Saudi is about to create History

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Israel & Emerging Peace with Arab Neighbours

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Deadly street protests over Iran water shortages – BBC News

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Iran runs out of water after years of mismanagement

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/the-times/iran-runs-out-of-water-after-years-of-mismanagement/news-story/ab8e0e30f1760624b80f7c00ae40af51

25 July 2021

A diver takes the plunge into the deepest swimming pool in the world - reaching 60m below - in the United Arab Emirates, one of five countries to record temperatures above 50C on the same day last month.

Iran is “water bankrupt” after years of mismanagement under the regime, leading to shortages that have triggered deadly protests across the country and discontent in the wider Middle East, an exiled expert has said.

All sources of the nation’s water — rivers, reservoirs and groundwater — are starting to run dry, Kaveh Madani, a scientist and former deputy environment minister now living in the United States, told The Times.

Iran’s energy minister has admitted that the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 82, the supreme leader, has expressed some sympathy with the demonstrators. “We cannot really blame the people,” he said.

At least eight people have died in recent protests, which started in Khuzestan, the southern province which has suffered some of the worst effects, according to Amnesty International.

The water shortage is being replicated across the region, with the marshes of southern Iraq starting to dry out again despite restoration efforts, and eastern Syria suffering a drought.

Farther west, nearly three quarters of Lebanon’s population, including a million refugees, could lose access to safe water in the next four to six weeks after the pumping system started to break down amid a fuel shortage, Unicef said.

The crisis in the Middle East has been brewing for years, with repeated warnings of “water wars”. The problem has been exacerbated by global warming, with average temperatures rising inexorably.

Five countries recorded temperatures above 50C on the same day last month — the UAE, Iran, Oman, Kuwait and Pakistan — and the region’s mega-cities are expected to experience temperatures of up to 55C for days at a time by the middle of the century.

However, water experts say that the underlying problem is mismanagement across the region. In Iran, 600 dams have been built since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the accompanying hydroelectric power plants are now a vital part of the nation’s economy. Experts say that reservoirs in such hot and arid areas lose so much water to evaporation — two billion cubic metres of water a month in Iran — that they have become part of the problem.

“The system is water bankrupt when consumption is more than renewable water availability,” Madani said. He was an academic at Imperial College London before being recruited in 2017 to become deputy head of Iran’s environment ministry. However, his appointment offended hardliners and he was detained by the Revolutionary Guard, accused of spying and eventually forced to leave.

He said Iran had to plan to live with shortages. “Iran cannot fully restore its wetlands, aquifers and rivers in a short period of time,” he said. “So, it has to admit to water bankruptcy and stop denying that many of the damages have become irreversible.”

The crisis was foreseen years ago. In 2005 Reza Ardakanian, 63, now the energy minister, wrote a paper in his capacity as a water management expert in which he warned that Iran’s water extraction was double sustainable levels.

He has pointed out that the present crisis has coincided with one of the driest years in five decades: meteorologists say rainfall in the region is down by as much as 85 per cent.

In Iran, cheap fuel has been used to power pumps to extract vast amounts of groundwater to drive the country’s massively expanded agriculture. The falling levels of groundwater can be detected from space; Nasa says the loss in weight has affected the region’s gravitational field.

Iran is not the only victim. Over-extraction of groundwater has caused droughts in eastern Syria, the country’s breadbasket, while both Syria and Iraq have complained about Turkish dams impeding the flow of the Euphrates and Tigris into Mesopotamia.

The crisis has had diplomatic effects. Egypt has threatened war if Ethiopia continues to fill its Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile unchecked. Israel, by contrast, has offered to double the amount of desalinated water it sells to Jordan as part of efforts by the new government to build ties.

In Lebanon, mismanagement of fuel supplies has contributed to the water crisis. The central bank has subsidised imports but has now run out of dollars, leading to widespread shortages.

Mains electricity is running at a maximum of two hours a day. Operators of the private generators which make up the difference may have to turn them off in the next few days for lack of diesel, raising the extraordinary prospect of a modern country almost entirely without electricity.

Yukie Mokuo, Lebanon’s Unicef representative, said yesterday: “Unless urgent action is taken, hospitals, schools and essential public facilities will be unable to function and over four million people will be forced to resort to unsafe and costly sources of water, putting children’s health and hygiene at risk.”

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Russia might be testing Israel in Syria, but no reason for panic

Despite a report saying Biden gave Putin an implicit go-ahead to confront IAF strikes more forcefully, Moscow doesn’t appear to be doing much more than sending anonymous signals

Lazar Berman

By LAZAR BERMAN29 July 2021, 6:27 pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), Commander of the Western Military District Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov (R) and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu after the parade of the Russian fleet as part of the Navy Day celebration, in Saint Petersburg, on July 28, 2019. (Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP)

A narrative has emerged over the past week that Russia is fed up with Israel’s ongoing aerial campaign in Syria, and is moving to change the rules of the game there to Israel’s detriment.

The speculation took off in the wake of a report on Saturday by Asharq Al-Awsat. The London-based Arabic daily cited a “well-informed” Russian source who said that in June talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin received the impression that “Washington does not welcome the continuous Israeli raids,” and believes Moscow can act more aggressively to foil them.

According to the unnamed source, the Russians are now supplying Syrian forces with more advanced anti-missile systems and knowhow, rendering them more effective at countering Israeli raids.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.473.0_en.html#goog_70919718

Because of the new Russian policy, Syria was able to thwart Israeli strikes last week, the report said.

Seven of the eight missiles fired by Israeli jets on July 19 were intercepted by Syrian-operated Russian air defense systems, according to Rear Admiral Vadim Kulit, the deputy chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

The following day, Kulit referenced two other Israeli attacks that week, including strikes by IDF F-16s in the Homs province. “All four missiles were destroyed by the Syrian duty air defense facilities, with the use of Buk-2ME systems of Russian manufacture,” Kulit claimed.Illustrative Explosions seen in the city of Hama, Syria after suspected Israeli airstrikes on June 24, 2020 (Screencapture/Twitter)

Russia is frustrated with Israel ignoring the “rules of the game” Moscow seeks to lay down in Syria and the US gave the Russians an implicit nod to operate more aggressively against Israel, Asharq Al-Awsat reported.

But the report stretches credulity in many ways, and the latest Russian statements should be seen as part of years-long tensions and messaging between Jerusalem and Moscow over Syria.ADVERTISEMENT

The unraveling

In late 2010 and early 2011, the Arab world experienced a series of convulsions that tore apart the Middle East as we knew it. Starting in Tunisia, where a young fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest corruption and police abuse, angry demonstrations spread throughout the region. Some of the world’s longest-ruling leaders were toppled within months.

Those protests reached Syria in March 2011, with tens of thousands taking to the streets to demand government reforms and civil rights. The demonstrations quickly turned into a full-blown armed uprising against the Bashar Assad regime.Thousands of anti-Syrian government protesters shout slogans and wave revolutionary flags, to mark 10 years since the start of a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule, in Idlib, the last major opposition-held area of the country, in northwest Syria, March 15, 2021. (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

By 2013, Israel understood that the civil war in Syria offered an opportunity. The fraying Syrian army meant that Israel enjoyed unprecedented freedom of action in the country to fight against Iranian entrenchment and Hezbollah’s military buildup there. The IDF effort that emerged from that understanding was called the “campaign between wars,” or Mabam in its Hebrew acronym.

Israel ramped up its attacks as time went on. In 2018, Israel accused Iran of firing 20 rockets from Syria at IDF positions, the first time Israel had directly accused Tehran of firing at Israel. According to Israeli officials, IAF planes retaliated in a massive operation by striking logistics and intelligence sites used by Iranian forces in Syria. Per the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Israeli strikes killed 113 Iranian soldiers and allied militiamen in a one-month period in 2018. The IDF said it struck over 200 Iranian targets in Syria that year.

Despite the Israeli campaign, Iran has continued to push ahead with its efforts to establish a bridgehead on Israel’s northern border to threaten the Jewish state and has advanced plans for a range of attacks, according to the IDF.Iran army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looks into binoculars as he visits and other senior officers from the Iranian military on a front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria, October 20, 2017, in a photo provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

In January 2015, an IAF strike targeted the leaders of what Israel said was a substantial new Hezbollah terror hierarchy that was set to attempt kidnappings, rocket attacks and other assaults on military and civilian targets in northern Israel.ADVERTISEMENT

In recent years, Iran has also attempted to send attack drones into Israel. In August 2019, the military said it carried out bombing runs to thwart an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps plot involving what were described as “kamikaze” attack UAVs.

Each Israeli strike, though, carries risks of inviting reprisal attacks or snowballing into a larger conflagration. Making the theater even more perilous from an Israeli perspective is the fact that Russia too has attempted to exploit the chaos for its own gains.

In 2015, Russia moved forces to Syria to ensure Assad’s survival. Israel had to flex its muscles to establish clear red lines that the Russians would understand, and it turned to an Arab security partner to do so. According to Jordan’s King Abdullah, Israeli and Jordanian jets together confronted Russian warplanes over southern Syria and warned them away from crossing their shared border in January 2016.

Israel and Russia established a so-called deconfliction mechanism to keep the sides from getting tangled up, and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Putin on multiple occasions to discuss the issue.Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin, in Moscow, on February 27, 2019. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP)

Israeli officials do not generally discuss the full extent of that coordination, but they stress that the IDF does not seek Russian permission before carrying out operations. At the same time, though, Israel’s freedom of action was seriously curtailed, especially after Russia provided advanced S-300 air defense batteries to Syria following an incident in which a Syrian gunner, aiming for Israeli jets, knocked a Russian plane out of the sky instead, killing all 15 people on board.

It is clear that Iran is not about to stop sending Iranian troops and proxy militias to Syria. At the same time, Israel has shown a firm resolve not to let that happen, and has demonstrated that its intelligence and operational capabilities give it a distinct advantage over Iran in Syria.

Russia as well is here to stay, along with its advanced air defense systems that could threaten Israel’s dominance in the skies over Syria. “Our freedom of action is in the hands of the Russians,” argued Mitvim Institute fellow Ksenia Svetlova. “It’s not a Syrian-Israeli issue anymore. It’s a Syrian-Russian-Israeli issue.”

A possible message

It’s no secret that Russia is not happy with Israeli strikes in Syria.

In a joint summary statement by Russia, Turkey, and Iran after the 16th Astana conference earlier this month, the three parties “condemned continuing Israeli military attacks in Syria which violate the international law, international humanitarian law, the sovereignty of Syria and neighboring countries, endanger the stability and security in the region.”ADVERTISEMENT

Addressing the matter during a January visit to Jerusalem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “If Israel is really forced to respond to threats to Israeli security coming from the Syrian territory, we have told our Israeli colleagues many times: if you see such threats, please give us the information.”Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari (C) attends the plenary session of Syria peace talks brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey in Astana on November 29, 2018. (Stanislav Filippov/AFP)

But that longstanding Russian position is no reason to buy into the idea that the rules in Syria are about to change drastically.

“We can’t rule out the fact that they [Asharq Al-Awsat] received messages from the Russians to publish,” said Zvi Magen, Israel’s former ambassador to Russia and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “The question is who the source is.”

Without knowing anything about the sole unnamed source, there is no reason to accept the piece’s argument of a drastic change in policy.

No one she has spoken to in Russia believed that the source is from Russia’s foreign or defense ministry, said Svetlova.

Moreover, the Russians are not publicly standing behind the report.President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrive to meet at the ‘Villa la Grange’, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In addition, the Biden administration, which has hinted at displeasure with Israel over other issues — including over violence in Jerusalem and the May Gaza conflict — hasn’t signaled anything of the sort that the Asharq Al-Awsat claimed. In fact, the US even coordinated with Israel on a strike in Syria in February.

Still, there is the possibility that Russia is sending a message with its claims of successful interceptions and leaks to the media.

With an Iran nuclear deal possibly approaching, and the subsequent improved ties between Tehran and the West, the Russians might be signaling to the Iranians that they are their most reliable interlocutors in the Middle East and that Russia will support them against Israeli attacks.

“The Iranians are not Russia’s friends, they’re partners,” Svetlova stressed.

“We’re not partners,” she said, referring to Israel.A prototype of Russia’s prospective fighter jet is displayed at the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky outside Zhukovsky, Russia, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

The messages about successful interceptions of Israeli missiles might be a different type of signal. The MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon took place near Moscow over the same period as the Israeli strikes in Syria.

As Russia continues to try to promote its weapon systems as a preferable alternative to American-made systems — even to US partners like Egypt and Turkey — claiming that its air defenses foiled the IAF in Syria could alleviate concerns about their effectiveness.

Russia could be playing a bit of diplomatic chess as well. Its focus on information warfare is no secret, and sensing some daylight between the Biden and Bennett administrations, Moscow might be working to make waves in the US-Israel relationship through the media.

At the same time, with the new Bennett-Lapid government getting comfortable after 12 years of Netanyahu, Moscow might be testing how firm Israel’s new leadership is, and whether it can be intimidated into making concessions in Syria.

There is no question that Kulit’s statement last week was a departure from the usual technical briefings, and that the focus on Israel signified some type of message. But that message doesn’t necessarily have to come from the highest levels of Russia’s leadership. There may well be a faction within Russia’s military that is opposed to coordination with Israel and asserted itself last week.

Keep calm

Russia’s posture toward Israel in Syria bears watching, but there is no reason for panic.

Bilateral relations are generally good. Still, they are affected by developments on the international stage, especially in the Middle East.

“Nothing, as far as I know, has changed,” said the INSS’s Magen. “All the talk of interceptions is not new… Nowhere did they say that Russia is changing its fundamental approach to Israel.”Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin, center-right, meets with Russian officials in Moscow on September 20, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Moreover, Russia cannot force Israel to stop its strikes through military means. It has tried to clip Israel’s wings in Syria by warnings and diplomacy, but if Israel is determined to act, Russia is powerless to stop it.

“At the same time, if I look at everything together, I see a string of hints that together create a message…maybe,” said Magen. “If [that’s the case], we have to treat it a little more seriously, because even though it’s clumsy, it’s a Russian message to Israel.”

“I recommend that Israel doesn’t give in and doesn’t blink,” he concluded.

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US State Department okays potential sale of 18 heavy lift helicopters to Israel

Deal for Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallions to replace IDF’s aging fleet gets greenlight; US says it’s in its own national interests for Israel to have strong self-defense capability

By TOI STAFF31 July 2021, 10:42 am

Illustrative: A Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion flies during the ILA Berlin Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (Michael Sohn/AP)

The US State Department said Friday it approved the potential sale of 18 Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopters to the Israel Defense Forces as part of a deal worth up to $3.4 billion.

The Defense Ministry chose the US-made helicopter earlier this year to replace the IDF’s fleet of CH-53 Sea Stallions which have been in service since the 1960s.

The deal includes engines, navigation systems, weaponry, support equipment, spares and technical support, the Reuters news agency reported.

Although a contract has not necessarily been signed, the State Department said in a statement that “the United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability.”

The prime contractors on the deal are the Lockheed Martin Corp and General Electric Co.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

The Defense Ministry had been wavering between the Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy transport helicopters to replace its 50-year-old CH-53 helicopters, whose Israeli version is named Yassur.

An Israel Air Force Sikorsky CH-53, June 25, 2015 (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

When Defense Minister Benny Gantz came into his post he ordered the military to reconsider its plan to purchase the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, which can function as both an airplane and a helicopter, giving the military — particularly special forces — greater flexibility.

That sent the ministry back to the drawing board and significantly extended the selection process.ADVERTISEMENT

Gantz said in February that the decision to purchase the new helicopters was a “significant step in building the IDF’s power, and essential for performing a wide range of operational tasks as routine and in combat.”

The deal is part of an overall agreement that will also allow the military to purchase F-35 and F-15 fighter jets, refueling planes and other equipment deemed critical by the military, like interceptor missiles and advanced bombs for aircraft.

In February, the ministerial committee for military acquisitions signed off on the purchase of another squadron’s worth of F-35 fighter jets, as well as four Boeing KC-46 refueling planes and advanced missiles and bombs, following government approval for a contentious funding scheme to pay for the equipment involving massive loans from the United States.

The approval for the purchases came after some three years of requests from the military for the equipment, which was held up due to political squabbles and fights over the budget.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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US said increasingly skeptical return to Iran nuclear deal is possible

NY Times reports on pessimism in Washington amid challenges facing accord, including new hardline government in Tehran and growing Iranian technical knowhow

By TOI STAFFToday, 4:01 am

File: Robert Malley, US Special Envoy for Iran (R) and Stephan Klement, EU Ambassador and European External Action Service Special Advisor on Iran, talk in front of the Hotel Imperial near the Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks took place in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

US officials are increasingly pessimistic on the prospects of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The US is indirectly involved in Iran’s talks with world powers to revive the deal that gave Iran some relief from international sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.

Officials expect the new government in Tehran, set to enter office on Thursday, to take a tougher approach that could doom chances of reaching an agreement.

“There’s a real risk here that they come back with unrealistic demands about what they can achieve in these talks,” Robert Malley, the top US negotiator, told the paper.

Another key issue of concern in Washington, the report said, is that after months of increased uranium enrichment to near-weapons grade levels, Iranian scientists are gaining crucial technical knowledge that will render the terms of the 2015 accord insufficient to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“At that point, we will have to reassess the way forward,” Malley said. “We hope it doesn’t come to that.”

In addition, while Iran has been insisting that any US return to the deal be accompanied by a mechanism that will prevent it from quitting again, American officials believe it will be impossible, politically, to pass such a restriction through Congress, which is highly skeptical of the accord in the first place.

The ability to snap back sanctions on Iran if it fails to comply with aspects of the deal is crucial to keeping it palatable to US lawmakers, they said.ADVERTISEMENThttps://374d5984d00762ac88bd39480154f2dd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlTV cameras in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, June 20, 2021. (AP/Florian Schroetter)

On Thursday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said nuclear talks with Iran “cannot go on indefinitely” but that Washington was “fully prepared” to continue negotiations.

The deal was torpedoed in 2018 by then US president Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and imposed punishing sanctions.

“We’re committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely… we look to see what Iran is ready to do or not ready to do and remain fully prepared to return to Vienna to continue negotiations,” Blinken said during a visit to Kuwait. “The ball remains in Iran’s court.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government had been holding talks with major powers in Vienna since April on bringing Washington back into the agreement. But talks have been frozen until he hands over to President-elect Ebrahim Raisi.

Raisi’s ultraconservative camp, which deeply distrusts the United States, has repeatedly criticized Rouhani over the 2015 deal.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that experience has shown “trusting the West does not work,” referring to the US withdrawal from the deal and its fallout.ADVERTISEMENThttps://374d5984d00762ac88bd39480154f2dd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Raisi has said his government will support talks that “guarantee national interests,” but will not allow negotiations for the sake of negotiations.File: Russia’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mikhail Ulyanov, stands in front of the Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place, in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

One of the major criticisms of the 2015 deal raised by Trump was its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its alleged interference in regional affairs.

But Tehran has always rejected bringing non-nuclear issues into the agreement, which is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Khamenei also criticized the US for refusing to “guarantee that [it] will not violate the agreement in the future” by pulling out unilaterally, as Trump did in 2018.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signaled his readiness to return to the nuclear deal and has engaged in indirect negotiations with Iran alongside formal talks with the agreement’s remaining parties, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

Israel’s Kan news reported Sunday that Jerusalem has warned US officials in recent days that Iran is closer than ever to attaining nuclear weapons.Ebrahim Raisi, who went on to win Iran’s presidential election, waves after casting his vote at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, on June 18, 2021. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other Israeli officials have addressed the issue with their American counterparts recently, issuing an “unusual warning,” according to the report.

“Something has to happen with the negotiations with Iran,” a senior diplomat told Kan. “This ‘limbo’ cannot be a time when Iran is quickly advancing toward becoming a nuclear threshold state.”

Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal and Biden’s stated intentions to reenter the treaty.ADVERTISEMENThttps://374d5984d00762ac88bd39480154f2dd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“We would like the world to understand that the Iranian regime is violent and fanatical,” Bennett said last month. “It selected the ‘Hangman of Tehran’ as its president — a man who is willing to starve his own people for years in order to have a military nuclear program. That is a regime that one should not do business with.”

Bennett added that Israel “will continue to consult with our friends, persuade, discuss, and share information and insights out of mutual respect. But at the end of the day, we will be responsible for our own fate, nobody else.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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Lebanon is sliding back to the Stone Age, and Iran couldn’t be happier about it

Israel’s northern neighbor is facing water, electricity and medicine shortages and its prospective new government won’t weaken Hezbollah; will the PA suffer a similar disaster?

Avi Issacharoff

By AVI ISSACHAROFFToday, 9:02 am

A patient rests on a bed in a hallway of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, on July 23, 2021. (STR/AFP)

It was without a doubt one of the worst tragedies in Lebanon’s history – and the country has suffered quite a few. Nearly a year ago, on August 4, 2020, a fire broke out at a fireworks warehouse at the Beirut port. The blaze spread to a hangar storing a huge amount of ammonium nitrates. Just after 6 p.m., an immense explosion tore through the port, followed by a shockwave that destroyed everything within a kilometer of the epicenter. The blast was felt over 20 kilometers from the port.

The scale of the disaster quickly became clear: over 200 killed and 6,000 injured. Within days, prime minister Hassan Diab tendered his resignation. But if some in Lebanon hoped the shocking disaster might fuel a wave of protests that would wash out the rot within the country, they were to be sorely disappointed. A year has passed, and the state of the country is only becoming more dire by the day. No one has been able to form a new government since Diab’s resignation, and the nation’s economic situation — already grim before the blast — has deteriorated to catastrophic.

Perhaps the most pertinent example of Lebanon’s calamitous condition can be seen in its failing infrastructure. Various international groups have warned that the country’s water supply systems could collapse within weeks. The government simply does not have the funds to maintain it — neither the replacement parts nor the chlorine, nor even fuel needed to power it. The consequences of such an eventuality, in a state that a few decades ago was considered to be the Middle East’s most advanced, are that citizens will need to take care of their water needs themselves. Lebanon could yet slide into internal wars over cisterns and reservoirs. The country would find itself returning to premodern history.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.473.0_en.html#goog_1957690995

But the water crisis is only one example of the country’s growing distress: The electrical system has also ceased functioning properly, and can barely manage a few hours of power every day. Even the power company’s website collapsed. Lebanese citizens are living on private generators, but the shortage in fuel means these too are hard to maintain.

There is a severe shortage in medicines, foodstuffs and all other basic supplies required by the population.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

The currency has collapsed and is now worth less than 10 percent of its rate just a few months ago. Two weeks ago, a Lebanese pound sold for 15,000 to a dollar. Today it’s 20,000. Inflation has skyrocketed, and brawls at gas stations or firefights over essential products have become commonplace around the country. Hospitals are lacking electricity and medicine, and cancer patients and other people with serious illnesses are dying simply due to the shortages.In this August 5, 2020 file photo, a drone picture shows the destruction after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Bassam Mugrabi, a taxi driver who lost his job, told the BBC this week that he and his family had moved to a Palestinian refugee camp. Only recently such areas were home to the poorest of the poor. Now they are providing shelter for citizens who can no longer afford their homes. “The country is controlled by thieves and criminals,” Mugrabi said.

