US troops in Saudi Arabia facing Iran’s ‘real regional conflict’

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, visiting Prince Sultan Air Base last month. (AP)
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Updated 28 February 2020

US troops in Saudi Arabia facing Iran’s ‘real regional conflict’

  • Wall Street Journal report from Prince Sultan Air Base shows American troops preparing to defend against Iranian attacks
  • Base south of Riyadh houses Patriot missile batteries to shore up Saudi air defenses

RIYADH: US officers deployed at a base in Saudi Arabia have spoken about the new threat posed from Iran to the Kingdom and the region as a whole.

About 2,500 troops are now based at the Prince Sultan Air Base after the US decided to return a large military presence to the Kingdom last summer after almost 17 years.

The base, south east of Riyadh, stations F-15 fighter jets that fly missions against Daesh over Iraq and Syria and Patriot missile batteries, to help defend from Tehran’s attacks, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“We face a thinking enemy that is playing a real regional conflict for keeps, and they’re very good,” Gen. John Walker, the commander of the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing at the base, said of Iran.

A series of attacks in the region last year have been blamed on Iran, including simultaneous missile and drone strikes on two major Saudi oil installations in September.

US defense officials say they have shored up air defenses since the attack that temporarily halted 5 percent of global oil supplies, the Journal reported.

“Regardless of how inexpensive the drone may be, the impact of the damage the drone may cause outweighs what we would consider to be cost- or not-cost-effective in terms of the Patriot missile system,” Lt. Col. Tom Noble, who commands an air-defense battalion at the base said.

Facilities at the base continue to develop with a new road servicing the US area. Tents are being replaced with trailers and a security barrier around the perimeter of the base has also been built, the report said.

More than half a million American troops were sent to Saudi Arabia following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The US  withdrew most of its forces from the Kingdom following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited American troops at the base after talks with King Salman.

Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

Fadi Hidmi. (Supplied)
Updated 04 April 2020

Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

  • East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic

AMMAN: Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Fadi Hidmi was released by Israeli police on Friday afternoon after being arrested for the fourth time without charge.

Ministry spokesman Awad Awad told Arab News that Hidmi had been “warned” not to “move around” or “do any work in” Jerusalem in accordance with measures being taken to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Awad also claimed that Hidmi had been physically abused by the police, saying that the minister was “punched in the face and forced to wear a mask with blood on it.”

CCTV at Hidmi’s Mount of Olives house show that he was manhandled by Israeli police during his arrest in the early hours of Friday.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the arrest.

Rosenfeld told the Israeli press that Hidmi was arrested “on suspicion of Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.”

He said police searched Hidmi’s home and confiscated documents as well as “large sums of money. Israeli media said that the police had confiscated NIS10,000 ($2,750) found in the house.

Hidmi, a Jerusalem resident, was the director of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Industry before accepting his current job in the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government.

Before Hidmi’s release on Friday, Shtayyeh wrote on social media: “Israel targets who work for #Jerusalem, even at such critical moments as we work to save our people's lives from #COVID19.”

East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jamil Kousa, director of the St. Joseph hospital, told Palestine TV that he was only informed on March 25 that his hospital should be prepared to accept patients with COVID-19.

Ahmad Buderi, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Alliance — an organization launched to help combat COVID-19 — has said that people in the city are depending almost solely on local initiatives to deal with the pandemic.

Before his arrest, Hidmi launched the website to coordinate the distribution of urgenly needed food and medical supplies to the city’s residents.

Walid Nammour, secretary-general of the Jerusalem Hospital Network, estimates that the city’s six hospitals need $7 million to to deal with the potential spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem.

Nammour told Arab News that 300-400 ventilators are needed and that only 26 are available at present.