Saudi Arabia halted $4 billion in military and security aid to Lebanon on Friday over what the Kingdom calls “the seizure” by Hezbollah of the “state administration.” Lebanese Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi resigned his post two days later in protest of Hezbollah’s influence, stating, “There is an armed party that is dominating the government's decisions." Former Editor-In-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat Abdulrahman al-Rashed wrote on Monday that Hezbollah has “intensified its efforts to take over authority” inside of Lebanon. He explained that it has “deliberately undertaken the role of the party sabotaging the state and obstructing its affairs.” He described how the Iranian-backed terror organization has “employed Lebanese military institutions” for its own gain both in Syria and inside of Lebanon. It has also “worked on using” the foreign ministry to support Iranian causes. He concluded that “Hezbollah wants to turn Lebanon into an Iranian colony.”
The growing dominance of Hezbollah in Lebanese state institutions also coincides with Hezbollah’s military build-up in its stronghold in southern Lebanon, especially since its 2006 war against Israel. The New York Times reported that Israeli military officials explained that Hezbollah has “moved most of its military infrastructure” in and around Shiite villages, which “amounts to using the civilians as a human shield.” A senior military official told the Times that “[t]he civilians are living in a military compound.” Israeli officials have also warned that in a future conflict, there will most likely be high civilian casualties because of Hezbollah’s military integration inside civilian areas. The Israeli official explained, “We will hit Hezbollah hard, while making every effort to limit civilian casualties as much as we can.” He continued, however, “we do not intend to stand by helplessly in the face of rocket attacks.” In November, Avi Issacharoff of The Times of Israel reported that Israeli officials believe Hezbollah has stockpiled around 150,000 rockets, “including a number of long range Iranian-made missiles capable of striking Israeli cities from north to south.”
In his speech delivered last week, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to strike Israel’s ammonia gas storage tanks in Haifa, declaring that it would have a nuclear bomb-like effect that would kill tens of thousands of Israelis. He boasted, “We can say that Lebanon today has a nuclear bomb, seeing as any rocket that might hit these tanks is capable of creating a nuclear bomb effect.”
40 Iranian state-run media outlets announced in a coordinated push on Sunday that they were renewing the death sentence fatwa on British author Salman Rushdie, raising the bounty for killing him by $600,000.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader of Iran, placed a fatwa and a $3 million bounty on Rushdie after his 1989 book The Satanic Verses was deemed blasphemous. Rushdie’s Japanese translator was murdered in 1991 and translators in Italy, Norway, and Turkey were targeted for assassination. The current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that in 2005 that the fatwa was still in effect.
Although often described as a moderate or reformist, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani supported the fatwa against Rushdie. While on a trip to Germany in 1993, Rouhani said (.pdf) that “the West should tolerate the edict [fatwa] as an act of freedom of expression, just as it shelters Rushdie for the sake of the so-called freedom of expression.”
Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was one of the largest contributor to the bounty—nearly $30,000. Billions of dollars of Iranian government funds were unfrozen as part of the sanctions relief built into last year’s nuclear deal.
The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the Iranian government’s repression had increased after the deal was signed. Two Iranian poets were sentenced in October to lashes and jail time for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex. The following month, Iranian journalists were arrested by the IRGC. The government has also arrested American citizens and a permanent resident. The growing oppression prompted Anti-Defamation League national director Jonathan Greenblatt to write in December that Iran’s “ongoing human rights violations and its external aggressions must be taken into account when considering the prospect of normalized relations.”
The ongoing crackdown on political dissidents and reformists, including the disqualification of 99% of so-called reformist candidates in the upcoming elections, was long predicted by critics of the nuclear agreement. (via TheTower.org)
First headlines from the Mobile World Congress 2016, the world’s largest mobile showcase, were all about new smartphones entering the market. But the Barcelona event (Feb. 22-25, 2016) is also a showcase for innovative technologies, mobile products, digital media and new applications. And that’s where the Israeli companies really shine. More than 140 Israeli companies are taking part in this year’s big event, considered to be the most important get-together in the mobile industry. The Israel Export Institute is teaming up with the Foreign Trade Administration at the Ministry of Economy and Industry to put together Israel’s national pavilion. “2016 has gotten off to an excellent start for Israel’s high-tech industry. In just one month, Israeli companies raised about $1.4 billion in investment funds, thereby helping to cement Israel’s position as the startup nation and source of innovation. The Israeli pavilion, featured for the seventh time at the congress, will provide visitors with a glimpse of cutting edge technologies and solutions that Israeli companies are developing and draw many visitors, including the most senior personnel representing leading multinational and international corporations,” said Export Institute Chair Ramzi Gabbay. Israeli companies are displaying cyber technologies that protect mobile devices against hacking, smart home technologies, digital medical technologies, travel technologies, and pet-tech devices. (via Israel21c)
People always ask me if I’m pro-Israel. No one has ever asked me if I am pro-America or pro-Canada or pro-Kenya, where I was born. What does it mean to be pro-Israel? The question even seems vaguely offensive, as if it questions the legitimacy of Israel itself.
I am sure that the concept of a Jewish state has always made sense to me. Perhaps because I myself come from an ancient ethnic and religious minority, the Zoroastrians, who continue to live in a diaspora outside of what was once our homeland, Iran.
So I came to Israel with a predisposed understanding of the need for a state, a safe haven for a people that has been a global minority for millennia and continuously persecuted. But as for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I had no clue what was going on, who was right and who was wrong.
What I came to realize was that you simply cannot understand this highly complex, multidimensional situation unless you come see it for yourself and experience it for yourself, without preconceived notions. This is hard to do. So whom do we rely on to do it? For most people, it’s the Western media, and we presume they know what they’re doing. For the most part, they don’t.
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