 54 years. For peace and democracy lovers, after March 23, with or without Netanyahu, it will be business as usual.


Akiva Eldar is an Israeli author and was formerly an editorial writer and columnist for Haaretz.


Iran Using Yemen’s Houthis to Achieve Its Sinister Goals

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

March 18, 2021

Not only is the Iranian regime showing no sign of backing down from its destabilizing behavior in Yemen and its support for the Houthi militia group, it is actually escalating the conflict through its proxy.

One prominent example is how the Houthis have ratcheted up their attacks on Saudi Arabia. Even US officials have acknowledged the escalation, with a senior defense official telling NBC News: “We’re certainly aware of a troubling increase in Houthi cross-border attacks from a variety of systems, including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).” The US, along with France, Germany, Italy and the UK, also last week condemned the “major escalation of attacks the Houthis have conducted and claimed against Saudi Arabia.”

More than 40 drones and missiles were launched at Saudi Arabia by the Houthis in February alone. The sophisticated weapons the militia group is using have most likely come from the Iranian regime. Based on a UN report released in January, there are strong signs that Tehran is a provider of weapons to the Houthis. The UN panel of experts report stated: “An increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis.” Iran relies mostly on the sea route to smuggle weapons to the Houthis, although several shipments bound for war-torn Yemen have been seized.

The Iranian regime has several objectives for escalating the conflict and interfering in Yemen’s domestic affairs. First of all, by sponsoring the Houthis, the regime is attempting to gain leverage over the Biden administration ahead of potential new nuclear deal negotiations.

Secondly, the modus operandi of Tehran is to control other nations through its proxies. As Massoud Jazayiri, the former deputy head of Iran’s Armed Forces, told Iran’s Tasnim News Agency early in the Yemen conflict, Tehran was ready to copy the process it adopted in Syria and use it in Yemen too.

Thirdly, Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions direct its leaders to pursue policies that are aimed at countering the power of other state actors (mainly Saudi Arabia), weakening their strategic, economic and geopolitical significance in order to tip the Middle East’s balance of power in favor of Tehran.

While one can argue that Yemen does not pose a national security threat to Iran, it does to Saudi Arabia, since the two countries share a border.

An important dimension of Iran’s involvement in Yemen is ideological. A core pillar of its foreign policy is anchored in its so-called Islamic revolutionary principles. The key decision-maker in Iran’s foreign policy is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who pursues the ideology of his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini. One of Khamenei’s underlying "revolutionary values" is that he views himself as the leader of the Muslim world. As a result, from Khamenei’s perspective, influencing and directing the political affairs of every Muslim country, including Yemen, is his religious and ideological duty.

Another of Iran’s revolutionary ideals is anti-Americanism. Khamenei regards his rhetoric and projection of Iran’s increasing role in Yemen’s conflict as a tactic to counterbalance America’s role in the region.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration has emboldened and empowered the Houthis by reversing the militia group’s terrorist designation. It is incumbent on White House to pursue a firmer policy toward the Houthis and to block Iran’s supply of weapons to the group.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.


Oppression and Land Theft Bring Shame To Israel

By Ray Hanania

March 18, 2021

How can Israelis close their eyes to the violent abuses inflicted by Israel’s military against the Palestinians? They live in an artificial world of denial — bolstered by a mastery of communications and the dysfunctionality of Palestinian activists — in which abuses against Palestinians such as racism, land theft, physical violence and killings take place every day. These actions do not even provoke a whimper from the majority of Israel’s Jews.

They have come to accept the fact that their country is one built on the oppression of others, while going to great lengths to separate its viciousness from that which fueled the Holocaust, which brought many of them into the initially welcoming arms of Palestine’s Christians and Muslims.

They may argue that not all Jews in Israel have turned their backs on righteousness. But that was also the response of populations in Germany and in Poland during the Second World War. Not everyone hated Jews, but very few spoke out until it was too late.

That is where Israelis are headed: Toward a fate in which one day they will have to answer for the atrocities that have taken place against Palestinians. The newly announced investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which was itself founded on principles defined by the postwar trials of the Nazis, is just the beginning.

Every day, Palestinian lands are being confiscated for the sole purpose of expanding the existing and building new Jewish-only settlements. The best farmlands are taken from Palestinians with impunity.

Reports frequently make it through the Israeli government-throttled mainstream news media about Palestinians who are attacked, brutalized and killed by Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. And yet Israeli Jews still manage to go about their business in places like West Jerusalem, where they openly refer to the big houses built using Jerusalem stone as “Arab homes.”

There is absolutely no shame, especially as Israeli Jews lead the campaign to recover land and property stolen from them during the Holocaust. As they do so, land and property is being stolen from the Palestinians in their name. And their major institutions don’t seem to care.

For Palestinians, March is a special month, during which they commemorate “Land Day.” This commemoration reflects on when — March 30, 1976 — the Israeli government passed a law allowing the expropriation of lands from non-Jews. Protests by Palestinian citizens of Israel raged from Nazareth to the Negev. It was the first time that Israel’s non-Jewish population had stood up to the racism on which Israel is based.

B’Tselem, an organization of Israelis of all backgrounds who embrace human rights, this month released a scathing report on how extensive the theft of land is. It argues: “The fact that the West Bank has not been formally annexed does not stop Israel from treating it as if it were its own territory, particularly when it comes to the massive resources Israel invests in developing settlements and establishing infrastructure to serve their residents.”

The report adds: “This policy has enabled the establishment of more than 280 settlements and outposts now populated by more than 440,000 Israeli citizens (excluding East Jerusalem). Thanks to this policy, more than 2 million dunams of Palestinian land have been stolen, by official and unofficial means. The West Bank is crisscrossed with roads linking the settlements to one another and to Israel’s sovereign territory, west of the Green Line; and the area is dotted with Israeli industrial zones.” These industrial areas produce stolen products that are then disguised and sold to markets around the world — a process that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement seeks to expose.

Israel may be able to change the face of the West Bank, just as it has meticulously erased much of the Arab identity from areas throughout Israel, but it cannot erase the truth, which will always stand as a testament to its cruelty.

Israelis are accountable for the horrors that their government inflicts on the Christians and Muslims in Israel and the Occupied Territories.


Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist.


What's Next for Russia’s Relations With Hezbollah?

By Anton Mardasov

19 March 2021

A delegation from Lebanese Hezbollah, led by the head of the movement’s parliamentary bloc, Mohammad Raad, arrived in Moscow on March 14 for a four-day visit that came on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Syrian war. On March 15, the delegation, which included Hezbollah’s foreign relations chief Ammar Al-Moussawi and his aide Ahmad Mhanna, was received by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The delegation also had separate talks with Mikhail Bogdanov, a Russian deputy foreign minister and the special presidential representative on the Middle East.

By a strange coincidence, the Hezbollah delegation’s visit to Russia occurred almost simultaneously with the visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who arrived in Moscow on March 17. Moreover, Hezbollah’s talks with Lavrov were held the same day that two Russian deputy foreign ministers — Oleg Syromolotov and Sergey Ryabkov — met with the Israeli Foreign Ministry's deputy director general for strategic affairs, Joshua Zarka. Syromolotov, a former chief of the FSB Counterintelligence Service who rose to the rank of army general, oversees measures against terrorism. So this string of meetings looks like more than just a coincidence and makes for a rather awkward situation.

Any official contacts between Moscow and Hezbollah have the potential for causing an uproar. The problem is not just the status of the movement, which many countries, including Israel, consider to be terrorists. It is also the nature of Hezbollah’s relations with the Russian diplomats, security officials and intelligence services. One can recall the scandal that broke out in December when the Russian ambassador in Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, blamed Israel for destabilizing the situation in the Middle East to an even greater extent than Tehran. Viktorov also tried to vindicate the Tehran-allied Shiite military-political organizations, most notably Hezbollah. Once a rival force that kidnapped and murdered Soviet diplomats, Hezbollah has turned into the Kremlin’s ally in "fighting terrorism." Moscow took steps to smooth out the situation around Viktorov’s comments. Yet such rhetoric — not the first such statements on Hezbollah coming from Russian diplomats — is not explained solely by the discretion of a particular ambassador but by the specifics of Russia’s presence in Lebanon and by Beirut’s role in circumventing sanctions against Damascus.

The last few years saw Moscow performing a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, it has sought to deny Hezbollah’s participation in drug trafficking; at the same time the Russian military was conducting joint missions with Hezbollah militias. A case in point is the takeover of East Aleppo, where Russian Special Forces and Hezbollah fighters acted together. Indeed, Russian forces were allowed to disguise themselves as Hezbollah fighters for some operations. Hezbollah units, in turn, were granted permission to raise the Russian flag for cover from Israeli airstrikes. Still, the Russians did not raise particular objections to Israeli’s airstrikes against mobile targets. Moscow also feels obliged to monitor the arms traffic from Syria to Lebanon and to constrain Hezbollah’s actions both in the Damascus airport area and in the south-western provinces.

Hezbollah’s visit March 15 is only the movement’s second official trip to Moscow. The first came in October 2011. Both delegations included Raad, a close ally of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. Given the time lag between the two trips, it is only logical to compare the incentives for the movement's visits to Russia, especially considering that there was no lack of contacts between Moscow and Hezbollah representatives on Lebanon’s soil in the intervening period.

While the first Hezbollah delegation arrived upon the invitation of the Russian parliament, the talks were shrouded in secrecy. That clandestinity was understandable as Hezbollah was trying to gauge Russia's positions on two key points. The first was the extent to which Moscow accepted Shiite "red lines" on cooperation with the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which sought to investigate the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Second — and perhaps most important — Hezbollah sought to gauge the level of Moscow's backing for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s motives at the time were unclear, especially given Moscow’s abstention on the UN Security Council vote on the Libya dossier. In 2011 Russia claimed it had no interests in Syria, while its experts pondered over the possibility of a bloodless coup in the country against Assad. According to some rumours, even Hezbollah did not have a united opinion on the extent of the support it should lend Assad, with critics concentrated in the movement’s political wing.

This time around, Hezbollah’s trip was more open to the public eye. Raad described his 40-minute talks with Lavrov as "open and frank." Perhaps that description is indeed true, although there are opinions to the contrary (and not just among Russian observers).

Journalists cite two particular reasons that warranted the Hezbollah representatives’ visit to Russia. One issue relates to the French plan for overcoming the political crisis in Lebanon. Lavrov publicly supported the initiative. In his talks with Hezbollah, the Russian foreign minister also emphasised the importance of creating a new government headed by Saad Hariri that would help the country resolve its systemic crisis. Keeping in mind the recent visit to Moscow of Amal Abou Zeid, an adviser to president Michel Aoun, the journalists argue that Moscow’s real aim was to persuade Hezbollah, Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil to stop sabotaging the state-building process in Lebanon that is now under way.

The other problem concerns the Syrian war. Moscow is growing tired of the conflict. Yet its plan for attaining peace presupposes that Iran and Hezbollah would somehow freeze their activity in the region.

Ostensibly, those arguments are appealing and logical. Yet they also oversimply the situation somewhat. First of all, it indeed looks like Russian sought to postpone Hezbollah’s visit to Moscow because of Lavrov’s trip to the Middle East, Thus, the timing of the meeting with Hezbollah is not linked to the talks with Hariri. Second, Russia has its own stake in Lebanon. Moscow seeks to grow its clout both via soft-power tools and via deploying politico-economic projects implemented by the companies Rosneft and Novatek. Yet, as is usually the case with Russia, all those projects have a goal of consolidating Moscow’s position against the backdrop of weakened competition, not much more. Third, Moscow would probably prefer to side against the French plan for Lebanon, while continuing to brief the media against French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiatives. But Moscow likely prefers not to publicly criticize any constructive offers given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Lebanon and the problems this creates for the Syrian currency. Fourth, Russia is probably trying to legitimize Assad’s regime through raising the prospect of a decline in the Iranian presence in Syria, even though both Tehran and Hezbollah realize they are firmly established in the country. 

It is obvious that the current state of relations between Lebanon and Russia requires that players coordinate their positions, especially in the runup to the elections in Syria and intensifying yet groundless rumors that predict the return to the Syrian scenario of the military council headed by Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, who switched to backing the Syrian opposition in 2012. Russia also has yet to give a response to Lebanon's request for 200,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

However, the key issues uniting Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are the political impasse in Lebanon and the future of the Assad regime. Assad has managed to survive, but he cannot gain control over oil and agricultural resources in the east of the country and solve the problem of economic self-sufficiency. Both these conundrums are hard to resolve without serious compromises. And those come at a higher cost than intervening in a foreign war.


Sun Is Not Rising For Syrian Refugees

By Ryszard Czarnecki

MAR 19, 2021

It was some 10 years ago when cumulative tension turned into a devastating civil war in Syria. Since then, the crisis that emerged at the very heart of the Middle East has become the top topic in the world agenda and not a day goes by without hearing news about violence in the region.

The Syrian regime’s war crimes, the mushrooming of numerous terrorist formations, external interventions and asymmetrical power struggle have led to a lingering humanitarian tragedy.

Many people have attempted to analyze the factors lying behind the ongoing conflict and none of them have managed to come up with a concrete solution for the humanitarian nightmare.

To be honest, it will be unfair to conclude that the diplomatic initiatives or road maps so far have failed to pause the armed confrontations on the ground. The region has witnessed catastrophic incidents in the past such as the regime slaughters in Ghouta or the notorious terrorist group Daesh’s inhumane massacres.

For now, the hot armed tensions have seemingly or partially cooled down but that does not mean the war-torn country is en route to permanent peace as millions of Syrians are still in a dire situation both at home and abroad, lacking basic needs such as shelter, water, blankets, food or health care. What is sad is that basic needs like education take a back seat when survival is at stake.

Earlier this week, it was reported that the overall death toll in the Syrian civil war has exceeded 388,000 and nearly 13 million people have fled the regime atrocities while nearly 7 million of them are living away from their homelands. We can truly see the extent of damages the war has inflicted by taking into consideration the country’s prewar population which was around 23 million.

In Idlib, the northwestern Syrian province, for example, the displaced Syrians who have sheltered in makeshift camps or tents live in poor conditions, which are exacerbated by difficult winter conditions and the coronavirus pandemic as well. According to the health authorities in Syria, the number of fatalities in Idlib has reached 227 while the confirmed infections are around 11,500.

Reports have revealed that there is almost no preventive measure or a health kit to tackle the deadly disease in the region. What the locals can only do is hope they don't catch the virus.

According to a report, a refugee said when he or his family has a humanitarian or health need the only thing he can do is to “helplessly wait.” It is a reminder, a wake-up call for us to find a solution-oriented mechanism and a warning to not fight aimlessly.

The powers both outside and inside do not deserve full credit as the assistance being provided is still insufficient for the innocent civilians. The international community must face the consequences of its deafening silence.

What is happening in and around Syria has once again shown us that war is war and civilians are the only losers in it.

What we must remember is we’re human and cannot stand idle while some of us are full of terror, pain and suffering. We don’t have any excuse to “helplessly wait.” If this isn’t the time to act, then when?



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