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Middle East Press On Muslim Brotherhood, Israeli-Palestinian Peace and Trump's Arms Deals to Middle East: New Age Islam's Selection, 4 January 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

4 January 2021

• Sudan Joins Forces with Egypt to Crack Down On Muslim Brotherhood

By George Mikhail

• Israeli-Palestinian Peace Remains Dim Prospect After Turbulent Year

By Yossi Mekelberg

• Cartoon: Winds Of Change, From Arab Spring To Winter

By Khalid Albaih

• Afghans Dream of a Better Future after Bloody 2020

By Ajmal Shams

• Israel’s Right, Left Disintegrate Ahead Of March Elections

By Ben Caspit

• Trump Administration Pushes Last-Minute Arms Deals to Middle East

By Jared Szuba

• Convicted Spy Pollard Welcomed To Israel by Netanyahu

By Rina Bassist

• Lebanon’s Racism Is Fanning The Flames Of Violence Towards Syrian Refugees

By Makram Rabah


Sudan Joins Forces with Egypt to Crack Down On Muslim Brotherhood

By George Mikhail

Dec 30, 2020

Egypt is seeking to join efforts with Sudan to confront the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist groups and ideas through several security and religious steps. In this context, the joint training course for imams of Egypt and Sudan kicked off in Cairo on Dec. 20 to confront extremist ideas.

Sudanese Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments Nasr al-Din Mufreh stressed Dec. 21 during his speech at the opening of the joint training course at Cairo’s International Awqaf Academy for the training of imams and preachers that “the goal of the program is to train Sudan’s imams to promote peace, prevent war, fight extremism and work toward strengthening the principle of citizenship.”

In a Dec. 24 interview with Egyptian newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm, Mufreh said, “The reason the training is held in Cairo is that there are many historical and geographical commons between Egypt and Sudan, and what affects Sudan affects Egypt, especially as far as the religious discourse is concerned.”

He added, “The Sudanese government has pursued a policy of openness to the outside world, but the practices of the Sudanese Islamic movement affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood has led to the isolation of Sudan and its government from many countries as Sudan was added on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.”

Egyptian Minister of Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said during his speech at the opening of the training course, “The training consists of promoting the tolerance of Islam, as some religious groups have gone so far as to promote extremism. They promoted a discourse whereby extremism falls within the category of religiosity and that the more extreme the sheikhs are, the more religious they will be.”

He noted, “These groups do not believe in the homeland, as they think that the interest of the group rises above anything else. Meanwhile, we believe that the interests of the nations are an intrinsic part of the interests of the religions.”

“The relationship between Egypt and Sudan is characterized by cohesion and harmony, and the time is ripe for a recovery of the strong Egyptian and Sudanese relations,” he continued.

On Dec. 26, Gomaa announced that he agreed with his Sudanese counterpart to launch a joint missionary convoy between Egyptian imams and preachers in Sudan on Feb. 1- 10.

Gomaa had visited Sudan in October to discuss with his Sudanese counterpart ways to boost joint religious cooperation in training imams, renewing religious discourse and confronting extremist ideas.

Sudan’s efforts to confront the Muslim Brotherhood are not limited to the religious side alone, as they have also touched on the security level. The Sudanese Ministry of Interior announced Dec. 9 the withdrawal of Sudanese nationality from 3,000 foreigners who obtained it during the rule of ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, including members of the Brotherhood who fled Egypt and other countries.

Egyptian newspapers broke the news of the Sudanese Ministry of Interior’s decision amid much fanfare.

On Dec. 18, the Emirati Al-Ittihad newspaper reported, “Those whose Sudanese citizenship has been revoked include leading figures from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisian leader of Ennahda Movement Rashid al-Ghannouchi and members of the Palestinian Hamas movement, among other Muslim Brotherhood figures from other Arab countries.”

Al-Jazeera Net, affiliated with the Qatari Al Jazeera channel that supports the Muslim Brotherhood, published a report on Sudan’s decision to revoke the nationality of 3,000 foreigners under the title, “Sudan withdraws nationality of thousands of naturalized persons … Will it hand over Sisi opponents?”

