It is often said in the Western mainstream media that Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing a disrupting role around the world, including in the Middle East. However, such accusations remind of an old Soviet joke that made its rounds in the late 1980s and could certainly be applicable to the United States and other Western countries. The joke begins with a man walking into a Soviet hospital and asking the desk nurse if he can see the eye-ear doctor. “There is no such doctor,” she tells him, “Perhaps you would like to see someone else?” “No,” he replies, “I need to see an eye-ear doctor.” “But there is no such doctor,” she replies. “We have doctors for eyes and doctors for ears, nose and throat (ENT), but no eye-ear doctor.” “No help,” he repeats. “I want to see the eye-ear doctor.” They go around like this for a few minutes before the nurse interjects and says, “Sir, there is no eye-ear doctor, but if there was one, why would you want to see one?” “Because,” he replies, “I keep hearing one thing and seeing another.”
This is exactly the sentiment that seems to be gripping the international community. It is stated as fact that President Putin is attempting to destabilize the Middle East and Europe quite like he ‘orchestrated’ in the American Presidential Elections in 2016. Leaving aside the lack of evidence for the latter two cases, Middle Eastern countries do not feel that Russia is trying to destabilize the region. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Israeli-Russian relations have never been better: Russia’s “frenemy,” Saudi Arabia turns to Russia for regional issues more so than to the US; and Turkey has improved its relations with Russia since the Turkish army shot down the Russian jet in Syria. Russia is in close contact and on good terms with all the key players and countries in the Middle East, and playing broker or interlocutor when a crisis arises.
Russia has been actively involved in the region to preserve its interests, namely ensuring stability in a region where jihadi terrorism has run rampant. That was the main reason it intervened in Syria in 2015, as Salafi jihadi forces such as Da’esh, Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra or Al-Qaeda in Syria), Ahrar al-Sham, and others were almost certainly on their way to occupying Damascus, which constitutes a red line for Moscow. In nearly three years, Russia has almost removed all of the Salafi jihadi terrorists from Syria and is now focused on finding a negotiated solution to the seven-year civil war. While it is working on a peace agreement in Sochi and Astana, Russia still sees Syria as the front line to its war on terror and is closely working with the Syrian Army to ensure it can fend off terrorists and any destabilizing efforts from any regional and external players. At the same time, Russia is constantly working with all the necessary partners to ensure stability there.
However, some prominent Russian figures including Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, the Russian deputy envoy to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov, and scholar Vitaly Naumkin have suggested that Russia can play a crucial role in resolving the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the prospect for a solution to this conflict seems bleak, having a new player that can help is a positive sign. In fact, Russia has unique credentials to kick-start peace talks, since it is a veto-holding member of the UN Security Council and a member of the Middle East Quartet. In both international bodies, Washington has been mingling with far right-wing elements in Israel and stonewalling any potential peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians by vetoing key United Nations Security Council resolutions. A more reliable player who is active in the region, like Russia, would serve well as a broker to help the necessary parties come to an agreement.
More importantly, Russia can play a constructive role and be a dependable broker because it has close ties with all the necessary parties needed for any agreement. It is more of an honest broker than Washington for a variety of reasons. Chiefly among them, if for no other reason, is the fact that Russia can play a fair interlocutor given its presence in the region. If we look at Donald Trump’s ill-advised decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it not only reignited violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians but it also revealed that Washington had never been an honest broker in resolving the age-old conflict.
This is not the first time that Moscow had offered to be a broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Kremlin had offered to host the two parties in Moscow as a venue for discussions in 2016. However, all hopes were dashed when two Israeli professors decided to reveal that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was a KGB Agent in the 1980s while pursuing his doctorate degree. It was later revealed that the two Israeli professors had leaked this document to the Israeli press because they had their own agenda and did not want negotiations to bear fruit under the auspices of the Russians.
It takes two to tango: Do the two states want it?
Current Coalition Government
The current Israeli government’s perspective on a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis is nearly nonexistent. This is Israel’s most far-right government coalition since it first became a state in 1948. Since becoming Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has always found an excuse to not seek a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Moreover, Netanyahu has laid down the conditions to an agreement that no Palestinian leader can agree to. For instance, in 2013, he outlined his so-called “vision” for a future Palestinian state. He stated that there would be no agreement unless the Palestinian leadership recognizes Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.” This is an ill-conceived approach as Israel’s concern should be about creating a two-state solution (and future narrative) for its national security rather than ensuring that its future neighbouring state recognizes the complexion of its statehood. Does the United States have to recognize Canada as a multicultural country? Or does Canada have to recognize the United States as a Christian state? No. The United States recognizes Canada as a state and vice versa. What each state does internally is its own business.
Under Netanyahu’s leadership, he has always suggested that the Palestinians are divided and when they did unite he suggested that they are aligning with Hamas—a “terrorist” organization—and, thus, Israel cannot negotiate with the Palestinians. In reality, Hamas conducted terrorist activities in the past, but today they are very popular with Gazans, East Jerusalemites, and West Bankers. If elections were held today in the Palestinian Territories, Hamas most likely would win in all three cities. For the last nine years, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his coalition governments have accused the Palestinian leadership of incitement. However, the blame should really be put on Netanyahu’s government for their incitement in the Occupied Territories (East Jerusalem and the West Bank), as it condones the daily activities of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the settlers’ mistreatment of the Palestinians on a day-to-day basis. As the country has shifted further to the extreme right in recent years, it will take much skill to convince Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his far right-wing coalition to come to the table and, eventually, agree on a final two-state solution with Israel’s neighbours. If anyone other than Netanyahu’s “Likud” Party in this coalition (namely Naftali Bennett’s “HaBayit HaYehudi” Party, any of the religious parties, or, to a certain extent, Avigdor Lieberman’s “Yisrael Beiteinu” Party, or any of their offshoots) wins the next general election, which is scheduled for 2019, then it will be increasingly difficult to reach a two-state solution agreement.
