Week of October 30th

  • On Monday, Israel blew up a tunnel leading into the country from Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of 7 Palestinians including members of Hamas and an Islamic Jihad commander. An Israeli military spokesman called the tunnel a “grave and unacceptable violation of Israeli sovereignty”. The incident occurred as the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah attempt to fulfill a reconciliation deal signed earlier this month aimed at ending a decade-long rift.
  • On Tuesday, a renowned Jordanian cartoonist, Emad Hajjaj, was questioned by the general prosecutor of Amman after his work offended Christians and Muslims alike. The cartoon depicted Jesus Christ criticizing the Greek Orthodox Church for selling land in Jerusalem to Israeli developers. Hajjaj could face charges of insulting religion and inciting sectarian strife and if convicted could be sent to prison for up to three years.
  • Wednesday was the 100 year anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration in which a British foreign secretary committed his country’s support for an Israeli homeland in the area of Palestine which was at that time, 90% Arab. In his letter to a prominent British Zionist, Balfour noted that it must be “understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” The letter became the legal basis for the existence of the state of Israel, although it was not established until 1948. British Prime Minister Theresa May hosted her Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, at a dinner celebration to mark the occasion.
  • That same day, the Birthright Israel program that provides expense-paid trips to Israel for young Jews across the world, announced that it would no longer include conversations with Arab Israelis in its itinerary. The program added the meetings to its itineraries two years ago to provide the young adults participating with a wider view of Israeli society. Birthright explained that the “results of [an] initial evaluation have shown that there is a need for further analysis of this module in the context of the educational trip as a whole.” Critics claimed the meetings were needed to expose participants to multiple segments of Israeli society.
  • On Friday, the Syrian government declared victory over Islamic State in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, a big blow to the jihadists as their last stronghold in Syria crumbles. The city is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria, and is the center of the country’s oil production. The army, backed by Russian bombers, Iran and Shiite militias, is advancing toward the last significant town held by Islamic State in Syria – Albu Kamal – which is located on the western bank of the Euphrates.
  • On Saturday, arguably the week’s most newsworthy day, Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon said that he had quit his post, blaming Iran for interference in Arab affairs and throwing his country into further uncertainty. The move was widely seen as having been orchestrated the Saudis, Mr. Hariri’s patrons, to isolate Hezbollah by collapsing Lebanon’s national unity government, which included both it and Mr. Hariri’s Sunni faction. Saudi Arabia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to curb Iran’s growing dominance in the region. Following the announcement, Bahrain ordered its citizens to depart from Lebanon and cautioned against citizens traveling to the Mediterranean country. Hariri claimed his decision was based on fears of assassination by Iranian influences.
  • Meanwhile, in Iran, thousands of demonstrators marched with a missile in Tehran to mark the 38th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover by Iranian student revolutionaries   The 1979 event triggered a 444-day hostage crisis and sparked the decades-old rift in U.S.-Iranian relations.  The former embassy compound is known locally as the “den of espionage,” and protests take place in front of it annually. The Qadr, one of Iran’s most powerful missiles, was displayed along with anti-U.S. and anti-Israel signs and chanting.
  • Yemeni rebels targeted the King Khalid international airport in Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, with a ballistic missile, according to Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Defense Ministry. The missile was intercepted over northeast Riyadh according to the the Saudi Ministry of Defense and the airport was not affected. Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition of states against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who toppled Yemen’s internationally recognized government in 2015.
  • But, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman once again stole the show on Saturday. The ruler-in-training caught the world by surprise after a midnight blitz of arrests ensnared dozens of the country’s most influential figures, including 11 of his royal cousins, in what by Sunday appeared to be the most sweeping transformation in the kingdom’s governance for more than eight decades. The arrests, without formal charges or any legal process, were presented as a crackdown on corruption. Those arrested included both the kingdom’s richest investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the most potent remaining rival to the crown prince’s power: Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favored son of the late King Abdullah. Whether the shakeup is part of bin Salman’s ambitious reform plans or is more indicative of his plan to consolidate power in his favor, or a combination of the two, is yet to be determined.
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