UAE said to be behind hacking of Qatari media, sparking regional upheaval

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of a Qatari government news site in May, planting a false story that was used as a pretext for the current crisis between Qatar and several Arab countries, according to a Sunday report by The Washington Post.

The Emirati Embassy in Washington released a statement in response calling the Post report “false” and insisting that the UAE “had no role whatsoever” in the alleged hacking.

The report quotes unnamed US intelligence officials as saying that senior members of the Emirati government discussed the plan on May 23. On the following day, a story appeared on the Qatari News Agency’s website quoting a speech by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in which he allegedly praised Iran and said Qatar has a good relationship with Israel. Similarly incendiary statements appeared on the news agency’s Twitter feed.

The agency quickly claimed it was hacked and removed the article. But Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt all blocked Qatari media and later severed diplomatic ties.

The ongoing crisis has threatened to complicate the US-led coalition’s fight against the Islamic State group as all participants are US allies and members of the anti-IS coalition. Qatar is home to more than 10,000 US troops and the regional headquarters of the US Central Command while Bahrain is the home of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

President Donald Trump has sided strongly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, publicly backing their contention that Doha is a supporter of Islamic militant groups and a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently concluded several days of shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf, but he departed the region without any public signs of a resolution.


Regional, World War Possible As Israel Continues To Provoke Full-Scale Confrontation With Syria
By Brandon Turbeville

The war in Syria is heating up yet again with signs that the conflict may soon be about to take greater international dimensions. This is all due to greater Israeli participation and aggression in Syria against the Syrian military and on the behalf of terrorist organizations fighting against the Syrian government. The questions that remain, however, are whether or not the Israelis are willing to tempt the resolve of the anti-terrorist coalition of Syria, Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia and how steadfast that resolve of those powers might actually be.

In the past week, we have seen an escalation in the Syrian conflict the likes of which we have not seen in decades in terms of Israeli-Syrian tensions as well as the potential for a clash of nuclear world powers in the Middle East as a combat theatre.

After a mobilization of U.S. troops near Manbij – designed to prevent the Syrian military from retaking the city and as a means to stop combat between Turkish and Kurdish forces – Israel launched an air attack on Syrian targets near Palmyra, the Zionist settler state’s farthest penetration into Syria yet. Israel claimed it was bombing an Iranian-Hezbollah weapons convoy while the Syrian government claimed Israel had targeted Syrian military positions who were in the process of combating ISIS. Regardless, Israel clearly violated international law and the concept of national sovereignty.

This time, however, Israel was not able to bomb and bail as they have done eleven times in the past as Syrian air defense systems were mobilized and an Israeli jet shot down as a result. This shoot-down was apparently launched after the Syrian military informed the Russian military of its intention to shoot down the Israeli planes. It is assumed that the Russians did not object to the use of force.

Indeed, Russian Marines were only a few kilometers away from where the Syrian military was attacked. After the attack, the Russian government summoned the Israeli Ambassador, Gary Koren, to demand an explanation for the operation. This, in and of itself, is an unprecedented event.

Very soon after the shoot-down, both Syria and Israel engaged in a war of words and threats regarding any future incidents. For instance, Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, stated that, “The next time the Syrians use their air defence systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation.”

Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari, also responded to the incident with statements of his own.

“Putin sent a clear message,” he said. “The fact is that the Israeli ambassador [to Russia] was summoned for a conversation only a day after he submitted his credentials [to the Russian Foreign Ministry last Thursday], and was told categorically that this game is over.”

Jaafari pointed out that the attack has changed the rules of the game and that Syria will not sit idly by while Israel attacks its forces.

But, on Sunday, a new incident arose with the Israelis launching an airstrike in Quneitra, located in the Golan Heights. Syrian news media reported the incident first, saying that a militia commander had been killed in the strike. Lebanese television station, al-Mayadeen identified the man killed as Yasser Assayed, member of the National Defense Militia. He was a commander of the Golan Brigade, a Druze militia fighting alongside the Syrian military against terrorists. The assassination was allegedly conducted by virtue of an unmanned Israeli drone.

On March 19-20, Israel launched more airstrikes on the Lebanese-Syria border, supposedly targeting a Hezbollah weapons supply convoy.

On Monday, March 20, an Israeli drone was shot down over the Golan area allegedly by Syrian aerial defense systems. Hezbollah paraded pictures of the downed drone on its social media pages as proof of the shoot down, forcing Israel to admit that the UAV had indeed been brought down.

And the Israelis have yet to stop their aggression. In fact, despite having been warned by the Syrian government and having apparently angered Russia over the initial airstrikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doubling down on the perceived Israeli right to bomb anyone anywhere anytime without consequences.

