Make no excuses for Iran. This is pure piracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TELEGRAPH.UK)

 

Make no excuses for Iran. This is pure piracy

This handout photo made available on July 20, 2019, by Jan Verhoog shows the Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, off the coast of Europoort in Rotterdam on April 3, 2018.
The Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, off the coast of Europoort in Rotterdam on April 3, 2018.CREDIT: JAN VERHOOG 

Nothing justifies Iran’s piracy in the Gulf. Jeremy Corbyn – as night follows day – suggested the United States is partly to blame for Iran seizing a British-flagged tanker because the Americans walked away from the Iran nuclear deal. But Britain has not. Whatever one thinks of the deal – and this newspaper believes it to be a terrible mistake – the UK government remains in favour and has been trying to rescue it, so the Iranians have turned on one of the Western powers most sympathetic to their cause. Tehran rages mightily about the British seizure of an Iranian vessel at Gibraltar, but the situations are not comparable. That vessel is accused of trying to break sanctions by providing oil to Syria. The Iranians have targeted ships going about perfectly legal business.

Mr Corbyn’s attempt to blame this on tensions raised by the US doesn’t hold water – and given the paid work he’s previously done for an Iranian broadcaster, his objectivity is in question. No: Iran is a bloodthirsty dictatorship that oppresses women and religious and sexual minorities. It has exported terrorism. It is threatening already to break the nuclear agreement and, say some analysts, has been developing rocket technology that means when the deal finally comes to an end, it might be in an even stronger position. The issue isn’t Iran’s absolute responsibility for this crisis but why Britain wasn’t able to respond more swiftly and decisively.

Questions need to be asked. Why wasn’t the UK prepared for this eventuality, especially given that Iran has menaced vessels previously and hardliners explicitly threatened to take control of a British tanker in retribution for the Gibraltar raid? Why has Britain downgraded its fleet from having 35 frigates in 1982 to just 13 today? Could it prove necessary to run a convoy system in and out of the Gulf, to protect shipping? This will all cost more money, which is why it’s essential that the next prime minister spends more on defence. He also needs to review British foreign policy, as it’s clear that trying to play nice on the nuclear deal isn’t working. The United States has given up on Iran and, considering what’s just happened in the Gulf, understandably so. This is a rogue state. It should be treated as such.

Britain says Iran has seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Britain says Iran has seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

UK confirms two vessels taken, one of them British, in ‘unacceptable’ act; Iranian media says second ship released after being detained; US accuses Tehran of ‘escalatory violence’

This undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location (Stena Bulk via AP)

This undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location (Stena Bulk via AP)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, officials in London said, in a move that further raised tensions and infuriated American and British leaders.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said it had seized British oil tanker Stena Impero, claiming it “was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards at the request of Hormozgan Ports and Maritime Organization when passing through the Strait of Hormuz, for failing to respect international maritime rules.”

US officials told CNN there were indications that Iran had seized a second vessel, the Liberian tanker MV Mesdar. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that Masdar had been detained by Iranian forces but was released and left Iranian waters.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed that two ships had been seized, condemning the incidents as “unacceptable” and saying he was “extremely concerned” by the incidents.

UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt addresses the final Conservative Party leadership election hustings in London on July 17, 2019. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

“I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz,” he said in a statement. “These seizures are unacceptable.”

The government was to hold an emergency ministerial meeting later on Friday “to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels,” Hunt said.

Britain’s ambassador in Tehran was in contact with Iranian authorities “to resolve the situation,” he added.

Hunt later warned of “serious consequences” if the ships were not released.

“We will respond in a way is considered but robust, and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences,” he was quoted saying by Sky News.

“We’re not looking at military options, we are a looking at diplomatic way to resolve the situation,” he added.

Britain confirmed that one of the boats seized was British registered. The other was Liberian-flagged, but reported to be owned by British company Norbulk Shipping.

Fars reported the Liberian-flagged tanker was briefly detained in the Strait of Hormuz and given a notice to comply with environmental regulations before being allowed to continue on its way.

The UK is “urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” a British government spokesperson said.

Asked about the latest incident as he departed the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters “We will talk to the UK. We’ll be working with the UK.”

He added: “This only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran. Trouble. Nothing but trouble. It goes to show you I was right about Iran.”

US President Donald Trump talks to the press before departing from the South Lawn of the White House on July 19, 2019, in Washington, DC (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

The US accused Iran of “escalatory violence,” with National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis saying: “The US will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior.”

The Swedish owners of the Stena Impero said the vessel had come under “attack” in the Strait of Hormuz.

Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management said in a statement that it “can confirm that… our managed vessel Stena Impero was attacked by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter while transiting the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.”

“We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now tracking as heading north towards Iran,” it said.

UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti said the seizure of a British oil tanker by Iranian forces represents an escalation in tensions in the Persian Gulf that makes it clear more protection for merchant vessels is urgently needed.

He said the action was “in violation of international regulations which protect ships and their crews as they go about their legitimate business in international waters.”

He called on the British government to do “whatever is necessary” to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship’s crew.

The announcement by the Guards came hours after the British territory of Gibraltar’s Supreme Court ruled that a seized Iranian tanker suspected of breaching sanctions by shipping oil to Syria can be detained for 30 more days.

The Grace 1 supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, was intercepted by British Royal Marines and Gibraltar’s police on July 4 as it transited through waters claimed by Gibraltar, which is located on Spain’s southern tip.

The Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Thursday he had had a “constructive and positive” meeting with Iranian officials in London aimed at defusing tensions around the detention of the tanker in the British territory’s waters.

Gibraltar and US officials believed the tanker was destined for Syria to deliver oil, in violation of separate sets of EU and US sanctions.

Iran has reacted with fury to what it termed “piracy” and warned it would not let the interception go unanswered.

Last week, a British warship in the Gulf warned off armed Iranian boats that tried to stop a UK supertanker. London has since announced the deployment of two more warships to the Gulf region for the coming months.

In this file photo taken on April 30, 2019, Iranian soldiers take part in the ‘National Persian Gulf Day’ in the Strait of Hormuz. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The Gibraltar court ruling comes as tensions in the Gulf region mounted Friday after Washington said an Iranian drone was destroyed after threatening a US naval vessel at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

It was believed to be the first US military engagement with Iran following a series of increasingly serious incidents. Iran has denied losing any drones.

On Thursday the Guards said they’d seized a foreign tanker accused of smuggling oil. The vessel appeared to be a United Arab Emirates-based tanker that had disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters.

Iran’s state television did not identify the seized vessel or nationalities of the crew, but said it was intercepted on Sunday. It said the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.

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U.K. warns Iran of “serious consequences” if tanker isn’t released

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CBS NEWS)

 

U.K. warns Iran of “serious consequences” if tanker isn’t released

Britain is warning Iran of what it describes as “serious consequences” if Iran does not release a British-flagged tanker it seized in the Persian Gulf. Iran claims the tanker collided with an Iranian fishing boat in the Strait of Hormuz.

“We will respond in a way that is considered but robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Friday. “We’re not looking at military options, we’re looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved.”

Germany and France on Saturday also called on Iran to release the tanker. President Trump on Friday commented on the increasing tension in the strategic oil shipping route. “Trouble, nothing but trouble,” he said from the White House.

