US, UAE warn Lebanese government over Hezbollah ties

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns Lebanon of its relations with Hezbollah during a press conference at the State Department, on Wednesday in Washington. (AP)
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Updated 08 July 2020

US, UAE warn Lebanese government over Hezbollah ties

  • Lebanon’s financial crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption, says US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Beirut : The US and UAE have warned Lebanon about maintaining ties with Hezbollah, as the country’s president convened a meeting to bring together political parties with the aim of “fortifying civil peace.” 
Lebanon’s domestic turmoil rocketed last year, with street protests, high-profile resignations and financial chaos. A new government, led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, was formed in January. But there have been concerns about its composition as the majority of its ministers belong to Hezbollah and its allies.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday that the US was prepared to communicate with any Lebanese government that carried out real reform, telling a press conference that the world would act in the interest of Lebanon if this was achieved, and if the government operated in a way that was not “beholden to” Hezbollah.
“Lebanon’s financial crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and waste,” he added. 
The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, went one step further in his assessment of the country’s plight. “Lebanon is paying the price of deteriorating ties with wealthy Gulf Arab states as it struggles to cope with a deep economic crisis,” he said in an interview.
He regarded Lebanon’s economic meltdown as “very worrying” and said that the UAE would only consider offering financial support in concert with other states.
“If we see some of our friends and the major powers interested in Lebanon and working in a plan, we will consider that. But until now, what we are really seeing here is a deterioration of Lebanon’s Arab relations and Gulf relations over the past 10 years. Lebanon is partly paying the price for that right now.”
The minister added that there had been an “accumulation of problems” in Lebanon and “a dictation” of political discourse by Hezbollah which had an “army within the state.”
“The UAE repeatedly warned Beirut about deteriorating relations with the Gulf. If you burn these bridges it will be very difficult for you to use the huge reservoirs of goodwill and financial support that Lebanon needs.”
The strong words came ahead of a meeting convened by President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace, with issues related to Hezbollah’s weapons, controlling the borders with Syria, and the US Caesar Act on the agenda.
But, in a clear sign of entrenched positions and deep divisions, opposition parties, former President Amine Gemayel, and all former prime ministers boycotted the meeting.
Former President Michel Suleiman criticized Hezbollah at the meeting for breaking national agreements, thereby preventing the implementation of the state’s pledges and resulting in its isolation, its loss of credibility, and a loss of confidence by friendly countries, the Lebanese people, investors, depositors, and tourists. “This has contributed to the decline of the national currency,” he said.
He called for a return to the 2012 Baabda Declaration, which was aimed at preventing any Lebanese nationals from fighting in Syria, whether alongside the opposition or President Bashar Assad’s regime. He also called for the formation of a national authority to abolish political sectarianism and said that measures to repel Israeli aggression must be restricted to the “legitimate authority.”
But Mohammad Raad, head of the Hezbollah bloc in parliament, defended the “resistance and its weapons” while also criticizing the Baabda Declaration.
The parties at the meeting issued a concluding statement. It called for “the cessation of all kinds of incitement campaigns that would stir sedition” and said that violent opposition did not fall under democratic and peaceful opposition..
The parties emphasized that Lebanon was going through “a crisis more dangerous than war” and stressed their commitment to structural reforms in public finances and the adoption of an IMF bail-out as long as it did not contradict Lebanon’s interests and sovereignty. They feared the impact of foreign policies, such as the US government’s Caesar Act targeting Assad’s regimes and its allies, displacement and resettlement, and the execution of the Palestinian cause, on Lebanon’s “Arab identity and its inclusive location.”
The meeting was held against a backdrop of street protests sparked by the continued deterioration of the dollar exchange rate and the soaring prices of commodities and foodstuffs. 
The price of a kilogram of meat has hit LBP85,000 ($56.4), prompting butchers in different parts of the country to close because they have been unable to sell their goods.

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”