More than 700 pilgrims die in crush in worst Hajj disaster for 25 years


At least 717 pilgrims from around the world were killed on Thursday in a crush outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi authorities said, in the worst disaster to strike the annual Hajj pilgrimage for 25 years.

At least 863 others were injured at Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca, when two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads on their way to performing the “stoning of the devil” ritual at Jamarat, Saudi civil defense said.

Thursday's disaster was the worst to occur at the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims suffocated in a tunnel near Mecca. Both incidents occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam's most important feast and the day of the stoning ritual.

Photographs published on the Twitter feed of Saudi civil defense on Thursday showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance.

Other images showed bodies of men in white Hajj garments piled on top of each other. Some corpses bore visible injuries.

Unverified video posted on Twitter showed pilgrims and rescue workers trying to revive some victims.

The Hajj, the world's largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots in the past, but their frequency has been greatly reduced in recent years as the government spent billions of dollars upgrading and expanding Hajj infrastructure and crowd control technology.

Safety during Hajj is a politically sensitive issue for the kingdom's ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardian of orthodox Islam and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.

INVESTIGATION

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince and Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdelaziz ordered a committee to be formed to investigate the disaster and present its findings to King Salman, the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry spokesman, Mansour Turki said the investigation would look into what caused an unusual density of pilgrims to congregate at the location of the disaster. “The reason for that is not known yet,” he told a news conference in Mina.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the White House offered condolences over the deaths.

“This tragic incident is all the more distressing as it took place on the first day of the Holy Eid Al-Adha marking the end of the annual Hajj season,” the secretary general's spokesman said in a statement.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ned Price said: “The United States expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the hundreds of Hajj pilgrims killed and hundreds more injured in the heartbreaking stampede in Mina, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Iranian state news agency IRNA said at least 95 Iranians were among the dead and quoted Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying Saudi Arabia was responsible.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that Tehran summoned the Saudi charge d'affaires to lodge an official complaint over the disaster.

South African Acting President Cyril Ramaphosa extended condolences to families of the victims and said his government was awaiting information about his country's pilgrims.

JAMARAT

Street 204, where the crush occurred, is one of two main arteries leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat, the site where pilgrims ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars. In 2006, at least 346 pilgrims died in a stampede at Jamarat.

“Work is under way to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes,” the Saudi Civil Defense said on its Twitter account.

It said more than 220 ambulances and 4,000 rescue workers had been sent in to help the injured. Some of the wounded were evacuated by helicopters.

An Arab pilgrim who did not want to give his name said he had hoped to perform the stoning ritual later on Thursday afternoon but was now too frightened to risk doing so.

“I am very tired already and after this I can't go. I will wait for the night and if it not resolved, I will see if maybe somebody else can do it on my behalf,” he said.

Efforts to improve safety at Jamarat have included enlarging the three pillars and constructing a three-decker bridge around them to increase the area and number of entry and exit points for pilgrims to perform the ritual.

More than 100,000 police and thousands of video cameras are also deployed to allow groups to be dispersed before they reach dangerous levels of density.

“Please pilgrims do not push one another. Please leave from the exit and don't come back by the same route,” an officer kept repeating through a loudspeaker at Jamarat.

Two weeks ago 110 people died in Mecca's Grand Mosque when a crane working on an expansion project collapsed during a storm and toppled off the roof into the main courtyard, crushing pilgrims underneath.

Kerry visits Riyadh to soothe fears of stronger Iran under nuclear deal


Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Riyadh this week to try to reassure King Salman that any nuclear deal with Iran will be in Saudi interests, despite the kingdom's fears that it may boost Tehran's backing for Shi'ite Muslim groups in the region.

Convincing Saudi Arabia to accept any agreed nuclear deal is important to President Barack Obama because he needs Riyadh to work closely with Washington on a host of regional policies and to maintain its role as a moderating influence in oil markets.

While the main critics of the U.S. push for a nuclear deal with Iran are Israel and Congressional Republicans, Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia is also concerned that an accord would allow Iran to devote more cash and energy to Shi'ite proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, escalating conflicts.

“The Saudis fear Obama will give the Iranians a deal whatever the cost because it is important for his legacy and that Iran will get a certain regional status in exchange for an agreement,” said one diplomat in the Gulf.

Kerry met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Montreux, Switzerland, on Monday and Tuesday and the two are expected to sit down again on Wednesday as they try to meet a late March deadline to achieve a framework nuclear agreement.

Kerry then flies to Saudi Arabia, where on Thursday he meets the new king, deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef and foreign ministers of the six Gulf Cooperation Council nations: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The main purpose is to brief them on the state of the Iran talks and to make the case that a diplomatic solution to the long-festering crisis over Iran's atomic programme will make them more secure rather than less.

Saudi Arabia's anxiety about an agreement has fuelled a flurry of diplomacy in recent days to bolster unity among Sunni states in the Middle East in the face of shared threats including Iran, analysts say.

Washington shares Arab concerns about Iran's role, particularly in Syria and Yemen and through its ties to Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, a senior U.S. official said, on condition of anonymity, but added that there was a “very substantial” U.S. military commitment to Gulf allies.

“What we need to do is have the appropriate strategies to counter any provocative and destabilising behaviour … It's going to depend on what can we do effectively in places like Syria and Yemen,” he said.

A second senior U.S. official told reporters a nuclear deal would not necessarily lead to a closer U.S.-Iran relationship and less influence for Sunni Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, nor would it diminish U.S. efforts to counter Iranian influence.

“You can't read into the nuclear negotiation any kind of determination of where the U.S. relationship with Iran may go in the future,” he said. “Regardless of what happens with the nuclear file, we will continue to confront aggressively Iranian expansion in the region, Iranian aggressiveness in the region.”

ANXIOUS

However, U.S. officials are unwilling to outline what strategies might curb Iran's regional influence, and the U.S. record in Iraq, Syria and Yemen – where armed Iranian allies have since flourished – has caused Saudi Arabia great anxiety.

The country's trust in Washington during the Iran talks is also still recovering from the sudden move in late 2013 towards a nuclear deal, when Saudi officials were blindsided by the revelation of months of secret talks between the U.S. and Iran.

“They are very, very nervous about the way we are moving forward,” said a Western diplomat who tracks the issue closely. The diplomat said Riyadh feared a “lose-lose situation” in which Iran either gained an atomic weapon or was freed from sanctions.

Riyadh has long been worried about Iran gaining nuclear weapons capability, something that once led the late King Abdullah to ask Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” by striking Iran, diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showed.

But it now sees Iran's involvement in Arab countries, particularly its backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its support for Iraqi Shi'ite militias and its ties to the Houthi group that has seized control in northern Yemen, as a more urgent problem.

A senior State Department official told Reuters: “Secretary Kerry will make clear we understand the concerns they have about the region's security, concerns that we also share.”

Meanwhile, King Salman is working to forge a united front among Sunni states against what Riyadh sees as the dual threat from Iran and Islamic State militants, analysts say.

Over the past week Salman has met the leaders of all Saudi Arabia's Gulf Arab neighbours, the king of Jordan and the presidents of Egypt and Turkey, the two most populous and militarily powerful Sunni states in the region.

“The understanding is that we will face a more aggressive Iran if they sign an agreement. All the restrictions on it will be lifted and it will be much stronger. This is an issue that needs some sort of unity,” said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security analyst with ties to the Saudi Interior Ministry.

Report: Israel attacked two targets in Syria


Israel attacked two targets in Syria, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network reported.

The attacks in Latakia and Damascus on Wednesday night targeted SA-8 portable missiles that were to be transferred to Hezbollah in northern Lebanon, according to the report published Thursday evening, which cited unnamed sources. The missile shipments were destroyed, according to the report.

Syria had not responded to the report of the attacks by Thursday night.

Thursday’s report came after news of a massive explosion Wednesday at the Latakia air base, where advanced anti-aircraft missiles produced in Russia are believed to be stored. Israeli drones were reported to have flown in Lebanese air space earlier in the day.

Israel carried out a July 5 air attack near Latakia, a major Syrian port city, targeting advanced anti-ship cruise missiles sold to the Syria government by Russia, according to reports in The New York Times and other news sources.

In January, Israel reportedly struck a weapons convoy in Syria carrying Russian-made missiles en route to Hezbollah. In May, Israel reportedly hit Syrian missile stockpiles on two occasions.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the attacks, though U.S. officials have identified Israel as the attacker in all three incidents.

Dozens die in Egyptian bloodbath on Islamists’ ‘Day of Rage’


Islamist protests descended into a bloodbath across Egypt on Friday, with around 50 killed in Cairo alone on a “Day of Rage” called by followers of ousted President Mohamed Morsi to denounce a crackdown by the army-backed government.

As automatic gunfire echoed across Cairo, the standoff seemed to be sliding ever faster towards armed confrontation, evoking past conflict between militant Islamists and the state in the most populous Arab nation.

More than 40 people were also killed in provincial cities, taking the overall toll close to 100, although the intense shooting eventually died down in Cairo at dusk as a curfew began.

While Western governments urged restraint after hundreds died when security forces cleared protest camps two days ago, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah endorsed the government's tactics against the Muslim Brotherhood, saying on Friday his nation stood with Egypt in its battle against “terrorism”.

Army helicopters hovered low over supporters of Morsi's Brotherhood in Ramses Square, the theatre of much of Friday's bloodshed in Cairo, black smoke billowing from at least one huge blaze which lit up the night sky after sundown.

A Reuters witness saw the bodies of 27 people, apparently hit by gunfire and birdshot, wrapped in white sheets in a mosque. A Reuters photographer said security forces opened fire from numerous directions when a police station was attacked.

Men armed with automatic weapons appeared to be taking part in the Cairo protests. At Ramses Square, Reuters journalists saw three men carrying guns; protesters cheered when cars carrying gunmen arrived, another Reuters witness said.

“Sooner or later I will die. Better to die for my rights than in my bed. Guns don't scare us anymore,” said Sara Ahmed, 28, a business manager who joined the demonstrators in Cairo. “It's not about the Brotherhood, it's about human rights.”

A security official said 24 policemen had been killed and 15 police stations attacked since late Thursday, underlining the increasing ferocity of the violence.

Egyptian state media have hardened their rhetoric against the Brotherhood – which ruled Egypt for a year until the army removed Morsi on July 3 – invoking language used to describe militant groups such as al Qaeda and suggesting there is little hope of a political resolution to the crisis.

“Egypt fighting terrorism,” said a logo on state television.

Showing no sign of wanting to back down, the Brotherhood announced a further week of nationwide protests.

Islamists have periodically been in conflict with the Egyptian military for decades. Nationalist General Gamal Abdel Nasser staged a crackdown on the Brotherhood in the 1950s and another followed before and after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat by fundamentalist officers. In the 1990s militants waged a bloody campaign for an Islamic state.

LIVE AMMUNITION

The army deployed armored vehicles on major roads around the capital and the Interior Ministry said before Friday's protests began that police would use live ammunition against anyone threatening public buildings.

Anger on the streets was directed at army commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who moved against Morsi last month after massive street rallies against his administration that had been dogged by accusations of incompetence and partisanship.

“The people want the butcher executed,” said Mustafa Ibrahim, 37, referring to Sisi, as he marched with a crowd of several thousand on downtown Cairo under blazing summer sun.

The Brotherhood said in a statement: “The coup makers have lost all lost their minds, norms and principles today.”

State television said 16 people died in clashes in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, and 140 were wounded. Eight protesters died in the coastal town of Damietta and five in Fayoum south of Cairo. The Suez Canal cities of Ismailia, Port Said and Suez all had deathtolls of four, as did Tanta in the Nile delta.

A police conscript was shot dead in the north of Cairo, state news agency MENA reported. Nile TV showed video of a gunman among Islamist protesters firing from a city bridge.

Witnesses said Morsi supporters ransacked a Catholic church and a Christian school in the city of Malawi. An Anglican church was also set ablaze. The Brotherhood, which has been accused of inciting anti-Christian sentiment, denies targeting churches.

Signaling his displeasure at the worst bloodshed in Egypt for generations, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday normal cooperation with Cairo could not continue and announced the cancellation of military exercises with Egypt next month.

“We deplore violence against civilians,” he said, but did not cut off $1.55 billion a year of mostly military U.S. aid.

The European Union asked its members to consider “appropriate measures” it could take, while Germany announced it was reviewing relations with Cairo.

The Egyptian presidency issued a statement criticizing Obama, saying his comments were not based on “facts” and would strengthen violent groups that were committing “terrorist acts”.

Some fear Egypt is turning back into the kind of police state that kept the veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in power for 30 years before his removal in 2011, as security institutions recover their confidence and reassert control.

In calling for a “Day of Rage,” the Brotherhood used the same name as that given to the most violent day of the uprising against Mubarak. That day, January 28, 2011, marked protesters' victory over the police, who were forced to retreat.

The centre of the anti-Mubarak protests, Tahrir Square, was deserted on Friday, sealed off by the army.

SAUDI SUPPORT

Washington's influence over Cairo has been called into question following Morsi's overthrow. Since then Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $12 billion to Egypt, making them more prominent partners.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its people and government stood and stand by today with its brothers in Egypt against terrorism,” King Abdullah said in an uncompromising message read out on Saudi television.

“I call on the honest men of Egypt and the Arab and Muslim nations … to stand as one man and with one heart in the face of attempts to destabilize a country that is at the forefront of Arab and Muslim history,” he said.

Obama's refusal so far to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt suggests he does not wish to alienate the generals, despite the scale of the bloodshed in the suppression of Morsi supporters.

Egypt will need all the financial support it can get in the coming months as it grapples with growing economic problems, especially in the important tourism sector that accounts for more than 10 percent of gross domestic product.

The United States urged its citizens to leave Egypt on Thursday and two of Europe's biggest tour operators, Germany's TUI and Thomas Cook Germany, said they were cancelling all trips to the country until September 15.

Underscoring the deep divisions in the country, local residents helped the army block access to Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the site of the main Brotherhood sit-in that was swept away during Wednesday's police assault.

“We are here to prevent those filthy bastards from coming back,” said Mohamed Ali, a 22-year-old business student.

Pro-army groups posted videos on the Internet of policemen they said had been tortured and killed by Islamist militants in recent days, including a bloodied, beaten police chief.

However, when a military helicopter flew low over Ramses Square, Brotherhood protesters held up shoes in a gesture of contempt, chanting “We will bring Sisi to the ground” and “Leave, leave, you traitor”.

As the sound of teargas canisters being fired began, protesters – including young and old, men and women – donned surgical masks, gas masks and wrapped bandannas around their faces. Some rubbed Pepsi on their faces to counter the gas.

“Allahu akbar! (God is Greatest)” the crowd chanted.

Additional reporting by Michael Georgy, Tom Finn, Yasmine Saleh, Mohamed Abdellah, Ahmed Tolba and Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alistair Lyon and David Stamp

A year after signing power transfer deal, Yemenis divided over government’s performance


[SANA’A] Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani visited Yemen to mark the first anniversary of the deal that saw former President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquish power to his longtime deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

On November 23 last year, after 10 months of deadly protests calling for his ouster, Saleh was forced to sign the agreement initiated by the Saudi-led Gulf monarchies and backed by the West.

Analysts say Ban's visit to Yemen, which made him the first UN chief to visit the country, was mainly intended to push for launching the second phase of the power transfer deal, which includes holding an inclusive national dialogue, reorganizing the divided army and security forces, and rewriting the constitution.

“The UN chief's visit at this critical time was designed to demonstrate the entire international community’s support for Hadi and his power-sharing government, and deliver a warning message to those who are trying to hinder the process of transition,” Abdusalem Mohammed, chairman of the Abaad Studies and Research Center think tank, told The Media Line.

“The visit, which came as violence was raging between Gaza and Israel, was also aimed to deter any militant group from attempting to exploit the situation and stir chaos,” he added. 

With the passage of one year since the ouster of the former president, many Yemenis are assessing the performance of Hadi and his power-sharing government.

“Actually, nothing has changed at all,” accountant Saleh Ali, 27, told The Media Line. “The same policies are applied. Only officials have been replaced and that essentially does not make any difference by itself.”

“We were better off before the revolution erupted. It only helped divisions to deepen, tensions to heighten and poverty to increase,” said Ali, who wore traditional Yemeni clothing including a Janbiya — a dagger with a short curved blade worn on a belt. Other passengers on the same bus disagreed sharply with Ali. One went so far as to call him one of Saleh's thugs.

College student Rami Khalid, 23, told The Media Line, “I feel like I was not alive before the overthrow of Saleh. Thank God he's gone. Things have looked up since he was ousted.”

However, Khalid, who was chewing leaves of Khat, a narcotic plant chewed daily by more than half of Yemen's population, admitted that living standards had dropped, but said this will be temporarily.

“Hadi and the national unity government managed to get things back on track after tensions were running high and the country was heading toward a civil war,” Ali Al-Sarari, political and media advisor for Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwah, told The Media Line. “They managed to restore relative security across the nation and drive out Al-Qa’ida militants from their strongholds. Any citizen can clearly notice the difference in the public services such as tap water and electricity.”

During the uprising against Saleh, public services significantly deteriorated.

Al-Sarari says he believes the government’s biggest accomplishment so far was achieved in the area of combating corruption. “The new government revoked the long-term contract with [marine terminal operator] DP World which had deliberately undermined the strategic Aden Port. It has also managed to negotiate with the French oil company Total a rise in the ‘unfair’ price that Yemen's liquefied gas is sold for,” he said.

“Hadi and his national unity government have so far been successful at their job at the helm of Yemen,” said Abdusalam Mohammed of the Abaad Studies and Research Center. “In the transitional stage, they are not required to boost development or improve the struggling economy, rather to prevent the country from descending into a full-blown civil war, which they did.”

Dr. Yahya Al-Thawr, chairman of Modern German Hospital in Sana’a, agreed with Mohammed and added, “So far, their performance has been satisfactory. But many people want to see improvements in the economy and development, and that's impossible because these sectors need time to progress.”

“Hadi is steering Yemen toward a successful, national dialogue and resolving long-standing problems,” Al-Sarari said.

While Al-Thawr and Mohammed shared his thinking, although they noted that the transitional process is very slow, political analyst Abdul-Bari Taher says that the indications do not show that Yemen is heading toward reconciliation.

“There are many challenges and obstacles facing the transitional process in the country. The situation is very complicated: Militant groups are currently amassing weapons, and the media war between the political factions is at its peak. Even the mosque's podiums have been used to spark tensions instead of easing them,” Taher told The Media Line.

“Actually, the situation looks as if Yemen is heading toward war — not dialogue and reconciliation. I'm afraid that neither President Hadi nor the prime minister will be able to do anything to stop the simmering tensions,” said Taher.

Mohammed, Taher, Al-Sarari and Al-Thawr all agree that in the coming months Hadi will have to take bold measures to end the divisions and disunity in the army. They say reorganizing the military is imperative for creating a conductive environment and laying the groundwork for the upcoming national dialogue conference.
 
Perhaps because of its strategic location – three million barrels of oil pass through the country daily – the international community showed considerable support for Yemen's stability and for President Hadi.

In a meeting in Riyadh on September 4, friends of Yemen pledged $ 6.4 billion in aid for Yemen's transitional period. At another meeting in New York on September 27, additional pledges totaled $1.5 billion, bringing the total to $7.9 billion.

In October, key Defense Ministry officials told local media outlets that Yemen is expecting an arms shipment from the U.S. as a grant for the poorest Arab state. The shipment includes four highly-advanced drones.

Morsi removed Israel-friendly references from speech


Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi removed from his prepared speech to the United Nations two positive references to peace with Israel.

Morsi's remarks, as prepared for delivery and distributed by the Egyptian mission to the United Nations on Sept. 26, included an endorsement of the Saudi-initiated Arab plan, which would exchange pan-Arab recognition of Israel for Israel's return to the 1967 lines and a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.

It also included a recommitment to Egypt's prior international agreements, which include the 1979 peace accords with Israel.

Morsi removed these two elements in his spoken remarks, instead endorsing Palestinian statehood without noting whether his vision would accommodate Israel.

The discrepancy emerged in a JTA analysis this week; Morsi's speech, delivered on Yom Kippur, had not drawn much Jewish attention.

Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who assumed the presidency in June, has made a point of not mentioning Israel in his public pronouncements.

He drew Jewish criticism in mid-October for appearing to say “amen” while nodding when an Imam pleaded to God to “deal harshly” with the Jews.

Michael Oren: Iran targeted Israeli Embassy


UPDATE (9:09 p.m.): On previous occasions, Israeli officials have suggested that Israel is considering a massive, crippling attack on Iran before it can move its nuclear facilities to safety deep underground. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren did not use that language in his interview with WTOP as represented in an earlier version of this article.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said Iran targeted his embassy.

Oren said last year’s alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Abel Al-Jubeir at a Washington restaurant also included plans to blow up the Israeli Embassy, WTOP radio in Washington reported Wednesday.

The complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar, who is charged with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, also states that Arbabsiar “discussed the possibility of attacks on a number of targets. These targets included government facilities associated with Saudi Arabia and with ‘another’ country and these targets were located within the United States.”

Oren told WTOP Wednesday morning that Israel was that other country.

Iranian plot included Israeli embassy in Argentina


An Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, thwarted earlier this week, also involved an attack the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires. 

American-Iranian Manssor Arbabsiar, arrested Oct. 11in the Saudi ambassador murder plot, was also planning an attack against the embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia in Buenos Aires, although U.S. officials did not state it specifically, according to reports.

Acting head of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, Ángel Barman, told JTA that “it´s not surprising that Iran is suspected of committing a new attack.”

After hearing the news that FBI broke up a series of terrorist attacks involving Iranian targets in Argentina, AMIA said in a statement that “whoever is unpunished, reoffends.”  The statement refers to the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in which 85 were killed and hundreds injured. Argentina has accused Iran of ordering the bombing, which it says was carried out by the Hezbollah terrorist organization.

“This only shows the impunity with which Iran operates given its current lack of cooperation to clarify the AMIA bombing, a pending task that leaves the possibility of a third attack in Argentina open,” according to the AMIA.

“I’m not surprised by the fact that Iran´s terrorist attack was ready and organized, because they realized that nothing happens, they can kill and do it again.” Barman told Argentinean TV channel C5N.

In a ceremony for the “Argentine Diplomats Day” on Oct. 11,  Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman highlighted the “openness” of the Argentinean Government toward Iran after Iran announced recently that it would cooperate with Argentina to bring the AMIA bombers to justice.

“I mean the attitude of openness that we chose at the announcement of cooperation from Iran over the AMIA bombing.  … Because the warrants issued by Interpol against of those accused of heinous attack remain firm,” Timerman said hours before Iranian intention of attacking embassies in Argentina was made public.

Sergio Witis, vice-president of DAIA, Argentine Jewry’s primary umbrella organization, said that “this is a matter of concern, because it affects the safety of all Argentineans. It doesn’t surprise us that Iran stands behind this kind of plan,” Witis told C5N.

The United States reportedly informed the Argentinean government about the Iranian terrorist plan. “Argentina was one of the countries called by the Undersecretary for Political Affairs and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns” to talk about this issue, said a U.S. spokesperson.

At the same time, Clarín Newspaper was told by upper echelon sources that, in parallel, that Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. embassy in Argentina and key man for its diplomatic headquarters, Jefferson Brown, was in Argentina’s Foreign Ministry this week to discuss details of the indictment that the U.S. Attorney filed against two Iranian citizens.