CBS News was traveling in Afghanistan with General Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, when the two British tankers were seized. McKenzie told CBS News exactly what happened: the first ship was flying a British flag as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

“She was fired upon, subsequently boarded, taken under Iranian custody and is now deep in Iranian territorial waters,” McKenzie explained.

Iran Persian Gulf Tensions
A British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was seized by the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is shown in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on Saturday, July 20, 2019.   TASNIM NEWS AGENCY/VIA AP

The second British tanker was flying a Liberian flag. “The Iranians boarded her. We believed they searched for British persons, found none and then allowed her to continue her voyage,” he added.

Three hours later an American-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Chicago, went through the strait with what McKenzie called “iron overhead” meaning F-18 fighter jets flying air cover. The Iranians left it alone. The U.S. now has warships stationed at either end of the strait.

“Do those destroyers have orders to intervene if they see another ship hijacking?” CBS News asked.

“They would only do so in the case of a U.S. flag vessel coming under attack,” McKenzie said.

Mr. Trump has made clear he does not want war with Iran. McKenzie told CBS News the U.S. military is determined not to overreact.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News’ National Security Correspondent.

Iran seizes two British tankers and makes a huge mistake

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER)

 

Iran seizes two British tankers and makes a huge mistake

00:0100:54

There will be furious embarrassment in the British government this evening over Iran’s seizure of two British oil tankers today. One of those tankers is British-flagged, and the other is British-owned.

Still, Iran has made a strategic miscalculation here.

Acting against the British while the U.K. and Iranian foreign ministers were seeking compromise over Britain’s recent seizure of an Iranian tanker, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have further isolated Iran on the international stage. With a multinational naval task force for tanker escorts likely to be announced next week, the Iranians are increasingly outgunned and diplomatically isolated. Losing a drone to a U.S. warship on Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is also now aware of American red lines against threats to U.S. life.

00:0100:39

Columnist Salena Zito on the expanded Washington Examiner magazine

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But none of that will distract from London’s embarrassment.

Britain was well aware that this kind of Iranian aggression was likely. Deploying an advanced warship to the Persian Gulf, the U.K. expected to deter Iran. That calculation has clearly failed in quite spectacular fashion. The military options to retake these tankers are also weak. While Britain’s Special Boat Service special forces unit has an advanced maritime counter-terrorism capability, recovering tankers now in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps port would be an extraordinary challenge.

That said, Iran’s action here presents two problems for Tehran.

First, it will encourage Britain to support the U.S. sanctions pressure campaign against Iran. With a new British prime minister entering office next week, the U.K. will want to regain the initiative here against appearing weak. But Iran’s action also makes it likelier that France and Germany will adopt a tougher stance against it. Those nations have pursued an appeasement strategy until now, but they will view Iran’s escalated endangerment of global energy supplies as intolerable.

Ultimately, then, Iran is heading for more economic damage. These seizures might make the hard-liners feel good, but they’ve made a big mistake.

England: Gibraltar Extends to August 15 Detention of Iranian Tanker

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Gibraltar Extends to August 15 Detention of Iranian Tanker

Friday, 19 July, 2019 – 11:00
Supertanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Gibraltar will continue to impound an Iranian oil tanker until August 15 after its supreme court granted a 30-day extension to authorities, the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper said.

The paper said Gibraltar’s Attorney General, Michael Llamas, had confirmed the decision.

The Grace 1 was seized earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Britain would facilitate the release of the Grace 1 if Iran gave guarantees that the tanker would not go to Syria, once the issue had followed due process in Gibraltar’s courts.

On Thursday, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo held a “constructive and positive” meeting with Iranian officials in London to discuss the tanker.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain will facilitate the release the ship if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel will not breach the sanctions.

Iran has vowed to respond to what it calls Britain’s “piracy” over the seizure of the tanker and warned of reciprocal measures.

Last week, London said three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-owned tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz, but backed off when confronted by a Royal Navy warship.

Iran denied that its vessels had done any such thing.

Iran seizes foreign oil tanker with 12 crew, state media says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Iran seizes foreign oil tanker with 12 crew, state media says

Abu Dhabi, UAE (CNN)Iran has seized an oil tanker it claimed was carrying 1 million liters of “smuggled fuel,” state news agency Press TV said on Thursday.

The semi-official Fars news agency said Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces ambushed the tanker, carrying 12 people on board, on Sunday.
The IRGC have denied seizing any other tankers, Fars said.
It is unclear whether the tanker seized Sunday was the same vessel as one that Iran claimed to have assisted earlier this week.
This story has been updated with new reporting from Iranian state media about the amount of oil on board the vessel.

Four decades later, did the Iranian revolution fulfill its promises?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)

 

Four decades later, did the Iranian revolution fulfill its promises?

Ali Fathollah-Nejad

If Iran were to hold a referendum on the Islamic Republic today, over 70% would clearly oppose it—among them the wealthy, academics, clerics, village, and city-dwellers. This remarkable hypothetical was not declared by an exiled Iranian dissident, but by the well-known Tehran political science professor, Sadegh Zibakalam, in an interview during the upheaval that took place in late 2017 and early 2018.

But how is it that even a formerly enthusiastic supporter of the Islamic Revolution has delivered such a devastating verdict? To understand this radical shift and the frustration behind it, we must revisit the promises that the revolution made four decades ago. The 1979 Iranian revolution promised three goals: social justice, freedom and democracy, and independence from great power tutelage.

IRAN’S PARADOXICAL QUEST FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Framed in a Marxist–Islamist mindset, the revolution was made on behalf of the mostazafin—the downtrodden—who were left behind by the monarchy’s uneven development model. In the following four decades, intense controversy has erupted over the Islamic Republic’s socio-economic performance. While some claim that under the Islamist regime remarkable progress has been made, others depict an entire country mired in misery. More nuance and contextualization is needed.

Iran has indeed experienced progress over the last 40 years. Whether these successes have been a result of post-revolutionary policies, societal pressures, or the foundations laid by the shah remains hotly debated.

The shift from the shah’s pro-urban, elite-centered policies to a pro-rural and pro-poor (populist) approach under the Islamic Republic included expanding infrastructure and basic services—such as electricity and clean water—from cities to the countryside. In short, the revolution sought to eliminate the rural-urban divide. In rural Iran, the expansion of health and education led to a clear reduction in poverty: The 1970s poverty rate of 25% dropped to less than 10% in 2014. These social policies, biased in favor of the poor, help explain why Iran’s Human Development Index (HDI) has been relatively positive.

Unlike before the revolution, most Iranians today enjoy access to basic services and infrastructure, while the population has almost doubled and most of the country is urbanized. Other measures of social development have similarly improved. Literacy has more than doubled, especially among women, and now encompasses almost all the population. Meanwhile, female students have outnumbered their male counterparts at universities for more than a decade.

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However, while statistics indicate that absolute poverty has declined sharply, a majority of Iranians continue to suffer from socio-economic precarity. Official sources state that 12 million live below the absolute poverty line and 25 to 30 million below the poverty line. Estimates suggest that one-third of Iranians, as well as 50 to 70% of workers, are in danger of falling into poverty. Fourteen percent of Iranians live in tents, according to the Statistical Center of Iran, and one-third of the urban population lives in slums. The living conditions of what anthropologist Shahram Khosravi calls Iran’s “other half,” or working-class poor, are striking: a 17-fold increase in the number of Iranians living in slums; 50% of the workforce have only irregular employment; approximately 10 to 13 million Iranians “entirely excluded from health, work or unemployment insurance.”

And Iran’s socio-economic challenges cannot be separated from its political economy that favors regime loyalists and is marked by mismanagement, cronyism, nepotism, corruption, and the absence of much-needed structural reforms. Although U.S. sanctions have undoubtedly had negative repercussions, their overall impact on Iran’s economic situation is often overstated. For instance, in the summer of 2018, Hossein Raghfar, an economist at Tehran’s Allameh Tabataba’i University, has suggested that as little as 15% of Iran’s economic problems can be attributed to sanctions. The “illiberal neoliberalization” in various Iranian economic policies since the 1990s, featuring client alistic privatizations and de-regulated labor market, has helped form nouveaux riches on one hand and precarious social strata on the other.

A chief failure of the Islamic Republic has been the lack of job creation, with jobless growth even increasing during oil booms. Unemployment rates remain high, especially among the youth, university graduates, and women. Officially, every eighth Iranian is unemployed. According to the Iranian parliament’s research center, the unemployment rate will reach 16% by 2021 in an optimistic scenario, 26% if conditions are less auspicious. Among the youth, one in four is unemployed (but some estimates go as high as 40%). These figures rank Iran’s youth unemployment rate as among the highest worldwide.

Iran’s Gini index of income inequality has remained consistently high at above 0.40, pointing to the lack of inclusive economic growth. Studying levels of inequality in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani found that inequality in 2002 was about the same as in 1972, adding:

The findings on inequality raise important questions about the nature of the Islamic Revolution. Did it significantly affect the power structure as a social revolution of its magnitude should have? This is particularly relevant in the case of Iran because, in addition to changes in the distribution of productivity, the distribution of access to oil rents also affects inequality. Since access is directly related to political power, inequality may reflect the distribution of power. Thus, the finding that inequality in 2002 was about the same as in 1972 raises questions about the significance of the Islamic Revolution as a social and political revolution.

In other words, the class character of Iranian society has remained unchanged, with one ruling class replaced by another only with another social composition. In political cartoons, this was reflected in pictures of the shah’s crown merely being replaced by the mullahs’ turban. Such continuity led some scholars to interpret the 1979 revolution as merely a “passive revolution, a revolution without change” in class relations. Today, there is a strong public perception of high income inequality, given the ostentatious display of wealth and nepotism by the offspring of regime affiliates, the so-called âghâzâdeh, that Iranians observe on the streets of Tehran or on their smartphones through Instagram accounts like “Rich Kids of Tehran.”

The Islamic Republic’s relative achievements in the fields of rural infrastructure, education, and literacy, along with its failure to create jobs, have produced a socio-economic paradox that is politically explosive. Iran’s job market can simply not absorb the hundreds of thousands of university graduates. This paradox has produced a stratum of “middle-class poor,” as described by sociologist Asef Bayat. Defined as those with middle-class qualifications and aspirations but suffering from socio-economic precarity, this group was considered the social base of the 2017-18 uprising and is widely expected to continue to voice its anger and frustration.

On the situation of Iran’s youth under the Islamic Republic, Bayat explained in a 2016 interview:

The youth not only want a secure future—that is reasonable jobs, a place to live, get married, and form a family in the future—they also want to reclaim their “youthfulness,” a desire to live the life of youth, to pursue their interests, their individuality, free from the watchful eyes of their elders, from moral and political authority. This dimension of young people’s lives adds to the existing social tensions in Iran.

As alluded to before, Iranians face another structural impediment to socio-economic opportunities. Regime “insiders” (khodi) or those with access to state resources and privileges also enjoy privileged access to jobs. These frustrations have led many young Iranians to vote with their feet. Even under the Rouhani administration, Iran has continued to experience world record-breaking levels of brain drain, losing an estimated $150 billion per year.

Inside Iran: What Iranians think of stand-off with US

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Inside Iran: What Iranians think of stand-off with US

Media caption Inside Iran: Iranians on Trump and the nuclear deal

As tensions rise between Iran, the US and its allies, the BBC has been given rare access to Iran.

Iranians remain furious that US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal last year and has imposed crushing sanctions on the country.

BBC correspondent Martin Patience, along with cameraman Nik Millard and producer Cara Swift, have been in Tehran and the holy city of Qom, talking to Iranians about the escalating crisis.

While in country, recording access was controlled – as with all foreign media the team was accompanied by a government representative at all times.

Tehran hills
Image caption The hills provide respite from the heat and the pollution that choke Tehran

Even in the sweltering summer months, you can still see snow on the towering peaks of the Alborz mountains that form the stunning backdrop to the Iranian capital.

Tehran’s wealthiest suburbs cling to the slopes, which provide respite from the heat and the pollution that choke this city of almost nine million people.

At the weekends, many Iranians – young and old – take to the trails with their rucksacks and hiking sticks to leave the city behind them. But even up in the clean mountain air there is no escape from the US sanctions.

“Who’s not suffering?” asks one man rhetorically. As if to make the point, he shows me his climbing clip, hanging from his belt. It now cost four times what it did a year ago.

Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran last year after he unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

The US president said the previous deal was too generous to Iran and gave the country a free hand to develop ballistic missiles and meddle in the Middle East.

Mr Trump wants to use “maximum pressure” to force Iran back to the negotiating table. Many fear it could lead to conflict.

Iran is furious. It feels betrayed by the US and abandoned by European countries that still support the deal – the UK, France and Germany.

America’s decision has strengthened the hardliners here who say that Washington should never have been trusted in the first place. That mistrust of the US (and the UK) runs deep in Iran.

Hadi (red shirt, on the right)
Image caption Hadi (right) says the US sanctions have united Iranian liberals and conservatives

“We Iranians have a very long history, and we’re always standing up against difficulties,” says Hadi, who runs one of the small cafes that offer refreshments to passing hikers.

His cafe is half-built, there is a tarpaulin for a roof, but he invites me inside for tea and fruits – cherries, apricots and watermelon.

Hadi says that the Americans thought the sanctions would lead to rioting and the Iranian government would have no choice but to compromise.

But he says the sanctions have done the exact opposite uniting both liberals and conservatives across the country.

“We have national unity here, and the more difficult the situation the more united the people become.”

Media caption The BBC’s James Landale went to Tehran’s Grand Bazaar last November to see what people think of the stringent sanctions

Away from the mountains and down below in the hazy fog of Tehran’s sprawling southern suburbs is where sanctions are being felt hardest.

It is a maze of narrow alleyways and homes piled on top of each other. This is where Iran’s working classes live.

They were already on the margins before sanctions but the past year has tipped many of them over the edge.

Food prices have more than doubled and because the economy is slumping many are struggling to find work and make ends meet.

“I’m not sure what Donald Trump gains by hurting us,” said Zohreh Farzaneh, a mother-of-three who folds clothes for living. She makes about $2 (£1.60) a day.

She says the sanctions have plunged her family into poverty and that she can no longer afford meat for family or an inhaler for her asthma.

She’s sending her 11-year-old son to a charity so that he can get at least one decent meal a day. The humiliation that she feels at having to ask for help pains her.

“We thank god that we have a piece of bread and cheese to eat,” she told me. “At least we have peace in Iran – there’s no war.”

Every Iranian I spoke to on this 10-day trip believed it was unlikely there would be a war with the United States, despite tensions escalating after the US blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and Iran shot down of a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikholislam said that was because it war was in neither country’s interest.

“There is not going to be a war. Of course, it’s possible somebody will make a mistake. But we do not want a war.

“And I believe that Mr Trump understands a war is not in his favour because a war against us means dead American soldiers – and he is not ready to make a funeral in Washington DC,” Mr Sheikholislam said.

Iranians hike on a trail
Image caption Hiking is a popular pastime for many Iranians

Back on the mountain, I keep pushing higher up the trail, passing a stream gushing with crystal clear water.

I met a young woman, Nasim, who was hiking with a group of friends.

I asked her what she thought of President Trump. She laughed. She raised her hands, palms turned upwards, gesturing that she didn’t know what to say.

But then what she said surprised me.

“Maybe it would even be better for us if a war happens,” she said.

I asked: Why would someone want war?

“It might actually lead to a change in our ruling system. It might lead to a better situation. But if it’s going to lead to a civil war then no, it’s not going to be good at all,” she replied.

In 2009, people like Nasim, took to the streets in protest after the disputed re-election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It was dubbed the “Green Revolution”, after the colour used by one of the defeated opposition presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been held under house arrest since then.

The authorities cracked down hard on the mass protests and insist there is no powerful opposition movement in Iran.

But this is a country of many political opinions.

You have the hardline religious conservatives, as well as liberals – and probably a majority of Iranians who just want to keep their heads down. It’s these divisions that President Trump believes he can exploit.

Make no mistake, it’s the hardliners who run this country.

But when Iran is confronted by America, most Iranians, conservative or liberal, will put their country first.

US House votes to limit Trump’s ability to strike Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US House votes to limit Trump’s ability to strike Iran

Over two dozen Republicans join bipartisan proposal requiring president to get authorization from Congress before taking military action; White House vows to veto measure

US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One as he departs July 12, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One as he departs July 12, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted Friday to put a liberalized stamp on Pentagon policy, including a bipartisan proposal to limit US President Donald Trump’s authority to make war against Iran.

The measure passed along party lines after a series of votes that pushed it further to the left. Among them was a 251-170 tally to require Trump get authorization from Congress to conduct military strikes against Iran, along with a repeal of a 2002 law authorizing the war in Iraq.

More than two dozen Republicans joined with Democrats on the Iran vote. Trump last month came within minutes of launching a missile strike against Iran in retaliation for Tehran’s downing of a US drone.

The broader measure passed by a 220-197 vote after several other provisions were tacked on by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, which had been upset by leadership’s handling of a border bill last month.

US Marines training on the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, May 18, 2019, deployed in the Gulf of Arabia “to respond to contingencies and to defend US forces and interests in the region.” (MCS Jason Waite/US Navy)

“On the floor, the bill has taken a radical left turn,” said Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “There’s good and bad in this bill… but it’s moving in a direction that does make America less safe.”

The Trump administration has promised to veto the House measure. The Senate passed its own bill last month. Lawmakers will try to reconcile the competing versions in what could be lengthy negotiations given the differences.

The House measure, which cuts Trump’s request for the military by $17 billion to $725 billion, is still too rich for some progressives. They also balk at its continued funding of overseas military operations.

But the measure includes Democratic priorities such as a ban on transferring new detainees to the Guantanamo Bay prison and a denial of Trump’s request for $88 million to build a new prison at the base. It removes a ban against transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States that was enacted when Democrats controlled Congress in the early years of the Obama administration.

Republicans are less critical about the measure’s overall cost than with its contents, especially in military readiness accounts.

It would ban the deployment of a new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear missile and block the administration from shifting military money to a US-Mexico border wall.

“It’s a bill that I think Democrats should be happy with,” said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. “It’s not everything they want but we need to pass it to say, ‘This is our position,’ to move the ball in the direction we want.”

Other provisions are broadly popular, including a 3.1% pay raise for military service members and authorization to procure new weapons systems, and expanded health and child benefits for military families.

Another provision would deliver 12 weeks of paid family leave to all federal workers.

Two F/A-18E Super Hornets launch from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Mediterranean Sea while the ship travels to the Persian gulf, April 25, 2019. (US Navy/Matt Herbst)

The measure comes as the US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East, and fears are growing of a wider conflict after mysterious oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz blamed on Iran, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran’s downing of the US military drone.

Iran has recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in response to Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the accord a year ago.

The US has also re-imposed tough sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent its currency plummeting.

Iran has said its breaches of the nuclear pact can be reversed if the other parties to the agreement — Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union — can come up with enough economic incentives to effectively offset the American sanctions.

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JULY 13, 2019
CURRENT TOP STORIES
PROFILEFATHER OF FOUR STILL LIVES IN HIS PARENTS’ HOME IN TAYIBE

For 1st Arab head of major Israeli bank, breaking down barriers is second nature

Five lessons on success and excellence to learn from the story of Samer Haj Yehia, Bank Leumi’s new chairman of the board

Chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, Samer Haj Yehia (courtesy)

Chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, Samer Haj Yehia (courtesy)

Let’s clear something up right from the get-go: Samer Haj Yehia, who was recently named the chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, made a significant crack in the glass ceiling. This marks the first time a major Israeli bank has appointed an Arab chairman.

The dozens of news items and social media posts focusing on Haj Yehia’s career overflow with (entirely justified) praise for the brilliant 49-year-old economist, who managed to overcome numerous obstacles as he made his way from his birthplace of Tayibe, an Arab city in central Israel, to having one of Israel’s top economy positions.

In fact — so thick is the glass ceiling he managed to shatter — that from now on, his name is likely to come up in every debate, discussion, or symposium dealing with the integration of Arabs into Israeli society.

A lawyer and certified public accountant, Haj Yehia is slated to take office on July 21, replacing David Brodet, who chaired the board for the past nine years. It is important to stress that no one questions whether Haj Yahya is worthy of this prestigious appointment. His nomination – approved by a majority vote of five in favor and three against – is free of any claim of affirmative action or political correctness, as the boards of directors of banks simply don’t bother with such matters. Their sole focus is on ensuring the bank’s success.

Illustrative image: Israelis walk next to Bank Leumi in Jerusalem on November 16, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The other three contenders for the position – ex-Finance Ministry director-general and current Israel Oil Refineries Executive Chairman Ohad Marani, former Teva Pharmaceuticals Deputy CEO Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shmuel Ben Zvi, and former Discount Bank Capital Markets and Investments head Dr. Yitzhak Sharir – sufficed with one vote each.

That’s how you smash through the glass ceiling with style.

Haj Yehia’s nomination earned praise left and right. “It’s about time the Israeli government follows in Bank Leumi’s footsteps. Unfortunately, had Samer been vying for a position in the public sector, I’m afraid he wouldn’t have made it,” Tayibe Mayor Sha’a Mansour Massarwa told newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also rushed to congratulate Haj Yehia, tweeting, “I welcome Dr. Samer Haj Yehia’s appointment as chairman of the board of directors at Bank Leumi and wish him the best of luck!”

But congratulations aside, Haj Yehia’s personal background deserves a second glance. Before we Israelis pat ourselves on the back and feel reassured that the bank’s move proves that we are not as racist as we may seem, it’s worth mentioning that this impressive achievement – marked before he turned 50 – is first and foremost a personal feat that, if not for a set of extraordinary personal circumstances, may have remained out of reach.

And so, in the spirit of the coaching culture, here are five lessons on success and excellence one can learn from the story of Haj Yehia.

1. It’s best to be born a male

There’s no easy way to say this, and I apologize in advance to anyone who is already outraged and may be ready to write a virulent response, but gender plays a role in this story.

Haj Yehia still lives – with his wife and four children – in his mother’s house in Tayibe. Fatina Haj Yehia, now 74, is a retired schoolteacher. Haj Yehia’s wife, Eden, is an English teacher who works at a school in Ra’anana. His mother’s sister, Sawad Jabareh, who guided this reporter through the ins and outs of the Haj Yehia family, is also a retired teacher.

Samer Haj Yehia has been appointed the chairman of the board of Bank Leumi Le-Israel Ltd. (Courtesy)

Teaching is a noble profession, of course, and certainly one of the more important careers, but it doesn’t exactly require shattering glass ceilings, which is the issue at hand.

The first person to smash through the glass ceiling in the family was Samer’s father, Dr. Mohammed Saleem Haj Yahia, who was one of the first Arab students at Tel Aviv University. He majored in criminology and became a probation officer, handling many cases involving youth from the Tayibe area.

Fatina always wanted a daughter but had four sons. Each of Samer’s brothers has three sons. His older brother, Prof. Saleem Haj Yahia, is a renowned international heart surgeon who lives in Scotland, where he heads the national heart transplant program. His younger brother, Rani Haj Yehia, who also lives in Tayibe, is a finance attorney who heads the Jordan Gateway Free Zone and Industrial Park project.

The fourth brother, Saji, was an engineering major at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He was killed in a car accident at the entrance to Tayibe in 1998. Samer Haj Yehia named his firstborn son after him.

Among the many congratulatory calls Haj Yehia received following his nomination were some from relatives who are doing well overseas, including a professor of pharmacology from the University of South Carolina and a senior official in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Haj Yehia and his wife, Eden, are the parents of four sons, the youngest of whom was born three months ago. Their two eldest boys, Saji and Bassel, attend the gifted students’ program at the Eastern Mediterranean International School in central Israel, and it wouldn’t be much of a gamble to assume that they, too, will make something of themselves, perhaps even shattering more unnecessary glass ceilings as they go. But unless some fundamental changes take place in Israel, it is also likely they may end up marrying teachers.

“They’re all geniuses. Samer’s son isn’t even two years old and he reads in English at a 10-year-old’s level,” his aunt Jabareh said. “He’s truly extraordinary. He can read the entire English alphabet and he speaks Arabic and English.”

2. It’s best to be born rich

Like the previous statement, this, too, almost goes without saying. This also has more to do with fate and luck, and while it may not guarantee success, different circumstances clearly make the road to success harder.

The Haj Yehia family isn’t only the biggest family in Tayibe – the extended clan numbers 6,000 and counting – they are also one of its most affluent families.

“They are a rich family, very rich,” Jabareh said. “They have land, lots of land. Samar’s paternal grandfather was a very rich man, and he left his children a sizable estate. Samer grew up like a kid in Kfar Shmaryahu [an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv]. He traveled and he was pampered. He never lacked for anything.

“Their life was something else, something very different from other children in Tayibe,” she continued, referring to Samer and his brothers. “In Tayibe, when a child wants a toy, he doesn’t always get it. They always got what they wanted. Well, maybe not all the time, but if they asked for something reasonable, they’d get it.

An Arab Israeli woman casts her vote during elections for the Knesset on April 9, 2019, at a polling station in the northern town of Tayibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“They really lacked for nothing. They grew up then the way children grow up now – they have everything except good education. Samer lacked for nothing and he received an excellent education. He once said he was privileged to be able to teach other children, and he has done very well in doing that,” said his aunt.

3. A warm and supporting family is everything

This is the first lesson in our journey toward shattering the glass ceiling that is somewhat under our control. There is no doubt that being financially secure helps keep a family together, but we are no strangers to stories about wealthy families whose members seek to take each other down rather than lift each other up, something that is always a grave mistake.

The Haj Yehia family presents a different model. It is not a coincidence that Samer and his family still live in the family home in Tayibe, with his mother. It is hard to believe that there’s another chairman of a large bank anywhere else in the world, who still lives in his childhood home.

“They are an ideal family,” Jabareh said. “The brothers are very close to each other and close to their mother. They were also very close to their father. They’re really a very close-knit family, always supportive of each other. They always encourage each other, ‘Yes, go for it, don’t be afraid, do it.’ And it helped them all, very much, to get to where they are today.”

Haj Yehia’s father died of a stroke a year ago.

A view of Taibe (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A view of Tayibe. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“Samer was in charge of his care until his very last day. He [the father] died at Meir Hospital [in central Israel] and Samer was the only one by his side,” she added. “I told Samer, ‘You knew your dad was dying, why didn’t you tell anyone?’ And he said, ‘Because I wanted to talk to him. He could hear me. I had many things I wanted to say to him before he died.’ We don’t know what he said. He loved his father very much.”

Jabareh said that back when they were all children, she used to envy the brothers.

“They were constantly spoiled. My father, Samer’s grandfather, always gave him special treatment. Even when he fell ill, he asked for Samer. ‘Bring Samer to me, I want to see Samer.’ He would always feel better after seeing him. Samer was also very close to his grandfather. He loved him very much,” said Jabareh.

“There was a time when their mother was alone at home. All four sons were in boarding schools outside Tayibe, and she would prepare food for everyone and bring it to them. She worked – she would work all week and go home only to cook for the children and then travel between their boarding schools to bring them food.

“When Samer was studying in university in Jerusalem he wouldn’t come home to Tayibe every weekend, he preferred to stay and study in the library. He didn’t have a roommate because he wanted to be able to study in peace. His mother would go to Jerusalem to bring him food. It was like that all the time,” Jabareh said.

4. Stand firm against pressure from your environment

Even with the support of family, your environment can still pull you down. Samer’s father, who as a probation officer supervised many paroled criminals in the Tayibe area, was familiar with the perils posed by his children’s surroundings and made sure all four attended boarding school outside the city, sending them to the Al Mutran Christian High School in Nazareth.

“It was a very good school, very few families can afford to send their children there,” Jabareh said. “Samer and his brothers were exceptional in Tayibe in every way – in their behavior, their education, even in how they dressed. Going to school in Nazareth – no one else went there. It was expensive and far away.”

Still, Haj Yehia proved to be exceptional from a very young age.

“It was clear that he was gifted. Everyone saw it, not just us. His kindergarten teachers and schoolteachers, too. A few days ago I ran into one of his teachers from third grade. She told me, ‘I knew, even in third grade, that he was destined to do great things. I used to give them [the children] arithmetic problems and he would solve them before I would finish explaining to the class what to do. He was always like that.’”

It is hard to distinguish between the retroactive compliments with which anyone who garners professional achievement is inundated, and reality. In Tayibe, Haj Yehia is a superstar, the subject of excited wedding conversations and social media posts. In his case, everyone knows that these compliments are grounded in reality, as he has always stood out from the crowd, shining brighter from day one.

Isaac Herzog outside the Knesset. (Courtesy)

By the time he turned 30, Haj Yehia had no less than five degrees under his belt, including in law, economics, and accounting. Current Jewish Agency director and then-partner at Herzog Fox Ne’eman Isaac Herzog mentored him during his internship at what is one of the most prestigious law firms in Israel.

Haj Yehia then set off for the United States, completing a doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and embarking on a successful career in the financial world. At the age of 37 he was named the vice president of Boston-based Fidelity Investments, one of the largest multinational financial services corporations in the world. He also served as a lecturer in economics at MIT and Harvard University.

Seven years ago, Haj Yehia gave into his longing for Israel and the family left its comfortable life in Boston and returned to Tayibe. He also felt that his older children were becoming Americans and he didn’t like it.

Back in Israel, he enrolled Saji and Bassel in a local school, to help them reconnect with their hometown and the Arabic language, and later on sent them to school outside Taiybe, as his father did with him.

After his return, many in Tayibe pressured him to enter local politics.

According to Jabareh, “People here wanted him to be mayor, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Many people were angry with him for declining the offer – they saw him as someone who could save Tayibe from all of its financial problems. Very senior members of the Haj Yehia family, who are involved in local politics, pressed him about it, but he showed no interest. I kept telling him, ‘Don’t go into Tayibe [politics]. It’s crazy. Don’t do it.’”

Mayor of Tayibe Sha’a Mansour Massarwa (Dov Lieber / Times of Israel)

Tayibe is the only city in Israel to be declared insolvent twice, in 1999 and again in 2007, as years of municipal mismanagement have seen it amass nearly NIS 1 billion (roughly $280 million) in debt. In 2013, six years after a trustee was appointed to oversee the city’s finances, a settlement was reached with its creditors for NIS 130 million ($36 million) – 14% of its outstanding debt, which at the time amounted to NIS 931 million ($260 million). The city has since been slowly recovering from its financial woes, but its politics remain tumultuous.

“I know what the municipality is like in Tayibe, the kind of respect the mayor of Tayibe commands, and I still didn’t want Samer to go anywhere near it,” Jabareh said. “I told him, ‘There are plenty of good jobs out there for you. Don’t go into it [politics]. If you do, everyone will end up hating you.’ So he declined the offer and shortly afterward, they [Bank Leumi] offered him a job.”

5. Strive higher, stay motivated, continue to learn and grow

Haj Yehia’s parents encouraged their children to study and work. If there is one thing that can predict success in life – that must be it. Aside from his academic and practical career as a criminologist, his father continued to work the family’s five acres of land, and demanded that his children work on the farm as well.

This had no financial justification, only an educational one – teaching the value of hard work. Rani, Haj Yehia’s younger brother, recently revealed that he and his brothers still work on the family farm on weekends.

Haj Yehia needed little pushing or encouragement. Growing up, he had only a few friends and preferred spending time at home, reading and writing.

As a child, he seemed to be innately motivated, said Jabareh.

“He would come home from school and sit down to do his homework, without his mom or dad telling him he had to do it. They never had to tell him,” she said, recalling a childhood incident that can, perhaps, offer a glimpse into the nature of Bank Leumi’s new chairman.

Illustrative image: Withdrawing money at Bank Leumi on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, January 18, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“I came over to their house one day and his father was working on some kind of university paper and he was using one of those old-fashion calculators. Samer, who was in the fifth or sixth grade, walked up to him, took the calculator from his father’s hand and said, ‘If you use it your mind will stop working. Throw it away and only use your head.’ So yes, he was always like this since childhood.”

Still, she would not venture a guess as to whether Haj Yehia he will use his new position to fight the racism and discrimination plaguing Arabs in Israeli society.

“I don’t know about that,” she said. “I know little about banking and economics, but knowing Samer, I have faith that he’ll try. He’s an idealist.”

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Hezbollah wars that Israel could be ‘wiped out’ in war between US and Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Nasrallah warns Israel could be ‘wiped out’ in war between US and Iran

Hezbollah leader says Tehran has ability to ‘bombard Israel with ferocity and force,’ claims group has bolstered its arsenal with precision missiles that can reach Eilat

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

The head of the Hezbollah terror group warned Friday that Israel would be drawn into any war between the US and Iran and could be “wiped out” in such a conflict.

“Iran is able to bombard Israel with ferocity and force,” Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview broadcast on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television.

“When the Americans understand that this war could wipe out Israel, they will reconsider,” Nasrallah said.

His comments came amid soaring tensions between the US and Iran and just hours after US House of Representatives voted to restrict US President Donald Trump’s ability to attack Iran, voicing fear that his hawkish policies are pushing toward a needless war.

It was not immediately clear if Nasrallah was referring to Iran’s arsenal of long-range missiles or the tens of thousands of rockets and missiles that Iran has supplied the Lebanese Hezbollah.

In this photo provided November 5, 2018, by the Iranian Army, a Sayyad 2 missile is fired by the Talash air defense system during drills in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iranian Army via AP)

Earlier in the interview Nasrallah said his Iran-backed group had significantly improved its military capabilities since the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

“Our weapons have been developed in both quality and quantity, we have precision missiles and drones,” he said in the interview to mark 13 years since the war.

During the interview Nasrallah held a map of Israel and pointed to strategic targets, which he said Hezbollah could hit, including Ben Gurion Airport, arms depots, petrochemical and water desalinization plants, and the Ashdod port.

He also claimed his missiles could hit the southern Israeli city of Eilat on the Red Sea.

Nasrallah hinted his organization had acquired anti-aircraft missiles, saying he preferred to keep an ambiguous stance, adding that the Lebanese terror group now had “game-changing offensive capabilities and weapons.”

Israel has long warned that Hezbollah plans to try and invade northern Israel in any future war and recently uncovered several attack tunnels built deep into Israel that were supposed to allow their fighters to enter into Israel.

Hezbollah supporters take part in a rally to mark al-Quds day in Beirut, Lebanon, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

However, Nasrallah said he was confident there would not be a war, because Israel feared the consequences.

He also said regional players were working to prevent a war between the US and Iran. “Our collective responsibility in the region is to work towards preventing an American war on Iran,” he said.

He said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had no interest in a conflict erupting.

In recent weeks the US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East, and fears are growing of a wider conflict after mysterious oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz blamed on Iran, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran’s downing of the US military drone.

The USS Abraham Lincoln sails south in the Suez canal near Ismailia toward the Persian Gulf, May 9, 2019. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

Iran has recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in response to Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the accord a year ago.

The US has also re-imposed tough sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent its currency plummeting.

Nasrallah also said that the group had recently begun withdrawing it’s fighters that were supporting the Damascus regime in neighboring war-torn Syria.

“We are present in every area that we used to be. We are still there, but we don’t need to be there in large numbers as long as there is no practical need,” he said.

The head of the Iran-backed Shiite movement, which has been fighting in Syria since 2013, did no quantify the extent of the reduction.

