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State of Palestine is likely to become reality under Trump

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] H [/yt_dropcap]umanity scurvies on hopes! With a new regime in place in USA, hopes are indeed very about the feasibility of establishment of much delayed Palestine state whose lands Israel occupies with US baking. Now all eyes are on the progress and process of establishing Palestine state.

Palestinians have, after a great deal of collective suffering under the Zionist military brutality for years, achieved last year their first objective of becoming a defacto member of UN which is indeed the most positive event in life of humanity in recent years. Notwithstanding all strenuous efforts by Israel, Mossad and American Jewish lobbyist lords, including those in Neocons that made the White House stand solid behind Israel brutally targeting the besieged Palestinians, PLO (PA) has managed to win the UN membership, though without any voting power but of course would also be realized sooner than later.

After a somewhat neutralist twist in Obama era without any sincere concern for the plight of people of Palestine, world expects a totally positive approach from the new Trump government that replaces a Zionist regime effectively controlled by Hillary and Neocons, totally committed to the cause of expansionist Israeli genocides inside Palestine.

As it stands, Palestine is a UN member as a state under occupation. President Obama did not make any effort to make Palestine a soverign state mainly because a prominent Zionist American Hillary Clinton, swearing by Zionist expansionist ideology, did not let that happen. Palestinians continued to suffer as Israel began targeting civilians, children and women in Gaza Strip which it wants to reoccupy. Yet neither Obama nor Hillary has any sympathy for the Palestinian children getting killed by Israeli military. All that seemed worrying them is the slow progress in the Zionist expansionist criminal operations inside Palestine. Obama has added more money and terror goods, technology to Israeli system, making it remain the formidable military plus nuclear power of West Asia.

With President-elect Donald Trump seeking peace in Mideast, Netanyahu wants to start out on the right foot during a meeting with President Trump that could take place at the end of March 2017 when this hawk speaks at the annual conference of powerful Jews the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He has instructed his diplomatic right-hand man (lawyer Yitzhak Molcho), the Israeli National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry to prepare policy papers for such a meeting in the Oval Office. In addition, the Israeli Embassy in Washington has been talking to Trump’s advisers and with new senators of both parties in order to prepare the encounter.

Zionist expansionist terrorism

And Israel thrives at the cost of Palestinians, due to foolishness and arrogance of US presidents. The joint US-Israeli arrogance is the cause for the continuous suffering of the besieged Palestinians whose lands are being under brutal control of joint terror blockades of Israel-Egyptian regimes.

In fact, Israel opposes world peace, it does not seek peace with Palestinians, it has no idea about a peace deal with Palestine which would eventually deny and end aggression and genocides, it still wants to continue brutal occupation and crimes against humanity. It however talks about direct bogus talks with Palestinians to impress the western powers in order to get military and technology aid.

Not happy with foreign powers taking interest in Mideast peace, Israel has rejected taking part in an international peace conference advocated by France. On Nov. 7, Jacob Nagel, Israel’s national security adviser, told French peace envoy Pierre Vimont that Israel would not participate in any international conference, considering such a forum an international diktat. It wants only the support for its brutalities in Palestine and Mideast. Israel instead claims it wants only direct but bogus talks with the Palestinians in order to prolong occupational crimes.

One of the reasons Israelis were so involved in this election campaign was undoubtedly is the fear that if Hillary loses that won’t be in its terror interests and also the knowledge that the results would have far-reaching political and diplomatic ramifications for Israel. When most commentators and polls in the United States predicted an almost certain victory for Clinton, the Israeli media focused on the anticipated implications for Netanyahu’s right-wing government. Obviously, Trump’s victory has upset Israeli calculations.

Israel does not distinguish among US presidents in terms of support for Zionist fascism and fanaticism and has taken their support for granted. The climax came when Trump became the “messiah” of the Israeli right based on his election promises — to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, for instance. No one in Israel has the slightest idea whether the 45th president of the USA will show any interest whatsoever in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, if he will also turn a blind eye to construction in the settlements or decide to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Israel is damns sure it can play the new president as well as it wants.

However, many in Israel and USA think Trump cannot be different towards Israel and he would also let Israel continue with its expansionist and genocide policies. Tel Aviv pins all hopes on US/NATO wars in Arab/Islamic world so that its occupational infrastructure is intact in Palestine and can continue to slaughter the Palestinians at will.

Earlier, Israel had not attached importance to US poll for too long after the Zionist state came into being. Until 2012, Israelis showed no exceptional interest in the US election but now the issue of illegal settlements has made Israeli leaders nervous as a new hawk takes power in Washington. Jews realized that the social changes, making political changes, in Israel’s strongest and most important ally USA would impact them directly too. However, a smart US educated Netanyahu did not repeat his 2012 mistake and made a point of staying out of the election — publicly and officially , at least — the “historic” taboo had already been shattered.

Although the Zionist leaders “proudly” say now that the two state solution option is gone with the election of Trump, Israelis do reel from US election as their favorite candidate Hillary Clinton bite the dust at the dustings. On the night the votes were being counted, the heated, emotional debates that erupted between Israelis watching the American drama unfold made it seem as though the election was for the Israeli Knesset, not the White House. Israel’s leading journalists could not hide their shock and disappointment at Democrat Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

Obama continues with Zionist US policy

President Obama inherited entire legacy of previous presidents in policies and   practices especially in Mideast. He extended terror wars to Libya and added more troops to Afghanistan. Obama accelerated terror wars of Bushdom, killed thousands of Muslims in Mideast and added more terror goods to Israel.

Israel and Trump’s pro-Israel supporters are already sending signals to Obama to forgo any kind of action at the United Nations. International political observers are worried that the newly elected US president might, on instruction from Israeli regime cum Jewish US lobbyists, abandon the Middle East or alternatively make extremist decisions. Israel has been pushing Washington to h as enacting his campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in Palestine.

For the skeptics, Obama making a controversial decision on the Middle East conflict would not be easy even though freed, as he is, from election shackles. There are skeptics who think he will not have the courage to make a bold decision as a lame duck in the White House.

Like India occupies Jammu Kashmir on the falsified strength of a possible fake document, Israel also takes all precautions to see noting obstructs the brutal occupation of neighboring nation Palestine without even fake documents. USA, UNSC and NATO are the strength of the Israeli regime, its fascism

The usual ploy of “anti-Semitism” tricks won’t work any longer

Israel lectures US presidents

Occasionally one gets the feeling if Israel controls US president.

For too long USA has pursued not just pro-Israeli policies but also let itself controlled by Israel in policy matters. Israeli relations received a setback during the Obama era although he also   provided sumptuous aid in cash and arms and technology to appease hardcore Zionists in USA and Israel. Israeli leader address the US Congress and deliver advises to Americans.

Israeli hardline PM Benjamin Netanyahu has actively and discretely begun preparing for his first meeting with the next US president. He is counting the days until the end of President Barack Obama’s presidency. Their relationship was in trouble beginning with their first meeting, when Netanyahu tried in vain to convince Obama about the legitimacy of the settlements, to the unprecedented clash between the two leaders when Netanyahu took sides with the Republicans in Congress on the Iran deal.

During his forthcoming meeting with President Trump, Netanyahu would tell Trump that Palestinian cause problems for USA and regional peace cannot be solved by making Palestine an independent nation. He wishes to remove the resolution of the Palestinian issue from the list of elements necessary for regional stability and convince the new president that fundamentalist terror is the root problem of the region (and for world stability for that matter). Netanyahu will argue that the Islamic State, Hezbollah and Hamas are the real enemies of both Israel and pragmatic Arab countries. Thus, the region should align around the battle against Iranian-sponsored terror, not the Palestinian statehood issue.

Hawk Netanyahu as usual is eager to give along lecture to Trump on international politics with special reference to Mideast of which he as Israeli PM claims to be an expert, and intends to persuade the new president to cooperate closely with Israel on Iranian compliance with the agreement. He will encourage American deterrence against Iran’s long-range missile development and the sponsoring of regional and international terrorism. American sanctions against Tehran must therefore remain a realistic option

Netanyahu blames it all on the personality of the outgoing president, and he does not perceive this as a result of a fundamental interest clash between the two countries. Netanyahu, said the official, believes he can get along well with Trump.

In Washington, Netanyahu will not allow President Trump discuss Palestine issue or Israeli genocides. He obviously would make the case for fighting terror first and addressing Palestinians last, office and the Israeli Embassy are preparing for a media blitz to reiterate his view of the Israeli cause. His government and the Israeli Embassy are preparing for a media blitz to reiterate his view of the Israeli cause.

In short, Netanyahu would like the next president to embrace and adopt Israel’s “no” on the Palestinian issue. In parallel, Netanyahu is, as Israeli policy, preparing to galvanize the organized American Jewish community to his policy aims vis-a-vis the next regime. The Israeli Embassy in Washington is in contact with US Jewish organizations that are able to influence the administration and Congress, primarily the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and AIPAC. The new US Congress will be the main focus of these organizations in order to spread Netanyahu’s gospel.

Netanyahu’s third issue would be preventing American and international pressure on Israel on the following points: 1, Illegal colonies construction and USA must express its opposition to any Israeli settlement expansion more privately than under Obama: 1. Public assurances that the United States will veto any UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel or setting terms of reference for a two-state solution process. USA must as before veto any UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel or setting terms of reference for a two-state solution process.2. USA has to foil any EU member state initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the French initiative on a two-state solution.

One has no idea as to what would President Trump tell Netanyahu.

Task before Trump presidency

President elects Donald Trump’s statement that he would end war between Israel and Palestinians is the first ever such intension for peace in Mideast but has been despised and not welcomed in Israel. Israel wants every president to carry forward the policy of genocides in Palestine. Even the Zionist left is shocked and terrified. Never before has Israeli media coverage of an American election been so intense and so involved.

The media globally described the victory of Trump against the powerful Hillary Clinton as establishment candidate as “shock win” because every step was ensured for the victory of Hillary as the first ever woman president to prolong the terror occupation of Muslim countries, invade more Muslim countries, support the expansionist drive of Zionist criminal regime, etc.

Of course, the Trump win was remarkable, though unexpected by majority of corporate regimes and their media outlets across the world. That means Trump needs his act together and launch anti-state terror and anti-occupation moves systematically and honestly. There was also a clear sense from their reports that most reporters and analysts preferred the Democratic candidate.

President Trump should realize that he has arrived on international scene at a critical juncture as state terrorism has turned ugly and as fascist gang capitalist nations has become arrogant.

Israel opposes peaceful resolution of Mideast crisis with regard to Palestine state. Pursuing capitalist-imperialist path, Obama has long supported a two-state solution, but right-wing Israeli fanatic nuts believe that Trump’s election has buried the idea of a Palestinian state. Allowing a vote for Palestinian statehood — whether by withholding a veto or abstaining — would be a small step in helping translate thus far unimplemented US policy and guarantee that the new president will not be forced to bury the two-state solution whereby Palestine state comes into existence.

Instead of undertaking punitive measures against Israeli crimes against humanity, the Obama government has promised a supply of 10-year, $38 billion military aid package with a huge, up-to-date military arsenal to the essentially fascist Israel could only complicate the tension in Mideast. Obama has done this favor in spite of the fact that and Benjamin Netanyahu have not seen eye to eye on the Middle East conflict and the Iranian nuclear deal. President Trump could cancel the aid altogether to coerce Israel to abandon its terror techniques in Palestine and give up expansionist idea altogether.

While Israel continues to be in denial, Palestinian officials appear, however, to be accepting of the new reality, with President Mahmoud Abbas welcoming Trump’s election in a Nov. 9 message, also saying that he hopes a comprehensive peace will be achieved during his term. PLO Secretary Saeb Erekat reiterated the need for the new US leader to stay committed to the two-state solution. “We hope from the new US administration to translate talk about the two-state solution into a reality, because security, peace and stability in this region can only happen if the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 is defeated,” he said.

Hamas government in Gaza called on the president-elect to reconsider US policy toward the Palestinian cause. “The suffering of the Palestinian people is continuing because of biased, successive American administrations in favor of Israel,” the movement said in a statement released Nov. 11.

Observations

Humanity believes that US President Barack Obama should still use his remaining months in the White House to ensure that a UN Security Council resolution recommending the recognition of Palestine be permitted to pass. Obama could accomplish a number of goals with such a decision. It could be Obama’s gift to Middle East peace before leaving office on Jan. 20 when new incumbent Donald Trump takes power from him. Obama has the ability to instruct single-handedly his UN representative to support or abstain from a resolution that will become irrevocable once the UN Security Council passes it.

It is certain that President Trump would be able to make Palestine a soverign nation in a year or so and would not let the criminal regime in Israel attack Palestinians. It can’t be otherwise. However, if Trump also plays into the dirty Zionist hands, Trump would feel sorry later for his wrong decision to support the criminal and high fanatic Israeli regime.

Even Obama’s successor, Donald Trump under pressure from Israel and its agents in USA like Hillary Clinton, will not be able to reverse it mainly because he wants to establish Palestine and peaceful region in West Asia. Also, the Palestine state would have received international legitimacy. That would ensure transfer of power of sovereignty to Palestine government and withdrawal of Israeli forces and offices from Palestine territories. The borders of Palestine would be finally earmarked legally so that the Zionist military would end aggressor and expansionist wars in Palestine, its children won’t be killed by Israeli military any more.

Unless Palestinians obtain full membership of UN, Israel can resort to intermittent aggression, targeting children to quench its blood thirst. All mediatory efforts by USA and international community have filed because the top powers are not sincere. Fascist UNSC is not committed to world peace.

Passage of a Security Council resolution recommending a Palestinian state would seal a progressive legacy for Obama and help make up for his inability to reach a breakthrough in the Middle East conflict during his eight years in office.

The new US Congress under the Republican control could choose to punish Israel by withholding financial and military-technological support to the Jewish government. Censure of the settlements, however, would probably not elicit a strong reaction after Trump takes over. USA could increase the aid to Palestine to help rebuild the nation, destroyed by regular aggressions and terror attacks by Israel. .

Many in Israel think Netanyahu and Trump are ideological twins and so Netanyahu’s “peace process hands-off” message might probably meet a fertile ideological ground with the new regime.

First, recognition of Palestine by Trump’s USA and a condemnation of illegal Jewish settlements as international shame on the part of White House are the need of the time and a statement to the effect showcasing its genuine interest in peace would make the Mideast problem to get resolved soon.

Israel, however, does not believe trump would play to the Zionist fiddle.

UNSC, USA and EU should not let Israel decide the fate and destiny of Mideast by adding more terror goods into Israeli military. . It is important that before passing the baton to Trump, Obama round out his legacy by responding to the will of the Palestinian people by permitting a vote for the State of Palestine.

Both USA and its terror ally Israel must realize that Palestinians have the right to statehood and USA should help them obtain that right.

Establishment of Palestine state would make the region tension free, war free and world safe. Hopefully President Trump would realize it and work towards that objective.

Enough of blood bath in Palestine and Mideast! Entire globe is looking for a change in US polices towards neutrality, peace and prosperity in Palestine. Trump without any hesitation fulfill the dreams of Palestinians and humanity at large!

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Middle East

Washington and Paris play doubles against Iran

Mohammad Ghaderi

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Last September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, we saw the joint work of Washington and Paris on how to deal with the nuclear question. Trump and Macron decided to launch and lead the “the JCPOA transformation process” using the U.S. Congress. Macron’s remarks on the “possibility of completion of the JCPOA” by including Iran’s missile armaments and new constraints on Iran’s nuclear program were the proofs of this bilateral agreement between the White House and the Elysée Palace.

Following Trump’s controversial speech on the nuclear deal and his two-month time limit to the U.S. Congress to review the JCPOA, Macron continued his negative maneuvers in dealing with Iran’s missile program. But the U.S. Congress could not reach consensus on the matter and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration and the Congress will continue cooperation to revise the JCPOA.

“Now, we’re also working with the Congress to arrive at a new agreement, a new set of conditions for sanctions going forward. The reality is that the nuclear deal was so ill-founded, because it did not deny that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon. Being a 10-year agreement, it virtually guaranteed that they would develop a nuclear weapon after that 10-year period. Whether we’ll continue to waive sanctions will be decided soon,” said Pence.

According to the Vice President, the Trump administration and the Congress are drafting a law stating that if Iran ever resumes its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon and missile to deliver it, all nuclear sanctions will immediately be imposed against Tehran. About three weeks ago, Emmanuel Macron explicitly stated that “the JCPOA” is unchangeable, but he still talks about completing the nuclear deal. What is certain is that completing the nuclear deal means altering this agreement.

Macron himself knows that an annexation, supplementary agreement or even a secondary agreement is a clear breach of the original agreement. In such a situation, the JCPOA will lose its value. There are some points in this regard that need to be addressed.

Firstly, the U.S. officials will first try to agree on a joint plan to “transform the deal”. Over the past two months, Tom Cotton and Bob Corker, two Republican senators, have made great efforts to persuade the Congress to address Donald Trump’s concerns, but they failed in this regard. According to the Cotton-Corker joint plan, Iran’s missile activities will be linked to the nuclear deal, and if the Islamic Republic prevents the IAEA from inspecting its military sites, the deal will automatically be nullified.

Also, according to their plan, the so-called sunset clauses will be removed, and the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would be permanent. Democrat Senators believe that the plan will mean the withdrawal of the U.S. from the deal, and therefore they have not agreed with it. Some Republican Senators such as Ron Paul and Jeff Flake are also concerned. Nevertheless, the joint talks between the Congress and the White House on this project continue.

Secondly, the ةlysée Palace is still clinging to the term “completion” of the JCPOA. This is bizarre because Macron also states that the deal is unchangeable, while he wants to incorporate restrictions on Iran’s missiles into the deal.  What is certain is that the slightest change in the nuclear deal means the other party’s failure to fulfill its obligations. In other words, it means the official withdrawal of the P5+1 from the nuclear deal. The insistence on this explicit and decisive stance by the Iranian diplomats can perhaps effectively counterbalance the U.S.-French designs on the JCPOA.

A third point is that it should not be forgotten that Washington and Paris are jointly trying to muck up the nuclear deal. We should not consider Paris and Washington’s game separately. Considering France as a “mediating actor” or “independent actor” would be a mistake. Paris is clearly against the JCPOA and acting as a supporting actor with the U.S. The softer tone of the French authorities should not deceive Iran.

It appears that the French president and his foreign minister are not going to behave in the same way as the previous governments of the country regarding the nuclear deal. Nonetheless, the French continue the same approach of former governments regarding peaceful nuclear activities in Iran.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Who Controls Syria? The Al-Assad family, the Inner Circle, and the Tycoons

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Ever since Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1971, the three pillars of the Syrian regime have been the Ba’ath Party, the Alawite minority and the army. The current Syrian elites were formed around these three forces. The tip of the pyramid is represented by the so-called inner circle: a small group of people most trusted by the head of state. Their influence on the decision-making process stems not so much from the posts they hold, as from their being members of – or otherwise close to – the al-Assad family. The inner circle has always included separate groups, which can compete against one another.

The military conflict in Syria has affected the structure of the inner circle. In particular, the decision-making process is now influenced by figures who have made their way to the top during the course of the civil war. At the same time, some of Bashar al-Assad’s former confidantes have been forced to flee the country and effectively defect to the opposition.

The Defectors

The latter include, among others, the influential Tlass clan of Circassian origin. Until his death in 2017, the Tlass family was headed by Mustafa Tlass, who was minister of defence from 1972 to 2004 and one of the closest associates of former President Hafez al-Assad. It was Mustafa Tlass who largely facilitated Bashar al-Assad’s inauguration following the death of his father, despite the fact that a portion of the Syrian opposition was calling for Bashar’s brother, Maher al-Assad, to become the new president.

The Tlass clan managed to become Syria’s second-most-influential family after the al-Assads. They were as significant as the Makhlouf clan, relatives of Bashar al-Assad’s mother. Mustafa Tlass’s son, Firas Tlass – one of the most influential Syrian magnates – had interests in many branches of the country’s economy. He was Syria’s second wealthiest person, after Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf.

Mustafa and Firas left Syria in 2011 and joined the opposition. Firas Tlass subsequently financed the Farouq Brigades operating in the Tlass family’s native district of Al-Rastan in Homs Governorate. Firas’s younger brother, Manaf Tlass, former Brigadier General of the Syrian Republican Guard’s 105th (other sources say 104th) Brigade, subsequently emigrated to Jordan and attempted to form an opposition military force intended to replace the Syrian armed forces. The project proved a failure.

One other member of the al-Assad family’s inner circle to have fled Syria since the beginning of the uprising is Ali Habib Mahmud, another former minister of defence (2009–11). Unlike the Sunni Tlass family, Mahmud is an Alawite. He may be viewed as the highest ranking representative of the Alawite minority to have pledged allegiance to the Syrian revolution. Mahmud initially led the operation to suppress the uprising, and was even subjected to sanctions for this. However, after losing his post he established contact with the militants and left the country.

There are reasons to believe that the Tlass family and Mahmud fled Syria not because of their support for the opposition, per se, but rather due to the alignment of forces within the Syrian leader’s inner circle. Bashar al-Assad’s relatives found a way to get rid of their most influential rivals, accusing them of sympathizing with the opposition and maintaining contacts with them, while criticizing their inability to stifle the uprising. In this situation, the Tlass family and Mahmud had nothing left to do but join the opposition.

The Tlass family and Mahmud may yet theoretically make a return to Syrian politics, as they are seen as acceptable politicians both by the opposition and by some of the Ba’ath functionaries. Everything will depend on the progress and direction of the peace process. If a national accord government is formed, then members of the Tlass family might be appointed ministers. They could even, under certain circumstances, lead this government.

The Explosion of July 18, 2012 as a Political Factor

Another important development that reshaped the inner circle was the explosion at the National Security headquarters in Damascus that took place on July 18, 2012. Liwa al-Islam (now known as Jaysh al-Islam) claimed responsibility for the attack. The blast killed several influential representatives of Al-Assad’s inner circle; the most prominent casualty was Assef Shawkat, husband of Bashar al-Assad’s sister Bushra, who had enjoyed significant clout with the Ba’ath leadership.

Shawkat had been on rather strained terms with some of the al-Assad family members. On the one hand, he was believed to be a close confidant of Bashar al-Assad since his return from London following the death of his brother, Basil Shawkat. On the other hand, Assef was in conflict with Maher al-Assad. According to some reports, Maher had fired a shot at Assef in 1999, wounding him in the stomach. Nevertheless, it was the trio of Assef Shawkat and the al-Assad brothers whom experts named as the central figures of the inner circle. Shawkat held senior official posts in the Syrian government: he was head of Military Intelligence in 2005–10, deputy chief of staff in 2009–11 and, from April 2011 until his death, deputy minister of defence acting as chief of staff of the armed forces.

Maher al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf at the Top of the Pyramid

The flight of the Tlass family and Assef Shawkat’s death promoted Bashar al-Assad’s younger brother Maher and his cousin Rami Makhlouf to senior roles within the inner circle. The two came to have a decisive say in the decision-making process, despite the fact that they do not hold key posts in the government.

Maher al-Assad is currently described as the second most important figure in Syria after the president. He is the de-facto commander of the 4th Armoured Division (Maher’s official military post is that of commander of the division’s 42nd Brigade, whereas the division is officially commanded by Major General Mohammad Ali Durgham), and also supervises the Republican Guard, the elite force charged with guarding government installations and defending the capital city.

Apart from holding command posts and being represented in the central committee of the Ba’ath Party, Maher al-Assad is a financial magnate. According to some reports, he earned up to $1 billion supplying food to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, and further increased his wealth through a money-laundering scheme involving the Lebanese bank Al-Madina, which subsequently folded. Sources have indicated that Maher controls the Sheraton hotel network in Syria and certain media outlets, including Cham Press. This means that, in addition to the loyal 4 th Division and the Republican Guard, Maher al-Assad commands significant financial influence.

Maher is on rather difficult terms with Rami Makhlouf, another influential member of Bashar al-Assad’s current inner circle. The two may be partners on certain projects: it is known that they used to do business together in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates before the beginning of the Syrian civil war. In other situations, however, they may be seen as rivals.

One of Maher al-Assad’s important partners is believed to be Muhammad Hamsho, who represents his interests in the business community. The latter is involved in financing a range of pro-government media outlets, such as Addounia TV, and owns Hamsho International Group, as well as stakes in Middle East Marketing, Syria International for Artistic Production and Al-Sham Holding. Hamsho also acts as the middleman for the business structures of Maher al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf.

Overall, Maher al-Assad is a fairly independent actor. He can afford to openly express his disagreement with Bashar al-Assad’s decisions and is capable of imposing his own views on the president. Maher is the main advocate of the “party of war” in Damascus. He is also named as one of the key conduits of Iran’s interests in the Syrian leadership. Maher reportedly has contacts with the Iranian special services, and is reported to have voiced the idea to involve Iranian military experts in the early phase of the Syrian conflict. In addition, the military units under Maher’s control are being used to form branches of Shiite paramilitary forces. For example, the Shiite battalion Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi operates as part as the 4th Division.

Maher’s contacts with Iran previously provided grounds for rumours disseminated by pro-opposition sources about his conflicts with Bashar al-Assad. In 2016, reports began circulating which alleged that Maher al-Assad had been dismissed as commander of the 42nd Brigade, promoted to major general and assigned a secondary role within the General Staff. Sources explained that the “honorary exile” was the result of an alleged quarrel between the brothers. In January 2017, rumours emerged accusing Maher of an attempted military coup against the president with the support of Iran, allegedly over Maher’s disagreement with the Syrian leadership’s course towards joining the peace process and initiating talks with the opposition. However, in summer 2017, Maher al-Assad was sighted commanding the 4th Division during an operation in Daraa Governorate in the south of Syria.

Nevertheless, the very existence of rumours alleging a conflict between the al-Assad brothers does reflect certain concerns. Namely, that should the peace process reach a stage at which it will be necessary to form a national accord government, the hardliners and the Ba’ath conservatives maintaining contacts with Iran might roll out Maher as their candidate. Maher al-Assad has the necessary clout with the security agencies, commands serious financial resources and, most importantly, is prepared to make any sacrifice in order to secure his goals, as he has repeatedly demonstrated in the past, including in the form of cruel reprisals of civilians during the first phase of the Syrian revolution.

The next most significant and influential actor in Syria after Maher al-Assad is Rami Makhlouf, the country’s wealthiest person with an estimated fortune of $6 billion. Makhlouf co-owns Syria’s largest mobile network operator Syriatel and the corporation Cham Holding. The latter used to control the most profitable services in the country, including hotels, restaurants, tour operators and the air carrier Syrian Pearl Airlines. Makhlouf is also a major shareholder in a number of banking institutions, including International Islamic Bank of Syria, Al Baraka Bank, International Bank of Qatar, Cham Bank and Bank of Jordan in Syria. The Makhlouf family is known to have close ties with UK business. In particular, they have invested in the British oil and gas exploration and production company Gulfsands Petroleum. Rami Makhlouf also controls such media outlets as Al-Watan, Ninar, Dünya TV and Promedia. According to some estimates, he controls up to 60 percent of the country’s economy.

Despite the sanctions imposed against him, Rami Makhlouf is using his connections, influence and resources to seek ways for the al-Assad family and other representatives of the ruling circles to bypass the international sanctions. For this purpose, he has been using three Syrian companies linked to the government: Maxima Middle East Trading, Morgan Additives Manufacturing and Pangates International. Rami has also used the Panama-based legal firm Mossack Fonseca to open shadow companies in the Seychelles. He is also using his Eastern European companies, DOM Development Holding of Poland and Rock Holding of Romania, to the same end.

The Al-Bustan Association

An important component of the Makhlouf empire is the Al-Bustan Association, which was set up as a charity fund intended to address the humanitarian aspects of the Syrian civil war. The association is known to have received payments from UNICEF to the tune of $267,933. In reality, Al-Bustan has turned into the primary source of financing for different Shabiha paramilitary units unrelated to the official Syrian security agencies. In effect, Rami Makhlouf is using Al-Bustan to set up private military companies controlled by himself. The most prominent such units are Liwa Dir’ al-Watan (Homeland Shield) and the Fahud Homs (the Leopards of Homs) special units. It is believed that by bankrolling these forces, which are linked to the Air Force intelligence service, Rami Makhlouf has secured his own positions within the latter. He thus took advantage of the civil war to develop all the requisite attributes of personal influence, primarily financial resources and a personal army.

Rami Makhlouf may be characterized as a proponent of the peace process, as he is interested in having his frozen assets abroad released and the Western sanctions against him lifted, but this will only become possible if he makes a personal contribution to the peaceful settlement of the conflict. He has already filed an appeal with the Swiss courts. On the other hand, it is obvious that Makhlouf’s financial welfare will largely depend on whether the current Syrian regime stays in power.

The Father of the Desert Hawks

One Syrian actor worth mentioning among those who have managed to strengthen their positions during the course of the internal conflict and can influence the Syrian leadership’s decisions is Ayman Jaber.

An oil tycoon, Jaber used to control oil and gas extraction at most of the fields located in government-controlled territories, and held a de-facto monopoly on oil supplies to the state. He also chairs the Syrian council on metallurgy and is a shareholder in a number of businesses alongside Rami Makhlouf and other Syrian tycoons. To protect his field, Jaber runs numerous private military companies. Some of these have been turned into elite assault units, including Liwa Suqur al-Sahara (Desert Hawks) and the Syrian Marines. The two units were previously commanded by Ayman Jaber’s brothers, Mohamed (who also has a business in Russia) and Ibrahim. At some point, the independence enjoyed by these groups became excessive. In summer 2017, the Desert Hawks stopped a governmental convoy from entering an area under their control. This incident resulted in Ibrahim Jaber’s arrest. The Desert Hawks were disbanded and reassigned to the 5th Voluntary Assault Corps and to the Syrian Commandos, which are financed by Ayman Jaber.

Another influential Syrian oil magnate close to the country’s leadership is George Haswani, who owns the company HESCO. Haswani finances Dir’ al-Qalamoun (Qalamoun Shield Forces), which is a part of the Syrian Army’s 3rd Armoured Division. Turkey and Western powers are accusing Haswani of having sold oil extracted by so-called Islamic State from seized Syrian fields. He is also linked to Russian business circles and has contacts with Stroytransgaz and Gazprom. According to some reports, he holds Russian citizenship.

The Old Guard and the Special Services

Representatives of the so-called Old Guard (who were close to the previous president of Syria) and also special services continue to have a modicum of influence on the decision-making process within the country. One influential veteran of Syrian politics is 77-year-old Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Muallem, who served as Syrian ambassador to the United States during the final years of Hafez al-Assad’s presidency.

Standing out from the other heads of Syria’s numerous security agencies is Ali Mamlouk, former head of the General Security Directorate (GSD). He retained his influence in the GSD following his appointment as head of the National Security Bureau, which coordinates the work of Syria’s entire intelligence community, in 2012. A number of sources report that Mamlouk is an experienced politician who manages to manoeuvre delicately between Russia and Iran and secure support for his initiatives from both countries. In addition, he is the only member of the Syrian leadership with whom the Gulf monarchies and Turkey are prepared to talk. Mamlouk is trusted to conduct sensitive talks behind closed doors with external opponents of the Syrian regime. These opponents view the head of the Syrian special services, who is also a Sunni, as a person with whom they can negotiate. It is noteworthy that Mamlouk visited Saudi Arabia in 2015.

Elements of Matriarchy

Women are also a force in the decision-making process in Syria. Anisa Makhlouf, the late mother of Bashar and Maher al-Assad, certainly played a significant part in keeping the ruling family in balance and mitigating disagreements between the two brothers. Some observers note that the relationship between the men started to deteriorate after Anisa’s death in early 2016.

Asma al-Assad, the president’s wife, is also believed to have had some influence on her spouse, but the level of that influence remains unclear. It is known, however, that Asma has founded numerous NGOs and funds used, among other things, to process money transferred by international organizations to support the victims of the Syrian conflict, despite the fact that she was under sanctions. Another influential woman in the al-Assad family, Assef Shawkat’s widow Bushra, also retains some influence and has business ties with Rami Makhlouf.

Possible Transformation of the Political Architecture?

All the main threats to the Syrian regime have been staved off by now. However, it must be noted that this was possible thanks exclusively to external interventions. Russia and Iran played a key role in keeping the al-Assad family and their closest associates in power. Without the participation of these two countries, the armed confrontation would most likely have resulted in the toppling of the regime.

On the other hand, the regime may wave won the war, but it has not yet won peace. All the problems that caused the revolution in the first place only worsened in the course of the war, including runaway corruption and the concentration of capital in the hands of a small group of people. Unless serious and comprehensive reforms are carried out in Syria, the country may well face collapse and a new wave of violence.

On the other hand, no actual reforms appear possible for as long as the al-Assad family remains in control. The only things possible are half-measures and window dressing. It therefore appears advisable to proceed from the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, including as applicable to the formation of a new executive body.

The most agreeable scenario might be to transform Syria into a parliamentary republic and strip the head of state of a significant portion of powers and access to administrative levers. Whatever the case, any positive change will be difficult to implement without the full involvement of the opposition, including armed opposition factions, seeing as there are otherwise no factors that might prompt the government to carry out tangible reforms.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Middle East

Surrendering a Brussels mosque: A Saudi break with ultra-conservatism?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi Arabia, in an indication that it is serious about shaving off the sharp edges of its Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, has agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels.

The decision follows mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism that was being propagated by the mosque’s Saudi administrators as well as social reforms in the kingdom introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a lifting of the ban on women’s driving, the granting of women’s access to male sporting events and introduction of modern forms of entertainment.

Relinquishing control of the mosque reportedly strokes with a Saudi plan to curtail support for foreign mosques and religious and cultural institutions that have been blamed for sprouting radicalism. With few details of the plan known, it remains unclear what the curtailing entails.

It also remains unclear what effect it would have. A report published last month by the Royal Danish Defence College and three Pakistani think tanks concluded that madrassas or religious seminaries in Pakistan, a hotbed of militant religious education, were no longer dependent on foreign funding. It said that foreign funding accounted for a mere seven percent of the income of madrassas in the country.

Like with Prince Mohammed’s vow last November to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined “moderate” form of Islam, its too early to tell what the Brussels decision and the social reforms mean beyond trying to improve the kingdom’s tarnished image and preparing it for a beyond-oil, 21st century economic and social existence.

The decision would at first glance seem to be primarily a public relations move and an effort to avoid rattling relations with Belgium and the European Union given that the Brussels mosque is the exception that confirms the rule. It is one of a relatively small number of Saudi-funded religious, educational and cultural institutions that was managed by the kingdom.

The bulk of institutions as well as political groupings and individuals worldwide who benefitted from Saudi Arabia’s four decades-long, $100 billion public diplomacy campaign, the single largest in history, aimed at countering post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal, operated independently.

By doing so, Saudi Arabia has let a genie out of the bottle that it not only cannot control, but that also leads an independent life of its own. The Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative environment has also produced groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State that have turned on the kingdom.

Relinquishing control of the Brussels mosque allows Saudi Arabia to project itself as distancing itself from its roots in ultra-conservatism that date back to an 18th century power sharing arrangement between the Al Saud family and Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, a preacher whose descendants are at the core of the kingdom’s religious establishment.

The decision, Prince Mohammed’s initial social reforms, and plans to cut funding notwithstanding, Saudi Arabia appears to be making less of clean break on the frontlines of its confrontation with Iran where support for ultra-conservative and/or militant groups is still the name of the game.

Saudi Arabia said last month that it would open a Salafi missionary centre in the Yemeni province of Al Mahrah on the border with Oman and the kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen was sparked by its conflict with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, a Zaydi Shiite Muslim sect with roots in a region bordering the kingdom, that dates to Saudi employment of Salafism to counter the group in the 1980s and early this century.

Saudi militants reported in the last year that Saudi nationals of Baloch origin were funnelling large amounts of money into militant madrassas in the Pakistani province of Balochistan on the border with Iran. Saudi-funded ultraconservative Sunni Muslim madrassas operated by anti-Shiite militants dominate the region’s educational landscape.

The money flowed, although it was not clear whether the Saudi donors had tacit government approval, at a time that Saudi Arabia is toying with the idea of seeking to destabilize Iran by stirring unrest among its multiple minorities, including the Baloch.

A militant Islamic scholar, who operates militant madrassas in the triangle where the borders of Balochistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet, was last year named a globally designated terrorist by the US Treasury while he was fundraising in the kingdom.

Algerian media reports last month detailed Saudi propagation of a quietist, apolitical yet supremacist and anti-pluralistic form of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism in the North African country. The media published a letter by a prominent Saudi scholar that appointed three ultra-conservative Algerian clerics as the representatives of Salafism.

“While Saudi Arabia tries to promote the image of a country that is ridding itself of its fanatics, it sends to other countries the most radical of its doctrines,” asserted independent Algerian newspaper El Watan.

The decision to relinquish control of the Brussels mosque that in 1969 had been leased rent-free to the kingdom for a period of 99 years by Belgian King Baudouin followed a Belgian parliamentary inquiry into last year’s attack on Brussels’ international Zaventem airport and a metro station in the city in which 32 people were killed. The inquiry advised the government to cancel the mosque contract on the grounds that Saudi-inspired ultra-conservatism could contribute to extremism.

Michel Privot of the European Network Against Racism, estimated that 95 percent of Muslim education in Belgium was provided by Saudi-trained imams.

“There is a huge demand within Muslim communities to know about their religion, but most of the offer is filled by a very conservative Salafi type of Islam sponsored by Saudi Arabia. Other Muslim countries have been unable to offer grants to students on such a scale,” Mr. Privot said.

The US embassy in Brussels, in a 2007 cable leaked by Wikileaks, reported that “there is a noted absence in the life of Islam in Belgium of broader cultural traditions such as literature, humanism and science which defaults to an ambient practice of Islam pervaded by a more conservative Salafi interpretation of the faith.”

Saudi Arabia has worked hard in the last year to alter perceptions of its Islamic-inspired beliefs.

Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, a former Saudi justice minister and secretary general of the World Muslim League, the group that operates the Brussels mosque and has served for half a century as a key funding vehicle for ultra-conservatism insisted on a visited last year to the Belgian capital that Islam “cannot be equated and judged by the few events and attacks, carried out because of political or geo-strategic interests. As a religion, Islam teaches humanity, tolerance, and mutual respect.

Mr. Al-Issa, in a first in a country that long distributed copies of the Protocols of Zion, an early 20th century anti-Semitic tract, last month, expressed last month on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that commemorates Nazi persecution of the Jews “great sympathy with the victims of the Holocaust, an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”

Mr. Al-Issa’s comments no doubt also signalled ever closer ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, who both bitterly oppose Iran’s regional influence. Nonetheless, they constituted a radical rupture in Saudi Arabia, where Islamic scholars, often described Jews  as “the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs.”

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