PIF Establishes New Energy Service Company ‘Super Esco’

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has announced the establishment of a new energy service company, Super Esco, designed to increase energy efficiency across government and public buildings and stimulate the growth of the Kingdom’s energy efficiency industry in line with the objectives of Vision 2030 to diversify the economy and drive environmental sustainability.

In partnership with the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Finance, and the Saudi Energy Efficiency Center, Super Esco will provide new investment opportunities by creating partnerships with the private sector to deliver projects.

Projects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s energy efficiency sector have an estimated value of SAR 42 billion, or around SAR 3 billion annually. Internationally, the sector is valued at SAR 130 billion, with projects in the US, Europe, and China accounting for 90 percent of the global market share.

Super Esco has been established with a capitalization of SAR 1.9 billion. The company will fund and manage the retrofit of government and public buildings, which represent over 70 percent of overall projects in the sector.

These projects will help reduce government spending on the electricity sector, which will in turn reduce natural resource consumption while rationalizing capital investments in expansion projects for the production, generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity.

Virgin Group Founder Reviews Remarkable Visit to Saudi Arabia

Billionaire and worldwide entrepreneur Richard Branson visited Saudi Arabia, becoming one of the few first to take advantage of the Kingdom’s growing opportunities in light of sweeping national reform being driven by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Kingdom Vision 2030.

The business magnate also positively reviewed the major step the Kingdom took forward when allowing women to be issued driving licences.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history and I’ve always felt that there’s nothing like getting a first-hand impression. It was quite an experience to be there on the day that women were given the right to drive for the first time,” said Branson.

The international philanthropist also said that incremental reforms carried out by the Saudi Royalty play greatly into showing how committed it is on moving the country forward.

“This was a huge announcement and a much-welcomed sign of progress and one welcomed by every woman we met. It’s one of many incremental reforms driven by Saudi-Arabia’s young and charismatic Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who, with his father, is committed to moving his country into the modern world, and bringing its citizens with him.”

One of the Kingdom’s recently announced development projects is the Red Sea Project.The international tourism venture in Saudi Arabia which Crown Prince Mohammed announced will attract local and global investments thus contributing an average of 15 billion SAR a year to the country’s gross domestic production.

The Red Sea is considered one of the best diving locations in the world due to the diversity of marine organisms and the environmentally protected coral reefs and the appropriate water temperatures.

“We were taken to the Red Sea, where a huge project to turn a giant lagoon into a beautiful tourism destination is underway. Covering more than 50 islands between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh, the project will also create as many as 35,000 jobs in an area remote from major cities,” said Branson.

“Standing on the islands, we could see turtles pulling themselves in and out of the water to lay their eggs, while eagle rays and dugongs swam past. It is a truly unspoilt ocean environment, possibly one of the last marine wonders of the world, and given the right protections, it could stay that way for decades to come,” he added.

Branson,who also is the founder of the Virgin Group, expressed how remarkable Madai’n Saleh heritage sites are, claiming they outshine Petra’s historical ruins in Jordan.

“We visited the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mada’in Saleh. I’ve been fortunate to visit Petra in Jordan, which is a ruin from the same ancient civilization, but this was even more stunning. The surrounding mountains are a work of art themselves, with breathtaking colors and 131 awe-inspiring rock-cut tombs. I offered to arrange for some Virgin Balloons to go to the UNESCO World Heritage site, it would be so spectacular to see it from a hot air balloon.”

Branson received the well-known warm hospitality the Kingdom enjoys. Concluding his travel journal article, he said that “it will be wonderful to attract visitors to marvel at the beauty of Saudi Arabia, and get to know its people too.”

Putin Depends on Analysis, Not Hope


The United States now aims to reduce Iranian influence in the Levant (Sham)- wrote former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford in an exclusive column to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. American media reports still say that Washington hopes Russia will compel Iran to evacuate its forces from Syria. One informed American journalist said this was an important part of the strategy the Americans explained to an Israeli military/intelligence delegation visiting Washington August 17.

Israeli Prime Minister Natanyahu took a military/intelligence delegation on August 23 to see Putin in Russia to convince Russia to use its influence to push Iranian forces out of Syria eventually. Natanyahu even threatened to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s palace if Iranian forces stay in Syria.

Moscow answered directly. On August 30 Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who is not famous for being subtle, told reporters that Israel should not attack Iranian forces in Syria. He also said that cooperation between Iran and Syria that does not violate international law is not subject to question

To make Russian policy extremely clear, the Russian ambassador in Tel Aviv on August 23 told Israeli television that while Russia would like all foreign forces out of Syria, including Iranian forces, but the priority “at this stage” is to support the Syrian Government and fight terrorists. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations on August 23 also said that Iran plays a “constructive role” in Syria.

Iran’s “constructive role,” in addition to helping Assad, is helping Russia reduce American influence in Syria and the Middle East. For seventy years Russia has resented the American encirclement of Russia with bases and alliances. Helping Washington reduce Iranian influence now is not consistent with the true Russian goal which is about decreasing American influence in the region.

Russia has a new airbase in Syria near Homs and an expanded naval base in Tartous. It has long-term agreements with Damascus to keep these bases. Moscow speaks with more authority about Syria, Libya and even perhaps mediation in the Gulf. Iranian-mobilized militias fighting for Assad indirectly helped Russia achieve this strategic advance.

Russia would have to risk its interests to confront Iran in Syria. Russia and Iran both compete and cooperate in regions like the Caucuses and Central Asia. What does it gain to increase Iranian hostility in those regions? And Russia is beginning to profit commercially from Iran. It has deals to build nuclear plants in Bushehr and develop an Iranian gasfield; it sells arms like missiles and helicopters to Iran and equipment for infrastructure such as railroads. Trade between Russia and Iran increased to almost $2 billion in 2016.

Russia will not, therefore, just turn around and confront Iran because Washington and Tel Aviv make a request without any sweet compensation. Lavrov on August 30 said that Russia sees no intention in the region to attack Israel now; for Russia, there is space to accommodate Iran in Syria. The Russians have sent a few military police to southwestern Syria to ensure respect for the ceasefire there and to keep “non-Syrian” fighters away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders. In July the Russians, Americans and Jordanians agreed in principle that non-Syrian forces should stay 20 miles back from the Jordanian border. In August, the Russians changed and suggested instead 10 miles, and in some locations only about 5 miles.

Now the Israelis, Americans and Jordanians hope that Russia will honor its word about compelling Iran to respect even the smaller separation distance and avoid the Syrian opposition-controlled zones. The small opposition-controlled zones, however, pose a dangerous question to Damascus: how can Baathist rule be one hundred percent legitimate if some freely elected councils manage local affairs and ignore Damascus? Assad and Iranian general Qassim Suleimani know how to wait patiently for tactical advantage.

The Russians have said that their military police are not fighting units so what will they do when Syrian and Iranian forces drive past them to attack the opposition towns in the southwestern “de-escalation zone”? Unless Russia’s air forces attack the Syrian and Iranian forces it cannot stop them.

It is important to note that Russia has never done this in the “de-escalation zone” violations in Aleppo in 2016 and in eastern Ghouta and northern Homs in 2017. It is especially important to remember that Russia always defends the principle that sovereign governments legally may take any military action inside their own borders.

Assad and Suleimani may ruin the Russian plan for decentralization and a fast peace deal in Syria. But when Putin faces the Iranian damage to this Russian plan for Syria, he will be thinking not just about Quneitra and Daraa and Ain Terma or local councils or international law, but also about Russian business and factories and workers, and Azerbaijan and Tajikistan and Kyrgzstan and also the constant rivalry with America. Putin will be analyzing, not hoping.

Shahrani: 1,100 Field Employees Carried out Saudi Zain’s Hajj Service Plan


Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Shahrani, Chief Executive Officer of Human Resources and Corporate Communications at Zain Saudi Arabia, reviewed on Saturday the company’s most up-to-date preparations for the Hajj season, as part of the company’s keenness to check and verify all the equipment related to the company’s services and its level of readiness.

Shahrani met with all authority chiefs tasked with managing holy sites and visited all affiliated company sites. He reiterated before a crowd of employees the importance of intensifying efforts and making it so that best services are provided to support the Hajj pilgrimage season.

Shahrani stressed that Zain Saudi Arabia is proud of its contribution and participation in supporting the pilgrimage season, which the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King overlooks each step of the way.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has devoted all the expertise, competencies and energies within its power to provide the best services, making Hajj a smooth, safe and unique journey of faith. Everyone works under the umbrella of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to overcome all difficulties and obstacles so that pilgrims perform rites, and carry to completion the fifth pillar of Islam.

Shahrani added that the number of employees involved in implementing the company’s operational plan during the pilgrimage season this year is about 1,100 field employees, with the support of integrated staff of different sectors at the headquarters who will do their work around the clock, and are responsible for providing the necessary logistic support.

Mobile Telecommunication Company Saudi Arabia is a telecommunications operator that offers fixed line, mobile telephony, and Internet services under the brand name Zain Saudi Arabia. More than 2.35 million faithful participated in this year’s Hajj, including more than 1.75 million, from all corners of the globe, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah had reported.

Kenyan Opposition Demands Access to Election Service to Accept Results

Kenya’s opposition coalition has called on the election commission to give it, other candidates and observers access to its computer servers, saying it would accept the results of Tuesday’s election based on the figures recorded there.

“If they can open those servers, and we all look at it, we are prepared to accept the results of what is contained in those servers,” James Orengo, chief election agent for the NASA opposition coalition, told reporters.

Opposition candidate Raila Odinga has rejected provisional results announced so far, which put him well behind President Uhuru Kenyatta with nearly all the votes tallied.

More so, the opposition coalition said on Friday it will not go to court after rejecting the imminent announcement of results from a disputed presidential vote, raising fears that party leaders may call for street protests.

“Nobody should think that this is the end of the matter,” said James Orengo, the chief election agent for the opposition alliance. “Going to court is not an alternative.”

Political Cover for Army Operations Against ISIS at Eastern Border

Militants of al-Nusra Front burned sites they used to occupy on the outskirts of Arsal, as 33 buses reached the area to transport gunmen and their families to Syria/NNA

Beirut- The Lebanese authorities offered the Army a complete cover to conduct military operations in Jurud Arsal against ISIS after completing the second phase of a deal between “Hezbollah” and “al-Nusra Front,” deporting all the organization’s militants to Idlib in Syria.

“The Lebanese Army was offered the complete political cover to liberate the land from the ISIS terrorist organization,” official sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday.

The sources said that the timing of the next military operation is linked to the fate of the nine Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by ISIS.

Another military source told the newspaper that “all military options were open for the liberation of the land,” adding that the army was intensifying its military measures mainly at the eastern border of the country.

Meanwhile, Al-Hurra TV channel reported that 70 members of the US Special Forces were currently in Lebanon to assist the Army in its military operations against ISIS.

However, military sources denied the reports.

“Those US soldiers have been present in Lebanon to monitor the US military aid delivered to the Army,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that none of them would participate in the upcoming operation against ISIS.

Also on Thursday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that Lebanon would open the door of negotiation with ISIS if such a move would help the kidnapped soldiers.

Meanwhile, observers said any deals or military confrontation with ISIS would be more difficult than the deal and battle against Nusra, particularly that the terrorist organization is already positioned in difficult-to-reach locations. Also, ISIS militants fight on the basis of “either kill or be killed,” making it hard for the army to fight them.

On the battlefield, the Lebanese army shelled on Thursday ISIS positions in the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and Qaa, Lebanon’s NNA said.

Also, the army began a new deployment operation in the eastern chain in the outskirts of Arsal, introducing a number of tanks and improvising new posts on hilltops.

UK Minister Urges Silicon Valley to Do More to Fight Online Extremism

Britain's Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, arrives in Downing Street for a cabinet meeting, in central London

Britain’s interior minister has warned Internet giants Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube to step up efforts to counter or remove content that incites militants.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd issued her challenge as she arrived in Silicon Valley in California on Tuesday.

After four militant attacks in Britain that killed 36 people this year, senior ministers have repeatedly demanded that internet companies do more to suppress extremist content and allow access to encrypted communications.

In the face of resistance from the industry, Prime Minister Theresa May – a former interior minister – proposed trying to regulate cyberspace after a deadly attack on London Bridge in June.

Rudd will meet executives of social media and internet service providers in San Francisco at the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, whose partners are Facebook (FB.O), Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Twitter (TWTR.N).

The forum was set up to coordinate the companies’ efforts on removing militant content.

“Terrorists and extremists have sought to misuse your platforms… This Forum is a crucial way to start turning the tide,” Rudd will say, according to a statement from the interior ministry.

“The responsibility for tackling this threat at every level lies with both governments and with industry.”

A source familiar with Rudd’s trip said she had scheduled a meeting with representatives of YouTube, Alphabet’s video sharing platform. She met Facebook, which owns messaging platform WhatsApp, on Monday, the company said.

The industry says it wants to help governments remove extremist or criminal material but also has to balance the demands of state security with the freedoms enshrined in democratic societies.

“Our mission is to substantially disrupt terrorists’ ability to use the Internet in furthering their causes, while also respecting human rights,” Twitter said in a statement.

End-to-End Encryption

While internet companies are eager to remove obviously extremist content posted on their platforms they face a logistical challenge in identifying and then swiftly removing such material.

Rudd said three quarters of ISIS propaganda was shared within three hours of publication, underscoring the need for speed in taking down extremist posts.

“Often, by the time we react, the terrorists have already reached their audience,” she wrote in an article in the Daily Telegraph, adding that end-to-end encrypted messages were hindering security services from stopping potential plotters.

End-to-end encryption on services such as WhatsApp ensures only the sender and receiver can read a message as the key is kept on the devices. Without access to the devices, security services cannot read the messages.

Britain’s MI5 security service has said it needs access to encrypted communications to foil attacks.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has pushed for full access to encrypted communications and devices but Congress has so far refused.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, told the BBC that the metadata of Whatsapp messages was not encrypted, allowing governments to collect details on who is messaging who, when and for how long. She said that if people moved off such messaging systems, that crucial metadata would not be available.

Shortly before his ouster by President Donald Trump, FBI Director James Comey said that 46 percent of more than 6,000 electronic devices seized by the FBI since October 1 last year could not be opened due to challenges posed by encryption.

Tillerson Sits with Ministers of Four Arab States Boycotting Qatar

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sat down with ministers of four Arab states on Wednesday to try to end a dispute with Qatar.

The four countries imposed sanctions on Qatar on June 5, for its financing of extremist groups detrimental foreign policy. Doha denies those accusations. The four states and Qatar are all US allies.

Any resolution of the impasse must address all the key issues for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, including Doha’s undermining of regional stability, a senior UAE official said ahead of the talks in Saudi Arabia. His comments shed light on Tillerson’s uphill challenge.

Tillerson met the ministers in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah in pursuit of an end to the worst dispute among Gulf Arab states since the formation of their Gulf Cooperation Council regional body in 1981. Kuwait, which is mediating in the dispute also sent an envoy.

Tillerson also met separately with Saudi King Salman in talks focused on combating terrorism and its financing, the Saudi state news agency SPA said.

In a joint statement issued after Tillerson and his Qatari counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding on counterterroism efforts, the four countries issued a statement calling the accord inadequate.

Speaking to reporters in Bratislava, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan said Tillerson’s visit was not likely to resolve the dispute.

“I think it will ease tensions but it’s just postponing the problem, which will grow in the future.”

The crisis goes beyond the financing of terrorism, said Jean-Marc Rickli, a risk analyst at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, pointing to Gulf fears about Iran’s expansionist aims, internal instability and the regional influence of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as competition for regional leadership.

France said its foreign minister would visit the Gulf, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, on July 15-16 as part of its own efforts to overcome the rift.

In their statement on Tuesday, the four boycotting states said they appreciated US efforts in fighting terrorism.

“… (But) such a step is not enough and they will closely monitor the seriousness of Qatar in combating all forms of funding, supporting and fostering of terrorism,” the statement said, according to the UAE state news agency WAM.

Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the dispute was rooted in an absence of trust and that any solution must address the four states’ grievances.

Qatar hosts Udeid Air Base, the largest US military facility in the Middle East, from which U.S.-led coalition aircraft stage sorties against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

“What makes Wednesday’s meeting in Jeddah difficult is that Tillerson has, since the beginning of the crisis, appeared to be taking the Qatari side,” a commentary published in Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat and Arab News newspapers said on Wednesday.

“Tillerson cannot impose reconciliation, but he could reduce the distance between the parties in the diplomatic rift — all of which are his allies — rather than taking the side of one against the other,” wrote columnist Abdulrahman al-Rashed, the former general manager of the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya channel.

Arab Coalition Source: Report on Meeting with Saleh’s Son is False

London- A senior source in the Arab coalition backing the legitimate government in Yemen denied on Monday a report on a meeting between spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition Ahmad Asiri and the son of deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In a phone call to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the source said that Asiri did not sit down with Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh as was mentioned by an online French journal.

Saleh, who was deposed in 2011 during Yemen’s “Arab Spring”, is currently in league with the Iran-backed Houthi movement.

The source, who spoke under anonymity , also denounced the “false news which claimed that the coalition seeks to drop support for the constitutionally elected leader President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

“The coalition supports the legitimate Yemeni government headed by President Hadi and his internationally recognized government under UN Resolution 2216,” the source added.

Deals Lie behind India’s Shifting Stance in Supporting Israel


Tel Aviv – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off Tuesday a three-day visit to Tel Aviv, described by the Israeli authorities as “historic” for being the first visit of an Indian Prime Minister to Israel since its establishment.

The visit is also marked a change in the stance of New Delhi, which is currently interested in inking important arms deals with Israel, in addition to strengthening the two countries’ relationship in a range of areas, including economy and technology.

At the start of his trip, Modi said cooperation between his country and Israel could “change the image of the world.”

For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he seeks to enhance his country’s ties with India.

“The visit attests to the fact that our relations with India became closer. This visit will deepen cooperation in a range of areas – security, agriculture, water, energy, almost every field in which Israel is engaged,” Netanyahu said.

Modi’s plane landed late on Tuesday afternoon in Tel Aviv where Netanyahu welcomed him before the two men embraced warmly.

The two sides are also set to announce strategic partnerships in areas including water, agriculture, space technology and mainly defense.

During the historic visit to Tel Aviv, Modi will sign seven cooperation agreements, including deals to counter terrorism and increase cooperation in sharing of intelligence in this regard.

Contrary to worldwide leaders visiting Israel, Modi is not scheduled to visit Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. By this gesture, the Indian prime minister has chosen to ignore calls from inside India and that accused him of failing to protect a balance in his political relations.

However, Modi said that his country’s position towards the Palestinian issue has not changed.

Later during his stay in Tel Aviv, Modi will meet with President Reuven Rivlin.