The ‘Great Game’ is afoot: Killing Soleimani reflects US desperation in the Middle East

Demonstrators carry an image of Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US airstrike in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, during an anti-US rally to protest the killing at Palestine Square in the capital Tehran, Iran on January 4, 2020 [Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency]

Demonstrators carry an image of Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US airstrike in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, during an anti-US rally to protest the killing at Palestine Square in the capital Tehran, Iran on January 4, 2020

By Ramzy Baroud / Romana Rubeo

By killing top Iranian military commander, Qasem Soleimani, American and Israeli leaders demonstrated the idiom ‘out of the frying pan into the fire.’

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are both politically and legally embattled – the former has just been impeached and the latter is dogged by an Attorney General indictment and investigation into major corruption cases.

Despairing, out of options and united by a common cause, both leaders were on the lookout for a major disruption – that would situate them in a positive light within their countries’ respective media – and they found it.

The assassination of the Iranian major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commander of its Quds Force, Soleimani, on January 3, along with several Iranian military leaders by a US drone was a testament to the degree of that US and Israeli desperation.

Although there has been no official confirmation or denial of the Israeli role in the US operation, it is only logical to assume indirect or even direct Israeli involvement in the assassination.

Over the last few months, the possibility of a war against Iran has once more gained momentum, topping the agenda of Israel’s foreign policy makers. Politically beleaguered Netanyahu has repeatedly and tirelessly asked his friends in Washington to increase pressure on Teheran.

“Iran is increasing its aggression as we speak,” Netanyahu claimed on December 4, during a meeting with US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. “We are actively engaging in countering that aggression.”

One can only assume what “active engagement” from the overtly militant Israeli point of view can possibly mean in this context.

Read: US’ Pompeo thanks Israel’s Netanyahu for support over Iraq strike

Moreover, the fingerprints of the Israeli intelligence, the Mossad, are unmistakably present in the assassination. It is plausible that the attack at Soleimani’s convoy near the Baghdad International airport was a joint CIA-Mossad operation.

It is well-known that Israel has more experience in targeted assassinations in the region than all Middle Eastern countries combined. It has killed hundreds of Palestinian and Arab activists this way. The assassination of Hezbollah’s top military leader – the movement’s second in command –  Imad Mughniyah in February 2008, in Syria, was only one of numerous such killings.

It is no secret that Israel is itching for a war against Iran. Yet all of Tel Aviv’s efforts have failed to bring about US-led war similar to the Iraq invasion in 2003. The most that Netanyahu could achieve in terms of US support in that regard was a decision by the Trump administration to renege on the US commitment to the international community by withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Treaty in May 2018.

That coveted Israeli war seemed assured when Iran, after various provocations and the slapping by Washington of yet more sanctions, shot down a US unmanned aerial vehicle that, as Iran maintained, violated the country’s airspace, on June 20, 2019.

Even then, the US response fell short of achieving the all-out war that Netanyahu has been so frantically seeking.

But much has happened since then, including a repeat of  Netanyahu’s failure to win a decisive election, thus securing another term in office, compounding the Israeli Prime Minister’s fully justified fear that he could eventually find himself behind bars for operating a massive racket of bribes and misuse of power.

Trump, too, has his own political woes, thus his own reasons to act erratically and irresponsibly. His official impeachment by the US House of Representatives on December 18 was the last of such bad news. He too needed to up the political ante.

If there is one thing that many Democratic and Republican lawmakers have in common is their desire for more Middle East military interventions and to maintain a stronger military presence in the oil and gas-rich region. This was reflected in the near-celebratory tone that  US officials, generals, and media commentators have used following the assassination of the Iranian commander in Baghdad.

Trump: US will hit 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliates

Israeli officials too were visibly excited. Immediately following the killing of General Soleimani, Israeli leaders and officials issued statements and tweets in support of the US action.

For his part, Netanyahu declared that “Israel has the right to defend itself. The US has the same right exactly.” “Soleimani,” he added, “is responsible for the deaths of innocent US citizens and many others. He was planning further attacks.”

The last statement in particular, “he was planning further attacks,” points to the obvious joint intelligence and information sharing between Washington and Tel Aviv.

Benny Gantz, mistakenly celebrated for being a “centrist”, was no less militant in his views. When it comes to matters of national security, “there is no coalition and opposition,” he stated.

“The killing of Soleimani is a message to all the head of global terror: on your own heads be it,” the Israeli general, responsible for the death of thousands of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere, also added.

Iran will certainly respond, not only against American targets but Israeli targets as well, for Teheran is convinced that Israel has played a major role in the operation. The pressing questions are more about the nature and the timing of the Iranian response: How far will Iran go to send even a stronger message back to Washington and Tel Aviv? and could Teheran communicate a decisive message without granting Netanyahu his wish of an all-out war between Iran and the United States?

Recent events in Iraq – the mass protests and attempt by unarmed protesters to storm the US embassy in Baghdad on December 31 – were, to some extent, a game changer. Initially, they were understood as an angry response to US airstrikes on an Iranian-backed militia group on Sunday, but the protests had unintended consequences as well, particularly dangerous from a US military and strategic perspective. For the first time since the phony US ‘withdrawal’ from Iraq under the previous administration of Barack Obama in 2012, a new collective understanding began maturing among ordinary Iraqis and their representatives that the US must leave the country for good.

Acting quickly, the US, with palpable Israeli giddiness, assassinated Soleimani to send a clear message to Iraq and Iran that demanding or expecting an American withdrawal is a red line that cannot be crossed – and to the whole Middle East that the evident US retreat from the region will not be duplicated in Iraq.

Soleimani’s assassination was followed by yet more US airstrikes on Iran’s allies in Iraq, as to also emphasise the level of US seriousness and willingness to seek violent confrontation as a matter of course.

Read: Will Iran be able to match its revenge rhetoric with action following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani?

While Iran is now weighing in its responses, it must also be aware of the geostrategic consequences of its decisions. An Iranian move against US-Israeli interests would have to be convincing from the point of view of Iran and its allies, yet, again, without engaging in an all-out war.

Either way, Iran’s next move will define the Iranian-US-Israeli relations in the region for years to come and will further intensify the ongoing regional and international “Great Game”, on full display throughout the Middle East.

Soleimani’s assassination could also be understood as a clear message to both Russia and China as well, that the US is prepared to set the whole region on fire, if necessary, in order to maintain its strategic presence and to serve its economic interests – which mostly lie in Iraqi and Arab oil and gas.

This comes at the heel of a joint Russian, Chinese and Iranian naval drill in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman, starting on December 27. The news of the military exercises must have been particularly alarming to the Pentagon, as Iran, which was meant to be isolated and browbeaten, is increasingly becoming a regional access point to the emergent and resurfacing Chinese and Russian military powers respectively.

Soleimani was an Iranian commander, but his massive network and military alliances in the region and beyond made his assassination a powerful message sent by Washington and Tel Aviv that they are ready and unafraid to up their game.

The ball is now in the court of Iran and its allies.

Judging by past experiences, it is likely that Washington will regret assassinating the Iranian general for many years to come.

China: US is abusing its force in Middle East

(Source / 05.01.2020) 

Netanyahu, in apparent stumble, calls Israel ‘nuclear power’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestuers supporters after speaking at a Likud Party gathering on 17 November 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel. [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on 17 November 2019

In an apparent slip of the tongue on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Israel as a nuclear power before correcting himself with a bashful nod and an embarrassed smile, according to a report by Reuters.

Israel is widely believed to have an atomic arsenal but has never confirmed or denied that it has nuclear weapons, maintaining a so-called policy of ambiguity on the issue for decades.

Netanyahu stumbled at the weekly cabinet meeting while reading in Hebrew prepared remarks on a deal with Greece and Cyprus on a subsea gas pipeline.

“The significance of this project is that we are turning Israel into a nuclear power,” he said, before quickly correcting himself to say “energy power”.

Read: US’ Pompeo thanks Israel’s Netanyahu for support over Iraq strike

He then paused for a beat, acknowledging his mistake with a smile, and then ploughed on with his comments.

The rare blooper from one of Israel’s most polished politicians swiftly proliferated on social media.

Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival in a March 2 vote after two inconclusive elections in April and September. In November, he was indicted on corruption charges, which he denies.

Read: Israel must prepare to confront Turkey in Mediterranean, says journalist

(Source / 05.01.2020) 

Palestinians in Gaza mourn Iran’s Soleimani

Iranians take part in an anti-US rally to protest the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by a US airstrike in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, at Palestine Square in the capital Tehran, Iran on January 4, 2020 [Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency]

Iranians take part in an anti-US rally to protest the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by a US airstrike in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, at Palestine Square in the capital Tehran, Iran on January 4, 2020

Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Saturday mourned the death of Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a US air strike in Iraq, reported Reuters.

Leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad joined mourners at a tent erected in Soleimani’s honour in the heart of Gaza City.

Flags of the United States and Israel were laid on the ground for visitors to tread on as they entered, passing posters of Soleimani. The flags were later set on fire.

“We are loyal to those who stood with the resistance and with Palestine and we hold the USadministration and the Zionist occupation fully responsible for the consequences of this deplorable crime,” said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official.

Israel, which defended the US operation on Friday, has fought three wars with Hamas in the last decade, and in 2006 fought a brief war with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia across the Lebanese border.

Trump: US will hit 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliates

Qassem Soleimani was the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the mastermind of its regional security strategy. He was killed early Friday near the Baghdad international airport along with senior Iraqi militants in an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump. The attack has caused regional tensions to soar and tested the US alliance with Iraq. Fearing escalation, NATO has suspended it’s training activities in Iraq, while the British Navy has committed to escort every UK-flagged ship across the Straits of Hormuz.

Showing no signs of seeking to reduce tensions, the US president has since issued a stern threat to Iran on Twitter, saying that the US has targeted 52 Iranian sites that it would strike if Iran attacks Americans or US assets in response to the US drone strike that killed Soleimani.

The US strike on Soleimani’s convoy at Baghdad airport also killed Iranian-backed Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and it raised the specter of wider conflict in the Middle East.

Opinion: Trump’s reckless gamble with world peace

(Source / 05.01.2020) 

Israeli Forces Halt Construction of Palestinian Home Near Bethlehem

Israeli military ordered, on Saturday, a halt on the construction of a Palestinian-owned house in the village of Nahalin, near Bethlehem city. In addition, the soldiers seized building equipment, including a pump and two cement mixers, according to the Palestinian News and Info Agency (WAFA).

Hani Fannoun, head of Nahalin municipality, said that an Israeli military force stormed the site of the construction and ordered the workers to stop the work, under the pretext of lack of an Israeli building permit.

The area, in the southern occupied West Bank, is classified as C, which makes up about 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli administrative and military control, where Israel rarely issues construction permits to Palestinians, forcing them to build without one.

(Source / 05.01.2020) 

Report: In 2019 Israel Ordered Administrative Detention Against 1,022 Palestinians

The Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies released a statement, on Thursday, that Israel has issued a total of 1,022 administrative detention orders against Palestinians in 2019, the Middle East Monitor reported.

The center said that there was a ten per cent increase in administrative detention orders, imprisonment without charge or trial, issued by Israeli courts in 2019 compared to 2018, when a total of 920 orders were documented.

Spokesman, Riyad Al-Ashqar said that 380 new administrative detention orders, were imposed, while 642 orders were renewed, and extended for various periods.

The majority of administrative orders have been against previously freed detainees, and some prisoners had their detention orders renewed six times, for periods of four to six months, Al-Ashqar explained.

(Source / 05.01.2020)

Turkish Authorities Deliver Ottoman-Era Archives to Palestinian Authority

Turkey has given a copy of Ottoman-era archived documents to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to help Palestinians legally counter the Israeli occupation’s land claims, Quds News Network reported.

Hebrew news sources said the archives include tens of thousands of land registries from the Palestinian territories under the Ottoman Empire’s control between the years 1516 to 1917.

“Lawyers from the PA are already using the materials in the archive, in order to undermine Israel’s claim on land around Israel,” and especially in the occupied West Bank, according to Hebrew sources.

Turkish authorities delivered the archives to representatives of the PA in Ankara last year and a part of the archives was later transferred to Bethlehem.

But lawyers from Jerusalem’s Arab neighbourhoods are regularly turning to the archive to find documents that help them in legal battles over claims to many properties, mostly in the Jerusalem area, Hebrew sources said.

(Source / 05.01.2020) 

MUHAMMAD HESSI.. WHEN A FATHER’S ONLY WISH IS TO GRANT HIS SON A GRAVE

Gaza (QNN)- Only God knows how much pain the family of Muhammad Hessi has been enduring since the murder of their son back in 2017 when Israeli soldiers attacked him while he was fishing.

In the deep sea, which used to be Muhammad’s main source of livelihood, his body is still missing and the Israelis refuse to find and hand it over to his family.

The only wish of his parents and children is to put his body in a grave so that they get to visit and cry over it, the father told QNN.

“I tried everything, from rights institutions to courts, to recover the body of my son, but that was in vain”, he said.

Three days after his murder, Muhammad’s family held a token funeral for their son and continued hoping to recover his body someday.

Muhammad’s children are the most painful part of his story, as they “have been feeling a double orphanage recognizing that the body of their father was lost in the sea”, said the father.

The suffering did not stop at the martyrdom of Muhammad, as the PA Martyr Fund refuse to pay for the family under the pretext of not knowing the fate of Muhammad and that his body is missing.

“After Muhammad’s martyrdom, we lost our sole breadwinner”, the father told QNN. “We need some payment to address our needs so that his children live a decent life”.

The life of Gaza fishermen could be simply described as a series of daily suffering, which begins with the Israeli attacks on their boats and doesn’t end at arresting and preventing them from earning their living.

“Many fishermen were killed in the sea but until now there aren’t any international or rights institutions to protect us”, Muhammad’s father told QNN.

Zakariyya Baker, chair of the Gaza Fisherman’s Union, told QNN that “10 fishermen were killed in the recent few years, while the Israelis arrested nearly 600 others, wounded 300, and damaged hundreds of fishing boats”.

(Source / 05.01.2020) 

‘ISRAEL’ PREVENTED 8000 PATIENTS FROM SEEKING TREATMENT OUTSIDE OF GAZA IN 2019

Gaza (QNN)- The Israeli authorities prevented nearly 8000 Palestinian patients from traveling to seek treatment outside of the besieged enclave of Gaza in 2019, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights stated in a new report titled “Israeli restrictions on the movement of Gaza patients”, that the occupation state has prevented thousands of Gaza patients from leaving the besieged strip by imposing restrictions on their movement through Erez border crossing, which worsened their health conditions as most of them cannot be treated in Gaza due to the lack of medical equipment.

The report refuted the Israeli claims, which alleged that those who were prevented from traveling do not suffer from conditions that endanger their lives.

It also mentioned several kinds of suffering, which the patients face, like “the refusal of their requests without providing any reasons, preventing patients from traveling for family-related reasons, arresting or blackmailing patients or their escorts at Erez border crossing, delays and procrastination responding to any requests by the patients, and imposing strict restrictions on the escorts of the patients”.

The report stated that the Israelis hampered the movement of 51.056 out of 179.746 patients, who were accepted to be treated in Israeli or West Bank hospitals, in a percentage of 28.4% of the total number of treatment requests during the period between 2008-2018.

The Israelis also prevented 7.794 out of 22.144 patients from Gaza from traveling in the period between January 1- November 30, 2019.

(Source / 05.01.2020) 

News Analysis: Gaza factions, military wings on alert after Soleimani’s assassination

Palestinians in Gaza City burn a US and an Israeli flag during a mourning ceremony organised in honour of slain Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani (portrait on banner) killed in a US air strike a day earlier, on January 4, 2020

GAZA, PALESTINOW.COM – Several Gaza-based factions and military wings are on alert for any possible escalation as a result of the U.S. killing of senior Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, according to local Palestinian analysts.

The analysts said these political factions and military wings in Gaza, mainly the Islamic Hamas movement and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, “are so strong,” which vowed a powerful avenge to Soleimani’s assassination.

Read: Hamas condemns US assassination of Qassem Soleimani

Early on Friday, Soleimani, commander of Quds Force of Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of Iraq’s paramilitary Hashd Shaabi forces, were killed in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad airport, sparking outrage among some political factions and military wings in Gaza.

Hani al-Masri, director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy Research & Strategic Studies, told Xinhua that the assassination of Soleimani and any upcoming escalation that may erupt in the region will be a hot start, leading to possible large changes in the region and in the entire world.

He suggested that all Palestinian parties should study all possible scenarios and get ready to all possibilities amid the serious regional and international concerns of a possible escalation in the region.

Read: Boris Johnson’s BDS bill brings Britain closer to America and Israel further from peace

Ismail Haniyeh, politburo chief of Hamas said in a statement that the assassination of Soleimani “will lead to serious consequences in the region and Palestine.”

“Hamas leaders follow, evaluate the current developments and consequences and will take the needed positions,” said Haniyeh.

The Israeli media also reported that Israel sent indirect letters of warnings to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements, in case they try to respond to the assassinations of Soleimani.

Adnan Abu A’amer, a political science professor at the Gaza-based al-Ummah University told Xinhua that the assassination of Soleimani “will open the door widely for possible serious escalations.”

Read: PLO asks EU to reconsider new conditions for funding Palestinian NGOs

“Iran expected that Soleimani will be assassinated by Israel, then Iran would easily respond. But when the assassination was carried out by the United States, the Iranian retaliation, either against Israeli or American targets, would be so difficult,” said Abu A’amer.

He said that the possible escalation after the assassination of Soleimani will personally serve Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “simply because this situation would rescue him from the crisis of the formation of the Israeli government.”

The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, based in areas of the West Bank since the Hamas-Fatah split in 2007, didn’t issue any official comment to the assassination of the Iranian commander. But various factions and military wings in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip mourned Soleimani.

Hamas said in an emailed press statement that it sends its condolences to Iran for the death of Soleimani “who played a significant role in backing the Palestinian armed resistance.”

Read: PLO official: Israel obstructing Palestine elections

“The ongoing U.S. crimes that create tension in the region serve the criminal Israeli enemy,” it said, adding that it holds the United States “fully responsible for the bloodshed in the Arab region.”

The less-influential pro-Iran Palestinian Islamic Jihad said in a press statement that the resistance movement in the region “won’t be confused or influenced by the assassination of Soleimani, and that resistance will continue.”

The Palestinian left-wing faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), also said in a press statement that the assassination of Soleimani is “a quantum leap in the U.S. aggression and wars it wages in the region.”

Hassan Abdo, a Gaza-based political analyst told Xinhua that the Iranian response to the crime of the assassination of Soleimani “is certain,” adding that the question “is when, how and where?”

“The killing of Soleimani will open the gates of hell against the dominant colonial powers in the region,” said Abdo.

He said this incident “will allow armed resistance to fight the Israeli-U.S. domination in the Gulf area and the entire Middle East.”

He added that the consequences of any escalation in the Middle East “may lead to a war that will produce a victorious, strong and challenging pro-Iran axis and strengthen its position in the region.”

Israel’s foreign ministry and its security apparatuses declared a status of security alert and increased guarding of its embassies all over the world for fear of immediate retaliation in response to the killing of Soleimani.

However, Israel didn’t refer to any direct and specific threats, but it put into considerations sudden attacks that might be launched from the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria and other Iran-backed military groups.

Mohamed Yaghi, a Palestinian writer and journalist from the West Bank, said that Iran has “a strategic reserve to defend it in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.”

“The strategic reserve of Iran will be only activated when it will be attacked, so in this case Iran will ask from its allies for military backing,” he wrote on Saturday an article in the Ramallah-based al-Ayyam newspaper.

(Source / 05.01.2020) 

Israeli settlement activity in Palestine up 70% in 2019

Israel has demolished 617 homes that belong to Palestinians, displacing at least 898 citizens, according to the report

JERUSALEM, PALESTINOW.COM – Israel has demolished 617 homes that belong to Palestinians, displacing at least 898 citizens, according to the report.

The Israeli settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories increased by 70 per cent in 2019, according to a report issued here.

READ: Turkish Authorities Deliver Ottoman-Era Archives to Palestinian Authority

Israel announced tenders to build around 10,000 new settlement units in 2019, compared  to 6,800 in 2018, Xinhua news agency reported citing the Palestine Liberation Organization report as saying on Saturday. 

Israel has demolished 617 homes that belong to Palestinians, displacing at least 898 citizens, according to the report.

“The anti-Palestinian policies of the U.S. government have encouraged Israel and settlement organizations to escalate their attacks on the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” it noted.

READ: News Analysis: Gaza factions, military wings on alert after Soleimani’s assassination

Such moves come behind Israeli government’s intentions to impose sovereignty over the Jordan Valley that takes up around one third of the West Bank to seek electoral gains, the report warned.

The Israeli settlement activity is considered illegal under international law and has been one of the major hurdles to the stalled peace talks between Palestine and Israel since 2014.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in November 2019 that Washington would no longer consider Israel’s West Bank settlements “inconsistent” with international law, in a move believed to further dim the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

(Source / 05.01.2020)