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The current relations between Russia and Israel

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The new relationship for the exchange of intelligence data, which had been established between Russia and Israel, is currently in danger. The most clear sign of this bilateral crisis can be seen in the mild reaction to the Israeli protests concerning the Russian sales or transfers to the Hezbollah of military equipment (often advanced one). The polemic was also rekindled in the last telephone conversation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Putin, last Saturday, July 23.

During the phone call between the two leaders another very sensitive issue was discussed, namely the case of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which managed to enter and penetrate the Israeli airspace in the area of the Golan Heights directly from Syria.

The UAV had to take pictures of some Israeli equipment and special operations in the region. As many as three F-16-launched Israeli missiles failed to hit the UAV, which returned to Syria unscathed. Russia detected it on its radars, but it did nothing to report it to others or to strike it on its own. Obviously Russia has no interest in losing Iran for Israel.

Iran is a stable ally in oil equilibria and it is now pushing up sales after signing the JCPOA. It is an effective bulwark against the Sunni Islam, which sides almost fully with the United States, and it is Russia’s mainstay in the Greater Middle East – and it could not be otherwise.

In fact Russia is very useful to Syria, since it is the inevitable primary protector of Bashar al-Assad. Russia, however, has no reason to change the war balances within Syria and the Middle East during the war against Daesh-Isis, which has reaffirmed the Russian stable hegemony over the region.

An hegemony which, according to the Russian Presidency, not even Israel can avoid, neither as a partner, nor as a satellite, after the geopolitical disaster caused by President Barack Obama which has left the Middle East without any global player, except for Russia.

After the coup Turkey has turned away from NATO and the United States. The European Union is paying Turkey to be fooled on migrants. Saudi Arabia is negotiating with Russia for it to loosen its ties with Iran. Iraq is turning to Russia after the recent power void. A complete strategic success for Russia.

Nevertheless Israel must and can have some other reliable and stable partners in the Middle East, now that the United States are no longer present in the region, either as Saudi Arabia’s “old cronies” or as idealistic organizers of “liberation struggles” from the usual “tyrants”.

Obviously the drone is primarily the sign of the Hezbollah technological power against Israel, if attacked. Who did supply the UAV technology to the “Party of God”? Russia? Or Iran, which has a wide and advanced fleet of drones, particularly the medium-long range armed drones? Or are technologies stolen from opponents, as often happens during the now numerous “small wars” in the Middle East?

We do not know, but now Israel is aware of the fact that Hezbollah can reach its territory with an UAV and hit it.

And above all it knows that Russia will not lay a finger on its Iranian-Lebanese ally, at least until Israel is bound stably to the Russian system and military interests in the region which, however, do not coincide with Israel’s – whatever happens in current negotiations. After all, Israel was reminded of the fact that the Golan Heights are an open front, and that the Jewish State’s interest in a Syria shattered by war cannot last forever.

In other words, the Lebanese group’s UAV means that Israel cannot think, in the short term, of encompassing the Golan Heights which, however, are essential to its defense northwards.

Furthermore, after President Erdogan’s countercoup following the attempted rebellion of the Turkish Armed Forces, there are already Turkish “liaison officers” at Assad’s government in Damascus.

This still implies that Turkey may cease any direct or indirect military action against Assad’ Syrian Arab Army, but only in exchange for a complete ban on a new Kurdistan which could emerge with the US tacit support – support granted even by Israel.

Moreover, without Turkey’s help, no Sunni geopolitical actor can think of supporting the jihad against Assad’s Alawites and his allies.

Hence, if Syria stabilizes itself, Saudi Arabia will no longer have its jihadi proxies to fight Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia – possibly on the Syrian territory, as happened so far – and Turkey may no longer have to face the “nuisance” of the Kurdish State on its border, and possibly even inside it – something that not even Iraq and Iran want. Finally Israel should deal with the Golan Heights issue, without any reliable ally (the United States or the ridiculous Europe) and only with its own forces which, at that juncture, should simultaneously face an Iranian, Syrian, Hezbollah attack – and possibly a Turkish or Iraqi one – without the US support, but with the stoic and detached attitude by Russia, which would ultimately act as a mediator.

And certainly the losing country will see its role diminished.

In fact the Russian weapons not going directly to Bashar al-Assad are heading to the Hezbollah, and currently the Lebanese and Iranian group has already recreated – again with Russian weapons – at least one battalion, which is already training in Southern Lebanon.

What could Israel do at this juncture? In our opinion the Jewish State could: a) maintain its good relations with Russia, which also play and intelligence role; 2) strategically avoid the link between the attack eastwards and northwards, which could anyway take place due to the current presence of Sunni Palestinian militants among Bashar al-Assad’s forces; 3) rebuild an international support network with India, China and other Central Asian SCO countries, with a view to counterbalancing any Russian support to new Shia or Sunni Middle East actors. However, we shall see the new US foreign policy and, in particular, the strategic dangerousness of the anti-Semitic madness in the current European ruling class.

Furthermore, the new relationship between Turkey and the Russian Federation has been shown by the Russian warning and reporting to Ankara of the Turkish Armed Forces’ coup before its start.

Russia wants a powerful Turkey, not making it be isolated only in the Shiite front – a united Turkey and, above all, ever less tied to NATO, which is President Putin’s primary strategic goal. Hence the coup in Turkey was a geopolitical blessing for Russia.

Currently President Erdogan is furious with the United States, which protect the political and religious leader, Fathihullah Gulen, accused by President Erdogan of being the instigator of the military coup, and there is little the United States can do in the Middle East without making peace with Turkey.

Moreover, NATO has been de facto deprived of any power in the Greater Middle East – and this is another achievement by President Putin.

It will become either an umbrella for “operations of the willing”, like any UN organization, an entity to issue humanitarian and pacifist statements or even an organization for managing local crises – a tool of the US-German or, more often, US-British relationship.

And Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty on collective responsibility will be put to an end as, indeed, has already happened silently.

Hence what can be done? A Conference for the Middle East should be organized immediately, reaffirming a role for Russia and enabling the countries of the region, obviously including Israel, to negotiate a partial demilitarization of the traditional confrontation areas, having reliable brokers and mediators.

As was the case with the Madrid Conference of 1991. And as it could happen today in a Rome Conference in which it is decided that Israel is entitled to maintain and defend its current borders and that the security of the border areas is delegated to buffer military structures formed by Russian, Chinese, US, German, Italian and Central Asian forces.

And finally it could be decided to organize a Peace Conference between Israel and the Arab League, on behalf of its members, managed and led by Russia and by the United States, if they want or can do so.

For Europe, obviously, nothing to do and no role to play.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia’s Entertainment Plans: Soft Power at Work?

Dr. Theodore Karasik

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Saudi Arabia recently broke ground on its ambitious “entertainment city” known as Qiddiya, near Riyadh. The splashy launch, attended by 300 dignitaries from around the world, highlights a frequently overlooked aspect of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan: the entertainment industry as a growing economic sector. As the kingdom diversifies its economy away from reliance on petro fuels, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been keen to showcase the increasing openness of his country, promoting festivals, concerts and sports events and ending the country’s 35-year ban on cinemas.

These projects are partially intended to bolster the economy and attract FDI—but not only. Saudi Arabia is also playing catch-up with other regional actors, such as Qatar and the UAE, in terms of cultural output and cultural participation. With Qiddiya and the other cultural projects in the works, Saudi is now carving out a road for itself to become a regional culture hub.

Thefirst phase of Qiddiya, which includes high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area, is expected to be completed in 2022.  Saudi officials hope the park will draw in foreign investment and attract 17 million visitors by 2030; the final phase of the project is expected to be completed in 2035, by which point the entertainment resort will be the largest in the world, dwarfing Florida’s Walt Disney World.

Beyond these financial incentives, however, the Qiddiya project is Saudi Arabia’s answer to events like the Dubai Expo 2020 or the Qatar World Cup 2022 and suggests that the kingdom is trying to position itself as the next big destination for lucrative events – which also add to the idea that entertainment, culture, and innovation are key to Saudi Arabia’s economic vision and success.

Vision 2030’s emphasis on entertainment raises a key question: is Riyadh attempting to increase its soft power across the region in a constructive and proactive way?  The answer to that question is yes.

In the immediate future, Qatar and the UAE will remain the region’s foremost entertainment and cultural hubs.  From Qatar’s Islamic Museum of Art, which famous architect I.M. Pei came out of retirement to design, to Dubai’s theme parks, including a $1 billion behemoth which is the world’s largest indoor theme park, these two Gulf states are demonstrating their prowess to develop an arts and culture scene.  In Doha, Qatar is exemplifying its unique outlook towards world affairs by emphasizing humanitarianism and fourteen centuries of history.  Qatar is also hosting the World Cup in 2022, intended to bring Doha center-stage in the sports world. Abu Dhabi’s Louvre has been referred to as “one of the world’s most ambitious cultural projects”, while advertisements throughout the emirate insist that the museum will cause its visitors to “see humanity in a new light”.

Despite these Gulf states’ head start on developing vibrant entertainment sectors, there is still room for Saudi Arabia to offer something new. For one thing, some of its neighbors are dealing with trouble in paradise: Qatar’s once-strong economy is under increasing strain as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt boycott it; meanwhile, the company which owns many of Dubai’s largest theme parks lost $302 million in 2017.

The Qiddiya project also represents a particular vision that’s distinct from neighboring countries’ cultural programs. Qiddiya is designed to mix desert heritage and the ethos of the past with the technological advances of the future. The intended result is to be a fusion between aspirations and building on those achievements from desert to post-modernity, on a colossal scale.

The project is crafted both to satisfy domestic demand—it includes plans to build 11,000 homes to serve as vacation homes for Riyadh residents— and to compete directly against Saudi Arabia’s neighbors in the Gulf. With two-thirds of the Saudi population under the age of 35, building a thriving entertainment sector is particularly important.

The kingdom is hoping to use its idea of mixing the past with the future in Qiddiya to significantly alter the flow of tourist revenues in the Gulf. The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain rely on tourists from the Gulf and beyond for essential cash inflows—including the $30 billion a year Saudis spend on tourism abroad every year. By providing new entertainment options in-country for Saudi Arabia’s citizens and residents, who pay more than any other country’s citizens while on vacation, Riyadh aims to redirect some of this overseas tourism spending back into the kingdom. It’s set up concrete goals to this effect, hoping to increase domestic spending on culture and entertainment from about three percent of household income to six percent. Saudi Arabia also likely hopes that Qiddiya will attract significant international tourism as well—one senior official tied the park’s creation to the goal of making Riyadh one of the top 100 cities in the world to live.

Of course, it is likely to be a long wait before the kingdom itself starts producing the cultural output that will make it a real entertainment hub; after all, Saudi public schools still do not teach music, dance and theater, and the kingdom lacks music and film academies. But by taking the first steps of embracing the vast economic potential of the entertainment sector, the kingdom may well be on its way there.

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Israel, Ukraine, and U.S. Crack Down Against Press

Eric Zuesse

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On Wednesday, May 16th, Russian Television reported recent crackdowns against the press, on the part of both Ukraine’s Government and Israel’s Government. One headline story, “9 journalists injured by Israeli gunfire in Gaza ‘massacre’, total now over 20”, reported that Israel had shot dead two journalists:

“Yaser Murtaja, 31, a cameraman for Palestinian Ain Media agency, died on April 7 after he was shot by Israeli forces the previous day while covering a protest south of the Gaza Strip. He wore a blue protective vest marked ‘PRESS’.”

And:

“Ahmad Abu Hussein, 24, was shot by Israeli forces during a protest in the Gaza strip on April 13. He died from his injuries on April 25. He was also wearing a protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ at the time.”

The other 18 instances were only injuries, not murders, but Israel has now made clear that any journalist who reports from the Palestinian side is fair game for Israel’s army snipers — that when Palestinians demonstrate against their being blockaded into the vast Gaza prison, and journalists then report from amongst the demonstrators instead of from the side of the snipers, those journalists are fair game by the snipers, along with those demonstrators.

Some of the surviving 18 journalists are still in critical condition and could die from Israel’s bullets, so the deaths to journalists might be higher than just those two.

Later in the day, RT bannered “Fist-size gunshot wounds, pulverized bones, inadmissible use of force by Israel in Gaza – HRW to RT” and presented a damning interview with the Israel & Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch.

The other crackdown has been by Ukraine. After the U.S. Obama Administration perpetrated a very bloody coup in Ukraine during February of 2014, that country has plunged by every numerical measure, and has carried out raids against newsmedia that have reported unfavorably on the installed regime. The latest such incident was reported on May 16th by Russian Television, under the headline, “US endorses Kiev’s raid on Russian news agency amid international condemnation”. An official of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) stated there: “I reiterate my call on the authorities to refrain from imposing unnecessary limitations on the work of foreign journalists, which affects the free flow of information and freedom of the media.” An official of the CPJ (Committee to Protect journalists) stated: “We call on Ukrainian authorities to disclose the charges and evidence they have against Vyshinsky or release him without delay. … We also call on Ukrainian authorities to stop harassing and obstructing Russian media operating in Ukraine. The criminalization of alternative news and views has no place in a democratic Ukraine.” However, as reported by RT, Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General called the editorial policy of the anti-regime RIA Ukraine “anti-Ukrainian” in nature, amounting to “state treason.” So, the prosecutor is threatening to categorize and prosecute critical press under Ukraine’s treason law.

The U.S. regime is not condemning either of its client-regimes for their crackdowns. (It cites Ukraine’s supposed victimhood from “Russian propaganda” as having caused Ukraine’s action, and justifies Israel’s gunning-down of demonstrators and of journalists as having beeen necessary for Israel’s self-defense against terrorism.) In neither instance is the U.S. dictatorship saying that this is unacceptable behavior for a government that receives large U.S. taxpayers funds. Of course, in the U.S., the mainstream press aren’t allowed to report that either Israel or today’s Ukraine is a dictatorship, so they don’t report this, though Israel clearly is an apartheid racist-fascist (or ideologically nazi, but in their case not against Jews) regime, and Ukraine is clearly also a racist-fascist, or nazi, regime, which engages in ethnic cleansing to get rid of voters for the previous — the pre-coup — Ukrainian government. People who are selected individually by the installed regime, get driven to a big ditch, shot, with the corpses piling up there, and then the whole thing gets covered over. This is America’s client-‘democracy’ in Ukraine, not its client-‘democracy’ in Israel.

May 16th also was the day when the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10 to 5 to approve as the next CIA Director, Gina Haspel, the person who had headed torture at the CIA’s black site in Thailand where Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and blinded in one eye in order to get him to say that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks; and, since then, Zubaydah, who has never been in court, has been held incommunicado at Guantanamo, so that he can’t testify in court or communicate with the press in any way. “The U.S. Government has never charged Zubaydah with any crime.” And the person who had ordered and overseen his torture will soon head the agency for which she worked, the CIA.

Whether the U.S. regime will soon start similarly to treat its own critical press as “traitors” isn’t clear, except that ever since at least the Obama Administration, and continuing now under Trump, the U.S. Government has made clear that it wants to seize and prosecute both Edward Snowden and Julian Assange for their journalistic whistleblowing, violations of “state secrets,” those being anything that the regime wants to hide from the public — including things that are simply extremely embarrassing for the existing rulers. Therefore, the journalistic-lockdown step, from either Israel, or Ukraine, to U.S., would be small, for the United States itself to take, if it hasn’t yet already been taken in perhaps secret ways. But at least, the Senate Intelligence Committee is strongly supportive of what the U.S. Government has been doing, and wants more of it to be done.

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JCPOA in Post-US Exit: Consequences and Repercussions

Nisar Ahmed Khan

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The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal signed by the P 5+1 in 2015 was widely hailed as a landmark achievement made possible by sincere dialogue and diplomacy. Indeed, the agreement is to a greater extent an achievement of the nuclear non-proliferation regime that helped checked the increasingly disturbing power symmetry in the Middle East which in return has managed to contain the transformation of low intensity conflicts into all out wars. A relative stability is the hallmark which resulted from JCPOA in the Middle East which is extremely volatile region of the world. A vital question is: how these achievements are going to be affected by the US withdrawal from it?

The US withdrawal from JCPOA will adversely affect the aforementioned three areas of its accumulative achievement with variant degree. First, it has negative consequences for the norm that negotiated settlements in international arenas has the potential and lasting credibility to minimize violence or other coercive means led by war. The momentum and confidence the diplomatic means have garnered in post- JCPOA scenario will come to the crushing halt. The sealed and mutually agreed upon agreements in international arena especially in which the US is the potential party, will come under extreme scrutiny leading to an environment of gross trust deficit. Therefore, on the first instance this withdrawal has negative lasting consequences for the diplomatic norms in itself.

Secondly, US exist from the deal does not augur well for the nascent nuclear non-proliferation regime. This regime has a dearth of good precedents like the JCPOA which has deterred a nation from acquiring and operationalizing nuclear weapons as is the case with Iran. Keeping in view this backdrop of this institution, JCPOA has been its glaring example wherein it has managed to successfully convince a nation to not pursue the path which leads towards the nuclear weapons. Therefore, the US withdrawal has shaken the confidence of the non-proliferation regime to its core. It has engendered a split among the leading nations who were acting as sort of de facto executive to enforce the agreements on the nuclear ambitious states. Therefore, this US withdrawal has undoubtedly far reaching repercussions for the non-proliferation as an institution. This development may affect the nature and its future development as an institutional mechanism to deter the recalcitrant states to change their course regarding the nuclear weapons.

Thirdly, in relation to the above mentioned negative consequences on diplomacy and nuclear non-proliferation regime, the US withdrawal from the deal has far serious security ramifications for the volatile and conflict ridden Middle East. It has multiplied the prospects of all-out war between Iran and its regional rivals on one hand and Iran and Israel on the other hand. Just tonight the announcement of Trump exiting JCPOA and the Israeli aggression on Syrian military bases substantiates the assertion that there exists a correlation between this US withdrawal and the Zionist regime`s regional hegemonic designs. It has extremely positive message for the Saudi Arabia. The impulsive and overambitious Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) went on extended tours in the US and Europe to convince Western leadership that Iran should be contained.  Therefore, element of stability in the region – contained low intensity conflicts – got serious motivation to turn into all-out-wars  with non-exclusion of nuclear options at the disposal of Zionist regime in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern region with this exit of the US is going to observe substantial turmoil in the months to come which will have some extra regional ramifications.

As a conclusion it could be argued that the US exit has some far reaching repercussions for the diplomatic norms, non-proliferation regime and above all for the volatile Middle Eastern region. All these ramifications resulted from the US withdrawal will also in return have some serious consequences internally and externally. The status of the US as the sole super power of the world will be diminished with this decision. It will create an unbridgeable gap in the West. Henceforth, the EU foreign will be more autonomous, integrated and autonomous in her conduct.

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