A Hezbollah armored vehicle sits at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Wadi al-Kheil or al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Backed by Russia and Iran, the Damascus government has taken back large swathes of territory from rebels and jihadists since 2015, and now controls around 60 percent of the country.

Nasrallah said none of his fighters were currently involved in fighting in Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib, where regime and Russian forces have increased deadly bombardment on a jihadist-run bastion since late April.

He spoke after Washington announced fresh sanctions Tuesday against Hezbollah, targeting elected officials from the movement for the first time.

“All dealings with the Syria file has nothing to do with the sanctions or the financial austerity,” he said.

Hezbollah is considered to be a terrorist organisation by the United States, and is the only faction not to have disarmed after the Lebanese 1975-1990 civil war.

But it is also a major political player in the small Mediterranean country, taking 13 seats in parliament last year and securing three posts in the current cabinet.

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COMMENTS

JULY 13, 2019
CURRENT TOP STORIES
PROFILEFATHER OF FOUR STILL LIVES IN HIS PARENTS’ HOME IN TAYIBE

For 1st Arab head of major Israeli bank, breaking down barriers is second nature

Five lessons on success and excellence to learn from the story of Samer Haj Yehia, Bank Leumi’s new chairman of the board

Chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, Samer Haj Yehia (courtesy)

Chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, Samer Haj Yehia (courtesy)

Let’s clear something up right from the get-go: Samer Haj Yehia, who was recently named the chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, made a significant crack in the glass ceiling. This marks the first time a major Israeli bank has appointed an Arab chairman.

The dozens of news items and social media posts focusing on Haj Yehia’s career overflow with (entirely justified) praise for the brilliant 49-year-old economist, who managed to overcome numerous obstacles as he made his way from his birthplace of Tayibe, an Arab city in central Israel, to having one of Israel’s top economy positions.

In fact — so thick is the glass ceiling he managed to shatter — that from now on, his name is likely to come up in every debate, discussion, or symposium dealing with the integration of Arabs into Israeli society.

A lawyer and certified public accountant, Haj Yehia is slated to take office on July 21, replacing David Brodet, who chaired the board for the past nine years. It is important to stress that no one questions whether Haj Yahya is worthy of this prestigious appointment. His nomination – approved by a majority vote of five in favor and three against – is free of any claim of affirmative action or political correctness, as the boards of directors of banks simply don’t bother with such matters. Their sole focus is on ensuring the bank’s success.

Illustrative image: Israelis walk next to Bank Leumi in Jerusalem on November 16, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The other three contenders for the position – ex-Finance Ministry director-general and current Israel Oil Refineries Executive Chairman Ohad Marani, former Teva Pharmaceuticals Deputy CEO Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shmuel Ben Zvi, and former Discount Bank Capital Markets and Investments head Dr. Yitzhak Sharir – sufficed with one vote each.

That’s how you smash through the glass ceiling with style.

Haj Yehia’s nomination earned praise left and right. “It’s about time the Israeli government follows in Bank Leumi’s footsteps. Unfortunately, had Samer been vying for a position in the public sector, I’m afraid he wouldn’t have made it,” Tayibe Mayor Sha’a Mansour Massarwa told newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also rushed to congratulate Haj Yehia, tweeting, “I welcome Dr. Samer Haj Yehia’s appointment as chairman of the board of directors at Bank Leumi and wish him the best of luck!”

But congratulations aside, Haj Yehia’s personal background deserves a second glance. Before we Israelis pat ourselves on the back and feel reassured that the bank’s move proves that we are not as racist as we may seem, it’s worth mentioning that this impressive achievement – marked before he turned 50 – is first and foremost a personal feat that, if not for a set of extraordinary personal circumstances, may have remained out of reach.

And so, in the spirit of the coaching culture, here are five lessons on success and excellence one can learn from the story of Haj Yehia.

1. It’s best to be born a male

There’s no easy way to say this, and I apologize in advance to anyone who is already outraged and may be ready to write a virulent response, but gender plays a role in this story.

Haj Yehia still lives – with his wife and four children – in his mother’s house in Tayibe. Fatina Haj Yehia, now 74, is a retired schoolteacher. Haj Yehia’s wife, Eden, is an English teacher who works at a school in Ra’anana. His mother’s sister, Sawad Jabareh, who guided this reporter through the ins and outs of the Haj Yehia family, is also a retired teacher.

Samer Haj Yehia has been appointed the chairman of the board of Bank Leumi Le-Israel Ltd. (Courtesy)

Teaching is a noble profession, of course, and certainly one of the more important careers, but it doesn’t exactly require shattering glass ceilings, which is the issue at hand.

The first person to smash through the glass ceiling in the family was Samer’s father, Dr. Mohammed Saleem Haj Yahia, who was one of the first Arab students at Tel Aviv University. He majored in criminology and became a probation officer, handling many cases involving youth from the Tayibe area.

Fatina always wanted a daughter but had four sons. Each of Samer’s brothers has three sons. His older brother, Prof. Saleem Haj Yahia, is a renowned international heart surgeon who lives in Scotland, where he heads the national heart transplant program. His younger brother, Rani Haj Yehia, who also lives in Tayibe, is a finance attorney who heads the Jordan Gateway Free Zone and Industrial Park project.

The fourth brother, Saji, was an engineering major at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He was killed in a car accident at the entrance to Tayibe in 1998. Samer Haj Yehia named his firstborn son after him.

Among the many congratulatory calls Haj Yehia received following his nomination were some from relatives who are doing well overseas, including a professor of pharmacology from the University of South Carolina and a senior official in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Haj Yehia and his wife, Eden, are the parents of four sons, the youngest of whom was born three months ago. Their two eldest boys, Saji and Bassel, attend the gifted students’ program at the Eastern Mediterranean International School in central Israel, and it wouldn’t be much of a gamble to assume that they, too, will make something of themselves, perhaps even shattering more unnecessary glass ceilings as they go. But unless some fundamental changes take place in Israel, it is also likely they may end up marrying teachers.

“They’re all geniuses. Samer’s son isn’t even two years old and he reads in English at a 10-year-old’s level,” his aunt Jabareh said. “He’s truly extraordinary. He can read the entire English alphabet and he speaks Arabic and English.”

2. It’s best to be born rich

Like the previous statement, this, too, almost goes without saying. This also has more to do with fate and luck, and while it may not guarantee success, different circumstances clearly make the road to success harder.

The Haj Yehia family isn’t only the biggest family in Tayibe – the extended clan numbers 6,000 and counting – they are also one of its most affluent families.

“They are a rich family, very rich,” Jabareh said. “They have land, lots of land. Samar’s paternal grandfather was a very rich man, and he left his children a sizable estate. Samer grew up like a kid in Kfar Shmaryahu [an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv]. He traveled and he was pampered. He never lacked for anything.

“Their life was something else, something very different from other children in Tayibe,” she continued, referring to Samer and his brothers. “In Tayibe, when a child wants a toy, he doesn’t always get it. They always got what they wanted. Well, maybe not all the time, but if they asked for something reasonable, they’d get it.

An Arab Israeli woman casts her vote during elections for the Knesset on April 9, 2019, at a polling station in the northern town of Tayibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“They really lacked for nothing. They grew up then the way children grow up now – they have everything except good education. Samer lacked for nothing and he received an excellent education. He once said he was privileged to be able to teach other children, and he has done very well in doing that,” said his aunt.

3. A warm and supporting family is everything

This is the first lesson in our journey toward shattering the glass ceiling that is somewhat under our control. There is no doubt that being financially secure helps keep a family together, but we are no strangers to stories about wealthy families whose members seek to take each other down rather than lift each other up, something that is always a grave mistake.

The Haj Yehia family presents a different model. It is not a coincidence that Samer and his family still live in the family home in Tayibe, with his mother. It is hard to believe that there’s another chairman of a large bank anywhere else in the world, who still lives in his childhood home.

“They are an ideal family,” Jabareh said. “The brothers are very close to each other and close to their mother. They were also very close to their father. They’re really a very close-knit family, always supportive of each other. They always encourage each other, ‘Yes, go for it, don’t be afraid, do it.’ And it helped them all, very much, to get to where they are today.”

Haj Yehia’s father died of a stroke a year ago.

A view of Taibe (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A view of Tayibe. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“Samer was in charge of his care until his very last day. He [the father] died at Meir Hospital [in central Israel] and Samer was the only one by his side,” she added. “I told Samer, ‘You knew your dad was dying, why didn’t you tell anyone?’ And he said, ‘Because I wanted to talk to him. He could hear me. I had many things I wanted to say to him before he died.’ We don’t know what he said. He loved his father very much.”

Jabareh said that back when they were all children, she used to envy the brothers.

“They were constantly spoiled. My father, Samer’s grandfather, always gave him special treatment. Even when he fell ill, he asked for Samer. ‘Bring Samer to me, I want to see Samer.’ He would always feel better after seeing him. Samer was also very close to his grandfather. He loved him very much,” said Jabareh.

“There was a time when their mother was alone at home. All four sons were in boarding schools outside Tayibe, and she would prepare food for everyone and bring it to them. She worked – she would work all week and go home only to cook for the children and then travel between their boarding schools to bring them food.

“When Samer was studying in university in Jerusalem he wouldn’t come home to Tayibe every weekend, he preferred to stay and study in the library. He didn’t have a roommate because he wanted to be able to study in peace. His mother would go to Jerusalem to bring him food. It was like that all the time,” Jabareh said.

4. Stand firm against pressure from your environment

Even with the support of family, your environment can still pull you down. Samer’s father, who as a probation officer supervised many paroled criminals in the Tayibe area, was familiar with the perils posed by his children’s surroundings and made sure all four attended boarding school outside the city, sending them to the Al Mutran Christian High School in Nazareth.

“It was a very good school, very few families can afford to send their children there,” Jabareh said. “Samer and his brothers were exceptional in Tayibe in every way – in their behavior, their education, even in how they dressed. Going to school in Nazareth – no one else went there. It was expensive and far away.”

Still, Haj Yehia proved to be exceptional from a very young age.

“It was clear that he was gifted. Everyone saw it, not just us. His kindergarten teachers and schoolteachers, too. A few days ago I ran into one of his teachers from third grade. She told me, ‘I knew, even in third grade, that he was destined to do great things. I used to give them [the children] arithmetic problems and he would solve them before I would finish explaining to the class what to do. He was always like that.’”

It is hard to distinguish between the retroactive compliments with which anyone who garners professional achievement is inundated, and reality. In Tayibe, Haj Yehia is a superstar, the subject of excited wedding conversations and social media posts. In his case, everyone knows that these compliments are grounded in reality, as he has always stood out from the crowd, shining brighter from day one.

Isaac Herzog outside the Knesset. (Courtesy)

By the time he turned 30, Haj Yehia had no less than five degrees under his belt, including in law, economics, and accounting. Current Jewish Agency director and then-partner at Herzog Fox Ne’eman Isaac Herzog mentored him during his internship at what is one of the most prestigious law firms in Israel.

Haj Yehia then set off for the United States, completing a doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and embarking on a successful career in the financial world. At the age of 37 he was named the vice president of Boston-based Fidelity Investments, one of the largest multinational financial services corporations in the world. He also served as a lecturer in economics at MIT and Harvard University.

Seven years ago, Haj Yehia gave into his longing for Israel and the family left its comfortable life in Boston and returned to Tayibe. He also felt that his older children were becoming Americans and he didn’t like it.

Back in Israel, he enrolled Saji and Bassel in a local school, to help them reconnect with their hometown and the Arabic language, and later on sent them to school outside Taiybe, as his father did with him.

After his return, many in Tayibe pressured him to enter local politics.

According to Jabareh, “People here wanted him to be mayor, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Many people were angry with him for declining the offer – they saw him as someone who could save Tayibe from all of its financial problems. Very senior members of the Haj Yehia family, who are involved in local politics, pressed him about it, but he showed no interest. I kept telling him, ‘Don’t go into Tayibe [politics]. It’s crazy. Don’t do it.’”

Mayor of Tayibe Sha’a Mansour Massarwa (Dov Lieber / Times of Israel)

Tayibe is the only city in Israel to be declared insolvent twice, in 1999 and again in 2007, as years of municipal mismanagement have seen it amass nearly NIS 1 billion (roughly $280 million) in debt. In 2013, six years after a trustee was appointed to oversee the city’s finances, a settlement was reached with its creditors for NIS 130 million ($36 million) – 14% of its outstanding debt, which at the time amounted to NIS 931 million ($260 million). The city has since been slowly recovering from its financial woes, but its politics remain tumultuous.

“I know what the municipality is like in Tayibe, the kind of respect the mayor of Tayibe commands, and I still didn’t want Samer to go anywhere near it,” Jabareh said. “I told him, ‘There are plenty of good jobs out there for you. Don’t go into it [politics]. If you do, everyone will end up hating you.’ So he declined the offer and shortly afterward, they [Bank Leumi] offered him a job.”

5. Strive higher, stay motivated, continue to learn and grow

Haj Yehia’s parents encouraged their children to study and work. If there is one thing that can predict success in life – that must be it. Aside from his academic and practical career as a criminologist, his father continued to work the family’s five acres of land, and demanded that his children work on the farm as well.

This had no financial justification, only an educational one – teaching the value of hard work. Rani, Haj Yehia’s younger brother, recently revealed that he and his brothers still work on the family farm on weekends.

Haj Yehia needed little pushing or encouragement. Growing up, he had only a few friends and preferred spending time at home, reading and writing.

As a child, he seemed to be innately motivated, said Jabareh.

“He would come home from school and sit down to do his homework, without his mom or dad telling him he had to do it. They never had to tell him,” she said, recalling a childhood incident that can, perhaps, offer a glimpse into the nature of Bank Leumi’s new chairman.

Illustrative image: Withdrawing money at Bank Leumi on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, January 18, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“I came over to their house one day and his father was working on some kind of university paper and he was using one of those old-fashion calculators. Samer, who was in the fifth or sixth grade, walked up to him, took the calculator from his father’s hand and said, ‘If you use it your mind will stop working. Throw it away and only use your head.’ So yes, he was always like this since childhood.”

Still, she would not venture a guess as to whether Haj Yehia he will use his new position to fight the racism and discrimination plaguing Arabs in Israeli society.

“I don’t know about that,” she said. “I know little about banking and economics, but knowing Samer, I have faith that he’ll try. He’s an idealist.”

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