Iraq is already scheduling crude oil shipments for delivery in March thanks to strong demand, the deputy head of the State Organization for the Marketing of Oil, or SOMO, told media in Baghdad, as quoted by Reuters.
Ali Nizar also told media that Iraq’s oil exports were stable this month and were going to be slightly higher next month, Bloomberg reported.
Separately, however, Reuters reported last week that some in OPEC believe oil could indeed reach and even top $100 per barrel. The drivers behind a continued rally would be sustained demand and tight supply resulting from the cartel’s limited spare capacity.
Due to constraints of various nature, OPEC has been falling short of its own production targets for months now. In December, the cartel reported an output increase of just 170,000 bpd, while its quota was for a boost of 253,000 bpd, per the OPEC+ production control agreement that stipulates a 400,000-bpd output increase for the extended cartel.
Hamas’ attempts, led by Saleh Arouri, to infiltrate the West Bank, worry not only Israel but Ramallah and Jordan as well. Hamas’ efforts are currently the common denominator for the cooperation required of Israel and Jordan. Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces are already operating in the Jenin region of the West Bank.
This is an opportunity to examine what is happening in Jordan. Developments there should be troubling King Abdullah II. Although Jordan is currently calm domestically, and there are no violent events like in Jenin, the Jordanian parliament is giving the king stress. According to comments from journalists close to the palace, the king views the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas’ umbrella organization) as the source of the unrest.
In mid-December, the Jordanian parliament challenged the government’s far-reaching water and electricity agreements with Israel.2 Then, on December 28, 2021, a brawl took place while the lawmakers discussed changing the fundamental laws to ensure gender equality. When it deliberated whether to attach the Arabic feminine form of the word “Jordanian [Jordanienne (sic)]” alongside the masculine form of “Jordanian,” an uproar erupted that included swearing and an exchange of blows.3
Eventually, a compromise was reached, under which the Arabic feminine form of the word “Jordanienne” entered the fundamental laws.
The parliament passed amendments that enabled the king to appoint top public security and judicial officials, along with the grand mufti and royal advisers. An amendment was also approved to establish a National Security Council controlled by the king, which would handle all issues related to defense and security. But it came at a price. In an unprecedented move, the parliament removed the king as the head of the parliamentary security committee.4
Jordanian journalists close to the royal palace accused the Muslim Brotherhood of planning the provocations in parliament.5
The veteran leader of the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Jordan, Laith Shubeilat, did not hesitate to accuse the Brotherhood’s new generation of having ties to foreign entities – namely Iran. Shubeilat is no lapdog for the Hashemite regime; he had a strained relationship with King Hussein and was arrested several times. In a recording released on January 3, 2022, Shubeilat was heard attacking the Brotherhood leadership’s corruption: “You preserved the organization, and you did not preserve the religion.”
Jordanian publicist Ahmed Salama reported that when King Abdullah allowed Khalid Mishaal and Ismail Haniyeh to attend the funeral of a senior member of the Brotherhood, Ibrahim Ghosheh, in August 2021, they used this humane gesture to persuade mourners to recognize the two Hamas figures as leaders of Jordan’s own Islamic faction. “The funeral turned into a pledge of allegiance to Hamas and its leaders,” Salama wrote. Moreover, their incitement “was an embarrassment to the government’s alliance with the Ramallah authority.” The goal of the Brotherhood, according to Salama, is to fragment Jordan as they have divided the Palestinians. Its logic is clear: just as they opened the door to Iran in Gaza, they want to divide Jordan to allow Iran’s infiltration as well.6
Arouri’s attempts to infiltrate the West Bank are understood in Jordan as part of an Iranian mission also to infiltrate the “East Bank.” Faced with this Hamas strategy, Jordan must coordinate with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli navy ships attacked, on Wednesday evening, a Palestinian fishing boat offshore the city of Gaza, in the besieged coastal region.
Media sources said the boat was within Palestinian water, less than six nautical miles from the shore, when a navy ship started firing live rounds at it, in addition to using water cannons.
The attack caused damage, but did not lead to casualties or abductions, and forced the fishermen back to the shore to avoid further escalation.
On Tuesday, similar Israeli attacks targeted fishermen off the coast of Gaza city, and farmers on their lands in the central Gaza Strip.
The army frequently attacks farmers, shepherds, workers, and fishermen across the eastern parts of the coastal region and in Palestinian territorial waters, leading to dozens of casualties, including fatalities, in addition to preventing the Palestinians from tending to their lands and from fishing to provide for their families.
In March of last year, the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza said Israeli mines were responsible for an explosion that led to the death of three fishermen.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will not sacrifice energy security for the sake of energy transformation, a leading minister has warned as he talked up the importance of uranium to the Kingdom’s power plans.
Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman made the comments at the Future Minerals Forum in Riyadh as he discussed how developing the Kingdom’s mining sector could help with economic and environmental transitions.
Prince Abdulaziz was bullish when it came to the use of nuclear power in the energy mix, telling delegates at the conference: “We have a huge amount of uranium resource, which we would like to exploit and put in the most transparent way.
“We will bring partners and we will be exporting and manufacturing and developing it and we will be commercially monetizing that resource.”
Referring to the drive to move the Kingdom away from its reliance on oil, he said: “We should not forfeit energy security for the sake of a publicity stunts — that transition needs to be well thought.
“Let’s not forfeit energy security for moving away from the classical concern of over-reliance in the Middle East when it comes to oil to different types of energy security challenges which has to do with availability of these minerals and the concentration of the ownerships of those minerals.”
The Future Minerals Forum is a special event bringing together ministers, organisations and mining leaders from more than 30 countries.
Hosted by the Saudi Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources, is aimed at highlighting the role of mining in Saudi Vision 2030, after the government identified it as the third pillar of the Kingdom’s economy.
Hamas has not budged an inch from its Charter: it seeks not a smaller Jewish state, but the destruction of the Jewish state, to be replaced by the Arab state of Palestine, “from the river to the sea.” That is something much of the world, urging Israel to “make peace” with Hamas, still fails to grasp. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald
Mark Regev, a former adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, considers the likelihood of another war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza: “Is another Gaza war inevitable? – opinion,” by Mark Regev, Jerusalem Post, January 6, 2022:
…Since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 there have been four significant military escalations: Operations Cast Lead (2008-09), Pillar of Defense (2012), Protective Edge (2014), and Guardian of the Walls (2021). Bitter experience would seem to indicate that another round is only a matter of time.
The knee-jerk reaction of many across the world is to suggest finding a political solution. Yet Hamas remains stuck in a radical Islamist ideology that precludes peace with Israel. Its 1988 charter, never repudiated, specifically renounces any negotiated settlement while proclaiming the goal to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”
Hamas has not budged an inch from its Charter: it seeks not a smaller Jewish state, but the destruction of the Jewish state, to be replaced by the Arab state of Palestine, “from the river to the sea.” That is something much of the world, urging Israel to “make peace” with Hamas, still fails to grasp.
In 2006, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan offered Hamas a possible opening, presenting three benchmarks for the organization to be acknowledged as a legitimate political interlocutor: rejection of terrorism, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previously signed peace agreements. Sixteen years on, Hamas has failed to meet even one of these requirements.
Instead of being viewed as a partner in talks, Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization in Britain, Canada, the European Union, Japan, and the United States, as well as, of course, by Israel. More countries, including Australia and New Zealand, classify the Hamas military wing as terrorist (although experts agree that the distinction between the movement’s wings is artificial).
Of course, many in the international community insist that a genuine political solution between Israelis and Palestinians demands removing settlements and withdrawing to the 1967 lines. But Israel already put those ideas into practice in Ariel Sharon’s 2005 disengagement plan, and there have been four Gaza wars since.
Those who want Israel to withdraw “to the 1967 lines” are in fact obscuring, by sleight of word, what should be brutally, and honestly, put to the world by Bennett or Lapid: “what you are in fact demanding is that Israel agree to be squeezed back within the 1949 armistice lines, with a nine-mile waist at Qalqilya. It would take an invader from the east less than an hour to slice Israel in two. No sane Israeli will agree to that.”
In 2005 Israel pulled entirely out of Gaza, removing 8500 Israeli settlers and pulling down their settlements. But Israel left intact the greenhouses the settlers had built and had used to raise flowers and fruit for export to Europe. This thriving business was turned over to the Palestinians as a turnkey operation; the Israelis expected them to continue the business but, to their surprise, the Palestinians in Gaza promptly destroyed them. Did peace between Gaza and Israel then ensue, as some had rosily predicted would happen after Israel’s withdrawal? No, Hamas answered Israel’s disengagement from Gaza only with terrorism, resulting in four wars, and the need for Israel to conduct what it called the “wars between the wars,” in order to discourage terrorism, an exercise that Israelis mordantly call “mowing the grass.”
The Israeli public is in a different place [from those who counsel it to “make peace with Hamas: Polling done by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) last June following Operation Guardian of the Walls showed that 27% of Israelis believed in strengthening deterrence through additional harsh IDF strikes against Hamas. Another 21% supported an incursion deep inside Gaza that physically dismantles Hamas’s military capabilities. 13% of Israelis favored a solution through humanitarian relief and economic development, while just 10% thought Israel should reconcile itself to Hamas rule and negotiate a ceasefire.
Only 10% of Israelis believe the Jewish state should resign itself to permanent rule in Gaza by the terror group Hamas. The other 90% are realists.
Last September, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid suggested testing a policy involving both economic carrots and military sticks, the goal being to “cause the residents of Gaza to pressure Hamas because they understand what they are missing out on as a result of terrorism and understand how much they stand to gain if that terrorism stops.”
Official Palestinian statistics show third quarter 2021 GDP per capita in Gaza at only $297, less than a third of the $1,097 in the West Bank. Half of Gaza’s workforce is unemployed, the young being disproportionately among the jobless.
Economic carrots could encompass extending Gaza’s fishing boundary and issuing more work permits for Gazans in Israel. It has also been suggested that the newly completed Israel-Gaza barrier allows for land on the Palestinian side, previously left barren for security reasons, now to be used for agricultural cultivation.
With a 50% rate of unemployment, Palestinians in Gaza would welcome more permits for Gazans to work in Israel. At the moment a total of 140,000 Palestinians from both the West Bank and Gaza work in Israel or the settlements; fewer than 20,000 of those are from Gaza. Along with many thousands more of work permits for Palestinians in Gaza, Israel can extend the fishing boundary so that more Gazans can make a living as fishermen. Another possibility is that with Israel’s security barrier now completed, it can afford to allow land on the Gazan side, which it has until now insisted be left barren for security reasons, to be cultivated. Israel could also loosen restrictions on the import of “dual-use” goods, such as cement and steel, into the Strip.
Although infrastructure development is a longer-term endeavor, it can still provide construction jobs in the interim. The basket of possible projects includes establishing a new power station, building a desalination plant, connecting Gaza to Mediterranean gas, and even the creation of an artificial offshore island port.
All these ideas share a common hope that, in providing economic tangibles for the people of Gaza, it is possible to strengthen the incentive to keep the peace and thereby defer the next round of fighting.
These are the many, and various, economic carrots that Israel has to offer the Palestinians in Gaza. It’s up to them to choose peace, that brings with it all these benefits, or to choose more war, that will keep the impoverished Gazans immiserated.
HOWEVER, SERIOUS obstacles remain.
First, it is unclear to what degree Hamas is willing prioritize the well-being of ordinary Gazans over its ideological commitment to “resistance.” Skeptics can rightly point to the millions that Hamas invested in its subterranean military projects at a time when the civilian population was in desperate need of assistance.
Hamas’ reason for being is terrorism and war to destroy the Jewish state, not the wellbeing of the people in Gaza. The terror group has already shown how little it cares for the Gazans by dragging them into four disastrous wars with Israel. And its priorities in peacetime are also telling: even as the Gazans sank deeper into poverty, Hamas decided to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in building a vast underground network of tunnels – what the Israelis call “the Metro,” in order to move both fighters and weapons throughout the Strip without their being detected – or so Hamas thought – by Israel.
Second, even if Hamas agrees to keep the Israel-Gaza frontier quiet, it is unlikely to abstain from encouraging and orchestrating deadly violence on the West Bank. A “ceasefire” in which Hamas continues terror attacks from Hebron, Jenin, and Tulkarm would be unsustainable….
Hamas may agree, to obtain those carrots, to keep the Gaza border quiet. But Mark Regev thinks that in the West Bank Hamas operatives will want to score points against their arch-rival, the Palestinian Authority. And the way to do that is to continue terror attacks on Israelis, in sharp contrast to the P.A., which will be seen to sit on its hands.
There is no way – other than re-occupying Gaza – for Israel to keep Hamas from smuggling in more, and better, weapons into Gaza from Iran.. It will also use any ceasefire to improve its own, homegrown weaponry.
Fourth, two live Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers are being held in Gaza. Lapid stated that “bringing back our boys must be part of any plan.” Yet it is doubtful that Hamas will agree to their return outside a deal which includes the release of Palestinian security prisoners. An exchange of this sort is always a highly complex exercise.
In the last disastrous “prisoner exchange,” Israel freed 1,027 Palestinians in exchange for exactly one soldier, Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas. Among those 1,027, some had been imprisoned for terrorism, and went back to their previous murderous occupation. Dozens of Israelis were killed as a result. Israelis vowed that never again would they engage in such a lopsided exchange, and no “security prisoners” would be released. But Israel is also very eager to get back the bodies of two soldiers, and two mentally-disturbed Israelis who had wandered into Gaza several years ago and been held ever since. Regev thinks Hamas will insist on the release of “security prisoners” while Israel will insist it will not do so; somehow this circle has to be squared. Who will yield?
Fifth, because Israel and much of the international community refuse to work directly with Hamas, it is necessary for the Palestinian Authority to fill the vacuum. Official rhetoric aside, it is far from certain that the PA is at all interested in enabling Hamas to create a better reality in Gaza. Experts have suggested that the PA may see advantages for itself in the continuation of a negative situation in Gaza that reflects badly on its political rival.
Given that Israel (and many other states) will not deal directly with Hamas, the P.A. has to be the necessary interlocutor between Hamas and Israel. But it likely will not want to bring the two – Hamas and Israel — to any kind of understanding that would improve the lot of people in Gaza, and increase Hamas’ popularity as a result. Regev suggests the P.A. will do what it can to keep Israel and Hamas at loggerheads.
Sixth, Islamic Jihad will always seek to outdo Hamas. This week it threatened a wave of violence if administrative detainee Hisham Abu Hawash died in prison from his hunger strike. Hamas will not want to be seen as passing the mantle of “resistance” over to its smaller brother. It is one thing for Hamas to restrain itself temporarily; it is quite another for it to forcibly reign in others. This gives Iran’s Gazan proxy [the PIJ} the ability to play spoiler.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a smaller rival of Hamas, but consistently more violent and unyielding. After the Hamas-Israel ceasefire was declared on May 21, the PIJ continued to fire rockets into Israel. If Hamas appears to be too pliable in its dealings with Israel, it can expect PIJ to accuse it of “going soft.” Then, If Hamas attacks the PIJ, to keep it from again breaking the ceasefire with Israel, Palestinians in Gaza will see it as having abandoned the “resistance” in order to make deals with the Jewish state.
Yet, notwithstanding these and other challenges, a pessimistic belief in the inevitability of an imminent Gaza war is unwarranted. On Benjamin Netanyahu’s watch, seven years of relative quiet separated Operation Protective Edge from Operation Guardian of the Walls. Through an astute strategy of deterrence and incentives it is not impossible to postpone a future round of fighting…
Regev considers the carrots that might persuade Hamas to come an understanding with Israel, and he lays out all the possible obstacles, and downsides, to such an agreement for Israel – but that can buy, he says, possibly even the Biblical seven years of peace. Not a permanent peace – Israel can’t count on that – but a hudna, a “truce treaty.” For Mark Regev, that’s quite enough. Meanwhile, with the Gaza theatre’s quiet assured, Israel will be able to focus its attention on its mortal enemy, Iran.
Will Israel, having increased the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel, extended the fishing boundaries for Gaza’s fishermen, loosened the rules on importing into Gaza such “dual-use” products as cement and steel rods, making it easier for Gazans to rebuild their infrastructure, be the recipient of greater understanding, even sympathy, from the international community?
(File image) Remnants of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel (REUTERS / Amir Cohen)
As fireworks lit up the skies celebrating New Years, a different kind of fire came from Gaza: terrorist rockets being fired at Israel. In response, we targeted Hamas sites in Gaza, including a rocket manufacturing site and military posts, ”reported the Israel Defense Force.
Thus, the army confirmed having bombed Hamas positions in the southern Gaza Strip between Saturday night and Sunday, in retaliation for the launch of rockets from the Palestinian enclave.
“Israeli warplanes attacked a site of the Al Qasam brigades (the armed wing of Hamas) west of Jan Yunes,” a city in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian security sources told AFP. They indicated that artillery shots were also fired at an observation base of the Islamist movement in the north of the enclave.
The Israeli operation destroyed a rocket manufacturing facility and other military sites, targeting the Khan Younis area., in the south of the enclave.
The exchange follows several days of tensions that began when snipers inside Gaza fired at Israeli contractors who were carrying out maintenance work on the 65-kilometer border fence surrounding the enclave. A civilian worker was treated for minor injuries from that attack. Israeli tanks fired at Hamas positions in response, slightly injuring three people, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
In the early hours of New Year’s morning, two rockets were fired from Gaza, flying over the Mediterranean Sea, causing no damage or warnings of an air attack on Israeli communities, although one of the projectiles fell not far from the coast of Tel Aviv. .
“Hamas is responsible and bears the consequences of all activity in and emanating from the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement after the attacks.
