Reports of increased Iranian financial support for Hamas have coincided with experts’ concerns about $50 billion Iran could receive in sanctions relief upon the signing of any future deal on its nuclear program. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force has been sending tens of millions of dollars to Hamas in recent months. The money has reportedly been transferred on the direct orders of the head of the Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, to Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. A senior Western intelligence official told the Journal that the money is mostly going toward reconstructing tunnels in the Gaza Strip that Hamas uses to smuggle weapons and people and to infiltrate Israel. Hamas is also reportedly bringing in more rockets. On Thursday night, a rocket was fired into southern Israel from Gaza, although IDF officials believe it was fired by a rival Islamist group. The IDF considers Hamas responsible because it is the governing body in the Gaza Strip.
In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, Jonathan Schanzer, a former official at the Department of Treasury, said that under the interim Joint Plan of Action, “There’s been...$900 million at a time just to keep Iran at the table, and that’s added up to almost $15 billion by the time we reach the deadline. And then on top of that, we’re going to see perhaps that $50 billion signing bonus, and then there’s going to be another $50 billion from the semi-accessible accounts that Iran has in places like China and Japan and Turkey and others.” Iran is “prolific” in terrorist financing, Dr. Schanzer explained, and has sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran has invested in human capital as well by training Palestinian terrorists in rocket manufacturing. Hezbollah is believed to be “in possession of 90,000 rockets, many of them Iran-supplied”. When asked by Congressman Andy Barr (R-Ky.) if the U.S. should “anticipate…a rapid acceleration of this type of financing” upon the completion of any deal with Iran, Schanzer responded, “Absolutely, across the board. Houthis, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas. Every one of these groups stands to benefit. They’re all salivating right now at this idea of a cash infusion.”
Conflicts in the Middle East are pushing nations in the region, led by Saudi Arabia, into an arms buying spree that could reach an unprecedented $18 billion in 2015, The Times of Israel reported Friday.
“(The) Saudi-led military operations in Yemen (are) the latest manifestation of Arab interventionism, a trend that has been gaining momentum in the Middle East since the uprisings of the Arab spring,” Tobias Borck, an analyst at the UK’s Royal United Services Institute, told the Guardian. “Middle Eastern countries appear to be increasingly willing to use their armed forces to protect and pursue their interests in crisis zones across the region.”
Borck warned that the increased trade “neglects the regional political dimensions, with arms sales taking place with a lack of regard for that context and without long-term strategic awareness.”
He noted that the sales could also be encouraging proxy conflicts in the region, with Russia seeking to counter Western support to regional allies by increasingly backing its own partners such as Iran and Syria.
In Israel, “desert” doesn’t mean “desolate.” The sandy Negev expanse that makes up more than half of Israel’s land mass encompasses fascinating vistas, history and creativity. Here we will zero in on the attractions of the eastern part of the desert: the narrow Arava Valley, stretching 180 kilometers (112 miles) from the Dead Sea down to Eilat, bordered on the west by the Negev highlands and on the east by the Edom Mountains of Jordan. For tourists, there’s never been more to experience in the Arava: ancient archeology, timeless Bedouin hospitality, funky eco-art, hiking, biking, horseback riding, bountiful farms, birdwatching and lots of activities for children, including ice-cream workshops. Believe it or not, farmers in the Arava’s three distinct regions – northernmost Tamar (Sodom Valley), Central Arava and southernmost Eilot – produce more than half of Israel’s agricultural exports. Tourists can now learn the secrets of making the desert bloom, at the Vidor Visitors Center located under a spinning windmill at the entrance to the Arava R&D Center’s Yair Station off Highway 90 in the Central Arava. The Vidor Center offers a multi sensory look at how the region’s advanced agro-tech has overcome water and soil challenges, growing a large variety of edibles and ornamentals on irrigated salty water. Watch a 3D film, visit the experimental greenhouses and make rain in the interactive farming museum. The center is wheelchair accessible and English-friendly. At Vidor, sign up for guided adventures such as visiting family farms, tracking desert animals, riding horses and camels, and seeing the Arava from the seat of a jeep. (via Israel21c)