Frankly Speaking: Will Israel ever end its occupation of Palestine?

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Updated 26 February 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Will Israel ever end its occupation of Palestine?

  • Israeli journalist Gideon Levy accuses Israel of dehumanizing and demonizing Palestinians
  • Believes any Israeli leader would choose occupation over normalization with Saudi Arabia
  • Calls on his country to choose between being a democratic state or an apartheid one

DUBAI: With the war in Gaza heading toward its sixth month, some are wondering if there is any end in sight to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. What is certain, however, is that Israel carries out a policy of dehumanization of Palestinians to justify its occupation, according to one of Israel’s most famous journalists.

“Israel systematically, from its first day, dehumanized and demonized the Palestinians in order to maintain their occupation, to maintain even the creation of the state of Israel,” Gideon Levy said.

He said Israel “is very efficient in manipulating propaganda and brainwashing all over the world,” and is “the only occupier in history which presents itself as a victim.”

Levy, who has spent over four decades as a journalist writing for the Israeli daily Haaretz covering mainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, made these remarks on the Arab News current affairs show “Frankly Speaking.”




Gideon Levy has spent over four decades as a journalist and columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz. He spoke to Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs show. (AN photo)

Levy has been harshly critical of Israel’s actions, particularly those carried out in the wake of the Hamas attack in southern Israel in October 2023 which resulted in 1,200 deaths and the kidnapping of 240 people. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, nearly 30,000 people, many of which are women and children, have been killed so far in Israel’s retaliatory offensive.

Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, have been putting pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire or scale back its offensive. The Kingdom has made the establishment of a Palestinian state a prerequisite for any normalization deals, with Israeli officials keen on the idea of improved relations with Arab states.

Levy, however, doubts that any Israeli prime minister, including current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would go that far.

“I don’t see them … putting an end to the occupation,” he told Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking.”

Israeli politicians might be hoping for a repeat of the 2020-2021 Abraham Accords, which saw Israel normalize relations with the UAE and Bahrain.




Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (2-R) grins from ear to ear after signing the so-called Abraham Accords with Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani (L) and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (R), brokered by the US government under President Donald Trump (2-R), at the White House in Washington, DC, on Sept. 15, 2020. (AFP/File)

Israel quickly also normalized ties with Morocco and Sudan.

“Maybe they also hope that, like in the Abraham Accords, in which they got quite a good deal without changing the policy toward the Palestinians, only by all kind of lip services for this,” he said.

“I think that all the candidates for being prime minister in Israel, not only Netanyahu but also the opposition, would still prefer to maintain an occupation rather than to have normal relations with an important country like Saudi Arabia.”

Even beyond the Arab world, Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza has triggered international backlash, including South Africa’s landmark court case against Israel in the International Court of Justice. However, Levy sees most of this as empty words.




This photo taken on January 26, 2024, shows the International Court of Justice panel assembled in The Hague during the reading of the genocide case filed by South Africa against Israel over its attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip. (X: @CIJ_ICJ)

“Sympathy toward the Palestinians is very deep rooted among the grass roots, but I don't see many leaders really care about the Palestinians. Unfortunately, they fall between the chairs for many years now, when many statesmen give their lip service about solidarity with them, but finally almost nobody is doing for them anything and they are left quite alone, especially in (the) last years,” Levy said.

“Yes, there is a lot of talking going on; condemnations, resolutions, rulings, rules, hearings, many, many things. There is only one thing lacking, and this is action. That is, taking measures.

“The world never took real measures and the US, in particular, never took any measures to promote its interest, to promote its ideas. The US claims that it wants to see this war ended. And (at the same time) it is supplying Israel with more ammunition and more arms.”

Israel has learned “that you can very easily ignore the talk and stick to its policy, because Israel doesn’t pay any price for its policy,” Levy said.




A shipment of 155mm artillery shells supplied by the US for use by the Israeli army is transported on a truck along a highway between the Jerusalem and Beersheba in southern Israel on October 14, 2023. (AFP)

With Palestinians themselves and leaders across the world calling for peace, Levy is not certain that peace should be the top priority when it comes to talks on Palestine, but rather justice for the Palestinian people.

“I am calling for justice, not for peace … maybe peace will be the bonus that we’ll get out of it. But I am not sure that two people are ready for peace, but there is one people who deserve justice. And this must be pushed by the world.”

From 1978 to 1982, Levy worked as an aide and spokesman for Shimon Peres, the then leader of the Israeli Labor Party. In 1982 he began to write for Haaretz, and later worked there as a deputy editor.

He has long written of his support for a one-state solution in which Jews, Arabs, and all citizens have equal rights — a controversial opinion among both Israelis and Palestinians.

“There are 700,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Nobody is going to evacuate them. And there is no viable Palestinian state with 700,000 Jewish settlers, part of them very violent, all of them very ideological. I don’t see (a two-state solution) happening.”




Objects are scattered more than a week after Jewish settlers attacked the occupied West Bank village of Wadi al Seeq on October 24, 2023. (AFP/File)

He added: “If not the two-state solution, what is left? Only the one state … the only problem is that it’s not a democracy.

“I have to tell my fellow Israelis, you can’t have it all. If you wanted a Jewish state, you had to pull out from the occupied territories a long time ago.

“If you want a democratic state, you should give up the Jewish state because you cannot have it both, because there are two peoples here. Either you are an apartheid state or you are a democracy.”

As the Israeli bombardment continues across the entirety of Gaza, many Palestinians have begun to lose hope in their own officials. Even one month prior to the start of the most recent Israel-Hamas war, 78 percent of Palestinians wanted the resignation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.




US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Feb. 7, 2024, during a Middle East tour, his fifth urgent trip to the region since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted in October. (POOL / AFP)

Observers now speculate whether there could be a replacement for Abbas, one that could carry out reforms and to revitalize the PA.

For Levy, jailed Palestinian dissident Marwan Barghouti could be a contender.

“He was the only one who would really unite the Palestinian people, Hamas and Fatah, together. I believed also that he is a man of peace. And he proved it in many ways,” he said.

Barghouti was arrested by Israel in Ramallah in 2002, and two years later was sentenced to five cumulative life sentences on five counts of murder.

“I hope he’s still capable of leading the Palestinians. I don’t have a better idea. I’m not sure Hamas will accept him today. Twenty years ago, yes, (but) I’m not sure today,” Levy said.

“I’m a great believer of him. And because I believe in him, and because so many people believe in him, Israel will never release him. And that’s so tragic.”




The portrait of jailed Palestinian dissident Marwan Barghouti (R) is seen along with that of the  late South African president Nelson Mandela at an office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Barghouti, in Israeli custody for nearly two decades after being convicted over multiple killings during the second intifada, is being compared to Mandela, who successfully led the resistance to apartheid in South Africa. (AFP/File)

Particularly since October, the popular rhetoric in Israel has increasingly turned against Palestinians, something that Levy blames on a combination of racism and dehumanization.

“If you conduct such a brutal occupation over so many years, if you teach your soldiers and your young people, generation after generation, that there is nothing cheaper, and there is nothing cheaper than the life of a Palestinian, I can tell you, if the Israeli army would have killed so many dogs as it did (people) in Gaza, it would be a huge, huge scandal in Israel.”

In addition to this, Israeli news media, which Levy explains “doesn’t cover the suffering of Gaza,” has played a role in inflaming racist attitudes in the country.

“They know Israelis don’t want to see it, don’t want to hear about it. It’s an outcome of decades of brainwashing, decades of humanization; as I said before, decades of demonization of the Palestinians.

“Israelis don’t meet Palestinians anymore at all, because of the barrier of the (West Bank) separation wall. There’s almost no contact anymore between the two peoples,” Levy said, explaining that the Oct. 7 attack has led Israelis to lump all Palestinians in the same category as Hamas and the perpetrators of the attack.




Participants run past a section of Israel's controversial separation barrier during the "Freedom of Movement Palestine Marathon" in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on March 10, 2023. (AFP/File)

“We are in a very, very low moment in history. And obviously the racism is now politically correct in Israel. It's enough to have one attack, like this terrible attack on the 7th of October, to make all the incorrect political ideas as politically correct.

“Because after what they have done to us, most of Israelis think, we have now the right to do and say whatever we want, because of those horrible things they did.

In the minds of Israelis now, Levy said, “all Palestinians must take responsibility for the October 7 crimes, all of them took part in it.”

 


Israel to summon ambassadors of countries that voted for Palestinian UN membership

Updated 21 April 2024
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Israel to summon ambassadors of countries that voted for Palestinian UN membership

  • Thursday’s vote saw 12 countries on the UN Security Council back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership and two — Britain and Switzerland — abstain
  • Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

JERUSALEM: Israel will summon ambassadors of countries that voted for full Palestinian UN membership “for a protest talk” on Sunday, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
It came after the Palestinian Authority said it would “reconsider” its relationship with the United States after Washington vetoed the Palestinian membership bid earlier this week.
Thursday’s vote saw 12 countries on the UN Security Council back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership and two — Britain and Switzerland — abstain.

A Palestinian doctor tends to a baby born prematurely after his mother was injured during Israeli bombardment, at the Kuwait Hospital in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Only the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, voted against, using its veto to block the resolution.
On Saturday, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Oren Marmorstein said the ministry “will summon for a protest talk the ambassadors of the countries that voted in the Security Council in favor of upgrading the status of the Palestinians in the UN.”
“The ambassadors of France, Japan, South Korea, Malta, the Slovak Republic and Ecuador will be summoned tomorrow for a demarche, and a strong protest will be presented to them,” he said in a post on X.

Blood stains are seen on a wall inside a house following an Israeli raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp in the occupied West bank on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

“An identical protest will be presented to additional countries,” he said.
“The unambiguous message that will be delivered to the ambassadors: A political gesture to the Palestinians and a call to recognize a Palestinian state — six months after the October 7 massacre — is a prize for terrorism.”
The draft resolution called for recommending to the General Assembly “that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations” in place of its current “non-member observer state” status, which it has held since 2012.
The majority of the UN’s 193 member states — 137, according to a Palestinian count — have recognized a Palestinian state.
 

 


Sudan’s horrific war is being fueled by weapons from foreign supporters of rival generals, UN says

Updated 21 April 2024
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Sudan’s horrific war is being fueled by weapons from foreign supporters of rival generals, UN says

  • The RSF was formed from Janjaweed fighters by former Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades before being overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019
  • Mohamed Ibn Chambas, chair of the African Union panel on Sudan and high representative for its Silence the Guns in Africa initiative, called external interference “a major factor compounding both the efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and to stop the war”

UNITED NATIONS: The year-old war in Sudan between rival generals vying for power has sparked “a crisis of epic proportions” fueled by weapons from foreign supporters who continue to flout UN sanctions aimed at helping end the conflict, the UN political chief said Friday.
“This is illegal, it is immoral, and it must stop,” Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told the UN Security Council.
Sudan plunged into chaos in mid-April 2023, when long-simmering tensions between its military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum. Fighting has spread to other parts of the country, especially urban areas and the western Darfur region.
DiCarlo painted a dire picture of the war’s impact — over 14,000 dead, tens of thousands wounded, looming famine with 25 million people in need of life-saving assistance, and over 8.6 million forced to flee their homes.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, chair of the African Union panel on Sudan and high representative for its Silence the Guns in Africa initiative, called external interference “a major factor compounding both the efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and to stop the war.”
“As a matter of fact, external support in terms of supply of war materiel and other needs has been the main reason why this war has lasted so long,” Chambas said. “It is the elephant in the room.”
Neither DiCarlo nor Chambas named any of the foreign supporters.
But Burhan, who led a military takeover of Sudan in 2021, is a close ally of neighboring Egypt and its president, former army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. In February, Sudan’s foreign minister held talks in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart amid unconfirmed reports of drone purchases for government forces.
The Rapid Support Forces’ leader, Dagalo, has reportedly received support from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group. UN experts said in a recent report that the RSF has also received support from Arab allied communities and new military supply lines running through Chad, Libya and South Sudan.
The Arab-dominated RSF has carried out brutal attacks in Darfur on ethnic African civilians, especially the ethnic Masalit, and has taken control of most of the vast region.
Its newest target appears to be El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur. Edem Wosornu, the UN humanitarian office’s director of operations, said RSF-affiliated militias attacked and burned villages west of El Fasher on April 13.
“Since then, there have been continuing reports of clashes in the eastern and northern parts of the city, resulting in more than 36,000 people displaced,” she told the council.
Wosornu warned that “the violence poses an extreme and immediate danger to the 800,000 civilians who reside in El Fasher, and it risks triggering further violence in other parts of Darfur — where more than 9 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.”
Two decades ago, Darfur became synonymous with genocide and war crimes, particularly by the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias, against populations that identify as Central or East African.
That legacy appears to have returned, with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, saying in late January there are grounds to believe both sides may be committing war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.
The RSF was formed from Janjaweed fighters by former Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades before being overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and other crimes during the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.
DiCarlo called for redoubled efforts to bring peace, saying UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ personal envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, has proposed convening a meeting with African and Arab organizations and key countries “to develop a comprehensive mediation and peacemaking strategy.”
Chambas said the AU is appealing to countries in the region not to support either side.
It is also organizing “an all inclusive political dialogue for Sudanese that will prepare the civilians for post-war transition to democratic governance,” he said.
“The war has set the country back several decades and it will take more than a generation to rebuild Sudan to its pre-war state,” Chambas said.

 


‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’

Updated 21 April 2024
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‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’

  • Fidan said the main cause of instability in the Middle East was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Western backing for Israel

ISTANBUL: The tension between Israel and Iran should not distract from the situation in Gaza, and the priority of the international community should be ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said.
Fidan was speaking in Istanbul on Saturday during Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s visit.
Shoukry urged Iran and Israel to exercise restraint.
Shoukry’s visit to Turkiye comes amid high tensions in the Middle East following the apparent Israeli attack on Iran. Israel has said nothing about the incident.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Fidan, Shoukry said the region was concerned about the ongoing escalation.
“We’ve warned of the expansion of the conflict from the very beginning,” he said.
“We’ve called on both parties (Iran and Israel) to exercise restraint.”
Fidan said the main cause of instability in the Middle East was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Western backing for Israel.
“Any development that could distract us from this fact should be ignored,” he said. “Our priority should be ending Israel’s occupation in Palestine and a two-state solution.”
He said he and Shoukry discussed efforts to deliver more humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Separately, Shoukry said Egypt would host a Turkish delegation to prepare for a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Turkiye at a future date.
The ministers met as Gaza’s civil defense agency said an Israeli strike killed nine members of a Palestinian family, including six children, in the southern city of Rafah.
Five children aged one to seven and a 16-year-old girl were among the dead, along with two women and a man, according to the city’s Al-Najjar Hospital.
“Nine martyrs, including six children, were pulled out from the rubble after Israeli air forces struck a house of the Radwan family in Tal Al-Sultan in Rafah,” Gaza Civil Defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said in a statement.

 


Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s public image and confidence?

Updated 21 April 2024
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Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s public image and confidence?

  • Analyst says impossible to speculate if the chain of command has been disrupted by post-Oct. 7 killings ascribed to Israel
  • Another analyst believes Quds Force has suffered setbacks as a result of blows suffered by proxies Hamas and Hezbollah

LONDON: Iran brought its decades-long shadow war with Israel into the open on April 13 when it mounted a combined drone and missile attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy annex in Damascus, which killed two senior commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Conceived as the principal defenders of the 1979 revolution, the IRGC has evolved into an institution with vast political, economic, and military powers and its own elite clandestine responsible primarily for its foreign operations, the Quds Force.

However, the delayed response and limited scope of the Iranian retaliatory attack has raised questions about the capabilities and competence of the Quds Force following the elimination of a number of its commanders and senior officers in Syria and Lebanon since Oct. 7.

Mourners attend the funeral in Tehran on January 22, 2023, of three Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps members killed in Damascus in a strike blamed on Israel on January 20. (AFP)

Although the April 13 attack was unprecedented, marking the first direct strike by Iran on Israeli territory, some experts think the culling of key officers, coordinators and financiers stationed in Arab countries in suspected Israel strikes has dealt the Quds Force a strategic setback.

The Quds Force helps Iran project influence through a string of regional militias known as the “Axis of Resistance,” made up of the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, the Syrian regime, and various armed groups in Iraq, including several Hashd Al-Shaabi-affiliated groups embedded in Iraq’s formal security apparatus.