It was also confirmed through diplomatic sources that Argentina appears in the investigations initiated by the FBI and the DEA, as well as other countries whose names were not revealed. The potential attack on the embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia in Argentina was mentioned initially by ABC News on Oct. 11, and the following day on the front page of the New York Times.

Contacted by JTA, the spokesperson of Israeli embassy in Argentina would not comment about the issue. Israel’s embassy in Argentina was attacked on March 17, 1992, leaving 29 civilians dead and 242 additional injured.

Argentina has the largest population of Jews in Latin America.

U.S. State Dept. to study Saudi texts


The U.S. State Department is launching a study of Saudi textbooks to determine their reach and whether they promote intolerance.

The department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights will commission experts to examine textbooks for bigoted depictions of non-Muslims, including anti-Semitic tropes, Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s envoy to combat anti-Semitism, told JTA.

During a tour last month of Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Rosenthal met with groups promoting interfaith dialogue and, in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with government education ministry officials.

She confronted Saudi officials with examples of anti-Semitic statements in the kingdom’s texts used as far afield in Saudi-funded schools in Pakistan and Argentina.

In one instance she cited, Jews are described as the spawn of “monkeys and pigs.” Saudi officials told Rosenthal that such texts are no longer in use, but that if her department could uncover instances of intolerance in books being used, they would be altered.

Rosenthal said such a study was in its planning stages and would assess which countries have schools using the textbooks, as well as whether the texts promote intolerance. She said the grantees that would carry out the study had yet to be selected.

A similar study examining Palestinian and Israeli textbooks already is under way by the bureau.

VIDEO: This just in — Saudis are Jews in disguise!


Former Lebanese Minister Wiam Wahhab: The Saudi regime Is used by the Jews to avenge the defeat of the Qaynuqa Tribe by the Prophet Muhammad.

Huh?

In other words, The House of Saud are Jews in disguise.

 

That gas pump is a giant Saudi tzedakah box


The 5767 High Holiday tallies are in from synagogues around the country, and it appears that U.S. Jewry has topped all previous pledge drive records. It is estimated that this year,

American Jews will send approximately $660 million to Saudi Arabia.

Yes, you read that correctly. You didn’t fold a piece of cardboard or stuff an envelope, but the commitment was as good as a pledge. Maybe even better. After all, the Saudis won’t have to harass you to pay up.

The United States imports about 1.5 million barrels of Saudi oil every day. At $60 per barrel, that comes to about $33 billion per year.

Of course, we Jews are a mere 2 percent of the U.S. population, so the Jewish community is only sending about $660 million. With 6 million Jews here, that’s $110 per head.

My guess is the average Jew did not give that much to all the Jewish charities combined. I hope I’m wrong. But that gas pump? It’s a giant Saudi tzedakah box.

To break it down a little further, Saudi Arabia supplies 1.5 million barrels per day — about 7.5 percent of U.S. daily oil consumption. But only about half the price of every gallon of gasoline comes from oil; the other half comes from refining, transporting, storing, marketing and taxes. So, every time you fill up your car, you’re sending about 3.75 percent of the tab — or 11 cents of every $3 gallon — to Saudi Arabia. If you drive 15,000 miles a year and get 15 miles per gallon, you buy 1,000 gallons of gasoline, and Saudi Arabia collects $110 -will that be cash or credit?

Of course, not all Saudis are funding Hamas or Al Qaeda. Still, the Los Angeles Times quotes a senior Al Qaeda operative telling a subordinate, “Don’t ever worry about money, because Saudi Arabia’s money is your money.” The New York Times has reported that at least half of Hamas’ operating budget comes from people in Saudi Arabia. And the general counsel for the U.S. Department of Treasury testified that Saudi Arabia is “the ‘epicenter’ of financing for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.”

So, there is little doubt that every time we fill our gas tanks, some of our money finds its way to people who want Americans and Jews dead, and who work to achieve that goal every day.

We’ve also pledged money to Venezuela and its dynamic President Hugo Cha A¡vez. You remember him. He’s the charismatic leader who, last year, railed against “some minorities … the descendants of those who crucified Christ [and] took possession of all the planet’s gold.”

Later, he called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and himself a “great alliance of brothers.” This year, he’s supporting Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear “capabilities.” The American Jewish communal pledge to him? Another $600 million-plus.

I first did this rough math exercise last year, when my Lexus lease was coming to a close. I figured out that with my nice car, which was (realistically) getting about 15 miles per gallon, I was

sending more than $100 per year to Saudi Arabia, $100 to Senor Cha A¡vez and still more to Arab Gulf states and Iran.
It made me sick. So, with the lease coming due, I unloaded the Lexus and purchased a Toyota Prius. My license plate holder now reads: “My car $tarve$ Terrorist$,” although, as a friend told me — from her bike — that’s not exactly accurate, even if it does get 45 miles per gallon. Party pooper.

Still, I feel pretty good. If everyone did this, there’d be no U.S. need for petroleum from despots.

