Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime

Special Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime
John Bolton (left), Mike Pompeo and Adel Al-Jubeir have been revealed to be the latest targets for assassination by the IRGC. (AFP photos)
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Updated 12 August 2022

Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime

Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime
  • In 2011 Iranian operatives had similarly plotted to kill (then Saudi ambassador) Adel Al-Jubeir in Washington, D.C.
  • DoJ revelation of IRGC plot to target Bolton and Pompeo exposes Tehran’s long history of overseas terror

QAMISHLI, Syria/JEDDAH: For the past year, unbeknown to the citizens of Washington D.C., an assassin had allegedly been stalking the streets of the US capital searching for a prime target: A former high-ranking American official whose killing would shake the world and serve as a symbol of vengeance against the West.

This alleged plan was revealed to have been foiled when, on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice officially charged an Iranian citizen with plotting to kill John Bolton, a senior national security adviser under both the Bush and Trump administrations.

Shahram Poursafi was charged with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.




The FBi announcement of ‘wanted’ Shahram Poursafi. (AFP)

According to the Justice Department’s indictment, Poursafi attempted to hire criminals in the US to carry out the murder in Washington, D.C., or Maryland for $300,000. On Nov. 9, 2021, Poursafi contacted a confidential source.

The FBI said that Poursafi is a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the US. He was acting on behalf of the Quds Force, an elite arm of the IRGC. Poursafi remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous.

BIO

Name: Shahram Poursafi

Place of birth: Iran

Date of birth: Sept. 21, 1976

Affiliation: Quds Force, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Criminal charges: Material support to terrorism, attempted murder-for-hire of high-ranking US official

Status: At large

Nasser Kanaani, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, has strenuously denied that the Iranian government planned to assassinate Bolton, calling the accusations “baseless.” But the regime’s long history of targeting critics and dissidents abroad belies its protestation of innocence.

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Tehran has carried out assassinations and attacks on Iranian dissidents and foreign officials worldwide. Which is why for Iranian affairs expert Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, the revelation of the most recent plot comes as no surprise.

“Iran has been following this strategy for decades,” Al-Sulami, founder and chairman of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies in Riyadh, told Arab News. “More than two dozen successful assassination operations have been carried out by the Iranian regime across the globe.”




Iranian agent Ali Vakili Rad (C) leaving prison in Poissy, France, on May 18, 2010 after his release from jail for murdering the Shah's last prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar. (AFP)

Since 1979, individuals believed to be linked to the Iranian government have carried out attacks against dissidents and opposition figures in more than a dozen countries, including, France, the US, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Albania, Thailand, Denmark and Turkey. Individuals linked to the Iranian government have also hijacked aircraft and bombed government offices as well as military installations around the world.

“Worldwide threat assessments from the US intelligence community have for years warned that Iran is trying to develop networks inside the US for such operations,” Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News.

“These operations are shocking, but not surprising. There’s a long history dating back to the beginning of the Islamic Revolution,” he said, citing the assassination of Iranian exile and former press attache to the Iranian embassy in the US, Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, in Maryland in 1980.

IRANIAN PLOTS IN NUMBERS

21 Targeted Iranian dissidents.

21 Directed at Western or Arab targets.

19 Aimed against Israelis or Jews.

Brodsky pointed out that in 2011, the US Justice Department charged two Iranian citizens, one of whom was a commander in the Quds Force, with planning a murder-for-hire targeting the then Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

FBI investigations revealed that money had been wired to Iranian US dual national Mansour Arbabsiar, one of the potential assassins, from a known Quds Force bank account, and that the fee for the assassination was $1.5 million.

The 2011 criminal complaint from the Justice Department said that “the Quds Force conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, and is believed to sponsor attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.”

Eric Holder, US attorney general at the time, added: “The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador on US soil with explosives.”




Mansour Arbabsiar was sentenced by a US court in 2013 for plotting to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, then Saudi ambassador to the US. (Twitter photo)

Ultimately, the plot, which involved the hiring of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Al-Jubeir — now the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs — failed due to poor planning and the use of unskilled operatives. Arbabsiar, who was working as a used car salesman in Texas, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2013.

“Iran has, beyond any reasonable doubt, sponsored international terrorism,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News.

“They do so through their agents and proxy army, creating chaos in the region and beyond. They are now a threat not only to the region, but to the US as well by attacking US missions and army bases.”

Such attacks blamed on Iran are not just limited to political figures. Masih Alinejad, an Iranian US journalist and women’s rights activist, was the target of a kidnapping plot in July of last year. Just last month, a man with a loaded AK-47 rifle was arrested outside her home in New York City.

Brodsky says that in the plot against Alinejad, instead of the elite international Quds Force, Iranian intelligence operatives were directly involved.




Iranian US journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad was the target of a  Tehran kidnapping plot last year. (AFP file)

“Not just the IRGC Quds Force has attempted operations to harm American citizens on US soil. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has also undertaken those operations,” he said. “That shows that we have different parts of the Iranian system all trying to penetrate the US, and that’s definitely a cause for concern.”

Sources close to Mike Pompeo, the former US secretary of state, told CNN that Bolton was not the only target of the most recent Iranian plot. Pompeo was reportedly one of two individuals whom Poursafi had sought to assassinate through a third party, with the price tag for Pompeo’s death being $1 million.

Major Iranian terror plots on foreign soil

Dec. 7, 1979 Assassin shoots and kills Shahriar Shafiq, nephew of the former shah, outside his home in Paris. 

July 13, 1989 Iranian agents shoot and kill Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna.

April 24, 1990 Iranian academic and opposition figure Kazem Rajavi shot dead in his car outside Geneva.

Aug. 6, 1991 Agents kill former Iranian PM Shapour Bakhtiar at his home near Paris, where he fled after the 1979 revolution.

July 24, 1992 UK orders three Iranians out of the country after linking them to a plot to kill award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie.

Aug. 8, 1992 Iranian singer and artist Fereydoun Farrokhzad found beaten to death in his Bonn apartment.

Sept. 17, 1992 Three Iranian- Kurdish leaders killed in a Greek eatery in Berlin in a machine- gun attack dubbed ‘the Mykonos restaurant murders.’

Feb. 20, 1996 Zahra Rajabi, a senior member of the opposition MEK based in Turkey, shot dead in her Istanbul apartment.

Oct. 11, 2011 US officials uncover Iranian plot to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US. Iranian national Manssor Arbabsiar pleads guilty to planning the attack.

June 30, 2018 Bomb plot targets Iranian National Council of Resistance rally in Paris. Prosecutors charge Iranian diplomat Assadolah Assadi and three others with planning the attack.

Nov. 14, 2019 Iranian scientist and dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani shot dead on an Istanbul street by Iranian agents.

July 2020 Iran says it has captured US-based opposition figure Jamshid Sharmahd. Details of his detention and subsequent removal to Iran remain a mystery.

July 2021 US officials claim Iranian agents plan to kidnap New York-based journalist and Iran critic Masih Alinejad along with four others in Canada and the UK.

Iran’s plots against US officials and citizens have come in the wake of the Jan. 1, 2020, strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. After the incident, Iranian political and military officials vowed revenge for Soleimani’s death.

However, according to Al-Sulami, the regime completely failed in terms of taking revenge, denting its image among followers in the region and beyond.




The late Major General Qasem Soleimani, former commander of Iran's notorious Quds Force. (AFP)

“Soleimani is not a replaceable military commander in terms of managing the IRGC’s militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen; he is a big loss for the management of Iran’s regional file,” Al-Sulami told Arab News, adding that Iran resorted to carrying out assassinations when its propaganda failed to convince Iranians and Iran-backed militias that it had avenged Soleimani’s death.

In January, two years after the killing of Soleimani, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to exact vengeance on those responsible if then US President Donald Trump was not put on trial for ordering the strike.

 

 

Pompeo was serving as secretary of state at the time of Soleimani’s killing, and Bolton had pushed for both regime change in Iran and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

Al-Shehri says the latest revelation begs the question of how US-Iranian relations will be affected, if at all. “Since Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the US as the ‘Great Satan’ and approved seizing the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, the US has treated Iran as one of the most extreme, irrational and dangerous governments in the world,” he told Arab News.




In this Feb. 7, 2019 photo, US National Security Adviser John Bolton (L) and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) listen as then President Donald Trump speaks in Washington, DC. (Getty Images via AFP)

After the attempt on Bolton and Pompeo’s lives, he asks, “will the US still allow Iran to continue its enrichment program? Will they allow Iran to obtain nuclear capabilities.”

With the uncovering of the alleged plot, political commentators took to social media to criticize the Biden’s administration’s approach to relations with Iran.

“Intent to murder a former senior US official is not enough to dissuade this administration from negotiating with Iran,” tweeted Simone Ledeen, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.

 

 

Reacting on Twitter, Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokesperson, said: “It is clear that the Iranian regime will spare no cost to kill (Mike Pompeo). The smoking gun that the Biden administration apparently requires to push back on Iran must not be a mass-casualty event with our former secretary of state at the center.”

Analysts caution that the perception of a lack of serious consequences may be behind Iran’s bold attempts to assassinate dissidents and enemies abroad. Brodsky says that for Iran, the potential rewards associated with assassinating a top US official far outweigh the risks, partially due to the lack of perceived consequences from the US.

“On the policy level toward the Iranian regime, the US is saying there will be severe consequences when there is an attack on US officials. What about an attempted attack? This was an attempted attack on a former US national security adviser and secretary of state. That’s explosive,” he said.

“So if there isn’t a consequence when there’s an attempted attack, it’s not going to break the cycle and change the Iranians’ calculation.”

Looking to the future, Al-Sulami said, “The Iranian political system will continue targeting other countries in the region and beyond, as well as officials from the US and Saudi Arabia in particular, unless the political and security negotiations, and engagements with Tehran, address this belligerent and terrorist behavior.

“If not, Iran will continue with its policy of assassinations targeting US and Arab officials.”

 

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Anger in Paris over Iran ‘spy’ charges

Anger in Paris over Iran ‘spy’ charges
Updated 07 October 2022

Anger in Paris over Iran ‘spy’ charges

Anger in Paris over Iran ‘spy’ charges
  • French schoolteachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were arrested in May on charges of fomenting “insecurity” in Iran
  • France condemned the arrests and allegedly forced confessions, in which Kohler said on video that she was sent by France to spark a revolution

JEDDAH: France on Thursday accused the regime in Iran of taking two of its citizens hostage after Tehran broadcast video footage of the couple making forced confessions to being spies.

French schoolteachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were arrested in May on charges of fomenting “insecurity” in Iran. France condemned the arrests and demanded their immediate release.

In Thursday’s TV footage Kohler “confessed” to being an agent of the French external intelligence service, in Iran to “prepare the ground for the revolution and the overthrow of the regime of Islamic Iran.” Paris said: “Our goal at the French security service is to pressure the government of Iran.”

The video sparked anger in France. “The staging of their alleged confessions is outrageous, appalling, unacceptable and contrary to international law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said.

“This masquerade reveals the contempt for human dignity that characterizes the Iranian authorities. These alleged confessions extracted under duress have no basis, nor did the reasons given for their arbitrary arrest.”

The French couple's appearance on TV coincides with weeks of anti-government protests in Iran over the death last month in morality police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. It also came a day after a debate in the French senate in which all political parties condemned Iran's crackdown on the protests.

Rights groups say Iranian state media broadcast more than 350 forced confessions between 2010 and 2020. Four French citizens are in jail in Iran and France is assessing whether another one may have been arrested during the current protests.

In a tweet on Oct. 5, the Human Rights Activists in Iran and 19 other human rights organizations asked US President Joe Biden in an open letter "to address the Iranian regime’s violent crackdown on the Mahsa Amini protests and Iran’s ongoing human rights crisis."

"The Iranian people need the support of the United States and the entire international community to attain their rights and freedoms," the letter said. 


Arabs view access to water as most pressing environmental issue, survey finds

Arabs view access to water as most pressing environmental issue, survey finds
Updated 07 October 2022

Arabs view access to water as most pressing environmental issue, survey finds

Arabs view access to water as most pressing environmental issue, survey finds
  • The Arab Barometer interviewed 26,000 citizens between October 2021 and July 2022 in 12 countries that represent about 80 percent of the Arab world
  • Despite broad concerns about climate change and the environment, the survey found many in the region consider other issues to be higher priority

WASHINGTON: Arabs believe the climate change-related threat to water resources is the biggest environmental issue facing the region and its people.

This was a key finding of the latest Arab Barometer Report on the attitudes in 12 Arab countries about the environment, which was published on Thursday.

The Arab Barometer is a research network that gathers opinion and offers insights into the social, political and economic attitudes of citizens across the region.

Its latest survey on the environment found that the majority of the people it polled were concerned about the availability of drinking water, the pollution of water sources, and the quality of the air in their communities.

Tunisia had the highest proportion of people who considered availability and quality of water the biggest environmental challenge facing their country, at 60 percent, followed by Algeria with 50 percent, and Iraq, Palestine and Libya with 47 percent.

The findings are part of the seventh round of polling by Arab Barometer, which has been tracking the views of people in the Middle East and North Africa since 2006. It describes itself as the largest publicly available survey of the opinions and attitudes of citizens across the region.

For its latest report, it interviewed 26,000 citizens between October 2021 and July 2022 in 12 countries that represent about 80 percent of the Arab world: Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan and Kuwait. In addition to the environment, other parts of the survey covered political, social and economic issues.

Issues related to waste management ranked second among the key environmental issues people in region are most concerned about. Recycling is already an important environmental-protection activity in many countries and the survey found that many people in the region already recycle their waste, but that they do so mostly for “cost-saving” benefits or “convenience, rather than to protect the environment.”

Educational background tended to affect people’s views on environmental issues such as climate change, air quality, pollution and trash, with those who were better-educated expressing greater concern about them.

In addition, issues related to climate change were more of a concern among people living in rural location than those in urban areas.

Aside from the availability and quality of water and its quality, other attitudes toward the environment varied.

A previous survey, in October 2020, found that less than than seven percent of citizens in Arab countries believed that reducing pollution should be the top priority of government spending in the coming year. In research carried out in the spring of 2021, less than nine percent said that foreign aid should be used to address environmental concerns.

In the latest poll, less than five percent of people surveyed in the majority of Arab countries said foreign aid donated to their nations should be used to tackle climate change and environmental challenges. In Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, the figure was as low as 1 percent.

Yet the research also found that citizens of the region blame themselves for not being proactive enough on environmental issues, and their governments for failing to take action to properly address climate change and environmental challenges in their communities.

They expressed high levels of support for their governments to take action to tackle environmental issues. But despite broad concerns about climate change and the environment, the study found most people in the region view other issues as being more urgent and of higher priority.


Alexandria Film Festival pays tribute to departed performers

Alexandria Film Festival pays tribute to departed performers
Updated 07 October 2022

Alexandria Film Festival pays tribute to departed performers

Alexandria Film Festival pays tribute to departed performers
  • Festival management remembered Egyptian stars who passed away in 2022 by showing a video clip during the opening ceremony

CAIRO: The 38th session of the Alexandria Film Festival for Mediterranean Countries has opened at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

It is named after the artist Mahmoud Hemida.

Festival management remembered Egyptian stars who passed away in 2022 by showing a video clip during the opening ceremony.

Famous names included Hisham Selim, Maha Abu Auf, Samir Ghanem, Dalal Abdel Aziz, Ahdi Sadiq, Ali Abdel Khaleq, Ahmed Halawa, and Aida Abdel Aziz.

Film critic Amir Abaza, who has a leading role in organizing the event, told Arab News: “We chose to name the festival in the star Mahmoud Hemida’s name because he is of a great cinematic stature who has presented a large number of important works.”

Hemida has also reinvested profits into cinema, as well as participating in the production of a number of films without looking for profit, added Abaza.

The festival also honored a number of art stars, namely director Mohamed Abdelaziz, actress Donia Samir Ghanem, director Saeed Hamed and producer Wajih El-Leithi.

Radio broadcaster Imam Omar was also honored the King of Comedy Medal went to the late Samir Ghanem and Dalal Abdel Aziz.

The festival also honored the Greek star Alexis Protopsalti, the French artist Marianne Borgo, and the Armenian-Egyptian star Nora Armani.

A movie called “Barsoum Looking for a Job” — produced in 1923 and directed by Mohamed Bayoumi — was played at the end of the ceremony.

A publication on the 100 most important comic films in Egypt was among a number of books released on the sidelines of the festival.

However, the inclusion of non-comic films such as “Between Heaven and Earth” by Salah Abu Seif created some controversy and some questioned the lack of high-level comedy movies such as “Kit Kat” by Daoud Abdel Sayed and “Umm Ratiba,” directed by Alsayed Badir.

Critics also highlighted the absence of any Mohamed Sobhi flicks, one of the biggest comedy stars in Egypt.

Adel Imam topped the poll as best actor, Shwikar as best actress, Fatin Abdel Wahab as best director, and Abu Al-Saud Al-Ibiari as best author. Thirty-two film critics and researchers participated in the poll.


Turkey, Israel ties warm with naming of ambassador

Turkey, Israel ties warm with naming of ambassador
Updated 06 October 2022

Turkey, Israel ties warm with naming of ambassador

Turkey, Israel ties warm with naming of ambassador
  • Ankara appoints new envoy 4 years after last was expelled
  • Ambassador knows region, has experience: Analyst

ANKARA: Turkey has appointed a new ambassador to Israel, as both countries move to end four years in the diplomatic wilderness.

Sakir Ozkan Torunlar has been named to fill the role left empty after the two regional powers expelled each other’s ambassadors in 2018 in a row over the killing of 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests on the Gaza border.

His appointment comes weeks after Israel named career diplomat Irit Lillian as its new ambassador to Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also expected in the coming months to reciprocate a March visit to Ankara by his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog.

Contrary to expectations, Torunlar is not a political appointee and is an experienced career diplomat. He was consul-general in Jerusalem and ambassador to Palestine between 2010 and 2014, and was awarded the Order of the Jerusalem Star by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel is expected to endorse Torunlar’s appointment.

Selin Nasi, a non-resident scholar in Eliamep’s Turkey Program, said that Ankara’s choice was positive for Israel.

“Previously, the foreign ministry was planning to appoint Turkey’s pro-government SETA Foundation foreign policy director, Ufuk Ulutas,” she said, who she added was seen in Israel as a “controversial figure” for his “anti-Israeli views” and lacked diplomatic experience.

Upcoming domestic elections in both countries had accelerated the reconciliation process, she said.

“Given the upcoming parliamentary elections in November, the Israeli side in a way tried to consolidate the process by naming its ambassador in advance, preventing possible interference of domestic politics,” she told Arab News.

“Turkey has also entered the election season. The government is trying to balance domestic concerns with its commitment to restoring ties with Israel,” said Nasi.

Experts say that Turkey and Israel want to deepen their cooperation in tourism, energy, agriculture, water technology, trade and defense.
 

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Nasi said defense cooperation had ground to a halt after the Mavi Marmara incident of 2010, when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship headed to Gaza as part of a “freedom flotilla.” Nine crew members died in the attack.

“The docking of the Turkish frigate Kemalreis at Haifa port on the sidelines of a NATO drill for the first time since the Mavi Marmara, indicates a possible thaw in this area as well. It will take time to repair broken trust,” she said.

Both countries’ opposition to the Iranian regime is also expected to push Turkey and Israel closer, she added.

“More importantly, as two militarily strong actors in the region, these two countries have the power to shift the balances on the ground when they cooperate.”

However, Nasi warned that Turkey’s ties with Hamas would be closely monitored by Israel and that domestic politics “may still interfere in the normalization process.”

According to an annual public opinion poll by the Mitvim Institute, an Israeli foreign policy think tank, 72 percent of respondents wanted strengthened relations with Turkey. The figure was up 12 percentage points on the poll last year.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said the choice of career diplomats by both sides was a good start to better relations as careful and skillful diplomacy was needed.

“There are a few challenges ahead: Elections in Israel, growing tensions in the West Bank, elections in Turkey.”

However, she said that a decision earlier this year to discuss an update to a 1996 free trade agreement was “a good opportunity to see where to expand the already flourishing trade relations between the countries.”

Turkey’s resumption of full diplomatic ties with Israel could also improve Ankara’s image in Washington, which has been damaged by its arms deals with Russia and squabbles in NATO.

The rapprochement is also expected to boost the Turkish tourism industry, Lindenstrauss added. “Israeli tourists are once again flocking to Turkey and we will soon see the return of Israeli airlines to Turkey,” she said.


UAE president thanks education workers in World Teachers’ Day speech

UAE president thanks education workers in World Teachers’ Day speech
Updated 06 October 2022

UAE president thanks education workers in World Teachers’ Day speech

UAE president thanks education workers in World Teachers’ Day speech
  • Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed underscored teachers’ role in fostering generations that are proud of their values and identity

ABU DHABI: The UAE President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed has thanked teachers in a statement on “World Teachers’ Day,” where he outlined the Emirati roadmap for improving the education sector.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation and chairman of the Education and Human Resources Council, said the statement on Thursday illuminated the UAE’s commitment to teachers.
Sheikh Abdullah thanked all teachers on the occasion, expressing the UAE’s gratitude for their efforts to ensure that children receive a top-quality education, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.
Noting that educators played a key role in accelerating recovery across the educational sector, Sheikh Abdullah highlighted the great responsibility they bear and their dedication to educate children and youth in the UAE, especially throughout and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
He underscored teachers’ role in fostering generations that are proud of their values and identity, noting that teachers prepare them with the skills and knowledge required to drive development across society and pave the way for a brighter tomorrow.
The minister added that education is crucial for accelerating sustainable development across all sectors. He said that the UAE’s celebration of World Teachers’ Day is an expression of the pride it has in its educators.
Sheikh Abdullah said the education sector has seen a major shift over the past five decades, making great strides in developing and improving its outputs.