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Iranian official sacked for New Year message to Israelis 3, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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A high-level official at the Iranian Football Federation has been forced to resign after accidentally emailing the Israeli Football Association with a Happy New Year message. How mature and enlightened of his superiors.

Pondering the Israelification of our airports 31, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, UK.
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I wrote an article earlier this week for the Daily News Egypt looking at the trajectory of would-be suicide aviation hijackings. I concluded that authorities need to stop ‘fighting the last war’ as one commentator put it, recognize that our luck after two failed attacks has now ran out and that there needs to be some serious changes in the way that we ‘do’ security. I posited that the argument over profiling needs to be had again. When I say profiling – calm down – I do not mean picking out of a line ever ‘dark colored fellow with a beard’ but an intelligence led assessment by security staff of the people in the airport. In the back of my mind as I wrote this was Israel’s airport security. Cue, bang of time, an article on exactly this topic: the Israelification of western airports.

The article begins by claiming that Western airports should be more like Israel’s because they “deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.” Leaving aside the problematic question of whether Israel faces a greater threat of airline terrorism, it nevertheless offers an intriguing hypothesis. What is it that Israelis do at their airports? [Also see this]

The chirpy reporter discusses exactly this question with a cowboy of an Israeli security consultant. It is, it seems, all about the layers of security.

  1. Drivers arriving at the airport are automatically asked two questions: How are you, and, where are you from? The trained staff asking these questions are looking for signs of distress – this is the main criteria for their profiling, not race or gender.
  2. Armed guards at the terminal itself pay close attention to all the passengers, again, looking for distress or otherwise curious behavior.
  3. Some passengers are then taken aside and their things searched on a random basis for heavy metals or indeed anything else bizarre.
  4. Passengers then get familiar questions at the check-in counter. However, the article gives the impression that the staff trained in Israel are doing far more than running through the motions, staring into your eyes – apparently (?) – for one thing.
  5. Luggage is then immediately scanned in a bomb-proof area so that if something is seen it can be contained without the whole terminal or airport shutting down.
  6. Then, as you go through into departures, comes the body and luggage check. It is, apparently, very quick in Israel. Instead of focusing on shoes, liquids and tweasers, the guards are concentrating on you as a person, again, profiling you.

All of this means – allegedly – that you can get from car park to duty-free in 25 minutes.

All these measures are in addition to the myriad of checks and routines that Israeli security and intelligence services perform 24/7.

This does, indeed, sound very good. The best thing to be said about it is that it clearly works well so why aren’t we in Europe and the States following such a model for greater security and for less inconvenience?

Israel is a small country with a comparatively tiny amount of international airports and thus an absolute fraction of the staff to train in these profiling arts. It would take a mammoth and hugely expensive effort for, for example, international airports in the US to convert to the Israeli method and the same goes for Europe. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we can not still learn and adapt techniques from Israel. Whilst I am no expert on airport security in the West here are a few things that I suggest:

  • More random, obtrusive bag checks.
  • Whilst there are – I assume – plenty of police at airports ‘profiling’ passengers, the more the merrier.
  • US intelligence dropped the ball to a horrific degree by not getting messages from one end of their security apparatus to the other in the Christmas Day attempted attack. Perhaps if, like in Israel, airport security was under the auspices of, for example, a new branch of the CIA, this would help. (Though I’m sure that this may well open a whole other can of worms that I can’t think of just now…)
  • Have another ring of security and another set of eyes on every car entering the airport. The more trained eyes the better.
  • Don’t invade any more Muslim countries…seriously, that would help.

Many of my suggestions would, I imagine, cost a huge amount of money and involve significant difficulties, of this, I am under no illusion. Please comment below if you’ve got any better ideas.

Hat tip: the not so hidden Imam

Qatar not to sell gas to Israel 1, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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The Qatar Emir’s economic adviser, Dr. Ibrahim Al Ibrahim, assured a recent television audience that Qatar has no plans to sell gas to the Israeli entity. Perish the thought that mutual trade and cooperation might ever be conducive to promoting understanding or finding a common ground.

The Hummus Wars 26, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon.
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As if the Middle East was not replete with Iranian nuclear tensions, an at times simmering Sunni-Shia cleft, potentially catastrophic fallout from the bungled Iraq invasion and occupation, seismic demographic pressures, entrenched and visceral conflicts between moderates and hard-line Islamists not to mention the open sore at the heart of the region’s issues, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, now, to this panoply of ancient, modern but always passionate clashes can be added the Hummus Wars.

Israel and Lebanon both claim to be the founding, symbolic and real home of Hummus and Tabouleh. In recent months, there has been a steady escalation of articles and angry cooks from each claiming that  Hummus is, clearly and obviously, an Israeli/Lebanese dish.

Only yesterday (25/10/09) the BBC ran a video clip of Lebanese chefs making that largest ever pot of Hummus. One of the proud organizers, against the backdrop of a “Hommos and Tabouleh are 100% Lebanese” sign affirmed that these tasty products are manifestly Lebanese. What makes this clip extra sweet (or tasty, one might be tempted to say) is that this largest pot of Hummus ever wrested the title away from the Israelis.

Well, clearly enraged by that, today I learned that Israel are not going to take such a slight lying down. Thankfully, rather than resorting to military means as is their usual wont(…), the Qnion announced that this time Israel has instead decided to launch a Hummus themed resort, proving once and for all that Hummus is in fact Israeli.

Your as ever intrepid war correspondent will keep you apprised of the latest fronts and battles. Watch this space…

Israeli flag flies in the Emirates 17, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, The Emirates.
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Even though Israel does not have any formal relations with the UAE, the Israeli flag flew at a recent meeting in Abu Dhabi of the International Renewable Energy Agency. Perhaps the UAE, like Qatar, feel that there is little to be gained from prolongued isolation of Israel and they seek to test the waters with such a minor event.

Bahrain-Israeli relations 1, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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MEMRI reports that the Bahraini foreign minister is calling for direct negotiations with Israel. It remains to be seen, however, exactly how their domestic, largely Shia, largely Iran supporting and largely angry audience will take this announcement. In Qatar, where their Foreign Minister frequently openly seeks better relations with Israel, their population is far less divided, far less angry and far more monetarily rewarded than in Bahrain, giving him a certain amount of leeway to say such things.

Al Jazeera to show Israeli sport 16, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Qatar.
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al jazeera logo

…reports the Palestinian News Network. No stranger to controversy, Al Jazeera covered Israel’s Maccabi Haifa’s 3-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night on its sports television channel. Some see this as a good sign of regional if not quite rapprochement, then at least vague normalization, whereas others fervently believe that Israel should be boycotted in all forms possible.

When it was first broadcast in the mid 1990s, Al Jazeera shocked the Arab world by interviewing Israeli politicians and military personnel whenever merited by a story. Whilst this may sound odd – that people were shocked by this – such interviews had never previously been conducted by Middle Eastern media.

Arab world relations with Israel 24, August 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, The Gulf.
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Middle East Progress has an interesting and succinct summary of the Arab world’s relations with Israel in terms of normalizations or not, as the case may be.

Background: Most of the 22 member nations of the Arab League do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt was the first Arab state to recognize and establish diplomatic ties with Israel in 1979. In bilateral talks begun at the Madrid Conference, Jordan became the second Arab state to ink an agreement and establish full diplomatic relations in November 1994. In July 2007, the Arab League sent the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers to Israel to present the Arab Peace Initiative on their behalf for the first time.

Arab League Boycott: Though Arab League boycott efforts began before Israel’s founding, the boycott was formalized after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. In 1951, the Arab League created the Central Boycott Office (CBO), which was responsible for overseeing the boycott. The boycott consists of three components: the primary boycott prohibiting the importation of Israeli goods and services; the secondary boycott banning any individual or company from doing business with companies that operate in Israel; and the tertiary boycott prohibiting any individual or company from doing business with firms on the Arab League blacklist.

The Egyptians, Palestinians and Jordanians withdrew from the boycott after signing agreements with Israel in 1979, 1993 and 1995, respectively. Some countries, like Algeria, do not enforce the boycott. In 1996, the CBO ceased its operations, which it resumed in 2001; however, the CBO’s resolutions are considered largely symbolic.

Individual countries
Bahrain: In 1994, Bahrain dropped the secondary and tertiary components of the Arab League boycott, along with the rest of the GCC. In 2006, Bahrain closed its national Israel Boycott Office as a condition to signing a free-trade agreement with the United States. However, along with Oman and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain sporadically asks U.S. companies for cooperation in enforcing the boycott.

Mauritania: Mauritania never accepted the boycott. Israel and Mauritania signed a mutual-recognition pact in 1995, and set up special interests sections the following year. Mauritania and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1999, exchanging ambassadors—the third Arab country to do so after Egypt and Jordan. During the fighting in Gaza in January 2009, Mauritania recalled its ambassador and suspended relations with Israel. In March 2009, Israel closed its embassy in Nouakchott after Mauritania expelled the Israeli ambassador and staff.

Morocco: Israel opened a low-level bilateral liaison office in Rabat in 1994 and Morocco opened a similar office in Israel in 1995. Morocco closed Israel’s Rabat office in October 2000 with the start of the second intifada. While official relations were suspended, diplomatic contacts remain in place for commercial relations and tourism. Morocco does not enforce the boycott.

Oman: In 1996, Oman became the first Gulf state to open a trade mission in Israel, but recalled its trade representative after five months, citing a lack of progress in peace talks. In October 2000, Oman suspended relations with Israel, including permanently closing its office in Israel and the Israeli office in Muscat. Oman pledged to abandon the primary element of the boycott as a condition to signing a free-trade agreement with the United States in 2006, but the United States continues to receive requests for cooperation with the boycott.

In 1996, Oman established the Middle East Desalination Research Centre (MEDRC)—governed by an Executive Council that includes representatives from Oman, the U.S., Israel, Japan, South Korea, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, the Netherlands and Qatar—to meet the water needs of all the parties involved within the context of the Working Group on Water Resources, one of the multilateral tracks that came out of the Madrid conference.

Qatar: Israel and Qatar pledged to open trade offices in their respective countries in 1996.1 Israel opened a trade office in Doha, but Qatar did not reciprocate2, cancelling its planned trade office in July of the same year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected3 the concept of land for peace. Also during the Oslo years, Israel sought out a deal to import liquefied natural gas from Qatar. In 1996, Israel concluded negotiations for a regasification plant in Jordan that would bring liquefied natural gas to Jordan and Israel from Qatar by 2001; however, a drop in gas prices combined with diplomatic pressure ended the deal. Qatar claimed to have shuttered Israel’s trade office in 2000, but it quietly continued operations until January 2009 when Qatar suspended relations and asked for the Israeli trade mission to be closed after Operation Cast Lead.

Saudi Arabia: In 1994, Saudi Arabia and the other members of the GCC announced that they would abandon the secondary and tertiary components of the boycott. In 2005, Saudi Arabia was required to abandon the boycott entirely in order to gain entry into the World Trade Organization, however, the country still enforces the primary boycott, and an official delegation attended a meeting at the Central Boycott Office in May 2006.

Tunisia: In October 1994, Israel and Tunisia agreed to exchange low-level economic liaison officers that would work out of the Belgian embassies in the respective countries. The decision followed the GCC resolution that year to end the secondary and tertiary boycott of Israel. In 1996, Tunisia opened an interests office in Tel Aviv. Tunisia closed the office and froze relations with Israel in October 2000. Tunisia does not enforce the boycott.

1“Israeli trade officials in Qatar quietly mark first anniversary,” Sean Evers, Bloomberg, The Jerusalem Post, May 29, 1997
2“Israeli trade officials in Qatar quietly mark first anniversary,” Sean Evers, Bloomberg, The Jerusalem Post, May 29, 1997
3 “Gulf Arabs consider cutting ties with Israel,” Sean Evers, Bloomberg, The Jerusalem Post, July 15, 1996

Israel and the Gulf 27, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Gulf.
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I’ve spotted an excellent article at the National in Abu Dhabi on the Gulf’s relations with Israel. It’s well worth a read.

Stealth F-35s in return for settlement movement? 11, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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F-35 JointStrike Fighter

Thanks again the the MEI Editor’s blog for pointing out that Israel has officially just asked the Pentagon for permission to buy a new generation of Stealth F-35 fighter aircraft from America. Dunn asks whether this will be used by Obama as some kind of carrot in return for real movement on, for example, settlements. Quite frankly, I just don’t see how Obama could not use this as leverage. This seems like a golden opportunity for Obama to exert some real pressure. These planes aren’t key to Israel’s security. The hundreds of advanced fighters that Israel has now are more than adequate, as has been proven time and again, to vastly out-match whatever Israel’s enemies could possible throw at them. I suppose that Israel might prefer these Stealth aircraft were they to want a safer way to, for example, go after Iran’s nuclear weapons, but I’m sure that they’ve got aircraft already that are more then capable of this. Also, symbolically, I think that holding back on giving Israel access to some of America’s most advanced technologies could be a useful in currying favour in the other camp.