S. Korean anti-piracy unit heads to Gulf of Aden

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Iranian guards patrolling around the impounded British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it is anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. (AFP)
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The supertanker Grace 1 after being seized off the coast of Gibraltar. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2019

S. Korean anti-piracy unit heads to Gulf of Aden

  • The Trump administration is maintaining its push for allies to join the coalition to protect commercial shipping in the waterway, through which 20 percent of the global oil supply flows

SEOUL: A South Korean anti-piracy naval contingent has been dispatched to the Gulf of Aden on a rotational mission, following speculation that the 300-strong force could join a US-led coalition patrolling the Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Iran.
A ceremony took place on Tuesday for the 30th rotation of the Cheonghae Unit at the port city of Busan.
The contingent on board the 4,400-ton destroyer Kang Gam Chan is scheduled to conduct operations to protect vessels off the Somali coast for six months from September.
“As of now, the Kang Gam Chan will sail to the Gulf of Aden to carry out its routine mission,” said Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo. “We’re reviewing various options of protecting our vessels.”
Capt. Lee Sang-keun, head of the 30th rotational batch, said: “We’re fully ready to conduct missions wherever our people need help.”
A senior officer of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on condition of anonymity: “The unit is heading for the Gulf of Aden first, then it could be dispatched to the Strait of Hormuz at the order of command.”
But the officer said no formal decision has been made for the unit to join the US-led campaign.
According to officials in Seoul, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper raised the issue of South Korea potentially joining the campaign during a one-on-one meeting with his counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo on Aug. 9.
Jeong reportedly expressed support for the US-led initiative to safeguard freedom of navigation, while asking for Washington’s help to resolve a trade feud with Japan.
The Trump administration is maintaining its push for allies to join the coalition to protect commercial shipping in the waterway, through which 20 percent of the global oil supply flows. The route is vital for South Korea, as about 70 percent of oil imports come via the waterway.
Currently, only the UK and Israel have joined the campaign. Iran has warned that such an international naval presence in the Strait of Hormuz will increase the “risk of combustion” in the region.
A day after Esper visited Seoul, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Sayyed Abbas Moussawi urged South Korea to remain neutral, citing economic ties between the two nations. “(South) Korea’s possible joining of the coalition is not a good signal for us, and it will make things complicated,” Moussawi was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying.
Rep. Kim Jong-dae of the Justice Party expressed concern that Seoul’s possible partaking in the mission would compromise the country’s economic ties with one of the largest oil exporters.
“Iran is one of the largest trade partners with South Korea. Are you sending troops to the waters of Iran to protect shipping of oil from Iran? It’s absurd,” the lawmaker said in a news conference at the National Assembly on Wednesday.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Dispatch follows speculation that it could join US-led coalition patrolling Strait of Hormuz. • The Trump administration is maintaining its push for allies to join the coalition to protect commercial shipping in the waterway.

“Once sending forces to the region, we should bear the burden of economic damage. I don’t think we’re prepared for that risk now,” added Kim, a member of the National Assembly’s Defense Committee.
“I was told by a military source that the Kang Gam Chan was fitted with underwater search systems to detect torpedoes and mines ... The unit is also known to have recently been involved in training exercises to thwart drone attacks. These are clear steps to prepare for the Hormuz dispatch.”
As for whether the destroyer has been armed with new defense equipment, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi said: “That is something that can be done depending on the needs at the site. There hasn’t been any big change (in weapons systems).”
Some civic groups said the dispatch of the Cheonghae Unit must be approved by Parliament. “The Cheonghae Unit has been sent to the Gulf of Aden for the sake of international peacekeeping, but the Strait of Hormuz is a spot where military tensions between the US and Iran are escalating,” said Park Jin-seok, a member of Lawyers for Democratic Society. “Sending troops to the volatile region is against the law.”


Go to Israel, see ‘cruel reality of the occupation’: Omar

US Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference on August 19, 2019 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (AFP)
Updated 46 min 16 sec ago

Go to Israel, see ‘cruel reality of the occupation’: Omar

  • The Republican president subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries

ST. PAUL, Minnesota: Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib sharply criticized Israel on Monday for denying them entry to the Jewish state and called on fellow members of Congress to visit while they cannot.
Omar, of Minnesota, suggested President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were suppressing the lawmakers’ ability to carry out their oversight role.
“I would encourage my colleagues to visit, meet with the people we were going to meet with, see the things we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear,” Omar said at a news conference. “We cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us.”
At Trump’s urging, Israel denied entry to the first two Muslim women elected to Congress over their support for a Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions global movement. Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Tlaib, a US-born Palestinian-American from Michigan, had also planned to visit her aging grandmother in the West Bank. Israeli officials later relented and said she could visit her grandmother after all.
But Tlaib got emotional as she told how her “Sitty” — an Arabic term of endearment for one’s grandmother that’s spelled different ways in English — urged her during a tearful late-night family phone call not to come under what they considered such humiliating circumstances.
“She said I’m her dream manifested. I’m her free bird,” Tlaib recalled. “So why would I come back and be caged and bow down when my election rose her head up high, gave her dignity for the first time?“
Tlaib and Omar were joined Monday by Minnesota residents who said they had been directly affected by travel restrictions in the past. They included Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian-American, who lamented that she has never been able to visit her parents’ homeland.
Barkawi said she had a chance to visit her father’s village in the West Bank near Nablus during a family visit to Jordan about 25 years ago, but her parents decided not to risk crossing the border.
“My father could not put himself to be in a position where an Israeli soldier is the person with control over his entry into his homeland,” Barkawi said. “This is an enduring trauma that he and my mother live.”
Before Israel’s decision, Trump tweeted it would be a “show of weakness” to allow the two representatives in. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Mideast war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley kept up the administration’s criticism of the two lawmakers.
“Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have a well-documented history of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Semitic social media posts and anti-Semitic relationships,” he said in a statement. “Israel has the right to prevent people who want to destroy it from entering the country — and Democrats’ pointless Congressional inquiries here in America cannot change the laws Israel has passed to protect itself.”
Supporters say the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel’s military rule over Palestinians, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state and eventually wipe it off the map.
The two congresswomen are part of the “squad” of four liberal House newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for reelection. The Republican president subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries. They are US citizens — Tlaib was born in the US and Omar became a citizen after moving to the US as a refugee from war-torn Somalia.
“There is no way that we are ever, ever going to allow people to tear us down, to see us cry out of pain, to ever make us feel like our (citizenship) certificate is less than theirs,” Omar said. “So we are going to hold our head up high. And we are going to fight this administration and the oppressive Netanyahu administration until we take our last breath.”