Eva J. Koulouriotis, a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, believes the Quds Force’s geopolitical setbacks since Oct. 7 “are significant on a number of fronts.”

She added: “From an intelligence standpoint, and through monitoring the Israeli strikes, whether in Syria or Lebanon, it is clear that we are in front of a major breakthrough that reaches the highest levels inside the Quds Force itself and the militias it runs in both countries.

FASTFACTS

Quds Force personnel killed in Syria since Oct. 7 • Dec. 2, 2023: 2 killed in airstrike in Damascus.Quds Force personnel killed in Syria since Oct. 7

Dec. 2, 2023: 2 killed in airstrike in Damascus.Quds

Dec. 25: 1 killed in airstrike in Damascus.

Jan. 20, 2024:  5 killed in airstrike in Damascus.

Feb. 2: 1 killed in airstrike south of Damascus.

March 1: 1 killed in airstrike in Baniyas.

• March 26: 1 killed in strike in Deir ez-Zor.

April 1: 7 killed in strike on Iranian embassy annex in Damascus.

“This prompted Iran to confirm on the morning of April 14 that its major attack on Israel was to build new ground rules of deterrence to protect its officers and Quds Force advisers in the region.”

Iran’s direct attack on Israel sought to “create a new equation,” IRGC chief Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami claimed in a statement on April 14.

Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (AFP/File)

“From now on, if Israel attacks Iranian interests, figures and citizens anywhere, we will retaliate from Iran,” he said in an interview with a state-owned television channel.

But as of Friday night, Israel did not seem deterred. Injuries and “material losses” were reported after a large explosion at a military base in Iraq used by the Hashd and home to its chief of staff.

The blast, at the Kalsu facility in Babylon, killed one Hashd fighter and wounded six more, according to nearby hospital sources. Factions within the Hashd took part in rocket and drone attacks on US forces in Iraq in the early months of Israel’s Gaza offensive.

The previous night, Iran’s Fars News Agency said the IRGC’s air defenses intercepted “suspicious objects” flying over Isfahan. Tehran played down the suspected Israeli attack on an air base, which it said involved small drones. Hossein Dalirian, a spokesman for Iran’s National Centre of Cyberspace, said there had been “no air attack from outside borders.”

The area is home to significant Iranian military infrastructure, including a large airbase, a major missile production complex and several nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed there has been no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites.

Map showing the location of Isfahan in Iran, the target of a supposed Israeli drone strike last week. (APF/File)

Explosions were also reported in Iraq and Syria — where armed groups backed by Iran operate — but it was unclear if they were directly linked to the Isfahan strike.

In the months since the Hamas-led attack on Israel of Oct. 7 and the ensuing Israeli military assault in Gaza, Iran has reported the loss of at least 18 IRGC personnel in suspected Israeli raids across the region.

The deadliest of these took place on April 1 in Damascus, resulting in the death of the highest-ranking Quds Force commander in Lebanon and Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and his deputy.

All 18 Quds Force commanders were reportedly killed in Syria, according to the Financial Times, with 16 in Damascus, one in the coastal city of Baniyas, and one in Deir ez-Zor in Syria’s northeast.

A few days before the end of 2023, an Israeli air raid outside Damascus killed Razi Mousavi, a senior Quds Force adviser who was responsible for coordinating the military alliance between Syria and Iran, Reuters news agency reported.

In this photo taken on December 28, 2023, mourners attend the funeral of Razi Mousavi, a senior commander of Iran's Quds Force, who was killed on December 25 in an Israeli strike in Syria. (AFP/File)

Almost a month later, a suspected Israeli strike on a residential building in the Mezzeh Western Villas neighborhood of Damascus killed five Quds Force commanders, including the head of the force’s intelligence unit, Yousef Omidzadeh, and his deputy.

Iran’s retaliation of April 13 was a “symbolic” operation and “not meant to (cause) damage” but rather to “send a message to Israel,” Alam Saleh, an associate professor in Middle Eastern Studies at the Australian National University, told Arab News.

The 300 drones and missiles used in the attack were “insignificant,” said Saleh, explaining that “Iran could do the same with at least 3,000 missiles and drones, and it can do it for a month at least every day.”

The remains of a ballistic missile lies on the shore of the Dead Sea after it was shot down from the sky on April 14, 2024. It was one of the missiles launched by Iran during a missiles and drones attack against Israel. (Reuters)

Due to the nature of the Quds Force, Saleh believes it is impossible to tell whether it has been weakened as a result of its losses since Oct. 7. “We still have very little information about the Quds Force,” he said.

“The Quds Force is not a classic army or military organization. It’s an extraterritorial branch of the IRGC, which is in charge of its operations abroad, in the region particularly, and is in charge of Iran’s regional policies in general, especially when it comes to security studies.

“The Quds Force is accountable to the supreme leader in Iran (Ali Khamenei), so it’s not even part of the government, it is not accountable, it is not transparent.

“What we know is that the Quds Force is an organization that takes (leadership) actions — it is not an executing force — it doesn’t do things, it just leads. And that’s why it has been able to mobilize the non-Iranian armed groups across the region.”

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on December 28, 2023 leads a prayer next to the coffin of of Razi Moussavi, a senior commander in Iran's  Quds Force who was killed on December 25 in an Israeli strike in Syria. (KHAMENEI.IR via AFP)

Although the Quds Force is responsible for training and supporting its regional allies, including Hamas, Saleh said that this “doesn’t mean they are not physically present in the region.”

“They’ve been in Syria, they’ve been in Lebanon for decades, in Iraq, of course, even in Afghanistan, and in Yemen.”

Saleh stressed that even the size of the Quds Force remains unknown, with reports estimating the ranks of the IRGC’s overseas arm at anywhere “between 5,000 and 40,000.”

“What we know is that they are too powerful,” he said.

“Iran could have retaliated 10 or 20 years ago … (but IRGC leaders) have been waiting for this moment first to strengthen their military powers and, second, to enhance their influence and strengthen their allies in the region.”

Considerably less optimistic about the future of the “allies” is political analyst Koulouriotis. Examining the state of two key Axis of Resistance members, she told Arab News: “It is certain that Hamas, as an influential militia (in) the Israeli arena, has become extremely weak.

“Hamas was considered one of the most important pressure cards in the hands of the Quds Force.”

As for the Lebanese arena, she said: “Hezbollah is facing great pressure in the southern front in light of Israeli demands to implement Resolution 1701, which requires Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters beyond the Litani River, and Israeli officials continue to confirm their push to implement this resolution diplomatically and militarily.

“In both cases, Hezbollah is facing a difficult test today, which will make it less effective, leading the Quds Force to lose an additional pressure card in the region.”

However, a report released last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said that “although Hezbollah has lost over 100 fighters since Oct. 7, this level of casualties is manageable for a large organization with many skilled personnel.”

Hezbollah, a key component of the ,” is considered one of the world’s most heavily armed non-state groups, according to Reuters, and has demonstrated the scale of its arsenal since Oct. 7.

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets fired by Hezbollah fighters from south Lebanon over the Har Dove area on March 10, 2024, amid increasing cross-border tensions between the Iran-backed militia and Israel. (AFP)

The group is estimated to possess some 150,000 missiles and rockets, which, Hezbollah claims, can reach all areas of Israel.

According to Australian National University’s Saleh, if Israel has been killing Quds Force commanders “in order to change Iran’s behavior and (influence) in the region,” then it may not have achieved much.

“Hezbollah is strengthened,” he told Arab News. “Reportedly, it has over 150,000 rockets, and it has also been facilitated with drones. Of course, the Houthis are also strengthened and are more powerful than ever.

“Hashd Al-Shaabi in Iraq was able to attack an American military base in Jordan, which shows it has also been supplied with highly advanced drones.”

Since Oct. 7, Iran-backed militias have attacked US interests in Iraq and Syria more than 160 times, according to Pentagon figures. One attack on US forces in Jordan, carried out by Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah, killed three Americans.

“If we look at (Israel’s) so-called success from Tehran’s point of view, these assassinations did not work,” said Saleh, referring to the killing of Quds Force commanders. Instead, “they had a negative impact on the region. It made Iran more aggressive and more determined to respond.”

Saleh believes that while the killings “look good in the media,” when it comes to the attack on the Iranian diplomatic premises in Damascus, “Israel has miscalculated.”

And although the suspected attacks “show that Israel is, in terms of intelligence, powerful,” said Saleh, “strategically, (they) didn’t change anything — none of these assassinations changed Iran’s behavior, nor did they reduce its power.”

The Israelis “thought they got away with other assassinations or with targeting Iran’s interests, so they thought they could get away with” the Damascus strike, he said.

Stressing that the US is the only power that can cause “real damage to Iran’s military,” Saleh said Israel, which “doesn’t have the technology or capabilities to invade Iran’s nuclear sites,” has failed to drag the US into a direct confrontation with Iran.

“Iran illustrated a good degree of rationality and responsibility in attacking Israel” by informing the regional powers and international powers about their intentions and resorting to a “very low-scale, symbolic” attack, he said. 

However, “definitely, (the response) won’t be the same next time. Next time, it will be different. It will (involve) elements of surprise, strength, and regional proxies … to make sure Israel is deterred.”
 

 


UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals

Updated 20 April 2024
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UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals

  • Speaking to journalists in Geneva via video link from Jerusalem, he described seeing “medical equipment purposefully broken, ultrasounds — which you will know, is a very important tool for helping ensure safe births — with cables that have been cut”

GENEVA: The UN has decried the intentional destruction of complex and hard-to-obtain medical equipment in Gaza’s beleaguered hospitals and maternity wards, further deepening risks to women already giving birth in “inhumane, unimaginable conditions.”
Recent UN-led missions to 10 Gaza hospitals found many “in ruins” and just a couple capable of providing any level of maternal health services, said Dominic Allen, the UN Population Fund or UNFPA representative for the state of Palestine.
He said that what the teams found at the Nasser Hospital complex, long besieged by Israeli forces during their operations in the southern city of Khan Younis, “breaks my heart.”

BACKGROUND

The World Health Organization has described the difficulty of bringing complex medical equipment into Gaza even before the current war erupted in October.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva via video link from Jerusalem, he described seeing “medical equipment purposefully broken, ultrasounds — which you will know, is a very important tool for helping ensure safe births — with cables that have been cut.”

Palestinian forensic experts inspect the body of a dead person uncovered in the vicinity of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on April 17, 2024 after the recent Israeli military operation there amid the ongoing fighting in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

“Screens of complex medical equipment, like ultrasounds and others with the screens smashed,” he added.
The World Health Organization has described the difficulty of bringing such equipment into Gaza even before the current war erupted following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack inside Israel.
Allen warned that this “purposeful, wanton destruction in the maternity ward,” coupled with other damage and lacking water, sanitation, and electricity, was complicating efforts to get what was previously the second-most important hospital in the Palestinian territory up and running again “to provide a lifeline.”
Meanwhile, at Al-Khair, another specialized maternity hospital in Khan Younis, “it didn’t seem as if there was any piece of working medical equipment,” he said, lamenting that the birthing rooms “stand silent.”
“They should be places that give life, but they just have an eerie sense of death.”
Only 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are currently even partially functioning.
And Allen said that only three of those were now capable of assisting the estimated 180 women giving birth across Gaza every single day — around 15 percent of whom suffer complications requiring significant care.
The hospitals that can provide such care are thus facing significant capacity constraints.
The Emirati Hospital in the south, the main maternity hospital in Gaza currently, is, for instance, supporting up to 60 births every day, including as many as 12 Caesarian sections, he said.
Given the heavy pressure on the facility, women are discharged just hours after giving birth, “and after C-sections, it is less than a day,” Allen said, stressing “that increases risks.”
He said there was a risk in the number of complicated procedures linked to “malnutrition, dehydration, and fear, which impact the pregnant woman’s ability to give birth safely and carry their baby to full term safely.”
A doctor at the Emirati hospital had told Allen that “he no longer sees normal-size babies.”
Amid a “completely crippled” health system in Gaza, the UNFPA is “deeply concerned about the ability to provide postnatal care,” he said.
He said the agency was deploying midwives and midwifery kits to makeshift school centers to help fill the gap.
The current war started after Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on Oct. 7.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children. according to the territory’s Health Ministry.