Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon’

“Iran’s ambition is to destroy the Saudi state.”

March 21, 2018

Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador and chief of the General Intelligence Directorate. (AFP)
WASHINGTON: Iran is a “threat” and aims to destroy the Saudi state, the Kingdom’s former intelligence chief has warned.

Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador and chief of the General Intelligence Directorate, said that Iran had boasted about its interference in regional states.

“I don’t think they threaten our existence. But definitely, their ambition is to destroy the Saudi state. And this is not new. This is from the time of (the former Supreme Leader of Iran) Khomeini,” Prince Turki told NPR.

Prince Turki pointed to Iran’s alleged interference in regional countries including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

“Iran has not hesitated to interfere in all of these countries, and they boast about it. It’s not something that they hide or that they shy from mentioning … Their leadership has boasted about controlling four Arab capitals,” he said.

Prince Turki also said that the Iran-backed Houthi militias had tried to take over Yemen by military force.

“The Kingdom responded to the appeal of the legitimate government in Yemen to provide military support to help them push back on this Houthi-cum-Iranian interference in trying to take over in Yemen,” he said.

“Yemen is bordering Saudi Arabia. Imagine if Mexico or Canada had started interfering in the affairs of the United States. What would the reaction of America be? It would be to defend itself. Yes, it is complicated. And yes, we are paying a price for that. But I think it is a justifiable defense of our interests.”


France urges tough EU approach on Iran to save nuclear accord

March 19, 2018

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FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Tehran, Iran, March 5, 2018. via REUTERSREUTERS


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – France urged the European Union on Monday to consider new sanctions on Iran over its involvement in Syria’s civil war and its ballistic missile program, as Paris tries to persuade Washington to preserve a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the deal, which was agreed under his predecessor Barack Obama, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

In response, the three European signatories – France, Britain and Germany – have proposed new EU sanctions targeting Iranians who support Syria’s government in that country’s civil war and Tehran’s ballistic missile program, according to a confidential document seen by Reuters.

“We are determined to ensure that the Vienna accord is respected,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on arrival for talks with his EU counterparts, referring to the city where the 2015 deal was signed.

“But we must not exclude (from consideration) Iran’s responsibility in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and in its very questionable role in the near- and Middle East,” he said. “That must also be discussed to reach a common position.”

The confidential document cites “transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology” to Syria and allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah.

Iran’s foreign ministry criticized Le Drian’s comments, saying there could be no negotiation over what Iran says are purely defensive weapons.

“We were hopeful that after his recent visit to Tehran and negotiations with Iranian officials, he would understand the realities of the Islamic Republic’s defense policies,” Fars news agency quoted Iranian spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.


The United States has unilateral sanctions on Iran over missile tests it says violate a U.N. resolution against developing weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Any EU-wide measures would be the first significant punitive steps since the bloc lifted broad economic sanctions on Iran last year following the 2015 accord to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions for at least a decade.

But new sanctions would need the support of all 28 EU member states and could complicate new business deals with Iran.

Some EU countries, including Italy and Greece, are keen to rebuild a business relationship that once made the EU Iran’s top trading partner and its second-biggest oil customer.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday he expected Trump to pull out of the nuclear agreement in May unless European governments “really come together on a framework”.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired the final stages of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, stressed that there was no formal EU position on new sanctions.

But other foreign ministers in Brussels hinted at discussions that diplomats said were underway in EU capitals.

“We have to explore all the possible measures to have the same type of pressure as we had in the nuclear dossier,” Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Samantha Koester, Alissa de Carbonnel, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin Nouri; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Hezbollah leader accused of saying Shiite law more important than Lebanese constitution

March 15, 2018

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s statement has been retracted by the website.
BEIRUT: An Iranian news website has caused controversy in Lebanon by claiming Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah told his followers that Shiite Islamic law is more important than the Lebanese constitution and “it is mandatory to implement its orders.”
Nasrallah’s comments, allegedly made during a meeting with Iranian supporters living in Lebanon, were reported by the Iranian Farda News website. However, the website later retracted the statements and issued an apology to its readers. Hezbollah’s media office also issued a statement rejecting the Farda News article.
According to the original story, Nasrallah made a series of controversial remarks addressing the religious and political situations in Lebanon and Syria. While praising Lebanese President Michel Aoun, he complained that many Shiites in the country had “converted to Christianity or become Sunni Muslims.”
Nasrallah was quoted as saying that “the principles of Wilayat Al-Faqih,” in which religious scholars qualified in Shiite Islamic law make legislation and issue socially binding edicts, “are above the Lebanese constitution.”
Lebanon is one of the Middle East’s most diverse countries, with a population including Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Druze, Maronites and Copts. Under Lebanese law, the president must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite.
— Originally Published in Asharq Al-Awsat


Russia’s conflict-laden foreign policy

March 12, 2018

Russian foreign policy has hardened under President Vladimir Putin. Although Russia is looking for cooperation, it is not afraid of confrontation, which has often led to difficult foreign relations. DW has the lowdown.

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United States

Russia has an ambivalent relationship to the US. During the US presidential elections in the fall of 2016, Russia apparently tried subtly to influence public opinion to benefit the future president Donald Trump. At least, that is the gist of special investigator Robert Mueller’s work to date.

But since Trump’s inauguration, the relationship between the two heads of state has been strained. At the beginning of March, Putin announced in his speech on the state of the nation that he wanted to turn new, and what he described as impossible to attack, nuclear missiles against the West.

This was also a reaction to the US’ withdrawal from the treaty with Russia on missile defense in 2002. In any case, the US did not seem surprised by this move. Trump announced the construction of new nuclear missiles with reduced explosive force. Political scientist Susanne Spahn told DW that she suspects it is important to Putin to strengthen his country’s position of power specifically in relation to the US.

“The main enemy is the United States. Putin has used very threatening rhetoric towards the West along the lines of, ‘in the past you did not want to listen to us, then at least listen to us now’.”

Middle East

Russia’s ambition to become an international political heavyweight again is most evident in the Middle East. Russia strongly supports the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is at war with sections of his own population. Russia has set up a substantial military contingent to protect Assad and his established political order.

Read moreWhat foreign powers want from the war in Syria

There are several reasons for Moscow’s involvement: Firstly, it is about having a military foothold in the Mediterranean region. Above all, however, Russia has become an actor in the region that no one can avoid. Together with Assad’s other key ally, Iran, Russia now has considerable influence in the region between Iran and Israel.

Russia’s authority holds significantly more weight than at the beginning of the Syrian war, in Iraq, Syria and in areas of Lebanon controlled by Iran-backed Hezbollah. Russian authority also counts in Turkey, which intervened in northern Syria in January. The US had largely withdrawn from the Middle East under the Obama administration. They left behind a gap that Russia is increasingly filling.

Central and Eastern Europe

Russia has rather difficult relations with the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. Lithuania has barely had any political contact with Russia since the Ukraine crisis. Around 65 percent of Lithuanians regard Russia as an “unfriendly” neighbor, while around 18 percent do not rule out the possibility that Russia could invade their country. This has made them all the happier about the 1,000 NATO soldiers who have been deployed to Lithuania.

Lithuania has also distanced itself economically. For a long time, the Baltic country was heavily dependent on Russian energy exports. It has systematically reduced this dependence.

Russian relations with Poland are also at a low point. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose role as chairman of the right-wing conservative ruling PiS party makes him a kind of eminence grise of Polish politics, is a staunch anti-communist. He has also distanced himself from Putin’s Russia. For example, he is a strong supporter of the EU’s sanctions against Poland’s neighbor to the east. Neither country has any discernible interest in rapprochement.

On the other hand, Russia enjoys good relations with Serbia, which is in large part due to the good personal relationship between Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Serbia also gets a substantial part of its arms and energy imports from Russia.


Russia has had a difficult relationship with Germany since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis. Germany supports the EU’s decision to impose trade sanctions on Russia, despite the fact that German firms have suffered heavily as a result; around 40 percent of trade losses affect Germany.

