Palestinians Used Ramadan as Cover for Destroying Jewish Artifacts on the Temple Mount

June 22 2018

During Ramadan—which concluded last week—the Temple Mount is closed to non-Muslims and there is only a limited police presence there. Taking advantage of this situation, the Jordanian-run religious authority responsible for the Islamic holy places on the Mount, known as the waqf, cleared away mounds of dirt and rubble that contain valuable archaeological artifacts. These mounds had resulted from earlier, deliberate attempts by the waqf to destroy archaeological sites, eventually brought to an end by an order from Israel’s supreme court. The Temple Mount Sifting Project, which has been working for years to recover artifacts from these areas, explains the situation:

[T]he Muslim waqf [has] move[d] the remaining mounds of soil that were originally excavated in 1999 and the early 2000s, along with the material we have been sifting. This material contains a huge number of artifacts from all periods of the history of the Temple Mount, including the First and Second Temple periods. . . . Yet, . . . illegally, the waqf, with dozens of volunteers and workers, carried out excavation work [and] earth and stone clearance on the Temple Mount. . . .

Stones were collected [from the mounds] and used to build terraces and little walls to outline new walkways. . . . [T]here are four places where the waqf not only “cleaned” the mounds on the surface, but yet again dug into their interiors. This was clearly [done to] show who is in control, and a message from the waqf to the world that they don’t need permission from Israel to do anything on the Temple Mount, and that no one can stop them. The video from last week also showed ancient slabs being sorted and removed from the mounds. Who knows what else was discovered, and what else we won’t be able to study from this unsupervised work. . . .

[T]hese archaeologically rich mounds of earth have been irreconcilably damaged. This is a clear violation of the law, a violation of basic morality and respect, and an absolute destruction of the heritage of Jews as well as Christians and Muslims. This constitutes a decade’s worth of regression in the level of enforcement of [Israeli] antiquities law.

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More about: Archaeology, Israel & Zionism, Ramadan, Temple Mount

Russia Has No Interest in Curbing Iran in Syria—Despite Putin’s Assurances

July 20 2018

In his joint press conference on Monday with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump stated that in their meeting he had brought up U.S. concerns about the Islamic Republic’s malign influence in the Middle East, and that he’d “made clear [to Putin] that the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from [America’s] successful campaign against Islamic State.” It does not appear, however, that any concrete agreements were reached. To Alexandra Gutowski and Caleb Weiss, it’s clear that agreements will do little, since Putin can’t be trusted to keep his word:

In late June, Russia began to unleash hundreds of airstrikes on [the southwestern Syrian province of] Deraa, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement that Trump and Putin personally endorsed last November. While Russia struck from the air, forces nominally under the control of Damascus conducted a major ground offensive.

Closer examination shows that the dividing line between Assad’s military and Iranian-aligned forces has become ever blurrier. Before the offensive began, Lebanese Hizballah and other Iranian-backed militias staged apparent withdrawals from the region, only to return after donning [Assad]-regime uniforms and hiding their banners and insignia. Tehran is also directly involved. On July 2, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died in Deir al-Adas, a village in northern Deraa province along the strategic M5 highway. Persian sources describe him as the commander for the province. [In fact], forces nominally under the control of Damascus are permeated with troops that are at least as close to Tehran. . . .

It’s also becoming clear that Russian aircraft are supporting the efforts of Iranian-backed units nominally under the control of Damascus. . . . Russia has also now deployed military police to hold terrain captured by Iranian-aligned forces, demonstrating a level of coordination as well as Russia’s unwillingness to use its forces for more dangerous offensive operations. These terrain-holding forces free up Iran-aligned actors to continue undertaking offensives toward the Golan.

Reported meetings between militia commanders and Russian officers suggest these operations are coordinated. But even without formal coordination, Russian air cover and Iranian ground offensives are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Iran can’t be in the sky, and Russia refuses to put significant forces on the ground, lest too many return home in body bags. Thus, Putin requires Iran’s forces on the ground to secure his ambitions in Syria.

President Trump should remain highly skeptical of Putin’s interest in serving as a partner in Syria and his ability to do so. The humanitarian relief Putin proposes [for postwar reconstruction] is designed to fortify the regime, not to rehabilitate children brutalized by Assad. Putin also has limited interest in curtailing Iran’s deployment. Russia itself admits that Iran’s withdrawal is “absolutely unrealistic.” Trump should not concede American positions, notably the strategic base at Tanf which blocks Iran’s path to the Mediterranean, for empty promises from Russia. Putin can afford to lie to America, but he can’t afford to control Syria without Iranian support.

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More about: Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin