US reiterates concern about Hezbollah agenda to destabilize region

PM-designate Saad Hariri is set to meet the visiting US officials in Beirut on the growing threat posed by Hezbollah. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2019

US reiterates concern about Hezbollah agenda to destabilize region

  • Undersecretary David Hale raised US concerns in meetings with Lebanese officials
  • Hale’s visit comes at a time when Lebanon is going through a very sensitive phase as a result of disruption to the government’s formation

BEIRUT: US officials are in Beirut holding talks with Lebanese officials about the growing threat posed by Hezbollah as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to tour the Middle East.

During the visit, David Hale, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, will underscore US concerns about Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities in Lebanon and the region, which include the recent discovery of Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels.

The tunnels “defy UN Security Council Resolution 1701, jeopardize the security of the Lebanese people and undermine the legitimacy of Lebanon’s state institutions,” the US Embassy in Lebanon said in a statement issued ahead of the meeting.

Hale’s visit came ahead of the global summit that will take place in Poland on Feb. 13 and 14 “to counter Tehran’s regional influence,” according to a statement made by Pompeo two days ago.

Pompeo announced on Twitter before embarking on his Middle East tour that he would send a clear message to US friends and partners that “the US is committed to the region, committed to defeat Daesh and committed to countering Iran’s destabilizing activities.”

Lebanon is not included in Pompeo’s visit, which covers eight Arab countries and concludes on Tuesday.

The US Embassy also said in its statement that Hale “will meet with senior Lebanese officials to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues.” 

The embassy also added that he “has enduring ties with Lebanon and the Lebanese people after serving at the US Embassy in Beirut as a political officer, deputy chief of mission and ambassador over the span of 27 years.”

“He is returning to Lebanon in his new role to reaffirm strong US support for the Lebanese state, including its legitimate security institutions, as it continues to cope with significant challenges,” the US Embassy added.

Shortly after arriving in Beirut, Hale, accompanied by US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, met with Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party.

Hale also met with Joseph Aoun, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, who said that their discussion was focused on “the general situation in Lebanon and the region, as well as cooperation relations between the armies of the two countries, especially the amount of military assistance provided by the US to the Lebanese Army.”

During his visit to Lebanon, Hale will also meet with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and a number of political leaders with whom he was acquainted when he served as the US ambassador to Lebanon.

Hale’s visit comes at a time when Lebanon is going through a very sensitive phase as a result of the eight-month disruption to the government’s formation. 

Lebanese parties have accused Hezbollah militant group of being behind this disruption for reasons associated with Lebanon’s regional stance.

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

Updated 24 November 2020

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

  • Germany insists it acted correctly in boarding a Turkish ship to enforce arms embargo of Libya
  • Turkey summoned European diplomats to complain at the operation

BERLIN: Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday rejected Turkey’s complaints over the search of a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean Sea by a German frigate participating in a European mission, insisting that German sailors acted correctly.
Sunday’s incident prompted Turkey to summon diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy and assert that the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A was subjected to an “illegal” search by personnel from the German frigate Hamburg. The German ship is part of the European Union’s Irini naval mission, which is enforcing an arms embargo against Libya.
German officials say that the order to board the ship came from Irini’s headquarters in Rome and that Turkey protested while the team was on board. The search was then ended.
Turkey says the search was “unauthorized and conducted by force.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer backed the German crew’s actions.
“It is important to me to make really clear that the Bundeswehr soldiers behaved completely correctly,” she said during an appearance in Berlin. “They did what is asked of them in the framework of the European Irini mandate.”
“That there is this debate with the Turkish side points to one of the fundamental problems of this European mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer added, without elaborating. “But it is very important to me to say clearly here that there are no grounds for these accusations that are now being made against the soldiers.”
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
Turkey supports a UN-backed government in Tripoli against rival forces based in the country’s east. It has complained that the EU naval operation focuses its efforts too much on the Tripoli administration and turns a blind eye to weapons sent to the eastern-based forces.
In Ankara, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Irini was “flawed from the onset.”
“It is not based on firm international legal foundations,” Akar said. He renewed Turkey’s criticism of the German ship’s actions.
“The incident was against international laws and practices. It was wrong,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that “Turkey is still an important partner for us in NATO.” Turkey being outside the military alliance would make the situation even more difficult, she argued, and Turkish soldiers are “absolutely reliable partners” in NATO missions.
But she conceded that Turkey poses “a big challenge” because of how its domestic politics have developed and because it has its “own agenda, which is difficult to reconcile with European questions in particular.”