Syria and Israel: secret negotiations over Golan for severing Iranian, Hezbollah ties

Syria and Israel: secret negotiations over Golan for severing Iranian, Hezbollah ties
Israeli soldiers supply a Merkava Mark 4 battle tank, near the Syrian border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on Feb. 4, 2021. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 01 March 2021

Syria and Israel: secret negotiations over Golan for severing Iranian, Hezbollah ties

Syria and Israel: secret negotiations over Golan for severing Iranian, Hezbollah ties
  • Officials involved in the negotiations confirmed to that the agreement “went further than any previous document”
  • Syria has not made any official statements regarding the talks

DUBAI: Syria and Israel were on the brink of signing a peace agreement in February 2011, right before the Arab Spring protests broke out in several states, newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported.
Officials involved in the negotiations confirmed to the outlet that the agreement “went further than any previous document,” and included Syria’s pledge to sever “military ties” with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon and “neutralizing” any Israeli threat so they could reclaim the Golan heights after Israel occupied them in the 1967 war.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiations were mediated by American envoy Frederic Hof, the report added. The late Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem and legal advisor Riad Daoudi and former US Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford joined at least two meetings.
Asharq Al-Awsat reported that at the time the then US President Barack Obama and his then former Vice President Joe Biden, current president, were aware of these secret negotiations, and that ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was heavily involved in them too. 
Syria has not made any official statements regarding the talks, but has repeatedly expressed commitment to restoring sovereignty over Golan heights while maintaining the “strategic relationship with Iran.”


Iran plays hardball at Vienna meeting

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)
Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2021

Iran plays hardball at Vienna meeting

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)
  • Tehran ‘deserves no sanctions  relief in return for its brutality’

VIENNA: Iran and world powers resumed talks on Monday after a five-month hiatus to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal, but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers warning that it will not work, hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim.

Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.

Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.

The new round formally began with a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, without the US, shortly after 2 p.m. GMT.

Enrique Mora, the EU official chairing the talks, said Tehran stuck to its demand that all sanctions be lifted.

But he added that he was positive after the first discussions in Vienna with the new Iranian negotiators, who, Mora said, had shown a desire to engage seriously.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video address delivered to nations negotiating in Vienna, warned that he saw Iran trying to “end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing.”

In the video that he later posted to Twitter, Bennett said: “Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality.”

He added: “I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the meeting “the last opportunity for the Iranians to come to the table” after a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

“We want those talks to work,” Truss said. “But if they don’t work, all options are on the table.”

In an interview with NPR broadcast on Friday, US negotiator Robert Malley said signs from Iran “are not particularly encouraging.”

Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said there was pressure to get the process moving after “a very protracted pause.”

“The talks can’t last forever,” he tweeted.

“There is the obvious need to speed up the process.”

Monday’s meeting in Vienna ended an extended break triggered by the election of Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president.

The talks are effectively indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington since Iran refuses to meet face-to-face with US envoys. Other officials shuttle between them.

Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.

Iran has adopted an uncompromising position by demanding removal of all US and EU sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear program, in a verifiable process.


Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
Updated 43 min 13 sec ago

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
  • Coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites

RIYADH: The Arab coalition struck Iranian Revolutionary Guard experts in Yemen’s capital, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites.

The operation complies with international humanitarian law and its customary rules, the coalition said.

The coalition has hit a number of sites in the capital in the past few weeks in an effort to deteriorate the capabilities of the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Previous attacks have targeted drone warehouses and experts belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Houthis repeatedly target the Kingdom with bomb-laden drones, mostly without causing much damage because of Saudi air defenses.

Houthi attempts to target civilians has been labeled as war crimes by the Kingdom.

The Arab coalition has been supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government regain full control of the country after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Saudi Arabia has previously said that a political solution is the only way to permanent peace in Yemen. Launched in March, the Riyadh Initiative aimed to do just that. The plan includes a nationwide ceasefire and as well as of peace talks. However, the Houthi leadership has rejected the plan.

The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.


Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
Updated 30 November 2021

Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
  • At start of conference devoted to a nuclear-free Middle East, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called on all parties to work to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal
  • Expansion of existing nuclear-free zones around the world would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms, he added

NEW YORK: The perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable for their actions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.

His comments came as he opened the second session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Currently, 60 percent of UN member states are covered by five nuclear weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; Southeast Asia; Africa; and Central Asia. Guterres said that expanding these zones would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms.

“That is particularly the case in the Middle East, where concerns over nuclear programs persist, and where conflicts and civil wars are causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, undermining stability and disrupting social and economic development,” the UN chief said as he again called on all in the region to exercise restraint and avoid the escalation of conflicts.

The second session of the annual conference, which was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was presided over by Mansour Al-Otaibi, the permanent representative to the UN for Kuwait, which was chosen to inherit the presidency from Jordan after the first session in 2019.

In line with a General Assembly decision, the goal of the conference is to “elaborate a legally binding treaty” to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of “arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region.”

Guterres praised Kuwait for “actively engaging participants during the intersessional period to learn from the other nuclear weapon-free zones and continue moving the process forward.”

He said the conference represents a chance to produce tangible results for the Middle East and to reinstate dialogue on the “full and effective” implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

He urged “all parties” to work to salvage the agreement, signed in 2015 by world powers and Iran, under which Tehran pledged to halt its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018. A sixth round of negotiations to revive the JCPOA began on Monday in Vienna.

“Your strong political will, together with the international community’s support, can transform the vision of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction into a reality,” Guterres told the participants.


Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2021

Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
  • After Doha talks, Aoun stresses need to overcome defects in Lebanon-Arab relations
  • Maronite Patriarch Al-Rahi decries Hezbollah influence after Nasrallah remarks against judiciary 

BEIRUT: Demonstrators blocked roads across parts of Lebanon on Monday in protest at the country’s economic meltdown, days after its currency sank to new lows.

There has been little progress since Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government was appointed in September after more than a year of political deadlock.

Roads were blocked by piles of burning tires in central Beirut, Tripoli in northern Lebanon and the southern city of Sidon.

Schools were forced to close in Beirut after the protests made them inaccessible to students. Protesters in the city’s southern suburbs, meanwhile, blocked the road to the airport in front of Al-Aytam station.

Less than 24 hours before the Beirut protests, residents of Ali Al-Nahri, in the Bekaa Valley, launched their own protests, shouting “we are cold and hungry.”

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “We will take to the streets more frequently in the coming days unless the governing authority put a stop to the deteriorating living conditions the Lebanese are facing.”

He added: “The people of Beirut are noble. They are fighting extremely hard for their city and their livelihood.

“They are not thieves, and today’s move does not have any political, electoral, parliamentary or ministerial dimension. Its sole purpose is the livelihood of citizens after a large number of students now go to school without any food.”

In a UNICEF report published last week, the agency said: “More than 30 percent of families have at least one child in Lebanon who skipped a meal, while 77 percent of families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them buy food by accumulating unpaid bills or borrowing money.”

The protests coincided with President Michel Aoun’s visit to Qatar to attend the opening of the FIFA Arab Cup and inaugurate the new Olympic Stadium.

The president discussed Lebanon’s economic meltdown and unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Gulf states during his talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Al-Thani reiterated Qatar’s readiness to help in all areas needed for the rise of Lebanon from the “difficult circumstances it is going through.”

He announced that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani will visit Beirut in the coming period, to follow up on the developments and provide the country with necessary assistance.

He hoped for “a resolution for the crisis between Lebanon and a number of Gulf states in the near future, especially as Lebanon has always stood by all the Arab and Gulf states.”

Aoun welcomed any “investment from Qatar to implement developmental projects in Lebanon in the area of energy, electricity and banking, where there are many opportunities.”

Qatar will continue to stand by the Lebanese people and to do anything in its power to alleviate their suffering, said the president.

“There was a consensus that this phase needs the brotherly Arab states, especially the Gulf states, to stand by Lebanon,” said Aoun.

He pointed out that the Lebanese-Gulf relations “always were, and must remain, based on mutual fraternity.”

Aoun stressed the need to overcome any defects in these ties, notably because Lebanon desires to the best relations with brotherly states.

“My presence in Doha today only confirms our commitment to those relations and our genuine desire to cooperate on keeping them serene and restoring them to a normal state, thus serving Lebanon and the brotherly Gulf states,” he said.

Aoun’s remarks came as Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi took a firm position against “attempts to change Lebanon in order to impose a new governing formula by force or persuasion.”

In a televised speech broadcast on Monday, Al-Rahi touched on the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, reprimanding judicial authorities, asking: “Is he above the judicial authority?”

Al-Rahi said the country “is highly influenced by Hezbollah.”

He asked: “In contrast, where is the state and where is the president of the republic? Why are they submissive if someone is intimidating us?”

He noted that “the one disrupting the government is practically disrupting the life of the homeland and causing the hunger of citizens.”


Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
Updated 29 November 2021

Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Military Production Mohamed Ahmed Morsi and the president of the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Mady held talks on the possibility of exchanging experiences and manufacturing technology.

They met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2.

Morsi said there was a need for integration between Arab countries in the defense industries field, especially between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The minister said Egypt was witnessing a state of stability as a result of the efforts made by the state to enhance the security situation and economic reform measures to attract more foreign investment.

Al-Mady praised the minister’s role in meeting the needs of the Egyptian armed forces. 

He said the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries took part in the first EDEX, in 2018, and was keen to participate in this year's event as the exhibition represented a distinguished international gathering of major authorities and companies.

Al-Mady called for Egypt to participate in the first World Defense Show in Riyadh, to be held next March, which will provide a unified platform for stakeholders in the military and security industries sector.

He said Saudi Arabia was following up on the latest technology in all military fields to keep pace with developments in the sector in order to confront the threats facing the Kingdom and enhance its capabilities to deter any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs.