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The Palestinians Fabrications Concerning Jerusalem: What the Islamic Scriptures and Islamic History Instruct Us (D)

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Here are more facts concerning the true situation of Jerusalem in science and history.

Jerusalem was never capital all along its Islamic history

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount called al-Aqṣā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

Why didn’t it ever serve as a capital city or even an important religious and political city at any time in Islamic history? When the Arab empire expanded by a deep process of imperialism and colonialism, and the Umayyad dynasty was established (661-750) and later on Abbasid dynasty (850-1250), Damascus and Baghdad respectively were established as the capitals, but not Jerusalem. When the Ottoman Empire established (1299-1922) and controlled the Arab lands including the land of Israel (1517-1919), it marked Istanbul (Constantinople) as its capital and not Jerusalem.

The Ottomans, like the Umayyads and the Abbasids were good Muslims, and they followed the Islamic Scripture properly. Does it sound logical that they did not know about the Mosque Muhammad had ostensibly built in Jerusalem? Why Istanbul, Damascus, and Baghdad and not Jerusalem? The fact is that there was nothing important in Jerusalem.

In between there were the Fatimid Caliphate (al-Fāimīyūn), an Isma’ili Shi’ite dynasty (909-1171) with its capital in Cairo; the Ayyubid dynasty (al-Ayyūbīyūn) of Kurdish origin (1174-1250), that ruled much of the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries, with its capital in Cairo (1174–1250) and Allepo (1250–1260); and Mamlūk Sultanate (Sulanat al-Mamālīk) (1250-1517) that ruled over Egypt, the Levant and Hijaz, with its capital in Cairo.

What is important that all these could have established their capital in Jerusalem, following Muhammad’s teaching and commandment, but they did not, as there was no legacy at all of Muhammad concerning Jerusalem. Moreover, Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders, cleaned it up from their institutions, and still left the city after calling the Jews to return to it.

From the onset of Islamic rule in 638 to its end 1917, including for the Crusader rule from 1099 to 1187, Jerusalem was never the capital of any Muslim state, nor even a provincial capital, until late Ottoman times, when it only became a special provincial religious site (Vilayet) separate from its larger provincial area [Sanjak].

Even during the 20th century Amin al-Husseini, who for the first time raised the importance of Jerusalem as a political weapon using religious symbols, did not call to mark it the capital of the Arab-Islamic inhabitants. He concentrated his ideas on its religious sanctity and the duty to remove the infidels from it. Moreover, even king ‘Abdallah, whose main interest 1948 war against Israel was to occupy Jerusalem, did not establish it as the Hashemite capital, and Amman remained the capital of Jordan.

How that is over the 1400 years of Islamic rule, Jerusalem did not enjoy the political prestige and religious importance that Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad and Istanbul did? How that is Jerusalem managed to retain its Judeo-Christian character throughout most of the historical period to the middle of the 20th century? Indeed, only under Jewish rule Jerusalem kept its importance as the only capital.

Jerusalem does not have an Islamic name

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam and if Muhammed visited the city and built a mosque there on the Temple Mount called al-Aqşa, and if Jerusalem is the third aram and the first Qiblah then

How that is Jerusalem do not have even a Muslim name? The first name in all of Islam was given by ‘Umar in 638 after the conquest of Jerusalem. That name was: Iīlya, Madīnat Bayt al-Maqdis. Iīlya was the Roman name for Jerusalem: Aelia Capitolina, a name chosen by Emperor Hadrian whose first name was Ilius, and at the center the “Forum” with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty and Love. The adīth mentions the name Iīlya in connection Muhammad’s letter to Heraclius, the Roman emperor to surrender to Islam and to accept its religion.

Bayt al-Maqdis in Arabic is from the Hebrew Beit ha-Miqdāsh which means the Holy Temple (literally, the House of the Sanctuary) of the Jews.

Somewhat later on the Muslims used a shortened version of that title to Bayt al-Maqdis alone, emphasizing the Jewish sources of Jerusalem. The name al-Quds (the Holy City) referring to Jerusalem, became popular among Arabic speakers, is derived from the Aramaic root Q-D-S, still maintaining the Jewish word Kudsha (holy). It was introduced in the 10th century, it was unknown to the famous Muslim clerics and exegetes of the 9th century.

It is well-known that according to Islamic tradition the region of Mecca and Medina is called Ar al-Quds. Jerusalem was never called by that name, and the name simply called al-Quds was given to it only in the 10th century with heavy Jewish influence. It is believed that the historian and theologian al-Muqaddasi, was probably the first one to use that term from 985 on.

The name al-aram al-Sharīf, commonly used today by Muslims to refer specifically to the Temple Mount as a means of distinguishing it from the Jewish Holy Temple, came into use only during the 19th century Ottoman Empire. This name had always been the name of the Ka’aba in Mecca. The name “Het al-Buraq”, which ostensibly refers to the Jewish Western Wall is a recent invention of the Palestinians from 1929, following the riots in Jerusalem and Hebron but was used extensively during the time of Yasser Arafat.