“If there is feasibility from an intelligence and military standpoint – we attack and so it will continue,” said Netanyahu during his visit to China. He added that he informed President Putin of Israel’s intentions.

On Wednesday, March 22, Israel launched more airstrikes deeper inside Syrian territory, targeting Syrian army posts near the capitol, Damascus. This marks the fourth Israeli airstrike operation in Syria within one week.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, stated that Russia is relying on Israel to abide by the agreements that were established during Netanyahu’s official state visit to Russia earlier in March where the two men held extensive talks regarding the Syrian crisis.

“We will judge not by their statements, but by their actions, to what extent our Israeli partners are sticking to these agreements,” said Lavrov.

Syrian President Assad told Russian MPs visiting Syrian that he is counting on Russia to do something about any further Israeli attacks on Syria and to assist Syria in avoiding a real full-scale war with Israel.

Israel has been regularly bombing Syria over the last decade with increasing attacks taking place since the Western-backed destabilization beginning in 2011. In 2017, however, have seen the biggest concentration of attacks thus far.

But while the conflict between Syria and Israel heats up, the ever-present suicidal American readiness to fight and die to the last American to preserve Israel also comes into play. In the past, the United States, due to geopolitical interests at vastly higher levels than that of the Oval Office, the immense sums of money use to purchase members of Congress, and the extraordinary religious brainwashing of many American Christians, the United States is always poised to leap into World War Three to protect the “little Jewish Ulster” and biggest destabilizing factor in the Middle East today.

Assad’s comments and Israel’s behavior reveals that a full-scale war is bubbling just below the surface, perhaps only hours away. Comments coming from a number of Israeli officials only a week ago has made it clear that Israel would naturally draw Hezbollah into such a war as well, perhaps involving Iran if for no other reason than the fact that Iran is the principal patron of the militia group. The question would then become whether or not Russia will simply allow Israel to undo all of the anti-terrorist work it has undertaken since it became involved militarily in Syria. The United States is another wild card, having instigated the entire crisis and having been an unwavering goon for Israel since the settler state’s beginnings. At this point, we would be witnessing the steep drop off to not only regional war but also potentially a world war of unimaginable proportions.

Hopefully, for the sake of the world, Russia will be able to talk Netanyahu from leading the world into conflagration but, given the Israeli penchant for being unreasonable, we at least hope that the United States will not sacrifice itself to become further embroiled in the Syrian conflict on Israel’s behalf.

This article originally appeared on Activist Post.



Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear of the right-wing flank within his own Likud party thwarted the potential for a regional peace deal last year, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said on Monday.

Herzog spoke the morning after Haaretz revealed that a four-way secret summit had taken place in Aqaba in February 2016, between Netanyahu, former US secretary of state John Kerry, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.


Herzog was not at the summit. But the center- left politician was brought up to speed on events, because in order to move a potential regional process forward in 2016, Netanyahu needed to bring Herzog’s Zionist Union party into the coalition.

For the Arab countries involved in the process and the international community as well, the placement of Herzog in the government was seen a sign that Netanyahu was serious about concluding a peace deal, Herzog explained.

Talks to create a national-unity government peaked in May, recalled Herzog, as he briefed American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ leadership mission to Israel. He spoke to them about the fledgling diplomatic process that might have changed the country and the region’s history.

At the last moment, Netanyahu widened his government with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, handing its leader Avigdor Liberman the post of defense minister, Herzog said.

The talks broke down, he said, because “Netanyahu fled. He turned his back.”

“At the end he opted to go with Liberman, caving into inner pressure from his coalition, especially from [Bayit Yehudi party head] Naftali Bennett and his allies in the Likud, [Ministers Yariv] Levin, [Ze’ev] Elkin and others. He simply reneged on the basic understandings which we had,” said Herzog.

“These understandings had they been fulfilled, would have prevented the catastrophe of the UN Security Council vote [against settlements].

[They] would have prevented disturbing processes when it comes to the well being of democracy, when it comes to the strengthening of some of the more extreme elements of our society,” he added.

“History will judge Netanyahu on that failure, unfortunately,” he said.

“I was willing to risk my own seat and my own political career,” the opposition leader said.

A senior diplomatic official defended Netanyahu stating there were numerous inaccuracies in the Haaretz report, which like Herzog, claimed Netanyahu was largely responsible for the regional initiative not moving forward.

Herzog said the understanding he had reached with Netanyahu gave him the power to veto settlement construction. At the same time, Herzog said, he would have been tasked with convincing the international community to accept the concept of the settlement blocs.

Now, one year later, the idea of a regional peace process has been revived, Herzog said.

But it is not possible to do it in one shot, it must be done in stages, he added, as he put forward his own philosophy with regard to a renewed peace process for a two-state solution, within a larger regional framework. It would also include a regional summit, he said.

To move forward, both Israel and the Palestinians must reiterate their support for a two-state solution, Herzog said. The Palestinians must halt terrorism and incitement for a period of anywhere from two years to a decade, he added.

In exchange, the Palestinians would be given special civil authority over sections of Area C of the West Bank, with the ability to build new neighborhoods adjacent to existing Palestinian cities.

It’s presumed that this means new Palestinian neighborhoods in Area C, which is under Israeli military and civil control.

Israel would be able to build in and maintain the major settlement blocs such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, Herzog said.

They “would be part and parcel of the state of Israel,” he said. In exchange, building in the isolated settlements would be frozen, he said.

The Jordan River would be Israel’s security border, stated Herzog, and Israel would complete construction of the security barrier.

The Palestinians would have a demilitarized state, with the IDF maintaining its ability to operate there, Herzog said.

There would be international recognition of the 1947 partition that recognized two states for two peoples, he said.

Herzog further urged for acceptance of the main guidelines of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

That plan speaks of an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines with minor land swaps as well as a just resolution for Palestinian refugees.

“I am not running away or giving up on our huge emotional, historical and religious connections to Judea and Samaria,” said Herzog, adding that this territory “is the cradle of our creation as a nation.”

But, he said, in order to maintain Israel as an ethnic Jewish state, the country must separate from the Palestinians.

Israeli democracy is at risk, precisely because this has not happened, he said.

The statement US President Donald Trump made at the White House last week that one state could also be an acceptable solution struck a chord of fear in his heart, Herzog said.

“When I heard at the White House the fact that an idea of a one-state solution was mentioned as a possibility and the prime minister maneuvered in a lawyer-like rhetoric just to avoid saying the two-state solution idea, I felt uneasy to say the least.

“I felt that every Israeli should wake up in the morning sweating from the nightmare of Bosnia and Syria,” said Herzog as he warned that their violent history could one day be played out in Israel.

It is important, he said, not to abandon the idea of a two-state resolution to the conflict.

Speaking to the group at the Knesset later in the day, Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told the group that he supported a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he tried to understand what Trump had meant when he said he would accept either a two-state or one-state solution.

“The president said what he said. I guess the logic was, ‘Hey guys, I am not going to impose anything agreement on you. I am not going to say, like [former US president Barack] Obama, not one brick over the 1967 borders,’” Hanegbi said.

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tweeted on Monday that the Trump administration should approach regional peacemaking to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with their eyes open.

“Building on common interests of Israel and Sunni Arab states has obvious opportunities, obvious benefits; to Israel, to [the] region [and] to the US.”

When Kerry pushed for that option, “The Palestinians were the most unenthusiastic party, fearing they would be bypassed and pressured to accept terms they deemed unacceptable,” he said.

The problem, he said, is that “everyone has to give something, but no one wants to jump first and be left hanging.”

Netanyahu rejected regional peace plan last year — report

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a regional peace plan for the renewal of negotiations toward a two-state solution and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state less than a year ago, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday, days after he called for such an initiative at his first meeting with US President Donald Trump.

The proposal was the result of months of negotiations led by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry and culminated in a secret meeting on February 21, 2016, between Netanyahu, Kerry, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah, according the report.

Despite including two key tenets that Netanyahu has repeatedly declared as imperative to any potential peace accord — recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and cooperation with regional Arab nations — the prime minister is said to have rejected the proposal, saying he would not be able to get approval from his hawkish coalition.

Kerry had initiated the summit after complex bargaining with both Israel’s regional neighbors and its internal political players. Details of the proposal and the secret meeting came from former senior officials in the Obama administration who asked to remain anonymous, Haaretz said. The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on the report.

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at the U.S. Department of State on December 28, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at the U.S. Department of State on December 28, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP)

The plan reportedly included six principles to guide the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Kerry presented in his final speech on the issue as US secretary of state in December. That speech also included a scathing attack on Israel’s continued settlement activity.

Firstly, Kerry said, peace must provide for secure and recognized borders, based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps and a contiguous state for the Palestinians.

Other principles included the fulfillment of UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for two state for two peoples; a fair and “realistic” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that did not “affect the fundamental character of Israel”; shared capitals in Jerusalem that ensured free access to holy sites and no redivision of the city; Israeli security guarantees along with an end to the occupation; and a final end to the conflict and all outstanding claims along with the establishment of normalized relations.

While Sissi and Abdullah both accepted the proposal and agreed to put pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept it, Netanyahu “evaded a clear answer on the proposed plan,” the report said, citing the Obama administration officials. He did however agree to release a statement “relating positively” to the Arab Peace Initiative, in return for a regional peace summit including several Sunni states.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promotes the Arab Peace Initiative during a speech at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan, May 26, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Jim Young)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promotes the Arab Peace Initiative during a speech at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan, May 26, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Jim Young)

The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative calls for significant concessions on Israel’s part, among them a full withdrawal from the West Bank, the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and an agreed-upon solution for the Palestinian refugee problem. In return, numerous Arab states would officially recognize the Jewish state as well as establish normalized ties with it.

While it is unclear whether the proposal was ever formally rejected, it set in motion a series of political developments in Israel that lead to Netanyahu partially endorsing the Arab Peace Initiative and offering to negotiate with the Arab world the parameters of the plan.

Immediately after the meeting, Netanyahu reportedly called opposition leader Isaac Herzog to update him on the talks in an attempt to persuade him to join to coalition. That conversation developed into weeks of talks between the Likud party and Herzog’s Zionist Union.

Despite intense efforts by an alliance of foreign leaders to secure a national unity government, talks fell apart when it was revealed that the right-wing party Yisrael Beytenu would join the governing coalition, with its leader, Avigdor Liberman, taking the Defense Ministry portfolio.

Opposition leader Issac Herzog at the Knesset on January 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Opposition leader Issac Herzog at the Knesset on January 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A clause in the scrapped agreement between Likud and Zionist Union stated that the government would “relate positively” to the idea of a regional reconciliation agreement between Israel and several Arab states, as well as to certain elements of the Arab Peace Initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The clause in the document, published at the time by Channel 2, further stated that Israel would “express a readiness for the first time to enter a dialogue on the matter with the relevant Arab states.” The contents of the file were confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office, Channel 2 said.

But at a press conference with Liberman after announcing Yisrael Beytenu would join the coalition, Netanyahu did make a dramatic declaration of partial support for the Arab Peace Initiative.

“I take this opportunity to make clear that I remain committed to making peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors. The Arab Peace Initiative contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu declared.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in our region since 2002″ — when the proposal was first floated — “but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples,” Netanyahu said.

Despite the announcement and repeated statements by Netanyhau calling for wider cooperation with Arab counties, no diplomatic progress has been made since.

Last week, at a joint news conference with US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu said some Arab countries see Israel “increasingly as an ally,” suggesting they are driven by concern over Iranian expansionism and the spread of Islamic militancy. “This change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace,” he said in urging Trump to “seize this moment together.”

Trump said he wants to pursue “a much bigger deal” in the Mideast that would include “many, many countries.” He suggested there’s Arab interest, saying, “We have some pretty good cooperation from people who in the past would never, ever have even thought of doing this.”

US President Donald Trump, right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

US President Donald Trump, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

Neither leader provided specifics, though Trump said both Israelis and Palestinians would have to make concessions. Both men refused to endorse a traditional pillar of US policy — a Palestinian state alongside Israel — as the preferred solution to the long-running conflict.

Speaking to Israel Radio Sunday morning, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said the regional coalition could go ahead now because the Trump administration shared Israel’s view of Iran as the major regional threat.

“They have been no denials [from Arab countries] since the prime minister announced an alliance with these Sunni Arab states,” Katz said, adding that the cooperation was based on intelligence sharing focused common enemies in Iran and they have declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

However, he conceded these countries still “care about the Palestinian issue.”

French far-rightists expected to lose regional vote

The leader of France’s far-right National Front and her niece face defeat in France’s regional elections, polls said Thursday, despite a record-breaking first-round score for the anti-immigration party.

Marine Le Pen and Marion Marechal-Le Pen — who turned 26 on Thursday — seemed set for victory in Sunday’s second round in the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie in the north and Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur in the south after strong performances in the first round that saw the anti-immigration party collect nearly 28 percent nationally.

The anti-European Union FN was seen as reaping the dividends of its tough stance on migration and Islam, three weeks after France’s worst terror attacks.

But its ambitions of running a region for the first time in its history risk being foiled by the ruling Socialist Party, which has called on its supporters to switch allegiance to the center-right Republicans in the two regions where the FN scored highest.

A poll by the TNS-Sofres institute and the LCI TV channel showed Marine Le Pen being beaten by Xavier Bertrand of the Republicans in the north, with the latter receiving 53 percent of the vote to 47 for the FN leader.

The same poll indicated that the Republicans’ candidate in the south, Christian Estrosi, would score a clear victory over Marechal-Le Pen by 54 percent to 46 percent.

Another poll, by the Odoxa institute, gave Estrosi victory by 52 percent to 48 percent for Marechal-Le Pen.