The report said the decision is the result of “strong relations between the Sudanese Sovereignty Council and Egypt, and it comes in accordance with the Egyptian authorities’ request to hand over some of the opponents who fled to Sudan after 2013.”

On Oct. 27, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, during his visit to Cairo.

Also in October, Al-Arabiya news channel revealed Egyptian-Sudanese coordination regarding the handover of Brotherhood members to Cairo, and said that “the meetings of Burhan in Egypt focused on coordination with the Egyptian leadership regarding the fight against terrorism.”

It added that “Sisi and Burhan discussed handing over wanted Brotherhood members in Sudan to Egypt during the coming period.”

Al-Taqi Ahmed Al-Mirghani, a Sudanese journalist and editor-in-chief of El Baath El Sudani newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “Since the ouster of Bashir’s government — which is affiliated with the Brotherhood — Sudan has seriously begun to confront the Brotherhood and their spread and control over the state by forming a committee to remove them from state institutions.”

The Sudanese authorities approved in November 2019 a law aimed at dismantling Bashir’s regime. This law provided for dissolving and confiscating the properties of the National Congress Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood’s organization.

Also, the Empowerment Removal Committee was formed in a bid to confront Muslim Brotherhood members spread across the Sudanese state institutions. The committee decided Dec. 10 to terminate the service of 239 advisers and ambassadors affiliated with the Brotherhood.

Mirghani noted, “Egypt is supporting Sudan to confront the Brotherhood attempts to destroy the state, especially considering that the Egyptian and Sudanese people have both managed to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood rule.”

He added, “Sudan has resorted to Egypt for the purpose of training Sudanese imams to deal with the remains of extremist ideas spread by Brotherhood members, and the Sudanese people respect the Egyptian imams because Cairo hosts Al-Azhar, the beacon of Islam.”

Mirghani said, “The Egyptian-Sudanese agreement to confront the Brotherhood included pursuing and handing over all Egyptian Brotherhood members who fled to Sudan in the wake of the fall of President Mohammed Morsi by revoking their nationality and then handing them over to Cairo.”

He stressed that “the coming period will witness the highest levels of coordination between Egypt and Sudan, especially in light of the good relations between the two countries. Sudanese security personnel will [also] be trained in Cairo to confront the Brotherhood’s chaotic scheme.”


Israeli-Palestinian Peace Remains Dim Prospect After Turbulent Year

By Yossi Mekelberg

December 31, 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, it is hard to think of a previous time when the Jewish expression of hope, “There ends a year and its maledictions and a new one begins with its blessings,” has resonated with most of humanity. Focusing on the relations between Israel and Palestine, things started to look somewhat more positive toward the end of the year, but mainly because, up to that point, we had only seen a steady exacerbation of already-worsening relations in the triangle of Israel, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA), and Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The end of 2020 also represents the end of the Trump administration, which has had a huge, mainly negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian affairs. The election of Joe Biden as US president gives rise to the hope that the new leadership in Washington will play a more constructive role in improving relations between these neighbors, even if a comprehensive peace doesn’t seem to be on the cards. Interactions between the Israelis and the Palestinians are heavily affected by domestic politics in this triangle of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and the bilateral relations between each of the two.

The year started with a glitzy event in the White House: The unveiling of Donald Trump’s “vision” for peace in the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood next to Trump as the US president announced a plan that was stillborn, and one that could be argued was designed to fail, while the Palestinians, who refused to participate in the charade, could be blamed for its failure. It was a short-sighted approach that sided almost entirely with the Israeli position. Even the optics of this event, with no Palestinian in sight, left no illusion of any imminent or genuine peace negotiations. Not that the plan was wholeheartedly supported by all Israelis, but, for the Palestinians, it included almost everything they couldn’t agree with, including recognition of the occupation of at least parts of the West Bank before negotiations would even begin, and being forced to accept the diktat of their state being defenseless and at the mercy of its more powerful neighbor. Yet, for those more hawkish Israeli politicians, the mere mention of a Palestinian state, regardless of the humiliating preconditions, was unacceptable, so they too rejected the plan.

Before the ink had dried on Trump’s plan, the world was engulfed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which pushed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process even further down the international agenda. The US has become the country hardest-hit by COVID-19 — and during an election year in which deep divisions, on race relations in particular, also surfaced in full force.

It was also necessary for Israel, the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza to divert their attention to containing the pandemic, and here they achieved various levels of failure. The virus, which recognizes no borders or political disputes, highlighted that, in the small space in which both nations operate, with the movement of populations between Israel and the Occupied Territories, a lack of cooperation is a recipe for disaster. Sadly, though predictably, such a lack of cooperation was evident and cases in all communities are currently soaring, demonstrating the incompetence of the authorities in all three territories, their inability to rise above their mutual distrust, and that their vested interests have taken precedence over ensuring the well-being of their people.

If the threat posed by the current pandemic diverted attention from the “normal” areas of friction between Israel and the Palestinians, the normalization agreements signed in the summer by Israel, first with the UAE and then with Bahrain and Sudan, changed the calculus. With Israel’s plans to annex large parts of the West Bank, and the US election campaign entering high gear, while the tide began to turn against Trump, the normalization agreements were bound to impact Israeli-Palestinian relations.

For Netanyahu, the pledge to annex nearly third of the West Bank was merely a ploy to attract votes from the Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and their supporters, rather than part of any comprehensive strategy toward future relations with the Palestinians. However, the threat of annexation led the PA to make good on its warning to end all cooperation with Israel and, in particular, their security coordination, knowing that this was its most powerful card as it sought to sway Netanyahu away from his annexation plans. But it is doubtful whether President Mahmoud Abbas believed even for a second that Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition would be convinced by this threat, as he knew that, as in the case of the PA and Gaza, it is all about the domestic politics of the survival of the elite, and not much else.

Annexation would have made little difference on the ground, as the West Bank is already under the complete control of Israel, which, as the occupying force, treats it as if it has already been annexed. However, the message of a unilateral decision by Israel with the support of the US on the future of the West Bank would have been clear. It was the normalization agreement with the UAE that stopped the irresponsible and damaging annexation plan, saving Israel from its own folly.

The Palestinian leadership, feeling abandoned, might have expressed its anger at the normalization agreements, but stopping the Washington-blessed legalizing of Israel’s occupation was an important condition of full diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE. Moreover, removing the threat of annexation, together with the election of Biden as the next US president, has facilitated Israel’s transfer of the more than $1 billion in taxes that it had collected on behalf of the PA. It now seems that some thaw, mild as it is, is taking place between the PA and Israel.

However, the fundamentals of the relations between Israel and the Palestinians remain the same and are not likely to change any time soon. All three leaderships — of Israel, Fatah and Hamas — are suffering from dwindling support and trust. Israeli politics has been hijacked by the vested interests of a prime minister on trial for corruption, who spends most of his energy attempting to avoid justice. Neither Palestinian leadership has received the confidence of its voters for more than 14 years, while the question of succession is constantly hanging over the Palestinian political system(s), resulting in near-complete political paralysis. In the meantime, Israel is entrenching its occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza, with no end in sight.

The overarching aspect of relations between Israel and the Palestinians is the Israeli occupation and blockade, which is making the lives of ordinary Palestinians a misery. The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, turning 2 million Palestinians into prisoners in their own homes, while the human rights of those in the West Bank are subject to violation at will by Israeli security forces or Jewish settlers. As long as this continues, and settlements are constantly expanded and the political systems in Israel and Palestine remain in a state of flux, the vision of peaceful and just coexistence remains as remote as ever.


 Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.


Cartoon: Winds of Change, From Arab Spring to Winter

By Khalid Albaih

3 Jan 2021

In 2011, Khalid Albaih’s cartoons about the Arab Spring went viral, some even appearing on walls from Cairo to Beirut. In this series for Al Jazeera, he revisits and reimagines some of his work, reflecting on the difference the last decade has made for people in the Middle East and North Africa.

A strong wind is a force. When it blows, it can push you in a specific direction, even as you try to stand against it. In the spring, you may be able to put up a fight. But by the time winter comes, it gets harder and harder to resist. You are tired, confused, and rethinking your whole journey.

But the wind is too strong for you to stop. So, you keep walking in the direction it pushes you. After a while, you start to go with the flow, maybe even making it part of your way of life to just walk forward and not look back.

