Experts Criticize Halting of Investigations into 2016 Attack against Saudi Diplomatic Missions in Iran

A number of prominent experts in Iranian affairs strongly denounced and rebuffed the Iranian regime for procrastinating and eventually halting investigations into the 2016 attack on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

The 2016 attack on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran was a mob action on 2 January 2016 by a crowd of protesters who stormed the embassy in Tehran and another Saudi diplomatic consulate in Mashhad, ransacking offices.

The experts criticized Iranian authorities for rejecting the participation of a Saudi team in the investigation process, considering it a sign that Iran is not serious to chase the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

More so, the experts added that such behavior is not strange, citing the 1979 storming of the American embassy in Tehran, and holding its staff captives for 444 days, the 1987 attack against the Saudi and Kuwaiti embassies respectively, the 1988 attack on the Russian embassy, the 2007 offensive on a Kuwaiti diplomat, the 2009 aggression against the Pakistani embassy, the 2011 attack on the British embassy and the latest attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate general in Mash-had in 2016.

In an expression of good will, Iran be keen on advancing investigations and bring criminals to justice, the Saudi Press Agency cited the experts as saying.

Working under the false banner of revolution, Iran is planning to destabilize the region, added the experts.

They said prolonging the pace of investigations is yet a clear evidence that the Iranian regime is involved in the attack against the Saudi diplomatic missions.

Those gave statements to SPA on the issue include a number of Tunisian politicians, scholars, and media personalities.

They include Chairman of the foreign, political and national security affairs at the Arab parliament Ahmed Al-Mashraqi, President of Tunisian Justice and Development party Abdulrazaq bin Al-Arabi, Shaker Sharfi, a Tunisian academician and politician, and Hasan bin Ali, a Tunisian media man.

Other commentators from Jordan are expert in Iranian-affairs Dr. Nabeel Al-Atoum, and Editor-in-chief Madar Al-Saa (round-the-clock) news agency of Amman, Jordan, Awwad Al-Khalaylah.

Want Hopeful Signs From 2016? Look to Some of Its Aggravations

2016

Looking for a way to end 2016 on a hopeful note? So was I when I went back through the columns I had written this year about the consumer issues that confused or annoyed me most.

What I found was a pleasant surprise: In several cases, things had actually gotten at least a little better in the months since I’d visited the topic.

So let us return to airline baggage fees, the general unpleasantness of the rental car industry, banks that use scare tactics to try to keep you from using new apps, and price transparency in college shopping.

Glimmers of optimism are appropriate in each case, but so is vigilance. Our need to call companies out when they’re not meeting our needs continues unabated.

LUGGAGE FEE REFUNDS When you pay to check your bags and they don’t arrive until a day after you do, you ought to get your money back. Seems logical, and airlines don’t always disagree, as I wrote in April. But the process is deliberately tedious — and it can end with vouchers for future travel instead of refunds to your credit card.

In a rare bit of bipartisan legislative action, Congress delivered in July the reauthorization act for the Federal Aviation Administration. It promises that by July 2017, all air carriers must “promptly” provide an “automated refund” of checked baggage fees if they fail “to deliver” a bag 12 hours after the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours after an international one.

There will still need to be a round of Department of Transportation rule-making on the specifics, which worries me some. Kathy Allen, a spokeswoman for the trade group Airlines for America, didn’t want to say much beyond pointing me to a statement about the dangers of regulation. She added, via email, that she didn’t think “there’s any way to speculate at this point about the future administration.”

So I took my skeptical questions — How “automated” is automated? Can a voucher count as a refund? How exactly are we to define “deliver”? — to Charles Leocha, the founder of the advocacy group Travelers United.

Mr. Leocha believes that every airline will have to offer a refund to your credit card but may be able to extend a voucher as an option, too. So be ready to ask for your “automatic” refund and check a box for a true refund to your credit or debit card. Airlines prefer vouchers because of the “breakage” — the fancy industry term for people forgetting all about them.

Normally when bags are many hours late, the airline hires a company to deliver them to you. So here’s a cynical question to ponder: Will the airlines start the clock for refund purposes when you land and then stop it when your bags merely arrive at the airport, long after you’ve given up and left? Or will they do the right thing and not stop the clock until the delivery company shows up with your bag, many hours after the bag may have arrived at the airport? Mr. Leocha would not rule out the possibility that the airlines might try to default to the first scenario, noting that there’s usually some kind of battle during the rule-making process.

NEW BLOOD AT HERTZ
This month, I channeled years of frustration and bile into a column about the rental-car industry. By my analysis, the leading companies seemed to have set a team of user-experience geeks loose with the goal of making car rentals so painful that every last one of us would flee to Lyft or Uber.

A few days later, Hertz announced that its chief executive was retiring as of Jan. 3 and that his replacement, Kathryn V. Marinello, would come from outside the company. Even better: She has deep experience in the payments industry from her time at General Electric and First Data.

Hertz has an obnoxious practice of charging customers for toll transponders, even on days when the vehicles don’t pass through tolls. This isn’t necessary. Competitors like Enterprise don’t charge on days when the gear is idle, while Silvercar doesn’t charge at all for the transponder.

Will Ms. Marinello rid us of this scourge? A Hertz spokeswoman, Karen Drake, did not reply to my request to have a chat with the new boss.

MY PAL JAMIE DIMON Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan Chase chief executive, used his annual shareholders letter in April to try to scare consumers who use some third-party apps and services that help manage and move money. In a May column with the headline “Jamie Dimon Wants to Protect You From Innovative Start-Ups,” I tried to take the measure of his security concerns, which seemed to have been directed at companies like Yodlee, Mint, Acorns and Penny.

Later that month, when Recode’s Kara Swisher asked him about the headline, which she described as “not a very nice” one, he dismissed it with an unprintable phrase. Time will tell if he intends to erect barriers that will keep new companies from helping his customers improve their financial lives in ways the bank hasn’t thought of yet. I hope he doesn’t.

Since then, there have been no big breaches that we know of at start-ups and services like these. Last month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a welcome, industrywide call for comments on third-party data access and possible additional safeguards. We’ll see if the bureau can issue recommendations before our elected officials begin their promised defanging of the agency.

I do want to thank Mr. Dimon on behalf of credit-card reward junkies everywhere for giving us the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card in 2016. By next month, I’ll have extracted over $2,100 in value in exchange for my $450 annual fee. At that point, we’ll put my card aside, my wife will get her own, and we’ll do the same thing all over again.

All those perks for customers will reduce the bank’s profit by $200 million to $300 million in the fourth quarter, Mr. Dimon told investors this month, according to a Bloomberg report. But the investment could pay off handsomely if people stick with the card for a long time and carry balances that are multiples of the rewards they extract.

COLLEGE COST TRANSPARENCY In 2016, schools like the California Institute of Technology, Harvard and Princeton continued to block College Abacus, a nifty tool for families to estimate the true cost of attendance at a college or university and to compare it with other institutions. The tool can’t compare costs if it can’t access the universities’ calculators, so the schools erect barricades that block it.

As I wrote in a January column, the schools’ representatives either blew me off when I asked them why they were doing this or offered explanations that didn’t stand up to scrutiny. So let me explain what I think is actually going on here.

Most colleges are already in a quiet price war, haggling on financial aid offers in April or throwing discounts at families earlier in the season and calling it merit aid or some other euphemistic term. Any tool like the one at College Abacus, which bluntly pits schools against one another, reinforces the idea that cost ought to be a big factor in any family’s decision making.

Once you put down the pictures of leafy campuses and start in on the spreadsheet, however, you discover that there isn’t much data that can help you figure out whether the school with the $65,000 annual bill for tuition, room and board is better than the school that offers $45,000 (including a $20,000 discount). Or whether the $25,000 flagship state university would be just fine (or worse than two years of community college first).

So a tip of the cap to unafraid administrators at Drew University, which unblocked College Abacus’s search software this year. Here’s hoping that more schools will do the same in 2017, a year in which I intend to ask plenty more questions about how and what to pay for college.

The New York Times

In 2016, Iran Reaped Benefits of Nuclear Deal in the Region

London- The year 2016 was an opportunity for Iran to benefit from the nuclear deal it inked with the P5+1 by expanding its political and military interference in the Arab World, mainly in Syria and Yemen. These benefits were emphasized by Washington’s reluctance to curb the Iranian meddling aiming at maintaining the deal, which was considered one of Obama administration’s best achievements.

In 2016, however, Iran made a serious shift in its relations with the Arab countries after an attack launched by a Basij Group against the Embassy and Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Tehran and Mashhad following an official incitement. In return, Riyadh suspended its diplomatic ties with Tehran and kicked out the Iranian Ambassador.

Tehran sought to avenge the international and Arab stances against it by refusing Saudi conditions of pilgrimage, aiming to politicize the Hajj season.

On the political level, the supreme leader of Iran denounced the attack against the Saudi Embassy but refused to consider it an extremist assault.

Advantages of the nuclear deal
After the nuclear deal was struck, European delegations flowed to Tehran seeking economic interests and business deals; the French and Germans were the luckiest in this field, but financial institutions’ reluctance from dealing with Tehran foiled Hassan Rouhani’s development ambitions.

Generally, over the past year, Iran sought to hold major business agreements with oil companies like Shell and Total along with transaction to promote its aviation fleet by buying aircraft from Boeing and Airbus. However, the U.S. Treasury’s opposition to Iran’s use of the U.S. dollar in its transactions delayed the deal.

In June, the FATF Group, which monitors terrorist financing and money laundering, said in its newest classifications for 2016 that Iran has topped the blacklist of countries threatening the global financial institutions.

Elections and disputes among officials

On the other hand, parliamentary and leadership council elections were among the major events that took place in Iran in 2016. These elections acquired additional importance amid news on the deterioration of the Supreme Leader’s health and the parliamentary debate on Rouhani’s government efforts to pass the nuclear deal.

After a landslide win of Rouhani allies in the parliamentary elections, the “moderates” and the “reformists” announced the Hope parliamentary bloc composed of the 30 MPs of Tehran. Yet, Qasem Soleimani, senior military officer in the IRGC appeared two days before the new parliament’s oath and the fundamentalists’ MPs announced the “Wilaya” bloc led by Ali Larijani.

Corruption scandals
In July, anti- Rouhani websites leaked many government documents proving high-ranking officials had received illegal salaries; these leaks came after supreme leader Ali Khamenei assigned one of his assistants to investigate corruption cases.

In June, Khamenei’s special inspector Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri said that the Iranian regime had suffered a blow amid major corruption cases. He also criticized data on addiction, divorce, corruption, and briberies saying the regime’s rivals are using them against it. Corruption reached the Municipality of Tehran and the education sector.

IRGC destroys Syria

On January 5, the IRGC revealed the second biggest storage of ballistic missiles amid government fears from missile tests before the inking of the nuclear deal.

Along with these experiences, the Iranian army has interfered in the Syrian war and has lost many militants. In mid-December, IRGC’s leader revealed for the first time that Iran has 200,000 militants spread in five Arab and Muslim countries. It is worth noting that in March, Massoud Jazayeri pledged to send troops to Yemen like it was done in Syria.

Expansionary, preventive war
Iranian media outlets published statements for Khamenei in which he defended the Iranian military intervention in Syria and other regions. With the beginning of May, Soleimani said that his forces’ presence in Syria and Iraq will guaranty the security and stability of Iran.

Deterioration of humanitarian conditions and community crises in Iran
Many sources, including the Iranian Statistics Center documented the deterioration in local community conditions; poverty has risen, displacement from rural regions to the cities has increased, and unemployment rates have reached unprecedented levels. Data revealed that seven million Iranians suffer from unemployment and expected the number to rise to 11 million within the five coming years.

On the other hand, the government sought to negotiate international entities to suspend sanctions related to human rights violations and considered as biased reports released by the Human Rights Council.

According to U.N. organizations, intelligence forces of the IRGC have targeted political activists in Ahvaz, which has a majority of Arab residents.

Horrid Events Hit Jordan in 2016

Jordanian security vehicles seen near the General Intelligence directorate offices near al Baqaa Refugee Camp

Amman- Jordan witnessed in 2016 unprecedented political and security events along with many terrorist acts.

As per the important political incidents, during 2016, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan accepted the resignation of the government led by Abdullah Ensour and appointed Hani al-Malki to compose a new cabinet.

The Kingdom saw the appointment of Major General Mahmoud Freihat as the JAF’s new joint chief of staff to succeed the retired Lieutenant General, Mashal Mohammad Al Zaben.

General elections were held in Jordan on 20 September 2016 to elect the 18th Lower House of Parliament. The elections were announced after parliament was dissolved by King Abdullah II of Jordan on 29 May 2016, with the King appointing Hani Al-Mulki as interim Prime Minister following the resignation of Abdullah Ensour. These elections featured the participation of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) and the fall of many prominent political symbols.

The remarkable political developments of 2016 also included a decision to shut down the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Amman based on a decision taken by the governor of the [Jordanian] capital. This decision was one of many to close other offices for the organization across the Kingdom, which was considered a conclusion to the Brotherhood’s issue.

Political-security crimes

On 2 March 2016, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad Al Momani announced the conclusion of the security operation in Irbid, which killed seven members from a terrorist group and led to the martyrdom of Captain Hussein Zyoud from the Specialized Security Forces.

On 6 June 2016, the Kingdom lost five members from the intelligence service killed by a terrorist, who was arrested after few hours and then sentenced to death. On June 21, a blast targeted a Jordanian army post for Syrian refugees at the north-eastern borders of Jordan and killed seven members from the Jordanian armed forces and the Civil Defense.

On September 25, Jordanian Writer Nahed Hattar was shot outside the Jordanian Justice Palace while his killer admitted that he committed his crime to punish the writer for offending the Islamic Religion.

In November, three U.S. soldiers were killed in a military base in Al Jafr region and investigations are still ongoing.

In August, gendarme forces in cooperation with security bodies carried out remarkable security raids in Moan.
The Hashemite Kingdom also lost four pilots from the Royal Air Forces in 2016.

Other crimes

Jordan witnessed bizarre murders in 2016. On January 22, Fayez Suheimat, former director of the Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company, was shot dead by one of his sons who suffered from a psychiatric disorder.

On November 3, a man in his 20s decapitated his mother, who was in her 50s, and then fled the house. This was considered the most brutal crime in the country over the past years.

Drugs and road accidents

Along with all those incidents and crimes that took place in this year, the fight against drugs also had a share in 2016. Authorities foiled attempts to smuggle the biggest quantity of drugs in Jordan’s history by confiscating 123 million Captagon pills along with other illegal items.

Road accidents also killed many people. One of the saddest accidents killed 16 Palestinian pilgrims after the bus overturned in a remote area southern Jordan.

The Hashemite Kingdom also witnessed a number of protests followed by riot. Protets were organized against unemployment, amendments of educational curricula and the gas contract inked with Israel.

Finally, it is worth noting that during 2016, Jordan hosted the World Cup for females under 17 years old.

2016…a Year of Balances and Maps Confusion

World

London – Asharq Al-Awsat has dedicated a week to review 2016’s most important incidences and developments before anticipating the major incidents of 2017. The newspapers’ reporters and writers have contributed in gathering the remarkable events that took place over the 12 past months on national, regional, and international levels; they also highlighted the backgrounds and makers and sometimes tackled their repercussions and exceptional importance.

Many incidents have dominated the Arab region and the world – these incidents covered security crises like war against terrorism and extremism, projects of expansion and hegemony aiming to spread and exploit factional discord, and the development of international relations with major players and partners in both private and public sectors.

The political issues in the Arab world mainly Syria, Iraq, and Yemen have witnessed important developments; Al-Assad regime supported by Iran and Russia has maintained its efforts to bury the popular uprising through systematic displacement and demographic change. Tehran in cooperation with many local parties has manipulated the local scene aiming to change regional equations; it also benefited from Barak Obama’s Administration, which worked on achieving a nuclear deal with Iran and avoided a serious intervention to stop the Iranian interference.

2016 also witnessed many major events like the 100th anniversary of The Sykes–Picot Agreement, which drew the Middle East’s maps. Over the past 12 months, maps’ changes represented a serious concern, which was highly discussed and negotiated among Arabs, Kurds, Turks, and Iranians. ISIS-led terrorism was also another major dilemma; the organization has taken advantage of people’s burdens and sufferance to justify its draconian acts against civilians.

Last but not least, practices of the Israeli right-winged Likud-led administration and its insistence on continuing settlement and Judaism projects have contributed in maximizing depression among the Arabic and Muslim youth and pushed them toward extremism. We also have to shed lights on the phenomenon of another kind of extremism practiced against Muslims and Arabs all across Europe and the United States.

In fact, the asylum and displacement and even the economic migration, which have grown after the drop of national barriers in Europe have agitated concerns and rivalry against others, and helped racist powers to reach the heart of the battle over the authority. Phenomena which have emphasized this new trend included the British voting for Brexit, the fall of the Italian government, election of the Republican Donald Trump in U.S.A. and the ascension of the right-wing’s influence in France.

On another hand, by the time the West was in confusion with economic obstacles, Russia and China have marked more presence. Russia led by Vladimir Putin has showed more influence in the Middle East and Eastern Europe – taking advantage of Obama’s administration’s weakness – Beijing has sought to play a similar leading role in the Middle East, which has raised concerns among neighboring countries.

Most important incidences:

• January: Saudi Arabia has suspended diplomatic ties with Iran after the attack on its embassy in Tehran.
• February: Physicians announce their detection for the first clear gravity phenomenon expected by Einstein in 1915.
• February: A historic meeting between Pope Francis and Moscow’s Patriarch in Havana after more than 1000 years of separation among Christians of the East and the West.
• March: The EU inked suspicious agreement with Turkey to stop refugees flow to Europe.
• March: Barack Obama visits Cuba for the first time since Fidel Castro reached the rule in 1959.
• March: ISIS hit Brussels through coordinated attacks and killed 32 people.
• April: Journalists discover Panama Documents revealing scandals of fiscal evasion.
• May: Murder of Taliban’s leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour through an air strike launched by a U.S. drone.
• Mat: Obama calls to clear the world from nuclear weapon of Hiroshima.
• June: Mohammad Ali Clay left this world.
• June: 52% of the British people voted for separation from the EU.
• July: A suicide member carried on an attack in Nice and killed 82 people with a bus hit.
• July: A failed coup attempt took place in Turkey.
• August: Rio Olympics kicked off.
• September: North Koran regime announced success of its fifth nuclear test.
• September: Shimon Peres died.
• November: Republican candidate Donald Trump won U.S. presidential elections.
• November: Syrian army launched violent assault over Aleppo.
• November: Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban revolution passed away.
• December: Twin terrorist attack in Istanbul killed 44 policemen.
• December: Attack against the Coptic church in Cairo
• December: António Guterres sworn in as next U.N. Secretary-General

Biggest Tech Failures and Successes of 2016

A customer exchanging his Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in Seoul, South Korea, in October.

If you love technology, it may be time for a group hug: This year has been rough for consumer technology.

From exploding smartphones and hoverboards to the proliferation of fake news on social media, many of our tech hardware, software and web products suffered embarrassing failures. Behemoths like Google, Facebook and Samsung Electronics were on the firing line as a result.

Yet the year was not entirely bleak. There were major strides in several areas of consumer tech, including Wi-Fi, virtual reality and encryption.

What follows is a year in review on the tech that needed the most fixing, and the tech that was actually fixed in 2016.

Tech That Needed Fixing

BATTERIES

Lithium ion has been the go-to technology for batteries powering consumer electronics for decades. But faulty lithium-ion battery cells were blamed for two high-profile product safety hazards this year: exploding hoverboards and Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones. The defects led schools to ban the use of hoverboards on campus and Samsung to recall more than 2.5 million Note 7 smartphones.

Lithium ion has stuck around for so long because it is cheap and easy to reproduce. Yet this year’s explosive episodes — combined with the persistent complaint that smartphone batteries don’t last very long — raise questions about whether the industry should shift toward advanced battery technologies that have been in development for years.

SAMSUNG’S SAFETY RECORD

Samsung’s safety record took a black eye from more than just those combustible cellphones. The company also recalled 2.8 million defective washing machines in the United States that were prone to abnormal vibrations that could cause injury.

In addition, Samsung’s Galaxy Note recall was so poorly handled that the company had to issue a second recall, then kill the product, after it failed to diagnose and fix the problem both times.

The two major product defects made one thing clear: The tech giant needs to fix its quality assurance protocols to ensure that consumer safety is a priority — and not just crank out big, bright screens on phones or fast spin cycles on washers.

FAKE NEWS AND ABUSE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

During the presidential campaign, Facebook, Twitter and Google faced mounting criticism for letting fake news propagate on their platforms, potentially influencing Americans to cast their votes based on misinformation. Twitter was also separately criticized for its taciturn approach to dealing with abusive tweets, including racist attacks and threats of violence.

All the internet companies took steps toward combating fake news and hateful speech. But the polarized election underscored the costs of internet freedom: When the web resembles the Wild, Wild West, the consequences can be dire.

VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS

Google put artificial intelligence in the spotlight this year when it introduced Home, a smart speaker that is its response to Amazon’s Echo; Allo, a messaging service that leverages A.I.; and Pixel, a smartphone that heavily relies on a virtual assistant.

Despite all the hype, all virtual assistants, including Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, continued to be subpar this year. In rigorous testing, they all failed at obvious tasks — for example, Alexa initially couldn’t say who was playing in the Super Bowl (even though she was featured in a Super Bowl commercial), Google Assistant couldn’t book a dinner table or order delivery food, and Siri was unreliable at giving map directions.

Virtual assistants are poised to get smarter as we use them more. But consumers shouldn’t let virtual assistants be a major factor in what they buy just yet, because the assistants are all pretty dumb.

Tech That Was Fixed

WI-FI

On the bright side, a ubiquitous technology that has been the source of much consumer anguish saw great improvement over the last year: Wi-Fi.

Newer, well-reviewed routers, like products from TP-Link, Asus and Netgear, feature smarter and faster wireless technologies that do a better job of assembling signals and beam energy more accurately at mobile devices.

In addition, Google and the start-up Eero made Wi-Fi networks easier to set up for those with little technical know-how. With Eero’s Wi-Fi system and Google Wifi, the companies introduced well-designed apps that help people set up multiple Wi-Fi stations in the home. The multiple access points create a so-called mesh network that enables mobile devices to seamlessly switch to the strongest Wi-Fi signal as consumers move around their homes with smartphones, laptops and tablets.

VIRTUAL REALITY

Virtual reality still has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream. The devices released this year by HTC, Facebook’s Oculus, Sony PlayStation and Google largely revolve around gaming, limiting their audience. In addition, most of the devices are expensive.

But the technology has made significant strides. It works smoothly, and the experiences are immersive and stunning. Apps released this year — like Tilt Brush, a 3-D painting tool for HTC’s Vive, or SuperHyberCube, which is like Tetris with a virtual-reality twist for PlayStation VR — demonstrated virtual reality’s tremendous potential.

ENCRYPTION

Tensions between tech companies and the government reached a fever pitch during Apple’s face-off with the F.B.I. early this year over privacy and security. The F.B.I. had demanded that Apple weaken its iPhone encryption so that it could gain access to the contents of a phone belonging to a gunman in the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting. Apple refused, arguing that weakening its software system for a single investigation would create vulnerabilities that might put all customers at risk. The F.B.I. eventually withdrew its demand after figuring out how to break into the iPhone without Apple’s help.

Amid Apple’s feud with the F.B.I., many big tech companies expanded encryption in their products. Facebook, WhatsApp and Google put the encryption protocol from Signal, a widely lauded secure messaging service, in their messaging services. Though none of the encrypted messaging services are perfect, this year marked significant progress toward offering tools that strengthened consumer privacy.

STREAMING LIVE VIDEO

Mobile video broadcasting was once a novelty because live streams had a tendency to be spotty, unreliable and impractical to produce. But in the last year, Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live have made mobile live video streams simple to shoot and extremely popular.

Periscope reported that as of March, 110 years’ worth of live video was consumed daily on its mobile apps, up from 40 years’ worth a day last year. Facebook said videos are viewed eight billion times a day on the social network, up from one billion a year ago, and live videos get 10 times as many comments as other videos.

The popularity of live video streaming is making online video a prominent medium. Just scroll down your Facebook News Feed and witness how often people are posting videos instead of photos and text. Video has become unavoidable.

(The New York Times)

Moscow, Iranian Minister of Defense to Discuss an 8 Billion Dollar Arms Deal

Moscow, Iranian Minister of Defense to Discuss an 8 Billion Dollar Arms Deal
Moscow, Iranian Minister of Defense to Discuss an 8 Billion Dollar Arms Deal

In the prospect of intensifying military cooperation between Russia and Iran, Hossein Dehghan, Iranian Minister of Defense arrived to Moscow and instigated deliberations with his peer Sergey Shoygu. Dehghan is also expected to later meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, the agreement on Russia delivering the S-300 (missile system) to Iran is in accord on execution, after the deal being previously put to rest, an approximate 10 years, due to the economic and military sanctions that were imposed on Iran.

Dehghan visiting Russia aims to acquire artillery bulk worth a near 8 billion dollars in planes and military equipment. He will also be conferring several regional and international suits, like the Syrian crisis and the relationship with Gulf countries especially Saudi Arabia, Military-Technical Cooperation (MTC) sources reported.

Kommersant, a Russian daily newspaper, published that Tehran has provided Moscow a list on arms and equipment the Iranian army hopes on picking up. The list is the same one discussed with the Russian Ministry of Defense, the government, and kremlin.

Iran also seems to want to get its hands on the advanced anti-aircraft weapon system S-400, the latest upgrade by the Almaz Central Design Bureau. It is the same missile system Russia has dispatched near Turkish borders north of Syrian Lattakia port city, after the downing of the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter-jet near borders on Nov. 24. Iranian administration potentially looks forward to signing a deal on Sukhoi Su-30 advanced fighter-jets made by Sukhoi Aviation Corporation, or the regulation of a local production of fighter-jets in Iran under Russian licensing, Interfax reported.

Sources stated that Russian-Iranian consultations also involve the possibility of importing K-300P Bastion-P Russian mobile coastal defense missile system equipped with Yakhont SS-N-26 anti-ship cruise missile. Iran, moreover, is looking into the chances of bringing in Yak-130 subsonic two-seat advanced jet trainer/light attack aircraft, Mil Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters, Russian made frigates, diesel-electric attack submarine, and many other war artillery.

Observers in Moscow criticized Tehran’s requisition for being high on expenses and faced with several obstacles. One of the reasons that could stand in the way of Russia realizing each item on that list or some of them is because of the unavailability Iranian liquid assets that are sufficient to finance the deal through a Moscow-provided loan, which in the meantime makes it seem a far-reach possibility.

One other reason would be the grave crises Russia now bares due to the sanctions imposed on it since the rupture of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. Furthermore, the U.N. Security Council has yet not lifted sanctions on sending weapons and military equipment to Iran, which they have stated to remain imposed and according to resolution until year-2020.

Moscow already made official statements broadcasted by RIA Novosti, Russia’s international news agency, on Russian interest in settling disputes between Saudi Arabia and Iran, especially in a time when the hitch on oil prices must be solved in a conjoined manner. Zamir Kabulov, Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, said that Tehran’s response to the Russian proposal on mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia was positive.

The proposal holds, and Iranian reaction is positive, Kabulov confirmed.

Saudi Arabia has yet not responded to the proposition because of compiled tension and discontent present between the two countries’ relationship, according to Kabulov.

RIA Novosti pointed out that Russian diplomat Kabulov did not confirm questions on the possibility of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei visiting Russia. Controversially he revealed that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov might be paying Iran a visit this year, however, the date of the visit is not set. Despite that Iranian Deputy FM Ibrahim Rahim Bour had before said that Lavrov is expected to visit Iran in the first half of 2016.

EU Confident Can Deliver $3 Billion in Assistance to Turkey

Saudi Arabia Expands Sectors Drawing in Investment
Saudi Arabia Expands Sectors Drawing in Investment

Riyadh, on Sunday evening, launched the activities of the ninth international competitiveness forum for 2016. The forum has been successfully launched under the patronage of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and will entitle “Sector Competitiveness” amid important indicators aiming at developing investment mechanisms in Saudi Arabia, and stimulating the economy towards further growth.

On that subject, Abdullatif bin Al Othman, the third and current Governor of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, at the opening ceremony, revealed that this committee in addition to all concerned governmental authorities have prepared a comprehensive program for improving the competitive atmosphere in the Kingdom and for absolving all obstacles facing investors. The program is set to work under detailed recommendations and in specific periods.

Moreover, in a sideline press conference, Governor Abdullatif bin Al Othman confirmed that the recent economic initiatives taken by the Kingdom had come at the right time. Saudi Arabia now focuses on the diversification of income sources. “There will be multiple new sectors welcoming investment, in addition to the investing promise of other sectors such as energy, health, mining, services, retail, financial services, real-estate, tourism, as well as education and the reinforcement of work competition in Saudi Arabia”, Al Othman added .

Governor Al Othman stressed on the point that Saudi Arabia is open to investment and welcomes investors.

In his speech at the forum, Al Othman highlighted the accomplishments witnessed by the kingdom in light of the wise leadership of King Salman viewed throughout the course of the whole year.

“Despite disorder and wars ravaging across the region, the precedent year has viewed a movement supporting and organizing growth in the Kingdom; many decisions were made, alongside policies and serious procedures, aiming at accomplishing broad structural reform for national economy, and those decisions were followed with the establishment of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.”

Among the achievements and decisions recorded in 2015 was the configuration of the residential sector, in addition to the imposition of fees on any underdeveloped property. The decisions issued worked on both providing residence and integrating the private sector into the construction sector.

“There are many policies and procedures that will be applied in the upcoming future: the suggestion of a group of sectors, economic activities for privatization, the cutting of red tape work for the private sector, improving levels of transparency, and accounting”, Al Othman added.

Saudi Arabia is considered to be the largest economy in the Middle East, ranking among the top 20 world economies. It has recorded a gross production approximated to 653 billion dollars for 2015, and is considered to be the fourth quickest growing economy in the world.

Opinion: What Middle East are we to Expect in 2016?

Pictures of an emaciated man from the besieged Syrian town of Madaya in the Rif Dimashq Governorate, who died after failing to exchange his car for some food, may best reflect the latest development of Syria’s debacle which welcomes 2016 with new and old baggage that threatens the Middle East with the worst.

This may not be a suitable introduction to what to expect in the Middle East in 2016, but any optimistic talk given the current situation is outright stupid; as the region, whether we like or not, is in a real, multi-faceted state of war.

Any ballistic missile launched from the Yemeni mountain hideouts of Iranian backed Houthis and former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh targeting civilians in the towns and villages of southern Saudi Arabia proves that the GCC military intervention on the side of Yemen’s legitimate government has been more than necessary; even though, some may say, it has come a bit late.

In the meantime, in Syria, carrying out the plan hatched and imposed by Iran’s IRGC for population exchange involving the Sunni population of Damascus’ western countryside and the Shi’ite enclaves of Aleppo and Idlib Provinces with the military support of Iran’s subservient Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan Shi’ite militias and the Russian air force, any peddling of a ‘peaceful settlement’ becomes a travesty.

As for Iraq, the role given to and played by the Shi’a dominated ‘People’s Rally’ which at present forms the backbone of field armed forces claiming legitimacy, leaves no doubt that Iran now controls the political and security processes in Baghdad. The battle to ‘liberate’ the town of Ramadi by driving out ISIS, in all declared and undeclared circumstances, in addition to Baghdad taking the issue of a military Turkish presence in northern Iraq to the Arab League, are further signs that the ‘new Iraq’ created by Washington in 2003 under the pretext of non-existing arms of mass destruction is barely distinguishable from the ‘new Syria’ whose map is being drawn by Washington, Moscow and Tehran who use the war against ISIS as a pretext.

Now free of American sanctions and military pressure, Iran is now behaving like another Israel but much larger and even more ambitious and expansionist; it is hell-bent on re-drawing the borders of its neighbouring countries, deciding the limits of their sovereignty, fabricating and imposing their leaders and then lecturing about ‘human rights’, defining ‘terrorism’ the way it pleases, expropriating Islam and offering its ‘services’ to world powers as a regional client.

The latest has been the long expected threat to Saudi Arabia after Riyadh executed a number of extremists (the vast majority of whom are Sunnis) convicted of involvement in terrorist crimes. Iran’s reaction would have been expected had it come from a country that does not carry out the death sentence against political and sectarian opposition activists; but coming from a country that ranks second (after China) in the executions’ league table and and accuses Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries of aiding and abetting terrorism and Al Qaeda-style terrorism, such a reaction means that Iran is actually in a state of war with its Gulf neighbours. Indeed, it may not take the Turks and Kurds too long to begin to realise the threat of Iran’s ambitions to their own territories.

There are several question marks surrounding the future of the Middle East as we welcome in 2016; but while many argue about whether Russia’s military intervention in Syria is intended to contain Iran’s overreach or compliments its regional project which seems to enjoy American, Israeli and European approval, we are clearly witnessing two salient facts.

The first is that Russia’s political and military presence in the eastern Mediterranean is now a fact that has negative repercussions on Turkey and its regional influence. Washington’s policies and recent stances point to its deep dislike of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its efforts to weaken and undermine him in parallel with its support of Iran’s ascendency and Kurdish secessionist endeavours. This is what one can read from NATO’s reluctant sympathy with Moscow following threats to the Turks after the Russian jet fighter incident as well as the generous and continuous American support of the Kurds which is hardly comparable with the pitiful support we have been told has been received by Syria’s moderate opposition.

The second fact is that as the US presidential elections campaign gathers momentum, certain ‘specialised’ quarters begin their own campaign of – what I reckon –well-planned political and even partisan ‘leaks’. The Wall Street Journal reports about an unsuccessful coup against Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad were pretty exciting, and would surely lessen the pressure on Barack Obama in particular, as well as that on the Democrats in next November’s presidential, congressional and gubernatorial elections. Definitely more exciting is what Seymour Hersh – a ‘friend’ of Al-Assad and Hezbollah – has reported about “intelligence sharing” between the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defence Intellingence Agency with their Russian, Israeli and German counterparts in order to keep the Syrian dictator in power ostensibly without the knowledge of the White House. One reason why such ‘info’ has been made public by Hersh may have been to exonerate Obama of GOP accusations of hesitation, betrayal of the Syrians and giving in to Moscow and Tehran.

The logical question here, besides who the main beneficiary is, must be “why now?” Given the present military situation in Syria, most of what Hersh has reported is true regardless of whether one believes in ‘conspiracy theories’ or not. But why now? After the realities on the ground– the secret about “intelligence sharing” is divulged? How is it possible to continue with fake declarations, deceitful conferences, manoeuvres and training and arming programmes for two years?

In any case, the acute and defining crises and problems the Middle East is facing at present merit realistic actions without illusions. The ‘hot spots’ like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and of course Palestine, provide early tests of ability after intentions of all concerned have become clear.

If the Russians carry on with their ‘blitz’ in Syria in order to radically overturn the equation before the promised peace talks, Americans continue to regard Haider Al-Abadi’s government in Iraq as an avant-garde in the ‘war against terror’, and Iran swims deeper and deeper in the blood of innocent citizens of Yemen, GCC states, Iraq and the Levant through its Houthis and other local militant henchmen, the victory in the ‘war against terror’ will be costlier and will take a very long time.

Saudi Budget Ushers in the Era of Income Diversity

King Salman bin Abdulaziz
King Salman bin Abdulaziz

King Salman bin Abdulaziz directs the Economic and Development Council: By launching a comprehensive reform program of a 840 billion SAR worth of expenses and a 513 SAR worth return in revenue, all in a plan of regulating both water and power consumption.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced its national budget for 2016, with 840 SAR billion worth of expenses, with a return revenue of 513 billion SAR, and an expected 326 billion SAR deficit.

King Salman while chairing the private ministerial session to launch the national budget in Riyadh, announced that 2016 comes in the context of internationally declining oil prices amid economic, financial, regional, and international challenges.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques revealed the Council of Economic and Development Affairs would work toward launching an economic, financially, and structural comprehensive reform.

The Saudi King pointed out the subject of the budget, “It represents a beginning for complementary and comprehensive work for the construction of a firm economy that is based on various income sources, and in which savings grow, job opportunities’ increase, and the partnership joining the public and private sectors is consolidated.”

He stressed that the Saudi economy “Possesses the potential and the fundamentals that enable it to handle challenges,” and that attending the Saudi citizen’s needs is “the center of our concerns, and we will not accept any compromise on the subject”.

Coincidently, the Saudi Council of Ministers issued two decrees; the first being aerial boarding procedures for civilian employees of the country, military men and all those affiliated with them.

While the second decree was on the subject of modifying power, water, and sewage system prices in keep with international rating.

The council announced the formation of a Ministry of Finance committee, which is assigned to resolve any situation or obscurity resulting from the resolution’s implementation.

They have also stated that a national program for drafting a complementary plan on regulating consumption of power and water products, via price reevaluating and following up on it being carried out.