There is still some hope because there are a few party leaders that want to seek a two-state solution. However, the two main opposition leaders—Avi Gabay (“Labor” Party) and Yair Lapid (“Yesh Atid” Party) — do not seem to indicate that they are genuine in seeking a two-state solution. Their statements about Jerusalem, and other issues for a future agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, are disheartening. Both Gabay of the “Labor” Party (a central partner in the “Zionist Union” Party with Tzipi Livni’s “Hatnuah” Party) and Lapid of the “Yesh Atid” Party have shifted to the right of the Israeli political spectrum. Whether this is a tactic to attract right-wing voters or it is their fundamental belief remains to be seen. However, their statements signal trouble for the two-state solution if either of them were to become Prime Minister.
That leaves Israel with “Meretz” Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and “the Joint List” Chairman Ayman Odeh. Zandberg leads the progressive “Meretz” Party into the next election with only 5 seats in the Israeli Knesset (Israel’s Parliament). She has tried to inject new life in the party and suggested that if she were to lead a government, or take part in a coalition government, she would enter with all progressive parties on the Israeli left and would not rule out right-wing politician and current Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman, the Chairman of “Yisrael Beiteinu,” is a pragmatic leader who might be the only politician on the Israeli right that will change his view if he sees the security of his country at risk. That leaves the progressive with some hope that he would play it nice with Zandberg, but his negative comments about Arabs, Palestinians, and a future peace agreement makes one wonder if his views will actually change when faced with any potential agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Zandberg’s comments, however, could simply be a tactic for trying to lure more voters to her party, especially those on the right of the spectrum. It is still disheartening to hear the new “Meretz” Chairwoman make that promise to voters despite Lieberman’s rhetoric, which puts him in opposition to a fair peace treaty. Also, “Meretz’s” silence on Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, like other political parties on the left, with the exception of the “Joint List,” is also demoralizing to those struggling to bring peace.
Ehud Barak is a factor because he has wanted to return to the political scene since he resigned from his post as Defense Minister in a previous Netanyahu administration. He has been quite critical of the current Prime Minister over his several corruption scandals and his lackluster interest in seeking dialogue with the Palestinians. A former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and a protégé of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Barak has always sought a peace agreement with Israel’s neighbours and the Palestinians in particular. This is encouraging news, as Israel needs safe borders to ensure its stability and address its two national security priorities: ensuring the Jewish complexity of the state and reducing the violence within its borders. While it would be advisable to maintain a two-state solution, Barak’s strategy to ensure Israel’s national security concerns might be met with stumbling blocks. First, it is unclear if Barak is a strong contender, as many Israelis still remember his attempt at a peace agreement with the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Second, it is unclear what he will do should he negotiate with the Palestinians. In his last attempt, he refused to divide Jerusalem, rejected to return land to the Palestinians along the 1967 borders, and declined to dismantle settlements in those Occupied Territories. If he were to repeat this strategy, negotiations will almost certainly fail. In any case, Barak’s last attempt was Israel’s closest at reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. It abruptly ended when violence broke out between Palestinians and Israelis on Temple Mount, when then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon decided to pay a visit to the holy site for Jews and Muslims, thus giving start to the second intifada. In the following elections, Ehud Barak lost to Ariel Sharon ending all hopes for a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
While most would dismiss Ayman Odeh, it would be a mistake to do so. The “Joint List” is the third largest political party (13 seats) in the current Knesset behind the “Zionist Union” (24 seats) and the “Likud” (30 seats). Along with being the Chairman of the “Joint List” Party, a coalition of several Arab parties in the Knesset, Odeh is the leader of the “Hadash” Party. The young and energetic leader has consistently said that he supports a two-state solution, has consistently advocated for the rights of minorities living in Israel, and has challenged the current government’s policy on settlement building in the Occupied Territories (the West Bank and East Jerusalem), in Gaza, and how it has conducted itself in bordering countries—namely in Syria and Lebanon. More importantly, Odeh and his “Joint List” Party can play a productive role in a coalition government. As previously mentioned, Odeh has consistently stated that he wants a two-state solution—something that Israel should be seeking to ensure its national security. More specifically, in a future coalition, he can make the government treat minorities with respect and dignity—something past government coalitions have not done. A high ministerial position in the government for Odeh would be a first step in demonstrating that Israel is serious about integrating the 20% of its population that feels neglected and alienated by Israeli society. At the time of publication, both Gabay and Lapid have ruled out giving the “Joint List” Party a place in their coalition government, but we have yet to hear from the other candidates on the Israeli left. It is unknown what “Meretz” Leader Zandberg would do. In any case, if not as Prime Minister, Odeh and his “Joint List” Party can inject some new blood into a two-state solution and implement some progressive policies within Israel.
Fatah (Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini)
Fatah is one of the main factions in the Palestinian National Authority (PA) and the second largest faction in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The Chairman of the faction, Mahmoud Abbas, is also the President of the PA. He succeeded the PA’s late President, and Fatah founding member, Yasser Arafat in a contested election. There are many problems with Fatah. Much has changed since it was founded in 1959. Swamped with graft and corruption, the “Old Guard” is still in control, but it is a movement that is deeply divided. The main tribulation for the “Young Guard” is the amount of corruption and the fact that it governs with a vertical approach, both within Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. While the “Young Guard” is demonstrating its frustrations about the movement, it remains largely dominated by aging cadres from the pre-Oslo era of Palestinian politics—most of them gaining prominence through their patronage to the late Yasser Arafat.
Most notable from the “Young Guard” is the popular Palestinian politician Marwan Barghouti. The jailed politician left Fatah in 2005 to form his own “al-Mustaqbal” Party, which was mainly composed of the youth of Fatah. His main complaint was the faction’s lack of vision and exorbitant corruption. This struck a chord with many in the Occupied Territories. However, his party never came to fruition, as Fatah decided to present a unified list to voters in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections—with Barghouti campaigning for Fatah from his jail cell. After the election, Barghouti remained popular within Fatah regardless of being in jail. PA President, Mahmoud Abbas is aging, in poor health, completely disconnected with the Palestinian people, and utterly alienated and demonized by the Israelis (with support from the United States). Any future mediator must look to the “Young Guard” within Fatah for a negotiating partner for a two-state solution—and Barghouti is one of those leaders to keep an eye on.
Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah)
Hamas is another faction within the PA, and the largest faction within the PLC. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Mahmoud Zahar, and several others founded it in 1987, right after the beginning of the first intifada. Its current Chief of the Political Bureau is Ismail Haniyeh. He succeeded Khaled Mashal, who held on to the position from 1996 until 2017. Originally an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was hostile to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)—the predecessor to the PA—and Israel. However, it has since revoked most of its hostile rhetoric to the PA and Israel. Furthermore, it has revamped its hostile charter, which recognizes Israel as a state along the 1967 borders—indicating the land that Israel obtained in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel took ownership of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
This is not to mean that Hamas does not face challenges. It is in a quagmire of its own, as it struggles to maintain legitimacy in the Gaza Strip, where it has governed since the brutal power struggle between them and Fatah following the 2005 Disengagement. There have been some small murmurs of discontent of their leadership as it tries to balance between resisting the occupation, avoiding another war, and governing its people. As the economic situation has deteriorated over the years (mainly but not solely due to the Israeli blockade), it has led to small divisions within the rank-and-file, but nothing noteworthy of any type of threat to their leadership in the Gaza Strip. For all intents and purposes, Hamas is a necessary partner in a future peace agreement as it is still popular with the majority of Palestinians.
Suggesting that Hamas is solely a terrorist organization is a mistake. There are some elements within the organization that still seek a hard line with Israel and want to have the entire state of Israel. However, this is not the official position of Hamas. This is the main argument that comes from the Israeli right and the naysayers to openly negotiating with Hamas. To those that feel that Hamas should never be trusted and dialogue with the organization is a non-starter: would it not be wiser to engage with an organization that has extremist views, such as they do, and integrate them into the mainstream in the hopes of marginalizing those that want to make Palestine a cause while strengthening those that want to make Palestine a nation? The only way to change Hamas’ behaviour for the better is to engage them in the process, rather than leave them as an outlier where their mischievous behaviour will certainly continue. Engaging Hamas is necessary because without Hamas, there is no peace agreement.
The current regional players: How do they see it?
The PA and Saudi Arabia have had a longstanding relationship. They both sit in the Arab League and the Islamic Cooperation Council. For the longest time, the two countries have been allies and the perception had been that the Saudis have always defended the Palestinians. As a charter member of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia has supported Palestinian rights to sovereignty and called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories since 1967. However, in recent years, this all changed. With the new Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman having won the power struggle to succeed King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz, the policy and relations with the Palestinians have significantly shifted.
With the Crown Prince in full control, he “offered” a “deal” to the Palestinians that was almost immediately rejected by PA President Abbas because it made many guarantees to the Israelis, but offered the Palestinians nothing. This should not come as a surprise because, in one of the region’s worst kept secrets, Saudi Arabia and Israel have improved their relations significantly. This is a foreign policy that Bin Salman has carried out since solidifying his power. One has to wonder if this is a wise decision for Israel because the young Defense Minister has been highly sectarian in his wars with Yemen and the standoff with Qatar. What is more, he deems Iran as a greater threat than Israel, which is the main reason for his policy shift. For a country that is very weak, he is trying to hold on to power with an iron fist. This will not bode well for the Sheikhdom—a country composed of regions that differ in nature, which were united into a single political entity only by blending the Ibn Saud dynasty with Wahhabism. If left unchecked, Bin Salman’s iron fist mentality, will most certainly disintegrate Saudi Arabia into its historic components, as happened in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and potentially could happen in Syria. Furthermore, Bin Salman’s belligerent behaviour may lead to resistance from the Saudi elites who he is attempting to purge. Also, there is a considerable Shi‘i minority in the eastern part of the Sheikhdom, which will probably pursue a military or political sponsor for itself in Iran.
This type of aggressive activity at home and abroad has the very real possibility of creating a confrontation with Iran. Thus, Saudi Arabia can no longer be trusted as a key player in any political solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, if not for its weakness and bellicosity, then for its lack of support within the Palestinian leadership as it’s seen as a guarantor for the Israeli side. This does not mean engagement should be shelved. On the contrary, a mediator should be in contact with the Sheikhdom in order to avoid rogue elements within the regime to sabotage an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Iran has been labeled as a menacing force by many Western countries, namely the United States and Israel. The argument is that Iran is a state that is sponsoring terrorism in the region and abroad. This is grossly exaggerated. While it might be on the same level as Saudi Arabia in “sponsoring terrorism,” where is this criticism of Saudi Arabia? It has funded numerous organizations that are in line with its Wahhabist vision. We see this in Iraq, Libya, and Syria where Daesh (the Islamic State or IS for short), and other similar organizations, have wreaked havoc after American covert or overt operations created a vacuum allowing these Salafi jihadi organizations to run amuck. These same organizations are still threatening others in the region. The Arab New Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia might have started in 1979, when the Islamic Revolution was successful in overthrowing the Shah, but the extremist ideological feud predated it with the Saudi Sheikhdom’s unholy alliance with Wahhabism and the exportation of its revolution into other countries in the Middle East. All this while cozying up to Western powers long before Iran had begun to export its revolution. What needs to be done with Hamas is exactly what needs to be done with Iran, and for the same reason. However, a similar approach also needs to be taken with Saudi Arabia because it is a country that has been allowed to act without consequence. The onus for the instability in the region and international terrorism should be placed on the Sheikhdom just as much as (if not more than) the Iranians.
Regarding Iran’s influence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is limited. They do fund the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, which has claimed responsibility for some of the rockets launched into Israel. However, their influence and power are limited. But, if a mediator wants to marginalize the extremists within the organization, it would be wise to engage with the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is what Fmr. US President Obama began in 2015 with his “Iran Nuclear Deal.” The withdrawal from the deal by the United States by current US President Donald Trump is disheartening for the simple reason that Iran has no incentive for cooperating with the international community and, more specifically, revoking its funding to Shi‘i organizations in the region, such as the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and Hizbullah in Lebanon.
In recent years, Turkey has taken a major shift from what it used to be in the 20th century. Under current President and former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the country has taken on a more traditionalist identity. When first elected as Prime Minister in 2003, Erdoğan was elected because the society was changing. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were military coups happening more often than one would change their underwear. Those that had become wealthier now wanted to be able to practice their religion freely. Many people also felt disenfranchised for a variety of reasons. Whether it was for religious, economic, or social reasons, the people wanted a change from a strict, secular country guided by the military. It would be a misnomer to suggest that Turks wanted (and still do not want) to be an Islamic fundamentalist state. Rather, they wanted to be free to pray or practice their religion without feeling threatened (a more traditionalist state, if you will). The Turks do not want an Islamic fundamentalist state and their Presidential elections have consistently shown that as Erdoğan or his presidential allies have usually received a little over than fifty percent of the vote while always maintaining power in the Turkish parliament. The message the voters are sending is that it likes the government’s economic policies and it wants the traditionalist element in Turkish daily life but it does not want to have a fundamentalist version of Islam guide its country.
At the beginning, Erdoğan and his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), were the perfect fit. This is exactly what the party promised in their first election campaign and it has, more or less, implemented these laws throughout their time in power. However, as time went on, many rifts emerged within the AKP that eventually cost it seats in parliamentary elections. In fact, it received a minority government for a brief period before a snap election was called where the AKP regained its majority. Over the years, Erdoğan had gradually become weaker while pursuing a “neo-Ottoman” crusade in the region. We saw this in Libya during its civil war, in Syria during its civil war, and in his tough words and actions regarding Israel’s occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Erdoğan remains weak and we know he is weak given the failed coup attempt back in 2016 and the countless arrests he has made ever since.
Today, Turkey has resumed ties with Moscow after Ankara shot down a Russian plane over Syrian skies. This is good news if Russia seeks to mediate a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Turkish-Israeli relations are “luke-cold” at best. They have diplomatic relations with each other. However, Turkey consistently criticizes Israel’s every move and consistently tries to defend the Palestinians. It is in close contact with Hamas, a vital partner for any agreement, and ties have been improving with Fatah. Turkey has consistently invited Hamas to Ankara and has defended them on many occasions. Any mediator needs to include Turkey, given their strong ties to Hamas, because leaving the country on the sidelines might have undesirable consequences that will not be in the international community’s best interest.
Long before Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s failed blockade back in 2017, Qatar had been conducting a robust foreign policy. The tiny peninsular Arab country has sought ties with many different states within the region beyond its “base.” For instance, it has sought ties with Iran, which was at the heart of the Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates (UAE) led blockade. Since the Saudi-UAE led blockade, the Qataris also successfully reached out to improve diplomatic relations with Oman, Turkey, the United States, and Russia. Regarding the latter, in the waning years of the Soviet Union, Qatar established diplomatic relations and for three decades the two countries have had good diplomatic relations despite some minor tensions between them. In any case, economic ties between the two countries are strong and became even stronger after the failed Saudi-UAE blockade.
More importantly, Qatar is a crucial player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will play a critical role in its solution. For the longest time, Qatar has been an active supporter of Hamas. It housed Hamas’ former Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashal and has assisted the Palestinian organization financially. This has been another element in its robust foreign policy. For a small country, it is trying to gain clout in a region where countries are jockeying for a position of regional supremacy. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it very much has clout due to the fact that, like Turkey, it has very close ties to Hamas. Some might suggest that it has more pull than Ankara. In any case, like Turkey, it should not be left aside in a future peace agreement.
Two be or not two be: Can it be done?
The question remains: can this seven-decade-old conflict be resolved? The answer is yes, if there is the resolve. There are players in both camps that are willing to engage in resolving the conflict. It will be a tall order to accomplish, but all parties — both domestic and foreign — need to be on board and engaged. “Yisrael Beiteinu” Chairman and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman once said that there should be a regional agreement before a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He does have a point, but it is vital that the two sides come to an agreement first before a regional agreement is achieved for the very simple reason: it’s imperative Israel solve this issue for its own national security.
The United States and other Western countries have tried and failed to make the two sides come to an agreement. In the case of the former, it was never an honest broker in resolving the problem and usually took the side of the Israelis. Western players—namely, the European Union (EU) — never had the wherewithal and clout to resolve the conflict. With the exception of some breakthroughs, the Israelis and the Palestinians are far from coming to an agreement in which Israel will agree to give up the West Bank (in its entirety) along with East Jerusalem, and remove the blockade in the Gaza Strip. Israel claims that it still needs security guarantees that the latter will not lead to constant wars. However, if it doesn’t completely relinquish these areas, the one-state reality and the very real possibility of a civil war will be upon the Zionist entity sooner rather than later, which would surely spell the end of the Jewish identity of the country.
