Iran and Syria sign deal for military cooperation

Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami (L) meeting with his Syrian counterpart Abdullah Ayoub (R) in the capital Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 27 August 2018
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Iran and Syria sign deal for military cooperation

  • Iranian forces have backed Al-Assad in the country’s civil war
  • US National Security Adviser John Bolton said last week that Iran should remove its forces from Syria

BEIRUT: Iran has signed a deal to rebuild Syria’s armed forces, which have been depleted by more than seven years civil war, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said on Monday.
Hatami, on a two-day visit to Syria, told the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV station that the agreement also stipulates helping rebuild Syria’s military industry.
The announcement comes as the US under President Donald Trump shifts is toughening its stance on Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s government, which has weathered a calamitous civil war.
The White House has demanded that Iran extract itself from Syria as an essential precondition to lifting sanctions that went into effect earlier this month.
Israel has also been critical of Iran’s expanding role in Syria, saying it won’t tolerate a permanent Iranian military presence near its frontiers.
Iran has been an essential backer of Syria’s government in the civil war now in its seventh year, providing advisers, military supplies, training and thousands of militiamen to fight alongside the Syrian army.
Hatami said Iran was in Syria at the invitation of the government.
The precise details of the agreement were not announced.
The Syrian government does not release casualty numbers, but monitoring groups say the government has lost tens of thousands of fighters since the civil war broke out in 2011.
Iran and Russia both intervened on behalf of the government as opposition forces gained ground in the early years of the war.
Al-Assad, who has ruled with an iron fist since inheriting the presidency from his father in 2000, now looks safe in his post but he rules over a shattered country.
At least 400,000 people have been killed in the war, according to monitoring groups, and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia estimates the economic damage to the country at over $300 bn.
The government and its international backers have described the conflict as a war against terrorism and enemies abroad, chiefly the US and other western nations.
Hatami said Syria’s government is now in a stronger position and warned against any “foreign aggression” against Syria.


Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

Updated 28 min 5 sec ago
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Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

  • Israeli leader faces Wednesday deadline to seal deal
  • Coalition talks deadlocked over military conscription bill

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on Sunday on what he termed a “final effort” to break a deadlock on forming a governing coalition ahead of a Wednesday deadline for a deal.
In power for the past decade, Netanyahu has unexpectedly struggled to seal an agreement with a clutch of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would align with his Likud party and ensure him a fifth term following Israel’s April 9 election.
Divisions between former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and United Torah Judaism over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students have plunged the coalition talks into stalemate.
Lieberman has long said ultra-Orthodox men must share other Israeli Jews’ burden of mandatory service. Ultra-Orthodox parties say seminary students should be largely exempt from conscription as they have been since Israel was founded in 1948.
A 42-day deadline mandated by law to announce a new government expires on Wednesday, and President Reuven Rivlin can then assign the task to another legislator after consultations with the leaders of political parties.
That could open the way for former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to try. But he would need the backing of some of Likud’s allies to persuade Rivlin he could put together a ruling majority in parliament.
Likud and Blue and White each won 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats seats in the April ballot, but Netanyahu was seen as having clinched victory because of the right-wing majority that emerged.
In a video published on Twitter on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had invited all of his negotiating partners to meet him in “a final attempt to form a right-wing government” and avoid “an unnecessary election.”
A Likud source said the sessions would be held later in the day and on Monday.
Parallel to the negotiations, Likud announced preparations for a possible national ballot, with November already touted by political analysts as a likely date.
Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar released a draft of a dissolution bill that he said he was submitting to parliament, but no date for a vote in the legislature was announced. Likud said its secretariat would meet on Tuesday “to prepare for an election.”
Some political commentators saw those moves as an attempt to pressure Likud’s negotiating partners into a deal, given the possibility of a voter backlash against another national ballot so soon after the previous one and the uncertainty of the election’s outcome in a country riven by divisions.
The scheduling of an election — and Likud could face an uphill battle for the necessary 61 votes in parliament to pass a dissolution resolution — would pre-empt a coalition-building assignment from Rivlin and ensure Netanyahu remains as interim prime minister until a new government is formed.
Already locked in a legal battle over his potential indictment in three corruption cases, Netanyahu has vowed to remain in office even if he is charged. He denies any wrongdoing and is scheduled to argue against indictment at a pre-trial hearing in October.