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Iran Is Destabilizing the Red Sea; the World Must Act

FILE PHOTO: Houthi military helicopter flies over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023. Photo: Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

In the complex geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, the Red Sea has emerged as a critical arena of strategic competition, with Iran’s actions at the center of regional tensions. Tehran’s involvement, mainly through its backing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen, has raised significant concerns about regional stability and security.

Iran’s strategic maneuvering in the Red Sea, a critical maritime corridor, reflects its broader ambition to assert dominance in the Middle East and challenge key regional players, notably Israel and the United States. This ambition is further bolstered by Iran’s alliance with Russia, creating a complex geopolitical landscape. Central to Iran’s strategy is the protection and expansion of its transnational terrorist network, facilitated by the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force. This force, known for its covert operations, plays a pivotal role in extending Iran’s influence across the region, and poses a multifaceted threat to regional stability and security.

Iran’s engagement in the Red Sea serves multiple strategic objectives. Primarily, it allows Iran to project power far beyond its borders, challenging its regional rivals, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in their backyard. By supporting the Houthis in Yemen, Iran gains a foothold along a critical maritime chokepoint, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, through which a significant portion of the world’s maritime trade, including oil shipments, passes. This positioning enables Iran to exert influence over a vital artery of global trade, thereby enhancing its regional and international leverage.

Iran’s support for the Houthi movement in Yemen is a critical element of its strategy in the Red Sea. This support has evolved from ideological and political backing to military and logistical assistance. Iran is believed to provide the Houthis with sophisticated weaponry, including ballistic missiles and drones, which have been used to target Saudi Arabia and threaten maritime security in the Red Sea. This proxy warfare approach allows Iran to confront its regional adversaries indirectly, thus minimizing the risks and costs of direct engagement.

The Red Sea is a vital artery for global trade, with significant volumes of oil and commercial goods transiting through it daily. Iran’s activities, particularly the Houthi attacks on shipping lanes, pose a direct threat to the safety and security of this critical waterway. Such actions can disrupt global trade flows, leading to significant economic repercussions worldwide. Moreover, they raise the risk of a broader regional conflict that could have far-reaching implications for global energy markets and international security.

Iran’s maneuvers in the Red Sea have elicited strong responses from regional powers. Saudi Arabia, directly affected by the Houthi insurgency, has led a military coalition against the rebels in Yemen, seeking to counter Iranian influence and restore stability in its southern neighbor. Egypt, another key regional actor, views the security of the Red Sea as a national priority, given its economic dependence on the Suez Canal. Cairo has thus been wary of Tehran’s growing presence in the area and has taken steps to bolster its military capabilities in the region.

The strategic importance of the Red Sea extends beyond the Middle East, drawing the attention of global powers such as the United States, Russia, and China. The US, with its longstanding commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation in international waterways, has been particularly concerned about Iran’s actions. Washington’s response has included naval deployments to the region and support for Saudi Arabia’s efforts against the Houthis. Meanwhile, Russia and China, seeking to expand their influence in the Middle East, closely monitor the situation, balancing their strategic interests with their respective relationships with Iran and the Arab states.

Israel’s security concerns are deeply intertwined with the situation in the Red Sea. Iran’s support for the Houthis and its attempts to establish a foothold in Yemen are perceived by Israel as direct threats to its security. Tel Aviv is particularly concerned about the possibility of Iran opening a new front against it in the Red Sea, complementing its existing threats from Lebanon and Syria. Israel’s strategy in response has involved strengthening its naval capabilities and seeking closer cooperation with Sunni Arab states, particularly those concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions.

Israel, acutely aware of the strategic implications of Iran’s expanding influence in the Red Sea, perceives these maneuvers as an extension of existing threats from Lebanon and Syria. The involvement of the IRGC Quds Force, a unit specializing in extraterritorial operations, signals a potential opening of a new front against Israel. This development is particularly concerning for Israeli security, given the proximity of the Red Sea to its southern borders and the critical maritime routes essential for its trade and military logistics. Israel’s response to these challenges is multifaceted, involving heightened security measures and strategic collaborations with regional allies, underlining the gravity of the threat posed by Iran’s actions in the Red Sea.

