Posts Tagged ‘Bahrain’

Philippine President Duterte offers peace, rich resources, no corruption to Qatari investors — But human rights groups says “Extrajudicial killings, disregard for due process, and a weak criminal justice system are the most pressing human rights problems in the Philippines.”

April 15, 2017
/ 11:40 PM April 15, 2017
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte. (File photo by WONG MAYE-E / AP)

The Philippines, despite its Moro and communist insurgencies, is basically a peaceful country that is rich in natural resources both on land and at sea. And the current administration has been is dead set on wiping out government corruption and crime, especially the trade in illegal drugs.

That’s the pitch that President Rodrigo Duterte made to potential Qatari investors in the Philippines in a speech he made at the Philippine-Qatar Business

Forum held on Saturday in Doha, which is the last stop in his Holy Week visit to three Middle East countries, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.Present at the forum were members of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce Inc. (QCCI) led by Chairman Sheikh Khalifa Bin Jassim Bin Mohammed Al Thani and Qatari business and government executives. Duterte was accompanied by his entourage, including Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.

In his speech, aired live by the ABS-CBN News Channel, Duterte reassured his audience that the Philippines was really peaceful, saying: “We do not have problems with our rebellions now.”

As to the Moro rebellion, he said: “There are a lot of Muslims in my Cabinet. We are trying to work out something now. And I hope that Lord would be most gracious for us, the Most Merciful One would grant us peace. And we hope to succeed in our peace talks. We are ready to reconfigure the land. We are ready to concede what was lost from them. And the only thing that I ask from the Moro people is that we did not know that you were all victims of imperialism.“

He referred to Spain and the United States, both former colonizers of the Philippines.

He added, however, that it would take some time to come with ways on how to correct the “historical injustice” that the Muslims in Mindanao.

Moving on to natural resources, Duterte said: “The Philippines is an agricultural country. We know that we can offer so many things from the bounties of the earth. We have mining. We have everything.”

The president then dwelled a bit on sea resources, announcing that he had ordered military to occupy 10 still uninhabited islands in the West Philippine Sea to show that Philippines was claiming ownership.

“Everybody is grabbing every land there in the South China Sea,” he said. “Now if we do not act fast, we will end up with nothing.”

He also revealed that he had asked that Benham Rise, on the east side of Luzon, be renamed as the Philippine Ridge.

“I announced to all, including America, that this is ours,” he said.

“So, if you go into business, the Philippines is big enough to accommodate any kind of vegetation,“ he added.

But the Philippines, he said, lost large chunks of forest, mostly to non-Filipino lumber companies – “maurauding colonizers who still think they’re still the big boss of the world.”

Shifting to his drive against corruption, he said fired several government workers, including some in his Cabinet, for being implicated in anomalous transaction. But he did not give any names.

Then he made a strong pledge to investors.

“We will honor contracts. We will honor our obligations,” he said. “That is in the Constitution itself –that there shall be no impairment of the obligation of contracts. So, in sof ar as trade is concerned, what is signed, and I agree with you, will be done. Even if we lose in the transaction, we will honor what we have promised.”

Towards the end of his speech, he noted that it was in the national interest of the Philippines to forge closer ties with Middle Eastern countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain because the people in these countries had been helping Filipino workers boost the Philippines’ gross national product through their remittances

He added that “the kind people in Qatar” had been partly responsbile for the education of Filipino children.

At this point, Duterte repeated the same pledge he made to the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain: That, if they should need it, his administration would wilingly give them military assistance in times of trouble because it would be in the interest of the Philippines to see their countries remain stable, considering that there were at least two million Filipino workers in the Middle East.

The president is scheduled to stay in Doha until Easter Sunday, when he flies back to Davao City, his hometown.


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Human Rights Group Karapatan Asks United Nations To Investigate Murders in the Philippines

/ 02:23 PM April 11, 2017

Human rights group Karapatan has submitted to the United Nations records of extrajudicial killings (EJK) under the Duterte administration.

The 47 EJK records have been submitted to United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial/Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard.

Karapatan urged Callamard to consider, investigate, make recommendations, and take any appropriate actions on the cases.

“The victims of killings are peasants, indigenous peoples and workers; many faced vilification by the military because of their advocacy and actions to defend people’s rights and are thus considered as human rights defenders,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, in her letter to Callamard.

The 47 cases of killings under the Duterte administration were documented by Karapatan from July 2016 to March 31, 2017.

Karapatan was hoping that Callamard’s findings about the gravity of political killings in the Philippines may convince the present administration to completely discard their counterinsurgency programs.

Furthermore, Palabay stated that Karapatan is currently working with the campaign network Rise Up, a faith-based institution, to prepare and document similar cases of human rights violation.

