Germany Joy, Gaza Exodus, Darker Than Black

Team captain Philipp Lahm lifts up the World Cup trophy after winning the FIFA World Cup 2014 final soccer game.
Team captain Philipp Lahm lifts up the World Cup trophy after winning the FIFA World Cup 2014 final soccer game.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Israeli army continues to launch air strikes in Gaza, while more rockets are fired towards Israel, as the open conflict reaches its seventh day. At least 172 Palestinians are reported killed with more than 1,100 wounded. The United Nations said that 17,000 Gazans had fled their homes, seeking refuge in the organization’s headquarters. The spokesman for the UN’s Relief and Works Agency wrote on Twitter that their compound in Gaza was hit in a strike. Israel shot down a drone which it said came from Gaza, in what Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said was "an example of the continued attempts to target us in any way possible."

The Foreign Minister of the Arab League will meet later today in Cairo for talks “aimed at finding a solution to stop the shedding of Palestinian civilians' blood and to formulate a common Arab stance on the issue," the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Meanwhile, Haaretz reported that the three main suspects in the alleged revenge killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir “will probably claim temporary insanity.”

Russian authorities are considering launching “targeted strikes’ on Ukraine in response for the shelling of a Russian village yesterday, which was blamed on the Ukrainian army, AFP reports citing Russian media. The country’s Foreign Ministry warned yesterday that the shelling, which killed one man, the first in Russian territory, could have “irreversible consequences.”

The latest developments suggest the situation might escalate further, as the fights in Eastern Ukraine intensified over the weekend. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko meanwhile accused Russia of attacking Ukraine troops and said he would show documented proof that Moscow has been supplying military equipment to separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

Germany won its fourth World Cup title with a 1-0 victory over Argentina. See our collection of newspaper front pages around the world — naturally very different images in Buenos Aires and Berlin.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif for a second consecutive day of talks on Monday, amid fears that an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program won’t be reached before the July 20 deadline. According to a U.S. official, Kerry is trying to “gauge Iran's willingness to make the critical choices it needs to make.” Read more from The Wall Street Journal.

The leaders of the BRICS countries are to meet in Brazil for the annual meeting, which will start tomorrow, with the creation of a “New Development Bank” as an alternative to the World Bank expected to be high on the agenda. According to The Indian Express, recently elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will push for the new common bank, which should be initially capitalized at $50 billion, to be headquarted in Delhi. The newspaper warns however that Modi will face “a strong challenge” from China, which is hoping to see the bank’s headquarters in Shanghai. Just a quick reminder of the BRICS countries, in order of the acronym: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.

An unprecedented operation to refloat shipwrecked Italian vessel Costa Concordia began this morning, the La Stampa reports. The boat, which capsized off the coast of Italy in January 2012 killing 32 people, will first be raised by 2 meters. This phase is expected to last six or seven days. The vessel will then be towed to the port of Genoa, where it will be scrapped.

Legendary conductor Lorin Maazel has died at age 84.

In the Iraqi capital, the jihadist group ISIS is virtually everywhere, Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe writes: “In the shade of a eucalyptus tree, Abdel Rassoul Mansour is waiting patiently for the women of his family to be done washing the body of his cousin. The 50 year-old taxi driver was shot dead the previous evening as he was coming out of a mosque in Dora, a Sunni district in southern Baghdad. Located in the ‘Triangle of Death,’ where the fights between U.S. troops and al-Qaeda militants were concentrated during the 2000s , the site is locked down by security forces and Shia militias, who think it is infested with sleeping cells of the Islamic State — the jihadist militant group previously known as ISIS. When asked about the murderer of his cousin, Abdel Rassoul gives a wry smile. ‘You know better than me,’ he replies.”
Read the full article, In Baghdad, Shia Militias Strike As Much Fear As ISIS.

Five-time Olympic swimming champion Ian Thorpe came out about his sexuality after years of denying he was gay.

With his raw, dark and diabolical blues, Sweden’s Bror Gunnar Jansson, suspenders over his bow-tied shirt, hair slicked back, seems to be possessed by the same devil that met up with Robert Johnson one night at a Mississippi crossroads. Check him out on our Hit It! feature here.


Scientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it.

— Crunched by Marc Alves.
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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

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.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


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.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

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.

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.

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