Iran conducts naval drills near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions

A Revolutionary Guard member chants slogans after attacking a naval vessel during a military drill in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran in this file photo. (AFP)
Updated 27 February 2017

Iran conducts naval drills near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran’s navy began an annual drill Sunday near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, its first major exercise since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, state television reported.

The naval exercises are being staged at a time when tensions with the US escalated after the administration of US President Donald Trump put Tehran “on notice.” 

Since taking office last month, Trump has pledged to get tough with Iran, warning the Islamic Republic after its ballistic missile test on Jan. 29 that it was playing with fire and all US options were on the table. The January test failed when a medium-range Khorramshahr ballistic missile exploded after flying 600 miles.

Tensions are particularly high in the Gulf region as the Saudi-led coalition continues to battle Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The TV report quoted navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari as saying the two-day maneuver will cover an area of 2 million sq km in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean near the strait. It showed Iranian warships and helicopters.

Nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait and it has been the scene of previous confrontations between the US and Iran.

But the current drill does not involve Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain and protects shipping lanes in the Gulf and nearby waters.

The 5th Fleet declined to comment on the exercise or discuss if it had any plans to monitor the drill.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard University scholar, told Arab News that Iran’s state-owned newspapers are hailing the second major military exercise since the inauguration of Trump. 

“The reformists, moderates and hardliners believe that this is a tactically and strategically intelligent move,” Rafizadeh said. “Iran is sending a message to the Trump administration and regional powers that it will not alter the core pillars of its foreign and regional policy even if there is a new administration in Washington.” 

Rafizadeh noted the Islamic Republic is showcasing its military and hard power in an attempt to assert regional preeminence and superiority. 

“Tehran is also sensing a signal that it holds power over Strait of Hormuz where a third of all oil traded by sea goes through. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has previously harassed US navy ships in this area. Finally, by acting tough, Iran’s military is attempting to set the tone with the Trump administration in an attempt to intimidate and push the US and its allies into pursuing appeasement policies with Tehran.”

Rafizadeh said he feels that, “if the Trump administration does not respond to Iran’s hard power, “Tehran would take it as a sign of weakness, and this will set the tone and regional balance of power in favor of Tehran.”

— Associated Press, Reuters


Libya peace still elusive despite ‘small step’ in Berlin

Updated 10 min 27 sec ago

Libya peace still elusive despite ‘small step’ in Berlin

  • World leaders committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to upholding a weapons embargo
  • GNA leader Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar attended the Berlin summit but they refused to meet

BERLIN: A peaceful solution to Libya’s protracted conflict remains uncertain despite an international agreement struck in Germany, analysts say, as a fragile cease-fire between warring factions brought only a temporary truce.
On Sunday in Berlin, world leaders committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to uphold a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the country’s conflict.
But overnight Sunday to Monday heavy bombardment again echoed south of Tripoli — the capital of a country that has been in turmoil since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Since April last year the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli has fought back against an offensive launched by fighters loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
GNA leader Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar attended the Berlin summit but they refused to meet and the conference failed to get the two rivals to commit to a permanent truce.
The host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tried hard to get Sarraj and Haftar to engage in a serious dialogue.
But after the hours-long talks, she had to put on a brave face and admit she had no illusions concerning a peaceful outcome in Libya anytime soon.
“Ensuring that a cease-fire is immediately respected is simply not easy to guarantee,” Merkel said.
Echoing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who took part in the talks, she said the Libyan parties had taken “a small step forward.”
Khaled Al-Montassar, a Libyan university professor of international relations, agreed that much still needs to be done.
“Theoretically, the Berlin summit was successful and touched upon all the details and the causes of the Libyan crisis,” he said.
“But the mechanisms of implementing the summit’s conclusions are still not clear.”
The summit was attended by the presidents of Russia, Turkey, France and Egypt, as well as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN chief Antonio Guterres.
The main points they agreed to will be put forward as a UN Security Council resolution.
They include a commitment to end foreign interference in Libya, respect for a UN arms embargo, a permanent cease-fire and steps to dismantle numerous militias and armed groups.
European states must now convince Italy to resume naval operations suspended since March 2019 aimed at enforcing the embargo.
Other points agreed in Berlin were a return to a political process under the auspices of the UN, respect for human rights and guarantees to ensure the security of Libya’s lucrative oil infrastructure.
The United Nations walked away from the summit satisfied at least with one key development.
The summit saw the formation of a military commission comprising five GNA loyalists and five Haftar delegates who will seek to define ways of consolidating the cease-fire.
The UN mission in Libya had for weeks urged the rival camps to submit names of delegates to such a commission, and its wish was finally answered on Sunday.
The military commission is expected to meet in the coming days, according to the UN, tasked with turning the fragile cease-fire into a permanent truce as requested by the international leaders in Berlin.
The cease-fire was co-sponsored by Russia and Turkey and has broadly held since it went into effect on January 12.
The main goal of the Berlin summit was to end the international divisions concerning Libya.
Although the GNA is recognized by the UN as Libya’s legitimate government, the world body’s member states do not agree when it comes to the oil-rich North African country.
Haftar, who insists his military campaign is aimed at battling Islamists, has the support of several countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France, with some providing him with military and logistical backing.
The GNA is backed by Qatar and Turkey, which has recently sent some troops to shore up Sarraj’s embattled government.
Moscow is also suspected of backing Haftar but denies funding Russian mercenaries on the ground.
As a follow-up to the Berlin summit, the two rival administrations must now choose representatives to attend talks in order to revive the moribund political process, UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame said.
Algeria, which attended the conference and shares a border with Libya, on Monday offered to hold inter-Libyan talks on its soil. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to Algiers on Tuesday, his ministry said Monday, to discuss the situation in Libya, among other topics.
Future Libya talks are certain to face huge challenges, particularly after pro-Haftar forces blocked oil exports from Libya’s main ports last week.
Meanwhile, Libyans on social media remained skeptical, the deep divisions reflected in comments such as “who won, Haftar or Sarraj?“
Tripoli resident Abdul Rahman Milud said a “another summit isn’t necessary.”
Establishing “a consensus among Libyans themselves” is much more important, he told AFP.