One important phenomenon that took place in Muslim history is that any time the Muslims captured a town they Arabized, Islamized and changed the names. Therefore, Damascus (Dimashq in Arabic), a pre-Semitic name known from the 15th century BC, Dammeśeq in Biblical Hebrew, was given the Arabic name “Ash-shām.” In Egypt, al-Qāhirah (Coptic: Kahire, the place of the sun, the ancient name of Heliopolis), means “the Conqueror”, established by the Fatimid dynasty in 968. It has replaced the city name al-Fustāt, the first capital of Egypt under Islamic rule, established by ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas in 641. Both Islamic names came after the old historical capital of Egypt, Memphis. Indeed, if Jerusalem was indeed so important to Islam, why wasn’t it ever given an Islamic name?

Jerusalem was neglected as long as it was under Muslim rule

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount called al-Aqṣā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

Why was it abandoned by ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb immediately after being captured? He signed a treaty of protection with the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, Dhimma,   left to the town to the Christians and Jews, and established the regional capital in Caesarea. After almost 60 years it thrived and became prosperous under the Umayyad dynasty, Jerusalem descended into the depths of oblivion and misery. When the Dome of the Rock collapsed on the 5th of December, 1033, along with the walls of the city, nothing was done by the Muslims to restore these structures for many years.

Again, after a short period of time of fighting the Crusaders, Jerusalem came back under Islamic rule, immediately to relinquish it and calling the Jews to reenter the city. Indeed, during the four hundred years of the Abbasid Dynasty, including the Fatimid, the Ayyubid and Mamluk rule, and during the four-hundred year of the Ottoman occupation, Jerusalem was a neglected city, devoid of any political importance, with destitute social and economic state. Though Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reinforced its public structures, he only did so because Jerusalem was a transit city for pilgrims to Mecca, not because of its importance. The city still suffered a state of disrepair and negligence.

Under the Ottomans rule it was placed under the administration of the Damascus Vilayet (province) or Sidon region. Only in the 19th century, it became a (Vilayet), but still much less important than Gaza, Jaffa, Beirut, and other cities around. This is a clear indication how unimportant Jerusalem was to Islam during its history.

Jerusalem was never an Arab or Muslim City from the inhabitants’ perspective. In the mid-19th century, Jerusalem was neglected and impoverished, with a population that did not exceed 8,000. In 1842, the Prussian Consulate in Jerusalem estimated that Jerusalem’s total population of 15,150, of which 7120 were Jews. In April 1854 by Karl Marx stated that “the sedentary population of Jerusalem numbers about 15,500 souls, of whom 4,000 are Muslims and 8,000 Jews.” In 1864, the British Consulate reported that while the total population of Jerusalem were 15,000, there were 8000 Jews, 4500 Muslims and 2500 Christians. In 1898, “In this City of the Jews, where the Jewish population outnumbers all others three to one…” In 1914 there were 45,000 Jews in Jerusalem out of 65,000. This is another perspective how Jerusalem was unimportant religiously in Islam. And at the time of Israeli statehood in 1948, 100,000 Jews lived in the city, compared to only 65,000 Arabs.

When and why Jerusalem has become Important to Muslims?

From all this evidence, comes the big question: when and why Jerusalem has become Important to Muslims? It was not important and even was not mentioned during Muhammad’s life. It was not important to ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattāb, the conqueror of Jerusalem, who left it to the Christians immediate after its occupation. It became important to the Umayyads only after the revolt of Ibn al-Zubayr, for 60 years. It was again totally neglected during the Abbasid’s rule, and came back to Islamic consciousness only when it was captured by the crusaders in 1099.

The Christians destroyed mosques and synagogues, and replaced them with churches. Most of all, they made Jerusalem the apex of their religious quest. The change occurred only after Salah ad-Din al-Ayyūbi (Saladin) was appointed in 1187. Fadā’īl al-Quds literature, created by the Umayyad dynasty was distributed and this was the first time the importance of Jerusalem was stated religiously. Still, Salah ad-Din al-Ayyūbi did not take any steps to change the capital of the Islamic world, or to establish Jerusalem’s religious significance.

Jerusalem was even more neglected under the entire rule of the Ottoman Empire, for 400 years. It was forgotten, neglected, and came into oblivion compare to other cities. The change came only after the immigration of the Jews, and the Jewish-Zionist plans to establish a Jewish state with its capital in Jerusalem.

Only then Amin al-usseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an anti-Semite and member of the Nazi Party, with his political-religious ambitions, identified the potential of Jerusalem to attract the support of the Arab states and the Muslim world to his struggle against the Jews. Nobody had a greater influence on the Jerusalem Issue than al-usseini, who as president of the Supreme Muslim Council, was not only the supreme religious authority but also the central figure in Palestinian nationalism.

