Newsletter : 13fx1211.txt
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Amid Military Buildup in Hormuz, Iran Pushes for Saudi Isolation in the Gulf
Two landmark events in the Persian Gulf this week attested to Tehran's confidence that
it has escaped the threat of a military clash with the US and Israel over its nuclear
program certainly in the Persian Gulf. By the same token, Iran is no longer
threatening to block the Straits of Hormuz to Gulf oil exports in reprisal for this
One of those events, noted by DEBKAfile's military and Gulf sources, is the rapid
détente between Tehran and the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, unidentified Gulf
officials announced that Iran and the UAE were close to an agreement for the return to the
Emirates of three Iranian-occupied islands in the Arabian Gulf.
The other event was the conspicuous absence of Oman's Sultan Qaboos from Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) summit taking place in Kuwait this week. The Sultan has been a
live wire in the back-channel dialogue between President Barack Obama and President Hassan
Rouhani, which led up to the Geneva interim accord on Iran's nuclear program last month.
His absence told GCC members that Oman had chosen to stand aside from Saudi dictates to
the regional bloc to approve anti-Iranian resolutions that would derail the deals struck
between the US and Iranian presidents.
Muscat and Washington were undoubtedly in accord on this step. In sum, two of the most
influential GCC members, the UAE and Oman, have set out on an independent path toward
Tehran without regard to Saudi wishes or interests. They were talked round into isolating
Saudi Arabia by Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in his two-day tour of the Gulf
emirates last week.
The three islands at issue, Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, located in the
mouth of the Strait of Hormuz were seized by Iran in 1971, during the reign of the Shah.
The UAE has consistently claimed they are sovereign territory and demanded their
DEBKAfile's military sources report that, the Islamic Republic of Iran never heeded
that demand and instead, its Revolutionary Guards established on Abu Mussa large naval,
air force and missile bases. Located there are 500 mostly short-range shore-to-sea
missiles capable of blocking Hormuz to shipping, including oil tankers.
According to our sources, Tehran is willing to discuss sharing the disputed islands'
future with the UAE, but not to dismantle is military bases on Abu Mussa or evacuate
military personnel. To make this point clear, over this weekend, Iran shipped 10 SU-25
Frogfoot assault planes capable of ground and sea attack to the island air base. These
warplanes are the backbone of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Aerospace Force.
A US military spokesman, this past Sunday, confirmed their arrival on Abu Musa, but
declined to answer questions about a possible American response to the new Iranian
military movements in the most sensitive part of the Persian Gulf. The UAE also refrained
form protest, and carried on its negotiations with Tehran on the future of the islands.
The Emirates are obviously determined to reach an understanding with Iran not just
on the three islands but also over the vast gas reserves under shared waters.
Israel, Russia to Launch Talks on Free Trade Zone
By The Times of Israel
Israel and Russia have agreed to launch formal talks aimed at establishing a free trade
zone between the two countries. The decision was made at a meeting between Economy and
Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Russia's Minister for Economic Development Alexey
Ulyukaev on the sidelines of the World Trade Organization gathering in Bali, Indonesia.
Economy Ministry officials believe Israel's current level of trade with Russia,
estimated at some $2 billion annually, nearly half of it in the diamond trade, leaves
"huge untapped potential" for expansion.
The agreement is also viewed as a means for strengthening Israeli-Russian political
ties, and is intended, in the words of a government official who spoke to The Times of
Israel on Tuesday, as part of "the continued diversification of Israel's economic ties
around the world. If there's something we learned from the experience surrounding Horizon
2020," the official said, "it's that you can't put all your eggs in one basket."
Horizon 2020, the EU's seven-year, $107 billion scientific research fund, was the
subject of tense negotiations between the EU and Israel in recent months after new
European guidelines forbade investment in institutions with operations or assets across
the Green Line. The crisis has fueled a sense among some Israeli leaders, especially on
the right, that Israel must invest in expanding its network of economic and political ties
How South Africa's Apartheid Regime Saved Israel's Defense Industry
South Africa under apartheid was the Israeli defense industry's biggest customer and
funded its most ambitious projects. The South Africans were in effect a "captive
customer": The South African army had huge funds at its disposal, but due to the sanctions
regime, the West refused to supply it with advanced military systems. Israel, which was
cash-starved and suffered international isolation of its own, had no such limitations.
The cooperation reached its peak in the 1980s, which turned out to be apartheid's dying
days. Israel shared with South Africa its technologically advanced systems. Senior
officials in the Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces had excellent ties with their
South African counterparts, led by Defense Minister Magnus Malan, military chief of staff
Constand Viljoen and heads of the South African state defense industry.
The largest deal was reportedly signed in the summer of 1988. Israel sold South Africa
60 Kfir combat planes that were no longer in use by the Israel Air Force. These were
substantially upgraded and put to use by South Africa's air force and renamed the Atlas
Cheetah. The deal was worth $1.7 billion, an unprecedented sum.
The Atlas Cheetah was portrayed as a project of South Africa's air force, which was
presented as the chief contractor. Israel's involvement was played down, even though some
details were published here and there. In reality, much of the work was carried out in the
Lod plant of Israel Aircraft Industries, now known as Israel Aerospace Industries. Work
was also done by Israeli firms that supplied subsystems and components.
The deal helped IAI overcome a crisis following the aborted Lavi jet project in the
summer of 1987. An IAI facility was converted from a plant that built new aircraft to a
plant that upgraded outdated aircraft.
Israeli defense suppliers had already developed a line of products for the Lavi, like
radar and electronics systems. After the IDF canceled its orders, these companies hoped to
export their products. Two customers were quick to place orders. China bought Israeli
technology for its J-10, which was nicknamed the Chinese Lavi. South Africa's air force
opted to purchase the old Kfir combat planes and upgrade them with Lavi systems.
The Kfir was an Israeli version of the French Mirage with a U.S.-made engine. The U.S.
administration had the right to veto exports of Kfirs, since selling the engines to a
third party required the Americans' consent. Some 200 Kfir fighters were produced, but
they were outdated soon enough, and the IAF wanted to offload them. The South Africans,
who feared Soviet and Cuban intervention in the civil war in neighboring Angola, seized
the chance to strengthen their air force.
According to foreign sources, the deal with South Africa posed a problem: The United
States joined the sanctions regime on apartheid, so there was no chance it would approve
the sale of Kfirs with the original engine. IAI and the South Africans found a solution by
purchasing French engines that were fitted to the South African version of the Kfir. This
completed the circle. The Mirage, which was designed in France and copied by Israel,
regained its original engine.
Israel joined the international sanctions in 1987 but announced that it would honor
existing arms deals. The Kfir deal was therefore presented as an existing deal. It seems
the French, who supplied the engines, used the same excuse.
The most plausible scenario is that the deal was promoted on the Israeli side by
then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Defense Ministry director general David Ivry, IAI
director Moshe Keret, the deputy director of the ministry's foreign department, Haim
Carmon, and the head of the military delegation to Pretoria, Brig. Gen. Hagai Regev.
It's unclear whether Rabin was present at the signing of the deal in South Africa, or
if all meetings were held by lower-level officials. The Defense Ministry celebrated the
signing of the agreement but concealed its details, fearing that U.S. pressure would get
the deal canceled.
Several weeks after the Kfir deal was signed, IAI boasted another achievement with the
launching of the first Ofek reconnaissance satellite. South African participation in this
project was crucial; without funding from the apartheid regime, the project, which was
almost shelved for financial reasons, would never have happened.
But these huge projects didn't save the apartheid regime. In 1991, U.S. pressure forced
Israel to halt deals with South Africa, and Yitzhak Shamir's government was forced to sign
a commitment not to export short and midrange missiles. Still, the United States didn't
interfere with the Kfir-Cheetah deal and the jets were made operative by South Africa's
air force until they were replaced several years later.
Ecuador's air force, which bought some of Israel's Kfirs, later purchased 10 Cheetahs
after South Africa's air force stopped using them. This was the last roll of the dice in
this huge arms deal.
Guide Dogs will be Allowed at the Western Wall
By The Times of Israel
Blind and visually impaired Jews who use guide dogs to get around can now rejoice at a
new ruling that paves the way for them to visit the Western Wall with their canine
companions in tow.
For years, the status quo at Judaism's holiest site has been that all animals are
forbidden from entering the Western Wall plaza. But when Rabbi Benjamin Lau of the Israel
Democracy Institute heard of a tour of 60 blind Jews who traveled to the Western Wall and
were turned away because of a ruling from Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who
claimed that Jewish law forbade the presence of their guide dogs, he looked into the
In October, Lau wrote an article in The Jewish Week, assailing Rabinovitch's decision
and imploring him to alter the ruling. "Religious leaders the world over allow guide dogs
to enter churches. Judaism, like all religions, must adapt to evolving social norms while
adhering to tradition," he wrote, adding, "It is sad that in the State of Israel, at the
site most sacred to the Jewish people, religious arguments are used to exclude believers
from participating in public prayer because of their physical disability."
Lau and Rabinovitch then met and together examined the Jewish laws surrounding the
issue. Rabinovitch was eventually persuaded to amend his ruling. A new decision has now
been issued, and visually-impaired worshippers are free to walk right up to the wall and
touch the holy stones with their dogs alongside them.
PLO Asks NBC to Call Off Production of New TV Show
By The Times of Israel
A leading Palestinian official has asked US broadcaster NBC to halt all production on a
major new US drama series set to be filmed next year in East Jerusalem.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, called on NBC to scrap all
plans for filming "DIG," an archaeological thriller from "Homeland" writer Gideon Raff, in
the City of David National Park near the walls of the Old City. Much of the action of the
show, which follows a US FBI agent who stumbles upon a massive conspiracy while struggling
to solve a murder, is slated to be filmed within the walls and tunnels of the park.
The program, from the Israeli media giant Keshet, has garnered broad support from the
Jerusalem mayor, who has pledged to grant production teams unfettered access to the city's
historical sites. "With the support of Israeli authorities and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat,
the first season will brand Jerusalem's history and heritage as a Jewish city and the
capital of Israel," the PLO said Tuesday in a press release, citing the show's potential
influence over "hundreds of millions" of global viewers.
"Such a production will legitimize the annexation of Jerusalem and the destruction of
the authenticity and character of the occupied city. Any business or organization that
deals with Israel in Occupied Palestine is in flagrant breach of international law,
conventions, and consensus, respectively," Ashrawi said.
"It is evident that these efforts coincide with Israel's intensive and accelerated
efforts to annex and ethnically cleanse Jerusalem. The choice to film the series in
Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem is designed to endorse the occupation and the
bitter reality experienced by Palestinian Jerusalemites."
"DIG" has been signed for six-episode deal with USA Network, a subsidiary of NBC
Universal. It is the first-ever Israeli series to be bought for a season without first
producing a pilot. Raff will serve as co-creator along with "Heroes" creator Tim Kring,
and Keshet's CEO Avi Nir will serve as a co-producer, much as he did with "Homeland."
Murdoch is Evil: Message Hidden in a Children's Puzzle in One of His Newspapers
By The Guardian (UK)
Harry the Dog's weekly kids' word search appears in Sydney's Sunday Telegraph tabloid.
It is Australia's largest-selling newspaper, which brashly called on the public to "kick
out" the last government and whose support, in the true image of a Murdoch tabloid, can
win you an election.
But last week's Sunday Telegraph carried a line that is sure to draw the ire of its
proprietor. On page 79 in Harry the Dog's weekly kids' word search (this Sunday the theme
was the "amazing animals" of Indonesia, from Sumatran tigers to Komodo dragons) the
puzzlemaster was clearly having a laugh at the paymaster's expense. Third line down, first
on the left reads: "LIVESIHCODRUM," or, in reverse, "MURDOCHISEVIL."
It took reporters in Australia two days to spot the apparent swipe, which sparked joy
among many observers on Twitter. The Sunday Telegraph refused to comment. It remains
unclear if Rupert Murdoch completed the quiz himself.
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