MIDEAST MIRROR 13.07.15, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
Il momento della verità
After weeks, months and years of buildup, Israeli newspapers lead their Monday editions with news that – barring any last-minute hitches – Iran will sign an agreement today in Vienna with representatives of six world powers.
The only newspaper that does not lead with the Iranian nuclear deal is Yedioth Ahronoth, which leads with news that passenger planes flying to the southern Israeli resort of Eilat will be equipped with antimissile defense systems, in response to the growing threat of attacks from Sinai-based terror groups affiliated to ISIS and al-Qa’ida. The order to install the defense systems was given by the Israeli security establishment some two weeks ago, when ISIS claimed a rocket attack against Israel and staged a massive attack against Egyptian army bases in the Sinai.
Haaretz, Israel Hayom and The Jerusalem Post lead with Iran. Haaretz reports in its headlines that Iranian President Hassan Rowhani declared Sunday that the final sticking points have been overcome and that a historic agreement will be finalized sometime on Monday. Israel Hayom quotes Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who also used the word 'historic' – but in a very different context. Not for the first time, Ya'alon said that any nuclear deal with Iran would be 'a historic mistake' – echoing the message from his boss, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Ya'alon continued with his broadside against the deal on Monday morning, at the start of a meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Noting the proximity of the 'bad agreement,' Ya'alon stressed that Israel must do everything to protect itself from Iran as it inches closer to becoming a nuclear threshold state. 'Iran will become a more significant threat not only against Israel, but against the stability of the entire world. They're entering into a bad agreement, after which we will have to prepare to defend ourselves on our own.'
Speaking Sunday at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been quoted as saying that Iran needs to plan to continue fighting the U.S. regardless of whether there is a nuclear agreement. Netanyahu said that all this is happening as the 'parade of concessions to Iran continues in Vienna.' He said the emerging deal in Vienna will pave Tehran's way to many nuclear bombs and gives it hundreds of billions of dollars for its terrorism and conquest machine, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz also spoke out on Monday morning, telling Army Radio that the West's agreement with Iran will cause serious damage. 'As it looks at the moment – this is final. We have clear indications that the agreement with Iran will be signed in the coming day,' Steinitz asserted. 'Even if we managed to somewhat improve the agreement in the past year, this is a terrible agreement - they're selling the world's future for the sake of a dubious political achievement.'
In the United States, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate has cast doubt on whether President Barack Obama will be able to win approval in Congress for any nuclear deal now under negotiation with Iran. 'I think it's going to be a very hard sell, if it's completed, in Congress,' Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview on the Fox News Sunday. 'We already know it's going to leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state.'
However, a top security official told settler-run news service Arutz Sheva that Israelis should not put too much hope in the possibility that the U.S. Congress will not approve the deal. The official expressed satisfaction at McConnell's comments, but said that, in the end, the most likely scenario is that Obama will get his way and the deal will be approved. 'There is no question that Congress sees this deal in a different light than the White House does,' the official said. 'The question is what will happen when the voting takes place. Senators can expect a great deal of pressure to be placed on them.'
Despite the optimism expressed by some members of the various negotiating delegations, a senior Iranian negotiator cautioned that certain issues still needed to be resolved before a deal could be finalized. 'I cannot promise whether the remaining issues can be resolved tonight or tomorrow night. Some issues still remain unresolved and until they are solved, we cannot say an agreement has been reached,' Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in Vienna, according to Iran's Tasnim news agency.
On the domestic political front, most of Netanyahu's rivals in the opposition have been deafeningly silent in recent weeks. On Monday morning, however, Yair Lapid gave an interview to Army Radio, in which he accused the prime minister of failing to prevent the deal. 'The deal is indeed terrible and awful,' he said. 'And if there is a failure – there is someone responsible for the failure: you can't go around all day and say that he will prevent a nuclear deal with Iran - and then when it happens say that he isn't guilty and that it isn't a matter of his responsibility. They refused to listen because Netanyahu has made Israel's relations with the world and the United States worse.'
Finally, closer to home, Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas claimed in a recent interview with an Egyptian paper that Hamas, with which he signed a reconciliation treaty early last year, is holding secret negotiations with Israel to establish a state in Gaza. Speaking with the paper Roz Al-Youssef, Abbas criticized Hamas for starting last summer's terror war against Israel, blaming it for the destruction to Gaza.
He said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had visited him after the war in an attempt to sign an accord on forming a full unity government between Hamas and PA ending the feud between them. Abbas said he had no need for such agreements and instead wanted PA elections held within three to four months. According to him, Carter left at that point and never came back.
SHAMEFUL: Writing in Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth says that the nuclear agreement between Iran and the six Western powers will be one of the most shameful capitulations in history.
"Iran Air – the national carrier of the Islamic Republic – announced yesterday that it will be purchasing 14 new passenger planes by the end of the year. This was one of the main articles on the official Iranian news channels last night. One of Iran's top aviation officials, Hamid Habibi, said that his country plans to spend $20 billion on the new aircraft. He even visited the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget in north Paris.
The report about the new planes sits very well with the nuclear deal that Iran is about to sign with the Western powers: a country that is not subject to any kind of embargo, the moment that the deal is inked, is a country that is open to the world. Aircraft are the perfect means of remaining open. The Iranian economy, which is about to be reopened, is highly attractive. The French, the Germans, the Russians and the Americans all want to sell their goods to Iran. Little wonder, therefore, that the nuclear negotiations have become a Persian bazaar. And this is before we have even mentioned the legacy that U.S. President Barack Obama wants to leave behind him: an alliance with Tehran. Was anyone truly surprised that Iran was allowed to set the pace of the negotiations? Only a country that is genuinely self-assured can negotiate with the Americans while, at the very same time, burn American flags.
According to reports coming out of Vienna yesterday, Iran and the six world powers are likely to sign a deal today. We were informed that 98 percent of the deal was already in the bag. Well, you could have knocked us down with a feather. What an achievement for international diplomacy. What a pity that Obama was already given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Is there no way to give him another one? If and when an announcement is made today, we will be reminded of the previous shows: the interim agreement in November 2013 and the framework agreement that was reached in April 2015. In both cases, there was talk about many obstacles. In both cases, the talks were extended. And in both cases, a deal was reached.
Since the resumption of talks in Geneva in 2009 and the goodwill messages that Washington sent to Tehran to mark the Iranian New Year, the writing was on the wall. The failure of the U.S. administration to get involved in the Iranian protest movement that emerged after allegations of forgeries in the 2009 presidential election was further proof of the American goal: a deal with Iran at any price. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, dictatorial leaders were booted from office the moment that a public protest movement emerged, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still in power, because the Obama Administration needs something to brag about. Sorry, my mistake: because the Obama Administration needs an agreement. And agreements, we all know, are made between enemies. Journalists and commentators will cheer Obama to the rafters today. Historians will put him in his place.
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, Obama said recently that he's still young and that, 'I’m still going to be around, God willing,' in 20 years. He went on to say that he would not like the agreement to fail by Iran becoming a nuclear power. This seems like an appropriate place to ask: Is anybody in the international community critical of Bill Clinton because of the failed nuclear agreement with North Korea in 1994, or is he still a hugely popular president who is universally loved? People have a shorter memory than historians.
It is possible that, in their Vienna talks, the six world powers delayed the day on which Iran obtains a bomb. Originally, when the talks resumed in 2003, the international community's goal was to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program. This agreement, however, confirms Iran's status as a country on the threshold of nuclear capability. In a few years from now, there won't even be any inspection.
Once the deal is signed in Vienna today, there will be many people who will point the finger at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and say that he has failed, since he promised to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capability, yet – on his watch – he has allowed just that to happen. That's like saying that Shimon Peres should have resigned as prime minister because he failed to secure peace with the Palestinians. But peace – like the Iranian nuclear program – doesn't depend exclusively on Israel, unfortunately.
If and when the greatest show on earth produces this shameful agreement, we will pin our hopes on the U.S. Congress, since it is our last best hope of thwarting the deal. Some people predicted that this day would come. The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, promised that he would not give the agreement easy passage. Let's hope he's true to his word. The U.S. Senate could save Israel from the Iranian nukes, but it can also save the West from one of the most shameful capitulations in history. And the Obama Administration might be able to brag about its legacy, but it can also claim to have written the book on how not to conduct negotiations."
JUDGMENT DAY: Writing in Maariv, Yossi Melman says that today could be Judgment Day for Iran and for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
"Today is likely to be Judgment Day in Vienna. It could also be a fateful day for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. If Iran and the six world powers manage to hash out the details of an agreement and if all of the obstacles are overcome, we will discover that all of Netanyahu's efforts to thwart the agreement, which he started in earnest when the talks resumed some 20 months ago, have failed. However, at the time of writing, it's still not certain that there will be an agreement and, even if there is, it seemly highly unlikely that it will be signed today.
The atmosphere and tone of the Vienna talks reminds me of the big wheel at an amusement park. There have been ups and downs. Over the weekend, there was an atmosphere of cautious pessimism coming out of the Austrian capital. Yesterday, that was replaced by cautious optimism – especially on the part of the Iranian representatives.
Representatives of the United States and the Western powers agreed that further progress toward an agreement had been made, but insisted that not all of the differences had been ironed out. We all know what the issues are: how intrusive inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities will be, whether there will be any warning before these inspections and whether sanctions will be lifted. There is also disagreement over whether the sanctions being discussed include those on weapons sales, which have nothing to do with sanctions imposed on Iran because of its nuclear activity.
Some, if not all, of the problems will be resolved by using deliberately vague terminology. For example, Iran, as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared, is demanding the immediate lifting of sanctions as soon as the agreement is signed. The United States and the West insist that sanctions will only be lifted after the first stage of the agreement and once it is ascertained beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iran is living up to its commitments and has scaled back its nuclear program by dismantling centrifuges, reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium, decommissioned its plutonium reactor in Arak, halted research into the development of advanced centrifuges and so on. Bridging the gap between the two positions must allow Khamenei to maintain his honor and to ensure that it does not like he has gone back on his word. One possible solution is that Iran will start acting in accordance with the agreement, without signing it, and, a few months down the line, once the West is convinced that it is abiding by the terms of the agreement, there will be a signing ceremony – followed by the immediate lifting of sanctions. Then Iran can start celebrating.
There is one basic and fundamental fact that cannot be forgotten: even before signing the interim agreement some 20 months ago, Iran was a country on the threshold of nuclear capability; it was only two or three years away from obtaining a bomb. If it really wanted to, it could have obtained nuclear capability long ago. But it simply didn't want to. If an agreement is reached and signed, and if all sides honor it over the course of the next decade, Iran will find itself at least a year away from being able to manufacture a nuclear bomb. That might not be enough for Israel and for other countries in the Middle East, but it's not nothing. And it could be enough to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region."
HANG 'EM HIGH: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Eitan Haber says that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was right to nix a bill calling for the death penalty for terrorists.
"Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday managed to bury a bill calling for terrorists to be executed. He did so using the quintessentially Israeli trick of sending the proposed legislation to a committee. That committee, no doubt, will convene for the first time in two or three months from now, and will discuss the issue for two or three years. This is how populist legislation is put on death row before being put out of its misery.
It's not that terrorists do not deserve the death penalty. They do. But it's no coincidence that, thus far, Nazi lynchpin Adolf Eichmann is the only person to have been executed by the State of Israel. Some of the worst terrorists that we have known have been sentenced to decades-long prison terms; some of them were given multiple life sentences. Many of them were eventually freed as part of various prisoner exchange deals.
It is possible, of course, that the threat of capital punishment will deter one or two terrorists from carrying out their plans. But the Arabs who are our closest neighbors, and those who are more distant, are world champions when it comes to executions. When it comes to judicial killings, they are much better than us. The ministers and lawmakers who support the death penalty for terrorists to win votes are experts at talking in theory about executions. But they would be the first to shout 'It's not me' when the first Israeli soldier is publically executed in Jenin or in the alleyways of Khan Yunis. Israelis do not have the heart or the stomach for that kind of spectacle when it comes to IDF soldiers, settlers or civilians, who can easily be kidnapped from any part of the country. Even now, 50 years later, Israelis are still deeply disturbed by photographs of spy Eli Cohen being executed in Damascus.
Netanyahu was right to nip this mad race to the scaffold in its bud. Not that terrorists don't deserve to be executed, but they would be the only ones to 'benefit' from such a law."
PSYCHO-IRAN: Writing in Israel Hayom, Reuven Berko says that Western powers have become addicted to their own rationalization, self-delusion and wishful thinking – despite the very plain talking from their Iranian negotiating partners.
"There's an ancient Arabic proverb that states that, 'What is written on the forehead, the eyes must see.' But the eyes of the six Western powers in Vienna have failed to see the writing on the wall. Those conducting the negotiations with Iran see the sights and hear the sounds, but they are ignoring reality and are dealing instead with the realms of wishful thinking.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his team are like two-bit psychologists: their negotiations are like therapeutic discussions with the tough-talking Iranians, while the Iranian delegation gets its instructions from a cynical ayatollah who is whispering to his emissaries from behind the scenes. The Iranians are deliberately adopting the manic patterns of behavior: their mood swings are extreme and they are playing the West like a metronome, ticking away between hope and despair.
The West watches on as Iran continues to make massive advances in its ballistic missile program and its nuclear program; the Islamic Republic is deliberately dragging its feet and is progressing steadily toward new and more advanced centrifuges. World leaders hear the threats made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his cronies, who –morning, noon and night – demand the destruction of the State of Israel. They declare that their national struggle against the 'arrogant' United States will continue and that they will not allow international inspectors to visit the sites where they are developing nuclear weapons. If this is the attitude of the leader, you can be certain that the Iranian people think the same way. Indeed, the Iranian media, the security establishment and the streets of Tehran are full of people indoctrinated to hate the West and who have been brainwashed to demand the lifting of sanctions – while, at the very same time, burning American and Israeli flags.
It would seem that those engaged in negotiations with Iran are using 'denial' and 'repression' as psychological tricks to fool themselves and no one else. In response to the belligerent and threatening statement of the Iranian leader, who announced over the weekend that 'Iran will not give up on its nuclear advances under any circumstances,' the psychological explanation given by the Western experts in self-delusion is that he is merely preparing the Iranian people for the concessions that Iran is expected to make.
Anyone with half a brain can see that the nuclear negotiations with Iran are not working. The lifting of sanctions has just one purpose: to allow Iran to fill its national coffers and to allow it to continue funding terrorist activity in Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. It also hopes to use this money for the procurement of Russian- and Chinese-made weapons. Are the Western powers that are negotiating with Iran capable of admitting that they erred and that they have been lead on a wild goose chase by those masterful diplomats from Tehran? Will they be able to back down and admit that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was right when he described the deal as a disaster? And if we're dealing with deceptions, it seems that Kerry and his team are in a state of cognitive dissonance. They are like the man who thinks that he's bought himself a brand new car, only to discover that the engine is ruined – but who takes comfort in the fact that the horn still works.
In psychological terms, we are on the seam line between the suicidal tendencies of the Shiite collective and the megalomaniacal expansionist urge of the Iranians, who seek to expand their influence – even at the cost of countless human lives. However, in the Persian bazaar, what you see is what you buy. Iran has declared that it will wipe Israel off the map using nuclear weapons. No agreement that is based on falsehoods can change that. Instead of making one simple demand – an end to Iran's nuclear program – the West has become addicted to a process of self-delusion and foot dragging. After all, therapy is supposed to be discreet."
IRAN HOLDS ITS BREATH: Writing in Haaretz, Zvi Bar'el says that parliament in Tehran has already signaled it is ready for the agreement with the West, and even the red lines it charted are fading fast as the final deal gets closer.
"'We will be at the public’s side in the mass celebrations in honor of the signing of the agreement. As long as they are conducted according to law and religious precepts,' the Iranian police spokesman announced on Sunday, explaining that the police were prepared for celebrations on the signing of an agreement between Iran and the world powers over the former’s nuclear program. However, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani was still restrained. 'Even if an agreement is not signed, the world will appreciate Iran’s rational stance,' he said.
Meanwhile, the public and political leadership in Iran are waiting with baited breath for the official announcement. The Iranian delegation to the negotiations even won praise from more than 200 members of parliament for its 'strong stand in the face of the exaggerated demands of the other side' – a clear sign that the Iranian parliament is already prepared for the agreement.
In a signed declaration published Sunday, Iranian parliamentarians reminded Rowhani and the negotiating team of the red lines that could not be crossed: The lifting of the economic and military sanctions, no oversight of military installations, and no interrogation of Iranian nuclear scientists. According to the wording of the declaration, though, it seems that Iran’s red lines are fading ahead of the agreement.
A red line seems to have been crossed by Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, former president of Iran and head of its Expediency Discernment Council – perhaps the most important body in the decision-making process. In an interview with The Guardian, Rafsanjani said an agreement that lifts the sanctions would be a 'giant step' and that 'we have broken a taboo' in conducting direct negotiations with the United States. If things develop as they should, Rafsanjani told the British daily, it was 'not impossible' that the U.S. Embassy could reopen in Tehran. Such a statement has not been heard from an official as highly placed as Rafsanjani, and although it has been a few days since he made the remarks, no condemnation or denial has been heard from Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
Negotiations with Tehran had long passed the point of no return, after the interim agreement signed in November 2013, which bore Khamenei’s fingerprints. And the principles of agreement read by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry publicly in Lausanne in April showed that neither side was willing to give up on an agreement. The Iranian leadership studied the progress of the talks from two key aspects: the technical details; and the way it would be marketed to the public, the Revolutionary Guards and conservative radical wing.
The technical elements – which included the number of centrifuges Iran could operate, the amount of enriched uranium it could hold onto and the level of enrichment and oversight of the agreement – were actually considered relatively easy to resolve; indeed, some parts were resolved in the early stages of the negotiations.
The talks reached a crisis point when discussion began on the type of sanctions that would be lifted and the timetable for doing so. The Iranian demand was unequivocal: full and immediate lifting of sanctions with the signing of the agreement.
Iran has already embarked on a series of economic steps, such as the signing of future agreements with a number of international corporations and the construction of a contractual infrastructure with oil customers to restore market shares that were taken away due to the sanctions. On the domestic level, Rowhani has ordered broad economic reforms be formulated that already assume that an accord will be signed.
Iran has adopted a public diplomatic strategy intended to point a finger at the West, especially the United States, if a last-minute obstacle prevents the signing. The Iranian parliament has adopted a law requiring the government to safeguard Iran’s interests and rights in the nuclear realm, but it is in fact the U.S. Congress that will be judged by international public opinion and not Iran. That’s because of the option Congress gave itself to scrutinize the agreement and even reject it by legislation.
But even if Congress rejects the agreement and manages to overcome an expected presidential veto, there is no certainty that European countries, Russia and China will continue holding to the sanctions – certainly not after the United Nations passes a resolution to lift them. If things go that way, many of the U.S. sanctions will no longer have the significance relative to their power before the agreement."
30 YEARS: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon says that, after three decades of trying, Iran is on the verge of achieving something that the West has – with varying degrees of seriousness – prevented it from getting: military nuclear capability.
"Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons for most of the last three decades. The quest began at the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, when the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini famously 'drank the poisoned chalice' and accepted UN Security Council Resolution 598 that put an end to that eight-year, blood-drenched war. Never again, Khomeini vowed, would Iran drink such poison, and the country’s race for nuclear arms – something that would have precluded the need for what Khomeini viewed as a capitulation – was on.
During the last nearly 30 years the world – with varying degrees of seriousness and intensity – has tried to block that path. For much of that time, the strategy was to kick the can down the road, delay the Iranians, place impediments in their way in the hope that in the interim something would happen: either there would be regime change in Iran, or the Iranian rulers - of their own accord or because of popular unrest - would come to realize that the price of a nuclear bomb was too high, and that if they wanted to save the country’s economy, they would have to scuttle the bomb.
So during this period computer viruses were sent to infect the Iranian computers, some Iranian nuclear scientists and engineers were assassinated or disappeared, and straw companies were set up around the world selling faulty material to the mullahs, so that when they spun their centrifuges, the centrifuges would blow up.
The accord on the verge of being agreed upon in Vienna, the one Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has railed against endlessly, buys the Iranians more time. Ten years of it. During this period the Iranians will be hard pressed to assemble a nuclear bomb. But then the sun will set on the agreement and all bets will be off. Then the Iranians, according to Israel’s reading of the deal, won't have to sneak around to put together a bomb, they will be able to do it in broad daylight.
And there is Israel’s problem. At a time when the Iranians came to the negotiations because their economy was being devastated, the world powers had the opportunity not to just kick the can down the road, but rather to kick it over the fence, deep, deep into one of the neighbor's bushes. Or, to use a boxing metaphor, two years ago the world powers had Iran on the ropes - its economic badly limping, oil prices falling, its legitimacy at a low point. But instead of ratcheting up the sanctions and delivering a knockout blow, the powers let Iran slither off the ropes to come back and fight another round.
And fight they did. As Iranian President Hassan Rowhani was reported to have said over the weekend, 'Twenty-two months of negotiation means we have managed to charm the world, and it’s an art.'
That was then. Now the reality has changed. Now what? The agreement has pretty much put an end to any option of a preemptive Israeli military strike. No one seriously believes Israel would launch a preemptive attack on Iran to push back the program after that country signed an agreement with the world powers, including the U.S.
It is also equally unrealistic to think Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – who has fought the Iranian nuclear program for years - will now suddenly roll over, play dead, and say, 'Ok, you win, I guess now we will have to accept it.' Netanyahu - who has charged that this is a 'very bad agreement and that what happened in Vienna was a foolish 'march of concessions' that amounted to a near total capitulation to Iran - will not now throw up his arms in surrender.
Rather, now his argument will move to Congress, the last place where changes in the accord might possibly still be made. If then ambassador Michael Oren - as he writes in his recent memoir - was given instructions to call congressmen and say 'Israel felt abandoned' after U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech in 2011 adopting an Israeli-Palestinian deal based on the 1967 lines with land swaps, then one can only imagine what Oren’s successor, Ron Dermer, will tell the congressmen when he calls about Iran.
And that type of campaigning in Congress against a policy that Obama sees as his foreign policy 'legacy,' and which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry views as his possible Nobel Prize winning ticket, is not bound to win Netanyahu any points in the White House, where his credit is already depleted. The final year of the Obama-Netanyahu era, therefore, will most likely be much more fraught than even the fraught seven years that came before.
But Netanyahu will go ahead - feeling duty-bound as a son of the Jewish people so soon after the Holocaust and as the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish state - to do whatever he can to try and override the agreement. If not to stop it, at least change it so that when the history books are written, it will be noted that he – alone among the world's leaders – did whatever he could to keep one of the world's most extreme regimes from getting the world's most lethal weapon."
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