Posts Tagged ‘Thaad’

South Korea’s Moon, China’s Xi to talk North Korea, trade in Beijing summit

December 12, 2017

By Christine KimBen Blanchard

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Russian military chief criticizes U.S., Japan and South Korea for missile defense drills

December 11, 2017

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Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, arrives for the opening ceremony of the International Army Games 2017 in Alabino, outside Moscow, Russia, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov Reuters

 

TOKYO (Reuters) – Russia’s military chief warned on Monday that military exercises by Japan, the United States and South Korea aimed at countering North Korea only raise hysteria and create more instability in the region.

Russian Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces General Valery Gerasimov, issued his warning in Tokyo as the United States, Japan and South Korea began a two-day exercise to practice tracking missiles amid rising tension over North Korea’s weapons programs.

“Carrying out military training in regions surrounding North Korea will only heighten hysteria and make the situation unstable,” Gerasimov said at the beginning of a meeting with Japanese Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera.

This week’s exercise by the United States and its two Asian allies, in which they will share information on tracking ballistic missiles, comes just days after large-scale drills by U.S. and South Korean forces that North Korea said made the outbreak of war “an established fact”.

North Korea says its weapons programs are necessary to counter U.S. aggression.

On Nov. 29, North Korea test-fired its latest ballistic missile, which it said was its most advanced yet, capable of reaching the mainland United States.

China has also repeatedly called for the United States and South Korea to stop their exercises, which North Korea sees as preparation for an invasion.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked in Beijing about the latest U.S., South Korean and Japanese drills, said the situation was in a vicious cycle that if followed to a conclusion would not be in anyone’s interests.

“All relevant parties should do is still to completely, precisely and fully implement the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions toward North Korea, and do more for regional peace and stability and to get all parties back to the negotiating table. Not the opposite, mutual provocation,” Lu said.

‘IMPORTANT MEANING’

Gerasimov’s visit to Japan is the first by a senior Russian military official in seven years and follows the resumption of “two-plus-two” defense and foreign minister talks in March after Russia annexed Crimea.

Relations between Russia and Japan have been hampered for decades over the ownership of four islands north of Japan’s Hokkaido, captured by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two. Japan has declined to sign a formal peace treaty with Russia until the dispute is resolved.

Gerasimov also met Katsutoshi Kawano, the chief of staff of Japan’s Self Defence Forces.

China’s Defence Ministry said on Monday it had begun a planned joint simulated anti-missile drill with Russia in Beijing, which had “important meaning” for both countries in facing the threat from missiles. It said the exercise was not aimed at any third party.

China and Russia both oppose the development of global anti-missile systems, the ministry added in a statement.

China and Russia both oppose the deployment in South Korea of the advanced U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system.

China in particular fears the system’s powerful radar could look deep into its territory, threatening its security.

The United States and South Korea say the system is needed to defend against the threat of North Korean missiles.

It is not clear if this week’s exercise by U.S., South Korean and Japanese forces will involve the THAAD system.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel)

South Korean President Moon Jae-In hopes to “normalise” ties with China on his first state visit

December 11, 2017

SEOUL (AFP) – 

South Korean President Moon Jae-In hopes to “normalise” ties with giant neighbour China on his first state visit to the country this week, his office said Monday, after Beijing was infuriated by a US missile system deployment.

Seoul and Washington decided to install the powerful US THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system in the South earlier this year to guard against threats from the nuclear-armed North.

Beijing saw it as a threat to its own security and reacted furiously, slapping a string of measures against South Korean businesses and banning group tours to the South, in moves seen as economic retaliation.

 Image result for Moon Jae-In, photos, china
South Korean President Moon Jae-In

China is the South’s top trading partner and the diplomatic row took a major toll on many South Korean firms, most notably retail giant Lotte Group, which provided the land to host the powerful US missile system.

Angry boycott campaigns and regulatory crackdowns by Chinese authorities decimated its business in the world’s second-largest economy, and it was forced to put its supermarket unit in China up for sale.

But last month the two countries issued identically-worded statements on their mutual desire to improve relations.

It did not state any specifics, but Beijing has demanded that Seoul formally promise not to deploy any more THAAD launchers and not to join any regional US missile defence system.

Nam Gwan-Pyo, a deputy director of the presidential national security office, did not give reporters details of any concrete steps that could be expected from Moon’s four-day trip — his first to China since taking power in May.

But he said it would be a turning point in relations towards a “more mature” relationship, he said, “by recovering bilateral trust and strengthening friendship between the leaders of the two nations”.

Ties recently showed some — albeit limited — signs of thaw as China’s state tourism board approved last month Seoul-bound group tours from some parts of China.

Moon heads to Beijing on Wednesday and will hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping the following day to discuss issues including how to curb the North’s nuclear weapons drive, Nam added.

China — the North’s sole diplomatic ally and economic lifeline — has stepped up sanctions on the North amid pressure from the US and the international community to play a bigger role in taming its regime.

Beijing has backed recent UN sanctions imposed on the North over its nuclear and missile tests, including a ban on coal imports, although it repeatedly pushed for talks to defuse the tensions.

It has urged a “double freeze” on both North Korean weapons tests and joint military exercises by Seoul and Washington — an idea consistently rejected by the US and South Korea.

Newly Revealed Experiment Shows How F-35 Could Help Intercept ICBMs

December 7, 2017

By Patrick Tucker
Defense One

 This Sept. 2, 2015, file photo shows an F-35 jet arriving at its new operational base at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The U.S. and its Asia-Pacific allies are rolling out their new stealth fighter jet.

In 2014, the sensor-studded plane demonstrated an ability to track missiles, leading to a “tactically significant” improvement in targeting.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., raised more than a few eyebrows (and drew a few rolled eyes) when he suggested in November that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could intercept North Korean missiles headed for the United States. Hunter cited analysis from Los Alamos National Labs and other sources, according to Inside Defense.

Turns out the F-35 may be an ICBM buster after all, or at least be helpful toward that end. On Tuesday, Northrop Grumman called a small group of journalists to its offices in Linthicum, Maryland, to show the results of a 2014 experiment conducted with the Missile Defense Agency, or MDA.

The U.S. has no foolproof way to down a North Korean ICBM. Physics says the best opportunity comes during “boost phase,” as the rocket is leaving the launch pad. But DPRK anti-aircraft defenses make it difficult for the U.S. to get a weapon close enough to do any good. That’s why the Pentagon is looking at elaborate, futuristic concepts like arming drones with missile-killing lasers.

But the F-35 is studded with sensors like no other aircraft, including the Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, a half-dozen 17-pound electro-optical and infrared sensors. These feed a helmet-mounted display that allows the pilot to effectively “see through the plane” and spot incoming aircraft and missiles.

In October 2014, Northrop and MDA launched FTX-20, an experiment to see, among other things, whether the DAS could track an enemy ICBM. They took data from the sensors, ran it through algorithms developed by Northrop and MDA’s Enterprise Sensor Lab, generated a 3D-moving picture of the missile’s trajectory, and conveyed it over the Link 16 tactical data exchange. This kind of targeting data can help cue the U.S.Navy’s anti-ballistic missile destroyers or short- and intermediate-range missile defenses like the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile battery deployed in South Korea.

The F-35 sensors aren’t meant to replace the infrared satellitesthat detect launches, or the  sea-based X-Band Radar that can feed targeting data about missile launches to destroyers. Rather, Northrop officials said, the DAS data would help the other missile-defense gear get a targeting track on a missile more quickly, improving the odds of nailing the shot. (You also need two of them in the air for triangulation.)

“That information can go straight to the Patriot [missile system], THAAD, or anywhere else, who has communication with that platform,” John “Bama” Montgomery, a business development manager at Northrop’s ISR & Targeting Division, said on Tuesday. “You can give that information to a shooter. That shooter now has information to go and put his information in the right place. Thus the radar doesn’t have to search. It goes, ‘I know where it is; it’s right there.’

The end result is a “tactically significant” improvement in targeting, Montgomery said. Just how significant? It took several years to figure that out, and that’s one reason why the news is only being released now. “We wanted to get our understanding of how this could change the battlefield. We’ve since done a series of modeling and [simulation] events and teamed with other governmental partners and industry.”

Those numbers, he said, are classified. But: “I can tell you right now that this system, as depicted here, really does help the ballistic missile environment.”

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2017/12/newly-revealed-experiment-shows-how-f-35-could-help-intercept-icbms/144365/

South Korea’s Moon to visit China next week

December 6, 2017

AFP

© YONHAP/AFP | This will be President Moon’s first trip to China since taking office in May
SEOUL (AFP) – South Korean President Moon Jae-In will visit China next week, his office said Wednesday, as tensions soar over Pyongyang’s growing nuclear and missile threats.Moon will make the trip just weeks after North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in defiance of multiple sets of UN sanctions, prompting Washington to press Beijing to take a tougher stance against Pyongyang.

He will arrive in Beijing next Wednesday for a four-day state visit and hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss ways “to peacefully resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue,” the South Korean presidential office said.

Pyongyang claimed it has reached nuclear statehood with the success of its missile test last week, and that it can now target the entire United States.

This will be Moon’s first trip to China since taking office in May, and comes as the two countries seek to improve ties strained by Seoul’s deployment of a US missile defence system.

The nations have been at loggerheads over the placement in South Korea of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which Seoul and Washington say is intended to defend against missile threats from nuclear-armed North Korea.

Beijing sees it as a threat to its own military capabilities. It has imposed a series of sanctions on South Korean firms and banned Chinese tour groups from going to the country in moves seen as economic retaliation.

China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner and its measures have had a big impact on some of the South’s biggest companies, including retail conglomerate Lotte — which provided a golf course used for the THAAD deployment — and auto giant Hyundai.

Pentagon evaluating U.S. West Coast missile defense sites to intercept North Korean ICBMs

December 3, 2017

SIMI VALLEY, Calif (Reuters) – The U.S. agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the West Coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defenses, two Congressmen said on Saturday, as North Korea’s missile tests raise concerns about how the United States would defend itself from an attack.

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FILE PHOTO: A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

West Coast defenses would likely include Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, similar to those deployed in South Korea to protect against a potential North Korean attack.

The accelerated pace of North Korea’s ballistic missile testing program in 2017 and the likelihood the North Korean military could hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear payload in the next few years has raised the pressure on the United States government to build-up missile defenses.

On Wednesday, North Korea tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can fly over 13,000 km (8,080 miles), placing Washington within target range, South Korea said on Friday.

Congressman Mike Rogers, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee which oversees missile defense, said the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), was aiming to install extra defenses at West Coast sites. The funding for the system does not appear in the 2018 defense budget plan indicating potential deployment is further off.

“It’s just a matter of the location, and the MDA making a recommendation as to which site meets their criteria for location, but also the environmental impact,” the Alabama Congressman and Republican told Reuters during an interview on the sidelines of the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in southern California.

When asked about the plan, MDA Deputy Director Rear Admiral Jon Hill‎ said in a statement: “The Missile Defense Agency has received no tasking to site the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System on the West Coast.”

The MDA is a unit of the U.S. Defense Department.

Congressman Rogers did not reveal the exact locations the agency is considering but said several sites are “competing” for the missile defense installations.

FILE PHOTO: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) on April 25, 2017. KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS

Rogers and Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat representing the 9th District of Washington, said the government was considering installing the THAAD anti-missile system made by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp, at west coast sites.

The Congressmen said the number of sites that may ultimately be deployed had yet to be determined.

THAAD is a ground-based regional missile defense system designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and takes only a matter of weeks to install.

In addition to the two THAAD systems deployed in South Korea and Guam in the Pacific, the U.S. has seven other THAAD systems. While some of the existing missiles are based in Fort Bliss, Texas, the system is highly mobile and current locations are not disclosed.

A Lockheed Martin representative declined to comment on specific THAAD deployments, but added that the company “is ready to support the Missile Defense Agency and the United States government in their ballistic missile defense efforts.” He added that testing and deployment of assets is a government decision.

In July, the United States tested THAAD missile defenses and shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). The successful test adds to the credibility of the U.S. military’s missile defense program, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years due in part to test delays and failures.

Currently, the continental United States is primarily shielded by the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) in Alaska and California as well as the Aegis system deployed aboard U.S. Navy ships. The THAAD system has a far higher testing success rate than the GMD.

The MDA told Congress in June that it planned to deliver 52 more THAAD interceptors to the U.S. Army between October 2017 and September 2018, bringing total deliveries to 210 since May 2011.

North Korea’s latest missile test puts the U.S. capital within range, but Pyongyang still needs to prove it has mastered critical missile technology, such as re-entry, terminal stage guidance and warhead activation, South Korea said on Friday.

Reporting by Mike Stone in Simi Valley, Calif.; Editing by Chris Sanders, Michelle Price and Michael Perry

Six Minutes to Counterattack: South Korea Shows Plan to Strike Back at North’s Missiles

November 30, 2017

Seoul fired missiles into sea, but analysts note it may not be able to respond as quickly in a war scenario

SEOUL—In the dead of night, at 3:17 a.m., a South Korean air force Boeing 737 early-warning aircraft detected the first missile launch from North Korea in more than two months.

Six minutes later, the army’s ground-based launchers, navy Aegis destroyers and air force F-16 jets began firing missiles into the waters off eastern Korea, in what was meant as a demonstration of Seoul’s readiness for conflict and its ability to hit back.

The display appeared largely successful, but security analysts noted that in a real wartime scenario South Korea may not be able to respond as swiftly or accurately.

North Korea’s launched its latest ICBM—a new type of missile that experts say is capable of hitting Washington—early Wednesday from Pyongsong, about 20 miles north of the capital, a site the regime hadn’t previously used for weapons tests.

The Threat From North Korea’s Missiles

According to a detailed account Thursday from South Korea’s defense ministry, the location in the sea targeted by its military was calibrated to match the distance to the launch site to show that it could hit it the site if it chose to. President Moon Jae-in had already been notified.

But detecting missile tests is an imperfect science, involving misses as well as hits. In a conflict situation, North Korea is likely to take more steps to conceal its movements, for instance by deploying decoy launchers, said Yang Uk, senior defense researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, a Seoul think tank.

In such a scenario, the likelihood that South Korean, U.S. or Japanese forces would pinpoint the exact launch site falls, said Mr. Yang. Still, he viewed the South’s response to the missile test as a success, especially considering the short time the military needed to return fire.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led U.N. Command in Korea said no U.S. or other forces participated in the response.

“What we saw Wednesday was an active response to a North Korean missile launch that South Korea calls its ‘kill chain’ system,” Mr. Yang said. The kill chain is part of a larger defense system designed to pre-emptively strike the North’s missile systems in the case of a nuclear attack.

South Korea this year installed a U.S.-operated Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense antimissile battery that can shoot down short- and medium-range missiles, complementing its Patriot PAC-2 antiballistic missile system. The new battery has a longer-range, but it can’t cover the whole country.

A retired senior South Korean military official said that the South lacks a military satellite that can watch the North, although U.S. and Japanese satellites share images with South Korean officials in real time.

Analysts said North Korean officials install devices onto missiles that generate signals and send them to ground-based control towers. The South has a way to tap into these signals and track the missiles, they said.

But in a real missile launch targeting a South Korean, Japanese or U.S. city, the North Koreans may choose not to install them, said Jo Dong-joo, deputy director of the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. This means that the South might have no way to track a hostile missile, Mr. Jo said.

The retired military official also noted that the South has a network of human intelligence in the North that may have tipped off Seoul officials about this week’s launch. He declined to give further details, citing security concerns.

Details on the South’s spy network in the North remain murky, but local media have reported in recent months that the South has lost most of its human network in North Korea in recent years.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/six-minutes-to-counterattack-south-korea-shows-plan-to-strike-back-at-norths-missiles-1512038479

China to partially lift travel ban to South Korea; keeps online sales curb

November 28, 2017

Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) – China will allow travel agencies in Beijing and Shandong to partially resume sales of group tours to South Korea, an official at Korea Tourism Oragnization said on Wednesday.

China will, however, continue to disallow online sales of tours to South Korea, as well as charter flights and cruise travel with the country, Park Yong-hwan told Reuters.

China has banned group tours to South Korea since March in the wake of Seoul’s decision to install a U.S.-backed anti-missile system, a move Beijing vehemently opposed.

Reporting by Haejin Choi, writing by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Himani Sarkar

Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe can lead the ‘Asian century’, if China and Japan are able to bury the past

November 25, 2017

Chandran Nair says Xi and Abe, strong leaders of economic powerhouses, have a historic opportunity to shape the 21st century in Asia, as the US wavers. But first, they must recognise legitimate concerns and embrace the symbolic elements of Asian-style diplomacy

By Chandran Nair
South China Morning Post

Friday, 24 November, 2017, 7:12pm

Donald Trump’s first visit to Asia showed the region at its best and its worst. In Japan, South Korea and China, the US president was greeted with extreme deference. From his ­address to the Korean National Assembly, to Shinzo Abe’s buddy routine, to dinner with Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City, he was treated as a political ­celebrity, and not a politician unpopular abroad and at home.

On the one hand, this shows how Asian countries continue to feel subservient to the US. Trump has criticised these countries at every turn, even during his trip earlier this month, insisting that they are taking advantage of America. In an ideal world, these countries would treat the US president with the same level of respect he has shown them.

On the other hand, we do not live in an ideal world. Although to many in the region, the visit of Trump made it clear that the United States is a diminished power, its president still wields a great deal of clout, and so Asian governments wisely “played” him. If the symbolism and flattery of a state visit is what is needed to ensure Trump listens to Asian views, and to prevent him from acting belligerently, then perhaps it’s a bitter pill that can be swallowed.

Highlights of Donald Trump’s 12-day visit to Asia

But strategic seduction still reveals a problem. If Asian stability is shaped by – or relies so much – on the US, to the point where Asian countries must bend over backwards to keep someone like Trump happy, is the status quo truly stable? Does it rely too much on the capriciousness of US politics? And is it outdated?

Even if you think America’s presence in Asia is a good thing, it is going to change, and undoubtedly get smaller. The US may bow out peacefully, or end up more like Trump: more muscular and zero-sum, where Washington doesn’t even pay lip service to “common solutions”, as it pursues “America First”.

Asians must take the lead in developing what comes next. The crux will be the relationship ­between China and Japan, which is fundamental to issues in East Asia, such as the Korean peninsula. It is time to bury the hatchet. After all, these two economic powerhouses of Asia can lead the transformation of the region if they come together as allies.

China is East Asia’s largest rising power, with a proven model of economic development and governance. Yet, many of its people remain poor, and its growth has had serious environmental repercussions. In this regard, Japan has much to offer. Also, China’s rapid rise – rightly or wrongly – is unnerving its neighbours, which Beijing sometimes seems ­blind to, and this is exploited by its detractors.

Xi and Abe are the strongest leaders their countries have seen in at least a generation

Japan is a hub for modern business and technology. It is also a symbol of peace and tranquillity. Its post-war history, investments and popular culture make it a trusted partner and an admired country.

But economic stagnation and China’s rapid rise have pushed Japan from its position as the premier Asian country. China as a good friend and ally has many upsides for Japan. Also, imagine a Japan that is engaged with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative, rather than pressing ahead with the formerly US-led ­Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the ­exclusion of China.

Finally, President Xi and Prime Minister Abe are the strongest leaders their countries have seen in at least a generation. After Xi’s consolidation of power at the 19th party congress, achieving a status akin to that of Mao Zedong, and Abe’s ­resounding victoryat the polls, both leaders have the strength to take the first step towards an “Asian century”.

Historical antagonism should not be enough to prevent a rapprochement. After all, France and Germany were able to come together as partners a few decades after the most devastating war ­between them. The Paris-Berlin relationship now defines Europe – even more so now, after Brexit.

Why can’t a relationship between Tokyo and Beijing do the same for Asia? One clear difference is that France and West Germany were both US allies, and so friendship between them did not threaten Washington. The same would not be true of a friendship between China and Japan. And therein lies the rub.

Xi Jinping says a stable China-Japan relationship will benefit Asia and the world

This is where Abe and Xi, both newly strengthened, have a historic opportunity to shape the course of the 21st century in Asia. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and they must seize it.

To do so, both sides will need to accept the other’s legitimate interests and concerns. A recent example is the understanding between Seoul and Beijing, ­announced just before Trump’s trip, concerning the US-provided THAAD missile defence system.

By dropping the issue, Beijing probably recognised that South Korea feels genuinely threatened by the North, and needs something to defend against the worst. Yet, Seoul recognised that Beijing’s worry about being encircled warranted a promise that THAAD was not the first step towards a trilateral America-Japan-South-Korea alliance.

For China and Japan to come together, each has to accept that the other has legitimate concerns. Beijing needs to give up its anger over the second world war. It must also offer some kind of guarantee in ­exchange for Japan loosening its agreement with the US. And Tokyo must accept that its strong American ties hinder its ability to act as an honest broker in East Asia and prevent its rise as a central and independent player in the region. It must understand that, to Beijing, a neighbour, Tokyo’s relationship with Washington, a distant ally, appears to be a threat.

China rolls out the red carpet for Donald Trump

Finally, both sides will need to seriously embrace the symbolic elements of Asian-style diplomacy.

Sometimes pejoratively called “giving face”, it is an understanding that countries, governments and populations want to be treated seriously, shown great respect and, importantly, not bullied or insulted in the international arena. If the Vietnamese can roll out the red carpet for the US president, the Chinese can do the same for the Japanese, and vice versa.

Reciprocal visits by Xi and Abe should have all the pomp and circumstance of Trump’s visit. They may be the turning point that the region needs at the outset of “the Asian century.”

Chandran Nair is founder and CEO of the Global Institute For Tomorrow

http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2121383/xi-jinping-and-shinzo-abe-can-lead-asian-century-if-china

How the Middle East could go the way of the Balkans

November 15, 2017

OPINION

Maria Dubovikova | 

The current status of the Middle East is similar to that of the Balkans in the years before the World War I. Are we going to witness a Balkanization of the region — geopolitical fragmentation caused by other countries’ foreign policies? And what are the chances of an Iranian-Arab war or a Shiite-Sunni conflict that could lead to the redrawing of the Middle East map?

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said a ballistic missile fired at Riyadh this month from Houthi militia-held territory in Yemen was supplied by Iran, and described it as “direct military aggression” and an “act of war.” The accusation was repeated by the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in his resignation statement: “Iran controls the region and the decision-making in both Syria and Iraq. I want to tell Iran and its followers that it will lose in its interventions in the internal affairs of Arab countries.” He specifically blamed Iran for interference in the affairs of Lebanon.

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Saudi rhetoric aimed at Iran has escalated in the past few weeks, and Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir accused Tehran of being behind all evil acts in the region. “The Iranian terror continues to terrorize the innocent, kill children and violate international law, and every day it is clear that the Houthi militias are a terrorist tool to destroy Yemen,” he said. “The Kingdom reserves the right to respond to Iran at the right place and time.” Last week Saudi Arabia called on the UN to take measures against Iran to hold Tehran accountable for its conduct.

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Events are moving fast. They could lead to a military confrontation, including the intensification of proxy wars, and a deepening of the Shiite-Sunni divide. The danger persists as long as the two superpowers, Russia and the US, stand on opposing sides of the spectrum on many regional issues, especially Iran. Recent comments from the Oval Office make it clear that the latest events have full US approval and conform with its expectations and policies.

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The Iranian ballistic missile program is a key factor in Arab strategies and alliances. Many countries in the Middle East started heading east and west to purchase air defense missiles, such as the Russian S-300 and S-400 and the American Patriot and THAAD systems. Arab countries also started to think of producing their own military equipment by having offset projects with weapons manufacturers in China, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, France, the UK, Germany, Brazil and the former Yugoslavia.

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Saudi Arabia is also concerned about the influence of Iran in Lebanon through its proxy, Hezbollah, even more so since Riyadh believes Hezbollah operatives fired the most recent missile launched at the Kingdom from Yemen. “The Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return,”  said the Saudi Minister for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan.

Russia is keeping a close eye on the growing threat of military action against Iran — not a direct conflict, which is unlikely, but an extension of existing proxy wars.

Maria Dubovikova

This war of words may lead to a military clash in the Gulf or in Lebanon, further escalation in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, where Iran has a strong presence, and further proxy wars, unless the Americans take direct action against Iranian troops in Syria and Iraq. And that would lead to a dramatic escalation of tensions between regional and international powers already competing for influence in the Middle East.

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Iran is a direct threat to the stability of the region, and US President Donald Trump has listed it as a major global threat. Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well its activities in support of Houthi rebels in Yemen, pose a threat to the interests of the Arab world.

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Action may be taken, including the military option, against the Iranian presence in the Levant. Escalation in Lebanon, the worst-case scenario, may result in a military conflict that would explode the region and drastically affect global stability because the players involved are so numerous and the stakes so high.

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Nevertheless, the concerned sides understand that direct conflict would be a zero-sum game, and has to be avoided. The way to do so is by conducting proxy wars, but the cost of such wars on global stability and human life would also, inevitably, be too high.

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Russia closely follows developments in the region because it has become directly involved. For Moscow, regional processes are critical. Historically, stability in Russia depends a lot on the climate in the region, and the Middle East is again one of its national interests. It has succeeded in building normal ties with all the players in the region, even those that are rivals with one other. Having good ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia has been proposing itself as a potential mediator in the conflict between Riyadh and Tehran, although the offer has not yet been taken up. Russia is worried about the possibility of escalation of already existing proxy wars and the emergence of new ones, especially in Lebanon.

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In commenting on the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia has used diplomatic rhetoric, calculating all the possible risks and scenarios. A war in Lebanon would mean a drastic deterioration in regional stability, especially in Syria. The region needs stability, and political and diplomatic solutions for its disputes.

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• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1194021