I realize for some, the transition to a hybrid may not be easy. Really, I do. It’s that irksome status factor: “Will my clients bolt when they see me in a Prius rather than my usual Bentley?” you ask yourself.

Relax. In addition to its eco-chic, the beauty of a hybrid — especially the Prius, with its UFO-like styling — is that it screams: “You have no idea how much money I have, but you do know I care about the world we live in.” And you don’t have to feel sheepish when you’re seen driving only a Lexus, Mercedes or Beemer, or — heaven forbid — a lesser car.

I’ve also heard many otherwise-smart people pooh-pooh the economics of hybrids. Assuming the authoritative tone of investment bankers advising on a big IPO, they tell anyone willing to listen that spending extra money on a hybrid “just isn’t cost-effective; it’ll take years to pay for itself.” To which I respond, “What’s the payback on your moonroof? How about those plush leather seats; how long do they take to pay for themselves?”

Why do some people who consider themselves patriots, environmentalists, lovers of peace pull out green visors and their sharpest pencils when evaluating a vehicle that can dramatically cut their oil consumption and thereby reduce terrorism and Islamic extremism, military spending, air pollution and global warming?

Sure, my seat may have been a bit more comfortable in the Lexus, but my head rests a lot more easily in the Prius. Figure that into the price of your car and your gasoline. And then get a hybrid and welch on that pledge.

After all, the Saudis won’t be harassing you to pay up.

Jihad follows twisted path from Afghanistan to Israel


The path of jihad begins in a cave on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. From there, it takes a dizzying spin through Iran, wends its way through the Middle East and then settles, inevitably, in Israel.

 

Optimistic? Yep.


The most remarkable aspect of the war Israel is fighting now in Lebanon is not who Israel’s enemy is, but who its friends are.

The terrorist group Hezbollahcrossed Israel’s border, killed eight soldiers and captured two others, and followed that attack with volleys of rockets and missiles against Israeli civilians. Israel reacted by bombing Hezbollah armaments and strongholds as well as Lebanese infrastructure that could aid the terrorists in hiding the captured soldiers or sustaining their assaults.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to prosecute a decisive war against Hezbollah has widespread support within his country. Polls show him and Defense Minister Amir Peretz at 78 percent popularity, with 81 percent of the public behind their actions.

“I know it’s strange,” said a friend of mine from Tel Aviv, “but people are actually in a good mood. They’re pulling together. There’s a feeling we’re actually doing something about these sons of bitches.”

It’s not unusual that most Americans and President George W. Bush feel the same way — although the president would probably use even saltier language to express it. What has been unusual has been the support Israel’s received outside its borders and beyond Washington.

I’m not even talking about the July 17 Los Angeles Times lead editorial. “Make no mistake about it,” the editorial began, “responsibility for the escalating carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel lies with one side, and one side only. And that is Hezbollah, the Islamist militant party, along with its Syrian and Iranian backers. Reasonable minds can differ on the strategic wisdom of the Israeli response, but there can be no doubt about the blame for the mounting death toll on both sides of the border.”

That was enough to spin the heads of the pro-Israel community, which has long seen the L.A. Times as overly critical.

The bigger shock came from overseas. Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, also blamed Hezbollah. The Saudis made clear that Hezbollah “adventuring” hurt the people of Palestine and Lebanon and was a naked attempt by Hezbollah’s string-pullers in Iran and Syria to assert their power in the Mideast.

And the Arab press and the street agreed with the rulers. “The response on the Arab street has been so disappointing for Hizbullah,” The Jerusalem Post reported, ” that its leaders are now openly talking about an Arab ‘conspiracy’ to liquidate the Shiite organization.”

In the English-language Arab Times, a 30,000-circulation Kuwaiti daily, editor-in-chief Ahmed Jarallah took a position that could only be called L.A. Times-ian: “Unfortunately we must admit that in such a war the only way to get rid of [Hezbollah and Hamas] is what Israel is doing,” he wrote. “The operations of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon are in the interest of people of Arab countries and the international community.”

If you have a minute, it wouldn’t hurt to send a letter to that editor to register your agreement. He’s at ahmedjarallah@hotmail.com.The last bit of good news came from St. Petersburg, where leaders at the G8 Summit issued a statement on the conflict that was far more balanced and fair toward Israel.

“It was the most pro-Israel statement the Europeans have ever issued in the midst of an Arab-Israeli war,” UCLA political scientist Steven L. Spiegel told me.

Spiegel cautioned that none of this support amounts to a blank check. Things could still go south — so to speak — for Israel. It needs to be mindful of civilian casualties. It can’t prosecute a war indefinitely once the major actors like the United States commit to a solution. And though the Saudis have offered to fund the rebuilding of Lebanon, the civilian death toll and images of destruction will linger in the public eye.

“You don’t destroy a country as Israel has done to Lebanon and totally get away with it,” Spiegel said.

