Turkey confirms NATO fears over testing of Russian S-400 missile defense system

Turkey confirms NATO fears over testing of Russian S-400 missile defense system
rials of the $2.5 billion anti-aircraft weaponry bought last year from Moscow took place last week in the northern Turkish province of Sinop, just across the Black Sea from Russian territory. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 23 October 2020

Turkey confirms NATO fears over testing of Russian S-400 missile defense system

Turkey confirms NATO fears over testing of Russian S-400 missile defense system
  • Trials of the $2.5 billion anti-aircraft weaponry bought last year from Moscow took place last week in the northern Turkish province of Sinop

ANKARA: Turkey on Thursday officially confirmed the fears of its NATO allies that it had carried out testing of its controversial Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

Trials of the $2.5 billion anti-aircraft weaponry bought last year from Moscow took place last week in the northern Turkish province of Sinop, just across the Black Sea from Russian territory.

In a Bloomberg interview, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO’s command-and-control infrastructure, but would instead be “used as a standalone system similar to the use of Russian-made S-300 weapons that exist within NATO.”

With this comparison, Akar implicitly referred to Athens, currently the top challenger to Turkey, which possesses the Russian-produced missiles in its arsenal.

Experts believe that the official statement on Turkey’s testing of the Russian air defense system could stoke tensions between Ankara and Washington, which claims that the missiles pose a serious threat to alliance military equipment.

Meanwhile, NATO defense ministers met on Thursday to discuss issues affecting the alliance’s security.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of think tank The German Marshall Fund of the US, said Turkey’s argument that the S-400 would be a standalone system not connected to NATO’s radar network had been made several times but had failed to reassure the Americans.

The main concern of the NATO allies is that the S-400 could be used to gather sensitive intelligence via systems linked to the F-35 stealth fighter, the next-generation warplane of the alliance.

But Ankara has said that its acquisition of the Russian missiles was necessary to defend itself against current and emerging security threats in its region.

Turkey’s participation in the co-production of the F-35 system was suspended by Washington last year as punishment for buying the Russian military hardware. However, the US had held back from imposing sanctions while the missiles remained in crates, but harsh economic measures are expected to kick in once the missiles are activated.

US Senate Foreign Relations Chair Jim Risch said this week that further sanctions against Turkey, as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), for testing the S-400s still topped his agenda for initiation after the presidential election.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez also issued a statement last week in which he said: “Turkey must be sanctioned immediately.”

Unluhisarcikli told Arab News: “The S-400s being used as a standalone system is unlikely to prevent CAATSA sanctions being imposed on Turkey.”

Ankara has been delaying the activation of the system since April, the planned date for its operationalization. Last month, during a visit to Turkey, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg repeated that the S-400 system could not be integrated into the NATO air and missile defense system.

But Unluhisarcikli believes that the efficiency of the S-400 as a standalone system is highly dubious.

Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign-policy analyst at the Arab Center, said the US did not trust Turkey to block any Russian attempt to infiltrate the F-35 system.

“The Turkish message about not integrating them into the NATO system is being met with suspicions because Turkey has been playing both the US and Russia for a while and benefiting from their bilateral tensions,” he said.

He felt that Turkey had a two-fold objective. “The first is linked to US domestic politics with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struggling to get his US counterpart Donald Trump’s attention in the middle of his campaign or he is using the election season to force new preconditions for a potential Joe Biden presidency.

“And second, Erdogan feels a shifting US policy toward Turkey and testing the Russia defense system is a signal that he wants to talk with Washington. Whether Trump or Biden wins, there is no easy recipe for US policy toward Turkey,” Macaron added.


Security experts offer a road map for NATO’s future in MENA region

Security experts offer a road map for NATO’s future in MENA region
Updated 28 min 48 sec ago

Security experts offer a road map for NATO’s future in MENA region

Security experts offer a road map for NATO’s future in MENA region
  • Arab News Research & Studies webinar examined how the military alliance can better engage with its partners in the Middle East and North Africa
  • Expert says NATO should appoint a special representative and enlarge the Mediterranean Dialogue as well as the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative

DUBAI: In the 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which heralded the start of the post-Cold War era, there has been much discussion about what role NATO ought to play in the world. How might it adapt to new and evolving challenges emanating from regions beyond its traditional geographic remit, particularly the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?

Although Article 6 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the organization’s founding document, defines its area of responsibility as “the North Atlantic region north of the Tropic of Cancer,” a new report from the Arab News Research & Studies unit aims to highlight why the MENA region is important to NATO, what common interests they share, and how the organization might better engage with the region.

“While not strictly part of its area of responsibility, NATO cannot ignore the MENA region,” writes Luke Coffey, the report’s author and director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, in the document’s introduction. “Historical and recent events show that what happens there can quickly spill over into Europe.”

Coffey highlights several sources of instability emanating from the region, which stretches from the eastern Atlantic Ocean through North Africa and on to the Middle East. These include demographic pressures, increased commodity prices, interstate and intrastate conflicts and tribal politics.

“A decade after the start of the so-called Arab Spring, many geopolitical challenges remain in the region, from the rise of transnational terrorism to the nuclear threat and state-sponsored terrorism from Iran. Many in NATO therefore have rightly decided to place a renewed focus on working with regional partners on the southern periphery of the alliance.”

Competition over water and other natural resources, religious tensions, revolutionary tendencies, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and proxy wars involving regional and global actors offer further cause for concern at NATO HQ.

And because the region contains some of the world’s most vital shipping lanes, energy resources and trade choke points, seemingly minor conflicts and disasters have been shown to have major ripple effects on global trade, oil prices and distant economies.

The alliance will need to adapt its relationship with MENA states (below) beyond matters of defense to areas like trade, according to Iulia-Sabina Joja. (AFP)

“NATO has gone through many such debates about what its purpose is,” Coffey said at an Arab News Research & Studies Briefing Room webinar conducted on Monday to launch the report.

“There’s been talk about focusing NATO on counterterrorism, there’s been a debate about China, there has been debate about Russia remaining the big threat. Personally, I’m more of a traditionalist on this.

“I do believe that NATO was created and designed to, where necessary, defeat Russia and deter it from aggression. However, I do also understand that there are other challenges that the alliance must deal with.”

Yet, as Coffey points out, NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept, which was intended to serve as a guide for dealing with future challenges, includes barely any mention of the MENA region and these shared challenges.

Coffey believes the document is woefully out of date following the seismic events of the past decade, including the rise of China, a more assertive Russia, the Arab Spring, the conflict with Daesh, the ongoing war in Syria, the European migrant crisis and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

As NATO prepares to draft its new Strategic Concept, Coffey argues now is the time for the organization to build on its existing partnerships with MENA states and search for new ways to cooperate.

If NATO were to follow Coffey’s advice, it is likely to find a receptive audience. According to him, not only do MENA governments share many of the security concerns of NATO member states, some of them have demonstrated a willingness to cooperate, even to the point of contributing troops to NATO-led missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.

Iulia-Sabina Joja and Luke Coffey joined Tarek Ali Ahmad for a discussion on NATO's future in the MENA region. 

In particular, Coffey highlights NATO’s training operation in Iraq, the NATO-led Operation Ocean Shield to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa, and the NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Libya as part of its Operation Unified Protector in 2011.

NATO has already established ties in the region under the umbrellas of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Launched in 1994, the Mediterranean Dialogue forms the basis of NATO’s relations with its Mediterranean partners Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, meanwhile, which was launched in 2004, currently forms the basis of NATO’s relations with Arab Gulf states. Although all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council were invited to join, only Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE have done so. Saudi Arabia and Oman have expressed only a passing interest in joining.

“To me, the report highlights the newness and fragility of NATO-MENA relations,” Iulia-Sabina Joja, a senior fellow at the Frontier Europe Initiative and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said during Monday’s Arab News Research & Studies webinar.

Although there has been some institutional reluctance to participate, including Tunisia’s rejection in 2018 of a NATO proposal to station personnel at a planned military operations center in Gabes, Joja said there have been several positive engagements at a practical level that bode well for future cooperation.

“Reluctance or willingness among individual NATO member states, their visions when it comes to MENA, with different actors and increasingly shared areas of cooperation and threat assessments, show it is not necessarily valid anymore to artificially separate the issues that Europe or the transatlantic community address from the issues that MENA region countries are to address,” she said. “There is a lot of common ground there.”

Joja said the relationship between NATO and MENA ought to extend beyond security and defense, and be built around “tiered cooperation” on specific issues such as trade, the economy and humanitarian intervention.

Coffey’s report sets out some practical steps that NATO can take to improve its relations with the region, including the appointment of a special representative for MENA — a step that would carry weight in a part of the world “where personal relationships are paramount.”

NATO should also push to expand membership of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, he argues. To encourage this, the alliance should establish a Mediterranean Dialogue Regional Center, modeled on the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Regional Center in Kuwait.

Finally, to build confidence and a sense of shared mission, NATO should emphasize the geopolitical importance of the MENA region by including high-level meetings for both groupings at the next alliance summit.

Indeed, one of the main issues preventing closer ties is the ongoing reluctance among some states that are mistrustful of NATO’s aims.

“This isn’t about NATO expanding an empire. This isn’t about NATO trying to plan its next military intervention anywhere,” Coffey said during the webinar. “This is about identifying a key region to NATO’s stability and security, and finding willing and like-minded partners that are willing to cooperate and work together to achieve common goals and common results.

“As NATO goes through this process of deepening its relationships with certain countries in North Africa and the Middle East, it must be mindful of sensitivities and it should only go at the pace that the particular country desires to.

“Interoperability brings trust and trust builds relationships. And that will keep us all safer.”

 


Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem
Updated 10 May 2021

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem
  • The session aimed to discuss the Israeli attacks in the occupied city of Jerusalem

CAIRO: The League of Arab States held an urgent session of the League Council among Arab foreign ministers on Monday, at the request of Palestine, which was supported by a number of Arab countries.

The session aimed to discuss the Israeli attacks in the occupied city of Jerusalem, the Islamic and Christian holy sites, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, and plans to force Palestinian families out of their homes, particularly in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, said that it was decided to upgrade the meeting to the ministerial level from that of the permanent delegates level.

Diab Al-Louh, Palestinian ambassador to Cairo and Palestine’s permanent representative to the Arab League, said that the urgent meeting was to discuss the seriousness of the brutal attacks on worshipers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al-Louh said a request for an urgent meeting was submitted based on the directives of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the directives of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Al-Maliki.


Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl
Updated 10 May 2021

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl
  • Doctors and private hospitals refuse to receive patients due to court ruling in favor of a child who had her limbs amputated
  • Parent Hassan Tannous praises ‘honest judiciary’

BEIRUT: All Lebanese doctors have stopped working from Monday until the end of the week in protest against a court verdict.

The medical profession in Lebanon is protesting against the judicial decision to pay high compensation to Ella Tannous, who had her limbs amputated due to a medical error six years ago.

The protesting doctors have been joined by private hospitals, which have stopped receiving patients, except in emergency cases.

The girl’s father Hassan Tannous, however, praised the “honest judiciary.”

Many doctors, including the head of Lebanese Order of Physicians, Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, and the head of the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners, Suleiman Haroun, staged a sit-in in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut, calling the ruling “unfair.”

The Tannous case goes back to February 2015, when she was admitted to Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil due to her high temperature.​

Ella was diagnosed with a cold at the time, but her condition deteriorated and the child suffered septic shock, which led to gangrene that caused the amputation of her limbs.

The girl’s father had taken her to the Hotel Dieu Hospital, which refused to receive her.

He transferred her to the American University of Beirut Medical Center, where doctors decided to save her life by amputating her four limbs.

The tragedy led her parents to file a complaint in March 2015 before the Lebanese Order of Physicians against the doctor who examined her and Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil, on charges of neglecting the child’s health and not providing her with the necessary care.

More than one doctor was arrested and released on bail.

Those involved in the case exchanged accusations for years. The girl’s family objected to a medical report issued by the medical committee of the Lebanese Order of Physicians two months after the incident, calling it a “distortion of the facts.”

The final ruling, issued unanimously at the end of last week, by the Beirut Appeals Court, headed by Tarek Bitar, gave the girl’s family a positive surprise, while the Lebanese medical profession reacted to the ruling in a state of amazement and condemnation.

The ruling obligated the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Beirut, Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil and the two doctors — Essam M. and Rana Sh. — “to pay in joint and several liabilities to the child Tannous an amount of LBP 9 billion ($5.9 million) for damages, in addition to a monthly income for life estimated at four times the minimum wage.”

The ruling also stipulated “obliging the convicts to pay in joint and several liabilities an amount of LBP 500 million to the father of the child and LBP 500 million to her mother in exchange for damages.”

Medical errors committed against patients have often resulted in settlements. Some cases are still pending in the courts.

The head of the National Health Authority, Dr. Ismail Sukkarieh, told Arab News that the judicial ruling “is based more on emotions than wisdom, justice and scientific facts.”

Sukkarieh added: “The judiciary focused on the tragedy of the child’s condition, which cannot be compensated with money, without checking the stages of the disease and the accumulation of its causes.”

He said: “Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil was not equipped with intensive care for children. As for the doctors who saved the child through the amputation, they were spiritually affected.”

Hassan Tannous said that although the ruling “does not compensate for the loss of Ella to her limbs, it is a moral compensation.”

The father said the ruling “is a very strong message in the face of the perpetrators of medical errors, that there is an honest judiciary capable of restoring the rights of the owners.”

The girl’s family moved to France for her rehabilitation but continued to pursue the lawsuit until the end.

“It is a public rights issue to protect all Lebanese children from medical neglect,” said Hassan.

During the sit-in at the Palace of Justice on Monday, Dr. Abu Sharaf said: “There are complications that occur as a result of the medicines, and mistakes happen sometimes, but the doctors have no criminal intent. After today, no doctor will dare to work on difficult and rare cases.”

Dr. Ashraf called for “work to remove the effect of the judicial decision, and to establish a body specialized in medical matters in the judiciary to study medical problems.”

Hotel Dieu Hospital de France announced that it would stop receiving patients in all its departments and private clinics.

“It is unacceptable for doctors to pay the price for a health policy that does not exist in the first place,” said Elias Shallal, head of the hospital’s medical committee.

“It is unacceptable to applaud doctors for their role in the fight against coronavirus and after the Beirut Port explosion, and then attack them because of a medical error.”

The administration of Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil described the ruling as “unfair.”

It stopped receiving patients except in emergency cases.

The American University Medical Center in Beirut closed its clinics until further notice and stopped receiving patients, except for emergency cases.


Israel defies international community as conflict with Palestinians continues

Palestinian medics evacuate wounded protesters as Israeli security forces fire tear gas in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinian medics evacuate wounded protesters as Israeli security forces fire tear gas in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2021

Israel defies international community as conflict with Palestinians continues

Palestinian medics evacuate wounded protesters as Israeli security forces fire tear gas in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. (AFP)
  • Outrage prompted over targeting of civilians, holy sites, and use excessive force
  • Former PLO committee member challenges Americans, Europeans to ‘grow a backbone’

AMMAN: Despite calls from the international community for an end to the hostilities between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, clashes continued in Jerusalem on Monday, with violence erupting at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, for the second day in a row.

Over 300 people have reportedly been injured, with the Red Crescent saying half a dozen Palestinians are in a critical condition.

On Friday, May 7, US State Department spokesman Ned Price called on both sides to show restraint, saying Washington was “extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem, including on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah,” condemning an attack on Israeli soldiers and “reciprocal attacks on Palestinians.”

US-based outlet Axios, meanwhile, said the White House had pressed Israel to restrain Monday’s planned Jerusalem Day celebrations, marking the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, so as not to stoke further tension in the city, but that Israel had rebuffed these advances.

Former Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi challenged the US and European leaders to “grow a backbone” and “translate their words into action,” over restraining Israel against Palestinian worshippers.

She said: “Americans must learn to grow a backbone and work hard to enforce their position and to use their financial and political power. This is not a big deal to ask to ensure freedom of religion.

“This is the language that the Israelis understand; if they are being rewarded, nothing will happen,” she continued. “There has to be a cost and this is a test of the Biden administration. Americans must say enough is enough.”

Ashrawi added that what is happening is a “crime” and a clear case of multiple human rights violations, including targeting civilians, vandalizing holy sites, and using excessive power against worshipers.

Protests at the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, meanwhile, drew the presence of right-wing Israeli members of the Knesset and a large number of Palestinians and their supporters.

The UN secretary-general and senior world leaders were among those to condemn the violence, and express their concerns over the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.

Jordan summoned the Israeli chargé d’affaires in Amman, and threatened to recall its ambassador in Tel Aviv. There were also loud demonstrations outside the Embassy of Israel in Jordan calling for its closure.

Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told Arab News that Jerusalem is the symbol of the Palestinian cause.

“The reunification of the homeland and its national institutions requires the full (cooperation) of all Palestinians regardless of where they are,” said Fayad.

“Such reaction is the strongest response to the Israeli aggression and the terror of its army and settlers against our holy places and our people in Jerusalem,” he added.

Fayyad continued that the basic right of people to live in their homes and homeland was fundamental “to allow our people to extract their right to self-determination.”

Hazem Kawasmi, a Jerusalem civil society activist, told Arab News that what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah was the continuation of the last 70 years of evictions of Palestinians from their homes and land across the country.

“Trying to evict 28 families from their houses in Sheikh Jarrah is a clear case that (shows) the Israeli apartheid regime and transfer policy to implement their ‘Judaizing’ of the city, emptying it of its indigenous Palestinian population,” Kawasmi said.

“Not surprisingly, the international community are watching and doing nothing to stop the rogue state of Israel from practicing its ethnic cleansing policies.”

There are fears that Israel’s actions in Jerusalem could also provoke wider problems beyond the city. Senior Hamas figure Salah Aruri warned that “by playing with fire in Jerusalem, the occupiers (Israel) will witness a burning response on their heads.”


US ship fires warning shots in encounter with Iranian boats

US ship fires warning shots in encounter with Iranian boats
Updated 10 May 2021

US ship fires warning shots in encounter with Iranian boats

US ship fires warning shots in encounter with Iranian boats

WASHINGTON:  A US Coast Guard cutter fired two volleys of warning shots Monday as a group of 13 Iranian fast boats sped toward US Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf's Strait of Hormuz in what the Pentagon called “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuvers by the naval arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Iranian vessels maneuvered at high speed toward six Navy ships that were escorting the guided missile submarine USS Georgia through the Strait. After the Coast Guard cutter Maui unleashed a second volley of warning shots, the Iranian boats backed off, Kirby said.
“They were acting very aggressively,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. He said they got within 150 yards of the US ships, which included the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey. A day earlier, the Monterey had intercepted an arms shipment aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea apparently headed for Yemen, whose Houthi rebels are supported by Iran.
Kirby said the Maui fired two rounds of warning shots from its .50-caliber machine gun — the first round when the Iranian boats got to within 300 yards of the US ships, and the second when they got within 150 yards.
“After the second round of warning shots the 13 fast attack craft from the IRGC-N broke contact,” he said, ending the encounter.