But every spring, a new uprising blooms from frustration. Anger and hope arise to once again push against the winds of the status quo.

I drew this original cartoon at the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, as millions took to the streets across the region. They pushed against the powerful winds of the status quo armed with nothing but the hope that by standing united they could challenge even the greatest forces and bring on the winds of change.

Ten years on, the Arab world has passed through a long winter filled with disappointments that turned to civil wars. During that time, some found other ways of resistance, some went in a different direction, some rejoined the status quo, some faced violence, some used violence, some now find themselves in jail without trial, and some have not been lucky enough to make it out alive.

Still, the winds of change keep blowing, and all we can do is keep trying to change its course in whichever way we can.


Khalid Albaih is a Romanian-born Sudanese political cartoonist and cultural producer currently living in Denmark.


Afghans Dream Of A Better Future After Bloody 2020

By Ajmal Shams

January 03, 2021

The year 2020 was an eventful one for Afghanistan. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the US-Taliban peace deal were two notable issues. Now it is time to reflect on how these two events affected Afghan society and what the implications are for 2021.

The pandemic hit the country hard, not only in terms of casualties and long spells of suffering for large portions of the population, but also the economic hardship that both individuals and the business community suffered due to lockdown and the general economic decline. Education was also adversely affected due to schools, colleges and universities being closed for long periods. Very few private schools were able to continue their academic programs through online platforms. At the beginning of winter, all education institutions were closed once again amid fears of a renewed wave of the disease.

Official statistics provided by the World Health Organization report only about 50,000 cases in the country, with just over 2,200 deaths. However, these figures are far from the reality on the ground. Due to extremely limited testing capacity, the actual number of positive cases is believed to be much higher. The number of deaths is also much greater than the figure reported. The majority of those with symptoms refrained from visiting public hospitals due to their lack of facilities and proper care, preferring instead to stay home or visit private clinics. To minimize the spread of the pandemic, the government was somehow able to enforce lockdown for several months, which partially helped in minimizing exposure to the infection. But continuous lockdown was no longer economically feasible and had to be ended.

In February, the peace agreement between the US and the Taliban was signed after months of tough negotiations between the two sides. This was just weeks before the country started to suffer from the gradually increasing number of cases of COVID-19. The deal was historic as it raised hopes of an end to the four decades of conflict in Afghanistan. However, the Afghan government gave the impression that it had been sidelined. The release of Taliban prisoners and the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue in Qatar also happened under international pressure and with wide public support for peace within Afghanistan. The pace of these negotiations has been slow so far. For months, the two sides could not even agree on the rules and procedures for the talks, which they finally agreed in early December before taking a long break. They are planning to resume talks this week. Meanwhile, the Afghan government demanded that future talks with the Taliban be held inside Afghanistan. This move, however, did not attract much national or international attention. The coming round of negotiations is planned to be held in Doha.

Although the US-Taliban agreement does not include a reduction in violence as part of the deal, the major US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been repeatedly calling for this as a confidence-building measure. However, 2020 was one of the bloodiest years for Afghanistan, with a devastating impact on civilians in terms of casualties. Targeted killings and deaths from improvised explosive devices were an almost daily occurrence. The complexity of the situation has left ordinary Afghans vulnerable and confused regarding the future of their country. The government’s security agencies have not risen to the occasion to protect the lives of ordinary citizens from criminal gangs or groups with political motives.

As for the COVID-19 relief efforts, the public perception of the government’s use of funds allocated for mitigating the impacts of the pandemic was not positive. It is widely believed that aid packages did not reach those that were desperately in need. The healthcare system was in total despair during 2020, with charges of embezzlement and corruption. Just last week, President Ashraf Ghani removed the public health minister due to the public’s outrage at the ministry ever since the beginning of the pandemic.

Afghanistan entered 2021 with a new wave of the pandemic, continuing insecurity, uncertainty in the progress of peace talks, and high levels of poverty and unemployment. November’s Geneva conference was something of a success for the government, which received pledges of aid until 2024, but the conditionality of aid flows on peace, the fight against corruption, and improved governance remain major challenges in 2021 and the years ahead. With all the bitter memories of past years, Afghans entered 2021 with renewed hope of a better future.


Ajmal Shams is President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party and is based in Kabul. He is a former Deputy Minister in the Afghan National Unity Government. He tweets @ajmshams


Israel’s Right, Left Disintegrate Ahead of March Elections

By Ben Caspit

Dec 30, 2020

Imagine that rather than the Eastern and Western conference champions facing off at the NBA finals, three or four groups from each side crowd into the court, jostling each other for space, and instead of playing basketball engage in a free for all melee egged on from the bleachers. This, more or less, is a current snapshot of Israel’s political arena, just over 11 weeks before a fourth round of elections is scheduled for March 23.

In the evening hours of Dec. 29, timed to coincide with prime time television news, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai announced he was forming a new political party. The decorated former fighter pilot and war hero appeared in front of the cameras alongside Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who just minutes earlier had quit the crumbling Blue and White Party led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Last week, Knesset member Ofer Shelah announced he was forming a new party after quitting Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Earlier today Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said he will not run again within Blue and White and that he is taking some time off from politics, perhaps to consider a new political framework.

Gantz, who still leads the remains of the Blue and White, delivered his own public address shortly before Huldai, claiming that “Blue and White saved the state” by joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in May and insisting that he will run in March, too. The leftist Meretz, led by Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz, is running on a separate ticket. Two other former army chiefs have yet to announce their plans — former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, considered one of the driving forces behind the ongoing anti-Netanyahu protests, and Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eizenkot, who shed his uniform two years ago and is being courted by several parties but is said to be undecided as yet.

This is the first times in ages that Israel’s center-left political bloc is mounting a real challenge to the right. The right is currently fielding four separate tickets (Netanyahu’s Likud, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and Gideon Saar’s already popular “New Hope”), and the center-left is also splitting up at a dizzying pace rather than uniting.

Right now, the center-left bloc consists of the centrist Yesh Atid, Meretz, Huldai-Nissenkorn, Ofer Shelah, Labor on life support and the dying Blue and White. However, this constellation is an illusion, a fata morgana in the political desert. The boundaries defining Israel’s political map have long faded. It is no longer divided between right and left with a pragmatic center in between. The framework that defined Israeli politics has been shattered and there is only one issue: for or against Netanyahu. The traditional right is evenly split between the two camps, whereas the center-left is trying to find itself. The rapid disintegration we are witnessing on the center-left will become a series of new mergers and acquisitions. Ofer Shelah will not run alone. The prospects of Blue and White running separately are slim. There is talk of a union between Meretz and Huldai or even Lapid and Huldai. Ultimately, this side of the arena will also tap into its survival instincts.

There is another major change happening in Israeli politics. Since its founding, the state’s security agencies, especially the IDF, have been both a social melting pot and an assembly line of Israel’s political leadership. Two former IDF chiefs became prime ministers and dozens of other commanders and generals traded in their uniforms for suits and ties, providing a natural leadership pool for top government posts.

For years, the unwritten rule for all prime ministers has been “never fight with your IDF chief of staff," born of the perception that Israelis admire and even worship those who lead the people’s army. The defense minister’s position, with its combat trappings, was also viewed as a springboard to the prime minister’s office.

But the brand of the IDF chief has lost its sheen. Former IDF chief Dan Halutz says he has stopped citing his one-time post, preferring to present himself as a former air force chief, a position that still holds a certain untarnished cachet. Former IDF chief Gantz is being ignominiously kicked out of politics at this very moment, his former political ally and predecessor Ashkenazi is barricading himself behind a wall of silence, former IDF chief and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is considered a dead political horse and Eizenkot has decided to stay out of politics after watching his former colleagues crash.

This turn of events is the work of Netanyahu. As a young politician, Netanyahu surrounded himself with generals in order to bask in their glow. Chief among them was Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Mordechai, a former front commander and defense minister. Those days are long gone. Netanyahu has successfully made himself “Mr. Security,” the irreplaceable guardian of the Jewish State. He no longer needs former generals and security officials. On the contrary, he is methodically ensuring their political elimination.

In the upcoming elections, the fourth in less than two years, Netanyahu will face no threat from former military candidates. Three times he has vanquished the generals who tried to unseat him. While they did deprive him of immunity from criminal prosecution and defended the country’s law enforcement and court system, they failed to defeat him. This time, Netanyahu will face experienced politicians just as cruel as he is, some such as Saar with intimate knowledge of his ways.


Trump Administration Pushes Last-Minute Arms Deals To Middle East

By Jared Szuba

Dec 30, 2020

The Trump administration approved major arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait on Tuesday in a last-minute push before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The US State Department approved a proposed $290 million sale of 3,000 precision-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. The Royal Saudi Air Force has relied on such US-made munitions for its air campaign over Yemen. The kingdom has drawn allegations of war crimes for repeatedly bombing civilian targets.

President-elect Biden has promised to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Congress was formally notified of the sale proposal on Tuesday, a week after Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration told lawmakers it was moving ahead on plans to grant a license allowing Raytheon to sell 7,500 precision-guided bombs directly to Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon on Tuesday also announced a $4 billion sale of eight Apache AH-64E helicopters to Kuwait and the upgrade of 16 of the Gulf country’s existing Apaches. Spare parts for Kuwait’s Patriot air defense missile batteries and targeting systems for Egyptian military aircraft were also announced.

The United Nations has called Yemen’s civil war the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe and said that a majority of civilian casualties in the conflict have been caused by the Saudi-led military coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates.

Estimates of the war’s civilian death toll vary, but the nongovernmental research group ACLED has reported that more than 12,600 civilians have been killed in targeted attacks.

UN investigators have warned that governments arming any side in the conflict — including Iran, which has ties to the Houthi rebels, and the United States, United Kingdom and France, which have supported the Saudi-led coalition — may be complicit in war crimes.

The US military has said it has worked closely with Saudi Arabia to reduce civilian casualties in the conflict. The United States stopped refueling Saudi coalition planes over Yemen in 2018, but Riyadh has since continued to hit civilian targets.

The United States is seeking to pressure the Houthis in Yemen's civil war. The State Department has reportedly considered labeling the Houthis a terrorist group in recent weeks, a potential move that former US officials and rights groups have protested, saying it would threaten to end desperately needed international humanitarian aid to Yemen's north.

Congress earlier this month failed to block the Trump administration’s proposal to sell the advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and armed MQ-9B drones to the United Arab Emirates following Abu Dhabi’s recognition of Israel.

Trump administration officials have been urging Middle Eastern leaders to sign peace agreemens with Israel — collectively known as the Abraham Accords — that aim to shore up cooperation to counter Iran’s regional activities. Thus far, four countries — the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — have agreed to normalize ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has so far held out.

In a separate move, Washington’s embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday announced the United States had transferred 30 armored Humvees to Ain al-Asad air base in order to assist Iraqi security forces “in securing the heart of Baghdad.”

That transfer comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of the US assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, for which Iran and local proxy militias in Iraq have vowed retaliation.


Convicted Spy Pollard Welcomed To Israel by Netanyahu

By Rina Bassist

Dec 30, 2020

Jonathan Pollard, the former US Navy analyst convicted of spying for Israel, arrived at Ben Gurion Airport together with his wife, Esther, early this morning. Coming out of the airplane, Pollard got on his hands and knees to kiss the tarmac in the Jewish tradition of kissing the ground of the holy land. The Pollard couple arrived aboard a private jet owned by US American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Awaiting him at the tarmac, Netanyahu said, “Now you can start life anew, with freedom and happiness. Now you are home.” Pollard responded by saying, “We are excited to be home at last. There is no one who is more proud of this country or its leader than we are. We hope to become productive citizens as soon as possible.”

The Office of the Prime Minister posted on Twitter a short clip of Pollard’s arrival at the airport, saying, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Jonathan and Esther Pollard upon their arrival in Israel, early this morning. The Prime Minister was moved to meet them on the tarmac next to the plane where they recited the Shehecheyanu blessing (the traditional Jewish blessing for when something new happens) together. Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Jonathan Pollard an Israeli identity card. The Prime Minister told the Pollards that it is good that they have come home."

President Reuven Rivlin tweeted, “Welcome home to Jonathan and Esther Pollard!’’ Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted a photo of the Pollard couple aboard the airplane, writing in Hebrew, "Jonathan and Esther welcome home!"

Pollard — a Jewish American — was a US Navy intelligence analyst in the mid-1980s when he made contact with an Israeli officer in New York. He then began transferring to Israeli contacts confidential documents and information. Pollard was arrested in 1985 in what became a yearslong thorn in US-Israel relations. Israel had acknowledged partly over the years some of the role it played in the Pollard espionage affair. But it was only in 1998 that Israel admitted having paid Pollard thousands of dollars for the information he supplied.

Since he was sentenced, Israel made several attempts through both official and unofficial channels for Pollard be released, but successive US administrations always refused. He was granted symbolically Israeli citizenship in 1995. In 2002, Netanyahu (who was not prime minister at the time) visited Pollard in prison. Eventually, Pollard was released in 2015 after serving 30 years in prison. After his release, he remained subject to a curfew, had to wear a wrist monitor and was prohibited from traveling abroad. In late November, the US Parole Commission formally lifted Pollard’s parole restrictions, enabling him to immigrate to Israel with his wife. At the time, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Pollard on the phone, expressing the hope that the couple would travel to Israel.


Lebanon’s Racism Is Fanning the Flames of Violence towards Syrian Refugees

By Makram Rabah

30 December 2020

As Lebanon celebrated Christmas, a Syrian refugee camp in Miniyeh in the north of Lebanon was attacked by a group of local youths who set fire to tents amid clashes with residents. The number of violent incidents against displaced communities living in the country has grown steadily in recent months. This has run in parallel with the public becoming apathetic to these acts, and viewing them as normal daily occurrences.

The makeshift camp houses over 375 people, and the attack highlights a worrying trend. The 1.5 million Syrian refugees based in Lebanon are increasingly targets of intimidation and violence, on the back of the country’s disastrous economic conditions.

Tensions are running high. The killing of Joseph Tawk, a Lebanese national, by a Syrian living in Bcharre, led to rioting and the eviction of the entire refugee population of the town with over 200 Syrian families forced to look for refuge elsewhere or else face physical harm.

This dangerous xenophobic atmosphere isn’t helped by several politicians, including former minister of Foreign Affairs and President Michael Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil blaming Syrian refugees for Lebanon’s collapse.

Bassil has consistently sought to use refugees as a fearmongering foil, and has previously stated: “The Syrian refugee crisis is the biggest crisis threatening the Lebanese entity.” This perception is growing among communities that were initially supportive of the Syrian revolution to topple the Assad regime. Bcharre is one example, but there are many others.

The voices calling for calm are there. Miniyeh and Bcharre support Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement and Samir Geagea Lebanese Forces, both of which have defended and openly demanded protection for Syrian refugees living in the country. Hariri has declared, “that they [refugees] won’t go back to Syria as long as that regime is in place [and] as long as I don’t have a UN green light for their safe return, I’m not going to do anything.”

Calls for eviction of the Syrian population, however, underscores that Lebanon’s traditional political parties no longer hold sway over their power base on this issue.

Local media outlets have been complicit in fueling xenophobia by exaggerating the perceived threat of refugees stealing jobs, while playing down violence on refugees as simple altercations.

In many cases the media fails, or refrains, to report on violence committed in areas controlled by Hezbollah and their allies. The expulsion of refugees through force in areas deemed as a security threat saw the border town of Arsal meet this fate.

The Lebanese state has conspired to make the refugees in Lebanon keep, and in some cases, make worse the suffering they endured in Syria. Introducing different measures have stripped them of their legal rights and exposed them to persecution.

Staying silent might be the way the Lebanese state wishes to deal with such crimes, but the country’s people need to stop looking for excuses to justify crimes such as the burning of the Bhanin camp – just one example among hundreds of equally heinous acts of racism perpetrated against non-Lebanese.

The Syrian refugee crisis is undoubtedly a major challenge for Lebanon. The racism, violence, and expulsion of Syrian refugees by the people of Lebanon is a different matter. Why should an already reluctant international community invest in the country when the local population fail to treat others with respect?

The sight of the burning tents in the refugee camp in Miniyeh is not simply a crime against humanity: Lebanon’s soul and moral standards have gone up in flames too.



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