At the moment, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are keen on talking to one another—each accusing the other of incitement and blaming one another for the upsurge in violence. Where the United States and the EU have been unsuccessful, Russia has the potential of successfully bringing these two sides together. Why Russia? It has good ties with the Israelis and Palestinians as well as the key regional players that must sign off on the agreement. As much as it is in the Israelis’ national security interests to come to an agreement as soon as possible, so too is it an urgent national security issue for Russia. A civil war, which could explode in a region where extremism is rampant, is not only a threat to the Israelis, Palestinians, and the entire Middle East—but also to Russia and the entire international community.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, many Russian-Jews left the Russian Federation, because under former President Boris Yeltsin, life was tough and Israel offered better opportunities. Today, Israel has a significant population of Russian-Jews as well as other Jewish people from other countries of the former Soviet Union. Since President Putin came to power, he has sought better relations with Israel. Over the years, there have been numerous state visits: many Israeli Prime Ministers visited Russia and President Putin and others have visited Israel on many occasions. Today, the two countries are cooperating very closely in Syria. Russia also has good ties with the Palestinians. This relationship predates the Russian Federation when the Soviet Union usually took the side of the Palestinians. Where Russia plays a unique role that others don’t is its presence and commitment to the region. It also has contacts with all the countries in the region and is, more or less, on good terms with them all. Russia genuinely wants to ensure stability in this region because of its fears that the extremism can spread to its backyard and, potentially, into its own country. It also has the experience and the relevant expertise to make the two-state solution a reality. More importantly, Russia has been in the region for centuries. So, trust and experience in a region full of skepticism can go a long way—and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no exception.
The Israelis and Palestinians have been in a stalemate for too long and something needs to change. The status quo is unsustainable, mainly for the Israelis but, to a certain extent, for the Palestinians as well. Both parties desperately need to return to the table if for no other reason than to ensure that their people live in peace, stability, and security. With the United States removing itself from the region over the last decade and a half coupled with the fact that it is a biased broker in this conflict, both the Israelis and the Palestinians should look to Russia if they want to resolve their age-old conflict. Russia seems to be a willing partner to broker a deal. Now, the warring parties must be ready to do the same rather than throw out useless accusations of incitement or “it is their fault, not mine.” For Israel, this is an existential moment, as the very identity of the country is at stake. If this opportunity is overlooked, Israel will only have itself to blame—and one would assume that the elite in Israel do not want that to happen to its people and to the Jewish diaspora who it claims to be protecting.
First published in our partner RIAC
Why Did We Forget The 1999 Earthquake?
The earthquake that happened in Marmara region in 1999 was a really big one. On 17 August 1999, a catastrophic magnitude 7.6 earthquake had struck Turkey, causing monumental damage with more than 18,000 deaths. After more than two decades what kind of precautions and policies has the Turkish state adopted to be ready for the next earthquake? I am afraid the answer to this question is not a satisfying answer for most of us…
Yesterday night, another catastrophic earthquake shook Turkey, this time the southern part of the country. A number of cities saw major damage. In Malatya, Kahramanmaras, Sanliurfa, Adana, Hatay and Diyarbakir several buildings collapsed including public buildings like that of hospitals and town halls.
According to the data from AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency), the earthquake of 7.8 magnitude occurred at 04:17 A.M on February 6th 2023, and 130 aftershocks at maximum level of 6.7 followed the initial earthquake. According to State News Agency, Anatolian Agency (AA), over 3,380 people died as major earthquakes rocked Kahramanmaras, affecting several other regional provinces. However the data coming from CNN is different. CNN notes that, more than 4,300 people have died after the devastating earthquake ripped through Turkey and Syria, leaving destruction and debris on each side of the border.
M. Naddaf’s news story from Nature Journal cites Turkish scientist Seyhun Puskulcu, a seismologist and coordinator of the Turkish Earthquake Foundation based in Istanbul. According to Püskülcü, people in Turkey are well aware of their vulnerabilities to earthquakes. “This wasn’t a surprise,” says Puskülcü who was touring the cities of Adana, Tarsus, Mersin and west Turkey, delivering workshops on public earthquake awareness.
The big picture shows us a bitter reality: We did not take lessons from the 1999 earthquake. The earthquake happened the day before is really a major one but official authorities should have been prepared for such a crisis bearing in mind the warnings made for several times by the scientists.
Some Twitter posts are really meaningful showing the righteous rebel of Turkish citizens:
-Give power, see the effect, has anyone seen Mr. “One Man”?
-You spent all your black day coin as if there is no tomorrow, look at the situation we are in now! For God’s sake, can the state be run so carelessly? There’s no money in the cash box, what do we do now? We still have relatives that we have not heard from. You haven’t sent a person to that area yet.
– Isn’t it everyone’s debt regardless of political party to this country to try to prevent future earthquakes from causing so much damage, to question under what conditions the destroyed buildings, roads, airports have been built?
Haskoloğlu’s tweet:Tens of thousands of people are still desperately texting. There are still places where no help has gone. Don’t believe the news and statements that are shown on television as if only 10 buildings have collapsed. This is real disinformation. The situation is not good. Survivors may be lost to the cold.
Following the earthquake, the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) has started the delivery of aid materials for Kahramanmaraş and all the regions affected by the earthquake. To learn how you can donate to Kızılay, you can go to this link.
In addition to Kızılay donation, if you’d like to help Turkey, Ahbap is a reliable and independent NGO working in coordination with state agencies for disaster relief. You can use the following info for donation:
USD IBAN TR320006400000210212150262
EUR IBAN TR150006400000210212150277
Protest in Iran: A Middle Eastern déjà vu with a twist of irony
A recent survey of Iranian public opinion suggests that the lack of confidence in a Middle Eastern regime is starkest in Iran, although crisis-wracked Lebanon, Egypt, or Syria may compete.
Surveyed in late December by the Netherlands-based Gamaan Institute, an overwhelming majority of the 158,000 respondents in Iran and 42,000 Diaspora Iranians in 130 other countries, rejected Iran’s Islamic regime. The poll was published days before Iran commemorates the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The poll’s reach was achieved in part by Voice of America and London-base and Saudi-backed Iran International TV helping with the distribution of questionnaires. Iran International made no mention of its involvement in its reporting on the survey.
Iran, which has accused Iran International of fomenting anti-government protests and cited it as evidence of Saudi Arabia’s involvement, is likely to try and discredit the poll on those grounds.
For its part, Iran International asserted last November that Iran had plotted to kill two of its journalists.
As a result, Gamaan’s use of partisan distribution channels raises legitimate questions.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that respondents participated in the poll against the backdrop of anti-government protests that have continued for four months despite a harsh regime crackdown, including the sentencing to death and execution of demonstrators.
