Netanyahu warns Iran over Red Sea waterway

Netanyahu warns Iran over Red Sea waterway
Saudi Arabia temporarily halted all oil shipments through a key waterway after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels attacked two crude vessels. (AFP / Karim Sahib)
Updated 02 August 2018

Netanyahu warns Iran over Red Sea waterway

Netanyahu warns Iran over Red Sea waterway
  • Saudi Arabia recently temporarily halted all oil shipments through the waterway after Houthi attacks
  • On Wednesday, the Houthis announced a two-week pause in Red Sea operations

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Iran it would join military action to stop it blocking a key seaway after Yemen’s Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels attacked two Saudi oil tankers.
Speaking at a navy ceremony late Wednesday, Netanyahu warned against any attempt to block the Bab Al-Mandab strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and the southern entrance to the Red Sea.
On July 26, Saudi Arabia said it had temporarily halted all oil shipments through the waterway after the Houthi rebels attacked two of its tankers.
On Wednesday, the Houthis announced a two-week pause in Red Sea operations.
“At the start of the week we witnessed a sharp clash with Iranian proxies who tried to obstruct international navigation in the straits at the entrance to the Red Sea,” Netanyahu said.
“If Iran tries to block the Bab Al-Mandeb, I am convinced that it will find itself facing a determined international coalition to prevent this. This coalition would also include the state of Israel and all its arms.”
Iran is Israel’s main enemy and Netanyahu has repeatedly warned over what he sees as its expanding military presence in the region.
Israel has spoken of quietly improving ties with Arab states who share its concerns about Iran.
Only two Arab states — Egypt and Jordan — have signed peace treaties with Israel.
The Houthis are fighting a Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in support of Yemen’s beleaguered government in March 2015.
The conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people and heaped misery on one of the world’s poorest countries but the Houthis remain in control of the capital Sanaa and the key Red Sea port of Hodeida.


US to hit Iran with more sanctions for missile, drone program

Officials are concerned that Iran’s missile and drone program — administered exclusively by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) — represents an immediate danger to US allies and Middle East stability. (Reuters/File Photo)
Officials are concerned that Iran’s missile and drone program — administered exclusively by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) — represents an immediate danger to US allies and Middle East stability. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 30 July 2021

US to hit Iran with more sanctions for missile, drone program

Officials are concerned that Iran’s missile and drone program — administered exclusively by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) — represents an immediate danger to US allies and Middle East stability. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • They will make it harder for Iran to illicitly import parts necessary for the manufacturing of drones and missiles
  • US allies, including Saudi Arabia, have seen an uptick in attacks from the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen

LONDON: The Biden administration is planning a sanctions campaign against Iran’s growing precision drone and missile strike capability, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Officials are concerned that Iran’s missile and drone program — administered exclusively by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) — represents a more immediate danger to US allies and Middle East stability than Iran’s nuclear enrichment and ballistic missile programs.

While some elements of Iran’s missile program have already been sanctioned, the new measures will cast a wider net by targeting its procurement networks, such as part-providers.

“It’s part of a comprehensive approach so we’re dealing with all aspects of the Iranian threat,” a senior U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal.

The new measures come as US forces and allies in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East have increasingly found themselves on the receiving end of drone and missile attacks by Tehran’s IRGC-aligned regional proxies.

“Iran’s drones are becoming an increasing threat to our allies in the region,” said another U.S. official.

The planned sanctions come as the Biden administration considers tightening enforcement of existing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry amid a stall to nuclear negotiations ongoing in Vienna.

Biden has offered a reduction in sanctions if the Islamic Republic returns to the terms of the 2015 deal, which saw curbs to Iran’s nascent nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

However, the issue of Iran’s sub-atomic weaponry, including ballistic missiles, guided missiles and drones has increasingly become a bone of contention between the two longtime enemies.

Iran’s pursuit of further-reaching, more accurate and more powerful missiles earned it a suite of US sanctions, and the Biden administration has made clear that those sanctions are outside the scope of the ongoing nuclear negotiations.

Tehran said it would only return to the 2015 deal if all sanctions on its missile program are lifted, as well as the terror designation the US and others have placed on the IRGC.

The US Treasury department, which is in charge of implementing sanctions, has already placed a variety of restrictions on the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist group in Yemen. The Houthis have used Iranian weapons to wage their ongoing war against the UN-recognized Yemeni government, as well as to target Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.

In 2019, drones were used to target an important oil refinery in Saudi Arabia, seriously damaging the facility and disrupting the global oil market.

Saudi Arabia alone has been attacked over 100 times in recent months by Iran’s proxies in Yemen, using Iranian equipment including large and small drones, ballistic missiles, and precision missiles.

Iran’s growing domestic arms and drone manufacturing base has proved useful in supplying its proxies, and the new sanctions will aim to disrupt elements of the industry that rely on illicit imports from abroad.

Robert Czulda, an assistant professor specializing in Iran at Poland’s University of Lodz, told the Wall Street Journal that the sanctions “would notably disrupt Iran’s defense supply chain.”


Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy

Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy
Updated 30 July 2021

Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy

Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy
  • Whether aid operations will be extended depends on 'things the security council and international community need to be doing in the run-up to the possible renewal’
  • Other countries’ efforts to reach a settlement in Syria are welcome but only if they ‘proceed from the respect of territorial integrity'

NEW YORK: When the UN Security Council agreed to extend a cross-border humanitarian operation into Syria earlier this month, concerns were raised over the wording of the resolution as some considered it ambiguous.

Resolution 2585 stated the mandate for the Bab Al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Turkey border had been extended for six months until Jan. 10, “with an extension of an additional six months, until July 10, 2022, subject to the issuance of the secretary-general’s substantive report.”

Linda Thomas Greenfield, the US permanent representative to the UN, was adamant that the US saw the resolution “being automatically renewed following the (secretary-general’s) report. No vote will be required and the council will work with the secretary-general’s office to ensure that once he puts his report on the table, that it will be accepted by all council members.”

However, in his first encounter with journalists since the vote took place, the charge d’affaires of the Russian Federation at the UN, Dmitry Polianskiy, quickly debunked the American interpretation and media reports that adopted it.

“This is not the case,” Polianskiy said. “Whether or not the mechanism will be prolonged for another half year, like what the ambassador said, is dependent on how transparent the secretary-general’s report will be. There are a lot of conditions in the text of the resolution. It is very significantly beefed up with a lot of things that the security council and the international community are supposed to do in the run-up to this possible prolongation in six months.

“So, there is no automatism in this part.”

The unanimous vote to extend the mandate for the transport of aid to Syria through a crossing on the border with Turkey came after Russia finally agreed to a compromise with the US.

It followed months of intransigence on the part of Moscow, which argued that all aid should be channeled through the regime in Damascus. Russia also blamed the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country on international sanctions imposed on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Polianskiy reiterated this position and said Moscow hoped to see “a dramatic increase in cross-line deliveries and in the efforts to assist in the reconstruction of Syria.”

Cross-line operations refer to internal shipments of aid from Damascus to rebel-held parts of the country, whereas cross-border aid is shipped directly to those areas by other nations.

“Our position is that the cross-border mechanism belongs to history,” Polianskiy said. “It was adopted when the Syrian government was not in control of its territories, and it goes contrary to the principles of humanitarian assistance, which call first for the consent of the receiving country. Syria refused cross-border aid from the beginning.

“Now, our international partners should prove that they are sincere in their pledges to us that they will work through cross-line deliveries as well. For the initial period, we will want (the latter) to supplement cross-border deliveries, for them to work as a single package because if it is about helping people living there, then it does not matter how you deliver humanitarian aid, cross-border or cross-line. But if you have political reasoning, yes this matters very much. So we think that political reasoning should not be (factored in) our decisions on Syria.”

The Russian envoy repeated his country’s claim that the economic suffering in Syria is a result of western unilateral sanctions and “coercive measures.”

“It is very hypocritical, on one hand, to increase the assistance to Syrians, and on the other hand, to keep unilateral sanctions and coercive measures,” Polianskiy said.

Russia continued to defend the Assad regime at the security council and called on nations to take part in the reconstruction efforts of the war-ravaged country. At the same time, Western council members and others reiterated that they will not support any reconstruction aid that benefits the regime absent progress in achieving the political reforms called for in Resolution 2254.

During his meetings in Moscow this week, Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, expressed hope that the common understanding seen in adopting the humanitarian resolution could be developed “into more of a unity when it comes to the political process.”

In order for that to happen, Pedersen said “we need to sit down together and discuss what all of us can bring to the table.”

Polianskiy said: “I do not know what magical solution Mr. Pedersen has to accommodate these concerns and how he will bring all the parties, including the government, to the negotiations table.

“Let us see. He is a very talented and experienced diplomat. We respect him very much. But so far, we think that the only working format is the constitutional committee which is taking place in Geneva. We hope there will be another meeting and we are trying to assist as much as we can in a settlement for Syria and to get up to speed with the constitutional committee.”

The Russian diplomat welcomed other countries’ efforts but only if they “proceed from the respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty in Syria. But the devil is in the details, so let us see what comes out of it.”

He added: “It is not that we want to monopolize some kind of negotiation track on Syria. We were from the very beginning advocating for a dialogue to find a solution. But the fact is there are certain states that still do not want to engage with the current Syrian government, which is legitimately recognized by the whole world.”


Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes

Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes
Updated 30 July 2021

Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes

Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes

BEIRUT: Six civilians including several children were among 19 people killed on Thursday in the fiercest clashes to rock Syria’s Daraa province since it was captured by the government, a war monitor said.
Artillery shelling by regime forces on the village of Al-Yadudah, northwest of Daraa city, killed a woman, her child and three other youngsters, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Regime artillery fire also killed a sixth civilian in the district of Daraa Al-Balad further south, according to the Observatory.
The deaths bring the toll for Thursday’s clashes to a total of 19 across the province, which is located in southern Syria.
The figure includes at least eight Syrian regime fighters and five gunmen affiliated with former opposition groups, the monitor said.
The Russian-backed Syrian army and allied forces recaptured Daraa from rebels in 2018, a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born there in 2011.
State institutions have returned but the army still has not deployed across the whole province, and tit-for-tat bombings and assassinations between former opposition figures and regime forces have since become routine.
Tensions flared on Thursday, leading to the “most violent and broadest clashes in Daraa since it came under regime control.”
The fighting started when regime forces fired artillery shells toward the former opposition hub of Daraa Al-Balad in tandem with a ground push, the observatory said.
In response, gunmen launched a counterattack across many parts of the Daraa countryside, where they seized several regime positions and captured over 40 regime fighters.


Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken

Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken
Updated 30 July 2021

Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken

Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “The ball remains in Iran’s court.”

KUWAIT CITY: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that nuclear talks with Iran “cannot go on indefinitely” but that Washington was “fully prepared” to continue negotiations.
The US is indirectly involved in Iran’s talks with world powers to revive a nuclear deal that gave Iran some relief from international sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
The deal was torpedoed in 2018 by then US President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and imposed punishing sanctions.
“We’re committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely ... we look to see what Iran is ready to do or not ready to do and remain fully prepared to return to Vienna to continue negotiations,” Blinken said during a visit to Kuwait on Thursday. “The ball remains in Iran’s court.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government has been holding talks with major powers in Vienna since April on bringing Washington back into the agreement.
But a deal now seems unlikely until after he hands over to President-elect Ebrahim Raisi early next month. Raisi is an ultraconservative but has expressed support for the nuclear talks, arguing Iran needs an end to US sanctions.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Iran’s ultraconservative camp, which deeply distrusts the US, has repeatedly criticized Rouhani over the 2015 deal.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that experience has shown “trusting the West does not work,” referring to the US withdrawal from the deal and its fallout.
Raisi has said his government will support talks that “guarantee national interests,” but will not allow negotiations for the sake of negotiations.
One of the major criticisms of the 2015 deal raised by Trump was its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its alleged interference in regional affairs.
But Tehran has always rejected bringing non-nuclear issues into the agreement, which is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Khamenei also criticized the US for refusing to “guarantee that (it) will not violate the agreement in the future” by pulling out unilaterally, as Trump did in 2018.
Iran’s chief negotiator Abbas Araghchi said this month that the talks must “await our new administration” as Tehran is “in a transition period.”
Rouhani, in office since 2013 and preparing to leave after the maximum two consecutive terms, had repeatedly promised to secure relief from sanctions before the end of his term.
But earlier this month, he expressed hope that his successor can clinch a deal to lift sanctions, insisting that from his administration’s side, “the work was ready” to be done.


Qatar approves electoral law for first legislative polls

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani will continue to appoint 15 members of the 45-seat Shura Council. (Reuters/File Photo)
Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani will continue to appoint 15 members of the 45-seat Shura Council. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 29 July 2021

Qatar approves electoral law for first legislative polls

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani will continue to appoint 15 members of the 45-seat Shura Council. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • The electoral law approved on Thursday states that citizens aged 18 and over, and whose grandfather was born in Qatar, can vote

DOHA: Qatar's emir approved laws on Thursday for the Gulf state's first legislative election in October, when Qataris will elect two-thirds of the advisory Shura Council, his office said.

The election, plans for which were first approved in a 2003 constitutional referendum, is being held before the capital Doha hosting the World Cup soccer tournament next year.

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani will continue to appoint 15 members of the 45-seat Shura Council which, according to one of the new laws, will have legislative authority and approve general state policies and the budget.

It will also exercise control over the executive, except for bodies setting defence, security, economic and investment policy.

The electoral law approved on Thursday states that citizens aged 18 and over, and whose grandfather was born in Qatar, can vote in districts in which their tribe or family reside. Thirty electoral districts will each choose one representative.

Candidates must be of Qatari origin and at least 30 years old. The law caps campaign spending at 2 million riyals ($550,000). Foreign funding is criminalized with a jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to 10 million riyals.

Anyone convicted of a crime "involving moral turpitude or dishonesty" cannot vote or run "unless rehabilitated". Ministers, members of the judiciary and municipal councils and military personnel cannot run while in those posts.

The Shura Council law states that ministers can be questioned if a motion is supported by one-third of members, although only clarifications can be sought from the prime minister.

Under the constitution, no-confidence motions must have two-thirds support within the Council.