(File Image) Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel in May 2021 (REUTERS / Amir Cohen // File Photo)
The rise in tensions comes as Israel and Hamas are negotiating, with Egypt’s mediation, a lasting peace agreement. But the talks have been bogged down by issues such as the return of prisoners and human remains that are in the hands of Hamas, among others.
Military analysts claimed that the sniper attack and rocket fire may be attempts by Hamas or other Gaza militants to pressure Israel to accelerate the pace of reconstruction and ease other restrictions in the enclave.
Gaza terrorists also warned they would intensify the attacks amid reports that a Palestinian prisoner held by Israel was in mortal danger after a prolonged hunger strike. Hisham Abu Hawash was detained more than a year ago on suspicion of being an Islamic Jihad activist, according to Israeli media. He has refused to receive food for almost 20 weeks.
What is at stake, according to analysts, is an unusually long period of relative calm along the Gaza border, where rocket exchanges and retaliatory attacks are a routine part of life for Gazans and Gazans alike. Israelis from surrounding cities.
However, since a ceasefire ended the war in May, almost no attacks have been launched by either side. Military and political leaders have boasted in recent weeks that they have reached a level of deterrence in Gaza, a claim challenged by recent exchanges.
Rehaf al-Batniji turned to her sketchbook to find comfort as Israeli bombs rained down on Gaza
When her neighbourhood was being bombed by Israeli warplanes in May last year, Rehaf al-Batniji, taking shelter in the basement of her home, was drawing portraits of the victims as she imagined them to be.
“I tried to imagine what each martyr would have been doing if his or her life was not snatched away from them,” the Gaza native told Middle East Eye.
“If someone had a small tree they were taking care of, if they were sleeping or looking out the window, I imagined all that.”
With a sketchbook that she kept with her during and in the aftermath of Israel’s military campaign on the besieged Gaza Strip, Batniji drew 50 sketches of victims whose names and ages she had heard on the television.
The 31-year-old artist said she was “crying sketches,” as drawing was the only way to “escape [horrible] news” and keep her from collapsing.
“During the war, you lose your stability, your feelings, and your humanity. This is their goal with these continuous attacks, to make you lose yourself. Maybe that’s why I drew the sketches in black, which is something I did not plan for, they just came like that,” Batniji said.
“There was something that was crushing me inside, a voice that I could never get rid of. I turned that voice into lines, and in some cases I didn’t even know what I was drawing until I found out that I drew these faces.”
As Israeli shelling intensified during the 11-day campaign, Batniji’s married siblings, her nieces and nephews all sought refuge in the family’s house.
With everyone sheltering in one room in the basement, Batniji took occasional breaks from the chaos surrounding her by spending time in the small atelier in the home’s front yard.
She shared her first sketch on her Facebook page on the fourth day of the military operation. Titled The Night Scene, the illustration depicts her family during the attacks.
“I kept thinking about the scene when my nieces and nephews hid from the bombing in their mothers’ arms. It was my feelings that drew that sketch,” Batniji said.
“If you noticed, even the mother who is supposed to protect [the children] is scared and wants to escape, but there is a bird above all of them.”
Sketching was not only a tool for Batniji to find comfort amid the carnage. It also helped her deal with a feeling of helplessness. To her, the sketches were a way of “doing something for the victims” by keeping their names and stories alive.
Batniji said that none of the faces she drew belonged to people who were killed in the attacks, but they were how she “imagined their faces to be”.
As the Palestinian death toll kept rising, reaching 259 by the end of the military campaign, Batniji was no longer drawing portraits only of people whose names she had heard on the news.
“This war was different because many of the martyrs we heard of were not distant, they were people we had met and knew, and they lived in the same area,” she said.
“Among those were Riham al-Kolak, who was a friend of a friend… and Dima Saad, who was killed with her foetus in her womb and her two children around her.
“Every time these stories, our stories, turn into just numbers [in the news], I feel helpless, I feel psychologically unstable. Drawing these sketches helped me during the war only, only in that time, to deal with this crisis.”
Batniji drew a sketch of Kolak, 33, who was killed by an Israeli air strike on her home in al-Wahda street in the middle of Gaza city. The air strike hit her home a few minutes after she posted a prayer for survival on Facebook.
“This was the sketch that most touched me, The Sleeping Lady, which I dedicated to the soul of Riham al-Kolak. I dedicated most of the sketches to child victims, but this one was different,” Batniji said.
“When I drew this sketch, my mother was lying in front of me and telling me how horrible she felt for all the people who were gone. I just started drawing lines while she was talking. I don’t know how they ended up to be this sketch. I imagined Riham in the drawing because she was almost my age, and I felt that connection between us.
“We usually need comfort, we need to feel safe and secure, so I drew her sleeping safely.”
In four of the sketches she posted on Facebook during the attacks, Batniji drew different types of plants with the characters as an indication of calm and peace.
In her sketch dedicated to Dima Assaliya, 10, she drew a girl standing beside a pot of plants and staring out a window overlooking a dark scene of the chaos outside.
“This was one of the first scenes that I drew while thinking about calm during the war. Generally, we struggle for the idea of calm and peace in their broad meaning, but during the war, we start negotiating for half-an-hour of calm, half-an-hour of hiding,” she said.
“While you try to hide, there is a very big window in front of you overlooking the smoke and noises of war. You try as much as you can to distance yourself from this scene and stay calm, and plants were one thing that I made sure to keep and take care of during the war to keep me calm.”
Assaliya was killed on 19 May by an Israeli air strike while walking home from her sister’s house after her mother had asked her to bring a small electric oven to bake home-made bread.
Following the offensive, nine out of 10 children in the coastal enclave were found to be suffering from some form of conflict-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
Most of Batniji’s sketches illustrate the future of young victims as she imagined they would have been, because “they did not get the chance to make their own”.
“People of our age had the chance to live part of their life and experience the meaning of it, but these children did not even know what life was.”
While drawing sketches, Batniji would sometimes burst into tears thinking of the futures that these children might have had.
“Of the sketches I drew, one was for a child called Buthaina Ubaid. This girl was seven years old. What could we do for her? She was only seven, and her name just disappeared, her life was completely gone. What did the life she dreamed to live look like?
“I did not see Buthaina’s picture and did not know what she looked like, I only knew how she was killed, so I imagined her face and drew her with a candle.”
Ubaid died from her wounds on 14 May, which marked the second day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, after she was hit in the head by shrapnel from an Israeli missile that targeted a place near her home in Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip.
In another sketch she shared one day before the ceasefire went into effect, Batniji drew a woman holding a photo of three children. It was dedicated to the soul of Yamen Abu Hattab, a six-year-old who was killed on 15 May.
‘These children did not even know what life was’
– Rehaf al-Batniji, Palestinian artist
“The thing that broke my heart the most was the killing of entire families, like the al-Kolak, the Abu Hattab, and al-Yazji families,” she said.
“Many mothers lost their children during the attack, and nothing is left of these children but their photos. For these mothers, their children turn into mere photos.”
Abu Hattab was killed in an air strike on his home in the al-Shati refugee camp west of Gaza. Ten people of the same family were killed in the same attack, including eight children and two women.
One day later, four-year-old Adam al-Kolak was killed with his parents and siblings in a series of air strikes that targeted his neighbourhood in al-Wahda Street, in the middle of Gaza city.
Batniji dedicated a sketch to Kolak, illustrating a woman hanging laundry.
“Here, Adam’s mother or grandmother is looking at his clothes that have just been washed so that he could wear them the next day,” she said.
Iran’s authoritarian regime continues to openly defy sanctions imposed by the U.S.–led international community by increasing oil sales to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by 40% during 2021.
According to a report by the watchdog group tracking illegal Iranian oil tankers, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), not only were the restrictions not enforced, but oil exports increased by 123 million barrels, noted The Washington Free Beacon Jan. 7.
The CCP was the largest consumer of the illegally sold oil, purchasing 310 of the nearly 418 million barrels shipped abroad by the Iranian regime.
The other 108 million barrels were negotiated with the United Arab Emirates, Syrian, Venezuelan, and Russian regimes.
The Iranian regime uses a fleet of foreign-flagged oil tankers, which illegally turn off their onboard tracking devices, thus disappearing from radar to deliver hundreds of millions of barrels of oil.
According to analysts, the millions of dollars obtained strengthen the Iranian regime, which is accused of financing regional terrorism and militias of violent groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
In this situation, criticism turns against the apparent weakness and inaction of the Biden administration, which is not applying the rigor necessary to force Iran to comply with the sanctions.
“The 40% increase in Iran’s oil exports is a result of the Biden administration’s refusal to enforce sanctions,” Claire Jungman, UANI chief of staff, told the Washington Free Beacon.
She added, “This lack of enforcement is a form of sanctions relief and has led to an improvement in Iran’s economic situation and diminished the leverage and credibility of the U.S. during negotiations.”
He also proposed a control alternative: “To start it should sanction the individual vessels carrying Iranian oil.”
On the other hand, for a senior diplomat, Iran’s strategy is to buy time, “Iran is certainly playing for time and will in the meantime continue to enhance its nuclear program to gain political leverage,” he told Politico on condition of anonymity.
The diplomat also warned that Iran could venture to make more ambitious demands of the United States.
“Iran most probably will only come back to the table in Vienna if the west makes a gesture of goodwill or provides certain concessions to Iran,” the diplomat said.
These massive breaches occur in a context in which the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commission negotiations resumed two months ago in Vienna attended by representatives of Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
The JCPOA negotiated the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, established in Vienna in 2015 between Iran, the countries above, and the European Union.
On the other hand, Iran also continues to violate the prohibition of enriching uranium, thereby expanding and developing its nuclear capabilities, reaching 60% uranium enrichment, thus approaching the purity level required to produce nuclear weapons.
The head of US military operations in the Middle East, Gen. Frank McKenzie, recognizes that Iran and its proxies have achieved “overmatch” — the ability to fire many more missiles than adversaries such as Israel and the US can shoot down or destroy. “Iran’s missiles have become a more immediate threat than its nuclear program,” he says.
While its citizens starve, Iran has become a leading global missile producer, with the largest and most diverse arsenal in the Middle East, including thousands of ballistic missiles with a range of more than 2,000km. A disturbing report in The New Yorker argues that Tehran’s cruise missiles have fundamentally altered the balance of power in the Gulf region.
A series of Iranian tests in late December included the simultaneous deployment of missiles and drone attacks against the same target, similar to a previous Iranian attack on GCC oil infrastructure. Iran is meanwhile seeking to capitalize on Chinese technology to develop projectiles that can circumvent missile defense systems. Experts believe North Korea is now importing Iranian missile technology.
“Everybody should know that all American bases and their vessels in a distance of up to 2,000km are within the range of our missiles,” bragged Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of Iran’s Aerospace Force. “We have constantly prepared ourselves for a fully fledged war,” he crowed, as if “fully fledged war” were an optimum outcome for the region. Meanwhile, the firing of rockets by Iranian proxies at GCC and Western targets in the region is now a near-daily phenomenon.
There are substantial increases in military spending — including more than doubling the allocation for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps —in Iran’s 2022 budget, despite its income estimates being based on the assumption of no new nuclear deal. A Washington Institute analysis concluded: “The Raisi government sees no economic urgency to making substantial nuclear concessions.”
Experts warn that Iran is a few short months, or weeks, away from nuclear breakout capacity, with increasingly advanced centrifuges enriching uranium to 60 percent purity. Former Mossad intelligence director Zohar Palti estimates that Iran would require just three weeks to produce sufficient fuel for a bomb.
Western officials are even less optimistic about extracting concessions from Iran on its ballistic missile program than they are about the nuclear program. Raisi declared: “Regional issues or the missile issue are non-negotiable.” Iran’s increasing reliance on drones, cyberattacks and unconventional warfare aspires to give Tehran a decisive military advantage over its neighbors. “Iran has proved that it is using its ballistic missile program as a means to coerce or intimidate its neighbors,” noted Biden’s nuclear negotiator, Robert Malley.
If diplomats and leaders in the Arab region and the wider world don’t rapidly get serious, Iran’s missile, nuclear and paramilitary programs soon won’t be an abstract matter of statistics and research data, but will be deployed in anger to rain death and destruction upon the region.
After the January 2020 US assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Iran fired a barrage of ballistic missiles with thousand-pound warheads at a US base in Iraq — the largest ballistic missile attack by any nation on American troops. Hours later, Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet just after it took off from Tehran airport, killing all 176 people on board. Coinciding with the anniversary of Soleimani’s death, there was a display in central Tehran last week of the rockets used by Iran in these retaliatory strikes. However, in the western city of Shahrekord, a newly erected statue of Soleimani was set on fire and destroyed by Iraniansclearly unimpressed by their leaders’ squandering the nation’s wealth on overseas warmaking.
Tehran’s military arsenals are shielded deep underground in massive complexes in its satellite states and in Iran itself. With these tunnelled “missile cities” stretching for many kilometers, Iran boasts the largest underground complexes in the region, housing both nuclear and missile programs. Albu-Kamal on the Syria-Iraq border is one of these sites. It is a major transit point for the transfer of missiles and munitions into Lebanon and Syria, and a site where rockets are upgraded to increase range and accuracy. In early 2021 Biden ordered the bombing of Albu-Kamal in retaliation for rocket attacks by Hashd militias in Iraq, but the strikes had negligible impact. “Without being able to crater the place, you’re not going to stop the flow,” one Biden intelligence official said.
Ironically, Israeli military strikes and sophisticated sabotage operations have simply made Iran’s proliferation programs more resilient, by necessitating the construction of massive defenses and the installation of increasingly advanced equipment. Israeli generals have expressed frustration at the Biden administration holding up the transfer of military equipment required for dealing decisively with these capabilities.
In an era when rogue states can menace global security with impunity, we require nothing short of an international compact regarding the balance and constraint of military power, and legally enforced respect for sovereignty. For decades China and Russia colluded to undermine international law, but with Russia sending thousands of troops into Kazakhstan and menacing Ukraine and other former Soviet states, suddenly Beijing finds itself encircled. All states benefit from a universally recognized system whereby no overmighty coalition of states or rogue entities can threaten the sovereignty of others. Even Vladimir Putin claims his aggressive actions simply seek to protect Russian territorial integrity.
When pariah states can build up immense military arsenals to menace their neighbors without consequences, the international system disintegrates. Whether with Khomeinist Iran or Nazi Germany, when we appease aggressor states, we ultimately find ourselves facing a monster 10 times its original size.
Only 15 years ago, the primitive Iran-manufactured rockets that could be deployed by Hezbollah and Tehran’s other proxies were the stuff of ridicule, but nobody is laughing now. In the 15 years since Iran was referred to the UN Security Council for its uranium enrichment activities — and years of negotiations with global powers,supposedly to halt Tehran’s proliferation activities — it has developed into a ballistic superpower. Vigorous ballistic weapons development and testing took place before, during and after Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal. The failure of global powers to recognize the long-term security consequences of what was happening under their noses has brought us to where we are today.
This is not scaremongering, but recognizing reality and deciding how to act. If diplomats and leaders in the Arab region and the wider world don’t rapidly get serious, Iran’s missile, nuclear and paramilitary programs soon won’t be an abstract matter of statistics and research data, but will be deployed in anger to rain death and destruction upon the region. Do we seriously want to sit back and wait for this to happen?
Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view
A two-year deal was reportedly reached in Vienna by which the US would lift all sanctions placed on Iran by the Trump administration.
Iran denied a report that it had reached a two-year interim agreement with world powers on Sunday.
London-based Rai al-Youm reported that the sides completed a two-year deal in Vienna, by which the US would lift all sanctions placed on Iran by the Trump administration.
In return, all of Iran’s advanced uranium would be transported to Russia.
Russia would reportedly serve as the guarantor of the agreement, in that it would return the uranium to Iran in the event of the US leaving the deal as it did in 2018.
“The report is totally wrong and fake,” a source close to the Iranian negotiating team said, according to Iranian journalist Abas Aslani.
Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)
Negotiations continued on Tuesday, with the European delegations meeting with Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani.
Russia’s chief negotiator, Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, said he “share[s] the assessment” by the Iranians that the sides are starting to overcome their differences on the matter of sanctions.
“Progress is being made. But achieving the desired solution will require additional time and effort,” Ulyanov tweeted.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a speech on Sunday in which he referred obliquely to the Vienna talks.
“Not surrendering to an arrogant enemy is one of the principles of the revolution,” Khamenei said. “To negotiate, discuss, or sometimes interact with the enemy is another matter…We have not surrendered until today, and God willing, this will be the case in the future.”
The talks in Vienna for Iran and the US to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are currently in their eighth round. That deal limited Iran’s nuclear program, while gradually lifting sanctions.
In recent years, Iran has worked on developing uranium metal and enriching uranium to 60%, far beyond the JCPOA’s restrictions and closer than ever to weapons-grade uranium, which is enriched to 90%.Iran continued its JCPOA violations during its talks with Vienna, which were renewed on November 29, launching advanced centrifuges. Western parties to the talks with Iran – France, Germany and the UK directly, and the US indirectly – have repeatedly questioned the Islamic Republic’s seriousness in engaging in the talks and have said they will not allow them to drag on.On Friday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV and RMC Radio that progress has been made regarding the Iran nuclear talks although time is running out.
“I remain convinced we can reach a deal. Bits of progress has been made in the last few days,” Le Drian said. “We have been heading in a positive direction in the last few days, but time is of the essence because if we don’t get an accord quickly there will be nothing to negotiate.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid urged French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program.
“I talked at length tonight with the President of France Emanuel Macron,” Lapid tweeted. “The conversation dealt with the regional challenges, the nuclear talks, Israel’s demand to put pressure on Iran and Israeli-EU relations.”