Middle Eastern autocrats are less afraid that the Iranian protests will be contagious like the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the autocratic leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
There is a twist of irony in reduced Middle Eastern anxiety. Twelve years ago, now embattled Iranian leaders claimed the Arab revolts had been inspired by their 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah, a monarch and an icon of US power in the region.
That is not to say that Arab autocrats have no concerns today. On the contrary, the 2010s were bookended by the 2011 revolts and mass protests in 2019 and 2020 that overthrew governments in Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq, and Sudan.
Rulers in Egypt and Jordan, where rising commodity and energy prices, coupled in Egypt’s case with economic mismanagement, fear, together with their Gulf backers, that a black swan could spark an eruption of frustration and anger that is boiling at the surface.
Nevertheless, lack of concern about a domino effect bears witness to the yawning gap between Iran and much of the rest of the Middle East as well as doubts the Iranian protests that, at least for now, are fizzling out because of the crackdown and economic pressures, will lead to immediate regime change.
Even so, the stark results of the Iranian public opinion survey are likely to give rulers in Tehran and elsewhere in the region pause.
The fallout of the protest is likely to reverberate over time rather than immediately in Iran as well as regionally. It may also contribute to hardening US and Israeli attitudes against the backdrop of the collapse of efforts to revive the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program and alleged Iranian progress towards a nuclear military capability.
Some of the survey’s findings could not be starker.
Asked, “Islamic Republic: Yes or No?” a whopping 80.9 per cent of people in Iran said no. Not surprisingly, that figure was 99 per cent for Iranians abroad.
Similarly, 80 per cent of those in Iran supported the anti-government protests while 67 per cent believed they would bring about change.
Almost three-quarters, 73 per cent, wanted to see Western nations pressure the Iranian government in support of the protests. Seventy percent agreed with Western governments potentially proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, expelling Iranian ambassadors, sanctioning officials involved in the crackdown, and seizing Iranian assets.
Twenty-two per cent of those in Iran said they had joined the protests, including participating in nightly chanting against the government; 53 per cent indicated they might. Thirty-five percent had engaged in acts of civil disobedience like removing headscarves or writing slogans; 44 per cent participated in strikes, and 75 per cent were in favour of consumer boycotts. Finally, eight percent said they had committed acts of “civil sabotage” while 41 per cent suggested they might.
A majority of respondents in Iran, 85 per cent, seemed to suggest that the protests and opposition to the regime needed an organizational structure. They said they were for creating a solidarity council or a coalition of opposition forces. Forty-two per cent agreed that the council should include those in Iran as well as Iranians abroad. Fifty-nine per cent expected the council to establish a transitional body and a provisional government.
The chance of such a council getting off the ground in Iran is remote at best. Moreover, Iranians were divided about what political system should replace the Islamic republic.
Inside Iran, 28 per cent and 32 per cent outside preferred a presidential system; 22 per cent in Iran and 25 per cent abroad favoured a constitutional monarchy, presumably with the return of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Virginia-based son of the toppled Shah, while 12 per cent in Iran and 29 per cent outside want a parliamentary system.
Similarly, 60 per cent of those in Iran believed regime change was a prerequisite for meaningful change, but only 16% were proponents of a structural transformation and transition away from the Islamic Republic.
In the polling, Mr. Pahlavi emerged with a significant lead as the most popular potential candidate for membership in the council on a list of 34 names presented to respondents. Other candidates included footballers Ali Daei and Ali Karimi and activists like Hamed Esmaeilion and Shirin Ebadi.
Nevertheless, the likelihood of a return to power of a Pahlavi may be even more remote than the most recent wave of anti-government protests toppling the Islamic regime.
Even so, the thought that a popular revolt, the nightmare of Gulf autocrats, would topple the regime they view as the greatest external threat to their security and restore a monarchy seems ironic at the very least.
The current economic crisis in Egypt and the attempts to drag the Egyptian army into a war against Iran
The United States of America is trying to force Egypt to enter into a regional war against Iran for the benefit of the countries of the Arab Gulf region and Tel Aviv. Hence, the United States of America and its other partners in the international monetary and financial institutions are putting pressure on Cairo in this regard, through the arbitrary policies of the International Monetary Fund and its major shareholders. And on top of them: the United States of America, Britain, France and Germany, as an attempt to oblige Cairo to agree with them to confront Iran, and with Egypt having to resort to the International Monetary Fund for the fourth time since 2016, after that game of American, Israeli and Western intelligence in confronting the Egyptian army to force it to confront Iran, after the game of withdrawing a number of major international investors from the country for purely intelligence, political and military reasons in favor of the goal of confrontation. with the Tehran regime. This coincided with the practice of Washington and the Western powers, through their arms in Cairo, of several artificial economic crises, such as the shortage of foreign currency in the Egyptian market, the weakness of the Egyptian pound, the rise in inflation rates, and others.
For its part, the United States is trying to gather more allies in its war against Iran. In this regard, it is trying to persuade the European Union to join its alliance in the war against Tehran. Perhaps the big gap in the front of the United States of America remains the European Union, through which the Iranian regime wants to penetrate in order to weaken the American and Israeli position that is motivated and mobilized towards the danger of war. Perhaps because of the refusal of the countries of the European Union and the countries of the NATO military alliance to bow to the American and Israeli demands to enter into direct military confrontations against Iran, it was the main direct reason for the threat of former US President “Trump” to expel the United States from NATO membership and to keep Europe alone in front of the Russian threat, which might force the countries of the European Union, from the point of view of “Trump”, at the time to modify the views of the countries of the European Union and the countries of the NATO military alliance.
From my analytical point of view, what is happening in the region in terms of the American and Israeli attempt to mobilize against Iran with Gulf support, and the attempt to drag the Egyptian army to fight without its direct interest at the present time to confront mainly with Tehran, is a war with different faces and multiple players, but Iran remains the field. The main conflict is in a war fueled by central banks, the economic structure, oil, banking and trade at all levels.
On the other hand, the options available to Iran seem limited to confront the specter of the American-Israeli-Gulf war in confronting it, in addition to the ongoing economic war and the growing threats against it. The options against Tehran appear to be all accompanied by risks and risks. Internally, Iran has to convince its people to bear the policy of austerity, and externally, the Iranian regime is counting on the support of China, Russia, and the armed militias that support it in the countries of the region, perhaps to threaten through it to ignite the situation throughout the region and hint at the danger of the straits and sea lanes in the Red Sea. On top of them are the Straits of Bab al-Mandab and Hormuz and the Gulf of Aden. This may make the situation more complicated for America, Israel and their other allies in the event of entering into any uncalculated military confrontations with Iran, which Egypt and President El-Sisi are well aware of the enormity of engaging in any potential clashes with the Tehran regime.
The point of view of Egyptian President “Abdel Fattah El-Sisi”, as a former military intelligence man, and the Egyptian army, and their response to any attempts to enter into military confrontations with Tehran and try to convince the Arab Gulf states of that, is (the cost of war), in the sense of what the countries of the entire Gulf region and the region will incur by waging a similar war. guerrilla warfare and armed militias. As the issue of establishing and supporting armed militias in the countries of the region has become something that everyone knows and does not need proof. And the matter is not limited to Shiite militias backed by Iran, such as: (Lebanese Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen), but Iran will also find, in the event that America, Israel and the Gulf enter military confrontations with it, great and direct support from Al-Qaeda and the nearby Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Borders with Tehran, and there are reports indicating the Iranian regime’s complicity with the terrorist organization of “ISIS”, and all of these organizations will be used once in the event of a military confrontation with Iran, and Iran will inevitably resort to re-enriching uranium very quickly and developing ballistic weapons and missiles to confront the imminent war. The entire Gulf and region will be destroyed, as well as the movement of the straits and sea lanes will be affected and the entire international trade movement will be paralyzed, and the security of Egypt, the region and the Suez Canal will be affected, which will disrupt the global trade movement.
And in light of the outbreak of any war against Iran, the Iranian decision-maker will be forced here to resort to and use these militias and armed groups, as a pressure card on neighboring countries, the United States of America and the Gulf. Based on this option, it is likely that the pace of terrorist operations will increase in the countries of the region in the coming period of time. This is clearly understood by President El-Sisi and the Egyptian army, so he distances himself from entering into any confrontations or clashes with Iran, not to push for the complete destruction of the region in favor of Israel in the first place, as it is the only beneficiary of that war, to spread chaos and unrest throughout the region, including the Gulf countries and Arab supporter of the war against Iran.
Perhaps that economic crisis fabricated by the West in the face of Egypt, its indirect result was that American and Western call through their monetary institutions, of the need to restore foreign direct investment as a real way out of the current crisis after the flight of investments estimated at about 20 billion dollars from investment in the Egyptian debt, according to intelligence reasons. Purely, as I mentioned in my analysis, because of the attempt of the extreme right and hardliners in Israel to enter into direct military confrontations with Iran with the generous support of the Gulf countries, and their attempt to drag the Egyptian army and involve it by force to defend Tel Aviv’s malicious dreams of bringing Cairo into serious military confrontations with the Tehran regime. Perhaps this is what the International Monetary Fund declared explicitly in favor of Washington mainly and in support of Tel Aviv’s hard-right policies, by announcing that Egypt will be affected by the global repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with a funding gap of $17 billion over the coming years. This is the same as what “Ivana Hollar”, head of the International Monetary Fund’s mission to Egypt, declared:
“The reform program of the authorities in Egypt must give a greater role to the private sector, which is urgent, and it is very important that the state ownership policy be approved at the highest levels, including by the president”
This is what Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi understood with the mentality of a military intelligence man, as a former head of the Military Intelligence Service in Egypt, by trying to exert maximum American and Israeli pressure on Cairo in order to enter into a confrontation with unsafe consequences to confront Iran, by giving “El-Sisi” his orders to form a “crisis committee”, to follow the situation on a weekly basis as soon as the Russian invasion of Ukraine begins, as well as current events. President El-Sisi also instructed the army to provide food commodities to citizens, after President Putin’s war against Ukraine caused the largest global food crisis, if we add to it those reprehensible American and Israeli attempts to force the Egyptian army to enter into direct military confrontations with Tehran. Perhaps this was one of the main reasons, from my analytical point of view and my reading of the general political and economic scene in Egypt, behind those tours that Egyptian President “El-Sisi” made in the Arab Gulf region, specifically those presidential tours to (Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Qatar).
Then, the Egyptian government, represented by the “Egyptian Council of Ministers”, issued an official report issued, based on directives and presidential orders from President El-Sisi to address the Egyptian people, in a framework of transparency to address in this report the most important issues related to the general economic situation in the Egyptian state during the year 2022. Specifically, and in the context of the official report issued by the Egyptian Council of Ministers, 17 main claims and allegations were answered, in terms of (the size of the external debt, the state’s general budget, the exchange rate, the state’s credit rating, as well as the feasibility of national projects, the terms of the Monetary Fund loan, and the rise in prices. Crisis in the situation in banks), and other issues that occupied the Egyptian street during the last period.
This brings us to the general political scene in Tel Aviv, and that successive Israeli pressure on the regimes of the Arab Gulf states for a possible and imminent attack on Iran, and perhaps that is the main reason for the use of an Israeli extreme right-wing government at the present time, which facilitated the Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu” to form an alliance that is the largest of its kind in the history of Tel Aviv is the far-right parties and the religious extremists, who are pushing for the inevitable confrontation with the Tehran regime to protect the interests of Tel Aviv.
Where the Israeli hard-right, led by Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu”, raises many slogans in the direction of war against Iran, including: preserving the security of the region, assisting the Gulf countries that have signed peace agreements with Israel and others, such as the UAE and Bahrain, and indirect support for Saudi Arabia in the wake of these multiple Houthi attacks on Saudi oil facilities, and the Iranian-backed Houthi militias targeting Saudi Aramco facilities in the Red Sea, which Iran denied, in addition to the “Netanyahu” government’s promotion in Israel towards war among most segments of Israeli society, under many and varied allegations, such as: stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and promoting that this has become one of Israel’s most important priorities in its foreign policy.
In the event of a confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, the turmoil emanating from Syria and the control of ISIS, which has swept the greater part of the region, will reach directly to the Egyptian border. This particular development was raised by President El-Sisi in an official and popular public speech to him, emphasizing:
“We do not need additional complications related to Iran and Hezbollah”, adding: “I am against war, as crises can be resolved through dialogue”
This confirms the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s endeavor to avoid the region witnessing any tensions, especially between the Arab Gulf and Iran, or witnessing further escalation with the help of Washington and Tel Aviv. Egyptian President “Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi” left no doubts about his position, assuring that:
“The Middle East does not need security in the Gulf, which constitutes a red line. We believe in Egypt that any threat to the Gulf states also affects our national security”, with President El-Sisi acknowledging in several official speeches to him, that:
“Security in the Gulf constitutes a red line, and we believe in Egypt that any threat to the Gulf states also affects our national security”
Tel Aviv, along with Washington, has also become involved in promoting between the countries of the region and the Gulf, primarily about the feasibility of a military war against Iran, and exporting a file for Israel’s fear of Iran’s interference in countries close to its borders, with leaks that Tehran has supplied a group of ballistic missiles and precision ammunition to its proxies in “Hezbollah group” in Lebanon and in Syria as well. Therefore, Israel announces its fear of the nuclear agenda to produce nuclear weapons for Iran and the equipment that carries it as a threat to the security and safety of the entire region and the Gulf in particular as an ally of the Tel Aviv regime through normalization and peace agreements with it. Hence, the attempts of Israeli intelligence and its Mossad apparatus to strike a number of nuclear reactors in the Iranian city of Isfahan are attempts that the Israelis are promoting internally, regionally and internationally, as a “part of Israel’s attempts to strike Iranian capabilities and prevent them from supporting their proxy groups in the region”
The fundamental question remains here, when talking about how all regional and international parties view the extent of support that China and Russia can provide to the Iranian regime in the event of war with Israel and the Gulf, with direct US-Western support? The answer to this question will make us analyze the reasons for Washington’s efforts to curry favor with the political system in Egypt in the first place, through the visit of US Secretary of State “Anthony Blinken” to Cairo and then his departure to Tel Aviv as part of the American game of moves and probing the pulse of Egypt and the countries of the region. Perhaps relying on Chinese and Russian support for Iran will be one of the strongest cards that the Iranians bet on, especially given the existence of vital and necessary Egyptian and Gulf interests with the Chinese and Russians in the first place. This is what China stated directly, that it is likely to continue buying Iranian oil after the conclusion of the second phase of sanctions against Tehran in November 2018. “Mohsen Karimi”, as deputy governor of the Central Bank of Iran, confirmed in official statements published to him in the Persian media on Monday, January 30, 2023, that (Iran and Russia) have linked the communication and transfer systems of their banks to each other, to help promote commercial and financial transactions under the sway of Tehran and Moscow to Western sanctions.
This Russian financial and economic support for Iran has been mainly since the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran in 2018, after Washington withdrew from the nuclear agreement concluded between them in 2015, which was mainly between Tehran and the world powers, after which Iran was separated from the “Swift” financial network, as an International Bank Transfers, which is headquartered in Belgium. The similar restrictions have been imposed on a large number of Russian banks since Moscow’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022. This is what was confirmed by “Mohsen Karimi”, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Iran, in a public challenge to Washington and the West with the help of China and Russia, by stressing that:
“Iranian banks no longer need to use the Swift system for transfers and financial transactions with their Russian counterparts, which can all the parties may open letters of credit, transfers or joint guarantees between the two parties”
This was confirmed by the Russian Central Bank, in agreement with the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Iran, “Mohsen Karimi”, stressing that “about 700 Russian banks and 106 non-Russian banks from 13 different countries will be linked to a new credit and banking system.” This is without going into details about the names of foreign banks that will accept such banking and financial trading away from the global financial system of “SWIFT” for financial and monetary trading, which is officially approved internationally.
This is precisely understood from him, as the Chinese and Russians did not leave Iran alone in the midst of the danger or the wind of any imminent military war against them. Perhaps, in this case, Russia will try to take revenge on Washington and Tel Aviv with generous military and economic support for Iran, especially in light of its facing sanctions by the United States of America and the European Union.
This brings us to the political scene in Egypt in a more precise and objective manner, emphasizing the smooth and clear vision of the Egyptian approach in Cairo, and that Egypt actually does not share the concern of the Gulf countries about the West’s nuclear agreement with Iran, just as Egypt did not adopt the assessment expressed by the United States of America that Iran It supports terrorism, in addition to the fact that Egypt plays a very conservative role in the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis, who are sympathetic to Iran.
Hence, we conclude, based on our reading and analysis of the general scene, that this economic crisis in Egypt is fabricated by the Americans, Israelis, Westerners, and even the Gulf states, to push the Egyptian army, as the strongest armies in the region, to bear the cost and burden of the war, which is not fundamental to Egyptian interests on behalf of everyone. precedent for Egypt, in addition to the withdrawal of a number of foreign investors, mainly, suddenly and at once, and at the same precise and sensitive time from the Egyptian financial market within the framework of “pressuring the Egyptian regime, in order to respond to the conditions of the International Monetary Fund, and those in charge of it politically and economically in the first place, who are Washington and its allies in the West, As a part of a systematic campaign against Egypt and its army to bear the cost and burden of the war against Iran on behalf of Israel, the Gulf and everyone, and in favor of competition between Washington, Beijing and Moscow as allies of Iran in the Middle East.
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