Nevertheless, Germany is maintaining its critical stance on the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, SPD foreign policymaker Rolf Mützenich told DW. The breach of international law in Crimea is unacceptable, he said. However, he explained that the relationship with Ukraine and Russia generally remains a focal point of German foreign policy. “We must not put ourselves at the mercy of domestic political actors in either country,” said Mützenich.

Russia’s President Putin has an unclear relationship with Germany. On the one hand, Moscow maintains a close dialogue with Berlin. On the other hand, Putin questioned Germany’s sovereignty in June 2017. “There are not that many countries in the world that enjoy the privilege of having sovereignty. I don’t want to offend anyone, but what Mrs. Merkel said [in a previous speech – Ed] is an expression of the resentment of a limited authority that has accumulated over a long period of time.” The relationship is also strained by alleged Russian hacker attacks on German government computers.


Since relations with the EU have cooled as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has increasingly turned its attention to China. Both countries want to expand their trade relations. Russia also wants to participate in the expansion of the “New Silk Road” — the dynamism of this primarily Chinese-European trade route should also benefit the Russian economy.

Read moreAre China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

In political terms, both states maintain a similar style, in particular, authoritarian dealings with critics and opponents within the country and a robust representation of their own interests to the outside world. Both states have repeatedly spoken out against Syria’s condemnation in the UN Security Council. They argue that interference in the country’s internal affairs is not admissible.

The two states have also come closer to each other militarily. They conducted several joint maneuvers — not only in central Asia, but also in the East China Sea. As a result, Russia has moved away in part from its previously cultivated neutrality in the dispute between China and Japan over islands in the South China Sea — a state of affairs that weighs heavily on Russian-Japanese relations, but that has further strengthened those with China.

Israel and Iran Back on Collision Course in the North

March 10, 2018


Two powerful yet contradictory trends are all but fated to collide: Iran’s insistence on establishing a military presence in Syria, and Israel’s insistence on preventing it

Israel forces on the Israeli Golan Heights keep a watchful eye on the events in Syria. February 2018
Israel forces on the Israeli Golan Heights keep a watchful eye on the events in Syria. February 2018Gil Eliahu

Almost a month has passed since the drama in the skies of Israel and Syria, when Israel knocked down an Iranian drone that had penetrated its airspace and bombed Iranian targets in Syrian territory, and Israel lost a fighter jet to Syrian anti-aircraft artillery. In this time Syria hasn’t reported a single Israeli aerial attack on arms convoys, missile warehouses or army bases, reports that have been quite frequent in the last five years.

This hiatus will probably be transient. The underlying conditions on Israel’s northern front remain unchanged, even after that extraordinary exchange of firerpower. The decided advantage of the pro-Assad axis in the Syrian civil war gives its forces security and bolsters their drive to win, in compensation for their efforts invested in saving the Syrian tyrant back when his chances looked slim.

In a review that army intelligence delivered to the political echelon, the Israeli and Iranian moves were described as two powerful strategic trends that were all but fated to collide: the Iranian insistence on establishing a military presence in Syria, and the Israeli insistence on preventing it, stated time and again by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his AIPAC speech this week: “We must stop Iran. We will stop Iran.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds what he claims is part of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds what he claims is part of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2018. LENNART PREISS/AFP

Why didn’t the shoot-out on that Shabbat descend into war? Because both Israel and Iran are being very careful and trying not to go there. It’s the early days for the Iranian project in the region and Tehran doesn’t seem to want a direct military confrontation with Israel at this time. Watching the Iranian moves in recent years shows it can change direction, sometimes halt entirely, following Israeli threats or attacks linked to the air force.

From Israel’s perspective, even though the stated intention is to foil Iran’s plans in Syria and Lebanon, neither Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman nor the top military brass aspire to a broad confrontation whose end cannot be foretold. Most Israeli deterrence moves are under the radar, sometimes barely gaining mention in the press. Israel would probably prefer things to go on without direct clashes.

Both Israel and Iran have to factor Russia into the equation. Moscow is the big winner of the civil war in Syria, and the only world power still in touch with all parties involved. The last thing that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants is for an Iranian-Israeli war to imperil his No. 1 strategic triumph in the region in recent years: saving the Assad regime. That seems to have been the message delivered to Jerusalem and Tehran as that day of fighting up north wore on. The belligerents conducted themselves accordingly.

Israel forces prepare in the Golan Heights February 2018
Israel forces prepare in the Golan Heights February 2018Gil Eliahu

Amos Yadlin, head of the Institute for National Security Studies, tells Haaretz that Iran is building up its forces and increasing its influence in Syria using three combined models: those of Hezbollah, Iraq and North Korea. In 2014 and 2015, Hezbollah and the Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard set up terror cells based on local Druze units in the Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian organizations. When activists in these networks were killed in actions ascribed to Israel, Iran abandoned the attempt to implement a Hezbollah-type model in Syria.

The second model, based on a test run that went very well in Iraq, touches on deploying Shi’ite militias obedient to Iran throughout Syria. The militias, which rely on recruits from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, helped tilt the war in Assad’s favor. But the number of their people in Syria is not large, some counting it below 10,000.

Lately the third approach, which Yadlin called the North Korea model, was added. It is reminiscent of the Pyongyang missile threats against Seoul. Iran seems to want to renew Assad’s arsenal of long-range missiles, most of which were used or destroyed during the civil war. It also wants to build missile assembly lines on Israel’s border. This turning point is happening during the quiet years assured by the Vienna agreement of 2015, which put off the Iranian nuclear threat by at least seven to 10 years.

Even optimistically assuming that Tehran keeps its word, when the agreement expires Iran will be in a better position: It will be able to continue pursuing its nuclear ambitions and create a double missile threat, from Syria and Lebanon, making Israel think two or three times before attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

The arsenal of missiles is supposed to grow and be deployed over more fronts, and in part to become more accurate. Speaking at the Munich security conference in late February, Netanyahu gave his view of the Iranian goal: to equip Hezbollah with guided missiles whose accuracy (“probable circular error”) is tens of meters.

Talking with U.S. President Donald Trump this week, Netanyahu again pressed him to declare that America would abandon the nuclear agreement in May. Meanwhile the EU wants to lead an initiative enforcing monitoring in Iran and restrictions on its missile program, as wells as its dissemination of technology among terrorist and guerrilla groups in the region. These are goals marked for the years to come, based on the understanding that the battle with Iran will slog on for years and that the Vienna agreement provided, at best, a hiatus, not a comprehensive solution.

Israel moves to reinforce border wall amid tensions with Lebanon — Now add diapute over natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean

February 27, 2018


As Israel moves to reinforce border wall and Lebanon fights over its territorial waters, American mediation is making little headway – and Hezbollah isn’t helping

.Peacekeepers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Lebanese army members are seen near the border with Israel near the village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon February 10, 2018. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
Peacekeepers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Lebanese army members are seen near the border with Israel near the village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon February 10, 2018.\ ALI HASHISHO/ REUTERS

The dispute between Israel and Lebanon over the route of the northern border centers around Lebanese claims regarding 13 border points that the United Nations decided on 17 years ago. Tensions have increased in recent weeks based on two developments — the start of Israeli defensive efforts near Metula and the Rosh Hanikra area, and Lebanon’s renewed preoccupation with the two countries’ maritime borders due to the search for natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean.

When the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak completed Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israel waited for UN confirmation that it had withdrawn completely to the international border, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425

A few months later the confirmation was given after the Israel Defense Forces, in cooperation with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, marked the border at several points where the United Nations had reservations. Israel moved the fence to the south, sometimes by a few dozen meters.

Areas in dispute between Israel and Lebanon
Areas in dispute between Israel and Lebanon; The border, this month.Gil Eliyahu

At the same time, Lebanon continued to make complaints about the route of the border. One reason was that the border had been drawn based on a map from the cease-fire agreement of 1949, a map with a scale of 1:50,000. As a result, there were places where the line’s thickness on the ground reached about 50 meters, leading to disputes between the sides.

A key Lebanese claim touches on the location of the border on the Rosh Hanikra coast. This is an important question because the two sides disagree on a marking on the coast — at a place where the Lebanese are gearing up to search for gas. Additional Lebanese claims relate to the following places from west to east: three points in the area opposite the town of Shlomi and Kibbutz Hanita, near moshavim Shetula and Shomera, opposite Mount Adir, opposite Avivim, opposite Kibbutz Yiftah, opposite Kiryat Shmona and another three points opposite Metula.

File: Israeli soldiers on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.
File: Israeli soldiers on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.Ariel Schalit / AP

There are also other disputes regarding the area of Har Dov (which the Lebanese call the Shebaa Farms), but there Israel says the area was actually captured from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967, not from Lebanon.

In the past month the Lebanese government has voiced many protests about IDF work along the border in two areas: between Metula and Misgav Am and in the Rosh Hanikra area. The Lebanese are also worried because the building of a wall instead of a fence is seen as a more permanent step.

Israel says it is determined to continue with the project, which is scheduled to last a few months along several kilometers. So far walls have been put up along only about 300 meters (328 yards). Israeli leaders are keeping close track of the barrier’s progress.

The project is designed to improve the IDF’s preparedness in light of fears of a sudden attack by Hezbollah, perhaps starting the next war. The army has been mapping the weak points along the border and has launched engineering projects to make any Hezbollah attacks on IDF outposts or Israeli communities along the border more difficult.

David Satterfield, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, has in recent weeks taken part in mediation attempts between Israel and Lebanon, though there has been no proof of any breakthrough. The party raising most of the complaints is the Lebanese government, while Hezbollah’s leaders say the problem is an Israeli blow to Lebanese sovereignty, so the Beirut government must deal with it.

Iran Is Trying to Avoid a Clash but May Surprise Israel

February 26, 2018


Tehran will find it hard to remain silent for long if Israel strikes Iranian targets; at some stage it might shock us with the timing, weapons or method

Iran's military chief Mohammad Bagheri, right, on a visit to Turkey.
Iran’s military chief Mohammad Bagheri, right, on a visit to Turkey. Reuters / Stringer

The latest confrontation between Israel and Iran on the northern front was predictable. We can assume that neither side wanted the clash, but with Tehran having sent substantial Iranian and Shi’ite combat forces to Syria  while arming Hezbollah with advanced weapons, and with Israel determined to check the danger, a clash was almost inevitable.

On top of that is the consensus among Israel’s leaders that Iran presents the most serious threat to Israel. This perception is based on a number of elements: Hezbollah and its huge missile system, Iran’s large and improved missile system, and Tehran’s policy of encircling Israel with radical Shi’ites, marked by the anti-Israel front in Syria and Lebanon.

Clearly if Iran goes nuclear some day this threat will increase to an unprecedented level. But the balance of powers is more complex. The main tool used by the Israel Defense Forces in Syria is the air force, and Iran has no answer to it; its own air force is based on planes 30 to 40 years old and clearly can’t cope with its Israeli rival.

In addition, Iran has to operate forces hundreds of kilometers from its borders without any real defense when they’re subject to Israeli attacks and provocations by Sunni groups in Syria. Weapons convoys to Hezbollah and arms plants in Syria are exposed to attacks.

The United States also poses a threat to Iran. The Trump administration has defined Iran as a threat of the highest order to the United States and its allies due to its use of terror, intervention in other countries, construction of a large missile system, and above all its attempt to produce nuclear weapons.

The U.S. administration hasn’t yet taken any practical steps to stop the threat, and it’s not clear whether it will, but Iran isn’t certain it won’t, and the last thing Tehran wants is a confrontation with the United States. Meanwhile, the declaration by Washington that it will leave a military force in northern Syria for an indefinite period to check Iranian influence should worry Tehran.

Although Russia – currently the most influential player in Syria – stands alongside Iran and recognizes Iran’s right to maintain forces in Syria, there are differences of opinion, conflicts of interest and suspicions between Tehran and Moscow. As a result, Iran fears that if an overall agreement in Syria is achieved, Russia won’t insist on leaving Bashar Assad’s regime in place if it receives a promise that it can continue to use its air base and naval base there.

If the Assad regime is ousted in the context of an agreement, Iran’s influence in Syria will suffer a serious blow. Iran thus hasn’t yet responded with fire to attacks against weapons convoys and factories in Syria.

Even when Iran challenged Israel in the most recent clash, it did so with a drone, not by opening fire. Since early 2015, Hezbollah has also refrained from responding to what could be perceived as Israeli provocations. This reluctance to respond apparently stems from a recognition of Israel’s significant military advantage in the north.

The Iranians are also likely to fear that a confrontation with Israel would give Israel a chance to attack the nuclear weapons sites in Iran. Moreover, Iran apparently doesn’t seek a confrontation because its top priority is to stabilize the Assad regime and exploit its standing in Syria to strengthen its influence in Iraq and Lebanon. An entanglement with Israel could block these goals.

Iran’s supreme regional goal is to entrench itself in Syria and its neighbors for the long term. It has already paid a high price for this in blood and money, and there’s no reason to assume that it will give this up. Israel, meanwhile, must prevent Iran from leaving its forces and the Shi’ite militias in Syria – including Hezbollah – for the long term. This basic conflict could lead to a confrontation again – and there’s no evidence yet of a responsible adult among the great powers to ease the conflict of interests.

The bottom line is that Iran is trying to avoid a confrontation with Israel, but will find it hard to remain silent for long if Israel strikes Iranian targets. Thus we must take into account that at some stage Iran will take a military action to deter Israel. Iran will want to surprise Israel – with the timing, weapons or method. For that purpose it will prefer to activate Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias so as not to get involved itself.

Iran may instruct Hezbollah to use its missile system, despite the risks involved both to it and its emissaries. Iran would probably try to exploit an opportunity when Israel is preoccupied with another crisis – the main candidate is a conflict with Hamas in Gaza. And of course there’s also the possibility of a mistake in judgment that would get Iran embroiled in a conflict with Israel.

Ephraim Kam is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies.

Russia moves to block Iran missile criticism in UN resolution on Yemen — Iran’s export of ballistic missiles OK with Russia

February 26, 2018

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasilly Nebenzia talks with his US counterpart Nikki Haley before the start of a UN Security Council meeting concerning in Iran. (File Photo: AFP)
UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council on Sunday was considering two draft resolutions on Yemen after Russia put forward a rival text aimed at blocking action against Iran over missiles sent to the country’s Houthi rebels.
The council is set to vote on Monday on renewing sanctions on Yemen for a year, but a British-drafted text also calls for “additional measures” in response to a UN report which found that Iran had violated the arms embargo on Yemen.
The rival Russian-drafted text presented to the council on Saturday and seen by AFP would extend the sanctions regime on Yemen until February 2019 without any reference to the UN report’s findings on Iran and possible action targeting Tehran.
Diplomats said Russia could veto the British text, allowing for a vote on its own draft resolution.
Negotiations were continuing on Sunday.
The report by a UN panel of experts concluded that Iran was in violation of the 2015 arms embargo after determining that missiles fired by the Houthis at Saudi Arabia last year were made in Iran.
Russia maintains that the report’s findings are not conclusive enough to justify action against Iran.
Britain, backed by the United States and France, had initially sought to condemn Iran, but that was dropped in negotiations.
The last draft resolution expresses “particular concern” that “weapons of Iranian origin were introduced in Yemen after the imposition of the targeted arms embargo” and that Iran is in “non-compliance” with UN resolutions.
The council would express “its intention to take additional measures to address these violations,” according to the British-drafted text.
It adds that “any activity related to the use of ballistic missiles in Yemen” meets the criteria for imposing UN sanctions.
Iran has repeatedly denied arming the Houthis in Yemen, despite claims by the United States and Saudi Arabia that the evidence of an arms connection is irrefutable.
Russia, which has traditionally friendly relations with Iran, is providing military support along with Tehran to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Wednesday said the draft resolution should focus on renewing the mandate of sanctions monitors for Yemen instead of taking aim at Iran.
“It’s a resolution about the extension of the working group, not about Iran. So we should concentrate on extending the working group first,” he said.
While the report found that Tehran had violated the embargo by failing to block the shipments, the experts said they were unable to identify the supplier.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley is pushing for council action to rein in Iran and prevent the war in Yemen from escalating into a broader regional conflict.
In a New York Times editorial last week, Haley wrote that “the UN panel has given the world a chance to act before a missile hits a school or a hospital and leads to a dangerous military escalation that provokes a Saudi military response.”
A Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015 in a conflict that has led to what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Russia can block council action by using the veto power it enjoys as one of the five permanent Security Council members, along with Britain, China, France and the United States.

Iran in decisive shift in favor of relations with China and Russia — “Preferring East to West.”

February 26, 2018

From L: Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin leave after posing for photos ahead of their trilateral meeting in Tehran, in this November 1, 2017 file photo. (AFP)
TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader has signalled a decisive shift in favor of relations with China and Russia, indicating that patience is running out with efforts to improve ties with the West.
One of the most popular slogans during the 1979 revolution was “Neither East nor West,” a defiant vow that Iran would no longer favor either of the world’s major forces at the time — American-style capitalism or Soviet Communism.
It was therefore striking to hear its current leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declare on February 19 that: “In foreign policy, the top priorities for us today include preferring East to West.”
Analysts say this does not change the basic idea that Iran refuses to fall under the sway of outside powers.
But it does suggest that the latest attempt at detente with the United States — represented by the 2015 nuclear deal in which it agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions — is running out of steam.
“Khamenei has repeatedly outlined that the 2015 nuclear deal was a test to see if negotiations with the West could yield positive results for Iran,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“The leadership perceives the US as acting in bad faith on the deal. Khamenei’s statement signals a green light for the Iranian system to focus greater diplomatic effort on deepening ties with China and Russia,” she said.
Khamenei’s comments come at a critical moment, with US President Donald Trump threatening to tear up the deal and reimpose sanctions unless Iran agrees to rein in its missile program and “destabilising activities” in the Middle East.
Even before Trump, Iran felt Washington was violating its side of the bargain as it became clear that remaining US sanctions would still hamper banking ties and foreign investments, even blocking Iranian tech start-ups from sharing their products on app stores.
Tehran argues this violates a clause stating the US must “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”
“From day one, the US, the Obama administration, started violating both the letter and the spirit of the agreement,” said Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst at the University of Tehran.
He said Khamenei’s latest statement recognized the simple fact that relations with eastern countries were much stronger, particularly since Iran and Russia allied over the Syrian war.
“It’s a very different world now. Iran’s relationship with Russia and China and an increasing number of Asian countries is much better than with the West because they treat us much better,” he said.
“We are partners with Russia in Syria. We are not subordinate.”
Anger over foreign interference was a key driver of the 1979 revolution after more than a century of intrigues, coups and resource exploitation by the United States, Britain and Russia.
But despite being depicted by critics as dogmatic and uncompromising, the Islamic republic that emerged after the revolution has been surprisingly flexible in its foreign policy.
“At certain moments since 1979, Iran has taken a pragmatic approach to dealings with the United States when necessary or in its interest,” said Geranmayeh.
She highlighted the infamous Iran-Contra arms deal in the 1980s and cooperation in Afghanistan in 2001, as well as the nuclear deal.
Yet many hard-liners in Washington refuse to accept that Iran has ever been serious about rapprochement.
The American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank, this month released a series of articles calling for “a more confrontational policy toward Iran,” including the threat of regime change.
Its main justification was that “the men who run Iran’s foreign policy have no interest in a better relationship.”
But speaking in April 2015, three months before the nuclear deal was finalized, Khamenei explicitly said it could lead to a broader improvement in ties.
“If the other side stops its usual obstinacy, this will be an experience for us and we will find out that we can negotiate with it over other matters as well,” he said in a speech.
Iran’s oil sales have rebounded since the deal, and it has seen an uptick in trade with Europe.
But the threat of US penalties has helped deter many foreign investors and major banks from re-engaging with Iran.
European firms and governments remain far more vulnerable to pressure from Washington than their Chinese and Russian counterparts.
“If the Europeans don’t have the courage to stand up to the US then they shouldn’t expect to be partners with us,” said Marandi.
“If some doors are closed and some doors are open, we are not going to wait outside the closed doors forever.”

UN To Vote Monday On Tricky Iran Issues — Some Background and Additional References

February 25, 2018


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The regime in Tehran enters its 40th year facing several different crises.

The fundamental pillars upon which the theocracy is established are export of terrorism and domestic repression.

Since the Iran-Iraq War, the West has pursued a failed policy of appeasement toward Iran in order to mitigate the threat from the regime. This includes a series of mistakes such as the Iran-Contra scandal, the designation of Iran’s main democratic opposition, the MEK, as a terrorist organization, handing Iraq to Shiite clerics on a silver platter and lastly, the catastrophic nuclear agreement better known as the JCPOA.

Today, political and economic impasse have caused the supreme leader to lose clout over the repressive forces under his control.

The reality is that the recent uprising opened a new chapter of possible policies towards Iran. Currently, Iranians who are forced to live under the poverty line and western governments both know why the regime is more rapidly becoming vulnerable. The Iranian people are up in arms against the systematic corruption that has crippled the economy and rubbed ordinary citizens of their lifesaving.

This popular discontent is shaking the regime to its foundations. Regime leaders and authorities all agree that if they do not find a permanent solution to the impasse, the overthrow of the regime will be inevitable.

As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is selling himself as a moderate, he dazzles both Eastern and E.U. traders by offering them lucrative trade deal. For example, during his recent visit to India, Rouhani signed several contracts with the Indian government and companies.

But as the Trump administration is closely watching Tehran’s activities, President Trump may decide to withdraw the U.S. from the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions. Thus, having economic relations with Iran is like betting on the wrong horse.

Now Trump has given America’s European allies a ”last chance” to strengthen the JCPOA and address Tehran’s regional mischief and its missile program. It is a known fact that the flawed JCPOA legitimizes and provides facilities for Iran’s destructive behavior in the region and suppression of its own people.

Considering that U.S. withdrawal will end the JCPOA, the E.U. is now trying to save the deal by complementing it with restrictions on Iran’s missile program and regional behaviors.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently urged Tehran to put its missile program under international monitoring. During a visit to Berlin, British Prime Minister Theresa May highlighted the regime’s destabilizing actions adding, “we are ready to take further measures to address the problems.” This show that both the British prime minister and French president share American concerns in this regard.

Inside Iran, the regime has marketed itself as the most powerful country in the Middle East. At the same time, the regime spares no efforts to create an atmosphere of fear in the country. However, the recent protests in Iran tore down the wall of oppression.

If the regime’s missile program and regional intervention are also restricted, the theocracy will lose all its ideological, political and practical leverage over its forces and proxies inside and outside of Iran.

In addition, reimposing the nuclear sanctions will put more pressure on the regime that is facing a bankrupt economy, which was the main reason the starving people of Iran took to the streets.

The recent nationwide protests in Iran expose the regime as a weak dictatorship. This presents the West with an excellent opportunity to end IRGC’s destructive actions across the region. During the Munich Security Conference, the U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster urged the international community to take practical actions against mullahs’ role in the Middle East.

However, a less expensive way to end the complicated situation in the region is to concentrate on Iran’s domestic crises and support the people of Iran that the regime leaders fear most. The leader of Iranian opposition Maryam Rajavi recently highlighted the Iranian people’s determination to end the theocracy noting,, “Iran’s uprising is not only for the overthrow of a political regime, but is a revolt against religious fundamentalism. This would be a blissful dawn not only for the people of Iran but for all the peoples of the region and the world.”

Hamid Bahrami is a former political prisoner from Iran. Living in Glasgow, Scotland, he is a human rights and political activist and works as a freelance journalist. Bahrami has contributed to Al Arabiya English, American Thinker, Euractive, Newsblaze and Eureporter as his work cover’s Iran’s Middle East actions and domestic social crackdown. Follow him on Twitter at @HaBahrami.



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Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing