AL-QAEDA GAINS AMID YEMEN CHAOS
Airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen’s Houthi rebels have “indirectly helped empower al-Qaeda in ways the group had not enjoyed before” because the focus elsewhere leaves them “unopposed,” The New York Times writes. The jihadist group has seized a major airport, a military base and a significant oil terminal, expanding the territory it controls in southern Yemen. Meanwhile, coalition warplanes have continued to target Houthi positions, killing at least 36 people, including three civilians.
MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR GERMANWINGS CRASH VICTIMS
Photo: Jurgen Corveleyn via Instagram
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other officials are attending a memorial service for the 150 victims of last month’s Germanwings plane crash. About 1,500 people are expected to gather in Cologne’s Gothic Cathedral.
WIKILEAKS RELEASES ALL SONY EMAILS
WikiLeaks has published more than 30,000 documents and 170,000 emails stolen from Sony Pictures at the height of last year’s hacking scandal that was blamed on North Korea. According to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the archive belongs in “the public domain” because Sony is an “influential multinational corporation” that is “at the center of a geopolitical conflict.”
ON THIS DAY
The Cambodian civil war ended 40 years ago today. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
PRO-RUSSIAN JOURNO KILLED IN KIEV
Pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzina was killed yesterday by two masked gunmen outside his home in Kiev, Ukraine. Sky News reports the circumstances of his killing were similar to those of opposition politician Oleg Kalashnikov’s murder the previous day. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko called the crimes “a conscious provocation” meant to “destabilize” the Ukrainian government. According to Russia’s Sputnik News, Ukrainian nationalist politicians applauded Buzina’s murder, calling him a “degenerate” who had led a “bastard life.” This comes as 300 U.S. paratroopers arrived in Ukraine to train the country’s National Guard. Canada is also preparing to send 200 troops.
It's an untold story that offers hope during troubled times in Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Anna Boros survived the Holocaust thanks to a courageous Egyptian doctor, Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Zweiter Weltkrieg reports. “The Jewish teenager he saved visited Dr. Mohammed Helmy because she wasn't allowed to go to a white doctor, his descendents say. Helmy stayed voluntarily in Berlin during the Nazi reign because ‘he wanted to help to treat the sick and wounded.’ While doing so, the Egyptian Helmy walked a very fine line between adaptation and subversion from 1933 onward. But he succeeded in executing a brilliant plan to save Anna’s life.”
Read the full article: When A Muslim Doctor Saved A Jewish Teenager From The Nazis.
AFRICAN MIGRANTS DROWN CHRISTIANS
Italy’s migrant crisis was made worse yesterday after Sicily police arrested 15 African migrants accused of killing 12 other migrants by throwing them off a boat for being Christian.
TIME Magazine revealed, as it does every year, its list of the 100 most influential people in the world, with five different covers. Kanye West was chosen as head of the “Titans” category. Read more about it on our 4 Corners blog.
Central Japan Railway Co.’s magnetic levitation bullet train has set a new world speed record of 590 kilometers per hour (367 miles per hour), smashing the previous record it set 12 years ago. The train operator said it would attempt to reach 600 kph as early as next year.
VETERAN CHINESE JOURNALIST JAILED
Gao Yu, one of China’s top journalists, has been sentenced to seven years in prison after a court found her guilty of “leaking state secrets abroad,” South China Morning Post reports. The 71-year-old will also be stripped of her political rights for a year after her release. Amnesty International characterized the sentence as “deplorable,” saying it was “nothing more than blatant political persecution.”
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
“No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” South African President Jacob Zuma said as a wave of violent anti-immigrant protests spread to Johannesburg. The unrest has already killed six people and led hundreds of foreigners to flee.
The latest trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie The Force Awakens will please fans of the original trilogy. And is Darth Vader still alive? Watch it here.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
- Arab-Israeli Rapprochement: Is Saudi Arabia Next? - Worldcrunch ›
- Why Iran Is Actively Backing The Taliban For The First Time ... ›
- Iran-Azerbaijan Tensions: How Khamenei Overplayed Islamic Ties ... ›