The Red Sea region’s strategic significance cannot be overstated, serving as a nexus where regional rivalries intersect with global power dynamics. The competition between Iran and its regional adversaries in the Red Sea is part of a larger struggle for dominance in the Middle East involving sectarian, political, and strategic dimensions. This rivalry is further complicated by the interests and actions of global powers, each vying for influence in a region critical to global energy supplies and trade.

In conclusion, Iran’s actions in the Red Sea represent a significant challenge to regional stability and global maritime security. The strategic importance of this vital waterway, coupled with Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels and its broader regional ambitions, creates a complex geopolitical puzzle. The involvement of regional powers, each with their strategic interests and the interest of global actors, adds layers to this complexity. It is imperative for the international community to closely monitor and address the multifaceted challenges posed by Iran in the Red Sea, as the repercussions of these activities extend far beyond the region, impacting international trade routes and global security dynamics. Resolving these tensions requires a nuanced, collaborative approach that balances regional aspirations with global security needs.

Erfan Fard is a counterterrorism analyst and Middle East Studies researcher based in Washington, DC. Twitter@EQFARD

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Major Israeli Tech Entrepreneur Gil Shwed Retires

Gil Shwed, former Chief Executive of Network security provider Check Point Software Technologies, speaks during the annual Cyberweek conference at Tel Aviv University, Israel, June 20, 2016

Gil Shwed, one of Israel’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, announced his retirement on Tuesday, bringing an end to his 30-year tenure as CEO of Check Point, an Israeli software firm.

“This year Check Point celebrated 30 years since its establishment, in which we managed to generate growth and reached a peak in almost every parameter. I feel that this is the right time for me to focus on Check Point’s next leap,” Shwed, 56, said. “We are now looking for a replacement for the position of CEO. It’s a process that will take time and even when it ends I will remain involved. I want to focus less on the daily work, and more on the future of the company.”

Check Point was founded in 1993 by Shwed, Shlomo Kramer, and Marius Nacht. Shwed and Kramer were friends from their time together in Israel’s elite cyber unit 8200.

The company provides AI-powered advanced software and hardware for cyber security to more than 100,000 customers globally, bringing in more than $2 billion per year in revenue.

Headquartered in Tel Aviv and publicly traded on the NASDAQ, Check Point has a market cap of more than $19 billion dollars, making it Israel’s second most valuable company, $2 billion less than automobile giant Mobileye Eye. Shwed’s role as CEO has allowed him to amass a fortune of $4.4 billion due to his 20% share ownership in the company.

Shwed is also a recipient of the Israel Prize, an annual award given to Israelis who have shown a high level of excellence in their specific fields. Shwed was given the first award in the technology field when it was introduced in 2018.

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Israel’s Leading Hotel Chain Expands Internationally

A view of Athens, Greece. Photo: Jan M via Wikimedia Commons.

Israel’s leading hotel chain Isrotel has announced the opening of their first hotel outside of the country.

The brand, under a new division called ALUMA, meaning “ray of light” in Hebrew, will open its Skylark Hotel in Athens, Greece next month.

“We succeeded in doing the best in Israel, creating a culture that people love, so if you know Isrotel you will want to visit,” Benny Levy, the VP of sales and marketing at Isrotel, told The Algemeiner.

Levy says just because they are expanding outside of the Jewish state, “We aren’t stopping opening in Israel … Outside of Israel the potential is endless, it is a significant opportunity.”

Lior Raviv, CEO of Isrotel, added, “ALUMA is an international chain of hotels that will benefit from Isrotel’s longstanding experience and uncompromising standards of excellence, offering global travelers a wide range of city hotels and leisure resorts to choose from, and providing unique hospitality experiences. As a sister company of Isrotel, ALUMA is guided by our approach to hospitality as a way of life.”

They said most of the workers will be Israelis, ensuring the culture of the brand remains. “Israeli tourists, and especially loyal guests of Isrotel, who return to us time and again due to our hospitality experience and high standard of service, will find those same qualities and sense of a ‘home away from home’ at ALUMA, backed by the international standards of perfection and excellence,” added Raviv.

According to Isrotel, the Skylark hotel will be followed by the Anise Hotel, also in Athens, a month later. An additional hotel in Athens and one in Thessaloniki will open by the end of 2024. They said the total investment in the project is 70 million euros, with plans to expand elsewhere in Europe in the future.

Isrotel has 23 hotels across Israel, including eight in the resort town of Eilat in the south of Israel. Their international move comes as Israel’s National Planning and Construction Council announced this week the changes to the city’s height limitations for hotels, allowing up to 20 floors from the previously permitted eight floors.

Tourism Minister Haim Katz praised the move, saying, “We are bringing good news to Eilat. Hundreds and even thousands of rooms will be added in the city. The move will encourage competition, remove excess bureaucracy for a hotel that wants to renew itself, and allow entrepreneurs who have not yet built to increase supply.”

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Investment Firm Announces Recommendations for Preventing Corporate Anti-Israel Bias

Illustrative Anti-Israel event. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Morningstar, Inc., a Chicago based investment firm managing over $250 billion in assets, has issued a report including several recommendations for reducing anti-Israel bias in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings its Sustainalytics subsidiary assigns to corporations.

For several years, Sustainalytics gave poor ESG ratings to Israel affiliated companies, a practice that led Jewish civil rights groups and lawmakers to suspect that the company was violating state laws against engaging in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate and weaken the Jewish state.

The firm denied the allegations, but a review of the its ratings by JLens, a leading Jewish investor network, found that Sustainalytics created “BDS blacklists” and used in its internal reports “politicized anti-Israel language” to describe Israel. JLens’ work, which was the first to raise alarms about the issue, led to Morningstar’s cracking down on the practices and adopting policies for ensuring that Sustainalytics does not become a BDS collaborator.

Released on Jan. 31, Morningstar’s new report builds on that commitment, outlining several policy changes, including: eliminating a designation which identified companies as being involved in “occupied territories/disputed region,” quashing reliance on disinformative media reports aimed at distorting a company’s ESG rating, and appointing legal experts to examine matters relevant to international human rights law.

“We welcome Morningstar’s commitment to eliminate anti-Israel bias in Sustainalytics research products,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement on Wednesday. “We look forward to ongoing engagement with Morningstar to ensure the expert recommendations are fully and effectively implemented.”

The ADL took a leading role in combating anti-Israel bias in ESG ratings, incorporating JLens in Nov. 2022. ADL noted at the time that BDS activists target firms managing ESG rated funds, which attracted over $500 billion in investments in 2021, a 55% increase from the previous year, according to JP Morgan. During 2022’s proxy season, a time when publicly traded companies hold annual meetings to assess performance and weigh suggestions from shareholders, Israel was named in eight of 20 resolutions targeting foreign governments, “making the country only second to China.”

Morningstar’s recommendations will shield ESG from political bias and increase its reliability, Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law founder and chairman Kenneth L. Marcus explained in a statement applauding the report.

“Anti-Israel external forces are doing everything they can to infiltrate campuses, boardrooms, the [United Nations]., sports leagues, and the securities industry,” he said. “We commend Morningstar for engaging with us, examining their ESG product, and committing to make the changes necessary to ensure that their rating system is apolitical, objective, and honest. We believe that implementing the experts’ report is critical to achieving this goal.”

Ari Hoffnung, managing director of JLens, added that “investor are entitled to research that is both objective and devoid of any anti-Israel bias.”

Last July, Morningstar removed 109 negative “controversy ratings” that Sustainalytics subsidiary had given to companies operating in Israel. The firm has also stopped referring to the West Bank and East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ or ‘occupied territory” and committed to educating its employees about antisemitism and amassing information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from “independent, recognized experts.”

Morningstar, however, has repeatedly denied that it ever supported BDS. In June 2022, Morningstar CEO Kunal Kapoor issued a statement arguing that an external review of Sustainalytics found no evidence that it “encouraged divestment from Israel” but acknowledged that at least one of its departments singled out businesses “linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and “sometimes used inflammatory language and failed to provide sourcing attribution clearly and consistently.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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