Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon’

Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

August 16, 2018

Russia will help Jordan repatriate more than 150,000 Syrian refugees who fled fighting with the Assad regime in the country’s south, a Jordanian official said.

The official said Russia will repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 following the establishment of a center near the border with Syria to process their paperwork.

Jordan’s Minister for Media Affairs Jumana Ghneimat said the Russian proposal has been under discussion.

Destroyed buildings following an explosion on Aug. 12 at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria’s Idlib province city of Sarmada. (AFP)

The Jordanian government refused to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland, she said.

“It is up to the refugee to decide whether he wants to return, although the presence of large numbers of Syrians has become a burden for Jordan.”

The refugees are mainly from the war-ravaged provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, the scene of fierce clashes between rebels and Assad government forces.

Ghneimat said the establishment of a processing center nine kilometers from the border with Syria was part of Russia’s larger proposal for the return of the refugees.

Asked about the reopening of the Nassib border crossing, the minister said it was up to Syria to decide if the crossing would be operational.

The Assad regime had not asked Jordan to reopen the border, she said.

The Jordanian border crossing of Jaber is ready to operate and roads leading to the site are secure, Ghneimat said.

A technical team, including several ministry representatives, visited the crossing last week on a tour of inspection.

Jordan would benefit from reopening the border, which is an important avenue for trade with Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and several European countries, a transport ministry official said.

But reopening the border carried risks, including a fear that terrorists would enter the country with fake IDs, the official said.

The closure of the Jordan-Syrian border had severely affected Jordan’s transport sector, the head of the Syndicate of Jordanian Truck Owners said.

But he said that Jordanian trucks are ready to carry goods to Syria as soon as the border crossing is reopened. Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, about 7,000 trucks drove through the crossing each day.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1357196/middle-east

  
 
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Hezbollah chief claims terror group stronger than Israeli military, ready for war

August 15, 2018

In speech marking 12 years since Second Lebanon War, Hassan Nasrallah also says Iran sanctions won’t affect support for his organization

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen, during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen, during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT — The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement said Tuesday that US sanctions against Iran and his Iran-backed group will not have major effects on them and will not lead to regime change in Tehran.

In a televised address marking the 12th anniversary of the end of the 34-day Second Lebanon War with Israel in 2006, Hassan Nasrallah also boasted that his forces were stronger than the Israeli army and prepared for a fresh war with Israel.

Nasrallah claimed that the Trump administration was “mistaken” in thinking sanctions would lead to riots in Iran that would topple the regime, or even force Iran to reduce support for activity abroad.

Last week the US began restoring sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which President Donald Trump withdrew from in May. The administration says the renewed sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its support for international terrorism, its military activity in the Middle East and its ballistic missile programs.

“Iran has been facing sanctions since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979,” Nasrallah said. “He (Trump) is strengthening the sanctions but they have been there since 1979 and Iran stayed and will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the victory of its revolution.”

The Hezbollah leader spoke to thousands of supporters gathered at a rally south of Beirut, where they watched his speech on giant screens as it was broadcast from a secret location.

Iran has been backing Hezbollah financially and militarily since the terror group was established after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Iranian protesters in central Tehran on June 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

A number of protests have broken out against the Iranian regime for the country’s precarious economic situation, with demonstrators calling for an end to military adventurism and financial support for terror groups abroad.

According to the US, Iran sends Hezbollah an estimated $700 million a year.

Speaking about the restoration of the sanctions by Washington, Nasrallah said: “I can tell you and I have accurate information they are building dreams, strategies and projects that Iran will head toward chaos and the regime will fall. This is illusion, this is imagination and has nothing to do with reality.”

He added that Hezbollah is not scared of a possible war with Israel.

“No one should threaten us with war and no one should scare us by war,” he said, adding: “We are not scared or worried about war and we are ready for it and we will be victorious.”

A picture taken on July 26, 2017 during a tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement shows members of the group manning an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pick-up truck in a mountainous area around the Lebanese town of Arsal along the border with Syria. (AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO)

“Hezbollah might not be the strongest army in the Middle East but it is certainly stronger than the Israeli army,” Nasrallah said, according to Lebanese news outlet Naharnet. “Because we have more faith in our cause and greater willingness to sacrifice.”

“The resistance in Lebanon — with its arms, personnel, expertise and capabilities — is stronger than ever,” Nasrallah said.

Most analysts believe Hezbollah has been significantly weakened by years of fighting in Syria to bolster President Bashar Assad. However, Israeli officials say the terror group still has a massive missile arsenal that can threaten much of the country, and that a war will be incredibly damaging to both sides of the Lebanese border.

Nasrallah said Israel would fail to force Hezbollah away from the Syrian Golan border, where Jerusalem fears it and other Iranian proxy groups will set up bases to use for attacks against the Jewish state, and has pushed for Russia to enforce a buffer zone.

“The Israeli enemy, which has been defeated in Syria, is insolently seeking to impose its conditions in Syria, but this will not happen,” he said.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-chief-says-iran-sanctions-wont-affect-backing-for-terror-group/

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Israel’s Military Prepares to Fight Hezbollah

August 13, 2018

Recognizing unique threats posed by terror groups, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) drills for reorganization that would dissolve established units into unified fighting force; anti-drone laser also tested

August 13, 2018
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Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military has field-tested a new fighting method combining infantry, tanks and combat engineering into one unified force, as part of a major military reform meant to streamline the Israel Defense Forces, the army said Sunday.

The method was tested during a drill simulating war in the north against the Hezbollah terrorist group, during which the military also tried out new technologies, including an anti-mortar laser and more accurate artillery.

The restructured unit type was dubbed Tzakach Gideon, a Hebrew acronym that stands for Gideon brigade combat team, named after the Israel Defense Force’s multi-year Gideon Plan, a streamlining effort that the army began rolling out in 2016.

The details of this new organizational style were revealed earlier this year, and it saw its first trial during an exercise on the Golan Heights last week.

The drill saw infantry soldiers from the Golani Brigade, tanks from the 7th Armored Brigade and combat engineering troops from the 603rd Battalion working together, under one unified command. Currently, those different types of units can cooperate with one another, but with a far greater degree of independence.

The proposed change is designed to make the military’s ground forces more efficient and better suited to the types of fighting they are liable to encounter, specifically battles against terrorist groups, as opposed to national armies, officers involved in the project told reporters in February.

Chief among those terrorist groups is Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed proxy based in Lebanon that has been fighting in Syria in support of dictator Bashar Assad.

Israel considers the Shiite group to be its primary military threat in the region, and the IDF treats its readiness to face Hezbollah as the metric by which it determines how prepared it is for war.

Israeli tanks take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

In addition to the new unit structure, last week’s exercise also tested a number of recently developed technologies, some of which are not yet fully operational.

According to the military, this included: a high-powered laser capable of shooting down incoming mortar shells or drones, known as Gideon’s Shield, or Magen Gidon; a “smart” trigger, which only allows a weapon to be fired when it is locked on its target; an improved night vision system; a powerful radar detection system; communication equipment that gives commander access to up-to-date intelligence; and a number of drones and autonomous vehicles.

 

Soldiers also tested a new model of precision-guided artillery shells, which are far more accurate than the varieties currently in the IDF’s arsenals.

“There is a tremendous improvement in our capabilities. If we don’t invest in technology, the battlefield will remain a kingdom of uncertainty,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said during a visit to the exercise.

The military’s underlying understanding is that fighting more nimble non-state actors hiding among civilians, as with the Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon, is fundamentally different than squaring off against formal militaries on a deserted battlefield, and requires the IDF to be more flexible and more precise to avoid civilian casualties.

In addition, new technologies, like drones, require the military to develop techniques and systems to counter these emerging threats.

“We are aware of and monitoring the enemy’s changes, capabilities and developments, and against these things we are taking care to set up capabilties that will always put us two steps ahead of them,” said Col. Roman Gofman, commander of the 7th Armored Division.

“This is the first time that we are seeing a combined brigade fighting team. This is a battle in which tanks, infantry and combat engineering are coming together in a coordinated and synchronized way, where our forces are squaring off against the enemy,” he said.

The new Tzakach Gideon organizational style would have a ground forces brigade made up of at least six battalions, three infantry or armored battalions, one combat engineering battalion, a reconnaissance battalion and an administrative battalion, the IDF said Sunday.

It is expected to take several years before this reorganization is implemented throughout the military, and it will likely face opposition as old units, with decades of history, are dismantled.

“The heritage issue is a headache in and of itself,” a senior IDF Ground Forces officer said earlier this year.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/preparing-for-fight-against-hezbollah-army-tries-out-combat-reshuffle/

Amid Saudi Arabia Row, Canada Feels Alone in The World — Oil Superpower Hates Critics

August 12, 2018

Riyadh uses Canada to send a broader signal to western governments that any criticism of its domestic policies is unacceptable.

Soon after Donald Trump took office, it became clear that the longstanding relationship between the United States and its northern neighbour was about to change: there were terse renegotiations of Nafta, thousands of asylum seekers walking across the shared border and attacks on against Canada’s protectionist trade policies.

But this week laid bare perhaps the most blatant shift in the relationship, as the US said it would remain on the sidelines while Saudi officials lashed out at Canada over its call to release jailed civil rights activists.

“It’s up for the government of Saudi Arabia and the Canadians to work this out,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this week. “Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them.”

Image result for Justin Trudeau, saudi crown prince, photos

Canada’s lonely stance was swiftly noticed north of the border. “We do not have a single friend in the whole entire world,” Rachel Curran, a policy director under former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, lamented on Twitter.

The UK was similarly muted in its response, noted Bob Rae, a former leader of the federal Liberal party. “The Brits and the Trumpians run for cover and say ‘we’re friends with both the Saudis and the Canadians,’” Rae wrote on Twitter. “Thanks for the support for human rights, guys, and we’ll remember this one for sure.”

The spat appeared to have been sparked last week when Canada’s foreign ministry expressed its concern over the arrest of Saudi civil society and women’s rights activists, in a tweet that echoed concerns previously voiced by the United Nations.

Saudi Arabia swiftly shot back, expelling Canada’s ambassador and suspending new trade and investment with Ottawa, making plans to remove thousands of Saudi students and medical patients from Canada, and suspending the state airline’s flights to and from Canada, among other actions.

Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister urged Canada to “fix its big mistake” and warned that the kingdom was considering additional measures against Canada.

Analysts and regional officials said the spat had little to do with Canada, instead characterising Riyadh’s actions as a broader signal to western governments that any criticism of its domestic policies is unacceptable.

Several countries expressed support for Saudi Arabia, including Egypt and Russia. But Canada continued to stand alone, even as state-run media in the kingdom reported the beheading and “crucifixion” of a man convicted of killing a woman and carrying out other crimes.

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, said Canada was continuing to engage diplomatically and politically with Saudi Arabia. “We have respect for their importance in the world and recognise that they have made progress on a number of important issues,” he told reporters this week.

He insisted, however, that his government would continue to press Saudi Arabia on its human rights record. “We will, at the same time, continue to speak clearly and firmly on issues of human rights at home and abroad wherever we see the need.”

In this particular dispute, Canada did not need US help, said Thomas Juneau, a professor at the University of Ottawa. “Saudi Arabia-Canada relations are very limited, so there’s not a lot of damage being done to Canada right now,” he said. “But this should be a source of major anxiety: when a real crisis comes and we are alone, what do we do?”

The week’s events have added impetus to a conversation that is slowly getting under way in Canada, Juneau said. “We are starting some serious soul-searching in the sense of what does it mean for Canada to have a US that is much more unilateral, much more dismissive of the rules and the norms and of its leadership role in the international order that it has played for 70 years?”

These changes south of the border have clearly emboldened Saudi Arabia, Juneau argued, describing the kingdom’s recent actions in Yemen, Qatar and Lebanon as a pattern of aggressive, ambitious and reckless behaviour.

He saw no immediate end to the row, particularly as neither side is suffering significant costs in the dispute. Saudi Arabia has shown little inclination in recent years to walk back from its reckless and impulsive behaviour, he said, while Canada’s federal government – facing an election in 14 months and already under fire for signing off on the sale of more than 900 armoured vehicles to Riyadh – is loth to be seen adopting any kind of conciliatory posture towards the conservative kingdom.

While some in Canada had been disappointed to see the UK and Europe opt to publicly stay out of the diplomatic spat, Juneau described it as unsurprising. “When Saudi Arabia had comparable fights with Sweden and Germany in recent years, did Canada go out of its way to side with Sweden and Germany? No, not at all,” he said. “We stayed quiet because we had nothing to gain from getting involved. So on the European side, the calculation is the same.”

Canada’s lonely stand for women’s rights in the kingdom did earn the support of some around the world; this week saw the Guardian and the New York Times publish editorials urging Europe and the US to stand with Canada. So did the Washington Post, going one step further by publishing their editorial in Arabic.

Their call was echoed by a handful of prominent voices in the US, including Bernie Sanders. “It’s entirely legitimate for democratic governments to highlight human rights issues with undemocratic governments,” the US senator wrote on Twitter. “The US must be clear in condemning repression, especially when done by governments that receive our support.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/11/canada-saudi-arabia-support-us

Palestinian flags at Israel nation-state law protest — Plot to kill Hamas leaders?

August 12, 2018

The appearance of Palestinian flags at a protest against the nation-state law has those on the right crowing and those in the center shaking their heads

August 12, 2018
Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law' in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law’ in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1.Anti-flag: Israelis on the left and right saw the same protest at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the nation-state law Saturday night, but are drawing very different conclusions.

  • On the right, the appearance of Palestinian flags at the rally proves their point about the need for legislation enshrining the country’s Jewish character, including it’s Star of David flag, in law.
  • “Wrong flag,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom.
  • “With a protest like this, who needs to explain the law,” writes Zvi Hauser, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same paper, reflecting the view of many in the government (including the prime minister) who spoke out against the flags as exposing the real face of opposition to the law.
  • The nationalist Israel National News website leads its news section with the headline “PLO flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the fact that it doesn’t even mention the flags in the story reflects how it takes for granted that its readers will gather all they need from just those few words.

2. Flag-flogged: And it was not even just the hard right incensed by the flags’ appearance. The populist Yedioth Ahronoth tabloid cover features a picture of a flag and the headline “Palestinians flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the Walla website also notes them in its top headline.

  • Yedioth notes that while there were some Israeli flags, they were outstripped by the number of Palestinian ones. “This is my flag … I have no connection to the Israeli flag,” one protester is quoted saying.
  • The protest also says that some at the protest chanted “with blood and fire we will redeem Palestine.”
  • Mohammed Barakeh, among the organizers of the protest, told ToI’s Adam Rasgon that protesters had been asked not to bring the flags, but had not listened.
  • What results is a tongue-lashing from critics of the law who now feel their protest has been tarred by the Palestinian national symbols.
  • “Organizers made a big mistake by allowing the flags,” former prime minister Ehud Barak wrote on Twitter. He called the flags and chants a “free service” for those backing the nation-state law.
  • “They shot themselves in the flag,” Yoaz Hendel, another former Netanyahu aide, quips in Yedioth. “Those waving Palestinian flags … are not demanding equality or coexistence, but the erasure of the Jewish right of self determination in the state of Israel,” he writes.

3. Identity crisis: What these analyses are missing is the nuance needed to understand the place of the Palestinian flag and other Palestinian national symbols among Israel’s Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinians, even if they are not necessarily Palestinian nationalists.

  • As a Kafr Qassem teacher told the Christian Science Monitor in 2016, “We don’t have an identity. We are the real refugees. We have a conflict between the national side and civilian side.”
  • A reflection of this unease is the lack of outcry over a protest against the law last week that saw just as many, if not more Druze flags, since Israelis don’t fear any national aspirations by the Druze. Palestinian flags, on the other hand, are viewed with deep distrust because there is a Palestinian movement, thus the reduction of the waving of a flag to a desire to subsume Israel.

4Who’s afraid of the Arabs: “The law sparked an unprecedented mass demonstration of Israeli Arabs in the heart of Tel Aviv, known as the first Hebrew city, but it also exposed the lingering duality of the Palestinian community, as it defines itself. Their show of force also demonstrated their isolation,” Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz.

  • Shalev notes the fact that mainstream Israelis showed up to the Druze protest but shunned this one shows how they are viewed within Israeli society.
  • Addressing those like Labor head Avi Gabbay who refused to show up because of Palestinian national symbols, Meretz head Tamar Zandberg wrote on Facebook: “So there will be a flag or sign you don’t agree with. So fucking what.”
  • One person who was not afraid was Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, who spoke at the rally, and whose broadsheet, the flagship paper of the Israeli left, reflects his view of the importance of the Arab-led rally.
  • The paper’s lead editorial chastises Gabbay and other members of Zionist Union for failing to show up, saying they earned a “badge of shame.”
  • “Those who rightly demonstrated against the law together with the Druze in that same square just a week earlier, yet decided to boycott a similar demonstration organized by the Arab community’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, missed an important opportunity to expand the protest. No excuse can obscure this,” the editorial reads.

5Swimming with sharks: The weekend saw mostly quiet on the Gaza border for a change, though Friday did see some protests and a massive fire kite managed to get tangled in the power lines of a kibbutz.

  • A picture of kids playing in a pool is used in Yedioth to represent the weekend of calm after a tense couple of days (though some may find the picture insensitive given the dire humanitarian situation and lack of clean drinking water just across the border.)
  • The calm is the fruits of Israel’s decision to reach yet another ceasefire with Hamas, despite loud protests from politicians and those on the right who see Israel as weak.
  • “Nothing has actually changed. Short of some sharp turn, which does not seem to be on the horizon, the shooting will return soon, and with it the chances for a wide operation,” writes Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom.
  • However, in Yedioth, Shimrit Meir, editor of the Arab-language al-Masdar, praises Netanyahu (a rare feat for that paper) for restraining himself rather than going to war: “One assumes we’ll have a traditional round of fighting for a few days or weeks and find ourselves picking up the phone for the Egyptian or Qatari mediator to scribble out a ceasefire. So why not just skip the days in the bomb shelters and billions spent on fighting and go straight to a long-term deal with Hamas?”

6Kill ’em all: In what may be a planned leak meant as a scare tactic to push Hamas to the table, or an actual leak of battle plans, Haaretz reports that Israel has put together a plot to assassinate Hamas’s leaders.

  • The paper writes that the army and Shin Bet see killing the top of the terror group as preferable to launching an all out-war, but notes that doing so could end up launching another round of fighting in any case, which is the understatement of the century.

7Cold Turkey: Though it has no horse in the race, Israel’s press is taking an interest in the Turkey-US spat.

  • Israel Hayom calls the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “empty threats” precipitated by the crash of the lira.
  • In Yedioth, Nadav Eyal calls Erdogan’s decision to threaten US President Donald Trump that he’ll start looking for new allies “the worst thing he could have done.”
  • “Those around Erdogan are trying to explain to him the terrible situation Turkey is in, and what unpopular steps he needs to take,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el, meanwhile, doesn’t see much smart policy or strategy from either leader: “The fraught relations may resemble a chess game, but the two primary players, Trump and Erdogan, don’t have the patience or the temperament required of chess players. At the same time, they still have critical shared interests that could force a reconciliation.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/flagging-support-7-things-to-know-for-august-12/

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Iran To Blame for Attacks on Saudi Oil Tankers, Unceasing War In Yemen, Saudis say

August 11, 2018

Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, has reiterated his condemnation of the Iranian regime’s “menacing role” in Yemen.

Image result for Prince Khalid bin Salman, photos

Prince Khalid bin Salman

His remarks on Twitter on Friday came days after Saudi Arabia resumed shipping through the Bab Al-Mandeb.

Maritime activity had been temporarily halted following Houthi attacks on two of the Kingdom’s oil tankers.

Image result for Nasser Shabani, photos, Iran, IRGC

Nasser Shabani

“There should be no doubt about the Iranian regime’s ‘menacing role’ in Yemen,” the prince said, referring to Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Commander Nasser Shabani’s admission that the regime was behind recent attacks on the two oil tankers.

Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان

@kbsalsaud

IRGC General Shabani admits his regime was behind the July 25th attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea saying “We told the Yemenis to hit Saudi tankers, and they did it, Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Ansar Allah [Houthis] are our followers.” The post was later deleted.

Image result for saudi oil tankers, photos

According to the Iranian news agency Fars, Shabani said: “We asked the Yemenis to attack the two Saudi oil tankers, and they did.

The article has since been removed from the agency’s website.

 

Main pillars

Shabani has also said that Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen were Iran’s main pillars in the region.

“There should be no further doubt of the Iranian regime’s menacing role in Yemen and its disregard for human suffering and the environment,” Prince Khalid tweeted.

He attached a screenshot of the original article in which Shabani made the statements to another of his own tweets: “IRGC General Shabani admits his regime was behind the July 25 attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea saying ‘We told the Yemenis to hit Saudi tankers, and they did. Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Ansar Allah (Houthis) are our followers.’”

The Iranian post was later deleted.

The Arab coalition announced on July 25 it had prevented a Houthi attack targeting two Saudi oil tankers in the Bab Al-Mandeb, off Yemen’s west coast. One of the tankers suffered minor damage.

 

Cyberattacks

Meanwhile, experts said the US was bracing for cyberattacks Iran might launch in retaliation for the reimposition of sanctions by President Donald Trump. Concern over a possible cyber threat has been growing since May when Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Experts said the threat would intensify following Washington’s move on Tuesday to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran.

“We have seen an increase in chatter related to Iranian threat activity over the past several weeks,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a global cyber threat intelligence company.

The US says it re-imposed sanctions on Iran to prevent its aggression — denying it the funds it needs to finance terrorism, its missile program and forces in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

 http://www.arabnews.com/node/1354321/saudi-arabia

Susan Rice: President Trump, the Autocrats’ Best Friend and Abdication of American moral leadership

August 10, 2018

The Trump administration is tolerating abuses by Saudi Arabia instead of defending its democratic ally, Canada.

By Susan E. Rice

Ms. Rice was the national security adviser during President Barack Obama’s second term.

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People hold pictures to support Samar Badawi and her brother, the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, against the Saudi government at a 2015 rally in Paris. The Canadian foreign minister tweeted in protest of their imprisonment.CreditStephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After Canada’s foreign minister tweeted concern about Saudi Arabia’s imprisonment of prominent human rights and women’s rights activists, the Saudis this week tried to punish Canada and intimidate other potential critics. They vowed to interfere in Canada’s internal affairs; expelled Canada’s ambassador and recalled their own; froze future trade and investment with Canada; and threatened to yank thousands of Saudi students out of Canadian universities. Normally, when confronted with this type of challenge, the State Department, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, would issue a statement something like this:

“The United States firmly supports the universal right of all people to express their views freely and to criticize their government’s policies peacefully. The United States is deeply concerned by the recent imprisonment of leading women and civil society activists in Saudi Arabia and joins Canada in urging their immediate release. We regret that Saudi Arabia, an important partner of the United States, has reacted to Canada’s expression of concern with excessive rhetoric and actions detrimental to both countries. We encourage both Saudi Arabia and our ally Canada to resume dialogue in order to restore normal relations.”

That is how, consistent with America’s traditional global leadership in defense of human rights, we would reiterate longstanding objections to Saudi abuses. We would support Canada, a NATO ally and indispensable neighbor, whose statement was neither harsh nor ill-conceived. We would signal subtly to Saudi Arabia that if they have a problem with Canada over this, then they also have one with the United States, because neither of us will be cowed into curtailing our criticism of friend or foe, when warranted.

Instead, after a shockingly weak initial response on Tuesday, the State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, mustered the following:

“We have a regular dialogue with the Government of Saudi Arabia on human rights and also other issues. This particular case regarding Canada, we have raised that with the Government of Saudi Arabia. They are friends, they are partners, as is Canada as well. Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them.”

False equivalency. Refusal to criticize obvious human rights abuses. Abdication of American moral leadership.

President Trump with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office in March. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The United States’ stance reflects the carte blanche we have given the 32-year-old Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to act with impunity on a wide range of issues. The crown prince has been feted and fawned over from Wall Street to Hollywood, where his acolytes hail his economic diversification and social reforms, including granting women the right to drive and young people the freedom to attend selected foreign movies and concerts.

While these steps are welcome, they mask a darker set of domestic and foreign policies that the crown prince is pursuing to the detriment of American interests. He has harshly cracked down on activists, imprisoned royal family members and businessmen without due process on corruption charges and briefly held hostage the prime minister of Lebanon. Alongside the United Arab Emirates, the crown prince has prosecuted a relentless war against the Iranian-backed Houthi in Yemen, where he has used American logistical support and weapons, some provided by the Obama administration, to bomb civilians indiscriminately, reportedly collaborated when convenient with Al Qaeda fighters, and constrained the delivery of desperately needed assistance.

For more than a year, Saudi Arabia has persisted in blockading neighboring Qatar and is now digging a canal to turn it into an island, despite the presence of 10,000 American troops, to punish Qatar for allegedly supporting terrorism and its relationship with Iran. Most dangerously, the crown prince and his regional allies urged the Trump administration to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions, while stoking potential conflict with Iran.

The United States is following, not leading, in our newly unconditional partnership with Saudi Arabia. We consistently acquiesce in the crown prince’s actions, however impulsive or harmful. For reasons that remain unclear, President Trump has signaled to the crown prince (who is likely to lead the kingdom for decades) that America is at his service.

Defenders of this administration’s foreign policy love to tout the much-improved American relationship with Saudi Arabia, several Gulf countries and Israel, drawing a sharp contrast with the Obama era. It’s no wonder these countries love President Trump, because unlike under his predecessors, the United States has rolled over and played dead while they do whatever they please. Not exactly the stuff of leadership.

Susan E. Rice (@AmbassadorRice), the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017 and a former United States ambassador to the United Nations, is a contributing opinion writer.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Trump’s Autocratic Friends.

US sanctions “may undermine Iran regime in the long run”

August 9, 2018

The United States’ sanctions on Tehran came into effect on August 7 amid Iranian fury over the deteriorating economy of their country. But will pressure from the street be enough to destabilize the Ayatollah’s regime?

Inflation, economic instability, currency in freefall and jobs at risk — a sense of despair and outrage is growing in the streets of Iran after the first round of US sanctions came into effect on August 7, as a result of US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

But can the US sanctions lead to regime change in Tehran?

Such is the intention often attributed to Trump’s administration, about which hawks in his entourage, such as national security adviser John Bolton, have spoken openly.

© Website of Iran’s Supreme Leader / AFP | Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani on June 15, 2018 in Tehran. 

However, opinions differ on the chances of destabilizing the regime by accentuating economic pressure on a country already in crisis.

‘I cannot see Iranians agreeing to continue to suffer’

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John Bolton

“Consequences of the sanctions will cause Iranians to eventually question the legitimacy of the regime. Sanctions will heavily weigh in the balance perhaps to the point of undermining the regime in the long run,” Jean-François Seznec, professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, told FRANCE 24.

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran, Iran. Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran, Iran. Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Seznec thinks that sanctions could have consequences on Iran’s regional expansionist policy that is often criticized by the West. “I cannot see the Iranians agreeing to continue to suffer while Tehran continues to finance foreign movements like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen,” he said.

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Houthis rebels in Yemen launch an Iranian made ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia

“So, if the economy collapses, Iran will no longer be able to afford its regional ambitions. That is the goal pursued by the US administration and unless the leaders of the Islamic Republic can convince or even force the people to agree to make sacrifices, it is obvious that sooner or later, they will be forced into negotiating again with the Americans,” Seznec added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani finds himself between a rock and a hard place. In Iran, it’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word regarding everything; even if the Islamic Republic’s moderate president wants to negotiate, he cannot do so without the approval of Khamenei. Hence, “if ever the regime’s hardliners take advantage of the situation to dismiss Rouhani, they will find themselves facing discontent and pressure from the streets. This can be dangerous for the survival of the regime,” Seznec told FRANCE 24.

Eventually, due to economic sanctions and street pressure, the Iranian regime will find itself with its back against the wall, Behnam Taleblu of the American conservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) told FRANCE 24. “Leaders in Iran should take protests, organized in the provinces, since the end of 2017, with all seriousness. In fact, these provinces which include the religious, the disadvantaged, and the poor, are the regime’s social base for whom Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini founded the Islamic Republic,” Taleblu said.

‘Tehran wasn’t weakened by previous waves of sanctions’

Few believe that sanctions aren’t effective against the Iranian regime. One of those is Azadeh Kian, an Iran specialist and professor of political science. “The Iranians didn’t wait for the American sanctions to come into effect to understand the gravity of the economic situation and the risk it poses to the regime,” Kian told FRANCE 24.

While the regime fears the devastating effect of sanctions on the purchasing power of Iranians, it is important to note that these measures, which endanger nearly one million jobs, come at the expense of civil society, the middle and popular classes. “Iran’s regime wasn’t weakened by previous sanctions that were in place before the signing of the nuclear deal. They even challenged them and enriched Uranium up to 20 percent,” Kian said. The US sanctions will mainly benefit smugglers and powerful politicians that will seize the opportunity to run illicit businesses.

“Even though economic difficulties have instigated widespread anger in the country, disorganized opposition forces with a clear lack of leadership will not likely want to cooperate openly with the United States to overthrow the regime. These forces know that such an initiative would be brutally repressed by the Iranian security forces, something reminiscent of the 2009 protests against the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that were met by extreme brutality,” Massoumeh Torfeh, professor at the London School of Economics, told FRANCE 24.

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Iran’s Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

With alarm bells sounding in Tehran, as well as in Moscow and Beijing over the deteriorating economic situation of their ally, President Rouhani has called on the Iranians to come together in support of the government’s attempt to restore economic stability, before the second round of even harsher sanctions hit the country in November.

It remains to be seen if Rouhani’s calls will be heard.

AFP

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“China’s commercial cooperation with Iran is open and transparent, reasonable, fair and lawful, not violating any United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

China Will Disregard US Sanctions On Iran

https://www.jpost.com/International/China-continues-fair-and-lawful-business-in-Iran-despite-US-sanctions-564371

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China May 13, 2018. (photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)

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Israel minister welcomes Syria scientist killing — “He was engaged in developing chemical weapons and longer-range missiles capable of hitting Israel”

August 7, 2018

“People that talk of destroying Israel can expect that Israel will hear them.”

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Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Tuesday welcomed the killing of a leading Syrian weapons scientist but declined to comment on reports his government was behind the fatal bombing.

General Aziz Asbar, head of a Syrian government weapons research centre, was killed along with his driver when the bomb hit his car on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper confirmed the killing in the central province of Hama.

Asbar headed the Maysaf research centre in Hama, which was hit by Israeli air strikes last month and in September last year, the Observatory said.

The New York Times on Monday quoted “a senior official from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency” as saying that Israel was behind the assassination.

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“We don’t of course comment on reports of this kind and I’m not going to comment now,” Katz told Israeli army radio.

“I can say that assuming the details of this man’s activities are correct and he was engaged in developing chemical weapons and longer-range missiles capable of hitting Israel, I certainly welcome his demise.”

An Israeli air strike targeted the research centre on July 22, Syrian state media and the Observatory reported. An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment.

A September 2017 strike caused damage to the centre, when fire broke out at a warehouse where missiles were being stored, the Observatory said.

Israel has carried out numerous strikes inside Syria since 2017, according to the Observatory, targeting government forces and their allies from Iran and Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

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Hezbollah fighters

Early 2017 marked the low point for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s now seven-year-old civil war with his authority confined to just 17 percent of national territory.

A succession of victories since then over both the Islamic State group and various rebel factions has extended government control to nearly two-thirds of the country.

AFP

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Syrian children being treated for exposure to chemical weapons

Sanctions Start Making Impact in Iran — Protesters shout “Death to the dictator”

August 6, 2018

Iran is staring into the economic abyss as the US today restores crippling sanctions that have already sparked protests countrywide and sent the value of the Iranian rial tumbling.

The US Treasury Department’s new sanctions are wide-ranging and block Tehran from acquiring US dollars, and trading in gold and other precious and industrial metals.

They also cover the automotive sector and debt markets — effectively preventing the country from seeking relief at home by raising international capital. The measures even extend to the sale of pistachio nuts and Persian rugs. Further sanctions targeting the banking and energy sectors will follow on Nov. 4.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran had treated its people “very poorly” as he wrapped up a three-day trip to Southeast Asia in Indonesia.

A man takes a glance at a newspaper with a picture of US president Donald Trump on the front page in this July 31, 2018 photo. Iran has been gripped by protests countrywide amid an economic crisis that is expected to worsen as economic sanctions by the US take effect Monday, August 6, 2018. (AFP/ATTA KENARE)

“President Trump has always said he is prepared to talk, but it’s important that Iran has to be committed to changing its ways in order for those discussions to prove of any value,” he said.

The crisis has led to protests around the country demanding regime change. Iranians complain that they face economic deprivation while their government squanders cash on military adventures in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

Iran has witnessed angry protests over the past week over rampant inflation that is being made worse by the weakening of the Iranian currency.

Footage posted online showed people in Tehran shouting: “Death to the dictator,” in a reference to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

President Donald Trump announced in May that the US was withdrawing from an international accord struck in 2015 under which sanctions would be lifted in return for curbs to Iran’s nuclear program.

Meanwhile corporations have been racing to finalize deals before sanctions resumed and Iran bought five new commercial planes on Sunday. The ATR72-600 aircraft are made by a company jointly owned by European consortium Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo.

Tensions have risen in the Arabian Gulf and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed on Sunday they had held war games in the region in recent days. A US military spokesman said they had detected increased Iranian naval activity in the Gulf.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1351701/middle-east

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