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Report: Saudi Military Delegation in Israel This Week

By DEBKAfile

According to news sources in London and Iran, a high-ranking Saudi military delegation visited Jerusalem in the last few days and met IDF and intelligence chiefs.

Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan, brother of intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, reportedly headed the delegation and was taken on a tour of Israeli military bases. No confirmation of these reports has come from any official source.

Saudis' Choice: Iran or Israel

By Dr. Yaron Friedman, (Analysis)

Abdul Aziz Qassim, a Saudi commentator at the al-Watan newspaper, wrote the following in an editorial last week: "The most sensitive question is being asked: Should the Sunni countries welcome an Israeli attack on Shiite Iran, as Iran remains their No. 1 enemy in the region? Yet we must not ignore our years-long hatred for this bad little country (referring to Israel), and our stance regarding the attitude towards Israel is clear: It is the eternal enemy of the region the same way Iran is the region's biggest danger."

Saudi commentators and reporters have recently expressed their despair over the Iranian-American agreement reached recently, which allegedly gives Iran legitimacy to enrich uranium. The Saudis have a bad feeling that in the near future the Arab world will find itself between two nuclear countries, Iran and Israel, while the Arabs are left without nuclear capabilities.

Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leader of the Arab world, an island of stability and economic power in the Arab world, which has weakened and is bleeding following the damages of the Arab Spring. It is also considered today the leader of the moderate Sunni world, and supports the secular Sunni forces – the Syrian rebel organization, the Free Syrian Army, and the Egyptian army fighting against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Saudi Arabia is anxiously monitoring the split within the Sunni forces, like the war between al-Qaeda groups in Syria and the Free Syrian Army and the tensions between Turkey and Egypt over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Saudi leaders are also losing sleep over the success of the Syrian regime's army, with the help of Hizbullah, in taking over most of western Syria. Iran's long arms are evident in Syria and Iraq, where a religious war is taking place between Sunnis and Shiites, and these two countries are on the verge of a split between east and west.

In Bahrain too the Iranian regime continues to incite the Shiite majority against the Sunni minority rule. The Saudis are now worried that lifting sanctions on Iran in the future will allow it to reinforce its support for Shiite groups in all of these arenas and deepen the Fitna – the religious war between Sunnis and Shiites.

The interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East have never been so close: They are both concerned over Iran's nuclearization, they both support General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's war against the Islamists in Egypt, they are both interested in seeing Hizbullah fail in Syria, they both have an interest in weakening al-Qaeda and strengthening the moderate Sunni groups in Syria, and they are both disappointed with the United States' policy and feel it has abandoned them all alone in the region.

Saudi Arabia turned to Israel in 2002 through the Arab League proposal for comprehensive peace in the Middle East, in exchange for its return to the 1967 borders. Israel never officially accepted the proposal, although senior politicians like Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres have expressed a positive attitude towards it.

Recently there have been many reports in the Arab press about secret cooperation between Israel and the Saudi Arabia. But these reports should be read cautiously as they usually appear in newspapers opposing Saudi Arabia. According to those sources, the meetings are being held in European countries. The content of these meetings in regards to the Iranian issue is unclear.

There is a claim that Saudi and Israeli intelligence officials are meeting in Jordan to coordinate cooperation on the Syrian issue. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad recently accused Saudi Arabia of cooperating with Israel against the Syrian regime. He said there was an "operations room" in Jordan where US, Saudi and Israeli intelligence officials were allegedly coordinating actions of the Syrian opposition.

The US created a serious crisis when it gave up on striking in Syria and reached an agreement with Iran, but it also opens new opportunities, if Saudi and Israeli leaders are wise enough to take advantage of them. Several optimistic Saudi commentators have even raised an interesting assumption that the Americans have no real intention of reconciling with Iran and that the current nuclear agreement for freezing some of the sanctions, which is valid for only six months, is just aimed at guaranteeing that Iran will support the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria.

Nonetheless, most Saudi commentators see the American policy as real treason against the kingdom and the Sunni world. One of them did a good job in describing the Saudis' feelings when he wrote that "the Great Satan (the US in Iran's eyes) is marrying the axis of evil (Iran in the eyes of the US) and the close friend (Saudi Arabia for the US) has not been invited to the wedding."

The Saudis have warned that US that it's betting on the wrong horse as the Sunnis are the majority in the Middle East and the Shiites are a minority (20% of Muslims) and because there is more Sunni oil than the oil in the Shiite areas.

Senior Saudi officials have spoken against Iran very similarly to Israel's leaders: "We won't sit idle if Iran has a nuclear weapon," "As far as we are concerned, all options are on the table." In addition, there has been open criticism about the Iranian propaganda and Saudi journalists have written that Iran has been promising to liberate Palestine for more than 30 years without doing anything, and that its vision is not uniting the Muslims but renewing the great Shiite Safavid Empire of the 16th century by turning into a nuclear country.

Saudi Arabia is facing a very difficult dilemma: If it draws closer to Israel it will betray the Palestinian issue, and if it joins Iran it will betray the Syrian opposition. The Wahhabi ideology, on the foundations of which the kingdom was established, is mainly anti-Shiite as it is anti-Israeli. The barriers of hatred for both countries are almost unbridgeable. The Saudi propaganda and education in the country are filled with the same amount of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-Shiite content.

But there are elementary differences between Saudi-Israeli ties and Saudi-Iranian ties on the religious and diplomatic levels: Jews are not allowed to visit the kingdom, and according to Islam they are banned entry to the area of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Millions of Shiites, on the other hand, are permitted to make pilgrimages to the holy places, including many Iranians. In addition, Saudi Arabia's allies in the Gulf area are pressuring it to move closer to Iran. The Sultanate of Oman is the country which mediated between Iran and the US, Qatar and Kuwait have good relations in Iran, and the relations between the United Arab Emirates and Iran have been warming up recently. Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's foreign minister, even visited Tehran about a week ago.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is now initiating a "smile offensive" in the Gulf area. He sent his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on a round of visits to all the Gulf emirates, and the latter expressed his hope to visit Saudi Arabia as well in the near future. The only emirate refusing to draw closer to Iran is Bahrain, which is accusing Tehran of the Shiite protest in the country.

Iran has called on Saudi Arabia to turn over a new leaf the relations between the two countries, and has repeated its claim that the development of Iranian nukes is exclusively for civilian purposes and that Saudi Arabia's fears are baseless. It appears, therefore, that the option of talking to Iran is easier than the almost utopian option of moving closer to Israel. Iranian and Saudi representatives have already sat together in conferences of the Islamic countries and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Despite the claims that the Saudi kingdom is holding secret ties with Israel, as Jordan did with Israel in the 50 years before the countries signed a peace agreement, there is no real proof of that. Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, have exchanged ambassadors and formally have normal diplomatic relations.

Saudi Arabia has expressed its hope in the past that the conflict with Iran would be settled in a diplomatic manner, but has never suggested talking directly to Israel. Therefore, there is a higher probability that Saudi Arabia will favor the Iranian option over the Israeli one. That way it will be able to fall into line with the US and maintain proper relations with the Americans, which the kingdom cannot afford to give up.

The expected result of Tehran's "smile offensive" will be a Saudi-Iranian dialogue which will generate a rare attempt for a Sunni-Shiite rapprochement. If and when such talks are held, there is no doubt that they will focus on the Syrian issue and that there will be an attempt to create a compromise supported by the two countries in the second Geneva convention. Such a dialogue will bring the two extremities of the Muslim world closer and push Israel further away from any attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world.

The Iranians will go on insisting on enriching uranium, and on the Iranian streets people will continue chanting proudly, "Death to America." The only one who can thwart the agreements on freezing the sanctions is Iran itself, as sooner or later the Americans and Europeans will realize that Tehran has no real intention of halting its race towards a nuclear bomb and hegemony in the Middle East.

Dr. Yaron Friedman, Ynet's commentator on the Arab world, is a graduate of the Sorbonne. He teaches Arabic and lectures about Islam at the Technion, at Beit Hagefen and at the Galilee Academic College. His book, "The Nusayri Alawis: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria," was published in 2010 by Brill-Leiden

Uproar as Ethiopia-Born Knesset Member is Denied Chance to Give Blood

By The Times of Israel

A Knesset member born in Ethiopia was not allowed to donate blood at Israel's parliament building Wednesday, setting off a firestorm of criticism over the denial by the Magen David Adom rescue organization.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein ordered MDA banned from setting up blood donation campaigns at the Knesset building after Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamanu Shata was prevented from giving blood, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for an investigation into the incident.

The furor began when Shata, who moved to Israel at age 3, arrived at an MDA blood drive being held at the Knesset and was told that she could not contribute due to the "special type of blood of the Ethiopian community," Ynet reported.

Shata, who was filmed by a news crew during the encounter, asked the MDA team to verify whether or not she met the criteria to give blood. After several minutes she was told she could give blood, but that it would be frozen in storage. "I am good enough to serve the state and in the Knesset," Shata said to Ynet. "But for some reason to give blood I am not good enough."

Netanyahu telephoned Shata about the incident and said that there should be a review of the criteria for blood donations by Ethiopians. Eilat Shinar, the head of MDA's blood service, said the organization operates according to government protocols, which since 1997 prohibit blood donations from people who were born in or lived for more than a year in a country with a high incidence of AIDS. She noted that the ban includes African countries, southeast Asia, and the Caribbean Islands.

The national blood bank said that members of the Ethiopian community can donate blood on the understanding that it won't be used. However, in some cases, where the donated blood is from a particularly scarce blood type, the portion is frozen for possible future use. The rules, though, which have been condemned in the past, drew harsh responses from figures across the political spectrum.

"It is forbidden that we should differentiate between blood and blood in the State of Israel," President Shimon Peres said. "All citizens are equal. New regulations should be created to enable all citizens of Israel to give blood. The Ethiopian community is very dear to Israel, the real salt of the earth."

Health Minister Yael German called the rules archaic. "I think it is absurd and unacceptable that in the year 2013, in the State of Israel, members of the Ethiopian community, who arrived here 25 years ago, can't give blood," she said

Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landar condemned the incident. "I can't stay silent when in the 21st century, in the State of Israel, somebody dares to differentiate between blood and blood," she said.

From Africa with Love: IDF Gets First Female Nigerian Officer

By Israel Hayom

The Israel Defense Forces, more than any other organization, represents Israeli society. It is a melting pot that includes soldiers from all ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds, men and women, but even this human collage always has something new. For example, Israel's first female Nigerian officer, Lt. Toby Cohen, 21, who was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother and Israeli father. Her parents and 8-year-old sister live in the town of Kanu in northern Nigeria, while she immigrated to Israel on her own at the age of 17. Cohen serves in the Homefront Command.

"Even when I was 3 years old I knew I wanted to come to Israel. My father was born here and served in the Armor Corps, and our home in Nigeria was full of stories about Israel and the army," she said. "On Rosh Hashana and Passover we would always travel to celebrate with Dad's family in Israel, and as I was getting older I wanted more and more to get to know Israeli culture and strengthen my connection to Israel."

When she turned 17, Cohen immigrated to Israel alone within the framework of the Jewish Agency's "Young Judaism" program, and joined the Metzar pre-army educational program at Kibbutz Metzar in the Golan Heights. On the Metzar program, Cohen learned Hebrew and her friends helped her get to know Israeli society more intimately and experience the country more completely. Cohen recalls that when her enlistment day arrived, her father came to accompany her on the special day. "He was just as emotional as I was," said Cohen. "For him it was a dream come true, and his being there really helped me."

Cohen initially served as an operations sergeant in the Homefront Command, but was later accepted into the officers' training course. "My mother and my entire family attended the officers' graduation ceremony. It is very touching to be the first woman officer from Nigeria in the IDF. Obviously I have fallen in love with Israel. This is my home and I see myself continuing my life here."

Romanian Television Station Airs Anti-Semitic Christmas Carol


A Romanian television station is under fire after broadcasting an anti-Semitic Christmas Carol performance earlier in December, according to United Press International. The state-operated TVR3 Verde, a channel directed to rural communities, began broadcasting December 3 with a program that included a Christmas carol with anti-Semitic lyrics.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency revealed the horrific lyrics Wednesday, which include the statements, "The kikes, damn kikes, Holy God would not leave the kike alive, neither in heaven nor on earth, only in the chimney as smoke, this is what the kike is good for, to make kike smoke through the chimney on the street."

TVR3 insisted in a public statement it did not choose the song, but rather simply broadcast what was given to them by the Center for Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Culture, a local cultural organization based in Eastern Romania. The statement referred to the song as "an uninspired choice."

MCA Romania, a local watchdog group, said it wrote a letter of complaint to Romanian President Traian Basecu and to Prime Minister Victor Viorel Ponta. "It is outrageous that none in the audience took a stance against the anti-Semitic Christmas carol that incites to burn the Jews," the letter stated. It added that it was "absolutely unacceptable that TVR3 tried to deny responsibility" by blaming the cultural group.

The move is another strike by Romania, after talks with Israel soured on Tuesday over the country's refusal to allow its workers to operate in Judea and Samaria. The development followed months of work between the Foreign Ministries of the respective nations over the agreement.

This is not the first time Romanian television has broadcasted anti-Semitic statements on a national scale. In 2012, a Romanian member of the European Parliament denied the Holocaust on national television. `"There was never a Holocaust in Romania," EP Corneliu Vadim Tudor stated. "I will deny it until I die because I love my people."

PLO Complaints Against NBC Program Called Ill-FoundedI\

By The Times of Israel

The Israeli media giant Keshet has responded to a public plea from PLO officials that production be canceled on an upcoming program, dismissing claims that it planned to shoot in a Palestinian village and implying that the criticism was both ill-founded and premature.

On Tuesday, 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, she said, is slated to be filmed within the ancient walls and tunnels of the park, according to a Ha'aretz report.

But Keshet shot back on Wednesday, issuing an exclusive statement to The Times of Israel that says no such plans are in the works and that production teams haven't even begun to scout for locations. Keshet is the creator and producer of the show, which it sold to NBC and will co-produce with the American network.

"There was no plan made to film the series in the City of David National Park or in the village of Silwan," the statement read. "Furthermore, location scouting and planning will not begin until February 2014, and any decisions regarding possible production sites will be made with respect for all concerned parties."

Officials with inside knowledge of the program insisted on Wednesday that no such plans have been made and all Jerusalem locations have yet to be decided. `"DIG" has garnered support from the Jerusalem mayor, who has pledged to grant production teams unfettered access to the city's historical sites.

The program 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."

In a press release issued when the NBC deal was announced last month, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was quoted as saying, "When we combine Hollywood's creative potential with Jerusalem's historic backdrop, it will result in the ability to connect hundreds of millions of viewers around the world to this unique and beautiful city. There is an undeniable inspiration and creative energy in Jerusalem, which is why it has become a center for international film production. When Hollywood and the Holy City meet, the sky is the limit."

In Tuesday's statement, Ashrawi said, "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."

She went on to cite the show's potential influence over "hundreds of millions" of global viewers, adding, "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."

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