The submitted records will also be included in the May 8, 2017 third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review on the Philippines at the UN Human Rights Council. Geisha Sinahonon/rga


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Palace told: Address, don’t dismiss, report on killings
/ 04:30 PM April 15, 2017

After Malacañang questioned Karapatan’s move in reporting the alleged political killings under the Duterte administration to the United Nations (UN), the human rights group on Saturday said that the government should instead look into documented cases which it said were supported by facts and testimonies instead of dismissing the claims.

READ: Palace: Karapatan report on killings to UN ‘questionable’

“Instead of Malacañang’s blanket dismissal of allegations that its State security forces have killed peasants and indigenous peoples, it should look into these documented cases substantiated with facts and testimonies, even first-hand witness testimonies identifying the State perpetrators of the political killings,” Karapatan said in a statement.

“It should initiate prosecution to hold them accountable and rescind the counter-insurgency program that has terrorized peasant and indigenous communities,” it added.

Last Tuesday, Karapatan said that it submitted the case files of 47 victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under the Duterte government’s anti-insurgency campaign to the office of UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard.

The human rights watchdog said that victims of the alleged extrajudicial killings carried out by state forces were peasants, indigenous peoples, Moro, workers, women, and youth.


READ: Karapatan submits records of killings under Duterte to UN

The submitted records are to be included in the May 8, 2017 third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review on the Philippines at the UN Human Rights Council.

Karapatan said that the government should address the thousands of complaints lodged at the Joint Monitoring Committee on the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

“Our broken justice system and domestic institutions have failed the victims and their families,” the group said.

“While it true that international institutions should not interfere with domestic affairs, any State is duty-bound to uphold international human rights commitments and therefore is accountable to its peoples according to such commitments,” it added.

It also noted that only one conviction in a local court was attained in the 1,587 victims of political killings during the administrations of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and the current Duterte regime. IDL


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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) talks to Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa. AFP photo

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Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa

Philippines: Human Rights Watch director Phelim Kline also said the numbers of fatalities in the drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed office on June 30, 2016, are “appalling but predictable” since he (Duterte) vowed to “forget the laws on human rights.”

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Philippines Policeman found tortured and strangled after some fellow police said he was involved in the illegal drug trade. Photo Credit Boy Cruz

 (December 23, 2016)

Discarded — The body of a dead Filipino girl looks like it has been put out with the trash…..


 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

“They are afraid the incident could cause President Duterte to declare martial law. I talked with some sultans and ulamas and elders here… and that’s what they have told me,” Ponyo said.

 (November 30, 2016)


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High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo, Jean-Marc Ferré

Summary executions of supposed drug dealers and other criminals have become a common occurence in recent weeks. The STAR/Joven Cagande, file

 (November 16, 2016)


 (August 10, 2016)

Davao City’s Ronald dela Rosa has been appointed to become the next chief of the Philippine National Police to lead President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s planned crackdown on illegal drugs. Facebook/Dela Rosa

Crime scene investigators examine a vehicle used by two drug suspects killed during an alleged shootout with officers along NIA Road in Quezon City on June 21, 2016. JOVEN CAGANDE/file

President Rodrigo Duterte's crusade against drug users and dealers is controversial


Workers burying cadavers in various stages of decomposition in a mass grave in Manila, after health officials recovered the cadavers from Henry's Funeral Home. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.

Workers burying cadavers in various stages of decomposition in a mass grave in Manila, after health officials recovered the cadavers from Henry’s Funeral Home. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.Source:AFP

A worker arranging cadavers in various stages of decomposition at the morgue of Henry's Funeral Homes in Manila. Picture: AFP/ Noel Celis.

A worker arranging cadavers in various stages of decomposition at the morgue of Henry’s Funeral Homes in Manila. Picture: AFP/ Noel Celis.Source:AFP

Health officials closed Henry's Funeral Home after recovering at least 120 unclaimed and rotting cadavers in Manila. The city health department conducted a surprise raid after receiving complaints about a foul odour coming from the funeral parlour. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.

Health officials closed Henry’s Funeral Home after recovering at least 120 unclaimed and rotting cadavers in Manila. The city health department conducted a surprise raid after receiving complaints about a foul odour coming from the funeral parlour. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.Source:AFP

Workers carrying cadavers in various stages of decomposition at the morgue of Henry's Funeral Homes in Manila, October 2016. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.

Workers carrying cadavers in various stages of decomposition at the morgue of Henry’s Funeral Homes in Manila, October 2016. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.Source:AFP

Iraq’s Sadr warns Assad could share Kadhafi’s fate — Calls for Assad to resign

April 11, 2017


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Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr — Al-Sadr is the most revered name in Shia Iraq and a friend if Iran and Russia

NAJAF (IRAQ) (AFP) – Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr on Tuesday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he risked suffering the same fate as slain Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi if he did not step down.

The maverick cleric had last week condemned the suspected deadly use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians, becoming a rare Shiite leader to openly challenge the Syrian president’s legitimacy.

Sadr issued a new statement on Tuesday that reiterated his position.

“I have urged him to step down to preserve the reputation of the Mumanaa and to escape a Kadhafi fate,” he said, using a word that refers to a so-called anti-Western “resistance front” that includes Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

The Libyan strongman was captured and brutally killed in 2011 after 42 years in power while trying to flee Sirte, his hometown, as NATO-backed rebels closed in.

A chemical attack which has been widely blamed on Assad’s regime killed 87 civilians, including 31 children, in the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun on April 4.

The United States subsequently fired a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat air base in Syria to punish Damascus, despite its denials of responsibility.

Sadr, who led a militia that fought the US occupation of Iraq, also condemned the American missile strike, urging all foreign parties involved in the Syria conflict to withdraw.

He had similar advice for two other leaders: President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen and Bahrain’s King Hamad.

“I have not only called for the resignation of Bashar, but I had already called for Abedrabbo and the ruler of Bahrain to step down because they are still oppressing their people.

Bahrain king approves military trials for civilians

April 3, 2017


© AFP/File | King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa declared a three-month state of emergency in 2011 during which special military courts were temporarily established to try civilians

DUBAI (AFP) – Bahrain’s king on Monday approved a constitutional amendment granting military courts the right to try civilians, raising alarm among rights groups for activists in the Gulf kingdom.

The decision comes as the Sunni-ruled kingdom tightens its grip on dissent, with scores of largely Shiite activists sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.

Bahrain, a key US ally that neighbours Saudi Arabia, has been rocked by frequent protests since authorities cracked down on Shiite-led demonstrations demanding political reforms in 2011.

Military courts in Bahrain were previously limited to trying members of the armed forces or other branches of the security services and could only try civilians under a state of emergency.

Under the new amendment, the courts have the power to try any civilian accused of threatening the security of the state.

The official BNA news agency said on Monday that King Hamad had approved the amendment to Article 105(b) of Bahrain’s constitution.

The move coincided with a decision by the kingdom’s top court to reduce the jail sentence of the leader of main Shiite opposition faction, Sheikh Ali Salman, who had been convicted of inciting hatred and insulting the state.

Salman’s sentence was cut from nine years to four years in prison.

The constitutional amendment was approved weeks ago by both the 40-seat upper house of parliament, appointed by the king, and the 40-seat elected lower house.

Hamad had declared a temporary three-month state of emergency after the crackdown on protests in 2011, allowing special courts to try civilians connected with a wave of protests.

News of the latest amendment sparked harsh criticism among rights groups.

Amnesty International called the amendment a “disastrous move towards patently unfair” trials of civilians, warning that it could be used to try activists on “trumped-up charges”.

Authorities have justified the move as necessary to fight what they say are Iran-linked anti-government cells that have targeted the state.

The kingdom has tightened its grip on dissent over the past six years, stripping dissidents of citizenship and banning foreign media.

Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, accuses the opposition of working with predominantly Shiite Iran to incite unrest in the kingdom. Tehran has consistently denied involvement.

The kingdom last year ordered the dissolution of Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq, headed by Sheikh Salman, over links to “terrorism”.

Al-Wefaq had been the largest bloc in Bahrain’s elected lower house of parliament.


Excusing Bahrain’s Human Rights Abuses

Team Trump remains under the Saudi-Israeli spell that Iran is the region’s strategic threat, which explains the policy incoherence of supporting Bahrain’s repression of Shiites




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US Resumes Aid to Bahrain Military


The Trump administration has decided to remove any conditions regarding human rights from sales of F-16 fighter aircraft and other arms to Bahrain. The rationale for doing so is the idea that hard power considerations ought to come before softer concerns for the rights of someone else’s citizens.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, in applauding the decision, said arms sales should be decided by American strategic needs and not commingled with any pressuring of “allies” to change domestic behavior.

Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and the island nation is hardly the only place where military access rights have been involved in the United States overlooking abusive domestic policies. Egypt comes to mind as another such country.

But at the center of the decision regarding Bahrain is, as David Sanger and Eric Schmitt put it in their coverage in the New York Times, “the Trump administration’s growing determination to find places to confront Iran.”

Seeking confrontation is usually not a good thing, and it is not in this case either. It is better first to determine what conflicting objectives, if any, would underlie a confrontation and then, if such a conflict of objectives is found, to find ways either to resolve the conflict or to manage it without the risk of costly escalation. In the case of Bahrain there also is a misconception, implied by Corker’s comments, that the human rights issue is an entirely separate consideration that conflicts with strategic objectives.

That this is a misconception is apparent from reflecting on the political, social, and demographic circumstances of Bahrain. Like the other five Arab countries along the south edge of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Unlike any of the others, the country has a Shia majority. An unhappy Shia majority, which the regime has given plenty of reason in recent years to become even more unhappy.

The human rights situation in Bahrain is bad, and specifically bad for the Shia. The State Department’s human rights report on Bahrain has plenty to talk about, including lack of due process, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and curbs on freedom of expression. Underlying many of the abuses is systematic discrimination against Shia citizens. Freedom House ranks Bahrain among the worst ten percent of countries worldwide in overall personal and political freedom.

Repression’s Bitter Fruit

The main point for all this regarding the thinking that has gone into U.S. policy is that this is exactly the kind of situation that is ripe for exploitation by outsiders. The more repression and curtailment of human rights, the more fertile is the ground for an outside power to exploit it for influence.

With Bahrain, the obvious outside power to fill that role is Iran, the big Shia-dominated state right on the other side of the gulf. Bahrain has long had a special place in Iranian thinking, and at times in the past the thinking has included thoughts of possible Iranian sovereignty over the island. Those are not operative thoughts now, but there is no way that Iran would not seek to become involved on behalf of its co-religionists amid the bitterness and strife that have marked relations in the past decade between the Bahraini regime and its unhappy subjects.

Iranian rhetorical and political support for the rights of the Bahraini majority has been obvious. What kind of material support may be provided is harder to say, given that most reports suggesting such support come from a Bahraini regime eager to play up the idea of Iranian interference.

What is clear is that the worse the human rights situation gets in Bahrain, the more opportunities there are for Iran to enhance its influence. Anyone who professes to worry about Iranian influence thus ought to worry about human rights in Bahrain. Append the further observation that the repeated response by the regime in Manama to internal challenges and dissent has been — if it is not otherwise restrained — to crack down even harder, making the human rights situation even worse.

Those F-16s will do nothing to help keep Iran out of Bahrain. Neither will the Fifth Fleet, for that matter, because conventional armed intervention is not the route of Iranian influence there. The one outside power that has intervened in Bahrain with military force during recent years has been Saudi Arabia, whose armored vehicles rolled across the causeway in 2011 to help the Manama regime put down an especially large set of mass protests.

That intervention underscored not only how fragile is the domestic standing of the Bahraini regime but also which power in the Gulf region — and it’s not Iran — has been most willing to use military force to interfere in the internal affairs of neighbors, even when it means suppressing the will of the majority.

The decision on arms sales to Bahrain is only one of several attributes of the Trump administration’s policy so far in the region that appears driven by the urge to seek confrontation with Iran. While any confrontation-seeking is hazardous, this instance of it, like some of the others, also is counterproductive.

Underlying all this policy misdirection is a repeated failure to consider carefully what U.S. interests are or are not at stake, and what Iran is or is not doing to oppose those interests. So we have confrontation for the sake of confrontation.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies.

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Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to meet U.S. President Donald Trump — Even as human rights advocates voice criticism of Trump on Egypt, Bahrain

April 1, 2017


© AFP/File / by Samer Al-Atrush | Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) can expect a warm welcome to the White House from Donald Trump, whom he met in New York last year before the tycoon won the US presidential election

CAIRO (AFP) – After four years of tension with the United States, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi now has a fan in the White House and on Monday he meets President Donald Trump.

The American former reality television star and tycoon has made no secret of his admiration for the ex-army chief who overthrew his Islamist predecessor and cracked down on his supporters.

Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013, a year after he had won Egypt’s first democratic election, and the ensuing crackdown on Islamists prompted then US president Barack Obama to suspend military aid to Cairo temporarily.

But when Sisi meets Trump on Monday during his first state visit to Washington, he will see a counterpart who better appreciates his “mission” to fight Islamists and jihadists, without Obama’s hand-wringing over human rights.

“As a matter of fact President-elect Trump has shown deep and great understanding of what is taking place in the region as a whole and what is taking place in Egypt,” Sisi, who met Trump in September before his election, said in an interview.

A senior White House official said Friday that Trump wants to “build on the strong connection the two presidents established” then.

Trump has been gushing about Sisi.

“He’s a fantastic guy. Took control of Egypt, and he really took control of it,” he told Fox Business of the period after Morsi’s overthrow which saw hundreds of Islamist protesters killed and thousands detained.

Over the past three years, Sisi has met a trickle of delegations from American think-tanks and other groups, drumming home the importance of supporting him.

“He made a passionate and convincing case for why all nations should stop working with Islamists,” said a member of one delegation who requested anonymity.

– Egypt trying to reassert itself –

Sisi often speaks of himself as though he were a Cassandra whose warnings go unheeded.

“We warned two years ago our European friends, the foreign fighters in Syria will return and commit terrorism in Europe,” he said during a 2016 visit by French President Francois Hollande.

Cairo is pleased by signals from Trump’s administration and Congress that they may consider blacklisting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, a move which also has its critics in Washington.

“America prepares to confront the Brotherhood,” read a banner headline in red in the official Al-Ahram newspaper.

“Beyond Sisi being thrilled that Trump replaced Obama, and the opportunity to turn a page, this is Egypt trying to reassert itself in a more central way to US Middle East strategy,” said Issandr El Amrani, the International Crisis Group’s North Africa director.

Egypt — one of two Arab countries to have a peace treaty with Israel — had traditionally played a central role in US regional alliances, in return receiving $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

Cairo has also mediated between Israel and the Palestinians.

Sisi’s office said he will broach the issue with Trump, who has confusingly suggested that he is fine with either a two-state or a one-state solution to the conflict.

Sisi had already made a goodwill gesture on that front in January, retracting a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements after a call from the then president-elect who opposed it.

The resolution was reintroduced after objections by other Security Council members, and passed with the US abstaining.

“Egypt is one of the traditional pillars of stability in the Middle East and has been a reliable US partner for decades,” the White House official said on Friday.

Sisi’s trip comes ahead of Trump’s talks on Wednesday with King Abdullah II of Jordan and after a tentative invitation to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to visit.

US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt has been trying to build momentum for a deal that would be the ultimate achievement for a president who prides himself on his bargaining prowess.

Although Sisi may be delighted about having Trump’s ear, he may yet be disappointed.

“The focus (for Trump) is on areas where Egypt has little relevance, like Iraq and Syria,” El Amrani said.

Egypt is part of the international coalition against the Islamic State group, but is bogged down fighting the jihadists’ franchise in the Sinai Peninsula, where they have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.

Western officials who requested anonymity say Egypt is primarily interested in advanced military hardware it believes Western countries are withholding.

Cairo also wants conventional equipment that Washington believes is not useful for a counter-insurgency campaign.

by Samer Al-Atrush
In a Shift, Trump Will Move Egypt’s Rights Record to the Sidelines

WASHINGTON — The White House signaled on Friday that it would no longer allow human rights issues to become a public point of conflict with Egypt, another striking shift away from years of American foreign policy by presidents of both parties.

As President Trump prepares to host President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt on Monday for his first visit to the White House since seizing power in Cairo in a military takeover in 2013, aides said the two leaders would focus on security and economic matters. Although the aides said human rights remained a concern, Mr. Trump prefers to deal with those issues in private.

A White House statement released Friday praised Mr. Sisi for waging a vigorous war against terrorists and making efforts to strengthen Egypt’s economy, while making no mention of his crackdown on domestic opponents. “President Al Sisi has taken a number of bold steps since becoming president in 2014, including calling for the reform and moderation of Islamic discourse and initiating courageous and historic economic reforms,” it said.

The decision to sideline human rights issues in Egypt publicly comes just days after the Trump administration told Congress that it would lift human rights conditions imposed by President Barack Obama and resume arms sales to Bahrain, another critical ally in the Middle East and host country of the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet.


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Iran: The importance of Qasem Soleimani and Qods Force go well beyond the military — Is he ready to make his move?

March 22, 2017

Qasem Soleimani prepares to make his move.

The Qods Force is the elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps charged with exporting Iran’s revolution. In practical terms, this means terror sponsorship worldwide and support for insurgency and proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Bahrain.

Normally, the leader of such a group would like to operate in the shadows and would studiously avoid the limelight. This has not been the case with Qods Force leader Qassem Soleimani, a man who has increasingly allows himself to be photographed with the frequency of a Hollywood starlet. Regional Arab leaders fear that Soleimani might be gearing up for a presidential run, taking his place as president (probably in 2021 after four more years of Hassan Rouhani) as the Iranian political pendulum swings back on schedule in favor of the security apparatus.

Perhaps the fatal mistake of the Obama administration—both during the tenure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and continuing under her successor John Kerry—was the belief that meaningful political competition in Iran occurred only in the formal political sphere—the parliament, presidency, and perhaps the Office of the Supreme Leader. In reality, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, more specifically, the Qods Force also wields significant political power.

Lest anyone inside Iran forget, earlier this month Soleimani began opining on Iran’s administration organization. According to the Mehr News Agency, the Qods Force leader argued that Iran’s “current system of administrative structure” was not conducive to Iran and, specifically, its “resistance economy” meeting its full potential.

That Soleimani not only speaks on such issues but that the state-controlled Iranian press also covers his talk suggests the importance of Soleimani and Qods Force go well beyond the military. He is not merely some random blowhard whose opinion is not worth covering.

Inside Iran, this means that Soleimani continues to be a rising force. Outside Iran, the message should be clear: Any diplomat—in Washington, in Brussels, or elsewhere—who believes they can strike effective deals with Iranian diplomats while ignoring the Qods Force and the levers of power it controls is profoundly ignorant of how the Islamic Republic operates. Ordinary politicians and cabinet officials do not hold sway over the Revolutionary Guards; if anything it is the opposite.

Alas, this means nothing good for current diplomacy, no matter what the narrative put out by Ben Rhodes, the political operative whom President Obama placed on the national security council, says: The Revolutionary Guard not only controls Iranian-sponsored terror but also most aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. To negotiate an accord with Iran’s foreign ministry and trust the Revolutionary Guards will comply is about as effective as a foreign diplomat negotiating a nuclear accord with the Washington, DC, city council and hoping the Pentagon will fall into place.

Iran Navy test-fires Valfajr Torpedo on final day of military exercises

March 1, 2017

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Iranian Defense Ministry on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, shows ValFajr torpedoes

The newest torpedo to join the Iranian Navy’s arsenal has been successfully test-fired as the force wraps up large-scale drills spanning over territorial and international waters.

Tuesday marked the last day of the final phase of the maneuvers codenamed Velayat 95, which have been underway since early February across the Strait of Hormuz, Sea of Oman and the northern part of the Indian Ocean.

Valfajr, as the torpedo has been named, was fired from the Navy’s Qadir submarine towards a surface vessel, destroying its target.

Similar simulated tasks of target location and destruction were performed by various other submarines dispatched to within 100 kilometers (62 miles) off the country’s southern coast.

Separately, anti-submarine helicopters of naval defense squadrons, which serve the Navy’s strategic operations, practiced patrolling missions, hitting and destroying sub-surface targets.

Another chopper, equipped with rocket and machinegun firepower, meanwhile, trained and opened fire on floating targets.

Different types of coast-based and sea-based drones have been providing surveillance and reconnaissance services to this stage of the drills, relaying the information gathered from mock hostile targets outside territorial waters to relevant Navy units.

File photo of Iran Navy’s Qadir submarines

Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said, while announcing the beginning of the last stage of the drills, “The aim of the Velayat 95 drill is to upgrade the country’s defensive capabilities and send Iran’s message of peace and friendship to the regional countries.”

On Monday, the Navy successfully test-fired new domestically-manufactured and laser-guided anti-submarine missiles, known as Dehlaviyeh. The latest Iranian cruise missile, named Nasir, was also premiered during the day.

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Also assessed in the drills was the “telemedicine” medical assistance provision system, which enables remote medical diagnosis.

The Islamic Republic faces foreign-sponsored propaganda campaigns aimed at portraying its military power in a negative light.

Tehran, however, constantly asserts that its military prowess is in the service of its defense.


Iranian armed forces members march in a military parade marking the 36th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Iran's chief of staff of the armed forces said Wednesday a $38 billion aid deal between the United States and Israel makes Iran more determined to strengthen its military. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Strait of Hormuz: Iran Begins Naval Exercises as U.S. Navy Watches

February 26, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s navy has begun an annual drill near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, its first major exercise since the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Iranian state television quoted navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari on Sunday as saying the maneuver will cover an area of 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean near the strait.

Nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait and it has been the scene of previous confrontations between the U.S. and Iran.

But the drill does not involve Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force the U.S. Navy often criticizes for harassing its vessels.

The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.



Iran Uses Syrian Battlefields to Train Military Officers

Iranian armed forces members march in a military parade marking the 36th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Iran's chief of staff of the armed forces said Wednesday a $38 billion aid deal between the United States and Israel makes Iran more determined to strengthen its military. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Tehran-based Imam Hossein University, a school affiliated with The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said it recently deployed military leadership students to fight in Syria as part of an educational program designed for future officers, according to state-run media.

Tehran says its forces are in Syria to protect the Zeinab Shrine in Damascus, a Shi’ite holy site. But since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war with rebel groups across the country, at first sending advisers, then forces from the IRGC expanding far beyond the shrine area.

Morteza Saffari, a senior IRGC commander who heads “the brass hat division” at Imam Hossein University, said at least 100 students from the school have been dispatched to Syria for training in combat situations.

“Some of the students sent for two-month training sessions got martyred (killed), many were injured and some have been deployed in Syria for a longer period,” he told Iran’s Danshjoo news agency in a recent interview.

VOA news observes that Syria presents Iran with its first opportunity to give military officers front-line combat experience since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties. Revolutionary Guards Corps deputy commander Brig. General Hossein Salami boasted his forces have “gained technical and tactical advancements, militarily and in terms of intelligence collection” from their deployment to Syria. Extensive field testing of Iranian weapons was another benefit.

Syrian rebel commanders enter the VOA story to confirm that IRGC units have been involved in heavy Syrian combat, particularly around the long-besieged city of Aleppo. One rebel leader said Iran sent “many reinforcements to Aleppo, mainly new officers and students from its military academy.” A significant IRGC presence was also reported in Homs and in the suburbs of Damascus.

In an op-ed for McClatchy News on February 14, Andrew Malcolm argues that Russia is “using the Syrian civil war as a live-fire boot camp to train Iranian troops as the region’s dominant military force.”

“Iran’s concerted buildup, including sophisticated new Russian missile defenses, is expanding its armed influence toward tipping the Middle East’s balance of power adversely to American interests,” Malcolm warns. He notes that both Russia and Iran have rapidly cycled troops through the Syrian theater, aiming to give as many soldiers and commanders a taste of live-fire military experience as possible.

Malcolm quotes work from the Institute for the Study of War that makes precisely the same point as Voice of America’s new coverage, arguing that experience in Syria is “dramatically increasing Tehran’s ability to plan and conduct complex conventional operations” as Iranian officers learn by “seeing and doing.”

The Institute warns that Iranians are learning important Russian military concepts such as “cauldron battles, multiple simultaneous and successive operations, and frontal aviation” by working closely with Russian forces in Syria. This will help Iran become “a formidable conventional military power in the Middle East in relatively short order, permanently changing the balance of power and the security environment in the region.”

According to the Institute’s analysis, Iran is on track to become one of the few nations in the world able to “conduct quasi-conventional warfare hundreds of miles from its borders,” an achievement that would disrupt the balance of power in the Middle East.

Iran will add these improved capabilities to a demonstrated aptitude for coordinating local allies and proxy forces, such as Hezbollah fighters and Shiite militias. That’s the kind of force coordination President Trump’s new National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, has recommended the United States develop in a different way with different choices for local allies.

If Iran is already skilled at force coordination and weaponized politics, which it tends to exert through terrorism and subversion, and it’s also gaining advanced military training, battlefield experience, and battle-tested weapons by cooperating with Russia in Syria, it will become a formidable adversary for the United States and its regional allies.

Iran says Saudi, Israel working to damage country — Israel and Saudis say Iran exports terrorism by supporting armed Shiite movements in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain

February 20, 2017


© AFP/File | Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran on Monday criticised what it said was coordination between Israel and regional rival Saudi Arabia, describing attempts to create an “international atmosphere” against Tehran.Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the two countries “imagine they can compensate for their numerous defeats and failures in the region by creating an international atmosphere against our country.”

The alignment is “not accidental”, he was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

Israel and Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of fuelling regional conflicts by supporting armed Shiite movements in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.

Iran rejects the accusations and says Riyadh must stop its support for Sunni “terrorists” like the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington last week and said there were now “broader conditions for broad peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab countries”.

Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar do not have diplomatic relations with Israel — although that does not prevent them from sharing informal links.

US President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has gone on record pushing for cooperation between the Jewish state and Sunni Arab nations to oppose Iran.

“It’s unfortunate that this occupying regime (of Israel) is counting on the coordination and collaboration of an Islamic country to further its perpetual anti-Iranian policies,” Ghasemi said.


8 women, 1 child killed in air raid near Yemen capital

February 16, 2017


© AFP/File | Yemenis supporting the Shiite Huthi rebels take part in an anti-Saudi rally in the capital Sanaa

SANAA (AFP) – Eight women and a child were killed in an overnight air raid on a funeral reception near the Yemeni capital Sanaa, medics said Thursday.At least 10 more women were reported wounded in the raid, which hit the women’s reception area at a funeral in Arhab district, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Sanaa.

Medics dispatched to the incident identified the bombing site as the residence of Mohammed Al Nakii in the village of Shiraa.

Huthi rebels, who control the capital, accused a Saudi-backed coalition of carrying out the strike.

A coalition spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

A post on the Huthi-run news website late Wednesday gave an initial toll of six women killed and 10 wounded.

Casualties were transported to hospitals in Sanaa.

Yemen’s war pits the internationally recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against Iran-backed Huthis, allied with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The conflict spiralled in March 2015 when the coalition began targeting the Shiite rebels, who had seized control of Sanaa.

The United Nations says more than 7,400 people, including around 1,400 children, have been killed since then in the fight for territorial control across the country.

The Arab coalition has faced repeated allegations of targeting weddings, funerals, schools and hospitals in Yemen.

The coalition maintains it does not deliberately target civilians.

But in October it admitted to killing 140 people in an air strike on a funeral in Sanaa, blaming the deaths on “incorrect information” after initially denying involvement.

International rights group Human Rights Watch on Thursday released a report blaming the coalition for a January 10 air strike on a market.

The strike near a school in the rebel-held northern Nihm province killed five people, including at least one child.

“The bombing death of an 11-year-old girl on her way to school shows how little the Saudi-led coalition took to heart its brief inclusion on the UN secretary-general’s ‘list of shame’,” said HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

The UN in June added the Saudi-led coalition to a blacklist of child rights violators over its involvement in Yemen, though it was later removed.

A 14-member independent team tasked with investigating strikes on Yemen last year acknowledged “shortcomings” in some coalition strikes.

The team includes coalition states Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Yemen.

Saudi foreign minister optimistic about overcoming Mideast challenges

February 16, 2017


BONN, Germany: Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said on Thursday he was optimistic about overcoming “the many challenges” in the Middle East and looked forward to working with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Asked if he was concerned that the Trump administration was backing away from a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jubeir said: “We look forward to working with the Trump administration on all issues in the region.”

“We are very, very optimistic about our ability to overcome the many challenges we face in the region,” he added.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Joseph Nasr)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday dropped a U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the longstanding bedrock of Washington’s Middle East policy, even as he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb settlement construction.

In the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, the Republican president backed away from a U.S. embrace of the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, upending a position taken by successive administrations and the international community.

“I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump told a joint news conference with Netanyahu . “I can live with either one.”

Trump vowed to work toward a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians but said it would require compromise on both sides, leaving it up to the parties themselves ultimately to decide on the terms of any agreement.

But he offered no new prescription for achieving an accord that has eluded so many of his predecessors, and Palestinian anger over his abandonment of their goal of statehood could scrap any chance of coaxing them back to the negotiating table.

Dropping a bombshell on Netanyahu as they faced reporters just before sitting down for talks, Trump told him: “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

The right-wing Israeli leader appeared momentarily startled. It was a rare concession sought by Trump as the two leaders tried to set a new positive tone after eight years of friction under Trump’s Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama.

For more on the two-state solution, watch Fortune‘s video:

Tzipi Livni, the former foreign affairs minister of Israel, says that as time goes by an effective solution in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is becoming less likely.

Netanyahu insisted that Jewish settlements were “not the core of the conflict” and made no public commitment to reduce settlement building in the occupied West Bank. He later told reporters traveling with him that he hoped to “reach an understanding” with Trump on settlements.

Trump echoed Netanyahu ‘s calls for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – something they have refused to do – and to halt incitement against Israelis.

But even as Trump promised to pursue peace, saying “it might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand,” he made no effort to address the deep distrust and other obstacles that have prevented any substantive negotiations since 2014.

Setting an initially chummy tone, Trump greeted Netanyahu on a red carpet rolled out to the White House driveway. The two leaders smiled, shook hands and chatted amiably before heading inside, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and Netanyahu ‘s wife, Sara.

Among the questions that figured prominently on the agenda was the future of the two-state solution – the idea of creating a Palestine living peacefully alongside Israel.

Foreshadowing Trump’s policy shift, a senior White House official said on Tuesday that peace did not necessarily have to entail Palestinian statehood. Palestinians responded by warning Trump that such a move would seriously damage U.S. credibility.

Giving a meandering response to a question on the issue, Trump suggested that he could abide by whatever path the two sides decided. “I’m happy with the one they like the best,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seized on Trump’s settlements comment to demand a complete halt to such building – which Palestinians see as meant to deny them a viable state – and said he remained committed to “the two-state solution and to international law.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned against abandoning the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying there was “no alternative.”

Netanyahu committed, with conditions, to the two-state goal in a speech in 2009 and has broadly reiterated the aim since. But he has also spoken of a “state minus” option, suggesting he could offer the Palestinians deep-seated autonomy and the trappings of statehood without full sovereignty.

At the news conference, he never ruled out a two-state solution, but also made it sound like an almost impossible ideal. He said it would require preconditions, including the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and Israel’s retaining security control “in the area west of the Jordan River” – which would encompass all of the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Trump shared several warm handshakes during the news conference, especially after Trump’s opening remarks, when he said the United States was Israel’s greatest friend.

But Trump also managed to catch Netanyahu off guard, at one point saying that if a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was going to be reached “both sides will have to make compromises.” The president then turned to Netanyahu and said: “You know that, right?” Netanyahu replied with a chuckle, “Both sides.”

The two leaders agreed that there was an opening for enlisting Israel’s Arab neighbors – which share its concerns about Iran – into any future peace efforts. But a retreat from the principle of Palestinian statehood would cast doubt on the chances for cooperation from the broader Arab world.

“A nail in the coffin”

Martin Indyk, a former Middle East negotiator under Obama and now at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said of the possibility that Washington might ditch its support for an independent Palestinian nation, “It’s another nail in the coffin of the peace process, which already had a lot of nails in it.”

The one-state idea would be deeply problematic for both sides. One concept would be two systems for two peoples, which Palestinians would see as apartheid. Another version would mean equal rights for all, including for Palestinians in an annexed West Bank, but that would compromise Israel’s Jewish character.

Palestinians have expressed fear that their leadership will be frozen out by Netanyahu ‘s close bond with Trump. But CIA director Mike Pompeo met Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday, U.S. and Palestinian officials said.

For Netanyahu , the talks with Trump are an opportunity to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Obama.

The prime minister, under investigation at home over allegations of abuse of office, wanted no visible gaps between U.S. and Israeli thinking during his visit.

Trump, who has been in office less than four weeks and whose foreign policy apparatus is in disarray following the forced resignation of his national security adviser Michael Flynn, brings with him an unpredictability that Netanyahu ‘s staff hoped would not impinge on the discussions.

The two leaders, who seemed to strike up an emerging “bromance” in social media exchanges since the U.S. election, sought to demonstrate good personal chemistry face-to-face as well.

Meetings with Obama were at best cordial and businesslike, at worst tense and awkward. In one Oval Office encounter in 2011, Obama grimaced as Netanyahu lectured him in front of the cameras on the suffering of the Jewish people through the ages.