The only potential light at the end of the tunnel, if it can be called that, is the announcement this week from President Michel Aoun that billionaire Najib Mikati, one of the wealthiest people in Lebanon, has agreed to try to form a new government.ADVERTISEMENT

Previously, former prime minister Saad Hariri — the billionaire son of another former premier, Rafiq Hariri, who was killed in a 2005 suicide bombing by Hezbollah and Syrian intelligence — announced that he could not form a government and was relinquishing the post. Hariri on Wednesday said, “It’s in Lebanon’s interest that Najib Mikati succeed and we will support him fully.” It’s doubtful this commitment holds much weight, but it sounds good.Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with former Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, July 26, 2021. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)

Mikati may be the one who will pave the way for the establishment of a government, which will allow the French and EU to transfer billions in humanitarian aid that was promised to the country in the event a new government was formed that would advance significant reforms.

However, that process won’t really help the average Lebanese citizen. Mikati has already served as prime minister twice, has been investigated in the past for alleged financial corruption related to his family, and is broadly considered to be cut from the same cloth as his predecessors — just another member of the elite that has controlled Lebanon for decades and is embroiled in internal conflicts over its control, with no real changes enacted under his leadership. Mikati may succeed in forming a government, but he certainly won’t save Lebanon from its corruption, political decay, and disintegration of its government institutions.

That is why Hezbollah is watching closely — and rubbing its hands together in glee. The Iran-backed terror group has for decades been operating a network of social services for Shiite Muslims who are loyal to it, and from its perspective, the weaker the country, the easier it will be to influence and control what happens in it. Iranian funding is meant to help the organization in this aim, to quite literally buy more support and loyalty. In the end, Hariri, Mikati, and even President Aoun understand that as long as Hezbollah remains Lebanon’s strongest military and economic force, the country will continue sliding toward total collapse — or become an Iranian satellite state.Supporters of Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, who stepped down saying he was unable to form a government, hurl stones at a Lebanese armored personnel carrier (unseen) in the capital Beirut on July 15, 2021. (AFP)

Is the Palestinian Authority the next Lebanon?

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the buzz around the Palestinian Authority’s instability continues. Analysts and experts are underlining a dramatic weakening of President Mahmoud Abbas’s standing among the Palestinian public. This is primarily over the death of the “Palestinian Khashoggi,” Nizar Banat of Hebron, a vocal critic of Abbas. Banat was arrested by Palestinian intelligence agents and beaten to death in custody. Since then, numerous protests have been held against Abbas.

The discontent comes against the backdrop of a worsening economic crisis in the PA, which, according to various reports, is on the brink of collapse — almost like Lebanon. It’s possible that in light of this development, the head of Israel’s Defense Ministry liaison to the Palestinians, Major General Ghasan Alyan, announced that Israel entry permits for Palestinian working in construction, as well as hotel workers, would be increased to 15,000. Whether BDS supporters like it or not, the Palestinian economy is heavily dependent on Israel and any boycott by the Israeli side could create hundreds of thousands of hungry households in the West Bank.ADVERTISEMENTMaryam Banat, 67, mother of Palestinian Authority critic Nizar Banat holds a poster with his picture while attending a rally protesting his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

And yet — the situation in the West Bank and PA is very different from Lebanon. The electricity is running and the water is being pumped. In the PA there is no powerful subversive group seeking to undermine it, as Hezbollah is doing in Lebanon. To the contrary: Fatah and PA security continue to control the situation for the most part. The PA’s economic and political situation, while in crisis, is not yet on the brink of collapse.

The economic crisis is composed of several elements. The high taxes the PA collects from the Palestinians were reduced considerably this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and a marked slowdown in economic activity. In addition, the financial aid the PA received in the past from other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has stopped amid the Palestinians’ clash with Gulf states against the backdrop of the Abraham Accords that normalized ties between some Arab countries and Israel. Since the agreements were signed, though there is a new US president, the Gulf states’ position has remained the same.

The EU’s funding, for both the PA’s budget and its infrastructure, has stopped for reasons that are unclear. The PA’s debt to banks stands at $2.3 billion, a huge sum for the cash-strapped Palestinians. According to some Palestinian sources, the banks have informed the PA they do not intend to approve additional loans to pay the salaries of PA workers. As a result of the debt and the growing deficit, starting in early August, there will likely be delays in paying the salaries of government workers as well as the security forces that ensure the survival of the PA — including during the Banat instability, when protests against Abbas were violently quelled.Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses a meeting of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council in a speech that was broadcast on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 (WAFA)

Politically, too, the PA is in trouble after the cancellation of the Palestinian elections and Banat’s death. Had elections been held, Hamas would likely have won, in part because of the Gaza conflict with Israel in May, which was seen by many in the West Bank as a Hamas victory. It’s to Abbas’s benefit that Palestinian elections are not in sight and reconciliation with Hamas is as elusive as ever. In many ways, the PA-Hamas divide resembles the PA’s intractable conflict with Israel, which cannot be resolved but only managed — with limited guarantees.

Despite the anger over Banat’s death, however, there are currently no mass protests against Abbas in the West Bank after Fatah deployed its officers to the streets to disperse the large demonstrations.

“Who will they protest against? Abu Mazen [Abbas]? Please, the question is the alternative,” a Palestinian colleague remarked this week. “Most of the Palestinian public in the West Bank does not want Hamas or the Israeli occupation managing its affairs. Abbas is seen as a bad option, but better than the alternatives.”Thousands of Fatah activists gather in a rally in support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, July 3, 2021 (WAFA)

The good news for the Palestinians is the change of tone by the new Biden administration, as well as the establishment of the new Bennett-Lapid government in Israel.

Though the Israeli prime minister and PA president have had no contact, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, President Isaac Herzog and others have spoken to the Palestinian leader. Last week, Meretz ministers also met with their Palestinian counterparts. The Palestinians know that Israel wants a stable PA and to preserve Abbas’s standing. The increase in work permits for Palestinians was an expression of this desire, despite Israel’s decision to again withhold the tax revenues it collects for the PA, against funds that are distributed to Palestinian prisoners and the families of terrorists. From a diplomatic perspective, Abbas’s position is more secure today as he has someone to work with, as contrasted with the total disconnect from the previous Netanyahu governments.

Palestinian sources, however, say there is wide concern in Fatah that Israel and Hamas will reach an agreement to rehabilitate the Strip and improve Gaza’s economic situation, in exchange for quiet along the southern border. Should such a deal include a Palestinian prisoner swap in exchange for the Israelis held in Gaza, officials say, this will significantly boost Hamas’s support in the enclave and the West Bank and generate considerable disquiet over the PA’s standing.

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The Abraham Accord

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All of the drinking water in Gaza is provided by Israel….

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This is why we attack Jews in the street…

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News they wont tell you…

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Cultural revolution in the USA…

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Google did not ”Google” Kamau Bobb before hiring him…

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A bomb shelter…

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The International Community and Israel

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Israel is not an apartheid state

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Liberal Jews in the US

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Sweden and the UK funds abusing children at terrorcamps in Gaza

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PA

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”Woke” America

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25 % av the Jews in the US do not get it

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Nancy Pelosi wished a happy 80th birthday

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Nancy Pelosi is 80 years old

Nancy Pelosi’s birth 80 years ago made headlines, too, as perils gathered for the nation


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updates reporters as lawmakers worked on a coronavirus aid package in Washington on Thursday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated her 80th birthday Thursday getting ready to shepherd the biggest economic bill in history through the U.S. House she leads. The Senate version of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill turned out to be 880 pages long, presumably a coincidence and not a tribute.

Reporters greeted her with a chorus of ”happy birthdays” when she arrived for a briefing in the Capitol. ”I’m not celebrating, though, until I can hug my grandbabies,” she replied with a smile. ”Waiting for that day.” 

Eighty years ago, news of her birth, the daughter of a first-term Baltimore congressman, also made headlines in the local press. It was a time, though, that any thoughts of a political dynasty focused on her five older brothers, not on the only girl in the family. 

Now, of course, she’s the one who is running the House.

“It’s a Girl for the D’Alesandro’s,” The Baltimore News-Post headline declared over a four-column photo at the top of the front page that showed the swaddled newborn only hours after she was born at the city’s St. Joseph Hospital. 

The Baltimore Sun took a more political tilt: “Tommy D’Alesandro Announces Another Sure Vote — It’s a Girl.” 

The Baltimore Guide offered a prediction that in retrospect seems practically prescient. “D’Alesandro Will Find New Boss in First Daughter,” it said, adding, “We predict that this little lady will soon be a ‘Queen’ in her own right.”

In Baltimore during those days, just about everybody knew the D’Alesandros. Tommy D’Alesandro Jr. was an up-and-coming pol, dapper and charismatic. At 36, he had already served two terms in the state legislature and a stint on the Baltimore City Council, then been elected to Congress. He represented Maryland’s Third District, which included Little Italy and other ethnic enclaves across the city. 

He won the U.S. House seat by ousting a six-term incumbent, Vincent Palmisano, in the Democratic primary. Years earlier, Palmisano, a political leader who lived around the corner, had taken an instant dislike to the younger man when he wanted to run for Maryland House of Delegates. Later, it would be D’Alesandro who ended Palmisano’s career.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updates reporters as lawmakers worked on a coronavirus aid package in Washington on Thursday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updates reporters as lawmakers worked on a coronavirus aid package in Washington on Thursday.  J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, AP

That would provide one of the political lessons that Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi never forgot. “Power’s not anything that anybody gives away,” she would declare. “You have to fight for it.” It was a precept that her father had followed in challenging Palmisano. It was advice she regularly gave Democrats contemplating tough contests. And it was the approach she would apply in a career that would make her the most powerful woman in the history of American politics.

Deal-making in a crisis: How Congress united on a $2 trillion coronavirus package

She would have the sort of deep understanding of politics, bred in her bones, that is particular to those for whom public office is the family business.

“What I learned from my father was everything,” she said. “I didn’t learn like you learn lessons. I learned by osmosis. I breathed it in. You can’t articulate it. Politics is every minute of every day. It is part of you.”

A week before she was born, her father had announced his candidacy for a second term in the House of Representatives, warning of perilous times for the nation ahead as war clouds gathered. A year later, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would catapult the United States into World War II.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated her 80th birthday Thursday getting ready to shepherd the biggest economic bill in history through the U.S. House she leads. The Senate version of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill turned out to be 880 pages long, presumably a coincidence and not a tribute.

Reporters greeted her with a chorus of ”happy birthdays” when she arrived for a briefing in the Capitol. ”I’m not celebrating, though, until I can hug my grandbabies,” she replied with a smile. ”Waiting for that day.” 

Eighty years ago, news of her birth, the daughter of a first-term Baltimore congressman, also made headlines in the local press. It was a time, though, that any thoughts of a political dynasty focused on her five older brothers, not on the only girl in the family. 

Now, of course, she’s the one who is running the House.

“It’s a Girl for the D’Alesandro’s,” The Baltimore News-Post headline declared over a four-column photo at the top of the front page that showed the swaddled newborn only hours after she was born at the city’s St. Joseph Hospital. 

The Baltimore Sun took a more political tilt: “Tommy D’Alesandro Announces Another Sure Vote — It’s a Girl.” 

The Baltimore Guide offered a prediction that in retrospect seems practically prescient. “D’Alesandro Will Find New Boss in First Daughter,” it said, adding, “We predict that this little lady will soon be a ‘Queen’ in her own right.”

In Baltimore during those days, just about everybody knew the D’Alesandros. Tommy D’Alesandro Jr. was an up-and-coming pol, dapper and charismatic. At 36, he had already served two terms in the state legislature and a stint on the Baltimore City Council, then been elected to Congress. He represented Maryland’s Third District, which included Little Italy and other ethnic enclaves across the city. 

He won the U.S. House seat by ousting a six-term incumbent, Vincent Palmisano, in the Democratic primary. Years earlier, Palmisano, a political leader who lived around the corner, had taken an instant dislike to the younger man when he wanted to run for Maryland House of Delegates. Later, it would be D’Alesandro who ended Palmisano’s career.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updates reporters as lawmakers worked on a coronavirus aid package in Washington on Thursday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updates reporters as lawmakers worked on a coronavirus aid package in Washington on Thursday.  J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, AP

That would provide one of the political lessons that Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi never forgot. “Power’s not anything that anybody gives away,” she would declare. “You have to fight for it.” It was a precept that her father had followed in challenging Palmisano. It was advice she regularly gave Democrats contemplating tough contests. And it was the approach she would apply in a career that would make her the most powerful woman in the history of American politics.

Deal-making in a crisis: How Congress united on a $2 trillion coronavirus package

She would have the sort of deep understanding of politics, bred in her bones, that is particular to those for whom public office is the family business.

“What I learned from my father was everything,” she said. “I didn’t learn like you learn lessons. I learned by osmosis. I breathed it in. You can’t articulate it. Politics is every minute of every day. It is part of you.”

A week before she was born, her father had announced his candidacy for a second term in the House of Representatives, warning of perilous times for the nation ahead as war clouds gathered. A year later, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would catapult the United States into World War II.

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Greece Still Hopes to Halt German Submarine Deal with Turkey

Greece Still Hopes to Halt German Submarine Deal with Turkey

By Jamie DettmerJuly 07, 2021 04:57 PM

An Ay class submarine of the Turkish Navy sets sail in the Bosphorus towards Marmara Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey August 7, 2020…

The Greeks are redoubling a monthslong diplomatic effort to persuade Germany to stop selling submarines to Turkey, saying that the planned sale of a half dozen subs will shift the balance of naval power in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece and Turkey have been locked in a quarrel about the territorial status of Mediterranean real estate and waters — and more important, the oil and gas reserves beneath them. The energy potential of the eastern Mediterranean has raised the stakes and drawn in neighboring powers.

Turkey has said it will keep up energy exploration in the contested eastern Mediterranean waters, where last August a pair of Greek and Turkish frigates collided during a volatile naval standoff, bringing the two NATO members near to a military clash.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday, during a tour of Turkey’s northwestern Black Sea province of Sakarya: “Whatever our rights are, we will take them one way or another. And we will carry out our oil exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus, and all those seas.”

The first of six German-designed submarines destined for Turkey was floated from its dock earlier this year and is scheduled to join the Turkish fleet next year. Five other Reis-class subs are to follow over the next few years in a deal worth around $4 billion.

Greece asked the European Union last month to impose an arms embargo on Turkey, but Germany, Spain and Italy rebuffed the request.

‘Proactive’ foreign policy

“Greece is entangled in the remarkably swift geopolitical changes in the eastern Mediterranean,” according to Vassilis Ntousas, a senior international relations policy adviser at the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, a think tank in Brussels.

“Athens has responded to the region’s explosive mix of competing maritime interests, energy claims and military exercises by pursuing an increasingly proactive foreign policy,” he added. In a paper published last week he said, “Greece has reached out to [EU] member states that traditionally take a more conciliatory approach to Turkey – such as Spain, Italy and Malta.”

Naval tensions have subsided recently in the eastern Mediterranean, where Greece and Turkey are also in a long-standing dispute over the status of Cyprus, following several rounds of face-to-face talks between the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Erdogan also met on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels in June with both committing not to hold naval exercises the next few months.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, Greece, May 31, 2021.

Greece Warns Turkey it Will Push for Sanctions if Tensions PersistThe two age-old foes and NATO allies exchange barbs ahead of a key summit

Kathimerini, the Greek daily newspaper published in Athens, said Erdogan “appeared eager not to stoke tension,” adding, “A calm tourist season is as important for Turkey as it is for Greece. On top of that, Erdogan wants to smooth relations with the European Union and the U.S.”

Erdogan has irritated NATO allies by buying Russian surface-to-air missiles and intervening in Syria and Libya.

But behind the scenes both Greece and Turkey have been maneuvering to strengthen their diplomatic positions — as well as their militaries. “Turkey’s president is trying to sound more helpful to the West. But his broader policy objectives have not changed,” according to Dimitar Bechev, author of a forthcoming book on Erdogan.

‘Charm offensive’

He said Erdogan has been engaged in “a charm offensive over several months” aimed at rekindling his relations with the West and the Biden administration. The Turkish president met the U.S. leader last month.

”The overtures towards Biden are broadly in line with Erdogan’s wish to ‘have his cake and eat it.’ That is, he wants to retain reasonably good relations with the U.S., despite the toxic anti-Americanism pervading Turkish media and the public at large, and to cling on to NATO, while at the same time teaming up with Russia on issues where their interests coincide,” he added in a commentary for the Royal United Services Institute, a British defense think tank.

And Turkey, NATO’s second-largest military, has been on a buying spree — as has Greece.

Greece announced in December that it was doubling its annual defense spending to $6.6 billion, and it signed a $3 billion deal in January with France to buy 18 Rafale warplanes, 12 of them used.

Turkey is awaiting completion of a light aircraft carrier designed by Spain.

The German-designed submarines are equipped with air-independent propulsion, or AIP, allowing them to go without the air supply normally needed by diesel engines. They can stay underwater for three weeks with little noise emission. Naval experts say they are well-suited for the shallow waters of the eastern Mediterranean and could be armed with medium-range anti-ship missiles.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias expressed his profound disappointment last month when Germany’s ruling coalition blocked efforts in the German parliament by opposition lawmakers to stop the submarine sales. “Both Prime Minister Mitsotakis and I have numerous times spoken to almost everyone in Germany about the necessity to keep the balance in the Aegean,” Dendias told reporters. He warned that the submarine deal risked shifting the balance in the Aegean Sea in favor of Ankara.

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1914, 1939 and Germany is doing it again

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Turkey & NATO: Why Erdogan’s Turkey is NATO in Name Only | The Watchman

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Christopher Columbus was a Sephardic Jew

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Why are American Jews distancing from Israel?

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What Israel’s History Says About America’s Future | Watchman Newscast

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Marjorie Taylor Greene and GOP lawmakers locked out of federal jail holding Jan. 6 protestors

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Babin calls Biden quarantining illegal immigrants in hotels ‘absolute hypocrisy’

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Biden caught in another ‘bizarre’ moment

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Summer 2020, not Jan. 6th | Greg Kelly Reports

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Greg shares shocking Hunter Biden footage, breaks down Trump’s speech | Greg Kelly Reports

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Episode 15: Russia turns on Israel in Syria

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Israel to Slash Carbon Emissions By 85%

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Iranians Risk Their Lives Chanting ‘Death to Khamenei’

The Islamic regime’s obsession with terror and hatred is costing the Iranian people their lives and the Iranian people have had enough.

The Islamic regime’s obsession with terror and hatred is costing the Iranian people their lives and the Iranian people have had enough.

Although protesting in Iran is very dangerous, Iranians took to the streets to chanting, “Khamenei must be killed!” and and “I will kill the killer of my brother!”

The people of Iran are desperate for change and deserve better than the terror-obsessed Ayatollah regime.

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After months of optimism, a return to the Iran nuke deal begins to look unlikely

The Islamic Republic’s demands, along with progress in its program, make a return to the JCPOA seem much more difficult than when Biden came into office

By LAZAR BERMAN26 July 2021, 7:48 pm  

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

After months of expectations that a breakthrough in the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program was only a matter of time, the chances of success are now looking increasingly remote.

Earlier this month, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said negotiations on restoring the nuclear deal will not resume until the hardliner Ebrahim Raisi takes office as president on August 5.

Though both sides have significant incentives to return to the deal, Iran’s aggressive negotiating demands and steady progress in its nuclear program have created a gap between the sides that looks increasingly difficult to bridge.

Furthermore, it is not entirely clear now that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei still wants to return to a deal, despite the Biden administration’s clear desire to finalize one.

Back in the box

Iran and the US have been holding indirect talks in Vienna since April over a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its nuclear program.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, which led the Islamic Republic to step up uranium enrichment to its highest-ever levels in violation of the accord.Then-US president Donald J. Trump signs an executive order on Iran Sanctions at Trump National Golf Club, August 6, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The new US administration, in contrast, has been open about its eagerness to restore the nuclear deal.

“Biden had from the start been explicit that he wants to get back into the JCPOA and put the Iran nuclear program in a box so that Biden can deal with a million other problems facing him on day one when he took office, both foreign and domestic policy,” said Jonathan Ruhe, director of foreign policy at The Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

The Biden administration has even shown itself willing to allow Iran access to frozen assets abroad, which Iran has dismissed as empty gestures.

“Clearly the regime is not feeling the economic noose as tightly as they were,” said Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 2, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The sixth round of talks adjourned in late June, and while the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the negotiating table, US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement.

The equation for a deal seems straightforward: Iran rolls back its nuclear program to the terms laid out in great detail by the JCPOA, while the US rolls back most Trump-era sanctions.

But Iran — or at least the hardline elements around Ali Khamenei — is demanding more. Tehran wants all the sanctions removed, including those dealing with terrorism and other non-nuclear issues.

Iranian negotiators are also demanding guarantees that the US cannot withdraw from a deal again without UN approval. The demand is an obvious non-starter, as an agreement by a US administration is not binding on any future ones, and it is utterly unthinkable — not to mention unconstitutional — that the US would give countries like Russia and China veto power over its foreign policy at the UN.Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, arrives at the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks are taking place in the Austrian capital, on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

The blunt — some would also say unsophisticated — approach taken by the Iranian negotiating team is a stark contrast to its skillful maneuvering from 2013 to 2015 that led to a deal.

“Iran did a great job building up leverage in the previous talks leading to the 2015 deal,” said Ruhe.

Tehran is looking to build leverage this time around as well, including through its proxy militias in Iraq, which are believed to be behind a series of recent drone attacks on US bases in the country.

Iranian intelligence agents even plotted to kidnap an Iranian-American journalist in Brooklyn and spirit her off to Iran.Journalist Masih Alinejad speaks onstage at the 7th Annual Women In The World Summit at the Lincoln Center in New York City, April 7, 2016. (Jemal Countess / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Most significantly, the Iranians have been openly escalating its nuclear program beyond the agreement’s limits: in the numbers and types of centrifuges they are running, in the quantities and levels of uranium they are enriching — up to 60 percent — and in their production of uranium metal.

“Even the Biden administration, which wants a deal badly, is having a hard time saying, ‘We’ll give in to the pressure,’” said Ruhe.

Iran began to openly abrogate its responsibilities under the JCPOA in July 2019, and has been accelerating its program and limiting access to its nuclear sites after the Guardian Council passed a law in December 2020 requiring the government to do so if sanctions were not lifted.

Facts on the ground

The Iranian advances might render a return to the original JCPOA impossible, even if Iran were willing to remove its unrealistic demands.

“There is a series of new facts on the ground that Iran has been creating in its nuclear program,” said Goldberg.A satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows construction at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility on December 11, 2020. Iran has begun construction on a site at its underground nuclear facility at Fordo amid tensions with the US over its atomic program (Maxar Technologies via AP)

The JCPOA was crafted before Iran had developed new advanced centrifuges, which enable them to advance far more quickly to a bomb. Moreover, Iran been building out its nuclear facilities, including the underground Fordo nuclear facility and a new underground centrifuge production site at Natanz.

Since the facilities did not exist in 2015, it is not at all clear that a return to the JCPOA would necessitate their dismantlement.  In any event, the Iranian program is going to be far more advanced than the deal ever imagined, and the Iranians will still possess all the knowledge they have gained over the past two years.

To make matters more complicated, Iran’s program is much more opaque now than it was in 2015.

In late February, Iran limited the IAEA’s access to nuclear sites it had been monitoring as part of the 2015 deal.Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (ALEX HALADA/AFP)

A three-month agreement reached on February 21 allowing some inspections to continue was extended by another month in May. Under that deal Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

In June, Iran said it would not hand over the footage.

“We have some idea of how advanced Iran’s nuclear program is. But there’s much more ambiguity now around it than there was before talks started,” Ruhe explained.

That ambiguity makes a new deal difficult as well. Without knowing how advanced Iran’s program is — how significant its enriched uranium stockpiles are and how many centrifuges are running — the Americans cannot be sure of what they are trying to get the Iranians to concede.

What does Khamenei want?

Iran’s negotiating posture raises questions about what Khamenei’s endgame is.

One possibility is that the supreme leader’s strategic direction has not changed, and he ultimately wants to get to back to the agreement. That would mean his negotiators have been playing for time as a negotiating tactic, seeing how far they can push the Biden administration.

“They may be saying, we’ve already pocketed all of these sanctions from the Americans, we still want more,” Goldberg said.

“In my opinion, it’s not only Biden who wants to put the nuclear issues ‘back into the box’ but also Khamenei,” said Raz Zimmt, Iran scholar at the Institute for National Security Studies.People withdraw money from an ATM in Tehran’s grand bazaar on November 3, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

A deal will help Iran deal with its economic woes, grant it increased legitimacy on the world stage, and indicate to the West that Raisi is more moderate than he seems right now.

Still, this does not guarantee that the Iranians will ultimately agree to a deal.

“Even though the Iranians have incentives to get the sanctions relief secured, the hardliners in Iran always seem to have a hard time bringing themselves to say yes to anything with the Americans,” said Ruhe.

It is also conceivable, however, that Khamenei has decided not to reenter the agreement.

“They would prefer to bypass sanctions through countries like China, and create a ‘resistance economy,’” said Zimmt.

In this telling, the Iranians understand that there will never be any guarantees that US will not reimpose sanctions in the future, and the Biden administration itself will push for “longer and stronger” sanctions in a follow-on deal.Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with Iran’s army’s air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Khamenei would thus be continuing to negotiate in order to give the Iranian program as much time as possible to advance while the West is focused on the talks, and so Tehran can blame the US when the talks fail.

Domestic blame game

Within Iran, a blame game has broken out between the outgoing Hassan Rouhani administration and the incoming Raisi team.

“The situation now is that the main argument is not between Iran and the world powers, but within Iran,”  explained Zimmt.

Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif’s foreign ministry are trying to write their political wills, said Zimmt.Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) welcomes Cornel Feruta, acting head of the UN atomic watchdog, to the Iranian capital Tehran on September 8, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Zarif wrote a letter to the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on July 11, laying out his view on the JCPOA and on the ongoing negotiations with the US.

The letter defended the deal, and put blame on the Iranian deep state for failing to take advantage of the deal’s potential and for not reciprocating American attempts to find common ground this year.

The hardliners, including the Revolutionary Guards and their allies, blame Rouhani and Zarif for failing to defend Iranian interests and red lines, and for not adhering to the December 2020 law on accelerating Iran’s nuclear program.

Ultimately, however, the decision lies with Khamenei and Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

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Did a Secret Israel-Russia War Almost Cause World War III?

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Prosecutor: Paid Iranian Propagandist Worked as NY Times Opinion Writer

Kaveh Afrasiabi (screenshot); NY Times building (shutterstock)

Kaveh Afrasiabi

Prosecutor: Paid Iranian Propagandist Worked as NY Times Opinion Writer

Jul 25, 2021

New York Times opinion writer was paid Iranian propagandist, prosecutor says.

By Ira Stoll, The Algemeiner

A frequent New York Times opinion writer facing criminal charges for allegedly being a paid foreign agent of the Iranian government appeared virtually this month before the federal judge hearing the case, as a prosecutor told the judge that the writer’s crime was not only “lobbying” for the regime in Tehran but also “the dissemination of propaganda.”

“Lobbying is not the only means by which he committed the offense,” the prosecutor, Ian Richardson, told Judge Edward Korman. Richardson said the writer, Kaveh Afrasiabi, had also served as an “agent of influence” by disseminating propaganda.

Afrasiabi, an Iranian national who is a US permanent resident, pleaded not guilty in February. Prosecutors say he was paid approximately $265,000 by the Iranian UN mission since 2007 and also received health insurance benefits. Afrasiabi has acknowledged to The Algemeiner that he received the money.

In a July 12 court filing, Afrasiabi said the charges “stem from a basic misjudgment of the nature of my work as a responsible social scientist committed to the cause of peace, dialogue, and harmony between nations.”

The filing says, “until my arrest by the FBI in January, 2021, I never thought that my consulting role with the Mission of Iran to United Nations was unlawful. To reiterate, various Iranian ambassadors to UN, beginning with ambassador Javad Zarif in 2007, repeatedly assured me that under UN rules Iran was entitled to two outside consultants and that it was perfectly legal.”

Much of the July 14 status hearing was devoted to procedural issues. Judge Korman expressed impatience with delays. “I think it’s time to set a date for the trial,” Korman said.

The prosecutor, Richardson, said some of the evidence in the case against Afrasiabi is secret. “There is potentially discoverable material that remains classified,” Richardson said, expressing an intention to disclose the material under the Classified Information Procedures Act.

“It seems to me this is being unnecessarily dragged out,” Korman said, urging the prosecutor and the defense to narrow the scope of the discovery “so this case doesn’t drag on forever.”

“Are you sitting on exculpatory evidence?” Korman asked Richardson, who responded, “no.”

A sideshow was Afrasiabi’s complaints about computing resources. “The government took two of my laptops. I have not been able to review any discovery,” he said.

Korman was alternately sympathetic and less than sympathetic to that concern. “You don’t have a computer that works. That has to be solved,” Korman said, suggesting that Afrasiabi, who is at his Boston-area home, use a computer at the library, or travel to New York to use a computer at the office of the federal defender serving as his standby counsel. Perhaps he could borrow a computer from the US attorney for the eastern district of New York.

“If you want you could lend him a computer — you must have some used ones,” Korman said to Richardson.

Korman also told Afrasiabi, however, “the fact that you don’t have a computer is your problem.”

The Speedy Trial Act set a goal for federal criminal trials to begin in 70 days after arraignment, in keeping with the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a “right to a speedy and public trial.” Korman said that helped advance justice, as with the passage of time, “memories fade,” and “evidence gets lost.” In practice the Speedy Trial Act has been effectively suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the 70-day goal was “rarely ever met” even before the pandemic, Korman said.

Afrasiabi seemed in no rush, perhaps hoping that the charges against him would be dropped in connection with an eventual renewal of the Iran nuclear and sanctions-relief deal, which the Biden administration has been pursuing, so far fruitlessly, in negotiations at Vienna. The case is “not even six months old. I respectfully request the court’s patience,” Afrasiabi said. “For the sake of justice it’s imperative that I be given the time and the resources necessary.”

Korman reassured Afrasiabi: “Nobody is going to deprive you of looking at material that is relevant.”

Perhaps the best news for Afrasiabi at the hearing was Korman’s indication of some skepticism about one of the two federal charges against Afrasiabi, who is charged both with not complying with the Foreign Agents Registration Act and with conspiring to violate the act. “You shouldn’t worry about the conspiracy,” Korman said. “That is a common form of charging to unnecessarily complicate cases.”

The New York Times has yet to cover the news of the criminal charges against its own frequent opinion page contributor, and Afrasiabi’s articles remain available on the Times website without any disclosure by the newspaper that their author is being accused in court of being a paid Iranian propagandist. By contrast, the Times made a front-page story out of an indictment of a Trump friend and campaign fund-raiser, Thomas Barrack, Jr., on a charge of failure to register as a foreign agent of the United Arab Emirates.

It sure looks like a double standard. A Trump friend accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for a country at peace with Israel gets front-page Times coverage, while a Times opinion writer accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for a country hostile to Israel gets no Times coverage at all.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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1 killed at Iran water shortage protests in restive drought-hit province

Khuzestan governor says ‘opportunists and rioters’ shot protester; province is main oil-producing region; has large Sunni Arab minority which complains of marginalization

By AFP17 July 2021, 11:48 am

Screen grab taken from video apparently showing protests against water shortages in Khuzestan, July 16, 2021 (Twitter)

TEHRAN — A demonstrator was shot dead during protests against water shortages in drought-hit southwestern Iran, state media reported Saturday, with an official blaming the death on “opportunists and rioters.”

The demonstrator was killed in the Khuzestan province town of Shadegan, the official IRNA news agency said.

“Last night (Friday), a number of Shadegan’s people had gathered to protest water shortages due to the drought, during which opportunists and rioters shot dead one of the demonstrators,” the county’s acting governor, Omid Sabripour, told IRNA.

Sabripour said the perpetrators “sought to agitate the people by shooting in the air” and a “young Shadegan resident” was shot in the process.

In separate comments to the ISNA news agency, Sabripour said the fire was directed at both the demonstrators and security forces.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

He added that the victim was a “30-year-old passer-by” and that those responsible were identified and some arrested last night, with a manhunt under way for the others.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1416131704562061324&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2F1-killed-at-iran-water-shortage-protests-in-restive-drought-hit-province%2F&sessionId=43101e3070ff5b8089c4cc18ac41d32b293499f9&siteScreenName=timesofisrael&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

A persistent drought in Khuzestan province has led to tensions over water since late March, IRNA reported.

Iran has endured repeated droughts over the past decade, particularly in the south.

Earlier this month, President Hassan Rouhani said this year’s drought was “unprecedented” with average rainfall down 52 percent compared to the previous year.In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting at the presidency compound in Tehran, Iran, July 6, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Earlier this week, the government sent a delegation to Khuzestan to tackle the water shortage.

The province is Iran’s main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest.ADVERTISEMENT

It is also one of the few areas of mainly Shiite Iran to have a large Sunni Arab minority, which has frequently complained of marginalization.

In 2019, the province was a hotspot of anti-government protests that had shaken other areas of the Islamic republic.

Farsi-language media based abroad said security forces had cracked down on protesters demonstrating against severe water shortages on Thursday, but domestic media played down the reports.

Over the years, blistering summer heatwaves and seasonal sandstorms blowing in from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Iraq have dried up Khuzestan’s once fertile plains.

Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts, and their intensity and frequency in turn threaten food security.

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Israel quietly letting Jews pray on Temple Mount, in break with status quo — TV

Network airs footage of daily sessions being held in the compound, with police turning a blind eye, in what would appear to be a reversal of decades-long policy

By TOI STAFF17 July 2021, 11:48 pm

Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, as reported by Channel 12 news, on July 17, 2021. (Channel 12 screenshot)

Israel has quietly started allowing Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount in recent months, in what would appear to be a major change to the status quo that has existed at the holy site since the Jewish state captured the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan during 1967’s Six Day War, according to a report Saturday.

Channel 12’s religious affairs reporter Yair Cherki filmed prayers at the site in recent days, as policemen — who in the past would eject any person suspected of prayer, and sometimes kicked people out for merely citing a biblical verse while speaking — passively looked on.

“For months now, every morning this unofficial prayer quorum has been praying on the Temple Mount,” Cherki said. The worshipers gather without prayer books, tefillin or any other symbols of prayer that could draw unwanted attention from Muslims at the compound that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

But pray they do, with the cops turning a blind eye. The Islamic Waqf, which administers the compound, is aware of the situation and monitors them from a distance, but has so far not taken action, according to the report.

Cherki described the developments as “a revolution, unfolding quietly and gradually under the radar.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the biblical Temples. It is the site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in the Six Day War and extended sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. Anxious to reduce friction with the Muslim world, however, and given that Orthodox sages generally counsel against ascending the Temple Mount for fear of treading on the sacred ground where the Temple’s Holy of Holies stood, Israel since 1967 allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount. Jews are allowed to visit under numerous restrictions, but not to pray.Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, as reported by Channel 12 news, on July 17, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

In recent years, Israeli public perception of the ban on Jewish prayer has shifted. Through the fruits of a long-term concerted PR campaign, now using updated jargon calling for freedom of religion and human rights, the previously fringe Temple Mount movement is increasingly mainstreamed.ADVERTISEMENT

But in the face of Palestinian claims that Israel seeks to change the status quo on the Mount that have intermittently caused flareups of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, successive Israeli governments have long maintained that Israel is committed to the status established there over the past few decades and does not intend to change the accepted practices.

Channel 12 reported that beyond prayers, lengthy Torah lessons have been held on the Mount, again with the tacit approval of the police.A Jewish study session on the Temple Mount, July 2021. (Channel 12 screenshot)

The report cited two main causes for the gradual change: the growing number of Jewish visitors to the site — a record 35,000 came in the year before the coronavirus struck — and productive contacts between some of the religious activists and police.

Religious activists have even set up a “Temple Mount Management” body that built a shaded hut at the entrance area leading to the Mount, with refreshments for visitors and a model of the ancient Jewish Temple.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the change in police policy on the Mount. Neither the Israel Police nor the Public Security Ministry that oversees the force provided any immediate response, though it seemed unlikely such action, with such explosive potential consequences, would be authorized without the knowledge of top officials.Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, as reported by Channel 12 news, on July 17, 2021. (Channel 12 screenshot)

In the past, attempts by Jews to pray at the site, even when quickly stopped by police, have sparked violence. So far though, the report said, the regular prayer sessions have been peaceful and have not led to unrest.ADVERTISEMENT

Asaf Fried, spokesman for an assortment of organizations active on the Mount, told the network: “The entrance area has been fixed up, there are no lines at the entrance… people go up to the Mount, there’s no Waqf following you. There’s a lot more room to breathe on Temple Mount.”Assaf Fried (Channel 12 screenshot)

Channel 12’s Cherki stressed that this was still far from complete religious freedom for Jews on the Mount, noting that he was told by police not to film or interview people there, and, as a kippa wearer, to refrain from religious activity. But, on the ground, he says “the cops, in accordance with the new policy, look the other way.”

Some of the Temple Mount activists welcome the change, while others say there’s still a long way to go.

“Unfortunately it’s not prayer, in the sense that a Jew who has been to a synagogue or at the Western Wall would call prayer,” said Arnon Segal, one of the activists. “It’s very quiet prayer. Often a person who sways more than is allowed or mumbles too loudly is interrupted.”

“Praise the Lord for what there is, and there’s a lot more to be done.”Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, as reported by Channel 12 news, on July 17, 2021. (Channel 12 screenshot)

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A first! Moroccan Air Force plane lands in Israel

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Donald Trump blasts Biden for dismantling the border

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US, Iran show no movement toward nuclear deal

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Iran probably will cease to exist

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New York Times under fire for saying the US flag ‘may no longer unite’ America

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The Way BACK for America | 1776 Report | Part 5

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Facebook now warning users about ‘extremist’ friends and ideas | STINCHFIELD on Newsmax

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