Husseini saw Jerusalem as the crystallization point for the “rebirth of Islam” and Palestine in its center. Under his encouragement, ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassām group, the terrorist “Black Hand,” whose name is borne by amās’s homicide bombers, was the first to unite the ideology of a devout return to the original 7th century Islam. The “Arab revolt” of 1936-1939 was sparked and led by usseini. The “Jewish threat” and “saving Jerusalem” was a central theme in the Islamic propaganda. The call was to embark on a Jihad to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

One cannot be surprised that Yasser Arafat, who was a nephew of uncle Amin al-usseini, took the same road of anti-Semitism and Jerusalem at the center of the struggle against Israel. Yasser Arafat, Rahman Abd al-Raūf al-Qidwa al-usseini, was born in Cairo. He was not a refugee of 1948 war, and only since 1967, after the Israeli liberation of Jerusalem, he “discovered” Jerusalem as a political issue. The crowds of praying Muslims were not there until the leaders began claiming that Jerusalem is their first Qiblah and Third aram, from 1994 on. This “discovery” was not displayed before, as long as east Jerusalem was under Jordanian occupation.

Before Arafat, it was Abdullah, King of Jordan, who realized the importance of Jerusalem for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and decided to conquer Jerusalem at all costs in 1948. His intention was to make Jerusalem the capital of Jordan. He thought that by doing so he would be able to achieve some religious importance for his kingdom following the loss by the Hashemite family of Mecca and Medina to the dynasty of Ibn Saud. He also sought to enhance his political significance, his prestige and status, and his legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab nations. But he was deterred by the strong resistance of the Arab and Muslim leaders. Amman remained the capital.

However, Arafat systematically pursued his goal of having the Arabs support the notion of Jerusalem’s critical importance for them as the Palestinian’s capital and its ties to Islam. In that capacity Jerusalem could serve as a point of Identification and national pride in order to create a Palestinian people and nation, which never existed at any time in the past. Arafat strove to have the West recognize Jerusalem as the Muslim capital of the world and to recognize him as the Muslim’s political leader.

Summary

As we have seen, over the 1,300 years of Muslim rule the following facts are observed: Jerusalem was not mentioned in Islamic Scriptures, and was given the status of aram only when it came under Infidels’ rule. Jerusalem was never the capital of any Islamic political entity or even an important provincial capital during all its Islamic occupation. The name of Jerusalem in Islamic sources indicates that the city did not belong to the nation of Islam. Religious and other learning institutions were not established. And no less important indication, Jerusalem was always neglected and in oblivion under Islamic rule.

Jerusalem became important politically when it was occupied by others. Religion was used as a veil to confer legitimacy on the Muslims while waging an external campaign against the infidels the Christians and the Jews. Three major periods are distinguished in the Islamic relationship to Jerusalem: the Umayyad; the Ayyūbi and the Jewish-Zionist periods. However, the first who really understood Jerusalem case as an Islamic political symbol was Amin al-usseini. Yet, the one leader who best understood the importance of Jerusalem as a political epicenter was Arafat.

It is of noteworthy, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple Mount are not called “al-Aqṣā” which means the far-away Land, but rather the “nearby land.” The reason is simple, because geographically it is the land closest to Mecca and Medina. It is clear that Muhammad and the Sahābah did not attribute any importance to Jerusalem, and consequently no conclusion from this evidence is possible except that Jerusalem had no religious or any other kind of significance for Islam.

Jerusalem has become important only for political reasons: it was raised up as an alternative to Mecca against Ibn al-Zubayr’s revolt; it was raised up to fight the crusaders; and it is raised up against Israel. Indeed, Jerusalem’s importance in the Islamic world only appears evident when non-Muslims control or capture the city. Only at those points in history did Islamic leaders claim Jerusalem to be their first turn of prayer and their third holy city.

Had it not been for the struggle between the Umayyad and Abdallah Ibn al-Zubayr, no mosque would have been built in Jerusalem with the name of al-Aqṣā, and no claims would have been made by Muslims about the sanctity for them of Jerusalem. Had it not been for the Christian Crusaders and their aspiration to establish the “Kingdom of Jerusalem,” and had it not been for Zionism’s activity and establishment of the Jewish State of Israel, Jerusalem would have remained on the margin of the Islamic world. No national-political struggle over the city would have ever arisen, and certainly not a struggle accompanied by the invention of an entire set of myths lacking any historical –religious-political foundation. Indeed, the struggle for Jerusalem is the mere political use of religion for political ends.

At the same time this decision marks the Israeli political defeat. Israeli leaders should have comprehended the Palestinians’ strategy, but their treatment of the subject of Jerusalem testifies to their consummate failure in this matter. Israel should have repeated incessantly that Jerusalem was never the capital of any People or nation at any time in history except for the Jewish People. Unfortunately, Israel bases its policy on defensive-retaliatory measures, under the slogan of “the full cup of blood,” and not on pro-active strategy based on “think first before you act.”

Still, why should the Palestinian leaders make such an incredible lies and ludicrous fabrications? On the face of it, lying, knowingly distorting the truth, in Arab-Islamic culture is simple and easy. However, it is in fact a highly sophisticated strategy. Domestically, this fictional nonsense helps shape Palestinian culture, beliefs, and political behavior of building a national identity. Yet, the important side is the international. The Palestinian leaders know that the world is mired with anti-Israel approach. Unfortunately these rhetorical fabrications resonates deeply anti-Zionism, which has become the new anti-Semitism.

Therefore, the strategy is to deceive and mislead the world by de-legitimizing Israel’s existence and de-humanizing its reality. Western media is the best example of how this strategy succeeds. It has been silent about the fantastic historical fabrications of the Palestinians. It just does not bother itself to engage with the moralistic narratives and the out of the blue stories that stem from outer galaxy about Palestinians having existed 9,000 years ago and Jerusalem being its capital since.

For Western politicians, the media, and human rights organizations the Palestinians’ lies, hatred, anti-Semitism and inhuman incitement are overwhelming the basic common sense. The new “multiculturalism religion” dictates that the sincerity of the Palestinians cannot be challenged since to do so would require making subjective judgments. The post modernism situation means downgrading objectivity as much as elevating multiple narratives as being equally valid, and at the same time there is valuation of feelings over scientific facts.

For example, the PLO representative to the United Nations, stated that Palestinians had “lived under the rule of a plethora of empires: the Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Israelites, Persians, Greeks, Crusaders, Mongols, Ottomans, and finally, the British…. Palestinian Christians are the descendants of Jesus and guardians of the cradle of Christianity.” No comment from The Washington Post editorial.

Most instructive is the case of Reuters. It engages in systematically biased storytelling in favor of the Palestinians that “is able to influence audience affective behavior and motivate direct action along the same trajectory.”

Western critical scientific filters are closed and has become one-way street. Science is no longer free and in fact in our contemporary “multiculturalism religion,” science, history, and common sense no longer matters. Anti-reality continues to spread.

Appendix: Jerusalem and Judaism

Jerusalem, wrote Martin Gilbert, is not a ‘mere’ city. “It holds the central spiritual and physical place in the history of the Jews as a people.” For more than 3,000 years, the Jewish people have looked to Jerusalem as their spiritual, political, and historical capital, even when they did not physically rule over the city.

Eli E. Hertz puts it: throughout its long history, Jerusalem has served, and still serves, as the political capital of only one nation, the Jews. Unfortunately, history would not be kind to the Jewish people. Four hundred and ten years after King Solomon completed construction of Jerusalem, the Babylonians seized and destroyed the city, forcing the Jews into exile. Fifty years later, the Jews were permitted to return after Persia conquered Babylon. The Jews’ first order of business was to reclaim Jerusalem as their capital and rebuild the Holy Second Temple.

Jerusalem was more than the Jewish kingdom’s political capital – it holds the central spiritual and physical place in the history of the Jews as a people. Their thoughts and prayers were directed toward Jerusalem. Jewish ritual practice, holiday celebration, and lifecycle events include recognition of Jerusalem as a core element of the Jewish spiritual existence. Jerusalem was a spiritual beacon, and Jews never relinquished their bond to Jerusalem and to the Land of Israel. No matter where Jews lived throughout the world for those two millennia, their thoughts and prayers were directed toward Jerusalem as a core element of the Jewish experience.

It is fair enough to declare that Jewish life without Jerusalem is defective, and Jews without Jerusalem are crippled. It is indeed

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its purpose, may my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not mention you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.”

The Bible mentions ‘Jerusalem’ directly 349 times, or with its many other names that glorify it, 669 times. “Zion,” another name for ‘Jerusalem,’ is mentioned 154 times, a total of 823 references. In the Jewish Scripture Jerusalem has 72 names, all of them glorify in admiration its eternal beauty. In the New Testament Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times, and the context always concerns incidents involving Israel in Jerusalem. The Gospels and the General Epistles deal at length with the story of Jesus, who lived in Jerusalem when the Jewish Temple stood on the Temple Mount.

Indeed, two crucial historical facts demonstrate the unshakeable bond between the Jewish People, the Land of Israel and the Jewish religion – and Jerusalem figures at the center of this bond. Any meticulous historical study would demonstrate that:

First, throughout history many nations ruled over the Land of Israel but only the Jewish people established their country there, three times – during the time of the First and Second Temples, and at the establishment of the State of Israel. The Jews did not establish a state anywhere else and always insisted on returning to their Land and establishing their sovereignty there exclusively. This is a permanent bond. In contrast, and astonishingly enough to prove the Hand of God, never had any of the empires and religions that ruled here established their country in this territory as a unique and separate sovereign state.

Secondly, During the Jewish diaspora many foreign rulers ruled over Jerusalem (Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mamelukes, Ottomans, British, and more), but no political entity made Jerusalem its capital and none attached any importance to Jerusalem. This something to note and consider: Jerusalem was never the capital city of any other nation, empire or religion that ruled the area with the exception of the brief period of the crusader “Kingdom of Jerusalem”.

This entity, Crusaders, was not established in the aim of creating a separate political entity, but rather to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim occupation. Conversely, Jerusalem was the capital city of the Jewish nation (and only the Jewish nation) in three separate periods: during the reign of the houses of David and Solomon that began at the end of the 10th century B.C.E.; during the time of the Second Temple and until its destruction in the year 70 C.E.; and since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

The outcome result of these two facts is that Jerusalem only flourished and blossomed when under Jewish rule. Throughout most of history while Jerusalem was ruled by others, it remained in a neglected and miserable state. Only under Jewish rule did it become an important city, the capital of a nation.

After nearly 1900 years the Jews have returned en masse to the Land of Israel, established their state and immediately made Jerusalem their capital. They returned in significant numbers to the city in the 20th century, though throughout all it history Jewish presence has existed.

Archaeological Finds. During the past several decades Jerusalem has been extensively excavated. Findings have been unearthed, and those findings substantiate the existence of ancient Jewish life in the Land of Israel. Herewith is only a small list.

A Hebrew University archaeologist discovered a Jerusalem city wall from the time of King Solomon (10th century BCE). The finding “is the first time that a structure from that time has been found that may correlate with written descriptions of Solomon’s building in Jerusalem.” Artifacts found inside excavations around the City of David and within the Old City, date the Jewish presence in Jerusalem as far back as 1000 BCE, during the time of King David.

Many symbols of a menorah were found on coins. Hebraic inscriptions from the time of the First Temple were found. Seals with Hebrew writing dating to the time of the Bible were discovered. About a year ago 33 seals with ancient Hebrew writing were discovered. These date back to the time of the First Temple. The writing on one of the seals reads: “To Hizkiyahu [ben] Ahaz, King of Judah”, and researchers date this finding to the time of King Hezekiah who ruled Jerusalem in 600 B.C.E.

First Temple period findings, an ancient Hebrew seal dated to the First Temple period (approximately 2,800 years ago) was found in excavations near the northern section of the Western Wall. The following words are imprinted into the coin: “To Netanyahu Ben Yaash”. This was apparently a private seal used by a Jew in Jerusalem.

Many ancient Jewish specimens were found at the City of David with Bullae used by private individuals, including Gemaryahu Ben Shafan, who is mentioned in the book of Zekariah and lived during the reign of Yehoyakim King of Judah (2,600 years ago).

The Siloam shaft was also discovered. It was the ancient city of Jerusalem’s source of water. This shaft was dug as an underground tunnel through which water brought to Jerusalem at the time of King Hezekiah (700 B.C.E. found in the Book of Kings II, 20: 20. A Hebrew inscription describing the digging process was unsurfaced where the two groups of excavators met.

Archaeological findings on the Temple Mount: Under the façade of the mosque a ritual bath associated with the Second Temple Period was discovered. Seals of private individuals were found as well as a seal with the words “Yehochal Ben Shilmiyahu Ben Shevi”, a senior minister in King Zedekiah’s government (Jeremiah, 37:3).

Also many coins dating back to the First and Second Temple periods, ritual baths, and a synagogue from the time of the Second Temple were found. At the entrance to one synagogue is a Greek inscription:

“Theodosius, the son of Vatanos, priest and president of the synagogue, son of the president of the synagogue, grandson of the president of the synagogue, built the synagogue in order to read from the Torah and study the commandments, and built the inn, the rooms, and the water facilities to host the needy who come from abroad, which his forefathers, sages, and Samonidas instituted.”

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Paris Peace Forum: A missed opportunity for the Middle East

Samantha Maloof

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Timed to coincide with the centennial of the World War I armistice, the Paris Peace Forum (PPF) launched by French president Emmanuel Macron adopted a welcome approach to the root causes of contemporary conflict, including climate change and the double-edged sword represented by new technologies.

The forum, which took place from November 11-13, showcased projects that spoke to the innovation and collaboration critical to improving lives and reducing tensions across the globe.

Conspicuous by their absence

Even though the summit saw 65 heads of state from all over the world come together to launch the event, precious few of those leaders came from the Middle East – even though the region could benefit as much as any other part of the world from this “Davos for democracy.” While this first peace summit represented a promising start, any future editions need to find a way to make inroads with citizens in the countries where they are needed most. Of course, this is a two-way street, with leaders in those countries needing to participate in and draw lessons from such gatherings.

The Middle East’s most notable representatives at the event were Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Their presence was fitting: while so many of their neighbors jostle with each other to secure their own geopolitical ends, Qatar and Lebanon have faced down the instability surrounding them to protect themselves from dangerous regional currents. Unfortunately, the leaders who could have really used reminding of the importance of peace were absent from the stage.

An “island” of stability

Qatar, for its part, has been the subject of a regional blockade for the best part of 18 months. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all severed ties with the country since June 2017 for its alleged “support for terrorism” but more realistically for its willingness to deal with Iran against a backdrop of acrimony between the two sides of the Gulf. The Saudis, for their part, have gone so far as planning to cut Qatar off from the mainland with a new canal.

Far from buckling, however, Qatar has proven remarkably resilient and stuck firmly to a strategy of de-escalation with both sides of the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Events since have rewarded that cool-headedness. Global markets nervous about the turbulence in Riyadh are now looking to Qatar as a regional investment driver instead. Ironically enough, none other than Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman praised the performance of the Qatari economy last month.

Delicate peace in Beirut

Lebanon has had greater difficulty insulating itself from the instability across its border with Syria, but Saad Hariri has nonetheless maintained a fragile domestic peace even after an apparent kidnapping and forced resignation (later rescinded) orchestrated by bin Salman in November of last year. Hariri was detained for two weeks and only released on the back of intense international pressure, apparently out of Saudi anger with the Lebanese premier for cooperating with his Shi’a Hezbollah rivals in Lebanon.

In Lebanon’s torturous system of confessional politics, however, difficult compromises are the nature of the game. Hariri and his Sunni-led political movement have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah’s Shi’a faction over the balance of political power on an ongoing basis to keep the country stable. Hariri’s resistance to Saudi demands for aggression has helped keep the peace between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi’a, preventing the sectarian fires that have torn Syria apart from jumping across the border.

External actors have key roles to play

Of course, none of the crises in the Middle East can be viewed in a vacuum. One key part of the program at the Paris Peace Forum summit – entitled Global Powers and the Middle East – focused on the responsibility of outside powers like the United States, Russia, China, Europe and India to find common ground and address the causes of Middle Eastern instability. Left unsaid: these same countries are often deeply involved in perpetuating these crises.

If American, European, or Russian leaders truly want to prevent conflicts in the Middle East, their first step should probably be a sort of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” The arms trade is a notable case in point. The Middle East is responsible for 32% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are three of the five largest customers; their primary suppliers are the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.

Rather than encourage stability, this supply of weapons has fed a volatile arms race. Much of that equipment has been used by the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen, which has left eight million Yemenis are the brink of starvation and the country confronting the fastest growing cholera epidemic the world has ever seen. Russia has openly used the civil war in Syria as a venue for showing off its military hardware to potential customers worldwide, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to massacre civilians.

Instead of helping their local allies arm themselves to the teeth, these outside powers should push Middle Eastern governments to change their damaging patterns of behavior and undertake the kinds of social reforms that are instrumental in easing tensions. Otherwise, systemic inequality and unaccountable leadership will continue to lay the groundwork for conflicts and crises. That might enrich weapons manufacturers, but it will do nothing to achieve the goals pursued in Paris this week.

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The sanctions of a split

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The tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran have aggravated conflict between Washington and its close allies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have expressed regret over measures taken by American President Donald Trump and signaled the need to protect their companies. Simultaneously, eight countries have received a six-month “sanctions delay” from the United States, which produced a further negative effect on the balance of strength and set the scene for a further escalation of tension.

The United States announced the resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, which ban the purchase of Iranian oil and oil products, on November 5. The US Treasury Department pointed out that they were the “toughest” in history: “These are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors.  The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”

“The unprecedented financial pressure exerted by the US Treasury Department on Iran should make it clear to the Iranian regime that it will face ever-increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation until it radically changes its destabilizing behavior. From now on, the maximum pressure exerted by the United States will only increase,” – emphasizes US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Washington makes it no secret that the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to reduce oil exports from Iran “to zero.”

Over 700 individuals and legal entities have been put on the sanctions list, including the Iranian national air company Iran Air, more than 65 aircraft it owns, and several dozen ships of the merchant fleet. The sanctions prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil and are directed against port operators, shipping and shipbuilding companies, the financial sector,  – primarily tanker insurance companies, – and also restrict operations with Iran’s banks and Central Bank.

Fines will be imposed on anyone who trades oil with Iran and works with its banking system. Secondary sanctions (fines and shutout from the dollar system) may be imposed on companies of third countries. The US also demanded that Iran should be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system. According to reports, on November 5 SWIFT suspended access of some Iranian banks to its system, but without reference to the US sanctions.

This step followed President Trump’s announcement in May this year about Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. Adopted in 2015 with the participation of Iran, the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the document envisages easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its measures to wrap up its nuclear program under the control of the IAEA. The US president dubbed it “the worst deal ever,” saying that it does nothing to stop Iran from pursing its nuclear and missile programs. After Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the other participants expressed their commitment to this document.

Two days before the sanctions package was put into effect, US President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States was ready to conclude a new agreement with Iran on more stringent conditions. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior, or continue down the path toward economic disaster”, – the US president said on November 3: “The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program,  development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism and enrich its leaders”. At the same time, according to Donald Trump, “the United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people. Until then, our historic sanctions will remain in full force”.

Having introduced “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions against Tehran, Donald Trump, as part of his business approach to international affairs, left substantial “windows of opportunity” for the subsequent bargaining on a wider range of issues of the international agenda. The USA made an exception for eight states. China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were allowed to buy Iranian oil temporarily. According to the London-based Financial Times, these countries will be able to import a limited amount of Iranian oil over the next six months.

Simultaneously, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that more than 20 countries have already cut down on oil exports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day.  Independent sources indicate that average daily oil production in Iran fell from 3.8 million barrels in May to 3.3 million barrels in early October. This is quite a lot: because of the reduction, Iran loses about 1 billion dollars a month.

Given that the above exemptions from the sanctions list are temporary, the United States will likely resume political and economic bargaining with the eight countries in spring, with a view to preserve a favorable regime for these countries. In the first place, it concerns China. President Donald Trump will try to use the “Iranian factor” in order to achieve maximum concessions on trade and economic issues from Beijing. Among other things, he will probably make an attempt to force the Chinese side to reconsider joint energy projects with Russia. In the meantime, China’s response to the US decision to resume the anti-Iranian sanctions has been markedly restrained. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to respect China’s trade rights and expressed “regret” that the United States relaunched sanctions against Iran.

A much more resolute response came from the European Union – whose trade and economic interests are affected by anti-Iranian sanctions first. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they promised to protect their companies from restrictive US measures. “Our goal is to protect the subjects of the European economy that have legal commercial ties with Iran,” the document states.

In the meantime, the European Union is confronted with the problem of creating a specific structure that would allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran without risking falling under Washington’s sanctions. Brussels reported in October that a new mechanism of payment for Iranian oil exports should be legally ready by November 4, and would go into operation in early 2019. However, according to The Financial Times, by the time the current sanctions were introduced, the Europeans did not have even a legal foundation for the defense mechanism and had not come to agreement on the location of the corresponding “special purpose structure” (SPV). “Now we are actively discussing where the SPV will be located, who will participate in it, and are launching the process of registering it. Time is short, and given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the light of its geopolitical consequences, we see very rapid and effective progress,” – said a representative of the French Finance Ministry.

For Europeans, sensitivity of this issue lies in their unwillingness to come under tough Washington’s sanctions themselves – especially in the context of deepening trade and economic differences between the US and the EU. “The US authorities are demonstrating that they will act aggressively towards violators of sanctions, which boosts the effect,” warns partner of law firm Morrison & Foerster and former director of the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury John Smith. “When the United States threatens to punish violators and does it in practice, examples of punished companies force others to think seriously,” he said in an interview published by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal.

Without waiting for the sanctions regime to come into effect, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would be able to overcome it. “America wants to bring down Iran’s oil sales, but we will continue to sell oil to break through the sanctions,” he said.

Tehran could not but point out the fact that the resumption of the US sanctions package against Iran coincided with the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy during the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. Addressing his compatriots, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The goal of American sanctions is to cripple and restrain the Iranian economy, but the result we obtained in reality was the country’s striving for self-sufficiency.” “The main objective of the United States in all this is to regain the supremacy it had in the period of tyranny. But this will not happen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

Meanwhile, Tehran does not attach any fundamental significance to the exclusion of eight states from the sanctions regime. “The Islamic Republic could sell its oil even if these eight countries were not excluded, we would still sell our oil,” said Hassan Rouhani in this regard.

The anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by Washington have not yet had a direct impact on Russia. The sanctions list published by the US Treasury contains only the Russian “daughter” of the Iranian Bank Melli – the Mir Business Bank, registered in Moscow (MB Bank).  Its shareholder is Bank Melli Iran, which, according to the United States, provides multi-billion financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). “Bank Melli enabled the IRGC and its related parties to transfer funds both inside and outside Iran,” the statement of the US Treasury said. JSC Mir Business Bank was registered in Moscow in 2002. Bank Melli Iran is its sole shareholder.

According to reports, the Trump administration has decided not to pursue the Russian direction in its pressure on Iran ahead of a new meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States due to take place at the end of this year. The meeting could be held on November 11 in Paris, at events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, or — more likely — at the G-20 summit in Argentina in late November – early December this year. However, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Russia should bear it in mind that its trade and economic ties with Iran, and in a broader context – relations with OPEC – will become the target of a new round of global games of the US administration.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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The Khashoggi crisis: Saudi Arabia braces for tougher post-election US attitude

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi Arabia is bracing itself for a potentially more strained relationship with the United States in the wake of Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives in this week’s mid-term elections and mounting Turkish efforts to corner the kingdom in the Khashoggi crisis.

To counter possible US pressure, the kingdom is exploring opportunities to diversify its arms suppliers and build a domestic defense industry. It is also rallying the wagons at home with financial handouts and new development projects in a bid to bolster domestic support for crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Democrats’ election victory has strengthened Saudi concerns that the Trump administration may pressure the kingdom to back down on key issues like the Yemen war that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two and the 17-month old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.

US officials have argued that Saudi policies complicate their efforts to isolate and economically cripple Iran.

The officials assert that the boycott of Qatar and the fallout of the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul constitute obstacles to the creation of a Sunni Muslim alliance against the Islamic republic, dubbed an Arab NATO, as well as the achievement of other US goals in the Middle East, including countering political violence and ensuring the free flow of oil.

Going a step further, senior Israelis say they have given up on the notion of a Sunni Muslim alliance whose interests would be aligned with those of the Jewish state and see their budding relations with Gulf states increasingly in transactional terms.

The Trump administration signalled its concerns even before the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

“Our regional partners are increasingly competing and, in the case of the Qatar rift, entering into outright competition to the detriment of American interests and to the benefit of Iran, Russia and China,” National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a letter late summer, according to Reuters.

With the House expected to be tougher on arms sales to the kingdom and possibly go as far as imposing an arms embargo because of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by Saudi and UAE military operations, Saudi Arabia has wasted no time in casting around for alternative weapons suppliers.

In apparent recognition that the Saudi military, reliant on US and European arms acquisitions, would find it difficult to quickly shift to Russian or Chinese systems, Saudi Arabia appears for now to be focussing on alternative Western suppliers.

That could prove to be risky with anti-Saudi sentiment because of the Yemen war also running high in European parliaments and countries like Spain and Germany either teetering on the brink of sanctions or having toyed with restrictions on weapons sales to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, nonetheless, has in recent days contracted Spanish shipbuilder Navantia to jointly build five corvettes for the Saudi navy and offered South African state-owned defense group Denel $1 billion to help the kingdom build a domestic defense industry.

The partnership with Denel would involve Saudi Arabia taking a minority stake in German defense contractor Rheinmetall, which designs armoured fighting vehicles and howitzers.

With sale of the US-made precision-guided munitions bogged down in Congress, Spain has stepped in to address Saudi Arabia’s immediate need. The question is however whether Spain can fully meet Saudi demand.

A US refusal already before the Gulf crisis and the Khashoggi incident to share with Saudi Arabia its most advanced drone technology, paved the way for Chinese agreement to open its first overseas defense production facility in the kingdom.

State-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) will manufacture its CH-4 Caihong, or Rainbow drone, as well as associated equipment in Saudi Arabia. The CH-4 is comparable to the US armed MQ-9 Reaper drone.

Saudi Arabia also fears that Democratic control of the House could strengthen opposition to a nuclear energy agreement with the kingdom. Five Republican senators called on President Donald J. Trump days before the mid-term election to suspend talks with Saudi Arabia.

Development of a defense industry would over time serve Prince Mohammed’s efforts to diversify the Saudi economy and create jobs.

So would  King Salman’s inauguration this week of 259 development projects worth US$6.13 billion ranging from tourism, electricity, environment, water, agriculture, housing, and transport to energy.  King Salman launched the projects during a curtailed visit to Saudi provinces designed to bolster support for his regime as well as his son, Prince Mohammed

On the other hand, the government’s most recent decision to restore annual bonuses and allowances for civil servants and military personnel without linking them to performance constitutes an attempt to curry public favour that runs contrary to Prince Mohammed’s intention to streamline the bureaucracy and stimulate competition.

Bonuses were cut in 2016 as part of austerity measures. They were restored last year and linked in May to job performance.

In a further populist move, King Salman also pardoned prisoners serving time on financial charges and promised to pay the debts up to US$267,000 of each one of them.

King Salman’s moves appear designed to lessen Saudi dependence on US arms sales and project a united front against any attempt to implicate Prince Mohammed in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

The moves come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that the order to kill the journalist came “from the highest levels of the Saudi government” and the Trump administration demands Saudi action against the perpetrators and those responsible for the murder.

Failure to be seen to be taking credible action may not undermine King Salman’s rallying of the wagons at home but will do little to weaken calls in Washington as well as European capitals for tougher action in a bid to force Saudi Arabia to come clean on the Khashoggi case and adopt a more conciliatory approach towards ending the Yemen war and resolving the Gulf crisis.

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