Is Tehran spying on Southern California?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)

 

Is Tehran spying on Southern California? Feds say O.C. waiter and ‘Chubby’ from Long Beach were agents of Iran

Is Tehran spying on Southern California? Feds say O.C. waiter and ‘Chubby’ from Long Beach were agents of Iran
Authorities allege that two Iranians were operating in Orange County as spies on behalf of Iran. One of the men, Majid Ghorbani, worked at Darya, a popular Persian restaurant in Sana Ana, for more than 20 years. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

They seemed an unlikely pair of spies.

The older man, Majid Ghorbani, worked at a posh Persian restaurant in Santa Ana’s South Coast Village Plaza. At 59, he wore a thick gray mustache and the weary expression of a man who had served up countless plates of rice and kebab.

The younger man, Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar, was a Long Beach native who held dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship. Round-faced and bespectacled, the 38-year-old answered to the Farsi nickname “Topol,” or “Chubby.”

Yet even as the men sipped coffee at a Costa Mesa Starbucks, chatted outside an Irvine market, or made trips to Macy’s at South Coast Plaza, they were doggedly trailed by federal agents.

Despite the pair’s disarming appearance, U.S. authorities allege they were operating in Orange County as agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran — an accusation that has alarmed many in the local Persian community because it suggests tensions between the U.S. and Iran have spilled over into Southern California.

The men’s goal, authorities say, was to conduct surveillance on Israeli and Jewish facilities in the U.S., and to collect information on members of the Mujahedin Khalq, MEK, an Iranian exile group that has long sought to topple the regime in Tehran and enjoys newfound support among members of the Trump administration.

Within the span of a year — from the summer of 2017 to the spring of 2018 — authorities say the men crisscrossed Orange County and the United States, videotaping participants at MEK rallies in New York and Washington, D.C., and photographing Jewish centers in Chicago.

During that time, the men also flew back and forth between Iran and Los Angeles International Airport, and appeared to be assembling “target packages” — dossiers that would “enable an intelligence or military unit to find, fix, track and neutralize a threat,” according to documents filed in Washington, D.C., federal court.

In at least one instance, the pair were recorded by an FBI listening device as Ghorbani briefed Doostdar on a New York MEK event in September 2017, according to court documents.

“I took some pictures and collected some information of them and some senators that they are working with,” the waiter said, according to court documents. “I have prepared a package, but it is not complete.”

::

The target of the alleged spying, the MEK, is a shadowy organization with a militant past. Up until 2012, it was deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Although few Americans have heard of it, the group has vexed the Iranian government since the revolution of 1979, when members helped to overthrow the shah.

Led by a husband-and-wife power couple — Massoud and Maryam Rajavi — the group was sheltered and armed by Saddam Hussein for nearly 20 years. Known for its female-led military units, the MEK was disarmed after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Massoud Rajavi went missing that same year and is believed to be dead.

Despite a long history of lobbying U.S. lawmakers and officials for support, few have taken the group seriously — up until now, that is.

President Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, is not only a prominent hawk on Iran, he has championed the MEK. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has also supported the group.

“The MEK in recent years has spent time and money building political capital,” said Daniel Benjamin, director of Dartmouth College’s Center for International Understanding. “Bolton has been the MEK’s most dedicated long marcher.”

Although the Trump administration has not explicitly stated that it seeks regime change in Iran, it has reimposed tough economic sanctions and pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal. These actions, as well as new, cozier relations with the MEK, have apparently worried Iran enough to act against the group.

In a case similar to the one in Orange County, two Iranians in Albania were arrested in March after allegedly surveilling the MEK. In July, an Iranian diplomat in Germany was arrested on suspicion of plotting to bomb a MEK rally in Paris.

“This is escalation of Iran attempting to attack us,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, the U.S. deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran — an MEK-linked organization.

::

It is unclear how Ghorbani and Doostdar first came into contact, but investigators believe their first physical meeting occurred behind Darya, the Persian restaurant where Ghorbani had worked for more than 20 years.

Doostdar was born in Long Beach but left at a young age to move to Canada and then Iran. An energy tech consultant, Doostdar had visited the U.S. on only a few occasions, court documents say. His wife gave birth to a baby girl in late August and was hoping to bring her to the U.S.

Ghorbani, whom neighbors and co-workers described as quiet and easygoing, was born in Iran but immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. He kept mostly to himself and lived with his brother and a Pomeranian dog in a quiet Costa Mesa apartment complex not far from the restaurant.

A fellow employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the restaurant, said Ghorbani was well-liked and generous. On one occasion, Ghorbani lent money to a co-worker who was struggling, the employee said.

Investigators said Ghorbani also infiltrated meetings the MEK held at Darya. During one meetup in early August, Ghorbani met with MEK members as they discussed sending three American senators to evaluate the group’s base in Albania, according to the indictment.

Rene Redjaian, a spokeswoman for Darya, said the restaurant owners had no idea that Ghorbani was allegedly involved in spying. “Our owners love America and knew nothing about the events that took place at Darya,” Redjaian said.

As time went on, the men continued their alleged covert operation, unaware that federal agents were closing in.

In December 2017, Doostdar returned to Iran allegedly to hand over the intelligence Ghorbani had collected. Unbeknownst to him, FBI agents searched his checked luggage at LAX and found an orange and white CVS pharmacy envelope. Inside the envelope, FBI agents found photos of Ghorbani standing next to people who were at the New York City MEK rally from September 2017. Many of the photographs had names and positions of the individuals written on the back, including one photograph that had “Dr. Ahmad Rajavi, the brother of Massoud,” written on it, prosecutors said in court documents.

In March 2018, Ghorbani traveled to Iran to conduct an in-person briefing about ways to take photos for an upcoming conference supported by the MEK, prosecutors allege.

When he returned April 17, authorities found tucked in his luggage a list written in Farsi that detailed his future tasks, including deeper infiltration into the MEK and recruiting a second person, according to court documents.

The pair never succeeded in allegedly recruiting another operative, however.

On Aug. 9, FBI agents swarmed Darya restaurant and arrested Ghorbani in front of stunned co-workers.

Doostdar was arrested the same day in Chicago.

Both men have been accused of acting as agents of a foreign government without prior notification of the U.S. attorney general and with providing services to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Both men have pleaded not guilty and remain in custody.

Ghorbani’s lawyer has declined to comment on the case. Doostdar’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, said he’s suspicious about the timing of his client’s arrest considering it comes on the heels of Trump reimposing sanctions against Iran.

“There’s political machinations going on between the Trump administration and Iran. Why did the government all of a sudden decide to arrest these people?” he said.

::

The arrests of Ghorbani and Doostdar have left many in Orange County’s Persian community shaken.

“There is a sense of fear in the Iranian community that the regime in Iran are sending people to USA and keeping track of movements,” said Mike Kazemi, an Irvine immigration lawyer.

For those in the Persian community who are against the Islamic Republic but also disagree with the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran, the escalation in tensions has been disconcerting. They say it serves as a reminder of how both American and Iranian officials view members of the Iranian diaspora with suspicion.

“We are in the middle of two hard places,” Kazemi said.

Yet others in the community say they are refusing to allow geopolitics to interfere with their day-to-day lives.

Nasrin Rahimieh, a professor of humanities at UC Irvine, said she understands how recent developments might cause some Persians to feel scared of being too visible.

Throughout her career, Rahimieh said, she has been chastised for either appearing pro-Islamic Republic or anti-Islamic Republic.

But those experiences have left Rahimieh emboldened to speak out against what she said is the fear-mongering rhetoric present in today’s political environment.

“There is such rabid desire to show Iranians as bad actors and as bad agents that it’s had the opposite effect on me,” Rahimieh said. “To paint all Iranians with the same brush is something that needs to be protested.”

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Israel Said Set To Seek $250b Compensation From Arab Countries Plus Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel said set to seek $250b compensation for Jews forced out of Arab countries

After 18 months of research, first claims being finalized for reported $35b from Tunisia, $15b from Libya, for assets Jews left behind when kicked out after establishment of Israel

Jews of Aden, Yemen, awaiting evacuation to Israel on November 1, 1949. (GPO/Public domain)

Jews of Aden, Yemen, awaiting evacuation to Israel on November 1, 1949. (GPO/Public domain)

Israel is preparing to demand compensation totaling a reported $250 billion from seven Arab countries and Iran for property and assets left behind by Jews who were forced to flee those countries following the establishment of the State of Israel.

“The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms (against Jews) in seven Arab countries and Iran, and to restore, to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property, what is rightfully theirs,” Israel’s Minister for Social Equality, Gila Gamliel, who is coordinating the Israeli government’s handling of the issue, said Saturday.

According to figures cited Saturday night by Israel’s Hadashot TV news, compensation demands are now being finalized with regards to the first two of the eight countries involved, with Israel set to seek $35 billion dollars in compensation for lost Jewish assets from Tunisia, and $15 billion dollars from Libya.

In total, the TV report said Israel will seek over $250 billion from those two countries plus Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.

Yemenite Jews walking to Aden, the site of a reception camp, ahead of their emigration to Israel, 1949. (Kluger Zoltan/Israeli National Photo Archive/public domain)

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), an international umbrella group of Jewish community organizations, has estimated that some 856,000 Jews from 10 Arab countries — the other two were Algeria and Lebanon — fled or were expelled in 1948 and after, while violent Arab riots left many Jews dead or injured.

For the past 18 months, utilizing the services of an international accountancy firm, the Israeli government has quietly been researching the value of property and assets that these Jews were forced to leave behind, the TV report said.

Immigrants from Iraq soon after landing at Lod Airport, summer 1951 (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

It is now moving toward finalizing claims as the Trump Administration prepares for the possible unveiling of its much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. A 2010 Israeli law provides that any peace deal must provide for compensation for assets of Jewish communities and individual Jews forced out of Arab countries and Iran.

Yemeni Jews aboard a plane to Israel in operation Magic Carpet, 1949 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Yemeni Jews aboard a plane to Israel in operation Magic Carpet, 1949 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“One cannot talk about the Middle East without taking into consideration the rights of the Jews who were forced to leave their thriving communities amid violence,” said Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“All the crimes that were carried out against those Jewish communities must be recognized.”

The Palestinian Authority has sought over $100 billion in compensation from Israel for assets left behind by Arab residents of what is today Israel who fled or were forced to leave at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state, and presented documentation to that effect to the United States a decade ago, the TV report said.

The Palestinians have also always demanded a “right of return” to what is today’s Israel for the few tens of thousands of surviving refugees and for their millions of descendants. This demand would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state and has been dismissed by successive Israeli governments. Israel argues that Palestinian refugees would become citizens of a Palestinian state under a permanent peace accord, just as Jewish refugees from Arab lands became citizens of Israel. It also argues that by extending refugee status to Palestinian descendants, the relevant UN agencies artificially inflate the issue, complicating peace efforts. The latter view is shared by the Trump administration, which last year announced it was halting funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.

Israel has never formally demanded compensation for Jews forced out of Arab lands and Iran, and although many of those Jews arrived in Israel with next to nothing, they did not seek formal refugee status from the international community.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon giving the opening remarks at an official UN event commemorating Jewish refugees from Arab lands, on December 1, 2015. (Shahar Azran)

At the time, the newly established Jewish state was struggling to attract migration from the world’s Jews and to project its legitimacy as a sovereign state, able to care for its own people. Its first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, would not have wanted Jews returning to their “historic homeland” classed as refugees, according to Meir Kahlon, chairman of the Central Organization for Jews from Arab Countries and Iran.

Monies obtained from the eight countries would not be allocated to individual families, the TV report said, but would rather be distributed by the state via a special fund. Gamliel is coordinating the process, together with Israel’s National Security Council, which works out of the Prime Minister’s Office.

In 2014, Israel passed a law making each November 30 a day commemorating the exit and deportation of Jews from Arab and Iranian lands, which involves educational programming and diplomatic events aimed to increase international awareness of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran, and of their right to compensation.

That year, at the first such events, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin issued calls for financial reparations.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a ceremony marking the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries. November 30, 2014. (photo credit: Courtesy)

“It is not for nothing that this day is marked on the day after the 29th of November,” Netanyahu said on November 30, 2014, in reference to the anniversary of the UN adoption of the Palestine partition plan in 1947. “The Arab countries, which never accepted the UN declaration on the establishment of a Jewish state, compelled the Jews living in their territories to leave their homes while leaving their assets behind… We have acted – and will continue to act – so that they and their claims are not forgotten.”

Read: The expulsion that backfired: When Iraq kicked out its Jews

In his address at that first ceremony, Rivlin appealed for greater Sephardic representation in Israeli society, as well as for compensation for their suffering. He acknowledged that the troubles of Middle Eastern Jews were not mitigated upon their arrival in Israel, where European Jews were firmly entrenched in power.

“Their voices were muted, but the words were in their mouths all along, even if they were said in Hebrew with a Persian or Arabic accent, which in Israel were thought of as enemy languages and viewed as a source of shame,” he said.

“The voice of Jews from Arab countries and Iran must be heard within the education system, in the media, in the arts, and in the country’s official institutions, as it needs to be heard in the international arena as well, in order to mend the historical injustice, and to ensure financial reparations,” Rivlin said.

Kahlon said that “nearly 800,000 came here (in the years after the establishment of the state) and the rest (around 56,000) went to the United States, France, Italy and elsewhere.”

Kahlon himself came to Israel as a child from Libya and spent his first years in the Jewish state in one of the tent camps set up to shelter the flood of newcomers.

Barber Rachamim Azar, a new immigrant from Baghdad, carries out his trade in the tent he shares with his wife and two children at a maabara (immigrant camp) in central Israel in summer 1951. He told a Government Press Office photographer that he intended to move to a kibbutz (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

In March 2014, Canada formally recognized the refugee status of the Jewish emigres who fled or were expelled from Arab countries after Israel’s founding.

Some of the migrants to Israel say privately that the issue is being promoted to give Israel a bargaining card in negotiations with the Palestinians, to set against Palestinian compensation claims for property and assets left behind in what is now Israel.

READ MORE:

Hit Song Criticizing Iran-Iraq War Stokes Controversy in Iran

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

 

Hit Song Criticizing Iran-Iraq War Stokes Controversy in Iran

Friday, 4 January, 2019 – 08:30
A scene from pareh sang, youtube (Arabic Website)
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
Iran’s up-and-coming artist Mehdi Yarrahi is believed to have been banned from performing a few days after releasing his anti-war ‘Pareh Sang’ song.

Yarrahi, an Ahwazi Arab, is known for his highly controversial works and is one of the very few artists who maintained a daringly close take on social developments within the Iranian community.

Etemad daily reported that Yarrahi was barred from publishing any of his works after the culture and media ministry summoned managers from the Iranian music publisher Jame Sabz, which sponsored Pareh Sang’s production.

Criticizing the Iraq-Iran war which spanned over eight years, Yarrahi’s hit song expresses the post-war anguish lived in Arab areas witnessed bloody conflict in southwestern Iran.

For the time being, Jame Sabz Manager Farhad Goi Abadi refused to make any statements involving Yarrahi’s work or being questioned by authorities, however, confirmed he will be meeting soon with culture ministry officials.

The reported dispute, on the other hand, was denied by the Public Relations Department of the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Information which said pop singer Yarrahi was not barred in any way.

“I’m the last martyr of this tribe … My tribe, which has no bread or water,” Pareh Sang’s powerful lyrics say, echoing Yarrahi’s struggle which he labels a “torn stone.”

“Death has won and once again the mind has died and all our memories are subject to war … do tell me where we are now and in the name of the war pen. Why have not we had a life yet ?!” the lyrics, sung in Farsi, say.

Hard-line media close to the Revolutionary Guard considered the Pareh Sang’s video clip as an appalling attack on the beliefs and values of the “holy war.”

While ultra-conservatives blasted Yarrahi’s work, other musicians and experts applauded his exceptional knack for balancing traditional and pop culture to deliver a wide-reaching product that resonates with Iranians everywhere.

The singer is also very apt in his social innuendoes and references– throughout his work, Yarrahi was very shrewd in invoking crises faced by Iran such as sanctions and weather pollution. A majority of his work is dedicated to delivering on the suffering of Arabs living south of Iran, namely Ahwaz.

A year ago, at one of his concerts, he wore a mask to protest the pollution. He participated in recent protests that took place in Ahwaz against the diversion of the Karun River. Citing his unmatched passion for defending the environment, southern locals have dubbed Yarrahi “the son of Karun.”

Is It Time To Kill The World’s Dictators?

Is It Time To Kill The World’s Dictators?

 

At first I was thinking of using the title ‘is it past time to kill your dictator as I am not sure which title was the most appropriate, or, is neither appropriate? In today’s world it does seem that most dictators choose to keep power in a country by fraud sham elections so as to say they are legally elected Presidents. Examples of this could be Mozambique and Robert Mugabe, Cuba with the Castro’s or even Mubarak of Egypt. I used these three as my first examples because none of the three actually died in Office. Mugabe and Mubarak were both removed from Office by their Nations military at the insistence of the will of the people. I am not nor have I ever been a fan of either of the Castro’s but surprisingly they gave up power of their own accord mainly because of age and health reasons. The Castro brothers are different in the reality that most dictators refuse to give up power until they are dead or removed from power by their military.

 

Any time that a country has a ‘one party’ political system that is simply another way to say dictatorship. Good examples of this are with Syria’s President Assad and Russia’s Putin. Then there is the illegitimate Communist government on mainland China where only the Communist Party leadership decides who will be their ‘President’ every 10 years that is until their current President Xi Jinping came into the picture. Now the Mainland has themselves a ‘President for life’ with Mr. Xi Jinping and the people have no power to get rid of him outside of killing him. Another type of example of a Dictator resides in North Korea where their Leader Mr. Kim Jong Un considers himself to be a living God even though I find it odd that the two former ‘gods’ of North Korea are dead. One of the things that these people have in common, just as in Turkey with their ‘President’ Mr. Erdogan, they are all mass murderers. Then there are cases like in Iran where the actual Leader who calls himself the ‘Supreme Leader’ whom should be known as the Supreme Murderer of Iran who has final say in all things even over the Nations President.

 

I know that by the Biblical Scriptures we are told that we should pray for our Leaders. Scripture says nothing about whether these Leaders are Kings (Dictators), Priests or honestly elected Presidents or Prime Ministers as these are just titles.  Folks, titles do not go to Heaven nor to Hell, people do. People also tells us that we are not allowed to murder anyone yet it is very plain that in cases of war we are allowed to defend ourselves and our families. We as people are also allowed to defend ourselves and families if our lives are in imminent danger such as someone who is armed breaks into our home and threatens you. This would also be so if let’s say you are in a store, a concert or a Church and a person or people come in and start shooting, we have every right to defend ourselves. Folks this does include the reality of ‘anyone’ whom is trying to kill you or your loved ones. Folks, this does mean anyone whom is trying to kill you, by this I mean if military people, police or even a Congressman or a President is actively trying to physically harm you, you have the absolute right to defend yourselves. By this I do mean (for example) what happened in Waco Texas in the early 1990’s where the government murdered over a hundred people, women and children included. This was a case where police came bursting through the doors and windows while shooting at the people inside whom had not yet shot one bullet at the Officers.

 

Now let’s get back to the issue of killing your Dictator, do you/we have the right to do so? Even though the human in me says that there should be no Dictators on the face of the Earth, this is not a reality. When it comes to G-d’s Judgement Day all Leaders will have to answer for all of their actions as Leaders both good and evil. On a smaller scale the same situation exists within a Church community as far as the Leaders who are responsible for the safety of the Flock who committed crimes against the Flock. I am not saying here that the members of the Church have the right to kill (lets say, a pedophile) though we do have the right to not allow them to be a part of the Congregation at all and we do have the right to charge them in front of our Nation’s Courts. What I am saying though is that all Church Leaders will have to answer for their actions as ‘Guardians’ of the Flock whether good or evil. So, do we have the right to kill our Dictator even if they are a murderer like Mr. Putin or Kim Jong Un? These Dictators, are they actively trying to kill you or your loved ones? When the answer is no, we have no such right to harm them, peacefully try to remove them from their position, yes, kill them, no.

 

Obviously this letter to you is just my thought, my beliefs. Like is almost all of my letters to you I am simply trying to get you to think about the issue that I am writing to you about. What are your thoughts on this matter, what do you believe? Leave me a note, let me know your thoughts?

Jackie Chan sex scene leads to firing of TV station boss in Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK POST)

 

Jackie Chan sex scene leads to firing of TV station boss in Iran

An Iranian TV boss and other staffers have been axed after an “immoral” sex scene featuring actor Jackie Chan aired on a local station, according to reports.

Viewers on Iran’s Kish Island were stunned when a scene featuring the Hong Kong martial arts star sleeping with a prostitute in the 2009 movie “Shinjuku Incident” popped up on their screens.

The raunchy scene slipped through the country’s censorship rules, which are so strict that men and women aren’t even allowed to shake hands on screen.

“Clips of immoral scenes of a film featuring Jackie Chan have been circulating on social media which was apparently shown by Kish IRIB,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

The gaffe cost IRIB’s regional director general his job and some of the station employees were either let go or reprimanded, ISNA said.

Iranians blasted the harsh move as hypocritical, saying no one had been fired over a fatal bus crash that killed 10 students at Tehran’s Azad University last week.

“Buses turn over, planes crash, ships sink… no one is dismissed… A few seconds of Jackie Chan making love on IRIB and immediately all staff in that section are sacked,” one person wrote on Twitter.

Iran also censors interactions between men and women sharing “tender words or jokes,” women who aren’t covered up, close-ups of women’s faces and exposed necklines, and negative portrayals of police and bearded men, BBC News reported.

The head of IRIB, Aliasgari Ali Askari, has ordered an investigation and promised to “seriously deal with the offenders and report them to the relevant authorities.”

IRIB TV host Reza Rashidpoor joked on his morning talk show that the Chan drama could’ve been avoided altogether if the broadcaster had included a caption that said the actor was married to the actress playing the hooker.

Rashidpoor was referring to a show last week in which IRIB added a disclaimer to say a couple holding hands on screen were married in real life.

With Post wires

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Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(Peace, no peace, ever, there is to much inbred hate and distrust on all three sides, Sunni, Shiite and Judaism,  but thats just my thought on this issue.) (oldpoet56)  

Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots

No injuries or damage in Israel; Israeli planes said to be behind attack near Syrian capital against Hezbollah or Iranian depot; Damascus claims to shoot down ‘enemy targets’

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Israel said Tuesday night it had deployed its air defenses against a missile shot from Syria as Damascus attempted to repel an alleged Israeli airstrike against Hezbollah or Iranian targets near the capital.

The Israel Defense Forces said there was no damage or injuries from the surface-to-air missile fired from Syria at Israel.

“An IDF aerial defense system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” the army said in a statement.

It did not say where or even if the missile was successfully intercepted.

Pictures shared on social media showed an air defense missile being fired near Hadera, a city some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Syrian border where residents had earlier reported hearing a loud explosion.

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Observer IL – 🅾️🅱️🔺@Obs_IL

Dashcam footage from Road 6 of the launch of an AD missile earlier near following this evening airstrikes in . @Intel_sky @IsraelD_Heb @edrormba @BabakTaghvaee @Dannymakkisyria @IntelCrab @IdeologyWars @TheWarOfNow @intellipus

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Syrian state media said its own air defenses had opened fire on “enemy targets,” shooting them down, in what was reported to be an Israeli airstrike.

Syrian eyewitnesses and video on social media showed what appeared to be intense fire on targets near the capital.

Embedded video

Zaid Benjamin@zaidbenjamin

Syrian News Agency says the “Aggression on ” continues “from the Lebanese airspace” and air defenses are responding.

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SANA said the strikes beginning at about 10 p.m. were carried out from Lebanon and that a number of targets were intercepted.

“It’s an Israeli raid,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

“Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted… arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces,” Abdel Rahman said.

Syrian TV quoted a military source saying weapons warehouses were hit, and three Syrian soldiers wounded.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israel Air Force planes were operating over southern Lebanon.

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: explosions heard over province. Air defenses fired missiles moments ago.

View image on Twitter

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

. Air defenses in action tonight over W. province. pic.twitter.com/xrYqMYX1E1

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News reports tied between the strike and the earlier arrival of an Iranian cargo jet in Damascus. The 747, belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm, had landed in Syria just after 7 p.m.

The civilian company has been accused on multiple occasions of smuggling Iranian arms to Hezbollah.

By midnight the flight was en route back to Iran.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

In this August 27, 2013, photo, a Russian air defense system missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped noticeably in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Israeli defense officials have met with Russian counterparts a number of times in recent weeks in an effort to re-establish a deconfliction mechanism that will allow Israel to recommence its air campaign.

Russia reportedly wants significant warning period ahead of any Israeli airstrike, something Israeli officials have been said to refuse.

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In Syria withdrawal, Trump discards advice from allies and officials

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

In Syria withdrawal, Trump discards advice from allies and officials

GOP senators give Pence ‘earful’ on Syria 03:11

Washington (CNN)Seated at the head of his Situation Room conference table, President Donald Trump was adamant: American troops must come home from Syria. He had just announced as much to a crowd in Ohio. The assembled military and national security advisers told him the move was rash and unwise. So he gave them six months.

Eight months later, planning for the withdrawal is now underway — against the advice of those same officials, who warned in April that Russia and Iran would gain stronger footholds in Syria when the US presence there evaporates.
On Capitol Hill, even some of Trump’s GOP allies were warning of a grave mistake.
“My sense is that it’s been a shock through the administration that this was made,” Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker told reporters on Wednesday after returning from the White House, where he had traveled to meet with Trump but was told as he waited the meeting was canceled.
“It’s hard to imagine that any president would wake up and make this kind of decision with this little communication, with this little preparation,” Corker said. “I mean, my understanding is that we’re beginning to move out right now.”
Hurried discussions continued Wednesday about the timing and pace of the troop withdrawal, which the White House said has already begun. The announcement lacked the formality of previous presidents’ declarations they would remove troops from war zones: the White House did not schedule any presidential remarks nor provide any concrete details of the decision.

A ‘total surprise’

IP Syria_00043423

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U.S. preparing for “full” and “rapid” withdrawal from Syria 08:09
In conversations over the past several days, top presidential advisers have counseled Trump that withdrawing personnel from Syria would amount to a retreat from the region and allow adversarial nations to gain influence. Those cautioning against a rapid and immediate withdrawal included Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Diplomatic sources from two countries in the region said their countries were not consulted or informed, and described the news of the planned withdrawal as a “total surprise.”
Trump did alert one key ally two days ahead of the announcement: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a phone call with Trump on Monday, and a subsequent conversation with Pompeo on Tuesday, the US leaders assured him the Americans had “other ways of expressing their influence in the area,” according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
In a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans, lawmakers gave Vice President Mike Pence an “earful” about the decision, according to Corker.
Speaking afterward, Corker said he felt badly for the vice president, who was acting as an emissary to angry lawmakers.
“He had talking points,” Corker said. “There’s no way he could really defend. He did what a loyal soldier would do.”
Trump’s top ally in the Senate, Sen. Lindsay Graham, was firmer.
“I want you to tell the President directly that this is a huge mistake,” he said he told Pence. “You are putting in motion ISIS getting a foothold again. They are not defeated.”
Pence addressed the issue by saying Trump “made a commitment to get out of foreign entanglements,” Graham said. But the vice president himself ignored reporters’ questions on the matter, instead staring ahead blankly as he departed.
It was an astonishing level of pushback from Republicans who, time and again, have avoided overt criticism of their party’s leader. It reflected deep unease among national security experts and advisers about the decision to abruptly withdraw troops from Syria without consulting members of Congress or gathering consensus among the administration’s national security team.

It was Trump’s decision

Graham on Syria: This is a high-risk strategy

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Graham on Syria: This is a high-risk strategy 02:39
An administration official briefing reporters on Wednesday insisted anyone caught off guard by the decision hasn’t been paying attention. But the official did not dispute that some of the President’s top advisers were opposed to the withdrawal.
“The President’s statements on this topic have been 100% consistent from the campaign through his announcement today, so I think the notion that anyone within the administration was caught unaware, I would challenge that, quite frankly,” the official said. “It was the President’s decision to make and he made it.”
Still, the decision only highlighted discrepancies among administration officials over the future of the roughly 2,000 troops deployed in the country.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this month that the US needed to train thousands of local fighters to ensure a lasting defeat of the terror group. Only last week, the US special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk said US forces would remain in Syria even after the terror group was defeated.
“I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring,” he said on December 11.
And in September, Bolton told reporters on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly that US troops would remain in Syria to counter Iran.
“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” Bolton said.
Pressed about whether Bolton’s comments were still applicable, the senior administration official suggested previous statements no longer applied.
“The issue here is that the President has made a decision, and so previous statements … he gets to do that, that’s his prerogative,” said the official, briefing reporters during a call organized by the White House.
The official could not provide a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops nor say whether the US would continue to carry out airstrikes in Syria, instead referring questions to the Pentagon.
“It’s not information I have,” the official said.
If administration officials and Trump’s allies in Congress were distressed by the decision, however, there was little excuse for them to be surprised. Trump has long railed against foreign entanglements begun by his predecessors and vowed this spring to bring American troops home.
“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” he said in April, comments that prompted a hurried effort at the Pentagon and in the National Security Council to convince the President that an immediate withdrawal could throw the region into chaos.
When military brass sought to dissuade him, he grew frustrated and complained at length about the amount of American money being spent in the region, which he said had produced nothing for the US in return, according to senior administration officials.

‘Beside themselves’

Despite his annoyance, Trump eventually agreed to hold off on immediately pulling troops from the war-plagued nation, even after airing his displeasure with top national security officials. At one stage, Dunford asked the President to state explicitly what he wanted to see happen in Syria, according to an administration official.
The President responded by saying US troops need to finish their mission against ISIS in Syria within six months, a timeline military officials — including Mattis — warned would be too short, according to the administration official. Trump responded by telling his team to just get it done.
One person familiar with the meeting said attendees left “beside themselves” about how a hasty withdrawal and cutting of funds for recovery projects like restoring water and power and rebuilding roads could affect the future of Syria, and make it more likely that ISIS could return to prominence.
Derek Chollet, a former US assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration, said much of Washington, including administration officials, lawmakers and Iran hawks have been the victims of “wishful thinking” when it comes to Trump.
“We’ve learned over and over, on issue after issue, that the President has his views, his instincts and that the administration is more often than not on a different page,” Chollet said. “He’s shown time and again he doesn’t listen to logic or reason.”
Advocates of a traditional hawkish GOP foreign policy have been “rationalizing that Donald Trump was going to ratchet up the pressure on Syria,” said Chollet, now an executive vice president at the German Marshall Fund, when Trump has long said he would pull out of the country, which has been ravaged by a civil war that started in 2011.
“He campaigned on this, he talked about it at a rally,” Chollet said of Trump’s desire to end US involvement in Syria. “This has been hiding in plain sight. He has been consistent on this issue.”

In Yemen, Lavish Meals for Few, Starvation for Many

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

In Yemen, Lavish Meals for Few, Starvation for Many and a Dilemma for Reporters

A woman in the poor mountain village of Al Juberia, Yemen.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times
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A woman in the poor mountain village of Al Juberia, Yemen. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

SANA, Yemen — At a restaurant in the Yemeni capital, Sana, a waiter brought bowls of slow-cooked lamb served with mounds of rice. For dessert there was kunafa, the classic Arab dish of golden brown pastry filled with cheese.

An hour later I was back at work, in a hushed hospital ward filled with malnourished children with skeletal faces, hanging between life and death for want of money and a good meal.

If that juxtaposition strikes you as jarring, even distasteful, it felt that way to me, too.

Crisis zones are often places of stark contrast, but in Yemen the gulf is particularly uncomfortable. The problem isn’t a lack of food; it’s that few people can afford to buy what food is available.

Years of blockades, bombs and soaring inflation have crushed the economy. A crushed state means there is no safety net.

As a result, beggars congregate outside supermarkets filled with goods; markets are filled with produce in towns where the hungry eat boiled leaves; and restaurants selling rich food are a few hundred yards from hunger wards filled with desperation, pain and death.

For a reporter, that brings a dilemma. Journalists travel with bundles of hard currency, usually dollars, to pay for hotels, transport and translation. A small fraction of that cash might go a long way for a starving family. Should I pause, put down my notebook and offer to help?

It’s a question some readers asked after we published a recent article on Yemen’s looming famine.

Many were touched by a powerful photograph by Tyler Hicks of Amal Hussain, an emaciated 7-year-old girl whose haunting stare brought the war’s human cost into shocking focus.

And many were devastated to learn that, soon after we left, Amal’s mother brought her back to the shabby refugee camp they call home, where she died a few days later.

Amal Hussain, who died at age 7 from malnutrition soon after this photograph was taken.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times
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Amal Hussain, who died at age 7 from malnutrition soon after this photograph was taken.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times

Some, in their anguish, turned the focus back on us.

Why didn’t we do something to save Amal’s life, they wanted to know. Did we just take the photo, conduct the interview and move on? Couldn’t we have somehow ensured that her family would get help?

“You can take the picture AND provide assistance,” one woman said on Twitter. “One doesn’t rule out the other.”

The questions resonated. Reporters are trained to bear witness; aid workers and doctors have the job of helping people.

Donating money, or other forms of assistance, can be fraught with ethical, moral and practical complications. Is it fair to single out one person or family for help? What if they embellish their story for the next foreigner who comes along, thinking they could get more money?

Plus, we have a job to do.

Doctors show us around, and sometimes we end up acting like them — examining stick-like limbs and flaccid skin with clinical detachment; tabulating figures about weight and age; listening as families recount their tragedies with amazing calm. The prospect of death is discussed. We nod sagely, make a note, move on.

But while we may try to mimic a stone, we are not stones, and every day in Yemen someone told me something that made a lump rise in my throat.

COMMENT OF THE MOMENT

Sandra commented November 30

Sandra
Times Pick

Let’s cut to the chase and get the U.N. and it’s agencies in there. Just do it. The USA should be spear heading the effort. War between armies is one thing. War on starving people is quite another….no grey area! NONE!

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Usually it was a mundane detail, like the lack of a few dollars to take a dying child to the hospital. Yemen, you realize, is a country where people are dying for lack of a taxi fare.

An injured Yemeni fighter with the Saudi-led Arab coalition that is battling Iran-allied Houthis for control of Yemen at a field hospital in Durayhimi.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times
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An injured Yemeni fighter with the Saudi-led Arab coalition that is battling Iran-allied Houthis for control of Yemen at a field hospital in Durayhimi.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times

Yemenis have to navigate such terrain, too.

While some are dying, others are getting on with living. One night we returned to our hotel in Hajjah, a town ringed by rocky ridges in a province that has been pummeled by Saudi airstrikes. Lying in bed, I was startled by a loud bang then a burst of light that filled the sky — not a bomb, but fireworks.

Since the start of the war, the rate of marriage in Yemen has gone up. And so, in this town where malnourished infants were perishing at the city hospital, others were dancing and celebrating through the night.

But the surge in weddings, it turned out, was a survival mechanism.

Across the social spectrum, Yemenis are sliding down the poverty ladder. Where once a mother bought a sack of rice to feed her family, now she can afford only a small bag. The hand of a daughter in marriage brings a bride price, and so weddings can be a source of income for stretched families.

Disturbingly, many of the brides are children. According to Unicef, two-thirds of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 18, up from 50 percent before the war.

As we crossed Yemen — from the battle-scarred port of Hudaydah to the Houthi-held mountains — on a bumpy 900-mile journey, we saw scenes of heartbreaking suffering that unfolded against a backdrop of spectacular mountains, and customs that stubbornly endure despite everything.

Every day, town centers bustled with men buying khat, the narcotic leaf beloved by Yemenis. The khat bazaars are a social event. Men, some with guns over their shoulders, gather to trade news, meet friends and prepare for the afternoon chew.

Women in black cloaks flitted between them; in one place, a loud argument erupted into fisticuffs. Even as starvation bites, some are reluctant to cut back on their habit.

In one health clinic, Ibrahim Junaid, a worried father standing over his ailing 5-month-old son, was chewing a lump of khat that left a green stain on his teeth and lips.

Mr. Junaid was 60; his wife, 25, stood silently by his side. The nurses wrapped the boy in a gold foil blanket to keep him warm.

Ibrahim Ali Mohammed Junaid, 60, and his wife Zahra Ali Ahmed, 25, taking their son, Ahmed Ibrahim al Junaid, 5 months old, to a clinic to treat his malnutrition.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times
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Ibrahim Ali Mohammed Junaid, 60, and his wife Zahra Ali Ahmed, 25, taking their son, Ahmed Ibrahim al Junaid, 5 months old, to a clinic to treat his malnutrition.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times

Mr. Junaid regretted that his son hadn’t enough to eat, adding that he had a lot of mouths to feed; he had married twice, and fathered 13 children.

The value of practices like chewing khat may be hard to understand in such turbulent times. But for men like Mr. Junaid, it is an integral part of their day. And it is a mark of the resilience of an ancient society, one of the oldest civilizations of the Middle East.

“People say Yemen is in a state of chaos, but it’s not,” said Thierry Durand, an aid worker who has worked in Yemen since the 1980s, and now runs a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Mocha. “There is still structure.”

“You can’t put it in three lines in your paper or describe it in three minutes on TV,” he continued. “This country is structured by family, tribe, traditions — and despite everything, those structures are still there, and they are strong.”

Still, Yemeni society is being ravaged by war. Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, aided by American bombs, have killed thousands of civilians, and displaced many more. But for most Yemenis, war strikes their lives in quieter, more insidious ways.

Bombs blow up bridges or factories, killing jobs, causing the currency to crumble and prices to soar, and forcing families to abstain from meat, then vegetables. Soon, they are dependent on international food aid or, in the worst cases, resort to meals of boiled leaves.

A bridge in Bani Hassan was damaged by a Saudi airstrike.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times
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A bridge in Bani Hassan was damaged by a Saudi airstrike.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times

Small but vital things, like a cab fare, become unattainable.

As we drove away from the small hospital in Aslam, where Amal Hussain was being treated, we passed a young couple hitching a ride on the side of the road. They were holding a small infant. We stopped and offered them a ride.

They squeezed into the passenger seat — the father, Khalil Hadi, enveloped by the black cloak of his wife, Hanna, who held their fragile 9-month-old son, Wejdan, who had just been released from the malnutrition ward.

Theirs was a typical story. Their home near the Saudi border had been bombed, so they rented a room in a house near Aslam. Mr. Hadi tried to earn money driving a motorbike taxi, and by foraging for wood to sell at the market.

But it wasn’t enough, and when he tried to go home, the Houthi soldiers told him the area was a military zone. Their diet was reduced to bread, tea and halas, the vine that grew locally. His wife was four months pregnant with their second child.

Mr. Hadi wasn’t looking for pity; many people were in similar trouble, he said. “I’d do anything to make some money,” he said. “The situation is so hard.”

At a junction in the road, the couple stepped out, offered thanks and began to walk away. Fumbling in my pocket, I called them back.

I pulled out a wad of Yemeni notes — about $15 worth — and pressed it into his hand. It seemed so futile, in the greater scheme of things. What could it buy them? A few days respite, if even that?

Mr. Hadi accepted the money with a gracious smile. As we drove off I saw the couple amble down a dusty road, toward their shelter, their ailing son held tight.

Khalil Hadi and his pregnant wife, Itanna Hassan Massani, carrying their 9-month-old son, Wejdan, from a clinic in Aslam.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times
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Khalil Hadi and his pregnant wife, Itanna Hassan Massani, carrying their 9-month-old son, Wejdan, from a clinic in Aslam.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times

Follow Declan Walsh on Twitter:@declanwalsh

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Contrast in Crushed State Presents Journalists With Ethical Dilemma. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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Israel Is Working To Forge Ties With Bahrain, Chad And Sudan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel said working to forge ties with Bahrain amid unprecedented Gulf opening

News of effort to normalize relations with Manama comes after reports that Israel is eyeing ties with Sudan, as Chadian leader makes historic visit to Israel

Bahraini voters queue outside a polling station in the Bahraini city of Al-Muharraq, north of Manama on November 24, 2018, as they wait to cast their vote in the parliamentary election. (AFP)

Bahraini voters queue outside a polling station in the Bahraini city of Al-Muharraq, north of Manama on November 24, 2018, as they wait to cast their vote in the parliamentary election. (AFP)

Israel is working to normalize ties with Bahrain, as Jerusalem ramps up its drive to forge more open relations with the Arab world amid shifting alliances in the Middle East driven by shared concerns over Iran, Hebrew-language news sites reported late Sunday.

The reports, sourced to an unnamed senior official, did not detail Israel’s efforts to get closer to Manama, but came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted he would soon travel to unspecified Arab states, during a press conference with visiting Chadian leader Idriss Déby Sunday.

Déby’s historic visit is part of a campaign to lay the groundwork for normalizing ties with Muslim-majority countries Sudan, Mali and Niger, according to a report on Israel’s Channel 10 news Sunday.

The revelation that Israel is actively working to forge closer ties with Bahrain comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is visiting the island kingdom. The prince, who is attempting to rehabilitate his image in the West after the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi, is seen as a key part of a US-backed drive for Gulf states to open their doors to Israel amid shared concern over Iran’s expansion in the region.

In May, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa wrote on Twitter that Israel has the right to defend itself against Iran.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, participates in a ministerial meeting with the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, July 12, 2017. (US State Department, via AP)

Oman, which has often played the role of regional mediator, welcomed Netanyahu in a surprise visit last month, an apparent sign of Israeli progress in improving ties with Gulf countries.

At a security conference in Bahrain following the visit, Omani foreign minister also offered rare words of support for the Jewish state.

“Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. The world is also aware of this fact and maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same and also bear the same obligations,” Yussef bin Alawi bin Abdullah said, according to Reuters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman on October 26, 2018 (Courtesy)

During a press conference with Déby on Sunday, Netanyahu remarked that “there will be more such visits in Arab countries very soon,” without providing details.

The Israeli premier has for years spoken about the warming ties between Israel and the Arab world, citing not only Iran as a common enemy but also many countries’ interest in cooperating with Israel on security and defense matters, as well as Israel’s growing high-tech industry.

The effort to forge ties with Sudan comes as Khartoum has looked to move closer to Sunni Gulf states after years as an ally of Iran.

In early 2017, Khartoum joined Sunni Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in severing its ties with the Islamic Republic.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir prepares to cast his ballot for the country’s presidential and legislative elections in Khartoum, Sudan, April 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy, File)

At the time, the country also appeared to make overtures toward Israel. Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said in a 2016 interview that Sudan was open to the idea of normalizing ties with Israel in exchange for lifting US sanctions on Khartoum. According to Hebrew-language media reports at the time, Israeli diplomats tried to drum up support for Sudan in the international community after it severed its ties to Tehran.

In the past, Sudan has allegedly served as a way-station for the transfer of Iranian weapons to the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza. Israel has reportedly intercepted and destroyed transfers of weapons from Sudan bound for Gaza.

In 2009, the International Criminal Court also issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, relating to the bloody conflict in the western Darfur region.

However, since it broke ties with Iran, Sudan is no longer perceived by Israel as a threat, but rather as a potential ally.

New era

Earlier on Sunday, Déby became the first president of Chad to visit Israel and pledged a new era of relations when meeting Netanyahu, 46 years after ties were severed.

In remarks to journalists after a closed-door meeting, Déby spoke of the two countries committing to a new era of cooperation with “the prospect of reestablishing diplomatic relations.”

Déby said he was “proud” that he had accepted Israel’s official invite. “It can be called breaking the ice,” he said. “We came here indeed with the desire to renew diplomatic relations. Your country is an important country. Your country, like Chad, fights against terrorism.”

Chad, a Muslim-majority, Arabic-speaking country in central Africa, broke off relations with Israel in 1972.

Despite the lack of formal ties, both Déby and Netanyahu on Sunday stressed the centrality of security cooperation between the two countries.

Chad is also one of several African states engaged in Western-backed operations against Boko Haram and Islamic State jihadists in West Africa. Earlier this month, the US donated military vehicles and boats worth $1.3 million to Chad as part of the campaign against Islamist militancy in the country.

File: Chadian soldiers gather on February 1, 2015 near the Nigerian town of Gamboru, just across the border from Cameroon. (AFP/Marle)

Under Déby, Chad’s government has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and rigged elections. He took over the arid, impoverished nation in 1990 and won a disputed fifth term in April 2016.

On Sunday, Chadian security sources were quoted by Reuters saying that Israel had sent Chad arms and money earlier this year to help the country in its fight against Islamist groups. Netanyahu in his remarks to journalists thanked Déby for his visit and hailed “flourishing” ties between Israel and African nations. He declined questions about whether the two leaders discussed potential Israeli arms sales to Chad.

Netanyahu portrayed the unprecedented visit as the result of his hard-won diplomatic efforts, referring to his three visits to Africa over the last couple years and his surprise trip to Oman in October.

According to Israel’s Channel 10, Israel’s diplomatic push in Africa is driven in part by a desire to ease air travel to Latin America. Flying in the airspace of traditionally hostile African countries — namely Chad and Sudan — would allow airlines to offer faster, more direct flights between Israel and the continent.

Channel 10 estimated that flying directly from Israel to Brazil over Sudan would shave some four hours off the average journey, which currently takes at least 17 hours, and requires a stopover in either Europe or North America.

Separately, Hadashot television news reported on Sunday that Netanyahu has secured reassurances from Oman that airlines flying to and from Israel — including national carrier El Al — would be permitted to fly over the kingdom’s airspace. The prime minister received this message during his surprise visit to Muscat last month — the first by an Israeli leader in over 20 years, the television report said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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Lebanese Detained in Iran Congratulates Top Officials on Independence Day

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

 

Lebanese Detained in Iran Congratulates Top Officials on Independence Day

Friday, 23 November, 2018 – 08:45
Prime Minister Saad Hariri meets a delegation from Zakka’s hometown of Kalamoun, April 23, 2018. (Dalati Nohra/HO)
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat
Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese detainee in Iran, contacted President Michel Aoun, congratulating him on Independence Day, and hoping that the “aspirations of the Presidency to have a protective umbrella above every Lebanese would be realized in the new year,” according to a statement issued by Zakka’s family.

Zakka also contacted the head of Parliament, saying that he hoped “Speaker Nabih Berri would raise the issue of his continued arbitrary detention during his next visit to Iran.”

According to the statement, the Lebanese detainee has also managed to contact Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri from his underground detention cell, hoping that this occasion “would achieve the Premiership’s aspirations of being a father to the Lebanese, to protect them wherever they are and to defend their rights, especially in international forums…and to vote in the United Nations for the benefit of the Lebanese people.”

Zakka was arrested after traveling to Iran to attend a state-sponsored conference in the capital, Tehran, in 2015. At the time of his arrest, he was the secretary-general of IJMA3, an Arab communications organization, and had received an official invitation to visit Iran.