Still, there is in the midst of this war — I write this on Tuesday — room for something like optimism.

Optimism?

Well, sort of.

On the one hand, Hezbollah, an outgrowth of radical Shia Islam, has a hatred of Israel that cannot be negotiated. To understand the Palestinians, read the modern history of Israel. To understand Hezbollah, read Christoph Reuter’s “My Life Is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing” (Princeton, 2002). Reuter quotes the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking after the Lebanon War at a time when he served as Defense Minister:

“I believe that among the many surprises that came out of the war in Lebanon, the most dangerous is that the war let the Shiites come out of the bottle. In 20 years of PLO terrorism, no one PLO terrorist ever made himself into a live bomb. In my opinion, the Shiites have the potential for a kind of terrorism we have not yet experienced.”

The prophetic Rabin could not conceive how Israel would fight a foe that would accept its own destruction if that meant Israel’s as well.

But Rabin led Israel through wars against pan-Arab secularists who at the time also seemed intractable and unbeatable.

Now — thanks to this war — Israel is undoing six years of strategic mistakes it committed by allowing a buildup of Hezbollah weapons and personnel in Southern Lebanon. It won’t make that mistake again, or at least any time soon. Any international agreement that follows the fighting will have to interfere with Hezbollah abilities to arm and threaten Israel from the north. And the international community will be even harsher toward Iran’s nuclear ambitions, well aware of how this conflict would have progressed had its chief instigator had nuclear warheads.

Hezbollah itself must be reeling from its isolation in the Arab world, and from the display of unity and fortitude within Israel. The organization might, as its leader said, have more surprises in store for Israel, but so far the biggest weapon in this war has been Israel’s resilience and determination to fight. As Spiegel said — optimistically –“You never wake up a sleeping democratic giant.”

World Briefs


Bush Blasts Attacks

President Bush lashed out at those responsible for a rash of anti-Semitic attacks that have taken place across Europe. “We reject the ancient evil of anti-Semitism,” Bush said during a speech Tuesday, referring specifically to “those who burn synagogues in France.” In the speech to business and civic leaders in California’s Silicon Valley, he added, “America values and welcomes peaceful people of all faiths

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and many others. Every faith is practiced and protected here because we are one country.”

Farrakhan Ban Upheld

Britain’s Court of Appeal upheld the government’s right to bar Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan from the country. The court said Tuesday the ban was based on reasonable fears that Farrakhan’s “notorious opinions” were a threat to public order. The court also said that Farrakhan would not be allowed to appeal the decision to the House of Lords, which is Britain’s highest court. Tuesday’s finding came after the government appealed a decision last year in which a lower court judge ruled against the government’s ban, saying the government had failed to establish “objective justification” for excluding Farrakhan.

Saudis Supporting Bombers’ Families

Saudi Arabia has been providing financial support for families of suicide bombers, according to documents seized by Israeli troops during the military operation in the West Bank. The papers show that Saudi Arabia has transferred more than $500,000 to the West Bank, and the funds were then used to give $5,000 each to the families of suicide bombers, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported. The paper quoted sources in the Prime Minister’s Office as saying the money was transferred via an aid society headed by the Saudi interior minister.

Belarus Gets a JCC

A new JCC was dedicated in Belarus. The community center in Minsk includes a Jewish museum and athletic facilities. It is operated by the Union of Belarussian Jewish Organizations and Communities. Palestinian wounded in church standoff

Israeli troops shot and wounded a Palestinian at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on Wednesday. Israel described the Palestinian as a gunman who was spotted in the courtyard of the church compound. He was hit in the shoulder, then surrendered along with another man, an army statement said.

Nativity Burns Engineer Sentenced

An Orange County engineer was sentenced to 40 months in prison and fined $20,000 for exporting to Israel electronic components that could be used as triggers for nuclear weapons. Richard Kelly Smyth, 72, had spent 16 years as a fugitive. Last July, he and his wife were located in Spain. Israel returned most of the components after Smyth’s indictment and said they never were intended for use in nuclear weapons.

Israeli Opium Field Found

Israeli police discovered a vast field of opium-producing poppies in the center of Israel. Investigators speculated that the field had the potential of producing opium worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Acting on intelligence information, a police investigator picked a flower at a field near Kibbutz Hulda and sent it for laboratory testing. Police are currently trying to locate those who planted the field.

Briefs complied by J.T.A.

Most Americans Mistrust Saudi Peace Plan


Only 26 percent of Americans believe the Saudi peace initiative is sincere, according to a new poll of more than 1,000 Americans. Thirty-one percent believe the Saudis launched the initiative to improve their image in the United States. Sixty-two percent of respondents believe the Saudis are not ready to accept Israel’s right to exist.

The plan calls for the Arab world to make peace with Israel in return for a withdrawal from all lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. The survey, commissioned by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, has a margin of error of 3 percent.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency