The Pope, the Abraham Accords, and the Hope for a More Tolerant Middle East

March 10 2021

On Monday, Pope Francis completed his four-day visit to Iraq, the first ever such papal visit. There he met with Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the religious leader of the country’s Shiites, in the holy city of Najaf; visited Mosul, a city formerly occupied by Islamic State and home to a large Christian population; and also made a stop in Ur, the birthplace, according to the book of Genesis, of Abraham. Fiamma Nirenstein comments:

Although he repeated Abraham’s name during his visit, the pope didn’t mention the fact that Jews have also been persecuted by Muslims in the Middle East. Nevertheless, the peaceful tectonic upheaval that brought the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco to accept Israel and the Jewish people as indigenous to the region is still a train in motion. And it is producing results close to [Francis’s] description of Abraham as one who “knew how to hope against all hope,” and who laid the groundwork for “the human family.”

It’s a pity that the Iraqi government ignored the country’s Jews in this context, against Vatican hopes, by not inviting a Jewish delegation to the event. It was a dismissal of Jewish history and expulsion from Muslim countries, along with their synagogues and traditions, by the hundreds of thousands.

During his interreligious prayer for peace in Ur, the Pope thanked the Lord for having given Abraham to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, together with other believers. . . . Now, with the solidification of the Abraham Accords, the three religions have the opportunity to march together against the fierce opponents of peace, ranging from Islamic State to al-Qaeda, from Hamas to Hizballah, and to all the states that support them, first and foremost Iran.

Read more at JNS

More about: Abraham Accords, Iraqi Jewry, Jewish-Christian relations, Middle East Christianity, Pope Francis, Tolerance

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia