Pompeo seeks to reassure Israel amid Syria turmoil

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stand during statements to the press during a meeting at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 October 2019

Pompeo seeks to reassure Israel amid Syria turmoil

  • Pompeo said he discussed ways to push back against Iran with Netanyahu
  • Netanyahu thanked America for its “consistent support” and said they discussed ways of making the alliance “even stronger”

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Israel’s prime minister on Friday to reaffirm the countries’ close ties at a time when many in Israel fear the Trump administration intends to cut and run from the Middle East.
The meeting came a day after a US delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo reached an agreement with Turkey to halt its week-old offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Turkey invaded after the US moved its troops aside, abandoning the Syrian Kurdish fighters America had partnered with against the Daesh group. Turkey views the Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to an insurgency inside its borders.
Israel has strongly condemned the offensive, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of “ethnic cleansing.” Others have expressed fear that President Donald Trump’s stated desire to get out of “stupid endless wars” in the Middle East makes him an unreliable ally as Israel faces threats from Iran.
In brief remarks after their meeting, Pompeo said “the remarkable, close relationship between our two countries is as strong as it has ever been.” He said they discussed ways to push back against Iran, and “efforts to jointly combat all the challenges that the world confronts here in the Middle East.”
Netanyahu thanked America for its “consistent support” and said they discussed ways of making the alliance “even stronger.”
When asked about the agreement to halt the fighting in northern Syria, Netanyahu said “we hope things will turn out for the best,” without elaborating. Pompeo declined to comment.
Later, Pompeo met with officials from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which works to combat anti-Semitism worldwide. The center said its representatives had shared with Pompeo the “fears of millions of Americans over the plight of the Kurdish minority in Syria.” They said Pompeo assured them the United States was not abandoning the Middle East.
Netanyahu has portrayed his close relationship with Trump as a godsend for Israel, pointing to the American president’s decisions to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But Israelis have expressed alarm over a series of recent decisions, culminating in the Syria pullout, that they fear portend an American withdrawal from the region. 
Rapid advances by Turkish forces this week forced the Kurds to turn to Syrian President Bashar Assad for protection, and Syrian and Russian forces have already fanned out across the vast swathes of northeastern Syria held by the Kurds. That could allow Iran, a close ally of Assad, to further expand its presence, which already stretches across the Middle East to Israel’s northern frontier.
The questions about the US alliance come at a sensitive time for Netanyahu, who made his relations with Trump and other top world leaders a major plank of his campaign ahead of last month’s elections. The vote left him deadlocked with his main opponent, with no clear path for either to form a government.
 


Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.