Middle East

After historic Israel-UAE flight, other Muslim-majority countries considering to follow suit

Earlier this week, an Israeli plane imprinted with the word “peace” on the outside of its cockpit flew from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, symbolically sealing a landmark diplomatic deal between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates. The El Al flight – carrying U.S. and Israeli leaders, including President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner – was the first direct commercial passenger flight ever between the two countries. The Aug. 13 deal is said to already be propelling other countries to follow the Emirates in formally shaking hands with the nation many still don’t even recognize on a map, breaking the decades-long mandate in which many Muslim-majority and Arab countries refused to form ties until there is an enduring peace agreement with the Palestinians. But what country is most likely to come next? Bahrain’s cabinet exalted the deal, and U.S. diplomats orchestrating the Israel-UAE agreement are reported to have discussed economic advancement in the capital, Manama, last year. Moreover, Bahrain’s prime minister is said to have talked to Israel’s spy chief by phone as recently as mid-August, although Bahrain has denied such engagement took place. The tiny constitutional monarchy, which is tightly aligned to the UAE, also perceives Iran as an existential regional threat. Other warming indicators include last year’s hosting of Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and a meeting with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in the capital, and Bahrainis competing in a May 2018 bike race – alongside UAE participants – inside Israel. But to date, no official statement regarding Israel-Bahrain liaisons has been issued. Other experts have also pointed toward Oman, which was quick to laud the agreement and in years past has played as interlocutor between Israel and Arab states. Sudan has also been named as a likely suitor, although its public messaging has been mixed. The East African nation’s interim leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda in February, signaling that early talks to normalize ties were in motion. Soon after the UAE announcement was made, Sudan – which is currently under turmoil and transition in the rocky aftermath of the April 2019 ousting of long-running ruler Omar al-Bashir – declared it too was in the process but reneged on its communique amid a public backlash. “Sudan, which has long been a global pariah due to its sponsorship of Al Qaeda as well as its egregious human rights violations in Darfur and elsewhere, is hoping to get itself off the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism,” explained Raphael Marcus, research fellow at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. “There have been indications since the fall of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan that Sudan’s new government believes its standing in the United States and globally will be improved by ties with Israel.” Over in the continent’s north, Morocco has been listed as another nation prepping for some sort of Israel advancement, having played a significant part in an array of peace efforts over the years. The country has a small Jewish community, which once surpassed 250,000 in the mid-20th century but has dwindled to just 3,000.

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Trump OKs 1,500 more U.S. troops to Middle East amid Iranian tensions

President Trump has ordered the deployment of another 1,500 troops to the Middle East amid rising tensions with Iran. “We want to have protection,” Mr. Trump confirmed Friday to reporters at the White House. “We’ll be sending a relatively small number of troops. It’ll be about 1,500 people.” Mr. Trump has given his approval to acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to deploy the additional troops to the Persian Gulf region to deter Iranian threats, after meeting with his military chiefs Thursday evening. But the number approved was smaller than the up to 10,000 troops previously reported, and — with some of the new troops already in the region — the net increase amounted to just 900. “Today, I informed Congress that I approved [U.S. Central Command’s] request for the deployment of additional resources and capabilities to the Middle East to improve our force protection and safeguard U.S. forces,” in the wake of Iranian threats, Mr. Shanahansaid in a statement Friday. The deployment represents “a prudent defensive measure and intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities,” with Tehran and its regional allies, he added. The new tranche of American forces heading into the Middle East will include a military engineering unit, as well as Air Force fighter squadron, drone units and additional aerial intelligence aircraft, Joint Staff Director Vice Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters at the Pentagon. In addition, Pentagon leaders have extended the deployment of a 600-strong Army Patriot missile defense battalion, which had been sent into the Middle East earlier this month.

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Opinion: Chopping up Christians in the Middle East – ‘If they kill us all, would the West do something then?’

There were two significant developments this month: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Nevada Republican and Anna G. Eshoo, California Democrat, introduced a Congressional resolution denouncing as genocide the crimes committed by jihadists against Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq. Then came the presidential appointment — after a very long, inexcusable delay on the part of the administration, which was finally goaded into action by the papal visit — of Knox Thames as the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State. But will the Christians suffering in the trenches in Iraq and Syria feel the concrete benefits of these actions — neither of which drew much media coverage — on the part of Congress and the president? Will they make a real difference in U.S. policy with regard to the persecuted communities still clinging to their rightful place in the lands, the very places where the Christian faith was born? Mr. Thames, for one, is wedded to the policies of the State Department, which thus far has handled the suffering of Christians poorly. Recall also the White House reference to the 21 Copts slaughtered by ISIS in Libya as “Egyptian citizens” and the consistent refusal to acknowledge ISIS and other jihadi groups are committing their crimes in the name of Islam. That extreme caution — labeling ISIS and its ilk simply terrorist organizations — and avoiding any criticism of Islam is extreme and frankly preposterous, not to mention hurtful and insulting to the victims of the radicals. We can only hope that Mr. Thames will be motivated and able to break the mold. Persecution at the hand of Islamists — or for that matter, at the hand of Hindus, as is happening in India — must be recognized as a category under which Christians can apply and be granted asylum. The United States must also do what it can to provide those Christians committed to staying put in Iraq and Syria with all the humanitarian aid they need — aid programs must be tailored specifically to come to the aid of Christians; they also need political support, as in helping them gain permanent status and full citizenship in Kurdistan; and, as the situation requires, the military support to protect them from ISIS and other Islamic extremists. That is what many of the local bishops in the region want, although they are reluctant to say so out loud. The task at hand is immense. I am afraid though that our government — and the governments of Europe — do not possess the will to act decisively. In part that is due to a lack of public awareness. On that front, I blame the mainstream media, which — though Christian persecution in the Middle East is getting more attention — basically is in sync with the Obama administration in refusing to speak boldly about the suffering of Christians. There is also a reluctance to rally to the defense of Christians, in part, I am convinced, because to be a Christian in this country today means increasingly being seen as backward or prejudiced. I am sorry to say that even the U.S. bishops, with notable exceptions, have not been particularly vocal about the tragedy unfolding in the Middle East. It is my fervent hope that the pope — who has not minced his words in condemning the genocidal crimes of ISIS and others, as well as the inaction of the world at large — will focus on the issue in his address to both Congress and the U.N. His voice can make a difference and finally galvanize the Catholic community of the United States if not the public at large. The pope should state that tens of thousands are being persecuted, deprived of their fundamental human rights, discriminated against and killed simply because they are Christians. He should point out that persecution of Christians by radical Islamists means second-class citizenship; job and education discrimination; abduction and murdering of clerics; destruction of Christian churches, homes and businesses by mobs; being kidnapped and sold into slavery — and it means being jailed or executed for practicing one’s faith. We must honor and protect the Christians of the Middle East — and act now, before it’s too late. I am haunted by what Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said, even before ISIS captured Mosul and the world began paying a little attention: “We feel forgotten and isolated. We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?” That sense of abandonment is one of the greatest crosses these long-forgotten Christians must bear. A papal wake-up call would remind the United States of its indispensable role to offer a rudderless world that stands by as innocents are slaughtered — moral, political and military leadership. • George J. Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need U.S.A., is the author of “Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy” (St. Augustine’s Press, 2015).

Wow.. What can ya say after all of that? Outstanding op/ed by George Marlin here! He definitely said what needed to be said about the genocide being committed against Christians in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East. Even in countries like Saudi Arabia (which is ostensibly our “friend”) it is a crime punishable by death to have in your possession a Bible. It is truly breathtaking how much Christians are persecuted in the Middle East, and our President hasn’t lifted a finger to support those pushing back against that persecution and genocide.. And yet, Obama is solely responsible for the emergence of ISIS/ISIL, which is committing that genocide! Normally if you break it, you buy it. Not Obama. He breaks everything…and smiles. It is inexcusable what is happening. And the United States, under this poor excuse for a President, has failed to show the necessary leadership required to put an end to it. It was WAY past time that we stepped and actually did something substantive to rid the globe of the scourge that is ISIS….and sending some emissary, however well-intentioned, isn’t cutting it. Knox Thames has an impressive resume and all. But, what is needed is less talking, and more action….in the form of ground troops, with close air support (CAS) to wipe out ISIS once and for all. Then, we can send people like Mr. Thames to work with those who are civilized in the Middle East…afterwards.